Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Received Some Great Instruction (Not Radio Related)

This past weekend I had the rare opportunity to receive some piping instruction from 3 of the world's top pipers.  I attended a workshop in Peterborough, ON for pipers and drummers.  The 3 piping instructors were 8-time winner of the Glenfiddich Piping Championships, Willie McCallum, and multi-winners Angus MacColl and Stuart Liddell.  I won't go into further details of their careers here but suffice it to say that I was exposed to instruction from 3 of the world's finest piping soloists of all time and in Stuart's case the pipe major from one of the world's the top pipe bands (Inveraray and District Pipe Band).  

The pipers in attendance were divided into 3 groups and each were instructed by one of the instructors for 1/2 a day.  Our group of about 12 pipers (generally beginning pipers with up to a few years experience) had our first day's lessons with Angus followed by Willie in the afternoon and we learned 3 tunes: a march (Corriechoillie), a strathspey (Louden's Bonnie Woods and Braes) and a reel (Kate Dalrymple).  We also learned about practising methods and how to train our fingers for better execution.  There is no "trick" to getting better on the bagpipes other than repetition and practising good technique.  Every time you play an embellishment or note transition incorrectly, without going back and doing it properly, you are teaching your fingers to play it wrong.  Your fingers' muscle memory learns bad technique which makes it even harder to correct later.  I always enjoy learning new tunes and I like it even more if it's a tune I have heard before and liked but didn't know the name of which was the case here with Louden's Bonnie Woods and Braes.  I'm very happy to have learned it.

In the evening there was a ceilidh which included a roast beef dinner, a recital from the 3 pipers and the drumming instructors.  This recital was phenomenal.  Incidentally, the ceilidh was a kick-off/launch for a documentary DVD that featured these pipers and 2 drummers on a road trip down the famous Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica.  The tour and subsequent DVD was/is called Pipes and Sticks on Route 66.  We got to watch about 2/3 of the DVD before our time was up at the venue but from what I saw it was a great production.

On the second day of the workshop our group received instruction from Stuart and I was not disappointed at all.  He taught us a simple march called I See Mull but he taught it to us without the sheet music.  This was an entirely different way to learn and it was a challenge but it really helps with the memorization of the tune.  He then had us playing the tune on our practice chanters while marching in a circle...all from memory.  This was very different from how I have learned in the past and I liked it.  After a coffee break he asked us what else we would like to talk about or learn and someone mentioned Piobaireachd.  Now this area of piping is very different from the "Light Music" most people associate with the bagpipes.  The tunes are slower and can last almost 20 minutes sometimes.  It is definitely not for everyone, listener or player.  Because of this, he was tentative at first but after everyone expressed their approval he proceeded to teach us a simple Piobaireachd called Glengarry's Lament.  It was great to be exposed to this ancient form of music for the first time to any extent.  I liked it and I may try some out.  After lunch we all went outside and did some piping, marching...usual band stuff.  It was great and I had a blast.  I learned a lot but the thing I learned the most was that it takes a lot of practise and hard work to improve...More GDEs!!!

Me with Stuart Liddell

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Window Opened...And Then It Closed Again

I wish I were able to report a QSO with a new distant entity but alas I cannot.  What I am pleased about is that for the first time I have heard New Zealand and Australia on my simple wire antenna.  I was on 30M this morning around 1130 UTC and I heard ZL, ZF and VK calls.  There were not a lot of stations after them at the start.  I tried at 5W  over a 20 minute period but they disappeared.  I heard many US calls getting them over that time but they started to fade away.  I always thought that from eastern Ontario I would not be lucky enough to hear stations from 10000 miles away but I can.  I now know that those NL and VK stations may be in my log book after all some day.


Monday, 13 April 2015

Even When The Bands Are Poor...

Lately the bands have not been ideal and with some "reno" jobs on the go lately my operating time has been greatly reduced.  I sat down this evening for 30 minutes and tried for a few contacts.  I don't often get contacts in South or Central America due to the orientation of my fan dipole.  This evening, however I was able to catch YN5SU in Nicaragua on 17M with just 1 watt off the end of my dipole.  That's 2400 Miles Per Watt.  I looked back in my log as I didn't think I had a contact in Nicaragua yet.  Turns out I had YN5SU in my log from 2013.  I always appreciate it when OPS QRS for me as it makes for a much more enjoyable QSO however brief it may be.

Following that I thought I'd try for some QRPp action.  I was able to get Mark N8ME on 30M in Ohio with 500mW and to make it even better, he was QRP at 4W.  I really enjoy a good 2x QRP QSO...especially when I can be QRPp.

I got my fix.


Sunday, 5 April 2015

Two Marshmallows

QRP operators are not ones for instant gratification.  Some say we are gluttons for punishment.  One buddy of mine often says "Life's too short for QRP" followed by chuckles. The way I see it, we would rather have fewer, more meaningful, contacts than a plethora of less meaningful ones.  The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment comes to mind when I think of QRP.  Basically it was a behavioural experiment in the late 60s on delayed/deferred gratification.  Children were given the choice of either having 1 marshmallow right away or waiting a specified period of time when they would be allowed to have 2 marshmallows.  Some kids wanted marshmallows immediately and did not want to wait whereas others knew that if they could wait 30 minutes they would be rewarded with 2.  QRP operators are 2-marshmallow people.

Today while operating I heard OK2ZV calling CQ.  It's not a special call or rare contact or anything like that but with the SP DX contest on it was nice to hear someone calling just CQ.  I started with 500mw and had no luck.  I bumped up to 1W but still had no luck.  I also had to move the dial a bit as he was moving around a bit.  I then tried 2.5W still with no luck so I decided to try go slightly below his luck.  I then went slightly above and Bingo he heard me.  I was so pleased.  I was disappointed that my power was higher than I had hoped but my work in chasing him paid off in the end.  I'll wait for 2 marshmallows any day of the week as I feel it is so much more rewarding.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Turn Down Before Tuning Up...please.

I'm a pretty easy going fellow and not much bothers me.  One thing, however, that does get my goat occurs when people tune up at what appears to be full power when they don't need to.  When I am working a station, be it a weak one or a strong one, it takes my full attention and I don't do well with distractions.  The distractions bother me less and less as my operating skills improve but the one distraction I cannot overcome happens when people come to a frequency and tune up at such a high power that I can hear nothing else. I know that this is more of a problem for QRP operation as we are often not heard.  I realize that I am operating at 1W or less...maybe 2.5W and that they may not hear me.  I get that but is it really necessary to tune up at full power?  To add to that it seems to take the operator forever to tune causing me to miss a lot of the exchange with my destination station.  I'm glad it doesn't happen on a daily basis and I feel lucky for that but I wish operators would be a little more considerate and turn down before tuning up.

I feel better now.  :o)