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
“Announcements about standards committees tend to rank just above earnings calls and chipset specs on the excitement scale”
Outdated copyright laws must adapt to the new digital age Maël Brunet PolicyReview.eu March 10, 2014 - Yesterday the public consultation opened by the European Commission on the review of the copyright rules closed. This is an important first step in the legislative process that is expected to span the next few years. Now is a good time to look back at how the current system was originally set up and think about whether it is still fit for purpose to achieve its objectives.
The European Union copyright rules are based on a directive from 2001 implementing the World Intellectual Property Organisation Copyright Treaty of 1996. Since that time, technology has profoundly and irrevocably remodelled the way that content is created and consumed, and our legal system is increasingly struggling to achieve its stated objective of enabling creation – and open innovation.... ...Full Story
Getty Images Makes 35 Million Photos Free to Use Online OpenCulture.com March 10, 2014 - Founded in 1997, Getty Images has made a business out of licensing stock photography to web sites. But, in recent years, the company has struggled, facing stiffer competition from other companies …. and from online piracy....Fighting a losing battle against infringers, Getty Images surprised consumers and competitors yesterday when it announced that it would make 35 [out of 80] million images free for publishers to use, with a few strings attached.... ...Full Story
Are you a member of GoodReads If so, then I'm running a giveaway of 10 signed copies there right now. Below is the latest review (40 reviews, 4.9 stars average)http://bit.ly/1gft8Ix
5.0 out of 5 stars A Thinking Person's Cyber-Thriller Amazon Reader Reviews March 7, 2014 - This review is from: The Alexandria Project: A Tale of Treachery and Technology (Kindle Edition)
If you think a mystery novel containing elements of international espionage, politics, finance, cryptography, law, Internet technology and inter-governmental agency turf battles might appeal to you, I highly recommend this novel. It contains all this, plus much more (did I mention the Mother Of All Hacker Attacks and plot twists that will have you calling your chiropractor)? It will make you think twice (thrice?) about U.S. data security almost every time you read the international headlines. And the protagonist -- Frank Adversego -- may become your new anti-terrorist fictional hero. Highly recommended. ...Full Story
President Xi's Central Cybersecurity and Informatization Leading Group Approves Work Plan USITO.org Weekly March 7, 2014 - China's Central Cybersecurity and Informatization Leading Group (CCILG) approved its work plan and priorities in an inaugural meeting on February 27th, according to a report on the State Council website. The leading group is led by China President Xi Jinping and two deputy heads, Premier Li Keqiang and party propaganda department head Liu Yunshan, and is comprised of ministerial leaders. The leading group will play a central leading role in coordination of China's cybersecurity and informatization strategies, plans and policies.
At the meeting, Xi emphasized that cybersecurity and informatization play a strategic role in China's national security, economic development, and the daily life of the people. Xi said that China's development as a cyber power would require a focus on the overall landscape, ministerial coordination and innovative development....[Announcement is in Chinese] ...Full Story
As smart as it gets STR Team/Business Standard AFAQS March 6, 2014 - In January this year at Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Google announced the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA), which aims to bridge that gap by plugging cars - and their amazing capabilities - into the same mobile ecosystem that powers your Android smartphone, tablet and television.
At Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, Google announced the Open Auto Alliance, a partnership with Audi, GM, Honda and Hyundai to bring Android to the dashboards of these car manufacturers. Apple is working with both BMW and Mercedes to bring its iOS into the cars. Then there is Ford's Sync, a platform developed by Ford and Microsoft, which provides real time information on traffic, directions among other things. What do 'smart dashboards' mean for the consumer and what opportunities do they open up for brands?.... ...Full Story
OECD Crafts Global Standard for Sharing Tax Information Joe Mont ComplianceWeek March 5, 2014 - Stepping up efforts to curb international tax evasion, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a global economic policy forum with 34 member government, has unveiled a new data-sharing initiative aimed at exposing the practice.
Responding to a mandate from G20 leaders to reinforce action against tax avoidance and evasion, OECD developed a new global standard for the automatic exchange of information between tax authorities worldwide.The standard calls for information from financial institutions to be automatically shared with other countries on an annual basis. The protocol details the account information to be exchanged, the financial institutions that need to report, the different types of accounts and taxpayers covered, and common due diligence procedures to be followed by financial institutions.... ...Full Story
Significant changes to public procurement rules: Recently, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) proposed changes to the rules that govern not only participation by agency personnel in standards development, but also all procurement by government agencies as well. These changes are far-ranging, and some could have a significant negative impact on consortium-developed standards unless the proposed changes are modified. Public comments will be accepted through May 14.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which seeks to facilitate all standards development activities in the U.S., will be holding a Webinar tomorrow which outlines the proposed amendments. The Webinar is free, and open to non-members as well as members of ANSI. As I will be filing comments with OMB, please contact me if you would like to participate in those comments.
ANSI to Host OMB A-119 Revision Webinar for Members on March 6 ANSI.org March 4, 2014 - The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) will hold a free, members-only webinar discussing proposed 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,” from 2:00 pm to 3:45 pm on Thursday, March 6, 2014....
The circular...was last updated in 1998 and is being revised again to reflect notable changes that have occurred in the ensuing years in connection with voluntary consensus standards, conformity assessment activities, and government regulatory work. A draft of the proposed update has been published online.
The March 6 webinar will look at the proposed revisions to OMB Circular A-119 in connection with intellectual property rights (IPR), incorporation by reference (IBR), standards development organization (SDO) process issues, and conformity assessment, among other topics....
All individuals interesting in taking part in the webinar must register in advance....Given the importance of the proposed revision, ANSI will develop a consensus response on behalf of the standardization community. Stakeholders are encouraged to review the draft revision – which is available online – and to submit input on the proposed changes to firstname.lastname@example.org by March 21, 2014. ANSI also encourages organizations to submit their own comments in direct response to OMB’s Federal Register notice.... ...Full Story
Now comes the acid test for the government's open standards policy bryang Bryan Glick ComputerWeekly.com March 4, 2014 - The UK government's consultation on the use of open document formats has closed, and we now wait for the acid test of the Cabinet Office commitment to open standards.
The outcome of this process will determine the government's ability to break its lock-in to proprietary software for years to come....The responses are overwhelmingly in favour of the proposed use of ODF as the standard for documents - a format support by Microsoft Office, and by plenty of other non-Microsoft applications.
The controversy arises from the omission of OOXML - the standard proposed and designed by Microsoft, used (in one of its forms) as the default for Office, and by, well, not very many others....So, what happens next?
The government has only two options - to stick with its proposal and exclude OOXML, or accede to Microsoft's wishes and allow both ODF and OOXML.
If they choose the latter, the Cabinet Office will stand accused of crumbling in the face of the big supplier power it has said so often it wishes to break away from. The open standards policy would be in tatters.
If they stick to their preferred option, then it must be likely that Microsoft will formally challenge the outcome of the consultation process, leaving it mired in legalities for ages - and possibly until a change of government in 2015 decides it's not worth the hassle.... ...Full Story
China Establishes Central Cybersecurity and Informatization Leading Group USITO.org Weekly March 4, 2014 - On Feb. 21st, Mr. WU Hequan, Academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, stated at the ICT In-depth Observation Conference 2014 hosted by the China Academy of Telecommunication Research (CATR) that the Central Cybersecurity and Informatization Leading Group has been established, as reported by a website under the Shanghai Information Security Association.
Domestic media, including Aastock, a well known stock market media organization, previously reported on January 23rd that China was drafting a National Information Security Strategy and would release it following the establishment of a Central Cybersecurity and Informatization Leading Group. ...Full Story