Thursday, February 27, 2014

Klout Gets Into Content Sharing

I have always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Klout. On the one hand I am not sure that influence on the web can truly be quantified. Even if I accepted that it could be, over the years I have come to doubt the accuracy of Klout scores (there are people I consider influential on the web who have rather low Klout scores). On the other hand, Klout can be useful insofar as one can view his or her posts from several social media sites across the web in one place, which can be helpful in determining those subjects in which one's followers are most interested. I must also admit that I have received several nice Perks through Klout.

Given my conflicting feelings about Klout, it is then perhaps natural that I had my doubts when I heard that Klout was moving into the arena of recommending content for one to share on his or her social media sites. Now when one logs into his or her Klout account, the first thing he or she will see is a stream of news stories relevant to those topics in which one is an expert. For instance, if one is an expert in classic film, then he or she will see articles relevant to classic film in his or her stream. With regards to these various articles, Klout will let one know if it is "Hot Off the Press" (that is, published very recently), a "Hidden Gem" (an article that there is only a small chance one's followers have seen it), or "On the Rise" (an article that is trending higher than normal). Klout also allows the user to mark articles as "Show me less content like this" or "Show me more content like this", thus letting Klout know what sort of articles one finds most appealing.

While I had my doubts that Klout could provide interesting content, I have to admit that I have found quite a few interesting stories in the content stream on my account. I also have to say that I rather doubt that I would have run onto some of these articles on my own. What is more, I have to confess that knowing if an article is "Hot Off the Press", a "Hidden Gem", or "On the Rise" has proven useful. Indeed, articles that are "Hot Off the Press" or a "Hidden Gem" actually seem to do better than those that are supposedly "On the Rise" (which generally don't do was well at all). Now I have to point out that the content I find on Klout does not perform as well as content I create myself or content I find on my own, but it does prove useful as, for lack of better term, "filler material".

Of course, there are some problems with Klout's content sharing service. One is determining the relevance of any given article to a topic. For instance in my stream tonight there was an article on video apps that Klout claimed was relevant to the topic of "Cats", despite the fact that felines were mentioned nowhere in the article. Tonight Klout also claimed that an article on President Obama wanting to raise the minimum wage was somehow relevant to "The Beatles". These are not isolated cases. Indeed, it happens often enough that at any given time there will be quite a few articles that simply aren't to relevant to certain topics at any given time. I think Klout should really give users some means of  alerting them that a particular article is not relevant to the topic to which they have assigned it.

Another problem with Klout's content sharing service is that even when an article is relevant to a particular topic, it might not be of interest to one's followers. One of my topics on Klout is "music". This is pretty much because I post a good deal about classic rock and rhythm and blues on Google+ and Twitter. Unfortunately, Klout often fills my stream with articles on rap What is more, most of these articles are from a specific web site devoted to the genre. Now I would think Klout could tell by my posts across the web that I am not interested in rap as I have never posted about it on any social media site. It would then be nice if Klout would give users a means of blocking content from specific websites. If we had this ability, then I could block that rap website and thus keep its articles from appearing in my stream.

In the end I have to say that, for now at least, it appears that Klout has been more successful in providing interesting content than it has been in determining one's influence on the Web. Of course, there are some rough edges As I mentioned earlier, Klout needs to improve how it determines the relevance of an article to any given topic. They also need to give users a way to block content from sites that consistently publish  articles that simply aren't of interest to them. Over all, however, I have to say I am actually impressed by Klout's content sharing. Given I've never been impressed by Klout before, that is a first.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Godspeed Gabriel Axel and Bob Casale

Gabriel Axel

Director Gabriel Axel died on 9 February 2014 at the age of 95.

Gabriel Axel was born Gabriel Axel Moerch on 18 April 1918 in Aarhus, Denmark. Much of his childhood was spent in Paris, where his father operated a factory. Upon turning 18 he returned to Denmark to pursue a career as a furniture carpenter. He became interested in acting and studied the craft at the Danish Royal Theatre. He later joined Louis Javet's acting troupe in Paris, at which time he dropped his last name and simply became "Gabriel Axel". It was in 1951 that he began directing programmes for Denmark's public television broadcaster,  Danmarks Radio. From 1951 to 1958 he directed several programmes for Danish television. He also continued acting, appearing in such films as Vi som går køkkenvejen (1953), Karen, Maren og Mette (1954), Bruden fra Dragstrup (1955), and Styrmand Karlsen (1958). The first feature film he directed was Altid ballade in 1955. In the Fifties Mr. Axel followed it with the films En kvinde er overflødig (1957), Guld og grønne skove (1958--English title The Girls are Willing), Helle for Helene (1959), and Flemming og Kvik (1960).

In the Sixties he directed the films Det tossede paradis (1962--in English, Crazy for Paradise), Oskar (1962), Vi har det jo dejligt (1963--English title We're Doing Alright), Tre piger i Paris (1963--English title Three Girls in Paris), Paradis retur (1964, in English Paradise ad Back), Den røde kappe (1967, English title Hagbard and Signe),  Det kære legetøj (1968, English title Sex and the Law), and Amour (1970, English title The Ways of Women). He also continued to act, appearing in such films as Peters baby (1961), Han, Hun, Dirch og Dario (1962), En ven i bolignøden (1965), and Jeg - en marki (1967).

In the Seventies Gabriel Axel directed the films Med kærlig hilsen (1971), Die Auto-Nummer - Sex auf Rädern (1972), Familien Gyldenkål (1975--the English title The Goldcabbage Family), Familien Gyldenkål sprænger banken (1976, English title--The Goldcabbage Family Breaks the Bank), and Alt på et bræt (1977--English title Going for Broke).  In the late Seventies and early Eighties he returned to directing television. As an actor he appeared in Med kærlig hilsen (1971) and Nu går den på Dagmar (1972).

It was in 1987 that his film Babettes gæstebud (English title, Babette's Feast) was released. The film was based on a story by Isak Dinesen (the pen name of Karen Blixen) and took Mr. Axel 14 years to complete. It received widespread acclaim, and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, the BAFTA Award for Best Film not in the English Language, the Cannes Film Festival Prize of the Ecumenical Jury - Special Mention, and many others. From the late Eighties to the Naughts he directed the films Christian (1989), Amled, prinsen af Jylland (1994--released in the States as Royal Deceit), and Leïla (2001).

Gabriel Axel was no small talent as a director. While many focus upon his masterpiece Babette's Feast, the fact is that he made a large array of various types of films. My personal favourites tend to be those based on Danish legends, such as Hagbard and Signe and Royal Deceit. Not only was he one of the few directors to ever develop films based on Danish legends, but the films themselves were very well done and fairly faithful to their source material. He also had a gift for comedy, as shown by the two "Gyldenkål" films. Although best known for Babette's Feast, his career consisted of so much more.

Bob Casale

Bob Casale, guitarist  for the band Devo, died on 17 February 2014 at the age of 61. The cause was heart failure.

Bob Casale was born on 14 July 1952 in Kent, Ohio. His older brother was Gerald Casale, who would found Devo with Bob Lewis and Mark Mothersbaugh. He was a medical radiation technologist when his brother recruited him into Devo. The band Devo had grown out of  Gerald Casale and Bob Lewis' idea of de-volution (the idea of a species regressing towards a more primitive form), which they developed as a joke while at Kent State University in the late Sixties. Their idea of devolution took on a more serious tone following the 4 May 1970 Kent State shootings, in which unarmed college students were gunned down by the Ohio National Guard.

Devo began to take shape around 1973, with Bob Casale on guitar alongside Gerald Casale, Mark Mothersbaugh, Bob Lewis, and others. In 1976 they filmed the video In The Beginning Was The End: The Truth About De-Evolution, which featured two songs: "Secret Agent Man" (their cover of the Johnny Rivers song) and "Jocko Homo". It won a a prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival in 1977. It was in 1977 that Devo released their first single, "Mongoloid", backed with "Jocko Homo". That same year would see the release of their first EP, Be Stiff. By this time Devo had come to the attention of such artists as David Bowie and Iggy Pop. As a result they were signed to Warner Bros. Records.

Devo's first long play album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, was released in July 1978. The album performed well, peaking at #78 on the Billboard albums chart and #12 on the UK albums chart. It was followed in Duty Now for the Future in 1979, did not do quite as well as Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!. Fortunately their next album, Freedom of Choice (released in 1980), would prove to be their breakthrough. The album went to #22 on the Billboard albums chart and to #47 on the UK albums chart. The album also produced the singles "Girl U Want", which received a good deal of FM airplay, as well as "Whip It", which went all the way to #14 on the Billboard Hot 100.

