Saturday, March 25, 2006

Why Wi-Fi?

This was news to me, and I am sad to say that I had not even thought much about it. The word Wi-Fi ... where did it come from?

Back in November, BoingBoing published a little piece by Cory Doctorow in which he in turn quotes one Phil Belanger:

Wi-Fi doesn't stand for anything.

It is not an acronym. There is no meaning.

Wi-Fi and the ying yang style logo were invented by Interbrand. We (the founding members of the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, now called the Wi-Fi Alliance) hired Interbrand to come up with the name and logo that we could use for our interoperability seal and marketing efforts. We needed something that was a little catchier than "IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence".


The only reason that you hear anything about "Wireless Fidelity" is some of my colleagues in the group were afraid. They didn't understand branding or marketing. hey could not imagine using the name "Wi-Fi" without having some sort of literal explanation. So we compromised and agreed to include the tag line "The Standard for Wireless Fidelity" along with the name. This was a mistake and only served to confuse people and dilute the brand.

This is a little weird, isn't it? A word that's in common use today was invented as a brand name. Of course, that's nothing new: (insert long list here of one-time name brands). FWIW, it's interesting how quickly Wi-Fi took off.

Quiz: what does the term Wi-Fi actually mean? Extra points for providing both a formal and informal definition. (Hint: try Wikipedia.)

Anyway, the kinda weird part is that it came complete with a kind of back-etymology that, if one is to believe the quotation, was entirely invented. Based on a pun.

Doctorow has an earlier post in which he first noted this story, and got, uh, many comments contesting his assertion. Glenn Fleishman, a guy with some authority in this field (I guess), makes the following observation. (I am not a lawyer; please do not take the following as legal advice. Haha.)
Wi-Fi is a trademark and thus can't mean anything that's not arbitrary in the realm in which the trademark is coined. Wi-Fi had to have no prior meaning, so it's de facto meaningless.
The phrase "wireless fidelity" comes in at about a million hits on Google at the moment, so clearly the pseudo-etymology took hold. The people who invented the term certainly can't complain that others mistakenly believe the etymology they invented, although they do seem to be doing just that. Someone notes in one of these posts that at least part of the reason for the pseudo-etymology was "when they started getting barraged by writers whose editors demanded that all acronyms must be spelled out." Heh. Been there. As regards that, I liked Doctorow's comment: even if Wi-Fi stood for wireless fidelity, what would it help you to know that? Excellent point. Been there, too.

We now return to our regular programming.

(All of this orginally via Raymond Chen.)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Mash up and out

Another rising-with-a-star term these days is mash-up or mashup, which refers to combining media to create something new. The term is common in the world of music, where it seems to be an extension of sampling. Urban Dictionary sez:
1. mash-up

A remix made by taking two different songs, usually by 2 seperate artists, and combining them into one.

Closer in da club (Nine Inch Nails: Closer, combined with 50 cents Up in da club)

I've seen it in software to describe combining services from two sources to create a new thing. A typical software mash-up is to use Google maps with something else to produce maps that pinpoint something. For example, lets you click an icon on a Google map for information about the housing market in the area you click. Or this :
Mashing Up Google Maps with Wikipedia Articles

Google Maps, now integrated with Google Local, offers a lot of information about local merchants, but these detailed results typically don't include "overview" information about locations. Wikipedia, by contrast, has great general-information articles about thousands of places throughout the world.

A new service called Placeopedia maps geographic locations in Wikipedia articles onto Google Maps. It's a great feature that bolsters both services.
(Another time we'll tackle the -pedia suffix.)

So, nothing new here with mash-up per se. Paul McFedries finds a cite (in the musical sense) from 1999.

Today, though, I found an instance (new in my experience) of using mash up in a more generic, non-media sense:
Sundaresan was a student of Milos Konapasik (I might have the spelling wrong) who taught textiles at Georgia Tech and worked at Software Arts to create TK!Solver because of the need to solve complex equations. With all the attention focused on glitzy bio stuff it's good to remember that there are other cross-disciplinary opportunities such as mashing up textiles and computing.
I poked around a little to see if I could find other such uses, but the majority of uses (all I could find, anyway), were referring to either music or computer services. So maybe this is a term starting to break away from its original, somewhat specific meaning.

Friday, March 10, 2006


I was in a meeting recently and heard this sentence, which I quickly wrote down:
How do we executionalize that?
I passed this around to my colleagues, one of whom made the comment "Dang, someone's been to Suffix Mart." (Someone else said "cruelly and unusually, of course.")

I suspect this was a slip of the tongue, although even there, it has the form of grammatical correctness, i.e., it's still following rules for verbing. I can kind of see how we get there. At work, a phrase that's popular is execute crisply, as in We need to execute crisply on that. To accomplish that task, you need crisp execution. If you want crisp execution, you need to executionalize crisply. See how that works?

I'm sure there are other examples of verbs (I can't think of any at the moment, but I'm just sure, ok?) that follow the development pattern of verb -> nouned verb -> re-verbed noun in new form. If you can think of any, by all means, drop a comment.

Update 3/24/06 I heard the same person use this term again today. So it's not just a slip of the tongue. Google: zero hits, except as noted on this blog.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

More cast-ery

Broadcast + iPod = podcast. (See also: podfade.)

Today (well, recently), buzzcast. What does it mean? How does it differ from podcast? Michael Lehman explains the term:

Part of my "day" job at Microsoft is to be a "professional" podcaster. I started the first podcast show on the Channel9 ( website last June and now I'm about to start a new of new shows. The first new show is a rebirth of the podcast show I called the "buzzcast" which was a countdown to a Microsoft event. The original buzzcast was to talk about the Microsoft Professional Developer's conference. The new buzzcast is leading up to the Mix06 show ( scheduled for March 20th in Las Vegas.

Google today: 18,300 hits.