On Jan. 26, 2007, Microsoft distinguished engineer Jim Gray sailed out of San Francisco Bay on a lone voyage to the Farallon Islands. Neither he nor his boat, Tenacious, were ever seen again. Gray's disappearance sent shock waves through the tech industry, setting off a frantic, 16-day search that included the use of large-database technologies that Gray helped pioneer. Colleagues and other volunteers pitched in using satellite imagery, data modeling and Amazon's Mechanical Turk engine to search for clues. In the end, his fate remains a mystery. Gray's wife, Donna, commissioned a sonar search of the seabed for the wreckage of her husband's boat, a search that turned up a few matching 40-foot wrecks, but none of them her husband's.
The loss hit home with InformationWeek's editors because some of us knew Gray personally. Editor-at-large Charles Babcock crossed paths with Gray several times in his coverage of database technologies, and as an avid sailor in his own right, Charlie brought that expertise to bear in the poignant cover story he wrote. (Donna Gray thanked Charlie for his personal touch in reflecting on her husband's legacy.) InformationWeek's John Foley may have been the last journalist to interview Gray, a winner of the prestigious Turing Award, before he vanished. Gray's words in an email exchange with John were prophetic: "There are just not enough gurus to do all the things that can be done."