Popular Science Monthly/Volume 49/September 1896/Fragments of Science
X Rays in Surgery.—Considerable advance has been made during the past few months in the application of the X ray to surgical diagnosis, and it seems fairly certain now that the trunk with its contents, as well as the extremities, may be examined by the use of this agent. A recent article in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences, by W. W. Keen, includes some remarkably clear reproductions of X-ray pictures, one of which shows very beautifully all the bones of the trunk. Among much interesting matter the article contains a suggestion which deserves at least a trial. The difficulty with the present pictures is that an exposure which is long enough to show the bones blots out all detail in the soft parts. Dr. Keen suggests the use of a number of superposed paper films. The X rays will act almost equally on them all, and by withdrawing one at a time at short intervals a series of pictures of the object will be obtained which should show all the required detail. An important improvement in the Röntgen apparatus is said to have been made by the General Electrical Company of Berlin, by means of which the interior of the head and chest may be directly examined by means of the fluorescent screen, even the action of the heart and lungs being discernible. A demonstration was recently given by Dr. Oscar Levy at the Lancet offices, and was reported as very successful. The vacuum tube employed contained two concave electrodes, midway between which was situated a platinum disk in a plane of 45°. One or other of the electrodes, according to which gives the best results, is connected up, by means of a wire, to this disk, the wires of the coil being attached to the concave electrodes, so that the anode is duplicated. The screen employed measured about ten by eighteen inches, and consisted of small crystals of platinocyanide of barium.The Present Business Depression.—An article in the July Engineering Magazine, by Edward Atkinson, attributes the present business depression to the Bland and Sherman acts, "under which the demand debt of the United States was increased by an issue of notes or promises to pay by nearly five hundred million dollars for the purchase of silver bullion, which, when coined into dollars at 16 to 1, is bad money. We may easily trace the cause of our present bad conditions to the enforced use of bad money." He presents the conditions under the free coinage of silver in a somewhat new light, and makes it obvious that, instead of giving the poor man an undue advantage, it will increase the opportunities of the rich, and instead of benefiting the United States it will place her at a disadvantage and make her mints common dumping ground for all the depreciated silver of the world. He says: "The advocates of the free coinage of silver dollars of full legal tender propose to enable the bankers of Europe to gather in the silver bullion of the world, of which the market value is now sixty-eight cents per ounce, to send it to our mints to be coined without charge, and then to force it upon our farmers, wage-earners, and other persons at $1.29
The Expert Witness.—Considerable attention is being given by the more thoughtful newspapers and some scientific journals to the disreputable episodes which almost invariably occur when experts are called on for testimony before the courts. The present custom, which permits each side to call in its own expert and pay him for his testimony, is calculated to produce anything but expert testimony, unless the term expert applies to manipulation of facts to suit his client's case. It would be about as conducive to justice if each side were allowed to retain and pay a judge and jury of its own. In fact, the practice is so obviously calculated to defeat instead of aid the ends of justice that it is difficult to see how it ever originated. The mere fact that a witness is employed and paid by the defendant or plaintiff unconsciously enrolls him on that side, and there are few experts whose testimony is not modified by such an arrangement. This custom has led so often to a flat contradiction regarding facts between opposing authorities that the general public has lost confidence in such testimony. This is, of course, very unfortunate, as it is beyond question that a man who has devoted his life to a study, for instance, of poisons and their effects on the body, is in a better position to judge of the probabilities in a given case than the ordinary layman or physician. Under a system where the expert is called by the court no question of bias could be raised, and science would not be disgraced from time to time by those who are willing to trade on their scientific reputation.
