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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 26/February 1885/Popular Miscellany

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 26‎ | February 1885


The Loss of the Lapham Collection.—One of the most serious losses in the recent fire at the Wisconsin State University was the scientific collection made by Dr. I. A. Lapham, and purchased after his death by the State. It consisted of a cabinet containing fossils, minerals, shells, meteorites, and Indian antiquities, 10,000 specimens in all, besides duplicates for exchange; an herbarium of 24,000 specimens, belonging to 8,000 species; and a library of about 1,500 books, pamphlets, and maps. Among the books were many rare volumes. The geological specimens included a large number of fossils peculiar to American formations, and a full series of rocks and fossils illustrating in perfect order and with perfect clearness the geology of Wisconsin. The herbarium embraced the whole range of the vegetable kingdom, with a similar treatment for all examples from the highest to the lowest. Many of the specimens were obtained by exchange from the most eminent botanists in America, England, France, and Germany.


Flowering Plants as Ozone-Generators.—Dr. J. M. Anders has published, in the "American Naturalist," descriptions of experiments he has made in the relations of plant-growth with the generation of ozone. Among the conclusions he has reached are, that the leaves have nothing to do with the production, but that the function resides with the flower; that it lies predominantly ill odorous flowers, inodorous flowers being poor generators; and that sunlight, or at least good diffused light, is essential to the production. Hence, it is inferred, during fair weather all flowering vegetation is contributing ozone to the atmosphere; and, as the plants blossom in succession through the season, this source of supply is in constant operation. An interesting phase of the subject is the application of the results of the observations to the question whether plants should be cultivated in living-rooms. As a rule, ozone is not detectable in rooms, because it is constantly decomposed in oxidizing the organic matter that is always present there. But, as flowering plants generate ozone in-doors during clear weather, it can not be doubted that a living-room well stocked with such plants would give off sufficient to be of hygienic value. Important advantages may also be derived from the presence of foliage plants, even though they are incapable of producing ozone, for, if properly taken care of, they will contribute essentially to the maintenance of a hygienic degree of humidity in the atmosphere of the apartment.


The Canker-Worm—According to Professor Riley's pamphlet on the subject, there are two worms called the canker-worm, both destructive to apple, elm, and maple trees, and much alike. One is called the spring canker-worm, because the moths come out of the ground in the spring; the other, the fall canker-worm. The moths crawl up the tree and deposit their eggs upon the buds, where the larvæ, on being hatched out, begin at once to feed upon the tender leaves. The preventives against their appearance depend largely upon the fact that the female moths are wingless, and can only reach the tree-top by climbing up upon the bark. They consist, therefore, principally in surrounding the trunk of the tree with something in the nature of an obstacle that the worm can not climb by. The trunk may be tarred or greased, or a tin band may be tightly fastened around it. Such appliances are classified by Professor Riley into those which prevent the ascension of the moth by entangling her feet and trapping her fast, or by drowning her; and those which accomplish the same end by preventing her getting a foothold. Other remedies are to jar the trees and burn the worms in straw which has been laid at the bottom to catch them, and applying poisonous washings and dustings to the trees. The worms have parasitic foes, and hosts of industrious enemies among the birds, of which Professor Riley names more than forty species. In New York and Brooklyn they have been exterminated by the English sparrow.


