Day: June 3, 2016

Astrobotic unveils Peregrine lunar lander

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BROOMFIELD, Colo. — Astrobotic Technology, one of the leading teams competing for the Google Lunar X Prize, announced a new design of its lunar lander June 2 along with two new industry partners.

In a presentation at the Berlin Air Show, Astrobotic said its new Peregrine lander will be able to deliver between 35 and 265 kilograms of payload to the surface of the moon, depending on the choice of launch vehicle and amount of propellant carried on the vehicle. The lander is designed to perform an autonomous landing with a target accuracy of 100 meters.

“This spacecraft will be the spacecraft that will carry customer payloads to the moon on our first mission, and many more thereafter,” said John Thornton, chief executive of the Pittsburgh-based company, during a June 2 media teleconference. “

Peregrine is a smaller version of Griffin, a lander Astrobotic has previously proposed for lunar missions. Among the differences between the two designs is a change in propulsion. While Griffin used a single large thruster, Peregrine uses a cluster of five ISE-100 thrusters, built by Aerojet Rocketdyne and based on the Divert and Attitude Control System thrusters it developed for missile defense applications.

Astrobotic also used the lander announcement to announce partnerships with two companies. Airbus Defence and Space has signed a memorandum of understanding to provide engineering support for Astrobotic as it refines the lander’s design, which Thornton said is approaching a preliminary design review.

“For us at Airbus Defence and Space, the moon is a very important topic,” said Bart Reijnen, senior vice president of on-orbit services and exploration at Airbus Defence and Space. “Astrobotic is what we see as being the frontrunner in the world of commercial lunar transportation.”

Neither company disclosed the terms of their agreement, including any exchange of funds. Reijnen said Airbus started providing technical support to Astrobotic prior to the announcement of the agreement.

Astrobotic also announced a separate partnership with shipping company DHL, which will serve as the official logistics provider for Astrobotic. DHL will provide shipping for components of the spacecraft, and for the completed Peregrine lander from Astrobotic’s facilities to the launch pad.

“Moreover, we also see potential opportunities to develop the partnership further in the future, and explore how we can integrate our activities even more creatively with Astrobotic,” said Arjan Sissing, senior vice president of corporate brand marketing at DHL. He said later that could include supporting “extraterrestrial logistics in regard to moon projects of the future.”

Astrobotic is one of 16 teams competing in the Google Lunar X Prize, which offers a $20 million grand prize for the first team to land on the moon, travel at least 500 meters across its surface, and return high-definition video and other data. While Astrobotic is one of the leading teams in the competition, Thornton downplayed the importance of winning the competition to the company’s overall business plan.

“As a business, we’re out to make a sustainable delivery service to the moon,” he said. “The X Prize is part of our first mission, but it’s not …read more

I wrote this review of a Freewrite on a Freewrite

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I jumped on the Freewrite/Hemingwrite kickstarter ages ago. It took so long for the single purpose, first-draft-only word processor to show up, I’d occasionally forgotten it was coming. I’ve had it for a few weeks now, and last weekend I typed a review out, on the unit itself.

Thing is, you can’t edit on the unit. The review below is the raw output of my clattering away at the old-timey keyboard.

If there is elegence to be found in simplicity, the team at Astrohaus have done their damnedest with the Freewrite, their single-purpose, distraction-free word processor. Originally billed as the Hemingwrite, I bought into the kickstarter on this years ago, hoping it’d help me focus on some short stories I never get finished while working on my laptop, or bother to transcribe from my notebooks.

I waited a long time for this unit, so I’m a little less forgiving of the problems than I might be with another kickstarted piece of kit. I have absolutely no complaints about the fit and finish. The device is pretty lovely in its gaudiness. It is supposed to resemble a typewriter, I think of the 1920s-1930s generation of my Remington Rand Deluxe Porta 5. It sort of does, the selector switches are mounted in a way to resemble the reels for ribbon, but it more closely feels like a mid to late 1990s portable wordprocessor. It weighs slightly, but not much less. It works about the same, and part of its charm is that it throws back to a mechanical keyboard like they would have used back then.

The keyboard is pretty much heaven, if you come from the days of yore, as I do. It feels like I am jamming along on a Commodore Vic20, or a WYSE terminal. While the e-ink isn’t vac green, its about as slow as the old led based screens would have been. You get just enough text on the screen to let you read back 1-3 sentences. You can’t edit at all, aside from erasing with backspace, so watching as you type and not looking at your fingers on the keyboard is really critical. I find that if I miss a typo by more than 5 words, I try to leave it and not go back.

You can edit in Google Docs, Word or whatever editing/wordprocessing program you like, howev er once you start editing off the freewrite, you can’t directly append to the edited file with new text. Freewrite only uploads to the cloud, and creates a new file each time it does.

You can choose to have your file emailed to you, or saved to a Google drive, Dropbox or some Freewrite sponsored web application. I used Google Drive, as its what I use, and it was pretty easy to connect. Logging into new wifi networks is a mixed bag. Anything that has just an SSID and password will work, but managed free wifi networks like starbucks, which requires some html logging in, will not …read more

Flash drive with USB and Lightning connector

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I like to watch videos (especially magic trick instruction videos) on my iPhone but I don’t like using iTunes to transfer movie files to my phone. (I don’t like using iTunes for any reason because it is a terrible application.) For the last couple of years, I’ve been using the LEEF 16GB iBridge ($60). I plug it into the USB port on my computer and copy movie files onto it. To watch the videos on my phone, I plug the Leef into the phone’s Lightning port and use the free Leef app to select and view the videos. It has never given me any trouble. 16GB is enough for me, but there are 32GB and 64GB versions available.

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Luxembourg invests to become the ‘Silicon Valley of space resource mining’

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PARIS—The Luxembourg government on June 3 reaffirmed and strengthened its backing for a homegrown space-mining industry, saying it would invest more than $200 million in research, technology demonstration and in the direct purchase of equity in companies relocating to Luxembourg.

In a demonstration of the depth of the political backing the spaceresources.lu project now enjoys, Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and Deputy Prime Minister Etienne Schneider addressed a press briefing following the initiative’s first board meeting.

Betel and Schneider were flanked by two spacesources.lu board members, Jean-Jacques Dordain, former director-general of the 22-nation European Space Agency; and Simon Pete Worden, former director of NASA’s Ames Research Center.

The Luxembourg project has attracted two U.S. companies – Deep Space Industries of Mountain View, California and Planetary Resources of Redmond, Washington – to Luxembourg to create their European operations. Planetary Resources has not yet signed the formal documents establishing itself in Luxembourg but is expected to do so soon.

Schneider said the government has set aside an initial 200 million euros ($225 million) to cover early costs associated with the space-mining venture. In statements that could have come from a private-equity company, he said Luxembourg would not limit itself to supporting research and development. He stressed that the 200-million-euro budget was only the start of the government’s financial support for space mining.

Purchasing equity in promising early-stage companies offers the government a long-term return on its investment – an ability to benefit from the upside, he said.

Schneider and Bettel said the government would be crafting a Luxembourg Space Act, which they said should be enacted into law by the end of this year, that would give legal protection to space mining companies recovering and exploiting for profit raw materials taken from the Moon, asteroids or any other celestial body.

One Luxembourg official said the initiative has the stated support of all three political parties in Luxembourg’s ruling coalition. Schneider and Bettel represent two of them.

Luxembourg to take advantage of limitation in U.S. law

Schneider said the Luxembourg effort would resemble the U.S. Space Act, which was enacted into U.S. law in late 2015 — but with a key difference that Luxembourg hopes to use to its benefit.

“Why should companies invest in Luxembourg when they can do it in the United States, where maybe there is more know-how and a bigger community to engage in this business?” Schneider said.

“There will be one big difference between the American Space Act and the Luxembourg Space Act. The American Space Act only allows this business to American companies, with at least a majority of American capital.

“The Luxembourg Space Act will be open to all investors which will be located over here, in Luxembourg. That’s a huge difference for investors – also to American companies or startups, which one day will have to get new capital – money to get really launched. If they don’t find American capital they will have a problem and they will maybe look for another nation where they can have international capital and grow.

“I don’t know why the Americans …read more

Tacopedia – A sumptuous history of the taco

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Tacopedia

by Deborah Holtz, Juan Carlos Mena and René Redzepi

Phaidon Press

2015, 318 pages, 7.8 x 10 x 1.1 inches (flexibound)

$20 Buy a copy on Amazon

Whenever I’ve been away from NYC for a while, the first thing I always want to do when I get back is to have a taco (or three). My mouth starts watering as soon as I see the skyline. Southwesterners and Mexicans will laugh at this and feel sad for me but a good North East taco is the best option I have. So when I discovered Tacopedia through an NPR review, I immediately put it on my wishlist.

The book offers a sumptuous history of the taco, beginning circa 1000-500 BC when a legendary hero first created “nixtamal,” a malleable dough made by soaking dried corn in water and a bit of quicklime. Once rolled out and roasted, nixtamal becomes a tortilla, an “edible spoon” that can hold a near infinite variety of fillings and salsas.