The Competiton Fetich in Education.—"The dying out of the distinguished school of naturalists which this country once produced, and which culminated in Darwin, is a fact which scarcely admits of dispute," says W. T. Thiselton-Dyer in a recent article in Nature. "English naturalists of the generation which is now passing away have belonged to two groups. Some have been born to wealth, some to poverty. Class prejudice was against the one, means of livelihood against the other. The richer disciples of our art seem now to have gone irretrievably and to have no successors. The poorer have changed their tone. They tend to treat science as a career like the civil service." Mr. Thiselton-Dyer quotes a friend who believes the cause of this degeneration in the ideals of scientific workers to be due to the system of constant competitive trials, which it seems, in England as well as in the United States, pervades everything in the schools from Greek to athletics, and which completely overshadows the real reason and point for going to school. "This remarkable system begins, the masters of this and other schools told me, at about eight years old. There is no time to learn, to think, or observe. The boys must beat some other school in tennis or football, or must beat some one else in the history of the Punic wars. . . . The great object of education appears to be to have every boy competing for something absolutely useless to him in later life." This latter, of course, is something of an overstatement; but the indiscriminate encouragement of rivalry and subsidizing of the winner, without reference to the value of the knowledge which the success implies, has been steadily at work in our universities for some years, and has been one of the principal factors in bringing the college graduate into disrepute as an unpractical and many times really ignorant man. He quite loses his bearings when launched forth on the actual sea of life, judges questions from the limited standpoint of the local horizon which his alma mater has provided for him, and, worst of all, being a college graduate, is rather inclined to be supercilious at any suggestion that perhaps there are a few small scraps of knowledge which he is not yet master of. There have, however, quite recently been signs of reaction against the competitive system—at any rate, in athletics—and it is to be earnestly hoped that this reaction will extend itself to the whole curriculum. We may then, perhaps, expect to see an educational system based on the requirements of everyday life, and the graduates of our highest educational institutions taking their full share in the business and politics of the country.
A Natural Botanical Garden.—A somewhat curiously distributed flora is described as existing in the island of Sakhalin, at the northernmost end of the Japanese group. Its geological structure resembles that of Siberia much more nearly than that of Japan. Volcanoes, which are such a characteristic feature of Japan, are entirely wanting here, and the three parallel chains of mountains which form the backbone of the island are composed of Jurassic slate, Cretaceous strata, and Tertiary limestone, being similar in formation to those of Siberia. The mountains reach an average elevation of six thousand to seven thousand feet, and this, combined with the abnormal climatic conditions of the island, give rise to a very varied vegetable life. Although it lies between the latitudes of Trieste and Hamburg, its conditions of life are almost polar. Bathed by two cold marine currents, it is exposed without protection in winter to the cold northwest winds of the east Siberian anticyclone, and an abnormally cold winter as well as summer results. At sea level snow lies in open sunny spots even in May. Snowfalls occur to the end of May. Owing to the cold currents which surround the island, distance from the coast plays an important part in determining vegetable growth, and gives rise to anomalies perhaps observable in no other portion of the earth's surface. In Siberia and in central Europe it has many times been noticed that during the winter cold the mountain summits are much warmer than the plains. The same is true in Sakhalin. The cold and heavy winter's air collects in the lower regions, while above the mountain heights enjoy the warmer sea breeze. But even in summer, owing to the cold ocean currents, the mountains display abnormal temperature conditions; and while an arctic vegetation prevails on the seashore, forests with subtropical Japanese species occur at a certain elevation, and only on the highest summits does the forest again give place to arctic plants. The principal trees of the forest are pines, firs, and Siberian larches. The growth is very rapid and the struggle for existence severe, so that many trees are killed; the dead trees still standing and others fallen are so numerous as to make these forests almost impassable. On the west side of the island maples, birches, and large numbers of mountain ashes abound. At a certain height, especially in the more interior portions of the island, quite a sudden change to subtropical trees occurs. High bushes of Japanese Flex crenata, stems of bamboo as high as a man, bushlike vaccinium, fine hydrangeas, and the colossal leaves of Araliaceæ and Petasites make their appearance, and form an almost Indian jungle beneath the conifers of the far north. On the highest summits the forest disappears and is replaced by dwarf firs, Cembra pumila, and evergreen stretches of Empetrum nigrum. Where the seashore is flat and exposed to the wind trees are entirely wanting, and an approximation to the arctic tundras prevails. The true tundra region, however, is not on the seashore, but in the great longitudinal valleys, where a regular polar tundra, with frozen soil, peat bogs, and arctic vegetation, occurs. The banks of the streams are, however, clothed with luxuriant vegetation. At a distance of a quarter to a half mile from the river bank the peat bog gives place to a charming meadow of calamagrostis grasses, with parklike groups of birches, poplars, willows, etc., and an exuberant bush vegetation.
