Popular Science Monthly/Volume 12/February 1878/Popular Miscellany


Meyer's Electrical Apparatus for Beginners.—We some time ago noticed the admirable little work on electricity by Prof. Tyndall, which grew out of a course of holiday lectures to a juvenile audience at the Royal Institution. This book, "Lessons in Electricity," is designed as a guide for beginners to go through a course of electrical experimenting. The main purpose that he had in view, in preparing this little volume, is thus stated: "I had heard doubts expressed as to the value of science-teaching in schools, and I had heard objections urged on the score of expensiveness of apparatus. Both doubts and objections would, I considered, be most practically met by showing what could be done in the way of discipline and instruction by experimental lessons, involving the use of apparatus so simple and inexpensive as to be within everybody's reach."

Of course there can be no experimenting without the necessary instruments, and, if the work is to be pursued so as to yield its proper benefits, the apparatus must be sufficient to cover a definite field of study. Prof. Tyndall has marked this out in his little volume, and given figures of the various articles that will be required. An ingenious pupil can do something—after a time he can do much—in the way of widening his resources for making experiments, but he will at first require that the tools be ready at hand. A philosophical instrument maker of New York, Mr. Curt W. Meyer, having been applied to for various articles suitable for rudimentary experiments in electricity, conceived the idea of meeting this demand by preparing the complete set of instruments needed for the illustration of Prof. Tyndall's book. These he has manufactured and put up in cases for transportation, so that those who wish to enter upon such a course of experiments will be spared all trouble in selecting or making the instruments necessary for the purpose. The price is such that many boys will probably be unable to procure it, but there are not many schools that by a little effort could not get the apparatus for the use of their pupils. Electricity is admirably adapted on many accounts for introducing the young to the scientific study of natural objects and agents, and in furnishing them with the facilities and equipments for the work Mr. Meyer has done them a very useful service.


Discovery of Mont Blanc.—Mont Blanc, the highest of the Alps, is, strange to say, a modern discovery. At least, no mention is made of this colossus of European peaks in any itinerary, or in any literary work whatever, till recent times. M. Charles Durier, in his work "Le Mont Blanc," says: "This mountain rises in the centre of the most populous and civilized states of Europe; it is, in fact, the axis around which European civilization has revolved and still does revolve; its height is considerable; it dominates everything in its vicinity, and, to make its appearance more striking on the background of the blue sky, its summit, though placed in a favored, temperate latitude, is ever covered with a mantle of snow. And yet during twenty centuries no historian, no traveler, no savant, no poet, names it, or so much as alludes to it. As the sun describes his daily track, that peak throws its shadow upon at least three countries possessing different languages, but still it was profoundly ignored." The same author informs us of a map of the region round about Mont Blanc, published in the second half of the sixteenth century, but which gives no hint as to the existence of the mountain, which, nevertheless, is visible from all sides at distances of sixty leagues.


Earthquakes in Japan.—It is a well known fact that the number of earthquakes in any given region liable to such disturbances is greatest in that part of the month when the moon cooperates the most effectively with the sun in producing an attraction upon the earth.

Out of forty-eight earthquakes, observed in the years 1875 and 1876, I find that thirty-seven occurred on one of the five days immediately preceding, or on one of the five days immediately following, full moon: in other words, that in a period of twenty-eight days there were only eleven earthquakes falling within a limit of seventeen days, while on the remaining eleven there occurred thirty-seven—a disproportion too great not to be taken into account.

I may add that, thus far, the shocks observed in 1877 are even more noticeably in accordance with the above facts.

W. E. Parson.
Tokio, Japan, November 3, 1877.

An Agricultural Detective Agency.—We have received the "Bulletin" for October of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station at New Haven, containing analyses of thirty-one specimens of fertilizers. This "station" is prepared to test all kinds of fertilizers, seeds, cattle-foods, etc., free of charge, for the use and advantage of citizens of Connecticut. The establishment, therefore, is clearly one of great public utility, and deserving of generous support. Farmers are too often the victims of charlatans, who palm off upon them their worthless fertilizers, insect-destroyers, seeds, etc., at prices enormously in excess of their real value. This agricultural station will in time put a stop to such fraud in Connecticut. As an instance of the sort of work to be expected from the very competent chemists who make the analyses, we may cite the first table given in the present circular. Here, two kinds of fertilizing compositions are analyzed, and shown to possess about the same value as harbor-mud, but the purchaser was made to pay a very high price, indeed, for this mud, when dubbed "composition for vegetables," or "composition for grass."


A New Species of Monkey.—There are now in the Alexandra Palace, London, six live specimens of a monkey new to science, the Macacus geluda, a native of the mountains of Abyssinia, where it lives at an elevation of from 7,000 to 8,500 feet above the sea-level. One of these monkeys is an adult male. It is hairy over the whole of the body, with the exception of a pink patch free from hair on the chest, and a space around the throat of the same color. When the animal becomes angry or excited, these pink patches turn bright-red. The nostrils are high up from the upper jaw, and the upper lip is so mobile that it is often turned up so as to show the whole of the upper teeth and gums. The tail is long and thick, and ends in a tuft resembling somewhat a lion's tail. The color of the hair is brown, except around the breast, where it is gray. The bare part of the chest shows two male indications of teats. The female has not such long hair as the male, and on the bare spot in front are two well-developed teats. The young monkey takes one in each hand, and sucks from both at once. While these animals have rejected all fruits, they have eaten Indian-corn and grass, taking the grass, pulling it apart, and making it into little balls. In their native habitat, these monkeys sleep in caves, and in London they sleep in a large box, the old male remaining on guard near the entrance.


Invention of the Torpedo.—Perhaps the earliest of all torpedoes was that invented by David Bushnell, of Connecticut, a little over one hundred years ago. Bushnell's idea was, to fix a small powder-magazine to the bottom of a vessel, and to explode it by a clock-work arrangement. In order to do this, he contrived a tortoise-shaped diving-boat of iron plate, which contained air enough to supply a man for half an hour. This boat was propelled by a sort of screw, and guided by means of a compass made visible by phosphorus. The torpedo was carried outside of the boat, but could be detached by the concealed operator within. It was connected by a line to a screw, which was to be driven into the bottom of the hostile ship. As soon as this was effected, the torpedo was to be cast off, when it floated against the vessel's side. The action of casting-off set the clock-work going and then the operator had time to retire to a safe distance before the catastrophe. This torpedo and submarine boat were actually tested against an English sixty-four-gun brig early in the War of Independence, but the attempt to blow up the vessel was unsuccessful. No further effort appears to have been made to turn this invention to account. Nevertheless, to Bushnell the honor belongs of having been the first to destroy a vessel by a torpedo. In an attack on the Cerberus frigate with a towed torpedo, he blew up a schooner astern of the frigate, and killed three or four men on board. This schooner was the first vessel ever so destroyed.


Human Stature.—Treating of "Human Stature," a writer in the Revue d’Anthropologie gives 1.585 metre (about 5.199 feet) as the lowest mean stature of males among the Esquimaux, while in some tribes of the same race the mean reaches the comparatively high figure of 1.708 metre (about 5.60225 feet). This flatly contradicts the belief that cold climates produce only men of low stature. Among the Lapps the mean stature of men is 1.535 metre, and of women 1.421 metre. The Fuegians, so far from being diminutive, are above the average stature of the human race. The Bushmen rank among the most diminutive, the average stature of both sexes being under 1.400 metre. The Akkas attain precisely the same average. The mean stature of six Obongo women, measured by Du Chaillu, was 1.428 metre. Neither the Negritos nor the Andaman-Islanders can compare for littleness with the Bushmen of South Africa. On the other hand, according to this author, the highest stature is attained by the Norwegians, in Europe, the Kaffirs in South Africa, some Indian tribes in North America, the Polynesians, and the Patagonians. The mean stature of the last-named people, according to the statements of the most trustworthy observers, is 1.781 metre (5.84169 feet); the mean of natives of the different Polynesian archipelagoes is 1.762 metre (5.77937 feet). The mean stature of the human race is about 1.600 metre (five feet three inches).


Artificial Ice.—We select from a report in the Lancet, on "Ice-making Machines," a description of a machine designed to produce ice on the large scale. A cistern, somewhat like a tubular boiler, contains some ether, which is the refrigerating agent. The vapor escaping from the ether is pumped, by a double-action air-pump, into a condenser surrounded by cold water; thence the ether, now once more liquid, flows back to the cistern. The evaporation of the ether causes the cistern to become intensely cold, and this cold is rapidly communicated to a strong solution of common salt, in which the cistern is immersed. The very cold brine so obtained is caused to circulate through flat, hollow, and vertical partitions of tinned copper, in a tank filled with pure water. Ice quickly forms in smooth slabs on the partitions, and is from time to time removed as the slabs acquire the requisite thickness. The ice so obtained is, of course, exceedingly pure, and is said to waste less and cost less than natural ice. In this machine the ether is condensed again and again with scarcely any loss, and the only expenses after the original outlay are, therefore, for rent, fuel, and labor.


Mineral Caoutchouc.—In presenting to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia specimens of mineral caoutchouc from South Australia, Mr. Galloway C. Morris stated that the substance is found during the dry season in a limited area of country of a swampy nature in the Coorong district. It occurs in sheets from the thickness of writing-paper to about five-eighths of an inch. It is made into illuminating oil. Of the basin in which it is found the surface is sand, either white and barren or brown and loamy, with occasional ridges or distributions of limestone. Next below this is segregated limestone, hard and approaching crystallization, the interstices filled with light-brown tenacious clay, followed by compact light-red sandstone of various thickness, fading in color and consistence until it touches the water and merges into quicksand. On the lowest flats fissures occur in the limestone; the orifices are very small and irregular, but reach to the underlying quicksand.. The following is the result of an analysis of this mineral caoutchouc:

Moisture 0.4682
Carbon 64.7300
Hydrogen 11.6300
Ash 1.7900
Fixed carbon 1.0050
Oxygen, and other unestimated matters 20.3768

Living Out-of-Doors.—A retreat for consumptives should possess above all things an equable temperature throughout the year, so as to favor living out-of-doors at all seasons. The advantages possessed in this respect by the Hawaiian or Sandwich Islands can hardly be surpassed. The climate there, says Dr. H. B. White, in the "Proceedings" of the Kings County Medical Society, in its average temperature and in equability, may be said to be perfect. These islands are situated between 19° and 22° north latitude, where the trade-winds blow with great regularity about ten months of the year. Though lying within the tropics, the temperature is modified by the constant fresh breezes. In the language of Hawaii, there is no word for weather. The most favorable situations for consumptives are, according to Dr. White, Honolulu, Lahaina, Ulepalekua, Kailua, and Ewa. The main temperature on and near the coasts is 75° to 79° for the warmest months, and 72° for the coldest. During Dr. White's four years' residence at Lahaina the maximum was 84°, and the minimum 61°, while the general average for the summer months was 82° for mid-day, and about 72° for the winter months. By ascending the mountains a few miles inland, almost any degree of temperature can be obtained.

Farewell! I thought you loved me once—that dream is past forever!
Farewell! I must forget you now; that is, I must endeavor.
From all your vows of constancy I set you free henceforth,
And you needn't try them on again, I know now what they're worth.
You have quite ceased to care for me; with science you've been bitten,
Since you read that very stupid book that Mr. Darwin's written.
I can't think what it signifies; I'm sure I never wondered
Whether we all descended from one "type" or from a hundred.
If you remained unaltered, I shouldn't care the least
About the variability of any bird or beast;
But you carry out the principle of change and variation,
So I leave you to your science—may it prove a consolation!
I call it such a waste of time, bothering about these things,
Racking one's brains to find out why opossums haven't wings.
Of course, it's very curious spiders should live on flies,
And that the tails of peacocks should be so full of eyes.
Of course, it's all most interesting, there's not a doubt about it,
But I think that you and I, dear, were happier without it;
So I act on this idea of Natural Selection,
And beg yon to accept of my definitive rejection.
Yet the light of all my life is quenched, my happiness gone by;
I sha'n't "struggle for existence;" I shall just lie down and die.
Each hour I live apart from you my misery increases,
And it's all through Mr. Darwin and his "Origin of Species."

Improvements in Photography.—Both the chemist and the practical photographer will be interested in a communication from Mr. M. Carey Lea, published in the American Journal of Science, for July on certain new means of developing the latent photographic image. It has been supposed that only very few bodies possess this singular power of developing, but Mr. Lea's researches show—1. That, on the contrary, such bodies are very numerous; 2. That, contrary to what has been generally held, potash is a more powerful developing agent than ammonia; 3. That, so far from it being true that the most energetic form of development, when no soluble salt of silver is present, is that which depends on the use of free alkali, a most powerful development may be had without free alkali; 4. That ferrous salts do not act only in the presence of a soluble salt of silver. We have not space to describe the method followed by the author in his researches, but must content ourselves with simply stating the principal results, referring the reader who desires fuller information to the pages of our contemporary. Among the bodies found by Mr. Lea to possess the power of developing the latent image are sugars, manna being especially noteworthy as producing, under certain conditions, "an image as bold and strong as any substance hitherto known." Of the glucosides some give good images. Of several organic acids tried, only one, cevadic acid, exhibited tolerable developing power. The resins exhibit more or less developing power, guaiacum being nearly as energetic as pyrogallol itself. Among the essential oils, the oil of cloves yields a strong, clear image, and good results are also obtained from oil of Roman camomile and oil of peppermint. The organic bases exhibit little developing power. Concerning pyrogallol the author writes that with potassium formate it gives better results than with any other substance. A large number of vegetable substances were tried, with varying results. Finally, the author experimented with cuprous oxide and with ferrous salts: a colorless solution of the former in ammonia develops a strong image; but the salts of ferrous oxide "proved to be the most interesting and remarkable of all the bodies examined, in their action on the image."


Preservation of Wood by charring and tarring.—A writer in the Industrie-Blätter, in remarking on the methods of preserving wooden posts by charring and coating with tar, says that these methods are effectual only when both are applied. If the posts are only charred, the charcoal formed on the surface acts only as an absorber of moisture, and really hastens decay. By applying tar without previously charring, the tar only forms a casing about the wood. Timber that is exposed to the action of water or let into the ground should first be charred, and then while still warm should be treated with tar till it is fully impregnated. The acetic acid and oils contained in the tar are evaporated by the heat and only the resin left behind, which penetrates the pores of the wood and forms an airtight and water-proof coating. It is important to impregnate the posts a little above the line of exposure, for here it is that the process of decay affects the wood first, and where the break always occurs when a post is removed from the earth or strained in testing.


Earthworms in Agriculture.—That the earthworm is of great service to the agriculturist is shown by the author of a paper, the substance of which we find in Die Natur. Not only does the earthworm not attack or injure the roots of plants; on the contrary, it aids them in their growth by excavating passages through which they can penetrate into strata otherwise inaccessible to them. And, as the overground portion of a plant is always proportioned to the length and number of its roots, it is plain that the earthworm is of great benefit to the plants in its neighborhood. The author placed an earthworm in a flower-pot containing a growing Dracæna two and a half feet in height. The worm was left undisturbed for some time, and soon it was found that it had passed through itself at least one-half of the earth in the flower-pot. The soil was in this way improved, many insoluble constituents being rendered soluble. The author's conclusion was that, inasmuch as he could discover no injury done to the roots of the Dracæna, the worm had fed on the remains of plants in the earth, utilizing and decomposing them thoroughly.


Drowning-Accidents.—The advantages of "paddling" and "treading water," as a means of escaping from drowning when one is suddenly precipitated into deep water, are set forth by a writer in the Sanitary Record. The motions performed in the acts of paddling and treading require no previous instruction, and in the great majority of cases would save life. In swimming, the mouth is on a level with the water in the intervals of the strokes; in paddling, the head is well elevated; the individual is able to look about, he can deliberate as to what is best to be done, and he is much less liable to take water into the larynx or glottis. Without prejudice to the art of swimming, children should be exercised from the tenderest age in the act of paddling and treading water, so as to impart confidence to them. Even without any preliminary practice whatever, there is nothing to hinder man, woman, or child, from beating the water with the hands and feet, just as the lower animals do, and so keeping themselves afloat for a protracted period—a period that in a multitude of instances would be sufficient to invite rescue, and preserve life. The action of the feet alone will sustain the body; a fortiori, the action of both feet and hands will prove yet more effectual. In this, as in many other things, man is too often unaware of his own immense capacities.


Peppermint-Culture.—We take from the Polytechnic Review the following notes on the cultivation of the peppermint-plant in the United States: Of the entire crop, fully two-thirds is produced in Michigan. The soils best suited for the cultivation of peppermint are the black-ash swamps of Western New York, and river-bottoms. The land must be drained to allow it being worked early in spring. The one-year roots are planted in ploughed land in rows, the space between the rows being from eighteen to thirty-six inches. During the first year the ground must be kept free from weeds. The plant contains most oil at the period of blossoming, or just afterward, and the crop must be gathered on a dry day. Within a day or two after cutting it is carried to the still and the oil extracted. There must be a good supply of water to make distilling successful. If dried too much, there is a loss in leaves falling off, and the yield of oil greatly diminished. The mint-straw, on being dried, is readily eaten by animals in winter. The annual product is about 70,000 pounds, the greater part of it being exported to Europe.


Uses of Castor-Oil in the Arts.—Castor-oil was formerly employed only as a medicinal agent; but now its uses in the arts are manifold, and its manufacture has come to be a considerable industry. St. Louis is the centre of this industry in the United States, and nearly all the castor-beans grown in this country are produced within a circle of about 200 miles south and southwest of that city. The chief uses of castor-oil in the arts are, according to the Shoe and Leather Reporter, as a lubricator for coach and carriage axles, in the manufacture of the best shoe-blacking, as a dressing for calf-skins, for treeing boots, as a substitute for neat's-foot oil, and keeping leather soft, mellow, and pliable. Crude castor-oil is used largely in the manufacture of morocco. It will not "fry" or "gum," and imparts softness and weight, and leather prepared with it remains mellow and pliable. The crop of castor-beans for the year 1875 was 303,498 bushels; in 1876 the crop was only about one-half as large. Last year a firm in St. Louis made, from 125,000 bushels of beans, 7,000 barrels (47 gallons each) of crude castor-oil.