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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 29/May 1886/Popular Miscellany

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 29‎ | May 1886


Glacial Elevations of the New England Coast.—Professor N. S. Shaler, in the course of his studies to investigate the origin of kames or "Indian ridges," which are particularly abundant and characteristic along the New England sea-coast south of Portland, Maine, has been led to the conclusion that the glacial submergence along this coast was much greater than is commonly assumed. Very distinct cross-bedded sands in extensive sheets occur at points as much as one hundred and seventy feet above high tide, in positions where, owing to the contour of the ground, one can not believe that they were formed in any inclosed basin of fresh water. They are found at Randolph Station, on the Old Colony Railway, and about Attleboro, Massachusetts, at heights of from one hundred and ninety to two hundred feet. These deposits were clearly distributed by tidal action, and, as we must suppose that the water lay to the depth of fifty feet or so above the place of the deposit, there must have been something like two hundred feet of depression along this shore where the glacier left it. Between this level and the present shore-line the kames are plentifully scattered. In consideration of their delicate structure and sharp outlines and other features, it is difficult to see how they escaped the cutting action of the sea-beach that must have been dragged over all of this surface as it was emerging from the sea. A single month of exposure to such waves as act even in the more sheltered bays would entirely destroy their more delicate outlines. After a careful examination of the evidence, Mr. Shaler has been driven to suppose that at the close of the glacial period the re-elevation of the land must have been accomplished with a very great suddenness.


The Genesis of Inventions.—In a paper read before the Anthropological Society of Washington, on "The Genesis of Inventions," Mr. Franklin A. Seely proposes the term Eunematics to designate the study of invention. He lays down, as fundamental postulates of this science, that, given any artificial implement or product, we must assume that there was a time when it did not exist; that before it existed there must have been a creature capable of producing it; and that such creature before producing it must have been conscious of needing it, or must have had use for it. Further, that every human invention has sprung from some prior invention or from some prior known expedient; that inventions always generate wants, and these wants generate other inventions; that the invention of tools and implements proceeds by specialization; and that no art makes progress alone. The last four of these propositions are verifiable from the history of any and of all modern inventions; the three former are deduced, and must be confirmed, if they need confirming, by the study of prehistoric inventions. In illustration of their force, Mr. Seely produces a theoretical study of the invention of the stone hatchet, a tool which represents the earliest human workmanship of which any knowledge has come to us, and presents in its rudest form the evidences of being the fruit of long-antecedent growth. When men used wooden poles for pikes, they found that their weapons were better if they were pointed. One man found that he could point pikes by rubbing them back and forth on a certain gritty stone he had. Other men brought their pikes to him to be sharpened. Then they found that they could sharpen them themselves on other stones. The sharp edge of a cliff was found to be particularly good for this purpose, and, when it was rubbed dull, another cliff-edge was looked out. Then, by some accident, the dulled cliff-edge was broken off, and a new edge, possibly even sharper than the old natural edge, was presented. The step was not long from this discovery to designedly breaking off cliff edges. Then some one discovered that the broken piece, fixed so as to be steady, or held in the hands, would also cut. When the stick-sharpener found that he could hold the stick firmly and trim it by passing over it the sharp stone held in the hand, he had a flint knife. Another series of experiments led to inserting the sharp stone into a handle, and another series to the differentiation of stones of different shapes and sizes for various purposes. Parallel with these processes were those of the development of cords for tying, from the first accidental shred of bark to fabricated strings of twisted bark or cut strips of hide.


