Randy Pausch's Last Lecture
September 20, 2007 8:13 AM   Subscribe

Randy Pausch is a pioneer in virtual reality, a computer science professor, a Disney Imagineer, an innovative teacher, and the co-founder of the best video game school in the world. One year ago he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and after a long and difficult fight he's been given just a few more months to live. This week he gave his powerful, funny, and life-affirming last lecture to a packed auditorium at Carnegie Mellon University, entitled "How to Live Your Childhood Dreams". The WSJ's summary, and a direct link to the complete video of the lecture (2 hours, and unfortunately streaming WMV). Warning: hilarious jokes about dying.
posted by xthlc (30 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Anyone have an mp3 of this?
posted by Yiggs at 8:23 AM on September 20, 2007

What a surreal situation, having knowledge of your own imminent demise and yet being healthy enough to approach it with gusto...
posted by chasing at 8:25 AM on September 20, 2007

Yiggs: I'm ripping the stream but it's going to take time. I would suggest watching the video anyway, since he uses a lot of visuals in his talk. VLC on my Mac managed it pretty well without the usual Windows Media horror.
posted by xthlc at 8:28 AM on September 20, 2007

Randy's a really nice guy. I'm very sad.
posted by rbs at 8:28 AM on September 20, 2007

This is sad. I never took any of Randy's classes but attended a few of his guest lectures while I was at CMU. Definitely a nice guy and a great professor; you could see, well, to paraphrase Andrew Mellon, his heart was in the work.
posted by reptile at 8:41 AM on September 20, 2007

I have experienced a deathbead conversion...

I just bought a macintosh

posted by phrontist at 8:49 AM on September 20, 2007

I never met him but a bunch of my co-workers know him and say that he is a great guy. I only hope that I can have the courage to face my demise with so much courage and humor.
posted by octothorpe at 8:58 AM on September 20, 2007

It's a shame that his three small children will not grow up with such an obviously wonderful man for a father. The lesson he teaches them, though, about facing one's own demise, is invaluable. We should also go so softly into the good night. Great post.
posted by msali at 9:16 AM on September 20, 2007

Wow, I had no idea. I'd like to echo reptile's statement and note it was Andrew Carnegie who provided that motto.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:18 AM on September 20, 2007

I just watched the whole thing, and now I'm all puffy-eyed. Damn MetaFilter. [sniff]
posted by Arch1 at 9:24 AM on September 20, 2007

Clips availible at postgazette.com if you can't watch the whole speech.
posted by ALongDecember at 9:30 AM on September 20, 2007

I had Randy Pausch as a teacher in the 1980s. I had no idea he was ill, until this morning, when this story showed up on Fark. This is a repeat comment from there. In 2005, I sent him this email:



I don't know if you would remember me, but I took a data structures class from you back in the late '80s, when you were a new professor at UVa. I was living in the Monroe Hill Residential College, and recall that you came to at least one dinner there as well as the intramural inner-tube water polo championship game our team played in.

I just wanted to drop you a note to let you know that taking that class ended up changing my life - slowly, but very positively. I was a (very bad) electrical engineering student at UVa, but your class got me hooked on computers. I initially did some programming, then went into the Army after undergrad. I found myself enjoying programming for fun, and after a few years went back to grad school, choosing CS over law school just because of my enjoyment of it. I was originally a master's student, but found a good advisor and liked research, and eventually got my PhD. I ended up taking a faculty position at ******, but disliked the midwest and large department, so after a couple of years there moved home to ****.

I recently received tenure and a promotion to Associate Professor of Computer Science at ****** University, and am certain that I ended up here, doing what I love and loving what I do, because of your class. Here is what I wrote in my tenure statement about it:

"The positive example who most influenced my attitude to teaching was Randy Pausch, now at Carnegie Mellon University. I try to show my enthusiasm for teaching and for the material as much as he did. He related complex computer-science topics to real-world examples. He often had students perform amusing examples in class to demonstrate algorithms, and he kept the material at an appropriate level. Most importantly, he cared about students doing the best they could and was both challenging and supportive throughout the semester. I challenge my students to succeed, and work hard to be as supportive as he was."

So thanks! You made a big difference in my life, and I appreciate it very much.


Teachers do make a difference. He made a huge difference to me. I have been bummed all day, but definitely better off from having met him.
posted by procrastination at 9:56 AM on September 20, 2007 [12 favorites]

that was a great thing to watch.
posted by ruthsarian at 12:28 PM on September 20, 2007

I'm pretty well in tears at work here -- I find things like this affect me very deeply (both my parents died and they both made very dignified exits with some humour even despite the circumstances).

best of the web.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:55 PM on September 20, 2007

I'm using Windows XP and am trying to figure out how to download this video to save it, but every time I click on the link in Firefox it streams the file to Windows Media Player which of course blows. My goal is to load the file in Media Player Classic as then it would allow me to save the file.