Do the Poor hate the Rich?—An interesting discussion is going on in the Contemporary Review between Mr. Hobson and Mr. W. H. Mallock, as to whether the poor hate the rich. Mr. Hobson affirms it and Mr. Mallock denies it. An impression that they do prevails largely among certain classes of philanthropists and socialists. The London Spectator, reviewing the discussion, thinks that, however it may be in the continental countries of Europe, this is not the case in England and among Americans of English descent. The immense majority of these accept differences in pecuniary conditions as part of the order of things, and rather approve them as affording incentives for ambition and grounds for hope. They do not hate the rich, because they would all like to be rich, and hope by some means some day to become so. They rather regard them as sources of benefit to the community, as persons who will keep up the standard of living, and who increase the general mass of opportunities. They will welcome the settling of a wealthy man among them, because he will spend money. Those may hate the rich who have been disappointed, or who have lost the hope of joining their number, but few others. "Have the multitude, whether in England or the United States, ever tried to limit wealth, or divide wealth, or confiscate wealth at death, or in any way whatever endeavored to cause wealth to cease to be? They have examples of such legislation before them all over the continent, but they not only do not carry similar measures, but they never ask for them, and would treat any candidate who relied upon them in his programme as either a mere faddist or an advocate of novel and disagreeable social heresies. . . . The truth is that both here and in America discontent, when it exists—and of course there is plenty of it—takes the self-pitying direction, and not the direction of envy. We remember, about five years ago, being much struck with the form taken by the discontent of a raging orator in one of the parks. He was boiling over with fury against the rich, and at last, rising to the height of his argument, he burst out into an apostrophe: 'You rich fellers, you have funds, you have bonds, you have railway shares: tell me, you wretches, why we should not have them too?' That, not the stripping of the rich, was the English rough's genuine and most hearty aspiration."
The Ways of Sparrows.—The habits of the London sparrow have been studied with much advantage by a writer in the London Spectator, who finds more method in the ways of the bird than we are usually apt to imagine. The site of the sparrows' nests is chosen with much care, and always with a view to avoiding the dangers from cats. Hollows in the perpendicular wall faces of the building are preferred, but any proximity to the roof, where cats are liable to abound, is shunned. The nooks furnished in old houses advertised for sale or demolition, by the frames which are set upon them for bill posting, are much resorted to by the birds. The spaces between the frames and the walls are commodious nesting places. The under concavities of corrugated iron roofing furnish hundreds of ready-made tunnels under the cross beams, and when one of these roofs is built in a neighborhood, the sparrows will desert their old, now less attractive quarters "to a bird." "No cat can climb it or stretch a claw far enough up to hook out the nest." The London sparrow is intensely local. "He moves as seldom as he can from his own particular block of houses or square or terrace; and in the suburbs he keeps not only to his own house, but often to the back or front of the house only, not caring to circumnavigate his own suburban garden. In spring, when pulling crocus flowers to pieces becomes a mania with sparrows for a few days, it has been noticed that in many instances all the sparrows in the front of the house will take a fit of crocus-spoiling, while the flowers behind the house are let alone. Or the reverse may be the case, all those behind the house being spoiled, while the sparrows haunting the front of the house and front garden are occupied in some other sphere of activity. If an old nesting place is destroyed, the local birds at once seek another as close as possible to it."
Camphor.—Owing to the widespread use of camphor in the arts and in medicine, its increasing scarcity and expensiveness have raised the problem of artificial cultivation. There are a number of trees, many of them widely separated in genus, order, or species, from which camphor is obtained. The tree, however, which produces most of the camphor of commerce is the Cinnamomum camphora, a member of the laurel family, belonging to the same genus as the cinnamon tree. This tree attains enormous size. The bulk of the camphor imported into Europe comes from Japan and Formosa, and a small amount from China, although the trees are very abundant in the latter country, and the wood is much used. Every part of the tree is said to be useful, even the fruit being employed in the preparation of tallow. The statement that the large use of smokeless powder is responsible for the high price of camphor is denied by Sir Frederick Abel, who says that, while camphor was much used in the manufacture of smokeless powder in the early days, it was soon shown to have serious practical disadvantages, and its use has been to a large extent discontinued. It is, however, used for the conversion of collodion cotton into celluloid, and, in combination with various ill-smelling compounds, is the basis of most moth powders. In a recently published account of the commercial and scientific value of this tree Dr. E. Grassmann urges the importance of increasing the plantations to the greatest possible extent, and the placing of some restriction on the wanton destruction of the trees.
