Sunday, June 27, 2010

Octopus accurately predicts World Cup results

The funniest things happen during the World Cup.

One would think Paul the octopus would back his own team, just like any other Pom at the international tournament. But this English-born sea creature (born at Sea Life in Weymouth, on the south English coast) is keeping it real.

When two plastic boxes containing food were placed into the octopus' tank in Sea Life, Oberhausen, western Germany, one with a German flag, the other an England flag, Paul lost no time climbing into the German box.

He was right too, Germany beat England 4-1 today in their last 16 clash.

The 'oracle' is on a winning streak. Earlier in the tournament, he correctly predicted Germany would beat Ghana and Australia in their group D matches and that they would lose to Serbia.

So is it just pure luck or is there magic in the water?

Either way, I'm looking forward to following the animal's next predictions.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

If all the pictures of boats in the sea don't help, look at this oil slicken beach

As we reach day 67 of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, here is another video to add to the evidence piling up of what is seemingly an imminent, large-scale environmental disaster (if you don't already consider it a disaster).

This YouTuber's video films Destin Beach in Florida on a typical summers day. What isn't typical about this beach is that oil covers the sand (and consequently those who walk on the sand) and has thoroughly infiltrated the water.

Not only does the beach look disgusting but it is frustrating and disheartening to see the actions of a few stupid, stupid people in the oil industry (*achoo* BP) affect so many on such a large scale. This is a family beach for crying out loud!

The video also demonstrates how far the oil spill has traveled. What was originally about 60km off the Louisiana coast (at the time of explosion) has now spread well over a 300km radius and continues to grow. Two states; Mississippi and Alabama separate Louisiana and Florida, but the spill knows no bounds- just like scientists and engineers still can't figure out a way to stop this man-made disaster.

It's easy to forget about what is happening on the other side of the globe when it doesn't directly effect you, but spare a thought for the almost helpless citizens of America whose lives have been impacted for the short, and possibly the long term.

Here's to hoping they find a fix soon- and learn from their mistakes (whoever 'they'-aka those responsible- are).

The Queen is out and about- at the tennis

Attending Wimbeldon is not part of the Queen's royal duties, but on the weekend Queen Elizabeth returned as spectator to the tennis tournament for the first time in 33 years.

It was only fitting that she also enjoyed watching Britain's Andy Murray win his Centre Court match in an easy sweep against Finland's Jarkko Nieminen (6-3, 6-4, 6-2).

The last time Queen Elizabeth visited Wimbeldon in 1977, Virginia Wade won the women's title for Britain. (The special touch of a monarch's presence perhaps?)

The Queen received a standing ovation from the crowd, and a bow from both Murray and Nieminen, as she took her seat in the Royal Box. I wonder what the Rod Laver Arena's equivalent is to a 'Royal Box'?

I'm not going to get into the technical detail of the game, I just think it is nice that the Queen attended a match. Whatever 'nice' means. An empty gesture perhaps?

But what a Royal welcome she got! Just some of the seemingly unending list of tasks she had to complete on the day included: walking around the ground to give fans who had queued for hours the chance to see her, walking to another court where a 'special' green carpet was laid so she could watch some junior players hit the ball around. She then met a number of tennis champions (namely the top four seeds in the ladies' singles - Serena and Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Jankovic - and three leading male players - Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick; Nadal was too busy preparing for his own match- selfish, selfish!) before lunching at the All England Club.

Of course the Queen couldn't leave empty handed so during lunch she was given miniature versions of the men's and ladies' trophies as a memento of her visit. All together now: "awww". In the words of Darryl Kerrigan, they're going "straight to the pool room"... along with the other half a million trinkets and trophies given to the poor woman on her travels around the world.

This was Queen Elizabeth II's fourth visit in her 58-year reign so she mustn't like the tennis much. Why choose tennis? I don't know, she doesn't even bother attending the cricket. And who cares if she does or doesn't display and evoke nationalism by rocking up to sport matches anyway?

Nonetheless, we'll be expecting you in Melbourne next January Queenie. Would be a good excuse to save face over here... you are the queen regnant after all. Or better still, check out The Ashes in Brisbane come November this year. We'll give your boys a run for their money.

Fans camp in the hundreds outside theatre for Eclipse premiere- but why?

