Man's ability to affect the land is all too evident in these times of climate change, pollution and habitat destruction. Happily, the landscape can change man as well.
The weather finally broke last night, dropping 30 degrees by dawn, and thanks be for that. The night before I had camped in the Sheyenne National Grasslands, heavy with heat and humidity. But the next day it was pleasantly cool (upper 60s), albeit overcast rather than sunny.
Nor was this the only change. It took over 2400 driving miles to finally leave the Eastern, and then Midwestern terrain behind, but today I reached the beginnings of what I think of as the West. More than anything else, in my mind that means “dry.” For the last 800 miles, the landscape had been primarily flat, lush - and transitionally post-glacial. That last factor means an area where the great ice sheets completed their periodic southward pulses, dumping rich, black earth born of thousands of miles of ice grinding down stone, some deposited by glacial steams, and other as windblown “loess” – very fine mineral particles.
In 2001, I took a one month solo cross country trip, driving from Massachusetts across the Northeast, the Midwest, and then the prairie states, until I reached what we generally think of as “the West” – the land of canyons and buttes, deserts and mesas. Once there, I spent the rest of the time backpacking in the canyonlands of Utah, and then meandering North on dirt roads until I reached Glacier National Park, in the Northwest corner of Montana. After that, I zigzagged back East until I reached the Mississippi. Then, it was just a straight highway shot till I arrived back home once again. It was during that trip that I began writing in earnest, although I haven’t (yet) posted anything from that journey to the Web.
It was an interesting trip, in all, providing a cascade of often starkly diverse images. How varied a range? On the natural grandeur list, I would add spectacular sunsets, wildernesses of soaring, broken redrock, and broad vistas of pristine desert.
And at the opposite end of the spectrum, I might begin with the sights that greeted me when I crossed the Colorado early in the trip, and threaded my way through the 27th Annual Laughlin River Run, a meet that draws over 40,000 leather-clad, mostly aging bikers to what Motorcycle-usa.com calls, “one of the more popular events on the West Coast rally scene, packing bikini contests, custom bike shows, demo rides, poker runs, freak shows and tattoo contests into four-days of 24/7 fun.” I can attest to the fact that it also packs in what is presumably one of the largest assemblages of multi-story, inflatable Jim Beam bottle and Budweiser can replicas to be found anywhere in one place.
The southwestern landscape hosts a variety of signature geologic forms, some of which have become iconic as the backdrops for countless western movies. If you should find yourself channel surfing late tonight, a single frame of a mesa, butte, spire or hoodoo will instantly lock you on to the genre, even before the dusty characters ride into view.
The desert rock garden is a less well known type, but it will be familiar to anyone who has spent any time knocking about the southwest, and around Arizona in particular. Unlike the angular, striated spires and hoodoos that erode out of sedimentary formations, rock gardens are more often volcanic in origin than not, usually granitic, and rounded in form, characteristically resembling enormous blowups of the sand dribbles that a child makes at the beach by allowing a slurry of water and sand to slip through her fingers.
Long-time readers will know that whenever I can, I disappear into the desert for as long as I can. Often, the opportunity arises to cadge a lift out west on the back of a business trip, and so it is that I write this in northwestern Arizona a couple days after spending a day in a conference room buried deep within the bowels of the raucus, random, blaring, unworldly nonsense that is otherwise known as the Mandalay Bay Casino and Resort, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Some of the nonsense worked to my favor, or at least amusement, as my $143.95 room was somehow traded up into a penthouse suite on the 62nd floor of the hotel – a suite that was bigger than the first floor of my admittedly small house, with 18 foot ceilings, a wall of glass behind motorized drapes, bar, living room, two bathrooms (one palatial), four flat screen TV sets (more than I have owned of any type in my entire life), and no coffee maker.
My first day back in the desert, a brisk wind was blowing.In the ordinary course, I would expect that its strength would decline with the sun.And so, rather than looking for a protected cove among the rocks to camp, I shopped for thebest view instead.The view delivered nicely, and I enjoyed watching the sunset fade into darkness until the rapidly falling temperature sent me to bed.True to form, the wind abated.
