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The Somerton Man Case. The body of a man found on an Australian beach close to a major Atomic Testing ground, he was probably poisoned, a copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and an unbroken Code page found and associated to him. Set against a Cold War background in 1948, was this man a spy? We think so and this blog focuses on the evidence that was left behind and in some cases missed, the Code page, Dry Cleaning numbers, A Poem and a small, torn piece of paper bearing the words TAMAM SHUD.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Somerton Man: Nick Pelling's Faux Pas


Nick actually later admitted that he did not follow the steps given to him, in other words, given his statement in the excerpt from his blog post, he appears to have deliberately misled people.

This image was further processed following the original UV light observation step.
Image of Pelling Q taken with Macro lens and saved in PNG format

JPG image of Q from Nick Pelling's Post

The image of the letter Q from the code page that I have posted here to the left above was downloaded from Nick's Cipher Mysteries website. Please note that all of the images he presented in his post were JPEG format enlargements and not close up images. The actual size of Nick's image to the left is 11 mm X  7 mm and 50 mm X 37 mm on screen. In contrast the close up image shown above and to the right has an actual close up size of approximately 70mm X 50 mm in other words the size shown on screen is the actual size. What that means is that there would have been some distortion in Nick's original image which explains the somewhat blurry UV image on the right. Even then you can make out letter and number shapes.

I printed the Pelling image out in high quality and applied a UV light as a first cut which is the image you can see on the right above. Bear in mind that I am using Nick's enlarged JPEG image, not a good format as it is a 'lossy' one and image quality is affected when you start to manipulate it as Nick has done throughout his post. But, let's stick with it for now. Observing it under UV was all that was needed even with this 'lossy' source image and as you can see there are outlines of letters and numbers even using JPEG based format as the source in the circumference of the Q taken under UV light. From this step, you get an inkling of what else might be found, this was the first step in the process. Below is the actual image I published, I used the PNG format throughout my process:

The Background
Earlier this year, March 24th, Nick Pelling published what he claimed to be a well-researched article that attempted to discredit the work I have been doing for some years on the issue of micro writing on the code page. 

Nick had asked me for details of the method I had used to arrive at the result that showed micro writing in the letter Q on the code page. I provided him with the information which included the steps of printing out a high-quality image and the use of UV light, back light and oblique lighting. Nick, for whatever reason, ignored my method in the mistaken belief that he had a better method stating that he would 'Cut out the interim steps and just go for it'.

Depending on how you look at it, his effort failed or he, in his mind at least, had succeeded in discrediting my work. Unfortunately for him, he failed on that account as well. What he actually did was to condemn my work without investigating my methods, he appended the results of his weak effort to my methods. Deceptive and devious? I leave that to you to decide.

Nick has edited his original post and removed some of his more offensive comments. I have kept a copy of the original post for my own enjoyment shall we say.

I am speaking to you directly now Nick, to this point and as with your earlier failures on Police photography methods of the time, lack of knowledge of indented writing recovery techniques, micro writing and radio operators pro-signs, you have displayed a lack of knowledge, skill and experience in this area. I find it sad and disappointing that a person of obvious intelligence should behave in the way you have. You are capable of so much better than that.

With great respect I suggest that you take some steps to rectify the situation, a good start would be to acknowledge that you were wrong and that you should have followed the steps I provided you with. In this way, you might recover some credibility and more importantly gain an insight into what you could achieve if you focused.

From my perspective, from the outset and as per your early statements, you were determined to discredit the work I have done on micro writing. You had condemned my work without testing my methods and that was perhaps your biggest mistake and certainly not a scientific approach.

I will leave you with some wise words from one of the most respected scientific minds in history as well as a copy of your latest iteration of the March Post from your site today with some notes of my own included.

'Condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance' Albert Einstein..

