Popular Science Monthly/Volume 31/September 1887/Popular Miscellany

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Natural History Studies in Boston.—The reports of the Museum, as given in the "Proceedings" of the Boston Society of Natural History, indicate that considerable progress is being made in the cultivation of a public interest in the objects of the society. The purposes of the "Teachers' School of Science" were greatly aided by the liberal action of the trustee of the Lowell fund in defraying the expense of the lessons and in granting the use of Huntington Hall, and by the kindness of the volunteer agents in distributing and receiving applications and tickets. The superintendent of the public schools also aided the work, and took notice of it in his report. Fifteen lessons were given during the winter of 1883-'84, including five on the "Elements of Chemistry," by Professor Lewis M. Norton; five on "Vegetable Physiology," by Professor George I. Goodale; and five on "Chemical Principles illustrated by Common Minerals," by Professor W. O. Crosby; to all of which 2,798 tickets were given out, 2,295 of them to teachers. In the season of 1884-'85, ten lessons in zoölogy were given by the curator, mainly on a range of subjects specially indicated by the courses of instruction of the schools of Boston, for which 837 tickets were distributed. These were succeeded by a course of ten laboratory lessons in "Elementary Mineralogy," by Professor W. O. Crosby, which were attended by seventy-five persons, occupying the full capacity of the room. The Annisquam Laboratory has proved more useful, and its instruction has been more highly appreciated, than had been anticipated, and "a very decided revival in the number and quality of the attendance" is mentioned. Reliance is placed on the study of natural science in the public schools and in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for assistance in keeping up the interest in this enterprise. In arranging the plan of the school, the director assumed that all persons admitted would be capable of conducting their own work, whereas they very rarely proved to be so; and that all the students would be able to realize that being taught how to do one's own work was more valuable than the mere information gained. As a rule, the ablest students acknowledged the benefit of the mode of work, and, after a short experience, expressed great satisfaction and gratitude.


Aztec Ikonographic Writing.—Ikonomatic is a term which Dr. Brinton applies, in distinction from ikonographic and alphabetic, to a kind of rebus-writing, in which a figure or picture refers to the name of an object, the sound of which is applied to the name of some other object or idea. It is exemplified in certain of the hieroglyphic inscriptions of Egypt, and in some of the heraldic devices of the middle ages. It was freely used in the ancient Mexican inscriptions, in which the suggestion of the figure itself, the relative position of the objects, and the colors used, all may have had, and evidently often did have, phonetic significance. The Aztec writing also contained determinatives, such in principle as arc frequent in the Egyptian inscriptions, and numerous ideograms. Sometimes the ideogram was associated with the phonetic symbol, and acted as a sort of determinative to it. Besides employing it in proper names, the Aztecs composed in the ikonomatic system words, sentences, and treatises on various subjects. In proportion as it was applied to connected and lengthy compositions, its processes became more recondite, curious, and difficult of interpretation—impossible without considerable knowledge of the spoken language The study of it has, however, been pursued with what Dr. Brinton calls marked and gratifying results, by Mrs. Zelie Nuttall Pinart. This lady, the author says, "has unraveled a number of the pages of the 'Vienna Codex,' and several of the monolithic inscriptions which have been handed down from ancient Mexico. With commendable caution she has refrained from publishing her results until they could be presented supported by such proofs that they can not be questioned; but from a personal examination of them I do not hesitate to say that they will be found to come up to the highest standard of scientific requirements."


