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
“US Dept of Commerce green paper reveals that, er, it's a bit of a mess”
-The Register, commenting on a new US DoC Green Paper on the IoT
Webmention is a W3C Recommendation W3C.org January 20, 2017 - The Social Web Working Group has published a W3C Recommendation of "Webmention." A Webmention is a notification that one URL links to another and is a simple way to notify any URL when you mention it on your site. From the receiver’s perspective, it’s a way to request notifications when other sites mention it.... ...Full Story
FSFE: H2020 funded software should be free Gijs Hillenius EU Joinup January 20, 2017 - Software that is developed in research projects funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme should be published under a free software licence, says the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE). The advocacy group wants to know how much of the H2020 budget is spent on paying for proprietary software licences.
On 9 January, the FSFE filed a Freedom of Information request, asking how many of the research projects funded by Horizon 2020 deliver software solutions that are publicly available, and how much ends up as proprietary.
A reply by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Research & Innovation is due by the end of the month.
The Horizon 2020 is Europe’s largest research funding programme. Between 2014 and 2020 it will fund EUR 80 billion in research and innovation projects.... ...Full Story
Five Star Review - I had a blast reading this Gail Vance Amazon Reader Reviews January 19, 2017 - Had a blast reading this. The plot was complex and well executed and the characters completely developed.Also enjoyed finding snarky references in some of the names of people, places, and things. A touch of humor never hurt anyone. This book was as good as any Dan Brown I've ever read. ...Full Story
Everything wrong with IoT (and how to fix it) – according to Uncle Sam Kieren McCarthy The Register January 19, 2017 - The US Department of Commerce has published a green paper [PDF] on the Internet of Things, the first step in a process to develop formal governmental policies on the technology.
Following a public request for comments back in April, the green paper attempts to summarize what a large number of companies, advocacy groups and interested individuals said with respect to what the key issues surrounding IoT were, what the benefits and challenges were, and what role the federal government should adopt.
The end result is a typically vague but well-meaning combination of "doing verbs," complete with lengthy resource references....here are the official "doing verbs" that outline the official "areas of engagement":
- Enabling Infrastructure Availability and Access: Fostering the physical and spectrum-related assets needed to support IoT growth and advancement.
- Crafting Balanced Policy and Building Coalitions: Removing barriers and encouraging coordination and collaboration; influencing, analyzing, devising, and promoting norms and practices that will protect IoT users while encouraging growth, advancement, and applicability of IoT technologies.
- Promoting Standards and Technology Advancement: Ensuring necessary technical standards are developed and in place to support global IoT interoperability and that the technical applications and devices to support IoT continue to advance.
- Encouraging Markets: Promoting the advancement of IoT through Department usage, application, and novel usage of the technologies; and translating the economic benefits and opportunities of IoT to foreign partners.
You've got until the beginning of April to send your views to Uncle Sam. ...Full Story
NIST Issues Draft Update to Cybersecurity Framework, ANSI Encourages Stakeholders to Comment Input Due by April 10, 2017 ANSI.org January 18, 2017 - The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued a draft update to the Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity—also known as the Cybersecurity Framework. The update provides new details on managing cyber supply chain risks, clarifying key terms, and introducing measurement methods for cybersecurity, and aims to further develop NIST’s voluntary guidance to organizations on reducing cybersecurity risks. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) encourages all relevant stakeholders to submit draft comments to NIST by April 10, 2017.
Created through collaboration between industry and government, the framework was released in 2014 as a result of President Obama’s Executive Order “Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity.” It consists of standards, guidelines, and practices to promote the protection of critical infrastructure, and uses a common language to address and manage cybersecurity risk in a cost-effective way based on business needs without placing additional regulatory requirements on business.
NIST requests that comments on the Draft Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity Version 1.1 be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.... ...Full Story
New Wi-Fi Standard Syncs Home Devices In Real Time Chase Martin IoTDaily January 17, 2017 - Wireless connections within the Internet of Things may soon rival the capabilities of wired systems, based on new standards being released by Wi-Fi Alliance.
