The Thicket

The Thicket is set near the turn of the 20th century. For the most part, it is a Western that, without a couple appearances of motorcars, easily could have take place fifty or a hundred years earlier. It is a very well-crafted story that will definitely hold your interest, but it is quite violent. I try not to read books that are too creepy or violent, but this one had a good enough story that I continued reading it after some pretty awful scenes early in the book.

The story starts off in Texas where the main character, Jack, has just watched his parents die from smallpox, and is now going off with his grandfather and younger sister to go live with Jack’s aunt. They never make it to the aunt’s house as  Jack’s grandfather is killed on the journey and his sister Lulu is kidnapped by a notorious gang of criminals led by one particularly despicable scumbag by the name of Cut Throat Bill.

Jack manages to enlist the help of two bounty hunters to retrieve Lulu. One, shorty, is a little person and former circus performer. The other is Eustace, a large, muscular African American man who makes his money digging graves and tracking bounties.  Eustace travels with a giant wild hog that has befriended him and carries an enormous four gauge shotgun. Jack strikes a deal with Shorty and Eustace to track down his sister in exchange for the deed to his family’s land in Texas.

Cut Throat Bill and his gang do all sorts of despicable deeds as they travel back to their hideout in the Thicket, following a bank robbery that resulted in the murder of a local sheriff.

Despite some pretty horrific depictions of violence, the book does have quite a happy ending with all the villains being dispatched and the majority of the “good guys” living happily ever-after. This book is an absolute page-turner and will soon be released as a movie with Peter Dinklage playing shorty and Juliette Lewis playing Cut Throat Bill. I am guessing the film will have to veer a little from the book’s story since Cut Throat Bill is a mountain of a man in the book, and Juliette Lewis is neither a mountain, nor a man. I am kind of expecting the film to disappoint me because of the odd casting choices, but I will give it a shot anyway, as the book it is based on is excellent.

The Four Agreements

I was looking for a particular book, The Thicket, on the various bookshelves in my house. It appeared to have mysteriously vanished. I did, however, happen upon this book. I have no idea where it came from. I was about to head off on a short trip for work and wanted something to read while I was gone, so I grabbed it. It turned out to be a very interesting book about the Toltec belief system and how it can be applied to modern life. The Toltecs were an early Mexican civilization that built structures similar to the Aztecs and Mayans. Their belief is that we create our own heaven or hell and by following the four agreements, we allow ourselves to enjoy freedom, happiness, and love to build our own heaven. The four agreements are quite simple to explain and appear to be very useful. Simply stated, the four agreement are – be Impeccable in your word, always do your Best, never make Assumptions, and do not take anything Personally. I have remembered it with the acronym IBAP.

Being Impeccable in your word is pretty self-explanatory. It means that you always do what you say you are going to do, and also not agreeing to things, you have no intention of doing. I cannot imagine anyone can find find fault or controversy in this. No one likes a person that agrees to things and does not follow through. Always keeping your word will definitely help you avoid unnecessary drama in your life.

Always doing your Best is also pretty self-explanatory. The main reason for doing so, may not be. The Toltec belief is that if you have done your best at something, regardless of outcome, you will have a clear conscience. Even if you fail at a task, if you gave it your best effort, it will not haunt you. If you half-ass something, even if it works out in the end, you probably do not feel great about it. Always doing your best avoids this feeling. Your conscience will always be clear.

Never make Assumptions appears pretty obvious as well. How much time has each of us worried about something that has never come to fruition? I know that I have wasted plenty. If you do not have information regarding something, do not make assumptions. This will create needless worry. Misunderstanding is very commonplace in life. We all bring our unique viewpoints and oftentimes others view the same circumstance with radically different perceptions. Without proper information, if you are filling in gaps in knowledge with assumptions, you are creating an avenue for unnecessary worry and wasted effort.

Do not take anything Personally. This to me is somewhat similar to Never make Assumptions. Perhaps someone appears to treat you in a way that might appear that the person does not care for you. You may have no idea what is going on in this person’s life, or what kind of day this person is having. Even if this person does not, in fact, care for you, what good does it do you to take it personally? Taking something personally will only lead to internal discomfort. Perhaps make a mental note to not invest too much time with this person, but continue on with your life. Do not let this person infect you with drama that will do you no good. Perhaps you can pray for this person. Pray that this person will overcome whatever makes him behave in an unkind way. Do not allow negative interactions to burrow their way into your consciousness. This will do nothing but rob YOU of happiness.

