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*Sigh* Craftsmanship. It really is a marriage of scientist and artist and a mastery of technique and materials. Rote mass production will never replicate it, any more than it can replicate whatever it is that makes great art. I'm not sure science will ever be able to discover what that magic combination is, but it's certainly not something that can ever be reproduced by a mere machine. Ask any artist.

Not to quibble with your first couple of paragraphs, but collecting "a measly $32.17" in 45 minutes comes out to about $42.50 per hour, or a little over $89,000 per year assuming a 40 hour work week. Not bad for a busker, though arguably not good enough to pay for the Stradivarius....

Personally, I hope they never really figure out how to duplicate the sound of a real Stradivarius. Reducing a true work of art to the commonplace is something that technology is sometimes too good at. Some mysteries are worth preserving.

Really enjoy your blog. Thanks for doing it. Half of what you write about is over my head, but it's always informative and educational.

Ah, Will, on behalf of the self-employed, may I say that you're making a classic erroneous assumption: that busking can be compared to a full-time salaried position. :) In fact, one's "take" while busking depends entirely on foot traffic through the station, which is heaviest during prime commute hours (let's say 7 to 9 AM, and 5 to 7 PM). So really, we're looking at $42.50 an hour for four hours -- AT BEST -- or fully half your estimated salary: say, around $44K per annum, assuming Bell did this four hours a day, five days a week, with no benefits whatsoever (health insurance, retirement plan, etc). That, of course, completely ignores the fact that the madding crowd is whimsical, if not mercurial, and he could make $42 one hour, and only $12 the next. My own annual income fluctuates wildly -- as it does for every freelancer I know.

I think we can all agree though, that we hope Stradivari's secret remains elusive, thereby preserving the mystery. And I'm always thrilled that people appreciate the blog, so thanks not just for reading, but commenting!

Very interesting post - I love your blog. Personally I hope that we do produce instruments with similar psychoacoustics. For alas someday all of the existing Stradivari will be gone, and what will capture the imaginations of future audiences?

BTW, old guitars (dating from the 1950s or thereabout) benefit from a similar psychoacoustic effect among guitar aficionados.

Oh my, I love this topic..

In Summer 2002, I was bitten with the curiosity bug of the sound of Cremona violins after reading a Scientific American web contest to try to tell the difference between a Nagyvary violin and a Stradivarius violin. I had some difficulty with distinguishing the pieces. I used a variety of techniques including performing a wavelet analysis and an FFT on the given violin samples, and a wavelet analysis of a sound sample of Nigel Kennedy playing a Stradivarius.

Some results of discrete wavelet transforms of violin samples:

Sci American (Nagyvary) samples
Nigel Kennedy samples

What I really love about the Cremona violins story, is that each of these instruments has had devoted owners over the course of their few hundred years life time, so if you imagine that you are the violin, then you experience different lives, different worlds, different cultures. I love this facet of the instruments, and was pleasantly surprised that someone made a movie about exact this facet! It is called The Red Violin. The moviemaker did a great job.

Then when you add the beauty of the instrument, the embedded cultures out of they were born and continue to live, along with their fascinating acoustical science.. well .. now you know what kind of topic turns on my passions.

So many posts of yours cover an event or a person or a concept in history of science - I hope you send some of those to the Giants' Shoulders carnival in the future:

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    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.