HOW astoundingly brilliant is the new Chris Lilley series? The comedian has physically transformed himself to play a group of diverse characters who all bear the Lilley trademark of exaggerated personalities and punishing self-delusion. There’s the bow-tie-wearing ballet dancer from the Sunshine Coast, Jake (classic Lilley catchphrase: ”Calm the farm”); incredibly uptight Adelaide yuppie Lisa; and Indian-born Sydney princess Biswa. Ja’mie and S.mouse have been made redundant.
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OK. My Kitchen Rules isn’t the new Chris Lilley series, although if it were it would certainly make amends for Angry Boys. But Channel Seven’s hit reality cooking series – actually, hit is probably an understatement at this point – does unexpectedly share a viewpoint with the comedian’s work. Lilley is fascinated by his characters’ extremes, and in casting the latest series of My Kitchen Rules, its producers have put together a fascinating cross-section of contestants who are equally pushing the limits.

All reality shows, including the previous three series of My Kitchen Rules, look for extremes in the casting process, fitting them under easy labels such as ”the villain” or ”the top bloke”. This time, however, their characters also speak to the growing breadth of Australian society. The notion of Australian egalitarianism is dissipating under the weight of financial inequality, self-important billionaires and political divisiveness, and as a country we’re slowly starting to accept that we’re a broad, increasingly strange coalition of people.

Last week on My Kitchen Rules, Jake and his sister Elle hosted the other pairs they were competing with at their family’s expansive Queensland residence. For their main course, Jake chose to serve T-bone steak, which didn’t fit his profile at all. Another contestant, Tasmanian abalone diver and father Mick, astutely noted that Jake had probably rarely eaten a T-bone, having been raised on scotch and eye fillet. Jake thought a T-bone was exotic; Mick knew it was everyday fare.

Those contrasts are some of the fascinating elements that fuel audience fascination with the series. As a reality show, My Kitchen Rules is sharply made, but the hook of hosting a dinner party at your home that is judged doesn’t just resonate on a personal level, it provides a view inside lives that aren’t entirely familiar to us any more. Even with the artificial constraints of mainly capital-city residents, the cross-section of competitors is far more eclectic than most of our fictional dramas or comedies allow for. Solve that mystery, Dr Blake.

My Kitchen Rules is very much Australia’s show, both in terms of content and ratings.

When the show launched in 2010, it was written off as a MasterChef clone but, as the runt of the reality litter, it survived and then prospered. Last week, several 7.30pm episodes drew blockbuster-level audiences of more than 2 million people in the mainland capital cities, exceeding 3 million nationally. Many of us are watching creme brulee nightmares and the matching comedy of social manners and awkward status.

Whether it’s culturally harder to cast a renovation show or not, the contrast with Channel Nine’s monochromatic The Block is readily apparent. Despite starting half an hour earlier at 7pm, the much-promoted spinoff, The Block All Stars, is being pummelled by My Kitchen Rules. The only thing Scott Cam’s show has more of is blatant product placement. It’s struggling to make 1 million viewers in capital cities – a ratings pass mark, basically – while MasterChef: The Professionals, which is going head-to-head with My Kitchen Rules on Mondays and Tuesdays, is doing even worse, despite being good viewing.

My Kitchen Rules has a formidable format, although it’s apparent the show has aired long enough for contestants to be familiar with its working and game the show’s structure and rules to their own benefit. Biswa and her companion, Jessie, who were portrayed as entertainingly horrendous people, judged rivals on their threat to them, not their food, and a show can sour with viewers if a flaw such as that becomes prominent.

There are few other worries, even if eliminations and a move into a central kitchen for contests take away the social insight. Judges Manu Feildel and Pete Evans are performing well, with the former revealing a sly sense of humour. No one has had the nerve to serve activated almonds to Evans yet but, if they do, I fully expect a shocked silence before Lilley pulls off his latex mask and takes a bow.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

In his show’s fifth season, the ‘Bondi vet’ takes his devotion to animal welfare overseas.HOW in the world do you operate on a goldfish?
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”Everyone says, ‘Why do you bother?’ but, at the same time, ‘How do you do it?’ ” says Chris Brown with a laugh as he discusses one of the more bizarre surgeries featured in the fifth season of Bondi Vet.

”You don’t do it in the water; you get the fish out of the tank. It’s amazing how you can keep a goldfish alive out of the water, while also under anaesthetic.”

Brown enjoys challenging himself. The 34-year-old negotiates one of television’s most hectic schedules, bustling between three separate Channel Ten shows and a number of writing gigs, all alongside working at the titular clinic. Rest is rarely an option; the man has been home about 10 days in the past two months.

In a way, he’s his own worst enemy. The immense international popularity of Bondi Vet has led him to field numerous overseas requests in the latest season.

”We’re keeping it fresh by travelling; being as much the vet in Bondi as the vet from Bondi,” Brown says. He ventures to the US, Fiji, Thailand, Vanuatu and the Cook Islands, among other places.

Brown was conscious of the need for reinvention in the show’s fifth year and it promises to be an eye-opening experience, with stark international differences in veterinary care visible from the outset.

”The degree to which a country has developed economically is highly related to their attitudes towards animals,” Brown says. ”Places that are developing are often lacking in pretty basic care for animals, [so] you can make a really significant difference in a very short period of time.”

