Another Day in the Life—In Tucson

I was surprised by a Road Runner this afternoon when I started my four mile walk. The plucky little bird captured a small lizard and wandered off down the road. It was cool. The Road Runner is an interesting creature. They look like they’re going really fast when they’re standing still. In Tucson, it is not unusual to see one of these from time to time. When I first moved here in January 2000, I saw one of these prehistoric looking creatures chasing grasshoppers around in the Raytheon parking lot where I worked. Nancy packed me a great lunch including a fried fish sandwich. To my surprise, the Road Runner wandered over to where I was eating and gladly accepted every piece of fried fish that I threw its way. It was then that I got a good close up look at the Road Runner. It is definitely a bird but I got to see a close look at its eyes. Nothing says living dinosaur more than the eyes of a Road Runner!

Currently, we’re in “Monsoon Season.” I should have had an umbrella with me but I didn’t. I got lucky this time. It was cooler than it had been for the past month but the humidity was a bit high. I’d guess it was up into the 40% area and while I realize that in most locations around the country that wouldn’t be considered “high,” it seemed high to me and I was sweating a bit.

My preferred walking path is part of the bicycle loop around Tucson. I like it because it is paved and marked for bicycles and pedestrians. It doesn’t run next to the roadway but it does employ one of the Tucson created HAWK road crossing lights where it crosses the well-travelled Valencia Road. I can listen to my podcasts on my iPhone in peace and don’t have to worry about loud mufflers and those ridiculous “thumper” automobiles. Also, I like to pick up trash along the way and the bike path doesn’t collect the amount of litter that is normally found along car roadways. With just a little bit of effort from time to time, I get to enjoy a litter free four mile trek.

Today, my walk started off with a Road Runner and ended with a Jack Rabbit. I see a lot of birds and quite a few ground squirrels. From time to time, a family of Quail will cross the path and once a small snake slithered into the scrub. There are many lizards and a few grasshoppers on the trail. When I walk the path at night, I’ll see the occasional Tarantula.

It’s days like this that remind me that I retired in the right place.

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Camp Quest 2017—it’s over

Camp Quest 2017 ended on July 1st. Forty-seven campers and 18 staff members packed up their belongings on Saturday morning for a trip back home. It is always a busy week at Camp Quest and the day after is a good time to catch up on sleep. The members of the staff are without exception are unpaid volunteers that donate their time, money, and effort to make it an enjoyable sleep-away camp. The children are aged from 8 to 17. Most of the members of the staff are there with their children, and some are there with their grandchildren. However, five of the staff this year didn’t have children at the camp just the desire to see that the event was a success. It is our goal to help a new generation of scientists and freethinkers realize that there are others like themselves and, as it says in the camp song, it’s “Ok to be brainy”.

Here is a five minute professionally produced video about Camp Quest.

The food was great but since we’re not in a cell phone data coverage area, I have to take pictures so that I can enter what I eat into the food diary later. It turns out that the pictures are appreciated. Did you ever stop and consider how difficult it would be to be a camp caterer? Nowadays we have vegans, vegetarians, gluten, and GMO restricted diets. Let’s not forget lactose intolerance. Through it all Matt, our caterer, got us fed and satisfied at every meal. After the camp was over, the counselors and their kids all went down to Mogie’s Mongolian Grill in Prescott to have a nice dinner before pushing on to home for a hot bath and clean sheets.

Camp Quest is all about the kids. There are a variety of activities and I imagine that if I were a young camper I’d have a difficult time selecting from the variety of activities. There are the activities that all campers enjoy, but there are also electives. As a camp counselor with technical experience, I tend to emphasize engineering and technology. During the first year, I provided the kids the opportunity to build small rubber band powered airplanes. During the second year, we built Pine Car Racers. I had a PineWood Derby track and some kits. It was an enjoyable activity but only six campers elected to participate. I can’t blame them really. Summer camp is about summer camp opportunities. They only get two electives and they must choose only two things from a wide variety of fun events. The events include wilderness survival, archery, fishing, a trip to Mars, etc. I was amazed that I got six people to sign up to build a Pine Car Racer. During the third year, I knew that I had to make my elective exciting enough so that campers would choose it over the other electives. I chose “Tin Can Robots” made from upcycled materials. It was a great success but it was self-limited to 12 campers. This year, I decided to muster the resources for 24 campers to build Beetle Bots.

I’ve written about the Beetle Bots previously. They are simple free running robots that are built in four 45 minute sessions. The build requires double sided tape, heat shrink tubing, a dollop of hot glue, and soldering. The shells were purchased from an electronics surplus house and most of the necessary switches, battery packs, and motors were purchased over the year from Ebay and Amazon in bulk to keep the costs down. If you’d like to build your own, you can buy a complete Beetle Bot kit online for $35.

Once again, I enjoyed my time at Camp Quest. I’m tired now and I hurt all over but looking forward to the next time when I get to load up my truck for another Camp Quest adventure in the high forests of Arizona.

