Death of a Troll
perm url with updates: http://xahlee.org/Netiquette_dir/death_of_a_troll.html
Death Of A Troll
Xah Lee, 2009-06-25
Erik Naggum is dead. He's born in 1965, died in 2009, this month. I wanted to write a essay about it, my impressions of him, our exchanges, ... but it'll take probably a week to write a account or obituary sort of thing in a way that is to my satisfaction. It'll involve digging my unorganized newsgroup archive that are scattered in different places on my hard drive, and endless painful hours in google newsgroup archive search... Seems rather a formidable task, because i want to write it well and fully linked.
For now, see our past exchanges at google group: Source. Roughly, our first exchange is in ~1999, when i was learning lisp (Scheme) for the first time and was asking about the cons business. (see: Xah Lee's Computing Experience Bio) I read comp.lang.lisp almost exclusively for Erik's posts. (See: Why do I Rant In comp.lang.lisp? ) Since he stopped posting sometimes in ~2004 or so, i have stopped reading “comp.lang.lisp”. Only started again in maybe 2007 or so, more as a poster than reader now. I clearly remember his last message on comp.lang.lisp. Here:
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp From: Erik Naggum Date: 03 Feb 2004 14:48:22 +0000 Local: Tues, Feb 3 2004 7:48 am Subject: Re: moderation of abuse?
According to groups.google.com, there are 338 results of posts in comp.lang.lisp that contains both “naggum” and “xah”. I think that the number of posts i addressed him is probably less than 20, and his reply to me is probably less than 10. During about 1999 to 2004 when i read comp.lang.lisp mostly of his posts, i also post maybe a couple a month on average. Most of my posts are trolls (of the good sort (see: Netiquette Anthropology)), and part of it is riding his name, criticizing or making fun of his attackers, and criticizing or lampoon him too. They are mostly not technical. Most are part of writing exercise too.
(Note: google group search is quite not reliable or comprehensive, as far as my experience goes in the past few years. It used to be very good and quite comprehensive when they first acquired dejanews, because back at that time, the search is quite simple, but now they have all sort of filters and indexes that tries to smart things up and deal with the massiveness (including having to deal with a machine generated spams that are probably a significant percentage of newsgroup posts now). It used to be, that if know a exact sentence or phrase of a post, then you can find the post. But not today. Nor can i find a comprehensive list of my own posts as searched by my email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.)
In 2004, we made friendship on google's social networking site Orkut. Then, we exchanged instant message a few times. However, he got really pissed and de-friended me. This incident actually made me angry, because, honestly, i felt i was just trying to make a friend, and he is behaving like a complete, motherfucking, ass. According to him, i think he said i offended him by incessantly querying him of his work or invading his privacy without respect, or something to that nature. I don't remember fully now, but i do have everything completely logged. So, i'll have to dig it up and put it here. I was frankly very, very pissed off by this incident. I'm no fucking bugging him about his work or anything. His accusation is totally a shock out of the blue. To even have to defend myself seems silly.
I recall, at the time, i contemplated of writing a full account of it, spending perhaps a day or two to do that, with full records and logs, and publish it on my website and announce it to comp.lang.lisp. Because i felt that his behavior is schizophrenic and totally unreasonable. Also, i was unsure i really want to do that. I recall i thought about it for long. On one hand, i was really pissed and wanted to express my anger, but on the other hand, i have a discipline of my own to follow, that i should be a loving person, as well powerful and in full control, not some loser who'd trip over a online relationship misstep.
Whatever emotional problem he caused me in our process of getting acquainted as computing professionals or friends, i considered for long whether i should just forgive him. Apparently, he's got severe psychological problems so to speak, of which, his newsgroup behavior is sufficient to certify. So, in the end, i did not write a account of it. I think i might actually have spent a hour or two writing it, but didn't complete or publish it. I'll have to dig all these out someday. (i recall now, that i was angry because in our last im he started to lash out in his typical newsgroup manner at me. I think i was rather quite controlled, and didn't respond much or AT ALL, simply stared his incoming IM chat with disbelief, although in my mind i have a thousand words racing to tell him to shut the motherfucking up and have a million words followup for explanations and justifications. I was angry because he was a few human animal that i would care to contact, partly precisely because of his lone and unusual personality, and a free thinker, a non-conformist, like myself. The fact i befriend him was partly out of high respect, and in our last couple IM exchange, i was thwarted and taken aback.)
In any case, when we initially hooked up as online friends on orkut, it was pleasant, albeit we exchanged little. He told me he's sick, and now works as some sort of librarian, and can not code much. (something to that effect)
Erik on XahLee.org and His Vocabulary
Just some more quick note... here's few essays i wrote that has been published (some edited) on my website that either mentioned Erik or was originally addressing him.
- On Microsoft Hatred
- On Ignoring Trolls
- Subject: Re: Separate namespaces [was: Re: please tell me the design faults]
Erik's English vocabulary usage has been used in my English Vocabulary Compendium. In fact, miming his vocabulary usage is one of the major reason i read him. Here are the entries from him.
out of the woodwork
-f ipso facto | Your posting here makes you ipso facto part of the Lisp community. [Erik Naggum in comp.lang.lisp]
-l wherewithal | OK, I understand this to mean that you do not have the mental wherewithall to understand that focusing on people is a choice, opposed to focusing on the arguments, on information, on ideas, on knowledge, on understanding, etc. [Erik Naggum in comp.lang.lisp, 2002-09-28]
-w defeatist | ... and I frankly do not quite understand the depressingly defeatist attitude of those who think there is no use — a long journey starts with the first step ... [Erik Naggum on comp.lang.lisp]
-w minutiae | as long as you wish to fuss about minutiae, at least get them right. [Erik naggum, 1996-11-09, comp.emacs]
Evaluation of Erik
Another thing i want to say here quickly is that i don't regard Erik as some kinda god or admirable person for his computing knowledge. Among human animal's history, in the field of theoretical computer science or practical programing, in this century, if you multiply Erik's contributions 10 fold, he probably wouldn't have a place. So, the bunch of tech geekers online all praising Erik being some sort of genius, is ludicrous to me. (they do that partly because Erik is dead. Human animals, esp males, love to approve people when they are dead. All those eulogies and posthumous awards and memorials fuck. (See: Support Living Artists) )
Erik's social insights, as far as i've read from 1999 to about 2003 (a period i think i read all his comp.lang.lisp writings), wasn't anything substantial in any academic or science contexts, nor are they particularly award-winning material when judged as a letter of art in academia.
When you evaluate someone's work, especially in the context of a dead person, you have to judge it from the appropriate field or community. So, taken Erik's work into the computer science community, you might ask, has he invented some notable theory? No. Of his code, are they widely used, praised, or otherwise influential to computing? Well, no. If you survey theoretical computer science, there are probably some tens of thousands papers published each year, and of these, probably less that 0.1% that is actually noteworthy, and of these 0.1%, most only meaningful to a few human animals in esoteric fields. Erik's life time work, when taken in this context, probably don't even make it into that 0.1% barely noteworthy. Now on the aspect of industrial code, there is a designer or coders behind every protocol and its implementation (say the whole TCP/IP protocol suite and apps), languages (tens of general popular ones or hundreds of notable domain specific ones), software (say, the well known web browsers, email apps, IM/IRC programs, notable websites (e.g. top 5000 trafficked sites), encryption software, banking software, tele-communication software, software in commerce, business software such as spreadsheets and word processors, scientific software from calculators to weather prediction... There are probably few hundred thousand software that are used by significant number of people today), each one of these software, has a person (or more) that actually coded it. Consider Erik's contribution to humanity in terms of software he's written, then it's probably nowhere notable. As a more concrete example, today google has maybe a hundred or more technologies and services, e.g. google chrome, gmail, google news, google sites, webmaster tools, analytics, google code, google groups, orkut social networking site, blogger, google docs, igoogle, google talk, youtube, AdSense ... and so on. Some of these, are written by a single programer, or few lead programers. Any one of these people, probably has equal, if not more significance, then the code Erik's written in his lifetime. Google is just one company, among the top Fortune 500 or fortunate 10 hundred thousand successful tech companies. Each company, probably has 10 or hundreds notable lead programers, technologists, research scientists, “fellows”. When you consider this, you can see that Erik's code, however fantastic, but in the sense of posthumous evaluation, probably isn't anywhere notable.
