Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Last Lecture...

I generally don't like reading autobiographical books, but sometime back, I had picked a book after reading reviews about it. It was for the simple reason that I was thrilled when I heard the first few minutes of a lecture (nah nah not the kinds that we have in grad schools, anyways I was always a last bencher) by the central character of the book on iTunes. To me it is always more pleasurable to read a book, rather than to see it, converted into a movie or a television series.

So pause, pause after 2 minutes of viewing the video on my iPod and I made sure I read this book. For all those who believe that 'The Last Lecture' would be a gyan book considering the word 'lecture' in its title, please don't be misguided. Once you have completed reading it, you would realize the real worth of this book. I am not sure, if someone would buy my views but that's how I felt once I flipped the last page of this book.

The Last Lecture is a book on Randy Pausch, a Computer Science professor at Carnegie Mellon. It centers around a remarkable speech he gave - Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams after being diagnosed with terminal cancer on September 18, 2007. The book is simple and talks about living a satisfying and productive life and these are cited by means of incidents that Pausch confronted and faced in his personal life. That’s why people say, there is no better classroom in this world than 'Life'. This word of wisdom may sound hypothetical but that's true to the core.

I felt the kernel of what Pausch wants to convey is that, dream, dream, dream and work towards it.
"Almost all of us have childhood dreams; for example, being an astronaut, or making movies or video games for a living. Sadly, most people don't achieve theirs, and I think that's a shame. I had several specific childhood dreams, and I've actually achieved most of them. More importantly, I have found ways, in particular the creation (with Don Marinelli), of CMU's Entertainment Technology Center of helping many young people actually *achieve* their childhood dreams."

"It's not about how to achieve your dreams, it's about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the dreams will come to you."

Randy Pausch, was recognized as a pioneer in human-computer interaction and design, and one of the very first person who worked extensively on virtual reality research. Although diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer in September 2006, it was his spirit and zest for life that won him accolades as a teacher and a mentor. Though he is no more, (he left this world on July 25th, 2008) he has left behind a treasured legacy.

One of the most important points that Pausch speaks about that impressed me was 'Head Fake'. What's that?

When we send our kids to play organized sports -football, soccer, swimming, whatever - for most of us, it's not because we're desperate for them to learn the intricacies of the sport.

What we really want them to learn is far more important: teamwork, perseverance, sportsmanship, the value of hard work, an ability to deal with adversity. This kind of indirect learning is what some of us like to call a 'head fake."

There are two kinds of head fakes. The first is literal. On a football field, a player will move his head one way so you'll think he's going in that direction. Then he goes in the opposite way. It’s like a magician using misdirection. Coach Graham used to tell us to watch a player's waist. "Where his belly button goes, his body goes," he'd say.

The second kind of head fake is the really important one - the one that teaches people things they don't realize they're learning until well into the process. If you're a head fake specialist, your hidden objective is to get them to learn something you want them to learn.
Limpid style of telling things and it’s so simple that it aplies to each and every aspect of our lives. Pausch mentions in his book that, there were few hidden intentions of delivering the speech, Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams at the University.
"The lecture was for my kids, but if others are finding value in it, that is wonderful," Pausch wrote on his Web site. "But rest assured; I'm hardly unique."
This was probably the best gift he would have offered his three kids: Dylan, Logan and Chloe who would miss their father when they grow up. Kids definitely bask in the warm cocoon of their fathers and their presence makes life more meaningful. One of my friends, Kishore has written a letter to his father and sent it with the hope that he would reply to it soon.
"Under the ruse of giving an academic lecture, I was trying to put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children."
Pausch loved his wife, a lot and this lecture was his gift to his wife whose birthday was on the same day, as he delivered the speech. Before concluding his talk, he invited his wife, Jai to the stage, embraced her and the entire crowd sang 'Happy Birthday' song for her. Another head fake, if you got it.

What goes deep down and finally settles after reading this book is the message of optimism. When Pausch was asked on the day of his lecture, 'What was the best thing that had happened to him that day?'
He replied, "Well, first off, I'd say the day's not over yet. So there's always a chance that there will be a new best."
Well, can one think of a reply that is more optimistic and affirmative than this, when one knows that six months down the line there is no road ahead?

A jubilant read definitely for book lovers. For others, even though you can watch the entire lecture on some forums or video website on the internet, just try on this book. And I am pretty sure each and every word would distill and settle down as you turn the pages.

Keep reading and remain connected.

(Note: None of the pictures used in this post are taken by me.)

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At 10:18 AM, Blogger Rohan Rai said...

The more you tread about Randy Paush the more you like him



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