Popular Science Monthly/Volume 45/June 1894/Popular Miscellany


Studies of Lakes.—Lakes, says Mr. Albert P. Brigham, belong within the domain of what is sometimes called geographical geology. Their geographical interest is not small. Their variety in size, from the smallest natural ponds up to inland seas, their diversity in shape, depth, and altitude, and their great numbers, are facts which strike the attention and suggest inquiry. Studied geologically, lakes open up an important body of facts. Primeval continents could not have progressed far in their growth before lake-making conditions began to appear. Viewed individually, lakes are affairs of short life. Geological forces are always making lake basins, and such basins are constantly being destroyed by filling with sediment, or by the cutting down of their rims; or, the basin may remain, while the lake is destroyed by desiccation. On most competent authority, the numerous lakes of the Scottish Highlands are but a fraction of what have formerly existed. The variety of forces whose action aids in bringing lakes into being has suggested the most convenient classification of lakes—that is, according to their origin. Thus we have a relatively small group of lakes of volcanic origin, occupying old craters or valleys obstructed by lava. More important is the group of orographic lakes, or those due to deformation of the earth's crust. Here belong the lakes of the Great Basin. In limestone countries, solution lakes are not uncommon, and this agency has been operative in enlarging many basins due primarily to other agencies. Landslip lakes have been noticed by Lyell, and Gilbert records the formation of small lakes behind landslip terraces. River and shore lagoons must be named in any full classification, while glaciation, in one way or another, is responsible for the existence of most lakes. Here we have the ice-dam or temporary type, as Agassiz and Iroquois, the kettle-hole group, which is often made to include what Geikie calls "Lakes of the Plains," and which he defines as lakes that "lie in hollows of the covering of detritus left on the surface of country when the ice-sheets and icebergs retreated." Thus they differ from the kettle-hole ponds, which are thought to have frequently originated by the sliding of débris from stranded bergs or ice masses isolated by retreat of the main sheet. Other glacial lakes are due to morainic dams in valleys, and yet others are in whole or in part rock basins, due to glacial excavation; of these are the lakes of New York.

The Beginnings of Speech.—André Lefévre, in his book on Races and Languages, postulates as the origin of speech that the animal is already in possession of the two significant elements of language: the cry, spontaneous and reflexive, of emotion and need; the cry, already intentional, of warning, menace, and appeal. From these two sorts of cry man, endowed with a richer vocal apparatus and less limited cerebral faculties, has derived numerous varieties, by prolongation, duplication, and intonation. The cry of appeal, the germ of the demonstrative roots, prelude to nouns of number, sex, and distance; the emotional cry, of which our simple interjections are survivals, combining with the demonstratives, prepares the outlines of the proposition, and prefixes the verb and the noun of condition and action. Imitation, either direct or symbolical, but necessarily only approximative, of the sounds of Nature, or, in short, onomatopœia, furnishes the elements of attributive sorts: from which proceed the names of objects and special verbs and their derivatives. Analogy and metaphor complete the vocabulary by applying to objects of touch, sight, smell, and taste the qualifications derived from onomatopœia. Then comes reason, which, discarding the greater part of this unwieldy wealth, adopts a larger or smaller number of sounds reduced to a vague or generic sense; and by derivation, suffixing, and composition cause to proceed from these subroots indefinite lineages of words, having every manner of relationship among themselves, from the closest to the most dubious, and which grammar proceeds to distribute among the recognized categories of parts of speech.

The Audubou Monument.—The Monument in memory of J. J. Audubon, erected by the Audubon Monument Committee of the New York Academy of Sciences, consists of a granite base, a bluestone die, and a cross, and is in all twenty-five feet ten inches high. It is adorned with figures of the birds and animals which Audubon described. In raising the money for it. Prof. Thomas Egleston says, at first school children took a great interest in it individually, and many subscriptions were received from schools as the contributions of the children. Some subscriptions were sent in postage stamps, others as low as ten cents were received from every part of the United States. After a number of months it was found that by this method a sufficient sum for the erection of the monument could not be raised. It was then proposed to ask a hundred gentlemen in the cities near New York in which Audubon had been especially interested to give a hundred dollars each, and this plan succeeded so well that the amount was raised in the fall of 1891. The contributions for the monument were received from almost every part of the United States. Boston was very liberal; Philadelphia and Baltimore made some subscriptions; but much the largest part was contributed by citizens of New York city. The small balance which remains is to be invested as "the Audubon Publication Fund," the interest of which is to be devoted to the publication of a memoir on some zoölogical or botanical topic, annually, or whenever a paper suitable for such memoir shall be presented.

