Category Archives: Things I Love

the fountain of youth

I spend a lot of time remembering and writing about the video games I played while growing up, mostly because it's the closest I can come to actually playing them, until the magical day arrives when I have an entire room in my house dedicated to housing a classic arcade and console collection.

I've written before about books and games as time machines and portals, but I've recently realized that the father away I get from the times those things transport me, the more important they both become. Maybe it's a geek's midlife crisis, or something, but I've really missed arcades recently.

Whenever I play any classic arcade or console game, it's like I'm flipping very rapidly through a book with different places and years on each page; I see just enough to make an emotional connection, but it never enough to capture any details. I don't know what it's like for anyone else, but for me, when I pick up a joystick controller today, I pick it up in 1979, 1980, 1983, 1985. When I played Pitfall! at PAX, I played it in my living room in Sunland, my bedroom in La Crescenta, at Joey's house, at Josh's house, at Bobby's house. 

It's awesome that I can play every Atari game ever written using Stella, and it's a lot of fun to plug in an Atari Flashback for a quick Combat battle (I'm still training for our Thunderdome showdown, Shawn Powers), but those experiences aren't quite the same as playing an actual vintage Atari. It's pretty easy to walk into a Target or a Best Buy these days and get one of those joysticks that has a dozen or so games in it, and being able to play them in some form is always better than not being able to play them at all, but the joy I feel when I get to play on an actual console just can't be emulated. There's something about searching a box for exactly the right game, flipping the switches, and picking up an actual joystick to play Yar's Revenge or Keystone Kapers or Air Sea Battle that emulation just can't capture.

It will be unsurprising, then, to learn that my favorite rooms at PAX were the Classic Arcade room, and the Classic Console Freeplay room. They were exactly what they sound like: the Arcade room had about a dozen games, including Sinistar, Dragon's Lair, Frogger, and a prototype game called Crazy Otto that eventually became Ms. Pac Man. The Classic Console Freeplay room had everything from Atari to Colecovision to NES to PSX to Intellivision to Sega Genesis.

They also had one of my favorite consoles of all time, Vectrex, which I played with Storm. BEHOLD:

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Photo credit to Enforcer David Johnson, who took many awesome pictures of PAX East.

While we played, Storm and I channeled our inner 12 year-olds with such classic phrases as, "No way! I shot him!" and "It cheated! The computer cheated!" and "MMMMOOOOOOOMMMMM!!!!"

I remember when I got my Vectrex in 1982 or 1983; it felt like I had a miniature arcade game, because – unlike even the best Atari versions – it recreated games like Scramble, Armor Attack, and Star Castle almost perfectly. Minestorm was like Advanced Asteroids, and Starhawk was pretty much Luke Skywalker's attack on the Death Star, brought directly into my bedroom, under my control. I may have played the Star Wars soundtrack on my record player while I assumed the role of Red Five. Many times. I'm just saying.

Storm and I got a little misty-eyed when we watched a father teach his son how to play, and I noticed that both of them were having an incredibly fun time, for entirely different reasons. Storm said that the picture I took of them was like a geek's version of the Norman Rockwell painting where the dad is teaching his son to fish. I thought that was awesome.

But I think the best thing Storm said was in reply to an e-mail I sent him and Paul with a link to those pictures: "Ponce de Leon was completely wrong about the fountain of youth."

to mark the passage of three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days together

Happy Anniversary, Mrs. Wheaton

We went to Napa for our tenth anniversary. 

For the record: being married to your best friend rules.

Books I Love: A Voyage for Madmen

While all the books I've talked about this week played an important part in shaping 20 year-old me into grown-up me, I'm finishing with one that I read a few years later than all of them, called A Voyage for Madmen. It's just as important as all the others, but for a different reason that sets it apart from the rest. They all helped expand my world, but this book helped me figure out who I was, and what was important to me.

In 1968, nine men entered a contest to sail around the world, alone, without stopping. The contest was sponsored by The Sunday Times, and the rules were pretty simple: leave from London between June and October, sail around the three great capes, and don't put into port until you get back. The first man to return to London won a trophy, and the sailor with the fastest time won £5000.

On one level, the story is an incredible adventure about nine men who took on a task that must have seemed almost impossible. Remember, there were no GPS devices in 1968, and no satellite navigation of any kind. They had to rely on charts, barometers, limited radio, and their wits to survive. Only one of them actually completed the race.

The book was exciting, but it spoke to me on an entirely different level than just adventure. If you've read Just A Geek, you know of my struggles with Prove to Everyone, my struggles to support my family, and my struggles to just figure out what the hell I was going to do with my life. I heavily identified with the insurmountable odds the sailors in this story faced, but none more than this man called Donald Crowhurst, whose story was so tragic you couldn't make it up.

Donald Crowhurst had experienced some small success with an electronics business, but as he got older, it was harder and harder for him to remain successful, or even relevant. This resonated with me like you wouldn't believe when I was around 27 or 28. He entered the race, completely unprepared, because he hoped the publicity and cash prize would save his business. He didn't do it because it was meaningful to him. He didn't do it because it was something he couldn't live without. He didn't do it for the adventure, for the challenge, or for the love of the ocean. He did it because he felt like he had to do it, and that it was his last and only chance to have a life worth living. When it became clear that he couldn't do it, he sailed off course to the South Atlantic and started faking his position through radio reports. He eventually lost his mind, and committed suicide. He never saw his wife again. I was never suicidal, but I read Crowhurst's story as a cautionary tale that I could relate to very, very intimately. In fact, in 2002, I mentioned him when I wrote about what I thought was a career-ending decision to accept a forgettable infomercial gig in Just A Geek:

Accepting it would mean some security for me and my family. It was also a really cool computer-oriented product (which I'll get to later, don't worry). It's not like I would be hawking “The Ab-Master 5000” or “Miracle Stain Transmogrifier X!"

It would also mean, to me at least, the end of any chance I had of ever being a really major actor again. That elusive chance to do a film as good as, or better than, Stand By Me, or a TV series as widely-watched as TNG would finally fall away.

I thought of all these things, walking Ferris through my neighborhood.

It was a long walk.

I thought of Donald Crowhurst.

I thought about why actors – and by actors I mean working, struggling actors like myself, not Big Time Celebrities like I was 15 years ago – suffer the indignities of auditions and the whims of Hollywood.

I remembered something I said to a group of drama students just before their graduation, paraphrasing Patrick Stewart: “If you want to be a professional actor, you have to love the acting, the performing, the thrill of creating a character and giving it life. You have to love all of that more than you hate how unfair the industry is, more than the constant rejection – and it is constant – hurts. You must have a passion within you that makes it worthwhile to struggle for years while pretty boys and pretty girls take your parts away from you again and again and again."

I listened to my words, echoing off the linoleum floor of that high school auditorium and realized that those words, spoken long ago, were as much for me as they were for them.

I listened to my words and I realized: I don't have that passion any more. It simply isn't there.

I am no longer willing to miss a family vacation, or a birthday, or a recital, for an audition.

I am no longer willing to humiliate myself for some casting director who refuses to accept the fact that I'm pretty good with comedy.

I am no longer willing to ignore what I'm best at and what I love the most, because I've spent the bulk of my life trying to succeed at something else.

I walked back to my house, picked up the phone and accepted the offer.

It was tumultuous, scary, exhilarating, depressing, thrilling, joyful.

I would spend the next three weeks wondering if I'd made the right decision. I would question and doubt it over and over again.

Was it the right decision? I don't know.

Things have certainly changed for me, though. I have only had three auditions in the last three months. A year ago that would have killed me, but I'm really not bothered by it now.

I've made my family my top priority and decided to focus on what I love: downloading porn.

Just kidding.

