A day to celebrate

The reason I’m celebrating is presumably obvious to all: today is my daughter Lily’s 8th birthday! (She had a tiny Star Wars-themed party, dressed in her Rey costume.)

A second reason I’m celebrating yesterday: I began teaching (via Zoom, of course) the latest iteration of my graduate course on Quantum Complexity Theory!

A third reason: I’m now scheduled to get my first covid vaccine shot on Monday! (Texas is working through its “Phase 1b,” which includes both the over-65 and those with underlying conditions—in my case, mild type-2 diabetes.) I’d encourage everyone to do as I did: don’t lie to jump the line, but don’t sacrifice your place either. Just follow the stated rules and get vaccinated the first microsecond you can, and urge all your friends and loved ones to do the same. A crush of demand is actually good if it encourages the providers to expand their hours (they’re taking off weekends! they took off MLK Day!) and not to waste a single dose.

Anyway, people can use this thread to talk about whatever they like, but one thing that would interest me especially is readers’ experiences with vaccination: if you’ve gotten one by now, how hard did you have to look for an appointment, how orderly or chaotic was the process where you live, and what advice can you offer?

Incidentally, to the several commenters on this blog who expressed absolute certainty (as recently as yesterday) that Trump would reverse the election result and be inaugurated instead of Biden, and who confidently accused the rest of us of living in a manufactured media bubble that prevented them from seeing that: I respect that, whatever else is said about you, no one can ever again accuse you of being fair-weather friends!

Congratulations to the new President! There are difficult months ahead, but today the arc of the universe bent slightly toward sanity and goodness.

Update (Jan 21): WOOHOO! Yet another reason to celebrate: Scott Alexander is finally back in business, now blogging at Astral Codex Ten on Substack.

46 Responses to “A day to celebrate”

  1. Rob Says:

    Can you share any insights into how you got scheduled for the vaccine?

    We live in ATX and my wife is also in 1-b but we haven’t found a way to get her vaccinated yet.

  2. Rick Fleischer Says:

    I’m still waiting for Ohio to vaccinate its diabetics.

  3. Kuas Says:

    You are such a fool Scott! That inauguration you watched on TV was obviously a ruse, a decoy! Trump did not attend because he was at the real, secret re-inauguration held at an undisclosed location. It will all become clear once Trump drops the hammer and arrests the whole Biden faux-government.

  4. Scott Says:

    Rob #1: Get her on the waiting lists ASAP not just in Austin, but every place you could possibly drive to. (In my case, I’ll be taking a short road trip with two other eligible members of my extended family.) I’ve read that you can also simply show up to vaccination sites like the Austin Convention Center to ask if they have an extra slot, but I’m not going to recommend that until I’ve heard from at least one person who had success that way.

  5. Scott Says:

    Kuas #3: Aha, thanks for explaining! 😀

    I believe QAnonism is now what the philosophers of science call a “degenerating research program”?

  6. Deepa Says:

    Rob #1 : My friend’s 2 teenaged sons went to Delco center in Austin TX at 3:30 pm on a Friday. The center had told the parents the previous day they were sad to be throwing away unused shots end of day. These 2 kids waited in line for a couple of hours and asked if they could get the shot. They filled out the questionnaire ordinarily given online to register, and got the shot. One of them has a serious condition, the other is healthy.

    Meanwhile, older people with pre-existing conditions who are waiting, should be doing this if possible. Get a family member to wait in line, while you stay in the car.

    Here is a very useful article on signing up issues for Austin public health. Figuring this out through some coincidences helped me get 6 people to register but they’re still waiting for appointments :

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  7. Tom Gur Says:

    Any chance you would consider posting videos of your Quantum Complexity Theory lectures online (say, on YouTube)? That could be such a huge service to the community.

  8. Amir Michail Says:

    How worried should one be about getting COVID-19 during the two trips required to get fully vaccinated?

  9. Scott Says:

    Tom Gur #7: Sorry, they’re not nearly at the quality level where I’d be comfortable having them archived forever. But the good news is that I have a full set of lecture notes for this course (see also my Barbados notes), and some of my students are working on revising and improving the notes toward making them a textbook!

  10. Scott Says:

    Amir #8: A little worried—one should obviously mask and social distance at the vaccination centers. (From what I’ve read, many centers are not doing a great job—for example, by making people wait around in packed rooms for totally unnecessary observation rather than just getting them out ASAP.) But while risk builds up over the course of a year, the risk from this single outing (OK, two outings) is quite small compared to the huge expected benefit.

  11. Jim Hefferon Says:

    I was surprised by how moved I was during the ceremony. A lot of tearing up. Decency, a radical idea! New hero, Amanda Gorman.

  12. Amir Michail Says:

    Scott #10: Maybe what is best for society isn’t necessarily what is best for the individual? Maybe it would be safer for the individual to wait until the virus risk is much less? BTW, how do you know that the virus risk over the course of a year is greater than the two trips required to get the vaccine? I think this would depend on individual behavior.

  13. John Stricker Says:

    Happy birthday Lily :-)!

    Seems like you and your dad were right after all… And it didn´t even take a hamburger :-D! Or was it cheeseburger…

    (Also, congrats on your spot in the vaccine queue, Scott!)

  14. Harold Gabow Says:

    Vaccinations are going smoothly in Denver Colorado. All my friends over 70 got their
    first shot with no complications, and essentially no physical side effects. i got vaccinated without an appointment, (my wife had an appointment and asked if i could get vaccinated sans appointment, they said ‘sure, bring him in’).

  15. Deepa Says:

    Amir #8: The waiting for 10 minutes is called self-monitoring in Austin. I sat around for 5 minutes and just decided to leave.

    Here is a link for people in CA who need the vaccine. I read about this on vox.vom. It is a volunteer run effort to inform people about how to get the vaccine. Interested people in other states could copy their approach.


  16. Martin Mertens Says:

    Hey Scott, let me try to rephrase my question from earlier. I get that the law of the excluded middle, the AoC, and the CH are all logically undecidable and independent from one another. And yet it seems like the same people tend to reject the LEM and the AoC. This makes sense to me because these postulates are kind of similar; they both let you do things indirectly like showing a well ordering exists without exhibiting one, or proving P by disproving not-P.

    As for the CH, I’ve always been inclined to accept it because it seems to make life simpler if aleph n = beth n. But your first CH post got me wondering; if I take the axiom of choice, i.e. I accept the existence of lots of choice functions, wouldn’t it make more sense for me to reject the CH and accept the existence of lots of intermediate cardinalities? Do you think that whatever it is that makes someone lean one way or the other on accepting the AoC can also be applied to the CH?

  17. John Baez Says:

    Martin #16 wrote:

    And yet it seems like the same people tend to reject the LEM and the AoC. This makes sense to me because these postulates are kind of similar…

    Yes, they’re both nonconstructive: they let you prove something exists without actually exhibiting it. Constructive mathematics is very practical and interesting, and richer than “classical” mathematics. A certain aspect of constructive mathematics is nicely captured in topos theory, which is a cool generalization of set theory. There are topoi in which LEM holds, and topoi in which it doesn’t – and similarly for AoC. Classical mathematics is most closely connected to a certain kind of topoi, the “Boolean” topoi.

  18. mjgeddes Says:

    Well, that whole last year 2020-2021 (up until yesterday) was seriously weird , globally, and in the US in particular. Like a slightly traumatizing, bad acid trip. Hopefully Scott, you can exhale in relief for a while and return to mathematics? Perhaps resume the series on CH ?


    The quest to find isomorphisms continues! The universe has hidden 3 keys that will ‘unlock’; reality. Finding all 3 keys and forging the master key from them (AGI) will grant ‘root access’ to the ‘deep reality’ behind the ‘virtual reality’ in which we currently reside. Just like the character Wade Watt’s in ‘Ready Player One’, we must solve 3 challenges to find the 3 keys. The 3 keys are labeled *Causality*, *Complexity* and *Compositionality*

    Key 1 unlocks ‘Causality’, a causal network. Key 2 unlocks ‘Complexity’, a dynamical system of fractal-dimensionality. And Key 3 unlocks ‘Compositionality’, a lattice, a program. Each ‘key’ extends across all the worlds of mathematics, computer science and physics, and there are isomorphisms between each observable feature of these worlds and the keys.

    Who among us will find the 3 keys and gain control of the observed reality?

