Smarter Infrastructure: Investing for the future

Build new and rebuild old stuff as if your life depended on it…

[Originally posted on the now defunct IBM Smarter Computing blog on 14 October 2014]

In a previous blog post, I discussed how I explained Smarter Infrastructure to my daughter and her friends because they wondered what I did for a living after seeing me working in my home office. I’d now like to take that explanation a step further and discuss smarter infrastructure using an analogy from the physical world. In this post I’ll describe for you how I designed and built my energy-efficient house and the effects that smarter architecture and design have on its daily operations and cost profile.


Without detailing too much historical perspective, suffice it to say that twice in my life I almost became an architect for the built environment. But the fickle finger of fate intervened and I became a digital architect instead. Thankfully, I was able to exercise my interests in physical architecture, alternative energy and passive and active solar technologies by designing and building my own house. I spent about two decades investigating best practices, the local building codes and alternative building technologies. I spent another two years building the house. This story is an example of why we need to invest in smarter digital and physical infrastructures in America and the world, in my humble opinion.

Location, location, location

I was very lucky to find a parcel of land in the California foothills that has excellent southern and western exposures (for solar energy exploitation) and beautiful views of the Central Valley. Once the land was secured, I started to develop the house plans based on the topology of the parcel, based on variations on a theme I conceived during my high school senior project in mechanical drawing.

Green design for the future

I initially considered using rammed earth or straw bales as the primary construction method due to their inherent “greenness,” but the seismic engineering requirements  in California and lack of expertise in the local county building department ruled them out. I eventually arrived at a combination of technologies: insulated concrete forms (ICFs) for the walls and a structural insulated panel system (SIPS) for the roof. The passive solar design called for the roof to be of a vented design (similar to a “cold-roof” concept but in reverse, given the insolation exposure in California), with overhangs to the south and west calculated to shade the walls in the peak of the summer heat. Passive solar design also meant that the downstairs levels would be built into the earth at the crest of the slope.

ICFBuilding a house foundation with Insulated Concrete Forms.  I built my whole house this way. Photo courtesy of FoxBlocks, Inc. –

I used recycled steel joists imbedded in the concrete walls to support the upper-level floors. All floors in the house are concrete on steel pan deck and are radiators in the hydronic heating system. Living areas are finished with stamped, stained and sealed concrete while the sleeping areas utilize either tile,  berber carpet with no padding or floating wood flooring (to provide a modicum of comfort while also allowing for the radiant heat to transfer somewhat efficiently to the rooms).

I installed a split-zone air conditioning system that is sized at one-third of “normal” capacity. Both the heating and cooling systems were engineered to account for the huge thermal mass and high degree of insulation in the wall and roof systems.SIPS Installing a SIPS roof panel. Photo courtesy of Premier SIPS –

To illustrate the value of the thermal mass and insulation, let me offer the following example: to keep the house at 68oF when it is 32oF outside, the hydronic system circulates water at 90oF in the floors. The house also features a split-zone air recirculation system that uses passive intake cooling to keep the indoor air fresh (ICF houses are notoriously air-tight as compared to “stick-built” ones).

So, you may be asking at this point, what are the effects of spending all this time and energy and money on these newer technologies?

ICF room with steel joistsICF walls with imbedded steel beams and steel pan deck flooring for a data center in Oregon. Similar to how I built my house. Photo courtesy of Fox Blocks, Inc. –

Unfortunately, rapid depletion of my building funds prevented me from instrumenting the house from an Internet of Things standpoint, so I just have anecdotal information on how the house performs. But I think you’ll agree that the anecdotal information is fairly impressive.

In our 100oF-plus summers, my electric bill is one-third that of my neighbors, which is driven primarily by air-conditioning (A/C) requirements. But I think the most impressive example is from the winter season, because it’s somewhat easier to survive heat than cold.

A couple of winters ago, prior to the exceptional drought that California and the US southwest, we had a very strong, wet storm as a result of the “Pineapple Express” that dumped lots of heavy, wet snow on the western slope of the Sierras. Usually we get a couple of inches of snow, which melts in hours, but this particular storm was very cold and we received almost a foot of snow at the 2500-foot elevation level. The cold air persisted for over 72 hours and the heavy snow took out tree limbs and power lines, so my house did not have any way to heat itself for three days (no power to circulate the water in the hydronic heating system).

In those three days, my house lost only 5°F: it went from 68°F to 63°F. I think that is very impressive.

