Thursday, January 26, 2006


I know I'm a little behind on my Ask Jim duties. I have a few questions that have been asked but I have not answered. Don't worry, I have not forgotten them and I will get around to them. My goal is to have at least one post a week. Sheena's question is a pretty easy one so we'll bump her up ahead of some of the others.

Sheena writes....

I had some delicious bleu cheese today and was wondering: why is it that some kinds of mold will make you sick (that stuff that grows on bread), while others are edible?

The simple answer is that molds, just like any other classification of plant or animal, have as many differences as similarities. Molds are a fungus, just like mildew, mushrooms, and yeast. As we know from the mushroom family, some are very edible and some are very poisonous.

Each form of life has its own niche. They eat different things. They live in different environments. Bacteria live in our digestive track and help us digest our food, but if those same bacteria get into our bloodstream, they can kill us. What may be poisonous to one animal may be sustenance to another. Sometimes it is not the mold it self that can make us sick, but the toxins it produces.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Again, we are leaving the usual Ask Jim format. This time we are going to do a Jim's Show and Tell post (even though I have been scooped by Anna's BLOG of Doom). I've been an electrician for almost 30 years and there are always things that I have never done before. This past Friday, I managed to take one more thing off my list of things I have never done. That was to climb a tower crane to do electric work. I knew the job was coming up and I had volunteered to do it, so I brought my camera to work to record the event.

Here is the crane. I was told it is a 120 foot crane, but that would be to the top of the boom extention. I have to climb the white section. The horn that I have to replace is just below the cabin. That part is 100' high. Not very high as tower cranes go but as I have not done high work for many years, it is plenty high for me.

As you look at the red section, you can see 3 sections plus the tower extension. The bottom third is the bottom half of the turret, the middle third is the top half of the turret and the top third is the cabin. The horn that I have to replace is under the floor of the cabin (roof of the turret).

At the base looking up.

The 90' ladder I had to climb. Every 15-20 feet there is a platform to stop and rest. I only passed one, by the time I reached the second I realized should stop at all the others.

This is the new horn. Notice on top, the window is for the operator to look straight down.

Here is the horn bell. The boom is straight out and the cable holding the hook is right down the middle of the picture. The crane operator is in the process of lowering my tools down to my ground man. To the left you can see the Arch which is about 4 1/2 miles away.

The back boom and counterweight are looking almost due west. The tall buildings on the right are in downtown Clayton which is about 7 miles away.

And that's it. I made it back to tell the story. Climbing the tower crane reminded me of the time I went snowmobiling. It comes under the category of "Been there, done that, it was interesting but I'd be very happy to never do it again".

Friday, January 13, 2006


Adam writes...

So anyhow Jim, I'll put it this way: I was in San Francisco last weekend and I drove by SBC Park, one of the more recognizable stadiums in MLB today. It made me think of all the great parks in baseball, new and old: Fenway, the Polo Grounds, the Madison Mallards Duck Pond, Joe Robbie Stadium, you know -- all the great ones.

So shoot me straight here: What do you think are the greatest stadiums of all time, and what makes a great stadium great? Big? Old? Unique? Maybe it's something intangible that you can't even describe. Still, I feel like you've got enough steam up there to blow me some sort of answer.

Bseaball stadiums are like other material goods, they are very trendy. If you look on the internet to get a rating of best stadiums, you get a list that includes all the newest and all the oldest. Fenway park is always on the list of best stadiums. I've been there, I love it. Its small, intimate setting was so different than the experience that I'm used to at expansive Busch stadium that you would best have to describe it as quaint. On the other hand, getting there is a pain, parking there is expensive, and have you ever heard of "obstructed view" seats? Believe me, if you ever get one of those seats, it is a challenge to watch the game. Then there are stadiums such as Philadelphia's cookie cutter Veteran's Stadium. No one has anything but bad things to say about that place, but I've never been there so I don't know why. I'll tell you what, let's look at the history of stadiums, what created the trends and how those stadiums affected the game. After all, forget what other people tell you, the best stadiums are the ones you enjoy the most.

