"True story," Matthew Lewis, a communications strategist based in San Francisco, told me recently over Twitter. "I put the 'k' in fracking." As best I can verify, he is correct. I'd always wondered how the term "fracking," which has dominated energy discussions for years, worked its way into our vocabulary. And the backstory turns out to be pretty interesting.
Earlier this morning, I was saddened to hear that one of my information theory heroes passed away today.
So sorry to learn, sitting in a Cambridge seminar room, that David Mackay has died. Huge loss
— Oliver Morton (@Eaterofsun) April 14, 2016
I’ve been following a Google Alert for “information theory,” and so on an almost a daily basis for over 15 years I’ve seen thousands of notices and references to his excellent textbook Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms, which he kindly chose to freely share with the world. It’s really a great little textbook, and I recommend that everyone download it or purchase it and give it a read. In addition he has a fabulous series of video lectures to go with it as well. (Someone had actually asked me for information theory lectures on Quora last week, and his are some of the best.)
Sir David J.C. MacKay was the Regius Professor of Engineering at Cambridge University and a former professor of natural philosophy in the Department of Physics at at Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge. He was also a leading figure in energy and climate change having written the accessible and highly praised book Sustainable Energy: Without all the Hot Air, which is also available for free on his site. In 2009 he was appointed to a five year term as Chief Scientific Advisor of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, United Kingdom.
His TED talk will give you an idea of some of his work in this area:
MacKay was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2009. His nomination reads:
David MacKay introduced more efficient types of error-correcting code that are now used in satellite communications, digital broadcasting and magnetic recording. He advanced the field of Machine Learning by providing a sound Bayesian foundation for artificial neural networks. Using this foundation, he significantly improved their performance, allowing them to be used for designing new types of steel that are now used in power stations. He used his expertise in information theory to design a widely used interface called “dasher” that allows disabled people to write efficiently using a single finger or head-mounted pointer.
Sir David MacKay was knighted in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to scientific advice in government and to science outreach.
For those interested, he a great little blog. Here’s his last blogpost.
Below, from a variety of information theorists, mathematicians, and scientists is just the beginning of the outpouring of loss the world is experiencing today:
Deeply saddened to hear of the death today of David MacKay aged only 48—one of UK’s very best applied scientists: https://t.co/9QLq95BKzA
— Graham Farmelo (@grahamfarmelo) April 14, 2016
Shocked and very saddened to hear that David MacKay has passed away: https://t.co/VmpfbXtsyi
— michael_nielsen (@michael_nielsen) April 14, 2016
Oh no. RIP David Mackay. https://t.co/A3GBseGbBb
— Andrew Eckford (@andreweckford) April 14, 2016
RIP David MacKay https://t.co/RR8qazo3Xu
— N. Ghoussoub (@NGhoussoub) April 14, 2016
RIP David MacKay, former DECC Chief Scientific Adviser. He was passionate, original, brave. A truly good man. Deep condolences to his family
— Ed Miliband (@Ed_Miliband) April 14, 2016
We are very sorry to hear of the death of David MacKay. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.
— Cambridge University (@Cambridge_Uni) April 14, 2016
So sorry to hear of the death of David MacKay. A brilliant, independent thinker, respected by all. RIP. https://t.co/CrUJDDTvBf
— Emily Gosden (@emilygosden) April 14, 2016
— Breakthrough (@TheBTI) April 14, 2016
— Hugh Hunt (@hughhunt) April 14, 2016
Dreadful news that David MacKay has died, far too soon David J. C. MacKay https://t.co/JcNKEzJ4DH
— Robin Daniels (@RobinCEDaniels) April 14, 2016
— Mark Lynas (@mark_lynas) April 14, 2016
Sad to hear David MacKay has died. Was aware of the situation but it still feels incredibly sudden.
— Jordan Burgess (@jordnb) April 14, 2016
Very sad day today.
— Thor⚛ (@MSR_Future) April 14, 2016
Gosh, very sorry to hear David MacKay has died – a careful and progressive thinker on energy and climate, will be much missed in the space.
— Christian Hunt (@chr1stianh) April 14, 2016
I remember David MacKay taking me to dinner in Darwin in 1996, telling me about his new codes and very gently turning me down for a PhD #RIP
— Oliver Johnson (@BristOliver) April 14, 2016
Sad news. I remember David MacKay at Cavendish Lab as a fearless & rigorous interrogator of ideas, a brilliant man. https://t.co/uJ4M8G5fJH
— Helen Czerski (@helenczerski) April 14, 2016
….my retweet is the last tweet David MacKay posted before he died…I have so many feelings right now…I can’t even
— Christopher Willis (@BeCurieus) April 14, 2016
Sad news on David MacKay – I can see his book on my shelf from here. The first read for getting to grips with energy.
— Alastair Harper (@harperingon) April 14, 2016
Desperately sad news that David MacKay has died. We have lost a great man. All our thoughts are with David’s family at this tragic time.
— Energy for Humanity (@Energy4Humanity) April 14, 2016
— Charles C. Mann (@CharlesCMann) April 14, 2016
If you don’t know of David Mackay’s work, read https://t.co/o0sEReWZgu and celebrate its and his brilliance by acting on its message.
— Mike Page (@Mike_Page) April 14, 2016
Syndicated copies to:
— Pheromones Evolve (@pheromoneEvo) April 14, 2016