What have I learned about smarter infrastructure?

The takeaways from my experience in designing and building an energy efficient home are many, but two stand out:

  • Investments in smarter infrastructure (CAPEX) can significantly reduce recurring energy expenses (OPEX).
  • Investments in smarter infrastructure can improve continuity of operations in periods of stress or disruption.

I believe this physical example applies directly to the world of digital infrastructure. How so? Here are a couple of thoughts and recommendations for organizations that want to make their digital infrastructure more efficient and resilient:

  • Look long-term: Understand we are in a “new normal,” and design and architect accordingly. Build resilience and flexibility into your systems and data centers. IBM architects and engineers can help you do so from the server, storage and network perspectives. They can also advise and consult on data center energy efficiency, site selection and construction (new or retrofit).
  • Do detailed engineering and multi-year comprehensive financial models to justify investments in smarter infrastructure. Do not be driven by annual budgets or short-term acquisition costs. Doing the right analysis job (from both technical and financial standpoints) requires minimal extra effort, but the payoffs are huge.

Thinking ahead

Future plans for the house (by prior design) call for the addition of solar systems: a photovoltaic system to reduce, if not eliminate, my electric bill and a hot-water system to augment or replace the propane water heater (a 75 gallon high-efficiency unit with a heat transfer coil inside as the hydronic heat source). I am also considering a battery back-up system and a small propane generator.

The eventual goal is to be as independent and self-sufficient as I can from the energy perspective, given a fixed income in retirement and the projected rise in energy costs (both direct and indirect) in the future.

In these times of massive change and adaptation, how will you prepare your digital infrastructure for the future? How will you make it smarter and more resilient? I hope the story of my house, as a physical example of smarter infrastructure, will motivate you going forward. Let me know what you think.

Explaining Smarter Infrastructure to your kids

If you had to explain to kids why infrastructure matters, what would you say to help them understand? Infrastructure is so important to our lives, so perhaps we should pay a little more attention to it.

[originally posted on the IBM Smarter Computing Blog site on April 24, 2014]


Some of my daughter’s high school friends occasionally come over to our house in the afternoons to do homework or get ready for athletic practice or events. Often, they see me working on my laptop or hear me on a conference call in my home office and invariably the question comes up, “What does your dad do?”


As an IT infrastructure architect, I struggled with an explanation for the first few times and then finally came up with a way to explain my job function through a Socratic approach. So now when I get asked what I do, I reply with a series of questions:

  • “Do you know how and where the electricity comes from when you turn on a light?”

They say “No.”

  • “Do you know how the fresh water gets to your faucet when you turn one on?”


  • “Do you know where the sewage goes when you flush the toilet?


  • “Do you know how a text or picture gets from your phone to your friends’ phones?”


Then I say, “I do all those things that you don’t see that make your phones actually work!”

They reflect a bit, usually smile and say, “That’s pretty cool!’

And I then say, “Yes … yes it is.”

Sometimes we have a short discussion about the various sources and methods of generating and distributing electricity, and I use the opportunity to discuss alternative, cleaner energy and the need for a smarter grid. Or we talk about how clean water gets to the faucet and the issues surrounding fresh water around the world. Or we talk about how sewage is removed and treated (some jurisdictions are turning it into drinking water that is “certified organic”). And sometimes we talk about big servers, storage, networks and cloud computing and how those digital infrastructure elements enable smartphones, bank ATMs and airline reservations.

Infrastructure matters

The point here is that infrastructure matters, but most people do not know, understand or care about infrastructure (that is, until it breaks or goes away). Yet it is vitally important in our physical and digital lives in the Anthropocene epoch. If for nothing else, infrastructure matters because we humans are altering the climate of our only planetary home in ways we do not yet fully understand by our increasing use of infrastructure in its many and varied forms.

So if infrastructure is so important to our lives, perhaps we should pay a little more attention to it.

We can define infrastructure as all the elements of a designed, engineered and built environment (a complex system of systems) that are generally overlooked or not readily apparent to the casual observer or consumer of the products and services said infrastructure provides.

Paying attention to the infrastructure can reduce risks as well as save and earn money—all good things for both people and organizations, especially if we can identify the unintended consequences of our actions, preferably well in advance, so that we might choose better alternatives.

