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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 41/October 1892/Popular Miscellany

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 41‎ | October 1892


Scientific Work of Rochester, N. Y.—A large part of the address of Mayor Curran, of Rochester, to the American Association on its meeting in that city was devoted to the scientific record of the city. While the people showed their mental activity in numerous material applications and business enterprises, he was also able to point with pride to the advances made in scientific research by certain of the population, quietly and without ostentation. The Rochester Microscopical Society was organized in 1 879, and has become the largest in the United States. From this beginning sprang the Rochester Academy of Science in 1881. It was divided into twelve sections, including anatomy, astronomy, botany, entomology, conchology, hygiene, ichthyology, infusoria, literature, microscopy, photography, and taxidermy. Its establishment gave a great impetus to scientific work, and afforded the citizens a clearer conception of what was being done. Among individual cultivators of science, Mr. H. C. Maine, editor of a daily paper, has distinguished himself by his careful observations of the sun, carried on through many years, and his theories as to the connection between solar disturbances and terrestrial meteorology. He has successfully photographed the sun and the moon with instruments of his own manufacture, and has gained fame as a microscopist by his arrangement of diatom test plates. Mr. Lewis Swift, another astronomer, "for years, while engaged in the occupation of hardware merchant, devoted every clear night to his favorite study, perched upon an apple-barrel on the near-by flat roof of a rickety cider-mill. Here, while inhaling the pure air of heaven from above, mingled with the fumes of acetic and from below, he scanned the skies night after night with an absurdly inferior instrument. But perseverance and love for the science, in the absence of a well-equipped tower, urged him to discovery after discovery, forcing the great astronomers of the world reluctantly to acknowledge the power and genius of the man on the cider-mill." He has been the first discoverer of ten comets, the last one a most remarkable one with twelve tails, and has observed nine hundred and seventy new nebulae. Rochester is the home of Prof. Ward, the learned biologist, whose labors and undertakings in behalf of science are well known in both hemispheres. It was there, too, that Lewis H. Morgan, anthropologist, lived, labored, and died. The University of Rochester some years ago began teaching anthropology to a small class; other institutions followed the example; but "to this university belongs the credit of having introduced or added in America this important branch to its curriculum." Side by side with scientific labor in the city has grown an optical manufactory which holds a position peculiarly its own. In short, scientific activity has taken deep root in Rochester, and "is there to stay."


The Temperature of the Brain.—From observations made upon animals under various narcotics or anæsthetics, and man, with an instrument capable of detecting changes of not more than 0·002° C, Prof. Moso has found that, as a rule, the temperature of the brain is lower than that of the rectum, but that intense psychical processes or the action of exciting chemical substances may cause it to remain 0·2° or 0·3° higher. An ordinary interrupted current causes a rise in the temperature, which is observed earlier in the brain than elsewhere. Observations made on an animal when awake seem to show that the development of heat due to cerebral metabolism is considerable, and that the mere maintenance of consciousness belonging to the wakeful state, apart from all intense psychical activity, involves considerable chemical action and consequent change in temperature. But the variations of temperature as a result of attention, or of pain or other sensations, are very small; and when an animal is conscious no change of consciousness, no psychical activity, however brought about experimentally, produces more than a slight effect on the temperature of the brain.


Roasted Potato-pulp.—A new method of preparing and preserving potatoes to be fed to cattle or to be made the basis of dishes for the table—has been devised by M. Aime Girard, of the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers, Paris. The potatoes having been ground, the pulp is exposed to pressure for the exclusion of all the water that can be removed by mechanical means. The pulp is then sliced and heated in a furnace till it is entirely dried, at a temperature high enough to give it a pleasant taste, without being so high as to convert the starch into dextrin. The substance thus prepared is called by the inventor torrefied pulp, and is suitable for feeding to cattle. With boiling water it forms a palatable soup; ground and mixed with wheaten or rye flour it forms a good breadstuff.


