MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 0: New office who dis? + reflections on a Star Trek theme

Greetings blog world. You haven’t heard from me yet, because this is my first post here on the XWCL blog! First let me introduce myself. I joined the group last fall as a new 1st year graduate student at Steward Observatory at Univ of Arizona in Tucson. I came from the glorious University of Texas at Austin, where I worked with a group there studying directly-imaged low mass companions to young stars with the Keck telescope. So joining the MagAO-X team was a no-brainer. I plan to continue to study how stars and planets form with MagAO-X and MagAO-classic for my PhD work. You can see my science at my website

Outside of science, I chose to come to Arizona because I knew I would love living in Tucson. I am a non-traditional student, I am returning to school following a career as a public school science teacher, and another as an officer in the US Navy (our illustrious leader and I have that in common). So in addition to the great food scene, numerous parks (national and otherwise) to explore, and craft beer scene, Tucson was appealing because I could afford to buy a house and live a more “adult” life than is stereotypical for a grad student.

Persian Gulf 2007. I am on the deck of the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), behind me is USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6), and USS Nimitz (CVN-68) behind her.

And well things currently being what they are, I’m getting to spend a lot of quality time with the new house these days. As Jared said yesterday, we’ve officially begun a stay-at-home order in Arizona as of last night, but I’ve been effectively quarantined, working from home and only going out for groceries and exercise, for 18 days as of today. So I thought I’d share a bit of what being a grad student looks like, at least for me, right now.

First of all, I want to acknowledge my incredibly privileged position. I have a steady job with guaranteed income for at least two more years (I’m on a fellowship), I have stable housing and am in no danger of not being able to pay my mortgage, and I don’t have to put myself at risk of exposure to COVID-19 as part of my job like healthcare professionals, janitorial staff, and grocery store workers do. I am incredibly grateful to have these privileges, and am glad to do my part to help keep everyone safe by essentially doing nothing. It gets tedious and sometimes I get sad, but it helps me to remember that my staying home is an essential part of keeping everyone safe, and to remind myself how much worse some folks have it, and how incredibly brave our front line actors are in these strange times.

What’s more, transitioning to working from home was pretty easy for me. I don’t really work in the lab on campus, my science is basically entirely done from my laptop. And switching to classes via zoom was pretty smooth as well. It took some adjustment, but things are basically proceeding as before, only minus the social interaction and with the addition of existential dread.

An orbital dynamics class via zoom

When I first arrived at Steward Observatory in August, I had to move into a temporary office for 8 weeks while they did maintenance in my wing. Then I was able to move into my actual office for a few months and get settled in. Now, I’m in a brand new office, otherwise known as my dining room. Here, let me give you a brief tour:

An incredibly well organized and effective office.

Zoom has been huge, also Slack and WhatsApp, for keeping some semblance of social interaction. I will be joining a zoom game night with other grad students tonight.

So, in summary, while no one has any idea what the world will look like in a few months, technology has enabled me to keep going more or less as before, with the exception of no MagAO-X run to look forward to next month, and missing vital social interaction. I won’t claim that it hasn’t been hard, but I’m well aware of how much worse it could be. If you’re struggling with uncertainty in these times, with your mental well being from isolation, with being productive with your children at home, or with fear of exposure to the virus from your job, please know that I’m thinking of you, I’m wishing you the best, I’m hoping you are able to stay safe and well. And we’ll get through this together, while we’re apart.

My song(s) of the day comes from something helping me stay sane in these times, as well as be productive on my newfound cross-stitching habit: Star Trek. Star Trek has practically raised me from an early age (and probably was a non-trivial factor in my decision to join the Navy…), and it has some of the most iconic classic theme songs ever made. Much as Jared studied iterations of Jolene yesterday, I would like to offer my reflections on a Star Trek theme. I’ll go chronologically.

Of course everyone knows the classic original. It’s identifiable almost from the very first note:

Plus that classic monologue. I’ve never loved the original series much (despite trying to forgive it as a product of its time, I just can’t stand the misogyny), but you can’t deny the impact on culture.

Next of course is the show that defined my childhood, and the one I’m currently cross-stitching to, Star Trek: The Next Generation. A theme every bit as iconic, dare I say more-so, than the original:

I mean come on. Who won’t be stirred by that? Plus look at all the exoplanet love.

And now we come to the most important entry. The absolute pinnacle of everything Star Trek. A show ahead of its time, that pioneered the story arc and paved the way for the golden age of television we’re living in now*. A show from the 90’s that is every bit as good as it ever was to modern watchers. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

It’s not your parent’s Star Trek. It’s dark, actions have consequences (unlike the very episodic TNG). Every character, even the side characters, are deep, rich, and have long character arcs that grow and change over the run of the show. Some of the most compelling characters, like Nog or Damar, start out as throw aways or comic relief, and end up with some of the most powerful transformations. And Major Kira was definitely an early feminist icon for me. And Captain Sisko had moral grey areas unlike Picard. I could write a thesis on this show. I watched it as a kid, and now I’ve watched it all the way through twice as an adult. Proud to report, it holds up.

The theme itself is pretty standard fair for a Star Trek show, nothing too unique to say about it. The song is lovely and the imagery serves as nice establishing shots for the show.

*(no joke – it was one of the first shows of the 90s to incorporate the story arc, and was criticized at the time, and made the networks really nervous. But because of it they were able to tell richer stories and characters than TNG or Voyager. Look it up!)

Next we come to Star Trek: Voyager. It’s a fine intro I guess.

Voyager is trash. I said what I said.

Next up is the most controversial entry in the bunch: Star Trek: Enterprise. Whoa boy did this theme get the fandom’s panties all in a bunch. First of all, it has lyrics. And, *dumb* lyrics at that. Then the imagery behind the song was such a huge departure from tradition, some folks lost their minds. Enterprise is widely regarded as the black sheep of the Star Trek family, and honestly this theme song is a big part of it.

Hot take: I actually rather like Enterprise. I even kinda like this silly theme song. Yes, it’s quite cheesy. But I find it charming anyway. Same with the show. It is *far* from perfect, but it’s got its charms, and it’s better than Voyager. The show is about the first USS Enterprise starship, and it’s trying to be about voyage and discovery venturing into the unknown, and theme was meant reflect that.

Next is Star Trek: Discovery. It has a lovely theme. I love the call back to the original theme, with the modern imagery.

The theme really reflects the show. It is set right before the events of the original series, and includes some TOS characters like Captain Pike and Spock, and we even see an updated original USS Enterprise bridge in the 2nd season. The theme does a nice job of incorporating those elements, and set the stage for the show, classic but updated. It’s lovely.

And finally, Star Trek: Picard, who’s first season just wrapped up last week. This is a lovely lovely intro theme, and sets a very nice mood for this show. There are notes calling back to the themes of both TNG and Discovery (which is on the same network), something that is continued in the music of the show. Whenever Picard does something very Picard-like, we hear themes we recognize from TNG or TNG movies. It’s lovely, and the show is lovely. It’s not perfect, but it makes me very happy.

That’s it for Star Trek show themes, but there is so much more that could be said. I could write another essay on music from the movies. Hmm, perhaps for my next blog post. Seeing as we have some time on our hands now….