Saturday, August 16, 2008

Why I Hate the New Facebook

It was on July 21 that Facebook rolled out their new design. Currently, Facebook users can switch to the new Facebook if they choose and switch back to the old Facebook if they don't like the new version. At the time Facebook said that they would be opting everyone into the new Facebook over the next few weeks as its trial version comes to an end.

The new Facebook is a dramatic change from the old. The left sidebar is gone and most things have been moved to the right sidebar. One now accesses his or her applications, information, on his or her profile by clicking tabs instead of scrolling down. A new Friends page was also created. In theory, the new look is supposed to be cleaner. To give you an idea of the changes, here is my profile on the old Facebook:

You can't see it, but if you scrolled down you would see a box for my friends, boxes for various applications, my Wall, and so on.

Here is my profile on the new Facebook:

As it turns out, many Facebook users are less than impressed by the new Facebook. In fact, many actively hate it. Googling the phrase "hate the new Facebook" brings up an extraordinary number of results. Typical is a post in the University of Southern California's "On the Record" blog, a review in which the writer proclaims "I'm sorry, but I hate the new Facebook...." In the Tech Oberver blog of the Conde Nast Portfolio.Com, Kevin Manley asked, "Is it just me, or does the "New Facebook" design look like something out of about 2001?" The Diamondback Online, the web version of the University of Maryland's independent student newspaper, had an article entitled "Facebook's new layout met with mixed reactions." on the displeasure of many Facebook users. An article in the Beta News on user reaction to the new design was titled "Facebook users unite in outrage over changed layout." So far a number of groups on Facebook have arisen against the new Facebook, including "1,000,000 Against the New Facebook Layout (which currently has 57,934 members)," "People against the New Facebook System (which currently has 41,961 members)," "Petition Against the 'New Facebook (which currently has a whopping 180,973 members)," and several others. While there have been those who have pointed out that the membership of these groups is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the total user base of Facebook (which is currently at 90 million users), one has to wonder if the outrage has not been larger simply because Facebook has not forced people to use the new Facebook yet. If Facebook does truly adopt the new design, even more Facebook users could be angry.

Of course, there are probably many Facebook users who hate the new Facebook simply because they do not like change. Many people when forced to adopt a change will react with anger and resentment. While I have no doubt this is true, I suspect there is much more at work here with regard to the anger of Facebook users. Quite simply, I count myself among the number of users who hate the new Facebook. To me it is simply another example in the ongoing trend on the World Wide Web towards unattractive, awkward, and down right poor deign (IMDB's new look was another example).

My primary objection to the new Facebook is because, quite frankly, I find it awkward, unwieldy, and downright unhandy. One of the things I always liked about the old Facebook's profile page is that almost everything is accessible from a single page. True, I might have to scroll down the page a bit to reach it, but I am still dealing with just one page. Having to click on tabs to reach my Information, my Photos, or my Applications is simply inconvenient to me. I rather suspect this is the objection of many Facebook users, who perhaps prefer things being easily accessible on one page rather than having to click on tabs or links.

Another objection I have to the new Facebook is that it seems to me that one's profile is not nearly as customisable. I have found no way to place one's application boxes into any sort of discernible order as I could with my old Facebook profile. Worse yet, there is no way to simply put everything one wants (Info, apps, groups, and so on) onto one page. Another problem is that there is simply no way one can collapse the news feed, a feature I understand caused a good deal of uproar among Facebook users when it was first introduced around two years ago. I rather suspect most people are like me. They want to be able to arrange their Facebook profiles the way that they want them to be.

Another objection I have is that the Wall and the news feed have been combined, so that one's comments and the various news stories are all mixed together. For those of you who don't use Facebook, the Wall is the place on one's profile for his or her friends to leave comments. By combining the Wall and the news feed, Facebook has made it more difficult to find comments to one's Wall because of the various news stories. I only have around twenty friends on Facebook as it is--I'd hate to see how someone with 100 or more friends would deal with the Wall and news feed combined.

Another problem that I have with the new Facebook are the ads. Now even in the new Facebook the ads are small and, when compared to other social networking web sites, few in number. That having been said, they seem to be bigger than on old Facebook pages. Worse yet, while old Facebook pages only had about one ad per page, the new Facebook pages boast about two ads at times. While admittedly even in the new design Facebook has fewer and much smaller ads than other web sites, I don't like there being any more ads than there have to be.

