Friday, May 17, 2013

Actor Aubrey Woods R.I.P.

Actor Aubrey Woods died 7May 2013 at the age of 85.

Mr. Woods was born in London on 9 April 1928. He attended The Latymer School in Edmonton, North London. He was only 17 when he made his film debut, playing Smike in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1947).  In the late Forties and into the Fifties he appeared in such films as The Greed of William Hart (1948), The Queen of Spades (1949), Guilt Is My Shadow (1950), and Father Brown (1954). On television he appeared in such programmes as Nicholas Nickleby, Bleak House, and No Hiding Place.

In the Sixties he appeared in such TV programmes  Rob Roy, Z Cars, Maigret, The Old Curiosity Shop, Sexton Blake, Thicker Than Water, and Freewheelers. He appeared in the films Spare the Rod (1961), A Home of Your Own (1964), San Ferry Ann (1965), Just Like a Woman (1967), Futtocks End (1970), Loot (1970), and Wuthering Heights (1970).  In the Seventies he appeared in such films as All the Right Noises (1971), Up the Chastity Belt (1971), Up Pompeii (1971), The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971), The Darwin Adventure (1972), Z.P.G. (1972), That Lucky Touch (1975), Operation: Daybreak (1975), and Quincy's Quest (1979). He appeared on such TV shows as Doctor Who, Late Night Theatre, Mr. Big, My Honourable Mrs., Blake's 7, and Cowboys. He was a regular on the series Nice Work.

From the Eighties into the Nineties Aubrey Woods appeared in the shows Cribb; Hallmark Hall of Fame; Auf Wiedersehen, Pet; Ever Decreasing Circles; Til We Meet Again; and London's Burning. He appeared in the film Cloak and Dagger (1985).

Aubrey Woods was an excellent actor with a gift for playing characters that made an imperssion. Although he isn't on screen for that long, Mr. Woods' goldsmith is among the most memorable characters in The Abominable Dr. Phibes. He also made a big impression with little screen time in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, in which he played Bill the sweets shop owner. He also gave an impressive performance as the Controller in the Doctor Who serial "Day of the Daleks." While many of his film and even television appearances were brief, his performances were always memorable

Thursday, May 16, 2013

How to Make the New Google+ Layout More Bearable

Yesterday +Google+  rolled out a new layout. My initial reaction was somewhat negative, as can be seen in my blog post from yesterday. While there are still things about which I am very unhappy (namely, the way they have redone chat), I am quite a bit happier than I was yesterday. That having been said, I am only happier because I made adjustments to improve my experience on Google+.

Those of you who use Google+ might have noticed that the default setting in this new layout is for one's streams to be displayed in multiple columns. If you are like me, you will find this highly annoying and want to do away with it immediately. Fortunately, one can set one's stream (and hence the streams of one's circles as well) by clicking "More" towards the top of the page and then scrolling down to "Stream Layout." Unfortunately, this will only set one's stream and circle streams in single column--one's profile and any searches one might do will all still be in multiple columns. Fortunately there is a fix for this as well. Simply go under setting and click the box under "Accessibility." Once you do this everything will be in a single column. I am hoping that Google+ will come up with a more intuitive means of forcing everything into single column or at least set it so that if one sets his or her streams to single column, then everything else will be as well.

Another potential annoyance is that Google+ can now automatically add hashtags to posts. Now once Google+ automatically adds a hashtag one can delete it, so people do not have to worry about having hashtags that they might not want on posts. While I know some people who like this feature, I know that I would find it annoying myself.  And while I happen to like hashtags myself, I know that there are those who do not like hashtags and would probably hate this features. Fortunately, one can shut off Google+'s ability to automatically add hashtags. One simply goes under settings and uncheck the box under "Hashtags" marked "Add related hashtags from Google to my newly created posts."

While people might vary in their opinion in Google+ automatically adding hashtags to post, I rather suspect most of us want Google+ to leave any photos we upload alone. Unfortunately Google+ has two new features that won't do this unless they are disabled. The first is "Auto Enhance," which automatically adjusts brightness, saturation, and so on. If you are like me you'll want to control how your photo looks and will have already done this in Paintshop Pro or Photoshop, if at all. The other feature is the rather poorly named "Auto Awesome," which basically blends photos together to create a brand new picture. Quite frankly this sounds even more annoying to me than Auto Enhance and I can't see that many people liking it. To disable both "Auto Enhance" and "Auto Awesome," simply go under settings and uncheck the boxes under "Auto Enhance" and "Auto Awesome."

