Did you see, somebody over here might have cracked the Voynich manuscript? If that doesn’t ring a bell, you’d probably know it if you saw it — it’s one of those perennial old mysteries at the heart of Ripley’s Believe it or Not and such like.
It’s a manuscript from the early 1400′s in a completely unique and undecipherable language. Lots of cryptographers and linguists have had a go at working it out, without any success what-so-ever. The pictures are mostly of plants that were contemporary herbal remedies, so it’s thought to be a pharmacopeia of some kind. But then there are other illustrations, like these naked ladies and things that look like astronomic (or astrologic) charts.
Up to now, one of the leading theories was that the whole thing was a fake, perhaps by Voynich himself — the antiquities dealer who turned it up in 1912. There are characteristics — like doubled and tripled words — that are very unlanguage-like. The fact that nobody could crack a word of it probably pissed everybody off, too. But that always struck me as extremely unlikely — writing out 250 pages of nonsense, using proper ancient materials, and drawings and calligraphy appropriate to the age, without once breaking character? Nah.
According to the BBC article, the ‘breakthrough’ was some kind of statistical analysis of the word patterns, which sounds very boring. Cue learned men huffing and pooh-poohing.
But the Daily Mail’s version sounds much more interesting (*shakes fist at Daily Mail*). They interviewed Bax, the scientist, who said he’d taken the known Arabic words for some of the herbs illustrated and managed to find them near the appropriate illustration. He says he has decoded Juniper, Taurus, Coriander, Centaurea, Chiron, Hellebore Nigella Sativa, Kesar and Cotton. That’s better.
If you’re interested, the Wikipedia rundown on the thing is as good as any.
February 22, 2014 — 12:10 am
Artist makes middling sculptures out of chips and peas. These were commissioned by the Potato Council in honor of Chip Week 2014, which I somehow missed. Again.
Actually, this lady will make any sculpture out of any food. Or non-food items. Or, whatever. Please, just give her something to do already.
The peas in question are mushy peas, which are — yes — peas that have been mushed. It’s a *little* (but not much) more complicated than that. You take marrowfat peas — big peas that have been allowed to dry in the field instead of being picked young in the pod — soak them overnight in water and baking soda, and cook them down to a paste with a pinch of salt and sugar.
Yeah, fuck it, mushed up peas. They aren’t bad. They don’t taste bad. They just taste…pointless.
Still, they make pretty good mortar in chip sculpture. I guess.
February 20, 2014 — 11:42 pm
So I missed this at Christmas, somehow: The Stinky Candle Company. It’s a startup in suburban Chicago that specializes in candles with…unusual fragrances. Gasoline, car exhaust, body odor (if I lit a candle that smelled like gasoline, I bet I’d run around in circles going, “omigod, omigod, omigod!” until somebody threw a bucket of water over me).
I often wonder what becomes of a company like this, built entirely around a novelty idea. Once the novelty goes, what’s its staying power?
I think they see that coming, though. Not all of the candles are truly stinky. There are…I’d say neutral-to-arguably-pleasant smells like dill pickles, leather, wood, number two pencils and fireworks. And there are some distinctly nice scented ones like fast food, chicken, wine, coconut or blueberries. Whether these things truly smell like those things, I couldn’t say.
Luca Turin says that the people who create scents for household products like candles, detergent or (especially) foodstuffs have the hardest job in the scent industry. That’s because their stuff has to be non-toxic, cheap, available in bulk and pleasant to smell. That’s a lot to ask of a chemical.
If I haven’t already, let me recommend Turin’s book The Secret of Scent: Adventures in Perfume and the Science of Smell. I’m not even all that into smells, and I found this a really interesting read.
And no, that’s not because civet cats are mustelids, like weasels. They are, in fact, viverrids, like mongooses.
February 19, 2014 — 11:24 pm
You know when I’m recycling cheap jokes from the Anorak, I’m trying to fob you off with the very best. (Bonus: article at the link briefly explains the phenomenon of “poophoria”).
February 18, 2014 — 11:06 pm
When I did that “George Washington’s dentures” post last week, I totally forgot we celebrate the big guy’s birthday today.
This bit of high Victorian kitsch is called “The Apotheosis.” Gosh, our great grandparents were weird, weren’t they?
I read a lot of hundred year old books. This is partly because I like them and more than partly because I’m too cheap to pay for Kindle books that are still in copyright. Anyway, I always say: if you want to understand a particular time period, don’t read books about the era, read books from the era. And, frankly, a hundred years is about as far as you can go back before the syntax gets all scratchy and hard. Well, two hundred, maybe.
