Friday, June 26, 2009

My Dinner with Erik

This post is about a man named Erik Naggum, who died in Oslo, Norway on June 20, 2009, apparently after a long bout with chronic illness. I say "apparently" because I didn't know Erik very well, and the official accounts of his death have been light on details (which is fine -- it's not really anyone else's business).

The reason I'm writing this is because despite the fact that I didn't know him very well, we had a very close, um, association over the years (it will become clear presently why I had to struggle a bit to find the right word to use). My name, for better or worse, has become inextricably linked with his in certain circles, and so I thought it would be appropriate for me to write something on the occasion of his passing. Death often provides an occasion for reflection.

I would like to start by setting the record straight about a couple of things. Erik and I were often very publicly at loggerheads and a lot of people believe that I had a personal dislike for the man. I didn't. I met him on only one occasion -- a story which I've never told, but which I will tell here shortly -- and we got along reasonably well, to the shock of many witnesses. To be sure we had deep and profound disagreements, but beyond those disagreements I knew (and to this day know) very little about him. I have no reason to believe that he was anything other than an honorable, hard-working man, but beyond that he was always a cipher to me. I mourn his passing because now that can never change.

My relationship with Erik is unique in that, with only a few exceptions, every interaction we ever had took place on a Usenet newsgroup called comp.lang.lisp. As a result, our relationship is chronicled in unusual detail, thanks to the eternal memory of the World Wide Web in general, and Google Groups in particular. Unfortunately, when I went to consult the record to prepare this piece I found to my dismay that Google Groups seems to be coming down with Alzheimer's. I would occasionally go there for a trip down memory lane, so I know it was working fine up until a few months ago. But last week, when I learned of Erik's death, I went to search for some of his old postings and found that Google's index of several Usenet groups has apparently been corrupted. The original raw data is all still there as far as I can tell, but the index that lets you search it has big gaping holes in it. As a result, I had to do the research for this piece manually, which is why it has taken me so long to finish this, and why I may well be leaving out some pertinent details. If you think I've missed something important, you're probably right.

To set the stage for people who may be reading this who aren't already familiar with the background, I have to tell you a little bit about comp.lang.lisp, or CLL as it is known amongst its adherents. CLL is a Usenet newsgroup, one of the earliest forms of on-line communities on what would eventually become the World Wide Web. Usenet itself goes back to 1979, and CLL to 1986.

My first post (as far as I can tell) was in February of 1990. Time Berners-Lee was still ten months away from writing the world's first web browser. The general public did not yet have access to the Internet, was not generally even aware of its existence, so everyone there was a computer geek. On-line communities (they weren't thought of as such back in those days) tended to organize around technical topics of mutual interest. CLL focused (and does to this day, at least ostensibly) on a programming language called Lisp, whose fans (and I was definitely one of them) tend to be unusually passionate about it. Lisp inspires love and devotion among programming language geeks the way that Apple's products do among gadget hounds. I won't get into why that is here because that would take me far afield. Just take my word for it.

Because of this common interest, and because Lisp tends to be somewhat of a black sheep among programming languages, CLL fostered a kind of camaraderie that went beyond its nominal scope, to the point that in March of 2003 when I felt the need to vent about the upcoming and IMO ill-advised invasion of Iraq, CLL is where I went. (Reasonable people can differ about whether or not this was appropriate. The point is, this is an illustration of how *I* felt about CLL. And I was apparently not alone because my post spawned a very long thread. But I digress.)

Erik Naggum joined CLL (again, as far as I can tell with search not working properly) in August 1994. (N.B. I'm actually pretty sure this is *not* Erik's first post because I have a vague recollection of looking for it several years ago when search was working properly and coming up with a different posting that was quite a bit earlier than this. But searching manually I couldn't find it.)

BTW, by drawing attention to the fact that Erik joined CLL several years after I did I in no way mean to imply that I had some kind of seniority privilege or anything like that. I am only pointing this out because I want to tell the whole story, and part of the story is that I've been observing Erik for a long, long time.

The thing that I remember first catching my attention was Erik's habit of not capitalizing the first words of his sentences. The second thing that I noticed about him was that he had a very no-nonsense take-no-prisoners style. And the third thing that I noticed was that he seemed very smart. But that was pretty much it. It was five years (again AFAICT) before Erik and I interacted in any way. My first participation in a thread involving Erik in any way was in February of 1999 and my first direct response to him was in March. If you take the time to follow those links you will see that there is nothing whatsoever remarkable about them, which is pretty remarkable in light of how things ultimately turned out.

Things didn't start to get tense between Erik and me until late August of 1999. This is not to say that things weren't tense. I was not the first to clash with Erik (but as fate would have it I would be the last). Erik was already getting into regular tussles like this one.

At this point I have to digress for a moment and say a word about my background. I am not doing this to be self-aggrandizing, but because the conflict between me and Erik ultimately hinged on differences of opinion, and I'm going to make some comments on those differences of opinion, and I want to provide a basis for you the reader to assess how much stock to put in my opinion. For example, one of the things that Erik wrote in the post I cite above was:


"what? a customer of a product has _invested_ in the company?! this is too fucking nuts to bother discussing."


The opinion I wish to express is that the position that Erik is dismissing is defensible. Not necessarily *correct*, but not so wrong that it can reasonably be dismissed as "too fucking nuts to bother discussing."

So let me tell you why I feel qualified to make such an assessment. One of the things I did in my career is to convince the powers-that-be at NASA to fly Lisp on a spacecraft, which was not an easy thing to do. The culture at NASA is extremely conservative when it comes to software technology, and Lisp was viewed with extreme suspicion. But I did it, and along the way I learned a lot about how managers think, and one of the things that managers think is that they *do* make an investment in a company when they buy that company's product, particularly a software product. Right or wrong, that's what they think.

I'm walking on eggshells a bit here because I don't want to start an argument with a man who is no long here here to hold up his end of it. I only want to point this out as an example of Erik's habit of taking very strong positions on matters that ultimately hinged on subjective issues, like what the word "investment" really means.

What bothered me about Erik's behavior was not that he was wrong. In fact, it was exactly the opposite. The problem was that he was usually right, and often people would try to argue with him when he was right, and often they would find themselves on the receiving end of some very harsh rhetoric. I saw two problems with this. First, it made it very hard to tell when Erik was right and when he was wrong, because taking issue with him could be so emotionally draining. And second, CLL was turning into not a very nice place to hang out.

It's important to keep in mind that I was not the only person who felt this way. A number of people had similar opinions. A few of them expressed their views openly if a bit inartfully.

And then there was this where Erik wrote (among other things):


"one of the things you will experience is that the community is very different from the Windows communities, whence it appears you come. for instance, the Common Lisp market is not marketing-driven, it is not a pyramid game that requires ever new people nor a bug-and-upgrade scam, and it is not leveraging its operational costs across a huge volume of sales. rather, it is a pretty mature market of long-term partnerships with a steady growth..."


Now, this really bothered me, not only because he was taking it upon himself to speak for the community (and I felt like I was part of the community and I never agreed to have him speak on my behalf) but also because I thought he was wrong. The Lisp market was *not* experiencing steady growth. I believed it was in fact in slow, steady decline (a belief which, sadly, has been at least partially vindicated by subsequent history). I also thought that Erik's very visible acerbic nature might be contributing to that decline even if only in a small way. And finally, I just found the man's arrogance to be incredibly annoying.

