Popular Science Monthly/Volume 40/January 1892/Popular Miscellany

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search


Changes in the Grammar-school Programme.—The Association of Colleges in New England, at its last annual meeting, November 5 and 6, 1891, resolved to recommend for gradual adoption the following changes in the programme of New England grammar schools: 1. The introduction of elementary natural history into the earlier years of the programme as a substantial subject, to be taught by demonstrations and practical exercises rather than from books. 2. The introduction of elementary physics into the later years of the programme as a substantial subject, to be taught by the experimental or laboratory method, and to include exact weighing and measuring by the pupils themselves. 3. The introduction of elementary algebra at an age not later than twelve years. 4. The introduction of elementary plane geometry at an age not later than thirteen years. 5. The offering of opportunity to study French, or German, or Latin, or any two of these languages, from and after the age of ten years. In order to make room in the programme for these new subjects the Association recommends that the time allotted to arithmetic, geography, and English grammar be reduced to whatever extent may be necessary. The Association makes these recommendations in the interest of the public-school system as a whole; but most of them are offered more particularly in the interest of those children whose education is not to be continued beyond the grammar school.


The British Association.—The meeting of the British Association in August at Cardiff does not appear to have been as fully attended or as interesting as some of the preceding meetings. The week was a very rainy one, and that, no doubt, diminished to a considerable extent the number of visitors. The total attendance was about fifteen hundred, or two hundred less than that at the Leeds meeting, which was under the average. But, by virtue of an unusually large accession of life-members, the funds at the disposal of the Association for scientific purposes were almost equal to those available at Leeds. From a scientific point of view, Nature remarks, the meeting may be said to have come up to a fair average. The presidential address of Dr. Huggins was a learned and able exposition of the spectroscopic and photographic investigation of the sky and of the results accruing from it. The addresses of the presidents of sections were mostly historical or special in character, and lacked the abundance of features of living interest that have marked some of the like addresses in past years. In the Section of Physics and Astronomy Prof. Lodge described his investigations as to the behavior of the ether in the presence of rapidly moving bodies, which, without leading to determinate results, indicated that the ether was not affected by them. A noteworthy paper read in this section was that of Prof. H. A. Newton on The Action exercised by the Planets on the Meteorites of our System. In the Chemical Section Prof. Roberts Austen invoked more attention to the metallurgical branch of the subject, and presented the problems, practical and scientific, with which the metallurgist has to deal. The alloys especially were spoken of as offering a profitable field, and "traces" as possibly having a more important bearing on the properties of the substances in which they are found than has been supposed. The address of Prof. Rupert Jones in the Geological Section related to coal, and showed that further investigation is still desirable in tracing the true origin of the coal-beds, and the ages to which their materials originally belonged. Francis Darwin spoke in the Botanical Section on Growth Curvatures in Plants, and gave the results of his long and minute investigations on the subject. Mr. E. G. Ravenstein presented to the Geographical Section an account of the progress of cartography and a justification of geography as a distinct and profitable branch of inquiry. Some of the most interesting papers read at the meeting were presented in this section by women: an account of her journey to Kilima Njaro, by Mrs. French Sheldon, and Mrs. Bishop's (Miss Isabella Bird) account of her observations in the Bakhtiari country. Prof. Cunningham, in the Section of Economics, stated some problems of high importance in that science; while in the Mechanical Section Mr. Foster Brown's address dealt mainly with details as to recent mechanical inventions; and Prof. Max Müller, in the Section of Anthropology, demonstrated the complexity of the problems of ethnical relationships, and showed that no one class of data, whether of language or physiology, or other, is competent alone for their solu tion. The next meeting of the Association will be held at Edinburgh, with Sir Archibald Geikie as president, August 3, 1892.