Maximizing value in an infrastructure

To best assist clients from the IT infrastructure perspective, the system architects in IBM deal with both the holistic aspects of a given system as well as the individual physical components that make up the system.City

As is generally true in most systems, optimizing individual components usually degrades the overall system, whether we are talking about cloud computing, grid computing, smarter cities or natural systems. So we examine the role each component has to play to contribute to and balance the overall system and therefore provide maximum value for the investment in the whole system.

In a business environment, to maximize value means looking at the components from two major dimensions: one of quality and one of time.

In the IT world, looking at the components of a system in qualitative terms is generally described as dealing with the nonfunctional requirements (NFRs). NFRs can best be thought of as those attributes of a system or component thereof that answer the how? or how well? question, especially as contrasted with the what? question (which is dealt with by identifying and addressing the functional requirements).

The IBM system architect community has spent almost a decade perfecting a client-focused consultative methodology to help clients address the NFRs of a system and its components. The “fit-for-purpose” methodology helps clients select the best hardware (servers, storage subsystems, network architecture) to meet the business requirements of the system (driven by the NFRs) to provide maximum value.

But value is not static, nor are businesses, government organizations or people. So we have to add the element of time to the effort. Introducing the time element helps us look at the overall costs and benefits of the solution throughout its lifecycle (more on this in a future blog post, perhaps).

Moving toward future systems

To return to the physical analogy concept, I like to think of the information systems in Winchester Mystery Houseorganizations today to be somewhat like the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. Just like poor, nutty Mrs. Winchester, we have organically evolved our IT systems over the years without much architecture such that now we have a maintenance and integration nightmare on our hands. Note that the these core systems that “run the business” still make up a large part of an organization’s IT capital and operating expenses. They also tend to trap data within the disparate systems, hampering an organizations’ ability to make wiser decisions through the use of analytics or “big data.”

The value of infrastructure

How we design and operate our physical and digital infrastructures for the 21st century matters very much to people. After all, people are the core of businesses, and people create governments.  If you are contemplating making your infrastructure smarter, from the IT or the city standpoint, you just may benefit from a conversation (or more) with your local IBM system architect.

Have you ever thought about why infrastructure matters? How would you teach your kids about smarter infrastructure?

America…we have a problem.

We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology.”

So says E. O. Wilson in his latest book, “The Social Conquest of Earth”. I happen to agree with him, especially about our “medieval institutions”, which I consider him to primarily mean our systems of government and to a lesser extent, organized religions.

Wilson goes on to say that “[w]e are terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and to the rest of life.”

Again, I have to agree.

I’ve done a lot of research and reading over the last several years, starting with the “Peak Oil” phenomenon and continuing on through the “Great Recession” and IBM’s “Smarter Planet” initiative and its derivatives, namely, “Smarter Government” and “Smarter Cities”. To put all this work in perspective, I have to take a short step back in history. This historical review, will, of primary experience, be one with an American viewpoint. But I think the lessons are relevant to the rest of the world as well. Bear with me.

I have come to the conclusion, in essence, that we have been “spoiled” over the past half-century or so by an economic and techological expansion never before seen in the history of the world. Not heeding Rachel Carson’s (in “Silent Spring” which started the environmental movement) and Dwight Eisenhower’s (in his farewell presidential address in which he mentions “the military-industrial complex” and appealed to “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry”) prescient warnings in the early 1960s regarding the ramifications of our industrialization, we have seen a somewhat steady progression of living standards, at least in western civilization, which tended to blind us to the unintended consequences of such industrial development both in terms of human and environmental externalized costs. To be sure, there have been some blips along the way (the Cold War (and its regional proxies), the Energy Crisis of the 1970s, the S&L crisis of the 1980s), but once we toned down our tribal, war-like behavior, we had good economic times through the 1990s.

Having been somewhat spoiled, we became complacent. Human beings tend not to rock the boat, especially when a rising tide is lifting all boats. But looking at the world through various cognitive biases is a recipe for disaster.

I find it very ironic that during the Second Industrial Revolution (the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th), we went through similar economic upheavals which forced the American government to regulate the “robber barons” via the Sherman, Clayton and Robinson-Patman Acts. Such needed legislation is nowhere to be found today, for the simple reason that the US government has lost its ability to protect its citizens in the age of globalization, big-money elections (Citizens United) and polarized politics (I suspect we American citizens have not been too alert and have foresworn being knowledgeable). At the same time we have seen the rise of global multi-national corporations and the Information Revolution, we have seen the power of governments decline. No doubt there are many reasons for the decline, but one in particular stands out to me – government is still a “medieval institution”.

