I now have the power to burn holes in the wall!


Just got a new projector yesterday, Benq’s SX914… what can I say? It is pretty bright with 6000 ANSI lumen and a 6500:1 contrast ratio. This could truly burn holes in the wallpaper! Also, the fact that it is bright makes it good for use in venues with sub-optimal lighting, i.e. daylight.

Geek talk? A bit, admittedly, but not only…

If you are attempting to communicate with someone and to convey information, it makes sense to ensure that you have a common language and are talking about the same thing. I find nothing more frustrating than working with an underpowered projector and having to explain what you ought to be able to see in the picture. This is especially true of presentations that rely heavily on imagery, which tends to be true of mine.

Do not get me wrong… PowerPoint-based presentations are not the be all and end all, it is but one way to communicate content. Used sensibly it can be a powerful tool, however, Death by PowerPoint is not just a myth: presentations built around sterile Microsoft templates, heavily overburdened with text and bullet points and meaningless effects and transitions can turn off even the most committed student or spectator.

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Yet used with discretion as a tool to add more depth to what the presenter is discussing, I find it to be useful aid. The key is not to rely on one medium only, but to switch… from PowerPoint-based presentations, to whiteboard, to samples people can pick up and look at, to demonstrations and to discussion.

This is what keeps presenting lively, for both the presenter and the spectator – and allows you to discuss a topic to greater depth and by doing so to gain a deeper understanding.

Doing Better

One of the things I talk about during training sessions is about how it is important to differentiate between issues that can be viewed in shades of grey – and those that are black and white.

It makes sense to create clear, unambiguous frameworks in which we can operate, some issues being non-negotiable, such as tying in when working at height, protecting your head by wearing a helmet – and yes, not using top handle saws one-handed. These examples are absolutely clear cut and therefore black and white.

Many other issues can be debated back and forth, how do you do this or what device do you use to do that… these matters are subjective and may therefore differ from person to person. In that respect they come in shades of grey, rather than absolutes.

The point I attempt to convey in training is the importance of not creating a sense of laisser faire by differentiating between “public” and “private” settings.

What do I mean by that? And why the hell am I talking French?! Bear with me…

One day you might be pruning a 12 meter Maple in a back yard, nobody around, just a quick pruning job… so you free climb up to the top, do not bother with the helmet and just bosh it out.

The next day you are in the main square of your town with two big Plane trees to prune. It is a high-profile job as it has been discussed back and forth in the local press: the local TV station and newspaper are there, people have come to watch the work being done and so you do everything according to the book, perfect signage with all the safety measures in place, climbing exactly as you should.

In the examples above, essentially what you are doing is that you are creating a difference depending upon the setting in which you are performing work – when actually the same rules should apply regardless of where you are and how many people are – or are not – watching you. Anything else creates distracting static noise and unnecessary confusion, because where do you draw the line, when do you do everything according to the book and when can you afford to be sloppy? My suggestion is just to do it right straight off and by doing so to avoid any uncertainty.

Making a difference between public and private settings? Hold on, now that rings a bell…

Reading some of the banter being offered up on social media can be quite upsetting. The language used is frequently fiercely sexist and homophobe, which bothers me a lot (not generalising here, this is just based on some “discussions” I have stumbled across these past few months). It does matter how you behave, contrary to popular belief, this is not a private setting or you local bar and therefore you are representing our industry. Our industry, which is chronically lacking in female representation (except if you are lucky enough to live in Finland, I suppose), really cannot afford to out itself in this fashion. Rather we should be making every effort conceivable to show ourselves to be welcoming, inclusive and open.

So, whether we are working or chatting on-line, I suggest that we attempt to maintain a professional and respectful attitude, which does not exclude having fun, but does sometimes require just a moment of self-reflection before charging in.

Managing slack

Managing slack is a reoccurring theme when discussing work positioning in trees.

We use semi-static lines with low elongation, work positioning and sit harnesses unsuitable to arrest a fall and use ventral attachment points that in case of a fall could cause substantial, whiplash-type damage.

But despair ye not, for help is at hand in form of industry best practice guidelines. A key element in all BPGs is the concept of keeping slack to a minimum. Yet still, despite all this, people struggle with this, from a conceptual and from a technical point of view.

But believe me, other industries also need to manage their slack.

Consider laying underwater cables, such as the one allowing maybe allowing you to read this, which might be an intercontinental fibre optic cable, such as Hibernia Atlantic, Hawaiki Cable, Apollo or one of the myriad of other submarine cables spanning the oceans. In his fascinating essay, Mother Earth Mother Board, published in Wired a couple of years ago, Neil Stephenson really submerges himself in the topic of how, physically, data gets piped around the world – it is well worth the read.

The part that I found fascinating was about how, when cables are being laid on the sea bed, slack is managed. The challenge being that if you lay it too tight, it will end up suspended and be prone to snapping or damage. If you lay down too much slack it ends up in a snarl on the seabed which subsequently can get snagged by trawlers – and then there is also the question of expense: the FLAG (Fibre-Optic Link Around the Globe) cable, for example, costs between $16,000 to $28,000 per kilometer, depending on the amount of armoring.

The amount of slack depends on the topography of the seabed.

The average amount of slack aimed for is about 1%. So based on that, the 2500-kilometer route between Songkhla in southern Thailand and Tong Fuk Beach on Lan Tao Island would require 25km of slack. But the big question is where to put it.  If the seabed is dead flat, minimal slack may be required. On the other hand, if it is rugged terrain the cable is being laid over, up to 5% slack may be necessary. For this reason the boats laying down the cables are constantly making highly accurate maps of the seabed with the aid of sidescan sonar and satellite geo-positioning data as they are laying down the cable and are constantly juggling the boat’s speed, position and the tension on the line, whilst at the same time modeling the drift that underwater currents may be causing in order for the cable to touch down on the seabed with the exactly the correct amount of tension for the terrain – and in the right place to boot.

Depending on the depth of the ocean, touchdown may occur several kilometers behind the boat. Phew!

Slack management during cable laying operations at sea
Slack management during cable laying operations at sea

Admittedly, specialized software is used to assist in these operations, but still, I found the number of factors involved and the level of complexity quite mind-blowing.

So, getting back on topic… managing slack whilst work positioning in trees is hard?

Really? You reckon?

Compared to some of the formidable challenges the folk laying cables across the oceans face, our difficulties pale somewhat. I believe that we have all it takes: we have the understanding of what the issues are – and also the tools and techniques to mitigate the risks that climbing with too much slack brings with it.

Finally, it is up to the individual to be diligent and to consistently apply best practice at all times when it comes to managing and preventing slack. This is not rocket science and I am confident that it is something we can manage.