Give it some depth, part three

I actually considered renaming the last three posts to Give It Some Depth, Give It Some Depth Strikes Back and Return of Give It Some Depth – but then decided that’d be a bit too geeky.

On the drive back from Neuchâtel this morning through the driving rain (yes, I was very glad we had the presence of mind to cancel the last of the three days of the course and move it to Autumn!) I was thinking about the last two posts. I realized that I was really thinking about the whole thing from a communication and presentation angle only, but that when I took a step back actually realized that it goes much deeper than that – that this philosophy is a red thread through much of the treemagineers story: all along we have always been very aware of the need to have a well-founded understanding of what we are doing, designing and talking about and attempting to back up statements with hard data.


When we were first talking about the Ocean Polyester Eye to Eye slings we defined a stitch length that would function well in a Hitch Climber configuration, i.e. it had to be a fair bit shorter than all other stitched terminations out there that we were aware of. I remember that Egon, one of the engineers at Teufelberger was at the meeting where that stitch length and the feasibility was discussed. He had been in the company for years, had lots of experience – but never used to say much. But he’d get this oh-this-is-a-challenging-problem look sometimes, and he definitively had it on then… he’d go away and mull over the problem and you knew that great things are about to happen! That’s how it worked on that occasion. He delivered the goods – and then some! To this day, I love that termination, very functional and elegant!

It was clear that we could get certification for it, as it fulfilled the necessary criteria.

However, during that same time Ulli Distel was doing high cycle testing on his Gecko spikes after a couple of issues with them. This got us wondering whether high-cycle failure might be an issue for textiles too. So we decided to run high cycle tests on Ulli’s rig, doing a range of tests of up to 100’000 cycles at low load and then testing for residual breaking strain and also constant cycles with increasing load. No standard requires this, but it was info we felt we wanted to have in the background before people started trusting their lives to the slings.

Or the long descent testing comparing Polyester and Ocean Poly slings. That was great, fixed up a rig in the Musical Theatre here in Basle and simulated constant descents on a loop of rope for a range of descent speeds. Again, nothing required by standards, but non the less highly relevant information in view of the planned use of the Eye to Eye slings. The difference between the performance of Polyester and the PES/ Aramid co-braid was really striking, after 2000m we gave up on wearing through the 10mm slings in one descent. That would be a big tree indeed! But again, this is all fantastic data to have to fall back on.

Then the epic ascender/ lanyard/ line testing that Chris did with a crew on DMM’s drop tower in Llanberris. Or the Impact Block testing that we did in the forest a couple of years back…

Testing to standards is all very well, but sometimes you want to know just that little bit more about how the equipment is going to behave in a real-world situation…

Apart from the fact that it’s fun and interesting to do this kind of testing, it is also adding to the depth of understanding backing up a product or an assembly. In view of the fact that we’re not  designing.. dunno, computer games or sunglasses, but equipment that people are trusting their lives to, we feel very strongly that from an ethical point of view this is the right thing to do.

Give it some depth, part two

Where do topics come from and what to talk about?

I there was one piece of advice I would give, it’s to be open to input and to be prepared to make lateral connections, i.e. not to approach a topic from one side only or from a very narrow perspective. I find it interesting to consider a topic from multiple angles and maybe also to look to other areas or industries, as again, this adds more layers and depth to a topic.

I have always found reading to be a rich source of inspiration and ideas.

Read that book!
Read that book!

Looking for a one-stop starting point from which to draw ideas from a wide range of science-based sources? I would recommend subscribing to New Scientist. This is a weekly UK publication that summarizes research published in the specialist publications, such as Nature, BMJ, the Lancet etc. and I have found it invaluable. When things are really busy, issues may go unread for weeks on end, but then I will pick one up and topics relating to things I have been working on or thinking about jump out at me from, I don’t know… somebody writing about copyright issues in regards to the future of 3D printing and home manufacturing. Or a review of a really interesting book I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

As to the how of presenting topics, there are myriad publications on how to present. And often as not a lot of them I find annoying, patronizing or simply not relevant to what I am interested in.

However, having said that there is one author I would like to mention, which is Garr Reynolds. Garr is an American who lives and works in Japan and has written a lot about presenting. He applies the Zen philosophy to how he thinks information should be presented and uses a very stripped down, minimalist visual language, allowing white spaces, for instance, that I find really interesting. I can throughly recommend his books such as Presentation Zen or the Naked Presenter.

