Monday, April 10, 2017

Jean-Paul Vinay

This post is about Jean-Paul Vinay, a Canadian whose work is used worldwide, but most people ho use his work have never heard of him, and credit it vaguely to "the military." He was a linguist, not a member of the armed forces.

In 1950, he founded the department of linguistics at the Université de Montréal where he set up the university's linguistics program as well as courses in translation and interpretation. He served as chairman of the department until 1966. In 1968, he joined the University of Victoria in British Columbia and headed their linguistics department. He retired from the university as Emeritus Professor of Linguistics in 1976.

In 1958, he co-authored Stylistique comparée du français et de l'anglais, a comparative stylistics textbook considered to be a pioneering work in translation pedagogy. The work is recognized internationally, has recently been translated into English and is still used in translation and linguistics courses today. In addition, he was the editor-in-chief for The Canadian Dictionary/Dictionnaire canadien, published by McClelland and Stewart in 1962.

Jean-Paul Vinay is considered to be among those who have profoundly influenced the development of translation in Canada. He died eighteen years ago today, in Victoria, British Columbia on April 10, 1999. Translation style guides are very important in Canada, and people in his field and family probable honour him for those, but that's not the achievement I'm referring to.

He's the guy who designed the ICAO radio phonetic alphabet. His original 1952 version ran Alpha, Bravo, Coca or Coco, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel, India, Juliet, Kilo, Lima, Metro, Nectar, Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango, Union, Victor, Whiskey, Extra or X-extra, Yankee, Zulu.

So yeah, for anyone familiar with today's version: Coco, Metro, Nectar, Union, and Extra are pretty odd. People didn't like them, for various reasons, and we settled into the current version. I found this discussion of the choices of words interesting.

The tendency of infer that because a word may appear “bad” in isolation, either phonetically, structurally or because it is unfamiliar and that its replacement by an apparently “good” word will achieve an improvement, is one to be considered with the utmost caution. The criterion as to whether a word is “good” or “bad” is fundamentally the measure of its success in relation to all the other alphabet words (and with spoken numerals), together with its success for transmission in noise. For example, the word “”FOOTBALL” has a higher articulation score than the present spelling alphabet word “FOXTROT” i.e. it is correctly identified when it is spoken, a greater percentage of the time. “FOXTROT” however, is the preferred word because it is less often erroneously recorded when other words in the spelling alphabet are spoken; therefore, the overall intelligibility of the alphabet is raised by using “foxtrot” rather than “football”.

I wonder what Q would have been had a non-Canadian concocted it.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Overflow Valve

I didn't really send it. I wrote that last blog post right after completing the form, and I really wrote that on the form, but in the sober light of the next dawn, before the Purolator truck arrived, I was hit by a fit of sanity and reprinted the pages on which I had expressed my personality and frustration, replacing them with blandness.

In the same vein, when today I received the form letter telling me "Good afternoon Mr. Aviatrix, Your submission has been received and will be sent to a regional TDG Inspector for review. The inspector will contact you if they require more information or corrections to your documentation," I didn't write back asking, "Is it your department policy to address all persons in authority by male honorifics, or is that an individual initiative on your part?"

Also I went for a nice little flight today. We brief an emergency procedure before every flight, and today it was an engine failure before rotation. "Okay," I said, "so we're rolling down the runway at full power and for some reason we need to stop."

I paused for breath and my co-worker said, "Coyote on the runway," at the same time as I added, "Maybe there's a coyote." Great minds think alike. "So, clearly there's a psychic coyote on the runway." The runway here is long enough to stop after reaching rotation speed, so I brief that I pull power idle, brake as required, tell ATC, and get off the runway to try that again, once the brakes have cooled. I also brief the full procedure for if an emergency stop were made on a runway too short to accommodate it, necessitating magnetos off, fuel off, inform ATC and electrical off, then evacuate when the aircraft is done crashing into whatever is past the end of the runway. If the day starts somewhere that an engine failure on the roll could leave me without braking room, I brief to the specifics of the environment.

After run-up I was held short of the long taxiway because the controller said, "there are a couple headed your way." I hear other people call for taxi and also get held short, so I move up a bit so there is room for whomever is behind me, but not so much that there isn't room for whatever the couple I'm waiting for are. Not a couple of coyotes, though. Turns out to be a Navajo and a Beech 1900. Once they pass I am given clearance to taxi, and discover I'm catching up to the aircraft ahead of me. Kind of unusual for me. I taxi slowly. They turn a corner and I see that the slowpoke has a foreign registration. That makes sense. Tourist. The locals and the people who come here often enough to know the coyotes by name taxi fast.

I get my clearance and depart. There are no literal coyotes. Today.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Like Chocolate for Manuals

So I had to revise a manual, create a document and complete a thirteen-page form because of a regulatory change. I was not impressed. The final page of the form suggests that I "Please provide additional information that may assist Transport Canada in their review."

I found chocolate assisted me in writing this document. Perhaps you will find the same in reviewing it.

I have now potentially outed myself to a Transport Canada Transportation of Dangerous Goods reviewer, and to any blog readers they happen to show it to during the process of assessing the penalty due for suggesting that chemical assistance helps with Transport Canada paperwork.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

FAA to the Rescue

I work for a Canadian company that does work in the US, which we're allowed to do under the North American Free Trade Agreement, but not without a packet of paperwork. The worst paperwork is on the Canadian side, but once I've coaxed that through the system, I send the result to an FAA office in the States and they issue me a permit to work in their airspace for the year. Traditionally I send the documents all in, wait a week, and then call to find out what's happening to them.

