What’s in a name?

Well, quite a bit, actually.

It is all a matter of striking that delicate balance between authenticity, hyperbole and understatement (the only reason I wrote that was to use the word “hyperbole”, which is a funny word due to transatlantic ambiguity as to how to pronounce it… look it up).

At one end of the spectrum is that cheap and cheerful drill, grinder, sander, you name it at your local DIY centre. It is branded as Profi. Hmmm, now let’s consider the connotations of that name: Profi, professional… it brings images such as: quality, long-lasting and well thought out design. Yet probably it is not, these are, as I said above, often cheap and cheerful Chinese knock-offs. A truly professional tool is called, I dunno… Hilti, Milwaukee or something down those lines.

Hyperbole? Probably.

At the other end of the spectrum is understatement. I spotted this compressor in the toolshed of Caspar, our friendly neighbouring landscape gardner:

Okay Power? Seriously? As in, Not-Totally-Rubbish power? Or Slightly-Better-Than-Average power? This is not really selling me this compressor either.

Understated? Probably (although in this specific case, just to complicate matters, for all I know this may actually be a mediocre, cheap and cheerful Chinese knock-off, in which case it would make the brand name authentic).

Then there is the puzzling case of the Petzl OK, which always gets me thinking.

What is Petzl actually saying with that name… OK? Do they really mean that, this karabiner is merely ok? No, on reflection, what OK is an abbreviation for, of course, is Oval Karabiner. Which it was – initially… until Petzl changed the radii on the body (compare the images above and below).

If your definition of an oval connector is that the attachment points sit in the middle of the minor axis, which strikes me as being a reasonable definition of an oval, this is then no longer an oval karabiner. Making it… the Petzl NOK, maybe? Doesn’t really roll off your tongue very readily.

Welcome to the confusing world of nomenclature and branding.

Gearing up for Texas

Off to San Antonio for ITCC on Tuesday… time to break out the native garb so that we can mix with the locals. Waffle House: it’s deep fried, so it must be healthy, as it kills off all the bacteria, a bit like pasteurizing.

Yes, I am afraid Chris misconfigured his hat in the pic below: it is not from H&M, but rather also from Waffle House, like mine.

Independent verification and validation

Thinking further about yesterday’s Sequoiadendron story made me realize how an important part of identifying the right course to take revolves around discussion and weighing up information. You have an initial, knee-jerk reaction to a given situation, which may, or may not be accurate. So in a next step it is important to examine that first response more closely and to consider the pros and cons of the different options. I find it easiest to do this by discussing the issue with others.

What you are attempting to do by doing so is to develop an objective, as un-biased as possible position that will stand up to scrutiny, be it either from an ethical or a from professional point of view.

Apparently not everybody seems to be quite as discerning in such matters.

An analysis, published in November in the International Journal of Obesity by a professor at the University of Bristol, concluded that low energy sweeteners (LES) in place of sugar “in children and adults, leads to reduced EI [energy intake] and BW [body weight], and possibly also when compared with water.”

Drinking Diet Coke is healthier than water? Sound a bit… weird?

Well, maybe that is because it is: it turned out that the team had been at least in part funded by the International Life Sciences Institute-Europe (ILSI), a body backed by Nestle, Mars, Unilever, Pepsi, and Coca-Cola – and had been less than open about the degree of support received. You would be forgiven for questioning a degree of lack of objectivity as a result of this backing.

This example illustrates why we at treemagineers stand 100% behind the necessity of a robust, independent verification and validation of product, especially when they are linked to safety-critical activities – before they are launched onto the market. This process serves to eradicate, to the greatest extent possible, niggles and issues. It also helps to develop a data set that can then be provided to the end user explaining the intended use the device was designed for, by doing so assisting an informed decision-making process prior to a tool being introduced to service.

The point I am trying to make here is – the same as with deciding how to proceed with the Sequoiadendron to go to all necessary lengths to ensure that your decision is balanced, as objective as possible and free of vested interest – and then to communicate it accordingly. Being able to do so is what distinguishes a professional from an amateur.

Working on a giant

In dubio pro reo is a Latin phrase which translates as “when in doubt, for the accused”. A defendant may not be convicted by the court when a doubt about his or her guilt exists. This is roughly equivalent to “innocent until proven guilty”.

Yet when it comes to trees it often seems to me that we err heavily on the side of caution, unwilling to take a calculated risk in order to save a tree. Of course, if you remove a tree, it no longer represents a risk – but on the downside you have also put an end to that trees life.

We had an interesting job a couple of weeks back on an impressive Sequoiadendron giganteum here in town. The tree was planted in the 1860s, is therefore one of the earliest specimens in Switzerland and is one of the largest in Basle. A couple of years back it was struggling a bit with a fungus on its needles but has since pulled round well, today it is very vigorous and vital, with new shoots on all branches from the tip to the bottom branches.

In August it was struck by lightning, resulting in a branch being blown out eight meters below the tip (the tree at this point measured about 38 meters). At this point there is an open crack, caused by the lightning, for about four meters, which then continues on down one side almost to the base of the tree.

After an initial assessment by an arborist company who wanted to fell the tree, we were asked for a second opinion. My first reaction when I saw the damage was that it was really serious, and obviously you do consider felling as an option, in view of the fact that the tree is in a densely built up area in a park belonging to a block of flats that is accessible to the public, where safety is a concern. Having said that, it struck me that the damage, whilst superficially substantial was actually fairly localized and there is a large mass of wood that remains sound. We discussed it back and forth, resulting in a proposition to the owners to reduce the leverage on the damaged part of the canopy by removing a good eight meters or so off the top of the tree, shortening the side limbs in the upper part of the canopy, stabilizing the crack by bolting it with threaded bars, and treating the tree for the next five years with compost tee and compost to avoid stress due to loss of leaf mass.

