Archive

Author Archive

Aunt Pythia’s advice: the sex edition

Holy crap it’s already been an eventful morning and it’s not even 10am. Aunt Pythia blew a bike tire on the George Washington Bridge and had to walk back across and find the 1 train near 181st street, which was hidden from view. Seriously, it was.

Now, if Aunt Pythia ever asked for advice herself, she would know to carry a spare tire and tools to change a flat. But does Aunt Pythia ever ask for or take advice? I think not. Shame on you, Aunt Pythia, shame on you.

In spite of that obvious flaw, Aunt Pythia is super excited to finally be warming up the advice bus engine. Vroom vroom! Put the pedal to the medal, Auntie P!

As it happens, all the questions are about sex today, and yes that was by design, things this awesomesauce don’t “just happen”. Aunt Pythia makes them happen, please keep this in mind.

After this most ridiculous and sexy ride, please don’t forget to:

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.

——

Dearest Aunt Pythia,

I’ve been dating this guy for a couple of months, and we always have a lot of fun when we go out on dates together. We see each other at least once or twice a week, but we’ve only been intimate 4 times. Those 4 times have been great, and I don’t mind moving slowly, but a few nights ago something happened that made me question some things:

After a nice dinner-and-a-movie date, I invited him up for a drink (knowing it was a weekend and he would probably be sleeping over). We watched some Hulu, had a drink or two, and then both declared that we were tired and should move to the bedroom. I slipped into the bathroom to put on something a little more “comfortable” (read: I took my pants off), and when I came back into the room, he was in bed wearing boxers and a t-shirt. I got in bed with him, expecting things to heat up, but instead he FELL ASLEEP! That’s right: he had a smart, funny, beautiful and PANTS-LESS girl lying next to him in bed, and he made no attempts to initiate contact. He slept on one side, I slept on the other, with absolutely zero touching. When we woke up the next morning, he acted like his sweet old self and just said he “passed out” because he was “so tired.”

What’s the deal!? Was he really THAT tired? Is he gay? Is he homeless and needed a bed to crash on!? Or maybe worst of all: is he already so comfortable in this “relationship” that he no longer feels the need to be intimate every time we have a sleep over?

I like this guy a lot, but I also like when guys touch me a lot. Have you ever been through this? Any advice?

Lonely on the bathroom side of the bed

Dear Lonely,

First of all, it’s important to know if this is a one-time, “special occasion” thing or a regular occurrence. If, say, he had competed in a triathlon that day, for example, then it would actually make sense for him to be too tired. On that night.

On the other hand, if he does this regularly – and judging by the numbers you gave me, whereby he has seen you about 20 times but you guys have only gotten down 4 times, there does seem to be some regularity to his reluctance – I’m gonna have to conclude that yes, he’s gay.

Haha, no, just kidding. What it really means is that he’s less sexual than you are. Or that he’s not that into you, although since you are smart, funny, beautiful, and pants-less, it’s hard to really imagine that. There are just so many ways I start imagining that and then the imagining just doesn’t move in that direction at all. Nope, it doesn’t.

Here’s a fun theory, that I’ll just throw out there because “not as sexual as you” is so depressing and final: he’s really into kinky sex but hasn’t gotten the nerve up to tell you. Although, to tell you the truth, I’m not seeing evidence for that. Usually people really into kinky sex are agitated and nervous, and hoping you notice their leather bracelets and suchnot, and they typically don’t accidentally fall asleep. Poop.

So, here’s an idea. When you’re next with him and you want to get sexy, take off your shirt and start rubbing your boobs on him. See if that works. After all, why are you waiting for him to initiate? That’s old fashioned and silly. And that also answers the other question you asked near the end of your letter! Why wait passively when you can make it happen? So yeah, go ahead and make the first move, and see if that works.

And if it doesn’t, then you know with a clear conscience that you’ve given it a valiant effort, and he’s just Not Very Sexual. In which case I suggest you run straight for OK Cupid. Or Tinder. Or my slutty friends’ favorite, HowAboutWe.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’ve recently encountered a few men who refuse to wear condoms. One actually said to me: “I’d rather never have sex again than have sex with a condom.” (Spoiler alert: I didn’t have sex with him). I’ve even had guys try to bully me into going bareback by saying things like “Come on, are we in high school?”

