Thursday, June 30, 2011

Jim Gray follow-up

I was rather startled to realize, the other day, that it's been 4.5 years since Jim Gray, the greatest computer programmer of our time, was lost at sea.

Recently, Professor Joe Hellerstein of Berkeley published a technical report looking back on the amateur search efforts that were organized in the days after Gray's disappearance: Searching for Jim Gray: A Technical Overview.

The report discusses the work of Gray's friends and co-workers, who hoped to aid the search:

an unprecedented civilian search-and-rescue exercise involving satellites, private planes, automated image analysis, ocean current simulations, and crowdsourced human computing, working in collaboration with the US Coast Guard.

They discovered that this was quite a bit harder than they had hoped:

As we learned, real-time search for boats at sea is not as simple as getting a satellite feed from a mapping service, or borrowing a private jet.

As if even those tasks were simple!

Moreover, once they did conduct their image analysis, they learned that:

Our conclusion is simply that the ocean surface is not only very large, but also very empty.

The report also contains an interesting appendix speculating as to why the EPIRB on Tenacious never sounded an alert, and wonder whether the government might at some point consider:

mandate the installation of maritime safety technology in a failsafe way, as we have done with other technologies like automobile airbags. It is both possible and inexpensive (relative to the cost of a boat) to require EPIRB-like technology to be integrated into boat construction.

The paper is quite interesting, and quite different from the typical computer science technical report. I enjoyed it; you probably will, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment