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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.

Would You Like to Buy a Copy of the Voynich Manuscript?

© Norman Sperling, December 29, 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: 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

There is said to be a published version, but unavailable, and cropped so much that people complain. There's an eBook version, a CD ROM version, and an online version. But how about a book you can hold in your hands?

I queried my audience and found 5 who said they'd consider buying a printed copy. I presumed using modern acid-free document paper instead of vellum, and a binding that opens flat. I surveyed their preferences:

For margins, they preferred either the original amounts, or 10-12 mm. (I expected them to want much wider margins, for making their own notes.)

Then I posited 2 potential versions:
* a Replica, reproducing the manuscript in its present form as faithfully as technology allows;
* and a Restoration, with the page-order rearranged as sensibly as possible, with blank pages left for the missing leaves, with script printed black-on-white for ease of reading, and with colors restored to original tones.

Along a continuum from Replica to Restoration, nobody wanted the ink contrast or illustration colors as faded as presently. Preferences ranged smoothly from "fully restored to our best guess of original", to halfway to the present fading.

Everybody wanted the paper color roughly halfway between white, and as-brown-as-present.

With electronic reproduction now making pages and printing so selectable, I wondered if people might want to custom-enhance unreality by inventing a new page order, and rendering lettering and illustrations in user-selected colors, including psychedelic. (About a mile from where I spoke, and about 4 blocks from where I teach, psychedelic tie-dye shirts are still sold by street-vendors on Telegraph Avenue.) But these 5 customers were way more sober than that, and wanted no such thing. They also wanted no enlargement, or just a little.

I suggested 3 kinds of binding. They strongly preferred "quality cloth-covered hardback" and "quality paperback". My imagined "custom vellum-covered hardback" found no favor.

Then I asked them to forecast "In the long run, per 100 copies sold, estimate the number picking:
* replica: 30%
* restoration: 42%
* psychedelic: 5%
* their own custom settings: 30%.
Yes, those don't add up to 100%, but that's what the folks wrote.

Averages of estimates for the proper prices:
* replica: $30
* restoration: $53
* psychedelic: $47
* custom settings: $70.

If you could tailor a copy to your preferences, what characteristics would you want? What would you pay? Compare that to Emperor Rudolph's 600 ducats, or the $160,000 that Voynich never got.

Did Voynich Swindle Mondragone?

© Norman Sperling, December 28, 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: 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
Would You Like to Buy a Copy of the Voynich Manuscript? December 29, 2012

The book The Voynich Manuscript by Kennedy and Churchill (Orion, 2004), and some websites, repeatedly accuse Wilfrid Voynich of unethical dealing because the religious books he traded to the Catholics of Mondragone in return for 30 old manuscripts including this odd one, didn't cost a lot. Voynich, Kennedy, and Churchill all valued antiquarian things unusually highly. They didn't value those new books very much. The accusation makes several faulty assumptions.

From all we are told, nobody was forced into a deal. Nobody lied. They all had what they had, wanted what they wanted, and reached agreements. This is the principle of "a willing buyer and a willing seller": it just needs to make sense to the people involved in their own circumstances right then. How it would be regarded by others, elsewhen, with different circumstances, is not relevant.

I have experienced quite a number of things that I valued, selling for low prices, or not selling at all. In hurriedly clearing out our old house in preparing to sell it, we ended up giving away several thousand dollars worth of stuff. And I have experienced items fetching surprisingly high prices because they were worth a whole lot to someone else in their particular situation. Our house sold for a handsome profit that dwarfed the losses described 2 sentences ago.

Mondragone made no use of what they had, had no use for it, and had not even touched it for centuries. They did their religious duties, for which those 30 manuscripts were actually a drag. They also had no means to find out their specialty value (the antiquarian book dealers Voynich and Kraus didn't know, either: they speculated and lost). Mondragone had no experience in selling through specialists anyway, and no means to find and deal with dealers or collectors of antiquarian books, or they would already have done so.

Wilfrid Voynich acquired the knowledge to find Mondragone, exercised the energy and paid the cost to actually journey there, and took the risk to invest money with no surety of earning a profit. Voynich listened to them - what other merchant would? They wanted certain uncommon books they could actually use, but they didn't have money to get them, nor the knowhow to find and purchase them. We worldly people of 2012 could do that in a snap (well, a click), but buying their wants was beyond the abilities and resources of isolated members of a religious order in 1912, or they would already have done so.

Voynich took considerable trouble to fill Mondragone's shopping list and deliver to them what they really wanted - "concierge" service. Nobody else had, or would. Voynich performed several services that required his expertise and attitude, including the age-old commercial one of taking things from where they have low value to where they have high value.

A strongly parallel experience happened to me about 1990. A little, isolated college had an antique telescope. The occasional astronomy course was taught by a professor of something else. He saw an ad for a modern telescope, which would help him teach his course much better than the awkward old thing could. He was worldly enough to know how to buy the new one, but far from knowing how to sell the old one for enough money to pay for it. From a friend of a friend, he heard that I had studied antique telescopes. So he invited me to examine the old scope, appraise it, and sell it so he could buy the new one. Unfortunately, its lens was badly chipped, devastating its value. I never found a customer, no deal occurred, and I never heard from them again. I lost the value of that time and travel.

If I had succeeded in fulfilling that college's wants, Kennedy and Churchill would regard me as an unethical swindler for doing so. I regard Voynich as an enterprising, risk-taking expert bringing added value and new possibilities wherever he reached agreements.

Could 2 of Voynich's Oddities Cancel Each Other Out?

© Norman Sperling, December 27, 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: 2 or More Handwritings? December 25, 2012
Voynich: Spiraling Into Folly December 26, 2012
Did Voynich Swindle Mondragone? December 28, 2012
Would You Like to Buy a Copy of the Voynich Manuscript? December 29, 2012

* There are no corrections anywhere; and
* a lot of words repeat, sometimes 2 or 3 or 4 times, sometimes with the final version differing by 1 glyph from the previous ones.

Could some of those repetitions be the "corrections"? The scribe got something wrong, and so wrote it again. Sometimes 3 or 4 tries before getting it right. Occasionally restarting a few words after the mistake.

In current times we cross off an error. I don't recall seeing that in the few other manuscripts I looked at. A common "delete" symbolism back then was to underscore an error with small dots. Maybe the Voynich scribe had his own different graphic method for handling errors, just as his glyphs were so different. Instead of under-dotting, he just repeated, or inserted "un-do" glyphs that we mistake for letters.

If the 'oddity of no corrections' is the same as the 'oddity of repetitions', neither one is odd any more.

Voynich: Spiraling into Folly

© Norman Sperling, December 26, 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: 2 or More Handwritings? December 25, 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

William R. Newbold's 1921 contention that the spiral graphic in folio 68r represents a spiral nebula is wild bunk. The spiral nebula concept was suggested to Newbold by astronomer Eric Doolittle, who really should have known much better. Doolittle was a diligent and much-appreciated expert on double stars, but at f/20 his telescope gave some of the poorest, faintest, least-contrasty views of nebulae (the category from which galaxies had not yet been separated). To be blunt, Doolittle was out of his specialty and didn't know what he was talking about.

While the Great Galaxy in Andromeda is visible to the naked eye as an oval smudge, it does not look spiral through even today's visual telescopes. It doesn't even appear face-on, but is strongly tilted to our view. It was first recognized as a spiral in 1899, by pioneering astrophotographer Isaac Roberts: "[the object is] a left-handed spiral, and not annular as I at first suspected". Photographs of Stars II, p63. Newbold's own book says as much (William Romaine Newbold, edited by Roland Grubb Kent: The Cipher of Roger Bacon, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1928, Chapter XI, p 123).

The very first time any celestial object was recognized as a spiral was 1843, using the world's then-largest telescope, Lord Rosse's new 72-inch-wide "Leviathan of Parsonstown". Even with highly improved telescopes in the 2010s, visual observers are hard-put to distinguish spirality in the highest-contrast, most-vivid spiral - the Whirlpool galaxy in Canes Venatici, M51 - with any telescope narrower than 12 inches. Even then, the focal ratio must be f/8 or less to concentrate light enough. Early-1600s telescopes by Lippershey, Galileo, and others were less than 2 inches wide, and typically f/20-f/40, with notoriously imperfect lenses that smeared light around. For a deeper explanation of focal ratio and surface-brightness, read my essay Of Pupils & Brightness. NO primitive telescope of the Renaissance, let alone some speculated pioneer of the Middle Ages, had the slightest chance of revealing spirality in any object, to any observer, under any conditions.

Newbold speculated about the changes a nebula might show over the 650 years from Roger Bacon's time to his own. We now know that the spirals are galaxies, so wide that light takes tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years to traverse them. The sharpest photographs of the last century have not revealed any measurable rotation. The only changes are sudden appearances of supernovae, which fade back down. The spiral in 68r is NOT a galaxy.

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

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