Monday, February 24, 2014

Decoding The Voynich Mystery – Are We Getting Close?

In September 2012 and April 2013, I wrote about the Voynich mystery.

The Voynich Manuscript was created during the 15th century and is still an intriguing unsolved mystery. It is written in an unknown language that not even military cryptographers were able to decipher. It also contains beautiful illustrations and descriptions of events and flora unknown to man.

It seems that finally at least a small part of the code has been cracked. Stephen Bax, Professor of Applied Linguistics at the University of Bedfordshire, claims to have deciphered part of the manuscript using linguistic analysis.

Professor Bax is an expert in mediaeval manuscripts and familiar with Semitic languages such as Arabic. This helped him to analyze text letter by letter. Up till now, he was able to decipher 14 letters and 10 words.

He identified one of those words as the term for Taurus, alongside a picture of seven stars which seem to be the Pleiades. He also found the word KANTAIRON alongside a picture of the plant Centaury as well as a number of other plants.

Professor Bax explained: “The manuscript has a lot of illustrations of stars and plants. I was able to identify some of these, with their names, by looking at mediaeval herbal manuscripts in Arabic and other languages, and I then made a start on a decoding, with some exciting results.”

To learn more, watch the following video.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Controversial Use of the Coffin of Famous Dutch Author Harry Mulisch in a Notary Ad

Nationale Notaris (National Notary) is an organization of 60 notaries throughout the Netherlands.

The organization wanted an ad campaign for promoting last wills and testaments. It hired ad agency DKTD that came up with the slogan: “Ready to go? Try out the free last will scan of

The ad needed a strong visual. DKTD approached photographer Merlin Daleman and asked him for permission to use a photo of a funeral featuring six pallbearers with top hats carrying a coffin at the Zorgvliet cemetery. It was the funeral of Harry Mulish, a famous Dutch author whose works include The Assault. The film version of that novel won a Golden Globe and Academy Award.

Daleman said that he told the ad agency “you know that’s Harry Mulisch, correct?” He assumed that it was a national campaign sponsored by the Dutch government to advise people to take care of their affairs during their lifetime. Once he saw the photo featured in the ad, he wondered. “I didn’t expect that, but since they bought the photo from me, they are entitled to use it once as they please.”

The CEO, Albert van der Wijk, loved the ad and ordered 5,000 posters were printed. There are 1,500 posters distributed in 12 cities. The ad also features prominently on the homepage of the website.

Family members of the late author were shocked when they saw the poster in Amsterdam. They were not informed by the ad agency.

Danny Tournier, owner of DKTD, claims that he himself was not aware that the photo was of the famous Dutch author’s funeral. "It is quite likely mentioned somewhere in the paperwork, but it did not surface at the crucial moment."

Mr, Van der Wijk also stated that he was not aware that the photo was taken at the funeral of the author who passed away in 2010. “I just thought that it was a beautiful image. I was surprised that the family had not been informed.”

Nationale Notaris contacted the family and wants to see how the organization can adapt the ad campaign if family members so desire. Removing and destroying all the posters would be a major financial setback for the organization.

DKDT also reached out to the family and contacted Frieda Mulisch, the author’s daughter. According to Tournier: "Frieda and I understand each other. She understands that we chose this photo, but that there was somewhere along the line miscommunication.” It will be interesting to see what the Mulisch family will decide

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Will Book Clubs Be A New Marketing Venue For Authors?

Book clubs could become a great way for authors to promote their books. Jean Hanff Korelitz, a novelist herself, started “Book the Writer”. A book club can book a writer for an appearance for the sum of $750. From this amount, the author gets $400 while “Book the Writer” keeps $350.

Authors such as Kurt Andersen, A. M. Homes, Zoë Heller, Michael Cunningham and Amy Sohn are happy to be booked. They appear in person at those book club meetings to discuss their works with their fans. The attending club members can ask the writer in person about writing processes, characters, plot lines, etc.

It’s a new way of marketing for writers. They directly interact with their target audience. It’s a great way to build word-of-mouth for their books, especially since opportunities for book signings in bookstores and book tours are declining.

“Book the Writer” is currently mainly active in New York, the center of the publishing industry. According to the founder, she based the concept on the author hosting she did when she lived in Princeton, N.J. She provides the service to book clubs in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Publishers also use book clubs to reach their customers. Little, Brown and Company let its authors attend book club meetings via Skype at no charge. The publisher also sends complimentary copies of upcoming novels to about 75 book clubs throughout the country.

It will be interesting to see if “Book the Writer” will be successful and spread to other cities.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Google Makes a Brave Statement with Its Olympic Doodle

On Friday 7, 2014 the XXII Olympic Winter Games started in Sochi, Russia. 

As always, search engine Google commemorated the event with a doodle. It depicts the popular winter sports such as skiing, ice hockey, curling, bobsleigh, and ice skating and snowboarding. 

Under the doodle, Google cited part of section 6 of the Olympic handbook:

"The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play."

However, this time the doodle also made a political statement. The doodle incorporates the rainbow colors to promote the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT).

Google is making a brave statement – Russia is known for its anti-gay stance. In June 2013, Vladimir Putin passed a law stigmatizing gay people and banning "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations." It is part of Putin’s efforts to promote traditional Russian ideals and values. Russia believes that Western liberties will corrupt Russia’s youth.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned discrimination against homosexuals during a speech to the International Olympic Committee. He said that “many professional athletes, gay and straight, are speaking out against prejudice.”

Official sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Visa, Samsung, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, Omega, General Electric and Dow Chemical preferred to remain silent on the issue.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Paging Eustace Tilley

Did you ever wonder who the dandy on the cover of the New Yorker is? You know, that well-dressed gentleman looking at a butterfly through his monocle? His story is quite interesting!

For the first cover of the New Yorker, Rea Irvin drew the character. Over time, he even got his own name: Eustace Tilley. Corey Ford wrote a series of humorous articles for the New Yorker that spoofed corporate promotional writing. His stories were used to fill up empty pages that were not bought by advertisers to promote their products. Ford’s stories were illustrated with drawings that often featuring Eustace Tilley. In one such illustration, Tilley supervises the felling of “specially grown trees to make paper for The New Yorker.”

Irvin got inspiration for his Eustace Tilley magazine cover from an unlikely source: an 1834 drawing of Count Alfred Guillaume Gabriel D’Orsay. The drawing “man of Fashion in Early Victorian Period” was featured in the costume section of the Encyclopædia Britannica.

Count D’Orsay (1801-1852) was a famous dandy and wit, known for his stunning good looks. He was admired for his charming manner and brilliant wit. At 6ft, he towered over his fellow men and posed a striking figure. He created his own flamboyant style that was imitated everywhere. His admirers included Lord Byron, Benjamin Disraeli, William Thackeray, Charles Dickens and even Thomas Carlyle.

D’Orsay was known as a “butterfly dandy”, which explains why Rea Irvin drew him looking at the butterfly on the cover.

As for Eustace Tilley, the New Yorker tried to update his image over the years. At times, Tilley morphed into a female Tilley, an African-American Tilley, and a punk Tilley. No matter what they do to him, Tilley is here to stay. Not bad for an octogenarian dandy!