Sunday, September 30, 2007

Last Lectures

I've seen a couple of blog posts about the Last Lecture of Dr. Randy Pausch at Carnegie Mellon.

For me, at least, it was more notable for what wasn't said. In the video, Dr. Pausch seems to be upbeat and even chipper. Even on my best days, I'm not nearly as confident or positive.

Maybe one's perspective changes when confronted with a terminal illness, or maybe he was feeding off the energy of the audience (one of the things I enjoy about teaching), but I think it's too much of a longshot to count on a personality change when confronted with such a challenge. Indeed, if I recall correctly from Tuesdays with Morrie, even Morrie Schwarz allowed himself a few minutes of sadness and self-pity every day.

Which reminded me that while we can all admire and be inspired from people like Dr. Pausch and Morrie, in the end, particularly in our most vulnerable moments, we have to live and deal with who we are. And our choices should probably realistically reflect our tendencies and limitations.

Which, as you might expect, got me thinking....

Which.....eventually....reminded me that I've been to a Last Lecture, although we didn't know it till after the fact.

In the fall of 1989 as a college junior, I took Analytical Mechanics from Dr. Lewis Salter. Dr. Salter, of course, was a man of a different generation, born in 1926 and spent most of his life in liberal arts colleges in the Midwest. He was President of Wabash College from 1978-1989, but if he was famous it was certainly in a pre-internet and more centralized media environment. (There seems to have been no New York Times obituary -- the only search result is in -- what else -- an article about Wabash remaining all male.)

Some time in 1988 or early 1989 he too was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and must've thought about his Last Lecture. His decision was to resign the Presidency and return to teaching. We were a class of 8 physics majors, and if I recall correctly, his only teaching course. It was a bit of a thrill to have a college president calibre person as an instructor. After all, two years before he had "rang in" our freshman class with the 1830's Caleb Mills bell.

Dr. Salter was, as you might expect, "old school": chalk and blackboard for him, paper and pencil for students, and 'thinking' for us all. If he lectured from notes, they were minimal -- his was the 19th and early 20th century style of lecturing. But it's the style I admire the most when done right. Like Tibetan Mandalas, physical truths were shared only to be erased from the blackboard to be carried forth by the students.

Sometime in October of that year, Dr. Salter became too ill to teach and died within a week of missing his first class. Our replacement instructor was a retired professor of the same vintage. We had a moment of silence, then on with the lecture.

I had heard that we was still working on research problems "to the end", and only now (yes, thanks to the internet) learned that he published a paper posthumously on solutions to Schrödinger's equation. This equation, incidentally, was proposed by Erwin Schrödinger in 1926, the year Dr. Salter was born. It mentions right in the abstract that "The approach is aimed at student exploration...."

Dr. Salter was only 63 when he died (he seems much older in my memory), and he did not have any young children at that point in his life. So I imagine that to some extent he had greater choice in how his last year would be spent. And even though he chose to return to an ordinary classroom of Waugh Hall overlooking the autumn tinged Wabash mall, his Last Lecture deserves mention on the 'blogosphere' as much as anyone's.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Co-op Blog

Decided to try a joint blog for the co-op. Updates on herding and taming just four of NYC's three year-olds will be posted here.

Managment Material?

OK, so tomorrow is Day 1 of a three-part management skills workshop at work. Today I took an online "test" to figure out what type of person I am.

Turns out it's Creative. Great!

When it comes to my "i dimension" (i=influence) the report says that the words that best describe me are
  • pessimistic
  • aloof
  • withdrawn
  • self-conscious
  • reticent
Geez. Does it count if I'm able to laugh at this?

Seen on city streets...

Looks like Ellie's future license plate is already taken:

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Welcome To School

Well, after seven months of planning over Sunday brunches, we'll be starting our pre-school co-op tomorrow, with three other families in the (greater) neighborhood.

It will probably be ad-lib for several weeks, as getting four three-year-olds to more-or-less do something (desirable) together at the same time is probably a bit ambitious for now.

But we do have a School Song, Welcome to School, written by Karen and arranged by me. We're going to work out the bridge a bit more (this came to me as a voicemail from Sofia's cell phone). But here was the premiere just this morning:

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Guitar Man 2004

I actually found the video capture file on our hard drive from the time we took Ellie there when she was four days old. Somehow I managed to turn on the camera for this song -- some sort of divine luck, because I certainly didn't record everything and cherry pick this:

Though I started going in the summer of 2001 -- my personal annus horribilis -- this may be why such days in the park are hormonally imprinted into all of us...

The song is I Can't Wait and is one of David's originals.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Art Scene

Awhile ago I was flipping through an art book at home, and quite accidently stumbled upon this:

I about jumped out of my chair. You see, that was painted in 1974, and today, the scene looks like this:
I walk by here every day that I leave our apartment as this is 79th Street and Broadway; when I come home from work, I exit the subway right there.

It's not that different, of course. But I never expected to see part of my day-to-day life in art books.

The former is a painting by Richard Estes, who apparently lives somewhere in the neighborhood, because there are nearly a dozen such paintings, based on photos that he took up and down Broadway for the past 35 years.

Here is one looking uptown at 79th and Broadway: and here it is today (from not quite the same angle):

When I've seen these 20th century photo-quality paintings in museums, I've always sort-of wondered "What's the point?".

But at least today, I smiled a bit more than usual walking up and down Broadway, thinking that it's both changed and not changed over my lifetime.

And I wonder, if people like this had stumbled across themselves in a museum in the 1560s, would they think there's a point?

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Saturday In the Park

We've had a beautiful Labor Day Weekend here in the City. We spent all of Saturday afternoon on "the hill" overlooking Central Park Lake listening to That Guitar Man, otherwise known as David Ippolito.

It's hard to know what part was best:
  • The music
  • The mixture of tourists and locals, saris and jeans
  • The guy who looked like Rupert Murdoch, telling strangers he used to work on Wall Street, but was there alone and fell asleep curled up like a baby
  • The fact that he emptied his guitar case of donations and bought everyone hot dogs
  • You never know who's in the audience, like Sid Bernstein
  • Or who might sing, like Christine Lavin
  • Or singing along to someone's wedding dance -- this couple was from Bristol, England

  • Or just watching your child, who you first brought here at age four days, dance in the sun-dappled shade to Jack and Diane, seeing that even growing up in the Big Apple she'll know something sweet about the Heartland [at 2:30].

    I took some video on our little Canon point & shoot. The quality isn't so good, partly from the technology of converting it to mpeg, and partly because it's always better to just be there.

    Nonetheless, I hope some of the magic makes it through: