Despite all of his significant accomplishments, my memories are of Jim the man—
who liked to laugh and had a fondness for Ridge Zinfandels, who was devoted to his
family, loved being outdoors, and was deeply spontaneous. One day in October a few
years ago, during a visit my partner and I made to see Jim and his wife, Donna, in
San Francisco, we were walking around North Beach and came across a vendor selling
pumpkins. Jim immediately bought several of them and we went back to his place to
carve them. The rest of us came up with jack-o-lanterns that were about what you would
expect from nerds: all straight lines and triangles. But Jim’s was a work of art, composed
mostly of curves, with prominent eyebrows and full lips that were laughing.
On January 28, 2007, Jim took out his sailboat, Tenacious, destined for the Farallon Islands. It was a beautiful day, sunny, with minimal wind and perfect visibility,
and Jim had plenty of safety gear. He was never seen again. No wreckage was found,
despite a massive search by both the U.S. Coast Guard and many of the top people in
the computer industry. A huge amount of data was collected, including everything
from satellite data to underwater sonar imagery, inspiring development of new image-processing algorithms. I think Jim would have liked that the search for him spawned
Over the next several months, Queue Magazine will be running a series of some of
Jim’s best works as a tribute to his massive contributions, both to this magazine and
the entire field. This month we’re leading off with “Distributed Computing Economics”
from 2003. Jim does some back-of-the-envelope calculations to compare the costs of networking, computation, database access, and database storage and produces some results
that are in some cases inconsistent with common thought. As a comparison, we’ve
put a similar paper from 1987 on the Web ( http://acmqueue.org/special/Gray_5Minute
Rule.pdf) called “The 5 Minute Rule for Trading Memory for Disc Accesses and the 10
Byte Rule for Trading Memory for CPU Time.” Although the economics are out of date
($5,000 per megabyte for main memory?), the methodology remains interesting, and
Jim specifically talks about how technology changes will alter these trade-offs.
Also in this issue we are publishing “Ode to a Sailor” by Donna Carnes, Jim’s wife,
written as the introduction to the proceedings of a public tribute to Jim (http://www.
eecs.berkeley.edu/IPRO/JimGray Tribute/), held at U.C Berkeley May 31. Donna has
kindly permitted us to reprint it. Although it references papers not included in this issue
of Queue, it gives a personal, even intimate, picture of Jim, which we feel is appropriate. Q
ERIC ALLMAN is chief science officer of Sendmail. Along with Jim Gray and others, he is a
founding member of Queue” ’s editorial advisory board.