Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/June 1899/Fragments of Science

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Fragments of Science.

The New Zealand Experiment in Woman Suffrage.—The right of suffrage was given to all the women of New Zealand in 1893 without any concerted action or aggressive demonstrations on their part by the free, almost unsolicited, vote of the men. The general election took place in November of the same year, and is described in the Saturday Review as having been a warm contest, with several questions on which public opinion was sharply divided; but "on the whole, the women took matters wonderfully coolly. They flocked in thousands to the public meetings, where, by common consent, the front seats were given up to them." Contrary to expectation, they displayed little emotion, and even had to be "coached" to make a pretense of enthusiasm. "Polling day was awaited with dread by the electioneering agents and returning officers, with doubt by veteran politicians, and with pleasurable excitement by the women." They all voted, and "what did it all lead to?" "It left things very much as they were. . . . Gradually but irresistibly the conviction forced itself upon the New Zealand mind that the women knowing little and caring as little about political details, had voted almost always with the men of their family and class. Sharing to the full the prejudices, hopes, and interests of their fathers, brothers, husbands, and lovers, they had cheerfully doubled the voting power of these. Where, as in the case of schoolmistresses and factory girls, they had some special bond of union other than domestic they had voted very much as schoolmasters and male trade-unionists had voted.… With one accord colonists ceased to be afraid of what the suffrage might do, and began instead to complain of it for not doing more. Only here and there careful observers note that groups of women are studying politics, and foresee that, as years go by, these will supply a new and intelligent force with distinct and logically reasoned aims of its own."

 

The Metric System (a Letter to the London Times).—Sir: I see that on Wednesday next, the 22d inst., the President of the Board of Trade is to receive a deputation from the Decimal Associations and others to urge on the Government, not merely the adoption of the decimal system of notation, but the compulsory application within two years of the metric system of weights and measures in its entirety. I have been hoping to see a letter in the Times from some person of importance calling attention to this deputation. I fervently trusted I should notice one from your correspondent, Mr. Herbert Spencer, who, a year or so back, contributed a series of thoroughly well-thought-out and logical articles, exposing the fallacy of the metric system; but if any such letter has appeared I have, unfortunately, missed it. I believe this agitation to be largely due to scientific professors who have been brought up on foreign books, and have found it too much trouble to convert foreign measurements into English; further, due to the promptings of a number of foreign merchants, forming (happily, or unhappily) now so large a portion of our traders—men who, also, do not wish to take the trouble of converting foreign weights and measures into English. As regards the suggestion, made time after time, that the metric system is one giving the greatest simplicity to calculations, I say unhesitatingly, from very considerable experience, that it is one absolutely subversive of mental arithmetic, and I appeal to anybody who has ever had the misfortune to wait at the guichet of a French railway station while the clerk inside has been calculating the total amount to be paid for two first-class and one second-class from "A" to "B" with a piece of chalk, or pencil and paper, to compare the speed and the certainty of this process with the answer that he would get at Euston, or at any such station in Great Britain, and say which system shows by results the advantages in point of time and in accuracy. The French themselves, as has been pointed out on more than one occasion, find the metric system too irksome, and they evade it. According to the metric system, one of its great merits is that you can state every required quantity by multiples or submultiples of ten—metre, 1; decimetre, 0.1; centimetre, 0.01; millimetre, 0.001. But no Frenchman thinks of expressing himself in this way. Instead of 0.01, he says cm. 1. For a millimetre, he says mm. 1. When he comes to large weights, does he not commonly abjure the 1,000 kilos and write one tonne? When he comes to domestic weights the kilogramme is found too large; the half of this, the practical equivalent of the pound, is wanted. He ought to write 500 grammes. He does not. He abjures his decimals, and writes one half kilo. But I feel I must not take up your space by multiplying instances, so well known to many who have studied the subject, of the unbearable burden of the decimal plus metrical system compulsorily carried out. I well know the value of decimals, and the indispensable need of their use in many circumstances; but I object to being compelled to use them when they are not needed and are in the way. I find it easier to state seven eighths, and to deal with it mentally, than to put it into the form of.875. I do not wish to be restricted by law in the use of my tools. What would be thought of the law which compelled a shipwright on all occasions to use a chisel, and never to employ the adze. I, with, I believe, every upholder of English weights and measures, and of the use of fractions, am quite willing that the metric system should be made legal in its entirety throughout Great Britain; but we are not willing that the useful weights and measures which we can employ with so great facility and accuracy should be made illegal. Let the two exist together, and experience will prove which is the one preferred by the community.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,
Frederick Bramwell.
5 Great George Street, Westminster, S. W.,,
March 18, 1899.

