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
“Should the provision of a hyperlink leading to a work or other subject matter protected under copyright?”
AltExchange Alliance Publishes Private Equity’s First Ever Data Standard Press Release AltExchange Alliance December 20, 2013 - The AltExchange Alliance, a global private equity industry group launched in May 2013, has taken a major step towards its aim of developing a comprehensive global data standard for sharing private equity information. The Alliance has published its Group One standard – the industry's first ever detailed template for the exchange of data related to capital accounts, schedules of investments, and cash flow activity.
The guidelines previously outlined by the ILPA and IPEV provided a starting point for the working group's efforts. However, the new standard goes much further than anything the industry has seen before. It provides a robust, highly-detailed, fixed format data standard, and is now available for download.... ...Full Story
US PIN debit networks form EMV alliance Press Release Debit Network Alliance December 20, 2013 - Ten leading PIN debit networks in the United States have formed a new company, Debit Network Alliance, to provide a structure for the governance, deployment and implementation of the EMV debit standard.
The goal of this collaborative effort is to help facilitate the adoption of an interoperable EMV standard for debit payments in the U.S. through a common governance structure that fosters regulatory compliance, equal access and ability to innovate for all debit networks, routing choice for merchants, and portability for issuers.
The debit networks have a long history of collaboratively working together - especially with regard to improving security - to define standards that maintain the integrity and quality of the U.S. payment industry. In particular, the networks have been working together on chip standards under the support of the Secure Remote Payment Council's Chip and PIN Work Group since April 2012.
The founding networks of Debit Network Alliance include AFFN®, ATH®, CO-OP Financial Services ®, NETS®, NYCE®, Presto!®, PULSE®, SHAZAM®, and STAR®.... ...Full Story
NIST Special Publication Expands Government Authentication Options NIST NIST Techbeat December 19, 2013 - A newly revised publication from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) expands the options for government agencies that need to verify the identity of users of their Web-based services. Electronic Authentication Guideline (NIST Special Publication 800-63-1) is an extensive revision and update of the original document, released in 2006, and it recognizes that times, and technologies, have changed.
“Changes made to the document reflect changes in the state of the art,” explains NIST computer security expert Tim Polk, Cryptographic Technology Group manager at NIST. “There are new techniques and tools available to government agencies, and this provides them more flexibility in choosing the best authentication methods for their individual needs, without sacrificing security.”... ...Full Story
Government expands private sector cyber security partnerships in NCSS drive ComputerWeekly.com December 19, 2013 - The UK government plans to concentrate on expanding partnerships around cyber security with the private sector in 2014 as part of the National Cyber Security Strategy (NCSS).
This includes introducing a cyber security kitemark for firms that do business with the government, to help boost UK cyber exports and a cyber security baseline standard....
The NCSS is supported by £860m funding from the National Cyber Security Programme for delivering projects as part of the government’s response to growing threats in cyberspace.... ...Full Story
Standardization Priorities for Smart and Sustainable Cities Discussed at ANSI Workshop ANSI Weekly December 19, 2013 - The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) convened a workshop on November 21, 2013, in Washington, DC, to examine the role of standardization in achieving the promise of smart and sustainable cities. The full workshop report is available online.
The inspiration for both the workshop and the larger smart cities movement is the ongoing growth of urban communities, particularly in developing countries, along with the proliferation of information and communications technologies (ICTs), such as sensors, smart phones, intelligent transport systems, building energy management systems, etc., that can assist cities in making their operations more efficient, more sustainable, and more resilient. Countries in Europe and Asia, with support from their national governments, have undertaken strategic initiatives to explore this area. Likewise, a number of new standardization roadmapping activities have emerged at the national, regional, and international levels to assess what standards and conformance programs already exist and what additional activity may be needed....
The workshop identified a number of priority areas where standardization can contribute to smart and sustainable cities. These included:
- a standardized set of definitions/lexicon for smart cities applicable across sectors
- interoperability for systems of systems, including common data formats and communication protocols to enable sharing of data between systems
- key performance indicators so that measurements are consistent and comparable
- a baseline guidance document which can be adapted to address the specific needs of sectors
- resiliency for disaster preparedness and recovery
As a result of the workshop, ANSI will develop a proposal for a collaborative to further define standardization needs, particularly through outreach and engagement of public-sector stakeholders.... ...Full Story
EU challenges US hegemony in global internet governance Cécile Barbière EurActiv December 18, 2013 - French lawmakers, supported by the EU's Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes, are pressing the European Union to stand up more firmly against American domination in cyberspace....“The European Union is not present enough in the different international fora on Internet governance although the future of the Internet is a significant challenge,” said Catherine Morin-Desailly, vice-president of the EU Affairs Committee in the French Senate....
“Only the EU has the necessary power to influence this new cyberspace where the USA dominates,” she added.
The MPs’ concerns stem largely from the massive and illegal wiretapping done by the Americans which were revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
... ...Full Story
One European copyright law-to-rule-them-all? EU launches review OUT-LAW,com The Register December 18, 2013 - The European Commission is seeking industry views on whether to completely harmonise copyright laws across the EU....Respondents are being asked for views on matters ranging from the accessibility of digital content across the trading bloc, limitations and exceptions to copyright protection and remuneration for rights holders.
However, it is also consulting on whether to set copyright rules that apply consistently across the whole of the EU...."Some see this as the only manner in which a truly Single Market for content protected by copyright can be ensured,"...The Commission has also asked whether the act of linking to copyrighted material should require the permission of rights-holders.... ...Full Story
Switch to open source successfully completed, city of Munich says PCWorld December 17, 2013 - Munich’s switch to open-source software has been successfully completed, with the vast majority of the public administration’s users now running its own version of Linux, city officials said Thursday.
In one of the premier open-source software deployments in Europe, the city migrated from Windows NT to LiMux, its own Linux distribution. LiMux incorporates a fully open-source desktop infrastructure. The city also decided to use the Open Document Format (ODF) as a standard, instead of proprietary options....As of November last year, the city saved more than €11.7 million (US$16.1 million) because of the switch. More recent figures were not immediately available, but cost savings were not the only goal of the operation. It was also done to be less dependent on manufacturers, product cycles and proprietary OSes, the council said Thursday.... ...Full Story
Christmas comes early for the Open Document Faithful (ODF) Mark Ballard Public Sector IT December 16, 2013 - The UK government has spruced its open document policy up for Christmas.
The Cabinet Office began a public consultation on open document formats this week, three and a half years after it came to power promising they would be one of the first things it delivered....The Cabinet Office Open Standards Board issued a "challenge" for public comment on a proposal this week that government documents be published in a format that anyone can read....[Meanwhile,]
The European Commission is meanwhile coming to the latest break point in contracts that have made Microsoft the sole supplier of desktop office and operating software for more than 20 years. The Commission had been aspiring to find an open format alternative to Microsoft standards even when it signed the first contract to buy Microsoft Office in 1992.... ...Full Story
Consortium Advances Spatial Computing Standard Tiffany Trader HPCWire December 13, 2013 - A new programming standard, called the Open Spatial Programming Language (or OpenSPL), debuted today “to enable the next generation of high performance parallel spatial computers.”
The open standard was developed by the Open Spatial Programming Language (OpenSPL) consortium, which formed to promote the use of spatial computing among a wide set of users and to standardize the OpenSPL language. The overarching goal of the consortium is for spatial computing to become the industry standard for mission critical computations.... ...Full Story