When baseball first got started, they had no stadiums. They played in parks with no fences to create home runs. The ball itself was also softer so it didn't travel as far. The way to win baseball games in the late 1800s was, in the words of Wee Willie Keeler, to "hit'em where they ain't". Keeler played for the National League Baltimore Orioles, a team noted for rough and tumble, down and dirty ball. They would eke out runs one at a time, by any method possible. They were famous for hit and run plays, suicide squeeze plays, bunts, sacrifices, and their famous "Baltimore chop", a play where the batter would swing down on the ball to make it bounce so high that the runner would be on first before the ball could be fielded. Their all-star third baseman, John McGraw was adept at hitting foul balls and this was when fouls were not counted as strikes. So adept at it was he that many give him credit (or blame) for the institution of the rule counting fouls as the first two strikes. This was a game of a lot of action and a lot of strategy.

By the early 1900s, Baseball became a stable viable source of entertainment. Teams started building stadiums (actually "ballparks") that would last for a long time and more importantly not burn down. Two of those stadiums were Chicago's Wrigley field and Boston's Fenway park. Those stadiums were small by today's standard, holding 30-35,000 fans. Many times, dimensions were dictated by available space. Fenway's famous Green Monster was a product of two space limitations. First the left field fence was very short because of lack of space of the property the park was built on. Because of the short fence, home runs would sail out of the park through the windows of the shops across the street. To appease the shop owners, they built the tall wall that has become an icon to the quirky dimensions of the stadiums of that era.

Several things happened in the late teens. Parks with small dimensions were built, the ball was wound tighter, and Babe Ruth came along. The Babe, hit home runs at a pace that eclipsed anything anyone had ever seen. What many fail to realize is the first time Babe Ruth broke the home run record, he bested the record by two for a total of 29. Only later did he go on to break it again with 54 and finally with 59. He more than doubled the record over the course of 3 years! Everyone started swinging for the fences and hitting home runs. All that strategy of the 19th century went by the wayside. The way to win games was to get a slugger to hit home runs. Why take the chance of getting caught stealing a base, when your chances were better that someone would drive you in with a homer, scoring two runs?

Then there was the Polo Grounds that the Giants played in for years. The team had played in 4 previous versions of the Polo grounds, the original actually being Polo Grounds. As each incarnation of the stadium was built, the odd dimensions were kept. With dimensions as short as 256 1/4' down the first base line and as long as 505' at straight dead away center field, there must have been some very strange baseball played there. As a matter of fact, after seeing these dimensions, it brings into perspective just how amazing Willy May's catch was during the 1954 World Series was. But I digress. The point is, I have found no reason to keep these awkward dimensions, but they did. Was the Polo Grounds a great ballpark, or a freak? I know Bobby Thompson fell in love with it when he hit "the shot heard 'round the world" to win the pennant for the Giants in 1951.

Along came the 60's and someone came up with the idea of multipurpose stadiums. Busch Stadium was the first and even though it wasn't the last to be built, it was the last to stand. The idea was to have a building that could house not only baseball but football, soccer, circuses, rock concerts and many other outdoor venues. From an economic standpoint it made a world of sense. When Houston built their new domed stadium, they realized that grass would not grow inside. Monsanto came to the rescue with artificial plastic grass. It took its common name from the stadium that created the need for it in the first place... Astroturf.

For some reason, the National League hopped on the multipurpose bandwagon. The much maligned "cookie cutter" stadiums popped up in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Montreal, and the list goes on. The huge expanses of outfield and the smooth fast surface of Astroturf made hitting home runs difficult. The bad hops that plagued grass stadiums were fewer by far, but the ball traveled so fast that it was hard to catch up to. This spawned a return to the strategies of the previous century. The National League found that using pitchers that would make the batters hit ground ball more valuable than ones that threw strike outs. The scrappy, eke out one run at a time philosophy came back to the forefront. The National League game became intrinsically different than the American League game. In the National League the stolen base was common. In the American League, the home run still dominated the game.