Despite the location shift, the core of the show – the bond between owner and pet – remains constant. It’s a universal thing, according to Brown. ”That passion, that care and wanting to really show that animals mean something – that was the element that needed to remain the same.”

Brown never wished this life upon himself, nor did he seek it out after a chance encounter with a talent scout in a Mosman pub. Fast forward nearly 10 years, though, and the boy from Newcastle is now a commentator, overseas reporter and travel correspondent, alongside his vocational calling.

”It was nothing I ever planned on doing, and I think that’s why there’s an innocence and relaxed outlook to it that comes through,” he says. ”I’ve never really been chasing it – it’s something that organically just happened.”

His other returning gig, sitting on the couch of The Living Room, means he is in the prime-time flagships on both Friday and Saturday nights for Ten, coverage that hasn’t harmed the chiselled veterinarian’s heart-throb status.

Even Living Room co-host Amanda Keller has professed repeatedly to having a crush on him, to which Brown laughs and replies, ”we sit on opposite sides of the couch”.

His poster-boy status is not something he feels entirely comfortable with – he continues to cop flak from colleagues at vet conferences – though by embracing it he hopes to, show by show, educate audiences and promote the profession.

”Hopefully, through the show, people get to see that it’s not just a 9-5 job. It’s all hours; it is demanding,” he says. ”If it can increase the awareness of what vets do, and if it can increase information about what to do with your pets … that’s what I’m proud of.”

Bondi Vet is on Saturday at 7.30pm on Channel Ten.

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Why the sad faces? All will be revealed when these spouses bare their relationships on the ABC.ALBERT Einstein was a man who believed in the limits of science. ”Gravitation,” he once professed, ”is not responsible for people falling in love.”
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He might have been curious, then, about a coming show pitting positive psychology, the so-termed ”science of happiness”, against love lives in crisis.

The ABC explored the emergence of the science with its 2010 show Making Australia Happy, whereby eight individuals, with identifiably low happiness ”scores”, were equipped with techniques from clinical experts to improve their overall contentment.

The reincarnation, Making Couples Happy, doubles the stakes, literally. Public call-outs were extended for couples seeking to improve their relationships, with video diaries sent in to the show.

Not surprisingly, for a show in which people have to unglamorously bare all about their love life to a national audience, the response was not overwhelming.

However, after interviews with the hosts, four were selected, each with their own problems and each of whom returned statistical scores of unhappiness when tested.

Some harbour too much explosive communication, others too little. Intimacy issues are a constant: ”We’re like passing ships in the night,” Alison remarks matter-of-factly of her 29-year marriage to Paul.

During eight weeks, the couples are forced to confront their issues, aided by specialists in the field, and every fortnight their happiness is measured to test the methods.

Married with children in Sydney, Laney had to persuade her understandably apprehensive other half, Darren, to take a punt on the show. They had seen relationship counsellors in the past to no avail and were struggling with balancing a family business, children and a marriage.

”[For us], the downside, which is a little bit of an embarrassment, was worth the upside of a happy marriage,” Laney says.

Each of the couple’s situations deliberately differed from the next, something that struck a chord with Darren. ”Coming from my experience, believing you should keep a lot of your relationship just between the two of you, I think what everyone will notice is the reality of all the couples on the show,” he says. ”Everyone has their issues.”

In this way, the show is as much about the four couples onscreen as every couple at home. Working with real-life case studies and not invented scenarios inevitably draws the public closer in a therapeutic sense.

For host and clinical psychologist John Aiken in particular, it was about taking scientific strategies and reworking them for television. After all, no one wants to watch an hour of talking heads, he says.

The show is intended to deliver tips to couples everywhere, a lofty prospect that excites Aiken. ”For me it’s kind of a dream job, because it gives you a national platform to make relationships accessible,” he says. ”It demystifies them and it empowers couples.”

Making Couples Happy is on Thursday at 8.30pm on ABC1.

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FRANK Rigby will give his wife of 64 years a flower on Thursdaymorning, but it won’t have anything to do with Valentine’s Day.
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‘‘He gives me a flower every morning,’’ says Beryl Edith Rigby.

‘‘We could be in the middle of the desert and he’ll find me a flower.

‘‘It’s not always a rose but I always get a flower – every morning.’’

So is the romantic Mr Rigby content with making every day feel like Valentine’s Day? Not a chance.

Today, as he has for six decades, the former Newcastle councillor has published a love poem to his wife in the Newcastle Herald.

‘‘She thinks I’m crazy,’’ says the lifelong Stockton resident.

‘‘And I think she’s right.’’

Mr Rigby met his wife, who he affectionately calls ‘‘Beb’’, in 1944 and the pair married five years later.

Mr Rigby said he started writing poetry as a way to share the wild tales he heard while working on the waterfront.

‘‘You’d hear some funny stories down there but you couldn’t tell them anywhere else,’’ he said.

‘‘I just tried to turn them around so you could tell them in mixed company and I’d put them to rhyme.’’

Eventually, he started penning poems for his wife and submitted one to the Herald for the first time in the early 1960s.

As the tradition continued, he soon found his audience growing to beyond his beloved.

‘‘It seemed like half of Newcastle was reading my poems – the paper should’ve been paying me to write them,’’ he said.

Mr Rigby said his wife cuts out the poems each year and adds them to her jewellery box. And she is looking forward to many more poems and years together.

