Erik Naggum (1965-2009) RIP
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.