Large Soda

On Friday, the GF and I went to the KFC / Taco Bell drive-thru.  I placed our order and asked for a large Diet Pepsi.  The guy on the other end asked if we wanted to upgrade that to their new "jug" size which is a half gallon.  I said yes without actually allocating the brain cycles to realize what I had just bought.  I occured to me as I pulled up to the window that that's the size of milk container, not a tasty snack to go with Tacos.

It didn't quite register until he handed me this, and I took it with two hands.

2011-01-30 Taco Bell Cup (2)

This soda container is so obnoxiously big, they built a handle into the rim.  It has a spout on it that is probably intended for pouring because it's hard to come by straws big enough.  I don't think it's meant for in-vehicle consumption, because it's not like it will fit in the cupholder.  It might be entertaining to watch a driver try to drink out of the this spout -- especially if there are speed bumps around.  And as long as I am far away or ensconced behind a protective barrier.

2011-01-30 Taco Bell Cup (1)

64 fluid ounces is a lot of beverage. If you have trouble wrapping your head around that, this may help you grasp the size. 

Here it is next to some sauce packets and a Caramel Apple Empanada:

2011-01-30 Taco Bell Cup (3)

Here it is next to a non-empanada-ed apple:

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And here it is next to an Apple iPod:

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Knowing that this monstrosity exists kind of apalls me, but at they same time, it just makes me so happy with its sheer absurdity.


Importance of Audio

On an episode of Leo Laporte's "This Week in Google," Becky Worley said, "As a TV producer I can tell you that people will always forgive you bad video; they will never forgive you bad audio."

As an audience member, I agree, yet it still seems counterintuitive.  The latest advances in consumer electronics tout advances in video quality -- whether it's 3D or HD.  Often audio improvements go along with that, but they don't get nearly the headlines.  We are, by nature, highly visual critters.

While we might tolerate a fuzzy display, staticy audio, or audio that's too quiet, will put us over the edge. Is it odd that something so important is also so often overlooked?

It's an important reminder when making home videos or work related training content that I need to focus more on the audio.  If the video isn't perfect, people may shrug it off.  If the audio is bad, I'll just make them angry.

Becky's statement makes a lot of sense to me.  Are we right?


Shatner-Palooza: A Psalm and an apparent knockout

I'm not sure what the context is here, but would context really make this better?

Find it on Youtube here.



This is post 1,428 at Cromely's World and today is my 5 Year Blogaversary.

Since I started blogging, this past year has had the fewest posts (just 173).  I moved from trying to post a minimum of 5/7 days to targeting just every other day.  Sometimes I even missed that mark.  The posts I have done tend to be longer so I may still be up on total word count.

I keep writing not because it's fun (although it usually is) but because I need the outlet, and I need the practice.  When my posting frequency began drying up in the fall, walking away would have been easy for me, but it felt wrong.  Continuing to post became a personal exercise in discipline.  I'm glad I stuck it out.

The idea of writing a book has always both intrigued and scared me.  It still does, but for slightly different reasons now.  I don't know how long my average post is, but using 500 words as a conservative estimate, then I've written more than 700,000 words.

If the average novel contains 75,000 to 125,000 words, then the idea of filling the pages is suddenly a lot less daunting.

Of course, there are still a few things that keep me trying to write a book. I would need "characters" that have a "story" that unfolds through a "plot" that's part of a "genre" and then I would actually have to write it.  Before I get that far I would need to choose between fiction and non-fiction yet.  So I've got a ways to go before I start worrying about how to get from the airport to the bookstore in time for my signing.

My blog plans for the coming year are pretty simple:

  • Regularly post every other day with stories I want to tell
  • Finish my Tokyo Travels series before 2011-05-15
  • Evaluate a shift away from Blogger
  • Consider reducing my typos (I dowt that will happen)

Thank you all for reading over the years.  I hope to keep you coming back for years to come.

Previous Blogaversary posts:


Tokyo Travels Part 19: Wandering Shibuya

2010-05-17 Shibuya (37).DNG

I visited the Shibuya area twice this past May -- once in the evening, and once in the afternoon a couple of days later.  It really is a fascinating area with great people watching.

It's best know for three things: the major street crossing, the Hachiko statue, and the shops.

The Shibuya Crossing is a Barnes Dance, or Pedestrian Scramble.  It's a major intersection where all directions of traffic get a red light at once so pedestrians can cross in all directions at once.  This design is common at pedestrian heavy intersections.  What makes the Shibuya crossing interesting is the scale.  Hundreds of people cross the street during each cycle of the light, and they do that throughout the day.  All these pedestrains are going to someplace or coming from someplace, and they need to cross that street.  Even while crossing the street, those hundreds of people still (mostly) stick to the crosswalks.

I shot this 2 minute video during a visit.  It features a look at the general area, a view of people crossing, and a shaky view of actually crossing.

This is Hachiko, a major meeting point just outside the train station.  You can read more about Hachiko here. Basically, in story that would one day lead to an episode of Futurama, Hachicko was a loyal dog who used to meet his owner at the train station everyday.  His owner became sick and died, but even after that, everyday Hachiko still went to the train station to wait for him.

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I wandered around just amazed at not just the neon, but the high quality video signs.  I had the sense I was walking around a city that's just about 10 years into the future.  During the day, it's busy, and has energy, but the buildings themselves come to life after the sun goes down.

I took the night time pictures below with a 50mm f1.4 lens.  I was quite pleased with how it performed in low light.

I wrote about this Starbucks once before.  It's one of busiest in the world, and, I'm guessing, one of the safest.

2010-05-17 Shibuya (20).DNG

Video screens are almost as prevalent as traditional bright signs.

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You can get a late night haircut in Shibuya.

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You can surf the web while you do Karaoke.

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You can buy new electronics.

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You can buy used electronics.

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You can buy a dog.

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You can even find a Guinness.

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There are plenty of other ads to soak in and shops to wander about.

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It's easy to get caught up in the excitement and energy of Shibuya after dark.  

For more pictures from this trip, click here.

For more posts about our Tokyo trip, click here.

Here's one more awesome thing.  I have nothing to do with this video, other than being glad it exists.


Fixing Tron Legacy (Includes some Spoilers)

A couple days ago I reviewed Tron Legacy and pointed out some of the problems with the story. I really wanted to like this movie.  It's beautiful.  The look of the movie really resonates with me.