I've decided to focus on what I really love, what is fulfilling, maybe even what I am meant to do, in the great cosmic sense: I am writing.

Since I wrote that, I've grown up even more, and realized that I could be an actor and a writer, but my resolve to put my family ahead of everything, instead of putting Make It As An Actor No Matter What ahead of everything remains. (And, as it turns out, I enjoy this writing thing, which is kind of nice.)

There's another man in the story, named Bernard Moitessier. He was a famous French sailor, who seemed poised to win the race, when he decided to just … keep on sailing. His was a spiritual and philosophical journey, driven by the love of the journey. It was inspiring and reassuring to me. Following his story, and reading his book The Long Way helped me remember that if we're entirely focused on the destination, we rarely enjoy the journey. It took me a few years, but once I was able to let go of my destination (Proving to Everyone That Quitting Star Trek Wasn't A Mistake) I was able to enjoy my journey: my wife, my kids, my writing, my family, my life. And you know what ended up happening? I didn't get lots of acting work, but I got the right kind of acting work. Whether it was VO or on-camera, it was stuff that was fun, that was challenging, and that was entirely worth my time.

Every book I've talked about this week changed my life, and though I didn't expect any of them would when I started reading them, none was more surprising than this one.

Now, I don't want anyone to get me wrong. You don't need to be in your mid-twenties, struggling like crazy to support your wife and kids while you watch your once-promising acting career continue to slip away to get something meaningful out of this book; it works very well as an adventure story about some truly unique men who did something most of us will never do. There are truly heroic feats in this tale, and it's an easy and thoroughly enjoyable read.

But if you've ever wanted to test your wits against the world, or if you've ever struggled against the tide, I think you'll be glad you took A Voyage for Madmen.

Books I Love: Hyperspace

When I was 19 or 20, I realized with some alarm that my knowledge and skill set was very specialized and very limited. I knew a lot about acting, filmmaking, and just about every other practical aspect of the entertainment industry, but I was beginning to feel like I didn't have anything to fall back on, if the acting thing didn't work out for me. I had always enjoyed reading and learning about things, so I started spending a lot of time in book stores and libraries, doing my very best to expand my world. Much of my reading stayed focused on the arts, though, as I read magnificent books like Goldman's Adventures in the Screentrade and countless collections from W.S. Burroughs and other beat-era writers.

As I entered my early twenties, I made a commitment to expand into something else, and I chose science. I had always loved science, and being on Star Trek made me science adjacent for all of my teens, but I quickly found out that most science books were way over my head, or written in a style that wasn't engaging enough to make it worth the effort. After a few frustrating months, someone (I think it was my brother) suggested that I read A Brief History of Time. I picked it up, read it in just a couple of days, and realized that my life could be divided into before I read it, and after I read it. On my next trip to the bookstore, I went straight to the science section, and looked for something – anything – to continue my education.

My eyes fell on a book with an interesting cover, and a provocative title: Hyperspace: A scientific odyssey through parallel universes, time warps, and the 10th dimension. It was written by a guy called Michio Kaku. I pulled it off the shelf, and after just a few pages, I was hooked.

There's a story in Hyperspace, right at the beginning, that I'm going to paraphrase. It's the story that grabbed my attention, captured my imagination, and fundamentally altered the way I thought about the nature of existence. I already had "before and after" with A Brief History of Time, and when I got to the end of this story, I had "before and after I read about the fish scientists." The story goes something like this:

In San Francisco, there's this botanical garden, and near the entrance there is a pond that's filled with koi fish. Dr. Kaku describes standing there, looking at the fish one day, and wondering what it would be like if the fish had a society as complex and advanced as our own, but the whole thing was confined to the pond, and they had no idea that there was a whole other world just beyond the surface of the water. In the fish world, there were fish scientists, and if a human were to pluck one of them from the pond, show it our world, and return it to the pond, it would go back to the other fish scientists and say, "Guys! You're never going to believe this. I was just doing my thing, and suddenly, this mysterious force pulled me from our world and showed me another, where the creatures don't need gills to breathe, and walk on two legs!"