Before you read Nick's words, here's a sample of 2 more Micro Writing Images,  still works in progress:

Copied from Cipher Mysteries Post Dated 24th March 2015 

The Rubaiyat note and Gordon Cramer’s “Q”…

Over the last couple of years, Australian researcher Gordon Cramer has been promoting (and indeed gaining a little media attention for) his various theories about the Somerton Man that he has patiently built up over the last four years: for example, that the dead man was a Cold War spy and that the Rubaiyat note contains microwriting.
Specifically, Gordon asserts that he can discern microwriting inside a number of the letters that were found on the back of the Rubaiyat, most notably the letter “Q”.
As I understand it, his claim is that even though the contrasty writing in the image (looks like it) was written in a laundry pen on a shiny surface (say, a print of a photograph), that overwriting process still managed to preserve the fine detail of the original microwriting additively within it: and that by using a carefully chosen sequence of image enhancement steps, he thinks he has been able to reconstruct that original microwriting.
To understand why this would be Nick you would first have to have a handle on the Photography methods used by the Police and Press at that time. They, in fact, used very high-quality glass plate, renowned for their clarity. A photograph taken with such a process would retain a lot of its clarity even at 400 DPI.
I was sceptical of this claim for many reasons. For instance, it seems hugely likely to me that we can see a small part of the original writing that (one would hope) lies beneath the laundry pen marks…
In the image above, you should be able to
see 'larger' numbers in the bigger
highlighted box as well as smaller ones beneath
the Police markings.

…yet as far as I can see, there is no sign there of any microwriting. (Oh! Yes There is! :)) And if microwriting isn’t there, why should microwriting be anywhere else? But I digress. :-) 
That sentence does not make any sense..:) I downloaded your image of the M and gave it some backlight and a little UV with the results as shown above. Nick, why don't you take a few minutes and put the letter M above under a UV light and test out a few angles? You will be surprised at just how much will be visible. The thing is that the whole idea was to keep messages hidden and they used to hide it in plain sight as you can see above.
More recently Gordon has, in response to questions from me, elucidated the experimental process he followed by which he believes he was able to make that microwriting visible. As a result, I have gone through the process of trying to understand and reproduce his results, and I’m posting here to explain what I found.

Sadly Nick failed to follow the steps I provided for him, he was testing his own method and not mine. Big fail Nick! 

Here’s the original Q, cropped and rotated counterclockwise by 90 degrees but otherwise completely unchanged from the original scans:
Nick's image above is actually an enlargement and not a close up image so it will be distorted. Note that Nick did not provide an image of the Q that I had presented so I have done so here, it is a close up image:

We can, without much difficulty, directly pick out the set of grey levels in the image that make up the curve of the Q (that Gordon claims contains the microwriting): and if we adjust the image’s levels so that this range (12.5% to 50%) fills the entire 8-bit dynamic range, this is what we get:
This JPEG image has been enlarged and looks to have brightness and contrast adjusted. Absolutely pointless without first observing the image under UV then backlight and oblique lighting. 
Let’s now blur this (which is essentially what happens when you resize an image to be slightly smaller than 100%):
You must strive for greater accuracy Nick! The images I produce are from the full sized image of the code page, I don't use any magnification just Close up images, png format and taken with a macro lens camera. The image you presented above has been enlarged.
And then let’s sharpen it up again to try to bring out the detail that Gordon thinks is there:
Amazingly, we can now apparently see the word “SEGA” starting to coalesce out of the digital mists. Of course, the video games company SEGA (which started out as “Service Games”) only became known as “SEGA” in 1965 or so (it’s the first two letters of each word), so the actual chances of the Somerton Man having been a secret Sonic The Hedgehog fan are basically zero. Possibly even less.
As people will see in the images I have presented earlier in this post, no sign of sega. Sad. :)
Yet a number of other image processing experiments I carried out on the Q produced different results. All in all, while I can see how Gordon extractedsome kind of microwriting from inside the Q, I also believe that he could have extracted any number of different messages from the same source image (with only slightly different image enhancement sequences), and that he could very likely have extracted plausible-looking microwriting from any sufficiently noisy source image.
Once again, you did not follow the steps I described to you. Heavens Nick people might think you were deliberately trying to mislead them :)
In the Voynich Manuscript world, we have an extraordinarily close precedent for this whole thing: in the 1920s, Professor William Romaine Newbold used large prints of rotograph images, strong lighting and large magnification to extract what he believed to be microwriting – specifically Latin shorthand strokes. The intense effort of doing this seems to have sent Newbold to an early grave, followed by posthumous debunking to the point that he is now often cited as the worst possible way of doing cipher research: which is not a good end to any historical story.
Making me smile now Nick :) The old 'We tried it before and it didn't work so this can't be right' approach. You are trying to compare 90 year old techniques with what we have available today. Are you saying that the good professor had access to digital images as well? Or are you really referring to your own earlier failed attempts at finding micro writing in the Voynich document?
Here, though, we have something that Newbold didn’t have: the possibility of better images. So rather than institute yet another dreary bout of back-and-forth comment tennis, why don’t we just see if we can get a higher-resolution (and higher bit-depth) scan of the photograph in the newspaper archive and see if we can work with that instead? If there is microwriting there, it should come out clearly. If there isn’t, it should vanish completely.

