Champions, present and past

If you would like to see a bit of current World Series Champion history, the World Championship Trophy will be on display at the Missouri Historical Society (Missouri History Museum) in Forest Park here in St. Louis beginning this Saturday. Society members will get a chance to see it Saturday morning before it is open to the general public , so now may be a good time to become a member. The 30 pound, sterling silver trophy will be on view in the museum’s MacDermott Grand Hall 7 April – 13 May 2007 (except for 23-25 April, when the trophy will not be on display).

A bit of interesting trivia, thanks to the folks at wikipedia: The trophy, officially called the Commissioner’s Trophy, was first presented in 1967 to the St. Louis Cardinals (!) following their victory over the Boston Red Sox.

Speaking of baseball, yesterday was a beautiful day for it, and a great day for opening day ceremonies for the reigning World Series Champion Cardinals. In addition to the current champions and new additions to Busch stadium to honor them, the festivities included quite a few champions from the Cardinal’s past.

After the Budweiser Clydesdales got the party started, parading around the field, Cardinals radio voice John Rooney and actor Billy Bob Thornton took over as the official emcees of the evening festivities.

Shortly after each member of the team took a trip around the field in a convertible, past Cardinals greats were introduced, commemorating St. Louis’ last two World Series championships, in 1967 and ’82.

Some of the former players on hand were Keith Hernandez, Joaquin Andujar, Bob Forsch and Bruce Sutter from the ’82 championship squad. Representing the ’67 championship team were Tim McCarver, Red Schoendienst, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson, among others.

OpeningDay07The pregame festivities continued when Adam Wainwright, Gibson and Sutter threw out the ceremonial first pitches. Those were the three pitchers to record the final out for the Cardinals’ last three World Series titles. The three hurlers threw to the managers that led them to the World Series: Tony La Russa, Schoendienst and Whitey Herzog.

Sutter joked before the toss that he didn’t know if he could get it to Herzog, and if he did, he didn’t know if Herzog could catch it. Sutter had no problem delivering a strike to his former manager.

All in all, it was quite a day for Cardinals fans, who waited 24 years in between for their World Series titles. Some fans were so eager for the first game that they went to downtown St. Louis several days early.

Pretty much a perfect opening day. Except, of course, that the Cardinals lost to the Mets.

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The serendipity of knowledge

Album Cover - Liquid Tension ExperimentA month or so ago in a discussion about the value of blogs and wikis as collaboration tools, Dave Snowden stated, “Knowledge discovery is serendipitous, not planned.” Last weekend, I had a ‘no-tech’ version of this experience at Mozingo Music in Ellisville, where I had taken my son to pick up some new sticks and mallets (he is a percussionist).

While Ian was looking through the different options, my eyes were drawn to the shelf of instructional DVDs. One in particular caught my eye, Mike Portnoy‘s Liquid Drum Theater. Though I didn’t buy the DVD, the info on the jacket made me want to learn more about Portnoy’s music with various groups. The group that stuck in my mind was Liquid Tension Experiment (with such a cool name, how could it not).

I’m always on the prowl for good new music, preferably good instrumental rock, and what I found with Liquid Tension Experiment on their two, aptly titled, CDs – Liquid Tension Experiment and Liquid Tension Experiment 2 – didn’t disappoint me. After listening to a couple of 30 second excerpts on the iTunes store, these two albums very quickly made their way into my collection of songs. (I’d have provided links to the albums in the iTunes store, but I’m not sure you can actually do that in a browser.)

To say that these guys are good would be a gross understatement, so I was anxious to see what else they had put out. Turns out that Liquid Tension Experiment was kind of a ‘side-gig’ for Portnoy and others, so they only released the two CDs mentioned above. As an ‘experiment,’ I would say that they definitely succeeded.

If you don’t want to buy both full albums but want to get a good sample of what they’ve got to offer, I’d recommend Paradigm Shift or Freedom of Speech from the first album, and Acid Rain or Biaxident from the second. You’ll be glad you did.

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Thunderhead – A tribute to RUSH

I’ve been a fan of the Canadian rock trio Rush for many years, since high school, so when my brother called me up a couple of weeks ago and asked if I wanted to go check out a local Rush tribute band I immediately agreed. I’m glad I did.

Thunderhead logoThe band, Thunderhead, played at the House of Rock in South (St. Louis) County on a Friday night (9 Feb). We got there early to make sure we had a place to sit (and set down our beers!), and good thing. As show time approached the place filled up quickly.