P. S.—Very probably the old stalking-horses will be trotted out on Wednesday, and the President of the Board of Trade will be told of the confusion created by the existence of mere local weights and measures. I believe that if those who cite these anomalies were asked to give instances at various dates it would be found that these local weights and measures were dying out. In any event they are illegal, and are not obligatory upon anybody. Every man can claim to deal according to the standards of length, of weights, and of capacity. Most certainly the introduction of the metric system would largely add to the use of illegal weights and measures, not only locally, but generally. If the inquiry were made in France, even no farther off than Boulogne, it would be found that, in the markets there, dealings are frequently carried out on a local system unconnected with the metric.—F. B.

 

Variations in African Religious Ideas.—Miss Kingsley observes, in her West African Studies, that when you are traveling from district to district you can not fail to be struck by the difference in character of the native religions you are studying, and that no wandering student of the subject in western Africa can avoid recognizing the existence of at least four distinct forms of development of the fetich idea. They have every one of them the same underlying idea, and yet they differ. "And I believe," Miss Kingsley says, "much of the confusion which is supposed to exist in African religious ideas is a confusion only existing in the minds of cabinet ethnologists from a want of recognition of the fact of the existence of these schools. For example, suppose you take a few facts from Ellis and a few from Bastian and mix, and call the mixture West African religion. You do much the same sort of thing as if you took bits from Mr. Spurgeon's works and from those of some eminent Jesuit and of a sound Greek churchman and mixed them, and labeled it European religion. The bits would be all right by themselves, but the mixture would be a quaint affair." Of the four main schools of fetich predicated by Miss Kingsley, the Tshi and Ewe school (Ellis's school) is mainly concerned with the preservation of life; the Calabar school with attempting to enable the soul successfully to pass through death; the Mpongwe school with the attainment of material prosperity; and the school of Nkissi with the worship of the mystery of the power of evil.

 

A Natural History Society as a School.—Among the agencies employed by the Boston Society of Natural History for making itself a vehicle of instruction to the public has been the employment of an educated man and teacher as guide to the museum, who should also give lectures there. The salary of this officer has heretofore been provided by the bounty of Miss Harriet E. Freeman, but she has been obliged to discontinue her contribution, and the curator is now seeking other means of maintaining a suitably qualified assistant. The "guide," Mr. A. W. Grabau, delivered a course of lectures in April and May, 1897, on "The Surface of the Earth: Its Rocks, Soil, and Scenery," in which special attention was given to the scenery in New England; and, whenever it was practicable, excursions were made to localities which could be used as illustrations. A similar course, delivered in 1897, resulted in the formation during the summer of the same year of a class of thirty persons, summer residents of Kennebunkport, Maine, who were under Mr. Grabau's daily instruction for two weeks. The awakening of interest in local scenery further led to his giving lectures in Belmont and Arlington, and he thereby became instrumental in a movement intended to preserve the local frontal bowlder moraine on Arlington Heights—a valuable geological movement. A course of lectures on the Animals of the Shores of New England was given by Mr. Grabau to a class of from forty to seventy-five persons, in the Teachers' School of Science, with excursions on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. In a similar fall course attention was given specially to the study of animals in their various habitats. A course by Mr. Grabau on the use of the microscope and the preparation of specimens was followed by ten days' laboratory work in Limekilns Bay, Maine. One of the results of a winter course on zoölogy, to a class of twenty teachers, was the formation of the Hale House Natural History Club, in connection with which field meetings are held, classes for children are formed, and papers upon elementary subjects are read and discussed. Other courses of lectures are mentioned in the report of the curator of the society—the field lessons in geology, by Professor Barton, with a winter course in historical geology; the course of Dr. R. W. Greenleaf, on the elementary structure and function of the parts of flowering plants; the course of the curator (Alpheus Hyatt), on elementary zoölogy; and the lectures on geography, by Prof. W. M. Davis.

 

Glacier Water.—An analysis of two samples of water from the Illecilliwaet Glacier, in British Columbia, was recently made by F. T. Shutt and A. T. Charron. The water was collected a few feet from the glacier's irregular face, about a mile and a half from the glacier station on the Canadian Pacific Railway. The following is abstracted from an account in the Chemical News:

No. 1. No. 2.
Parts per   million.
Free ammonia 0. 018 0. 018
Albuminoid ammonia 0. 0.027 0. 037
Nitrogen as nitrates and nitrites 0. 0246 0. 0442
Oxygen absorbed in fifteen minutes 0. 0396 0. 0672
Oxygen absorbed in four hours 0. 1056 0. 1744
Chlorine 0. 10 0. 10
Total solids at 105° C 30. 8 12. 0
Solids after ignition 30. 8 8. 0
Loss on ignition None. 4. 0
Phosphates None. None.

