Canterbury A&P Show 2011

Today is the first day of the Canterbury A&P Show. I will be working at the University of Canterbury, School of Forestry table all week so stop by and say hello. We are in the Trade Pavilion.


Curious children counting tree rings on a Douglas fir


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Crowdsourcing Ecosystem Services Certification

I recently read the report by CIFOR on Ecosystem Services Certification. The problem with certification seems to be finding a system that is not easy to cheat but also affordable enough for smaller players to participate. A certification system like Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is hard to cheat but small players cannot afford to be certified and tracking the chain of command is nearly impossible in some countries. Other certification systems are not stringent enough and anyone can be certified leaving the public confused about how much they can trust certification. But what if we let the public help certify ecosystem services? What about trying to crowd source ecosystem services certification? It is completely different from all current certification systems but I think there is potential for such a scheme. Smaller players may not generate as much interest from the public and therefore would not have to spend as much time and money on certification while larger more controversial projects may need to do quite a bit of work to gain public approval.

There are many ways it could be arranged and I don’t have a perfect solution as it is not being done for ecosystem services but it is obvious that there are a wide range of needs and none of the current certification models seem to work for all groups. There are lots of modern examples of crowdsourcing and all have advantages and disadvantages. But looking at all the other examples I think you could come up with something that would fit. Some examples that I think have elements that could be included in an ecosystem services model include Kickstarter, Open Source Science Project, Crowdspring, StackOverflow or Wikipedia. I like Wikipedia because there are many mildly interested users that participate and then are a core group of people who really seem to defend the topic and help keep out trolls. StackOverflow is interesting because users have to put their own reputation on the line to make comments which seems to encourage intelligent ideas.

The general idea is that there would be some loose guidelines (think of it as a constitution) for ecosystem services certification created by CIFOR. Communities or organisations would submit their projects for certification and the public could ask for clarification, provide scientific input or ultimately reject projects they felt did not meet the criteria. As people participated in discussions on more projects the weight of their opinion would increase. One advantage is that as projects become larger or more controversial they will naturally generate more input and concern from the public and will therefore be challenged to a higher standard than smaller less controversial projects. This will allow communities with fewer resources to participate without the administrative burden of larger projects. In addition, smaller communities could ask for input from the crowd for ideas on projects or help (for example, a smaller community could ask for assistance in mapping the project).

There are certainly lots of other ways you could organise it and I have other ideas of how it would work but I see lots of potential for it in Payment for Ecosystem Services and REDD+ projects.

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My First Prezi

Prezi is a presentation software that was launched in 2009. I first heard about it during a TED talk by Chris Anderson and wanted to try it for a presentation. The problem was choosing the audience. It was a risk to try it out at a conference because there was a chance that something would go wrong or Prezi would not be what I expected.  A few weeks ago my department started having postgrads present our research to each other when they realised that even though we see each other every day we actually do not know a great deal about the research of our peers.  When I heard about the presentations I knew I had my audience. Fellow postgrads are low-risk. If something goes horribly wrong, we can chalk it all up to a learning experience.  So behold, my first Prezi:

It may not make as much sense without narration but you get the idea of how Prezi works. After creating the presentation I think there are advantages and disadvantages. First, let’s talk about the advantages:

    • It is free. I am a postgrad so free is good. You can pay to get some upgraded features such as more storage space or the ability to create Prezi on your desktop. It comes with a few extra perks if you are a student. With a student account you can download the presentation to your desktop and keep the presentation private.  A free account means your presentation will be viewable by anyone and in order to show it you need to have a connection to the internet.
    • Different from PowerPoint.  I  think PowerPoint is overused and misused and I have suffered through some terrible PowerPoint presentations at conferences. Prezi looks different and the audience seems to be more engaged with the material than a traditional PowerPoint.
    • Easy to present non linear material. PowerPoint has lead to people presenting everything in a linear way and let’s face it, almost nothing is linear. Yes, even YOUR research is not linear.  This Prezi by Alison Blank explains that even mathematics is not linear.
    • Zooming. Prezi allows you to zoom in and out and navigate through your presentation. It is useful for discussions and brainstorming. I started thinking about my presentation by drawing a mind map of the ideas I wanted to demonstrate and it was easy to translate that into Prezi. You create a path with Prezi so it was easy to go back and highlight how things were linked together.
    • Imbedding images from Google. You can easily search and imbed public images from Google. I actually used my own images but I enjoyed (i.e. wasted lots of time) searching for images related to my research.

Prezi was not perfect for presentations. Some disadvantages:

  • No spell check. This one was pretty annoying. I had to continually check my presentation to make sure there were no typos and even asked friends to proof read it.
  • Too much zooming. If you zoom around too much be warned that your audience may start to feel motion sick. Prezi has some tips on how to avoid too much zooming. Just like a terrible PowerPoint there are terrible Prezis.
  • Limited editing. There are limited font and colour choices. It is hard to create your own background. There is a CSS editor which is a good option if you have advanced CSS skills but I am a novice so it took me a bit of time to make changes in the CSS editor.
  • It requires Flash. I wish Prezi would support HTML5. Using Flash means you cannot view presentations on an iPad or iPhone. Current versions of Android support Flash, but really, they need to create a version of Prezi that uses HTML5.

Overall I am glad I used Prezi. It is a presentation tool but it also has a novelty factor that gets the attention of the audience. I would not use it for every presentation but it was different and I would use it again. It is ideal for presenting visual information and a bit less useful for extremely technical research.

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A Day in the Life of Forestry Research


Planting trees for a research project on wood stiffness. Currently the best (stiffest wood) radiata pines in the nursery are not identified until year 4-5. This research is hoping to identify techniques to select the best trees in year 1-2. One of the fun things about being a postgrad is helping out on a variety of forestry research projects.

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ETS and the Christchurch Rebuild

What do the Christchurch rebuild and New Zealand’s international obligation to climate change have in common? I believe there may be an opportunity to use the ETS to help fund some of the Christchurch rebuild. The ETS or Emissions Trading Scheme is New Zealand’s way of meeting international obligations on climate change by putting a price on greenhouse gases and requiring emitters to pay if they go over the limit. New Zealand is unique in the world because they include forestry in the ETS and landowners can earn money for planting trees or be required to pay if they harvest. What does this have to do with the Christchurch rebuild? It seems to me we are going to have lots of land along the Avon River and in the eastern suburbs that is not suitable for housing. I noticed the draft plan indicated this area would be green space with bicycle and walking paths. But I believe we could also earn money from some of that land by planting trees and enrolling the land in the ETS. Perhaps the University of Canterbury or local schools could buy some of the land and plant trees to earn money as well as use it as an outdoor classroom. The ETS doesn’t require you to plant radiata pine or douglas fir, it is also open to native forests through the regular ETS or through the Permanent Forest Sink Intiative (PFSI). Even if we don’t enrol the land in the ETS or PFSI it would be nice to plant trees as an offset to the carbon emissions created during the rebuild. Planting forests also has the added benefit of stabilising the soil. I love walking around Riccarton Bush and feel proud that the Dean’s family had the forethought to preserve the kahikatea, totara, matai and hinau forest. It would be great if we could establish something just as amazing for the future generations of Christchurch.

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PhD in 3 Update

Good news! I was one of the top two forestry presenters so I move on to the engineering finals tomorrow. The panel of professors that scored the presentations suggested I improve my slide. With some advice from my fellow postgrads I believe we created a more attractive slide.

Updated Slide for PhD in 3 competition


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PhD in 3

The University of Canterbury has a contest for postgraduate students called “PhD in 3″ that challenges students to describe their research to a non-technical audience in three minutes using just one slide. Being able to quickly discuss your research with people from non scientific backgrounds is an essential skill. One of the most rewarding things about doing research is disseminating your knowledge to the world. Tomorrow is the forestry competition. The two winners of that competition move on to the engineering competition on Friday and the top two winners from engineering move on to the university finals next week. There are some talented people doing great research in forestry so I am looking forward to hearing the presentations.

My Slide for the PhD in 3 Competition

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My First New Zealand Publication

Last night I arrived home from the university to find a nice surprise in my letter box. It was the most recent copy of the New Zealand Journal of Forestry with my name in it.  The article is the first publication from the early results of my research. If you are a member of NZIF or have access to academic journals through your library you can read it online. I will not feature the entire article here but I included the abstract. Please get in touch if you want me to send you a full copy of the article.

Small Forests in New Zealand: A Survey of Landowner Objectives and Management

A survey of 728 small forest landowners throughout New Zealand that own 20-200 hectares of forestland and also farm other land found that the majority enjoy owning forest. The main reason for owning forest was income from timber with very few landowners using their forest land for recreation. The median farm size was 400 hectares and the median forest plantation was 37 hectares. Planting of radiata pine peaked in 1994 and 1995 with more radiata planted in 1994 than in all the years from 2000-2009.  Most landowners are performing some type of silviculture in their forests. Ninety percent of landowners are currently pruning but only 61% plan to prune in the future with a further 19% unsure. Only 26.4% of landowners have engaged in any commercial harvesting in the past ten years but as their current rotation matures 71 to 95 % plan to replant on the same site. A majority of respondents thought the situation for forest landowners was getting better.

