The year 2000 that never was

We Westerners seem to spend an awful lot of time dreaming about the future -- and we always have. In fact, this was one of philosopher Alan Watts' major explanations for modern unhappiness:

"The power of expectations is such that for most human beings ... the future is more real than the present, which cannot be lived happily until the future is bright with promise. [People] fail to live because they are always preparing to live."

At the same time, our need to fantasize about what's to come is part of what makes us such fascinating creatures (whether or not those fantasies make us happy), and what makes the study of past ideas about the future -- which is now our present -- especially fascinating. Take, for instance, predictions of the year 2000 made at the turn of the 19th century. The blog Paleo-Future has many examples, but my favorites are two intensely vivid series, one French and one German, distributed by a candy and chocolate company of the era. Some are just totally crazy -- and quite possibly meant as jokes -- like this one:

At the School
They have a machine that can grind up books and transmit their knowledge directly into your brain, but the machine is hand-cranked. (You can't make this stuff up.) What I love about old visions of the future is that they usually look a lot like the time in which they were created, save one or two details; their concept of the world was so firmly rooted in 1900 that, you know, of course things will still be cranked by hand in 2000.

Summer Holiday at the North Pole
How strangely prescient! Are those polar bears floating away on a melting ice cap?

Heating with Radium
No, the people in this picture aren't suicidal. Marie Curie didn't know the radium she was experimenting with would kill her, either -- and neither did the watchmakers who used it to paint the glow-in-the-dark faces of their timepieces (and licked their brushes). Of course, they were indirectly onto something: radioactive materials heat plenty of modern homes, just not with plutonium rods thrown into our hearths.

Madam and her Toilette
That's some kinda fancy bathroom ya got there, lady. And that device at her fingertips looks suspiciously like a laptop.

Roofed Cities
Long before "greenhouse effect" entered our lexicon, some Germans thought this would be a great way to keep out of the rain. Ahh, the stagnant, filthy, breeze-less city. Someone crack a window!

A Chemical Dinner
No, they're not dropping acid. They're eating a chemically-enhanced dinner, just like we do every night. No, seriously: have you ever read the back of a package of hamburger helper? I'm surprised we're not all sterile mutants.

A Phonographic Missive
Forget email -- I'd rather have my servant-girl bring me my messages on an LP! Ahh, such luxury.

Cars of War
I think this happened on the 405 freeway last week. C'mon now, what kind of utopian vision of the future includes a drive-by?

Ship and Railway
Damn the logistics, we need this now! Where are those McFly 2015 people when you need them?

Stradivarius Violins Get Their Distinctive Sound By Mimicking the Human Voice

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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