New DMM belay devices

Video from the Outdoor show in Friedrichshafen with Dave Noddings, product manager at DMM, demoing their new range of belay devices. Very clever solutions – you see them and think “Now why did not one come up with that one before?”. The answer probably being that it is not quite as straight forward as all that.

Add to this the typical DMM hot forged look and you end up with a pretty desirable product.

See for yourself…

When too little becomes too much of a good thing

Reducing calories and fat content, going light – or, as the PR gurus of the nutrition corporations like to call it, lite – is all the rage. By suggesting health benefits due to reduced intake of this or that they target – and reach – an increasingly large (no pun intended) segment of consumers out there.

One way to achieve this is by using artificial sweeteners, such as Aspartame, Aceslulfame-K, Sucralose or Saccharin. These artificial sweeteners continue to generate a lot of controversy in regards to whether they are safe. The FDA has ruled this to be the case, whilst pressure groups question whether this is really so, as according to some researchers these sweeteners are linked to and may possibly be the cause for a range of conditions as diverse as nausea, headaches, mood problems, impairment of the liver and kidneys, problems with eyesight and possibly cancer… and the list goes on.

Why am I writing this? Well, the issue got me thinking about how you cannot remove something (in this case sugars), without it having an effect.

And where is the link to the world of work at height?

Think about it: Going light is all the rage! I was struck last week at the Outdoor show in Friedrichshafen, how many manufacturers are falling over each other in an attempt to out-light everybody else. If you talk to them about it, they will explain that this is what the market demands. And my response to this is to wonder what the side effects are of taking this going-light philosophy to extremes? Of going über-lite? If I had to make a guess, I would suggest that possibly very adverse side effects to your health could be a consequence.

In recent years one of the main focuses in a market that has become increasingly competitive has been and is on design. A worrying development is that often as not, in this case function follows form, and not the other way round – so that means that primarily the product needs to look good in order to grab the customers attention when it is hanging there on the rack in the climbing shop. Accordingly, manufacturers and brands go to to considerable efforts to make their products look sexy, desirable and different. One of the ways this can be achieved is by extrem profiling of karabiners, shaving off excess grammes and giving them a futuristic look.

Extreme profiling on the nose of a karabiner

From a certification point of view this may work fine, when loaded along the correct axis on the correct diameter pins. But often as not, in the real world, this is not what happens.

It’s worrying to see more and more tools stripped down to the absolute minimum they need in order to pass certification, yet not leaving very much leeway for unusual loading. If you compare modern climbing tools, karabiners, ice tools or rock climbing harnesses to ones from fifteen or twenty years ago, they have changed almost beyond recognition. The main changes being styling and reduction of weight.

Reducing weight is fine if you add in materials with characteristics that allow for the reduction in diameter, as was the case when transitioning from Nylon to Polymid/ Polyester to high-modulus fibres. In this case, the reduced diameter was compensated for by increased performance in the materials used in manufacturing.

When discussing hardware, CAD software allows extremely optimized designs whilst at the same time using less material. Yet in this example, the material, aluminium, has remained the same, it is the design that has been tweaked and modified.

These developments coincide with a number of high profile recalls and product warnings we have seen in recent years. In my opinion this is not a coincidence. Amongst other reasons, due to increased competition from Far Eastern manufacturers, product development has become a much more rapid process, unlike what it used to be like, as manufacturers and brands need to get their product to market as soon as possible. This means less time for validation and gaining a thorough insight into how novel concepts may behave over a longer period of time and under a range of conditions.

This leads me to wonder whether manufacturers are getting the balance right between saving weight and going too light?

Going light may have its place, but not in a workplace such as professional work at height, with all of the wear and tear and knocks and bumps it entails.

Like artificial sweeteners, in moderation optimizing weight may be fine, but if you go too far it may well become a health hazard.

On being wrong

I bumped into this talk by Kathryn Schulz at a TED conference where she discusses the merits of being wrong – and why we cling so hard to being right…

I thought a number of points she makes very striking and compelling. How does it feel to be wrong? And how often, when we are absolutely sure we’re right, are we actually already heading down the path towards making a serious mistake?

If I had to criticize one point of this talk it would be that Kathryn does not discuss what strategies might be employed to counter this kind of behavior, but I suppose that that is really up to each and every one of us. And TED talks are limited to 20 minutes – only so much you can cram into such a short time.