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Getting Ready for Camp Quest AZ 2017

In February, I mentioned that we’ll be building Beetle Bots at Camp Quest AZ in June. These machines are simple but they scurry around a floor like a manic Roomba. They bang into things, turn, and scurry off in another direction. The campers will have at most 4 hours to assemble their robots which means that I need to make sure their time is spent efficiently. Over the past several weeks I’ve been ordering components including: small motors, lever switches, slide switches, LEDs (for eyes), batteries, the beetle bodies, connecting wires, and tools. The campers will have four hours but the time will be divided over four separate sessions. At the start each camper will receive a kit of parts inside a small shoe box sized container. Since I may have as many as 24 campers participating in this activity there needs to be a place where they can store their projects between building sessions. Last year we built Tin Can Robots and I used a shoe rack. While it worked OK, it wasn’t perfect and definitely too small for this year’s activity and the lids were too big to fit. I needed a new rack that would hold the larger number of boxes with their lids in place.

I’ve had some experience with PVC tubing and fittings and decided to sketch out something that might work. I started by measuring the size of the boxes. Then I bought the necessary tubing and fittings.

To make them look a little better, I cleaned the pipes with acetone and started fitting the parts together.

I made the shelf materials out of political sign material that I collected a couple of days after the November 2016 elections. Once the first layer was completed, the rest followed naturally. The entire project cost less than $35 and it can be disassembled if necessary. It was a bit of work and took a bit of time but during the assembly, all other challenges disappeared and all I could think of was how wonderful it will be this year at Camp Quest AZ 2017. (June 25-July 1) I can hardly wait.

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Brother Jed is in Town

Every year about this time, Brother Jed (Smock) comes into town. Honestly, I like him and his wife Cindy. They’ve been following the weather around the country to various universities for a long time. I first saw him at the University of Colorado in 1981. I didn’t stop and listen to him back then. I was a bit busy getting my Electrical Engineering degree which was an endeavor that actually seemed to take more time than I actually had. In any case, he was there near the student union preaching to the students and trying to convince them to turn to the God of the Bible and not follow his ribald college experiences (which he proceeded to describe in great detail).

Brother Jed, the traveling evangelist came to our town for the last days of February. I supported the SSA of the University of Arizona with cards and prizes for their “Brother Jed Bingo” activity. It is the single most effective recruitment activity that the club has during the year. I printed up several hundred bingo cards with the words and phrases that Brother Jed typically uses. I also supplied several pounds of candy to be used as prizes for the winners. Also, they used some of the tabling supplies provided by American Atheists. They were particularly fond of the buttons. I handed out American Atheists water bottles to the club officers.

Often times, I sit with Brother Jed and Cindy when they’re not “on stage.” I tried sitting with one of the traveling evangelists that followed Brother Jed this time. That was a big mistake. The individual that I sat with was plum full of alternative facts. He claimed he had the equivalent of 5 Phds due to his reading on subjects. He had NO degrees especially NO Phds. He claimed that an angel took him to the beginning of the universe 6000 years ago and he personally witnessed the Creation. Then, he took great umbrage when I told him that that didn’t happen. I know right? Well I actually admitted to him that I couldn’t positively know that he didn’t experience the things that he claimed but that I will dismiss the account because of my experience and knowledge of science. Then he asked if I have empathy. I told him that I donated to a worthy cause that very morning. That’s when he called my empathetic actions—self-righteous. I must admit, dear reader, that I may have lost my temper a bit. But I didn’t assault him or call him a name. I walked away. I’m looking forward to seeing him again tomorrow. Admittedly, I was not prepared for his level of stupidity. I will see him tomorrow. Let’s see what happens. Proverbs 27:1 says: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” But I’m ready for him now!

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What’s Your Position at Retired?

Oh…I don’t know…semi reclined in front of the TV? I cleaned up a few minor “alternate facts” on my FaceBook profile and when I logged in I got the question “What’s your position at Retired?” The last time I answered the question “CEO” and I became the CEO of retired. I must have thought it was funny because it stayed that way for years. It’s not true that I spend my days semi-reclined in front of the TV. I’m busier than I’ve ever been. The biggest difference is that I’m mostly busy doing only the things that I enjoy and I don’t get paid.

