Saturday, January 26, 2013

Scribble Nation

By Julie Rahm

I totally missed the date. January 23rd was National Handwriting Day. In 1977, the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association created National Handwriting Day. According to the group’s website, the holiday offers “a chance for all of us to re-explore the purity and power of handwriting.” National Handwriting Day in the United States is a time for acknowledging the history and influence of penmanship. It is celebrated on the birthday of John Hancock. The American founding father is most remembered for his iconic signature on the Declaration of Independence. John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence large enough so the King of England, with poor eyesight, could read his signature. I think John Hancock would have been the first one hung should the revolution had failed.
Anyway, computers have displaced penmanship. As a result, schools have eliminated penmanship classes.  Since the 1980s, U.S. children receive little formal training. This was not the case in many European countries, where students are given rigorous handwriting instruction. While penmanship studies haven’t completely disappeared from the American curriculum, school children today spend more time mastering computer skills than the neat, standardized cursive of their parents and grandparents. As early as 1955, the Saturday Evening Post had dubbed the United States a “nation of scrawlers.” Studies show that handwriting abilities have largely declined since then. Perhaps we have lost our appreciation for the common pencil.
A typical pencil can draw a line 35 miles long or write about 45,000 words. And, most ball-point pens will draw a line 4,000 to 7,500 feet long. Did you know that plant-growers mark their plant labels with pencil because it is one marking that won’t fade in sunlight? Do you dream about pencils? Seeing a pencil in your dream indicates that you are making a temporary impact in a situation. It may also suggest that a relationship may not last long. Dreaming that you are sharpening a pencil, suggests that you need to be more flexible in your way of thinking. And, pencils have been painted yellow ever since the 1800s. During the 1800s, the best graphite in the world came from China. American pencil makers wanted a special way to tell people that their pencils contained Chinese graphite. In China, the color yellow is associated with royalty and respect. American pencil manufacturers began painting their pencils bright yellow to communicate this "regal" feeling and association with China. Today, 75% of the pencils sold in the United States are painted yellow! Even more, left-handed pencils do exist. It's all about the text printed on the pencil. On a right-handed pencil the text runs from the tip to the eraser so right-handed users can read it when held. Left-handed pencils have the text printed eraser to tip so left-handed users can read it easily! Now you know.
So, if you want to improve a relationship with someone, pick up a pencil or pen and write them a handwritten note. Your effort will be well rewarded. Then, visit my website at 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Cosmic Inflation

By Julie Rahm 
One of my favorite television shows is the “Big Bang Theory.” The show features four young men and their lives as research physicists. I enjoy the show because, in school, I majored in physics. I attended classes with these personality types and I find their characters entertainingly (and perhaps personally) familiar.  Dating physicists is not for the meek! Anyway, there is not a lot wrong with the Big Bang Theory television show. It is well done. However, there is something wrong with the creation of the universe Big Bang theory.
The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that describes the early development of the Universe. According to the theory, the Universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state, which expanded rapidly. This rapid expansion caused the Universe to cool and resulted in its present continuously expanding state. According to the most recent measurements and observations, the Big Bang occurred approximately 13.75 billion years ago, which is thus considered the age of the Universe. After its initial expansion, the Universe cooled sufficiently to allow energy to be converted into various subatomic particles, including protons, neutrons, and electrons. That’s the Big Bang theory in a nutshell.
While the Big Bang theory successfully explains the cosmic microwave background radiation and the origin of the light elements, it has three significant problems.
The Flatness Problem: The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) was a NASA Explorer mission that launched in June 2001 to make fundamental measurements of cosmology. WMAP has determined the geometry of the universe is nearly flat. However, under Big Bang cosmology, curvature grows with time. A universe as flat as we see it today would require an extreme fine-tuning of conditions in the past, which would be an unbelievable coincidence.
The Horizon Problem: Distant regions of space in opposite directions of the sky are so far apart that, assuming standard Big Bang expansion, they could never have been in contact with each other. This is because the light travel time between them exceeds the age of the universe. Yet the uniformity of the cosmic microwave background temperature tells us that these regions must have been in contact with each other in the past.
The Monopole Problem: Big Bang cosmology predicts that a very large number of heavy, stable "magnetic monopoles" should have been produced in the early universe. However, magnetic monopoles have never been observed, so if they exist at all, they are much more rare than the Big Bang theory predicts.
To reconcile the Big Bang problems, Inflation Theory developed by Alan Guth, Andrei Linde, Paul Steinhardt, and Andy Albrecht offers solutions. It proposes a period of extremely rapid (exponential) expansion of the universe prior to the more gradual Big Bang expansion. Inflation is now considered an extension of the Big Bang theory since it explains the above puzzles so well, while retaining the basic paradigm of a homogeneous expanding universe. So, now you know!
To keep your personal universe expanding, visit my website at 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Cutting Corners

