I keep hearing about how Erik was such a smart guy and how he contributed so much to the Lisp community. I have a serious question for those of you who say that his net influence was positive despite his abrasiveness: other than "The Long, Painful History of Time", a few pithy quotes, and a lot of rants on usenet, what exactly did Erik contribute?
I used to be a prolific ranter with an interest in Lisp. Running into Eric's posts inspired me to give that up - I didn't want online rants to be my legacy. Related, Xah Lee's crazy writings inspired me to take my social life seriously and not over-share on the internet. Both of them, and the rest of the comp.lang.lisp, taught me that getting stuff done was more important than making sure I was using the most aesthetically pure computing environment. Another lisp programmer, Philip Greenspun, also demonstrated the negative effects of too much writing online. In addition, he showed me that photography was mostly a factor of how much film and equipment one can afford, which inspired me to give that up and focus more on music and other things I had natural talent for. Finally, and only related in form, reading Ludwig Wittgenstein's later "notebook" style writings inspired me to give up on philosophy and enter industry instead of philosophy grad school.
I'm sorry, but the original claim dismissed an entire field of art by claiming that it boiled down to amount of wealth. I thought of writing something longer – perhaps an elegiac about the typical disparagement of what one does not understand, or a list of parallel examples that would show the stupidity of the argument (“computer programming was mostly a factor of how much CPU one could afford.”), but then I decided that it was so self-evidently absurd that it would be a waste of breath to do more than simply point it out as bullshit.
the original claim dismissed an entire field of art by claiming that it boiled down to amount of wealth
I can imagine that, say in the seventies, both camera's and film were a lot more expensive than nowadays(relatively). As practice makes perfect, really getting into photography, wouldn't be an option for all people then, because it would be too expensive a hobby.
It may have been a pretty weird blanket statement, but there may also have been a hidden context that makes it a reasonable statement.
Certainly his famous XML rant was informative and provocative. The thing that still rings in my mind is the argument that presentation and content are not really separable. Still chewing on that one.
There were many minor bits of analysis that he did to code, taking up challenges about performance, for example. I remember one example where he clearly spent hours on one performance claim, rewrote the proposed code within an inch of its life and gave an irrefutable argument about what the performance was.
His deep knowledge of SGML (I suspect deeper than all but a handful of folks) was a great source of insight on comp.text.sgml for what seems like a long time. His many rants about C++ were informative as well as confrontational. He told of working in C++ and generating very nice looking code, to the satisfaction of the client. He cheated a bit, however, as he used Lisp to generate the code.
There have always been reactions to his blunt, confrontational style. There are subjects, however, for which there are a right and a wrong. Erik wouldn't hesitate. Did not Richard Feynman reduce an ill-prepared presenter to tears with relentless questions?
Good teachers are not necessarily putting the student's feeling of self-worth first.
I lurked on comp.lang.lisp quite a lot in 1999-2002, and I made a point of reading Erik Naggum's posts on technical topics. Those posts made me feel that I learned something. When I had time, I sometimes read his non-technical posts, too, and most were pretty entertaining, as long as not taken too seriously.
I think that was all, but to those who fervently believe that there is no language superior to Common Lisp, he gave voice to the ... let's call it intense disappointment, of seeing the overwhelming majority of the rest of the world flock to inferior languages. For everyone who had to suffer through yet another numskull saying "Gosh, it's just too many parentheses", he gave delight by excoriating the syntaxes of other languages.
And to those intelligent people who sincerely disagreed with him, he may have looked like just another elitist troll contributing to the intolerant atmosphere that they might believe held back Lisp, but such is the nature of bias, on both sides.