Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Randy Pausch, noted CMU prof, succumbs to cancer (post-gazette.com)
187 points by demandred on July 25, 2008 | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments

His "last lecture" helped to bootstrap me out of nearly a year of depression.

It is a sad day when a man who has helped, inspired, and driven so many to excellence passes from the world, for few men are capable of stepping up to shoulder the burden that Randy carried, and fewer still could do so with such cheerfulness, tenacity, and care.

He was a great man, and he will be missed by many.

Kinda interesting, when you consider that the fact that this day was imminent was why he was able to help and inspire so many total strangers.

"Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want something badly enough. They are there to keep out the other people."

What a metaphor for challenges in life that we pursue

I also liked this one: "Don't complain; just work harder."

I listened to the lecture and mean no disrespect to the man's spirit.

But that vapid aphorism sets my teeth on edge. I couldn't help thinking: Gee, all those people who hit a brick wall because of racism, of sexism, of poverty, because they didn't have all the advantages of a well-off handsome personable white guy - well, they just must not have wanted it badly enough. They're those OTHER PEOPLE who are kept out.

It's a damn nasty metaphor when you think about it.

There are two ways you can look at an aphorism such as this "brick wall" business. Either:

1. These words of wisdom are a useful way to motivate myself when things are rough.

2. These words of wisdom should be used as a criteria for judging other people.

I think it's a damn nasty metaphor only when you apply it to someone other than yourself. Let me put it this way... we should celebrate those people who have pushed past whatever tremendous barriers they found in their way, but we should never look down on those who tried and failed.

Probability of success in many areas of life is at least partially dependent on attitude... and as cheesy and vapid as they may sometimes sound, I will take whatever comfort and confidence I can from these sorts of inspirational messages when I come across them.

Given that that phrase is a snippet I've heard over and over in news coverage, it's inevitable that it will be repeatedly applied as other than yourself. It plays into a widespead mythology that success is purely a matter of virtute/good-attitude (anti-straw-man: I didn't say attitude has no effect at all), and a concommitant view that for those who did not succeed it's due to their unvirtuousness/bad-attitude. How could it not be used to "look down on those who tried and failed", given the part about "... stop the people who don't want something badly enough. They are there to keep out the other people." - that wording invites anyone who succeeds to think that the "other people" are lesser, the ones the wall is there to keep out.

And critically, this doesn't all exist in a vacuum. His intent might have been entirely benign, but that doesn't mean the overall effect will be entirely benign.

It doesn't matter how unfair your obstacles are. The fact is, obstacles in your path will not go away by themselves -- your only say in the matter is whether to try and overcome them, or to give up and complain.

I don't think he's justifying those walls in any way. He's just saying, if you have goals in life, you've got to accept the walls that are in your path and make the best of it. Anything else is a pipe dream.

Ah,but you can try to overcome the obstacles in very different ways. You can accept the system as it is, and merely try to compete harder within all its parameters as an individual. Or you can group-organize with others and try to change way the system works - like anti-discrimination laws, set-asides, development programs, affirmative action, etc. (sigh, I know, I've said some things here that will not be taken well - but think about it).

There's quite an industry devoted to saying that accepting the system as it is and trying to compete harder within the game is somehow right, while challenging the system and changing the game through group action is somehow wrong.

Who built the brick wall there in the first place? Maybe the best action is to get some allies and to attempt to tear it all down.

True enough. The right kind of effort, at the right time, and you get a Ghandi -- transcend boundaries, change the world. Wrong effort, wrong time? You achieve nothing but hearing the sound of your own voice complain and argue about injustice. You miscalculate your power or strategy and find your effort to be in vain. You get left behind. Life is short, and you miss out. Instead of putting up things, and actually getting shit done, you gave yourself to a battle that couldn't be won.

I think all the women in that audience would disagree that its a disrespectful analogy.

Having been lucky enough to hear Randy speak in person, I can earnestly say he was an inspirational and fearless person. When forced to confront his own mortality, he took the extraordinary and selfless step of teaching the rest of us what it means to live.

I hope that he continues to change us in the way he seemed to have wanted, and that our decisions in life will continue to benefit from the perspective he's provided.

I just wanted to point out there is a difference between being brave and being fearless. While one has no fear, the other faces it and does not succumb. For all I read from and about him and his struggle against cancer, he was a very brave man.

When my time comes, I hope I die with at least a fraction of his dignity.

My heart truly goes out to his family. I have to admit that even on the other side of the world, I was inspired by him.

The only time I saw one of his lectures was on youtube, I happened across it in the middle of the night one time, and I just had to finish it - I stayed up until 5am just to see what he had to say.

It was one of those moments that really makes you think about what we can really achieve when we put our minds to it.

"But we don't beat the Reaper by living longer. We beat the Reaper by living well," said Dr. Pausch.

Something to keep in mind.

His development on alice is an amazing tool to teach kids programming. http://www.alice.org/

Randy you rock, and always will.


I'd been following Randy's story for a while now. He was constantly upbeat, still going strong two years after his doctor's initial "matter of months" prognosis.

As Randy's web page seems to be inundated, here's a page with links to various Pausch-related media, including his Last Lecture and Time Management talks, as well as various interviews:


It’s a sad day when anyone passes, but his inspirational "Last Lecture" if anything has taught me to celebrate life.

CMU's official page (of his lectures):


I think the email from CMU's president sums it up very well:

Dear Colleagues:

It is with great sadness that I inform you that our dear friend and colleague Randy Pausch passed away today, July 25, after a brave struggle against pancreatic cancer.

Randy captured the minds and hearts of millions worldwide with his Carnegie Mellon lecture, "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," and his book, "The Last Lecture."

Randy, who earned his doctorate from Carnegie Mellon in 1988, returned to the university in 1997 as an associate professor of human-computer interaction and computer science. Along with Carnegie Mellon Professor Don Marinelli, Randy was the co-founder of the Entertainment Technology Center, a leading interactive multimedia education and entertainment center.

At Carnegie Mellon, Randy was also the director of the Alice software project, a revolutionary way to teach computer programming. The interactive Alice program teaches computer programming by having kids make animated movies and games. A fitting legacy to Randy's life and work, Alice may in the future help to reverse the dramatic drop in the number of students majoring in computer science at colleges and universities. Randy was also known as a pioneer in the development of virtual reality, and he created the popular Building Virtual Worlds class.

An award-winning teacher and researcher, Randy was also a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator and a Lilly Foundation Teaching Fellow. He used sabbatical leaves to work at Walt Disney Imagineering and Electronic Arts (EA), and he consulted with Google Inc. on user interface design. He is the author or co-author of five books and more than 70 articles.

Perhaps the greatest lesson, however, Randy taught us all was how to live, even in the face of great challenges, and how to follow our passion. While Randy's greatest passion was clearly his family, he did not shy from sharing his passion for his work as a professor, for his students, and for Carnegie Mellon. We will miss Randy, but we will carry the memory of him and all that he did to make Carnegie Mellon a better university and each of us who knew him a better person.

A memorial service for Randy will be scheduled at a later date.


Jared L. Cohon

Very sad news, indeed.

RIP Randy. I know I will miss his fearless spirit.

Pray for his family and children especially.

I never really new about him until his last lecture was posted on google video. His speech is truly inspiring and it is very sad to hear of passing.

If you haven't seen that video you need to watch it. links are above.

Ah bugger. Really gutted to hear this. Loved the Last Lecture (book too). A real inspirational guy. Gotta feel for his family.

A loss for not only the realm of science, but the world as a whole - very inspirational man. Mr. Pausch will be missed.

An inspirational man. If he can deal with dying that well - we can all deal with living a little better.

This guy gave some of the best lectures I've ever watched. It is a sad day when someone like this dies.

professor pausch was a great man and i was deeply moved by watching his lectures and he will be missed. granted, i only knew anything about him because of his last lecture, but my life has been made richer because of the things that he has done. thank you, randy.


a real mensch.

It's unfortunate that he died but to be honest, I don't quite understand the appeal of Dr. Pausch.

All of the quotes attributed to him seem specious reasoning at best. "Beat the Reaper by living well?" I think "death" wins, always. "Brick walls" are just there. They don't have a purpose. Pontifications about the meaning of life? It looks like it doesn't really have one. Sort of like 'god', you can just make up what ever you want. What's his proof for any of what he's telling me?

Do we listen to this man because we feel sorry for him? because we're afraid of dying as well? The whole concept just seems like so much saccherine from a dying man. In 20 years no one will remember this book or him.

I remember seeing him on the Oprah show and starts spouting about how he's in oh-so-great shape. Then he starts doing push-ups to demonstrate. The whole display was pathetic and delusional. I'm thinking, "Dude, your dying! You're not in good health!"

The whole lecture just seems like a bunch of jibbersh from, unfortunately, a walking-dead man.

Boy, reading this, I don't feel so bad about the things trolls say about my essays.

That was very harsh. Which is not in itself bad. If someone were going to call an emperor on his new clothes, I'd hope this would be a safe place to do it. The problem is, this is both harsh and vague. It's ok to be vague if you're saying something nice (harmless pleasantries are a useful social lubricant) but the harsher you are, the more precise you ought to be.

I don't know what else to say. I have no reason to listen to what this guy is saying or give it more value than any of the other feel-good books from terminals. ie, "Tuesdays with Morrie". Remember that? Yeah, me neither. The value of these books seems specious, too. Probably because all humans are afraid of dying unless they can delude themselves to go to church.

He gives off this whole vibe of some crazy new-agey street preacher. THe way people lap it up and buy his books is disturbing.

...other feel-good books from terminals. ie, "Tuesdays with Morrie". Remember that? Yeah, me neither...

I did read "Tuesdays with Morrie" and I remember it well. It was NOT written by a "terminal", but by his student, Mitch Albom, a wonderful sports writer for the Detriot Free Press and New York Times best selling author multiple times.

Everyone has his own 2 cents and disenting opinions often contribute to the breadth of the debate.

OTOH, it's getting to the point where one needs waders to get through the stuff that gets spewed here in the name of, "See how much smarter I am than you." Until you get your facts straight, you're not a dissenter, just another poser. Move along please.

I never read Tuesdays With Morrie, but I was stocking books when that thing was out. It was a pretty big hit.

Not that that has anything to do with anything.

What a piece of crap. There is this thing called emotions. Human beings tend to get attached to each other. I will cry even if I will see a dead dog walking. Hell, he was a human facing all this without fear. He will be missed by many, at least I will remember him in my lifetime.

I think it is more accurate to say "facing all this bravely" than "facing all this without fear". I am sure he was afraid as we all are, but he decided to face it with strength and courage.

I'm also a little personally offended about your insinuation that I don't have emotions.

I acted as primary care giver for an elderly relative with alzheimer's, broken hip, and a few other problems as well as losing my father to brain cancer. Of course I care, but I just think that everyone focusing on Dr. Pausch's issue while ignoring everyone else's is ... bad.

Besides, I'm sorry, but if you think that life is some how a beautiful thing or that there is some sort of divine purpose to it all, see if you feel the same way when you have to watch a person you've known and loved your whole life shit themselves or scream at people who aren't there to show their spouse who died twenty years ago.

Nature's a bitch, god's an asshole, then you turn into worm food.

Fortunately, though people don't know it, we are free to make our own way, and don't have to be held up to anyone's dogma about how to live life. Or buy their books.

I don't think Randy would ask you to buy his book or hold his beliefs above others. He'd ask you to think about things critically and take a bite out of life knowing it's not going to last.

Randy was a decent, intelligent guy who got dealt a bad hand and made the best of it. He was more like one of us than your random celebrity. He was a hacker who had time to look back on his life through a different lens and share his thoughts. That's one reason I read his book -- a shared background. And remember, a significant part of his drive to leave his thoughts was a parting gift to his children who are too young to know him now. Doesn't take anything away from all the other people with things to say.

I'm sorry. But I never said that "you don't have emotions". But, dude get a grip. The man is dead, show him some respect now. What if 5 years later his kid Googles his Dad and read your post?

There are millions of people dying from cancer, disease. THey also have heart-warming things to say but no one pays any attention to them.

