If your goal was to own the fastest Mercedes-Benz sedan, which of the following would you most prefer?

  • S
  • SL
  • SLK
  • SLS
  • E
  • C
  • CL
  • CLA
  • CLS

The correct answer is the SLS, which takes a short 3.8 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h. Although this fact may be common knowledge to motor enthusiasts, neither the vehicle’s speed nor any other attribute can be inferred from the model name alone. This isn’t surprising, since automobiles generally do not derive their name from specifications. However, this may cause some to wonder why a company would create a system of letters and numbers to identify their products, yet avoid using those letters and numbers to describe them.

There are generally two approaches to naming products. The first is to assign product names individually, as is commonly done with with pets and children. Automobile names are usually taken from an animal, location or native tribe in an attempt to summon imagery of strength, prestige and speed in the minds of consumers. Although the name may not describe any of the vehicle’s specifications, it usually embodies some of its characteristics.

The Dodge Magnum, for example, gives the impression of a powerful, dangerous weapon, while the Ford Fiesta’s title implies that driving the car is like having a party. There are cases where the vehicle’s title doesn’t quite fit, as it did with the Dodge Shadow, which is in no way a dark or sinister machine. In fact, the Plymouth Sundance, despite having nearly the complete opposite name as the Shadow, is actually the same vehicle.

There isn’t anything wrong with using individual names, other than the fact that they usually don’t communicate any significant information about the product. This brings us to the second option.

The other route to naming products is to implement a system of alphanumeric codes. Although products named in this fashion lack the unique symbolism of an individual name, there are several significant advantages to this method. First, the release of each new model does not require the creation of a name. Second, these names sound technical and cool. Finally, and most importantly, key product information can be easily deciphered from these codes, but only if the codes are implemented with care.

Product codes may reflect one or more of the product’s traits, including release date, size, speed, color or series. BMW, for example, names its vehicles with a three digit number, followed by one or two letters. The first digit of the number represents the vehicle’s series, which describes the body size and other details. The following two digits indicate performance, and the letters describe various options, including automatic transmission, fuel injection or a convertible roof.

One mistake that those at BMW made when they conceived of this system was that they limited their capacity to release new series of vehicles. By using single digit numbers, BMW essentially proclaimed that they would never introduce more than two models smaller than the 3 series, and no more than one model between the 3 and 5 or 5 and 7 series. Although there have been changes, additions and exceptions to the BMW codification, their system remains a useful and straightforward example of the implementation of product codes.

There are many examples of product codes that do more to confuse than to educate. Nvidia’s GeForce line of computer graphics cards have suffered from a lack of clear and consistent product coding. In modern GeForce codification, the first digit of the model number represents the generation, while the remaining numbers indicate performance. There is usually a prefix, a suffix or both a prefix and suffix attached to the model number, which also indicates performance.

Although the model numbers, prefixes and suffixes do have meaning, the actual specifications of the product are impossible to extract from the product code alone. For example, the GTX 690 has double the amount of memory of the 680, but the 680 has the same memory as the 670. To cause further confusion, the 680 model also has a higher clock speed than the 690, which was touted as the most powerful card in the 600 series.

Now aside from using an inconsistent system for identifying individual products, the many generations of GeForce graphics cards have not been named in the same way. The first generation was strangely named the GeForce 256, which was succeeded by the GeForce 2. The GeForce 3 and 4 followed, but then the numeric succession was interrupted by the GeForce FX. The coding then returned to the previous pattern with the releases of the GeForce 6, 7, 8 and 9. However, when Nvidia announced its 10th generation of graphics cards, there was an adjustment. Since the 4th generation, most of the model numbers had been four digits long, which meant that the 10th generation would roll them over to a five digit number. To avoid such extensive product codes, the 10th generation was christened the 100 series. Since then, each generation has added 100 to previous generation’s code.

Another possible area of confusion is that series and model names are often largely arbitrary. In the examples above, the numbers don’t actually represent anything other than the relation between products, which isn’t even proportionally accurate. To avoid this, Samsung coded its televisions according to the size of the screen, the type of display and the number of features. By linking product codes to actual, meaningful specifications, Samsung’s products may all be easily identified by their product code.