In today’s post, I’ll propose a way to partially fix it. Of course, I don’t pretend to solve all the problems here; I’m a random amateur and not a professional screen writer. And I’m not constrained by budgets or anything like that, so I have a little more freedom.

I should note that this post includes spoilers for Tron Legacy. If you plan to see the movie and want to be surprised, skip the rest of this post.

In Tron Legacy, CLU was created by Flynn and charged with pursuing perfection within the system. He goes beyond that role and becomes an evil dictator within the system assuring that it runs perfectly. Ultimately he wants to leave the digital world and move into the real world for some reason. He even has has a sycophant and entourage for some reason. The only way he can break into the real world, though, is by getting Flynn’s disk so he has the information and skill needed to make the leap through the portal separating the two worlds

I’m not sure what they mean by perfection; the world of the grid with its nightclubs and rebels certainly doesn’t seem perfect. That’s kind of the point of the movie, though -- perfection is unknowable.

To fix it, we need to slightly change the nature of CLU. To begin wihth, CLU needs to be more Borg and less Klingon.

Beyond that, CLU was created by Flynn in Fynn’s image. We need to treat CLU as part of Flynn. In the movie they tell us that Flynn stopped fighting CLU because it made him more powerful. Maybe they were already going down that path.

If they are parts of each other in the Grid, then CLU has the same performance skills as Flynn. He can execute the same tasks, perform the same actions, and know the same things. He basically download Flynn’s knowledge at time of creation. But because he is a program, and not a user, he lacks one thing -- creativity. CLU cannot develop new skill or tactics. He can’t envision how to do new things. Code can only do what it’s been told. It can’t learn form new thoughts from its own experience.

Flynn can learn. He can create new ideas. Afterall, he’s human. He’s a user. He’s the maker. The one thing CLU can’t do, Flynn can.

The problem for Flynn is that they are inhernetly connected. They are still, in some respects, one. Anytime Flynn comes up with something new -- an original approach, a new idea, a unique way of seeing the word, CLU learns it too. Flynn can try to fight CLU, but CLU knows everything about fighting that Flynn knows. Anytime Flynn learns a new skill, or thinks he has the upper hand on CLU, CLU suddenly has that skill as well. Now, not only are they continually evenly matched, anything new that CLU learns in battle with Flynn, he can now repurpose into his other efforts. Fighting CLU only makes CLU stronger and makes “life” for other programs even worse.

That’s why Flynn pursues a lifestyle of zen. He needs to keep his mind at peace. He needs to push aggressive thoughts out of his head so he doesn't risk giving new skills to CLU.

Qora becomes more important in this context. She’s a program but with the spontaneous creation story of the Isos we already know she’s different. She’s a program that can learn and can think. Flynn needs to work on educating her without simultaneously educating CLU.

She’s underutilized in the movie. Most of what she does in the movie has noting to do with her Iso nature. That’s what they should exploit more. She can be the one to tell Flynn’s sone more about the history of what happened in the world. She can become more of a guide than she is in Tron Legacy. She can be more of a random factor -- a glitch in the grid.

We can keep the final conflict between CLU and Flynn the way it is. Ultimately the way to defeat him is to join with him -- to reintegrate with CLU.

As part of the bigger picture, the entire grid can be shaped by the conflict between Flynn and CLU. The arrival of Flynn’s son is what breaks the stalemate -- he’s a user not constrained by the limitations of code. He can team with Qora who is not necessarily constrained by the limitations of code, but it largely constrained by her lack of vision. She doesn’t know the world outside the grid. Her intimate knowledge of the grid, and a her abilities, combined with the rogue nature of Flynn, who is not constrained by “knowing”something is impossible is a powerful tool.

I think we can grow Qora’s role even further and make her more like Neo from The Matrix. She’s different and can ultimately break free of the grid, see it in a different way, and finally break free to a different world.

Those structures may not solve all the problems in the movie and the may be a bit derivative of other stories, but they would make Tron Legacy a better movie than it is.

Have you seen Tron Legacy? How would you fix the story?


Movie Review 18: Tron Legacy

On Saturday, The GF, her college roommate, and I went to see Tron Legacy in 3D.  I went in with low expecatations, and I think the movie met them.

This is not a good movie.  It's fun.  It's pretty.  It's entertaining. It has great music  But it's not good.

The problems with this 2+ hour movie are mainly script issues.

The story is a sequel to the orignal Tron from 1982.

In Tron Legacy, Sam Flynn is a goaless, wealthy 27 year old, reluctant to grow up and run the corporattion his is a major shareholder in.  He's disapointed in his father, Kevin Flynn (the main character of the original Tron), who disappeared years ago. He stumbles onto his father's old work station and gets zapped into "the grid." Now he is a program.  But not just a program; he's also a user.  He embarks on quest to survive, find his father, and get back to the real world.

That's when things start to fall apart. Flynn gets captured pretty quickly. Other programs outfit Flynn with the uniform he'll wear in the grid and the assign him a disk.  Is it unusual to have a new program show up with not uniform, lights, and disk?  It would seem likely, but there is no indication of that. Perhaps the nature of the digitla environment is that there is nothing "unusual" to an operting system.  There are just standard procedures.

That's part of the problem.  The film doesn't treat other programs as applications with specific tasks.  It treats them like people, but never clarifies was makes these collections of code individual applications.  It waffles on the fundamental nature of the characters.

Flynn's new outfit glows blues instead of yellow or red so we know he's a good guy. But they don't every tell us why things are those colors.  Is this a program-based decision?  Do they other programs see each others' colors? Is this just a convention to help the audience keep track of the characters?

After getting his new outift and told he must protect and keep his disk, Flynn is immediately sent to an arena to battle other programs for no apparent reason.  At that point, he is supposed to remove his disk and fling it at other programs in an effort to destroy them.  What happens when he takes his disk off?  Nothing, apparently.

The movie goes on and more random things happens.  Characters accomplish tasks that should be hard but just seem to happen.  Flynn meets his father who may or may not have god-like powers. There are plenty of biblical references, Star Wars references, and even a couple Lebowski references.

