Hugh Pickens writes "Matt Richtel and Jesse McKinley write in the NY Times that for generations of American children, Legos were the ultimate do-it-yourself plaything. Little plastic bricks, with scant instructions, just add imagination. But today's construction sets are often tied to billion-dollar franchises like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and invite users to follow detailed directions, not construct their own creations from whole brick. It's less open-ended, some parents and researchers say, and more like paint-by-numbers. 'When I was a kid, you got a big box of bricks and that was it,' says Tracy Bagatelle-Black. 'What stinks about Lego sets now is that they're not imaginative at all.' Lego loyalists are quick to defend the company. Josh Wedin, the managing editor of the Brothers Brick, a Lego blog, called complaints that they are less creative 'simply ridiculous,' adding that Legos always included some instructions, though he says he misses the alternative designs that used to be on the back of the box. But Clifford Nass, a sociology professor at Stanford University who studies how people relate to the physical world versus the virtual world, says some essential qualities were lost when Lego became more like other toys. 'The genius of Lego was, you had to do the work.' Learning about frustration, Nass says, 'is a hugely important thing.'" (And watch soon for a review of The Unofficial Lego Builder's Guide, a book intended to help Lego users escape the tyranny of block-by-number instructions.)
Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive
An anonymous reader writes "2 Player Productions, the producers of Minecraft: The Story of Mojang, on Saturday uploaded the documentary to The Pirate Bay. The news comes as a surprise move after an announcement earlier this week that the film is premiering today for free on Xbox Live to Gold subscribers. You can download it here."
beefsack writes "An engineer by the name of Andrej Skraba has combined an Arduino board and an MK802 mini PC running Ubuntu to create a robot which is controllable via its own node.js server and a mobile phone. Seen by some as products competing in a similar space, Andrej shows how the two devices can make the most of their unique features to complement each other, working together."
theodp writes "The BBC News' Laura Gray reports on a juggling notation system developed in the 80's called Siteswap (aka Quantum Juggling and Cambridge Notation) and how it has helped jugglers discover and share thousands of new tricks. Frustrated that there was no way to write down juggling moves, mathematician Colin Wright and others helped devised Siteswap, which uses sequences of numbers to encode the number of beats of each throw, which is related to their height and the hand to which the throw is made. 'Siteswap has allowed jugglers to share tricks with each other without having to meet in person or film themselves,' says James Grime, juggling enthusiast and math instructor for Cambridge University. Still unclear on the concept? Spend some time playing around with Paul Klimek's most-excellent Quantum Juggling simulator, and you too can be a Flying Karamazov Brother!"
First time accepted submitter Bearhouse writes "My Dad amazes me with (a) his longevity & energy, and (b) his continued ability to mess around with electronics stuff. Since he already has things ranging from valve amps made from war-surplus, via an original IBM PC kit to an Android tablet, I was going to buy him a Raspberry Pi for Christmas. Turns out he's already got one. I saw nothing that really got me excited here, so your ideas would be appreciated."
TVmisGuided writes "People have made UAVs out of wood, aluminum, even 3D-printed plastic. But now comes the tale of C#/C++ developer Ed Scott who, after damaging his Gaui 330x, got the idea of designing and building a Lego quadcopter. And it worked! 'Most people go to their favorite hobby store to get parts for their UAV, I go to my kid's playroom.'"
First time accepted submitter VanGarrett writes "Someone at the University of Chicago went through a lot of trouble to baffle a few people, with an old timey package addressed to Indiana Jones. From the article: 'The package contained an incredibly detailed replica of "University of Chicago Professor" Abner Ravenwood's journal from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. It looks only sort of like this one, but almost exactly like this one, so much so that we thought it might have been the one that was for sale on Ebay had we not seen some telling inconsistencies in cover color and "Ex Libris" page (and distinct lack of sword). The book itself is a bit dusty, and the cover is teal fabric with a red velvet spine, with weathered inserts and many postcards/pictures of Marion Ravenwood (and some cool old replica money) included. It's clear that it is mostly, but not completely handmade, as although the included paper is weathered all of the "handwriting" and calligraphy lacks the telltale pressure marks of actual handwriting.'"
EdIII writes "The White House petition to secure funding for building the Death Star has garnered over 25,000 signatures, which means the White House must officially respond. I can't wait to see it. My question to Slashdot readers: what modifications would you add to the proposed Death Star? Obviously, as one journalist put it, 'guardrails around any of the facility's seemingly endless number of bridges, spans, shafts and pits.' What other changes would you ask your representatives to make?"
An anonymous reader writes "Last year, when we discussed news that The Hobbit would be filmed at 48 frames per second, instead of the standard 24, many were skeptical that format would take hold. Now that the film has been released, an article at Slate concedes that it's a bit awkward and takes a while to get used to, but ends up being to the benefit of the film and the entire industry as well. 'The 48 fps version of The Hobbit is weird, that's true. It's distracting as hell, yes yes yes. Yet it's also something that you've never seen before, and is, in its way, amazing. Taken all together, and without the prejudice of film-buffery, Jackson's experiment is not a flop. It's a strange, unsettling success. ... It does not mark the imposition from on high of a newer, better standard — one frame rate to rule them all (and in the darkness bind them). It's more like a shift away from standards altogether. With the digital projection systems now in place, filmmakers can choose the frame rate that makes most sense for them, from one project to the next.'"
New submitter Sebolains writes "Unlike previous years, NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) has decided to use Bing maps to track Santa's journey as he goes around the world delivering presents. Starting Christmas eve, one will be able to go to the official NORAD Santa tracking site and use Bing maps to see where Santa is delivering presents at that time. In previous years, NORAD has always gone for Google maps to track Saint Nick. The reason for this switch were not disclosed, but since nearly 25 million people are expected to use this tool come this Christmas, this will definitely benefit Bing in the ongoing competition for online map applications."
netbuzz writes "A new law banning broadcasters from delivering TV commercials at a higher volume takes effect today at the end of a yearlong implementation period. Called the CALM Act, or Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, the law does provide for violators to be fined. TV commercials that crank up the volume have been the No. 1 complaint logged with the FCC over the last 10 years."
Census numbers show that 176,632 people in England and Wales ask themselves, "What would Yoda do?" Although the number of people who list their religion as "Jedi" has dropped by more than 50% in the past 10 years, It remains the most popular "alternative" faith in England. From the article: "The new figures reveal that the lightsabre-wielding disciples are only behind Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism in the popularity stakes, excluding non-religious people and people who did not answer."
First time accepted submitter roc97007 writes "Looks like Netflix may be getting some much needed competition in the video streaming market. From the article: 'Later this month, Redbox will offer an unlimited streaming-video plan that includes movies from Warner Bros. and pay TV channel Epix, along with four nights of physical DVD rentals, for $8 a month, or $9 a month if customers want Blu-ray discs. The offering is a direct attack on Netflix Inc. and is priced even lower than the $10-a-month DVD and streaming plan that Netflix abandoned a year ago. The lowest price plan from Netflix that combines DVDs-by-mail and streaming is now $16 a month.'"
chicksdaddy writes with news of a remote exploit in Samsung Smart TVs, and a warning for those who got one with a built-in camera. From the article: "The company that made headlines in October for publicizing zero day holes in SCADA products now says it has uncovered a remotely exploitable security hole in Samsung Smart TVs. If left unpatched, the vulnerability could allow hackers to make off with owners' social media credentials and even to spy on those watching the TV using built-in video cameras and microphones. In an e-mail exchange with Security Ledger, the Malta-based firm said that the previously unknown ('zero day') hole affects Samsung Smart TVs running the latest version of the company's Linux-based firmware. It could give an attacker the ability to access any file available on the remote device, as well as external devices (such as USB drives) connected to the TV. And, in a Orwellian twist, the hole could be used to access cameras and microphones attached to the Smart TVs, giving remote attacker the ability to spy on those viewing a compromised set."
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.