Location Aware Lifestyle in Wired

In the current issue of Wired (17.02), author Matthew Honan takes a look at GPS enabled services.

I wanted to know more about this new frontier, so I became a geo-guinea pig. My plan: Load every cool and interesting location-aware program I could find onto my iPhone and use them as often as possible. For a few weeks, whenever I arrived at a new place, I would announce it through multiple social geoapps. When going for a run, bike ride, or drive, I would record my trajectory and publish it online. I would let digital applications help me decide where to work, play, and eat. And I would seek out new people based on nothing but their proximity to me at any given moment. I would be totally open, exposing my location to the world just to see where it took me. I even added an Eye-Fi Wi-Fi card to my PowerShot digital camera so that all my photos could be geotagged and uploaded to the Web. I would become the most location-aware person on the Internets!


This article is the story of his 3 week experience.

It highlights some of the advantages and pitfalls of using these devices. What I found particularly interesting is how he talks about the privacy problems with these devices in a non-fear-mongering way. It's also about just his personal experiences which makes it entertaining and accessible.

Obviously this is all just anecdotes, but Honan does give the reader some interesting points to consider.

GPS devices are making their way into cars, cell phones, MP Players and digital cameras. Blogger and Flickr both support geo-tagging.

If you are a tech enthusiast and not yet thinking about the implications of this change, and the impacts it may have on your life, now is a good time to start. And this article is a nice entry into the world.


Where there's smoke, there's...Nothing

I was cruising up I-270 near St. Louis on Thursday. Suddenly I saw traffic slowing down around me. Brake lights came on and black smoke billowed up ahead.

I was torn between two reactions. First, "Wow. I hope no one's hurt." And second, "Wow. This might look really cool. I hope it's worth the traffic delay."

Oh, don't look at me like that. You know that thought crosses your mind, too.

So I pulled out my camera, snuck my hand through the wrist strap in case I had to drop it quickly, and began shooting picture blindly through the windshield as I negotiated the traffic.

Pretty interesting, right? It got more interesting when I realized the smoke was moving. We had a fire traveling down the interstate.

Did anyone call the police?

Did the driver know?

Do you have to pay an extra toll when haul fire?

Is there a fire shortage someplace and they are importing more?

Why not Fedex the fire?

But when I got closer, there was no fire.

It was just a lousy, old dump truck hauling coal and spewing half if load across the interstate.

Seriously, people. Cover your load. Don't tease us like that.


I miss my Forester

It's waiting for me at Masterpark near SEA.

On Monday night I landed at the St Louis airport for a business trip. The St. Louis airport is actually growing me. I'm not sure that's healthy.

I headed out to the rental car shuttle and thought, "The weather is actually not bad." Here's a hint -- NEVER THINK THAT.

The 18 degrees wasn't too cold and there was just a little snow/slush on the ground. Hertz put me in a Ford Edge and I was on my way.

And the snow and sleet began to fall ever thicker as I got on the highway.

And hour later, I made it too my hotel, fighting against the allure of snow hypnosis.

The following morning it was still snowing. And sleeting. And icing. I stopped at a Hardee's to order a ridiculous amount of fast food breakfast sandwiches. I got back to the car, and the windows I had just cleared in the hotel parking lot were now covered with a thick coating of ice. I don't think I've ever seen that much ice accumulate that quickly on auto glass.

The whole storm experience was pretty surreal. And it's still snowing now.

The front wheel drive Ford Edge isn't the best vehicle for the snow. The traction control light flashed much of the way, and the car did wiggle at on ramps and left turns. It's okay, but it reminded why I like my Subaru so much. At least if something does go wrong, the Edge has some size. There's quite a bit of car there.

I am impressed with the general skill of St Louis drivers. Most people I saw were driving sensibly in the snow -- they slowed down, allowed extra following distance, and moved smoothly.

As I write this, I think, "It's too bad this isn't more interesting." But the more I think about, the less I want my snow driving stories to be interesting.

And so, to all of you dealing with winter driving conditions across the country, Good Luck. May your experiences be as dull as mine.


Performing 01: The start

When I saw the Coulton show on Friday, I was reminded how much I want to do just that. I want to be on stage performing for hundreds or thousands of people.

Someday, I'll have a plan. And maybe even some talent.

Most people are petrified of public speaking. Surveys have show that people fear public speaking more than they fear death. I am not one of those people. I've always gotten a charge out of it.

I still rememeber my first two stage experiences, brief, though they were.

Back in kindergarten at PS 97, each letter in the alphbet on our classroom wall had a character associated with it. We had to dress up as our favorite letter/character and go on stage with our class. Everyone got to say who they were and something about their letter.

I chose J -- for Mr. Junk. I thought he was the coolest of the letters. (Mr. Teeth was was the lamest of the letter characters -- his too tall smile was too goofy. I wanted to knock those teeth off the board and I didn't even know why (but that's another story (Or was he actually Mr. Tall with the very Tall teeth? Now I'm all confused))).

As I recall, my mother took a sheet or old pillowcase, sewed bits of household clutter to it and put a big J on the front.

I went on stage, said my part (probably, something like "I'm Mr. J") and stepped back into the alphabet row.

I don't remeber the rest of the day, or even what the play was about. But I do remember the view of the crowd from my side of the stage. All those people were looking at me and hanging on my words. And I couldn't wait to get on stage again.

For first grade I had moved on to St. Elizabeth's School in Ozone Park, NY. Each year, every grade level put on a play of some sort. My first year there, we put on some sort of Fairy Tale review.

I was Prince Charming.

I got to wear a purple cape with little hooks on it. (I think the cape is a highly underrated garment in these modern times. We really should bring back the cape.)

I was only on stage briefly. I was in a group of 5 or 6 kids. We each had to introduce ourserlves. I stepped forward, got down on one knee, reached my arms out, and said, "I'm Prince Charming" to the entrie student body.

I don't even remember who played my Princess that year. I just remember the feeling of power in front of that crowd.

And it's one I am happy to recapture whenever I can.

So what was your first brush with an audience? Did it empower you or scar you for years?


Get your Geek on

As the melody of still alive wafted from the speakers, and comforting and eerie blue light warmed the theater. Just as their parents and grandparents had done with fire years ago, the masses pulled out the cellphones, iPods, and DSs, flipped them opened and swayed almost rhythmically in in front of the modern story teller.

On Friday, I went down to the Moore Theater in Seattle to see Jonathan Coulton perform, with his opening act Paul and Storm.

I first heard about Jonathan Coulton when he appeard on Leo Laporte's TWIT. His background is as a software developer, but he got tired of that and decided to make a go of it with geeky music. Coulton is like a cross between Tom Leher and Weird Al. He toured with John Hodgman on Hodgman's recent book tour and wrote the closing song to the blockbuster game Portal.

The crowd was filled with nerds and geeks. These are my people.

They enjoyed every geeky moment in the show, like it was a night of D&D, Monty Python reruns, unlimited Doritos and Mountain Dew.

They loved everything from LOL Cat speak, to the thoughts of an evil mad scientist, to the thrill of junk food, the the ecstatic joy that filled the hall during a Rick Roll.

The crowd Arrrrghed like pirates when called upon and then quickly responed with a dozen or more variations on it. When Paul and Storm asked for two Arrrrghs, they crowd gave two. When they asked for three Arrrrghs, the crowd gave them three. When they asked for pi Arrrrghs they crowd gave them 3.14.

It's been hours and my cheeks still hurt from laughing. My throat is still raw from cheering. I haven't had this much fun at a concert in years.

The dynamic was interesting too. Paul & Storm and Coutlon all seemed a little overwhelmed by the crowd. It was definitely a huge crowd. It appeared to fill 80-90% of the theater. And it was an enthusiastic crowd. Pirate shouts echoed in unexpected places. And everyone sang along with their favorite songs.

Coulton did appear in a few songs during the opening act's set. And Paul & Storm (and Molly ) joined Coulton several times during his set.

The interesting thing is that Paul & Storm did such a great job, that it was hard for Coulton to follow them. They riled up the crowd so well, the pirate Arrrrghs almost meant a mutiny during Coulton's set.

But in the end everyone got along and had a great time.

If you consider yourself a geek, go see these guys perform. Or buy their CDs. Or both.


Friday was my Blogaversary.

Three years ago, on 2006-01-23, I opened Cromely's world with this post. In it, I set down certain rules I would follow on this blog and I've stuck with them fairly well.

I also set a goal or writing at least 5 times a week, which is roughly 260 posts a year.

2006: 347
2007: 317
2008: 304

While I am well above my goal, my posts/year has been coming down. I'm okay with that because (at least in my mind) they are getting better.

This has been a huge year for growth. Most of that is due to the great bloggers on Entrecard, the great bloggers who recently left Entrecard, and the bloggers from elsewhere who have taken an interest in this site.

