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
“Sometimes upholding constitutional ideas just isn't enough; sometimes you have to uphold the actual Constitution”
-Excerpt from the dedication of a new "dark email" protocol to the NSA by PGP developer Ladar Levison
China Issues LTE-FDD 4G Licenses USITO.org Weekly March 5, 2015 - On February 27, the [Chinese] Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) issued LTE-FDD enabled 4G licenses to China Telecom and China Unicom, further signaling China's entrance into the era of 4G.
MIIT had already issued 4G licenses to China's three telecom giants - China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom - at the end of 2013, allowing them to use China's homegrown TD-LTE 4G standard. Since June 2014, China Telecom and China Unicom have successfully experimented in 56 cities with commercial TD-LTE and LTE-FDD mixed networks.
Both TD-LTE and LTE-FDD are globally recognized standards, and TD-LTE has been in use in China for over a year. According to the announcement on the MIIT website, the FDD licensing facilitates more efficient spectrum use and will promote information consumption across China. According to the MIIT notice, issuance of licenses was granted based on an assessment of financial resources, technological capabilities, and operational capabilities of the telecom operators.... ...Full Story
Chinese Premier Li Addresses Reform of China’s Standardization System ANSI Weekly News March 4, 2015 - Recent comments from Chinese Premier Li Keqiang indicate support at the highest levels of the Chinese government for deepening the reform of China’s standardization system, a process that has been underway for several years. According to Chinese leadership, the goal is to streamline the system and adjust the roles of the government and private sector to increase effectiveness....As changes progress, ANSI’s international policy department will continue to monitor China’s reform and update members accordingly.
In a February 11, 2015, statement to the State Council Executive Meeting, Premier Li confirmed statements by officials from the Standardization Administration of China (SAC) that potential future reforms to China’s standardization system include the reorganization of Chinese standards. China’s standardization law, which was promulgated in 1989, provides a legal foundation for the process by which standards are developed and implemented in China. Generally speaking, China’s standardization system can be characterized as “top-down,” with the government playing a leading role in related activities. The four types of Chinese standards – national, industrial, local, and enterprise – are hierarchical in nature and can be classified as either mandatory or voluntary.
The reorganization would include a consolidation of mandatory standards....In terms of voluntary standards, national, industry, and local voluntary standards would be consolidated into one category. A greater emphasis would be placed on social organization standards, which include standards developed by federations, associations, and consortia. Enterprise standards would remain a category of Chinese standards....Further details regarding the potential restructuring of Chinese standards are unlikely to become clear until the reform is approved. When the National People’s Congress of China meets in March 2015, it is likely to deliberate the proposed reorganization, though it remains unclear when such changes will be approved.... ...Full Story
New EEMBC® CoreMark®-Pro Benchmark Bumps Processor Benchmarking Capabilities Press Release EEMB.org March 3, 2015 - EEMBC®, the Embedded Microprocessor Benchmark Consortium...today announced the availability of CoreMark®-Pro, a comprehensive, advanced processor benchmark working with, and enhancing, the market-proven industry-standard EEMBC CoreMark benchmark. While CoreMark stresses the CPU pipeline, CoreMark-Pro tests the entire processor, adding comprehensive support for multicore technology, a combination of integer and floating-point workloads, and data sets for utilizing larger memory subsystems....EEMBC-certified scores are available from almost all of the worldwide processor and microcontroller vendors, including Atmel, ARM, Freescale Semiconductor, Imagination Technologies, Microchip Technology, NXP Semiconductors, Renesas Electronics, and STMicroelectronics.
The EEMBC CoreMark-Pro benchmark contains five prevalent integer workloads and four popular floating-point workloads. The integer workloads include JPEG compression, ZIP compression, an XML parser, the SHA-256 Secure Hash Algorithm, and a more memory-intensive version of the original CoreMark. The floating-point workloads include a fast Fourier transform (FFT), a linear algebra routine derived from LINPACK, a greatly improved version of the Livermore loops benchmark, and a neural net algorithm to evaluate patterns.... ...Full Story
Flash drives in mobile devices set for speed boost with new standard Agam Shah ComputerWorld March 2, 2015 - Flash drives in mobile devices are set to become faster and secure with a new standard approved by the JEDEC Solid State Technology Association.