'The Condition of the Earth's Interior,—Dr. M. E. Wadsworth has published a review of the various hypotheses concerning the condition of the earth's interior. Physicists, reasoning from mathematical data, suppose it to be solid; but geological phenomena can not be accounted for on that supposition, and various compromises have been proposed to meet the requirements of the case, which are not necessary if it can be shown that the theory of solidity is not well founded. It is suggested that the difficulties alleged by the physicists against the theory of liquidity are of their own making. They have taken premises that no geologist would take, and have claimed to apply points proved regarding these assumed premises as proved for the whole earth. It is not believed to be as yet possible mathematically to prove anything regarding the state of the earth's interior. It is as necessary that physical and mathematical discussions of the subject "should conform to geological facts as it is that geological theories should conform to physical and mathematical laws. It is incumbent on the physicist to explain earthquake motion, the rising and sinking of different portions of the earth's crust, volcanic phenomena, the uniformity in the composition of lavas, the structure of volcanic rocks, sedimentation, faulting, vein-formation, etc., by his theory of a solid crust." Much depends, in discussing the question of liquidity, upon the possibility of a solid body floating upon a liquid mass of the same substance, concerning which some writers hold that it must sink on account of its greater density, and thus compel solidification from the center. Experiments to test this point have given varying results, but show the possible existence of conditions under which the solid mass would float. Some elements solid are lighter than others liquid. The lighter solid crust would then rest on the denser liquid interior. The transition, moreover, from the solid to the liquid rock, is not sudden, as in the case of water, but gradual, through every degree of viscosity; and the laws and properties of viscous liquids are different from those of water. Bodies will float on them which under like differences in gravity would sink in water. Now, "when the lighter surface material of the earth had cooled sufficiently, a crust would be formed, which, owing either to its lighter state in the hot condition, or to its scoriaceous character and the viscidity of the material beneath, would not sink." The viscidity of the material immediately under the crust would prevent it sinking, even if it should become heavier and break up; or, if it began to sink, it would be heated and expanded till it became no heavier than the liquid, and would soon reach a point when the liquid, being of different composition, had a higher specific gravity than the crust, and no further sinking could take place. We should thus expect to have formed on the earth's surface a crust which would never sink, or, if it sunk, only for a comparatively short distance, there to give rise to a solid crust floating on a denser heterogeneous liquid. Contractions and upheavals of this crust, not unlike in their effects what we sometimes see take place in ice, would explain all the volcanic and earthquake phenomena that need to be accounted for; while the assumption of a liquid interior accords better with the facts of petrography than any other that has been made. This assumption, according to Dr. Wadsworth's conception, is of "a heterogeneous, viscid, elastic, liquid interior, irregularly interlocked with and gradually passing into a lighter heterogeneous crust."


Value of School Recesses.—Hard as it is to believe, the idea of dispensing with recesses in school has gained so much currency among American teachers, that occasion has been found for bringing in a committee report against it, to the American Council of Education. The advocates of no recess claim that the adoption of their measure will promote the conservation of the health of the pupils, by preventing exposure; that it will tend to refinement by removing the opportunities for rude and boisterous play; that it will take away the opportunity for association with the vicious and consequent corruption of morals; and that it will make things easier for the teachers. The committee find in their report that the exposure to the weather during recess will not hurt, but be beneficial. It gives a change from the close, bad air of the school-room to the free air, with opportunity to relieve physical wants, and affords a means of ventilating the school-room without chilling the scholars; that the "rude and boisterous play" of recess is only a rehearsal of what is indulged in outside of the school-room, with the advantage that the teacher is present to restrain excess, and that it gives needed exercise; that moral corruption is not generated in the open practices of recess, but in secret intercourse; and that the teacher's office is not to make things easy for himself, but by every means in his power to promote the well-being of his pupils.


Experiments with Fog-Particles.—Physicists are divided respecting the mode of constitution of the minute particles of the vapor with which a portion of air becomes clouded when it is cooled and a condensation takes place. According to one view, the invisible vapor resolves itself at the moment of condensation into minute, full, liquid spherules, the aggregation of which produces rain-drops. Other persons suppose that the spherules are hollow and contain air, like soap-bubbles, and designate them as vesicles, while they point to the fact that fog-particles may be observed to rebound from water-surfaces, or from dry bodies, as soap-bubbles do; but full drops of water will do the same under some conditions. One of the strongest objections to the vesicular hypothesis is the difficulty of explaining how the vesicles are formed. It is hard to conceive that, during the vaporization of water, these films of liquid can separate from the surface and at once envelop small volumes of air, so as to form the profusion of microscopic bubbles of which the fog is composed. M. Félix Plateau succeeded, with soap and water, in dashing off thin films of liquid in such a way that a part of the film resolved itself into full drops, while another part gave rise to bubbles. MM. Georges Sire and Minary obtained, by stirring a mixture of olive-oil and sulphuric acid, a multitude of hollow bubbles that flew around in every direction. The larger bubbles soon fell back into the mixture, but the smaller ones rose rapidly into the air. The floating bubbles developed the play of colors peculiar to their films; when they burst they seemed to set free a mixture of air and sulphurous acid. A magnifying-glass revealed little blisters on the surface of a part of the bubble, indicating a partial separation of the liquids constituting the mixture. When the larger bubbles burst, they gave rise to a local fog composed of spherical particles, which were supposed, but not known, to be hollow. Though these experiments seem to favor the vesicular theory, they do not overcome the difficulty of accounting for the previous formation of the liquid film; and the difficulty is increased when pure water is substituted for the soapy mixture.


