MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 40: Hedgeblog

There has been a request for baby hedgehog update photos. The people want MOAR HEDGE. Here’s the glamor shots:

This one is tough to photograph! She is very jittery when out in the open, and immediately begins to look for a place to hide. I hope she mellows a bit as she ages! But when she’s snug in her sack I can poke her and pet her and pull on her legs and she’s cool with all of it.

Here is an outtake:


(Note – the red on her rear end is dog nail polish, left over from being in a litter with lots of babies, which the breeder marked to tell them apart)

And here’s some iPhone pics from a day in the life:

Another update is that I made that fleece lining for the kiddie pool, because the paper bedding was terrible. The fleece is nice and washable, but she keeps it clean and uses the litter. It is of course star themed.

Om nom nom

She takes dust baths in the litter all the time, and it is beyond adorable. Apologies for the darkness and poor quality of this video, but if I turn on the light she spooks and stops, and I had to try to record it.

Hedgie dust bath

I have a night vision camera on it’s way to me, so stay tuned for some night time spying videos on what hedgies do all night.

The song of the day is an earworm that has been flying around a subset of this group for weeks now (ever since we did a Eurovision night…). I’ll forget about it for days then someone will say “I have SKIBIDI in my head” and then it takes over my head. There is some debate amongst us as to which video is the superior version, but I can’t get enough of the ridiculous walk/dance in this one. If you stay tuned the other version just may show up as song of the day in the near future.

So, for your viewing pleasure, I now give you, SKIBIDI. You’re welcome.

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 32: America’s Best Idea

“There is nothing so American as our national parks…. The fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt

About a decade ago, I decided I was tired of not doing things I wanted to do because I had no one to go with me. So I jumped in my car in the summer of 2013 and drove by myself to Arches National Park, a place I had dreamt of going to for a long time. I also hit Canyonlands and Mesa Verde NPs, and did a 5-day rafting trip on the Colorado River on that trip. Although I had visited National Parks before, that trip sparked my drive to really dive deep into the incredible American landscape preserved by the National Park Service. Almost every summer since then, I have driven around the country collecting national parks. As of today I have visited 29 of the now 62 parks.

Here is a map of 59 parks (several new ones have been added in the last year or so!). Red circles mark those I have visited, green trees I have not:

Map of 59 National Parks (a few have been added only recently, bringing the total to 62), with the one’s I’ve made it in red. (I tried to embed an interactive map but Google shenanigans forbade it. Here is a link:

I was living in Texas at the time, so I focused on the southwest and places that were reachable by a 1-2 day drive from central Texas (this is why I knew I would like living in Tucson!). I’ve visited every park in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah. (caveat, White Sands National Monument just got converted into a National Park this year, so while I have visited it, now I have to go back so I can add it to my collection!). I lived near Seattle for a few years, so Washington is complete, and I have family in South Carolina area, which made Florida parks more accessible when I traveled to visit them. I’m almost finished with Colorado, I still need to hit Black Canyon of the Gunnison. I’m way behind in California, but that was a much further drive from Texas, so now that I live closer to Cali it’s time to step up my game there. While I’ve managed to hit several out of the way ones (like Hawaii Volcanoes and Dry Tortugas), you’ll notice that Alaska is sadly completely absent.

I have very specific things I collect at each park, and they must be purchased at the Visitor’s Center (no online before or after the fact!).

First and most important are the reproductions of old WPA posters by Ranger Doug: I buy the post cards, because that many posters would be just too much. Not every park has a Ranger Doug, because the original designs are from the WPA era when there were much fewer parks. If a park doesn’t have one, I try to buy a different postcard I like, usually with that old-timey feel if possible. But the Ranger Dougs are a must if they exist. Here’s my postcard display:

Travel postcards. Ranger Doug NP postcards are at the top, non-Ranger Doug park postcards and other non-NP postcards are clustered near the bottom.

I like to get fridge magnets anywhere I travel. No prescription for what magnet to buy at a NP, just one that I like. Here’s my fridge, you’ll notice the parks are clustered apart from all the other travel magnets.

My fridge. National Parks have a privileged position clustered in the upper left. The right side is other travel magnets, bottom left if just general silliness.

I also like stickers, and I love to hold onto those maps they give you when you pay the entry fee:

But some of those maps got converted into light switch plates all over my house:

A light switch plate by my front door decoupaged with a map of Big Bend NP.

Lastly, a relatively new hobby of mine is exploring breweries and buying a pint glass, so I recently started trying to find a brewery near NPs I visit:

Kona Brewing is near Hawaii Volcanoes NP; Big Bend Brewing is in Alpine TX (and just shut down much to my exceeding dismay!! They had awesome beers); Zion Canyon Brewing is literally right outside the park entrance; Dead Horse Ale is from Moab Brewery, right outside Arches and Canyonlands NPs; Estes Park Brewing is in the town just outside Rocky Mountain NP. I have many other travel pint glasses, but these are the NP specific ones. Not very many in this collection, clearly I have work to do.

PS- The National Parks Service has really stepped up their merch game in the last few years. Every park I’ve been to in the past year has blown me away with their poster, sticker, etc designs. They are really getting creative and selling really cool stuff.

Top 5 favorite parks

5. Saguaro NP. Ok, I’m biased because I now live sandwiched between the two districts of this park. But I first visited Saguaro in 2014 and it made it’s impression then. The two halves of the park are actually surprisingly different (I think I like East better than West). The saguaros are truly remarkable, especially if you’ve never seen them before, and they are neat to learn about from ranger programs and the like. They say the Sonoran Desert is the most ecologically diverse desert in the world, teeming with many varieties of flora and fauna. The park has many great trails and some tough climbs. And sunset is amazing every night.

The view from partway up the Hugh Norris trail in the west district, looking north, in 2014.

4. Dry Tortugas NP. This park is so so neat. It is hard to get to. You gotta drive all the way to Key West, then get on a boat and keep going west for about 70 nautical miles. It’s located right at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean, so ships had to skirt right next to it to get by, so of course the US built a fort there, Fort Jefferson. The fort is the main attraction, but there are also crystal green water, snorkling, lots of marine life. If you’re brave you can let the boat leave you behind and camp the night on the island, totally cut off from the rest of humanity by hundreds of miles of ocean. (I did not do this because it was stupidly hot when I went, and being Florida and 1000% humidity it was basically the same temp at night! I’d like to go back one day though and do it). It’s called Dry because there is no fresh water source, and Tortugas because of the large population of sea turtles. Sailing days ships used to grab sea turtles because you can put them on their backs on the deck and they will live forever, so they’re a source of fresh meat that’s easy to store (yep, sailing days were cruel in many many ways). The fort also served as a prison for a time. Conditions at the fort were unimaginable. How did people survive back then??

3. Arches NP. It 100% lives up to any hype you have ever heard. This place is truly magical. The red rocks, dramatic landscapes, many arches everywhere. It is a popular park, so it can be hard to find camping. But pro tip: there is tons of camping just outside the park along the Colorado river. When I went the park was jam packed but those sites were all empty, and they were wonderful. If you ever go, do not skip the hike up to Delicate Arch, and time it to be there for sunset.

I have nothing else to say but let the photos speak for themselves.

This is one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken. Aug 2013.

2. Death Valley NP. This is a surprise entry. I debated back and forth between Death Valley and Arches for the #2 slot, but I surprisingly have to say that I think Death Valley edged it out in the end. I was shocked at how much I loved this park. The park is huge and desolate, but fascinating because of that. Yes, it is hot; I visited in June and it was absurdly hot in the valley. But elevations in the park range from -300ft to 11,000 ft, so my campground at 2000ft was perfectly comfortable for camping. Badwater basin is a stretch of evaporated salt flats that are fun to walk around on. There’s an interesting history with borax mining, and this bizzaro investor dude who built this palace there. But the vistas are the big win here. The land is striking and breathtaking. I loved it. But I have to go back with a more off-road friendly car, to see the Racetrack, where rocks in the valley mysteriously make tracks in the sand.

