Popular Science Monthly/Volume 7/May 1875/Miscellany

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 7 May 1875  (1875) 
Miscellany
 

MISCELLANY.

The Fog-Signal Question.—The elaborate articles on "The Atmosphere in Relation to Fog-Signaling," by Prof. Tyndall, which appeared in our March and April numbers, embodied the interesting results of a new and important research, and have attracted much attention, both on the part of our men of science and of many unscientific readers. There has been some dissent from his views, but Prof. Tyndall is quite easy about that. In a recent private letter he says: "A copy of the report of the United States Light-house Board, for 1874, has just reached me. I read certain portions of it with regret, but the questions it raises may be safely left to the judgment of the scientific men of the United States."

 

A New Order of Mammals.—At a recent meeting of the Connecticut Academy, Prof. O. C. Marsh called attention to the very peculiar character of the extinct animal type, Tillotherium. So remarkable, indeed, are these characters that Prof. Marsh considers them sufficient to constitute a new order, for which he proposes the name Tillodontia. In Tillotherium, the type of the proposed new order, the skull has the same general form as in the bears, but in its structure it resembles that of the ungulates. The molar teeth are of the ungulate type, and in each jaw there is a pair of large scalpriform incisors, as in rodents. The articulation of the lower jaw with the skull corresponds to that in ungulates. The skeleton mostly resembles that of carnivores, especially the Ursidæ, but the scaphoid and lunar bones are not united, and there is a third trochanter on the femur. The feet are plantigrade, like those of the bears. Thus these singular animals combine the characters of three distinct groups—carnivores, ungulates, and rodents. The order comprises two distinct families—Tillotheridæ, in which the large incisors grew from persistent pulps, while the molars have roots; and Stylinodontidæ, in which all the teeth are rootless.

 

Animal Intelligence.—The following remarkable examples of animal intelligence are sent us by correspondents who vouch for their truth: A lady living in this city relates that the house occupied by herself and family became so infested with rats that, in the failure of all other means, they were obliged to resort to poison to exterminate them. Phosphorus-paste was used, spread thickly over meat, which was then placed where the rats could readily get at it. Pursuing this plan for a long time, they were surprised to find that, while the meat regularly disappeared, the rats remained, their numbers apparently increasing instead of diminishing. One day a man in charge of an adjoining stable asked who was trying to poison rats, and, being told, replied, "the rats are too smart for you." He led the lady to the alley alongside the house, where there was a hydrant, the nozzle of which being broken off, left the water constantly running. Under the hydrant they saw several pieces of meat, some partially covered with, and others entirely destitute of, any traces of the phosphorus-paste. After watching sometime, the lady actually saw the rats not only eat the washed meat, but carry the coated pieces carefully in their mouths from her back-door around into the alley, and deposit them under the running stream of the hydrant. Our correspondent says that the rats may not have known the character of the coating on the meat, but that their course argues a knowledge of the properties of water, and a power of adapting means to ends, akin to reason.

An esteemed friend writes us of a dog, that had been savagely set upon by a neighbor's dog, rousing up with a growl when the circumstance was spoken of in his presence. This was noticed, and, on repeating the circumstances, when the neighbor's name and that of his dog were mentioned, the growling was repeated. No effort was made to attract the dog's attention, and it was easy to excite the animal at any time by mentioning these names in his hearing.

A lady in Troy has a terrier, whose ability to understand what is said to him seems remarkable. The lady sent him one day to drive some chickens out of the yard, but doing it roughly the lady said, "See, some of the chickens are little, you must be careful not to hurt them." The dog immediately flew at the large ones, but drove the little ones with great care, and always afterward observed the same caution. This terrier attended church regularly with his mistress, but one Sunday another dog attracted his attention in church, and he ran out, afterward returning to the pew. After getting home the lady said, "Whiskey was naughty today; he mustn't go to church any more." The dog hung his head and went to his bed. He made no attempt to go to church that afternoon nor ever again, though ready to go anywhere else.

