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What’s In A Name?

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MeerKAT's Karoo Array Telescope antennas

The Karoo Array Telescope antennas that will make up the MeerKAT and eventually the core of the SKA telescope, in South Africa’s Northern Cape province.

 

“What’s in a name?” I found myself asking that question after Apple Inc., the maker of the iPhone, recently made headlines – twice in as many weeks. The first headline was for setting a new historic record for the value of turnover generated by a company within a trading quarter. The second was for breaching the $700billion valuation mark and further extending its lead as the most valuable company in the world.   A large part of Apple’s profitability can be attributed to the appeal of its brand – in addition to making good quality products. Considering that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the co-founders of Apple, were initially reluctant on the name Apple, its quite remarkable how the name has managed to become a formidable brand that has managed to set the company apart from its competitors in the computer technology industry. Anyway I decided to look at a few prominent local and international technology brands and find out what’s the motivation behind the names given to these high technology projects and companies.   Apple Inc. There are a whole lot of myths as to why the co-founders of Apple settled on that name for their start-up. Some explanations are quite fantastical. Apple was an “accidental name” – kind of like how Neo was an “accidental hero”, in the film The Matrix. Jobs and “Woz” had not settled on a name for their company, yet they had a deadline to meet in order to successfully file their company’s registration papers. Jobs settled on the name Apple in reference to the apple farm that he and his university mates would make frequent getaways to. The farm was owned by Robert Friedman [lets just say he is to mining what Jobs is to information technology, another maverick]. Its only in hindsight did Jobs realize the potential of the name Apple becoming an appealing brand in computing, precisely because it did not sound to “geeky and intimidating”.   Google Google’s mission is to make sense of all the world’s information – from ever since man invented writing. That’s quite a lot of information to make sense off! The name Google is a play on the name googol; a googol is the name given to a very big number in mathematics. A googol represents “1 x 10 to the power of 100”. A googol represents a number greater than there are stars in the visible Universe. Considering how much information humanity is constantly producing everyday, thanks to the Internet, Google is a fitting name for a company on a very ambitious mission.   Coming back to home, South Africa.   MeerKAT telescope (precursor to the SKA telescope) The MeerKAT telescope is South Africa’s precursor to the SKA telescope – it will also form the core of phase 1 of the SKA telescope. The MeerKAT, once complete, will be one of the most important scientific instruments in the world. In South Africa’s bid to host the SKA, the name MeerKAT took on interesting branding role. MeerKAT was used as a play on words to attract attention to SA’s bid; “Meer” is Afrikaans for more, and “KAT” represented Karoo Array Telescope, the name given to the antenna’s developed in SA for the SKA. In the context of SA’s bid, MeerKAT meant “more KAT telescopes” – bring on the SKA.   The name is also a reference to the meerkats found in the wild. Both the telescope and its animal namesake share interesting “behavioural” patterns:

  1. in the wild, meerkats are typically found in and operate as a group. The MeerKAT telescope is based on a group of satellite dish-shaped antennas functioning efficiently as a group;
  2. if you observe a group of meerkats in the wild, there are always a few in the group standing upright, surveying the environment. Ditto for the MeerKAT telescope’s antennas; the telescope’s receivers stand upright pointing at the sky, surveying the Milky Way and beyond in humanity’s quest to unlock the secrets of the Universe.

All three of these cases studies have very ambitious missions and visions. I also think that their names not only aptly capture what these organizations do, but are a testament to human creativity and imagination when in pursuit of a noble goal.

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