Parental Peculiarities in Fishes and Frogs.—Fish and frogs arc not usually regarded as very careful parents, but a few species exercise something like a particular care for their young. Sticklebacks build nests for the reception of the eggs, and the males watch them and defend them against intruders. The males of sea-horses (Hippocampi) and pipe-fishes are provided with pouches in the under side of the body, reminding us of those of the opossum, in which the eggs are put after having been cast by the female, and are cared for till they are developed. These pouches seem also to be a kind of home for the young. The female of the genus Solenostoma also has a pouch, formed by the union of the ventral fins with the body, in which the eggs are laid and hatched, and this is furnished with a series of long, thread-like bodies bearing small projections, for the attachment of the eggs, and possibly for the nutrition of the young. The skin and tissues of the under-body of the mother Aspredo, when the egg-laying season comes round, assumes a soft, spongy texture, to which the eggs adhere till they are hatched, when the skin becomes smooth again. The male of the Arins of Ceylon and the Chionais of the Sea of Galilee carry the eggs in the back part of the mouth. The eggs of dog-fishes, sharks, skates, and rays are inclosed in capsules which in texture resemble a bit of sea-weed. The mother-frog of the Alytes obstetricans lays her eggs in long chains of sixty or more. The male takes this string, twines it around his thighs, and retires till the young are ready to leave the egg: then he goes into the water, and the young swim out. The eggs of the American frogs are placed in pouches in the back of the mother, and in the Surinam toad the egg and the tadpole go through their full development thus inclosed, each in its own cell, till, when they emerge, they differ only in size from the parent. More than one hundred and twenty of these tadpole-cells have been counted in the back of a single female of this species. A Chilian frog has the organs, corresponding with the "vocal sacs" of our bull-frogs greatly distended,! and the young are hatched in these. The j exaggeration of these organs has produced j more or less of distortion in other parts of the animal.


Happy Tenant-Farmers.—A writer in "Chambers's Journal" holds up Lord Tollemache, of Peckforton Castle, Cheshire, as a landlord who has found a plan of dealing with his tenants that satisfies his farmers, his laborers, and himself, and which is working with encouraging results. This proprietor set out to establish cottage-farms upon his estate, for the purpose of attaining three results: To satisfy the natural and praiseworthy desire of the laborers to have a cow, and land to maintain it; to train the rising generation of laborers' children from infancy in dairying and agricultural pursuits; and to secure a supply of high-class laborers for his large tenant-farmers. All of these results are in process of accomplishment. The cottage-farms consist of house inclosures—the houses being built in pairs and fitted with conveniences—of about half a rood of garden-land each, with a tract attached, including pasture, of about three acres, and are leased at a fixed rent of fifty dollars a year, for twenty-one years. The laborers thus housed are declared markedly superior to those of their class in most counties."Their wives are robust, their children are unusually intelligent, and the social atmosphere of the neighborhood is exhilarating. In every house visited the furniture was good and excellently cared for. Neatness and cleanliness were evidently habitual. . . . And it is the proud boast of the neighborhood that the laborers on the Tollemache estates are unexcelled in England." As a consequence of this system, "while dread and perplexity pervade the shires, the happy dwellers upon Lord Tollemache's estate are at peace. Every large farm is occupied, and the obtaining of one is the great object of those living outside."


Automatic Fire-Extinguishers.—Professor Silvanus P. Thompson, in a recent address before the Society of Arts, dwelt upon the fact that great fires usually owe their magnitude and their consequent terrors to the circumstance that a certain interval of time necessarily elapses before any application is made to extinguish them—because no one is at hand and ready to act on the instant. It is to the fatal two minutes or five minutes that pass before help arrives, that the mischief is due. Nothing but a self-acting or automatic system, which will operate at the right moment and at the very spot, without the intervention of the human hand, will meet the case. Automatic systems exist, and are of several kinds, and efficient. Automatic sprinklers are self-acting valves connected with a system of water-pipes placed in the ceiling of a room, which, on the outbreak of a fire, open and distribute water in a shower or spray exactly at the place where the fire breaks out. The apparatus may be arranged so that, whenever it is called into operation by the heat, it shall sound an alarm-bell and summon aid to the spot. These devices are relied upon in many of the manufacturing establishments of New England, with an estimated reduction of the risk of conflagration to one twentieth of what it formerly was. Several designs for sprinklers depend for their efficacy on the melting of some kind of easily fusible solder or cement by the heat of the incipient fire, and the consequent loosening of the valve which holds the water back. The obvious requisites of a good sprinkler are that the solder should fuse at a low and well-defined temperature, without any appreciable prior softening; that the mechanism should not be liable to get out of order or stick; that the parts opened by heat should be capable of ready replacement without skilled labor; that there should be no leakage at the valve; and that the quantity of solder to be melted should be small, and so placed that it is not cooled by contact with too great a mass of metal, or exposed to the drip of the opening valve. Closely allied to the automatic sprinkler proper is the system of sprinkling by perforated pipes through an automatic valve. The automatic fire-door, which should not be of iron, because it curls up, but of wood protected by sheathings of tin-plate, is arranged to shut on an inclined track, and is kept open by a rod made with a scarf-joint in two parts twisted in the center, and secured by a fusible solder; or the door may be held by a cord holding a weight, the fall of which releases the door; the fall to be produced by the melting of a solder set in some convenient part of the cord. Another class of devices depends upon the introduction into the electric circuit of a fusible link, the melting of which breaks the circuit; or into the broken circuit of a strained catgut band, the contraction of which by the heat brings the wires into contact. In one of the applications of this system a reservoir of carbonic acid is opened and the acid distributed. Mr. John has invented an arrangement for making the hand grenade extinguisher automatic. He proposes to hang the grenade at the top of a room in a sort of a cage, which is provided with a small button held together with fusible alloy. When that is affected by the ascending hot air, the button bursts, and the cage opens and allows the grenade to fall, while an iron weight follows it, and, breaking it in mid-air, causes the liquid to be sprinkled about.


