Home > Aunt Pythia > Aunt Pythia’s advice: delicious crepes edition

Aunt Pythia’s advice: delicious crepes edition

August 9, 2014

Aunt Pythia is going to brag about something this morning.

Namely, how delicious her crepes are. And here’s the thing, she’s generous and like to share. If you were willing to get to her house at 8:06am on a weekend morning, she’d also make you some crepes with fresh fruit. You could sit right there, between two of her darling children covered in nutella. Here’s an idea of what you’d be getting:

We don't usually fold our crepes like that, but you get the idea.

We don’t usually fold our crepes like that, but you get the idea.

But you aren’t here at 8:06am, are you? Too lazy? That’s what I thought. You don’t get any crepes.

But the good thing about the interwebs is that you don’t have to be awake at any particular time to enjoy Aunt Pythia’s advice whenever you so please. Therefore, feast your eyes on the column and then:

please think of something to ask Aunt Pythia at the bottom of the page!

I am almost out of questions!!!

By the way, if you don’t know what the hell Aunt Pythia is talking about, go here for past advice columns and here for an explanation of the name Pythia.


Dear Aunt Pythia,

This is not an Aunt Pythia question, I just want to bring to your attention the following post on math overflow entitled How Does One Justify Funding for Mathematics Research.

Also, I guess you don’t read the Daily News – two Aunt Pythia questions I asked were front page on it, but you hadn’t heard about either (Belle Knox and the philosophy professor at Miami). I just read it to mostly find out about the (violent) crime going on in NYC. It makes me depressed and want to leave this town. It isn’t worth it living here: it is way too expensive to live here, too crowded and dirty, and too cold. Do you ever wish you were back in Massachusetts or Berkeley?


Dear NYDN,

I decided that, by the end of that non-question, it was a question worth answering. And thanks for the link, I’ll take a look!

As far as living in New York City, it’s perfect for me for a bunch of reasons which might not resonate with you. For example, I’ve been hugely fortunate to be living in a great and subsidized Columbia apartment since moving here, so that makes it alot easier.

Second, I like the weather to actually change, maybe because I grew up in Boston. It bothered me in Berkeley not to have an autumn. I love autumn. Plus the people in Berkeley get too soft and can’t handle cold weather. So yes, I’m also kind of a macho weather person, although the weather lately has been too temperate to be macho about.

Next, I really really hate regular commuting, with traffic jams and such, and New York is a place where I can walk, bike, or subway anywhere. That’s so cool! I don’t own a car and I never want to again.

Also, and here’s the thing, I like things crowded and dirty. I like people of all ages and races and ethnicities sweating on each other in the subway. So many people! So many languages! It’s incredibly cool, and I never get enough of it. That’s why I like it when the subway stops for an hour in the tunnel and we all end up missing whatever appointments we had and we talk to each and behave like human beings. That’s New York!

Sometimes I even like it when people are rude to each other (as long as nobody is picking on anyone, which bothers me) because it gets out my urban aggression by proxy: just seeing other people be pushy and pointy helps me find my zen. I don’t know how people in suburbia deal with hostility! Maybe through those commuter traffic jams? Too passive aggressive to me, I want it to be face-to-face.

Finally, as for violent crime, it’s inevitable we have some, but overall it’s an incredibly peaceful city. I’ve never been threatened here. By contrast I was definitely threatened in Berkeley a few times, although the early 90’s was a different time. I feel perfectly fine sending my kids outside to walk around by themselves, for example.

Thanks for asking!

Aunt Pythia


Hi Aunt Pythia,

This is not a question. I just wanted to share this song I heard on the radio this morning with you:

It is called Dangerous from Big Data :)


Big Data Strange Music

Dear BDSM,

Three things.

  1. That video is bizarre and awesome, and I’m not surprised you thought I’d love it, especially considering my above confession that I like violence, although it kind of went too far, but on the other hand they kept it silly, which made it tolerable.
  2. I am through with people sending me non-questions. From now on, everything’s a question. I don’t have enough questions left to remove the ones called non-questions.
  3. Nice sign-off!


Auntie P


Aunt Pythia,

Why should the world care about mathematicians? Note that I didn’t say mathematics.

Alter Egoist

Dear AE,

Great question. There does seem to be an obsession with The Mind Of The Mathematician. Maybe because it represents an extreme of sorts? And because people respect mathematics as an achievement of human culture? But that doesn’t explain all the profiles and such. Not sure. I’ll think about that one. Happy to take reader suggestions on this one!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am a tenured professor in a good department with many coauthors both senior and junior to me. Like everyone, I have had some failed collaborations, usually because the project didn’t progress and we mutually decided to abandon it. But most of my collaborators have collaborated with me repeatedly on a number of papers.

However there is one strange type of failed collaboration that has happened twice to me in recent years which I cannot comprehend. Perhaps you and your readers might have some insight as to what is going on.

In both collaborations, I proposed the topic and we had good discussions and some exchange of tex files with proofs. Then one day, complete and total email silence. Both times the silence was in response to a request that might take a little while to carry out and so could easily lead to temporary email silence. It could take time to devise a proof of some lemma or decide that it cannot be proven.

Eventually I send a second email mentioning the same question and asking if there is a concern that we need to discuss. I send a third email completely off topic about something else. Usually, when a coauthor is silent for awhile, switching the topic restarts the email exchanges. When this didn’t work I sent an email suggesting we meet in person at an upcoming conference or at one of our departments (funded by me). Finally, after a few months, I emailed the secretary in their respective departments and asked them to print out a note that they should email me and leave it in their mailbox. Still nothing and so I give up some 4 months later.

