Popular Science Monthly/Volume 32/January 1888/Popular Miscellany


The Scientific Department of Brown University.—Brown University holds a respectable rank with the other colleges in this country of the same grade in its scientific department. Several of its officers of instruction who, in previous years, have filled chairs in this department achieved both success and reputation, and their names are well known in the circles of scientific men. It implies no invidious distinction to make special mention of the names of President Alexis Caswell and Professor George Ide Chace, the former well known in the Department of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy, and the latter in that of Chemistry. In the year 1850, under the presidency of Dr. Wayland, the university entered upon the trial of an experiment which was the result of the thoughtful deliberation of the distinguished head of the Institution. The sum of one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars was raised, chiefly among the citizens of Providence, so that the new order of things might start on a good financial basis. The radical changes in the proposed methods in carrying on college education was severely criticised by what may be called the conservative press of the country. On the other hand, the secular press, with great unanimity, hailed the movement as one eminently adapted to meet the demands of the age, that education should be brought nearer to the masses, and be better fitted to prepare men for the practical work of every-day life. From the very outset, the adoption of the new plan was followed by a large increase of zeal and thorough devotion to study in the scientific department of the university, and an impetus was given to this department, which, down to the present hour, has never lost its force. Aiming especially to reach and benefit the working-classes, first of all, by training men who, in due time, would be qualified to give instruction to such as sought it in the common walks of life, the projector of the plan wished to go beyond the narrow limits bounded by college walls, and in some way bring the university in direct contact with the producing portion of the community. Accordingly, it was arranged to give a course of lectures upon "The Principles and Processes employed in Calico Printing." Subsequently, Professor Chace delivered eight lectures upon "The Chemistry of the Precious Metals" to jewelers and other workers in those metals. An audience of between three and four hundred, filling Rhode Island Hall, listened with the greatest delight and profit to these lectures. The sentiments of this large body of respectable mechanics found a response in the remark of one of their number: "I see why it is that I have so often failed. I have been doing or trying to do these things all my life, without knowing why." The history of the scientific department of the university for nearly forty years is one of constant progress. The chairs of two professorships, that of Chemistry and that of Physics, have been placed on generous pecuniary foundations, and men of marked ability are filling these chairs. By the will of George F. Wilson the fund of one hundred thousand dollars has been paid into the treasury for the Department of Physics. Sixty or seventy thousand dollars of this bequest is to be appropriated to the erection of a physical laboratory. The income of ten thousand dollars is to be used for maintaining the equipment of the laboratory, and the income from the balance of the bequest goes to pay the salary of an assistant. The Department of Chemistry under the charge of Professor John Howard Appleton is in a Healthy condition. The same may be said of the Department of Zoölogy and Geology, under Professor A. S. Packard, and that of Astronomy under Professor Winslow Upton. Excellent work is done in all these departments, and young men who may be attracted to the university with the hope of being well trained in courses of collegiate study which accord with their tastes, and such as w ill fit them for the sort of professional life to which their inclinations lead them, will be sure not to be disappointed.

English Literary Piracy—As a sample of high-minded journalism in a country where there is a great deal of righteous indignation over the ways of American publishers, we give below a list of original articles and special translations reprinted from this magazine during the past year, without any credit whatever, in a London journal called Health, of which Dr. Andrew Wilson, F. R. S. E., is the editor. American periodicals in good standing uniformly give full credit for articles from foreign sources which they republish. The Popular Science Monthly has never violated this custom, and desires the same measure of justice from its foreign contemporaries:

"A Bald and Toothless Future," P.S.M. Oct., 1886; Health, Jan. 28.

"Vinegar and its Mother," P.S.M. Jan., 1887; Health, May 6, 13, and 20.

"Hats as a Cause of Baldness," P.S.M. May, 1887; Health, May 20.

"Hygiene as a Basis of Morals," P.S.M. May, 188; Health, June 10, 17, 24, and July 1.

"Glasgow's Bandy-Legged Children," P.S.M., July, 1884; Health, July 8.

"Brain-forcing in Childhood," P.S.M., April, 1887; Health, July 8, 15, 22, and 29.

"Variations in Human Stature." (Translated for the P.S.M. from La Nature.) P.S.M., July, 1887; Health, July 29, and Aug. 12.

