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
“There’s over a million new pieces of malware that hit the system every day”
-Sifma cybersecurity operations manager Tom Wagner, describing the level of assault on major financial institution systems
EU, US to collaborate on open data re-use Cyrille Chausson EE Times December 8, 2016 - The European Commission, represented by DG Connect, and the US government, represented by the Department of Commerce, have announced a joint-project to enhance the re-use of data between the two areas....Easing the re-use of open data by businesses to create new services and encouraging the exchange of best practices are among the objectives of this collaboration. Through this joint project, the US and the UE also want to “identify needs from data users for a better usability of open data originating from the EU and the US”.... ...Full Story
Universe’s Constants Now Known with Sufficient Certainty to Completely Redefine the International System of Units NIST.gov December 7, 2016 - Fundamental constants are physical quantities that are universal in nature. For example, the speed of light in vacuum and the charge of a single electron are the same everywhere in the universe. That is why scientists would like to use invariant quantities of nature to define the seven base measurement units of the International System of Units (SI), or the modern metric system, rather than to rely on measurements of physical artifacts.
According to a recent evaluation and update of the values of the fundamental constants by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the uncertainties in measurements of the constants have now been reduced to such exceedingly low levels that all of the SI units can now be linked to them....“The reduced uncertainties in these four fundamental physical constants are very significant,” said NIST chemist Donald Burgess, co-editor of the Journal of Physical and Chemical Reference Data (JPCRD). “These now ultra-small uncertainties in the constants will allow the CGPM to revise the International System of Units so that the seven base units will be exactly defined in terms of fundamental constants. In turn, many equations that describe the laws of nature—such as the relationship between energy and temperature as expressed through Boltzmann’s constant—will now be exact and not depend on measurement units that have inherent uncertainties because of the way that they are currently defined.”... ...Full Story
New consortium aims to build bridge between environmental, health data Proud Green Building December 6, 2016 - You can sequence your unique genome in search of genetic mutations that cause disease. But it’s much harder to study your “exposome” — the cumulative effect of your environment on your health over a lifetime.
Now, a pan-Canadian research consortium wants to connect detailed environmental data with public health data to study Canadians’ exposomes, according to University of Toronto....
CANUE is starting with six environmental attributes that affect health: air pollution, noise pollution, proximity to green space such as nature or parks, exposure to extreme weather, transportation options and neighborhood factors. Neighborhood factors consider both physical and intangible attributes of a person’s local surroundings, including urban design, land use, walkability, socioeconomic factors and more.... ...Full Story
53 steps to stronger cybersecurity Mark Rockwell FCW.com December 5, 2016 - The Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity on Dec. 2 unveiled its recommendations to the White House on how to address the nation's biggest and most urgent cybersecurity issues. The 100-page report, which addresses both President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump, calls for immediate and longer-term actions from government and commercial interests alike.
The report includes 53 suggested action items in all, including the creation of an appointed post of assistant to the president for cybersecurity. That individual would report through the national security advisor, and "inform and coordinate with the Director of OMB on efforts by the Federal CIO and CISO to secure federal agencies."...More broadly, the commission also looked to inform the incoming administration on where the biggest cybersecurity fires are. The report centers on six imperatives, which were outlined in November:
- Protecting, defending and securing today's information infrastructure and digital networks.
- Innovating and accelerating investment for the security and growth of digital networks and the digital economy.
- Preparing consumers to thrive in a digital age.
- Building cybersecurity workforce capabilities.
- Better equipping government to function effectively and securely in the digital age.
- Ensuring an open, fair, competitive and secure global digital economy.... ...Full Story
New ISO Standard Could Save Industry $30 Billion hull coating Press Release The Maritime Executive December 5, 2016 - The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has now published ISO 19030, a new standard conceived to measure changes in ship-specific hull and propeller performance....the move has the potential to reduce the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent and saving operators up to $30 billion in annual energy costs.... ...Full Story
New standard helps optical trackers follow moving objects precisely Phys Org December 2, 2016 - Throwing a perfect strike in virtual bowling doesn't require your gaming system to precisely track the position and orientation of your swinging arm. But if you're operating a robotic forklift around a factory, manipulating a mechanical arm on an assembly line or guiding a remote-controlled laser scalpel inside a patient, the ability to pinpoint exactly where it is in three-dimensional (3-D) space is critical.
