A reminder

In two weeks the German Tree Care Days will be taking place in Augsburg, Germany. The dates are 26 to 28 April. Climbers’ Forum is an integral part of this event and offers three days jam-packed with all things related to working in trees. This year we have focused on balancing equally practical vs. theoretical demonstrations with a wide range of presenters from nine different countries, this year again we will be offering simultaneous translation between German, English and French, as well as the treemagineers drop tower being on site again with a number of presenters running tests and demos on it.

If that is not enough to tempt you, parallel to all of this there is also the trade show, which has been further expanded this year, offering more exhibition space for existing exhibitors, as well as space for new ones. Many manufacturers time launches of arb-specific equipment to this event.

Augsburg is a short train ride away from Munich airport and main train station, so it is easy to get to. It also offers all the trimmings of a Bavarian city with plenty of historical scenery, should that float your boat.

Wednesday evening will be the Climbers’ Forum party in the Glyzerin in the Gögginger Strasse 26 in Augsburg, this was quite the happening last year.

All in all, this is an event worth the trip. In my opinion, as an expression of climbers’ culture, this the the premier event – world-wide! Therefore, should you have nothing planned on those dates, why not come and join us there?! Certainly in regards to what I was writing about yesterday, my experience of Climbers’ Forum is that it is high-quality, face to face interaction with a highly competent audience. And good fun to boot!

Are experts an endangered species?

Are experts and expert opinion in danger of becoming extinct?

Without a doubt, the world wide web and associated technologies are having a profound effect on people’s beliefs, attitudes behaviors, with information and disinformation becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish from one and other.

Further, alarmingly, we are often not aware to which degree this is the case. Think Operation Jade Helm 15 or the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and myriad conspiracy theories associated surrounding these events, going further back, think of the panic caused in 1938 by the radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Think of the Islamic State’s prolific use of the internet to disseminate their propaganda.

In certain situations we struggle to discern fact from fiction. In the past, in such instances we might have consulted an expert on a matter.

Today, however, answers are just a click away.

The internet and more specifically social media are an enormous echo chamber. Walter Quattrociocchi at the IMT Institute for Advanced Studies in Lucca, Italy, and his colleagues looked at how different types of information are spread on Facebook by different communities. Specifically, the researchers analysed two groups: those who shared conspiracy theories and those who shared science news articles. They found that science stories received an initial spike of interest and were shared or “liked” frequently. Conspiracy theories started off with a low level of interest but sometimes grew to be even more popular than the science stories overall.

More importantly, both groups tended to ignore information that challenged their views.

The other mechanism in play here is the pitfall of regarding likes and YouTube hits as validation. If a couple of individuals are well networked, information can start to circle, creating the illusion that everybody is talking about the same issues, when in actual fact, the underlying cause is a high degree of interconnection of these individuals. Analogous to the echo chamber effect described by Walter Quattrociocchi, this creates a confirmation bias: I am hearing what I want to hear, believing what I want to believe, choosing to surround myself with like-minded peers.

The upshot of all this is that increasingly people are no longer looking to experts for advice or when searching for answers. On social networks, people trust their peers and use them as their primary information sources. It is not unreasonable to assume that over time this will erode the role of the expert.

This is of concern when considering matters of greater import and consequence, such as  techniques and tools employed during work at height operations. Peers backing up peers are not sufficient validation to ensure a safe tool or technique –  although, admittedly it can be part of the process –, it is essential that there be a rigorous and coordinated process applied to such areas. And yes, experts play a central role therein.

Don’t get me wrong: I am by no means advocating an aloof, disconnected and untouchable caste of experts whose opinion is gospel. Rather I am suggesting that we use the strengths that social media and the internet offer, but also recognize their shortcomings and the threats that result out of these and develop a healthy skepticism towards them. Expert opinion needs to be part of what makes up our views and beliefs.

Something wrong

Flying back from Texas, with some time to kill in Heathrow, whilst mulling over the impressions of this trip – one of the things I found myself contemplating was of a snack pack served in the lounge in Austin Bergstrom airport…

Fruit snack made from real fruit? Errr… right. Upon opening it, my senses were assaulted by a smell that definitely had very little to do with any fruit I am familiar with.

I cannot help but think that there is something deeply wrong with this.

Every time I am in the US I am deeply troubled by the amount of rubbish one inevitably produces, with every product packaged in its own throw-away wrapping (of course this kind of consumption is not limited to the US, I simply find it especially striking there). You might almost be excused for coming away with the impression that our planet is also a throw-away, one-way commodity… this feels a bit like heading down a very steep road in a big truck, at speed, without brakes with one of those comfort sleeping masks over your eyes and your hands off the steering wheel. This is strictly not sustainable – or at least only so long as it takes you to reach the bottom of the hill – or the first bend, whichever comes first.

What was in the packet of fruit snacks? Not quite what I was expecting after having read the blurb on the packaging. I was trying to picture what an orchard producing these fruit might look like..

If I had to hazard a guess, I reckon it would have to be something fairly psychedelic…

ITCC San Antonio

I expected all sorts of things in Texas, but not what I encountered: A lush place with a friendly, laid-back feel to it, rather than arid and… well, red-neckish. But luckily life sometimes proves stereotypes to be just that – and the need to get out there and meet with people and see with your own eyes in order to get a more accurate feeling of reality, which is inevitably more complex than a mere set of pre-conceived ideas…

Riverside Walk, San Antonio

Set up day on Thursday and Friday and prelims on Saturday were fantastic, the weather warming up a bit again on Saturday, which I was grateful for, as Friday had been decidedly chilly. It was a funny quirk to come all this way to spend a couple of days in a classic English landscape park: Breckenridge Park is a beautiful park contoured along the banks of a meandering creek, with a gently profiled, rolling terrain. The comp events were all set in Taxodium distichum along the water, making for spectacular scenery. The atmosphere among the crowd of technicians and judges was friendly and relaxed, yet the level of professionalism and diligence displayed when it came to preparing and running this event was extraordinary.

So, today is Masters’ Challenge with Men’s Masters presenting a group of new faces except for one, women’s competitors are all returning champions.

Some minor cultural collisions are unavoidable and can be quite entertaining, this one made me laugh (yes, I can be easy to please)… maybe it’s from a Tofu chicken?