Saturday, August 28, 2010

Actress Gloria Winters Passes On

Gloria Winters, who played Penny King on the series Sky King, passed on August 14. She was in her late seventies. The cause was complications from pneumonia.

Gloria Winters was born on November 28 in either 1931 or 1932 (sources do not agree on the year) in Los Angeles, California. She was raised in San Fernando Valley until her family moved to Hollywood. She made her film debut in 1947 in an uncredited role in the movie Driftwood.

Miss Winters would appear in uncredited roles in the movies Luxury Liner (1948) and El Pas (1949) before being cast as Riley's daughter Babs in the first television version of the popular radio show The Life of Riley. Starring Jackie Gleason, this version of The Life of Riley lasted from 1949 to 1950. She made guest appearances on such shows as The Gene Autry Show, The Lone Ranger, The Range Rider, Racket Squad, Death Valley Days, Studio 57, Richard Diamond Private Detective, Frontier Doctor, and The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. She also appeared in the films Hot Rod (1950), Gambling House (1951), Hold That Line (1952), and Geraldine (1953).

In 1952 she was cast in the role of Penny King, the niece of rancher and Schuyler "Sky" King on the series Sky King. Essentially a modern day Western, Sky King often found his skills as a pilot called up on by friend Mitch, the local sheriff. Unlike many female characters on Fifties TV Shows, Penny could handle herself in nearly any situation and handle an aeroplane nearly as well as her uncle Sky, all the while remaining wholesome and sweet. The series ran from 1952 to 1960, and ran in syndication into the Seventies.

Following Sky King Miss Winters retired from show business. In 1963 she wrote a book on etiquette for girls entitled  Penny's Guide to Teen-Age Charm and Popularity. It would be parodied in the song "Popular" by Nada Surf in 1996.

When I was a very young child KOMU showed reruns of Sky King. Naturally, Penny King was then among my earliest crushes. She was perky, petite, pretty, and blonde, and she could do nearly anything her uncle Sky could. Gloria Winters made Penny King seem very realistic, acting in a naturalistic style much as fellow star Kirby Grant (who played Sky King) utilised. Between their performances and writing which emphasised realistic, if simplistic storylines, Sky King was then a  good deal better than the average children's show of the Fifties. Much of the reason that the show was a success is no doubt due to Gloria Winters, who not only brought charm to the character of Penny, but made her seem real as well.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Facebook Screws Up Again

I have come to the conclusion that Facebook must want to drive every single one of its users away. The past two years they have consistently made changes to the site which are unpopular with many, if not most, of their users. In 2008 they rolled out a new design of Facebook which seemed to be universally hated. Despite many protests, they never gave users back the old design which they preferred. It was only a few months later that they changed the design again, once more causing anger amongst its users.Now it seems that they are at it again. Facebook's current plan is to do away with profile boxes. To say a lot of users are unhappy with Facebook once again is putting it lightly.

For those of you who don't know what a profile box is, a profile box is a small box for an application which one can add to his or her profile. An example of a popular profile box is the one for the Doorbell application, an application which lets people know they've visited your profile by ringing your doorbell (essentially a image map of a doorbell). Profile boxes have been around since Facebook adopted their new design in 2008, and they have proved fairly popular with users. Beyond providing users with fast access to an application, they are also a means of personalising one's profile. They make one's profile unlike anyone else's.

Unfortunately, Facebook now wants to do way with profile boxes entirely. They claim that they want to "...improve the user experience and promote consistency across the site." That having been said, I fail to see how removing profile boxes will improve the users' experience on the site, as in one foul swoop it will make it more difficult to access one's favourite applications, not to mention cause one's once personalised profile to look like everyone else's. I will grant that it will promote consistency across the site, but I fail to see how consistency on a social networking site is even desirable. Much of the whole point of a social networking site is to be able to express oneself, to be able to display one's personality. Because each person is unique, it should not even be desirable for profiles to be consistent.

It then seems to me that either Facebook is horribly out of touch with their users (which seems quite possible with their track record of making unpopular changes to the site) or they have ulterior motives which they are not telling users. At the very least, removing profile boxes seems about as popular as the new design was and the further changes they made a few months later. All of these changes were unwanted by users, all the while Facebook seemingly ignored user's pleas for changing back to the old Facebook or doing away with unpopular changes. In some respects Facebook's attitude to its users reminds me of a stalker who simply will not take, "No," for an answer. No matter how preposterously aggressive or disagreeable his behaviour is, he goes on thinking, "I'll make her love me." Quite simply, Facebook insists on making changes that no one wants or no one needs. Rather than improving the user's experience, they have consistently made it worse.

While so far none of the unpopular changes made by  Facebook has driven away its users, I suspect it will only be a matter of time before they will. There are those who attribute the decline of MySpace to the thought that it was simply a "fad." Personally, I do not think that is why MySpace started losing users. I think it is more because MySpace made change after change after change until the site was no longer usable. MySpace's decline should be a warning to Facebook to try to please its users rather than making unpopular changes.

Indeed, I can think of many things they could do away with on Facebook that would improve my experience of the site. Among these would be the ability to edit bookmarks, basically links to applications or Facebook features such as photos or groups. Among these bookmarks are ones for an applications page and one for a games page, neither of which are particularly useful. Unfortunately, they are the two bookmarks one cannot remove. Another improvement Facebook could make that would please me would be to set the news feed so it shows the most recent posts first rather than so called "top news." Of course, since I would actually like those changes, I can guarantee Facebook will never make them.

