Sunday, 13 April 2014

My how things change

This Blog was once where I mused about interesting happenings within the hobby of Ham Radio and specifically QRP.  I am still interested in that however since last September I began learning to play the Bagpipes.  At 46 I was definitely a late starter so I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me to become proficient...little did I know how much work.

This all goes back to life as an East Coaster where bagpipe music was just something you heard often.  Growing up I always remember liking bagpipe music.  The first time I remember wanting to know how to play them was in grade 6 when, during a "hobby day" at school, the teacher's son came dressed in full kilt and bagpipes.  I didn't even hear him play but seeing him dressed like that made me so envious.  Fast forward to 1988.  I was in the military on my first posting in Moose Jaw, SK.  Moose Jaw has a piping competition every year and the town had a few pipe bands.  In fact, the whole province seems to be full of pipe bands.  Anyway, my mother got me a practice chanter and instruction book and I started learning the notes in the book however you get to a point where you need actual instruction from a real person.  There was no Youtube back then and I just gave up.  I guess I didn't want it badly enough.  Fast forward again to 2013 and I was at a wedding.  I met someone who was very big in the local bagpiping scene.  It got the wheels turning in my brain and I knew it was time for me to try again.  I found a local instructor and dove in full steam.  It was not easy getting to the lessons but it worked.  Then I found a pipe band near where I live.  In October I signed up and began attending those lessons as well.  Once I knew they were good for me I made a commitment to them and discontinued my lessons in the city.  I practiced that chanter every day at lunch for an hour and I progressed quite nicely.

For those who are unaware, you learn on the practice chanter and when you are ready you "graduate" to the "Goose" and then onto the Bagpipes.  You always have a practice chanter and usually learn new tunes on it before playing them on the pipes.  There is no rule as to when you move from Practice Chanter (PC) on to the Goose or Bagpipes as everyone is different.  Just before Christmas a drummer from the band loaned me an old set of bagpipes that I could use until I found a set to purchase.  Used sets can run from $700 to $1500.  I had to buy reeds for the loaner set but took to them right away.  I practiced over the holidays and loved it.  I started practicing with the grade 5 band (beginner level band) however I was way behind them especially in my knowledge of the regular band tunes.  These tunes are the ones that are played as warm up tunes or in parades or as massed band tunes at Highland Games.  I was still practicing these tunes daily but I also had to learn the band's competition medley.  This is a composition  3 marches that we will play at Pipe Band competitions throughout the spring/summer.  I used to be so nervous at band practice because I would make a lot of mistakes and with the pipes mistakes are easily heard by others.

As the months passed I became more and more comfortable with my abilities and I now enjoy band practice more.  I still am learning the tunes but I have reached a point where my mistakes are few.  We have a month before our first competition and I think we will be ready.  Practicing every day is a must and I am lucky that I can practice at work in a location where no one can hear me.

My Pipe Band is the Glengarry Pipe Band located in Maxville, Ontario.  I will keep you up to date on the happenings and goings on as the season and my piping abilities progress.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Lest We Forget

In Canada we call it Remembrance Day, in the US it's Veteran's Day...either way, it's a day to thank our veterans and remember those who died for our freedom.  It is not a holiday here in Canada unless you are a federal employee, which I am not, so I always take it off so I can attend a ceremony somewhere whether it be at the national War Memorial (pictured above) or a small town ceremony put on by the local Legion.  Because I live outside the National Capital now, I went to a ceremony not too far away in Alexandria, Ontario put on by The Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 423.  The day was grey and chilly with snow in the air.  I remember many a Remembrance Day service when I was in the Air Force and it was rarely pleasant weather which made the ceremony that much more poignant.  The problem I had was during the 2 minutes of silence.  There were people standing about 20' behind me chatting as if it were social hour.  I turned to give the teenagers the evil eye and was so surprised to see 2 adults in their 60's.  I was so surprised at their ignorance.  Why did you even come out to the ceremony if you were going to chat during one of the most important parts?  If you wanted social time you should have gone to Tim Horton's instead!  They never did get the hint even after turning and glaring at them several times.  I felt embarrassed that they were so clueless and ignorant at an age where they should know better.  I guess what they say is true...common sense isn't all that common.

As for the soldiers who died for my freedom I say Thank You.  I will always be indebted to you.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

17M QRP Watering Hole

As I said yesterday, I haven't been on the radio much over the past few months.  I had some outdoor chores planned for this afternoon in preparation for the cooler weather coming.  Unfortunately the rain cut them short so I decided to sit down at the radio and see who might be out there.  I found the conditions to be not the best but I went onto a few bands (20, 30 and 40) around the QRP frequencies just to see.  I was not finding a whole lot out there answering my 1 watt call.  Then I popped over to my favourite band (17) and went to the QRP calling frequency (18.096) which I had never done before on that band.  I called CQ a few times and then heard the faintest answer.  I turned up the volume and craned my neck and heard DK4HV, Wang, from western Germany.  The QSB was bad and only a few times did his signal strength increase to the point where I could relax.  We exchanged name and RST particulars and enough to know that we were both QRP and I believe I got that he was also at 1 watt although I am not positive.  I gave him a 229 and it was truly the toughest I have had to work to get a QSO.

I was very pleased to get over 3600 Miles Per Watt on my first QSO in over a month.  I'm glad Mother Nature didn't want me to work outside today.  Thanks, Wang, for the boost to my radio morale.  I'm sorry I stayed away as long as I did.

