Monday, November 29, 2010

the Voynich Manuscript

The Voynich manuscript is a mysterious, undeciphered illustrated book. It is thought to have been written between 1450 and 1520. The Voynich manuscript has been the object of intense study by many professional and amateur cryptographers, including some top American and British codebreakers of World War II fame (all of whom failed to decrypt a single word).

I love this book visually, as well as the mystery surrounding it. If it's a hoax, it's an incredibly marvelous one, and a wonderful example of early book art. Whether the text is a real language or cipher or gibberish, it's gorgeous, and took a creative mind to invent. 

The book is mostly arranged into sections. Except for the last section, which contains only text, almost every page contains at least one illustration. The sections are  more or less:

·       Herbal
·       Astronomical
·       Biological
·       Cosmological
·       Pharmaceutical
·       Recipes 


·       By current estimates, the book originally had 272 pages.
·       About 240 vellum pages remain today, and gaps in the page numbering (which seems to be later than the text) indicate that several pages were already missing by the time that Voynich acquired it.
·       A quill pen was used for the text and figure outlines, and colored paint was applied to the figures, possibly at a later date.
·       There is strong evidence that at one point in time the pages of the book were rearranged into a different order.

The text:

·       Definitely written from left to right, with a slightly ragged right margin.
·       Longer sections are broken into paragraphs, sometimes with "bullets" on the left margin. There is no obvious punctuation.
·       The ductus (the speed, care, and cursiveness with which the letters are written) flows smoothly, suggesting that the scribe understood what he was writing when it was written; the manuscript does not give the impression that each character had to be calculated before being inked onto the page.
·       Consists of over 170,000 discrete glyphs. An alphabet with 20–30 glyphs would account for virtually all of the text; the exceptions are a few dozen rarer characters that occur only once or twice each.
·       Spaces divide the text into about 35,000 "words" of varying length.
·       Statistical analysis of the text reveals patterns similar to those of natural languages.
·       On the other hand, the Voynich manuscript's "language" is quite unlike European languages in several aspects. Firstly, there are practically no words comprising more than ten glyphs, yet there are also few one- or two-letter words. The distribution of letters within the word is also rather peculiar: some characters only occur at the beginning of a word, some only at the end, and some always in the middle section – an arrangement found in Semitic alphabets but not in the Latin or Cyrillic alphabets (with the exception of the Greek letters Beta and Sigma).
·       The text seems to be more repetitive than typical European languages; there are instances where the same common word appears up to three times in a row. Words that differ only by one letter also repeat with unusual frequency.
·       There are a few words in the manuscript written in a seemingly Latin, but ultimately illegible, script. However, it is not known whether these bits of Latin script were part of the original text, or were added at a later time.

Suspected origins:

·       Roger Bacon, as suggested by Voynich and Newbold, and suggested by some later historians. Since then, this idea has been largely rejected.
·       Cathar cult of Isis followers, as suggested by Levitov, but later completely disproven.
·       A coded almanac by Anthony Askham, as suggested by L.C. Strong. The name of Askham derives from his decryption of the manuscript, which seems complete except that it depends heavily on a correct reading of the characters in the text and does not account for repeated words
·       A hoax by John Dee and/or Edward Kelly, associates of Roger Bacon, as suggested by many, though this has been shown to be a historical impossibility.
·       An early form of a synthetic language, as suggested by Friedman and Tiltman. This cannot be disproved.
·       An early attempt to convert Chinese (or a related language) to an alphabetic script. This theory is based on certain peculiar text statistics and is by no means disproved, but there is difficulty with the fact that the entire manuscript has a Western European look. A specific connection with any specific oriental language has also not yet been proposed.
·       A modern fake by Wilfrid Voynich. Disproved by the recent discovery of earlier references to the manuscript.
·       Jacobus Sinapius, whose signature seemed to appear in a reproduction of the first page of the Voynich manuscript, taken by Voynich. However, that writing does not match Jacobus's signature. Also, the chemicals applied by Voynich have so degraded the vellum that hardly a trace of the signature can be seen today; thus there is also the suspicion that the signature was fabricated by Voynich in order to strengthen the Roger Bacon theory.
·       A fake by Jan Marci as a political move to discredit an opponent. Not sure of the status of this idea.
·       Raphael Mnishovsky, the friend of Marci who was the reputed source of Bacon's story, was himself a cryptographer (among many other things), and apparently invented a cipher which he claimed was uncrackable. This has led to the theory that he produced the Voynich manuscript as a practical demonstration of his cipher. However, there is no definite evidence for this theory.

These images are from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University, where they've posted scans of every single page

Some more Voynich-related links / my sources: a Scientific American article on the book, and how it may be no more than gibberish; a site on attempts to decrypt the text (among other ciphers); a thorough historical chronology and analysis; a general historical overview of the manuscript and its possible origins; further analysis, and a weird bit on how one of the drawings looks exactly like the Andromeda Galaxy; and an xkcd comic parodying the book (and dungeons and dragons). 

Monday, November 22, 2010

white rooms

In many of my other posts about interiors, I've been mentioning the sparse, white rooms I love. This post is a collection of some of my favorites of these unattainably (for me, anyway) clean, white, and empty rooms.

Picture above via sfgirlbybay. I like how all the disparate things work together in this room, from the amazing chandelier, to the books in the fireplace, to the almost-invisible TV screen, to the slightly mismatched white armchairs.

Cozy architecture, lovely sunlight, and low furniture via seenandsaid.

Pretty white floorboards and white background with bright, joyful prints via lolita blog.

