Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Eric the dismissed said...

So Jim, I was wondering… can humanity determine the exact time the sun rises and sets in any day of the year and from any location on our feeble planet? And if so HOW? Would a “volvelle” be used?

Ahhh. Mr. Dismissed, I knew I could count on you for a good question and though I suspect that you could answer this question better than I, for the sake of our readers, I’ll give it a try.

The answer, of course is yes, no, and “a what?”

Yes, humanity can determine the exact time the sun rises and sets in any day of the year and from any location on our feeble planet? There is a long set of calculations that will give you the sunrise and sunset for any place on earth. Back in the early ‘90s, when you bought a computer, but not software, it was common to have to type in your own program, save it to tape, and then load it into the memory of your Commodore 64. Sky & Telescope magazine had a monthly column where people would send in generic BASIC programs that could be adapted to most computers of the time. One of those programs was SUNUP.BAS which calculated sunrise and sunset. I reduced that program to the bare bones to illustrate the complexity of the calculations:

10 ' Sunrise-Sunset
300 ' Constants
310 DIM A(2),D(2)
320 P1=3.14159265: P2=2*P1
330 DR=P1/180: K1=15*DR*1.0027379
340 S$="Sunset at "
350 R$="Sunrise at "
360 M1$="No sunrise this date"
370 M2$="No sunset this date"
380 M3$="Sun down all day"
390 M4$="Sun up all day"
30 INPUT "Lat, Long (deg)";B5,L5
40 INPUT "Time zone (hrs)";H
50 L5=L5/360: Z0=H/24
60 GOSUB 1170
1170 ' Calendar --> JD
1180 INPUT "Year, Month, Day";Y,M,D
1190 G=1: IF Y<1583 THEN G=0
1200 D1=INT(D): F=D-D1-.5
1210 J=-INT(7*(INT((M+9)/12)+Y)/4)
1220 IF G=0 THEN 1260
1230 S=SGN(M-9): A=ABS(M-9)
1240 J3=INT(Y+S*INT(A/7))
1250 J3=-INT((INT(J3/100)+1)*3/4)
1260 J=J+INT(275*M/9)+D1+G*J3
1270 J=J+1721027+2*G+367*Y
1280 IF F>=0 THEN 1300
1290 F=F+1: J=J-1
61: T=(J-2451545)+F
70 TT=T/36525+1: ' TT = centuries
80 ' from 1900.0
410 ' LST at 0h zone time
420 T0=T/36525
430 S=24110.5+8640184.813*T0
440 S=S+86636.6*Z0+86400*L5
450 S=S/86400: S=S-INT(S)
460 T0=S*360*DR
91 T=T+Z0
110 ' Get Sun's Position
910 ' Fundamental arguments
920 ' (Van Flandern &
930 ' Pulkkinen, 1979)
940 L=.779072+.00273790931*T
950 G=.993126+.0027377785*T
960 L=L-INT(L): G=G-INT(G)
970 L=L*P2: G=G*P2
980 V=.39785*SIN(L)
990 V=V-.01000*SIN(L-G)
1000 V=V+.00333*SIN(L+G)
1010 V=V-.00021*TT*SIN(L)
1020 U=1-.03349*COS(G)
1030 U=U-.00014*COS(2*L)
1040 U=U+.00008*COS(L)
1050 W=-.00010-.04129*SIN(2*L)
1060 W=W+.03211*SIN(G)
1070 W=W+.00104*SIN(2*L-G)
1080 W=W-.00035*SIN(2*L+G)
1090 W=W-.00008*TT*SIN(G)
1110 ' Compute Sun's RA and Dec
1120 S=W/SQR(U-V*V)
1130 A5=L+ATN(S/SQR(1-S*S))
1140 S=V/SQR(U):D5=ATN(S/SQR(1-S*S))
1150 R5=1.00021*SQR(U)
121 A(1)=A5: D(1)=D5
130 T=T+1
140 GOSUB 910: A(2)=A5: D(2)=D5
150 IF A(2) < A(1) THEN A(2)=A(2)+P2
160 Z1=DR*90.833: ' Zenith dist.
170 S=SIN(B5*DR): C=COS(B5*DR)
180 Z=COS(Z1): M8=0: W8=0: PRINT
190 A0=A(1): D0=D(1)
200 DA=A(2)-A(1): DD=D(2)-D(1)
210 FOR C0=0 TO 23
220 P=(C0+1)/24
230 A2=A(1)+P*DA: D2=D(1)+P*DD
240 GOSUB 490
490 ' Test an hour for an event
500 L0=T0+C0*K1: L2=L0+K1
510 H0=L0-A0: H2=L2-A2
520 H1=(H2+H0)/2: ' Hour angle,
530 D1=(D2+D0)/2: ' declination,
540 ' at half hour
550 IF C0>0 THEN 570
560 V0=S*SIN(D0)+C*COS(D0)*COS(H0)-Z
570 V2=S*SIN(D2)+C*COS(D2)*COS(H2)-Z
580 IF SGN(V0)=SGN(V2) THEN 800
590 V1=S*SIN(D1)+C*COS(D1)*COS(H1)-Z
600 A=2*V2-4*V1+2*V0: B=4*V1-3*V0-V2
610 D=B*B-4*A*V0: IF D<0 THEN 800
620 D=SQR(D)
630 IF V0<0 AND V2>0 THEN PRINT R$;
640 IF V0<0 AND V2>0 THEN M8=1
650 IF V0>0 AND V2<0 THEN PRINT S$;
660 IF V0>0 AND V2<0 THEN W8=1
670 E=(-B+D)/(2*A)
680 IF E>1 OR E<0 THEN E=(-B-D)/(2*A)
690 T3=C0+E+1/120: ' Round off
700 H3=INT(T3): M3=INT((T3-H3)*60)
710 PRINT USING "##:##";H3;M3;
720 H7=H0+E*(H2-H0)
730 N7=-COS(D1)*SIN(H7)
740 D7=C*SIN(D1)-S*COS(D1)*COS(H7)
750 AZ=ATN(N7/D7)/DR
760 IF D7<0 THEN AZ=AZ+180
770 IF AZ<0 THEN AZ=AZ+360
780 IF AZ>360 THEN AZ=AZ-360
790 PRINT USING ", azimuth ###.#";AZ
820 ' Special-message routine
830 IF M8=0 AND W8=0 THEN 870
840 IF M8=0 THEN PRINT M1$
850 IF W8=0 THEN PRINT M2$
860 GOTO 890
870 IF V2<0 THEN PRINT M3$
880 IF V2>0 THEN PRINT M4$
250 A0=A2: D0=D2: V0=V2
260 NEXT
270 GOSUB 820: ' Special msg?
280 END

