MagAO-X 2020A Stay at Home Day 34: Chocolate drink and TV commercials

This week, MagAO-X was scheduled for its 2020A observation run at LCO. LCO is still closed according to recent updates, MagAO-X is still hanging out at the XWCL in Steward Observatory, and everyone continues to work from home. I decided to write this post about something that pleasantly surprised me when I visited LCO for MagAO in 2017B – seeing Milo at the dining hall. According to Wikipedia, Milo is a popular chocolate drink in Oceania, South America, Southest Asia, and parts of Africa.

Milo brings back memories of my childhood, when I relocated to the Philippines for 3 years. I had grown up drinking Nesquik chocolate milk in the US, so finding a similar brand was a godsend for homesick child self transitioning to a drastically new environment. I remember the TV commercials focusing how drinking Milo makes an athletic child. It was the late 1990’s and being a child, it means these commercials were full of truth, right? (Adult me is skeptical)

A Milo Philippines TV commerical from 1999-2000

Decades later, this theme still continues:

Translation (from Tagalog): Your skill? None from the ball. None from shoes. It’s at your daily energy. (Then some English portion) Excel at flavor, for the skill of champions.

Let’s take a look into some other countries’ advertisements:

Milo advertisement in Chile
Milo advertisement in India
Milo advertisement in Malaysia

It’s been a few years since I’ve had Milo, so I bought some while grocery shopping at LeeLee’s International Market. I mixed it up with milk and drank it for breakfast. It tasted different than what I remembered in my childhood. I immediately suspected the milk – we mixed Milo with hot water and milk powder instead of fresh milk. I mixed the Milo with some excess milk powder I had lying around from a recipe experiment, and it tasted a bit closer to my childhood!

If I really wanted to replicate the flavor from my childhood, I would have also used Birch tree milk powder as well.

Back then, it was uncommon in the Philippines to have fresh milk, since long-term refrigeration is not reliable. Living in Quezon City, power outages happened all the time, from the seasonal small signal 1 typhoons (which once cancelled school for 4 days in a row) and overall infrastructure issues. There was also one significant days-long power outage that occurred allegedly due to jellyfish. Additionally, fresh milk is expensive in the Philippines because it must be imported. Even though the milk is not refrigerated when purchased, it must be refrigerated upon opening the container. It’s been almost 2 decades since I returned to live in the US full-time and 5 years since my last visit, so maybe it’s more common these days.

1 Liter fresh milk at Philippines grocery store, December 2015. I did the math, and given $1 USD ~ P46 PHP at the time, it comes out to being equivalent to $6.91/gallon.

Last comment about Milo – the flavor varies based on country of manufacture because the palate balance is localized by region. The Chilean Milo tasted different from the one I bought at LeeLee’s (Singapore manufactured). Therefore, the Milo sourced from a Hispanic market versus an Asian supermarket versus your neighborhood small African market, will each taste different. I’m told there’s also a difference in the Milo produced between Indonesia and Malaysia.

To keep with the sports theme of Milo, the song of the day is my favorite FIFA Club World Cup (La Copa Mundial) official song – Shakira’s “Waka Waka” from the 2010 tournament in South Africa. This quarantine got me reminiscing the times of sitting in bars with friends and enjoying the crowd energy while watching live matches of La Copa.

Shakira – Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) – Official Song of 2010 World Cup

Here’s the Spanish version as well:

Shakira – Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) – Spanish version

Along with “Waka Waka” playing in the airwaves, there was also media frenzy about Paul the Octopus. The magnitude of superstition around world cup matches is on-par with scientists applying for funding (Source: SMBC)

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 23: Detectives

As the quarantine continues with working from home on my simulation code, it’s been day-in-day-out of detective work tracking through countless cases of “Why does my output look horrible / makes no sense?”. The solution usually arrives in the form of opening the wrong file because I formatted poorly, units are missing, and a lot of Stack Overflow. I’m working on being a better programmer day-by-day.

Many years ago, back when internet artists used to blog on a platform called LiveJournal, I discovered this electronica and folk music band named Detektivbryan (Swedish for “The Detective Agency”) on an artist’s page. There’s something very whimsical about their music that I enjoy. I selected this song because it encompasses my feelings how coding review is similar to detective work and the level of bumbling I feel when my errors are so simple.

