CQAZ—Camp Quest 2022! It’s Going to Happen.

It’s time again to head up to camp, collect beads, and build robots. Of course, that’s just how I see it. The last time that we had a Camp Quest sleep away camp was the summer of 2019. I was getting ready for CQAZ 2020 in March of that year. Then came COVID 19, and everything was cancelled, and preparations were put on hold. There was a day camp and some hikes in 2021 but the weeklong sleep over camp didn’t happen that year either. So…after a 2-year hiatus, CQAZ will happen. It begins on the 25th of June and ends on the 2nd of July.

Early this year, I dusted off the previous preparations and picked up where I left off.

I had all the components for the “BevBot” pictured here. It’s a robot that moves and wobbles. It starts out as a beverage can. Amazon sells a similar “Tin Can Robot.” It costs about $10 but it has a lot of little, tiny parts. Also, it may take more than an hour to assemble. The cost isn’t a big issue, but I planned on every camper to build one. That means, I’d be buying about 50 of them. It pays to assemble my own kits. The tiny parts are a problem because our craft area, where all the “making” happens, is a wooden deck complete with narrow slots. Over the years, we’ve lost a lot of hardware through those slots. The campers have an hour to assemble and test out their robots. The resulting kit has only a few parts, no tiny ones, and builds fast.

My second robot build for this year’s camp I call “JoustBot”. Before camp was cancelled in 2020, I had started thinking about the more involved, elective activity. Campers choose 2 electives out of 8 or so that are available. The electives include normal summer camp activities such as archery and wilderness survival skills or they can choose fishing, drama, self-defense, or the national award winning “Mythical Creatures” activity. Since they can only pick 2 and there are many to choose from, I’m safe in assuming that I won’t get half of the campers. With that logic, I prepared 21 kits. The time allotted to an elective is 4 hours which consists of 4 one-hour sessions. More time allows a “maker” activity, such as JoustBots or Mythical Creatures, to be a little more demanding of the campers.

JoustBot started out as a simple beam-following robot. Shine a light on the robot and it will move toward the light. As before, I pulled inspiration from what was available online. I bought the BlueBot to evaluate. The robot has all the materials to perform line following, beam following, obstacle avoidance, or motion sensing. Of the four, the most interesting to me was the beam following (light-tracking mode.) The robot used breadboard which allowed circuit assembly without soldering. The circuit also had very few components. I discovered that it worked as advertised but I didn’t need the full capability of the BlueBot and, more importantly, I didn’t need to spend $100 for each kit. I bought a chassis kit and all the electronic components in bulk. I did all this right before March 2020 when it was announced that we wouldn’t be having CQ 2020.

Summer of 2020 came and went as did 2021. However, 2022 is not going to pass without a week-long, sleep over, Camp Quest summer camp. I wasn’t totally ready, but I was most of the way there. I could have run the events planned for 2020 but I made the BevBot a bit simpler and changed the Beam Following robot into one designed to joust.

The rider on the JoustBot is sits on top of the sensor pedestal and is held in place with a magnet in the base. The lance is held in place by a 3D printed mount to the right of the rider. The campers can joust with other campers while at camp. After camp, the robot doesn’t need to joust. It can still be used as a beam following robot.

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2021 Halloween Is Over

“I’m the Ghost Rider…My job is taking souls to hell…Don’t get no vaccinations shots…I need the work!”

Of course, it’s never really over here at the Lacey’s. The only thing that changes is that the projects don’t have the same sense of urgency as those days right before Halloween and the party on the day before. I now have a list of projects that need to be accomplished before next year. Luckily, this year most of the props operated flawlessly and only need to be packed away. I do have a few things that I’ll have to look at, however.