So there they are, the four agreements in four short paragraphs. Use them as I have presented them here, or read the book an use them as you interpret them. I can find no reason not to. The last chapter of the book, in fact, shows how these agreements fit in neatly with most of the world’s religions. I believe that this book has helped bring me some peace. It is well worth the time I spent reading it.

The day I finished reading this book, I noticed The Thicket, front and center on the bookshelf in my living room. I have no idea how I did not see it earlier, but I am glad I did not. This was a fantastic read. I will start on The Thicket next.

The Alchemist

This was a short, but fantastic novel that was translated from Portuguese. It centers on the life of a young, Spanish shepherd boy, Santiago, who is looking for meaning in life. The main theme of the book is one’s “Personal Legend”. A personal legend is fulfilling one’s life purpose. Everyone and everything has a Personal Legend, and most people recognize theirs in their youth, but discount or ignore it as they get older. Even though a Personal Legend is a path to happiness, most ignore it to pursue what is expected of them or what is easily at-hand. To quote the book, “Very few follow the path laid out to them-the path to their Personal Legends, and to happiness. Most people see the world as a threatening place, and because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place.” People often fear following their dreams, as they get older, they may even forget them. This robs them of happiness.

The book acknowledges that following one’s Personal Legend may not always be easy, “Every search begins with beginner’s luck. And every search ends with the victor’s being severely tested.”  Early on the young shepherd boy pursues the difficult job of being a shepherd so that he can see the world. He learns much leading his sheep through Spain in search of food and water for his flock, but eventually feels he has reached the end of what shepherding will provide for him. He decides to sell all his sheep for money to travel to the pyramids of Egypt, where he is told he will find great treasure by a king disguised as an old commoner. He leaves Spain and makes it across the Strait of Gibralter. There he is swindled of all his money.  He strikes up a deal to work for a crystal merchant where he learns Arabic and the crystal trade. Both Santiago and the merchant benefit greatly from their working together. Santiago finds that his life is becoming comfortable, but he decides to take the money he has earned to continue on to fulfill his Personal Legend. He resumes his course toward Egypt through a most hostile desert where war is being waged. He encounters an Englishman, also a believer in Personal Legend, who teaches him about alchemy. The Englishman, who is not himself an Alchemist, wishes to find one so that he can properly learn all its secrets. Previously, he has gained knowledge of alchemy only from books. While with the Englishman, he also finds a love interest, Fatima, a sort of desert flower in an oasis, and swears to return to take her hand in marriage. She accepts his proposal, despite knowing that Santiago has a dangerous journey ahead and may never return.

In a twist of fate, on his journey through the desert, it is Santiago who encounters the alchemist and gains his guidance. Again Santiago gains and loses his wealth, but eventually finds himself at the pyramids, where a scarab beetle appears to mark the location of his treasure. He digs to the point of exhaustion, whereupon he is robbed once again by passersby recognizing his odd behavior. The robbers spare his life, but one of them reveals that he once had dreams similar to Santiago’s, but he was not foolish enough to cross continents pursuing them. The robber describes a Sycamore tree in Spain where a treasure is supposed to be buried. Santiago recognizes the location as one he had brought his sheep to early in the story. He journeys back to Spain and finds the treasure and resolves to return to Fatima with it.

Lord of the Files


I spent a short time working as a high school math teacher. While I was teaching, I noticed that a number of students had this book. It was required reading for a literature class. Many of the students seemed to have pretty strong opinions on the book and the eerie cover caught my attention. I remember reading the first dozen or so pages back then. It seemed interesting, but then I forgot about it. Fast-forward many years. I am trying to find something to read and I suddenly remember it. I love older books like these. They are well-vetted, so they are almost always a good read, and they are always plentiful and cheap. I think  I paid a few dollars for it. The author, William Golding was a Nobel laureate. He was also a veteran of WWII. During the war he was witness to the many atrocities of man. This book takes place shortly after this war.

