Friday, April 4, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke, a lifetime odyssey

"The Meteorological Stations ... had to be a fair distance out so they could see as much of the earth as possible. There were two of them, six thousand miles up, circling the world every six and a half hours ... over the equator (along with) the Polar Met Station which ... had an orbit over the poles. Together the three stations could get a practically continuous picture of the weather over the whole planet." Sounds like a tech feature from the late 20th century? It's not. In fact, that paragraph is taken directly from the late Arthur C. Clarke's 1952 novel, "Islands in the Sky." No, the year is not a typo. Clarke indeed envisioned weather satellites more than 50 years ago. As most readers know, the legendary Clarke died on March 19 at his home on Sri Lanka where he had lived more than 50 years. He was 90. Best known for his phenomal science fiction classics, including the book and 1968 special effects breakout film, "2001: A Space Odyssey" (movie a collaboratation with Stanley Kubrick), Clarke also was a brilliant physicist and mathematician. But read any of his science fiction and you'll wonder if his mind somehow could actually peer into the future. Much of the technology -- space stations, communications and weather satellites, video conferencing, daily use of computers and so much more -- pops out of his sci-fi. Not only did he forecast such technology, he got the basics of operation right on target. But his were not just predictions. According to, "Clarke's work led to the global satellite systems in use today." Indeed, he constructed myriad bridges between art and technology, fiction and reality. In "3001 The Final Odyssey," he envisioned a space elevator that took people and objects from Earth's surface out to a space station. Today the space elevator concept is rolling around in the minds of space engineers and according to everything I have read, while we do not have the technology now, we eventually will. Tethers linked at one end to a satellite orbiting Earth and the other end at some facility on the planet's surface would probably be the link to developing the elevator itself. NASA has been experimenting with much shorter tethers, so far with minimal luck but enough to keep the research going -- at least as long as our non science-minded Congress funds the research. During the Apollo years, Clarke was a visible presence on television, often right next to the legendary newsman, Walter Cronkite. Google Clarke and the number of listings you'll have at your fingertips -- more than 800,000. One of the last pioneering giants in science fiction -- a list that also includes the late Phillip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov -- Clarke has now left the legacy to perhaps the final Titan, Ray Bradbury. This posting could extend for miles, but rather than reading more of this entry (there is no more), I hope those intrigued by Clarke will pick up his books (including amazing short stories, my favorite "The 9 Billion Names of God") and check him out on the Internet. Arthur C. Clarke's legacy to humanity was more goes beyond books. He left anyone courageous enough to use it, an imagination to invent the impossible.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


You hear about it. Read about it. But you won't believe the prices of name brand medications until you have to pay out-of-pocket. The big pharmaceuticals? RXtortionists. I'm hoping to beat them at the money game and save the bucks for, well, anything else. My not-so-private scheme has taken off, hopefully to succeed. What? Why? U.S. consumers are bankrolling huge salaries, expensive packaging and humongous advertising costs in the pharm industry. Think about all those television ads and multi-page glossy print ads. In short, the pharmaceuticals are riding the gravy train on your my money, your money -- our money. I refuse to be squeezed. This all began two weeks ago when mail order drugs arrived with a bill for $260. I went ballistic and then starting crying, bawling. Alas, I had reached the Medicare Part D "donut hole" and would be paying exorbitant prices for non generic drugs for the next few thousand dollars. No way, I thought. For starters, I called the mail order company and told thm I wouldn't pay for the meds and was sending them back. My tears convinced the customer service rep who agreed to send me a return envelope and label. Convinced I could find a much better price online, I launched a search. No surprise, the entire Google site came up with Canadian online pharmacies, an option I had not considered or researched before. Expecting moderate discounts, I launched my best-price hunt. What I found knocked me over. Not only are Canadian prices dramatically cheaper for name-brand drugs, but most drugs have generics up there north of the border. Comparing costs for three months of two drugs I need, I learned here they would cost me more than $1,000. In Canada, I could buy a generic for one of the meds and the name-brand RX cost one-third of what I would pay at my local pharmacy. My total cost if I were buying in Canada? About $230, also for three months. That is not per med. It's for both. Would it work? Either way, name-brand or generic, I couldn't lose. My concerns were to find a reputable online dispenser and do my best to make certain it was not Joe's fly-by-night prescription service. Let me note here, cheaper drugs are not just for seniors. Anyone who does not have prescription coverage and takes any high price maintenance meds will want to look into the seemingly endless listings of Canadian options. Wading through the pages of companies, comparing prices on different meds (all shipping was less than $10) left me dizzy. Were there any guidelines to finding reputable online pharmacies? Next stop, Turns out the advocacy giant does have a short list what they dub "safety and service standards" for assessing the online pharmacies based north of the border. Taken from the April 2003 AARP "Your Money" article, notes the following: The online pharmacy should have its license number and the agency granting it on the Web site as well as its mailing address and a toll-free number with a real person at the other end. Legit companies require prescriptions, major details of medical history and should provide an explanation of any differences between Canadian and U.S. drug labels. No reputable pharmacy will dispense controlled substances across the border, and any online merchant that states it does not need prescriptions should be avoided. The company I ultimately selected said once it received my faxed prescriptions, someone would contact the doctor to verify. And today that is where this experiment stands. Prescriptions were faxed Wednesday. No doubt, I will be waiting about three to four weeks for this first-time order, but my plan to avoid RXtortion has begun. I'll keep you posted.


photo by sarah gross

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About Me

Tinley Park, Illinois
As a longtime newspaperwoman who left the business to freelance, I want to keep in touch with the world. This is my place to reach out with words.