There is a fundamental problem with the rules of the universe on the grid.  There doens't appear to be an overriding prinicple or physics of the grid. Characters do things that are impossible in our world, which is fine, but we are never really told what is possible or real in the grid.  How do characters alter their environment?  Are there things they can't do?  How can the rules change?  What is the nature of Flynns?  How are users different from programs?  How do programs interact?

I'm not suggesting we need 15 minutes of exposition to tells us all of this.  We can pick it up from the characters' interactions if we know the foundation.  The problem is I don't get the sense that there is an over-riding rule book used in the creation of the world.

The lines in the script are often trite. The dialog isn't strong enough to make up for the confusion and missing plot elements.  It feels like it's full of short cuts.

Part of this may simply be timing.  In the past 30 years, a lot has happened that the original Tron script did not need to deal with.   Tron's style and design was revolutionary in 1982.  It dealt with concepts of data, avatars, and the desire of information to be free in a way the movie-going public had never seen before.  It was rare to have a computer at home and even rarer the have a way to connect it to other computers.  At the conecptual level it was mind-bendingly awesome.  In the time since then, computer technology has become part of mainstream culture.  While much of the culture remains suspicious of new technology, it also lives with it every day.

Those of us in the technology industry live even closer with the digital culture.  While the first Tron showed us a world that could be, Tron Legacy shows us a world that we know does not exist.  Reality has gotten in the way of the Tron world creation.

In addition to the changes in the real world, our movie culture changed, too.  In 1982 we were still dealing with the new Sci-Fi blockbuster format.  Sure, we had the first two Star Wars movies, and Tron came out the same year as Star Trek II and Blade Runner, but we still hadn't seen the movies that come to show us more about the possibilites of digital effects and digital integration with our lives.  War Games, Hackers, and The Matrix still had not some out.  William Gibson had not yet published Neuromancer and Neil Stephenson had not yet published Snow Crash. Tron was leaving its footprints in a field covered with fresh snow.

Tron Legacy tries to do the same thing, but the digital pop culture landscape is by now well trod.  Tron Legacy has to do more to tell us about how its digital landscape is different than the ones we have already seen and lived in.  In short, the bar is higher in 2011 than is would have been in 1984.

That said, this is an undeniably beautiful film  The production design is fantastic.  The updates to the original Tron look-and-feel are well done.  I really like the aesthetic of the simple neon lines on black.  The look if rife with possibilities and still looks futuristic, rather than dated.

The 3D effect is nice; the film is only 3D in the digital world.  Even then it's not necessary.  There aren't many 3D effects that are striking and you can easily enjoy the view in 2D.

Part of the buzz for the film was on the score, by Daft Punk.  The GF was initially sceptical, since the soundtrack does not sound like the traditional stuff Daft Punk does.  In the movie though, it's excellent.  The movie and sound is very well done.

The bottom line is that if you want a fun, entertaining, somewhat forgettable film, check out Tron Legacy.  It's good popcorn fare.  If you're looking for a picture that says something interesting or that has a good story, that's not Tron Legacy.

But it sure is pretty.


Shatner-Palooza: Shat My Dad Says

Okay, that’s not quite the name of the show (nor is it my joke), but it should be.

$#*! My Dad Says is the only TV show based on a Twitter feed. It sounds like an idea as brilliant as turning insurance company pitch-cavemen into a TV show. But this one actually works. Kinda.

The original Twitter feed was one guy tweeting random saying his near senile father says, and it was pretty funny.

Here’s how CBS describes the TV show:
$#*! MY DAD SAYS (pronounced "Bleep My Dad Says"), based on the popular Twitter feed by Justin Halpern, stars Emmy Award winner William Shatner as Ed Goodson, a forthright and opinionated dad who relishes expressing his unsolicited and often wildly politically incorrect observations to anyone within earshot. Nobody is safe from Ed's rants, including his sons, Henry, a struggling writer-turned-unpaid blogger; and Vince, the meek half of a husband/wife real estate duo with domineering Bonnie. When Henry finds he can no longer afford to pay rent, Ed reveals a soft spot and invites Henry to move in with him. Henry agrees, knowing that the verbal assault will not abate and now there will be no escape. Describing their father/son relationship is tricky, but Ed will easily come up with a few choice words.
The first few episodes of the series were pretty rough. There story lines and script were weak. The show really was really just a delivery mechanism for one-liners from Shatner.

In the ensuing weeks it got better, and the characters got a little more depth. The stories are more interesting now.

There are still problems with the show.

From a technical perspective, there’s something odd about the audio, and it’s likely intentional. When the secondary characters deliver their lines they sound like they do on any other show. Shatner’s lines, however, have greater depth and timbre. He uses a velvet delivery that sounds like he is sitting in front of a professional microphone in a radio station delivering late night dedications. The sound quality is significantly different. His lines carry more weight.

And that’s the way the show is. While the story is getting better and it by necessity focuses on Shatner’s character, the show is fundamentally unbalanced. There’s no way to do the show without focusing on Shatner’s character, but Shatner is in a league apart from the other actors in a way that is distracting. Perhaps a stonger secondary cast would balance the show better. Of course, I’m not sure if that’s the fault of the actors, the script, or the direction.

The interesting thing is that Shatner is both the stongest aspect of the show and the weakest. The show is entirely dependent on Shatner. I can’t imagine anyone else playing that role. It’s really perfect casting. At the same time if the show continues to revolve around Shatner, and I don’t think there’s anyway it can’t, the joke is going to get old. Shatner so overwhelms the script that it’s really a casting problem.

In other words, Shatner is both the Alpha and the Omega of $#*! My Dad Says

The parts that are really weak are balanced by the parts that are really awesome. It averages out to good.


Book Review 62: The Happiest Days of Our Lives

“We’re not supposed to do this, but I’m a big fan,” [the gate guard] said,conspiratorially. With anyone who really was a big deal in Hollywood, he was probably risking his job.

“Really?” I said. “You seem a little young for TNG.”

He grinned. “Not Star Trek, your blog.”

This took me completely by surprise. I have been so busy with other writing projects that 1 haven’t been able to give my blog the attention I want. I’ve frequently considered putting iton hiatus for a few months.

“That,” I said, “is totally awesome. Thank you.”

He smiled and then looked over his shoulder at the other guards. He turned back to me, nodded tersely, and waved me onto the lot.

