NOTAMs are now Notices to Air Missions

I recently discovered that the FAA term “NOTAM” (the acronym for Notice to Airmen) changed to stand for Notice to Air Missions in December of 2021. NOTAMs are useful information prior to conducting any flight; they can warn you of closed runways, firefighting activity, aerobatic activity, equipment that is out of service, and more. I always find it kind of amusing (and archaic) to be referred to as an “airman”, and it’s great to see that the FAA is catching up with the fact that not all of us are men. The first female pilot to receive a license in the U.S. was Harriet Quimby in 1911… 110 years before this change. As of 2021, there were 64,979 female U.S. pilots, of 720,605 total (9% female).

NOTAMs are useful, but regrettably cryptic in their language (e.g., “WI” means “within” and “U/S” means “unserviceable”). Recently I planned a flight with a friend to the Salem airport for lunch. Included in the NOTAMs for Salem that day was:


I did some googling and searching to finally figure out that this meant that certain firefighting equipment was not available, so “air carrier” operations were not permitted (but general aviation, my kind of flying, was). This was puzzling because Salem doesn’t have any air carrier (commercial) operations. Because flying to an airport that is closed is generally a bad idea (not to mention embarrassing), I called the Salem airport manager to be sure I understood the NOTAM. He confirmed that I could still fly in, and mentioned that they are required by the FAA to post this NOTAM even though they have no commercial service. In this case the (irrelevant?) warning just led to a lot of extra questions and effort – but maybe it is useful if an airline flight has an emergency and is trying to decide where to land? I dunno. It also occurred to me that even as the pilot of a small Cessna, I too might want to have firefighting capability present if I needed it… :) However, my flight was uneventful and the lunch was fun!

Now that they’ve updated NOTAM, perhaps they’ll find a way to update terminology for the pilot’s license (actually a certificate) itself. I likewise find it amusing and quaint that I hold an Airman’s certificate to fly a plane.

Wasps carry grass… and other things

While cleaning my windows today, I removed the screens and made an unpleasant discovery. Some insect had wedged bits of material into little nests around the edges of two window screens. I brushed it off, noticing that each nest looked like brown dried grass with a bright green squishy center. Then I looked more closely at what plopped onto the ground. The bright green bits looked like baby grasshoppers. Were they grasshopper nests? (In the windows?!)

Then a wasp flew up… carrying one of the bright green grasshopper like things, which was a bit larger than it was! It flew to where the screen had been and kept bumping along the window frame looking for the nesting site (presumably). Was it food? What? This is exactly what it looked like:

Some googling brought me to this description of the grass-carrying wasp, an insect I’d never heard of. Apparently they bite off bits of grass to wedge them in “cavities.” They then hunt for tree crickets. When they find a cricket, they sting it, paralyze it, and carry it off to sequester in a grass-lined nest, then lay an egg on it. When the egg hatches, the larva can immediately start eating the cricket. I was nauseated by the description, yet simultaneously felt bad at having cleaned out all the nests, after reading the very sympathetic description of this “beneficial wasp” at the above link. (Apparently ridding the trees of crickets that feast on them is good, and the wasps are also pollinators and not aggressive.)

Still, I don’t really want them in my windows! And I think my forest offers many other hollow woody crevices for the wasps to populate. To me the most salient part of their behavior is the cricket-hunting, paralysis, and egg-laying, but I guess the grass nesting is kind of interesting too (it’s not just for the birds!). I hope they enjoy feasting on the local tree crickets!

Why it’s called ascorbic acid

Recently I came across this fascinating discussion of the mystery that scurvy posed: a painful and ultimately fatal disease for which the cause was unknown. Was it caused by bacteria? Something in food? Food preservation processes? Overwork? It was a major issue for sailors in the British Royal Navy, including Captain Scott:

Scott and Scurvy

But what makes this an especially captivating story is not how the cause was found, but instead how it was subsequently LOST, impacting many people’s lives for the worse, before being rediscovered. Go read the link above to find out more!

While reading it myself, I came across the word “antiscorbutic” to describe a property of lemons – that they could help prevent scurvy. Anti-scorbutic. Theories even developed that some foods could be “scorbutic” – actively causing scurvy.

And in the end when vitamin C was isolated and demonstrated to conclusively eradicate scurvy (which we now conceive of rather circularly as a lack of vitamin C), it now makes perfect sense that it should also go by the name ascorbic acid: an acid that prevents scurvy. Nice!

Also of interest: the reason we suffer when we don’t ingest enough vitamin C is that our bodies can’t produce it internally but it’s needed for a variety of life maintenance procedures. It turns out that humans are in the minority on this: most animals can manufacture their own vitamin C. We, and guinea pigs and bats and a few others, cannot.

Modern day logging sports

Today I got to observe a Logging Sports Competition hosted by the Oregon State University Forestry Club. I had noticed the logging sports arena at Peavy Arboretum during a hike there and was eager to come back and see it in action!

The first event was buck sawing, in which each contestant had to push and pull a “peg and raker cross-cut saw” to slice through a log. Some make it look easy, and others showed how hard it was! Both of these folks were aces:

Next was the “choker race”, in which contestants had to carry a choker (a flexible cable apparently used for hauling large logs) with them through an obstacle course. They had to scramble/leap over a massive downed log (6′ in diameter), then find and unhook their choker from another 4′ log, then climb over a pile of 3 logs, then jump over a low beam, then trace their way back and reattach the choker around the 4′ diameter log.

Then teams competed in the pulp toss, where they alternated throwing logs back and forth (as with horseshoes, but so much heavier). The teams each had one lumberjack and one lumberjill :)

Next was a chainsaw event (with chaps, safety goggles, and earplugs, but no gloves (?)). And then was the horizontal chopping event, wow! The precision and efficacy of these axe blows were very impressive. Yes, they are chopping right between their feet.

Amusingly, I recently watched an episode of Little House on the Prairie (“Founder’s Day”, 1975) in which they had the same wood-chopping competition!

The final event I watched was the axe throw – I’m amazed that this is even possible, to hurl an axe end-over-end and have it stick into a wood target 20 feet away.

Overall I was impressed by the difficulty of these challenges and the skills displayed. I wish I could have seen birling (log rolling) too!

How Phoenix got its name

Recently I discovered how Phoenix, Arizona, got its name. In ancient times, people living in the area dug a bunch of canals (135 miles of them!) to direct water from the Salt River to the plains where they were growing crops. In 1867, the area was colonized by white settlers who also dug canals and named the town Swilling’s Mill (after founder Jack Swilling). Darrell Duppa suggested the name Phoenix, “inasmuch as the new town would spring from the ruins of a former civilization.” I think this is pretty cool – a recognition (however subtle) that history didn’t begin when white pioneers reached an area.

« Newer entries · Older entries »