Popular Science Monthly/Volume 34/January 1889/Popular Miscellany


Fast Ocean Passages,—It was about fifty years ago, with the introduction of iron ships and the screw-propeller, that the era of rapid steamboat traveling began. The paddle-wheel steamer Great Western sailed from Bristol, England, April 8, 1838, and reached New York April 23d. This was welcomed as a great achievement, for the passage across the Atlantic had been made in half the time formerly required. Two years later the Cunard steamers began to sail, the pioneer vessel being the Unicorn, a little craft, which made the passage from Liverpool to Boston, via Halifax, in sixteen days. Improvements in the new method of navigation were made in rapid succession. In 1845 the Great Britain—the original ocean screw-steamer—left Liverpool July 26th and arrived at New York August 10th. In May, 1851, the Pacific crossed the Atlantic in nine days, nineteen hours, and twenty-five minutes. The usual time for the passage was still ten or eleven days in 1859. It is only within the last ten years that the speed of ocean-steamers has become phenomenal and their size enormous. The strictly modern class of steamships may be said to have begun with the Arizona, built in 1879, which made the Atlantic passage in the fastest time then on record, attaining a speed of twenty and one third statute miles an hour. In the same year was launched the Alaska, which in 1882 was the first vessel to cross the ocean in seven days, gaining thereby the title of "greyhound of the Atlantic"; but still fleeter "ocean greyhounds" soon appeared. The Oregon outstripped the Alaska, running at the rate of twenty-two miles an hour, and in 1884 was herself eclipsed by the Umbria, making twenty-three and a half miles an hour. Then came the City of Rome, which made the eastward passage in six days, twenty-two hours, and twenty-five minutes; and in February, 1887, the Etruria came to the front with a record of six days and nineteen hours from Liverpool to New York. The Umbria and the Etruria have made several reductions on this time, and the present best record is held by the Etruria, which made the passage from Queenstown to New York in September, 1888, in six days, one hour, and fifty minutes; but we may expect a still further reduction by either of these ships on her next trip. Nearly equal speed has been made between England and Australia. At the beginning of the century this passage required eight months by sailing-vessels, and is now made by steamers in about six weeks. The Ormuz, launched in 1887, was designed to greatly reduce this time, and, although at first not realizing expectations, in October of the same year she exceeded them by covering the distance between London and Adelaide m a trifle under twenty-four days.

Colors of Flying-Squirrels.—A paper was read in the American Association, by Mr. W. E. Taylor, on color variations of Nebraska flying-squirrels. The American flying-squirrel presents a range of geographical variation in size quite unparalleled in other members of the Sciuridæ. On the other hand, the coloration is remarkably constant. The local variations in color were illustrated by descriptions and comparisons of five specimens examined by the writer, all collected near the Missouri River, in Nebraska, at different times and places. The writer concludes: 1. That the measurements correspond to the Northern variety, while the colors correspond more nearly with the Southern varieties. 2. Local variations in color are great, these variations existing in members of the same nest. 3. Locally, at least, the two varieties appear to grade into each other. 4. The degree of coloration on some parts of different specimens does not vary in the same rate.

Value of Experimental Psychology.—Pointing out the advantages of the experimental method of psychological investigation, combined with the introspective, Dr. J. McK. Cattell, of the University of Pennsylvania, says: "Experiment is not meant to take the place of introspection, but is meant to make scientific introspection possible. The study of consciousness is, as we all know, fraught with peculiar difficulties. It is not easy to be at once the observer and the observed. The eye sees not itself, and the phenomena are both complex and transient. The best results have been obtained when introspection has been combined with the study of the objective manifestations of the contents of other minds, more especially when these have on the one hand become fossilized, as in language, customs, art, etc., or, on the other hand, are relatively simple, as in children, in savages, and in disease; but, under circumstances the most favorable to scientific observation, there are serious difficulties in the way of exact observation and measurement, and it will be found in psychology, as elsewhere in science, that experiment gives the most trustworthy and accurate results. Experiment calls up the phenomena to be studied when wanted, and by keeping certain conditions constant and by altering others gives the best chance for analysis; above all, it enables us to photograph the transient phenomena and subject them to objective examination and measurement."

Continental Centers.—The orographic centers of the several continents have been graphically determined by M. A. de Tillo as follows:

CONTINENTS. Latitude. Longitude (from
Asia, with Europe 43° N. 85° E.
Africa 4° N. 127° E.
North America 45° N. 102° W.
South America 14° S. 50° W.