Saxon Musical Instruments.—According to the report of the Turkish consul at Leipsic, the making of musical instruments has been from time immemorial the occupation of the mountain villages of Klingenthal, Georgenthal, Upper and Lower Lachsenfeld, and Gera, in Saxony, and the instruments are exported to all countries. Musical machines—aristons and orchestrions—are made in Leipsic itself at six factories. Some of the manufacturers in the country at large are famous, like Herr J. Bluthner, who has bought large forests in Galicia and Poland, so that he can provide his own woods. The factories do much work for tropical countries, whither they send instruments the inner parts of which are chiefly of iron. The manufacture of German organs, harmoniums, and accordeons is a specialty of Gera. The manufacture of physical, optical, and medical instruments is one of the special occupations in the forest of Thuringia. For many years the people of Ilmenau, Mauebach, and Stutzerbach have devoted themselves almost entirely to the construction of thermometers, barometers, baroscopes, and hygrometers. Whole families are engaged in the work; and children are set upon it from a very early age. It is a surprising sight, on roads distant from the centers of trade, to see whole trains of wagons loaded with physical instruments. The products of this manufacture are much appreciated in Germany. Their construction is perfect; their accuracy is guaranteed by a royal commission at Ilmenau; and many of the universities and doctors supply themselves directly from the country.


Snails of Mountain and Plain.—The influence of the medium on variation has been specially studied by M. A. Locard in the case of land-mollusks, or snails. First among these elements considered is altitude. It seems a simple matter, but is really complicated, and includes among other elements those of temperature, light, ventilation, and food resources, the respective actions of which are hard to separate. The author takes them all in one. The same species of snails are often found at the level of the sea and in the mountains. But the number of individuals greatly diminishes as the altitude increases, under the influence, apparently, of the variations in certain vital conditions. There are species, however, so well adapted to life in elevated situations that they do not thrive elsewhere. The Helix alpina, for instance, lives only in the mountains. Though individuals of the species readily and constantly stray into the valleys, they do not form stocks there. As between the species of the mountains and of the plains, the former are smaller, and have thinner and plainer colored shells. With increase of heat, below the degree of intensity at which existence is threatened, the size increases. Many species attain double the size they reach in France, while species transported from Algeria to France shrink to one fourth the dimensions they have in their native habitat. The character of the shell is affected by variations in the soil. Calcareous districts are rich in mollusks, while those in which the soil is silicious are poor in them, and the animals themselves are smaller and less vigorous. The difference may be experimentally verified by feeding half a lot of snails upon plants growing in sandy ground and the other half with plants from calcareous soil; a great difference will be perceived in the size of the shells.


Size and Shape of Rain-drops.—Mr. E. J. Lowe has made more than three hundred sketches of rain-drops, and has gathered some interesting facts respecting their variation in size, form, and distribution. Sheets of slate in a book form, which could be instantly closed, were employed. These were ruled in inch squares, and after exposure the drops were copied on sheets of paper ruled like the slates. Some drops produce a wet circular spot; while others, falling with greater force, have splashes around the spots. The same drop varies considerably in the amount of water it contains. The size of the drop ranges from an almost invisible point to at least two inches in diameter. Occasionally large drops fall that must be more or less hollow, as they fail to wet the whole surface inclosed within the drop. Besides the ordinary rain-drops the author exhibited to the Royal Meteorological Society diagrams showing the drops produced by a mist floating along the ground, and also the manner in which snow-flakes, on melting, wet the slates.


Geographical Work of 1891.—In his annual address as President of the Royal Geographical Society Sir Montstuart E. Grant Duff, reviewing the incidents of the geographical exploration accomplished during the year, noticed Mr. Merzbacher's work in the Caucasus and Mr. Howell's ascent of Oraefa Jokull in Iceland as the chief mountaineering feats. In Asia military exploration had gone on steadily on the northern frontiers, and the society was making efforts to have the results of such work made more accessible to the public. Lord Lamington's journey in the Shan states, and Captain Bower's and Dr. Thorold's adventurous crossing of Thibet also opened up new ground. In Africa, Mr. A. E. Floyer crossed the Egyptian Desert from Assouan to the Red Sea; and in the region of the Great Lakes Captain Lugard, Emin Pasha, Dr. Stuhlman, and the late Father Schynse have added to our knowledge. The Italians have been energetic in exploring Somaliland, and the French, despite the disaster to M. Crampel, have not abandoned their efforts to reach Lake Tchad from the west. Captain Gallwey and Mr. Gilbert T. Carter have made important discoveries in Lagos and Benin. Mr. Bent's well-known exploration of Zimbabwe, and Mr. Joseph Thomson's study of Lake Bangweola, which ill-health still prevents him from writing up, are the most important pieces of work in South Africa. Sir William MacGregor has been very active in opening up British New Guinea.


The New Element Masrium.—The probable existence of a new element is reported in the Chemiker Zeitung. It occurs in a mineral which was discovered in 1890 by Johnson Pasha in the bed of one of the dried-up old rivers of Upper Egypt—a fibrous variety of a mixed aluminum and iron alum containing ferrous, manganous, and cobaltous oxides; in addition to which is a small quantity of the oxide of another element, having properties different from those of any yet known. The supposed element has been named masrium (Ms), from the Arabic name for Egypt, and the mineral masrite. Its atomic weight has been approximately determined at 228, which nearly corresponds with the number (225) for which an element is wanted by the periodic system in the beryllium-calcium group. The monoxide has been obtained, and several salts.


Personality in Animals.—We are accustomed to take but little account, says Le Monde de la Science et de l'Industrie, of the possession of a sense of personal responsibility by animals, but if we look carefully into the matter we shall find that it is an important trait among many of them. Many animals know how to impose rules of conduct upon themselves, to assign themselves duties, and to observe them. Their females attend to the wants of their young before securing their own provision of food; the sentiment of the relations of command and obedience is obvious in social animals, like monkeys, deer, elephants, buffaloes, and birds of passage. The shepherd-dog controls the flock that is intrusted to his care with as much authority and self-confidence as his master himself. The imposition of restrictions upon themselves exists among animals to the extent that is necessary for the maintenance of their health. Capacity to adapt its work to the laws of Nature is perceptible in the bird building its nest, as it is in the architect who is constructing a monument. The fox is a skillful constructor of the kind of burrow best adapted to its needs. All these animals exercise a precise action upon their medium for a definite purpose. Dogs seem to have complete consciousness of their existence, and their slightest actions accord with that view. They hunt with as much ardor as men, and seem to take a genuine interest in incidents of the expedition; they prance with joy when successful, and drop their tails after failure. What right have we to deny them consciousness? The rudiments of what we regard as the real bases of personality certainly exist, in a more or less marked degree, in even the inferior animals. If man is a person and derives rights and duties from the fact, so also, to a certain extent, are the elephant, the dog, and the fox, each in its way. It is easier to talk about the gulf that separates man from the other animals than to measure it.


Soldering Metals to Glass.—According to the Pharmaceutical Record, an alloy of ninety-five parts of tin and five parts of copper will connect metals with glass. The alloy is prepared by pouring the copper into the molten tin, stirring with a wooden mixer, and afterward remelting. It adheres strongly to clean glass surfaces and has the same rate of expansion as glass. By adding from one half to one per cent of lead or zinc, the alloy may be rendered softer or harder, or more or less easily fusible, as required. It may also be used for coating metals, to which it imparts a silvery appearance.


Age of the Central American Monuments.—As a result of his studies of the monuments of Central America and Yucatan, Mr. Alfred P. Mandelay announces in Nature the conclusions that the southern ruins, including Palenque, Copan, and Quirigua, are much more ancient than those of Yucatan, and were probably in full decay before the Spaniards entered the country; while in Yucatan, where the Spaniards first came in contact with Indians who used stone as a building material, some of the ruined structures now to be seen were inhabited by the natives at the time of the conquest. The author believes that the civilized portion of the Maya race have at some time occupied all the country lying between the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and the western frontiers of Honduras and Salvador, excepting perhaps a strip of country along the Pacific seaboard; that this people spoke the same or nearly allied languages, which they wrote or carved in the same script; that they were followers of the same religion; and that they built stone-roofed temples and houses decorated with the same class of design and ornament. At the time of the Spanish conquest they had abandoned their towns and religious centers south of Yucatan, though from the present condition of the mines it could not have been many years before; while in Yucatan, where they probably still occupied some of the buildings, they were in a state of decadence, and many of the larger centers of population had been abandoned, although the more important religious edifices may still have been reverenced and kept in repair. The early Spanish writers speak of large numbers of books written and preserved by the natives of Yucatan. They were written in the Maya language, and in characters called hieroglyphical. The Spaniards destroyed all of these books they could, thinking them the work of the devil, but copies of three of them escaped, and are preserved in European museums. The characters in which they are written are similar to those of the inscriptions on the monuments; and both are believed to be in a language that is still living and spoken in the region, although it has probably been much changed in the course of years.


