Thursday, 16 February 2012

New New Twitter is a Total #Fail

Since Twitter was introduced in 2006, the microblogging service has become an important part of the internet. Indeed, for many it has become  a combination chat client, information service, and news source (limited though it may be) for many. There can be no doubt that much of the reason for Twitter's success was its combination of simplicity and its functionality. This is also probably the reason why Twitter changed only a very little in the first few years of its existence. Perhaps the biggest change came in September 2010, when Twitter introduced a new interface that would become known as "New Twitter."

While there were those who preferred "Old  Twitter" to "New Twitter," even its harshest critics would have to admit that "New Twitter" retained much of the original's functionality, even if it lost some of its simplicity. Sadly, changes would eventually be made that would reduce "New Twitter's" functionality. In November 2011 Twitter replaced its mentions tab and its retweets tab with a single @username tab that combined mentions and retweets all together in one stream. Many users, who preferred to see their mentions and retweets sought workarounds from Greasemonkey scripts and Chrome extensions that restored the retweets tab to simply bookmarking the URL that contained their retweets stream (it was the address https://twitter.com/#!/search/realtime/include%3Aretweets%20OR%20via%20%40YourUserName). Unfortunately, this month would see Twitter change its interface once more, this time sacrificing virtually every bit of remaining functionality the Twitter interface had.

Dubbed "New New Twitter" by many (including myself), this new interface was introduced in December 2011. This week it has been forced upon everyone who uses the Twitter interface, much to the dismay of many. Quite simply, "New New Twitter" could be the absolute worst redesign of any website, even MySpace and Faceback (which is saying a lot).  Twitter has not only lost the simplicity it once had, but most of its functionality it had as well.

The change that users will immediately notice from "New Twitter" to "New New Twitter" is that the sidebar, which was always on the right hand side, is now on the left hand side. This has caused enough distress among Twitter users that there are already Greasemonkey scripts and Chrome extensions in existence that move the sidebar back to the right side. While this change is admittedly cosmetic and really doesn't affect the functionality of the site, the fact is that after years of the sidebar being on the right most tweeters are used to it being there. The fact that it was suddenly on the left side in "New New Twitter" was somewhat jarring.

Of course, if the migration of the sidebar to the left side was the only change Twitter had made to its interface, I rather suspect users might not mind it so much. The fact is that "New New Twitter" has a whole slough of problems that make it much less functional than any previous version of Twitter. Among these is the fact that not only did Twitter move the sidebar, they also moved the tweet box (I don't know if that is the technical term, but it is the box that one composes his or her tweets in).  While it had been at the top in all of the previous versions, it is now on the sidebar (which is on the left side).  Worse yet, the tweet box is much smaller, making it more difficult to see the tweet one is composing. In moving the tweet box from the top off to aside, Twitter has essentially made it more difficult to tweet (which is, after all, the whole purpose of Twitter).

Shockingly, changing the position of the tweet box is only one of the more minor flaws of "New New Twitter." Now instead of an @username tab and a retweets tab, there is a Connect button. Clicking on the Connect button takes one to a page where one can see Interactions (one's mentions, retweets, and notices of being followed all jumbled together) or Mentions (which is only the mentions). Worse yet, the old workaround of going directly to the retweets url (https://twitter.com/#!/search/realtime/include%3Aretweets%20OR%20via%20%40YourUserName) no longer works. When one goes there he or she sees (yes, that's right) his or her mentions, retweets, and notices of being followed all jumbled together. Whether Twitter realises this or not, this greatly reduces the functionality of the interface. Those of us whom one might call "Power Tweeters" can get well over twenty mentions in one day and sometimes nearly as many retweets. It then becomes very difficult to keep track of one's mentions and retweets if they are all combined in one stream. I much preferred it when there was a separate tab for mentions and a separate tab for retweets, and I suspect most tweeters share my preference. If they did not, I rather suspect the workaround discussed above would never have come into being, nor the Greasemonkey scripts and Chrome extensions.

The jumbling together of mentions, retweets, and notices of being followed  are not the only loss of functionality in "New New Twitter." One's direct messages and lists are now hidden in a drop down menu located towards the top right. That's right--two of the most important and popular features of Twitter are now harder to reach! Indeed, on the "New New Twitter" interface one has to check one's direct messages regularly to even know if he or she has messages! This is an example of  how "Old Twitter" was far superior to "New New Twitter." On "Old Twitter" not only were one's direct messages and lists easily accessible, but one could easily tell when he or she had a new message.