In August of 1999 I decided to try to do something about it. Having observed a lot of interactions between Erik and people who disagreed with him I knew that simply confronting him with my views would not work, so I chose a different tactic: I decided to try to engage him and model my behavior as closely as I could on his, expecting that this would lead to a confrontation. I would then reveal (privately of course) what I had done, and hopefully he would see that his style, having been on the receiving end of it, was counterproductive.

The exchange took place in this thread. My first engagement was in this message and it escalated from there, as I expected it would, at one point fulfilling Godwin's law.

I don't want to rehash the controversy over that exchange (there was a lot of it) but there are a couple of things that I think are important from a historical perspective. First, there were only four postings from me out of 183 total in the thread. I pushed only as hard as I thought I needed to to make the point. Nonetheless, by the end of our exchange, Erik was threatening to sue me, so I decided that things had gone far enough, and took the conversation to email.

I don't have those emails any more, and I wouldn't reveal their contents even if I did out of respect to Erik. (I did find this message from Erik in which he references that exchange just to show that I'm not making this up.) Suffice it to say, it turned out that I had misjudged the situation quite badly. My mental model of Erik had been very wrong, and my plan had, to put it mildly, not worked.

It was in this context that Erik and I had our first and only face-to-face meeting. It took place at the 1999 Lisp User Group Meeting (LUGM99) in San Francisco. This was the conference at which Erik delivered his now legendary "Long Painful History of Time" paper, as far as I can tell the only peer-reviewed work he ever published. To make a long story short, I managed to convince him to talk to me, and we had dinner together on the first evening of the conference. No one else was present.

When I was outlining this essay I had planned to write a paragraph at this point about my physical impression of Erik, which was nothing like what I had been expecting. But I've changed my mind for a couple of reasons. First, it's not relevant. Second, Erik was a very private person. He never published details of his personal life, nor as far as I know ever put a photograph of himself on the web. So I will respect his obvious desire for privacy and say simply that in person he was soft-spoken and very polite.

We reached an understanding at that dinner. I don't remember the details of what the understanding was -- this was ten years ago and it's not like we signed a peace treaty or anything like that. But by the time dinner was over, Erik understood -- or at least acted like he understood -- what I had done and why I had done it. The only evidence I have for this was that we got along for the rest of the conference, and this was witnessed by all the other attendees. I could have sworn someone wrote up an account of this on CLL because many people remarked on it at the time, but I can't find it. (Maybe it was in an email.)

(Ironically, at that same conference I also approached Kenny Tilton, with whom I had also been having some friction on CLL. He refused to speak to me, and to this day I have never had a real conversation with Kenny.)

I thought that would be the end of it. Things were quiet for a while. Erik and I didn't interact again until December, in a very unremarkable exchange, and then not again until February.

It all started to unravel in late February of 2000, when I posted this. Detente was not breached immediately. It was a slow, steady unwinding, and it's all there if you want to read it. I'll just note this where Erik wrote:


"I also vote that somebody write "the complete idiot's guide to special variables" instead of proposing silly language changes."


The result of that suggestion was this often-cited paper which owes its existence and its title to Erik.

It took a very long time for things to really deteriorate. Things were tense but still professional for a long time. As far as I can make out, the real turning point came in May, which ultimately led to this.

Shortly thereafter I quit JPL to go work for Google. I was absent from CLL for over a year, during which time Xah Lee stepped up to the plate. If ever there were two people who deserved each other, it was Erik and Xah. Watching those two go at each other was a truly tragic comedy.

I returned to JPL and CLL in August of 2001. My first post after my long hiatus was this one, which again is remarkable only for how unremarkable it is.

Things apparently hadn't changed much in my absence. I watched with some dismay asJohn Foderaro was driven from CLL. I thought this in particular was a little over the top. The understanding we had reached in 1999 seemed to be long forgotten.

I myself didn't enter the fray again until late August. This thread is notable because for about half a dozen messages I responded to Erik by cutting-and-pasting exact quotes from earlier messages of his. I was hoping this "replay attack" (a term of art from computer security) would remind him of our conversation at LUGM99. No such luck.

In retrospect I find it fascinating how the level of tension on CLL seemed to suddenly build in the days before the World Trade Center was attacked. Maybe there was something in the air. (For the record, I didn't participate in that thread.)

Erik and I never managed to rebuild the fragile truce we had forged in San Francisco. Our last exchange was this one after which, as far as I could tell, he not only dropped out of CLL but stopped posting in English altogether. (He posted a couple of things about me in Norwegian but I don't speak Norwegian so I have no idea what he said. Frankly, I think I'm just as happy not knowing.)

So that's my Erik Naggum story. I've told it as accurately as I can. There might be mistakes. I did the best I could under the circumstances. And I think Erik did too.

So farewell, Erik Naggum. Notwithstanding our differences, I actually learned a lot from you, and not least among those lessons is that life is short. So I will always remember our meeting in October of 1999 with great fondness. Everything else is lost in the noise.

47 comments:

quantamos said...

i've known people such as those you describe; christian and non-christian, it makes no difference. i had this experience with a kid in high school, who refused to shift his butt in the seat even an inch so someone could sit next to him. he was on the wrestling team (and I wasn't) so i could only use words. I spent a good 15-30 minutes using words to convince him to let the younger kid on the other side of him have more room. to no avail because he felt he had the right to stay, simply by virtue of having sat down first.

how do you compare these kinds of spats with those that show up on youtube comments? it seems that the vast majority of the world is happy to quibble about trivial things, i think they keep doing it simply because they get bored... anyway...

maybe this is a good context from which to think about n korea.

(i don't have a lot of time this weekend; i'll get back to you next week on the other stuff)

Keith H Duggar said...

In my opinion, the following are irrelevant and make you seem petty:

> um, association over the years (it will become clear presently
> why I had to struggle a bit to find the right word to use)

(petty, superfluous. Just say "we had an association over the years")

> BTW, by drawing attention to the fact that Erik joined CLL several
> years after I did I in no way mean to imply that I had some kind of
> seniority privilege or anything like that. I am only pointing this
> out because I want to tell the whole story, and part of the story
> is that I've been observing Erik for a long, long time.

(petty, irrelevant, superfluous)

> as far as I can tell the only peer-reviewed work he ever published

(very petty, irrelevant)

> during which time Xah Lee stepped up to the plate. If ever there
> were two people who deserved each other, it was Erik and Xah.
> Watching those two go at each other was a truly tragic comedy.

(petty, irrelevant, and you are speaking for Xah by assuming he
is "on your team" with the especially petty "stepped up to the
plate")

I would remove them entirely.

Also, for balance, why don't you consider

> The exchange took place in this thread. My first engagement was
> in this message and it escalated from there, as I expected it
> would, at one point fulfilling Godwin's law.

admitting that is was in fact you who fulfilled Godwin's Law?
Perhaps explaining the emotions that drove you to do so.

KHD

Ron said...

Keith, I appreciate the editorial comments, but I make it a policy not to go back and make changes to things I've published in my blog except in the case of factual errors. This is because the purpose of my blog is to be a record of who I am, live and uncut so to speak. So if you think I'm being petty and irrelevant then so be it.