One thing, however, is certain: recognizing mistakes – and being able to respond to them – is even more relevant in an environment where you are placing yourself at risk, such as during work at height.

Nomeansno, a Canadian punk band summed it up rather nicely with their slogan Be Strong. Be Wrong

Of need and necessity

Whatever you choose to believe, I am sure we can all agree upon the fact that we live in a world of limited, finite resources.

Also, our planet is a closed cycle – so it makes sense not to squander the resources we have, but rather to use them in a responsible and fair fashion. Which obviously we are a long way away from doing.

What always really strikes me as being the height of cynicism is when the blame for the state our planet is in is placed upon population pressure in developing countries. This is, to say the very least, a debatable position – or at least only part of the bigger picture. It has been proven that in actual fact a small percentage of the global population in industrialized nations are responsible for the lion share of emissions and use up a disproportionately large amount of resources and goods when broken down to a per capita figure.

Over the years we at treemagineers have had the opportunity to contribute towards the development of various pieces of equipment and PPE items. Obviously these also come with an ecological price tag attached. The argument of shorter transport distances from raw materials to production to final product is one of the – many – reasons we decided to look for and work with manufacturers based within Europe.

If you ask me whether I think you need a given piece of equipment my answer would be to ask you whether you really need it. If you do, fine. If you do not, don’t buy it. In the end it is a bit like our family vehicle, a Volkswagen T4 Transporter. It is now ten years old and sometimes I find myself wondering whether it might not be an idea to replace it with a more modern vehicle, lower in emissions and more fuel efficient.

But in actual fact, it is clear that by far the most ecological thing you can do is to maintain vehicles well and to use them for a long time, as the production of a new vehicle uses a lot of energy and produces loads of carbon.

So in many ways, maybe we ought to be considering purchases from the point of view of not just whether our bank account can afford a given product – but also whether the planet can.

One of the things I like about the treeMOTION harness is that you can replace wear parts and therefore can use it for a much longer period of time. If we are not planning on cooking ourselves and the planet it makes sense to consider what we really need, to use longer, to reuse and to recyle.

This image made me laugh, thinking back to the Smart Monkeys and Hi Viz Ninja post a couple of weeks back…

Please, don’t wave your flag in my face, …

… because it’s obstructing my vision.

Had a bit of an overdose of flags recently, what with the FIFA world championship in Brasil and all. Flags seem to be ubiquitous and all the rage, with everybody keen to stake claim to this or that identity – and whatever supposedly goes along with it.

I have to admit that I don’t quite get this strong identification with a country that is ultimately just a set of random lines drawn on a map, there’s nothing organic or natural about that, it is all just in people’s minds.

Having said that, it is – and has been all through history – something people are prepared to go to war over, and are doing so as I write this, just open up the newspaper or go to a news site and look at what is going on in the Ukraine or in Gaza – it ain’t pretty!

I challenge the fact that people can identify with something as abstract as a country or a nation.

I think in truth what you are identifying with is a perceived set of values or an idealized concept of a nation. On a more human and tangible scale what you can identify with is community. For me, when I am traveling, taking a broad view, I feel a sense of belonging to Western Europe, in the sense that that is where I come from and is the culture I have a deeply ingrained understanding of (well, most of the time, at least). Then, when I zoom in closer, I can identify with the community I live in, which is defined by my friends, my family and my neighborhood.

It’s one of the things I appreciate about trees: they don’t wave flags (well, I suppose they can’t, because they don’t have hands, duh!). Yet there is diversity and variability within the same species, depending on what climatic zone its growing in, but this is influenced by environmental factors rather than lines drawn on maps that date back to post-colonial land grabs, 19th century monarchistic power struggles or post-war treaties.

Seriously though?

So, looking forwards to ITCC and ETCC, I say let’s make these events about arborists from all over the world meeting up and celebrating climbers’ culture, our tribal identity within arboriculture, rather than repeating patterns that have caused so much trouble, heartache, displacement and strife all over the world, today and throughout history.

So that, in a nutshell, is why I would prefer not to have flags waved in my face, thank you very much.

Going to Poland

Sorry, been a bit quiet round here the last few days, been working through some stuff.

Also, I finally got round to doing the posters and t-shirts for ETCC in Poland in August. Should be a fantastic event — if you should happen to be at a loose end round that date, why not pop by?


