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.


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.


What’s the economy for anyway?


An excerpt of a book “What’s the economy for, Anyway"” was published in The Bloomberg’s Businessweek and sent to me by a friend:

It is a very good article that asks a lot of fundamental questions.  Below is a listing of books and other material that is referenced from this article.  Also included are works by Josef Pieper, a philosopher that explores the value of leisure.




Arduino Cookbook (part 2) – What was left out and other information from the preface

Let’s continue going through the Arduino Cookbook by Michael Margolis.  (see the first article about the book.)

The book doesn’t cover much electronics theory and practice, but provides some basic guidance.  If you want some more background in this area, then these books are recommended:

• Make: Electronics by Charles Platt (O’Reilly)
• Getting Started in Electronics by Forrest Mims (Master Publishing)
• Physical Computing by Dan O’Sullivan and Tom Igoe (Cengage)
• Practical Electronics for Inventors by Paul Scherz (McGraw-Hill)

These all look like good books to go through, and we might have future series going through these books.  I recognized the Getting Started in Electronics by Forrest Mims.  I had bought it nearly 25 years ago!!  And I still have that copy.  I was going through it with my children (ages 8 and 12) this summer.  It has some wonderful illustrations in it.  Here are some pictures to give you a sense:

IMG_9283 IMG_9282

The Arduino Cookbook explains code to do very specific things.  The author recommends the following books to give you more information on programming in general and C in particular:

• Practical C Programming by Steve Oualline (O’Reilly)
• A Book on C by Al Kelley and Ira Pohl (Addison-Wesley)

The C Programming Language by Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie(Prentice Hall)

The code in the Arduino Cookbook has been tested with release versions 0018 through 0020.  It was written before v1.0 was finalized.  There might be small changes required to make the code work, and we are directed to this website:

So, if you have doubled checked, and tripled checked something from the book, and it does not work as expected, then check the link above to see if there are some changes required.  There is also an Appendix on troubleshooting, and more help can always be found from:

In the section “Using Code Examples” it says:

This book is here to help you make things with Arduino. In general, you may use the code in this book in your programs and documentation. You do not need to contact
us for permission unless you’re reproducing a significant portion of the code. For example, writing a program that uses several chunks of code from this book does not require permission. Selling or distributing a CD-ROM of examples from this book does require permission. Answering a question by citing this book and quoting example code does not require permission. Incorporating a significant amount of example code from this book into your product’s documentation does require permission.

We appreciate, but do not require, attribution. An attribution usually includes the title, author, publisher, and ISBN. For example: “Arduino Cookbook by Michael Margolis
with Nick Weldin (O’Reilly). Copyright 2011 Michael Margolis and Nicholas Weldin, 9780596802479.”

If you feel your use of code examples falls outside fair use or the permission given here, feel free to contact us at

In this set of blog posts, I will be going through the book, page by page, but we will not be putting the information in the book on this page.  Instead I will be providing some feedback, additional information, and my own personal experiments related to the information in the book.  Therefore, you will want to get the book in order to make best use of these blog posts.  Please use the link below so that we can get a small commission from Amazon to help support this site and the buying of all the Arduino related materials that we need to keep experimenting:

Arduino Cookbook

If you like online versions of things, then you should check out Safari Books Online:

This is actually how I am reading the book, free through a service provided by my local library (  It is a great way to get technical books, that are searchable, without having to find a place to store them.    It can be great when doing some of the examples having the ability to copy and paste from the electronic book to the code editor without having to type it in, or try to find an alternate resource to get it from.

The Acknowledgments section can sometimes be very useful to read.  There are several people that Michael thanks:

Nick Weldin

Simon St. Laurent – editor at O’Reilley

Brian Jepson (twitter)– helped to provide the Xbee content in chapter 14

Audrey Doyle – fixed typos and grammatical errors

Philip Lindsay – chapter 15 help – how to make Ethernet more understandable

Mikal Hart – GPS recipes and software serial

Core Arduino development team: Massimo Banzi, David Cuartielles (twitter), Tom Igoe, Gianluca Martino, and David Mellis

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, CEO of Tinker London (has workshops for the Arduino)

Peter Knight


Maker Store


NKC Electronics

Modern Device



Makerbot Industries



SK Pang

Brock Craft

Daneil Soltis

(families of the writers)

Joshua Nobel for his book Programming Interactivity:  A Designer’s Guide to Processing, Arduino, and Openframeworks (published July 28, 2009)  (This looks like a good book for us to go through too)

In the next post, we will get into Chapter 1 – Getting started…

Arduino Cookbook by Michael Margolis


In order to bring some structure to my experiments with the Arduino, and to help me get through the learning curve quicker, I thought it would be good to have a book to guide me.  The book I have selected is the Arduino Cookbook by Michael Margolis.  It is a recent book, published in March 2011.  The first words of the preface say just what I am looking for.  “This book was written to help you explore the amazing things you can do with Arduino.” Yay


Arduino is a family of microcontrollers (tiny computers).  It can be used for “physical computing”.  Actually responding to and interacting with the “real world”.