The authors go on to say: "From the above data we may unhesitatingly conclude that the glacier water is one of great organic purity. The samples are not identical, due no doubt to the fact that they were collected twelve days apart, and probably from different parts of the foot of the glacier. Both analyses, however, show that, judged by the standards used in the diagnosis of ordinary potable waters, it is a water possessing a high degree of purity, and one perfectly wholesome and eminently suited for drinking and household purposes. As received, both samples were quite murky, almost milky, in appearance. On allowing them to stand, perfect subsidence took place, leaving the supernatant water colorless and brilliant. A microscopic examination of the sediment showed it to consist of very fine rock matter, chiefly fragments of quartzite.

 

Protection of Plants and Birds in France and Italy.—Organized efforts for the protection of native plants and birds from further destruction are multiplying in Europe. Botanical stations for Alpine plants have been established at several places in France and Switzerland, and now Italy has come into line with the association Pro Mortibus, which, founded in July, 1897, has already more than five hundred adherents. Italy is probably the country where work of this kind is most needed, for nowhere else is the destruction, particularly of birds, so systematically, persistently, and industriously carried on. Pro Mortibus will also interest itself in the preservation and replantation of the forests. Among other efforts looking in a similar direction, M. J. Corcelli tells in La Nature of the establishment of shelters in connection with the schools in Saxony where birds are fed in the winter, and of lessons given to the children inculcating regard for them. A great deal has been accomplished in France without much noise in rewooding the devastated slopes of the mountains and erecting efficient safeguards against ravage by torrents—largely by restraining the torrents at their sources; and the Alpine forests of the country, M. Corcelli says, "are again rising from their ashes." Reserves of Alpine plants have been established by the Belfort section of the French Alpine Club on the Ballon of Alsace; the central section is creating an extensive botanical garden in the Vosges, to serve as a place of refuge and propagation and multiplication of species threatened with extinction. The city of Annecy, in Savoy, has recently voted the money required for establishing a similar garden on the verdant ridges of the Semnoz. Two local societies in Italy are engaged in a similar work, one of which has established the garden museum Chamousia on the slopes of the Saint Bernard, where plants from the Pyrenees and the Himalaya are also collected. Switzerland is not behind either of these countries in this work.

 

Tortoise Shell.—The following interesting account of the tortoise-shell industry is taken from Nature: The tortoise shell of commerce is obtained from the horny superficial plates overlying the bony case of the great majority of tortoises and turtles. Turtles differ from tortoises in the heart-shaped form of the upper half of the shell, and the conversion of the limbs into paddles adapted for swimming. The upper part of the shell carries a median row of five large superficial horny plates, flanked on either side by a row of four or five still larger flat plates; these thirteen or fifteen large plates affording some of the most valuable commercial tortoise shell in the particular species whose shell is in most demand. On the front and hind edges of the upper bony shell and the portion connecting the latter with the plastron, or lower shell, are a series of smaller horny plates, generally twenty-four in number, which are sharply bent in the middle and are known in the trade as "hoof." The under surface of the shell of a turtle carries six pairs of large, more or less flat, horny plates, for which the trade term, derived from their uniform color, is "yellow belly." In value they sometimes exceed all but the very finest of the large upper plates, generally known simply as "shell." Of the host of land and fresh-water tortoises, most of which are of comparatively small size, the horny plates (which, by the way, are altogether wanting in the so-called soft tortoises of tropical rivers), on account of their thinness and opacity, are now of no commercial value, at least in England. Moreover, it is by no means all species of marine turtles which yield commercial tortoise shell. Of these marine turtles, exclusive of the great leathery turtle, there are three well-marked and perfectly distinct types, severally represented by the green or edible turtle, the hawksbill, and the loggerhead. The hawksbill furnishes the most valuable shell. The largest and best plates, which are in the middle of the back, are about a quarter of an inch thick in the center, and measure about thirteen by eight inches, their weight being from about half a pound each to as much as one pound. The length of the carapace (the upper shell) in the hawksbill is about forty-two inches. It is found in all tropical and subtropical seas. From a dead turtle the plates of tortoise shell can be readily detached by beating. The highest price realized during 1898 in the London market was about 112s. 6d. (about $28) a pound for the very best selected shell. It is stated that 76,760 pounds of hawksbill shell were sold in London in 1898. The shell is very readily workable, being made partially plastic by immersion in hot water.

