Zweetkamertje—or—Congratulations Dr. Van Gorkom!

Our Dutch postdoc Sebastiaan Haffert has taught us many important terms (like “We at Toilet Duck recommend Toilet Duck!”), but the one most relevant today is zweetkamertje. As explained by Atlas Obscura, this is the “sweating room” where Ph.D. candidates in Leiden await the results of their doctoral exams.

This draft is being written (in part) during the sweating period of Kyle Van Gorkom’s Ph.D. defense.

But let’s back up a bit: Today, a pandemic-appropriate number of masked people filed in to Meinel 812 (and a much larger people joined online) to see Kyle Van Gorkom defend his Ph.D. research in adaptive optics. The view was excellent, but Jhen and Daewook had eyes only for Kyle.

Some pretty sweet mountains, you might say.

Mr. Van Gorkom (as he was then known) regaled us with tales of deformable mirror characterization and modeling. Battles won, vibrational modes damped, etc. (We will not talk about the IrisAO.)

The room was then closed for the committee to thoroughly examine him. We waited. Some of us blogged. Then, after some ritual hazing questioning, he was presented to us: Dr. Kyle Van Gorkom, Ph.D.!

A toast was called for.

The final test of the candidate is whether they can open a bottle of champagne. We are happy to report that he passed this as well, despite Susana’s evident skepticism.

And, after some initial difficulties, a toast was had! Congratulations, Dr. Kyle Van Gorkom!

Song of the Day

“Someday” by The Strokes

Orbital Mechanics Trivia

As a viscacha, integral and differential calculus are beyond me. However, it does seem to be spring again here in the southern hemisphere, and my calendar indicates it has been one full year since the last October 14th we saw.

(I’d double-check my facts with some of the cientificos, but I haven’t seen them in a couple years. I hope they’re doing okay.)

This means that the Earth has completed one more turn about the Sun, and the P.I. is a year older and wiser. In celebration of his wisdom, please enjoy P.I. utterances, available where-ever fine quotes are sold.

Song of the day

“Hard to Kill” by Bleached

In defense of the “Steward oranges”

Shortly after I began my Ph.D. studies at Steward Observatory, I noticed that the historic dome building (where they gave me my first homely office) was ringed by orange trees.

“Don’t try eating them,” I was told. “They taste terrible! They’re not edible; they’re only, what’s the word, decorative? Ornamental?”

In this post, I will seek to rehabilitate the reputation of the much maligned Steward orange.

I have been undertaking progressively more intricate cooking projects over the course of the last covid, and after SeriousEats featured a recipe for cochinita pibil on its homepage I knew I had to try. Cochinita pibil is a pork dish from the Yucatán region of México, best known to Americans as “where Cancun is.” The Seville oranges used in it are known for being sour, bitter, and generally unpalatable on their own, but impart a distinctive flavor to the dish. I tried finding them at local Mexican grocery stores, but struck out.

But… aren’t the Steward oranges sour, bitter, and generally unpalatable? Could they be the oranges I’m looking for? Fortunately the campus arboretum has cataloged every notable plant on campus, and I had only to ask:

Armed with this information, I went to harvest some ingredients. However, a problem arose.

Undaunted, I returned under cover of darkness with an improvised professional harvesting tool.

The first thing I made with my sour oranges was some quick-pickled onions (another SeriousEats recipe). They were delicious. No food coloring required!

Of course, juicing a bunch of oranges means you have a bunch of orange rinds left over. The Seville orange’s peel is full of flavor compounds, with writers sometimes calling it the “orangiest” orange. I couldn’t let that go to waste! Seville oranges are prized in the UK for use in marmalade, but, quite frankly, I don’t eat much marmalade. So I made candy instead.

That’s already two ways to eat the Steward oranges, and we haven’t even gotten to the main event yet. In cochinita pibil, the bitter (or sour, or Seville) orange juice is used in the marinade alongside a laundry list of spices—but no hot chilies. The flavor of the final dish is a bit smoky and earthy, and fairly orange in color (thanks to achiote), but you’ll have to apply hot salsa to taste.

After a tedious overnight wait, it was time to parcel up the meat and veg. Though I’m not digging the traditional pit, I can still use banana leaves. Fortunately, Tucson’s excellent international supermarket had them in stock.

Trussed up and placed on a tray, it was time to grill. Or, I guess, smoke. (The grad-student budget version of a smoker is a grill plus a lot of babysitting.)

Success! Some corn tortillas and pickled onions were produced, and tacos were had by all. A poll of the individuals present for this pork fest indicated broad approval for this cochinita pibil recipe. More importantly, there were no leftovers.

Not bad for a sour, bitter orange!

Song of the day

In honor of our first 100ºF day of 2021…

“Sunny” — Boney M.

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.