Saturday, October 5, 2013

Actor Jay Robinson R.I.P.

Jay Robinson, who appeared in such films as The Robe and The Virgin Queen, died at the age of 83 on 27 September 2013. The cause was congestive heart failure.

Jay Robinson was born in New York City on 14 April 1930. His mother had been a dancer and his interest in acting began when he found her scrapbook from her career. He began acting in summer stock, eventually making his debut on Broadway in 1949 in The Shop at Sly Corner. He made further appearances on Broadway in Gayden (1949), As You Like It (1950), Buy Me Blue Ribbons (1951), and Much Ado About Nothing (1952). He made his film debut in The Robe in 1953, playing what may have been his most famous role, that of Caligula. He went onto appear in the films as Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), The Virgin Queen (1954), The Wild Party (1956), and My Man Godfrey (1957). He made his television debut in an episode of Wire Service.

Mr. Robinson's career was interrupted following an arrest in 1959 for possessing heroin with the intent to distribute it. He ultimately spent around a year in jail, after which he had problems finding work.  To make matters worse, in 1966 he was arrested for failing to appear at a retrial of his original narcotics possession case and served 15 months in prison before being paroled. Eventually he began working again, appearing in a small part in Tell Me in the Sunlight (1965). In the late Sixties he appeared on the TV shows The Wild Wild West, Star Trek, Judd for the Defence, Bewitched, and The Virginian.

In the Seventies he appeared on such shows as Room 222; O'Hara, U.S. Treasury; Hawaii Five-O; Search; Planet of the Apes; Mannix; Kolchak: The Night StalkerDoc; The Waltons; and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. He appeared in such films as Bunny O'Hare (1971), Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972), Three the Hard Way (1974), Shampoo (1975), Train Ride to Hollywood (1975), I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now? (1975), Born Again (1978), and The Man with Bogart's Face (1980).

In the Eighties he appeared in such films as Partners (1982), The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982), The Malibu Bikini Shop (1986), Big Top Pee-wee (1988), and Transylvania Twist (1989). He appeared on such shows as Voyagers!, Amanda's, Tales of the Gold Monkey, The Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Night Court, Cheers, and Murder She Wrote. In the Nineties he appeared in the films as Ghost Ship (1992), Dracula (1992),and Skeeter (1993). He appeared on the TV show The Nanny. He was one of the regular voices on the animated series Mad Jack the Pirate.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Tom Clancy Passes On

Author Tom Clancy died 1 October 2013 at the age of 66 from an undisclosed illness. He may be best known for his series of novels featuring CIA analyst Jack Ryan, including The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger.

Tom Clancy was born on 12 April 1947 in Rosedale, Maryland. He attended the preparatory school Loyola Blakefield in Towson, Maryland and then Loyola College in Baltimore. He graduated with a degree in English literature in 1969. While in college he joined the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps, although his near-sightedness would prevent him from joining the military. Following college he worked as an insurance agent, writing novels in his spare time.

It was in 1985 that he sold his first novel, The Hunt for Red October, for $5000. Tom Clancy had only expected to sell 5000 copies of the book, but sold 45,000. After the book was praised by Ronald Reagan, The Hunt for Red October became a best seller, selling 300,000 copies in hardcover and 2 million copies in paperback. Tom Clancy was a fairly prolific author, writing eight novels featuring Jack Ryan alone. He also wrote eleven non-fiction books and three novels that were not set in series. He created several novel series that were written by others, including "Op-Center", "Net Force", "Power Plays", and so on.

Starting with The Hunt for Red October in 1990, several of Mr. Clancy's novels would be adapted as feature films. In 1996 Tom Clancy and former British Royal Navy submarine Douglas Littlejohns founded the video game company Red Storm Entertainment. The company released several games based on both the works of Tom Clancy and the various series created by him. In 2008 it was bought by Ubisoft.

I will not say that Tom Clancy was a great writer and I didn't agree with many of his views, but he was an author of some talent who carved out his own niche. Indeed, it can be argued that he virtually invented the modern day techno-thriller. Mr. Clancy's novels were tightly plotted tales that were rich in technical detail. It was a successful combination that not only led to films and video games based on his works, but proved a strong influence on yet other writers and even film and television. Arguably the TV series 24 owes a debt to Tom Clancy. Tom Clancy was not simply a highly successful author, then, but a very influential one as well.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Google Does Away with The Black Bar

It was in June 2011 that Google introduced its black navigation bar through which users could access its various services. The "black bar", as it came to be known, was not universally popular. There were those who complained about its colour and others who complained about the space it occupied. Speaking for myself, I numbered among those who liked "the black bar". I liked its colour and I really can't understand why space should matter with the resolutions of desktop screens these days (this is not the Nineties). Regardless of whether one liked the black bar or not, when Google attempted to replace the black bar with a small drop down menu in December 2011 there were so many complaints that Google had to restore the black bar. Now it seems that history could be repeating itself.