Is the above Pellingese for 'I am not answering any questions in case I don't know the answers'?
Maybe there is a higher resolution image of the code page but I don't think it's going to be released anytime soon by its current holder.
Nick, All the verbal dexterity in the world won't cover the fact that you are clearly wrong and out of your depth and on a number of aspects not the least of which are the mocking undertones and innuendo. They will surely get you into serious trouble one day, just a matter of time.


Swords14 said...

Not sure what the fuss is about. Pelling has no background and anyone with even a slight knowledge of Tradecraft would know about tiny or micro written codes. Not sure about needing a high-resolution image, wasn't the original image done on glass plate?
That would have been very detailed I'dd have thought so even a 400 dpi image of it would show up well.

Nick Pelling said...

Gordon: I have spent many years writing professional image processing software, many years working closely with digital images, and many years researching a wide range of cipher mysteries from many different angles. There doesn't seem to be any reason why any of this should preclude me from having an opinion on this matter: nor why - apart from it being a different opinion to yours - you should be so angry about my opinion as to post this kind of ad hominem attack, cutting and pasting my original post and inserting snarky comments.

I also believe that I am the only person who has tried to reproduce your results working from exactly the same single source image *using what I understand to be best image processing practice*, and I was not able to. I documented my efforts on the web in a spirit of good faith and scholarly openness.

The images I reproduced there were at the highest resolution currently available, and with the least amount of secondary processing. Generally speaking, this is best practice in image processing, because of the dangers of accidentally adding features that were not there in the original (aka overprocessing).

My conclusion was not that microwriting was or was not present, but that the current scan was not made at a high enough resolution to be able to see the kind of microwriting you think you can see with the kind of certainty that you claim: for if it was there, careful image processing should be able to bring it out.

So, when I wrote:

"why don’t we just see if we can get a higher-resolution (and higher bit-depth) scan of the photograph in the newspaper archive and see if we can work with that instead? If there is microwriting there, it should come out clearly. If there isn’t, it should vanish completely."

...I think that was as open, straightforward and fair a statement of position as could reasonably be made. For example, the copy forwarded to Aussie supercodebreaker Eric Nave may well still be filed away somewhere: and I would suggest that trying to find that would be something that everyone would agree is a worthwhile use of time.

Apart from my opinion and my image processing methodologies not being the same as yours, I still really don't see what you find so objectionable about any of what I posted.

Gordon332 said...

Thanks for the comment, what I don't want to do is turn this into 'let's all get Nick' page, so with great respect if you can direct your comments to the Nick Pelling on his blog that would be the best way to go.

Gordon332 said...

Nick, you have a history of being unpleasant and rude to myself and others on your blog, my post above is really quite mild in comparison. So I decided to give you some of your own in return. Not nice being at the sharp end is it?

That being said I consider that the account has been squared off and we should now focus on the issues.

1. Reading your comment above I take it that you now acknowledge that you did not use my method to analyse the lettersQ. Is that correct?