Evolution of the Storage Battery.—A recent article in the Journal of the Franklin Institute, by Maurice Barnett, on the Evolution of the Storage Battery, gives many interesting historical data. It seems that in 1801 Gauterot, while decomposing salt water electrolytically, noticed that on breaking the circuit he could obtain a current of short duration from the electrodes. A few years later Ritter constructed a pile consisting of disks of copper, separated by pads moistened with saline solution; after passing a strong current through this pile he was able to obtain a current of considerable intensity from the pile itself. This was practically the first storage battery. In 1859 Gaston Planté began a series of researches which led him finally to the elaboration of a practical storage battery. He electrolyzed diluted sulphuric acid with rods of the various metals used successively as electrodes. Lead gave the most promising results, not only on account of its capacity, but also because of the intensity of the discharge. Planté came to the conclusion, in 1859, that lead was the only useful metal, and then proceeded to construct his spiral accumulator, which consisted of two plates placed concentric with each other in dilute sulphuric acid, one plate being lead, the surface of which was peroxidized, the other, metallic lead. He got from this electric couple an E. M. F. of about two volts. Having constructed his accumulator, Planté experimented with various methods of "forming" the plates that they might yield effects extending over a considerable interval of time. His method was to pass a current through the accumulator first in one direction, then in the other, and repeat this reversal many times with intervals of rest in between. The only current available for this work was that obtainable from a primary battery; this made the process a long and expensive one, but by its means currents of considerable density, lasting for a length of time depending on the extent to which the plates had been affected by the electrolytic process, were obtained. Between 1859 (when Planté began his experiments) and 1880, when Faure invented the pasted battery, great changes had taken place in the condition of the electrical arts and manufactures. The dynamo had been perfected, and offered means for the cheap production of currents of great density and high E. M. F., and hence gave a new stimulus to the production of a practical storage battery. Faure made pastes of red lead and litharge, which he applied to the surfaces of the positive and negative plates. When these were subjected to the forming process, the red lead was oxidized to peroxide and the litharge reduced to spongy lead, with a material saving in time and cost over the Planté process. Almost immediately accumulators were put to a variety of industrial uses, among which may be mentioned their application to carry the day load in lighting stations and to prevent the necessity for running dynamos at night in private residences. Even for traction purposes, where accumulators are subjected to the severest demands, their use was proposed as far back as 1880, and in 1883 a car went into service at Kew Bridge, London, equipped with a Siemens dynamo, set to run as a motor, and about four thousand pounds of batteries. The first storage battery put upon the market was, of course, crude, and the result was that in nearly all of its various applications it was a failure. The modern storage battery dates from the invention of Faure in 1880, and up to within a few years the pasted lead battery was the only form used to any extent. Recently the Planté type has again come into favor, together with an improved form of battery known as the chloride accumulator. The characteristics of the Planté type of battery are capability of giving heavy discharges without sustaining injury, minimum local action, and general freedom from the irregularities due to local action. The chloride battery takes its name from the fact that the active material of the plates is made from lead chloride rather than from metallic lead, as in the Planté, or lead oxide as in the pasted batteries. These cells show a high efficiency in practice, small deterioration, capability of holding a charge over considerable intervals of time, and freedom from short-circuiting, buckling, sulphating, or any of the troubles to which the old lead batteries were subject. They are thus seen to possess none of the defects of pasted batteries, while they embody all the merits of the Planté cells, without their faults of structural weakness and tedious, formation. To-day the extension and use of the storage battery are looked on with growing favor.