I wish there was a solution to my major pet peeve about the new Google+ layout, which is the way they revamped chat (which is now called "Hangouts"). The new chat lacks any sort of status modes, so that one cannot set himself or herself to available, busy, or invisible. And while on the old chat one could make oneself visible to certain circles, but invisible to others, the best one can do with the new chat (I really don't like calling it "Hangouts") is set certain circles to "Can Hangout with Me" or "Send Request." Now there is the "Snooze" function, but unfortunately it cannot be set to only certain circles--one either appears to be "snoozing" to all circles or none. Worst of all is the chat bar. Whereas the chat bar used to show only those people to whom one had made himself or herself available to chat, the new one might not show people with whom one regularly checks and show people with whom one never chats. There is no fix for any of this, so my only advice is to send feedback to Google+ and complain. I consider the new chat so bad that it is hard too believe it was Google and not Facebook who developed it.

For the most part I have to say I do not hate the new Google+ layout as I did yesterday. That having been said, I think that they should have developed a means for people to force single columns throughout Google+ without having to go to settings. And while things such as Auto Enhance and Auto Awesome are minor irritations, I think they have basically ruined chat and gave us no means  to fix it. Google+ really ought to give us status modes back and they also ought to give us control over who is displayed in the chat bar. While I know people who like the multiple columns and there are probably even people who like Auto Enhance and Auto Awesome, I know of no one who likes the new chat!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Google+ Drops the Ball

Of the various social networks out there,  +Google+  is my favourite. I have always found it easy to use, easy to control what one sees, and easy to control what others see. What is more, it has always seemed to me that there is generally more worthwhile content and discussion than on other social networks. Unfortunately, today Google+ rolled out a new layout that I think seriously compromises the usability of the site for many of us.

Among the biggest changes is to Google+'s stream, the continuous feed of updates from everyone has circled (I won't explain circles here, but it is similar to following someone on Tumblr or Twitter).  While the original Google+ stream was single column, the new stream can be double to even triple column depending on one's screen size and resolution. Now that is not so bad, as one can set his or her stream to single column. The problem is that one's profile (as well as everyone else's is automatically double columned and there is no was to change it to single column. As someone who prefers for his profile to be linear in fashion, with the newest posts at the top and the oldest at the bottom, this is a very unacceptable. I wish Google+ had given us the ability to view our own profiles and others' profiles as a single column, much as we can with the stream.

Another change was to Google+ Chat, merging it with Google+ hangouts (essentially video chat). With the old Google+ chat one could make himself or herself visible to only certain circles or totally invisible to everyone, or one could even set himself or herself to "Busy". Sadly, with today's update all of this seems to have been done away with. One is visible to everyone, inviting unwanted chat invitations, and there is no way to set oneself to "Busy", let alone "Invisible" . Worse yet, the hangout bar that replaced the chat bar at the right of the screen may display people with whom one never chats while not displaying people with whom one regularly chats. This makes the chat/hangout bar nearly useless, as one cannot tell if those with whom regularly chats are even online. Google+ should really change chat back to the way it was or the way it still is on GMail.

Another change to the Google+ layout that is extremely problematic is the fact that the stream no longer automatically refreshes. Instead there is a blue alert button in the upper left hand corner that displays the number of new posts on the stream. One has to press this button to see the new posts. In the end this makes it more difficult to keep track of new posts.

While I consider these major complaints, I do have some minor ones as well. Neither people's birthdays nor the trending topics are displayed on the home page any longer. I liked having birthdays displayed on the home page as it made it easy to keep track of them. For someone like me who can easily forget dates, that was very handy to have. As to the trending topics, I just enjoyed seeing what was trending on Google+. It's not that important that they are not displayed, but it did add a bit to my enjoyment of the site.

My last complaint about the new Google+ layout is a rather petty one. Others might think differently and yet others might not care either way. That having been said, I think the new Google+ layout is just plain ugly. There is a good deal more white space (well, grey space, to be literal about it) on either side of one's stream. The same is true of one's profile (which is even uglier due to the double column). Quite frankly, the old Google+ layout was much better looking.

Now there are a few people who like the new layout, so unfortunately I don't  think Google+ can do away with it entirely. That having been said, I do think they can make some very dramatic improvements. First, give us the ability to see profiles in a single column. Second, change Google+ chat/hangout so it is more like the old chat, so that one only sees those with whom he or she regularly chats and not everyone in one's circles. Third, restore the ability of the stream to auto-refresh. Fourth (and many might disagree with this one), make the new layout look more like the old layout, or at least figure out a way to pretty it up!