Cromely's World by the numbers:

  • Total visitors: 116,231
  • Total posts: 990
  • Total Book Reviews: 39
  • Number of people who have read one of my book reviews all the way to the end: 7 (I'm being optimistic)
  • Google Page Rank: 3
  • Placement on Google when you search for "Turkey Butt": 3
  • Number of blogs in the feed on my sidebar: 20
  • Number that update often: 6
  • Number of typos: 6,934,926

I'm quite pleased with this project. I guess after three years, I should be. But what's in store for the next 365 days?

First, I plan to switch my posting schedule from a minimum of 5 out of every 7 days to exactly 5 out of 7 days. Hopefully this will mean stronger content.

My other goal for this year is to do a better job responding to my comments. I do appreciate the valuable comments my readers leave, and I've treated posts as monologues too much, and not at tools for beginning discussion.

I hope to minimize the typos this year. That's tougher because they're invisible to me for 24 hours.

It's been an exciting year, and it looks like things are going to go up from there.

Thank you to everyone who visits Cromely's World. Your time/attention is one of the most valuable things you have. I am grateful that you share it with me.

You can find previous Blogaversary posts here:

2006-01-23: Cromely's World Launched
2007-01-24: 371 -- First Blogaversary
2008-01-24: 685 -- Second Blogaversary

Favorite Posts:


Complicated Relationship

"I have a complicated relationship with chicken."

That's what I told the GF when we were walking around Costco the other day. We were looking at meat, and she asked if I wanted to get a rotiseree chicken for dinner like we had done the previous week. I declined. I've had enough chicken in recent days.

The rotisserie chickens are complex beasts. I can sit there with a fork and dig into one. After eating the skin of course. But after I've had enough, I'm done. And that happens quickly.

With many food items, I can keep enjoying until I'm full. Or my enjoyment of it gradually declines along with my hunger.

Chicken is different, though. Those rotissereed bundles of roasted goodness are great, until suddenly I'm had enough and thinking about another bite turns my face green. There's nothing gradual about it. That change happens in an instant and can sometimes take a while to reset.

So I like chicken until I hate it. And as I said to here when she asked if I wanted another chicken:

"I have a complicated relationship with chicken."

The GF cocked her head to the side and gave me that look that said, "Normal people don't say things like that." I see that look a lot. From a lot of people.

So I began to tell her my chicken story.

Growing up I was never a fan of chicken. I hated it. And it wasn't all in my head. My Mother likes to tell the story of how I refused to eat chicken so she gave me something different.


That plan worked pretty well until I looked up at her and said, "This poultry tastes a lot like chicken."

Throughout school I avoided chicken whenever possible. Turkey was fine. Awesome, even. But no chicken would cross my teeth.

I grew into those stupid birds, though, and in college began snacking on the critters a little bit. It started with fast food and diner chicken breast sandwiches. I moved on to include chicken strips on Caesar Salads. And of course Buffalo Wings. I'm a big fan of a nice bowl of wings. (Some of my favorite wings were from Harrison Hollow in Boise, ID -- the rich sauce makes my eyes tear from two tables away.)

During my senior year at Carroll College, I lived off campus and had to cook my own food cheap.

One day I found a big tray of small drumsticks at the grocery store. They were cheap and I figured I could make a bunch and have an awesome meal.

So I took them home, and, a few days later, threw them in the frying pan. After I plated them, I added plenty of salt and pepper (and probably some ketchup so there would be a vegetable on the plates) and started snacking.

They were okay. But after a few of them I began paying more attention. They had that same fowl smell I remembered as a little kid. They smelled a little too much like chicken.

And I began to think that these reddish juices probably should not be draining out. And that the flesh probably should not still be pink. I ate a couple more. Today with all the stories on proper chicken handling, I surprised I'm not dead.

I put the rest of the drumsticks back in the pan for a little more heat. I couldn't really fix it though.

I did the same thing a couple more times that year before giving up. Despite how cheap they were, the whole thing seemed a bit risky.

I still enjoy the occasional rotisserie chicken. I'm not much of a fan of the dark meat side of the birds, though. The gooey soft meat that screams, "Chicken!" is a bit much for me. The scents come back to me and I don't want to look at it too much. The chicken is great until suddenly it's awful.

There are more chicken anecdotes I could share, but, what can I say?

I have a complicated relationship with chicken.



Just after noon today, the new Whitehouse.Gov website went online. The Obama administration wasted no time in getting the site up. There were no days of that silly picture of a construction dude doing road work on a yellow diamond with a caption reading, "Site under construction. Please check back in few days."

Of course, I should expect nothing less from a President who placed so much emphasis on using technology to promote his election during the campaign.

The site is clean and well organized. There's a mix of historic information and next generation communication tools. It's easy to navigate and seems like the kind of tool I'm likely to use more than once every four years.

There's even a blog on Whitehouse.Gov. I wonder when they're adding the Entrecard widget...

An upgrade

I landed in SoCal yesterday and picked up my luggage. Next stop was the rental car garage. Normally I can get just go straight to the car and the keys and paperwork are waiting for me. This time, there were stars on the board next to my name, instead of a stall number.

That's never good.

After some silliness with the credit card, the agent began looking for a car for me.

"Mr. Cromely, I see you reserved a mid-sized car. I have a Toyota Corolla for you." I say it's fine and look forward to getting to my hotel room.

"Well, Mr. Cromely, if you want, for $14 a day more, I can upgrade you to ..."

Awesome. They are offering me an upgrade. They took one look at me and must have though I need something cooler than a Corolla. What kind of car do they think befits a character as suave and cool as me? A Cadillac? A Mustang Convertible? A Jaguar? An H2? That special sports car in the back?

"Well, Mr. Cromely, if you want, for $14 a day more, I can upgrade you to ... a Camry. Would you like to do that?"

What?!?! A Camry? The car I belong in is a Camry? For $14/day more? That's what you see me in? I'm Camry material?

Now don't get me wrong. The Camry is a lovely vehicle. I've rented a few. But today, despite all the nifty looking cars they have, the one they think I will want to pay an extra $14/day for is a Camry.

Am I really that old?

I declined the offer.

And let me tell you, that Corolla can really tear it up on Alton Parkway.


Dr. Horrible is still awesome

Tonight we went over to some friends' house to watch the Dr. Horrible DVD. It's still a great show, but the consensus seems to be that it's a little short.

That makes sense as it crosses into a new genre. When the content was originally released on the web in 3 approximately 15 minute acts, each one was probably a little too long. And without Joss Whedon's name on the projects, I doubt it would have gotten much attention the video blog format.

Now, though, it makes the transition away from random web video and into the realm of movies with it's DVD release. And in that context, the approximately 45 minute run time actually seems a bit short.

The DVD vs web/iTunes medium makes a big difference in how the same content is perceived.

Whedon also included 10 fan submitted applications for the Evil League of Evil. Sadly, Lord Destructo did not make the cut. And the League will be less evil for it. But the applications that did appear on the DVD were pretty impressive. There are a lot of very creative and taleted peopel out there looking for a a way to express their creativity.

Whedon's call for applications to the league for possible inlcusion on the DVD was not just a request for content, but a call to arms for hundreds of people looking to put this new medium to the test and figure out just what they can do with it.

While Dr. Horrible is brilliant content, it's also much more. It's a new way to do business and to entertain. Whedon's efforts here and Scott Sigler's experiements with book publishing point towards and exciting and utterly confusing time ahead for mass media. And what we've seen today is only a hint of what we'll see in the coming years.


Lyrics to Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica is back tonight, and waiting for me on TiVo. But doesn't it need a catchy theme song?

Johnathan Coultan is a highly entertaining musician who often does appearances with John Hodgman. He has also appeared on Leo Laporte's TWIT.

Here, he takes the theme from the original Battlestar Galactica and writes lyrics for the new show.


Thoughts on Flight 1549

By now, most everyone has heard about US1549, the flight that landed in the Hudson. It's now about 12 hours since all the excitement and the good news is that everyone survived.

I first heard about this flight when my Twitter feed exploded with activity. As with the Mumbai terror attacks, reports showed up in Twitter before they showed up in mainstream media. This is an important sociological shift that we see happening. The entire industry of breaking news is changing right in front of us. And not only are we lucky enough to witness this change, we are lucky enough to particpate and cause the change.

So after flipping through some Tweets, I quickly check my team's calendars to make sure none of my employees were on the flight, and then waited for more facts to come in.

It speaks to the excellent training of the pilot and crew, and their skill, that this did not become a disaster. It also speaks to the great engineering over at Airbus that the plane survived the water landing long enough for everyone to get out.

This also demonstrates the tremendous strides the NY area has made in cleaning up the river. Twenty years ago I imagine the fuselage would have just dissolved in what we called "water."

