Erik Naggum (1965-2009) RIP

2009-06-20

Today, I learned that Erik Naggum had been found dead.

I have been a regular on a local IRC channel with Erik for years, and it was only last night we started obsessing about his absence, which was getting to be longer than usual. He was liable to disappear for short periods, but since we knew his medical condition was rather bad (he had recently been hospitalized as well), a call was placed to his closest family, as well as the authorities. Interesting quirk: If you call the police to report a concern like this, get someone who lives far away to make the call. Their take is that if you can’t be bothered to drive over yourself, it can’t be that important. However, I digress, since this likely would have made no difference in this case. This morning, he was found dead in his apartment.

I don’t know the exact cause of death, but it is not unlikely to be a complication related to his long-time tormentor ulcerative colitis (UC), which is definitely something you don’t want to be diagnosed with.

I didn’t count myself among Erik’s closest friends, and I hadn’t actually seen him in person for years. However, every time I did meet him, he struck me as very friendly and sociable, maybe surprisingly so if you only knew him from his infamous usenet posts. His virtual persona on our channel was sort of a mix: Sometimes confrontational, most of the time sociable and pleasant, but always interesting. His puns were lethal, even in an intensely competitive punning environment such as ours.

And come confrontation time, what biblical proportions of hell he could raise. He is the only person I could imagine deploying IRC protocol weaknesses to hold the entire channel hostage over a disagreement on character sets. I’m not kidding, either. Obsessive and intense at times, yes, but somehow never remotely irrational, and always interesting, challenging and educational, if you only had the time to sit yourself down and follow him through line after line (IRC is a line-oriented medium) of intricately woven reasoning. Which I didn’t always have, unfortunately. Following Erik was naturally time-consuming, I think, because the reality he talked about, as he understood it, was very complex and deep.

Of course, I also regret not having met him more often in person. But, again, his condition did not help here.

He did talk about code he was working on, relating to relational algebra, relational databases (my last Erik firestorm came down on me when I made a jibe at overuse of rdbms’es for business logic – oh boy!) and sequel-like queries for system management. I think it’s safe to say some effort will be made to salvage whatever legacy rests here.

He will be sorely missed by all of us, and some undefinable quality of (virtual) life on our channel will probably never return. In a rather macabre twist, his client is still active on the channel at the time of writing, and will probably time out soon. This is some new form of death that our generation, inventors of virtual life, have brought with us like a nasty side-effect, brewing up trouble in some left-behind code. As they warned us in a certain tv show that we both loved: magic always has consequences. Dealing with them comes soon enough.

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11 Responses to “Erik Naggum (1965-2009) RIP”

  1. hsuh Says:

    I’d love to read the logs for that channel. I’ve been searching for new stuff from Erik forever, but could never find anything and always end up reading the same thing on comp.lang.lisp…

    • Kjetil V. Says:

      Well, you would have to know Norwegian, and be willing to sift through a huge amount of bad jokes, work frustrations, getting-to-work frustrations, parenting tips, generally inane chit-chat, arguments about where to go for beers.. but you make a good point: We were very lucky to have him around.

  2. Elf Says:

    A very well written tribute, showing more of the other side of Erik than what I managed to convey.

  3. Bjørn Borud Says:

    Well written, Kjetil.

    I stared at an empty blog-posting page for a long time earlier today, feeling that I should say something about the past couple of decades, but I wasn’t able to come up with anything. I don’t do epitaphs.

    Summarizing Erik in a few paragraphs isn’t really possible. Those of us who talked to him on a daily basis probably got to see sides of him that most of the world was unaware of.

    I wish there had been more opportunities to meet him in person over the last years, but as you pointed out, his illness made that difficult.

    It is going to take some time to digest the fact that he is gone. An important part of our little group of grumpy old net inhabitants has been lost.


  4. I’ve never had a chance to correspond with him directly though I wrote him emails two times but he never responded. Being a fan of his posts in cll I’ve always hoped that he’ll drop by some day but somehow it never happened.
    Good writing Kjetil Erik will be missed.

  5. Amanda Says:

    A shame that he’s burning in hell as we speak.

  6. Ruben Says:

    I can only concur with the thoughts of Kjetil, Elf and Bjørn.

    Erik was one of the best, and he will be missed.


  7. [...] If anyone could flame from beyond the grave, it is he. Erik Naggum was a young programmer and Usenet philosopher who exemplified the new breed of smug Lisp weenie. His hatred for Perl, C++ and XML fueled his Olympian rants. He was cruel, but smart; he was articulate, but he used arguments ad hominem; he left a trail of scorched earth, but he had devoted friends. I didn’t know him, but I enjoyed his expression of free thought. He died young after years of torment; R.I.P. Thanks, Google Groups. [...]

  8. Vulkan Says:

    Now what the heck, Erik? What’s this supposed to mean – just throwing in the towel like that? You were supposed to recover, live on, inspire and contribute for years and years to come, like you always did! Alas, it is not to be. May you rest in peace forever!

    The sad news was brought to me by a colleague at work this morning. It was almost unreal; I could hardly believe it. Although I did not know Erik personally, we did exchange a number of emails on a few occasions. I found his writings captivating, his insights and musings interesting. A creative and thought-provoking mind has passed away.

    Your sharp-witted temper and your inspiring ideas will long be remembered and missed by many for sure, Erik!

  9. Jan Kjetil Andersen Says:

    I met Erik for the first time at the University of Oslo in 1987. we were both studying Informatics and we were both engaged in the student organization IAESTE. what we did together was to contact Norwegian companies that were interesting in employing students in the summer vacation. these summer jobs could then be exchanged with summer jobs in foreign countries through the IAESTE system. in that way the students got the chance to work in foreign countries in the summer leave.

    Erik made a very good contribution to IAESTE by getting student jobs to the system and taking care of, and socializing with, the foreign students who came to Norway.

    I learnt to know him again when I saw what he wrote on the Usenet. At his best he was a genius. he expressed original thoughts with brilliant language and rhetoric. at his worst, he used flaming inanely. but that was his personality and we loved to read his articles and we already miss him. rest in peace Erik.

  10. Kent Pitman Says:

    Today I posted an essay he had written me in email about Atlas Shrugged. It was something I didn’t want to get lost.

    http://open.salon.com/blog/kent_pitman/2010/01/08/erik_naggum_on_atlas_shrugged


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