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
“Open standards are simply better for developers”
-Professor William Webb, CEO of the Weightless SIG, announcing the SIG's first standard
ITU marks 150th anniversary with global celebrations Press Release ITU.org May 20, 2015 - ITU celebrated its 150th anniversary on 17 May, marking a long and illustrious history at the cutting edge of communication technologies....ITU was established on 17 May 1865 with the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention in Paris to facilitate the transmission of telegraphy across international borders. ITU was initially headquartered in Berne and moved to Geneva in 1948, soon after it became a specialized agency of the United Nations in 1947.... ...Full Story
The merger was put to a vote on GitHub by io.js developer Mikeal Rogers, who initially proposed the merger in February, and the io.js technical committee voted to approve the merger yesterday. According to Rogers, the team will continue releasing io.js versions while the convergence takes place, but after the merger is complete, the io.js working groups and technical committee will join the Node.js Foundation under renamed titles....The Node.js Foundation was established with the help of the Linux Foundation back in February, and had its important organizational structure and stewardship questions hashed out at the Node Summit soon after. ...Full Story
Biometrics Institute forms new alliance Planet Biometrics May 18, 2015 - The Biometrics Institute, Mobey Forum and Natural Security Alliance have revealed plans to cooperate on promoting the use of biometrics in digital services.
The new tripartite group will hold an inaugural meeting on biometrics for non-government services in Paris on 1 July.
The international Biometrics Institute is an independent association working to bring the industry together as a whole including end users, suppliers and academics. Mobey Forum, meanwhile, is an association empowering banks and other financial institutions to lead in the future of mobile financial services.
Natural Security Alliance has developed biometric authentication standards that make user transactions possible which guarantee the sanctity of biometric data and privacy.... ...Full Story
Linux Foundation's SPDX Workgroup Announces New Open Compliance Standard Press Release Linux Foundation May 15, 2015 - The SPDX® workgroup, hosted by The Linux Foundation, today announced the release of version 2.0 of its Software Package Data Exchange® (SPDX) specification, which includes a three-dimensional view of license dependencies that will make exchange of open source and license data more simple and compliance with open source licenses much easier....New features include the ability to relate SPDX documents to each other, making it more useful for a broader range of uses, including exchanging clear data about software and modules in companies' supply chains. For example, with SPDX 2.0 a device manufacturer can easily understand what open source software has been used to build the device components, what versions of that software are being used and what modules have been integrated. This allows companies to more efficiently understand the open source compliance obligations or vulnerabilities and address them before shipment.
The relationship view of license dependencies is made possible through new features that include a deeper level of description and context in files and packages, including those external to the SPDX specification. This allows managers to better understand the open source code in their products, as well as third-party open source code bases that have been integrated with the existing software. This helps to create taxonomy for modules that can be used not only for compliance but identifying potential security vulnerabilities....The Software Package Data Exchange® (SPDX®) specification is a standard format for communicating the components, licenses and copyrights associated with a software package. The SPDX specification helps facilitate compliance with free and open source software licenses by providing a uniform way license information is shared across the software supply chain. The SPDX specification is developed by the SPDX workgroup, which is hosted by The Linux Foundation.... ...Full Story
OGC announces standard for concise description of Earth coordinate reference systems Directions Magazine May 15, 2015 - Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC®) membership has adopted the OGC Well-known Text (WKT) Representation of Coordinate Reference Systems Encoding Standard.
Well-Known Text (WKT),...describes a compact machine- and human-readable representation of geometric objects....The text strings specified in the new standard provide a means for humans and machines to correctly and unambiguously interpret and utilise a coordinate reference system definition.... ...Full Story
Flaws found in smart grid consortium's home-grown crypto SC Magazine May 14, 2015 - The Open Smart Grid Protocol (OSGP) project has continued to roll out its own cryptographic standard and application layer communication protocol in the face of a tangible degree of criticism.
