Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm posting this tonight, on Wednesday, before the day actually dawns. I can never decide if I'm an optimistic pessimist, or a pessimistic optimist, but generally when kvetching over whether the glass is half full or half empty, I usually -- even if it takes quite a while -- arrive at the conclusion that hey, at least I got myself a glass. I'm not sure what that means, but there it is.

I'll be taking a few days off from posting (not a few months, so don't panic, you regulars who have returned); there probably won't be anything new here until Sunday. For now, I leave off with a quote from Randy Pausch's Last Lecture, which has been occupying my thoughts a great deal since I read his book a month or so ago. It's the bit about his experiences playing football:

OK, let's talk about football. My dream was to play in the National Football League. And most of you don't know that I actually -- no. [laughter] No, I did not make it to the National Football League, but I probably got more from that dream and not accomplishing it than I got from any of the ones that I did accomplish. I had a coach, I signed up when I was nine years old. I was the smallest kid in the league, by far.

And I had a coach, Jim Graham, who was six-foot-four, he had played linebacker at Penn State. He was just this hulk of a guy and he was old school. And I mean really old school. Like he thought the forward pass was a trick play. [laughter] And he showed up for practice the first day, and you know, there's big hulking guy, we were all scared to death of him. And he hadn't brought any footballs. How are we going to have practice without any footballs?

And one of the other kids said, excuse me coach, but there's no football. And Coach Graham said, right, how many men are on a football field at a time? Eleven on a team, twenty-two. Coach Graham said, all right, and how many people are touching the football at any given time? One of them. And he said, right, so we're going to work on what those other twenty-one guys are doing. And that's a really good story because it's all about fundamentals. Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. You've got to get the fundamentals down because otherwise the fancy stuff isn't going to work.

And the other Jim Graham story I have is there was one practice where he just rode me all practice. You're doing this wrong, you're doing this wrong, go back and do it again, you owe me, you're doing push-ups after practice. And when it was all over, one of the other assistant coaches came over and said, yeah, Coach Graham rode you pretty hard, didn't he? I said, yeah. He said, that's a good thing. He said, when you're screwing up and nobody's saying anything to you anymore, that means they gave up. And that's a lesson that stuck with me my whole life. Is that when you see yourself doing something badly and nobody's bothering to tell you anymore, that's a very bad place to be. Your critics are your ones telling you they still love you and care.

After Coach Graham, I had another coach, Coach Setliff, and he taught me a lot about the power of enthusiasm. He did this one thing where only for one play at a time he would put people in at like the most horrifically wrong position for them. Like all the short guys would become receivers, right? It was just laughable. But we only went in for one play, right? And boy, the other team just never knew what hit 'em. Because when you're only doing it for one play and you're just not where you're supposed to be, and freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose, boy are you going to clean somebody's clock for that one play. And that kind of enthusiasm was great.

(Quote taken from here.)

That bit about criticism really meaning that those criticizing you haven't given up on you hit me when I first heard it, like an answer to a question I've been trying to figure out on my own for a long, long time. So, just for that (as well as everything else), this year I'm thankful for this computer science prof I never once met and who is now dead.

Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks, Dr. Pausch.

See you on Sunday.

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