Lightning Strikes Twice

I’ve always understood that big buildings use lightning rods to attract lightning strikes away from smaller buildings nearby, but understanding that in theory isn’t the same as seeing it in action in this photograph that Alain Aguilar contributed to The Big Picture last week (of a storm in May):

Lightning, from The Big Picture

Lightning, from The Big Picture

The entire series of storm pictures is fascinating.

Mila’s Daydreams



While baby Mila Enersen is sleeping, her mother imagines what Mila might be dreaming and enacts it in reality.

She might be a rock star, be surrounded by giant candy, or have an imaginary friend. Mrs. Enersen explains, “I use only few minutes per picture, including creating idea, implementation and editing, ’cause I don’t want to disturb her sleeping and most of my time is for my family.”

This reminds me of an Eddie from Ohio song titled Hey Little Man (recreated there by Madrigals at the Messiah Methodist Bazaar).

"A Space Odyssey 2010"

"A Space Odyssey 2010"

Are you gonna dream about the colors of the rainbow and the pot of gold that’s waiting at the end

May luck be by your side and the spirit be your guide

And may you know the blessing and may you know the joy and may you know the love of a true friend

(via Kottke)


When I moved across the country earlier this year, I bought comprehensive “we’ll replace anything that’s damaged” insurance from Mayflower, but opted for a $250 deductible.

Then this happened:

Mayflower Fail

Mayflower Fail

I don’t know what happened on the road, but after watching the way my movers were plopping these “Fragile” boxes on the floor, I’m not surprised they’re torn up.

In the end I lost about $250 of assorted belongings, which conveniently means that if I filed a claim I’d get nothing but Mayflower’s sympathies.

My advice: pay slightly more and go without the deductible.

Cuckoo’s Egg

Clifford Stoll wrote The Cuckoo’s Egg in 1989, telling the true story of how he started investigating 75¢ of computer time nobody had paid for and ended up catching an international hacker passing through his computers to gain access to military secrets. The classic story is a fascinating mix of technical detail and the thrilling action of hunting an invisible criminal through the phone lines.

My favorite passage, though, comes at the very end. After the overseas spy is caught and brought to justice, another hacker slips into Stoll’s system and for a moment the whole process starts over again. Stoll writes:

He got in through an unprotected astronomy computer run by a couple of infrared astronomers. They didn’t care about security . . . they just needed to connect to the network. Because I exchange programs with them, we’d set up our systems to work as one—you didn’t need a password to move from their computer to mine.

A couple days later the SOB called me. Said his name was Dave. From Australia. “I broke in to show that your security isn’t very good.”

“But I don’t want to secure my computer,” I replied. “I trust other astronomers.”

And that’s the moral, as true today as in the 1980s. We don’t want to secure most systems. Certainly I wouldn’t want my online bank account accessible to common thieves, but a database of research or a casual blog shouldn’t require elaborate protective measures.

This is just as true in the physical world. I wouldn’t put my valuables in a bank vault with no lock, but the classroom doors where I went to college were always open.

Unfortunately, in software0 leaving any door unlocked can grant access to resources beyond the application itself, so we sink a fortune into securing even the most trivial of software against all imaginable attacks. That’s a high price to pay for protection against the pranks of mischievous hackers.

Homer Fenster

When I changed the channel to see which episode of The Simpsons was on tonight, Sophie got excited immediately. She leapt up and announced:

It’s Homer Fenster!

Uh oh. That can’t be good.

For Freestanding Emergencies Only

I recently took my first trip on Southwest Airlines, with my first layover in Chicago Midway. It’s a fairly mundane airport, really, though anyone who’s seen the show Airline will recognize the scenery.

While strolling down the concourse, however, these doors caught my attention:

For Emergency Only

For Emergency Only

Beside the completely open passageway spanning the entire width of the concourse are two tiny doors to be used “For Emergency Only.” Please, in a calm and orderly manner, move over to the right, open the door, and step through.

(Full disclosure: a gap in the ceiling suggests a gate can be lowered across the concourse to seal it off, but this does not make a freestanding “emergency only” door any less hilarious.)

The ◊ Ouch Lane

Some cities build dedicated bike lanes to encourage residents to travel by bicycle on city streets. Others build dedicated lanes for busses to ensure that busses can travel faster than cars in heavy traffic.

Boulder, Colorado, unable to decide which of these options to pursue, combined the two:

Bike Bus Only

Bike Bus Only

I wish I could’ve been at that planning meeting. “I’ve got it! Let’s take the smallest, most fragile vehicle on the road — the bicycle — and make it share a lane with the largest, heaviest, most massive vehicle! This plan is sheer elegance in its simplicity!”

Fooled You!

The Boulder Creek Festival this year (back at the end of May) fell on a particularly hot day, so we were excited to see this booth in our wanderings:

Lemonade! Maybe!

Lemonade! Maybe!

This appears, at first glance, to be a fairly typical lemonade stand. But upon closer inspection the tiny yellow sign in the window (beside the Visa and MasterCard logos) says, “This booth does not sell lemonade.”

They seem to have failed to grasp a certain key element of the “lemonade stand” concept.

(Full disclosure: another lemonade stand was located in the adjacent space, and the sign clarified that not selling lemonade was part of their contract with the Creek Festival. However, I maintain that having a lemonade stand that doesn’t sell lemonade is a bit misleading with or without a contract in play.)