The Sargasso Sea.—A theory of the Sargasso Sea is proposed by M. Krümmel, different from that of Humboldt, which was based, he avers, on less complete observations than we have now. This sea is in the form of an ellipse with the major axis nearly following the tropic of cancer. Around the principal ellipse are other larger ones, in which the vegetation is not so thick, and the forms of which are affected by prevailing winds. M. Krummel believes that the sea-weeds come from the shore regions of the Gulf of Mexico, the Antilles, Florida, and the Bahamas, and not from the bottom of the sea, as was formerly supposed, and is in this supported by recent observations of the Gulf Stream. This current is now believed to be the resultant of numerous currents coming from the Antilles, and therefore to carry a much larger quantity of seaweed than was formerly supposed. These sea-weeds reach the Sargasso region in about fifteen days after they enter the Gulf Stream. They are carried slowly onward toward the Azores till they become water-logged and sink, to give place to others.


Secular and Periodic Changes in Latitude.—A committee appointed by the American Association to secure data with regard to secular and periodical changes in latitude, reported that the investigation could best be made in a method suggested by Prof. S. Newcomb, of observations at three stations somewhere near the same parallel of latitude, but in widely different longitudes; the observations to be extended over a sufficient interval of time to secure the elimination of any effect arising from the recently discovered short-period variations in the latitude. Such a series of observations, followed after an interval of from ten to twenty years by another similar series, would furnish suitable evidence on the subject. It seems advisable also to utilize as far as possible some of the older determinations of latitude at American stations, particularly the Bond-Peirce determination at Cambridge in 1845 and the earlier Coast Survey determinations. New observations are already promised at Cambridge and Washington. The more detailed recommendations of the committee, in harmony with these views, were approved by the Association.


Remedies for Defective Color-vision.—A committee of the Royal Society appointed to consider the question of testing for defective color-vision has made a report recommending that a schedule be made of employments in the mercantile marine and on railways, the filling of which by persons whose vision is defective, or who are ignorant of the names of colors, would involve danger to life and property; that the testing should be compulsory, and intrusted to examiners certificated by the central authority; that Holmgren's test be used for color-vision, and that after passing it the candidate be required to name without hesitation the colors that are employed as signals or lights, and also white light; that rejected candidates have a right of appeal; that candidates rejected for naming colors wrongly who are proved to possess normal color-vision be allowed to be re-examined after a proper interval of time; that certificates of the qualifications of candidates be given, and schedules of the results of examinations be sent up every year; that persons filling the scheduled employments be examined every third year for form-vision; that the tests, etc., be inspected periodically; that signal colors of ships and railways be as far as possible uniform; and that witnesses in judicial inquiries arising out of these matters be themselves tested for color and form vision.


A Curious Accident by Lightning.—A singular wholesale effect of a stroke of lightning occurred at Bourges, France, on the 4th of May. A detachment of soldiers was hastening to get under shelter from an approaching storm, when the whole body were thrown by the lightning upon their faces. One man, who was a little distance away and in the rear, was also affected, but not so seriously. Most of the men rose immediately, but four remained prostrated for a little while, and one was killed. The men say they felt violent blows in the nape of the neck and the legs, and a sensation of burning. None of the men saw the lightning, except an officer in front, who was facing them.


Types of Indian Beauty.—In an interesting paper on Indian Types of Beauty, Dr. R. W. Shufeldt has collected portraits, with personal descriptions, of specimens representing several tribes of the Southwest, including a Navajo man and his wife Anserino; Izashima, a belle of the Laguna Pueblo; the daughter and the wife of Paliwahtiwa, governor of Zuñi; a girl of Moqui; Natuende, an Apache maiden; Sowatcha and Luli-pah, married Mojave women; and a Yuma squaw. The Yumas never have as good-looking women among them as are to be found among the Mojaves; and, in the author's opinion, "the prettiest and most intelligent faces of all are possessed by the young unmarried girls of the pueblos."


Kerosene as a Preventive of Mosquitoes.—Mr. L. O. Howard, of Washington, read an interesting paper before the Association of Economic Entomologists in Washington, on averting the mosquito plague by treating the breeding-spots of the pests with kerosene. He gave the details of some accurate experiments made during the first part of July, which indicated that ninety-six thousand square feet of water can be covered by one barrel of kerosene, at the cost of $4.50. The effect of the treatment is that the eggs and early stages of the mosquito are destroyed, and all the female mosquitoes alighting upon the surface of the water for the purpose of laying their eggs will be killed. The deadly effects on insects of such application will remain for at least two weeks, and will outlast all evidence by the smell of the presence of kerosene.