Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Voynich Mystery – Part II

In September 2012, I wrote about the Voynich mystery. The Voynich Manuscript is a detailed 240-page book written in a language or script that is completely unknown. It is named after the Polish-American antiquarian bookseller Wilfrid M. Voynich. He acquired it in 1912.

The pages are filled with colorful drawings of strange diagrams, odd events and plants that do not seem to match any known species. The appeal of the manuscript is impossibility to decipher it.

Many scientists are still trying to crack the Voynich code. One of them is Jorge Stolfi, a professor of computer science at the State University of Campinas, Brazil. He was able to compose a grammar for Voynichese and concluded that it behaves like a natural language, more so than like a code, as many others believe.

According to Stolfi, Voynichese points to an Asian language like Chinese with its short words with tonal structures. He theorizes that someone went to the Far East and phonetically transcribed something he heard or read. He explains: “It is not unusual at that time to make up an alphabet to record a foreign language.” 
But Andreas Schinner, a theoretical physicist, argues that the non-randomness of syllable distribution is a strong indication that it is a hoax, not a natural language. He concluded that the ‘language’ is very different from human writings, even from ‘exotic’ languages like Chinese. In fact, the results better fit to a ‘stochastic process’ (a sequence of correlated random events).” In an article in Cryptologia, he concluded that the Voynich Manuscript does not contain any encrypted messages.

Psychologist Gordon Rugg agrees that it is a hoax. This creates a new mystery – why would anyone create such a manuscript? Creating a hoax for profit?

The main suspect for penning a hoax manuscript is EdwardKelley who had a track record of creating made-up languages and perpetrating frauds and hoaxes. As a convicted villain, he had his ears cropped for forgery.

However, the Voynich Manusript shares many similarities with Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, a 17th-century utopian tract about a fantasy island. In it, Bacon’s ideal college is described, including the  unknown plants, the grafting, the code, books on velum, and new types of animals, as well as a bath full of naked ladies.

For now, the Manuscript keeps its secrets, although many experts believe that the key to the Voynich manuscript is just around the corner. Let’s wait and see...I will keep you posted!

Monday, April 15, 2013

How the City of Amsterdam was Duped by an Author with a Questionable Reputation

The City of Amsterdam wanted to hire a consultant to formulate a better policy for managing prostitution in the city.

Mayor Mr. Van der Laan and Councilman Mr. Asscher hired Ms. ValĂ©rie Lempereur, a journalist. She had published an “autobiography” under the pen name Patricia Perquin. In her book “Behind the windows in the Red Light District”, she tells her “true story” as a prostitute.

As 'Patricia Perquin', she also penned a series of articles for the Dutch newspapers Het Parool and AD. Based on these articles and her “autobiography”, she was hired as a consultant. In this capacity, she submitted various recommendations that were included in the City’s official Prostitution Plan.

Fellow journalists started digging into the background of Ms. Lempereur. They quickly found out that she could never have worked full time as prostitute for 4.5 years as claimed in her “autobiography”. It turned out that during those years, she was managing the now defunct publishing house “Lampedaire” in Antwerp, Belgium, for at least two years. She also worked in Holland and Belgium as a society and crime reporter for various magazines including NieuweRevu, Story, TV Familie en Het Laatste Nieuws

The newspaper De Volkskrant interviewed 25 acquaintances of Ms. Lempereur. Several did not want to go on record out of fear for repercussions.

Not without reason: the three newspapers “de Volkskrant”, “het Parool” and “AD” are all part of the same media group (“de Persgroep”, CEO Mr. Christian Van Thillo). Lempereur worked for years at the Belgian branch of the group.

Many of the well-known acquaintances accuse her of lying and fraud. The crime reporter Peter R. de Vries fired her from his program due to multiple cases of fraud.

Lempereur tried to get an injunction against the Volkskrant newspaper. She asked the court to forbid the newspaper to publish her true identity. The judge dismissed her case.

The Mayer and Councilman declined to comment.

The scandal (not her first one!) will not harm the sales figures of her books. She has already published her second novel as Patricia Perquin, The theme is this time the victims of lover boys.

As for her “autobiography - booksellers will just move it to the fiction section. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Go to Hell – Literally (In the Turkish City of Pamukkale)

The ancient Greeks believed that a cave in the ancient city of Hierapolis was the “gate to hell”. Known as Pluto’s Gate (Plutonium) was believed to be the portal to the underworld.

The opening of the cave was filled with lethal mephitic vapors as described by the Greek geographer and historian Strabo (circa 64 BC – circa 24 AD):

 “This space is full of a vapor so misty and dense that one can scarcely see the ground. Any animal that passes inside meets instant death. I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell.”

Only the eunuchs of Cybele, an ancient fertility goddess, were able to enter the Pluto’s Gate without any apparent damage, since (according to Strabo) “They hold their breath as much as they can."

He goes on to notice that their immunity could have been due to their "menomation" (impairment), “divine providence” or “certain physical powers that are antidotes against the vapor.”

Classic archeology Professor Francesco D’Andira and his team were excavating the Hellenistic city of Hierapolis in Pamukkale, Turkey, when they found Ionic semi columns and, on top of them, an inscription with a dedication to the deities of the underworld Pluto and Kore. The temple remains, pool and a series of steps placed above the cave were all as described in ancient sources.

The bustling city of Hierapolis at the time had temples, a theater and popular sacred hot springs, believed to have healing properties. It seems that the site was managed at the time by a tourist organization. Pilgrims received (quite likely against a fee) small birds to check out the deadly workings of Pluto’s Gate (not unlike coal mine canaries). They would take the waters in the pool near the temple, sleep close to the cave and would promptly experience visions and receive prophecies (the Oracle of Delphi effect).

According to the Professor, “We could see the cave's lethal properties during the excavation. Several birds died as they tried to get close to the warm opening, instantly killed by the carbon dioxide fumes.”

So the next time you tell somebody to go to hell, they might send you a postcard from Turkey!

(Image: a digital reconstruction by Edal Anton Lefterov)

Monday, April 01, 2013

Google Nose (Beta) – Google’s Perfect April Fools’ Day Prank 2013

If you googled during the first day of April, you might have noticed a new tab: “Google Nose beta”. There was also a link under the search field: “New! What’s that smell? Find out with Google Nose

Google Nose promises to be “the sharpest olfactory experience available."  It claims to be the latest sensation: searching with your nose. To enable this, Google Nose uses professional knowledge statistics to combine images, descriptions and scents.

Afraid of bad smells? No problem, SafeSearch protects you from foul odors!

According to Google, the product intersects "photons with infrasound waves" and "temporarily aligns molecules to emulate a particular scent." The "mobile aroma indexing program" at the heart of the product has amassed a “15 million scentibyte database of smells from around the world.”

Google Nose is even available on mobile devices with its "Android Ambient Odor Detection" which allows users to collect smells on their smartphones.

Google even created a YouTube video explaining how users can “search for smells.”

It all seems too good to true, right? Well, that’s because it is! This fake product is Google’s April Fools’ Day prank 2013.

In my opinion, it’s brilliant! Just a pity I will never be able to find out what space smells like.....