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Norman Sperling
2625 Alcatraz Avenue #235
Berkeley, CA 94705-2702

cellphone 650 - 200 - 9211
eMail normsperling [at] gmail.com

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.

Blogs

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.

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.]

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

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