Tests of Paper.—Paper lends itself to many frauds which it is of interest to be able to detect; and it is desirable to know how to measure its principal quality—resistance to tearing. The processes for determining these conditions are very simple. There are also special details with which few are acquainted. Important differences are noted between machine-made and handmade paper. In machine-made paper the resistance to tearing and the quality of extensibility vary according as the force is exerted lengthwise or crosswise; the difference is in the proportion of two to five. The resistance is greater in the direction of the length, while extensibility is greater in that of the breadth. The differences are explained by the method of making paper by machinery. The veins of fluid running out from the reservoir extend themselves along the metallic network without any real tendency to associate themselves closely with the neighboring veins, while the current lengthens the fibers and felts them in the direction of the length. In hand-making, the paper is homogeneous, equally resistant in both directions—a demonstration of the superiority of hand-work. There is no drawing out and felting in one direction, to the exclusion of the other; but the felting is equally distributed over the whole surface. Machine-made papers can not be stretched much in the direction of their length, for the method of fabrication has already stretched them to near the extreme limit of extension. The simplest means of testing the durability of paper as against the usual mechanical agents of destruction is rubbing it between the hands. After such treatment poor paper is full of cracks and holes, while strong paper simply takes the appearance of leather. The experiment also tells something of the composition of the paper. If much white dust is produced, we know that the paper contains earthy impurities; if it cracks, that it has been bleached too much. The thickness of paper can be measured by putting a number of leaves together, or by the micrometrical determination of the effect of adding a single leaf to the mass. We may bum the paper and examine the ashes. If they amount to more than three per cent, clay, kaolin, spar, or gypsum has been added to the pulp. When we color paper with an iodine solution, yellow indicates the presence of wood-fiber; brown, of cotton or linen; and the absence of coloration, of cellulose.


Man's Agency in the Extermination of Species.—Extermination is defined in Nature as indicating that in certain parts of the range of a species, whether plant or animal, it has ceased to exist, however abundant it may remain elsewhere; while in other cases, especially if the species have but a limited distribution, it easily becomes equivalent to extirpation. The older school of zoölogists seem hardly to have contemplated the possibility of a whole species having become extinct within the period since man appeared upon earth, or to have supposed that a species could by human efforts be utterly swept away. Thus there was once skepticism about the extinction of the dodo, or, that having been established, about its having existed within the human period. The disappearance of numerous animals, formerly abundant, from the settled parts of our country, affords examples of local extinction; and the fate of the buffalo threatens to furnish an instance of total extinction by the agency of man. Man's agency usually acts indirectly—as by changing the conditions of the country, so as to make them unfavorable to the subsistence of certain animals, rather than directly by killing all the individuals of a species outright. The wolf has defied all efforts, by offering bounties and otherwise, to accomplish its destruction in Europe, except in artificiallybuilt-up Holland, where it never was at home; Denmark, every spot of which is accessible to the hunter; and the United Kingdom, where its forest resorts have been removed. Other instances are the extirpation of the quail in New Zealand by means of fires that were lighted for other purposes; the threatened destruction of other interesting animals of Australia and New Zealand by animals of the weasel kind that were introduced to prey upon the imported rabbits; and the destruction of turkey-buzzards' eggs and petrels in Jamaica by the mongooses that were taken there to make war upon rats; of the Diablotin petrel of Dominica by a species of opossum; and the destruction of the cahows in the Bermudas, till it is not known now whether the bird exists there. The great skua, or "bonxie," disappeared from one of its three breeding-stations in the Shetland Islands several years ago, and has been maintained at the other two only through the vigorous exertions, to repress poachers and preserve it, of the late Dr. Robert Scott and the late Dr. Lawrence Edmondston, respectively. The Zoölogical Society has ordered medals struck in honor of the services these gentlemen rendered to science. Though the reward is posthumous, and goes to the heirs of the well-doers instead of to themselves, the acknowledgment is a fitting one, marks an example, and is an encouragement to the lovers of living nature.


