Popular Science Monthly/Volume 23/October 1883/Popular Miscellany

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 23 October 1883  (1883) 
Popular Miscellany


The American Association.—The thirty-second annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science was opened at Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 15th, with the usual forms. The welcoming addresses were made by the Governor of the State, the mayor of the city, and Dr. Folwell, President of the State University, in whose halls the sessions were held. The address of the retiring president, Professor Dawson, was delivered in the evening, after which the members of the Association were entertained at a citizens' reception. Professor William A. Rogers, Vice-President of the Section of Mathematics and Astronomy, read an address on the "German Survey of the Northern Heavens." Professor H. A. Rowland, of Baltimore, Vice-President of the Physical Section, made "A Plea for Pure Science," in a paper which was marked by many strong thoughts. Professor Hitchcock, of the Geological and Geographical Section, gave a review of the "Early History of the North American Continent." In the General Sciences, Professor E. D. Cope presented in a lecture "The Evidence for Evolution in the History of the Extinct Mammalia," and Dr. T. Sterry Hunt outlined "A Classification of the Natural Sciences." The Committee on Indexing the Literature of Chemical Elements reported progress to the Chemical Section. Among the other papers read in the various sections we notice that of Professor Holden, of Madison, Wisconsin, on the total solar eclipse of May 6, 1883, and Dr. Janssen's letter on the French observations of the same phenomenon. Mr. G. W. Hough, of Chicago, discussed some "Physical Phenomena on the Planet Jupiter." Mr. O. S. Wolcott, of Chicago, considered "Some Hitherto Undeveloped Properties of Squares." Professor W. A. Rogers continued from the Montreal meeting the subject of the determination of the relation between the imperial yard and the metre of the archives. Mr. F. E. Nipher, of St. Louis, gave an account of the magnetic survey of Missouri. The Signal Service received attention in a criticism of its operations and efficiency by Gustavus Heinrichs; in an account by Professor Mendenhall, of a method for the distribution of weather forecasts by means of emblems fixed upon railway-trains, which has been tried in Ohio; and in a plan for a State signal service, by Professor Nipher. Professor Macfarland, of Towanda, Pennsylvania, endeavored to show, in his paper on "The New Madrid Earthquake" of 1811, that the phenomenon was not an earthquake, but a subsidence of land which had been undermined by limestone caverns. Julius Pohlman, of Buffalo, presented a new view of the "Life History of Niagara River"; Professor Warren Upham read a paper on "The Minnesota Valley in the Ice Age." Much attention was given to topics bearing on agriculture, in the address of Professor Beal on that subject, and in papers by Professor Richardson on the composition of American wheat, of Professor Sturtevant on maize and sorghum kernels and on agricultural botany, and of Professor H. W. Wiley on American butter. Professor E. S. Morse gave an interesting account of the manner in which he had made use of the sun's rays for ventilating and partly warming his rooms, and presented papers on Japanese games and Eastern kitchens. Among the remaining papers we remark those of Elizur Wright on "Life-Insurance and Self-Insurance"; of Professor J. C. Arthur on a sea-weed of the Wisconsin lakes which produces poisonous effects at particular seasons; of T. R. Baker on terra-cotta lumber; of Professor Claypole on the potato-beetle and the Hessian fly; of Professor Riley on an insect exterminator; and observations on caverns, and on cyclones and tornadoes. We propose to publish abstracts or full reports in future numbers of such of these papers as may be of more general and popular interest. The next meeting of the Association was appointed to be held in Philadelphia. Dr. J. P. Lesley, of Philadelphia, was chosen President for the year, and sectional vice-presidents were appointed as follows: A (Mathematics and Astronomy), Professor H. T. Eddy, of Cincinnati; B (Physics), Professor John Trowbridge, of Cambridge; C (Chemistry), Professor J. W. Langley, of Ann Arbor; D (Mechanical Science), Professor H. B. Thurston, of Hoboken; E (Geology and Geography), Professor N. H. Winchell, of Minneapolis; F (Biology), Professor E. D. Cope, of Philadelphia; G (Histology and Microscopy), Professor T. G. Wormley, of Philadelphia; H (Anthropology), Professor E. S. Morse, of Salem; I (Economic Science and Statistics), Hon. John Eaton, of Washington. Permanent Secretary, Mr. F. W. Putnam, of Cambridge; General Secretary, Dr. Alfred Springer, of Cincinnati.