Relations of Moisture and Vegetation.—M. Edmond Gain has found, in special researches on the subject, that the influence of moisture on vegetation varies at different periods of growth of the plant, and that alternations of moisture and comparative dryness are more advantageous to it than constant moisture. The plants that require constant moisture as a factor of their most vigorous growth are relatively few. Nearly all plants need water in order to secure vigor of growth, but require it at different intervals in certain precise stages of their vegetation; and plants which at one time take up water with advantage may suffer much from an equal supply at another time. As a rule, the need of water is urgent when the first leaves are appearing. It then diminishes till just before blossoming, when a large supply is called for. This should be suspended after the flowering season is over, for the fruit is best perfected in a relatively dry medium. If the plants blossom more than once, they need a new supply of water previous to the second flowering. In all the author's experiments those plants which were watered at the two critical seasons of first growth and the beginning of blossoming did as well as those which were constantly watered. M. Gain further found that moisture in the soil favors and increases the number of fruits and seeds, while a dry soil promotes larger and heavier seeds. Plants in dry soil have more roots than those in wet soil. While the tenure of moisture has little influence on the number of tubers, they are larger and heavier in a moist soil; yet they are less perfect than tubers grown under relatively dry conditions. Thus, while greater moisture is favorable to a larger immediate return, it is less promotive of perfection in the reproductive parts, and so favors the individual rather than the vigor of the species.
Geography in the Middle Ages.—The first number of Herr M. Konrad Miller's work on the Oldest Maps of the World is devoted to the map of the universe of St. Beatus, a Spanish theologian, who died a. d. 798. It was made in connection with the author's Commentary on the Apocalypse, to point out the regions assigned to the several apostles, and exists in many copies of different ages, the maps in which differ but little from one another. One of the most famous of these copies is the one called the Manuscript of St. Sever, in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, of about a. d. 1050. The map includes the whole world in an oval inclosed by a blue sea border containing large and fierce-looking fishes and red objects which might be taken for red slugs, but which are really vessels. At the extreme east (north and south being at the ends of the axis of the oval) Temptation is represented in a naturalistic style. At the point where the earthly paradise was supposed to exist, Adam is bashfully making symbolical gestures, and Eve, bold and full of initiative, is picking the apple, both entirely naked. It appears clear as the light of the sun that all the wrong is on Eve's side. In the extreme west are Tangier and Cordova at the entrance of a sea that washes Majorca and Minorca, then Sardinia, Corsica, Cyprus, and Crete, and turns to the north in the Adriatic Gulf and the Hellespont. The Fortunate Islands, in the midst of numerous fishes, are Madeira and the Canaries, and, together with the British Isles and perhaps Iceland, mark the western limit of the world. In the south the Red Sea, bright scarlet, is separated from the Mediterranean by the whole of Egypt and Palestine in a way to defy the most enterprising isthmus-borers. No pains are taken to give the contours of the coasts, the bays, or the gulfs. Spain is reduced to a triangle, one side of which, curved, is formed by the Pyrenees, as if they were a fringe, while the other two sides are the shore, straight. The details of the geography of the several countries are curious, but can not be described here. Many strange things appear in Africa, too, while the origin of the Nile in a great lake is indicated in the clearest manner.
Origin of Honeydew.—M. Gaston Bonnier's studies of the formation of honeydew have led him to the conclusion that not only is it elaborated through the agency of aphides, but it is also exuded directly, under proper conditions, by the leaves of the trees. He has observed that under conditions of a considerable difference between the temperatures of the day and the night, when no insects can be found, a sugary liquid falls after sunset in drops from certain trees; and after wiping the leaf with absorbent paper, he found the minute droplets issuing from the stomata. This was observed on the epiceas, silver firs, Scotch pines, Austrian pines, oaks, maples, aspens, poplars, alders, birches, vines, and various herbaceous plants. Yet the aphides are the more frequent-cause of the production of honeydew. Their work is done mostly in the daytime and is suspended during the night, while the direct production of honeydew takes place at night and ceases in the daytime. It is promoted by the interposition of cool nights between hot and dry days, and is favored by increase in hygrometric conditions and darkness. The exudation can be provoked artificially by dipping the branches into water and then placing them in the dark in a saturated atmosphere. Under these conditions the leaves may be caused to produce honeydew when those on the trees from which they were taken do not. Although bees will go to collect any sweet substance when they can get no better, they always prefer the best they can find. When mellifluous plants are blooming abundantly, they pass the honeydew by; but when mellifluous flowers are scarce, they gather honeydew. The chemical composition of honeydew is various; but that naturally exuded approaches that of the honey of the nectaries more closely than does that elaborated by aphides.
