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Yikes. Image: ETH Zurich

All Google wants for Christmas is a bunch of scary ass robots. Clearly, the big ticket items under the tree are Big Dog and the rest of the Boston Dynamics nightmare menagerie. But if Larry and Sergey are still looking for a stocking stuffer, this freaky balancing cube might be just the thing.

Cubli, a project out of the Dynamic Systems and Control lab at the Swiss engineering school ETH Zurich, is a 6 inch by 6 inch metal block that employs three spinning wheels to perform a variety of tricks. Its creators humbly tout its ability to “walk,” using angular momentum to flip itself from face to face. This feat was kinda cute when MIT’s diminutive M-Blocks were doing it. Here it’s a little more unsettling.

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Even more unsettling, though (and more impressive), are Cubli’s preternatural powers of balance. “Once the Cubli has almost reached the corner stand up position, controlled motor torques are applied to make it balance on its corner,” we’re told. You can change the angle of the surface it’s on, give the balancing wonder a gentle push to the side, or send it spinning like a top, and still, the devil cube retains its balletic poise.

The stabilization comes courtesy of the precise choreography of the internal spinning wheels–a system the researchers point out is similar to the one that keeps satellites oriented in space. Now, the team says they’re developing algorithms that allow Cubli to “automatically learn” and respond dynamically to changes in inertia, weight, or its surface. Presumably after that comes the algorithm that lets it tumble out of its lab in Zurich and lurch into your bedroom at night.

News Corp executive chairman Rupert Murdoch and CTO Paul Cheesbrough on a video conference with the team at Storyful, including CEO Mark Little. Photo: Natalie Ravitz/News Corp

Tech history is littered with the wreckage of startups acquired and ruined by old media companies. To a certain extent, old media realizes the error of its ways, but that doesn’t stop it from trying again.

On Friday, TV and publishing giant News Corp announced that it will pay $25 million for Storyful, an Ireland-based startup whose wire service curates social media content involving the new stories of the day, including photos and videos of protests and violent conflict. And this comes two weeks after another print news giant, Scripps, paid $35 million for video news aggregator Newsy.

We can only hope that this smaller acquisitions have a better chance of panning out than the massive deals the define old media’s history with tech acquisitions.

The poster child is Time Warner’s disastrous 2000 acquisition of AOL, a $160 billion deal that was supposed to bring sterling content from traditional brands — HBO, Time Magazine, Warner Bros. Studios — onto the web in innovative ways, while at the same time making AOL the preeminent internet service provider. Instead, Time Warner’s conservative approach to brand image and copyright ended up hindering AOL’s efforts in digital media, while AOL’s brash approach to management thwarted its efforts to modernize Time Warner.

Then there’s News Corp.’s Myspace deal. In 2005, the company paid $580 million for a then-hot social network only to unload it six years later for just $35 million. (Mitigating the sting: a $900 million, partially completed, three-year ad deal with Google).

In the present boom, traditional media companies seem to be moving more cautiously, spending much smaller sums on practical deals involving little startups with obviously useful innovation. Before springing for Storyful, News Corp bought Skiff, an e-reading startup that complements its book company HarperCollins, and iList, an online classifieds company (disclosure: HarperCollins paid me to write a book). Meanwhile, New York Times Co. has invested in advertising management tool AdKeeper and betaworks, developer of aggregators like Digg and News.me.

This sort of deal is probably a good way to go — or at least better than paying $580 million for a company like MySpace. But you also have to wonder if old media companies are now being too timid, whether they are doing enough to change in a world where their old ways of making money are less effective every day. Such is the dilemma with old media. It’s caught between a rock and a hard place.

It’s time again to empty your wallets… the Steam Holiday 2013 Sale is going on now! Thanks be to GabeN!

As always, there are the Daily Deals along with 8 hour Flash Deals, so be sure to check the site often for the newest sale item. There are some great deals already on BioShock Infinite, Batman: Arkham Origins, and Dishonored. Also, don’t forget to vote for which games you want to see go on sale!

Valve is also introducing craftable Holiday Sale Snow Globe Cards that users will be able to make after earning Holiday Sale Cards. There are lots of ways to earn these, spending money being one of them (every $10 = 1 Holiday Sale Card). There are also some limited edition rewards available too. You can read up on all the details on these special Holiday Cards at store.steampowered.com/promotion/snowglobefaq.

To celebrate, Grind Vids uploaded this awesome Coca-Cola holiday commercial parody video to their YouTube channel.

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Are you guys ready for more Clementine?! I am, which is why I am happy to report that Telltale Games has announced that the first episode of The Walking Dead: Season Two – A Telltale Games Series, entitled “All That Remains,” is now available to download on the PC, PS3, 360, and even mobile devices.

The first of five downloadable episodes, “All That Remains” continues the story of Clementine, a young orphaned girl forced to deal with the reality that the dead walk among the living, as she struggles to survive zombie bites and build trust with living, surviving humans.

Dan Connors, Co-Founder and CEO of Telltale Games, laid it all the line with these following words:

“The zombie apocalypse doesn’t care about who you are; it doesn’t care that you’re a 9 year old girl and not an adult man. That’s something players will have to deal with as they become Clementine. Clem is very important to players – there’s a strong emotional connection there – and she’s going to experience some extreme situations. Gamers can look forward to more harrowing choices that we hope will stay with them for a long time. We’re thrilled to continue our relationship with Robert Kirkman and Skybound, and we can’t wait to see what fans think of Clem’s continuing story.”

I’m crapping my pants already, Dan. One of Telltale Games’ biggest fans, The Walking Dead creator and writer Robert Kirkman, is also excited to see where Clementine and friends end up next, saying:

“I’m excited for everyone to see the next step in Clementine’s evolution. What Telltale has been able to bring to the world of The Walking Dead has been fantastic. Season 2 is going to be an amazing experience.”

“All That Remains” has already gotten praise from outlet GameTrailers.com, receiving a 9 out of 10 EDITOR’S CHOICE award. Season One has already sold millions and earned over 90 GOTY awards, so it is KINDA a big deal.

The remaining episodes in the season will be released periodically, concluding in 2014. More information about the series can be found here. I gotta catch up on the rest of Season One, but you can bet I’ll be all over this like a zombie on rotting flesh very soon. Anyone else biting?

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  • You’re posturing, coconut crab. It’s blatant and we can see right through it. Image: Drew Avery/Flickr

  • Coconut crabs are adept climbers, often scaling trees to reach fruit and coconuts. Image: Dacia Wiitala

  • A female coconut crab with red eggs on her abdomen. She’ll release these in the ocean, leaving the young to fend for themselves. Image: Michelle Drew, Max Planck Institute

  • A group of coconut crabs is referred to as a nightmare. Image: Michelle Drew, Max Planck Institute

  • Seriously. Coconut crabs love climbing. Image: Michelle Drew, Max Planck Institute

  • A juvenile coconut crab at left with a more developed version on the right. Image: Michelle Drew, Max Planck Institute

  • True to their name, coconut crabs are quite partial to coconuts. When finished with the flesh, they’ll bang the two empty halves of the coconuts together and have a good laugh. Image: Michelle Drew, Max Planck Institute

  • You’re posturing, coconut crab. It’s blatant and we can see right through it. Image: Drew Avery/Flickr

  • Coconut crabs are adept climbers, often scaling trees to reach fruit and coconuts. Image: Dacia Wiitala

  • A female coconut crab with red eggs on her abdomen. She’ll release these in the ocean, leaving the young to fend for themselves. Image: Michelle Drew, Max Planck Institute

  • A group of coconut crabs is referred to as a nightmare. Image: Michelle Drew, Max Planck Institute

  • Seriously. Coconut crabs love climbing. Image: Michelle Drew, Max Planck Institute

  • A juvenile coconut crab at left with a more developed version on the right. Image: Michelle Drew, Max Planck Institute

  • True to their name, coconut crabs are quite partial to coconuts. When finished with the flesh, they’ll bang the two empty halves of the coconuts together and have a good laugh. Image: Michelle Drew, Max Planck Institute

It’s hard to go wrong with a hermit crab as your child’s first pet. They’re low maintenance and kinda cute in their own way, plus they’re hypoallergenic, as PetSmart feels the need to point out. But use care when choosing your crab. Whatever you do, don’t pick up Birgus latro, which can grow to a leg span of 3 feet, climb out of your terrarium, and assault the family cat.