We’re one month in and I’m excited about 2017. I’ll turn 64 in a couple of days. We’ll sing Karaoke and eat pizza. Soon I’ll be spending a week on the University of Arizona campus helping the Secular Student Alliance when the travelling evangelist, Brother Jed Smock, comes to visit. March is Nancy’s birthday and another Karaoke party. I won’t tell you which one but she reminds me every year that she’s X years younger than me. Of course I point out that percentage wise we’re getting closer. I’ll celebrate the fact that Arizona doesn’t have daylight savings time by NOT changing any of the 47 clocks that we have around the house. Normally the American Atheist convention is on Easter weekend but not this year. This year the convention will be in North Carolina during the total Solar Eclipse in August. We might travel to the California Bay Area for the annual Maker Faire in May. I’m already excited about attending for my fourth time as a camp counselor for Camp Quest Arizona in June. We’ll be building Beetle Bots. Nancy and I plan on participating in the Annual International Aerial Robotics Competition during August in Georgia along with the AA Eclipse Convention. Hopefully, we should no longer be landlords in September when we transfer our last rental property to new owners. Then comes my favorite month—October! I’ll spend the entire month in my workshop preparing for Halloween and the party the night before. Not much happens during November but we always end the year with our Winter Solstice celebration.

In addition, there are the monthly meetings of the groups that I organize, house and vehicle maintenance, and all the other things that must be done on an “as needed” basis. I know quite a few retired folks and almost to a person I hear the same thing, “When did I have time for work?” Happy New Year (a month in).

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Interesting Times, the Battle of the Bulge, and Another Take on Atheism?

“May you live in interesting times.” Apparently we’re living under “the Chinese curse” and will continue to do so for quite a while. It is often difficult to stay apolitical. I usually only allow partisan discussions in my group when politics interfere with the secular character of this country. Now there is little that I can do to prevent political discussions from dominating many of our local activities. Whether or not the Chinese curse story is true, we ARE stuck with a political situation that will dominate our lives, at least for a while.

It’s the end of January and I’m still working off my “party pounds” from December. I’m almost 64 years old and it seems that gaining weight is easier than losing it. My battle of the bulge includes daily walks and reduced calorie intake. I’ve learned that it takes both but long walks take time. To ease the boredom I listen to a wide variety of podcasts. The subjects of the podcasts I listen to include Atheism, Humanism, Science, Skepticism, Renaissance and Oldies music. I listen to most of them at 1.5X speed—not the music ones of course that would be weird. I also track down Geocaches that are within a couple of miles, pick up trash, and on occasion I walk to the hardware store (2 miles) or Walmart (3.5 miles) to pick up small items that are easy to carry.

While avoiding the political discussion, walking for my health, and listening to a science podcast, I heard something that never occurred to me before—scientifically, cold is not a thing. Hot and warm are real and measureable but there is no such thing as cold. It is in fact referring to a “lack of heat.” Perhaps in a similar way Atheism isn’t really a “thing.” It’s at least not a religion. Can you measure Atheism since it is most accurately described as a “lack of belief?”


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Remembering Freddy

I just saw a small video on FaceBook that reminded me of our dog Fred (Freddy). In the video, a young man serving in Afghanistan finds a dog, names him Fred, and brings him home to the States after his tour is over. It was a heartwarming story that was eerily familiar to me.

161225-goose-bay-locationIn 1968, my family was stationed at Goose Bay Air Force Base remotely located in Labrador, Canada. The base was a bit North of Maine. Imagine how cold it must get there. I was the oldest kid in the family and attending high school. My sister Christine was two years younger.





christine-and-freddyOne very cold day near Christmastime, Christine opened the front door to our house and let in a funny looking black dog. She named it Fred but we mostly called him Freddy. He was incredibly short for his size. He was as long as a typical German Shephard but as tall as a Bassett Hound. His ears were pointed and stood up on his head and you might imagine that he had a bit of Corgi in him. He was skinny back then and amazingly well behaved but he was great at begging for food so he didn’t stay skinny long. Before long the family grew attached to him. However, we were on a remote assignment and this situation was not destined to end well. There would come a time when my dad’s tour was over when we would have to leave Canada and say goodbye to Freddy. In order to stave off the inevitable heart break, my father decided to do the responsible thing and find Freddy a new home. He packed up the toys from the chair that Freddy had adopted and took him to a neighbor not far away. Not far enough anyway, Freddy was back sitting on our snow covered porch waiting to be let in the next day. Once again, Dad packed up Freddy in the ’58 Chevy Station Wagon and delivered him to his new owners. Freddy came back and that was that, we definitely had a dog. Why he chose us to stay with us will always be a mystery but it was clear as to why my dad grew attached.

My father had a job that would sometimes require him to go in the darkest coldest part of the night. The phone would ring and he would have to go into work. When Dad went in Freddy would go with him and wait in the car. I think my father enjoyed the company and Freddy loved to ride in the car. Often times it was 20 below zero. When it came time for our family to leave Goose Bay, Dad pulled all of the strings he needed to and spent what he had to so that Freddy could come back with us to California. My father often told friends that he had spent a hundred and fifty dollars (a lot of money to us back in 1969) to bring back a fifteen cent dog but we all knew that he would have spent three times that much.

I lived with Freddy until I left the house for my own Air Force Assignments. After I left home I would come back to spend Christmas with my family and Freddy. Later on, I had a family that visited. We don’t know how old Freddy was when we took him in but he stayed for 14 years until the summer of 1982. 



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