Saturday, 29 April 2006

Warren Platner R.I.P.

On April 20 architect and designer Warren Platner died of complications from spinal mennigitis at the age 86. Platner designed the interiors of several prominent buildings and one of the most successful collections of furniture of all time.

Platner was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He received a degree in architecture from Cornell University in 1941. He would go onto work for Eero Saarinen (the man who designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis), participating in the designs of the Lincoln Centre's Repetory Theatre and New York's Dulles International Airport.

It was in the Sixties that he commenced upon what may be his most famous work. Working with a production team at Knoll Inc. (manufacturer of furnishings for the workplace), he created the Knoll Platner collection. The Knoll Platner collection (which has been in production since 1966) was a series of chairs, tables, ottomans, and various other furnishings, made largely from steel wire. Platner not only designed the furniture itself, but the methods through which it was produced as well. The Knoll Platner collection is to be noted for its futuristic (for the Sixties, anyway) look, while at the same time evoking the kind of grace found in furniture of the 18th century.

Platner would also design the lighting and interiors in the Windows in the World Restaurant at the World Trade Centre, the interiors of the Ford Foundation building, Water Tower Place in Chicago, and the Georg Jensen Design Centre.

There are not many modern architects or designers whom I admire, but I must say that Warren Platner was always one of them. His designs always seemed to me to have a sleek, natural look. Indeed, Knoll themsevles compard his designs in Platner collection to a sheaf of wheat. Growing up in the Sixties and Seventies, the furnishings in the Platner collection always impressed me as looking very futuristic. They would not have been out of place on any of the sci-fi shows or movies of the era. Admiring his work, I must say that I am saddened by Platner's passing.

Friday, 28 April 2006

The Worst Songs of All Time?

As the old saying goes, one man's trash is another man's treasure. I might add that one man's song is another man's noise. CNN recently conducted an online poll of its users as to what they consider the worst songs of all time. And, as might be expected, there was no shortage of nominees for the title.

As to what made CNN's list of the five worst songs of all time, well, here they are: 5. "Seasons in the Sun" by Terry Jacks; 4. "I've Never Been to Me" by Charlene; 3. "You Light Up My Life" by Debby Boone; 2. "Muskrat Love" by The Captain and Tenille; and 1. "(You're) Having My Baby" by Paul Anka. I must admit that I am surprised by the results. It's not that I consider any of these songs could be good by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, I would say every one of these songs are bad. That having been said, I am not sure that I would say they are the worst songs of all time.

Of course, I am not sure if I were to make a list of the worst songs of all time which songs would make my top five, but I can think of many contenders. "Achy Breaky Heart" by Billy Ray Cyrus would certainly rank up there. I hate country as it is and this song is bad even by country standards. "Seasons of Love" from the musical Rent also grates on my nerves. Rather than a song from a Broadway musical, it sounds more like Muzak to me. And then there is "The Macarena," Los Del Rios's hit which sparked a dance craze as well. I hated both the song and the dance. As to "Feelings" by Morris Albert, I think it goes without saying that it is one of the worst songs of all time. And don't get me started about "We Built This City" by Starship....

Having said all this, in all fairness, I must admit that if I were to create a list of the worst songs of all time, it would certainly show a bias against certain genres. I have said in this blog that I hate both rap and country. As a result any list of the worst songs of all time I would make would probably feature songs that rap and country fans would consider classics. I must admit that if I go without hearing "I'm Not Lisa" by Jessi Colter or "My Name Is" by Eminem ever again, I'll be very happy.

This brings me to something else surprising about CNN's online poll--some songs widely considered classics recieved votes. "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by The Tokens, "Leader of the Pack" by The Shangri-Las, and "Hey, Jude" by The Beatles all got nominations! I suppose this is proof positive that one man's song is another man's noise. I personally like all three songs.

Regardless of what I think, I am sure that many of my favourite songs are counted among the worst songs by someone else out there. And I have no doubt that some of the songs I count among the worst are someone else's favourite songs....

Thursday, 27 April 2006

Timing is Everything

Last season Alias performed better in the ratings than it ever had. This season, moved to a new time slot, it performed so pathetically that it was both put on a four month hiatus and cancelled. Last Wednesday Alias returned with a two hour episode and peformed better in the ratings than it had all season. Many people might be curious as to why a show which had done so poorly in the ratings as to be cancelled suddenly saw the size of its audience increase. As for me, I am not. It all comes down to the show's time slot.

When it comes to a show's success, its time slot is all important. I think Alias is a perfect example of this. Last season Alias aired on Wednesday nights following Lost. Lost proved to be one of the surprise hits of the season and shares the same production team as Alias. The audience of Lost then, quite naturally, stayed tuned for Alias. This season ABC, for whatever reason, moved Alias to Thursday nights. Moved away from Lost and facing both Survivor on CBS and Will and Grace on NBC, the ratings for Alias plummetted. Quite simply, it was facing more than one highly rated, established show, while at the same time it lost the lead in from a show whose audience it largely shared. The cancellation of Alias could then largely be blamed on ABC, who quite unwisely moved the show from a time slot in which it was doing very well.

Of course, the ratings plunge which Alias experienced was nothing when compared to the drop in the ratings which Mork and Mindy saw in its second season. It was a smash hit in its first season, ranking third in the ratings for the over all season. For its second season ABC made two fatal mistakes with the show. First, they did away with many of the series' supporting characters. Second, they moved the show from its original time slot. The end result was that a show that had previously been a top ten hit started ranking regularly in the bottom of the Nielsens. In the end, Mork and Mindy never quite recovered, even when it was returned to its original time slot.