The new standard, called TimeSync, is a Wi-Fi feature that brings precise timing and synchronized operation to wireless devices by aligning them to the same internal clock....
This type of synchronization would enable properly synced audio and video playback wirelessly across a full surround-sound system,...
Bringing a cross-brand standard to wireless devices is the goal and Wi-Fi Alliance plans to launch a certification program for device manufacturers to integrate the TimeSync capability into their products later this year.... ...Full Story
Connected cars should be subject to third-party cybersecurity evaluations says EU agency Out-Law.com January 17, 2017 - The European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA) said an "independent evaluation scheme" would help ensure technology developed for new 'connected cars', such as telematics, connected infotainment or intra-vehicular communication systems, is not vulnerable to hackers.
Existing car safety standards only "marginally address security", and "do not protect against attacks", ENISA said.... ...Full Story
Implementing Medical Device Cybersecurity: A Two-Stage Process James Baker Med Device Online January 14, 2017 - ...In what many experts believe was a world first, manufacturer Johnson & Johnson recently issued a warning to patients on a cyber-vulnerability in one of its medical devices. The company announced that an insulin pump it supplies had a potential connectivity vulnerability. The wireless communication link the device used contained a potential exploit that could have been used by an unauthorised third party to alter the insulin dosage delivered to the patient....
Connected device cybersecurity is best approached in two stages:
- First, security is considered and specified in a top-down process, steering system architecture design at a fundamental level, and devolving down through the development process into testable units.
- Second, the design implementation is tested and verified against the specification requirements. To further prove system integrity, penetration testing can be used, conducted by testers separate from the original developer.... ...Full Story
Top Trends to Watch in 2017 Adrian Davis Infosecurity Magazine January 13, 2017 - As we enter 2017, this will be the year in which the potential cracks in the pillars of the knowledge economy start to show....Until now, there has been very little talk of APIs in the context of cybersecurity. However, this will start to change as they become the ‘joins’ of the connected economy; enabling software and systems to interact as never before, uniting millions of businesses, products and services as they all drink together in the pool of ‘open data.’ Transport for London’s open API already powers over 500 new travel apps, while the Amazon Echo’s API could allow you to connect everything from your kettle to your car.
Yet by enabling different software to become fully interoperable, APIs will increasingly provide a potential pathway for cyber-attackers to hopscotch across every sector of the economy. Crucially, one of the potential consequences of APIs resides in the fact that all businesses, software and systems are only as secure as the weakest link in the API chain.
For example, one vulnerable API in an App Store can allow hackers to take over millions of smartphones. This means that software design and information security will increasingly come together, as business begins to realize that there must be a common standard of cybersecurity enshrined at the heart of the design process across the entire conjoined software ecosystem.... ...Full Story
W3C and OGC put more Spatial (and space-born) Data on the Web W3C.org January 12, 2017 - The Spatial Data on the Web Working Group, a collaboration between W3C and the Open Geospatial Consortium, has published 4 documents today. "QB4ST" adds extensions to the "RDF Data Cube" for spatio-temporal components. These are designed to make it easier to share and manipulate data such as Earth Observations with linkable slices through time and space. The QB4ST extensions are used in another of today’s publications, "Publishing and Using Earth Observation Data with the RDF Data Cube and the Discrete Global Grid System," which shows how SPARQL queries can be served through OGC’s developing Discrete Global Grid System for observations, coupled with a triple store for observational metadata. The approach makes use of the power of Linked Data on the Web without requiring all data points to be encoded as RDF triples....The latest Working Draft of the "Semantic Sensor Network Ontology" sets out a modular approach that allows alignment with related vocabularies. The modular architecture supports the judicious use of “just enough” semantics for diverse applications, including satellite imagery, large scale scientific monitoring, industrial and household infrastructure, citizen observers, and the Web of Things. Finally, the Working Group is pleased to publish an update to its "Spatial Data on the Web Best Practices" document that advises on best practices related to the publication and usage of spatial data on the Web; the use of Web technologies as they may be applied to location. ...Full Story