Page 104

CES ended a few days ago and I wanted to get in one more Star Trek book review before the second hand smoke and tradeshow carpet formaldehyde has completely let my lungs.

The Happiest Days of Our Lives” is another great collection from Wil Wheaton as he becomes an even more confident and comfortable essayist. The theme for this collection is nostalgia -- not in a maudlin way, but in the vein of looking back at both the good times and bad times in life and being able to softly sigh with a smile.

Most of the stories are not about Star Trek. The one that primarily is talks more about the fondness the cast felt for each other and for the show. The contrast between how the TNG felt about their colleagues and their show and how the TOS cast felt about their colleagues and their show (as expressed in other books) is striking.

Wheaton had to return to the Paramount lot to do some commentary for a Star Trek documentary.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m just overwhelmed by a sadness right now that I can’t really explain.”

“I understand,” [the producer] said. “This happens whenever we work with someone from Next Generation. I don’t know what it was about you guys, but every single one of you loved each other and remembers working on the show very fondly.”

Page 109

Wheaton tells the story of how how came to terms with his Star Trek relationship in an earlier book so there’s not as much here. Instead, Wheaton focuses on the universal feelings many of us faced in youth -- even if we didn’t wear a space suit.

A time when my life was simpler and easier, when I had the luxury of taking for granted that I would always have everything I wanted and my opportunities were as numerous as the little mirrored stars on the black velvet starfield that hung behind Ten Forward on stage 9. Stars that are, most likely, cut up into hundreds of little bits to be doled out at auction for the next decade.

Page 113

The sense of possibility as a kid is something that’s not confined to child actors. He talks about things like music and how they have an impact on us growing up. When he hears a song, it takes him right back to a high school crush he had on an older girl.

“How Beautiful You Are” by The Cure—Kiss Me, Kiss Me,Kiss Me, the first compact disc I had, and it’s a good thing,too. I love this record so much, I would have worn it out in any other medium. This was also during the “W + K 4EVR”phase, and, nerdy little artist that I was, whenever I heard this song I longed to go with her to Paris and dance in the rain together. You know what I just realized? I don’t think I ever told her that I was so fiercely head over heels for her, and she either knew and didn’t call me out, or I had the perfect combination of infatuation and insecurity to keep it to myself. I wonder where she is today, and how she’s doing.

Page 59

I especially love that line about going Paris. It’s corny and cheesey and evocative. And, really, what 15 year old’s feeling of passion are not laden with corniness and cheeseyness? It captures the spirit of the feeling nicely.

Wheaton’s memory exploration doesn’t just go to the 70s and 80s. He also stays in the more-or-less present when he talks about his kids. He can still see them through teenagers' eyes and express what they are likely feeling through the his own set of experiences, a couple decades longer.

I glanced at Ryan again. His right leg was bouncing along with the music, and his head was bopping just a little bit.Translation: Must... maintain... carefully... crafted... cool.but... losing... battle... against... the..rock...

Page 69

I’m not sure that’s a thought that a teenager would articulate.

One thing I find interesting in this context in the comparison in biblical imagery as a kid and as an adult. In this passage we hear the thought of a little kid in the latter part of the passage.

We arrived a few minutes early (a rarity with my parents,who would show up an hour late for the end of the world) and I was one of the first kids to slide into my desk, right next to my friend Matthew. I thought he was cool because he had a Bible name.

page 16

Here, it is clearly an adult articulating a feeling a kid might have, but not in a way the kid would ever articulate.

“Okay, that’s fine. Let’s just go,” she said. I thought of looking back wistfully over my shoulder at the Millennium Falcon, but I was so ashamed of myself, I was certain that I’d be turned into a pillar of carbonite. Instead, I trailed behind my airplane-zooming brother and nap-needing sister while my mother pushed the cart up to the checkout.

page 44

Still, Wheaton tries to keep his own feelings in mind as he writes about his kids.

The nearest Cold Stone is in the mall, and it’s a bit of an ordeal to get there, park the car, walk across the whole place,deal with the inevitable mob of teenagers, blah blah blah get off my lawn, but when I was a kid and my dad took me for unannounced ice cream, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world.

page 47

And Wheaton takes joy in the subtle ironies of living in LA.

I turned his card over in my hand. His office at Walt Disney Studios on one side, the address to an illegal poker game on the other.

Sometimes, I love this town.

Page 134

While there is a strong focus on Wheaton’s younger years, it is not a book about a child actor. The acting is on the periphery of the story. He’s just a kid hanging out with his friends, going to school, and visiting relatives, and those feelings carry into the story. Wheaton’s story as a child actor may be an interesting one, but it’s not one he’s trying to tell. Instead, he tells as many “ordinary” stories as possible.

I feel I should call out one story in particular that had me cursing him like Sheldon. “Let Go -- A Requiem for Felix the Bear” is the story of a cat that adopts the Wheatons as its people. With the title of the story, it’s no secret that the cat dies at the end. The story is a heartfelt tribute with agonizing sadness as Wheaton tells us of this beloved and powerful animal. I don’t know how you can read it without tearing up. Of all the essays in the book, it has the most raw emotional power. It’s almost a little out of place with its tone, but I’m glad it’s in here.

If you’re a regular reader of Wheaton’s blog, or have seen him speak (I heard him read two of these stories at Emerald City Comic Con in 2009) you may already be familiar with the material. Much of it has already appeared on line. So why pick up a copy of the book?

Curration. This is a collection of the key stories Wheaton needs to tell. There’s a strong theme running through the book about awkwardly trying to make your way in the world -- as a kid, as a child star, as an adult, as a teenager, and even as a tough, old cat. Wheaton is able to tell a story and take us on a trip with this material, in a way the Nick Meyer couldn’t in his much broader book.

If you’re a fan of good story-tell, nostalgia, or of Wheaton, pick up “The Happiest Days of Our Lives.” It’s a quick read and a great book. Just save some tissues for Felix.

For more Star Trek book reviews, click here.

For more general book reviews, click here.


Book Review 61: The View from the Bridge

When I began to focus on work I made myself a new rule: no speech in a screenplay by me was going to be more than ten lines long. This restriction was a killer. I was going to have to learn to write all over again, write in a way where literacy itself was a disadvantage. Later, watching the work of Steven Spielberg, I understand how much my verbal facility worked against me. It's better if you can think in pictures. What happens to your scene when you turn off the sound in your head?