Now I don’t expect many people to understand that program, again, I only use it to illustrate how long the computation is. This is just the simplest of programs. You input your latitude, longitude, year, month, and day, and it will calculate sunrise and sunset (at, I believe, local standard time).

So the answer is yes, and that is how it is done.

But, the answer is actually no. And this is why. According to the U.S. Naval Observatory...

“The times of rise and set phenomena cannot be precisely computed, because, in practice, the actual times depend on unpredictable atmospheric conditions that affect the amount of refraction at the horizon. Thus, even under ideal conditions (e.g., a clear sky at sea) the times computed for rise or set may be in error by a minute or more. Local topography (e.g., mountains on the horizon) and the height of the observer can affect the times of rise or set even more. It is not practical to attempt to include such effects in routine rise/set computations.”

And finally “a what?” A “volvelle”? You found a blind spot in Ask Jim’s realm of knowledge. So I did some research and the answer is yes, you could use a volvelle. For those, like myself before today, who don’t know what a volvelle is, it is a “calculation device consisting of concentric moveable circles”.

According to the website World Wide Words:
“The earliest types of volvelles were typically made of parchment or paper, with one or more moveable circles attached to a backboard, often the inside cover of a book. The range of information on them was large. Some were like early slide rules, used to calculate the results of mathematical equations. Others worked out the phases of the moon or times of high and low tide. The volvelles that solved astronomical problems could have as many as six rotatable dials.
Strictly, the term is applied only to such historical calculation devices. In more recent times, related ones (usually now called wheel charts or wheel calculators since volvelle is obsolete) have been used to display or calculate the details of everything from the date when a baby was due, through aircraft recognition and dieting data, to geography facts for school children. These were often given away as advertisements at trade shows or supplied with products. Americans of a certain age might recall the BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) calculators that were distributed in school so you could work out the safe limits for drinking. Even in the age of the computer, they’re by no means obsolete, being handy pocket-sized compendia of useful data for some specialist purposes.
The word is from the medieval Latin verb volvere, to turn.”

And according to the website World of Pop-Ups (You know, paper pop-up books, I don’t know what you were thinking!):

“The first known volvelle was created by Benedictine monk Matthew Paris in 1250. The traditional circular charts that appeared in the abbey's books, used to determine when to observe holidays, were cumbersome since the books were heavy and had to be rotated on the monk's laps. Matthew decided it would be easy if the circular chart spun around instead of the whole book and so the first volvelle was born!”

So there you have it. A good question, and it took us away from baseball and cars for a while!

Monday, September 26, 2005


It was recently brought to my attention that the post of a picture of Babe Ruth beside the Red Sox winning the World Series was neither a question nor an answer. As I assumed that the "Curse of Ruth" is well known and rehashed over and over and over again, plus the Yankees had just taken a ½ game lead over the Red Sox, no further explanation should be added. I apologize for that so the only way to rectify the problem is to rehash it one more time.

So tell me Jim, I keep hearing about the "Curse of Ruth" and how it has been reversed. Just what was the "Curse of Ruth"

The story starts as the nascent American League came to terms with the already established National League, to pit their regular season winners against each other in a playoff called the World Series. One of the premier teams of the new American league, was the Boston Pilgrims who, in 1903, represented the American League in the first World Series beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 5 games to 3. During the teens, the Pilgrims, who had changed their name to the Red Sox, went on to win the Pennant and the World Series in 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918. The last three series were won with the help of the new pitching phenom that Boston acquired from the Baltimore farm system, George Herman "Babe" Ruth. Baseball writes...
Ruth was the best left-hander in baseball. He chalked up 18 wins in 1915, 23 in 1916 and 24 in 1917. In all 3 of those years opponents batted under .220 against him. In 1916 he led the league with a 1.75 ERA and spun a league leading nine shutouts. In 1917, Ruth was 24-13, completing 35 of the 38 games he started. He allowed only 244 hitters in 326 innings.
In the 1918 World Series vs. the Chicago Cubs, Babe Ruth hurled a 6-hit shutout in Game 1. In Game 4, the Cubs scored their first run in the 8th inning to break Ruth's record string of 29 1/3 scoreless innings. Ruth's mark stood until 1961 when Whitey Ford broke it.
The Boston Red Sox won four World Series in the eight years Babe Ruth played on the team. They sold Ruth to the New York Yankees for $125,000 and a $300,000 loan because Boston's owner Harry Frazee needed the cash to invest in a new play on Broadway (No, No Nanette). As noted since the cash transaction, Boston's inability to win a single World Series Title has been attributed to "The Curse of the Bambino."

