This hand-painted map from 1981 is believed to be the earliest map of Silicon Valley to highlight the region’s technology companies. It was created by Corbin Hillam, a designer and illustrator of children’s books.
There are lots of hidden treasures in the map. (Golf! Baseball! Wineries! Skiing! Wait—skiing?) What I’m looking at, though, are the company names, which are perfectly of their era, meaning they sound like they were spit out by a room-size UNIVAC computer: Ampex, Memorex, Acuronex, Siliconix, Measurex, Litronix. (An even more famous x-suffixed company, Xerox PARC, is mysteriously missing. It was in founded in 1969 near Stanford University—PARC stands for Palo Alto Research Center—and in 1981 the company’s 8010 Star Information System became the first commercial computer that uses a mouse.) In that environment, the eponyms—Fairchild, Lockheed, Hewlett Packard before it became HP—are the standouts.
This month’s book recommendation is Becoming Duchess Goldblatt, by Anonymous. Duchess Goldblatt—Her Grace or DG to her thousands of Twitter followers, myself included—has been an indelible, wholly invented presence on Twitter for some eight years. Her avatar is a 1633 portrait by Frans Hals, and her distinctive voice—firm yet loving, barmy yet authoritative, warm yet tinged with acid—has inspired endless speculation about her “real” identity. You won’t learn that secret from this memoir, but you will learn how the anonymous author (now a woman of perhaps middle age) came to create her, during a terrible period in her life during which she lost her marriage, her house, her job, and most of her friends. The Duchess became her 81-year-old alter ego: an escape from loneliness and an outlet for her considerable writing talent. The book combines memoir with selected DG tweets, and if you choose the audiobook—try your local library system—you’ll enjoy not just the primary narration by Gabra Zackman but also the wonderful actress J. Smith Cameron reading the tweets and singer/songwriter/actor Lyle Lovett reading the Lyle Lovett parts. (Lovett and Her Grace have a mutual admiration society, and if only DG would deign to follow me back on Twitter we could make it a threesome.)
Writers can be a lot of fun at parties, but word to the wise: Keep an eye on your good memories. They’ll strip them down for parts.
I’ve known, and written about, HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks), Turkers(people who perform HITs), the sharing economy (exemplified by Uber and Airbnb), and the precariat (“people whose lives are precarious because they have little or no job security”) for years now. What I hadn’t known was the word that’s often used to describe workers in the “global gig economy”: the human cloud.
Part-time data entry, done by residents of places such as Kibera, Kenya, is “arguably the fastest-growing part of the global gig economy, known as the human cloud.” Source
No, notthat “lit.” These brand names are inspired by literature and borrowed from the language of … well, language. Why? I can only guess. Maybe they want to communicate something about creativity and inspiration, but who knows? The names appear literary, but the stories their owners are telling are mysteries. And sometimes, as Dr. Freud might have said, a trend is just a trend.
Where do you find a brand name? More specifically, where do you find a powerful, memorable, lasting brand name?
The answer, in one famous instance: outside the window.
In 1982, computer scientists John Warnock and Charles Geschke were working in Warnock’s garage in Los Altos, California, on a page description language for controlling printing. The product would end up being called PostScript; in 1985, Warnock and Geschke would license it to Apple.
PostScript is a solid product name. But Warnock and Geschke, who had been colleagues at Xerox PARC, had bigger plans. They needed a company name that wasn’t defined by, or limited to, a single product.
They found that name when they looked outside the garage window and saw Adobe Creek.
My latest column for the Visual Thesaurus is about The Big Disruption, the satirical novel by Jessica Powell that made waves when it was published earlier this month on Medium, where it can be read at no charge.
Most coverage centered on the unusual publication mode, the Silicon Valley satire, and Powell’s credentials: She’s a former VP of communications at Google. My column take a different view: I’m interested in the names Powell invented for companies, products, and characters, including “Anahata,” the fictional company at the heart of the story.
Access to the column is restricted to VT subscribers for three months; here’s an excerpt:
I reached Jessica Powell by email to ask her how she created Anahata, Arsyen, Galt, Pyrhhia, and other names. Her process, it turned out, was sometimes more intuitive than strategic.
Anahata. Powell didn’t invent this name; it’s a Sanskrit word that in yogic traditions denotes the heart chakra. (A chakra is an energy center. Anahata literally means “unstruck” or “unbroken.”) Powell chose it, she told me, because “it spoke to the hypocrisy of the Valley – picking something that some Westerner thought sounded mystical to describe a service that might actually be far more banal.”
Arsyen Aino. This outsider protagonist is never identified by ethnicity. “I wanted Arsyen to be primarily identified by the reader as a prince and an outsider to the Valley,” Powell told me. “So I didn’t want him to have any of the baggage that might have come from pegging him to a specific country. There are so many things that I'm attacking in this book; I didn’t want his origin to be a distraction. So I looked at a lot of names from different parts of the world – Slavic languages, but also African ones – and then just started playing with sound combinations.”