Randy Pausch


Randy Pausch, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, died July 25, 2008 of complications from his pancreatic cancer. He was 47. In addition to being recognized as a pioneer in virtual reality research, he became widely known because of his "Last Lecture" on YouTube which has been reviewed more than 6 millions times in its many forms, and as a bestselling book.


In September, Randy Pausch, gave his last lecture and told his audience that he was dying of pancreatic cancer.

He is a Professor of Computer Science, Human-Computer Interaction, and Design at Carnegie Mellon, where he is the co-director of CMU's Entertainment Technology Center (ETC). He was a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator and a Lilly Foundation Teaching Fellow. He has done Sabbaticals at Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) and Electronic Arts (EA), and has consulted with Disney on user interfaces for interactive theme park attractions and with Google on user interface design. Probably more importantly in his CV now are things like having had a chance to be in zero gravity.

About a week after he lecture, a friend sent me a link to a piece online from the Wall Street Journal about it which included a short video with clips from the lecture. Since that article, the lecture and Randy have gone beyond viral. The video was linked & emailed all around. It was translated into German, Mandarin and probably other languages. Pausch appeared on TV (Oprah, Good Morning America etc.) and bloggers started writing and linking to all of this.

If I summarize or excerpt things from the lecture, you might not watch it. He talks about some "brick walls" he hit along the way, but he believes that brick walls are there to stop those who don't want something bad enough. He believes that people ultimately will impress you if you wait long enough. He talks about writing math equations on his bedroom walls and how important it was that his parents let him do that.

Randy PauschDr. Pausch is involved with many projects. One that I knew about earlier that I didn't connect with him until September was Alice. Alice is a very cool 3D programming environment that allows users to create an animation without knowing programming. It's a visual interface and good teaching tool for introductory computing. It uses 3D graphics and a drag-and-drop interface to allow for a positive first programming experience.

After his last lecture, Randy was supposed to just spend his remaining tme with his family. But he public and the media want more. There are reports that a bidding war is on for a book based on the last lecture (co-authored by Jeff Zaslow the author of the original WSJ piece) and the bidding has reached nearly $7 million. I don't know whether to feel bad that his time might be partially used in all this, or feel good that his family will be taken care of financially and his life will be remembered.

It would be a good "lecture prompt" for any of us who teach to consider what our own last lecture might contain. It's a good story to share with other educators and with students.

It's hard enough for me to approach all the other aspects of dying that I'm not sure I could write or deliver that last lecture for real.

Places to go:

  • the original Wall Street Journal article with a video clip

  • follow-up story by Zaslow

  • the hour-long lecture in its entirety is available in a number of places. Randy says, "The first 8 minutes consists of embarrassing introductions I don't deserve. The lecture is about an hour, followed by tributes by much more accomplished folks than myself."

  • Randy Pausch's own home page

Getting Your Degree in Second Life

Texas State Technical College (TSTC) announced that it believes it is the first institution of higher education to develop a complete online certificate or degree in a virtual world. Is this where online education is headed?

This fall TSTC will be offering a Digital Media certificate which focuses on virtual world technology and they will be using Second Life as the primary way to deliver the course content. They plan for this certificate program to lead into an associate degree (AAS) in Digital Media starting in spring 2009.

During my flyover of the TSTC virtual campus
It's all new enough that when I went to the program website yesterday most of the links were not active. But, I was able to teleport to their virtual campus in Second Life and take a look around. It was very quiet and I didn't find any other visitors. I picked up a free t-shirt and visited a few buildings, and, of course, did a flyover.

"The 3D environment, which makes the virtual world so real you can almost reach out and touch it, offers students the opportunity to participate in an online learning community, and fully immerses the learner in a stimulating online experience," said Chris Gibson, their associate VP of educational technology.

The program will include courses in computer applications, professional development, basic graphic design, digital imaging, digital publishing, computer illustration, and photography.

The Texas State Technical College System consists of four technical colleges with 13,000 students.

If you want to take a bit of a tour of their campus without having to use Second Life, you can look at their YouTube video tour.

Running With OSCELOT


You can't get around the idea that schools are spending time and money on open source software. Of course, commercial vendors need to take note.

Blackboard has made several recent connections to the OS world. The most recent one I discovered is the creation of a non-profit organization called OSCELOT (Open Source Community for Educational Learning Objects and Tools) which came out of the Blackboard developer community. (* See clarification in comment#1 below) Their site is at EduGarage. It seems connected to their recent connections with Sakai and reportedly with Moodle. OSCELOT is supposed to work towards the development and sharing of OS plugins and extensions for "environments" (which includes Blackboard Building Blocks and Blackboard PowerLinks) so that users can customize and integrate their products using their open API.

There are a healthy number of projects on OSCELOT’s site and also free or open-source plugins contributed by the community. Of course, they are intended to be used with Blackboard products, so the question for me really is what will be developed for institutions using multiple learning management systems (including open source or home grown) and ultimately what (if anything) will come out of this community that has no direct connection to Blackboard.

Back in the Saddle, Again

Okay, so I should never take a vacation...

I'm convinced that IT gremlins, like cockroaches, wait for the lights to be turned out and the workday (or month) to end before they come out and do their mischief.  As soon as I settled into my working vacation (lots of different non-NJIT projects, all developed on remote servers), I opened Serendipity35's main page to catch up on Brother Ken's insights.

Bang!  There it was: Unable to Connect to Database Server.

I could see the cockroaches scattering --all with pieces of my code in their hungry little jaws.

One of the basic rules of IT management is essential service distribution.  In English, keep not all of thy information eggs in one hardware basket, and, because of that basic rule, I had designed the Serendipity35 web presence to run on one machine (devel2.njit.edu/serendipity), but have all of its stored data retrieved from another server --the db server that went down.  That design allowed me to put up a Technical Difficulties page while I hunted for a happy solution to the database server's blues.

I'm about 60 miles away from that unhappy database server, but I managed to get some help from my friends at NJIT's UIS division who were able to reboot the server and allow me to regain remote access and Black Flag all of the scattering bugs.  Props to NJIT's Kevin Byron for his help with the server.  July and August in Collegetown, U.S.A, are not good times to have problems with anything.  Everyone seems to be on vacation.  While on the Higher Education Fishing Trip (HEFT) last Friday, I talked to Kevin (an avid fisherman), described the problem, and was able to get some quick action on the uncommunicative machine. It's not who you know, sometimes, but where you get a chance to meet them.

Sometime with the next 2 months, I'll be moving all of Serendipity 35 to a new, faster hardware platform.  If all goes well, there shouldn't be any gaps in Serendipity 35's online presence, but if there is, I'll have my bug-stomping boots laced up and ready.

The Medpedia Project

The Medpedia Project is a project from to collect, organize and make understandable, the world’s best information about health, medicine and the body and make it freely available on the website Medpedia.com.

Physicians, health organizations, medical schools, hospitals, health professionals, and dedicated individuals are involved. Harvard Medical School, Stanford School of Medicine, Berkeley School of Public Health, University of Michigan Medical School and other leading global health organizations are part of the Medpedia community.

Medpedia hopes to serve as a catalog, database, and learning tool about health, medicine and the body for doctors, scientists, policymakers, students and citizens that will improve medical literacy worldwide.

Medpedia already has many organizations who are participating, and they are currently calling for health organizations around the world to contribute content.