The bridges would have made this nearly impossible on the other side of the island. And in most other bodies of water, there would not have been so many watercraft readily available to rescue people.

And now we know that the whole water landing demonstration in the safety demo isn't just for show. A water landing is survivable when everything else falls into place.

US Airways is no longer listing the flight as delayed.

This is a fairly tactful way to do it.

Flight Stats, and website that tracks aircraft, however, still needs to update their descriptions. Apparently the flight is twenty minutes late.

Here is map showing more data about he flight.

I think the 300 foot altitude is an estimate.

And here's a view of where they think the plane is now.

I guess the current is pretty strong to pull it out of the river and all the way to NJ. (Actually, the plane is currently tied up in lower Manhattan.

And I never thought I would make a sentence like that in my life.


The CES 2009 Gambling Report

The trade show wrapped up on Sunday.

After a tasty Sushi dinner at JPop in Mandalay Bay, followed by dessert at Chocolate Swan, I headed over to the MGM Grand to do a little gambling.

That was probably not my best move.

I quickly lost $20 in a Deal or No Deal slot machine -- Damn you, Mandel, you bald headed freak!

I followed that up with the quickest round of Black Jack I have ever played. I went through $100 in about 12 minutes. The only reason that took so long was because the dealer had to shuffle the 6 deck shoe in the middle of the massacre.

After some aimless wondering while the shock of my money whooshing out of my pockets like a Boeing 777 taking off, I sat down at a big Alien themed slot machine in Luxor. I put in $20, dropped down to $10, got up to $60, and finally cashed out at $48.06. And it was tough to hit that cash out button. But I met my quitting target, so that's exactly what I did.

Here's the summary:

MGM Grad slot machine: -$20
MGM $10 Black Jack table: -$100
Luxor slot machine: +$28.06

Total gambling profit/loss: -$91.94

While it's a little disappointing, I can take comfort in knowing that I'm still playing with "house" money. I've had some good luck at the casinos in recent years. This year's loss just comes out of the winnings I had last year.

Next time, I'll bring my rabbit's foot.


Book Review 39: Just a Geek

"Seriously, though," he said, "we've just gotten older. You're the only one of us who's actually changed."

Patrick Stewart speaking to Wil Wheaton during the filming of Star Trek: Nemesis

Page 97

We wrap up Star Trek Book Week II: Electric Boogaloo by jumping forward 20 years to Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG).

And this is a somewhat meta experience (or is it post modern?). I am writing a book related blog post about a book by an author who wrote his book about his blog posts

Wil Wheton, best known for playing Wesley Crusher (the good guy everyone loved to hate) is also the first cast member to pen a memoir. Well, he didn't really pen it -- he keyed it. Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton is a fun book that takes the reader through a small, but pivotal part of Wheaton's life. He doesn’t tell his whole life story here because so far, he has lived only the first chapter.

This is a coming of age book. It's about how Wheaton learned to appreciate who he is and to deal effectively with the ghost of Wesley Crusher. It's about the process of discovering his own identity and dreams as he passed from teenager to young adults.

That's not the only thing that makes this book different. It's not a freshly written tale about the events in Wheaton's life. It's 275 pages long, but probably less than half of that is new content.

The last 50 pages are appendices. They include the FAQ from Wheaton's website (wilwheaton.net which he refers to as WWdN (this site has since been replaced by wilwheaton.typepad.com). They also include interviews he gave to online news outlets.

Much of the text in the first 225 pages comes directly from WWdN. It's old blog posts that he repurposed for this book.

I don't intend that as a criticism; it's a description of the book.

Wheaton structures the book around these old posts. He chooses ones from pivotal moments in his life and then comments on them, describes what was going on in his life when he made them, and he generally puts hem in context..

He provides pages of commentary about those posts and what they mean to him today.

So it's not just a Star Trek book. It's about a former child star struggling to be an adult star and questioning whether that's the path he actually wants to follow.

Wil Wheaton left Star Trek when he was 18. The pivotal moment was a little earlier. He was attending a Star Trek convention with TNG and Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) cast members. He saw some of the TOS cast members come out of hotel:

I spoke with the arrogant surety of a 16-year-old. "Look at that," I said. "That's my future, if I don't get out of Star Trek and do movies. There is no fucking way I'm going to spend the rest of my life talking about what I did when I was a kid. I'm going to prove to everyone that I can do more with my life than just be on Star Trek.

Page 6

Much of what Wheaton goes though in the book deals with the competing tensions of regretting that decision while simultaneously trying to prove he can be so much more then Wesley Crusher. As he gets older he begins to appreciate some of the challenges he faced as a teenager.

Wesley and I were very similar at the time: we were both teenagers who were pretty smart and pretty skilled. Matter of fact, we were both smart enough and skilled enough to work along side adults and hold our own with them professionally. At the same time, neither one of us had the grace, maturity, or wisdom to hold our own with them socially or emotionally, and t that created lots of conflicts. By not exploring that side of Wesley, beyond "Just tell me to shut up, Wesley, and I will," the writers took a lot of his humanity away fro from him. It also didn't help that they gave me lines like, "We're from Starfleet! We don't lie' and "You mean I'm drunk? I feel strange, but also good!"

Page 257

Today, like in his youth, Wheaton is a geek. Early in the book, he throws in the random 80s TV reference. His wife asked him why he was packing so many shoes for a short a short trip:

'You're taking two pair of shoes for a 36 hour trip?"

"Well. . . Yeah."


I resist the urge to shout, "I learned it from you, okay?! I learned it by watching you!!" Instead, I say, "Dress shoes for my reading, and Converse for the rest of the time."


In between scenes on TNG he would he would often be in his trailer painting miniatures for gaming.

After Star Trek Wheaton went to work in the tech industry. He became involved with an early version of the video toaster.

He taught himself Linux, HTML, CSS, and other computing technologies.

In 2001 he became one of the first celebrity bloggers. Wheaton, however, did not start his blog as a promotional tool. He started it to learn the technology and to voice his own anxieties and frustrations.

The reaction to my entry was amazing. I was flooded with emails and comments from people all over the world who had experienced the same frustrations—the same unfairness—in their jobs. In fact, a theme emerged: I wasn't alone in my struggles. And many people took comfort in knowing that they were not alone either.

I felt validated, and the clouds of depression began to lift. I had made myself vulnerable to the world and the world hadn't kicked me in the nuts. I was certain that this revelation of my inner demons would humanize me in the eyes of my critics.

Page 33

That sort of discussion is at the heart of book. Wheaton looks back at what he was posting a few years earlier, comments on it, and talks about what's going on in his life now.

In addition to the tale of identity crisis and geekness, Wheaton does talk about Star Trek. It's mostly about his relationships with the franchise, actors, and conventions.

The adult actors in TOS were all actors who wanted to make their living in the theater, movies, and TV. They came to the field at the birth of modern science fiction. Wheaton, however, came to the field in the post-Star Wars era. And he did it as a whiz kid. He was a geek in a way the TOS actors couldn't be.

When I am on stage, the only real difference between me and the people I'm talking to is that I got paid to wear the spacesuit. I'm a huge science fiction geek. I've been attending conventions since I was in the fifth grade, and I know what it's like when a guest is only there to take the fans' money.

Page 43

His relationships with the conventions are complicated. He quit TNG so he wouldn't be like the TOS actors on the convention circuit. Yet he still needed to make a living when his acting career was not going well. And if he weren't in TNG, he would probably be going to them anyway.

There is a lot of discussion about this important aspect of Star Trek culture.

Oh, the costume contests. Think Rocky Horror Picture Show, with less drag, but strangely, more singing. In Klingon. Seriously.

Page 42

Well, I've got three things working against me before I even walk into the room:
  1. I'm the last speaker of the day. The fans are tired and a little burned out.
  2. I'm following Michael Dom and Marina Sirtis. They do conventions together all the time, have a set routine that never fails, and the fans adore them.
  3. I was Wesley Crusher.

Page 43

Wheaton talks about his first visit to the Museum of the Future in the Hilton's Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas (since closed).

It's a very surreal experience to see these relics of my youth on display in a museum.

We take our time, looking at all the props, reading all the plaques. Every item we see sparks a memory and Anne patiently listens to all of the stories that go along with them. Imagine sitting through your crazy Aunt Dorothy's vacation slides. It's Iike that.

Page 54

In previous book reviews, I talked about how awful Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier were. Bad movies were not the sole province of the TOS cast, however.

Wil Wheaton put in a brief appearance in Star Trek: Nemesis, a truly awful movie.

Wheaton doesn't trash the movie when he talks about his experience with it. For Wheaton it wasn't really about the movie. It was about the reunion and how great it was to once again put on a uniform and spend time with all those people he spent years working with. He was thrilled when he got the script, even though his part was small. From the original script he thought it would be the best Star Trek movie ever.