Hard Literary Work.—Dr. Riart, a Frenchman, has published a book on hygiene for literary men, that contains some excellent precepts, which literary men will doubtless commend, think it desirable to adopt, and then go on in their old style. Some of the ways of French authors must have severely exercised the highest powers of physical as well as of mental endurance. Littré, during the thirteen years he was composing his dictionary, regulated his life so as to give the least possible time "to the current requirements of existence," and managed to prepare 415,636 pages of manuscript, besides matter for a supplement. He rose at eight o'clock, and wrote for an hour while his room was being arranged. Returning to his room, he read proof till luncheon time; was at his desk again from one o'clock till six; and, after an hour for dinner, kept on at his work till three o'clock in the morning, or till the task allotted for the day was done, if it was not done then. Everything having been put in order, "my bed," he says, "almost touched my desk, and in a moment I was there." he slept as soundly as a man of leisure, till his regular hour for rising came. This was at his country workshop. In town, his hours were more liable to be broken into. Scribe rose every morning at five, and worked steadily till noon, when he varied his employment by gossiping at the theatres, etc., to put himself in harness later in the day. He lived to be seventy years old, and during his forty years of solid work produced 345 pieces, comprising 897 acts and wrote more than 100,000 verses. Elisée Reclus, according to the London "Spectator," has been occupied for eight years, and expects to be occupied for as much longer time, on his "Universal Geography," He produces a number of the book every week and a volume every year, and has never yet missed being up to time. He works, with a few short intervals for meals and exercise, from seven o'clock in the morning till eight in the evening, is a moderate eater, and has excellent health and capacity for sleep. "He seems to forget nothing, and is always ready to undertake anything, whether it be learning Russian in order the better to write his article on Russia, or making a journey to Syria in search of materials for his chapter on Asia Minor." It is simply method that has enabled these men to do their work so regularly; having once fixed upon a disposition of the time to which the mind and body can conform, what is necessary is to adhere to it and make it a matter of habit. The great thing is to get a good start; for, as Dr. Riart says, "morning work is both the easiest and the most profitable, and, depending as it does upon ourselves, it can be the most regular."


Przevalsky's Wild Horse.—M. Przevalsky, the Russian explorer, brought from his Thibetan expedition a specimen of a hitherto unknown species of wild horse, which has been named, after him, Equus Przevalsky. All the genera of the family Equidæ known previous to the discovery of this animal were more nearly allied to the genus of asses than of horses, which are distinguished from asses by having warts on the hind-logs as well as on the fore-legs, by their broad, rounded hoofs, and by having long tail-hairs growing from the base and from all parts of the tail, instead of the simple brush of hairs at the end of the tail of the asses. Przevalsky's wild horse appears to be intermediate between the asses and the horses. It has warts on its hind-legs and broad hoofs; but its tail-hairs begin to grow from about halfway down the tail, and not from the base. It differs from the true horse in having a short, erect mane, with no forelock. Its general color is a whitish-gray, paler and whiter beneath, and reddish on the head. The legs are reddish to the knees, and thence blackish down to the hoofs, and very thick and strong. The head is large and heavy, and the stature of the animal is small. This horse inhabits the great Soongarian Desert, between the Altai and Thian-shan Mountains, and goes in troops of from five to fifteen mares, led by an old stallion. The animals are shy, and of keen senses. It was only possible to secure one specimen, which has been placed in a museum at St. Petersburg.


Evils of Children's Parties.—Dr. Cullimore, of London, has published a protest against children's parties in winter. His objections apply to the collection of children under seven years of age on such occasions. The "Lancet" would extend them to children under twelve. They apply principally to the general effects upon the health of the children, among which are those to which the excitement they have to endure before and after the event renders them liable, the exposure to the danger of chill, and to improper food and drink, and other influences that wear upon the organism at this most tender period of life. Besides these are injuries to the mind and nerves: "A perfect storm of excitement rages in the little brain from the moment the invitation has been received, and the affair is talked about in the nursery until after the evening. Sleep is disturbed by dreams, or, in some cases, prevented by thinking of the occasion, and afterward the excitement does not subside until days have elapsed, perhaps not before another invitation is received." The amusements of young children ought to be simple, unexciting, and free from artificiality. "Parties" are in no way necessary to the happiness of child-life.