I followed the procedure this year, and found myself talking to an FAA employee who seemed nice enough, but clearly had no idea what I was talking about. I paused, looking at the e-mail I'd pulled up to get his contact information, and realized that I had called the gentleman who had helped me with this paperwork two years ago, and not last year. I asked, "Did you change roles in the last two years and keep the same phone number?" the answer was yes. I apologized for the intrusion, explaining that he had been very helpful back when this was his job. He asked my company name, and remembered me, and offered to help. A week later he e-mailed back to say that he couldn't see that anyone was working on the file, so he was going to do it himself.

I think maybe he remembered me because my business e-mails have the personality of my blog posts. Here's the one I sent back.

I will literally go home and talk about you, an employee of a foreign government who is doing something I need doing, even though it isn’t his job anymore. This may be the highlight of my day, and that includes the fact that there was pie at the safety meeting, and I finally got Microsoft Word to format the org chart properly. If the world were a just and proper place, there would be medals for this sort of thing.

Oh and he sent that e-mail at 5:30 p.m. in his time zone.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Linguistic FOD

Loose objects on the ground near airplanes have been a source of damage for most of the history of the airplane: they puncture tires, nick propellers, plug air intakes, or are flipped up by the wheels or prop wash and damage other parts of the aircraft. With the advent of the jet engine, the problem became spectacular, because a very small object can utterly destroy a jet engine. When debris on the ground causes damage to an aircraft, it's called FOD. The antecedent of "it" is vague there, because both the debris itself and the damage are termed FOD. We say that a jet engine that has injected some hard object has been "fodded."

Today I was in a lecture on safety in a non-aviation context. The powerpoint ran through a number of types of workplace safety risks, such as those associated with cranes and hoists, and then defined FOD. I think it began, "foreign objects debris occurring near airplanes and helicopters," but I was grinding my teeth and didn't hear it all.

"It stands for Foreign Object Damage!" I lamented to myself. Initially referring to the damage, the term spread to denote the debris causing the damage. I didn't mind that. I thought it was kind of cool that the stuff that caused FOD was now called FOD. But reforming it as "Foreign Object Debris" just bugged me. I self-righteously looked it up, intending to demonstrate to anyone who would listen to me that "foreign object debris" was a weird back-formation. And then I found out that, in the way of most language change, once enough people share a usage, it's not wrong anymore. It's now the way the language works. In this case, the new usage has official certification, cancelling out the old one.

I haven't verified the references, but according to this FOD prevention vendor ...

The “Damage” term was prevalent in military circles, but has since been pre-empted by a definition of FOD that looks at the “debris”. This shift was made “official” in the latest FAA Advisory Circulars FAA A/C 150/5220-24 ‘Airport Foreign Object Debris (FOD) Detection Equipment’ (2009) and FAA A/C 150/5210-24 ‘Airport Foreign Object Debris (FOD) Management’.

Eurocontrol, ECAC, and the ICAO have all rallied behind this new definition. As Iain McCreary of Insight SRI put it in a presentation to NAPFI (August 2010), “You can have debris present without damage, but never damage without debris.” Likewise, FOD prevention systems work by sensing and detecting not the damage but the actual debris.

Thus FOD is now taken to mean the debris itself, and the resulting damage is referred to as “FOD damage”.

This isn't the first time I've been so sure about something that I've gone and done the research to prove it, and discovered that the world has changed out from underneath me. Gotta keep moving. Also, I have at least a hundred things of higher priority than blogging about being wrong, but someone had to know that I USED to be right. Also the fact that what was originally FOD is now FOD damage kind of makes the evolution of the word cool again.

Monday, February 20, 2017

You Can Always Go Around

You might want to play the video as background music while reading or responding to this post. You've probably seen all the clips before, so you don't really need to watch it. The song, however, is good advice. I'm trying to remember the last time I did a visual go around. It's been a while. I think in the last year I've had ATC ask me to go around once when someone was slow off the runway, and I believe I've gone around of my own initiative for a tractor on the runway at an uncontrolled airport, but that may have been from a planned inspection pass rather than an intended approach to landing.

I think my recent go arounds have been more in the nature of five miles back, saying, "eh, the tailwind is too strong for this to work out. I'm going to make this a downwind for the opposite runway." I was prepared to do one not long ago when someone on frequency had reported deer near the runway, but there was no sign of them on short final. The helicopter must have scared them off. I'll be sure to practice a go-around at my upcoming recurrency training.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Cargo Pilot Status

I buy a supply of non-perishable food for crews to eat in flight or when report times are earlier than restaurant times in the remote places we sometimes overnight. Even so-called "non-perishable" food gets stale eventually, so at the end of the season, I usually take the leftover unopened packages, along with my old boots and some new pairs of socks and underwear, to a homeless shelter.

Last year I forgot that season-end ritual, so in preparing for the new season I had several packages of snacks to dispose of. Most have passed their expiry date, and while I know that the food is perfectly edible, and that anyone living on the streets would probably eat far worse things, it felt kind of scummy to give actually-expired food to the shelter. The message of "this is what you deserve" could take away more than the calories gave. I didn't really want to throw food out, though. And then I realized the perfect use for them. I took them to the pilot break room at the cargo company in the next hangar down.

I was on my way back to my office before I realized the status that action assigned to cargo pilots, but I can confirm it is correct. Homeless people still have pride. I've been a cargo pilot.