MagAO-X 2023A Day 19: An Ode to the Small Things

There are a few hiccups to expect on a night-to-night basis, but in general at this point we’re pretty fine-tuned to the MagAO-X workflow. This means there has been more opportunities to enjoy the finer details of #LifeatLCO before and after our shifts. From going viscacha family spotting on the rocky ridge next to the Magellan telescopes…

Can you see the viscacha on its rock?

…to taking neat synthwave/outrun inspired photos at sunset and twilight. Being my first time here at LCO, it’s a pleasant surprise that this place isn’t *just* a bunch of old telescopes in an extremely arid desert. Actually, not only are the accommodations really nice but the food is also pretty memorable too. If you missed it, check out Eden’s food blog post here. But apart from the nice rooms and good food, I’m happy to see some thought put into various amenities to make life here a lot more bearable.

For instance, there’s plenty of space to exercise and even a well-equipped gym near our rooms to help offset the sedentary nature of astronomizing. I also probably speak for the students among us still taking demanding optics and astro classes when I say that the lodge and astronomer support buildings have super nice libraries and areas to study/read/work.

But back to the telescopes! We were all sad to say our farewells tonight to Dr. Alycia Weinberger (it was nice to finally meet you in person, btw!) because she, in addition to bringing us many tasty snacks, brought a great aura to the control room and we all enjoyed hearing about her colorful experiences over the years here at LCO. She also graciously brought the interested among us to tour the Irénée du Pont and Swope telescope installations. Jialin, Noah and I were captivated by the rich history contained within these buildings and got to see some seriously cool old school machines, astro almanacs, and photographic plates. Thanks again, Alycia!

Of course, nothing beats the Magellan telescopes in terms of splendor but it was still really cool to see how smaller, older telescopes still contribute significantly to science. One evening, seeing estimates from the DIMM and our sister telescope the Baade varied significantly which prompted the idea to go straight to the Baade telescope control system and look for ourselves to see if the online reports were accurate. It then dawned on me and Eden was that we had never seen what is was like in our sister telescope…! So, utilizing the cover of night, we executed a bit of a spy mission to see if the grass was greener or not. Dude, they have a full size fridge, bookshelves filled with actual books, and their living room is way cozier with barely-used furniture, what’s up with that?

I also can’t ignore the times when we have the opportunity to take a break and let MagAO-X do all the heavy lifting for a bit. Although this may come off as us being lazy, rest assured it’s a sign that things are going incredibly well for science.

…if ya got ’em

Song of the Day

Back when I was just a crouton in a wide-open baguette world, I went for glory cooking professionally for a few years before deciding to go back to college and pursue a more technical career. Back then, one summerly tradition was to go with a large group of Arizona chefs to cook for a 3-week long event at a resort deep in the NorCal redwoods for members of the infamous and secretive Bohemian Grove. We Arizonan chefs went to chase those California wages and sweet overtime pay (…aaaand that juicy double-overtime pay for the inevitable 12+ hour days) so in a way, our long hours of observing and the remoteness here at LCO reminds me of my Grove days. Every year, we joined a literal army of chefs in a huge kitchen cooking daily, near Michelin Star quality breakfast and dinner for about 2000 members. This sounds grueling, but actually looking back I really only remember the fun times of the 7 years I returned as a chef at the Grove. (Ehhh, for the most part, at least… well, there *was* a particularly bad year with a couple of very, very catastrophic mishaps concerning 200 pounds of beets and 15 gallons of garden pea coulis that I’m convinced gave me PTSD for a couple of months afterwards, and I to this day STILL get occasional nightmares about this, but we’ll save that for another blog post.)

The song of the day has special meaning to me and my good friend Big Mike. One tradition at the Grove is an employee-only talent show held during the last weekend of the event. Historically, it was ALWAYS a server, or bartender, or valet driver or something who won every year; never any kitchen staff. I guess it was natural that chefs never competed, because we were always exhausted and generally always had too much to do to really find the time to rehearse. But one year Big Mike and I set out to with a plan to finally change that. That morning, I remember bringing my guitar with me to the kitchen and safely stashing it in the dry storage area upstairs during breakfast service. Then, during the small afternoon lull before dinner service where everyone was either putting the final touches on that night’s dinner prep or prepping for next day’s breakfast, we snuck out of the kitchen and went to a quiet corner of the redwood-shaded outdoor dining circle, acoustic guitar and hastily drawn-up lyrics in hand, and did a cold rehearsal for no more than 30 minutes still in our chef whites and aprons. I don’t remember much between practicing and actually performing our skit being that this was back in 2014, but I’ll never forget the assistant general manager on the mic during the employee dinner announcing the winners of that years talent show to hundreds: “And the winners for this years talent show… for the first time in Bohemian Grove history…. are from the kitchen!”

So the song of the day is House of the Rising Sun by The Animals, because this is the song we had performed (in this style) almost impromptu in front of the entire Grove workforce and somehow did it well enough to win the talent show that year. It wasn’t the original lyrics though, we had modified lyrics to describe that year’s experience of being a couple of sleep-deprived cooks surviving in that insane kitchen. I think it actually came out pretty funny, which probably helped our performance out a whole lot. I’m sure those lyrics are still in one of Big Mike’s old notebooks, I really should find the time to ask him to find those pages again when we return back home.