Ultimately, to me the new Facebook is a prime example of poor design. It is simply unwieldy and inefficient. Fortunately, one can switch back to the old Facebook, which I did after looking over the new design. It is difficult to say whether Facebook will hoist the new Facebook on its users or not. On the whole, Facebook seems much more responsive than other web sites to its users' concerns. Unfortunately, it seems possible to me that unless user displeasure over the new look grows even greater, Facebook will force it upon them regardless. I am still sore over IMDB, which in the end did not restore the ability to use the old IMDB design even after a good number of its most faithful users objected to it being taken away. In the end, Facebook users may be yet another group of web site users on whom a bad web site design is simply forced upon them for no good reason.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Michael Silberkleit, Head of Archie Comics, Passes On

Michael Silberkleit, chairman and publisher of Archie Comics for the past several decades, died August 5 at the age of 76. The cause was cancer.

Silberkleit was born April 27, 1932 in New York City. His father was Louis Silberkleit, one of the three men who founded MLJ Magazines, as Archie Comics was originally named. Silberkleit started working at Archie Comics while he was still a teenager, in the mail room. He attended the Fieldston School in New York City and then Albright College in Reading Pennsylvania. He studied law after graduating.

Silbertkleit worked in the Seventies as Treasurer at Archie Comics. In the early Eighties he and Richard Goldwater, the son of MLJ co-founder John Goldwater, bought the company from their fathers. He also served at times as chairman of the Comics Magazine Association of America (John Goldwater of Archie Comics had served as president of the CMAA for its first 25 years).

Both Michael Silbertkleit and Richard Goldwater kept true to the squeaky clean vision of Archie. When darker themes, such as drugs or terrorism were addressed in the comics, even then they were presented in such a way as to not compromise the essential optimism of the Archie franchise. Sex or nudity never appeared in the magazines. Both Silberkleit and Goldwater wanted to keep their magazines suitable for children's reading. They also encouraged the development of Archie's newer characters, such as Josie and the Pussycats and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. They also encouraged the licensing of their characters. While Michael Silbertkleit and Richard Goldwater were in charge of the company, there were two new Archie cartoons, a live action primetime Sabrina the Teenage Witch TV series, and a feature film based on Josie and the Pussycats. His death is certainly a loss to Archie Comics as a company.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Why Aren't Variety Shows Available on DVD?

From the Forties into the Seventies, among the most popular genres of series on American broadcast television was the variety show. In fact, many shows today considered classics belong to the genre, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, The Garry Moore Show, The Carol Burnett Show, and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Many of these shows also number among the longest running shows on American television. The Ed Sullivan Show ran twenty three years. The Garry Moore Show ran seventeen years. The Red Skelton Show ran twenty years. Those are impressive numbers for shows of any genre.

Strangely, even though some of the most important and longest running shows in the history of American television, there is very little in the way of variety shows available on DVD. The first three seasons of The Muppet Show were released on DVD with plans to release the rest as well. The whole run of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour is being released on DVD, with the third and final season being released next month. Collections of the highlights of The Ed Sullivan Show have been released on DVD under the heading The Very Best of the Ed Sullivan Show, but so far no complete episodes with a few exceptions. Highlights from The Carol Burnett Show, The Dean Martin Show, The Red Skelton Show, The Johnny Cash Show, and The Flip Wilson Show have been released in a similar manner. Collections of highlights and a few individual episodes of Heee Haw have been released on DVD. Still, even many classic variety shows have not seen a DVD release. The Jackie Gleason Show, The Garry Moore Show, The Perry Como Show, nor The George Gobel Show are available on DVD at all.

Of course, it would be too much to expect every single variety show to be released on DVD. I honestly don't think anyone is eager to see The Krofft Superstar Hour (with The Bay City Rollers) any time soon. And I doubt Pink Lady and Jeff will ever be seen again except when Trio decides to show the worst shows of all time. And then there is the sad fact that many early variety shows in the Forties and Fifties were broadcast live and at best recorded through kinescope, which means there are many that are probably lost to us forever. American television's first variety show, Hour Glass (which aired all the way back in 1946 and 1947 on NBC), will never see a DVD release for this reason.

