Impressed, perplexed by Howard Johnson

I’m present­ly at a hotel, and I’ve found myself impressed with the Wi-Fi here. The sig­nal strength is okay and the speed is ade­quate, but that’s not what’s stand­ing out. It’s the brand­ing.

I’ve seen all man­ners of SSIDs since Wi-Fi became com­mon­place in hotels, from “Free Wifi” to “[hotel name here],” but in my expe­ri­ence, this Howard John­son loca­tion is tru­ly sin­gu­lar… and per­plex­ing to me.

The hotel offers mul­ti­ple wire­less access points. I’m guess­ing this is for bet­ter cov­er­age, but they decid­ed to give each one a dif­fer­ent name. The names aren’t any­thing pre­dictable, like hojo1, hojo2, either.

I’m impressed that the man­age­ment actu­al­ly took the time to inte­grate feel-good cor­po­rate mes­sages into each access point’s SSID. Using tech to com­mu­ni­cate thoughts in non­tra­di­tion­al ways is cer­tain­ly rel­e­vant to my inter­ests. How­ev­er, pick­ing a dif­fer­ent slo­gan for each AP not only seems tech­ni­cal­ly slop­py, but makes for an awk­ward mish-mash of old and new com­pa­ny taglines. Also, how am I sup­posed to know the AP I’m con­nect­ing to isn’t an evil twin? It’d be pret­ty triv­ial for some­one to throw togeth­er some­thing like hojolovesy­ou and have its poten­tial for mal­ice be imper­cep­ti­ble next to the oth­er goofy net­works.

My con­cerns over the wire­less ameni­ties are most­ly the­o­ret­i­cal, since my teth­ered Android phone has me ade­quate­ly cov­ered when it comes to Inter­net access. My use of the free Wi-Fi is lim­it­ed to con­sum­ing to high-bandwidth con­tent that would make my currently-EDGE con­nec­tion choke. (What’s more, as a Lin­ux user — varoom! —much of what a the­o­ret­i­cal attack­er could do, out­side of MITM, isn’t real­ly a con­cern to me.)

Corporate logos, visual puns and the juvenile brain that just didn’t get it

When I was young, I just didn’t get it.

See, I was locat­ed square­ly in Piaget’s pre-operational stage of devel­op­ment, and some­thing fun­ny seems to hap­pen there: you’re only able to take things at face val­ue, miss­ing out on sub­tle­ty, double-meanings, sar­casm… and all that good stuff that isn’t stat­ed blunt­ly. Once you’re a ful­ly cog­nizant indi­vid­ual, you can appre­ci­ate all of that.

As a teen, or per­haps slight­ly ear­li­er, I was sud­den­ly able to see these sorts of things for what they real­ly were. Well, most things. But for a cer­tain class of things that I first expe­ri­enced dur­ing my pre-op stage, I con­tin­ued hav­ing trou­ble see­ing them for what they tru­ly rep­re­sent­ed. Here’s an exam­ple:

the classic Burger King logoWhen I was grow­ing up, this was the Burg­er King logo. (I also walked uphill to school in the South Flori­da snow, both ways. Kids these days.) It’s pret­ty sim­ple, right? The words rep­re­sent­ed the meat, between a cou­ple of buns. To whom was that not abun­dant­ly clear that the logo is a burg­er?

To me.

I didn’t real­ize that until I was a bit old­er (high school, maybe), at which point it just hit me. It was not for lack of expo­sure; I had been eat­ing at Burg­er King prac­ti­cal­ly since birth. I had a birth­day par­ty there in ele­men­tary school. I was in the god­damn Burg­er King Kids Club!

The fact that I was exposed to this logo so ear­ly in life is pre­cise­ly why I took it for grant­ed. I missed the visu­al pun; as far as I was con­cerned, the logo looked the way it did because that was just what the Burg­er King logo looked like. I sim­ply couldn’t imag­ine it any oth­er way, or hav­ing any oth­er pur­pose than telling peo­ple who see it on the side of a build­ing that they’re look­ing at a Burg­er King loca­tion.

I had no such dif­fi­cul­ty with the stupid-simple McDonald’s arch­es. It’s just a big “M.”

old-school Milwaukee Brewers logoHere’s anoth­er exam­ple of a logo I didn’t ful­ly under­stand or appre­ci­ate. For the record, I wasn’t a Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers fan, but at the age of four or five (and thanks to a friend’s father) I found myself with a huge col­lec­tion of con­tem­po­rary base­ball cards. Again, until I was much old­er, all I saw in this logo was a styl­ized base­ball and glove… which to a child, seems a per­fect­ly appro­pri­ate logo for a base­ball team. And your aver­age sports-team logo is on the lit­er­al side.

I believe it was at some point in col­lege that I noticed the sub­tle let­ter­ing in the Brew­ers’ logo. What a bril­liant design!

There’s a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent class of logos that are more sub­tle, with some­thing inten­tion­al­ly hid­den with­in. You don’t need to be a young­ster to miss it.

These tend to be great:

the Goodwill logothe FedEx logoAmazon.com logo

The FedEx logo is wide­ly cel­e­brat­ed, its pun mas­ter­ful­ly sub­tle. It only occurred to me it a few years ago, while dri­ving to work one day. I was behind a FedEx truck. Then it hit me. (Thank you, I will be here all week.)

As for the Good­will logo, this blog com­ment made me see the light, or rather, the huge “g” in neg­a­tive space. I had always just seen it as a face.

The day I real­ized that the Ama­zon logo wasn’t mean to be a smirk was the day I saw the A -> Z.

Can you think of any oth­er good exam­ples?