Like Rush, Thunderhead is a three-man band: George Whitlow on bass, keyboards, and vocals, Corey Nelson on guitars, and Mike Ramsey on percussion (you can’t simply call it “drums” when you are talking about Rush!). And I have to say, these guys ROCKED. (Well worth the 5 buck cover.)

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the show, as I had never seen a “tribute band” perform. I had in mind the “cover bands” that travel the club circuit, playing a collection of covers from various bands, genres, etc. The music is usually good, but very rarely do the bands seem to make a whole-hearted effort to re-create the sound of the original. (Not saying that’s bad, I love a good cover band.)

A ‘tribute band,’ on the other hand, has as its goal a faithful reproduction of most, if not all, aspects of a bands music and performance. In that, Thunderhead succeeded.

One of the things that became immediately obvious when they started playing was that this wasn’t just a bunch of guys that got together on the weekends to play some music. I can only imagine how much time they put into 1) learning the music as individuals, 2) learning the songs as a group, 3) staging the performance (lights, sound, etc), and 4) rehearsal of the whole package.

With the exception of some vocal problems George had (a cold exacerbated, no doubt, by the thick smoke in the club), their performance was right on. As much as I’ve always enjoyed Neil Peart’s lyrics, it is Rush’s musicality that I most love. The extended guitar solos in songs, the mandatory (and brilliantly executed) drum solo, and the group jams that are Rush’s instrumentals were great. My personal favorite – the jazzy, funky, and rocking La Villa Strangiato.

If you live in the St. Louis area, keep an eye on their tour page for upcoming dates. If you are a fan of Rush, you owe it to yourself to check these guys out.

A winning attitude

Anyone who has ever competed in a sport knows the value of having actual competition. Runners, for instance, are much more likely to improve their personal best time if they are running against someone that is as good as or slightly better than they are.

Ian Back 1

Even in the world of business, competitive pressures provide the incentive needed to do your best work. (I think we all know how much competing against a deadline ‘encourages’ us to get things done faster, if not better.)

I’ve written before about my son Ian’s trampoline and tumbling. Competition season has begun again, and with it comes the inevitable preparation, travel, and actual performance. One of the hardest things about the early part of the local competition environment is the lack of competition in all age groups and difficulty levels, especially among boys.

Ian Back 2In the absence of this competition – especially this early in the season when the goal is simply to participate so you can attend the State Championships – it would be all too easy for Ian and other athletes to not give their best. When you are the only one in your competitive group, you will get the gold even if you give your worst performance ever. For the ultra-competitive athlete, this is even worse because they don’t really consider it competition if they’re not actually beating someone.

During Ian’s first competitive season, we worked around this by turning it into a competition with himself – the goal was to improve the score of his routines from meet to meet so that by the time he got to the State Championships he was ready for any competition that may come his way.

This obviously sank in. Here’s what Ian had to say about not having any direct competition at the first event of this competition season:

I’m not going to win gold because I’m the only one. I’m going to win gold because I did my best.

A winning attitude we would all do well to remember.

(If you live in the St. Louis area and your kids are interested in Trampoline and Tumbling, check out St. Louis Elite Tramp and Tumble at Gateway Kids World in Hazelwood.)

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Telling your story with pictures

302800321_958f4d7821_m.jpgAt the last St. Louis Idea Market, Scott Matthews from XPLANE had us all create a visual explanation of how a toaster works. Among many observations I made from the exercise, key was how different people interpreted what was meant by “how a toaster works.” Some of us took it to mean “How do you make toast with a toaster” while others approached it from the “how does a toaster function” point of view. (It was pretty easy to pick out engineers in the crowd!) Scott has posted the scanned cards on Flickr. haentsch200.jpg

Photographer Volker Steger gave a similar visual story telling challenge to past Nobel laureates in the article and photo layout Nobel Notations in the December 2006 issue of Discover magazine, in which he asked these great minds to explain their prize winning achievements using crayons and a piece of poster board.

The scientists’ artwork draws out unexpected and often deeply personal details. Curl’s depiction of the buckyball’s creation hints at a dispute over the naming of the molecule. He favored “soccerene” for its soccer-ball shape, but his British cowinner, Sir Harold Kroto, nixed that idea, arguing that in England the game is called football and that the molecule ought to be called “footballene.” (In the end, it was named for architect Buckminster Fuller’s celebrated geodesic domes.)

If you would like to your own hand at a visual explanation for a scientific idea – and possibly win a prize – check out the National Science Foundation’s Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge.