Archive for August, 2006

What is that word you keep using?

Friday, August 25th, 2006

The other morning I heard a news blurb on the radio about a gas station where they had accidentally bumped the decimal point over on the pumps, and were thus selling gasoline for 31 cents per gallon. It seems that this happened over the course of an hour and a half before they realized what was happening and switched off the pumps.

What really struck me was the moment when the woman on the radio made a comment along the lines of, “Man, why doesn’t something like that happen to me?”

Why does this bother me? Because for a full ninety minutes, every customer at that gas station stole gasoline*. If the price sign says $3.19 but the machine only charges you a tenth of that, that’s a glitch in the machine, not a fire sale. Any person with half a grain of morality would have known this, and said something to the guy running the station.

When I was growing up one of the common stories they told children was about how “Honest Abe” Lincoln once walked a mile to return a single penny to a shopkeeper who had given him too much in change. The point of the story was that, even though it was only a penny, (although a penny was worth a lot more back then…), it wasn’t Abe’s penny — it properly and morally belonged to the shopkeeper.

I remember back when I was just out of college and working at a bookstore, when at the end of the day one of the registers was short twenty dollars. We quickly figured out that a particular employee must have counted out one too many bills when giving a customer change for a hundred — this being determined by the employee remembering and thus suspecting the particular transaction, and the manager remembering an odd incident when he overheard that same customer say something like “What a nice gift!” as she counted her change leaving the store.

The employee didn’t get into much trouble — it was an honest mistake; but the customer clearly knew that she had been handed too much money, and for all she knew he could have been fired for it. But hey, twenty bucks, man.

Do young people ever learn about “Honest Abe” anymore? How about Washington and the cherry tree? Were those stories literally true? Probably not; they were moral lessons, not history lessons. Today instead we have the Clinton legacy: “If you don’t get caught, you haven’t done anything wrong.”

That word I keep using that nobody seems to comprehend? “Integrity”.

* …with the exception of those few customers who perhaps didn’t so much as glance at the price on the pump.

What’s in a name? pt. 2

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

I noticed a good comment by Walter Mossberg in this morning’s Personal Technology column:

[L]ike a lot of network-equipment makers, Netgear is clueless about naming products so that normal humans can understand what they are. The XE104 is officially called the XE104 85 Mbps Wall-Plugged Ethernet Switch. That’s like calling a table lamp the LS482 75 Watt Wall-Plugged Switched Illumination Device.

My only quibble with this is that he limits the statement to network device companies. I think that most technology companies have this problem.

Today, I can go over to Sony and check out the Walkman Core™ NW-E505PINK, or I can just pop over the Apple and pick up an iPod. Half the brilliance of Steve Jobs upon his triumphant return to Apple almost a decade ago is that he took a whole line of computers with names like “Macintosh Performa XYZ123-A” and renamed them “iMac”.

A noteable, if more subtle, adjunct to this is that the web address to check out those iPods is the easily remembered “”, whereas the Sony equivalent is a mile long and only reachable via cut-and-paste or a search from the home page. Want iTunes? Information on iMovie?, and so on.

This is the kind of marketing that generally only arises from a deep-seated corporate philosophy, and not from a marketing department brought in after the product has been finalized and built. It’s a philosophy I’ve noticed in only a small handful of other technology companies, (my Miele vacuum cleaner is the “White Star” — pretentious, perhaps, but I’ll never forget what model I have…) in terms of solid, elegant design reflecting the idea of design by designers instead of technicians.

It is also notable that some old-school companies appear to be finally picking up on this, as evidenced by this infamous parody of Microsoft that was reportedly created in-house by Microsoft itself.

What’s in a name?

Monday, August 7th, 2006

It just occurred to me, really.

Okay, so Apple is in the process of switching its products over to the speedy new Intel processors. Along the way, there have been some name changes. The iMac is still the iMac, but the PowerBook (laptop) is now called the MacBook Pro, presumably to get away from references to the “PowerPC” processor that they are abandoning.

This of course means that, if they follow a standard naming convention, the PowerMac will soon be renamed…

The MacMac.

That’s it. I’m selling my Apple stock.

Update: Well, that was timing.