Marc Olson, RIP

Posted in Random thoughts at 9:33 am by ducky

Marc Olson shot himself on Friday; I went to the funeral yesterday.

Marc was a good man, a happy man when I saw him last, about nine months ago, over lunch in Vancouver. He exuded happiness and success. While I didn’t know him extremely well, I had spent a bit of time with him and his family, as they owned the property next to my husband’s family’s vacation property out on Stuart Island. I remember them at a New Year’s Eve party, I remember setting off fireworks at his property, and other relatively banal but fun family-ish gatherings.

He was a pilot, so he and my husband had things to talk about. He had been the design manager for Microsoft Outlook 2002, so he and I had things to talk about. (He is the one who arranged for me to get an evaluation copy of Outlook 2002 when I was working on my book.)

I have been struggling to understand why he would shoot himself. He was professionally very successful, had lots and lots and lots of friends (literally hundreds of people came to his funeral), and I always knew him as a happy vigorous guy.

My best theory right now about why he killed himself is that it was the result of damage he sustained in his third, most recent, and I guess now final plane crash. The first time, he was on a grass strip, hit a bump, and the propeller nicked the ground. Props are so strong and planes are so light that it flipped the plane over. He walked away from that one with no damage.

The second time, he was landing on a sandbar, and I don’t remember exactly what happened, but his body sustained some annoying but easily survivable damage — like a broken ankle or something like that. He was also away from roads, so apparently it was a real pain to get him out, but he wasn’t badly hurt.

The third time, he ran out of gas just short of the runway, and had to land in the trees. While he didn’t break any bones, he was banged up pretty badly. I heard that he was able to walk to a road, flag down a driver, and get the driver to take him to a hospital. (Can you imagine being that driver? Having some bloody guy walk out of some trees to the road? Would you stop?) I heard that he lost so much blood that the doctors wouldn’t let him do anything high-altitude (including getting in a plane, even as a passenger) because he was low on hemoglobin. I heard that he had a head injury of some sort.

The best story that I can fabricate is that the head injury messed up his brain somehow, or that the steroids they fed him to help him heal messed up his brain chemistry…. because I just cannot imagine the Marc I knew killing himself.

So long, Marc — the world is a sadder, poorer place without you.


  • There is a more formal obit.
  • Keywords: Marc Alan Olson, Microsoft, funeral, death, suicide.


voting differences

Posted in Canadian life at 10:01 am by ducky

Here’s another difference between US and Canadian culture that totally surprised me: Canadians normally do not allow write-in candidates for their elections.  In the US, it is normal and customary to allow write-ins.


Seeking professional Java programmers!

Posted in Hacking, University life at 10:54 am by ducky

Help improve software tools by participating in a user study!

I am looking for Java/Eclipse programmers to participate in a study on how developers navigate through code. If you are interested in participating, or know someone who might be, please contact me at duckys at cs.ubc.ca . (Do not use my ducky at webfoot address.)

I have assembled some tools that I think can make navigating through code easier, and want to see how actual developers navigate with and without those tools. I need pairs of professional developers who who have programed regularly in the Java using an Eclipse-based integrated development environment (like Rational Application Developer for WebSphere or JBuilder) for at least the past six months. You need to be over 19 and proficient in English.

If you have a buddy that you could team with, fantastic! If you are solo, not to worry – I can find someone for you to pair with. People in the Vancouver, BC area are easiest for me to work with, but I can travel to Vancouver Island or Washington State if that’s what it takes.

Participating in this study will take approximately 3 hours of your time. It involves meeting me and one other participant at a mutually-agreeable location to perform four coding tasks on a hw/sw system that I will provide.

You and the other participant will pair-program for four coding tasks: two with a pretty “normal” Eclipse and one with enhanced navigation tools. Both versions of Eclipse will log your interactions; I’ll also do screen capture, and record the conversations you have with your partner. Afterwards, I’ll ask you to fill out a brief questionnaire, and briefly interview you about your experience.

We might also offer you the option of continuing to use the tool in your normal day-today work. If you choose to do so, we’d appreciate getting feedback from you afterwards.

In exchange, I can offer a $20 Amazon.ca gift certificate (w00t!). If you’re interested, I’d also be delighted to tell you what I’ve learned about programmer productivity.

I am conducting this study as a part of my MS Thesis, supervised by Dr. Gail Murphy. This study is being funded by the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
I hope to hear from you!

Kaitlin Duck Sherwood


difficult choices

Posted in Hacking at 5:03 pm by ducky

I’m working on making a version of Eclipse that has different tabbing behaviour. If someone does the following in the PackageExplorer, I want the following to happen:

  • double click on file – open file in the same tab
  • single click on file – deselect (dehighlight) previously selected files, select (highlight) that file
  • shift-control-click – deselect previously selected files, select the file, and open it in a new tab
  • control-click – add file to selected files

Right now, I can’t get both control-click and shift-control click working this way. Either I don’t get control-click at all, or shift-control-click adds the clicked-upon file to the selection list. The latter is not only visually wrong, but causes problems — when I try to open the selection, it opens ALL the selected (highlighted) files.

I can instead tell Eclipse that the PackageExplorer doesn’t support multi-select, in which case control-click will act just like a single click.

I went looking for where the control+click is examined, to put in a line that says “if shift is down, do a single selection and not a multi-selection”. Unfortunately, I had to go all the way down into the bowels of GTK. It looks like the place I want is in gtktreeview.c, in gtk_tree_view_button_press(), in the vicinity of line 2573 in GTK+-2.10 (which is probably not the exact same version as is in the Eclipse I’m running).

Now I have a dilemma. Do I go through the pain and agony of building my own GTK, then building my own Eclipse, in order to get the “right” behaviour? Or do I bail and give up the control-click multiple-selection functionality?

Neither. I go home and think about it.