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
“It’s time to treat our digital ecosystem the way we do public health”
Matrix wants to smash the walled gardens of messaging Matt Weinberger CiteWorld September 23, 2014 - There are too many messaging apps. If you're like me, you talk to your friends on Google Hangouts during the workday but Facebook Messenger at night, with the occasional Snapchat message -- not to mention that team CITEworld communicates over AOL Instant Messenger, which is actually a thing that still exists even though it's no longer 2002. It can be a real pain to remember who you talked to and on what chat network.
Enter Matrix, a proposed open source standard that wants to make instant messaging, voice, and video chat as interoperable as email and as slick as Slack. Matrix is still new -- it launched to the public two weeks ago, and not a single messaging service supports it yet -- but it has a grand vision for the open future of messaging.... ...Full Story
New standard for ZigBee remotes makes friends with connected homes Stephen Lawson TechHive September 23, 2014 - ...On Tuesday, the ZigBee Alliance announced the ZigBee Remote Control 2.0 standard, which could become the foundation for remotes that control an entire house full of networked appliances. Among other things, a remote built with ZRC 2.0 will be able to send commands directly to networks of ZigBee-connected devices such as heating, air conditioning, lights, home monitoring devices and security systems.
ZigBee is one of several wireless protocols that are starting to connect so-called smart appliances and consumer electronics in homes. Others include Z-Wave, Bluetooth Low Energy, Wi-Fi and 6LoWPAN, the system underlying the Thread specification. Though some types of connected home devices are starting to generate interest, in the short run, having so many wireless protocols to talk to them could make it more difficult for consumers to adopt the new gadgets.... ...Full Story
To IoT or Not to IoT? Those wondering about how standards and security relate to the Internet of Things will find this to be a useful and informative discussion.
The Internet of Things: Risk and Reward (Video - 28.31 min) TIA Now September 22, 2014 - The "Internet of Things” is about to take on billions of low and high bandwidth devices, but are service providers and operators considering the barriers to entry in the IoT space? From CTIA 2014, we would like to welcome leaders in the ICT space on this roundtable discussion including Dinesh Sharma, Director of Marketing for IoT at SAP, Fred Yentz, CEO of ILS Technology- a Telit company and Ron Westfall, Research Director at Current Analysis. ...Full Story
Introducing TODO: Working together to make open source easier Facebook Engineering Blog September 19, 2014 - Today at @Scale 2014 we joined a number of other companies in launching a new open source collaboration called TODO. The group — whose name is a backronym for “talk openly, develop openly” — was formed to address the challenges that companies like ours have encountered in consuming open source software and running open source programs.
We'll have more to share about our plans in the coming weeks, but our overall goal in this collaboration is to make open source easier for everyone. We want to run better, more impactful open source programs in our own companies; we want to make it easier for people to consume the technologies we open source; and we want to help create a roadmap for companies that want to create their own open source programs but aren't sure how to proceed.
Initial members of TODO include Box, Dropbox, GitHub, Google, Khan Academy, Stripe, Square, Twitter, and Walmart Labs.... ...Full Story
Cybersecurity and the electric grid Marvin T. Griff Intelligent Utility September 19, 2014 - A computer storing operating cost data for the Midcontinent Independent System Operator Inc., power network extending from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast was compromised this summer. Within the past two years, sophisticated cyber-attacks...gained access to U.S. and European power networks. These and other recent cyber intrusions highlight the persistent risk confronting the U.S. electricity grid....Elected officials and regulators have stepped up efforts to address cyber intrusionthreats. In February of this year, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) unveiled the Cybersecurity Framework for reducing cyber risks to critical infrastructure. The voluntary Framework, with its origins in President Obama’s February 2013 Executive Order, is intended to reduce cybersecurity vulnerabilities through a risk-based approach to improve cybersecurity practices....cybersecurity for the electric sector has historically been a concern that was the responsibility of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which assesses the Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) reliability standards developed by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC). Those standards focus on the bulk, or interstate transmission, portion of the electric system. Since 2007, FERC has shared responsibilities under the Energy Independence and Security Act with NIST to coordinate the development and adoption of smart grid guidelines and standards, including those directed at cybersecurity for the remainder of the grid.
