You guys know Aunt Pythia loves you. And Aunt Pythia feels the love from you readers as well, especially in person (some of you are reticent to add comments online, for whatever reason).
So don’t take it the wrong way when I say this: you guys are nerds. I have like a 5-to-1 ratio of math-related versus sex-related questions, and today I’m effectively withholding the sex until the end as a hook to keep you guys.
Don’t get me wrong, I love nerd questions. Happy to answer them. But people! Let’s spice this up! And if you can’t go all the way to sex at least come up with something about breastfeeding in public or thereabouts. As you know, Aunt Pythia doesn’t make up questions – that would be beneath her – but she has no problem with prompts.
In other words, as you enjoy today’s column:
please, think of something sexy to ask Aunt Pythia at the bottom of the page!
What’s the deal with employers being dishonest in their job descriptions, and the general acceptance of this sort of unethical behavior? I work in a somewhat prestigious buy-side shop where I was told I’d be in a front-office quant research position. After I arrive, I find out that my responsibilities are really more like that of a middle-office tech position. Instead of doing research on market inefficiencies, I’m relegated to automating an endless number of reports. My employer knew what the job would entail before I joined and yet portrayed it to be something it’s not. Worst of all, it seems like 80% of the people I consult with say (expressly or implicitly) that I should be glad I got my foot in the door and that this stuff is very common, so it’s nothing to fret about. WTF’s wrong with people?
For whatever reason, which I certainly don’t relate to, there are some people that still desperately want to work in finance as front-office quants. They want it so badly, in fact, that they’re willing to pretend to be doing that while they actually do other stuff. You seem to not be one of those people. Awesome.
My suggestion to you is to get another job, simple as that. You’re not going to change their mind about what your job should be, since they’re clearly perfectly comfortable with lying to people. I mean, once you’ve got another job lined up, there’s no harm in telling them you’re leaving unless you get moved to the position you were promised, but please don’t hold your breath for that to actually happen.
One last thing: look outside finance! There are plenty of other ways to be a nerd.
Dear Aunt Pythia,
How does Mathbabe break down a data problem into manageable steps? I’m a mathematician who has tried a few data mining problems on the side for fun, and I get totally overwhelmed whenever I try to start. If I were solving a math problem, I’d read relevant papers to see what is known and get ideas for techniques, I’d break down my desired result into lemmas and work on them one by one, and I’d have a plan in mind throughout (it might change, of course, but I’d always know why I was doing what I was doing).
But if I’m trying to, say, classify a bunch of labeled feature vectors, I’m at a loss. I experiment and play around with the data, but I feel so random about everything. How do I choose how many hidden units to have in a neural net? How do I choose K in K-nearest neighbor classification? And so on. Some stuff works better than other stuff, but I don’t know how to be systematic. I end up getting discouraged, which is too bad because data problems are awesome and I want to master them.
Any tips for this mathematician on how to solve problems whose solutions aren’t proof-based?
Great question! And I’m glad you’re asking that. It’s a sign that you want to do things right, and know why you’ve made decisions. I want you to cultivate that desire.
First, (after separating my out-of-sample data from my in-sample data) I spend a lot of time with smallish samples getting the feel of things through “exploratory data analysis.” This helps make sure the data is clean, gives me the overall distribution and feel for the various data sources, and gives me some idea of the kind of relationships I might expect between the inputs and possibly the target, if there’s a well-defined target.
You’d be surprised how much you learn by doing that.
Next, how do you even choose which algorithm to use, never mind how exactly to tune the hyperparameters of a given algorithm? The answer is that it’s a craft, and over time you gain intuition, but at first you just don’t know and you experiment. Put the science in data science. Try a bunch of different ones and see which works better, and hypothesize on why, and try to test that hypothesis.
Here’s another possibility. Start with synthetic data that is “perfectly set up” for a given algorithm – figure out what that means – and then pretend you don’t know that, and see whether the above testing procedure would give you the correct result. Now add noise to that perfect data set, and see how quickly (i.e. with how much noise) your perfect solution doesn’t seem optimal anymore. That gives you an overall way of thinking about optimizing algorithms and hyperparameters. It’s hard, even with linear regression.