Governments, in particular the American ones, are still structured as if the Industrial and Information Revolutions had never happened. The massive bureaucracy and hierarchical organization of government is relatively the same as it was a century ago.

Unfortunately, the effects of the Information Revolution on government has just made it worse. For when we computerized and automated government, we did not re-engineer it to be more efficient and effective, we just locked in the hierarchical structures and paper-based processes that had been built up over the decades. While we did speed up the internal processes, we also locked down the data that supported those processes into the various organizational siloes from whence they came (and where they still reside).

The effects and fragility of this sclerotic process and data imprisonment was masked by both the increase in process speed and the apparent rising tide of affluence during the relative calm of the 1990s.

The dawning of the 21st Century, however, brought to light just how ineffective and inefficient our government became through some wake-up calls, namely, the terrorist attack of Sept 11, 2001, the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina and the Great Recession, an event which Thomas Freidman calls “our warning heart attack” (change your ways or things will get worse).

In light of these events, and to be honest, when I first heard of the IBM Smarter Planet Initiative, I cynically thought of it as a clever marketing ploy. Upon further reflection, I began to see it almost as a clarion call for humanity, albeit in a “bright-sided” way.

For what is the inverse of a Smarter Planet? I assert it is where we find ourselves today. I sometimes sardonically refer to Earth as a Stupider Planet, especially after having read Carlo Cipolla‘s famous essay entitled “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity”.

As E. O. Wilson further says, “[w]e are an evolutionary chimera, living on intelligence steered by the demands of animal instinct. This is the reason we are mindlessly dismantling the biosphere and, with it, our own prospects for permanent existence.”

Or, to put it another way, the scope of the challenges of the Anthropocene Era are just now becoming apparent to most “alert and knowledgeable” citizens of the world. The 2D dotted lines we humans draw on maps do not matter anymore. They are vestiges of our ignorance, arrogance and hubris from our “social conquest of Earth”, aided and abetted by technology – from the Stone Age to the present day. Every challenge we collectively face, whether it be war, famine, pollution, fresh water, crime, social justice and the ultimate challenge of climate change, either has its roots in the formation of, or fundamentally ignores those dotted lines.

Note: One of my favorite “dotted-line” irrelevance stories comes from the American West after the Civil War when John Wesley Powell made his famous trip down the Green and Colorado Rivers in the American West and submitted his observations to Congress in a document entitled “A Report on the Lands of the Arid region of the United States”. Congress promptly ignored Powell’s visionary suggestions for managing the limited water supplies in the Western United States, such ignorance being a proximate cause of the DustBowl years of the 1930s and the byzantine water rights laws which hamper progress in resource management efforts to this day. I suspect some cognitive biases were at work…if not complete idiocy – it wouldn’t be the first time, or the last. You can read more about water issues in the American West in Marc Reisner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1986 book “Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water”.

So what does this all mean relative to re-architecting our governance for the 21st Century?

As is frequently observed, the first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one in the first place (Climate Change deniers are thankfully becoming few and far between). As evidence of the fact we have a problem, at least from the structure of government perspective, I offer the dual phenomena of the “Open Data” and “Civic Hacking” movements as exemplified by the Sunlight Foundation and Code for America organizations.

The Sunlight Foundation attempts to foster openness and transparency in government while CfA takes a bit more hands-on yet similar approach primarily by sending “Fellows” out to local governments to attempt to solve a problem using web-based coding technologies.

CfA has been termed a Peace Corps for Geeks by its founder, Jen Pahlka, who asserts that much is broken in government and is attempting to fix it. Code for America has become quite popular in the local government worldwide community, so much so that Pahlka was asked to spend a year in Washington, DC as a Deputy CTO for government innovation at the White House.

Code for America’s very existence, worldwide popularity (Code for Europe) and spinoffs (the CfA Brigade and startup efforts) is, at the very least, confirmation from the tech and designer communities, particularly among the millenial generation, that the current situation in local government is indeed one of opaqueness and brokeness, not to mention bankruptcy (Vallejo, Stockton and San Bernardino, CA, among some notable others (Detroit, MI)).

But the open data and civic hackathon movements are not without their detractors and critics, who seem to have two basic and relevant points: the efforts are not sustainable; and the efforts do not address the root cause of the issues. But that is not to say that such efforts do not have value…they do. If nothing else, they highlight the transparency, political, financial and especially organizational issues facing local governments today. The challenge is in making the changes represented by the creation and use of these popular applets sustainable. Its all about making them part of the city or county operational systems. That is not an effort that will be accomplished via civic hacking or by financially-strapped local governments, at least in their current incarnation.

As an example, I know of one situation where a web app was created by civic hackers, but would have had orders of magnitude of greater impact if integrated with the operational software applications in the city. Unfortunately, the city in question did not have the financial wherewithal to do so and to expose the APIs from the city IT standpoint would have created a severe security issue. So the ultimate value of the app will continue to go unrealized and better service to citizens remains to be addressed.

We seem to be dealing all these big challenges with limited historical perceptions and piecemeal approaches. But Big Challenges require Big Solutions. According to Robert M. Pirsig, author of the classic book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, the ancient Greeks held a view of reality wherein the past was spread out before them and the future rushed up from behind. I think that is accurate assessment of how our current governance system operates. To confront the challenges of the Anthropocene Era, we will collectively have to turn around and look boldly into the future…something we have proven, throughout history, not to be able to do well. I think we have developed enough knowledge and awareness on a global scale (the emergence of the semantic Web) that I’d like to offer a way to do so.

I have come up with two concepts that I think address many, if not all the issues currently facing governments, especially at the local level, and provide a transparent, sustainable and inclusive way forward for re-architecting government (starting at the local level) in America and elsewhere.

The first concept I call Smarter Local Government. SLG addresses the fundamental inefficiencies built into our current design of local government (indeed most all of government) from the Enterprise Architecture and Information Technology industry perspectives and provides a way for open data and transparency to be part and parcel of the daily operations of local government.

The second concept I call Cognitive Digital Democracy. CDD deals with the process by which local government policies, programs and priorities are developed, analyzed and implemented, both from a citizen engagement and a “BigData/Analytics” perspective, while promoting regional collaboration.

I will provide more details on the SLG and CDD concepts in future blog posts in the hopes they will prompt some much needed action to improve our governance of ourselves and our planet.

Since I started this post with a quote from E. O. Wilson, I think it only suitable I end it with one, which is the paragraph with which he ends his latest book:

Earth, by the twenty-second century, can be turned, if we so wish, into a permanent paradise for human beings, or at least the strong beginnings of one. We will do a lot more damage to ourselves and the rest of life along the way, but out of an ethic of simple decency to one another, the unrelenting application of reason, and acceptance of what we truly are, our dreams will finally come home to stay.”

Why the Name (Part 2)

Its been awhile since my first post and things change in short time periods nowadays.

I originally intended to write another post going into more detail about the digital side of the name of this blog, but now that I reflect more on it, I’ve decided it to be somewhat unnecessary, given all the technology in use today.

I also realized that such a romp down the corporate memory lane would be very boring and to spice it up with some juicy bits would be a disservice to certain individuals who should remain anonymous. Best to let bygones be bygones.

I’ll just say now that I was lucky enough, during my college years (late 1970s), to have intuitively grasped the fact that the development and use of digital technologies would only grow. I had no clue, however, just how much they would grow and how much they would affect our lives.

I will say that there is one area of our lives that seems to have been somewhat unaffected by digital technology – our form of governance.

I’m guessing that statement will cause not a few folks to jump to conclusions (wait a minute – we use computers in government!), so I will endeavor to explain what I mean in future blog posts.

Consider the introductory posts complete.

Why the name “thedigitaldruid” for this blog?

Why the “Digital Druid” name for this blog?

I thought for my first post as thedigitaldruid I would take a few paragraphs to explain the meaning behind my selection of the “Digital Druid” nom de guerre (indeed, surviving and prospering has been and continues to be a multi-faceted war, especially of late in the digital realm).

Clearly, the name refers to two fundamental concepts, namely, the digital world and the natural world. I’ll discuss my view of each and then the intersection thereof, probably in a second post, as introduction to the posts to follow.

The digital world aspect of the name is primarily due to the fact I have spent over 32 years in the field of information technology. I’ve worked for over 28 years with IBM, primarily in technical sales (systems engineering and architecture) roles. I’ve managed a team of IBM systems engineers. I’ve also worked for a county in California, managing the distributed and networked environment and I’ve worked for an IBM Business Partner, again in the technical sales space. In that time span, I’ve seen many changes, both in the technologies themselves and how organizations, both public and private, manage (or not) their evaluation, adoption, use and retirement of said technology. It has been, needless to say, a wild ride. I’m glad and grateful I had a modicum of foresight to target the IT industry coming out of college in 1980.

I think that very short summary should do it for now from the digital perspective, as I anticipate many of my future posts will dwell heavily on IT and related subjects. I want to spend considerably more time in this first post giving you my perspective on the natural world, as it certainly influences my thinking about the digital one.

The other aspect of the name refers to the fact that I have always been fascinated by the natural world, Mother Nature, Creation, or whatever you want to call it. Its endless diversity and variety never cease to amaze me. I feel the most peaceful when I am out in Nature.

The Druids were philosopher priests of the Celtic and Gaulish civilizations prior to and during the Iron Age, the last of the three ages of human prehistory – the others being Stone and Bronze. In Europe, the Iron Age began in 1200 B.C. and lasted until 400 A.D. Very little is known about the ancient Druids, for they left no records; most of the information we do have comes from Greek and Roman writings as well as Irish oral histories that were later written down. The Druids are associated with nature, and respect thereof, as many of their religious rituals took place in forests. The roots of the word “Druid” can be constructed from the proto-Celtic words “dru” and “wid” which together mean “oak-knower”. Suffice it to say the Druids are known for their relationship with and respect for Nature. Other reasons for the Druid name include an historical marker near where I reside and a fairly radical blog, The ArchDruid Report, which I read occasionally, primarily for a completely different perspective on things than what is offered by the blithering “talking heads” or inane tweets out in the ether.

In coming up with this material for this first blog post, I dug deeply into my cranial synapses, trying to recall the earliest memory I had of my encounter with the natural world. I seem to vaguely recall a low stone wall in the backyard of my family’s house outside of New London, Connecticut in the late 1950s. As a pre-schooler, venturing out to explore the backyard alone was a scary prospect. I remember watching, for what seemed like hours but was probably only minutes, daddy longlegs spiders crawling over the rocks that made up the wall. Their little rotund bodies and frightfully skinny but very long legs were amazing to me.

As a youngster, I recall playing in a wooded lot down the street from my family’s house in Kensington, Maryland and in Rock Creek Park. It was a big deal for me to finally get parental permission to hop on my bicycle and pedal over to the Ken-Gar Palisades Park to check out the minnows, tadpoles, box turtles and frogs that inhabited that stretch of Rock Creek. It was during these numerous adventures I became very much aware of the biological world, primarily though interactions with poison ivy, to which I seemed highly sensitive. I learned very quickly to spot its shiny, dark-green, jagged-edged and tripartite leaves, sometimes tinged with red, if I wanted to avoid serious suffering later. For one particularly severe allergic reaction, wherein both eyes were almost swollen shut, I was taken to the doctor for a cortisone shot, which introduced me to the miracles of modern medicine and chemistry, as the itchiness receded almost instantly and the swelling was noticeably reduced in 24 hours.

As a middle schooler, a fortunate age where I was old enough to have some responsibility and to earn some money, I explored Fort Bayou in Ocean Springs, Mississippi in a 10-foot aluminum “jon boat”. I was able to leave my family’s house before dawn and come back after dark, usually with a bunch of fish: catfish, croaker, flounder and the occasional speckled trout (spotted weakfish) or even some clams if the tide and season cooperated. Such aquatic adventures were not without natural dangers as we would see often see alligator gars and cottonmouth moccasins swimming in the bayou. Let me also caution you against getting “finned” by a catfish, whose pectoral fins have a groove in the spine filled with mucous that is very poisonous. It happened to me once, despite precautions. It was some of the most intense pain I have ever felt. Every time my heart beat, it felt as if someone hit the web between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand with a ball peen hammer. The agony lasted a good 4-6 hours.

Also at that time, I was fortunate to live in a house which backed up onto a large tract of undeveloped land, covered in southern pine forest and palmetto scrub. It was there I first discovered that plants were carnivorous, as I found many a pitcher plant with half-digested insects inside and also found a few venus fly trap plants and was able to actually watch one catch an insect. The pine scrub land also was home to eastern diamondback rattlesnakes and coral snakes, of which I met a few during my explorations.