This book is aimed at a broad range of people.  There is no assumption about a particular hardware or software background.  But even if you have a microcontroller background or a background in C/C++, you will still find this book very useful.

What does this book cover?

Chapter 1 – Getting Started – (everything you need to get that first program written, that first circuit created, and possibly even that first LED blinking?)

Chapter 2 – Making the Sketch Do Your Bidding.  (“sketches” are what we call the Arduino program)  This chapter covers the key software concepts and task.

Chapter 3 – Using Mathematical Operators

Chapter 4 – Serial Communications – how to connect to the computer and other devices using a serial connection.

Chapter 5 – Simple Digital and Analog Input – how to actually get the data into the arduino

Chapter 6 – Getting Input from Sensors – enable touch, sound, position, heat, and light

Chapter 7 – Visual Output – controlling LEDS (ok, looks like they wait until this chapter to get that first LED blinking?)  Switch on one or many LEDs, controlling brightness and color.  How to create bar graphs, numeric LED displays, create patterns, animations with LED arrays.

Chapter 8 – Physical output .. how to make things move with solenoids (I’ve never quite understood what a solenoid is…)  servo motors (got some of them floating around… will be good to put them to some good use… found some for sale on eBay for just a few cents too.  but possibly will not win those)  Physical output is where the rubber meets the road.  This is where we make things move!  Can’t wait till we get to chapter 8!!!

Chapter 9 – Audio Output – generate sounds by playing wav files and MIDI output.

Chapter 10 – Remotely Controlling External Devices – interact with the TV, cameras, garage doors, appliances, toys. 

Chapter 11 – Using Displays – interfacing with text and graphical LCD displays

Chapter 12 – Using Time and Dates – measuring time; handling time delays (here we will learn what we need to know to develop a clock, timer, and I could create a speech timer for my toastmaster club…)

Chapter 13 – Communicating using I2C and SPI  (I have did one project in the Parallax Basic stamp book using I2C.  I understand it is a protocol to connect things together.  I am completely unfamiliar with SPI…)

Chapter 14 – Wireless Communication – using XBee

Chapter 15 – Ethernet and Networking – hook up things to the Internet.  (I have been playing around with the EtherShield, and got a web page setup to control a little LED.  But I got the cheaper enc28j60 based EtherShield.  Not the newer, expensive one based on the Wiznet chip.  The API calls for the Enc28j60 are a lot more difficult to understand than the newer ones.  The difference in cost though is about 100%.  You can get the Enc28j60 etherShield for about $20.  The Wiznet one will be around $45.  It will be interesting to see which one the book uses… I think we can both already guess 🙂 )

Chapter 16 – Using, Modifying and Creating Libraries (maybe this is where I can learn how to create a easier to use library wrapper for the EtherShield that I have. )

Chapter 17 – Advanced Coding and Memory Handling

Chapter 18 – Using the Controller Chip Hardware – How to access and use hardware functions that are not “fully” exposed through the documented Arduino language… (Sounds interesting and advanced)

I have no idea how long it will take to get through the book.  And I imagine we will be taking a lot of detours on the way to create projects using what we have learned.  But I would recommend that if you are starting with the Arduino that you get the book and come along this journey with me.  I intend to keep you updated on my progress in the book, and I intend to publish the code and projects that I create from the things that I learn from the book, but to fully understand everything, you will need the book.  Please use this link:

Also, if you live in Harris county, then you can access it through the Harris Public County Library who has an arrangement with SafariBooksOnline to make it available.  Your library might have a similar setup.

The Wild Soccer Bunch

imageWhile researching camps for my Soccer Camps in Houston for the Cy Fair Real Estate blog, I came across The Wild Soccer Bunch website.  At first I could not tell if the site was promoting a soccer camp, a book on improving soccer, or something else.  One thing that stuck me was the amount of orange on the site, and the coordination of colors on the website and the promotional video (see below).

After looking through it a little more, I discovered the site was about a series of books call The Wild Soccer Bunch which is about “a crew of zany, extraordinary, fun-loving soccer players.”  Looking at the way the book is being promoted alone makes me want to read it.  You can pick up a copy on Amazon.