I met this guy last year at piping school, and he’s certainly one of the best pipers in the world. This video is his solo performance from Winter Storm 2008 about two weeks ago. He’s one of those who makes playing look so easy; it looks like he’s not putting in any effort whatsoever. (Anyone who plays the pipes will tell you it takes a lot of effort). He’s of course great at playing the standards, but is also really good at adapting them to his extremely adept fingers. The first two parts of the first tune (The Conundrum) are very solid traditional playing, and then he adds his own touch. Same for the second tune (The Train Journey North). The last bit is just flashy. He probably has the fastest fingers out there today, and it’s so relaxed! A lot of people who play fast sound really rushed or forced, but Start certainly isn’t one of them. The fact that he has the same name as a mouse is just a coincidence.
So my first solo competition of the year is coming up… see the counter for exact time remaining. I’m playing at the New Hampshire Indoor Contest in Concord, NH on April 5; they have four events in grade 2: piobaireachd, 2/4 march, strathspey/reel, and 6/8 march. For both the piobaireachd and 2/4 march I have to submit 2 tunes, and the judge will pick on the spot which one I will play. That means I need to have 7 tunes that are competition ready on the day of. It’s a lot of work being in the higher grades!
I haven’t been able to put in much time on the pipes lately, and I don’t foresee that changing drastically over the next few weeks. A few of my tunes still need some work on the practice chanter, which is about all I’ve been able to give them recently. I was doing pretty well and playing the pipes for half an hour at least each day, but that has fallen by the wayside lately. I need to get back to it; it feel good when I’m playing regularly.
I think there are now three people who follow the blog… and one of them requested cripple jokes. You asked for it….
What do you call a guy with no arms and no legs…
… in the swimming pool? Bob
… on the front porch? Matt
… in a pile of leaves? Russell
… in a hole in the ground? Phil (or Doug)
… in a mailbox? Bill
… in a wallet? Buck (or Bill)
… hanging on the wall? Art
… in a Johnny Cash song? Sue
… covered in shaving cream Nick
What do you call a woman….
… with no arms and no legs in the cannibals’ encampment? Candy
… with no arms and no legs in the courtroom? Sue
… with no arms and one leg shorter than the other? Eileen
… with no arms and one leg shorter than the other who is from Japan? Irene
… with no arms or legs, but with handles? Carrie
… with no arms on roller skates? Dolly
Can you spot the ones I made up myself?
Bad news: I haven’t played my pipes for two days
Good news: I got a good chunk of my schoolwork done for the next few weeks.
So I’m going through bagpipe withdrawal, and the only cure is to play. I should have some time this evening for a good practice session, but that’s 10 hours away. Whether I have the energy for a practice session is another story.
AP physics has been a drain on my time recently, and with the start of a new semester I’ve decided to make some big changes with the way the course is run. Already it looks very different from last semester, and I’ve realized I need to have more thorough plans for that class. I’ve put in a lot of time over the last few days (6 hours total) outside of class, and we’ll see how long I can keep up that intensity. It’s exhausting.
I’m hoping to be able to use my pipes for winding down, but it takes a lot of energy to play them, and after teaching all day it’s energy that I don’t have. Any motivational thoughts would be appreciated!
Wow, two posts in an hour? Something must be going on! If you’re astute, you may have noticed a play on words in the title, and indeed, there is a flurry of activity outside the window. We got another few inches of snow last night, and it’s still coming down. No idea how much we’re supposed to get, but probably not more than 6 inches or so. It makes the whole world pretty again.
And my day is filled with activities not related to the snow. Semester grades are due this week, so I need to get them straightened out (not to mention the fact that I have one class worth of midterm exams yet to grade), plus I need to figure out what I’m teaching tomorrow. Oh yeah, I’m on duty tonight too. On top of that I’d like to get some practicing in, but I’m not sure where it will fit in the schedule.
So I guess I’d better get to it….
I received an email this morning indicating that someone had commented on one of my previous posts. This is the first comment I’ve gotten from someone I’m not dating (don’t think you’re not appreciated, Kayla), and as far as I know it’s the first visitor who I didn’t share the address with directly. If I’m wrong about this feel free to comment and let me know that you’re out there. If I know people are reading, I’m likely to post more often.
The commenter was Piping Girl, who has her own bagpipe-related blog. I seem to recall having stumbled across her site not all that long ago (after seeing a post on Dunsire perhaps?), and hers is one of the several blogs that I follow once in a while. She has a nice post about the progression of courses at a Burns Dinner.
