Friday, 27 April 2012

Yet Another Gripe About Facebook and Timeline

As the web has become a part of pop culture, I do at times discuss web sites here. It also seems that the web site I write about the most is Facebook. Sadly, it seems I rarely have very much complimentary to say about Facebook. The reason is simple. It seems to me that Facebook is determined to go the way of MySpace in reducing the functionality of the site with each passing month.

Indeed, as I have complained elsewhere on this blog, Facebook recently implemented a new sort of profile called Timeline. Timeline is supposed to let one, in Facebook's own word, "...highlight the photos, posts and life events that help you tell your story." While Timeline does let one go to any given month in any given year on one's profile with relative ease, over all I believe it does the exact opposite of highlighting photos, posts, and life events. Because of its two column layout it is often hard to make sense of one's own Timeline, let alone those of friends. The end result is that one is too busy trying to figure out when a particular post was made in comparison to others to even care which posts are highlighted. This was one advantage Facebook's previous layout, the Wall, has over Timeline. Its simple, single column design made it easy to see posts and to know when they were made in comparison to others.  Is it any wonder most Facebook users prefer the Wall to Timeline?

Sadly, Facebook has not simply inflicted Timeline on its users, but on its business and brand pages as well, despite the fact that most users either hate Timeline or, at the very least, preferred the Wall. At the end of March Facebook switched all brand and business pages to the Timeline format. Now I have never visited Facebook pages that much, but I have found since Facebook forced all pages to the Timeline format I do so even less. Now if the average Facebook user is like me, then I rather suspect that pages have seen a dramatic drop in the number of visitors they receive. As to my own writer's page, I simply deleted it. Part of this was in protest against Facebook forcing all pages to the Timeline format. Part of it was also the fact that I believe that in forcing my page into the Timeline format Facebook then rendered it useless as a means of promotion. In the Wall format it might get a few visitors each month. In Timeline format, I suspect it would get none.

Now Facebook appears to be trying to improve Timeline. Unfortunately, the changes they have made the past few days are only cosmetic and one of them is hardly an improvement at all. The first change, made a few days ago, was to make profile pictures bigger. To me this is an improvement, as it seems to me that the profile pictures on Timeline were much smaller than those on the old Wall. Sadly, a change they made today is not an improvement at all. Quite simply, today they made the pictures in the Friends box on one's Timeline larger. To me this made a layout that is already unattractive enough (with the cover photo, boxes containing activities, and photos that are displayed much too large) even more unattractive. Here I must point out that Timeline already loads slower than the Wall did. With the friends' photos even larger, I suspect Timeline will load even slower. While this might not be a major concern for those of us with high speed internet, for those who only have dial up it is a major concern. Indeed, I have to wonder that they will even be able to use Facebook at all.

In the end it seems obvious to me that Facebook has forgotten the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid). As proof, Timeline is not a timeline at all. Twitter's single column feed, displayed from the oldest tweets to the newest, is a timeline. Google+'s stream, with posts displayed in single column from the oldest to the newest, is a timeline. With a double column layout that makes it hard to keep track of posts, Facebook's Timeline is not a timeline at all. Instead it is more like a scrapbook with only room for two rows of scraps, and those scraps are posted in such a way that it is hard to make sense of anything.

Sadly, it does seem to me that the initial furore over Timeline has died down and as a result even those who still detest Timeline are not complaining loudly enough. I rather suspect that the reason for this is that people have simply resigned themselves to the idea that no matter how much they complain, Facebook will not change a thing. I think they could be wrong. First, it was not that long ago that Facebook made changes to the news feed which resulted in widespread user outrage. As a result of the large number of complaints made by users, Facebook changed the news feed back more or less to the way it was. I rather suspect that if enough people complain about Timeline, then they will either return to the Wall or at least make improvements to Timeline (for instance, making it only a single column). By the way, if you want to complain about Timeline, at the bottom of their "Timeline: A New Kind of Profile," are two links where one can report bugs or make suggestions (i.e. complaints).

Many have commented about how Facebook's Timeline reminds them of what MySpace became in later years. Facebook has become "SpaceBook" or "MyFace." I rather suspect that if Facebook does not do away with Timeline or make improvements, they might well become MySpace: a once might social networking site that became a graveyard. It is not as if Facebook does not have a viable rival now (Google+). Sadly, it seems to me Facebook either realises none of this or they are simply in a deep state of denial. In that case, a few years from now we might be saying, "Do you remember Facebook?"

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Guitarist Bert Weedon Passes On

Bert Weedon OBE may not be well known in the United States, but chances are that if you are a fan of rock music you have heard someone on whom he was a great influence. Bert Weedon was a  British guitarist and author of an instructional manual on guitar playing who would have an impact on three of The Beatles (George Harrison, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney), Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, Brian May, Jimmy Page, Tony Iommi, and Eric Clapton. Bert Weedon died on 20 April 2012 at the age of 91.