Since, that time, not only have the Yankees gone on to win 26 World Series while Boston none (until 2004 of course) but the team was beset by tragic loses that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory time and time again. Up until this year, Boston fans knew it was just a matter of time before something would go sour and the BoSox would tank. Some of the most memorable chokes are as follows:

1946 - In its first World Series appearance since 1918, Boston loses in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals. The play that turned the tables took place in the bottom of the eighth inning, during game seven, with the score 3-3. Hall of Famer, Enos Slaughter had singled with no outs but looked to be stranded there when the next two batters left him still standing there. When Harry Walker got a hit to center field, Slaughter took off running and easily made it to third. The center fielder, Culberson, chased down the ball and threw it into short stop, Johnny Pesky. Pesky, probably assuming that Slaughter was about to stop at third and watching out for Walker rounding first and heading for second, held the ball for just a moment before he saw that Slaughter had run through the third base coach's stop sign and was headed for home. By the time Pesky threw the ball to the catcher, Slaughter had scored the go ahead run and the Cards beat the Sox 4-3.

1967 - One year removed from a ninth-place finish in 1966, "The Impossible Dream" Red Sox -- after winning the pennant on the last day of a magical season -- lose a seven-game World Series to Bob Gibson (three complete-game wins) and, again, the St. Louis Cardinals.

1975 - Boston coughs up a 3-0 lead in Game 7 to lose the World Series to the Big Red Machine after Carlton Fisk's walk off home run in the bottom of the 12th to beat the Reds in Game 6.

1978 - The Red Sox, who held a 14-game lead on the Yankees in late-July and trailed by 3 1/2 with eight to play, catch up to force this one-game playoff for the AL pennant. Down 2-0 in the seventh, Bucky Dent -- who was batting .140 in his previous 20 games and had only four home runs on the year -- takes a 1-1 Mike Torrez pitch barely over the Green Monster for a 3-2 lead. The Yankees go on to win the game 5-4 and, one series later, their 22nd championship title.

1986 - One strikeout away from winning the Series, the infamous "Slow roller down the baseline" that went through Bill Buckner's legs leads to a 5-3 loss in game 6 and loss of game seven to the N.Y. Mets.

These are only the most gut wrenching turn arounds. The Sox history is full of lesser stories of woe.
So it is with the "Curse of the Babe".(Or could it be that a team with a small ballpark in a large metropolitan area just never bothered to spend the big bucks for a winner when it could fill the park and make a sound profit on T.V. revenue while fielding a sometimes contender and then finally decided to "buck up" and show the world that even the second highest team in baseball can win a World Series in baseball today? ...... Naaaaah!) Many Red Sox fans feel that having come to a World Series trophy by overcoming the Yankees and the Cardinals, two of their biggest obstacles, they have surely reversed this overstated curse. However, as I write this, the Sox and the Yanks are tied for first place in their division with three game series against each other this weekend. As the looser will probably be out of the wild card race, the winner takes all. We will soon see if the Bambino has been chased away for good, or was he really out drinking with Pete Alexander and passed out for 4 days last year.

Now Jim has a question. So much has been made about the length of time it has taken the Bosox to win a World Series (1918 - 2004) and the Cubs to win a World Series (1908), why, then have I never heard a word about the Chicago southsiders' (White Sox) dearth of World Series wins? The last time they won the series was 1917. They should have won the series in 1919 (Say is ain't so, Joe!), but threw the game to the Reds in the infamous "Black Sox" scandal! Haven't won since, tell me that is not worthy of a curse!

Sunday, September 25, 2005


Noreen writes...

I was wondering where one might find the largest Canadian Goose? I saw one in WAWA, ONTARIO that was pretty big. Can you find one larger than that one?

Well, Nor, that is an easy one. According to Roadside America, the largest Canadian goose is right here in the Show-me state. It is in the town of Sumner Mo. Here is the story from the field research team of Roadside America.

"World's Largest Goose

Field review by the editors.
Sumner, Missouri

The small town of Sumner is "Wild Goose Capital Of The World," but during our short visit we didn't notice any living examples. That's where a permanent exhibit like "Maxie," World's Largest Canada Goose, comes in handy.

Maxie sits in a field in the local community park, a bit back from the road. The fiberglass goose is 40 ft. tall, has a wingspan of 61 ft., and weighs 4,000 pounds, at least according to our notes (elsewhere she is reported as 5,500 lbs. with a 65 ft. wingspan). In any event, Maxie is much lighter than the World's Largest Pecan, another attraction in the vicinity.

In 1976, this gargantuan goose was sculpted by a Kansas City artist, flown in by helicopter, and dedicated during the annual Goose Festival by the reigning Miss Goose Pageant queen.

