International Aerial Robotics Competition—Mission 8

The first attempt at Mission 8 of the IARC (International Aerial Robotics Competition) finished on August 1st in Atlanta Georgia. No team completed the mission, as expected, but three of the teams did qualify and had an opportunity to demonstrate their capability in the arena. By far and away, the Norway Team (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) with 5 flying attempts was the best prepared but Olin (Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering) and St. Olaf (St. Olaf College) each made 4 flight attempts. Other teams present were Missouri University of Science and Technology, Pennsylvania State University, PES University (from Bangalore, India), University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Texas at Austin. Teams travelling to the competition face many challenges. For example, the PES University Team’s vehicle was destroyed going through customs from India. The Georgia heat melted one team’s vehicles and they had to scramble to replace their propeller shrouds.

This contest has been held once a year for 28 years. The goal has always been to stretch the technology and it was created to be “hard.” It was/is/and always will be a competition based on autonomous vehicles. This year was the first year that the autonomous vehicles could be directed by a human operator through voice or gesture commands. Also, this is the first year that the mission was hindered by active sentry drones. There were four of them and their mission was to prevent the human in the arena from completing the mission. The rules explain in detail what is required and there is also a promotional video that dramatizes the task.

The next opportunity for college teams to meet the Mission 8 challenge will be at the Asia/Pacific Venue on August 24-25 in Kunming, China. Thirteen teams from China and 3 from India are slated to attend. The past two missions were completed at the Asia/Pacific Venue. It is possible but unlikely to have one of the Chinese teams complete the mission and collect the prize money. That would bring up Mission 9 and severely disappoint the creator of the competition. He wants the challenge to be tough enough to take a couple of years to accomplish. On the Past Missions page of the IARC Website one can see that Professor Michelson got his wish on every mission except for Mission 5.

Posted in Science and Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Well “I Think”—An Old Story

Hello readers! Are you as frustrated as I am? It seems frustration is a way of life now that we’re under the current administration.

There were times in my Air Force career when I was frustrated to the extreme. I worked for a hardnosed, base, paranoid, and small-minded Chief Master Sergeant. I was a shop chief and had enough work for about three or four individuals. The Air Force had assigned me seven technicians. It all worked out and had a happy ending, but I was frustrated. My solution required that I get my old-school boss to accept some “creative” management. It all worked out for the best and I was rewarded with an opportunity to become an officer but here is a conversation that I had with the “Chief” that helped me persuade people that I was officer material:

Me: Hey Chief! If I said you’re a Son-of-a-Bitch you’d probably bring me up on charges, wouldn’t you?

Chief: Yes! I would bring you up on charges.

Me: But Chief, I could THINK you’re a Son-of-a-Bitch and you couldn’t do a damn thing to me, right?

Chief: Yes. That’s right. You can thing whatever you want.

Me: Well Chief, I think you’re a Son-of-a-Bitch!

We both had a laugh about that, and I got the “Chief” to allow me to make a management change that kept up the morale and got the mission done. We ended up as good friends and the Chief was an advocate for my application for the Airman Education and Commissioning Program. I retired as a Major on the first day of 2000.

In short, we were on the same page. We communicated and understood each other. The Chief wasn’t afraid of me and I wasn’t afraid of him. Together, we got things done. I set up his retirement ceremony and he supported my application to the commissioning program—win, win. Wherever he is, I’m sure that he’s doing OK and I’m also doing OK.

Perhaps, history can repeat itself. I can’t say without legal threat that Donald J. Trump is a racist. However, I can THINK that he is a racist.

Therefore: Donald J. Trump, I think you’re a racist!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Camp Quest Arizona Recovering

Coming off a natural high after spending a week at Camp Quest Arizona. Spiritually, I’m doing great. Physically, not so much. Every year recovery takes a wee bit longer. I missed a 4th of July party and opted to spend time with Nancy in front of the TV. We enjoyed a dinner of hot dogs, pork and beans, and potato salad. I could hear the fireworks, but the Lazy Boy was so comfortable…After a bit, I had to get up and walk. I like to walk four miles every day, and this time of year it’s best to walk after dark. I usually start at 9 P.M. and it takes a bit less than 90 minutes. This time, I took my Panasonic Camera. Normally, I only have my phone camera, but the last couple of days my headlamp was illuminating Wolf spiders that were carrying their babies on their back. I really needed the camera that has an optical zoom so I could hopefully capture momma spider and her babies. I’ve included one of the best pictures, but it really doesn’t do it justice. When wearing a headset, the Wolf spider eyes reflect very brightly. The momma spiders have a few dozen extra eyes and the effect is awesome when I’m wearing a headset. I’ve been trying to capture the image on the iPhone camera, but the effect was disappointing. Also, the momma spider would jump into her hole while I was setting up the shot.

On the fourth, I took my Panasonic Lumix camera with me and captured a few photos using the optical zoom capability and the built-in flash. It made the walk take a bit longer but now I get a chance to share a great picture of a momma Wolf spider. I saw at least 5 momma spiders with babies.

Today, the 6th, I didn’t see any piggy backing baby spiders, but I did see a lot of little spiders on the trail. Perhaps the babies are now on their own.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Camp Quest AZ 2019 Final Report

The Camp Quest AZ mythical creature is Muggy—a bipedal humanoid wild creature thought to be a native of the Mogollon Rim. Every Camp Quest has its own mythical creature. I believe when Ed Kagin first started Camp Quest in 1996 in Boone County Kentucky for the children of secular families he played a game with an invisible unicorn in his garage. It was a challenge aimed at showing that a negative could not be proven. Back then, there was only one location for Camp Quest. Now, there are 14. Camp Quest Arizona is one of them.