After the background chapters, the book is divided into 8-10 page sections on popular and specialized tacos, including: grilled, barbacoa (lamb roasted underground in agave leaves, served with broth), basket (morning tacos par-cooked in the container they’re delivered in), and – for the adventurous – insect (!) tacos. Each entry includes the region of Mexico where the variety originated and describes how it has evolved over the years. It then recommends a handful of restaurants – many of them, tiny stands that have been operating for generations – where you can find the best examples of these delicacies. I showed the book to friends who regularly travel to Mexico City and they verified many of the choices. It also provides recipes so you can create reasonable facsimiles of these tacos using common kitchen equipment and ingredients.

The book is beautifully illustrated with hand-drawn infographics, cartoons and proverbs about tacos, plus street scenes of Mexicans from all walks of life indulging. Tacopedia (originally published in Spanish in 2013, then translated and released in the US in 2015) would make an excellent companion reference on a foodie trip to Mexico, which I hope to take one day.

The first photo (above) was taken at Cinco de Mayo, my neighborhood taco place.

– William Smith of Hangfire Books

June 3, 2016

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Remember Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years?

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Meet Danica McKellar who as an undergraduate in college co-published a paper titled “Percolation and Gibbs states multiplicity for ferromagnetic Ashkin-Teller models on Z2,” research that resulted in the Chayes–McKellar–Winn theorem. Oh yeah, before that, McKellar was Winnie on The Wonder Years.

(And just to confirm, Josh Saviano who played Paul Pfeiffer did not grow up to become Marilyn Manson.)

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TV newscast delivered in Eskimo–Aleut language

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I have never heard Greenlandic being spoken. It’s like nothing I’ve heard before. To my untrained ears, it sounds like the vocal track is being run backwards.

From Wikipedia:

Greenlandic is an Eskimo–Aleut language spoken by about 57,000 Greenlandic Inuit in Greenland. It is closely related to the Inuit languages in Canada such as Inuktitut. The main variety, Kalaallisut or West Greenlandic, has been the official language of the Greenlandic autonomous territory since June 2009; this is a move by the Naalakkersuisut (government of Greenland) to strengthen the language in its competition with the colonial language, Danish. The second variety is Tunumiit oraasiat or East Greenlandic. The Thule Inuit of Greenland, Inuktun or Polar Eskimo, is a recent arrival and a dialect of Inuktitut.

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The secret messages inside "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"

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Is “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” actually about psychedelic drugs, British colonialism, or penis envy? Depends who you ask. At the BBC, Hephzibah Anderson surveys 150 years of weird readings of Lewis Carroll’s classic book. From Anderson’s essay:

Re-examining the text, critics found plenty of gynaecological imagery, from the rabbit hole itself to the curtain that she must push aside. Locks and keys were seen as symbolic of coitus, and the caterpillar – well, wasn’t he just a bit… phallic? Inevitably, some saw penis envy in the text, rendering Alice’s extending neck a kind of copycat erection. And then there’s the fanning that she does before she starts to shrink, and the salt water that laps her chin once she’s mere inches tall – both acquire a decidedly masturbatory glossing.

More nuanced readings have viewed Alice’s journey as being less about sex per se and more about a girl’s progress through childhood and puberty into adulthood. Our heroine feels uncomfortable in her body, which undergoes a series of extreme changes; her sense of her self becomes destabilised, leaving her uncertain of her own identity; she butts heads with authority and strives to understand seemingly arbitrary rules, the games that people around her play, and even death.

Famed literary scholar William Empson got especially carried away, declaring that Alice is “a father in getting down the hole, a foetus at the bottom, and can only be born by becoming a mother and producing her own amniotic fluid”.

Alice in Wonderland’s Hidden Messages(BBC)

(Top artwork from the beautiful edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia.)

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Cosplayer attacks man on subway for eating sunflower seeds

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Don’t watch this video if you don’t want to see an attack that results in bloodshed.

In this video, which may have been taken in Shanghai, a young man throws seed shells on the floor of a subway car in defiance of other passengers telling him to stop. Suddenly, a man in a costume runs up and violently attacks the litterbug with a rubber hammer, drawing blood. The attacker is accompanied by a woman in costume. Are they cosplayers or misguided real-life superheroes? It’s hard to tell.

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Defense lawyers: the FBI made us use a copy-shop that made secret copies for the government

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Attorneys for Dr Salo Schapiro, on trial in Miami for Medicare fraud, says that the FBI and the US Attorney have engaged in a decade-long conspiracy to improperly gain access to confidential defense documents, in a scheme that used a crooked Ft Lauderdale copy shop that slipped CDs containing scanned confidential defense documents that had been entrusted to it to the FBI and the DA.