When the audio system is working, you can push a button on Maxie's pedestal and hear her story. She's named after Branta Canadensis Maxima, the scientific name for Giant Canada Geese.

Maxie supposedly even turns a few degrees when the wind is strong enough. Our luck, it was windless, hot, and humid enough to cause our video camera to shut down in a fit of programmed self-preservation.

It might seem strange an American town displays the largest Canada goose. The town of Wawa, Ontario, held the "World's Largest" claim with their 22 ft. tall, 20 ft. wingspan goose from 1963 until 1976, when Maxie apparently flew in and crapped over everything...."

So there you go, the big goose.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

He's Back!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Christina said...

hey jim,

I was curious as to why gin has such a piney taste. Is it just the cheap gin that I am used to, or is all gin like that? How is gin processed?

Well Christina, welcome aboard. Gin is a little on the fringe of my expertise but I can get you going in the right direction.

The reason Gin has that "piney" taste is that its' main flavoring ingredient is Juniper (the name Gin is derived from Juniper). And no, it is not just the cheap stuff, it is all Gin. From what I understand, one of the things that separates a good Gin from a great Gin is the added "botanicals" used for a more complex flavor. These would include other herbs such as coriander and licorice.

As far as how it is processed, you start with a clear, flavorless grain alcohol (not unlike Everclear, but probably higher quality). You then add the juniper and the botanicals and re-distill it. Two things I'm not clear on is if the juniper only contains the berries or if other parts of the plant are used. The other thing is I'm not sure how long the flavors are steeped in the grain alcohol. In any case, after the second distillation, water is added to dilute it to a 75 proof mixture. Again, I'm not sure if it is aged or not. I'm sure it lends itself from quick inferior brands to expensive quality brands.

Here is a website that will give you more details.... THE GIN & VODKA ASSOCIATION

Here are some of the things I found. Not too many surprises.

For indicators of the best Cardinals teams, I looked at:

1. Numbers of hall of fame players on a given team.

2. Offensive records set for a single season.

3. M.V.P selections.

4. Places in standings.

5. World Series winners.

Most Cardinal fans will already know where to look for the best Cardinal teams. Hornsby's teams of the 20's, the Gas House Gang teams of the 30's, Musial/Slaughter teams of the 40's, Gibson/Brock teams of the 60's, Herzog teams of the 80's, and Larussa teams of the 2000's.

When it comes to the teams with the most number of hall of fame players, the 30's take the lead. The 1933, '34 & '36 Cards had a high of seven HOF players per year. Just look at the lineup for 1934...
Leo "the lip" Durocher
Franky Frisch "the Fordham Flash"
Joe "Ducky Wucky" Medwick
Jerome "Dizzy" Dean
Burleigh Grimes
Jesse Haines
Arthur "Dazzy" Vance... Plus non hall of famers "Daffy" Dean and Pepper Martin
By any standard, how can that not be one of the Cardinals Greatest teams.

When it comes to offensive record being held by a single team, the 1930 Cardinals hold many single season records. They include highest batting average, most RBIs, most long hits (didn't even know that was a stat), highest slugging percentage, most total bases, most hits, and most # of .300 hitters. With that lineup, they took the N.L. Pennant but lost the Series 4-2 to Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics.

M.V.P. Awards just confirm what we already knew... 20's, 30's, 40's, and 60's.

The indicator that sets one series of teams apart are the standings and World Series. From 1942 - 1946, the Cards took four pennants and 3 World Series. The '42 cards won a club record 106 games with a .688 winning percentage (also a club record). '43 and '44 followed with 105 wins and .682 winning percentage each year! When Bill James, with his bevy of stats, rates the best three year run in baseball, the '42 - '44 Cards tie with the '29 - '31 A's and the '36 - '38 (or '37 - '39) Yanks. We are talking about one of the great elite teams of the modern era of baseball! The biggest surprise to me was the fact that the number of hall of fame players is smaller in the '40s than I thought. I should have probably taken into consideration the low number of players from the 40's who made the hall of fame due to years lost in the war.

Now let's look at the past two years. 2004 brought us 105 wins and a .648 average. That is tied for second for the club's number of wins and 5th for the winning percentage. This year we already have 95 wins with a .625 average. We've had 3-5 gold glove winners the past several years, and the same for all-star selections. We have a reasonable chance to have the M.V.P. And Cy Young winners this years. What this team will go down in history as will be determined by winning the World Series or not. We have a team that is extraordinary in regular season but will they run out of gas again or was last year a fluke?

So, I really haven't said anything new since the last post, I just have better stats to back up my opinions.



Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Adam writes...

Here's the thing, Jim: The St. Louis Cardinals recently clinched the National League Central Division title. You hear a lot of people saying that this is "the Cardinal's year," and I'm inclined to believe that based on the exemplary performance almost everyone on their 40-man roster. Let me ask you this: do you think the 2005 Cards are among the best Cardinals teams EVER? What Cards teams would you put at the top of that list?