Prof. Wright in the British Association.—Prof. G. F. Wright's paper in the British Association, on The Ice Age of North America and its Connection with the Appearance of Man on that Continent, is spoken of in Nature as a most interesting one. The author said that the glacial deposits, transported from several centers mostly outside the Arctic Circle, and the absence of a polar ice-cap, militated against an astronomical and for a geographical cause of the great cold, particularly as an uplift of the glaciated area was coincident with an important subsidence in Central America. He regarded the so-called "terminal moraine of the second period" as a moraine of retreat due to the first glaciation, and thought that the evidence of forest beds, mainly to the south of the area, indicated local recessions of ice, and not a single great interglacial epoch. Palæolithic remains similar to those of the Somme and Thames have been found in several gravel terraces flanking streams which drain from the glaciated region, and made up of glacier-borne detritus; they arc regarded by the author as deposits of the floods which characterized the closing portions of the Glacial period. The recession of the falls of Niagara and St. Anthony gives an antiquity of not more than ten thousand years to the end of the Glacial epoch—a conclusion supported by the enlargement of post-glacial valleys and the silting up of small post-glacial lakes.


Determination and Cultivation of Bacteria.—Many scores of bacteria, says Prof. John B. Roberts, in an address on the Relation of Bacteria to Practical Surgery, have been, by patient study, differentiated from their fellows, and given distinctive names. Their nomenclature corresponds in classification and arrangement with the nomenclature adopted in different departments of botany. Thus we have the pus-causing chain-coccus (Streptococcus pyogenes), so called because it is globular in shape; because it grows with the individual plants attached to each other, or arranged in a row, like a chain of beads on a string; and because it produces pus. In a similar way we have the pus. causing grape-coccus of a golden color (Staphylococcus pyogenes aureus). It grows with the individual plants arranged somewhat after the manner of a bunch of grapes, and, when millions of them are collected together, the mass has a golden-yellow hue. The difficulty of investigating these minute forms becomes apparent when it is remembered that under the microscope many of them are identical in appearance, and it is only by observing their growth when they are in a proper soil that they can be distinguished from one another. In certain cases it is difficult to distinguish them by the physical appearance produced during their growth. Then it is only after an animal has been inoculated with them that the individual parasite can be accurately recognized and called by name. It is known, then, by the results which it is capable of producing. Bacteria may also be distinguished by their individual peculiarities of taking certain dyes. The similarity between bacteria and ordinary plants with which florists are familiar is remarkable. Bacteria grow in animal and other albuminous fluids; but it is as essential to them to have a suitable soil as it is for the corn or wheat that the farmer plants in his field. By altering the character of the albuminous fluid in which the microorganism finds its subsistence, these small plants may be given a vigorous growth, or may be starved to death. The farmer knows that it is impossible for him to grow the same crop year after year in the same field, and he is, therefore, compelled to rotate his crops. So it is with the microscopic plants which we are considering. After a time the culture-field or soil becomes so exhausted of its needed constituents, by the immense number of plants living in it, that it is unfit for their life or development. Then this particular form will no longer thrive; but some other form of bacteria may find in it the properties required for functional activity and may grow vigorously. Again, there are certain bacteria which are so antagonistic to each other that it is impossible to make them grow in company or coexist in the blood of the same individual. An animal inoculated with erysipelas germs can not be successfully inoculated immediately afterward with the germs of malignant pustule. As the horticulturist is able to alter the character of his plants by changing the circumstances under which they live, so can the bacteriologist change the vital properties and activities of bacteria by chemical and other manipulations of the culture-substances in which these organisms grow. The power of bacteria to cause pathological changes may thus be weakened and attenuated; in other words, their functional power for evil is taken from them by alterations in the soil, and vice versa.