Dr. Harkness on the Nevada Footprints.—Dr. D. W. Harkness has contributed a paper to the San Francisco Academy of Sciences stating his reasons for maintaining, against the arguments of Professor Marsh and others, that the Carson (Nevada) "footprints" were made by a man, "homo Nevadensis" and not by a quadruped. The reasons are founded on the evidence given by the impressions that they were not made by a natural foot, but by one supplied with an artificial protection. Among the points of evidence adduced by Dr. Harkness is that the marks of the pads or cushions, with which the feet of all animals are provided, and by which their foot-prints are distinguished, are wholly absent from the impressions. The absence of any evidence that the maker of the tracks had more than two feet is also insisted upon. "The curve of the foot is so regular and so constant as to show that in every instance the hind-foot —if of a quadruped—was at all times placed exactly upon the forward foot, or that both the forward and the hind feet were of exactly the same form—conditions which, to say the least, are extremely improbable." Evidence appears to be afforded in the shape of the tracks of one or two of the series that they were made by a yielding material which, like leather softened by moisture, gave way and was bent up at the sides. Unless something of this kind is admitted, the tracks must be believed to have been made by animals of different species. Other variations in the shapes of the tracks may be more readily accounted for by supposing them to have been made by sandals of different cuts than by quadrupeds having differently shaped feet. Dr. Harkness accounts for the width of the straddle, which has been urged against the human origin of the tracks, by suggesting that it would be cue of the natural results of the exertion of walking in mud with the feet encumbered by such an unwieldy load as the enormous sandals.


Hygienic Qualities of Electric and Gas Lights.—Mr. B. H. Thwaite suggested, some years ago, that the intense heat developed in the arc electric light would produce a rearrangement in the gaseous contents of the atmosphere, by changing a mechanical combination into a chemical one, with the resultant development of deleterious nitrogen oxides. Mr. Wills, F. C. S., showed by experiment that ten to twelve grains of nitric acid were developed in an hour by the electric lamp. This rearrangement of gases is not produced in the incandescent lamps, for, besides the less development of heat, the filaments are kept in a vacuum. Hence, per se, the electric light of the incandescent type is hygienically satisfactory; but neither the incandescent nor the arc electric light assists vegetation. Besides the nitrogen oxides produced by the arc-light, says Mr. Thwaite, probably as much carbon dioxide is produced for the same illuminating power as is produced by the combustion of coal-gas. In both lights, the luminosity proceeds from the same cause— carbon heated to incandescence. The light produced by incandescent lamps is in almost perfect accord with the laws of visual or ocular hygiene, for it permits a choice of colors, but the arc-light is not so satisfactory, because* it induces fatigue by its variations and its glare. The products of the combustion of coal-gas are aqueous vapor and carbon dioxide, with sulphuric acid resulting from the oxidation of the bisulphide of carbon contained in the gas. Besides these, nitrogen is set free from its mechanical combination with oxygen, but it is practically harmless. These gases may be removed by putting over the burners pipes for conveying them to the open air; and, if this were done, as it ought always to be done, the greatest disadvantage of the system of coal-gas lighting would be removed, and adequate ventilation would at the same time be provided. With regenerative burners, the intensity of combustion could be increased to such a degree that the light would be white and neutral, permitting colors of the most delicate hues to be easily distinguished. We should then have a light not only hygienically perfect, but, to the extent that it is utilized for assisting ventilation, superior in that respect to the best electric light.


Aëration of Peaty Water.—Professor W. N. Hartley and Mr. Gerard A. Kinchan, of Dublin, have made experiments with reference to the alleged power of aëration to purify the water of rivers from peaty matter they may have in solution, from which they are led to deny the existence of such power to any measurable extent. Their first experiment was made at the Powerscourt Fall of the Dargle River, where the water descends 300 feet vertically, and mostly in the form of spray. Here, if anywhere, aëration should have been general and effective; yet analyses of specimens from above and below the fall showed no variation in the amount of carbon beyond what could be attributed to experimental error. Next, samples of the water of Carawaystick Brook were taken, from distances 1,600 feet apart, between which a fall of 700 feet took place. These specimens were likewise found to be nearly identical in composition, with neither the carbon nor the nitrogen diminished by the aëration consequent upon the fall. The introduction of mineral matters often produced very much greater effects than it was possible to show to be connected with aeration, and which varied in a considerable degree according to the nature of the matters added. From his experiments on this point, Professor Hartley derives the conclusion that the peaty coloring-matter in water "acts like an organic acid, and that it is probably a body of the type of alizarine or litmus, and is only slightly soluble, or is even insoluble in pure water, but is readily dissolved in water containing traces of alkali, or of soluble carbonate, such as ammonia or potash. With metallic oxides, iron and alumina, it forms insoluble compounds of the nature of lakes. Lime-water also precipitates it. Mineral acids, sulphuric, hydrochloric, and nitric, precipitate it. Peaty water may be perfectly bright and free from turbidity. These facts, and a further observation that subsidence will not clear a peaty water of its coloring-matter, lead to the conclusion that the coloring-matter is held in solution, and is precipitated as a lake, by various mineral bases." These conclusions are applicable to organic matter of a peaty character only.


