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

Things My Cat Hates

Every cat is unique. Much like human individuals. And, much like human individuals, you don’t necessarily want to hear about the quirky behaviors of ones that you’re not taking care of. If that’s how you feel, you might want to skip this post. (Of course, if that’s really how you feel, you’ve probably already unsubscribed from this blog.)

Mr. Alexander the Great has his likes (regular mealtimes, burrowing under carpets, laser pointers, cuddling) and they mostly make sense.

His dislikes, however, are harder to explain.

My Cat Hates Linear Algebra

He may have been objecting specifically to the mathematical contents of Brand (2006) “Fast low-rank modifications of the thin singular value decomposition” but I have no way of knowing for sure.

My Cat Hates Café Bustelo

Can’t blame him, Tucson has much better options for coffee.

My Cat Hates Feet

Right there with you on that one buddy

My Cat Hates People Outside of Windows

Cat physics cannot explain how humans pass through solid walls, and prescribes but one acceptable reaction: a good hiss.

Let you think this is a fluke, he reliably hisses at anyone who approaches his window nook. Here’s another.

Most of all, My Cat Hates Cameras

Bad experiences with the paparazzi?

Of course I haven’t got the photo and video material to cover his dislike of:

  • any and all cleaning implements with handles
  • the Roomba™
  • crinkly bags (except when he crinkles them himself)
  • sudden noises
  • sudden silences, and
  • being asked to leave the bathtub so that I may use it.

You’ll just have to take my word for it on those.

Song of the Day

This cover of Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” seems appropriate. Somehow the horn part alone makes it more compelling than the original synthpop.

Make your own “Bad Guy” at home from simple household ingredients, courtesy YouTube Person Seth Everman:

(There’s always The Original, if you’ve somehow managed to avoid hearing it before. Here you go.)

Extreme Wavefront Cleanliness Lab

It’s back-to-school season, but it doesn’t look much like last year. It’s even hotter, for one thing. (Also, to be quite honest, I still feel like it’s March.)

The State of Arizona has decided to contain the COVID-19 pandemic by topping national headlines for “worst COVID-19 outbreak” until we all stay indoors (from shame, one assumes). Bizarrely enough, it appears to be… working?

Graph of Rt, the "reproduction number" for the virus, from https://rt.live/us/AZ, a live-updating model that attempts to estimate Rt from state health data.

Full disclosure: I’m technically an employee of the State of Arizona. Unless I’m a student. (I’m told “it depends”.) In any case, my views are my own and this post is being brought to you without use of University equipment in compliance with all applicable policies.

Out of an abundance of optimism, the University has decided to welcome students back for the fall (with some caveats). Of course, we were here all along. In addition to Vizzy tricks and text message measures, we have been regularly sanitizing all surfaces touched by lab workers and employing low-tech signage to keep the coronavirus out of our lab.

Picture of the door to the lab with four navy blue signs reiterating CDC guidelines for infection control and one sign saying "do not enter"
University-designed signage explaining CDC recommendations for people who have neither turned on a TV, opened a news website, nor been to a store in the last six months.

Of course, sterile (heh) line drawings are less compelling and eye-catching than putting a human face on the instructions. But whose?

Is there anyone whose mere appearance causes graduate student rule-compliance to skyrocket while simultaneously boosting mood and job satisfaction?

That’s right: Dr. Jared R. Males.


Of course, photoshopping one’s advisor is not without precedent. Anyway, none of our lab equipment has caught the novel coronavirus yet, so it seems to be working.

Plus, I think he likes it.

Thanks to Lauren Schatz for her assistance in hanging signage and photographing mischief.

Your Song of the Day

Your song of the day is “Crawl Out Through The Fallout” by Sheldon Allman.

Spooky MagAO-X action at a distance

The University of Arizona is resuming some in-person research lab activity, subject to restrictions to ensure safety and social distancing. We are to log our comings and goings, continue sanitizing surfaces, limit the number of occupants in the lab, and generally stay home as much as possible.

Years ago, our P.I. articulated his vision for MagAO-X development as “doing as much work as possible from home, with a cat on [his] lap.” I’m happy to report we’ve more or less achieved that! Everything but the fanciest of the deformable mirrors (previously) can be safely powered up and fiddled with remotely. (And there’s a plan to make even that possible.)

How do we do it, you ask? Well, our instrument software is a bit tricky to set up, but we use Vagrant to allow everyone on the team to get a virtual machine that approximates a fully set-up workstation. Initially this was to enable running our applications on non-Linux computers, since some of them depend on some rather obscure Linux-specific details, but it’s proved useful to automate setup across the board.

Thanks to virtualization, I even believe we have the world’s only extreme AO system that you can run on Windows!

(Please don’t.)

After following the setup process, I can simply vagrant ssh and use my virtual machine to pop up the MagAO-X GUIs on my MacBook Air at home for controlling the real instrument in the lab:

Brought to you by Apple, IKEA, and Safeway-brand fizzy water.

Everything here is absolutely essential. Let me walk you through it:

On the laptop monitor, our Slack #lab-activities channel is open for coordination of in-person and remote work on the instrument. I recently taught our viscachabot, @vizzy, to update the official Google Sheet for lab check-ins based on their messages:

Jared talking to a computer

On the larger monitor, in the top left we have a couple instances of rtimv, the RealTime Image Viewer showing data from the pyramid wavefront sensor and one of the two science cameras. The bottom left quarter holds the web interface (previously) for toggling things like filter positions, stream writers, and shutters. The bottom right holds the power GUI for toggling things on and off with our network-controlled power strips. The top right GUIs are for deformable mirror and pyramid wavefront sensor control.

Above the screen, a webcam is perched for (what else) Zoom meetings. At right, a desk fan to attempt to maintain operator comfort despite Arizona summer. There’s a can of fizzy water, for similar reasons. (I blame Las Campanas Observatory’s now-discontinued habit of stocking bottled fizzy water for getting me addicted.) If you look closely, there’s even a rubber duck for debugging.

It doesn’t look quite as nice as MegaDesk (seen here at first light) But it’ll do in a pinch, in a pandemic.

Jared using MegaDesk at the MagAO-X First Light Run. Four monitors means four South American animal background pictures.

Of course, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes—not only to make this virtual machine work, but to keep the process documented and working for new members of the team. For instance, our instrument computer setup process is mostly automated, and we run it in The Cloud™ every time we change our instrument software to ensure everything still installs cleanly.

Song of the Day

A friend of mine put together a playlist of French-language music and I quite enjoyed this one. No thematic connection. (Anyway, I don’t think there is… but I don’t speak French.)

Your song of the day is “Calvaire” by spill tab:

Postscript: Spooky action at a distance

“Spooky action at a distance” is famously how Einstein described quantum entanglement, but he never used the English word “spooky” that we know of. According to this answer on the History of Science and Mathematics StackExchange, the quote originates in Einstein’s letter to Max Born where he used the German word “spukhaft” to describe entanglement.