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
ANSI and Mexican Accreditation Body Sign MoU, Strengthening Collaboration for Global Climate Action ANSI Weekly News July 28, 2015 - The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Entidad Mexicana de Acreditacion, AC (EMA, Mexico) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) pledging to mutually work together to harmonize their accreditation processes for greenhouse gas (GHG) programs. This agreement will enable each accreditation body to provide the validation and verification bodies operating in both countries greater flexibility, consistency, and value. The signing is a response to the July Climate Summit of the Americas conference, hosted by the Government of Ontario, Canada, which set out to foster and strengthen partnerships among jurisdictions for global climate action and build motivation and support for carbon pricing.
The signing will ultimately help bolster a spectrum of GHG programs and other businesses that rely on accreditation to operate with optimum efficiency in their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2008, ANSI has offered an accreditation program for organizations providing third-party validation/verification services for the reduction and removal of greenhouse gases. The ANSI Accreditation Program for Greenhouse Gas Validation/Verification Bodies operates according to requirements defined in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard ISO 14065:2013, Greenhouse gases - Requirements for greenhouse gas validation and verification bodies for use in accreditation or other forms of recognition.
EMA, the Mexican accreditation body, is Mexico’s first non-government body for the accreditation of conformity assessment bodies, which comprise testing laboratories, calibration laboratories, clinical laboratories, inspection bodies and certification bodies, proficiency testing providers, and GHG emission verification/validation bodies. Since 2010, EMA has offered an accreditation program for third-party validation/verification of greenhouse gases in the Mexican market....
ANSI and EMA are both members of the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) and PAC, and operate ISO 14065 accreditation programs. ...Full Story
Tech Giants Boost Open Source Container Collaboration Jack M. Germain LinuxInsider July 27, 2015 - The Linux Foundation this week announced the formation of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, a consortium dedicated to developing a new set of common container technologies and driving their adoption.
CNCF aims to make it easier for businesses to build and deploy containerized cloud applications oriented to microservices. The goal is to develop cloud-native applications that allow Internet companies to make scaling their businesses more practical.
The group's founders -- more than two dozen major technology companies -- include AT&T, Box, Cisco, Docker, eBay, Goldman Sachs, Google, Huawei, IBM, Intel, Red Hat, Twitter and VMware. Additional members will join the group in the coming weeks....The announcement of the new technology foundation comes on the heals of another major Linux Foundation-sponsored group. CoreOS and Docker last month announced the formation of the Open Container Project, a nonprofit coalition of 21 industry leaders aiming to establish minimal common standards for cloud storage software containers.
Many of the companies banding together in OCP also signed on to found CNCF....Open source container-packaged applications are important, Messina emphasized. They give organizations moving from building monolithic applications to a distributed application a way to separate applications from the constraints of the infrastructure. ...Full Story
Updegrove, The Lafayette Campaign (Book Review) Brenda Jubin ValueWalk July 27, 2015 - ...Andrew Updegrove, author of The Alexandria Project, is back with another Frank Adversego cyber-thriller, The Lafayette Campaign: A Tale of Deception and Elections. If you (well, only if you're a Republican) think that the worst case scenario is that Donald Trump decides the next presidential election, assuming that he runs as a third-party candidate, think again. Elections can be tipped or determined not only by third-party candidates (Ralph Nader is often said to have been the spoiler in 2000) and Supreme Court decisions but also by hackers.
The more electronic elections become, the more hackable they are. Competing rogue forces can devote funds and skills to shaping their outcome. Indeed, just think about it. Why give millions of dollars to PACs, money which is often wasted, when you can fund a bunch of hackers? The Chicago “vote early and often” pols and the RNC Watergate crew worked in the pre-digital era. Today their exploits seem laughably primitive. Elections can be stolen much more elegantly with a few lines of code.
The Lafayette Campaign is a fast-paced thriller that takes the reader through the machinations of election cyber-fraud. A perfect beach book. ...Full Story
Apple and Samsung may help make the SIM card disappear Jacob Kastrenakes the Verge July 25, 2015 - The SIM card as we know it may be about to disappear. According to the Financial Times, Apple and Samsung are in discussions with mobile carriers to help develop and implement a new SIM card standard that could make it easier to switch between service providers. The report refers to the new standard as an embedded SIM — or an e-SIM — which would remain inside the phone and give consumers the ability to switch carriers without getting a new card, rather than locking them into a specific carrier, as they do now. That means no more swapping SIMs to switch phones or carriers; it would all be done through an interface on the device....The GSM Association, an industry group that represents mobile operators, tells the Financial Times that "the majority of operators" are on board with the shift over to e-SIM. That reportedly includes AT&T, T-Mobile owner Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, Telefonica, and Orange, as well as other international carriers. The association confirmed Apple and Samsung's participation in developing the new standard, but the companies' involvement may not yet be final. The association says of Apple: "While we are optimistic, a formal agreement with them is still in progress."... ...Full Story
Energy commission looks to strengthen grid’s cyber security Judy Greenwald Business Insurance July 24, 2015 - The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is proposing rules intended to improve the nationwide electric system’s cyber security.
FERC said in a statement last week that it is seeking comment on seven updated critical infrastructure protection reliability standards proposed by the North American Electric Reliability Corp., an Atlanta-based industry group.
The standards are intended to address risks to communication networks and related bulk electric system assets, as well as the development of standards for supply chain management security controls to protect the bulk electric system from system vulnerabilities and malware threats, FERC said in its statement.... ...Full Story
Open Document Format (ODF) 1.2 published as International Standard 26300:2015 by ISO/IEC Italo Vignoli The Document Foundation July 23, 2015 - The Open Document Format for Office Applications (ODF) Version 1.2, the native file format of LibreOffice and many other applications, has been published as International Standard 26300:2015 by ISO/IEC. ODF defines a technical schema for office documents including text documents, spreadsheets, charts and graphical documents like drawings or presentations....ODF is developed by the OASIS consortium. The current version of the standard was published in 2011, and then was submitted to ISO/IEC in 2014.... ...Full Story
New edition of ITU’s flagship global ICT regulatory report Press Release ITU-T July 23, 2015 - The latest edition of ITU’s comprehensive report on global ICT regulatory developments, Trends in Telecommunication Reform 2015, reveals a fast-evolving ICT landscape, as devices and services proliferate, broadband connectivity becomes increasingly pervasive, and the hyper-connected world of the ‘Internet of Everything’ starts to become a reality.
The world’s most comprehensive overview of the policy trends and challenges facing today’s ICT regulators, ITU’s Trends in Telecommunication Reform 2015 provides a host of data and analysis to help regulators, ICT analysts and tech journalists navigate the issues surrounding so-called ‘fourth-generation’ ICT regulation.... ...Full Story
Senate bill proposes cyber security standard for cars Martyn Williams Newwork World July 22, 2015 - Cars will have to be much better protected against hacking and new privacy standards will govern data collected from vehicles under proposed legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday.
The Security and Privacy in Your Car Act of 2015 seeks to get a step ahead of what is seen by some as one of the next fronts in hacking: connected vehicles, which are always on the Internet and rely on sophisticated computer control systems....the act would mandate that critical software systems in cars be isolated and the entire vehicle be safeguarded against hacking by using “reasonable measures.” The proposed bill doesn’t define those measures.... ...Full Story
LibreOffice 5.0 to Get Numerous DOCX Improvements Softpedia July 22, 2015 - The Document Foundation has released the third RC (Release Candidate) for the LibreOffice 5.0.0 branch, which is now available for download and testing....This is a very complex piece of software and it will take more than just a few RCs to finish all the work. The changelog for this release is quite extensive, which means that a lot of work is still left to be done.
LibreOffice 5.0 is coming along.
Some of the new features that are landing in this new version include Emoji and in-word replacement support, style previews in the Sidebar, better image cropping, word-compatible text highlighting, DOC improvements, better table management, multiple OOXML improvements, image drag and drop, and much more.... ...Full Story
NIST and NTIA Seek Industry Partners for Public Safety Communications Test Bed NIST Techbeat July 21, 2015 - The Commerce Department’s Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program is signing up a new round of industry collaborators for the test bed used to evaluate advanced broadband equipment and software for emergency first responders. So far, 39 telecommunications companies have signed new, five-year Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) to participate in the test bed program, according to Dereck Orr of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)....It is part of the PSCR’s effort to provide objective technical support—research, development, testing and evaluation—to foster nationwide interoperability in public safety communications.
Based in part on test bed evaluations to date, the PSCR has worked with industry organizations to get public safety requirements included in next-generation (LTE) communications standards, and contributed data to support standards for The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), an independent authority created to establish, operate and maintain an interoperable public safety broadband network.... ...Full Story