As a result of the success of Freedom of Choice the early Eighties would see Devo at the peak of their popularity. Their follow up, New Traditionalists was released in 1981 and performed fairly well. While its singles did not crack the Billboard Hot 100, they did receive a good deal of FM airplay. Unfortunately, Devo's success would be short lived. Their next album, Oh, No! It's Devo (1982), sold more poorly than Freedom of Choice, and did not even chart in the UK. Their next album, Shout (1984), sold even more poorly despite their cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Are You Experienced" ("R U Experienced") receiving some airplay. Bob Casale served as the sound engineer on Shout and would continue to do so for the rest of Devo's albums.

As a result of the failure of Shout Warner Bros.dropped Devo from the label. Bob Casale began working as a sound engineer, serving in that capacity on the first solo album of Andy Summers of The Police in 1986. Devo eventually reformed and released the album Total Devo on Enigma Records in 1988. It was followed by Smooth Noodle Maps in 1990. Devo broke not long after the release of Smooth Noodle Maps in the wake of poor ticket sales for a European tour and dissension in the band.

In 1992 with the TV special Frosty Returns, Bob Casale started working a music engineer and music mixer for various films and TV shows. He worked on such films as Four Rooms (1995), Happy Gilmore (1996), Rushmore (1998), Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999), The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Rugrats Go Wild (2003), Herbie Fully Loaded (2005), and Mama's Boy (2007).

In 1995 Devo regrouped. They appeared as part of the 1996 Lollapalooza tour and returned for the 1997 Lollapalooza tour. They recorded songs for various films. Bob Casale would be a part of his brother Gerald's solo project Jihad Jerry & the Evildoers and performed on the albums Army Girls Gone Wild (2005) and Mine Is Not a Holy War (2006). In 2010 Devo released their first studio album in years, Something for Everybody.

Bob Casale was with Devo for the entirety of it history, playing with the band from their earliest gigs to their final album. And while he stayed out of the spotlight centred upon his brother Gerald and band mate  Mark Mothersbaugh, there can be little doubt he was central to the band's success. Bob Casale not only played guitar in the band, but also did much of the band's production. It was in part due to Bob Casale that Devo did not sound like any other band. Indeed, it seems likely that Bob Casale gone that Devo will not continue. Indeed, it seems inconceivable for there to be Devo without him.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Godspeed Harold Ramis

Director, writer, and actor Harold Ramis died today at the age of 69. The cause was complications from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis. He left behind a body of work that included Animal House, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day.

Harold Ramis was born on 21 November 1944 in Chicago. His parents, Ruth and Nathan Ramis, owned and operated Ace Food & Liquor Mart on Chicago's West Side. He graduated from Nicholas Senn High School in Chicago. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Washington University in St. Louis. Following his graduation he worked for a time as a mental health orderly at Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. It was in Chicago that he first emerged as a freelance writer, contributing articles to the now defunct Chicago Daily News. He went onto edit and write the "party jokes" section of Playboy magazine. It was while he was with Playboy that he made his television debut, on the programme Playboy After Dark.

It was in 1969 that he became part of the legendary improvisational comedy troupe Second City. He would leave Second City for a time before returning in 1972. In 1973 Mr. Ramis would join John Belushi and Bill Murray (both Second City alumni) to work on the radio show The National Lampoon Hour. He also appeared in the stage revue The National Lampoon Show, which also featured John Belushi, Bill Murray,  Christopher Guest, and Gilda Radner among others. During the Seventies he also participated in the video collective known as TVTV.

It was in 1976 that the television show spin off of Second City, SCTV, debuted. Harold Ramis served as both the head writer and a performer on SCTV. SCTV ran for three years and while SCTV would not see the lasting success of its contemporary, Saturday Night Live, it developed a cult following that has lasted to this day. Harold Ramis also wrote the TVTV specials TVTV Looks at the Academy AwardsThe TVTV Show, and TVTV Goes to the Superbowl, all in 1976. It was in 1978 that he made what could be considered his breakthrough, as one of the writers on Animal House (with Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller). While Animal House received mixed reviews upon its release, it proved to be a hit at the box office. It has since then become regarded as one of the best comedies of its era.

Harold Ramis followed the success of Animal House with two more screenplays, Meatballs in 1979 (co-written by Len Blum, Daniel Goldberg, and Janis Allen) and Caddyshack in 1980 (co-written by  Brian Doyle-Murray and  Douglas Kenney). Caddyshack also marked Harold Ramis' directorial debut. Like Animal House before it, Caddyshack received mixed reviews upon its release but is more highly regarded now.

The Eighties would see Harold Ramis continue his success. He co-wrote Stripes (1981) with Len Blum and Daniel Goldberg, and starred in the film alongside Bill Murray. He also wrote episodes of the short lived SCTV Network as well as appearing in several episodes. He directed National Lampoon's Vacation (1983). What may have been his biggest success came in 1984. Ghostbusters was co-written by Harold Ramis and Dan Akroyd. It starred Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, and Harold Ramis. The film would prove incredibly successful, becoming a franchise that would produce two separate animated cartoon series, video games, comic books, and a great deal of merchandise. Mr. Ramis reprised his role as Egon in its sequel, Ghostbusters II (1989). He also wrote (with Brian Doyle-Murray) and directed Club Paradise (1986). He wrote the film Armed and Dangerous (1986) with Brian Grazer, James Keach, and Peter Torokvei. Mr. Ramis appeared in the films Baby Boom (1987) and Stealing Home (1988). 

In the Nineties Harold Ramis developed the story for the animated film Rover Dangerfield with Rodney Dangerfield. He also directed and wrote (with Danny Rubin) one of the most successful films of his career, Groundhog Day (1993). The film would not only be a success at the box office, but would have a lasting impact on pop culture, with the film often referenced with regards to recurring situations. He directed the films Stuart Saves His Family (1995), Multiplicity (1996), Analyse This (1999), and Bedazzled (2000). He co-wrote Analyse This with Peter Toland and Kenneth Lonergan. Bedazzled was based on the 1967 Peter Cook and Dudley Moore comedy of the same name. Mr. Ramis co-wrote the screenplay with Larry Gelbart and Peter Tolan. He appeared in the films Airheads (1994), Love Affair (1994), and As Good as It Gets (1997).

In the Naughts Mr. Ramis directed the films Analyse That (2002), The Ice Harvest (2005), and Year One (2009). He also directed episodes of The Office. He co-wrote Analyse That with Peter Steinfeld and Peter Tolan, and co-wrote Year One with Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg. He appeared in the films Orange County (2002), I'm with Lucy (2002), The Last Kiss (2006), Knocked Up (2007), Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007) and Year One.

While Harold Ramis had his share of misses, I honestly believe that he was one of the very few consistently funny, modern day comedy writers and directors. Indeed, he either wrote or directed (sometimes both) some of the most popular and highly regarded comedies of the past forty years. Animal House, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day are still watched today and audiences still find them as funny today as audiences did when they were first released.

Harold Ramis' success as a writer and director of comedies may have been due to the fact that he made comedies like no one else. In many respects Harold Ramis' films were like live-action, Warner Brothers cartoons, with the humour often tending towards being wild and even outré. At the same time, however, his comedies usually had a very cerebral element to them. This is true even of his earliest comedies, from Animal House to Stripes. They could be nearly anarchic and often even downright gross, but they were also much more intellectual than some of their contemporaries.His films either portrayed the struggle of individuals with authority (Delta House with Faber College, Winger and Ziskey with the U.S. Army) or individuals struggling with themselves (Groundhog Day and Analyse This), and sometime both (Caddyshack is an example of this). In some respects one could say the theme of Harold Ramis' oeuvre was self actualisation.

Beyond being a true talent in the field of comedy, it is also to be noted that Harold Ramis was recognised by many as simply being a nice guy.  Everyone who worked with him always had kind words to say about Harold Ramis. Those lucky enough to meet him always described him as a sweet, funny, and unassuming man. Indeed, it is not every man who would leave the bright lights of Hollywood to return to his hometown of Chicago. It is perhaps not enough to say that Harold Ramis made what were some of the last few truly funny comedies in film history. He was also a true gentleman.