Every cat is unique. Much like human individuals. And, much like human individuals, you don’t necessarily want to hear about the quirky behaviors of ones that you’re not taking care of. If that’s how you feel, you might want to skip this post. (Of course, if that’s really how you feel, you’ve probably already unsubscribed from this blog.)
Mr. Alexander the Great has his likes (regular mealtimes, burrowing under carpets, laser pointers, cuddling) and they mostly make sense.
His dislikes, however, are harder to explain.
My Cat Hates Linear Algebra
He may have been objecting specifically to the mathematical contents of Brand (2006) “Fast low-rank modifications of the thin singular value decomposition” but I have no way of knowing for sure.
It’s back-to-school season, but it doesn’t look much like last year. It’s even hotter, for one thing. (Also, to be quite honest, I still feel like it’s March.)
The State of Arizona has decided to contain the COVID-19 pandemic by topping national headlines for “worst COVID-19 outbreak” until we all stay indoors (from shame, one assumes). Bizarrely enough, it appears to be… working?
Full disclosure: I’m technically an employee of the State of Arizona. Unless I’m a student. (I’m told “it depends”.) In any case, my views are my own and this post is being brought to you without use of University equipment in compliance with all applicable policies.
Out of an abundance of optimism, the University has decided to welcome students back for the fall (with some caveats). Of course, we were here all along. In addition to Vizzy tricks and text message measures, we have been regularly sanitizing all surfaces touched by lab workers and employing low-tech signage to keep the coronavirus out of our lab.
Of course, sterile (heh) line drawings are less compelling and eye-catching than putting a human face on the instructions. But whose?
Is there anyone whose mere appearance causes graduate student rule-compliance to skyrocket while simultaneously boosting mood and job satisfaction?
That’s right: Dr. Jared R. Males.
Of course, photoshopping one’s advisor is notwithoutprecedent. Anyway, none of our lab equipment has caught the novel coronavirus yet, so it seems to be working.
Plus, I think he likes it.
Thanks to Lauren Schatz for her assistance in hanging signage and photographing mischief.
Your Song of the Day
Your song of the day is “Crawl Out Through The Fallout” by Sheldon Allman.
I know what you all are thinking. We have hit triple digits in the number of days since this all began and Lauren still hasn’t made a blog post just about her cat. Don’t worry it is time to right this wrong, and what better time do to so than for Katniss’s 5th birthday!
I’ve heard of a wise philosophy that you should take any excuse to party. This year I decided to throw my cat a birthday party.
The preperations for her birthday began about a week before the party. I decided that since it was her special day, she should have a special outfit to wear. I picked up some cotton fabric at JoAnn’s and made her a little birthday dress. This was a great excuse to try out a ruffler pressure foot for my sewing machine. It is a neat little device that automatically pleats your fabric at a stitch interval of your chosing.
Once that was done the next part of party planning was to send out the invitations. Under normal circumstances, I would have loved to invite you all, but due to social distancing I kept the gathering small. Sorry you all missed it.
The last step was decorations. I went minimalistic this year, and bought two balloons from the dollar store.
They were a big hit with the birthday girl.
Now that everything is set it was time to party! We did Korean bbq on some tabletop griddles…
… forced Katniss to wear her party dress …
… and then ended dinner with some birthday cupcakes. I had to help Katniss blow out the candles.
But what would a birthday party be without presents? Katniss really got spoiled this year, Logan made her an abosultely amazing cross stich, and she got some treats from mom.
Happy birthday Katniss! Hope you all have an excuse to party before the end of summer 🙂
Bonus Content: Katniss’s Origin Story
Katniss and I go way back. So far back, that I knew her mom as a kitten! Katniss was born on July 27th 2015 to single mom Legalos. Legalos is the cat of my friend in my hometown. I remember when she was a little kitten, and when she grew up to be a beautiful cat. So beautiful that I said off handedly that if the cat ever had kittens I would want one. My friend remembered it, and when irresponsible teen Legalos snuck out of the house and came back pregnant, I was first in line for one of the kittens. Katniss was born in a litter of two, just her and her brother.
So we know who the mom is but who is her father? My friend and I like to think her father was a cat we called Mountain Cat. He was a brown Maine Coon mix that belonged to my friend’s neighbors. The neighbors for a while were landscaping their front yard, and almost everyday my friend and I would see Mountain Cat sitting on top of the mountain of dirt in the front yard. Hence the name Mountain Cat.
When I first met Katniss she was a little bit older than the photos shown here. About two months old. She wasn’t quite ready to be seperated from her mother, so we decided to wait until Thanksgiving for my mom to drive her across the desert to me when she was visiting for the holiday. Below is the first picture I ever took of Katniss on her first night at my place. She was already making herself at home!
And this is the first photo I ever took together with Katniss!
To end I will share some fun Katniss facts:
She looks cross eyed but it is only one eye that is derpy.
Her goal in life is to be as chonky as possible.
If you walk past her while she is eating she will sad meow at you, and put on a very concerned face as if you are going to take her food away. Despite the fact that never once in her life has food ever been taken away from her.
Her favorite thing in the world is her most beloved wet food treats.
Everyday when I come home she runs up to me, starts meowing, and will only stop when I pick her up and give her a hug.
The University of Arizona is resuming some in-person research lab activity, subject to restrictions to ensure safety and social distancing. We are to log our comings and goings, continue sanitizing surfaces, limit the number of occupants in the lab, and generally stay home as much as possible.
Years ago, our P.I. articulated his vision for MagAO-X development as “doing as much work as possible from home, with a cat on [his] lap.” I’m happy to report we’ve more or less achieved that! Everything but the fanciest of the deformable mirrors (previously) can be safely powered up and fiddled with remotely. (And there’s a plan to make even that possible.)
How do we do it, you ask? Well, our instrument software is a bit tricky to set up, but we use Vagrant to allow everyone on the team to get a virtual machine that approximates a fully set-up workstation. Initially this was to enable running our applications on non-Linux computers, since some of them depend on some rather obscure Linux-specific details, but it’s proved useful to automate setup across the board.
Thanks to virtualization, I even believe we have the world’s only extreme AO system that you can run on Windows!
After following the setup process, I can simply vagrant ssh and use my virtual machine to pop up the MagAO-X GUIs on my MacBook Air at home for controlling the real instrument in the lab:
Everything here is absolutely essential. Let me walk you through it:
On the laptop monitor, our Slack #lab-activities channel is open for coordination of in-person and remote work on the instrument. I recently taught our viscachabot, @vizzy, to update the official Google Sheet for lab check-ins based on their messages:
On the larger monitor, in the top left we have a couple instances of rtimv, the RealTime Image Viewer showing data from the pyramid wavefront sensor and one of the two science cameras. The bottom left quarter holds the web interface (previously) for toggling things like filter positions, stream writers, and shutters. The bottom right holds the power GUI for toggling things on and off with our network-controlled power strips. The top right GUIs are for deformable mirror and pyramid wavefront sensor control.
Above the screen, a webcam is perched for (what else) Zoom meetings. At right, a desk fan to attempt to maintain operator comfort despite Arizona summer. There’s a can of fizzy water, for similar reasons. (I blame Las Campanas Observatory’s now-discontinued habit of stocking bottled fizzy water for getting me addicted.) If you look closely, there’s even a rubber duck for debugging.
It doesn’t look quite as nice as MegaDesk (seen here at first light) But it’ll do in a pinch, in a pandemic.
Of course, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes—not only to make this virtual machine work, but to keep the process documented and working for new members of the team. For instance, our instrument computer setup process is mostly automated, and we run it in The Cloud™ every time we change our instrument software to ensure everything still installs cleanly.
Song of the Day
A friend of mine put together a playlist of French-language music and I quite enjoyed this one. No thematic connection. (Anyway, I don’t think there is… but I don’t speak French.)
Your song of the day is “Calvaire” by spill tab:
Postscript: Spooky action at a distance
“Spooky action at a distance” is famously how Einstein described quantum entanglement, but he never used the English word “spooky” that we know of. According to this answer on the History of Science and Mathematics StackExchange, the quote originates in Einstein’s letter to Max Born where he used the German word “spukhaft” to describe entanglement.
Central Texas, the region that encompasses Austin, San Antonio, and surrounding towns, did not invent the breakfast taco (well, at least Austin didn’t, more on that later). Breakfast tacos have been popular in the region since the 70s (source), but with the massive influx of hipsters and their penchant for brunch, niche trends, and “authenticity”, to the region in the last two decades, breakfast tacos have become part of our identity as central Texans.
I can’t overstate it enough. They are simply everywhere. And everyone has their opinions, their preferred breakfast taco purveyors, their taco of choice. I bought a Tacodeli Jess Special from the little coffee shop in the lobby of the astronomy building at UT Austin almost daily while a student there. The Royal Blue grocery downtown next to where my church met fed me pre-made tacos quite often on a Sunday morning. Rudy’s BBQ makes a mean brisket breakfast taco. Torchy’s tacos are just about everywhere in Austin, and spreading like wildfire across the nation. My favorite taco joint, Taco Joint, is a stone’s throw from the UT astro building and makes huge breakfast tacos, as does East Austin’s Juan in a Million. Just to name a few.
(Incidentally, I just learned there are 3 Rudy’s locations in Phoenix, so if anyone wants a road trip for legit good Texas bbq and breakfast tacos, hit me up!)
Anyone who has not lived in central Texas is like “What? Do you mean breakfast burritos?” No, dear reader. I do not mean breakfast burritos. In fact you’d be hard pressed to find a breakfast burrito on the menu in Austin. Meanwhile anyone who has lived in central Texas for any amount of time immediately knows what I’m talking about and resonates with this post deep within their souls. (I maintain it is not enough to simply have visited. If you’ve visited Austin and enjoyed a breakfast taco, you can probably appreciate them as a novelty, and I’m glad you got to experience them, but probably not enough to really “get it”). It is simply a part of who we are. And while if you didn’t go to high school in Texas, you can never truly be accepted as a true Texan (this is a fundamental truth in our culture), you can don the breakfast taco mantle to embrace central Texas into your identity. (Now, this does not ingratiate you to the rest of Texas, but that’s a story for another time).
What is a breakfast taco?
Well, what do you want it to be? While generally eggs and a tortilla are involved, there aren’t many rules. In fact, the eggs are even optional. Beans, steak, cheese, bacon, avocado, chicken, potatoes, salsa are all common ingredients, and various permutations of those are what you’ll find most frequently. As eggs aren’t always my favorite thing, I would frequently get chicken peppers onions and cheese from Tacodeli (the frontera taco). You don’t even have to eat them for breakfast, many places you can get an eggy delight for lunch as well. Look, there’s no rules. Just eat them and be happy.
A brief history of breakfast tacos
Tex-Mex cuisine is not the same as Mexican food (which of course isn’t really a thing because Mexico is full of diverse regional cooking styles that are unique and wonderful to explore). Tex-Mex actually originates from the Tejano people, Texas settlers of Mexican decent. It’s a uniquely Texas cuisine that is heavily influenced by Mexican roots, and American elements brought in by railroads after the Civil War. (source)
While Tex-Mex has a long rich history, breakfast tacos are a modern invention. The earliest reference is in 1975 in the Arizona Republic describing the reporter’s trip to San Antonio. In 1976 the El Paso Herald-Post held an advertisement for breakfast tacos. In 1983 Texas Monthly blurbed about breakfast tacos in Austin’s Julio’s Cafe. (source) So the exact moment and location of invention of the breakfast taco is unclear, but it’s only been around for 5 decades or so (notably invention was not in Austin, see below).
Austin taco scene tends a little hipster (you’ll find more fusion or out-there taco ideas in addition to more traditional taco fare), while San Antonio tends more authentic Mexican or Tex-Mex in their tacos. (Do they even eat tacos in Houston or Dallas? Who cares.)
