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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 46/January 1895/Popular Miscellany


Decrease of Russian Rivers.—A diminution in the quantity of water in the rivers of eastern Europe, particularly in Russia, has been recognized for a long time. Koeppen began to seek for the cause of it as early as 1830, and the Russian Government is giving attention to the subject. Prince Vassiltchikoff, of the government of Saratov, having observed that the sources of a river on his estate shrunk as the region in which they were situated was dried, planted trees, and succeeded in causing the water to reappear. The experiment seemed to demonstrate incontestably that the removal of the woods was the immediate cause of the disappearance of the springs, and indicated that means might still be found for restoring the dried streams of the valley of the Volga. M. Vermoleff, present Minister of Agriculture of Russia, repeated M. Vassiltchikoff's experiments on a vast scale and with all the precautions to assure success which science could suggest. He dispatched a scientific expedition, composed of specialists, to visit the sources of the Volga and its affluents; and upon their recommendation suitable measures were taken to increase the quantity of water of the sources, and especially to make the flow more regular and less rapid. Thus, after having drained the marshes in some of the governments of Russia, the authorities are seeking means to give others a sufficiency of water.


Mr. Maxim's Flight.—Mr. Maxim, on the 31st of July, achieved a flight through the air, with his flying machine carrying himself and two of his men, of five hundred feet. The machine was held to the earth by a railway, on which it was locked by a device permitting its rising an inch or two, but preventing its soaring to any considerable height. It sailed, lifted from this railway as far as the machinery would permit, at the rate of forty-five miles an hour. The machine, with its four side-sails and aëroplanes set, is more than one hundred feet wide, and is described as looking like a huge white bird with four wings instead of two. It is propelled by two large two-bladed screws, resembling the screw propellers of a ship, driven by two compound engines which are said to be, in proportion to their weight, the most powerful ever made. The whole apparatus weighs about eight thousand pounds, and the engines have a lifting power of about ten thousand pounds.


Progress of Electrical Theory.—Lord Kelvin's address at the recent annual meeting of the Royal Society was largely devoted to a review of the history of the doctrine of the ether, and of light, heat, and electricity, culminating in Hertz's demonstration of its validity. During the fifty-six years, the speaker said at the conclusion of his address, since Faraday first offended physical mathematicians with his curved lines of force, many workers and many thinkers have helped to build up the nineteenth-century school of plenum—one ether for light, heat, electricity, magnetism; and the German and English volumes containing Hertz's electrical papers, given to the world in the last decade of the century, will be a splendid monument of the consummation now realized. The Royal Society's Transactions and Proceedings of the last forty years contain, in the communications of Gassiot, Andrews and Tait, Cromwell, Yarley, De la Rue and Müller, Spottiswoode, Moulton, Plücker, Crookes, Grove, Robinson, Schuster, J. J. Thomson, and Fleming, almost a complete history of the new province of electrical science, which has grown up largely in virtue of the great modern improvements in practical methods for exhausting air from glass vessels, by which we now have "vacuum tubes" and bulbs containing less than 1/190000 of the air which would be left in them by all that could be done in the way of exhausting (supposed to be down to one millimetre of mercury) by the best air-pump of fifty years ago. A large part of the fresh discoveries in this province have been made by the authors of these communications, and their references to the discoveries of other workers very nearly complete the history of all that has been done in the way of investigating the transmission of electricity through highly rarefied air and gases since the time of Faraday.


Paleontological Riches of Texas.—In his report to the State Geological Survey on the Invertebrate Paleontology of the Texas Cretaceous, F. W. Cragin characterized the State as a mine of paleontological research, particularly with respect to the extensive and as y(*t little known faunae of its Comanche series. The work of the recently deceased Dr. Roemer, the little illustrated but mainly accurate paleontological work of Dr. Shumard, the work of Conrad upon the collections made by the Mexican Boundary Survey, not to mention numerous lesser contributions by Marcou, White, Hill, Giebel Schlueter, and others, all taken together, have only tapped this great mine of knowledge. And this, as regards invertebrate forms alone; for the vertebrates of the Texas Cretaceous, and particularly those vertebrate faunas which are of the greatest importance as factors of the stratigraphic and taxonomic problems of the lower rocks of the Comanche series, are almost wholly unknown. Of the remains of Cretaceous invertebrate organisms a great wealth of material has been accumulated by the survey, including types of many new forms of exact biological and stratigraphical significance.


Manganese in Alabama.—A report on the geological structure of Murphree's Valley, Alabama, made to the State Geologist by Assistant A. M. Gibson, shows that besides limestone and hematite and limonite iron ores, the estimates of the value of which have been confirmed in the working, it contains manganese ores and beds of fine clays. Half a dozen or more spots are described, all in the same region, where deposits of manganese ores, chiefly pyrolusite, of good quality, have been seen. The discoveries of these deposits have been in the main accidental, and they cover only a very small part of the ground where ores are presumed to exist. It is therefore probable that the larger proportion of the beds still remain undiscovered. The clays comprise brick clays and halloysite or porcelain clay—a similar bed to which has been worked with satisfactory results in De Kalb County—along with which are a honestone grit, sandstones, and honestones suitable for building, and a fireproof conglomerate. Besides two lines of exposure of iron ores and one of carboniferous limestone, this valley is favored with "ample coal accessible on both sides at its very edge."


Arago's Work.—In his address at the unveiling of a statue of Arago, in Paris, June 11th, M. Tisserand said that "Arago introduced physics into astronomy, and gave it a permanent place. Before him, astronomers concerned themselves chiefly with the movements of the stars and the members of our planetary system, seeking to explain them in their minutest details by the law of gravitation. Arago studied the nature of the heavenly bodies, and the character of the phenomena continually exhibited by them. The polariscope showed him that the glaring surface of the sun is gaseous, and gave him important information as to the light of comets. Another application of physical methods furnished him with a precise means for measuring the diameters of planets or determining their magnitude. Nothing is more ingenious than his explanation of the scintillation of stars, based upon the remarkable properties Fresnel found to be possessed by rays of light. Arago ought truly to be considered as the founder of a branch of astronomy—physical astronomy—that has since been remarkably extended, for it was he who pointed out the importance that would accrue from the application of photography to the study of celestial bodies. He was not able to see the day, however, when chemistry would enter into the domain of astronomy, and we should be able to discover their constitution; spectrum analysis has been discovered, in fact, only since the death of Arago." Arago is besides credited with having conceived the idea of drawing a unit of measurement from the light rays—an idea which has been realized by Mr. Michelson, of the American Bureau of Weights and Measures.


Value of the Nasal Index.—In Mr. H. H. Risley's examination of the characteristics of the natives of northern India, the nose, instead of being vaguely described as broad or narrow, is accurately measured, and the proportion of the greatest width to the greatest length (from above downward), or the "nasal index" (which must not be confounded with the nasal index as defined by Broca upon the skull), gives a figure by which the main elements of the composition of this feature in any individual may be accurately described. The average of mean nasal indices of a large number of individuals of any race, tribe, or caste offers means of comparison which bring out most interesting results. By this character alone the Dravidian tribes of India are easily separable from the Aryan. Even more striking is the curiously close correspondence between the gradations of racial type exhibited by the nasal index and certain of the social data ascertained by independent inquiry.


Public Reservations in Massachusetts.—The Trustees of Public Reservations of Massachusetts received no new trusts during 1893, but they are able to record two movements instituted by the State Legislature, at their suggestion, for the better conservation of certain scenery. A bill was passed providing for the acquisition by the people of Provincetown of all the occupied parts of the province lands at the extremity of Cape Cod, and the permanent reservation of all the remaining portion (about two thousand acres) in the charge of the State Commissioners of Harbors and Lands. Another act creates a permanent Metropolitan Park Commission, With the power of eminent domain and authority to spend one million dollars in buying lands, as well as to accept gifts of land or of money to buy them with, lying within the metropolitan district. This commission has already received twelve thousand five hundred dollars from Mrs. Elish Atkins and her son toward the purchase of the "Beaver Brook reservation," in which are iucluded Beaver Brook Falls, celebrated by Lowell in one of his early poems, and the famous "Great Oaks," which the board of trustees had failed to acquire for want of the power of eminent domain.