The other scientists would look at it, and ask it how it got to this new world, but it wouldn't be able to explain it. They'd want the scientist to recreate it, but it wouldn't be able to. The fish scientist would know, however, that the other world was there, and that there was something just as complex as life in the pond on the other side of some mysterious barrier that they couldn't seem to penetrate.

I'm sure I've mangled the story, but that's essentially what I remember from it. I thought, "Well, shit, if there could be a world like that in the pond, maybe we are in something else's pond!" I didn't know if it was possible, I didn't know if it was just science fiction, but I didn't care. It was this incredible possibility, and my world opened up again. I felt like I'd been granted membership in a secret society. I devoured the book, and I began to think about the nature of existence in ways that I'd never even considered before. When I finally read Flatland a few years later, I was blown away that Abbot had written essentially the same story a hundred years earlier, in 1884, and I was thrilled that I could actually understand it.

I got a chance to interview Dr. Kaku one of the times I hosted The Screen Savers. I nervously told him how much his work meant to me, and he said that Star Trek was similarly important to him. That was pretty cool.

next time: a fantastic voyage

Books I Love: Open Net

This week, for Things I Love, I've picked out some books that were extremely influential to me in one way or another. Yesterday, I got my geek on. Today, I'm putting on the foil, coach.

I was never an athletic kid, as I've documented clearly (and painfully). When I was 16, though, I got it into my head that I really wanted to play hockey. I guess the chance of injury in baseball just wasn't great enough, or something.

I wasn't that big, so defense was out, I wasn't that strong, so offense was out. I was quick and flexible, though, so I decided to get some gear and learn how to be a goalie.

I know, I know. The thing is, over the years I've learned that some of us were just born to be goalies, and it's something that can't really be explained to people who haven't blocked a net in some sport. In fact, we can't even explain it to each other; it's just something we do because we can't not do it.

What makes this seemingly insane decision kind of noteworthy is that I was a scrawny geek who did all of this while living in Los Angeles, which isn't exactly known as a hockey town. Many of the rinks we played on were only half-jokingly compared to driveways with crushed ice thrown over them (Van Nuys, anyone?) or so small it was a real possibility that a goalie could score a goal for his team (North Hollywood, anyone?)

I loved hockey with a fever that no amount of cowbell could cure. The only thing I liked more than playing hockey was watching it, and when I couldn't watch it, I read about it. Because I had a subscription to The Hockey News. Which was delivered to my house in Los Angeles.

I wish I could remember exactly how I came upon the book Open Net, by George Plimpton. I think my dad may have given it to me, and even though I'm not sure, I'm going to imagine that it happened this way:

I was sitting in my bedroom, playing Dark Castle on my Mac while Morrissey sang songs about how nobody understood me.

There was a soft knock at the door, and then it opened.

"Do you have a minute?" My dad said.

"Hold on." I clicked my mouse furiously, throwing rocks at divebombing birds. I miscalculated and my little adventurer guy Duncan died. It was my fault, and I knew it was my fault, but I sighed heavily and acted like he'd messed me up. I dramatically pushed my hair out of my face and turned around. My dad held something behind his back.

"I found this book that I think you'll like. It was written by a journalist who would play professional sports and then write about them. He played baseball, football, golf, and …" he revealed the book. The cover showed a familiar-looking guy wearing a Boston Bruins jersey. "…he also played hockey with the Boston Bruins."

He handed the book to me. I realized that the guy on the cover was the same guy who was in all those Intellivision commercials and hosted Mousterpiece Theater, a show I wouldn't ever admit still loving to my peers.

"He played goalie, just like you," my dad said, "so I thought you would like it."

My carefully-crafted appearance of bored indifference cracked and fell apart. I spent a lot of time convincing myself that my parents didn't get me and didn't know anything about me, but with one gesture and six words, my dad turned that all upside down.