Cheers es 72 -- Scott

Saturday, 21 September 2013

One of those great fall days

The wet weather today makes it one of those days where you stay inside, do some indoor cleaning and start to think about the end of summer.  Fall arrives this weekend and that makes me very happy.  It is my favourite season and although it is not chilly these days, it was a few weeks ago and I prefer it.  I haven't been on the radio much at all over the past month, let alone most of the summer, and the approach of fall means that I will be getting back to operating more.  I am glad for that.  Another reason for less operating has been my taking up learning to play the bagpipes.  I am enjoying learning them.  I have never really played an instrument aside from a little guitar.  When you learn to play the bagpipes you don't actually start out playing the full bagpipes but instead you play what's called a practice chanter.  It allows you to learn the fingering without having to think about the rest of it.  I think I am really improving and hopefully before too long I'll graduate to the full bagpipes.  It's been almost 2 months now that I have been learning.  I read a quote somewhere that I thought was very wise.  I don't remember it exactly but more or less it said "I don't aspire to be as good as anyone in particular...I just want to be better than I was yesterday".  That is the case most days and that makes me happy.  I think I can apply that to my Morse code skills as well.

Another thing I did today was make some really tasty soup from oven roasted fall vegetables.   I got carrots, and 2 kinds of squash and a beet from the garden, some onions, sweet potatoes and garlic.  I tossed them in oil and roasted them in the oven with some rosemary from the garden and salt and pepper.  The smell that filled the house was divine.  Then I blended them with a hand blender, added some water and canned milk and the soup turned out very nicely.  Then I made some dinner rolls from scratch...they're rising as I type this.  These autumn days with comfort foods to enjoy and chores getting done is one of the reasons I enjoy this season so much.

Back to the bagpipes for a moment before I wrap this up.  I am not a loud talker or very outspoken.  I think that is one of the reasons I prefer QRP operating...I don't ever want to walk on top of someone else's signal.  Why then, do I want to play the bagpipes so much?  They are anything but subtle.  It's a rhetorical question as I know I have always wanted to play them.  I have always been envious, when I see a pipe band playing, of the pipers and their talent for that wonderful instrument.

This is not me but I hope to look something like this by this time next year.

Hopefully my next post will have some radio content.

Cheers -- Scott

Thursday, 5 September 2013

A Nice QSL Card

From the number of lookups on Peter Thulesen's QRZ page I would guess that most folks have worked him at one time or another in Nuuk, Greenland.  I only just worked him last month but his latest card is stunning.  The photo is brilliant and I thought I'd share it.  At first I thought it was just a nice photo of some colourful houses in his town but looking more closely I believe his house is the red one as I can see towers.  Nice work Peter.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

A Great Vacation

I have been away from this chair for a variety of reasons lately but most recently it is because I was on vacation in Prince Edward Island (PEI) which is Canada's smallest province.  It is a place with red sandy shores, row upon row of potatoes growing in the fields, lots of seafood, a small population and some of the friendliest folks you will come across.  We were at a friend's cottage and it was a fantastic week.  We drove down which takes about 13 hours from Eastern Ontario.  Unfortunately someone recommended a "short-cut" which ended up being 138km of absolutely nothing in northern New Brunswick.  When I say nothing I mean nothing.  This wouldn't be too bad except that the road was not the best.  Every time we went around a bend I was hoping to see the town at the end but it took forever.  It was not the best way to start the holiday as I was in the dog house for a bit for taking us on that road without knowing how desolate it was.

We also visited The College of Piping & Celtic Performing Arts of Canada which is of great interest to me as I am learning to play the bagpipes.  I have always wanted to learn and have always been envious of pipers whenever I see a pipe band.  This summer I decided that you only live once and life is too short.  I would hate to look back in 10 or 20 years and say "I wish I had taken bagpipe lessons".  It is going well but is a long road to actually become proficient or even bearable to listen to.  There are so many jokes about is one of my favourites:  What is the difference between bagpipes and a trampoline?  ...  You take your shoes off to jump on a trampoline.  :o)

I also gained about 10 lbs from eating so much.  I ate a year's worth of seafood in just one week.  It's hard not to when it is so fresh.  I also learned a lot about how the different types of seafood are fished.  We went to a shellfish museum/aquarium which was small but very informative.  We also went to the Canadian Potato Museum which had more info that anyone could ever need about PEI's largest export, potatoes.

Here are some photos from the trip.

Here is a photo of the beach on a windy day:

and here is the shore next to a different beach:

Visiting the Canadian Potato Museum:

The best part of the trip, by far, was our visit to the College of Piping in Summerside, PEI where we saw a fantastic show in the evening.  Here are a couple of photos from it:

Some of the photos are a bit blurry but you get the idea.  The College instructs students in one of either Piping, Drumming, Step Dancing or Highland Dancing or a combination.  The show included all of it and was fantastic.

I am off for another week but recovering at home.  Maybe I'll go for a run today to work off some of those calories I ate last week....and get back to some radio.

Cheers es 72/73

Friday, 2 August 2013

Special Event Station - 20th Anniversary of Haywards Heath (GB) twinnned with Traunstein (DL)

I took today (Friday) off because it is a holiday in Ontario on Monday and this gives me an extra long weekend.  This morning I was spinning the dial on 17m and heard a nice signal from Corsica (TK13RNB) which is a special event station however he could not hear me even at 5w so after a few tries I moved on.  Then I heard, even louder, DR20CFT which is also a special event station but located in Traunstein, Germany.  I still had my rig at 5w and he came back to me right away with 599.

The special event is the 20th anniversary of the twinning of 2 in Germany and one in Great Britain.  The town in Germany is Traunstein which is located in the very south-east of the country.  Apparently that's where retired Pope Benedict XVI attended the seminary.   The UK town of Haywards Heath is located in the South-Eastern district of Mid Sussex.  The two towns formed this friendship in 1993.

It was a nice QSO and an interesting story. It is also the first DX contact I have had in a few weeks although this chair has not been occupied too much lately.

Cheers es 72,