Warm porcelains and etched mirrors via lost dot net (a whole post of more white rooms).

Awesome white backdrop with amazing bell jar and bird's nest lamp via design*sponge.

For more, see my tag for this on my tumblr.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Jon Duenas

Very cool imagery in these photos by Jon Duenas (to find this group more easily, look in the Allison set). Also, seems appropriate for fall, and a gray day like we're having here in Oakland...

via how to make a baby elephant float.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Amanda Vissering

I finished building Amanda Vissering dot com, a portfolio website for my friend and roommate Amanda. 

Also did a brief update to Naomi Bardoff dot com, mostly to reflect this new site, new Green Living designs, and a couple new drawings. A big update is coming soon. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

in-between clutter and unrealistic sparseness (unrealistic for me, anyway!)

After my post on attainably-cluttered rooms and my post on sparse, white spaces, I found a few more cluttered and cluttered-ish or in-between spaces that I love. 

Above is one of my favorite interior decor pictures ever, via the style files. (It was also one of my very first tumblr posts.) It has color! Plants! Flowers! Porcelain! Rustic wood! Sunlight! Slanty ceilings! Pots and pans and things hanging! 

From Meryl Smith's feature on the Selby. This is some clutter I can seriously relate to! All the specimens and natural items on the walls really make this room for me. 

The above and remaining pictures are from Ann Wood's sneak peak on design sponge. I love Ann Wood's work a lot (I post her work and in progress pictures all the time on my tumblr) so it's a treat to see what her place looks like. I love how much like her work her apartment is, especially that decaying curtain in the picture above. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Christina Bothwell

Totally enchanted by these glass, clay, and wood sculptures by Christina Bothwell.

Discovered via how to make a baby elephant float.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

vegan thin mints!

Finally, here are the vegan thin mints I've been promising! In this recipe, I only put glaze on one side of the cookie. It's a yummy, thick, and very minty glaze. You can double it if you want to glaze both sides (though I recommend letting the first side firm up before glazing the second side), or you can just spread the glaze thinner to cover both sides.

makes 50 - 70 cookies

1 cup margarine, softened
3/4 cup sugar
equivalent of 1 egg (I used 2 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 2 tbsp cold water) 
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 - 1 1/2 tsp peppermint extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp vegetable or coconut oil 
2-3 tsp peppermint extract

Beat margarine and sugar together until well-mixed and fluffy (above).
 Prepare egg equivalent (my cornstarch and water mixture is above).

Add egg equivalent and extracts to the margarine and sugar mixture and beat until smooth and consistent. Add flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Mix until just combined (if you over-mix, you'll deactivate the baking powder). It's hard to mix at this point, but it will be a clearly consistent mix and stop sticking so much to the sides of the bowl, as in the picture above right.

Divide the dough into halves. Turn one half onto a piece of wax paper and roll into a log about 10-12 inches long and about 2 inches in diameter (or whatever diameter you think thin mints should be! though you'll end up with a different number of cookies than my estimate). The wax paper is just so the dough won't stick to your counter or cutting board; now that it's in log form, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or freeze for about 1 hour or more). Repeat with remaining down. A log just after being taken out of the freezer is pictured below left. (You can also keep the dough in the freezer for a moth, then follow the directions from there! Or finish making the cookies and keep in the freezer for a long time anyway.)
Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Remove the logs of dough from the fridge or freezer. Slice into 1/4- to 1/3-inch rounds. If the cookies are too thin, they'll burn in the oven, but if they're too thick, they won't bake all the way through. A good balance gets them nice and crispy. Place on a cookie sheet. They shouldn't touch, but can be pretty close together, since they shouldn't spread much (above right).

Bake until the cookies are firm around the edges but somewhat soft on top, about 13 to 15 minutes (may be more like 15 - 17 minutes if they are straight from the freezer).

When the cookies are done baking, let cool on a cooling rack or on plates. Then line baking sheets with wax paper.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate chips for the glaze. I find the best way for me to do this without burning the melted chocolate is to slowly melt them in a little pan while stirring constantly, but I usually end up using the microwave anyway! Anyway, melt as you like, until they're nice and liquid-y. Stir in the vegetable or coconut oil and peppermint extract.

Using a butter knife of a small rubber spatula, spread the glaze over the top of each cookie. Place the cookies in the fridge for 15 minutes, or until the chocolate is firm.

They won't go bad if stored in an airtight container at room temperature, but they may get melty! Margarine usually has a lower melting point than butter, so they get gooey fast. I try to keep them in the fridge, or even the freezer if I plan on having them on hand for a long time.

Enjoy your vegan thin mints!

Monday, November 8, 2010

plants make all houses beautiful

I have this idea that potted plants make rooms like awesome, and can overcome clutter and other setbacks just by being alive and green. So here's some more interior decor pictures, of rooms with plants. 

The above picture is via design sponge.

Besides the plants and all the light from these windows, I also really like all the baskets and textures in this picture, via seenandsaid

Another plant-filled room via seenandsaid

I think this is a great example of how much power plants have for me, because other than the beautiful windows and the plants, I don't really like this room! By Petra Bindelvia sfgirlbybay

The above and remaining photos are from Nicolette Camille's sneak peak on design sponge. She's a florist, so there are plants aplenty! One of my favorite things about this series of photos is that, other than the huge amount of plantlife in the last photo, these are photos I love but are still somewhat attainable for me. A lot of my furniture and belongings are already in the same style that I love in these pictures, which is promising! 

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