Anyway, I can’t help being struck by how unimaginable they would find our times. Not technologically — some of them did a pretty good job guessing where science might take us (in fact, if anything, they were overly optimistic) — but socially, ye gods. How everything has changed.
Then the next exercise is to try to imagine what it is about our times that our grandchildren will find amazing, silly or obviously flat wrong. We can’t, of course. We’re too much of our own time to see it. It’s like trying to stick your elbow in your ear.
What the science fiction guys do is extrapolate trends out in a straight line. But that’s not how social history works. Not consistently, anyway. Some things trend and some things swing back and forth and we’re lousy at guessing which will do what.
And then there’s Bigfoot. It’s only since I’ve moved over here I’ve come to a sense of how much the two World Wars smashed up the place. The society, I mean — they recovered from the property damage pretty quickly. I don’t think the Black Death rattled people the way the 20th Century did, in total.
Speaking of Yersinia pestis — does anybody else have that itchy feeling that we are way, way overdue for that next plague or comet or rain of frogs?
February 17, 2014 — 11:16 pm
Long time readers may remember that this is our wedding annniversary. It is, in fact, our fifth anniversary. I will leave it to you to Google what you get on your fifth anniversary.
February 14, 2014 — 10:40 pm
Here it is — just in time for Valentine’s Day — FaceBook’s new list of all the possible ways to describe your gender on your FB profile:
Female to Male
Male to Female
Huh. Many of these words mean the same thing. I guess in the world of people who disagree with the big basic dichotomy, the subtleties — things like the difference between trans, trans*, transgender or transsexual — loom large.
Nope. That didn’t make sense to me, either.
More likely, FaceBook is leaking badly and is desperate to pump some air back in. I’m not sure this is the way to do it, but hey — am I a billionaire? No. I am not.
Oh, do yourselves a favor: don’t ever undertake a Google Images search of “reproductive organs,” m’kay?
February 13, 2014 — 11:06 pm
This is what meteorologists call a “swirly.” They should, anyway. They really should.
South of England has been getting weather off the Atlantic for twelve solid weeks. That means warm, wet and windy. I mean, day after day. After day after day after day. ‘Round about 45° in the daytime, 37° at night, and cloudy.
Sometimes wind. Sometimes rain. When it’s both at once — boy howdy! — this house leaks in all sorts of new and interesting places. “Honey, have you pissed on the floor in the pantry? Because there’s this, like, huge puddle…”
I shouldn’t bitch. What they’ve gotten in the Western half of the country is much, much worse.
That’s because they bear the brunt of it on the West Coast. But here on the East Coast, every few centuries the Channel hikes up her skirts, tiptoes inland and nicks a couple of fishing villages. Much more of this — and there’s much, much more of this in the forecast — and we’ll be looking over our shoulders for her.
Today’s magic word or phrase: Grote Mandrenke.
— 12:20 am
I grabbed an antihistamine out of a blister pack in the the sealed drug container in the fridge, and it just tasted wrong. So I axed Uncle B if there was anything else in the box I should know about and he reckoned there might be a couple of sleeping pills down in the bottom. He was really exercised that I would take anything without checking the labeling — but, honestly, if I believed there was anything interesting in the house I’d've eaten it long ago.
Sleeping pills. Bingo.
Unfortunately, were were headed out to hear a two hour talk. I didn’t disgrace the fambly by snoring, but I am surely ready for my bed.
See you’uns tomorrow.
February 11, 2014 — 10:22 pm
This artwork isn’t mine, I just weaseled it up a little. It’s an old advertising gimmick from a German lingerie maker. You don’t want to know what I was searching for when this turned up.
But I don’t want to talk about George Washington’s underpants, I want to talk about his false teeth. For I have seen them with mine own eyes, before they were stolen out of the Smithsonian in 1976. Thought you’d like to know that.
Actually, he had several pairs (and none of them made of wood). He had trouble with his teeth all his life. By inauguration day, the Father of our Country had one natural tooth left in his head (and when that went, he gave it to the dentist who had made his best pair of store-bought teeth)(whose name was Greenwood, so maybe that’s how ‘wood’ got associated with the august gentleman’s gnashers).
By the time Gilbert Stuart painted the famous portrait, Washington’s dentures were a source of constant misery. By some accounts, that’s why his mouth is swollen. But I’ve also read that they were so godawful painful, he took them out and stuffed his mouth with cotton balls, and that’s why his mouth is swollen.
But I have also read that Stuart and Washington detested each other on sight and the former wasn’t all that worried about making the latter look good. The original was deliberately left unfinished so that thousands and thousands of unflattering copies could be made and spread across the land.
Poor old George Washington. He was a heartthrob in his day.
p.s. I added the hearts.
February 10, 2014 — 8:18 pm