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.