2016: The Breakfast Taco Summit
In February 2016 an article appeared in Eater Austin that would change the course of history. Matthew Sedacca claimed Austin as the birthplace of the phrase “breakfast taco”. While he technically claimed Austin was the birthplace of the *phrase* breakfast taco (which is also not accurate), the widespread interpretation was that Austin was claiming to have invented the breakfast taco. The response was swift and ferocious. San Antonio took it as a personal offense, a slight against their good name. A change.org petition was filed on behalf of the people of San Antonio to expel Matthew Sedacca from Texas for his crime. An excellent quote from the petition: “Without fail, sophomoric claims of taco-superiority have been issued from Austin-based brunch-chair-experts on a nearly annual basis, threatening the harmony between the city of Austin and the cities with populations of Native Texans greater than 10%.” (Note the subtle dig on Austin of being made up of less than 10% “Native Texans”, which I, as a “Native Austinite” agree is probably accurate). In response to the petition, Austin mayor Steve Adler declared war on San Antonio. The region was in turmoil, battles were waged in print and social media. http://whoinventedbreakfasttacos.com/ was registered. Brother turned against brother, our great union threatened to come apart.
On March 10th, 2016, battle lines were crossed. San Antonio mayor Ivy Taylor journeyed to Austin to meet with Steve Adler and work out a taco truce, and proclaimed peace with the signing of the “I-35 accords”. They officially declared both city’s tacos as “delicious”, and proclaimed March 10th officially “breakfast taco day”. Adler declared: “As St. Paul admonishes us, let us not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with breakfast tacos. We will have guac in our times…. Let us break our fast with the tortilla of hope and the egg of peace.” Taylor brought tacos from her favorite SA taco spot Mittman Fine Foods, while Adler proffered tacos from ATX’s famous Juan in a Million. They were moved to make peace quickly before then-President Obama’s visit later that week, so he wouldn’t be visiting a war zone. Adler again: “Some of you may look upon these breakfast tacos and feel only hunger. I pity those people, for when I look at these breakfast tacos, I feel hope and a renewed friendship between our cities.” (source)
I told you this was serious business.
(PS – for more great Steve Adler quotes, check out his comments on sending the recipe for Kerbey Lane’s queso (another thing Austin people are passionate about) to the moon.)
Breakfast Tacos in Arizona: The Jess Special comes to my kitchen
I do proudly claim Austin as my homeland, and while I really like living in Tucson, I do sorely miss the ubiquity of breakfast tacos since moving here. Seis Kitchen in Tucson is the only place I’ve found so far that has them on the menu (happy to take recommendations if you know another place), and they are delicious. But it’s the abundance, variety, and cultural touchstone that I miss.
So today I decided to make my own facsimile of one of my favorite breakfast tacos, the Jess Special from Tacodeli. I added to it and changed a bit, because, in the words of Aunt Tabitha, that’s my business.
I started with some steak strips, seasoned with chile powder, cumin, garlic powder, salt, and oil. I also fried up some onions and poblano strips. Neither of these are part of the original Jess Special, but that’s my business.
The heart of the Jess Special is the migas. Apparently a lot of different things go by the name “migas“, but in Tex-Mex migas consist of eggs, peppers, tomatoes, onions, cheese, and the essential ingredient, crunched up tortilla chips. Pro tip: add the chips at the very end of cooking the eggs to avoid excessive sogginess. I added them a bit too soon today and they came out too soggy for my tastes.
And now for plating. Don’t forget to heat the corn tortillas over a dry skillet for a few seconds on both sides, or you will have structural integrity issues. Additional life hack, two tortillas per taco, for additional structural integrity, and also because Sprouts only had the very small size of corn tortillas in stock yesterday. That’s how to pros do.
First I laid down the steak peppers and onions, then migas. Topped with more cheese, avocado, and some Doña sauce I made. Doña sauce is a Tacodeli invention and closely kept secret, but I found a recipe online of someone trying to emulate it. It’s basically garlic, oil, salt, and a ton of jalapeños. Mine came out nicely spicy, but too much garlic, use less next time. (recipe for migas and Doña sauce)
The end result!
Quite tasty. Not exactly the same, of course. But 10/10 would eat again.
The song of the day comes from one of my very favorite Austin artists Shinyribs (a.k.a. Kevin Russel). He made a song called “Donut Taco Palace” about a chain of hole-in-the-wall donut and taco places in Austin called “Donut Taco Palace”. If you want to sing along, the chorus goes “Donut Taco Palace, Donut Taco Palace, Donut Taco Palace, Donut Taco Palace….” You get the idea.