Chat Via Bottled Messages: Distant Shore for iPhone

Distant Shore ($0.99, iPhone/iPod Touch) is a profoundly weird application. Is it a game? Is it a chat client? Is it a kind of wish-maker? Well, it's all of these. Let me explain.

Last fall, budding iPhone development powerhouse The Blimp Pilots released Koi Pond, a pond simulator with interactive digital fish. Unexpectedly, it shot to the number 1 spot on the iTunes App Store. A pond simulator as the top iPhone app? Indeed. It was one heck of a pond simulator -- with realistic, soothing water ripples, beautifully animated koi, great sound, and fun features like "finger nibbling" (the fish apparently like to nibble fingers.)

Now, The Blimp Pilots are back with Distant Shore, a kind of "slow chat" application in which you walk along an endless 3D-rendered beach, picking up bottles and reading the messages inside. If you like a message, you can reply to its anonymous sender, creating a little chat thread. You can launch your own messages into the sea, and other people will find them on their own shores. And that's it. You just walk along this beach, picking up and sending messages in bottles.

Here are a few screenshots of walking along the beach:

Your first mission is to look for shells, which appear randomly on the beach. Once you've found five shells, you're granted a fresh bottle which you can use to throw a new message into the ocean. Occasionally you'll run across a bottle with a message in it. You can also find your way to a mailbox which contains replies to your messages. It's all very simple -- you just tap to talk around, tap to pick something up, tap to write a message, and so on. Your bottles and messages are stored in an inventory so you can carry on a bunch of different chats at once.

The messages themselves are of varying quality, of course, as they come from other users around the world. In my testing, I came across people who seemed genuinely interested in reaching out via message-in-a-bottle chat, though it can be hard to think of what to say when you're chatting with a completely anonymous person. Here are some examples of chat messages I received -- on the left is the first message that washed up on my shore; on the right is a chat thread with someone who asked me my age.

Distant Shore chat messages

So there you have it. A strangely peaceful, hard to describe iPhone app. If you're curious what anonymous people have to say, give it a shot -- it only costs one dollar. To buy: Distant Shore ($0.99, iPhone/iPod Touch with wifi), or learn more here (including a gameplay video).

Big Fat Lies banner

University of York
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
UK Archaeologists Have Found One of the World’s Oldest 'Crayons'
University of York
University of York

A prehistoric chunk of pigment found near an ancient lake in England may be one of the world's oldest crayons, Colossal reports. The small object made of red ochre was discovered during an archaeological excavation near Lake Flixton, a prehistoric lake that has since become a peat wetland but was once occupied by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. Though it’s hard to date the crayon itself, it was found in a layer of earth dating back to the 7th millennium BCE, according to a recent study by University of York archaeologists.

Measuring less than an inch long, the piece of pigment is sharpened at one end, and its shape indicates that it was modified by a person and used extensively as a tool, not shaped by nature. The piece "looks exactly like a crayon," study author Andy Needham of the University of York said in a press release.

A pebble of red ochre thought to be a prehistoric crayon
University of York

The fine grooves and striations on the crayon suggest that it was used as a drawing tool, and indicate that it might have been rubbed against a granular surface (like a rock). Other research has found that ochre was collected and used widely by prehistoric hunter-gatherers like the ones who lived near Lake Flixton, bolstering the theory that it was used as a tool.

The researchers also found another, pebble-shaped fragment of red ochre at a nearby site, which was scraped so heavily that it became concave, indicating that it might have been used to extract the pigment as a red powder.

"The pebble and crayon were located in an area already rich in art," Needham said. "It is possible there could have been an artistic use for these objects, perhaps for coloring animal skins or for use in decorative artwork."

[h/t Colossal]

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Tour the National Museum of Scotland From Home With Google Street View
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Google's Street View technology can be used to view some amazing art, whether it's behind the walls of the Palace of Versailles in France or the Guggenheim Museum in New York. As the BBC reports, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh is the latest institution to receive the virtual treatment.

The museum contains items tracing the history of the world and humanity. In the Natural World galleries, visitors will find a hulking Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton and a panorama of wildlife. In the World Cultures galleries, there are centuries' worth of art and innovation to see. The museum's permanent galleries and the 20,000 objects on display can all be viewed from home thanks to the new online experience.

Users can navigate the virtual museum as they would a regular location on Street View. Just click the area you wish to explore and drag your cursor for full 365-degree views. If there's a particular piece that catches your interest, you may be able to learn more about it from Google Arts & Culture. The site has added 1000 items from the National Museum of Scotland to its database, complete with high-resolution photos and detailed descriptions.

The Street View tour is a convenient option for art lovers outside the UK, but the museum is also worth visiting in person: Like its virtual counterpart, admission to the institution is free.

[h/t BBC]


More from mental floss studios