Benchmarks

A lot of discussions that we have been having in these past few years in the tree climbing community regarding new equipment and techniques being introduced revolve around testing and certification. Essentially it is a discussion about benchmarks, or points of reference, that offer an objective reference point or a defined set of performance criteria that you can measure a given technique or tool against.

That seemingly objective benchmarks may not always be all they seem to be is illustrated in the following example…

As part of an effort to reduce CO₂ emissions, the European Parliament has set a target of 150 grams of CO₂ emitted per kilometer (g/km) by the end of 2015 for all new vehicles. This is a considerable progress from 145 g/km in 2013 or 175 g/km in 2008.

On the face of it, this is a success story in the fight against climate change.

But things are not always as they seem…

A report by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), an independent research organization, comes to different conclusions. The basis for CO₂ regulations regarding motor vehicles are test values that are assessed under laboratory conditions according to pre-defined driving profiles, the so called New European Driving Cycle (NEDC). This data is then referenced by the automobile manufacturers in their sales pitches.

The ICCT study  «From Laboratory to the Road» concludes that when comparing NEDC data to real-life studies on emissions, based on data from Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, there were significant discrepancies. The average difference from laboratory to real-life values in 2001 was about 8%, by 2013 the mismatch had risen to a considerable 38%.

The study further remarks upon the fact that differences can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. As a rule of thumb it can be said that the larger and more powerful the automobile, the more pronounced the difference between theory and practice. According to Spritmonitor.de, in 2006 with certain models of BMW’s 5 series, Mercedes Benz’ E-class and Audi’s A6 the difference between the advertised and actual consumption was 10% – by 2013 this figure had risen to 45%.

One of the reasons for this mismatch is that the test set-up allows for air conditioning units to be turned off, the use of low-friction tyres and high-performance motor oils and for the front radiator vents to be taped off to reduce drag. Also the on-board computer recognizes the test cycle and optises power consumption by turning off the fuel-hungry alternator.

All of this leads to a a significant misrepresentation of true consumption rates.

I stand by the fact that for the end-user, benchmarks are essential to making well-informed choices. We need objective, clearly defined reference points to measure the performance of a given piece of equipment against. Certification is one example for such benchmarks.

But as the example above shows, it is essential that such benchmarks reflect the actual use the piece of equipment is being used for. Benchmarks that only are relevant in a pristine laboratory environment, far away from dirt, sweat and knocks and blows are not very meaningful.

This is one of the reasons that one of the focuses we have had over the years at treemagineers is to consider whether equipment is actually fit for porpoise… no, I must not get into the habit of saying that, fit for purpose and the intended use actually correlates with the use it was designed for.

Benchmarks are a good thing – so long as they assess the intended use of the equipment in a realistic fashion. Should this not be the case, they become hollow, can be misleading and may encourage the drawing of wrong conclusions.

Amazing blueprints

The other day I was reading an article on efforts to cultivate plants in space, with various experiments having been conducted on Russian Saljuts, the Space Shuttle or the International Space Station, with species ranging from Arabidopsis thalinana, a small edible flowering plant, to wheat, tomato, cress, salad, lettuce, snow pea, potatoes or radish.

The interest behind these experiments being to see how longer manned exploratory missions in space could become self-sustaining – or at least to a greater degree. One fact that I found especially striking was that it is possible to grow plant in the regolith of a carbonaceous, or c-type, asteroid.

Which once again illustrates how extraordinarily versatile plants are…

You cannot help but marvel at the range of conditions plants can grow in , from lichen clinging onto rocks in the frozen Antarctic wastes or the giant Coast Redwoods on the US West coast to amazing sprawling tropical rainforests – but it is not only  climatic variability they are able to handle, but also vastly different environments.

From an evolutionary point of view, a number of plants we know today evolved millions of years ago yet continue to thrive in today’s modern cities. Take the Ginkgo for example, a tree that was equally at home in a Pleistocene swamp as in the chasms of modern-day downtown Manhattan. Talk about a success story. I do not see our technology lasting such a long time. Consider a five year old computer, for example… almost time to replace it, as the tech has become out-dated. Not to mention a couple of millenia!

All of this versatility emerging from a seed that fits in the palm of your hand according to an ancient blueprint I find quite humbling and it puts us humans solidly in our place as a bunch of noisy, parvenu upstarts just recently emerged out of the savannahs of Africa.

Humanity! Go to the back of the class and do better next time!

Fit for What?!