Experiments with Liquid Oxygen.—By means of the intense cold produced in his experiments in liquefying gases, combined with an exhaustion not before attained. Prof. Dewar has proved that mercury distills, as do phosphorus and sulphur, at the ordinary temperature when the vapor pressure is under the millionth of an atmosphere. The increasing indisposition showm by the chemical elements to combine with one another as the absolute zero is approached was well illustrated in an experiment in which liquid oxygen was cooled to — 200º C. On inserting a glowing piece of wood into the vessel above the liquid it refused to burst into flame. Another interesting experiment was that of immersing an electric pile composed of carbon and sodium into liquid oxygen; almost immediately the electric current ceased, in consequence of the suspension of chemical action. Absolute alcohol, run upon the surface of liquid air, after rolling about in the spheroidal state, suddenly solidifies into a hard, transparent ice, which rattles on the sides of the vacuum test-tube like marble. On lifting the solid alcohol out by means of a looped wire the application of the flame of a Bunsen burner will not ignite it. After a time the solid melts and falls from the looped wire like thick sirup.

Mountains and Lakes.—The first of Sir Douglas Freshfield's Christmas lectures before the Royal Geographical Society was on mountains in their relation to the earth as a whole, and more particularly the peculiar features of snow mountains. Mountains, however great in human eyes, the lecturer said, were mere wrinkles on the face of the earth. How were they made? was a natural question for a child to ask, but one which men of science hesitated in answering. When did the moraines come that rise like railroad embankments among the orchards and cornfields of Savoyard valleys? Was their material excavated by the moving ice, or did the ice serve as a sledge to transport the rocks that fell from the peaks and ridges around them? The matter was one capable of direct observation. It was not the largest glaciers that had the greatest moraines, but rather those that lay under lofty ridges, and particularly those where the surrounding rocks were specially subject to disintegration by weather. He agreed with those who regarded glaciers as polishers rather than diggers, and drew a distinction between abrasion and erosion. The formation of lake basins could be accounted for without the agency of ice. In fact, lake basins did not occur where they ought to, if the theory of formation by erosion was correct. Alpine towns occupied basins which had not been dug out by glaciers, but preserved by a frozen covering from being filled up by the action of torrents. Snow and ice protected the ground they covered from disintegration by ice and floods. At the same time subg-lacial torrents performed singular feats in cutting deep and narrow rock channels, and thus contributed to the soil they carried. The color of their water was, however, mainly due to the fineness of the particles of the mud derived from the grinding of the bowlders subjected to the glacier mill. In winter the water that flowed out of a glacier was clear. It was supplied, not as had been supposed, by the continual melting of the ice, but was the issue of subterranean springs in the glacier's bed.

Running Amok.—The condition under which the Malays run amok, as described by Dr. Ellis, of the Government Hospital, Singapore, in the Journal of Mental Science, seems usually to be preceded by a period of mental depression, sometimes with suspicion, and the patient, when he breaks out, slashes at, stabs, and sometimes mutilates all who come in his way, irrespective of creed or nationality. The weapons used are a short spear, a Malay kris, or a chopper, and in the old days—even now in the uncivilized parts of the peninsula—it was the custom to have long, forked sticks, which were used against the man who was running amok, to stop him and pin him to the ground. Such men, when caught, are now tried regularly and sent to an asylum; but formerly little mercy was shown them, and they were killed at once, as though they were mad dogs. The condition seems to resemble in many particulars the automatic condition which is sometimes left after an epileptic fit; this, in some cases, takes the form of running, or "procursive epilepsy"; and, if we imagine such a patient armed with a knife and imbued with a homicidal impulse, we have practically all the conditions necessary for the Malayan pathological development. The Malayan, in his sound state, professes to have no recollection of the assaults he has committed. The condition of running amok is becoming less common than it was a few years ago.

Leaves and Rain.—Mr. E. Stahl, says Garden and Forest, has been making a study of leaf-forms in relation to the rainfall, chiefly in the Botanic Gardens of Buitenzorg, and he says that while a large leaf-surface partly provides for the removal of water by transpiration, there are other distinct methods by which plants are helped to dispose of any excess of water accumulating upon them as speedily as possible. One of these is the adoption of the sleeping position by leaves, such as those of the sensitive plant, so that when the horizontal leaves bend upward the raindrops run off by the base of the leaf. Most frequently, however, excessive moisture is drained off by long points to the leaves. These points occur on the lobes of divided leaves, but are most remarkable on long ovate leaves. In some plants the prolonged midrib has the form of a wide channel, but generally it is that of a tapering and narrow point, slightly curved ot the end. As the water trickles down the inclined narrow points it passes from the upper to the under surface before dropping from the leaf, and the bent tip accelerates this action. Stahl tested this theory by experiments, and found that the leaves of Justicia picta which he carefully rounded retained moisture for an hour, while those with the dropping points left on were dry in twenty minutes or less. This rapid remova of water from the leaf lightens its weight, helps transpiration, and cleanses the surface. In verification of this we are reminded that after a shower the pointed leaves of the ash, willow, etc., have had the dust quite washed out, while rounded leaves like those of the oak are still dirty.

Timber Testing.—From the Report of the Division of Forestry for 1893 we learn that the scheme of testing timbers to determine their several qualities has found general favor in this country and in the Old World too. The calls for special investigations into the qualities of various kinds of timbers have been numerous, and beyond the financial ability of the division to attend to them all. A special demand exists for the tests of kinds that are still more or less unknown, they being now drawn upon to eke out the deficiency of supply of the better-known kinds. The collections of test material had reached, at the time of preparing the report, a total of two hundred and thirty-four trees. A series of tests and examinations of bled and unbled timber has been carried on in order to ascertain whether the practice of taking the resin from trees has any influence on its quality. The results seem to show that there is no determinable influence upon the mechanical properties of the timber. But the removal of the resin, if not carried on with care, affects the life of the tree and invites other destructive influences. The turpentine industry, like the lumber industry, is carried on on the "robbing system" of taking off in the most crude and rapacious manner what Nature has provided. It is time, Prof. Fernow maintains, to substitute a "management system," which shall utilize the remaining resources more exhaustively yet more carefully, by avoiding all unnecessary waste.

Madagascar Lemurs.—The great island of Madagascar, with a surface extent exceeding that of Italy, is, like Australia, a land by itself, with a fauna distinct from that of Africa. This fauna is particularly characterized by the presence of numerous lemurians or maki mammals, which are also called false monkeys, or fox-nosed monkeys, and which occupy a corresponding place with the monkeys of Africa. A few lemurians are found in Africa and Malaysia, but they appear to be isolated there, and like estrays among a fauna of different character. There still exists on this island a singular cat called the Cryptoproctus, which is plantigrade (solewalking), while all the other cats in the world, excepting Australia, are digitigrade (toe-walking). Such zoölogical peculiarities give this island as nearly a marked stamp of strangeness as that by which Australia is distinguished. To find a fauna comparable to this we have to go back to the ancient geological periods and question the fauna characterizing them. We find that animals similar to those living in Madagascar inhabited the forests of France in the Eocene and Miocene ages of the Tertiary. Vestiges of an animal but little different from the Cryptoproctus of Madagascar have been found in these formations, and the remains of tree-living lemurians allied to the makis of Madagascar have likewise been found in them. Thus Madagascar yet supports a Tertiary fauna, as Australia is still the home of a Cretaceous fauna. The investigation of the fossil fauna of the country becomes, in the light of these facts, a matter of much interest. It has hardly been begun as yet, but has yielded some remarkable specimens. Among them are the eggs and bones of the largest of all the birds known—the Epiornis, sixteen feet high a hippopotamus very different from those now living, and the skull of a great lemurian which has been described by Mr. Forsyth Major as Megaladapis madagascariensis. The lemurians now living in Madagascar are only of medium size or small. The largest of them is the short-tailed indri, which is but little more than three feet high when standing erect on its hind legs. The Meyaladapis was three times as large, or about the size of the orang-outang or the gorilla.