When planning to implement a system of codes for products, whether for inventory or product naming purposes, be sure to follow these simple rules:

  1. Have your codes represent key product information.
  2. Leave room for new codes.
  3. Be consistent.
  4. Don’t use the letter X.

Ideally, product codes should include the greatest amount of relevant information that can be conveyed while remaining concise and legible. As an exercise, examine the following examples of product names:

  1. Nintendo
    • Nintento Entertainment System (NES)
    • Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
    • Nintendo 64 (N64)
    • Gamecube (GCN)
    • Wii
    • Wii U
  2. Sony
    • Playstation (PS1)
    • Playstation 2 (PS2)
    • Playstation 3 (PS3)
    • Playstation 4 (PS4)
  3. Microsoft
    • Xbox
    • Xbox 360
    • Xbox One

Now try to determine which of these companies has implemented a logical and informative series of codes, which one is mostly using individual names and which company has backed itself into a corner with a poorly devised system.

It’ll Be Fun!

Whether it’s our favorite restaurant, musical group or pastime, we can’t help but coerce our friends into sampling the things that bring us joy. Perhaps it’s a out of genuine concern for their well-being, or maybe the need to validate our own choices, but the harassment won’t stop until they agree to try it. Here are 7 steps to introducing a friend to something new:

  1. Invite a friend to join you in an activity or event that you enjoy.
  2. If they don’t agree to join you, offer nourishment or transportation.
  3. Prior to the activity or event, play it up like it’s the best thing ever.
  4. Just before it begins, look over at your friend with eyebrows raised in excitement.
  5. Have a miserable time.
  6. Using the phrase, “it’s not normally like this,” explain to your disappointed friend how the experience was an anomaly and that it will be much more enjoyable next time.
  7. Repeat steps 1 to 6 until they concede that your interests are fascinating.

Knee Deep in the Dead

No one knows exactly what happens to our consciousness when we die, but we do know what happens to our bodies: they rot. Flesh festers and decays, bone and sinew dissolve and the elements that once formed us are cycled back into the Earth. At least that’s what happens if we don’t interfere with the natural process.

Humans have always been fascinated with death, particularly death of those of our species. Because of this fixation, and also our attachment to those who have departed the world of the living, death rituals are an important practice in every culture.

A death ritual is a ceremony held shortly after the death of a member of society, which honors and commemorates their life through speech, dance or song.

The precise purpose of a death ritual can vary, but they are generally viewed as a sort of final farewell that releases a soul into the afterlife, honors the life of the deceased and offers closure to those left behind. Although these ceremonies share common purposes, their executions are unique and can be shocking to the unfamiliar.

The preparation of the body may involve a number of different customs, including dismemberment, mummification or even applying makeup and dressing it in fine clothing. The final ceremony may involve burying, burning or eating the corpse. Many of these customs seem vile and heretical to Western folk, for we predominantly bury our loved ones and seldom interact with the body. What’s interesting is that of all the ways to dispose of a dead body, burial in a marked grave is the only unsustainable method.

By assigning a small plot of land to each person, every member of society receives a shrine in their honor. Each grave is marked with a stone that bears a brief inscription epitomizing the person’s values and accomplishments. Because of our respect for the dead, these memorials are expected to remain undisturbed. However, this practice cannot continue indefinitely. Eventually our cemeteries will fill, requiring that we devote more and more land to those unable to appreciate our efforts.

This isn’t a threat that many are worried about, since cemeteries now occupy only a very small portion of developed land, which is only a fraction of the 150,000,000 square kilometers of land on our planet, but at some point we must address this issue.

Allowing for reasonable spacing between graves, each plot would require about 6 square meters, which means that the Earth could accommodate around 25,000,000,000 graves. If we inaccurately assume that our population and annual mortality rate remain constant, at 7,000,000,000 and .86% respectively, and that burial soon becomes the official worldwide death ritual, it will be a short 446 years before the entire globe is transformed into a graveyard.

It’s possible that the reason we abandon our world and take to the stars in search of a new home won’t be war, pollution or overpopulation (at least in the conventional sense), but that this planet’s overrun by the remains of our ancestors. It’s true that 2459 is a long way off, and that things could change by that time, but we could be losing 336,000,000 square meters of land every year – land that could be used to benefit the living.