"Wow, that's really cool! Thanks, dad!" I forgot to be sullen, stood up and hugged him. It meant more to me than I could express that my dad had given me something like that, which he knew would really matter to me. I quit my game, opened the book, and read until it was time for dinner. After dinner, I read it until I had to learn lines for Star Trek, and then I took it with me to the set the next day. In fact, I took it with me everywhere, until I finished it the following week. I loved it so much, I read it again a few months later, and again about a year after that.

I loved how George Plimpton could transport me right between the pipes with him. I loved how he could turn a phrase, and how he always wrote like we were equals. I wondered if, some day, I'd be able to write about cool stuff that I'd done.

In a part of my mind that I didn't even know was there, a seed was planted and, very slowly, began to grow.

You know, now that I think about it … not that it matters, but most of that is true.

Also, I would be greatly remiss if I did not link to this wonderful song about George Plimpton by Jonathan Coulton.

Tomorrow: the tenth dimension

Books I Love: The Hacker Crackdown

Now that we've figured out which one is Pink, allow me to welcome you to the machine…

In the late 80s, I kind of knew a bunch of people who were involved in what we called The Computer Underground. They weren't my friends, and I couldn't even tell you what their handles were (well, I could, but I won't) but I learned a ton of stuff about technology and other mysterious subjects by dialing into BBSes and reading the textfiles they left behind.

By 1990, I was spending less and less time online, while I continued to struggle with my existential acting crisis. I read books about acting, and all of them left me cold. I read books about filmmaking, and I just didn't care about them.

Then, in 1992, I saw this book called The Hacker Crackdown on the front table at a book shop. I was intrigued, and I started reading. After standing at the table for a long time and getting deeper into the book than someone who is standing at a table near the front of a bookshop should reasonably get, I bought the damn thing. I finished it within a day, and before a week had elapsed I had read The Cuckoo's Egg and Cyberpunk, the only other books on the subject that I could get my hands on at the time.

On one level, The Hacker Crackdown is about how the US Department of Justice launched a nationwide operation to bring down a bunch of hackers in something called Operation Sundevil, but it's also about a subculture and its people who remain misunderstood to this day. Most importantly, introduced me to a world where information and intellect were incredibly valuable, and it inspired me to learn all that I could about the online world I'd eventually call my home. On the way from there to here, I met a lot of the people who are in the book, and formed some friendships that lasted for years.

Cory Doctorow said that The Hacker Crackdown changed his life and it "inspired me politically, artistically and socially." He's not the only one. I can draw a very short and very straight line between reading this book and learning how to navigate the World Wide Web, which is what we called the Internet before you damn kids today were born.

In 1994, Bruce Sterling released the book online, and in 2007, Cory Doctorow recorded the entire book as a series of podcasts. If you want to understand how we got here, I'd say The Hacker Crackdown is required reading.

next time: the prince of wales

Books I Love: A Saucerful of Secrets

I’m very busy working on a few different things, including the craziest idea yet, but it’s important to me to maintain momentum and keep posting in my blog, so it’s time for another series of Things I Love.

This week, I’m going to highlight some books that were important to me when I was becoming an adult in my late teens and early twenties. All of them will be instantly-recognizable to certain people, but I think it’s likely that they’ve flown beneath the radar for most of you, and are worth pointing out. All of them, though, were very influential on my young life, and played a significant part in shaping the person I am today.

First up is a wonderful biography of Pink Floyd.

A Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey starts in the late 1960s when the band was formed by Syd Barrett, and continues all the way through A Momentary Lapse of Reason. It chronicles the band’s rise, the tension among them, and their eventual breakup.

