Made my day

Totally stoked!

Came home from work today to find this whole-page advert in the newspapers…

How cool is that?!

Swisscom, the big national telecom and internet provider in Switzerland using a treeMOTION in their adverts! Well, I suppose it is only fair in view of the amount of astronomic amounts of money we spend on their all their services, that they should support us for a change. Loving it.

It is a bit like the other day, when my brother quoted Malibu Man back at me in a text message, is this how memes are born?

Either way, thanks, Swisscom, you put a big, enduring smile on my face on a blustery, wet Monday – can’t knock it!

Talking about bomb-proof

A post over on Treebuzz made me think back to the bomb-proof story a couple of months ago…

The post recounts a near failure of an attachment point on a harness due to worn stitching, which luckily enough was caught in the nick of time, as a failure at this point would entail extremely serious consequences…

This report was posted in “Awakenings”, where people report incidents and near-misses.

Do not misunderstand me, I think this is a really good thing – if such reports help to avoid one single accident, a good thing has been achieved, so my intent is by no means to criticize or poke fun at anybody here – in fact, credit to them for sticking their neck out and for being prepared to share the story.

Yet one fact sticks out here: the philosophy behind the construction of this model of harness was to make it bombproof… lots of material, super chunky webbing, loads of stitching – the emphasis being on durability rather than on it being lightweight.

However, nothing lasts forever, any material wears given enough time. Put it this way, the Egyptian Pharaohs probably reckoned their pyramids would last forever, but over the centuries they have worn down considerably… same goes for all the great builders of Antiquity, the Romans, Greek or Persians. Or look at the continuous repair work that takes place on relatively modern concrete structures, apparently built to last for ages, but crumbling after a short while due to exposure to the elements.

Relying on something being bombproof creates a dangerous blind spot, an assumption that the piece of equipment cannot fail. If I am not expecting something to wear or even to fail, I will probably be less diligent in checking it… when the truth of the matter is that nothing is bombproof and anything can fail, given the right (or wrong, depending on your point of view) circumstances. This can be due to overload, continuous fatigue over a long period of time, exposure to the elements, UV, chemical agents and/ or other factors that reduce structural integrity – the list goes on, obviously there numerous other factors, depending on what we are talking about.

Therefore in my opinion there is a sound logic in rather than attempting to make equipment – superficially, at least – bomb-proof, it is preferable to clearly identifying wear parts and to make these easy to inspect, to recognize damage and to replace, if and when the necessity arises.

Insights from ITCC gear check

The same that is true for the rest of ITCC this year can also be said of gear check: it ran really smoothly.

It is interesting how this has evolved over the years: the range used to be greater, some competitors would turn up with their equipment well maintained and sorted out, whereas the kit of others was… well, let’s just say: somewhat less so. Over the years this has changed and equipment brought to the table now is by and large in good condition, which I see as a positive development.

We have also worked a lot with the gear inspection techs, trying to ensure consistent decisions on what to pass and what to fail. This is the intent behind the meeting on Thursday evening during which we discuss developments and issues that have arisen in the course of the last year. A further determining factor which allows gear check at ITCC to run smoothly is that we have a very competent group of volunteers who return year for year allowing us to improve continuously by identifying and mitigate issues as they come up. We use a system of A and B inspectors, meaning that less experienced individuals become part of the process as a B inspector, watching and learning from the more experienced A inspector.

Nothing very funky got flagged up in Tampa.

There was one cracked Zillon, a brand-new unit, one month old, hardly used, very puzzling. I say this without any glee whatsoever, on the contrary, I find this Zigzag/ Zillon issue very troubling and will be glad when it is resolved. The owner of the unit was as nonplussed by the crack as we were, the person in question is certainly competent and was simply not expecting this kind of damage after so little use and was therefore not checking checking the device as diligently as maybe he should have… hmm.

Just as a reminder, Petzl offers very clear and unambiguous guidance in this matter.

Other than that the only other thing that struck me is an undifferentiated use of Aramid cordage that is a bit of a concern.