Another thing I have found really interesting is watching TED talks. TED began in 1984 and stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. At the TED conferences people deliver short talks on a dizzying range of subjects in a very short, concise fashion that I find really interesting, like for instance this talk by Rose George on the global shipping industry. Never given the subject much thought before, but she puts it in such a clear and structured fashion that I can take something away from this short talk – understanding based on fact.

Or this talk by Sir Ken Robinson on changing education paradigms. Ken is a really inspiring speaker who brings facts together in a really clear, structured fashion without over-simplifying things. I also really like his delivery and the way he creates a rapport with the audience. The other thing I love about this video is the artwork by Cognitive Media, as it visualizes the presented information in an intelligent and funny fashion.

These talks help you reflect and get you thinking about how to convey and communicate sometimes complex information in a very clear, precise fashion without having to dumb it down, but rather to strip it down to the essentials and to adapt it to the audience you will be speaking to, which is likely to change from event to event.

In approaching the assembling of themes and materials for your presentation in this way it becomes more than just that, it turns it into a process in which you gain insights and a broadening of vision that in turn will allow you to give the topics you are talking about more depth… or that is the way it is for me at any rate.

Give it some depth, part one

The final approach to the Climbers’ Forum in Augburg got me thinking about the process of developing topics for presentations.

So,what makes a good presentation?

Of course there’s obvious aspects like the charisma of the presenter, the form of presentation and all of the wrappings surrounding it.

However, to me, what makes the difference in regards to the quality of a presentation is the depth that it has.

Entering into a new topic, or exploring a new angle to me is always a bit of a trip into the unknown, as you are never sure where you’re going to end up. This is the challenge and also the attraction of doing this kind of work, is that you often gain understanding in an area you weren’t expecting to initially. For that reason it also demands flexibility, i.e. not to enter into the process with fixed, preconceived ideas and to be willing to change your mind should evidence indicate that maybe an initial hunch or gut feeling turns out to have been wrong.

Sometimes we will start out on a topic and I will think to myself that this is going to be an easy one. But then every presentation ends up demanding effort in one way or another: this could be in a trip to research it; defining a testing procedure, followed by a series of testing; intellectual effort, reading up on background information;  a series of drawings; talking to a wide range of people; assembling materials from diverse sources; chasing up obscure data; working through legislation or talking to manufacturers… and so the list goes on.

This effort is what gives a presentation its soul, its depth.

This is a quality that the spectator may not be immediately aware of and may therefore superficially seem like overkill, as you could achieve the same result with much less effort, yet it allows you to back up statements with facts and to make them with greater authority and adds weight to your arguments. Without this solid foundation the whole structure above can be ever so cleverly crafted, yet it will remain inherently unstable, as background is lacking.

Give it some depth! Blubb...
Give it some depth! Blubb…

A number of topics we have developed over years, periodically revisiting them, until finally a keystone element – a central insight or piece of information – slots into place and the whole thing makes sense and can be communicated. Or themes are revisited and developed further as variations on a theme. In this way, a discussion that might start off by looking at configuration issues  in systems design may at a later point in time expand to include considerations regarding aspects of compatibility of neighboring components.

In the day and age of near-instantaneous communication this position may seem almost a little old-fashioned, however it is one that has served us well over the years and seems appropriate when discussing matters regarding work at height and Personal Protective Equipment.

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence. (Abigail Adams)

Why waste time learning when ignorance is instantaneous. (Bill Waterson, Calvin and Hobbes)

So exciting!

The treemagineers drop tower is on its way to Augsburg!

Treemagineers tower in transport
Treemagineers tower in transit

It was picked up in Llanberris in Wales this morning, was loaded onto a truck and is now in transit. This is starting to feel very real. So exciting! I’ll post some pics when I have them. Friday it arrives in A’burg and Chris and Puk will set it up, ready for prime time next week…


Condor Safety opening event in Menen

Joined the Condor team for the opening of their new shop and training centre this weekend in Menen, close to Kortrijk in West Flanders. I was very impressed. Not just by the obvious, which was of course the impressive building, very well thought through, warm,  inviting spaces with natural lighting, well exhibited ranges of interesting brands – but also to watch the way the Condor team of six handled a daunting influx of guests, always friendly and courteous and always up for a chat or a friendly word.

I was happy to be able to contribute something towards this event… I reckon with the amount of flowers and other potted greenery they received from well wishers (not to mention adult beverages), I think they could actually branch out into the florist business – and an off-lincense liquor store.

Patsy and Wolter have been very supportive of the arborist scene, not just in Belgium, but also at a European level, being very much present at the last European Tree Climbing Competitions with the Belgian Support Crew. This is very much to their credit and much appreciated.

