I canceled my DSL service a few days ago and moved to one of those "bundled" broadband services with voice, television and Internet access all rolled into a single plan. All went well and I don’t have any of the horror stories one typically hears about with these types of installations. It still fascinates me though, amazes me actually, whenever I call a customer service number that forwards to a call center on the other side of the world.
It’s probably no different than when our forebearers first came to grips with the telegraph, telephone, and wireless radio communication. It’s certainly no different than my pinging around the planetary Internet in search of material for the Twelve Mile Circle. I guess the primary difference is that when I hear a voice on the other end of the connection, I’m confronted immediately with the geographic reality.
SOURCE: Great Circle Mapper
I spoke with someone in India in this instance. I deduced this from the accent and confirmed it with a quick web search. My ISP — the company I was leaving — had relocated its call center operations from North America to the Indian subcontinent several years ago. My departure had nothing to do with the service I’d received or the location of its call center. I’d simply outgrown what they could offer. No hard feelings.
That got me thinking, of course. I plotted the approximate distance from my location to the call center using the Great Circle Mapper website. It created the rather attractive map I’ve reproduced above. The shortest distance came out to about 12,000 kilometres (7,500 miles) using a route through the northern polar regions. My call terminated more than ten time zones away. My early evening conversation had been handled by someone who more than likely worked the entire night and answered my call at 5:00 am local time.
View India Outsourcing in a larger map
Business process outsourcing isn’t anything new by any means and India certainly has a place at the forefront with its ready supply of well-educated English speaking people and competitive cost of living. I’ve borrowed the map above from a Public Broadcasting Service article called 1-800-India which provides a little bit of a breakdown by city.
Wikipedia lists the leading BPO cities as "Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, NCR (New Delhi, Delhi, Gurgaon, Faridabad, NOIDA, Greater Noida, Jaipur, Lucknow, Dehradun, Rewari , Ghaziabad), Pune, Mumbai and Kolkata."
I have no idea where my call terminated precisely. All I could discover about the ISP was a generic "India" location.
Non-Geographic Content Follows — I won’t be offended if you choose to stop reading now
There are plenty of negative stereotypes about overseas call centers and I’m sure there have been genuinely unpleasant experiences. Nonetheless, I didn’t have a problem with the call or any others I’ve made previously that terminated internationally. I guess that’s a benefit of living in a highly multicultural area with a healthy percentage of foreign-born citizens and a rich tapestry of accents. Perhaps if I lived in a more homogeneous area the communication barrier might be a bit more acute. However I’ve chosen a place where a third of the residents speak a language other than English at home and I’ve long since acclimated to distinct patterns of speech including those from South Asia. I sympathize with the people who work in those centers. They’re required to follow an unyielding tyranny of phone scripts for long overnight hours, often with impatient customers who demand quick resolution on the other end of the line. Someone is always waiting for their job if they stumble. I try to remain pleasant and civil.
The most fascinating aspect of the call other than the geography involved had to have been my ISP’s bizarre downward negotiation as it attempted to hold onto ever-decreasing monthly revenue streams. I remained steadfast because my decision had already been made and executed. Nonetheless I realized I had to go through the entire sequence of steps before the call center operator could complete my request. I didn’t get frustrated, no, rather I somewhat enjoyed the increasing absurdity of the dance forced upon the customer service representative and myself by the script. I kept trying to guess how low they would go. The downward retreat went something like this:
- You’ve been a customer for many years. We’ll cut your monthly rate by $10 if you stay. – No thanks. Replacement service has already been installed in my home and it’s fully operational.
- What if your service goes down? You might need a backup. – That’s very expensive redundancy. It doesn’t sound like a good return on investment to me. I think I’ll risk it and go without a backup.
- I’m sure you travel. How about a dial-up account? We have local dial-up numbers throughout North America. It’s only $9.95 a month. – Most of the hotels I stay at offer free wireless access. Besides, it’s been years since I used dial-up. My laptop doesn’t even have a dial-up modem.
- Certainly you’d like to keep your email address. It will be such an inconvenience to change it. We’ll let you keep your email account for only $1.95 a month. – I’ve used Gmail for the last couple of years and it’s free. Nobody sends mail to my old account anymore.
