Heliotropes- Plants and Zonker podcast

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While putting together yesterday’s podcast on zoetrope I came across today’s word- heliotrope.

Heliotrope is a noun with several definitions. One is a purple or violet color. Another heliotrope is a surveying tool for civil engineers and map makers. It allows them to focus a beam of sunlight and signal a fellow surveyor up to twenty miles away. Using the heliotrope’s signaling the engineers can triangulate locations. These heliotropes are not used anymore. A heliotrope is any member of the Heliotropium genus or plants. Heliotrope can also be used to describe anything that turns toward the sun.
I don’t know if this happens to anyone else but I find as soon as I learn a new word I see and hear it in use much more frequently then I did before I took the time to learn the definition. After choosing heliotrope for today’s Today’s Podcast I noticed G.B Trudeau used heliotropic in Sunday’s Doonesbury comic to describe a Zonker’s sunbathing skills. I love when

Heliotrope like so many other words is derived from Greek. As we learned in an earlier podcast trope means turn. Combine that with helio meaning sun and you have something that turns towards the sun. Just like Zonker.

The Zoetrope Becomes a Movie Podcast

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Zoetrope in motion

Originally uploaded by tempo.

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On a recommendation from Michael Geohegan I watched the Francis Ford Coppola movie the Conversation. Great movie.

Frequent listeners of this podcast know I enjoy reading the credits. Well the credits for the Conversation include the name of Coppola’s production company Zoetrope. What a beautiful word. And a great name for a movie company.

A Zoetrope is a primitive movie toy that spins to animate a series of images. It is hard to describe so I recommend checking out the photos. But basically it is a cylinder with narrow, evenly spaced vertical slits. A series of images, very often images of a horse galloping, appears on the inside of the cylinder. When the viewer spins the cylinder and looks through the slots they see the images in rapid succession. This spinning animates the images.

The zoetrope, originally called the “daedalum” or “daedatelum,” was invented in the first half of 19th century by George Horner. But it was promoted in the US by William F. Lincoln as a “zoetrope.” The first half of the 19th century saw a great many inventions designed to create moving images including the thaumatrope, the zoetrope, praxinoscope, the phenakistoscope and flip books. Thomas Edison studied many of these devices while developing kinetoscope, the precursor to modern movies.

Interestingly, Wikipedia, mentions Edison created the kinetoscope so that people would listen to phonographs. History sure is interesting. America’s most prolific inventor develops movies as an aside just so people will listen to more audio recordings.

The name zoetrope was created by combining two greek words- “zoe” and “trope.” Zoe means life and trope means turn or wheel. So the zoetrope is the wheel of life. Or maybe a turning wheel that gives life to images. Zoe is also the root of the word zoo.

If you want to make you own persistence of vision project there are a couple sites that will help you make you own zoetrope. HowToons.org, an educational site with great cartoons describing how to create various toys that demonstrate interesting scientific properties. Brightbytes.com has a great collection of persistence of vision toys including- the thaumatrope, the zoetrope, praxinoscope, the phenakistoscope and flip books.


Potemkin podcast in the next elections

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Today’s word, Potemkin, is an entertaining political term. I have seen it on Boingboing.net many times. Recently it appeared in a post about the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkin was an 18th century Russian military officer and politician. Who was rumored to have built fake villages along the banks of the Dnieper river in order to impress Empress Catherine II. Potemkin, who had recently conquered the area, wanted to impress Catherine II by demonstrating the value of the area he had captured by showing off a wonderful village.

Today the term potemkin village or just potemkin is used to describe a staged, deceptive or hollow event. Particularly hollow or deceptive political maneuverings.

That brings us to the governator. According to SFGate.com this past May the governor went out to San Jose and filled in a pot hole to demonstrate to the citizens of California the state’s increased spending on transportation projects. As you probably guessed the pot hole was dug by a city crew only a few hours earlier. While it may not be a lie is sure is dirty.

Another BoingBoing post using potemkin directs our attention to stickers you can put on your SUV to make them look like you have been off-roading.

In Potemkin’s defense modern scholars doubt he had a village built. It is more likely he had the villages spruced up a bit and may have passed off a few unfinished projects as finished.

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