Traits of Ancient American Civilization.—Max Steffer, in a recently published book on the "Agricultural Economy of the Civilized Ancient American Peoples," declares that it is really shameful to our boasted Caucasian superiority that European agency, instead of advancing the civilization of those nations, utterly destroyed it. The relics we have of them represent the vestiges of a civilization which in its way not only yielded nothing to that of the avaricious Spaniards, but in many respects surpassed it. They furnish evidences of a thorough systematic regulation of affairs, and of the cultivation of the soil by steady industry, with careful foresight and skilled practice. The Mexican people had secured an irrigation of the soil by means of canals without machines, to which the only counterparts in Spain were the works, not more ingenious, which the Moors had left; and the Spaniards betrayed their incapacity to appreciate the value of such constructions by allowing them to go to ruin, and sometimes destroying them in the expectation of finding golden water-pipes within them. The cultivation and irrigation of the soil were matters of public interest, and agriculture was placed under similar regulations to those which prevail in China and Japan. The division of the land and all changes in possession were made under the direction of the magistrates. Many conditions in the details of management were similar to those prevailing in Japan. Both people were without yoke-animals, and their estates were so small, and their manner of living such, that the employment of such animals was not necessary. The cultivation was rather that of the garden than of the field, and, as animals were not kept, the additional land they demand was not required. In the absence of domestic animals, minute and painstaking devices to get manure, like those prevailing in China, were adopted. The Peruvians enjoyed an advantage in having guano. Like the Eastern Asiatics, the ancient Americans also had no milk, although they possessed in the llama an animal that might have furnished them that aliment, with all its products.


Hints on Furnace-heating; and Ventilation.—Mr. E. S. Philbrick, C. E., of Boston, has given some useful hints in "The Sanitary Engineer" on the management of heating apparatus and furnace-ventilation. If the air-box of the furnace is not opened after a wind subsides, if it is not open enough at any time, or, if, during windy weather, the air-box is not large enough to supply all the demand, the air is often taken by natural laws from one room down to the furnace and through it, to supply another room. The former room then becomes cooled off. In the last case the rooms on the windward side of the house are always the ones cooled, for it is hard to force the air into them from the hot-air pipes, unless an open fire is supplied to draw off the surplus pressure. Open fireplaces are efficient, generally, in promoting the comfort of the family, even if no fires are lighted in them. Air can not be induced to enter a tight room unless some means of escape is given it, and the fireplaces furnish that. The course of the air entering the room from the heating apparatus is to rise to the ceiling and spread out there. It then descends along the sides of the room exposed to the open air, and is withdrawn by the fireplace if there is any which thus serves to facilitate the distribution of the heat in the lower part of the room. If the opening in the chimney is near the ceiling, the warm air will go out there without descending to the floor. It is important, in providing cold-air inlets for any kind of heating apparatus, to see that they take the air from a point where it is pure. They should also take it from the north or northwest, for the coldest winds come from that direction, and the heating of the house at such times is made much more convenient and safe if the prevailing draughts are made to assist it. If the inlets are on the south side of the house, the furnace is liable to be supplied, as is sometimes the case, with air from the northern rooms, entering the house through window-cracks or clown a cold chimney, and sending the heated air out through the cold-air box into the back yard. There are limits, and they are not very wide, to the horizontal heating capacity of the best furnaces. Hence, if the ground-plan of the house is extensive, two or more furnaces should be provided rather than to depend upon one. Steam and hot-water apparatus are better horizontal distributors of heat than hot-air furnaces. As between the two, Mr. Philbrick prefers the hot-water apparatus as more easily managed, and more adjustable to mild temperatures, though its first cost is greater than that of steam apparatus. With either, the main dependence for heat should be upon air that has been heated by passing through the apparatus, rather than by direct radiation from pipes or surfaces in the rooms, which should be used only as auxiliaries.


Long Days and Plant-Growth.—The Norwegian plant-geographer, Schübeler, a short time ago called attention to some striking and surprising peculiarities manifested by vegetation in high latitudes, which he ascribed to the intensive light-effects of the long days. Most plants in these regions produce much larger and heavier seeds than in lower latitudes; and the difference is in some cases astonishing. Dwarf beans taken from Christiania to Drontheim gained more than sixty per cent in weight; and thyme from Lyons when planted at Drontheim showed a gain of seventy-one per cent. Grain is heavier in the north than in more southern latitudes; and Norwegian seed planted at Breslau fell off greatly in the first year. Another remarkable fact is that the increase of weight in northern latitudes takes place through the assimilation of non-nitrogenous substances, while the protein products have no part in it. The leaves also of most plants grow larger in high latitudes, and at the same time take on a deeper, darker color. This peculiarity, first noticed by Grisebach and Martins, has been observed not only in most of the wild trees and shrubs, but also in fruit-trees, and even in kitchen garden plants. It has further been observed that the flowers of most plants are larger and more deeply colored, and that many flowers which are white in the south become in the far north violet.