- Still, you must have lots of addresses and messages stored in that account. These will all disappear when we terminate your services. How about keeping the address active for a month or two so you will have time to move everything? – Nope. It’s empty. I’d like my cancellation confirmation number, please.
I was placed on hold for a couple of minutes so she could "process the cancellation." Generally at this point a desperate ISP will raise the issue to a second-tier customer service representative to really press the hard sell. My guess is they were conferring while I was on hold and they decided I was too far gone to convince otherwise. It would be better to get me off the line so they could deal with the next call. The call center operator came back on the line and processed my cancellation. My wife did get a call a couple days later and they tried the email trick again, but I’d already alerted her and she didn’t bite.
I love it when categories collide and take me in entirely unanticipated directions. That’s what happened today. I noticed an interesting external search that bounced against my site: "What 2 state capitals are within 20 miles of a time zone boundary?" I’ve featured time zones many different times. I’ve also focused on the peculiarities of states. However I’ve never linked the two together so I decided to investigate this query further.
This should be pretty straightforward, I thought. Mapquest displays time zone markers and Google Maps provides a Great Circle distance utility. It shouldn’t take much effort to find the answers by toggling between the two.
Pierre, the capital city of South Dakota is the obvious initial choice that jumps right off the screen. This can be seen easily on Mapquest.
Notice how the yellow time zone line cuts straight through South Dakota. Pierre falls in Central Time, but a bridge over the Missouri River is all that separates it from Western Time. Perhaps the town on the western bank, Ft. Pierre follows Central Time informally (don’t know that for a fact but such affinity recognition is fairly common). Even it that’s the case it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Pierre doesn’t falls within 20 miles of a time zone boundary both formally and informally.
By the way, this is the first time I’ve noticed the "embed" option on Mapquest. This must be a feature that came with its new interface a few months ago. Nice. I’ll have to file that away for future reference.
The second state capital is a bit more problematic. I think it’s supposed to be a trick question with the answer being Juneau, Alaska. People tend to overlook Alaska and Hawaii on these types of trivia questions so they are an obvious choice for early consideration.
Again, focus on the yellow time zone indicator. In this case it happens to follow an international border, separating Juneau in the Alaskan Time Zone from British Columbia and Yukon in Canada, both following Pacific Time. There’s only one problem though: the distance is about 35 miles.
Maybe the person looking for the information got the question wrong? Perhaps that’s the case, but then consider that Bismarck, North Dakota is about the same distance from a time zone boundary or maybe even a little bit closer (about 32 miles – hard to tell). I never realized it before but there are a other state capital cities located fairly close to time zone boundaries too including Tallahassee, Florida at about 42 miles and Atlanta, Georgia at about 57 miles.
Pierre, SD is a no-brainer. The second part of the answer is either Juneau, AK, or Bismarck, ND or perhaps some other state capital that I’ve overlooked. Nonetheless it was a fun exercise and I hope our searcher finds his or her answer.
I mentioned at the beginning that Google Maps has a utility that provides Great Circle "as the crow flies" distances between two points. It’s a useful tool, and in case you haven’t seen it before you can find it easily enough from their front page by following these links in succession:
- My Maps
- Featured Content
- Distance Measurement Tool
I guess I’ve been feeling a little more curious than usual lately and I happened to spot the "I’m feeling geeky" option. Well, I’m often feeling geeky so I gave it a shot. There are a whole lot of units of measurement available that one can use to describe the distance from Juneau, AK to the Canadian border, whether useful, sublime, obsolete, or bizarre. 1145.28 Olympic Swimming Pool lengths, anyone?
