Popular Science Monthly/Volume 50/February 1897/Minor Paragraphs

MINOR PARAGRAPHS.

The great work described by M. P. Demoutzey in reforestation and the stemming of mountain torrents in France has been fittingly eulogized by M. Dehérain. Not more than a quarter of the work contemplated has been accomplished; but that which has been done proves what may be done, and that the solution of the difficult problem has substantially been reached. The needed work is not long or very expensive; it is only to assist Nature by easy and simple devices, and keep at it. When this is done, thirty or forty years will be long enough to produce great changes in the conditions and appearance of a devastated and torrent-rent region. M. Demoutzey's book is illustrated with plates and photographic views showing the character of the work accomplished.

Originally the area of natural gas in Indiana, according to the last report of W. S. Blatchley, State Geologist, embraced part or all of seventeen counties lying northeast of the center of the State, and comprised about five thousand square miles. On account of the encroachment of salt water and petroleum this area has become gradually reduced, until to-day the main gas field includes an approximate area of twenty-five hundred square miles. This, however, it is claimed, is larger than has ever been possessed by any other State in the Union. The average initial or rock pressure of the entire field in 1889 was three hundred and twenty-five pounds to the square inch. To-day, according to careful measurements, it is two hundred and thirty pounds to the square inch over the main field. Hence it is not doubted that the supply is diminishing, and that, as there can be no increase of it, the pressure will decrease more rapidly in the future than it has done in the past. The diminution in pressure is most noticeable in cities like Indianapolis and Richmond, which receive their supply through pipe lines, and less so in the cities that lie wholly within the field.

The library of the distinguished chemist August von Kekulé, of the University of Bonn, lately deceased, is in the hands of Gustav Fock, Magazingasse 4, Leipzig, for sale. Seldom has a collection of such value been put on the market. It was made with rare zeal and most intelligent judgment exercised through many years, and is so complete that hardly any work of scientific character and standing or scientific journal is missing from it. It contains about eighteen thousand volumes, dissertations, pamphlets, etc., most of which are bound. Among the treasures of the library are complete sets from the beginning up to 1895 or 1896 of twenty-five of the most important scientific (particularly chemical) periodicals—German, French, Italian, English, and American—and series of from fifteen to twenty-five years of six others; and a rich collection of alchemistic books published in former centuries. It seems to us very important that this collection should be kept in its integrity; indeed, it might be regarded as a scientific misfortune if it should be scattered; and it is to be hoped that some learned institution or library, or some benefactor of such, may find the way clear to buy it as a whole.

The researches of M. King concerning the retention of moisture in the soil, while they confirm the view that good cultivation offers an impediment to evaporation, show that bad harrowing and incomplete stirring of the soil have a different effect. A harrowing which simply scratches the ground without covering it with loose earth increases evaporation instead of diminishing it. So a dressing of the soil which extends to less than three centimetres in depth offers but a slight impediment to the escape of water. But a thin coating of dry earth (two centimetres) suffices to reduce the evaporation considerably, and a stirring of the soil from five to seven centimetres in depth will cause the moisture in arable land to be retained. The influence of manures was also studied. They isolate the surface, expose it to complete desiccation, and cause suffering to the crops, particularly in dry weather. The manure in another season becomes mixed with the soil, and the inverse effect is observed. The superficial layers gain moisture.

It appears from the studies of H. L. Russell and John Weinziel of the bacterial flora of American Cheddar cheese at the various phases of the ripening process, reported upon at the American Association, that for the first ten days the number of microbes diminishes from that contained in the milk. Soon an enormous development of organisms of the lactic-acid group begins, while the digesting and gas-producing bacteria gradually decrease. A period of decline succeeds this stage, and continues throughout the life of the cheese until, in the course of a year or two, it is almost sterile. The physical changes that mark the curing of the cheese begin to appear at the same time with the marked development of lactic-acid bacteria. The authors hold that these facts can not be reconciled with the theory that the digesting bacteria are the active agents in the curing.

One of the curious animal stories published in the London Spectator is of a dog belonging to an Oxford University man, which, being excluded from the college at night according to the rules, is kept at a house some distance off. Every morning it comes of its own accord to the owner's rooms, and is accompanied in its morning walk by a Cochin-China hen and a kitten belonging to the man with whom the dog is left during the night. The hen and kitten, not being permitted to enter, always leave the dog at the college (Balliol) gates. Another story in the same number of the Spectator relates to a canary bird whose seed trough was always found empty, though kept well supplied. One morning, observing that the bird appeared much excited and was singing lustily, its master looked and saw a mouse slowly climb down the cord, get through the bars of the cage, and, reaching the seed trough, eat the food with great relish, while the bird continued to sing. Finally, a cat caught the mouse, and the canary was never known to sing again.

An odd controversy has been going on between the Roman Catholic Journal, Volkszeitung, of Cologne, and the Abbé Künzle, of Feldberg, in Tyrol, concerning the authenticity of an alleged signature of the devil. The Volkszeitung denies the authenticity, and insists that it is not possible to procure an authentic signature of his Satanic Majesty. The abbé declares, on his side, that the devil Vitru appeared in October, 1883, in the lodge room of a Masonic lodge, where were several eminent men, including M. Crispi, and announced that a young woman named Sophia Sapho, who was present, would on the following September give birth to a daughter, who would be the grandmother of the Antichrist. He even condescended to sign a minute, which was drawn upon the spot, attaching to it the title Sanctus Demon Primarus Prœses—which may mean "Holy Devil, First President"—with his signature, consisting of various symbolical signs, among which were a cock, a fork, etc. The Volkszeitung declares that it is superstition to believe in the authenticity of the signature, although it credits the possibility of compacts between the devil and the wicked. Père Künzle believes that it is consistent with sound doctrine to hold that the signature is that of the Prince of Evil. This is the point of controversy; and the scientific may look on, though not troubled about the matter.