It was Tuesday afternoon…

… in Aarhus, Denmark. I was at JAOO 2001 to give a presentation and run a panel. I came by myself; The Wife and kids stayed at home because they had school (one a Sophomore in High School, one in 6th grade, and one in Kindergarten).

The conference was at the SAS Radisson Aarhus, a nice venue for this meeting. I wasn’t scheduled to do anything on that Tuesday (I gave my talk the day before), so I was taking it easy. I was sitting in the bar area at the hotel, having a burger and a Carlsberg. For some reason, the BBC was on the TVs in the bar and all of a sudden an airplane flew into what looked like the World Trade Center. The BBC was playing some kind of action thriller movie, it looked a little over the top, so back to the burger and the beer.


Aarhus is a modest sized northwest of Copenhagen, in the Jutland. Aarhus has a technical university, and I was at a technical conference, JAOO 2001. I had been asked to give a presentation on the large-scale agile work I was doing at Motorola, as well as run a panel of experts. At that time, I had been very active in the OOPSLA community, working in various track chair roles. I knew the chair (Kresten Krab Thorup) from a program committee that we had been on together in the recent past and my work was starting to become known in the community, but I was still pleasantly surprised that I was asked to participate. I didn’t know much about JAOO, but the 2000 version of the conference was pretty good based on the reviews I heard from some people that were at it.

I took a SAS flight on Saturday, September 8, from Chicago that arrived early Sunday morning into Copenhagen International Airport. The Copenhagen International Airport is a large modern airport that handles many international connections and it has a very well designed international transit area. It does not handle a lot of international to domestic connections, so the domestic terminal was a long way away, maybe a quarter of a mile or so. When I got to the domestic terminal, there was nobody there yet. And when I say nobody, I mean nobody – there was not another soul there, including security. There was an x-ray machine and metal detectors, but they were powered down. That was a little odd, but I guess nobody hates Denmark.

I entered the domestic waiting area and worked on my presentation and waited for the flight. I was tired (a little) and hungry (a little), but I had a lot of work to do so I just plugged away at it until other people started showing up. The first people I remember arriving were Dave Thomas and Andy Hunt, the Pragmatic Programmers. I didn’t really know them, but I did know of them. They were there to talk about Ruby.

We chatted a little bit and we were all a bit excited about the conference – they had been there the previous year, and were really looking forward to this year’s conference. More people showed up and I can’t really remember many of the details of the wait. The flight was called and we got onto a little Saab turboprop for the trip to Aarhus. I probably should have taken the train, but I didn’t really think about it until after I got home.

It was a tight plane, so you were pretty friendly with your seatmate. Mine was a Norwegian fella named Kristen Nygaard. I knew who he was – he invented object oriented programming! Was he going to the conference as well? This could be really fun.

The plane arrived in Aarhus and most of us boarded a shuttle bus to the hotel. Turns out that the airport, Tirstrup Airport, might be called Aarhus, but it’s about 30 miles away (that explains the shuttle bus). 45 minutes later we arrived at the hotel and I ran into lots of old friends – Kent Beck, Frank Buschmann, Alistair Cockburn, Jim Coplien, Ward Cunningham, and many others. There was some kind of reception that night, but it’s a little fuzzy in my mind. I was all jetlagged and really just wanted to review my presentation and be ready to go on Monday morning.

Monday morning comes and it’s hard to get moving because of that aforementioned jet lag.  I got moving, got some breakfast and kept reviewing my stuff. I had lunch then went to the room to make sure everything was working well.

My talk went pretty well, a lot of people asking good questions. I remember a question from Jim Coplien about how I kept saying we made choices because we were afraid of the other options. Ward Cunningham came to my defense a little, which I definitely appreciated. Many years ago Cope was the one who introduced me to C++ when we both worked in the same department at Bell Labs, so I was always a little intimidated by him.


People started watching the bad movie and there was a lot of chatter and some screaming. I started watching more too, but it wasn’t a movie, it was the real thing! A plane had just flown into the World Trade Center, and the US was under attack. The BBC was doing a very good job of covering the situation, cutting away to a very-clearly-in-charge NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani telling people to stay out of the area and to let the police and fire departments to their jobs.

That they did. NYFD members ran INTO the burning buildings, helping rescue the people in those buildings who were there simply doing their jobs. I have no doubt that while some of these firemen may have be concerned for their own safety, their job was to help rescue people. They did their jobs. (Peanut’s godfather is a Chicago fireman, so we have a special place in our hearts for firemen everywhere.)

The tragedy of September 11 was horrid, and when the Towers came down I knew many brave men were just killed, men who were doing their jobs.

Later in the afternoon more people came into the bar area and were watching the coverage, all the while talking about how unbelievable it was. One very distinct memory was a discussion with Kristen Nygaard. Turns out that Kristen was Kresten’s advisor or instructor and they were tight, so they were both sitting there. Other people were there too, maybe Doug Lea or Dave Thomas (Pragmatic Dave), I can’t remember the others very well. Kristen was talking about old research that lead to SIMULA67 and related things. Kristen told of two things he was quite proud of: first, meeting with President Johnson owed to his work with nuclear power, and more recently being a leader of Norway’s “No to EU” campaign and an opportunity to address the EU Council on that topic, how it wasn’t anti-European, only anti-EU.

In the next day or two, I’ll share some of the anxiety that came from being outside of the US when the US was closed to air travel.

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