Increase of Cancer.—If the data of the registrar-general's reports are correct, cancer is steadily increasing in England, and the rate of increase is augmenting. Thus, during the ten years 1850-1859, the increase in the number of deaths from this disease was 2,000, showing an average increase of about 200; from 1860 to 1869, the number of deaths was 80,049, and the average annual increase 248; and from 18*70 to 1879, 111,301 deaths occurred, with an annual increase of 320. Dr. Charles Moore attempted to show, in a book published in 1865, that cancer thrives with good living, and that its increase was an accompaniment of the improved economical condition and vitality of the British people. It abounds where the conditions are ordinarily most favorable to health, and more among the rich than among the poor. According to a French observer, about ten per cent of the wealthy classes and seven per cent of the poorer classes are afflicted with cancer. The disease, according to Dr. Crisp, also prevails among animals, more frequently among flesh-eaters than among herb-eaters, and among domesticated than among wild animals. It is not zymotic or infectious, or conveyed in any way, nor is it transmissible, though the predisposition to it may be inherited; but it begins do novo in each individual whom it attacks. The only efficient remedy for it is the surgical one, and that should be applied at the earlier stages of the disease, while the affection is still local.


International Medical Investigation.—Dr. Sir William Gull presented before the recent International Medical Congress at Copenhagen a scheme for an International Collective Investigation of Disease, which is in effect an enlargement of the plan of organized research already in operation with the British Medical Association. The British organization has allotted its work among some fifty sub-committees, in which are included in all some thousand members. One of its methods of work is by the formation of life-histories and family histories of disease, the materials for which are obtained through the family physicians. If such histories could be widely and accurately recorded, the natural associations of different forms of disease in individuals and families would be made evident, and might afford suggestions as to pathological relations not now suspected. In such family histories we might also hope to have elucidated the difficulties of correlated pathologies—"why, for instance, in a numerous family whose members are living under the same conditions, one or two should become the subjects of pulmonary phthisis, one or two the victims of rheumatism, another of epilepsy, while the others maintain a healthy equilibrium." The clinical subjects which have been selected so far by the British society are acute pneumonia, chorea, acute rheumatism, diphtheria, and inherited syphilis, and information is invited by means of memorandum-cards of inquiry. Several reports have been already gathered on these subjects. The German physicians have selected, for the single subject of their similar investigations, pulmonary phthisis, on which they solicit facts concerning the heredity of the disease, its communicability, its cure, and the transition of pneumonia into phthisis, with many minute particulars respecting family relations. The advantages expected to be derived from making the investigations international are, that it will give them more extent, and will enlist in them minds of varied capacity and habits, and diversified training.


Snail-Culture.—The taste for snails as food is growing in France. The mollusks are regularly cultivated in some of the vine growing districts of the country, but the greater part of those with which the markets are supplied are raised in the department of Aude. Toward the end of the summer the snails are picked up and collected in small parks which are made in a corner of the garden or field, and are surrounded with an inclosure of sawdust and dry briers, which is stocked with aromatic plants. The park must be regularly visited, particularly in rainy weather, to drive in estrays. Toward the end of the fall, bunches of moss and dry leaves are scattered around, in which the snails may hide themselves after they have closed their shells. The animals are then captured, packed, and sent to market. The ancient Romans cultivated these gasteropods on a quite extensive scale. Their parks were large and surrounded by water, so that the snails could not escape, and an abundant supply of moisture should always be at hand. At fattening-time the animals were put in earthen pots pierced with holes, and rubbed on the inside with flour mixed with wine. Some of them grew to be very large. The Romans liked snails because they provoked thirst, and gave an excuse for drinking wine.


