Who Knew Balloons Would Be Such a Big Part of the Future?

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James Bridle

1. James Bridle is flying a balloon over London this summer.

"This summer, artist and writer James Bridle is flying a balloon from the roof of Bold Tendencies, a multi-storey car park and art space in Peckham, South London. Attached to the balloon will be a variety of payloads, from darknet routers to aerial cameras, with the results of its experiments shared publicly and online... James will be writing a series of letters from the balloon over the course of the summer, telling its stories and exploring its findings."


2. A Google Loon balloon crashed into some power lines near Yakima, Washington.

"The balloon crashed about 1 a.m. and, according to a Pacific Power spokesman, the remains of the balloon were cleared away from the site by 6 a.m. He did not know if or when Google employees had arrived at the scene. This balloon was apparently part of the company’s efforts to improve the technology, which it believes could eventually broadcast wireless Internet signals in remote places."


3. Surveillance balloons first flown in Afghanistan and Iraq are being tested along the U.S.-Mexico border

"Standing beneath a 52-foot-long tethered balloon on Thursday in Penitas, the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector Chief Rosendo Hinojosa said the blimp-shaped aerostat would help intercept smuggling along the busiest section of the Southwest border... During a similar demonstration last year, an aerostat tethered 2,500 feet above the ground easily made out the make, model and color of vehicles a couple of miles away. Their infrared cameras are controlled by operators inside computer-filled shipping containers near where the balloons are anchored. Many of the devices were previously used in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide security around bases."


4. "Some Notes on the History of Aerial Reconnaissance," April 1966, Rand Corporation.

"Nadar's views on military applications of balloon reconnaissance changed from a refusal to work for Napoleon III in 1859 to active participation as commander of the balloon corps during the siege of Paris (1870-1871). In 1860, J.W. Black of Boston teamed up with 'Professor' Sam A. King, a well-known aerialist, to take a balloon photograph of Boston from an altitude of 1211 ft. This photograph was for many years widely regarded as the most successful aerial photograph on record."


5. Video of a weather balloon bursting 20 miles over Stonewall, Louisiana

"After a weather balloon is released, we rarely get the opportunity to see what happens to it during its final moments of flight. Thanks to Matt Barr from Stonewall, LA and his high powered telescope we were able to see the balloon bursting about 20 miles above the ground."


Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip

bourn(e). There are two words, which were originally burn & borne, but are now not distinguished, consistently at any rate, either in spelling or in pronunciation. the first means a stream, but now in US occurs chiefly in poetry or as an ornamental synonym for brook. The second means properly a boundary (from French borne) as in The undiscovered country from whose borne No traveller returns, but is used almost solely, with a distorted memory of that passage, in the sense of destination or goal.


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Commander of the Balloon Corps

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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