I think this is a similar phenomena that occurs when people will give money to Cripple Cat on the internet but not the real life injured animal. Or person for that matter.

This would be news without "The last lecture." He was a prominent, well-respected computer science whose research in computing education and virtual worlds will be missed. He was also, by all accounts, a great teacher at CMU.

You just don't get it. And I'm sorry that you don't, because someone like you wouldn't understand it if someone else tried to take the time to explain it.

Your attitude is like a cancer that feeds off apathy. Do this forum a favor and remove yourself from its discussion.

What attitude?

In the long term, we are all walking dead men and women, at least in this life.

What makes us live is whether we get down to the business of living or not.

Professor Pausch embraced life and lived it to its fullest.

The proof is in the pudding. Look at the life he lived.

He will be missed.

Neither I, nor you, have any way of knowing how he lived life. I wasn't with him all the time and neither was you. He could have been a jerk-royale for all we know.

People sometimes think nihilism is a bad thing but I think it's actually very liberating. IT's up to me to decide what "life to the fullest" is. I'm not even sure that phrase has any real meaning, though. Besides, I think what "makes us live" is cellular respiration.

How else should I judge him? His viral video? All of this media coverage, appearances, etc was to sell his book. I'm sure that's now he thought of it but the corporation that published his book sure did. His suffering is a gold mine for them ... which bothers me immensely and no one else seems to see this.

If nothing matters, why are you still posting here?

People are finding their own meaning here; let them be. Randy Pausch said that the best lecture he did was his Time Management lecture. Try judging him by that instead of his book deal (which has provided for his family just as much as his publisher).

the publisher got the lion's share of the revenue. ask anyone. i highly doubt that they would "let this one go" out of the good of it's heart. there's a profit edge, always.

besides, i'm not judging him. i just don't like being bullied into "living life to the fullest". It's like some kind of secular evangelism. Am I going to go to hell now?

The world is not a black and white place where profit equals evil. No one bullied you into living your life any particular way.

So what if someone is paid for their work? The publisher employs people, people whose kids need food, and medical treatment of their own. The beauty is that capitalism works, and it keeps us all from living lives that were nasty, brutish, and short.

To echo rms:

If nothing matters, why are you so insistent on letting us know that nothing matters?

People who work hard to convince us that nothing matters are afraid that actually, something might matter. Convincing others is a way to seek validation and assuage those fears.

In short it matters to them that nothing should matter. :)

>Do we listen to this man because we feel sorry for him? because we're afraid of dying as well? The whole concept just seems like so much saccherine [sic] from a dying man. In 20 years no one will remember this book or him

People listened to the man because of the way he lived. That he continued to live that way to his death is admirable if not inspirational, but ultimately inconsequential to that end.

It's awe-inspiring that he packed two auditoriums for those talks. Just consider how many lives he must have touched to be able to do that. How many of us could do the same? I know I couldn't.

Who knows how long he'll be remembered. I'll bet it will seem indefinite compared to the average individual, though.

You don't find value in what he said. I do. Seems like lots of other people do. We all listen (or don't, in your case) to him for personal reasons.

As for him doing pushups - he obviously knows he's dying. He obviously knows his health isn't good. He's just showing his spirit. I could never be as outwardly optimistic as him in such a situation. Your cynicism leads me to suspect you'd be even worse.

I actually think you could stand to learn a few things from Dr. Pausch.

Can't say much about this particular person, but I'm tired of being told who my heros ought to be. I will choose my own, thank you very much.

Loss of all is as sad as it is certain. I am sorry for him equally as for any other person I didn't know personally.

There is this thing about not saying bad things about the dead. Well, for one thing, he was very arrogant. Looking down on any student not from CMU. Such a lack of respect tells me a lot about a person.

He was an alumni of CMU and I think its fair to assume he had some amount of pride and spirit regarding his alma mater that he then spent teaching at. Just like many people have regarding their own university or college.

If you don't know or care who Dr. Pausch is, that's fine, but I'm not sure why the rest of us who respected, enjoyed or were inspired by his message and life should not have the opportunity to share our condolences and remember him together.

Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact