MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 26: Kings day in the USA

Today is the largest national holiday in the Netherlands, Kings Day. Kings Day is a bit of a difficult holiday to describe. It originates from the 19th century when the great-grandmother of the current king was reigning. The government decided that it was necessary to have a national holiday to celebrate the monarch. And so, Queensday was born. The holiday is held every year on the monarch’s birthday. Except during the reign of the previous queen, who wanted to keep it during her mother’s birthday to honer her.

Since 2013 we have king, which didn’t have for over a century the previous three monarchs were all queens. Nowadays we celebrate the kings birthday on the 27th of April. While I say we celebrate the king, we actually just use it as an excuse to have the largest party of the year. In the video below you can get a bit of a feeling of what Kings Day means.

For us in the USA we sadly can not party on a boat. That is especially difficult here in Tucson where we are getting or first 40+ C day of the year this week, pfoeh. So we decided to make and eat the traditional Kings Day pastry, Tompoes. The Tompoes is a pastry that consists of two layers of puff pastry with custard cream in between and colored icing on top. Tradition dictates that the icing is pink, and this is a pretty hard rule. You can not do something else without getting some disapproving Dutch eyes on you.

CC BY-SA 3.0,

Except on Kingsday, then you are allowed to switch to orange icing on top. So we made some orange Tompoezen for ourselves. The recipe is relatively easy but takes a bit of time. You need to make the custard a day before so that there is enough time to solidify a bit. The next day you bake some puff pastry sheets that are cut into rectangles. You grab one sheet of baked puff pastry and you just put some custard on it. Then you add the second sheet and you color the top with some icing. And well that is it. You can add whipping cream on the top according to your own preference.

Our home made Tompoezen with orange icing. They were great.

The most difficult part of the Tompoes is the whole thing. Because the pastry sheets are crispy you can not really cut into it. Usually what people do is take off the top and it eat. Then they use a fork or spoon to eat the custard. And finally, they eat the bottom pastry. But there are many different variants. Here we have a video that shows 12 different ways that people can be classified into based on their way of eating a Tompoes (commentary in Dutch).

With this I end the blog post of the day. The song of the day is the Dutch National Anthem, which is one of the oldest national anthems in the world. It was composed in 1572 during the 100 year war against the Spanish king.

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 25: Hot Enough Yet?

External Temperature and Dew Point vs day in April 2020. Less than a month ago, it was below freezing in our back yard. Today we cracked 100 for the first time.
Our weather station. It’s not high enough to give NWS quality reports. I’d tell you my Weather Underground station i.d. but apparently that’s broken.

Most places, 100F means the dog-days have started. Here, ’tis but a hint of spring. In fact, our gorgeous desert flower show is just getting started. The Saguaros in Sabino have just budded, might be a week or two until they really go.

Our prickly pear have started to flower. The big one in the back of this frame hasn’t yet, but it can be really spectacular when it goes.
Closeup of some old-ish flowers. I plan to make prickly pear ice cream one of these days.
Here you can see two agave flower stalks reaching for the sky. It’s bittersweet when an agave flowers, since it’s the end for that plant. These smaller agave are impressive, but you should see what the big ones do!

That’s a baby Saguaro in the foreground. We just put it in this year — check this blog in about 4 decades and I’ll show you some flowers on it.
Our big Palo Verde bloomed. We gave it a good haircut last fall, so it’s not quite as impressive as before, but it will be back.
My favorite tree is the Cat’s Claw Acacia (reason below). They have just started to bloom, but so far only in parts of our yard.
This shows why they are so-named, you can see the cat-like claws. This particular tree likes to grab the hat off my head when I walk by.
A baby grapefruit, which appears to have survived the freeze back in early April. Looks like we’ll have a good citrus crop this year.
Another sign of spring is these little buggers, the Canyon Tree Frog, congregating in our pool. They are LOUD.

I looked at our weather station logs for last year. Amusingly, we actually hit 100 for the second time on 26 April, 2019 — so this year we’re behind. Not to worry though, we were in the 80s still for most of May, with occasional days in the high 90s. It probably won’t be until June when it really kicks in.

Our weather in April, 2019. Stop panicking, the end times (a.k.a. June) aren’t here yet.
Today’s song is “The Heat Is On” by Glenn Frey

MagAO-X 2020A Stay at Home Day 24: Between this post and a hard place

I am sure a lot of you are tired of looking at the inside of your own homes, so I invite you to take a look inside of mine. Specifically at my rock collection. It may be hard to believe but mineralogy was my first science love. When I was really little (like 4) I was obsessed with crystals and I remember having some books on crystals and minerals that had stickers and little facts. My favorite childhood board game was unironically rocky bingo. It wasn’t until I was older that I was seduced to the side of astronomy by beautiful Hubble images. I am pretty sure what sparked my interest in crystals and minerals was Sailor Moon, a cartoon charater that uses a magic crystal wand to fight. Sailor Moon was a huge part of my childhood; recently my mom found a kindergarten journal and in it I said that my new years resolution that year was to become Sailor Moon.

A lot of us know Tucson as a major center for astronomy and optics in the United States. It is also a center for gemstone enthusiasts such as myself. For about a month starting from the end of January to mid February the largest gem show on Earth takes over a good chunk of the town. Surprisingly a lot of our group has never gone! Understandably the gem show is overwhelming, but here are some tips and tricks I have picked up as a novice collector and survivor of two gem shows.

So where to start?

If you want a bunch of sparkly rocks for cheap I recommend starting off with apophyllite. Apophyllite is a crytal that usually comes from India. Typical colors are white/clear and green. This stuff looks similar to quartz and is dirt cheap. My piece of apophyllite the size of my head was $35. You can find whole flats of this crystal for around that price at the gem show.

White/clear apophyillite on a druzy crystal matrix. The chunky white crystal is the apophyillite concentrated on the left side of the specimen.

Apophyllite, especially green apophyllite is typically found in a matrix of stilbite. It has a waxy apperance and is usually a peach or yellowish color.

Green apophyllite on stilbite

You can even find apophyllite as a matrix for other crystals. One of my favorite rocks I own is this spray crystal (I don’t actually know what the crystal is), on a green apophyllite matrix. This rock is awesome and not expensive ~$30.

My beautiful rock child

Another great option for beginers is calcite. Calcite geodes look very similar to quartz geodes and are typically a clean snow white color. Calcite even fluoresces a bright pink color under black light! Calcite geodes the size of your fist should be around $5, and geodes the size of your head should be around $30.

Depending on what matrix calcite is on the crystal appearance can change drastically. I have found that when on a pyrite matrix they have wafer like crystals.

This is my most expensive rock. This calcite on pyrite matrix is the size of my head and was $65.
A calcite on pyrite specimen with large chunky wafer crystals. Shout out to Logan for picking it out :).

They can also come in funky pyramid crystals. The most expensive calcite specimens I have seen are honey calcite crystals that can grow in these perfect spikes. They cost hundreds of dollars.

Maybe one day when I am rich…

Oh what about quartz Lauren? Surely it must be cheap right? It is so common!

Well I do in fact have a large collection of quartz, an entire shelf worth with some spill over onto other shelves.

Why I don’t recommend starting with quartz/amethyst is that it is super easy to get ripped off. This is because the price for quartz has sky rocketed due to a subculture that believes crystals have magic energy chakra. Most of my quartz specimens I have aquired through a hook-up from my mineral guy. It sounds sketchy, but he is a nice old man who sells rocks at the Saint Phillips Plaza farmers market and has super reasonable prices.

For instance this big boy geode here is over $100 (wholesale price!) at the gem show. I paid half of that which is kind of ridiculous. I think he was tired of lugging heavy geodes like this around. He said it was his last one and wanted it gone. This one wieghs around 25 pounds by itself. Imagine having to carry around boxes full!

So if you do decide to shop for quartz I recommend taking your time, and comparing costs from a lot of different vendors. Pricing for minerals is arbitrary after all!

