Issue #6 April 2005

An interview with
Wil Wheaton

Wil Wheaton—actor, geek, open source advocate—will deliver a Visionary Keynote at the Red Hat Summit. His talk is scheduled for Wednesday, June 2 at 9:50AM. He will be speaking about igrep, a search tool aimed at developers, as well as his experiences as a popular celebrity blogger with a hand-coded website running on Linux. In light of his impending visit, Red Hat Magazine had some questions that Wil was polite enough to answer. In email, of course.

Tell us about your first experience with Linux.

The first time I used Linux was around 1995 or 1996, and I hated it. It was nearly impossible to get the modem to work, I couldn't print anything, and when I finally did get the damn thing running, the fonts in X were so ugly I couldn't reboot back into Windows fast enough. I completely believed (and still believe) in the philosophy behind free (as in speech) software, though, and I hoped that someday I'd be technically adept enough to switch. A few years later, Linux had matured tremendously, and my skills had improved just enough for me to feel comfortable taking the plunge. It was surprisingly easy, and after about a week of running Linux, I couldn't believe that I'd ever willingly chosen to run Windows. I did my first complete switch with Mandrake and I've never looked back. I'm composing this response in Kate, on my primary machine, which is running kernel 2.6.8.

Are you a Red Hat user?

Not currently. I run Debian now.

How many hits does your blog get?

I try not to pay too much attention to traffic, because if I do, I start writing to meet other people's expectations, rather than because it's fun or somehow meaningful to me. I guess it's useful for advertisers to know traffic, but I try to stay away from the popularity-contest aspect of the whole thing. But that's probably not the kind of answer you're looking for, so I just checked my logs, and it looks like I average about a million unique visitors a month (I think visits are a far more accurate way of measuring actual people than hits.) And it looks like I'm number 14 on Technorati right now. Holy Crap.

How many did it get back in the day?

I can answer this, because I paid way too much attention to traffic when I started my site. In the early weeks, a few hundred people read it regularly. Once I did interviews with Slashdot, Salon, and some other sites, traffic exploded into the thousands. It goes up and down as people gain and lose interest in whatever's on my mind.

And why the huge difference between the two? :)

Probably because more people know about it now? I don't know . . . I'm just lucky that people like to read the stuff I like to write.

What is igrep, and why are you pimping it?

igrep is a focused, targeted search engine aimed at developers. Because it only searches resources that are specifically relevant to developers, it saves them time and effort when they're working on their various projects. Time developers don't have to spend digging through piles of irrelevant search results is time they can spend goofing off. And isn't that the whole reason we started using computers in the first place?

I'm using igrep on WWdN right now as a proof of concept, to showcase how powerful the igrep technology is. I think that igrep could eventually branch out into a whole new type of searching: rather than going to google (which is still a great tool, by the way) and trying to include and exclude terms and results to find what you're looking for, you could use an igrep search to do that work for you. I don't think we're going to completely replace search engines like Google or Yahoo, but this could be the beginning of vertical niche searching for all sorts of things, like blogs, online comics, sites related to Star Wars, or anything else that could be considered a niche.

You describe yourself as a geek. Why? What is it to be a geek?

I'm interested in things that are outside of the mainstream of popular culture. I enjoy things that stimulate and educate me, and I like digging through crap to see how and why it works. I'm also really bad at dodgeball.

Did you really work in a Waffle House? In the name of all that is good and holy, why?

Heh. No, I made all that stuff up. I figured it was so outrageous, nobody would ever believe it . . . but it turns out I was extra-wrong about that.

Is there any kind of memorial fund for Felix the Bear?

No. But I do have a cool little memorial to him in my house, with his dish and his cup. And his picture is my desktop wallpaper.

Did your experience as a hobo have any impact on your performance in the recent episode of CSI where you played a homeless person?

Oh . . . uh . . . well . . . I actually made that up, too. I wasn't really a hobo.