Popular Science Monthly/Volume 51/May 1897/General Notices


The strong efforts now being made to develop a vehicle that shall propel itself, and the measure of success already achieved, promise the early attainment of an advance in locomotion as great as that afforded by the introduction of the safety type of bicycle. A good idea of the mechanical principles that are being employed in the solution of the problem may be gained from a translation of a recent book by a French engineer.[1] Of the four kinds of motor that have been applied to self-propelling vehicles—steam, electric, compressed air, and naphtha—the author has by far the most hopes of the last, and gives most space to this type in his book. His early chapters are devoted to a statement of the mechanics of steam and other gases, and he gives here also the theory of the electric motor. In describing the various systems of steam traction he gives first place to the Serpollet generator—the only generator of steam allowed for traffic in the large cities of France. Other steam motors that find place here are the Le Blant, De Dion & Bouton, Bollée, Filtz, Rowan, and Francq. Compressed-air autocars are represented by the Popp-Conti tramway and the Mékarski system. M. Farman is naturally most familiar with motor wagons of European origin, but he has inserted such accounts as were accessible to him of the American types. Among petroleum motors he ranks as king the one invented by the German Daimler, which is employed in the carriages of Panhard & Levassor, Peugeot, Gautier, and other builders. He gives a full description of this and describes also the Roger car with the Benz motor, the Gladiator auto-cycles, the Duryea, Kane-Pennington, Tenting, and Delahaye cars, and several machines so far used only for agricultural or other industrial purposes. Electric carriages are represented by the Jeantaud, Morris & Salom, and Bogard. His concluding chapter deals with lubrication, tires, bearings, and other details. Over a hundred carefully drawn figures and diagrams illustrate the volume.

The notes which the reader will find in Miss Merriam's attractive volume were taken at Twin Oaks in southern California.[2] The author is a bird enthusiast who, before going to the Pacific coast, had known only the birds of New York and Massachusetts. "Every morning right after breakfast" she has her horse brought round, and together in silent sympathy she and Canello, the faithful patient little broncho, go the rounds of the valley, getting acquainted with the birds as they come from the south. Canello liked well to "watch birds in the high alfalfa under the sycamores, but when it came to standing still where the hot sun beat down through the brush and there was nothing to eat, his interest in ornithology flagged perceptibly." Then after dinner the author strolls through the trees to get a nearer view of the nests. The white egret, the green heron, the spotted sandpiper, the valley quail, are as fascinating to Miss Merriam as are the ants to Sir John Lubbock. Her description of all the birds is marked by a charming simplicity and by a beautiful use of English. She is in touch with Nature, with an eye for color, an ear atune to melody, and intellect clear and clean. It is a pity that we have not more such books as this and more such women as the authoress. We can imagine no better mental tonic than a ride on horseback in the early morning while the dew is on the grass, with the authoress as a chaperon and teacher of bird lore, for the weary city woman who needs to be lulled back to rest and get mental and physical health on the bosom of Mother Nature.

Prof. Ramsay, who was associated with Lord Rayleigh in the remarkable discovery of argon, has written a popular historical sketch of the several investigations that have given us our present knowledge as to what air is composed of.[3] He begins with the work of Robert Boyle, who published about 1650 his Memoirs for a General History of the Air, and proceeds with the less known labors of John Mayow and Stephen Hales. From some passages in their writings it would seem that each of these worthies came within a step or two of discovering all the main facts relating to the composition of the air, but each failed to look quite far enough in the right direction. Boyle, it appears, reasoned shrewdly from imperfect observations; Mayow died young; while Hales accumulated many and definite experimental facts, but lacked the ability to make use of them. All were hampered by the current errors of their time, among which the chief were the inability to distinguish one gas from another, lack of attention to gain or loss of weight, and above all erroneous ideas regarding combustion. Prof. Ramsay shows how the phlogistic theory, which came up about the end of Boyle's life, interfered with the researches of his successors—Black, Rutherford, Priestley, and Cavendish—until it was overthrown by Lavoisier. We are told something about the achievements of each of these men, and the account is made more interesting by including descriptions and portraits of the men themselves. After Cavendish little apparently remained to be done but to make more exact determinations of the constituents that had been found in the air. But in the course of some investigations in 1892 Lord Ray leigh noticed that nitrogen prepared from ammonia is somewhat lighter than atmospheric nitrogen. A research undertaken to find the reason for this difference brought out the existence of the inert argon. The circumstances of the discovery and the reasoning which led to it are set forth by Prof. Ramsay, who adds chapters giving the properties of argon and its position among the elements. The author has succeeded well in keeping his book within the comprehension of the persons without special scientific training for whom it was written.

