Congratulations to Dr. Lauren Schatz!

Resident pyramid expert Dr. Lauren Schatz defended her thesis work today, despite pandemic pandemonium. The field has decided to accept her (with minor revisions), and she will be joining the Air Force Research Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico later this year.

We’ll miss her a lot, but every wavefront sensed by MagAO-X will have her fingerprints on it. Well, not literally, that’d be bad optical science-ing. But you know what I mean.

We had all kind-of forgotten how to do the in-person rituals of academia, but we “reserved” a “conference room” and used a “projector.” We also set up Zoom, for good measure (and for everyone beyond the tiny occupancy limit imposed by These Unprecedented Times).

Masks were worn by all non-presenters, fear not.

Best wishes in all your future endeavors, Lauren!

Drs. Schatz and Males post-defense. The women of Optics make sashes to commemorate defenses, and this one was made by Dr. Silvana Ayala.

Song of the Day

You’ll find in time
All the answers that you seek
Have been sitting there just waiting to be seen
Take away your pride and take away your grief
And you’ll finally be right where you need to be

“Different Now” by Chastity Belt

Bonus Lauren

Have you ever unpacked a new optic and it turns out it was actually Lauren? (Photo: Jennifer Lumbres)

In defense of the “Steward oranges”

Shortly after I began my Ph.D. studies at Steward Observatory, I noticed that the historic dome building (where they gave me my first homely office) was ringed by orange trees.

“Don’t try eating them,” I was told. “They taste terrible! They’re not edible; they’re only, what’s the word, decorative? Ornamental?”

In this post, I will seek to rehabilitate the reputation of the much maligned Steward orange.

I have been undertaking progressively more intricate cooking projects over the course of the last covid, and after SeriousEats featured a recipe for cochinita pibil on its homepage I knew I had to try. Cochinita pibil is a pork dish from the Yucatán region of México, best known to Americans as “where Cancun is.” The Seville oranges used in it are known for being sour, bitter, and generally unpalatable on their own, but impart a distinctive flavor to the dish. I tried finding them at local Mexican grocery stores, but struck out.

But… aren’t the Steward oranges sour, bitter, and generally unpalatable? Could they be the oranges I’m looking for? Fortunately the campus arboretum has cataloged every notable plant on campus, and I had only to ask:

Armed with this information, I went to harvest some ingredients. However, a problem arose.

Undaunted, I returned under cover of darkness with an improvised professional harvesting tool.

The first thing I made with my sour oranges was some quick-pickled onions (another SeriousEats recipe). They were delicious. No food coloring required!

Of course, juicing a bunch of oranges means you have a bunch of orange rinds left over. The Seville orange’s peel is full of flavor compounds, with writers sometimes calling it the “orangiest” orange. I couldn’t let that go to waste! Seville oranges are prized in the UK for use in marmalade, but, quite frankly, I don’t eat much marmalade. So I made candy instead.

That’s already two ways to eat the Steward oranges, and we haven’t even gotten to the main event yet. In cochinita pibil, the bitter (or sour, or Seville) orange juice is used in the marinade alongside a laundry list of spices—but no hot chilies. The flavor of the final dish is a bit smoky and earthy, and fairly orange in color (thanks to achiote), but you’ll have to apply hot salsa to taste.

After a tedious overnight wait, it was time to parcel up the meat and veg. Though I’m not digging the traditional pit, I can still use banana leaves. Fortunately, Tucson’s excellent international supermarket had them in stock.

Trussed up and placed on a tray, it was time to grill. Or, I guess, smoke. (The grad-student budget version of a smoker is a grill plus a lot of babysitting.)

Success! Some corn tortillas and pickled onions were produced, and tacos were had by all. A poll of the individuals present for this pork fest indicated broad approval for this cochinita pibil recipe. More importantly, there were no leftovers.

Not bad for a sour, bitter orange!

Song of the day

In honor of our first 100ºF day of 2021…

“Sunny” — Boney M.

Fake it ’til you make it

Steward Observatory and Department of Astronomy tradition is to spend valuable[citation needed] grad student time concocting plans to amuse, vex, or embarrass the principal investigator.

Note to P.I.: This also means any embarrassing mistakes you’ve seen me make have been absolutely intentional.

We call these pranks, though I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. In any case, we cannot hope to rival the time someone used computer administrator access to bamboozle a CNN-addicted advisor with a fake homepage. I think of them more as artistic expressions of the self, mediated through the constraints of graduate school and the cult of personality inherent in any advising relationship.

There was that one time that priceless works of art appeared to decorate the office while its occupant was abroad in Chile, and, more recently, the Merry MagAO-Xmas display. Both of these relied on having a group of graduate students with Photoshop™ skills to render 2D images that reveal the essential nature of the subject.

For the next iteration, we had to step things up. Kick it up a notch. Take things into a whole new dimension. Could we photoshop our advisor into… a movie? Haha, just kidding! Even a short clip would be many hundreds of frames. Unless…

What if there were a tool that leveraged image processing, GPU programming, and machine learning to automate this for us? We’re high-contrast imagers; we know these things. I immediately set to work on a literature review.

It just so happened that a fellow graduate student had (unknowingly) answered our prayers in “Motion-supervised Co-Part Segmentation” by Aliaksandr Siarohin et al. from ICPR 2021. Or, more importantly, the associated open-source code. Armed with a bottom-shelf NVIDIA GPU and a refurbished Dell workstation, I dug in to the code. It seemed like I’d be able to get a good “face swap,” but there was one nagging problem.

What does my advisor’s face look like?

In pre-COVID times, one would have simply ambushed him with a camera sprinted off before he realized what happened. Confined to my home, I was forced to rely on the collective memory of the research group: in other words, this very blog.

I quickly discovered that the meek Dr. Males was camera-shy. How else does one explain his tendency to shrink into the backs of group photos? Or to grace us with only a partial mug? It’s almost as if he doesn’t even want a deep-fake model trained on his appearance! Nevertheless, I found a handful of suitable photos among the thousands, and I moved on to the next question:

Into which clip shall I face-swap my advisor?

After discounting Top Gun (for a lack of suitable pithy quote clips on YouTube), I eventually settled on this one:

The Godfather – I’m Gonna Make Him An Offer He Can’t Refuse

“You look terrible. I want you to eat. I want you to rest well.”

Don Corleone

Who wouldn’t want to hear that from their advisor? (Maybe we don’t want to hear the first part, but let’s not lie to ourselves.)

Source material in hand, I fired up the deepfake machine, and…

Yikes. Undaunted, I continued my analysis of the archival image data.

It turned out that Jaredification performed better when the Jared used was clean-shaven, limiting us to vintage blog photography. I found what I was looking for in this post from 2012 and gave it another go.

“You look terrible. I want you to eat. I want you to rest well, and a month from now this Hollywood big shot’s gonna give you what you want.”
“It’s too late; they start shooting in a week…”
“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

Ultimately, I wouldn’t say this was an unqualified success (except in that I’m “unqualified” to do deep learning on videos). There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to which photos segmented well and which did not, but I was unable to acquire additional data without tipping off the subject to what I was doing.

Further investigation is needed, promising directions have been identified, funding priorities elucidated, etc. Until then, it helps if you just kind of squint at it.

When this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious shit.

Song of the Day

“Reflections On The Screen” by Superorganism

XWCL greets the new year

To be sure, the new year looks much like the old. Pandemic still raging, all activities still online, etc etc.

Still, the days are getting longer again, and we have a few new lab members to add to the People page. Nationwide vaccination campaigns are underway, and who knows? Maybe we’ll all be vaccinated in time for observing in Chile in 2021A. (Or 2021B. Or… you know what? Let’s not jinx it.)

One of the last shows I went to last year was a triple feature: The Exbats, Tacocat, and AJJ. (AJJ played a rather grim song called Normalization Blues that seems oddly prescient considering it was only released in January of that year.)

However, in a more upbeat spirit, your song of the day / week / moment is “New World” by Tacocat.

Merry MagAO-Xmas

Wow, it’s December already! As These Unprecedented Times continue, our 2020B telescope observation plans are sadly canceled. Still, how ever you celebrate the end of year holiday season, whether it’s winter (like us norteamericanos) or summer (like our colleagues in Chile), whether you observe religious traditions or merely a secular prayer to the S-I-R model this year, we wish you all the best.

Lab tradition dictates the hanging of stockings by the P.I.’s office, though after months of remote work I’ve heard doubts that he is real.

Let there be no doubt: he is real, and he knows if you’ve been bad or good.

Picture of christmas stockings hanging from the bulletin board in the hall outside Jared's office
Your name doesn’t have to start with “J” to work in this lab… but it helps! (Thanks to Logan Pearce for the photo)

As this is the only observational data in hand from MagAO-Xmas 2020B, I would like to share some observations of MagAO-Xmas 2019B. Last year, Jhen and Lauren placed the prints on Jared’s office door as ornaments for his return.

Christmas decorations on Jared's office door, including a cutout of a tree with multiple miniature framed pictures as ornaments.
(Thanks to Jhen Lumbres for the photo)

But until now these observations have been circulated internally as (Long, Lumbres, Schatz, in prep.). Finally, we can share them with a wider audience!

We present for your enjoyment some MagAO-Xmas holiday snaps from 2019B.

Vizcacha perched under the eaves of a building with a photoshopped Santa Claus hat
A festive Vizzy wishes you a merry MagAO-Xmas
Laird unveils the MagAO-X tail plate, but with a photoshopped Santa Claus hat.
A festive Laird unwraps his present
Jared surveys the rocky mountainside, looking into the distant Atacama with a photoshopped Santa Claus hat.
A festive Jared surveys the scene for vizcachas
Guanaco in profile with a photoshopped Santa Claus hat.
A festive Gary wishes you a merry MagAO-Xmas too
Olivier Guyon working on his laptop while perched awkwardly on a chair (with a photoshopped Santa Claus hat).
According to legend, Olivier Guyon can fly all the way around the globe in a single night, delivering presents to all the good engineers and scientists.
Olivier Guyon standing on the telescope platform with a knife in hand (and a photoshopped Santa Claus hat on his head).
Not the bad engineers and scientists, though.
Jared, Laird, and a Las Campanas engineer move the foil-wrapped MagAO-X instrument on a cart. They're wearing photoshopped Santa Claus hats, and the MagAO-X instrument has a photoshopped bow on it.
Santa’s little helpers delivering the best present of all.

It’s been a strange and stressful year, but maybe the true meaning of MagAO-Xmas is not telescope time or conference presentations. Maybe MagAO-Xmas is really about the friends we share it with*!

*Over Zoom or whatever. We’re responsible that way.

Your song of the day

What could be more appropriate than a band called The Decemberists singing something called “Calamity Song”?

“Calamity Song” by The Decemberists