When names go bad

Names matter. How we name things shapes both us and what is being named. A lot of people think that names have mystical power. (I wrote an inarticulate paper in college on attitudes towards mystical naming in Shakespeare’s time, for example.) A role-playing game suggests the idea that what separates us from animals is not tool use or even vocal communication, but that we can name things and animals cannot.

Apple, a company successful in large part because it cares about industrial design, looks and coolness, has developed a disturbing tendency to bestowe stupid names on their technology. This started a few years ago, when Apple came up with an incredibly neat idea. Realizing that all of their machines shipped with video cards with special hardware for drawing 3D technologies like OpenGL very quickly, and that much of this technology contains processors that are, in some ways, more powerful than the main processor of the machine, they hit upon the concept of treating each window on the screen as a thin, textured 3D object, and letting the video hardware deal with layering, drop shadows and so on. Sorry to readers who found the previous description filled with gobbledegook, but take my word for it, this idea borders on brilliant. Though somewhat obvious when you think about it, this is easily the most significant advance in windowing systems in a decade.

So, what did Apple call it? Given they had a graphics technology called Quartz, they decided that this great idea absolutely had to be called Quartz Extreme. Not something that stayed with the mineral theme, but evoked the idea of layers, like, say “Mica”. Not something that kept with a geological terminology like “Quartz Ashlar“, “Tessera” or “Tectonic”. Not even something that, you know, passes the laugh test.

With the release of Tiger they’ve made the naming even stupider with a refinement of the idea called “Quartz 2D Extreme”. Great. Now stupid and hard to say. Again, though, the idea it self is great. In two pages of his epic review of Tiger, John Siracusa explains it all better than I ever could. It’s just a shame such great ideas get such hideous nomenclature. I guess I should count our blessings; they could have called it “iQuartz 2D iExtreme Pro Gold” or something.

Another recent head-scratching name involves yet another really neat technology, this one an open standard. The standard deals with automatic discovery, negotiation and configuration of devices on a network. So, for example, you can just plug a printer into your network and this technology integrates it automatically. The standard itself has a pretty good name: ZeroConf. Apple’s implementation of this standard used to have a great name: Rendezvous. Unfortunately, this word is a registered trademark of someone else, so a lawsuit forced Apple to change the name. If the name they chose for a replacement is any indication, what Apple liked about Rendezvous wasn’t that it neatly encapsulated what the technology did and how it worked, but that it was in French. The new name, Bonjour, seems like it was chosen at random. Granted, something like “Liason” is also already trademarked, but if they wanted to go with French, they could at least have chosen a word that doesn’t sound so dorky, like “Maginot” or “Reddition” or even “Frère Jacques”. “ZeroConf” would be preferable to any of those.

I admit, naming is difficult. Very few things have perfect names. So far, I’ve only seen three things with names I consider absolutely flawless:

  1. A sex shop geared towards women called the Grand Opening
  2. A reggae band called the Joint Chiefs
  3. A book about female pirates called Booty

Anyone know of other great names or naming disasters?

Necklace question

The film Timerider featured a motorcyclist who accidentally goes back in time to the old west. Being hunky, he naturally beds a local babe and while basking in the afterglow, she asks him about his necklace, which is this misshappen hunk of metal. He informs her that his grandmother stole it from his grandfather and it was passed down to him. Later, in the dramatic finale, the motorcyclist is hanging from a helicopter, dangling a few feet from the babe. She reaches out and takes his necklace, just before the time portal closes and he is returned to his present. So, the big reveal is that the babe is the motorcyclist’s grandmother, implying that he is is own grandfather. Roll credits.

Since seeing this movie when I was 14 or so, my question has always been: who made the necklace?

Looks like I’ll miss my chance to ask those who might know how to resolve such a time paradox, as I’ll not be in Boston this Saturday. Thus, I’ll miss the time-traveller’s convention (of which, there need be only one). Perhaps I can travel back to it someday, necklace and all.

Not your average old boys network

Of the benefits provided by an Ivy League education, exposure to the “old boys network” supposedly tops the list. You join the ranks of powerful, fat, balding white men who smoke cigars in dark, Victorian rooms and do each other favors. Naturally, if it ever really worked like that, it doesn’t anymore. This is not to say that no networking exists, just that the networks built these days are less likely to include CEO’s, senators and the gnomes of Zürich. More often, you’ll find a diverse bunch, scattered world-wide and doing some interesting stuff.

A casual mention of a band I’d never heard of during an internet meander brought this home to me. Being in “random surf” mode, I took a look at the band, named Pink Martini. Their style is a bit difficult to describe, but I’d call it “world lounge”. If “Song of the Black Lizard” and some of their instrumental stuff sounds familiar, you probably heard it on the Sopranos. “Let’s Never Stop Falling in Love” is also now used in a self-promo piece on one of the Starz! channels.

A reading of their bio page revealed the group to be the brainchild of Thomas M. Lauderdale, a name I hadn’t heard in over a decade. I didn’t know him that well. We exchanged maybe a couple of sentences. I knew of him, of course. The Crimson called him the “eternal cheerleader” of the place in which we both lived. That article doesn’t really do him justice, though. In the first place, it lacks the picture that ran with the original article, the close-up of him making out with the statue of John Harvard, compositionally one of the best shots the paper ever published. In the second place, it makes him sound like one of the annoying throng of fabulous men who do outrageous things in a desperate attempt to seem interesting. Thomas wasn’t like that; he really is interesting.

