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!

As a blogger, I’ll certainly look back on 2014 as the year the site’s focus on science and technology really got sharp. It was the year that the balance between day-t0-day news blogging and the in-focus sci/tech articles was struck. Best of all, this is the year that, since I brought news posts into the site’s fold, I’m actually able to tell you about the awesome things we all watched this year based on your interest in my articles.

DFE’s Top Ten Most Popular Articles:

10. Drones, drones, drones.

This year also featured the addition of a new voice on the website, Tristan Tomaselli. And among the subjects that most interested you this year was the ever-burgeoning world of Unmanned Vehicles, or “drones.” What can they do for you?

9. Daryl Pierson.

The reverberations of this one death in Rochester are still being felt, and getting all mixed up with national, cultural and racial politics of all varieties. But however easy it may be to conflate a lot of topics around one tent pole, in the end, this is the story of one brave man and the friends and family who loved him.

8. Such a Lovely mess.

Oh, our endlessly-misunderstood Mayor in Rochester, Lovely Warren. Constantly on the wrong side of a rookie mistake and acting like a 16 year old thief. It began with her ill-fated yet prophetic first 10 days in office. But oh, it hardly ended there. This site being a sci/tech blog, I didn’t cover everything. But when Lovely (or someone with access to her Facebook account, ahem) decided to go off half cocked on one of her detractors, boy were you interested. From Dissecting a Fail to asking whether a crime has been committed, DFE readers have shown an almost inexhaustible interest in our inexcusable Mayoral dance recital.

Sidebar: it turns out that even Lovely Warren is starting to see a problem and is currently actively seeking someone who will run the government for her.

7. Hot Dog Vigilantes.

It was a huge, silly debate on social. A woman at the East End Wegmans saw a dog in a car and decided to take matters into her own hands by smashing the window with a brick. Noble though the thought might have been, I decided to pen a quick love note to all would-be vigilantes that perhaps this wasn’t in anyones best interest. I’m also proud to say that this is the only legitimate listical on this particular top 10 (which, yes, is a listical).

6. Deputy Mayor Redon’s DWI.

You can make the argument that this was yet another Lovely mess. But alcohol and it’s affects are a purely private affair, and this one is all Deputy Mayor Redon’s. But even better than that, for the sake of this website, Redon’s DWI charge was a reason to explore the various means of breath analysis and how they work, which included debunking the myth that diabetes can trick breathalyzers into thinking you’re drunk.

5. Penn Yan’s epic flooding.

Back in May, heavy rains left amazing holes in what used to be the Penn Yan area. Whole roads were flooded out and disappeared by overtopped creeks. DragonFlyEye took a look at the fluid dynamics physics of how this is possible and just why running waters can do so much damage in so short a span.

4. Superintelligence

This one surprised me. But maybe it was just Tristan’s awesome writing that drew people in. Regardless, among the subjects you can plan on seeing a lot more of next year (predictions post to come!), “superintelligence,” or super computing on a quantum level, will be at the top of the list. Tomaselli posits that perhaps instead of an Armageddon of Machines, our species may simply be quietly disused by it’s inventions.

3. Hypothermia as an Attention Getter… for Charity!

Ugh. This whole thing. The incredibly popular Ice Bucket Challenge forced some of us to rethink the nature of social pressure. It’s fine to do things for charity, and have fun doing them. But there is a point at which social pressure takes over and people don’t even realize how heedless they’re being. Apparently, a lot of you were interested in the psychology of this phenomenon.

2. Kimberly and Beck and the Transgender Bunch.

Wow, this one got some mileage on it. Kimberly and Beck got suspended for one thing, then fired for another, then rehired by their former employer’s competitor. I guess it all comes out in the wash. Regardless, their comments on the transgender identity did not fall on deaf ears, much to their collective chagrin. Also: they were just flat wrong on health care, as if anyone cared about that part.

1. HOTHCHESTER STRIKES BACK!

After a brutal, bone-chilling winter, the sudden heat of summer also brought with it a major news story. That story: people on highways getting cracked windshields. The first culprit posited by the media was a lurking teenager (presumably) with a pellet gun. DFE offered you up a much more banal and practical answer: everybody’s windshields were a little less stable due to the cold and heat. What I was able to offer up was proof both that the physics of a pellet gun piercing a windshield are not plausible, and strong evidence to support the fact that spring always brings a rash of cracked windshields.

In other words, DragonFlyEye can proudly say that on this issue, it brought was it’s mission is: direct, science-based analysis of the facts of the case. Instead of interviewing people who may not know shit about the subject at hand, DFE finds the facts and offers an educated opinion on the news of the day. I’m very proud of the work I’ve been able to do this year and look forward to another great year of context and clarity.