This year we had 46 campers including 6 LTs (Leadership Trainees). Campers age from 8 through 15 and LTs are aged 16-17. We also had 21 adult staff members. Including a Camp Director, Facilities Director, Programs Director, Camp Cabin Director, Medical, LT Director, 4 Program Staff and 11 Cabin Staff.

From my point of view, everything went well. We had 8 electives this year. Each camper gets to select two. This year they got to choose from: Archery, Fishing, Drama, Drumming, Robots, Rockets, Self-defense, and Survival Skills. My elective was building robots. All 13 campers that signed up to assemble Runner robots were successful. For the last hour of our 4 hour program they played with the robots in a small arena made of lawn edging material.

I also had the pleasure of introducing all the campers to the history of the catapult and we built two versions—the onager and the trebuchet. It was great fun being the target after assembly. The ammunition were Nerf Rival foam balls, completely harmless when hurled by catapults made from popsicle sticks and tongue depressors.

Also, I showed some of the campers how to build an analog clock. (You know the one with the face and the three hands?). They each decorated their own clock faces with stickers and markers. Then we attached the movement. Once the battery was inserted (properly) the clock started working. Hopefully, the campers will put their clocks on the wall to remind them of what a wonderful time they had at Camp Quest Arizona 2019.

The other “maker” elective was Rockets. Lauren taught her group how to build and launch rocket made from old soda bottles. This was the first year for this program and the campers that selected it had a great time building and launching their rockets.

The LTs (16 and 17-year-old campers that help with camp operations) had a maker activity as well. They upcycled refuse items back into usefulness.

Camp Quest AZ 2019 high lights: (leaving out the meals and such)

Day Before—Most staff check in with their children (if any).

First Day—Campers arrive, are checked in, cabins assigned, treasure hunt, staff led opening campfire, bed.

Second Day—First day of electives, quiet time, team games, afternoon activity, evening activity, bed.

Third Day—Same as Second Day.

Fourth Day—Hike, quiet time, team games, afternoon activity, evening activity, bed.

Fifth Day—Same as Second Day (except for the LT run Carnival in the evening), bed.

Sixth Day—Same as Second Day (except afternoon activity is replaced with free time and skit night in the evening), bed.

Seventh Day—Break camp, pack, cleanup, sign out campers, and go get lunch in Prescott Valley. Drive home. The End!

I might write more on Camp Quest AZ in the future. There’s a lot of detail missing in the quick listing of highlights above. I’m glad I went, and I’m glad it’s over too. I think everyone that went enjoyed the experience but are now feeling a bit sore, a bit tired, but overall satisfied with this year’s Camp Quest Arizona!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

More about Camp Quest Arizona

It seems like all I write about in this blog, when I bother writing, is about Camp Quest. It’s not like that’s all I do but it is the highlight of my summer. At the time of this writing I’m about two weeks from taking the trip to the higher elevations of Arizona and the Piney woods of Prescott National Forest. While I’m there, the phone connection will be spotty. I’ll have to climb up to a ridge to get enough “bars” on my ATT phone to download podcasts and call my wife. That’s not a complaint; that’s a feature! I suppose the 3-minute cold water shower is a feature too.

My part in the program this year is to teach the young campers the joy of being a maker and fixing things. We will be doing a lot of upcycling which I also enjoy.

Earlier, I wrote about “The Runner” robot that some of the campers will be able to construct in the post about building a new set of shelves

Happily, the camp director selected as one of the programs that all the campers will participate in involves catapults. Little did she know that that was one of my earliest interests. When I was as young as most of the campers, I used to build catapults out of Popsicle sticks that were designed to chuck marbles at card house castles. My parents liked to play Pinochle and I had a lot of used cards for the castles.

The missiles we’ll be firing won’t be marbles. We’ll be using small foam “Nerf” balls that look like tiny golf balls. It’s going to be great to show the campers how to construct these simple devices using common materials such as Popsicle sticks, tongue depressors, fishing sinkers, rubber bands, and plywood circles. We’ll also be using hot glue so the building should go quickly.

Each camper will build two catapults. One will be a Trebuchet and the other will be a Mangonel. When someone pictures a “catapult” they more than likely picture the Mangonel. They used twisted rope to store the energy which is delivered to the missile causing it to fly. The Trebuchet is a bit more elegant. It uses a falling a weight to store and impart the energy to the missile.

The two models to the left normally decorate my home office. Both are capable of hurling metal balls about 30 yards, but you’ll notice that the Mangonel on the left in the picture is sturdier in construction. It uses twisted nylon rope to store the energy. There is very beefy stop in the front of the throwing arm to stop its forward motion and loose the payload. There is a lot of potential energy left in the system once the missile flies. On the other hand, all the potential energy in the Trebuchet is expended and transferred to the missile. Therefore, the device can be built a bit lighter.

These siege engines were constructed of wood primarily. They were in fact used in the middle ages and before but there are none that survive to this day. However, there are a few surviving key metal parts. After deployment and use, it is likely the wood had more immediate uses such as fuel and building materials. Most of the models in existence were constructed from drawings.

The campers are going to have a fun time building these and I’ll bet they come up with some inventive ways to used them at camp and after.

Eleven days and counting!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in American Atheists, Atheist Action, Camp Quest, Freethought Community, Retired--A Day in the Life, Science and Technology, Skepticism, Youth Activity | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Camp Quest, Freethought Community, Repurposing Material, Retired--A Day in the Life, Science and Technology | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment