Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Good riddance, slavery

August 1, 2011 2 comments

It’s a holiday here in Canada (most of it, anyway), so the Words By Nowak offices are closed till Tuesday. Officially, today is the Civic Holiday, but it’s also known as Simcoe day or Emancipation Day, to mark the end of slavery in Canada. Bet you didn’t know we had slavery, huh?

Categories: Uncategorized

Excuse me: is the BlackBerry XB25687 in stock?

July 15, 2011 3 comments

Another day, another round of stories wondering what’s wrong with BlackBerry maker Research In Motion. One particular article - from PC World about how the seven new BlackBerry models promised by the company at its recent annual general meeting are just distractions - got me thinking about how companies name their products.

Apparently, the new phones on the horizon include the Torch 9810, the Curve 9350/9360 and the Torch 9850/9860.

Huh? What? What’s with all the damn numbers? How is the average consumer supposed to remember those?

Back when I was an employee of The Man, I used to tote a BlackBerry around on occasion. When people would ask me what model it was, I’d shrug and say, “Uh, an older one?” Same goes with a bunch of Nokia phones over the past few years, which had a similar naming convention (the N8, the E71, the N64… no wait, that was a video game console). As the PC World article points out, that’s not a good similarity for RIM because it certainly doesn’t want to end up like Nokia.

The two companies are far from alone in naming their products with confusing numbers and letter combinations. Indeed, up until recently, that has been the general convention with technological products. Televisions, cameras, stereos - you name it - everything was defined by its model number. That’s mostly because the manufacturers weren’t selling to consumers - their main customers were retailers. And Best Buy et al really don’t care if a product has a sexy and easy to remember name, they’ll order it (or not) anyway.

Regular people are different. I can’t remember the last time - if ever - that I’ve walked into a store and said, “Excuse me, do you have the Sony RP786340? I simply must have it.” Most consumers are probably the same.

Apple has received a lot of praise over the years for its marketing savvy. Product names are definitely one area it excels in. For starters, everything begins with an “i” - how simple is that? (Tellingly, virtually its only product that doesn’t carry the “i” prefix - Apple TV - is not a hot seller.) But more importantly, there are no model numbers, or if there, they’re simple. The iPod, iPod Nano, iPod shuffle, iPhone 3G, iPhone 4, iPad 2 and so on. If it were RIM, the products might be named the iPad 5678 or the iPhone 2112 (in honour of the company’s Canadian roots, of course).

Apple is of course not the originator of simple product names, but it has used them very effectively. Other smartphone makers have taken notice and moved toward doing the same, away from the model numbers of Nokia and RIM. The most successful phones tend to have the simplest and easiest-to-remember names: the Motorola Droid, the Samsung Galaxy, the Sony Ericsson Xperia. Sure, some of them are adding numbers to their brand, but the manufacturers probably know they have to keep it simple.

That’s because the world has shifted. Tech makers aren’t just selling to retailers or corporate IT departments anymore. They know that if they want their product to get that “must-have” sex appeal, they need to give it a slick-sounding, easy-to-remember name. Numbers and letters won’t do.

RIM seems to be on the fence with this. On one hand, the company has moved toward the new paradigm with devices such as the Torch and the PlayBook, but if the upcoming model names are any indication, it’s still tied somewhat to the old school. Interestingly, RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis used to say that the BlackBerry would never have a marketing-derived name, that they would always have model numbers. (He also used to say they’d never have cameras or MP3 players. Yikes.)

If only all electronics makers could follow this trend. It would certainly make for some creatively named products. I, for one, think it would be great to walk into a store and ask for the latest Samsung Awesome plasma TV, the Panasonic Ass-Kicker camera or the HTC Chick Magnet smartphone. Okay, maybe not the last one. Anyone else have any suggestions?

Categories: Uncategorized

Celebrate July 4 with your own explosions

July 4, 2011 Comments off

Happy Fourth of July to our American friends! As you’re enjoying your fireworks, remember: explosions aren’t just for professionals anymore.

Here’s a fun kind of home-made firework - which doesn’t actually include any fire - that can be made using only a bottle of Diet Coke and a package of Mentos. (Click here if you can’t see the video below):

In case you’re curious, here’s the guys from Mythbusters explaining the science behind it.

Categories: Uncategorized

The best way to celebrate twin holidays: Soundgarden!

July 1, 2011 Comments off

Happy Canada Day to all my fellow Canucks! And happy Independence Day to our American friends! (The rest of you: get your own holiday!)

I’m taking the day off and will be celebrating a day later in the best possible way: at the Soundgarden concert here in Toronto on Saturday. I don’t know what we did to deserve the newly reformed band starting their tour in our fair city, but I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the country’s birthday.

Don’t worry, though, it’s not just a Canadian thing. Here’s an awesome rendition of Fourth of July from last year’s Lollapalooza show in Chicago. The song definitely isn’t about American independence, but as near as I can tell from the lyrics, it probably is about blowing stuff up (click here if you can’t see the video below). Enjoy and have a great long weekend!

Categories: Uncategorized

U.S. military fielding an Android army

April 27, 2011 Comments off

I’m going back to my roots today with a story about military technology that could be plucked right out of Sex, Bombs and Burgers. The U.S. Army is preparing to arm soldiers with Android smartphones, complete with custom apps designed for military purposes.

“A prototype device called the Joint Battle Command-Platform being developed by MITRE is already undergoing tests with Android used to run the software as part of a bid to reduce the amount of weighty equipment being lugged around by troops,” according to Techeye.

The U.S. military picking Android for its devices is not surprising. The operating system is the most open of the major ones available, which also makes it the cheapest since its maker - Google - doesn’t charge a licensing fee. Its relative openness also makes it the most customizable, which suits the specialized needs of a customer such as the Army.

App makers have been making military-themed software for some time, like the one used to help soldiers cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Google also has a long and friendly history with the military, some of which is detailed in my book. Vint Cerf, considered by many to be the “father of the internet,” splits his time between military projects and being a vice-president at Google.

Two years ago, while I was working on Sex, Bombs and Burgers, he told me about how some military-funded space research he was doing might find its way into Android phones. Evidently, some of that is going to actually start happening soon.