Popular Science Monthly/Volume 28/January 1886/Notes


According to "Wood and Iron," of the four hundred and thirteen species of trees found in the United States, the perfectly dry wood of sixteen species will sink in water. The heaviest of these is the black iron-wood of Southern Florida, which is thirty per cent heavier than water. Others of the best-known species are the lignum-vitæ, mangrove, and a small oak found at elevations of from five to ten thousand feet in Western Texas, Southern New Mexico, and Arizona. All the species are natives of Florida or of the dry interior Pacific region.

Artesian wells have been in operation in the Sahara from a very remote period, and new ones have been opened by the French in the Algerian portion of the desert with considerable success. At the same time a large increase has taken place in the number of palm and other fruit trees. The limit of the capacity of the veins to be found at the usual depth of one hundred metres appears, however, to have been reached at last, for the borings made since 1881 show a diminished yield of water. The French wells, moreover, are harder to clean when they are stopped up by sand than the Arabian ones, on account of their smaller bore; and it is believed that new wells will have to be made, of larger caliber.

M. Bocion, of the Cantonal Industrial School of Lausanne, Switzerland, reports the discovery in Lake Leman of a bright-green moss growing in the bottom of the lake, on the calcareous rocks, two hundred feet below the surface. No other moss has been found at so great a depth under water; and how chlorophyl could have been so richly developed so far from the light is a problem.

Professor Purdie, having analyzed a specimen of the milk of the porpoise, gives the following as its composition per hundred parts: Water, 41·11; fat, 45·80; albuminoids, 11·19; milk-sugar, 1·33; mineral salts, 0·57. The substance set down as milk-sugar was too small in quantity for accurate examination, and is regarded by the analyst as very probably some albuminoid matter. The most remarkable point about the composition of the milk is the large percentage of fat which it contains, a constituent of food of which the cetaceans would naturally require a larger proportion than ordinary mammals do. The milk was yellow and thick, and had a fishy smell; and its specific gravity differed but little from that of water.

Mr. E. T. Newton has described the remains of a gigantic bird—the Gastornis Klaasensii—found in the Lower Eocene of Croydon, England, which indicates a species as large as the Dinornis of New Zealand. The most perfect tibiotarsus, when complete, must have had a length of at least twenty inches, and its trochlea is three and a half inches wide, while in another specimen the trochlea is four inches wide. The anserine affinities of Gastornis, as regards the tibiotarsus, are confirmed by the detailed comparison of the Croydon bones with recent forms.

According to M. Dinnik, a Russian traveler in the Caucasus, it is the custom among the Ossetes (one of the peoples of the country) for the lucky sportsman or treasure-finder to deposit some part of his spoil in the sanctuary of Rekom, in the Zéa Valley, and that temple has become a kind of curiosity-shop. The outside of the building is decorated with horns, from the examination of which M. Dinnik has been able to solve a question respecting the geographical range of two species of goats. The funeral mounds of Ossetia also furnish offerings to Rekom, which are brought to it by persons who dig in them for the gold ornaments they may find deposited there. Armlets, rings, knives, and lance-heads of the bronze period are among the curiosities of this strange mountain museum; but other uses than that of consecration appear to be found for articles of gold.

Tests made with small squares of different kinds of wood, buried an inch in the ground, have shown, according to the "Garden," that birch and aspen decayed in three years; willow and horse-chestnut in four years; maple and red beech in five years; elm, ash, hornbeam, and Lombardy poplar in seven years; and oak, Scotch fir, Weymouth pine, and silver fir, to a depth of half an inch, in seven years; while larch, juniper, and arbor-vitæ were uninjured at the expiration of the seven years. M. Gustav Le Bon believes that a good place to look for the origin of cholera may be in the volatile ptomaines, or alkaloids of putrefaction emitted by organic substances in the later stages of decay. The ptomaines developed in the earlier stages of putrefaction appear according to his researches to be usually solid or liquid, and much less dangerous than those which escape at a later stage, and which, being volatile, have thus far eluded examination. But these last, when taken into the system by the breath, produce deadly effects. M. Le Hon's conclusions on this subject have been derived from observation of the progress of cholera at Kombakonum, in Southern India.