Parasitic Fungi on Plants.—Professor T. J. Burrill, in a paper of the Illinois State Laboratory of Natural History on the parasitic fungi of the State, remarks with reference to the nature of these pests, that "during the last part of the first half of this century learned discussions arose upon the specific distinction between the parasite and the host, and esteemed botanists held the view that what was taken for the former was but a diseased condition of the latter—the rust of wheat, for example, was only the degraded cell-tissues of the wheat itself. Such difference of opinion, however, no longer exists among those who have possession of the information now acquired. The tissues of higher plants do not change by any process of degradation or transformation into the things called fungi, neither do the latter originate in any other manner than as descendants of pre-existing forms through as rigid specific lines as can be traced among any animals or plants. It is known, too, that however much the fungus is found within the tissues of the host-plant, it began its growth outside of the latter, and gained introduction only by forcible entrance. Spores are never taken up by absorption and carried by the aqueous currents from part to part of the plant. The fungus passes through the tissues very much as roots pass through soil, sometimes apparently without in any degree successful opposition, sometimes nearly or quite baffled in the struggle by the mechanical and physiological resistances of the host-plant."


The Punjab.—The Punjab derives its name which means "five waters" from the five great rivers traversing it the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Béas, and Sutlej—which, united, flow into the Indus about five hundred miles above its mouth. In early times the country was called the land of the "seven rivers," and the Indus itself, on the one side, and the Saraswati, on the other side, were counted in addition to the five streams already named. The Saraswati, according to General R. Maclagan, presents an interesting problem. All the other rivers of the seven take their rise in the snows of lofty mountains, and, being fed from unfailing sources, are always great streams; but the Saraswati rises in the low outer hills, depends on periodical rains only, and, while subject to floods, is dry for a great part of the year. Even in the flood season, the water with which its upper valley is inundated runs off so quickly that it all disappears before it can reach the Sutlej or the Indus. Yet in the ancient Indian writings it is described as a mighty river like the others. The name, which means "having running water," seems to mark it as a constant as well as powerful stream, and is applied as an epithet to the Indus and other great rivers. The volume of the stream may have been partly affected by the changes which the country in general has undergone, but a considerable part of the discrepancy must be attributed to the poetic character of the Vedas and the imperfect knowledge which the Sanskrit people may have possessed of the character of this river. In the later writing, dating from about the sixth century b. c., the Saraswati is said to sink into the earth and to pass underground to join the Ganges and the Jumna at their confluence. The people had then gone farther into the country, and had become better acquainted with the Saraswati.