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New Zealand Wood Exports

The Canterbury Chapter of the NZIF hosted a meeting last night on log exports. In 2010, New Zealand exported 10.6 million m³ of wood to the Pacific Rim which was a record. Wood flow to the Pacific Rim from all countries was 36.5 million m³ in 2010, up from 31.5 million in 2009. China is the largest importer, consuming 25m³/year. Russia was previously the main supplier to China but recently Russia announced a wood export tax of 25% which has led to a sharp decline in their exports. They have indicated the tax will be dropped if they are admitted to the WTO. The tax has helped increase wood exports from NZ. China has begun building sawmills near their major ports in the south to accommodate the increase in logs from New Zealand. A representative from TPT displayed photos of a mill in Lianyungang, China that went from an empty lot to a working sawmill in 6 months. The rate at which things change and expand in China is incredible.  In general, the incredible demand for logs from China and India is good for the New Zealand forest industry but there are challenges. All the speakers mentioned logistical constraints specifically trucking logs and capacities at ports.

Tauranga is the busiest port in New Zealand for wood exports. Here is a load of logs most likely heading to China.

The meeting was another well run event by NZIF. The local Canterbury Chapter always seems to pick some interesting topics and line up a good range of speakers. I was hoping to hear more about the possibility for New Zealand to move from shipping logs to shipping higher value products. It wasn’t mentioned so perhaps it will be the topic for a future meeting. Otherwise, I have some ideas for exporting if anyone is interested. One idea is to export actual kit homes to be used after a natural disaster.  As climate change causes more intense weather events (such as the flooding in Australia or the severe tornadoes in the USA) or other events like the earthquake in Christchurch or the tsunami in Japan there is a need for housing to be constructed immediately. One of the big limitations for exporting higher value products to China and India is that their labour costs are much cheaper so they prefer to import logs and process them at their own mills. But NZ has no shortage of great engineers so a well designed house that could be shipped flat and constructed quickly by a team of local people on site would be perfect after natural disasters. One of the problems with the rebuild in Christchurch is the lack of qualified tradesmen. If New Zealand could design a mill to create a kit home that could be quickly constructed on site I believe there would be a huge demand from places like Australia and Japan.  I know the logistics of creating such a mill are enormous and it’s just one idea but I think it is time for New Zealand to start thinking beyond just exporting logs.

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Teaching in a Tent

The world has already heard about the second large earthquake in Christchurch on 22 February. This one was worse than the first one in September. There are plenty of photos and videos on the internet so I won’t share too much about the terrible effects the earthquake had on our city. Instead, I thought I would share something about the recovery. The university immediately closed after the earthquake and some people speculated it would remain closed for the rest of the term and many students would withdraw. Wrong on both ideas. The University reopened three weeks after the quake and only a few students actually left the university. Many students took an opportunity to study in Adelaide, Australia or other universities in New Zealand for the next couple months but very few actually terminated their studies. Within three weeks the university resumed teaching. They started by sending some of the field courses that normally go out during the April break out in March. Jeff and I had the opportunity to help on the forestry field trip to Harihari, New Zealand. We went along to the West Coast to help cook for 26 forestry students and staff. It was a great break for us as we didn’t have any sewer at our house so it was nice to have a hot shower, flush toilets and drinkable water for a week.

Cooking pasta for forestry students at the University of Canterbury field station in Harihari.

While we were away, the university set up tents in campus car parks so that classes had a place to meet until buildings were inspected. They university brought in port a loos and set up a coffee shop in a tent (they named it “InTentCity 6.3 Cafe”).  The temporary campus is divided into several sections with tents set up in the Clyde carpark, Law carpark, UCSA carpark and modular buildings on the Ilam Oval (the grass track next to the recreation centre). The modular buildings are still under construction but they will be nice in winter as they will offer more protection from the cold.

I had agreed to teach a section of Engineering 101 this semester and was not sure if the course would continue. It is one of the largest courses on campus with almost 1000 students so finding a place to meet for the lecture and the design studios (there are 28 different design studios that need to meet every week) would be extremely difficult. But the university did an amazing job and kept the class which meant I got the opportunity to teach in one of the UC tents. I was excited to learn that my classroom this term is Clyde 05, which means I am teaching in tent number 5 in the Clyde carpark.

Teaching tents set up in the Clyde carpark

Some tents hold over 100 students and some only 30. My tent holds about 54 students which gives the students room to break into groups and move around. The tents are well equipped with an overhead projector and whiteboards. It does require some flexibility as the students don’t have desks for writing and the temperature in the tent is the same as the outside temperature which can be quite variable in Christchurch. My first class was a very stuffy 26C and my last class was a chilly 13C. The most amazing thing has been the flexibility shown by the students. I have been impressed that they show up and take notes on a clipboard or their long board and they hand in assignments that they had to print at a friend’s house because they didn’t have access to a computer on campus.  I have been a TA for many different courses but teaching in a tent is definitely a first for me and I feel proud to be at a university that has shown such resilience in the face of a devastating natural disaster.

My engineering 101 classroom for the semester

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