No Ordinary Geek
Actor, StarTrek: The Next Generation
Actor, Stand By Me
Author, Just a Geek
Well, astronomers have always persisted in finding out the fate of stars. Do they end with a big bang? Is there an afterglow or do they become a black hole or brown dwarf? Today, we’ll be talking about a star of a different kind: the Hollywoood star. Joining us is Mr. Wil Wheaton, famously known for his role in Star Trek: The Next Generation as well as in movies including Stand By Me. Unlike many actors who continue to pursue full-time careers in Hollywood, Wil has chosen to pursue different interests these days. He is a blogger at www.wilwheaton.net, he is married with two kids, and he has also written a very fascinating book recently Just a Geek.
Frank Ling (FL) talks to Wil Wheaton (WW).
FL: Mr. Wheaton, thanks for joining us today.
WW: Hi, thanks for having me.
FL: So first, could you tell us about your book Just A Geek.
WW: Just a Geek started out as an offline version of my website. I was going to a Star Trek convention and I thought maybe this is a good way to promote the website and get a few people to come to read it. I’ll collect my blog entries and I’ll photocopy it at Kinko’s and I’ll put it for people to see.
FL: So tells us a little bit about your website. When did it get started and what kind of stories to you talk about there?
WW: I started my website in 2000. I originally started it because I had always wanted to have a presence online. I always wanted an ability to speak for myself and to represent myself to the audience but I never had the time to sit down and teach myself HTML or any of the standards commonly used in web development. I finally decided one day to just do it. And I started out with this really crappy page at Yahoo Geocities that I put together using the little pagebuilder interface and spent about 6 weeks locked down with learning HTML and PHP and that sort of thing. And 6 weeks later produced Wil Wheaton’s weblog as just a small part of the website. It actually used to be back several pages off the frontpage. I was writing about auditions and I was writing about things I had experienced as an actor and I was writing some things about my family and some things that were going on. You know, the typical things that people blog about. One of my friends said, “You know, your blog is really cool and interesting and different. There is really not a lot of people who have your experiences who blog about it. You should move your blog to the front page.” And I said, “You know what? I’ll try it and if people hate it, I’ll putting it back into the middle of the site and if they like it, I’m keeping it at the front of the site.” It’s been four years and it’s still at the front of the site. So far, so good.
FL: Great. So what kind of responses have you gotten? Do you get a chance to read all of your email and messages?
WW: Oh yeah, I read all my emails, I read all of the comments. Depending on what is going on in my life, I write comments back to people. I try real hard to answer a lot of email, but I get so much that it would be a full-time job to sit down and respond to all of it. I really enjoy interacting with people. I think a lot of people come to the website with some kind of preconception, one way or another. Some people are expecting to see some kind of loser actor and other people are expecting to see this guy they heard about online and whatever and people sort of get out of the website, what they are willing to put into it. And for people who have been around for a really long time, we’ve had some really terrific discussions about a lot of different things. I have been introduced to some tremendous weblogs as a result of my own weblog and I really enjoy it I. I believe very strongly that blogging as a medium is just getting started and you know, you can see what’s happening where the mainstream media ignored bloggers for a long time and then when blogging began to have an impact on traditional media, they started to put us down and now they are trying to bring us in to be a part of their club. I think there is something more to happen with blogging. Just go read Doc Searls’ site to find out all about that.
FL: Well I’m really happy to hear your blog is going very well. Are there any other actors who have blogs currently?
WW: I don’t know. I know a lot of people who act and who write, their student or like me, trying to be a working actor. I haven’t really come across any other celebrity blogs that have held my interest for any great deal of time. The only exception is Jeff Bridges’. He writes these journal entries longhand and then someone scans the journal entries and puts them up on his website. I think that is a really cool, really interesting and unique thing online.
FL: So, I understand you are a self-professed geek. What’s your current technological obsession?
WW: I’m building a network in my house. I primarily use Linux and I have a Mac with OS X on it, so I use a lot of the BSD tools in there, but I’m trying really hard to get a computer set up to be used as a fileserver and as a proxy server so that I can keep an eye on what my kids are doing, you know, online without having to stand over their shoulders all the time. And I also hope to someday actually build myself a computer from parts and then kind of roll my own Linux system on it. That’s the long-term goal because that is such a hobbyist thing. I don’t really have the time to do that sort of thing right now.