I've attempted to change the Firefox settings for .wmv file types but that didn't change the behavior. I suspect that the mms://wms. portion of the URL has something to do with it, but I don't understand what exactly.

Any advice?
posted by digibri at 1:59 PM on September 20, 2007

I have no interest in computer science, virtual worlds, etc. . . . And yet this was just extraordinary. This is truly best of the web.
posted by ferdydurke at 2:11 PM on September 20, 2007


Google the words "capture video stream" and you should find what you are looking for. I actually downloaded the video to my hard drive last night. I used a program called net transport but there are a dozen programs that will do it. FYI... The file is only ~250MB and the quality is decent.

I was actually outside the auditorium when he gave this lecture. I had had a long day and decided to skip it. Boy, do I regret it now. I had no idea that this was his last lecture.
posted by D Wiz at 3:05 PM on September 20, 2007

Thank you. Excellent.
posted by voltairemodern at 6:02 PM on September 20, 2007


posted by oigocosas at 11:05 PM on September 20, 2007

Oh, man. I was in his first Building Virtual Worlds class at CMU. It was my favorite class there. I feel bad not just for him, but for all the students who won't be able to benefit from his teaching in the future.
posted by Happy Monkey at 5:48 AM on September 21, 2007

I have just finished listening and watching the entire lecture. I was amazed by this man's calmness facing his own death and naturally by his accomplishments. I certainly learned a great deal from his spoken experiences, especially the fact that even if one does not realize one's childhood dreams, one always gets good lessons from just dreaming. To a great extent, it appears to me that I have also realized most of my childhood dreams--when I, that is to say, stop my dreams or illusions in some cases. With all the merits he exhibits, I do have a reservation from what he said regarding freedom as the key to success. He encouraged parents to let their children paint their rooms the way they like, perhaps as an indication of creativity. But how many children are as smart and creative as he is? How many children have the freedom of living in their own rooms. I am thinking of those children living in the apartments and without homes and even as homeless living in the street. And I am certainly thinking of those Iraqi children who have no security to be free. So, here is my main point, Professor Pausch is an elite at an elite university and everything he said basically is relevant only to the elite group in the society and in the world. He is what I call a strong paradigmatic who takes the principle of the survival of the fittest for granted. But what about those who cannot compete with the strong people like him? What about those children who do not have health care and who never did have an opportunity to go to the Disney World or Land? And what about those people who are discriminated against from the very beginning of their lives--such as those who lived with the whole family in a 16-by-14 foot log cabin which was recently exhibited at George Washington's home in Mount Vernon, Virginia? In short, I admire the courage and the accomplishment of Dr. Pausch like everyone else. My only reservation seems to be that his lesson essentially is relevant to those elite groups of the society, rather than to all human beings, especially irrelevant to those poor and underprivileged ones who do not have much freedom to survive in the first place, let alone to live their childhood dreams like painting their rooms in any way they like.
posted by Confucian student at 5:40 PM on September 21, 2007

I attended the lecture, and I'm very glad that I did. I've never seen that many grown men brought nearly to tears in one place. Even the University President looked choked up. I even lost it when Randy rolled out a cake for his wife after missing her birthday the day before. How could we not?

He's always been a guy with such boundless energy and I can't imagine him slowing down, not even for the remaining months of his life. I'm not sure we've heard the last from Randy.
posted by Alison at 5:53 AM on September 22, 2007

Confucian student wrote:
Professor Pausch is an elite at an elite university and everything he said basically is relevant only to the elite group in the society and in the world. He is what I call a strong paradigmatic who takes the principle of the survival of the fittest for granted. But what about those who cannot compete with the strong people like him? What about those children who do not have health care and who never did have an opportunity to go to the Disney World or Land?

Hi, I'm one of the faculty in the same department as Randy, and created a new account on MetaFilter to respond to this.

I understand your concerns, and can see how Randy's message could be viewed as you have. However, keep in mind that a substantial part of Randy's talk was about helping other people achieve their dreams.

Randy has spent a lot of time encouraging underrepresented minorities to enter and continue in computer science, women in particular. You may also remember in his talk about how he and his family have helped maintain a school in southeast Asia, to give those who have been dealt a bad hand a real chance at a better life.

