Athena Scalzi

I Got Moderna’d

Athena ScalziThat’s right, y’all, I have been vaccinated! To be more specific, I got my first dose of Moderna. I’m due for my second shot at the end of the month.

In case you didn’t see, I had corona back in early December. Though it wasn’t bad for me, I decided to get vaccinated anyways because there’s like different strains and sometimes you can get it twice and yada yada, so better safe than sorry!

While I am not the biggest fan of needles, it wasn’t that bad, it only hurt for a split second, which was when they first injected the needle. But then I didn’t even feel it when they pulled it out! Definitely worth being vaccinated over, anyways.

It’s been about four hours since I got it, and so far my only side effect is a sore arm. It’s very tender, mostly in the part of my arm I got the injection in, but I’m hoping that that will go away in a day or two.

Anyways, I’ve heard with Moderna that the second shot will really do me in in terms of side effects, but I was told I might not even experience any at all since I already had COVID! So here’s hoping, but I’ll probably update y’all when I get the second shot and let you know if it knocks me on my ass or not.

Have you had your shot(s) yet? Did it hurt? Did you have any side effects? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!



Reader Request Week 2021 #7: Does Money Satisfy?

Steve Calhoun asks:

Does the money satisfy? I mean this sincerely. I know it’s probably nice to be rich. And I’m personally much better off this year than I’ve been in years past but I also find that obtaining some of the things I’ve wanted while I was poor for decades don’t necessarily make me feel better. So, Scalzi, what is best in life? And what, other than 5 part guitars, do you spend your money on?

First, a clarification: It’s a six-part guitar.

Second, having been both poor and rich (in the context of being an American, and, more broadly, a member of the developed world), I can say that in my experience money doesn’t satisfy, it alleviates. In drug terms, money’s not a mood-lifter, it’s a painkiller.

What on earth are you saying, Scalzi, if I was given a million dollars my mood would definitely lift! Well, sure. Speaking from experience there is a definite short-term bump that comes from suddenly having in your possession a larger sum of money than you would experience on a day-to-day basis. But also speaking from experience, that euphoria is both short-lived (the hedonic treadmill of money moves quickly), and usually masking a wider and more complex emotional response to the money. Give most people a (to them) large sum of money — or make it possible for them to have a stable and comfortable income — and after the happy shock wears off, what they feel is often something like relief. That money can go to solve problems: rent and bills and things that can make life better and less precarious.

This is what I mean by money being a painkiller. So many of so many people’s day-to-day problems are caused by the lack of money. Lack of money causes uncertainty, anxiety and worry — causes pain. When you have money that pain goes away, and depending on the amount of money involved, that pain can go away pretty much permanently. When you don’t have pain, you don’t think about that pain, and you don’t think of all the things you have to do to manage that pain. You just… get to do and think about other things.

Generally speaking, you don’t need all that much money to avail yourself of its painkilling properties. People like to talk about a specific number — $75,000 is the number I see a lot as being the amount after which any more money doesn’t add much to your emotional happiness — but I think it’s more that when all your needs are economically taken care of, and a reasonable percentage of your wants are achievable, if not immediately at least over a not-too-onerous amount of time, then money has achieved its analgesic duty. You’re free to live your life away from a certain type of discomfort.

But it doesn’t mean all your problems are solved, and it doesn’t mean you’re happy. Money doesn’t buy happiness. It can buy material comfort, and a certain amount of security, neither of which is to be discounted. But they’re not the same thing. And like any painkiller, too much money can create problems and pains of its own, and it can be abused. If you don’t understand money and how to manage and use it, having too much of it can become a curse, especially if it is suddenly dropped into one’s lap. There’s a reason lots of lottery winners struggle with their new-found riches.

In my own personal life, I don’t notice myself being particularly happier now, when I have money, then I was when I was in my 20s and making substantially less, or as a kid when I was poor. I feel a lot less uncertainty, economically speaking, but that’s about it. I had a not great year in many ways in 2020, for example, even though financially speaking it did just fine for me. I will note that in a general sense I’m happy enough, and even in a less-than-great year like 2020 I was happier more days (and happy on average on more days) than when I was wasn’t. But money wasn’t a driver in my happiness or lack thereof. I’m not unhappy because of money issues, but not having money issues doesn’t make me happier overall.

I know people who have more money than I do, and those who have less. The happiness they feel as individuals is all over the board. There is no real correlation between money and happiness, save that the folks who have less money can be made unhappy by economic concerns. But I feel pretty sure that if everyone in the US suddenly didn’t have to worry about rent and bills and health insurance and whatever, that a year later the general happiness quotient would be about the same. It’s great not to worry about your bills! But you do find other things to be unhappy about.

So what does satisfy? I think it depends on the person. For me, I admit to finding a particular level of material possession satisfying; you could call it “upper-middle-class with weird hobby expenditures.” That taken care of, what I find satisfying in life is less tangible: good relationships with family and friends, a certain number of intellectual pursuits, the ability to write for a living. There are things I want in life, but none of them are down to money at this point. I would like to be able to play most of my musical instruments better! But no amount of financial expenditure will do that. I just need to practice more.

As for what I spend my money on: Well, most of it, I don’t spend. Inasmuch as most of our material needs and desires are taken care of within our income, and we are fortunate at this point not to have medical or other expenses that are a substantial amount of what we bring in, most of what comes in goes into savings and investments. We give a fair amount to charity on an annual basis, because we can and should. There’s the occasional splurge, like ridiculous guitars. And we improve the house a little bit at a time to make it nicer to live in. This year we’ll be redoing the master bath! I’m actually really looking forward to that.

So, no: Money doesn’t satisfy, it just can solve some problems that can make life unsatisfactory. The rest really is on the individual to do with their life what is necessary to provide satisfaction and happiness. That’s different for every person, and I wish each of us success in finding what those things are.

— JS

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Thomas K. Carpenter

Ever feel like “the algorithm” just knows too much? Would you trust an algorithm with something as important as space travel? In Thomas K. Carpenter’s newest Audible Original, Saturn’s Monsters, AI has the potential to make much more dangerous calculations than just advertising bizarre things to you.


All data lies.

I’m an engineer by background.  I’m used to data.  But show a group of engineers or scientists the same graph, and you’ll have a dozen different interpretations.  Now take that idea and supercharge it with algorithms that cannot step back and contemplate the impacts of their decisions—and you have a recipe for disaster.

In Saturn’s Monsters, a group of scientists and engineers grow interplanetary ships in our friendly ringed gas giant’s atmosphere.  By using the materials present in the clouds, and nanobots they bring with them, they’re “3-D printing” surfaces onto a flying ship, growing it large enough to travel outside the Solar System.  But that kind of work can’t be done manually, so they release the ships into the gas giant, using algorithms to keep the ships aloft in those hurricane-like winds.  

The Big Idea is about the dangers of algorithms, and how the very data we select to build our machine learning programs have many unintended consequences.  Don’t get me wrong, algorithms can be a powerful force for good, they tease out relationships our human brains might never have seen, helping design technology that meets people’s needs, but as I said in the opening sentence, “All data lies” and those lies can get people killed, or at the very least, ruin their lives.  We’ve already seen that insurance companies or banks, using algorithms to predict safe customers, have essentially coded in the implicit biases contained within our society, and financially injured those the algorithms should have protected.

This Big Idea didn’t happen on the first go around of the story.  I wrote a shorter version about five years ago that focused mostly on the ships after they’d been grown, which was exciting, but lacked the details about the team and how they worked together on the project.  It was more Michael Bay than Michael Creighton.  So I scrapped it after a few rejections.

I started a second version of Saturn’s Monsters after encouragement from Andrea Stewart who was always asking me if I’d sold the first story, but quickly realized that the gravity was all wrong on Jupiter, where I had initially set the story.  I enlisted my teenage son, who was in the middle of his AP Physics class, to calculate the gravitationally habitable portion of the planet, only to learn that the station would have to be too far out from the cloud structure to work.  Thankfully, Saturn is significantly lighter because it doesn’t have a heavy metal core, coming in only 8% heavier than Earth, making it a much safer location for our team (Thanks Aiden!)  

During this rewrite of Saturn’s Monsters is when the Big Idea of the danger of algorithms became a part of the story.  As I focused on the team and how they managed to pull off this amazing feat—the pain and hard work of laboring under dangerous conditions—the story, and most importantly the characters, came alive.  

I won’t ruin the tale for you, I’m sure you can guess that things don’t go as planned with these AI driven ships that were named after mythological monsters (You might also wonder: why would you bother naming ships after creatures that kill humans?  But hey, the NSA named their machining learning communication network Skynet, so I guess we all think that the lessons of the past don’t apply to us).  

In an algorithm based world, the type and quality of the data we use to create this machine learning will matter, as well how much human intervention we choose to keep in the system as a circuit-breaker.  The crew of Saturn Two proves on their mission to make the human race space faring that not only does data lie—but data kills.

Saturn’s Monsters: Audible Original

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