Mrs. Henmenway's Work for Science.—Mrs. Mary Tileston Hemenway, who died in Boston March 6th, seventy-two years of age, was equally famous for her benevolence and for her practical interest in promoting scientific work. Possessed of a fortune now valued at $15,000,000, she contributed half of the $200,000 that were raised to save the old South Church from destruction; projected an institute for the encouragement of the study of American history among young people, of which Mr. John Fiske was for several years a principal lecturer; established a school for poor whites at Wilmington, N. C.; contributed to the support of the Hampton School, and founded a school at Norfolk, Va.; maintained sewing and cooking schools and schools of gymnastics in Boston; kept the Hemenway exploring and archæological expeditions at work in Arizona and New Mexico, which have borne fruit in the admirable researches of Mr. Gushing, Mr. Bandelier, and others; and was a liberal contributor to the funds of the American Archaeological Institute, and patroness of Dr. J. Walter Fewkes's Journal of American Ethnology and Archæology. By her will the net income of her estate, after certain specified payments are made, is to be appropriated for fifteen years to the support and furtherance of the objects in which she was interested. Persons engaged in archæological work at her expense are to be continued in it, as long as the results warrant it, on the same terms. At the end of fifteen years her collections—archæological, historical, and educational—are to be disposed of at the discretion of her executors. Among the specific bequests is that of the Lowry farm, adjoining the Hemenway farm, Virginia, to the Hampton Institute.

Herr Lilienthal's Flying Machine.—A communication from Prof. Du Bois-Reymond to the Physical Society of Berlin concerning Herr Lilienthal's experiments in aviation relates that in studying the flight of birds that gentleman perceived that flight was possible under conditions when the wind gave a vertical component. Experiments have shown that surfaces may acquire a horizontal motion under the action of the wind alone, provided their curvature is in a relation to the surface that corresponds exactly with that observed in birds. Herr Lilienthal's flying machine consists of a surface of suitable curvature, measuring fourteen square metres, and made of canvas stretched over a light wooden frame. At the center is an opening for the body of the experimenter, who keeps the apparatus up by working his arms. The author had seen Herr Lilienthal fly with his apparatus about one hundred and twenty metres a minute at thirty metres above the ground. With a favorable wind the experimenter could fly two hundred or three hundred metres; and Prof. Du Bois-Reymond had himself flown twenty or thirty metres with it. In the author's view the definitive solution of the question of flying machines depends upon three points—viz., judicious utilization of the wind, suitable form of surface, and skillful handling of the apparatus.

Odd Barometers.—Two of the oldest and oddest forms of popular barometers, says a writer in the London Spectator, are the leech in a bottle and a frog on a ladder. Mr. Richard Inwards has seen an old Spanish drawing of nine positions of the leech, with verses describing its attitude and behavior before different kinds of weather. Dr. Merryweather, of Whitby, contrived an apparatus by which one of twelve leeches confined in bottles rang a bell when a "tempest" was expected. When leeches were kept in every chemist's shop, and often in private houses, their behavior was the subject of constant observation; and it was generally noticed that in still weather, dry or wet, they remained at the bottom, but rose, often as much as twenty-four hours in advance, before a change; and, in case of a thunderstorm, rose very quickly to the surface, descending when it was past. The frog barometer, used in Germany and Switzerland, is a very simple apparatus, consisting of a jar of water, a frog, and a little wooden step-ladder. If the frog comes out and sits on the steps, rain is expected. The weather-glass dearest to the old-fashioned cottage in the last generation was the "old man and old woman," who came out of their rough-cast cottage in foul or fair weather respectively. This was almost the earliest of semi-scientific toys, and depended on the contracting of a piece of catgut fastened to a lever. The belief that bees will not fly before a shower is probably true, and is the rational origin of the banging of trays and iron pots with a door-key when bees are going to swarm. The insects are supposed to take this for thunder, and so settle close at hand, instead of swarming at a distance. Squirting water on them with a garden syringe often makes them settle at once. But no such ingenious process of rationalizing can be found for the belief that if the insect inside cuckoo-spit lies head upward, the summer will be dry, though the increased worrying of horses by flies before rain, and the rise of the gossamer before fine weather, are abundantly confirmed by observation.

