Saturday, October 27, 2012

Domino Toppling

By Julie Rahm

Dominos is one of the most ancient games in the world. The oldest written mention of dominos comes from China and was written by author Zhou Mi who lived from 1232–1298. Zhou Mi listed "pupai" (gambling plaques or dominos) as items sold by peddlers during the reign of Emperor Xiaozong of Song who ruled from 1162 to 1189. Qu You who lived from 1347 to 1433 wrote the earliest known manual about dominos. Traditional Chinese domino games include Tien Gow, Pai Gow, Che Deng, and others. Dominos have been played in China for at least 800 years.
Eventually, dominos made their way to Italy in the 18th century. However, the game changed in the translation from Chinese to the European culture. The Chinese set differed from the twenty-eight-piece domino set found in Europe during the mid-18th century. European domino sets contain neither class distinctions nor the duplicates. Instead, European sets contained seven additional dominos, with six of these representing the values that result from throwing a single die with the other half of the tile left blank, and the seventh domino representing the blank-blank (0–0) combination. The thirty-two-piece Chinese domino set was made to represent each possible face of two thrown dice and thus had no blank faces. Got all that?
Interestingly, ivory dominos were routinely used during the 19th century in rural England to settle disputes over traditional grazing boundaries and were commonly referred to as "bonesticks”. Even more than the game, I like watching dominos tip over. I find it mesmerizing. According to the Guinness World Book of Records, the longest time 60 people kept a domino circle toppling continuously was 35 minutes 22 seconds. But, when I was watching the fascinating domino toppling YouTube videos, a thought occurred to me. Often, life’s decisions are like domino toppling. One domino tips and the remaining dominos continue to fall in sequence. A poor decision can lead to unfavorable consequences that topple like dominos in a line. We decision-makers do not expect unfavorable consequences. Most often, we are focused on the moment and fail to look down the line of dominos that will eventually fall once we make a fateful decision. As an example, my friend chose poorly in a mate. He drank (a lot/too much) and was unfaithful when they were engaged. She chose to marry him anyway thus toppling the first domino. The rest of the dominos fell in order. The “trust domino” fell when there was more unfaithfulness. The trust domino knocked down the “more drinking” domino. The “employment domino” fell because of the drinking. The employment domino knocked down the “financial wellness” domino. Eventually, the “prison domino” fell and ended the toppling chain of events. So, my point this week, besides dazzling you with the history of dominos, is to give you pause. Before you make a decision, consider the line of domino consequences that will fall on your behalf. Visit my web site at

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Eastern Airlines Flight 401, Part Two

By Julie Rahm
     As you recall, last week I wrote about Eastern Airlines flight 401. Flight 401 crashed into the Florida Everglades when the autopilot was inadvertently bumped off. The pilots were troubleshooting a faulty “nose landing gear down” light bulb. They were distracted by the malfunction and didn’t notice the aircraft started a gradual rate of decent. There were no visual cues because it was night and they were circling over the Everglades. The airliner impacted the ground at 227 miles-per-hour. Surprisingly, of the 176 people on board, 73 survived the ordeal. The fifteen million dollar aircraft was destroyed. And it all began with two burned out light bulbs with a replacement value of twelve dollars. Ultimately, the landing gear was found to be in the down and locked position. The accident report cited the cause of the crash as pilot error, specifically: "the failure of the flight crew to monitor the flight instruments during the final four minutes of flight and to detect an unexpected descent soon enough to prevent impact with the ground.”  Preoccupation with a malfunction of the nose landing gear position indicating system distracted the crew's attention from the instruments and allowed the descent to go unnoticed." And, for Halloween, here’s the spooky part.
Over the following months, employees of Eastern Air Lines began reporting sightings of the dead crew members, captain Robert Loft and second officer (flight engineer) Donald Repo, sitting on board other L-1011 flights. Parts of Flight 401 were salvaged after the crash investigation and refitted into other L-1011s. The reported hauntings were only seen on the planes that used the salvaged parts from Flight 401. Sightings of the spirits of Don Repo and Bob Loft spread throughout Eastern Air Lines to the point where Eastern's management warned employees that they could face dismissal if caught spreading ghost stories. Regardless, the strange tales of the ghostly airmen of Flight 401 circulated in the airline community. The apparitions of Loft and Repo were described as extremely lifelike. Their ghosts were reported by people who had known Loft and Repo. And, the ghosts were also identified from photographs by people who had not known them. Many sightings came from people in highly responsible positions like pilots and flight officers. Even a vice president of Eastern Airlines allegedly spoke with a captain he assumed was in charge of the flight before recognizing him as the late Loft.
The sightings are convincing because most have multiple witnesses. A flight's captain and two flight attendants claim to have seen and spoken to Loft before take-off and watched him vanish - an experience that left them so shaken they cancelled the flight. While Eastern Airlines publicly denied some of their planes were haunted, they reportedly removed all the salvaged parts from their L-1011 fleet. Over time, the reporting of ghost sightings stopped. So, my point this week is that it is still a strange and mysterious world! Enjoy your Halloween!

Eastern Airlines Flight 401

By Julie Rahm
Eastern Airlines Captain Robert “Bob” Loft, age 55 was a veteran of Eastern Air Lines. He was ranked 50th in seniority at the airline. On Friday, December 29, 1972 Captain Bob Loft was the pilot-in-command of Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 from New York’s JFK Airport to Miami International Airport. The aircraft was a four-month-old Lockheed L-1011. The aircraft carried 163 passengers and 13 crew members.  Captain Loft was assisted by First Officer Albert Stockstill, age 39, and Flight Engineer Donald Repo, age 51.
     The flight from New York to Miami was routine. The airliner arrived over Miami and began its approach into Miami at 11:32 PM. After lowering the landing gear, First Officer Stockstill noticed the “nose landing gear down” indicator light did not illuminate green. Green indicates the nose landing gear is down and in a locked position. So, the airliner discontinued its approach and circled the Miami airport at 2000 feet. Captain Loft engaged the autopilot holding the aircraft in level flight while they troubleshot the faulty indication. Was the nose landing gear down or not? Maybe the green bulb had simply burned out.
     As the airliner circled, the crew removed the light assembly from the dashboard to examine the bulb. Second Officer Repo was sent to the avionics bay beneath the flight deck to visually check the nose landing gear. There was a small viewing window in the avionics bay through which the nose landing gear could be seen. As the pilots troubleshot the indication, the airliner began a decent so gradual it could not be perceived by the crew. In three minutes the airliner was at half its assigned altitude. The altitude warning chime located under the engineer’s station sounded. However, Flight Engineer Repo had gone below to visually check the landing gear and the other two pilots failed to hear the warning. As the pilots turned the aircraft, First Officer Stockstill said, “We did something to the altitude.” Captain Loft replied, “What?” Stockstill questioned, “We’re still at 2,000 feet, right?” Captain Loft’s last words were, “Hey-what’s happening here?”
Eighteen miles from the end of the runway, the jetliner flew into the ground at 227 miles-per-hour. Of the 176 people onboard, 101 were killed. Seventy-five survived the ordeal. Eight of 10 flight attendants survived. Of the cockpit crew, only Flight Engineer Repo survived the initial crash. He was down in the nose electronics bay at the moment of impact. Repo was evacuated to a hospital, but later succumbed to his injuries. Stockstill was killed on impact, while Captain Loft died in the wreckage of the flight deck before he could be transported to a hospital. Investigation revealed the autopilot was inadvertently disengaged. And, a faulty bulb distracted the pilots. The pilots failed to monitor their altitude. I tell you this awful story to make this point.
Do not be distracted by the minor glitches in life. Focus on what is truly important. Read more about Eastern Flight 401 next week!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Small Wars

By Julie Rahm                                            
     The Duke of Wellington, who lived from 1769 to 1852, is credited with the quote, “Great countries don’t fight small wars.” The Duke of Wellington was actually Arthur Wellesley. He was a leading military and political figure of the 19th century. As a Field Marshall, the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. Anyway, great countries don’t fight small wars. These small wars are not big, force-on-force, state-on-state, conventional, orthodox, unambiguous wars in which success is measured by phase lines crossed or hills seized. Small wars are counterinsurgencies and low-intensity conflicts in which ambiguity rules and superior firepower does not necessarily guarantee success. And to broaden the Duke of Wellington’s words, it is more precise to say sometimes great countries fight small wars badly. Here’s why the Duke was correct.
First, big powerful countries do not necessarily lose small wars; they simply fail to win them. In fact, they often win many tactical victories on the battlefield. However, in the absence of a threat to survival, the big powers’ failure to quickly and decisively attain their strategic aim causes them to lose domestic support.
Second, weaker opponents must be strategically circumspect enough to avoid confronting the great military powers in conventional wars. Often, the seemingly inferior opponent generally exhibits superior will, demonstrated by a willingness to accept higher costs and to persevere against many odds. “Victory or Death” is not simply a statement on a bumper sticker; it is a dilemma that embodies small war conflicts. In addition, great-power militaries do not innovate well, particularly when the required innovations and adaptations lie outside the scope of conventional war. But, I digress. I once worked for the Army and wrote for Parameters, the Army War College Quarterly Journal. Strange but true. Anyway, I tell you all that to tell you this.
If any of your relationships are like small wars, stop fighting them. Be like the Duke of Wellington’s great country and don’t fight those small wars. Avoid the small conflicts. Be a strategic thinker and behave accordingly.  An important skill is the ability to discern what is important and not important. If an issue is not important, you might consider letting it go. Do not get swept into an un-meaningful argument or confrontation. Rise above the issue and consider the long term. In our home, we say “you can be right or you can be happy.” As a personal example, my husband John is an insufferable Philadelphia Eagles fan. And, if you’ve read my column at all, you realize, because of my childhood, I am a Dallas Cowboy fan. In addition, I have not yet forgiven Michael Vick for torturing his dogs. (“Hide your beagle, he’s an Eagle.”) To make matters worse, both teams compete against one another in the NFC East. Anyway, I overlook John’s Eagles fan affliction that flaws his personality. He can’t help it! To end the small wars in your life, contact me by visiting my website at
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