Another rule: how many pages can you write of a screenplay before it is absolutely necessary for someone to speak?
Page 32

Nicholas Meyer, the man who saved the Star Trek movie franchise with his scripts for Star Treks II and VI has written an interesting book called The View from the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood. Is this a good book worth reading? The short answer is no; the longer answer is much more complicated. There’s a lot of good stuff in there, but the package doesn’t quite hold up. It feels like the book is 2 or 3 drafts away from being great.

The problem is that while it’s intended to be a memoir, it lacks a story. A good memoir tells the story of the person writing it. It’s not a catalog of events in that person’s life. It has to go beyond that. A View from the Bridge does not.

That being said, there are germs of that here. The sections where Meyer talks about the two Star Trek movies are fascinating. His story about making “The Day After” and about his work on Don Quixote are also excellent. The reason for that is that Meyer’s passion and excitement come through. He's really trying to tell us something in these sections. In other parts of the book, when he’s talking about his first successes and his other movies, I can see that he’s excited about them, but it leaves me feeling, “Good for you!” I don’t mean that sarcastically. The problem with that is I don’t feel as strong a connection to what he’s talking about. He’s listing events in his life, but not telling us a bigger story.

I think Meyer has a story in here, but it needs more digging. His meditations on writing, language, cinema, art, and more are fascinating, but they get lost in the narrative. I think this is a book I’ll be talking about more over the course of the year, as I use different paragraphs as jumping off points for deeper discussions.

That’s the big disappointment I have with this book. There’s a lot of really good stuff in there. It’s just lost among the other stuff.

Now I’ll get more specific about some of the interesting areas.

Meyer has one of the most positive opinions of William Shatner that I’ve read in any of the Star Trek related books (except, of course, for those written by Shatner and possibly Leonard Nimoy).

As part of my ongoing cinematic education, I was now learning how to write for a star. As a man, William Shatner is refreshingly free of ego. He is polite, attentive, unassuming, interested in other people and what they do. But as a leading actor, he is very protective, particularly of Kirk, his screen persona. Once I understood the paradoxical duality—not ego, but enormous vanity—of his character, it became easier to understand and address his concerns. Put simply (perhaps too simply), he wanted to be the first man through the door. If the messenger delivered the message, he didn't want that messenger to tower over him. He didn't mind that the film dealt with a man growing old; he just didn't want to specify that man's exact age. (Not unreasonable if you think about it. What actor wishes to find himself rejected for the role of a fifty-year-old because he's already played a character who owns to sixty-two?)

Page 91

Once he figured out the trick to writing for Shatner, he had to figure out how to direct him. He implies that Shatner was just too intense much of the time. The best way to get Shatner to calm down and give a more understated performance? Bore him.

The second take was similarly heavy-handed but, as it happened, no good for sound. (A stratagem I had contrived beforehand.) The third take, I think the focus was soft—and so on. Eventually Shatner became bored and when he got bored he got good. He dropped the attitudes he was prone to strike and instead became Kirk, with no trimmings. It was a good trick to stumble on and it happened early enough in the shoot that I was able to make good use of it throughout. The only difficulty was ensuring that Shatner, who got better with every take, did not have to appear in a two-shot with someone who was at his best on take one and thereafter deteriorated.) When all's said and done, however, a director can only do so much; Shatner's triumph in the movie is his own, the product of his own intuition and his gift.

page 112

Despite his respect and skill in using Shatner, however, even Meyer knew when to stay away. He was approached to write Star Trek V, the film Shatner would direct.

It was in early '87 when I heard rumblings about the next Star Trek film.Taking a leaf from Nimoy's playbook, William Shatner's quid pro quo for participating in the new movie was directing it. I was again asked to write the screenplay. When I asked what the film was to be about, I was told, "the search for God."

This did not strike me as an especially promising premise. How could such a search possibly conclude? Fortunately, I had the multiple excuses of my Fatal Attraction chores and my imminent departure abroad.

page 175

Meyer does a nice job in discussing Star Trek VI. He goes on a deep discussion of the politics of an impending Klingon-Federation alliance, against the back drop of the impending fall of the USSR.

Meyer had approached his Star Trek stories with more realism than Gene Roddenberry had. That’s likely part of the reason he was successful. At the beginning of the Star Trek II process, Meyer was already reimagining the Federation into a more militaristic entity than the idealised version of Roddenberry .

But none of the foregoing altered the parameters of the universe Roddenberry had set up. He was emphatic that Starfleet was not a military organization but something akin to the Coast Guard. This struck me as manifestly absurd, for what were Kirk's adventures but a species of gunboat diplomacy wherein the Federation (read America, read the Anglo-Saxons) was always right and aliens were—in Kipling's queasy phrase—"lesser breeds"? Yes, there was lip service to minority participation, but it was clear who was driving the boat.

Page 81

By the time Star Trek VI rolled around, Meyer’s views were diverging further from Roddenberry’s. Meyer fought for his script, and I’m glad he did. It’s an excellent movie. I’m more impressed with Meyer’s humility after the fact, where he acknowledges mishandling the discussions.

It was not, as I say, my finest hour. Roddenberry was old and in ill health and soon to die. The fact that I was tired and unwilling to revisit the screenplay when it was almost time to start shooting was of less moment than my conviction that what was in the script was correct. I left the meeting and returned to work, leaving others to mop up the damage I had done. I like to think of myself as a decent, straight-shooting person but as I write these lines, I have to admit that I am not always the person I like to believe I am.

page 214-215

Meyer takes several moments in the book for self-reflection. He wanted to make “The Day After” because it needed to be made. But Meyer, an opponent of nuclear stockpiles began to question that belief later in the book. In Star Trek VI, we have conspirators trying to preserve their cold war, and they were regarded as crazy. But Meyer gives that some more thought later on.

