Podcasting has a symbol but it is not as ubiquitous as the trefoil


podcast-logo.png I cannot apologize enough for the dearth of recent posts.

Today I came across an interesting word in an editorial by Cory Doctorow at the New York Times. Cory’s editorial draws our attention to cheap programmable microchips that allow nearly anybody with an idea for a simple electronic device, say a whimsical watch or a feral robot dog, to produce one cheaply and in their own home.

Radiation TrefoilThe word is trefoil. Trefoil is a noun. A trefoil is any three leafed symbol. The best known trefoil is the international symbol for radiation. This is the trefoil Cory mentions in his editorial. He describes a watch he picked up in Japan that

Appears to be warning of imminent nuclear catastrophe, with a radiation trefoil that lights up to tell me that I need to add six to the number of hours in the throbbing bar on the right side.

Trefoil or “tree-foil,” it can prounced either way, comes from the latin Tre meaning three and folium meaning leaf. Which reminds me an alternate meaning of trefoil is any plant from the genera Trifolium. Obviously these plants are named for their trifoliate leafs.

Radiation trefoil image courtesy of beigephotos at flickr.com.

NYTimes article via BoingBoing

Dell’s Inanity Is Not Insanity, Just Frustrating


PlayI came across today’s word in David Pogue’s New York Times Circuits email newsletter. The word is inanity. When I first read it I suspected it was a typo; that Pogue meant insanity. As the author of many typos I was quite excited to find a typo in a New York Times article.

Alas, inanity is a word. It is an noun meaning total lack of meaning, or or as Merriam-Webster puts it, “the quality or state of being inane.” Something that is inane lacks a point or significance.

Pogue’s article is about the pluses and minuses of Dell’s tech support. He writes:

“And even though they’re scripted to the point of inanity, the overseas reps have twice helped me, too, resolve problems to my satisfaction (including the time my hard drive died, and Dell replaced it at no charge).

You can see how the word insanity could fit in there too. But I think Pogue’s diction is more appropriate because the tech support questions often seem unrelated not crazy.

A side note about Pogue: he suffers from carpel tunnel damage so he uses speech-to-text to avoid irritating his condition, so I should have known the only typos to be found in his work would be incorrect diction not misspellings.

No, I Have not Fallen into an Oubliette


podcast-logo.pngOubliette, this word popped up on two sites in one day so I had to include it in a podcast.

Oubliette, as you can probably tell from the sound of oubliette is a French noun. An oubliette is a dungeon or cave with only an opening at the top. A hole in the ground could be an oubliette. A trap door in the floor may lead to an oubliette.

Of the two pages that brought oubliette to my attention, the first, at kinkless.com, used oubliette on its 404- page-not-found error page. I clicked on a broken link and was served this creative and polite prose:


You have fallen into a hole. You find yourself in a small stone room. The only exit appears to be the hole which you fell through, now far above you in the ceiling. There is straw scattered on the cold, cobbled floor. The darkness of this cell seems to swallow up the thin shaft of light falling from above.

A voice from the shadows says “404”. However, before you scream in terror or allow a soul destroying malaise to settle upon you like the dust of ages (what? it already has?), let me hand you a ladder. You see, I’ve rejigged this site and now the walls and doors and such are in all different places.

Kinkless.com hosts a “Getting Things Done” to do list manager. The second page is closely related, it is an article by Merlin Mann hosted at 43folders.com, a site dedicated to the “Getting Things Done” way of organizing and managing your life. The article “Dr. Contextlove or: “How I stopped worrying and learned to love iCal” describes Mr. Mann’s particular technique for using the Kinkless GTD system to organize his time and tasks. Oubliette is used by Mann to describe where the task he forgets to complete end up; in a dark hole with only one way out.

Oubliette comes from the French verb oublier meaning “to forget.” As in,”put him in oubliette and forget about him.”

According to Wikipedia, and oubliette is also

“used to refer to ice formations over lakes or other large bodies of water. As ice crystals formed, and air was introduced in the movement of the tides, tunnels would form under the ice.”

