Popular Science Monthly/Volume 43/October 1893/Popular Miscellany

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POPULAR MISCELLANY.

Notes from the Madison Meeting of the American Association.—At the Madison meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the pressing necessity for giving availability to the world's wealth in scientific literature was discussed. In the Botanical Section was suggested the desirability of a bibliography for botany such as that compiled for chemistry by Prof. H. Carrington Bolton. It was further proposed that the bibliographical volumes be supplemented by a serial index. In the Mechanical Section Mr. C. Wellman Parkes, of Troy, N. Y., outlined a weekly index to periodicals which he promises to establish in New York with the new year. During each quarter the numbers will successively recapitulate all the titles from the beginning of the quarter. At the end of the sixth, ninth, and twelfth months special numbers will recapitulate all the titles from the beginning of the year. The reclassifications needed for this index are to be rendered easy by adopting a machine casting each title as a solid line of type metal.

 

Prof. Bolton's bibliography of chemistry is published by the Smithsonian Institution. At the recent Congress of Librarians in Chicago it was stated that this institution may publish other similar bibliographies for which manuscripts may be prepared by learned societies. As a good many of these societies have moderate funds available for the purpose, and as societies still more numerous could arrange for gratuitous co-operation, on the plan of the American Library Association with its index to periodicals, the impulse to organization seems to be all that is lacking in order to supply a crying need of the times.

 

Prof. Edward Hart, of Easton, Pa., adverted to the importance of mechanical aids in analytical chemistry. Balances, he said, are now made with short arms, and are in consequence more rapid. They are provided with agate knife edges to resist corrosion, with aluminum beams for lightness, with better weights, with improved beam and pan arrests. The torsion balance, due to Dr. Alfred Springer, of Cincinnati, enables a heavier load to be weighed with greater sensitiveness. The Gibb ring-burner much improves the Bunsen lamp: it allows the upper part of a crucible to be heated so that liquids boiling at high temperatures may be evaporated without spattering.

 

Prof. T. M. Drown, of Lafayette College, first used, in 1875 or 1876, the crucible with perforated bottom which, reinvented in 1879 by Prof. F. A. Gooch, with the addition of asbestos felt, is invaluable in certain analyses. Filters of paper, when unsatisfactory, can be replaced by Gibbs's sand filter, Munroe's clay filter, and Carmichael's siphon filter. The chemist with recent years has added two metals to the list from which his vessels are drawn—nickel and aluminum. In the cheap and ready supply of reagents, which a few years ago were troublesome to make and costly of purchase, industry has done an important service to research; today hydrogen dioxid, bromin, and potassium permanganate are articles of commerce and bear moderate prices.

 

Prof. E. L. Nichols, of Cornell University, referring to the phenomena of alternating currents, said that their complexity had obliged the modern electrician to be both a mathematician and a physicist. In much the same way a generation ago the new and difficult phenomena of cable telegraphy served to train the men who stand as pioneers and chieftains in electrical science.

 

Prof. W. H. Brewer, of New Haven, Conn., speaking of stock-breeding, said that as long ago as 1812 a thousand guineas had been paid in England for a short-horn bull. The Short-horn Herd-book, published in 1832, and the Stud-book, yet earlier, had laid the foundation for the science of heredity in part by proving that cross-breeding induced variability. Within the modern era the only additions to domesticated animals have been the canary and the ostrich.

As showing how far mechanical and chemical economy has saved labor on the farm, Prof. Brewer cited Johnson, who estimated fifty years ago that ninety per cent of the capital of the United States was invested in farming; to-day the proportion has fallen to one third.