In fact, however, a wonderful new chapter in human history is not what has occurred. Instead, we got 9/11 and a resurgent form of human horror, terrorism, in which incalculable destruction is visited upon us not by dictators and armies but rather by crazies with box cutters and primitive but lethally destructive capabilities. The age of the suicide bomber was at hand. How long before that bomb would prove to be a nuclear one? Was this any improvement on the cold war era or is it not, in fact, much worse? As awful as MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) was, no one was actually destroyed. But as of 2001, the world became an infinitely more dangerous place—all of which now leads me to wonder if the conspirators of Star Trek VI were not more justified than we gave them credit for being. Knowing what I now know (in the famous formulation of Senator Clinton), would I still maintain that Valeris, Cartwright, and their Klingon counterparts were misguided in their attempts to thwart detente between the Federation and the Klingon Empire?

I also confess to being troubled by the Vulcan mind meld, clearly a form of torture, wherein Spock attempts to forcibly extract vital information from the traitor, Valeris. In light of the Bush administration's treatment of "enemy combatants," I blush.

Page 231

Meyer is frank about his shortcomings as a writer. His biggest problem is writing too much.

"You want to solve all your problems with dialogue," Elliot [Silverstein] observed bluntly. "But movies aren't dialogue, they're pictures. Contrast Star Trek with Mission Impossible," he went on, ever the pedagogue (Star Trek again. What was it with Star Trek?) "Turn off the video on both and listen. Star Trek works fine; it becomes a radio play because it's all dialogue. On the other hand, Mission: Impossible without the visuals is just a series of sound effects. Now try it the other way round: if you turn on the picture and turn off the sound, Star Trek becomes essentially a series of talking heads. Mission: Impossible, by contrast, looks like a movie.”

Page 30

He takes that advice to heart as he begins to think more about writing his scripts. Word economy dogs his scripts.

Things weren't all or always terrible. During this time, I wrote a couple of television movies that were actually filmed. It's hard to convey what a thrill it was to finally hear actors speaking my lines. I wasn't always happy with their performances or the editing or the direction, or the lines themselves, for that matter (always too many words; I was always mentally reaching for a pencil to scratch things out—picky, picky, picky), but I was far from unhappy.

Page 36

Movies must move, and faces as well as actions can often do the work of words. In fact, I have since computed that the attrition rate for dialogue in a screenplay of mine, between the first draft and the answer print, i.e., finished movie is 50 percent. Half the words will go, and you will save yourself time and money if you lose as many as possible before the cameras start rolling.Cutting out the words in the editing room is possible, even inevitable, but cutting them beforehand is usually better.

page 104

I like this for a few reasons. The humility this expert screenplay writer demonstrates about his screenplay writing appears both genuine and insightful.

Meyer also discusses his feelings on the language of film itself. Despite his directorial success he struggles with it at times.

The bad news is that I came to movie making late, especially working with the camera. While Steven Spielberg was playing with lenses, I was playing with typewriters, and the difference is all too obvious. The camera and its possibilities were alien to me—a fine situation for a film director. And remember, I'm a slow learner.

Page 65

In my films, I care less for the photography and composition of the images than I do for what the people are saying and doing. I would a thousand times sooner direct actors and help shape their performance rather than work on special effects. I have this theory that the film can be anything but out of focus and audiences will tolerate it, so long as what they are watching is interesting.Ditto the sound. On the other hand, I, as an audience member, respond like everyone else to ravishing or original imagery in the movies, to nifty sound effects. I am as seducible as the next man. Even as I disapprove of the contentless image-makers, I envy them; envy their technical facility and their cheerful, absent-minded amorality. Hey, it's the movies—let's blow something up.

Page 71

Meyer also talks about language while adapting Don Quixote. He goes on at length about how Cervantes used the words to create the epic. This appears to be where Meyer’s passion lies. It really comes out as he talks about writing. With this kind of energy, he probably could have written this book about his journey as a writer or his passion for story telling. He could have used that framework to tie the book together.

He travelled to Spain just so he could soak in Cervantes.

After Mari-Carmen returned to California, we stayed on in Spain, renting a house outside Marbella where a mountain outside my office window looked suspiciously like the Paramount logo and reminded me daily of what I was supposed to be doing there. It goes without saying that, other than the broad philosophical approach I had outiined to Tanen, I had no idea how to go about adapting a thousand-plus-page novel to the screen. All I knew for certain was that Los Angeles was not the place to try; the phone rang too often there. Here, away from all distractions, Rachel would learn to eat soft food, and I would fool around with Quixote, whose real subject, I realized on closer examination, was not the Don's monomania-Chivalry-but Cervantes's: words.

One way you know that the Dark Ages have ended is each country's discovery—starting with Italy and working its way west—of its own vernacular for purposes of literature, hitherto the province of the classical tongues, Greek and Latin. But suddenly you have Dante writing The Divine Comedy in Italian;in France, Corneille, Racine, and Moliere are discovering French; in England,first Chaucer, then Marlowe, Spenser, and Shakespeare are drunk on English;and in Spain, in the same year Macbeth is written comes the first part of Don Quixote, composed in colloquial Spanish. The book is likewise high on the possibilities of language. There are big plots, little plots, poems, short stories, anecdotes, jokes, asides, puns, more poems, more tangents . . . every kind of language was grist for Cervantes's mill. (This was true for Shakespeare, too: his vocabulary -- the vocabulary of someone linguistically intoxicated was fifty thousand words. It's been shrinking ever since; I daresay we're down to about five thou?

page 178-179

Meyer sees his strength as a story teller. He sees himself as someone who can take an idea and make it into something. That’s what he does with his scripts and his movies. And because that is his strength in those media, it’s all the more disappointing that he doesn’t do that with his memoir.

That is the sort of artist I am; not of the first rank, perhaps not even of the second, but I do recognize something original when I see it; I can preserve it for others to savor, even if the originator of the act is unaware or unappreciative of just what it is he or she has done. I could never write The Odyssey, but I can probably make it into a very good screenplay. That is the other thing I am besides being a teacher. A storyteller. Not the creator of stories, but rather the re-creator. I would never have imagined anything as original as Sherlock Holmes—but I might, with some success, imagine him meeting Sigmund Freud. If someone had said their two names together first.

page 156

The only project that resonated with me was the first one I was offered following Lauren’s death: HBO commissioned me to write and direct an adaptation of The Odyssey, a tale that had been my favorite since the age of five when an uncle of mine had told it to me as an ongoing bedtime story. I knew this material inside out, and it wrote itself In the process I realized I was also writing my autobiography, the story of a man trying to get back to his wife;more, it was the tale of a man punished for his inability to distinguish between cleverness and wisdom. Yes, it wrote itself.