My primary memory of Thomas is during a party he put together for freshman (like me) who would be moving to the house the following term. His events deserved their good reputation. I met him twice that night briefly, once while he wore a tux, then later when he traded it in for a gown. Not your average old boy for sure. I don’t know him well enough to truly consider him part of my “network”, but if I asked him for a favor, I have a feeling he’d probably do it. He seemed like that kind of guy.

Meanwhile, I’m happy to pimp for his band. Check out Pink Martini. “Amado Mio” and “Hang On Little Tomato” are the only things that have been able to break my cycle of listening to a handful of DJ Earworm tracks over and over. Also, if you’re in Boston, check them out when they play with the Pops on May 18-21.

Self-indulgent drivel

A digression from my usual posting style and the start of my descent into a self-obsessed wasteland, inspired by Dr. Vikingzen.

Ten things I’ve done that you probably haven’t

  1. Suffered second degree sunburns on the backs of my ears.
  2. Received a letter from Steve Wynn correctly criticizing my archetectural theories.
  3. Sang in front of hundreds of people dressed as a monk, complete with “shaved head” wig.
  4. Acted as the corporate voice for Jack Hunter Ford (age 10).
  5. Sat behind Alexander Solzhenitsyn for several hours in Harvard Yard.
  6. Drank a toast to large-breasted women with the guy who wrote the theme song to Silver Spoons.
  7. Witnessed a Blue Man completely break character to greet my father.
  8. Shared an elevator with several obviously armed Secret Service agents assigned to guard then Vice President George Bush.
  9. Illegally entered, and drove the full length of, a (then active) United States miliary base. With my mother in the car.
  10. Received a scolding for staging a fake fight on an elementary school playground, in front of a church (fifth grade).

Roman numeral promotion

In 1996 or so, my friend KD realized that since the roman numeral for the then approaching millennium was “MM”, there would be a natural promotional tie in for M & M’s candy come y2k. Naturally, Mars Inc. couldn’t pass such a thing up, naming M&M’s “the official spokescandies of the new millennium” in early 1998. This promotion was probably effective for Mars, but I don’t remember it making that big of a splash (a few hoaxes aside) or ever becoming that irritating.

This will not be the case, however, with the next Roman-numeral related promotion that we will undoubtedly need to endure come next winter: SuperBowl XL. You can just hear the announcers gushing over lines like “the biggest SuperBowl ever”, “one size bigger” or some other bad “extra-large” reference.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Another Empire

America’s detractors have called it “imperialist” for some time. Recently, the American government has embraced this label, invading several countries. While it is doubtful America is really trying to build a classical empire, I think it could actually do so in a way that would avoid some of the problems usually experienced in empire building and actually help the people of the world a little in the process.

Imperial US

America should announce that any government that actively pursues or obviously condones genocide has forfeit its right to rule and will be eliminated, with the nation it presently governs invaded and made part of the American Empire.

Since it appears that defeating foreign armies (particularly from the types of countries likely to practice genocide) is significantly less of a challenge for America compared to “winning the peace”, this strategy should provide a fairly large group of natives (though certainly a minority) who would back their new American overlords, namely the people previously being slaughtered by their own government.

After taking over a few of these countries, the likely furor of neighboring countries make it almost certain that Imperial America would be faced with the necessity of (or at least the pretext for) conquering Lybia. I figure that about half of Africa would be part of the Empire by the end of the decade. And not just the crummy bits either, but some serious mineral wealth. You might think ruling such a place would be a disaster waiting to happen. Of course it would be, but America couldn’t do much worse ruling this part of the world than its done for itself. At the very least, a lot fewer women would be raped and people getting their hands cut off would be the occasional accident instead of an hourly event.

It would also supply America with what it appears to need most: a labor pool that doesn’t mind being paid very little to make Nikes. For many in Africa, making pennies a day beats lining up to get your limbs severed, hands down (as it were).

Another thing going for this policy is that it embodies America’s second founding principle: hypocrisy (freedom being the first founding principle), given that the “let’s get our citizens to destroy their food supply” strategy employed against Native Americans would fit the “obviously condones genocide” requirement.

Lesson of Christmas

When Robert L. May wrote the verse “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in 1939 for a Montgomery Ward promotional children’s book, he created something of a phenomenon, particularly when his brother-in-law Johnny Marks turned it into a song in 1949, recorded by Gene Autry. Since then, Rudolph, has become one of the many plagues of Christmas, spawning everything from toys to TV specials to inane debates.

Many say that the point of the Rudolph story is that flaws can be turned into assets; however, in one of many holiday shopping moments spent being brutalized by musical Christmas glee, the following lyrics struck me:

Then one foggy Christmas Eve,
Santa came to say,
“Rudolph with your nose so bright,
Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”
Then how the reindeer loved him

The point of the song, therefore, seems to be “people who are different will be ridiculed until someone popular says they’re OK.” Or, perhaps, “you are nothing until you prove useful to the elite.”

Merry Christmas.