A copacetic podcast

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Today’s word, copacetic, is a favorite of mine. Although I too often forget to use it.

Copacetic is an adjective meaning completely or entirely satisfactory. I think its connotation is much more positive then satisfactory. For example if a boss told me my work was satisfactory I would be concerned it wasn’t very good, that it was barely above unsatisfactory. But if they described the situation or my projects as copacetic I would be much happier.

The etymology of copacetic is murky at best. Bartelby, Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com all list the etymology as unknown. Word-detective.comand Etymonline.com both take a stab at the etymology noting it emerged in America around the end of the 19th century. Both sources suggest it has its roots in America’s African American culture.

Mea Culpa- Adam Curry’s favorite bit of latin for podcasting

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podcast-logo.pngWelcome back. Today we have a celebrity inspired term, Mea Culpa.

Recently Bill Gates used it when describing MS’s failure to dominate the online music industry.

“Mea culpa” is a latin phrase uttered to accept guilt. It translates to “my fault.” I think people like using the phrase because it is psychologically easier to say than “my fault.”

Bill Gates use of mea culpa is interesting. While I am sure Bill thinks he can dominate anything he directs MS to tackle. Apologizing for not dominating the online music industry is awfully presumptuous.

I have also heard Adam Curry drop this bit of Latin on the Daily Source Code many times. My notes show I first heard it over a year ago, back on September 27, 2004. Since then I have heard him utter mea culpa several times. Funny how his use of mea culpa humanizes him and makes him more credible, while Gates’ use reveals his underlying expectation of unmitigated success.

I would like to offer my own mea culpa for being so derelict in producing podcasts. I have been busy applying for law school and trying to make a living in Cincinnati. Thank you for staying subscribed.

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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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Getting to work proving podcasting is right

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Today we have a quote sent in by a listener. It is a quote I really appreciate because I am guilty of the behavior described. The words are from John Kenneth Galbraith a Canadian economist just like me.
Here is the quote:

Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.
-John Kenneth Galbraith

I doubt I am the only soul guilty of this tendency. Hopefully this quote will make us more aware of our stubbornness and more willing to forego the proof.

As I write this I am reminded of an entertaining Galbarith story I heard earlier this year. Galbraith earned is undergraduate degree from a small Canadian agricultural school that he described as “probably the worst college in the English-speaking world.” He went on to be one of the most influential economists of the 20th century. He helped President Roosevelt manage the war economy, advised Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, wrote for Fortune magazine and was a Harvard professor. Later in his career he apologized to his alma mater for his derogatory comment saying he was wrong, Arkansas A & M is the worst school in the English speaking world. He just wasn’t aware at the time Arkansas was teaching in English. That is harsh.

I would like to thank Dave Goodman for sending me those fine words from from Dr. Galbraith. Dave has an interesting blog over at DKGoodman.com/blog.html. He also has a nice sidebar full of quotes and several words of the day.

I apologize for the shortage of posts this week I am experiencing some distracting technical difficulties.

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When will B.J. Fogg start a captology podcast?

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Another neologism for today. The word is captology. Captology is an emerging field of study related to the design, theory, and analysis of persuasive, not pervasive, technologies. It is the study of technologies that change attitudes and encourage behaviors instead of forcing behaviors. Captology lies at the intersection of computers and the art and science of persuasion. It is a sub-discipline of human factors or (HCI) human computer interaction. It is the study of technologies that change attitudes and encourage behaviors instead of forcing behaviors.

It is such a new discipline a Google search for captology barely returns 30,000 result pages. Wikipedia’s entry only offers four lines on the subject. But I think it will be an increasingly important discipline.
Some examples of the application of the discipline include:

  • Baby Think It Over– A computer-doll that simulates how hard it is to care for a baby. It cries at irregular intervals and registers certain acts of abuse.
  • Hygeine Guard– A sensor system to be placed in bathrooms at hospitals and restaurants. The systems records when employees use the bathroom and whether or not they spend time by the sink before exiting. It doesn’t force you to wash your hands. It persuades or motivates you to wash your hands. Or at least stand around the sink for awhile
  • Nagscreens in shareware/donationware- This is the example we are probably most familiar with. The screens that pop up try to persuade you to buy or contribute to their cause. These screens often have messages like “Keep this software free by donating.”