One clarification:

> admitting that is was in fact you who fulfilled Godwin's Law?

That depends on how you interpret Godwin's law. Erik brought the name of Joseph Goebels into the conversation. I was the first to use the words 'Nazis' and 'holocaust'. But it's all there in the record. You are free to make your own decision. (Please note that it was not Erik's invocation of Goebels's name that I objected to, but his use of the phrase "such a disastrous future" with the implication that the *effects* of Gates's and Goebels's actions were comparable. I actually think -- and thought -- that the Gates/Goebels comparison was a valid one. This point was much misunderstood back in the day.)

What I think is relevant about that exchange is that 1) I was deliberately trying to be provocative, 2) I did the best I could to model my behavior on Erik's, and everything I wrote had precedent in something Erik had written earlier, and if there something specific you have doubts about I can cite you chapter and verse -- I crafted those messages with great care. It was very difficult for me because being so rude is not in my nature.

BTW, Erik and I had what could ultimately be considered an honest disagreement about this. He really believed that being rude was OK -- not just OK but actually productive. I disagree, and my goal was to support my position by showing what happens when two people try to apply Erik's approach at the same time. I regret that I ultimately failed, but I don't regret having made the attempt.

It just occurred to me that the reason I was able to persuade him face to face where I couldn't over the net may have been that face to face there is the potential of escalating into actual physical violence, and he wasn't willing to take that risk.

Keith H Duggar said...

> It just occurred to me that the reason I was able to persuade him
> face to face where I couldn't over the net may have been that face
> to face there is the potential of escalating into actual physical
> violence, and he wasn't willing to take that risk.

What an odd and revealing speculation. I think it is "well known"
that the dominant reasons non-anonymous electronic discussions tend
to escalate is that 1) text strips body language, intonation, and
other physical aspects that humans have come to rely on for total
communication 2) electronic text is fast and easy to deliver and
basically free; that reduction of cost and easy speed makes it far
more likely that we deliver responses without taking sufficient
time to consider them carefully 3) the realtime "interrupts" are
missing so for example one cannot interrupt with "now hold on a
minute there buddy! that's not what I meant"; instead participants
can deliver larger chunks of text based on misunderstanding; since
the packets of "energy" are larger they more easily for the system
into escalated chaos; just as happens in many dynamic systems when
the gain is increased.

Given 1) the readily available explanations above 2) the fact that
you know many different people report Erik was very kind in person,
it seems bizarre you would jump to the "he was afraid of my manly
proportions" conclusion (which is really what you seem to be saying
no matter how to dress it up with "potential" and "risk" etc).

My above paragraphs are actually, I believe, and example of what
I'm saying. I believe there is almost no chance that if we were
face to face, I would have spouted off the entire diatribe without
interruption. It would have happened far more piecemeal with you
and I interacting after every item or two much more easily reaching
a common understanding. In addition, since I'm in a hurry and it is
easy to send such messages, I'm going to drop my usual careful
editing and go ahead and send away (even though the "afraid of
me" portion is not presented as carefully as I would like.) And
believe me, any difference in our (you and I) electronic versus
in-person conversation has nothing to do with fear of violence, at
least not for my part.

KHD

Keith H Duggar said...

I'm a bit disappointed in the lack of detail regarding the actual
conversation you had with him. Is there nothing more you can add?

For example Erik writes the following:

Erik Naggum wrote:
> Erann Gat doesn't have any interest in what he's asking. He's out
> to deny that I have said anything worthwhile (see his replies for
> specific clues to this motivation), which has been on his agenda
> for a long time, and he's told me, face to face, that he thinks
> it's productive to employ an amazingly unintelligent copycat
> version of what he _doesn't_ understand that I'm doing in order
> to shut me down.

Can you confirm you told him this face to face? What else did
the two of you "clear" up? In clc you remembered that is was a
"complicated" discussion so it seems you might remember more than
what you have written here.

Ron Garrett wrote:
> BTW, Erik and I had what could ultimately be considered an honest
> disagreement about this. He really believed that being rude was OK
> -- not just OK but actually productive. I disagree, and my goal was
> to support my position by showing what happens when two people try
> to apply Erik's approach at the same time.

Here is how Erik described your "goal":

Erik Naggum wrote:
> Now, consider whether you want to help Erann Gat on his mission from
> the Gods or whether you want to help shut him down before he makes
> his usual rounds of insane accusations. He's been known to accuse
> people in his typical roundabout ways of Holocaust revisionism when
> he doesn't understand what they say, and I found that pretty damn
> annoying, too.

Ron Garrett wrote:
> I regret that I ultimately failed, but I don't regret having made
> the attempt.

You don't consider Erik leaving clc forever your success?

KHD

Ron said...

> I'm a bit disappointed in the lack of detail regarding the actual conversation you had with him. Is there nothing more you can add?

My memory of it very fuzzy, and I've tried very hard in this account to stick to the facts. It was a long, rambling conversation that touched on a lot of different topics. It was also based on a long email exchange that we'd had in the weeks prior. And when it was over, and for weeks after, I thought I'd accomplished my goal so I didn't really think about it that much. So no, there's not much I can add. The best I can do is to try to recreate the arguments I presented to him, since I spent a lot of time thinking about those, and I've re-iterated them many times since. But the actual conversation is gone forever I'm afraid.

> Can you confirm you told him this face to face?

Well, that depends on what you mean by "this". One of the problems with Erik is that you have to parse what he writes with exquisite care. For example:

> he's told me, face to face, that he thinks
> it's productive to employ an amazingly unintelligent copycat
> version of what he _doesn't_ understand that I'm doing in order
> to shut me down.

There is a grain of truth in this. I did tell him that I had made an attempt to copy his style, and that my goal was to show him that his style was counterproductive. He of course never conceded that his style *was* counterproductive, but I believe he did concede that it *might* be (this is one of those things that I can't be sure about) and that was good enough for me. But of course whether this is "amazingly unintelligent" is a matter of opinion, and whether I did or did not understand what he was doing is open to debate. I absolutely did *not* tell him that my goal was to shut him down, because it wasn't. I just wanted him to tone down his rhetoric. So:

> You don't consider Erik leaving clc forever your success?

Absolutely not. A relief perhaps, but not a success. I would much rather he stayed but dialed it down a notch or three. And if you look at my response to Erik's last message you will see that the last thing I ever said to him was that I didn't want him to go.

I do take some limited satisfaction from the fact that our last disagreement was about a technical matter, and that I was right and he was wrong. This is not schadenfreude (at least I hope not), it is because in the end I feel like I really was able to confront him with a mirror image of himself: someone who understood a technical point better than he did, and who was willing to put aside the rules of civilized discourse. The irony is that by Erik's standards it was a success. But I never accepted Erik's standards.

> What else did the two of you "clear" up? In clc you remembered that is was a
>"complicated" discussion so it seems you might remember more than
> what you have written here.

I remember having to think fast to keep the conversation under control, and to build up a mental model of him on the fly since the one I'd made based on our on-line interactions was so obviously wrong. I remember that the model I built of him at that dinner seemed to be closer to the truth than my previous one, because I was able to phrase my arguments in a way that seemed to resonate. And I remember some of the relevant elements of that revised mental model. I'll tell you about them in private if you want to know.

Ron said...