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Cart your booze in this classy Louis Vuitton suitcase bar

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This stately and elegant Whiskey Case was made-to-order by Louis Vuitton in the 1980s. There is one available at posh 20th century design shop Pullman Gallery. From Pullman Gallery:

In effectively unused condition, the square case with top carrying-handle is in gold Epi leather, with gold-plated studs, latches and lock, and original key. The drop-front exposes the interior, lined in deep green alcantara and grained leather and fitted with compartments containing all a whisky connoisseur would require – a single, heavy glass silver-mounted whisky carafe, four whisky beakers, a Thermos-lined ice bucket and a nut or olive dish, all in Sterling silver and marked Christofle for Louis Vuitton. A stamped pair of silver tongs and a corkscrew with cover, completes the set.

I’ve requested the price. The recent update of the Whiskey Case is approximately $35,000.

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Solve your MacBook storage needs with Nifty MiniDrive - just $39.99

Additional storage for your MacBook can be a bigger hassle than you’d expect. External storage can mean toting around an external drive everywhere you go.

Instead, increase your storage capacity by another 128GB with the Nifty MiniDrive for MacBooks, available now for just $33.99 in the Boing Boing Store.

Just slide the MiniDrive into your MacBook’s SD card slot with a micro SD card – and you’re set. You’ve got up to 128GB of extra space, and it’s mostly invisible once you plug it in, so you can feel free to leave it there permanently.

MiniDrive also integrates with Time Machine and can be set to store daily automatic backups of your MacBook’s most vital files. And no matter what type MacBook you’re rocking – Pro, Air or Retina 13 or 15-inch varieties – MiniDrive’s got an version made just for your system.

Handle your external storage needs with the Nifty MiniDrive for MacBooks, now 15% off while the deal lasts.

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Woman buys used freezer containing seller's frozen mother

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A Goldsboro, North Carolina woman bought her neighbor’s used freezer for $30, not realizing it contained frozen parts of the seller’s dead mother.

Curiously, the buyer had the freezer for several weeks before opening it because the seller told her it was part of a “time capsule” project at Sunday School and the church would pick up the contents. The church folks never came, so the buyer finally peeked inside, spotted the body, and called 911.

The seller had already moved away but is under police investigation for felony concealing or failing to notify the death of a person.

“(She was) Just the sweetest lady,” the buyer said of the seller. “I mean quiet, kept to herself, stayed at home. Just unbelievable how she could just stick her mom in a freezer.”

Also unbelievable is that someone would purchase a used, $30 freezer without opening it first.

(WNCN)

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ViaSat wins $73 million for Air Force One satellite communications contract

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WASHINGTON – ViaSat, the satellite broadband hardware and services provider, has won a contract worth as much as $73 million to provide satellite communications aboard Air Force One and a fleet of government planes used to fly senior government leaders.

The Defense Information Systems Agency, which procures commercial satellite capacity on behalf of military users, awarded ViaSat of Carlsbad, California a sole-sourced, firm-fixed price contract to provide Ku- and Ka-band satellite communications to senior U.S. government leaders, according to a June 1 announcement from the Defense Department.

The deal includes ViaSat’s subscription-based service and options for an additional year of service that would run through May 31, 2018.

The Air Force is modernizing its fleet of aircraft used by the president and vice president of the United States, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state and the chairman of the joint chief of staffs and plans to replace the current proprietary hardware with ViaSat modems, the announcement said. The planes include the Air Force’s VC-25A, C-32A, C-40B and C37A/B aircraft, according to budget documents.

ViaSat offers a near-global network using its own Ka-band satellites over the Americas and leased Ku-band capacity elsewhere.

SpaceNews.com

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Watch museum visitor knock clock sculpture off wall

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As with most museums, Pennsylvania’s National Watch & Clock Museum has a “no touching” policy. But one couple wanted so badly to see artist James Borden’s wooden clock sculpture run that they couldn’t help themselves…

Museum director Noel Poirier told NBC Philadelphia that the couple reported the mishap to museum staff. The clock is undergoing repairs and will be on display again in a few months.

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Campus rapist given lenient sentence to avoid "severe impact on him"

Convicted rapist Brock Allen Turner

Former Stanford University athlete Brock Allen Turner, 20, raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Prosecutors wanted him put away for 6 years, but the judge, Aaron Perksy, gave him 6 months to avoid being unnecessarily harsh on the boy. He’ll be out in a few weeks.

After a jury convicted Turner of sexually penetrating an intoxicated and unconscious person with a foreign object, prosecutors asked a judge to sentence him to six years in California prison. Probation officials had recommended the significantly lighter penalty of six months in county jail, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

The judge, Aaron Perksy, cited Turner’s age and lack of criminal history as factors in his decision, saying, “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him … I think he will not be a danger to others.”

This was described as a “brazen” attack: he was physically forced off of his victim, then chased down and detained by passers-by until police arrived. Yet this column, by Scott Herhold, was the sort of coverage he enjoyed in the press:

Turner was rightfully convicted. I wrote a column earlier this year praising the two Stanford students, both from Sweden, who interrupted the assault and chased the drunken athlete down.

But probation officials, who see hundreds of less remorseful defendants, had it right. Turner should be given six months in county jail. He is not, as the prosecution has it, “a continued threat to the community.” Why do I say that? The probation people cite his lack of a criminal record and what they see as genuine remorse. His attorneys have argued that the ex-swimmer has a record of real accomplishment.

A real record of accomplishment indeed. Her suffering is as invisible to men like this this as the costs of his crime—and it always will be.

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After a coup, a judgment: Brazil's "interim president" barred from holding office for 8 years

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Last month, a controversial political machination at the top levels of Brazil’s government saw the removal of its elected left-wing president, Dilma Rousseff, and her replacement with an appointed, neoliberal “interim president” President Michel Temer, who has now been convicted of committing election fraud and barred from holding elected office in Brazil for 8 years.
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Genetic study suggests dogs emerged independently from two wolf populations

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The origin of dogs is a hot topic among biologists, who’ve fought over whether there’s a single point of origin from wolves and when and where it (or they) happened. A new study suggests the answer is twice, independently, from populations of wolves in western Europe and in east Asia. But they interbred, so most modern dogs are descended from both western and eastern groups.

The geographic and temporal origins of dogs remain controversial. We generated genetic sequences from 59 ancient dogs and a complete (28x) genome of a late Neolithic dog (dated to ~4800 calendar years before the present) from Ireland. Our analyses revealed a deep split separating modern East Asian and Western Eurasian dogs. Surprisingly, the date of this divergence (~14,000 to 6400 years ago) occurs commensurate with, or several millennia after, the first appearance of dogs in Europe and East Asia. Additional analyses of ancient and modern mitochondrial DNA revealed a sharp discontinuity in haplotype frequencies in Europe. Combined, these results suggest that dogs may have been domesticated independently in Eastern and Western Eurasia from distinct wolf populations. East Eurasian dogs were then possibly transported to Europe with people, where they partially replaced European Paleolithic dogs.

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Democratic "superdelegates" endorse Bernie

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At the outset of the campaign for the Democratic nomination, many of the party’s “superdelegates” (party grandees, including current and former officeholders, party officials, etc, who have the ability to swing the nomination at the convention if they think the popular vote has selected an “unelectable” candidate) publicly pledged for Hillary Clinton, but Sanders supporters have held out hope that they would switch sides when it became apparent that Bernie Sanders had a better chance of winning the general election than Hillary Clinton did.

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George W. Bush's torture-justifying lawyer is worried about Trump's respect for the law

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When John Yoo thinks you’re an unacceptably authoritarian threat to the rule of law, does that make you one of the baddies? The New York Times reports on conservative legal eagles unsettled by Trump’s naked threats to wield presidential power against his enemies.

There are other precedents, said John C. Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who took an expansive view of executive power as a lawyer in the Bush administration. “The only two other presidents I can think of who were so hostile to judges on an individual level and to the judiciary as a whole would be Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Roosevelt,” he said.

Both of those presidents chafed at what they saw as excessive judicial power. “But they weren’t doing it because they had cases before those judges as individuals,” Professor Yoo said. “They had legitimate separation-of-powers fights between the presidency and the judiciary. Trump is lashing out because he has a lawsuit in a private capacity, which is much more disturbing.”

Yoo wrote infamous memos justifying the Bush Administration’s use of torture to get (largely useless) information from terror suspects.

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The Armchair Detective Company makes immersive puzzles and tactile 3D objects

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If you’re fascinated by paper art and pop-up books, then the name of 51-year old Robert Sabuda will resonate like that of a Zen master. He’s a legend in the world of children’s books, paper design, and engineering, with many famous books to his credit (my favorites are The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland).

Photo of Robert Sabuda by Zymeet

Photo of Robert Sabuda by Zymeet

Kind of like a pop-up book equivalent of The Avengers, Sabuda has embarked on a new adventure in collaboration with Shelby Arnold and Simon Arizpe called The Armchair Detective Company. You can also follow them on Facebook.

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