What’s the deal? Unless we are in a monogamous situation in which both parties have been tested AND I am regularly taking birth control (or we are ready to have children), there is no way we’re having condomless sex. Aunt Pythia, do you have any go-to sassy remarks I can whip out when confronted with this aversion to safe sex?

Not Obliging Boys Acting Bullyish In Ejaculating Situations

Dear NOBABIES,

HOLY CRAP I LOVE YOUR SIGN-OFF!!!! It’s perfect. I am ordering a plaque with that on it from zazzle.com.

I am also very in love with you for not taking that bullying crap. YOU ARE AWESOME.

And yes, I do have advice. Sex is not defined as vaginal intercourse. Tell him you guys can have sex without vaginal intercourse, and that it’s fine with you because it might even increase the probability of your overall enjoyment (read: more attention to your clitoris). And if he is super interested in vaginal intercourse, he will have to wear a condom. Because that’s how grownups who do not want to monogamous or have children have vaginal intercourse. But again, since there are lots of other ways to enjoy each others’ bodies, it’s all good.

Key phrase: “only middle schoolers define sex so narrowly as vaginal intercourse! Hahaha, can you IMAGINE!?!” Conversation over.

UPDATE: use condoms during oral sex as well to avoid oral HPV or gonorrhea!

Aunt Pythia

——

Aunt Pythia,

Thanks for all the love. I owe you many hugs. Share with me your take on an approach for the mid-life male discussing the warm-and-fuzzy male experience of age-related sexual dysfunction with a new female partner.

To maximize my affectionate partner’s satisfaction level, I’m fine with my future use of vitamin V (or Cialis or whatever’s been approved), but maybe the relationship honesty/trust thing is also served with a moment of “this stuff happens too.” My last girlfriend, a very loving, lovely, talented woman (also a clinical pharmacist) did not seem able to process the facts of male life-cycle physiology, instead framing the issue as “you’ve lost interest in me,” which cranked up the performance pressure.

Maybe that didn’t help the sex=fun equation & it definitely didn’t help the relationship. I think a plan to focus on showing more interest in multiple ways in the future is called for. But maybe it’s a good moment for some Auntie insight.

Mid-Life Laughs Every Minute

Dear Mid-Life Laughs,

First of all, here’s some more love and hugs.

Next, let’s talk about sex. Here’s the thing about Vitamin V: I’m so glad it exists. It’s another tool in the sex toolbox, sitting there right next to KY Jelly and the feather duster.

Every post needs at least one picture.

Every post needs at least one picture.

Is there a female version of Vitamin V? Not sure, and maybe I could go on a rant about that, but not today. Instead, I want to spend today appreciating just how much fun we can all have if we are understanding and forgiving and loving and sexy.

I think the new lady will – or should – understand the difference between the will and the reality of such things, especially if your words are consistently positive regarding the former, and especially if you go ahead and prepare yourself with a complete toolbox, including the above pictured feather duster. In other words, make it about her pleasure. Who can resist that? Answer: nobody.

Good luck!

Auntie P

——

Hi lovely Auntie P,

This is really good, so I thought I’d share.

Someone recently shared with me their list of “books that changed my life”. The first one I’m reading is called “Passionate Marriage” and has indeed the potential to be life-changing. It is a synthesis of sex therapy and marital counseling supposed to help one enhance their sex life. That sounds theoretical but I suggest you pick it up if you haven’t already.

Since I’m actually supposed to ask a question and cannot merely plug my latest page-turner, here are two, totally unrelated.

  1. Does Auntie P have a list of books that changed her life and can she, in her transfinite wisdom, share that list with her readers?
  2. What would you say constitutes “great sex”?

By the way, I loved your bit about everyone having crushes on one another. The world is such a beautiful place. You’re doing your part. I love you for that.

Getting Reads On Wishlist

Dear GROW,

I love you too! And thanks for the book suggestion, I will definitely check that out. After all, who doesn’t want an enhanced sex life? Answer: nobody.

As for the questions, let me think about it after I look up the word “transfinite”…

OK I’m back, and still somewhat confused, but I’ll let it pass.