2. The method that you used was an approach I first tried some 4 years ago. It's very basic and totally ineffective and inappropriate for some very straightforward reasons. Using a lossy format, JPEG' image of 80 to 90 DPI then enlarging and manipulating it will not get you anywhere except the poor result that you achieved.

3. If your approach was 'scholarly' as you put it, you would first have tested out the method I used. You didn't do that and neither did you publish the images I recovered alongside yours on your blog. Further you didn't name the source of the image nor it's DPI. One would have to ask why. Hence my comment that your condemnation of my work without first investigating my method was, as Einstein puts it, 'The height of ignorance' I believe that to be true unless and until you follow the information I gave you and test out the method and see the results you get.

I am not about to forego my proven claims in favour of what clearly is your low level and uninformed approach.

Some background for everyone else:
I have received a comment from Nick in response to this post and I have published it above as is and without editing.

Nick in recent times stated that he doubted that Micro Writing was ever used in espionage and I proved that had it had been. He also stated in his earlier, unedited, version of the post on his site that the micro writing wasn't there in the first place. I have proven that wrong by virtue of the images shown above. Of note is Professor Abbott's interview with Detective Brown which was published in the Californian Sunday blog/tabloid in which Detective Brown clearly states that the telephone number found on the book was written in 'Tiny Handwriting' I asked Professor Abbott what size that was and his reply was that he thought the letters were about 1.5mm in height. From my own extensive experience with Micro writing, I can vouch for the fact that if someone can write at 1.5 mm then they can write at .5mm. Further, in the past others have raised issues of there being no precedent for micro writing being written into the shape of larger letters. Last year a WW2 Manual on Espionage in Occupied Europe prepared by the UK Special Operations Executive, described in reasonable detail a process callled 'Ink H' whereby normal sized letters were written in ink, pencilled letters were added into those shapes and then a further layer of ink was added to the initial inked letters. This had the effect of 'hiding' the pencilled information. The hidden information was then developed by immersing the paper containing the inked and pencilled letters in a strong bleach solution. That is very possibly the method used to create the micro letters and numbers that I have found on the 'code' page.. I will publish more on that in the next few days including some quite amazing images

Nick Pelling said...

Gordon: (1) I did not use your methods to analyze the letter Q. This is simply because your methods - printing out images, shining UV lights on the images, etc - are so far outside the standard image processing canon that I cannot accept them as valid. My position, though, is that if there was any microwriting there, the standard image processing toolkit should be able to reveal them reliably and repeatably.

(2) I started from the same raw JPEG image that you did, and then only converted it back to JPEG once at the very end of the process - standard image processing techniques. Did you know that printer drivers manipulate the image in order to put it onto paper? Unless you're extraordinarily careful about the technicalities of printing stuff out, what you see on the page is not what you see on the screen.

(3) No, to be scholarly you need to use standard image processing tools in a controlled way that anyone following you can repeat and test for themselves. If there is any microwriting there, there should be a hundred different repeatable ways of bringing it to the surface reliably.

Gordon332 said...

1.The method I use is valid, I identified variations in inked areas and differences in shades and found micro written letters and numbers as a result of the process. It is the same method used to examine other ink based documents, in particular you use it to examine forged items such as printed bank notes. UV light, backlight and oblique lighting form part of the process. A similar process is used to recover and identify indented writing and 'smudges' on documents. The Somerton man code page is a printed document and I used very reliable and well set up printers for the task. If you are to condemn my results and the process then you should investigate them, not to do so is the height of ignorance.
2. I verify every image I produce including the master image. The likelihood of printer driver distortion magically and consistently resulting in precise letters and numbers is zero.
(I note that once again you have omitted to name the source of your image or its original DPI. Why is that?)
3. In my view, you are long on words and extremely short on substance. I have provided sound visible evidence with descriptions of valid methods used. You again claim experience and skill as you did with indented writing recovery techniques, Police photography techniques and fingerprint techniques. On each of those occasions you were proven wrong. This is yet another occasion where you have failed.