But only for a time.Around midnight, a front moved in from the west, and with it came the wind.Soon it was gusting 30 and 40 miles per hour, rushing by and rattling my ground cloth between the tent stakes I had driven to hold it down.On each downbeat, the edge of the ground cloth would scoop up a scatter of grit. And on each upbeat, it would rain those particles down like sleet on my head, causing me to pull the top of my mummy bag ever more tightly down over my face.But as the wind rose, the half moon set, and with the fading of its light the constellations blazed forth.Orion shone almost directly overhead, and was soon joined by the Pleiades, the Milky Way, and numberless points of light in between.
Spring, of course, is the premier time to be in the desert.That’s when all that lives and was grey begins to blush with green, and when the cactus blooms.It’swhen the normally drab as dishwater creosote bushes that stretch on for entire states at a time become enpixalated with tiny yellow flowers nestled amid new green leaves no larger than a bee's wing.And most memorably, that’s when the seeds of annuals sprout throw rugs of purple, white, orange and yellow in washes, sandy bottom lands, and other places moist enough to germinate seeds deposited a year, a decade, even twenty-five years before.
When to arrive at a given part of the desesrt depends on many things.Altitude will play its part, as will, most crucially, how much rain has fallen over how long a period during the winter months.And also on what you wish to see, as different types of plants have their respective seasons to flower, and not all of these overlap. As a generality, for annuals, come early.For cactus, come late.
Life and the exigencies of earning a living being what they are, my arrival in the Colorado and Mohave deserts of southern California had all to do with opportunity and little to do with floral optimization.I had agreed to speak at a couple of open source conferences in San Francisco that conveniently fell about a week apart, and that provided a reasonable excuse to hold over and head out.
There is a 100 mile long, unpaved track that circles the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, called the White Rim Road. That circuit has become a favorite of mountain bikers, who noticed some years back that it was conveniently located not for from Moab, Utah, which is a popular jumping off point for such activities. But previous to their discovery, and still for all but a few months of the year, the White Rim Road is a largely deserted dirt and slickrock, four-wheel drive track with consistently world-class scenery, and plenty of privacy.
It's also long, slow, bumpy and monotonous driving, when you're not looking at that scenery, but more on that later.
I'm currently hiking and camping in Utah, which explains this off-topic post. I'll continue to cover big news when I'm able to access email, and will also upload and time-phase these entries for posting when I come into town for gas and supplies. To find more of this type of writing based on past trips, look to the folder link at left titled Not Here but There: A Wilderness Journal.
As I took my morning walk today and watched the canyons fill with sunlight and shadow, it occurred to me: If I ever become deaf, I would move to the desert.
Not so surprising, when you think about it. The desert is a place of great stillness, and a place that silence suits well. And after all, sound is the most evanescent of all sensations – here and then gone in an instant, leaving no trace. To be deaf in the desert would be to become more a part of it - a place that displays time and timelessness in its every ancient feature. The events or sensations of an instant – or indeed of a lifetime - don't cut much mustard in such a place as this.
But let me not mislead you: soundless does not equate to lifeless. The desert is a vibrant place, especially at night, as the tracks in the morning sand make clear. Even during the day, any walk through a brushy area will flush cottontails and jackrabbits, the former hopping tentatively away, the latter moving on with greater determination, though both noiselessly. Lizards, large and small, are ever present, and freeze or silently scamper off, depending on what you do. And birds, while scarce, are often in view if you look for them, if not in earshot.
Nor is the desert really silent, actually, though it certainly is in contrast to the rest of the world. So it must especially seem to those that visit the desert briefly in air-conditioned cars to snap a few pictures and then move on. Which is to say almost everyone, including most that move to the rapidly growing cities of the southwest, looking for inexpensive real estate and winter sun, and not for the desert itself.
I'm currently hiking and camping in New Mexico and Utah, which explains this off-topic post. I'll continue to cover big news when I'm able to access email, and will also upload and time-phase these entries for posting when I come into town for gas and supplies. To find more of this type of writing based on past trips, look to the folder link at left titled Not Here but There: A Wilderness Journal.
Summer is the time of storms in the deserts of much of the Southwest, just as it is the time of intense heat. Except for its mountainous areas, the Southwest receives most of its meager precipitation in this way. The weather systems that form the thunderstorms of summer are thus vital to the cycle of desert life, and were they ever to fail, so, too, would most of what lives in these dry regions.
There are two essential elements to the weather system that produces these storms. The first is the uneven heating of the desert surface by the sun, which creates variable updrafts that can rise high into the sky. And the second is a summer wind pattern that regularly carries moist air from the Gulf of Mexico into the Southwest – the technically accurate, but rather misleading name given to this element is the "Southwest Monsoon."
When desert updrafts meet this moist Gulf air, they carry it skyward into cooler altitudes, where the moisture condenses into white, decorative cumulus clouds reminiscent of cauliflowers. If the air is sufficiently moist, the clouds can grow in height, becoming "towering cumulus" clouds. And if the updraft is strong, the air more saturated with moisture, and the differential in temperature between warm updraft and cool upper air sufficiently great, then you have all of the necessary elements to create a cumulonimbus cloud - also known as a potential thunderstorm.
Quote of the Day
“I know a smart business decision when I see one—choosing open standards is a very smart business decision indeed”
-Outgoing European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes, endorsing a new campaign to ensure use of the OpenDocument format
Network Function Virtualization goes open source Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols ZDNet.com October 1, 0214 - In 2014, companies and open source programmers alike are working as hard as they can to virtualize hardware into software. The latest example of this is Network Functions Virtualization (NFV). The name of the NFV game is to take such appliances or server-based network operations as Network Address Translation (NAT), firewalls, intrusion detection, and Domain Name Service (DNS) and move them to virtual machines. Of course, there are all kinds of ways to do this on a single server, but NFV takes it far beyond that to a level where an entire carrier's network services can be deployed and managed virtually.... ...Full Story
Telcos Mobilizing to Drive NFV Adoption OpenStack Blog OpenStack.org October 1, 0214 - Today the Linux Foundation announced the Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV) Project, a group comprised primarily of telco operators working across open source projects and vendors to implement Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) within their organizations. This is an exciting development because the market is growing quickly, and many OpenStack community members are also participating in OPNFV, giving us an opportunity to collaborate closely with another like-minded open source Foundation. User input is critical at this stage of a technology shift as significant as NFV will be for telco and even enterprise networks, and any organization that is willing to contribute knowledge and code to those efforts is welcome in the OpenStack community.... ...Full Story
City of Turin to move to open source desktops Gijs Hillenius EU Joinup October 1, 0214 - The Italian city of Turin will switch to a complete open source desktop system, over the next 18 months. In August, the city administration decided to phase-out the current outdated proprietary system on its 8300 PCs and replace it by the Ubuntu open source alternative. Turin estimates the move will save some six million euro over the next five years....Last week, ZDNet reported a similar move to open source in another Italian city, Udine. A budget report from the IT department shows the town will train 400 civil servants to use Apache Open Office, a free software suite of office productivity tools. According to ZDNet, the city will gradually implement OpenOffice as its default office suite. The software is already installed on all of the city's 900 PCs.
Next year, the city will also being pilots with the use of complete open source desktops.... ...Full Story
Towns in Umbria region switch to LibreOffice Gijs Hillenius EU Joinup October 1, 0214 - The public administrations of the Italian cities Todi and Terni are switching to LibreOffice, announces LibreUmbria. The regional project is assisting the Umbria region's public administrations to use this free software suite of office productivity tools.
This month, the city of Todi will complete its switch to LibreOffice, and the one in Terni will start...LibreUmbria last year assisted the administration of the province of Perugia, using LibreOffice on all of its 1200 PCs and the Perugia Local Health Authority, which installed the office suite on 600 PCs....The project focusses on public administrations and schools, helping them to switch to and use LibreOffice. The centre also acts as a resource centre for SMEs and citizens....LibreUmbria is financed by the Umbria Region, supervised by the Open Source Competence Centre of the Umbria Region and the Consortium SIR Umbria- a regional government-owned ICT service centre.
LibreUmbria will now also start approaching the schools in the region, says Parisi, bolstered by a successful pilot. The organisation aims to train teachers, students and their parents, explaining them how to use LibreOffice, Ubuntu Linux and other free software solutions.... ...Full Story
Huge Channel Partnership Advances Open Source Software-Based Data Center Christopher Tozzi The Var Guy September 30, 2014 - The Linux Foundation has announced the Open Platform for NFV Project, an initiative with broad support from industry partners that will implement open source, software-defined solutions for networking, storage, cloud and other infrastructure....OPNFV complements what the Linux Foundation is already doing through the OpenDaylight project, which is building an open source software-defined networking (SDN) platform with broad support from industry partners. The NFV initiative will create solutions that virtualize other parts of network communications, making it possible to implement a network that is fully software-based and open source....OPNFV already has the backing of a remarkably long list of big names in the server, cloud computing, storage and communications world that have signed on as founding members....Readers may notice that not all of those companies traditionally have had a strong relationship with the open source community (though some certainly have). The fact that the Linux Foundation has been able to assemble such a broad and diverse base of support is a sign of how committed the channel is to transitioning from hardware- to software-based infrastructure while also keeping standards open. If there was ever a question about what open source software's role will be in the future, here's a big part of the answer. ...Full Story
Open NFV Group Uncloaks Its Platform Plan Carol Wilson Light Reading September 30, 2014 - The Linux Foundation today made its long-awaited formal announcement of the Open Platform for NFV Project (OPNFV), promising to deliver a carrier-grade, open source reference architecture as a means of speeding up NFV deployment. The group's initial focus will be on developing the NFV infrastructure and virtualized infrastructure management, two key pieces not already under development, and is promising its initial results in the first half of 2015.
OPNFV, which includes some but not all of the pioneering telecom operators behind the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) group which created NFV as a concept, was first discussed publicly last spring, but has been holding its cards close to the vest on details until today. In briefings in advance of the announcement, Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin said the new organization will build on existing open source projects, including OpenDaylight , Linux and OpenStack , but will be significantly different from those in its intent.... ...Full Story
An open source networking ecosystem shapes up Lee Doyle TechTarget September 30, 2014 - Open source networking is becoming a reality now that standards bodies, vendors and development communities are working together. Yet these players face a slew of challenges.
Open source software, increasingly influential in the IT industry, is poised to significantly impact enterprise and telecom networking. A number of open source networking groups, including the Open Networking Foundation, OpenDayLight, OpenStack, and most recently Open NFV, have the potential to accelerate innovation in the networking industry.
With open source networking, ISVs will be able to develop a wide range of new networking services and applications, and users can custom design their infrastructure based on individual need.... ...Full Story
France appoints Chief Data Officer Gijs Hillenius EU Joinup September 30, 2014 - France is the first country to appoint a Chief Data Officer (Administrateur Général des Données, AGD), to ensure open data reaches its full potential in improving government services. On 17 September, France appointed Henri Verdier, director of Etalab, which runs the Inter-ministerial open portal, data.gouv.fr. Verdier is to coordinate government actions aimed at inventorying, governing, producing, circulating and using government data. With the CDO, France aims to enhance evaluation of government policies, increase government openness and boost research and innovation.
"The use of data is at the heart of the digital revolution", Etalab writes in its announcement. "The wealth of data generated by the state needs data science to allow informed public policies." The team behind the data.gouv.fr portal expects the new position to create new opportunities for open data initiatives.... ...Full Story
Open document formats campaign backed by Europe's digital commissioner Loek Essers PC World September 29, 2014 - European government agencies should adopt open document formats in their dealings with citizens, outgoing European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes has urged.
“I know a smart business decision when I see one—choosing open standards is a very smart business decision indeed,” Kroes said in a statement on the website of the FixMyDocuments campaign, of which she was among the first backers earlier this week.
“When open alternatives are available, no citizen or company should be forced or encouraged to use a particular company’s technology to access government information. No citizen or company should be forced or encouraged to choose a closed technology over an open one, through a government having made that choice first,” she wrote. ...Full Story
IEEE standards group wants to bring order to Internet of Things Stephen Lawson ComputerWorld September 29, 2014 - The IEEE is embarking on an ambitious effort to build a overarching architecture for the Internet of Things, spanning a multitude of industries and technologies. IEEE P2413, which the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers officially started work on in July, would form a framework for interoperability among connected devices and related applications in home automation, industrial systems, telematics and all other sectors that are expected to use IoT in the coming years....IDC analyst Michael Palma, who also spoke at the workshop, counted seven industry groups plus the IEEE that are working in this area....the P2413 Working Group...doesn't want to replace existing IoT groups. Rather it aims to create a standard architecture so IoT systems for all industries can work together.... ...Full Story