January 16, 2001

With Snoopy's Eriksen, the more things change, the more they stay the same

Author: JT Smith

- By Julie Bresnick -

Open Source people
Marius Aamodt
Eriksen

started the Open Source project Snoopy,
participates in several others and volunteers at Linux.com. He currently runs OpenBSD on
his
ThinkPad 560 and Debian "woody" on his desktop.

When I first phoned Eriksen, his roommate answered. He handed the
phone to
Aamodt who, considering his international upbringing, I was surprised
to
hear had barely an accent. He greeted me pleasantly and then took his
mouth
away from the phone to ask his roommate how much longer he anticipated
being
on the line. I could hear them speaking. The exchange sounded sort of
paused and awkward, like they had just quarreled or more likely, were
simply
two kids brought together from different worlds to share a tiny dorm
room
for their first year of college. When his roommate failed to offer an
estimate Eriksen added, "'cause they're calling me for like an interview
or
something." I was certain I had a bona fide teenager on my hands, but
by the
end of the conversation that one sample of graceless grammar would
prove,
besides his actual birth date, to be all that tethers him to his years.

As I waited to call back, I recalled sharing a room in college, one
of
those slightly rectangular cells with walls of cinderblocks softened
with a
thick coat of gray paint. I was forced to share a stage for growing pains
with
somebody else. I remember that room probably more than I remember
actually
being 19.

But Eriksen knows first hand what it's like to be 19 because
that's
how old is. He was born Oct. 10, 1981 in Porsgrunn, Norway. Nineteen is also about how many countries he's been to. Born in Norway,
moved to
Hungary, then Greece, college in the United States, parents in Bangkok,
ski
vacations with his family overseas. And his exposure to new places
accelerated by the diversity of his classmates at the international
schools
he attended. He speaks English, Norwegian, and he "can carry on a
conversation but not write a book" in German.

His father is an electrical engineer and his mother has a degree in
business administration. They both work for a company called Telenor, which stationed them at such
varying locales to assist in the set up of telecommunications networks.
They spent a stint in Lillehammer to work under the contract Telenor
scored
with the 1994 Winter Olympics. And from there to Budapest and on to
Athens
where they stayed for the duration of Eriksen's high school years.

In Athens, he attended the American
Community
School
. He misses his friends there. Together they call themselves
the
Crocksters. There is excitement, nostalgia in his laugh when I ask him
what
that means. It sounds like he and his friends were trying to own a
little
mischief, give themselves a private identity under which to share
inside
jokes and other intimacies nourished by the intensities of youth.
Eriksen,
attempting to thwart the changes growth might otherwise force upon
their
loving circle, has built them a digital meeting place where they can minimize the
geographic distances now imposed by change.

He points me to a picture there of him and two of the other
Crocksters.
They are at a National Honor Society event. He says it is one of the
only
times he has and plans to ever wear a suit. All three of them are
handsome
and notable possessors of teenage traits. There postures and
expressions are
telling.

Though his friendships were clearly a priority, they did not
interfere
with his studies. He achieved honor roll every year at high school and
completed enough advanced placement courses to commence his college
career
with sufficient credits to rank as a second-year student. He chose the University of Michigan not for football, like so many of the other
attendants undoubtedly have, but for its Center of Information Technology
Integration
. The work he does there, mostly centered around
security and
scalability, is so compelling that he can see himself staying on to
teach or
concentrate on research. His plan is to earn his bachelor's in
computer
engineering in the next two years, go onto an accelerated master's
program
and then stay on to do research and/or teach. Distraction, however, is
on
the horizon.

I don't think that his lack of dating experience is telling of his
age at
all. Plenty of geeks are fully grown before they discover they've even
been
distributed a dance card. He says that he's shy but his candidness
regarding the subject suggests potential. Most people I know profess
the
casual approach to dating -- if it happens it happens -- but Eriksen has
been
spending his spare change on computer manuals since he discovered
programming in seventh grade, why should dating be any different? The
strategy of non-strategy that resulted in his first relationship, he
understands, is unlikely to reoccur with any regularity. She had
approached
him. Though seemingly unperturbed by the distance that determined its
end,
he was encouraged by that relationship's progress and seems excited
about
the prospect of repeating it. He pulls out his Dating for Dummies and we
commiserate
over our surprise that both sexes often date several people at the same
time
during the "casual dating" phase of things.

He says he'd like a girl who shares, if not simply understands, his
love
of programming. He is fetching, well-spoken, armed with a charming
accent,
and even *sigh* plays a little guitar. It seems that his only obstacle
is
the guy-heavy ratio of male to female techies. That means there's a
good
chance he'll break a number of unsympathetic hearts before he finds the
right one, so I tell him not to follow the book's procedures too
closely.

His budding romantic future is compelling but I try to get back on
track
and ask him about the future of technology. Where does he think
technology
will take him in the coming years? He is so steeped in it, so apt, he
will
undoubtedly be there to see the curves and sways of its process, but he
is
also so close that his perspective on it is less grand. Is there
something
he foresees that excites or even scares him? He is without awe. Not
that
he's not excited about the technology but his wow factor is relatively
reduced. The innovations don't pique his imagination as much as they
did
that of the generations preceding his, who grew up with mainframes about
as
big as his dorm room, not PCs.

The imagination, though certainly pertinent, does not play such a
central
role in innovation, because there is a precedent for the work.
Previously,
science fiction was an initiator because it was just that, fiction.
There
was not a lot of non-fiction to which the developers could refer. Ask
a
cutting-edge programmer over age 40 what his favorite book is
and
he will cite something by Isaac Asimov first.
But
Eriksen mentions this author second, after first professing his affection for
O'Reilly which publishes computer
text
books. Where previous geeks had few idols to model themselves
off
of, Eriksen can choose from several including Alan Cox and Theo Deradt.

Certainly things are different for this kid -- ethernet access in his
dorm
room, a techno-centric society to grow up in -- but the more things
change
the more they seem to stay the same. The boy, with all those brains
and
worldly exposure, went out to buy a book on dating. It's good to know that
after
all, a geek is still a geek. Good.

Strange habits: Takes a short break after every hour of programming.

Favorite vacation: The week or two he spends each year at his family's
cabin
in the woods in Norway. He leaves his laptop behind.

Fears: Litigious and bureaucratic tendencies in American society.

First computer: 386 AST.

New Year's Resolution: Exercise.

Favorite music:Chick Corea, Miles Davis.

Favorite movies: Star Wars Trilogy, Sixth Sense, Twelve Monkeys.

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