He chalks up the success of their relationship to their special bond.

The couple founded the John Hunter Children’s Hospital charity, The Kids Club, which has since raised more than $3million.

‘‘We have done everything together – everything I did with the council and John Hunter Hospital foundation wasn’t just me, it was the two of us,’’ Mr Rigby said.

Though Mrs Rigby knows what to expect today, she says she always looks forward to his latest work.

But she can’t nominate a favourite poem.

‘‘They’re all beautiful,’’ she said.

LOVING: Frank still gives his beloved a flower every morning. Picture: Simone De Peak

BLISS: Frank and Beryl Rigby on their wedding day 64 years ago.

MOST club captains believe action is needed to improve the standard of Newcastle district cricket, but opinion is divided on how to achieve that.
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The Newcastle District Cricket Association is expected to reveal more details of its proposed eight-team premier league to the 12 clubs in the next two days, after an initial meeting with the presidents on February 4.

While support for the radical change to the competition appears weak among presidents and other powerbrokers, the captains are more open to the possibility.

Merewether have dominated the competition in the past year, winning two-day, 50-over, Twenty20 and SCG Country Cup titles, and vice-captain Troy Goodwin said the premier league was needed.

“It needs to go to eight teams for the good of Newcastle,” Goodwin said.

“If we want to compete in the Twenty20 comp in Sydney next year, cricket in Newcastle has got to strengthen.”

Stockton-Raymond Terrace skipper Nick Foster and University counterpart Josh Emerton are also supporters.

“They really do need to look at the premier league or cutting a couple of teams back, which will in turn make those players go to other first-grade clubs and make them stronger, which is obviously good for the entire comp,” Emerton said.

Almost three years ago, the NDCA proposed cutting the competition to 10 sides before five of the six clubs threatened to form a voting bloc to defeat the plan.

Veteran Charlestown skipper Steve Mace and first-season Wallsend captain Brett Jackson, whose clubs are struggling, both believe standards will rise only through mergers or cutting sides.

Neither supports a premier league.

“I think the competition has to bite the bullet and actually reduce the number of clubs, whether it be us merge with someone, or someone else,” Jackson said.

“I just think there’s definitely too many clubs and obviously not enough quality players in the top grade.

“With this premier league, who’s going to want to play in the second division?”

Jackson, one of the competition’s leading batsmen, said he would likely leave Wallsend if they were relegated, as he aspired to play the best standard of cricket possible.

Mark Littlewood (Belmont), Ben Woolmer (Wests) and Steve Christie (Waratah-Mayfield) are open to change to improve the competition but are unsure about the premier league until more details are released.

Hamwicks captain Kirk Mullard and Toronto skipper Joe Price believe the competition does not need big changes.

“You can’t have some clubs with the best players in the comp playing in the lower leagues, like for instance the rep captain [Littlewood],” Mullard said.

Hamwicks have won the past three minor premierships and lead the competition.

“It’s just evolution; it goes around in a roundabout,” Mullard said.

Mullard said that when he joined in the mid-90s Hamwicks ran eighth or ninth.

“We’ve been very successful, but we’re under no illusion that at some stage the run will come to an end.”

MEDICAL staff at Muswellbrook District Hospital say a plan to solve its emergency department woes by taking over nursing home beds is a ‘‘poor compromise’’.
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The hospital’s medical staff council chair Dr Mark Rikard-Bell tabled a signed letter at the February council meeting from 14 doctors at the hospital.

They totally disagreed with a plan to expand the emergency department into the on-site nursing home.

‘‘The emergency department is not as important as the care of the elderly,’’ Dr Rikard-Bell said.

‘‘We have struggled to keep both for many years and resent being coerced into accepting a poor compromise.’’

The Newcastle Herald reported in September complaints that the hospital’s emergency department was grossly undersized.

Doctors say the emergency department needs an estimated $10million facelift but has only got $4million.

Hunter New England Health wants to remove the 18-bed aged-care unit from the hospital’s ground floor to make way for the new emergency department.

However, it has not found a private aged-care provider, and building a new nursing home would be years away.

In the meantime, it is not accepting new nursing-home residents and its interim plans are to use hospital acute-care beds for the elderly residents.

‘‘This will primarily affect the surgical and cataract lists, once again disadvantaging the elderly,’’ Dr Rikard-Bell said.

‘‘It’s probably the worst emergency department in the state and it’s only an extra $2or $3million to fix it properly.’’

Hunter New England chief executive Michael DiRienzo acknowledged it was a difficult situation but said with the growing Muswellbrook population, the new emergency department would be best on the ground floor.

He said they were in discussions with Little Company of Mary Health Care to take over their nursing home licence and would move residents to elsewhere in the hospital when work starts in October.

‘‘No residents will be forced to leave Muswellbrook,’’ he said.

Dr Rikard-Bell has written to Upper Hunter MP George Souris with his objections.

Source: Donnybrook Mail
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Theowners of the historic Southampton Homestead, near Balingup,said they were devastated by the news that theirhome had been destroyed by fire.

”My family and friends are devastated at the loss of our beautiful home, Southampton Homestead. The fire started from lightning on the hills above us and quickly progressed down through the valley when the winds picked up early Wednesday morning,” owner Jeff Pow said.

”We were on business in London and so unable to defend or assist the gallant firefighting efforts of friends and neighbours, who have put their lives on the line fighting to save our home. We wish to thank them.”

”As new farmers,we are also deeply distressed by the injuries sustained by the many varieties of animals on the farm and at a dream literally gone up in flames.”

”We are trying to get a vet in now to assess the condition of the animals while we make our way back to Perth.”

”Our loss is compounded by the loss to the West Australian public of a irreplaceable historical treasure, the Southampton Homestead, having been founded and constructed in 1859 by settlers who arrived on the first ships to WA.”

”With the loss of Wallcliffe house to the recent Margaret River fires, we hope this sends a clear message to the state and federal government heritage agencies to act with haste and to provide deluge fire defense systems for the remaining colonial properties before they share out fate.”

The bushfire which destroyed the homestead, along with one other home, wasdowngraded to a watch and act alert on Thursday afternoon.

The warning is for the Greenbushestownsite and areas south to Dalgarup plantation in theShires of Donnybrook-Balingup, Bridgetown-Greenbushes and Nannup.

Thewatch and acthas been issued forpeople south of Hay Road, west of South Western Highway, north of Forrest Park Avenue, west of Maranup Ford Road, north of the Dalgarup plantation and east of Wetherley Road and south of the Nannup-Balingup Road in the Shires of Donnybrook-Balingup, Bridgetown-Greenbushes and Nannup.

But residents of nearbyBalingupwere bracing themselves for an expected wind change that may determine the course of a bushfire burning to the south east of the town.

The Balingup Nannup Road has been closed to all traffic except residents choosing to leave.

Spring Gully Road resident Betty Guest said she and husband John Guest had been fighting the fires around their property last night. They lost some fencing and half a paddock before a firebreak was put through the centre of the property, containing the fire at that end.

Neighbour’s paddocks and a hill on the south side of Spring Gully were lost.

Mrs Guest, who evacuated at 8.30pm Wednesday with another woman, said fires were burning throughout the plantations and bush in the area.

She said last night the flames were crowning, meaning they were burning 100m above the treetops.

“They roared so loudly,” she said.

“Now we’re just waiting to see what the winds are going to do.”

Balingup resident Margie Miskimmin said south east Balingup was possibly in danger from the fire this afternoon, depending on the wind. Residents in her neighbourhood, located off the Balingup-Nannup road, were fireproofing their houses.

Balingup resident Sana Turnock said the sky in Balingup was white yesterday, and today there was ash landing on her balcony and coming into the house. She said she had packed her bags yesterday and was ready to go should it be necessary.

[View the story “Bridgetown, Greenbushes, Balingup and Nannup bushfires” on Storify] Photos of the bushfires taken at 2pm Wednesday by Elsie Scarrott at Maranup Ford.

Photos of the bushfires taken at 2pm Wednesday by Elsie Scarrott at Maranup Ford.

Photos of the bushfires taken at 2pm Wednesday by Elsie Scarrott at Maranup Ford.

This photo was taken in Greenbushes by local resident Clint Walker.

Gary Humphries has received strong praise from Heather Henderson and Tony Abbott.Tony Abbott has hit out at ”ambushes” in preselection contests as he strengthened his support for ACT Liberal Gary Humphries.
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The federal Opposition Leader also called for all eligible Liberal Party members to have a say in the looming preselection battle between Senator Humphries and Zed Seselja.

His strong intervention came on Wednesday evening at a party function organised by Senator Humphries’ supporters.

A petition was circulated at the function calling for the preselection process to be overturned on the basis that many of Senator Humphries’ supporters have been disenfranchised.

Mr Abbott praised Senator Humphries’ political skills for becoming ACT Chief Minister before he entered the Senate.

”I want to see those gifts continue to be available to us in the Senate and more widely, so I really want to support Gary’s continuation in the Senate as strongly as I possibly can.

”Gary Humphries has done a marvellous job in politics and should have many more years in politics ahead of him. I think people who have worked like that deserve the support and loyalty of their fellow MPs and their fellow party members,” he said.

Mr Abbott said the Liberal Party believed in competition and its MPs should expect to face challenges for their positions.

”But it’s got to be a fair and clean preselection, there should be no dirty tricks, there should be no ambushes, we leave the dirty tricks and the ambushes to the Labor Party,” he said.

”I hope that every ACT Liberal who wants to participate in this preselection will be given every opportunity to do so.”

Mr Abbott said he hated factions because they meant decisions were not made on the merit of the argument.

”Regardless of the way in which this preselection is ultimately conducted and regardless of who ultimately is entitled to vote, I hope every single one of those preselectors will give it his or her honest, conscientious attention and will make

the decision that he or she thinks is best for our party and our country,” he said. ”No one should be told what to do. No one should be dragooned into voting for one or other candidate simply because some boss says you’ve got to go this way.”

Senator Humphries warned the Liberal Party could lose its sole ACT Senate spot if infighting continued.

”The truth is, in the last two weeks, the Canberra Liberals have taken their eye off the ball,” he said.

”Let’s make sure this unfortunate episode in our party’s history is put behind us as soon as we can.

”Let’s deliver a Senate seat in the ACT to an Abbott government. But to be frank with you I fear whether that is capable of being guaranteed if we don’t decisively settle the situation.

”It’s not a safe seat, it’s not a seat that automatically comes to us without having to fight very hard, it’s in reality a marginal seat.”