I missed the excitement of Hurricane Camille in 1969 due to spending the summer with my grandparents in San Antonio, Texas. Hurricane Camille still holds the record for hurricane wind speed at landfall – over 210 mph was recorded before the equipment was destroyed – so there is no telling how fast the actual wind gusts were. I did see the devastation on the way back home and while helping my father bring fresh water to the citizens of Biloxi over the Back Bay bridge – the main bridge on US Highway 90 across the mouth of the Biloxi Bay was destroyed. We removed the middle seat of our VW van and filled up plastic trash cans full of water for our thirsty neighbors. I recall going back out on Fort Bayou months later and seeing huge shrimp boats, which had come up the bayou for safety, still aground about 20-30 feet above the water level – a testament to the storm surge.

My family then moved to Southern California where again I was fortunate in terms of house location and earthquake experience. Our house was in one of the sprawling suburban developments, but on the edge thereof, so by crossing a street, we could go right into the undeveloped hills around Thousand Oaks, California. It was there that I was first introduced to the ancient sport of kings, falconry. My friend, brothers and I spent many a day hiking in the hills and valleys east of Thousand Oaks, south of Simi Valley and north of Westlake Village, mapping out hawk’s nests, climbing up into huge live oak trees and taking pictures. We chronicled the fledgling cycle of many a young red-tailed hawk, great horned owl, sparrowhawk and even ravens with our Kodak Instamatic cameras. We even found a golden eagle’s nest on a small cliff ledge and were able to take a few “up close and personal” pictures of a fledgling golden eagle. The area wherein we explored is now known as the North Ranch part of Westlake Village and is fully developed, with a Country Club surrounded by million dollar homes.

We researched (at the library and via book purchases) all we could find out about North American hawks, owls and falcons and the practice of falconry. In accordance with California Fish and Game laws, we built hawkhouses and, when the time was right, removed two red-tailed hawk fledglings from a nest (given the fact that first-year hawks have a mortality rate of over 80% and the nest we chose had 4 chicks in it, we figured we were doing all 4 babies a favor). If you have ever had the opportunity to look closely into a raptor’s phenomenal eyes, you can see back in time over 200 million years, as paleontology tells us, especially in light of recent discoveries, that birds are the current-day decendants of the dinosaurs. Falconry is truly an ancient sport and I feel grateful to have had that experience for a few years while growing up. I may return to it in retirement, as it is an all-encompassing hobby that places a lot of demands on the human in terms of caring for the bird in the proper way (diet and exercise are the primary elements – parrots and budgerigars are not raptors).

During high school, I went to the Southern California beaches and into the mountains as much as I could, the demands of young adulthood being what they were (academics, athletics, chores, earning money and relaxing, in that order). Body-surfing at Zuma Beach was a great stress-reliever as was hiking in the hills. During college, I took the opportunity of a closed dormitory over the Thanksgiving holiday one year to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in Arizona with my friend, my brother and his friend. The $1 cans of Coors beer available at the Phantom Ranch provided a wonderful reward for making it down to the bottom. They did not, however, help all that much on the way back up the next day. It was a phenomenal trip and we still tell stories around the memories of that adventure. Ever since the late 1970s, a small group of my college friends has spent time together each summer backpacking. The group, collectively, has never missed the annual trip since that time. I must admit that I have fallen off the pace somewhat over the last several years, although four of us did backpack the Lost Coast of Northern California a few years ago. You have to time your departure as parts of the trail are on the beach which is impassable at high tide. We saw a young brown bear, raccoons and other wildlife.

After college, I was able to afford to travel a bit and do some snow skiing, primarily in the western United States. I’ve visited most of the major National Parks and some of the lesser ones west of the Rocky Mountains as well as a few in other parts of the USA.

The other aspect of my life experience is one of being a “maker”. I was taught basic woodworking skills and mechanical skills by my grandfather (an early graduate of Henry Ford’s trade school) and have designed and built all sorts of things in my life, including treehouses, furniture, automobile engines and even an energy-efficient house (work-in-progress). I’ll have more to say on the metaphors and analogies of digital and physical architecture later.

So, to sum it up, I have spent most of my life either working in the digital realm, design and building things or pursuing activities out in Nature…hence the name for this blog. In my second blog post, I will discuss the intersection of the digital and physical worlds, somewhat inspired by the IBM Smarter Planet initiative, as I attempt to look forward into the misty future and determine what we, collectively, might do today to avoid some serious consequences I see looming out in the mist.

I hope you stick around for the virtual ride. I can promise it will get interesting.