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
“[H]as digital technology gone too far?”
-Mike Alexander asking, on the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Web, whether we're becoming too socially isolated
Brilliant, Fast Paced Page Turner (Five Stars) Amazonn Reader Reviews August 26, 2016 - The Lafayette Campaign is a masterfully crafted satirical page turner. In this cyber thriller, our hero “Frank,” a quirky and eccentric “cyber geek” will keep you smiling and at times laughing out loud when he tries to figure out who is manipulating the election polls, while attempting to write a novel about his previous adventures.
Andrew Updegrove does a brilliant job of creating likeable characters one can relate to, while weaving a gripping story with constant twists and turns you never see coming. The story moves at a very fast pace, but it’s easy to follow, enjoyable and impossible to put down.
This is one the best and most entertaining books I have read this year, and I would highly recommend it not only to “cyber geeks” and anyone interested in cyber security issues, but also to anyone with any interest in politics, elections, or anyone who is simply looking to read a fun yet technically accurate book with unforgettable characters you can’t stop thinking about long after you have finished the novel.
I loved how Andrew Updegrove was able to make such a technical subject so fun and entertaining, and can’t wait for “Frank’s” next adventure! ...Full Story
NISO Launches New Project to Create a Flexible API Framework for E-Content in Libraries Press Release NISO.org August 25, 2016 - Voting Members of the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) have approved a new project to modernize library-vendor technical interoperability to improve the access of digital library content and electronic books. Building upon a set of API (Application Programming Interface) Requirements developed by Queens Library, a new NISO Working Group will create a foundational API set that the library community can build on. This set will fulfill an array of user and library needs, including quicker response times, flexible item discovery and delivery options, improved resource availability, and more seamless integration of electronic and physical resources.... ...Full Story
US.gov to open-source made-to-order software, allow contributions The Register August 18, 2016 - United States chief information officer Tony Scott and chief acquisition officer Anne E Rung have issued a joint memo decreeing that henceforth all government agencies need to consider open-sourcing any bespoke software they commission....The policy therefore implements a three-year pilot during which US government agencies will be required to open source a fifth of their bespoke code. Security agencies are exempt from the policy.
The policy also calls for any bespoke development effort to “acquire and enforce rights sufficient to enable Government-wide reuse of custom-developed code.” There's also a requirement to keep an up-to-date inventory of code and to lodge open source code at code.gov.
Elsewhere the policy suggests that when sharing code, agencies should engage with existing communities whenever possible, rather than trying to create their own. Which sounds like a shout-out to whoever provisions storage at GitHub, if nothing else. There's even a section 5.2.F in which agencies are encouraged to ready themselves for code contributions from third parties within and without government, creating the potential for citizen coders to help build government apps.
The memo also insists that whenever agencies need new software they must consider “whether to use an existing Federal software solution or to acquire or develop a new software solution.” Agencies must also consider whether it is possible to get what they need by mixing government and commercial code.... ...Full Story
From eCars to cybersecurity: standards seen as natural enemy of the tech industry Zulfikar Abbany DW.com August 17, 2016 - Not enough charging stations? That's not the problem. The problem is knowing which adapter fits your car.
Imagine you're driving your shiny new eCar to the beach and you come to charge it at one of ABB's electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. Don't get me wrong, it looks like they have done their level best to cater for every possible standard, but it's a confusing array of options.
First, do you want AC or DC?...AC won't give you as much juice as DC, a fast-charging option. So you pick DC. But are you a CHAdeMO or a CCS? That depends on who made your car...."These standards are driven by the car manufacturers," says Robert Itschner, managing director of Business Unit Power Conversion at ABB Switzerland. "CHAdeMO is the standard used by Asian car makers and CCS is the European equivalent."... ...Full Story
Web at 25: Celebrating the 25th anniversary of World Wide Web Michael Alexander TheCourier.co.uk August 17, 2016 - Twenty-five years ago on August 6 1991, the first publicly available website was launched and the World Wide Web (WWW) was born.
It was created by the now internationally known Sir Tim Berners-Lee who, just eight months earlier, first posted the simple text page on an internal web server hosted by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research....Today there are over one billion sites on the World Wide Web – none of which would have been possible without the work of Berners-Lee,...Today’s Smart Phones, social media and advanced websites the world over would not have happened without that initial ground breaking work. It’s sometimes hard to imagine living in a world without them. Everything from banking to shopping to paying bills is increasingly done online.
But has digital technology gone too far?...
Two sets of data released this week certainly suggest a growing paradox in everyday life with technology bringing us closer but also seen to be getting in the way.... ...Full Story
Patent Advisory Group for Web Payments Working Group Launched W3C.org August 16, 2016 - In accordance with the W3C Patent Policy, W3C has launched a Web Payments Working Group Patent Advisory Group (PAG) in response to disclosures related to two specifications of the Web Payments Working Group; see the PAG charter. W3C launches a PAG to resolve issues in the event a patent has been disclosed that may be essential, but is not available under the W3C Royalty-Free licensing requirements. Public comments regarding these disclosures may be sent to email@example.com (public archive). Learn more about Patent Advisory Groups. ...Full Story
Carnegie Mellon U aims to unlock industrial 3D printing potential with new consortium that includes GE, Alcoa and United States Steel Alec www.3drs.org August 15, 2016 - ...for the 3D printing revolution to really pick up steam, a major push or technological breakthrough is needed to make this a truly accessible and affordable large-scale manufacturing option. In an attempt to realize that breakthrough, Carnegie Mellon University has announced a new consortium that brings together major companies, nonprofit institutes and the US government. Together, they will be working to fully unlock the potential of industrial 3D printing.
This ambitious consortium is headquartered in Carnegie Mellon University's NextManufacturing Center, and was announced at a campus event in late July by engineering professor and center director Jack Beuth. “Additive manufacturing is here now, and it's here to stay,” he said at the event. “One of the most important steps in making real progress with this technology is to bring all the key players — academia, industry, government, nonprofits — together to share knowledge, ideas and challenges. It's an integral part of creating a thriving additive manufacturing ecosystem, and today, we get do that here at Carnegie Mellon.”... ...Full Story
You heard it here first I've not only been writing about this risk for years, but I even wrote a cybersecurity thriller showing exactly how it could be done. So far, the election is tracking the plot of the book in a very disturbing fashion. You can find it here: http://mybook.to/lafayettecampaign
The Election Won’t Be Rigged. But It Could Be Hacked Zeynep Tufekci The New York Times August 12, 2016 - ...It’s unclear what mechanism the Trump campaign envisions for this rigging. Voter fraud through impersonation or illegal voting is vanishingly rare in the United States, and rigging the election by [physically] tampering with voting machines would be nearly impossible....But it’s still a bleak landscape.
Over the years, the team at Princeton, cooperating with other researchers, has managed to disable and tamper with many direct recording electronic systems that use touch-screen computers without a verifiable paper trail.
I’m not the only one who is worried. This month, Jeh Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, said his department was concerned about infiltration of the nation’s electoral systems. Experts have warned about voting machine vulnerability for years, but nothing has changed. The mere existence of this discussion is cause for alarm. The United States needs to return, as soon as possible, to a paper-based, auditable voting system in all jurisdictions that still use electronic-only unverifiable voting machines.... ...Full Story
ANSI Announces 2016 Legal Issues Forum: Employment Law, Cybersecurity, and Social Media Press Release ANSI.org August 12, 2016 - The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) will hold its annual Legal Issues Forum on Nuts and Bolts Business Issues from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 27, 2016, at the FHI 360 Conference Center, 1825 Connecticut Avenue, NW, in Washington, DC. The event is part of World Standards Week (WSW), a series of meetings and celebrations hosted annually by ANSI, coordinator of the U.S. voluntary standardization system.
A broad range of legal experts will lead panel discussions on employment law, cybersecurity, and social media – all topics of importance to non-profit organizations in the standardization community. Each session will be structured as a 90-minute moderated discussion, with considerable opportunity for audience Q&A. ANSI members and all interested stakeholders including those from government, industry, business, consumer groups, and academia are encouraged to attend and share their perspectives on these critical issues.
For the first time, this annual event is being offered free of charge to ANSI members. Non-members have a registration fee of $249.... ...Full Story
CORD Project Will Help Service Providers Build Cloud-Like Networks Jeffrey Burt eWeek August 11, 2016 - Service providers and telecommunications companies have a new tool they can use in their efforts to transform their networks into highly scalable, agile and affordable infrastructures similar to those run by cloud providers.
The Linux Foundation and the Open Networking Lab (ON.Lab) recently spun out what had been a use case within the ON.Lab's ONOS open-source software-defined networking (SDN) operating system into its own project that proponents said will give service providers the platform they need to create and deploy services to customers and employees a cloud-like speed....Google, Samsung and Radisys joined the ONOS and CORD projects, both of which are operating under the auspices of the Linux Foundation....The goal of CORD is to take advantage of merchant silicon, white-box servers, bare-metal network switches and open-source software to create infrastructures that bring the flexibility, agility and affordability of cloud environments to the central offices of telcos, which traditionally have comprised closed and proprietary products....
Service providers are turning to open technologies to enable them to more quickly spin out services and applications to end users, which include enterprises, residential and mobile customers, according to Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation. ...Full Story