The daughter of former prime minister Sir Robert Menzies, Heather Henderson, said it was distressing to see the present ruction in the ACT Liberals. ”We don’t want to lose a senator, which we might easily so … I know we all support him [Senator Humphries] and certainly I do. I find it very sad we have a fight in public and not behind closed doors.”

Earlier, Liberal MP Alby Schultz said in an email Senator Humphries had an ”absolute lack of political nous” because his staff sent an invitation to the ”disgraced” former Liberal Peter Slipper.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

NSW Labor is struggling internally with its promise to deliver greater democracy through rank-and-file preselections before the federal election.
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Factions within the party have been involved in a tug of war over who will represent Labor in the seats of Werriwa and Throsby.

The general secretary of the NSW Labor Party, Sam Dastyari, right, last year told all federal MPs including John Murphy (Reid), Stephen Jones (Throsby), Chris Hayes (Fowler), Ed Husic (Chifley), Michelle Rowland (Greenway) and Laurie Ferguson (Werriwa) that they would be expected to win the support of their branch members. The six were parachuted into the seats for the last election.

Mr Ferguson, who was imposed by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, would most probably win a rank-and-file preselection in the seat of Werriwa, but some members aligned with the United Voice union and the so-called ”hard left” faction, linked with the federal minister Anthony Albanese, are said to be supporting the grassroots campaigner Damian Ogden.

The Herald understands Mr Ogden, the NSW Labor deputy general secretary, John Graham, and the union representative Mark Boyd met Mr Dastyari before Friday’s administrative committee meeting to discuss Mr Ogden’s position.

It is understood that the possibility of intervention was discussed, but dismissed.

Mr Dastyari, who has staked his reputation on delivering greater democracy within the party, has said he will not go back on his promise of running rank-and-file preselections.

Mr Ferguson said he was confident members of the ALP Right faction would vote for him and that he had the numbers to win preselection.

However, Mr Ogden denied the claim. ”For two years I have been saying Werriwa is a marginal seat and I was the best one to contest it,” he said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Remarkably, the Bioshock infinite team has made the dizzying Skyrails work well as a game element.Bioshock Infinite feels like Bioshock.
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It seems strange to say it, but that is my strongest impression after playing the first three hours of Bioshock Infinite earlier this week.

I mean this as high praise, of course; the original Bioshock was not only an excellent and atmospheric first-person shooter, but was also a significant milestone for interactive storytelling and thematic maturity and depth in video games.

Infinite seems determined to match its predecessor in every way. Its world, the flying city of Columbia, is both high-concept and deeply unsettling, much like Rapture before it. Rather than a libertarian capitalist wonderland, Columbia is a sheltered bastion of extreme nationalism, where patriotism has been fused with religious extremism, giving rise to an army of self-described patriots who love their floating city-state with evangelical fervour.

Bioshock’s plasmids, genetically-engineered biological weapons that made your bare hands as dangerous as any gun, return in the form of “vigors”. These vigors allow the expected flinging of fire and electricity, but also stranger effects such as commanding a murderous flock of crows to peck at your foes, distracting them while you take aim with your gun.

As before, there is a variety of weapons, all of them feeling pleasantly old school – pistol, machine gun, shotgun, and carbine rifle, among others. Combat is fast, brutal, and dangerous, and while it has clearly been finetuned and tweaked, it still feels a lot like the hectic gunplay in Bioshock. Also returning is the one-two combo of a gun in one hand and plasmid in the other.

There are subtle differences in the action this time around. There is a limit of two guns, and you can’t carry a huge amount of ammunition for them. This adds to the chaos on the battlefield as you frantically snatch up weapons from fallen enemies while taking fire from their friends. The enemies did not seem to be super-smart, but they did engage in basic flanking manoeuvres, and were smart enough to take cover while reloading their weapons. Another simple but effective change is that your melee weapon now has its own button – you don’t have to select it from your weapons list in order to use it.

This melee weapon is the Skyhook, a bizarre tool that allows you to latch onto and ride the Skyrail, Columbia’s vertigo-inducing roller coaster-like aerial railway. This was one element of the game that I was concerned about them getting right. In early gameplay footage, the player was shown zipping around on the rails, using them to both advance quickly on enemies and escape from them when things got too hot. I had trouble believing it would work so smoothly within the real game.

Amazingly, they made it work. Riding the Skyrails is exhilarating and terrifying, a remarkably original piece of video game design. I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I got a feel for this outlandish mode of transport, and before long I was zipping around in the sky, flitting swiftly to sniping vantage points or launching devastating aerial attacks on unsuspecting foes.

The game starts with an amusing parallel to the original Bioshock, with your character sitting in a rowboat in a rough sea and finding his way onto a city in the sky, instead of starting in an aeroplane and being plunged into a city under the waves.

Columbia is stunningly beautiful, and has been realised in amazing detail. Rather than one enormous flying mass, it is comprised of dozens, maybe even hundreds, of individual airborne pieces, ranging in size from single buildings to whole neighbourhoods. While it has been created in the Unreal Engine, same as the original, this is a radically upgraded visual experience. Even when it is creepy or disturbing, Columbia never stops being gorgeous.

Strangely, though, the horror still works. It is unusual to be engaging in tense, bloody battles in a brightly-coloured city beneath a clear blue sky, your battlefield bathed in golden sunlight, but somehow that mismatch between setting and content increases its disquieting nature, instead of defusing it.