Birgus latro is more commonly known as the coconut crab, and it’s the largest terrestrial arthropod in the world (the largest overall being the Japanese spider crab — but that’s a story for another week). Also known as the robber crab due to its curious propensity for stealing silverware and pots and pans, it’s the 9-pound hermit crab PetSmart wouldn’t dare carry, no matter how conveniently hypoallergenic it is.

The coconut crab is endemic to a variety of islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans, though its populations are extremely threatened on some of these thanks to, you guessed it, human tomfoolery. It grows remarkably slowly, taking perhaps 120 years to reach full size, said ecologist Michelle Drew of the Max Planck Institute.

As an arthropod, the coconut crab wears its skeleton on the outside and must shed it as it grows, so once a year it crawls into the safety of a burrow and molts. It’s highly vulnerable once it steps out of this rigid shell, so to hasten the development of new armor it … consumes its old exoskeleton.

It is, in effect, recycling the materials, which are in short supply in its terrestrial environment. Coconut crabs that “are disturbed before they have consumed the entire shell often have soft exoskeletons until they have time to reaccumulate the necessary calcium and other minerals,” Drew said in an email to WIRED.

The crab can grow and molt every year like this for more a century, expanding and expanding like a dying star with claws until it threatens to infringe on the very laws of physics.

Just gonna open this window if you don’t mind. Image: Wikimedia

“In a water environment you get support from the water that allows you to move with a much heavier shell,” said Drew. “But on land, gravity will play a huge role on how you can move and how heavy you can get. [Coconut crabs] are probably at the limits of what is sustainable given gravity, the weight of the shell, and resources available to them in terms of food and water.”

Feeding this incredible growth is no small task, so the coconut crab eats anything it can get its claws on. It’ll go after fruit, vegetation, and carrion: dead birds and other coconut crabs and such. It has been observed hunting other crabs, and Drew has records of them ambushing young chickens as well as — don’t hate me for this — kittens, like a far less cuddly Alf of the tropics.

But what it really loves are, of course, coconuts. Now, contrary to what Harry Nilsson sang in his 1971 hit “Coconut,” one does not simply put the lime in the coconut and drink ‘em both up. Coconuts are extremely difficult to open. But as you may have noticed, the coconut crab is equipped with massive pincers. (One of Drew’s friends had one clamp down on his thumb, which lost feeling for three months. She stresses, though, that the coconut crab is in fact quite gentle unless threatened.)

“They use their claws to pull away the outer fibers,” said Drew. “This can sometimes take many days and it often involves a number of crabs. They then use their longest walking leg to puncture a hole through the eyes of the coconut and then they can use their claws to pry open the shell further.”

That may sound like more trouble than it’s worth, but the average mass of crabs living in coconut-rich habitats is double that of their counterparts living in coconut-free habitats, suggesting they extract a whole lot of calories from the things. It also suggests coconut crabs are among the few creatures on this planet besides my father that would actually enjoy a Mounds bar.

Coconut crabs come in all manner of colors. This one is a lovely burnt sienna. Image: Michelle Drew, Max Planck Institute

The coconut crab finds food with its extremely well-developed sense of smell. Like an insect, it uses antennae to zero in on its vittles, but takes this to an extreme by devoting considerable brainpower to the sense.

“The neural (brain) development associated with this is massive compared to other crab species,” said Drew, “and has similarities with insect olfactory development, and is a very good example of convergent evolution associated with a land-based adaptation” — convergent evolution occurring when unrelated species arrive independently at the same adaptation.

