Don't count on rubber

Q: If you're relatively safe from a lightning strike in a car because of the insulating tires, does this mean cars with bigger tires protect you even better? ­H. Ford

 A: Not at all, says University of Florida's Martin Uman in All About Lightning. "Lightning which travels many miles through insulating air is not about to be halted by half an inch or even a yard of insulating rubber." The tires won't prevent a lightning strike to a car, as is commonly believed, but the current will indeed tend to flow in the vehicle's metal skin instead of in the occupant. Then the lightning will ground itself by leaping through the air beneath, by following the wet surface of a tire, or by going right through a tire, possibly exploding it. "For maximum security," Uman says, "keep windows rolled up, and hands off any car metal or the radio."

Q: Losing badly at a casino roulette wheel, you discover you're down to your last $100. Airfare home is $200. What's your best bet to avoid the long walk– one big bet or lots of little ones (staying with your game)? ­D. Trump

A: You could try a sequence of dollar bets on either red or black (47 percent each try– 18R, 18B, plus 0, 00), hoping for a long run of luck. Or you could go for $50, hoping to win twice, then if you lose once you still have a chance. Or maybe just go for broke with the whole $100.

General rule: The more bets you place, the more the house odds tend to accumulate against you. For instance, a calculation based on $1 roulette bets in a series shows the chances of growing $100 to $200 before going bust are less than 1 in 37,000!

The problem here is you have to win 100 bets more than you lose, in a limited time. Picture flipping a coin and trying to get 100 tails ahead of heads, say. And that's with even odds. If you try the $50 bets, winning the first two will get you your extra $100 22 percent of the time (.47 x .47). Or some other short combination (like L-W-L-W-W-W) still might do it, with your chances overall at 45 percent. But if you go for broke, you'll have almost an even-up chance (47 percent, your best bet) of winning wings home.

Q: Over-weening pride explains much about human behavior, such as 90 percent of business managers rating their own performance as "superior" (from actual surveys), 90 percent of divorced people blaming their spouse for the breakup, nearly 100 percent of drivers ranking themselves high in skill and safety, even those once hospitalized for accidents they caused. What's the story here? ­B.O. Zo

A: It's common sense that people take prideful credit for what works out well, while kissing off their failures, say psychologists Clifford Mynatt and Michael Doherty in Understanding Human Behavior. But there may be one interesting exception– when people deal with gadgets. For instance, inability to program a VCR is common, even among techie types, but the machines rarely get blamed. Instead, users get angry, frustrated, and feel incompetent.

Cars, computers, even showers fit here. Mynatt describes visiting friends and trying to take a shower but finding that the knob wouldn't work. The tub knob worked just fine. So what was the secret?

"I finally had to get out of the shower, put on my clothes, go downstairs to find my friends and ask. Pretty embarrassing." It turned out there was a small button, unseeable until he bent over and lowered his head beneath the tub knob. "I felt like an idiot."

Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com