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….

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day -1: The Run That Never Was & A Study In Jolene

Since most of the MagAO-X team resides in Tucson, home of the University of Arizona and Steward Observatory, we are about to come under a stay-at-home policy starting tomorrow, 3/31, at 5 pm MST. This removes all doubt: there will be no MagAO-X run in 2020A. We are on the telescope schedule for May 3-10; to make this, we need to ship next week. And despite all the hard work we’ve put in since returning from our last run, we have a metric sh&*%t ton of work to do before we can be ready to ship. Because we have all been working from home out of prudence for the last couple of weeks, and now we are working from home under orders, there is no way we’ll get it done. Further complications include: LCO is shutdown until 27 April at the earliest; political unrest has started up again and is expected to increase; and we couldn’t fly to Santiago even if the ExAO system made it. Granted there is a lot of time between now and May 3rd, but our decision horizon is much shorter given the vagaries of international cargo shipping in the best of times. [note for completeness: that we do have a poorly developed backup plan to drive ourselves in a U-Haul. A ferry is involved.]

To say it clearly: MagAO-X 2020A is canceled.

We are now planning a late 2020B run, Nov or Dec. So start your telescope proposals.

So here’s the thing. Astronomy is not currently urgent. We astronomers/astrophysicists/optical-scientists don’t have a lot to add to the current goings on. But, (1): we shouldn’t let that cause us to relax. Apropos:

Astronomy can be urgent . . .

And (2): astronomy is still important. As a for instance: we are now all likely paying close attention to how dependent we are on the transportation of resources from point A to B. Now just consider how much of a role GPS plays in this. Sure, that’s based on 400 to 100 year old Astronomy — but it is a key example of what Astronomizing produces. It’s also an excellent illustration of the acute differences between urgent and important. Which are sometimes the same, but often not.

Now to the point: this is the first post of our 2020A stay-at-home blog series. The rules are as usual: the title must start as this post’s does, and there must be a song of the day. I’m expecting the grad students to self organize from here on out, with the option to recruit faculty, post-docs (at any institution), etc., to help share the load. We’re all in this together, and this run will last as long as it takes.

Back in the bad old days of the Long Runs, Alan Uomoto once remarked about our blog “The videos are a nice touch … although I admit I wasn’t able to tease out the blogger’s mental state as readily as I thought I might.” Let’s see what he can do with this.

When Dolly Parton sings her famous song “Jolene”, it sounds almost gleeful, despite the lyrics. To wit:

Basically, Dolly wins in the end and you can tell. Now Miley (Dolly’s goddaughter) delivers it in a more moving tone, sad, but not hopeless:

You don’t really know how it ends though. Any case, this is all really just an excuse to post some rock. If you’ve read this post on this blog for this long, it’s a solid chance that you’re a nerd. So you might claim to not know who the White Stripes are, but you are probably wrong. Just listen to the first 5 seconds of this and get back to me. (come on . . . that’s likely the most recognizable guitar riff of the last 30 years)

The ‘Stripes version of Jolene is completely different.

Jack White’s version is that of a woman who has already lost. And it rocks (yeah).

But wait! Shouldn’t we be giving a message of hope, not despair? In these trying times? Well . . . actually. The thing you should notice most about the White Stripes is how there are 2 microphones. And when the shit hits the fan, Jack always turns and he and Meg rock through it together. It’s an awesome performance style, and it’s what we all need to do.

Appendix: I struggled with which version to post, and ended up with my overall favorite performance. This next one falls under our we have standards mantra, in that I think it’s the best guitar performance of the three:

And this one is the classic. It’s the most heartfelt vocal performance:

Ok grad students. I know how much free time you have on your hands. Don’t let me down.