Despite its rightful place as the world’s largest terrestrial arthropod, coconut crabs begin their lives in the sea. After mating on terra firma, mom releases her fertilized eggs in the ocean, where the larvae swim about for a month. They then enter what’s known as the glaucothoe stage and find a snail shell to occupy.

At this point the coconut crab is in essence much like the hermit crab you’d buy at the pet store. But whereas commercialized crabs live out their days in a shell, forever battling for the choicest homes, the coconut crab eventually leaves that whole keeping-up-with-the-Joneses silliness behind, developing a hard belly and making its way inland. Once it’s gone fully terrestrial, a coconut crab never returns to the sea except to release its eggs. They’ll drown if fully submerged.

Despite its freakish size, massive pincers and formidable armor, the coconut crab increasingly finds itself in peril. They have for millions of years lived on islands with no large mammalian predators, allowing them to reach such incredible proportions. This is changing as human encroachment has thrown their food chains into chaos.

“This is why they are disappearing throughout their range,” said Drew. “Most of the islands they live on now have things like pigs, dogs, and humans,” all of which will eat them. Finding truly massive coconut crabs is thus becoming rarer. They simply can’t survive long enough to grow to their full potential.

So as much as you might love to grab one so your kid can shame all their classmates during show-and-tell, please do not disturb this remarkable gentle giant. Mother Nature, and your cat, will thank you.

Browse the full Absurd Creature of the Week archive here. Have an animal you want me to write about? Email matthew_simon@wired.com or ping me on Twitter at @mrMattSimon.

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References:
Drew, M., et al. (2010) A review of the biology and ecology of the robber crab, Birgus latro. Zoologischer Anzeiger. 2010.03.001

Drew, M., et al. (2013) Factors influencing growth of giant terrestrial robber crab Birgus latro on Christmas Island. Aquatic Biology. 19:129-141

  • Football As Football re-imagines NFL logos as the crests from England, Spain, Italy and Germany. Here’s Pittsburgh Steelers as a Spanish badge. Image: Football As Football

  • Minnesota Vikings as Italy. Six designer friends from Minnesota decided to redesign every NFL logo as a side project. Image: Football As Football

  • Carolina Panthers as Germany. The group began by compiling lists documenting the aesthetic trends of the European badges–the crests, colors, historical details, etc. Image: Football As Football

  • Kansas City Chiefs as Spain. They did the same for the American logos, paying particular attention to city flags and seals, which they figured would easily translate into a European crest. Image: Football As Football

  • San Francisco 49ers as Germany. “Through sketching, or doing roughs on the computer, we could start to see how it looked. Sometimes it worked, other times it just felt forced and unnatural,” the designers say. Image: Football As Football

  • Baltimore Ravens as Spain. Baltimore was easy—”I felt like the city flag would work well within the Spanish style,” says Willhite. “I liked the Valencia crest and used that as a reference to the raven illustration wrapping around the shield.” Image: Football As Football

  • Arizona Cardinals as Spain. Image: Football As Football

  • Seattle Seahawks as Germany. Image: Football As Football

  • Cincinnati Bengals as England. Image: Football As Football

  • Green Bay Packers as Spain. Image: Football Vs. Football

  • Chicago Bears as England. The city’s star-covered flag was easy to integrate into the English crest, and the bear illustration was inspired by illustrations in English heraldry. Image: Football Vs. Football

  • Atlanta Falcons as Italy. Image: Football Vs. Football

  • Football As Football re-imagines NFL logos as the crests from England, Spain, Italy and Germany. Here’s Pittsburgh Steelers as a Spanish badge. Image: Football As Football

  • Minnesota Vikings as Italy. Six designer friends from Minnesota decided to redesign every NFL logo as a side project. Image: Football As Football

  • Carolina Panthers as Germany. The group began by compiling lists documenting the aesthetic trends of the European badges–the crests, colors, historical details, etc. Image: Football As Football

  • Kansas City Chiefs as Spain. They did the same for the American logos, paying particular attention to city flags and seals, which they figured would easily translate into a European crest. Image: Football As Football