I just remembered something else about that day: after our dinner, neither Erik nor I said anything about what we had talked about to anyone at LUGM. I don't remember whether we explicitly agreed not to say anything, or whether we both just individually concluded it was the right thing to do. But the fact is, we didn't say anything, and so the fact that I can't remember what was said is probably as it should be.

Just to be clear, we reached an *understanding*, not an agreement. We did not come away from that dinner seeing eye-to-eye on everything, only with a mutual agreement that each of us now understood the other's point of view.

Keith H Duggar said...

> > You don't consider Erik leaving clc forever your success?
>
> Absolutely not. A relief perhaps, but not a success. I would
> much rather he stayed but dialed it down a notch or three.

I think there are many readers both past and future that would
much rather he stayed and you just dropped your inquisition and
left him alone. Ie live and let live. Let people be who they are.

> And if you look at my response to Erik's last message you will
> see that the last thing I ever said to him was that I didn't want
> him to go.

I don't see any response from you here

http://groups.google.com/group/comp.lang.lisp/browse_frm/thread/ea9e85edff1539b5/115c62ec642e392c

so what are you talking about?

KHD

Don Geddis said...

Keith wrote: "I think there are many readers both past and future that would
much rather [Erik] stayed and you just dropped your inquisition and
left him alone."


Keith, you don't speak on behalf of that particular community. Erik was, at the least, a controversial figure, bringing significant pros and cons to CLL.

I don't agree with the approach that Ron took, but your wording suggests that Erik was generally recognized as being a positive influence, and thus his absence was a clear loss. I don't think the case is nearly that clear cut.

Oh, and since I don't see it mentioned on this page yet: if anyone just happens across this page, you should know that "Ron Garrett" (the author of this blog) is the same individual as "Erann Gat" (the author of many of the linked postings on c.l.l). He changed his name a little while ago.

coby said...

I enjoyed the small percentage of Erik's writing that had excellent technical content but the fact that he was a cruel, abusive and aggressive man made his presence overwhelmingly detrimental to cll.

I am very sorry to hear he has died, thanks for posting about it.

Coby

Ron said...

> I think there are many readers both past and future that would
> much rather he stayed and you just dropped your inquisition and
> left him alone. Ie live and let live. Let people be who they are.

I would happily have left him alone if he had extended the same courtesy to others.

BTW, there's a very strong selection bias in favor of Erik on CLL because the people who didn't care for his rhetorical style tended to leave.

> I don't see any response from you here ... so what are you talking about?

I was referring to this:

http://groups.google.com/group/comp.lang.lisp/browse_frm/thread/d2f097155ba528ff/687091879866c9ba?#687091879866c9ba

I didn't participate in that other thread.

> "Ron Garrett" (the author of this blog) is the same individual as "Erann Gat"

See http://www.flownet.com/ron/eg-rg-faq.html.

Jared said...

Ron, can you elaborate more on which of his comments you copied (verbatim?) from previous posts into your 31 August 2001 posts? Is this really true?

It's rather amazing and would emphatically prove your point, especially where you write

"Someone makes a disparaging comment about your favorite toy, and you respond by hitting them and throwing a tantrum. You've been throwing these tantrums for years now. Have they helped? "

to which he replies,

"This is the level at which you would operate. I am so glad I am not like that."

The irony of his responding this way, if the first quote is his own, is tragically deep, especially if his abrasive attempts to keep the CL community spirit alive had the opposite effect, in light of his passing and in view of his admirable passion and enthusiasm.

Rest in a Paradise of Parentheses, gentle Lisper.

Ron said...

> Ron, can you elaborate more on which of his comments you copied (verbatim?) from previous posts into your 31 August 2001 posts? Is this really true?

Yes, it really is. I posted three articles where I'm quoting Erik more or less verbatim. The last two of the three are distinguished by being signed "#:E" instead of with my customary unadorned "E.", which mimics the habit Erik had at one time of signing his messages "#:Erik". (It didn't occur to me to add this clue until the second message. The whole stunt was born of a fit of exasperation. I didn't really think it through the way I did back in August of '99.)

Here are the references to the originals from which the quotes were taken:

http://groups.google.com/group/comp.lang.lisp/msg/a2cbf7ee127df921
http://groups.google.com/group/comp.lang.lisp/msg/4c0518605316ddcb
http://groups.google.com/group/comp.lang.lisp/msg/630a9a5753a7e551

> It's rather amazing and would emphatically prove your point

Well, let's not make too much out of this. In particular...

> especially where you write ...

No, at that point I'm still writing as myself. But I'm pretty sure I could go back and find something similar in Erik's writings. I wasn't explicitly trying to model my behavior on his at that point, but I also tried never to escalate the rhetoric beyond what Erik had already set as a precedent. I have my failings to be sure, but I try very hard not to be a hypocrite.

Keith H Duggar said...

Don Geddis wrote :
> Keith Duggar wrote :
> > Ron Garret wrote :
> > > Keith Duggar wrote :
> > You don't consider Erik leaving clc forever your success?
>
> Absolutely not. A relief perhaps, but not a success. I would
> much rather he stayed but dialed it down a notch or three.
>
> I think there are many readers both past and future that would
> much rather Erik stayed and you just dropped your inquisition
> and left him alone."
>
> Keith, you don't speak on behalf of that particular community.

First, I never claimed to speak for the "community". Second, I'm
giving a *thought* that I have based on my observation of dozens
of clc readers who *did* speak for themselves. In other words in
my opinion there is direct evidence that many readers would have
preferred that Erann simply dropped his personal crusade against
Erik's "style" and focussed on technical matters instead.

> I don't agree with the approach that Ron took, but your wording
> suggests that Erik was generally recognized as being a positive
> influence, and thus his absence was a clear loss. I don't think
> the case is nearly that clear cut.

The paragraph is not intended to suggest "general" conclusions of
any kind. The words are intended to suggest exactly what they, in
fact, say which is that many (as in dozens, not all, not everyone
etc) readers .. Try not to get into the bad habit of reading into
others words what is not there. When in doubt ask, don't assume.

> Erik was, at the least, a controversial figure, bringing
> significant pros and cons to CLL.

I agree. My point was a simple one to Ron as follows. Ron had his
preference, namely that Erik change. Others, as in more than Ron,
had an alternative preference namely that Erann leave Erik alone.
Note this only relates to the interaction *between* Ron and Erik.
It is not a comment on the interaction *between* others and Erik.

KHD

Ron said...

> My point was a simple one to Ron as follows. Ron had his
> preference, namely that Erik change. Others, as in more than Ron,
> had an alternative preference namely that Erann leave Erik alone.

That's true, but you omit the important fact that other others (as in more than me) shared my preference that Erik change. And there is a very strong selection bias in favor of Erik because many of the people who wanted him to change simply left. I was far from the only person to have run-ins with Erik. I was merely the most persistent and the most visible.

There were also external factors. I was trying to promote Lisp at NASA, which was a very delicate operation politically. Fortunately, as far as I know, no NASA manager ever stumbled across Erik's writings. But if they had that could very easily have meant the difference between success and failure. So even if it was just me against the mob (it wasn't) I believe I was acting on a legitimate concern and not just trying to impose my personal preferences.