An Incident in School Discipline.—An instructive incident in the administration of school discipline is related by T. C. Earns, in the "Southwestern Journal of Education." The subject was a boy naturally of good impulses, but who had conceived the idea of the existence of antagonism between teacher and pupil. It was agreed that he must be whipped for a serious breach of the order of the school which he had committed. He assuming a defiant attitude toward the teacher, the latter replied to him: "No; if you do not comply willingly, I will not whip you, Sam. There will be no contest between us; but, as you will not be subject to the rules which you agreed to obey when you entered school, you can not stay here longer, and I will write a note explaining all to your mother, which you will please to carry to her." This having been said pleasantly, the teacher sat down to write the note, while the boy waited and reflected. The note made a pleasant mention of Sam's good traits, and expressed regret that his failure to comply with some of the regulations of the school made it necessary to dismiss him. The boy was given it, but hesitated to start away, and said, "I am not going to take this to my mother." The teacher answered that if Sam did not want to take the note, he would send it by a carrier, or drop it in the mail, "But I thought you would prefer to carry it in person, and have something to say in your own behalf." Sam made another effort to start, but appeared to be overcome, and, walking up to the teacher, extended his hand, and said, "Whip me—I can't stand this!" The teacher, of course, would not whip him then, nor would he send the note to the boy's mother, but saying that all that had passed should rest between the two, added, "Only be sure that your conduct is all right for the future." "New light," says the teacher, "seemed to dawn upon Sam. This was a new experience for him. I nodded assent, and he passed out again. It was but a moment, when a head was again protruded at the door, and a choking voice uttered the words, 'Much obliged to you.' I never had any more trouble with Sam." The boy was conquered by just and manly treatment. When the spirit of antagonism had been removed, he had nothing left to stand upon, and his self-respect forced him to be a man in return.


Ptomaines in Stale Milk.—The evidence of the development of ptomaines in stale milk accumulates, and it is becoming more and more probable that the instances of poison-sickness which occasionally occur after partaking certain creams, or ices, or cheeses, may be traced to this source. Dr. R. H. Firth reports, upon the examination of some milk to which his attention was called as having occasioned sickness, that after the evaporation of an ethereal extract from the filtrate, a moist, semi-crystallized residue was left. It had a "mawkish, sickly odor," and a strongly pungent taste when put on the tongue. Taking some of it carefully himself, he was soon afterward conscious of nausea and dryness of the fauces, and then of headache. He gave all the remaining residue to a dog. The dog was within fifteen minutes purging, vomiting, and obviously ill. It gradually recovered, but, being afterward killed, its stomach and intestines were found to contain a serous and frothy fluid, but quite free of congestion or inflammatory action. Fresh milk when tested did not yield any substance having a toxic action. But of stoppered bottles of milk set away for "cultivation," at a temperature of 80º Fahr., those opened after about ten weeks, yielded a white acicular crystalline substance having the same odor and taste as that found in the original suspected milk. The effects of this substance on the experimenter and on dogs and cats were the same. For this ptomaine, the author suggests the name of lactotoxine.


Myths and Theories about Earthquakes.—Professor Milne, in a lecture before the Scientific Society of Tokio, Japan, classified the theories that have been enunciated respecting the cause of earthquakes as unscientific, quasi-scientific, and scientific. Having mentioned as among the unscientific theories those which ascribed the convulsions to dispensations of Providence, the lecturer described some of the myths which attribute them to a creature living underground. In Japan it is an "earthquake-insect," covered with scales and having eight legs, or a great fish having a rock on his head which helped to keep him quiet. In Mongolia the animal was said to be a frog, in India the world-bearing elephant, in Celebes a world-supporting hog, in North America a tortoise. In Siberia there was a myth connected with the great bones found there, that these were the remains of animals that lived underground, the trampling of which made the ground shake. In Kamchatka the legend was connected with a god that went out hunting with his dogs; when the latter stopped to scratch themselves, their movements produced earthquakes. In Scandinavian mythology, Loki, having killed his brother Baldwin, was bound to a rock, face upward, so that the poison of a serpent should drop on his face. Loki's wife, however, intercepted the poison in a vessel, and it was only when she had to go away to empty the dish that a few drops reached him and caused him to writhe and shake the earth. The quasi-scientific theories endeavored to account for earthquakes as part of the ordinary operations of Nature, as that they were produced by the action of wind confined inside of the earth. The theory of electrical discharges was advocated in 1760 by Dr. Stukely, and by Percival and Priestley, and is held in California at the present day, where it is believed that the network of rails is a protection to the State against dangerous accumulations of electricity. The lecturer thought that the electric phenomena which sometimes attended earthquakes were their consequences, not their causes. The chemical theories were very strong in Europe up to the beginning of the present century. It was only in 1760 that Dr. Mitchell first threw out the theory that earthquakes were connected in some way with volcanoes, and attributed them to the penetration of strata by steam. Professor Rogers, at about the same time, in America, endeavored to show that it was not steam, but really lava, that ran along underneath the ground, causing it to rise and fall, thus producing an earthquake.