Happy Mardi Gras, Enjoy Ash Wednesday!


podcast-logo.pngHappy Mardi Gras! Today I would take a little time to discuss Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, Carnival and Lent.

Lent is the forty day Christian fasting season leading up to Easter. Christians, particularly Catholics, mark the period by giving up meat or some pleasure or comfort.

Carnival is the two week celebration leading up to Lent. The most famous Carnival is celebrated in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I am sure you have seen the photos of revelers. The last day, the culmination of Carnival is Mardi Gras.

Since Lent is a time of fasting and going without, people live it up big for the two weeks leading up to Lent. Mardi Gras is the last day to enjoy favored foods it tend so it is a day for fattening up for the long wait till Easter. Mardi Gras translates literally from the French as “Tuesday Fat.” The following day, Ash Wednesday, is the first day of Lent.

Ash Wednesday gets its name from the ashes with which the priest blesses worshipers. On Ash Wednesday Christians, again particularly Catholics, can be seen with their foreheads marked with this ash.

Equanimity in a Desperate Podcast



I heard Felicity Huffman use the word equanimity on NPR’s All Things Considered. Felicity Huffman plays Lynette on Desperate Housewives and recently received an Oscar nomination for her staring role in Transamerica– the story of a man who becomes a woman then discovers she has a teenage son.

The interview focuses on motherhood as it applies in the movie and in Desperate Housewives. Huffman uses equanimity to summarize one of the characteristics she observes in other mothers and aspires to posses herself.

Equanimity is a calmness or evenness of mind; a balanced impartiality.

As you may have guessed it is related the word equal and comes from the latin aequanimitas– a combination of aequus, meaning even or equal and animus, meaning mind.

It is no wonder the characteristic Huffman praises just before equanimity is balance. In fact she is almost being redundant.

Serendipity on the radio, soon in a podcast


podcast-logo.pngWelcome to the 131st Today’s Podcast. November 1st marked the one year anniversary of Today’s Podcast. This year my goal is to produce over 200 shows. Much closer to my promise of a daily show.

Today’s word is serendipity. I was reminded of this word by a recent interview with Yvon Chouinard on NPR’s Day to Day. No podcasts for Day to Day yet. But NPR does offer some podcasts.

Only a few days before the interview I was in Boston for StartUpSchool. I stayed with some friends, one of whom is getting his Ph.D.. at MIT. His field of expertise is environmental policy so I was picking his brain on the subject of U.S. foreign oil dependency and its relation to synthetic clothing. Jim was explaining to me that synthetic clothing could be made form natural polymers but at this time that process is more expensive.

Stick with me I am getting to the serendipity part.

In an off hand remark I asked Jim if he thought Patagonia would be a leader in bringing non-petroleum based synthetics to consumers in the next 50 to 100 years. He asked me if I thought Patagonia would be around in 100 years. I said I figured they would be. He didn’t. So we made a informal bet.

Back to Yvon Chouinard. He is the founder of Patagonia and he was on the radio promoting his new book “Let My People Go Surfing : The Education of a Reluctant Businessman.” During the interview he mentions he expects Patagonia to be in business 100 years from now. There is the serendipity.

Serendipity is a noun that describes the act of making fortuitous discoveries. The act of finding something useful when you weren’t looking for it.

I wasn’t looking for evidence supporting my theory or my position in the wager but just listening to the radio I stumbled upon some useful evidence.

The word serendipity was given to us by Horace Walpole in a letter of January 28, 1754. He coined the word from the title of a Persian fairy tale- “The Three Princes of Serendip.” Serendip is the ancient Persian name for Sri Lanka. Walpole wrote the following describing the story, “As their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of …” That is serendipity.

Last year serendipity is was listed by, Todays Translation, as one of the ten hardest English words to translate. So to the English-as-a-second-language listeners and readers I hope I have helped.

UPDATE: Jim just dropped me an email letting me know there are now corn based fibers used in socks. Japan will be the test market for these new socks.

A copacetic podcast


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.

Heliotropes- Plants and Zonker podcast


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


Zoetrope in motion

Originally uploaded by tempo.

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


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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