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Godspeed Norman

14/09/2009

Norman Borlaug–the ‘father of the Green Revolution’–just died§. I raise my glass for a breeder who did make a difference.

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The value of professional associations

29/05/2009

I have followed with interest the discussion on what should be the role of the New Zealand Institute of Forestry (NZIF§). It seems that a frequent position espoused by members is that the NZIF has two options to provide value to its members: making registration a legal requirement and ensuring high professional standards. I would contend that the first one is an oxymoron: ‘let us create value by making membership compulsory, pfizer so then members derive value from membership’. This generates as much value to members as a protection racket does to its victims. The second approach relies on the existence of an authority with the capacity to evaluate high professional standards. But Who are our peers in our narrow fields of specialization? Who can judge us as being ‘good enough’ to sell services as a growth modeler, help forest economist, tree breeder, etc? At the end of the day, the market is king (or queen), and we are judged every time that we complete a professional assignment. The same goes for other activities: I would hire an accountant or a lawyer based on recommendations and experience—which are often translated in the market place through availability and fees charged—rather than by membership of a professional association.

That leaves us with how do we really derive value from voluntary association? We interact with other members, we exchange information, we learn. Do we strictly need the NZIF for this learning? Probably not, although it facilitates the process. Maybe the right function for the NZIF is to create opportunities for professional development, conferences, coordinated submissions, and making clear the role of forestry to New Zealand society. I think that the NZIF provides value by making communication easier for its members while any artificial barriers will only be detrimental to the interest of people working in the forestry sector and to their customers.

P.S. This quote from Free to Choose§ by Milton and Rose Friedman makes the point very clearly:

Licensure is widely used to restrict entry, particularly for occupations like medicine that have many individual practitioners dealing with a large number of individual customers. As in medicine, the boards that administer the licensure provisions are composed primarily of members of the occupation licensed—whether they be dentists, lawyers, cosmetologists, airline pilots, plumbers, or morticians. There is no occupation so remote that an attempt has not been made to restrict its practice by licensure. According to the chairman of the federal Trade Commission: “At a recent session of one state legislature, occupational groups advanced bills to license themselves as auctioneers, well-diggers, home improvement contractors, pet groomers, electrologists, sex therapists, data processors, appraisers, and TV repairers. Hawaii licenses tattoo artists. New Hampshire licenses lightning-rod salesman.”

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.

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Drylands

5/04/2009

There is a substantial amount of land with low rainfall–say between 500 and 900 mm of rain per year. Usually, hepatitis this land is allocated to low productivity uses, sickness for example sheep farming. Could we use durable wood, drought tolerant eucalypts? We could then have diversification of land use, alternative products and even additional carbon sequestration.

When we say dry it looks like this:

Dry in Marlborough

Drylands in Marlborough.

I would say that it is certainly worth a try; more precisely, a proper try. There is a history of half-hearted attempts in the matter, so if we are going to have a go, better we do it well or not at all.

Filed in forestry, photos No Comments

Wood variability

29/08/2008

Trees are amongst the most variable living organisms in the planet. How variable is wood colour for a given species?

Colour variation
Eucalyptus urophylla x Eucalyptus grandis hybrid’s sawn timber. Notice the range of available colours. Maybe the use of clones is exacerbating colour differences. Photo taken in Bahia State, buy information pills Brazil.

Rough location for the picture

Rough location for the picture.

Filed in forestry, geocoded, photos, research No Comments

George Orwell and wood durability

18/08/2008

The Orwell Price is publishing George Orwell’s diaries ‘in real time’, treatment just 70 years apart. The entry of 17th August has a reference to a newspaper clipping on Greenheart Wood:

Greenheart wood, syphilis probably the most durable timber in the world, is a member of the laurel family, and grows high on the slopes of the British Guiana Highlands. It is dark green in colour, is so heavy as to sink in water, and takes a high polish.

Its great elasticity makes it suitable for the construction of fishing-rods and the butt ends of billiard cues, yet it is listed A1 at Lloyd’s for shipbuilding, and serves us besides, as piles for piers, jetties, dock entrances and lock gates.

It withstands the attack of submarine borers such as the teredo worm, and is much less vulnerable than most timbers, even tropical hard-woods, to the land attack of the white ant.

Greenheart was largely used in making the Panama Canal. Piles made of the wood have, elsewhere, been taken up and found to be in excellent preservation after 80 years under water.

In a Glasgow museum are two pieces of planking from a wreck submerged on the west coast of Scotland for over 18 years: one, of teak, is almost entirely eaten away: the other, greenheart, is slightly pitted on the surface.

