Popular Science Monthly/Volume 29/September 1886/Notes

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The fifth volume of the "History of California," in the series of Bancroft's Works, now just published, brings the record up to the discovery of gold in 1849. The publishers announce that they have been busily engaged in remanufacturing the stock that was consumed in the fire of April 30th, of which the edition of the present volume was a part, and that the delay and inconvenience caused by that disaster were only temporary.

The editor of the Johns Hopkins "University Studies in Historical and Political Science" proposes a series of extra volumes to appear in a style uniform with the regular studies, but otherwise independent of them. The volumes will vary in size from 200 to 500 pages, with corresponding prices. The first volume will be published early in the season, as "The Republic of New Haven"; a History of Municipal Revolution. By Charles H. Levermore, Ph.D. It is a new study, from original records, of a most remarkable chapter of municipal development.

From a series of experiments which he has made upon the amount of water contained in highly lignified plants in various seasons and under varied conditions of growth, Professor D. P. Penhallow has drawn the conclusions that the hydration of woody plants is not constant for all seasons, and depends upon conditions of growth; that it reaches its maximum during the latter part of May or early June, and its minimum during January; that it is greatest in the sap-wood, and least in the heart-wood; and that the greatest hydration is directly correlated to the most active growth of the plant, while lignification and storage of starch and other products are correlated to diminishing hydration.

Professor W. Mattieu Williams infers, from the examination of Count Rumford's "Essay on Gunpowder," that he produced solid carbonic acid in the course of his experiments on the explosive force of that composition. In an experiment with a confined cylinder, the count observed "an extremely white powder, resembling very light white ashes, but which almost instantaneously changed to the most perfect black color upon being exposed to the air." Professor Williams supposes that this white evanescent ash-like deposit was solid carbonic acid. The change to black mentioned by Rumford was caused by the instantaneous evaporation of the acid, causing to be revealed the ordinary black deposit of gun-powder beneath it. The pressure under which the experiment w T as conducted was 9,431 atmospheres, which is abundantly sufficient to effect the solidification of carbonic acid.

Considerably more than four million persons had been, at the end of last year, insured against sickness under the German law of compulsory insurance. At the beginning of 1886 the compulsion to insure was extended to the whole administration of the post, railway, and telegraph, and to all trades connected with transportation; and a movement is on foot to extend the principle still further. The introduction of the system has not led to any diminution in the number of friendly societies or trades-unions, but many of them have had an enormous increase.

Dr. W. J. Graham, of Grafton, Dakota, has propounded a new theory of the origin of the alkali which is more or less abundant on the Western plains. He derives it from his observations, during several years' residence, of the soil, water, and atmosphere of the country. It is that the basis of the alkali is common salt, which is derived from a rock-salt formation underlying the region, by permeation to the surface, where it undergoes the chemical reactions which give it its apparent form and composition. Dr. Graham also believes that the alkali will afford a valuable and really inexhaustible fertilizing material.

Professor Brown-Séquard was, on the 21st of June, elected to the Section of Medicine and Surgery in the French Academy of Sciences, in place of M. Vulpian, who has been made perpetual secretary. Professor Brown-Séquard received thirty-six votes, to nineteen given for M. Germain Sée.

Professor L. Weber relates, in a German periodical, that during a thunderstorm at Ribnitz, in Mecklenburg, the lower pane of a window on the first floor of a house was broken by lightning, and a jet of water was thrown upward through the hole to the ceiling, with such force that a part of the ceiling was broken down, and other damage was done. The hole in the window was like a bullet-hole, with radial cracks. Some cigars on a table, that was broken by the fall of the ceiling and the water, were carbonized. The origin of the jet of water, is not satisfactorily explained.

Mr. Thomas Wardle, of Leek, England, has been to India and examined the cultivation of the silk-worm and the means still in use for reeling the silk there, with a view to suggesting means for improving them. Although the reputation of Indian silk has greatly declined during the last twenty-five years, he is satisfied that its fiber is quite equal to that of Italian silk, and that improvement in methods is all that is required. The Italian threads are, however, four times as long as those of the Indian cocoons. The profitableness of the silk-growing business is shown by the fact that the zemindars derive their very highest rents from lands devoted to it.

An ancient—probably prehistoric—British vessel has been found at Brigg, in Lincolnshire, England, in the course of making an excavation of the ground for a new gas-holder. It is cut out of a solid piece of wood, and measures forty-eight feet in length, fifty-two inches in width, and thirty-three inches in depth. It is in a remarkably good state of preservation, because, probably, it was imbedded in a clayey soil which excluded the air. An ancient wooden causeway was discovered in the same neighborhood a few years ago. It was made of squared balks of timber fifteen feet long and ten inches square, which had been fastened to the earth by pegs driven through holes in the ends. Mrs. Bryant has communicated to the Anthropological Society the result of some tests which she has made of the powers of perception, inference, and imagination, of a class of girls of about thirteen years of age, by asking them to describe some particular object from memory. The most noteworthy result was that due to a faculty which the author calls emotionalism. The emotional girls, who, in their descriptions, used such adjectives as "beautiful," "lovely," "sweet," etc., showed deficiency in more valuable traits of character; and it seemed that in those cases emotion superseded thought. Such tests as these might prove valuable in education and the choice of a profession, and, perhaps, in civil-service examinations.

MM. C. Weigett, O. Sacre, and L. Schwab, have investigated the effects on fisheries and fish-culture of sewage and industrial waste waters, and find them very damaging. Chloride of lime, 0·04 to 0·005 per cent chlorine, exerted an immediately deadly action upon tench, while trout and salmon perished in the presence of 0·008 per cent of chlorine. One per cent of hydrochloric acid kills tench and trout. Iron and alum act as specific poisons upon fishes. Solution of caustic lime has an exceedingly violent effect upon them. Sodium sulphide, 0·1 per cent, was endured by tench for thirty minutes.

Mr. John Urie, of Glasgow, Scotland, has invented a new method of photographic silver-printing by machinery. A ribbon of paper is caused to travel by clock-work beneath a negative, which is let in to the top of a light, tight box. Above the negative is a powerful gas-burner, which is turned up and down automatically, as the paper pauses in its passage every few seconds. The strip of paper, which, at the end of a few minutes, bears perhaps twenty latent images of the negative, beneath which it has been traveling, is then developed by a suitable chemical agent to make those images visible.

M. Perrotin has reported to the French Academy of Sciences concerning the observations he has been making upon the "canals" of Mars with the great equatorial which has just been mounted at the Nice Observatory. These are a feature of the planet which was first observed by M. Schiaparelli, and consist of grooves about twenty-five kilometres in width, having perfectly parallel borders, which are stretched across the Martian continents, between the seas. Nothing like them exists on the earth or the moon, or any other planet, so far as has been observed. Consequently, it is impossible to conceive any satisfactory explanation of their existence. M. Perrotin's observations have been verified by MM. Trépied and Thallon.

Besides the caves at Gomanton, in North Borneo, of which we lately gave an account in our Miscellany, the edible birds' nests are produced in caves in islands off the coast of the Malay Peninsula. The caves belong to the Siamese Government, and are farmed out to contractors. The harvest is during March and April. The nests are collected as soon as they are built, and before the swallows have begun to lay their eggs. The birds build second nests, and these are taken away; but the third nests are left. The caves are accessible only by means of rattan ladders, and the nests are collected from the rocks by means of rattan galleries and stagings. The Siamese caves are wilder and more dangerous than those at Gomanton.

The use of gas cooking-stoves is increasing in Great Britain. Many of the Scottish gas companies now let out the stoves at a cheap rate. Dr. Stevenson Macadam, speaking of gas-cooking in its sanitary aspects, says: "The wholesomeness of the meat cooked in the gas-stoves must be regarded as beyond doubt. Gas-cooked meat will be found to be more juicy and palatable, and yet free from those alkaloidal bodies produced during the confined cooking of meat, which are more or less hurtful, and even poisonous." A joint cooked in a gas-oven weighs heavier than the same joint cooked in a coal-oven, because the juices are more perfectly preserved in it.

Professor W. Mattieu Williams calls attention, in "Science Gossip," to the danger of the extermination of the sole—one of the best of food-fishes—by trawling. The vessels, which are numbered by the thousand, sweeping the sea-bottom with a track as broad as their own length, scour each an acre an hour. If they are steamers, the effect is vastly magnified. Forty years ago, when the "Silver Bank" was a fresh fishing-ground, soles were retailed in London at twopence a pound, and enormous specimens were abundant. Gradually the size diminished and the quantity declined till the harvest consisted chiefly of "slips." Now the Silver Bank is practically ruined, and the price of soles has risen about one thousand per cent.

M. Bréal, a French writer on educational subjects, remarks, in his essay on the method of acquiring foreign languages, that when a person goes to a foreign country to learn the language he rarely succeeds; but, if he goes to pursue some particular profession or business, he learns the language rapidly and thoroughly—first the language of that business, then the language of ordinary intercourse, and so on step by step, in the order of nature. Thus it is the natural method that prevails.

The "Lancet" makes a distinction between what it calls the use and the abuse of tobacco. The man who can say, "I always know when I have smoked enough—if I go beyond the just limit I lose my power of prompt decision," is one, it suggests, who had better not smoke at all; but "a moderate use of tobacco soothes the senses, and leaves the mental faculties free from irritation, and ready for calmly clear intellectual processes. When this is not the effect produced by smoking, the "weed" had better be eschewed.

Mr. George J. Romanes, having observed a rat, under circumstances in which it should have been badly frightened, manifest great savagery and voraciously devour its companion, persisting in biting it till the last moment of consciousness, has been led to inquire whether the case is one of peculiar ferocity, or of emotional insanity produced by extreme terror. He wishes to know how wild rats ordinarily behave when shut up in a cage together.

It is definitely asserted by the engineer of the Suez Canal that the annual mean level of the Mediterranean at Port Said is the same as the annual mean level of the Red Sea at Suez; and that, according to the observations of the Panama Canal Company, there is no difference of moment between the levels of the Atlantic at Colon and of the Pacific at Panama.


Professor William Ripley Nichols, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, died in Hamburg, Germany, July 14th, in the fortieth year of his age. His death was caused by a disease of the lungs, from which he had been suffering more or less for four or five years. He was graduated from the Institute in 1869, in its second class, and was shortly afterward appointed Professor of General Chemistry in it. He was the author and compiler of several text-books on general and inorganic chemistry. He made a specialty of water analysis, in which he acquired a high reputation for accuracy and probity; he studied the ventilation of railroad-cars and the effect of the atmosphere of smoking-cars, and did much work for the Massachusetts State Board of Health.

Professor Sheldon Amos died at Ramleh, near Alexandria, Egypt, January 3d, at the age of fifty years. He was the youngest son of the late Andrew Amos, Professor of Law at Cambridge, and was called to the bar in 1862. He was for several years Professor of Jurisprudence at University College, London, but spent many of the later years of his life abroad, in Australia and Egypt. He was for several years, and till his death, English Judge of the new Egyptian Court of Appeals. He was the author of several legal treatises.

Dr. William King, Emeritus Professor of Geology, Mineralogy, and Natural History in Queen's College, Galway, Ireland, died June 23d, in his seventy-ninth year. He was elected to his professorship on the foundation of the Queen's Colleges in Ireland, in 1849, and filled it actively till 1883.