End of the year

Looking forwards to 2014 and wondering what it will bring!


It is over? Already?! Seriously? I must have blinked… oh well then, 2015 it is in that case.

Coming to the end of the year, feeling seriously worn down and out of steam. Looking forwards to a couple of quite days before things start going crazy again. Sometimes I wonder why we impose these kinds of stresses upon ourselves and that our ancestors must have done better.

But then again, I suspect that that is nonsense, that all the way back, through the ages, people have just been exposed to different kind of worries and stresses, whether this was about your harvest being burnt by pillaging knights or whether that was a saber-tooth lion you heard stirring in the bushes. Then again, I am pretty certain that Neanderthals did not have an mammoth tracking app on their Thag-o-Phone. Come to that, no mobiles, no instant availability – rather a nice thought, actually!

Be that as it may: I am out of steam. Stand by for further eclectic, scatty outpourings of my brain in due course, but right now, just give me a moment to catch my breath.

Meanwhile, you have 158 posts to read back over (or, as Todd Kramer would say, That’s a lot of words!) since April with plenty more to come… so keep an eye on this space.

Gimme my fix

Next time we meet up, do not bother trying to discuss fuel prices with me. Well, you can, but be prepared for me not to be very responsive if you do.

I do not discuss fuel prices because it simply does not interest me.

The truth is that we all have a serious fossile fuel habit, we are addicted to oil. OPEC can crank the barrel price up to whatever giddy heights they choose, we will probably still be queuing at the petrol station to fill up our vehicles and to fuel our economy. They can cut it with any amount of crap and carcinogens, we will still be queuing.

That is quite a habit in my books!

It is a bit like moaning about cheap produce from China, or vegetables and fruit produced on an industrial scale by a brutally exploited labour force: All this boils down to the choices that we make on a daily basis in the supermarket aisles. Will I always choose the product with the markup, knowing that probably it did not involve child labour or some woman in Bangaladesh toiling away in a state of semi-slavery? Sometimes, but far from always is the truth.

The consumer electronics industry has a phrase, new every two, meaning that the assumption is that we replace a large percentage of our electronic wizardry every two years. Sustainable? Hardly.

The solution? It is always easy to throw up rhetorical questions, so here are a few answers…

Instead of worrying about fuel prices I try to reflect whether I really need to do everything by car, will use public transport or bike where possible. Also alternative human powered transport concepts are very interesting, such as cargo bikes. Depending on the town you live in that can be a real alternative to using a car, definitely feasible here. When it comes to consumer choices I believe in asking questions and not automatically opting for the cheapest product when given a choice. If a markup allows for production techniques that are more sustainable on a social or economical level, this seems like a good thing to invest in. And finally, why not invest in renewables on a community or private scale, not rocket science, after all…

Plenty of options. Get creative and be self-critical. All of the above are better than whinging about fuel prices.

Timeless designs

During our meeting in Müllheim last week we wandered down into town and came across this Citroen DS…

What struck me is how striking the design of the vehicle remains to this day. Designed in the 50s by Flaminio Bertoni and André Lefèbvre, it was way ahead of its time with features such as a hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension, front power disc brakes and variable ground clearance.

Do not worry, this post is not necessarily about me geeking out about cars, rather it is about not being afraid of treading new ground. I love the result of a design process where obviously the people working on it took a big step back from it, right at the beginning, and asked themselves questions like: what are we actually trying to achieve, what boxes are we trying to tick, what is it possible to produce and what technologies do we have available that we can use to achieve those aims.

This need not even necessarily mean a super high-tech solution (although of course it can be), but rather a vision of what you are trying to achieve by means of a different, novel approach. Often this will be accompanied by clean, uncluttered design. The DS reflects that to my mind.

Thinking to our tree climbing world and tools we use every day, my first candidate as an example for such a product would certainly be the ring to ring cambium saver.

This design, that dates back to a concept brought forth by François Dusenne, first produced by Knut Foppe and Peter Styrnol with Hightree Tech in the 1993, whilst being superficially simple, brought great benefits with it, such as reduced damage to the cambium of the tree, reduced wear on the rope, reduced friction at the anchor point and retrievability. All this achieved by means of two humble aluminium rings (actually originally a figure of eight descendercut in half) and a webbing sling.