This year, I had a new prop in the “center stage.” It was my rendition of the “Ghost Rider.” All the regulars returned, though. There was the “dog”, “baby-the giant skull”, “the flying crank ghost”, “the tomb lifter”, “the gassy ghoul”, “the popup ghoul”, “Jack-in-box”, “Naomi-the witch”, “the three sisters”, and “It-the clown in the sewers.” Let’s not forget about the “talking pumpkin”, “Harvey wall breaker”, “the striking snake”, and “the popup mourner.”

Next year, the “Ghost Rider” won’t return but the mannequin will return as “The Devil.” For the Ghost Rider Instead of programming an Arduino microprocessor, I used a prop controller from Frightprops called the PicoBoo MP3. It made the job easier, but I had some limitations on what I could program into the “show.”

It was a great show. My guests for the day before party were impressed and the neighborhood kids seemed to enjoy their Halloween Trick-or-Treat visits. You can take a virtual tour of the whole display HERE.

This year exposed what might be a major problem moving forward. What the hell am I going to do with all this stuff when I run out of storage room? I keep packing things tighter and tighter, but space is getting critical. Right now, I feel that I’m a single cardboard box from being a hoarder. The fact that I build many of my props requires that I maintain a stock of “useful” stuff at the ready for my next project. I try and keep things as organizes as possible, but I feel that I’m reaching a point where I need to shuck a bunch of stuff, I’ll not use in the time I have left.

Every year it gets a bit harder to set up, but I think I’ll keep doing it as long as I can and as long as people appreciate the effort.

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It’s About Time…

…for an update.

A lot has happened since I last wrote in this blog. The last posting was way back in June. It was all about how I improved my “Invader Zim,” a Halloween prop from 2019. At that time, I had no plans to ever use him again, but it was a fun way to use my 3D printer. As it turns out, I DID get to use him again along with my pumpkin aliens, and a quickly assembled flying saucer. This year, I participated in the Oracle Glow event.

I also got a chance to display my “The Day the Earth Stood Still” inspired silver pumpkin robot. (I call him GORD.)

Quoting from the website:

‘GLOW! a nighttime art experience’ is an illuminated, out-of-the-ordinary, magical wonderland. Inspired by the mysterious full moon and alluring starlit sky, one is transported to another galaxy while transversing the 10 acres of outdoor trails – with plenty of room to roam. GLOWing artwork, multi-media installations, theatrical performances, projections and live music color the Sculpture Park, offering surprises with each step. Be engaged by the plethora of creative expression and community. GLOW! is an avant-garde art adventure where one can always expect the unexpected.

My display was call “Hey, Mister Spaceman,” and it was located right at the entrance. All of the art exhibits are displayed along trails, and most are illuminated. Some are interactive like mine. Of course, they look a bit different at night.

It was fun and I’m looking forward to the sold-out event on the 23rd of October. The guys were not designed to be outside, but they are holding up well. This year, my Halloween will have another central theme—Ghost Rider. More to come…

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3D Meets Invader Zim

Are you feeling it yet? Things are starting to get back to normal after the pandemic. Frequent readers of this blog will know that this means I’ll be getting ready for Halloween six months ahead of time. However, before I can properly prepare for the next Halloween event, I must take care of a few things. The theme for the Lacey’s Haunted Graveyard for 2019 was “Aliens from Outer Space.” (If you watch the highlighted video, you need to skip to the 4:30 mark to see the start of the UFO themed display.) In the interim, the displays were all packed into a very crowded storage shed. Invader Zim was packed on top and had to be moved out to get to other stuff in the shed. In the process, he was moved to the back porch. The wind and the weather did a number on poor old Invader Zim and he ended up looking a bit like a Picasso drawing. One of his big red eyes fell out. Somehow, one of his arms ended up sticking out of the socket. His head fell off too. Some of the hot glue joints let loose. In short, he became a pile of unrecognizable pieces and parts. However, when I plugged in his electronics, he could be heard saying, “My tallest, my tallest, my tallest…” I had to decide—Should I toss him or fix him? The 2021 Halloween theme will not involve UFOs or aliens but still…he has a special place in my heart. He came out of the fact that I found an abandoned slightly damage motorcycle faring on a dirt path during a Geocaching adventure. I love turning other people’s trash into useful items. Invader Zim is a fine example of upcycling. Before I can start preparing for the new 2021 theme, I decided to take care of him. Perhaps someone else will want him for their display.

Here is the faring I found in the field. I drug it home because I saw something alien in it. I didn’t know what though. I posted a picture on a Halloween DIY FaceBook page, and someone commented, “My tallest.” I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about, but my Google Fu was strong, and I soon found Invader Zim. As a boomer, I was not familiar with the cartoon. I watched a few episodes. There was an “Invader Zim” in there. I just had to bring him out into the world. I’ve told this story previously in a blog post back in September 2019. So, what is new? I bought a 3D printer in November 2020. Since then, I’ve found many things to make. I decided to make some 3D parts for him.

First, I cleaned him up and reassembled him. This required a bit of elbow grease but easily doable. His shoes were made of 1/8″ black foam, hot glue, and electrical tape. They didn’t survive the elements very well. He needed new boots. His hands (hands are hard) were made of foam covered with a black latex glove. I thought I might do better.

I started with TinkerCad and designed a new set of boots. These are better than the original pair and should last. Next, I found an upraised fist and manipulated it to fit the size I needed. It was a simple matter to mirror the right fist into a left fist and print them both out. Of course, 3D printing takes a while. It’s best to have the printer work while I sleep. I tend to watch the printer for too long when it’s working. The total time it took to do Zim’s “upgrade” was about a week, but most of it was done while I was sleeping.

He’s done now and ready for storage. Likely as not, he’ll not be used in a Halloween display in the future. I don’t know what’s going to become of him. Having an Invader Zim made from a discarded motorcycle faring is not the point. He served his time, though. I’m glad I made him. The point of fixing him up though was to meet the challenge of repairing him. Maybe I’ll bundle him up with a few other “Aliens from Outer Space” props and sell them locally to someone that would like to have their own “out of this world” display for the next Halloween.

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I Made Another Thing (or Two)

This pandemic has been a big pain, but it does have its upside. I have time to waste. I can do fun things too, and it doesn’t matter how efficient I am in doing them. Nancy wanted a container for elastic hair ties. So, I made a few. After all, I use elastic hair ties too. I made three. Each of them took almost 5 hours to print. Of course, I don’t have to watch the printer work the whole time. I mean, I don’t HAVE to. Honestly, I don’t watch the printer the whole time, but I make sure that it gets a good start. Watching a 3D printer is relaxing. Especially, when everything is moving as expected. It’s a good time to catch up on podcasts too.

After the elastics holder, I made a few trinket dishes to hold small items like pocket knives and toe clippers. Now, we have more of them than we need. After about the third one, I decided to try and make one out of ABS plastic. I’ve tried ABS before, but it never worked out. I couldn’t get the magic combination of setting to make it work. This time—no problem! I guess I’ve learned a bit about 3D printing since the last time I tried.

I just finished making a cable holder for the edge of my computer desk. This was particularly fun because I made it using some custom design made in TinkerCad combined with something borrowed from ThingiVerse. The result is something that I put to immediate use. It keeps my lightning and two versions of USB connectors readily available at the edge of my computer glass top desk.

I may miss these pandemic days. 

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Another Day in My Life as a Maker

Today, I received my Savage Industries workshop apron. It was on order for a couple of months and I bought it for my birthday a couple of weeks ago. I’ve never owned a workshop apron so I don’t know if I’ll get much use for it, but I had to make sure that it had a place in the shop that was readily available so I can use it and out of the way in case I don’t want to.

I know that it fits and is comfortable. Adam Savage has a fixed set of “doo dads” that he carries in his. I may have to develop a “standard” carry for mine as well. So far, I’ve loaded a single PaperMate Sharp Writer mechanical pencil. Apparently, it’s his favorite.