J. Grader has made experiments with animals of the classes of vertebrates, articulates, mollusks, and worms, from which he has determined that the sense of color and the power of perceiving light are more widely distributed than has generally been supposed. The variations in the sense of color among animals are very great.

Sulitjelma, on the Norwegian frontier, in latitude 671/2°, 6,000 feet high, and Parjektjàkko, in Swedish Lapland, 1,000 feet higher, have in turn been put forward as the highest mountain in Sweden. They both have now to give place, on the testimony of Dr. Svenonius, to Kebnekaisse, in Lapland, which is 7,300 feet above the level of the sea.

Professor W. Matthieu Williams indicates as probable sources of nitrogen in soils, and serving as food for plants, the dead bodies of insects, excreta of living insects, invisible spores, microbes, and particles of organic fluff which are always floating in the air and liable to adhere to the moistened surface of the soil and of the leaves of the growing plants. To prove the existence of such deposits on leaves, moisten a white pocket-handkerchief and gently rub it over the surface of the leaf of any growing plant in dry weather. No matter how far from the smoke of towns, the soiling of the handkerchief will show a deposit of solid matter, of which a considerable proportion is organic.

Examination in the color-blind test is now obligatory on candidates for masters' and mates' certificates in the British mercantile marine. Failure to pass the test does not now prevent the candidate receiving his certificate, as it did when the examinations were first instituted, but the certificate is given with the indorsement, "The holder has failed to pass the examination in colors." This examination is not yet made obligatory on pilots and men on the "lookout," and this ought to be regarded as a serious omission; for collisions are certainly more apt to occur off the coasts, when the vessels are under the charge of pilots, than out at sea, where they have been given over to the masters and mates.

Dr. Hertel, of Copenhagen, has published the results of a sanitary inspection of the schools of that city, from which it appears that about one third of the pupils are sickly. With respect to the girls, the fact is brought out that "between the ages of twelve and sixteen the number of sickly girls increases till it exceeds that of healthy by ten per cent, except at the age of fourteen, when the figures are equal." Dr. Hertel also made inquiries into the condition of some German schools, and brought out the fact that in a single group of them three fourths of the pupils of the highest class have defective eye-sight.

The Japanese have promulgated a patent law, which seems to be a compilation of various provisions selected from the laws of other countries. The term of protection is fifteen years. Articles "that tend to disturb social tranquillity, or demoralize customs and fashions, or are injurious to health," and medicines, arc excepted from its benefits. Among the conditions on which patents are granted, it is prescribed that the articles must have been publicly applied within two years, and that the patents shall become void when the patented inventions have been imported from abroad and sold.

M. E. Senet claims to have employed a process for electroplating with aluminum, by which the deposition of that metal is effected as easily as is that of copper or silver, he uses a saturated solution of sulphate of aluminum and a solution of chloride of sodium, keeping them separated by a porous vessel. Under the action of the galvanic current a double chloride of aluminum and sodium is formed, which decomposes at once, the aluminum being set free and depositing itself at the negative electrode upon whatever object may be placed there to receive it.

Mr. J. D. Hyatt, in his studies of compound eyes and multiple images, remarks as a curious peculiarity of the eyes of the horse-fly that the lenses of the upper and anterior part are much larger than those situated below a median line, the larger facets having at least twice the diameter, or four times the superficial area, of the smaller. The larger lenses form pictures at a plane considerably above the focal plane of the smaller ones. Thus these insects are furnished with eyes of two varieties, corresponding to our long sight and short-sight spectacles; in other words, with telescopic and microscopical eyes, the telescopic looking upward and forward and the microscopical downward.

Professor P. P. Penhallow, having studied the relation of annual rings to the age of trees, concludes that the formation of rings of growth is chiefly determined by whatever operates to produce alternating periods of physiological rest and activity. In cold climates the rings are an approximately correct, but not always certain, index of age; but in warm climates they arc of little or no value in this respect. The influence of meteorological conditions in determining the growth of each season is most important, particularly with reference to rainfall. Periodicity in rainfall corresponds with periodicity in growth.

Some of the German journals describe a plant which has lately been discovered to have electrical properties. It is called the Phytolacca electrica. It gives a slight electric shock to the hand when its stalk is broken, and affects the magnetic needle, disturbing it considerably if brought very near. Its energy varies during the day, being strongest at about two o'clock in the afternoon and falling away to nothing at night.

H. A. de Abbadie states that the mercurial bath at his observatory in France, about a mile and a half from the Spanish frontier, was subjected to extraordinary and almost continuous agitations during all of last winter, beginning with the 1st of December. The oscillations sometimes reached 30" and were on one day, the 23d of December, as frequent as four in a second. He believes there was a connection between the oscillations, or the cause of them, and the earthquakes in Spain.

A lecture on fish-culture, delivered recently in Hull, England, by Mr. W. Oldham Chambers, was illustrated by object-lessons of living specimens of the white-fish and other foreign species.


James McFarlane, of Towanda, Pennsylvania, author of a valuable work on the coal-fields of America, and of the "Geologists' Traveling Hand-book," died suddenly on the 11th of October. He was engaged at the time of his death in the revision for a new edition of the "Geologists' Traveling Hand-book," in which are given descriptions of the geological formations along all the railroad routes of the country.

Mr. Thomas Bland, an eminent conchologist, died in New York on the 20th of August last, in the seventy-seventh year of his age. He was born in England, and inherited a taste for conchology from his mother. He removed to Barbadoes in 1842, and thence to Jamaica. He became superintendent of a gold-mine in New Granada in 1850, whence he removed to New York in 1852. Here he became associated with Mr. W. G. Binney in the study of our land-shells and in the publication of works which have greatly elucidated the subject. The catalogue of his scientific writings contains seventy-two titles.

Edward Henri von Baumhauer, Secrery of the Dutch Scientific Society at Haarlem, and editor of its "Archives," died last year, in the sixty-sixth year of his age.

Dr. J. J. Baeyer, a distinguished authority in geodesy, founder of the European Gradmessung, and president of the Central Bureau of the society, and of the Royal Prussian Geodetic Institute, died September 10th, aged ninety-one years.

W. Woodbury, the inventor of the Woodbury type process for multiplying photographic pictures, died in Margate, England, September 5th, from the effects of an overdose of laudanum, which he was accustomed to take to allay sleeplessness. He was fifty-one years of age. Notwithstanding the value of his inventions and the great use that has been made of them, it is said that he left his family poor.

Dr. Nicolas Joly, honorary professor in the Faculty of Sciences and in the Medical School of Toulouse, France, died in that city October 17th, in the seventy-fourth year of his age. He was best known, perhaps, by the controversy which he, with MM. Pouchet and Musset, carried on with M. Pasteur in 1863, on the theory of spontaneous generation, from which M. Pasteur came off with all the honors of victory. He was the author of numerous publications of merit in zoölogy and prehistoric ethnography; and was one of the founders of "La Nature," and a frequent contributor to its pages.

Dr. Thomas Davidson, F. R. S., of Muirhouse, Midlothian, Scotland, the highest authority on British fossil Brachiopoda, died at West Brighton, England, October 16th, in his sixty-ninth year. Up to 1871 he had published forty-nine books and papers, chiefly devoted to his specialty in paleontology. He received medals from the Royal and Geological Societies, and from Sir R. Murchison, and a testimonial from the Paleontographical Society in recognition of his labors.

Charles Rodin, a French physiologist, who introduced the study of histology into his country, died early in October last, in his sixty-fifth year. In announcing his death to the French Academy of Sciences, the president of that body remarked upon the fact that M. Robin had not been able to accept the new facts added by his pupils to the science to which he had given a start, and that he had never been "converted to the doctrines of bacteriology."