Visiting Petzl in Crolles, when you enter their reception area, there is an exhibition area there with a range of their products though the decades on display. Many of these designs are iconic, such as the PO5 Fixe, the Stop, the P50, the original Ascension or the Basic. I am not saying that they were the be all and end all, but these were certainly important designs that had a significant impact and influence on all that came after. Nowadays the emphasis when considering design seems to have shifted more towards form, with function following (and fitting in with the brand image and all of that jazz), rather than the other way round, which would be form following function – which in many ways to me would seem more logical.

Which brings me back to the DS in Müllheim, which was parked right next to a VW Amarok.

I thought that was such a striking comparison.

Obviously there is stuff added into the Amarok that probably makes sense, all sorts of safety features and whatnot. But primarily it shows how our perception of vehicles, in this example, and what we consider to be the norm can shift over a period of time. Today we surround ourselves with all sorts of electronic gadgetry and extra mass that one can question the benefits of.

Or to put it differently: the degree of refinement is incremental, it is not a step change to what went before, not radically daring and novel, really ground-breaking stuff.

But then now and again, something really new and exciting comes along….

Probably not this though 😉

Thank you. Not.

So all of a sudden it would appear that everybody around me has turned fluent in Portuguese.

“What?! You didn’t know what Pinto means in Portuguese? Seriously? Of course I knew that!”

I would just like to take this opportunity to say “thank you” for not letting us know. Hey, what did you think? Those treemug’n’ears guys are so out there, they even go naming products after body parts in Portuguese.

Next time, do not be shy to mention it. Beforehand!


The other night I was reading in my Big Book of Trivia – as one does – and came across a paragraph that discussed the word “Pinto”. The Pinto pulley (aka PUL110) as some of you may be aware of, is a rather beautiful, hot-forged pulley that DMM produce. We had the privilege of being part of the design process – and rather like the final product.

But I digress…

So anyway, my Big Book of Trivia had the following to say about connotations for the word “Pinto” in Portuguese: Apparently there it is slang for a small penis.


Well, that burst my bubble a bit. Language truly is a fickle thing, it can be so wonderful in one moment, allowing you to communicate with any number of wonderful people with regard for neither borders or nor provenance – to turn around the next moment and kick you in the rear. This kerfuffle would fall solidly into the second category.

So I would like to make a public service announcement to all our friends in Brazil and Portugal: This is not what we had in mind when we chose that name.

I will freely admit to feeling slightly traumatized by this episode.

Then this morning, when we came down from the tree to make a break, Jascha called me over to have a look at his Pinto. Apparently it had been damaged, not much, just a chip off the side. And I was like… uh-uhhh, awkward! But it was fine: in the end he just wanted to show me a pulley. Hot-forged. And rather nice.

Language is a fickle thing indeed

Super-size me, babeeee

Well, talk about super-sizing!

Had a couple of the t-dot stickers made up in different sizes.

What can I say? … rather chuffed. Some things just do not change from earliest childhood until now: stickers are cool. That, and potty humor – obviously!

As always, come to our events and get the small ones, the larger ones are a bit dear to give away, I am afraid.

Tribute to flexliblity

This is the best way to perform this task!

I always do this like this!

This is the ultimate tool in the world to do this job!

Statements like this always make me feel a bit uneasy. I find it equally puzzling when a fellow arborist asks me how I prune trees. Huh? I cannot really say, as there so many variables that I struggle to define one specific way in which I approach a job – but apparently this is not so for all.

This actually reminds me of  a story my uncle Pete told me of the time he was on a plane sitting next to a woman who was obviously very scared of flying. During take off, she panicked because she thought the wing was going to fall off the aircraft because of the degree of movement. Pete went to great lengths to explain to her that on the contrary, it was a good thing that wings flex, in fact that on the contrary, it would be worrying if it were rigid and did not move, as this would make it more brittle and less able to dissipate energy. An extreme example for this, which always fascinates me, is the droop of the wings of an A380 when on the ground – which is considerable. However, once the plane is airborne, they flex upwards and straighten out, which is really extraordinary, considering what large structures they are. It also makes you wonder how fatigue and load cycles from an engineering point of view are calculated when developing machinery like this, weighing up flexibility, weight and sufficient safety margins over the entire life cycle against each other.

It also brings to mind Ken James and the work he has been doing on the dynamics of tree canopies, looking at how trees dissipate energy through branches, stem and roots. Here again, flexibility aids to absorb energy, or to spread it across a larger surface and by doing so, preventing overload or failure. A tree that looses that ability to flex is in trouble…

Both these examples demonstrate the importance of flexibility in structures in order to withstand stress. Or, to put it differently, rigid structures are less able to withstand severe loading, or have to be over-engineered to compensate the lack of flexibility.