I was surprised to see Wesley Crusher in uniform in the movie. Given the way they wrote Crusher out of the series, I would have expected the only way to see Crusher back at Star Fleet would be if he was in a detention cell. And they never explained it in the movie. So what story did they come up with? None. Wheaton asked one of the writers about it.

"Well, I couldn't get into specifics without writing a three page scene, so I figured if I had Picard say, 'Hello, Wesley. It's good to see you back in uniform,' we could leave it up to the audience, you know? Maybe he's back in uniform because he's back from the Academy, or maybe because he's not being a Traveller anymore.

Page 115

Ultimately the movie was too long and Wheaton's scene was mostly cut. Then they started cutting other things.

He tells me that they've cut 48 minutes from the movie. I tell him that they've cut an entire episode out. We laugh.

Page 187

Perhaps if they left that 48 minutes in, the movie might have made a little more sense.

Over the years, Wheaton ultimately came to terms with Star Trek as a personal experience.

Star Trek was about sitting next to Brent Spiner, who always made me laugh. It wasn't about the people who made me cry when they booed me off stage at conventions. It was about the awe I felt listening to Patrick Stewart debate the subtle nuances of The Prime Directive with Gene Roddenberry between scenes. It wasn't about the writers who couldn't figure out how to write a believable teenage character. It was about the wonder of walking down those corridors and pretending that I was on a real spaceship. It was about the pride I felt when I got to wear my first real uniform, go on my first away mission, fire my first phaser, play poker with the other officers in Riker's quarters.

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Just a Geek is a book that surprised me. I didn't realize Wheaton was such a geek, and I didn't realize he struggled as much as he did. Casting directors still seem him as just Wesley Crusher when he is really so much more. His appearance on Criminal Minds makes him one of TVs creepiest serial killers.

Wheaton is a great story teller who developed into an excellent writer of the years. His book is fun, well organized and fascinating.

Wil Weaton and TNG fans should pick up a copy of this book. The commentary is interesting and entertaining. It gives you a look at what happens to a child star who doesn't get too deeply involved in drugs and alcohol.

And it's a book about blogging. I highly recommend it.

There's one more thought I want leave you with. Wheaton was trying to make a life altering decision about his career a few days ago. He eventually made the decisions after torturing himself for a period of time.

Like all the other things I'd agonized over, the process of making the decision took more time and energy—and was more painful and scary—than the result.

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That brings us to the close of Star Trek Book Week Part II: Electric Boogaloo. And as far as I can tell, that wraps it up for Star Trek cast member memoirs. It's time to start planning for next year.

So how about it? Avery? Kate? Scott? Nana? Robert? Jolene? Colm? Tim? John? Anyone else?


Book Review 38: To The Stars

I remember my mother bought each of us kids our own individual water canteens at Sears for our trip. We thought that was great. She had actually bought them because she was worried about the quality of the water supply on the trip. But no matter how great my mother's anxiety, my own more vivid memory is of the fun of taking those wonderful little sips of lukewarm water that we were periodically treated to from our very own canteens.

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George Takei is an actor, activist,and real estate investor, best known for is role as Starfleet officer Hikaru Sulu. His book, To the Stars is a great look at his fascinating life, through 1994. Most of the Star Trek cast were primarily actors and performers. Most of them struggled in the early 70s, but Takei continued to work and, more importantly had real estate investments to carry him through the lean years. Plus he got involved with politics.

The book is well organized. Takei divided the 400+ pages into broad sections of his life, and then subdivides those into chapters. It makes it easy to follow his story as he talks about the different things he's done in his life.

The book came out in 1994, eleven years before Takei publicly announced that he is gay. As a result there is no discussion about his dating life. He talks extensively about his family and the friends he made in the theater. But he tells no stories about his other relationships or his involvement with the LGBT community.

The writing it florid. The ever-positive Takei relishes every sentence he has a chance to write. At times the tone can get a little tiring, and without it the book would likely be 100 pages shorter. But it is very Takei. I can hear his distinctive voice in my head reading each sentence to me.

Takei heaps vivid, over the top description on everything from his first burrito to the telephone.

The taste was fantastic! The soft earthiness of the frijoles was just delicious with the spicy-sweet tang of the salsa roja, all wrapped up in the warm corn flavor of this wonderful pancake called "tortilla." Onorato told me this delicious concoction was a "burrito." I loved it, and I couldn't wait to tell my family about it. Better yet, I had to get my mama to cook like Onorato's Mama.

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Faithful to my superstitions, I bided my time and maintained my vigil before this instrument, this modern-day heathen deity. There it sat, shiny, plastic, and silent. Imperiously and insolently silent, the dials looking like a gap-toothed, mocking grin. Squat, arrogant thing; a machine, a simple piece of equipment. and yet, there it sat, trying to take on the countenance of some great and inaccessible sage withholding a coveted bit of wisdom. A Buddha! A fat, smiling, silent Buddha!

And it can't bear being ignored. Just when I finally decided to walk away from it and go for another run, it suddenly sprang to life—shrill, and demanding.

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That style of writing fills the book whether he's talking first experiences, actors, jobs, apartments or even his time in a WWII internment camp.

During World War II, The US ordered that all US citizens of Japanese decent and legal Japanese aliens on the west coast imprisoned in one of 10 camps scattered across the country. More than 100,000 people, most of them US citizens were locked away because of their ancestry.

Four-year-old George Takei, his younger brother and sister, and their parents were among those who took the long train ride to their prison camp in Arkansas. Later, they were transferred to the Tule Lake camp in California.

The first 70 pages of the book focus on Takei's experience in the camp. Fortunately for him he was so young at the time he didn't really understand what was happening. His family had to give up nearly everything they owned and his father's successful career, but for George and his little brother it was a grand adventure. He enjoyed the new canteen his mother got him. He talked about the great adventure of the train trip, and he even found joy in drainage ditch. Takei has always had an enormously positive outlook on life, and combined with his childhood sense of wonder, he didn't dread the experience like some older people did.

The camp itself was boring in its geometric symmetry and rigid uniformity. But the areas near the barbed wire fence became a place of never-ending discoveries.

We were city kids, and although we had seen butterflies back in Los Angeles, never had we seen such large and colorful ones as those that flitted along the barbed wire fence. But these were dumb butterflies. If I quietly approached one resting on the wire and then moved swiftly, I could snatch it up with two fingers before it knew what happened. They were beautiful but dumb. Catching them was too easy. I threw them back up into the air, and as they gratefully fluttered away, I would find beautiful powder patterns left on my fingers.

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He contrasts his description with that of an older prisoner.

One of the internees, Eiichi Kamiya, later gave a vivid description of the camp as "far enough south to catch Gulf Coast hurricanes, far enough north to catch midwestern tornadoes, close enough to the river to be inundated by Mississippi Valley floods, and lush enough to be the haven for every creepy, crawly creature and pesky insect in the world." For me, it was to be a great, paradisaical adventureland.

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His father cautioned him against playing near the ditches because of snakes and other creatures. One day, his father got special permission to take the family outside the camp for a drive. His father pointed out all sorts of things in the area and took them to a farm that may have supplied some of the food for the camp. There, George got to see his first hog, which George thought of as some sort of monster.

But we saw no water moccasins, no copperheads, and no rattlesnakes—only the most monstrous creature I had ever come across in my life- And rather than being devoured by it, I learned instead that we ate it.

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Eventually the war ended and the Takei's were allowed to leave the camps with the rest of the internees. His family returned to LA and tried to rebuild their life from scratch. Despite the positive way he saw much of his life, his experience in the camp did have a lasting impact. In the school yard, he overheard one teacher refer to him as "that little Jap boy."

Somehow, shame dominated my anger. I had the queasy feeling that her calling me "Jap" had something to do with our having been in camp. And camp, I was old enough by now to know, was something like jail. It was a place where people who had done bad things were sent. I had a gnawing sense of guilt about our time spent in camp. I could not fully understand it, but I thought perhaps we had it coming to us to be punished like this. Maybe we deserved to be called this painful word, "Jap."

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Takei does make the observation that the camps actually proved counter productive with many attendees.

These were the young men who had turned radical in their disillusion and their sense of betrayal by America. If America was going to treat them like enemies, then they resolved to give America adversaries it would have to take seriously. They would become the enemies that America would be forced to reckon with from within. They would harden their muscles and their spirits. They would prepare to rise up when the Japanese military landed on the West Coast, as these men fervently believed, and join the battle.

Page 53-54

The most dangerous people in the world are those that have nothing to lose.

This type of situation also lead to the riots of the mid and late sixties.

The country passed from a time of demonstrations s and protests to a period of radicalism and nihilism. Idealists disillusioned transmogrify into harrowing creatures. They become deadly zealots. My dim memory of the militant pro-Japan radicals of Tule Lake internment camp began taking on denser shape as I watched the emergence of the Black Panthers, the Weathermen, and the Simbionese Liberation Army.

