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, 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.

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.
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).