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Norman Sperling
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Norman Sperling's blog

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.

Selectively Thinning Out My Library

© Norman Sperling, November 19, 2012

For half a century I've built my library. First I accumulated all the astronomy references I could get. Then I expanded to history of science. More recently, science humor and science travel.

I read many hundreds of them. I use their old illustrations in my courses and lectures. I traced the development of ideas over centuries using long shelves arranged by date.

And now it's time to sell off most of the ones I don't expect to ever use again.

I'm keeping books that
1. I like (usually because of what they say, sometimes how they look)
2. I have a story about (occasionally negative)
3. I expect to use

Not all the books that I price will sell right away, so I'll still have those for a while.

I'm also putting off selling books autographed by living authors. I got almost 400 volumes autographed, but I did so for myself, not for resale value. I wouldn't want any authors to think I got their autographs just to raise the resale price a few dollars. Since it's hard to hurt the feelings of deceased authors, it's OK to sell those autographs. Books that I bought already autographed are fair game, of course.

For pricing, I seek the median for used copies presently listed online. I add a bit for rarity and autographs and great condition. I subtract a bit for worse condition and commonness.

If a book is rare, I say so on the tab. Or "uncommon". Sometimes I think to myself "deservedly rare", though I don't mark "unimportant" or "undistinguished" or "dull" even when that's what I think.

If I don't like a book, or its author, and want to sell fast, I'll cut the price markedly. Just now I thought "I never liked this book" so I said that on the price tab, and marked it 1 cent. Years ago I had a book I couldn't stand, but couldn't stand to dump into recycling, either. I taped a nickel to it, with the statement "Here's 5 cents if you'll take this away." Sure enough, someone did, with a grin.

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

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