Popular Science Monthly/Volume 25/June 1884/Notes


Concerning the statement that Mr. Herbert Spencer is going around the world by way of Australia and San Francisco, he thus writes to an American friend: "The rumor you indicate respecting my voyage to Australia and New Zealand is all nonsense, as you suspected. Last summer I had a letter from Sir George Gray (late Governor of New Zealand), pressing me to go and stay with him, and promising great benefit to my health. My reply was that the probable result of yielding to his pressure would be that I should be left in mid-Atlantic with a cannon-shot at my feet."

Mr. Charles Dimitry, of New Orleans, some two years ago proposed an hypothesis that the mounds and earthworks in the Western river-bottoms were intended for places of refuge for the people and their stock in time of high water and floods. His theory received some striking illustrations during the recent expedition of the relief-steamer Tensas to the flooded districts of Red River. The water was found rushing through the crevasses with a loud noise. Trinity was completely submerged, and at Troy the situation was but little better. With the exception of a few buildings erected upon mounds (among the largest mounds in the United States), all had succumbed to the water. The grave-yard on one of the mounds had become a rendezvous for stock, pigs, sheep, and human beings. At Lamarque, in Concordia Parish, where the water stood six feet deep, the stock were cared for on mounds or in houses.

The American Ornithologists' Union has undertaken to ascertain the true character of the European house-sparrow, which has now become so abundant in this country, and of the effect of its presence upon agricultural and economical interests. It has prepared a circular of inquiries to be sent out to intelligent persons who will under-take the observations, the tenor of the answers to which, it is hoped, will determine whether the bird is eligible or ineligible as a naturalized citizen of our land. The more important of the questions bear chiefly upon the nature of the sparrow's food, the effect of its presence upon useful birds and beneficial as well as deleterious insects, and its effects on shade, fruit, and ornamental trees, and garden fruits and vegetables.

Persons interested in the subject may communicate with the chairman of the association's committee. Dr. J. B. Holder, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park, New York city.

Professor John Hutton Balfour, Emeritus Professor of Botany in the University of Edinburgh, died February 11th, in the seventy-seventh year of his age. He was chosen to fill the place of Sir William Hooker, at Glasgow, when Hooker was called from that place to Kew, and was elected to the Regius Professorship of Botany at Edinburgh in 1845. He retired from this position, on account of infirmity, in 1877. He published much, but was better known as a teacher than as an original investigator.

Mr. F. Cope Whitehouse presented to the Academy of Sciences (March 24th) the results of his geological researches and survey of the cañon of the Nile, with especial reference to the Pyramids of Gizeh. He denies that the material was brought from any considerable distance. Geology and tradition show that the two large piles are reconstructed hills. The whole hill has probably been rebuilt, except the lower 180 feet. It seems to have been done by the excavation of a chamber in the center of the mass of soft, horizontal limestone, and the transfer of blocks from the ceiling to the floor until the top of the hill had been reached. Thus a precarious and dangerous mound of poor, clayey limestone was converted into a permanent protection and stable structure without great expense and without disturbing the beautiful edifices of granite and alabaster tanks and tombs whose remains are still found on the terrace and near the Sphinx at its foot.

The death, at the age of forty-eight years, is announced of Richard Cortembert, a French geographer, who until 1878 held a position in the geographical department of the Bibliothèque Nationale. Among his works were "Grands Voyages Conteraporains" (1864), ("Great Contemporary Voyages"), and "Geographic Commerciale" ("Commercial Geography") for schools (1868.) At the time of his death he was engaged upon a "New History of Voyages."

The Rev. Dr. J. G. Macvicar, of Moffat, Scotland, who died February 12th, aged eighty-four years, was a diligent student of natural science in early life, and was from 1827 the first lecturer in natural history in the University of St. Andrews. He was editor of the "Quarterly Journal of Agriculture," and was the author of "The Elements of the Economy of Nature" and other scientific books and papers, and of a treatise on "The Philosophy of the Beautiful." His best-known work was "An Inquiry into Human Nature," which was composed during his residence in Ceylon, from 1840 to 1842.

It has been remarked that the destructive force of a tropical hurricane appears to be greater than the velocity of the wind will account for, when compared with the velocity of an ordinary head gale. Mr. Joseph John Murphy suggests, in the London "Spectator," that the fact may be satisfactorily explained by the law that the pressure, and consequently the destructive force of any current, whether of air or water, is proportional, not to the velocity, but to the square of the velocity; so that, if the velocity is doubled, the destructive force is increased fourfold.

J. F. Julius Schmidt, Director of the Observatory at Athens, Greece, died in that city late in February, aged fifty-eight years. He was a German by birth, and was connected with several observatories in Germany before he was called to Athens in 1858. One of his most important works is his map of the moon, which embodies the results of thirty-five years of work. He investigated the volcanic phenomena at Santorin, and composed a work on volcanoes. He studied earthquakes and the relations of the moon to them, and, in meteorology, he published a study on the duration of the twilight.

Hann, of Vienna, objects to the theory that the eruption of Krakatoa filled the air with dust enough to cause red lights all over the world, on account of the quantity of dust it would take. He calculates that the volume of Krakatoa, supposing it to be 822 metres high and four kilometres in diameter at the base, was 13,780 cubic kilometres. Supposing it all to be reduced to dust and scattered over the earth, it would form a thickness of only three hundredths of a millimetre. At a height of ten miles above the surface, the dust-stratum would be still thinner. Herr Hann does not seem to have taken into consideration the fact that the dust came from the bowels of the earth and not from the volcano alone; and he may not have made sufficient allowance for the extremely attenuated condition in which it was.

An International Forestry Exposition is to be opened this year in Edinburgh. It will be devoted to the exhibition of the forest-products of the whole earth, and will be open to all nations.

Professor Heinrich Carl Berghaus, a distinguished German geographer, cartographer, and historiographer, died in Stettin, February 17th, in his eighty-seventh year. Besides his work on general atlases and many special maps, he was the author of the best map of the Iberian Peninsula, of an atlas of Asia with fifteen maps and text, a physical atlas of ninety-three maps; of numerous important works on geography; of many communications to the German scientific papers and departments; and of a text-book of geography, which, translated into the vernacular languages, is in use in schools in India.

The death of Dr. J. Todhunter, an eminent mathematician and author of text-books, is announced.

Captain Neils Hoffmeyer, Director of the Meteorological Institute of Copenhagen since 1872, has recently died. He was the author of an important paper on the storms of the Northern Atlantic; published for three years a daily synoptical weather-chart; prompted the establishment of meteorological stations in Greenland and Iceland, and was Secretary of the International Polar Commission.

M. Jean Baptiste Dumas, the distinguished French chemist, died April 11th, in the eighty-fourth year of his age. Since 1823 he has been constantly adding to our knowledge of organic chemistry. His theory of substitution and his treatise on chemistry as applied to the arts were important contributions to the science. He has been at different times a member of the National Assembly, Minister of Agriculture and Commerce, and Vice-President of the Senate, of France. In 1868 he became Permanent Secretary of the French Academy of Sciences. A portrait and biographical sketch of M. Dumas were given in vol. xviii, p. 257, of "The Popular Science Monthly" (December, 1880).

Drs. Ferrier and Gerald Yeo communicated a paper to a recent meeting of the Royal Society on the effects of lesions of different regions of the cerebral hemispheres. They described experiments conducted upon monkeys, in which they removed, under anæsthetics, certain limited areas of the cortex; the results of the experiments went to confirm in a very exact manner most of the conclusions previously arrived at by Dr. Ferrier and by neuropathologists. The localization of the centers of sight and hearing and the effect of removing portions of the brain in producing anæsthesia on the opposite side of the body were thus tested.

Dr. Wilson, of England, has tried to count the number of hairs on the human head. Taking a fairly hirsute head, he found the number of hairs on a square inch of surface to be 1,066. This, he estimated, would give 127,920 for the whole head. More thickly-clad heads might have 150,000 hairs.

A correspondent of "Nature" reports an illustration of the power of organization in the mouse. He was waked up one night by a distinct, continuous grinding under the floor of his room, which lasted till after daylight, when it suddenly ceased, and the room seemed in an instant filled with mice. One of the mice caught on a bell-pull, and climbed upon it to near the ceiling. Then he "turned himself round, and for a few minutes quietly surveyed the room; then deliberately descended, and in two or three minutes not a mouse was left in the room." The correspondent supposes that this scout-mouse was the chief-engineer of the company, and had directed the siege-operations; that he rose to an eminent point to survey the conquest, and that, finding it contained nothing of interest to mice, gave the word to his followers, after which they all retired.

According to an essay by Dr. D. J. Macgowan, China has no copyright law, but authors' rights are protected with certainty, upon the theory that their writings are as really property as their material goods, and are so obviously so that no particular designation is required. These rights are hereditary, and not limited. Authors do not make arrangements with publishers; that would be undignified. They have their books cut and printed on their own premises, and then sell them to the trade. Ephemeral books are, however, sold to publishers, and are then liable to be pirated. The book-trade has only the most limited facilities for advertising and circulating its issues; yet, the knowledge of new publications is very quickly spread through the country, and the books get to all interested in them in a remarkably short time.

M. Joseph Lecornu has suggested several ways in which balloons might be used in astronomical research. The appearance of heavenly bodies near the horizon is distorted by refraction. We can not make exact allowances for the distortion, because we have no rule by which to measure the rate of atmospheric refraction, and learn the laws under which it varies. "With balloons we might sound the air in all weathers, and in time get a rule. Balloons also could take us above the clouds and atmospheric hazes, and enable us to get direct views of eclipses, transits, comets, and meteoric showers when they might be obscured at the surface, and of such phenomena as the aurora borealis and the zodiacal light that are always observed at the surface under difficulties. M. de Fonvielle has already made satisfactory observations and measurements of a comet and observations of shooting-stars, from a balloon.

An Italian ship has been sheathed with glass instead of copper. The plates are cast like iron plates to fit the hull of the vessel, and are made water-tight by means of a silicate mastic. They are claimed to be exempt from the vices of oxidation and incrustation.

M. Wroblesky has succeeded in liquefying oxygen in considerable quantities, and then, by removing the pressure, allowing it to boil. By this means he has produced a cold of -186°C., or -302·8° Fahr., at which nitrogen has become solidified into a snow composed of crystals "of a remarkable dimension." M. Wroblesky announces that he has obtained the liquefaction of hydrogen, by exposing it to the cooling influence of liquid oxygen at the instant of evaporation.

A conflict of opinion having broken out between the Municipal Council of Paris and the gas company, as to what the price of gas should be, a scientific commission has been appointed to decide whether the gas industry has so advanced as to justify a diminution in the price.

M. F. Terby states, in the "Bulletin" of the Belgian Academy of Sciences, that he believes he has found a monthly period for the aurora borealis, corresponding with the returning presentation, every twenty-seven days, of the same sun-spots to the earth.

M. Cornu lately described to the French Academy of Sciences a white rainbow which he saw on the morning of the 28th of November. There had been a heavy hoar-frost, followed by a thick, low fog. This rainbow was wholly white, without even as much iridization as is noticeable in halos, and had a fleecy appearance like that of the fumes of phosphureted hydrogen, or the smoke from the mouth of a cannon.

The detonations of the recent earthquake in the Straits of Sunda were distinctly heard through all the Philippine Islands—so distinctly that some persons thought a battle was going on, or that some vessel was firing signals of distress.

The savages of the Maclay coast of New Guinea, according to Dr. Miclucho-Maclay, seldom bury their dead. As soon as a man dies, his body is placed in a sitting posture and covered with palm-leaves. It is then exposed to the fire for two or three weeks, till it becomes wasted away or dried up. The bodies of children are simply hung up to decay in a basket under the roof. Burial is rarely given, except when an old man has survived all his wives and children, and it is then accompanied by numerous ceremonies.