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His family's experience in the camps is one reason he became an activist for Japanese-American issues. That, plus the insistence of his father that the key to democracy was that people become involved.

His father not only encouraged him to engage in the democratic process, but he also encouraged his acting career.

After high school, Takei went to UC Berkley to study architecture. He was interested in it, but not consumed with passion for it. And eventually that lack of passion drove him out of the field. He attended a lecture by Frank Lloyd Wright.

I was profoundly inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. He gave me renewed understanding of the importance of architecture. I was impressed by his strength and passionate dedication to his vision of the world. And I was troubled by his strong advocacy of a total commitment to architecture.

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Takei's first professional acting job was a three day summer gig dubbing characters for the Japanese imported monster movie Rodan. He wanted to continue as a professional actor, but dreaded telling his father. He was sure his father wouldn't understand and would insist he pursue a "real career." He was wrong.

He told his father one night that he wanted to leave Berkley and be an actor.

"Then do it," he said. "Do what you are so determined to do. Become the best that you can be. We want you to be happy.' "

Page 142

In fact, I was beginning to realize how special my father was. His counsel was so unlike the stern dicta of Japanese American fathers of my friends. I couldn't imagine any of them supporting their sons' desire to go into a venturesome career field, whatever it might be. My father understood and encouraged the individual aptitudes of his children. The guidance he gave was benevolent, and it was enlightened. He widened rather than restricted, our horizons, stimulated rather than demanded. He subsidized my choice instead of throwing me to the wolves.

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Takei wanted to go to NYC to follow his dream. Instead, his father convinced him to transfer to UCLA and pursue a BA in Theater Studies there. This way, he would actually have a degree should things not work out.

It turned out to be great advice that Takei took. Much of Takei's acting success came from southern California anyway.

Once he started acting, his father also insisted Takei invest his earning for the slow periods in an acting career. This also turned out to be excellent advice. Takei turned some modest investments in cemetery plots into significant real estate holdings over the years. And Takei didn't have to live in the back of his truck once Star Trek ended.

Takei's political career benefited strongly from his family's influence on him. His father's emphasis drove him to participate. His experience in the internment camp drove him to fight for minority rights. As he became more involved with candidates and campaigns, he was even invited to run for the LA City Council. He didn't win, but a few years later, Mayor Tom Bradley appointed Takei to the Southern California Rapid Transit District, based on his political experience, ability to work with people, and his background in architecture. The RTD was the organization responsible for developing the Los Angeles subway system.

Pursuing politics posed challenges for Takei.

The Equal Time rule requires that if a TV or radio station gives a certain amount of time to one candidate, they have to give the same amount of time to another candidate. This applies to actors playing characters, as well. It meant that if an LA area TV station aired an episode of Star Trek that featured Sulu, they also had to give every other candidate in the race the same amount of time for free. Rather than deal with the hassle, TV stations simply dropped all Sulu episodes and delayed airing the Star Trek animated series during Takei's campaign. This rule hits actors especially hard.

This so-called "Equal Time" rule is a discriminatory law against a category of citizens who happen to be in a specific business—film and television. I did not become an actor in order to gain visibility to run for public office. Acting had been my established means of livelihood for over fifteen years. Offering oneself for consideration as a candidate for public service is both a citizen's right and responsibility.

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A candidate for public office from the film and television community would penalize that very community he or she represented.

Page 304
When an actor runs for office, it hurts everyone else who costarred with him in movies or TV shows.

After 11 years with the RTD, Takei decided it was time to leave. The advance work was done. When they started building things and problems inevitably arose, he wanted to make sure the public did not associate him, and Star Trek, with those problems.

The blame inevitably would be placed on the politicians and public officials—in other words, on people like me.

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Takei enjoyed his time with Star Trek. He got along well with everyone on the cast except William Shatner.

The last three years had given me a wonderful gift of shared experiences and rich relationships. Colleagues had become synonymous with friends. But Bill in his single-minded drive for personal success had made himself oblivious to the human riches surrounding him. With his shining armor of charm and wit, he had only taken and not experienced. His unrelenting determination to protect what he had gotten had only isolated him and made him the poorer.

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He was concerned when Walter Koenig joined the cast in Season 2 as Pavel Chekov. Takei had been lobbying to increase Sulu's role in the show after season 1. During the break between the two seasons, he went off to the Philippines to make "The Green Berets" with John Wayne. Before he left, one of the writers gave Takei early versions of the scripts for several of the first episodes on Season 2. They looked great and Takei was excited about doing them. However, filming in the Philippines took longer than expected and he missed the start of Star Trek. Most of those great Sulu lines and parts went to Chekov. By the time he got back to the set he was furious and frustrated. He expected to hate Koening.

The following show, "The Ultimate Computer," was a morality tale about the machines man creates and how they come to embody both its creator's weaknesses as well as his strengths. If a machine were to be made by me at this point, it would have been boiling internally with the greenest of jealousy, lubricated by the black grease of malice, and bristly on the outside with the most lethal of assault weaponry. I couldn't guess what kind of machine Walter might have built. Probably a sleek, slippery, high-tech burglary device. Both Walter and I were together in this script. In dramatic structure, this would be called the obligatory confrontation, the showdown.

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When he met Koenig, however, all his anger dissolved. Koenig caught him off guard by complaining about his wig. They quickly became good friends.

He went on and on comparing the shaggy helmet he wore to a dust mop,a rag-doll wig, a bird's nest, a Shih Tzu lapdog perched on his head, et cetera. I realized that this was a man equipped with a true gift of kvetch. Walter was the quintessential poet bellyacher.

Page 258

Takei was never close to Nimoy. On the set Nimoy kept to himself, staying in character as much as possible. It took a while for Takei to get to know him, but he did hold Nimoy in high regard.

When the studio was developing Star Trek: The Animated Series, they decided to not use Takei and Nichelle Nichols as the voices of Sulu and Uhura. They were going to have other actors do those parts to save money. But Leonard Nimoy wouldn't hear of it and threatened to walk out if the studio didn't hire Takei and Nichols.

An actor, in the truest sense, is an artist who bears the values and the ideals of his culture. Leonard Nimoy is such an artist. I will always be grateful to him for having kept Nichelle and me connected with STAR TREK, and I take great pride in my association with him for who he is as a man.

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Takei tells an amusing story about flying home from the filming of Star Trek IV with Nichols, Koenig, and Jimmy Doohan. During a layover in San Francisco, the plane developed mechanical problems that would require a short delay. Nichols talked Takei into getting off the plane for a drink. As they got up, Takei overheardheard Doohan.

I could hear Jimmy behind me grousing to Walter, "That Nichelle—she's going to expect all of us to wait for her, you know. I know that woman. I know her all too well!"

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Of course, they missed their flight. As Takei and Nichols walked back to the plane from the bar, they saw their plane pulling away.

As Nichelle and I retrieved our bags at luggage claim I heard her muttering to herself, "It's that Jimmy. I know he's the one that egged the pilot on. That Jimmy is the most impatient man in the world."

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Takei enjoyed the movies, but still had problems with Shatner stealing lines and scenes. The stories about his contract negotiations are interesting, as are the stories about him lobbying for a promotion for Sulu. He also tells the sad story of a missed shot in Star Trek IV, which a lot of the cast member felt bad about. I think everyone of them tells the story in their own books.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is probably the most boring action film ever. No one seems to like it. This is Takei's take on it:

The movie seemed to have successfully attained the Vulcan condition of kolinahr—the shedding of all emotions—a state Spock was striving for at the beginning of the film. STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE seemed cold, detached, dispassionate. Despite the awesome force the Enterprise confronted in V'ger, there was a strange absence of any sense of jeopardy.

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The other terrible movie is, of course, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Takei's main problem with it is the script.

But rammed together, they made for a confusing and ultimately tiresome two hours.

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He also felt it made a mockery of the characters, with Scotty hitting his head on a beam, Uhura doing a strip tease, and Chekov and Sulu getting lost in the woods.

He was pleasantly surprised with Shatner's job as director, however.

The really unanticipated surprise was Bill. It was not an unpleasant working experience to be directed by him. In fact, he was actually quite good at creating a positive environment on the set, marshaling his considerable reservoir ft charm, loading it into his weapon, and placing the setting at "enchant." We were pleasantly taken aback. Even Jimmy remarked, "The man's not half as bad as I thought he'd be!"

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In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the Enterprise crew travels back in time. In a rare bright spot in the script for Sulu, they were supposed to meet a little boy who it turns out is a distant, direct ancestor of Sulu. It was to be a touching scene. And the child they got to play the role seemed to have the part down. Unfortunately, when it was time to film it, the child clammed up.

