Monday, April 5, 2004

A Penny for Your Thoughts

I think my girlfriend wonders about my sanity sometimes.

She arrived home one recent afternoon to find me crying in my chair in front of my computer, unable to breathe. Her facial expression quickly changed from one of deep concern to one of ambivalence when she realized I was unable to breathe from laughing too hard.

The subject of my insane laughter:

Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins – the folks at Penny Arcade – have made a site that appeals to my inner geek. And my outer geek, for that matter. Penny Arcade is a news site, blog, and entertainment site about video games, card games, and other geeky things. All right up my alley.

But it is their occasional comics – two to three times a week – that win the big prize. They have a very unique and demented way of looking at the world. They even poke fun at many of the questions I have thought of from time to time (case in point, the cartoons High Employee Turnover and A Brief Index Of Difficulty)

When I was ten I would wonder at the rationale behind favorite Nintendo game bad guys and their continued attacks against me even though there were thousands of their dead friends at my feet. Penny Arcade was able to capture that wonder in a 3-frame comic strip – and make it about ninjas. Genius.

Tremendous though the site's humor and quality may be, it is troubled by the age of much of the content. The main page is refreshed every few days regarding a range of topics that more closely resembles a live journal or general blog focused on a number of relevant and contemporary gaming topics. The rest of the site, by comparison, slips a little from this current relevance – I even stumbled across an article reviewing a card game that is well-since out of print.

The creativity and hard work Krahulik and Holkins have put into Penny Arcade has helped them create a truly unique site. And for a database-driven site, running in PHP, it is also extraordinary in the quality of its design – a rarity on the web and a rant for another day. I find it amazing successfully as they do. Through their comics I am reminded of my geeky childhood – they let me escape back to those days – and, I must admit, my geeky adulthood. fb

Remember Afghanistan?

I supported the invasion of Iraq. I didn't need the justification of WMDs for us to go in there. Saddam Hussein was an evil man who was responsible for the deaths of millions of people (many of them his countrymen) and that appealed to me. I would have liked more worldwide support before the Army and Marines rode in, but the absence of international consensus still did not sway me. I waved my American flag with pride as our soldiers went in to fight.

It has been a year since we toppled Saddam's regime and the death toll is quickly rising. But still I can not help but feel that we did the right thing. Pat Tillman’s name was not the first causality to come across my war-torn TV screen. His recent death received a lot of press for who he is, what he had done, and the millions he had given up to serve. But the coverage of his death forced Afghanistan into my mind – a place I had almost forgotten about in lieu of Iraq.

When the bombers starting flying and the payloads started falling in Afghanistan – an impossible two and a half years ago – there was great attention given to the role of American ground troops. We did not want to be stuck in a costly ground war. We did not want to endanger our troops unnecessarily in a tedious occupation with little international aid.

I am having a hard time trying to discover why this policy was changed in regard to our invasion and occupation of Iraq.

I turned to the 2005 federal budget and began looking up the numbers for what we are doing and spending to help rebuild Afghanistan and support our troops there. The US maintains about 15,000 troops in operations there, with significant multinational and NATO support. Iraq, on the other hand, is occupied by close to ten times as many US troops with a lower relative value of international assistance from the waning coalition of the willing.

Why isn't the US presence in Afghanistan bigger? Why don't US forces combat insurgency among the Afghan warlords the way they suppress the Sadr army or Fallujah militants in Iraq? Why aren't there 100,000 soldiers hunting down Osama bin Laden? Is it okay to risk our troops' lives in Iraq but not in Afghanistan? Saddam was a danger to the region and the world, to be sure, but he did not attack our cities, attack our allies, and plot to do it time and time again until our defeat.

So the underlining question remains: Why don't we have 138,000 troops in Afghanistan? I can’t help but think that if we had that many boots on the ground that we would not still be talking about the hunt for bin Laden – except in the past tense.

In 2005 alone, it is budgeted that the US will spend $1.2 billion in Afghanistan and $21 billion in Iraq for reconstruction efforts. We hear on the news every day about our commitment to Iraq while Afghanistan rarely garners a mention; it sits quietly in the political corner, warlords ruling much of the countryside, the US-backed Kabul government struggling.

