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Posted by Jason Weisberger

During his tenure as Donald Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort offered private briefings on the status of the US Presidential election to Kremlin-connected Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, the Washington Post reports.

Via the Washington Post:

Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Paul Manafort made the offer in an email to an overseas intermediary, asking that a message be sent to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business in the past, these people said.

“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in the July 7, 2016, email, portions of which were read to The Washington Post along with other Manafort correspondence from that time.

The emails are among tens of thousands of documents that have been turned over to congressional investigators and Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team as they probe whether Trump associates coordinated with Russia as part of Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.

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Posted by Mark Frauenfelder

A couple of days ago I mentioned the the MoYu YJ Lingpo 2 x 2 x 2 Speed Cube. I still haven't solved it, but I wanted to make a quick video to show how smooth it is. The little cubes rotate around a plastic sphere, and are connected by springs. It's practically impossible to jam it, unlike every other Rubik's Cube I've used. I thought it would be a snap to solve, having only 8 cubes (compared to the 27 26 cubes of a regular Rubik's cube) but it turns out I'm even dumber than I thought. I'm not giving up!

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Posted by Peter Sheridan

Nostradamus “predicted hurricanes and North Korea missile crisis,” claims this week’s Globe magazine, which promises to reveal the 16th-century French seer’s predictions for “what’s next!”

It’s about as plausible and fact-based as anything else in this week’s dubious tabloids. “The false trumpet concealing madness will cause Byzantium to change its laws,” wrote the ancient prognosticator. “The false trumpet is an obvious reference to America’s president,” Nostradamus analyst Louis Lefrevre tells Globe. Wait a second – the Trump-loving Globe is calling the President a “false trumpet”? Sure, he makes a lot of noise and blows a lot of hot air, but then who is the true trumpet? Hillary? Bernie?

The ancient writings continue: “The trumpet shakes with great discord. An agreement broken . . .”

Lefrevre explains: “The broken agreement is Kim’s refusal to stop nuclear testing despite his former promises.” Well, that seems obvious once you explain it.

So, what comes next?

“The next war,” says Lefrevre, pointing to this Nostradamus verse: “Pestilences extinguished, the world becomes smaller, for a long time the lands will be inhabited peacefully.” What could be clearer than that? And should I be surprised that a Google search for what the Globe terms “University of Paris expert Louis Lefrevre” turns up zero matches?

How about the Globe story that Jennifer Aniston and husband Justin Theroux are having a “trial separation”? Except she’s actually filming in Georgia, and he’s at home in New York. That’s not a marital split, it’s a working couple. How about the Globe finding “proof” that the coroner had Natalie Wood’s “autopsy faked!” Its proof? You’ll have to turn to Nostradamus for that, because the Globe comes up with none, except for a writer’s unsubstantiated “sensational claim” that coroner Thomas Noguchi “fabricated" findings to cover up her murder. What was fabricated? That’s never explained.

How about fears that actor Bruce Willis is suffering dementia, because he starred on Broadway wearing an earpiece to feed him his lines. Except that performance was two years ago, and wearing an earpiece to receive lines in a show with a script being constantly reworked is hardly a sign of Alzheimer’s. Just ask Al Pacino, James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, and the many other actors who have worn earpieces for line prompts on Broadway.

The tabloids’ Guess-Your-Weight expert, who so accurately pin-points each star’s fluctuating heft to the nearest pound, now has a name: Dr. Stuart Fischer, creator of the Park Avenue Diet. Dr. Fischer tells the Globe that Caitlyn Jenner weighs “at least” 220 pounds, and blames the hormones that the former Bruce Jenner takes to be “girly” for her added avoirdupois.

Dr. Fischer is there again, in this week’s National Enquirer, telling us that Angelina Jolie “looks like she weighs no more than 76 pounds,” and that she was recently “nearly 100 pounds after being as low as 79 pounds.” These are remarkably accurate assessments of stars’ precise weights, for a doctor who admits never having treated either Jenner or Jolie.

Angelina, it seems, “is literally dying of a broken heart” following her split from Brad Pitt, claims the Enquirer. As Dr Gabriel Mirkin, who also hasn’t treated Jolie, explains, with repeated weight loss “you lose so much heart muscle that you can go into heart failure.”

Nutritionist Lisa De Fazio also gets in on the act, informing the Enquirer that actress Tori Spelling “now weighs 150 pounds,” which qualifies her as a “plus-size pauper” because she was spotted shopping at Target – oh, the shame of it! – and browsing a yard sale. Oh, and “the chunky blonde stuffed herself during a recent family vacation at a pricey $10,000-a-night Mexico resort.” So that’s the sort of pauper we’re dealing with – one who can only afford $10,000 for a hotel room? How sad to be so impoverished.

