Bad automotive marketing decisions

There are a squillion possible things you can name a car. Generally, you take something that sounds vaguely foreign, and slap an "a" on the end. Cecil at The Straight Dope did a column a while ago (and by 'a while', I mean 'when I was one year old') on the subject. I do not understand the marketing logic behind the decision, then, to bring out a new vehicle with the same name as an older one. This is particularly puzzling when the new vehicle shares zero design lineage with the old one. It's not a two-thousand-and-whatever model of the same car, it's a whole 'nother car entirely.

Case in point, the Holden Cruze. Holden is an Australian car manfacturer. Half of the Australian population support them. The other half support Ford. I'll get to them in a moment.

hold_cruzThis is a Holden Cruze from 2002. It's a kind of beach buggy thing. It's pretty hideous. The rear of the thing has ghastly round tail lights. It's about as intimidating as a boiled potato. You might sometimes see re-branded Cruze(s) getting around as Suzuki Ignis(es).

hold_cruz_09This is the Holden Cruze from 2009. It's an economical small car that boasts the looks and spaciousness of a larger car. It's actually kinda sexy, all things considered. It's a completely different vehicle, targeted at a completely different audience in a completely different market sector, and for a completely different purpose. It's clear that someone just kinda thought "Cruze" was a cool name, and it's a shame it was wasted on that Tupperware container on wheels they made in 2002 -- but wait, maybe no-one will remember that piece of junk. Yeah, lets use the name again.

The '09-onwards Cruze is also marketed as the Daewoo Lacetti, in a badge-and-name-change that gives it that ring of class it was initially lacking. The only thing cool about the Daewoo Lacetti is its occasional appearance on Top Gear as the "reasonably priced car", but unfortunately for the '09 Cruze/Lacetti, the car featured on Top Gear is an earlier model that bears no resemblance to the vehicle pictured above. It was also retired from the show and replaced by a Kia. That's just..........rude.

Case in point part deux: The Ford Kuga.

ford_kuga_13This is the 2013 Ford Kuga. It's a cool looking car. Mechanically, it's a four-wheel-drive (ish) thing constructed over the chassis of a Ford Focus. It's marketed in Australia as the smaller brother of the Ford Territory, and aimed at the 'soccer mom' demographic (ironic, perhaps, for the purposes of this article that it circles back around to the market sector the original Holden Cruze was potentially aimed toward).

This is great, except: In the non-rhotic Australian accent, "Kuga" is a homonym with --

ford_cougar-- the Ford Cougar. This horrid thing is a mid-life-crisis-on-wheels from the late '90s to early '00s that was marketed in Australia in thankfully limited numbers.

I do not understand why the choice would not be made to use a more unique name for a car model. There are now undoubtedly loads of Ford Kuga drivers who, upon announcing the name of their new ride, are greeted with the looks of stunned incredulity well due to someone who's just announced they've bought a curved-up ludicrous looking skateboard with two doors and a hernia, until they realise the error of their pronunciation and start inflecting the "ah" in "Kug-aaaahh" like Hermione Grainger.

As an aside, Wikipedia has informed me that "kuga" is the Serb-Croatian word for "plague", and that Ford didn't opt to alter the name for its launch in those countries. Dunno about you, but I want to move to Zagreb and buy a black one.

Seeing colours: I am a synesthete

Synesthesia is a neurological condition wherein one associates abstract, intangible things such as numbers, letters, words, musical notes or chords with sensory information usually associated with something physical, like colours, tastes or physical sensations. The most common form of synesthesia is grapheme-colour synesthesia. In this condition, one associates numbers, letters or words with colours. I have this condition. I've always had it. I assumed it was normal. I thought everyone saw colours when they thought of numbers, letters and words.

Wikipedia's page on synesthesia is fairly in-depth. There's also a website called the Synesthesia Battery which has an online test you can take to determine if you're synesthetic or not. (I took the test, and its results weren't as conclusive as I'd hoped for my own experiences. I feel that the test relies more on the user being able to repeatedly recognise fairly similar colours with very little margin for error than actually acknowledging when two quite similar colours are selected. I'm sorry, my brain doesn't function in HSV values.)

This is my alphabet. I own it. Hands off.
This is my alphabet. I own it. Hands off.

Whack the link below to keep reading, if you're into numbers and colours, and the unnatural marriage thereof.

Brady Haran's Numberphile, one of my favourite YouTube channels, recently posted a follow-up to their previous video on the subject of synesthesia. I've embedded both episodes below for your perusal:

And the follow-up:

I notice that these videos tend to avoid the subject of grapheme-colour synesthesia for letters and words, but I suspect there's a conscious decision at play considering the YouTube channel hosting them is dedicated largely to numbers.