To continue with quartz/ amethyst there are a lot of really cool specimens you can collect besides giant geodes. One of my favorite purchases this year’s gem show was this amethyst growing in a flower formation.

You can also get cactus formation:

And man made formations like this quartz crystal that has a secondary crystal artificially grown on top of it:

There are many other formation types and colors too for both natural and artificial quartz.

Ok so we covered some cheap options, but what if you want to start collecting seriously? Well its not exactly rock-et science, (pun credit to Logan), but it can be confusing. Pricing for minerals is for the most part arbitrary. There are some factors that I have seen influence price. The most obvious is size. If the specimen itself is large (I have seen geodes 10 feet tall!) or the crystals themseves are large typically the price goes way up. The other factors are color, structure, clarity, and general aesthetic. These are a bit harder to figure out. What I typically do is look up a museum quality specimen that serves as a standard for comparison. For an example I will use one of my favorite minerals called vanadinite. Vanadinite is a crystal found in Morocco. It has very cool hexagonal crystals. It is also really cheap to collect. Typically when a specimen is excellent or museum quality, the price range can be in the thousands depending on the type of mineral and the size. A fist size of excellent vanadinite is around $100!

This is a very nice specimen of vanadinite. It has a cherry red color, Large and distinct crystals, with no damage to the crystals themselves. Some examples of damage are chipping or scratches on the crystals. The crystals from an excellent specimen are a solid color, so they are not see through or have any cloudiness.

Now here are my junky vanadinite crystals:

The color is off, a brown/orange color, and the crystals are super tiny. This is one of the first rocks I ever bought, and I got completely ripped off because I had no idea what vanadinite was supposed to look like, or how common it actually is. I had never seen or heard of it before!

These specimens are getting better. The top one has two colors (yellow and orange) which is neat, but it is still off color and has tiny crystals. The one on the bottom has the desired color but the aesthetics aren’t great because the crystals are small and indistinct. These are about $10 rocks compared to the $100+ of an ‘ideal’ vanadinite.

This one is getting closer. The color is almost right, but still too brown, and a little cloudy. It is a larger piece, bigger than my fist, and the crystals are a decent size. This one was about $40, still way below the ‘ideal’. If that is too much work for you, don’t spend more then $30 on a single rock you don’t know about and you can’t go too wrong.

Arizona is a great place to collect because we have a lot of unique minerals coming out of Arizona mines. The most common are azurite and malachite that both have copper in their chemical makeup. They are found in a lot of the copper mines around. Both minerals are brightly colored, making them great display rocks.

Another copper based crystal I have is atacamite which is found in the Atacama desert in Chile, where the Magellan Telescope is!

The atacamite is the shiny dark green part in the center. It was hard to get a picture of it because it is small.

Our state mineral is wulfenite. Some of our mines in Arizona produce the ideal standard the world compares samples to. Unfortunately I don’t have any blog worthy samples of it (only really junky stuff), because even decent wulfenite is very expensive.

Lastly, Arizona is known for our petrified wood! Some of you may know that Logan and I took a trip to Petrified Forest National Park right before the coronavirus quarantine went into effect.

Shiny rocks make us happy.

We learned that Arizona has a special type of petrified wood called rainbow petrified wood. The primary color is typically a beautiful red, with blacks, yellows, blues, greens, and whites mixed in. Of course I had to buy a piece in the gift shop :).

I wish I could say these are the only rocks I own, but I have many more that didn’t make an appearance in this post. Hopefully this helps you start your own collection :).

Song of the day: When I am feeling emo I like to stare at my rocks.

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 22: Sip on joy, the purest drink

Back in college, I used to listen to Thao & The Get Down Stay Down regularly. I haven’t kept up with their newer stuff, but they were recently in the news for the creative use of Zoom videoconferencing to make the video for their new single: Phenom. The song struck me as dissonant and strange at first, it’s been growing on me with every listen. Please enjoy it as your song of the day.

”Phenom” by Thao & The Get Down Stay Down.