  19. asdf Says:

    My sister managed to get my mom (who is over 75) an appointment for tomorrow. The appointment is 10 minutes to get the shot and then another 15 minutes afterwards, but I’ve heard stories of long waits at the vaccination centers. Unfortunately, around here, the vaccination centers are all indoors, so I worry that the room full of elderly and probably not so healthy people will be a super spreader event in its own right. There are some places (not here) doing vaccinations outdoors, or even drive-through vaccinations (not sure how that fits in with the observation period, if the person being vaccinated is driving), so it can be done. Therefore, doing it indoors seems silly.

    There are vaccine shortfalls right now because of a glitch in Pfizer production (hopefully temporarily) plus possible problems with a specific batch of Moderna (so that batch is temporarily withdrawn for analysis). Therefore some appointments are getting cancelled.

    Meanwhile, variants B117 and CAL20(?) continue to spread, both being quite a bit more transmissible than Covid Classic. Data from Israel’s program indicate that at least for the Pfizer vaccine, and contra the RCT’s, the vaccine doesn’t have much effect til around 2 weeks after the first dose. After that, though, it makes a real difference. But you should keep doing the masks and distancing etc. at least til you’re fully vaccinated, i.e. a few weeks after the 2nd shot. Many people don’t understand that and too many want to chuck their mask the minute after they get the first shot.

    Due to the new variants, several EU countries have advised stopping using the 2-ply cloth masks that Biden and everyone else on the teevee today was wearing. They say to wear category 1 or higher masks. Category 1 is apparently EU-speak for 90% filtration of 0.3um particles: the proverbial N95 mask filters 95% so it qualifies. It is important for the mask to seal well around your face, so if you have a beard you might consider shaving it off for a while (it will be like going around in disguise). Biden’s task force seems not too worried about vaccine deliveries but they are very scared of the new variants causing even more rapid spread than we already have.

    I ordered a box of N95 masks (they are finally getting affordable, $30 for a box of 20) from safetyemporium.com . I don’t have them yet (USPS still operating under DeJoy’s intentional breakage) but will feel relieved when they get here. wellbefore.com also has choices of a few brands of them, at higher prices. I have a few of theirs and the straps have broken off of a couple. That’s fixable with hot glue, but it makes me a little skeptical. I got interested for a while in testing the masks with particle detectors but set it aside, at least for now.

    References re EU and masks:

    * Washington Post
    * thelocal.fr

    This has some info about the new variants and about aerosol spread of the virus, etc.:

    * The Conversation

    And this is a scary article about risk factors for Long Covid:

    * The Conversation

    The latter scares me even more than the low likelihood of getting an outright fatal infection.

  20. asdf Says:

    Martin #16, at least in CZF, the AoC implies the LEM, though not the other way around.

    * https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaconescu%27s_theorem
    * https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/axiom-choice/

    both discuss this.

  21. Mr Bo Jangles Says:

    Hey there Scott,

    I may have submitted some pretty acerbic comments (anonymously) previously on this website regarding quantum computing/mechanics as well as towards your views on the Trump presidency; and even though I still believe your views on both topics/issues are mistaken, I would like to apologise for being unduly harsh and aggressive in my remarks towards you. I know you are fundamentally a very good and decent person, and we can just agree to disagree. I have done a vast amount of research on the integer factorisation problem over the last 15 years, and have achieved very significant results that all point to it being classically solvable. Having almost completely written up my notes, I am now in the phase of properly learning* to program so that I can implement the many algorithms created computationally, and which will be the first true test of their effectiveness (Besides Excel spreadsheets etc). While I may not at first be able to send you said notes (which are almost done) or code (which is very nascent), I will though endeavour to factor some large RSA numbers, hopefully before this year is out. I’m very well aware that to even factor the 1024 bit modulus would represent a big achievement, but I’ve honestly set my sights a lot higher than that. I realise this may seem fanciful to your eyes, but I assure you it most certainly is not. In fact I hope you hold me to account before this year is out.
    Anyway, just wanted to wish you and your family all the best for 2021. Finally, one good thing I will also say about Biden as President, is that he is almost completely absent of the braggadocio and boastfulness of Trump, which I think everyone can be grateful for.

    *Having “dabbled” previously, but with little enthusiasm or commitment

  22. John Says:

    I am upset about Biden’s plans so far:

    Amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants. This is not the way. This sets a terrible precedent. It harms middle class Americans in many ways and is really only serving wealthy business owners.

    Ending construction of the border wall is another bad idea. The border wall has been cost effective and a great investment even if it is ugly.

    Ushering in a new era of racism at a federal level in the form of racial “equity” which is clearly not equitable at all but pure unadulterated favoritism.

    If this is the beginning, I have very bad feelings about what else is to come.

  23. Scott Says:

    Martin Mertens #16:

      Do you think that whatever it is that makes someone lean one way or the other on accepting the AoC can also be applied to the CH?

    One thing that struck me, when I studied this subject, was for what a huge fraction of set theory AC is simply assumed as background (hence the acronym, “ZFC”). I.e., it’s less a weird independent proposition than just a needed tool for ordering all sets by cardinality and otherwise having a nice, clean, “well ordered” (har har) transfinite universe—although of course, as John Baez pointed out, in constructive mathematics one purposefully sees how far one can get without that tool.

    But CH doesn’t seem like a tool in anything close to the same sense. Rather, even once you’ve accepted AC, it seems like there are plausible universes with CH and other plausible universes with not(CH), and no principle to choose between them that’s yet been discovered that you could even imagine winning universal acceptance.

    The one complication to this story is that, if you want radical simplification of the set-theoretic universe—say, V=L or at least GCH—then AC and CH will both hold. So they’re correlated in that way.

  24. Guan Says:

    @Scott thanks so much for you sharing so many wonderful notes and articles.

    Could you please write and share a short summary about current open problems in quantum complexity during your preparation of your next semester course, if possible? (I feel like it may be more efficient than less experienced students try to read the end of each paper about open problems that authors don’t know)

    From a beginner’s standing point, It may be very helpful if you could stress and arrange the contents including the following part to give us a better big picture.

    1. Sorting from easier to hardest level if possible.
    2. From a philosophical view or practical view, why it is a valuable question to ask.
    3. Where is the difficulties lying in, both in the theoretical point and engineer point.
    4. What has been done (representative paper links), and main future possible solutions/approaches (what and why) in process.
    5. …

    Thank you in advance. Prof. Aaronson

  25. Matt Baker Says:

    Monitor every single adjacent county health department website, and book an appointment when it opens up. Create a network of people doing the same for greater coverage. If you are a decent coder, create an app that does the same automatically every few minutes. We were able to get both my mother-in-law and daughter (lung issues) first doses last weekend in Bell County just north of Austin.

  26. pete Says:

    Oregon has an “interesting” way of handing out vaccines. The plan is for anyone over 80 to be eligible on Feb. 8th. They hope to start 65 and over sometime in late march. After the 65 and over, they will (maybe) start prioritizing people with co-morbidities. This is in spite of the fact that handling these groups first would likely remove 80% of the deaths. In Oregon, you, Scott, would likely get your vaccines in May or June.

    Maybe I should have stayed in Texas.

  27. william e emba Says:


    Reagan legalized about 3 million illegal immigrants in 1986 (IRCA). Overall, it worked just fine. When you listed the beneficiaries, you did not mention the immigrants themselves. In my view, people are people.

    Financing the wall was not authorized by Congress. Trump repurposed several billion dollars of DoD money by declaring a “national emergency” at the Mexico border. There was no emergency, and Congress passed a law saying so (clarifying, so to speak, a previous Congress’s definition of “emergency”). Trump then vetoed it, and SCOTUS upheld Trump’s view.

    In my view, whatever benefits the Wall may have cannot be worth Trump’s shameless theft from the military. I’d prefer, in fact, a strong signal to be sent about such abuse of Executive power and have as much of the Wall torn down, no matter what the cost. That Biden won’t do so disappoints me.

  28. Aidin Says:

    Speaking of jumping the queue..

    I think if people in charge optimized for the least number of unused vaccines we would get the best results. I just looked and california has used about 30% of its vaccines. Sticking to a specific order at the cost of slow roll out is ridiculous. Even a completely random ordering is probably better, if it gets e.g. california to use all of its stock TODAY. A vaguely reasonable ordering would likely be the way to go. Like over 50. Or honor based at risk. Not sure why people worry about queue jumping when there is so many unused vaccines.. man it bothers me so much. Up here in Canada thing are even slower.