A lot people say Erik has important insight. I don't deny it. After all, he is the person i read in comp.lang.lisp for several years. But if we seriously want to evaluate the quality of his contributions, his insights in his newsgroup rants, are not that much worthy. His rants are often technically incoherent. For example, this piece of criticism on XML that one of the more well known among his postings:
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp From: Erik Naggum Date: 28 Dec 2002 03:08:55 +0000 Local: Fri, Dec 27 2002 8:08 pm Subject: Re: S-exp vs XML, HTML, LaTeX (was: Why lisp is growing) http://groups.google.com/group/comp.lang.lisp/msg/9a30c508201627ee (local copy: erik_naggum_on_xml.txt)
Out of the 2.7k words, some 1/3 is irrelevant rant on human animals, about babies, breasts, rape, American male, George Bush the motherfucker... If we remove these, and look at his technical content, they are mostly opinions, and not that informative, coherent, or valuable. This piece, at best, is a brilliant rant, but nowhere comes close as a brilliant tech commentary, criticism on XML, history of SGML, nor as a good practical piece of myth-debunking on XML/SGML for web professionals. However you dice it, his writings at best are in the category of rants and ravings than criticism proper or educational or informative value.
His, almost only, well-known published piece in some professional context, is about date format. “The Long, Painful History of Time” (1999-10) by Erik Naggum. http://naggum.no/lugm-time.html. (local copy: Erik Naggum — A Long, Painful History of Time) I recall, i read it twice in separate times. I wasn't impressed. At best, its value is about as great as some good piece of RFC writing, and there are few thousands of RFCs, and there are some millions of good tech documents like that. Some people, probably has written tens or hundreds of such good tech pieces, and these people are mostly unknown.
Note also that i think Erik sometimes attacked technologies that he later may have changed his stance. I recall, he has written raving pieces against unicode (dated late 1990s i think), in his typical fashion, calling it a piece of fucking shit or political disruption or something to that effect.
According to Wikipedia, Erik has contributed significantly to emacs. Quote:
Erik Naggum contributed to the free software project Emacs text editor for almost a decade..
The citation, is one of Erik's own posting:
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp From: Erik Naggum Date: 24 Aug 2002 04:05:25 +0000 Local: Sat, Aug 24 2002 12:05 am Subject: Re: The Next Generation of Lisp Programmers http://groups.google.com/group/comp.lang.lisp/msg/e239591cbc9eb18d
I have become a emacs lisp programer since 2006. I recall, in 2007 or so, out of boredom and curiosity, i tried to check what code Erik has put in emacs. My check is only casual and not in anyway thorough or as research, but i recall, all i can find on the surface is one obscure lisp package, i think it was related to date time format. (much of the hand-waving in this article will be solidified or corrected in the coming months, as i find more time to search my archive or check facts)
I also recall, that Erik doesn't give a shit about Xemacs during the heated years of the GNU emacs vs Xemacs war (this period is roughly ~1990 to ~2004). During that time i was reading Erik (~1999 to 2004), Xemacs in my opinion, is much more robust and useful than emacs. (See: My Experience of Emacs vs XEmacs) So, this is a tech issue that i find Erik's opinion is directly contrary to my own experiences in a area i have expertise. (even consider that much of his misgivings about xemacs may be founded on political aspects, i'm more inclined to side with the Lucid/Xemacs on political or social aspects too.)
Although i think all of my posts regarding Erik are positive (while he's alive), and he was the only reason i read comp.lang.lisp, however, his newsgroup behavior is really mean, base, despicable. My principle of life is love and knowledge. (See: (Knowledge + Love) / Disrespectfulness) I may hate unix, tech geeking fuckheads, or think that Larry Wall is a criminal (e.g. Larry Wall and Cults), but these are expressions of hatred towards things, towards behaviors, criticism of celebrities. In a term of social science, they are “of public interest”. In particular, i don't hate in the fucking American's blown-up sensibilities of so-called “hate crime”, where any negative commentary or remark about any so-called “minority” is considered a hate crime, any alternative views of Nazis that is not absolutely negative is “hate crime” (fuck the American motherfuckers that are typically well-to-do WASPs). Newsgroup's culture has always been harsh and pissing-fights are its daily rituals among participants. However, Erik has the energy to keep on and on attacking individuals, on any nameless joe, he'd spend tens of hours, insulting their moms, devising ever creative writings telling them to kill themselfs, etc. In reading the sheer quantities of such posts, and you can tell that some (or most) of them are simply pure hatred. Quite ugly and bothersome to see. I don't know if Erik truely wished death or mishap to happen to his antagonists, but his writings, by any reasonable interpretation, express exactly that.
On the other hand, i think most of Erik's views are shared and vehemently expressed by me. We both hated Perl, Tex/LaTeX, unix, to extreme degrees. (See: The Unix Pestilence, Pathetically Elational Regex Language, The TeX Pestilence. ) And, we both HATE moralists, and are not afraid to express it.
I miss Erik, if for anything, for losing a non-conformist compatriot, a free thinker.