 

Anthropological Material.—In his anniversary address as President of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Prof. E. B. Tylor remarked on the fear felt by some that one of the main topics of anthropology would before long dwindle or disappear. When the savages and barbarians are disposed of by civilization or extirpation, their anthropological material is more or less exhausted. At present, however, this is so far from having happened that the supply is on the whole better and more plentiful than ever. With many tribes, indeed, the record is closed, as with the Tasmanians, those representatives of the palæolithic age in modern times, who can give us few more details of the lowest known stage of culture beyond those collected by Mr. Ling Roth. Not to give a whole list of modern works, it is enough to say that for minutely accurate accounts of uncultured life, none excel Coddrington's Melanesians and Kubari's treatise on the Pelew Islanders, and we can only regret that the anthropologists of past centuries were not alive to the need of such minutely careful study of the tribes who were then, but are not now, in a state to be thus studied. One class of anthropological material, of which the quantity available has only lately been appreciated, is folk lore. When, fourteen years ago, the speaker took part in founding the Folk-lore Society, for the preservation and publication of popular traditions, legendary ballads, local proverbial sayings, superstitions, and old customs, and all subjects relating to them, he as little as others anticipated how many volumes of such matter it would produce, or of how great value they would be, as to the main purpose of tracing the development and diffusion of popular tradition and fancy, and as to the incidental knowledge of man which is preserved in them. Especially to students of the development of ethical ideas, folk-lore studies are exceptionally valuable, recording as they do in their incidents what were the ideas on good and bad actions, not indeed of the ago in which the stories are gathered, but of a remote past kept thus in memory. Speaking of the reports of investigations among the Indians of Northwest America, Prof. Tylor said it was a ground of satisfaction, in looking through them, to feel that a systematic account of the anthropology of British Northwest America is to a great extent completed. "Not that everything requiring record has been recorded. Observation of rapidly changing native life will still tax to the extreme the efforts of the anthropologists of the Canadian Dominion, but it is a great work to have the framework already set up to be filled in future years."

 

Officers of the American Association.—The next meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science is to be held August 1(5 to 22, 1894, probably in Brooklyn, N. Y., under the presidency of Daniel G. Brinton, of Media, Pa. The following are the vice-presidents and secretaries of sections and general officers elect: Vice-Presidents: (A) Mathematics and Astronomy—George C. Comstock, Madison, Wis.; (B) Physics—William A. Rogers, Waterville, Me.; (C) Chemistry—Thomas H. Norton, Cincinnati, Ohio; (D) Mechanical Science and Engineering—Mansfield Merriman, South Bethlehem, Pa.; (E) Geology and Geography—Samuel Calvin, Iowa City, Iowa; (F) Zoölogy—Samuel H. Scudder, Cambridge, Mass.; (G) Botany—Lucien M. Underwood, Greencastle, Ind.; (H) Anthropology—Franz Boas, Worcester, Mass.; (I) Economic Science and Statistics—Henry Farquhar, Washington, D. C. Permanent Secretary: F. W. Putnam, Cambridge (office, Salem), Mass. General Secretary: H. L. Fairchild, Rochester, N. Y. Secretary of the Council: James Lewis Howe, Louisville, Ky. Secretaries of the Sections: (A) Mathematics and Astronomy—Wooster W. Beman, Ann Arbor, Mich.; (B) Physics—Benjamin W. Snow, Madison, Wis.; (C) Chemistry—S. M. Babcock, Madison, Wis.; (D) Mechanical Science and Engineering—John H. Kinealy, St. Louis, Mo.; (E) Geology and Geography—William Morris Davis, Cambridge, Mass.; (F) Zoölogy—William Libbey, Jr., Princeton, N. J.; (G) Botany—Charles R. Barnes, Madison, Wis.; (H) Anthropology— Alexander F. Chamberlain, Worcester, Mass.; (I) Economic Science and Statistics—Manly Miles, Lansing, Mich. Treasurer: William Lilly, Mauch Chunk, Pa.

 

A Correction.—Owing to some defect, the cut on page 459 of the August number of the Monthly, intended to illustrate a peculiar form of lightning flash, fails to show the PSM V43 D878 Impulsive rush discharge aka dark flashes.jpgImpulsive Rush Discharge, So-called Dark Flashes. characteristic features of the phenomenon as brought out in the photograph. We present herewith another cut which is an excellent reproduction of the photograph, and with it an explanation of the peculiar appearances observed in the picture.