Another factor that might explain why many variety shows are not available on DVD is the matter of music. Music rights are handled totally differently from both film and video. When it comes to songs performed on a TV show, the rights to every single song has to be cleared before they can appear on a DVD (odd as it might sound, most TV shows do not get the right to use songs in perpetuity). It is because of music licensing that "Stormy Weather," "Gone with the Wind," "You've Got a Friend," and a few other songs were cut from The Muppet Show Season One DVD release.

It must also keep in mind that a less practical concern with regards to music might keep many variety shows off DVD. One of the primary reasons the variety show declined in popularity in the United States following the Sixties is America's constantly changing tastes in music. It is for this reason that many variety shows also never saw syndication. In fact, when highlights from The Carol Burnett Show were released to syndication in the Eighties under the title Carol Burnett & Friends, only comedy sketches were included. It was felt that many of the songs performed on the series might date poorly.

Regardless of the factors, the sad fact is that many classic variety shows simply are bit available on DVD or are only available in collections of highlights ("Greatest Hits," if you will). To me this is simply inexcusable. Personally, I don't buy the theory that many songs are so "out of date" that they can't be enjoyed by a modern audience. The fact is that people's musical tastes can vary widely, even in an individual. A twenty year old might like Frank Sinatra. A seventy year old might like Fall Out Boy. It is true that the musical tastes of the United States are constantly changing, but it is also true that good music will always find an audience.

Beyond such practical concerns as whether episodes are available at all (many being lost) and music licensing, I really can't think of any reasons to keep many variety shows from a DVD release. Nor can I think of any reason that many variety shows should not be released season by season. Nearly all of the stars of the classic variety shows, from Jackie Gleason to Red Skelton, are still sufficiently well enough that people would buy DVDs of their series based on name recognition alone. As to those who may not be, such as Garry Moore, I might point out that many much more obscure shows have been released on DVD. Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp, Father Murphy, Here Come the Brides, and Dusty's Trail are all at least partially available on DVD. If TV shows which either a very few people remember (I must confess, I remember every one of the shows I named except Here Comes the Bride) or very few people have even heard of can be released on DVD, I cannot see why a classic variety show can't be.

Personally, I believe most variety shows still have an audience. Many people still have fond memories of these shows. Given how many years many of these series ran, is it little wonder that they do? I rather suspect that if many of these shows were released season by season on DVD, they would sell. Perhaps they would not break any sales records, but they would at least sell better than many more obscure shows. To me there are very few justifiable reasons that many classic variety shows should not be available on DVD.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Playwright and Actor George Furth Passes On

Playwright and character actor George Furth passed on Monday at the age of 75. He had written the book for Broadway musicals such as Company and The Act. As an actor he appeared in TV shows from The Monkees to Murder She Wrote and movies from The New Interns to Bulworth.

Furth was born George Schweinfurth December 14, 1932 in Chicago. He majored in speech at Northwestern University in Illinois, and received his Master's degree at Columbia University.

Furth made his debut on Broadway as a performer in the play A Cook for Mr. General in 1961. He made his debut on a the small screen in a guest appearance on Going My Way the following year. He would frequently appear on television in the Sixties, in series such as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Batman, F Troop, The Monkees, Ironside, and I Dream of Jeannie. He made his film debut in Gore Vidal's The Best Man in 1964. Over the years he would appear in such films as The New Interns, How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Blazing Saddles, Shampoo, Oh God, The Man With Two Brains, and Bulworth.

Furth was also a playwright who collaborated with Stephen Sondheim. He wrote the books for the musicals Company, The Act, and Merrily We Roll Along. He also wrote the plays Twigs, The Supporting Cast, Precious Sons, and Getting Away with a Murder.

Furth continued to make regular guest appearances on television from the Sixties into the Nineties. He appeared in such shows as Bonanza, Night Gallery, Adam-12, The Odd Couple, Ellery Queen, Wings, Murphy Brown, and The Nanny.

George Furth was gifted as both an actor and a playwright. As an actor he usually played a nerdish sort. As a playwright he won the Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical for Company. Furth was a rare breed. Not only was he a character actor, but an award winning playwright as well.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Issac Hayes Passes On

Isaac Hayes, who wrote and performed the theme to the movie Shaft, passed yesterday at the age of 65.

Hayes was born on August 20, 1942 in Covington, Tennessee. His father left the family and his mother died while Hayes still young. For that reason Hayes was raised by his grandparents. He grew up working in cotton fields. Hayes had begin singing when he was five years old in church. He eventually taught himself to play piano, electric organ, flute, and saxophone. While still young he played with local bands.