I read this when it was published in 1992, at a time when Pink Floyd – especially The Wall and The Final Cut – spoke to me on a visceral level. I still enjoyed performing, but I was struggling with my distaste for the film and television industry. I was lurching from one shitty forgettable movie to the next, and wondering just what happened to my once-promising acting career. I felt like everything I’d spent my whole life working on was falling apart, and I wasn’t even sure if it’s what I really wanted to do with my life in the first place.

When I read this book, and followed the entire history of this band that meant so much to me, including all their creative struggles, it was comforting and inspiring, and I think it may have played an unconscious role in my decision to leave Hollywood (literally and figuratively) and go work for NewTek on the Video Toaster 4000.

Even if you’re not having a Seldon Crisis about your life, it’s still a great book. While a lot of the information contained in it can be found online in various places, it’s well-organized and enjoyable to read it in this format, and the hardback edition I have comes with a bunch of great art, as well.

next time: the ghost in the machine

Podcasts I love: The Night Air

I hope you know more stuff today than you did yesterday, because today's podcast I love is going to grab your mind and take it on a journey through The Night Air.

This incredible podcast comes to us from Radio National in Australia, and they describe it as "an audio adventure in which ideas, sounds and music are remixed around a new theme each week." They also call it "a listening experience" which would seem super pretentious to me if I didn't already listen to it and agree fully with that description. The best way I can think to describe it is "the lovechild of Joe Frank and This American Life, babysat by William S. Burroughs."

I discovered The Night Air pretty much by accident, just grabbing things that looked interesting from the Podcast directory in iTunes…

Imagine that it's July 2005, and you're sipping on an Anchor Steam next to the pool at the Mirage in Las Vegas. You've just busted out of your first World Series of Poker, but you're staying in town for a few days to play in another event. This is what you see when you look around:

Half of the pool area is populated by beautiful twenty-something girls in tiny bikinis that make me wonder why they bothered to put anything on in the first place. The other half is populated with middle-aged men and their unfortunate wives who may as well be wearing housecoats. Throw in a few frat guys unsuccessfully trying to put the moves on the aforementioned beauties, and it makes for great people watching.

You remember that you have this new Podcast on your iPod, so you lay back on a lounge chair, and listen to Islands. For the next 40 minutes or so, Las Vegas vanishes as you go on a journey: "Whether caught in the crosshairs of an exact latitude and longitude or existing somewhere in a faraway place of the mind, islands seem always on the horizon of fantasy. Tonight we venture to and fro' seeking, as Captain Cook once said 'a convenient situation' where we might trade commodities and replenish our stocks for journeys new. Way off the coast of Prosaic we fetch up on the shores of Speculation Island."

I was utterly and completely captivated. I didn't even realize that my beer had gotten warm, so after quickly correcting that egregious error, I played another episode, Holes: "Is there such a thing as a bottomless hole? Do they go on forever? Do some holes have a will of their own, durable, transient, and just waiting to stave you in? This Night Air is full of holes: architecture, the body and reminiscence. We fathom a suite of works about emotional absence and gutted structures; and finally see what's at the centre of a donut."

Each show combined interviews with music and soundscapes to create something unique and remarkable. I was hooked, and I've made countless commutes endurable by leaving my body on the train and letting my mind go wherever The Night Air takes me.

Unlike all the other podcasts I've featured this week, The Night Air truly must be experienced to be appreciated. I could tell you about it until I used up all my English, and it would still be inadequate. The audio archive doesn't go as deep as it once did, so you can't listen to Islands or Holes right now, but I wil direct you to a recent episode called Once Upon A Time. "Are you ready? Then I'll begin: Once upon a time there were fairytales, stories, fables and myths … distorted and passed down from generation to generation—some you remember and some you think you remember. This show re-tells many of them—as well as the art of telling the stories themselves—which lived on, and on, and on, sometimes happily, sometimes not but, of course, always ever after."

I hope that week's brief guide to some podcasts that I love has been informative and useful to you. I enjoyed writing these entries, so I made a new category here called Things I Love, which I plan to use for sharing…wait for it…things that I love, like board and video games, movies, beers, blogs, and other, um, things that I love in the weeks and months to come. If enough people are into it, I may even do a week of reader requests.

