Frequent contributor Bennett Haselton writes this week with his favorite novelty science gift items for 2012. Levitation engines, puzzles, optical illusions brought to life, and all of the tips and tricks he's found for getting the products to work correctly. Decorative, whimsical, and not too expensive — except for the items that have earned it by being pretty amazing. Read on for the details, and be sure to mention other good possibilities (Just 14 shopping days left until Christmas) in the comments below.
First time accepted submitter Tastecicles writes "Patrick Moore, the monocled surveyor of the sky who awakened in millions of people an interest in galactic goings on, has died at 89. His love of astronomy began at the age of six, and that childhood curiosity developed into a lifelong passion. It was a passion he shared through his program, The Sky at Night, which he presented for more than 50 years, only ever missing one episode due to illness. Patrick Alfred Caldwell-Moore was born at Pinner, Middlesex on 4 Mar 1923. Heart problems meant he spent much of his childhood being educated at home and he became an avid reader. His mother gave him a copy of GF Chambers' book The Story of the Solar System, and this sparked his lifelong passion for astronomy. He was soon publishing papers about the moon's surface, based on observations made with his first three-inch telescope. His 1908 vintage typewriter enabled him to publish more than a thousand books on subjects ranging from astronomy, his first love, to cricket, golf, and music."
zacharye writes "Microsoft is no stranger to criticism these days, and the company's new Windows 8 platform is once again the target of a scathing review from a high-profile user. Well-known Internet entrepreneur and MIT professor Philip Greenspun handed Windows 8 one of its most damning reviews yet earlier this week, calling the new operating system a 'Christmas gift for someone you hate.' Greenspun panned almost every aspect of Microsoft's new software, noting that Microsoft had four years to study Android and more than five to examine iOS, but still couldn't build a usable tablet experience..."
An anonymous reader writes "The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has declared that the Megaupload shutdown earlier this year has been a great success. In a filing to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the group representing major movie studios says the file hosting and sharing industry has been massively disrupted. Yet the MPAA says there is still work to be done, identifying sites that make available to downloaders 'unauthorized copies of high-quality, recently-released content and in some cases, coordinate the actual upload and download of that content.' Here's the list of sites, including where they are hosted: Extratorrent (Ukraine), IsoHunt (Canada), Kickass Torrents (Canada), Rutracker (Russia), The Pirate Bay (Sweden), Torrentz (Canada), and Kankan (China)."
Zothecula writes "In the past few years, not only has the Corvette-like Batmobile from Batman Returns been put up for auction, but a jet-powered replica of that same style of Batmobile has also been created. A drivable copy of the Dark Knight-era Tumbler has likewise been built, along with a working replica of the associated Bat Pod motorcycle. For many people, however, the only 'true' Batmobile is the original version driven by Adam West in the 1960s TV series – and it's about to be put on the auction block, for the first time ever."
An anonymous reader writes "When Disney films leave the theater and head for TV, they currently go through the Starz channel first. That's going to change in 2016. Disney has signed a deal to give Netflix the first crack at its animated and live-action films. Even if you're not a fan of either company, this is a bit of a big deal; Disney is ditching a traditional pay-TV service in favor of online streaming. (It also includes properties from the recent Lucasfilm deal.) The article wisely points out that pay-TV in general isn't in danger until the live sports situation changes, but this is a big step away from the status quo."
An anonymous reader writes "The BBC reports on a fan-run project to build a full-scale replica of Han Solo's Millennium Falcon. The ship, 31 feet tall, 114 feet long, and 81.5 feet wide at its widest point, will be built on a plot of land in Tennessee. Since this project is obviously too big for any one fan, or even a small group, they're going to crowdsource some of the construction. Their website has continual updates about various parts of the build, with many, many pictures. For example, here are a couple shots of the Quad guns and cockpit console. Project leader Chris Lee says he bought the land in Tennessee, 88 acres, for this purpose. He says he'd like to 'develop it into more of a creative retreat, like a Maker camp ... where a school could send kids.' The Force is strong with this one!"
An anonymous reader writes "Several large movie studios have asked Google to take down legitimate pages related to their own films, including sites legally hosting, promoting, or discussing them. Victims of the takedown requests include sites where the content is hosted legally (Amazon, CBS, iTunes, Blockbuster, Verizon on demand, and Xfinity), newspapers discussing the content in question (the BBC, CNET, Forbes, The Huffington Post, The Guardian, The Independent, The Mirror, The Daily Mail, and Wired) as well as official Facebook Pages for the movies and TV shows and even their Wikipedia entries. There are also a number of legitimate links that appear to be completely unrelated to the content that is supposedly being protected. The good news is that Google has so far left many of the links up."
An anonymous reader writes "Valve on Monday announced the public release of Big Picture, Steam's new mode that lets gamers access their games on a TV, in over 20 languages. Big Picture lets you use a traditional gamepad (as well as a keyboard and mouse) to access the complete Steam store and Steam Community from the comfort of the couch in your living room."
I recently retired my ancient AthlonMP rig for something a bit more modern, and in the upgrade got a new DVD±RW drive. Since I have the new rig and a lot more disk space, the time has come to re-rip my ~450 disc CD collection into FLAC (I trust active storage more than optical discs that may or may not last another twenty years). The optical drive I had in my old rig was one recommended by Hydrogen Audio or somewhere similar for ripping CDs, and can grab an hour long album in about five minutes. My new drive, unfortunately, takes about fifteen to do the same. With the number of discs I have to churn through and the near-instaneous encoding, it's somewhat annoying. After searching the Internet high and low for advice I came up empty handed, and so I ask Slashdot: are there any SATA DVD burners that don't suck at ripping CDs? Read on for more details if you wish.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "The Washington Post reports that Apple has finally unveiled their new version of iTunes, overhauling its look and feel and integrating it more closely with the company's iCloud Internet- storage service with one of the biggest upgrades Apple has made to the program with 400 million potential users since its debut more than a decade ago. The new design of iTunes moves away from the spreadsheet format that Apple has featured since its debut and adds more art and information about musicians, movies and television shows. It also adds recommendation features so users can find new material. According to David Pogue of the NY Times Apple has fixed some of the dumber design elements that have always plagued iTunes. 'For years, the store was represented only as one item in the left-side list, lost among less important entries like Radio and Podcasts. Now a single button in the upper-right corner switches between iTunes's two personalities: Store (meaning Apple's stuff) and Library (meaning your stuff).' Unfortunately, Apple hasn't fixed the Search box. As before, you can't specify in advance what you're looking for: an app, a song, a TV show, a book. Whatever you type into the Search box finds everything that matches, and you can't filter it until after you search. It feels like a two-step process when one should do. 'Improvements in visual navigation and a more logical arrangement of tools are good, but for me the biggest positive within iTunes 11 remains its vastly improved performance on all three Macs I've tested it on, including a relatively ancient five-year-old MacBook,' writes Jonny Evans."
An anonymous reader writes "The Boring 2012 Conference, the celebration of unexciting things served with dry British humor, now belongs to the wastepaper basket of history. Correspondents at the third annual London conference report that speakers covered a range of such dull topics as supermarket self-service checkouts; a photographic survey of results produced by breakfast toasters; a web site tracking the physical heights of celebrities; and the use of Google Maps to the chart the location of IBM cash registers around London." Funny thing is, the talks described actually sound fascinating.
eldavojohn writes "NPR pointed out a press release claiming that North Korean archaeologists have found a 'unicorn lair' in Pyongyang. The members of the History Institute of the DPRK Academy of Social Sciences have "reconfirmed" that this site was used for King Tongmyong's unicorn where the unicorn would concoct his unicorn schemes and do his unicorn things if anyone ventured too closely. The last line is, perhaps, the most important line of the article, 'The discovery of the unicorn lair, associated with legend about King Tongmyong, proves that Pyongyang was a capital city of Ancient Korea as well as Koguryo Kingdom.' Fear not that North Korea is surpassing the world in cryptozoology, Dr. Melba S. Ketchum of Nacogdoches, TX has claimed to have recently sequenced Bigfoot's DNA and he's part human."
An anonymous reader writes "Mitsubishi was the last hold-out in the big-screen rear-projection display business after Samsung left the category in 2009. Now Mitsubishi has dropped the dinosaur. Every big-brand CE manufacturer got their start in the big-TV business via rear projection sets from CRT to DLP to LCoS, eventually replacing them with modern-day flat screens. Mitsubishi did develop LCD flat-screens for a time, but dropped out of that market to focus on rear DLPs after Samsung gave it a monopoly. The author, a CE editor, takes a nostalgic and amusing look at her 15 years with three Mitsu rear pros, the only big-screen TV she's known."
Readycharged writes "A generation's childhood dreams have come true with the creation of a working 'robot in disguise' Transformer which, when operated by remote control, morphs from a luxury sports car to a missile hurling robot in seconds. Japanese inventor Kenji Ishida is planning to make 10 lucky (and undoubtedly rich) purchasers owners of these toys in the run up to Christmas, having first displayed them at the Maker Faire in Tokyo during the first week of December. For those willing to wait a few years, Ishida plans to have created a life size, drivable model by 2030."