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OK, here’s 10 quick gifts that cost less than $10, can ship easy (weigh less than a pound) and are great as stocking stuffers or gifts for people on a budget. Let’s go!

Fun Straws

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Comes with 104 pieces that allow you to construct a maze of straws that makes drinking your favorite beverage a whole new world.

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We finally have them in stock, the Dino Pet! The glowing, living dino-shaped pet!

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The holidays mean less time for blog posts and more people looking into buying their first telescope. With this in mind we are reprinting our telescope buyer’s guide for the season:

Spectrum Scientifics Telescope Buyers Guide

There are several telescope buyers guides available on the Internet, some good, some not so good. At Spectrum we are writing from our experience with customers and hope to make this simple and helpful.

Towards that end, the first and in some ways only rule of telescopes is:

Aperture is King!

Aperture is the diameter of the main lens or mirror of the telescope. The bigger it is, the more light the telescope gathers. Do not judge a telescope by its magnification, and stay away from any brand of telescope that sells itself on excess magnification claims (300x!, 600x!, etc.). This is sure sign of poor quality.

More light gathering means better, brighter images, assuming all other things being equal. Decent commercially sold telescopes usually start about 60mm in size (about 2.3”) and go to 20” diameter or more. Roughly speaking, every 2 extra inches of aperture doubles the light gathering capacity of the telescope.

The big problem with getting more aperture is that it increases the size and weight of the telescope. Having a huge, giant telescope with lots of light gathering power has little benefit if it is so heavy you never want to take it out and use it! A minor, but critical caveat to the ‘Aperture is King’ rule is that the small, portable telescope that gets used all the time is more powerful than the giant telescope that never gets moved out of the garage.

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Radiometers, or as people who come into our store describe it: “That thing that spins in a bulb in sunlight” are a great little demonstration of solar energy.

569There’s no assembly required, just remove the Radiometer from the box and put it under light. The vanes should start spinning right away.

But every now and then the Radiometer may stop working. You can put it in the brightest lights and yet nothing happens. What to do?

Well repairs to a stopped Radiometer are almost painfully simple, and yet sometimes they need to be explained carefully. This is especially true since Radiometers are made with thin glass and can be easily damaged.

First Repair: Two finger tap

Most of the time the reason a Radiometer stops working is because the vanes have come dislodged from the needle-like post. The vanes are supported from the post by an upturned cup of glass with a pointed bottom. To operate the needle point must fit in that bottom perfectly. This is not always as easy as it sounds as the vane’s momentum can cause the cup to slip off the needle. To get it working again you will need to reset the cup onto the needle with a tiny bit of external force.

2014-11-25 13.49.51Give your Radiometer a gently but firm tap with two fingers directly on the very top of the bulb. Do not tap too hard as the bulb is made of thin glass.  If the cup has simply dislodged itself from the needle this gentle impact may cause it to reset itself. It is also possible that the vanes have gotten a little stuck from one reason or another and this impact can loosen them.

Second Repair: Upside Down time.

If tapping does not fix the problem it is time for the ‘full resetting’ of the cup on the pin.

 

2014-11-25 13.50.03Take the Radiometer and turn it directly upside-down. Then quickly flip it so it is right-side up again. When you invert the Radiometer the cup will come completely off the needle and when you revert it the cup should reset exactly on top of the needle. Place it back into the sun and see if this reseting worked. If it did not, try it again.

Still not Working? Troubleshooting tips:

So after trying these your Radiometer is still not working? Try these helpful hints to see if there is another issue:

1) Not enough light. Some Radiometers may operate by a glimpse of moonlight but most aren’t that sensitive. Try putting the Radiometer in direct sunlight or very close to a lamp and see if it works. Sometimes Radiometers just can’t get enough energy from a cloudy day! Keep in mind that the sensitivity is unmeasurable and there can be great variations of sensitivity even within a brand of Radiometer.