Detektivbryan – Karlekens Alla Farjor

MagAO-X 2020A Stay at Home Day 14: The melting pot of westerns

One thing I am getting out of this quarantine is exploring many recipes and using my kitchen hardware more often than making weekly meal preps. I purchased a 6-quart enameled cast iron dutch oven back in February and have used it once so far to make beef and red lentil chili. I’m very excited I am using this cast iron dutch oven again – this time for bone broth!

Bone broth – a mix of pork and beef bones with leek, onion, celery, and carrot
12 hours later – time to strain the broth

Bone broth has been popularized recently with the airing of The Mandelorian on Disney+ last fall. I binged watched it back in February and enjoyed it. I had thought about watching it again while consuming this bone broth, but alas my Disney+ 7-day trial has long since expired. However, there’s lots of western films available to watch. So, why not a very western classic – Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961).

Celebrating a job well done!

In case you are confused, Yojimbo was remade in 1964 by Sergio Leone into the movie A Fistful of Dollars (Source: Wikipedia). It became a spaghetti western after Leone couldn’t secure Yojimbo‘s remake rights. Here’s a really good video that showcases the parallels between both movies:


We’ve talked about food inspiration from a space western and watching a Japanese samurai film, so let’s close up with some iconic spaghetti western film score.

Ennio Morricone – For A Few Dollars More (Main Theme)

Here’s a live version with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. I think the jaw harp is one of the coolest instruments ever.

Danish National Symphony Orchestra – For A Few Dollars More (Main Theme) – live performance

MagAO-X 2020A Stay at Home Day 5: Trials with Dalgona Coffee

Welcome, dear reader, to day 5 of XWCL’s quarantine journal entries (alternatively, your Monday distraction). We’ve had great entries so far showcasing hobbies and activities of the various XWCL members. To keep in theme, this post will cover a few of the things that I enjoy and how it’s been helping me through quarantine.

Anyone, graduate school or not, will agree that food induces happiness. Cooking is my main go-to comfort habit, whether because I feel homesick or it was a rough week where nothing worked. Scent has been known to trigger memories; the term “Proustian memory” is coined from his novel A la Recerche du Temps Perdu where Proust ate a madeline cookie which triggered an involuntary memory of his childhood. For instance, when I miss my family (hi Mom, Dad, and Kuya!), I make a cup of roasted brown rice green tea because that’s our choice beverage while we talk at the table after sharing a meal together at home. Whether small family meal or big family gathering, this roasted brown rice green tea is always present. For me, every step in the process of cooking is a small marathon that instills tremendous joy: exploring the various specialty stores in Tucson for procuring ingredients, setting up all my ingredients “mise en place“, listening to the crackling of ingredients in the hot oil, basking in the aroma of the food simmering, and, of course, eating my rewards (especially when it’s my weekly meal prep). Cooking is a methodical and experimental activity I love to do both solo and group settings. I eagerly try to widen my skillset – my 2 best friends from when my PhD began (hi Bharati and Liliana!) are both vegetarian and enthusiastically helped me as taste testers when I wanted to explore meat alternatives. I’ve gotten better at making lentils, but tofu needs further work to get the texture I want.

I believe that a significant portion of why I’ve enjoyed cooking is having the correct tools. Therefore, it’s no surprise that I’ve accumulated a collection of various kitchen appliances. Given my graduate student budget, I acquire many of my appliances through Tucson’s Craigslist or following department store sales (sometimes for months). My best Craigslist purchases have been a KitchenAid stand mixer Pro500 for $100 in 2015 and a Breville deep fryer for $25 in 2018 (this is a fun story for another time), where each were practically brand new. Many people have benefitted from these appliances – XWCL, CAAO, Steward Observatory and OpSci graduate students, to count a few. Some appliances/tools have failed me though – I borrowed a mandoline slicer once to try out and from that experience, I’ll stick to chopping all my vegetables manually, even if they come out uneven or not fine enough. I told myself that when I’m employed after completing my PhD, I’ll buy a brand new Le Creuset enameled cast iron pot. (On sale, of course. Some habits will never cease.)

Given that cooking can be categorized as a DIY activity, I’m always in the agenda to try out making trendy foods. I’ve attempted some recipes posted in social media videos – some good, but also many where I failed epically (like Tasty’s no-bake matcha cheesecake video recipe). Although quarantine in the US began at least a month ago, I’m expecting social media will produce some trendy recipes to try.

All of these things have led me to attempt a trendy recipe roaming about the internet: Dalgona Coffee.