  • San Francisco 49ers as Germany. “Through sketching, or doing roughs on the computer, we could start to see how it looked. Sometimes it worked, other times it just felt forced and unnatural,” the designers say. Image: Football As Football

  • Baltimore Ravens as Spain. Baltimore was easy—”I felt like the city flag would work well within the Spanish style,” says Willhite. “I liked the Valencia crest and used that as a reference to the raven illustration wrapping around the shield.” Image: Football As Football

  • Arizona Cardinals as Spain. Image: Football As Football

  • Seattle Seahawks as Germany. Image: Football As Football

  • Cincinnati Bengals as England. Image: Football As Football

  • Green Bay Packers as Spain. Image: Football Vs. Football

  • Chicago Bears as England. The city’s star-covered flag was easy to integrate into the English crest, and the bear illustration was inspired by illustrations in English heraldry. Image: Football Vs. Football

  • Atlanta Falcons as Italy. Image: Football Vs. Football

There’s little overlap between American football and what the rest of the world calls football: The balls are different, the fields are different, the fans are different. And the logos? Definitely different. Where America tends to prefer a boisterous cartoon that can be plastered across various marketing channels, European football logos abide by a system of crests.

No need to play favorites. But it does make you wonder: What would happen if you combined the two to make a football logo lovechild?

It’s a perfect melding of American brashness and European restraint.

Six designers from Minneapolis, Minn. have your answer. The coworkers at a local creative agency decided to create an experiment that explores what NFL logos would look like in the form of football crests from England, Spain, Italy and Germany. The resulting logos, called Football As Football, are like gaelic football—a perfect melding of American brashness and European restraint and tradition.

The clever idea originally stemmed from a blog post that reimagined American football logos if they were British. “It turned out to be a joke, with monocles, top hats etc. edited onto the existing logos,”says Garrick Willhite, one of the designers working on the project. “It made us wonder, as fans of both kinds of football, why no one had done this yet.”

The group began by compiling lists documenting the aesthetic trends of the European badges: the crests, colors, historical details, etc. They did the same for the American logos, paying particular attention to city flags and seals, which they figured would easily translate into a European crest.

Some logos came easier than others. “Through sketching, or doing roughs on the computer, we could start to see how it looked. Sometimes it worked, other times it just felt forced and unnatural,” they explain. Baltimore was easy—”I felt like the city flag would work well within the Spanish style,” says Willhite. “I liked the Valencia crest and used that as a reference to the raven illustration wrapping around the shield.” So was Chicago. The city’s star-covered flag was easy to integrate into the English crest, and the bear illustration was inspired by illustrations in English heraldry. “The badge as a whole isn’t based on a particular existing English crest, but it bears resemblance to Aston Villa, West Brom, and West Ham’s crests.”

They looked for inspiration in the quality of the teams.

Others, like Jacksonville/Italian badge were a little more challenging. Instead of relying solely on aesthetic cues, they looked for inspiration in the quality of the teams. “I did sort of a stylistic mashup, combining design elements from a few perennially mediocre Italian teams (Cagliari, Sampdoria) and then applying the Jacksonville colors, etc,” explains Alec Lindsey. “That one was me trying to make something that felt more authentic than radical or beautiful.”

So far they’ve released two rounds of badges, but they plan to publish two more sets of 32 logos throughout the NFL season. It’s a labor of love, but as avid sports fans, the crew says it’s more fun than work. Which leads you to the obvious question: Do they prefer football or football? “I think for most of us, it’s still the American game,” says Willhite. “Hometown teams will always be the first love.”

It’s been a while, but the second part of the “Stories from the City” video series has been released. Entitled “The Queen of Beggars Sees All”, the video goes into a bit of a background of The City’s history, and how there is about to be a shift in the balance of The City, presumably of who is in power.

It’s a haunting video that ends with her suggesting the role that you will have on these forthcoming events, and that she may actually be using your exploits for a grander scheme.