On the web there are countless examples for captologists to study. It seems that every podcast that doesn’t run ads in their podcasts has a button for donating. In fact Today’s Podcast has such a button. I should probably study a little captology because no one has ever donated.

UPDATE (09/02/05): Reading through Standford’s credibility site I learned the etymology of captology. “The term captology is based on the acronym: Computers As Persuasive Technology.”

To learn more about captology you can visit the leading institute for captology- the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. Or you can check out B.J. Fogg’s book

Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do. Fogg is the leading thinker in the field of captology and website credibility. He is on the faculty at Stanford.

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Dave & Adam are podcast wonks

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Today’s word, wonk, was spotted at boingboing.net.

The dictionary describes the noun wonk as an excessively studious student, a nerd or a geek. The modern connotation is more nuanced. Today wonk usually connotes a someone well versed or at least very interested in the details and rules.
The BoingBoing post describes Ben Hammersley as an RSS wonk- someone who know a great deal about the inner working and details of RSS. I suspect Dave Winer is the ultimate RSS wonk. Dave wrote the specs for RSS and along with Adam Curry created podcasting.

Typically I find the word policy very close to the word wonk. A policy wonk is person who closely follows government policy. Wonkette.com is a blog by a female, hence the -ette suffix, washington insider. If you ever think you know what is going on in Washington and the U.S. government visit the Wonkette for an alarming look at how much goes on behind the scenes.

The etymology of wonk is murky to say the least. According to Wikipedia its origin may be the reversal of the word know and was used in the British Navy to refer to an inexperienced sailor. I bet it was derogatory.

Today’s Podcast needs your help and a new name. Please send your suggestions to scott at todays podcast.com

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Podcasting a Screencast about an Umlaut

Today we have a great new word that is both a neologism because you won’t find it in a dictionary and it is a portmanteau because it is a combination of two other words. It is screencast.A screencast is a recording of a computer screen. It is usually narrated. Screencasts are often used to explain or demonstrate a software feature. For example if you want to see how I record my podcast I there is a link to a screencast of me recording this podcast.If you want to see a more interesting screencast check out Jon Udell’s screencast of the history of the Wikipedia article on Heavy Metal Umlauts. By the way Jon coined the term screencast just last year and the umlaut is the two little dots above a vowel. Jon’s screencast is wonderful. It demonstrates how articles in Wikipedia grow and change. The light hearted subject of heavy metal umlauts is also very entertaining. Fans of Spinal Tap will particularly appreciate the screencast and the article even though they don’t go to eleven.Screencast cionI used the freeware Windows application Wink to create my screencast. The result is a Flash file which seems to the screencast file format of choice. If you would like create your own screencast check out Jon’s Screencast How To over at O’reilly.I am still looking for a more descriptive name for Today’s Podcast. Please help me with some suggestions.

A fathomless, fortnight long podcast about furlongs

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Today we have three f-words. Don’t worry, this is a family friendly podcast. The three words are:

  • Fathom
  • Furlong
  • Fortnight

These are all units of measurement.

fathomless oceanFathom is a sailor’s term for describing the depth of water. A fathom is six feet deep or 1.8 meters. Not living near an ocean I never hear anyone use the term, but I do hear a variation fathomless. Fathomless means too deep to be measures or understood. For example the fathomless world of Search Engine Optimization

Fathom comes from the old English fathme. Fathme means “outstretched arms.” Presumably outstretched arms are about six feet wide- one fathom.


Will Simpson Wheat  FieldFurlong comes from the Old English furh meaning furrow and lang meaning long. A furlong is a distance of 220 yards, 660 feet or about 201 meters. Eight furlongs equals a mile and 5 equals about a kilometer. As the etymology suggests it comes from the length of a furrow, a long shallow trench plowed for farming. Originally furlong referred to the length of one furrow in one acre.
Prior to researching furlong I had only heard the term in the context of the sport of kings- horse racing. In horse racing are used to describe distances less then a mile. Remember a furlong is an 1/8 of a mile.

A fortnight is a period of two weeks or 14 days. I thought it came from a mutation of a fort, as in a military fort. But as it turns out fortnight is also from Old English. It comes from feowertyne niht meaning 14 nights. When your boss asks you to get a project done by next week tell them it will take more like fortnight.

A sennight is one week, 7days.
Today’s Podcast needs a new name. Please help me by sending me you name change suggestions.

Wheat rows photo courtesy of Will Simpson at PalousePhotography.org

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