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
“Open standards are simply better for developers”
-Professor William Webb, CEO of the Weightless SIG, announcing the SIG's first standard
CEA, LONMARK Announce New Home & Building Automation Standards Press Release CEA, LONMARK June 29, 2015 - The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and LONMARK International today announced two new standards available for home and building automation. These standards provide multiple parties – including users, developers, vendors, integrators and specifiers of open building control systems – a mechanism to develop and deliver a higher level of device-to-device interoperability using any open control networking communication platform.... ...Full Story
China Lifts Restrictions on E-Commerce Foreign Investment USITO.org Weekly June 26, 2015 - On June 19, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) announced that e-commerce online data processing and transaction processing businesses will be opened to 100 percent foreign ownership across China, effective immediately. According to the MIIT announcement, foreign-invested enterprises will now be able to apply for permission of to hold a 100 percent stake in e-commerce online data processing and transaction processing businesses in China, but are still subject to other requirements of approval conditions and procedures as regulated in the Management Rules of Foreign-Invested Telecommunications Companies (State Council Circular No. 534).... ...Full Story
ITU defines vision and roadmap for 5G mobile development Press Release ITU-T June 25, 2015 - ITU has established the overall roadmap for the development of 5G mobile and defined the term it will apply to it as “IMT-2020”.
With the finalization of its work on the “Vision” for 5G systems at a meeting of ITU-R Working Party 5D in San Diego, California, ITU has now defined the overall goals, process and timeline for the development of 5G mobile systems. This process is now well underway within ITU, in close collaboration with governments and the global mobile industry.
The meeting also agreed that the work should be conducted under the name of IMT-2020, as an extension of the ITU’s existing family of global standards for International Mobile Telecommunication systems (IMT-2000 and IMT-Advanced) which serve as the basis for all of today’s 3G and 4G mobile systems.... ...Full Story
The need for industry standards in the fight against cyber-crime Clayton Locke SC Magazine June 24, 2015 - In order to address the threat facing the financial services industry, the Bank of England (BofE) recently created the CBEST testing framework. This framework uses intelligence gathered from commercial and government sources, and can be tailored to the business model and operations of individual firms...This is clearly a strong step forward. Yet even though CBEST has robust certification requirements for testing companies, it does not provide a certification standard for the financial services institution itself....Making these assessments voluntary highlights an inherent weakness in the financial services industry outside of payment cards. It would be stronger to make the assessments compulsory, as is the case for PCI DSS.
It is time for us to develop a similar standard across our industry – a Financial Services Industry Data Security Standard. This standard could build on the foundations set by PCI DSS to cover the full scope of financial services cyber-security. By cooperating around such a standard, the industry will be able to deliver a stronger collective response to the cyber-crime threat than any single company could do alone.... ...Full Story
Open Standard Weightless-N IoT Network Goes Live In London Steve McCaskill TechWeek Europe June 23, 2015 - An Internet of Things (IoT) network using the open ‘Weightless-N’ standard has gone live across London, with the government-backed Digital Catapult Centre in London lending its support to the project.
Weightless-N was published only last month and is pitched as a cheaper, more innovative alternative to proprietary standards, allowing for cheaper hardware as any manufacturer can create base stations or endpoints.
The Weightless Special Interest Group (SIG) claims a terminal device can be made for as little as $2 and a base station for less than $3,000 – less than other platforms that lock users into one ecosystem.This, the S IG claims, results in excellent signal reach of several kilometres, even in “challenging” urban areas like London, and allows for multiple networks in a single location....Weightless-N is one of two standards made available by the non-profit Weightless SIG, the other being Weightless-W, which uses white spaces – unused portions of TV broadcast spectrum.... ...Full Story
NIST Releases Update of Industrial Control Systems Security Guide NIST Techbeat June 23, 2015 - The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued the second revision to its Guide to Industrial Control Systems (ICS) Security. It includes new guidance on how to tailor traditional IT security controls to accommodate unique ICS performance, reliability and safety requirements, as well as updates to sections on threats and vulnerabilities, risk management, recommended practices, security architectures and security capabilities and tools.
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.
ICS 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 operators of electric utilities, pipelines and other major infrastructure systems....
A significant addition in this revision is a new ICS overlay offering tailored guidance on how to adapt and apply security controls and control enhancements detailed in the 2013 comprehensive update of Security and Privacy Controls for Federal Information Systems and Organizations (NIST Special Publication 800-53, revision 4) to ICS. SP 800-53 contains a catalog of security controls that can be customized to meet specific needs stemming from an organization's mission, operational environment, or the particular technologies used. Using the ICS overlay, utilities, chemical companies, food manufacturers, automakers and other ICS users can adapt and refine these security controls to address their specialized security needs.... ...Full Story
Blueprint: Open Standards Do Not Have to Be Open Source Frank Yue Converge June 23, 2015 - While ETSI has defined the labels for the interfaces between the various components of the NFV architecture, there are currently no agreed-upon standards. And although there are several open source projects to develop standards for these NFV interfaces, most have not matured to the point where they are ready for use in a carrier-grade network.
In the meantime, various multi-vendor alliances are developing their own pre-standards solutions. Some are proprietary and others are derivations of the work done by open source groups. Currently, almost all of the proof of concept (POC) trials today are using these pre-standard variations. Each multi-vendor alliance is working in conjunction with the service providers to develop interface models and specifications that everyone within each POC will be comfortable with.
It is possible and even likely that some of these pre-standards will become de facto standards based on their popularity and utility. There is nothing wrong with standards that are developed by the vendor or service provider community as long as they meet these criteria: 1) the standard must work in a multi-vendor environment since the NFV architecture model depends on multiple vendors delivering different components of the solution. 2) The standard needs to be published and open so that a new vendor can easily build its component to be compatible with the architecture....In an ideal world, standards are fixed in nature and in time, but networks are evolving and technologies like NFV continue to evolve and mature. In this world of dynamic architectures, it is essential to have standards that are dynamic and proprietary, but open. This type of standard offers a solution that can deliver functions today and adapt to the models of tomorrow. ...Full Story
NIST’s NextGen PIV Card Strengthens Security and Authentication NIST Techbeat June 22, 2015 - The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has updated its technical specifications and guidance for the next generation of “smart” identity cards used by the federal government's workforce. The new specifications add enhanced security features to verify employees’ and contractors’ identities, as well as new capabilities that work with mobile devices and media such as smart phones.
Government employees use PIV cards for facility access.
View hi-resolution image
Federal employees and contractors use Personal Identification Verification (PIV) Cards for secure access to government facilities and computers. The PIV Card features a microchip with the employee’s photo, PIN, fingerprint information and other details....
The revised Federal Information Processing Standard 201-2 of 2013 sets the stage for the new generation of PIV Cards by specifying new technologies for the strong authentication credential and provides enhanced support for mobile devices based on lessons learned from federal agencies.... ...Full Story
Deadline reached for switchover from analogue to digital TV for 119 countries in Europe, Africa, Middle East and Central Asia Press Release ITU-T June 19, 2015 - The deadline for the switchover from analogue to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT), set at 00:01 UTC on 17 June 2015, heralds the development of ‘all-digital’ terrestrial broadcast services for sound and television for 119 countries belonging to ITU Region-1 (Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia) and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The 17 June deadline for switching off analogue television broadcasting in the UHF band was set by ITU Member States at the Regional Radiocommunication Conference in 2006, known as the GE06 Regional Agreement. Several countries that are party to the GE06 Agreement, as well as many who are not, have already made the transition. Updated information on the status of the transition to digital terrestrial Broadcasting is available here.... ...Full Story
Clever, gripping, entertaining Patrick Amazon Reader Reviews June 19, 2015 - For me this is a very classy thriller. Superb opening to the story and what follows is an intriguing story of espionage with the cyber security expert Frank at the centre of the story. But it is much more than that. I loved Frank, a wonderfully flawed genius who I warmed to immediately. The author is skilled when it comes to characterisation across the board but Frank is the perfect example of how a writer needs to give depth to their creations....I found The Alexandria Project to be original and it carried a strength of voice that appealed to me greatly. This is a gripping, funny, clever and above all entertaining read. I am officially an Andrew Updegrove fan and cannot wait to read his next one. ...Full Story