James Sheppard

James Sheppard, photo courtesy City Magazine on SmugMug.

I’m sure I’ve been slow-on-the-stick on this score, but it’s only just been made clear to me that James Sheppard, the former Rochester City Police Chief and current candidate for the Democratic nomination to Mayor of Rochester, didn’t vote for 32 consecutive years. Thirty-two years, between 1982 and 2013. Now, he’s asking for your vote. That strikes me as a profoundly cynical political move. He’s asking Rochester residents to exercise their franchise in favour of a man that, for all intents and purposes, has never demonstrated much regard for his own.

To be clear: it’s ok if you vote. It’s ok if you don’t. It’s even ok if, like I suspect a lot of Americans, you vote some years and not others. All of these decisions are yours to make as citizens of these United States. Entering public life however means making a commitment to work on behalf of voters. Having spent three decades of your life not voting for yourself doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. In fact, it seems openly galling.

But how long is 30 years, anyway? Just how much time did he spend not exercising his sovereignty, leaving it for others to decide the issues of the day? Here, then, is an exploration of that span of time, set against other benchmarks. 5 things that won’t last as long as James Sheppard’s non-voting record:

5. All of your pets (except maybe your bird)

Sorry, Fido. But if you were waiting for James Sheppard to vote for stronger protections for your stray brethren, it won’t happen in your lifetime. In fact, not you, nor that asshole cat, nor the weirdo lizard in the cage nor even the damned bird will last long enough to see James Sheppard exercise his right to vote. The average lifespan of a household cat is around 20 years. For a dog, it’s more like 15. So, James might have owned two very healthy dogs that never saw him wear his I Voted sticker.

Maybe an particularly sagacious African Grey Parrot could have seen James Sheppard vote in their wizened latter years. But rumors of the longevity of pet birds is largely overblown, too. Most are dead in plenty of time to miss James’ suffrage.

4. One Saturnian Year

Saturn

Image of Saturn courtesy NASA/CalTech on Flickr.

Our Solar System’s sixth planet lies 9.5 AU (Astronomical Units) from the Sun. That’s nine and a half times the distance between the Sun and Earth, or about 883 million miles (1420km) from the Sun. That’s a long way, and as you might expect, it takes quite a long time for the Kronian giant to make a single trip around the Sun. Twenty nine and a half Earth years, to be exact.

But as long as a year on Saturn is, it’s merely a large fraction of the time since James Sheppard engaged in our national plebiscite. Nor any other election. For a representative. For a County Executive. For County Dog Catcher or even – wait for it – Rochester City Mayor.

3. Your mortgage

Old, tumbled down house

House image courtesy Bambe1964 on Fickr.

I don’t know about you, but I very clearly remember the cold, dread fear that overcame me when I realized I was signing up for 30 years of payments for a home. “My god,” I thought, “What an insane risk I’m taking here. Am I ready,” I wondered?

Had I known there would be a candidate for the Mayorship of Rochester that spent more than thirty years not voting, perhaps I might have rested easier. Surely, if a man can spend that much time ignoring the call to the ballot box and still ask his neighbors for their vote, then thirty years can’t possibly be that big of a deal.

Right?

2. An entire human generation

Newborn Baby

Newborn photo courtesy Josua Rappeneker on Flickr.

Ecologically speaking, a “generation” is the time it takes for an individual of a given species to reach sexual maturity and reproduce. The length of a human generation has increased as the needs of our societies dictate. Currently, a human generation stands at 25 years.

But plenty of women have pumped out a rugrat or two in the time it’s taken James Sheppard to decide to give birth to an act of citizenship. Women born in 1982 have grown old enough to have had their own children. And then some. In fact, a woman born in 1982 and conforming to the generational gap would have a ten year old kid. And perhaps more.

Kinda makes you wonder at what point James decided that the futures of those 1982 babies or the futures of his prospective constituents mattered enough to him to pull a lever for any candidate, anywhere?

1. Twelve consecutive NFL careers

NFL Football game

Football game photo courtesy April Spreeman on Flickr.