By Julie Rahm

     Before you dismiss this week’s column as the typical “do not cut corners” diatribe, let me assure you I am a corner-cutting advocate where it is safe, legal, and ethical to do so. In life, there are more opportunities to advantageously cut corners than not. Obvious corner-cutting opportunities start with driving the car. If you’re headed south and west to Interstate 95, rather than taking Highway 70 all the way to I-95, in Goldsboro, you could take Highway 13 south and cut the corner. Other corner-cutting opportunities are more complicated.
     I have a Masters degree in Industrial Engineering from Georgia Tech. During most of the curriculum, manufacturing efficiency, i.e. cutting corners, was the focus of my studies. My favorite industrial engineering story is one that starts on a toothpaste tube assembly line. The assembly line wasn’t working properly. Too often, the filled toothpaste tubes were not being inserted into their little cardboard boxes. Consequently, empty boxes were being wrapped, shipped and sold! The company management was exasperated and finally hired a bunch of diploma-certified industrial engineers to solve the problem. At seven-digit expense, the engineers designed and installed an elaborate scale that would automatically weigh the toothpaste boxes and divert the light weight, empty toothpaste boxes off the assembly line. The system was sophisticated, expensive and itself needed a lot of maintenance. However, it worked as advertised and the company management was pleased with the solution.  One fine day, company managers toured the assembly line to view their success and discovered their multi-million dollar fix was not operating. A high-school-dropout assembly line worker was queried. The uneducated worker reported management’s sophisticated scale device had broken down months before. With the sophisticated scale broken for months, company management couldn’t understand why the empty box problem had not returned. The assembly line worker stated he moved a big electric fan next to the toothpaste box conveyor belt. The electric fan blew the empty boxes off the belt! Problem solved! Oh by the way, the cost for cutting this corner with the electric fan was zero. The industrial engineers were deservedly humiliated.
     What about corner cutting in relationships? Corner cutting in relationships is usually perceived as moving too fast. If, on your first date together, your date wants to meet the rest of your family, there is too much corner cutting! However, on-line dating services are institutionalized corner-cutters and designed to economize your efforts. Prospective mates are personality matched. Time spent discerning attributes is not wasted. Your date arrives with some relationship framework already constructed. Like pre-fabricated housing, your relationship gets delivered with some parts already put together. Like it or not, statistics report over 30-percent of relationships start on-line. 
     So my point this week is to create awareness and enable us to recognize when corners are being cut. Sometimes it will be advantageous and sometimes not.  Either way, I recommend awareness and a conscious decision. To gain awareness and decision-making skills in your life, visit my website at   

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


By Julie Rahm

           Chaos theory is the study of nonlinear dynamics in which seemingly random events are actually predictable from simple deterministic equations. Chaos means a state of disorder. However, in chaos theory, the term is defined more precisely. Although there is no universally accepted scientific definition of chaos, a commonly used definition says that for a system to be classified as chaotic, it must be sensitive to initial conditions, it must be topologically mixing, and its periodic orbits must be dense. Got all that?
An early pioneer of chaos theory was Edward Lorenz. In 1961, Lorenz was using a simple digital computer for his weather simulations. Lorenz’s computer worked with 6-digit precision, but the variables, when printed, were rounded off to a 3-digit number. This difference is tiny and should have had practically no effect. However, Lorenz discovered that small changes in initial conditions produced large changes in the long-term outcome. Lorenz's discovery showed that detailed atmospheric modeling cannot make long-term weather predictions. Lorenz went on to publish his famous 1972 paper, “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?” In short, weather is usually predictable only about a week ahead. Sorry Skip Waters. Weather is a chaotic system.
          Next is topologic mixing. In informal terms, a system is chaotic if exactly where you start has a huge impact on where you'll end up. And, no matter how close together two points are, no matter how long their trajectories are close together, at any time, they can suddenly go in completely different directions. And, no matter how far apart two points are, no matter how long their trajectories stay far apart, eventually, they'll wind up in almost the same place. All of this is a complicated way of saying that in a chaotic system, you don’t know what the heck is going to happen! No matter how long the system's behavior appears to be perfectly stable and predictable, there's absolutely no guarantee that the behavior is actually in a periodic orbit. It could, at any time, diverge into something totally unpredictable. There's a reason that chaotic systems are an analysis nightmare. The most miniscule errors in any aspect of anything will produce drastic divergence.
         Lastly, in chaos, there must be dense periodic orbits. In a dynamical system, an orbit is just a set of points through the phase space of the system. It may never repeat. But, it’s an orbit. For example, if a log floats down a river, the path that it takes is an orbit. But it obviously can’t repeat – the log isn’t going to go back up to the beginning of the river. An orbit that repeats is called a periodic orbit.  Make sense?
       So, this week, my point is that your life is not a chaotic system. It may seem chaotic. But, it doesn’t meet the three requirements. You can fix the turmoil. To quiet the chaos in your life contact me through my website   
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