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
“For the first time ever there is a default open format for Government documents”
-OpenForum Europe U.K. chapter celebrating the annointment of ODF by the U.K. Cabinet Office
“The document format world has just been turned upside down”
W3C Launches Push for Social Web Application Interoperability W3C.org July 30, 2014 - W3C today launched a new Social Activity to develop standards
to make it easier to build and integrate social applications
with the Open Web Platform. Future standards — including
vocabularies for social applications, activity streams,
embedded experiences and in-context actions, and protocols to
federate social information such as status updates — will
address use cases that range from social business applications,
to cross-organization federation, to greater user control over
W3C chartered two groups today to carry out these activities:
* The Social Web Working Group will define the technical
standards and APIs to facilitate access to social
functionality as part of the Open Web Platform. These
include a common JSON-based syntax for social data, a
client-side API, and a Web protocol for federating social
information such as status updates.
* The Social Interest Group will co-ordinate messaging around
social at the W3C and formulate a broad strategy to enable
social business and federation. It will harvest use-cases
and review specifications produced by technical working
groups in the light of those use-cases.
The Social Web Working Group’s first face-to-face meeting will
take place the last week of October, as part of TPAC 2014,
W3C’s annual gathering of Working Groups. ...Full Story
Polish NGOs join to open up government Submitted Gijs Hillenius EU Joinup July 30, 2014 - Polands free software advocacy group FWIOO (Fundacja Wolnego i Otwartego Oprogramowania) has joined twelve other Polish NGOs in the 'Coalition for Open Government', pushing the country's public administrations towards greater transparency and electronic participation. Public administrations using free and open source software solutions help close the digital gap, ease sharing and re-use, and enable citizens to participate electronically with their government....The Coalition for Open Government wants the Polish government to join the Open Government Partnership. This international network aims to get governments to commit to transparency, empowering citizens, fighting corruption, and harnessing new technologies to strengthen governance.
One of FWIOO's aims is to get Poland's public administrations' to use of open document formats. This will reduce the threat of public authorities losing access to digital resources, a risk tied to the use of proprietary document formats.
Together with FWIOO, the Coalition for Open Government will be pushing for open technologies in the field of open data, and for removing technological barriers that hinder public participation and grant applications. ...Full Story
IEEE forms group to address 25 Gb/s Ethernet standard for cloud datacentres Staff Business Cloud News July 29, 2014 - The IEEE has formed a working group to explore the market opportunities and needs for a single-lane 25 Gb/s speed for server interconnects for Ethernet. The formation of the 25 Gb/s Ethernet Study Group comes shortly after Google, Arista, and Microsoft, operating as part of the recently formed 25G Ethernet Consortium released a specification enabling single-lane 25 Gb/s Ethernet and dual-lane 50 Gbps Ethernet links.
Echoing the 25G Ethernet Consortium, which is composed mainly of networking technology developers and cloud service providers, the IEEE said the reuse of serial lane 25 Gb/s signaling technology, developed to support 100 Gb/s Ethernet, optimises the cost of traffic per GB in datacentres built primarily for cloud – allowing these providers to send more data over the same links.... ...Full Story
Moving to LibreOffice saves Toulouse 1 million Submitted Gijs Hillenius EU Joinup July 29, 2014 - Toulouse, France's fourth largest city, has saved 1 million euro by migrating all its desktops to LibreOffice, an open source suite of office productivity tools. "Free software and open source in general is now an established part of the city’s comprehensive digital policy, and the open model promotes economic development and employment in the region", according to a study published by the Open Source Observatory and Repository today....Currently several thousand people out of the 10,000 who work for the city and Toulouse Métropole use LibreOffice daily. The migration started in 2012, following the political decision in 2011. The switch took a year and a half, and 90 per cent of the desktops now run LibreOffice...."Software licenses for productivity suites cost Toulouse 1.8 million euro every three years. Migration cost us about 800,000 euro, due partly to some development. One million euro has actually been saved in the first three years. It is a compelling proof in the actual context of local public finance",... ...Full Story
What the UK Government’s adoption of ODF really means Charles-H Schultz Moved by Freedom- Powered by Standards July 28, 2014 - On Tuesday the news that the UK Government had decided to use ODF as its official and default file format started to spread....This decision is a landmark for several reasons. First, it is not every day that you see an entire government migrate to a standardized file format. You may hear about government branches using this or that solution, but nothing that is so “abstract” than a file format. This time the UK Government has made the conscious decision to define a coherent policy in handling its digital documents, from the stage where they are created, edited and circulated all the way to the archival phase....
