Popular Science Monthly/Volume 39/May 1891/Popular Miscellany

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 39 May 1891  (1891) 
Popular Miscellany


Our Sequoia Forests. — Counting as forests all areas of a thousand acres and upward, Mr. Frank J. Walker computes that there are now 37,200 acres of Sequoia forest in the United States, divided as follows: King's River forest, 7,500 acres; Kaweah River, 14,000; Tule River, 14,000; Kern River, 1,700 acres. They are all south of King's River, and nearly all of them in Tulare County, Cal., and extend over a belt of country beginning at Converse Basin on the north, and ending with the Indian Reservation forest. The groves and forests within this region are more than twenty in number, with an average distance between them of perhaps three or four miles. The southern limit of the Sequoia is the Deer Creek Grove, which contains less than one hundred and fifty Sequoias, scattered over an area of perhaps three hundred acres. Too many of these noble woods have already passed into the hands of speculators, and are doomed shortly to disappear. One tract, including two townships, has lately been saved to the public by the Vandever Bill. It embraces the Sequoia Park forest and most of the Homer Peak forest, and contains what are known as the Fresno Big Trees — among them the General Grant, which is said to be forty feet in diameter. Besides its value for the storage of waters needed for irrigation, this whole region has charming natural attractions that make it most eminently suitable for a park, of which Mr. Walker says: "The height of the Sierra, culminating in Mount Whitney, affords grand scenery of peculiar charm and great variety. Here are three Yosemites rivaling their noted prototype in many features, with a little world of wonders clustering around the head-waters of Kern, Kaweah, and King's Rivers. We will simply mention the Grand Cañon of the Kern, where, for twenty miles, the mad waters of the river are walled in with the continuous battlements of the California Alps, crowned with nameless and unnumbered domes and towers. Then, only a few miles across the divide, extends the cañon of King's River, with its wealth of impressive scenery; and some eight miles farther to the north lies the Valley of Tehipitec — the gem of the Sierra — with its wondrous dome of rock rising in rounded majesty some six thousand feet from the level of the river-cleft meadow at its feet. A view of the most impressive and characteristic scenery of the region is to be earned by scaling one of the lofty peaks of the Kaweah range. At least a hundred peaks here rise to altitudes exceeding ten thousand feet. . . . Here, standing on the crest of the Kaweah Sierra, one looks across the Grand Cañon of the Kem, and the encircling wilderness of crags and peaks is beyond the power of pen to describe. Mounts Moriache, Whitney, Williamson, Tyndall, Kaweah, and a hundred nameless peaks — the crown of our country — have pierced the mantle of green that elothes the cañons below, and are piled into the very sky, jagged and bald, and bleak and hoary — a wilderness of eternal desolation."

The Custom of Potlatch. — One of the most complicated and interesting institutions of the Northwestern Indian tribes of Canada, according to Mr. Horatio Hale's report on the subject to the British Association, is what is called potlatch — the custom of paying debts and of acquiring distinction by means of giving a great feast and making presents to all the guests. It is somewhat difficult to understand the meaning of the potlatch. The author would compare its most simple form to our custom of invitation or making presents, and the obligations arising from the offering, not from the acceptance, of such invitations and presents. Indeed, the system is almost exactly analogous, with the sole exception that the Indian is more anxious to outdo the first giver than the civilized European, who, however, has the same tendency, and that what is custom with us is law to the Indian. Thus by continued potlatches each man becomes necessarily the debtor of the other. According to Indian ideas, any moral or material harm done to a man can be made good by an adequate potlatch. Thus, if a man is ridiculed by another, he gives away a number of blankets to his friends, and so regains his former standing. I remember, for instance, that the grandson of a chief in Hope Island, by unskillful management of his little canoe, was upset near the beach and had to wade ashore. The grandfather felt ashamed on account of the boy's accident, and gave away blankets to take away the occasion of remarks on this subject. In the same way a man who feels injured by another will destroy a certain amount of property; then his adversary is compelled to do the same, else a stain of dishonor would rest upon him. This custom may be compared to a case where a member of civilized society gives away for no good purpose a considerable amount of money ostentatiously in order to show his superiority over a detested neighbor. A remarkable feature cf the potlatch is the custom of giving feasts going beyond the host's means. The procedure on such occasions is also exactly regulated. The foundation of this custom is the solidarity of the individual and the gens, or even the tribe, to which he belongs. If an individual gains social distinction, his gens participates in it. If he loses in respect, the stain rests also on the gens. Therefore the gens contributes to the payments to be made at a festival. If the feast is given to foreign tribes, the whole tribe contributes to these payments. The man who intends to give the potlatch first borrows as many blankets as he needs from both his friends and from those whom he is going to invite to the feast. Every one lends him as many as he can afford, or according to his rank. At the feast these are given away, each man receiving the more the higher his rank is. All those who have received anything at the potlatch have to repay the double amount at a later day, and this is used to repay those who lent blankets. At each such feast the man who gives it acquires a new and more honorable name. In one tribe the chief's son, some time after his father's death, adopts the latter's name. For this purpose he invites all the neighboring tribes to a potlatch. During the festival he stands on the permanent scaffold in front of his house, assisted by two slaves, who distribute the presents among the guests sitting or standing in the street. As it is necessary to give a great festival at the assumption of the chief's name, the new chief continues sometimes for years and years to accumulate wealth for the purpose of celebrating this event.

Persistence of Life. — The distinctions between plant and animal, pointed out by Prof. Dana, in the introduction to his Manual of Geology, have reference to the absorption by the plant of carbonic acid and by the animal of oxygen; of manufacturing organic food for the animal by the plant from inorganic materials, etc. — matters which Prof. Persifor Frazer does not regard as concerning the question of the essential continuity of inorganic with organic force, and the separation of the phenomena of the latter from those of the former by an indefinable line. No hard-and-fast line, in Prof. Frazer's view, can be drawn to separate animal from plant, and none to separate plant from crystal. The force which is the cause of production and of change seems as if it were simply modified to suit the various structures whieh it builds. The material in all three kingdoms of nature is the same. Having reviewed the modes of growth in the three kingdoms, the author concludes that there are strong analogies between them, the divergence being progressive as we go from mineral to plant and from plant to animal. Common characteristics of the three kingdoms are the presence of force, its action upon matter, and ita renewal by the change of one form of matter to another, in the course of which energy is manifested. In the crystal kingdom the restrictions on the existence and growth of the individual being least, and the variations of conditions and environment in which existence is possible greatest, the individuals are more numerous and their composition more diverse. The cycles of changes in the plant and animal kingdom are based for the most part upon the disunion and separate combinations of carbon and hydrogen, because under existing conditions of temperature, etc., these changes can be produced to the greatest advantage of existing kinds of living tilings and life forces. With a much hotter or colder earth, when the weights of bodies were much greater or less than they are now, not surrounded by an ocean of oxygen gas, or deprived of the chemical force of our sun, some changes would be made in the modes in which life is perpetuated to suit the changed conditions of the planet; "but it is extremely unlikely that life would be extinguished by them unless the conditions changed too suddenly." These changes might affect the kind of matter flowing through the living body, or the attributes of the living thing; or, "if both the elements themselves and the rapidity with which they resolved themselves into new combinations were changed, the diversity of the living things and of the world itself would be so different from what they are now that we have no means of forming the least conception of them. But in none of these cases is it likely that life would become extinct, though the present relations to each other of the three kingdoms of nature would cease to be."

Adulterants as Diluents. — People, as a rule, suppose that any substance used as an adulterant of a food-product, or as a substitute for it, is to be avoided as injurious to health. This, according to Mr. Edgar Richards, is not quite correct. It is, in fac, contrary to a manufacturer's interest to use any substance that would cause injurious symptoms, for it would be detrimental to his business. The majority of substances used for food adulterants or substitutes are cheap and harmless, and do mischief only as they go to dilute the genuine article. The principal adulterant of milk is water; and the great harm of it appears when it is fed to a child or an invalid, who might be starved to death if compelled to rely on watered milk for his sole sustenance. The skill of the milk adulterator has kept pace with the march of improvement; and a centrifugal machine is in the market for manufacturing an artificial cream or milk from skimmed milk and also oil, the strength of which depends on the amount of animal fat added. This, it is said, can be used for all purposes for which genuine milk is employed. Oleo-margarine and refined or compound lard are made from what were formerly considered waste products of slaughter-houses. When properly made, with due attention to cleanliness, they furnish a palatable and wholesome product, "which is, however, not intended to compete with 'gilt-edge' butter." Mr. Richards, in fact, prefers compound lard to "prime steam lard," which he characterizes as "about as disgusting a mixture as can be imagined." Cotton-seed oil is used in the manufacture of compound lard, and in the place of olive oil for the table, and in medicinal preparations. The wholesome qualities and purity and uniformity of composition of glucose, or sugar manufactured from starch, have been reported on favorably by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences. However much the public may be cheated in the purchase of ground spices, coffee, etc., adulterated with flours and starches, people are not poisoned by their consumption; and "it is a question how much a purchaser is himself to blame in his endeavor to secure a 'bargain' when he demands a quantity of any given material at less than it can be purchased at wholesale in the market." The addition of antiseptics to food in order to preserve it in transportation is often deleterious and can not be considered safe.

