Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Time Out From The Shop

Hello, it's been half a year since I posted to the blog. Good grief! I think that happens because I'm posting smaller posts on Facebook, and even some smaller posts on Twitter. I'm trying to figure out what content customers and potential customers might find interesting, and how best to share it. 

I don't think it matters that I've taken a liking to "McCann's Irish Steel Cut Oatmeal (Ready in Five Minutes)" or that I learned a new set of reels that I really like. But if it has to do with changes in my shop or my whistle making which impacts the quality, price or availability of my products, I guess that's worth a few words. Or even a picture or video. So if you are a Twitter or Facebook user, here's where you can find me:

To bring you up to date here, I've had a pretty busy year filling orders to individuals and dealers. I think I've got enough dealers now and am not currently taking on more thanks to the internet which allows me to interact directly with my customers. (Like this.) 

I did get pretty far along on the new G/A/Bb alto whistles in November. I have recruited a dozen or so players to give me feedback on some prototype, or in software lingo "beta," whistles, and was preparing the whistles for the testing. 

Then in addition to the up-tick in direct orders, several large dealer orders came in so I put the final work on the new whistles aside until those orders went out. 

During that effort I started having trouble standing in the shop for long periods and found I had developed a hernia. Doc says "Just lucky I guess." With the holidays, the surgeon's schedule, and the games we need to play with our health insurance, I decided to try to make it to 2011 before having it repaired. He said I risk permanent damage if I don't take it easy until it's fixed, so I'm avoiding anything that hurts, doing a lot of computer work like improving my internal database for tracking orders, customers and product serial numbers as well as WIP stock levels. 

I am also working on a new website which will be done in the simplest way possible - just typing the html into a text editor - to allow (encourage?) me to make more frequent updates to the site and hopefully avoid some compatibility issues. I do the current website with Microsoft Visual Studio which is the normal Microsoft overkill for what I need. Hopefully I'll have the new site up in the next week or so. 

Since I just have a few more operations on the prototypes before they can be tested, I'm going to try and complete them in the next couple days so the trials can proceed while I'm following doctor orders to "do nothing" while the repair takes root. 

But I'm pretty pleased with how the alto whistles turned out, and am curious to see what others think of them.

Oh, one fun bit of news that has only indirect impact on my products. I have been wondering and looking to some degree for a link to the Parks who came over from Europe. I really enjoy listening and playing ITM, so I've been thinking there's got to be some Celt in there somewhere, but I couldn't prove it.

One tale my father told was that our name used to be spelled Parkes, but an ancestor got mad a the family, took the "e" out an moved to the Pittsburgh area. Well, that appears to be a red herring, no doubt created when "Irish need not apply."  As well as the single census in 1850 when the person who came over claimed to be from Scotland. Or maybe that's the truth, and the biographer in 1905 who wrote the following didn't chase up the name change:

"WILLIAM B. PARKS, a prosperous business man of Greensburg, was born September 13, 1838, in the vicinity of Courtney Station, Allegheny county, Pennsylvania, a son of James and Mary (Woods) Parks. James Parks (father) was born in Tyrone, Ireland, where he was reared and educated, attending the common schools adjacent to his home. When twenty-five years of age he determined to seek a new home for himself amid new surroundings and accordingly emigrated to the United States, settling in Allegheny county, Pennsylvania, where he spent the remainder of his days. At the early age of fifteen years he married, and the death of his wife occurred nine months later. He married a second time, this wife dying one year later, survived by one child, and at the age of twenty-five year? he married his third wife, whose maiden name was Mary Ann Woods, in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, and they had eight children: Alexander, deceased; Martha, Nancy, Alice, deceased; Ann Jane, William B., mentioned hereafter; Thomas, and James, deceased." from "History of Westmoreland Co" by John N. Boucher

If that turns out to be true, and I expect it will, that means the two fellows in the photo at the top of this blog - my good fiddler friend Ian Barksdale and I - both came from the same county in Ireland several generations ago. 

So if anyone reading this has any more information on the Parks family in Co Tyrone, or in Westmoreland Co, Pa, I'd be happy to hear it. 

Athbhliain faoi Mhaise Duit!
(Happy New Year! )


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Parks Whistles Goes to the Moon

Well, sort of. The clever folks at Google have been having some fun it seems. I have been advertising beside people's search results for a year or so. Perhaps you've seen one of my ads. Regardless, here's a look at Google's "Thank You" to their AdWords customers. And of course they are hoping we'll pass it along, like I'm doing. But only because I think it's sorta cute. Enjoy!

Friday, October 1, 2010

What Effect Does Ambient Temp Have On Intonation?

I have been rigorously testing the intonation of my whistles while playing tuns for almost two years now. It just dawned on me that I can improve my measurement, and thus the family of whistles, by changing how I measure their intonation. 

Basically, I should test the whistles in a way that will show me if my whistles are changing regardless of changes in the temperature of my shop. Of course it would be best to control the temperature of my shop, but lacking that solution, what is the next best improvement I can make.

For the moment, my question is simplified in order to make a specific decision:

Is it preferable, when measuring intonation as measured with RTTA to

A) set the whistle to the same length regardless of ambient conditions 


B) tune a note to it's desired frequency ?

I think I can answer this with some spreadsheet work regarding speed of sound vs. temp  in the spreadsheet. 

First I developed a metric that ignored absolute pitch but would be a good representation of relative pitch of the note of my whistle. That being the Sigma of cents off target for each note. Cents is used because the ear detects pitch differences linearly if expressed in cents. 10 cents being noticable to an untrained ear, and 5 to a trained ear. And Sigma is used because it is based on the difference from the average error of all the tones, thus ignoring average pitch change due to ambient conditions or tuning slide movement. 

The crux of the question is the linear movement of all tone holes (moving the slide) vs. the proportional movement of the pitch with temperature (not moving the slide.) Since absolute tone is not a factor in my metric, I'm looking for the best way to measure the intonation of the whistle regardless of temperature. My intuition says leave the tuning slide alone. 

Starting with a calculated D whistle at 80F (typical A/C session conditions plus a little warm breath) I thought I'd calculate the cents off for temps to from 90F to 40F in ten degree increments if I left the tuning slide alone and then again if I adjusted the slide to bring one note into tune. 

Here are the plots:

Intonation vs temperature.jpg

So, if I've done the spreadsheet properly, (I calculated a cent as 1/200th of true D to true E) I'm going to have a larger sigma for my intonation if I tune the whistle to some specific note than if I set it at a fixed length. But without other calculations I won't really have a number that represents the intonation of the whistle at 80F, chief among these is the tempering effect of the breath on the air that is vibrating vs. the ambient air. But because of the that tempering effect, I should see less error in measured intonation than indicated by the charts above.

So then I wondered, if I found the Sigma due to temperature effects, could I subtract that from my calculated value and be left with the error from the whistle? (Using variance when subtracing of course) 

 Hmm... I could, but I need to include other effects such the temperature of the mixed ambient air and breath air, CO2 and water vapor in the mix. Since I believe my current calculated sigma from the spreadsheets is overstated due to ignoring these effects, I would be blaming too much of the error on the temperature. 

But for now I think I've convinced myself that I should set the whistle up for play in a comfortable air conditioned space and use that same length for each RTTA test I do out in the shop.

Thanks to Terry McGee and Grame Roxbury for the RTTA technology. 


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Using the "Parks Tone Ring"

Using the "Parks Tone Ring" is pretty straightforward, but I have received questions from potential customers while they were considering their purchase. So here's a quick overview of the use of my tone ring. 

In the photo below you see three whistles, and the tone ring goes from fully open but in place against the mouthpiece to nearly completely closed. 

The effect of the tone ring in these three positions is as follows:

Fully open: In this position the ends of the tone ring and the lower end of the mouthpiece form "walls" around the sound window of the whistle. This has the effect of organizing the air a little bit for the low notes. The whistle speaks it's loudest, and is pretty clear, with a hint of chiff, and a nice fruity finish. (No, wait, that last fruity bit is for wines.)

Partially closed: A little breathy sound is introduced, and the volume is slightly reduced. 

Mostly closed: The whistle is quite breathy, almost whispering it's notes. A little more open than this and it sounds somewhat like an original Clarke. 

Removed from the windway: This position is not shown, but the tone ring is simply slid down the body an inch or so from the mouthpiece. This takes the tone ring completely out of the sound producing process. When this is done, the upper notes of the second register are a little easier to sound, and the overall sound of the whistle is a little cleaner, or less chiffy than with the tone ring in place. The trade-off is a weaker low end, requiring a little more care to sound the bell note. 

Regardless of the position of the tone ring, my whistles play easily in both the first and second registers, and the octave jump is easy to control. No whistle plays itself however, and a complete beginner - that is one that has no experience with breath control - will still have to learn to make the whistle do what they want with respect to octave jumps and accurate tones for the various notes. 

A little more about this last point. If you can whistle with your lips, you will notice your mouth cavity changes shape and/or volume (size) when you whistle from low notes to high notes. A similar thing must be learned to play the whistle. Your head is actually playing a part in the production of the sound. You can't put it all on the whistle. But this is good news, as you have the ability to be expressive with your playing using this to your advantage. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

G, A and Bb in the works

It's been a long while since I posted a blog entry. Been busy making whistles for customers and working on some new whistles. I had a low A prototype whistle, but wasn't happy with the upper end of the second register. After showing in around locally for a while I scrapped that design and started over with a different size pipe. Much better, I have a prototype Bb at the moment that I really like. 

I used some new (for me) tricks to try to simulate the effects of a tapered bore, and they seem to have worked pretty good. I'm not sure if I will be able to make a whistle set this way however, as the head is pretty involved in the tuning of the whistle. I may just be offering individual whistles. We'll see how it comes out in the end. 

Well, I better get out to the shop before tropical storm Bonnie kicks up storms and makes me turn off the lathe for fear of a power outage while I'm making a cut. We're looking at sustained winds of 40 with higher gusts, thunderstorms and the possibility of tornadoes. At the moment it's raining lightly under a solid gray overcast. 

Friday, May 14, 2010


10:10 stands for reducing one's carbon emissions 10% in 2010. It has become an international movement since Sep 2009 when the movie "The Age of Stupid" was released. 10% - pretty easy really, and it will save you money too. What's not to like? Check out some info and how-to's at:

Poke around in the web site and see what it's all about and how fast people, businesses etc are getting on board. 

Even the new UK government...



Sunday, March 21, 2010

My Flute As A Tap

I don't remember what I was doing, but earlier today something made me think of playing my flute not as "making" music, but as letting it out. The music is in there, and it just needs to be let out. Much like a tap lets the beer out of a keg. It can be a flute, or a fiddle, a banjo or a bodhran, but it's still just letting the music out.

True, my fingers and other muscles need to know how to move to make the sounds that the music requires, so practice is important. Sometimes I am just teaching my body how to make the sounds that will become music.

I often hear people say that they are a "piano player" or a "guitar player" or something. I suppose that if someone were to hand you a sheet with music on it and you would play your piano or whatever and make the sounds on that paper you would be a piano player. Like a player piano, but without the roll mechanism.

It's not the paper that makes the difference either. Either from memory or from paper it is possible to make the sounds as they were put down by another and you will be playing the piano. But if the music has gotten in you, and you are letting it out again, then you are making music. Letting the music out.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Er..Hang On, New Sheriff In Town

Not a week after our first gig the pub changes hands and there's a new Sheriff in town. Lots of things are changing, not the least of which is the music. The session will move to Monday evening, out of town bands will be playing Wed-Sun during season. More Celtic rock than trad. So our first gig was also our last for the time being. Oh well, it was fun.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Boys Of County Lee -> We're the house band!

This past Wednesday "The Boys Of County Lee" debuted as the Celtic Ray's house band. It was fun, but I thought it a little odd to be standing on stage with a mic and all in the same place we hold our weekly session. But that didn't last long. At the moment we're a four-piece with bouzuki, fiddle, guitar, banjo, vocals, whistles and flute. Who plays what varies some, so I didn't put names on it all.

The place was pretty empty when we started at 7 PM, but very soon people started showing up, and for most of the evening the tables were all full and there were a number of people at the bar. Everyone seemed to have a good time. The tip jar did fair business, and management behind the bar was pleased and told us so.

We recorded the whole thing on a Zoom 8-channel studio and it's taken a while to get the music out, never mind pick out some good sets. I'll work on that, and post something when I have it. Also, our friend Steve took some photos and when I get those I'll post some.

Monday, January 25, 2010

It's Never Good Enough, But It's As Good As It Can Be

Sometimes I think maybe I shouldn't post about when I make improvements to my process or my whistles, because I worry some people might feel bad about not having the latest and greatest. But then I remember what W. Edwards Deming said once when challenged about some changes he had made "I refuse to apologize for improvement." He was a crusty old sod when I met him as the 80's were turning into the 90's. But he was always dead on when he got in somebody's face about something.

I learned from Dr. Deming that if things appear to be all the same, you are not measuring closely enough. There's always variation at some level. It's foolish to pretend there isn't. Nothing is ever perfect. So don't set specs within which a product is considered "good" and outside of which it is considered "bad" because it just ain't so. Maybe a customer says they will only buy product within certain specs, but even that is foolish because they probably could be getting better, or at least more uniform product, if they just specified a target and took what you made, as long as both you and they know how much variation exists in the product and there's confidence you are working to get better and better.

Enough of the quality improvement theory for now, here's what's new in the shop...

In this case the intonation of the whistles was the subject of my scrutiny, and while my then-current whistles were better than those of the recent past due to the adoption of a solid whistle hole template (rather than a set of six stops sliding in a groove on my jig which were difficult to position accurately) I was frustrated by the effort involved in making a new template when I wanted to move a hole a little bit.

So, just before drilling the holes in the last batch of whistles it dawned on me that I could make an adjustable hole template that was very easy to adjust accurately and once the hole positions were known I could then make a new fixed template as easily as I could drill holes in a whistle.

Below you see the results of my work. The black rod with the six holes is one of the permanent hole templates. The screw on the end lets me adjust the collection of holes in case there is a need to. The new R&D template is in the foreground. With it, I set the holes to match the whistle I want to change, then budge the stops to the new hole positions and make trial whistles. Once I arrive at the new improved hole locations I simply put a piece of the black rod in my jig and drill the stop holes.

After using the jig to refine my C whistle template, the best whistles in a batch didn't get any better, but the variation in intonation from whistle to whistle has been reduced. Which is a good thing. Are they noticeably better? I wonder. Are they are more alike. No doubt.

I know, "Just send me the whistles, and don't tell me how the shop works!"  HA!

Stay "tuned!"