Win some, lose some

It is that time of year when you find yourself working outside an office block and looking in, you see the office folk sitting at their desks with mugs of coffee in well-heated offices. Whilst you are hanging in a tree outside – it is around freezing, it is raining, your hands hurt… and for just an inkling of a second you wonder whether today is not one of those rare days, when working in an office scores against hanging around in trees.

The answer is: NO.

It never does!

To illustrate why I believe this to be so, I always think back to a London Plane tree outside the offices of PriceWaterhouse here in Basle.

This tree is right next to a vent where all the stale air gets pumped out of the office block. Poor thing. You find yourself up in this tree, first thing you realize is that the air rising out of the vent is really quite warm. Then, you realize that it smells of… warm photocopiers, perfume and stale farts. Yuk. No, that cannot be a good environment to work in. Not to mention working in cubicles, copious amounts of cheap filter coffee and being mobbed by the other muppets in the office.

So no, after that nano-second of doubt, I realize that I am actually quite content to be on this side of the tripple-glazed windows, thank you very much. Enjoy your day in the office, darling, I am perfectly happy out here!

And you can wipe the smug grin off your face: I know the sort of air you are breathing!


The controversy over Petzl’s Zigzag continues, as further photos of cracks and fractures of links are posted on social media. Richard, over at Treetools NZ, has some interesting thoughts on the matter as to why people are responding the way they are.

One interesting comment on Treebuzz, I thought, was made by a person who categorically rejected any doubt out of hand regarding this device. His point being that nowadays people expect gear to be made bombproof, able to withstand anything thrown at it – and that that is an unreasonable expectation. He remains adamant that ZZ is safe to use and that he will just be careful with it.

This got me wondering. After all, one part of treemagineers’ activities revolves around contributing towards developing products for work at height. So what is my position in regards to this?

Yes, I agree, it is an unreasonable expectation to have of a piece of equipment that it will stand up to anything you throw at it. It won’t. Unless it is massively over-engineered, of course, but that will tend to add on lots of weight in form of extra material.

Traditionally, this is how US-based harness manufacturers went about things. As they had less clearly-defined testing parameters to work towards, they would just add on lots of extra material. If in doubt, make it bombproof. European manufacturers, equipped with a much more concise set of performance criteria that their harnesses need to conform to, were able to refine their design towards that goal. The irony is, of course, that regardless of whichever route you take, wear and tear is still going to happen. On the contrary, I sometimes wonder whether it is not preferable to have clearly defined wear parts that are easy to inspect and replace at regular intervals, as opposed to massively over-built, clunky elements that are hard to visually assess and are not, anyway, as the user assumes that they are bombproof and consequently do not need inspecting.

Bombproof against what? This…


What does bombproof mean anyway?

Probably depends on the size bomb we are talking about – and remember there are some quite sizable ones out there! Bombproof is a misnomer. It is supposedly implying that something is extremely robust – without offering any further quantification.

... or this?
… or this?

Let us try and be more precise in describing the qualities of that robustness.

One easy way to do so is to refer to standardised testing parameters and set-ups that the piece of equipment has passed. Further, a manufacturer shall endeavor to consider foreseeable failure mechanisms and to either warn against these in their user instructions or to adapt the design to counter that risk.

I am amazed by how at the moment people seem to be putting gear out there without giving much (if any) thought to testing. Probably they have abilities that I lack, but I will be the first to admit that whilst a piece of kit may superficially seem fine, whilst we may have climbed the prototypes and it all feels great – I still remain totally ignorant of how it will bear up under extreme loads, as can occur as result of a fall. Or how it will withstand the many load cycles under low load it will be exposed to over a lifetime. For this reason treemagineers have invested considerable amounts of money, time and effort allowing us to build up our background knowledge about every product we have been involved with. Not because referencing testing gives you an air of sophistication (it does not), but because it helps us ensure that we have done all we can to ensure that the equipment behaves the way it has been designed to. In my opinion this is a no-brainer, not just from an ethical, but also from a liability point of view.

It is certainly not an area to cut corners in.

It is worth considering also, that as an end user, this is part of the package you buy into. You have a right to expect that the manufacturer has gone to appropriate lengths to ensure your safety. If you feel you have been furnished with insufficient data in regards to understanding the performance criteria a piece of kit you have just bought fulfills, do not be shy to request that information – and carry on doing so until you are satisfied.

Blind belief is misplaced when it come down to assessing PPE. After all, it is your life you are putting on a line! Demand clear and unambiguous answers.

Bob if you can

Remember that post the other day about head bobbing in birds and my suggestion about mounting GoPros on pigeons?

All fine and dandy, I stand by that idea. I do think it would lead to less annoyingly wobbly footage that in then unleashed on the rest of humankind via YouTube.

