Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Body Heat Powered Flashlight

It has been a long time since I saw something really cool come out of green tech. LED bulbs have reached the market and are quite nice, if still expensive. Solar improvements remain in the realm of research for the most part, but deployment continues around the world. And batteries... batteries still suck.

Luckily one high school student, in an attempt to help out a friend who did not have electricity, put together a thermoelectric flashlight powered by the body heat of the holder. It isn't bright, but if you are used to a world lit by fire, it doesn't need to be. Picture it, no batteries to recharge, replace, or rupture and kill the flashlight. Where the noxious chemicals would go, there is a hollow tube to let air in. When you hold it it's on, when you don't it's off. Physicists and engineers the world over should be face-palming for not having done this sooner. Ms. Makosinski, the inventor, is getting a patent on the design, and I hope it makes her some retirement money and a slightly brighter, slightly less battery-using world.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Bookworming: Zealot

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, Reza Aslan, ****
A narrative take on the historian's view of Jesus, this one was bound to be divisive. It would be impossible to talk about the book outside of the religious and political context of our nation today, and I am not going to even try. Christians who view the Bible as God-breathed, literal truth are likely to view the book on the spectrum between deeply offensive at worst and simple dismissal at best. I am not one of those sorts of Christian. My chosen sect does not believe in scripture alone, but in scripture as the solid foundation from which be begin. And as such I personally find much more value in seeing them as historical documents in their historical context, with all the lessons and contradictions therein, than in viewing them as infallible. But what about the book itself, as a book?

In a word: stellar. Delving into what can easily be an extremely dry subject, Aslan's narrative is a surprisingly fast and flowing read. His vivid descriptions of the Temple and Jewish life lead naturally into the wider story of the relationship between Israel and Rome and back into how Jesus could have fit into the society and politics of the time. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not*, the the tale is well researched, splendidly told, and thought provoking. There is little more you can ask of a book.

* Slight spoiler alert here, read no further if you want to go in completely cold. Again, I feel the need to display my bias here. Aslan rolls into something that I have long pondered about the New Testament: that there is more Paul writing about Jesus's death than there is Gospel about his life and works. The notion of whether Jesus's original message was distorted by the "Pauline heresy" is a discussion I find fascinating for many reasons, and this is certainly coloring my view of the book somewhat. That said, this only really comes up later in the book, so it should not have swayed me too heavily.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Babylon Quotes Project

From Babylon 5 "The Face of the Enemy" written by J. Michael Straczynski
  • "The truth, the whole, absolute truth, is only a few days away. How many people can say that?" "I don't know, but I think the last guy got thirty pieces of silver for the same job."
  • "You haven't lost one yet, sir." "I've lost a few. Just made damn sure nobody heard about it."
  • "What's going on? You all look like a Pak'ma'ra ate your cat."
  • "It's the tyranny of evolution. Sooner or later you have a species that will have a genetic or technological advantage, and that species will always conquer the species without that advantage."
  • "The person is expendable, the job isn't."

From Babylon 5 "Intersections in Real Time" written by J. Michael Straczynski
  • "I am not the enemy. To be the enemy, I must have some personal stake in what happens to you. I'm not interested in that at all. I'm here to do a job, nothing more. You are a name, a file, and a case number, that is all."
  • "The truth is fluid; the truth is subjective. Out there it doesn't matter what time it is. In here it's lunchtime if you and I decide that it is. The truth is sometimes what you believe it to be, and other times what you decide it to be."
  • "Governments make policy. Soldiers have to accept those policies even when they're completely contradictory."
  • "I've always felt that if you eat a little poison every day, you get used to it. It desensitizes you until you can swallow large amounts of it with no difficulty whatsoever. I've always thought that that was a metaphor. I could just never decide what for."
  • "You've been interrogated before?" "Yes." "Anyone I know?" "You'd be surprised."
  • "I'm afraid. I've never been afraid before." "We're all afraid. Don't give them what they want."
  • "You must understand, he was expendable from the moment he arrived. We are all expendable, just parts in a machine."
  • "If anything, they'll encourage you travel, so that more people can see you as, as a symbol of the preeminent truth of our time: that you can not beat the system."

From Babylon 5 "Between the Darkness and the Light" written by J. Michael Straczynski
  • "Politically it is very wise." "Morally, it is even wiser." "Politics and morality on the same side? That doesn't happen every day, Delenn." "If someone doesn't begin making sense here, I am going to become most annoyed."
  • "She's a much better lair than you are." "Thank you. Wait a minute..."
  • "I don't watch TV. It's a cultural wasteland filled with inappropriate metaphors and an unrealistic portrayal of life created by the liberal media elite."
  • "That's the last time I'll ever trust you." "Also the first."
  • "Who is this! Identify yourself!" "Who am I? I am Susan Ivonova, Commander, daughter of Andre and Sophie Ivanov. I am the right hand of vengance and the boot that is going to kick your sorry ass all the way back to Earth, sweetheart. I am death incarnate and the last living thing that you are ever going to see. God sent me."

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Babylon Quotes Project

From Babylon 5 "Moments of Transition" written by J. Michael Straczynski
  • "Life and death are simply two possible consequences, both equal, neither valued nor feared above the other. For a warrior, death is simply the release from our obligation."
  • "Well, it's good to see they're continuing the fine tradition of hiring from the shallow end of the gene pool."
  • "I mean, being a freedom fighter, a force for good, it's, it's a wonderful thing. You get to make your own hours, looks good on a resume, but the pay sucks."
  • "Are you out of your mind!?" "That's a very funny question to ask a telepath."
  • "If you believe so much in your caste, step into the circle and die for them. Or is it easier for you to kill my caste, easier to send others out to die for you!"
  • "But prayers are fleeting, and wars forgotten. What is built endures."
  • "This madness has gone on long enough!"

From Babylon 5 "No Surrender, No Retreat" written by J. Michael Straczynski
  • "Anyone gets in between us and them won't live long enough to regret it."
  • "If with a single wrong word I can become the enemy, do I any longer really understand who the enemy is?"

From Babylon 5 "Exercise of Vital Powers" written by J. Michael Straczynski
  • "You know at certain times of our lives we all look stupid, but I think the key is not to mind it."
  • "I can't believe I'm back on Mars. I must be out of my mind."
  • "Happiness, they said, was the exercise of vital powers along lines of excellence in a life affording them scope. Humans have always struggled to find the outer edge of what's possible, and that's our strength."
  • "Nobody takes power, they're given power by the rest of us, because we're stupid or afraid or both."
  • "No one but a fool ever walked away from real power."
  • "The mega-corporations have been running things for years, we just don't show ourselves much. People wouldn't understand, so we let them think they still have a voice."
  • "There's enough pain in the universe already. Let's not add to it until we have to."

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Babylon Quotes Project

From Babylon 5 "Rumors, Bargains, and Lies" written by J. Michael Straczynski
  • "Yes, we've disagreed, we've fought, but I would rather have someone who opposed me out of an honest belief in the rightness of his cause than someone who was always on my side because it was expected and required. I've questioned your judgement, your wisdom, your temperament, but never your loyalty." "Was that a compliment?" "After a fashion." "Then you trust me?" "After a fashion." "Well, it's a beginning."
  • "We are two against a world gone mad. What can we do against that?" "Nothing, until we get their attention."
  • "Look, isn't there someone else you can go and harass? My life is so full of joy as it is."
  • "I have questions which require answers."
  • "It was much safer in temple, also far less interesting."
  • "In her world we are better than we are. We care more than we care. We act towards each other with compassion. I much prefer her world to that of my own, and I will not allow anything to threaten that."

On Comcast + Time Warner

Regarding a question of consumer costs under the just-announced purchase, Comcast Executive VP had this to say: "We're certainly not promising that customer bills are going to go down or even increase less rapidly..."

And really, doesn't that tell you pretty much all you need to know about that?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Babylon Quotes Project

From Babylon 5 "Conflicts of Interest" written by J. Michael Straczynski
  • "If you're going to wait for the universe to start making sense, you're going to have a long wait ahead of you."
  • "You know, I like her. Scares the hell out of me sometimes, but I do like her."
  • "Everyone always coming to Zathras with problems. Great responsibilities, but Zathras does not mind. Zathras trained in crisis management!" "That's great! Let's..." "But only Zathras have no one to talk to. No one manages poor Zathras. See, so Zathras talks to dirt, sometimes talks to walls, or talks to ceilings, but dirt is closer. Dirt is used to everyone walking on it. Just like Zathras. But we have come to like it. It is our role. It is our destiny in the universe. So you see, sometimes dirt has insects in it. Zathras likes insects. Not so good for conversation, but much protein for diet."
  • "They were ruthless, savage, but extremely bright. A very bad combination."
  • "It's easy to come together for a common enemy, now our job is to come together for a common goal."

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Babylon Quotes Project

From Babylon 5 "Lines of Communication" written by J. Michael Straczynski
  • "John, it pleases me that you care for what I have become, but never forget who I was, what I am, and what I can do."
  • "You can't kill the truth! Actually, you can kill the truth, but it always comes back to haunt you later."
  • "I'm just going to sit over here until you tell me what the hell you're talking about."
  • "You have a face people trust." "I'd rather have a face people fear."
  • "Dukhat says that when there is good news we always ask if it is true because it is so difficult to believe, but when there is bad news we rarely inquire because it is so easy to believe."
  • "I was just helping her out of a difficult situation, that's all." "Fifty credits says that's not all she wants you to help her out of."
  • "And what do we do then?" "Touch that button, and pray very, very fast."
  • "I should have never been away this long."
  • "Fighting a war is easy. Destroying is easy. Building a new world out of what's left of the old, that is what's hard."
  • "You can fool the others, but you can not fool me. What is left requires that you be dangerous."

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Babylon Quotes Project

From Babylon 5 "Atonement" written by J. Michael Straczynski
  • "Where did you say you were going?" "I was, uh... I was just going to... Nowhere that can't wait for a little while."
  • "I try not to be judgmental about alien cultures when they are dressed like that."
  • "The problem with a big lie is that if you repeat it long enough people start to believe it."
  • "If the universe puts a mystery in front of us as a gift, politeness requires that we at least try to solve it."
  • "You look as if you have been terrified into another and better incarnation."
  • "When others do a foolish thing, we should tell them it is a foolish thing. They can still continue to do it, but at least the truth is where it needs to be."
  • "I suspect the journey will be a curious and fascinating one, it always is."
  • "There is nothing to fear in The Dreaming, only that which we bring with us."
  • "Marcus, this is the kind of conversation that can only end in a gun shot."
[Here I am with another interjection. Even now, after all these years, I managed to spot another thread in this episode that I hadn't noticed before. "Atonement" is perhaps the best illustration of why Babylon 5 was so unique at the time it aired, and how in many ways nothing has approached it since. The episode ties up threads that the viewer did not even know were left dangling, closing one of the foundation story lines of the series. And all of that in a relatively quiet story. I can't help but wonder where it would have fallen in the episode order had the show not been cancelled during season four and resurrected for season five, with all the plot shuffling that was a result. There is much to be discussed in this episode, and perhaps some day long in the future I will sit down and do so, but for now, we continue on.]

From Babylon 5 "" written by J. Michael Straczynski
  • "There isn't much chance of me winning this argument, is there." "None whatsoever. I never give up when I'm right. You're only option is surrender." "Who taught you to negotiate like that?" "You did." "Oh."
  • "And that's when I shot him your honor."
  • "I get forgotten so many times, well, I forget."
  • "Right, well... what war?"
  • "I'm a Ranger." "That so? Well, you a long way from Texas, son, and that ain't the right accent."
  • "See, around here we only got two types: the suspicious and the dead."
  • "If you could look any more unhappy, please do not tell me. There are some things I would rather not know."
  • "The thing of it is, the damned thing of it is, they grow back. They always grow back."