Ooooo... Adam, good question! Let's start with this being the Cardinals year. I've got to believe these guys are not only very good, but they are on a mission. They have to be driven by the poor performance in last year's world series. To have won 105 games, plus the incredible performance in the NLCS against Houston, and then fall apart when the whole nation was watching them has to be driving them to redemption. (As I type this, John Gall just hit a 3 run homer to lift the Cards over the Reds 5-2.) Anything less than winning the World Series has to be considered failure to this team. This team is everything that last year's team was plus great starting pitching and a killer bench. We lost Matheny, Renteria, and Woody Williams but gained Molina, Ekstien and Mulder, not to mention a healthy Carpenter who has as good a chance to win the Cy Young as anyone. Plus, plus, plus and plus!

Now, as far as this team being the best Cardinals team ever? One of the best? Yes. Best. No. As each milestone is accomplished they are continually compared to the '44-'46 Cardinals. Just think about the hall of famers on that team and it is hard to think that this team is better. The teams in the mid 20's were also great and we had some great teams in the 30's, but I'm still thinking the teams in the 40's were the best. How many hall of famers do you think are on this team. Pujols, for sure if he keeps up this torrid pace. Edmunds? Rolen? Very good but probably not hall of famers. Of course, the number of hall of famers on a team does not neccesarily make the best team, but it is a good indicator.

Tell you what I'm going to do. I'll have to do some research and see if I can come up with stats that will be better indicators of which team could be considered the best team since 1900. Very interesting project. I'll get back to you with the final answer as soon as I can.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Adam writes...

And Jim, when you're done talking about silly things like museums and crosses and such, tell me something else: It seems like the flat-head engine was used in almost every mass-produced automobile from the 30's to the 60's. And now it seems that most cars have hemispherical or pent-roof heads. So tell me Jim, what in the hilly-dilly heck-hole came before the flat-head?

Well Adam, your question is quite complicated and just a bit ambiguous. You talk about "Flathead engines" and "Hemispherical (Hemi), or pent-roof heads", but these are apple and orange comparisons. I'll tell you what, let me just give a little history about engines and some of their features, and how and why these features were changed. Just bear with me, the less technically minded may get a little lost, the more technically minded may get a little bored.

As you might expect, engines have changed over the years in order to get more power and efficiency. Early gas engines were very simple and not very powerful. The first tact to get more power was to increase the number and size of the cylinders. By the time it was becoming obvious that the combustion engine was going to be the main propulsion system for cars, (as opposed to steam or electric), many cars were sporting four cylinder engines. Chrysler started making 6 cylinder engines by the early 30's and Ford went straight from a four cylinder to an eight cylinder. By this same time, luxury cars such as the Cadillac had come out with engines with up to 16 cylinders. This V16 had a displacement of a whopping 452 cu. In. but with it's 5.7:1 compression ratio, it only managed 165 horse power.

The next tact was to increase the compression ratio. The biggest problem to overcome there was the octane of the gasoline at the time. When a spark lights the gas-air mixture in the cylinder, the explosion travels out pushing down the piston, but also compressing the rest of gas-air mixture. As with any gas, the more you compress it, the hotter it gets. If the gas mixture gets hot enough, it will explode and now you have two explosions in the cylinder going in opposite directions, which is very bad for the engine. The octane rating of gasoline is it's ability to resist that secondary explosion called pre-detonation or "ping".

The third tact for more power was to get the gasses flowing in and out of the engine more easily, thus eliminating resistance to airflow.

So, let's go back to our flathead engine. This was one of the first designs for engines. The main feature of a flathead is that the valves are in the block of the engine. This is a simple way to do it as the valves ride on tappets, which ride directly on the camshaft. The disadvantage is with the valves sitting in the block, next to the cylinder, it is necessary to have a space in the head between the valves and the cylinder for the flow of gasses. This space becomes a limiting factor for compression. The next step was the overhead valve head engine where the valves are in the head directly over the cylinder. Of course, to make this happen you need more parts. You need to introduce pushrods and a rocker arm assembly. When the compression ratio increased to 7:1, the flathead feature was still not an issue, that is why Ford and Chrysler used them well into the 50's. Buick, on the other hand, had an overhead valve engine as early as the 20's, so different manufacturers took different routes to get to the same place.

By the mid 50's octane had increased enough so compression ratios of 8:1 and higher, were not uncommon. This forced the hand of the builders of flathead engines and they died out very quickly.

One trick Chrysler came up with was to put a hemispherical shape on the top of the piston and into the head. This configuration, like octane gave the engine the ability to resist "ping" so they could increase compression even greater. Today's "hemi" is not truly a hemi, it is the pent-roof that you mention earlier, but it is doing the same job with a slightly different shape.

While we are on the subject of octane, the resistance to "ping" is it's advantage and only advantage. It is not a cleaner burning fuel, nor will it give you any extra power, if your car takes a lower octane. Look at you owners manual to see what your octane requirements are. Once you've obtained it, higher octane will do nothing for you.

The way that manufactures opened up airways for more power was to use bigger, wider carburetors. Two barrel and four barrel carburetors were like having two or more carburetors all packaged together in one unit. Of course another way to do this was to actually install two or even three carburetors on the engine, but this creates linkage problems as all the carburetors must be doing the same thing at the same time, but it is probably one of the easiest ways to retrofit an old engine to get more power out of the same unit. Another way to accomplish the same thing is to instal duel exhausts. Many performance cars had and still have dual exhaust for that exact reason.