One thing that was lost in the newer, bigger stadiums was the intimate atmosphere of the smaller ballparks. A fan in the front row of Busch stadium was no closer to home plate than a fan in the 20th row of Fenway Park.

When Baltimore rebuilt Camden yards, they realized that one of the appeals to baseball was its past and its heritage. When they had the architectural firm HOK design their new Camden Yards, they took all those retro looks and lines, put them together with modern construction techniques and had the best of both worlds. Intimacy of the old, luxury of the new. The baseball world was so smitten with the new Camden Yards that everyone had to have one.

The cookie cutters were torn down, astro turf was torn out, fences were moved in, stadiums were transformed into parks again, and as far as I know, they were all designed by the same firm, HOK.

How did this affect baseball? Home runs, here we come again.

Surely, there were a few dogs in stadium history. Probably the worst was Olympic Stadium in Montreal. It was going to be the first stadium with a retractable roof, but when they were done, there was no roof. It sat that way for ten years until the roof was finally completed, but it took another two years before it would retract. That only lasted a few years. Then a 55 ton concrete beam fell, closing the stadium for a while. The retractable roof that didn't retract wore out and had to be replaced with a roof that didn't retract on purpose.

Many of the stadiums that people complained about were just never maintained properly.

So which are the truly great stadiums and which are the dogs? I don't know. I do know, for as much as I enjoyed watching Mark McGwyre hit 70 home runs, I miss Whitey ball. I think quirks were wonderful when they were dictated by surroundings, but look at Houston's "Whatever Brand Name" dome. Those Crawford boxes are the stuff cheap home runs are made of. The "Crosley Field" hill and "Yankee Stadium" flagpole in center field are injuries waiting to happen. I have a real problem with quirks that are totally contrived.

If the cookie cutters were so bad, why did people cry at the last game they attended at Busch. How does it make any sense to tear down the last remaining stadium that represented a whole era in baseball to build a new stadium that has the feel of stadiums that were built a hundred years ago? Isn't one of the joys of baseball the fact that each stadium is a little different? One of the biggest complaints about the cookie cutters was they all looked the same. Then why is baseball so intent on building a whole new set of stadiums that look the same? I think Busch would have been the Fenway Park or Wrigley Field of the 60's. A stadium that represented a time when baseball was different, and in many ways better. So why?!... Oh, yeah... Duh!... MONEY!


For those of you who haven't followed the comments, here is an Ask Jim that was asked and then later answered by the man who asked it...

Eric wrote...
"McDonalds has the weirdest spoons I've ever noticed. I order a 'McFlurry' a lot and end up with the same type of strange spoon. Why is it shaped like that? I can't seem to find a logical reason by myself, so I'm relying on you to help me out. Thanx"

Then Anna wrote...
"I second Eric's question. Those spoons baffle me.
For an interesting fact on old McDonalds spoons, go here."

Having never had a McFlurry and following Anna's lead, I came to the erroneous conclusion that the spoon in question had to do with being used for drug paraphernalia. Wrong spoon.

Then when Anna was home, she helped my research by bringing home a McFlurry and spoon for me to inspect. Eric also helped me by bringing me a McFlurry spoon. It was as puzzling to me as to anyone. Finally, I received the following comments...

Eric wrote...
"The reason for the McDonalds spoons has been revealed!!! The spoons are hollow and have a hook on the end of it so it can be attached to the mixer. That way the spoon can act as the spinner thing and then it can be given to the person that ordered it. It saves a lot more time and energy because they don't have to clean the mixer after every use."

And Alan wrote...
"The spoon is a specially designed removable agitator for the McFlurry machine.The machine is actually a Vita-Mix machine known as Mix'n Machine."