The electric power industry is the only critical infrastructure industry in the U.S. with mandatory and enforceable cyber standards. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 gives FERC the authority to oversee the reliability of the bulk power system. FERC must approve all reliability standards or modifications proposed by NERC. But FERC cannot modify proposed standards; it can only direct NERC to submit a proposed standard or modification or to change one it find unacceptable.... ...Full Story
New DisplayPort 1.3 standard supports 5K monitors Agam Shah PCWorld September 19, 2014 - Monitors and TVs supporting 4K resolution are just arriving, but the new DisplayPort 1.3 is already looking forward to 5K resolution.
The new DisplayPort standard, announced by Video Electronics Standards Association, will replace the existing 1.2a standard. The new standard will connect computers to 5K monitors that display images at a resolution of 5120 x 2880 pixels.
DisplayPort is widely used in businesses to connect PCs to external monitors, and competes with HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface connector)....DisplayPort 1.3 is 50 percent faster than its predecessor, and has the speed to support higher-resolution displays beyond 4K. It will also support multiple 4K monitors at 60 frames per second, VESA said in a statement.... ...Full Story
Efficient XML Interchange (EXI) Profile for limiting usage of dynamic memory is a W3C Recommendation Press Release W#C.org September 18, 2014 - The EXI Working Group published the Efficient XML Interchange (EXI) Profile for limiting usage of dynamic memory as W3C Recommendation. EXI 1.0 is a very efficient format to represent an XML Information Set. It is highly customizable to fit the need of diverse use cases, ranging from B2B applications down to embedded-systems use. It satisfies compactness and processing efficiency requirements, while preserving all the information contained in the XML InfoSet. As a representation of XML, it is by design naturally extensible.... ...Full Story
MIG and IEEE SA produce new standard for IoT, e-health, connected vehicle, aug. reality Press Release IEEE.org September 22, 2014 - IEEE announced the availability of the IEEE 2700-2014 “Standard for Sensor Performance Parameter Definitions,” recently approved by the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) Standards Board. With sensors being one of the primary technologies to help improve the lives of every connected person in the world, IEEE 2700-2014 is intended to provide a common methodology for specifying sensor performance in the ever-expanding sensor technologies in the consumer electronics industry....The IEEE 2700-2014 fulfills the need for a common methodology to define sensor performance, and eases non-scalable integration challenges and burdens across manufacturers. Because sensor framework and technology span not only sensor vendors and ISVs, there are numerous types of sensors that require specification terminology, units, conditions and limits, including: accelerometers, magnetometers, gyrometers/gyroscopes, barometers/pressure sensors, hygrometers/humidity sensors, temperature sensors, ambient light sensors and proximity sensors.... ...Full Story
Global security association helps translate NIST framework Dan Verton FedScoop September 18, 2014 - The Information Security Forum, a U.K.-based association of leading companies from around the world, released a “mapping” document Monday that for the first time helps companies that currently use the ISF’s standard of good practice—known simply as the standard—to guide their information security programs to know if they are in compliance with the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology’s cybersecurity framework....ISF’s standard of good practice is one of the most comprehensive guides for information security in the world. More than half of ISF’s 300 member companies are included in the Fortune 500 and span more than a dozen countries.... ...Full Story
'Open and Libre Office projects should reunite' Gijs Hillenius EU Joinup September 18, 2014 - The software developers working on Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice - two closely related suites of open source office productivity tools - should overcome their schism and unite to compete with the ubiquitous proprietary alternative, urges Daniel Brunner, head of the IT department of Switzerland's Federal Supreme Court. Merging the two projects will convince more public administrations to use the open source office suite, he believes.
The current division between the two groups risks creating more instead of less incompatibilities, Brunner warned last week, speaking at the LibreOffice conference, which took place in the Swiss city of Bern. "I had to test this presentation in both suites, to see if it would work."
The Swiss Federal Supreme Court uses OpenOffice, but according to Brunner would benefit from the improved document filters that are available in LibreOffice. However, the former suite is more stable and is available on mobile computing platforms, he says, while the latter benefits from a bigger community of developers, introducing more new features.... ...Full Story