 

The Deep-Sea Bottom.—Prof. W. B. Carpenter, in a paper recently published in Nature dissents from the conclusions of Prof Wyville Thomson, that the organisms Globigerinæ, whose shells compose the ooze of the deep-sea bottom, live and multiply in the upper waters only. He has found the water taken from 750 fathoms depth, and just above the ooze upon the bottom, turbid from the presence of multitudes of young Globigerinæ. The evidence is satisfactory to him that they live and propagate on the sea-bottom, as well as near the surface—that the young rise to the surface in the earlier stages of their existence, and become inhabitants of the upper waters, and in their adult stage sink to the bottom in consequence of the increasing thickness of their shells.

The cause of their sinking, therefore, is not death of the creatures, but weight of their shells. The thickening consists in a deposit of calcareous matter upon the outside of the proper wall after the creatures' full growth, which not only increases the weight, but alters the contour of the shell.

Prof. Carpenter cites the fact, noticed by himself, that, in cold areas of the sea-bed north of Scotland, no Globigerinæ were found, while the warm areas adjoining are covered with this peculiar ooze to an unknown depth. Why is this, he asks, if the surface only is their habitat, where the temperature of the cold and warm areas is the same?

 

Priestleyana.—The recent celebrations at Northumberland and Birmingham of the centenary of the discovery of oxygen by Dr. Priestley brought out many curious incidents in his career, and numberless anecdotes; we select the following as characteristic:

While he was minister at Leeds, a poor woman, who labored under the delusion that she was possessed by a devil, applied to, him to take away the evil spirit which tormented her. The doctor attentively listened to her statement, and endeavored to convince her that she was mistaken. All his efforts proving unavailing, he desired her to call the next day, and, in the mean time, he would consider her case. On the morrow the unhappy woman was punctual in her attendance. His electrical apparatus being in readiness, with great gravity he desired the woman to stand upon the stool with glass legs, at the same time putting into her hand a brass chain connected with the conductor, and, having charged her plentifully with electricity, he told her very seriously to take particular notice of what he did. He then took up a discharger and applied it to her arm, when the escape of the electricity gave her a pretty strong shock. "There," said she, "the devil's gone; I saw him go off in that blue flame, and he gave me such a jerk as he went off! I have at last got rid of him, and I am now quite comfortable."

The destruction of Dr. Priestley's house and laboratory, by the riotous mob, at Birmingham in 1791, proved most disastrous, and the maddened crowd met with little opposition. "There was a small attempt by a few people to drive off the rabble, but they were compelled to show their heels by a shower of brickbats." The following amusing doggerel poem, which was published at the time, refers to this incident:

"The famous Dr. Priestley
Though he preached to admiration,
Yet he never could persuade
The unruly cavalcade
Not to show their detestation.

"They burned down both the meetings,
His manuscripts and papers,
And they swore it in their wrath
That they would not leave him worth
A single farthing-taper.

"His house and all the utensils,
Out-offices and stable;
Nor durst the doctor stay.
But prudently got away,
And rejoiced that he was able."

The following epitaph, having reference to Dr. Priestley's peculiar religious views, was composed, before his death, by Rev. David Davis, one of the wits of the time. Dr. Priestley is said to have laughed heartily over it.

 "Here lie at rest
 In oaken chest
Together packed most nicely,
 The bones and brains,
 Flesh, blood, and veins,
And soul, of Dr. Priestley."

Prof. H. C. Bolton, in American Chemist.

 

Effects of Compressed Air.—From Bert's researches it appears that meat does not oxidize and putrefy in compressed air merely undergoing a change of color, consistency, and taste. But, on the other hand, muscular and nervous excitability disappear very rapidly in compressed air. Thus the conditions of the two phenomena are different. Again, certain fermentations may be arrested by oxygen at high pressure; the mycoderma of vinegar is destroyed or killed by the action of compressed air. Wine may be preserved from acetous fermentation by submitting it to compressed air. It is necessary, then, to distinguish in fermentation various phenomena belonging to chemical actions, and those belonging to the action of ferments, properly so called. M. Bert adds that compressed air stops the putrefaction of meat even where the latter has been impregnated with putrid germs.

 

Viniculture in California.—This was the subject of a paper recently read before the California Academy of Sciences by Dr. James Blake. The author analyzed the juice of four different varieties of grapes, grown in the vineyard of the California Vinicultural Society at Sonoma, viz., the Zinfindel, the Reimer, the Riessling, and the Mission grape. The last-named grape was introduced into California by the Franciscan missionaries, during the Spanish domination; the others are recent importations. The method of analysis was to ascertain the specific gravity of the juice, which was then heated, to coagulate the albuminous matters, and filtered through a Bunsen filter. Then the juice was brought up to the original quantity, and neutralized with a standard solution of potash or ammonia, so as to ascertain the amount of free acid. Another portion was evaporated to about one-third, mixed with alcohol and ether to precipitate the tartrates, and the ether and alcohol distilled off from the filtered juice, which was then neutralized to ascertain the amount of malic acid. The amount of sugar, as indicated by the specific gravity, was controlled by direct analysis of a portion of the juice, cleared by acetate of lead, by means of Fehling's copper-test. The result was as follows:

GRAPES. Sp. Gr. Sugar. Free Acid. Malic Acid.
Zinflndel 1072 16.6 1.73 0.60
Riessling 1083 18.7 1.10 0.57
Reimer 1057 14.0 1.30 0.80
Mission grape 1088 21.5 0.60 0.11

The small proportion of malic acid in the Mission grape explains the absence of aroma in the wine. The author attributes the failure to make first-class wine in California to two causes, viz.: 1. Bad quality of the grapes; 2. Injudicious choice of soil for vineyards.

 

"The Successor of Steam."—An article under the above title, by Dr. H. Beins, of Gröningen, has appeared in the Chemical News. The successor of steam is liquid carbonic acid. The author says: "For many years I have, with the collaboration of my brother, who is director of the Netherlands Soda Manufactory at Amsterdam, considered the question, ' How to transpose heat into mechanical power more advantageously than it is done in our common steam and other engines? ' It occurred to me to make an experiment to see what degree the tension of the carbonic acid given off by natrium bicarbonate would amount to when heated in a closed space. We were surprised and much gratified to find that when natrium bicarbonate in a dry, pulverized state, or in a watery solution, is heated in a closed space, a part of the carbonic acid is given off and condensed in a not-heated portion of that space, so that, at a temperature of 300° or 400° C, liquid carbonic acid can be distilled out of this salt with a tension of from 50 to 60 atmospheres."

He then points out certain highly-important aspects of this fact: I. Carbonic acid of high tension, and, in particular, liquid carbonic acid, is an excellent motive-power for small and great industries. The weight of a carbonic-acid engine for ships, with 100 horse-power, and combustible stores for 240 hours, would be one-fifth less than the weight of a steam-engine of the same power. The former engine, too, will occupy less space. "I have experimentally found," he writes, "that a carbonic-acid engine is easily constructed. Taps and joints can be made to answer perfectly. A year ago I filled a tube of hammered copper with carbonic acid of 50 atmospheres, and not the least loss is as yet observed. Wrought metals are therefore not permeable for gases of that tension. For the great industries the carbonic-acid engine can, in almost every case, substitute the steam-engine. For the small industries, especially for engines working with intermissions and during brief spaces of time, the property of liquid carbonic acid, of being always ready for work, is of much importance. By this same property, and since the mechanical equivalent of electricity is very small, such au engine is a very fit and cheap source of electrical light. My method of compression furnishes easily the required tension for the conveyance of letters in tubes, and the modern break-apparatus for railways." Further, the author suggests that his discovery might be turned to account in artillery, and in the construction of submarine vessels.