Aramid is great stuff if you are looking for something with a high heat-resistance. However, it is not good for repeated bending, as it is a brittle fibre and does not tolerate UV-light well at all. In an application where it gets used and discarded fairly rapidly, such as in an eye to eye friction hitch sling this is not an issue. In other tools however, e.g. lanyards or false crotches, this exposure become a lot greater due to longer life cycles and therefore a potential issue. The reason I bring this up is that a number of tools were brought to gear check made of Aramid that looked very weary indeed. High-modulus cordage is fantastic stuff but it is certainly worth while considering what characteristics you really want and/ or need, what the exposure duration to UV will be, whether the material will be exposed to heat and then based on that to choose the suitable material – Aramid may be the answer, but a different fibre may prove more suited to the task.

Sorry for the slight fuzziness of the chart, tried to sort it out, but it seems to be beyond me… *sigh*

Traveling back from Tampa

After a couple of busy days in Tampa, just arrived in Heathrow on my way back from Tampa – reflecting upon the past days.

This year even more than other years, Thursday and Friday were the intense days, Thu to sort out set-up – spent a fair amount of time working with the Aerial Rescue and Speed Climb crews, also had a potter round Work Climb. Really happy with the way it all worked out, in the evening there was the Gear Inspection Technican Meeting (going to have to think of something that rolls of the tongue a bit better than that, I do not think GIT meeting is very evocative)… and Friday spent finalising set-up and running gear check.

Phil, Rick and the rest to the Aerial Rescue team did great work on their event.

I felt that the storyline was logical and consistent, allowing competitors to get in there and actually do what needed to be done, rather than to have to try to wrap their heads around lots of hypothetical suppositions. What made the event all the more meaningful to me was that the scenario was loosely based around the incident we had at work last year – albeit with the difference that in the ITCC scenario the climber had lanyarded in to the limb and consequently a sizable log was suspended in his lanyard. What struck me is how many people commented on how this exact situation had occurred to them or to someone they know… Clearly something worth looking at more closely.

Speed Climb was a Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) with a fair lean on it. The climb was installed with hand- and footholds made from bits of wood attached onto the stem by means of ratchet straps. Apart from the belay there was no bits of rope in the tree, so the competitors really had to demonstrate their ability to see the line through the tree, climbing structure only. Eduardo, Mark and their team again did a great job here, the belay point was attached on a floating anchor midway above the horizontal part of the tree, involving some creative rigging, with anchor points being put into compression by means of triangulated redirects. Despite the fact that the tree was not very tall, the fastest time was around fourteen seconds, which I thought was spot on.

Overall I felt that the level of difficulty of the climbs at the various events was appropriate for an international championship.

Saturday, the day of the preliminary events ended up uneventful in the extreme for the Operations team. Everything ran really smoothly with no hiccups… which was pleasant as it gave me time to just cruise a bit and catch up with people.

Sunday was Masters’ Challenge. We saw seven climbs – four men and three women – in two Live Oaks, one for the men and the other for the women. What was a bit unusual and rather nice was that the trees both had considerable spread but are not very tall, which gave the whole thing a more intimate feeling: I experienced a stronger sense of connection and immediacy with the climb than if the climber is fiddling around thirty meters up some humungous tree (ok, slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean). All seven climbs were very competent and strong…

Congratulations to all Masters’ Challenge competitors. For results see here

In fact, congratulations to all who were at ITCC, competitors and volunteers alike, as I feel that everybody wins something at such an event and get to take something home with them – which in many ways is worth so much more that some material prize: a sense of community and a shared experience with other members of the tribe… before dispersing in all directions again – to meet up again next time round.

The good news is that no one got eaten by an alligator in the river right next to the competition site – I was just thinking we probably ought to have included those in our risk assessments. But all good, not even a nibble.

Set-up day in Tampa

Set-up day for ITCC today in Tampa. I have been awake since four in the morning contemplating life and other stuff – as one does with an internal clock confused by time zone changes… which is ok, as I tend to simply ignore it, not try to adapt and carry on as is, especially for a short stay like this.

