Treeclimbing Fun in St. Louis

A couple of weeks ago I met up with my friend Guy Mott who runs Adventure Tree – a recreational tree climbing and experiential education organization.  He invited me to come to a climb and I just want to share with you how awesome of an experience it was.

I first became interested in tree climbing a few years ago when I had the idea of installing a giant tree-swing on one of the large oak trees in my yard.  It actually wasn’t my idea… my mother-in-law, (Curator of The Shabby Chateaux in #STL) made a custom swing seat for my daughter’s birthday a few years ago and it got me thinking about where to install it…

The best branch to use seemed to be about 40 feet high, so I started researching how to put a rope up there.  So after researching the topic for awhile and learning about cambium savers (they protect the rope and the tree from friction/degradation), I started getting these arborist catalogs in the mail.  From a gadget-junkie perspective – there were tons of cool things to look at and dream about.

Fast forward a few years and through a friend of a friend I met Guy, and I finally had a chance to get out for a climb.  The “open climb” as he calls them took place at a huge tree somewhere in Florissant, MO and upon driving up, you see this massive tree with ropes hanging down all over the place.

Site of the tree climb

Guy and his assistant, Deanna, started talking to us about trees in general, mixing in a little educational content, and in no time at all we were putting on harnesses, helmets and gloves and going through basic training.  The system works amazingly well – all using ropes in different configurations to hold onto the harness, and to provide a path for moving upwards and downwards with ease.  After getting our gear on, Guy hooked us into the rope system.  Once we were hooked in, we move the “magic knot” that holds us onto the rope as high as we can go.  Then, we move the foot rope up so we have a platform to step on.  From there, it’s pretty easy.  Just stand up and then sit down.  Do this and you move upwards about 8″ at a time.  Move the magic know and the foot knots upward and repeat the action.  That’s all that’s required – it really is simple.

To get down, all that’s required is placing both hands over the magic knot, and applying downward pressure.  It works like a charm.  To protect ourselves from inadvertently moving downwards if we apply pressure at the wrong time, we are told to put “safety stops” into our rope every 5 feet or so.  We are told how to put these knots in place and it’s also very easy.  When I was climbing I often forgot to do this until I looked down and saw how high I was.  Then I would collect up the rope below me and put in the safety knots after the fact.  No big deal.

Here’s a picture that someone took of me at about 40 feet or so:

The view of base camp from above

There were 3 other climbers there that day, so we had plenty of time to explore the tree at our own pace.  Frankly, despite being very eager to get up there, I was simultaneously afraid of heights and didn’t know what to expect.  The neat thing about climbing trees in this way is first of all that it’s extremely safe.  Guy even has children climb 5 years and older.  I also like that you move at your own pace (at least with smaller groups) – as I would progress upwards, I would occasionally find myself getting to a place of fear.  So I would just stop what I was doing, sit in my harness, take a few deep breaths, and work through it.  The amazing thing is that once you hang out for awhile, you get used to the height and it’s no longer a big deal.  Then you continue on upwards.

To make the climb a little more interesting, they place horns and flags way up high in the tree as signal to those below that the climber made it to the top.  Also, there are a number of ropes to choose from, each giving a different perspective of the tree.  Once you make it up to the branches of the tree, you’re welcome to sit on them.  Yet if you want to venture out on a branch, Guy recommends that you take his next-level course to learn how to safely traverse the tree.

Once you get up there, the views are pretty amazing – it’s neat how far you could see, and even more so, the change of perspective is good, too.  One thing I noticed that I really loved was the sense of quiet that you experience up there.  I imagine it would be a really great place to meditate, way up in the tree.  Another nice thing is that the air gets cooler as you move up.  The day we climbed was a warm one, so it was a treat to experience to cool breezes once you reach the canopy.

Full view of climbers in the tree

To me it was a completely awesome experience and I cannot wait to do it again, bringing my wife and daughter along.  Guy also sets up climbing systems at other sites, zipline systems, and he even does birthday parties!  I plan on eventually hiring him to install a rope system on one of my old oak trees to give me a place to get some perspective, solitude, and perhaps also read a good book!

Check it out and if you have any other questions, feel free to get in touch with me via twitter @dwechsler, or Guy via his website above.






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How to Programmatically Retrieve Weather Data

English: Sample image of the National Weather ...

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I was working on a project for work a few weeks ago where I needed to get a good idea of the ambient temperatures near the office for a couple of months. I’m running a set of experiments that test how hot our units get when transmitting different amounts of data. I wanted to know how well our products wick-away heat under various temperature conditions. At the time that I started the test, the temperature chamber was occupied, so I decided to go ahead using our outside testing environment.

Getting the Data
At first I didn’t have much data to work with, so I retrieved the data I needed manually from the National Weather Service’s Hourly Weather Data page. After doing this for a while, especially as more data came in became very tiring and inefficient. Continue reading

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Experimenting with Electro-Culture

Romanesco broccoli or fractal broccoli is an e...

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Ever since I was an adolescent, I loved finding catalogs and books covering esoteric subjects and arcane scientific knowledge.  One thing I came upon was a set of papers archived by Rex Research that covered an amazing array of electrostatic-based inventions and discoveries.

After revisiting the idea once in a while over the years, I recently came across a much greater selection of web-material for the related topic of electro-culture… the concept of growing plants with electricity. Continue reading


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My views on private social media tools in the enterprise

In response to:

As a systems designer in a company that uses a collaboration tools from basic email to wikis, an intranet, and sharepoint, I don’t think this provides enough connectivity to truly reach a company-wide synergy.   The ability to have internal “public” conversations where anyone can add their input would be extremely valuable in that it would help to lower the walls between various marketing / design / manufacture / test groups, partner companies, and remote workers thus allowing greater amounts of collaboration in real-time, without the need to wait for the weekly project status meeting.  I can see cool things happening like getting meaningful contributions from employees who have relevant experiences from one of their previous careers.  It can significantly boost the knowledge capital of an organization.  Furthermore, being able to browse employee profiles can create greater camaraderie between co-workers by their ability to find common interests with ease, at least much easier than the chance conversation where you discover you have something in common.

Another solution is needed which the likes of Yammer,, SocialCast and others solve.  I am very interested in bringing these technologies to my company.  Despite selling the idea to a number of upper-level managers, I am hoping that we can move forward with a pilot run without our IT department vetoing  it.

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Local Harvest

While it’s quite late in the season – in fact, the season is long over now, we just harvested our last crop of the season – Loofa!  Actually, we harvested it much earlier – back in August when we noticed a few huge cucumber-like vegetables growing along our garden fence.  Since we lost the identification tags, we didn’t know what they were.  In fact, we assumed that because the tags were lost that the seeds didn’t take.  Back to the harvest – when we cut them open, we didn’t know what they were since they were hard on the inside – they didn’t seem edible, nor did they have any strong taste to them.   So, we took them and threw them away into our garden.  Interestingly, just last week we were in the garden looking around and noticed loofa-looking things in there.  check out the pictures (to be added soon).

Also, since learning about the local food movement, we’ve made a lot of progress in creating our own products!  Here’s a list:

  • Comb honey from our 5 hives (mostly top-bar style) via 2 Tanzanian TBHs and 3 Langstroth hives.
  • Daily egg production from our flock of hens (varies between 6 and 20).  The high variability is due to possums, raccoons, and foxes.
  • Organic fruit and vegetable harvests
  • Home-brewing dandelion wine in both filtered and unfiltered varieties.

Next year we plan on doing more of the same, expanding the scale and changing a few things.  I want to shift to more traditional frame-based beekeeping to increase our honey yields, make a 5x increase in the dandelion wine production while experimenting with different recipes, grow more loofa, and start growing a few varieties of bamboo both as a privacy fence, but also for construction materials and edible bamboo shoots.


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LETS Create the Our Own Weath

In these days & times we seem to be surrounded by news of company layoffs, stock market tumbles, and continuing economic hardships from a declining economy.   Yet despite all of the bad news surrounding our collective finances, perhaps there can be another way to live our lives in a productive, fulfilling, and satisfying manner which can provide all of the basics that we need, plus some gravy on top of it all…

Consider an alternative, i.e. complementary currencies – a number of systems are presently in existence with members offering a wide range of goods and services that could help you with meeting your daily needs, and making your life easier.  One such system is called the Saint Louis Community Exchange, founded by David Wechsler.  While talking to various people and hearing about all of the interesting trades that people were doing individually, he pondered the possibility of creating a system where people could trade with each other using an intermediate system that would keep track of credits that people used when bartering with each other.   This would allow more complex trades to take place, i.e. If you want some used sports equipment, and the seller wants a video game system that you do not have, but your friend does – this type of system would help facilitate trades like that, but in a much simpler way than you would expect:

The St. Louis Community Exchange, also called a LETS or Local Energy Trading System, is a world-wide system that encourages members to trade for something generally called ‘Community Credit’, meaning that if you take from the system, you are obligated to give back to the system in some way or form at some point in the future.

If we open our minds to the limitless possibilities of abundance in our lives, then we can see that before our eyes we have options before us that can limit or even remove the discomfort from the ‘economic downturn’ that’s occuring all around us.  By staying positive and offering some of the wonderful skills that you all have to your community, together we can create a vibrant & sustainable complementary economy to keep our lives running with grace and ease.

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Smart Grid Re-Education: Part I

In my search for other employment opportunities, I have decided that I can’t just ride on the heels of my past work experiences at Aclara.  I need to dig my heels in a bit more to get a broader perspective on the industry in general, and step away from the narrow TWACS-based industry viewpoint.  In saying this, I’m not sending a jab to Aclara/DCSI, but rather stating that I am recognizing my need for looking at the bigger picture.  What does smart-grid mean anyway?  In my previous world, it only covered “Field Area Network”, i.e. AMI/AMR in the distribution network.  In the brief amount of time I’ve spent researching the big picture, I see that it’s alot bigger than I expected!

The Smart Grid space can be divided into multiple segments by various domain standards (i.e. protocol standards):

While this is a very technical standards-body based list, for me, it shows all the areas where I need to start looking to learn more.  Presently, my understanding is in the Field Area Network Domain as well as the consumer domain, in my working with ANSI C12.19 and C12.22 in relation to mapping meter data to our transponders and making the data available for use by the master station software.    Here’s an observation:  there are a whole lot of standards at play here!  Wow.  Talk about complex!

Furthermore, I was recently talking to a friend at Cisco who was telling me that there is a big movement going on in their organization to take a leading role in the Smart Grid space.  Now that I see things from a bigger picture with so many different network control systems from the field, to inter-grid control systems, to billing systems, substation automation, not to mention an umbrella of security, I can definitely see how they plan on making inroads into this market space.

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