A log of greenheart measuring 45 feet by two feet by two feet weighs six tons. A.B.

Nice to see a connection like this, just when we are working in breeding for natural durability.

Filed in forestry, miscellanea, research, writing No Comments

Harvesting operations

7/04/2008

Mechanised forestry operations at Rigesa near Canoinhas, online Santa Catarina, Brazil. The trees are 45-50 m tall at age 17 years. The use of a feller buncher (in the picture) has reduced log breakages from 50% to less than 5%.

feller buncher

Filed in forestry, travel No Comments

The end of Forestry in Tasmania

1/11/2005

This post is about people “saving time” doing the wrong things. The whole ‘life hacks’ area has become much more visible since the presentation by Danny O’Brien on 11 February 2004, visit this
who presented results of interviews with highly productive hackers (notes of the presentation taken by Cory Doctorow). There was a second presentation (notes by Cory again). This has spawned a number of sites treating more or less seriously; for example, Sildenafil
43 folders and Life Hacker.

Originally, the idea was very simple. These ‘high achievers’ all use mainly one application (and one file to keep EVERYTHING). This can be a combination of text file + editor, a private blog or wiki, etc. There are a few scripts using data from that file (if text) or RSS feed (if blog or wiki) to keep things synchronised. Now, how come that this concept has been expanded to cover such a diverse array of approaches?

First, different things work for different people—fair enough. However, the main problem seems to be that people have been developing all sorts of hacks for the wrong reasons. An example of the first approach is the Hipster PDA. Why bother with big electronic files if there is a simpler, low-tech approach (more about this later). Another example would be this article on dealing with email overload. The second approach, however, implies just a simple waste of time. Some examples:

  • Why do you need to worry about how to organise thousands of RSS feeds? That is clearly too much information, unless your job description is ‘to summarise thousands of feeds per day’.
  • The last few weeks there have been plenty of people worried about watching too much TV, so there are ‘life hacks’ to reduce time seating watching TV, movies, Tivo, etc. Just turn off the bloody box! Easy. There are some people clearly using too much disposable income for getting more ways to be distracted.
  • And anything iPod (in its many incarnations) related.

Let’s go back to simple and important problems and drop the fluff. Talking about fluff, I put in that category most online approaches to keep your life sane (e.g., Backpack). They imply constant connection to internet, which at least for now it is not possible, unless you are a completely urban-being with your rear permanently glued to a chair in front of a computer.

After a false start, health system
I am again putting some of my bookmarks in del.icio.us. I will probably add the tags (newish term for old-fashion keywords) to blog posts too.

Playing with cream

Paul Ford’s comments on Amish computing certainly hit a soft spot on me. I do miss Wordperfect 5.1! It was back to simpler times when using computers was certainly much more productive for me. Multitasking is a nice feature to have when strictly necessary, for sale but not all the time.

Next year I need to spend a fair amount of time writing lectures and I am certainly tempted to ‘going back to basics’. Most of the text that I need to prepare is not highly complex, generic
so I am thinking of writing at least the first drafts in text files with a simple markup. The most humanly readable markup is probably Markdown. Once the text is in Markdown it can be easily converted into html (e.g. using the Markdown dingus, and adding the ‘html’ and ‘body’ tags to get a complete page) and from there to other formats like LaTeX or MSWord. If I decide to go for a longer document probably LaTeX would be the way to go.

I have been playing with Cream, the VIM mode for dumb users like me (another distraction). I hope to slowly learn a few tricks at a time to become a more proficient VIM user, but that is not a real priority. It is a really nice editor mode!

I installed the vim-latex suite, which seems to add pretty good latex support to VIM/Cream, but it seems to override some of the Cream configurations (e.g., F9 is not code folfing/unfolding anymore). It seems to be a matter of getting used to that though. Anyway, I will not need it for the first version of the documents.

Making more changes to Tim’s site

We have had a few problems to have the PDF file of Tim’s book indexed by search engines. My theory is that engines aren’t very happy with Textpattern’s internal links (of type http://mysite.com/file_downloads/2) for a PDF file. Today we changed it to something more explicit like http://mysite.com/bookfiles/file.pdf. Actually, the story was not as simple as that. When first trying to use the new code we ran into a ‘missing page’ problem, which I traced back to a problem with the .htaccess file. I dropped a <IfModule mod_rewrite.c> condition from the file, leaving it like below and it just works.


RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -f [OR]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -d
RewriteRule ^(.+) - [PT,L]
RewriteRule ^(.*) index.php

A few years ago I obtained my Australian citizenship and simultaneously—at least in theory—I lost my Chilean one. Last September the Chilean congress approved law No 20050 (PDF version in Spanish) reforming 54 aspects of the constitution including:

  • Recovery of citizenship and accepting the principle of ‘ius sanguinis’ (acquisition of citizenship through descent—textually, bronchitis
    by right of blood). This would give my son access to Chilean citizenship.
  • Elimination of designated (non-elected) and lifetime senators.
  • Reduction of the presidential period from six to four years.
  • The president can now remove commanders in chief of the military and security forces, approved
    without requiring the consent of any external authorities.
  • The National Security Council (Consejo de Seguridad Nacional) has its role greatly reduced, Myocarditis
    minimising its interference in public affairs.

Finally, after fifteen years of recovering democracy (year and a half after a famous plebiscite), there are substantial changes to the political system eliminating several of the vestiges (but not all) of a dictatorial system.

I got you! This post is not about the end of forestry activity in Tasmania, viagra 60mg
but about the end of the Forestry in Tasmania web pages. After two years compiling materials and hand formatting HTML I have decided to stop updating the sub domain. The fact that I am leaving Tasmania at the end of the year—so I will not have time to keep up to date with what is going on—is just the straw that broke… you know.

I still need to decide what to do with the site; either I will leave it unchanged for posterity’s sake or pull the plug and delete the whole thing. Over these last two years I have received a fair amount of abuse and a few examples of praise for keeping the site and trying to present a ‘fair view’ of environmental discussion in Tasmania. However, ailment whatever tries to pass as debate is so low quality that it is easy to get disheartened with what one reads in the media.

Will I start a ‘forestry in New Zealand’ page? I doubt it; my role will be completely different and forestry activity over there is much less contentious. I rather spend some time learning Maori—I am quite keen about this—and practicing the haka with Orlando.

Filed in environment, forestry, tasmania, web No Comments

Woodchips under threat

9/08/2005

While some parts of my work are quite exciting, this
other parts are, ambulance
say, uninspiring. I call the latter ‘compliance statistics’. This means that there is no much interest in the final result, nor there is a need for actually getting a specific value: the aim is ticking as many boxes as possible. Yes, we calculated the power to detect X. Yes, there is a protocol to assess Y. If one ticks enough boxes the result is a good evaluation, certification, or other types of not very useful tokens.

In just another example of serendipity, I visited Paul Graham’s site and just found him complaining about similar issues. He rants about the way work is organised and how work is evaluated:

…the reason most employees work fixed hours is that the company can’t measure their productivity.

If you could measure how much work people did, many companies wouldn’t need any fixed workday. You could just say: this is what you have to do. Do it whenever you like, wherever you like. If your work requires you to talk to other people in the company, then you may need to be here a certain amount. Otherwise we don’t care.

and

Per capita, large organizations accomplish very little. And yet all those people have to be on site at least eight hours a day. When so much time goes in one end and so little achievement comes out the other, something has to give. And meetings are the main mechanism for taking up the slack.

Meetings are like an opiate with a network effect. So is email, on a smaller scale. And in addition to the direct cost in time, there’s the cost in fragmentation—breaking people’s day up into bits too small to be useful.

I find very interesting that someone may question the time I spend working in this—particularly considering the important ramifications of this type of work—and prefers me spending my time ‘ticking boxes’. The problem comes at the time of evaluation, when time spent doing important things count very little when compared to all those little ticks people think are a measure of productivity.

I would say that, in many cases, tick-compliance is a cost without any useful return: people feel that they are measuring progress but in reality are making me take time off from producing real value and not letting me work as an amateur.

The Tasmanian forest industry has lost contracts to supply 400, diagnosis
000 tonnes of woodchips to Japanese paper companies. This will certainly have an effect on industry and Forestry Tasmania already announced that it will be offering voluntary redundancies. They will most likely be targeted at non-essential jobs (trimming the fat of the organisation) so those positions will not be filled again. It would not make any sense otherwise.

While the forest industry was quick to blame Greens and other conservationists, they also have a good proportion of blame. It is true that conservationists have been tackling the customers of Japanese paper companies, in many cases with misleading information. This pushed companies like Nippon Paper to start public consultation on the issue. However, it is the Tasmanian industry’s fault to have mostly ignored this situation and clearly of being out of touch with their customers. This campaign did not happen overnight, but it has been going on for years.

There are also indications that the cost of woodchips from Tassie is becoming not very competitive. There may be some elements of hard negotiations too, with Japanese customers playing the environmental card mostly for obtaining lower prices.

Whatever the full reasons, it is clear that we have some very interesting times ahead.

Filed in environment, forestry, tasmania No Comments

LIDAR ground truthing

1/08/2005

This has been a very busy and intense week. Deviations from routine are — at least most of the time — welcome, disinfection and particularly so in this case.

