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
“The need to adopt ODF is a no-brainer”
-Nico Westpalm van Hoorn, chairman of the Netherlands government body responsible for selecting IT standards for government
EC accepts XBRL as standard for procurement Submitted Gijs Hillenius EU Joinup February 12, 2016 - The European Commission has made XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language) version 2.1 eligible for referencing in public procurement. From 17 February, public administrations in the EU can refer to the XBRL specification in their requests for tender. XBRL is a standard for exchanging business information, facilitating automatic retrieval of financial information and improving analysis of financial reporting.
The freely-available standard, developed by the not-for-profit XBRL Consortium, was accepted by the Commission after consulting the European multi-stakeholder platform (MSP) on ICT standardisation and other experts.
The MSP experts evaluate and examine the compliance of technical specifications in the field of ICT that are not national, European or international standards.
XBRL is now the seventh technical specification following this process that can be referenced in public procurement. Others include Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC), Extensible Markup Language version 1.0 (XML) and Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6).... ...Full Story
Influence the Future of Cybersecurity Education—Join the NICE Working Group NIST February 12, 2016 - Addressing the nation’s rapidly increasing need for cybersecurity employees, the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) is seeking members from the public and private sectors and academia to join its new working group and encourages interested individuals to participate in a kickoff teleconference the afternoon of January 27, 2016.
NICE, which is led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), is a public-private partnership that promotes a robust network of cybersecurity education, training and workforce development to meet the nation’s demand for skilled cybersecurity employees to protect information systems. The number of job openings in the field greatly exceeds the number of trained workers. The NICE Working Group will collaborate to develop concepts, design strategies and pursue actions to advance cybersecurity education, including sharing existing education initiatives and identifying new ones.... ...Full Story
Companies Form New Alliance to Target Health-Care Costs Louise Radnofsky WSJ/Yahoo Finance February 11, 2016 - Twenty major companies—including American Express Co., Macy’s Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. — are banding together to use their collective data and market power in a bid to hold down the cost of providing workers with health-care benefits.
The newly formed alliance of companies, which cover about four million people among them, plan to share information about members’ employee health spending and outcomes, with an eye toward using findings to change how they contract for care. Ultimately, some members say, they could even form a purchasing cooperative to negotiate for lower prices, or try to change their relationships with insurance administrators and drug-benefit managers.... ...Full Story
European Parliament repeats call for open source Submitted Gijs Hillenius EU Joinup February 10, 2016 - For the second time in just three months, the European Parliament has called on the European Commission to to increase the share of free and open source software. On 19 January, in a so-called own-initiative report, the EP also urged the EC to use this type of software to promote reuse in and between public administrations as a solution to increase interoperability.
The European Parliament says that free and open source software will ‘boost competitiveness through interoperability and standardisation’.
In October, the EP called “for the systematic replacement of proprietary software by auditable and verifiable open-source software in all the EU institutions, and for the introduction of a mandatory open-source-selection criterion in all future ICT procurement procedures.”...In addition, the Parliament says free and open source software is instrumental to reinforce ‘trust and security in digital networks, industries, services and infrastructures and in the handling of personal data’.... ...Full Story
NIST Requests Comments on Computer Security Publication on Randomness NIST February 10, 2016 - The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is seeking public comment on its latest draft of a publication intended to help computer security experts use randomness to protect sensitive data....Random numbers are a crucial element in cryptography, which is often used to protect private messages by encrypting them into a form that cannot be understood without knowledge of a secret value generated using the random number.
Creating the randomness needed requires the use of an entropy source, which includes a natural source of entropy, often a physical phenomenon such as thermal noise — the random motions of particles due to their temperature. Entropy sources that comply with SP 800-90B are intended to provide assurance that cryptographic algorithms provide the security needed to protect information.
“This draft document proposes a lot of tests that you can use to validate your entropy source to tell you how good a job it is doing,” says NIST’s Elaine Barker, one of the publication’s authors. “When you’re assessing your process for generating randomness, you want to make sure nothing is broken and that it is performing consistently. We would like the public’s input on ways we can improve these tests.”... ...Full Story
U.S. Department of Transportation Releases Report to Congress on Dedicated Short-Range Communications ANSI.org Weekly News February 9, 2016 - The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently released a report to Congress assessing the status of dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) technology and applications for short-range communications between vehicles and infrastructures. While the report found that DSRC is ready for deployment and emphasized that DSRC-based technologies offer a path to a “safer and more efficient” surface transportation system for America, it also revealed that the DOT is aiming to harmonize operational policies and voluntary industry standards to enhance capabilities even more to achieve global compatibility.
The DOT defines “DSRC” as a Wi-Fi derivative technology developed to meet specialized needs for secure, low latency, wireless mobile data communications. The technology has the proven the ability to provide all of the critical attributes needed to support mobility and environmental applications, in addition to lifesaving safety-critical applications. DSRC supports connected vehicle safety applications, for example, and can be configured to enable real-time crash-avoidance alerts and warnings. The DOT reports that in this capacity, DSRC has the ability to transform transportation safety—with the potential to address 83 percent of light-vehicle crashes involving unimpaired drivers.... ...Full Story
Open Compute Project Extends Focus to TelecommunicationsChristopher Tozzi Christopher Tozzi The Var Guy February 9, 2016 - The Open Compute Project, with the backing of several telecommunications providers and other new partners, wants to make telco more open.
David Ramos/Getty Images
The Open Compute Project (OCP), the Facebook-born initiative to make datacenter computing more scalable, efficient and affordable through open software and hardware, has taken another step forward by securing the support of several telecommunications companies as it launches a new telco project.
OCP, which was founded in 2011 by Facebook, Intel, Rackspace, Goldman Sachs and Andy Bechtolsheim, originated from an effort by Facebook to keep its datacenter open in order to lower costs and avoid vendor lock-in.... ...Full Story
Industrial Internet Industry Alliance Created Under MIIT USITO.org February 8, 2016 - On February 1, the Industrial Internet Industry Alliance held its inaugural meeting in Beijing, with Minister of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) minister Miao Wei delivering a keynote address.
In his remarks, Miao Wei highlighted that the industrial Internet has already emerged as the critical driving force for smart manufacturing, and the playing field upon which countries are competing for manufacturing leadership. Minister Miao added that because China is in the midst an of economic transformation, the importance of industrial internet development is even more critical, and that the newly formed alliance should strive to serve as a catalyst for industrial internet promotion measures such as China Manufacturing 2025 and the Internet Plus Strategy.
The alliance will be under the guidance of the China Academy of Information Communications Technology (CAICT) but has a total of 13 vice chairman-level supporting companies, including Huawei, China Telecom and Haier. CAICT president Cao Shumin will serve as chairperson of the alliance, while Minister Miao will serve as director of the alliance's guidance committee. The alliance has 143 founding members. ...Full Story
Get Involved: U.S. TAG Participants Sought for ISO/IEC Subcommittee on Automatic Identification and Data Capture Techniques ANSI.org Weekly News February 4, 2016 - The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is seeking U.S. experts to participate in the ANSI-accredited U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Joint Technical Committee (JTC) 1, Information Technology Standards, Subcommittee (SC) 31, Automatic identification and data capture techniques. As the U.S. representative to ISO, ANSI encourages all U.S. stakeholder organizations in relevant information technology fields to get involved, and those involved in radio frequency identification and data encoding are especially sought....SC 31 works to provide standards for data formats, data syntax, data structures, data encoding, and technologies for the process of automatic identification and data capture and of associated devices utilized in inter-industry applications and international business interchanges and for mobile applications.... ...Full Story
ANSI to Host OMB A-119 Revision Webinar on February 16 ANSI.org Weekly News February 3, 2016 - The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) will host a free webinar discussing the recently published revisions to White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-119, "Federal Participation in the Development and Use of Voluntary Consensus Standards and in Conformity Assessment Activities.” The webinar will take place from 3:00 to 4:00 pm Eastern on Tuesday, February 16, 2016.
ANSI strongly encourages all interested parties – and especially ANSI member organizations – to take this opportunity to learn more about the revised document, which will continue to have a significant impact on future U.S. government use of privately developed voluntary consensus standards.
The circular, in conjunction with the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act (NTTAA) of 1995, instructs U.S. federal agencies to consider using voluntary consensus standards developed privately instead of government-unique standards whenever possible. It was last updated in 1998 and has been revised again to reflect notable changes that have occurred in the ensuing years in connection with voluntary consensus standards, conformity assessment activities, and the federal government's participation in and use of standards.
Guest speakers at the webinar will include:
- Jasmeet Seehra, Policy Analyst, OMB
- Jeff Weiss, Senior Advisor for Standards and Global Regulatory Policy, U.S. Department of Commerce
- Gordon Gillerman, Director, Standards Coordination Office, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
The webinar will be listen-only, but participants will be given the opportunity to submit questions via chat. Following the event, the slide deck and a recording of the webinar will be made available for future viewing.
All individuals interesting in taking part in the webinar must register in advance. ...Full Story