Flaws found in smart grid consortium's home-grown crypto
Flaws found in smart grid consortium's home-grown crypto
The OSGP alliance is an independent not-for-profit group comprised of utilities and smart grid bodies, systems integrators and service providers. The group's ‘self standardisation' for cryptographic control has led to researchers uncovering a number of weaknesses.
Cryptographic standards emanating from the project are installed and deployed on millions smart meters and devices around the globe. The Open Smart Grid Protocol was developed by the Energy Service Network Association (ESNA) and has been a standard of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) since 2012.... ...Full Story
New open standard Weightless-N for IoT connectivity goes live Laura Onita E&T.com May 14, 2015 - An open standard that allows developers to use different network providers based on low-power wide-area star network architecture was announced today....The 1.0 version published on Tuesday operates in sub-GHz spectrum using ultra narrow band (UNB) technology and any company is able to develop both low cost base stations and terminals using royalty free Weightless technology,...
Weightless-N is designed around a differential binary phase shift keying (DBPSK) digital modulation scheme to transmit within narrow frequency bands using a frequency hopping algorithm for interference mitigation and enhanced security.
It was devised with encryption and implicit authentication in mind, using a shared secret key regime to encode transmitted information via a 128 bit AES algorithm. The technology supports mobility with the network automatically routing terminal messages to the correct destination.... ...Full Story
Global Auto Industry to Get First Open Standard for Wire-Free Power Press Release Open Dots Alliance May 13, 2015 - ...JVIS USA, LLC, of Shelby, Michigan [has annuonced] the formation of Open Dots Alliance – a non-profit organization to further shepherd and promote the world’s first and only open standard for wire-free power, currently in use on 12 vehicle models across five major automotive brands....The standard is called Open Dots: “Open” because it is an open platform free of royalties or license fees, and “Dots” because it employs a distinctive pattern of four contacts (or dots) to receive wire-free power. The standard has been in use and is currently available in more cars and trucks than all other wire-free power technologies combined.
Wire-free charging is gaining wide acceptance among automotive manufacturers because vehicle owners want a hassle-free “drop and charge” means to charge phones while they drive. However, the Open Dots platform expands this ecosystem to include, tablets, laptop computers, power tools and other commonly used electronic devices as well....A compliance logo is displayed on consumer packaging to show the product meets Open Dots’ certification standards. These standards and test protocols are provided in full online so that manufactures can self-certify their products to the standard....Brands providing Open Dots compatible products include: Ford, Chrysler, RAM, Dodge, Scion and phone case maker INCIPIO. The Open Dots Alliance welcomes additional companies to join the consortium.... ...Full Story
New Forum Launches to Expand Access to Biosimilar Medicines, Improve Healthcare Press Release Biosimilars Forum May 13, 2015 - A coalition of 11 leading companies involved in the development and manufacturing of biopharmaceuticals and "biosimilar" medicines today announced the formation of the Biosimilars Forum — the first nonprofit organization solely dedicated to expanding patient access to biosimilars in the United States. The founding members of the Biosimilars Forum represent the majority of companies with the most significant U.S. biosimilars development portfolios, including: Actavis, Amgen, Boehringer Ingelheim, Coherus BioSciences, EMD Serono, Hospira, Merck, Pfizer, Samsung, Sandoz, and Teva....The Forum will provide evidence-based information to educate and advocate for public policies and practices that encourage access, awareness, and adoption of biosimilars....The Biosimilars Forum will be submitting a public statement about the need for appropriate coding for biosimilars to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) Public Meeting on May 7, 2015.... ...Full Story
W3C Celebrates 20 Years in Europe Press Release W3C.org May 12, 2015 - While the Web was born in Europe in 1989, today W3C
celebrates twenty years of work accomplished by European
stakeholders within W3C, the organization that helps keep the
Web open, free and accessible to all.
The W3C European host was established in Sophia Antipolis,
France, in April 1995. The first draft of the WCAG guidelines,
the promise of the mobile Web and more recently the Web
payments work were all initiated by the W3C Europe staff.... ...Full Story