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Chat Via Bottled Messages: Distant Shore for iPhone

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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).

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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0
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Get Your GIFs Ready for This International Public Domain GIF-Making Competition
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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0

Excellent GIF-making skills can serve you beyond material for your clever tweets. Each year, a group of four digital libraries from across the world hosts GIF IT UP, a competition to find the best animated image sourced from public domain images from their archives.

The competition is sponsored by Europeana, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), New Zealand’s DigitalNZ, and the National Library of Australia’s Trove, all of which host millions of public domain works. The requirements are that the source material must be in the public domain, have a 'no known copyright restrictions' statement, or have a Creative Commons license that allows its reuse. The material must also come from one of the sponsored sources. Oh, and judging by the past winners, it helps if it’s a little whimsical.

The image above won the grand prize in 2015. And this was a runner-up in 2016:

via GIPHY

This year’s prizes haven’t been announced yet (although Europeana says there will be a new one for first-time GIF makers), but last year’s grand prize winner got their own Giphoscope, and runners-up got $20 gift cards. (Turns out, there’s not a lot of money in public domain art.)

Not an expert GIFer yet? You can always revisit the audio version of DPLA’s advanced GIF-making tutorial from last year.

The fourth-annual GIF IT UP contest opens to submissions October 1.

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