 

Poison in Wild Cherry Leaves.—Instances having been brought to the notice of the directory of the New Hampshire College Agricultural Experiment Station of cattle presumably fatally poisoned by prussic acid from eating wild cherry leaves, the subject has been investigated by Fred W. Morse and Charles D. Howard. Five species of wild cherry grow in New Hampshire, of which the red cherry and the horse plum are not regarded as dangerous, and the dwarf cherry has not been examined, but is strongly suspected. The wild black cherry is the most noxious species, and the chokecherry is not far behind it. The poisonous principle in these cherries is hydrocyanic or prussic acid, which, however, does not exist in the leaves as such, but is derived from the amygdalin they contain. The popular opinion that only the wilted leaves are specially dangerous is not borne out. The authors found both wilted and fresh leaves poisonous, and the dried leaves worthy to be regarded with suspicion. Vigorous, succulent leaves from young shoots, which are the ones most likely to be eaten by cattle, are far more poisonous than the leaves from a mature tree or stunted shrub. The largest amounts of prussic acid were derived from leaves wilted in bright sunlight to about seventy-five per cent their original weight, or till they began to appear slightly limp and lose their gloss. Leaves wilted in the dark were much less dangerous.

 

Dr. Brinton's Contributions to American Linguistics.—At the suggestion of the late James Constantine Pilling, Dr. D. G. Brinton has prepared an analytical survey of his contributions in the field of American linguistics, which have now extended over forty years. The list includes seventy-one titles of books and papers, of which sixteen are classed as general articles and works. The first four of these are occupied with the inquiry whether the native American languages, as a group, have peculiar morphological traits that justify their classification as one of the great divisions of human speech. Dr. Brinton finds a feature—incorporation—which, under the form polysynthesis, is present in a marked degree in nearly all of them. Another paper shows that the various alleged affiliations between American and Asiatic tongues are wholly unfounded, and another pleads for more attention to American languages. A volume of nearly four hundred pages—The American Race—was the first attempt at a systematic classification of all the tribes of North, Central, and South America on the basis of language. It defines seventy-nine linguistic stocks in North America and sixty-one in South America, pertaining to nearly sixteen hundred tribes. Other volumes in the list include writings, preferably on secular subjects, by natives in their own languages. One contains a list of native American authors, and notices some of their works. Another vindicates the claim of native American poetry to recognition. These works were followed by the Library of Aboriginal American Literature, of which eight considerable volumes were published, each containing a work wholly of native inspiration, in a native tongue, with a translation, notes, etc. Fourteen other publications relate to North American languages north of Mexico, thirty-two to Mexican and Central American languages, and ten to South American and Antillean languages. Many of these articles were collected in 1800 and published in a volume entitled Essays of an Americanist. It was arranged in four parts, relating respectively to Ethnology and Archæology, Mythology and folklore. Graphic Systems and Literature, and Linguistics. The value of Dr. Brinton's labors will be realized by all persons who know how rapidly things purely native American are passing away.

 

Metallic Alloys of Rich Colors.—A remarkable alloy of gold seventy-eight parts and aluminum twenty-two parts, discovered by Messrs. Roberts-Austen and Hunt, has a characteristic purple color which can not be imitated; for if the designated proportions of the constituents are varied from, the base is entirely changed. The compound lacks somewhat in the qualities of resistance and malleability. The color is abnormal in that it partakes of none of the color features of its constituents, as is the case in most combinations of metals. Thus, the colors of copper alloyed with zinc or tin pass gradually from red to white, according to the proportions of the constituent metals. In the union of two metals of white or bluish-white color, like zinc, tin, silver, and aluminum, the color of the alloys is not perceptibly different from that of the components—that is, it continues white. The purple of the gold aluminum alloy is not, however, the only exception to this rule. Aluminum gives highly colored compounds with several other metals, even when the second metal is clearly white. In the experiments of Charles Marcot, of Geneva, in alloying aluminum with platinum, palladium, nickel, and cobalt, combination took place abruptly at red heat, with the development of an intense temperature and a partial combination of the aluminum; and when platinum is the second metal, an explosion is liable to occur. An alloy of seventy-two parts of platinum and twenty-eight of aluminum had a bright golden or yellow color, which varied under slight changes in the proportions of the elements to violet green or coppery red. The alloy is hard and brittle and of crystalline structure. The yellow form is stable, while the other forms decompose in a short time. An alloy of seventy-two parts palladium and twenty-eight aluminum is of fine coppery rose color, crystalline texture, hard and brittle, and suffers no change with time. An alloy of from seventy-five to eighty parts cobalt and twenty to twenty-five aluminum is straw-yellow, inclining to brown; when just formed it is externally hard and scratches glass, but is easily broken with a hammer, and falls to a powder in a few days. An alloy of eighty-two parts nickel and eighteen aluminum has a pronounced straw-yellow color, is as hard as tempered steel, and resists the blow of a hammer. The fracture, close-grained, is that of steel or bell metal. It is susceptible of a fine polish, is stable, and keeps its color. Though interesting on account of their colors, these alloys, except that of nickel, are not suitable for any use.

