Popular Science Monthly/Volume 38/March 1891/Popular Miscellany

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


White-fish in Lake Ontario.—A number of citizens of Rochester are endeavoring to interest the people of the State of New York in stocking Lake Ontario with white-fish. The lake once afforded abundance of this sweet and juicy fish, as Lake Erie does still, but they have now show that Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and the Dominion are busily stocking their lakes; while New York, with Ontario and numerous smaller lakes adapted to the raising of white-fish, is doing comparatively little in this particular direction. "We ought," they say, "to put out from thirty million to fifty million white-fish per annum." For this purpose we need regular and yearly liberal appropriations for stocking the lakes; stringent laws against netting or fishing during the spawning season or on spawning beds; laws forbidding the use of nets with a mesh smaller than is defined in them, and the catching and marketing of fish of less than a determined weight; the appointment of a first-class fish warden with enough deputies; and co-operation with the national and Dominion Governments.

The American Folk-lore Society.—The Council of the American Folk-lore Society reported at the recent meeting of that body that it stood upon a more solid basis than ever before, and its existence no longer needed to be justified. It may be confidently affirmed that no branch of American historical research offers a field for original investigation comparable to that presented by the traditions, rites, beliefs, and customs of the aboriginal races. On the other hand, the rapidity with which these tribes are penetrated by the ideas of civilization is strikingly illustrated by the movement now in progress among the Indian tribes of the United States. Every year, by increasing the difficulty of research, adds to the likelihood that many problems of primitive religion and usage will, in consequence of deficiency of information, remain permanently unsolved—a failure which, again, must of necessity obscure the comprehension of more advanced developments of human intelligence. It is therefore greatly to be desired that to the task of collection shall be devoted an energy in some degree commensurate with its importance, and that labors in this direction should be extended and systematized. As respects other branches of the work, especially observations concerning immigrant races, the material already printed in the publications of the society has been sufficient to demonstrate the various interest of the subject, the width of the field open to the collector, and the manner in which existing habits and beliefs serve to illustrate history. The Council has decided, if the society consents, to begin the publication of a Library of American Folk Lore, of which two volumes may be issued annually. While no member will be required to subscribe for these works, they will be obtainable for a subscription of two dollars in addition to the membership fee of three dollars, making the whole expense five dollars—for which all the regular publications of the society will be sent. The establishment of local chapters, which has already been successfully carried into effect in Philadelphia and Boston, is recommended. The society had four hundred and fortyseven members, with applicants enough to swell the number to more than five hundred. The Journal of American Folk Lore, the society's publication, is already, according to the statement of Prof. Crane, one of the editors, accepted as an authority in this country and in Europe.

The Bath in the Middle Ages.—An assertion made several years ago by Dr. Lyon Playfair, trusting to "worthless authorities," that "for a thousand years there was not a man or woman in Europe that ever took a bath," which was laughed at at the time, has been seriously refuted by the Rev. T. E. Bridget in his historical essay on Blunders and Forgeries. According to him, no one who has read much of the mediæval literature of any part of Christian Europe can doubt that the bath was constantly called into requisition. Among the accounts of Queen Isabella, wife of Edward II, is an entry of a payment "for repairs of the queen's bath and gathering of herbs for it." In a narrative of the arrival of Louis of Bruges, created Earl of Winchester in 1472, we find among other comforts provided for him that in the third chamber there "was ordered a Bayne, or ij, which were covered with tentes of white clothe." Mr. Dickson, the editor, tells us in the preface to the first volume of the Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, that "bathrooms were not uncommon in the houses of the great, and even the luxury of baths in bedrooms was not unknown. The accounts show two payments for broadcloth to cover a 'bath-fat' that is, to form a tent-like covering over it." The Abbé Thiers, in his Traité des Superstitions, mentions certain days on which silly people fancied it was wrong to bathe, a notion which would never have arisen had not bathing been a common practice.

The Battersea Home for Dogs.—The Battersea Temporary Home for lost and starving dogs took care last year of 24,123 dogs, for 3,613 of which homes were found—either new homes or by restoration to their owners. The report says that homeless dogs coming from the London streets were for the most part untrained, ill-bred, deformed, diseased, and half-starved, which, by the necessities of the situation, "found in the lethal chamber a merciful refuge." The muzzling order greatly augmented the number of dogs sent to the home during the latter part of the year, and threatened to overwhelm the resources of the institution. The home had prevented the spread of rabies by clearing the streets of the dogs most liable to be bitten by rabid animals, and had thus benefited the whole community. A cats' home had been added for the boarding of these animals, and neglected pussies were now found new homes or sent to the lethal chamber. The Duke of Portland—who presided at the annual meeting of the society—expressed his satisfaction at the personal interest which was shown by the Queen in the work of the home, as was proved by "her interposition to lengthen the time between the incoming of the dogs and the consequences of no one claiming them" which is a beautifully delicate way of phrasing the unpleasant truth.

