Tuesday, July 31, 2001

What People Do with Signs and Symbols

From Glimpse: September 1986
US Fashion Designer Ralph Lauren brought legal action for infringing on "his" corporate symbol against an organization that used a similar insignia: the figure of a man on a horse swinging a mallet. The object of his suit? The US Polo Association, founded in 1900.

Glimpse 2001 Update:Lauren not only won that suit, but more than 15 years later, he continues his pursuit of those who would profit from his well-known logo and product line.
Another Ralph Lauren lawsuit against the US Polo Association, and Another Win

Friday, July 27, 2001

Quoted Wisdom

What a strange illusion it is to suppose that beauty is goodness.
-Leo Tolstoy, novelist and philosopher (1828-1910)

A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs--jolted by every pebble in the road.
-Henry Ward Beecher, preacher and writer (1813-1887)

Monday, July 16, 2001

Science--a Human Activity

From the San Francisco Chronicle's Jon Carroll, July 16, 2001:
Science is not some monolithic body of knowledge; it's a mishmash of old beliefs, new beliefs, superstitions, guesses, counterarguments and disputes. It's not useless -- far from it -- but it has to be understood as a cultural artifact, a production of the flawed human mind....

The polygraph, the "many writings" machine, measures small changes in heart rate, respiration, perspiration and other bodily functions. The theory behind the polygraph is that people who lie get nervous when they lie, and the nervousness is reflected in the polygraph results....

The reasons that people get nervous are many and various; only some of them have to do with guilty knowledge of a crime. There are sociopaths who have guilty knowledge, but it does not make them nervous. And there are tricks -- you can bite your tongue at odd times, for instance, to confuse the "control" responses.

Indeed, one of the interesting things about polygraphs is that they are only as good as their operators. An experienced polygraph operator can tease info out of data that others cannot. It seems like science, but it's actually intuition....

A thermometer, for instance, does not require intuitive interpretation to be useful. The thermometer, we may say, is good science -- provided it is placed in the right location and calibrated correctly. The raw data of a polygraph may be as good as the raw data of a good thermometer, but the interpretation is just an art form, like Afro-Cuban dancing.

And yet, because we want to believe -- even though the legal system itself doesn't believe -- we keep using polygraphs. We keep attaching significance to their results, even though that's wrong.

Sunday, July 08, 2001

On the Topic of Language Misuse

Our misapprehension of the nature of language has occasioned a greater waste of time, and effort, and genius, than all the other mistakes and delusions with which humanity has been afflicted. It has retarded immeasurably our physical knowledge of every kind, and vitiated what it could not retard.
-- A. B. Johnson, Treatise on Language, or the Relation Which Words Bear to Things, 1836

Saturday, July 07, 2001

Words don't mean, people mean

"Now, the word "brand" has a variety of uses, but I find defining it at the outset isn't all that difficult, and is worthwhile in setting the stage. To me, brand simply means "a person's mental model of another entity." Brand happens. Nothing is not branded. An entity's brand might not be intentional, but it nonetheless exists. Brand is an emergent property, typically derived from a series of interactions a person has with that entity. This is why the practice of "branding" is foolish--it attempts to gloss over that series of interactions with meaningless messages. But the property of "brand" is worth paying attention to."
--Peter Merholz, Web designer, from an essay on the issue of "branding" on his web site http://www.peterme.com