 

The Chemistry of Sausages.—The Lancet is authority for the following: "The composition of the sausage is not only complex, but it is often obscure. It is supposed to be a compound of minced beef and pork. Abroad, however, the sausage is compounded of a much wider range of substances. These include brains, liver, and horseflesh. Occasionally they do not contain meat at all, but only bread tinged with red oxide of iron and mixed with a varying proportion of fat. Horseflesh is rich in glycogen, and this fact enables its presence in sausage meat to be detected with some amount of certainty. The test, which depends on a color reaction, with iodine has recently been more carefully studied and with more satisfactory results, so that the presence of five per cent of horseflesh can be detected. At present there is no legal provision for a standard in regard to the composition of sausages, but clearly there ought to be. Limitations should be laid down as to the amount of bread used, as to the actual proportion of meat substances present, and as to the coloring matters added to give an attractive appearance of fresh meat. Sausages are extremely liable to undergo decomposition and become poisonous, owing to the elaboration of toxic substances during the putrefactive process. Bad or rancid fat is very liable to alter the character of a sausage for the worse. Thus in some instances the use of rancid lard has rendered the sausage after a time quite phosphorescent, an appearance which indicates, of course, an undesirable change. The smoked sausage is a much safer article of diet than the unsmoked, since the curing process preserves the meat substance against decomposition by reason of the empyreumatic bodies present in the wood smoke which is used for this purpose."

 

Photographing Papuan Children.—Many savages dislike to have their pictures taken, some being restrained by motives of superstition; but in New Guinea Professor Semon found being photographed a great joke for all the boys and girls. He had much trouble in isolating a single individual, so as not to get thirty or forty persons into his picture instead of the one he wished to immortalize. "Wishing," he says, "to portray one young girl of uncommonly good looks, I separated her from the rest, gave her a favorable position, and adjusted the lens, surrounded all the while by a crowd of people behind and beside me, the children cheering, the women most ardently attentive, the men benevolently smiling. Evidently my subject was proud of the distinction she enjoyed and the attention vouchsafed her. Quite suddenly, however, this simple savage, untaught as she was and innocent of the laws of reticence and prudishness, became convulsed with shame, covered her eyes with her hands, and valiantly resisted every attempt to make her stand forward as before. At the same time I noticed that the hue of her features changed, the brown of her face becoming darker and deeper than before, a phenomenon easily explained by the fact of the blood rising into her head. Had she been a brown girl we would have said that she blushed. At all events, the physiological process was the same as that which forces us to blush." At another time, when the author had got two little girls into position to be photographed, their mothers came up and forbade his taking them that day, but promised to present them on the morrow. On the next day "both the little angels were solemnly brought to meet us nearly smothered in ornaments, their hair decorated with feathers and combs, their ears with tortoise-shell pieces, their little throats surrounded by plates of mother-of-pearl and chains of dingo teeth, legs and arms hung with rings and shells, teeth, and all sorts of network.… Here, again, one may see that mothers are made of the same stuff all over the world, Papuan mammas being equal to any of our peasant women or fine ladies in the point of vanity as far as concerns their children."

 

Meat Extracts.—An interesting account of the history and preparation of meat extracts was recently given as a lecture before the Society of Arts (English) by Charles R. Valentine. The idea of concentrating the body of an ox into a thimbleful of elixir seems to have been a very old one. Until the work of Justus von Liebig, about fifty years ago, however, little progress of practical value was made toward this end. Liebig macerated finely divided beef in cold water, or in water not above 150° F. The water dissolved from sixteen to twenty-four per cent of the weight of the dry flesh. This infusion was heated, the albumen and red coloring matter of the blood coagulated, and was separated as a flocculent precipitate. The remaining solution has the aromatic taste and all the properties of soup made by boiling the flesh. The infusion was then evaporated at a gentle heat. The residue amounted to about twelve or thirteen per cent of the original (dry) flesh. This is in rough outline the process of meat-extract making. This extract is simply an evaporated beef tea, containing the extractive matters of beef, and in virtue of these possesses medicinal and dietetic properties of value. But it is in no sense a substitute for beef, as the latter's most important food constituent—albumen—it does not contain.