Popular Science Monthly/Volume 32/February 1888/Popular Miscellany

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Mr. Lockyer's Theory of "The Cosmos,"—Mr. Lockyer has presented, in a paper to the Royal Society "Spectra of Meteorites," a new hypothesis concerning the origin and nature of the stars and other celestial bodies. Among the fundamental propositions of his theory are those that all self-luminous bodies in the celestial spaces are composed of meteorites, or masses of meteoric vapor, produced by heat brought about by condensation of meteor swarms due to gravity; that the spectra of all bodies depend upon the heat of the meteorites, produced by collisions, and the average space between the meteorites in the swarm, or in the case of consolidated swarms, upon the time which has elapsed since complete vaporization; that the existing distinction between stars, comets, and nebulæ rests on no physical basis; and that the main factor in the various spectra produced is the ratio of the interspaces between the meteorites to their incandescent surfaces. These, with other propositions of more detailed and specific character, are sustained by results of spectroscopic examinations of meteorites and of various substances, which are described particularly. Experiments prosecuted for fourteen years have shown that the luminous phenomena manifested by the several classes of heavenly bodies can be reproduced in the laboratory by subjecting meteorites, as far as possible, to conditions similar to those assumed by the hypothesis to exist in space. Thus, the reproduction of the spectrum of the sun by the fusion of meteorites in the voltaic arc accords with the supposition that it is the result of the condensation to the point of complete volatilization of an originally sparse swarm of meteorites. The spectra of comets when near the sun give the lines of a meteoric body glowing in a dense atmosphere given off by itself when highly heated; while at their greatest observed distances from the sun their spectra are identical with those of the nebulæ, which are supposed by the hypothesis to be "closely associated with a meteorite glowing very gently in a very tenuous atmosphere given off by itself." Hence nebulæ are supposed to be sparse clusters of associated meteorites, and their luminous phenomena to be due to the glow of gases which result from collisions between the individuals of the group. Comets are nebulæ whose proper motions have brought them within the range of the sun's attraction; but when outside of his more immediate influence they exhibit no phenomena which are not also exhibited by nebulæ. The next stage of approximation is exhibited by stars designated as of Class IlIa, and is due to the attraction of gravity among the individual meteorites of the swarm; and the succeeding stages are indicated by the increasing complexity of the spectra, whether of the meteorite itself rendered incandescent by collision of the vapors by which it is immediately surrounded, or of the general interspace between meteorite and meteorite. At this point the direct evidence of the spectroscope fails us. The force of gravity which has drawn the meteorites gradually together must still continue to operate, but as its operations become more intense the collisions will become more frequent, until at last the meteorites are completely volatilized by the heat evolved, and in that case the star becomes a mass of incandescent vapor at a transcendental temperature. We know that such stars exist, but we can not produce their spectra in the laboratory because we have no means of obtaining the temperature required. The condensation is now complete, and the highest temperature capable of being evolved by the forces at work has been attained. When gravity has resulted in the complete volatilization of the gravitating bodies its power is exhausted, and the process of cooling must thenceforth set in. This stage is exhibited in the stars of Class II, of which our sun is the most familiar example. The stars in Vogel's Class IIIb once more exhibit spectra capable of approximate reproduction in the laboratory, and thus show that they have returned to a temperature no longer transcendental. The last stage of all is that of stars, or bodies associated with the stars, so cool as no longer to be incandescent. The spectroscope tells us nothing of them, but there are good evidences of their existence. Is this the end? We can not say so with any confidence. We have no right to say that collisions can not occur between the larger bodies as well as between the meteorites. Then "the cycle of the universe would be complete, and we might say of the Cosmos as the geologist Hutton said of the earth—that it exhibited no trace of a beginning, and no evidence of an end. This, however, is pure speculation."