Extraordinary Memories. — Among the recorded instances of marvelous memory is one given by Archdeacon Fearon of a person in his father's parish who could remember clearly all the burials, with the exact dates and all the details, which had taken place there for thirty-five years, but in all other respects was a complete fool. George Watson, according to Hone's Every-day Book, could remember, with like exactness, every event of every day from an early period of his fife. Another similar case is that of Daniel McCartney, related in the Journal of Speculative Philosophy. Memory Corner Thompson was able to draw, upon order, exact and perfect plans of many of the parishes of London, with everything in its place and nothing left out. On the side of the learned, Scaliger read nothing which he could not remember, and committed Homer to memory in twenty-one days, and all the Greek poets in three months. Like powers, changing only the authors learned, were displayed by Bishop Saunderson, Euler, Leibnitz, Gilbert Wakefield, and Porson. The same power is called into action in the acquisition of languages; and here we have the instances of Crassus, who could try cases and pronounce judgments in any of the dialects of his Asiatic prcetorate; Mithridates, who administered the laws in all the languages of the twenty-two nations of his empire; Sir William Jones, who knew thirteen languages well, and could read with comparative ease in thirty others; John Leyden, who had a good acquaintance with fifteen languages; George Borrow, who translated prose and poetry from thirty languages; Edward Henry Palmer, who could speak the native tongue of every European nation, and was so perfect a master of Arabic, Persian, Hindustani, Turkish, and the language of the gypsies, that even natives were sometimes deceived as to his nationality; Viscount Strangford and Elihu Burritt, "the learned blacksmith"; Cardinal Mezzofanti, who professed to be able to speak in "only fifty-two" languages; Sir John Bowring, who was much like him in gifts; and Von der Gabelentz, who "seems to have been equally at home with the Suahelis, the Samoyeds, the Hazaras, the Aimaks, the Dyaks, the Dakotas, and the Kiriris; who could translate from Chinese into Manchu, compile a grammar or correct the speech of the inhabitauts of the Fiji Islands, New Hebrides, Loyalty Islands, or New Caledonia."

Mobility of Labor. — Discussing in the British Association the effects on mobility of labor of the introduction of machinery and the tendency to production on a large scale, Mr. H. Llewellen Smith defined mobility as the free economic device of employment, by change either of occupation or of place. It is not the same as movement, nor is the one measured by the other. It is measured by the extent to which a set of workers engaged in a particular process, or in making a particular article, would or would not suffer economically by a change in the demand for that process or that article. There is, besides, "initial mobility," or the free effective choice of occupation at the outset. This is effected by the localization of industries and the tendency to heredity, which again is strongest in domestic trades and weakest in factories. The general result reached by discussion is, that modern changes tend to divide up a process of manufacture into a number of detail processes of which one man performs only one, but the various members of the group of workers producing a particular article become less and less specialized with regard to that article, and their range of mobility, which is narrowed as regards power of interchange among themselves, is widened as regards power of interchange with workers engaged in corresponding processes of other trades. Machinery often tends to facilitate this interchange by transferring different manufactures into different groupings of nearly identical detail process. Hence, while dividing up employments on the one hand, machinery reintegrates them on fresh lines. Thus the boundaries of trades and industries are shifting and industries are regrouping themselves. Apprenticeship and trade customs are affected. There is a simultaneous tendency to shorten the time necessary to learn a particular process, and so to increase the ease (though not always the practical opportunity) of interchange among different processes of the same trade.

Knbies and Sapphires in Siam. — The gem-mines of Siam are at Krung, Krat, and Phailin, points or districts dependent on the seaport of Chantabun. They are shortly to be leased; but at present the only condition required for entering the mines is the payment of a small fee to the head man of the district. The digger's first object is to discover a layer of soft, yellowish sand, in which both rubies and sapphires are deposited. This stratum lies at depths varying from a few inches to twenty feet, on a bed of subsoil in which no precious stones are found. A pit is dug, and the soil removed is taken to a neighboring canal or stream, where it is mixed with water and passed through an ordinary hand-sieve. In his search for this peculiar alluvial deposit, which is generally free from any admixture of clayey earth, the digger has often to penetrate into the jungle that grows thickly around, and combines the work of clearing with the occupation of gem-digger. No sapphire has yet been extracted of higher value than about fourteen hundred dollars, or ruby of higher price than forty-eight hundred dollars. No artificial or mechanical processes for washing the soil have so far been introduced. Rubies and sapphires are found at all the diggings, often deposited side by side, in the same layer or stratum of sand. The rubies are usually of a dull, light-red hue. The sapphire is of a dark, dull blue, without any of the silken gloss distinctive of the Burmah and Ceylon stones. Stones resembling garnets rather than rubies are found in the dried beds of water-courses at Raheng, two hundred miles north of Bangkok, and there is every reason to believe that rubies, also, at least equal to those discovered in the southeast, exist throughout the Raheng district.

What may be learned from a Spinning Top. — The earth as a spinning top was substantially the subject of an "Operatives' Lecture," by Prof. John Perry, at the British Association. The lecturer's purpose was to exhibit the analogies between the motions of tops and the rotation of the earth, and show how many phenomena can be explained by them. He said that, if more attention was paid to the spinning of tops, much greater advances would be made in mechanical engineering and industrial invention; geologists would not make so many mistakes of millions of years in their calculations; and we should all have a much better knowledge of astronomy, of light, of magnetism, and of electro-magnetic subjects. First the lecturer illustrated the quasi-rigidity that rapid rotation gives to a flexible or fluid body. A thin sheet of paper assumed the stiffness of a board. A chain released from a hub rolled like a solid wheel. A fly-wheel being made to revolve rapidly when inclosed in a brass box, the box did not tumble down, but maintained a vertical position and offered resistance to any attempt to turn it round. If it was tilted, it turned with a precessional motion. Every spinning body, the lecturer said, resists a change of direction of its spinning axis. Rotating machines on board ship offer greater resistance to pitching and rolling. A top thrown up would fall down anyhow; but if it was thrown up spinning, there would be no doubt as to the position it would come down in, because the spinning axis always keeps parallel with itself. The fall of a biscuit or a hat is equally controlled by throwing either with a spinning motion. For this reason the barrels of guns are rifled; and the same principle explains the feats of jugglers with hats, hoops, plates, umbrellas, and knives. All that appears incomprehensible in the curious motions of the gyrostat under various conditions loses its mystery when the motions are regarded as rotation about various axes; and herein is found the key to the phenomenon of precession. The application of these principles to the motion of the earth was illustrated by diagrams and by the wabbling motion communicated by the hand to objects with three axes, which, spun first on the shortest axis, would of themselves rise to spin on the longest axis. A circular chain hanging vertically from a cord, when made to revolve rapidly, first wabbled and at last became a horizontal ring. In dealing with the question whether the earth is a shell filled with fluid, the professor gave a vibratory motion to vessels containing respectively sand, treacle, oil, and water. A boiled egg had a slower oscillation than an unboiled one. When the two eggs were rolled, the unboiled one stopped sooner than the boiled one. The liquid inside went on moving and renewed the motion of the shell after it had been stopped by the finger. It is easy to spin a boiled egg, but not an unboiled one.

Sheep-raising in Algeria. — Sheep-raising is the principal business of the Algerian Arabs of the high plateaus. Neither the sheep nor the wool are of the first quality, but the sheep can resist a great variety of hardships to which they are subjected in the not very pleasant region they live in. As they require to be watered every two or three days in summer, they can not be taken for pasturage to regions far removed from a supply. They are not at all particular about the quality of what they drink, but water of some kind they must have; and no use can be made of pasturage beyond a reasonable distance from springs. This area is therefore eaten down to the ground, while succulent pasturage beyond it goes to waste. Hardly more than one fifth of the extent of the high plateau, for this reason, is available. Algerian wool is Arab or Berber. Arab wool is generally of a short fiber, sometimes moderately, rarely very long, and regulated as to length by the climatic influences of the localities where the sheep are raised. It is always short on the high plateaus, and becomes longer as the sheep descend into more fertile and better watered regions; but in both instances it is pure wool, of a fine quality, and without any hairy appearance. Berber wool is hard and coarse, and is confined to mountainous and sometimes inaccessible regions, where there is constant pasturage, and the migration of flocks in the summer season is unnecessary.

Care of our Eyes. — Few persons are aware, says M. Felix Hement, that besides size, shape, and color, their eyes differ in visual force and in power of accommodation; and also that some faults affect only one of them. It is an established fact that we all use one eye the right or the left in preference, when looking through a glass or taking aim with a gun. We are right- or left-eyed as we are right- or left-handed or footed. If we do not perceive this ourselves, oculists and opticians remark it. The ignorance of most people on this subject is illustrated by their buying glasses at the opticians without taking account of any difference between the eyes. Thus only one of the eyes is helped, while the other one, being less called into exercise, becomes less and less useful, and loses its powers as a tool rusts when it is not in use. Yet both our eyes are needed to see well. It becomes, therefore, highly important to observe how the child uses its eyes, in order to correct those attitudes which tend to injury of the sight as well as of the health. Children, in writing, rarely fail to give the head an inclination by which the eyes are placed at unequal distances from the paper. They are also apt to incline their head too far, and acquire the habit of bringing it too near, as when they try to accommodate themselves to a feeble light. Not sufficient attention, we think, is given to these matters, especially when we consider the consequences of such habits in mature age. A large proportion of our defects originate in want of proper care during childhood. We do wrong to such wonderful tools as our senses when we do not give them the education they need. Is it not surprising that parents who are so particular about the way their children hold their fork or spoon pay so little attention to the way they use their eyes ?

Stone Chips. — Describing to the American Association the aboriginal stone implements of the Potomac Valley, Washington, D. C, Mr. W. H. Holmes said that they were of soapstone, quartz, and quartzite. The Algonquin peoples quarried the soapstone to get stuff for vessel-making. The quartz and quartzite were made into spear-heads, arrow-points, and knives, and the material was obtained from bowlders dug from the bluffs. In shaping the implements, which was done by percussion, thousands of stones were thrown aside because of flaws. Leafshaped blades were made at the quarries and carried to the villages to be finished. When the village was at the quarry-site, relics of all the stages of progress were found in the refuse. Where the villages were not located on the quarry-sites, no rude forms were found, but only the blades and the fully finished tools made from them. Hence, the author contended, the rude forms of chipped stones are not tools at all; and the difference between the "rough stone age" and the "smooth stone age," insisted upon by French archaeologists, disappears. Mr. Holmes was supported by Prof. Putnam, but Dr. O. L. Mason was not ready to see their theory so summarily disposed of.

Our Most Usual Words. — Prof. Jastrow communicated to the American Association a curious study of processes involved in every-day mental life. Twenty-five men and twenty-five women, students in a class in psychology, wrote as rapidly as possible the first hundred words that occurred to them. Of the five thousand words written only 2,024 words were different. Twelve hundred and sixteen words occur but once in the lists. Omitting these, about three thousand of the words were formed by the repetition of only 758 words. Passing to an analysis of this "mental community," it becomes clear that it is greatest at the beginning of the list; that is, the habit was shown to be to write first the most common words, and, when these are exhausted, the more unusual ones. The lists of words drawn up by women were much more like one another than those written by the men. The women used only 1,123 different words, the men 1,376; the women wrote only 520 words occurring but once in the lists, the men 746. The lists also indicate the relative prominence of different classes of ideas and objects in the minds of the writers. The five best represented classes are names of animals, articles of dress, proper names, actions, and implements and utensils. The women contributed most largely to the class of articles of dress, having given 224 words in it, while the men wrote only 129. They showed equal favoritism for articles of food, in which they wrote 179 words to 53 by the men. The men showed fondness for implements and utensils, names of animals, and abstract terms. Among the links by which one word seemed to suggest its successor were associations by sound and community of classification. In five hundred mentions of the twenty words most frequently recurring, the word preceding the given word was the same in 111 cases, and the word following it in 145 cases.