Tampa in March…

Hot. Sticky. What must it be like here in summer?!

Definitively glad now for the shift of the event from summer to early spring… having said that, there is noticeably less daylight to work with, in view of the record number of 56 climbers it is going to mean that we will have to be on the ball come Saturday as otherwise we are just going to run out of light.

I have yet to make the acquaintance of the local fauna, apparently there are load of fire ants in the park. I am in no hurry to do so, I have been keeping one eye on the ground…

Looking forwards to spending a day with the volunteers, always enjoy this part. Got some interesting trees to install the climbs into – challenging, but fun. And this evening I will be running the gear inspection tech meeting, which again this year is going to be open to all. During that session we will be going over some old information, but also discussing new issues that have cropped up since last year’s event in Milwaukee. The immediate aim of this format is to bring the techs for the gear inspection on Friday up to speed and to create a platform on which questions and issues can be discussed and debated, but in a larger picture, the concept is also that this has a trickle down effect, offering a degree of guidance and structure that can filter down into chapter events, hopefully providing consistency and transparency.

Thoughts in transit

I love looking at winglets on airplanes.

In fact, I love watching the wings during flight, the way the are at the same time such large structures, but also elegant, dynamic and flexible. I love the way they are responsive in changes in the airstream and the flaps make small adjustments, the way they change their shape during landings when airbrakes are deployed and the surface maximized. A wing in flight and during take off and landing looks like two different creatures rolled into one.

There are quite a range of winglet designs, from small and quite discreet, like on an Airbus A318 to really in your face versions as boasted by the Boeing 737. Whatever the design, the principle behind the winglets remains the same though, which is to optimize the airflow over the wing or rather increase efficiency by reducing drag and recovering part of the wing’s tip vortex energy. What they do effectively is to increase the aspect ratio of the wing without having to increase the size of the wing.

Quite neat. Clever people, those aviation engineers… but hold on, the shape of the winglets rings a bell. Where have I seen something similar before?

Yes, of course. Birds wings use a similar principle, the primary wing tip feathers making a winglet-type shape when soaring.

This is not the only example where natural and technical solutions end up close together.

In Heathrow’s Terminal 5, an impressive building by any standards, I was contemplating the internal truss structures yesterday and was thinking how in the end they emulate natural buttressed structures such as tree trunks.

Mind you, “emulate” is probably the wrong term.

It is not so much that engineers copy nature, but what rather that with all our sophisticated computer assisted design software, when it comes to optimised designs, using the least amount of material in the most efficient fashion, yet still offering the highest degree of strength and resilience, artificial and naturally-evolved designs end up looking similar.

This is quite humbling and could remind us to take a step back when declaring, maybe a tad arrogantly, that we know better than trees what shape they should be. Of course, trees in an urban environment face totally different challenges than in their natural habitat, but in general I feel that it is worthing observing the way that trees respond to stresses and strains in terms of growth strategies and patterns.

After all, when all said and done, thinking of the Ginkgo – a living fossile, they have been at this game a couple of years longer than we have!

P.S. Talking of birds: I watched Birdman, that was just awarded loads of Oscars, on the plane on the trip across. Comedy, it was listed under. Huh, well… I was a bit depressed by the end of it. But there you go, tastes probably just vary, as also does humor.

P.P.S. Don’t bother with Mazerunner. Very forgettable. Read a book instead.

P.P.P.S. Do NOT watch Notting Hill. Drives me nuts, why is it that it always seems as though someone is watching that film on any given flight?! Argh!

Ninjas, Cowboys and Bears!

Over the years we have harped on about the need for good communication. Communication is so often the key to resolving issues, to clearing interpersonal log jams and is the foundation for a positive work environment.

It is a privilege to work in and around trees, they are truly extraordinary beings that never cease to amaze me. The other thing about working in tree care is that arborists are such a special group of people… certainly a niche that I can function in.

But despite these many positive aspects, there are some jobs that more fun than others. Tree protection on building sites, for instance. Or pruning some old dear’s topped, 8m-high Acer negundo. I cannot help but notice that there is somewhat less of a rush to go and do those jobs.