Fortunately we have the crack investigative team at Us magazine to tell us that Selena Gomez wore it best (and who doesn’t look good in a pink unicorn sweater?), that Grey’s Anatomy star Jessica Capshaw is incredibly humble (“What I like most about myself is that I’m kind”), that actress Natacha Karam (Who she, Ed?) carries Chanel Coco Noir perfume, “poo bags for my dog,” boxing gloves, and “like, 600 elastics” hair scrunchies in her drawstring gym bag, and that the stars are just like us: they play slot machines, eat ice cream, and shop for Halloween. Riveting stuff.

Us devotes its cover to Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie and actor-husband Josh Duhamel as their “marriage explodes," blaming “baby battles, cheating and the pressures of fame.” Supposedly he wanted more children and she wanted to focus on her singing career, but the “cheating” line seems rather gratuitous, since it refers to unsubstantiated allegations by an Atlanta stripper claiming a one-night fling with Duhamel in 2010.

People magazine gives its cover to Prince William, promising to unveil his “life as a dad and future king.” The British Royal Family are always big sellers for the celebrity mags, but sadly it’s an uninspired romp through old interviews, explaining that he’s a great father because he takes the kids to school when wife Kate can’t, and that he listens to people he meets. “There’s a lot of support for each other, and a lot of love,” says a mental health activist who met them briefly at an event last year. Well, that’s as good as a source inside Kensington Palace, isn’t it?

Leave it to the National Examiner to predict that “by 2050 sex with robots will be more common than lovemaking for humans only,” and that the RealDoll company already “markets a line with customized genitalia and interchangeable faces.” Because robot sex should be like eating at Burger King: you can have it your way. Intriguingly, most “sexbots” are female, and the Examiner reports that “for whatever reason, women seem less interested in being intimate with androids!” Perhaps because most men in the sack perform like mechanized robots anyway?

Onwards and downwards . . .

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Posted by David Pescovitz

A gentleman in Ottawa, Canada -- eager to get sent to jail in order to sell weed he had packed inside of eight Kinder Surprise plastic egg "yolks" and stored in his rectum -- threw a rock at a police car in front of the courthouse. Wish granted. But once inside, his body got the best of him. From the Ottawa Citizen:

It’s not known if the guard noticed (Damian) O’Reilly was in some discomfort but whatever the reason, the guard had suspicions that O’Reilly might be smuggling drugs. The young inmate was escorted to dry cell No. 9. A dry cell has no plumbing and guards will either attempt to seize the contraband or wait for it to be expelled.

In this case, it was O’Reilly himself who, once alone in the dry cell, removed eight Kinder Surprise eggs from his rectum. A guard had to then collect the eggs and photograph them before securing them inside the Ottawa police drug safe at the jail.

In all, the eight eggs contained 59 grams of marijuana, a gram of MDMA, tobacco, rolling papers and matches.

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Posted by Cory Doctorow

Josh from Fight for the Future writes, "The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is threatening to rollback its net neutrality protections, which help make the Internet a place of equal opportunity and international innovation." (more…)

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Posted by Carla Sinclair

For the last 18 years, French chef Sébastien Bras' restaurant, Le Suquet, has received 3 Michelin stars. Now the chef wants to part ways with Michelin. He's tired of the pressure that the rating puts on him and is begging Michelin to release him from the stars.

While Michelin has called his food "spellbinding," the anxiety of having anonymous judges come into his restaurant at any given time is too much for the 46-year-old chef.

According to The Guardian:

He said his job had given him a lot of satisfaction but there was also huge pressure that was inevitably linked to the three Michelin stars first given to the restaurant in 1999. He asked to be allowed to continue his work with a free spirit and in serenity away from the world of rankings, without tension. He said he wanted to be dropped from the guide from next year.

Bras, who took over the family restaurant from his parents 10 years ago, later explained to AFP: “You’re inspected two or three times a year, you never know when. Every meal that goes out could be inspected. That means that, every day, one of the 500 meals that leaves the kitchen could be judged.

“Maybe I will be less famous but I accept that,” he said, adding that he would continue to cook excellent local produce “without wondering whether my creations will appeal to Michelin’s inspectors”.

Michelin says Bra's reason and method of asking to have his stars stripped is a first. Although they respect his plead, his stars won't automatically be stripped – they are in the process of considering his request.

Here is Bras on Facebook asking Michelin to keep him out of the guide, in French:

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Posted by Cory Doctorow

It's not just Warren Buffett and his Republican lieutenant Charlie Munger who favor single payer and view the US health insurance industry as a drag on national competitiveness and a needless expense on the bottom line: it's also companies like Walmart, Boeing, and GE, who have stopped paying insurers, buying services for their employees directly from hospitals and health-care providers. (more…)

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Posted by Cory Doctorow

Obama's cabinet secretaries flew commercial or took the train, with a few, rare exceptions that were approved at the highest level, but Trump's aptly named Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price sure loves to charter private jets and bill them to the US government. (more…)

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Posted by Robert Spallone

A dungeon master scrapped the pen and paper and created a touchscreen tabletop version of Dungeons and Dragons.

