The Robots at 2016 Camp Quest AZ

P1110116 - CopyCamp Quest AZ is over for 2016. It was great! There was a wide variety of activities for the campers and the Counselors were always on the run making things happen. As before, the staff had the help of the older campers called LTs. This year there were 9 LTs and 45 younger campers. Many were returnees and some previous attendees came back as LTs. I was in the cabin with the older boys. As a program counselor, I was responsible for running my programs and filling in when the cabin counselor had other duties. Rick was the cabin counselor but also ran programs. He was VERY busy during the week. If you want to know more about Camp Quest and Camp Quest Arizona, check out

My last four blogs have been about Camp Quest Arizona and the Tin Can Creations program. The object of the program is to have the campers take empty cans and other random hardware and make robots. It was an elective activity and there were 13 campers that signed up. I’m sure that you will agree that they produced some very creative robots.

Other elective activities included archery, fishing, mythical creatures, mask making, mission to Mars, survival skills, and drama. Each elective consisted of four one hour sessions. There were other activities called “Quest Zones” in which all the campers participated. Each Quest Zone was one hour long. The campers were divided into four teams. Each team rotated through the Quest Zones. One of the Quest Zones I ran involved building 8 x 10” shadow boxes. Each day for four days I had another set of 12 campers pounding nails into pine boards. Most remained unfinished but a few were decorated during free time. Other Quest Zone activities included: using microscopes, leather work, studying fossils, and bristlebot robots.

The week went quickly. The weather was great at 6400 feet in the Prescott National Forest near Mingus Mountain. There was no internet or phone service (unless you climbed about a hundred feet up the side of the valley) but the remote location had a charm of its own. Power was available from about 6:30 AM until the diesel generator was turned off at 10 PM.

My first year at Camp Quest Arizona was 2014. There have been a few improvements since then. This year the beds were regular 4” thick mattresses on top of wire link springs instead of a 2” mattress pad on ¾” plywood. Great improvement! The bathroom and dining hall had solar collectors that provided lights after the generator was shut down. Finally, the solar powered composting toilet was a BIG improvement over the blue Port-a-potties that we had near the upper bunkhouse.

I had a great time that ended way too soon. CQAZ 2017 will be held the last week of June…Can’t wait.

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Robby the Robot: Fifth in the Tin Can Creation Series

Robby the Robot: Fifth in the Tin Can Creation Series

160520 Five TCC Robots160520 Robby160520 soup canThe fun continues…Yesterday I finished construction of Robby the Robot. As in the other Tin Can Creations projects, he is built around an empty Healthy Choice Chicken Noodle Soup can. It’s my activity and I make up the rules. So, I decided to build all my tin can robots using the discarded container of the soup I’ve eaten almost every day for almost 13 years.


Robby’s glass dome is a wide mouth canning jar. His antennas are screw eye bolts fastened to recycled radio knobs hot glued in place. Unlike the previous tin can robots, Robby has a brain under his translucent dome.

160520 Robby legsThe ATtiny85 microprocessor lights up Robby’s LEDs and activates his pager motor. When Robby is switched on his eyes light up along with the two flickering lights in his chest behind the discarded car air freshener. He buzzes in short bursts while at the same time his mouth lights up with blue LEDs. Then, all the lights switch on. Finally, only the three “brain” lights illuminate at the top of his dome and rotate as if he is thinking about something important.

Robby, the real Robby, first appeared in The Forbidden Planet, a science fiction movie in 1956. He was the friendly servant of his creator, Dr. Morbius. He is not the robot from the television series Lost in Space. They are easily confused; the B-9 robot from that show is similar in many ways. Both robots have retractable arms and a synthetic voice that modulates the light in the chest. Since both robots were designed by Rober Kinoshita, it is not surprising that they had some similar traits. However, there are major differences. Aside from being 10 years older, Robby’s legs consisted of stacked spheres and they moved independently. Both robots appeared together in the Lost in Space episode #20 “War of the Robots.” In that episode, Robby was definitely evil complete with laser weaponry.

This has been a fun project. The next step is to build up the capability to produce similar tin can robots at Camp Quest.



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A Fourth Tin Can Creation—The Rocketeer



RocketeerThanks to one of the members of Tucson Atheists, I have a couple of empty gas cartridges. They are cool and needed to find their way into one of the Tin Can Creation projects.

I built this one using the same soup can that formed the basis of the other Tin Can Creations. I found the head (Spider-Man) on the sidewalk. The fin on his head came from the top of a deodorant container. The back strap was also from the found object collection. The legs are made of small plastic bottles. The only things I had to buy include: two “L” fittings for ½” pipe (shoulders) and the fiber optic spray. There are two flickering LED lights right under the CO2 cartridges that are activated by a slide switch on the tuna can base.

Here is the ever growing collection:

Tin Can Creations (4)

Camp Quest isn’t for a couple of months so there is sure to be: More to come…

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Camp Quest: Tin Can Creations

Camp Quest: Tin Can Creations

IMG_2670 In preparation for my program at Camp Quest AZ, I’ve created 3 prototypes (pictured on the left). Certainly, there will be more. The prototypes are being used to help design a viable program for the young campers because a month ago this was just an idea. Hopefully, the kids will see these and become as excited as I am to create robots out of recycled materials

The first one I created is on the far left. Dr. Who fans will recognize it as a Dalek “one of the most feared races in the universe.” The friendly robot on the right is R2D2 from Star Wars and in the middle is Rosie the Maid Robot from the Jetsons. She is my third prototype.

These robots all have one thing in commonsoup can. They are all based on the same empty soup can. The soup can is Healthy Choice Chicken Noodle. I have a large quantity of these cans. I have it for lunch every day. The rest of the robots are constructed of items found in my workshop and in the streets near my house.

My garage and workshop are stuffed with salvaged hardware. In fact, I’m about a cardboard box away from being eligible to appear on Hoarders. Many of those valuable treasures have found their way into the pictured prototype robots.

Why am I adding this program to the Camp Quest AZ 2016 curriculum?

Last year, I brought a pine car event very similar to the BSA Pinewood Derby. It was a great event but only 6 of the Camp Quest campers elected to participate. All six were very successful but this year I wanted to develop a program which would have a wider appeal and Robots are cool! To me robots made out of recycled materials are especially satisfying. An article on making a wobble bot out of upcycled cans gave me the idea. I could have the Camp Quest campers do something similar. However, the robots in the article are too complicated and require equipment not available to summer camp campers. Additionally, I have a limited time with the kids.

Robot kitThe kids will start with a “basic” kit of parts including a couple of cans and some electronics components. They’ll also have a supply miscellaneous hardware items available. Then their imagination can take over! Here is how the process worked for me…


Dalek Eye StockI needed to capture the essence of the Dalek. I started with the eye stock detail. All Daleks see the world through their eye stock. A piece of tubing, pony beads, and a blue LED were pressed into service.


dalek exterminatorFortunately I had an old dead pen with a flashing LED that would make a great “exterminator.”



dalek plunger

Dr. Who fans may not like it but I think the grappler arm on the Dalek looks like a toilet plunger. I made one out of an appliance rubber foot.


dalek bubbles

I actually had to buy the thumb tacks (47 cents at Walgreens) for the Dalek’s “bubbles.”


dalek skirtBlack foam insulation tape became the skirt at the bottom. Originally, I had wire nuts on top to simulate the communication antennae but I replaced them with spare LED Christmas tree bulbs.

DalekIt was a simple matter to add a battery holder and a slide switch to power all the LEDs and…”Exterminate!”

If you’d like to see the Dalek in action, click HERE.







The first prototype was challenging and fun but I liked the way that R2D2 sprang to life.

R2D2 NakedHere the trusty soup can is flanked by two miniature plastic bottles. The dome comes off of the top of a laundry detergent container. The rear trucks are spent car deodorizers that clip on the AC vents. The front truck was made out of an empty dental floss container.R2D2 Black First coat of paint was black, followed by a coat of silver and a final coat of white. I cut out some blue vinyl tape, mounted the LEDs, the switch, and the batteries and it was time to shoot the engineer. R2D2 was done!



Rosie 2Remember the Jetsons? Here is Rosie, model XB-500 reporting for cleaning duty in the house of the future. Actually it’s another Healthy Choice soup can made up to look like something other than trash. Rosie has LED lights and fancy chrome antennae. Her armsRosie Naked are small water pipes and her base is a lug nut. Look into her eyes and you’ll see painted water bottle lids. Her collar came off of a greeting card and her hat and skirt are what’s left of a duster.

That’s all I have for now. Certainly, there will be more. Our Camp Quest summer camp begins in the middle of July.

Next build will be the “Spout Bot” (alternately called “Beetle Bot”).

There is still time to join the fun in the Prescott National Forest. Click HERE to check out how to volunteer.

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Camp Quest AZ 2016

061915_0712_AnotherSucc11.jpgThis will be my third time attending as a programs counselor and this year’s Camp Quest Arizona is going to be great!

My first year was in 2014 and I wrote about it, after the fact. Registering at the last minute because they needed a male camp staffer, I packed up a bunch of stuff and headed out to contribute what I could. Preparations were made prior to my participation and this was the second year for the camp. I chose to help out where I could and also bring an introductory model airplane program along with a leather working activity. I had shared those experiences with children in the past and I had everything I needed at hand.

Last year, I was on board early and had more opportunity to prepare. Again, I was committed to helping with the programs where I could but also include something from my unique experience—Pinewood Derby. I wrote about those preparations in three parts, Part I, Part II, and Part III. As before, I wrote about the successful experience. That was almost a year ago…

Now I’m preparing for this year. The board has accepted my application; my online training is complete; this year’s proposed activity has been approved; and the hard work can now begin. Come back later and check out “Tin Can Creations.”

By the way, it’s not too late to get in on the fun. The week long camp will start on July 16th and run through the 23rd. Volunteers are still needed.

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Bye Bye Brother Jed

In the February 25th issue of The Daily Wildcat there is an article entitled “Campus Preachers: Do They Belong?” The article is primarily in response to Brother Jed’s annual appearance at the university but apparently the “street preachers” are an everyday event.

Brother Jed (Jed Smock) finished his visit to the University of Arizona campus a couple of days ahead of this article. His crew of 8 people invaded the U of A mall around noon on February 18th. The Secular Student Alliance uses his annual visits to bolster their membership by sponsoring an activity called Brother Jed Bingo. He has been doing his “confrontational evangelism” for quite a while and has visited every state at least once. His home is in Indiana and he follows the seasons. Spring time is an excellent time to visit Arizona and that’s why we see him about this time every year. I first saw him in the early 80s at my campus at the University of Colorado. He appeared there with his now wife Sister Cindy. Jed and Cindy have been married 33 years and have 5 daughters. Two of his daughters are married. There were times when his daughters would be with Jed and Cindy but not this year. This year they brought with them a couple of young interns, Joshua and Kirstan. Also in the Campus Ministry USA contingent were: Sister Pat—an 86 year old lady, Brother Mikhail—young and energetic preacher from Russia, Brother Ryan—a traditionally dressed young preacher, and of course Dean—a fixture of the U of A mall until he moved to Phoenix. (Most people that I’ve talked to on the campus don’t miss him.)

While the preachers tend to offend and insult passing students, there is little doubt that they are covered under the concept of free speech. Some of the most offensive slogans include: “You deserve rape”, and “You deserve hell.” The second one could be justified in their holy book but the first one is definitely extra Biblical. Personally, both statements can be taken as simply a matter of opinion but calling passing students whores or perverts crosses the line, in my opinion. Personal verbal attacks should not be tolerated on the campus.

Also, free speech is NOT blasting out noise that effectively stops all communication. A few students brought out an electronic noise maker that blasted out high decibel warbling sound. There was no point to it other than to disrupt. Free speech is important and necessary for exchange of ideas. Drowning out all communication with noise or pointless music does not fall within the spirit of free speech.

The SSA (Secular Student Alliance of the University of Arizona) uses the annual visit of the travelling preacher to their advantage. As the only student club on campus specifically for non-religious students, the club needs a constant source of new students. College campus clubs loose members every year and recruiting more members insures that it will exist the following year. It turns out that Brother Jed is the best recruiter that the SSA could hope for. Jed creates a crowd with his often ribald stories that appeal to the students. While Jed is entertaining the students, the SSA passes out their Brother Jed Bingo cards that encourage people to visit them at their table.

Brother Jed has been telling similar stories for a number of years and a few years ago some enterprising students decided to pull out key words from his rhetoric and create Bingo cards. To be fair, his presentations are entertaining and sometimes he uses words and phrases to color and keep the students engaged. For example here are some of the words you might find on your Bingo card: Grope, Cheap Thrills, Wicked, Margaret, Bedroom, Fear or Trembling, Squeeze, and Virgin. Some of the words might be considered rude in polite company. The SSA hands out the Bingo cards and the students listen for the key words. When they get a Bingo, they are rewarded with a piece of candy provided at the SSA table where they’ll get a chance to talk with the club members and sign on to their email list. It’s a good time.