My second favorite photo I’ve ever taken. June 2016.

1. Big Bend NP. Without a doubt, my favorite place on the planet. Being in this place is just magical. I’ve been twice. The first time I went with a group from my old scooter club in Austin and San Antonio. We drove our Vespas from Austin and had a group meetup in the park for a week. It’s about an 8 hour drive, and the park itself is ~2 hours from any gas stations, which made our small gas tanks nervous, but we all made it fine. I strapped my camping gear to the back of my Vespa GT200 (top speed = 65 mph) and camped in the park. We spent the week riding our bikes around the park, hiking, and enjoying the adventure. It was the best vacation I’ve ever had in my life. Second time I went by myself and backpacked to the top of the South Rim of the Chisos Mountains. It’s ~6 miles of climbing thousands of feet. When I got the top and saw the view across the desert floor into Mexico, I cried. Much better than the Grand Canyon, because only the people who make the very hard climb are rewarded with that view. I camped at the rim on the night of my 35th birthday.

If you go, you gotta do the border crossing into the town of Boquillas, Mexico. There is a port of entry in the park, so you can legally cross. You’ll take a pole boat across as an old man serenades you from the opposite bank (no kidding, they call him the “Singing Mexican”, look him up). Then you rent a donkey and ride the ~3/4 mile into the town, where you can get tacos and tequilla. The town is hundreds of miles from anywhere in Mexico, so tourism is about their only business. And it’s a lot of fun.

In the park there is a hot springs pool, a narrow canyon on the Rio Grande (Santa Elena Canyon), the Chisos Mountains and Chisos Mountain Lodge, tons of hiking in the mountains and desert floor, and a huge diversity of landscapes and vistas, everywhere looks different from everywhere else. I can’t say enough about this place. It is magical

My favorite pic from this park. Aug 2014.

Honorable mentions:

Great Smokey Mountains NP: So much to do and see here, and I’ve always been interested in the Appalachian Trail

Congaree NP: So, I really don’t love South Carolina, most of my family is there so I’ve visited a lot, and it’s not my favorite place. So imagine my surprise when I visited Congaree NP, right outside Columbia SC, and had a great time. It’s very small, it’s a new park, but it is ecologically interesting, and I spent a lovely night in the backcountry campgrounds. So it wins for biggest pleasant surprise.

Top 5 on the to-do list

5. Joshua Tree NP. Ok so I’ve technically been to J-Tree, but it was a long long time ago, before I was super into parks, and we only drove through the park. I need to go there and really DO it. Just driving through was amazing.

4. Yosemite NP. It’s criminal I haven’t been there yet. I spent a whole summer at Berkeley a few years ago and couldn’t make it happen. It’s lower on the list though because it’s *so* popular and crowded. It can be tough to find accommodations and trails are busy. It’s one I can’t miss if I call myself a NP enthusiast.

3. Acadia NP. “Crown jewel of the Northeast coast”. I’ve never been to Maine. My bestie, a MS science teacher, got to do a teacher immersion experience where she assisted ecologists in tracking birds in Acadia NP a few years ago. Lots of people cite it as one of their favorites.

Lighthouse by rocky coastline
Image credit: NPS

2. Any park in Alaska. Alaska has 8 parks, all of them huge. They are more preserves than public attractions, which I’m wholeheartedly behind. Gates of the Arctic NP doesn’t even have any roads! It’s only accessible by plane! Some are more practical and near cities, like Glacier Bay and Kenai Fjords. But getting to Alaska is a challenge I haven’t embarked on yet, and a major hinderance to getting my park count up. Also, you know, it’s amazing.

Hikers ascending a rocky slope in the mountains
Wut. Image credit: NPS

1. Glacier NP. I have wanted to go there for so long. But it’s so remote it’s tough to tack on to other travel. I need to just commit to going some time. I’ve heard the glaciers are starting to vanish from the park too. Time to go is now! Get outta here rona.