Antiquity of North American Flora.—Reasons are adduced by Mr. A. T. Drummond, in his discussion of the distribution of British North American plants, for supposing that America was the starting-point of that phase of the vegetation which, in its later development, has become the flora of to-day. The first undoubted evidences of this flora, on any considerable scale, are found in the Leda clays of the Ottawa Valley. The Eocene flora resembles, not so much the Eocene as the later Miocene of Europe. Seeing that the Eocene and Upper Cretaceous of North America, in the resemblance of their flora to that of northern temperate America of to-day, are older than the European Cretaceous and Eocene, that it was only in later epochs in Europe that the generic identity with North American plants became so very distinctly marked, and that in Europe many of the genera of the Pliocene identical with those of to-day have since become extinct, "there seems a possible presumption," says the author, "quite apart from that derivable from their present range, that some of these identical European and American plants may be older in America, and being northern temperate in range may have originated in northern temperate America."

The Peabody Museum.—The latest—the twentieth—annual report of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology records the complete affiliation of that institution with Harvard University by the installation of its curator, Dr. F. W. Putnam, as professor there. This position imposes no duties which the curator of the museum has not already performed, they consisting only of the delivery of one or more courses of lectures annually; but it brings the museum more closely into the general system of the university. The archaeological work which the museum has in hand includes explorations in Nicaragua and Costa Rica through the co-operation of Dr. Earl Flint, in the course of which many relics, including some of jade, have been recovered, and human foot-prints have been found in volcanic tufa sixteen feet below the surface; continued explorations by Dr. C. C. Abbott, in New Jersey, which have yielded, in fragments of human skeletons associated with the stone implements in the glacial gravel, the earliest record of man on the Atlantic coast; the explorations of the shell-heaps of Maine, under Dr. Putnam's personal supervision, which have brought to light many interesting facts relative to the early occupation of New England by man; the ethnological researches of Miss Alice C. Fletcher among the Omaha and Sioux Indians, which is growing into a history of the tribes, with a description of their social and religious customs; and the explorations in the mounds and burial places of the Scioto and Little Miami Valleys of Ohio—the most extensive and systematic of the museum's explorations—which have yielded extremely rich results in illustrating the life and customs and rituals of the people to whom they appertained. To these may be added the decipherment and translation by Mrs. Zelia Nuttall of a number of the Mexican codices and inscriptions.

The Scientific Privileges of Country Boys.—"Nor is the study of natural things, and the making of discoveries," says Professor O. P. Hay, in a paper on "The Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana," "the exclusive privilege of those who have received a scientific training. There is not a farmer boy in Indiana who may not make solid contributions to science if he will but use his opportunities. Persons who live in the country are in direct contact with Nature. They see a thousand things that the naturalist would delight to see, and yet may never be permitted to behold. The time of coming and going of the various species of birds; their curious habits, as shown in nest-building and obtaining food; and the occurrence here and there of rare species of various animals, are examples of matters which all may observe and report, and which science needs to know."

Rich Men's Duties to Themselves.—While the value of wealth as an alleviator of suffering and a promoter of worthy public objects is strongly appreciated by many who possess it, says Lester F. Ward in "The Forum," "its value as a direct means of intellectual and moral culture is rarely discerned by this class. Many rich people are fully alive to their duty toward others, and at the same time apparently devoid of a sense of their duty toward themselves. The function of wealth, in affording leisure for culture and for thorough, painstaking work in any field of progressive labor, has always been and always must be a far more important one than that of furnishing temporary relief to suffering humanity. Without leisure, Humboldt could not have explored all the realms of Nature, and given the world an intelligible cosmos. Without immunity from care, Newton could not have found out and unfolded to his age and ours the true nature of the universe. Without leisure and resources, Darwin could not have fathomed the mysteries of life and solved the great problem of being. Civilization, with all its mechanical accessories and blessings, is the product of calm deliberation and patiently-wrought results. The inventions that underlie it were impossible until the principles of Nature upon which they rest had been established, and this has in most cases been the result of prolonged researches made for truth's sake alone. . . . This scientific work, this search for truth for its own sake, can only be successfully prosecuted when the means of subsistence are made to be not in the least dependent upon it. . . . The so-called men of leisure, who have accomplished these good results, have really been the most industrious of all men. Leisure, in this sense, merely means relief from the necessity of performing statical work, in order to be able to perform dynamic work. . . . But how few understand it in this sense!"

New Economical Plants.—The directors of the Sahárunpur Gardens, India, are cultivating a number of new plants, for acclimitization. Among them is the Acacia Senegal, which, besides yielding the best gum-arabic, furnishes a reddish-brown wood which takes on a fine polish, and is used for weavers' shuttles. The Cedula adorata, or West Indian cedar, has a light wood of a mahogany color, even-grained, easily worked, and fragrant—the wood from which Havana cigar-boxes are made. Cencheris catharticus is a much-valued fodder-plant, which grows in sandy-desert tracts. It is the Tuart of Australia, a tree of magnificent proportions, which furnishes most excellent hard-wood timber. The Myricas, or wax-myrtles, of North and South America, are cultivated for the waxy exudations on their fruits, from which the wax is separated by boiling and skimming. The fruits of the Sapindus saponaria, or West Indian soap-berry, contain a large quantity of a saponaceous matter, which is used for washing clothes. The hard, round, black seeds are worn as beads for necklaces.

How to be a Good Nurse.—Six things, says a doctor writing on the subject, are necessary to a good nurse: Strong, equable health; sound nerve; minute observation; a retentive memory; habits of neatness and cleanliness; and a calm, collected mind. A nurse must never disregard her health, because it is essential to her own well-being, and because, too, attendants on the sick should always be cheerful and hopeful. Sound nerve is often a matter of training, but its root lies in unselfishness. Any one who, in an accident or operation, forgets self in the desire to aid others, will not be troubled by trembling or fainting. The faculties of observation and retentiveness of memory can be developed by having interest in the work strong enough to make the nurse careful and patient in her observations. A calm mind is generally the result of organization. If a nurse has arranged her day's work beforehand, if she keeps everything punctually to this arrangement, and if everything needful is neatly disposed, she is not likely to be discovered in bustle and confusion at any time. The nurse should, furthermore, be mindful that she is under the doctor, and should respect and obey his directions even if she differs in opinion from him. It is extremely important that those who are sick and suffering should be treated with unfailing gentleness and patience; nothing can ever excuse a nurse for losing her temper with her patient. No duty is too little or trifling for her attention, and no work that is for the good of the patient can be degrading. It is further a good rule never to approach a case fasting; but always to have a good meal before going on duty.

Notes about Maple-Sugar.—According to a pamphlet on "Maple-Sugar and the Sugar Bush," by Mr. A. J. Cook, trees growing on high, gravelly soil are supposed to supply richer sap, while those on clay or muck yield more abundantly. Exposure to the open sunlight is favorable to a good yield. Concerning the influence of the preceding season on the supply, opinions differ. Vermont sugar-makers believe that an open winter is conducive to a good flow and richness of sap, while those of Indiana and Michigan think the reverse. North and west winds and clear skies are favorable, while east and south winds and the approach of a storm are unfavorable. An increase in the amount and richness of the sap has been noticed after a rain. A layer of snow or frozen ground over the roots of the tree is thought to be conducive to a bountiful yield. The deeper the bore of the tap, the longer the sap will continue to run; but a small hole gives nearly as much sap as a large one, with considerably less injury to the tree. While the sugar-maple is the best for sugar, the other maples are often tapped; but it is an objectionable feature in them that the buds start earlier, causing an increase in the amount of inverse sugar and other changes that give a bitter taste. The average yield per tree is probably two or three pounds, but single trees have been told of which gave thirty or forty pounds. Some sixteen or twenty quarts of sap are required to give a pound of sugar. Mr. Cook estimates the profits of his own sugar-bush at ten per cent on the capital invested, with no risk; and the business promises to become more and more a source of profit each year. For, "the maple-sugar industry is so limited by the very condition of things, and its product is so incomparably superior to all other like products, that we need fear no dangerous antagonism, no impoverishing competition. We have, and can always keep, the monopoly." The care and extension of maple-sugar plantations are therefore advised.

