David MacKay passed away

Prof. David MacKay passed away yesterday. He was an excellent teacher, author and scientist. I’ve learned about his terminal cancer earlier this week. He chronicled his treatment on his blog.

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I’ve learned about Prof. MacKay’s work through his fantastic, free, book Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms – a book that is scientifically proven to be better than Harry Potter. The gist of the book is also captured in the series of lectures here.

But it was his second fantastic, free, book Sustainable Energy – without the hot air that made a personal impact on my life – I decided to work in the energy sector, because it seemed as a very important topic plagued by misguided incentives, wishful thinking, but also full of exciting opportunities for a better future. Prof. MacKay summarized my motivations wonderfully:

I love renewables, but I’m also pro-arithmetic.

I even mentioned the book during my interview (of course nobody heard about it, which puzzled me at that time…).

Two years later I was working on a project of optimizing home heating and I needed the some additional data from the book. I wrote to Prof. MacKay and he kindly sent me the data. Looking at the date of the email, it was less than 2 weeks after he learned his terminal diagnosis.

Prof. MacKay taught us a lot, not only about information processing, machine learning or energetics, but especially about scientific integrity, curiousness and independent thought. For all that I’m deeply thankful to him.

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