Habits of Birds.—Many interesting notices, local and general, respecting birds are to be found in the Abstract of the Proceedings of the Linnæan Society of New York for the year ending March 1, 1893. Frank M. Chapman, reporting at one of the meetings on the summer bird life of New York and vicinity, said that 127 species might be classed as summer residents, of which 108 were land birds and 19 water birds; 22 species might be considered abundant, 47 common, 31 tolerably common, and 27 rare. Dr. C. S. Allen contributed at another meeting an account of a breeding-place of pelicans on an island of Florida, a hundred and fifty feet long by fifty feet broad, and covered with a dense growth of mangroves. The nests were in bushes, ten or fifteen feet from the ground, were made of sticks, straw, dry weeds, etc., and held from one to four eggs. The young, on emerging from the shell, are of a size corresponding with that of the egg, and slate-colored, from tint of skin, with apparently scattering hairs (casings) protecting white down; but in a few hours they appear to have increased to several times the bulk of the egg, and become white as soon as the down is freed from the protective covering; in a few days they are as large proportionately as birds usually are when a week or two old. The increase in size is due, in part, to the power the birds have of taking air into the spaces beneath the skin which is very loose and capable of being immensely inflated. They remained in the nest only a few days, and thereafter rested on the surrounding bushes. Mr. Chapman instanced a number of cases of protective coloration, notably that of a flock of parrots flying into a palm tree, whereupon they became almost indistinguishable from their surroundings, although not hidden to any extent by the foliage. He described, as illustrating the fact of the bird's consciousness of its protective coloration, the habit the Cuban meadow lark has of turning its back to the observer, and also the instance related by Mr. W. H. Hudson, in his Argentine Ornithology, of a wounded bittern which persisted in turning its breast toward its captor, although he endeavored to pass around behind it. The bird, with its slender neck pointing straight upward, could not be distinguished from a seed stalk, except on close scrutiny. Mr. Chapman said that Dr. John A. Wells, of Englewood, N. J., had recently watched a woodcock on her nest, and was fully convinced that she was aware of her resemblance to the surroundings, for she remained perfectly quiet and allowed of a very near approach; but when a fall of snow came, and Dr. Wells again visited the sitting bird—now a very conspicuous object—she flew before he had approached within gunshot. The most notable example of protective mimicry is the European cuckoo, which, by reason of its striking resemblance to a hawk, is able to deposit its eggs in the nests of other birds, while they chatter and scold at a respectful distance. Together with many other notices of this kind, the Abstract of Proceedings contains a paper by Tappan Adney giving a list of bird names, etc., of the Milicete Indians of the St. John Valley, New Brunswick.

Measuring the Heights of Clouds.—Four methods of measuring cloud heights have been used at Blue Hill Observatory, Massachusetts: 1. The bases of the lowest clouds frequently float below the summit of the hill (one hundred and twenty-six metres above the general surface of the surrounding land), and the altitude of the base can be ascertained by walking down the side of the hill. 2. Measurements of the angular altitude of the light reflected from clouds floating over adjacent cities can be used for determining the height of the clouds. 3. The shadows of detached clouds can be seen from Blue Hill for many miles moving across the surface of the country, and, by timing the movements of the shadows between points whose distance apart is known, the velocity of the cloud can be ascertained. From the actual velocity and the angular velocity of the cloud its height can be determined. 4. Simultaneous angular measurements of the altitude and direction of the same cloud-point have been made at two stations eleven hundred and seventy-eight metres apart. An attempt has also been made to determine the height of low clouds by the difference in relative velocity between observations at the base and summit of Blue Hill, but the difference in height (one hundred and twenty-six metres) was found too short for this purpose. The four different methods mentioned to a large extent supplement one another.