WW: Yes, well obviously I write my blog all the time. I try to write everyday but I sometimes I’m just not able to because I actually have some writing jobs that I get paid for. I’m a writer for O’Reilly Media. They published Just a Geek, they published my first book Dancing Barefoot, they are talking to me about publishing a book based on web design. You know, it would be about personal website design. When I was learning how to write my website and putting it all together, there were great books on how to use html, you know this is what an anchor tag does and this is how you build a page using tables to direct the flow of content. But it didn’t really say practically alright, so now that you know how to do it, here are some suggestions for putting it into practice. Here are some ideas to tie these things together to give you a cookbook for website. That’s what I’m going to write for O’Reilly and it’s going to be out next year. I’m also a real hardcore poker player and since poker is very popular right now, there is a lot of interest in some fiction that is based on that. They are even re-releasing Rounders now with a Johnny Chan commentary.
FL: Any particular type of poker?
WW: I’ve loved Texas Holdem most of my life. I also really, really like 5 card draw with a bug and straight 7 card stud. I really dislike the crazy dealer-calls-it kind of games, I’m not really happy about that. But I’m working on a work of mostly fiction, it’s sort of based on my exploits as a poker player.
FL: So let’s talk about science and technology. I understand you read up on this quite regularly. What are you excited about that is going on in science these days?
WW: I saw a picture on the internet this morning that someone may have finally snapped a photo of the first extrasolar planet and they think it is a gas giant, I forget the star it is orbiting, but anything that draws people’s attention – humanities’ collective attention – to the possibility that there is something greater than just this planet, anything that takes people’s attention away from political divisions and places their focus on a planetary scale I think is very good for humanity. To that end, I’m very excited about a lot of the spaced programs that are happening right now. I’m so devastated that Genesis crashed into the Utah desert and I hope that the same thing does not happen with the Star Dust program when it returns.
FL: Well, speaking of space and humanity, did you get a chance to meet Gene Roddenbery?
WW: Since I worked on his TV show to five years, we were really close friends right up until he died. He was really a fantastic guy. Gene was a secular humanist and Gene really chose to absolute best in humanity and he used science fiction like the great science fiction masters have throughout time to reflect the anxieties and hopes of the time in which it was written. In the sixties, he really used StarTrek to explore issues like racism and the Vietnam war and things that were very important that could not be addressed. They were untouchable topics if you tried to attack them straight on. So, he created aliens and civil wars on other planets to represent all of these things. When we finally did Next Generation, he tackled a lot of issues that existed in the eighties and nineties. You know, we did stories about AIDS. We did stories about our place in the universe and those sorts of things. He was really a remarkable man and it was really wonderful to be a part of his legacy. I still think to this day, humanity has not figured out just what Gene was trying to bring to everybody from StarTrek. Eventually, we will get there. Right now, we are still learning how to bang the rocks together.
FL: Talking about science here, what do you think about science education in America? What do we need to get people excited about the world around us more.
WW: I think education in America has suffered tremendously in the last few years. If you look back into the history of the last 100 years, our country in the 1950s, any kid who showed remote interest in science or math was really nurtured and helped through school and those needs were really fed. Because of that, we got a phenomenal space program, incredible advances in technology, and we created a generation of people, well you know, they built the internet. And that seems to have been lost. I think as a nation, we should stop underfunding education and we have to stop this stupid rhetoric where we say we are not going to leave any kids behind, but really we just make the testing standards so high that poor schools don’t have a chance to educate their kids. Until we can get this umbrella that sits over education reopened and reestablished, I think it’s going to be really hard to focus on a macroscale in increasing science and even in the arts.
FL: I’m just curious. Are you involved politically in anyway?
WW: A little bit. As a citizen, I do everything that I can to educate and enlighten people about a lot of the issues that face us. I got clear ideas about what I want to see in the upcoming elections and that sort of thing, but I don’t actively participate in any of the presidential campaigns. Few years ago, when they were trying to pass the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, I was so offended by that, I felt that it was such a gross violation of civil rights, that I went and volunteered for the campaign against that and I worked the phones and watched the princincts as much as I could. That’s really hard to do. A lot of slamming the doors in the face and you really have to believe very strongly in whatever it is you are talking about to successfully do that.
FL: Alright, just a couple of last questions, I understand you are also a gamer on the computer. What is your current game these days?