The illustration herewith is to be substituted for the illustration with the same legend on page 459 of The Popular Science Monthly for August. The flash was photographed by the writer at Blue Hill Observatory, and was one of the most intense flashes he has ever seen. To the eye it appeared as a straight core of dazzling light, with a jacket of luminous air in diameter six or seven times that of the core. The name "impulsive rush" is from Dr. Oliver Lodge's classification of lightning discharges. The so-called "dark flashes" can be distinctly seen branching out from the core. Briefly, these may be the result of previous exposure, and the flashes altogether distinct in time and place; or, a reversal of a flash brought about by the glare from subsequent illuminations; or, a reflection from the lens (although a plain view lens was used), or an absorption effect connected with chemical change in the gases of the atmosphere. It is needless to add that the negative was carefully kept from alteration or retouching of any kind.

Alexander McAdie.

 

Reasons for Emigration.—The conclusion of an inquiry made under the direction of our Commissioners of Immigration upon the causes that incite immigration to the United States is that, except in Russia, where emigration is abnormal, the primary causes are the superior conditions of living in the United States, the fewer hours of labor, the exemption from the exactions imposed by foreign governments upon their citizens, and the general belief that the United States presents better opportunities for rising to a higher level than are offered at home. Information on these points is usually furnished by friends or relatives who have preceded the intending emigrants and have established themselves here. It is estimated that nearly sixty per cent of the immigrants who land in our country come on prepaid tickets or money sent by friends already here, and that they in turn influence a considerable percentage of immigration that comes on tickets purchased directly in the Old World. The prepaid business is largely affected and increased by even temporary improvement in our conditions here. So far as this class of immigrants is concerned, it argues against the belief that exists in the minds of many of our people that the quality of immigration, as to character, is inferior to that of former years, as it necessarily follows that the class who are prepaid, belonging to the same families as those who prepay, must be of the same general character. This information as to our conditions is also supplemented by the large number of persons who return to their native lands temporarily, and whose improved appearance, enhanced prosperity, and statements to their old friends disseminate the knowledge of the better conditions in this country. A reference to the table of steerage passengers returning to all parts of Europe during the year previous to the making of the report demonstrates the volume of this business. Low passage rates, sea and inland, affect the currents both coming and going. Generally, wherever the manufacturing industries are active emigration is sluggish; and it is small wherever the wages are fairly good as compared with the standard of wants and manner of living of the working people. In addition to the superior conditions prevailing here, the conditions in Europe greatly affect the outflow. Short crops, industrial depression, social persecutions, and rumors and anticipations of war swell the tide.

 

Prof. N. T. Lupton.—Nathaniel Thomas Lupton, Professor of Chemistry in the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College, a pioneer in America in teaching chemistry as a practical science, died in Auburn, Ala., June 11th. He was a native of Virginia; studied chemistry under Bunsen at Heidelberg, worked with him afterward, and made special investigations in his laboratory after his own fame had been established in America. He was engaged during a large portion of his life in original research, at home, in Mexico, and in Europe; was connected with several Southern institutions of learning, including ten years at Vanderbilt University, and built up the school of chemistry at Auburn, Ala. He was much interested in other sciences than chemistry, particularly with ethnology, and contributed largely from his Mexican, Western, and Southwestern researches to the Smithsonian collection of relics of the Indians and mound-builders. His own collection of minerals and prehistoric relics is extensive and interesting. He was twice President of the Chemical Section of the American Association, was President last year of the Association of Official Chemists of the United States, and was a member of several foreign scientific and other societies. He was the author of a book on scientific agriculture, and a frequent and valued contributor to the scientific publications of this country and Europe.

 

Copper Works of the Aborigines.—The present evidence regarding the use of copper by the aborigines of this country, as reviewed by R. L. Packard, in the American Antiquarian, appears to show that the metal had not passed its ornamental or precious stage on the seaboard or in the South at the time this continent was brought to the attention of Europe. It was not part of the native equipment, either for war, or hunting, or other useful purposes, and its position in the native economy was not like the noticeable part it played in the armament of the Mexicans and Central Americans of the same period. In the absence of evidence that the Indians of the United States had any knowledge of smelting, it must be inferred that all the copper they possessed was found in the metallic or native state. There is nothing to show that they were aware of the existence of copper ore as a source of metal. No remains of smelting places, or slag, or other indications of metallurgical operations have yet been found. The quantity of copper which the North American Indians possessed at the time of the discovery, although the metal was diffused over a very wide territory, was very small as compared with stone. This is shown In the relatively small proportion of copper implements in the principal collections, as at the Smithsonian Institution and the Peabody Museum. The larger numbers are found in Wisconsin, and this is accounted for by the fact that Wisconsin is directly south of the Keweenaw district in Michigan where the largest beds of native copper occur. In these beds the copper is classed as stamp rock, in which the metal is contained in line particles and is separated by crushing; "barrel work," or the pieces of copper that are large enough to be detached from the rock without stamping, which are shipped in barrels; and mass copper, or the very large pieces. All this copper shows as such in the rock, and the ancient miners had only to follow down a promising outcrop showing "barrel work" for a few feet, and hammer away the lock from the copper to secure the latter. When they came upon mass copper they were compelled to abandon it after hammering off projecting pieces, because they had no tools for cutting it up and removing it. Several instances of this sort have been found. The ancient mines were not mines in the strict sense of the word, because they were not underground workings, but merely shallow pits or trenches, and sometimes excavations in the face, of the cliffs. At the time modern mining began they had become mere depressions in the ground. All these workings when examined contained countless stone hammers or mauls, a few wooden shovels, remains of wooden bowls for baking, birch-bark baskets, and some spear or lance heads, and other articles of copper. Opinions and evidence vary as to the age of the operations. Modern miners would regard the whole system as nothing more than prospecting work, and not raining proper, as there were no shafts or tunnels or underground workings.

 

Feeding Value of Tree Leaves—Experiments on the feeding value of the leaves of trees, made by M. C. H. Girard, point to them as an available source of nutriment for cattle, particularly in times when hay and grain are scarce. The author has determined the content of nitrogenous matters in a considerable number of species. It ranges from eight per cent in the willow and alder to from three to four per cent in the plane, birch, and pine. Out of twenty-one kinds of leaves studied, nineteen possessed more nitrogenous matter than meadow hay, and more than half of them were superior to the hay of the best leguminous plants. Some are of extraordinary richness, the common acacia, for example. M. Girard was able, from his analyses and from direct experience in feeding sheep, to draw the conclusion that the leaves have a feeding value comparable to that of lucern. They are also superior in the proportion of fat matters and other carbohydrate principles to that of water. Leaves taken from various heights of the trees and from trees of various ages show but little variation in composition; and, putting aside the periods of youth and of extreme old age, the richness of the leaf in nutritive value remains almost stationary. Consequently, crops can be gathered during the three summer months; and in September the wood production of the trees would not be prejudiced.

 

Gilbert White's Character.—The Selborne Society, of London, celebrated the centenary of the death of Gilbert White, June 24th, by making a pilgrimage to Selborne, where the earl of that ilk spoke to the memory of White. He said that the impression which most people had formed of White from his book was that he was a man of excellent natural abilities, strongly cultivated, and of wide classical attainments and accomplishments. He was not only an observer of Nature, but one who prepared himself for observation by the best mental cultivation. No one could read his book without seeing his remarkable faculty of observation, and the constant aim at exactness and accuracy, together with a good deal of humor. Nor could any one help being struck with the modesty and simplicity of his character. His simplicity, which contributed a very great charm to the book, every now and then produced even a sense of amusement. The speaker was visited, in 1872, by Mr. W. M. Evarts, who, like most other cultivated Americans, was acquainted with White's book, and had a great regard for his memory. One day, when driving, the Sussex downs were pointed out to Mr. Evarts, who burst into laughter, remembering a passage in which White referred to the downs as "a vast range of mountains." His shrewdness of discernment was a most valuable gift, and he loved all God's creatures, but perhaps especially birds. By this he reminded one of two great men. The one, mythical, was Melacampus, who rescued and brought up some young serpents. One day, when he slept, the serpents nestled round his head, and when he woke he found he could understand the language of birds. The other was Francis of Assisi, who was in some measure the forerunner of Gilbert White. There was a legend that he so loved the birds that they flocked around him while he preached sermons to them. The legend at least showed his love for those creatures and his power of making them love him. These characteristics of Gilbert White could be gathered from his book; but the picture was filled up by the mass of family correspondence which had just come to light. The combination of simplicity and refinement, the absence of ostentation and self-consciousness which constituted the great charm of White's book were equally conspicuous in his family correspondence and in his every-day habits. The Earl of Stamford, who has been collecting reminiscences and unexplored documents connected with his great relative. White, said that years ago an old woman was asked what she remembered of him. She said that he used to walk about the lanes tap-tapping with his cane, and stopping every now and then to brush the dust off his shoes.

 

Unexplored Mountain Regions.—While many of the mountain districts of the world, hitherto unexplored, have been reached in recent years by scientific mountaineers, yet, excepting Switzerland and the Pyrenees, which have been entirely explored by the different Alpine Clubs, there is no chain of mountains, as Mr. Edwin Swift Balch shows in his essay on Mountain Exploration, which is as yet thoroughly known or perfectly mapped out. New Zealand, though settled and inhabited by Englishmen for many years, had to wait till a few years ago for Mr. Green first to explore its Alps. The Himalayas, although the Indian Government has tried to map and explore them, are still in many cases keeping their secrets until men shall come along who know the science of climbing. Mr. Graham's trip in the Sikkim ranges in 1886 showed conclusively how little was known about the Himalayas, as he has now left us in doubt as to whether the two peaks which he saw from the top of Kabru were not higher than Gaurisankar. In America there is a large field left for mountain exploration. Of the Selkirks we know but little; St. Elias has not been reached; the Alaskan ranges and Mount Fairweather and Mount Cook are believed to be entirely untouched. The Mount Wrangel range is hardly known, even by name, and though it is said to have been measured and to be over twenty thousand feet high, we know practically nothing about it or its surroundings. On the map of the northern Rockies, north of the Selkirks, we find a bunch of peaks, called Mount Brown and Mount Murchison, and marked as being over sixteen thousand feet high. Of these mountains we again are in almost complete ignorance, though from Mr. Green's explorations we may doubt the accuracy of their supposed altitude. In South America the Andes of Pera and Chili are mostly still unascended, and even Ecuador has had only one serious exploration, by Mr. Whymper. Here is unexplored mountain country enough to occupy our clubs several years.

 

Vegetation of American Deserts.—The true sagebrush of the Western desert (Artemisia tridentata), according to Prof. C. Hart Merriam, begins with a solid front along the southern border of the upper Sonoran zone and spreads northward over the Great Basin like a monstrous sheet, covering almost without a break hundreds of thousands of square miles. It is not only the most striking and widely diffused plant of the upper Sonora and transition zones, but as a social plant has few equals, often occupying immense areas to the exclusion of all but the humblest and least conspicuous forms. Wherever one travels in this vast region, the aromatic odor of the sagebrush is always present, and sometimes, particularly after rains, is so powerful as to cause pain in the nostrils. In addition to the sage, many of the desert ranges support a growth of shrubs and small trees rarely if ever found in the intervening deserts and plains, whatever the altitude. The so-called cedar (Juniperus californica utahensis) and the piñon or nut pine (Pimus monophilla) clothe the summits and higher slopes of many of the ranges, forming stunted open forests of much beauty. Mixed with these are scattered clumps of bushes representing a number of genera, most of which bear green foliage and handsome flowers. Some of the desert ranges, as the Funeral Mountains, are too excessively hot and arid to support even these forms of vegetation; others, as the Charleston Mountains, push their lofty summits into so cold an atmosphere that they obtain a covering of the boreal pines and firs. These higher mountains, when rising from the lower Sonoran deserts, present in succession all the extratropical zones of North America, which, from their close juxtaposition, may be here studied to unusual advantage. In ascending or descending such slopes the change from one zone to another is quickly recognized, and the altitude of first appearance of the various new species encountered may be recorded with considerable confidence. Not so, however with the species lost, for, except in the case of trees and such strikingly conspicuous forms as the yuccas, some of the cactuses, the creosote bush (Larrea), and a few others, it is exceedingly difficult to detect the disappearance of species when passing out of their ranges.

