Ian Murdock, creator of the Debian GNU/Linux distribution, is dead at 42
Apparently by his own hand, following unpleasant run-ins with the San Francisco Police Department, and a night of disturbing online messages. The details may be found elsewhere. Here I'll address some personal thoughts.
I'm troubled by this on many counts.
First off, a huge personal debt to Ian. I'd met him, briefly, at a conference years ago. But more significantly, I've been using his baby, Debian, virtually daily since the mid-1990s, personally, professionally, and as the foundation of many systems and services I use. He's not had much to do with the project for years, but he (and Bruce Perens) were responsible for setting it off in the right direction. They did a hell of a job.
Secondly, police violence. I'm painfully aware that we're getting only one side of the story here, but it's far too credible. My read of Ian's use of "nigger" isn't as racist, but bitingly sarcastic -- that if you think that police overreach and abuse are a problem only for those of dark skins, you're mistaken, and that it's likely the media will pay attention to his story simply because, well, he's a white man originally from Indiana. And the media suck like that.
San Francisco also has some history of police overreach pointed at non-minorities, making the story all the more plausible. And of course, against minorities, the homeless, mentally ill, etc., etc.
Thirdly, mental health. If only because suicide for an otherwise apparently physically healthy 42 year old falls under that umbrella, though also with some suspicion having seen events of Murdock's life in recent years, though I add, no specific knowledge, it's possible he's been battling problems -- perhaps depression, perhaps something more. And, in the US, support, treatment, and attitudes toward all of these are simply abysmal.
Clarifying on what sets off suspicions: a divorce (which can be both cause and effect), multiple career jumps (likewise), and a few other behavioral patterns, distantly viewed through a clouded glass, which suggest other frictions. None of which need necessarily be more than that typically experienced by a mid-career technical professional, but, well, the experience of MCTPs ain't all that great. Even Dante noted that the decade of the 40s could be somewhat rough. How such people are treated, by the system, by police, by friends and family, employers, etc., all strikes me as not merely pathetic but a scathing indictment on all of us, and society as a whole.
Those who are barely getting by are, I strongly suspect, all around us.
And fourthly, the experience of technical and creative people, generally. There's something of a pattern of death-by-suicide, and perhaps an attraction to the field by those who are mentally fragile, or something about it which induces that. Which, I'm not sure. But again, the record of great minds and lives cut short, for whether by internal weakness, external stresses, or most likely, a mix of both, is again a black mark against us all. If the very susceptibility to such pain is part of the spark of genius in the first place, it's all the more scathing that we do not, can not, and will not address this.
Paraphrasing someone's recent comment, it may be that a healthy system requires a lot of slack. We seem to be sailing quickly into a sea of negative slack.