By the way, you claim objectivity and neutrality here, but your framing of the issue as my lone personal preference against the desires of the many, and your choice of words, like calling what I did an "inquisition" and a "crusade", which are both very loaded terms, strongly imply that you have at least a point of view if not an actual hidden agenda, and I think it is disingenuous of you to take issue with Don for saying so.

Let me give you an argument from my point of view that has a similar kind of hidden bias: It is very likely that in the near future it will be a significant challenge to find anyone in Iran who does not express support for the recently "elected" government. Nonetheless, I think it would be unfair to cast the people recently protesting the results of the "election" as simply trying to impose their personal preferences on the majority.

madearl said...

I've said on cll that Erik had a significant influence on me through his postings. I've never met him. My take on you, Ron, trying to get him to change is this:

Clearly, Erik did not react the way the average poster does, both to things he perceived as falsehoods or even stupidities, and to personal attacks. On many occasions I had the impression that he could not help but react this way. This behavior suggests he suffered from something akin to Asperger's syndrome.

I quite disliked your reaction to Erik's rants, because it seems to me, also judging from your online persona only, that you do not have any such condition. I would have expected from someone as smart as you to grasp that you do not fix people's mental shortcomings by pointing them out to them. (Admittedly, I used to fall into the same trap with people who have anxiety about everyday things. I didn't get them to face situations fearsome to them by telling them they are not to be feared and that it was just in their heads. They know that pretty well.)

I perceived your "mirroring" Erik's actions as cruel, in the same way as mimicking someone's lisp in their face.

Ron said...

> it seems to me, also judging from your online persona only, that you do not have any such condition

I appreciate that, but how can you be sure that I'm not simply better at hiding my psychological problems than Erik was?

> I would have expected from someone as smart as you to grasp that you do not fix people's mental shortcomings by pointing them out to them.

What can I say? This was ten years ago. Certainly if I knew then what I know now I would have done things differently.

> I perceived your "mirroring" Erik's actions as cruel, in the same way as mimicking someone's lisp in their face.

First, there's a big difference between a lisp and what Erik was doing.

Second, it's far from clear that Erik's behavior was the result of a clinical condition. I'm very reluctant to engage in armchair psychoanalysis, especially posthumously, because I've seen firsthand how badly wrong that can go -- from both the analyzer and the analyzee point of view. I'll just point out a few facts: Erik didn't just *engage* in this behavior, he *explicitly defended* it on many occasions. He actually wrote many times that he thought civility was a bad thing. (I'd use his exact words here but it's a beautiful Sunday morning and I don't feel like doing battle with Google Groups search right at the moment.) So if you want to ascribe his behavior to a clinical condition you need to account both for the behavior itself and his ongoing and unyielding defense of it. Asperger's won't do it, nor will any autism spectrum disorder. You'd have to diagnose him as an actual psychopath, and I don't think that's doing his memory any favors.

BTW, if one is going to pursue a forensic psychoanalysis of Erik Naggum, we have a very interesting complementary data point on CLL in the writings of Xah Lee. Xah also regularly uses profanity and insults in his writings, and yet he does not attract anywhere near the level of controversy and rancor that Erik did. I submit that the reason for this is that Xah really does suffer from some kind of autism spectrum disorder, and that this is clear even to a layman reading his writings. It's certainly clear to me, which is why I've never had a problem with Xah.

Third, even if Erik's behavior was due to a clinical condition and my actions were therefore completely unjustified, the "mimicking" was only a tiny fraction of the sum total of our interactions: exactly seven messages out of I don't know how many in total, probably hundreds. So even if you're right and I was really the villain here, I would ask you to keep some perspective on the extent of my villainy.

madearl said...

> but how can you be sure that I'm not simply better at hiding my psychological problems than Erik was?

I was explaining where my bias towards Erik came from: that he appeared to be weak and you didn't. You seem to be reflecting a lot at the moment on your interactions with Erik and how they were perceived, hence my comment. I'm using the occasion of his death to reflect about my perceptions. There are no villains in sight from my perspective today.

Actually, I think assuming Erik had a condition is what allowed me to mute the noise he produced and concentrate on the valuable.

Regarding Xah, the same assumption makes the good data not any more appealing to me, so maybe he's just largely ignored because most of his postings minus rant are not interesting enough?

Ron said...

> he appeared to be weak and you didn't

Wow, that blows my mind. Of all the adjectives I would use to describe Erik, "weak" was never one of them. Thanks for the perspective.

Keith H Duggar said...

> Keith Duggqr wrote:
> > Ron Garret wrote:
> > > Keith Duggar wrote:
> > > > You don't consider Erik leaving clc forever your success?
>
> > > And if you look at my response to Erik's last message you will see that
> > > the last thing I ever said to him was that I didn't want him to go.
>
> > I don't see any response from you here
>
> > http://groups.google.com/group/comp.lang.lisp/browse_frm/thread/ea9e85edff1539b5/115c62ec642e392c
>
> > I don't see any response from you here ... so what are you talking about?
>
> I was referring to this:
>
> http://groups.google.com/group/comp.lang.lisp/browse_frm/thread/d2f097155ba528ff/687091879866c9ba?#687091879866c9ba

I see. So given that you did not in fact respond to Erik's *last
post*, then this is another factual error on your part, correct?
Furthermore, I really cannot fathom how any part of this message

http://groups.google.com/group/comp.lang.lisp/msg/e80f71ab13dcc1d2

can possibly be understood as "the last thing I ever said to him
was that I didn't want him to go"? Or is that the wrong post?

KHD

Keith H Duggar said...

Ron Garret wrote:
> madearl wrote:
> I would have expected from someone as smart as you to grasp that
> you do not fix people's mental shortcomings by pointing them out
> to them.
>
> What can I say? This was ten years ago. Certainly if I knew then
> what I know now I would have done things differently.

That is a key statement. Is that the first time you've publicly
admitted this?

Ron Garret wrote:
> Keith Duggar wrote:
> > My point was a simple one to Ron as follows. Ron had his
> > preference, namely that Erik change. Others, as in more than Ron,
> > had an alternative preference namely that Erann leave Erik alone.
>
> That's true, but you omit the important fact that other others (as
> in more than me) shared my preference that Erik change.

Of course. However, wanting Erik to change versus wanting you to
to crusade after him are two very different things. Do you think
those people who wanted Erik to change wanted you to do what you
did to Erik?

> And there is a very strong selection bias in favor of Erik because
> many of the people who wanted him to change simply left.

I think I recall you have claimed that several times here and in
clc and others in clc had argued against your claim, challenging
you to provide evidence for such a selection bias. Which I think
you failed to do. And you claim it is "strong". How strong? 10%?
1%? What does analysis of your data show?

> I was far from the only person to have run-ins with Erik. I was
> merely the most persistent and the most visible.

Not only did you have run-ins with him but you actively *sought*
to have run-ins with him. However this is irrelevant to my claim
that many people wanted the alternative that you leave him alone.

> I was trying to promote Lisp at NASA [and Erik's posts] could
> very easily have meant the difference between success and failure.
> So even if it was just me against the mob (it wasn't) I believe
> I was acting on a legitimate concern ...

I believe you. Furthermore I Personally also believe that trying
to change another persons behavior can certainly be a legitimate
cause. What's at question are the methods you employed to do so.

> By the way, you claim objectivity and neutrality here

I have claimed no such thing *here*. You are confusing claims in
clc with this blog. (Factual error)

> calling what I did an "inquisition" and a "crusade", which are
> both very loaded terms,

I disagree. Neither crusade nor inquisition are loaded words. The
definitions compatible with this context

crusade :

1) any vigorous, aggressive movement for the defense or advancement
of an idea, cause, etc 2) an energetic organized campaign with a
political, social, or religious aim 3) a remedial enterprise
undertaken with zeal and enthusiasm

inquisition :

1) any harsh, difficult, or prolonged questioning 2) period of
prolonged and intensive questioning or investigation 3) the act
of inquiring

are without doubt objectivity appropriate for your behavior even
when analyzed against your own admitted goals and actions. Maybe
you confused them with The Crusades and The Inquisition, just as
you confused Joseph Goebbels with The Nazi's and Hitler.

> strongly imply that you have at least a point of view if not an
> actual hidden agenda, and I think it is disingenuous of you to
> take issue with Don for saying so.

*sigh* Yet another factual error. Don did not say I have a point
of view nor did he say I have a hidden agenda. Now you put words
into Don's mouth. You have demonstrated a pattern of making such
errors (ie factual errors relating what others and even yourself
have written). Please try to be more careful. Such mistakes just
cause conversations to spiral around inefficiently (or sometimes
to spiral out of control depending on who is involved).

KHD

Ron said...

> I see. So given that you did not in fact respond to Erik's *last
> post*, then this is another factual error on your part, correct?

I suppose to be technically correct I should have said, "Erik's last post in a thread that I was participating in" or "Erik's last message that I was aware of" or something like that. Why do you think this is relevant?

> I really cannot fathom how any part of this message
> can possibly be understood as "the last thing I ever said to him
> was that I didn't want him to go"?

That's understandable.

> Or is that the wrong post?

No, that's the right one.

Ron said...

>> What can I say? This was ten years ago. Certainly if I knew then
>> what I know now I would have done things differently.
>
> That is a key statement. Is that the first time you've publicly
> admitted this?

I don't know. Could be.

> Of course. However, wanting Erik to change versus wanting you to
> to crusade after him are two very different things. Do you think
> those people who wanted Erik to change wanted you to do what you
> did to Erik?

I don't know. I've gotten a fair amount of unsolicited encouragement from people over the years through private channels. But I didn't consult with anyone before starting. (I probably should have.) I took the initiative on my own and I accept the responsibility on my own. I never dreamed that it would it would spin as wildly out of control as it did. Like I said, if I had known then what I know now I would have done things differently.

> Not only did you have run-ins with him but you actively *sought* to have run-ins with him

Not run-ins, run-in. Singular. I sought to have *one* run-in with him in order to make a point that I could not see any other way to make.

> What's at question are the methods you employed to do so.

What do you want me to say? That I could have done things better? Clearly. That I was 100% wrong and Erik was 100% right? Sorry, I don't accept that. If that's what you want me to say then we'll have to agree to disagree.

You've been spending an awful lot of time on this. What are you hoping to accomplish?

Don Geddis said...

Keith, I can see why you are such a fan of Erik's. Your posting style here, reminds me a lot of his on c.l.l.

(Staying true to form, you ought to take that as a compliment. Others may have different reactions, of course.)

Don Geddis said...

Unless you're just playing a game? I don't know you. Is your participation on this thread, a form of homage to Erik at the time of his passing, by way of some kind of performance art?

If so, I guess that was somewhat clever.

If not, and all your comments were meant honestly, then I suppose I have nothing further to say to you. Sorry, either way.

Ron said...

> Keith, I can see why you are such a fan of Erik's. Your posting style here, reminds me a lot of his on c.l.l.

Interesting. Keith doesn't seem like Erik to me at all. Keith is much more polite than Erik.

Actually, if I were going to engage in wild speculation, I would guess that Keith is trying to emulate *my* style, to do to me something akin to what I did to Erik in order to teach me some kind of lesson. If that's the case I wish he'd get on with it. I only went four iterations with Erik before I came clean about my intentions. I've lost count of how many rounds I've gone with Keith.

Of course, I could be completely wrong, in which case I'm looking forward to having Keith set me straight. That, I think, is ultimately the difference between me and Erik. I'm willing to admit when I'm wrong. When you're wrong as often as I am it's a very useful skill to cultivate.

Keith H Duggar said...

Don Geddis wrote:
> Keith, I can see why you are such a fan of Erik's. Your posting
> style here, reminds me a lot of his on c.l.l.
>
> (Staying true to form, you ought to take that as a compliment.
> Others may have different reactions, of course.)

That depends on which aspects of my style you find remind you of
Erik's posts. Said another way, if you list some adjectives that
you find describe both my and Erik's posting style, then I could
decide whether to take it as a compliment or not.

> Unless you're just playing a game? I don't know you. Is your participation
> on this thread, a form of homage to Erik at the time of his passing, by way
> of some kind of performance art?
>
> If so, I guess that was somewhat clever.
>
> If not, and all your comments were meant honestly, then I suppose I have
> nothing further to say to you. Sorry, either way.

It seems one thing that my posts have in common with Eriks posts
is that some people respond to them with ad hominem such as here
1) claiming that I am a "fan" boy 2) shifting topic to my person
3) shifting topic to my posting styles 4) questioning my honesty
5) speculating on my motives etc rather than staying focussed on
the content of my discourse.

And here is a critical difference, I respond very differently to
such ad hominem than did Erik.

KHD

Keith H Duggar said...

Ron,

You have asked some questions that deserve answering. I am sorry
I don't have time to answer them tonight (only had time to reply
to Don just now and morning is coming soon for me). I will do my
best to respond tomorrow. Thanks for your patience.

KHD

Don Geddis said...

Keith asked: "which aspects of my style you find remind you of Erik's posts [?]"

The combination of precision to technical detail, with a deliberate disregard for the typical rules of polite discourse. With your choice of words and tone, you quickly add unnecessary negative emotional energy to the exchange. This makes continuing a discussion with you unpleasant, regardless of the merits of the underlying technical issue.

At least, in the one exchange I've observed here. I don't know if this behavior is typical of you, of course.

I still believe you are mistaken in the original issue where I first commented, but your responses have made me no longer interested in explaining that to you. Your loss, if your goal was to understand the truth. Your gain, of course, if your goal was to shout down your opponents and appear to "win" some online debate.

Ron said...

Keith: no rush.

Don: I really think you're being unfair here. I'm probably as familiar with Erik's style as anyone, and this ain't it. If I were going to draw a comparison, I'd say that Keith's style reminds me a lot more of Anthony Atkielski, a notorious troll who posts on the rec.aviation groups under the handle mxsmanic. He's annoying, but not rude.

Don Geddis said...

Ron: You're obviously much more familiar with Erik's style than I am, so perhaps my guess about a possible mimic attempt was off base.

That said, in polite discussion there is an attempt for a meeting of the minds, an honest exploration of differences, a presumption of the benefit of the doubt, a seeking of truth. As opposed to: a lawyerly approach of seeking to "win" by any means possible, delighting in finding technicalities, refusing to concede any point, no matter how minor, deliberately insulting the other party so that their emotions boil and they make further mistakes which can then be jumped on, etc.

Perhaps I used too broad a brush to equate Erik and Keith, but to me, neither seem worth engaging on actual matters of substance.

