Remembering Douglas Adams on His Birthday

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Author Douglas Adams was born on March 11, 1952. He died in May 2001, but had he lived, he'd turn 65 today. He left behind a pile of great books, most famously the The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series.

Adams suffered a heart attack after working out at a gym in California. He was scheduled to give a commencement address at Harvey Mudd College just a few days later (he was hastily replaced by Joseph Costello at that event).

Just a few days before he died, Adams gave a 90-minute lecture at UC San Diego titled "Parrots, the Universe, and Everything," and in it he discussed his then-11-year-old book Last Chance to See, which he declared was his favorite. It's a book about endangered species, Adams says early on, "Virtually every author I know, their own favorite book is the one that sold the least." Sing it, brother.

I like to return to this lecture, because it shows a man talking about his passion. His message is timeless. Here's a sample quote from the lecture:

So just imagine if you will, this male kakapo sitting up here, making all this booming noise which, if there's a female out there—which there probably isn't—and if she likes the sound of this booming—which she probably doesn't—then she can't find the person who's making it! [Laughter.] But supposing she does, supposing she's out there—but she probably isn't—she likes the sound of this booming—she probably doesn't—supposing that she can find him—which she probably can't—she will then only consent to mate if the Podocarpus tree is in fruit! [Laughter.] Now we've all had relationships like that.... [Laughter and applause.]

Get your towel ready, and watch this:

As Adams predicted in the talk, the Yangtze River Dolphin (also known as the baiji) became functionally extinct in 2006. On the bright side, the endangered kakapo is still hanging on.

If video isn't your thing, here's an annotated transcript of the entire talk.