Camp Quest Arizona 2019

This will be the sixth year for me at Camp Quest Arizona. I’m a volunteer and a program camp counselor. A program camp counselor is one that creates and runs activities at the camp. My position is voluntary. I don’t get paid. In fact, my participation is personally costly. I donate all the preparation time and the costs of all the materials I use.

This year, my campers will be building a small robot called “The Runner“. I’ll also be having the campers build two types of catapults: the Scientific American Catapult and the Scientific American Trebuchet. In addition, I’ll be providing the campers the ability to sing Karaoke.

I plan on taking a bunch of pictures and I’ll post them after the camp is over.

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A New Set of Shelves

Camp Quest Arizona 2019 will be the end of June, but preparations have already begun. It’s a very busy week and proper preparations allow me to and the campers to get the most out of the experience. For the last three years, I’ve been building a simple set of shelves to take with me to camp. They consist of ½” PVC pipes and fitting along with repurposed political sign material—coroplast. Pictured are the three sets from the previous years. As you can see, they are full of stuff. My workshop always remains in a state of “organized chaos.” The hoarder quantity of raw materials contained there are sorted and labelled so that I have to spend less time looking for that all important widget that would be perfect for my most recent doo-dad. I’m sorry for all the technical jargon so let me briefly explain…my most recent “doo-dad” might be a Halloween prop or a cleaver way to ignite the fire at the beginning of the annual Winter Solstice celebration. In any case, now that the stuff is all sorted and labelled it doesn’t make sense to undo that. Therefore, I must build another set of shelves for this year’s camp. I’m running out of wall space however. So, what to do? This year I’m going to build a 10 shelf (taller) unit and transfer the containers from one of the shorter units to the bottom of the taller one. I only need 25 or so containers and the taller unit will hold 50. If I do this properly, I’ll pack away the disassembled smaller unit so that it won’t be used and full of junk stuff before next year’s Camp Quest and the cycle will be broken. That’s the plan.

Here is the new 10-shelf framework.

This should hold 50 of the small plastic shoe boxes. The next step was to transfer 25 of the boxes from last year’s set.


Here is the new set with the boxes transferred.







And…here is the newly freed up rack from last year ready for new shelving and a new supply of empty plastic boxes.






This year the campers participating in my STEM elective will be building a vehicle called “The Runner.” As always, I’ll be making modifications to the vehicle and the way it is assembled to fit the age, interest, and experience level of the young campers.

Here is a prototype. The final vehicle will have a “grasshopper” face with LEDs and antennas. The face will allow the campers to select the eye color of their Runner and will give it a bit of a personality. In selecting the eye color, the campers will have to calculate what size of current limiting resister will be necessary. (There is a possibility that some sort of race competition will be involved too.) The goal is to have the campers experience the thrill of being a “maker” as well as being able to use simple mathematics in the process. Perhaps they will take their vehicle home and use the individual parts to make other toys or find other maker activities. I look forward to Camp Quest Arizona every year and this year is no exception.

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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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