Insect-eating Men.—The insect-eaters here referred to are not occasional persons of depraved tastes, but whole nations, who consume insects on so large a scale as to raise them to a regular article of trade. Locusts arc an article of food in parts of Africa, Arabia, and Persia, of such importance that the price of provisions is influenced by the quantity of the dried insects in hand. The Tuaregs of Africa esteem them highly, and a single individual will eat as many as three hundred of them—raw, roasted or stewed—at a meal. Cakes of crushed locusts are a delicacy. Boiled locusts are appreciated in Burmah. Termites and ants are the next most important food-insects. The egg-laden bodies of the females of Alta cephalotes are industriously collected by Indians in South America, and the taste of their roasted and salted bodies has been appreciated even by Europeans. The African negroes can hardly get enough of termites, which are eaten fried at the Cape, and in other regions are made into cakes. Roasted termites taste somewhat like marrow or sweet cream. The seventeen-year locust has been eaten in North America, and is said to have been used in soap-making. Cakes are made in Mexico with the eggs of two kinds of water-bugs. A cake made in Fezzan of insect-eggs is described as having the taste of caviare. The Romans were fond of a larva which they called cossus. A favorite dish is prepared in Jamaica from the larva of a beetle that lives in the trunks of palm-trees. Another wood-insect is preserved in sugar by the Chinese and Malays, and a liquor is made, with the addition of some water, from a beetle in Mexico. Caterpillars are eaten in Australia and at the Cape, at the risk of woful pains in the stomach, and even spiders, abhorred by every other race, are eaten by the Hottentots and New Caledonians, with the same liability. Worms are accepted as food by very few people. A kind of grub is collected and eaten in Brazil, a nereid worm in Samoa, and a reed-worm by the Ainos of Japan. The Australians around Port Adelaide are said to have lived exclusively on worms and mollusks, while they abhorred beef. Some persons in Naples eat a tape-worm, a parasite of the carp, fried in oil, and call it macaroni piatti. Sea-urchins form a quite important item in the cookery of some lands, and are popular in some of the Mediterranean districts of Europe. Vestiges of them are found among the remains of feasts in Pompeii, and a hundred thousand dozen of them are still sold in the markets of Marseilles every year. They, with Holothurius, form important items in the food-consumption of China and Japan, where the people rarely see our butcher's-meat. The Holothurius is carried on extensively in Japan from April to August. The "catch" is consumed fresh on the spot, or is prepared and packed for the Chinese market. Even the Medusa, which no other animal, so far as is known, will eat, is sought for by the Chinese, and used as a dried and salted meat.


Advantages of a Binary Arithmetic.—Mr. H. Farquhar has been discoursing, before the Philosophical Society of Washington, the advantages of a binary arithmetic, or an arithmetic in which the numbers are expressed in powers of two. In the best binary notation he devised, additions required only three fourths of the time taken with the ordinary figures. Had the computer practiced as many weeks with the new notation as years with the old, the difference would have been much more marked, as it was in fact when one unskilled in arithmetic, to whom the binary notation had just been taught, tried the two additions. A great gain in accuracy was also realized; and it is believed that a fair degree of skill in arithmetic, with a binary notation, could be acquired by many to whom readiness is impossible under the present system.' The only practicable division of arcs and angles, and the most natural division of all things, is by continued bisections. This is shown by the ratio of value in our coins, weights, and capacity measures, and by the prevalent subdivision of lowest nominal units, as of the carpenter's inch into eighths and sixteenths, and of percentages into quarters, etc., in stock quotations. The American coinage is inconvenient in practice, because of the awkward ratio 21/2, which it introduces between several pieces; and there would be the same difficulty in a decimal system of weights and measures, should it be imposed upon us.


Omaha Children.—Miss A. C. Fletcher gave the American Association a pleasing picture of child-life among the Omaha Indians. The little one receives a sacred name, with impressive ceremonies, when it is ten days old, and is always lovingly attended by its father and mother. The cradle is a flat board, to which the child, laid on its back, is fastened, with bandages which are different for boys and for girls; and the pressure of the board against the head causes a flattening of the occiput. The child is kept on the board, with occasional intermissions, in which it is allowed to kick at will, till about the sixth month, when it is put into a hammock. The hair is solemnly cut, in styles peculiar to each gens, at three years of age, when the child may be given a new name. Home-life is made pleasant and attractive to the children with toys, games, and storytelling; and, at a proper age, suitable duties are assigned to the youth: the care of the ponies, the use of the bow and arrow, and the like, to the boys; and the care of the younger children, tilling the ground, dressing the skins, and cooking, in which the maiden must be proficient before she can be considered marriageable, to the girls. Great respect for woman prevails among the Omahas.


Chronology of the Fossil Flora.—Mr. L. F. Ward, at the American Association, reviewed what is known of the fossil flora of the globe. The two oldest known species (Oldhamia) have been found in the Cambrian of Ireland. Of the Lower Silurian, forty-four species are known, chiefly of marine algæ; of the Upper Silurian, thirteen; of the Devonian, one hundred and eighty-eight, among which ferns predominate; of the Permo-Carboniferous, nearly two thousand species. Cellular cryptogams of some kind lived in the Laurentian, and account for the graptolite beds found in it. The Florida (marine algæ), ferns, horse-tail, and club-moss families, begin in the Lower Silurian; the last three families had their maximum in the Carboniferous. The conifers, which reached their maximum in the Cretaceous, began in the Silurian. The cycads had their origin in the Devonian and their maximum in the Middle Jurassic. Monocotyledons began in the Lower Carboniferous and flourished most in the Tertiary. Dicotyledons began in the Lower Jurassic, and are enjoying their maximum in the present age. The earliest appearance of them is in the Urogonian of Kome, Greenland.