  29. Simon Says:

    Another reason I am celebrating: the other Scott (Scott Alexander) is back in business today at Astral Codex Ten (successor to Slate Star Codex). No paid subscription needed.
    * https://astralcodexten.substack.com

  30. David Williamson Says:

    Here in Ithaca, NY. Early last week Cuomo added in-person college instructors to the list of people receiving the vaccine, which means I qualify since I taught in-person in the fall, and will again this spring. There is a local vaccination center at the former Sears in the mall; one signs up for appointments via the web. The website was crushed under the load of people trying to sign up, but I very fortunately got through when a bunch of new appointments opened up last week (someone in line compared signing up to trying to buy a PS5 online).

    There was quite a long line into the facility, and then some amount of waiting before getting to the person giving the shot; it took about an hour just to get to that point (it felt like waiting in a socially distanced bus terminal). Then another line to check out; they had us all sign up for the second dose appointment on the way out. That was another 15-20 minutes. It took 90 minutes altogether when I went, and there must have been about 150-250 people moving through the process at the same time. A lot of them seemed to be teachers from nearby school districts; some amount of elderly as well. Another commenter joked about vaccination centers being the site of a super-spreader event, and that felt like a real concern, although everyone was masked and distanced (and there were multiple temperature checks on the way in).

    But the lumpiness of when appointments are actually available is a real problem. There are none available this week, and we don’t yet know about next week. I’m sure hoping we have second doses ready when we need them.

  31. Scott Says:

    Simon #29:

      Another reason I am celebrating: the other Scott (Scott Alexander) is back in business today at Astral Codex Ten (successor to Slate Star Codex). No paid subscription needed.

    WOOHOO!! What a cherry on the sundae of this week. I’d had a noticeable Codex-shaped gap in my life.

  32. Martin Mertens Says:

    Scott A. and John Baez: Got it, thank you both very much!

  33. John Stricker Says:

    Simon #29: YES!!! EXCELLENT!!!

    Scott #31: Didn´t we all? 😉

  34. ppnl Says:

    Just remember that all of us who are cruelly denied the early vaccine are taking names. Come the revolution you will all be dwarked in a vlendish manner.

  35. Scott Says:

    ppnl #34: I mean, I started a whole blog thread for all y’all to strategize about how to get it too… 🙂

  36. Adam Brown Says:

    I helped an elderly relative to be vaccinated here in the Bay Area today. My experience:

    – navigating the online booking process was nothing that would defeat a reader of this blog, but completely beyond the capabilities of most of the target demographic (75+). My new hobby has become booking appointments for elderly neighbors.

    – wait-time for an appointment is now ~ 2 weeks

    – there is grade inflation with the names of the priority groups. There’s phase 1, phase 2… but obviously everyone wants to be in phase 1 so they put everyone with any kind of deemed priority at all in phase 1, but then had too many people so subdivided phase 1 in phase 1A, phase 1B, phase 1C, but then everyone wanted to be in phase 1A so they subdivided that into phase 1A tier 1, phase 1A tier 2, phase 1A tier 3. Reminiscent of how in United “boarding group 1” actually boards seventh.

    – the actual process of getting the jab (at the county’s central facility) was super smooth and well-organized. total time was 35 minutes, including post-jab monitoring. Everyone was masked. The facility seemed like it could easily handle 3x the throughput.

    – the above makes it all the more confusing why there aren’t more shots in arms. it’s not vaccine supply (2.4 million on-hand-but-not-yet-administered doses in California), and it’s not the distribution capability (at least at this facility), so….

    DJT: I though his last act was going to be a concern-trolling pardon of HRC.

    SSC: joy cometh in the morning.

  37. Ashley Lopez Says:

    Scott #9,

    An (video of) actual person delivering an actual lecture would be highly valuable for those of us who rely on the internet to learn things.

    I don’t know what you meant by quality issues, but some of the lack of flawlessness in the delivery might actually be a feature than a bug. Things would look more human and perhaps that would be motivating for some people. They would get to see what actually matters.

  38. asdf Says:

    Update: my mom got her vaccination (Moderna). Some slightly annoying paperwork taking 5-10 minutes (indoors), then another 5 minutes (indoors) for the shot itself, then the 15 minute “observation” period, nominally indoors in a different building across the walkway, but it was in an auditorium-like room with the doors wide open, so we sat outside for the first 8 minutes or so. At that point someone came out and said we were required to wait inside, which was annoying, but we went in and sat near the open door for 7 minutes, then left. My mom has no side effects at all, including no pain in the arm that some people have reported. I don’t know if that’s an entirely good sign, since if you have an effect like that, at least you know that the vaccine did something.

    One unexpected question they asked at intake was whether she was taking any blood thinners such as statins. She wasn’t, and now I wonder what would have happened otherwise. They asked several times in several ways whether she had already been vaccinated, had been treated with antibodies for covid, etc. Also no, but they really wanted to be sure. They wanted photo ID and the only thing she had with her picture was her Costco card, but they took that. I think they weren’t going to really hassle us anyway (she is obviously in the eligible age group).

    Also, I got my cheap N95 masks. They are molded masks, not adjustable in size, and maybe on the large side. They fit me ok but they don’t fit my sister, whose face is smaller than mine. She had better luck with the folding type masks. Because they are 3 dimensional instead of folding flat, it’s also awkward to mail them–you have to put them in a box rather than an envelope. So while I guess I got reasonable value considering the context, I’d have to say they are not ideal.

  39. William Gasarch Says:

    My 92 year old mom who is in ind living in New York went from
    1) `they say they might be able to vaccinate us in March’
    2) `they are vaccinating us on Saturday’ (She told me today.)

    While I would like to credit Joltin Joe with this speedup, he has only been in office 2 days. SO I really do not know what caused the speedup.

    Last time I saw her in person was Thanksgiving of 2019. She is not good with technology (like mother like son 🙂 ) so she does not zoom, but is happy with the once-a-week call.
    Anyway, hopefully I’ll get vaccinated in about a month (I am younger than the cutoff and do not have other factors) and can see her soon.

  40. Jr Says:

    Will you do a AMA soon?

  41. not totally stupid person Says:

    I made $7000 on polymarket betting $100,000 the day before the inaugration that Joe Biden would be inaugurated. The stupid people actually put their money where their mouths were.

  42. Deepa Says:

    asdf #38: I got my shot on 16th and they asked me nothing.

    Now you said they asked if your mom took “blood thinners like statins”. Statins are not blood thinners though. Statins lower cholesterol. Aspirin is a blood thinner. Did they say aspirin? Or statin?


  43. A.G.McDowell Says:

    FWIW Covid vaccination in the UK is by “Don’t call us – we’ll call you” I presume using NHS records. My Mum (elderly, pre-existing conditions) got her first shot last week. Virtually no waiting either before or after – which surprised me as there have been reports of poor organisation, and they are supposed to monitor people for a while afterwards, just in case. No reaction.

  44. Gidi Says:

    Scott #23: Regarding the AC, (G)CH, thread there is small story I have to share.

    Back in our happy early graduate days, a good friend (now professor) was so amazed by the GCH implies AC theorem he ordered a rubber stamp saying ZF proofs GCH implies AC. (with the proper logical symbols for proofs and implies). Only he accidently wrote ZFC proofs, which rendered the whole theorem rather trivial.
    He later scraped of the C..

  45. asdf Says:

    Deepa #42, they said blood thinners. I thought statins were blood thinners but anyway, my mom is on BP meds so I brought those up, and they said those don’t count. Today I saw something in the news about blood thinners helping covid patients (ctvnews.ca) so maybe that was related. You’re right, statins are for lowering cholesterol but that’s not the same as a thinner.

    Meanwhile my mom has some side effects now, not too severe, so we’re glad that the vaccine is doing something. Hopefully they will clear up in the next day or so. The 2 day delay was a little bit odd.

  46. Deepa Says:

    asdf #42:
    It is blood thinners. You are asked to tell the person giving you the shot, if you are on blood thinners.

    I read up about it online. Now I’m not a doctor, so please take this with a generous pinch of salt. It appears that the only reason for this question, is so that they can press harder on the injection site, to make the bleeding stop, of you take blood thinners. The blood thinner medication makes clotting slower. That’s all it is.