I believe this book projects much of what Golding saw in the worst of human nature onto a group of young boys who are left to fend for themselves after a plane crash on an uninhabited island. The book starts a short time after the crash with a group of boys ranging in age from very young, perhaps five years old, to early teens scattered throughout the dense vegetation of the island. One of the older boys, Ralph, makes his way to a clearing by a beach and, using a found conch shell, blows on it to signal everyone to gather together. Slowly, the kids follow the sound to the beach, each emerging from different parts of the vegetation.   Things are very orderly initially. They chose Ralph as their chief and he assigns everyone roles to build shelters, gather wood, and find food. Not long after, people slowly begin to shirk responsibility.  Ralph believes, rightly so, that a fire should be maintained so that they have some chance of a passing ship finding them by seeing the smoke from what should be an uninhabited island. They begin tending the fire in shifts, but oftentimes a shift falls asleep and the fire goes out.

They build shelters, but many in the group take off to play in the water instead of work. There is also another older boy, Jack, who has taken up hunting. Jack’s hunting is initially a good thing as he becomes adept at killing the wild pigs on the island and providing meat for the group. As time goes on, however, hunting is all Jack cares about. He forgoes all other tasks and eventually sees his hunting skills as being so valuable that he should be chief. This creates a power war between himself and Ralph. Ralph is not a perfect leader, but he thinks about the well-being of the group and realizes that the fire is the key to a chance of being rescued. Jack thinks only of hunting and being in charge.  As the group slowly slips into two factions. Jack’s group becomes blood-thirsty savages, while Ralph’s group dwindles down to the very young boys and a corpulent, but intelligent older boy nicknamed “Piggy”. In the end Jack turns many of the boys into scared soldiers. He uses intimidation, beatings, and torture to control his group. Eventually, when Ralph’s group is at its weakest, Jack’s group begins to steal from Ralph’s group and attack them in their sleep.  Ralph tries to reason with Jack as he is amenable to sharing resources. The most important being fire and Piggy’s glasses, which are used to start fires. There isn’t a reason to steal, but Jack wants to steal and impose himself on the others. In the end two of the boys, Piggy and Simon, end up getting killed through Jack’s actions and has the remaining boys “hunting” Ralph.

In an effort to drive the hiding Ralph out of thick foliage, Jack and his crew ignite the entire island. Fortunately for Ralph, who appeared to have been flushed out and nearing his end, the fire has caught the attention of a passing military vessel whose crew arrives just in time to save Ralph.

The book is very well-written, as would be expected from a Nobel laureate in literature, and outside of a few phrases, is not really dated. This book would not be much different if adapted to present-day. I did find the last couple of chapters to be pretty gruesome. To me, it is borderline inappropriate to mandate its reading for high school students. It does paint a fairly grim picture of the bad side of human nature, but what probably makes it gruesome is the fact that you believe that the behaviors portrayed are quite plausible for a group of people. It only takes one person with a greedy heart and a little power to destroy a large group. Jack does not start out malevolent, but as he gains power and becomes drunk in his killing for thrill, he loses all morals. This book is a very interesting study in human nature.

The Grand Biocentric Design: How Life Creates Reality

This is the second book I have read that was co-authored by Robert Lanza. The previous one was a fictional work named Observer : A Novel. This book  is more of an explanation of the science at the core of the story in Observer. The science, as the title implies, has to do with Biocentrism. Biocentrism dictates that reality is a construct of consciousness. The authors cite many commonly accepted scientific principles to support the idea that life creates the universe.  Nothing can happen without an observer witnessing it. This goes back to the question of whether a tree that falls in the forest makes a sound if nothing and no one is around to hear it. The author does the best job of arriving at the answer that I have ever heard. Sound is really just a person’s or animal’s interpretation of air pressure waves.