Importance of Ocean Currents.—The very bulk of the ocean, Captain W. J. L. Wharton remarks, in his geographical address before the British Association, as compared with that of the visible land, gives it an importance possessed by no other feature on the surface of our planet. Mr. John Murray has shown that its cubical extent is probably about fourteen times that of the dry land. The most obvious feature of the ocean is the constant horizontal movement of its surface waters. It may now be safely held that the prime motor of the surface currents is the wind—not the wind that may blow, and even persistently l)low, over the portion of water that is moving, more or less rapidly, in any one direction, but the great winds that blow predominently from some general quarter over vast areas. These, combined with deflections from the land, settle the main surface circulation. The trade winds are the prime motors. They cause a surface drift of no great velocity over large areas in the same general direction as that in which they blow. The westerly winds that prevail in higher northern and southern latitudes are next in order in producing great currents. From the shape of the land they in some cases take up and continue the circulation commenced by the trade winds; in others they originate extensive movements of the water. Compared with the great circulation from this source the effect of differences of temperature or of specific gravity is insignificant, though no doubt these play their part, especially in causing slow under circulations, and in a larger degree the vertical mixing of the lower waters.


Progress in Indexing Chemical Literature.—The Committee of the American Association on Indexing Chemical Literature reports the printing during the past year of A. C. Langmuir's Index to the Literature of Didymium, and the second volume of Mr. Trjmble's Bibliography of the Tannins. Reports have been received by the committee of progress from several chemists on other works in this line upon which they are engaged. While the annual reports of this committee are properly confined to the productions of Americans, attention is directed to indications of a growing appreciation of the value of special bibliographies on the part of European chemists, confirming by their recent and proposed activities the work begun in America at Prof. Bolton's suggestion more than twelve years ago. The bibliographical work is extending to other branches of science. The International Conference of Geologists at Washington appointed a committee to prepare a list of the geologic bibliographies now in existence. A committee of the Torrey Botanical Club is publishing an index to recent literature relating to American botany. The Smithsonian Institution is publishing a series of bibliographies of aboriginal languages.


Secular Magnetic Changes.—In discussing the problems and conclusions suggested by the Magnetic Survey of the United Kingdom, Prof. A. W. Rücker observed that the question of the cause of the magnetic variations in the earth has entered upon a new stage. It has long been recognized that the earth is not a simple magnet, but that there are in each hemisphere one pole or point at which the dip needle is vertical, and two foci of maximum intensity. A comparison of earlier with later magnetic observations leads to the conclusion that one or both of the foci in each hemisphere is in motion, and that to this motion the secular change in the values of the magnetic elements is due. The observed changes can not be explained by any simple theory of a rotating or oscillating pair of poles; they suggest that secular change is due to waxing and waning of forces apparently exerted by secondary lines or points of attraction or repulsion. New facts lead us to look upon the earth not as magnetically inert, but as itself—at the equator as well as at the poles—producing or profoundly modifying the influences which give rise to secular change. And then, when we push our inquiry further, experience tells the same tale. The earth seems, as it were, alive with magnetic forces, be they due to electric currents or to variations in the state of magnetized matter. We need not now consider the sudden jerks that disturb the diurnal sweeps of the magnet, which are simultaneous at places far apart, and probably originate in causes outside our globe. But the slower secular change, of which the small part that has been observed has taken centuries to accomplish, is apparently also interfered with by some still slower agency, the action of which is confined within narrow limits of space.


The Weather Crop Service.—According to Major H. H. C. Dunwoody, of the National Weather Service, the weather crop service of the national bureau ranks next in importance to the work of making forecasts. The system of gathering reports upon which the weather crop bulletins are based has been greatly perfected in recent years. The crop bulletins of the States have been improved, and are now more complete than at any previous time, and the increased circulation that these bulletins have attained amply attests their value. It is believed that there is no other class of information to which so much space is devoted in the public press to-day. A file of these bulletins for all the States for a year will form the most complete history of the weather conditions attending the growth and development of the several crops throughout the country. More than ten thousand crop correspondents are to-day co-operating with the National Weather Service through the State organizations; three thousand voluntary observers are furnishing monthly reports of daily observations of temperature and rainfall; and over eleven thousand persons assist in the work of distributing the weather forecasts of the National Weather Service. This latter work has been more rapidly pushed during the past year than any other feature of State Weather Service work. With the continuation of the present liberal policy toward these services there will be in a comparatively short time no important agricultural community in the United States, with the proper mail facilities, that will not receive the benefits of the forecasts.