Recent engines are still trying to work on the airflow problem. That is why they came up with "Dual overhead cam" engines and 24 valve engines. Computer controlled spark systems and dual sparkplug systems are also being used for everyday cars while "turbo chargers" and "blowers" have been used by hot-rodders for years. When you see scoops in the hood of a high performance car, it is there to fit those extra parts (of course, sometimes they just do it for looks).

And then, there's the "V-tech" engine. I have no idea what that is, but I'm sure it is another way to accomplish one or more of those three performance techniques.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Anna writes...
But tell me Jim, what are some of the wackiest museums in America? Do you know the first museum ever made? Is there a Museum museum?

Oh, how I love a wacky museum or roadside attraction! However, no, I know of no Museum museum nor do I know of the first museum.

What I do know is, if you keep your eyes out, you will find many interesting places in this world. Some roadside attractions are simple tourist traps, such as Ozarkland, South of the Border, and The Big Texan Steak Ranch. These are places full of fun and often silly things. They are great to go to but you will find many other tourists there doing the same thing.

Other roadside attractions or wacky museums are collections of the things that people have an interest in. Several of the more unusual museums I have been to are the Mustard Museum, and the Grain Elevator and Agriculture Museum. These may sound very silly, but often times, you find people have passions for many things. They study there history, how it is made, how it has changed over the years and many other aspects. Having many esoteric interests myself, I can often appreciate these museums, even if I don't share their passion. Plus, they make good stories, I mean, just how many people can say they were at the Mustard Museum?!

Here are just a few sources of some of the many wacky museums and roadside attractions:

U.S. Route 40
Roadside America
Weird New Jersey
Weird U.S.
Offbeat Museums : A Guided Tour of America's Weirdest and Wackiest Museums
New Roadside America : The Modern Traveler's Guide to the Wild and Wonderful World of America's Tourist

And there is so much more. Have fun!

Bri & Leah writes... So tell me Jim, what are the most important aspects of a fly that make it delectably alluring to fishies? In other words: So tell me Jim, could you describe the theoretically perfect fly?

Well Bri & Leah, the perfect fly is the one that catches fish. Fly theory starts with two basic classifications of flies, imitators and attractors. Imitators are flies that imitate the fish's natural food. Attractors do not look like anything specific but entice the fish to strike anyway, similar to the way a cat will chase a string even though it looks nothing like anything in its' natural diet.

Imitators will have certain proportions that would match what ever it was trying to imitate. By the way, even when we are talking about imitators, we seldom see a fly that looks exactly like what it is trying to imitate. Theory has it that the fish will key in on color, size and proportion. The imitator that has those key features will out fish a fly that will be an exact replica. That is because, most of the imitators are trying to imitate something that is alive and moving. When a fly has a hackle collar, it gives the impression of legs or wings moving. An exact replica gives the impression of something still and generally less enticing.

Attractors, on the other hand are less concerned with proportion and more concerned with movement. Materials such as marabou feathers and mohair yarn have movements in water that can be very alluring to a fish.

One of the wonderful things about fishing is that it is not an exact science. One day a certain fly will catch a certain fish, the next day, nothing. Some days, fish are very aggressive, other days they are not. Also, what attracts a trout may not attract a bass. So, when it comes time to tie a fly onto your line, you are guessing what is going to be effective at that time.

There are many theories of what fly to use and how to fish it. They all work sometimes, none of them work all of the time. The best way to learn what to fish and how to fish it, is to go fishing. Try something, if it works, keep trying, if it doesn't work, do something different.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


Adam writes:

So tell me Jim, where is the largest cross in the western hemisphere?

Well Adam, I'll tell you. My daughter Anna, goes to IU in Bloomington Indiana. While driving from St. Louis to Bloomington, we pass a very large cross in Effingham IL. It was, by far, the largest cross that I have ever seen. Last week, though, I was driving my son, Adam,
to his new job in Tucson AZ. On the second day of travel, after we had made stops at the Big Texas Steak Ranch and the Cadillac Ranch, we saw a roadside sign advertising the "Largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere", so we had to stop and check it out. As we got to Groom TX., within sight of that cross, I was surprised to see that the cross looked exactly like the one in Effingham. When we got to the giant cross, we stopped to take pictures and explore. Under the cross was a gift shop so I stopped in to see if I could find any information about these two, very similar crosses. When I asked the hostess if she knew anything about the cross in Illinois, she proceeded to tell me some history of these two crosses.

Apparently, a man by the name of Steve Thomas of Groom TX. Decided to build a giant cross. He decided on the height of 190' because anything higher than 200' comes under the jurisdiction of the FAA and is required to have a beacon on the top. Later, John Schultz from Effingham drove by this cross and became inspired to build one in his hometown. He stopped and talked to Mr. Thomas who gave him the blueprints and permission to use them. Mr. Schultz went home and built the second cross in
Effingham. He also did not want to put a beacon on his cross so he stayed under the 200' height, however, his cross topped out at 198', eight feet higher than the one in Groom TX.

I did a short Internet search to see if I could find anyone who claimed to have the largest cross in the world. I found several sites that claimed the cross in Groom was the largest in the world (though there own web site does not). I also found several sites that claimed the cross in Effingham was the largest in the world, though again, their own site does not. I also found other sites that made claims of the world's largest cross, though they were not as large as either of the previously mentioned crosses. I found plans from the owner of Domino's Pizza to build a 250' crucifix, however, it had a base that appeared to be over 150' not to mention that a cross and a crucifix are not the same. I went to the Guiness site of world records but could not find any claims for largest crosses.