Rather than fearing that the dead rise from their graves, perhaps we should fear that they remain there.

The Nature of Competition: Part II

In part I we discussed the different forms of competition, the origin of sport and the difference between direct and indirect competition. Now we will explore the role of competition in other areas and determine whether it’s actually a constructive behavior.

As we discussed earlier, the major function of competition in nature is to ensure the survival of those most fit for their environment. Modern human competition is used to propel ourselves to achieve new levels of excellence and elevate those who are more talented or dedicated. Competition is a wonderful thing for those who succeed, but as Charles Schulz reminds us, “Nobody remembers who came in second.”

Beyond the podium, in silent locker rooms and on long drives home, the unremembered contemplate the purpose of their efforts. Failure is a necessary component in competition; there’s no way round it. Even the most innocent and well-meaning contests produce failure. These failures are not incidental, but a requirement in order to produce the successes, for a competition without losers is not considered legitimate.

By asking individuals to compete against each other, we are demanding failure. We’re taking pleasure in watching people devote their lives to something and come up short. This reveals how competition is actually a cruel experiment carried out by fans, coaches and parents. By enticing individuals with visions of fame and fortune, while planting false ideas of superiority and a right to win, competitors are conduced to compete, and often fail, for our amusement. But when disappointment falls on those who didn’t achieve their goal, their only consolation is that they may have a chance to redeem themselves. This cycle can continue indefinitely, when a simple cost-benefit analysis of would easily determine that competition is a poor investment.

We may attempt to excuse ourselves from responsibility by proposing that failure is a result of inadequacy, but the fact is that it will come to most, regardless of their efforts. In addition, competition has no sense of justice, so there is no guarantee that the most deserving will be victorious.

Another fundamental part of competition is enmity. Competition is conflict, and in order to have conflict, we must have an us and a them. It is essential that we detach ourselves from those we compete against, for our actions may directly result in their failure. Some competitors intentionally disassociate themselves with their competitors or even foster feelings of hatred in order to compete more intensely or without the restrictions that come with viewing an opponent as a fellow human being. Although there can be great respect between opponents, this relationship is hardly worthy of admiration. There cannot be unity between competitors, for in striving for the same goal we are actually stealing from others what they do not yet possess. There is a limited number of awards to be won, so the aim of each participant is to look out only for themselves, even at the cost of others. This may not be considered theft in the conventional way, but it is by our actions that our opponents are robbed of their prize.

This is also true in the world of business. Looking through the lens of nature, if sport is a dramatization of survival, then economic competition is an embodiment of the battle to feed. Much like blind pups suckling for sustenance, or wild dogs clashing for a piece of a kill, businesses compete to get a larger share of the market. Unlike in many sports, the aim of business competitors is not necessarily the elimination of their opponents, though that is sometimes the case. However, since they are often striving for the same goal, the competition can still be extremely fierce.

Because of the influence of capitalism and our confidence in the competitive market, the competition between businesses seems like an acceptable and upright practice, but the truth of the matter is that many honest, hardworking individuals are regularly driven into poverty. There is no room for empathy in competition, and as we already touched on, no role for justice, since there is no assurance that honest efforts will be rewarded or that underhanded deeds will be punished.

Another example of human competition can be seen in struggle for social superiority. Individuals compete to be the most popular and well-liked because we derive value from the knowledge of how we are perceived by others. This motivates us to keep up with, or surpass, those around us in whatever categories we deem important. Whether it be a measure of wealth, beauty or accomplishment, we can’t help but create competition with those around us.

Unlike official contests, these social arms races are conducted in silence, without terms or rules, and they are eternal. There is no beginning or end and no declaration of winners or losers in social competition, only the vague sense of comfort and supremacy that comes with being better at life than others. Social competition is indirect, since we rarely interfere with others’ quest for material excellence, but the frustration and sadness of those trapped below are definitely real. When we show off our new house, toned figure or gold medal to our neighbor, we could be subjecting them to feelings of inferiority, whether or not we are aware that we are competing.

Shall we continue to raise our children to view other people as enemies, to prioritize themselves above others and to subject themselves to failure for our amusement? Shall we chase success at the cost of the misery and failure of others, like ravenous beasts?