So this is proof that there are people out there who have found my site. Check out my actual website too; there’s lots of good information about me there. And keep checking back here for my sporadic and random posts. This is, after all, Keydetpiper’s Random Thoughts on the World.
I’m not sure what brought this to mind this afternoon, but I realized I haven’t heard and really good bad jokes lately. My favorite jokes to hear (and tell) are not the ones that make you laugh, but the ones that make you groan. It’s probably from my dad, whether genetic or the environment I was raised in, but I love it. Here are a few of my favorites that come to mind. Some are real groaners, some are just terrible, but I like them all.
So these two silk worms were in a race. They ended up in a tie.
Did you hear about the cannibal who are the charismatic? He threw up his hands.
I went to the Levi’s factory and got a denimstration on how they make jeans.
Why don’t cannibals eat clowns? They taste funny.
What did the cannibal do after he dumped his girlfriend? Wiped his ass.
These two guys are lost in the desert and are starving (somehow they have enough water). They come to the top of a dune and see an oasis in the valley below, green and lush. The most attractive feature is a tree that is clearly laden with bacon, pork chops, sausage, and lots of the “other white meat.” Surely it must be a mirage, so one of guys decides to wait while the other checks it out. They each take a walkie talkie so they can communicate while they’re apart. The one guy cautiously approaches the bacon tree, and when he’s about 30 feet away these machine guns pop out of the bushes and cut him down. With his dying breath, he picks up the radio and calls his partner: “It’s not a bacon tree, it’s a ham bush!”
A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother.
Why did the cat fall off the slippery roof? It didn’t have enough mu. (physics joke)
(end of list of jokes)
What’s wrong with me that it’s silly little things like this that make me laugh? It’s kind of sad, really, but I don’t care.
As I write this, a few students in one of my Honors Physics classes are finishing their midterm exam. They don’t like me for it, but I don’t really care. This is a nice week for teachers; as one of my colleagues said, “When you’re teaching, you’re always on. You can’t do anything without someone noticing. During exam week, I can pick my nose and get away with it.” There’s no prep for classes, but there is a lot of grading involved, since we need to have all of our grades in by Tuesday. That means we need to have exams graded, entered, and semester grades calculated just 4 days after the last exam. Two of those days are regular days in the classroom, so there’s not much grading time.
I have a reputation for giving hard tests, and I’m afraid that this exam will put that reputation in jeopardy. I had three students finish within an hour (including one who usually takes the longest), and at the end of the two hour exam period there were only three students left working on it. In looking over their papers they did pretty well, so I hope they don’t think I’m going soft.
I seem to have been on a roll when it comes to practicing, having played the pipes nearly every day in the last week or so. Yesterday was a day off (a day off from blogging too, if you noticed), for several reasons. First, I ended up staying at school later than I usually do, which didn’t leave me enough time to play before dinner. Since I was on duty last night I had to be at dinner promptly at 5:30, otherwise I would likely have skipped it. After dinner was the standard excuse, that I just didn’t feel like it. It’s a terrible thing, and one I’m trying to avoid, but every once in a while you have to take a day off.
I didn’t take two days off though, I just finished playing for about 45 minutes. It wasn’t a terribly structured practice time, more like just playing through some tunes, but the pipes were sounding pretty good. The fingers weren’t working as well as they usually do though, with the top hand struggling to find its place on the chanter and my birl having gone straight to hell. I think the first problem will be fixed by more playing and getting used to playing the instrument more often, and the second by tons of birl exercises. I hate doing exercises, but I understand their importance. Here I go to work on that now… where’s my practice chanter?
After my most recent session of practicing tunes backwards, I’ve come up with a few more thoughts as to why it’s the way to go. First, it forces you to pay more attention to where you are in the tune, so it results in a more concentrated practice. Second, during a competition I find that I tend to concentrate on my fingers for the first part (so it’s usually pretty good), then I listen more to the instrument and concentrate more on blowing steady and keeping it in tune. The more familiar my fingers are with the later parts, the better off I will be when I subconsciously turn my attention away from them.
I’ve also decided that I need to add an extra step to the list I posted last time, and that is to close the practice with five minutes or so of tunes that are just fun to play. If you’re enjoying yourself while you play it’s not practice; practice is where you play things over and over and concentrate on making yourself better, and it’s supposed to be miserable. It’s a treat to close a practice session with a reminder that this awful instrument is fun to play.
At least this is my approach to practice… up to you as to whether you agree or not.