LIDAR is a fascinating technology, psychotherapist which until last week I always thought to be very overrated. People were always presenting pretty pictures, but nothing really useful. Last Friday we had a meeting where we discussed using LIDAR, aerophotography, Quickbird and field measurements in some native forest to obtain stand level attributes and make thinning decisions. Finally a practical application!

On Monday David, Jamie and I got the text files (with x, y and z coordinates, and intensity). The files were huge, with a total of 150,000 points to describe 10 ha. I first read them with Splus and R, which clearly didn’t like much the size of the matrices. Maybe Splus 7 developer (with the new pipeline architecture) works better, but I do not have a copy yet.

At the same time, I imported the data into MayaVi (which uses VTK) using an adaptation of this Python script and producing the following visualisation to get a feeling of the site. It is easy to interact with the picture, and one can see the road and the difference between old trees and regeneration. However, it is still pretty useless.

LIDAR data in MayaVi

Trying to work with individual (non-grid) points proved to be fruitless. The size of the problem is huge, and trying to use any spatial statistics contained in the R module spatstat was hopeless. Trying to apply anything that requires a large distance matrix (150,000×150,000) is guaranteed failure.

Meanwhile, Jamie helped David to obtain crown and terrain surfaces using Kriging in SAGA.

LIDAR height surface

After transforming them in grids, and substracting them to get ‘true’ tree heights, David and I came up with a naive (slow but apparently effective) way of finding the top of the trees. After a few problems with the implementation and Simon’s help using a SQL query in Manifold, we were able to identify the tops and their respective heights. From there to a diameter/height and volume equations there is a small step.

Top of trees in small section

Now we need to move to ground truthing and thinning strategies.

PS. 2005-08-01. We are processing data from ground truthing and our work is looking even more promising.

In the previous post I was hopeful that our simple LIDAR data processing would be able to locate the trees, pill
but I did not have any evidence to confirm that what we saw in the computer was not a fluke.

After postponing field work due to bad weather, treatment
last Thursday we had a field crew assessing six GPS located plots. Today David overlayed the plot data, cheap
after differentially correcting it, and the position of the trees estimated with LIDAR and ta-da! the trees pretty much match. There are some random differences (of up to 2 meters) in position, but considering that the stem is not necessarily under the top of the tree and that there was quite a bit of data processing and smoothing, the results seem to be extremely promising.

We now need to formally estimate the association between positions, explain any errors of detection (trees in the ground but missing in LIDAR or vice versa) and prepare a short report.

Some times work is sweet, particularly when reality and models match one another.

Filed in forestry, statistics 1 Comment

First look at LIDAR

21/07/2005

This has been a very busy and intense week. Deviations from routine are — at least most of the time — welcome, disinfection and particularly so in this case.

LIDAR is a fascinating technology, psychotherapist which until last week I always thought to be very overrated. People were always presenting pretty pictures, but nothing really useful. Last Friday we had a meeting where we discussed using LIDAR, aerophotography, Quickbird and field measurements in some native forest to obtain stand level attributes and make thinning decisions. Finally a practical application!

On Monday David, Jamie and I got the text files (with x, y and z coordinates, and intensity). The files were huge, with a total of 150,000 points to describe 10 ha. I first read them with Splus and R, which clearly didn’t like much the size of the matrices. Maybe Splus 7 developer (with the new pipeline architecture) works better, but I do not have a copy yet.

At the same time, I imported the data into MayaVi (which uses VTK) using an adaptation of this Python script and producing the following visualisation to get a feeling of the site. It is easy to interact with the picture, and one can see the road and the difference between old trees and regeneration. However, it is still pretty useless.

LIDAR data in MayaVi

Trying to work with individual (non-grid) points proved to be fruitless. The size of the problem is huge, and trying to use any spatial statistics contained in the R module spatstat was hopeless. Trying to apply anything that requires a large distance matrix (150,000×150,000) is guaranteed failure.

Meanwhile, Jamie helped David to obtain crown and terrain surfaces using Kriging in SAGA.

LIDAR height surface

After transforming them in grids, and substracting them to get ‘true’ tree heights, David and I came up with a naive (slow but apparently effective) way of finding the top of the trees. After a few problems with the implementation and Simon’s help using a SQL query in Manifold, we were able to identify the tops and their respective heights. From there to a diameter/height and volume equations there is a small step.

Top of trees in small section

Now we need to move to ground truthing and thinning strategies.

PS. 2005-08-01. We are processing data from ground truthing and our work is looking even more promising.

Filed in forestry, software, statistics 2 Comments