Dan said...

I enjoyed reading this, Ron. I follow comp.lang.javascript from time to time and it reminded me of some of the personalities on there. Especially the frustrating aspect of being difficult and possibly off-putting, but actually very intelligent and in the end, probably correct.

FWIW I wouldn't worry too much about the things that Kieth says are petty and superfluous in your telling, they didn't come off that way to me.

I have known many people, some with autistic conditions and some without, who are called to mind by your description. It's in my nature to try to help them see things from another point of view or just help them see why they may make others uncomfortable. I usually have their own success in mind, that if they see how they are undermining themselves they will be poised to make their points more effectively in the future. I haven't tried the tactic you did and I don't know that I'd be very good at it or that it's the right thing to do. Though I have experienced a similar result: learning something new about human nature through my own failure.

It is very frustrating to me when such intelligent, rational people can have seemingly wasteful disagreements (whether wasteful because the disagreement has little bearing on the topic at hand or because it is relevant but the argument has degenerated to viciousness), so I try to think about how to mediate them. I'd be interested to hear more of your thoughts on this topic in general.

Ron said...

> I enjoyed reading this, Ron... FWIW I wouldn't worry too much about the things that Kieth says are petty and superfluous in your telling, they didn't come off that way to me.

Thanks.

> I'd be interested to hear more of your thoughts on this topic in general.

I was contemplating writing some more about this, but I'm kind of interested to find out what Keith is up to first.

Keith H Duggar said...

Ron Garret wrote:
> Actually, if I were going to engage in wild speculation, I would guess
> that Keith is trying to emulate *my* style, to do to me something akin
> to what I did to Erik in order to teach me some kind of lesson. If that's
> the case I wish he'd get on with it. I only went four iterations with Erik
> before I came clean about my intentions. I've lost count of how many
> rounds I've gone with Keith.
>
> Of course, I could be completely wrong, in which case I'm looking forward
> to having Keith set me straight.
>
> ...
>
> I'm kind of interested to find out what Keith is up to first.

I am not consciously trying to emulate either you or Erik. So, any commonalities
are coincidental or derive from underlying commonalities such as intelligence or
education.

As to what I am "up to", I'm not sure if you are asking about this thread alone,
or if you have in mind the broader scope of our conversions such as those in clc
and elsewhere. Guessing from an earlier post you made here, I think you mean the
broader scope so first I'll answer that.

.. I'm observing and documenting facts for the benefit of those who are trying
to weigh your claims regarding Erik. Said another way I'm providing additional
context regarding the character of your rhetorical style to help other readers
balance their scales.

In this thread specifically, I am calling attention to the fact that you tend to
make factual errors about what others and even yourself have written and even in
shortest scale ie the very same thread. A corollary is that you sometimes revise
history for your benefit. For example, as pointed out earlier, I truly can't see
how any reasonable reader would interpret this

http://groups.google.com/group/comp.lang.lisp/msg/e80f71ab13dcc1d2

as "the last thing I ever said to him was that I didn't want him to go". I think
that claim of yours is revisionism plain and simple.

Exposing this tendency is an important (if only partial) step toward maintaining
some fairness for Erik something I think he and any fellow human being deserves.

That said, after I have learned more about you from our interactions, I'll admit
to having developed a secondary more selfish goal which is to strongly encourage
you to consider those error tendencies more deeply and possibly, thereby, refine
your methods. This goal only developed recently because only after knowing you a
bit better did I learn you are capable of sincere introspection. They're selfish
because you work for JPL, so any refinements you make to your methods ultimately
helps the country as a whole.

KHD

Ron said...

> I'm observing and documenting facts

ROTFLMFAO!

> such as those in clc

It's CLL, not CLC.

> you work for JPL

No, I don't.

This does not augur well for your career as a fact checker.

Keith H Duggar said...

> > such as those in clc
>
> It's CLL, not CLC.

Correct. It's the same habitual typo I've made seven times here.
Given that you didn't point it out until now I assume it was not
interfering with our ability to communicate.

> > you work for JPL
>
> No, I don't.

My mistake. I didn't realize you had stopped all work with them.

> This does not augur well for your career as a fact checker.

However you have already admitted to and agreed to (over in cll)
the facts I documented there. So my documentation "career" seems
to have worked out well enough there.

> > I'm observing and documenting facts
>
> ROTFLMFAO!

How bizarre. For a moment I thought somehow I had opened a World
of Warcraft forum (where immature emotional outbursts are common)
instead of the blog of a refined (perhaps not) adult.

KHD

Ms. Lene said...

I'm one of Erik's friends, so of course I am biased. I just wanted to point out that when Erik said he had no energy to describe things to "the likes of you", that was probably the truth. At the time, he barely had energy to describe things to his friends.

Erik was sick the last 10 years of his life, and we could see him mellow over the years due to lack of energy. When he HAD energy, the spark was back, and he could be as harsh as ever. He loved discussions based on facts, not feelings and unsubstantiated thoughts. Those had no place in discussions according to him. You had to be thick skinned if you wanted to get into an argument with him.

I know from conversations with him that he was sad that he left cll. He felt driven out, and while I didn't know by whom, I think I get it now.

I am not going to defend Erik in any substantial way, because well, I don't speak for him, and unfortunately he's not around to speak for himself anymore (he died on the 17th, btw, he was found on the 20th). However, I will say this: Erik was driven by facts. He would do ANYTHING to get the facts out. He felt that if the facts are there, niceties are not needed (and this is were so many of us, friends and enemies, agree that he was wrong). I want to say that one of his biggest goals was to get people to use their brains, and not just repeat what they read in magazines or saw on TV, but that is without a doubt my interpretation of him, after years of discussions.

On a personal level, Erik was always nice. He was there to listen and give advice, or just to joke around with. He was grateful for small favours. I took his death very hard, and feel a need to defend him, as he wasn't the evil man so many people think he was.

Ron said...

> I'm one of Erik's friends

I'm sorry for your loss.

> Erik was driven by facts.

I'm sorry, but I have to respectfully disagree with this. Erik may have *said* that he was driven by facts, and he may have even sincerely believed that he was driven by facts, but in fact (no pun intended) he wasn't. He would often present opinion as if it were fact, and he would do it in such a way that made it all but impossible to disagree with him without having things spin wildly out of control.

> I just wanted to point out that when Erik said he had no energy to describe things to "the likes of you", that was probably the truth.

I don't doubt it. I would like to point out, however, in light of the tragic turn of events, that no one put a gun to Erik's head to force him to engage me. He did so of his own free will. If Google Groups search were working I could give you many examples where Erik exhorted people in no uncertain terms to ignore people whose writings they found objectionable. If Erik ran out of energy explaining things "to the likes of me" it was only because he didn't follow his own advice.

> On a personal level, Erik was always nice.

Yes, that was my experience as well. It is a great mystery to me why his on-line persona was so different.

Ms. Lene said...

First, thank you for your kind words to me. I do not want to argue with you, because I do not have Erik's eloquence, not his energy to do so. What I will say, is that I believe you are wrong. One of the things I learnt about discussing with Erik was that if I could back my arguments with facts, he WOULD CHANGE HIS MIND. I guess that's why I didn't discuss much with him, because I didn't have time to do research of everything I said.