  1. Here’s the thing, I can’t remember any book I’ve ever read. For some reason I have an excellent memory for ideas but not people, and remembering where I first heard an idea is nearly impossible for me. I know that’s crazy but it’s true. If I had to say which book affected me the most, I’d have to say The Brothers Karamazov, when I was 15, but I only remember how much I loved the book, not anything about the actual content. Well, I do remember the brothers names and their general characters, but not much more. In general, though, I like books that make me think differently and challenge my assumptions. And I don’t like books with scenes in which people are mean to children.
  2. This one is easy. Great sex is when both people feel great about it. It is characterized by generosity, empathy, and fun. Not so different, really, from a great dinner or a great bike ride with someone.

Hey, readers, what are your answers to these questions?

Warmly,

Aunt Pythia

——

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

Categories: Uncategorized

Jeff Larson kills it at the Lede Program

August 22, 2014 Comments off

So, Jeff Larson from ProPublica came yesterday to talk to us at the Lede Program, and damn that guy is awesome.

My data journalism hero!

Jeff Larson, my data journalism hero!

First, he showed us his work with the ProPublica Message Machine, where they first crowdsourced, then reverse engineered Obama’s political targeting algorithm. Turns out they used decision trees for that, so we got to talk about decision trees. But since it was an awesome project important to democracy, we also got to talk about democracy.

After that lengthy discussion, Jeff told us about using clustering algorithms to find interesting emails in foreign languages (and in particular, to sort out the spam). He mentioned both cosine similarity and k-means, which was cool because the Lede students already knew about those, and for a moment the class was like, “hey we can do this!” and it was true.

But just then, he showed us how to bypass captcha pages, at least 90% of the time, using neural networks. He seemed to somehow remain humble whilst explaining that he did this over a lunch break. Then the class was like, “holy shit this guy is a crazy genius!” and that was true too. 

Then Jeff led the entire program downtown to the ProPublica offices and gave us a tour of the office, and some of the other data journalists came in and told us what they were up to, which was super awesome but also top secret so I can’t tell you anything else about it. Suffice it to say they were all very awesome and that only one of them had formal CS training (Jeff was a lit major!), so the day was overall very inspiring and thought provoking.

Categories: Uncategorized

When the story IS the interaction with the public

Here at the Lede Program we’ve been getting lots of different perspectives on what data journalism is and what it could be. As usual I will oversimplify for the sake of clarity, and apologies in advance to anyone I might offend.

The old school version of data journalism, which is called computer assisted reporting, maintains that a data story is first and foremost a story and should be viewed as such: you are investigating and interrogating the data as you would a witness, but the data isn’t itself a story, but rather a way of gathering evidence for the claims posed in the story. Every number cited needs to be independently supported with a secondary source.

Really important journalism lives in this context and is supported by the data, and the journalists in this realm are FOIA experts and speak truth to power in an exciting way. Think leaks and whistleblowers.

The new school vision of data journalism – again, entirely oversimplified – is that, by creating interesting data interactives that allow people to see how the news affects them – whether that means a map of “stuff happening” where they can see the stuff happening near them, or a big dataset that people can interact with in a tailored way, or a jury duty quiz that allows people to see how answers might get them kicked off or kept on a jury.

I imagine that some of these new-fangled approaches don’t even seem like stories at all to the old-school journalists, who want to see a bad guy caught, or a straight-up story told with a twist and a surprise and a “human face”. I’m not sure many of them would even get past the pitch stage if proffered to a curmudgeonly editor (and all editors are curmudgeonly, that’s just a fact).

The new interactive stories do not tell one story. Instead, they tell a bunch of stories to a bunch of people, and that interaction itself becomes the story. They also educate the public in a somewhat untamed way: by interacting with a database a reader can see variations in time, or in space, or in demographic, at least if the data is presented carefully.

Similarly, by seeing how each question on a jury duty quiz nudges you towards the plaintiff or the defendant, you can begin to see how seemingly innocuous information collected about you accumulates, which is how profiles are formed, on and offline.

Nafeez Ahmed to join Alt Banking this Sunday

I am super excited to announce that best-selling British author Nafeez Ahmed will be speaking at the Alt Banking group this Sunday. The title of his talk is Mass Surveillance and the Crisis of Civilization: The inevitable collapse of the old paradigm and the potential for the rise of the new.

Ahmed is an international security scholar and investigative journalist and executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development. He writes for The Guardian on the geopolitics of interconnected environmental, energy and economic crises, and is currently on tour in the United States to launch his science fiction novel, Zero Point.

As advance reading for this talk, we recommend browsing through his Guardian articles, including the widely read June 2014 piece, Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown. He’s also recently published on occupy.com an article entitled Exposed: Pentagon Funds New Data-Mining Tools To Track and Kill Activists, Part I.