 

The Rattlesnake's Rattle.—The idea that the rattles of a rattlesnake correspond with its years is, according to Dr. Arthur Stradling, incorrect. "When the little Crotalus is born," this author says, "its tail is furnished with a single tip of horn, incapable of producing any sound by the violent vibration which its owner nevertheless communicates to it when excited. In some near relations of the rattlesnake, such as the çurucucu of Brazil, this horny claw or nail persists throughout life without addition thereto. But in the rattlesnakes proper—and there are many species of them—two, and sometimes three, joints appear during the first few months of the creature's life; then and later there is probably no definite relation between their number or frequency of development and its age, though they may be proportionate in some measure to its rate of growth. Broods of young serpents belonging to this genus which I have reared have exhibited great diversity in this matter; so much so, that it has been impossible to base any calculation on observations of the phenomena presented by them. The overlapping 'thimbles' or cones of which the rattle is composed are thin, dry, and exceedingly brittle, and in consequence the instrument is easily broken off when it has reached the length of from one to two inches, though longer specimens are occasionally seen; twenty joints make an exceptionally big rattle. This shedding of the rattle is in all cases accidental, and is due to external causes, not a constitutional and periodical function like the casting of the skin. When it breaks off at the root or in the middle, there is generally no trace left of a fracture having taken place, as the thimbles are all alike, and any one forms a symmetrical termination to the organ. Whatever purpose the rattle may serve in the snake's economy—and its use is still involved in some obscurity—it undoubtedly does not represent the owner's age, nor the sum total of his manslaughter."

 

Energy in Organic Evolution.—In two papers, Mr. John A. Ryder has endeavored to demonstrate the potency of energy as a factor in organic evolution, and to show that the form of the hen's egg is determined by mechanical means while the egg membranes and shell are in process of formation within the oviduct. The development of the figure of eggs is regarded by him as a purely dynamical problem, or one in which energy is applied in a definite manner to a mass in statical equilibrium within the oviduct. The moment motion is set up to propel the egg through the duct the forces operative in determining the figure of the as yet unformed shell depend upon the physiological activity and condition of tone of the muscular walls of the oviduct.

 

Cremation of Cholera-dead.—From a paper read by Dr. Robert Newman before the Northwestern Medical and Surgical Society of New York in favor of the cremation of persons dying of cholera, it appears that there are now fifteen crematories in this country, and that two thousand and seventeen incinerations took place between 1887 and 1892, of which eight hundred and sixty-eight were at New York. The Earl Memorial Crematory, at Troy, is the most costly. Thirty-two active cremation societies are scattered over the country. Nearly all those who participated in the discussion of the paper agreed with the author as to the importance of cremation in cholera. In respect to the objection—the only really important and valid one that has been made—that cremation facilitates the concealment of criminal poisoning, the observation of an eminent but unnamed chemist was quoted, that alkaloidal poisons are destroyed by burial as well as by cremation, so that the only poison that would not be discovered after cremation and which might be detected after ordinary burial is arsenic.

 

Endurance in Animals.—The tradition, says an English writer, which assigns to certain animals a daring and endurance difficult to match in man, is so old, and on the whole so consistent, that it would be impossible to disregard it, even were the facts on which it is based less clearly within the limits of ordinary observation and comprehension than they are. It may even be doubted whether our measurement of animal courage has yet been sufficiently extended, for there appear instances in which the acts of daring are prompted by a sense of obedience, of discipline, and even of duty—something similar in kind to that which marks and distinguishes the highest forms of courage in man.