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
“The simple answer is that PAX will be judged by the company it keeps”
-Me, quoted in a ZDNet article about Google's new PAX defensive Android cross-license program
NISO Releases Draft STS: Standards Tag Suite for Public Comment Press Release NISO.org April 26, 2017 - The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) announces the release of a draft version of NISO Z39.102-201x, STS: Standards Tag Suite, for public comment. STS provides a common XML format that standards developers, publishers, and distributors can use to publish and exchange full-text content and metadata of standards. It is expected that this "standard for standards" will be published in the fall as an XML document marked up in the STS standard after comments on the draft version are addressed and it is approved by NISO Voting Members and by ANSI, the American National Standards Institute....Adoption of STS will offer significant benefits at every step of standards development and use,... Different groups will be able to co-publish standards much more easily, and the advantages continue through to distribution.... ...Full Story
ANSI Seeks Organizations to Participate in Development of New ISO Technical Committee on Governance of Organizations ANSI.org April 25, 2017 - ...A newly proposed International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee, (TC) 309, Governance of organizations, focuses on the increasingly important field of governance relating to aspects of direction, control, and accountability of organizations. Governance is a crucial factor in enabling organizations to achieve goals in a professional, ethical, and legal manner....As the U.S. member body to ISO, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) encourages organizations to actively engage in this important endeavor by participating as a member of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG).
TC 309 will focus on topics related to anti-bribery, conflicts of interest, due diligence, whistleblowing, compliance, remuneration structures, external reporting and more. Additionally TC 309 will be responsible for providing ongoing guidance, support and communications for the recently published standard ISO 37001, Anti-Bribery Management Systems, to promote further awareness, adoption, and revisions, as needed.... ...Full Story
ANSI Seeks Input on Proposed Revisions ANSI Appeals Procedures ANSI.org April 23, 2017 - The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) seeks public comments on draft revisions to ANSIís Appeals Procedures: ANSI Appeals Board, ANSI Board of Standards Review (BSR), and ANSI Executive Standards Council (ExSC).
The proposed revisions presented in ExSC_029_2017 are the next iteration of the proposed revisions announced in 2016 as ExSC_053_2016. Some public comments received in response to ExSC_053_2016 were accepted and incorporated by the ANSI Executive Standards Council (ExSC), while others were not.
Public comments are invited on new revisions presented in ExSC_029_2017. For reference, ExSC_029_2017 displays the proposed revisions available for public comment and ExSC_029_A_2017, which follows it, incorporates the new revisions as clean copy. ...Full Story
HTTPS Certificate Issuance Becomes More Secure Thanks to New CAA Standard Catalin Cimpanu BleepingComputer.com April 18, 2017 - Last week, the CA/Browser Forum voted to implement CAA mandatory checks before the issuance of new SSL/TLS certificates, as a measure to prevent the misissuance of HTTPS certificates.
According to CA/Browser Forum ballot 187, 100% of all browser makers and 94% of all certificate authorities voted to implement CAA mandatory checks starting September 8, 2017.
CAA stands for Certificate Authority Authorization and is a new extra field that can be added to DNS records, as approved by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) via RFC 6844....According to the new CAA checking procedure approved by the CA/Browser Forum, the organization that oversees HTTPS certificate issuance operations, certificate authorities (CAs) must check the CAA field in the DNS record for the domain for which a customer asks a new certificate for.
Domain owners can leave instructions in the CAA field to prevent rogue actors from requesting SSL/TLS certificates in their domains.... ...Full Story
Industrial Wireless Guidelines Technical Working Group Press Release NIST.gov April 17, 2017 - Starting in May 2017, the intelligent Systems Division of the NIST is forming a technical working group (TWG) to develop best practices guidelines in selecting and deploying industrial wireless solutions within industrial environments such as process plants and discrete manufacturing factories. Guidelines will consider the entire wireless ecosystem within factories with emphasis on wireless systems operating on the factory floor. This includes factory/plant instrumentation, control systems, and back-haul networks.
The guidelines will be technology and vendor agnostic and will address the current needs of industry to have independent guidelines based on user requirements and measurement science research. The guidelines will be kept concise and will be targeted to the plant/factory floor for tracking of materials, observation and control of processes, improvement of personnel safety, and improvement of plant/factory operational objectives. Classes of control systems will include both feedback and supervisory forms of control....The user community and system integrators are strongly encouraged to participate.... ...Full Story
IFX Version 1.9.1 Published: Accommodates Changes in ATM Processing, Including PCI SSD Requirements and Dynamic Currency Conversion Press Release IFXForum.org April 14, 2017 - The IFX Forum announced today that it has published Version 1.9.1 of the IFX specification. The focus of the new version is to accommodate changes in ATM processing....Release 1.9.1 includes two new features. The first introduces functionality for remote key loading compliant with the requirements recently introduced by the PCI Security Standards Council, which are to be rolled out in 2017. The second feature provides new mechanisms to support dynamic currency conversion, which provides the user of an ATM with information about the cost of a currency conversion in advance of the transaction, so that the user can choose to complete or abandon the transaction.... ...Full Story
Microsoft Closes Its Open Source Code Hosting Service CodePlex, Asks Devs To Move To GitHub Fossbytes.com April 13, 2017 - Microsoft has announced that itís shutting down its open source code hosting service CodePlex. The website will be completely shut down in December, 2017. The backups will be made available to the users in common, transferable formats. Microsoft has also published a guide to help the devs shift their code to Github.
In 2006, Microsoft launched CodePlex as an alternative to SourceForge. Back then, it was being seen as Redmondís one of the biggest steps into the world of open source. But, on Friday, Microsoft announced that CodePlex will be closed down.... ...Full Story
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Inventor of the World Wide Web, to receive the ACM A.M. Turing Award Press Release W3C April 12, 2017 - The ACM, the
Association for Computing Machinery, today named Sir Tim
Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web and Director of the World Wide
Web Consortium, as the recipient of the 2016 ACM A.M. Turing
Award. The ACM Turing Award is recognized as the highest
distinction in Computer Science and is sometimes referred to as
the "Nobel Prize of Computing." The Award is named for the
British Computer Scientist Alan Turing who is known as the
key founder of theoretical computer science and artificial
intelligence as well as for the development of the Turing
machine, considered a model of a general purpose computer.
Sir Tim is being given this award for inventing the World Wide
Web, the first web browser, and the fundamental protocols and
algorithms allowing the Web to scale. Considered one of the
most influential computing innovations in history, the World
Wide Web is the technical infrastructure of society and has
already become the universal connectivity platform.... ...Full Story
W3C responds to UNESCO concerns about Encrypted Media Extensions Press Release w3c.org April 11, 2017 - UNESCO recently published a letter and an article about Encrypted Media Extensions. Since we didnít have an opportunity to set the record straight with them, we are responding here.
The spirit of the letter is anchored in UNESCOís values and the concept of Internet Universality. We agree on the concept of Internet Universality. We even believe that those who are trying to restrict movies from the Internet are violating the concept of universality by preventing certain content from being on the Web.
We note that EME does in fact provide improvements in privacy, security and accessibility over the alternatives....
When UNESCO suggests that laws such as DMCA are against UN principles, we note that their colleagues at WIPO have been a motivating force behind such laws. We would urge UNESCO to use its own weight to insist that Member Statesí laws on the Internet are always reasonable and proportionate and respectful of human rights. We are a technical standards organization but litigating the laws of a single country or many nations (like the WIPO treaty) is the role of legal advocates such as the EFF or UNESCO.... ...Full Story