Dalgona coffee is a latte which has a thick, sweet whipped coffee foam placed on top of a cup of milk. This viral trend originated in South Korea, where Dalgona is a sponge candy and is derived from the word dalgoona (English: “sweet”). Dalgona coffee is made with 3 ingredients: water, sugar, and instant coffee (yes, instant coffee). To make it, you mix them together and whip A LOT.

Here’s a video that shows the process:

This video also has pretty sweet ASMR-esque sounds

This really perked my interest – I had all the ingredients without needing to go to the store. I had both instant coffee and instant espresso from my experiments at making coffee-filled dark chocolates. I had the tools. There was nothing stopping me from trying this out, especially since I needed a distraction while staying home.

Additionally, if I need any further convincing, it’s a scientific fact that Astronomy and coffee go together as a combination. Given that we’re doing this blog posts in the style of an observation run, making dalgona coffee fits into the theme.

Through the course of many evenings, I attempted making dalgona coffee and experimented in other variants of it. I’ve documented my learning experience here, so you get to know what works just by reading this whole post.


  • The ingredient portions for all my experiments are for 2 servings. Scaling up or down is possible by maintaining a 1:1:1 ratio. I didn’t test this out, but that’s what the recipes said.
  • I recommend using a tall, wide container for mixing. It can get messy doing this. I used the tall measuring cup that came with my immersion blender.

While I am always eager to cook with minimal and manual tools, I’m not in the agenda to sit with a whisk for 10 minutes trying to whip this foam. My friend has done it manually and commented the experience “like some Edwardian kitchen maid” (hi Jordan!). I use a $3 milk frother when I make my morning caffeine drink (Mexican hot chocolate with instant espresso), so it’s obvious that it should do the job for making dalgona coffee, right?

INGREDIENTS: 2 tbsp instant espresso, 2 tbsp granulated white sugar, 2 tbsp room temperature water

VERDICT: The milk frother does help with starting up the foam. However, the frother is neither strong nor fast enough. It couldn’t bring in enough air into the foam to make it thicken up like in the video. A successful dalgona foam is light and thick, but this one did not come out light enough. I’ve been told (hi Martin and Jastine!) that even if you tried with using a hand whisk after the milk frother, the foam is still not good enough. Therefore, I do not recommend using a milk frother to build the foam exclusively.

HOW DID IT TASTE: Really good! Really sweet, though.

Within my cupboards of kitchen tools and appliances, I have an electric immersion blender which has an attachable whisk and food processor unit. I didn’t want to bring it out the first time because it’s a large, clunky item that requires a wall outlet for power. Plus, I store it on a shelf that requires me to use a stepping stool to reach. After perusing through a few articles, I learned that using hot water instead of cold water creates the foam faster.

INGREDIENTS: 2 tbsp instant espresso, 2 tbsp granulated white sugar, 2 tbsp hot water

VERDICT: This worked super well! I used the milk frother in the beginning to initialize blending the ingredients together. Then I used my electric whisk attachment to bring up the foam. My immersion blender has 3 speed settings and the fastest one worked best. It worked very fast – in less than 5 minutes, I got the thick foam! The foam stuck to itself so well that it made transferring to a mug with hot milk very easy.

HOW DID IT TASTE: Really good! But it was also very difficult to mix the hot milk and the foam together. The foam also starts hardening up on the edge of the cup.

With one successful case* after two attempts, this convinced me to start experimenting with the recipe.
* Please don’t use this statistics logic for your research

One major problem I had with the original recipe is that it’s too sweet. I do like sweet foods, but not to this level of sweet. To cut down the sugar, I used 2 tbsp powdered sugar, which has the same sweetness as 1 tbsp granulated sugar. I had powdered sugar lying around from the gatherings I attended pre-quarantine where I bring my deep fryer to make fresh deep fried oreos. Also, to get into the spirit of the recipe, I replaced the instant espresso with some Folgers instant coffee.

INGREDIENTS: 2 tbsp instant coffee, 2 tbsp powdered sugar, 2 tbsp hot water.

VERDICT: This one came out BEAUTIFUL. However, since powdered sugar was used, the foam came out much less heavy than with granulated sugar. There were a lot more air bubbles that made the foam lose its form after a while. The instant coffee also made the foam pick up super fast.

HOW DID IT TASTE: Love that it’s less sweet, but not enough coffee punch. I’ve rediscovered that Folger’s is cheap for a reason.

As you may know from a past blog post, I’m a hobby chocolate confectioner. I started making green tea chocolate when I began my PhD, and have recently figured out how to make coffee-filled ganache dark chocolates. Therefore, for this dalgona coffee challenge, the next logical test was seeing how I can mix in chocolate for this foam. Should taste good, right?

