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.
I'm currently hiking and camping in New Mexico and 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.
Summer is the time of storms in the deserts of much of the Southwest, just as it is the time of intense heat. Except for its mountainous areas, the Southwest receives most of its meager precipitation in this way. The weather systems that form the thunderstorms of summer are thus vital to the cycle of desert life, and were they ever to fail, so, too, would most of what lives in these dry regions.
There are two essential elements to the weather system that produces these storms. The first is the uneven heating of the desert surface by the sun, which creates variable updrafts that can rise high into the sky. And the second is a summer wind pattern that regularly carries moist air from the Gulf of Mexico into the Southwest – the technically accurate, but rather misleading name given to this element is the "Southwest Monsoon."
When desert updrafts meet this moist Gulf air, they carry it skyward into cooler altitudes, where the moisture condenses into white, decorative cumulus clouds reminiscent of cauliflowers. If the air is sufficiently moist, the clouds can grow in height, becoming "towering cumulus" clouds. And if the updraft is strong, the air more saturated with moisture, and the differential in temperature between warm updraft and cool upper air sufficiently great, then you have all of the necessary elements to create a cumulonimbus cloud - also known as a potential thunderstorm.
Quote of the Day
“[D]o you want to [hand] a 500-page specification...to a light bulb manufacturer, or do you want source code that you can hand to that manufacturer that enables interoperability?”
-Linux Foundation Jim Zemlin on why open source software is replacing open standards
NIF observatory: interoperability platforms boost data exchange, eServices and eSignature EC Joinup October 29, 0214 - The National Interoperability Framework Observatory (NIFO) community is making available an updated series of NIFO factsheets. The updates track interoperability initiatives in European countries.
Recently published on the Joinup platform, the updated NIFO factsheets provide new information on interoperability for over half of the countries. The update replaces factsheets from May this year. The observatory identified new interoperability platforms in many fields, including data exchange, eServices and eSignature.... ...Full Story
Take Control With Open Source Hardware Carla Schroder Linux.com October 29, 0214 - Free and open source software are no good without open hardware. If we can't install our software on a piece of hardware, it's not good for anything. Truly open hardware is fully-programmable and replicable. So what is open hardware, exactly? OSHWA, the Open Source Hardware Association, defines it as:
"Open source hardware is hardware whose design is made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design or hardware based on that design. The hardware's source, the design from which it is made, is available in the preferred format for making modifications to it. Ideally, open source hardware uses readily-available components and materials, standard processes, open infrastructure, unrestricted content, and open-source design tools to maximize the ability of individuals to make and use hardware. Open source hardware gives people the freedom to control their technology while sharing knowledge and encouraging commerce through the open exchange of designs."... ...Full Story
NISO Launches Open Discovery Initiative (ODI) Standing Committee NISO October 28, 0214 - The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) is pleased to announce the next phase for the Open Discovery Initiative, a project that explores community interactions in the realm of indexed discovery services. Following the working group’s recommendation to create an ongoing standing committee as outlined in the published recommended practice, Open Discovery Initiative: Promoting Transparency in Discovery (NISO RP-19-2014), NISO has formed a new standing committee reflecting a balance of stakeholders, with member representation from content providers, discovery providers, and libraries. The ODI Standing Committee will promote education about adoption of the ODI Recommended Practice, provide support for content providers and discovery providers during adoption, conduct a forum for ongoing discussion related to all aspects of discovery platforms for all stakeholders, and determine timing for additional actions that were outlined in the recommended practice.... ...Full Story
How a USB key drive could remove the hassles from two-factor authentication Tony Bradley PC World October 28, 0214 - We've had enough malware campaigns and data breaches to confirm the need for better data protection online. The Universal 2nd Factor (U2F) standard is a step in the right direction, and the first compatible devices are coming out now.
U2F is an open authentication standard. It was initially developed by Google, but it's now managed by the FIDO (Fast Identity Online) Alliance....Two-factor, or multi-factor authentication has long been promoted as a more effective security mechanism, but it's a hassle, requiring you to juggle passwords with a second factor such as a texted code or an authentication app. U2F proposes to streamline the process using a U2F-enabled USB or NFC key fob, card, or mobile device alongside traditional authentication methods.... ...Full Story
The Future of the Internet - 20 Years Ago The birth of Netscape and its browser Glyn Moody ComputerWorld.uk October 27, 0214 - By Glyn Moody | Published 15:15, 20 October 14
Facebook 3 Twitter 34 LinkedIn 0 Google Plus 2 Share This 75 Article comments
Last week, the following tweet appeared:
Netscape Navigator was released 20 years ago [last week]...The fall of Netscape was not entirely down to Microsoft's aggressive moves. Netscape made a number of serious missteps, and the quality of the Netscape Navigator code started deteriorating. Eventually, that led to most of the Netscape program being released as open source, and the creation of the Mozilla project - something I wrote about in detail in an Open Enterprise column published seven years ago.