Properties of Peroxide of Hydrogen.—Peroxide of hydrogen has been a subject of experiment by Dr. B. W. Richardson, chiefly with regard to its medical uses, for more than thirty years. He regards it as a solution—although it may be made to take on the gaseous form—and as consisting of water containing, according to strength, so many atmospheres of oxygen; or as an oxygen atmosphere in solution. It is not, however, a mere mixture, but a peculiar chemical compound. The oxygen can be made to accumulate, volume by volume, until the volume of water can rise to ten, twenty, thirty, and some say even more than a hundred volumes of oxygen, before complete saturation is reached and a volatile body is formed. The combination of the added oxygen in hydrogen peroxide is stable in the presence of some substances, unstable and easily evolved in the presence of others. Some substances, inorganic or organic, when added to the solution, are neutral; others evolve the oxygen and are themselves unchanged; a third kind evolve the oxygen, and with that some of their own contained oxygen; and a fourth kind absorb the oxygen. Thus, with oxide of iron there is no action; with black oxide of platinum a taper can be lighted from the oxygen thrown off; with permanganate the action is very brisk, and oxygen is thrown off from both substances; and arsenious acid absorbs oxygen from the solution. Dr. Richardson has found peroxide of hydrogen useful in a large number of diseases; among them are consumption, whooping-cough, ulcers and purulent exudation, syphilis, diabetes, anæmia, rheumatism, and others, his experiments with which, and his methods of application, are described in a paper recently read by him before the Medical Society of London.


Origin of Caste.—The origin of caste in India was traced by General T. Dennehy, in the International Oriental Congress, probably to the contact of the Indo-Aryans on their first migration with the uncouth, uncivilized aborigines of the countries which they traversed. The Aryans were even then highly civilized and careful as to personal cleanliness and religious observances, and naturally shrunk against contact with the unwashed aborigines. They were particularly so with regard to food, and hence arose the first manifestations of caste in the exclusion of strangers from their meals. This custom grew with years to be a cherished observance, and what was first a measure of hygienic precaution became an article of religious belief. The later developments of caste corresponded with the guilds of European countries so prevalent in the middle ages. New castes were seen growing up in India as new necessities arose. For example, since the establishment of railroads it had been necessary to find pointsmen (switchmen) and firemen; and these men, being anxious to preserve the emoluments of their posts in their own families, were now actually crystallizing into a new caste. The views expressed by M. C. A. Fret, though differing from these, were not inconsistent with them. He discerned the working of evolution in caste. The Indo-Europeans formed at an early period a social hierarchy which continued in full force long after the language spoken by them had ceased to be a living tongue. The general ignorance prevailing in primitive times necessarily involved the evolution of a priestly or teaching caste—the Brahmins. The necessity of having men always on guard against the attacks and invasions of neighboring races with different tendencies led to the warrior class or caste. These two leading castes represented the two leading principles in the constitution of civilization—the religious and the military. The civil principle, properly so called, did not come into existence till a later period.


Little Annoyances and Health.—Such matters as water supply, sewerage and drainage, streets and pavements, including means of rapid transit, parks, and open spaces, lighting, provisions for the dead and for those affected with contagious disease, and the sale of improper food and drinks, are classed by Dr. John S. Billings, in his address on Public Health and Municipal Government, as variables under municipal control, many of which have a powerful influence on the health of the people. A large part of the discussions as to the best way to arrange and manage them, or as to whether in any particular place at a particular time the municipality is doing its duty with regard to them, turn on sickness and death-rates. It should be borne in mind, however, Dr. Billings adds, that no sharp dividing-line can be drawn between comfort and health; that there are many things—such as noise, dust, offensive odors, rough streets, etc.—the influence of which upon sickness and death-rates it would be at present difficult or impossible to demonstrate, at least to the satisfaction of a court of law, which yet add materially to the burdens of life of those who are subjected to them, and may in some instances turn the scales between life and death. The human body in some diseases may be likened to a heavy railway train going up a very steep grade. If the fire under the boiler can be kept bright and clear, if the fuel and water hold out, and the engineer is skilled and careful to get the benefit of every pound of steam power developed, then the train will just reach the top of the hill, provided there are no little pebbles on the track. It is always difficult, and usually impossible, to obtain evidence that is satisfactory, from a legal point of view, to prove that the offensive odors from a bone-boiling establishment, or the emanations from a cess-pool, or the water from a polluted well, have produced such a definitely injurious effect upon the health of those within the sphere of their influence as to justify municipal interference with vested rights in property, or the exaction of damage for sickness or death produced by them. This has heretofore been due largely to the want of definite and precise or, in other words, scientific knowledge of the causes of disease and death.