Twitter has added one new feature in New New Twitter that previous versions did not have. Sadly, it is not particularly useful. The #Discover button is a variation on the Activity tab Twitter had added to New Twitter in November 2011. The only difference between the Activity Tab and the #Discover tab is that while the Activity tab only displayed the activities of one's friends (if they followed someone new or favourited a tweet), the #Discover tab also displays news stories (none of which I found interesting).  Quite simply, the #Discover button occupies valuable web real estate that could be taken up by much more useful, much more desirable, separate Mentions and Retweets tabs while offering the user nothing particularly useful in return.

While there are some who like "New New Twitter," the reaction of most tweeters I know has been largely negative. A hashtag search for #newtwitter reveals that reaction to New New Twitter has been mixed to say the least. About a fourth of the tweets say something along the lines of "I love #newtwitter." The other three fourths of the tweets range from simply "I hate #newtwitter" to, well, things I cannot repeat on a PG-13 rated blog. It would seem that a majority of tweets hate "New New Twitter" and I rather suspect they hate it for the flaws I pointed out above.

The fact that "New New Twitter" seems to be a very unwelcome change among most users makes me wonder if Twitter even knows how people use the service. I think I can speak for myself and most of my fellow tweeters when I say that we do not go to Twitter to "discover" news stories (there is Google News and Yahoo News, not to mention numerous newspapers and TV outlets, for that) or snoop on what our friends are doing on Twitter. We go to Twitter to send and receive information--to microblog. Given that fact, seeing which tweets are retweeted is of much more importance than "discovering" news stories one can easily find elsewhere. After all, retweets can be used as a gauge as to what is popular, what one's followers might like to see tweeted the most. Mentions are a means of communicating with other tweeters, as well as another gauge of what is popular. In the end retweets and mentions are two of the most useful tools a tweeter can have. Given that many of us can get several mentions or several retweets on any given day, it would be very handy to be able to see mentions and retweets in their own separate streams!

I have read from more than one source that Twitter wants people to use its interface instead of the many Twitter apps that are out there for PCs, Macs, and the various phones. Sadly, I think with "New New Twitter," Twitter has achieved the exact opposite. They have insured that their users will flock to the various, other Twitter apps out there, many of which allow uses to see their retweets and mentions in separate streams and provide easy access to messages and lists. I know for myself that the moment "New New Twitter" replaced "New Twitter" on my computer last night that I went straight to HootSuite (which I have always used to schedule tweets) and I have been using it ever since. I know of at least one other person who switched to HootSuite since "New New Tweeter" was forced upon us as well. I rather suspect that many who were not previously using Twitter apps other than the Twitter interface are doing so now. Indeed, I have to wonder if this week HootSuite, Seesmic, Echofon, and the many other apps out there for computers and phones have not seen a surge in their number of users. Somehow I do not think this is what Twitter had in mind.

It is hard to say how Twitter will react to the negative reaction to "New New Twitter." After the @username tab and Activity tab replaced the mentions tab and the retweets tab last year, they took no steps to restore the retweets tab even though there were demands from many users that they do so. It seems possible then that Twitter will ignore users' complaints about "New New Twitter" and it will remain  lacking in functionality and inferior to nearly every other Twitter app in existence. That having been said, if Twitter notices that usage of its native interface has dropped dramatically, which I suspect it will, they might well make changes to "New New Twitter" or simply do away with it entirely. I hope that this is the case. Personally, I would like to see the return of "Old Twitter," with its mentions and retweets tabs, and direct messages that are easily accessible or at least a return of  "New Twitter" with separate mentions and retweets tabs. I rather suspect I am not alone.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Mad Artist John Severin Passes On

John Severin, who was one of Mad magazine's original artists and contributed work to both E.C. Comics and Marvel Comics, passed on 12 February 2012 at the age of 90.

John Severin was born in Jersey City, New Jersey on 26 December 1921. John Severin did his first professional work as an artist when he was only 10 years old. He contributed drawings to Hobo News. He attended The High School of Music and Art in New York City. Among his classmates were fellow future E.C. Comics artists Will Elder, Al Feldstein, Al Jaffee, and Harvey Kurtzman. During World War II he served in the United States Army.

Following World War II, John Severin worked in advertising, designing logos for everything from candy boxes to lunch boxes. When he did not have an advertising assignment he would contribute "Hey Look!" gags to Stan Lee for use in comics published by what would become Marvel Comics. The money he made in creating these gags led him to create comic books samples, which were inked by Will Elder. It was in late 1947 that the team of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon gave them their first job at Crestwood Publications. At Crestwood Publications Will Elder and John Severin would work on Prize Comics Western and Headline Comic. They also worked on Boy Commandos at National Periodical Publications (what would become DC Comics) and Actual Romances at what would become Marvel Comics. It was in 1951 inker Will Elder and penciller John Severin did their first work for E.C.Comics on Two-Fisted Tales.

