Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Copiale Cipher

I had never heard of this cipher, but (unlike the more famous Voynich Manuscript) it's now been cracked:
Now a team of Swedish and American linguists has applied statistics-based translation techniques to crack one of the most stubborn of codes: the Copiale Cipher, a hand-lettered 105-page manuscript that appears to date from the late 18th century. They described their work at a meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics in Portland, Ore.
Discovered in an academic archive in the former East Germany, the elaborately bound volume of gold and green brocade paper holds 75,000 characters, a perplexing mix of mysterious symbols and Roman letters. The name comes from one of only two non-coded inscriptions in the document.
Kevin Knight, a computer scientist at the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California, collaborated with Beata Megyesi and Christiane Schaefer of Uppsala University in Sweden to decipher the first 16 pages. They turn out to be a detailed description of a ritual from a secret society that apparently had a fascination with eye surgery and ophthalmology.
Full story at the New York Times. Cosmic Log elaborates on the content:
The manuscript, available in several formats from Uppsala University's website, describes the procedure for initiating new members of the society. At one point, candidates are asked to read the writing on a blank piece of paper. When they can't, they're told to put on eyeglasses, and then they undergo an "operation" that involves plucking a hair from the eyebrow. After the operation, the blank paper is replaced by a document laying out "the entire teaching for the apprentices."

Monday, October 24, 2011

Butterfly egg

 David Millard,Vanessa atalanta (Red admiral butterfly) egg in Urtica dioica (Stinging nettle) trichomes (10X)
From Nikon Small World. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Victorian Singularity appears to us that we are ourselves creating our own successors; we are daily adding to the beauty and delicacy of their physical organisation; we are daily giving them greater power and supplying by all sorts of ingenious contrivances that self-regulating, self-acting power which will be to them what intellect has been to the human race. In the course of ages we shall find ourselves the inferior race...
Day by day, however, the machines are gaining ground upon us; day by day we are becoming more subservient to them; more men are daily bound down as slaves to tend them, more men are daily devoting the energies of their whole lives to the development of mechanical life. The upshot is simply a question of time, but that the time will come when the machines will hold the real supremacy over the world and its inhabitants is what no person of a truly philosophic mind can for a moment question.
Our opinion is that war to the death should be instantly proclaimed against them. Every machine of every sort should be destroyed by the well-wisher of his species.
From "Darwin Among the Machines," an 1863 essay by critic and novelist Samuel Butler. Butler was not the first of his era to express anxieties about machine uprisings; a few decades earlier, a ballad about a rogue steam-powered prosthetic arm and a similar one about a mechanical leg had already been written.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


These are examples of four-dimensional geometric figures-- in three-dimensional sections-- rendered by Jonathan Bowers. (Their odd names are abbreviations of complex mathematical designations.)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fossil silky lacewing

This insect, Undulopsychopsis alexi, would have fluttered among the dinosaurs.
Image from Science Daily.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

"The Eighth Wonder of the World: The Atlantic Cable"

This print from 1866 commemorates the completion of the world's first submarine trans-oceanic telegraph cable. It shows the cable connecting the American eagle to the English lion, crossing through the domain of Poseidon.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Let us first regard the general article Music. In that division of the article entitled, Recent Music — that is, music during the last sixty or seventy-five years — we find the following astonishing division of space: recent German music receives just eleven lines; recent French music, thirty-eight lines, or less than half a column; recent Italian music, nineteen lines; recent Russian music, thirteen lines; and recent British music, nearly four columns, or two full pages!
...It is unnecessary to criticise such bias: the figures themselves are more eloquently condemning than any comment could possibly be.
From Willard Huntington Wright's 1917 book Misinforming a Nation, a criticism of Anglocentric bias in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Nearly a century later, this methodology of criticizing encyclopedias still seems to be in fashion:
Beowulf vs He-Man - One is the protaganist of one of the oldest works in English literature, an epic poem that offers unmatched insights into the culture of our Anglo-Saxon forbears. The other hero is Skeletor's enemy in a 1980s cartoon series, and worthy of more coverage, according to WIkipedians.