Google+ is my favourite social network and this is the first time I can say that I am very unhappy with it. I honestly think they dropped the ball on this new layout and I worry that people might stop using Google+ entirely if they don't make changes and fast. I won't stop using Google+, but I can say right now that my enjoyment of the site decreased considerably with today's changes. And unless they make the changes I recommend above, I can't see my enjoyment of Google+ returning to what it was when we had the old layout.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The 15th Anniversary of Frank Sinatra's Death

It was fifteen years ago today that Frank Sinatra died at the age of 82. The cause was a heart attack. Rather than writing a long blog entry on how great Mr. Sinatra was, I thought instead I would let his singing do that for him. Here is his version of "I've Got You Under My Skin." The song was written by Cole Porter and introduced by Eleanor Powell in the film Born to Dance (1936). Frank Sinatra first sung the song on his radio show in 1946. He recorded it in 1956 for his album Songs for Swinging Lovers and again in 1962 for Sinatra's Sinatra. This is the version from Songs for Swinging Lovers.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Could NBC Make a Come Back?

I must confess that I have been very hard on the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in this blog. From replacing Conan O'Brien with Jay Leno on The Tonight Show to their handling of the 2012 London Olympics to replacing Ann Curry with Savannah Guthrie on The Today Show, it just seemed to me that the network could do nothing right. Given the general ineptitude I believe NBC has shown the past few years, I then really did not have very high expectations for their upcoming fall season.  Fortunately I was rather pleasantly surprised when I watched the trailers to their new shows today. If this set of trailers is any indication, the 2013-2014 season could be the strongest NBC has had in some time.

Indeed, one of the pleasant surprises for me was The Blacklist. The show centres on Raymond "Red" Reddington (James Spader), a master criminal who turns himself into the FBI so he can help them find criminals the FBI was not aware of, the individuals on his "blacklist." I have to confess I didn't know what to make of the show when I first read about it, but the trailer actually does look interesting.

I must also say that I was very impressed with the trailer to The Michael J. Fox Show. I think it is safe to say it is one of the most anticipated shows of this autumn and if the trailer is any indication that anticipation is well warranted. The trailer was very funny--I found myself laughing several times. And I must say that I am impressed to see Michael J. Fox on the small screen, especially playing someone who has Parkinson's disease just as he has in real life. If the show is as good as the trailer, it will definitely be worth watching.

Of course, besides Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC, the new show I'm looking forward to the most his fall is Dracula. Aside from the fact that I simply like the idea of a regular series based on the classic horror novel, Dracula has some very good people involved. Daniel Knauf, who wrote and produced Carnivàle is a  producer on the show and Jonathan Rhys Meyers from The Tudors plays the title role. The trailer looked very good. Not only are costumes and sets sumptuous (it is set in the Victoria Era, just like the original novel), but the performances and dialogue seem quite good as well.

Beyond the trailers with which I was impressed, I must admit that I am also intrigued by the concepts behind some of NBC's mid-season shows. I can sum up Crossbones in seven words and that should be enough to get you to watch it: "Pirate show from the creator of Luther." If that's not enough, consider that John Malkovich is playing the lead role. Believe is another potentially interesting mid-season show. It is from director Alfonso Cuarón (perhaps best known for Children of Men) and J. J. Abrams, and centres on a young girl with an array of abilities ranging from psychokinesis to precognition. Another show to which I am looking forward to is Chicago PD. It is produced by Dick Wolf of Law & Order fame, whose Chicago Fire proved to be a pleasant surprise this season.

Given the trailers I have seen for the shows above and the descriptions I have seen for some of the mid-season shows, I think NBC might actually have a stronger line up than CBS this fall. Now CBS has yet to announce their fall schedule, but so far I am not particularly impressed by their pickups, which seem to be heavily sitcoms. Worse yet, most of these sitcoms, such as Chuck Lorre's Mom and Greg Gracia's The Millers, just seem generic at best. And I have to point out that CBS has what could be the show with the lamest concept of any this season. Despite the fact that Hostages will star Toni Collette and is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, it hardly sounds promising from its concept. Basically, Miss Collette plays a surgeon who has been picked to operate on the President of the United States when her family is taken hostage. Now I think this would make a great concept for a two part television movie or a six part mini-series at most, but I don't see how there will be enough plot for an entire series. If it is like such previous efforts with rather limited concepts, it will require a good deal of padding, during which time the audience will probably bail on it.

