In memory of Ed, Farrah and Michael

This past week saw the passing of three of my heroes. My memories of each are very different. Each was important to me for different reasons. But they were all significant figures in my life, and especially during my youth. So I just have to share some of my own personal reflections on the trio of celebrities who passed away this week: Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson.

Ed McMahonEarlier this week came the news that Ed McMahon had died. This was not entirely unexpected, as it was widely known that Ed had been having health problems. I found the timing a bit ironic in that Ed’s passing occurred in the same month that Jay Leno passed the baton of hosting The Tonight Show to Conan O’Brien. I think Ed would have been pleased with the way Andy Richter is developing in his role as Conan’s sidekick. Unlike the rather minor role that Edd Hall played on Jay Leno’s version of The Tonight Show, Andy is assuming a stronger supporting role to Conan, with a chemistry not unlike what I remember between Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon. Indeed, even Conan’s band leader, Max Weinberg, has assumed a role more like Doc Severinsen than the one which developed between Kevin Eubanks and Jay Leno. In many respects, Kevin was Jay’s Ed, always available to enhance the timing of a joke, and to poke fun of the ones that fell flat.

That’s something Ed McMahon did very well. He clearly understood his role as “second banana” to Johnny Carson, and he was very good at it. He also happened to be an excellent announcer, a profession that I once pursued. He had a great voice, and was one of the last great “live copy” readers, who regularly delivered commercials live on camera, something that is rarely done anymore. People routinely zap past commercials nowadays, but there was a time when people stayed tuned in for live spots, like the very memorable one where Ed McMahon extolled the virtues of Alpo Dog Food with a panting Johnny by his side. They just don’t make TV like that anymore. Here’s a tip to Conan’s producers: let Andy loose on some live commercial copy. I think he could channel Ed’s spirit quite well, and it would be refreshing to see the comeback of live copy on commercial television.

It would also be refreshing to see the comeback of shows like Charlie’s Angels, and of characters like Jill Monroe, brought vividly to life by Farrah Fawcett. Sure, the show was cheesy. Plots tended to be predictable, and villains were often cartoonish. It wasn’t a critically acclaimed show, nor did it try to be. To put it bluntly, it was the classic example of the “jiggle factor” on television, something that later shows like Baywatch refined to perfection. Certainly the vividness of my memories of Farrah Fawcett are rooted in her appearance, and in particular, the provocative pose captured in the iconic poster that could be found hanging in nearly every college dorm room in the country, including my own.
Farrah Faucett's Famous Poster
But while Farrah Fawcett may be remembered for her appearance, we should not forget that Charlie’s Angels was one of the first major dramas on television to feature women starring in roles that had traditionally been reserved for men. It was remarkable for its time. It expanded cultural notions of femininity at the same time it reinforced traditional norms. And I think Farrah understood this fine line that she and the other “Angels” were walking in the cultural whirlpool that was the 1970s. She embraced the contradictions inherent in a character that at one level reflected a “liberation” of women from deeply-held stereotypes and at another level reflected a raw sexuality that resonated with a culture longing for a return to tradition. In short, she was perfect for this role.

Yesterday afternoon, I thought the big news of the day was the passing of Farrah Fawcett. When I mentioned the news of Farrah to someone at work, the response was something like “first Ed McMahon, now Farrah Fawcett, we’re losing the great ones.” But then came word late in the day that Michael Jackson had died. For many people, the death of Michael Jackson was the biggest news of the week, not only eclipsing the passing of Ed and Farrah, but also putting the unrest in Iran on the back burner on CNN.

Michael Jackson was a relatively young man of 50. In contrast, Ed McMahon was 86 years old when he died on June 23. Farrah Fawcett was a much younger 62 when she died on June 25, but her deteriorating health was brought into vivid focus last month by the TV documentary Farrah’s Story. So when Michael Jackson died at a mere 50, just a few hours after Farrah passed away, the news came as an extreme shock. Within a three-day period, we had lost Johnny’s loyal sidekick, an iconic sex symbol, and now, the king of pop. The world had some clues that the days of Ed and Farrah were numbered. But who knew that the man who brought us the best-selling album of all time was soon to become history?

The Best Selling Album of All TimeMichael Jackson had become a tragic figure in his later years. It’s hard to deny that his well-publicized troubles tarnished his reputation. Allegations of child molestation haunted him, even though he prevailed in court. His Neverland Ranch seemed like an almost desperate effort to enjoy a childhood he never had. Some saw his private life as rather odd, even weird. And yes, he was the butt of many jokes on late night television. Michael Jackson’s personal foibles provided a lot of fodder for Jay Leno.

But I think Michael Jackson’s contributions to our culture and popular music are far more weighty than his deteriorating image in the public eye. There will undoubtedly be those who will fixate on the negative. But I think far more of us will remember the Michael Jackson who brought us some of the most memorable music of all time. Certainly this would include the music found on Thriller, an album which has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. No other album has even come close to this figure, and given the state of the music industry, it is very doubtful that any album will ever match this distinction.

While I enjoyed Thriller, my memories of Michael go back much further. When Thriller was released in 1982, I was nearing the end of my career as a radio DJ. I was completing my Master’s degree, and I would soon begin my career as a college professor. Thriller was a great album, but my fondest memories of Michael date back to his earlier years, and in particular, his work with the Jackson 5. One of my favorite Michael Jackson tunes, in fact, is an ode to a rat. Perhaps only Michael Jackson possessed the sheer ethos that could turn the rather silly premise of Ben into a touching musical masterpiece. For me, this song was the one that showcased for me what I liked best about Michael Jackson, an uncanny combination of childlike innocence, unshakable confidence, and a truly remarkable voice.

