By the Editors of

Clint Buffington

Message received
A message in a bottle tossed into the Atlantic Ocean more than five decades ago recently made its way into a beachcomber’s hands in Turks and Caicos Islands, southeast of the Bahamas. Paula Pierce of Hampton Beach, N.H., said her father tossed the bottle into the Atlantic near their seaside family motel sometime more than 50 years ago with a note inside that read “Return to 419 Ocean Boulevard and receive a $150 reward.” Clint Buffington, who combs through beach trash for messages in bottles and posts the findings on his blog, found Pierce’s father’s erstwhile Coke bottleand made contact with the New Hampshire woman. No word on whether she plans to honor her father’s $150 pledge.

Talk is not cheap
Through a little-known Federal Communications Commission program called the Universal Service Fund, Americans qualifying for government assistance (as well as those living with incomes below 135 percent of the poverty line) qualify for no-cost [free] cell phone service as well as free cell phones. Who pays for the ostensibly free lunch? Regular bill-paying cell phone users. Assurance Wireless, a subsidiary of Sprint, and other service providers like it get $10 per month from the Universal Service Fund for providing 250 minutes of cell service and phones to qualifying participants. In turn, the FCC program gets funding from taxes on paying customers. Supporters of the program call cell phone access a civil-rights issue. But in an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation called the program “particularly wasteful and unnecessary.”

Competition building
Perhaps annoyed by the worldwide attention generated by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, which opened as the world’s tallest building in 2010, Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal announced plans in August to build a one-kilometer-tall skyscraper in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah. Bin Talal’s Kingdom Holding announced on Aug. 2 that it had signed a $1.23 billion contract with the construction firm Bin Laden Group to build a 3,281-foot tower replete with a hotel, apartments, and office space. If bin Talal succeeds, his skyscraper will exceed Dubai’s Burj Khalifa by more than 565 feet.

High ground
If you’ve seen a 23-foot-wide island floating through the Earth’s troposphere, two British art school graduates would like to hear from you. Made with durable polyurethane with fake foliage decorations, the helium-filled island replica was last seen above a British music and arts festival on July 24. Creators of the “Is Land” project Sarah Cockings and Laurence Symonds say security guards saw a pair of youths cut tether lines, allowing the $14,000 sculpture to float skyward. “Due to ignorant vandals, the original Is Land is currently floating at an unknown height somewhere within the atmosphere,” the creators wrote on Is Land’s website. “However what goes up must come down, so the hunt is on. If what looks like a floating chunk of earth turns up in your Nan’s [grandmother’s] back garden, or if you think you see a new planet intercept your easyJet flight to the Algarve, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.”