Bert Weedon was born on 20 May 1920 at East Ham, London. His father was a driver on the London Underground and in his spare time was part of the amateur song and dance team, Weedon and Walmisley. Young Bert Weedon would often accompany his father to Weedon and  Walmisley's performances at various railwaymen's clubs. When he was twelve his father bought him a guitar for 75 pence. Bert Weedon would leave school by the time he was 14 and work as an office boy while learning from a teacher in classical guitar. In 1934 he formed his first dance band, Butch Townsend and the Cold Shoulders. With the local butcher's son on drums, the band was named for the contents of his father's deep freeze. He played his first solo appearance in 1939 at the East Ham town hall.

During World War II Mr. Weedon worked as a part of rescue services. Following the war he joined jazz violinists Stephane Grapelli’s group. He played with various popular dance bands until in the early Fifties he joined the BBC Show Band, then led by Cyril Stapleton. He played for both BBC Radio and the BBC Television Service (now BBC One). Over the years he would be part of the music department of such shows as The Square and BBC Sunday Night Theatre.  It was in the mid-Fifties that he was signed to Parlophone. His first single, "Stranger Than Fiction," was released in 1956. He would have hits with the instrumentals "Guitar Boogie Shuffle (which went to #10 on the UK singles chart in 1959)," "Nashville Boogie (which went to #29 on the UK singles chart in the same year)," "Apache (which went to #24 on the UK singles chart in 1960)," "Sorry Robbie (which went to #28 on the UK singles chart in the same year)," and "Ginchy (which went to ##35 on the UK singles chart in 1961)." He also played as a session musician for artists ranging from Adam Faith and Tommy Steele to Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole.

It was in 1957 that Bert Weedon's guitar instructional manual, Play in a Day, was first published. In the end it would sell two million copies and teach generations the rudiments of guitar playing. Play in a Day would be followed by Play Every Day. Over the years VHS and DVD versions of the books would follow. His books would be the starting point for many important guitarists in the history of rock music.

Bert Weedon would also appear frequently on television, particularly on children's shows such as Five O'Clock Club and Tuesday Rendezvous. He appeared on such shows as Thank Your Lucky Stars, The Dick Emery Show, The Golden Shot, and Chasing Rainbows. He also had his own, long running ITV series. In the Seventies he signed to Contour Records and released a series of albums. In the mid-Seventies he would top the British albums chart for one week with 22 Golden Guitar Greats, released on the Warwick label. He would continue to release albums into the Eighties.

Bert Weedon would have a lasting impact on many British rock bands of the Sixties and Seventies, and as a result he would have an impact on rock music worldwide. One need only consider that guitarists in three of the biggest bands of all time, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who, all learned their craft from Bert Weedon's books. In fact, it is possible that some may not have become guitarists had it not been for Mr. Weedon. In a eulogy by Neil McCormick in The Daily Telegraph entitled "Farewell Bert Weedon,the man who helped make stars of John Lennon and Paul McCartney," Eric Clapton was quoted as saying, "I wouldn’t have felt the urge to press on without the tips and encouragement Bert’s book gives you." To a large degree, then, Bert Weedon is responsible for the success of the British rock bands of the Sixties and the genres they would give rise to, everything from power pop to heavy metal. Few men could boast such an important place in rock history.

Monday, 23 April 2012

The Late Great Garry Walberg

You might not recognise Garry Walberg's name, but if you have ever watched very many television shows made from the Fifties to the Eighties, chances are very good that you would recognise his face. Garry Walberg was a prolific character actor who was appeared as a regular or semi-regular on many shows and guest starred on many more. Among many other roles on various shows and in various films, he was Oscar's buddy Speed on The Odd Couple and Lt. Frank Monahan on Quincy M.E. Garry Walberg died 27 March 2012 at the age of 90. The causes were chronic pulmonary obstructive disease and congestive heart failure.

Garry Walberg was born in Buffalo, New York on 10 June 1921. He first studied acting in Buffalo before moving to New York City to study acting there. It was in 1952 that he made his television debut in 1953 in an episode of the classic sitcom Mister Peepers. In the Fifties he would appear on such shows as Richard Diamond Private Detective, Black Saddle, State Trooper, The Twilight Zone, Law of the Plainsman, Rawhide, The Rifleman, and Tales of Wells Fargo. He was a regular on the detective series Johnny Staccato, playing the role of Police Sgt. Sullivan. In 1959 he made his film debut in The Gangster Story.

In the Sixties Mr. Walberg was a regular on Peyton Place for three seasons, playing Sgt. Edward Goddard. He guest starred on such shows as Michael Shayne, Outlaws, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Perry MasonThe Detectives, Have Gun--Will Travel, The Real McCoys, Combat, Dr. Kildare, Ben Casey, The Virginian, Star Trek, The Fugitive, The Invaders, Lassie, Land of the Giants, Green Acres, Then Came Bronson, and Bonanza. He appeared in the movies Charro! (1969), The Maltese Bippy (1969), Tell Them Willie Boy is Here (1969), and They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! (1970).

