Nerdy Notes: Farewell

Dear Readers,

The Nerdy Notes series of blog posts has come to a timely end.  Although I’ve enjoyed writing and posting these articles, they have been very time consuming, and the time has come to move on.  If you’re curious, please take a look back at the posts and do a Google search to see what changes have occurred since they were written.

All of us at the Jet Fuel Review Blog hope that you’ll continue to frequent the site, and to submit work to and read the spectacular, semiannual publication: Jet Fuel Review.

Thanks for reading!

-Mark Jacobs, Nerdy Notes author and Jet Fuel Review editor

Nerdy Notes: Canada’s White Elephant

In 1969, eminent domain was taken to new heights when the Canadians decided the time had come to build the world’s largest airport.  Today, four decades later, the airport is still there… and no one uses it.

Well, that’s not quite true.  Freight carriers use the airport, and some executive jets fly there from time to time.  Nevertheless, an airport which was designed to handle tens of millions of passengers a year has, for the last half-decade, handled zero.  Montréal-Mirabel International Airport is, without a doubt, the definitive “white elephant”.  It’s a public works project which was launched on an epic scale and ended up as a tremendous embarrassment.

In the 1960s, jet airplanes were taking air travel to new levels (literally and figuratively).  The Boeing 747—the first “widebody” airliner—had made nonstop travel overseas possible, comfortable, and affordable (at least two aspects of which have since, it would seem, been lost).  As airlines grew rapidly and cities expanded and upgraded airports, it became clear that Montreal’s existing airport—Montréal-Dorval International Airport—would not be big enough to handle the expected hoards of travelers coming into and going from Canada.

A plan was hatched to expropriate tens of thousands of acres of farmland in the rural areas outside of Montreal and build a massive new airport.  The old airport (Dorval) was (and still is) situated inside of Montreal’s major urban core.  Because Montreal itself is on a large island in the St. Lawrence Seaway, expansion of Dorval was more or less impossible.

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Nerdy Notes: Green, With a Little Black and Blue

Beginning in 2012, the European Union will require that airliners participate in the world’s largest Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).  The consequences will be drastic.  While the environment is sure to benefit, society may not be.

An Emissions Trading Scheme—which you may have heard referred to as “cap and trade”—is a program to limit greenhouse gas emissions.  The program allots a certain number of “credits” to industries which produce greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide.  Each credit is equivalent to a certain number of tons of emissions each year.  If an industry needs to exceed that number, it has to pay for additional credits.  It buys these credits from other businesses and industries—those which don’t need all of their credits.  In this manner, the more you pollute, the more you pay, and the less you pollute, the richer you get.  At least on paper, it seems like a good plan.

Many nations and groups of nations have emissions trading schemes in place.  More complex arrangements exist between nations.

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Nerdy Notes / Awesome Word

(image source:

Dear Readers,

Due to the busy schedule surrounding the upcoming launch of the second issue of the Jet Fuel Review, I have been unable to keep the regular Nerdy Notes and Awesome Word blog posts current.  These posts will return to their regularly scheduled programming quite soon!  In the mean time, keep your eyes peeled for the new Jet Fuel Review issue – due out November 29th – and have a happy Thanksgiving!

-Mark Jacobs, one of the Jet Fuel Review editors

Nerdy Notes: Quite the Aqueduct

When we think of bridges, we almost always think of something more or less solid that goes across a big gap of one sort or another.  Often, that gap is filled with water.  It might seem strange, therefore, to propose a bridge where the water was the thing that went on top… especially if the thing this “water bridge” was crossing was, itself, more water.

The Magdeburg Water Bridge in heavy use, and the River Elbe below. (Image from Wikipedia)


Nerdy Notes: The Little Airport That Could

In Japan, land is hard to come by.  Although there’s plenty of if, the majority is in the form of steep-sided mountains (dormant volcanoes, mostly).  This makes it pretty hard to build a new airport—or anything else flat.  Nevertheless, Japan is a bustling, modern nation, and needs airports.  Solving this problem has meant constructing whole new islands and landmasses.

For decades, the industrialized nation has been confronting the problem of a burgeoning population and the need for urban sprawl by taking down its mountains and emptying them into the sea… literally.  Japan’s coastline looks like shards of broken glass—straight-edged peninsulas and islands define the shores of every urban area.  Over the years, landfill—mostly coming from gutted hills and mountains—has extended the shoreline outwards, greatly increasing the total land area of the island country.