This week Google replaced the familiar black bar with what some have called a "new navigation bar", but most people I know are calling a "grid". I believe its official name is the "App Launcher." Regardless, there are an array of squares in a pattern in the upper right hand of Google pages on which one clicks for a drop down menu to access Google's various services. Now I have encountered a few people who like this change. They think the grid takes up less space than the black bar and they think  it is more aesthetically pleasing. I know yet others who are indifferent to both the black bar and the grid. I know even more people, including myself, who hate the grid and really want the black bar back.

I have a few reasons for hating this new Google "app launcher", not the least of which is that it is much less efficient than the old black bar. Quite simply, it takes more clicks to get to the Google services I use. Using the old Google black bar I could reach YouTube with one click and Blogger with two clicks. Now I have to click on this array of squares to access a drop down menu to get to Youtube--a total of two clicks. To get to Blogger I have to click the array of squares, then click "more" at the bottom of the box, and then click on Blogger--a total of three clicks.

Of course, the fact that it takes more clicks to get to the services I use is directly related to my other major complaint about the new "App Launcher'. Quite simply, it does not take into account the Google services I use the most. Beside the array of boxes are links to Google+, Gmail, and Images. I do not use Gmail, so it is useless to even have the link there. To reach YouTube or Blogger,  services I actually use, I have to open the drop down menu. If they absolutely had to do away with the black bar (and I don't think they did), it would have been nice if they had taken into account the services we use the most (one would think Google would have access to that information) or given us the ability to customise the menu.

Another, admittedly minor objection I have to the "app launcher" is, well, it's ugly. I much preferred the sleek black bar to this grey array of squares on a white background. What is more, the drop down menu isn't particularly pretty either. It consists of icons that seem rather too large to me. I just find the whole thing very unattractive.

Of course, I know many who hated the old black bar complained about the space it occupied. Now why anyone would complain about space in a day and age when computer monitors have resolutions like  1366×768 and 1280x1024 I don't know. That having been said, there are times when this new "app launcher" occupies more space on the screen than the black bar. The black bar was simply a thin band at the top of the screen. When the app launcher is open it occupies a good part of the right side of one's screen, much more than the black bar.  If one has to go to a service not listed in the upper part of the box, then one has to click "more" and as a result the box opens up to occupy even more of the screen. It seems to me that if one is concerned about screen "real estate", then, they would actually want the black bar back!

For now my solution to the problem of this new Google grid has been to simply place Blogger and YouTube on my bookmark bar on Firefox. I hardly think this is what Google necessarily wanted and I certainly don't find it desirable either (I usually keep the bookmark bar hidden--okay, I guess I am a little concerned about screen space). Unfortunately, it seems that it will have to do until such time as Google restores the black bar (a distinct possibility given the amount of hatred directed at the new grid) or they make the "App Launcher" customisable.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Patricia Blair R.I.P.

Patricia Blair, best known for playing Daniel Boone's wife Rebecca on Daniel Boone, died 9 September 2013 at the age of 80. The cause was breast cancer.

Patricia Blair was born Patsy Lou Blake in Fort Worth, Texas on 15 January 1933. As a teenager she was a model before moving to Los Angeles at age 17 to pursue acting. She made her film debut under the name "Pat Blake" in the film Jump into Hell in 1955. She appeared in such films as Crime Against Joe (1956) and The Black Sleep (1956) as "Patricia Blake", and in the television shows as Telephone Time (on which she made her television debut in 1956)  The Bob Cummings Show as both "Patricia Blake" and "Pat Blake". It was with a 1958 episode of Mike Hammer that she was finally billed as "Patricia Blair". For the rest of the Fifties she appeared in such shows as Rescue 8; Richard Diamond, Private Detective; Steve Canyon; The Dennis O'Keefe Show; Not For Hire; and The Loretta Young Show. She had the recurring role of Goldy on the show Yancy Derringer. She appeared in the films City of Fear (1959) and Cage of Evil (1960).

In the Sixties Patricia Blair was a regular on The Rifleman in its final season as hotel owner Lou Mallory. In 1964 she was cast in the role of Daniel Boone's wife, Rebecca Boone, on the long running frontier drama Daniel Boone. She guest starred on Surfside 6, The Virginian, Perry Mason, Bonanza, and Temple Houston. In the Seventies she guest starred on the TV shows Dusty's Trail and Petrocelli. She appeared in the films Left Hand of Gemini (1972) and The Electric Horseman (1979). Afterwards she retired from acting, and in later years she produced trade shows.

There can be no doubt that Patricia Blair was beautiful. Standing 5'9" she was also tall. She was one of the few actresses who could stand beside such actors as Chuck Connors and Fess Parker (both of who stood over 6 foot) and not look tiny. She was also a very good actress. She could play a devoted wife, as she did on Daniel Boone, but she could also play a conniving model, as she did in the Perry Mason episode "The Case of the Badgered Brother". What is more, she was convincing as both. Patricia Blair was a very good actress who added grace to any show in which she appeared.