But hold on…

That only works if you have a head! You laugh? You say, but Mark, come on, most people have a head!

Not so, say I. How about Mikey, the rooster from Fruita, Colorado then? Where would he have mounted his GoPro?

The story goes that on September 10, 1945, farmer Lloyd Olsen of Fruita, Colorado was sent out to the yard by his wife to bring back a chicken for dinner. Olsen chose a five-and-a-half-month-old cockerel named Mikey.

Upon attempting to give Mikey the chop, the axe missed the jugular vein, leaving one ear and most of the brain stem intact. That part of the brain, the Medulla oblongata, regulates many of the vegetative functions of the body such as breathing, heart beat etc.

So despite Olsen’s failed attempt to behead Mikey, he (Mikey, not Olsen) was still able to balance on a perch and walk clumsily. He attempted to preen, peck for food (probably frustrating), and crow, though with limited success (no surprise there); his “crowing” consisted of a gurgling sound made in his throat.

Which is actually rather gross.

Imagine waking up to a Cock-a-doodle-gurgle! Enough to get you out of bed with a jump! That would be a bit like World War Z meeting Big Bird from Sesame Street! Zombie attack!

When Mikey did not die, Mr. Olsen, being a big-hearted fellow, decided to continue to care for the bird. He fed it a mixture of milk and water via an eyedropper, and gave it small grains of corn.

Here is a pic of Mikey strutting. He may be cock-a-doodle-gurgling for all I know, hard to tell without a head.

Anyway, no means to mount a camera on this one’s head – on the plus side however it must be said though that Mikey probably never again suffered a migraine attack .

The world, truly, is a weird place.


This picture by Vasily Fedosenko was circulated in the press today by Reuters.

It shows villagers taking part in Kolyada holiday celebrations in the village of Martsiyanauka, east of the capital Minsk in Belarus.  These celebrations mark the end of a pagan winter holiday, called Kolyada, which over the centuries has merged with Orthodox Christmas celebrations, as is so often the case.

What affected me deeply when looking at the picture was the strong sense of community that it portrays, with folk of all ages – men and women, boys and girls – congregating around a solitary tree in celebration.

So often in our daily professional life we are called in by tree owners for whom their tree has become a nuisance or a problem: too close to the building, too tall, blocking a view, blocking the light… and so the list goes on.

I am by no means suggesting this will always be the case, but often as not we are called to find solutions when a tree becomes a problem.

So maybe this is why this picture caught my eye? The fact that it reminds us that trees are to be celebrated and marveled. That they are stunning, elegant structures that calmly cycle through the seasons – so much more than a mere nuisance or even a problem.

Migration strategies

I was watching a documentary about the Himalayas the other day.

One of the species mentioned was the bar-headed goose and its grueling annual migration, which takes them from the high plateaus of Mongolia, where they spend summer to India, where they stay over winter. To do so they have to cross some of the toughest terrain and highest peaks in the world. According to the documentary, in order to do so, the geese fly at heights of up to 9000 meters.

However, research by Charles Bishop of Bangor University in Wales, UK, whose team tracked a flock of geese across the mountains seems to indicate this is not quite so straight-forward. Their findings indicate that rather than flying high-up and straight-ahead, the birds follow a roller-coaster, terrain-hugging flight route at heights rarely above 150 meters over ground level. By doing so, they save up to eight percent of energy, which is significant, in view of the fact that the bar-headed goose is a fairly heavy bird and that they spend the entire flight flapping their wings rather than gliding. The predominant gain of this strategy comes from higher oxygen content and air pressures at the lower altitudes.

But once more, as I have discussed before, there was one thing that struck me about all this:

The geese do all this incredible stuff, essentially the equivalent of running multiple, successive marathons at great height – incessantly honking.


Now, if I had to put my finger on one single, easy way to save energy, I would suggest to knock off the honking. I think, apart from anything else, I would find it more than just a bit annoying and monotonous if that were the only in-flight entertainment all the way from Mongolia to India. Seriously. Ok, it may be a nice, group building exercise initially, but it wears a bit thin as time goes by, like after the first half hour. And probably by the time you reach India, you are so sick a tired of the honking that you are ready not to hear another honk for the next… six months, I suppose, until it is time to fly back to Mongolia. Probably just as well I am not a goose. If I were, I would be one very grumpy goose, or easily recognizable by the fact that I am the odd one out in the flock, wearing a pair of big Sennheiser noise-cancelling headphones.

In fact the honking reminds me a bit of people you see jogging and chatting all the while. Make up you minds! Run or chat! Both, simultaneously, just seems like a weird combination.

So, I reckon bar headed geese could also profit greatly from my Cacophony Bonnet™ (pat. pending) I developed with  Owls in mind, to save them all that twit-wooing, but of course it would work equally well for Himalaya-defying geese.

