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Norman Sperling
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Norm Sperling’s Great Science Trek: 2014

San Luis Obispo
Santa Barbara
Palm Springs
Death Valley
Tucson
El Paso
Corpus Christi
Baton Rouge
Tampa
Everglades
Key West
Winter Star Party, Scout Key
Miami

MARCH 2014:
up the Eastern seaboard
mid-South

APRIL 2014:
near I-40, I-30, and I-20 westbound

MAY 2014:
near US-101 northbound
May 17-18: Maker Faire, San Mateo
May 23-26: BayCon, Santa Clara

California till midJune

JUNE 2014:
Pacific Northwest

JULY 2014:
Western Canada, eastbound

AUGUST 2014:
near the US/Can border, westbound
August 22-on: UC Berkeley

Speaking engagements welcome!
2014 and 2015 itineraries will probably cross several times.

Voynich: 2 or More Handwritings?

© Norman Sperling, December 25, 2012
Part of a set on the Voynich Manuscript:
Great Stories from a Book You Can't Read: The Voynich Manuscript December 23, 2012
Voynich: Turkish? December 24, 2012
Voynich: Spiraling Into Folly December 26, 2012
Could 2 of Voynich's Oddities Cancel Each Other Out? December 27, 2012
Did Voynich Swindle Mondragone? December 28, 2012
Would You Like to Buy a Copy of the Voynich Manuscript? December 29, 2012

Prescott Currier contended that 2 different handwritings are detectable. Some scholars find distinctions among as many as 6 hands. These marginally-detectable differences in glyphs DO NOT imply different writers. I grade large numbers of handwritten quizzes and exams - last semester, from 55 students. The differences between people are vastly greater than those visible in the Voynich Manuscript. Far more likely, an individual's penmanship might vary when segments are written:
* at different times: hands get tired or cramped, people age, eyes change.
* at different temperatures: try writing with frozen fingers in thickly gloved hands.
* on tables of different heights, from benches of different heights: not just how uncomfortable the scribe is, but how the hands have to reach.
* by light of different brightness or coming from different angles: the scribe may write bigger if the hand shadows the candle, or if the candle is flickery and faint. Writing might get smaller when clouds give way to bright sunlight.
* sometimes with the elbow supported by the tabletop and sometimes not: I write neater with my elbow on the desk.

Voynich: Turkish?

© Norman Sperling, December 24, 2012
Part of a set on the Voynich Manuscript:
Great Stories from a Book You Can't Read: The Voynich Manuscript December 23, 2012
Voynich: 2 or More Handwritings? December 25, 2012
Voynich: Spiraling Into Folly December 26, 2012
Could 2 of Voynich's Oddities Cancel Each Other Out? December 27, 2012
Did Voynich Swindle Mondragone? December 28, 2012
Would You Like to Buy a Copy of the Voynich Manuscript? December 29, 2012

The books about the Voynich cipher list many languages that codebreakers, including the famous William and Elizebeth Friedman, have checked Voynich against for linguistic patterns, never matching one. The lists never mention Turkish, so I suggest to check that next. Turkish is extremely un-European. Back then, it was usually written in Arabic letters, so a comparison would have to be made to the mediaeval Arabic-letter version of Turkish. Wikipedia says Turkish was also written with Greek, Latin, Cyrillic, and "some other Asiatic writing systems", each of which would yield different letter combinations that need to be checked. Writing Turkish in Latin letters was a modernization imposed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1929.

Ottoman culture remained strikingly different from Europeans. Turkish rule and trade stretched across many Asian lands whose plants wouldn't be recognized by Western scholars.

The Ottomans whittled down the Byzantine (Eastern) Roman Empire and snuffed it in 1453. When they conquered Constantinople, the emperor gave his army 3 days to sack everything they wanted from it, after which the city itself was his. Had the Voynich Manuscript or its progenitors either been in Constantinople or brought from elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire, it could have followed the Turks far up the Balkans, a short sail from Venice, or along trade routes to Vienna.

The Exams I Just Graded Weren't Perfect

© Norman Sperling, December 23, 2012

According to my students:

Aristotle believed that the Earth was geocentric.

[Kepler's Law #] Two: Plants move fasters when they are closer to the Sun and slower then they are far away. Third: The period squared equals the semi-radius cubed.

Comets were initially fussy and difficult to see.

Plates "smash" into one another in a subversion zone, like along the Chilean coast.

Volcanoes ... become dormat.

Black holes are prominent in the solar system, but widely misunderstood.

The Big Bang theory states that the death of a star created our galaxy.

the "emberrs" of the Big Bong

The Big Bing was the creation of everything as we know it.

[Let us know when Microsoft's search engine starts listing that one.]

Great Stories From a Book You Can't Read: The Voynich Manuscript

© Norman Sperling, December 23, 2012
Part of a set on the Voynich Manuscript:
Voynich: Turkish? December 24, 2012
Voynich: 2 or More Handwritings? December 25, 2012
Voynich: Spiraling Into Folly December 26, 2012
Could 2 of Voynich's Oddities Cancel Each Other Out? December 27, 2012
Did Voynich Swindle Mondragone? December 28, 2012
Would You Like to Buy a Copy of the Voynich Manuscript? December 29, 2012

The Voynich Manuscript is just as good a story now as when I first read about it 50 years ago. If you're not familiar with it, Wikipedia's article hits the highlights, and its bibliography gives a number of ways to dig deeper.

The Voynich Manuscript was probably written in the early 1400s, probably in Europe, possibly in Northern Italy. Most of it resembles an herbal (though the plants are unrecognizable), plus sections whose pictures suggest astrology and pharmacy, plus lots of naked and clothed women (only the naked ones get mentioned much), and less-understandable illustrations and pure-text pages. The text appears to be written in a cipher, which has tantalized and taunted people since the 1500s. No one has ever cracked it. Is it too late to call this enciphered language "Voynish"?

Not only is this book truly, deeply weird, so are several of the people and institutions associated with it. Certainly including Roger Bacon, Emperor Rudolph II (who sought weirdos, and found them), John Dee, Wilfrid Voynich, and William R. Newbold. Possibly Yale's Beinecke Library, where marble panels substitute for clear windows. Maybe even me - Yale let me look through and photograph the Voynich Manuscript in 1980, and I thank them again for the privilege.

I told the Bay Area Skeptics about the Voynich Manuscript at its meeting on December 12, 2012, in Berkeley. The room was packed, and even the venue manager listened intently.

Psychology prof Sheldon Helms was not the only audience member who questioned if the manuscript's characteristics could be matched to a psychological condition. Some people concoct private writing, some of it meaningful at least to them, some of it not even that.

Spelling in ANY phonetic language was loose and approximate through the 1700s. Among my university students, even in 2012 some hand in papers with the same word spelled 2 different ways. Cryptanalysts may assume an unrealistically high standard of perfect consistency in writing.

One wag quipped that the missing leaves are the ones with the decipherment keys.

The audience regarded Hoax and Fraud as quite likely explanations for the Voynich Manuscript, echoing more and more investigators.

I'll post several ideas about the Voynich Manuscript in coming days.

The Journal of Irreproducible Results
This Book Warps Space and Time
What Your Astronomy Textbook Won't Tell You

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