My workshop still has too much stuff in it and now I was trying something else. My thought process: a) It must hang; b) It must be handy; and c) It must be out of the way when I’m not using it.

  1. Hanging from the shoulder straps is a natural.
  2. Having in near the door is a great idea to keep it handy.
  3. Hanging it from the bottom of my “drill cabinet” would keep it out of the way.

So, it was off to TinkerCad and the 3D printer for the hanger. It was fun to design and didn’t take long to make. I used a short piece of 5/16″ Carbon Fiber rod for the cross bar. It’s times like these, that I wish I would have invested in my 3D printer sooner. I can’t believe how handy it is. Here are the results of today’s efforts:

Someday, this pandemic will be over, and I won’t be able to spend so much time in the workshop. On days like this, I wonder if I’m actually going to miss the pandemic!

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Sometimes Things Work Out: A Little Love for PayPal

Here is a story that I must get out. It’s good news and positive about a business that I have come to rely on—PayPal. They have a policy that specifically covers me when a company sends something that is not what was ordered. As you will see, that was especially important in this situation. Spoiler alert! I got a full refund.

Way back in September, I placed an online order for 3 Talking Pumpkins. If you click on the link, you’ll see that I was not the only one. My situation came out better than the poor lady in the news article. Like her I saw an add for three talking pumpkins with an internal projector and built in personalities. I was to receive three—Spooky, Traditional, and Funny. It was a “special” deal for $99.98.

BTW, there is a legitimate pumpkin product out there. It is called “Jabberin’ Jack.” Much of the verbiage in the advertisement was identical to the Jabberin’ Jack. The character themes, the internal projector, and promise of “fun animations.” The Jabberin’ Jack costs around $60. I thought I might be getting a great deal to get 3 of them for the low cost of $100.

I didn’t receive anything for quite a while and emailed the company to ask when I might expect their product. The reply said that because the items were so popular there had been a delay in shipping. What I received was nothing like what was advertised. Of course, I complained but it wasn’t as easy as it might have been. The webpage in the advertisement disappeared from the internet. I went to PayPal to get the email address where they sent the money.

Then I received an email from the company. By the way, the mail address that they used was “keidson.” The return address was vipservice1@stromore.com. (I removed the hyperlink.) When I originally ordered the pumpkins I got a confirmation that included a webpage www.tomysweild.store. That URL goes nowhere. After my complaint, here is the first letter that I received…

Dear customer,

Thanks for your support and concern on our store.

We feel so sorry for that inconvenience caused to you. Could you please kindly do us a favor to provide some pictures about the product you received and the shipping label on the package? We will reflect the problem to our warehouse to see if we have a solution for it. Please don’t worry, we will try our best to help you solve the problems.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Have a nice day.

Best regards!

CS Mamun

I sent a picture of the “product” and the mailing label. I included a quarter for size reference:

What followed was a series of offers for partial refund…the first on was for 50%. Providing that I dropped my claim with PayPal. The next offer was 70%. Then 80%. Those three Dollar Store items weren’t worth $20. Naturally, I refused and simply requested that I be allowed to send back the product for my full refund. Then I received this:

Dear Customer,

Thanks for your reply. We are so sorry to hear that you are not willing to accept what we proposed. In this situation, we would like to offer you only below two proposals:

1) Send back the products with following our return rules  and customers need to be responsible for the shipping fee about 10-15 USD.

    After we receive the returned order products, we will return the order amount after deducting the shipping cost.

2) Or, Could you please confirm us that you are agree with 50% refund on your order amount to close this case?

