Popular Science Monthly/Volume 54/April 1899/Minor Paragraphs


In a report of an inspection of three French match factories, published as a British Parliamentary paper, Dr. T. Oliver records as his impressions and deductions that while until recently the match makers suffered severely from phosphorus poisoning, there is now apparently a reduction in the severe forms of the illness; that this reduction is attributable to greater care in the selection of the work people, to raising the age of admission into the factory, to medical examination on entrance, subsequent close supervision, and repeated dental examination; to personal cleanliness on the part of the workers; to early suspension on the appearance of symptoms of ill health; and to improved methods of manufacture. The French Government is furthering by all possible means new methods of manufacture in the hope of finding a safer one; and a match free from white phosphorus and still capable of striking anywhere is already manufactured.

A mechanical and engineering section is to be organized in the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, to be devoted to the consideration of subjects bearing upon the mechanic arts and the engineering problems connected therewith. The growth of the various departments of this institution—which has been fitly termed a "democratic learned society," from the close affiliation in it of the men of the professions and the men of the workshops—by natural accretion, and the steadily growing demands for the extension of its educational work during the past decade, have increased the costs for maintenance and administration and have been the cause of a deficit in nearly every year. A movement is now on foot, approved by the board of managers, and directed by a special committee, to secure for it an endowment, toward which a number of subscriptions ranging from two hundred and fifty to twenty-five hundred dollars have already been received.

The earthquake which took place in Assam, June 12, 1897, was described by Mr. R. D. Oldham in the British Association as having been the most violent of which there is any record. The shock was sensible over an area of 1,750,000 square miles, and if it had occurred in England, not a house would have been left standing between Manchester and London. Landslips on an unprecedented scale were produced, a number of lakes were formed, and mountain peaks were moved vertically and horizontally. Monuments of solid stone and forest trees were broken across. Bridges were overthrown, displaced, and in some places thrust bodily up to a height of about twenty feet, and the rails on the railroads were twisted and bent. Earth fissures were formed over an area larger than the United Kingdom, and sand rents, from which sand and water were forced in solid streams to a height of three or four feet above the ground, were opened "in incalculable numbers." The loss of life was comparatively small, as the earthquake occurred about five o'clock in the afternoon, and the damage done was reduced by the fact that there were no large cities within the area of greatest violence; but in extent and capacity of destruction, as distinguished from destruction actually accomplished, this earthquake surpassed any of which there was historical mention, not even excepting the great earthquake of Lisbon in 1755.

The first section of the electric railway up the Jungfrau, which is intended to reach the top of the mountain, was opened about the first of October, 1898. The line starts from the Little Scheidegg station of the existing Wengern Alp Railway, 6,770 feet above the sea, and ascends the mountain masses from the north side, passing the Eiger Glacier, Eiger Wand, Eismeer, and Jungfraujoch stations, to Lift, 13,430 feet, whence the ascent is completed by elevator to the summit, 13,670 feet. The road starts on a gradient of ten per cent, which is increased to twenty per cent about halfway to the Eiger Glacier station, and to twenty-five per cent, the steepest, after passing that station. There are about 85 yards in tunnel on the section now opened, but beyond the Eiger Glacier the road will not touch the surface except at the stations. About 250 yards of the long tunnel have been excavated so far. The stations beyond Eiger Wand will be built within the rock, and will be furnished with restaurants and beds. At the Eiger Wand and Eismeer stations passengers will contemplate the view through windows or balconies from the inside; but at the Jungfraujoch station tourists will be able to go out and take sledges for the great Aletsch Glacier. The cars will accommodate forty passengers each, and the company expects to complete the railroad by 1904.

Alexander A. Lawes, civil engineer, of Sydney, Australia, suggests a plan of mechanical flight on beating wings as presenting advantages that transcend all other schemes. He believes that the amount of power required to operate wings and the difficulty in applying it are exaggerated beyond all measure. The wings or sustainers of the bird in flight, he urges, are held in the outstretched position without any exertion on its part; and many birds, like the albatross, sustain themselves for days at a stretch. "This constitutes its aërial support, and is analogous to the support derived by other animals from land and water." The sole work done by the bird is propulsion and elevation by the beating action of the wings. Mr. Adams's machine, which he does not say he has tried, is built in conformity to this principle, and its sails are modeled as nearly as possible in form and as to action with those of the bird. The aid of an air cylinder is further called in, through which a pressure is exerted balancing the wings. The wings are moved by treadles, and the author's picture of the aëronaut looks like a man riding an aërial bicycle.

Carborundum, a substance highly extolled by its manufacturers as an abrasive, is composed of carbon and silicon in atomic proportions—thirty parts by weight of carbon and seventy of silicon. It is represented as being next to the diamond in hardness and as cutting emery and corundum with ease, but as not as tough as the diamond. It is a little more than one and a fifth times the weight of sand, is infusible at the highest attainable heat, but is decomposed in the electric arc, and is insoluble in any of the ordinary solvents, water, oils, and acids, even hydrofluoric acid having no effect upon it. Pure carborundum is white. In the commercial manufacture the crystals are produced in many colors and shades, partly as the result of impurities and partly by surface oxidation. The prevailing colors are green, black, and blue. The color has no effect upon the hardness. Crude carborundum, as taken from the furnace, usually consists of large masses or aggregations of crystals, which are frequently very beautifully colored and of adamantine luster.

A peculiarity of Old English literary usage is pointed out by Prof. Dr. L. Kellner, of Vienna, as illustrated in a sentence like "the mob is ignorant, and they are often cruel." This is considered a bad solecism in modern English, but in Old and Middle English constructions of exactly the same kind are so often met with that it is impossible to account for them as slips and mistakes. They may be brought under several heads, as, Number (the same collective noun used as a singular and a plural); Case (the same verb or adjective governing the genitive and accusative, the genitive and dative, or the dative and accusative); Pronoun ("thou" and "ye" used in addressing the same person); Tense (past and perfect, or past and historical present used in the same breath); Mood (indicative and subjunctive used in the same clause). Finite verb and infinitive dependent on the same verb; simple and prepositional infinitives dependent on the same verb; infinitive and verbal noun used side by side; different prepositions dependent on the same verb, like Caxton's "He was eaten by bears and of lions"; direct and indirect speech alternating in the same clause. These facts, which are met with as late as 1611 (Bible, authorized version), point to the conclusion that what to us appears as a grammatical inconsistency was once considered a welcome break in the monotony of construction.

Mr. Fischer Sigwart is quoted in the Revue Scientifique as having studied the life of frogs for thirty years, and found that they are night wanderers, keeping comparatively quiet during the day and seeking their prey after dark. In the fall they leave their hunting grounds in the fields and woods and take refuge near swamps and ponds, passing the winter in the banks of rivers or the mud in the bottoms of ponds, whence they come out in the spring, when the process of reproduction begins. The frog is not sexually mature till it is four or five years old. The coupling process lasts from three to thirty days. Between its spring wakening and spawning the frog eats nothing except, perhaps, its own skin, which it moults periodically. After spawning, frogs leave the water and go to the fields and woods. They can be fed, when kept captive, upon insects and earthworms.