According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Facebook ranks in the bottom percent of all indexed companies in the private sector. Only airlines and cable companies rank as low. The reasons for customer dissatisfaction with Facebook? According to Larry Freed, CEO of ForeSee Results, the company which conducts the American Customer Satisfaction Index, it comes down to "frequent changes to the site," "advertising intruding on customer satisfaction," and "privacy concerns." Given that these results were just released last month, Facebook had best take notice of them. They could start with keeping the profile boxes. If not, they might find themselves in the same boat as MySpace next year.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Songwriter George David Weiss R.I.P.

George David Weiss, who wrote such songs as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and "Can't Help Falling in Love with You," passed on August 23 at the age of 89.

George David Weiss was born on April 9, 1921 in New York City. He attended the Julliard School of Music. After graduation he worked as an arranger for such big bands as those of Johnny Richards and Vincent Lopez. He was drafted during World War II, serving as band leader for Fort DuPont in Delaware. Following World War II Mr. Weiss established himself as a songwriter. In 1947 he contributed the song "Fun and Fancy Free" to the film of the same name. In 1948 he contributed the song "Melody Time" to the movie of the same name. He would work frequently on Broadway as a composer, working on the musicals Mr. Wonderful (1957), First Impressions (1959), and Maggie Flynn (1968). He contributed the song "Send Me No Flower" to the play of the same name (1960--not to be confused with the Doris Day-Rock Hudson film of the same name).

Over the years George David Weiss would write several classic songs, including "The Lion Sleeps Tonight (based on a Zulu song from the 1930's)," "What a Wonderful World," "Can't Help Falling in Love," ''Snoopy and the Red Baron's Christmas," and "Oh, What It Seemed to Be."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Michael Been of The Call Passes On

Michael Been, leader and founding member of The Call, passed on August 19 at the age of 60. The cause was a heart attack.

Michael Been was born on March 17, 1950 in Oklahoma City. He started playing guitar as a child. By age 7 he was performing at county fairs and on a local TV show called Big Red Shindig. His family eventually moved to Chicago. While still in Chicago he was a member of the band Aorta. Betwen 1969 and 1971 he was a member of Lovecraft, the final incarnation of psychedelic band H. P. Lovecraft. In1980 he formed The Call with Scott Musick (also originally from Oklahoma), and Tom Ferrier. Signed to a recording contract, The Call released their first album in 1982. Between 1982 and 2000 they released seven studio albums, one greatest hits album, and one live album. Meeting with little success initially, The Call had a hit with the album Let the Day Begin in 1989 and the song of the same title.

In the late Eighties Mr. Been toured with actor Harry Dean Stanton, whom he had met on the set of The Last Temptation of Christ. In 1992 he composed music for Paul Schrader's film Light Sleeper. In 1994 he released a solo album, On the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough. Michael Been also appeared in the film The Last Temptation of Christ as the apostle John.

Michael Been was certainly a talented singer and songwriter. Indeed, even though The Call was formed in California, to me their songs sounded more like the Old West. They had more to do with the mountains of Colorado and the plains of Oklahoma than beaches and sun drenched highways. Quite simply, as a singer and songwriter, Michael Been was the musical equivalent of John Ford, right down to a nearly spiritual, metaphysical element to all of his work. Michael Been and The Call were then unique. There was no other singer or songwriter like him.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Musician Kenny Edwards R.I.P.

Kenny Edwards, a founding member of The Stone Poneys, passed on August 18, 2010 at age 64. The causes were cancer and a blood disorder.

Kenny Edwards was born on February 10, 1946 in Santa Monica, California. He grew up in Mar Vista and attended Venice High School. He took to guitar early, having all night guitar sessions with his father. In 1965 he and Bobby Kimmel formed The Stone Poneys. It was Mr. Kimmel, a native of Tuscon, who told Mr. Edwards of singer Linda Rondstadt, who became lead vocalist for the group. The Stone Poneys soon became big on the Los Angeles club circuit. They were signed to Capitol Records in 1966. In 1967 they had a hit with "Different Drum," a song written by Mike Nesmith before he became one of The Monkees and recorded by The Greenbriar Boys. Mike Nesmith performed a comedy version of the song in the Monkees episode "Too Many Girls," which aired about nine months before The Stone Poneys version.  The Stone Poneys' version went to #13 on the Billboard charts.

Unfortunately, having a hit record would create additional stress for the band, and The Stone Poneys went through various incarnations before breaking up in 1969. Kenny Edwards would then form the band Bryndle. Unfortunately Bryndle would see little success. Signed to A&M Records in 1970, the band released the single "Woke Up in the Morning, " but were never able to complete their debut album. The band eventually broke up.

Kenny Edwards would then go onto perform and write for several musicians. He worked frequently with Stone Poneys band mate Linda Rondstadt, appearing on eight of her albums. He also worked frequently with Bryndle band mate Karla Bonoff, appearing on four of her albums. Over the years he would work with Warren Zevon, Don Henley, Stevie Nicks, and Ringo Starr. Bryndle reunited in 1995 and toured the United States. They issued their debut album that year and released a second album in 2001. In 2000 Mr. Edwards launched a solo career. He released his self titled solo debut in 2002 and a follow up, Resurrection Road in 2009.