Valley view from above waterfall
This road is called “Going-to-the-sun road”. Awesome. Image credit: NPS

Honorable mentions:

Crater Lake NP: I can’t believe I lived in the Pac NW for 2 years and never made it here.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP: Gotta catch ’em all (in Colorado)

Shenandoah NP: More Appalachian trail goodness.

That’s it for my whirlwind tour of national parks. But we’re just scratching the surface.

Song of the day is Highways, by Austin TX artist Alpha Rev. I was super into the album this is on, Bloom, in 2013, and played it on repeat during that trip to Arches NP that started it all. This song’s lyrics are all about “getting out of California”, heading to the mountains and rivers, seeing New York, the Blue Ridge and Virginia forests. Also on that album is the song Crystal Colorado, which was the river I was heading to. This album is still very special to me, and puts me right back into the feeling of freedom I had by just saying “screw it” and heading off to adventure.

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 27: #Rent Strike

One of the best features in Tucson, in my opinion, is The Loop, a 70+ mile paved bike and pedestrian paths that encircles the city, mostly on the shoulders of a dry wash. I live pretty close to the Loop on the westside of town, and to keep active and get out of the house, I’ve been walking, running, or biking on the loop nearly every day for weeks now. My office is situated such that at ~4:30 the afternoon sun makes it impossible to sit there anymore, and I guess I have to stop working now, oh darn. So I’ve been heading to the same portion of the Loop at about the same time at least 3-4 times a week to walk or run. Thus I’ve developed “Loop friends” – I see the same people nearly every time who are also in the same routine. There’s the lady with the fat dog (she will smile at me), and the one guy who runs back and forth on the same ~0.5 mile stretch, so he passes me several times as I’m walking (he does not smile at me). There’s that ~12 year old kid on the skateboard who held his hand out to me for a high five one time like a psycho (don’t you know there’s a virus on??), and those two homeless guys always in the same spot by the cool tree.

Some other Loop friends:

We all know that the nation-wide shutdown has caused many people temporary or permanent loss of income. There are calls online for rent and mortgage payment requirements to be temporarily restricted, since so many people everywhere will find it very hard to make those payments at the moment. Unsurprisingly, this has not yet happened. But #RentStrike has sure taken hold online. So for today’s blog entry, I present to you a gallery of #RentStrike related art to be found on the Loop’s west side.

Simple, straightforward. Placement is unique, and being the wash it can’t be missed. The space in the middle of hashtag was an interesting creative choice.
Housing = essential, Landlords = non-essential
I applaud the subtle placement, but the contrast with the nicer “Bored” makes the “Rent Strike” look shabby.
This one’s sneaky, you gotta look for it. It says “No rent”. Excellent use of color in this one.
This one used to say “no rent” but appears to have changed its mind?
Small, impactful.
Translation, unsurprisingly: “Rent strike”

Say what you will about the quality, the artist’s message was clear and consistent throughout their body of work.

And then, one day, it was all gone. Just like that.

Although the bridge underside doesn’t appear to be any cleaner than it was before. So maybe the paint was magicked away? Who cared so much to paint “Rent Strike” all over everything on this one section of the Loop? And then who swooped in to clean it all off without managing to also clean the bridge underpass wall it was on? The Loop keeps her secrets.

Song of the day is “Rent” from the broadway show “Rent”. Some particularly apt lyrics from this song for the current global climate and today’s topic.

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 21: A new addition (it’s a girl!)

My household grew by one yesterday!  Meet Star:

Star is a baby african pygmy hedgehog

She’s a baby African Pygmy Hedgehog. She was born on Feb 20th, 2020, and is still so so tiny! I got her from a local breeder, Tucson Hedgehogs, who take extraordinary care of their babies, training them and adapting them to being held, and make sure they are going to a good home by inspecting habitats before approving adoptions. The whole operation was professional and made me feel confident adopting a hedgehog from them.

Here’s the habitat I made for her out of a $10 kiddie pool:

A tour of Star’s living situation. The black dangling cord is a thermometer probe, and there is a heat lamp above.

