Friday, May 9, 2008

Randy Pausch's Last Lecture Part-4

Randy Pausch: And so Imagineering a couple of years later was working on a virtual reality project. This was top secret. They were denying the existence of a virtual reality attraction after the time that the publicity department was running the TV commercials. So Imagineering really had nailed this one tight. And it was the Aladdin attraction where you would fly a magic carpet, and the head mounted display, sometimes known as gator vision. And so I had an in. As soon as the project had just, you know they start running the TV commercials, and I had been asked to brief the Secretary of Defense on the state of virtual reality. OK, Fred Brooks and I had been asked to brief the Secretary of Defense, and that gave me an excuse. So I called them. I called Imagineering and I said, look, I'm briefing the Secretary of Defense. I'd like some materials on what you have because it's one of the best VR systems in the world.

And they kind of pushed back. And I said, look, is all this patriotism stuff in the parks a farce? And they're like, hmm, ok. [laughter] But they said this is so new the PR department doesn't have any footage for you, so I'm going to have to connect you straight through to the team who did the work. Jackpot! So I find myself on the phone with a guy named Jon Snoddy who is one of the most impressive guys I have ever met, and he was the guy running this team, and it's not surprising they had done impressive things. And so he sent me some stuff, we talked briefly and he sent me some stuff, and I said, hey, I'm going to be out in the area for a conference shortly,would you like to get together and have lunch? Translation: I'm going to lie to you and say that I have an excuse to be in the area so I don't look too anxious, but I would go to Neptune to have lunch with you! [laughter]

And so Jon said sure, and I spent something like 80 hours talking with all the VR experts in the world, saying if you had access to this one unbelievable project, what wouldyou ask? And then I compiled all of that and I had to memorize it, which anybody that knows me knows that I have no memory at all, because I couldn't go in looking like a dweeb with, you know, [in dweeby voice] Hi, Question 72. So, I went in, and this was like a two hour lunch, and Jon must have thought he was talking to some phenomenal person, because all I was doing was channeling Fred Brooks and Ivan Sutherland and Andy Van Dam and people like that. And Henry Fuchs. So it's pretty easy to be smart when you're parroting smart people.

And at the end of the lunch with Jon, I sort of, as we say in the business, made "the ask." And I said, you know, I have a sabbatical coming up. And he said, what's that? [laughter] The beginnings of the culture clash. And so I talked with him about the possibility of coming there and working with him. And he said, well that's really good except, you know, you're in the business of telling people stuff and we're in the business of keeping secrets. And then what made Jon Snoddy Jon Snoddy was he said, but we'll work it out, which I really loved.

The other thing that I learned from Jon Snoddy -- I could do easily an hour long talk just on what have I learned from Jon Snoddy. One of the things he told me was that wait long enough and people will surprise and impress you. He said, when you're pissed off at somebody and you're angry at them, you just haven't given them enough time. Just give them a little more time and they'll almost always impress you. And that really stuck with me. I think he's absolutely right on that one.

So to make a long story short, we negotiated a legal contract. It was going to be the first -- some people referred to it as the first and last paper ever published by Imagineering. That the deal was I go, I provide my own funding, I go for six months, I work with a project, we publish a paper. And then we meet our villain. [shows slide of a picture of a former dean of Randy's] I can't be all sweetness and light, because I have no credibility. Somebody's head's going to go on a stick. Turns out that the person who gets his head on a stick is a dean back at the University of Virginia. His name is not important. Let's call him Dean Wormer. [laughter]

And Dean Wormer has a meeting with me where I say I want to do this sabbatical thing and I've actually got the Imagineering guys to let an academic in, which is insane. I mean if Jon hadn't gone nuts, this would never have been a possibility. This is a very secretive organization. And Dean Wormer looks at the paperwork and he says, well it says they're going to own your intellectual property. And I said, yeah, we got the agreement to publish the paper. There is no other IP. I don't do patentable stuff. And says, yeah, but you might.

And so deal's off. Just go and get them to change that little clause there and then come back to me. I'm like, excuse me? And then I said to him, I want you to understand how important this is. If we can't work this out, I'm going to take an unpaid leave of absence and I'm just going to go there and I'm going to do this thing. And he said, hey, I might not even let you do that. I mean you've got the IP in your head already and maybe they're going to suck it out of you, so that's not going to fly either. [laughter]

It's very important to know when you're in a pissing match. And it's very important to get out of it as quickly as possible. So I said to him, well, let's back off on this. Do we think this is a good idea at all? He said, I have no idea if this is a good idea. I was like, [sarcastically] OK, well we've got common ground there. Then I said, well is this really your call? Isn't this the call of the Dean of Sponsored Research if it's an IP issue? And he said, yeah, that's true.

I said, but so if he's happy you're happy? [So he says] Yeah, then I'd be fine. Whoosh! Like Wile E. Coyote, I'm gone in a big ball of dust. And I find myself in Gene Block's office, who is the most fantastic man in the world. And I start talking to Gene Block and I say let's start at the high level, since I don't want to have to back out again. So let's start at the high level. Do you think this is a good idea? He said, well if you're asking me if it's a good idea, I don't have very much information. All I know is that one of my star faculty members is in my office and he's really excited, so tell me more.


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