INGREDIENTS: 1 tbsp granulated sugar, 1 tbsp powdered sugar, 1.5 tbsp instant coffee, 1.5 tbsp hot water, 0.5 tbsp dark cocoa

VERDICT: I mixed together the sugars, instant coffee, and water together with the frother to get the foam going, then added in the cocoa powder. After that was mixed together well enough, I went to the electric whisk. However, the foam started collapsing and turned in syrup-like form. Even after 10 minutes on the highest speed of my electric whisk and tilting the container to add more air, the foam refused to build up. Back to the drawing board on how to add in chocolate!

HOW DID IT TASTE: Didn’t want this to go to waste, so it was mixed with cold milk to make chocolate milk. This was the most effort mocha chocolate milk I have ever made. Tasted good, but no dalgona coffee.

As you may notice, the recipe makes up to 2 servings (or more) worth of foam. But for all that effort and you only wanted 1 serving, how do you make the rest not go waste? I’ve read in some articles that the foam can last for a day or two inside the refrigerator. Is this true? Let’s test an overnight case.

INGREDIENTS: 2 tbsp instant espresso, 2 tbsp granulated sugar, 2 tbsp room temperature water

Here’s photos of the foam the night before:

And here’s the photos from the next day after 11 hours sealed in the refrigerator:

VERDICT: I didn’t document this part, but the reason the foam shrank was because the coffee was separating from the foam. This was easily fixed using a small whisk and whipping for a minute or two. It didn’t build up to the level from when it was freshly whisked, but that’s easily attributed to that I didn’t work hard in adding more air back in. The foam returned to a lighter color and was nice and thick like it was fresh, but maybe a bit more dense than freshly whipped with an electric whisk.

HOW DID IT TASTE: Pretty good! It fueled a lot of writing this post.

Someone challenged me to try it with matcha (hi Jaren!), but it ended up with the same watery result like the chocolate one. I read somewhere that the foam forms because of fat/oil present in the coffee that interacts with the sugar. I suspect that there’s probably something going on with the cocoa powder and matcha that inhibits the foam from taking. I’ve talked with someone who made a matcha version (hi Jade and Adolfo!), but it only worked when they adding in milk, which formed a whipped cream type foam. I read one recipe that recommended using egg whites so the foam builds up like meringue, but that would require me pasteurizing the egg (I am not taking any chances with this pandemic). I’m no food scientist and only a hobby cook at best, so I welcome an explaination to what happened. It’ll make me a better cook!


  • Hot water versus room temperature water: I’ve experimented using both and found that there wasn’t a distinct difference between the final result foam. I did find that the hot water mixed the coffee and sugar much easier than room temperature water. This may change depending on the sugar and instant coffee you use.
  • Instant espresso versus instant coffee: besides the obvious flavor profile, I did not find the foam any different from either. I won’t ever recommend Folgers, but I do recommend the instant espresso I used. If you’re in Tucson, you can find it at Roma Imports (assuming it’s in stock when they reopen during quarantine). Alternatively, I’ve found it on Amazon.


  • Using real coffee: I imagine it’ll taste good, but the coffee will need to be concentrated. Too much fluid might be too watery for the foam to take.
  • Alternative types of sugar: I only tested using granulated cane sugar and powdered sugar. But would it be different if you used raw sugar? How about sugar alternatives like monk fruit sugar or splenda?

I hope you’ve enjoyed my journey through experimenting on dalgona coffee. I recommend trying it out – even if you don’t get the foam, it still tastes really good mixed in with the milk. Please let me know if you try it out – I’m always welcome to discussing this. Post up some really pretty pictures of your attempts.

Special thanks to Aldo for exploring through this whole process with me and consuming the second serving of all the successful attempts.

The song of the day comes from 2 things I’ve been doing while under quarantine – experimenting on whipping dalgona coffee and listening to synth wave instrumental music while wranging my simulation code. The venn diagram overlap of these 2 things comes in the form of this song:

Get it into shape!

Okay dalgona coffee, let’s post-process out some zernike modes from these mirrors.

MagAO-X takes its first steps

It’s been a very busy 6 weeks since we passed PSR and received the approval to ship out MagAO-X. In those 6 weeks, we’ve been working on putting the final touches for the instrument. On October 2, we were scheduled for moving the MagAO-X instrument into its shipping crate, which means lots and lots of preparation for the big day.