We see superstar athletes in the NFL with long careers and think that of course, players last a long time in the game. But it’s simply not true at all. In fact, according to Sports Illustrated, the average span of a career across all positions in the NFL is a paltry 2.66 years. Given the sheer time, effort and parental income it takes to rise to the level of an NFL star, it makes you wonder why anybody anywhere even bothers. You’d be better off finding an indoor football league to play on and stay the hell out of what is obviously an incredibly hot, halcyon spotlight.

Regardless, James Sheppard’s non-voting record actually exceeds the careers of an entire NFL offensive team, consecutively. Twelve professional football players entered the NFL, played a few games and had their hopes and dreams crushed under the grinding boot of corporate indifference. Their jerseys are not available at any NFL outlet. Their names are barely remembered by any but those who know them.

But then, it’s no shame to not be famous. So go we all, but for a few exceptions. Will voters add James Sheppard’s name to the list of Rochester Mayors?

Why hello, late shopper! You’ve got the wild-eyed look of a man who has once again nearly fucked up Christmas. Really? Bravo. And you’re probably looking for a couple of good suggestions for what to get the people you love enough to shop at the very last minute?

Well, I don’t have any. But in the interest of at least avoiding any unnecessary unpleasantries, I do have an approved list a la conventional media’s incessant fear mongering over dangerous toys.

5. “Steve Harvey Reads From Cards.”

Sure. It’s a cheap gift, which makes it pretty attractive. But you get what you pay for with this one.

With some of the more expensive toys, you get things like warrantees, replacement bulbs and reading glasses. But the no-frills appeal of a Steve Harvey is hard to ignore. But as we can see with this case pretty clearly, leaving it to fate is not recommended.

4.  Trump Co.’s Kamp Kaliphate Play Set

Kamp Kaliphate

Ok, so you say you want your kid to learn counting and letters? At first blush, The Trump Corporation’s Kamp Kaliphate Play Set seems to have it all: characters with prisoner ID tags on their jackets, escapee counting games, even cell blocks with big, colorful letters. But a deeper look reveals that this play set has some serious flaws about it.

For example, even though the set says it’s only for Muslims, why are there so many Christians and Bhuddists in there? And the guy in the 7-11 uniform? Also, having to deal with the included ACLU Lawyer characters is just a pain, when you should really be focusing on the fun stuff like the Waterboard Challenge.

3. The Geoff Marcy “Little Lookers” Astronomy Set for Girls


Who doesn’t want their little girl to grow up to be an inspiration to their someday professor? I know I do! So I was particularly excited for world-famous astronomy professor and recent sexual harassment victim Geoffrey Marcy’s new toy set.

But instead of focusing on the stars, Professor Marcy’s guidebook seems a lot more focused on the astronomer’s choice of clothing, perfume and makeup. There are numerous references to “Cleavage,” “The Gap” and “Muffin Top,” which as far as my research shows, aren’t even constellations. And I’m given to understand that the telescope is nowhere near as powerful as he keeps insisting it is.

2. Straw Purchase! the Video Game


Try use your crappy phone to teach your kid some basic money math and these are the thanks you get. Predictably, this is one of those games you play that says it’s free, but every time you turn around, the costs keep adding up. And least, for about half the players.. Fail.

1. Doc McShkreli’s Malaria Bed Playtime Set


If you’re seriously considering this toy, you probably want to reassess your value system in the first place. But not for us to judge.

The mosquito netting is cheap. The towels haven’t been washed. And of course, the whole thing is about 700% more expensive than it deserves to be. Besides which, Doc McShkreli’s face just makes you want to give him a swirly while repeatedly punching him in the gnads. Till he passes out.

Ooh! Was that my “out loud voice?” Anyway, Merry Christmas to my friends, followers, readers and tweeters. Make it a safe and happy one!