I've included my own synesthesia alphabet above, for fun. It seems to me that my perception of grapheme-colour tends to be related largely to the geometric shape of the characters, with the following specifics:

  • sharp angles seem to tend towards green and olive
  • right angles lean towards brown, with "F" and "T" being very specifically brown. "L" strikes me as green, though
  • Rounded shapes tend to take on a yellow hue
  • "A", as recounted by many synesthetes, is almost always represented as red
  • The three middle vowels are very neutral

My perception of numbers is more interesting:

Numbers ahoy!
Numbers ahoy!

There's less consistency, here. But, surprisingly, there's actually some logic, and much like Alex in the Numberphile videos, it seems to be largely factorial.

  • One and zero are neutral, much like the vowels in the alphabet
  • I have a suspicion that four is red largely because of its resemblance in form to the letter "A". If this is the case, my own mental association made this connection many years before Leetspeak was ever a thing
  • A similar thing no doubt applies to five and its resemblance to "S"

The factorial nonsense comes into play when you organise the numbers:

Two, four and eight are warm coloured numbers.

Three, six and nine are cool.

I've found limited practical applications for my "abilities". One of the few is that in data entry work, I find that I can error-check data fairly efficiently by relying on the colours associated with figures. If a figure is supposed to be the same in two different locations, it's plainly obvious to me if it's not the right "colour".

Larger numbers are generally a gestalt of the colours represented by the figures that comprise them, with the hues blending across the figure. Some specific really big numbers have weird habits: One million (1,000,000) appears blue, presumably due to the connection with the letter "M", and one billion (1,000,000,000) appears green, again because of the letter "B".

Musical notes and chords also have coloured connections for me, again largely governed by the letters that associate with them.

When notes become flat or sharp, they change their appearance slightly. Flat notes (or chords) become darker. E flat actually becomes darker than its default state, black, but I can't represent this in a picture because there's nothing darker than black! Sharp notes and chords take on a desaturated look, with an ethereal kind of rusted vomit colour that I've been unable to represent graphically. (Come to think of it, I'm appalled by my description of it, too. Rusted vomit? Nice.)

Minor chords reflect a paler, ice-cream texture. Other chord types, 7ths, augmented chords, diminished chords, etc, have their own peculiar qualities.

I find it exciting to think about the possibility that synesthesia may be the only quantifiable example of qualia at work. Qualia is a collective term for all the little things that happen inside your mind, that you can't directly share with another person. For example:

  • The age-old psychological litmus test: Do you see colours the same way I do? Is my red your blue? Does it matter?
  • What does a strawberry taste like to you?
  • What does a noise sound like to you?

Sensory information is fickle, and the idea that we all sense things the same way is largely untestable. The most frustrating (or perhaps relieving) thing about this problem is that it makes no difference in the end. If I see a stop sign as what I call "red", and you see it as what I call "blue" (but what you call "red"), it makes no difference, because we both call it "red" and stop at it.

Synesthetic responses could be the missing link for qualia. Many synesthetes report similar associations between colours and characters. Brady's second video (embedded above) includes a chart of reported synesthetic connections from his readers. It may be possible that this kind of information proves the existance, and uniqueness of qualia.

Oh, and Porcupine Tree have an awesome song from their 1992 album Up The Downstair entitled Synesthesia. You should go buy it from Burning Shed.

Grammar peculiarities: "Mose well"

I find it kind of satisfying when I Google the crap out of something and don't ultimately come up with a decent result. It means a couple of things:

  • it means I'm looking for something incredibly obscure, which is always satisfying
  • it means there's an opportunity to fill a gap in the internet, even if I'm filling it with my own opinion

Case in point, the phrase (or fragment of a phrase), mose well. 

It means, rather obviously, "might as well". "I might as well eat an apple" could be contracted to "I mose well eat an apple".

Some examples, trawled from the results of a Google search:

A fair question -- I'm not so pleased with the answer, though. I'm not sure what Samantha means by "the first way is the correct way". Does she mean "mose well", or "most well"? Or "might as well"? My head hurts.

I have that problem ALL the time.

Yes. Yes, you should. 1184 people are waiting with bated breath.

Arnt you?

It's more of a verbal slur than a contraction, and its something that has found its way into writing by purely descriptive means -- people writing they way they speak.

A brief aside on prescriptive versus descriptive recording of language, if I may --

When the words and usage of a language are recorded in the way they should be used, the recording is prescriptive. It's giving an instruction (a prescription, if you will) for how to use the language. A dictionary, usually, is prescriptive.

