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Taking the pain out of tree measurement calculations

Posted: Sun Jun 01, 2014 11:49 am
by dbhguru
Hi Ents,

As Don Bertolette and I move toward cementing the AF-NTS connection, the operative assumption is that NTS members are going to be on board to help AF measure complicated trees and tree shapes (banyans, kapoks?). We would likely be called upon to settle disputes in high profile competitions. This means that we will need to measure highly irregular shapes using methods that yield better results than what state certifiers and independent big tree hunters would ordinarily use. Teasing apart multi-stememd trees, measuring complex crown shapes, piecing together a tree's height from multiple locations, etc, could be daily fare. However, there isn't much point to it being an us versus them debate, unless we are clearly better at the craft than they are. That has been my point in pushing our services, but we can't rest on our laurels.

Up until recently, I tended to dismiss certifiers as minimally competent, but some of the questions from the field that Don and I are getting, courtesy of the recent two webinars, suggest otherwise. Yes, there are plenty of states that don't take their big tree programs seriously, but some definitely do, and I don't mean just those associated with NTS (that has always been a given). But I'm beginning to think that there may be other people in the state programs who are ready to push the envelope and elevate the skill. AF's days of catering to the lowest common denominator are drawing to a close.

Over the last several years, it hasn't escaped my notice that the Excel spreadsheets that I've put out to automate otherwise computationally intense processes have not gone far with my fellow and lady Ents. Basically, they have gotten zero use. I presume the reason is either that the processes being automated haven't captured imaginations - or that the spreadsheets are simply too awkward and difficult to follow. I expect the answer lies more with the latter than former. When I revisit a spreadsheet of mine after the lapse of time, I often ask myself, now, what was it I was trying to measure? If I read through all my comments, the explanations are there, but the purpose and process is initially obscure. I can understand why others might blink and move on.

Since my wife Monica has been working with Don and I on the AF guidelines, Monica has served as a judge for not only the clarity of the narrative, but also an interpreter of the diagrams, and now the spreadsheets. If they don't pass her test of comprehensibility, they flunk, pure and simple. I timidly admit to her having flunked me on many occasions. It isn't because Monica is mathematically challenged. She's quick and alert on the topics. As a retired professor of music from Smith College, her academic credentials and her mental acumen are guaranteed. She is also a prolific reader, and knows when writing is clear and to the point, and when the author is wandering all over the map, never seeming to get the explanation across. Writing clear guidelines is an art.

So, with the above said, I'm actively looking for ways of automating measurement computational processes so that anyone who can take the raw measurements in the field can feed them to a handy routine and get answers on the spot. This has sent me back to my iPhone to evaluate a new simple version of the BASIC programming language called HotPaw Basic. It is specifically designed for the iPhone and iPad, and can handle relatively complex multi-step calculations through BASIC programs.

The app only costs $1.99. So, obviously, cost is not an issue for anyone with an iPhone 4 or later and the latest operating system. I can supply the programs for those with iPhones and the inclination to do more sophisticated tree measurements such as crown spread from a distance. I'll also have spreadsheet solutions.

There is always a more sophisticated way of tackling a measurement problem. But with increased sophistication usually comes increased hardware cost and/or complicated software that most people really aren't up to tackling. I think with a laser rangefinder, clinometer, compass, iPhone (maybe an android) and HotPaw Basic, we can keep the equipment and software investment down, and still have the computational routines to do some pretty snazzy measuring - enough to maintain our reputation. Then, if anyone wants to upgrade their equipment, a TruPulse 360 and some iPhone programs and Excel spreadsheets can keep them in business a long time. If you want to know how valuable a TruPulse 360 really is, just ask Larry Tucei. BTW, Don Bertolette will soon have one. So, between Larry, Don, Will Blozan, me, and maybe someone else out there, we have the makings of the 360 Club. No religion, no politics, just tree measuring.

If anyone is interested in working with me on using HotPaw Basic, I would email you programs for different measuring routines, which you could then type into HotPaw Basic and save under names you choose. I'm also thinking of getting a C programming app for the iPhone and develop solutions in it. But BASIC is simpler and adequate for now. I'm not sure what would justify C at this point.


Re: Taking the pain out of tree measurement calculations

Posted: Sun Jun 01, 2014 8:16 pm
by Don
You're right on the instructions being crux...I've said it differently before many times, it's very difficult to put together an idiot-proof how-to manual.
That said, I like the idea of an iPhone Excel-like App, where you enter raw data into a user-friendly front end, and the App spits out answers in a form where the raw data, images, and answer are associated, saved, and sendable for secured copy!

Re: Taking the pain out of tree measurement calculations

Posted: Sun Jun 01, 2014 8:27 pm
by edfrank
The problem with making something idiot proof is that they keep making better idiots every year.

Re: Taking the pain out of tree measurement calculations

Posted: Mon Jun 02, 2014 6:58 am
by Joe
dbhguru wrote:Yes, there are plenty of states that don't take their big tree programs seriously, but some definitely do
Bob, just curious, but roughly what percent of the states' big tree measuring "leadership" are aware of this NTS BBS? I would think getting the word out to those folks would draw in a lot more people. I bet most would participate if they know about it- if they're serious about this effort.

Re: Taking the pain out of tree measurement calculations

Posted: Mon Jun 02, 2014 11:44 am
by dbhguru

I expect most state program coordinators are at least aware of the NTS website and BBS. Don Bertolette may have a better feel for how many take our site seriously. Regardless of what the situation is presently, I expect the number will increase after these AF-LTI webinars. I'm more optimistic these days than I've been in the past. I think the number out there who want to push the envelope is growing. The mindset of seeking the lowest common denominator may soon be a thing of the past. Yes, we want the public's involvement in non-technical ways, but when we get down to crowning a national champion, we want to be dead serious. Don deserves a lot of credit for emphasizing the need to get very serious at the national level. No shortcuts.

The height webinar is tomorrow at 12:00PM EDT.