The popular story we tell ourselves whenever the subject of alien life comes up is that the universe is nearly infinite, so how could there not be more life in it than just us? Surely, we think, that life exists on Earth proves that it can exist at all, and it’s just a case of finding that right combination of factors that give rise to another form of life.

There’s nothing really wrong with this theory, in a bubble. Our galaxy alone has an approximate 100 billion stars. The universe is estimated to have about 100 billion galaxies. That’s as close to infinite as humans have the capacity to behold, so given the sheer repetition of star making, planet making and life making, we cannot be the only case of life evolving into intelligence.

But time plays a crucial role in deciding these things, and whether or not we ever actually encounter intelligent life at all. Yet we almost never factor time into our popular mythology. Here are five good reasons to suspect that we may never find life in the universe, at all. Sorry.

5. Time, Itself.

Most of us are only thinking in three dimensions when we talk about life in the universe. But time is the critical forth dimension. Yes, the universe is really big. But the universe is also extremely old, and according to our best understanding, due to stay cohesive for billions more years. With this in mind, we’re confronted with the possibility that even if life can exist elsewhere in the universe, it may already have been and gone by now. Or that life may still be “coming soon” to a planet near us. For the moment, it’s out of our reach. Speaking of which…

4. Extinction

Life has only existed on our own Earth for about 3.5 billion years. And in that time, 99.9% of the species that have ever lived here have gone extinct. No more stromatolites, eurypterids, diplodocus. No more sabre tooth tigers. Our time is coming, as well. Will we have extinguished ourselves before we get a chance to find what we’re looking for? Maybe.

How long does it take an intelligent species to become extinct? Here, again, we simply don’t know the answer. If we allow that our species will exist for another 100 million years – a very generous assumption – that is merely a blink of an eye to our vast universe. Which lends itself to another question..

3. Limits on Evolutionary Intelligence

One constant refrain in exobiology is that we may encounter species of vasty more evolved intellect. This is a humble thought, as indeed centuries of space exploration have taught us that our world is rarely the extreme. We are neither the biggest nor the smallest planet in the Solar System. Our Solar System is but one of a sea of star systems. The smallest-known galaxy contains only a few thousand stars, while the IC 1101 mega-galaxy could fit thousands of Milky Way galaxies within it’s expanse without burping.

It makes sense to leave open the possibility that we might not be the smartest, either. But just how smart does life get? We now know a limit must exist for intelligence just as surely as it does for everything else. What are the brackets for most and least-intelligent forms of life? One more answer we do not have.

The idea that we might find life that is vastly more evolved than us may actually be hubristic, from the perspective of intelligent life. How do we know we’re not depressingly close to our own maximum? Or that of intelligent life, itself? What if we really are the very tippy-top of what intelligence can achieve in this universe? We’ve not yet discovered extraterrestrial life. Perhaps all forms of intelligence are doomed to live in isolation?

2. Planetary Orbit Degradation

The vaunted “Goldilocks Zone.” It is the distance a planet must orbit from it’s parent star in order for liquid water to exist. To the best of our knowledge, life requires liquid water, therefore planets that exist within this zone are the ones most likely to harbor life. We’ve even discovered a few candidates.

However, orbits are not fixed things. An orbit is simply the delicate balance of an object falling towards a gravitational field, missing, and sling-shotting around it. Those delicate balances, like all things in the universe, degrade over time.

What this means is that planets can either drift away from or closer to their parent stars. The Earth is getting ever so slightly closer to the Sun every year. Don’t worry: the Earth will not be in any danger for billions of years, by which time, the Sun will have become a white dwarf and we’ll all be cinders in the solar wind anyway. Buck up, explorers!

But it is entirely possible to have a planet that exists within the Goldilocks Zone long enough to get life started, but either drift away from or get pulled into it’s parent star’s gravity well and right out of the Zone altogether. Whatever are the limits on intelligence in the universe may be, this hypothetical form of life will never see them.