Garry Walberg ended the Sixties and began the Seventies in one of his best known roles, that of Oscar's friend and poker buddy Speed on The Odd Couple. He was a semi-regular on the show from 1970 to 1974. It was in the late Seventies that he would play what may be his best known role, that of Lt. Frank Monahan on Quincy M.E. The series reunited him with old Odd Couple co-star Jack Klugman, who played the title role of Dr. Quincy M.E. Mr. Walberg began with the show when it debuted as one of the rotating elements of The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie in 1976 and remained with it from when it transitioned into its own series in 1977 and until it ended its run in 1983. In addition to his semi-regular role on The Odd Couple and his regular role on Quincy M.E., Mr. Walberg guest starred on such shows as Storefront Lawyers, Medical Centre, Columbo, Banacek, Search, Ironside, Love American Style, Kojak, Gunsmoke, The Waltons, and Mannix. He appeared in such feature films as The Organisation (1971), The Andromeda Strain (1971),  When the Legends Die (1972), Revenge of the Cheerleaders (1976), King Kong (1976), Two-Minute Warning (1976), and MacArthur (1977).

In the Eighties Garry Walberg appeared in the television movies Command 5 and The Spirit (a failed pilot based on the classic comic book character). He guest starred on Hardcastle and McCormick, Hotel, and Murder She Wrote. In 1993 he appeared on television in the reunion movie The Odd Couple: Together Again, reprising his role as Speed. It was his last appearance on screen.

If Garry Walberg appeared in so many television shows and movies over the years, it was perhaps because of his sheer versatility. He was as adept at playing comedy as he was drama. What is more, he could play nearly any role given him convincingly. One need no further than his two most famous roles, which was similar in some ways were in many ways quite different. He played the perpetually grumpy, often acerbic Speed on The Odd Couple. On Quincy M.E. he played  Lt. Monahan, who was initially sceptical of Quincy's theories and often exasperated with the medical examiner. His guest appearances on various shows could often be very different. On an episode of Land of the Giants, "Seven Little Indians," he played a rather sadistic guard. In the episode of Gunsmoke "The Buffalo Hunter" he played a buffalo skinner who helps Marshall Dillon bring his murderous boss to justice.

Throughout his career on television and in film Garry Walberg played everything from doctors to police officers to generals to lawyers to criminals. He was as convincing as a Starfleet officer on Star Trek as he was a cowboy on Outlaws. While there can be no doubt that he will be best remembered as Speed on The Odd Couple and Lt. Monahan on Quincy M.E., his career was filled with many more roles on various TV shows and in film, all of which he did well. 

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Director Paul Bogart Passes On

Paul Bogart, who directed such feature films as Skin Game and TV shows such as All in the Family, passed on 15 April 2012 at the age of 92.

Paul Bogart was born on 21 November 1919 in New York City. Following his graduation from James Monroe High School in the Bronx he worked as a printer. He answered a "Help Wanted" advertisement for puppeteers and travelled with a marionette troupe. During World War II he served as a tail gunner in the United States Army Air Forces, but he did not see combat. After he war he worked various odd jobs and also returned to the marionette troupe. It was a friend who told him of openings at NBC. As a result he found himself as a stage manager at the network. He eventually became an associate director, working on such shows at NBC as Today and Howdy Doody.

It was in 1955 that he began directing primetime dramas, starting with an episode of Appointment with Adventure. In the late Fifties he directed episodes of such shows as Justice, The Kaiser Aluminium Hour, Suspicion, Shirley Temple Theatre, and Kraft Theatre. In the Sixties he directed such shows as The U. S. Steel Hour, Way Out, Armstrong Circle Theatre, The Defenders, Get Smart, and Coronet Blue. It was in the Sixties that he also began directing feature films. His feature film debut was The Three Sisters in 1966. In the Sixties he went onto direct Marlowe (1969) and Halls of Anger (1970).

In the Seventies Mr. Bogart directed the films Skin Game (1971), Cancel My Reservation (1972), Class of '44 (1973), and Mr. Ricco (1975). He directed several episodes of All in the Family, as well as such shows as Nichols, Alice, and Visions. In the Eighties he directed episodes of the shows Gloria, Mama Malone, The Golden Girls, and Bagdad Cafe. He directed the films Oh God! You Devil (1984) and Torch Song Trilogy (1988).

Paul Bogart was a director who was skilled in both television and film. It should be little surprise that he won five Emmy Awards for his direction on shows ranging from The Defenders to All in the Family to The Golden Girls. He was a master of timing, who always kept a close eye on the editing on his projects, whether it was a feature film or a television situation comedy. Although best known for his work in television, Paul Bogart was quite capable of creating very fine films. Marlowe, Skin Game, and Torch Song Trilogy were all very well done movies. Talented in both directing television and film, Paul Bogart will be remembered.