Details: Ahmed will speak from 2-3pm on Sunday, August 24th, in room 409 of the International Affairs Building of Columbia University at W. 118th Street and Amsterdam Ave. After that we will have our regular meeting from 3-5pm in the same room, followed by food and drinks at Amsterdam Tapas. Please join us! And if you can’t this weekend but want to be on our mailing list, please email that request to alt.banking.ows@gmail.com.

Categories: #OWS

Advertising vs. Privacy

I’ve was away over the weekend (apologies to Aunt Pythia fans!) and super busy yesterday but this morning I finally had a chance to read Ethan Zuckerman’s Atlantic piece entitled The Internet’s Original Sin, which was sent to me by my friend Ernest Davis.

Here’s the thing, Zuckerman gets lots of things right in the article. Most importantly, the inherent conflict between privacy and the advertisement-based economy of the internet:

Demonstrating that you’re going to target more and better than Facebook requires moving deeper into the world of surveillance—tracking users’ mobile devices as they move through the physical world, assembling more complex user profiles by trading information between data brokers.

Once we’ve assumed that advertising is the default model to support the Internet, the next step is obvious: We need more data so we can make our targeted ads appear to be more effective.

This is well said, and important to understand.

Here’s where Zuckerman goes a little too far in my opinion:

Outrage over experimental manipulation of these profiles by social networks and dating companies has led to heated debates amongst the technologically savvy, but hasn’t shrunk the user bases of these services, as users now accept that this sort of manipulation is an integral part of the online experience.

It is a mistake to assume that “users accept this sort of manipulation” because not everyone has stopped using Facebook. Facebook is, after all, an hours-long daily habit for an enormous number of people, and it’s therefore sticky. People don’t give up addictive habits overnight. But it doesn’t mean they are feeling the same way about Facebook that they did 4 years ago. People are adjusting their opinion of the user experience as that user experience is increasingly manipulated and creepy.

An analogy should be drawn to something like smoking, where the rates have gone way down since we all found out it is bad for you. People stopped smoking even though it is really hard for most people (and impossible for some).

We should instead be thinking longer term about what people will be willing to leave Facebook for. What is the social networking model of the future? What kind of minimum privacy protections will convince people they are safe (enough)?

And, most importantly, will we even have reasonable minimum protections, or will privacy be entirely commoditized, whereby only premium pay members will be protected, while the rest of us will be thrown to the dogs?

Categories: data science, modeling

What can be achieved by Data Science?

This is a guest post by Sophie Chou, who recently graduated from Columbia in Computer Science and is on her way to the MIT Media Lab. Crossposted on Sophie’s blog.

“Data Science” is one of my least favorite tech buzzwords, second to probably “Big Data”, which in my opinion should be always printed followed by a winky face (after all, my data is bigger than yours). It’s mostly a marketing ploy used by companies to attract talented scientists, statisticians, and mathematicians, who, at the end of the day, will probably be working on some sort of advertising problem or the other.

Still, you have to admit, it does have a nice ring to it. Thus the title Democratizing Data Science, a vision paper which I co-authored with two cool Ph.D students at MIT CSAIL, William Li and Ramesh Sridharan.

The paper focuses on the latter part of the situation mentioned above. Namely, how can we direct these data scientists, aka scientists who interact with the data pipeline throughout the problem-solving process (whether they be computer scientists or programmers or statisticians or mathematicians in practice) towards problems focused on societal issues?

In the paper, we briefly define Data Science (asking ourselves what the heck it even means), then question what it means to democratize the field, and to what end that may be achieved. In other words, the current applications of Data Science, a new but growing field, in both research and industry, has the potential for great social impact, but in reality, resources are rarely distributed in a way to optimize the social good.

We’ll be presenting the paper at the KDD Conference next Sunday, August 24th at 11am as a highlight talk in the Bloomberg Building, 731 Lexington Avenue, NY, NY. It will be more like an open conversation than a lecture and audience participation and opinion is very welcome.

The conference on Sunday at Bloomberg is free, although you do need to register. There are three “tracks” going on that morning, “Data Science & Policy”, “Urban Computing”, and “Data Frameworks”. Ours is in the 3rd track. Sign up here!

