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Week in Review: Signs of the End Times

As you may have heard, scholar Bernard Lewis recently announced in the Wall Street Journal that August 22, 2006 would be the end of the world. Or, more precisely, that if a man did come around on that date, he'd probably be the president of Iran:

This year, Aug. 22 corresponds, in the Islamic calendar, to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to "the farthest mosque," usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (c.f., Koran XVII.1). This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world. It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for Aug. 22. But it would be wise to bear the possibility in mind.

So, it didn't happen. Deep breath. But did you notice all the other signs of the apocalypse this week, right here on mental_floss?

* All the waters that were in the river turned to blood. And the fish that were in the river died, and the water stank.

* My very earthly mother just served us nine pizzas, and we mourned.

* The hound of hell appeared, dressed for the occasion.

* Little baseball-playing children swore as the Yankees swept the Sox. (I'm from Boston. This is apocalyptic.)

* There were phantoms, there were fires on the road, and the white man Chinese women dancin'. (Not a Leonard Cohen fan? Here's the reference.)

* The "destroy another fetus" part of that Cohen song became (at least partially and theoretically) moot.

* The planet was rocked by 244 earthquakes.

* "Suddenly the sky turned blood-red "“ there were tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city."

* There were plagues of frogs and snakes.

* Religious fervor peaked as an organ sounded a rumbling bass note.

* And women wept.

Enjoy your weekends; we'll see you Monday, assuming that the planet's still here by then.

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Stradivarius Violins Get Their Distinctive Sound By Mimicking the Human Voice
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Italian violinist Francesco Geminiani once wrote that a violin's tone should "rival the most perfect human voice." Nearly three centuries later, scientists have confirmed that some of the world's oldest violins do in fact mimic aspects of the human singing voice, a finding which scientists believe proves "the characteristic brilliance of Stradivari violins."

Using speech analysis software, scientists in Taiwan compared the sound produced by 15 antique instruments with recordings of 16 male and female vocalists singing English vowel sounds, The Guardian reports. They discovered that violins made by Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari, the pioneers of the instrument, produce similar "formant features" as the singers. The resonance frequencies were similar between Amati violins and bass and baritone singers, while the higher-frequency tones produced by Stradivari instruments were comparable to tenors and contraltos.

Andrea Amati, born in 1505, was the first known violin maker. His design was improved over 100 years later by Antonio Stradivari, whose instruments now sell for several million dollars. "Some Stradivari violins clearly possess female singing qualities, which may contribute to their perceived sweetness and brilliance," Hwan-Ching Tai, an author of the study, told The Guardian.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. A 2013 study by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, also pointed to a link between the sounds produced by 250-year-old violins and those of a female soprano singer.

According to Vox, a blind test revealed that professional violinists couldn't reliably tell the difference between old violins like "Strads" and modern ones, with most even expressing a preference for the newer instruments. However, the value of these antique instruments can be chalked up to their rarity and history, and many violinists still swear by their exceptional quality.

[h/t The Guardian]

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