Extreme Wavefront Cleanliness Lab

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?

Graph of Rt, the "reproduction number" for the virus, from https://rt.live/us/AZ, a live-updating model that attempts to estimate Rt from state health data.

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.

Picture of the door to the lab with four navy blue signs reiterating CDC guidelines for infection control and one sign saying "do not enter"
University-designed signage explaining CDC recommendations for people who have neither turned on a TV, opened a news website, nor been to a store in the last six months.

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.

Inspiring!

Of course, photoshopping one’s advisor is not without precedent. 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.

Spooky MagAO-X action at a distance

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!

(Please don’t.)

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:

Brought to you by Apple, IKEA, and Safeway-brand fizzy water.

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:

Jared talking to a computer

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.

Jared using MegaDesk at the MagAO-X First Light Run. Four monitors means four South American animal background pictures.

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.

On Central Texas and Breakfast Tacos

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.

Quarantine Crafting

Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the Rona

A little over a year ago now I was moving back from France to Tucson. I decided to move into a two bedroom apartment, with the expectation of turning one room into a home office/craft space. Throughout undergrad and graduate school I kept some crafting hobbies like sewing, but it was almost ten years since gave up painting and quit pursuing my Art degree when I moved to France. I’m sure many have had the same experience of being inspired to paint when touring around France. It’s not hard, besides the famous ones in Paris almost every town in France has some sort of Art Museum. I had timed it right too, because if you are a student and 25 years old or under in France you get into most museums for free. So you better believe I went to a LOT of art museums during my work-cation (some much better than others…) Hence the decision to invest in an art space and try my hand at painting again.

Turns out that decision has had a large payoff with the quarantine!

Craft One: Macrame

Before I show off the paintings, I thought I would highlight a new crafting skill I am developing: Macrame. Macrame is essentially the art of fancy knot tying. It’s really accessible as a new hobby because all you need is a wooden dowel, and some macrame cord. I’ve been learning through Youtube channels, and my favorite tutorials are from a South Korean crafter. I’ve discovered that pretty much all of macrame only uses two types of knots: the square knot, and the Diagonal Clove Hitch knot. You different patterns depending on the spacing between the knots, and how many times you repeat it etc.

Most of the time I do macrame on Logan’s couch, because it turns out cats love macrame even more than I do.

My first project was pretty successful, though it is a small one. Made with only square knots.

My second macrame project was not successful. Getting the tension of the cords and the spacings correctly is surprisingly hard!

I am currently working on my third macrame piece. I decided to wing it a bit, because the tutorial I was following was going to produce another small wall hanging and I wanted something larger. Time will tell if this was a mistake. I am currently working on this one at Logan’s place, but we are almost out of British Bakeoff episodes so I need to hustle!

Craft Two: Sewing

I have to admit I haven’t done a lot of sewing during quarantine. (Probably because sad eating ice cream for a month was a bad weight management decision but who is to say?)

Right at the beginning of quaratine I finished making this skirt. I had many great plans of running around in it during SPIE Japan… but alas.

Perhaps my greatest sewing triumph is this avacado shaped hidey-hole for Star. When she is inside she looks like the avacado pit!

But it is hard to tell if she likes it or not… look at that grumpy hedgie face!

I have also been making a Star War’s Rey costume but that has been on hold for a while now. I have the shirt mostly done.

Craft Three: Painting

I started painting last year way before coronavirus was even a thing. My goal back then was to produce an artwork for the Lunar and Planetary Lab’s art show. Which I did! Since then I have been doing some color studies of mountians. I finished the last in that series after quarantine began, though I started it beforehand.

Mountain Color Study: Orange. Acrylic on Canvas

This is the last work I’ve done trying to be ‘realistic’. I’ve been inspired by an impressionist Acrylic painter I found on instagram and since then I have been working towards a more impressionist style. Impressionism favors movement and color over realism.

Attempt one in new style:

Trail in the Rocky Mountains. Acrylic on canvas

This one was based on a photo I took when hiking in the Rockies with my best friend a year ago. I am still unsure if I like this painting or hate it. For now it lives on the floor in the corner of my office.

Attempt Two:

Sunset River, Acrylic on Canvas

For this one I decided to learn from the master. It is inspired a work from @atrusovaartist and I watched all of her timelapse painting videos over and over again to try to glimpse at some of her techniques. I am really happy how this turned out, but I acknowlege that it isn’t very original because it is inspired by another work.

Attempt Three:

Sonoran Desert Scene. Acrylic on Canvas

I am starting to get my stride here! This one was inspired by several photographs I found of our beloved sonoran desert.

Attempt Four :

I finished this one only a couple of days ago, and it is the last piece I have created so far.

A Peaceful Day on Lake Minaqua. Acrylic on canvas

This one is baded off of a photo I took during my family reunion in Wisconsin last year. We rented a boat and we all hung out on the lake all day.

If you haven’t guessed it by now, I think the common inspiration to my artwork is ‘places I want to be right now’. I love the mountians, but lately I have been craving the water. My apartment complex has restricted access to the pool because of ‘rona. I have a feeling water will feature more heavily in what I paint from here on out, but who knows!

In case you were wondering, yes I am running out of wallspace to hang things up. Perhaps by the end of quarantine my house will look like my own personal art gallery.