Then Anna wrote....
"WOWZAHS! Eric just enlightened my life. I had lost hope for the meaning of the McDonald's spoon design. How did you figure that out, Eric?"

To which Eric replied...
"I asked"

This just shows that Ask Jim can be a group research project. I bet many of those who are in college wish there were more group research projects because they are so enjoyable and fulfilling. Don't you agree?


Eric writes...

All right Jim, here's another for you: Why is an animal born an albino? And could an animal be part albino? I mean some of it's skin is white and other parts are the normal color?

There are many sources of information about ALBINO ANIMALS on the web. This is an excerpt from one page that answers your question.

"Albinism is due to one of several gene mutations that affect the production of normal pigmentation. True albino animals lack melanin and are white with no markings and with unpigmented pink eyes. In some species there is also a form known as blue-eyed (or "partial") albinism. There are also various degrees of patchy albinism where only part of the body is affected."

There used to be a great example of patchy albinism right by your house. For several years there was a crow that was all white with black eyes and a small black patch on one of it's wings, that lived near the intersection of Sappinton and Manchester roads.

Friday, January 06, 2006


Eric writes...

I've been thinking about the Humboldt squids, often nicknamed "red devils" that lives on the west coast of the Americas. What really puzzles me is that they have THREE HEARTS!!! They only grow up to 6 ft. and Sperm whales are much bigger and only have one heart, so it can't be its size. Plus both Sperm whales AND "red devils" live in the deep ocean. I just don't get it!! Do all squids have three hearts, or is the Humboldt unique?

Not only do all squids have three hearts but most, if not all cephalopods have three hearts. Cephalopods include squid, octopuses, and nautili (and yes, those are the proper plurals). They are among the "blue blood" of the animal kingdom. I mean literally, they are among the blue blood. They have blue blood and three hearts. Unlike mammals who have hemoglobin in their blood to carry oxygen, they have hemocyanin, hence the color of their blood. To move their blue blood, they have three hearts, one heart to pump blood though each of their two sets of gills and one heart to pump blood through the rest of their bodies. When you think of it, that is not all that different than us. We have but one heart but it has four chambers. Two chambers pump blood through our lungs and two pump the blood through the rest of the body.

I believe the problem arises that blood traveling through the lungs (or gills), travels through very small tubes (capillaries) while blood through the rest of the body travels through large tubes (arteries and veins). The resistance is much greater in the smaller tubes so much of the pressure is used up just getting oxygen into the blood, therefore, different bodies have overcome this problem different ways. Some earthworms have four pairs of hearts, others have five. A cockroach has a chain of hearts, in all totaling to 13, though some consider it one 13 chambered heart. Jelly fish. like some people I know, have no hearts at all!

This brings us all to one of the most amazing octopuses in history. The animal's owner, Captain Queeg goes into a harbor bar with his pet octopus and says 'I'll bet $50.00 that no one here has a musical instrument that this here octopus can't play.'

The people in the bar look around and someone fetches out an old mandolin. The octopus has a look, picks it up, tunes it, and starts playing a few choruses of 'Rawhide.' Captain Queeg quickly pockets the fifty bucks.

The next bar patron comes up with a trumpet. The octopus takes the horn, loosens up the keys, licks its chops and starts playing 'Stella By Starlight.' Yet another $50.00 is handed over to the smiling captain.

The bar owner has been watching all of this and disappears into the back room, returning a few minutes later with a set of bagpipes under his arm. He puts them on the bar and says to the captain and his octopus,

'Now, I'll bet you $100.00 your damn octopus can't play that!'

The octopus takes a look at the bagpipes, lifts it up, turns it over, has another look from a different angle and then starts the process over again.

Puzzled, the captain comes over to the octopus and says, 'What are you waiting around for? Hurry up and play the damn thing!'

'Play it, hell!' frowned the octopus. 'As soon as I figure out how to get her pajamas off, we're outta here!'