Prof. Crockett's Elements of Plane and Spherical Trigonometry,[4] by a mathematician of note who is Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy in the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has been prepared for the use of beginners in the study. Assuming that a high degree of proficiency can not be expected from such students, the author, not striving after original demonstrations, has limited himself to the selection of simple proofs of the formulas, to which geometrical proofs have in many cases been added. The definitions and explanations are admirably clear and concise. The numerical examples have been computed by the author, with special attention to correctness in the last decimal place. The tables are a special feature, are printed from differentiated type, and on paper of a different tint from the text, so as to make them easier to turn to. They give five places, while the angles in the examples are given to the nearest tenth of a minute. We find the book lucid and convenient.

The recent book of Prof. Keasbey[5] on the Nicaragua Canal urges frankly and emphatically the choice of the Nicaragua route for a canal across Central America, and the assumption by the United States of a dominant position in the political control of this water way. The author opens his discussion with a brief description and comparison of the ten or twelve more or less distinct routes that have been proposed, expressing the decided conviction that the Nicaragua and Panama routes are the only two worth considering, with the advantage on the side of the former. The greater part of the volume is devoted to a history of the attempts that have been made to construct canals in this region and to obtain political control of the territory through which they would pass. The record begins with the first Spanish explorations, and mentions canal projects of Spanish engineers formed before 1550. A chapter on the English freebooters opens an account of the struggle between England and Spain, lasting into the early part of the present century. The term from 1815 to 1865 Prof. Keasbey characterizes as a period of private initiative in canal projects. Two events in this division of his record which have an important bearing on the idea of cutting the American isthmus are the enunciation of the Monroe doctrine and the execution of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty. The time since 1865 he describes as a period of governmental activity in this matter, and he closes his chronicle of recent events by giving his view of the political, the technical, and the diplomatic situations of to-day with regard to the two chief routes. In his concluding chapters he argues for the construction of a canal as of transcendent importance to the economic development of America, and gives his reasons why the United States should control the passage. The volume is carefully indexed and contains four maps.

Among the papers accompanying the Report of the United States Commissioner of Education for 1894-’95 are two dealing with important subjects connected with the educational system of Great Britain. One of these is the question of religious instruction in the free schools, and the other is the organization of secondary education as shown by the report of a royal commission. The legal aspects of the Manitoba school case are given in another contribution. Foreign matters of interest treated in other papers are the university education of women in England, the educational status of women in various countries, and English teaching on the history of the American Revolution. Of domestic interest are the chapters on teachers' pensions, Chautauqua education, and early educational history in the United States.

The book on Alternating Currents and Alternating Current Machinery, by Profs. Dugald C and John P. Jackson, forms Volume II of their textbook on Electromagnetism and the Construction of Dynamos (Macmillan, $3.50). The authors have followed in it methods that have been found advantageous in teaching other branches of engineering. The volume is designed to present the fundamental phenomena of alternating currents as met with in engineering practice, and to point out their controlling principles and applications. Descriptions and illustrations of commercial machinery are not included per se, though where practical data may be useful in illustrating deductions in the text they are copiously used. For the fuller information of the reader, a large number of references are given in footnotes. In the chapters on polyphase currents the authors could not hope to supply a list of references that would remain long adequate, as material of overshadowing importance is being constantly published. Descriptions of experiments having only historical interest have been carefully excluded. In the use of mathematics the authors have sought to avoid presenting unnecessary formulas on the one hand, or giving results without reasons on the other. Numerous original demonstrations of the standard formulas have been introduced and a few additions have been made to the nomenclature. The volume contains over three hundred diagrams and other figures, and is adequately indexed.

In a neatly printed little pamphlet H. Edwin Lewis has discussed The Philosophy of Sex scientifically, delicately, and impressively. His chapter on Reproduction and the Origin of Sex and that on the Nature and Relation of Sex lead up to an earnest appeal for sexual purity, which can not fail to help well-intentioned persons who are weak or thoughtless or who do not know where to turn for guidance. (Vermont Medical Publishing Co., Burlington, 35 cents.)

Much out of the common run of textbooks is Number and its Algebra, by Arthur Lefevre (Heath, $1.25). It deals with the theory of numerical operations, and is designed to be introductory to a collegiate course in algebra. It thus bears a similar relation to algebra that the chapters on chemical philosophy in books on chemistry bear to their main subject. The mathematical operations whose natures are explained range from counting up to work with radical surds, undetermined coefficients, roots of integral and quadratic equations, radix fractions, and functions. The several chapters are based on lectures which the author has given for a number of years to his university students with the especial design of aiding the large part of them who were preparing to teach, hence pedagogical applications will be found throughout the book. "Plainly the first step," says the author, "to the understanding of the algebra of number is to understand the nature and laws of number. It is hoped that these lectures have been a fairly adequate guide and stimulus to this step. After mastering what may be called the vocabulary of the language (proficiency in this matter has been assumed), the next step is to grasp the idea of algebraic form. In the study of algebra this should be the main standpoint. It is only by following out the problems which arise in a systematic study of algebraic form that the modern developments of pure algebra, or its applications to geometry, can be rightly comprehended."

