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Saturday, May 30 2015 @ 01:28 AM CDT

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Sleeping with Big Agnes

Not Here but There: A Wilderness Journal

Winter nights in the desert are spectacular, but cold. To get a good night's sleep, you need Big Agnes.

One of the great joys of hiking in the desert is sleeping under the brilliant, ever-present stars and the even more prominent planets, accompanied by gentle breezes, the smells of the desert, and often, the serenade of coyotes. In the crystalline air far from the light of cities, the dazzle of the stars and planets is unparalleled, and the experience one to savor.

There are other sights and sounds as well, especially when camping near an air force bases (which is likely to be the case, given how many are spread around the Southwest, and the fact that the word "near," in this context, can mean pretty far away). Last night four jets streaked and wheeled overhead while I looked up at the sky, two almost wingtip to wingtip, and the second pair much farther apart, and farther ahead. Each had strobe lights that flashed in a manic syncopation reminiscent of a 1970's disco. Others flew silently at supersonic speeds at extreme altitude, seeming to travel more swiftly than could be possible.

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Catching the Ocotillo

Not Here but There: A Wilderness Journal

As I've grown older I've come to dislike hiking trails -- one of the reasons I've grown to love the American Southwest. Here, you can find vast stretches of public land that extend to the horizon and beyond, so sparsely vegetated that you can strike out in any direction you wish. When one canyon or another piques your fancy, there is nothing to prevent you from simply parking your car and climbing in, taking as much gear and food as you need to explore for an hour, a day or a week.  

What you find may disappoint as well as please, but the scenery is so compelling that "disappointment" is a relative term. For wherever you venture, the terrain will be challenging and interesting, and the worst that can happen is that the way becomes impassable sooner than planned, or the drama that unfolds is not quite as dramatic as hoped. When this happens (which it does when you're hiking off the beaten track), what you do encounter will still be fresh and unexpected. And you'll never see a soul along the way.  

A trail, in contrast, provides the predictable – invariably with company. You probably know in advance how far you will walk (to the tenth of a mile), what the vertical rise will be, and even the degree of difficulty, presented on a helpful numerical scale. You can also assume that the rough places will have been made smoother, and that the steep places will have been tamed with switchbacks. And you'll also know what the "attractions" will be (e.g., a waterfall) along the way, as well as the reward you'll enjoy if you reach the end – perhaps a mountaintop view that will let you see four states (four!) at once, as if the transposition of political boundaries over geography will make natural wonders more wonderful. You'll also almost certainly see other hikers, unless you're hiking early in the morning (always a good idea for many reasons), or on a weekday in the off-season. The footprints of those that came before, of course, will still be everywhere.

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On the Border

Not Here but There: A Wilderness Journal

At night, the animal life of the desert comes out of hiding. And along the Mexican border, so do the illegal immigrants and the drug runners. The result is a National Monument "under siege."

Organ Pipe National Monument is legally remote (on this unusual distinction, more below), which makes it the kind of place I like to visit -- big, empty, lightly visited and beautiful. It is 142 miles by two-lane road from Tucson and about the same distance from Phoenix, and is surrounded on all sides by areas that do not draw a crowd: the Tohono O'odham Indian reservation to the East, and the vast Barry Goldwater Air Force testing range to the North and West. To the South is the Sonora State of Mexico. And once you get there, it has nothing to offer besides a unique species of cactus, a few hiking trails, and average Arizona scenery (much of it gorgeous), making it one of the least frequented parts of the American Southwest.

When I arrived for a few days of hiking and camping to start my trip, I found that it was both more and less used than before, as well as even less easy to get around in than in the past.

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The Dry Valley

Not Here but There: A Wilderness Journal

Once upon a time, rivers ran in Arizona and Native Americans lived along their banks. Now the water is drawn off to send to distant cities and to water broad fields of alfalfa and cotton, leaving only dry washes as evidence of what used to be.

I began driving my rented four-wheel drive car about a half hour before dawn today with the objective of reaching a small area of public land that I had selected using a topographic map. What made this particular area of interest was the fact that it lay between a certain river (dry now, but flowing before modern farmers commandeered it to water their fields)and adjacent highlands. Equally important was the likelihood that existing jeep tracks would allow me to get reasonably close to my desired destination (I don't believe in creating new ones, especially in arid regions, where the damage takes many years to heal).

As the sun was nudging over the horizon, I was turning off the paved road and onto a jeep track that was headed, more or less, in the right direction. Shooting the straights to gather enough momentum to carry through the occasional stretches of deep sand and braking sharply into the turns and gullies that crossed the track to keep the vehicle both moving and in one piece, I navigated by sight for the next half hour, switching tracks and gradually working my way closer to where I wished to go.

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Not Here But There til the 21st

Not Here but There: A Wilderness JournalTime off for a different type of behavior. 

I'm currently in Southwest Arizona, and will be hiking and camping through the 21st. As a result, I'll be neither able (nor inclined) to blog on the technology news of the day until then.

I will, however, be recharging my laptop from my car, and doing a different type of writing that I enjoy even more - especially the research. You can see prior examples at the index category at left called "Not Here but There: a Wilderness Journal," or by clicking here.

See ya.

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China Announces it will License WAPI to Westerners

ChinaA Chinese news source is reporting that the rights to implement its home-grown WAPI standard may now be licensed by anyone - and not just domestic companies - in an effort to push for global adoption of the standard.
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A Glimmer of Hope on the Patent Mess Horizon

Open Source/Open StandardsIBM and other companies have announced three new initiatives with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that are intended to stop bad patents from issuing, and rank those that do anyway.
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Emerging Giant - Reemerging Issue

ChinaA major trade dispute erupted between the United States and China in 2004 over a wireless standard, and then dropped out of sight. Is it about to reemerge?
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New Acting MA CIO Appointed, and Full Speed Ahead with ODF

OpenDocument and OOXMLMassachusetts appoints an acting successor to Peter Quinn, and says more concretely than ever "full speed ahead with ODF"
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News Sources of the Year Awards for 2005

General NewsEach year I recognize the most newsworthy standards organizations and the news services that did the best job covering that news. This year, I'm also recognizing the best individual journalists, bloggers and community sites as well.