Camp Quest AZ 2018 and What Keeps Me Coming Back

Last Friday at a meeting of the Tucson Atheists, I met the mother of one of the Camp Quest AZ campers this year. She also happens to be married to one of the volunteer counselors. I had never met her before and had no idea she was at the meeting. She told me after the meeting how much her son loved camp and especially how much he loved building a FrogBot robot. Her son tried to show it off on the way home but it broke. However, he fixed it and proudly showed it working. Camp Quest AZ was almost a month ago, but this story reminded me about the experience and why I do it every year.

Camp Quest AZ 2018 was the last week of June. There were 46 campers this year. The youngest was 8, the oldest 17. This was the 6th year for the camp and my 5th year as a volunteer program counselor. Program counselors are charged with providing the activities such as fishing, archery, survival skills, etc. There are also cabin counselors that are charged with the campers from a specific cabin. The campers are divided into their cabins by age and gender. Older campers assist the volunteers though a program called the Leadership Track. These LTs spend time at camp developing and running activities such as team games and the “Carnival”—an exceptional effort which includes music, games, face painting, balloons, and prizes. This year, one of last year’s LTs came back and did an excellent job as a volunteer camp counselor. Knowing that gave me a good feeling about the future of Camp Quest AZ.

My contributions include a variety of programs normally centered around technology of some sort. This year I provided two robotic programs: the FrogBot and the Line Tracker Car. The FrogBot was designed to be built in 45 minutes and involved the use of only a hot glue gun. The Line Tracker Car was from a kit which took about 4 hours to build. The campers used soldering irons and small hand tools.

So…what keeps me coming back? A variety of things. Preparing for Camp Quest is an outlet for creativity. I get to use a lot of technical skill and exercise my program managing skills. Developing a program involves research, engineering, acquiring materials, and prototyping. Making it all come together in time for camp is a program management challenge. The ultimate reason I keep coming back is to share with the young campers the ability to make things with their hands. I want to pass on the ability to work with materials and enjoy the sense of accomplishment and the story of a young camper working to fix his FrogBot in order to show it off is just icing on the cake.

I look forward to camp every year and I’m always looking out for the next program.

You can read more about Camp Quest and its origins HERE. The Camp Quest Arizona site is located HERE.

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Good Bye Sears!

A little over two years ago, Nancy and I bought a Sears Kenmore Elite refrigerator. We’re getting to the age where we’re buying things for the last time. The Maytag we replaced was in place for about 18 years. The Sears Kenmore Elite was pretty. It was made of stainless steel. It had LED lighting. It was beautiful, and Nancy loved it. I bought it for her birthday on the 11th of March in 2016. In August 2017, it quit working. We lost all our food and it took weeks to get it fixed. In September, it was working again but in May 2018, it quit working. This time, all the lights went out. It totally died, and I decided to cut my losses and replace it. We went to Lowes, waited patiently for a sales representative, found that they didn’t have what they had advertised, and went to Home Depot. This was the identical series of events that resulted in us getting our dish washing machine from Home Depot. I wonder why I gave Lowes the first opportunity again. I probably won’t the next time. Next time, I’ll go straight to the Home Depot and skip Lowes. I’m sorry Lowes. You failed…again!

I’ve written about the Sears refrigerator three times…First Time, Second Time, and Third Time.

The new refrigerator is a fancy Whirlpool 4 door behemoth that directly replaces the Sears Kenmore Elite. Once we place the order, I went on to Craig’s List and picked up a basic used Whirlpool model for the garage. I paid a fair price and the person that sold it delivered it to my garage. We transferred all the food from the dead Sears Kenmore to the box in the garage. This time we had zero food loss.

The new refrigerator was delivered on schedule and the people took away the broken Sears box. Good Riddance! Of course, I’m out over $2000 and there is no guarantee that the new box will last any longer but for a small period of time, I’m happy, my food is secure, and now I have a place in the garage to store my extra beer.

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Building a Third Storage Rack

This article isn’t about Camp Quest, not really. It’s about preparing to attend Camp Quest AZ for the 5th time. For me, preparation begins early. It doesn’t have to of course but readers of this Blog probably know by now that I believe in proper preparation.

In February, I discussed the elective that I’ll probably be offering this year. You can read about it HERE.

I’m a program counselor which means I help with the camp programs. There are Electives (4 one-hour sessions), Camp Quest Zones (1 one-hour session), and Free Time activities. I’m on the hook for one Elective and to help on other programs. We normally have one “build” Camp Quest Zone and I usually help running that one. Last year all the campers built solitary bee homes. This year I decided to provide the Elective (Line Tracking Car) and the Quest Zone build activity (The FrogBot). I’ll write about the FrogBot in another posting. Now, about the third storage rack that I’m building…

I built my first storage rack getting ready for Camp Quest AZ 2017, the second one when I was preparing for Halloween 2017. Now, I need yet another so that the campers will have a place to store their Line Tracker Robots between building sessions. As you can see the two that I have are in use and quite full.

Each rack holds up to 25 shoe box sized plastic containers and I expect that I’ll have no more that 24 campers elect to participate in the project. The total number of campers will be about 55 and each camper can choose 2 electives. The other electives include archery, fishing, drama, survival skills, dancing, and other fun stuff. So given the fine choices available and the fact that they can only choose 2, 24 would be a very high number.

What’s it take to build? 51.5 ft of ½” PVC Pipe, 36 “T” fittings, 4 “L” fittings, and 4 caps. Plus, political sign material to make the shelves.

After I designed the unit to fit my needs, I bought all the material except the political sign material was free and available. After the last election, I took down all the signs and stored them behind my backyard shed. Next, I cut the PVC into 10-43″ lengths, 10- 10″ lengths, 4-4″ lengths, and 36-2″ lengths. The hardest part of the build is sanding off all the markings on the pipe. What remains is to glue the parts together and make the shelves out of the political sign material. The shelves are two-ply with the flutes of the corrugated plastic sheet running at 90°. In this case, I’ll have to consider where to NOT glue the fittings to allow me to disassemble the unit for shipment to Camp Quest.

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Proper Prior Preparations Prevent PPP*

Camp Quest Arizona is not until the end of June but it’s already on my mind and on my workbench. I had super response and success with last year’s program—The Beatle Bot. The program I select must have appeal to campers from the age of 8 through 17. Such programs are “electives.” Other electives include archery, fishing, survival skills, drama, and dancing. There may be others depending on the skills of the volunteer program camp counselors. I like hands-on activities. In the past, we build model airplanes, Pinewood Derby cars, and Tin Can Robots.

Pictured here is a prototype of one possible program for 2018. It was easy to build, can be completed by the campers in four 1-hour sessions and gives them something to take home with them. Unlike last year, the tiny line following robot comes in a complete kit. All that is necessary to complete the project is a soldering iron, solder, and a couple of hand tools. It went together quickly and worked immediately. The experience wasn’t perfect though. The instructions were not in English. My guess is Chinese since there were no recognizable words just pictures. I was able to find an “English” PDF file on the internet. It was rough. For example, here is the first line of the assembly instructions:

“Pay attention to the welder, welding according to the welding circuit is simple, the welding sequence component height from low to high principles, the first welding eight resistance welding must be used universal confirmation form resistance is correct, is welded with a polar components such as transistors, the green indicator light, electrolytic capacitor must points clear polarity as reference we picture element direction, welding capacitor short pin is the negative into the PCB screen printing on the shadow side of the green LED pin long is the cathode welding time not too long otherwise easy to weld, D4, D5 R13 and R14 can be temporarily not welding, integrated circuit chip can be in, the initial completion of welding, pleas be sure to carefully check, prevent careless.”

The purpose of preparing early is to work out the bugs and make sure that there is a high probability of that the robots will work. If I go with this kit for my summer project, I’ll obviously have to rewrite the assembly instructions!

Camp Quest is the Best! For more information on Camp Quest AZ, click HERE.

  • PPP = Piss Poor Performance
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Merry Christmas!

Yes. The Atheist said it, “Merry Christmas!” So, what? It’s Christmas Eve and it’s appropriate. I went to Walmart today to get an HDMI cable and exchanged the greeting with quite a few people today. On the 21st, we celebrated Winter Solstice at our house.

It was a great party. There were not one but two Christmas trees in the house. One was decorated with only red and gold ornaments and white warm LED lights. The other was rather eclectic with colored lights and a wide variety of colors and types of ornaments. Both are artificial and have been with us for over 10 years. But isn’t the holiday a bit artificial?

The annual celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ was placed on the calendar to displace the pagan celebrations that preceded the rise of Christianity. The first celebration of Christmas on December 25th was in 336 CE. There was no specified date in the Bible, so the Roman Emperor Constantine decided to put it on the 25th of December. It’s a wonderful time to celebrate especially in the Northern Hemisphere and the farther you get away from the Equator the more the celebrations are appreciated.

December 25th is roughly the time of the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. Roman midwinter celebrations were already happening during the Winter Solstice. Two notable celebrations are Saturnalia and Dies Natalis Solis Invicti. The Winter Solstice is a solar event and represents the shortest day of the year, in the northern hemisphere of the Earth. In Tucson the shortest day of the year this year was on the 21st of December. It was 10 hours, 2 minutes, and thirty-one seconds between sunrise and sunset. On the 25th, the day was 10 hours, two minutes, and 42 seconds. The point here is that the length of the day changes very slowly around the Winter Solstice.

The literal meaning of solstice is “the Sun stops.” The Sun doesn’t stop, of course but if you were to observe the height of the Sun above the horizon at midday every day, you’d notice that during the Winter Solstice that the height would stop decreasing each day.

On Christmas day, we’ll hike, watch a movie, and eat at a Chinese buffet. Life doesn’t get much better than that in in the Southwest.

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65 in Three

In three months, I’ll be turning 65 years old. I’ve decided to start collecting my Social Security benefits. Decisions, decisions…While signing up for Medicare I decided to go ahead and start collecting my benefits The full retirement age is 66 and I’ll make a bit less per year but I’ll make it for 12 months more. There will be no difference in the total value of the payments if I live to my projected age. (They didn’t mention what that age is but I was assured that it was true.) I decided that since I was going down to deal with the Social Security bureaucracy to get the Medicare going I’ll go ahead and get the retirement payments. It might save me a trip in a year.

Nothing goes smoothly. Filling out the application online was painless but the “What to do next” line in the instructions kept me busy most of the day. The Social Security Office wants to see an original copy of my birth certificate. I last saw my birth certificate 18 years ago and I remember it being in a manila folder. I had to have it for a security clearance when I started working for Raytheon. I found a manila folder but it was full of photocopies. I finally found the required paperwork but it wasn’t exactly where I remembered it being. During the time when I was my father’s conservator, I collected all of HIS important papers—DD214, marriage certificates, etc. and tucked in with his papers was my birth certificate—Eureka! The upside of never throwing everything away is that you are guaranteed to find it eventually. The downside, of course, is that it may take all day to do it.

October was a busy month and due to the fact that we finished Halloween then ran off to the Camp Quest Summit for the weekend in Phoenix, I’m not fully recovered. I still have the remnants of my display to clean up but I’m also bone tired. That’s the trouble with being retired, you don’t get any days off…

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So Long Halloween 2017

It’s over for another year and most of the decorations are packed away. It was a great year and we had a fair number of Trick-or-Treaters on Halloween considering that it was a school night. The 8th Annual Nightmare before Halloween Party was also well attended and as far as I could tell everyone enjoyed the food, refreshments, and activities.

The theme for this year’s party and yard display was Welcome to the CarnEvil. It included clowns and clowns are very scary to some people. At least one person messaged me to tell me that her Coulrophobia (fear of clowns) was preventing her from coming to the party. She wasn’t kidding either. I promised to have “clown free” areas and still she didn’t attend.

In the past our themes were: Pirates, Witches, and Zombies. I suspect that the main reason that most people that didn’t attend was that it was on a Monday, a school or work night. The original reason for the party back in 2010 was to show off a bit and test out all of the Halloween mechanical decorations. It had to be on the night before Halloween due to the fact that decorations in the neighborhood are at risk of being vandalized. However this year I had an alarm, a fence, and a video camera leading me to believe that I may be able to separate the party/dry run a couple of days from Halloween.

Every year I add a new prop. My last blog entry was on October 8th (Finishing—Building IT Part VII) describes the final chapter in building this year’s newest prop. The theme for last year was Zombies and the new prop was a Zombie pit in the front yard. I used it again this year but raised it up on its end and included a prisoner clown hanging from his wrists. When anyone walked by the clown would talk and kick his feet.

The Arduino controlled witch that appeared in 2015 also returned. 2015 was the year of computer control just as 2009 was the first time that I employed pneumatics.

Preparations this year were intense. I started spending time in the workshop when the Spirit popup stores started appearing in mid-August. Building and repairing continued throughout the time right up to the night of the party and during Halloween day. I lost almost 10 pounds and went to bed sore and tired every night. On the other hand, I had more fun this year than in previous years. Money was not a problem and I got started early enough to enjoy the build. At times I felt that there was an evil gremlin hanging out in the workshop. Things that shouldn’t fail failed. “Aha solutions” turned out not to be so spiffy and everything took longer than it should but I stayed with it and learned important lessons through the failures and bad ideas.

Ultimately the goal of having an impressive, scary, reliable Halloween display was achieved and now most of it is packed up.

I’m still a bit sore though…

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