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Monthly Archives: December 2009

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Combining two of my favorite things

I found a podcast this afternoon that is an offshoot of a podcast I listen to from time to time: Science from the Sporran from the Naked Scientists. Each episode appears to be a short video of something sciency, presented by someone in a kilt. Science and Scotland, combined!

Grade 1, here I come

The EUSPBA’s regrading results were announced yesterday (12/13/09), and I was one of three who were moved up to grade 1 piping for 2010. This was my goal from the beginning of the season, so needless to say I’m pretty excited.

I was also excited to see some friends upgraded: Chris Benton and Brian Erbe to grade 3 piping; John Daggett, Chris Donaldson, and Dan Mancuso to grade 2 piping; and Andrew Adams to grade 1 snare. I’m excited for them, and I know they’ve worked hard to get there.

The solo upgrades were somewhat different from past years, with no one being upgraded to professional piping, and only three to grade 1. There were quite a few who went to grade 3, so it will be good to see a lot of competitions heating up on that level next year.

On the band side, Stuart Highlanders from Massachusetts were bumped up to grade 2, making them just the second active grade 2 band in the EUSPBA. This wasn’t exactly a surprise, as they dominated the grade 3 scene this year in EUSPBA. The Greater Richmond P&D from Virginia was moved to grade 3, and after I heard them play at the Meadow Highland Games in October I’m not at all surprised. They sounded great, and I know my friends in that band will be excited for that.

Just how warm is a kilt?

One of the most frequent questions I am asked is along the lines of how well-suited the piper’s uniform is to cold weather. I happily remind people that the weather in Scotland is on the cool side (though certainly not as cold as it is here right now…. brr), and insist that it’s not as bad as they think. In fact I find the parts of my body most susceptible to the cold are my hands and fingers, because piping doesn’t go so well when wearing gloves. I’ve played several competitions and countless parades where I couldn’t feel my fingers, and while never a pleasant experience I’ve managed to survive with all of my digits intact and mercifully unbitten by frost.

The question of temperature provided by a kilt apparently was raised on the X Marks the Scot forums recently, and one of the members decided to investigate how much insulation was provided by several types of kilts on a cold night. The link includes the complete report of a nicely scientific experiment, and it makes for a fun read, even if it is a bit long.

I received an email with the link to the site from a friend, who had in turn received it from the company that manufactures and distributes the temperature probes used in the experiment. We use the probes, and others as well, in several of our science classes, though I must say the thought of borrowing these to use in an experiment like this never crossed my mind. A general description of the experiment and results follows.

The experimenter tested three different kilts: a regular wool 8 yard kilt, a wool 4 yard box-pleated kilt, and a poly-cotton blend fake kilt. He sewed two temperature probes onto a pair of boxer shorts (one in the front and one in the back) and mounted a third probe on a stick that was mounted horizontally on his hat to measure the ambient air temperature (a brisk 28° F). Each probe reported the temperature four times per minute for fifteen minutes, at which time the experimenter switched kilts and repeated. For the first ten minutes of data collection the experimenter was standing in an outdoor area sheltered from the wind, and he spent the final five minutes walking up and down his driveway.

The results? Surprising, actually. Once he started walking, all three kilts measured approximately the same temperature in the front sensor, but the heaviest kilt (the only real kilt if you ask me) was the one that suffered the greatest loss in temperature from the standing measurements. The conclusion was that this kilt provided the least amount of thermal insulation while walking, even though the temperature reached was similar to the other kilts.

I offer two suggestions for how the experiment could have been improved. The first is to control for the fact that after conducting the experiment with one kilt, he changed the kilt and immediately began another test. Seems there could be some skewed data in putting a warm kilt on an already cold experimenter, so I suggest conducting the entire experiment a total of six times, altering the order of the kilts each time. The second suggestion is to have a control trial to see just how much insulation any of kilts provides, so conduct a 15 minute data collection time wearing only the boxer shorts.

Am I making too much out of something that no one should really care about? I will leave the answers to those questions to the reader.

I’m not about to run outside myself to try this experiment, and it’s not because I only have one kilt (though that is part of it). The real reason is that right now I’m sitting inside, wearing a sweater and comfy slippers, and sipping a mug of hot chocolate. In other words, I’m warm and cozy, and I’m going to stay that way.

The end of the year approaches

Well here we are, nearing the end of calendar year 2009. The solo piping competition season wrapped up around the end of October, and the regrade committee has been reviewing requests for competitors and bands for 2010. My request for grade 1 piping is in, and all I can do at this point is wait. I was hoping the results would have been posted by now, but we’re still waiting to hear. Monday the 14th is what I’ve heard lately, so I’m hoping that’s the date.

The season won’t really get started until April, but there are at least a few sanctioned competitions that are happening before then. The Back Bay Solo Piping Contest at Northeastern University in Boston on March 27 is being organized by my friend John Daggett, and he’s done a great job of getting things together for that contest. I know he has had some generous donations of prizes from piping retailers, and he’s excited to see the event come together. I’m excited as well, as that will be my first competition of the season, and hopefully my first competition in grade 1.

I have a lot of work to do before March, which is why I won’t be attending the indoor competition in Albany, NY on January 9. This is being organized by the Oran Mor Pipe Band, and is the first sanctioned competition of the year. I won’t be in playing condition by that time, but I’m considering going as a spectator. Because I spend so much time at a competition worrying about my own events, I rarely get to hear other players, so this might be a good chance to do that. There is a companion event on March 27, which unfortunately conflicts with the Back Bay contest. Good news about both contests: the events don’t start until 11:30 am, which means competitors and spectators alike get a chance to sleep in!

Here’s a fun video to leave you with: Stuart Liddell doing what looks to be an informal recital in Hamilton, Ontario back in November. He plays his version of The Battle of Waterloo with an extra note (low E), as well as Thuderstruck, which is one of his popular flashy tunes. Before he gets there he plays Scotland the Brave and a seasonally appropriate tune, so enjoy.

The newest addition

People have telling me for a while that I need a new solo chanter, especially if I hope to play in Grade 1 next year. I’ve been looking at several, with my eye especially on the new Naill. At $350 though, I was very hesitant to buy one, since I was doing alright with the several that I had. When I saw my friend the Tone Czar was closing his shop and selling his inventory, I got quite excited when I saw the Naill chanters discounted to a seemingly unbelievable $220. After some debate, I went for it; how often do you get a chance to buy a top-notch chanter for a savings of $150?

The chanter arrived today, and preliminary testing is positive. It feels really nice, fits my hands and playing position well, and has hints of that famous Naill sound. The miscellaneous selection of reeds I have on hand is mediocre to decent in the new chanter, and they all need a bit of playing time and some tape on the chanter, but the quick play I gave them tonight was very encouraging. I’m excited to have the pipes up and running again soon; they’ve been dormant for most of November.

Back in the saddle with the pipes, maybe even with the blog, and crossing my fingers for news of the EUSPBA regrades. They will be announced on Monday, which seems like quite a long time from now.