I just heard about this, though it’s not a brand new scientific find. In early 2004, astronomers found a star that appears to made of solid crystallized carbon: in other words, it’s a giant diamond, 2500 miles in diameter. Nicknamed Lucy (after the Beatles song), it’s a White Dwarf, which is an older version of a star similar to our own Sun, and weighs in at an impressive 10 billion trillion trillion carats (that’s a 1 with 41 zeros). Gals, don’t get excited; at 50 light years away it’s too far to retrieve it to make into a ring. It appears our own Sun is heading in this direction and will become a giant diamond as well, but not for another 7 billion years or so. I bet there’s a lot more of these stars out there; so many starts in the galaxy means there’s no way Lucy is an anomaly.
A conversation about electricity arose this morning at the breakfast table, and primarily about sources of electricity that don’t pollute as much as the common coal plant does. It’s not hard to list sources that don’t pollute (solar, wind, hydro, nuclear), but they all have their drawbacks. Solar panels are great, but they’re not very efficient, the chemicals and amount of energy required to produce them is very decidedly not eco-friendly, and panels tend to lose their efficiency after 50 years or so. Wind is much more efficient but is not practical unless there’s consistently a breeze. Hydro is wonderfully efficient, but supplying it large-scale only works for cities near a large river with a sudden elevation change (not to mention that making an artificial elevation change, e.g., with a dam is tremendously EXTREMELY devastating to the local ecology). You might say that of the sources I’ve listed nuclear is the scariest option, but I suggest it’s actually the best.
Before you get all defensive, here are some things you might not know about a nuclear power plant.
- It’s clean. A nuclear power plant produces ZERO carbon emissions; one worker driving to the plant in a single day will emit more greenhouse gas than the plant will in its entire operation.
- It’s contained. The plant’s reactor and all its radioactive stuff (steam and water) are contained in a concrete vessel. That means if anything goes wrong, like a meltdown or massive escape of radiation from the reactor, it doesn’t get out. (By the way, the plant at Chernobyl didn’t have this containment, so when the reactor exploded there was nothing to contain the radiation. In order to slow down the environmental impact they hastily built a containment sarcophagus, unfortunately too late for that plant and those who lived near it.)
- It’s controllable. Control rods in the core can be adjusted to slow the rate of the reaction.
- It’s automatic. The entire process of producing electricity is automated and run by computers, including the position of the aforementioned control rods, pressure valves, water levels, and everything else. If the temperature gets too high too fast the reactor will “scram,” very quickly inserting all the control rods to shut it down in a matter in seconds. Like a passenger jet (which is much more automated than most people realize), the control systems are at least doubly redudandant, meaning that if one system fails there’s at least one more system that backs it up.
- It’s not radioactive. As mentioned above the entire radioactive loop is contained. Ironically, a coal power plant will release more radiation than a nuclear plant. Mixed in with the coal are radioactive isotopes of carbon and other elements, and as they burn they are released into the air. Not a lot, but still more than a nuclear plant.
So with that out of the way, the biggest concern is the transportation and storage of the spent nuclear fuel. It’s one of those things that poses no risk as long as it’s done carefully, and a national repository has been selected for Yucca Mountain in Nevada. It’s an old nuclear testing facility that provides miles of rock shielding in every direction, dozens of miles from anywhere, and is perfect for the task. It was supposed to begin accepting spent fuel in January 1998, but local opposition and Congressional foot-dragging has pushed that date more than two decades to September 2020. In the meantime, the spent fuel is generally stored at the power plant in a specially designed and thoroughly safe (though small) storage facility.
And what about accidents, like Three Mile Island (TMI) and Chernobyl? Well here’s a brief summary. The fiasco at Chernobyl occurred during a scheduled test, and technicians had the reactor operating outside of its safe operation guidelines, with fewer than the permitted number of control rods and below the minimum power generating level. Those two things combined to be a big uh-oh, and by the time people realized what was happening it was too late. The lack of containment mentioned above caused this to be a devastating event for the surrounding area. This only affected one of the reactors on site, and the three other reactors are still producing electricity.
At TMI, there was a failure in the cooling system, causing the temperature to rise and pressure to build. In the investigation, the NRC said it didn’t need to know the cause of the original failure, since it could have been corrected at many points during the incident. The primary cause of an incident was a combination of the plant not having the proper indicators and plant operators interpreting the indicators that were there incorrectly (note that all similar reactors have been retrofitted with appropriate equipment). The reactor involved has been offline ever since, but the other reactor at TMI is still producing electricity. At both Chernobyl and TMI, the accidents were entirely preventable if operators had reacted properly.