And I don't think you got my comment about him running out of energy. It wasn't that he wasn't following his own advice, he simply was too sick to muster up energy to continue. He was very sick the last few years of his life, and that is what you don't seem to understand. Erik in his full form would NEVER run out of energy. No matter how stupid the arguments was (on both side, I might add).

And actually, most of my interaction the 20 years I have known him has been online. The last 10 years, we spent it in a private chat room with friends. Which is very different from public newsrooms...

Ron said...

> if I could back my arguments with facts, he WOULD CHANGE HIS MIND

Yes, that was my experience as well. But only in person, not on-line.

> And actually, most of my interaction the 20 years I have known him has been online.

That's interesting. Can you point me to a few examples of Erik changing his mind on-line?

> And I don't think you got my comment about him running out of energy. It wasn't that he wasn't following his own advice, he simply was too sick to muster up energy to continue. He was very sick the last few years of his life, and that is what you don't seem to understand. Erik in his full form would NEVER run out of energy. No matter how stupid the arguments was (on both side, I might add).

No, I believe I do understand. But there are two important things to keep in mind. The statement you brought to the table was not that Erik didn't have the energy to keep explaining things, it's that he didn't have the energy to keep explaining things to the likes of me, implying that there was something about me in particular that sapped his energy, which in light of the tragic outcome could reasonably be taken as a pretty serious accusation. If he'd chosen to ignore me he might have still been able to explain things to people other than "the likes of me". But either he chose not to, or he didn't have enough energy to explain anything to anyone. Either way, I believe that imputing the blame to me is grossly unfair.

Second, it's important to keep in mind that I didn't find out that Erik was sick until long after he had left CLL. I was well aware that that in full form he never ran out of energy, which is one of the reasons I chose to interact with him the way I did. If I had known he was sick I would have done things differently.

> I do not want to argue with you

> What I will say, is that I believe you are wrong.

So you say you don't want to argue with me and then in your very next sentence you turn around and argue with me. At this point I'm pretty sure Erik would have urged you to engage in some introspection.

By the way, you will notice if you read my blog that I deal with the most controversial of subjects here: politics and religion, including such hot-wire issues as abortion, gay marriage, and the conflict in the Middle East. You will also notice that discussions here *never* spin out of control (even when trolls like Keith Duggar show up), and it's not because I've attracted a band of acolytes who agree with everything I say. To the contrary, I encourage and welcome people who disagree with me. So while I understand that you might not want to argue with me, I really think you have nothing to fear. However, I would ask (and this goes for everyone, not just Ms. Lene) that if you're not willing to stand up and defend your position that you stop taking pot shots at me. It's really getting annoying.

Ms. Lene said...

First: most of the stuff where he admitted to being wrong are IRC logs in Norwegian. I don't think you would get much out of those. I also have logs from about 15 years back, it's almost impossible for me to find it at this point. As I said, I tried to avoid discussing with him if I could.

"The likes of you". From what I gathered from reading a couple of your posts on CLL (from this thread, I never frequented that group on usenet), and from the VERY little Erik said about it, I think he meant "people who won't listen." Please understand that I am extrapolating what I know about Erik, what he said and the very little I read from one of your posts, and of course I am very coloured by my dealings with Erik. Also please see the next paragraph.

To your last point: I did not take pot shots at you; if I did, can you point it out to me where I did it? I ask so I can explain it, since I meant no harm. I said I _believed_ you were wrong. Of course, _I_ may very well be the one that is wrong. Hence, I do not want to argue with you.

Ron said...

> First: most of the stuff where he admitted to being wrong are IRC logs in Norwegian.

Ah. I'm going to guess then that you are not a native English speaker. In which case, it is understandable that you may not have been aware that...

> I did not take pot shots at you; if I did, can you point it out to me where I did it?

In idiomatic English, the phrase "the likes of you" has a very strong negative connotation. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage says, in typically understated fashion, that it "carries overtones of disparagement." To my ear, the phrase "to explain things to the likes of you" is dripping with disdain, particularly in the context of the conversation in which it occurred (one in which, by the way, Erik was objectively wrong about a technical matter and adamantly refused to admit it).

Ms. Lene said...

Oh, "the likes of you"... I was actually quoting Erik from that post, I clearly see what you mean about this. No, I am Norwegian, as was Erik, but both of us have/had a good grasp of English (if I say so myself). You may have noted my British English spelling a bit earlier, although I currently live in the US.

As said, I cannot speak for Erik, and of course I am not saying he ALWAYS reacted "rationally" (for whatever definition you want to give that word), and it may be that he treated his friends differently than he treated strangers. In my experience, though, if you were armed with enough documentation of why you were right, he would concede. Your experience is different. Point taken.

One thing I have always wondered about is whether Norwegians sound more harsh than we are. I have often just stated a fact and been told I am rude, without intending it that way. The first time I experienced this, I lived in England. I asked "Can you pass me the paper?" and was immediately told I was rude. And I thought I was being polite! If I had been in Norway, I would have said "Pass me the paper," maybe adding a please if I was feeling in a good mood. Being told I was rude had me adding please to everything I asked to the point where I would say things like "Please pass me the paper, please." Language can sometimes be difficult for non-natives, even if we're good at it.

Ron said...

> I was actually quoting Erik from that post

Yes, I know. That's why I understand that you didn't intend it to be an attack. But Erik had an excellent command of the English language, and a lot of people (not just me) pointing out the subtle nuances of his choice of words. He cannot have been unaware of the implication.

> Your experience is different.

Indeed.

> One thing I have always wondered about is whether Norwegians sound more harsh than we are.

Yes, this was actually discussed at some length back in the day. See:

http://groups.google.com/group/comp.lang.lisp/browse_frm/thread/24c10fc2d3cbb0aa/62cf44caf865a09f?#62cf44caf865a09f

Erik participated in that discussion so you can see what he had to say about it.

Ron said...

> this was actually discussed at some length back in the day

If you do go back and look at this, note that a lot of the original messages seem to be missing from Google's archive (which IMO is a major disaster if all that data is really gone for good).

Ray said...

> I think there are many readers both past and future that would
> much rather he stayed and you just dropped your inquisition and
> left him alone. Ie live and let live. Let people be who they are.

For what it's worth, I followed cll for years, and I despised Erik's
inflammatory invective.

I had a few modest interactions with him, and my issue was how he said things,
the outrageously mean spirited tantrums he would spout. It was completely
irrelevant whether or not he was actually correct about some technical
observation (he usually was).

But I stood against such angry behaviour then, and I stand against it now.

Erik could have been so much more effective with some calmer words.

Rest in Peace.

e40 said...

In and around 1999, when the biggest blow-ups happened on c.l.l, I was friends with Erik and some of his targets. I can tell you it was excruciatingly painful to watch him attack people that I had known for a long time, people that I valued and cherished as friends, as I did him. I felt like a parent watching two of my children fighting and tearing at each other. I tried to heal some of it behind the scenes, but I wasn't able.

The truth is that in person Erik was gentle and kind and good and all that you desire a friend to be. While I might wish that he had not had that other side to his personality, the truth is it was part of what he was. If he hadn't been like that on c.l.l, he would have been a different person.

For me, I wish that I could have had more personal interaction with him, but as Ms. Lene said he was very ill in the last 10 years and couldn't travel to the US (and I couldn't travel to Oslo).