Cyclopean Structures in Oceania.—One reason, said Mr. R. Stemdale, in the International Congress of Orientalists, why the remarkable architectural remains existing in the many islands of the Pacific have attracted relatively little attention is the idea that they are comparatively recent. The early people of the Caroline Islands were builders of Cyclopean towers and pyramids, and are still skillful in building great walls of rude stone. While many islands have been peopled by accidental castaways, the settlement of the great mountain groups was effected by organized migrations of savage navigators fighting their way from land to land, and carrying with them their families and household gods, and the seeds of plants and trees. The copper-colored autochthones of eastern Asia spread in the course of ages to the Caroline groups, and were the progenitors of the Palaos, Barbados, Hombos, Blancos, and other families of gentle barbarians. They were followed by another exdous of a kindred race, ferocious and pugnacious, and Cyclopean builders on a large scale. Their strong castles, built on steep hills or surrounded by deep trenches, attest the frequency and destructiveness of their wars. The architecture of their temples—immense quadrangular, paved inclosures, surrounded by lofty walls and containing within them terraces, pyramids, artificial caverns and subterranean passages—illustrate their religious earnestness. Some of these structures were mausoleums as well as temples, and are spoken of by the present race of natives as sepulchres of the ancient deities. The author's brother, Mr. Handley Stemdale, had found among the mountain ranges of Upolu an enormous fort, in some places excavated, in others built up at the sides, which led him to a truncated conical structure about twenty feet high and one hundred feet in diameter. The lower tiers of stone were very large and laid in courses, with what seemed to be entrances to the inside in two places. It was probably the center of the village, as many foundations a few feet high were near it. The Samoan natives had no tradition respecting the people that may have inhabited this mountain fastness.


Slavic Marriage Forecasts.—Many curious customs are preserved among the Slavic nations from the olden time. Of these, those relating to marriage forecastings are perhaps of the most peculiar interest. In some districts maidens on Christmas Eve throw rings or melted lead and wax into a vessel full of water, and, while fishing them out, sing old songs, the verses of which foretell, as they catch each object, the peculiarities of their future husbands; or bread and money are mixed with the straw which on Christmas Eve underlies the table-cloth; and the girl who in the dark draws out money is promised a wealthy husband, while she who draws bread must give up that dream. If the counting of an armful of chips, gathered alone and in silence from the wood-house, gives an even number, the girl will find a mate; but if the number be odd she will have to live single. The young people, blindfolded and in the dark, pick from the straw with which the Christmas-Eve supper-tables are strewed for purposes of the divination. The drawing of a green sprig promises a wedding, but of a dry one, long waiting. Wine, beer, and water are placed by a girl between two candles on a table, and she retires to a corner whence she can watch in the looking-glass. If the man who is expected to come at mid-# night drinks the wine, her married life will be one of wealth; if he drinks the beer, she will enjoy a moderate competency; if the water is chosen, poverty awaits her. If wreaths of flowers thrown into a stream on midsummer eve float undamaged out of sight, the omen is good; but should the wreaths break, or the flowers sink before the watcher, the prospects of her future are clouded. A maiden throws a wreath of flowers over her bead backward against a tree. If the wreath catches and bangs on a branch at the first throw, the thrower will become a bride in the first succeeding year; if at the second throw, the wedding will be in the second year; and so on.