The Failure of the Apple Crop of 1890.—The failure of the apple crop of 1890 in western New York is accounted for by Prof. L. H. Bailey, of the Cornell Experiment Station, as a result of the weather, which was exceedingly wet and cool in the spring, then marked by unusually heavy rains, followed by drought. A blight was developed in the foliage of the trees, caused by the growth of the apple-scab fungus. The scab (Fusicladium dendriticum) is found upon the bracts or small leaves attending the flowercluster, and is frequent upon very small fruits. It is nearly always present, to a greater or less extent, upon both leaves and fruit, but it is rarely so destructive to foliage as in the last year. It has increased rapidly in New York of late years, and apples have been unusually scabby. The wet spring afforded it just the conditions for rapid growth. The scab appears to be somewhat worse upon low and undrained lands than upon high and warm elevations, although in the infected regions the latter are never exempt. A closely related species (Fusicladium pyrinum), by some regarded as identical with the other, attacks the pear, in fruit and foliage, and probably causes much of the failure in the pear crop. It has a tendency to remain in more or less definite spots, so that pear foliage rarely looks as brown as apple foliage. The injury to trees by the fungus is not vital. It is best counteracted by spraying with solutions of carbonate of copper, beginning before the flowers open, and making four or six applications between then and the 1st of August. A solution of copper sulphate, carbonate of soda, and carbonate of ammonia is also recommended.

Advent of the Ghost Idea.—Lady Welby offered a puzzle to the British Association when she presented the question, which has not been solved, of accounting for the great "break" in human thought which occurs when the "ghost idea," or the thought of another life and the supernatural, comes in. The governing notion of those who regard the human intellect as a result of evolution is that man slowly accumulated experience, and from it, by comparison, by deduction, and by meditation, arrived at last at abstract and non-material thought. He considered the effect of revenge, for example, and its operation on tribal society, till he arrived at the idea of just revenge, or, as we call it, of justice; and, finally, his horizon ever widening, at the lofty conception that forgiveness might occasionally, or even frequently, be more to the general advantage, or, in other words, might be nobler, and therefore to be adopted. This theory leaves much unexplained, but it is supported by an array of facts, and will, if accepted, explain many of the phenomena. Much of thought is a result of experience and observation, and more may be; and it may be possible to extend the result of teaching by experience till it covers most of the field of human intelligence. But a break occurs at the moment when the ghost idea intrudes. That can not be derived from experience; for no man has ever lived again the present life, nor has a ghost ever been observed except in fancy, and if in fancy, how did the fancy originate? It can not be explained, either, as the result of dreams, for, while people may dream odd things and whimsical combinations, they do not dream absolutely new things—that is, things outside their experience and outside the imagination developed from thinking about the collected results of experience either personal or inherited. Two suppositions are mentioned by the London Spectator in reviewing Lady Welby's paper as admissible on the subject. The first is that primitive man had evidence that he had seen or heard, at some time or other, that which inspired conviction in his mind, and became sure of another life because he had watched its manifestations. The other is that, whatever be the truth about the evolution of thought, some thoughts must be intuitional—that is, have been generated in man originally by some external power.

Chinese and Indian Tea.—The supremacy of the tea trade is gradually shifting from China to India and Ceylon to such an extent that the Chinese Government is said to have instituted an investigation into the matter. The cultivation of tea as an industry is hardly fifty years old in India, and not more than ten years old in Ceylon; yet the British importations from those countries almost equal in weight and exceed in money value those from China; and while the exports of China tea doubled between 1866 and 1886, those of Indian teas increased fourfold. The causes of the change were found by the Chinese investigation to rest largely in differences in the preparation of the commercial product. The Chinese method is characterized as careless. The crop is raised in small gardens by men who own them and whose capital is small. The picking is done by the family, with hired help only when it can not be got along without. To save expense it is pushed forward, and the plucked leaves are allowed to stand, deteriorating in quality, till it is finished. Consequently, the leaves are not evenly withered. In India, tea is grown in large gardens, under skilled superintendence, with thoroughly organized methods. The picking is attended to with extreme care, so that each leaf is plucked at the proper stage, the plants being gone over again and again as the leaves successively mature. The plucked leaf is started at once on the course of "making," so that no time is given for deterioration to begin. Like differences in care and system prevail through all the details and processes, down to the packing and transporting to market; and the Indian teas are prevailing by virtue of the real superiority which they thereby obtain.