Influence of Direct Solar Heat on Vegetation.—Mr. M. Buysman has published a paper on the "Influence of Direct Sunlight on Vegetation." On account of the constant high temperature in the tropical regions, plants there are less dependent on direct solar heat than in the temperate and frigid zones, but there are some even there which require this condition for their luxuriant growth. Among these are the date palm and the sugar-cane. In the warm temperate zone, the orange grows best in the direct sunlight, and the vine requires the heat of after-summer to ripen its fruits. Everywhere, whether in the warm or temperate region, corn is grown with success wherever there is in summer direct sunlight enough to ripen its grains. On highlands, the influence of insolation is very much increased. But the solar warmth of the after-summer is necessary to ripen the fruits of the most important plants; and it is for lack of this, and not from any deficiency in the mean temperature, that the vine can not be cultivated successfully in cloudy England. The limit of corn cultivation ascends on the continent generally farther to the north than on the shores. In Norway, it reaches 70; at Fort Norman, Canada, 65°; at Yakutsk, Siberia, 62°; on the northeast shores of Asia and the northeastern shores of America, nearly to 50°; on the western shores of America, 57°. Nowhere else is the influence of insolation more distinctly observed than in the Arctic regions. Richardson remarks, of the vicinity of Slave River, near 60° north latitude, that he had never felt the heat of the tropics so oppressive as he experienced it on some occasions in those regions, though the sun's rays are there always horizontal instead of vertical, as is the case in the tropical countries. This is because in summer the sun rests above the horizon. In Nova Zembla the vegetation is, in places exposed to the sun's rays, "like an arctic flower garden," for the surface of the soil is not covered with grass as in the temperate regions; and the flowers are of a much greater size than the leaves. In the Tundra of Siberia, on the declivities of hills sheltered from the winds and exposed vertically to the sun's rays, the same herbaceous vegetation, with its large, splendidly colored flowers, is observed, but this is not the case in plains where the sunlight in its horizontal direction can not have so much influence on the vegetation of the frozen ground. Therefore these plains are in general really deserts, covered only with moss. Insolation is also the cause of the rich vegetation in some parts of the mountains in the temperate zone. Even in the most northern regions there can be a rich vegetation where the plants in sheltered localities are exposed to the sun. Several instances are mentioned by Mr. Buysman in which plants have been found blooming in these regions while their roots were frozen.


A Bee Nuisance.—M. Delpech, of the Hygienic Council of the Department of the Seine, has published a report on the damage done by bees and the dangers resulting from the existence of apiaries in the city of Paris. The bees, it appears, have become a real and formidable nuisance in some parts of Paris, especially in the neighborhood of the sugar-refineries and the railway-stations, where hundreds of stands are kept. The extent of their depredations upon the Say sugar-refinery is estimated at 25,000 francs, or $5,000, a year. A glass filled with sirup will be emptied by them in less than two hours; and, if a trap is set, more than a hectolitre, or nearly three bushels of them, may be caught in a day. The laborers in the refinery, who have to work half naked, and whose skin is soiled with molasses, suffer greatly from them, so much that operations have to be suspended at times. Children in the schools near the bee-stands are frequently stung, and horses passing in the neighborhood are in constant danger. M. Delpech maintains that bees are in reality much more dangerous than is generally believed. He makes a triple classification of the accidents that may arise from the wounds they inflict: 1. Trifling accidents, with heat and swelling, followed by a feeling of oppression and itching; 2. More serious accidents, which are cured, beginning with the same symptoms as the former, followed by great weakness, precordial anxiety, cold in the extremities, nausea, insupportable headache, often by nettle-rash, and sometimes by convulsive and tetanic symptoms; 3. Accidents resulting in death, which often speedily follows stings in the face, head, neck, etc. The fatal termination is preceded by two kinds of symptoms—those resulting from local lesions, the exceptional gravity of which is due to the seat of the injury, as where a swelling in the throat is produced resulting in asphyxia; and those in which the toxic action of the poison introduced into the circulation seems to be the immediate cause of death. In this case we have a condition of syncope and asphyxia, with signs of convulsion and tetanus. A considerable number of cases of death resulting from bee stings are cited in the report.


Ancient House Sanitation.—Dr. W. H. Corfield reviewed the "History of House Sanitation" in an address which he recently delivered, as president, before the English Society of Medical Officers of Health. The necessity of removing surplus rain-water for preventing dampness in the soil of residences has been recognized from the most ancient times, and found emphatic expression in Rome twenty-five hundred years ago, when a grand drainage system for the city, a part of which is still in operation, was constructed by Tarquin the Elder; and the main drain of his work, "The Cloaca Maxima," is styled by Dr. Corfield "the great pattern of all drains." The device for deodorizing excrement by mixing it with dry earth is at least as old as the time of Moses. According to Livy, the Cloaca Maxima was used also to carry away the filth of the city; and, according to Mr. Baldwin Latham, the water-closet is a very ancient device, the use of which "has been traced to all nations that had arrived at a certain degree of refinement." They were probably of Asiatic origin. They were introduced into Rome during the republic; and remains of them have been found in the Palace of the Cæsars at Rome, and in the ruins of Pompeii.


