My time with Peter Naur – the rest of the story

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At HLF 2015 I had the privilege of interviewing Peter Naur (beyond what we imagined). This is the untold part of the story.

Meeting Peter Naur was my first interaction with a laureate at HLF. I was nervous! Interviewing a laureate necessitates the delicate first step of separating the celebrity from the students with whom they are nearly always engaged. Since the interaction with the student researchers is the main point of the forum, this requires almost surgical precision. I met Peter in the cafeteria and introduced myself by first pointing out the beautiful day we were missing by being inside. Peter, his son Thorkil and I agreed to enjoy a break and took the interview outside.

I had prepared thoroughly for the interview but I was unaware of the extent that Peter’s interests had moved on to psychology. Peter was very kind and indulged me and my computing questions. A great conversation unfolded, but truthfully, the most significant portion of the interview involved talking about our overlapping interest in the outdoors. Peter told me how a blackout during World War II in Copenhagen cultivated his interest in astronomy, which ‘naturally’ led him into computing. I told him of my Canadian wilderness adventures and the dark skies I am fortunate enough to enjoy at home. He told me that it had been a long time since he had seen the stars properly, which was a sad moment, really.

My wife was also attending HLF as a blogger. The four of us became acquainted and we spent a fair amount of time together. Dining together, enjoying the Heidelberg Castle tour, and of course a glass of wine at the generous forum receptions. Thorkil, also a professional software developer, and myself shared some laughs over beer and war stories of real life software construction.

I asked Peter during our interview why he attended the forum. “I need to communicate.” Reflecting on this after his death this past winter, I feel a personal satisfaction with the great moments we shared as ‘conference friends.’ He also told me that he attended HLF as an opportunity to find students who might be interested in his psychology papers, which he was nearly always carrying copies of to distribute. He told me that he was frustrated by how difficult it was to get feedback in that field.

HLF is certainly about sharing ideas, but don’t overlook the opportunity for personal connections, and even unlikely friendships!

A selection of Peter Naur’s psychology papers are posted on his personal website:

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