It was a great opportunity to meet up with old friends and to meet new, interesting people and to have a chat. Also, I like being able to leave an event like this and to be able to say “See you next week in Augsburg”, as otherwise post-event the tribe tends to disperse in all celestial directions. Makes a nice change.

Thanks also to Solvey for keeping me company on the trip and for taking the pics.

So, drive back to Switzerland tomorrow, three day training course Mon to Wed, then off to Augsburg on Sun.

Merch & stuff

Really excited!

Just picked up a big box from the in-laws filled with a re-run of mugs we did a couple of years back. Back then I had to laugh as I was doing the drawing, still makes me smile, but then again, I’m a sucker for printed mugs. Anway, be that as it may,  see if you can work it out. No prizes, mind.

We’re working on a range of treemagineers merchandising, by the way. We’ll keep you posted… watch this space, as they say.

Whoops, I suppose that just gave it away a bit.

More than just a grain of truth

Came across this old Toyota advert. It makes me smile and wince at the same time, because it really hits uncomfortably close to the mark. People working with trees in (sub)urban environments are having to battle tree owners or municipalities prioritizing other issues over trees all the time. This is a worrying development, especially in view of the fact that towns are changing  so rapidly that there is not really the time for a mature population of trees to establish itself before requirements change and everything is started from scratch again.

Clear priorities

Yes, indeed, you could love:

☐ your car

☐ building

☐ green house

☐ patio

☐ sunlight

☐ view

☐ … (delete as applicable)

more than your trees. After all, they only produce the oxygen we breathe.

It also reminded me of this case of an Elm tree in Brighton which New Scientist ran an article on a while ago (see article below).

I find this very encouraging: People need to start to understand that trees are more than just a mere commodity, they are essential not just to quality of life in towns but also to life on Earth as we know it. This doesn’t mean protecting every tree at any cost. Certainly there are situations in which a tree becomes dangerous or a change in its surrounding is so significant that it is not compatible with the preservation of the tree. Still, as the case in Brighton shows, alternatives often are possible.

The aim, in my opinion is to approach such decisions with the necessary respect and diligence, to try to see all sides and based on that to come to a balanced, well founded decision, which allows the tree to keep its dignity and is sustainable.

Oh well…

You remember, how the other day I realized that I would be flying back with JAL on a BA codeshare, and would therefore not have to watch the same films all over again that I had watched on the way over to Japan? Well guess what? I was pottering through Narita airport, checking out all the stuff I don’t need, as one does, in the airport shopping area, when I happened to glance at a Departures announcement board and noticed the the 11.45 flight to Heathrow was not showing up. Huh? I the end I realized that that flight had been cancelled and I had been rebooked to the BA flight an hour before. I had received an e-mail about this, but assumed that the flight showing up in the BA app was the active one. It wasn’t. Things then became a little hectic, flight boarded as I reached the gate.

Soooooo, as it was the same airline, I was stuck with the same selection of films. Ho hum. So I slept, which is also not a bad plan.

Tell me about it! And it can make you miss your flight.

What lesson do I take away from this? Over-reliance on all our gadgets and devices we surround ourselves with put you at increased risk of digital dementia. There is clearly a strong argument for hardcopies – and for writing stuff down.

Talking of over-reliance on electronic devices, if you are in any way interested in such things, I can thoroughly recommend  “To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism” by Evgeny Morzov – food for thought.

Certification of PPE

This is a huge topic and I would never claim to understand all details and aspects, however I would like to highlight one specific angle that we have discussed over the years.

In Europe, the placing of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) of class three on the market is regulated by directive  89/686/EEC, the PPE directive. This is a very comprehensive piece of legislation that defines parameters for the manufacturing, quality control and  certification, but also basic ergonomic and health and safety requirements that manufactures have to consider when designing and producing equipment. The compliance with this directive is indicated by the CE mark on the product and the declaration of conformity in the technical manual. Further central elements of the directive are traceability during the manufacturing process and third party testing, whereby the manufacturer has a notified body verify type certification, quality assurance – and ultimately compliance with the directive. The notified body is indicated on the technical label by the four digit number behind the CE sign. 

Example for a manufacturer standard product marking
Example for a manufacturer standard product marking

One of the reasons for this post is to share a drawing I made last year for a presentation Chris and I made last year at the Climbers’ Forum at the Tree Care days in Augsburg. This asked the question whether certification ensures that a product is fit to perform the foreseen purpose. The image depicts the two routes that can be followed to achieve conformity:

Often as not, manufacturers will certify according to existing EN standards. These define the scope, the pre-conditioning of samples, test parameters and set up of testing. This is all very well for a product that fits one of these boxes, such as a pulley, a sling or a karabiner. This first route is indicated by the top path in the drawing: pre-defined EN standard hurdles that a device must successfully pass to achieve conformity with the directive. 