After a number of meetings we got the go-ahead and were able to plan the work and finally got cracking end of February.

First off we strapped up the stem with ratchet straps to stabilize the whole thing, defined the point at which we were going to top the tree down to.

We left about half a meter of intact stem above the last ring of branches, to reduce the risk of the uppermost limbs breaking out. Then we shortened the branches in the upper part of the canopy. The new height of the tree was now 30 meters. The final cut-off point is about three meters above the damaged part and the open crack.

The following morning we started off by preparing all the hardware and hauling it into the tree. The weather was… well, soft. In fact, it was downright miserable, cold and windy. I was glad though, that the rain held off for a good part of the second day, as we had to bring electricity into the tree to power the drills and the angle grinder.

We used 12mm bars with counter-tightened M12 washers on them, sitting on 38x3mm washers. We used a special drill bit to drill through the bark, so that the washers sit flush on the wood. Once installed, the bars were cut to length. In the end, we installed fifteen such bracings.

I had suggested installing lightning protection, in order to avoid further strikes, but the owners did not want this done, which I can also live with, after all, the tree is fair bit shorter that it used to be.

I was really happy with the end result, as I feel we achieved the goals we set out to achieve, namely to make the tree safe whilst respecting its integrity.

Now it remains to be seen how the tree responds to the events of the past few months, but I am confident that in combination with the compost tee treatment, these measures are a viable, sustainable solution to retain this important tree.

What do I take away from this?

Trust trees. They are often so much more robust than we give them credit for. Demanding 100% safety is unreasonable, as I am sure we can agree upon the fact that nothing in life is 100% safe –  so why should we demand that trees be so? It is a question of managing the risk in a responsible fashion, which is not impossible, as I believe this case illustrates. Some trees are worth fighting for, having a cultural, ecological or emotional importance that warrant such efforts. In other cases, it may be more viable to close off an are to let a tree gradually fall to bits. And in other cases again, removing the tree may be the correct response. As professionals, it is important that we question which the right route to follow is and to communicate options, not to automatically choose the easiest one.

Thanks go out to the baumpartner crew for going along with this one and to Vito for the pics.

Oh yes, and don’t forget to enjoy the view while you are up there!

Not my problem

In our line of work you find yourself working in many different kinds of situations. Sometimes in the tranquillity of a private park, other times in tight confines of an urban garden – and sometimes alongside busy roadways.

A couple of weeks ago we were due to do some work on an alignment of plane trees between a road and railway tracks. The council we were working for were handling the traffic management side of things. The road running alongside the alignment is a 40km/h zone with moderately heavy traffic, with a bus line and quite a few heavy lorries running to and from construction sites nearby. As this is just by the railway station there is also a fair amount of pedestrian traffic.

After arriving on Monday morning, we had a site briefing with the team and the council workers about how we were going to run things, as there was also the hazard of the over-head power lines of the train, there was a safety person on site from the railway operator.

After that we got stuck in – and from the word go it transpired that the traffic management was… well, flakey, to put it lightly. The guy responsible for waving through and stopping vehicles had just spent three days the week before at Fasnacht, the local carnival, and was obviously still very much in that mode: he spent the morning hurling abuse and scorn at vehicles passing by. I was amazed his antics did not result in a fist fight. The signage on-site was also on the skimpy side. This became a bit of a pattern over the next two days. But as we were working for the council and these were after all council employees, I felt that if this is the way they choose to operate… so be it.

Thinking about it, I realized that the constant heckling was creating a real sense of – unnecessary –confusion and stress around the site: a lack of clarity for motorists and cyclists and a stressful atmosphere for the ground workers and climbers aloft. One person’s decision on how it is appropriate to behave also reflected badly on the whole team, despite the fact that everybody else was behaving professionally.

On the third day a different worker managed the traffic with a lollipop sign.

The difference could not have been more striking. From one moment to the next (in combination with proper signage), this took a whole lot of stress and pressure out of proceedings and also made for a much clearer situation – and guess what? There was also no more need for shouting.

In hindsight I realized that is was wrong to delegate that part of the job to council, considering this not to be any of my business. Ultimately if I drop a stub that ricochets off one of the lower limbs and strikes a vehicle or a person, it becomes very much my business, regardless of whether the council boys and girls were doing a good job – or not.

This is not a sensational insight or revelation, but rather a reminder of the necessity to take all aspects of a job into account, to be diligent in not allowing yourself to create blind spots or areas that are none of your business, but rather to take an active interest and role in making the site as safe and efficient as possible.

When working aloft, everything happening below you needs to be your business.

Inspiration, where art thou?

Pruning trees can get a bit repetitive sometimes, always going through the same motions… so where do you get your inspiration from? Easy: Just take cues from your surroundings.

Just spotted this while I was out looking at a job. Obviously, the above exactly what the person “pruning” this poor old poplar did, using the mobile antenna on the roof of the adjacent building as his source of inspiration… nice one, Swisscom!

Actually, working on trees is not repetitive, as each situation is unique, every time you are identifying appropriate solutions for exactly that situation – so no, it is not repetitive, but rather a highly creative and individualistic process.

Signs of life

No need to worry (or rejoice, depending on your point of view), I have not run out of things to write about, the treemagineers blog has not become defunct, it is rather that I have found myself having to focus on other matters, we are in the final days of this winter’s felling season, I have had to bring my mind to bear on up-coming projects and events as they become more imminent, so one way and another the blog has become a bit side-lined.

But as I said above, there is plenty more to write about, I don’t see the topics drying up in a hurry any time soon.

So check back, more to come…