Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Voynich Mystery – Part II

voynich_041113_620pxIn September 2012, I wrote about the Voynich mystery.

The Voynich Manuscript is a detailed 240-page book written in a language or script that is completely unknown. It is named after the Polish-American antiquarian bookseller Wilfrid M. Voynich. He acquired it in 1912.

The pages are filled with colorful drawings of strange diagrams, odd events and plants that do not seem to match any known species. The appeal of the manuscript is impossibility to decipher it.

Many scientists are still trying to crack the Voynich code. One of them is Jorge Stolfi, a professor of computer science at the State University of Campinas, Brazil. He was able to compose a grammar for Voynichese and concluded that it behaves like a natural language, more so than like a code, as many others believe.

According to Stolfi, Voynichese points to an Asian language like Chinese with its short words with tonal structures. He theorizes that someone went to the Far East and phonetically transcribed something he heard or read. He explains: “It is not unusual at that time to make up an alphabet to record a foreign language.

But Andreas Schinner, a theoretical physicist, argues that the non-randomness of syllable distribution is a strong indication that it is a hoax, not a natural language. He concluded that the “language’ is very different from human writings, even from ‘exotic’ languages like Chinese. In fact, the results better fit to a ‘stochastic process’ (a sequence of correlated random events).” In an article in Cryptologia, he concluded that the Voynich contains no encrypted message at all.

Psychologist Gordon Rugg agrees that it is a hoax. This creates a new mystery – why would anyone create such a manuscript? Creating a hoax for profit?

The main suspect for penning a hoax manuscript is Edward Kelley who had a track record of creating made-up languages and perpetrating frauds and hoaxes. As a convicted villain, he had his ears cropped for forgery.

However, the Voynich Manusript shares many similarities with Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, a 17th-century utopian tract about a fantasy island. In it, Bacon’s ideal college is described, including the  unknown plants, the grafting, the code, books on velum, and new types of animals, as well as a bath full of naked ladies.

For now, the Manuscript keeps its secrets, although many experts believe that the key to the Voynich manuscript is just around the corner. Let’s wait and see…I will keep you posted!

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How the City of Amsterdam was Duped by an Author with a Questionable Reputation

valerie-vkThe City of Amsterdam wanted to hire a consultant to formulate a better policy for managing prostitution in the city.

Mayor Mr. Van der Laan and Councilman Mr. Asscher hired Ms. Valérie Lempereur, a journalist. She had published an “autobiography” under the pen name Patricia Perquin.

In her book “Behind the windows in the Red Light District”, she tells her “true story” as a prostitute.

As ‘Patricia Perquin’, she also penned a series of articles for the Dutch newspapers Het Parool and AD. Based on these articles and her “autobiography”, she was hired as a consultant. In this capacity, she submitted various recommendations that were included in the City’s official Prostitution Plan.

Fellow journalists started digging into the background of Ms. Lempereur. They quickly found out that she could never have worked full time as prostitute for 4.5 years as claimed in her “autobiography”.

It turned out that during those years, she was managing the now defunct publishing house “Lampedaire” in Antwerp, Belgium, for at least two years. She also worked in Holland and Belgium as a society and crime reporter for various magazines including Nieuwe Revu, Story, TV Familie en Het Laatste Nieuws.

The newspaper De Volkskrant interviewed 25 acquaintances of Ms. Lempereur. Several did not want to go on record out of fear for repercussions.

Not without reason – the three newspapers “de Volkskrant”, “het Parool” and “AD” are all part of the same media group (“de Persgroep”, CEO Mr. Christian van Thillo). Lempereur worked for years at the Belgian branch of the group.

Many of the well-known acquaintances accuse her of lying and fraud. The crime reporter Peter R. de Vries fired her from his program due to multiple cases of fraud.

Lempereur tried to get an injunction against the Volkskrant newspaper. She asked the court to forbid the newspaper to publish her true identity. The judge dismissed her case.

The Mayer and Councilman declined to comment.

The scandal (not her first one!) will not harm the sales figures of her books. She has already published her second novel as Patricia Perquin, The theme is this time the victims of lover boys.

As for her “autobiography – booksellers will just move it to the fiction section.

(Image courtesy of De Volkskrant)

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Macy’s Costly Typo – Why Proper Copywriting and Editing is Important

macys-typoMacy’s mailed a promotion to its U.S. customers in which it offered a necklace listed at $1,500 for $47 under the heading “Super Buy!”

According to Macy’s: “The item had the wrong price for $47. The correct price is $479 dollars and because of that it’s a pricing error.”

Although Macy’s apologized for the error, no explanation why it happened was given.

Macy’s spokesperson Beth Charlton stated: “When the mistake was caught, signage did go up in the fine jewelry department and on store doors alerting customers that a mistake had been made.”

The copywriter who made the catalog mistake was recently fired, quite likely as a result of missing the typo. If so, this is unfair. As all copywriters know, it’s difficult to proofread your own work. In this case, where missing a digit results in financial loss, clever companies would have another writer or editor proofreading the copy. Was Macy’s in this case “penny wise, pound foolish”? We will never know.

Cynical marketing minds suspect that Macy’s did not make an honest mistake, but that is was a publicity stunt. If that is the case, Macy’s has for sure succeeded – the media coverage was enormous. Initial covered by, it quickly went viral and was featured on several TV stations.

The main story is a human interest one – Robert Bernard tried to buy the necklace for his wife at the Collin Creek Mall, but a customer in front of him bought the whole stock. (A marketing blunder – normally bargain offerings limit the amount of items a customer can buy).

According to Bernard, the clerk offered to sell Bernard two of necklaces for $47 and have them shipped to his home. Total Savings was $1,400, his receipt reads. This does not make sense, since Bernard claimed that he wanted to buy one necklace as an anniversary gift.

A few days later, Macy’s notified Bernard about the error and stated that the correct price was $479 (still a bargain, considering the original price). Bernard went to the media stating “I’m very, very bothered by it because I don’t want anybody else to feel the way I feel.”

No matter what, this incident underpins the importance of professional copywriting/marketing writing and editing!

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