In many ways, this image can be applied to the mind set that one has when approaching a task or a job.

A rigid, limited view, with few options makes one less able to respond to unforeseen situations and can therefore be a decisive link in a chain of events leading towards a system failure. On the other hand, an operator who has a well assorted mental tool box with an appropriate range of tools has a higher degree of flexibility, allowing him or her to respond with greater ease to changing situations.

So, in my opinion, the correct answer to “How do you work on trees?” is “It depends”.

I try to keep an open mind, not be blinkered by my assumptions and things I am expecting to see (this is not saying that I always succeed, by any means) and to register upon as many factors as I can and then to respond to them by choosing appropriate techniques and approaches.

Getting down to business!

So, the 2014 treemagineers think tank bonanza is over.

Chris, Beddes and I spent three days in not-so-sunny Müllheim, just up the road from here, discussing what has been going on this year, up-dating each other on developments and what stages which projects are at – and making plans for next year. These are exciting times, with lots of projects running parallel, a number of which should be ready to present in the course of next year. Then there are also longer term projects that require a greater lead time, however, this makes them none the less exciting.

One of the first things we had to do, though, as is often the case when males meet – probably just an XY thing – is that we had to establish who the alpha male is… Chris won this one, hands down!

Once we had established rank within the pack, things got serious and we got down to business…

First off, Ray Wood, who does a lot of photography for DMM popped round for a chat and to do an interview. Whilst it was fun looking back at what treemagineers has meant for us and where we are today, I was surprised by how much you forget in no time! We were struggling to get together where and when we actually kicked off the project – but agreed in the end that it was probably in our kitchen here in Luftmattstrasse sometime in 2004. Or 2003. Or thereabouts.

Which just goes to show that the best ideas take root in kitchens.

Then we got stuck into cracking on with products development. I am at liberty to give you an exclusive sneak preview of a project we are very excited about: Here, for the first time in public, is the treemagineers climbing helmet, in its final prototyping stage…

As you will notice, we have used natural materials throughout and the product is fully recyclable after use. In this photo we were just sorting out the last styling points, but overall we are very happy with the result and feel we have really broken new ground.

We also did some karabiner testing. Here is a shot of Beddes doing some shear testing…

Well, that one was obviously a fail…

All in all it was a very enjoyable, productive couple of days. I look forwards to a re-run next year. And the rest of you can try to work out what was utter nonsense in this post – and what is deadly serious (well, the helmet, obviously, we wouldn’t joke about something like that!) – one way to do so is to join us at one of next year’s events, the first one being Climbers’ Forum in Augsburg from 5 to 7 of May.

Put. It. In. Your. Agenda!

Planning a trek?

I have to warn you before you read this: this post has nothing to do with anything tree-related. So if that is why you are here, read not further. If yours is an inquisitive, questioning mind, then feel free to carry on.

Here is a another example for one of the many things that puzzle me:

I met Stefan this afternoon, just back from Nepal, and we were chatting about what he had been up to there. Being the busy chap that he is – a lot. But here is what intrigued me: He went for a trek.

A trek. Hmmm.

So here is my question: At what point does a walk – or a ramble or a hike – become a trek. Is there some correlation with distance, attitude or attire? Or with geographic location (a bit like typhoons and tornados)? Or maybe with the speed at which you move at or the height at which you are?

I believe it is none of the above.

Here is my theory: A walk becomes a trek as soon as it involves a Yak. Or multiple Yaks. If you find yourself walking along next to a Yak, then you know you are on a trek. Even if you are in downtown Cincinnati. Or Birmingham. If there are no Yaks involved in your walk or ramble, then I am sorry, but it just ain’t a trek – even if you did flog all the way to Nepal.

So next time you are on a walk, do the Yak test, check 360° around yourself. If you see anything big and hairy, with horns on one end, in all probability you are on a trek. With a Yak. And remember that you read about it here first!

No time for more, got to rush now, need to finish writing up my Wikipedia entry on the definition of the word “trek”

Actually, here is just an afterthought… at a pinch it may also count if you are wearing one of these –  even if you are without a Yak.

Yohoho! Season’s Greetings!

As we approach Christmas, it seems only appropriate that we should take a moment to consider some alternative configurations that are fit for purpose for this season… after all, it cannot always only be work, work, work. And as you may know, I am a great believer in polyvalent uses of equipment (see the airline rant).

So here you go…

And here is another option…

So there you go, the sky, as they say, – or in this case probably more likely your imagination – is the limit! Go configure!