Most of the migrations from one office suite to another tend to happen without any coherent document management policy. Many organizations moving from, say, Microsoft Office to LibreOffice do not necessarily adopt ODF as their default format and will carry on supporting whatever version of the MS Office file format internally. This usually leads to frustrations and compatibility problems. This time, the UK Government decision takes a different approach. By deciding about the formats first, the UK creates the conditions necessary to have real choices for its government and its citizens, thus setting a level playing field for everyone....While reading among the tea leaves is not my favourite past time, it is relevant to assume that this decision may change a few things around the IT industry as well. By way of an example, I have always been amazed at Apple’s clean support of ODF inside Mac OS X but its constant absence across the iWork editions. Perhaps Apple will feel compelled to introduce ODF files in iWork now? Only time will tell. Cloud solutions will also have to improve or implement ODF and in some cases PDF support in a proper way.
The decision might also have consequences for other European countries and perhaps for the European institutions themselves, as the UK will now be an actual example of a country that has migrated to ODF, and not just one of the countries that made the choice of Free and Open Source Software.... But the whole point is that in 2014, trying to extract revenue by creating lock-in on office files is no longer acceptable. That, I think, is what the UK Government decision really means. And if I’m right, it’s only the beginning.... ...Full Story
Report: US needs to adopt minimal national security standard for cybersecurity Dibya Sarkar Fierce Homeland Security July 28, 2014 - The United States cannot allow cyber insecurity in information systems to reach a point where weaknesses would result in leaders "unwilling to make a decision or unable to act on a decision fundamental to our national security," said a new think tank report, suggesting a new national security standard for what's important to protect in cyberspace....Danzig said that because IT dependency and accompanying insecurities have come so rapidly evolved, the U.S. doesn't really understand what is acceptable and unacceptable risk let alone what the government's and the private sector's roles are in this area....He also said that the U.S. may need to adopt a strategy that "self-consciously" gives up some cyber benefits in exchange for greater security on key systems.
This might involve "stripping down systems so they do less but have fewer vulnerabilities" and less reliance on digital systems and more on humans, among other recommendations.
Another interesting initiative is to "map the adversarial ecosystem of cyberspace in anthropological detail" as a way to better understand enemies, our own incentives and operational methods, he wrote.... ...Full Story
The Document Foundation congratulates the UK government for their revolutionary and historical choice of open document standards Press Release The Document Foundation July 25, 0214 - The Document Foundation (TDF) congratulates the UK government for the selection of the Open Document Format (ODF), in addition to Portable Document Format (PDF), to meet user needs. LibreOffice, the free office suite developed by TDF, supports both ODF – the native document format – and PDF (including PDF/A)....“TDF has always been a strong supporter of ODF, and a believer in open document standards”, says Thorsten Behrens, TDF Chairman. “July 22 will be a date to remember, as the culmination of a dream inaugurated when ODF become a ISO standard on November 30, 2006. By standardizing on ODF and PDF, the UK government is showing the world that it is entirely possible to find a way out of proprietary formats to enhance user freedom”....Complementing ODF, LibreOffice manages Hybrid PDF files, which combine the advantages of PDF and ODF by embedding a fully editable ODF document into a PDF without breaking any of the standard characteristics of both formats. ...Full Story
We're living in a post-open source world Matt Asay InfoWorld July 25, 0214 - After years of bitter feuds between free software and open source advocates, open source won. But it was a temporary victory. While proponents of Apache-style licensing had a brief period to gloat, the GitHub generation seems determined to take open source to its logical conclusion: releasing most software under no license at all.
Are developers simply too careless to bother with a license, or is something bigger under way?... ...Full Story
Groundbreaking Operating System Is Named an IEEE Milestone David Laws IEEE The Institute July 25, 0214 - The greatest technological innovations often happen in the most modest of places. In his backyard toolshed in Pacific Grove, Calif., computer programmer Gary Kildall built an operating system in 1974 that, along with the microprocessor and disk drive, would become one of the three fundamental building blocks of the personal computer revolution. His OS, Control Program for Microprocessors (CP/M), was the first commercial system to allow a microprocessor-based computer to interface with a disk storage unit. It paved the way for low-cost computers to be used in business, industry, academia and, eventually, the home.
To recognize the breakthrough, Kildall’s invention was named an IEEE Milestone in Electrical Engineering and Computing.... ...Full Story
EU tenders for Open Data platform Written Ian Murphy Business Cloud.com July 24, 0214 - The European Commission has launched a formal tender for SMART 2014/1072 - Deployment of an EU Open Data core platform: implementation of the pan-European Open Data Portal and related services. This promises to be the worlds biggest open data project to data, eclipsing the UK Data.Gov.UK and the US Data.Gov which currently deliver approximately 15,000 and 111,000 data sets respectively.
This is not just about making data available for third party developers and those with the knowledge and skills to extract, sort, curate and import data into their own systems. The EU wants visualisation tools delivered as part of the project. This will make it possible for users of the European Open Data Portal to do their own analytics and create visualisations of the data on the platform itself.... ...Full Story