In the absence of an observer, a falling tree will certainly create a pressure wave when the tree strikes the ground, but there will be no sound unless someone, or something is there to create it from the pressure wave. Sound is merely a human’s or animal’s consciousness-created signal from an air pressure wave vibrating an eardrum. A bee can see things illuminated with just ultraviolet light.  We cannot. We cannot discern anything with our eye in the absence of visible light. Ultraviolet light is outside of our visible spectrum. Bees see a bullseye of color to direct them to the flower and its pollen. We see none of this. Most of what we do see, is just our brain’s interpretation that is arriving from natural sensors – our eyes, ears, nose, skin, and tongue. We will interpret air pressure and light waves one way, and a different species may interpret it another way, or maybe not at all. Light has no inherent color. We, discounting color blindness, associate a particular frequency of light with a particular color because that is how our eyes and brain interpret it.

The above examples illustrate the differing realities that different observers of the same event might have, but the observer can also influence the outcome of an event merely by observing it. The author like to reference the famous double-slit light experiment to illustrate this.

An electron will exhibit particle-like or wave-like (diffraction and interference) behavior based on whether it is observed or not. Obviously, an electron or a photon falls under the realm of the very small with regards to physics. Newtonian, or classical physics, does not describe the behavior of very small things very well. For this, the rules of quantum mechanics must be applied. Things appear to behave very differently in the quantum realm than they do in the world we see with our eyes, but biocentrism declares that the strangeness that applies to the very small also has applications to the world we observe and our consciousness actively influences it.

Biocentrism declares that consciousness brings reality into existence.  Space and time, just like the apparent color of light, are products of the consciousness that do not exist without it. Time is merely a way of organizing events that are all occurring concurrently and there is no physical universe out there without consciousness. This is an awful lot to digest. It implies that without time, there is no death. We have simply ended an existence in one of an infinite number of universes and we carry out living in another one. As bizarre as this may sound, it does line up in a sense with the afterlife in Christianity or reincarnation in Hinduism and Buddhism. If any of this is to be believed, attitude would appear to be everything. If we can be happy and content in almost any circumstance and we live forever, is this not heaven?

Best I can tell, nothing in this book can be disproven. Not everything can be proven, however. This makes it an excellent topic to ponder. The only knock I have on the author is that he brings up the case of Sybil, a pseudonym for Shirley Ardell Mason. This is the patient that the famous movie about a woman with dissociative identity disorder (multiple personalities) is based on. The author uses this example somewhat as proof or explanation for multiple realities. The psychoanalyst that treated “Sybil” has admitted to fabricating some of the facts and most of the patient records related to “Sybil” were mysteriously destroyed before outside sources were able to review them. Dissociative identity disorder, which “Sybil” was thought to be suffering from, is also one of the least understood psychological disorders. I have no idea why the author would throw this example in when it does not really help his argument.

The authors do throw in some interesting anecdotes about the nature of things. I would imagine most people know that dolphin use a sort of sonar to “see” things in the water at a great distance. A dolphin will emit a series of chirps or noises and then, from the sound reflected back, paint a mental image, of say, a school of fish in the distance. What is really interesting is the dolphin can emulate this reflected sound and repeat it to other dolphin. Those dolphin will get the same mental image of the school of fish as if they had used their own  sonar.  People certainly have a leg-up on dolphin in terms of tool use, but dolphin seem to be capable of incredibly efficient communication that borders on telepathy.

I found this to be an interesting read, but definitely less interesting than the fiction-based Observer that Lanza has more recently co-authored.


Catcher in the Rye

I cannot recall what caused me to choose this book. I think I saw some mention of it in a documentary and the story seemed interesting. It is written from the point of view of Holden, a 17 year-old, well-off boy from New York. The story begins on a cold Saturday evening in early winter with Holden revealing that he is about to be expelled from yet another boarding school. The current school is named Pencey Prep and it is in the fictional town of Agerstown, Pennsylvania. Holden appears to be a fairly intelligent boy who has no desire to apply himself academically. His interactions with others are all superficial, with the exception of his little sister, Phoebe. Holden also reveals that he had a slightly younger brother, Allie, that died of leukemia, and an older brother that works as a Hollywood screenwriter. His dormitory mates all seem to annoy him in one way or another and he gets into a fistfight with a particularly athletic one named Stradlater, that results in Holden getting laid out. This, combined with the fact that he is soon to be expelled, makes Holden despondent. He is supposed to go home at semester’s end on Wednesday, but decides instead to have an adventure in New York before going home.