These four centers form a fairly regular quadrilateral. The longest side (92°) is the one between the Asiatic and North American centers. The African center is distant 82° from the South American center. It is worthy of remark that the distance between the centers of the double continents is approximately the same, the center of Asia being 70° from that of Africa, while the centers of the double American continent are separated by 73°. The geometric center of the four continents is in the region of the Azores and the Canaries.

The Energy in an Earthquake.—After explaining, in the American Association, the impossibility of calculating the intensity of an earthquake more than approximately, Prof. T. C. Mendenhall applied a formula to determine the energy involved in the Japanese earthquake of January 15, 1887, which disturbed over 30,000 square miles of territory. He said: "Assuming a mass of 150 pounds per cubic feet, and taking a cubic mile as the volume to be considered, I find that to put it in vibration required the expenditure of 2,500,000,000 pounds of energy. Assuming that an area of 100 miles square with a mean depth of one mile was thus in vibration at any one instant of time—which is not improbable, considering the known rate of transmission and the long duration of the earthquake—the amount of energy thus represented would be 25 ✕ 10·12 foot-pounds. This energy might be generated by the fall under the action of gravity of a cube of rock 1,000 feet on each edge, the mass of which would be 75,000,000 tons, through a vertical distance of 166 feet." Also, assuming certain magnitudes, "I find the energy of a cubic mile of the Charleston earthquake, taken near enough to the epicentrum to be disturbed as above assumed, to be equal to 24,000,000,000 foot-pounds. The speed of transmission of this disturbance has been pretty well determined by Newcomb and Sutton to be approximately three miles per second, so that a cubic mile would be distributed in one third of a second. To do this would require 130,000,000 horse-power. Assuming that an area about the epicentrum 100 miles square was thus disturbed, the energy would be that of 24 ✕ 10·13 foot-pounds, and the rate of its expenditure would be that of 1,300,000,000,000 horse-power."

Gems.—The diamond became generally employed as a finished gem in France during the first quarter of the fifteenth century. The art of cutting it has gradually improved and developed, until now, two million five hundred thousand carats of diamonds are annually cut in Amsterdam. The principal source of supply has shifted from India to Brazil, and now to South Africa, whose Cape diamonds at present furnish ninety-five per cent of European supply. The quality of these diamonds, according to Mr. Alfred Phillips, has been purposely underestimated by interested parties. It is true that colorless diamonds have been found in the smallest proportions in South Africa, but it is equally beyond dispute that large numbers of the whitest and most faultless diamonds are exported from the Cape, while the mass of the material is conspicuous, whether white or colored, for its brilliancy. The ruby is next highest in value, and after it comes the sapphire, which is only another colored ruby. Although the cheapest of the major gems, its loss, according to Mr. Phillips, would be, on account of its intrinsic value and unrivaled blue color, a greater misfortune to the art-goldsmith than that of either the ruby or the emerald. The emerald is one of the most beautiful, although the softest, of the precious gems, and is easily fusible with borax into a colorless glass. The true emerald occurs in crystals seldom over one inch in length. The so-called Oriental emerald of India is not an emerald, but a green ruby or sapphire. The exquisite tones peculiar to the minor gems, or those of lesser value, establish them as a separate category when compared with the magnificent or acknowledged gems. Among them the amethyst was worn in the middle ages as an amulet and preservative in battle, and was distinguished as a pious or episcopal gem, figuring wherever it was desirable to impart serious beauty or dignity to the property of the church. Then we have the chrysolites, the topazes of various hues, and the garnets. Oriental varieties of which ranked with gems of a higher order rather more than a century ago. The opal was held in the highest repute in ancient times, first for its beauty, and then because its own mythology constituted it a harbinger of love and good-will. It has lost in value in modern times, through the influence of a silly superstition. The selenite, or moonstone, is a gem of great beauty, and admits of a great variety of applications, on account of the softness of its tint, which enables colored gems, diamonds, and enamels to be agreeably associated with it.

About a Crocodile.—"Ubique" (Parker Gillmore) tells, in "Land and Water," of a crocodile which he saw in Java almost seventeen feet long. "It frequented the vicinity of a place where the village women were in the habit of assembling to wash their clothes, and, if report spoke truly, many were the Malay females it had carried off. At length it was captured by using a live dog for bait. After being transferred from its watery home to the commandant's garden, it was safely secured upon the lawn by innumerable moorings. Our assistant surgeon administered the saurian an immense dose of strychnine, enough, as he said, to poison a regiment, but it had not the slightest injurious effect upon the brute. Its skin, I believe, is still to be seen at the Dutch East Indian Museum at Amsterdam. If there is one animal more than another detested by the human race, it is the crocodile, and, if possible, the hunter or sportsman hates it more than all others combined, for it is certain to carry off his dogs sooner or later." The call of the crocodile is described as being like the snappish bark of an aggrieved dog.