It’s been all-hands-on-deck with many days and late nights in the lab carefully packing the instrument and the electronics rack. Alex H and Maggie have been helping Laird with locking down all the optics on the table for minimal shifting through the transport process. Joseph, Kyle, Alex R, and I have been helping Jared with migrating the electronics from the lab rack to the MagAO-X shipping rack. Jared, Joseph, and Kyle have been working on integrating the hardware and software from the newly migrated electronics rack to the locked down testbed. The XWCL room was raining zip ties, velcro ties, and cut styrofoam for weeks. We ran out of label maker tape on the day we were packing up the instrument.

In case you missed all the fun, here’s some photos from the shipping preparation in the lab:

The final touch for moving MagAO-X to its shipping crate was wrapping it in lots of plastic:

Jared coming around the instrument with the plastic roller, with Alex H and Laird holding the plastic down
The end of the MagAO-X packing eve, with the instrument wrapped and the clean room torn down

October 2 was a big milestone step for MagAO-X, the day it made its first move out of the XWCL room in Steward. However, it only moved down 1 floor (XWCL is on the 2nd floor, and the loading dock is in the 1st floor / basement). It may not seem far in MagAO-X’s journey, but it took lots of effort… in addition to the freight elevator breaking the day before. Jared, Laird, Alexes R and H, Kyle, Jamison, Nick, Victor, and I were present all day for the big event.

First thing we did was get the (new and lighter) cart onto the testbed:

Next, the riggers arrived to lift up MagAO-X from its legs and onto the cart:

Setting up the rigging crane to lift up MagAO-X off the table legs
MagAO-X PI supervising the lifted cart getting connected to the table
Cart is connected, time to remove the table legs from underneath

Then, it took a journey down the hallway to the freight elevator to go to the basement’s loading dock: (Shoutout to facilities for making sure the freight elevator worked that day no matter what!)

MagAO-X in the freight elevator to go to the basement

In the basement, it was carted to the loading dock area:

The shipping crate was waiting for the instrument inside the building by the loading dock. We needed to push the shipping crate outside to the loading dock first to make room for MagAO-X:

The unopened shipping crate

Out in the loading dock area, a crane came by and to remove the crate’s cover:

Crane getting ready to remove the crate cover

Inside the crate was the testbed’s shipping frame to maintain balance for MagAO-X. Jamison presented these at PSR. The PSR drawings don’t look fancy, but seeing them in person is super legit:

Behold, the shipping frame!

We wheeled out MagAO-X for it to be craned onto the shipping frame:

However, like all great projects, no matter the extent of our preparation, we encountered some issues with hardware. While fixing that, we encountered another issue – MagAO-X started overheating after exposure to the sun. The black metal panels absorbed lots of heat and the plastic wrap encouraged a greenhouse effect. So, we wheeled it back inside the building to let it cool down:

Touching the instrument was very hot!

When the hardware issues were cleared, we wheeled MagAO-X back outside and the exciting crane process began:

MagAO-X connected to the shipping frame, ready for the crate cover!

With MagAO-X craned onto its shipping frame and bolted down, the crate cover was craned back to enclose the instrument:

Crate cover incoming
Scary lift-up over the instrument

We boxed up the instrument and wheeled the packed crate back inside Steward, where it has stayed for a week before it ships out:

Post-instrument packing photo, which ended right at the predicted 5 PM.

Within that week timeframe, we continued on with the shipping process. Two days were spent in the Mirror Lab for getting the electronics rack in its shipping crate. We began packing and inventorying all the equipment to send down to Chile:

Laird and Alex R locking down the crate with the table legs inside

We modified one of the shipping crate’s side panels to add more viewing windows. Here’s one last look at MagAO-X in its crate, before it gets shipped off to Chile:

Clever use of extra foam found in previous shipping crates

I’ve been working off-and-on MagAO-X since January 2017 on the simulation side doing Fresnel propagation analysis. Working in simulation means you don’t get a lot of interaction with the hardware. I got to see the instrument close up while helping in the shipping process, and it has been a rewarding learning experience. (Plus, my arts and crafts hobby finally became useful with lots of foam cutting, my heart was singing in delight for days) I’ve learned a lot with the team, and I’m sure we’re going to learn more as we continue on the next step of the shipping process.

The MagAO-X PI has rules. It is not necessarily a rule, but rather a recommendation to have a quote:
Jared: Stop having fun, this isn’t fun

The rule is having a song. I picked this one because it’s so strange adjusting to the change of not having MagAO-X in the lab after 2 years: