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PAUL BOUTIN — What are we looking for? I truly don't mean to offend anyone, but the high-tech hunt for Jim Gray is equal parts ultimate question and technological hubris.The authorities called off their search last week. What's a geek to do? Question Authority! Fire up the satellites! Start a wiki! In a story filed on Groundhog Day, The New York Times reported that:

A veritable Who's Who of computer scientists from Google, Amazon, Microsoft, NASA 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.

The Coast Guard said it's "highly unusual for there to be no trace whatsoever of a missing vessel." To a scientist, no one vanishes with no trace whatsoever. It's as if Jim Gray were trying to tell us something. He understood more than most about the storage and recovery of information. There's only one sin in Science: unquestioning attitude. The longer we keep looking - for Jim, or whatever it is we seek at this point - the more we'll learn about everything, including our own vanity. Sunday afternoon on San Francisco's ocean coast, a crowd leaned into the wind at Land's End. Hundreds strained their eyes to sea, as helicopters circled overhead. What did we seek? A sign of the Queen Mary. The world's largest ocean liner was late for arrival, from the same direction into which Jim Gray had sailed with his mom's ashes on a boat named, appropriately, Tenacious. Eventually someone had to say it: "We're all waiting for the mothership to return."