Weathercocks.—Why, asks Mr. J. A. Farrer, in an essay on "Animal Lore," should cocks figure on the tops of steeples? Christians connect the custom with the reproach the cock once conveyed to St. Peter. But the cock used to be placed on the tops of sacred trees long before it was transferred to church-steeples, and in North Germany it still stands upon the May-poles. It was partly a watchman and partly a weather-prophet, and by its crowing it could disperse evil spirits and all approaching calamities. Its life was sacred in India and Persia, and Cicero speaks of the ancients regarding the killing of a cock as a crime equal in blackness to the suffocation of a father. Our weathercocks are doubtless the survivals of these old ideas, though the solar mythologists trace all these things to the use of the domestic fowls as obvious personifications of the sun. One can scarcely conceive anything more absurd; and it would be interesting to know how on solar principles would be explained the Tyrolese custom of not letting a black hen live for seven years, lest she should then lay an egg, out of which might issue a dragon destined to live a hundred years.


School-room Lights.—Dr. Willoughby, of English Society of Medical Officers of Health, in a paper on "School Lighting," maintains that as long as the light from the left is the stronger, so that the shadow of the hand does not fall on the writing, the objections urged against "cross-lighting " are imaginary; and that while the main source of light should always be on the left, it might be advantageously supplemented by lights of lesser intensity from either side, whereby the total illumination would be increased. In wide rooms the rows of desks on either side should face in opposite directions, so that the nearer and consequently stronger light should always come from the left. No natural light not coming direct from the sky could be sufficient, but whether sky-light were so or not would depend on the angle of aperture, or arc of the sky visible at any given point, which should never be less than 5º, and the angle of incidence, which should not be less than 25º. In artificial lighting, shades acting also as reflectors are preferable to semi-opaque globes, which involve much loss of light. The two points to be observed in the arrangement of the lighting are the avoidance of shadows and of the direct incidence of the light on the eyes.


Uses of Birch-Bark.—Professor Gustav Retzius has a chapter, in his sketches of Finland, respecting the uses which the Finnish people make of birch-bark. Shoes are made of it. The bark, having been peeled, is cut into strips, rolled up carefully, and put away for future use. When the Finnish peasant wants a pair of new shoes, he takes one of his rolls, cuts it up into strips of suitable width, soaks it in water to soften it, and then weaves it into the form he desires. It is all done very rapidly, a half-hour or less sometimes sufficing for the whole work. The shape of the shoes varies according to the use they are to be put to. If they are for swamps, he makes them into low-cut slippers or sandals. With these he can walk through the moors without wounding his feet on the sharp sticks, while the water flows in and out freely. Another shape is that of regular shoes with high sides, and toes either run out to a point or cut short off. They are made wider than is necessary to accommodate the foot, so that in cold weather they may be stuffed with hay and the foot wrapped with bandages. A third form is a kind of half-boot. All the three forms are still used in much of the interior of the country during work in the fields, the swamps, the woods, and the house, especially among the poorer people. These bark shoes have in fact many advantages. They are very cheap, costing really nothing; they are strong and durable, and warm, with the help of hay and wrappings. In moist ground they let the water in and out without softening, and, by changing the hay or wrappings, are easily dried. Many other uses are found for birch-bark. The sheath in which the peasant carries his inseparable knife is made of it. It is woven into pockets or bags of various sizes, which are used all over Finland. The larger of these form a satchel with a flap which may be turned over and close the bag. Wherever one may travel in Finland, he will meet children, women, and men with these satchels. The peasant carries his dinner in one, and with the satchel on his back, birch-bark shoes on his feet, and his tools in his hands, goes out equipped for his day's work. These satchels also take the place of baskets. Birch-bark is made into salt-tubs, cords and lines, brushes for washing out wooden vessels, boxes, sieves and tubs, and many other articles for which we use wood or basket material.


The Microscope in Geology.—President T. G. Bonney, of the Geological Section of the British Association, spoke on the "Application of Microscopic Analysis to discovering the Physical Geography of by-gone Ages." The microscope furnishes us with an instrument of precision, by means of which we can learn the more minute mineral composition and structural peculiarities of rocks, can recognize fragments, and sometimes even determine the source of the smaller constituents in a composite elastic rock. Thus, by its aid, we may be able, in many cases, to substitute a demonstration for a conjecture. The speaker described the materials of the coarser fragmental rocks of Great Britain, and laid down the following principles of interpretation: 1. Pebbles indicate the action either of waves of the sea, or of strong currents, marine or fluviatile. 2. The zone in the sea over which the manufacture of pebbles can be carried on is seldom wider than from the high-tide line to a depth of within twenty feet below low-water mark. It is, therefore, probable that a thick and very widely-extended pebble-bed is not the result of wave-action. 3. The movement of the deep waters of the sea, as a rule, is so slight that only the very finest sediment can be affected by it. The instances where great currents may transport pebbles and sand are exceptional, and confined to rather shallower water. The larger coast currents may, however, transport mud to considerable distances, but in directions parallel with the main trend of the shores. 4. Except where very large rivers discharge their water into the ocean, or in some special cases of 3, sediment is deposited comparatively near the shores of continents, according to the Challenger's sounding in no important amounts farther away than one hundred and fifty miles. 5. Thus rain and rivers are generally more important agents of denudation and transportation than the sea. 6. The coarser materials of rocks are capable of being transported by streams to a considerable distance without serious diminution of volume. 7. Deposits of gravel and coarse sand, of considerable vertical thickness and great vertical extension, are more likely to indicate the immediate action of a river than of a marine current.


The Happiness of Animals.—It is hard to conceive that the question, "Are animals happy?" should be seriously asked by any one who is acquainted with animals, or comprehends what constitutes happiness. Yet there are some writers—for scientific journals, too—who treat the question as open to debate, or are even inclined to answer it in the negative. Mr. Briggs Carlill, who thinks it worth while to take it up in the "Nineteenth Century," has no difficulty in giving a decidedly affirmative answer. Two general considerations, he says, precede all arguments on the subject, and may be disposed of in the beginning. They are, that animals do not commit suicide, though they might, and know how to do it; and that they increase and multiply—which they would not do were their condition miserable. Animals are, it is true, deprived of man's mental pleasures, which are the highest ones to those who appreciate them; but then they are, in partial compensation, spared from worry. With man, the local pleasures, or those of sensation and convenience, largely preponderate over mental pleasures, while of his pains, mental troubles constitute much the largest part. Suppose the mental powers gradually to diminish, while the bodily powers remain unimpaired till the mind no longer troubles itself about unseen things; we shall then approach the constitution of the higher mammalia. All animals enjoy the taking in of food. More highly developed ones have another opening for pleasure in the faculty of discovering sources of food; animals which catch their prey, the additional excitement of pursuit and capture; ruminants enjoy the chewing of the cud. Exercise counts for a good deal in the youth of all animals, and continues throughout life in the majority to afford enjoyment of the keenest description, while many of them have the delight that the power of swift motion gives. "Constantly throughout the animal world we notice that delight in the use of muscle and limb which in man scarcely survives his majority, but which in them lasts far into maturity. We are accustomed unconsciously to recognize their prerogative in this respect when we apply the phrase 'animal spirits' to a boy who is full of life and energy, and who enjoys a run over the hills on a breezy day." All animals, also, enjoy to a full extent the pleasures connected with the perpetuation of their species and the care of their young—the latter of which are akin to some of man's mental pleasures. What is there to set off against these pleasures which accompany alike the activities preservative of individual life and those preservative of the species? Principally, these four things—famine, exposure to weather, bodily injury, and violent death; things not altogether unknown to man. But the suffering in all these cases is of short duration, and is usually tempered by circumstances in the animal's age, condition, or power of adaptation, while the keenest element of it—the thinking about it—is wholly absent; so that its intensity is so much less in animals than in man that, even if the individual instances of it are more frequent, the balance of advantage would probably remain with the brutes. The author's conclusion, therefore, is, that "so far as bodily pains and pleasures are concerned, if in humanity there be a surplus of pleasure over pain, there is in brutes a still greater surplus; if in humanity there be anything like an equality between pleasure and pain, there is in brutes a large preponderance of pleasure; if in humanity pain predominate, then in brutes the proportion should be reversed."