- 35.5823 English Miles
- 57.2641 Kilometers
- 521.874 American Football Fields
- 1.62957e+8 American Printer’s Points
- 5.72641e+14 Ångströms
- 106001 Black Cubits
- 3.82787e-7 Astronomical Units
- 115423 Cubits of Lagash
- 128251 Babylonian trade Cubits
- 68318.0 California Varas
- 36455.4 Canas
- 1.52310e+8 Didot Points
- 109307 Egyptian Old Royal Cubits
- 127525 Egyptian Old Trade Cubits
- 154584 Egyptian Remen
- 108209 Egyptian Royal Cubits
- 31312.4 Fathoms
- 187875 Feet
- 284.658 Furlongs
- 123654 Greek Kyrenaika Cubits
- 120769 Greek Metrikos Cubits
- 103056 Ammatu Rabitu
- 2846.58 Gunter’s Chains
- 284658 Gunter’s Links
- 88060.6 Hashimi Cubits
- 2.25449e+6 Inches
- 133763 Jewish 1st Temple Cubits
- 128828 Jewish 2nd Temple Cubits
- 130860 Jewish 2nd Temple Sacred Cubits
- 10.3067 Leagues
- 114.528 Li
- 6.05283e-12 Light Years
- 57264.1 Meters
- 107350 Mesopotamian Nil-Cubits
- 30.9202 Nautical Miles
- 1145.28 Olympic Swimming Pools
- 1.85580e-12 Parsecs
- 109933 Pergamon cubits
- 114507 Persian Cubits
- 3.54304e+39 Planck Lengths
- 2.53006e+7 Potrzebies
- 1878.75 Ramsden’s Chains
- 11386.3 Rods
- 128820 Roman Cubits
- 38692.0 Roman Double-Paces
- 53.6784 Russian Verst
- 118314 Salamis Cubits
- 33645.2 Smoots
- 68506.0 Spanish Varas
- 110417 Sumarian Nippur cubits
- 67634.8 Texas Varas
- 2126.14 Vara chains
- 62624.8 Yards
Everything about Canada is larger than life. It’s difficult to wrap one’s mind around its incredible breadth and scale. I came across a tantalizing fact that I thought might help conceptualize its vastness but instead it’s a clever illusion, a little geo-slight-of-hand. In fact I think it’s more enjoyable as a mind-bender than as a trivia question.
People sometimes ask how I come up with ideas for Twelve Mile Circle. There are many ways actually. Often I simply jot down odd tidbits and detritus as I stumble across them on the web, in print or verbally. I pull them from the list as needed, either because I want to focus on a specific theme or geographic area, or as a cure for the occasional writer’s block. I probably have a couple of hundred topics waiting in reserve.
Somewhere I read or heard or otherwise noted on my list that Hudson Bay is so large that its eastern edge is due north of Washington, DC and its western edge is due north of Kansas City. That’s amazing, I thought when I first read it, and I placed it on list for a time when I could explore it further.
For those unfamiliar with the locations involved, Kansas City is about half way across the North American continent. It’s actually a little skewed to the east but "in the middle" more-or-less. Thus the Hudson Bay statement would lead many to conclude, subconsciously perhaps, that Hudson Bay must also be half a continent wide. It’s not, but what a great perceptional illusion.
I thought I would plot this all on a map. Ponder this for a moment:
View Width of Hudson Bay in a larger map
For the sake of simplicity I rounded to the following four latitude/longitude coordinates to create the box:
- 59.0N, 76.9W = Hudson Bay East
- 59.0N, 94.7W = Hudson Bay West
- 39.0N, 76.9W = Washington
- 39.0N, 94.7W = Kansas City
Nothing looks amiss. All the numbers align. The shaded area forms a perfect rectangle, with the edges of Hudson Bay directly north of Washington and Kansas City.
The trick would be much more obvious if we looked at a globe, because then we would notice with little effort that longitudes converge on two points, the north and south poles. There are many ways to represent the spherical Earth on a two dimensional surface, but it is difficult to do this without some type of distortion. Most of the online maps, Google Maps included, flatten the planet so that lines of longitude appear to run in parallel, conveniently ignoring that they actually converge. As a result the two blue lines lines on my map appear to be the same length but in reality they are not.
One can calculate the great-circle or orthodromic distance and determine the shortest line between two points on a sphere. In fact, there are a number of tools on the Intertubes that will do just that. Simply plug in the coordinates and let someone else worry about the math.
The results are striking. The latitudinal distance between the eastern and western longitudinal extremes of Hudson Bay is roughly 1,000 kilometres (630 miles). Between Washington and Kansas City, however, the distance between the same lines is a little more than 1,500 kilometres (950 miles).
Hudson Bay is still very wide. A thousand kilometres is no laughing matter. Nonetheless, the distance between Washington and Kansas City is fifty percent further. And that’s why I loved the statement.