So who gets to do what? How do we make ensure that the pain is spread fairly?

I propose to you to use… (whirl of drums)… Ninja, Cowboy, Bear!

It is pretty easy: you start back to back, take three steps away from each other, shout “Ninja, Comboy, Bear!” at the top of your voice, spin around and then assume either the Ninja (martial arts poise), Cowboy (two pistols) or Bear (Grrrrr) position – and then see who comes out tops!

As you know, at treemagineers, we endorse all things ninja, cowboys are… well, cowboys. And bears want to eat you, so there you go.

Just a thought, before I take of to Tampa tomorrow…

This is not a public service announcement

Off to Tampa in Florida on Tuesday to go to ITCC.

This got me thinking about the Tree Climbing Competitions, what they are, what they aim to be and how they are run.

My first experience of a competition was the Swiss TCC in 1999. The first European TCC I went to was in  Valencia, also in 1999 and the first international was in Milwaukee the following year. I competed every year from there onwards until 2008. I then became involved with the organization of the events, becoming Head Technician for ETCC and later also for ITCC, and am now chairperson for the ETCC.

Over the years these events have changed a lot.

My understanding of them was and is that they are an expression of climbers’ culture within arboriculture, a culture that is vibrant, diverse and full of energy. It is hard not to come away from these events buzzing. Rather than them being about who won, the TCCs are a gathering of members of this widely dispersed tribe, offering an opportunity to meet up, exchange techniques, share stories and  to experience a moment in time together, not just the competitors, but all persons involved in one form or other in running the event or who even those who have “merely” come to watch.

Over the years, however, my observation is that this has changed. The expectations of competitors of the the event have risen and organizing them is becoming increasingly challenging. This in turn has lead to a degree of professionalization in regards to the organizational structure required, also budgets have grown larger, necessitating more sponsorship and partners.

All very well. It is good for things to evolve and not to become a museum showcase, to go with the times.

Yet still… I am sometimes surprised by how demanding people can be. Some examples?

  • Set up a nice event for us, you hear?! Make the climbs challenging…
  • The trees should be big and spectacular
  • The trees should be close together so that gear does not have to be carried to far between event
  • The trees should not be too close together so that they do not interfere with competitors’ concentration
  • Of course t-shirts shall be provided. And be good quality. And with colored prints on…
  • High-quality catering with veg option… (ok, that one I can relate to. I get annoyed going somewhere and the choice is: sausage or…. sausage. OK, I’ll have the bread in that case)
  • Camping on site
  • Party with music, please
  • Beer not too expensive
  • Catering not too expensive
  • Camping not too expensive
  • Prizes shall be high-quality – and lots of ’em

And so the list goes on…. quite daunting when you think about it.

But here is the thing that sometimes seems to be forgotten: all the folk organizing these events do so on a voluntary basis, it is not a public service. And should therefore not be taken for granted. It is fun to organize a good event when it is met with genuine appreciation – however, if you feel under pressure to do so in order to fulfill expectations, this changes the picture profoundly.

I sometimes wonder if the development has gone too far in the direction of professionalization and whether we should not wind the clock back: meet up in some location with a bunch of trees, no sponsorship, no t-shirts, not catering – nothing. And see what kind of effect that would have – might prove interesting.

In my opinion the TCCs belong to all who care about them, without hierarchies, regardless of whether you are in the organization, a climber, a techie, a judge or a spectator. If you care enough to be there, you become part of the event. For me the high point is not the Masters’ Challenge on Sunday afternoon, but the many moments before that. I love the atmosphere when all the volunteers turn up, the meetings before the event, the feverish buzz of gear inspection, the hive of activity of the preliminary events on Saturday… all this to me captures the essence of the climbing competitions. All of this means that it is genuinely not so important who comes out tops in the end. You ask me who won the comp after the event, I probably will have forgotten already – because it is not so important.

The importance of organizing and meeting up for these events is that we are adding an important facet to the mosaic which makes up climbers’ culture. One of many…