Infant Serpents.—As described by Dr. Walter Sibley, in his paper in the British Association on The Incubation of Serpents' Eggs, the first sign of the process of hatching is a slit, usually Y-shaped, appearing at the highest part of the egg-shell, whether the egg is placed on its side or on one end. The snout of the young reptile appears at the crack. After a time the head is protruded, and often remains out of the shell for some hours before the body and the tail are hatched. If disturbed, the head is again withdrawn into the shell. The author had seen fully-hatched young snakes return into their shells when alarmed. The young snakes, when first hatched, are smooth and velvety to the touch, with the yellow ring (of the common English snake) beautifully marked from the first, and the eyes open; but often there is some opacity about the cornea, which disappears in the course of a few hours. They are about six inches long, and weigh about eighty grains. They begin to hiss in the first few days.

Compressed Air as a Motor Power.—The power of compressed air was described by Prof. Alan Lupton, at the British Association, as suitable for large or small motors, and one that could be cheaply and safely introduced into workshops, houses, and shops. It will do the heavy work of a mill-course or iron-works, and the light work of the tailor, shoemaker, hair-dresser, and grocery, and will drive a dynamo for electric lighting. In Birmingham, by the agency of three steam-engines of 1,000 horse-power, air compressed to a pressure of forty-five pounds above the atmosphere is delivered into pipes which are laid like gas-pipes over four miles of streets. The works had only left the hands of the contractors, when there were forty customers for air-power, some of them at a distance of a mile and three quarters from the compressing station. The loss of power by friction in the pipes is so light that no ordinary gauge will show it. The engines of the consumers vary in size from half a horse-power up to fifty horse-power. Under the system of Hughes and Lancaster, by which compressed air may be applied to tramways, a pipe is laid in the street for the supply of compressed air to the cars, which carry the machinery for propulsion. Any gradient which a locomotive can mount can be ascended by the cars, and fresh supplies of air can be taken in without stopping the cars.

Petroleum as an Explosive.—Experiments by Peter T. Austen exhibit petroleum as an explosive of the dangerous class. It evolves inflammable gases at ordinary temperatures, and some of them are not liquefied by a considerable reduction of the temperature. The author applying a match to a flask containing crude petroleum at zero Fahrenheit, the flask was filled with a blue flame. Since the evolution of gas is increased by shaking the oil, an inflammable gas must accumulate in the vacant parts of car-tanks, in a condition more or less favorable to explosion. If the gas in contact with the petroleum becomes ignited, the oil will, in most cases, take fire unless the body of the liquid is very cold; and the danger increases as the temperature. The behavior of a tank of petroleum under pressure has not been much studied; but all know how tinder may be ignited in a "fire syringe"—an effect of simple compression. The lubricating oil of the piston also takes fire at a temperature of about 300°. The volatile gases of petroleum may be ignited at a lower temperature. If the mixture of air and vapor over petroleum is compressed to one fourth its volume, the temperature will be raised to 429° from zero, and to 499° from 70° Fahr. It follows, therefore, that if an oiltank filled or partly filled with such a mixture is suddenly compressed in such a way as greatly to reduce its volume, the gas, and probably the oil, will be ignited by the compression. This might happen in r. case of telescoping or of a fall of the tank. If a tank nearly filled with oil were suddenly compressed, the resistance offered by the liquid would heat it sufficiently to cause an evolution of its lighter hydrocarbons in sufficient quantity to create a dangerous pressure within the tank. This might happen when, the car being stopped in a collision, the oil is suddenly hurled against the front end of the tank. The author concludes that precautions against explosion are necessary in the transportation of crude petroleum.

