Mastery at work: Grace Under Pressure

Wainwright and Molina following NLCS winning strikeout of BeltranWhen kids are out playing baseball with their friends, a dream scenario that many role-play is to be the batter in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 in the World Series, with bases loaded and two outs, when your team is down by several runs. It is all up to you. Of course, this dream can easily turn into a nightmare, because the kid pitching to you is obviously in a dream/nightmare scenario of his own: throw a strike-out and he’s the hero, give up a home run and he’s lost it for the team. Dream for one, nightmare for the other.

This was almost the situation at the end of last night’s NLCS Game 7 between the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Mets. Rookie pitcher Adam Wainwright got himself into a bit of a jam. He had loaded the bases and, with two outs, the Mets’ Carlos Beltran – with an OBP of .422 against the Cards in the NLCS, including 3 homeruns – was at the plate. I had butterflies in my stomach, and I was watching from the comfort of my own home, I can only imagine what was going through his mind.

But, in the end, he made it look simple, with a beautiful strike-3 pitch that caught Beltran looking, an example of the grace under pressure that mastery can bring you. Block out everything except what it is you are trying to do, and focus on achieving your goal. Not worrying about what others are saying or doing (outside of how it directly impacts what you are doing). Not all that different from just a week or so earlier, when this young pitcher was called on to finish off the San Diego Padres so the Cardinals could get to the NLCS:

His career as a closer just four saves old, Cardinals rookie Adam Wainwright was about to jog to the mound to clinch his first playoff series and get his first celebratory catcher’s hug when Jason Isringhausen offered some advice: Don’t think about the celebration.

As Wainwright recalls, Isringhausen launched into an explanation of how things were going to get fun, get plum crazy. Once Wainwright had finished off the ninth inning Sunday against the San Diego Padres, assuring the Cardinals’ passage to the NL Championship Series, he would be “mobbed like you’ve never been mobbed before.”

Just try not to think about all that.

To break any of the rookie’s tension, bullpen coach Marty Mason sidled over, looked at Wainwright and asked: “Has deer season started yet?” The rookie grinned. Relaxed. Cool. And dealing.

The only thing that would have made it sweeter is if they had won here at home. Needless to say, the NY crowd was a bit stunned, upset, and very quiet as they watched the Cardinals celebrate on the field at Shea Stadium. Here’s hoping for a 4 or 5 game series so we can enjoy the victory here at home. What a fitting end that would be to the first season in the new Busch Stadium.

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“Every soul is perfect” – Is there autism in heaven? (Redux)

Last December, I ended a post with the following question: If there is indeed a heaven, and our autistic children go there when they die, will they still be autistic? The answer, according to the writers of the CBS show Ghost Whisperer is an unambiguous “NO.”

In case you’re not familiar with the show, it is about a woman – Melinda – who helps the troubled spirits of those who die “cross over” into the light. Last Friday’s show (13 October) was about an autistic man who died but was not ready to leave. About half way through the episode, Melinda and her husband – Jim – realize that the man is autistic and that that is why they are having a hard time communicating with him and trying to figure out why he won’t cross over. Here’s the conversation they had (paraphrased to the best of my recollection) :

Jim: But if he’s dead, why is he still autistic? Shouldn’t he be cured?
Melinda: Yes, every soul is perfect. Maybe he has to cross over first.

Aack! Phbbt!

I’m sure many of you started sputtering at Jim’s question, I can only imagine the reaction to Melinda’s response. At the same time, I know that there are just as many people who agree with what these two characters said and believed, who can’t imagine that these ‘damaged’ people would remain damaged for eternity.

To be fair to the show, it was actually presented a decent portrayal of the issues and challenges around autism. A group home for autistics was shown, with the ‘director’ of the home explaining autism a bit to Melinda. Though she touched on some common characteristics, she did not stereotype autism. The (dead) autistic man was living with an autistic woman and died accidentally. He was trying to reunite his girlfriend with her mother – who had institutionalized her many years earlier when doctors blamed the autism on her (refrigerator mother) – before he could cross over.

But that one little statement, that I’m sure the writers didn’t even think about beyond “where’s a good place for him to ask this question,” pointed out a – THE – fundamental divide between people when they talk about autism: is it something bad to be feared and eradicated; or is it something to be understood and accepted?

— Note: In case you’re wondering, they didn’t explcitly show the man being ‘cured,’ but his mannerisms and demeanor changed as he was crossing over in a way that could only mean that he was, indeed, becoming a ‘perfect’ soul.

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Speaking of kids and their achievements…

One of my hobbies / interests is video production, though production may be too strong a word. Basically, I’m trying to put together the Miller family story using years and years of home video. As the kids have gotten older, I’ve also been documenting their various activities and achievements. iMovie has been my editor of choice (though with the help of the folks at Apple ProCare, I’m learning Final Cut Express), and I’ve been using GarageBand to put together some musical accompaniment.

I’ve also been playing around with YouTube of late as a way to share movies with friends and family without having to send them a DVD. My first test is a video of highlights of St. Louis Elite Tramp and Tumble from the 2006 Missouri State Trampoline and Tumbling Championships. (You may remember that last summer I wrote about the 2006 Junior Olympic National Championships in Chicago and my son Ian’s performance there. I haven’t quite gotten around to compiling that video yet.) This is a very basic edit, with a minimum of transitions and effects. I ‘composed’ the music that goes with it in GarageBand.

YouTube is extremely easy to figure out and use. My problem has been trying to find the right (best?) export settings from iMovie. As you’ll see on the video I’ve posted, the resolution is not very good. If I try to go higher on the resolution, though, the frame rate gets very choppy, almost unusable. Any suggestions are appreciated.

update: For those of you who are interested, I’ve uploaded the mp3 for the music in the video.

Congrats to the Robohobos

The RobohobosEach fall, middle and high schools from several states gather together for a friendly robotics competition. BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science, and Technology) Robotics puts on this competition with the goal of increasing student’s interest in (you guessed it) engineering, science, and technology. This past Saturday, schools from Missouri and Illinois gathered at St. Louis University for Billiken BEST, the local hub competition.
As the father of a member of the Parkway North High School Robotics team, the Robohobos, I’d like to congratulate them on their achievements at the event:

  • 3d Place – Founders Award for Creative Design
  • 3d Place – Best Web Site Design
  • 2d Place – Most Photogenic Robot
  • 2d Place – Robotics Game

The Robohobo's laundry machineWhen you consider that the teams have only 6 weeks from Kick-off Day to Game Day to implement the engineering process, come up with a design, and build and test the robot – and that they do it in their “spare time” outside of school – this is a very impressive achievement.

By placing 2d in the Game, the Robohobos have qualified to compete at the Frontier Trails regional event at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith in a couple of weeks. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Ask the expert (but make sure he is the right one!)

A current advertising campaign for Longhorn Steakhouse has people asking an expert various questions. The problem is they are asking questions (usually of a personal or relationship nature) of an expert from a different area (in this case, a steakhouse chef). While it makes for a bit of humor, and a way for the chef to get in a plug for Longhorn, it also points out the trouble with assuming because someone is an expert in all areas just because they are an expert in one.

It should also serve to remind us that just because we may be, or consider ourselves, an expert (master) in a given area we should not presume to be, nor represent ourselves, as an expert in other unrelated areas.

Richard Feynman perhaps said it best:

I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.