1. So many star systems, so very little time.

If this list proves nothing else, it certainly makes clear that time may not be on our side, in this search for extraterrestrial life. And while the fantasy of a near-infinite universe may give hope to those of us hungry to learn about extraterrestrial life, it’s not very comforting to the men and women tasked to find it. Because an infinite number of options means that even if the chances of finding extraterrestrial life are pretty good, the odds are still enormous.

In other words, it’s a bit like hurling someone’s keys into Lake Ontario and then telling them, “well, they gotta be in there, somewhere.” I Want to Believe, indeed.

Truthfully, exploring galaxies other than our own is not practical. We can barely observe stars and planets in our own galaxy with any specificity. We’re only just now able to view Pluto, a planet in our own galaxy. We are able to observe distant star systems and their planets based on tricks of physics and statistics, but we have no idea what they look like, much less what they’re composed of. Much less what may live on them.

Dude. Why ya gotta harsh my buzz?

None of the challenges to finding extraterrestrial life are unknown to science, obviously. They’re not new revelations or road blocks. But colloquially, at least, we don’t discuss them. This is because we all – and especially media outlets – enjoy a bias in favour of speculative science.

Because we all want to believe the next big thing is out there. And it is. But finding that next thing is a non-trivial exercise that’s a lot less sexy. In order for Science to advance, you need the theorist to push our ideas forward. But you also need the practical scientist to spend his or her days grinding away at experiments to prove that the theorist’s ideas match with reality’s sometimes stark truths. And personally, I find that struggle fascinating.

A hurricane, a supernova, an Earth-like exoplanet (maybe) and pilfering newlyweds. No shortage of fun stuff this week, was there?

Every other thing is eclipsed by Hurricane Irene, of course. There has been lots of discussion over the last few years about the amount of media coverage given to storms and whether its appropriate. But Irene showed that the volume of coverage is probably less important than the focus, which is largely on the whiz-bang of the storm itself and less on the aftermath, which we’re still feeling.

But it wasn’t all glum news this week. A new potentially Earth-like planet was discovered 36 light years away; a supernova shines its light on us and I get to talk to a cool dude from the Strasenburgh Planetarium; and my favourite story of the week: the Pilfering Newlyweds, who tried to steal materials for their wedding reception. Plus lots more, take a look! See ya next week:


Mike Seidel broadcasting during Hurricane Irene

A Warning for Some, Entertainment for Others

No one doubts the importance of weather news coverage. But its also hard to deny the ratings competition during major weather events, which leads to sloppy and often misdirected media coverage overall.

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An artist's rendering of an Earth-like planet

New Planet May Be Among Most Earthlike—Weather Permitting

A newly-discovered planet 36 light years away seems to have all the right conditions to be considered “Earth-like,” and therefore most likely to have or potentially have life similar to that found here. The question remains: is the temperature right to allow for vapourized water?

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This is the face of receptile disfunction

Newlyweds Busted Trying to Shoplift $1049 in Groceries For Their Wedding Reception – The Smoking Gun

No question about it: this was my favourite story of the week. And apparently, yours too! A couple actually went to a local Wegmans and attempted to steal everything from a seafood plate to toothbrushes ahead of their wedding reception later that same day. It didn’t work. Because there are cameras. No word on when the rescheduled reception will take place.

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Do you trust this certificate? Well, do ya, punk?

Trust, Internet Style: Security, Certificates and Vulnerability – DragonFlyEye.Net

One of the biggest – and esoteric – hacks in the history of the Internet has been discovered in Iran. But because the hack concerns some really obscure Internet technologies and because it happened in Iran, the media seems less than interested in covering the story. But the reality is: what happened in Iran can be repeated and would have huge consequences for the Internet at large even if it doesn’t.

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Color-enhanced image of the Spiral Galaxy with the newest supernova in the neighborhood

A Supernova in Rochester? Better Head Out of the City Lights – DragonFlyEye.Net

I’m glad this ended up being so popular, as it was the first interview I’ve done in probably four or five years. I sat down with Steve Frentes of the Strasenburgh Planetarium to discuss the supernova whose 24 million light year-old explosion’s light is shining down upon us.

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