The thrill of travel from the safety of home

While our last blog missive coincided with the “reopening” of Arizona, the global pandemic continues unabated. So, I thought it would be a good time to get into these “video games” I’ve heard so much about over the years. I quickly found out that one needs a “game controller” for the full experience, and that such game controllers are hard to find nationwide.

Even Amazon was experiencing shortages. They had none in stock themselves, but would let me pay an 80% premium for a sketchy 3rd-party seller to provide… something. I figured that if I was going to give money to a sketchy 3rd party seller, I might as well go whole-hog. I went to AliExpress.

If you’re not familiar, AliExpress is where the people who sell the junky crapgadgets on Amazon buy them (before marking them up 120% and selling them to you). It’s cheaper to buy directly from China, but parcels travel by regular mail so you must be patient. During a global pandemic, make that very patient.

The PS4-esque controller I chose was perhaps not an attempt to counterfeit Sony’s product, but certainly an homage.

Can you spot the differences? That’s right, the first one has nothing that could be mistaken for a Sony trademark. (It was also $21.40, shipped, compared to $71.72 at Sony.)

I bought it in April.

Unfortunately, it’s still not here.

I have reconstructed its journey from its likely origin within China to New York City based on tracking information.

April 23-25: China (possibly Shenzhen)

Many of the world’s gadgets are assembled in Shenzhen, a city of 23 million strategically located near foreign investment in Hong Kong (whose residents have been suffering recently, while the rest of the world is distracted with its own problems). More granular tracking locations are unavailable for the parcel’s journey within China, so I’m just guessing here.

According to the travel guide, April in Shenzhen is a bit rainy with highs around 79ºF. TripAdvisor recommends DanGui Xuan XinDou Dian for dim sum. Since most of Shenzhen’s 23 million residents arrived with the growth of the special economic zone, there are few authentic historical attractions, but you can visit a history theme park at Splendid China Park on your way to the “transit country or district” named on the tracking event log: Singapore.

April 26-June 15: Singapore

It is as Jack Sparrow says: I have never been to Singapore. My game controller has, though—for almost two months.

One of my friends from my college theater days is Singaporean, and he has returned to host a pop culture podcast for Singapore’s Straits Times media empire after graduation.

https://omny.fm/shows/popvultures-1/stefanie-sun-and-the-2000-mandopop-scene-pop-vultu/image.jpg?t=1592556743&size=Small
That’s Sam Jo on the right! We were inmates in an insane asylum together. (Unless it was a different play I’m thinking of.)

I’m told if you’re ever in Singapore you must absolutely visit a hawker center. Singapore has the only world’s only Michelin Starred street food vendors: are Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle and Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle.

Based on my friend’s social media presence (and the 100% accurate Singapore documentary Crazy Rich Asians), it seems like a grand old time. No wonder my parcel spent a month and change hanging out.

June 15-July 2: The mysterious void

The tracking log is unambiguous:

2020-06-15 02:30:00 [GMT+8] - Depart from transit country or district 
2020-06-15 02:30:42 [GMT+8] - Despatched to OverSeas Postal Admin (From SG/SIN to US/JFK)
2020-07-02 05:08:00 [GMT+8] - Arrive at sorting center in destination country

Provided that the cargo airline did not perform aerial refueling maneuvers, I can only assume it stopped for a side trip. You know, if the 2020 SPIE had not succumbed to COVID-19, I would have been bopping around Japan at that exact time.

Perhaps it went to ride the Hakone cablecar and get a black hot spring egg? Each one you eat adds seven years to your life (or two weeks to your package ETA).

The Hakone gift shop sells souvenirs with a cat character named “Kurotamanyanko”, an untranslatable portmanteau that means something like “black eggmeow”. (Because if it’s a souvenir in Japan, it must be available in “cat”… and they sell hot spring eggs…)

I’m just speculating, of course. But that’s where I would have gone if I had two weeks to spare in the Eastern hemisphere.

July 2-present: New York, New York

New York is presently less COVID-y than our bit of the country, so I can see why my parcel chose to make landfall there. It got stuck for a while, but it’s probably dawdling in customs, or else misplaced by USPS, who the AliExpress tracking page calls the “Last Mile Carrier”. (More like last 2,500 mile carrier!)

Back when we could go to places, a place that I enjoyed going to was the Uniqlo in New York City. (Really, any of them, though Uniqlo SoHo really feels like it’s in a bustling metropolis.)

In lieu of a side trip to Uniqlo while visiting friends in NYC, this is the best I could do for this summer. I just couldn’t resist the free shipping. (Jhen knows what I mean.)

The downside is that this means yet more agonizing waiting, refreshing package tracking pages. Maybe it’ll get here first?

Should this game controller arrive, I will be sure to update you, dear reader, on its (anticipated) supreme crappiness.

The song of the day is “Finally Moving” by Pretty Lights off Taking Up Your Precious Time.

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 39: Think About Things

You probably didn’t notice this post in your feed reader on Sunday. However, I urge you not to worry about timestamps. Time no longer has any meaning, after all.

Even though Eurovision 2020 is canceled, you may still watch the entrants yourself. A couple of them are even worth sharing as songs of the day. (I’d put them all in one post, but I’m saving them for when all other sources of Songs of the Day are tapped out.)

The Song of the Day is, or perhaps was, Think About Things by Daði Freyr (a.k.a Daði & Gagnamagnið).

MagAO-X 2020A Stay at Home Day 37: Stuck in the House Music

It’s been a week since I last blogged, and I’ve got an update on last week’s COVID-19 antibody test! The good news is: blood tests indicate I’ve successfully avoided getting sick. The bad news is, I’m therefore still at risk.

Several other eXtreme Wavefront Control Lab students got tested and they had no evidence of recent infection, either. I suppose we are the study’s eXtreme Wavefront control group.


I have been encouraged to include a cute cat picture, as these are always popular with our readers. I have included a photograph of Mr. Alexander the Great expressing what I believe is called “a total mood”.

Cat burying his face in his blankets

On an unrelated note, I was reading through the group chat with my extended family today and saw a link to QuiltedNorthern.com. It was touted as a resource for obtaining TP in These Uncertain Times. Upon their site, it reads:

Now is the time to take comfort in one another and in the fact that we are working tirelessly to provide you with the comfort of Quilted Northern® toilet paper.

Really makes you think, doesn’t it?


Your song of the day: “Mask, Glove, Soap, Scrubs” by Todrick Hall off “Quarantine Queen”. Todrick has been making spectacularly involved YouTube parodies since I was in high school (at least). The below video is a re-write of one of his own songs that really puts the ‘house’ in ‘house music’.

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 30: Phlebotomy is a funny word

After 29 days of the Stay At Home, I had an appointment. I had a thing to do, at a time, in a place other than my house, with another person.

The University of Arizona and the State have come together to ramp up COVID-19 antibody testing, beginning with 3000 healthcare workers, 500 University students, and 1000 unaffiliated Pima county residents. One of the other graduate students shared the sign-up link in Slack, and half of our team of grad students signed up.

(In fact, a surprising number of the other astronomy graduate students said they were signed up. My theory is that, with all the undergrads gone, the only people in the “University student” category both bored enough to read all University communiques and geographically close enough to participate are the grad students.)

This is a blood test for COVID-19 antibodies, which tells you if you were recently infected and recovered. (Not the same thing as the “are you currently infected?” test, which uses a nasopharyngeal swab.) I don’t think I was infected, although apparently many cases are entirely asymptomatic. I just wanted something to do, with the added bonus of helping the study ramp up their process.

So, today at 9:40 AM I arrived at the Health Sciences building. The appointment slots on the sign up sheet were in 10 minute intervals, which I thought was a polite fiction. (I always choose early appointments because medical scheduling rivals JWST for delays.)

Incredibly, I was out by 9:47 AM. Let me walk you through the process.

  1. Welcome station: Before you enter the building, you give your name to a worker who ensures you have an appointment and gives you some hand sanitizer. Follow the paw prints to the next station.
A large paw print sticker modeled on a wildcat, affixed to a tile floor. It reads "Welcome to The University of Arizona Health Sciences COVID-19 Antibody Testing Site In Partnership with The State of Arizona." with logos for both Arizona and the University.

  1. Wellness check: A non-contact thermometer (i.e. a one-pixel infrared detector) is used to ensure you haven’t lied about feeling sick. If your readings are within normal limits, you get to follow the paw prints through a scary maze of hallways.

  1. Intake / processing: Present your ID, get led to a room, present your ID again, get everything keyed into their electronic record-keeping system, get a couple of labels for your vacutainer.
  2. Phlebotomy: A nice phlebotomist (mine was seconded from a blood donation organization in Phoenix) sticks you with a needle and collects a couple tablespoons of blood.
  1. All done! I was told results take 2 working days currently, but may be longer due to demand.

It’s funny that we’re in a situation where you really don’t want to get COVID-19, but really do want to have already had COVID-19.

My friend pointed out that phlebotomy is a good cover job for a vampire. Tangentially related, today’s song of the day is “Blood Like Lemonade” by Morcheeba.

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 22: Sip on joy, the purest drink

Back in college, I used to listen to Thao & The Get Down Stay Down regularly. I haven’t kept up with their newer stuff, but they were recently in the news for the creative use of Zoom videoconferencing to make the video for their new single: Phenom. The song struck me as dissonant and strange at first, it’s been growing on me with every listen. Please enjoy it as your song of the day.

”Phenom” by Thao & The Get Down Stay Down.