A message in a bottle you can keep track of

Sending messages in bottles has been around since at least the Ancient Greeks, but it’s doubtful that anyone back then sent out a bottle quite like this. As part of a promotional campaign, Solo, a soft drink company based in Norway, recently built an 8-meter tall replica soda bottle outfitted with solar panels, a camera, and tracking technology and set it adrift in the ocean.

When Solo wanted to run a contest involving a sea-worthy bottle, it enlisted Bård Eker, co-owner of several vehicle design companies, to handle the construction. The finished product, which was completed after several months of work, measures 2.5 meters in diameter, weighs 2,500 kilograms, and is even registered and insured as a boat.

Solo towed the bottle off the coast of Tenerife in the Canary Islands and left it at the mercy of the currents. Inside the bottle is a case of Solo and a 12 square meter letter in various languages explaining that whoever finds the giant bottle wins a finders party in the nearest town and lists a phone number to call. The company also set up a website where users can post their guess as to where they think the bottle will eventually land, with a correct guess winning one real bottle of Solo for each nautical mile the oversized one travels…

…Solo consulted shipping insurance companies, ocean researchers, and marine biologists to ensure that the vessel fit the proper requirements for a drifting object in international waters…As such, the enormous bottle is equipped with navigation lights, an Automatic Identification System, a radar reflector, and GPS tracking technology, all powered through solar panels on the top. It also has a customized camera that is programmed to tweet a 360-degree panorama every eight hours and is outfitted with nozzles that clear the lenses with fresh water from an onboard tank.

Solo will continue to track the bottle as it travels the Atlantic Ocean and has stated it will collect it whenever and wherever it washes up. The company has even offered to tow it to shore if it nears a coastline that prohibits unmanned vessels from landing.

I’m a sucker for contests like this. Too bad I live hundreds of miles from any kind of coast.

Here’s how it was constructed.

Coppers bust Elvis impersonator for poisoned letters – UPDATED

Federal prosecutors filed criminal charges on Thursday against a Mississippi man, who worked as an Elvis impersonator, for threatening to harm President Barack Obama by sending him a letter that initially tested positive for the deadly poison ricin.

Paul Kevin Curtis…was believed to have sent three letters, all with identical wording and type-written on yellow paper, to Obama, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Justice Court Judge Sadie Holland of Lee County, Mississippi.

The FBI confirmed the presence of ricin in the letters to Obama and Wicker, but said it is “not aware of any illness as a result of exposure to these letters…”

Wearing handcuffs and leg shackles, Curtis appeared in court in Oxford, Mississippi. Local media reported that he made no comments except to say “yes ma’am” when the judge asked if he understood what was happening. His lawyer told reporters outside the court that Curtis was not guilty…

According to an affidavit signed by FBI Special Agent Brandon Grant and Secret Service Special Agent Victor Dickerson, all three letters contained a “suspicious granular substance” and the same eight line threatening message…

Wicker told reporters he had hired Curtis once as an Elvis impersonator. “I have indeed met the gentleman before,” the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call cited Wicker as saying. “He’s an Elvis impersonator. He entertained at a party my wife and I helped give for a young couple that were getting married. Quite entertaining.”

Apparently, the President never hired Elvis impersonators – for any reason.

UPDATE: Released, charges dropped.

Military might

Click to enlarge

Global defence spending fell by 0.5% to $1.75 trillion last year. This is the first annual decline since 1998, according to new data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a think-tank. Although America still spends the biggest chunk of the world total, and 69% more in real terms than it did in 2001, its share has fallen below 40% for the first time since 1991.

Indeed, since the recession in 2008, spending has fallen by 10% in 20 of the 37 countries in western and central Europe. By contrast Russia increased spending by 16% in 2012 and further rises are planned to 2015. Russia and America each spent the equivalent of 4.4% of GDP, considerably higher than the global average of 2.5%, but much lower than that of Saudia Arabia, at 8.9%.

Over the past decade China’s military budget has risen by 175%, the largest increase of any of the countries shown in the chart, though this still represents only around 2% of GDP.

The chart speaks for itself. Our government – regardless of blather about pivots, peace initiatives, the dangers of small countries getting big guns and big bombs – still maintains the greatest capacity to destroy the whole planet and all life.

And whines about the possibility of diminishing that danger by a fraction of a percent.

Thanks, Barry Ritholtz