He leaves the school and catches a late train to New York with all his belongings in tow. Holden has flunked all his classes with the exception of literature. He appears to be a pretty good writer. I am guessing a great deal of Holden’s character is based off of the author, J.D. Salinger. Salinger admitted in interviews to being a poor student in his youth and having trouble fitting in at the private schools in New York and Pennsylvania that he attended. The thing that I find interesting about this book, is that you do not necessarily find Holden that likeable. He has serious personality flaws, however, you still find yourself rooting for him to find his way. I guess this is kind of like Bryan Cranston’s character, Walter White, in Breaking Bad, or James Gandolfini’s, character, Tony Soprano, in the Sopranos. These characters are not inherently good people because they say and do some awful things, but you still seem to be rooting for them.

(Artist’s depiction of the main character, Holden Caulfield)

Perhaps we have a soft spot for Holden’s character because he is dealing with the loss of his brother and does seem to treat his sister Phoebe pretty well. He also has a short moment where he is quite pleasant to a couple of nuns he meets in a diner. In most other interactions, however, he is grumpy and self-involved. He largely looks at everyone and everything in a negative manner and dreams of a life where he doesn’t have to interact with anyone. His character is definitely a misfit. Maybe that’s another reason to accept his shortcomings. Everyone likes the underdog.

In his New York escapades, he has a run-in with a prostitute and her pimp, an old classmate, and what appears to be deviant behavior from a former teacher of his. Throughout the book Holden smokes like a chimney, all the while acknowledging the harm he is doing to himself. In the end, Holden has thoughts of hitchhiking to the West coast, working a menial job, and living in a cabin in the woods outside of society, but feels unable to abandon his sister Phoebe to do so. Holden embodies what we all hate about in ourselves when we act selfishly, are ungrateful, and are less than optimistic.  He seems to be ready to make changes in his life and strive to be a better person at the very end, but the reader is left being unsure. This is a very well-written book worthy of all the praise and accolades it has received. There are some references to songs, plays, and movies that are a bit dated, but this book was written before 1950, so that is to be expected.  Oddly, the day I finished this book, one of the songs referenced, “Smoke gets in your eyes,” was playing at the pool while I was doing laps at my local gym. I did not recognize the title when I read it, but realized I had heard the song before. This book is an easy read and has a very unique “voice” that is well worth the time.


This book was suggested to me by my good friend Randy. This is an amazing novel. I guess it is technically a science fiction novel, but it also contains plenty of human drama to entertain anyone who may not be interested in the science fiction genre. Unusual, in that it is written by two authors. This is an amazing collaboration. It has elements of Phillip K. Dick, Neal Stephenson, and to a lesser extent, Kurt Vonnegut. For the most part, it follows Caro, a young neurosurgeon, who is dealing with a social media fallout following her accusing a prominent senior surgeon of sexual misconduct at the hospital where they both work. She fears her career will be in ruins – a stress that is acerbated by having to support a sister that is caring for a seriously disabled child.

As her personal life is collapsing, her uncle, a famous Nobel laureate, offers her an opportunity to work for him in a private compound in the Cayman Islands. The uncle has set up a small hospital and living quarters for a group of people who have developed a technology that allows people to cross over into alternate universes. This is achieved by the implanting of a specially manufactured microchip into the brain and connected to proprietary software and hardware. Caro accepts the job of surgeon with the duty of implanting these devices. She initially has no interest in this type of work, but her circumstances make her reconsider the idea. Her uncle offers a very high salary and also helps provide assistance to her sister and her sister’s seriously ill daughter.

She begins implanting patients and witnesses their short travels to alternate universes. The equipment that the implanted patient is connected to is capable of recording and displaying the events that are occurring in the alternate universe. The implanted are also capable of controlling and creating the universe they are visiting to some extent. This is probably the biggest benefit to this technology. The user can visit with the deceased, or, if one intends to be nefarious, perpetuate crimes without fear of repercussions.

Caro is leery of the technology throughout much of the story. Her initial acceptance of the surgical position she has taken is almost purely out of desperation. She sees the effects the travel to alternate universes has on some of her patients and writes it off as hallucinations. The longer she is on the compound, however, the more she begins to believe that her patients are actually traveling to alternate universes. There do not appear to be any flaws in the science explaining the theories used to create this technology. Einstein postulated in his theory of special relativity that the speed of light in a vacuum is the same for all observers. This has the implication that time is not what most of us think it is. Einstein’s theory of special relativity is accepted by the scientific community as a foundation of modern physics and has been proven through experiments. Time is perhaps nothing more than an observer’s way of mentally organizing events.

The takeaway from traveling through multiverses is that we are all one. This cannot currently be proven, but it cannot be disproven either. Many who take the implant journey to other universes to be with loved ones who have passed. The book implies that if time is merely a construct of the observer to organize events, then death is also not what most people think it is. Those who have passed still exist in another universe. It is therefore possible to visit them in these other universes.

The book also delves into the prospect that nothing exists until it is conceived of in someone’s consciousness. This also has a foundation in accepted science by way of the observer’s effect. Photons, for example, will behave differently depending on whether they are observed or not. They can behave like waves, or they can behave like particles. This has been shown to be dictated by whether or not they are being observed and has been proven by experiment. Primarily these strange phenomena are limited to the very small, such as subatomic particles, but there have been experiments with quantum entanglement that show these effects may not be so limited. In physics, it is widely accepted that electrons orbit a proton in any given matter. These orbits are defined as shells.

As can be seen from the illustration, the orbits have different radii (paths are actually more elliptical, so it is foci in reality) and are described with the labels 1n, 2n, 3n, etc. Electrons can move from one orbit to another. When they do energy is either released or absorbed, but the strange thing is that when the electron moves from one orbit to another, it is never anywhere in between. It moves instantly from one place to another without ever traversing the area between. Is this possible on a larger scale? Is this how one could move from one universe to another?

This novel also touches on something called quantum entanglement to illustrate that this strange behavior in very small things may also scale up to larger things. The book mentions quantum entanglement of two diamonds, which are large enough to be visible with the naked eye. My presumption is that it is referring to the 2011 experiment noted here. In this experiment, objects large enough to be seen with the naked eye can influence one another instantly, at a distance through quantum entanglement. The assertion is that this quantum entanglement could scale up to any size, and any distance. Changing the behavior, in this case, vibration, of one diamond instantly changes the behavior of the other diamond, regardless of the distance away. This would imply that not only is time a construct, but space is as well.

All the strange happenings in this novel have plausible scientific explanations. The only fiction is the software, implanted microchip, and the human drama that the characters in the story create. As with all technology that humans discover or create, there is always a bright side, and a dark side. The technology is stolen by one of the primary technologists on the project and finds its way into an underground version of multiverse transport that is used for unethical purposes. This creates a fanatic opposition group that attacks the compound and kills Trevor. The novel ends with Caro desperate to reconnect with her soulmate through the use of this technology that she once dismissed as theatrics. She is reunited with him in an alternate universe as her physical body dies in this one.

This book would make a fantastic feature film and I cannot stress enough, how well this story is crafted. This may be the best work of fiction I have ever read.


The Use of Lateral Thinking

I stumbled across this book through some mention in a social media post. The topic seemed pretty interesting and the book could be found online for just a few dollars, so I purchased it. The author, Edward de Bono, passed away just a couple of years ago. His credentials were quite impressive. He was a Rhodes scholar and earned a medical degree from Trinity College, Cambridge. He has written several books on what he calls, “Lateral thinking.” This is a method of coming up with new ways of looking at things and creating new ideas. The author refers to conventional thinking as “Vertical thinking.” Conventional, or vertical thinking uses established ideas and paradigms to draw conclusions and formulate solutions to problems. This is how most of the world currently solves problems and creates new ideas. The author suggests that this method often delivers solutions, but maybe not the best ones and it will rarely develop ground-breaking ideas.

Lateral thinking proposes looking at things from different perspectives, much in the way a comedian points out a bizarre quirk in human behavior that we all accept as commonplace. When presented with a problem, we often rely on a reference point, with proven data, for a solution. Oftentimes, this reliance obscures what may be the best idea.  The best example of lateral thinking comes directly from the first chapter of the book. It describes a gentleman and his beautiful young daughter. The gentleman is deeply in debt to a creepy, foul, deceitful, evil man. The man is in debt to a level that he may never be able to pay it off.  He is also in arrears and can be sent to jail for not paying. The creepy, foul, deceitful man has taken a liking to his debtor’s daughter and proposes an opportunity. He says that he will wipe out all debt if the daughter agrees to marry him. The gentleman declines as he has no desire to impose his woes on his daughter, so the creepy, foul, deceitful man proposes something else. They are all standing on a path of small black and white pebbles. The opportunity is presented as follows: they will put one black and one white pebble in a sack and the daughter will draw out one of the pebbles. If the pebble is white the debt is cleared, and the daughter does not need to marry. If the pebble is black, then the debt is also cleared, but the daughter must marry the creepy, foul, deceitful man. The man has the option of taking his chances on what should be a 50-50 game of chance, or he can go to jail. Having no real choice, the man agrees to the game. The daughter recognizes that when the creepy, foul, deceitful man picks up two pebbles and puts them in the bag, both pebbles are black. If the daughter mentions the deceit, the father will go to jail as the game will not be played. What should she do?

She appears to be in an impossible spot. This is where lateral thinking comes in. Most conventional ways of thinking will not provide a solution, but the daughter is very clever. She reaches into the sack, grabs a pebble, and without looking at it, allows it to fall on the pebble path. She then says, “oh, silly me, I dropped the pebble, but it does not matter, whatever I have chosen must be the opposite color of whatever remains in the bag.” A black pebble remains in the bag with the implication that she withdrew a white pebble. This would mean the debt is cleared and she does not need to marry the creepy, deceitful, foul man. The creepy, deceitful, foul man can’t reveal his deceit and must accept the outcome.

Lateral thinking also likes to employ chance to come up with new ideas. If someone is constantly observing the world, there is an opportunity to observe something that may be applicable to a problem. It may not happen quickly, but if someone is always observing things and noting anything that may be interesting at the moment, but has no current application, he or she should make an effort to remember it. Perhaps make a note of it. These observations may provide a solution to a seemingly unsolvable problem in the future. Many new ideas are the result of recognizing how two seemingly unrelated things may create something entirely new and useful when combined.

This book was a pretty easy read at only 150 pages. It is well worth the time to explore this book. Perhaps it will unlock something amazing for you.

Applying S88 Batch Control from a User’s Perspective

I am an automation engineer and this book pertains to batch processing. It describes a standard that can be used to produce things, using automation, in batches. Many things are created in batches. From cookies to treated lumber to beer to pharmaceuticals. I read this book again after having read it for the first time about 15 years ago. I had almost no batch processing experience the first time I read this book and did not get much out of it. Now that I have worked and been around batch processes for quite some time in pharma and wood treatment plants, I feel like I got much more out of this book.

Normally I read books that I feel the average person would enjoy learning about. This book is based on a somewhat esoteric subject if you are not involved in automation or process control.  I have begun work at a pharma plant in Pennsylvania. Like most pharmaceutical products, the product made at this site is made in batches using ISA88 principles.  This book is written by the engineers, Jim Parshall and Larry Lamb, who automated three Ben & Jerry’s ice cream plants using the principles described in this book. They used Allen Bradley PLC’s with a batch add-on called RSBATCH. This project took place in the late 1990’s, so the technology they used would now be considered quite dated, but amazingly, the core concepts of ISA88 are still completely relevant.  The DCS control system used in the majority of the pharma sites I have been to is an Emerson product called DeltaV.  It is tailor-made for batch processes, particularly those that need an audit trail.

I found this book to be a tremendous resource for anyone involved in a batch processing operation. A book that covers this type of material would normally be an excruciating read. The authors have done a fantastic job of injecting some life, humor, and practical insights into this subject and have created a very palatable technical read.  Doing a search of this book on the internet, I found that it is priced quite high. Sometimes in excess of $100. Oddly, I also found that the pdf is available for free download on a few sites.  If you have any interest in this topic, I highly recommend downloading and reading this book.