The importance of a show's time slot can even explain why some shows actually peform better when reran in syndication than they do in their original time slot. There is perhaps no better example of this than Star Trek. During its original network run Star Trek performed abysmally in the ratings, yet it has gone on to become one of the most successful shows in syndication of all time (right up there with I Love Lucy and Gilligan's Island). I suspect much of this had to do with when NBC scheduled the show. In its first season, Star Trek faced the still successful My Three Sons on CBS and the hit Bewitched on ABC. It is little wonder it did not do well in its first season. For its second season NBC gave Star Trek a new time slot. Sadly, this one was even worse than its original time slot. It was moved to Friday night, when many of the teenagers and college students who comprised the majority of its audience at the time would be out and about. I mean, just how many young people stay home on Friday night? Worse yet, it was against Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. on CBS, then one of the top ten shows. Again, it is little wonder Star Trek did not perform well in the ratings. For its third and final season, it remained on Friday night, but aired later than it had before--at 10:00 PM EST/9:00 PM CST. As might be expected, its ratings declined even more and it was cancelled. Because of its time slots, Star Trek never really had a chance during its original network run. I have always thought that had it in placed in just the right time slot, it could well have been a hit in its first run.

Of course, the example of Star Trek brings to me something that has always puzzled me about the networks--that is their habit of placing genre shows with an appeal to young people on Friday nights. I realise that in the early Sixties a study was conducted that Friday night was the best time to schedule such programmes, but the history of television has since proven that study to be false. The list of youth oriented, genre shows which have failed on Friday night is a long one: Star Trek, Beauty and the Beast, the prime time revival of Dark Shadows, Millenium... There have only been a few such shows that have actually succeeded on Friday night. In fact, off the top of my head I can only think of three: The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, and The X Files. Here I should point out that the success of these shows can easily be explained. When The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was moved to Friday night, it was alreay a smash hit and had become something of an outright fad. It could have been placed in nearly any time slot and done well. As it is, many of the show's fans protested its move to Friday nights. As to The Wild Wild West, it was a combinatin Western, spy series, and sci-fi show. As a Western and a spy series, it quite naturally had an audience of older males as well as younger people. Being scheduled on Friday night, it might well have lost many teenage and college age viewers, but it retained many male viewers in its thirties and forties. As to The X-Files, like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. it emerged as something of a phenomenon. Even then, its ratings were not spectacular when it aired on Friday nights. The X-Files would not become a smash hit until it made the move to Sunday nights. I have to wonder that if it had remained on Friday nights that it would not have gone the way of Beauty and the Beast.

Anyhow, I am still puzzled to this day as to why the networks choose to schedule youth oriented, genre shows on Friday night when so many such series have failed on this night. Most teenagers and college age people choose to go out on Friday nights. At the very least, they have never chosen to stay at home and watch network television! Common sense would then seem to dicate that Friday is then the worst night for youth oriented, genre shows...

Obviously, the time slot of a show is not the only thing which dictates its success or failure. The changes made in Mork and Mindy in its second season may have had caused its drop in the ratings as much as its move to a new time slot. That having been said, a show's time slot can play a large role in whether it is successful or not. A series scheduled against an established hit (these days C.S.I. would be a good example probably will not perform well. By the same token, a show scheduled against weak competition might perform better than expected. Sadly, I don't know that the networks always pay attention to this...

Wednesday, 26 April 2006

Spoof Emails

If one has email access, chances are that at some time or another he or she has received a spoof email. A spoof email is one that appears to have come from one source, when actually it has come from another. Spoofing is usually done in order to obtain sensitive information, such as passwords, credit card numbers, and so on. A prime example of a spoof email is one I received this morning which claimed to be from Ebay. It claimed that my account could be suspended if I did not verify or authenticate the information in my account. It even included a link which would take me to a place where I could "verify" or "authenticate" my information.

I must admit that this spoof email may have been convincing to someone else, but it did not fool me. The link through which I could "verify" or "authenticate" my information was a dead giveaway. EBay never includes links to pages where one can "verify" or "authenticate" one's information. Another dead give away is that nowhere did it include my EBay ID. In its emails EBay almost always includes one's Ebay ID. Another clue that the email was spoofed was its address--it did not sound to me like anything that would actually come from EBay. Here I should point out that if anyone receives an email claiming to be from EBay, they can always go to "My Messages" on the EBay website. If it is an official email, then it will be there. If it's a spoof email, then it won't.

One should never respond to any email that claims to be from an official site (EBay, PayPal, Yahoo, and so on) and demands that one provide personal information, particularly through a link conveniently provided on the email. And when at all possible, one should forward the offending email to the company from which the email claims to have come. Both EBay and PayPal have email addresses to which one can forward spoof emails. Spoofing is a very serious problem. While it is not that difficult to detect a spoof email, many people still fall victim to spoofing each year.

Sunday, 23 April 2006

Richard Cory

Tonight finds me both sick and tired. I then don't feel much like making a blog entry. Instead I thought I would leave you with one of my favouite poems by one of my favourite poets. Indeed, I'm apparently not the only one who likes the poem. Simon and Gafunkel set it to music and the song appears on their album Sounds of Silence. Anyway, here is the poem...

"Richard Cory"
by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich-yes, richer than a king-
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head