Hedgehogs run like crazy at night, so the big pool was a good option to give her lots of room to run. The running wheel was popular last night. Hedgehogs are prey animals, so the thing they most want to do is burrow and hide, which she has plenty of opportunities for here. This morning I found her under the blue snuggle sack (not inside?). That’s why they love toilet paper rolls too, they stick their little heads inside and push them around and run around with them. I’ll try to get y’all a video or something when she does it, it’s pretty great. There is also a thermometer and heat lamp. Hedgehogs try to hibernate if it gets too cold, and that can be bad for their health, so hedgie owners have to be sure their environment is kept warm enough.

Here’s some more hedgehog facts. They are insectivores, and they’re actually immune to scorpion venom! They’re nocturnal, but they can be adapted to operate somewhat during the daytime, and can also be trained to use cat litter! But otherwise they’re not very smart, so that’s about all the training we can expect really. They’re also nearly blind, but their hearing and smell are top notch. They do this strange behavior that animal behaviorists aren’t quite sure why, called self-anointing. When a hedgie smells or tastes something new and exciting, they froth up and lick their spit all over their quills. It’s funny and kinda gross.

Self-Anointing - Millermeade Farm's Critter Connection
A hedgehog self-anointing. Image credit:

The popular pets in America are the African pygmy variety, which are related to but very different from their European cousins. African pygmy hedgies actually don’t exist in the wild, they’re only kept as pets!

European hedgehog - Wikipedia
European hedgehogs are pretty cute too.

Here’s some more Star glamour shots.

Lastly, if you’ve been to my house or known me for a few minutes, you might know I have a bit of a thing for hedgehogs. So I wanted to finish off with a snapshot of the other hedgehogs in my house…

That’s not close to all of them. People give me hedgehog things all the time, and I do nothing to discourage this behavior. In my former life as a middle school teacher, my students learned of my hedgehog habit and the gifts started rolling in. It was magical. (Pro tip: if you ever need to entertain ~30 twelve year olds for about 5 minutes while you wait for the bell to ring, I can wholeheartedly recommend hedgehog videos on YouTube. Also OK Go videos.)

In honor of how cute Star is, song of the day is Cute Explosion by MrWeebl:

MagAO-X 2020A Stay at Home Day 9: Space + Beer + Zoom + Couch

Hello again! Seems like my first blog post was way more than 9 days ago, but that’s the way of things now. March was a hell of a year and April is shaping up much the same. Most days start with a thought like “Wait, is it Tuesday?”. But as I said last time, in the big picture things could be much worse. It’s a matter of one foot in front of the other. Get through this deployment (as Jared said in his jargon-filled Navy retrospective, the current moment feels much like a deployment, only with more sun, less cleaning stations, and more existential dread. I’m finding myself in the same mindset as I had for deployments, and it’s quite helpful.). An interesting trend I’ve noticed in myself trying to do this while class thing is that my motivation level as a function of day of the week seems to be on a linearly descending prior probability distribution. And my productivity posterior distribution is the same shape as the prior. Illustrated by this plot:

I definitely am super productive on Mondays, less and less so as the week trudges by. Fridays are nearly a lost cause.

But today I wanted to tell you all about Astronomy on Tap (@astronomyontap)! Astronomy on Tap is a collection of local satellite venues that host public astronomy talks, trivia, and games in bars around the world. As of this writing there are 77 different AoT venues past and present, from Chile to Germany to New York to Tucson. When I lived in Austin I was very involved with Astronomy on Tap Austin (AoTATX, @AoTATX), who hosts a huge event at the North Door on the third Tuesday of every month. Austin’s show is one of the biggest, with ~300 people attending every month! It was so much fun, and the other organizers are some of my dear friends.

So when I moved to Tucson, you better believe I jumped right into our local event, which we call Space Drafts (@Space_Drafts)!

Tucson’s flavor of Astronomy on Tap! Borderlands Brewing every month, typically the 3rd Wednesday.

