Popular Science Monthly/Volume 11/July 1877/Popular Miscellany


Reopening of an Old Route into Siberia.—Fully three hundred years ago the Russians carried on an extensive trade between Archangel and the settlements on the Obi and Yenisei. About the . same period the Kara Sea was navigated by English and Dutch mariners, in search of a northeast passage to Japan. The Russians employed wretched flat-bottomed boats, called kotchkies, and in these they braved all the dangers of navigating the stormy Kara Sea. But, till quite lately, this route to the interior of Siberia was abandoned, and the belief was generally entertained that the existence of ice in the Kara Sea presented an insuperable obstacle to navigation. Recent expeditions to the mouths of the Obi and Yenisei, and up those rivers for hundreds of miles, have demonstrated the entire feasibility of this route to the interior of Siberia. The influence of the Gulf Stream and equatorial currents on the temperature of the Kara Sea is apparent from the fact that its waters are as much as 18° or 20° warmer than the waters in the same latitudes off the east coast of Greenland or in Davis's Strait. Of Siberia, the country to be opened up to commerce by the navigation of the Kara Sea, M. de Lesseps declares that it is the richest country in the whole world as regards its vegetable, mineral, and animal products. The great rivers of Siberia flow from the south to the north, forming a vast fan which widens in the interior of the country, to the great advantage both of vegetation and of commerce. The Obi, with its confluent the Irtish, affords a navigable highway into China.

The Art of the Farrier.—It is with regret that we are forced by want of space to present to our readers, in the unsatisfactory shape of a synopsis, a valuable article on "The Art of the Farrier," by Dr. D. D. Slade, published in the Bulletin of the Bussy Institution, vol. ii., Part I. In the state of Nature, we are there told, the growth and wear of the horse's hoof are in perfect equilibrium; in the domesticated state wear exceeds growth, and some means of protection must be devised. But this again destroys the balance, and growth is in excess. This excess must be removed either by natural wear of the bare hoof or by artificial means. The farrier's art consists in removing this excessive growth. The hoof of the young animal, before it has been shod, needs little or no preparation from the farrier's hands. The foot that has already been shod must have the nails extracted, and its ground surface cut down to the proper level. The growth is greatest at the toe; in leveling the wall, reduce the hoof at the toe to a level with the unpared heel. The shoe must not remain on the hoof more than one month at a time.

The heel seldom needs paring away, being usually worn away by the motion between the iron of the shoe and the horn. The process of "opening up" the heel destroys that portion of the foot which was designed by Nature as a defense against its contraction; this defense should never be mutilated. The practice of paring the sole and destroying the bars is to be condemned so long as the parts are healthy; it exposes the sensitive portions beneath to injury. The frog should be retained in its integrity. Rasping the wall after the application of the shoe cannot be too strongly condemned; it destroys the polish of the external layer of horn which protects the layers beneath, rendering the crust brittle.

The shoe ought to present a concave surface to the ground, and a plane surface to the foot. But, where the sole has been mutilated by unskillful shoeing, the concave and plane surfaces have to be reversed. Whatever form is adopted, the shoe must fit the foot, its outline corresponding exactly to its ground-surface. The shoe must be of the same thickness throughout; where calks are required, they should be of equal height, at heel and toe. The number of nails to each shoe, for a saddle or light draught horse, need not be more than five or six in the fore and seven in the hind, but more widely distributed than they usually are. The hold of the nails should be short. The slight scorching of the horn-fibres by the application of a hot shoe has rather the effect of preserving them against untoward influences than of inflicting injury.

Disease often produces changes which require a modification of the system advocated above. In caring for the feet all that is needed is strict attention to cleanliness. They should be daily sponged with clear water, and afterward the parts above the hoof rubbed dry. The unmutilated sole forms in itself the best defense against the extremes of dryness or moisture, and "stuffing" and other artificial measures are worse than useless if the natural sole has been preserved. Placing the animal on a perfectly level floor will promote a sound condition of the feet, and conduce to the general health of the horse.