 

New Eocene Mammals.—Prof. Marsh is now contributing to the American Journal of Science a series of notices on new and hitherto undescribed mammals found in the Tertiary strata of the West. In the March number of the Journal he describes some new forms of quadrumana, a species of his new order Tillodontia, three species of rhinoceros, a new species of Brontotherium, and various other extinct animal forms. Among the quadrumana here described, we have a new genus, Lemuravus, closely resembling the lemurs in skeleton and in the general structure of the skull. The species L. distans was about the size of the largest squirrels. During the late raid into the "Bad Lands" of Nebraska, Prof. Marsh found the lower jaw of a monkey, which indicated an animal about the size of a coati; it is the first specimen of the order Primates found in that region, and forms a new genus and species—Laopithecus robustus. The order Tillodontia is represented by the new species Tillotherium fodiens. The animals of this order are among the most remarkable yet discovered in American strata. They seem to combine characters of several distinct groups, viz,, carnivores, ungulates, and rodents. The Tillotherium fodiens would appear to have been about two-thirds as large as a tapir. The rhinoceroses described are Diceratherium armatum, D. nannum, and D. advenum. These animals had a pair of horns placed transversely, as in modern ruminants,-as is clearly indicated by large, bony protuberances on the anterior portion of the nasal bones. The D. armatum, would appear to have been about two-thirds as large as the Indian rhinoceros; the D. nanum was scarcely more than half the bulk of the preceding; while the D. advenum was half the bulk of the Indian rhinoceros. The new genus of Brontotheridæ is denominated Anisacodon, and it is represented by the new species A. montanus. According to the author, this family consists of four well-marked genera, viz., titanotherium, megacerops, brontotherium, and anisacodon. The name Diplacodon elatus is given to a new genus and species intermediate between Limnohyus and Brontotherium. Two new equine species from the Miocene are described, and three new species allied to the collared peccary.

 

Premature Criticism.—Mr. Proctor, in the English Mechanic, calls attention to a very curious piece of literary criticism occurring, of all places in the world, in the Atlantic Monthly. The critic is very severe in his sentence upon "The Sun," "The Orbs around Us," and other works by Mr. Proctor, but the value of his judgment is impaired by the evidence Mr. Proctor furnishes to show that it is not based on a knowledge of what is contained in the books. Among the works thus adversely criticised is "Other Suns than Ours." Of this Mr. Proctor says: "It may be as bad as he says; it may be 'trash,' and it may 'confirm the evil prognostic of its title,' but he might have waited till it was published. Three years ago, when it was half written, it was announced for early publication. Unfortunately for my critic (but fortunately for me), he has been led to suppose that the work accordingly appeared, and might safely be abused. But a great pressure of work prevented me from completing some stellar observations necessary for its illustration, and the MS. still lies unfinished in my desk. What a savage literary Herod a man must be who would thus slaughter the book unborn!"

 

Fossils in Trap-Rock.—The occurrence of fossils in trap-rock, though not uncommon, still awaits a satisfactory explanation. Mr. E. A. Wünsch, writing in a late number of Nature, mentions several instances of the presence of both plant and animal remains in such rocks, and then has the following as to how they came there: "There is every probability that originally the enveloping matrix must have reached the fossils in the shape of volcanic ash, or, more likely still, in the shape of a thick fluid sediment enveloping the trunks of the trees as they stood erect, with their broken branches, leaves, and fruit scattered around them. We have numerous instances of ash-beds overlying limestone-beds containing corals, and I suspect Mr. Honeyman's 'trap rock in a fluid state' would resolve itself into a rock of the nature above indicated; at all events, it would be very interesting to geologists on this side to receive specimens for closer examination. With regard to the possibility of fossils being inclosed and preserved in fluid lava, I may mention that when at Catania, in 1867, I was informed by Prof Sylvestri that oak-trees on Mount Etna, when overtaken by lava-streams, are not actually annihilated, but the lava forms a sort of hollow cylinder around the trees, in which they are carbonized, and the silex contained in the wood collects in a fused mass at the bottom of the trunk. Such fused masses I met with at the foot of some of the stems of trees excavated by me at Arran, and numerous pebbles, evidently derived from the same source, are to be picked up on the shore between the Fallen Rocks and the Scriden at the north end of Arran."

 

Curious Method of capturing Musk-rats.—The American Sportsman describes the ingenious method followed by trappers in catching musk-rats: These animals often travel great distances under ice. In their winter excursions to their feeding-grounds they take in breath at starting, and remain under water as long as they can. They then rise to the ice and exhale the air in their lungs; this remains in bubbles against the under surface of the ice. They wait till this air recovers oxygen from the water and ice, and then, reinhaling it, go on till the operation has to be repeated. In this way they can travel almost any distance, and live any length of time, under the ice. The trapper takes advantage of this habit. When the marshes and ponds where musk-rats abound are frozen over, and the ice is comparatively thin and clear, they can be seen swimming about beneath. Following one for some distance, the trapper sees it come up to renew its breath in the manner described. After the animal has exhaled, and before it has time to take in the reoxygenized air in the bubbles again, he strikes with his hatchet directly over it, scattering the bubbles, and driving the musk-rat away. In this case the rat drowns in swimming a few rods, and the trapper, cutting a hole in the ice, takes it out. Mink, otter, and beaver, travel under the ice in the same way, and hunters, it is, stated, frequently take otters in the same manner.

 

Education of Telegraph-Operators.—In Holland the applicant for apprenticeship in a telegraph-office is required to present a thesis in Dutch; to be acquainted with French, English, and German; to know the first principles of arithmetic, common and decimal fractions, and the metrical system of weights and measures; to have mastered the rudiments of algebra and geometry, and in geography to be familiar with the situation of the various countries and principal towns. When an apprentice applies for the position of a telegraphist of the third class, he is required to pass an examination in magnetism, electro-magnetism, etc.—in short, to prove his familiarity with every detail of telegraph administration. Remarking on this, the Journal of the Telegraph says that in this country the person who enters the telegraphic service "must certainly know his telegraphic letters and make them correctly; must write a clear hand; must have a knowledge of circuits and office connections; and must be informed respecting the company's rules. Yet these simple requirements are objected to. 'I fear,' says the manager of a large office, 'if this were required here, I should be left almost alone.' We ask, 'Can this ignorance of the commonest knowledge of a great business be true?' We fear it is."

 

How Water is injured by Organic Matter.—In a recent work entitled "Scientific Conversations," by M. Porville, of Paris, the reason why organic matter becomes a dangerous constituent of water is thus set forth: "How does organic matter become dangerous? We must not behave that it constitutes, as is superficially said, a toxic element. The phenomenon is more complex. The organic matter in suspension or in solution creates in the water a peculiar medium, suitable for the development of exceedingly small beings of the genus Vibrio. It is no longer mere water—it is a world of microscopic animals and plants which are born, live, and increase with bewildering rapidity. The infusoria find in the water calcareous, magnesian, and ammoniacal salts, and their maintenance is thus secure. Drink a drop of this liquid, and you swallow millions of minute beings. But there are vibrios and vibrios. There are those which are capable of setting up putrefaction in our tissues. These are our enemies, often our mortal enemies. Let water be placed in contact with organic remains capable of nourishing these malignant vibrios, and it at once becomes more dangerous than any poison."

 

A Motherly Fish.—There is found, in the clear, pebbly streams which descend to the plains from the mountain-ranges of Trinidad, a small fish of the perch tribe, which in its great care for its young presents a singular contrast to all other known fishes. A writer in Nature states that on one occasion, as he approached the water for the purpose of taking his morning bath, his attention was attracted by the eccentric movements of one of these little fishes. In general they are very shy, scudding off into deep water on the approach of man; now, however, when a hand was put into the water, the fish darted forward again and again, striking the hand with considerable force. The explanation of this conduct was soon found: in a small hollow near by, about the size of half an egg, artistically excavated in the bright quartz-sand, a multitude of tiny fish were seen huddled together. They had apparently been very recently hatched, and were no larger than common house-flies; the parent-fish kept jealous watch over her progeny, resenting every attempt to touch them. Returning to the same spot on the following day, the writer of this narrative searched there in vain for the fish and her young. At length, however, a few yards farther up stream the parent was discovered guarding her fry with zealous care in a cavity similarly scooped out in the coarse sand; any attempt to introduce one's finger into the nest was vigorously opposed by the watchful mother.

 

Arsenical Colors.—A Swedish chemist, Dr. Hamberg, has made some important researches on the arsenical coloring-matters of wall-paper. The paper of the room in which the experiments were conducted had a light-green ground, with an ornamental pattern of brownish-yellow color; this yellow was probably derived from an ochre, but the green resembled Schweinfurt green, and was strongly arsenical. An arrangement was made for drawing a current of air through a series of U-shaped and bulbed tubes, suspended on the wall. The passage of air was continued from July 16th to August 16th, and it was calculated that during this time about 2,160,000 cubic centimetres of air had traversed the system of tubes. Some of the tubes had been plugged with cotton-wool, while others contained a solution of nitrate of silver, and at the termination of the experiment the contents of the tubes were separately examined. The results showed that there had been an arsenical exhalation. The family living in the house had never suffered any marked injury from breathing this I poisoned air; but Dr. Hamberg, after sleeping in a room by the side of the apartment in which his experiments were made, and with the door open, frequently experienced, on the following morning, a sense of heaviness in the head, and a general feeling of weariness.

 

Distribution of Water in Aquaria.—In constructing aquaria it is important to bear in mind the fact that, for aquatic animals which breathe without lungs, the value of water does not depend so much on its amount, as upon its distribution in such a manner that it may be sufficiently oxygenated by contact with the atmosphere. Mr. W. A. Lloyd, who calls attention to this matter in the Zoologist, says that when the amount of surface of water exposed to air, as well as the actual quantity of water, is regulated according to the known requirements of the animals to be kept, the well-being of the creatures is promoted, and the cost of constructing and maintaining aquaria considerably diminished. This principle is applied in the transportation of living aquarium animals to considerable distances. Take, for example, a fish packed in damp, freshly-gathered sea-weed. Its gills are kept wet by such very thin films of water that their thinness, otherwise shallowness, enables them to be constantly oxygenated by contact with the atmospheric air. Thus the gill-filaments are kept wet and separate from one another, and the blood flows uninterruptedly through them, being aerated as it does so.

 

The Origin of the Potato.—Mr. Meehan, of Philadelphia, has for eight years cultivated Solanum Fendleri, a solanaceous plant which has much in common with the potato {Solanum tuberosum). His object was to ascertain whether the former could be transformed into the latter by cultivation, and so to settle the vexed question of the origin of our common esculent tuber. It was not till last year that the plant began to vary in the direction of the potato. Previously, the tubers were round, about the size of a large bullet, and rugose from the imperfect tube-cells on the surface. Last season, however, the roots began to resemble those of the potato. They were oval and compressed, and one was an inch wide and two inches long, with a clear, semi-translucent skin, as in the more delicate potatoes. Mr. Meehan, however, does not expect to develop potatoes from his wild solanum; according to him the facts so far obtained do no more than suggest the possibility of the unity of origin of the Solanum Fendleri and the S. tuberosum.

 

Cultivation of Jute in the South.—The cultivation of jute in the southern portion of the United States seems destined to become, at no distant day, a highly-profitable industry. Notwithstanding the many difficulties and drawbacks of the past season—deluging rains, overflows of rivers, and droughts—it was expected that the harvest in Louisiana would be satisfactory. In a letter to the Department of Agriculture, Mr. Emile Lefranc, of New Orleans, President of the Southern Ramie Association, describes some of the fields as splendid, growing eight feet high, and as thick as wheat. The forthcoming report of the Department will contain a description, with illustrative drawings, of Lefranc's jute-cleaning machine. This machine will produce over a ton of clean fibre per day, with four attendants only. It cleans jute, ramie, and okra radically, and without waste, and it is believed that hemp and flax may also be treated with it with equally satisfactory results.