Two Snake-Stories analyzed.—Two American snake-stories—one about a singing snake said to be in the Smithsonian Institution, and the other about a rattlesnake that was said to have poisoned itself—having been referred to Dr. Arthur Stradling for a verdict on their credibility, he has pronounced them both intrinsically false. No snake on earth, he says, has any vocal apparatus, properly so called, whatever, or is capable of producing any respiratory sound beyond a hiss or a wheeze. But they may in the last stage of canker give vent to a noise almost amounting to a squeal, caused by forcible expiration; and, if they happen to have swallowed a frog alive, he may croak audibly in the snake's stomach. To what extent a poisonous serpent's bite is noxious to itself is doubtful. "Probably it inflicts mechanical injury only upon its own body, or upon those of its immediate congeners. . . . I have seen cobras bite and shake each other like dogs over disputed rats, and I recollect a jaboia being heavily mauled by a puff-adder under like circumstances, with a little swelling and inflammation only arising in either case." Dr. Stradling has a rattlesnake that bit itself severely, with no more result than a little tumefaction of the wound; and it is still living and well.

Fading Photographs.—Common photographs, in which the dark parts consist of finely divided silver on a film of albumen, rarely remain unchanged in appearance for twenty years. The white parts sooner or later take on a sickly yellow tinge, and, when this change has begun, the picture is doomed, unless immediate steps are taken to preserve it. Treatment by skillful hands with a weak solution of mercuric chloride (corrosive sublimate) may arrest decay, but will not restore the clearness and freshness of the print. A better plan is to have the picture copied by some platinum-printing or carbon-printing photographer who does a large enough business to employ a skillful retoucher. The process of getting a good permanent photograph from a bad fading one is complicated, and requires skill. Photographs in which the dark parts are formed of platinum-black are the most durable sort known. The best photographers will furnish permanent pictures if their sitters demand them, but such pictures are in plain black and white—without the chocolate tinge of the common style—unless the carbon process with a pigment of the requisite color is employed. The greatest enemies to the permanence of common silver-prints are traces of chemicals not fully washed out of the print, dampness, and the action of sulphur or its compounds. The last of these agencies is the most difficult to guard against. The albumen with which the photograph-paper is coated contains sulphur, and a familiar instance of its action is the blackening of silver egg-spoons. The air also, especially in cities, contains sulphurous gases derived from sewers, and from the burning of coal and gas.

Warmth for the Injured.—A correspondent of "The Lancet" urges the addition of some source of artificial heat to the equipment of ambulances in cold weather." We all know," he says, "how depressed the system is after accidents; how difficult it is to restore warmth; and if to this we add exposure to a low temperature on the ground in frosty or wet weather, any amount of blankets can not add warmth, only retain what little there remains in the body. One need only picture one's meeting with an accident three or four miles from home, late in the evening, without additional clothing, lying for one or two hours on the damp ground, to realize how some means of conveying heat to the feet and hands would be welcomed." The writer then describes the means which he has used, consisting of a tin-lined copper bottle, holding a gallon and a half, and closed with a screw-plug. It is of concavo-convex shape, for feet, chest, etc. If filled with boiling water and rolled up in a blanket, it will remain quite hot for three hours, and be fairly warm after seven hours. Some of the hot water can be given to the injured person to drink, with the addition of beef-extract, spirits, cocoa, etc. He mentions also a particular pattern of kerosene stable-lamp, which, if placed inside a covered ambulance-wagon, would materially raise the temperature of the interior.

Boys' Color-Knowledge.—Some test examinations recently made in one of the English board-schools indicate that too much may have been made out of color-blindness, and that want of instruction rather than want of discrimination may be at fault in many of the cases where disability is supposed to exist. Some of the pupils at the examination in question were awkward at first, and made great mistakes, but needed only a little setting right to prove that they could distinguish the colors correctly. One boy was in the habit of calling black white and white black; as for the other colors, he had never been particular to name them, or think about them exactly, supposing it to be a matter of little importance. Of a hundred boys examined upon the seven principal colors, not one showed any real suspicion of color-blindness. Of two hundred boys examined in graduating and matching shades, none found any difficulty after practicing for about an hour; and every one was soon able to distinguish all the ordinary colors without the least difficulty.