Of course, even given how poor I think most of the series CBS has picked up sound, it is still possible NBC could drop the ball. From where I stand it seems as if NBC did pick its share of losers. I was not impressed by the trailer of Ironside, the re-imagining of the classic police drama starring Raymond Burr. From the trailer it appears the new Ironside adds nothing new to police dramas and is simply paint by numbers. I did not find the trailer to Welcome to the Family funny at all, and the trailer to Sean Saves the World had me thinking it belongs on CBS (coming from me that is not a compliment when it comes to sitcoms).

Worse than the weak series that seem to be debuting on NBC this fall is that they seemed to have dropped the ball when it comes to scheduling. While The Blacklist has a solid Monday night slot, NBC placed Dracula in a 9:00 Central, Friday night death slot. This seems wrong headed to me, as I am sure it will appeal to a young audience. Sadly, NBC also placed Crossbones in the same time slot at mid-season. Again, I think it is a show that will appeal to a young audience. They really should have placed them on other nights (as well as Grimm, for that matter) when they would get much higher ratings (young people do tend to go out on Friday night). I also have to question why they did not use The Michael J. Fox Show as their anchor on Thursday night, scheduling it at 7:00 Central, or at least following the excellent Parks and Recreation at 7:30. I fear viewers might not stick around through Welcome to the Family and Sean Saves the World, not even for Michael J. Fox. I guess I shouldn't mention that I think NBC should have kept Go On and placed it on Thursday night instead of picking up either Sean Saves the World or Welcome to the Family.

Of course, trailers can be misleading and thumbnail descriptions don't always mean that a show will be any good. It's possible that Dracula will be horrible and Sean Saves the World will be brilliant. It's even possible that CBS' pickups aren't as lame as I think they are. Regardless, my over all impression of NBC's new fall schedule is very good at the moment, even if they should move some shows around before fall.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Television Version of Lights Out

When people think of horror anthology shows, they probably think of the Nineties' Tales From the Crypt, the Eighties' Tales From the Darkside, or even the Sixties' Thriller. All of these shows were pre-dated by Lights Out, a television series based on the classic radio show. In fact, it might have been the first American television horror anthology.

Lights Out numbered among the oldest of radio's suspense and horror anthologies, pre-dating both rivals Suspense and The Inner Sanctum. It debuted on NBC in January 1934. It was the creation of Wyllis Cooper, who would go onto write several of the "Mr. Moto" films, as well as Son of Frankenstein. After Wyllis Cooper left the show, screenwriter and playwright Arch Oboler took over Lights Out. On radio Lights Out was marked by often grisly plots laced with tongue in cheek and, more often than not, dark humour. If anything, under Mr. Oboler Lights Out became even more outré.

Lights Out made its debut on television as a series of specials aired on NBC from June to October 1946. These specials were broadcast live and produced by Fred Coe, who would go onto produce The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse and Playhouse 90. While the Lights Out specials received good notices, however, it would not be until 19 July 1949 that it would become a regularly scheduled programme. The first several episodes of the regularly scheduled series were produced by Fred Coe, but by 1950 the production duties were taken over by Herbert Bernard Swope Jr., who would go onto produce the TV shows Dobie Gillis and The Five Fingers. Like the majority of the anthologies of the late Forties and early Fifties, Lights Out was broadcast live and then distributed to television stations on kinescopes.

In addition to adapting the original radio scripts by Wyllis Cooper and Arch Oboler, the television version of Lights Out adapted the works of such writers as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, August Derleth, and even the young Ira Levin. The show also featured several well known actors. In addition to horror actor Boris Karloff, such stars as Eddie Albert, Billie Burke, Yvonne De Carlo, Burgess Meredith, and Basil Rathbone appeared. Several young, up and coming actors appeared on Lights Out, including Anne Francis, Grace Kelly, Ross Martin, and Leslie Nielsen,

While reviews of the standard run of Lights Out were mixed, it proved very popular. In fact, a June 1951 issue of Billboard referred to Lights Out as being the top rated mystery/crime programme on television at that time. Unfortunately, on 15 October 1951 I Love Lucy debuted opposite Lights Out on CBS. As a result the ratings for Lights Out declined sharply and it aired its last original episode on 29 September 1952. In 1972 NBC would attempt another television adaptation of Lights Out, but that ended with the pilot.

Having aired live the television version of  Lights Out would not see the endless reruns that later horror and suspense anthologies would. As a result Lights Out would largely be forgotten. Regardless, well over a decade before Thriller, let alone Tales from the Darkside or Tales from the Crypt, Lights Out paved the way for horror on the small screen.