As we pleaded, implored, and groveled before the stubbornly pouting child, the sun continued its implacable journey across the San Francisco sky. The shadows from the office towers started to lengthen. The streets started to darken. And as the sun slowly slipped behind Nob Hill, my heart sank with it. A scene with such charm, such warmhearted affection—so much of Sulu went down with that sunset.

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The rest of the cast felt bad for Takei, and they tell this story in most of the other Star Trek memoirs I've read.

The other thing Takei lobbied for in the movies was a promotion to Captain. I'd heard over the years that Takei pushed for this and I just chalked it up to the actor's ego. But reading this book, I learned there is likely more to this. Not to discount ego entirely, because that is something Takei certainly has, but this drive may come more from Takei's activist back ground.

He argues to directors, writers, and producers that if Starfleet is a meritocracy, why is one of the top helmsmen in the fleet, and one of the top graduates from Star Fleet Academy still at the helm after all these years? It only makes sense that he would have been promoted.

Apparently, his lobbying worked -- somewhat. In the script for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, they included a promotion scene. Kirk gives the message to Sulu that he is being promoted to Captain of the Excelsior. The way Takei tells the story, Shatner killed the scene intentionally. The implication is that the scene wasn't enough about Shatner so the Shatner just phoned in his performance.

When we shot the scene. Bill played it as he had rehearsed it. Disinterested, murmuring some trivia about my captaincy. Looking straight out into the void. There was no eye contact. No emotion. No relationship. Nothing. A few other takes followed. He played them as before. He wasn't going to change. Nick called for the next setup. And we moved on.

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The scene never made it into the movie.

Sulu did eventually get his promotion, though. When the script for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country showed up, Takei was ecstatic about what he saw on the first page.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I had been promoting the idea for so long, so persistently and so fruitlessly, that the campaign had now become an automatic reflex with me. Deep down inside, I was close to being resigned to never seeing Sulu's promotion. I was turning cynical. I read the scene over. Bill was nowhere in it. Good.

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He was thrilled, especially since his nemesis, Shatner, was not in the scene.

Takei and Shatner have had a strained relationship. Takei accuses Shatner of stealing peoples lines and camera shots. He blames Shatner for delaying Sulu's promotion. In 2008 they traded barbs in competing video clips.

And while the book is not about Shatner directly, it is telling that the last paragraph of the last chapter is about Shatner. And the last paragraph of epilogue on Gene Roddenberry's death is also about Shatner. While Takei may not have criticized Shatner as much as he could have throughout the book, problems with Shatner are what he chooses to end on.

Takei's book is enjoyable for its variety and great story telling. While the other Star Trek memoirs deal mainly with show business, Takei's book has a much wider breadth. From the prison camp in Arkansas to the halls of power in LA to back lots of Paramount, To The Stars is a fantastic journey through the life of a fascinating individual.

Tomorrow: The final book in Star Trek Book Week II Electric Boogaloo


Book Review 37: Warped Factors -- A Neurotic's Guide to the Universe

Yeah, I know, the analogy sounds a trifle pretentious, but then show me an actor who doesn't mean the whole world to himself.

Page 6

Walter Koenig is best known to Sci-Fi fans as the, "Yes, Keptin" spouting Russian born navigator on board to USS Enterprise. The producers added him to the crew in the second season, hoping to capitalize on Koenig's youth and Davy Jones like features to draw younger viewers to Star Trek. Like Nichelle Nichols' Uhura, Koening's Pavel Checkov had an extensive back story that we never got to see in the show. Nevertheless, Koenig's charm and Russian accent added a comfortable international element to the bridge crew, at a time when America was recovering from the disease of McCarthyism and struggling with the Domino theory of South East Asia.

Koenig would act in other movies and TV shows, try out for the part of Charles Manson, write novels, telepalys, and screenplays, and later return to TV in a recurring role in Babylon 5.

In Warped Factors: A Neurotic's Guide to the Universe, Koenig takes us beyond a simply recounting of his life events and the random Shatner bashing I often encounter in these memoirs. Instead he takes us into the psychology of the actor. In "I am not Spock," Lenoard Nimoy took us on a trip of the acting process and examined what it means to be an artist who chooses the stage as his tool. Koenig, however, examines the actors mind -- why they react they way they do, and how they get there.

At the same time, he tells great stories. Of all the Star Trek cast members whose memoirs I've read, Koenig comes across as the one who would be the most fun to hang out with at a bar. He seems most like a regular guy.

To top it off, Koenig includes some interesting material in the appendices. His full comments on and early draft for Star Trek II are there. He also includes a proposal he wrote for a Star Trek movie. It would have been much better than Star Trek IV.

Historically, Koenig was intensely insecure. For much of his life, he comes across as a depressed loner who finds the stage to be one of the places he is happy. When he doesn't freeze up in the middle of a performance.

The first crush he had on a girl ended badly. His class participated in a Valentine's Day card exchange:

All this I put in an envelope with Suzi's name on it and dropped into a big basket with the other cards prepared by the children. Except that almost none of the others had gone to the trouble of making cards. Only a neat stack of store-bought Valentine greetings shared occupancy with mine.

As it turned out Suzi's mother had bought these at Suzi's request. For every boy in the class. All twenty-three of them. Except there were twenty-four male gender students in 2A-7.


And so it came to pass that I realized I was a flaming heterosexual, as in carrying-a-torch-and-going-down-in-flames-for-the-unrequited-love-of-a-female-person-and-still-coming-back-for-more flaming heterosexual.

Page 13

He goes through experiences with freezing up on stage and panicking, throwing opportunities away out of fear, and just generally having trouble relating to the world around him.

The book is funny and touching. I've known several people like Koenig. When he tells stories about big stars he used to know, it is not out of jealousy or name-dropping (well, maybe a little), but to illustrate something in his life they were a part of.

The individual stories in the book are well written and entertaining. The overall story has some challenges, however. Koenig divides the book roughly into different eras in his life, so it is almost chronological, but not quite. There are several points in it where the signposting breaks down. For example, he was talking about his life after Star Trek went off the air. He describes his acting challenges and how he started writing for TV. This would seem to put the discussion sometime in the mid seventies. Then he tells this story.

Meredith Baxter Birney was one of the leads having taken time off from her hit series Family Ties to guest on this show. She thought I wrote well for women and recommended me to the producers of Family Ties.

page 212

Family Ties didn't start until 1982, so now we are in the early to mid-eighties, which also corresponds to the Star Trek movie era.

Earlier in the book, he tends to jump around in the late forties to early fifties, and I had some difficulty keeping track of when we were and how old Koenig was in these various stories.

There seems to be some filler towards the end of the book. There are several independent anecdotes that feel like Koenig included just to fill space, or because he wanted to tell the stories but had no place else to out them.

Those are really the only issues I had with the book. I enjoyed reading it and learning more about Walter Koenig's fascinating career.

There are several topics in the book that I will explore here: Koenig's youth, his somewhat neurotic personality, his passion for acting, and his Star Trek experience. There's a lot more in the book about his other TV work and his writing, but I won't spend as much time on those topics.

Koenig grew up in Manhattan, the son of a socialist father, and mother who probably wanted to be someplace else. The challenges he faced as a child gave him an "other shoe" mentality . Whenever something went well, he expected "the other shoe to drop" at any minute. Often, in the stories he tells, it did. He developed a dour, neurotic personality that made it difficult for him to enjoy things, gave him several physical ticks, and sent him into counseling. At the same time, this background probably prepared him well for being an actor.

His parents' marriage was a rough one, punctuated by the several month long disappearance of his father. When his socialist father died several years later, his mother was left to unravel a complex web of business deals she knew nothing about and barely had the skills to manage. Fortunately, she was a quick learner.

My mother, Sarah Strauss Koenig, lived thirty years with a man she didn't love, and now he had abandoned her. It was as if he had done it purposely. There were no liquid assets, and she was terrified that we would all starve. Hysteria ruled her life, but it was acrimony that kept her heart pumping. If she hadn't been able to hate my father for the lost years and the destitute state in which he had left us she might have surrendered to her fear and joined him.

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The Koenigs did have to adjust the way they lived as the Red Scare swept across the country. His father threw away his beloved Russian music as the family began getting threatening letters in the mail.

And of course, the notes kept coming. At first I had a morbid curiosity about them and volunteered each day to collect the mail. That was definitely a mistake. Each time one appeared it was like turning over a school paper and discovering a failing grade. The blood drained from my head, my stomach capsized, I had trouble breathing. I never got used to it. I finally avoided the mail deliveries and all mention of them. In a way that made it worse. With my folks now tightlipped out of respect for my wishes I was free to imagine that they not only were arriving with greater frequency but that the inscribed threats had become increasingly more explicit. "We're going to cut your balls off and stuff them down your throats, you Commie bastards" was sort of along the lines of what I envisioned.