To make that measurement more reliable, a public-private team led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has created a new standard test method to evaluate how well an optical tracking system can define an object's position and orientation—known as its "pose"—with six degrees of freedom: up/down, right/left, forward/backward, pitch, yaw and roll.... ...Full Story
SD Association Launches Speedy New Standard for Smartphones Ernie Smith Associations Now December 1, 2016 - The association that sets the standards for the most popular kind of flash memory is upping its standards for mobile devices.
Last week, the SD Association (SDA) announced a new class of microSD card that is designed to allow for use on devices that support the cards (which are largely Android-based). Last year, a feature was added to Android that allows users to tie their phones’ internal storage with that of a microSD card—and it’s been around long enough that most recent devices that have microSD slots support the feature...The App Performance Class 1 (or A1) standard, which was requested by mobile manufacturers, is designed to...set minimum standards for input and output speed for microSD cards... ...Full Story
North American Electric Reliability Corporation and IEEE Sign Agreement to Cooperate on Bulk Power System Analysis, Standards, Cyber Security Press Release NERC/IEEE November 29, 2016 - The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) and IEEE recently entered an agreement to identify and launch joint initiatives on key issues, including coordination on bulk power system analysis, cyber security and the interface between NERC Reliability Standards and IEEE equipment standards....Challenges at the forefront of the industry such as system protection, power system modeling, inverter-based resources, technology integration and cyber security require close cooperation between NERC and IEEE on the jurisdictional authorities of both groups and the high reliability and security of the bulk power system....The memorandum of understanding identifies priorities for initial collaboration, including geomagnetic disturbance standards, synchrophasors, essential reliability services, voltage stability and frequency response.... ...Full Story
Review: The Doodlebug War - 5 Stard The Olso Times November 28, 2016 - The Doodlebug War is a thriller/political satire that focuses on a real-world cybersecurity vulnerability that is being ignored as we rely increasingly on the Internet. Like the two preceding books in the series, everything in the book is technically accurate and could actually happen....In The Doodlebug War, the vulnerability is the increasing movement of all government and private sector computing resources to huge data centers as the "cloud computing" business model becomes pervasive. The result is that not only all operating and application software is hosted in a limited number of geographic locations, but that all data is being hosted there as well. The data centers are concentrated in order to take advantage of lowest cost sources of electricity because of the enormous power demands and costs of running the centers.
The result is what may be termed "vulnerability by design," as virtually all data will soon be stored in above ground facilities that could be easily destroyed in the case of war.... ...Full Story
ICASI Transfers Development of Security Open Standard to OASIS Press Release ICASI.org November 28, 2016 - The Industry Consortium for Advancement of Security on the Internet (ICASI) has announced it transferred further development and maintenance of its Common Vulnerability Reporting Framework (CVRF) Version 1.1 standard to the OASIS Common Security Advisory Framework (CSAF) Technical Committee, part of an international consortium that drives the development, convergence and adoption of open standards for the global information society. ICASI’s CVRF standard has been widely adopted by the major Internet backbone providers. Transferring ICASI’s CVRF standard to OASIS will encourage broader industry participation in the continued development of the standard while enhancing OASIS’s cybersecurity automation standards portfolio....ICASI took the lead in developing CVRF 1.0 as an open standard four years ago to provide an innovative solution to solve a critical security vulnerability communications problem. Based on a common XML-based framework, CVRF consolidates and brings consistency to vulnerability documentation. It provides the industry with faster and more consistent report creation processes. CVRF users benefit from the standard by being able to receive and process needed information more quickly and easily.... ...Full Story