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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Now we have a sign!

img_3465Tucson Atheists now have a roadside sign. In fact, we have a couple. We earned them from the city of Tucson for cleaning up a couple of miles of roadway in Tucson once a month for over six months. We discovered that the signs were up before we started our 7th cleanup. It’s a point of pride that we had from 12 to twenty volunteers during every cleanup. The road is a mile south of my house and they were scheduled for early Sunday morning. (What else is an Atheist doing on Sunday morning?) We worked for two hours then gathered at my house for sandwiches and cold drinks/ There were no complaints. It’s cooler in the morning and that was very important during a Tucson summer. We’ll continue to do the road cleanup but my guess is that we can start a bit later during the winter months.img_3462

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Signs signs everywhere there’s signs

I think I mentioned that was going out to pick up the roadside political signs. Ya I did. The signs are everywhere and they are “Fucking up the scenery, breaking my mind.” The weather channel has designated our recent local weather as “action days.” That apparently means that the wind is blowing. Picking up signs when the wind is blowing is a bit more challenging. While most are 4 ft. by 4 ft. or smaller, some of them are as big as 4 X 8 feet. However, I found the activity somehow enjoyable and relaxing. I’m way behind in my podcasts so I’m listening to them at 1.5 speed. I have my work gloves on and it’s sunny. For a couple of hours, I was in a special “no pain zone” and I was content to be cleaning up the neighborhood. There was nothing pressing and I could take my time. Each time I used my diagonal cutters I would hear that satisfying >click< as I cut another nylon wire tie. Each sign had four, six, and sometimes 8 ties securing the sign to the rebar stakes. After all the ties were cut, I would literally fly the sign off of the stakes and into the back of my old Red Ford Ranger pickup. I remove the rebar post by clamping a pair of vice grip pliers and rotating it until it’s loose. Then I tug on the post in an upward direction while rotating the pliers back and forth. Most of the posts have been in the ground only a short time so they come right up. However, some are bent and are a bit trickier. I have to find the right angle to pull to get the rebar to come straight up. There are a bunch of smaller signs that are in the ground with very small wire like sign holders. They are generally easy to pull up.

Yesterday, I cleared a mile of roadway which included a very busy intersection with signs on all four corners. Today, I cleared a very popular “T” intersection with a big road. There were many signs and a lot of trash on the big road opposite the intersection. I was able to get most of the signs and posts and I went back on foot with a large plastic bag and a trash pickup tool. However, there are a couple of “T” posts that have been there for a while that are going to take special equipment to remove.

If you need something to get your mind off of the current situation and you have a few hours to kill, I recommend sign removal. You might be getting some useful material while simultaneously cleaning up your neighborhood. Cheers!

Here are the pictures:

Before, after, arrival at home, stored for future use.


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