Category Archives: Things I Love

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:


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