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reading “Voynichese”

Here's something weird and interesting from this week's Economist: an article on the Voynich manuscript. Quote:

THE Voynich manuscript, once owned by Emperor Rudolph II in 16th-century Bohemia, is filled with drawings of fantastic plants, zodiacal symbols and naked ladies. Far more intriguing than its illustrations, however, is the accompanying text: 234 pages of beautifully formed, yet completely unintelligible script.

Modern scholars have pored over the book since 1912, when Wilfrid Voynich, an American antiquarian, bought the manuscript and started circulating copies in the hope of having it translated. Some 90 years later, the book still defies deciphering. It now resides at Yale University.

The manuscript is written in “Voynichese”, which consists of strange characters, some of which look like normal Latin letters and Roman numerals. Some analysts have suggested that Voynichese is a modified form of Chinese. Others think it may be Ukrainian with the vowels taken out. But Voynichese words do not resemble those of any known language. Nor is the text a simple transliteration into fanciful symbols: the internal structure of Voynichese words, and how they fit together in sentences, is unlike patterns seen in other languages.

The other alternatives are, as the article notes, that the manuscript is either in code, or simply a hoax. Nevertheless, my geek-sense flares up when reading about something like this. Oh boy! An entire manuscript to decrypt, and a few centuries old to boot! Does that sound like fun or what?

Posted by diego on January 8, 2004 at 5:27 PM

bittorrent is nice, but...

...there's always a 'but' isn't there?

I had attempted to use BitTorrent a couple of times before, but never spent more than a few minutes with it, not enough to understand what was going on. Yesterday night though, I gave it a little more time and some tips from Russ and Matt I could get it going. I had to adjust some settings, such as the bandwidth allocated for uploads, which defaulted at 12 KB/sec and immediately started to suck up my entire upload capability (I set it at 7 KB/sec). I chose a couple of files (three actually) and let it download overnight. This morning, things were well on their way, two files done, the remaining one halfway through. But then it hit me: my transfers are limited!

I have a 4GB transfer limit (as it's common here in Ireland) on my DSL connection. So now I have downloaded, in one day, over 1.5 GB of data, and still have 1 GB to go. Then, there's the uploaded data, which also counts. EEk! By the time the second transfer is finished I will have spent over 75% of my monthly bandwidth allotment. With 60% of the month still to go!

Damn. I want to go back to my good old days of DSL in the Bay Area, where I had a symmetric 768 KB/sec DSL connection, with no transfer limits, at $40 a month. Okay, that's not realistic. :) But on the other hand, until transfer limits are removed (or at least raised) here, I won't be able to do much with BitTorrent. Too bad.

And, btw, this clearly has to have an impact on broadband usage. Forget about BitTorrent specifically, other types of media transfers are also quite heavy, and having that sword hanging over your neck (the sword being whatever they charge per megabyte after you cross the transfer limit) users will be more likely to treat broadband as a kind of always-on modem, rather than as true broadband. Ireland is great, for technology in particular, but it definitely needs some serious improvements to both infrastructure and access to that infrastructure (see my post on mobile handset costs yesterday) to be truly competitive. There's a qualitative jump (both on the supplier and the consumer side of a market) that happens when connectivity is pervasive, always-on, fast, and relatively inexpensive, and Ireland isn't there yet. Here's hoping we won't have to wait much longer.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on January 8, 2004 at 3:30 PM

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