Never let it be said that I do not have an open mind!

True story

Been away a couple of days, preoccupied and ill.

But still, some good came of it, I suppose, in that I finally got round to drawing a story that happened a couple of years ago and went like this…

The funniest think is that it actually happened just like this.

I have since stopped asking people to see if they can hear the sea in karabiners.

If you can read this, do not compartmentalise

One of my favorite Pithy Points of Alex Shigo…

So true.

This is one of the reasons why I rattle on about the importance of meeting, interacting and discussing topics face to face. So often conflict emerges out of misunderstandings that result out of such interaction and written communication – whilst it has other strengths – is not a substitute.

There are a number of platforms to discuss topics related to tree climbing, techniques and equipment coming up this year. Not forgetting that they are of course also ideal places to meet and hang out with tree people!

First off the Climbers’ Forum in Augsburg, near Munich in Germany. Sorry, Bavaria. That is on the 5, 6 and 7 of May. I have written about that event before, so I will not bore you, but this is one not to miss. This year we will have simultaneous translation into English and French, there will be a big party on Wednesday evening where, rumor has it, Belgium’s finest, the threemagicbeers will be playing. Also, apart from the demos and presentations there is the big trade show, ArborArt and the academic conference.

Then Gregor Hansch is planning an Arborday in Berlin, beginning of June. Details to follow. I will be going, Berlin is always a blast, so that is one to look forwards to.

On 4 and 5 September vertical-connect, an interdisciplinary work at height forum will be taking place in Meiringen in the Swiss alps (English translation on the web site is not up and running yet, sorry, work in progress). It is an absolutely spectacular venue that offers great possibilities. I am very excited about this one, as the group organizing this event is very diverse, with people from lots of different areas of work at height, so it promises to offer an in depth insight into the different ways in which people work at height and the philosophies behind them.

Not to mention the many other industry events, such as ITCC in Tampa in March, ETCC in Italy (date yet to be confirmed), TCI Expo and so on…

There really is no excuse to compartmentalise, let’s get out there, get involved and by doing so, move this industry forwards, making a positive difference!

So… what’s the title of this blog post supposed to mean? Well, if you were a tree, you could not be reading this: then it is fine to compartmentalize. If you are human, however, you can read and should therefore not be compartmentalizing.

¡Basta Ya!

Head bobbing

Have you ever wondered why birds bob – rhythmically move backwards and forwards – their head when walking?

Professor Reinhold Necker certainly has.

Reinhold Necker is now retired, but during his long career researched a wide range of bird related topics – the bio-mechanics behind head bobbing being one of these.

As birds walk, they rapidly thrust their head forwards, followed by a slower backwards motion – or a thrust and hold phase. This thrust and hold motion is actually an illusion, as the head is actually remaining more or less stationary relative to the body that is moving forwards. This was proved by putting a trained dove in a treadmill (Frost, 1978), where after a while, as there is actually no forward motion whilst walking in a treadmill, the bobbing ceased. The same happens when you blindfold a bird, by the way.

What made me think of this?

Watching yet another video of helmet cam footage that was jittery almost beyond recognition of somebody felling or swinging around a tree, flinging themselves out of a plane, falling down a hillside on a mountain bike or whatever, you name it – there seems to be an never-ending source of this kind of material being continuously uploaded to YouTube.

Anyway, this got me wondering whether we ought not just cut our losses, kit out doves with GoPros and let them do the helmet cam filming – and spare everybody else the pain of hours of uncut, wobbly imagery and a feelings of nausea whilst watching it.

Or we could start walking like birds. That at lest would be funny.


Alternatively I could just switch off the computer and get a life? You reckon? OK, I will give that due consideration.

Je suis Charlie

Horrific news from Paris today.

So sad.

I cannot understand who stands to gain from such violence – on the contrary, it merely fuels further intolerance and hatred. Yes, of course injustices are committed in other parts of the world, but how that can justify such acts is beyond my understanding.

As we have stated before, treemagineers stand for a world view that is open, respectful and tolerant of other opinions and beliefs.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Sacré Bleu, indeed.

Where do people find their inspiration? How do they come up with clever designs, coming at a problem from an angle nobody had thought of before, finding just the right, simple solution to a complex problem.

When you see it, you slap your forehead: why did I not think of that?! It is so obvious when you see it.

But again, this brings me back to my original question: Where do people find their inspiration?

How about… Petzl’s Zigzag (see above)? Who came up with that idea? Was it engineers huddled in the dingy depths of the Petzl HQ, toiling away in candle light? Or was it mad scientist types, sketching heady formulas on huge blackboards in dusty auditoriums?

Mais non! We just pop down to ze local brasserie and ‘ey presto… voilà, l’inspiration! C’est si simple!