A New Prospective Source of Heat.—Mr. J. Starkie Gardner has published a paper on the utilization of the underground heat of the earth. He holds that the crust of the earth is thin, and that its movements are more compatible with a thickness of ten than of fifty miles. The deepest artesian well in the world is being bored at Pesth, Hungary, with the object of securing an unlimited supply of warm water for the city baths, and has already reached a depth of more than three thousand feet. The present temperature of the water is 161° Fahr., and the borings will be prosecuted till water of 178° is obtained. "It needs no seer," says Mr. Gardner, "to pierce the not distant future when we shall be driven to every expedient to discover modes of obtaining heat without the consumption of fuel, and the perhaps far more remote future when we shall bore shafts down to the liquid layer, and conduct our smelting operations at the pit's mouth."


Bacteria under High Pressure.—M. A. Certes has reported on experiments which he has made on the decomposition of organic matter under high pressure, with the purpose of ascertaining whether the process takes place in the depths of the sea in the same manner as in the open air. He found that bacteria thrive and increase under pressures of from three hundred to six hundred atmospheres, almost as in a normal temperature, except that the microbes are different and the results of their action have only a feeble instead of a strong odor, and are acid instead of alkaline in their reaction. M. Certes will continue his experiments in the winter at the normal temperature of the sea depths, or 39°.


Canadian Forest Preservation.—In his paper at the American Forestry Congress, on "Forest Preservation in Canada," Mr. A. T. Drummond sketched a plan for the preservation and renewal of forests which might in some respects be equally applicable to the United States and Canada. Leases of public timber areas should be restricted to definite periods of five or at most seven years, with a rule that, after the expiration of the lease, the land should have rest for twenty years to allow the young timber to grow up. The timber limits should be restricted in size to about fifty square miles, as is now done in Manitoba. This would enable the Government more systematically to carry out the system of alternate leases and rests. The production of square timber should be discouraged, on account of the great waste of material in forming the square log, and of the additional food for forest-fires which the waste material creates. The cutting on public lands of trees under twelve inches at the stump should be punishable by a heavy fine. This would have the effect of preserving the younger trees till they attained a merchantable size. The starting of forest-fires should be made criminal. Wherever the forests have been cut over by the lumbermen and wherever fires have swept through areas of public lands not specially suitable or available for settlement, reserving or replanting with proper kinds of timber should be attended to. Lastly, the forests should be put under the charge of suitable officers.