Tumblr user Caethial recently posted photos of the full build that he and two other players put together in 2016. A 40-inch Samsung smart TV paired with a Dell Precision 5720 27-inch 4K workstation runs about $2,800.

Don’t worry, an outdated wood table and basement location can still make you feel like a social outcast.

See all of Caethial's step-by-step photos here.

Image: Caethial/Tumblr

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Posted by Robert Spallone

A recent study published in the scientific journal The Auk: Ornithological Advances claims a competitive social environment may cause certain species of ducks to grow even bigger penises.

Researchers studied two species of ducks placed in environments where there were fewer females and more males, along with ducks housed in male-female pair bonds, according to Phys.org.

Lesser Scaup ducks that were housed with several males were said to have grown longer penises. Ruddy Ducks, who are already well-endowed to begin with — placed in the same predicament — would grow their penises faster than pair-bonded ones, but also might “offset” their sexual development to not interfere with other males.

What the study really reveals is that there’s a sizeable job market for measuring duck wangs.

Via Phys.org:

"This is an excellent experimental study of penis morphology, looking at the effects of social environment on penis size in two duck species that have different mating systems," according to Queen's University's Bob Montgomerie, an expert on reproductive strategies who was not involved in the study.

"The question now is whether the observed increase in penis size in Lesser Scaup under the threat of sperm competition actually gives males a competitive advantage. Like all good studies, this one will undoubtedly stimulate more research, as it provides both methodologies and a clear focus on interesting questions."

Image: Dick Daniels

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Posted by Robert Spallone

A Singapore baggage handler somehow managed to make airports even worse after switching baggage tags during multiple flights to send them to different locations.

The handler is being charged with 286 counts of mischief for tampering with bags from flights on Singapore Airlines, Silk Air, and Lufthansa, according to the BBC.

Such alleged shenanigans could cost the handler a year in jail or multiple fines.

Image: Billy Hathorn<

Real crop circles seen from space

Sep. 20th, 2017 09:49 am
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Posted by David Pescovitz

This NASA photo taken from the International Space Station shows crop circles in southwest Egypt's Sahara Desert. The crops thrive in the middle of the desert thanks to either secret alien technology or the amazing underground Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System that covers two million square kilometers. From the NASA Earth Observatory:

The crop circles are a result of center-pivot irrigation, an efficient method for water conservation in agriculture. Groundwater from the Nubian aquifer is drawn up from wells in the center of the circles, and it is sprayed or dripped out of long, rotating pipes that pivot around the center.

Most of the crops pictured here are likely potatoes (darker green circles), wheat (lighter brown circles), or medicinal and aromatic plants such as chamomile. The light, tan-colored crop circles likely have undergone controlled burning to remove excess plant matter and essentially clean up the land for the next crop.

"Crop Circles in Sharq El Owainat" (NASA via the Daily Grail)

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Posted by Mark Frauenfelder

This week on Maker Update, a giant AT-AT made from foam board, the Goliath CNC robot, embossing your notebook, affordable addressable LED strip, a software update for your knitting machine, and World Maker Faire. This week’s Cool Tool is an Individually Addressable LED Strip Light.

Also, check out Cool Tools new YouTube channel of tool reviews!

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Posted by David Pescovitz

I'm honored to be included on a free panel discussion next Thursday, 9/28, at Caltech about the cultural influence of the Voyager Golden Record, the enchanting phonograph record launched into space on the twin Voyager spacecraft 40 years ago. (I co-produced the first vinyl release of the Golden Record with my friends Tim Daly and Lawrence Azerrad.) I'm incredibly excited to share the stage with the following inspiring individuals:

• Ann Druyan: Creative director of the Voyager interstellar message; writer, producer, and director of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

• Reggie Watts: Vocal artist, musician, comedian, and technologist

• Lynda Obst: Bestselling author, producer of Interstellar, Contact, Sleepless in Seattle, and many other films

• Ed Stone: Voyager project scientist; David Morrisroe Professor of Physics, and Vice Provost for Special Projects, Caltech

KCRW radio's music director, Jason Bentley, will moderate the discussion. Doors are 6:45pm and while it's free, reservations are required. Contact the Caltech Ticket Office by calling (626) 395-4652 to grab tickets. More details here. I hope to see you there!

Special thanks to Dan Goods of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for organizing this event!

The Voyager Golden Record is now available as a vinyl box set and CD/book package from Ozma Records.



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