Descriptive recording is the recording of a language as it is spoken, with all its flaws, with the kind of "bad grammar" that evolves over time through a culture of people who use the language as a tool for communicating efficiently with one another. Historically, this kind of record is found in the writings of authors who mimic the voice of characters, inflections and pronunciations exaggerated or enhanced. Today, you'll find it everywhere, from Facebook status updates to "txt speak" and SMS messages.

There's some discord among scholars and pedagogues about which of these methods of recording is right or good, and at the end of the day the answer is always both and neither.

I digress.

Mose well is an informal contraction of "might as well". The closest similar terms I can think of are informal abbreviations like should of, would of and could of. These three examples are descriptive recordings of pronunciation, where the "ov" sound of the contracted "have" in should have, would have and could have has been replaced with its homonym: the word of. In my opinion -- for what that's worth -- should of, could of and would of are wrong. It's entirely possible they're going to worm their way into the English language anyway.

They mose well.

Why Australians can't act

australia-poster

It's come to my attention, from watching movies and television, that Australian actors...can't. This is not an observation targeted toward specific actors, it's a gross generalisation that applies to all of them. Even the best Australian actors tend to perform jarringly, unnaturally and in contrast to their British and American counterparts, just plain badly. This has become rather lengthy, so I'm going to put a lead break in it. You'll need to click "read more" to, uh, read more.*

* Unless you came directly to this page, in which case these paragraphs are just here to confuse you. Confused? Good.

Rather than structure this as an essay, I'm going to present a bunch of observations, then a bunch of extrapolations, reasonings and inferences based on those observations. Some of this might be a bit vague (or, in contrast, way too specific), so bear with me whilst I organise my thoughts.

  • First up, let me make it clear that I don't have a problem with Australian films, Australian actors or Australian television programs. This is an observation based on all Australian actors, with no total exceptions that I'm aware of at this moment.
  • It's not an accent problem. While it's well known that the Australian accent is difficult to imitate for outsiders, which I don't dispute, I'm concentrating largely on Australian native actors, here.
  • Having said that, this same phenomenon also applies, largely, to actors from other Antipodes-esque locales, specifically New Zealand and South Africa.
  • Although there's another corollary to the same point: If you take an Australian actor and put them in the role of an American character (as happens with monotonous regularity), provided none of their original accent peeks through, they are as good as any American actor. Even a bad one. So, this leaves us with the distinction that the issue lies entirely with casting Australian actors as Australian characters, usually (but not exclusively) in Australian films.
  • Australian actors cannot act in US productions. When placed alongside American actors, Australians come across as unnatural, artificial characters with phoney accents that do not fit into the universe of films at all. While I'm perfectly able to watch a production with an ensemble cast made up of American, British, French, German, etc actors, throwing a single Australian into the mix is always, without fail, noticably painful.
  • Even in home-grown Australian productions, the acting quality is false and noticable. While I'm the first to admit that Australia has a relatively small film and television oeuvre in comparison to other nations' film industries (more on that later), the bizarrely bad acting appears to be an across-the-board problem, from the likes of Home and Away to full-length motion pictures.
  • We've gotten worse as time has passed. Older Australian movies, such as those prior to the 1960s, tend to have less noticable bad acting. I have a suspicion that this is a result of Australians behaving (and speaking, particularly in a film'n'theatre environment) in a much more 'British' fashion.

Theories:

  • American and British films and television shows are dilute. There're thousands of them. There's a vast abundance of bad to go with the good, and you don't have to look far to find it. The "average" water mark in cinema and television outside of Australia is not a high one. I believe the result of this is that average-to-bad actors in the US and UK are, statistically, the norm, and their behaviour on-screen has become expected and accepted. When a "bad" American or British actor appears in a high-quality production, their appearance isn't necessarily noticeable as a bad performance because they're still conforming to the expectations of the audience. Australian films and television productions, by contrast, are not at all as abundant. You could count them, if you had a weekend to spare. An Australian film is immediately compared against all other Australian films, and the comparison is fair. The average water mark is not a gigantic amorphous blob of facelessly beige film that everyone's seen but no one remembers. The average Australian film is just that -- an average film. You saw it, you remember it, you can judge the next one against it. I believe this contributes to the "Australians can't act" phenomenon greatly. Until the Australian film industry produces enough product to map out a smooth bell curve of expected acting behaviour, the highs and lows are going to continue to stand out like neon lights.
  • The US and UK film industries have, over the decades, built up an established "stylised" version of their worlds, which have become accepted by the moviegoing audience. Everyone knows that the real USA is not like the USA of the movies. Everyone accepts that what you see in a film is stylised and warped for convenience, tweaked for storytelling and stretched to meet the moviegoer's expectations. Australia doesn't really have a stylised version of itself. Audiences watching a film with Australian actors can only compare it against the Australia of real life, and it will always fall short. If an Australian film tries to use the stylised universe of the US or the UK, it will fail, because Australia is not those places, and Australian characters do not behave as American or British characters would in those situations.
  • The stylised version of Britain seems to be based around a combination of theatrical acting and cobblestone streets, but regardless, it's established, and it works. Suspension of disbelief is achieved. No one questions it.
  • Having just said that there's no established stylised version of Australia, I need to backtrack enthusiastically and correct myself: There is a stylised version of Australia that appears in film and television. We just don't like it. Australia, both internally and internationally, has a tendency to be represented on television as a stereotype of itself, with enormous sheep farms, dusty deserts and backwater hicks that talk like they've not had a single day of schooling. While these things in themselves are certainly extant in Australia, they do not form a picture of the day-to-day life of the average Australian citizen, nor do they represent the average Australian's ideal of their country. I suspect this aspect of Australia as shown on the silver screen (and the idiot box) is a detriment to the suspension of disbelief required to put stock in a production's characters and the actors that portray them.
  • The Australian film and television industries, as you'd expect, reside largely in the country's major cities. If an Australian film is set in the country, as many of them are (see above, it's the done thing for representing "Australia", remember), the actors that portray the country characters are invariably actors who were born and raised in the city. Australia prides itself -- falsely -- on not having much variation in accent. There's not a huge difference between the speech of someone from Perth vs. someone from Sydney. But there is a difference. There's also a difference between the speech of someone from Sydney's inner suburbs to someone from Sydney's west. There's considerable regional variation. If memory serves, Australia has three distinct accent classifications: urban, rural and high. Urban is the voice of the people of Australia's cities. Rural is the open-mouthed drawl of the folks from the country. High is the "posh" accent ascribed to the likes of Alexander Downer. Australian actors born and raised in the city thrown into a production set in the country have a tendency to be jarring, possibly because they didn't consider the need to study and alter their accent. Maybe this is overlooked because of the acceptance of regional diversity in accents in other countries -- it's not unusual to find someone with a New York accent in Los Angeles in an American film, and it doesn't require explanation or clarification. In Australia, however, someone from the city in a dusty outback town requires acknowledgement, or the viewer will subconsciously be aware that something is "wrong" with the character's behaviour. Worse than this, though, are actors born and raised in the city who choose to imitate country behaviour. While this is just flat-out bad acting, it's an example of overcompensation for something ending in disastrous results.

I'm going to finish these thoughts by again reiterating that I have no qualms with Australian actors or films. This is just an observation about believability, and it's something based entirely on the quantity of productions we have to sample for Australian actors, I'm beginning to believe. If the time ever comes that the pile of Australian productions is the same height as the pile of American and British productions, then I believe the quality of Australian acting will equalise, but until such a time, I suspect that many Australian viewers will continue to cringe whenever someone with an Australian accent makes an appearance, especially in a production from the US or the UK.

As an entirely unconnected thought, here's a strange little fact: There has never ever been an Australian character in the Star Trek franchise. There've been Australian actors -- Wendy Hughes, for example, appeared as Jean-Luc Picard's love interest in Star Trek: TNG -- but they've always appeared with an American accent. Food for thought, perhaps.

As a final addendum, here's a random video from the YouTube channel Veritasium, in which a bunch of folk with different accents (host is American, various Australians, one enthusiastic Scotsman) have a chat about Young's Double Slit Experiment. Notice how the Australians are not jarring against the others as they tend to do in films. Intriguing, no? Also, I bet the Veritasium peoples didn't expect a secondary language experiment was also taking place.

Educational arcs

I have a new annoyance. It's another one of those pieces of English that no one seems to know how to use. It's deeply misunderstood. It's the term "learning curve". I'm continually, it seems, encountering people who believe that because something involves learning, that the entire project can be described as a "learning curve". "It's a learning curve." "This is difficult. It's a learning curve."

This is not correct.

It may have a learning curve. In fact, I guarantee it has one.

A learning curve is not the mere existance of learning. A learning curve is a way of describing the increasing (or decreasing) difficulty in the learning process for a given activity. A steep learning curve exists when a task is difficult to master, a more gentle curve when the job is easier.

You can read about learning curves in far more detail than I care to go into over at Wikipedia, the bastion of opinion-disguised-as-fact and the bane of high school paper graders world-wide.

If you have a new skill to learn, remember that it has a learning curve, and if you want to complain about it, it's probably a steep one.