I first met Marty when I was trying to hire a programmer. He showed up in torn coveralls, unwashed, with a skateboard, wild hair, and a punk attitude. Not quite what I was expecting.
But Marty also had a quick, quirky sense of humor, and he seemed to know what he was talking about. More importantly, I found that liked him; so I hired him.
It was a great decision. For not only was Marty a really interesting person, he was an awesome hacker. Now many of you appreciate what that means, but for the rest of you who haven't spent a lot of time programming, let me tell you what it means to be a great hacker.
Programming is an art form like chess. It requires great concentration, memory, and logic. At the highest levels, where Marty worked, it also requires a deep conceptual creativity.
There are no real contests or play-offs between hackers, as there are in chess, but every hacker comes to know who the greats are. People like Stallman at MIT, or for an older generation, Quam at Stanford. I think that everyone who knew him came to realize that Marty was a member of that rarified company.
Later, when Marty started with me as a student, I discovered that he also had the makings of a first-rate scientist: he had talent with math and writing, and was able to give really first-class talks. So after he finished his Masters degree, I asked him to stay on for a Ph.D. But Marty decided that he wasn't ready for the extended concentration and sacrifices that are required to finish a doctorate, and instead went out to help create virtual reality exhibits for museums.
I could spend a lot of time talking about Marty's MIT accomplishments: MusicWorld, ThingWorld, and most recently moving the Stones into Cyberspace. But that's not really what I think of when I think of Marty. Instead, I think of his amzaing energy and his fearless enthusiasm. Marty threw himself into life with a very rare intensity, and he inspired all of us through that enthusiasm.
He would be the one that jumped in with both feet, leaving the rest of us scrambling to keep catch up. Snowboarding is the example that leaps to mind first; with Marty too enthusiastic even for his own legs, and the rest of us working just to get on board.
That is what I think of when I think of Marty, and it is for his example of living life with fearless enthusiasm that I will always remember him, and love him.