Page 238

Meyer directed The Day After, a landmark TV movie about the aftermath of nuclear war in the 1980s. I mentioned it earlier in this post. You can read more about that movie on Wikipedia. I bring it up again, because it was such an important project for Meyer. Of course it was an important project for the country, too, but for Meyer, it helped him to understand more about himself.

"I think this is where we find out who you really are," [Meyer’s therapist] suggested quietly.

Which is one of the most dreadful (and useful) things anyone has ever said to me. I knew the moment the words were out of his mouth that I would have to direct The Day After. I had entered psychoanalysis to find out who I was—and now I was going to.

It wasn't all that easy rounding up people to be in the movie or work on it, either. Everyone was as spooked as I was. When I approached Gayne Rescher, my cinematographer from Star Trek II, and asked him to photograph the movie, he said he wasn't up for it.

"You mean," I badgered, "that you prefer to sit around at dinner parties and bitch about the state of the world, but when someone offers you the chance to put your work in the service of your beliefs, you're gonna turn it down?" He frowned unhappily. "I think," I pressed shamelessly on, "that this is where we find out who you really are."

Damned useful, that phrase. I crowbarred a lot of people with it.

page 141

In that film, Meyer really saw his ability to change minds with the power of story-telling. With something as basic as a movie, he could influence the President of the United States.

But at least one person's mind was changed by the film. When President Reagan signed the intermediate range missile treaty in Iceland, I got a lovely card from someone who said, “Don’t think your film didn’t have something to do with this," which turned out to be intuitively prescient. Some years after I had a weird confirmation of this fact. I was speaking at Oxford, and a student asked if I'd ever read Reagan's autobiography. I said I hadn't, whereupon he handily produced a photocopied page for me in which the president described his reaction to the film, essentially allowing as to how it had altered his perception of the nuclear subject. Remember, this was a president who saw life in terms of movies, and it had taken a movie to help him see that nuclear wars are unwinnable. Later, when I met Edmund Morris, author of Reagan's biography Dutch, he confirmed the paragraph in his book that stipulates the only time he ever saw Reagan depressed was after viewing The Day After. Reagan,who had come to power contemplating a winnable nuclear war ("if we have enough shovels ..." etc.), had changed his mind.

Page 154

As I wrap this up, I want to bring us back to Star Trek. Meyer can bring a slightly different perspective to the franchise that the actors can. His identity isn’t as tied up in the show in the way that Shater, Nimoy, Koenig, Takei, Doohan, and the other actors felt theirs were. He doesn’t have the strong feelings about Shatner and Nimoy that other people do. They were colleagues but Meyer had some distance. He also doens’t portray himself as the wonder kid that other authors said he was. That professional distance makes things interesting. And yet, his feelings mirror those of the cast, just from a slightly different perspective.

The common theme through most of the Star Trek memoirs I’ve read and reviewed over the years is ambivalence. Those involved in the creation are amazed at the phenomenal success. The show is responsible for both giving theme stardom and for limiting their stardom.

Meyer tries to answer the question of whether Star Trek is art. At the end, he’s just not sure.

But I suspect that in the long run it is the long run itself that counts. StarTreks importance-- or lack of same -- will not be determined by how much money the films have made; it will not be determined by critical appraisals in varying venues. No, time is the ultimate arbiter of Art. When Nixon visited China he banqueted with that wily courtier, Zhou Enlai, and asked him during the meal what he thought of the French Revolution.

“It’s too early to tell,” was Zhou’s answer.

Page 251

And so with Star Trek. I cannot gauge its value or understand its meaning except subjectively. While the films are not ones I would have deliberately chosen as a vehicle for self-expression (I did begin this book by acknowledging the happenstance paths of life and their unlooked for consequences), I cannot deny that my life has been changed—enriched—as a result of my association with the series, and perhaps the lives of others have been affected as well. Who’s to say if I had got to make my film version of Robertson Davies’s novel Fifth Business that as many people would’ve been affected by the result? How many scientists and astronauts at NASA were first inspired by the silliness that was Star Trek to reach for the stars? Answer? A lot.

Page 252

In some ways, as this memoir has shown, I have had similar feelings about Star Trek. I could evidently “do it” while at the same time I told myself for long periods that I simply didn’t get it.
That can no longer be said to be entirely true. And by this point it would also seem graceless of me to insist that it is. Enough time has passed so that.though I may not be able to assess the lasting merit of Star Trek, I can certainly give some consideration to how Star Trek has changed me.

Page 253

This is one of my lengthier reviews and it seems odd that I felt compelled to say so many things about a book that I didn’t enjoy as much as I had hoped. But in this book, Meyer says a lot of interesting things. They just don’t all come together to tell the story of Nicholas Meyer, of a story he wants to tell. It’s a collection of anecdotes and data without a theme to tie it all together.

If you are a fan of Nicholas Meyer and want to know more about the things he’s done, or if you are a completist who wants to read everything related to the Star Trek movies, pick up a copy ofThe View from the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood. If you’re a more casual fan, or you are just looking for a good memoir, you can probably skip this one.


Book Review 60: Tales from the Captain's Table

Soon Demora Sulu came in. She was older than she had been when she entered earlier that day, and older than she had been at the time when she first met Chakotay. Her face betrayed disappointment, as if she was hoping to catch her erstwhile protege. Cap knew, however, that if they were meant to encounter each other, they would have. Instead, he simply poured her another glass from the same bottle of red wine she'd drunk from earlier that day many years ago.

All in all, Cap decided, it had been a good day. He gave Sulu her drink, and then sat back and waited for the next story...

Page 329
Today (Thursday, 2011-01-06) was day 1 of CES.  That means it is once again time for me to make my feet hate my brain and spend 4 days standing on a booth at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The show is going great so far.  And since it's CES time, that means is once again time for Star Trek Book Week at Cromely's World (thought it may be only half a week this year).  I'm doing things a little differently this year and starting with some Star Trek Fiction.

I really wanted to like "Star Trek: Tales from the Captain's Table" more than I did. It's a book that would likely have been better if I was still a teenager. And perhaps it's designed to appeal to a younger audience than I represent.