Another big change is that the game’s protagonist, a man named Booker de Witt, has a voice, and uses it. He will talk to people he meets, comment on events in the world, and shout obscenities when hurt or frightened. He is not alone, either. Early in the game, you meet and befriend a mysterious young woman named Elizabeth, who has a major impact on gameplay.

Elizabeth has strange supernatural powers that she can neither understand nor control, and it has been revealed that these powers will become very important as the game progresses. During the few hours I played, though, Elizabeth mostly made herself useful by autonomously scavenging for money and supplies, and sometimes tossing over a freshly-loaded gun when mine had run out.

More interesting than this, though, is de Witt’s personal relationship with Elizabeth. She is the reason that he is in Columbia in the first place, having been sent there to retrieve her by some very bad people to whom de Witt owes a lot of money. While it is clear he views her as no more than a job at first, before long he starts to care about her as a friend.

Their growing relationship is a pleasantly healthy counterpoint to the sunlit horrors of Columbia. While it appears superficially to be a pleasant place, it is shot through by fascism, religious fundamentalism, and racism. Some of the propaganda on display is shocking, depicting glorious white people towering over cowering foreigners. This is a society in which black people are still kept as slaves and seen as less than human, though there are at least a few decent people who rail against this injustice.

The religious imagery is also disturbing, with Columbia’s beloved dictator being hailed as a prophet, who received the technology to build the flying city from the archangel Gabriel himself. American founding fathers such as Benjamin Franklin are revered as religious icons, and residents of Columbia regard their home as a new ark, floating free from the “new Sodom” of the America below.

Despite the radically new setting and the many changes to gameplay, Bioshock Infinite still feels authentically like a Bioshock game. The combat is solidly-designed and entertaining, but as before it is the story that drives you forward, and this sequel features enough thrilling setpieces and tender character moments to keep you forging ahead to find out what happens next. Also, while there were no spoilers given, I was assured that Infinite will have a powerful and ambiguous finale that will keep gamers debating and disagreeing for months afterward.

All I know for sure is that I did not want to stop playing. I was back in the Bioshock magic and loving it, and its worldwide release date of 26 March cannot come soon enough.

How about you, readers? Are you hyped out yet, or are you still excited about Bioshock Infinite?

– James “DexX” Dominguez

DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

A CHAMPION speedboat racer who died in a crash on Tuesday afternoon has been remembered as a good mate and a responsible skipper who was highly regarded by all who competed against him.
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The body of Steven Antuch was pulled from the Georges River on Wednesday morning after a horror accident on Tuesday afternoon in which his boat overturned near the ramp at the end of The River Road in the Georges River National Park in south-west Sydney.

The accident, in which it is believed the boat split in two, sparked a major rescue operation and search of the river involving police divers and SES volunteers.

The 28-year-old had been travelling in the boat with another man, 27, from Hurstville, who was taken to hospital after the boat rolled. However, he returned to the river on Wednesday morning, joining Mr Antuch’s family and friends for a vigil.

St George Motor Boat Club commodore Robert Taylor said it was a ”very traumatic time” for those in the club. ”We are only a small family and we are all shocked,” he said.

Mr Taylor was so impressed with Mr Antuch he had recommended him for a senior position in the club.

”He was only 28. He was the nicest and most responsible young man I know. So much so I recommended him as vice-commodore of St George Aquatic club, that’s how highly I thought of him,” he said.

”A lot of young blokes are a little bit irresponsible, drink too much and are rowdy. Steve was not like that.”

Mr Taylor described Mr Antuch as a ”competent boat driver” who was ”highly regarded by his competitors”. He was a champion racer with records for bridge-to-bridge events, he said.

Police said the boat was submerged following the accident.

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New South Wales has demanded the immediate payment of more than $40 million owed by the federal government under a school computer program.
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The NSW education minister Adrian Piccoli wrote to his federal counterpart Peter Garrett on Wednesday to warn him a failure to pay would force the program to end a year earlier than agreed, triggering the sacking of 610 public school-based technology support officers.

The angry letter prompted fresh assurances from the Gillard government that the payments under the Digital Education Revolution scheme were imminent.

Mr Piccoli said the dispute centred on the federal government’s failure to make payments of $20.1 million linked to progress reports of July last year and January this year.

”That is, a total of $40,245,000 is currently due to be paid to NSW, half of which is now at least six months overdue,” he wrote.

Mr Piccoli gave formal notice of the dispute and demanded payment by February 28, or he would esclate the matter to the Council of Australian Governments.

Mr Garrett replied that the July progress report had now been accepted and the first payment for 2012-13, $20.1 million, would be made in the next payment cycle on March 7.

Mr Garrett’s office said progress reports revealed that as of July, the NSW government had nearly $63 million of unspent Digital Education Revolution funding in reserve.

In the letter of reply, Mr Garrett said the accrual of funds came through economies of scale and because the unit price of devices had fallen in the five years the agreement had been active.

”These factors, together, demonstrate that the cost of sustainment is less in 2013 than it was when the [Digital Education Revolution National Partnership] was signed,” he said.

The Digital Education Revolution agreement, struck in 2009, aimed to improve learning in schools by upgrading technology, connecting optic-fibre, training teachers in IT, providing online resources and connecting parents to their children’s lessons online.