Yes, I’ll miss the great ones that passed away this week. When so many powerful figures in our culture die in such a short time frame, I think it causes us to appreciate even more the fragility of our own lives. I know that my life has been enriched by the contributions of Ed, Farrah and Michael. Each of these celebrities has had their “ups and downs.” But ultimately, I think each, in their own ways, have left us with enduring memories that will last for generations to come.

Shawnee Mission North Panoramas

I enjoy taking panoramic photos from time to time. They are especially useful for capturing wide angle images that are difficult to view in a traditional photo. I’ve also experimented with various methods for presenting panoramic photos, including QuickTime VR, which is an excellent tool for navigating panoramas.

Another excellent piece of panoramic photography software is DoubleTake, which has recently been updated to version 2.2. I like DoubleTake because it is one of the easiest and quickest ways to create a panorama from “stitching” a series of images together. While there are more sophisticated tools available, DoubleTake provides a great combination of ease-of-use and quality results.

Presenting panoramic images online is another issue. Panoramic images can be huge, and most online services that offer panoramic photo viewers place limits on how large a file one can upload. One popular site for panoramic images that I’ve recently posted images to is Panoguide. This service provides a fairly good java-based viewer for viewing panoramic images, but it limits uploaded images to a maximum resolution of 8 megapixels. One of the panoramas I recently took at my godson’s graduation at Shawnee Mission North High School was 48 megapixels, so I had to drop down the resolution quite a bit to upload it to panoguide.

But for what it’s worth, below are links to the two panoramas I took at Trevor’s graduation. The first one is a 180 degree cylindrical panorama of the football stadium just prior to the graduation ceremonies. The second is a tighter close-up cylindrical panorama of the graduating class just prior to receiving their diplomas.

Shawnee Mission North High School
Shawnee Mission North High School
Shawnee Mission North Class of 2009
Shawnee Mission North Class of 2009

If you’ve never used a panoramic viewer before, try clicking on the image in the viewer and moving the mouse around to navigate. You can zoom in and out by using a scroll wheel or using the two-finger gesture on modern Mac trackpads.

Where’s Dr. T?

Recently at the RECAP conference at West Chester University, a colleague mentioned that I hadn’t updated my blog in awhile.  That’s true, but to be fair, I was having some technical difficulties…

My hosting provider (ixwebhosting) had moved to a new server farm in April, so I needed to migrate content to the new system. My first priority was to get and set up properly, and that took some time.  I left my personal blog for last, and by the time I had gotten around to it, the backup servers at ixwebhosting apparently went off-line.  

So I had to rebuild my blog from my own backups.  While I was at it, I also upgraded the WordPress software to the latest version.  And I’m trying out some different themes to spruce up the appearance of the blog.  I hope to have things back to normal in the next few days.  

Improve your vocabulary while feeding the hungry

Visit freerice.comI spent a few minutes at this website recently,, that seems like an intriguing way to help fight hunger.  Essentially, the site presents a vocabulary test which rewards each correct answer with a donation of 20 grains of rice to the UN World Food Program.  The cost of the donation is underwritten by the banner ads on the page.  

The site claims to make no profit from the ads, but some have questioned whether this is the case.  For example, see this article on, or this one at But both of these naysayers base their calculations on each correct answer netting 10 grains of rice.  When I visited the site recently, the rate was 20 grains of rice per correct answer.  Perhaps the site owner raised the rate because the revenue from the pay-per-click ads was averaging out to be worth more than 10 grains of rice.

In any case, it’s an interesting idea.  Check it out.  And for trivia buffs, try Every correct answer earns a spoonful of flour.  I wonder…if I visit both sites enough times, will I be able to say I helped feed the hungry rice cakes?

Mongolian Barbecue – Kansas style

Tonight I had the pleasure of dining at the Mongolian Barbecue in Overland Park, Kansas.  This was my first time eating at this restaurant, which offers a rather novel concept of “make your own” stir-fry.  Patrons select the items they wish to include in their dish from a bountiful buffet of meats, veggies and sauces.  Then they take their bowl of victuals to a huge round grill where the cooks prepare the final product.  It reminded me of a Japanese-style steak house, but with a more relaxed (and somewhat amusing) twist.

But the real treat for me and Sherry was the chance to visit with some good friends who live in the Kansas City area.  I particularly enjoyed having a chance to catch up with my godson, Trevor. I took this shot of him at the restaurant with my digital camera (which I’m glad I brought along, because Trevor had a camera with him that used the same kind of battery, but his wasn’t charged up, so we shared my charged-up battery.) Trevor’s a junior in high school now, active in soccer, bowling, drama and forensics, and a bright, pleasant fellow.  It’s neat that he also has an iPod Touch; I guess brilliant minds think alike. We talked about Facebook, and I found it interesting that it has become so popular among high school students so quickly after starting off primarily among the college crowd. And of course, it was nice to visit with his mom, Michelle, her friend, Ed, and our host in Kansas, Ellen and her son Mike. It was a very pleasant evening, and one of the highlights of our 2007 holiday journey.

For more photos from our visit, check out my Facebook album. Trevor also posted some photos in his Facebook album.

Could I be Frasier’s double?

So I was in a BestBuy store yesterday when one of the clerks there said “you are a dead ringer for a celebrity, but I just can’t figure out who it is.”  He suggested I go to one of the various celebrity look alike sites on the net and find out who is my “celebrity double.”

So this morning I visited a few of these sites, including the one at, where I was able to create the following “morph movie.”  What do you think…if I shaved off my beard, could I pass for Kelsey Gramer?