Brain-Work under Pressure.—A writer in "The Journal of Science," on "Cram and its Amenities," only utters a truism when he remarks that brain-work is not per se physically injurious, but that, when kept within reasonable bounds and right conditions, it appears distinctly favorable to health and long life. He enforces the fact by some happy illustrations. An essential condition to the prosecution of brain-work without injury is that the organ must be sufficiently mature before it is subjected to much exertion; hence, it is disastrous to crowd the brains of children. Another important condition under which study is wholesome "is freedom from anxiety, hurry, and worry. This condition is admirably illustrated in the career of almost all great investigators of nature. Woehler (who died at eighty-two), for instance, contributed no fewer than two hundred and twenty-five memoirs to the scientific journals or to the transactions of learned societies. Almost all of these papers arc of great value, and many of them embody the outcome of months of careful and delicate experimentation. But in no one case was he compelled to finish any of these researches at a certain date, under appropriate pains and penalties. Precisely the same was the case with Darwin: he was able to pursue his inquiries calmly and dispassionately; able always to take two or three years, if his task could not be finished in one, and in no fear of unpleasant consequences if some idea which he had taken up should lead to nothing. But, if we say to a youth, or, worse still, to a child, 'You must, by a given date, reach a certain standard of knowledge, a certain grade of culture, to be judged of in a summary way . . .,' we place him in the very conditions wherein study becomes unsanitary, even ruinous, and that the more decidedly the more immature the brain." This is the tendency in hosts of schools, where everything is made to depend on examinations, the winning of honors at exhibitions, or on prizes and competitions.


Troubles of a Transfusionist in the Olden Time.—The "Union Médicale" quotes from an old book a curious story of the troubles which beset a physician who experimented in transfusion of blood in the seventeenth century. A Dr. Denys, of Rheims, a strong believer in transfusion, tried that remedy, using calf's blood, with great success, upon a young man whom he found mad in the streets. The patient recovered, and continued well for two months, when he relapsed into dementia. A second experiment worked improvement, but not a cure. The young man soon lost his senses entirely, and his wife brought him again to Denys. A new operation only increased the patient's pains, and he died in a few hours. The widow then brought suit against Denys for killing her husband, and the doctor brought a counteraction against the woman for trying to poison him. The suit went in favor of the woman, but was afterward carried, through a course of appeals, to the Parliament. The case seems ultimately to have been discharged, but an edict was issued forbidding the practice of transfusion, under pain of corporal punishment.


Fertilizers and Savages.—"To what extent is the use of agricultural fertilizers known among uncivilized people?" is one of the questions raised in a paper by Mr. G. Browne Goode, on "The Uses of Agricultural Fertilizers by the American Indians and the Early English Colonists." Mr. Goode finds clear evidence in his historical readings that the Indians of New England used and taught the early settlers to use the menhaden as a manure. The aboriginal name, munnawhattcaug, whence our menhaden is derived, means fertilizer, and another name, paghaden, is derived from a verb which means to enrich the land. Governor Bradford tells, in his "History of Plimouth Plantation," how the Indian Squanto taught the colonists in planting their corn, that, "excepte they got fish, and set with it (in these old grounds), it would come to nothing." George Mourt, in a journal published in 1622, in speaking of the planting, says, "According to the manner of Indians, we manured our ground with herrings, or rather shads." No other direct reference to its use by Indians is quoted, but several instances are found in which the employment by the colonists of fish for manure is mentioned. Dr. Rau has met with but one allusion to the use of fertilizers by uncivilized races. It is in the writings of Garcilasso de Vega, who mentions the use of guano by the Peruvians. Mr. H. H. Bancroft has found in a translation of the Quiche MS., by Brasseur de Bourbourg, a notice of the Maya custom of cutting and burning the growth on the corn-fields, and allowing the ashes to remain as manure. This, however, was accidental rather than intentional fertilization, as the main object of the burning was to clear away rubbish. Professor Atwater has learned that the Indians of the north shore of Lake Superior use white-fish and lake-trout in manuring their fields, and Mr. Dall says that the Indians of Alaska have learned a rude system of agriculture from the Russians.