I don't speak for Randy, but I think he would say that it is not only a responsibility, but a privilege to help other people.
posted by jasonhong at 6:45 AM on September 22, 2007 [3 favorites]

A bit late to the party, but FYI, there's a torrent of the video, too. Hivemind folks might appreciate a swarming protocol, no? :)

Much of the lecture is just good philosophy and funny stories, but the last few lines he says, about the "head-fake", just make it. The first 72 minutes of the talk stand on their own, but they're doubly valuable, now that I understand the real reason(s) for the talk.
posted by Myself at 7:02 AM on September 22, 2007

My husband drove from DC to Pittsburgh to catch this talk. (Hi, jasonhong - hope you stick around metafilter! It's the best timesink on the web.) I never met Randy, but he certainly inspired a lot of people around him to use their time and opportunities to the fullest. Thanks xthlc for posting this.
posted by selfmedicating at 10:31 AM on September 22, 2007

Truly, this is the best of the web.
posted by bashos_frog at 11:15 AM on September 22, 2007

Everything Professor Hong said was basically correct and I know that Professor Pausch has been helping many students to develop their potentials. And I thank for his response. My point was related to the larger issue of moral compass or morality in the idea that freedom is the key to success. In a sense, I suppose I was making Prof. Pausch as some kind of scapegoat in this warring atmospher of our nation when the storngest nation in the world literally tries to control the world and detroy other nations. As it were, a child who painted his room with all the freedom he wanted (but without discipline and taking no consideration of the effects of his actions on others) could become a person, after he grew up, who invaded, occupied and destroyed a foreign country for no apparent reason except in the name of freedom and democracy. I would not be saying anything if in the lecture Prof. Pausch would mention that his success had also depended upon his luck or fate of living in this prosperous nation and being born with a much-above average IQ--in addition to his drive and hard work. After all, without being born into a computer age, his achievement in virtual reality would be much more difficult. The fact is that had he been born into another family, another nation, or another race, his same childhood dreams most likely would not have been realized. When I say this, I really do not mean to discount his greatness and his inspiration to me personally. I say this, because I am expressing a truth that freedom can be easily abused; and this truth seems to bear it out quite nicely by the inordinate "freedom" of the current administration.
posted by Confucian student at 12:54 PM on September 22, 2007

"As it were, a child who painted his room with all the freedom he wanted (but without discipline and taking no consideration of the effects of his actions on others) could become a person, after he grew up, who invaded, occupied and destroyed a foreign country for no apparent reason except in the name of freedom and democracy."

What? What effect does a child painting his room have on anyone? May be his parents will have to spend $100 if/when they decide to sell the house but that is their call, they allowed him to do it and he is a better person for it. How is that related to invading and occupying a country? How can you randomly link a child's wish to do something fun to something done by one administration of the whole country? Please keep your thin tenuous links to yourself. Every topic discussed on the Internet does not have to be linked to the war in Iraq (which I oppose and in all probability so does Prof Pausch, though I don't know him or speak for him)

Yes people born in the United States can be considered luckier than those born in Africa but that does not oblige all Americans to give all credit for their success to their luck. Instead of words, it is better to speak with your actions - as Randy HAS done, by supporting a school in SE Asia, by helping minorities get a better education in America.

Any way I am probably feeding a troll but I had to say this.
posted by ajju at 10:23 AM on September 28, 2007

Even Alan Greenspan admitted that the Iraq war is about oil. That is to say, the war can be interpreted as the American economic men in their freedom to maximize their profit without much discipline to control their own behavior--either in developing alternative energies or in controlling petroleum usage. This means that there is definitely a connection between freedom at home and freedom in invading a foreign country. A child growing up with a great deal of freedom is bound to consider other people and nations less important and when his importance is challenged and an opportunity arises to use his strength and power to harm others, he will likely do so. However, if he has been disciplined from the very beginning, such harm is not likely to happen. Surely, I don't mean that the great professor who started this discussion has harmed himself or anyone. I do mean that freedom without discipline in education or in life renders harm to both the self and other people. Returning to the issue of war, I do not believe the U.S. has benefited or will be benefited from it even though the U.S. seems to have unlimited freedom to invade, occupy and destroy other nations, especially the weaker one like Iraq. The nation as a whole would have been better off if she really had been disciplined herself in defending her "homeland" security and not changed the defense department to the offence department. You may not agree with me, but I have attributed all this to the abuse of freedom. In reality, freedom like anything else (such as eating and drinking) needs to be moderated with discipline or self-control to be truly beneficial to the self and others. And as a whole, being the strongest and mightiest nation on earth, the U.S. has too much freedom already.
posted by Confucian student at 1:32 PM on September 29, 2007

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