Certified = fit for purpose?
Certified = fit for purpose?

However, for a piece of equipment that doesn’t fit one of the standards, that is innovative, new, or just plain different, things may be a bit less straightforward  One route a manufacturer  then may choose to follow is simply to look for a standard which they know their device will pass and to certify according to this. This is true to the letter of the PPE directive, but in my eyes not to the spirit.

For cases like this there is a different route a manufacturer can choose to take by writing a manufacturer standard. In this case, you define your own criteria for testing. This is indicated in the drawing by the lower route, the adventure obstacle course. The obstacles are set by the manufacturer, but critically, both routes lead to conformity to the PPE directive. In my eyes this is the more honest route to take: by doing so the foreseen use can be more clearly  indicated to the end user and the testing corresponds more accurately with the purpose the device was designed for, rather than just ticking boxes of a standard that has very little to do with the actual use of the piece of equipment.

If the manufacturer decides to take the lower route and to create a manufacturer standard the conformity will be indicated on the device and in the technical manual, however there will be no EN standards indicated, for obvious reasons. The manufacturer does however need to supply the end user with information in regards to how the testing was done, so that the end user can in turn decide, based on his or her risk assessment whether the testing corresponds with the intended use.

So ultimately the prime target is to achieve conformity with the PPE directive. To do so there are two routes: the EN standard route or the manufacturer standard route, both are equally valid. In a sense the EN standards are nothing other than a form of shorthand, interchangeable modules used to express requirements.

The final point that the drawing makes is that certification is in itself not guarantee that a device is fit for purpose. The fit for purpose party tent may be just behind the conformity finishing line, in which case things are fairly straight forward. However, there may be a bit of a walk between the finishing line and the tent. In this case the end user needs to identify this and to take extra measures to ensure that the device is not only certified but is also fit for the intended purpose.

In my opinion the whole certification process should be viewed like a dialogue between the designer and manufacturer of a piece of PPE and the end user. The designer/ manufacturer uses this process to ensure they have done their due diligence and to explain the rationale behind the device. The end user aims to understand this thought process and to use the device in the way intended. In this respect the declaration of conformity is a legal agreement between the manufacturer and the end user, whereby both parties agree to obligations and responsibilities.

This may all sound a little dry and theoretical, but it does have very real implications for a person working a height. In this respect I would encourage you to meet up with manufacturers whose equipment you use, to discuss issues with them and to get a feeling of what the ideas and concepts behind the devices are. One great occasion to do so is at the Tree Care Days in Augsburg, beginning of May, as there are many brands and manufacturers represented there at the trade show…

Final day in Japan

Finished the final workshop day in Kyoto. My comic highlight of the day was the biker fest going on close by which involved a band playing cover versions of popular songs. On the ground this was not so noticeable, but when I arrived at the top of the access line and cleared the hill between the workshop site and the bikers I was treated to a pretty bumpy, off-tune, but non the less very enthusiastic and raucous rendition of Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana in best Japanglish. Not the best for continued communication with the ground, but not without its humor.

A big thank you to all the folk at KEM for making this possible and to the whole family Niikura for the invitation and for their gracious and incredibly generous hospitality. What a fantastic group of people to work with, a true pleasure and privilege! Also a big thank you to Takashi-san, as I already mentioned in yesterday’s post. Another day of – as far as I could tell – flawless translation. Look forwards to working together again in the future.

And finally I would like to thank all the attendees of the workshop. I hesitate to generalize, as I always feel that it’s a bit stereotypical, but all the same, I can’t help but observe that the Japanese audience is a very easy one to work with, people are very attentive, forgiving of occasional fits of fuzziness on my part (yes, definitively happens!), polite and switched on. I am excited to see how this industry seems to be rapidly evolving in this country and am glad that I have been given the opportunity to make a small contribution towards this.

I will be leaving Japan tomorrow filled with many impressions, and once again intrigued by how superficially some aspects of this society seem quite westernized, yet at the same you get the sense of a proud and very different culture, with a strong sense of identity and a long history. What fascinates me is how it is possible for cutting edge technology and age-old traditions to co-exist side by side, both very much alive and seemingly not in contradiction , but rather complementing each other.

P.S. Good news! Just realized I’m flying with JAL, codeshare with BA… so I won’t have to watch the same films again. Small joys 🙂