Until next time, here's a podcasts I love roundup:

Pseudopod

60-Second Science

Driveway Moments

Stuff You Should Know

The Night Air

Podcasts I love: Stuff You Should Know

So did you spend some time in your driveway listening to yesterday's suggestion? Well, maybe not your actual driveway, but that metaphorical driveway that's next to the little birdhouse in your soul? Oh, good. I knew you would.

Kids, learning isn't just fun, it's awesome. There is a huge world out there and it is just filled with all kinds of interesting and astonishing information. It's also filled with Stuff You Should Know, which is an appropriately-named podcast from the guys at How Stuff Works.

This podcast usually runs between 15 and 25 minutes, and covers diverse topics like How Moonshine Works, How Cannibalism Works, and How Abandoned Cities Work. Our two hosts, Chuck and Josh, are staff writers for How Stuff Works, and the podcast is worth listening to for their amusing interaction as much as it is the fascinating "wow, I did not know that" information they dispense.

Earlier this week, they did a show called Why Do Some People Believe The Moon Landing Was A Hoax? which is a great example of why I love this podcast. It'd be really easy to say, "because some people are so fucking stupid they believe every conspiracy theory, no matter how outrageous and disproved by science. Thank you for listening. The end." but they actually dig much deeper, and truly examine the question in an entertaining and informative way.

I've told iTunes to keep and sync all unheard episodes of just a few podcasts, because I love them so much I don't want to miss a single one. Stuff You Should Know is one of them, and listening to it has made several commutes and short-haul business flights more enjoyable than I ever thought possible.

Next time: it comes from a land down under

Podcasts I love: Driveway Moments

Is your brain embiggened from last time when we talked about 60-Second Science? Good, good. Glad to hear it. Take good care of your brain, and it'll take good care of you.

Today, we're turning to one of my favorite old media broadcasters, who have done an outstanding job embracing new media: National Public Radio. NPR offers a huge selection of podcasts, including powerhouses like This American Life[1] and Fresh Air,[2] but since everyone in the universe know about those, today I will share something that never fails to entertain, inform, or inspire me, and is rarely longer than 5 or 6 minutes: NPR's Driveway Moments.

This ingeniously-named podcast is chosen by listeners from NPR stories that are so compelling, they stay in the driveway when they get home and listen to them until they're over.

Some of them are inspiring. Some of them are funny. Some of them are so sad it's hard to listen to them. All of them are incredibly awesome, and make me grateful that NPR embraced podcasting as long ago as they did.

Way back in podcasting's early days, I gushed about the technology and its implications to a good friend of mine who has enjoyed a very long and very successful career in radio. He was unmoved, and figured that, like blogging, "a thousand flowers will bloom, and we'll be left with 999 weeds." He has since changed his tune.

At the time, I thought he was missing the point, but he was correct in a certain sense: radio isn't easy, and not everyone can find success as a broadcaster or producer. I don't know how many podcasts from the early days are still around, and if any of podcasting's early breakout stars are now laughing at us from their private yachts, but the point is, they were there at the beginning, and they helped prove to the world that this on-demand style of radio was viable. Without those pioneers, I don't think the list I'm doing this week would exist. The next time you listen to one of your favorite podcasts, honestly ask yourself: would I make this appointment listening? All the podcasts I'm talking about this week — and they represent just a small percentage of all the ones I listen to — are wonderful, but I wouldn't be able to stop everything I'm doing to listen to them if they weren't available when it was convenient to me. This, I believe, is the future of radio, and even television.

Next time: …i did not know that.

[1] Did you know that I'm a writer because of This American Life? It's true, and is a story I should tell one day. Perhaps on a podcast of my own.

[2] Just in case anyone from either one of these shows sees this: I dream of one day earning the chance to be on your program.