Vitality of Microbes in Water.—According to Prof. Frankland's relation of experiments on the vitality of various microbes in water, great differences in behavior are observable. Of Koch's comma spirillum of Asiatic cholera, Finkler-Prior's comma spirillum of European cholera, and the Bacillus pyocyaneus, which produces the greenish-blue coloring in abscesses, the latter exhibits much greater vitality than either of the other two. It lives and increases many times for more than fifty days. Koch's comma spirillum disappeared from pure water in nine days, but flourished and increased in London sewage; while Tinkler's spirillum disappeared in less than one day. In some cases when organisms not the natural inhabitants of water are introduced into it, a large proportion of them are at first destroyed, but a multiplication in numbers takes place afterward. The Bacillus anthracis in its bacillus form is destroyed with comparative ease, but the spores have remarkable vitality. Mr. Arthur Downes has remarked how, in tubes containing more than one form of microbe, the first dominant form will gradually grow more and more feeble until it seems to become extinct and is succeeded by races of a different kind.

The Arts of Life in Anthropology.—The one great feature which it is desirable to emphasize in anthropological museums, said Lieutenant-General Pitt-Rivers, in the British Association, is evolution. To impress upon the mind the continuity and historical sequence of the arts of life is one of the most important lessons to be inculcated. It is only of late years that the development of social institutions has at all entered into the design of educational histories. The arts of life have never formed part of any educational series. Yet, as a study of evolution, they are the most important of all, because in them the connecting links between the various phases of development can be better displayed. Laws, customs, and institutions may, perhaps, be regarded as of greater importance than the arts of life, but for anthropological purposes they are of less value, because in them, previous to the introduction of writing, the different phases of development, as soon as they are superseded by new ideas, are entirely lost, and can not be reproduced except in imagination; whereas in the arts of life, in which ideas are embodied in material forms, the connecting links are in many cases preserved, and can be replaced in their proper sequence by means of antiquities. For this reason the study of the arts of life ought always to precede the study of social evolution, in order that the student may learn to make allowance for missing links, and to avoid sophisms and the supposition of laws and tendencies which have no existence in reality. To ascertain the true causes for all the phenomena of human life is the main object of anthropological research, and it is obvious that this is better done in those branches in which the continuity is best preserved. In the study of natural history existing animals are regarded as present phases in the development of species, and their value to the biological student depends, not so much on their being of the highest organism, as on the paleontological sequence by which their history is capable of being established. In the same way existing laws, institutions, and arts, wherever they are found in their respective stages of perfection, are to be regarded simply as existing strata in the development of human life, and their value from an anthropological point of view, depends on the faculties they afford for studying their history. The arts of life are of paramount importance, because they admit of being arranged in cases by means of antiquities in the order in which they were actually developed.

The Human Struggle for Existence.—The Malthusian theory was the subject of a discussion at the British Association. A paper by Mr. Edwin Chadwick went to show that, where wages increase, the pressure of population on means of subsistence is diminished; that, instead of the cost of production of land being fixed, it is generally reducible by science and machinery, while the amount of production may be everywhere augmented; and that, instead of pestilence being a natural check on population, it does not diminish its pressure, but serves to weaken the population and diminish its productive power and increase its pressure on the means of subsistence. The author could not descry the limits of a further advance of prosperity in the country with a further increase of population. Mr. Park Harrison thought that war was not an unmixed evil as a factor of population, and that it was interesting to note the care we took at present at vast expense to enable miserable specimens of humanity to survive and increase that part of the population which is really the main element of the unemployed. The members of society thus produced were perfectly incapable subjects, carefully nursed, and brought up as if they were going to inherit large estates. Natural selection should be allowed to have fair play. It was interfering with the laws of nature to do so much in the direction of perpetuating the survival of the unfittest. Mr. W. L. Bros said that in old times war, by the operation of the rules that prevailed, eliminated the weakest members of society; but, by the system of fighting in the nineteenth century, the soldier should be a picked man of the community. The population, therefore, which suffered from war lost its best, not its worst members. War also added largely to the disproportion in the numbers of the sexes, and meant the prevalence of many social irregularities which tended to degrade the community as a whole, and to cause the survival of a lower type. Sociologists believe that the commercial competition of the present day is acting very much as war used to act in earlier days. The strong, the competent, and the mentally and physically efficient are succeeding in the struggle for life; the feeble in mind and body and in resources are being eliminated by industrial competition. It is desirable, in the interests of the health of the community, that this competition continue. Another speaker maintained that the children of the working classes did not, as a rule, contribute to the lazy population of the country. A poor man with six daughters practically owned a fortune, because they could become useful servants; and if he had three or four sons, the young men could obtain work if capable for it. It was the middle and higher classes who contributed to the surplus and lazy population. This could be seen by the large number of genteel young men who every day crowded after a vacant clerkship. Parents should not be afraid to bring up their sons to learn a useful handicraft.