Monday, January 29, 2007

U.S. Coast Guard Searching for Jim Gray off San Francisco Coast

1/29/2007: According to a brief story from Oakland's KTVU, the U.S. Coast Guard is searching the waters outside the Golden Gate for Microsoft Research's ultra-large database and transaction-processing expert Jim Gray. (Last Update 2/3/2007, 12:09 PST).

I happened to be scanning the Bay Area TV channels at about 5:15 p.m. today (Monday, January 29, 2007) when I saw a photo of Jim Gray and heard the last few words of a sound byte about his apparent disappearance after leaving San Francisco Sunday morning for a trip to the Farallon Islands in his 40-foot sailboat "Tenacious."

Update 1/30/2007, 3:45 p.m.: The "Search Intensifies For Missing Microsoft Exec" story from from KNTV (NBC 11 San Jose) includes quotes from Jim's daughter, Heather, video news clips, and a 10 minute raw video interview with Coast Guard spokeswoman Lt. Amy Marrs. The Marrs interview explains the status of the Coast Guard's search efforts as of yesterday.

A KPIX (CBS 5, San Francisco) story, "Coast Guard Steps Up Search for Missing SF Boater," says the Coast Guard "is expanding their search for him based on new information" that Jim enjoyed sailing north of the Golden Gate. According to reporter Anna Duckworth, the Coast Guard is adding another plane to the search this afternoon (Tuesday).

KGO-TV (ABC 7, San Francisco) offered similar coverage with its "Coast Guard Resumes Search for Sailor" story. The search was terminated at 3:15 a.m. Tuesday morning and resumed at sunrise. A later "Coast Guard Expands Search For Missing Sailor" article mentions two possible sightings at Stinson Beach, but searchers found nothing at this exclusive Marin County resort village a few miles northwest of San Francisco.

Update 1/31/2007: The Coast Guard reports that the search has been extended to an area from Monterey Bay to the Oregon state line. The boat was equipped with an emergency beacon and it hasn't gone off, according to the Coast Guard.

"Search continues for Microsoft researcher missing at sea" from the San Jose Mercury-News is a full length story datelined today. The San Francisco Chronicle ran a similar "Vast search off coast for data wizard" story. Techmeme has a link to an InformationWeek story by Charles Babcock.

KTVU's Patti Lee reported in a 1/31/2007 video clip that Jim wasn't scheduled to work at BARC "today or tomorrow" presumably meaning Monday and Tuesday. KNTV also offered a brief updated report.

Update 2/1/2007: The Coast Guard planned to call of the search as of this morning, according to KNTV's "Coast Guard To Call Off Search For Missing Sailor" Wednesday night story that says searchers are "'Stumped' In Search For Gray" and "Search for Gray Could Be Over" news segment, and a similar Associated Press story and segment from KPIX.

However, the Coast Guard said this morning (Thursday) that the search would be extended to 300 miles west of the coastline and south to the Channel Islands, west of Santa Barbara. KTVU's "Coast Guard Extends Search For Missing SF Sailor" story, updated this morning, and Jade Hernandez' related video segment tell most, but not all, of the story.

KGO-TV reported in yesterday's "Time Is Running Out For Missing Sailor: Coast Guard To Give Up Search" story by Heather Ishimaru:

Lt. Commdr. Jonathon Copley, U.S. Coast Guard: "He had no hard obligation at work, or at home, with his wife who was out of town until today, don't know if he did that, but know he loved to sail, we do know that."

And they have considered he might not want to be found.

Lt. Commdr. Copley: "People who don't want to be found, it's hard to find them, because all our models are based on people who want to be found."

At 11:44 a.m., KNTV updated this "Coast Guard To Suspend Search For Jim Gray Tonight" story based on a Coast Guard press release that quoted Lt. Amy Marrs: "To suspend a search is never an easy decision. We've covered the area Mr. Gray is likely to have been with the resources we have, but closing a search only comes after it has been determined we have done everything we can do to find someone." KNTV's Gavin Thomas reports that "[f]riends of Gray said they are prepared to hire private aircraft to continue the search if the Coast Guard calls off their efforts.

Update 2/2/2007: The Coast Guard suspended the search for Jim Gray as of 5:30 p.m. Thursday (2/1/2007) according to this USCG press release. KGO-TV's "Coast Guard Calls Off Search For Missing Sailor" story has more details, including the fact that Jims cellphone was active on the Cingular network at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, which indicates his location was within 10 miles of the shore.

Microsoft Research has an "Update on Search for Jim Gray" page with a link to a recently started Tenacious Search blog. According to this 2/2/2007 post, the private searchers had three planes in the air Thursday and planned to have four on Friday.

Update 2/3/2007: Today's "Silicon Valley’s High-Tech Hunt for Colleague" article by the New York Times' Katie Hafner summarizes the unsuccessful Coast Guard search and detailed private efforts with satellite imagery and aircraft. (The story hit Techmeme.) Eric Newcomer posts his reminiscences of Jim at Digital, Microsoft's Don Dodge recalls working together at Digital and Microsoft, and a reader describes a dinner with Jim while moored at The Spinnaker restaurant's dock in Sausalito.

The Tenacious Search blog has updates on the private search activities. Folks in Cal Berkeley's Electrical Engineering/Computer Science departments have produced a "Missing" poster. CTO Werner Vogels has added a "Help Find Jim Gray" post and there's a "Jim Gray Missing: Help find him by searching satellite imagery" Mechanical Turk task that request visitors to scan images for foreign objects that could represent "Tenacious."

Jim Gray's Contributions to Database Technology

Jim was graduated in 1969 from my alma mater, UC Berkeley, with the first Ph.D. degree awarded by the University's fledgling Computer Science department. He won the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Turing Prize in 1998 for his work in online transaction processing and was promoted to a Microsoft Distinguished Engineer in 2000. Jim was the founder of Microsoft's Bay Area Research Center (BARC) in San Francisco and subsequently became the manager of BARC's eScience group.

If you're a longtime reader of this blog, you've seen many references to Jim Gray and his TerraServer, SkyServer and other gargantuan database projects, as well as details of his early use of XML Web services to access terrestrial ( and galactic data. My "Build Real-Time Web Images" article in the August 2004 issue of Visual Studio Magazine described a Visual Basic .NET 2003 graphic consumer of Web Services, as well as Microsoft MapPoint services (requires free registration.) Jim was kind enough to review part of the article for accuracy.

Jim was a staunch proponent of large database systems constructed from interconnected low-cost commodity computers and cheap SATA disk drives called CyberBricks. I've covered CyberBrick technology in several magazine articles. My "Build Data Service Centers With Bricks" article for Fawcette Technical Publication's Windows Server System Magazine (May 2003 Tech*Ed issue) summarized Microsoft's tenuous commercial interest in CyberBrick technology.

Still Waiting for More News About the Private Search

Until we learn more, our thoughts and prayers go out to Jim, his family and his colleagues in San Francisco and around the world.

Update 5/2/2007: Mark Whitehorn has posted an eloquent "Tribute to Jim Gray" on the UK's The Register.