Thief will be available February 25th, 2014 in North America for PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, and Xbox 360.

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Nintendo announced some wacky Zelda news during its Nintendo Direct presentation on Wednesday. Perhaps more comforting to fans was this Yoshi’s New Island trailer that shows off graphics that are reminiscent of the SNES classic that was a staple of many a childhood.

The trailer makes Yoshi’s New Island look a lot like like the old one, but it would be surprising if Nintendo didn’t have a surprise or two in store. You know, besides the ability to eat gargantuan shy guys and throw landscape-destroying eggs.

The holiday season is here, and with Christmas quickly approaching we thought we’d give you some ideas for great video game gifts to satisfy the whole family. Use this list to find a great gift for the significant other in your life, or slide it under the door while they’re in the bathroom to drop some subtle hits for gifts for yourself.

1) Sony PS4 Skins – $29.99

You have a shiny new PlayStation 4 at home, but every time you see it you think to yourself, “I wish there was a way to express my individuality through my gaming console!” Well, you’re in luck, because Decal Girl has an array of PS4 skins to customize to any taste.

2) Astro A30 League of Legends Edition Headset – $99.99

Is someone you love a die-hard League of Legends fan? Does he or she wish they had a pair of fashionable headwear to listen to the sounds of their epic Pentakills? Then visit the Astro Gaming website to order the limited edition Astro A30 Headset which features the League of Legends and Riot Games logos.

3) Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag – Edward Kenway Dress Shirt and Cufflinks – $89.99

Not everyone can be a pirate, but now you can feel like one even in the most formal of places. The Edward Kenway Dress Shirt on the Ubi Workshop website features skulls on the inner side of the shirt, allowing the wearer to be business on the outside, pirate on the inside.

If you’re buying for the lovely lady in your life, you may want to check out…

4) Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag – Ottoman Necklace and Earrings – $59.99

Stylish, elegant, and kick-ass. There’s no reason that you can’t rep your favorite video game series during the opera or a high stakes business meeting. Click here to enter the Ubi Workshop website and check out these earrings for yourself.

5) Legend of Zelda Wedding Rings

You’ve found the one, your permanent Player 2, the only one to make your Half-Life whole, and you want to surprise them with a holiday proposal. Takayas Custom Jewelery can provide the perfect engagement and wedding rings to satisfy any gaming couple. The Legend of Zelda Wedding Collection includes beautiful rings that feature the Hyrule Royal Crests and Hylian Shield.

Before you know it, though, you’ll need to pick up…

6) Bioshock Infinite Songbird Plushie – $55.00

“Songbird, Songbird, see him fly. Drop the children from the sky. When the young ones misbehave, escorts children to their grave.”

Although the Columbia children’s nursery rhyme is pretty grim, the little ones in your life are sure to be excited for the Bioshock Infinite Songbird Plushie. Just be sure not to lock them away in a tower with only Songbird as a friend.

Hopefully you’ve come away with some great ideas from reading our 2013 Video Game Gifts Shopping Guide. Do you know of any cool video game swag that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments, and Happy Holidays!

The wait is over; all you North American PS3 owners can now own the sandbox indie game Minecraft, available on the PSN store on December 17th. And Europe? Well I do feel for you folks, you guys will have to wait until December 18th. Tough break.

Mojang’s Owen Hill stated that the PlayStation 3 version will have the same content as the other console versions, and added that they will be pretty much identical to play. Downloadable skins and textures will also be available on the PSN store soon after release.

The phenomenon Minecraft has to date sold over 33 million copies across all platforms . This release comes nearly a year and a half after the Xbox 360 release, so those in the Sony camp are admittedly pretty late to the party.

There are still no figures given for a PS4 and PS Vita release, however development will be back on track now that the PS3 version is complete. It is likely that we will see the game be released sometime in 2014, with Hill still unsure of whether there will be any cross-compatibility with the PlayStation 3 version.

There has been no indication of how much the game will cost, but I’m presuming it will be roughly about the same price as the Xbox 360 version, which currently is $19.99.