Please accept this , so that we can procees refund for you

According to their “rules,” I would have to pay the original shipping (which was free in the ad), pay for the return postage to China, and they would inspect the product and if they determine there is damage, they’ll deduct that amount from my refund. That was way too much power to put in the hands of someone that already cheated me. Oh, and by the way, the refund was now 50% if I wanted to go that way…

In the meantime, PayPal got back to me and told me that I would have to file a police report to get them to run the refund. They did however give me several options to file, so it wasn’t a big deal. It took me a few minutes to fill out a report to the internet fraud organization that they referenced. In a couple of days after that, I got my full refund-on November 1st. That was one day after Halloween! There were no talking, animated pumpkins this year at my display.

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Scraps of This and That

It’s a day after the 2020 election was called for Biden. It’s been a tense time for the Lacey household. Nancy, me, and Vector were all hoping to not have another four years of Donald Trump. Honestly, the thought of that maniac in the White House for another four years was scarier than the Covid 19 pandemic that has brought the country to its knees, and it is deadly for someone my age. The very thought never left my mind for long. I sat down a few times to write for this Blog. I couldn’t concentrate long enough. I ended up with a collection of unfinished posts.

Last night Nancy and I had a couple of bacon wrapped sirloin steaks a tossed salad and a bottle of Rose Champagne and at noon today my blood pressure was back in the “normal” range. I’m looking forward to once again having a professional at the helm. One that knows what he’s doing. This past four years have been the nightmare that I thought it my be in the blog I wrote on November 10th, 2016 called, “Shock and Ahh…Shit.” I was hoping for the best but the reality was far worse than I had anticipated, and that doesn’t include the current pandemic.

One of the things that stands out for me is the fact that he was quick to claim credit for things that he couldn’t possibly have accomplished. Three months into his presidency he claimed undue credit for revamping the United States nuclear arsenal. As Air Force acquisition professional, I can tell you that you can’t do anything in acquisition and modernization in three months. Each of the weapon systems I worked on including the B-1B Bomber, the Global Hawk Unmanned Air Vehicle, and LADAR weapons took at least 7 and in most cases 11 years to bring online. Nuclear systems are more demanding than any other weapons system in the entire Department of Defense and will take an estimated 30 years to modernize. He did write a memorandum on Jan 27, 2017 ordering a new nuclear posture review, but writing a memo is a far cry from “revamping.”

There are quite a few things that Mr. Trump claims that he’s done that he didn’t. I can’t cover all of them. The four years of fabrications would be impossible to cover in a brief blog. I only went into detail on the nuclear arsenal because it was one of the first outrageous claims and it is one where I could add the benefit of personal experience. In the first 100 days alone, 492 false or misleading claims were documented. There were false claims about jobs, immigration, foreign policy, health care, the economy, his own record, the election (remember those claims?), crime, trade, and taxes. That was just the first 100 days.

Couple that with the fact that he never took responsibility for things going wrong. “For Trump, the buck always stops somewhere else.” (Los Angeles Times) While it happened quite a few times in the past four years, his claims about the current pandemic are rather noteworthy. He screwed up every aspect of the situation and his responsibility started well before the virus came out of China. Trump disbanded NSC pandemic unit and cut the budget of the CDC in 2018. He didn’t fire everyone, he but half of the people working in the office lost their jobs. He eliminated the office especially made to handle the COVID 19 situation. The travel ban was late and ineffective. His handling of the PPE was abysmal. The kicker is that he rated his performance as a “10” and that he was doing a great job.

Well, that went too fast. I was going to include some other stuff that I’ve been trying to write about but I didn’t get to it. Tune in later and I have a couple of good personal stories about 2020 that I’d like to share.


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Post Halloween Post

I got started late this year preparing for Halloween. Who knew we were even going to have one? Well, I knew I wouldn’t be having a party which has been a Lacey tradition since 2010 but trick-or-treat was still a possibility. However, I saw on the internet an Arduino controlled candy dispenser and a few different candy slides/tubes. I decided that the build this year would involve me combining these two efforts to create a “socially distancing automatic candy dispenser.”

So, with that goal, I started work. Starting at the end of September, it took roughly twice as long as I expected. In other words, normal.

Next, I had to decide what I would NOT be putting out for the display. I have quite a collection of props since I first started building them in 2009. Nancy and I decided to not have the trick-or-treaters come up to the door. We decided to set up in the driveway. Jack, the talking pumpkin would go in the driveway and talk with folks. We would be behind a graveyard fence with the candy dispenser and chute. All the decorations would be in the yard. I would have the giant skull on the tower, the “Flying Crank Ghost”, the Tomb Lifter, the Vicious Dog, Steven King’s It prop (with the jumping spider), the animated witch, and the clown-in-the-box, and the pop-up ghoul. You can catch all of the action here and (after dark) here.

A good three weeks of work went into the display this year and the 50 or so that showed up to the house, seemed to appreciate the effort. On the other hand, if no one would have stopped by, I feel good that I spent the effort. As a retired engineer, it is good to exercise the creative muscles occasionally.

Today is the 5th. All the props are down, packed, and stored away. The workshop is clean. My hands are sore. All my minor injuries are dressed. I spent a couple of hours repairing things. What is next?

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Pandemic: A day in the life?

I should be writing more on this blog. I really don’t have an excuse. I should also be accomplishing more in general. I’m not going anywhere and all the functions that take me away from home are cancelled. There are plenty of people in the same situation; I’m sure. I’ll mention a positive first. It’s unbelievably easy to maintain a consistent schedule these days. The down side of that “feature” is that every day is the same as the last.

In a nutshell, here is my day: Get up. Take pills. Eat a hard-boiled egg. Walk 5 miles. Eat vegetable soup. Bathe. Watch last night’s comedians on YouTube. Check the mail. Eat dinner. Watch TV. Spend an hour on the computer. Go to bed…Repeat.

Of course, there are a few other things. I report the Arizona Covid numbers daily on FaceBook. I also fix stuff.

Since March, this year has been a write-off. This year I didn’t attend the Renaissance or Maker Faires and no Festival of Books at the U of A. This year the American Atheists Convention was to be held in Phoenix—it was cancelled. I’m still in mourning over the loss of the Camp Quest Arizona week in the Prescott National Forest. It is the hardest and the most rewarding thing that I do during the year. The Fourth of July celebration is usually a time that Nancy and I get to participate in a party that we simply attend, and we had to miss that too.

For the past 10 years the months of August and September are a time to learn a new skill or make a major improvement on the house. This year, I had a taste of that when the air conditioner failed. Life was a bit challenging and I learned a lot about building a makeshift swamp cooler as we waited for parts to fix the A/C. (Turns out, I finished building the swamp cooler a mere 3 hours before the A/C repairs were completed.) In the past, I learned about pneumatics, and working with micro controllers. The skills I seek out are usually necessary for building and improving animated Halloween props. Which brings up the next topic…things that AREN’T going to happen in the last days of 2020.

This year, no Halloween party. I’ll work on decorating the yard but it’s not clear if there will be “trick-or-treating” this year. I’ll probably use the time to mildly improve on past decorations, but I’ll not have a new major theme. It’s really a shame too since the party would have been on a Friday and Halloween is going to be on a Saturday. Thanksgiving won’t change much for us. Nancy and I don’t have any family in the area (or left for that matter) and we usually eat our baked turkey in front of the television. Also, there will be no Winter Solstice party.

There is also the monthly, local stuff that’s no longer happening. We usually hike in the Sabino Canyon every Friday and have dinner with our hiking friends after. I’m missing the Tucson Atheists monthly meetings. gathering for a highway clean-up, drinking together at the depot, and a few other events. Lastly, I miss the monthly “Lacey Super-Secret Karaoke” house parties. In short, I’m missing my friends.

It’s not all bad. I’ve been able to walk every day. Sometimes, I see a coyote or, like today, a rattlesnake on the trail. I often see roadrunners and hawks flying overhead. Hopefully, next year will be better.

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