A Plague of Rabbits ia New Zealand.—Some years ago rabbits were introduced into South Australia from England; later, a like importation was made into New Zealand. Now these rodents are a formidable pest in those countries, and it has become a question of extreme urgency how they can be exterminated. In New Zealand a commission has been instituted by the Government to inquire into the subject, and devise a remedy. Already, though only a few years have passed since the introduction of the rabbits, large tracts of rich pasture-land have been converted into wilderness, and sheep-farming and cattle-raising are becoming impossible. Farmers that used to keep 15,000 or 16,000 sheep can now hardly keep as many hundred. Landowners employ men and dogs to destroy the rabbits, but, though the number killed is enormous, the evil continues without serious abatement. One land-owner inclosed with a stone-wall an area of 10,000 acres, the work taking seven years to complete, and involving an expenditure of ₤35,000. About 500,000 rabbit-skins were exported from Hobart Town in 1874. It is proposed to introduce from England, if possible, several natural enemies of the rabbit, such as stoats, weasels, ferrets, and hawks.

Metric Weights and Measures in Massachusetts.—Below we give the main provisions of a law recently enacted by the Legislature of Massachusetts, legalizing the metric system of weights and measures, in conformity with the laws of the United States. Other States, in legislating upon this subject, will doubtless frame their laws according to the model here set before them by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts:

Section 1. From and after the passage of this act, it shall be lawful, throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to employ the weights and measures of the metric system, and no contract or dealing or pleading in any court shall be deemed invalid or liable to objection because the weights or measures expressed or referred to therein are weights or measures of the metric system; and the metric weights and measures received from the United States, and now in the Treasury of the Commonwealth, may be used and taken as authorized public standards of weights and measures; and these authorized standards shall in no case be removed from the Treasury, except under necessity for their preservation or repair.

Sec 2. The following tables shall be recognized in the construction of contracts, and in all legal proceedings, as establishing, in terms of the weights and measures now in use in the State of Massachusetts, the equivalents of the weights and measures expressed therein in terms of the metric system; and said tables may be lawfully used for computing, determining, and expressing, in customary weights and measures, the weights and measures of the metric system. (Here follow the tables.)

Sec. 3. The Treasurer is hereby authorized and directed to procure duplicate sets of the metric weights and measures, conformable to the standards now in the Treasury; of which two sets shall be retained for the use of the Treasurer and his deputy, and from which there shall be furnished one set to the treasurer of each shire town in the several counties of the Commonwealth, and each city not a shire town.

Sec. 4. The duties of the Treasurer of the Commonwealth and his deputy, and the duties and responsibilities of the treasurer of each town, with respect to the keeping, care, verification, and use of the standard weights and measures so furnished, shall be the same with those established by existing statutes with respect to the standard weights and measures heretofore provided. And it is hereby provided that no shire town in which there may be two or more sealers of weights and measures shall for that reason be required to procure additional sets of the metric weights and measures.

Sec. 5. The deputy and Treasurer shall verify, adjust, and seal all metric weights and measures that may be brought to him for that purpose, and he shall receive a reasonable compensation therefor; and the sealer of weights and measures in each town that shall receive the standard metric weights and measures, as hereinbefore provided, shall verify, adjust, and seal all metric weights and measures that may be brought to him for that purpose from within the county in which such town is situated, and he shall receive a reasonable compensation therefor; but he shall claim no fees for any sealing, verification, or adjustment, for the performance of which he may otherwise receive compensation by salary paid by the town.

Sec. 6. All persons using weights or measures of the metric system for the purpose of selling any goods, wares, merchandise, or other commodities, shall have them adjusted, sealed, and recorded, by some authorized sealer of weights and measures, and shall thereafter be responsible for the correctness and exactness of the same; and no person using illegally or fraudulently the metric weights and measures shall thereby be freed from any liabilities or penalties to which he would have been exposed in case the weights and measures employed had been the ordinary weights and measures heretofore and now in use in this Commonwealth.

Cleopatra's Needle.—This obelisk, of Syenitic granite, sixty-eight and one-half feet long, six feet eleven inches wide on each side of the base, tapering to four feet nine inches near the summit, is 3,300 years old, and was set up by Sesostris in front of the temple at Heliopolis. It was brought to Alexandria by Cleopatra about the year 40, and has been there, standing or lying, upward of 1,800 years. It is of rose-colored stone, and is covered with hieroglyphics. It was presented many years ago by the Pasha of Egypt to the Prince Regent of England, and the British Government accepted the gift, but have never been able to get it transported to London. At length Dr. Erasmus Wilson, a distinguished surgeon of that metropolis, and known as the author of books on skin-diseases, concluded to pay the expenses himself of transporting the great monolith, and bargained with a Mr. Dixon to bring it to England and erect it on the Thames Embankment for £10,000.

The plan proposed for transporting the "Needle" to England is described as follows in Chambers's Journal: "The obelisk is to be fixed by cross-divisions or diaphragms of wood in a cylindrical vessel formed of wrought-iron plates. There will be seven diaphragms, and consequently nine water-tight compartments. For safety, the obelisk will be inclosed in wood and well packed, a little below the central level of the vessel, which will be closed at both ends. When completed, with the obelisk inside, the vessel will be about ninety-five feet in length and fifteen feet across. After being rolled into the sea and towed to the harbor, it will be ballasted and be provided with a keel, deck, sail, and rudder. For these operations, man-holes will have been left in the cylinder. These holes will be opened, so that access may be had to all the compartments. There will be no part into which a man may not enter if necessary until the cylinder is finally sealed up for floating. The vessel will be in charge of two or three skilled mariners, for whom a small cabin on deck will be provided. It will be towed the whole way by a steam tug, the sail being simply for steadying the cylinder." There is likely to be some delay in executing this project, for it is now reported that the Egyptian who owns the sand around the obelisk objects to the removal of the shaft, claiming it as his property.

Education and Crime.—In a recent number of the Polytechnic Review is an abstract of a paper on "Useful Education," by Mr. R. Bingham, containing many facts and observations that are worthy of notice in these times of "forcing" in education. Mr. Bingham does not believe that school-education tends to diminish crime. He says that the ratio of crime to population is less in Ireland than in Massachusetts, and that property is more secure in Italy, with its many millions of illiterates, than in the Old Bay State with all its schools. Of the 373 prisoners received last year into the Western Penitentiary of the State of Pennsylvania, 285 had attended public schools, 19 private schools, and 69 had never gone to school. Of the 2,383 prisoners received into the Eastern Penitentiary of the same State during the ten years ending with 1869, 17.21 per cent, were illiterate, and 81.83 per cent, had never been apprenticed. "All observers will admit," remarks the author, "that there is not as much intelligence and skill working on the farms now as there was twenty years ago. The fears of the farmers were not that their sons would know too much, but that they would do too little. It was not book-farming, or wisdom with work, they feared; but making hay in the shade, or farming by the fireside; plucking geese in the courts, preaching for practice, pills for pumpkins, the pen and yard-stick for the plough and harvest-fork. The change has not been from prison to school so much as from honest labor to idleness and crime. Everything else being equal, mental culture raises the standard of morality; but we would choose a community of industrious and illiterate members, rather than one of idle and literary habits, for a high standard of morality."

Latest Phase of the Spontaneous-Generation Controversy.—Dr. Bastian, of London, having submitted to the Paris Academy of Sciences the results of certain experiments which, as he maintains, decisively confirm his theory of spontaneous generation, Pasteur criticised the English investigator's methods and conclusions, and asked for the appointment of a commission to determine on which side the truth lies. At the same time he expressed a wish that Dr. Bastian should in like manner ask the London Royal Society to appoint a similar commission. According to the terms of M. Pasteur's challenge, Dr. Bastian must obtain, in the presence of competent judges, bacteria in sterile urine on the addition of liquor potassæ in suitable quantities, the liquor potassæ being prepared from pure potash with pure water; or, if made from impure materials, it must be submitted to a temperature of 230° for twenty minutes. Dr. Bastian has accepted the challenge, and has applied to the Royal Society for the appointment of the commission. The French commission is already constituted: it consists of Milne-Edwards, Dumas, and Boussingault. The Lancet justly complains against this selection, on the ground that all of the three commissioners are more or less strong supporters of Pasteur's view. Their bias must inevitably indispose them toward Bastian's arguments. The Lancet asks why Frémy or Trécul, or some other man without bias either way, was not placed on the commission. The Academy has apparently made a mistake in this matter; perhaps when the comments of the Lancet are brought to the notice of the members, a change will be made in the commission. The Royal Society has not yet named the members of the English commission.

Action of the Retinal Nerves.—Some years ago, while suffering from indisposition, Prof. Tait observed that, whenever he awoke from a feverish sleep, the flame of a lamp, seen through a ground-glass shade, assumed a deep-red color, the effect lasting about a second. He supposes that the nerve fibrils of the retina also slept, and that, on awaking, the green and violet nerves resumed their functions a little later than the red. This observation of Tait's is recalled by Prof. Ogden N. Rood, in the American Journal of Science, who adds an analogous observation of his own, going to show that after nervous shock the green nerves (to adopt the theory of Young) receive their activity later than the red, and probably later than the violet nerves. Having taken chloroform at the hands of a dentist, he observed with surprise, on regaining consciousness, that the operator's face was very red, and the next instant that his hair was of a purplish-red hue. The illusion persisted for a second or two. Prof. Rood then gives an instance of chronic effects of similar character which were observed for a couple of weeks continuously, during convalescence from typhoid fever. In this case white objects appeared of a not very intense orange-yellow; here the activity of the green and yellow nerves was diminished relatively to that of the red.

Food of the Water-Tortoise.—Though proverbial for its sluggishness, the water tortoise, according to a writer in Science Gossip, appears to have a special relish for the natural food of the cat. Keeping a couple of them in an aquarium, but uncertain as to the kind of food best suited to their needs. this gentleman fed them at first with worms, slugs, and flies, and of the latter they seemed very fond; yet they did not thrive. One morning on entering the room in which their tank was placed, he discovered a sparrow which had got in through an open window, and which in its efforts to escape had fallen into the tank, when the larger tortoise quickly seized it by the leg and drew its head under the water until it was drowned. Two hours afterward nothing remained of the bird but the wing feathers, and cleanly-picked bones; all the rest of it having been devoured. After this the animals would not touch even flies for nearly a week; but then, on offering them a dead gold-fish about five inches long, they ate it eagerly, leaving nothing but the head and backbone. A week or ten days later, a live mouse was dropped into the tank, and, like the sparrow, this was soon seized by the larger tortoise—by the head instead of the legs—and pulled under the water until drowned. The head was then torn off, the skin turned inside out and rejected, and all the other parts devoured except the bones. This food appeared to agree with them perfectly, and they were afterward supplied with mice, on which they grew rapidly and kept in excellent condition.

Fielding Bradford Meek.—The American Journal of Science and Arts for March contains an obituary notice of Fielding Bradford Meek, whose death occurred on December 21st. From it we gather the following particulars relating to the life and labors of that distinguished paleontologist: He was born in Madison, Indiana, on December 10, 1817, and in early manhood chose a mercantile career. Here he was unsuccessful, and in 1848 he became an assistant in the United States Geological Survey of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. In 1852 he was assistant to Prof. Hall, at Albany, in the paleontological work of the State of New York. Here he remained until 1858, with the exception of three summers spent on geological surveys of Western States and Territories. In 1858 he went to Washington, and there remained till his death, except while in the field. The invertebrate paleontology of the Rocky Mountain region, as developed by Dr. Hayden's survey, was intrusted to Meek. He also helped to work up the invertebrate paleontology of Illinois, Ohio, California, and sundry Territories surveyed by other expeditions besides Hayden's. Thoroughness, scrupulous exactness, and nice powers of discrimination, are manifested in all his labors. "No one in America," says Dr. C. A. White, the author of the obituary notice from which we quote, "has done more than he to systematize and advance the science to which he devoted his life." His health was always precarious, and for several years before his death he was entirely deaf. He never married, and left no near relatives.