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Join the Markets Live blog from 8am
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Australian shares are set to open flat to lower a day after closing above 5000 points for the first time in almost three years, while world stocks were cautiously higher.

At 6am on the ASX24, the SPI futures contract was 5 points lower to 495. The Aussie dollar recovered some of its recent losses after strong consumer sentiment data yesterday saw investors trim bets of further cuts to official interest rates. In recent trade, the Aussie was buying $US1.035, roughly in line with yesterday’s close, but more than a full cent above Tuesday’s low of $US1.0228. It was also buying 96.77 yen, 76.94 euro cents and 66.56 pence.

Locally today, earnings season continues with ASX Ltd, Goodman Fielder, Mirvac and Wesfarmers reporting first half profits. Rio Tinto releases full-year results later tonight while David Jones today reports second quarter sales results.

Making news today

In economics news:Melbourne Institute consumer inflation expectation for February

In company news:The following companies report first-half results: ASX Ltd, Goodman Fielder, Mirvac Group, Whitehaven Coal, Wesfarmers, Forge Group, Perseus Mining, Paladin Energy, Mineral Resources, Adelaide Brighton, Aurizon HoldingGrainCorp Ltd full year update and guidance callRio Tinto full year resultsDavid Jones Q2 sales results

Analyst rating changes:Commonwealth Bank cut to underperform at CIMBOZ Minerals cut to sell at Deutsche BankDomino’s Pizza cut to neutral t JPMorganCarsales南京夜网.au cut to underperform at CIMBSkilled Group raised to buy at Moelis & CompanyCommonwealth Property cut to underweight at JPMorgan

Offshore overnight

United States

With about 2 hours left in trade, US stocks were fluctuating between gains and losses, after benchmark indexes rallied to five-year highs, as investors weighed economic reports and President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.

Key numbers:Standard & Poor’s 500 added 0.1% to 1520.67 Dow Jones Indus Avg lost 0.3% to 13,977.89 Nasdaq composite added 0.33% to 3197.06

Europe

European equities advanced while the yen has risen against the dollar amid uncertainty surrounding Tuesday’s Group of Seven (G7) statement on foreign exchange volatility.

Key numbers:London’s FTSE 100 added 0.33% to 6359.11 In Frankfurt the DAX 30 added 0.67% to 7711.89 In Paris the CAC 40 added 0.32% to 3698.53

Asia

Most Asian markets closed higher, but Tokyo sank on profit-taking and a stronger yen.The Japanese currency picked up after a Group of Seven (G7) statement that said ‘‘excessive volatility’’ in exchange markets hurts financial stability, as they tried to calm talk of currency wars ahead of this week’s G20 meeting.

Key numbers:Japan’s Nikkei lost 1.04% to 11,251.41Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taipei were closed for public holidays

Commodities

Energy

World oil prices dipped in subdued trading after the United States reported a rise in its crude stockpiles. The US government’s Department of Energy said that the country’s crude inventories climbed by 600,000 barrels last week, confirming slack consumer demand. Brent North Sea crude for delivery in March eased 11 cents to $118.55 a barrel in late London deals.New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for March, eased four cents to $US97.47 ($A95.09) a barrel.

Precious metals

Palladium futures settled at a 17-month high, while platinum marched higher, as traders continue to sift through reports of a potential supply disruption in Zimbabwe.Palladium for March delivery, the most active contract, on Wednesday rose 65 US cents, or 0.1 per cent, to settle at $US772.05 a troy ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange. This was the highest settlement price since September 2011.The most actively traded platinum contract, for April delivery, rose $US12.50, or 0.7 per cent, to settle at $US1,729.70 a troy ounce on the Nymex. This is the highest settlement price since February 6. Gold for April delivery fell $US4.50, or 0.3 per cent, to settle at $US1,645.10 a troy ounce on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange.  

Base metals

Base metals closed mixed on the London Metal Exchange (LME), struggling for direction amid a lack of clear market drivers.At the PM kerb close on Wednesday, LME three-month copper was down 0.1 per cent at $US8,225.50 a metric ton. Aluminum was up 1.1 per cent at $US2,142/ton.

How we fared yesterday

The ASX barrelled past the psychologically important 5000-point barrier on Wednesday to close at its highest level in more than 4½ years.

Buoyed by Commonwealth Bank’s strong half-year results, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index jumped 1 per cent higher to close at 5003.7.

BusinessDay with agencies

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THOUSANDS of Catholics have bid an emotional farewell to the Pope, at two of his final public appearances.
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Benedict, seen by the public for the first time since announcing his resignation, looked tired but healthy as he began his General Audience in a big Vatican audience hall.

He was greeted with cheers and a standing ovation, and then sat and read a speech to the audience. He began with his reasons for resigning – the same he gave to a meeting of cardinals on Monday.

“I have (decided to resign) for the good of the Church, after much prayer and having examined my conscience … realising that I am no longer able to carry out the Petrine ministry with the strength which it demands,” he said.

He thanked the faithful for their support since his announcement, saying “In these days which have not been easy for me, I have felt almost physically the power of prayer – your prayers.”

His talk focused on the beginning of Lent, and followed a theme of the tests of faith that a modern Christian is confronted with. He reiterated that it was the duty of a Christian to oppose abortion, euthanasia, and “the selection of embryos to prevent hereditary diseases”.