Song of the Day: Some Dad music as Joseph would call it

I’m not any good at whole bean coffee.

The year is 2001, I am a fresh faced young junior at Purdue University. I did the traditional college path, straight out of high school. I distinctly remember having the thought that I didn’t want to acquire the taste for either beer or coffee, because both seemed problematic. Then I joined the Navy.

So I now absolutely blame the Navy for my love of both coffee and beer. 100% their fault. The first beer I tried and liked was literally the same week I moved to Jacksonville Florida to start my first tour on a ship. They are to blame for all my bad habits don’t at me.

Coffee onboard ship is the elixir of life. We had a coffee maker on the bridge of my first ship, and the giant tub of coffee grounds next to it was labeled “The Precious” (it was 2003, Lord of the Rings was still fresh and new). When you’re on the 0200-0700 watch, absolutely nothing is happening, your watch team is full of boring people, or they won’t shut up about World of Warcraft (true story), coffee tastes like salvation. (Incidentally, I feel the same way about Red Bull. Is it gross? Yes. Does it taste like salvation? Also yes. The aircraft carrier I was on had a Red Bull vending machine).

Thing is, coffee on ships is universally pretty bad. USS First Ship had this machine in the wardroom that didn’t even take beans, it took this brown sludge of like pre-made coffee stuff? I don’t know. But it was there and it delivered caffeine, so I drank it. (One day the supply officer was on leave, so we mutinied and threw the machine away. When he came back and noticed it was gone, he just ordered another one. A failed mutiny.). USS Second Ship tried to make things better by getting Starbucks beans for the wardroom machine (this time it did take actual ground coffee beans). But the coffee was still being made by Petty Officer Timmy who knew nothing about making coffee and didn’t care to learn. In summary, I didn’t like coffee at all until I was forced to learn, and I learned on terrible coffee.

It’s been 12 years since I left the Navy (whoa, really? dang). I still have a daily coffee habit that is very insistent (my 16 oz travel mug is my security blankee). Without my morning 16oz I can’t function, and my brain gets foggy (caffeine is a hell of a drug). But sorry to report my palette wrt coffee hasn’t improved much. I can’t quite choke down the sludge from ships anymore (although desperate times and all that…), but honestly I don’t really notice the different flavors or quality. I’m happily surprised when coffee I make tastes especially good, but also like as long as it tastes fine it gets the job done. When I stand in the coffee aisle at Safeway I shrug and grab something. But I always have to grab already ground beans, because I don’t have a coffee grinder. Because that’s one extra step in the morning and I really don’t care all that much.

The Precious

Well, dear readers, imagine my dismay when I opened a bag I bought the other day to see whole beans staring back at me. I did not pay sufficient attention at the store it seems. What am I to do? I can’t return an open bag of beans, nor can I throw it away, that’s ~$12 and perfectly good coffee. So to Amazon I go, and my new coffee grinder arrived two days later.

Unboxing.

But therein lies a problem. I know my daily number of scoops of my designated coffee spoon (a regular spoon sitting next to my Mr Coffee) for grounds to compliment the amount of water I need, thanks to 12 years of doing this every day. But how many scoops of whole beans? What is the whole beans to ground beans conversion factor? Unknown. And since I don’t care nearly enough to do any sort of research, I just shrugged and went for the faithful try-it-and-see method.

Readers, 5 scoops of whole beans is not enough. The first go round yielded undrinkable light brown water. Also did you know there are different ways to grind beans?? “Medium” was insufficient. Next try was 7 scoops ground on “Fine”. This yielded slightly darker brown water. After that I gave up for the day and drank a yerba matte I had in the fridge to get my brain to work.

Today I decided to go overboard, I tried to fail on the other end and make it too strong. I did 10 scoops of beans on “Fine”. This completely filled up the basket in my little 5 cup Mr Coffee. The result was… pretty good. I drank all of it, it didn’t taste too strong. 10 scoops seems like a lot though.

The scene of the crime. Please notice: the designated coffee spoon in it’s natural habitat; the new coffee grinder next to the well worn veteran Mr Coffee; the offending bag of Safeway brand Kona coffee whole beans; the tub of truvia sweetener because I don’t care about that either; the terribly cute hedgehog mug; the mess of coffee grounds strewn about that I can’t be bothered to clean right now.

I understand a lot of people have really strong opinions about coffee (dare I say… snobbery?). I bet a lot of you reading this are sputtering and have many things you’d like to say in reply. I understand that freshly ground coffee is supposed to taste so much better than grounds because oxidation or oils or something something something. Listen, I get it. I hear you. I believe you believe that. I believe it’s very important to you. But honestly, it just doesn’t matter to me. My coffee today was good, but was it so much better than just buying grounds and skipping the extra step in the morning? No, friends, it was not.

Maybe my coffee taste buds are broken, seared off in their youth by a thousand terrible ship-coffees. I will continue to experiment with the bag of whole beans, and maybe I’ll update you as my experiment continues. Will I buy another bag of whole beans? Maybe? Probably? I mean I have this grinder now, might as well use it. Will I also buy already-ground beans. Yes, yes I will. Nothing you can say will change that simple fact of habit and broken coffee taste buds.


The song of the day is Volcano Man from the Eurovision Netflix movie that just premiered. You’re welcome, Lauren.