By the way all the claims I’ve made here are well-known throughout the nuclear industry and/or easily findable on the net, and you’re welcome to verify everything I’ve said here. I’m just too lazy to cite.
I just got a phone call announcing that due to the weather, there is no school today. This might raise some concerns for a few reasons: first, this is the second snow day we’ve had this year that has been announced before a single flake has fallen, and second this is the second consecutive school day that has been canceled. The “snow” day Friday was more of a “snow and slush” day, completely unexpected, so here we have a previously unplanned four day weekend.
“So what gives?” you may wonder. “I thought New Englanders were equipped to deal with lots of snow.” Well generally speaking that’s true, and it’s really all a matter of timing. There’s only (!!) 6-10 inches in the forecast for today, but it’s supposed to be heavy snow starting just about the time the buses go out this morning and continue throughout the day. Seems to be more of an insurance-driven decision since the buses don’t really mind the weather as much as smaller vehicles, but when the safety of children is at stake they’re not going to gamble.
So are we, or have we become, snow pansies? To be honest I don’t really care, because now, at the time the alarm normally goes off on Monday morning, I’m going back to bed.
Usually more than once a week, I wish I lived in Scotland. It started the first time I went, in August 1999, and while bumming around the awesome city of Edinburgh I kept thinking how cool it would be to live there. I still hold that point of view, and this post was inspired by the news of this event that happens next weekend. The Scottish pipers are some of the best on the competition circuit these days (not to mention some really cool guys), and the Irish pipers are no slouches either. I don’t know much about Breton piping but I’d listen to it for sure. If I lived in Glasgow I’d be able to just pop in for the concert, or stop in to the National Piping Centre to see what’s going on. Living in the US, especially in a remote and piping-sparse area of the country, I’m well away from the hotbed of piping that is Scotland or Ontario, making concerts like this only a pipe dream. Sigh.
The reason I teach physics is that I find it fascinating. To see that the world around us can be described with neat little mathematical equations is amazing to me, and I’m thrilled with way everything fits together. I love to take things apart to see what makes them work, to see the ingenuity and creativity of the people who design things. I took physics in high school and realized that it seemed to be made for people with the “how does it work?” curiosity like me. I like to be able to think about a situation, apply and few principles of physics with a bit of logic and be able to explain what’s happening. I love the logic and reasoning that goes with science, and to be able to describe the world with mathematics is fascinating to me. Math is to physics what grammar is to literature: the rules and principles upon which the subject is built. It’s really very elegant and quite pretty. I guess that makes me a nerd, but whatever.
My primary passion in my non-professional life is the bagpipes. I started playing when I started college, and it went from something cool to do to somewhat of an obsession. I own a set of bagpipes and a kilt, I play in piping competitions in the EUSPBA (Grade 2 solo, Grade 4 band), subscribe to piping magazines, maintain my own piping website, follow and contribute to an online piping forum, attend week-long summer piping schools with other pipers, have a lot of pipe music on my computer. I’ve also been to Scotland (twice), have decided to play my bagpipes in each of the 50 US states and 10 Canadian provinces (check progress on this quest), and am dating another piper (yes, they do come in female these days). I have piping friends all over the east coast of the US and in Scotland, and pipers are some of my favorite people to party with. I play weddings and funerals, play in bars on St. Patrick’s Day and St. Andrew’s Day, and teach people to play the bagpipes.
Am I obsessed? Maybe, but I don’t care. It’s fun.
A second post already! The first post turned out to be so long that I broke up the “getting to know me” stuff into several posts. So in this one I’ll answer the question you’re dying to ask: what exactly is a keydetpiper?
The word is broken into two parts. The first is keydet and the second is piper. They have two different origins which I shall explain presently.
I am a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, a venerable old school in Lexington, Virginia. Students there are officially called cadets, and back in the day the rival college in town (Washington and Lee University) twisted that moniker into the derogatory “keydet.” The intended insult had quite the opposite effect and keydet is an affectionate nickname for VMI’s sports teams and students. So a keydet is a student, athlete, or graduate of VMI.
When I started at VMI I was persuaded to start learning the bagpipes. I did pretty well, played in the VMI Pipes & Drums for the four years I was a cadet, and have continued to play after I graduated. Therefore, I am a piper.
I am a keydet, I am a piper. I am the Keydetpiper.