Air in Dwellings and School-Rooms.—In the experiments of Professor Carnelly on the air of dwellings and schools, and its relations to disease, a distinct increase of impurities was detected in the air of the close parts, as compared with the open spaces, of such towns as Perth and Dundee. As between different classes of dwelling-houses, one-, two-, and four-roomed dwellings, the average length of life in the one-roomed house was only twenty years, while in the better-class houses it was forty years. Hence, persons born and living in a one-roomed house have a chance of living only half as long as those born and living in a four-roomed house. This depends naturally to a considerable extent on other causes than impure air-supply. The best results in the relation of atmospheric purity to cubic space were noticed when the allowance was one thousand cubic feet for each person. The result, owing to stagnation, was not so good in larger rooms. Of sixty-eight school rooms in Dundee, twenty-six were mechanically ventilated, and the others were ventilated by means of windows. The advantage was found to be decidedly on the side of mechanical ventilation, which not only materially improves the quality of the air, but also causes less reduction in its temperature. The air was less pure in boys' schools than in girls' schools. Cleanliness of person had a comparatively small influence on the number of micro-organisms, but cleanliness of dwelling-rooms and schools had a most important effect. Hence, the air of new school-rooms is distinctly better than that of older buildings. The author suggests that the evil said to be due to over-pressure in schools is, in many cases, due to imperfect ventilation.


How Lampreys build their Nests.—In a paper on "Lampreys of Cayuga Lake," read at the American Association, Messrs. S. H Gage and S. E. Meek held that the study of the specific characters of these animals had convinced them of the specific identity of the sea and Cayuga Lake lamprey, and that the alleged specific differences are but seasonal and individual variations. In the spring, May and June, the lampreys ascend the largest of the streams flowing into the lake for the purpose of spawning. They build nests of stones in the bottom of the stream, usually just above declivities where the water breaks in ripples. In forming the nests the stones are removed, forming a circular or oval place, the diameter of which is a little more than the length of the lamprey. In removing the stone the lamprey fastens its suctorial mouth to the stones, wriggling strongly until the stone is loose. It then raises it free and floats down with the current to the lower edge of the nest, where the stone is dropped. In this way all of the stones are removed for a depth of from ten to twenty centimetres. As nearly all of the stones are piled up at the lower edge of the nest, that is the highest. The current carries down into the nest fine gravel, partly filling it. When the eggs are laid, the sand is stirred up, and the eggs being heavier than water sink with the sand and are covered by it. Lampreys if placed in an aquarium with other fishes will attach themselves to them and produce wounds.


Value of M. Pasteur's Hydrophobia Inoculations.—A committee appointed by the British Local Government Board to inquire into M. Pasteur's method of treatment of hydrophobia made a report in June, 1887. The committee consisted of Messrs. James Paget, T. Lauder Brunton, George Fleming, Joseph Lister, Richard Quain, Sir Henry Roscoe, and J. Burdon-Sanderson—men whose judgments in the premises can be relied upon if those of any men can. The committee visited Paris; made special examinations of ninety of M. Pasteur's earliest cases who were within easy reach of the capital; and through its secretary, Mr. Victor Horsley, made careful experiments on the effects of M. Pasteur's inoculations on the lower animals. The conclusion of the committee is expressed, after relating its observations, in the words: "From the evidence of all these facts, we think it certain that the inoculations practiced by M. Pasteur on persons bitten by rabid animals have prevented the occurrence of hydrophobia in a large number of those who, if they had not been so inoculated, would have died of that disease. And we believe that the value of this discovery will be found much greater than can be estimated by its present utility, for it shows that it may become possible to avert by inoculation, even after infection, other diseases than hydrophobia. ... His researches have also added very largely to the knowledge of the pathology of hydrophobia, and have supplied what is of the highest practical value, namely, a sure means of determining whether an animal, which has died under suspicion of rabies, was really affected with that disease or not." The answer to the question whether M. Pasteur's treatment can be submitted to without danger to health or life, must be qualified accordingly as the question is applied to the ordinary method, concerning the entire safety of which no reason of doubt has yet appeared; or to the intensive method which has been applied only to cases deemed especially urgent. In many of the urgent cases the intensive method is believed to have been more efficacious than the ordinary method would have been. In other cases deaths have occurred under conditions which have suggested that they were due to the inoculations rather than to the infection from the rabid animal. But in these cases it is open to doubt whether the effect of the inoculation may not have been to modify the form of the rabies already nascent, into "paralytic rabies," rather than of itself to produce it. In order to reduce risks, M. Pasteur has greatly modified his intensive treatment, and limited its application to the most urgent cases.