At E. C. Comics John Severin would continue to work on Two-Fisted Tales. He would also contributed to Frontline Combat as well. Will Elder and John Severin would be one of the first five artists to work on Harvey Kurtzman's Mad, the other artists being Harvey Kurtzman himself, Jack Davis, and Wally Wood. He worked on the first ten issues of Mad, leaving after having a falling out with Harvey Kurtzman.

After E.C.Comics cancelled its entire comic book line (retaining only Mad, which switched to more of a magazine format), John Severin worked extensively for Atlas Comics and its successor Marvel Comics. He worked as a penciller, inker, or both on such titles as The Incredible Hulk, Sub-Mariner, Sgt. Fury & His Howling Commandos, King Kull, Conan the Barbarian, The 'Nam, and others. In the Sixties and Seventies he also contributed to Warren Publications' Blazing Combat and Creepy.

It was in the Sixties and Seventies that John Severin would become the most prolific contributor to Cracked Magazine. He illustrated almost every cover of Cracked and usually contributed several features to each issue as well. He would even illustrate the covers for the Cracked paperback reprints. In all Mr. Severin worked for Cracked for around 45 years.

In the Naughts John Severin would work on Desperadoes: Quiet of the Grave, Suicide Squad, American Century, Caper, and Bat Lash for DC Comics. He also worked the controversial 2003  limited series Rawhide Kid for Marvel Comics, as well as The Punisher. At Dark Horse Comics he worked on B.P.R.D. and Witchfinder.

Of  the many legendary artists who emerged from E.C. Comics, John Severin was by far the most prolific and had the longest career. Indeed, he continued to work well into his eighties. His style was never flamboyant, but it was also very, very detailed. This gave a realism to his war stories and Westerns that was lacking in other artists' work. While he is perhaps best known for his work in the war comics genre, he worked in nearly every comic book genre that existed: Westerns, detective stories, superheroes, and so on. In fact, it is a testament to John Severin's versatility that he is best known for his work in war comics and on Cracked Magazine. What is more he did as well with realistic war stories as he did the humorous, satirical material in Cracked. With one of the longest careers in comic books and as one of the most talented comic book artists ever, John Severin will be remembered.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Actor David Kelly R.I.P.

Irish actor David Kelly passed on 12 Februrary 2012 at the age of 82.

David Kelly was born on 11 July 1929 in Dublin, Ireland. He started acting when he was only 8, at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin. He made his television debut on an episode of The Passing Show in 1951. He made his movie debut in The Wrong Man in 1956. In the later Fifties he appeared in episodes of the TV shows G.E. Theatre, ITV Play of the Week, and ITV Television Playhouse. He appeared in the film short "The Mail Van Murder" and the feature film Dublin Nightmare (1958). He also appeared frequently on stage.

In the Sixties Mr. Kelly appeared in the films The Quare Fellow (1962), Girl With Green Eyes (1964), Young Cassidy (1965), Ulysses (1967), The Italian Job (1969), Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx (1970), and The McKenzie Break (1970). He guest starred on such TV shows as UndermindPublic Eye,  The Informer, The Wednesday Play, Adam Adamant Lives!, Half Hour Story, The Ronnie Barker Playhouse, and For Amusement Only.

In the Seventies David Kelly provided the voice of the Dead Man in the series Tales From the Lazy Ace. He was a regular on the shows Robin's Nest, Oh Father!, and Last of Summer. He appeared on the RTE mini-series Strumpet City. He made guest appearances on such shows as Armchair Theatre, Z CarsDoctor on the Go, The AdventurerFawlty Towers (one of his most famous appearances), Mr. Big, Citizen Smith, and Time of My Life. He appeared in such films as Never Mind the Quality: Feel the Width (1973), Philadelphia, Here I Come (1975), and The Next Man (1976).

In the Eighties he was a regular on the series Cowboys. He appeared on such shows as The Gentle Touch, Whoops Apocalypse, Glenroe, The Irish R.M., Yellowthread Street, and In Sickness and In Health. He appeared in the films The Jigsaw Man (1984), Stryker's War (1985), Pirates (1986), and Joyriders (1989). In the Nineties he appeared in the American mini-series Scarlett. He appeared on such shows as Heartbeat, Ballykissangel, and Upwardly Mobile. He appeared in the films Into the West (1992), A Man of No Importance (1994), Moondance (1995), The Run of the Country (1995), The Matchmaker (1997), Walking Ned Devine (1998), Ordinary Decent Criminal (2000), and Greenfingers (2000).

In the Naughts he appeared in such films as Mean Machine (2001), Mystics (2003), Laws of Attraction (2004), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), The Kovak Box (2006), and Stardust (2007).

Although probably best known to audiences for his guest appearance on Fawlty Towers as incompetent builder O'Reilly in the episode "The Builders" and his role as the kindly Grandpa Joe in Tim Burton's adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, David Kelly had long and varied career in which he gave many good performances. Throughout his career he played everything from Catholic priests (in The Run of the Country) to a slightly mad scientist (in The Kovak Box). What is more, he was convincing in all of them. David Kelly was a brilliant actor who gave great performances even in the smallest of roles before becoming famous late in his career.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Actor Peter Breck Passes On

Peter Breck, perhaps best known for playing Nick in the popular Western TV series The Big Valley, passed on 6 February 2012 at the age of 82.

Peter Breck was born on 13 March 1929 in Rochester, New York. His father was jazz musician Joseph "Jobie" Breck. His parents were often on the road when Mr. Breck was very young, so he lived with his grandparents in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Eventually his parents divorced and Peter Breck went to Rochester, New York to live with his mother and her new husband. Following his graduation from high school Mr. Breck served in the United States Navy on the aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. After his demobilisation Mr. Breck attended the University of Houston where he majored in English and Drama. While still attending the University of Houston he apprenticed at Houston's Alley Theatre.

Peter Breck made his television debut in an episode of Sheriff of Cochise. In the Fifties he guest starred on such shows as The Grey Ghost, The Court of Last Resort, Tombstone Territory, Highway Patrol, Wagon Train, Have Gun--Will Travel, U.S. Marshal, Zane Grey Theatre, The Restless Gun, Sea Hunt, and Sugarfoot. He played the lead role in Black Saddle. During the Fifties he appeared in such films as Thunder Road (1958), I Want to Live (1958), The Wild and the Innocent (1959), and The Beatniks (1960).

In the Sixties Mr. Breck appeared on such television shows as Bronco, The Roaring Twenties, Hawaiian Eye, Surfside 6, Lawman, The Gallant Men, Cheyenne, 77 Sunset Strip, Gunsmoke, The Outer Limits, Perry Mason, Bonanza, and The Virginian. He had a recurring role on Maverick as Doc Holiday. In 1965 he began a four year run as Nick Barkley on The Big Valley. He appeared in such films as Portrait of a Mobster (1961), Lad: A Dog (1962), The Crawling Hand (1963), Shock Corridor (1963), and The Glory Guys (1965).

From the Seventies into the Naughts, Mr. Breck appeared on such television shows as Alias Smith & Jones, Mission: Impossible, McMillan & Wife, S.W.A.T., The Six Million Dollar Man, Vega$, Masquerade, The Fall Guy, the Nineties revival of The Outer Limits, and John Doe. He appeared in such films as Benji (1974), The Sword and The Sorcerer (1982), Highway 61 (1992), Decoy (1995), Lulu (1996), Enemy Action(1999), and Jiminy Glick in Lalawood (2004). Throughout the Seventies he appeared on stage. In later years he wrote a column for Wildest Westerns magazine.

Peter Breck spent the majority of his career playing in Western television series. The reason was quite simply that he was very good at it. Whether playing a hero or a villain, Mr. Breck was very convincing riding a horse and carrying a six gun. The fact that he spent the majority of his career in one genre should not be taken to mean that Peter Breck was not talented or versatile. He played a wide variety of characters on television Westerns and he always played them with an energy and depth not always seen in oaters on the small screen. Indeed, the three roles for which he was best known were very different from each other. On Maverick he played a smooth talking if rather dangerous Doc Holiday. On Black Saddle he played Clay Culhane, a gunslinger turned lawyer who preferred to solve problems with his legal knowledge than his guns. On The Big Valley he played Victoria Barkley's second oldest son, Nick Barkley, who had a bit of a temper and rather enjoyed a good fight. He was convincing in all of these roles, even though each one was different from the other. What is more, in his older years Peter Breck often attended Western TV show conventions where he talked about his experiences in the small screen horse operas. From all reports he was a true gentleman who always had time and a kind word for his fans. Peter Breck was that rare combination: a singular talent who was also a perfect gentleman.