AO Summer School Day 1: Closing the loop on California mysteries

I am generally horrible at finishing things, and there were so many stories to tell about good times in Santa Cruz that I never finished my blog post. I started writing during the first night of the workshop, but didn’t return to tell the stories of renting a bike and spending afternoons enjoying rides in the countryside. A late night guilt trip during the 2023A run from *nameless parties* has made me choose to post what I’d written in August.

While sipping coffee in the shade of towering redwoods this afternoon, Eden ran up behind me and hurriedly asked if “I’d seen Jared’s message on Slack”. When I said I hadn’t, she said “good – Jay and I think that you should be the first one to write a blog post about the workshop. This news set off alarm bells and self-doubt that we’d taken enough photos to justify the lofty precedents of previous posts. The subsequent rush to backlog material might lead to an uneven post, but hopefully presents an accurate picture of California life.

Flying into San Jose airport at nighttime feels like a glimpse into the future: either utopian or dystopian depending on personal preference. Terminal walls are adorned at fifty feet intervals with large screens proclaiming the latest software accomplishment from interminable corporations. These advertisements can be generally ignored by bleary, midnight eyes until passengers are funneled out through automated security doors and greeted by an LED mural twenty feet tall, bright red and devoted to Intel alone. Sleepy wrinkles in passengers faces are filled with the bright light as they shuffle into escalators going to a similarly lit baggage claim. It feels like some combination of Blade Runner and Fahrenheit 451.

My personal history with California has been checkered at best: past work trips to San Diego have imparted a unique claustrophobia of being surrounded by endless suburbs and six lane highways; of traveling for hours and never leaving the city. With that background, I gave the most profound sigh of relief in my Uber when I was greeted in Santa Cruz not by strip malls but instead by a deer, silently walking through the moonlit streets [not pictured – sorry!]. I have since learned that it was part of a healthy resident population on the university campus.

The campus is a beautiful setting for a conference, and the cool breezes from the ocean are a welcome break from Tucson heat. The lectures are widely succeeding at proving a strong background to the wide-ranging field of adaptive optics. I can appreciate the challenge in planning a curriculum for 29 students with wildly different backgrounds and experiences. The first day was a broad introduction to adaptive optics in general – I think that most of the class pitied the grad student who was asked to deliver a briefer on geometrical optics and third order aberrations in one hour. Several talks stuck out on the first day though, especially Phil Hinz’s overview of wave optics and Rebecca Jensen-Clem’s lecture on atmospheric turbulence. Being used to picking up the concepts on the fly, it was very helpful to reestablish the source of useful rules of thumb like r0 and t0 scaling with wavelength. The workshop is unique in bringing people from such a niche field into a room together.

I went to bed after this, and thus ends the written memory of the AO Summer School. Santa Cruz has wonderful bicycle infrastructure, and immediately upon arriving I began making inquiries about how to rent a bike. After being disappointed by several foundering startups attempting to revolutionize the bike-rental industry, I finally found a wonderful beach cruiser that I named “Black Beauty”. The shop owner – who sounded exactly like what you would imagine someone who runs a bike shop two blocks away from the beach would sound like – told me “don’t ride off road, or at least if you do then clean it afterwards because we don’t have a hose here”. I took this liberally, and had a blast over the next few days exploring the steep hills of Santa Cruz after the workshop finished in the afternoons. Here are some fun photos from these rides.

Song of the conference

There are so many songs about California but time spent walking around the Giant Sequoias of the campus kept reminding me of this lesser-known one.