In 1987, Osaka—one of Japan’s biggest cities—began an incredible undertaking aimed at giving the city an entirely new international airport without using up any existing land.  If you’ve followed the debacle regarding O’Hare’s expansion, you can imagine how valuable the proposal might be to build a new airport without using anyland.

Kansai International Airport sits on two man-made islands three kilometers out into Osaka Bay. (Image source:

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Nerdy Notes: The Vanishing Cats

A Siberian Tiger wanders through the trees. (C)2006 Mila Zinkova

It is almost impossible—if not impossible indeed—to explain to those who don’t already understand, why it is such a danger to lose the natural wonders of our world.  In the end, perhaps this conveys a depressing truth… that it isn’t all that important after all, that it isn’t such a danger.  So many species have become extinct already, what could a few more matter?

Nevertheless, for the purposes of this post, we will accept, without any more ado, the supposition that it is important that species are endangered and on the fringes of extinction.

Throughout this blogger’s childhood, and even to this day, there were and are images and stories of some of the classic, amazing feats of nature—elephants, for example.  And blue whales.  Lions, tigers, and bears, and so on.  As children, and as adults who don’t look any more deeply into the matter, we may take it for granted that these creatures are just part of the world, as are the mountains, mosquitoes, and men.

In fact, however, the present generations may be among the last to experience some of these great animal wonders.  Big cats, in particular, are vanishing at an incredible rate.  That they are vanishing is not, itself, as concerning as the apathy surrounding their disappearance.  Although there are movements here and there to keep the animals alive, the people of the world at large either are not concerned or are not able to manifest their concern in ways which can retard the evanescence of nature’s great felines.  It is a fully realistic suggestion that the grandchildren of today’s college students may live in a world in which there is no such thing as a tiger.  They will just be fictions from the past.

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Nerdy Notes: Supersonic After All

Despite their advantages, vactrains woul require rather unsightly tubes to be built between destinations. (source:

In the 1960s and ‘70s, the common assumption among the traveling public was that supersonic transportation would become a significant reality some day.  After all, it was only the next, logical step beyond ordinary, sub-sonic jetliners.  Aviation seemed to be advancing at an incredible rate.  The transition from propeller-driven aircraft to jetliners had only taken a few decades.  With the technology to travel above the speed of sound and the tremendous advantages of being able to cross the Atlantic, for example, in under three hours, few barriers seemed to stand in the way of flight above mach one.

Although that seems not to have taken place, that thinking may actually have been correct.  The technology does exist to travel faster than the speed of sound—much faster.  Unfortunately, developing that technology would work against the world of aviation, and it is likely that that is one reason for which it has not come about.  Ultimately, the fastest, most efficient, and—surprisingly—quietest methods of transport would be those without wings and which never left the ground.  The technology spoken of is the vacuum train.

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Nerdy Notes: Got Gemütlichkeit?


As you likely know, the English language is rife with words from other languages.  In fact, almost all of our words are derived, to one extent or another, from the various Indo-European languages, most of which sound nothing like English and often enough, little like one another.

While most of our words have segued rather smoothly from their old-world origins into modern, spoken English, there are a few which have stubbornly retained their original pronunciations.  You’ll notice that we don’t pronounce the ‘z’ or ‘s’ in rendezvous, for example.  The word being essentially the same in English as in French does not stop us from knowing quite well what it means.  We know this mostly because there is no distinct English word for rendezvous, nor need there be; the French word works just fine.

There are some far less well-known examples which we’ll visit today.  These are words essentially identical to their etymological ancestors which can be found in any quality English dictionary despite being, for all intents and purposes, not English.  In particular, we’ll focus on German’s contributions.  The value of these words is not really in their eccentricity relative to the rest of English, but in what they mean.  In each case, there is no English equivalent, making the words priceless.

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Nerdy Notes: Gruntled and Heveled


When you think about it—not that you do, but if you did—it seems that the word “extraordinary” makes no sense whatsoever.  After all, how can something be extra ordinary, and why would that be good?

The other day, my thoroughly ordinary best friend brought that up, and it got me to wondering about other misleading compound words in the English language.  It turns out, there are quite a few, and some of them quite interesting.

Take “cranberry”, for example.  We can see quite plainly where blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries get their names… but cranberries?  What is a cran?  And how about gooseberries?!

Of course, in addition to prefixes which don’t mean anything, there’s a regular plethora of those which do mean something… just not what we think.  And of course, many of these are part of words which have no independent root.  Take “disgruntled”, for example.  Anyone can be “disgruntled”, but can you be “gruntled”?  Presumably, that’s what you are most of the time, when you’re not disgruntled.

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