Editor’s Picks!

Regardless of how popular they were, there are a few articles of which I am personally very proud. These three represent some of the best work I did this year and the kind of thing that I hope to be able to continue on with in 2015. In fact, in a few cases, I can guarantee that the subjects will come up again:

  1. Resting on Shaky Ground. You’ll be seeing a lot more of this in the future. Evidence once thought iron-clad by prosecutors is starting to be undercut by modern science.
  2. Cornell University and the Facebook Trawling Scandal. Too little scrutiny has been paid to the academic side of this controversy.
  3. Ward, Jr and the Toxicology of Weed. This was a somewhat underappreciated (IMHO) analysis of how marijuana gets broken down by the body and how that affected the decision not to prosecute Tony Stewart in the death of a young racer’s life.

The Headlines!

In addition to the most popular articles on DFE, I can now reveal the top ten most popular headlines I tweeted out this year, at least for the last half. This tends to be a bit on the lighter side, naturally…

  1. Jessica Nigri is Just Amazing
  2. Arrow Season Three
  3. Dwarf Strippers Can Getcha Pregnant, Too
  4. Lions Tailgating is Quite a Sight To Behold
  5. Renee Zellweger’s Weird Face
  6. DiGiorno Pizza’s Epic Social Media / Domestic Violence Fail
  7. FapChat: Don’t Send Your Girlfriend Private Masturbation Videos Unless You Are Sure
  8. Jessica Rabbit and a Lady Stormtrooper
  9. Merry Christmas Shithead
  10. Dude Arrested for “Unmentionables” With Stuffed Animal

I’m one of those people who has no problem admitting that I adore Christmas, whatever it’s shortcomings. I don’t care if some people get all riled up at the mall (probably more myth than fact). I don’t mind that every television show and commercial is themed to the season. But there is one thing I do mind: shitty movies masquerading as “holiday classics.”

Every season, we are assaulted by all kinds of saccharine, syrupy-sweet Christmas garbage on TV. The whole thing is like Lifetime and Disney Channel had a particularly irritating baby. But DFE is here to help you out. Below is a list of my favourite awesome Christmas movies that get at the real meaning of Christmas: getting shitty with those you love and watching television. Without further ado:

DFE’s Top 10 Awesome Christmas Movies

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas – A classic for a reason

A Charlie Brown Christmas, DFE's Awesome Christmas MoviesYes, you have to say it. Especially for us X-Gen’ers, there’s simply no quality Christmas without a visit from the ugly kid with the big nose, as Peppermint Patty would say.

This is one of those holiday traditions that I don’t feel the least bit bad about getting excited for as a grown-ass man. It’s got about everything you could ask for in a Christmas movie, plus to be honest, a bit more Christianity that I would have preferred. Let’s skip to the presents!

2. Die Hard – the anti-Christmas choice

Die Hard, DFE's Awesome Christmas MoviesWhile some may object to citing Die Hard as a Christmas movie, it does absolutely qualify. Without the added drama of Christmas bliss, disrupted, would the movie be the same? I think not. If John was not visiting his lost love on the most sentimental of holidays, would the tension be as high? Clearly not. We could as easily discount it as an action/adventure movie because it is so clearly a Christmas movie.

And speaking of movies technically during the Christmas season…

3. The Poseidon Adventure – the Christmas of watery doom.

The Poseidon Adventure, DFE's Awesome Christmas MoviesHere again, we can make the argument for the anti-Christmas movie. Does anyone really get a warm and fuzzy feeling from the idea of people climbing (unsuccessfully) for their lives up an inverted Christmas tree? Perhaps, but those are the type of people we like to keep in special rooms.

The Poseidon Adventure is probably the best-done disaster movie of it’s era, yet another one in which a rash of similarly-themed movies came out. Poseidon benefits from a pretty high-calibre cast, including Earnest Borgnine and his character’s Hooker with the Heart of Gold, Stella Stevens. This will not be the last lady of the evening to feature in this list.

But again, the pathos of a Christmas celebration gone horribly awry is just too important to the plot to be ignored. Plus – hey – the Christmas tree thing is pretty bitchin. Amirite?

4. Planes, Trains and Automobiles – the Christmas prequel

Planes, Trains and Automobiles, DFE's Awesome Christmas MoviesThis one is really a Thanksgiving movie. But because the T-Day celebrations kick off the holiday season, I really feel like this one counts. Plus, this might be the funniest in a long line of hilarious John Candy movies. So funny in fact that it was completely ripped off just recently in the Galfanaikis flick Due Date.