The Vatican has said Benedict will play no part in the selection of the next pontiff, however his words will be closely scrutinised as cardinals begin discussions on the church’s next step.

At a briefing yesterday, Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said Benedict would hold a farewell audience with the College of Cardinals – who will choose his successor – on the morning of his resignation on February 28th.

According to reports in Italian newspapers, he will then leave the Vatican by helicopter for Castel Gandolfo, the Papal home in the hills outside Rome, as a temporary home before he moves into a convent in the Vatican that is being renovated for the purpose.

Yesterday evening, Benedict held what is believed to be his final public liturgy – a mass in St Peter’s Basilica.

He invited the congregation to “pray for the path of the Church going forward at this particular point in time”.

He also thanked everyone and asked for “a special remembrance in your prayer”.

The Pope will hold a final audience in St Peter’s Square on February 27, but there is not any scheduled official farewell.

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A screenshot from Far Cry 3.TRADITIONAL retail video game sales  slumped 23per cent in Australia last year  as consumers  shifted to game apps and digital downloads.
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But bricks-and-mortar retailers  say that comparing game apps to full-fledged console titles for the Xbox or PlayStation is like comparing a Happy Meal with a Big Mac.

New data from NPD Group Australia shows  the revenue retailers  made  from console hardware, games software and gaming peripherals was $1.161billion last year.

Ron Curry, the chief executive  of  the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, said the sector was still ‘‘buoyant’’ despite the 23per cent fall in traditional sales because the figures did not include sales from online retail, downloadable content, digital subscriptions, mobile games and in-game micro-transactions.

The technology analyst company Telsyte predicts Australians will spend more than $730million on digital games this year,  up from $620million last year.

A Telsyte analyst, Sam Yip, told Fairfax Media that with the move to game apps and online subscription games, bricks-and-mortar  games retailers  had to diversify.

“You’ve got online games that are 10 to 20 times cheaper than packaged games and give you the same sort of experience,” he said.

Mr Yip said the quality gap was closing between Xbox and PlayStation games bought on disc and those available online or on devices such as the iPad.

But  the merchandising director at EB Games, Shane Stockwell,  said there was no comparison between game apps and console blockbusters, still mainly sold on disc because of the large file sizes.

“I would consider app gaming more like a $2 Happy Meal at Maccas,” Mr Stockwell said.

“Some people want the  Happy Meal, some people want the Big Mac – they’re not the same  and they have a price difference. I’m playing Far Cry 3  from Ubisoft – there’s no way an app compares to that.”

Mr Stockwell said he had put 30-40 hours into  the game, “and an app doesn’t come close.  But my son, who’s nine, loves playing Minecraft  … so it’s horses for courses.”

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THE Greens have launched a new bid to force the nation’s biggest miners to pay up under the mining tax, raising the pressure on Prime Minister Julia Gillard to admit the deal signed off with the three biggest miners in 2010 was botched.
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The minor party, whose support is crucial to the Labor government’s survival, wants to fix the underperforming mining tax in order to fund schools, dental health and disability insurance.

Armed with fresh data from the new Parliamentary Budget Office, it will build on its existing motion to plug the royalties hole with a second amendment limiting the scope of the biggest miners, such as BHP Billiton, Xstrata and Rio Tinto, to deduct asset values from current earnings.

Along with other cross-benchers and the opposition, the Greens believe Ms Gillard and Treasurer Wayne Swan were outmanoeuvred by the big three when cutting the new deal following the leadership change from Kevin Rudd.

The Greens say closing the loophole that allows state governments to increase royalty charges, which must then be refunded by Canberra, would save more than $2.2 billion.

Its other change would close a loophole that allows the big miners to write-off the market value of existing assets over a number of years, rather than deducting the lower book value over just five years.

It says this would secure more than $4 billion in revenue by 2016-17 and an extra $1.8 billion a year.

”Labor is taking more money off single parents than it has collected from the mining tax,” deputy leader Adam Bandt told Fairfax Media.

Its move comes as the failure of the minerals resource rent tax, which raised just $126 million in its first six months, emerges as a potential flashpoint for the Labor leadership.

MPs loyal to the Prime Minister are fuming at public criticism of the tax this week by Kevin Rudd, chief whip Joel Fitzgibbon and others.

Mr Rudd used a Sky News interview on Tuesday to remind colleagues that his original super profits mining tax had been stronger but was replaced with the watered down version by Ms Gillard and Mr Swan after the leadership coup. He said it was never right for governments to take a backward step when pursuing the national interest.

Amid the tension, an email from an ALP supporter to Mr Rudd on Wednesday was distributed widely among Labor MPs, reviving memories of the bitter personal campaign against the former prime minister’s character last year.

”Mr Rudd, your disloyalty to your leader and party is shameful,” wrote retired school teacher, Sue Martin, of Avalon Beach, New South Wales.

”It appears that childishly, you feel that if you can’t be PM then no other Labor politician should be.”

The 63 year-old said she had always supported Labor, and was tired of Mr Rudd’s approach, which she characterised as delighting in ”half smiles and non-committal responses”.

Ms Gillard has ruled out changes to the mining tax but wants to renegotiate terms with the states to cap royalty rises.

But that appears doomed, with the conservative-run resource states of Queensland, Western Australia and NSW all dismissing any suggestion of placing limits on their own revenue streams.

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