Curiosities of Guessing.—Some curious facts bearing on the "Eccentricities of Guessing" were communicated to the American Association by Professor T. C. Mendenhall The author had formed a standard probability curve which could be applied to any form of guessing, and which represented the law that governed the occurrence and recurrence of purely accidental things. This standard was seldom deviated from to any considerable extent. He had frequently tested the accuracy of the probability curve by experiment. A large number of persons guessed at the number of nails of various sizes contained in a carboy. The lowest guess was 43; the highest between 3,000,000 and 4,000,000. Eight guesses came within one of the actual number, six falling short, and two exceeding it, while a vast majority came within a few hundred of it. It was 2,551. Many terminated their guesses with the figure 7; then 3, then 9 came in the order of preference. Odd numbers occurred three fourths of the time; and the number of the year was frequently chosen.

Electric Tractive Adhesion.—Mr. Elias E. Ries exhibited, in the American Association, his method of using the electric current for increasing the tractive adhesion of railway-motors and other rolling contacts. The electric conductors are connected with the driving-wheels of the motor-car by means of contact-brushes in such a manner that the rails situated between two pairs of wheels complete the electric circuit. This circuit moves along with the motor-car, which also carries the source of current, and the amount of current flowing through the circuit is directly under the control of the driver. The track-rails in front and rear of the car are at all times free from current which is confined to that part of the track between the driving-wheels. The author claims that the tractive force can be increased by this system nearly two hundred per cent, and the motor can be made capable of propelling itself with ease up a forty-per-cent grade.

Origin of Bright's Disease.—The cause of Bright's disease, according to Dr. J. Milner Fothergill, is a tendency of the system to revert to the excretion of solid uric acid, after the manner of the cold-blooded animals and birds, instead of the soluble urea, which is the characteristic excretion of the higher animals. When the uric-acid formation is established, the substance is either gradually deposited in the body—in the articular cartilages by preference—or is cast out by the kidneys, with irritation of those organs. With this effect are often associated "insufficient" liver and migrainous neurotic affections which are growing more common among town populations. "With an insufficient liver, a meat dietary, and insufficient oxidation, the town dweller is the subject, more than all others, of the uric-acid formation, with all its varied consequences. . . . The effect of town life is to produce a distinct retrogression to a smaller, darker, precocious race of less potentialities than the rustic population. Precocity is seen in early puberty, but reproduction is impaired. . . . The retrocedent race perishes either by sterility in the females, or their sparse progeny succumb to the diseases of childhood. . . . This retrocedent race are the possessor's of congenitally insufficient livers, and as a consequence are the victims of the uric-acid formation." And Bright's disease is especially their disease.

Plants with Insect-guards.—W. J. Beale and C. E. St. John presented, in the American Association, a study of the hairs in Silphium perfoliatum and Depsocus lacinotus in relation to insects. The upper surface of the leaf in these plants, near the apex, is thickly set with small hairs, all of which point toward the tip. Similar hairs were found all along the mid-veins, side-veins, and veinlets of the upper surfaces of the leaf. The cavities formed by the perfoliate leaves are very small and hold but little water. They are very full after any rain or heavy dew. These cups do not seem to serve any purpose as insect-catchers, as only a few insects were caught during two weeks in which the plants were watched, and they could afford but little nutrition. It seems more probable to the authors that the object of the cups with their water is to protect the plant from crawling insects, and this is done most effectually.

His own Publisher.—Mr. Ruskin has adopted a plan of his own for producing his books. He is his own publisher, having simply an agent to attend to the business, who works for a commission, and charges fixed prices for books sold, to all buyers alike. His "Establishment" is, as the angry booksellers once contemptuously asserted, "in the middle of a country field"—that is, in a retired country house, "Sunny-side," at Orpington. At first, he would allow of no discount or abatement to the trade, but charged them the same as private purchasers, expecting them to add their profit openly. This set the booksellers against him, and they refused to handle his works. The public, nevertheless, found him out, came to him and bought his books, and be enjoyed a good income and a growing business in spite of his violation of all the accepted rules of the trade. Latterly, he has relaxed his rule, in consequence of representations made to him from every side, and allowed the trade a discount of from ten to fifteen per cent; so that now the larger part of his business is done through the shops. He also set his head against advertising, and has consequently been boycotted by the press, and made the victim of a "complete conspiracy of silence" during the last fifteen years. The "Times" is glad to publish his stray letters now and then, but ignores his books; and the professed literary journals "have not noticed anything that one of the foremost literary men of the time has written since 1872. The secret of Mr. Ruskin's success in spite of his hostility is told by his publishing agent:" In the long run a good article is sure to fetch a good price. Mr. Ruskin is a good writer, and the public has found out the fact. As for my own part, I have simply had to see that the 'get up' was correspondingly good."

How to take a Turkish Bath.—Persons who are timid about taking the Turkish bath, or are afraid of exposing themselves to extremes of temperature, may find security in observing a few simple rules. The bather should first go to a room a little above blood-heat, and remain there until the surface of the body is moist and reddened. If the skin does not begin to assume this condition in about ten minutes, he should have himself given a warm-water-and-towel rubbing. When perspiration has fairly begun, and the skin is moist from head to foot, the bather should have a little cold water thrown upon the feet and legs, and should afterward go into a room of somewhat higher temperature, where he should lie or sit down, with his eyes closed, if that is agreeable. But he should not remain in any of the hot rooms longer than half an hour, nor so long if the ventilation is imperfect or the air impure. He should be "finished" with an affusion of slightly cold water, and should exercise extreme caution about taking the douche or plunge, which it is always safe to omit. He may drink water, soda-water, or lemonade in the bath, and a small cup of coffee or tea in the cooling-room, where he should lie or sit down, wrapped in towels, until the perspiration has subsided; but should not remain so long as to become cold. He should afterward dry the skin briskly with a rough towel, and dress quickly. A short, pleasant walk, followed by a light meal with agreeable conversation and cheerful surroundings, are desirable after the bath.

Roundabout Heating.—We often hear of devices by which the application of force is to be greatly simplified and cheapened; a favorite scheme of the present time is to make the application in the shape of electricity. The projectors of such schemes forget or do not know that the effect they desire to produce must be obtained from the consumption of force in some other form equivalent to the power they will develop, with a considerable excess that is destined to go to waste. The real working of these devices is illustrated by Professor W. M. Williams in the case of a proposed foot-warmer for rail way-cars, which is to be heated by applying the electric current to acetate of soda. The foot-warmers of this substance already in use are heated by immersing them in hot water, when they may be kept warm for several hours. "Instead of such direct heating, we are first to heat a boiler, losing heat in the production of steam, losing more in working the steam-engine, very much more in the dynamo, and more again in transmission. The cost of such electric heating would be at least twenty times as great as direct heating, not to mention cost of apparatus."

Oral and Text-Book Instruction—The difference between the oral and the so-called text-book method has been defined by Dr. William T. Harris in a paper on the "Teaching of Natural Science in the Public Schools," which is published in Bardeen's "School-Room Classics." In the oral method the teacher is the general source of information; in the other, the pupil is sent to the text-book. In neither is cramming with mere words considered good teaching; and yet, with a poor teacher, it may happen under either. The excellence of the oral method should be its freedom from stiffness and pedantry, and its drawing out of the pupil to self-activity in a natural manner. Its abuse happens when the subject is presented in a confused manner, or scientific precision is lost by using too familiar language or by too much pouring-in without exercising the pupil by making him do the reciting and explanation. The excellence of the text-book method consists in getting the pupil to work instead of working for him; in teaching him how to study for him-self, and to overcome difficulties by himself, instead of solving them for him. Unless the teacher knows this and directs all his efforts to achieve this end, very great abuses creep in. Thus it may happen that the teacher requires the pupil merely to memorize the words bf the book, and does not insist upon any clear understanding of it. Indolent teachers lean upon the text-book and neglect to perform their own part of the recitation. But in the hands of the good teacher the text-book is a powerful instrument to secure industry, precision, accuracy, and self-help on the part of the pupil.