The third installment of the Twilight saga, Eclipse, was welcomed by fans in Los Angeles with open arms, squeals and some dizzy spells. Apparently the 'awesomeness' of the modern-day gothic/vampire/werewolf teenager flick induces nausea and a whole lot of obsessiveness.

Said nausea is brought about for various, often completely opposing reasons. One being the disbelief humble, everyday 'Jane' is standing a few meters away from eye candy Jacob and his youthful buffness (aka Taylor Lautner) and the pasty, scrawny Edward (aka Robert Pattinson). The other instigator of nausea is the sheer multitude of extensive 'newsworthy' coverage that graces our newspapers, magazines, televisions, radios and online sites for days feeding off Twilight mania.

That being said, the following images will probably be of little surprise to you:

Yes, many people camped outside the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on some sort of pilgrimage to welcome the new Twilight film and its stars. Some set up camp on Sunday when the premiere was not until Thursday night. Of course, many had movie t-shirts, cardboard cutouts, snuggly rugs, posters, the novels and each other to keep themselves company.

But the question that begs to be asked is why?

I cannot answer that question because I do not understand the obsession myself. The observation that Twilight has struck a chord with much of the nation and particularly with young adults and tweens seems rather obvious. So much that in a hundred years time film studies and literature students will probably be analysing the significance of Twilight as a marker of early 21st Century culture (I already feel sorry for them).

Perhaps I am being dramatic and using too many cliches. Perhaps I really shouldn't have spent four hours of my life watching the first two films when my ears began bleeding after the first 50 cliches.

On a serious vein, it is 'something' to witness a mass of young people frantically screaming as human beings walk by, desperately reaching out for a kiss, hug, photo or a signature (a similar crowd have jumped on the Bieber bandwagon).

Stephenie Meyer was shocked by her novels' reception. She told Time Magazine: "I'm waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under me ... But it keeps being huge ... I still have no idea". When Eclipse, the novel, was released about this time two years ago it bumped the final Harry Potter book off the top spot of many best-seller lists. Is Meyer the new J.K Rowling? This time for an audience that is essentially the same in age but different in sensibilities? What is an accurate measure of the series' success anyway?

I think the key ingredient that can be contributed to the novels' success is the formulaic plot. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl falls in love with boy. It is a forbidden love. They are both at odds with each other as to how to get what they both want. In the mean time the sexual tension builds. Then another boy is added to the mix. He is attractive too and a love triangle develops. The latter relationship is easier but the forbidden one is deeper. A battle ensues as their loyalties and hearts are put to the test. Only one boy can win. Who will it be? How will it come about? Oh, the suspense!

But really, here are some other possible reasons why the Twilight saga holds so much appeal:

1. The two stock standard formulas of forbidden love (think Romeo and Juliet) and a love triangle (think about almost every rom-com) are successful for a reason: we all understand them. We all know what it feels like to want something we can't have and the pain, joy and heart-ache that goes hand-in-hand with such an experience.

2. We all like fighting for a team. Team Jacob? Team Edward? Team Bella die so I can take Edward or Jacob? Whichever hunk (open to interpretation- not exactly my sentiments) you side with it is fun to be taken on a ride where your hopes and expectations are either fulfilled or dashed as the story develops. Everyone loves to belong to something and taking a 'side' allows you to relate to other like-minded people (however seriously you take the rivalry).

3. Vampires and warewolfs are sexy. (Again, not my sentiments. As my sister likes to remind me, not more than 30 minutes into the first film I rolled my eyes and said, "vampires are so tacky" and I still think vampires are tacky. Nonetheless...) There is something erotic about the constant threat that, yes, 'I am a vampire and I have come to suck your blood because you are just so attractive I can't keep my hands off you'. Scary for some, not for brave (*cough* naive Bella). Exotic, foreign, mystical animals/humans have a charm about them; the supernatural has intrigued people since the beginning of time. Besides, it certainly doesn't hurt that said vampires have teenage boy feelings (aka bipolar complexes when it comes to love) and like standing around being all angsty.