Classification of Glacial Formations.—In the discussion in the International Geological Congress on the Classification of Glacial Formations, Prof. T. C. Chamberlin proposed six classes, namely: Formations produced directly from the action of Pleistocene glaciers; formations produced by the combined action of Pleistocene glaciers and accompanying drainage; formations produced by glacial waters after their issue from Pleistocene glaciers; formations produced by floating ice derived from Pleistocene glaciers; formations produced by shore ice and ice floes, due to low Pleistocene temperature, but independent of glacier action; and formations produced by winds acting on Pleistocene glacial and glacio-fluvial deposits under the peculiar condition of glaciation. In each of these classes subdivisions were proposed. Prof. Albert Gaudry led in the discussion that followed. Dr. Felix Wahnschaffe described the action of glaciers in forming moraines. W J McGee presented a scheme of classification with five general heads: Aqueous, at base-level and above base-level; Glacial, direct and indirect; Aqueo-glacial; Eolic; and Volcanic, direct and indirect.


Origin of Folk-lore Tales.—The value of folk lore is regarded by Mr. E. Sidney Harland as lying in the belief that the traditions alike of our fathers and other.nations contain and m:iy be made to yield valuable information concerning the primitive beliefs and practices of mankind, and behind these, concerning the structure and development of the human mind. It is chiefly in tales that the speculative portions of a savage creed take shape. Not a little has been done in this direction since Grimm first showed the remains of ancient heathendom in the stories of his own land. Grimm's method has been more widely applied in recent years by distinguished writers to stories found in every region, and conclusions in regard to the beliefs fundamental to all savage religions have been based in part upon them. Those speculations have not been allowed to pass unchallenged. Literary men have contended that the true origin of folk tales is to be found in India, and that they were originally Buddhist parables sowed broadcast by the Buddhist propaganda. But this theory has been weakened by the discovery of streams of Egyptian and even of Jewish tradition flowing through the tales; and as the area of research widened, it was more and more doubted that folk tales found in the remotest corners of the earth all sprang from one center within a measurable historical period. The anthropological theory attributed the origin of folk tales, as of every other species of tradition, to the constitution of the human mind. A similar environment acting upon the mind would everywhere produce similar results; and it is the variations of the environment which give rise to the stories all presenting perpetual coincidences, and all evolved from a few leading ideas common to the race. The birthplace can not therefore be determined, for no story has any one birthplace. Another theory admits that the foundations of the absurd and impossible tales current all round the globe must be sought in the beliefs of savage tribes about themselves and their surroundings, but denies that the mere fact that a given story is found domesticated among any people is of itself evidence of the beliefs and practices of that people, present or past. Some stories must have been invented once, and once only, and then handed on from man to man, from tribe to tribe, till they had made the circuit of the world. This is the dissemination theory, while the other is the anthropological theory. Mr. Harland sustains the anthropological theory.


Nature of the Ether.—Speaking of the theory and function of the ether. Prof. Nipher said in the American Association that the slowing up of light in space occupied by matter shows that the ether within must be either more dense (as Fresnel believed) or less elastic than that existing in free space. It is certainly very difficult to understand what there can be in the molecules of matter that can increase the density of an incompressible medium. The experiments of Michelson and Morley show apparently that the ether at the surface of the earth moves with it. It is dragged along as if it were a viscid liquid. The field of a steel magnet is, however, a rotational phenomenon. It is a spin which is maintained permanently without the expenditure of energy. It seems, therefore, that the resistance to shear which shows itself in the adhesion of the ether to the moving earth must be a rigidity due in some way to motion. Other experiments of Michelson and Morley on the motion of light in moving columns of water have been taken as proof that the ether in water is condensed to nine sixteenths of its volume in air. The ether in water certainly behaves as if it were more dense, but it is another matter to say that it is so. It seems improbable. The speaker, after describing what might be a more satisfactory way of making the experiment, said that the question to be settled is whether the ether or any part of it is at rest in space, or does it sweep through the interior of bodies that move through it as wind sweeps through the leaves and branches of a tree.