The Nature of Scientific Truth.—The evidence, and the only evidence, to which science appeals or which it admits, said Dr. Brinton in his presidential address before the American Association, is that which it is in the power of every one to judge, that which is furnished directly by the senses. It deals with the actual world about us, its objective realities and present activities, and does not relegate the inquirer to dusty precedents or the moldy maxims of commentators. The only conditions that it enjoins are that the imperfections of the senses shall be corrected as far as possible, and that their observations shall be interpreted by the laws of logical induction. Its aims are distinctly beneficent. Its spirit is that of charity and human kindness. From its peaceful victories it returns laden with richer spoils than ever did warrior of old. Through its discoveries the hungry are fed and the naked are clothed by an improved agriculture and an increased food supply; the dark hours are deprived of their gloom through methods of ampler illumination; man is brought into friendly contact with man through means of rapid transportation; sickness is diminished and pain relieved by the conquests of chemistry and biology; the winter wind is shorn of its sharpness by the geologist's discovery of a mineral fuel; and so on, in a thousand ways, the comfort of our daily lives and the pleasurable employment of our faculties are increased by the administrations of science. Scientific truth has likewise this trait of its own—it is absolutely open to the world; it is as free as air, as visible as light. There is no such thing about it as an inner secret, a mysterious gnosis, shared by the favored few, the select illuminati, concealed from the vulgar horde, or masked to them under ambiguous terms. Wherever you find mystery, concealment, occultism, you may be sure that the spirit of science does not dwell, and, what is more, that it would be an unwelcome intruder. Such pretensions belong to pseudo-science, to science falsely so called, shutting itself out of the light because it is afraid of the light.


A Lesson concerning Epidemics.—An epidemic of typhoid fever which prevailed in Buffalo, N. Y., in March, 1894, is the subject of a contribution by Prof. S. A. Lattimore to the Rochester Academy of Science. A noteworthy feature of the pestilence is that it prevailed in those parts of the city that draw from the water supply, while those parts to which the supply system had not extended and depended on wells were exempt from it. The source of the disease was therefore looked for in the water supply. This is pumped from the Niagara River at such a distance from the shore as is supposed to make sure against contamination by sewage. There is, however, a secondary inlet which sewage may reach, but which is usually closed. During the latter part of February the winds blew in such a way as to force the water of the river back, making it so low at the pumping station that the quantity entering the tunnel was not sufficient for the maintenance of an adequate pressure. The secondary inlet was opened, and the fever began. Upon analysis of the water the typhoid bacillus was found in it. The exclusive supply from the crib in the middle of the river was resumed, the reservoir and pipes were washed out and disinfected, and the epidemic ceased. Prof. Lattimore draws from the incident a forcible lesson on the necessity of avoiding the pollution of lakes and rivers on which cities and districts may be dependent for supplies. "Has a city," he asks, "any more right than a private citizen to render itself a nuisance by discharging its waste upon their [its neighbors'] property, and rendering odious, if not dangerous, the air they must breathe and the water they must drink? Is it a premature question to ask if the time has not almost come when cities shall no longer convert the natural waterways into sewers, and the lakes into reservoirs for their sewage? Methods of sewage disposal and disinfection have been already so far perfected that, in my opinion, at no distant day, compulsory destruction of all offensive and dangerous waste material, of whatsoever kind, may be legally enforced without serious expense or inconvenience. Again, are we quite rational in the relative estimate we place upon our most cherished possessions? Do we not strangely, insanely underrate health and life, and overrate greatly the mere things which possess absolutely no value at all apart from life and health?" These conclusions are strikingly enforced in the lesson of the recent outbreak of typhoid fever at Wesleyan University, that has been traced to the eating of oysters raw which had been exposed to contamination in their temporary storage bed by a drain leading from a house where there was typhoid fever.


