Received this from a CS student we all know and thought to share it with
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Massive effort to find Turing winner
Date: Sat, 03 Feb 2007 13:36:21 -0500
Anyone with an Internet connection and little extra time can help find
Jim Gray, see:
or, check the latest blog entries about the search
February 3, 2007
*Silicon Valley?s High-Tech Hunt for Colleague *
By KATIE HAFNER
SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 2 When James Gray failed to return home from a
sailing trip on Sunday night, Silicon Valley?s best and brightest went
out to help find him.
After all, Dr. Gray, 63, a Microsoft
researcher, is one of their own.
The United States Coast Guard, which started a search Sunday night,
suspended it on Thursday, after sending aircraft and boats to scour
132,000 square miles of ocean, stretching from the Channel Islands in
Southern California to the Oregon border. Teams turned up nothing, not
so much as a shard of aluminum hull or a swatch of sail from Dr. Gray?s
40-foot sailboat, Tenacious.
In the meantime, as word swept through the high-technology community,
dozens of Dr. Gray?s colleagues, friends and former students began
banding together on Monday to supplement the Coast Guard?s efforts with
the tool they know best: computer technology.
The flurry of activity, which began in earnest on Tuesday, escalated as
the days and nights passed. A veritable Who?s Who of computer scientists
and universities across the country spent sleepless nights writing ad
hoc software, creating a blog and reconfiguring satellite images so that
dozens of volunteers could pore over them, searching for a speck of red
hull and white deck among a sea of gray pixels.
Coast Guard officials said they had never before seen such a concerted,
technically creative effort carried out by friends and family of a
missing sailor. ?This is the largest strictly civilian, privately
sponsored search effort I have ever seen,? said Capt. David Swatland,
deputy commander of the Coast Guard sector in San Francisco, who has
spent most of his 23-year career in search and rescue.
On Tuesday evening, as the Coast Guard?s search continued, Joseph M.
Hellerstein, a computer science professor at the University of
Berkeley, sent out an e-mail message with the subject: ?Urgent ... Jim
Gray.? One recipient, Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, wrote back
within an hour, and offered to enlist Google Earth
satellite imaging expertise.
By Wednesday, Professor Hellerstein had started a blog and earth
sciences experts at the Ames Research Center of NASA in Moffett Field,
Calif., had sprung into action. They secured the promise of help from a
high-altitude aircraft equipped with a high-resolution digital camera
that was already scheduled for a flight Friday from Dryden Research
Center in Southern California but whose pilot could make sure his path
included the search area.
By Thursday morning, in response to calls from Google, NASA and the
Coast Guard, DigitalGlobe, an imaging company in Longmont, Colo., had
commanded its satellite to capture images of strips of the coastline
based on the most likely areas where Dr. Gray?s boat might have drifted.
Throughout the day, Dr. Gray?s friends sent out low-flying private
planes to search the ocean and hidden coves along the coastline that the
Coast Guard planes might not have been able to reach.
By Friday morning, more planes were sent out.
Dr. Gray, a renowned computer scientist and skilled amateur sailor, set
out on a calm, clear morning last Sunday for a daylong trip to the
Farallon Islands west of the Golden Gate, to scatter his mother?s ashes.
His wife, Donna Carnes, reported him missing at 8:35 Sunday night. As of
Friday there was still no trace of him.
Professor Hellerstein said it was unusual for him and his circle of
colleagues to feel so helpless.
?It?s a group of people who are used to getting stuff done,? he said of
the highly accomplished group of dozens of computer scientists who have
stepped in to help. ?We build stuff. We build companies. We write
software. And when there are bugs we fix them.?
The intense search is also a testament to the reverence with which Dr.
Gray is regarded among computer scientists. And it speaks volumes about
the unusually strong glue that binds the technical community.
?The number of people who feel they owe him in so many ways, personally
and professionally, as a role model and friend is incredible,? Professor
Dr. Gray is a leader in the field of database systems and transaction
processing and has received several computer science awards, including
the prestigious Turing Award in 1998.
And there is an infinitesimal degree of separation between Dr. Gray and
nearly everyone involved in the search for him.
?Nearly every major research project he worked on has been hugely
influential on later research and products,? said Phil Bernstein, a
principal researcher at Microsoft who is a colleague of Dr. Gray.
Mike Olson, vice president for embedded technology at the Oracle
who has worked with Dr. Gray on research projects, said Dr. Gray also
happened to be a pioneer in applying computer science to data collected
from buoys to gauge wind direction and sea surface conditions, as well
as satellite imagery.
Thursday?s weather posed a problem for the satellite effort, as a layer
cake of clouds hovered over the search area. ?There definitely was a
significant cloud cover,? said Chuck Herring, a spokesman for
DigitalGlobe. But because of the high and urgent demand for that
particular strip, he said, the shot was taken.
Once the satellite?s images were received by imaging experts on
Thursday, Digital Globe engineers worked on making them accessible to
engineers at Amazon, who divided them into manageable sizes and posted
them to Amazon?s Mechanical Turk site, which allows the general public
to scrutinize images in search of various objects.
?This is a first sift through these images,? said Werner Vogels, chief
technology officer at Amazon, who had Dr. Gray on his Ph.D. committee at
Vrije University in Amsterdam. ?If the volunteers see something, we ask
them to please mark the image, and we?ll take all the images that have
been marked and review them.?
Similarly, Microsoft?s Virtual Earth division, is having satellites
capture high-resolution imagery in an area along the coastline and will
post the images for volunteers to scrutinize. Microsoft is also
collecting radar satellite images which penetrate clouds and is using
them together with its Oceanview software, which can automatically
Lt. Amy Marrs, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard, said that should a
volunteer find something in one of the satellite images that appeared to
be a ?convincing and tangible? lead, the Coast Guard would follow up.
Lieutenant Marrs said it was highly unusual for there to be no trace
whatsoever of a missing vessel, not even an oil slick.
As the mystery deepened, speculation among the public increased:
grief-induced suicide, perhaps, or a heart attack; a run-in with a band
of pirates or a pod of orca whales; a collision with a partly sunken
But most of the computer scientists preferred to remain scientifically
sound. As of Friday, the blog dedicated to the search had started
filling up with ideas and educated guesses about Dr. Gray?s cellphone,
which had transmitted a signal as late as 7:30 Sunday evening, an hour
before he was reported missing. And more private planes went up, with a
run down the California coastline.
Prof. James Frew, an associate professor of environmental information
management at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who has
worked with Dr. Gray and is helping to coordinate the search, said he
was uncertain at first about how the Coast Guard would react to the
?It wouldn?t have surprised me to get a brush off,? Professor Frew
said. ?They?re professionals, and they know what they?re doing, and here
comes this army of nerds, bashing down the doors. But they?ve dealt with
us very nicely.?
Several of the scientists said they preferred not to speculate on when
they might cease their efforts to find Dr. Gray. ?I prefer to stay
concrete and positive for now,? Professor Hellerstein said.
Alison Pechenick, Lecturer
Department of Computer Science
College of Engineering & Mathematical Sciences
351 Votey Hall
University of Vermont
Burlington, VT 05405