Horse Racing in Bosnia.—The Bosnians are very fond of horse racing. Their meetings were kept up for five hundred years under the native laws, and are supported with still more splendor by the Austrian Government. The horse is the favorite companion of the native, who celebrates it in his songs, and cares for it as he would for a child, guarding it.against the evil eye and malice. The Bosnian mountain horse possesses fine qualities, and is sober, agile, and hardy. Previous to being put in a race he is subjected to a very curious special training. For three or four weeks he is enveloped in thick coverings, and is bled repeatedly and thoroughly. He is walked all day, and especially in the evening and the morning, in the open air. No hay is given him, and as little as possible of barley and water. His legs are massaged time and again, and rubbed with a mixture of water, salt, and two yolks of eggs. He is given only a few hours of rest, and the treatment is kept up till the very moment of the race.
M. Daubrée.—By the death of M. Daubrée French geology has lost one of its most brilliant workers. Born at Metz on June 25, 1814, he soon developed a special interest in minerals. He passed in 1834 from the École Polytechnique into the Corps des mines. He already, while a student, began to display that breadth of view and width of sympathy which distinguished his later career. Gradually his attention was more and more directed to the experimental side of his favorite science. He studied the artificial production of various minerals, and entered upon a course of profound investigation in which he became the great leader, and did more than any other observer to advance that department of the science. The difficult problems of metamorphism had a peculiar fascination for him, and he devoted himself with admirable patience to the task of trying to solve some of them by actual experiment. The various researches collected in his Études synthetiques de Géologie experimentale have taken their place among the classics of modern science. He also devoted much time to the study of meteorites. His last important volumes discussed in detail the phenomena of underground water, and traced the various solutions and changes which water is now producing and has formerly effected within the crust of the earth. M. Daubrée spent the greater part of his scientific life in Paris, where he occupied official posts in the École des Mines and Museum d'Histoire naturelle. He retired from office two or three years ago, but still continued to interest himself actively in scientific research. He was one of the most regular attendants of the Académie des Sciences, and one of the most influential members of that distinguished body, serving on many committees and taking an active part in all its concerns. He began to be somewhat ailing before last Easter, and, though for a time he appeared to rally and hopes were entertained that his life might still be prolonged, he died peacefully at his house in the Boulevard Saint-Germain on May 29th.
Cacao Cultivation in Mexico.—The cacao tree is a native of Mexico, and long before the conquest the Aztecs used the cacao bean in making a beverage which they called chocolatl. "All nations subjugated under the Aztec eagle had to bring, among other valuables, a certain number of bags of cacao to the palace in the great Tenochtitla as an annual tribute to the emperor. It was so highly prized among the ancient natives that in trade it was utilized as currency among the lower classes. The varieties cultivated were quauhcahuatl, mecacahuatl, zochicucahuatl, and tlacacahuatl." The tree grows wild and in cultivation in the States of Colima, Michoacan, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Tabasco, and central and southern Vera Cruz, where the elevation is from a hundred to twelve hundred feet above sea level. Chiapas and Tabasco, however, contain the most favorable climate and soil for the cacao tree, and the finest cacao in the world is grown in these two States. The species most cultivated in Mexico are cacao or Theobroma ovalifolia, T. bicolor, and T. angustifolia. A warm, moist climate, having a mean temperature between 76° and 77° F., is necessary for its most successful cultivation. The best elevation is from three to five hundred feet, but the tree will not thrive if exposed to the direct influence of the sea breeze. The plants are propagated by means of the seed, which is simply covered with loam and some sort of fertilizer, and then the whole covered with banana leaves. The bed is sprinkled every day for twelve or fifteen days, when the seedlings appear. Then the banana leaves are removed, and sheds are erected over the bed, which serve as shade and shelter. A year after sowing, seedlings are about twenty inches high and ready for transplanting. The plants begin to yield remuneratively in about five years. The average annual yield of dry cacao from each tree varies greatly, but is somewhere between a pound and a half and eight pounds. The pods having been gathered are placed in heaps under the trees, to be subsequently taken to the quelradero where they are broken. The kernels or nibs are then taken out of the pods, which are either opened with a machete or a knife made from a wood called jahuate. The seeds are thrown into wooden troughs called tollas half filled with water to wash them, and the beans are then carried away to the cacao house for the sweating or fermentation process. After being properly sweated they are dried ready for shipment. It is stated that seven hundred and fifty trees will give the planter a net annual profit of more than $1,225.