Oh, and buy my book. It should hopefully help.
p.s. when I worked in math, I didn’t break things down into lemmas first. I first tried to answer the question, why is this true? (maybe by starting with small examples) and then only later, in order to explain it on paper, would I break things down into lemmas.
Dear Aunt Pythia,
I have a tenure-track job in a “hard-core STEM field”; I’m also a very young looking woman. I have a serious and rewarding research program, I really enjoy teaching at the board, and I hear that I give great seminars.
Yet recently, for the first time, I have been overcome with extreme, physiological, panic when I stand at the front of a room to give a seminar. This is not because I’m worried about the material; I’m not. This is also not stage fright; I have iron nerves about performing.
It is a feeling of panic brought on by watching the room fill up with men, with maybe only 1 or 2 very junior women. I start thinking “what happened to all the other young women who, like me, loved mathematics? At what point were they all removed from the community? When will too much get to be too much for me too?”
This started happening about a year ago and it’s only getting worse. I’m not expecting to change all the weird experiences of being a young woman in my field; I just want to figure out how to deal with my own thoughts as I stand in front of my audience.
Feeling like a fox in a room full of hunting dogs
This is going to sound trite, but here goes: you are not a statistic, you are an individual person. And although you are a woman person, that doesn’t mean you have to do stuff that other women have done. If things are working for you on a minute-to-minute basis, then that means you can be happy and proud of having set up your life to be fulfilled.
Nobody is asking you to explain why other people do the things they do. We can barely explain why we do the things we do – and then half the time the understanding only comes years later. Just focus on who you are, who you want to be and how you want to spend your time.
I’d also like to mention that, as a woman who left math, I also loved teaching and I loved giving seminars – that was the good stuff! For that matter there were lots of great things about being a professor. And I didn’t leave because I was a woman and felt like it was time to leave – nor did I not leave because I wanted to prove a point about women not leaving. I left because, in my individual life and with my individual goals, it was what I wanted.
So I guess I’m suggesting that you be a bit more self-centered and somewhat less identified with women, at least at those moments, if that is possible and if that helps. If that doesn’t help, consider going to a cognitive therapist who specializes in dealing with panic attacks. Good luck!
Dear Aunt Pythia,
I feel an eerie compulsion to answer this email. I love the broken grammar and all. What should I do?
How are you doing today? My name is Colvin Hostetter. I came across your e-mail under the Graduate Students portal while surfing online for tutorial for my daughter, Debra is a 18 years old girl. She is ready to learn. I would like the lessons to be at your location. Kindly let me know your policy with regard to the fees, cancellations, location and make-up lessons.
Also, get back to me with your area of SPECIALIZATION and any necessary information you think that might help.
The lessons can start by last week of November. Mind you, any break during Thanksgiving and Christmas would be observed respectively.
Looking forward reading from you.
My best regard,
Professor Has Ignored Silly Ignoble New Game
Really? PHISING? I think you really are a bit kinky in the grammar and spelling rules department.
So this must be a spam email, since it’s talking about an 18-year-old girl who is “ready to learn.” It sounds like soft porn. And it doesn’t describe what she needs to learn – math? physics? German? I’d be not at all surprised to hear someone describe the actual financial bamboozling mechanism that would transpire if you did answer this, although a quick Google search doesn’t uncover it.
My suggestion is to mark this, and any other similar emails, as “spam” so that Google will do the work for us in the future and delete this bullshit.
Dear Auntie P,
My wife and I have not used any birth control other than rhythm and/or withdrawal for more than 16 years now (~mid late twenties to early mid forties.) We have not had any unwanted pregnancies through this. We did have one successfully planned pregnancy that corresponded exactly to the month she charted to pinpoint ovulation.
So, are we lucky outliers or is this a much more successful strategy than we were both led to believe in high school sex ed?
Any suggestions for here on out?
Lucky in love
The reason that rhythm might not work is if women have irregular ovulations. If your wife doesn’t, though, then cool (although she may experience that as she approaches menopause).
The reason withdrawal doesn’t work is because men often forget the “withdrawal” part of the plan. I mean, it’s certainly possible to get pregnant with the pre-cum (just ask Alice) but super unlikely.
In other words, you are a special, special man with a very excellent memory.
Here on out: don’t forget to remember the plan! And be aware of irregular cycles!
Please submit your well-specified, fun-loving, cleverly-abbreviated question to Aunt Pythia!
This is a guest post by Marc Joffe, the principal consultant at Public Sector Credit Solutions, an organization that provides data and analysis related to sovereign and municipal securities. Previously, Joffe was a Senior Director at Moody’s Analytics.
As Cathy has argued, open source models can bring much needed transparency to scientific research, finance, education and other fields plagued by biased, self-serving analytics. Models often need large volumes of data, and if the model is to be run on an ongoing basis, regular data updates are required.
Unfortunately, many data sets are not ready to be loaded into your analytical tool of choice; they arrive in an unstructured form and must be organized into a consistent set of rows and columns. This cleaning process can be quite costly. Since open source modeling efforts are usually low dollar operations, the costs of data cleaning may prove to be prohibitive. Hence no open model – distortion and bias continue their reign.
Much data comes to us in the form of PDFs. Say, for example, you want to model student loan securitizations. You will be confronted with a large number of PDF servicing reports that look like this. A corporation or well funded research institution can purchase an expensive, enterprise-level ETL (Extract-Transform-Load) tool to migrate data from the PDFs into a database. But this is not much help to insurgent modelers who want to produce open source work.
Data journalists face a similar challenge. They often need to extract bulk data from PDFs to support their reporting. Examples include IRS Form 990s filed by non-profits and budgets issued by governments at all levels.
The data journalism community has responded to this challenge by developing software to harvest usable information from PDFs. Examples include Tabula, a tool written by Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Fellow Manuel Aristarán, extracts data from PDF tables in a form that can be readily imported to a spreadsheet – if the PDF was “printed” from a computer application. Introduced earlier this year, Tabula continues to evolve thanks to the volunteer efforts of Manuel, with help from OpenNews Fellow Mike Tigas and New York Times interactive developer Jeremy Merrill. Meanwhile, DocHive, a tool whose continuing development is being funded by a Knight Foundation grant, addresses PDFs that were created by scanning paper documents. DocHive is a project of Raleigh Public Record and is led by Charles and Edward Duncan.
These open source tools join a number of commercial offerings such as Able2Extract and ABBYY Fine Reader that extract data from PDFs. A more comprehensive list of open source and commercial resources is available here.
Unfortunately, the free and low cost tools available to modelers, data journalists and transparency advocates have limitations that hinder their ability to handle large scale tasks. If, like me, you want to submit hundreds of PDFs to a software tool, press “Go” and see large volumes of cleanly formatted data, you are out of luck.
It is for this reason that I am working with The Sunlight Foundation and other sponsors to stage the PDF Liberation Hackathon from January 17-19, 2014. We’ll have hack sites at Sunlight’s Washington DC office and at RallyPad in San Francisco. Developers can also join remotely because we will publish a number of clearly specified PDF extraction challenges before the hackathon.
Participants can work on one of the pre-specified challenges or choose their own PDF extraction projects. Ideally, hackathon teams will use (and hopefully improve upon) open source tools to meet the hacking challenges, but they will also be allowed to embed commercial tools into their projects as long as their licensing cost is less than $1000 and an unlimited trial is available.
Prizes of up to $500 will be awarded to winning entries. To receive a prize, a team must publish their source code on a GitHub public repository. To join the hackathon in DC or remotely, please sign up at Eventbrite; to hack with us in SF, please sign up via this Meetup. Please also complete our Google Form survey. Also, if anyone reading this is associated with an organization in New York or Chicago that would like to organize an additional hack space, please contact me.