I have two main problems with it -- the premise, and the writing of the familiar characters. That sounds like a deeper condemnation of the book than I intend.

The Captain's Table is a bar that is located in different places and different times. It seems to exist outside the space-time continuum. Only ship Captains can enter, and the only cost to eat and drink is to tell a story.

This neat mechanism that allows Riker and Archer and Demora Sulu to appear in the same room, and for Chaktotay to be in the same room as Sulu when she is years younger than she was when he met her.

The problem with this mechanism is that it's too magical for me. In another science fiction universe I'd be okay with it, but here it hurts my head. The Star Trek universe relies very little on magic. There is a scientific exploration for nearly everything. There's some mysticism in the Vulcan tradition and of course in the Prophets-Emissary story line of Deep Space Nine, but the magical nature of The Captains' Table just doesn't fit with the rest of the Star Trek universe and at times takes me right out of the story.

I don't know if the stories in here are considered canon, but I have my doubts that they should be. I'd like a place like this to exist in the Star Trek universe, or even in my universe, but it just doesn't fit.

Putting that aside for a moment, some of the story lines in here are compelling.

In the first one, Riker tells the story of a pirate attack while he was on his honey moon with Troi. It was a swashbuckling affair with adventure, risks, costuming and more.

Now Klag threw his head back and laughed. ''Your Betazoid mate," Klag said. "A pirate chieftainess?"

"That's right. Would I lie to you?"

Klag shrugged. "While telling a story, Riker, I would be disappointed if you didn't. Continue."

Page 20

The story does fit well with Riker's character. It's exactly the sort of story Riker would tell, but the writing itself is rather simplistic.

Picard also tells a very Picard type of story -- about scrifice for the greater good, and fighting the good fight regardless of the possible outcome. It's a classic, heroic story about the highest ideals of the human race. The author captures Picard's frank self awareness...

Picard sat back in his chair and sighed. Instead of bringing light into the darkness, he had allowed the lights of twenty-four of his crew to be extinguished. Quite an accomplishment, he told himself.

Page 59

... and his sometimes sanguine good moods.

But to think that one of them had enabled this city to exist, and its people to flourish in freedom and fulfillment... it was remarkable, to say the least. And it reminded Picard of the good he had done occasionally, which-now that he thought about it might possibly have outweighed the bad.

page 76

A Klingon Captain tells a story of battle, honor, and revenge. It's not a tale of huge starship battles, but of the smaller ones that affect Klingons growing up and learning what it means to be a Klingon Warrior.

"We were outraged, with the petulance that only children can achieve, and tried unsuccessfully to defend our honor. "

page 112

Captain Archer tells a humorous story featuring his dog Porthos. The story is all about the comic relief, which sadly seems to be the place in the Star Trek universe to which many people have condemned him.

Kira Nerys tells a story of prostitution and espionage under the Cardassian Occupation of Deep Space 9.

Chakotay tells the story of how he joined Star Fleet and the tension between his Native American roots and the scientific, off-world nature of the Federation.

They're all appropriate stories to the characters that tell them, but they also sound a little hollow. The writers seem to write to characatures of their Captains rather than to the Captains themselves.

That's why the best stories in the book are those of Captains we haven't met before.

It may be that the writers are too wedded to prewritten definitions of who Riker, Picard, Nerys, Archer, and Chakotay are. Or it may be that I am too wedded to them as an audience member. These characters are bigger than life. Captains we meet for the first time do not have that same iconic stature. And that makes for some more interesting stories.

Demora Sulu tells a fascinating story of caring for a relative. It's not typically the stuff of Star Trek, but it makes for a great story about family, honor, obligation and character. In theme, it's the kind of story you could expect from a Klingon, but the content is the kind of story you would expect from a human.

The intersections of these new Captains stories with the universe we know ground them nicely. Demora's connection to Hikaru Sulu and Chakotay, and Captain Shelby's connection to Tom Paris make me even more interested in their stories.

Captain David Gold tells a story of revenge and forgiveness as he prepares to break his Yom Kipur fast. It confuses the heck out of the rest of his audience. Captain Elizabeth Shelby tells a painful tale of a mission gone wrong.

While there are some great stories in this book, overall, it's mediocre. Even setting aside the magical element of the book, the known characters stories just seem a bit weak from a story-telling effort.


Less vs. Fewer: Weird Al weighs in

I've been tempted to do things like like this:

See it on Youtube here.


Tokyo Travels Part 18: Meiji Jingu

Before we wandered about Harajuku, we spent some time in the Meiji Jingu Shrine.  It's a Shinto shrine that honors Ermperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. You can read more about the Shrine here.

The entrance to the grounds is set a giant wooden Tori, or gate, that tells you are crossing the border.

Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine

There were plenty of people there but it wasn't crowded on the Monday afternoon in May that we visited.  The wide gravel path ways made it easy to get around.

Meiji Shrine

I like this image because of the broom the sweeper is using.  It appears to be just straw tied to a pole.  It's simple and likely not the most efficient sweeping instrument, suggesting sweeping efficiency is not its primary purpose.  I also like that the woman is carrying an umbrella for protection from the sun.  We saw that all the time in the sunny streets of Tokyo.  I'm surprised we don't see more people doing that in Seattle on those rare sunny days.

Meiji Shrine

Wine barrels and rice containers faced each other across opposite sides of the path, illustrating the Meiji policy of "Japanese Spirit and Western Knowledge."

Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine

There is  a separate garden within the shrine.  There was an admission fee for the garden and another ticket required for a well in the garden.  The wait for Kiyomasa's well was estimated to be over an hour so we opted to skip that part.

The gardens were pleasant with a well manicured lawn around a tea house.

Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine

The Koi pond had plenty of fish and more turtles than I usually see in these ponds.  There were plenty of gold koi, but they seemed a bit camera shy.

Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine

The heart of the Shrine is in the inner grounds.  There's another gate to pass through before you enter a large plaza.

Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine

While we were there, a bride was getting her picture taken.  What was fascinating was how many people were photographing her in traditioanal garb.  The photographers were more interesting than their subject.

Meiji Shrine

The Meiji Jingu Shrine is definitely worth a visit on a trip to Tokyo.

Meiji Shrine

You can see more of my Tokyo pictures here.

You can read more about my trip here.