2) Unlevel surface. If there is anything under the base of the Radiometer, remove it and see if that helps. A Radiometer won’t work if it is tilted for any reason so check the shelf or windowsill you place it on is reasonably level. If not, try another sunny location.

3) It’s cold outside. If your windowsill is very drafty the Radiometer may have problems. See if you can find a warmer location.

4) It just won’t work! While not all Radiometers are created equal, it is very, very rare that one simply won’t operate. But it does happen. To make certain either place the Radiometer in direct bright sunlight or mere inches from a lamp bulb. If it won’t work even under those conditions (after you follow the tap and flip repairs above) it is likely a non-operating radiometer. Time to replace it.

Want to buy a Radiometer?

www.spectrum-scientifics.com

We’ve carried Artec kits for a few months and they’ve done quite well. Some of the kits have a rational outlook to them and others have the zany Japanese anime-influenced look to them that makes them twice as awesome. Most of the new kits fall into the latter category.

First up is a rather odd kit: See Through Ice

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Scarcely a handful of years ago, the rage in magnets was BuckyBalls, the little spherical magnets that were fun to build and just fidgetSphericalmagnets with. BuckyBalls were not the only producer of these magnetic spheres, but they were definitely the best known and most popular due to their aggressive marketing campaign.

However this popularity made them a huge target for any product issues and BuckyBalls was soon hammered by lawsuits brought by the CPSC and eventually were effectively forced out of business.

The reason? It was alleged that many children were swallowing the magnets and when two magnets attached in the intestines the skin could necrophy and sometimes surgery was required.

BuckyBalls stated they were aware of two dozen emergency room cases out of  3 million of BuckyBalls sets sold, while the CPSC claimed over 1700 cases. BuckyBalls agreed to multiple warnings on the box agreed and to not sell the magnets in toy stores, but it wasn’t enough and the CPSC, in an unprecedented move took action to push BuckyBalls out of stores.

Unfortunately, the company that produced BuckyBalls, Maxfield & Oberon, did not handle the situation well. At times they made reasonable replies, but at other times the company’s founder went on anti-Obama screeds  that did little to defend the company’s position and probably estranged would-be supporters.

That being said, the push on BuckyBalls may have been the CPSC’s least popular action ever. But that didn’t stop them from pushing harder. Last month they put into law a total ban of rare-earth magnet sets to take place in 2015.

BuckyBalls, as noted earlier, are not the only spherical rare-earth magnet sets on the market. Even we at the store sell sets (although not online, and they are kept in a cabinet), at least two other companies, Magnicubes and Zen Magnets, sold the magnet sets. only Zen Magnets remains.

Zen Magnets is taking a slightly more scientific approach to defending their products. Instead of lashing out in anger, the founder, Shihan Qu, actually took a closer look at the CPSC’s claim of ‘1,700 emergency room incidents’ involving spherical magnets and found something rather odd. Here is their video:

The short version is: It seems the CPSC was using a very, very loose Venn diagram of search terms used in emergency room cases (words like ‘rare’, ‘powerful’ ‘spherical’  were all accepted) and considered any case that fell into that diagram to be a spherical magnet case. On its own that is shaky research, but it gets worse when the same terminology is used on the 3 years of emergency room cases prior to Spherical Magnets being introduced and shows there were just as many cases that fall under those terms over those 3 years.

The raw data from which the CPSC extrapolated their ‘1700 cases’ can be found here with highlighting to note the period when spherical magnets were introduced and what cases are doubtless caused by ingestion or aspiration of spherical magnets (most emergency room visits did not involve surgery).

Savemagnets.com is the place to visit to see latest developments in the attempts to prevent a CPSC ban.

www.spectrum-scientifics.com

 

Metal Earth models by Fascination have been picking up licenses for their nifty little laser-cut sheet metal models at an astonishing rate. They’ve already procured a Star Wars line of models and may be adding more soon.  But now they have added that other famous science fiction franchise: Star Trek

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Overacting Captain not included.

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