So what we do know is the cross in Groom claims (or at least claimed to be) the largest cross in the western hemisphere. The cross in Effingham makes no claims however is 8 feet taller. They are the two largest crosses I've ever seen or heard of. Others make claims that are either wrong or unverifiable.

And what can we conclude from this? Jim can't conclude with certanty what the largest cross is in the western hemisphere, the Internet has a lot of bogus information so always be skeptical of claims and verify them with other sources, and Jim, from ASK JIM, does not know everything.

Friday, September 09, 2005


So tell me Jim, I know you tie your own flies. Do you think you could show me how to tie my own hard bodied poppers?

Of course, just follow these simple instructions...

Step 1. Using quickset epoxy, glue the head to the hook.

Step 2. When the epoxy is dry, paint the head with an acrylic paint. If desired, you can take an emery board to the head to file off the mold ring or any other deficiencies. You will want to use at least 2 coats, maybe more depending on the paint and the color. If using cork heads, you may want to put a coat of white on before applying light colored paints.

Step 3. Paint on the whites of the eyes. Start by putting a drop or two of white paint on a piece of paper. Using the end of a dowel dip one end into the paint being careful not to get too much paint on the dowel. If there is any doubt, touch an unpainted part of the paper to get the excess paint off. Then touch the popper on each side of the head to apply the paint.

Step 4. Add the pupils. Using the same technique for step 3, apply a small black dot in the middle of the whites of the eyes. The whites of the eye may be other colors. A red “white” is not uncommon.

Step 5. This is optional, but I always do it. Put a clear coat on the head. I use clear acrylic paint but that is very hard to come by. I’ve also used epoxy. Clear fingernail polish may work, just be careful that the clear coat is compatible with the paint. Do one and let it dry, if it looks alright you know it is compatible.

Step 6.
Tie on the tailing material. You can’t go wrong here. I usually tie on grizzly hackle feathers (4-6) so they splay out from the hook. Marabou , live rubber, and bucktail are also common.

Step 7. I like to tie on a hackle collar, but again that is optional.

Step 8. Tie off the thread with a whip finish behind the head. Again, there are no rules about poppers, some people tie on a weedguard, others will drill a hole in the head and put in live rubber legs. My opinion is these two extras are not worth the effort.

Now go throw the fly in front of a hungry smallmouth and reel him in.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


Amy writes...

So Jim, what do you think about the Geo Metro? Was it the worst car ever made?

Amyla, please. Not even close. Apparently you're too young to remember the Yugo. It was a car manufactured in Yugoslavia in the late 70's to mid 80's. It was brought over to the U.S. with great hype about it being so cheap. Well it didn't last long as people found, as usual, you get what you pay for. Here is an actual review from someone in Serbia who liked the car. This is no joke, this is an actual review, and these are it's good points:

What things have gone wrong with the car?

General engine crash in 1995.

Transmission blocked in 1993.

Windshield and front hub crash due to a storm in 1992.

Almost all glass broken due to a bombing shock waves in 1999.

Completely roasted and repaired in 1996.

Two Gas pump breaks in 1992. and 1999.

And more...

General comments.

The seats are uncomfortable.

The suspension is exhausted.

Brakes are too "soft" i.e. pedal must be pressed very hard.

Always need to be cranked twice when outdoor temperature is below 20C.

Gear shifting is a very delicate operation, sometimes it takes more than 5 seconds to put the handle in proper position.

Spare parts are cheap and easy to find.

Can be bought for less that 150$.

I love that car...

Oh those crazy Serbs, they sure do know a good car when they see it! (Though I'm not really sure what "Completely roasted and repaired" means.)

Actually, Amy, really bad cars have been designed and manufactured for years. From what I have read, the Metro was a small, under powered, inexpensive, no frills, but generally reliable car. The car manufacturers have, over the years, brought out many autos that were poorly planned and rushed into production before they could work the bugs out. One classic example is the Maxwell (known to us old folks as the car that Jack Benny drove), which was built in the 20's and was known for it's tendency of it's axles to break. When the company was on the verge of bankruptcy, they brought in a new automotive "hot shot", who had just turned around the fortunes of the struggling Buick company. His name was Walter P. Chrysler. He was so successful that the company was renamed for him and it soon became the third largest auto manufacturer in this country and remains so today.

A more recent example would be the Ford Edsel. Named after Henry Ford's only son. With it's "horse collar" grill and poor reliability coupled with it's high price, it is not hard to understand why this car only had a short three year run. Ironically, today, the Edsel has become very collectable because of it's unique shape and it's rarity. So hold onto your Metro, in 20 years it may also become a collector car.

Friday, September 02, 2005


Adam writes:

So Jim, here's the thing: I recently graduated from kollege, where I became quite the fan of malted barley alcoholic beverages. I've consumed copious amounts of beer, from the very lightest (Bud Light) to the very heaviest and darkest of beers (Budweiser). Are there any types of beer that exist beyond my vast horizon of taste?

Also Jim, please feel free to post any salty old rant you can think of regarding my tendency to "binge drink" large amounts of "shit beer."

Adam, I admire your daring and intuitive approach to beer, finding the vast variety all the way from Bud to Bud Light! However, you will be pleased to know that is just the beginning of the spectrum.