Space Drafts takes over Borderlands Brewing on a Wednesday every month, with a couple of public talks by professional astronomers drawn from Steward Observatory, the Lunar Planetary Laboratory, NSF’s OIR Lab, or any of the other space-related institutions nearby (Tucson is such a space town!). It’s an all-levels show – you don’t have to know anything about space or science to enjoy it – and an all ages show, kids and dogs are encouraged to attend. Space Drafts is organized by me, Ryan Boyden of Steward, Cassandra Lejoly of LPL, and Stacey Alberts of Steward. (If you’re local please consider supporting Borderlands during this time!)

But that was in the before times. Our March show was canceled, and we’ve canceled all future shows for the time being. All looked dire for Astronomy on Tap until the intrepid folks at AoTATX figured out how to live stream their monthly show via YouTube and zoom, and it was off to the races (see their first live streamed event here). Which led to what happened yesterday………

Trailer for the epic event, featuring original music by Jason Achilles Mezilis |

Yesterday was Astronomy on Tap’s 7 year orbit-versary. 7 years since the first show(s) began accreting to form the complex system we have today. To celebrate, satellites from around the world came together to put on a 7 HOUR LIVE STREAMED AoT EVENT. For 7 hours, astronomers all over the world took over to give talks on everything astronomy. There were even live games, and the winners are getting prizes mailed to them! It was an EPIC event organized in literally like 3 weeks. They came up with idea ~3 weeks ago. And it all worked!

Waiting for the show to start

The event was broken into three 2-hour blocks. The first block (occurring at 12:30pm Tucson time) was hosted by European satellites and featured speakers from Europe. The second was the Eastern US and Canada, and the last block was the Western US, including yours truly. It was organized by Rebecca Larson of AoTATX (@SaturnsWings) and Cameron Hummels of AoT Los Angeles (@astrochum), and they did an AMAZING job. It was so much work and they really pulled it together to put on a fantastic show. I (represening Space Drafts) worked behind the scenes to manage YouTube comments, post social media links and highlights, and wrangle questions from the audience to feed to the hosts and speakers.

One of the games – guess the satellite show logo. Any guesses?
Megan Donahue (@astrophysics), President of the American Astronomical Society and Professor at MSU, talks about her research.

The end of the Western block featured “rapid fire” talks, short 2 min answers to frequently asked questions. Yours truly gave an answer to the question “What is SETI up to these days?”, based on my UG internship I did at Berkeley SETI Research Center.

Taylor Hutchinson (@aibhleog) of AoT Bryan College Station gives a rapid fire answer to the question “Who clears the cosmic dust?”

At the end, Bobak Ferdowsi played “Name the Moon”. You might recognize Bobak as “Mohawk Guy” from the Curiosity landing. The YouTube chat was all abuzz at his appearance.

You can see the WHOLE 7 hour event here: (embedding is disabled for this video). Our block starts at timepoint 4:35:00. The whole thing is SUPER great, but I definitely recommend watching the first talk by Andy Howell (@d_a_howell, @ScienceVsCinema, @AoTSB), of AoT Santa Barbara on the science of the movie Arrival, and Jessie Christiansen’s (@aussiastronomer ) drinking game of “Will you survive on this exoplanet” at time point 5:04:00 (spoiler: no). (You can play your own drinking game of Exoplanet Roulette alone in your house here: Also check out time point 6:17:00 for no reason at all I don’t know why just check it out….

It was an AMAZING achievement with LOTS of people working hard behind the scenes to pull it off. It was so much fun, a nice chance to do AoT with my ATX friends again, and keep AoT alive in this isolation period.

I’m going to look into doing virtual Space Drafts, and you can also watch AoTATX’s regular monthly show on their youtube channel on the third Tuesday of every month. If you’re not in Tucson, there is likely a local show near where ever you live! Go to to find out, and come out and support the live shows when they get rolling again. And support the local venues, which you can also find here, now!!

Today’s song of the day is by musician, Mars exploration microphone scientist, and frequent AoTATX contributor Jason Achilles Mezilis ( He is the last “rapid fire” speaker of last night’s show. And I picked this song because I miss Texas.