Book Review: Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn

 Ishmael by Daniel Quinn is one of the more thoughts provoking books that I have read in a while.   It is a book on philosophy framed as a discussion between an unlikely teacher and a pupil we can all related to.  There are several core ideas presented in the book:

1) Past performance is no guarantee of future returns.  Just because something has survived for many years does not mean that it will continue to do so.   Examples from the early days of flight are given to convince us of this.  Hopeful inventors with machines meant to fly being thrown off of cliffs.  They fly for a while, but regardless of how much effort the pilot expends, they will not stay in the air.  Machines like in this video:

2) The web of life is being trimmed and cut away so that it only supports man’s needs.  If an animal or plant does not help us then it is eliminated.  The robust web is being reduced to a fragile chain that needs only be broken at a few places to cause the entire system to collapse.

The book goes into more details and explains these concepts in more details.   Take a look at Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.


Simple Tablet Wall Mount

2014-12-29 22.47.24We have been slowly collecting tablets in the form of iPad (original), iPad mini, HP slates, and recently through a purchase of 2 RCA slates that we got for $65 from Walmart during the most recent black Friday sale.

My wife had a good idea of mounting one in the laundry room so that she can listen to music while doing laundry.  We have been thinking of other uses, example: intercom.

There are many options available for mounting.  They make mounts just for this purpose and there are a few really cool DIY ideas.  However, looking for something quick and simple, I decided to go with adhesive valcro tape.  This worked wonder.

I just put two strips on the back, and attached to the wall

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Preparing for my journey through “The Art of Electronics”

2014-12-28 23.17.30-2“The Art of Electronics” by Horowitz and Hill is the definitive guide to Analog and Digital electronics.  I had bought the 2nd edition over a decade ago, with the intention of going through it.  But this year is going to be the year.  And I am hoping that you will help me.

My plan is to go through a section a day, and to write a short blog post summarizing what I learned.  I have collected several electronics books, and I plan to make reference to them as I go on this journey.  These include:

In addition to a brief summary of what I learn from that section, I plan to create a video post, create additional exercises, and assemble related circuits.  I am hoping that it will be an exciting adventure, and that by having to produce a daily blog post, I will have the discipline to see it through.  And should I stumble, hopefully an encouraging comment or email from you will nudge me back on the path.

First thing is that I need some help by those that are familiar with Electronics.  I am an Amateur with hopes of achieving proficiency.  I do not want my struggles to cause problems for others following along.  Therefore, I would like to have someone knowledgeable review my notes before I publish them on this blog.  If you would be willing to help out, then please email me at  Let me know how much you would be willing to help out.  I figure each blog post would take 15 minutes or so to review.   I would like to give you credit for reviewing, but if you want to remain anonymous, then that is fine too.

Second, if you want to join this adventure, then sign up for email notifications as we get ready to start this journey, and then for updates as the journey begins:

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 I am already on the journey, but I do not plan to start publishing them till February 1, 2015.  This will give me a chance to have them reviewed, and will give me a little buffer.

Also, I plan to create a lot of circuits and do demonstrations.  If you have some extra components that you can donate to me, that would be great!  Email me at with the details.  Also, if you are interested in supporting this journey financially, then donations would be welcomed.  (I converted my PayPal to a commercial account some years back, and it seems it can’t be converted back.  So the donations would say that were to, which is another website created with the same idea of having to commitment of studying each day.  That site was semi-successful as now I can read/write/speak/understand basic Hindi…)

For now, go ahead and order the book so that you can join along…

Microsoft Excel – Clean function – calling functions from VBS – Accessing files from VBS on Mac

Today I have been working on importing a text file into Excel and using VBS to do some processing and transformation of it.  In the process I found 3 things worth sharing/commenting on:

1) You may be familiar with the “trim()” function in Excel and in VBS.  It removes extra white spaces in a string.  But did you know that there is a “clean()” function in Excel that will remove “non-printable” characters.  There is a good write up of it at


2) There is no “clean()” function in VBS.  But you can call all of the Excel functions by using “Application.WorksheetFunction” object.  Therefore you can call the “clean()” function from VBS by using “Application.WorksheetFunction.clean()”


3) File paths from VBS in Mac are not what you expect.  You can not just put in the /path/to/the/file.txt and expect for it to work.  Still a little more work to figure this one out.


John Flanagan, author of Rangers Apprentice, visits Exeter, NH

Since the Spring of this year, I have met more authors that I knew in Exeter, NH then I have in all the rest of my life combined.  These have been arranged by the Water Street Book store.  The latest one was to meet John Flanagan the author of the Ranger’s Apprentice series.


I think it was about 6 years ago that I read The Ruins of Gorlan (The Ranger’s Apprentice, Book 1) to my son Christopher.  It was a fun, quick read.  Christopher and I were both captivated by the story of Will who is a 15 year boy trying to find his place in the world.  Small for his age, orphan, with dreams of becoming a knight, he is disappointed when he is not selected for battle school, but his adventure really begins when he is selected as a Ranger’s Apprentice.  The Rangers are mysterious people that are the protectors of the kingdom.  No one really knows what they do, but they are feared and respected.

John Flanagan said that one of his inspirations for the Rangers were the tales of Texas Rangers.  Considering I had lived in Texas all my life up until earlier this year, and that my father loves (did I say LOVES) Texas history, it really made us feel good to hear.

John told the story of a sheriff in a town that was having riots back in the Texas republic days.  He sends off for help and is relieved to learn that the needed help will arrive at the 9AM train the next morning.  He shows up at a train, the car opens up, and a Texas ranger with his horse trots out.  The sheriff looks into the box car expecting to see a group of police/soldiers but he only finds it empty.  He says to the Texas Ranger, “Did you bring anybody else?”  The Ranger replies, “How many riots do you have?”  (One riot, one Ranger).

There were a lot of questions about various characters and hypothetical story lines.  Questions about the possibility of a Ranger movie (very, very likely… has been in the works for a long time, but nothing definite yet… the producers are trying to get the right amount of funding, but could be in the theaters as early as next Christmas or the one afterwards).

I asked a question about his process.  He carries around a notebook in which he writes the ideas pop into his head about characters, plots, dialog, scenes.  After a while story starts to materialize.  He then works on creating a 4 page summary.  One page with the introduction, two pages for the middle and one page for the end.  Once he has this done, then he c2014-12-01 18.35.51-1reate a chapter by chapter outline (usually about 40 chapters).  At this point production really gets into gear and he writes one chapter a day.  In about 6-8 weeks he has the first draft of his book.  He then sends this off to the editor and even after publishing millions of copies of books, he anxiously awaits the feedback.  Then he gets it back with comments.  Reworks a bit of it.  And sends it back.  “The keys,” he says, ” is to plan.”


After the Q&A was a book signing.  We were there with the most books.  I think we have all of the books except for two.  I’ve read all the Ranger Apprentice books.  Christopher has read these, the Lost Stories, and is now working through the Brother Band series.


John was really gracious and generous and signed all of our books.  I told him the story of us recently moving from Texas and Christopher insisting that we bring these books along.  2014-12-01 18.45.22And now we are even more glad we did.