Scientists and philosophers have struggled for years to define our relation to reality, or even to decide what “reality” might be. The rest of us mostly muddle through the daily experience of our existence. For a writer, perceptions of reality are also important, as it’s easier to write about what we have perceived than what we have persuaded ourselves to imagine.
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.
Quote of the Day
“Sometimes upholding constitutional ideas just isn't enough; sometimes you have to uphold the actual Constitution”
-Excerpt from the dedication of a new "dark email" protocol to the NSA by PGP developer Ladar Levison
F.C.C. Sharply Expands Definition of Broadband Steve Lohr NYTimes BitBlog January 30, 2015 - The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday sharply increased its benchmark definition of broadband Internet service. The new definition increases download speeds to more than six times faster than the previous standard, set more than four years ago....The impact of the new definition is uncertain, but the standard does guide policy on matters like the national deployment of broadband service, particularly in rural areas.
The new benchmark standard on speed could also spill over into the current weighing of new rules intended to maintain an open Internet, or net neutrality — the concept that Internet traffic should be open and treated equally. How access speeds can be managed and priced by the major Internet service providers — cable television and telecommunications companies — is the central issue in the open Internet policy debate. The commission is scheduled to vote on open Internet regulations on Feb. 26....
The new broadband benchmark sets downloads at a speed of 25 megabits a second and uploads of 3 megabits a second. The previous standard was a download speed of 4 megabits a second and an upload speed of 1 megabit a second. ...Full Story
Intel to Announce a New Stylus Alliance & Standards in February Jack Purcher PatentlyApple January 30, 2015 - Last year Apple filed for ten smart pen related patents and earlier this month a rumor surfaced from a prominent analyst claiming that Apple was aiming to introduce a smart pen accessory for Apple's 12" + iPad Pro later this year. On Wednesday Microsoft introduced a new digital whiteboard display system for the enterprise called the Surface Hub that accepts input with a Surface pen working in sync with their OneNote software. Their digital pen was emphasized in their Surface Hub patent that we reported on yesterday. Today there's news that Intel is forming a new Stylus alliance that will be formally announced in February. The first standards-compliant stylus is set to roll out in Q3. It's sure beginning to look as if 2015 will be the year that the stylus of old undergoes its biggest overhaul to date.... ...Full Story
Wi-SUN(TM) Alliance Releases Technical Profile Specification for IEEE 802.15.4g Standard-Based Field Area Networks Press Release WI-SUN Alliance January 30, 2015 - The Wi-SUN Alliance today announced the release of a feature complete version of its technical profile specification for field area network communications. The specification brings Smart Utility Networks to enterprises, service providers and municipalities by enabling interoperable, multi-service and secure IPv6 communications over an IEEE 802.15.4gTM-based wireless mesh network. Mesh-enabled field area networks provide resilient, secure and cost effective connectivity with extremely good coverage in a range of topographical environments, from dense urban neighborhoods to rural areas, with minimal additional infrastructure.... ...Full Story
As simple As That Philip DesAutels AllSeen Alliance January 29, 2015 - ...I would like to update everyone on an exciting change to the IP Policy at the Alliance that is designed to scale to the next billion devices.
The challenge of the Internet of Everything is that it needs to be just that - an Internet of everything, a global ecosystem of billions of interoperable products, applications and services all speaking the same language, all working together regardless of manufacturer, industry or platform. AllJoyn is the open source software project built by the AllSeen Alliance’s thriving technical community of over 110 companies that is delivering on this challenge, creating simple and open technology that connects everything and enables the Internet of Everything.
Device manufacturer and application developers are...want the enabling power of AllJoyn but they need it delivered within an Intellectual Property (IP) framework that is clear, concise and aligned with the realities of global business. The challenge to delivering this is that the software that results from the AllJoyn project is the work of many contributors, each participating in a different context, under different constraints, for companies with different corporate goals.
Today we are pleased to announce a revised IP policy that strikes a careful balance, aligning the interests of all of the Alliance stakeholders....the contributors who have and will contribute code to the project are giving you an open source copyright license to the AllJoyn code and a pledge not to assert the patents they own that are required to implement their contribution in a certified AllJoyn implementation.... ...Full Story
W3C Launches Web of Things initiative Press Release W3C.org January 29, 2015 - W3C announced today a new Web of Things initiative to develop
Web standards for enabling open markets of applications and
services based upon connected sensors and actuators (the
Internet of Things) and the Web of data. Open standards will be
essential to realising the huge potential. We invite you to
join the new Web of Things Interest Group and drive work on use
cases, requirements, and best practices. The aim is to build a
shared vision and identify specific opportunities for
So far work on the Internet of Things has focused on the
sensors and actuators and the associated communication
technologies. Comparatively little attention has been given to
what is needed for services to break free of today’s product
silos. Web technologies are considered to be very promising,
defining services. However, there is considerable work left to
do to support discovery and interoperation of services, along
with attention to security, privacy, accessibility and
resilience in the face of faults and attacks.... ...Full Story
How to transfer ODT files with Google Docs and Microsoft Word Online Andy Wolber TechRepublic January 28, 2015 - Open your favorite writing app -- say, Google Docs -- to create a new file. The powerful collaborative editing features work only inside a Google Doc. Want to work with the file elsewhere? You'll either need to export the file or access the document with programming (i.e., the Google Drive API)....Control of a format or distribution channel can make it harder to use a competitive solution.
That's one problem of proprietary formats: a switch costs you time and/or money....Open formats or distribution channels make it easier for people to choose a different solution.
That's one promise of the open formats: your content exists independently of the software used to create the file. You're free to take your content and edit it with another app....Fortunately, Google re-enabled support for ODF in December 2014. That means you can leverage the collaborative capabilities of Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, then export your completed work to a file in an open, non-proprietary format.... ...Full Story
LibreOffice Viewer beta hits Google Play ready to take on Microsoft Office Mobile Mark Wilson AndroidPit January 27, 2015 - Our phones and tablets have become much more than many people ever could have imagined, and they're now used for work as well as play. While larger-screened tablets such as the Nexus 9 are ideally suited for lengthier sessions of typing, phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Nexus 5 are still used for viewing files. While Microsoft Office may be the industry standard office suite, there's plenty of competition, particularly from the free alternative LibreOffice. Today a beta version of LibreOffice Viewer has been released that allows mobile users to view Open Document Format (ODF) files on their Android devices.
libreofficeviewer Need to open office files on your Android? LibreOffice Viewer beta can help.... ...Full Story
NIST Requests Round Two Comments on its Cryptographic Standards Process NISO.org January 26, 2015 - The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is seeking comments on a revised draft document that details the principles and processes it will follow to develop its cryptographic standards and guidelines. Comments will be collected through March 27, 2015.
This second draft of NIST IR7977: NIST Cryptographic Standards and Guidelines provides more detail and identifies new policies and procedures that were not in the draft released for a two-month comment period in February 2014. The updates reflect feedback received in the public comments and a July 2014 report by an independent review committee....
The revisions to the first draft include new principles to ensure the usability of standards and guidelines and to encourage innovation while protecting intellectual property. The second draft also details how NIST will ensure balance, transparency, openness and integrity in its development of cryptographic standards and guidelines, and poses several questions to reviewers.... ...Full Story
New Linux Foundation's guide to the open-source cloud Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols ZDNet.com January 26, 2015 - I make my living from riding technology's bleeding edge. In particular I keep an eye on what's what with Linux and open-source software, but even I have trouble keeping track of what's going on with the open-source cloud technologies. Which is why I'm happy to welcome The Linux Foundation's 2015 report: Guide to the Open Cloud: Open Cloud Projects Profiled, which will be released on January 20th.... ...Full Story