Hacker Art


To Regnier


Resources‎ > ‎

Erik Naggum (1965 - 2009)

Go gently, Erik, into the light,
Go free from pain's embrace;
Your flame burns, here, forever bright,
Your posts having made the case.

Go Lisping, Erik, closing paren only on Earth,
Death's shadow dwindles in your wake;
Go victorious, angels beckon "Come" with mirth,
Your legacy, soft, compiled we all make.

"But Erik, why did you leave so soon"? [*]

I began posting to comp.lang.lisp in March 2007, long after Erik had withdrawn his participation in that forum. Especially while working on NAILS, I relentlessly googled for answers to questions on artificial intelligence and Lisp, often stumbling on posts by an "Erik Naggum" that seemed more like discourses, fusing elements of searing philosophy and penetrating insight with a mastery of Lisp and other things technical, in a style that was at once fiery and combative, yet tranquil in its reflections.

Curious as to who this now absent poster was, I googled, finding http://naggum.no/, but my searches for the nature of the illness he alluded to on his home page, were futile. Unable to quell my curiosity, I eventually consulted one of my hacker contacts; my email of 13 May 2008, read:

BTW, who is this Erik Naggum fella? He seems to be quite a formidable Lisp gladiator. Is he ill?

My contact replied, including references to wikiquote.org and Zach Bean's pages:

Struck by the energy with which Erik delivered his expositions, I decided to email a greeting expressing the wish that he get well soon. Burdened, however, by the demands of my Law Project and the concomitant need to publicly demonstrate my abilities in computer programming, I kept postponing the intended greeting, thinking that perhaps it would be better informed if I first discovered what ailed him (I was, perhaps, also apprehensive of his reaction, wondering whether I might be torched, given my own public adversarial exchanges with Lispers he obviously knew). Unfortunately, despite my web searches I found no clues as to the nature of Erik's illness until Monday 22 June 2009, when his passing was announced in the cll thread rip erik naggum.

Erik had apparently suffered pain that was bimodal - the enduring pyschosocial pain of being too far ahead, conflated with the physical realities of ulcerative colitis. In a flash, I felt that I understood what empyrean forces drove those marathon exegeses disguised as Usenet postings that, at their heart, probed the interminable question "Why are we here?".

His observation of:

... fools ... who skip necessary steps on purpose, or just plain don't care whether they do or not. [1]

being antithetical to his own search for the meaning of life:

The purpose of human existence is to learn and to understand as much as we can of what came before us, so we can further the sum total of human knowledge in our life. [2]

explains, not arrogance, but impatience born of pain, and a recognition of the limited mortal time frame exemplifying the human need to ascribe purpose to existence.

Erik, perhaps, suspected the magnitude of his finiteness on Earth, and heard the clock-ticking nemesis - well beyond his control. This was a man for whom the quest for quality of life was elusive as, relativistically speaking, he was going faster than the very world in which he evolved. His coda, a muted crescendo subtly acknowledging his own celebrity, invites a tribute cognitive of freedom:

I am in awe of an intellectual society built on the foundation of enticing thinkers and future geniuses to share their gift with an open, honest public who then recognizes them for it properly ... [3]

On learning of his passing, I was immediately overcome with regret that I had delayed my email greeting for too long. My thoughts were immediately taken captive, infused with the poem above. Erik's own poems are those objects of beauty that are the programs he authored:

Programming is a form of art. Not only is elegance and beauty possible in programming computers, these are at the core of a good programmer's value system. [4]

... and it's the art in what we do that  makes us human.


Erik  began his journey into the light on 17 June 2009. The following are links to tributes from his friends, fellow Lispers, and other denizens of cyberspace:

*. Paraphrased from Erik's tribute to Yuri Rabinsky.
1. 'The Foolish and the Intelligent', Erik Naggum's Ideas and Principles (1996-02-06).
2. 'Knowlegde and Information',
Erik Naggum's Ideas and Principles (1996-02-06).
3. 'Erik Naggum - a brief presentation' (2009-04-19)
4. 'Programming',
Erik Naggum's Ideas and Principles (1996-02-06)
5. Message from the thread read the fine manual please, posted to comp.emacs (1997-11-14)