This is what angers me. Not that we are in Iraq but that we are we not equally in Afghanistan. It make me wonder where the priorities have gone. fb

How to Throw Your Brand Away

This past February Emory Vision Center, arguably the premier Atlanta-based center for vision correction surgery, ceased to exist.

Emory Vision Correction Center was founded by faculty of Emory University School of Medicine in 1994. It quickly became synonymous with quality care, the Emory standard of excellence, and was the first facility to introduce Lasik techniques to the Southeast – performing over 40,000 such procedures as of this writing.

But Emory Vision Center is no more. There was much disappointment at Cloudjammer Studio over its departure – several of us had long planned to visit the center for corrective eye surgery. After all, it's Emory. It's top-notch. Not some classless and dodgy strip-mall Lasik practice.

Hence our surprise when we leaned that the venerable Emory Vision Center had become InView ("EnView", as pronounced in their barely intelligible radio announcement).

Emory Vision was always an independent health care provider – unrelated to Emory University or its leading health care centers – licensing the Emory name for the past 10 years. So it makes since, in light of the quality of the name change, that the decision must have been made by an accountant, not a marketing consultant.

Keith Thompson, M.D., co-founder of Emory Vision, now InView, says "the new name more accurately reflects the center's distinct focus on achieving optimal vision for each patient; its unmatched record of expertise; outcomes and technological innovation in vision correction; and the superior care provided by some of the industry's leading clinical experts, both now and in the future.This new identity better defines our future plans to expand services and offer more options to patients as new technologies and treatments are developed."


But our interest is not in the marketing speak of brand management, but in the cost of brand disposal. Any company that changes its name must contest with the cost/benefit equation of education and communication: How long will it take and how much will it cost to educate consumers about the change? What communicable brand value will be lost or gained in the process?

Emory Vision center touted one of the most respected names in Atlanta medical care. Emory's School of Medicine and its related hospitals, research facilities, and health centers are both admired and applauded throughout the Southeast. Consumers – ourselves included – are willing to spend the extra money to garner Emory's level of care. With their new name InView steps down to the level of the strip-mall Lasik practitioner. The name has no particular meaning in a crowded sea of competitors and dilutes itself by becoming ordinary. It's unremarkable and impossible to remember.

But if the painful name-change weren't bad enough, there is the new logo. While Emory Vision's former logo mark may have been uninspiring, the new InView logo mark is downright inappropriate. The combination of the bold gray circle and the erratic, rough-edged surrounding swish are more reminiscent of astigmatism than clear sight. It visually resembles the Lasik-severed cornea sliced open. Poorly!

At least they kept the colors and fonts...

The Sincerest Form of Flattery
But there is more to InView's new logo mark than just their poor-sighted symbolism. Indeed, what initially interested us was the similarity the logo bore to Cloudjammer's TGIFleming logo (see the comparison).

Cloudjammer co-owner Fleming Patterson's side project,, is an events calendar oriented toward midtown Atlanta nightlife with over fifteen hundred unique visitors a month, several hundred email subscribers, and almost two years of precedent. The TGIFleming logo's use of the graphic swish was long-ago selected to describe both the energetic nature of nightlifestyles and for it's multi-purpose applications (the easy-to-apply style originally had many applications of the website).

In addition to InView's misapplied and inappropriate use the swish (my eyes cringe every time I see it in a medical context), two things strike us about the similarity between it and the TGIFleming logo – specifically the graphic swish they share:
  1. The use of the exact same designer swish. Be it orange or blue, it is EXACTLY the same (see the comparison).
  2. The designer swish is a standard Adobe Illustrator brush style. If you have Illustrator, give it a try – you too can remake the InView logo in less than 2 minutes!
Let me be clear. We do not mean to suggest that InView has copied TGIFleming in any way. We just mean to point out that their logo, as poorly conceived as it may be for a vision correction center of their reputed quality, is as painfully basic and "strip-mall" as their new name.

This is especially troubling when one considers the price of logo design and development: How much did InView pay for this off-the-shelf logo mark? $5,000? $10,000? More?

Too much. That is certain.

Does TGIFleming suffer from this same stigma? You tell me – does it hurt a small non-profit events calendar to be reminiscent of an Emory-pedigree institution? Cheap logo or not?

Not at all. We're flattered. fb