WW: I’ve been playing Manhunt from Rockstar on my Playstation 2. I have friend who works at Rockstar and he said, “Have you played manhunt yet?” and I said, “You know, god no.” I’ve been playing that a lot for the last couple weeks. It’s funny because it’s so violent, so gruesome, and so horrible, and it’s kind of weird but a sort of dark part of my personality that doesn’t get expressed anywhere else. On my computer, I play nethack all the time. I’ve been playing that for years and I have yet to ascend a character. I also do a lot of tabletop gaming. I play a lot of dungeons and dragons. I actually write a column for dungeon magazine all about gaming and I talk about D20 games and games like Illuminati and Ogre and Munchkin and those new games sucking vacuum. Anything that is sort of nerdy and cerebral is a really good time for me.
FL: Are there any TV shows you are keeping up with or any movies that you are looking forward to?
WW: You know, I really enjoy that show Las Vegas. I think that’s a lot of fun to watch. I watch the World Poker Tour and anything like that, pretty much anything related to poker on television I’ll watch and really devour that as much as I can. There haven’t been many movies recently that have really excited me. It takes a lot for me to get into the movie theaters. People are so badly behaved in the movie theaters with the talking on cell phones and children in R-rated movies and that sort of thing and it just annoys me to go to the movies so I wait for most things to come out on DVD. Right now, the thing that I’m most excited about is the director’s cut of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.
FL: Well, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you today. Are there any last words you’d like to give our audience today?
WW: Thanks for listening and come over to wilwheaton.net and stick around.
FL: Thanks for joining us today.
WW: Yeah, sure.
Grokotron 5000: Beam ’em Up or Beam ’em Down
Charles Lee joins (CL) joins Wil Wheaton on the Grokotron 5000.
CL: Well, Mr. Wil Wheaton has graciously decided to stick around and play our game the Grokotron 5000. Mr. Wheaton is of course the author of Just a Geek. Thank you for sticking around and playing our game.
WW: Well, I hope I win.
CL: Well, we don’t have prizes….
FL: I thought we all win.
CL: Yeah, everyone wins.
WW: That is the best kind of winning.
CL: Well, the Grokotron 5000 is the computer formerly known as Deep Blue and today the Grokotron 5000 has chosen the topic Beam them Up or Beam them Down. So for the following five people, if you were faced with a choice of either beaming them up or beaming them down…
WW: Am I beaming them down to the happy planet of guinness and never ending baseball games or am I beaming them down to a planet of slow melting death?
CL: This is for you to decide, so here we go. Person number 1, beam them up or beam them down, the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.
WW: I would like to beam him away as far as possible. I would like to beam him straight into a therapist’s office where he can be shut off from the public eye and the publicity machine and repair whatever is so unbelievably messed up in his life. I would also like to take all of the journalists that seems to feel that whatever is happening in Michael Jackson’s life is more important than anything else in the world and I’d like to beam them down into the planet of slow melting death.
CL: Well, I’m not sure if that will stop them. Number 2, the World Series of Poker champion from last year, Chris Moneymaker.
WW: I would like to beam Moneymaker up and hold him up as a great example for everyone because as a lot of people know, Moneymaker won his seat at the World Series Poker in a $40 tournament. What that done for the poker world is send out a message that anyone can win and anyone who comes to the poker table with the anyone can win attitude is gonna give me a lot of their money and i really like that, so I would like to beam Chris Moneymaker right up and I’ll buy him a snack/cake.
CL: Number 3, President of the United States, George W. Bush.
WW: I would like to beam him straight down the memory hole. Maybe not, because if he actually went down the memory hole, no one would learn from the way he has governed in the last 4 years. So I would actually like to beam him into a textbook on how not to be president.
CL: Number 4, beam them up or beam them down, Microsoft Big Cheese Bill Gates.
WW: It’s such a tough call. On the one hand, Bill Gates is sort of the Alpha Geek and for all of us who were picked on and treated badly and felt the sting of a dodgeball to the face throughout elementary school, it’s nice when a geek rises to the top, but he’s been just such a dick since he got there. Microsoft, the fear and uncertainty and doubt and anti-competitive business practices and funding of the stupid SCO lawsuit, I’d like to beam him down to the same room that I beamed Michael Jackson down to.
CL: And finally number 5, the transformed man himself William Shatner.
WW: You know what I’d like to do. I’d like to just beam his toupee away and let’s see if he is such a jerk to the entire world then.
CL: Well, we will have to see if it does any good. Mr. Wheaton, thank you very much for sticking around to play our game the Grokotron 5000 and of course talking about your book Just a Geek.
WW: I had a really good time. Thanks for having me.