What's in a Name?



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Nameplates, Neighborhoods and Neighbors

By P. C. Gadfly

June 10, 2003

Some things appear simple, and should be, but turn out to have hidden complexities. Picking a name for a website is one of these endeavors.

For those who have not had the pleasure of trying to find a domain name totally unfettered by pre-existing claims, here is a hint. There are precious few left at this stage of the Internet Age. A domain name has been likened to a piece of real estate or a storefront on Main Street, both of which are worth money. The good ones – the short, evocative, easy-to-remember, headline-grabbing domain names are, simply put, gone. To find something usable and inexpensive, one has to scrounge around in the alphabetic trash heap. Or settle for obscurity or something cumbersomely long, devilishly tricky-to-remember or fraught with unfortunate connotations. Even perfectly decent-sounding names can turn out to hide nasty surprises and unexpected next-door neighbors. Just try typing www.whitehouse.com on your browser’s address bar. I am sure Laura Bush does not care for that particular neighbor. You see, the cyberspace land rush has long since gone into the history books. Like all land rushes and gold rushes and rushes for rights of all sorts, it gave full rein to greed. (No kidding, you’re shocked, huh?) Millions of domain names were snapped up by cyber squatters and inventoried in the hope that they would be worth a lot of money someday. The result is a bizarre and inhospitable landscape chock-a-block with landlords, squatters, Viagra merchants and designing entrepreneurs, leaving little room for the newcomer. Especially a humble amateur astronomy club out in the dark-sky hinterlands.

Which brings us to our little predicament. The Club’s formal name, while perfectly straightforward and descriptive, suffers from a couple of drawbacks. “Astronomers of Verde Valley” does not produce an easy set of initials or a memorable acronym. “AVV” is short but not very euphonic. A little slicing and dicing, however, produces ASTROVERDE. Wow, it’s easy to say, easy to remember and actually means something in elastic Latin. Green Star! Imagine my surprise when I ran a domain-name search and discovered that “astroverde.org” was actually available for the taking. The “.org” extension is merely top-level domain name extension generally restricted to non-profit organizations. And since we don’t, and probably couldn’t, make a profit if our lives depended on it, this extension is entirely appropriate.

However, that's not the whole story. Little in life is as simple and serendipitous as that. There are other aspects to fixing on a choice. The words, or some variation of the words, may have negative connotations, may cause confusion with another organization or ongoing program. A quick search usually settles that. See for yourself. Type “astroverde” into a Google search form and see what happens. Very little – of the four items that are returned, our website is one, followed by one document in Italian, one in Spanish and one in Brazilian (no, I am not gifted with linguistic abilities – I am merely guessing about the languages and could be off by a country or two). No confusion here. Just to be thorough, let’s type “green star” into the Google search box and see what happens. Lots - over 2 1/2 million items are returned. Amongst the items on top of the list is greenstarinc.org. This is actually an interesting website. As its home page blurb explains, “Green Star® is a non-profit organization that encourages businesses to practice waste reduction, energy conservation and pollution prevention.” Well, I thought to myself, we seem to be in good company, being pretty green ourselves – we are, after all, proponents of dark skies, which reflects both conservation and pollution abatement. And being amateurs, we may be said to be “green” in another sense, greenhorns, that is. Next on the list is the Greenstar Foundation, a multinational organization based in Los Angeles that promotes solar power – the Greenstar solar community center “delivers electricity, pure water, health and education information, and a wireless Internet connection, to villages in the developing world.” Not bad, thought I – here is another constructive, liberal initiative. There seems to be a theme here.

One more final check. What if Google is asked to search for "astro" and "verde" as separate words? You get some 20,200 entries, mostly astronomical, some green. Then I espied something intriguing, a 26-page document laying out great chunks of data and diagrams from the Microwave Anisoptropy Probe – now called the Wilkinson MAP. (Remember our discussion of the Lagrange points and the MAP spacecraft, successor to COBE, loitering around Earth's L2 point? I am sure Dr. Fleishman does.) You, too, can examine the document by clicking here. The “astro” and the “verde” in this document came from different sources – Astrophysics (from Princeton University Department of Astrophysical Sciences) and Licia Verde (the author’s name). Not an inappropriate neighbor, I thought as I read the document.

Dr. Licia Verde: for those who doubt that such a person actually exists, here is a photograph served up by Google.

Dr. Verde's 26-page pdf document is recent and contains fascinating data on the cosmic microwave background radiation. The author subtly implies the data will speak volumes. She even offers several bullet point conclusions. I found them tantalizing but a little opaque, no doubt a consequence of my unusually high density. Dr. Licia Verde, I discovered after a bit of googling around, has her name associated with more than a few documents of this ilk. I haven’t tested its veracity, but Google reports that "Licia Verde" is associated with some 4,300 documents on the Internet. 

The next item in the "astro + verde" list was in Spanish, which Google helpfully offered to translate for me. I responded, sure. What came up was bizarre, at least if you took it at face value. 

Here is what it said: “Green Light for the Construction of the SOUL”.  

It appears that on the 25th of February 2003, an agreement was concluded for the construction of the SOUL. Really! This seemingly metaphysical project intrigued me. I googled on, mightily mystified by such considerations as design and materials. 

The SOUL, it turns out, will be the largest and most powerful radio telescope in the world, the ATACAMA Large Millimeter Array, a joint venture between the European Southern Observatory and the NSF. Here is a picture of the proposed grand venture. (Courtesy: ESO).

You get the idea. Having  the word "astro" in our name has put us in the thick of astronomy related websites. A good place for us to be.

This process I have described is just the beginning of a neighborhood check, a process akin to verifying that your lovely new home is not located in the vicinity of a known toxic waste dump and that the neighbors do mow their lawns regularly. Of course you can spend a lot of time checking out individual neighbors. How about astroverde.com, astroverde.info, astroverde.us and other such domain variations? Are they in use? Could they, perchance, be fronts for hate groups or purveyors of porn? 

I thought a minute and decided to save myself a little finger-walking. It was beginning to sink in that even in cyberspace there were limits to the awful things one could do with the words astro and verde.  It was becoming increasingly clear to me that through no great virtue of our own, we had stumbled onto a good piece of cyberspace real estate, surrounded by all manner of stellar neighbors and high-minded activists. Astroverde is in a good astronomical neighborhood. Our domain name, in which we have invested a grand total of $8.95, is certain to appreciate in value by leaps and bounds.

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