4. Bella is just like you or me. She's young, naive, a bit lonely and unhappy with life, secretly smart and waiting for prince charming to come and sweep us off our feet. Right? Oh yeah, and most importantly she is a human! So if YOU could be Bella then you could also one day find a handsome/lanky, young, strapping lad sitting across the cafeteria staring intensely at you and bam! Love at first sight. Lucky you. It happened to Bella, it could happen to me? In my dreams maybe? There's always hope, right?

5. The books are like Mills and Boon toned down for a younger audience. You don't have to invest lengths of time stressing over every line to understand the text. Most likely you could get through the books during a weeks vacation while tanning under the hot sun with a pina colada by the pool (maybe a Cherry Coke for the kiddies?). They offer hours of mindless entertainment, an escape from your present reality and a bit of unrealistic romance which never did anyone harm. 'Why not?' some would say.

These are my opinions on the cultural phenomenon that is Twilight. Like it or not, it is intriguing to watch the films/read the books if in nothing but an attempt to 'understand' what the hype is all about.

So what do you think? Why do you like/dislike the novel/film/phenomenon?

Why watch people play soccer when you can watch robots?

The 2010 FIFA World Cup is taking the world by storm, and although China didn't qualify for the real tournament in South Africa, they are determined to participate in the world game- robot style.

Over the next three days, China will host the inaugural International Humanoid Robot Olympic Games. (As if hosting the Olympics two years ago wasn't enough.) In this Olympic Games- with a twist- nineteen teams from China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and Germany will compete their shiny, humanoid robots in a number of events including track-and-field, soccer, volleyball, boxing and weight-lifting.

While the competition may not draw the same crowds as the World Cup, the event looks to be a hallmark of the future. The organisers have even gone so far as to claim that the robot Olympics is designed to help make more intelligent robots for use at home. (My Mum always said she would invest in new technology when it could clean the house and cook dinner. Perhaps her waiting days are almost over.)

If you ask me, the robots look like an unsettling mix between evil automatons straight out of Dr Who and toy transformers.

But if robots are more your 'thing', you can have your very own soccer-playing android for the bargain price of $1,000, according to RIA Novosti. (Warning: designing a robot also involves many months of painstaking work. I'm just saying...)

Sounds like it would be easier to just go watch real people kick a ball around, even if the refs are terrible and some of the players are whingers (don't get me started on the vuvuzelas). I'd imagine the boys are easier on the eyes as well. Robots are butt ugly, don't you think?

Friday, June 25, 2010

MasterChef ratings blitz

3.7 million viewers watched the 2009 MasterChef final, and if current ratings are anything to go by, the record breaking figure is set to sky rocket even higher for the 2010 final.

On Sunday night, MasterChef drew an audience of 1.8 million viewers. The introduction of old contestants, three of which will be given a second chance to become Australia's second MasterChef, made Channel Ten a winner in the prime time slot. Seeing the contestants compete in Europe was a hit on Wednesday night when the show drew a national average audience of 2 million viewers.

MasterChef's opposition drew audiences half that size on Wednesday night. Border Security and The Force both had 1.1 million viewers, and Hey Hey It's Saturday, with only 908,000 viewers, still has audiences wondering why the show isn't actually on Saturday.

The 2009 final of the reality cooking show won every demographic. Ten's declared "target" audience of people aged 16-39 enjoyed 80.1 per cent commercial share and people aged 25-54 and 18-49 were not far behind with 76.3 per cent and 77.7 per cent respectively. Current demographic figures for the 2010 season aren't quite so high yet; on Sunday night, the 16-39 group had 51.9% of the primary 3-station commercial share. Those aged 25-54 and 18-49 had 48.5% and 48.5% share respectively.

When comparing those figures with its contenders, it is clear MasterChef is heading in the right direction. 60 Minutes on Channel Nine had 27.5%, 25.5% and 27.5% in the 18-49, 16-39 and 25-54 age groups. Seven's first episode of its new season Dancing With The Stars saw only a 24.0%, 22.6% and 24.0% share.

In the final few weeks (or months, who knows with three new/old contestants added to the mix), it will be interesting to see whether MasterChef can beat its own record.

So what do you think? Can they blitz the ratings, again? Which contestant will win? Join the discussion below.

My prediction: top three will be Marion Grasby, Adam Liaw and Callum Hann (or maybe even Jonathan Daddia).