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When given free reign, Koenig's mind always goes to the darkest possible conclusion. But it didn't limit itself to just the possibility of a dark future. Koenig was one of the best athletes on his high school track and field team.

One time, at an important race, he took an early lead and seemed to be on the verge of winning. He was concerned about what would happen if he almost won, and then didn't. He made sure that wouldn't happen.

What I did was reach down, tap into the place where the darkest thoughts fester, and purposely trip and fall to the ground so I'd have an excuse for not winning.

Then the race was over and there was no picture of a finely conditioned greyhound breaking the ribbon to satisfy the mind's eye. In its place was only a Rorschach inkblot, one of those psychological drawings which if you looked at it closely enough appeared to be a sick puppy writhing in pretend agony on a cinder floor.

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Through a combination of counseling, hard work, and simple maturity, he began to understand himself better.

In many schools, younger students were not allowed to take psychology classes. Koenig understood why.

The thinking was that young people, being unsophisticated and untrained and very impressionable, might identify with the aberrational cases that came out of textbooks. I think this ruling had been made with me in mind. To this day when I read about some fruitcake discovered rotating a billiard ball in his behind while caressing a patent-leather shoe or found burning tana leaves in religious devotion to his own small intestine I think, my God, with just a little more stress in my life that could be me!

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Koenig found his passion in acting.

People talk about power as being money and position, but I'm here to tell you that there is no greater rush, no stronger sense of omnipotence, than standing within a proscenium in front of a full house and knowing that you can do no wrong.

Page 34

It gave him a useful outlet for his inner turmoil. Actors have to bare their emotional souls to the audience. Koenig's neurosis certainly gave him a lot to work with.

Performers expose themselves emotionally to degrees that are not demanded of others. To do this they have to lower their defenses and, consequently, their protection against blindside assault. They are out there being very very vulnerable. The public twitters about mollycoddled actors, the prima donnas who demand excessive attention, the ones who are labeled "difficult." The fact is that good actors are an open wound, and the way you treat an open wound is to sanitize the atmosphere. Disallow the bad air, welcome in the good. Keep discord to a minimum, reinforce a cordial supportive environment.

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Acting gave him a way to explore deeper parts of himself. In the 70s he auditioned for the role of serial killer Charles Manson.

There are those among you who will ask, why would I even want to play such a reprehensible individual. Let me tell you. The monster lurks within us all. It's buried deep within the catacombs shackled to a wall, and in the lives of most of us it never sees the light of day. But it's there. And knowing that it's part of me—as it is all of us—what a rare opportunity to give expression to it, to examine it, to process it, and in the course of doing so to not injure so much as a waterbug.

Page 208

Koenig doesn't say he felt alone in all of this; he doesn't pretend his experience as a struggling actor in the 60s is unique.

The next several years were a succession of contiguous high points and low points that made me feel that I was both establishing a beachhead in Hollywood while at the same time being caught it in an undertow that was sucking me out to sea. But what's new? Every actor goes through this. It's the schizophrenic nature of the business. Therefore, although the stories that follow are unique to me, you are quite safe in applying a generalization; every performer can recount episodes similar, if not in actual text certainly in flavor, to the biographies of their lives.

Page 132

Before Star Trek, work was still hard to come by, though. So like many young Hollywood hopefuls, he decided to create his own work and produced a movie.

For all of the problems, the frustration, the stress, the disappointment, the lost money, I found making the movie an amazing experience that I would not have missed. We put together a feature film with a beginning, a middle, and an end fully scored, dubbed, and edited, and we did it for twenty-four thousand dollars. As an integral part of that production, along with Tony and Judy, I still consider it one of the undertakings in my life of which I am most proud.

Page 178

As should be clear by now, Koenig was deeply insecure and prone to bouts of depression. He felt a strong desire to please others to get some positve reinforcemnt. At the same time, in the back of his mind, he felt it wasn't going to work. He was always waiting for his world to come crashing down.

Koenig tells another story about working with James Caan. They were on the their way back to the set when a production assistant see them and encourages waves for them to get them to come in faster. Koening starts to speed up.

Caan grabbed my arm and pulled me back.

"Stars never run," he said to me. Well, it worked for him.

Page 147

When Star Trek ended, every cast member, except Leonard Nimoy and George Takei, floundered a bit. Koenig had trouble finding work ad fell into a deep funk. The problem was he had nothing to do. There was no reason to get up and nothing to be proud of at the end of the day. Fortunately, he found a way out.

And then, because ultimately I do feel that I have what it takes to separate the men from the toddlers, I found the means by which to pull myself from the muck and wade to shore. What I needed was structure. An objective. A reason to get out of bed every morning. I began to write. It was a novel. ...While I was writing it I felt it vitally important that it get published. I was putting in five hours a day and nothing less than bestseller status would satisfy me as a return on my time and effort. ...I made a couple of stabs at getting it published but what I discovered was that, in this case, the process was far more important than the result. Writing the novel put some order in my life, and provided me with some emotional balance. Never was there a creative project whose principal benefit was so therapeutic. That I did sell the book nineteen years later is beside the point.

Page 202-203

But what does he have to say about Star Trek?

He was a late arrival to the cast, joining the show at the beginning of season 2. Already there was a strong split between the big 3 (Nimoy, Shatner and Kelly) and the secondary characters (Koenig, Nichols, Takei and Doohan).

He and George Takei did bond over the years, despite Takei's initial misgivings about Koenig.

The protracted stay of George Takei (Mr. Sulu) on the film The Green Berets meant that his return to Star Trek's second season was delayed. No doubt, I was assigned roles he would have played had he been there. He writes in his biography that my presence, therefore, was a source of considerable annoyance. He does himself an injustce, I think, or he's an even better actor better actor than I had imagined. I was never aware of the animosity he says that he harbored toward me.

page 183

He goes on to tell other great stories about doing signings with Takei and even playing around like pirates.

His favorite Takei story involves the tension in between movies. The actors not involved in the production side were always concerned about their fate and whether they would be in the next movie. At one point after not hearing anything about it, Takei called Koenig and asked if there was any information about the next movie. Koenig said there was.

"They're going to do it in Claymation."

"Oh, my God! [pause] Well ... are they going to use our voices?"

Page 263

Koenig offers his thoughts on the movies, too. He doesn't spend as much time on them as the other memoirs I've read, but then he also had less involvement. Because Koenig is also a writer, much of his movie discussion focuses on the writing itself.

Star Trek The Motion Picture nearly killed the franchise. Other cast members have spoken about how nothing actually happens through most of the movie. As Koenig explains it. they made the movie without finishing the scripts.

Perhaps the strangest thing about this motion picture, which few other films can claim, was that we began shooting without a concluding act to the story. I believe that the movie's artistic downfall can be attributed to this circumstance. We painted ourselves into a corner and didn't know how in hell to get out.

Page 227

The script was now in the hands of far too many people, each with a vested interest in seeing it go a particular direction. Achieving a consensus under these circumstances was particularly difficult. It was a fait accompli that any decision finnally rendered would be a compromise that diminished the quality of the film.

Page 227

Star Trek V was also a disaster. Koenig even uses it as a metaphor for disaster.

We stumbled off the bus ragged and weary. Tempers were short. Even George, the perennial Pollyanna, looked as though he had been broadsided by a runaway truck or a fierce tsunami or the Star Trek V screenplay.

Page 244

As Nimoy observed in his book, the movie was awful because of the script. William Shatner directed it, and turned out to be a surprisingly good director. But Shatner was also responsible for the story. And that's why the movie is still his fault. Koenig agreed with that assessment.

What I'm saying is that if Bill is to share responsibility for the failure of this Star Trek entry it should be for the story he conceived and not for his helmsmanship of the project.

Page 261

While other cast member have complained about Shatner and talked about how awful he was for the way he cut their lines and took advantage of his star power, Koenig is more charitable. In fact, he says he and the other cast members are in part responsible for Shatner's behavior. The reason? They did nothing about it at the time.

The fear of power is often more potent than power itself. We have complained about him to each other and in interviews and at conventions and in books but no one ever looked him in the eye and said, "Cut the shit, Shatner!" And because we haven't, I'm not sure we can be quite so self-righteous about feeling dishonored.

Page 233

Bill Shatner has repeatedly said that he was not aware that we felt the way we did. Knowing his tunnel-visioned approach to his work I think that is possible. If that is true then we must share the burden of guilt with him.

Page 234

It's along the lines of the famous Edmund Burke line, “All that's necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.” I'm not saying Shatner is evil. The point is that it seems like the other cast members never expressed their displeasure with Shatner back in the sixties when it could have made a difference. They waited until the conventions and the books.

Walter Koenig's Warped Factors is a great memoir to read. It's the story of an actor who is not self assured. While he believes he has the potential to succeed, he is often amazed when he does because he expects something to go wrong.