The Peopling of America.—In trying to account for the settlement of America by spontaneous migrations, Prof. O. T. Mason postulates that the emigrants would be drawn, in the quest for food, along the lines of most abundant supply and of least resistance. He accepts Morgan's location of the region about the mouth of the Columbia River as the starting point of the migration over the continent. Whence and how did men come to that point? He finds a route from Asia to America that might have been nearly all the way by sea, and continuously used for centuries; and which lies absolutely along a great circle of the earth, the shortest and easiest highway. This great circle route lies mostly through landlocked waters, and embraces, in order, the northeastern Indo-Malayan Archipelago, the South China and Malay Seas, the East China and Yellow Seas, the Japanese and Tartary Seas, the Okhotsk Sea and environs, the Bering Sea with its bays, the Alaskan Sea and inlets, the Tlinget-Haide Sea, the Vancouver Sea, and the Columbia Basin. The same great circle would go on to include the head waters of all the Rocky Mountain streams, the great interior basin, the Pueblo region, Mexico, Central America, Ecuador, and Peru. Along it food is abundant, no point is at a very great distance from land, and all the conditions are as favorable as could be found anywhere to the success of a voyager. Hence Prof. Mason advances the hypothesis that during the centuries in which Europe was working out of its earliest stone age into its renascence, certainly for three thousand years or more, America was being steadily and continuously peopled from Asia by way of its eastern shores and seas from the Indian Ocean. Subsidiary movements in the way of offshoots from this migration, contributions to it, and barriers to its progress took place up and down the rivers and in the seas of India, China, Mongolia, and Siberia. The author disclaims any reliance upon theories of sunken continents, upon voyages across the profound sea without food or motive, the accidental stranding of junks, or the aimless wandering of lost tribes; assumes that there never was known to history a day when the Asiatic and American continents were not intimately associated; and concludes that "when the continent of America was peopled it was done by men and women purposely engaged in what all sensible people are now doing—namely, trying to get all the enjoyment possible out of life for their efforts."


The Critical Faculty in Engineering.—The presidential address of Prof. A. B. W. Kennedy, of the Section of Mechanical Science, in the British Association, was devoted to the critical side of mechanical training—the training to think about a subject, to write upon it, and to come to a rational decision, by exercising a critical sense of proportion which could be best developed by a course of quantitative experimental work in an engineering laboratory. After observing that an engineer was a man who was continually called upon to make up his mind irrevocably in a very short time—generally about one tenth of the time which he would like to give to the subject—the author pointed out that there was an essential difference between the problems of the mathematician and those of the engineer. In pure science and mathematics there was little room for the critical faculty—the result was either right or wrong. In engineering there might be many solutions, and the critical faculty must be rapidly supplied to the problems, their statement, their condition, and all the possible solutions. The literary faculty, the power of expression, was also of great importance, as it necessitated clear thinking and a grasp of the environment of the question, with a due sense of the proportion of its component parts, and of the forces affecting it.


Arabs of the Hadramaut.—Mr. Theodore Bent read a paper in the British Association on the Natives of the Hadramaut in South Arabia. He began by giving a brief sketch of the ancient history of this valley in the interior of Arabia, and showed how it was the great center from which frankincense and myrrh were exported to Europe by caravan routes across the desert, particulars concerning which are given us by Ptolemy and Pliny. He then went on to describe the modern inhabitants of this district, showing how the Bedouins here were distinct from those of northern Arabia, and in all probability formed an aboriginal race, with curious customs and a religion of their own. He then spoke of the extreme fanaticism of the Arabs in the Hadramaut, a fanaticism fostered by the Sayyids and Sherifs, who claim direct descent from Mohammed and form a sort of hierarchical nobility in the country, and who have hitherto succeeded in keeping foreigners out of their territory. The Arabs not of this noble family could not intermarry with them. The Sayyids never engaged in commerce or industry, but the other Arabs were very commercial, and frequently made fortunes in India and the Straits Settlements. Mr. Bent gave a minute account of the men and women of the Hadramaut and their peculiar customs and dress, stating that he hoped to return again next winter to continue his researches.