"Physiology of Freezing." (Translated for the P.S.M. from Die Gartenlaube.) P.S.M., Sept., 1887; Health, Sept. 16 and 23.

"Human Brain-weights," P.S.M., July 1887; Health, Sept. 30.

"Hats and Baldness," P.S.M., Oct., 1887; Health, Nov. 18.

Centralization in School-Life.—James P. Applegate, editor of the New Albany, Indiana, "Ledger," in an address before an Editorial Association, considering the evils of the centralizing tendencies of the times, traced their origin to the public schools, when he said: "Teaching and learning have been reduced to a mathematical system and work with the regularity of machinery. Given so much room, so many pupils, so many hours, so many studies, so many pages of each, so many months in one department, so many in another; one class goes into the hopper at one end and goes out at the other. No matter if one head is larger or smaller than another, the brain brighter or duller, the body stronger or weaker, all is grist that goes to that mill and it is all ground with the same burrs. This system produces a certain order of general average intelligence, higher, perhaps, than existed in the days when boys and girls, not classes, were taught, but where are the individual scholars? Passing through the public schools the student, if further pursuing his studies, goes to college, and there the routine, while of a higher order is the same in principle, all class and grade individuality is lost. Do the graduates of our colleges go out as well educated as their forefathers? The average is higher, no doubt, but are they individually as well equipped for the battles of life?"

The International Competitive Exhibition at Brussels.—A great International Competition of Sciences and Industry is to be held, together with a Universal Exhibition, at Brussels, Belgium, during 1888. All products and documents meeting some want or constituting and illustrating progress, are admissible. Money-prizes, medals, and diplomas will be distributed to the value of 500,000 francs, or about $100,000. A circular in the department of "Operating of Mines" describes the subdivisions or classes in which exhibitors in that branch are invited to compete. The first includes the boring of wells and galleries, particularly in wet and loose grounds, with the best methods and appliances for the same; the safest explosives, processes for avoiding as far as possible the use of explosives, and supports. The second subdivision includes ventilation and lighting, with precautions against fire-damp explosions and the resultant damage. In the third class are invited treatises and plans with reference to the removal of water, extraction, hauling, and loading of the products, and the transportation of the workmen in the shafts. The fourth class embraces the mechanical preparation of the mineral products, manufacture of coke and agglomerated matter, and processes of treatment for burning turf so as to increase its value. The fifth class relates to plans and maps of the subterranean works, provisions against accidents, measures for the saving, relief, and care of the workmen when they occur, institutions for the benefit of workmen in mines, and statistics. In the sixth class arc included processes and working-stock for the operating of quarries; and in the seventh class, comparisons of the stones and marbles of different countries, and exhibits of Belgian stones and marbles adapted to all the different purposes of use. Applications should be filed before January 15, and entries made before April 15, 1888, with Armstrong, Knauer & Co., authorized agents, 822 and 824 Broadway, New York.

What can he do?—The great test in life, says General Thomas J. Morgan, in a paper on "Training as an Element of Education," is rather what a man can do than what he knows. Can he use his eyes? Has he good judgment? Is he a man of common sense? Can he think? Does he reason correctly? Has he power of adaptation? Can he organize? Has he executive force? Is he practical? These are the kind of test-questions that are put to the graduates of our schools. Can the "sweet girl graduate" cook a dinner, sweep a room, or superintend a house? Does she have an intelligent interest in passing events? Has she robust health, good habits, self-reliance, energy, and power of endurance? Can the young man lay aside his diploma and keep his father's accounts, write an article for the newspaper, make a business-trip to Chicago, give an intelligent account of the morning's news. Can he lend a hand at home, and turn to some good account in the daily duties of life some of the accumulated stores of knowledge amassed in years of study? Does his education render him more industrious, more skillful and efficient, more ingenious, more persistent, more practically masterful in whatever he undertakes? If he has been trained to use his senses, to acquaint himself with natural phenomena at first hand; if he has been taught to think, to make careful comparison, noting essential differences and significant similarities, making patient inductions and wise generalizations; if he has been led to form fixed habits of thoughtfulness, self-reliance, moral earnestness, inflexibility of purpose, persistent industry, promptness, punctuality, fidelity unswerving devotion to duty; if, in short, as a result of his school-life, his training has produced a well-rounded character, he will be able to meet all the reasonable demands that society can make upon one who lacks practical experience in actual business. He will readily acquire skill and efficiency in any calling for which his special talents have fitted him. Training gives potency to all the soul's possibilities.

Counterfeiting Gems.—The closest imitations of diamonds and other precious stones can be made out of a mixture of violin-glass and borax. A London lapidary once testified in court that he made all his imitations out of real stones, by taking pale, cheap stones, splitting them, introducing a deeper tone of color, and joining them again, whereby the salable value of the stones was considerably increased. Diamonds are often split, and each half of the gem is made to do duty on a paste foundation on which it has been carefully mounted. The operator then has two gems, at two prices. One Zocolind was accustomed to procure a very thin flake of an inferior example of the stone he wished to "improve," choosing those which had little color. As a bottom for his "make up" he took a bit of crystal which he had shaped for his purpose; covering this with a transparent glue properly colored, he fixed on the flake, and then concealed the joining so well in the setting that customers could be deceived into believing that they had very fine stones. Varieties of the topaz and other stones are often cut and polished and palmed off as diamonds; but this material is costly. A composition for rubies is made of five hundred parts of strass—a specially manufactured glass—twenty parts of glass of antimony, and a half-part each of purple of Cassias and gold. Mock pearls are some-times very deceptive in appearance, but they can usually be detected by comparison with the real gem, by their brittleness, or by the clumsy and blunt-edged appearance of the drill-holes, which are usually perfect in the real pearls. The scales of a small fish known as the bleak have been used in the formation of false pearls; but as it requires some eighteen thousand of these fish to provide one-pound weight of the pearl-making material, the manufacture is not likely to become extensive.

Preventable Loss in Agriculture.—In a British Association paper on this subject, Professor W. Freame first described the uncontrollable losses which were chiefly such as were determined by meteorological conditions. These, if they could not be anticipated, might to some extent be mitigated by acting upon the recorded practice which had been found most beneficial in similar cases in previous years. Hence the value of such records. Controllable losses were such as might reasonably be anticipated, and therefore provided against, and should be in a very high degree, although not absolutely, preventable. The toleration of such preventable losses might be attributed partly to ignorance, partly to indifference, and partly to empiricism. First among the sources of preventable loss was the imperfect working of the soil, which was a common cause of poor crops in the immediate future and of worse trouble farther on. Another source was the use of bad seed. No greater folly could be conceived than that of introducing upon the land by means of purchased seeds the seeds of weeds and parasites. The most objectionable rubbish was sometimes sown, and heavy expenses were in consequence subsequently incurred. A third source was the encouragement of weeds, of which the most common species were grown at immense cost to the farmer. They robbed him just as much as a pickpocket did who stole his purse. His object was, or should be, to concentrate all the capacities of the soil upon the production of useful crops; every weed that was grown detracted from this purpose. Ignorance of the properties and affinities of weeds was just as deplorable. Some—the cruciferous weeds, for example—harbored and encouraged insect pests till the cruciferous crop they were waiting for was ready to be devoured and destroyed by them. Another source of loss was the deterioration of grasslands. There were in the British Islands nearly thirty-three million acres of permanent or temporary grass land, which was equivalent to three sevenths of the entire area. Yet. as to the nature of the herbage growing upon this enormous area, ninety-nine farmers out of one hundred were in entire ignorance. A fifth source was from pests. The maintenance of insect-thieves sometimes constituted a severe drain upon farming capital. Yet in no part of his education was the farmer called upon to familiarize himself with the habits of these creatures. Of fungi pests, his knowledge was, if it were possible, even less. Other sources were diseases of livestock, some of which were preventable and some greatly reduced, while others stood in need of further investigation; and injudicious expenditure. Among the most practicable remedies for these preventable losses, and a means, therefore, for making agriculture a more profitable occupation, was the extension of sound technical instruction in agriculture.

Photography as an Aid to Astronomy.—Mr. A. A. Common believes that some astronomical objects can be studied to better advantage in photographs than in themselves. The brain can not always take in the perceptions of the eye fast enough, and the eye is not sensitive to images whose brightness falls below a certain limit. In photography, a prolonged exposure may be made to compensate for deficiency in luminous power; and the sensitive plate being competent to respond to quicker vibrations than the eye, it is possible to obtain photographs of celestial objects radiating light which the eye is not adapted to receive. While the moon has received much attention, the photographs of it taken by Rutherford, twenty years ago, have not been superseded. The power of photography to portray the nebulæ has been thoroughly demonstrated. The art has been applied to the observation of comets, and may yet be brought into play for the paths of meteors, the discovery of new planets, and other purposes now hardly thought of. After remaining nearly stationary for years, "at a bound it has gone far beyond anything that was expected of it, and bids fair to overturn a good deal of the practice that has hitherto existed among astronomers."

Indian Villages in New York.—In his American Association paper on "Aboriginal Villages in New York State," Dr. W. M. Beauchamp traversed the famous theories of Mr. Lewis II. Morgan of the "long houses" of the Iroquois. In the highlands, he said, forts were commonly long and narrow, often two or three times as long as wide, and usually with the houses in the narrow part, leaving the wider portion for public uses and games. The long house was not peculiar to the Iroquois, nor prominent among them, and facts in this matter have yielded to theories. Greenhalgh noticed these large lodges in only one town, and Morgan's estimate would give that town five times the whole Seneca population. The traveler's account gave but an average of two or three warriors to a lodge throughout the five nations. The form of the forts often afforded but little room for long houses, especially in those examined by the author. Among the Iroquois they do not prove communal life. Early writers often refer to ownership of fields, and Sir William Johnson said that every nation and tribe had its own district and well-known portion of land.

Trees for Plantation around Houses.—Dr. Charles Roberts, considering the subject from the sanitary point of view, advises that while belts of trees maybe planted on the northern and eastern aspects of houses, on the east side the trees should not be so near nor so high as to keep the morning sun from the bedroom windows in the shorter days. On the southern and western aspects of the house isolated trees only should be permitted, so that there may be free access of the sunshine and the west winds to the house and grounds. Pine trees are the best of all trees to plant near the house, as they collect the greatest amount of rainfall, and permit the freest evaporation from the ground. Acacias, oaks, and birches are late to burst into leaf, and therefore allow the ground to be warmed by the sun's rays in early spring. The elm, lime, and chestnut are the least desirable trees to plant near houses, although they are the most common. They both come into leaf and cast their leaves early, so that they exclude the spring sun and do not afford much shade in the hot autumn months, when it is most required. Trees are often useful guides to the selection of residences. Numerous trees with rich foliage and a rank growth of ferns or moss indicate a damp, stagnant atmosphere; while abundance of flowers and fruit imply a dry, sunny climate. Pines and birches indicate a dry, rocky, sandy, or gravelly soil; beeches, a dryish, chalky, or gravelly soil; elms and limes, a rich and somewhat damp soil; oaks and ashes, a heavy clay soil; and poplars and willows, a low, damp, or marshy soil. Many of these trees are found growing together, and it is only when one species predominates in number and vigor that it is truly characteristic of the soil and that part of the atmosphere in connection with it.

The Cross Timbers of Texas.—The "Cross Timbers" of Texas are two long and narrow strips of forest region between the ninety-sixth and ninety-ninth meridians, extending parallel to each other from the Indian Territory southward to the central portion of the State, and forming a marked exception to the usual prairie features of the country. They are about fifteen miles wide, and fifty miles apart, and are separated by a timberless prairie region. Both are lower in level than the country through which they extend. The western strip, because it is higher in position, though geologically lower, is called the upper, and the eastern strip the lower cross timber. The soil in both is sandy, but that of the eastern strip is less siliceous, with some iron, is considerably more fertile than that of the western, and shows corresponding differences in its vegetation. Various theories have been proposed to account for the existence of these woodlands—among them, that they represent rivers or inlets of the Tertiary sea; that they are the beds of extinct lakes; and that they represent the beds of Quaternary rivers. Mr. R. T. Hill, who has made a geological examination of the region, finds all these theories wrong. He sees in the ground on which the timbers grow, the detritus of arenaceous strata which occupy well-defined horizons in the geologic series, and which have been exposed by the denudation of the overlying strata. The timber confines itself to these arenaceous belts because they afford a suitable matrix for the penetration of the roots of trees and a constant reservoir for moisture; while "the barrenness of the prairies, so far as forest growth is concerned, is owing to the absence of the requisite structural conditions for preservation of moisture as well as to the excess of carbonate of lime in their soils."

Injuries caused by Parasitic Fungi.—The injuries which parasitic fungi produce upon their host plants, were described in the American Association by A. B. Seymour. Parasites take away the nutriment of the plants, killing or continually absorbing the food-supply of individual cells, and injuring cell-walls. They impair the power of assimilation, weaken the physiological power, causing the formation of spots and of black molds to obstruct the passage of light. Some fungi cause a change of position in their host, and less favorable exposure. They provoke abnormal acceleration or retardation of growth, with resultant distortion and impaired vitality. Any part of the plant may be affected. In many grasses the entire inflorescence is destroyed. Decay is produced in ripe fruits, and valuable plants become infected with disease from less valuable ones. The extent of the injury attributable to any one cause is hard to determine, because several causes act together.

Deceptive Sensations.—The evidence of our senses is correct in nearly all cases in which two of them are called into play, so that the testimony of one is checked by that of the other. But when we have to rely upon one sense alone, we are sometimes liable to curious deceptions. This is the case with some of the feelings of touch. In hip-joint disease the pain is often referred to the knee, while it is really in the hip. This is because the nerve which conveys sensation from the knee, also sends a branch to the hip-joint. The experiences of those who have lost a limb are familiar. For some time afterward they feel sensations and pains of all sorts in the member that is gone, 60 that they can hardly convince themselves that it is not still there, itching or aching or smarting. This is because the nerve which used to convey feeling to the lost extremity is affected by some temporary accident. The feeling, which may be real, as to the trunk that remains, is still, by force of habit, referred to the extremity whence it used to come. Another experiment in deceptive sensations may be made by crossing the second finger over the first, and then placing a marble between the tips of the fingers, when it will be almost impossible to convince one's self that there are not two marbles. This is because two points in the fingers are touched simultaneously, which in the ordinary position could only be touched at the same time by two marbles. Acting upon its previous knowledge, the brain says that there are two.

Relative Mortality of Social Classes.—Mr. Noel A. Humphreys, in a paper on the relative mortality among the different classes in society, after citing the general evidence of the British life-tables that the mean duration of life has perceptibly and steadily increased in recent years, shows that this factor is mainly controlled by the rate of mortality in childhood; and the expectation of life is regarded in the life-tables as greater at ten years of age than it is at birth. Subsequently to childhood, the greater vitality of the upper and middle classes, compared with that of the general population, is only somewhat less marked than it is at under five years of age. The statistics of mortality, according to occupation, show a great difference in favor of quiet pursuits, and, among workingmen, of those engaged in the country as against those occupied in cities. Many of these differences are doubtless due more to the influences and risks of occupation than to the mere influence of class; and the differences between rural and urban laborers to differences of housing and sanitary surroundings; for both classes probably suffer about equally from poverty, hard work, and hard living. The great reduction in the rate of mortality among the inhabitants of the Peabody buildings, as compared with other tenement-house dwellers, points to one method of bringing the mortality of the working-classes within sanitary control. These and other similar facts indicate further reductions in the now rapidly declining English death-rate, the possible extent of which it is not easy to estimate.

Glaciation on the Pacific Coast.—Mr. G. Frederick Wright has, in the "American Naturalist," some notes on the "Glaciation of the Pacific Coast in Oregon and Washington Territory." At Sims's Station, Dakota, forty miles west of Bismarck, the passage from the glaciated to the unglaciated region is quite marked, and can easily be detected from the train. The next signs of glaciation are near Lake Pend Oreille, in Idaho, water-worn pebbles from whence are observed in old water-courses far down in Eastern Washington Territory. West of the Cascade Mountains, all the streams coming down from Mount Rainier and its companions are heavily charged with glacial mud, and can be traced to extensive glaciers in the mountains. The largest of them, White River glacier, on the north side, is from one to one and a half mile wide at its termination at about five thousand feet above tide, is about ten miles long, and in its higher level merges in the general ice-cap which envelops the upper five thousand feet of the mountain. The shores and islands of Puget Sound have every appearance of being a true glacial accumulation, while the north shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, near Victoria on Vancouver's Island, is remarkably clear of glacial débris; the rocks near Victoria exhibit some of the most remarkable effects of glacial scoring and striation anywhere to be found. About thirty-five miles up the Stikine River, two glaciers of immense size are encountered coming down, one from the north and one from the south, to the vicinity of the vast canon through which the river runs. It is clear from observation of the situation that a comparatively slight extension of these two glaciers would make them unite and close up the mouth of the river; and the Indians have a tradition that within historic times these glaciers met and the Stikine River made its way under them through an immense tunnel. From the mouth of the Stikine River northward, glaciers in great numbers and of great size are seen coming down from the mountains toward the sea-level, while all the mountains upon the islands are snow-clad through the whole summer, and some of them contain glaciers of small size. At the head of Glacier Bay no less than four glaciers of great size come down to tide-level, sending off immense numbers of small fragments and bergs. The evidence here of the vast extension of these glaciers down the bay, and of the facility of glacier-ice in adjusting itself to the local topography, is of the most explicit and interesting character. The present formation of glaciers on the coast of Southwestern Alaska is favored not so much by the coolness of the climate as by the elevation of the mountains, and the excessive amount of precipitation. There is no evidence that the elevation of the coast has materially changed in recent times. Nor is there evidence of any changes in the amount of precipitation. It would only be necessary to suppose a slight diminution of temperature to secure all the additional force required to extend the present glaciers of Southeastern Alaska, British Columbia, and of the Cascade Range in Washington Territory and Oregon, far down into the South, where the marks of former glacial action are now seen.

The Use of a Snake's Rattle.—The purpose of the rattlesnake's rattle has been the subject of much speculation. Mr. O. P. Hay, in the "American Naturalist," thinks that it is a warning to approaching enemies to keep them away. The warning must have been very efficient with most animals. The snakes are, of course, in great danger of being trodden upon by animals which do not intend directly to attack them—buffaloes, for instance—and to attempt war on a herd of large animals would be useless. But through the simple device of sounding the rattle, each animal as it approached would be warned of the presence of the snake, and would probably be induced to give it abundant space. Doubtless, by this means, the snakes have been saved from many a rude tread by bear or wolf or panther that would have been unpleasant to them, and might have involved them in a fight in which they had everything to lose and nothing to gain.

Mineral Fibers.—Mr. C. V. Boys, describing in the Physical Society in London "The Production, Preparation, and Properties of the Finest Fibers," said that in producing very fine glass-fibers, he found it best to use very small quantities at high temperatures, with a velocity of separation as great as possible. In the last point, the best results are given by a cross-bow and straw arrow, to the tail of which a thin rod of the substance to be drawn is cemented. Cy this means, fibers of glass less than 110000 of an inch in diameter can be made. The author had also experimented on many minerals, with more or less success. Ruby, sapphire, and fluor-spar could not well be drawn into fibers, but quartz, augite, and feldspar gave very satisfactory results. Garnet, when treated at low temperatures, yielded fibers exhibiting the most beautiful colors. From quartz, fibers less than 1100000 of an inch in diameter had been obtained. The thread can not be drawn directly from the crystal, but the latter has to be slowly heated, fused, and cast in a thin rod. Quartz-fiber seems to be free from the torsional fatigue so evident in glass and metallic fibers, and is therefore valuable for instruments requiring torsional control. The tenacity of such fibers is about fifty tons on the square inch.

Photographing Birds.—Dr. R. W. Shufeldt suggests, in "The Auk," to ornithologists that they may find a portable photographic outfit of advantage in their studies. He finds that by the use of the instantaneous shutter, birds may be photographed in nearly all of their positions. "Out here on the prairies we will often find an old stump or stalk upon which a dozen or fifteen species of birds will alight during seven or eight hours, on almost any day suitable to use the camera upon them. Now, all we have to do is properly to set up our instrument near this point, conceal it in such a way as not to alarm the birds, focus it sharply upon the perch where they alight, place on your 'snap-shutter,' and fix it with a string, and then remove yourself far enough away to pull it when you have a subject sitting to your liking. Birds that you have wounded but slightly may be photographed under the most favorable circumstances; they may also be taken sitting on their nests; in actual flight, however swift; in pursuit of their food; in leading about their young; indeed, the list is almost an endless one. Rookeries also offer admirable subjects, and a splendid field is open at those wonderful resorts of water-birds in such places as the Bahamas or the Alaskan coasts."