May 2015 pass gently downstream.

Every year for the holiday gift-buying season, mainstream news outlets – particularly The Today Show – make a habit of posting “most dangerous toys” articles for our edification. It seemed like a fun idea to write a similarly-themed article as a means to highlight the year of news, so I set myself to the business of writing. What big news stories of 2015 could I weave into my “dangerous toys” narrative? I was excited to take a poll.

I did my research. Lots of other sources have already done “best of” type stories, so it’s a good place to start. I googled “best of 2015.” I read through a page or two of results. I googled “worst of 2015.” I browsed this list. It was then that the answer hit me in the face:

2015 sucked. There isn’t a nice way to put this, it just sucked. It was awful, violent, acrimonious, depressing and seemingly irredeemable. It sucked.

Straw purchases and dead bodies and racist bilge seeping out of every pipe and fitting of our aging, hobbled political system. Grift and opportunism and showmanship, paving the way for inequity and belligerence and injustice.

A year riddled with bullet holes. Holes taped over by plot gaps, logical fallacies, willful disbelief and other, even less savory bandages. A year that seems to shake it’s fist impotently from it’s hospital bed. At every enemy, every slight, every defeat. A year that leaves us very little room to hope for a brighter successor.

Still I can’t completely write off an entire year, least of all 2015. This was an amazing, banner year for my family. We bought an amazing lake shore-adjacent home that has been my life-long dream. My son has blossomed in this new place into a strong-willed, bright and creative toddler.

We hosted a Thanksgiving feast for our extended family and even reconnected with family that had grown much too extended from us. I end the year blessed to work with the talented BreAnna Bugbee as my intern, serving up fantastic content and making DFE no small amount better for her efforts. 2015 has been good to me.

I’m not sure whether the dichotomy I feel looking back on this year makes it a more or less capricious little universe we live in, where so many suffer so deeply while the rest of us skate by. It is easy to feel conspired-against by a cruel universe; as easy as it is to believe we are the Masters of our own Universes when things go our way. But if we felt exactly the contrapositive, we would be as correct, by the numbers.

Because let there be no mistake: chaos and decision making rule our lives in equal measure. Freewill exists, to the extent that it exists at all, at the momentary vertex of these two forces. One protozoan jinks left, the other right, one gets lucky. One wolf splits from the pack, the other stays. Both choices have their odds of success. But there are no statistics for the individual in that moment. There is only a final tally.

Everything about biology bears this out, down to the organic chemical level: it is hardly the best-evolved trait that flourishes in an evolutionary world. It is merely the one borne on the DNA of the species most likely to reproduce. “Survival of the Fittest” is itself a capricious process.

But before we drown our tears in the fickle frothiness of the multiverse from which our universe is sprung  – before we throw our hands up in the face of a hopeless battle against unknowable odds – it’s worth noting that we were born into a universe with enough artistry to allow only one-way travel along the 4th Dimension.

We live in the universe where traveling backward in time would require accelerating past the speed of light. In this universe, doing so would require an infinite amount of energy and stop time for the traveler. Thus, redoing history is impossible. You cannot go back and improve your station. You cannot go back and ruin it. The dark times that haunt you live only in your mind. And the happy times can live there forever, too, if you allow it.

In this world, as the phrase goes, let me have my world. Because it is only in that world that history can have any meaning, or that grieving can know closure. Wonderful moments can be halcyon. Thunderclouds can recede. And for all of these reasons, I wish the Year 2015 safe journey downstream. Let it float away and be what memory will have of it.

Thank you very much, all my friends and followers and readers. Happy New Year, and I look forward to seeing you in 2016!


DFE’s 2015 list of the Worst Christmas Presents

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!


5 Predictions for 2015: DFE’s forecast for a year in science news.

As we look over the precipice of a new year, it’s always fun to consider what has happened in the previous year, and how that may change in the coming one. It’s a guess, of course, and one which if successful will be shouted from rooftops at this time next year. Because that’s how bloggers roll.

Nevertheless, my predictions list is more about predicting trends than declaring “The next Hitler.” What will I be writing about in 2015, and what will the science community be researching? Here is my totally-not-hedged-upon List of Predictions:

5 Predictions for Science in 2015:

5. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Research

The University of Rochester is part of a constellation of schools currently researching and mapping the glial system of the human brain. This research has lead to the discovery of a complex interdependence between the so-called “grey matter” that processes information and the “white matter” that regulates the brain. This research will continue into the new year, possibly leading to breakthroughs in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, to name a few.

4. Wearables are Here to Stay

As hard and as unsuccessfully as Google has pushed this year to make Glass the new iPad, you’d be forgiven for thinking that wearable tech in the form of glasses is as dead as Google Glass battery.

But other companies such as Epson and Vuzix have quietly attempted a very different track, one that has served computer technology well in the past. They’re working on making Heads-Up Display a functional technology for business and first responders, rather than an inscrutable technology to drive people at Starbucks nuts. Meanwhile, Recon Jet is moving into providing data for athletes like bicyclists. Once the technology becomes ubiquitous in business and sports, the rest of us will find reasons to need it as well.

3. Drones are Headed for a Legal Explosion

When this many different interests all converge on a single technology – virtually without the effort afforded HUD – you know those interests will sooner rather than later collide in a court room. From Constitutional questions about the use of drones for government surveillance and monitoring to legal questions about airspace and private use, expect some serious fireworks this year.

Corporations are already gathering detailed information on private citizens’ movements and personal property, largely without the question of propriety even having been asked. Local governments are gearing up to use drones for traffic monitoring and other law enforcement uses. And with the cost of drones now edging down below $1000 per unit, you can guarantee that enterprising private citizens will come up with whole new ways to violate each others’ privacy.

Drones have the promise of doing amazing things for our species, some too far off to predict. But in the meanwhile, there will definitely be a few legal questions to iron out, starting this coming year.

2. Space Travel Goes Mainstream

There are no less than three separate entities rapidly building towards useable space planes, including the European Union and a company called XCOR. All have plans to release their first practical models in 2015. What will the price of a ticket be? Well, that’s a good question. But they’ll be available by the end of the year.

1. Forensics on the Stand

One big meta story that’s not getting a lot of attention except when high-profile cases hint at it, is the crisis unfolding within the forensics, law enforcement and criminal justice communities. The use of DNA evidence in criminal court cases has been heavily scrutinized, especially locally, where District Attorney Sandra Doorley was recently in hot water over what some regard as fluffing otherwise pretty thin DNA evidence.

Right now, Renee Bailey has just been released from prison and is awaiting a potential new trial on the basis of faulty research on Shaken Baby Syndrome. This boogeyman of parents everywhere may have always been a myth, and cases all over the country are getting overturned.