The new standard, eMMC version 5.1, will lay the groundwork for new mobile storage that will provide faster access to data. Flash drives based on eMMC 5.1 will be able to handle 4K streaming and more data-intensive tasks....The new standard could also make flash drives more secure. A new protocol called Secure Write Protection ensures only specific entities are able to access files and lock or unlock storage.... ...Full Story
New NIST Tools to Help Boost Wireless Channel Frequencies and Capacity NIST Techbeat February 27, 2015 - Smartphones and tablets are everywhere, which is great for communications but a growing burden on wireless channels. Forecasted huge increases in mobile data traffic call for exponentially more channel capacity. Boosting bandwidth and capacity could speed downloads, improve service quality, and enable new applications like the Internet of Things connecting a multitude of devices.To help solve the wireless crowding conundrum and support the next generation of mobile technology—5G cellular—researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are developing measurement tools for channels that are new for mobile communications and that could offer more than 1,000 times the bandwidth of today’s cell phone systems.... ...Full Story
HTTP/2 Will Make The Web ‘Faster And Safer’ Steve McCaskill Tech Week Europe February 27, 2015 - The Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) has approved the final standard for the HTTP/2 protocol, which could make browsing the Internet quicker and safer.
HTTP/2 is a major update to the Hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP), which is the foundation of data communication for the World Wide Web. The most widely used version of the standard, HTTP/1.1 was defined in 1999.
A working group has been developing HTTP/2 since 2012 and adopted Google’s SPDY protocol as an initial blueprint, with community feedback resulting in “substantial changes” to the standard, such as the compression scheme and the format of protocol.... ...Full Story
NIST Releases Update of Industrial Control Systems Security Guide for Final Public Review NIST Techbeat February 26, 2015 - The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued proposed updates to its Guide to Industrial Control Systems (ICS) Security (NIST Special Publication 800-82) for final public review and comment....Downloaded more than 3 million times since its initial release in 2006, the ICS security guide advises on how to reduce the vulnerability of computer-controlled industrial systems to malicious attacks, equipment failures, errors, inadequate malware protection and other threats. Industrial control systems encompass the hardware and software that control equipment and the information technologies that gather and process data. They are commonly used in factories and by public utilities and other owners and operators of major infrastructure.
Most industrial control systems began as proprietary, stand-alone collections of hardware and software that were walled off from the rest of the world and isolated from most external threats. Today, widely available software applications, Internet-enabled devices and other nonproprietary IT offerings have been integrated into most such systems. This connectivity has delivered many benefits, but it also has increased the vulnerability of these systems.... ...Full Story
Big Data, Hadoop Standards Group: Who's In, Who's Missing? Joe Panettieri Information Management February 25, 2015 - All eyes in the big data world are on the Open Data Platform -- a new association that strives to promote big data technologies and open source platforms like Hadoop. While promising and backed by big names like GE and IBM, the Open Data Platform initiative also lacks some key names....
Several industry giants and startups are driving the Open Data Platform group -- including Altiscale, Capgemini, CenturyLink, EMC, GE, Hortonworks, IBM, Infosys, Pivotal, SAS, Splunk, Teradata Verizon and VMware.
Still, some key names also are missing from effort.... ...Full Story
Security Standard Proposed for Bitcoin Exchanges and Wallets Stan Higgins Coindesk February 25, 2015 - A group composed of developers and security professionals has proposed a set of rules aimed at standardizing security protocols used by companies that handle or store digital currencies for their clients.
The proposal, created by the Cryptocurrency Certification Consortium (C4)...aims to provide an industry-level standard by which exchanges and wallet providers can operate.
The Cryptocurrency Security Standard (CCSS) draft proposal calls for 10 standardized approaches to key and seed generation, storage and usage, proof-of-reserve and security audits, among other areas. The framework consists of three levels per section, with each grade signifying a higher degree of security based on the proposed guidelines.... ...Full Story
How can you tell when the standards process isn't working? Perhaps the best indication is when a vendor decides it has to go to the time and cost (passed through to customers) of implementing two different standardized technologies in the same product. Hopefully this approach doesn't represent the future of wireless charging.
Samsung's Solution To Wireless Charging Fragmentation: Use All The Standards Lucian Armasu Giga.om February 24, 2015 - In a recent post on one of its websites, Samsung talked about the recent history of wireless charging and how the company has been working on bringing this technology to market since late 2000. It finally did it in 2011 when the company brought wireless charging support for its Droid Charge smartphone....Because we're talking about a brand new type of technology, having multiple standards can hurt adoption, so Samsung, which is a member of both consortiums, has decided that it's best to just use both technologies in its upcoming devices. This way, a device such as the Galaxy S6 could be backwards compatible with both standards and all the accessories that support them. Soon, for example, Samsung's devices could be charged wirelessly either at McDonalds restaurants, which use Qi charging, or at Starbucks stores, which use PowerMat chargers.... ...Full Story