Today we meet up with old acquaintances: A and B, sitting around in the yard during their lunch break – once again.

A: You know, I’ve been doing some thinking…

B (groans): Oh no, here we go again. I do not want a Stihl calendar discussion re-loaded !

A: No, no. And hey, you could do with loosening up a bit… no need to flog a dead horse – I already admitted that you probably had a point in that Stihl calendar discussion.

B (grumbles): You did? Well, you must have said it pretty quietly, in that case.

A: That was not what I was thinking about, anyway. No, in fact what I was wondering about was that workshop that the boss sent us to the other week, you know, those tree, mug and ears guys…

B (grumbles): …. treemagineers, more like. But carry on.

A (mumbling round a substantial mouthful of BLT sandwich, liberally spraying crumbs in the process): Well, you know, some of that stuff was quite interesting. I reckon though that they were a bit full of themselves. I got a bit ticked off by the big words they keep on using… who do they think we are? A bunch of boffins? And some of the stuff… ok, it’s nice if you have all the toys, but frankly, I can do most of that stuff by simply body thrusting and using my three-strand Prusik loops.

B: To be fair, they did say that in the end, it is up to each person to choose for themselves what the right tools and techniques are that correspond to the work to be performed, the environment you are working in, your level of competence and your climbing style. I did not get the impression that they were suggesting that they were offering definitive answers, rather they were throwing up questions and offering generic answers.

A: Umm, yes, I suppose that is true. And I liked that bit where we ran through the history of friction hitches, that was interesting. But you know, one thing I really didn’t get was when they were going on about dolphins. They couldn’t stop talking about the bloody things. I mean, what the hell?! It was supposed to be a tree climbing workshop, not some marine safari thang!

B (incredulously): Seriously, dolphins? You quite sure? How could I have missed that?!

A: Yes, I am absolutely sure. In fact, it was porpoises they were on about. I looked it up, that is a kind of dolphin. They said it is important for porpoises to be fit!

B (in stitches, clutching his sides laughing): You complete nincompoop! That was Fit for Purpose! They were talking about compatibility and configuration of components! Dolphins indeed! Sometimes you just crack me up!

A (doing an interesting impression of a tomato, turning a shade of bright red): Umm, err, yes, well… maybe I just zoned out for a moment and missed that bit. Now that you say it, it probably wasn’t about dolphins after all – makes more sense this way, too.

B: Seriously, you’ve got to try to read up a bit on this stuff. It is interesting and fun to understand a bit more about the background to the work we do.

A: As you well know, I am not the biggest reader in the universe. I am trying though, I read the stuff that people post in tree climbing groups on Facebook.

B: That was not the kind of reading I had in mind, actually, but whatever… I suppose it is all good.

A: OK, glad we cleared that one up. But, you know, there was one other thing that also puzzled me. Who was that woman they kept rattling on about?

B: Woman? C’mon, A, what are you talking about?

A: No, seriously, it was some Miss… whotsit … umm? Oh yes, got it! It was a Miss Configuration! Ever heard of her?

B:

 

Haikus are cool

How about a haiku to start the year? My favorite?

Haikus are easy.

But sometimes they don’t make sense.

Refrigerator.

Yes, one would have to agree that in this case it is true.

Reminds me of the Ketchup ode supposedly credited to Orson Welles:

You shake and shake and shake the bottle, first a little, then a lottle.

Or, alternatively:

First a little, then a lottle: the Ketchup bottle.

Yes, well there you go. Normal services will be resumed as soon as possible.

Big Wind power packs a punch

No, this post is not about renewable energy sources or anything so reasonable. My brother Tim pointed this one out to me – I have to admit I am more than tempted.

Got one of these?

So you think you have got power?

Well think again! How about this as an alternative to a BR500: a decommissioned Russian tank combined with the jets from a MiG-21 fighter jet… built with fighting fires in mind, aptly named Big Wind. Some names are more descriptive than others – in this case it is probably safe to say it is neither a misnomer nor merely another big claim.

Apart from putting out fires – Big Wind was used in the oil fields of Iraq to extinguish burning wellheads – I can imagine any number of things you could get up to with this unit! Put it this way, you would not waste much time in autumn any more with raking up leaves in peoples’ gardens.

And, oh yes, tidy-up suddenly got much faster, too!

Reminded me a bit of the story of the Ford Mustang with the JATO solid-fuel boosters attached to it, but that is different story for another time.

Now I wonder if they do a Hybrid Plug-In version of Big Wind?