Steve Martin plays a classically-80’s overworked business man who is trying to get back home to Chicago from yet another string of meetings and travelling when he runs into the obnoxious, hapless mess of a salesman played by John Candy. Candy’s character is everything Martin’s is not: unapologetically goofy and self-effacing. Through the classic “series of unfortunate events,” it becomes impossible to separate the two… however much Steve Martin might have preferred it.

5.  Christmas Vacation – our model of Christmas excess.

Christmas Vacation, DFE's Awesome Christmas MoviesHow does one blend the self-defined risk of Christmas light electrocution and the existential threat of feeling abandoned by the Big Boss at your second-rate job, then sprinkle in a healthy dose of an alcoholic Randy Quaid and a dash of sewer humor and make it all come out awesome? Well, it helps to be National Lampoon, but beyond that you’ll just need to watch the movie.

The continuing adventures of the Griswold family – featuring a young yet incredibly unchanged Johnny Galeki – take them back to their very own Chicago suburb home, where they will be serving up the Christmas dinner for the family.

6. How the Grinch Stole Christmas – the Whooville follies.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas, DFE's Awesome Christmas MoviesAnd no. I do not mean that shitty John Kerry Jim Carey movie. The real, original version. With the one and only Chuck Jones directing. What makes this movie so kick ass is that you get to revel in the Grinch’s mean-spiritedness as much as in the “redemption” at the end of the movie. You even get to find Cindy-Loo Who’s crying kinda funny.

And then you get to get the “aww!” at the end of the movie and let your friends know you’re not that mean. No, really.

7. Trading Places – Ophelia the Christmas Hooker

Trading Places, DFE's Awesome Christmas MoviesWhat could be more Christmasy than a tale of deception, character assassination, social darwinism, racism and of course, the Hooker with the Heart of Gold? If there is such a thing, I don’t know if I could handle it.

Besides which.. whose been putting their Kools out on my rug?

Actually, I’d call this movie much more of a Christmas movie than any of the aforementioned non-Christmas movies, because in this case, Santa plants drugs in Billy Ray Valentine’s office desk drawer. And hey: isn’t that what Santa’s all about? Leaving presents for all the good little boys and girls? I thought so.

8. Elf – Does Santa know you left the workshop?

Elf, DFE's Awesome Christmas MoviesLet’s just say this and get it out of the way: every Christmas movie in 20 years has gargled dead monkey balls except this one. If that seems harsh, you’re wrong.

Will Ferrell’s guileless, child-like elf Buddy is a pitch-perfect reproduction of the Larry Roemer / Rankin and Bass television shows that dominate all our childhoods (Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, etc). But in the context of a heartless publishing house in midtown Manhattan, his innocence brings everybody around him (save for one 27 year old ex con) to the brink of madness.

It’s just a hysterical romp (if I can say that word) that I’ll gladly watch several times between now and Christmas.

9. Scrooged – because real greed has an American accent.

Scrooged, DFE's Awesome Christmas MoviesWe get that Ebenezer Scrooge is supposed to be a bit of a jerk. But honestly: being a jerk in Elizabethan English is a lot less impactful these days than it used to be. What we need is an updated Scrooge that speaks to what greed and heedless cynicism looks like. We need someone who shows no real compassion or empathy for his fellow humans. Someone who only treats humans as statistical slaves to their baser emotions.

What we need is a television executive.

Enter Bill Murray as “Lumpy” Scrooge, the once-loved, twice-dejected television executive with a drive for ratings and a complete disregard for the well being of his rodent actors. Lumpy is doing what a lot of us do during the holiday season, and burying his memories of a happier past under mountains of work. But this year, three ghosts, one woman and Bobcat Golthwaite will not let him forget.

Christmas just isn’t Christmas without Carol Kane.

10. The Ref – familial dysfunction is funny.

The Ref, DFE's Awesome Christmas MoviesThis one is the movie that only I seem to remember. It was a flop. It died an untimely death. And I will make it my mission to bring it back to cultural life, because any movie that stars Dennis Leary, Kevin Spacy, Judy Davis and the inimitable Christine Baranski has got to be worth a watch.

I’m probably showing off my generational roots by loving this movie. It’s about as 90’s as it gets, with all the mean-spirited falseness of that decade on display. The movie’s hero is a crook. The Sancho Panza to his Don Quixote is a shiftless alcoholic Baby Boomer named Gus. The antagonist is all the dysfunctional ugliness of a family that might seem to have everything as they slide by in their SUV. And the conflict is a family trying to act casual while they are prisoners to two jailers: Dennis Leary and their insufferable relatives.

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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