It was in 1964 that Hayes began playing as a backup musician for Stax Records. He started co-writing songs with David Porter for Stax artists such as Sam and Dave, producing such classics as "Hold On, I’m Comin'" and "Soul Man." By 1968 he was a solo artist himself for Stax, releasing his first album as a solo artist, Presenting Isaac Hayes. The album was not financially successful, although this would be a different story for his second album, Hot Buttered Soul. Released in 1969, it went to #8 on the Billboard albums chart and produced the hit singles "Walk on By" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix."

It was in 1971 that saw the release of the hit for which Hayes became most famous, "The Theme from Shaft." "The Theme from Shaft" went to #1 on the Billboard chart. Hayes would also continue releasing albums throughout the early Seventies, almost all of them going to the top twenty of the Billboard albums chart. Unfortunately for Hayes, in 1974 Stax Records was experiencing financial difficulties, while Hayes himself was deep in debt. Stax released Hayes from his contract and he formed his own label, Hot Buttered Soul. By the late Seventies Hayes embraced disco, and his albums did not perform as well.

While Hayes' music career began to slide, he began acting more. He had a part in the Blaxploitation film Tough Guys and plays the lead in the Blaxploitation film Truck Turner. He guest starred in three episodes of The Rockford Files. Hayes appeared as The Duke in Escape from New York, Starting in the late Eighties he appeared in several films, including Dead Aim, I'm Gonna Git You Sucker, Prime Target, Posse, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Reindeer Games, and the 2000 remake of Shaft. He also guest starred on the shows The A-Team, Hunter, and Tales from the Crypt.

Of course, when it comes to acting, Hayes was perhaps most famous for providing the voice of Chef on South Park. The one adult the kids constantly go to for advice, he was a send up of Soul singers such as Hayes himself and Barry White, constantly thinking of sex. Following his departure from South Park after an episode parodying Scientology (Hayes' religion), Chef was killed off.

Hayes also made a bit of a comeback musically in 1995 with a return to his original style on the album Branded.

As a music artist, Hayes was undoubtedly influential. The songs he wrote for various Stax artists have been covered many times by such artists as The Blues Brothers, Johnny Gill, and ZZ Topp, among others. Some have considered his music a forerunner of disco, but I disagree, thinking his early music was much more sophisticated. That having been said, his work on the albums Hot Buttered Soul, The Isaac Hayes Movement, Black Moses, and others would have a lasting influence on several different genres of music. Although chiefly remembered for "The Theme from Shaft," his influence goes much further.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bernie Mac R.I.P.

Actor and comedian Bernie Mac, perhaps best known for The Bernie Mac Show, passed yesterday from complications from pneumonia. He had suffered from sarcdoidosis for years, He was fifty years old.

Bernie Mac was born Bernard Jeffrey McCullough on October 5, 1957 in Chicago. He attended the Chicago Vocational Career Academy. He began his career in comedy while still in high school, putting on shows for kids on Chicago's South Side. He debuted as a stand up comedian at Chicago's Chicago's Cotton Pickin' Club and appeared on HBO's Def Comedy Jam. He opened for Red Foxx and Natalie Cole. He also began appearing on film, in small parts in films such as Mo' Money in 1992. In 1995 he appeared as Pastor Clever in Friday. In 1995 he was also the host of his own late night talk show on HBO, Midnight Mac. Starting in 1996 he was a semi-regular character on the UPN sitcom Moesha. He was one of the comics to appear in The Original Kings of Comedy in 2000. In 2001 he appeared in Ocean's Eleven. Mac would also appear in in Ocean's Twelve and Ocean's Thirteen.

It was also in 2001 that The Bernie Mac Show debuted. Mac played a long suffering uncle now raising his sister's children. The show ran for five years and was easily one of the best comedies of the Naughts. It was nominated for four Emmys, including Mac himself for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. Mac also appeared in the films Head of State, Bad Santa, and Transformers.

Bernie Mac was easily one of the funniest comedians to come down the pike in recent years, although his best legacy may well remain The Bernie Mac Show. In fact, it could well have been the most intelligent family sitcom of all time. It was certainly one of the most original. Mac also did very well as an actor, whether playing Frank Catton in the Ocean's... movies or Percy Jones in Guess Who. He was certainly a talented man and he will sorely be missed.