Popular Science Monthly/Volume 34/December 1888/Notes


The first part of Prof. Topinard's paper on "The Last Stages in the Genealogy of Man," the conclusion of which is given in this number of the "Monthly," was published in the October number. The remainder of the paper was omitted from the November number, in which it should regularly have appeared, on account of the pressure of matter claiming insertion.

Prof. W. H. Flower has been chosen President of the British Association for next year. The meeting will be held at Newcastle-on-Tyne, and the meeting for 1890 will be held at Leeds.

Locusts, which are a great nuisance there, are trapped in Cyprus by means of a screen of canvas having at the top a strip of smooth oil-cloth up which the insects can not crawl. They are thus compelled to creep along the screen and fall into holes, from which their exit is prevented by a somewhat similar contrivance. They are then buried. The system has been very successful, and gives hope that the locusts may ultimately be exterminated. Birds are also effective in destroying the pests. Canon Tristram tells of an instance in which a mass of locust-grubs so thick as to cover the ground was entirely devoured in a very short time by a certain species which followed them in large flocks.

Mr. E. B. Poulton reports to the British Association every two years his observations upon a family of many-toed cats, of which he has individuals down to the tenth generation. They originated from a cat named Punch, which had six toes on each foot. The peculiarity appeared with more or less modification in a large number of his descendants, some of which had seven toes on each foot.

According to Sir John Lubbock, about 4,500 species of wild bees are known, and 1,100 of wasps, of which 170 and 16 respectively live in Britain. Their habits differ in almost every genus, and some offer points of great interest. The amophilla, having built her nest, places in it as food for the young a full-grown moth. This must be prevented from escaping, yet must not be killed; the wasp paralyzes it by a series of carefully adjusted stings, and crushes its head, leaving it alive, but without the power of motion. There appears to be some evidence that the mother-wasp can control the sex of the egg. Sir John mentions the death of a queen-ant which had lived in one of his nests since 1874, and must therefore have been fourteen years old, much the oldest insect on record.

A new view of the value of the study of anthropology, as popularized in such a museum as he would design, is given by Lieutenant-General Pitt-Rivers, in his address at the British Association. He says: "It would adapt itself more especially to the limited time for study at the disposal of the working classes, for whose education . . , we are all most deeply concerned. Anything which tends to impress the mind with the slow growth and stability of human institutions and industries, and their dependence upon antiquity, must contribute to check revolutionary ideas."

Copenhagen was visited by a blizzard at about the same time that our Atlantic coast was suffering from the affliction. It began on the 10th of March and continued to the 13th, piling up the snow to fabulous heights, and accompanied with intense cold. The city was wholly cut off from surrounding districts. The straits between Sweden and the Danish islands were at the same time covered with a tolerably thick ice. It is a curious coincidence that in 1788 the snow fell so deep in Scandinavia that it had not wholly disappeared in the following June.

A race between bees and pigeons took place at Hamme, Westphalia, in July, 1888. Twelve bees, having been rolled in flour to mark them, and twelve pigeons belonging to a fancier in the village, were let loose at Ehynern, about a league away. The first bee reached home a quarter of a minute before the first pigeon, and the rest of both squads arrived at the same instant a few moments afterward.

One of the most obvious benefits of the present popularity of out -door games, like lawn-tennis, among women, is that it will compel attention to the provision of more free-fitting and hygienic dress. These games can not be played with tight-fitting and pegheeled shoes. Hence, looser shoes with reasonable heels are worn for this game, and are coming into more general use for ordinary wear. Loose-fitting robes are also necessary in lawn-tennis, and their advantages for other occupations are likewise becoming apparent.

According to Prof. Oliver J. Lodge, the two main destructive aspects of a lightningflash are its disruptive or expanding or exploding violence, and its heat. The heating effect is more to be dreaded when the flash is slow and much resisted; the bursting effect when conducted well, except at a few places. A noteworthy though obvious thing is, that the energy of the discharge must be got rid of somehow. The question is, how best to distribute it. The disruptive result is well shown by the effect of lightning on trees. It is as if every cell were burst by the expansion in the path of the discharge. The effect on conductors is, however, just as marked.

Arsenic is still too freely used in goods designed for the decoration of rooms. What might have proved a serious epidemic if the goods had not been removed was started recently in a civil-engineering college in England from the brilliantly colored cretonne and muslin hangings of some of the students' rooms. Even such colors as black and dark blue, in which the presence of arsenic is not likely to be suspected, have sometimes been found unsafe.

The order of the Rising Sun has been conferred by the Mikado on Prof. John Milne, of the Imperial University of Tokio, Japan.

A case is reported by IT. Mallins, in which a skin-disease was transmitted from a cow to a family of children who used the milk. In the cow the disease took the form of a rash, mostly dry, all over the body. In the children it showed itself first in small, blister-like vesicles on the tongue and mucous membrane of the mouth, followed in three weeks by a limited number of vesicular eruptions on various parts of the body, which formed sores and left dark-red scars.

A survey of the Nicobar Islands has been made by Colonel Strahan, of the India Survey. The total area of the group is 618 square miles, and its culminating point is 2,105 feet above the sea. The scenery is of "indescribable beauty." Several rivers are navigable by boats for some miles, of which the Galatea, fringed with a luxuriant tropical vegetation and presenting occasional glimpses of distant mountains, runs through a region only sparsely inhabited, by a tribe so utterly barbarous as to be despised by their fellow-barbarian Nicobarese of the coasts. The inhabitants as a rule are allied to the Malays, of good physical development and a reddish-brown color, are unconquerably lazy, and show great talent for learning languages.

It has been observed that pure sesquioxide of iron, added in small quantities to carbonate of lime, communicates to it the property of fluorescence after calcination in the air.

The British Kegistarar-General has published statistics bearing upon the increase in the death-rate from cancer during thirtyfive years, and upon the geographical distribution of the disease. The increase in England and Wales in the ten years 1871–'80, as compared with the decade 1851–'60, was equal to sixty-two per cent among male and forty-three per cent among female patients. Cancer appears to prevail most extensively in London and its environs—possibly by reason of the attractions offered to patients by its hospitals—and in Devonshire—possibly on account of the health-resorts.

The English "Sporting and Dramatic News," while it admits the desirability of revising the rules of foot-ball so as to make it less rough and dangerous, pleads for the retention of the sport, because it is essentially a poor man's game. It needs no costly outfit, and does not call for very serious traveling expenses. But for the very reason that the bulk of foot-ballers are, comparatively speaking, poor men, they should be as exempt as possible from injury, for they can not afford to be laid up.

The process of unliming hides and skins in tanning has been a slow and disgusting one, consisting in soaking the skins in a bath of manure in water, called bate. A new method comes from Australia, and consists simply in utilizing the power of dissolving lime possessed by water charged with carbonic-acid gas. The process has been patented and applied in England. A half-hour's soaking in the carbonic-acid bath is said to cleanse the skins so thoroughly that after scraping they absorb the tan with extreme readiness, and yield a very flexible and finegrained leather. The inventor computes that at least one third of the time of leather-making is saved by his process.

A little drowsiness is natural to the work of digestion, and may be talcen as a fair indication of its activity; but normally it should be no more than can be overcome by an easy diversion. When the tendency to sleep regularly follows a meal and is well marked, it must be explained in some other way—perhaps by excess of food, or some special bodily condition. The effect of actual sleep on digestion can not be immediately helpful, for, during its continuance, all the bodily operations are slower, but a good effect may possibly follow in the greater energy of life after a little rest. Persons who sleep after eating should take account of the fact in fixing the hour for the next meal.

An English brewer, recently deceased, Mr. Richard Berridge, has left a fund of £200,000, or $1,000,000, to be applied to the advancement of economic and sanitary science.

It is remarked, in connection with the active sanitary measures that have been set on foot in Japan since the cholera epidemic of 1886, that the people themselves have come largely to appreciate the importance of sanitation, and the work is going on "smoothly between the authorities and the people, without the least misunderstanding or ill feeling."

A piece of dry biscuit has been found by W. J. Russell to possess an odor which could be perceived by a pug dog at a distance of several inches, when hidden and covered up, and even when its smell was disguised by cologne-water. In every instance the dog, when called in, was able to find the biscuit in less than a minute.

A story is told in the north of England papers of a person, who, having had his right eye destroyed and his frontal bone broken by an explosion, and lost also the vision of his left eye, from shock to the retina, it is supposed, had his vision restored by lightning. During a severe thunder-storm he remarked that he saw light through his spectacles, and immediately afterward experienced a piercing sensation passing from his eye to the back of his head, after which he found that he could see indistinctly the objects near him. The next day he was able to walk about the town without a guide.

The nations which still eat with the fingers defend the practice on the ground of cleanliness. A Malay gentleman regards the use of a fork much as we should think of the use of a borrowed tooth-pick. He is troubled by the reflection that it has been in other mouths, and that some lazy servant may have neglected to wash it properly. The care of his fingers is in his own charge, and he knows that they are clean, and that they have never been in any one else's mouth.

The statistics of blindness in Russia go to show that the affliction prevails more widely among the Ural-Altayans, and especially among the Finnish-Mongolian stems, than among the Aryans and Shemites, although the conditions of these races, so far as poverty is concerned, are much the same. One eighth of all the cases are due to smallpox, and one half only to direct eye-diseases.

It is said that the ivory produced by eight hundred elephants is consumed every year by a single firm only—Messrs. Rodgers and Sons, cutlers, of Sheffield.

Dr. Defontaine, of the Creuzot steelworks, has described an affection which he calls electric sunstroke, to which the workmen in that factory are subject. The electric furnace, which is essentially an arc-light of 100,000 candle-power, produces upon the workmen all the symptoms of sunstroke. Although protected by dark glasses, the retina of the eye is painfully affected, the sight is very considerably disturbed, a copious discharge of tears is kept up, headache and sleeplessness are engendered, and the skin of the face peels off.

It is quite generally known that the correction which each astronomer has to make to his observations, called his "personal equation," represents the slight delay which occurs after his eye observes an event and before his hand records it. The time required for the passage of a nervous impulse from the retina to the brain, its translation there into terms of consciousness, the sending of an efferent nervous impulse to the hand, and the setting in motion the muscles which move the recording-instrument, differs in dififerent persons—hence the personal nature of the correction. It is not so well known, however, that the personal equation of an observer is determined, not with reference to the actual time of the event, but with reference to the time as observed by some particular observer, who is taken as a standard, his equation being arbitrarily assumed to be zero. Hence it sometimes occurs that a personal equation is a minus quantity, but this does not signify that the observer anticipates events, it shows only that he loses less time than the standard man with whom he is compared.

The doctrine that cold or chill is a general cause of such diseases as bronchitis, pneumonia, pleurisy, and rheumatism, is disputed by Dr. W. H. Ransom, of Nottingham. While admitting that such diseases are apt to appear during cold seasons and in cold or temperate latitudes, he has failed to observe such a direct correspondence between the chill and the disease as would satisfy him of the existence of a valid relationship of cause and effect; and he is disposed to regard the chill as a coefifcient of the cause rather than the primary excitant itself.