Alcohol as a Cause of Disease.—Dr. Lewis D. Mason, of the Inebriate Asylum, Fort Ilamilton, N. Y., discussing The Etiology of Dipsomania and the Heredity of Alcoholic Inebriety, determines as facts that alcoholism in progenitors will produce physical and mental degradation in their descendants, with the disorders that arise from a defective nerve organization; and all grades of mental weakening, from slight enfeeblement of intellect to insanity and complete idiocy; and that the laws regulating these changes are similar to those that govern congenital degenerative changes from other causes. The offspring of the confirmed drunkard will inherit either the original vice or "some of its countless Protean transformations." In another paper—on Pathological Changes in Chronic Alcoholism—Dr. Mason exhibits alcohol as modifying the serum and the anatomical elements of the blood, besides being an irritant and directly producing modification and degeneration of tissue, and therefore as being most evidently a disease-producing agent. Contrasting the little progress that has been made in the study of the pathology of chronic alcoholism and of the diseases incident to alcoholism with the great advance that has been achieved in knowledge of microbic diseases, he adds: "Alcohol has not any microbe, but the grand total of its mortality will exceed the combined effect of all the bacteria that have ever passed the microscopic field or developed in the culture-tube of the bacteriologist." The subject is now, however, beginning to receive some of the attention it deserves.

Leaf and Stick Insects.—The leaf insect and the walking-stick insect are curious creatures. All of the family to which they belong are nocturnal in habit, and spend their days resting on trees and bushes the leaves of which form their food. They so resemble the leaves and twigs as to escape all but the very keenest observation. In the leaf insect, the head and thorax form a stalk, while the abdomen, which is flat, thin, and much dilated, exactly resembles a leaf. The six legs have broad, membranous appendages on the upper part, which are especially noticeable on the fore-legs; so that the creature while resting has the appearance of a leaf that has been gnawed on both sides by a caterpillar. While the color of the insect varies at different periods of its life, it always more or less resembles a leaf at some stage; when settled on the leaves and eating at them, its body becomes bright green. After death it becomes brown like a dry leaf. The stick insects are common in the tropics, which are the principal habitat of the leaf insects, and are also found in temperate regions, including the United States. The tropical species are the largest, some of them reaching nine or ten inches in length. They are hatched from the egg in a form closely resembling that of their parents, coming into the world with three pairs of legs, which keep their shape with but little, if any, alteration during their entire existence, and which are all walking limbs. At all stages of their life they closely resemble sticks and twigs, either green and growing, or brown and withered, from which they obtain their name. They are also called specters, from their skeleton-like appearance and their slow, stealthy movements. A colony of these insects in the London Zoölogical Gardens is breeding prosperously.

Fort Ancient.—Mr. Warren K. Moorehead gave the American Association an account of his excavations of Fort Ancient, Ohio, and what he found there, in which he more fully elaborated the theory of the history of that work which was indicated in the volume upon it that we have recently reviewed. One of the points of this theory, based on the comparison of the potteries and implements found in and around the fort, and the burials, was that it was a point of contest, or battle-ground, between two races of men. Other questions occupied the author's mind as he considered the subject, and years, he said, might be spent in careful excavation of the graves and cemeteries, and there would still remain sufficient material to engage the attention of antiquaries for a long time to come. "This great inclosure, so rich in facts, so productive of implements that tell us of the every-day life of the ancient people who lived within its walls, may yet reveal to the patient investigator a history that shall go far toward dispelling the darkness that surrounds the origin and movements of ancient men on the American continent." The site has been bought by the State of Ohio, and will be preserved as a State park.

The Spectra of the Metals.—A paper by Prof. Rowland, of Johns Hopkins University, on The Spectra of the Metals, was received by the Physical Section of the British Association as a most important advance in our knowledge. The author had undertaken during the past year the measurement of the wave-lengths of the lines of nearly all the metallic spectra, and had compared them with the solar spectrum, in order to ascertain which metals were certainly present in the sun. The object of the research was primarily to find out what sort of thing3 molecules are, and in what way they vibrate. This can be deduced from the wave-lengths of the light emitted if we can find any relation between these wave-lengths. If the molecules are spheres, we should have a series of bands getting gradually nearer together toward the violet, and representing harmonics of one fundamental vibration. A spheroid or ellipsoid would give a similar crowding, but not so uniformly arranged. The author had worked on a larger scale than in any previous observations, with negatives twenty feet long for the whole spectrum, lie looked for and found many indications of the truth of the periodic law, which points to the fact that similar chemical substances have molecules vibrating in a similar manner. As examples, nearly every line in the spectrum of zinc has a corresponding one in that of cadmium; so also with calcium, strontium, and barium, and with potassium, cæsium, and rubidium. In the case of several elements there is a band, consisting of three very bright lines, which it is supposed correspond to vibrations along the three principal axes of the molecule. But the agreement in the spectra of various metals does not extend to all members of the group. For instance, the spectra of beryllium and magnesium do not resemble those of the other alkaline metals. Lockyer supposed a fundamental basic line common to all the elements, but the author found no trace of it. Any line in the solar spectrum which is common to two elements Prof. Rowland considers to be so only by coincidence. Further dispersion would separate the line into two. Some elements give no lines, except in the ultra-violet—boron, for example. Probably most elements have lines beyond the limits of the photographic plate. The author doubts whether the platinum metals and uranium are present in the sun. Among substances not present are antimony, bismuth, arsenic, boron, gold, and nitrogen. On the other hand, many lines in the sun, such as D 3, correspond with no known metal.

Physical Development versus Consumption.—For several years Dr. G. W. Hambleton, President of the London Polytechnic Physical Development Society, has been publishing papers showing how physical development may be employed to counteract consumption. He has given the results of further researches in a communication to the British Association. His theory is that consumption is directly produced by conditions that tend to reduce the breathing capacity below a certain point in proportion to the rest of the body, and that it can both be prevented and recovered from by the adoption of measures based upon that interpretation of its nature. Tables were exhibited showing the measurements of one hundred of the two hundred members of the author's society who have already obtained an increase of chest-growth of one inch and upward. The average increase is a little over an inch and three quarters. A considerable increase was also obtained in range of movement. The increase has taken place in small as well as in large chests, whether the men were tall or short, under or over twenty-one years of age, and with or without gymnastic training. The subjects were engaged in more than fifty different trades and occupations, working in them from eight to twelve hours daily. The variations in chest-girth that took place during the year were also significant. Some of the members of the society were prominent members of the gymnasium, and as such had energetically prepared themselves for certain exercises there. On such occasions he had frequently noted a large decrease of the chest-girth. The girth also decreased when the men were much engaged in extra work, stock-taking, cycling, etc., or when they neglected to follow the directions given them. In fact, the increase or decrease observed was in direct relationship with a corresponding change in the conditions of their surroundings. But it is not only in the ordinary routine of daily life that this relationship between the chest-girth and the conditions to which it is subjected is manifested. In the treatment of consumption the author had obtained increases of from two to three inches and upward. This increase of the chest-girth is accompanied by a corresponding increase of the range of movement and of the vital capacity, and by a change in the type of chest from that of disease to that of health; for happily it could be said that the treatment of disease by this method had been invariably successful. What had been experimentally obtained had been also equally well obtained in the practical application of that research. One part of the investigations confirms the other, and the case as a whole is complete and practicable.

Fatness and its Treatment.—It is declared to be a misconception that fatness is in itself a disease. It only becomes morbid when, by mechanical pressure, fat impedes the functions of the organs, or by weight unduly burdens the body so as to exhaust the strength or make too large a demand on the resources of force and vitality. There is no certainty in trying to prevent fatness by any process of dieting, for there are many ways of fat-making, and those persons who have a tendency to its production will make fat, however they are fed—in truth, almost as rapidly on one class of diet as on another. There are idiosyncrasies which may, in a limited number of instances, be taken advantage of to check the tendency to form fat, but these specialties of the chemico-nutritive function are by no means common; and, speaking generally, it must be said that, except by starving the body as a whole, fatness can not be prevented." The exceptions to this rule are chiefly such as may be explained on the principle of a special tissue appetite. Thus some persons have a tendency to form muscle in excess, others to build up the nerves; and the last will grow thin while feeding well; and there are, in this way, persons whose specialty it is to make adipose tissue, and they will wax fat even when other parts of the organization are relatively in a condition approaching starvation. These and many other matters have to be taken into account when calculating the probabilities or improbabilities of success in the endeavor to diminish the fatness of any person by a system of dieting. Drugs, except when intelligently directed to some special morbid condition, have just as little influence in the matter.

Influenza and Children's Growth.—A systematic course of observations of the growth in weight of the children in the Deaf-mute Institution at Copenhagen has been kept up for seven years. Among the most striking results is the fact that the principal increase takes place in the fall months. Last fall (1889) the influenza appeared in Copenhagen toward the end of November. Six of the professors of the institution were attacked, while no pronounced cases were developed among the pupils. At the same time, for four weeks after the 23d of November, the weight of the boys increased only two fifths as rapidly as it had done in the corresponding weeks of the previous years, while the girls gained nothing. It is supposed that the vital force that usually went to increase of weight was for this occasion used up in resisting the germs of the disease.