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 least the EC could do, is to put its policy into practice”
-Director of European Policy at OpenForum Europe Mael Brunet on the failure of the EC to make public documents available in open formats
California Federal Court Holds that, in Order to Allege Market Power in a Deception Case, Plaintiffs Must Allege that the SSO Would Have Adopted an Alternative Standard ABA IPI Committee tidBITS December 19, 2014 - A California federal court dismissed, with leave to amend, Cisco’s and HP’s antitrust counterclaims against ChriMar, which were based on allegations that ChriMar knowingly failed to disclose essential patents to the IEEE standard-setting organization (SSO) with the intent to deceive, and then filed a patent infringement suit against Cisco and HP after the standard was adopted. Significantly, the court concluded that (1) Cisco and HP failed to sufficiently allege market power because they failed to clearly allege that IEEE would have adopted an alternative standard had it known about ChriMar’s patents, and (2) the heightened pleading requirements under Rule 9(b) for fraud applies to antitrust claims based on failure to disclose.... ...Full Story
OpenSocial Foundation Moving Standards Work to W3C Social Web Activity Press Release W3C.org December 19, 2014 - Building on the 31 July 2014 announcement of
the W3C Social Web Working Group, the OpenSocial Foundation and
W3C today announce the transfer of OpenSocial specifications and
assets to the W3C. As of 1 January 2015, OpenSocial Foundation
will close and future work will take place within the W3C Social
Web Activity, chartered to make it easier to build and integrate
social applications into the Open Web Platform.... ...Full Story
NIST Issues New Revision of Guide to Assessing Information Security Safeguards NIST Techbeat December 18, 2014 - NIST has released the final version of the 2014 update to its core guide to assessing the security and privacy safeguards for federal information systems and organizations. The revised guide is one of two basic NIST publications used by government IT security professionals to assess a wide range of software configurations, physical security measures and operating procedures meant to safeguard information systems from both chance failures and hostile attacks.... ...Full Story
Google Promises Better Compatibility with Open Source Documents Christopher Tozzi VAR Guy December 17, 2014 - Google (GOOG) may soon be taking open OpenDocumentFormat (ODF), the native file format in virtually all modern open source word processors, like LibreOffice and OpenOffice, more seriously. That's according to a statement from Google's open source chief speaking about the future of the company's cloud-based app suite.
Google already supports ODF to a certain, meager extent....Many governments are now requiring ODF as a way to avoid vendor lock-in and other concerns associated with Office Open XML, the file format created by Microsoft (MSFT) for use in current versions of Office and other applications.... ...Full Story
Cloud Foundry Foundation Launch Pushes PaaS Forward Jennifer LeClaire CIO Today December 15, 2014 - It’s official. The Cloud Foundry Foundation has launched as an independent, nonprofit foundation to manage the global open standards for platform-as-a-service (PaaS) technology. The foundation will be managed as a Linux Foundation Collaborative Project and will be governed by a team of open source experts from founding Platinum Members EMC, HP, IBM, Intel Relevant Products/Services, Pivotal, SAP, and VMware Relevant Products/Services.
Cloud Foundry is currently the leading PaaS platform and has seen a 36 percent increase in community contributions over the past year, with more than 1,700 "pull requests" for contributions to the open development project. The Pivotal Cloud Foundry, IBM Bluemix, HP Helion, and Canopy Cloud Fabric are among the most notable deployments, thus far.... ...Full Story
A Ton of Tech Companies Just Came Out Against Net Neutrality Mario Aguilar Gizmodo December 15, 2014 - More than 60 huge tech companies including Intel, Qualcomm, Cisco, and IBM have written a letter to leaders in Congress and the FCC opposing net neutrality. The free and open internet isn't going to happen without a fight.
In an effort to implement net neutrality regulations that would stand up to legal scrutiny, President Obama has proposed that broadband internet be classified as a utility under Title II of the telecommunications act. It's a smart proposal that ultimately favors consumers, and it's supported by slews of companies like Google and Facebook. Obviously, the companies that own the infrastructure—Comcast, AT&T, et al—oppose the idea because they want to be able to charge money for internet fast lanes. These companies also wield a lot of influence.... ...Full Story
Target ruling raises stakes for cybersecurity vigilance Jaikumar Vijayan Christian Science Monitor December 12, 2014 - A Minnesota court may set a chilling new precedent for retailers with its ruling that Target could be sued for failing to adequately defend against last year's massive data breach.
By rejecting Target's motion last week to dismiss the lawsuit brought by several banks, and allowing the case to proceed, the court held that the retailer’s failure to heed warnings from a security alerting system, and its disabling of certain security features, could be viewed as negligent actions.
Consumers and banks have routinely brought negligence claims against businesses such as Target that have suffered a data breach. However, this is the first time in a data breach case of this magnitude that a court has said a company can be sued for failing to respond to warnings from security software. That decision could set in motion new legal standards for bringing negligence claims against organizations that suffer data breaches.... ...Full Story
ITU approves G.fast DSL high-speed broadband standard Leon Spencer ZDNet December 12, 2014 - Members of the United Nations' International Telecommunications Union (ITU) have reached a final approval of G.fast, the broadband standard that is designed to deliver access speeds of up to 1Gbps over existing copper telephone wires.
G.fast is a digital subscriber line (DSL) standard that is designed to allow speeds of between 150Mbps and 1Gbps -- depending on loop length -- for standard local subscriber lines shorter than 250 metres.
The ITU, which allocates radio spectrum and develops technical standards, said that the standard meets service providers' need for a complement to fibre-to-the-home (FttH) technologies in scenarios where G.fast proves the more cost-effective strategy.... ...Full Story
Is Google coming back to the open community on document formats? Simon Phipps ComputerWorldUK December 12, 2014 - At the ODF Plugfest in London, Google’s head of open source told the audience that work once once again in progress extending OpenDocument support in Google’s products.
At the opening of the event, Magnus Falk, deputy CTO for HM Government, told the audience that the decision to adopt ODF (alongside HTML and PDF) as the government’s required document format is now well in hand....As a result, Google faces significant pressure securing government business in the UK – including in the health and education sectors – now that ODF is a requirement.... ...Full Story
Cabinet Office Plugfest builds momentum for ODF OpenForum Europe/COIS December 11, 2014 - On Monday and Tuesday, 8th-9th December, a group of technologists, SMEs, corporations, individuals, and representatives of Governments gathered in Bloomsbury, London over two days to collectively improve the implementation of Open Document Format (ODF)....The Government's policy mandating ODF for editing and sharing documents, announced in July by the Minister, commits all departments to adopting the format to boost the strength and diversity of apps which read and write ODF documents. The Cabinet Office partnered with the OpenDoc Society to host this week's event. Magnus Falk voiced Government priorities when his speech on Monday demanded "serious choice" for Government IT buyers, and a level playing field for suppliers based on the use of Open Standards and ODF.... ...Full Story