Balloon Chasing

Freedom Weekend Aloft Balloons-8

Memorial Day means Freedom Weekend Aloft is in town. This is the 29th year of the festival, and it’s hard to believe that it’s been around that long. We decided we would head down this evening and see if we could spot some of the balloons.

FWA started out as a July 4th holiday, and was held at Donaldson Center. It kept that venue and time slot for many, many years. Either because of expenses at Donaldson, declining attendance, or whatever, it was moved to Anderson for awhile. Then its date was moved from Independence Day to Memorial Day, and the venue moved to Heritage Park in Simpsonville. It seems to be doing very well on this date and location.

There was to be a mass ascension between 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm, so we headed on down after an early dinner. We didn’t want to get mixed up in the crowds, nor did we want to pay a park entrance fee just to watch the balloons. After a bit of driving we found lots of folks in the parking lot of Bryson Middle School, and that’s were we set up shop, too.

It wasn’t long before the balloons started to appear above the trees. Some went up very quickly, others, just sort of skimmed the tree line at a leisurely pace.

Freedom Weekend Aloft Balloons-6 Continue reading “Balloon Chasing”

DARPA Challenge Update

Well, that didn’t take long. By 5:00 PM DARPA had already announced a winner in their 2009 Challenge. The challenge was supposed to last through December 14, but it was obvious from early on that it wouldn’t take that much time. As shown on the map above, the balloons were located in places where it would have been hard to miss them (although there is a large wedge of the Midwest with no ballooons.) The winner was the team from MIT.

I didn’t participate in the challenge as I thought I might. However, I did check in on the progress from time-to-time on Twitter. It was interesting to watch the competition progress. Most of the Twitter traffic seemed to be from those involved in the hunt, and I saw only one from someone that seemed to have honestly stumbled upon one (…sort of, but more on that in a bit.)

As I saw reports of balloons I wondered if I shouldn’t try to find the location and report them as my own. However, I figured that if the reports were THAT public, then others would have reported them. I just decided to watch the spectacle. Continue reading “DARPA Challenge Update”

99 Red Balloons

You and I in a little toy shop,
Buy a bag of balloons with the money we’ve got.
Set them free at the break of dawn
‘Til one by one, they were gone…

Actually, it’s 99 minus 89, but references to the 1980’s hit by Nena are inevitable. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Internet, DARPA has come up with a creative challenge “that will explore the roles the Internet and social networking play in the timely communication, wide-area team-building, and urgent mobilization required to solve broad-scope, time-critical problems.”

According to the challenge website ten red, eight-foot weather balloons will be tethered to locations around the United States. The first person (or team) to provide the latitude and longitude of all balloons will win a $40,000 prize. quotes Johanna Jones, a spokeswoman for DARPA, and provides a few more details…

At 10 a.m. ET, the 8-foot-wide red weather balloons will be released on property accessible to the public.

“They’re not going to be out in the middle of nowhere,” Jones said. “They’re going to be near places where there is traffic.”

She said the balloons will be tethered and will remain aloft for at least six hours. Each will be accompanied by a DARPA representative.

The first person to report the latitude and longitude coordinates of all 10 balloons will win the prize. The competition will remain open until December 14.

Nationwide balloon-hunt contest tests online networking
By Doug Gross, CNN
December 4, 2009

So, the balloons will only be aloft for a few hours on one day. That means no individual could travel to all 10 locations. Seekers will be forced to search for references to the balloons and reports in social media such as Twitter, Facebook, or Flickr. That is, of course, assuming someone reports the sighting and is willing to provide coordinates. If I didn’t already know about the challenge, I doubt I would stop and Tweet about a red balloon, giving its lat/long coordinates. Continue reading “99 Red Balloons”