If you don’t have time to make it, give the paper a skim anyway, because if you’re on Mathbabe’s blog you probably care about some of these things we talk about.

Categories: data science, news

I love math and I hate the Fields Medal

I’ve loved math since I can remember. When I was 5 I played with spirographs and learned about periodicity, which made me understand prime numbers as colorful patterns on a page. I always thought 5-fold symmetry was the most beautiful.

spirograph

 

In high school I was incredibly lucky to attend HCSSiM and learn about the wonders of solving the Rubik’s cube with group theory.

rubiks-cube

Then I got to college at UC Berkeley and in my second semester was privileged to learn algebra (and later, Galois Theory!) from Ken Ribet, who became my very good friend. He brought me to have dinner with all sorts of amazing mathematicians, like Serge Lang and J.P. Serre and Barry Mazur and John Tate and of course his Berkeley colleagues Hendrik Lenstra and Robert Coleman and many others. Many of the main characters behind the story of solving Fermat’s Last Theorem were people I had met at dinner parties at Ken’s house, including of course Ken himself. Math was discussed in between slices of Cheese Board Pizza and fresh salad mixes from the Berkeley Bowl.

How lucky was I?!?

And I knew it, at least partially. Really the best thing about these generous and wonderful people was how joyful they were about the serious business of doing math. It was a pleasure to them, and it made them smile and even appear wistful if I’d mention my difficulties with tensor products, say.

They were incredibly inviting to me, and honestly I was spoiled. I had been invited into this society because I loved math and because I was devoting myself to it, and that was enough for them. Math is, after all, not an individual act, it is a community effort, and progress is to be celebrated and adored. And it wasn’t just any community, it was a really really nice group of guys who loved what they did for a living and wanted other cool and smart people to join.

I mention all this because I want to clarify how fucking cool it can be to be a mathematician, and what kind of group involvement and effort it can feel like, even though many of the final touches on the proofs are made inside closed offices. Being part of such a community, where math is so revered and celebrated, it is its own reward to be able to prove a theorem and tell your friends about it.

Hey, guess what? This is true too! We always suspected it but now we can use it! How cool is that?

Now that I’ve explained how much I love math (and I still love math very much), let me explain why I hate the Fields Medal. Namely, because that group effort is utterly lost and is replaced with a synthetic and false myth of the individual genius working in isolation.

Here’s the thing, and I can say this now pretty confidently, journalism has rules about writing stories that don’t really work for math. When journalists are told to “put a face on the story,” they end up with all face and no story.

How else is a journalist going to write about progress in some esoteric field? The mathematics itself is naturally not within arms reach: mathematics is by nature deep and uses multiple layers of metaphor and notation which even trained mathematicians grapple with, never mind a new result on the very far edge of what is known. So it makes sense that the story becomes about the mathematician himself or herself.

It’s not just journalists, though. Certain mathematicians do their best to represent research mathematics, and sometimes it’s awesome, sometimes it kind of works, and sometimes it ends up being laughably or even embarrassingly simplistic. That’s the thing about math, it’s deep. It’s hard to boil down to a nut graf.

So here’s the thing, the Fields Medal is easy to understand (“it’s the Nobel Prize for math!”) but it’s incredibly and dangerously misleading. It gives the impression that we have these superstars who “have it” and then we have a bunch of wandering nerds who “don’t really have it.” That stereotype is a bad advertisement for mathematics and for mathematicians, who are actually much more generous and community-spirited than that.

Plus, now that I’m in full rant mode, can I just mention that the 40-year-old age limit for the award is just terrible and obviously works against certain people, especially women or men who take parenting seriously. I am not even going to explain that because it’s so freaking clear, and as a 42-year-old woman myself, may I say I’m just getting started. And yes, the fact that a woman has won the Fields Medal is a good things, but it’s a silver lining on an otherwise big old rain cloud which I do my best to personally blow away.

And, lest I seem somehow mean to the Fields Medal winners, of course they are great mathematicians! Yes, yes they are! They’re all great, and there are many great mathematicians who never get awards, and doing great math and making progress is its own reward, and those mathematicians who do great work tend to be the ones who already have lots of resources and don’t need more, but I’m not saying they shouldn’t be celebrated, because they’re awesome, no question about it.

Here’s what I’d like to see: serious outward-facing science journalism centered around, or at least instructive towards, the incredible collaborative effort that is modern mathematics.

Categories: math
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,301 other followers