Instead of trying to limit Jed’s free speech, the SSA is using it to their advantage. Check out the club at the following websites:

See you next year Jed!

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What is a Christian? Or you must be this high to be a Christian.

On January 12th, the board of directors of the Secular Coalition for America announced the appointment of Larry T. Decker (an unaffiliated Christian)  as the new Executive Director of the organization. I for one am not impressed!

If someone tells me that they are an “unaffiliated Christian,” I assume that they are someone who might not believe in religion or go to church but still believes in some wacky supernatural stuff.

I am an Atheist. All that is necessary and sufficient to be an Atheist is a lack of belief in gods. Notice that some Atheists go further and state that there is no God or gods but that is not necessary. An Atheist can leave the door open for evidence and most of my friends would start believing in a god if there were sufficient evidence that one exists. However, most would admit to a very low probability of the existence of a personal, creator god as depicted in the most popular religions on the planet—highly improbable. Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion (page50) proposed a scale from one to seven. A one on his scale represents a total belief in God 100%, in other words, no doubt. A seven on his scale is exactly the opposite—a person who believes there is no possibility of a god existing, in other words, an extremely strong Atheist. Dr. Dawkins doesn’t know many of these. In fact he puts himself slightly below a seven on his scale. He believes that the existence of a god has a low probability but not zero. Atheists do believe in some things but not universally. If you don’t believe in a god, you’re in the club.

Then what is a Christian? Are Mormons Christian? How about scientologists? I’ve heard some fundamentalists say that Catholics are not Christian! Full disclosure, I was raised Catholic. I was baptized when I was 4 years old and I have a vague recollection of the event. I also had nine years of CCD–Confraternity of Christian Doctrine–classes. When I hear someone saying that Catholics are not Christian I’m moved to correct them to this day. Catholic indoctrination is very lasting.

Perhaps, as a minimum, a Christian must believe in the Apostles’ Creed. While there are slight variations of the creed depending on specific Christian sects, the source dates back to about 390. There were multiple edits but essence remains—roughly twelve articles of faith.

  1. I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
  2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
  3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
  4. Under Pontius Pilate, He was crucified, died, and was buried.
  5. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
  6. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
  7. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
  8. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
  9. the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
  10. the forgiveness of sins,
  11. the resurrection of the body,
  12. and the life everlasting.

The above list comes from the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church. Of course many Christians like many Atheists believe in other things but let’s take this list as a minimum set of beliefs to be called a Christian. Every Christian believes in at least these twelve things. A Deist can stop at the first article. A belief in a creator god would be sufficient. The “Christ” part of Christianity begins at the second article. Jesus existed and he was the son of God the Father. The supernatural belief intensifies with the third article. Jesus was born of a virgin impregnated by a “Holy Spirit.” There is nothing supernatural in the fourth article. People were tried, convicted, and killed in the past. However in the 5th article he came back to life and rising up after being killed doesn’t happen naturally especially after three days. Briefly, the Christian believes that Jesus “ascended” into heaven and sits next to God, his father and he’s coming back. In light of article 3 is article 8 even necessary? Christians must believe that there is one catholic (universal) church and that saints continue to exist after death and that sin can be forgiven. The resurrection of the body is a bit confusing and I’ll admit some ignorance on this article. Article 5 covered the resurrection of Jesus so my best guess is that a Christian must believe that his or her body will be resurrected. According to article 12, then enjoy everlasting life. So the articles specifically about the supernatural Jesus are: 2 through 7.

There is an Ecumenical version created in 1988:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic and apostolic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

It differs slightly but contains the same basic beliefs. The highlighted section corresponds with the Catholic Church’s articles 2 through 7: Divine man, virgin birth, died for three days, rose again, went to heaven, sits with God, and coming back sometime.

Therefore, being a Christian, unaffiliated or not, is prima facie evidence of believing in an irrational supernatural event. A belief that a living breathing human being died, was dead for three days, and came back to life. Outside of a story in an old historically inaccurate book of fables, there is absolutely no evidence supporting this belief. The only way someone justifies such a belief is through faith and according to Mark Twain, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” Skepticism and a healthy measure of curiosity should be enough to overcome early indoctrination and force someone to look into such claims.

Larry Decker might be a great guy and an able administrator but as long as he claims to be a Christian he’s not the best choice to lead the Secular Coalition for America.

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