Sea Air and Mountain Air.—In a paper on "the Climatic Treatment of Phthisis," Dr. Harold Williams, of Boston, considers the question of what conditions make a climate—say of the sea or the mountains, to either of which patients are generally sent—favorable for the treatment of consumption. They can not be conditions of moisture, or of atmospheric pressure, or of variability of temperature, for these are opposite on the sea and on mountains. The only conditions in which the two classes of location agree with any precision are those of purity of air and of the proportion of ozone constituent. Sea air contains small quantities of saline particles, and of iodine and bromine, while mountain air is usually lower in temperature and more diathermanous; but these are not regarded as essential qualities. One fact to be regarded in considering the question is that, with or without treatment, certain cases of phthisis naturally tend to recovery. Another fact is that any change of climate—which is often accompanied by a change of scene, of habits, of exercise, of food, of dress, of thought, and of surroundings—is of importance in cases of disease. When all the meteorological differences between the air of the mountains and the air of the sea are summed up, the sea-air seems to possess certain possible advantage over that of the mountains, "in that it is warmer and purer, and that it presents slighter variations, both of temperature and humidity. But this, it must be remembered, is the air over the sea itself, air that can only be prescribed through the medium of ocean voyages, a prescription open to the grave objections of idiosyncrasy against the sea; sea-sickness; anxiety at leaving friends, fears of dangers, lack of companionship, variety, and exercise; and, above all, inferiority of food. Added to which is the difficulty of selecting a voyage which shall extend over a sufficiently long period of time." Hence sea air, though perhaps the best of all kinds, is really available for only a few. Island and seaboard stations resemble most nearly the sea, but differ from it with respect to variations of temperature and humidity, and purity of the air. "Physiologically speaking, therefore, it may be said that mountain air is no better than island or seaboard air, because it is colder and more liable to sudden and excessive changes of temperature, while, on the other hand, it may be contended that island or seaboard air is no better than mountain air, because of its diminished purity." An important factor always to be consulted is the idiosyncrasy of the particular patient, for or against the sea or the mountains. "We must admit that, in the present state of our knowledge, the meteorological differences of climate have been proved to be of little importance in the treatment of phthisis." But there are probably beneficial effects of a change of climate which we may regard as due to factors common to all groups of health resorts, and which vary only in degree. These factors are: the change itself; the purity of the air; the increased number of hours of open-air exercise permitted; and the improved hygienic surroundings of the patient. An ideal health resort for consumption "should be sparsely and newly settled. It should possess a pure water-supply and adequate drainage. It should be of a dry and porous soil, and should be favorably situated with respect to neighboring heights and marshes and prevailing winds. It should be equable in temperature and should possess the maximum of pleasant weather. It should not be so hot as to be enervating, nor so cold as to prevent out-door exercise and proper ventilation of the houses. It should afford plenty of amusement; it should not be crowded with consumptives, and it should be sufficiently unfashionable to admit of hygienic dress. Above all, it should afford suitable accommodations for the invalid."


Intelligence of Swallows.—Professor Grant Allen, speaking of swallows, says that no other race has lived in such close connection with man and yet learned so little from his companionship. Still, they show some signs of intelligence. In making the mud walls of their nests, for instance, they allow each layer to dry thoroughly before proceeding to top it by another course. In acquiring the habit of building in chimneys, which has been carried to swallows by the westward course of civilization, they exhibit some faculty of adaptation. As a rule they place their nest five or six feet below the top of the chimney, to keep it out of the way of owls, not directly over the kitchen-fire, but over an adjoining flue. And it requires some art to get down into the shaft. The emergence of the young swallows from this place is a remarkable instance of intelligent action still wavering on the brink of mere hardened instinct. As soon as they are strong enough to move, the chicks clamber rather than fly up the perpendicular shaft, by beating their wings "in some ineffectual compromise between a flop and a flutter." Often they fail and fall crushed to the hearth. Then, having reached the summit, it is some time before they venture upon flight, and they acquire the art only by degrees as it were. Mr. Romanes has collected a few yet more unequivocal cases of intelligence in swallows. In one case a bell-wire, on which a swallow's nest partly rested, twice demolished it. Convinced that it was a dangerous object, they constructed a tunnel for the wire to pass through, and were troubled by it no more. In another case a pair of swallows were molested by sparrows trying to dispossess them of their nest. They thereupon modified the entrance to their home, so that, instead of opening by a simple hole, it was carried on outward in the form of a tunnel. Instances are recorded where several swallows have combined to drive away sparrows which had robbed a pair of comrades of their nest.


A Pony Champion.—"Land and Water" has a remarkable story of a pony which saved its master from destruction by a savage dog. The master, a clergyman residing in a lonely neighborhood, was going, with the pony, a retriever, and a Dachshund, while obeying a call to visit a sick parishioner in the night, past a shepherd's cottage where a very fierce dog was kept. This dog, having got loose, made an attack on the party, trying the retriever first and then the Dachshund. The pony became frightened, and the master dismounted, when the dog turned upon him. The affair became very serious for the clergyman; the Dachshund had been put out of the combat, the retriever had hid behind the hedge, and he had to keep up the fight alone, with no other weapon than a riding-whip. Then he "heard a scampering, and the next moment the faithful pony rushed up and darted so suddenly between the combatants that the dog turned tail and fled, evidently thinking the pony to be a larger and dangerous edition of himself. The gallant little fellow pursued the cur until he was fairly chased back to the cottage-door. Then he returned quite docile to his master, and the friendly quartet were able to continue their way in peace and safety once more."