Popular Science Monthly/Volume 56/January 1900/Minor Paragraphs


While it recognizes the desirability of agreeing upon some language as a general medium of communication between nations, the London Spectator presents certain forcible reasons for not seeking to institute one universal language. "Mankind," it says, "will never adopt a universal language, nor is it to be desired that it should. The instrument for expressing thought must vary with the character, history, and mental range of those who have thoughts to express, and if all men spoke alike, ninety-nine per cent of them would be speaking stiffly—not using, that is, a natural and self-developed vehicle of expression. Arabic could not have grown up among Englishmen, or English among Arabs. The seclusion of nations, too, from one another by the want of a common tongue is by no means all loss, and we may doubt with reason why the higher races would not be degraded if they understood without effort all that the lower races say to one another. They would be bred, as it were, in the servants' hail, not to their advantage."

In a recent address on The Chemistry of the Infinitely Little, M. Grimaux referred to the fact, with which all who have thought about it have been struck, that pathogenic microbes being diffused all through the atmosphere, everybody must breathe and absorb all sorts of them, including germs of typhoid fever, scarlet fever, diphtheria, etc., and yet we are not all attacked with those diseases. "Why? Because each person has a peculiar temperament, and cells adapted, to a greater or less extent, to resist the microbe, to destroy it when it enters the organism, and thus constitutes, as the case may be, a good or a bad cultural medium. Every one, we might say, is immune against some or other of the pathogenic microbes. Like immunity belongs also to certain animal species, and if a microbe pathogenic to man or to some other species is injected into them they will resist it. The blood of refractory animals probably contains principles not yet known which oppose the development of the infectious microbe. From this fact the idea has been suggested of injecting the blood of refractory animals and communicating an artificial immunity to the individual to whom the injection is applied.

M. J. Crépin, of Paris, "an enthusiast concerning the goat," as M. de Parville calls him in La Nature, has established a model goat dairy, and is endeavoring to diffuse a taste for goat's milk and its products. As a means to this end, he has sought to procure an improved breed of goats, and has obtained a stock of very satisfactory quality by crossing the best native goats with the Nubian buck. The latter animal is rather awkward in form and movement, but M. Crépin hopes to breed that out. Otherwise the Nubian is well acclimated, vigorous, and indifferent to cold, hornless, and a most excellent milker. Goat's milk generally is richer in caseine than cow's milk, and owes some of its special qualities to this fact, and to the further circumstance that the flecks of goat-milk cheese are smaller, softer, and more easily broken up—consequently more digestible—than those of cow's milk. Further, goat's milk is more nearly than any other common milk like in composition to human mother's milk; and it has the very great advantage that, the goat being less subject to attacks of tuberculosis and other dangerous disorders, it is comparatively free from the liability to convey infection. A single objection to the general use of goat's milk is the odor which is supposed to be characteristic of it, but M. Crépin affirms that this is not apparent when the goats are properly bred and kept. M. Crépin is experimenting with butter from goat's milk, and represents that he finds it very nice.

The fundamental principle involved in the new form of telemeter, or instrument for estimating the distance of visible objects without actual measurement, invented by Herr Zeiss, of Jena, is that of the stereoscopic effect which appears in natural vision, where the inclination of the eyes in concentrating on the object gives the sense of distance. The base line between the eyes is increased in the Zeiss instrument by means of a system of prisms so as to give a widened base of binocular vision, and of mirrors which give magnifying power. Double images are formed, the distance between which varies in proportion to the distance from the observer, and appliances are provided for measuring how far apart they are. The arrangement is fairly satisfactory for moderate distances—say of 3,000 metres, or about 10,000 feet.

M. Moissan believes that he has found a solution of the problem of the manufacture of ammonia from the a tmosphere, and consequently of rendering atmospheric nitrogen available in agriculture, by the artificial production of calcium nitride. While calcium undergoes no change in contact with nitrogen at the ordinary temperature, it is affected by it under the operation of heat, and finally burns in it, absorbing it rapidly and giving rise to a bronze-colored nitride. Thrown into water, this substance decomposes with effervescence, producing ammonia and calcium hydrate.

Prof. A. E. Dolbear, of Tufts College, Massachusetts, patented an invention for telegraphing without wires in 1886, which he claims covers all that Marconi is doing. He has sent messages with it for as long distances as five miles. According to his account he invented the system and made successful experiments with it as far back as 1882. He made an application for a patent, which was rejected by the Patent Office with the statement that it was contrary to science and would not work. "But as it did work, the claim was maintained in the office, and four years later, in 1886, a patent for it was issued." Professor Dolbear does not wish it to be understood that his patent is on the "art of wireless telegraphy," but that it covers everything that has been so far done in the art.

On the occasion of the visit of the French Association to the British Association, Prof. J. J. Thomson gave an exposition of the lines of research by which it has been concluded that the atom is not the smallest existing quantity of matter. Electro-chemical phenomena teach us to associate a definite amount of electricity with each atom of matter; but these recent researches indicate that under certain circumstances a much larger quantity of negative electricity may be conveyed by the atom, or else that the negative electrical charge resides on a small detachable portion of the "atom," which alone is concerned in the experiments. The positive charge seems to be distributed over the whole mass of the atom.

The merits of two methods of clarifying sewage—by dilution and by bacterial action—are discussed by Mr. Rudolph Hering in articles in the Engineering Magazine. Disposal by dilution in large streams of water is regarded as satisfactory in many places—where the water of the stream is not to be used for drinking or cooking—provided the flow of the stream is always copious enough to dilute and disperse the sewage so widely as to prevent putrefaction and substitute oxidation. For purification by bacterial action no single method is found adapted to all conditions. The method by filtration and aeration is declared practicable only in localities where a sufficient area of porous land is available, upon which the crude sewage can be spread in sufficient quantity, into which it can filter with the proper velocity, and from which it can emerge as a thoroughly purified water. Where these conditions are absent, other methods must be adopted, of which the experiments in artificial filtration by tanks, as practiced at Exeter and Sutton, England, are described. These experiments promise to improve the present method, but perhaps not as greatly as is anticipated by the promoters. The author regards a prior separation of the suspended or dissolved organic matter as essential to permanent success when the amount of land is limited.

By using the tuberculin test the faculty of the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station have learned that in cattle the tubercle bacillus usually first obtains its foothold in some of the minor glands, that it may exist there for months and years before any other organs are affected, and that it is only in advanced cases that the lungs become diseased. While the growth of the organism is limited to these minor glands the health of the animal usually shows no sign of impairment. During this period there is no evidence that any unwholesome effect is being produced upon the flesh, and so long as the infection is localized in this way in one or two organs the Government inspectors pass the meat as sound. Tuberculosis, therefore, is a very different complaint from such diseases as pleuropneumonia or Texas fever, in which the whole system is saturated from the first instant with the febrile symptoms.