From the Department of Agriculture we have received Insects affecting Domestic Animals, an account of the species of importance in North America, by Herbert Osborne, Professor of Zoölogy and Entomology, Iowa Agricultural College. This report gives, in about three hundred pages, a description of all the parasites the stock raiser has to contend with. After an introductory chapter on parasites in general, the following six chapters deal with the various pests in detail. The seventh chapter tells of remedies and preventive treatment. Classified lists and a bibliography complete the pamphlet. The report represents the result of investigations carried on at intervals since 1885. In the words of L. O. Howard, entomologist to the department, it "will form an excellent textbook of the subject, and is a work which should be in the hands of all stock raisers." It is fully illustrated by plates and cuts.

Observations on the Fur Seals of the Pribiloff Island—Preliminary Report by David Starr Jordan, Commissioner in charge of Fur-seal Investigations for 1896—brings some interresting data as to the condition and the fishery of seals on a little cluster of islands in the Bering Sea. Under different headings it describes the islands, the rookeries, habits and breeding of the seal, and the different modes of killing, and their effects. A number of statistical tables put these difficult investigations on a scientifically accurate basis; and a map appended to the pamphlet locates the routes of the seal under way.

The February number of the Expositor, a theological magazine, opens with a rather searching criticism of Ian Maclaren's The Mind of the Master, by the Lord Bishop of Derry and Raphoe. He points out what to him seem numerous errors of interpretation of the Gospels; and from his Anglican point of view the Rev. John Watson's broad if not exactly new proposition—that of substituting the Sermon on the Mount for the creeds of Christendom—would mean a giving over of Christianity altogether. Among the other papers of interest to lay readers may be mentioned Christian Perfection, by the Rev. Joseph Agar Beet; John's View of the Sabbath Rest, by the Rev. George Matheson; and The Priest of Penitence, by the Rev. E. N. Bennett. Among the reviews a large space is given to books on social topics. Two of these reviews are by Prof. Richard T. Ely, and one by Prof. William Adams Brown.

The Analytic Keys to the Genera and Species of North American Mosses, prepared by Charles M. Barnes, and published by the University of Wisconsin, is a new edition and enlargement of a Key to Genera published for free distribution in 1886, and Keys to Species published in 1890, and is intended to serve the same purpose as they—of furnishing a convenience to students rather than to present a critical study of North American mosses. It includes, therefore, a very large number of new species that have been described since 1890. For the benefit of amateurs, though specialists may not need them, collected descriptions are appended of all species not found in Lesquereux and James's Manual. The attempt is made to include all the species reported or described as belonging to our flora, unless later study of the genus has shown the addition to be untenable; and such special studies are cited in the Keys. Pains have been taken to include as many of the barren and insufficiently described species as possible, in order that they may be recognized, if they exist, or may be referred to their proper place. Varieties are not discriminated, but inquiry into the subject is suggested. The work of preparing this edition has been largely done by Mr. de F. Heald, with the co-operation of the author.

Prof. G. Frederick Wright's comprehensive and fully illustrated account of The Ice Age in North America, which first appeared in 1889, reached its fourth edition in 1896 (Appletons, $5). Detailed work upon the glaciated areas has been going on actively since the third edition came out, but Dr. Wright finds no occasion to modify materially his original statements, either of fact or of theory. In his preface to the new issue he gives a list of papers in which the results of this recent work have been embodied, accompanying it with notes on the contents of many of the papers. He inserts also a map prepared by Mr. Warren Upham showing the three stages in which Prof. T. C. Chamberlin has classified the glacial formations of North America and the later lines of recession toward the northeast. Prof. Wright sees many open questions in glacial geology "inviting the continued attention of local observers and promising to all interesting and important discoveries."

The Report of the New York State Board of Charities for 1895 gives evidence of a year of active work. The report proper is accompanied by a large number of special reports of inspections by one or more members of the board, made to ascertain the general condition of the several hospitals, almshouses, children's homes, and other charitable institutions in the State or to investigate alleged abuses. Institutions found to be in good condition are cordially praised, and defects are unhesitatingly condemned. The ordinary operations of the institutions under the supervision of the board are fully shown in tables.

  1. Autocars. By D. Farman. New York: The Macmillan Co. Pp. 249, 12mo. Price, $1.50.
  2. A Birding on a Bronco. By Florence A. Merriam. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. Price, $1.25.
  3. The Gases of the Atmosphere. By William Ramsay, F. R. S. London and New York: The Macmillan Co. Pp. 240, 12mo. Price, $2.
  4. Elements of Plane and Spherical Trigonometry, with Tables. By C.W. Crockett. American Book Company. Pp. 311. Price, $1.25.
  5. The Nicaragua Canal and the Monroe Doctrine. By Lindley Miller Keasbey. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. Pp, 622, 8vo. Price, $3.50.