Beer is made of 4 main ingredients, malted barley, hops, yeast, and water. By changing these ingredients, you change your beer.

YEAST... There are two different types of yeast, lager yeast and ale yeast. All the big American beer manufacturers use lager yeast, a bottom fermenting yeast, which is cold fermented (33-35 degrees usually). As a matter of fact the cold fermentation process is called lagering. Ale yeast is a top fermenting yeast and the fermentation process is at a warmer 45 degrees or more. Thus by changing the yeast, you will create the first two divisions of beer, lager and ale.

MALTED BARLEY... We will refer to it as just plain malt. The main way to alter this ingredient is the amount of time it is roasted. Mainstream American beer, (Pilsner in style) has very little roasting of the grain hence it's light color and flavor. As you roast the grain longer, it becomes darker and more flavorful. Darker lagers would include Bock and even darker Dopplebock. Ale yeast is not conducive to the ultra light drink of a Pilsner. The light end of the Ale spectrum is the Pale Ale, which is often amber of color. Darker ales include Brown Ale, Porter, and the very dark Stout.

HOPS... Hops is a flower, similar to a tea. It is infused into the beer to impart a distinctive bitter flavor. There are different varieties of hops, but the main variation of hops is how much and how long it is steeped in the beer. Usually a well balanced beer will have more hop flavor as the malt becomes more roasted. One exception to this is India Pale Ale. India Pale Ale is a Pale Ale with a high hops content. This was introduced when the British had colonies. Hops act as a preservative, so the Pale Ale sent overseas (much to India) had a lot of hops in it. If your not sure what hops taste like, a good way to find out is to get a Pale Ale (Bass is a good choice) and taste it next to an India Pale Ale. The difference in taste is the hops.

WATER.. Easy enough. If you want to make a Lite beer, Low calorie beer, or Low carb beer, you add more water then charge more money. Good gig, if you can get it.

As for a rant, your generation's need to "binge drink" large amounts of "shit beer" as you so eloquently put it, is not technically drinking beer. You see, it's like the touchback and the safety, it is a matter of impetus. Binge drinking, be it shots, beer bongs, or beer pong, has no impetus to taste and enjoy your beverage of choice. The impetus is wholly a method of ingesting large amounts of alcohol before one passes out, pukes, or dies of alcohol poisoning. It is not truly drinking, it is only an alternative to a syringe or suppository for getting alcohol into the bloodstream.


So tell me Jim, what other cases are there of car men and money men going different ways?

Well, the two that come to mind right away are David Dunbar Buick and Louis Chevrolet. Buick was originally a plumbing man. He had his first financial success with the invention of the process of adhering porcelain to cast iron, thus bringing the world white bathtubs for years. He later began to design and build cars. One of his innovations was the overhead valve engine. The design is standard today, but most other manufacturers never incorporated it into their designs until the 40's or 50's. Among Buick's investors were the names Briscoe, Maxwell, Dort and Durant. All of whom were heavy hitters behind what eventually became General Motors and Chrysler corporations. Though Buick was a great idea man, he was never really good at following through with things. He had a tendency to jump all over the place and never finish anything (Can someone spell R-I-T-A-L-I-N?) Eventually, Buick left the car industry and died in relative poverty and obscurity in 1929 at the age of 74, working at the information desk of Detroit School of Trades.

Louis Chevrolet was quite a famous race car driver. William Crapo Durant, had started the General Motors Corporation with the idea of consolidating as many auto manufacturers under one huge umbrella. He acquired solid firms such as Buick, Oldsmobile, and Cadillac, however he also acquired a good number of dogs that dragged the company down. During one reorganization of debt, the investors made it conditional that Durant step down. While trying to make another go of it, Durant got together with Louis Cheverolet to start the Chevrolet motor company. Of course, as a race car driver, Chevrolet wanted to build a production version of the race cars he designed. Durant on the other hand wanted to build a low end, working man's car to compete directly with Henry Ford's model T. Durant got his way, had great success, and used that success to leverage a buy out of General Motors and take charge for the second time. In any case, Louis Chevrolet left the company named after him and eventually the car racing business after his brother, who also raced cars, was killed in a racing accident. Durant also got squeezed out of GM again for basically the same reason as before, trying to take on too much, too fast and finding the company on the edge of bankruptcy again. Like Buick, Durant did "died in relative poverty and obscurity" thing.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


So tell me Jim, what was the first American car to be mass produced?

Though many people think it was Henry Ford who invented mass production, that technique had been around for a hundred years. The first American car to be mass produced was the Oldsmobile. Ransom E. Olds, started manufacturing his "curved dash" Oldsmobile in 1901. That year, 425 were built and by 1904, 5,508 Oldsmobiles were built in a year. What Henry Ford did do was to incorporate the moving assembly line into car production. That brought the car to the worker rather than the workers moving to the car. Henry had the foresight to build a car that was affordable by the working man, thus turning the United States from a horse and buggy nation to a automobile nation.

As was common at the time, there were car men and there were money men. The car men would come up with the idea and design for a car and the money man would finance the venture. Inevitably the two paths would diverge and the car man went elsewhere. This happened to Ransom E. Olds and he went on to start another car company using his initials "REO". The REO originally manufactured cars, but later moved production to trucks. One model, the Speedwagon, was the inspiration for the name of the band.