The PDF Liberation Hackathon is going to be a great opportunity to advance the state of the art when it comes to harvesting data from public documents. I hope you can join us.
Tonight I’m going to be on a panel over at Columbia’s Journalism School called Algorithmic Accountability Reporting: On the Investigation of Black Boxes. It’s being organized by Nick Diakopoulos, Tow Fellow and previous guest blogger on mathbabe. You can sign up to come here and it will also be livestreamed.
Unlike some panel discussions I’ve been on, where the panelists talk about some topic they choose for a few minutes each and then there are questions, this panel will be centered around a draft of a paper coming from the Tow Center at Columbia. First Nick will present the paper and then the panelists will respond to it. Then there will be Q&A.
I wish I could share it with you but it doesn’t seem publicly available yet. Suffice it to say it has many elements in common with Nick’s guest post on raging against the algorithms, and its overall goal is to understand how investigative journalism should handle a world filled with black box algorithms.
Super interesting stuff, and I’m looking forward to tonight, even if it means I’ll miss the New Day New York rally in Foley Square tonight.
As many of you are aware, food stamps were recently cut in this country. This has had a brutal effect on people and families and on neighborhood food pantries, which are being swamped with new customers and increased need among their existing customers.
One thing that I come away with when I read articles describing this problem is how often they detail individuals who have been diagnosed with diabetes but can no longer afford to pay for appropriate food for their condition.
As a person with a family history of diabetes, and someone who has been actively avoiding sugars and carbs to control my blood sugar for the past couple of years, I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for these struggling people.
Let me put it another way. Eating well in this country is expensive, and I’ve had to spend real money on food here in New York City to avoid sugary and fast carb-laden food. I don’t think I could have done that on a skimpy food budget. It’s especially hard to imagine budgeting healthy food on a withering food stamp budget.
Because here’s the thing, and it’s not a secret: shitty food is cheap. If I need to buy lots of food (read: calories) for a small amount of money, I can do it easily, but it will be hell for my blood sugar control. I’m guessing I’d be a full-blown diabetic by now if I were poor and on food stamps.
And that brings me to my nerd question of the morning. How much money are we really saving by decreasing the food stamp allowance in this country, if we consider how many more people will be diagnosed diabetic as a result of the decreased quality of their diet? And how many people’s diabetes will get worse, and how much will that cost?
It’s not over, either: apparently more cuts are coming over the next 10 years (maybe by $4 billion, maybe by $40 billion). And although diabetes care costs have gone up 40% in the last 5 years ($245 billion in 2012 from $174 billion in 2007), that doesn’t mean they won’t go up way more in the next 10.
I’m not an expert on how this all works, but the scale is right – we’re talking billions of dollars nationally, so not small potatoes, and of course we’re also talking about people’s quality of life. Never mind in a moral context – I’m definitely of the mind that people should be able to eat – I’m wondering if the food stamp cuts make sense in a dollars and cents context.
Please tell me if you know of an analysis in this direction.
Suppose you have a employer – think Walmart – that has a ubiquitous presence nationally – think the United States. Is there ever a point, as that employer grows in size and employs more and more of the nation, that its agenda becomes aligned with the national agenda of prosperity and well-being?
That’s the interesting assumption behind a recent Guardian article called Walmart and Downton Abbey: rampant inequality and detachment from reality written by Sadhbh Walshe. From the article:
The best thing the top brass at Walmart could do to preserve their own privileged status would be to raise wages for their workers. A recent study by the progressive thinktank Demos illustrated that the company could afford to pay its workers an additional $5.83 an hour (pdf), enough to bring their wages just above the poverty level, simply by ending the company’s share-buyback program. This way prices could stay as they are but sales would increase as more workers would have more money to spend.
This comes up a lot in my Occupy group as well – the idea that raising wages would be good for low-wage companies like McDonalds and Walmart. The question I have is, is it true? (Aside to readers: if you’re aware of a paper that does this analysis, please tell me!) My guess is no.
