Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Can an android understand ubuntu?

I really wish that software and online service marketers would choose unique names for their products and services, rather than ordinary words.

Three of the worst offenders that come to mind are Ubuntu, Android and Diaspora.

The problem is that these are also ordinary words, and this causes endless problems and confusion when using search engines, and make it very hard to find what you are looking for.

There was a novel published a while ago, Do androids dream of electric sheep? by Philip K. Dick. But since a cellphone operating system was named Android, I wonder how many people know the real meaning of the term. Perhaps that was why, when the book was made into a film, the title was changed to Blade runner.

Today I wrote a review of the book The elegance of the hedgehog and posted a review of it on my other blog here. I noted in my review that the book gives some valuable insights into the meaning of ubuntu, and announced the posting of the review on Twitter. It was almost immediately (and possibly automatically) retweeted by someone who specialises in Linux documentation. Now I have no objection to Linux fans reading my blog posts, but they might be a little disappointed when they do not find what they were looking for.

Some names are unique and OK. It is very unlikely that anyone will mistake Facebook or Pinterest for anything else. Fortran, Algol and C, C+ and C++ were OK for computer languages, but Pascal, BASIC and Ada were not. Perhaps it would help if search engines were case sensitive by default, so that they could distinguish between Android and android, Ubuntu and ubuntu. But that might not help with “diaspora”, which is often capitalised in normal use as “The Diaspora”. Actually I believe that the Diaspora social networking site has been renamed, which might solve that problem.

Android is one of the worst offenders, because not only the operating system itself, but its various versions have been named with ordinary words, which will no doubt cause confusion to people looking for recipes for making gingerbread. At least the authors of the Ubuntu distro of Linux used improbable noun-adjective combinations for their versions, though it does get me to wondering whether karmic koalas dream of electric sheep, and perhaps tell the time with a clockwork orange.

The Ubuntu disambiguation page on Wikipedia can help to sort out some of the confusion, as can the Android disambiguation page. But that doesn’t help with search engines, and one wonders about the intelligence of the people running Google, one of the most popular search engines, in choosing the name “Android” for their cellphone operating system.

An android is something that resembles an adult male human being, but isn’t. What, I wonder, is something that resembles a sheep and isn’t? Ovoid? No that means eggshaped. Agnoid?

And when it comes to Blade Runner, would Pascal take a wager on a race between electric sheep? Would he have foreseen correctly that Pistorius wouldn’t win an Oscar? And would it have made a difference to Ada’s engine if he had?


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4 thoughts on “Can an android understand ubuntu?

  1. Are you expecting too much Steve? Words do change their meaning and nouns do get appropriated for things. Maybe in this highly digitalised age, at least where people have that ability, then such changes will happen at a greater rate.

    I remember when Ubuntu was first released, the African meaning of ubuntu was used to describe the concept that was meant to underpin this new distro called Ubuntu. Perhaps now that link has been lost in time but some of us do remember it.

    • I’m a Linux fan who reads your blog posts but prefers Open Suse. Possibly an android retweeted your original. 🙂

    • Chris,
      Yes, it’s only naturual that peeople should want to give names with pleasant connotations to the products and services they offer. No one would try to sell a perfume called “Shit”, for example, but would try to choose a name that suggests a more pleasant smell.

      There are two opposite tendencies. One is where firms try to protect their trade names, and stop them from becoming generic – Xerox, Kleenex and Google, for example. Especially when people use them for the wrong product — if you try to xerox a document on a Konica copier, for example.

      But I’m more concerned about the opposite process, where ordinary generic words are in danger of becoming trade names. Some American company once tried to copyright “rooibos”, once, and sued people who sold rooibos tea under another name. I don’t think anyone has tried to do that to any of the things I’ve mentioned, but it does make it very difficvult to find them with search engines. You can search for “Cologne -perfume”, but it doesn’t work if you try to search for “Ubuntu -computer operating system”

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