ETCC Poster 2014

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Wow, 1984 doesn’t seem so far away, yet comparing the equipment and techniques being used in the Jamboree in the video, one can’t help but reflect how this aspect our industry has changed almost beyond recognition.

Having said that, performing professional work on trees is the common thread, I suppose. And in the eighties the transition from traditional tree surgery techniques to a view of trees we have to this day, with Shigo’s New Tree Biology being central to the change was in full swing.

In many ways, it was the arrival of these new concepts  that forced climbers to develop techniques to access the periphery of the canopy, as before a lot of the work, e.g. cavity work, wound sculpting and dressing, bolting weak joins etc., being done was stem-orientated.

I remember when I first started tree work in 1990 it was standard practice for arborists to have a top handle chainsaw on their harness – and a polesaw. In many ways the polesaw is symbolic of this transitory phase, when Shigo’s ideas had been adopted by the broader industry yet the techniques to access all points of the canopy were not there yet. It would be a couple of years yet before the polesaw became less commonplace.

It’s not as though, seen individually, the new tools and techniques were revolutionary, but as a whole they have made our work in trees safer, more ergonomic and easier. It’ll be interesting to see what further developments the future holds in store for us.

Smart monkeys and hi-viz ninjas

In this post I would like to tell you the story behind the two graphics you will see at the end of treemagineers’ Powerpoint presentations.

For one there is the smart monkey…

Smart Monkey
Smart Monkey

This one goes back to the first presentations and the Pocket Guide for Arborists.

I have always believed that as climbers we are an essential voice in making our work places safer, more ergonomic and efficient. Solutions dictated from a desk by an employer or a health and safety or government organisation will often be an unhappy and clunky compromise or coming from an angle that focuses less on practicability in the field.

This is one of the reasons that I objected to the way that tree climbing comps were run ten years ago, which had a touch of a circus with people coming to see the trained monkey performing. Luckily this has changed with the format evolving and also due to climber involvement in the organising and running the competitions.

Having said that I believe that it is important that as a tribe within arboriculture we find means to articulate ourselves and to be coherent and eloquent in expressing our needs and visions.

So, in a tongue in cheek fashion, that is what the monkey is saying: If we are going to be monkeys, let’s at least make sure that we are smart monkeys!

The other one it the Hi-Viz Ninja….

This one goes back to the Historical Development of Tree Climbing Techniques presentation. One image I used in that was the Hokusai print shown below that depicts one of his views of Mount Fuji with three men working on a tree, using natural fibre ropes and axes in the foreground. On my first trip to Japan last year, someone pointed out that judging by their clothing the men in the image belong to a people in western Japan called the Sky People (I would like to apologize in advance for any mistakes I make in the telling of this story, certainly they are then truly mine and not those of the generous people in Japan who were kind enough to share these stories with me).

Hokusai, Views of Mount Fuji
Hokusai, View of Mount Fuji

This group traditionally did all work at height involving difficult access, for example on cliffs, construction sites or tree work. Also, it’s the group from which Ninjas were recruited. Which I thought was so cool, because that makes every arborist a little bit of a ninja!

When I returned to Japan this year I was interested in finding out more about these Sky People… A ninja or shinobi was a covert agent or mercenary in feudal Japan. They specialized in espionage, sabotage, infiltration, and assassination – and unlike the romanticized version we have of ninjas in the West today, without a doubt influenced by films and popular culture, their standing within society was not very high, partly because whilst the tasks they were performing were seen as a necessary evil, it was not exactly the stuff of epics or very glorious – unlike the samurai, who had very strict rules regarding combat and honor.

After a high period as mercenaries and covert agents in the 15th–17th centuries, where they took part in numerous campaigns, they faded into obscurity and poplar imagination after the unification of Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate. This meant that the ex-ninjas needed to find a new means of employment. In due course they became known as the Sorashi, or the Sky People, putting their skills to work to perform tasks in difficult locations at height.

So. As I said above, that makes us all a little bit of a ninja – albeit maybe in a hi-viz vest.

Hi-Viz Ninja
Hi-Viz Ninja

So there you go, now you will know – should you attend a treemagineers workshop or event  – when we get to the end of a Powerpoint presentation what the monkey and the ninja are doing on the final slide.