Popular Science Monthly/Volume 50/January 1897/Minor Paragraphs

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The winter courses of Saturday evening lectures (1896–’97) at Columbia University, in co-operation with the American Museum of Natural History, began in December with a course on the Mountain Ranges of Western North America. The course for January will be upon Anthropology and Ethnology, and will include lectures on The Oldest Signs of Man in America, by Dr. D. G. Brinton; The Native Industrial Arts of the Indians of the United States, by Prof. Otis T. Mason; Art of the North American Indians, by Dr. Franz Boas; The Organization of the Family, by Livingston Ferrand; and Some Peculiar Peoples of Southern France, by Dr. William Z. Ripley. In February four lectures on Alcohol and Alcoholic Beverages will be given by Mr. C. E. Pellew. The lectures in March will consist of botanical studies—Among the Lower Fungi and The Haunts and Habits of Ferns, by Prof. Lucien M. Underwood; and Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms and Medicinal Plants, by Prof. Smith Ely Jelliffe. The lectures will be illustrated. Tickets of admission may be obtained without charge by application to the secretary of Columbia University.

M. Berthelot observed, in his address at the opening of the International Congress of Chemists, that the progress of mankind has heretofore been accounted for by historians as the combined effects of inner evolution of ideas and the external and empirical intervention of fortuitous events reacting upon the collective passions, feelings, and interests of men. However such views may have been justified to a certain extent by the study of the past, they fail to account for what results now from the ever-increasing influence of science, or deliberate reflection and reason as determined by the observation of facts and experimentation. In evidence of this view, M. Berthelot cites the changes that have taken place in Europe in the last half century in consequence of the increased facilities of communication, as by railroads, the telegraph, and the telephone. These changes are the rational result of facts and laws discovered in scientific laboratories.

The liability to error in even the best-made thermometers, is well known, and the numerous cheaply made affairs with which the market is flooded are almost worthless on this account. Dr. T. L. Phipson calls attention in the Chemical News to the dangers which may result from the use of inaccurate thermometers in the sick-room, and gives the following instance as an illustration: "A patient, eighty years of age, suffering from bronchitis, did not cough or suffer from prostration when the thermometer registered from 68° to 70° F., but fell into an alarming state of prostration when it rose to 72° or 73°. Now, many thermometers, both mercurial and spirit, which I have examined of recent years have shown errors of 4° or 5° F., and sometimes even more, and it is hence very essential that all such instruments used for taking the temperature of sick-rooms should be carefully compared from time to time with a standard instrument of known accuracy."

It is reported in Nature that letters have been received from Prof. Sollas which show that, so far as the main object of the coral-reef boring expedition is concerned, the effort has been an almost complete failure. They reached Funafuti safely, set up the apparatus, and a bore hole was carried down to a depth of about sixty-five feet, when further progress was stopped by the drills running into a material like quicksand, which choked the bore hole. Very little solid coral rock was pierced. Another boring was attempted, with the same result, at seventy-two feet. The material struck was a kind of quicksand containing "bowlders of coral." As fast as the sand was got out fresh material poured in, and the water pumped down the tube with a view of cleaning it actually flowed out into the surrounding bed. So far as the reef was pierced, it proved to be not solid coral, but more like a vast coarse sponge of coral, with wide interstices either empty or sand filled.


Signor Luigi Palmieri, the famous Italian meteorologist, who died September 10th, was especially renowned for his observations of the volcanic phenomena of Mount Vesuvius, where he was director of the observatory for forty-two years. He was born at Faicchio, Italy, in 1807, and was Professor of Mathematics successively at Salerno, Campobasso, and Avelino, and afterward Professor of Physics at the Normal School and in the University of Naples. He was appointed to the Observatory of Mount Vesuvius, where he spent the remainder of his life, in 1854. He invented some extremely delicate instruments in the course of his researches—a bifilar electrometer, used in the study of atmospheric electricity; a pluviometer; and a seismometer for the detection and measurement of ground vibrations. With the last instrument he was able to detect extremely slight movements of the ground and to predict the eruptions of the volcano. During the eruption of 1872, while every one else fled as far from the mountain as he could, he stayed at his post and wrote a description of every phase of the phenomena.


The death was announced in September, 1896, of M. Armand Hippolyte Louis Fizeau, a French physicist, eminently distinguished for his experimental determinations of the velocity of light. He was born in 1819, the son of a distinguished physician, and, having an independent fortune, was able to devote himself mainly to science. He communicated the results of his experiments in numerous memoirs to the Academy of Sciences and to the Annales de physique et chimie. Many of these were very important. He received in 1856 the grand prize of one hundred thousand francs awarded by the Academy of Sciences. One of the most interesting of his discoveries was that of the means of determining by means of the alteration of the wave-lengths as revealed through the spectroscope the direction and velocity of motion of bodies advancing or receding along the line of vision, a method which has been much used by astronomers in late years with very fruitful results.


Dr. Harley pointed out, in the British Association, that an understanding of the fast-dying system in Australia of conveying ideas by horizontal straight lines might afford a clew to the better interpretation of the ancient Irish oghams, as these two systems are identical in form and to a certain extent in modes of arrangement. The Gilas of central Asia had also the same linear forms of writing, the same grouping of the characters, and a distinctly columnar arrangement. The author thought that the Australian aborigines had advanced one stage beyond the ancient Irish, inasmuch as they possessed two distinctly different kinds of line characters—small and large—analogous to our capital letters, and also adopted the plan of emphasizing the small characters by turning them into a kind of Italics. All the natives did not write alike.


In view of the anticipated exhaustion of the quarries of lithographic stone at Solenhofen, Bavaria, the use of aluminum as a substitute in engraving has been suggested, and the German journal, Neueste Erfindungen und Erfahrimgen, enumerates the qualities that may render that metal suitable for the purpose. The Natianal Druggist, of St. Louis, points out, however, that there are lithographic quarries in Tennessee which can furnish immense quantities of stone fully equal, for purposes of engraving, to the best Solenhofen.


M. Félix Tisserand, Director of the Observatory at Paris and professor in the scientific faculty, whose death has been recently announced, was one of the most famous French astronomers and the author of important works. He was born in 1845, and obtained the degree of Doctor in Science in 1869. In 1875 he was appointed by Le Verrier Director of the Observatory at Toulouse, and was also Professor of Rational Mechanics there. He became astronomer adjunct at the Paris Observatory in 1878, Professor of Astronomy in 1883, and Director of the Observatory in 1892. In his works he treats of the most complex and arduous astronomical questions. He was a member of the commission to observe the great solar eclipse of 1868 and the transits of Venus of 1874 and 1882. His most considerable book was the Traité de Mecanique Céleste, which was published in 1890, and has become an authority on the subject. His other principal books are the Lunar Tables; a treatise on the Movement of the Planets around the Sun, according to Weber's Electrodynamic Law; a work on Shooting Stars; Observations of the Sun Spots at Toulouse in 1874 and 1875; and a collection of Exercises on the Infinitesimal Calculus.

Bacteriologists, says Sir Joseph Lister, are now universally agreed that, although various other conditions are necessary to the production of an attack of cholera than the mere presence of Koch's comma bacillus or vibrio, yet it is the essential substance of the disease; and it is by the aid of the diagnosis which its presence in any case of true cholera enables the bacteriologist to make that threatened invasions of this awful disease have of late years been so successfully repelled from English shores. "If bacteriology had done nothing more for us than this, it might well have earned our gratitude."