But here, I'd like to dwell on that moment in October 1994 when the first beta version of Netscape Navigator was released, and many of us sensed that this was the start of a new era in computing. Below is a column I wrote at that time, exactly as it first appeared; I hope it conveys a little of the atmosphere of those heady times.... ...Full Story
NIST's Cloud Computing Roadmap Details Research Requirements and Action Plans NIST Techbeat October 27, 0214 - The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has published the final version of the US Government Cloud Computing Technology Roadmap, Volumes I and II. The roadmap focuses on strategic and tactical objectives to support the federal government’s accelerated adoption of cloud computing. This final document reflects the input from more than 200 comments on the initial draft received from around the world.
The roadmap leverages the strengths and resources of government, industry, academia and standards development organizations to support technology innovation in cloud computing.
The first volume, High-Priority Requirements to Further USG Agency Cloud Computing Adoption, describes the roadmap’s purpose and scope....The second volume, Useful Information for Cloud Adopters, introduces a conceptual model, the NIST Cloud Computing Reference Architecture and Taxonomy and presents U.S. government cloud target business and technical use cases.... ...Full Story
ITU Plenipotentiary Conference elects Houlin Zhao as next Secretary-General ITU.org October 24, 0214 - The ITU Plenipotentiary Conference roundly endorsed Houlin Zhao of China as its next Secretary-General. Zhao will take office on 1 January 2015 for a term of four years, with the possibility of re-election for one additional four-year term.
The election took place in Busan, Republic of Korea, during the Plenary session of the PP-14 conference this morning. Zhao won the position with 152 votes, with 156 countries present and voting. He contested the position unopposed. Full election results are available here.
Addressing the conference after the vote, Zhao told some 2,000 conference participants from around the world that he would do his best to “fulfil ITU's mission, and, through our close cooperation, ensure ITU delivers services to the global telecommunication and information society at the highest level of excellence."... ...Full Story
Who Open Source is Replacing Open Standards Glyn Moody ComputerWorld.uk October 23, 0214 - ...Here's [Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim] Zemlin's perspective on why the Foundation is becoming involved in so many collaborative industry projects:
"Companies are now as the norm using open source to shed comunity R&D, to do collective innovation, particularly at the infrastructure layer, for almost every aspect of technology, not just Linux - SDN, IOT, network functions virtualisation, cloud computing, etc. What you have seen as a result is this proliferation of organisations who facilitate that development, on a very large professional scale. That's a permanent fixture of how the tech sector operates. We launch a new one of these about every 3 months. Next year we'll have many many more of these type of projects....The largest form of collaboration in the tech industry for 20 years was at standards development organisations - IEEE, ISO, W3C, these things - where in order for companies to interoperate, which was a requirement in tech, they would create a specification, and everyone would implement that. The tech sector is moving on to a world where, in the Internet of things [for example], do you want to have a 500-page specification that you hand to a light bulb manufacturer, or do you want source code that you can hand to that manufacturer that enables interoperability? I think that's a permanent fixture. People have figured out for a particular non-differentiating infrastucture they want to work on that through open source, rather than creating a spec."... ...Full Story
Bitcoin Foundation’s Financial Standards Working Group Underway Eric Calouro Bitcoin News Service October 22, 0214 - In effort to help standardize bitcoin and the bitcoin protocol, the Bitcoin Foundation has announced that the Financial Standard Working Group is well underway, led by Chairperson Beth Moses of Virgin Galactic (and formerly with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
The group’s priorities for the fourth quarter of this year into the first quarter of next year will be to apply for ISO 4217. In other words, the group is working to establish and get approval for a bitcoin currency code. They are looking to adopt “XBT”, despite the fact that “BTC” is more commonly used in the community.... ...Full Story
Dutch Parliament urges increase of open source Submitted Gijs Hillenius EU Joinup October 22, 0214 - The Dutch government must increase its use of open source software, recommends the country's parliament. It wants to make open standards mandatory and use open source when equal to or better than proprietary solutions for all ICT projects over 5 million euro.
The government must enforce compliance with its existing policy on open source software and open standards, the parliament recommends in its final report on failures of government ICT projects. Enforcing the ‘comply or explain’ policy is to become a task for a new agency, overseeing all government ICT projects....The parliament wants the government to report the savings it realises by using open source. This is to become part of the annual business reports of the government.... ...Full Story