Well the first collaborator to leave me in total email silence did this about four years ago. I was told by other people he has done this to them as well. The project was very important to me but I have left it aside unsure how to proceed. Do I finish it alone and just put his name on it and send it to him when he’s done? I wasn’t sure. He is important and somewhat powerful. So I just left the project aside.

The second collaborator to leave me in total silence has also left a third junior collaborator in total silence. The junior collaborator and I worked on a different project together while we repeatedly tried to contact him. We finished our other project and contacted the silent partner about returning to the joint project but there is still silence. The junior partner and I are now returning to the original project but solving it in a way complete disjoint from the approach we had been working on with the silent partner. I do not want any suggestion that we stole work from the silent partner but we cannot delay the project any longer. Not when a junior colleague’s career is on the line.

What in the world is going on with these collaborators? What should I do about the first collaborator? At this point they have been silent so long, I do not wish to collaborate with them again even if they suggest returning to the project. I’ve had multiple collaborators in the past who gave reasonable excuses and asked we that postpone working on a project a few months or indefinitely while they handled a job hunt or a divorce or a new baby. In that case, I can wait. But this absolute silence with no reason at all seems to indicate some sort of mental block.


Angrily Bitter And
Notoriously Dangerously Ornery
Non-Existent Demon


Holy shit that’s the mother of all sign-offs.

Plus it’s kind of an awesome question as well. And super long! That makes up for rather short, non-questiony questions that I was making do with until yours.

OK so I think people are just sometimes lame. They drop off the face of the earth. Maybe they just get cold feet, maybe they have consuming mid-life crises, maybe their spam filters go crazy. Chances are, though, they just get overwhelmed with other projects and don’t quite want to shit and don’t quite want to get off the pot either. It’s your job to make them decide which one to do.

Just in case it’s the spam filter problem, do try calling. Also, try talking to a mutual friend? Poke them that way?

Once you’ve tried all those things, I would be very pragmatic about it. Email them and say something along the lines of, “you have two weeks to respond to this and then we are submitting our manuscript without your name on it since you have not been responsive.”

If you want to be double sure of them having a fair chance to get involved, also write them a letter with that message and send it to their department. Don’t hold it against them, they might be dealing with a divorce or a sick kid, you just don’t know, and it’s best to withhold resentment if possible. But no reason to hold back your publications either.

Good luck, ABANDONED!

Aunt Pythia


Please submit your well-specified, fun-loving, cleverly-abbreviated question to Aunt Pythia!

Categories: Aunt Pythia
  1. pratj
    August 9, 2014 at 9:39 am

    Reblogged this on datagraphy.

  2. August 9, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    I was at first mystified as to why NYDN was worried about violent crime in NYC. It’s something like 40th in the list at


    (click the Violent Crime column, Sort Descending), well below e.g. Boston and San Francisco. But then I noticed the reference to The Daily News. _That’s_ the problem.


    • NYDN
      August 9, 2014 at 5:02 pm

      Hmm, I was surprised NYC was 40th on the list, but then I realized that that list per capita, and so of course New York City with 8 million people is going to skew the data. The problem is these 8 million people are crammed onto an island or two, with no room to breathe and the Nets/Knicks/Jets/Giants to root for. So perhaps multiplying crime rate (a per capita figure) by population density (listed here:


      is a measure to consider instead.

      For Boston it seems to be 835*13 = 11,000 (after rounding, where 835 is the violent crime rate, and 13,000 is the population density per square mile.)

      For New York City: 639*27=17,000

      For Oakland: 2000*5 =10,000
      Detroit: 2200*5=11,000
      San Franscisco: 700*17=12000

      Those numbers seem to suggest NYC is more “dangerous”. But I agree, reading the New York Daily News is the problem…I’ve talked to a few friends and no one said they feel good after reading it, but it’s what they turn to when they want more local news than the nytimes.

      • Cynicism
        August 10, 2014 at 10:29 am

        Why is multiplying crime by population density a sensible measure of a lack of safety? It seems like the signal you’re picking up here is mostly the population density, which you might expect when New York has almost double the density of San Francisco, which I assume to be the next most dense city.

        • Cynicism
          August 10, 2014 at 10:33 am

          I’m sorry, the next-most-dense large city. In any case, it doesn’t pass the smell test when your measure sets Detroit as being twice as safe as NYC when Detroit, 1/11 the size of NYC by population, has the same number of murders as NYC. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/03/detroit-murder-rate_n_4531960.html

        • August 10, 2014 at 10:50 am

          I agree. It makes more sense to look at things per capita if you want some sense of the risk someone you know is involved. If you just want to measure proximity of crime then that’s a different question but of course dense populations would look more violent then.

        • NYDN
          August 10, 2014 at 11:36 am

          Ok, thanks for setting me straight. Maybe NYC isn’t so bad after all.

  3. Min
    August 10, 2014 at 1:07 pm


    One thing that can explain such email silence is depression. Even sub-clinical depression that does not reach the level of dysthymia can result in someone retreating into their shell. And then once time has passed it can be hard to come back out and reestablish contact because of feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and worthlessness.

    Given the previous interactions you have mentioned, it is unlikely that the person has negative feelings towards you or the project.

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