The books provide another perspective on Shatner, and tell some great stories about Koenig and his co-stars.

Despite some challenges with organization, it's funny and touching. And it makes me hope for Koenig's continued success.

Tomorrow: To the Stars, by George Takei


Book Review 36: Beam Me Up, Scotty

There will be times when a limo is scheduled to pick us [Doohan and Nichelle Nichols] up at a hotel to go to interviews and such. I'll tell her, "If you're not there on time, I'll take the limo. If you want to take a taxi, that's up to you. I won't hang around and wait fifteen or twenty minutes for you." After being left behind a couple times, the Enterprise communication officer will get the message and be much more punctual.

Page 6

Beam Me Up, Scotty, James Doohan's memoir, is one of the saddest cast memoirs I've read. Twenty-five years after Star Trek went on the air, Doohan feels ambivalent at best about his experience. Sure, he's greatful for the fan support he's gotten over the years, and not many actors become the icon he has, but Scotty forever tainted his acting career. He was never able to get past the role of the Scottish engineer.

The life Doohan relates is an exciting one, and most of the action takes place well before Star Trek. He talks about growing up in Canada, his relationship with his parents and bothers, his experience in the Canadian Army and the Normandy invasion, his experience as a dialog expert, a singing career, his time on Star Trek, and his hatred for William Shatner.

Throughout the book, Doohan writes with a faux-humble bravado. While I don't think he is making up his stories, I do think he is exaggerating quite a bit.

He spends the entire book saying, "I am so much more than Montgomery Scott."

He introduces the book by telling a time travel story. He imagines himself going back in time to the set of the original series and meeting his younger self. His younger self poses the senior Doohan a question about playing Scotty. "Would you do it again?" Doohan spends the rest of the book trying to answer that question.

Doohan's dislike for Shatner comes out in the beginning.

It's Doohan's impression that Bill operates more on instinct than anything else. He doesn't so much approach character as leap on it and wrestle it to the ground; and outside-in approach rather than the other way round. It's a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style of acting that's not really to Doohan's taste. Then again, it's said that an actor's real job is not so much acting as it is auditioning. Well, Bill excels at getting jobs, so judged on that basis he's extremely good at his profession.

Page 4

As we learn later in the book, though, Doohan excels at getting work just as much as Shatner.

Over the next eight years, from 1950 to 1958, I think I did 450 live television shows. I did one damn near every week for eight years. I did four thousand radio shows also during that time. After only a year I was being called Canada's busiest actor.

Page 119

There are some parallels between Doohan and Shatner. Both actors hail from Canada and do their best to make their way in theater and, later, television. In fact it is easy to see how they could each have lived the other's life had they been cast differently. What if Shatner had been cast as the engineer and Doohan given the role of Captain of the Enterprise? Their acting paths could certainly have led them that way had Doohan been 10 years younger and worked with Rodenberry earlier.

They do have very different relationships with their fathers, though. Whereas Shatner had a neutral to positive relationship with his father, and would spend his entire life trying to please him, Doohan hated his.

I suppose my relationship with my father affected the way I dealt with my own kids. I was pretty tough, also. I used to give bare-bottom spankings., but even that ended over a decade ago. I believe I regard my children far more lovingly than my father ever regarded us.

Page 100

Growing up with an abusive alcoholic parent meant Doohan couldn't wait to leave home. He joined the Canadian Army and spent much of WWII training in the British Isles. He advanced through the ranks, but struggled with getting subordinates to follow orders. In time he learned that leadership is not just about authoritarian power -- rank alone does not make people follow. He developed the required skills and was eventually given his own command for the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

I had been pulled off of my own command and given a command that consisted of 120 men D Company of the Winnipeg Rifles. We were coming in at Juno which was where the majority of Canadian forces were being committed.

Page 65

But to know all this, to know the manpower involved, is one thing. To see this armed might floating all around us was something else altogether. War is never a joyous thing, but nonetheless there was a sort of beauty to it.

Page 68

One of his challenges in the invasion was dealing with a landing craft pilot who had steadfastly refused to obey him in the past. Demonstrating that he his, in fact, hard core, Doohan tells the story of how he dealt with the pilot on that history-making morning.

Without hesitation I pulled it [Doohan's side arm] and aimed it squarely at the coxswain's face. He blanched, and his eyes seemed to come together at the bridge of his nose. Sounding as calm as a headwaiter announcing a table, I said, "Look…you did not obey any order I ever gave you in all the practices we had. You better believe you are going to do it now, or I will take over the wheel."

Page 68

Obviously, Doohan survives the invasion. A few days later, he is wounded in action, loses part of a finger, and is done with combat. In certain episodes of Star Trek you can see how he is missing the digit, though careful direction often kept Doohan's injury invisible.

The fifties were a productive time for Doohan's acting, and even his singing career. Who got him singing ? That was Tony Randall's idea.

It was around that time that Tony Randall…came up with the idea that we three -- he, Johnny [Fiedler] and myself -- should pursue singing careers.

Page 110

Doohan developed a great deal of expertise with accents and dialects. This gave him tremendous versatility as an actor until he landed the role of Star Trek. After that, he would mostly be offered just roles that required a Scottish accent, and even those roles were somewhat limited.

Doohan offers up his thoughts on the Star Trek cast, and he acknowledges there was trouble. On Gene Rodenberry, he says:

Great navigator, but a lousy engineer.

Page 164

Doohan was also a fan of Leonard Nimoy:

Leonard was easy to like from the get-go, as sincere, thorough and professional an actor as one could hope to work with.

Page 133

And despite rumors that he hated Star Trek The Next Generation, Doohan says he really liked what they were doing. He writes fondly about the episode where he got to play Scotty again. And he got along with the cast.

Hell, I even went on Win, Lose, or Draw with Michael Dorn.

Page 200

But as Nichols tells Shatner in Shatner's fist book, Doohan did not like Shatner. Doohan confirms that, multiple time, in this book.

As for Bill Shatner, well…I have to admit, I just don't like the man. And, as has been well-documented elsewhere, he didn't exactly have a knack for generating good feelings about him.

Page 159

In the late seventies, rumors started to circulate about a new Star Trek movie. Doohan checked with Shatner to find out what was going on.

I finally called [Shatner], and I got right through to him, which was very unusual. He generally has someone else take the call, and then he'll decide if he'll talk to you or not. But I got right through to him and said, "Hi, Bill. This is Jimmy Doohan."

And he was furious that I had called him. "How'd you get my telephone number?!" he demanded angrily.

I immediately hung up. The hell with him.

Page 188

Doohan also disputes Nimoy's claim about Shatner as a director. Nimoy, George Takei, and Walter Koening said that Shatner did a good job running the day-to-day process of creating Star Trek IV. It was an awful movie, of course. Nimoy and the other actors blame the writing. Shatner blames the writing, the budget, and the effects limitations. Doohan blames Shatner.

No one was particularly enthused about being directed by Bill. I saw and heard Leonard and De snickering when they were off by themselves, waiting for him to make some new mistake. So it's not as if I was the only one.

Page 198

It's not all vitriol for Shatner. When Doohan discussed, "The Enemy Within," he has this to say:

I thought Bill's performance was pretty okay in that one.

Page 132

That's the most positive thing he has to say about Shatner in the entire book.

In the end Doohan is resigned to his fate. He is grateful for the fan support, and the money he has made from Star Trek. He is also happy that, by the time he is writing the book, Scotty is overshadowing Doohan less.

Am I happy?

I think I am. Despite all the typecasting, the missed parts, I am basically a happy person. I am happy, particularly now, because Star Trek is going away and I'm going back to getting rave reviews again, which I used to get before Star Trek.

Page 211

But it's bitter sweet. Doohan has resigned himself to a good life. He was grateful for the things he had. But Star Trek, which gave him all those things also took away the one thing he wanted most -- to be a Star Actor.

Should you read the book? If you want to learn more about Doohan's own personal mythos, absolutely. It's a nice story of what it means to be an up and coming actor in the early days of TV and the waning days of radio. It's easy to read. And the Shatner hate is amusing.

I also learned more about Canada's role in WWII than I ever learned in school.

Doohan's bravado may turn off some readers, though. The book attempts to justify his importance and beats the reader over the head with the idea that DOOHAN IS MORE THAN SCOTTY.

There is little new Star Trek material in here. If you want to know more about the show, the Shatner, Nimoy, and Nichols books are better resources (but take Shatner with a grain of salt).

If you are a Doohan fan or a Scotty fan, pick up the book. If you want to read all the original series memoirs, of course read this one too. If you are a Star Trek scholar, it's worth reading.

If you are a causal fan, I'd give it a neutral recommendation. If you are not a Star Trek fan, you can probably skip this book.

Tomorrow: Warped Factors, by Walter Koenig