Economics as a Branch of Education.—It is highly desirable, said Prof. C. F. Bastable, in his British Association address, that certain professions—law, journalism, and public administration may be mentioned—should have economics as a part of the training necessary for their exercise. To accomplish this object, its combination with jurisprudence, political and administrative science in a common group seems the best way. The strictly professional students would obtain a better and more suitable training, and it might be reasonably expected that some with genuinely scientific tastes would be ready to take up social science as a regular pursuit and contribute to its progress. But it is in dealing with the practical problems that this wider mode of treatment is most essential. Is it not true that commercial policy must largely depend on political and legal conditions.? Even in carrying out the thoroughly wise and sound principle of free trade, the British Government finds itself involved in many curious complications. Treaties and administrative regulations have to be taken into account. The political forces that guide the tariff policies of nations have their decided effects; and whether we desire merely to estimate the actual character of any particular policy, to form a rational forecast of the course that nations will take in the future, or to give advice as to what should be done, we can not limit ourselves to abstract economic theory, or even to economic considerations. This is equally true of the currency question. The weightiest arguments for and against bimetallism are political rather than economic while such social influences as habit and custom powerfully affect the possibilities of action that purely deductive reasoning from economic premises might appear to suggest.


The Insane Kings of the Bible.—In a paper on the Insane Kings of the Bible, Dr. D. R. Burrell publishes a study of the cases of Saul and Nebuchadnezzar, in the light of modern science. Of Saul's case he finds that "his insanity was recognized, but, at a time when secondary causes were ignored, it was called 'an evil spirit from the Lord.' Judged in the light of the present, it was but the natural outcome of his character, a character made up of unstable elements easily and unfavorably affected by attending circumstances. In justice to him, it should be remembered that he was merely a herdsman's son, upon whom were thrust royal dignity, authority, and responsibility, without precedent or guide, for he was 'the first king in Israel.'" Nebuchadnezzar's insanity may have been caused partly by overwork. His treatment, in view of the sacredness of his person, his delusions, the climate and the private parks of Babylon, and the ideas of nudity, was of the best. "It challenges our treatment of to-day, for it gave out-of-door life without stint, permitted the greatest activity, and employed neither mechanical, chemical, nor manual restraint. . . . Nothing could be truer to Nature and the daily manifestations of the insane than the account of the recovery of the king; the coming out of chaos or self-absorption; the looking upon things about him and seeing them gradually assume their correct proportions; the return of the understanding; the full return of reason; and then a heart overflowing with thankfulness, thankfulness that only those feel who have walked long in the valley of the shadow of death. If we take this chapter from the sacred canon, and study it with some knowledge of the far-off past, and in the light of insanity as manifested to us to-day, we shall discover that it is one of the most beautiful and concise descriptions of the premonition, the onset, the course, and the termination of a case of insanity that is recorded in any language."


Aluminum Violins.—Describing the aluminum violins before the American Association, Mr. Alfred Springer said that the sound-boards from that metal are analogous to those made of wood, and differ from the sound-boards made from other metals. They are analogous to wood, because they do not produce secondary tones that are not in harmony with the prime tones. Such secondary tones are found largest in elastic metals of fine uniform consistence, because the mass of such metals gives them a tendency to continue in any particular state of motion. The author had found that his experience with aluminum during the past three years was attended with many difficulties. For instance, he could find no satisfactory solder with which to fasten the plates, and was obliged to resort to rivets. In order to overcome the essential condition of uneven thicknesses of belly and back he was obliged to resort to sheet metal, ribbed and arched, and he found that in the aluminum instruments there were not the uncertainty and lack of individuality to be observed in those manufactured of wood. The wooden ones, however, were superior, and the reason the old wooden instruments were better than new ones was not in the elasticity of the wood or the composition of the varnish, but in the peculiar warping of the wood to a higher arch. He never saw a good old instrument that was not warped. Immediately after the lecture an aluminum violin was produced and played on. The tones were very full and resonant.