Let’s put it this way. If I’m a small company then it’s pretty clear I don’t want to raise wages if I don’t have to. The lower the wages for my workers are, the more I get to keep or spend on other things. But as I grow in size, it might actually make sense, depending on context. If I employ 50% of the population, which is indeed an enormous number of people, then how much I pay them goes straight to the bottomline of how much they spend at my store. But again, it all depends on context.
And there’s and important bit of context going on here, which was beautifully explained recently by Bloomberg columnist Barry Ritholtz in his column entitled How McDonald’s and Wal-Mart Became Welfare Queens. From that article:
Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private sector employer, is also the biggest consumer of taxpayer supported aid. According to Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, in many states, Wal-Mart employees are the largest group of Medicaid recipients. They are also the single biggest group of food stamp recipients. Wal-mart’s “associates” are paid so little, according to Grayson, that they receive $1,000 on average in public assistance. These amount to massive taxpayer subsidies for private companies.
My point is this. Given their welfare queen status, the agenda of Walmart and other huge low-wage employers is not actually aligned with the nation’s. As long as it can lower wages below poverty level, leaving Uncle Sam to make up some of the difference, and either pocket that difference or distribute them to their shareholders, they’ll continue to do so. The incentives are wrong.
And instead of appealing to their greed and telling them it’s in their best interest to raise wages, which I don’t believe is true (but I’d love to be wrong!), we need to raise political awareness about how the system actually works. And my guess is we should either raise the minimum wage - and then tie it to inflation - or establish a basic income guarantee.
I’m looking forward to protesting in front of JP Morgan with my #OWS Alt Banking group this Wednesday at noon. The exact location is 270 Park Avenue, near 48th Street.
It’s part of a “Week of Action” being put together by a broad coalition of activist and labor groups here in New York. The overall theme of the week is to try to communicate to New Yorkers, in this time of transition from Bloomberg to de Blasio, that we can effect positive change in our city. The theme of the day on Wednesday, at least for us, is to “be in the know,” which makes it a bit more positive than other protests we’ve been part of.
I think this makes sense. There’s so much widespread distrust and hatred of the big banks at this point that I feel like Occupy’s role has gone from provoking people to be outraged to provoking people to be hopeful. Hopeful about the fact that things could be a whole lot better than this, if we work together.
Anyhoo, we spent yesterday planning the action, and made some signs. Here’s one based on an idea we borrowed from Alexis Goldstein from her recent twitter war with JPMorgan:
and here’s a sign we’ll hold up while playing a “rigged game” with props:
I also made a sign that referenced the London Whale and the risk model, but someone said we might need to give people a copy of our recent book, Occupy Finance, just to understand that sign. Sigh.
The facebook page is here, please share it with people who may be able to join us Wednesday!
If you’re feeling anything like Aunt Pythia is feeling, you don’t want to even look at any food that has been peeled, baked, poured into a pie crust, mashed with butter, or stuffed into a turkey. It’s chopped cucumbers and raw apples from here on out, with plentiful brisk walks in the sunshine. Yes or no?
And also, is it just me, or has it been approximately 40 years since Aunt Pythia’s last column? Or is that just measured in “dishes done” years?
Before Aunt Pythia gets down to the advice part of the column, which is particularly long and boring and for which she apologizes, she wants to draw attention to the Black Friday protests that many of her Occupy friends took part in yesterday in Secaucus, New Jersey at Walmart.
It was a national day of Walmart protests, but here in Secaucus we had a large Occupy presence - note my friend Marni, who is holding up a deceased Walmart employee. More pictures are available here.
Now down to business. As you enjoy today’s column (or as you nod your way through it, as the case may be),
please, think of something to ask Aunt Pythia at the bottom of the page!
Dear Aunt Pythia,
Some cosmological theories talk about the universe as being a mathematical space, rather than a pile of floating rocks and other real stuff. I always thought that mathematics consisted of rules for writing squiggles on bits of paper that sometimes produced sets of squiggles that corresponded with the real out-there stuff.
Am I a tiny part of the solution to a humungous equation? I’m happy with being made of fundamental particles but this is something else. What’s your take? Are there any practical consequences?
I’m no philosopher, but as a mathematician I’m here to tell you that mathematics doesn’t describe the universe. It’s at most used as a tool to understand certain parts of the universe, but only at the level of an approximation.
So for example, there’s no such thing as a circle in reality. It’s an idealized shape we use in mathematics that comes in super handy for various reasons, but because actual matter is made up of stuff, there’s never going to be a true circle, except in our brains. You can extend that concept of approximation to other mathematical models of the universe as well, at least as far as I understand it (Peter, please correct me if I’m wrong here!).
As far as each of us being a tiny part of a solution to a humungous equation, it all depends on how you look at it. I’m sure I can set up an equation that would dictate how many children my parents had, and then by construction I’d be in some sense a part of the solution to that. If you’re thinking more metaphysical than that, I can’t help you, and I doubt it would be more meaningful than that, although it might be wrapped up in fancier wrappers.
Dear Aunt Pythia,
I am mulling reinventing myself (again). I used to be a lawyer, but it was entirely too demanding and inhumane to manage that and a family life. So I downshifted. Now I use the law degree writing for a legal publication. It’s a 40 hour work week, I have awesome benefits, I am able to take my kids (including the special needs one) to all their crap.
There are only two problems with this nirvana: I don’t make a lot and I’m bored off my butt. My spouse is, unfortunately, utterly useless at home and has proven that he (1) will always put work first, period – because he thinks he’s making the world a better place, and (2) won’t sell out and make some money, because that would be evil. Look, it’s a package deal and that’s who he is, apparently.
This leaves me with a conundrum, and I’m getting quite tired of being poor. One needs a tutor and one needs more behavioral therapy, and I’m not sure where that money is going to come from. I can go and take a government counsel job, I believe that I can get one, and make substantially more than I make now. Like, twice as much roughly. The hours will be a little worse, the commute will be a lot worse. All told, I figure I’d lose 2 extra hours a day, at least.
There’s no guarantee I’ll like it, of course, but I know I’m bored with the current job. And it has no room for growth. I wonder if I’m better off trying to take a second job or make money contracting rather than going whole hog and jumping careers again? I’ve been where I am about 3 years.
Considering Aunt Pythia has jumped ship quite a few times with her skill set, I’m curious if she has insight for me.
Proudly OK on Rent, But Otherwise Rarely Excited Daily
Dear POoR, BORED,
First, I appreciate your sign-off, and second, you were seriously bumping up against the length limit but the sign-off got you through.
And I get needing to prioritize your kids, but I’m going to take issue with two things: your hubby and your boredom.
First, your boredom. Not cool. You need to be interested in your own life, and being bored off your butt is seriously not cutting it. Be more selfish than that, and do it for your kids. They need a mom who’s also a role model. Go find a better job, that pays enough for your needs and that interests you.
Second, your husband. Also not cool that he’s “utterly useless at home,” both because you are wasting time resenting him and because you genuinely need his help. And don’t give me that “because he’s saving the world” crap. He’s not helpful because he’s gotten away with not being helpful. It’s a deal you made with him, possibly (probably) without thinking enough about it. Time to renegotiate. Oh, and renegotiating shitty deals that don’t work for you is also a good role modeling opportunity for your kids.
Here’s how I’d work this. Sit your husband down when the two of you have time, on a weekend evening after the kids are asleep, and tell him you’re bored, need a more challenging job, and that will mean he needs to help out with the house and the kids, because chances are your new job will have more commuting time or whatever.
Next, explain how you’ve worked out the schedule for both of you (if you need to), or ask him to help work it out with you so that it all works. Don’t ask him for help like he’s got an option, because you need this, and that means the family needs this. You guys are a team, and teams work together to make things work.
Dear Aunt Pythia,
Two economists have recently posted a paper arguing that Fields Medalists’ productivity decreases after they get their Fields Medal. While this certainly seems plausible psychologically (after all, proving minor theorems might seem anti-climactic after you’ve solved the major open problem in your field), when I looked at this paper, it seemed that the statistics in it were very naive, in that the authors completely ignored any possible post-conditioning; this leads me to believe that the conclusion is quite likely to be wrong. I have two questions:
Are the statistics used in most economics papers this poor, and if so, how can we trust economists to run our economy?
Would it be worth redoing the statistics in this paper to show up these economists, and maybe to defend Fields Medalists against their charges of being lazy?
First of all, without even reading the paper I’d say we shouldn’t trust economists to run our economy. They have already proved their vested interests are too distracting for such a responsibility.
Second, I scanned the paper, and I’m not very interested in their model but I am kind of interested in their appendix, where they have the following graph:
After all, I want to see the data, and here it is. Look carefully at the comparison group for the Fields Medalists: people who won another big award besides the Fields Medal and have “above-media per-year citations” during the eligibility period.
My question is, why did they include that second part about citations? It’s muddying the waters, for me at least. Did the actual winners also have above-median per-year citations? Are we assuming that the Fields Medal committee uses that as a criterion for eligibility? It’s weird, and I think the data would be cleaner without that stipulation: we’d just be comparing Fields Medalists versus “other” medalists. Now I’m thinking we’re cherry picking. After all, I can imagine that people who get lots of citations are also like to write more papers.
Next, I’d like to see the data on the individual basis or in some way see what kind of error bars we’re talking about here. The fact that there’s a three-year average in the above graph tells me this data is somewhat noisy. Plus the fact that the three-year average is centered on the middle year is weird. All graphs should reflect data known by a certain date.
But finally, I’m willing to ask, who cares? I guess I don’t care about awards in math much, but even if I did, I’m not willing to agree that the whole point of giving out Fields Medals is to “encourage further achievement” on the part of the recipient, even if Fields himself said that. I’ma go with the other reason, which is to get people to compete against each other (yuck).
Whatever, it’s not like you’re going to get a second Fields Medal or something. If you were doing stuff in order to win a Fields Medal, then after getting it, you’d stop, right, and do something else that’s interesting? Makes sense to me.
Dear Aunt Pythia,
I agree with your answers to recent question that often enough folks’ criticism of others stems from their own insecurities. Meditating on the fact was making me depressed, until I found an uneaten cupcake in the cupboard, and then thought: do you think that it also works the other way around?
Even if it doesn’t, your site is da bomb! <fingers crossed>.
First of all, I don’t trust cupcakes in cupboards. At least at my house that signals something very very wrong, that a cupcake made it into a cupboard. Shoulda at most made it onto the counter. Most cupcakes don’t make it out of the shopping bag around here.
Second of all, are you crossing your fingers because you’re hoping to get your question into the column? Or is it because you’re hoping mathbabe.org really is da bomb? Cuz it is, so your hopes have been fully realized.
Next, to your question. By “the other way around,” I’m going to guess you mean the following: when people are insecure about something, they accuse others of having that flaw. The answer is yes, absolutely.
In fact it’s generally true that when someone is sensitized to an issue, even if it’s not one of insecurity, then they see it everywhere, all the time, as if for the first time. There’s a running joke in my family that whenever someone starts a sentence with “Have you noticed lately that…” then what follows that will be a selection bias in exactly that way. So, have you noticed lately that everyone is wearing incredibly awesome flannel shirts? That’s because I got comfort on da mind over here.
Anyhoo, same thing for insecurities. If one is feeling like one’s acne is out of control, one sees other people’s pimples a mile away. If I am ashamed of myself for being overly bossy, then I see overbearing behavior everywhere and I can’t understand how people can stand it. And although we do our best to not accuse people of stuff we’re aware of being sensitized to, it doesn’t always work out that way.
Please submit your well-specified, fun-loving, cleverly-abbreviated question to Aunt Pythia!