The Electrical Phenomena of the Torpedo.—Marey has lately been engaged in studying the electrical discharges of the torpedo, with the aid of a very delicate electrometer and an inscribing apparatus. His experiments show that, on exciting a nerve of the animal's electrical apparatus, a flow of electricity follows in about one eightieth of a second, lasting about one fortieth of a second. The voluntary discharge of the torpedo consists of successive flows of currents, varying, according to temperature, from twenty to one hundred and forty shocks per second; the direction of the currents being from the back to the belly. As the currents continue to flow for a longer time than the intervals between the times of their commencement, it happens that several currents flow simultaneously, and thus the intensity of the discharge is increased by accumulation. The phenomena correspond closely to those of muscular work.

The Appalachian-Mountain Club.—Prof. E. C. Pickering, President of the Appalachian-Mountain Club, in his annual address, congratulates the club on the large attendance of members at the ten meetings so far held, and the interest manifested in the labors of the club. The principal scientific work of the club for the past season was in the direction of topography—collecting all the available measurements from the works of Bond, Lock, Vose, and Hitchcock. A complete map of the White Mountains has been made by Mr. Henck. One of the greatest achievements of the club is the introduction of Edmands' Topographical Camera, an instrument by means of which mountain profiles may be drawn with great accuracy. The work done by the president himself includes between 6,000 and 7,000 measurements of the horizontal and vertical positions of the mountains. The "Department of Improvements" has constructed a substantial path which makes the peak of Mount Adams easily accessible to any good pedestrian. An excellent camp has been established on Mount Adams, which will doubtless soon be followed by others. The club at present has its headquarters in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but this arrangement is only temporary, and it is the intention of the Council, as soon as possible, to hire a room in which to collect a library of books, maps, photographs, and paintings of the mountains. A summer school of topography, under the auspices of the club, and with special reference to State surveys, is in contemplation.

Economy in Stock-Feeding.—We commend to the attention of such of our readers as are farmers a paper by Prof. Samuel W. Johnson, in the American Journal of Science and Arts for March, on "The Composition of Maize-Fodder." The paper is extremely valuable, and abounds in practical observations, for two or three of which we make room here. Regarding the influence of age upon the content of albuminoids in forage plants, the author states that quite young meadow-grass as it is found in pasturage contains in its dry matter twenty-four per cent, of albuminoids, cut just before bloom twelve per cent., and at the end of blossoming eight per cent. In case both of maize-fodder and meadow-grass the inferior quality of the older vegetation is compensated by the superior quantity. The author holds that in New England the farmers can raise or buy Indian corn, cotton-seed, meal, and other concentrated foods, and combine them with coarse fodder to make a cattle food equal or superior to the best of hay, at less cost than is involved in feeding the latter. But to throw cured maize-fodder out in the cattle yard, or to feed it in the stall as hay is fed, is highly wasteful. It cannot be fed alone or as an adjunct to hay: to use it profitably it must be finely cut and well mixed or alternated with maize or cotton-seed meal, bran, or some similar material. Maize meal and similar articles contain too much albuminoids, fat, and starch, for healthy and economical cattle food; maize-fodder contains too little of these and too much coarse fibre; the two should be mixed.

Where the Ancients got their Tin.—Shortly before his death, Karl Ernst von Baer contributed to the Archiv für Anthropologie a paper entitled "Whence came the Tin for Ancient Bronze?" The subject is one that has long engaged the attention of archæologists, but hitherto the only sources assigned for this tin have been Cornwall and the straits of Malacca. There has, however, been a vague notion that tin may also have been derived from Georgia, Armenia, or Persia. To decide this question, Von Baer addressed an inquiry to M. Semenow, Vice-President of the Russian Geographical Society, who obtained the desired information from a traveler named Ogorodinkow. According to his report, tin occurs and has been worked in two localities in Khorassan. It was the opinion of Von Baer that many of the bronzes of Assyria and Babylonia were made from tin obtained in this region.