Sunday, March 30, 2008

Reading Globally

I mapped my armchair travels after reviewing the settings of some geographically memorable books I’ve read.

It seems backward, but I've physically visited almost twice as many U.S. states as I’ve visited through books -- 43 in body versus 24 in mind. (Maybe it's a dearth of books set in certain states ... "they say" it takes extraordinary content to overcome a flyover-country setting.)

My international travels are more parallel in number, although the literary locales have been markedly more exotic.

I’m shocked by the amount of white space on these maps! To remedy that, I'd love to hear recommendations for books (fiction or nonfiction) that explore the planet.

[Then go map some international or stateside
aspect of your own life.]

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


While it's unlikely you've experienced a doppelganger (a physical double of yourself), it's quite likely you have numerous googlegangers -- virtual doubles -- people who share your name and whose hits are mixed with yours on the result pages of a Google search.

I don’t have a googleganger; my name is unique. But my maiden name gets a few pages of hits, among them a firefighter, realtor, yachtswoman and psychologist. Until I noticed that one had been a guest on Sally Jessy Raphael’s TV show, I’d forgotten that I was once an on-air caller to her 1980s radio program.

That maiden self did come close to having a doppelganger. I walked into my small-town high school as a freshman and discovered that my 'til-then unique first name was already in use by an outgoing, assertive senior. (Three years older + popular = very intimidating.) Unbelievably, she later married a man with my surname!

Who are your doubles? What details about them spark energy?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

It Takes a Thief

From the Chicago Tribune:

“[A national pharmacy chain agreed] to pay $36.7 million to settle charges it routinely overbilled Medicaid for a popular generic antacid drug, cheating federal and state governments out of millions of dollars over more than six years. Prosecutors say the pharmacy chain illegally substituted a more expensive capsule form of the drug instead of the prescribed tablets to increase its Medicaid reimbursement.”

A similar case, involving another pharmacy corporation, was settled for $49.5 million in 2006. The cases have in common a pharmacist who noticed something amiss, contacted an attorney and the rest is history.

All hail this crusading whistle-blower -- an unadulterated hero!

Hmm, not so fast.

Consider that the law provides him with a share of the settlements -- in his case, more than $10 million. Consider that he himself was arrested in 1992 as part of another Medicaid-fraud scheme, the FBI’s Operation Goldpill. He was sentenced with a fine, probation, and temporary suspension of his pharmacist license.

In a novel, would readers still view his whistle-blowing as altruistic? Or as greed? Or as paying a debt to society? It’s a tough call … it’s known as complex characterization.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Miracle Money

The well-dressed twentysomething ahead of me in line at Starbucks talked on his cell phone while the cashier poured his grande coffee. When she set the cup in front of him and announced the price, he held out a crisp, double-folded bill.

She didn’t take it, but asked, “Do you have something smaller?”

He shook his head.

“Do you have a debit or credit card?”

He shook his head.

She held up her hands in surrender. “It’s on us.”


It’s a great scam: make the rounds of Starbucks locations with a $50 bill that never gets used because the cafes won’t accept currency larger than $20. Another customer this morning had offered a $100 bill. Note to Starbucks: Complete the financial transaction, then pour the coffee!

Note to creatives: Look deep … find these customers' consciences. What is a positive explanation for them expecting (heck, for wanting the bulkiness of) $98 in change?

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Astrapo’s comment yesterday about extreme latitudes is perfect timing for today’s astronomic equinox.

Today's pattern of sunlight (top image, as of a few minutes ago) is centered onto the earth and is moderate even at the extremes of the north and south poles. But just two months ago (below, at about the same time of day), it was near-continuous dark at the northernmost latitudes; it was dark even longer during the December solstice. Things get squirrelly when diurnality and nocturnality collide … so get ready, southern hemisphere!

You can keep an eye on the daily and seasonal sunlight patterns through the blogroll link to the World Sunlight Map.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Zoned Out

Presently, the earth is divided into time zones that organize the day similarly around the planet: dawn arrives in the early morning hours and nightfall comes toward the end of the 24-hour cycle.

But what if there were no zones -- what if time were constant around the world? Which location might evolve as the authority that dictates how the clock is set? And what might it be like to live halfway around the world from there -- to function where daylight and the clock are inversely correlated?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Records Keeper

You've heard about records getting mixed up.

But New Scientist magazine reports:
The average number of people wrongly declared dead every day in the US as a result of data input errors by Social Security staff: 35.
In the realm of 10,000 per year, suppose they're not erroneous mix-ups. Who is the clerk and what's in common among the people s/he's targeting?

Friday, March 7, 2008


What kind of person goes to this trouble -- to destroy data on a technology that's already dead?

Or maybe the question is: What kind of data needed such absolute destruction?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Moving On

I've been recently mulling some ironic timing: a friend's husband who died on Valentine's Day, another friend's mom who died on Mother's Day.

But this week, a coincidence seems a little sweeter: a friend's 97-year-old stepfather, a life-long farmer, passed away on March 1 -- farmers' traditional moving day.