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Aunt Pythia’s amazing advice

Well hello there, cutie, and welcome. Aunt Pythia loves you today, even more than usual!

For some reason she can’t pinpoint, but probably has to do with a general feeling of happiness and fulfillment, Aunt Pythia is even more excited than usual to be here and to toss off unreasonably smug and affectionate opinions and advice. Buckle up and get ready for the kisses and the muffins.

The kisses are harder to picture but they are even more delicious.

The kisses are harder to picture but they are even more delicious.

Everyone set? OK, fabulous, let’s get going. Oh and by the way, at the bottom of the column please 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.

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

How should one deal with sexism and harassment at conferences?

As a white heterosexual male mathematician, I don’t experience much bias against me in my professional life, but I’ve seen (and heard of) a lot of bad stuff happening against anyone not conforming to this norm, which I think is not only bad for the people who experience this, but also bad for mathematics as a whole, for various reasons.

At a recent specialized conference, one of participants (a grad student) was very obviously sexually interested in one of the other grad students (one of only 2 female participants, my field has some serious problems in this regard), who was clearly not interested (and married).

I didn’t know these persons before the conference, and beyond me saying to the the harassing person that she was married and that he shouldn’t annoy her (which didn’t have any impact of course), I didn’t do anything. I would have liked to somehow help the harassed party feel welcome, and communicate that besides that one jerk people were interested in her mathematical ideas, but I didn’t know how to communicate this to her without making it seem inappropriate. So instead, I kept silent, which feels bad. Is there anything I could do next time I was in this type of situation, besides trying not to be a jerk?

Dr. Nonheroic Observer

Dear Dr. NO,

I gotta say, I love your question, but it’s kind of spare on details. What did the guy do? How much did it annoy the married party? It really matters, and my advice to you depends on those facts.

When I think about it, though, I don’t see why the fact that she’s married matters. Speaking as a 17-year married person (as of today!), married people like to flirt sometimes, so it’s not as if it’s intrinsically harassing for someone to express interest in a married person, or for that matter a single person.

But as soon as someone responds with a “not interested” signal, it is of course the responsibility of the interested party to tone it down.

Let me go into three scenarios here, and tell you what I think your response should be in each.

First, the guy likes her. You said it was obvious he was interested and it was also obvious she wasn’t. Depending on how that played out, it could be totally fine and not at all your responsibility to do anything. So, if he was like, hey would you like to go on a walk? and then she said, no thanks I’m going to get some work done and that was that, then whatevs. Again, not holding anything against someone for interest per se.

Now on to the second scenario, which seems more likely, since you mentioned that he annoyed her in spite of your advice to him. So that means he followed her around a lot and generally speaking glommed on her, which probably means he obstructed her normal interaction with other mathematicians at the conference. This is a big problem, because conferences are when the “mathematical socializing” happens, which very often results in collaboration and papers. The fact that men glom onto women prevents that, and might be a reason women don’t join your field.

Your responsibility, beyond telling the guy to lay off, which you did, is to first of all talk math with her explicitly, so she gets some mathematical socializing done. Also be proactive in introducing her to other people who are good math socializers.

Beyond that, I think you need to tell the guy to stop a second time. Ask the guy to think about why she came to the conference, and what she wants and doesn’t want out of the experience. In other words, make him try to think about her perspective rather than his own dick’s perspective. Who knows, it might help, he might just be super nerdy and not actually an asshat.

If that doesn’t work, and if he is in fact an asshat, I suggest you go to her and ask her if he is bothering you. Pretending not to notice isn’t helping her, and she probably has nobody to appeal to and could use an ally. If she says yes, then with her permission, go back to the guy and tell him he is officially bothering her. I guess that would actually work.

Third scenario is when even that doesn’t work, in which case I would go to the organizer of the conference and suggest that the harasser be asked to leave the conference.

I’d be super interested to hear your thoughts, and in particular what you think would happen if you had actually gone to the organizers. Of course, if you were one of the organizers yourself, I’d say you should have threatened the guy with expulsion earlier on.

Write back and tell me more details and tell me whether this advice was helpful!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Why EW? What is wrong with “He went on way too many dates too quickly”? What makes you the judge of what constitutes too many, when you yourself admit that you “have taken myself out of the sex game altogether – or at least the traditional sex game” so your opinion on traditional sex game (which is exactly what this guy is doing) is clearly biased. He is a modern empowered man who is exploring his options before settling down. What you wrote is nothing different than “slut-shaming” just reversing the gender. I hope you will exercise greater sensitivity in the future posts.

NY_NUMBERS

Dear NY_NUMBERS,

I think you must be referring to my response to Huh in this past column in reference to the alleged math genius who “hacked” OK Cupid. And I think you misunderstand me.

I am all for slutty behavior. In fact I am super sex positive. If the guy were just trying to get lots of great sex with lots of amazing women, then more power to him. I’d tell him about Tinder and I’d even direct him to critiquemydickpic for useful and amusing advice.

But actually he was having one or two dates per day looking for love. What?! That’s way too much emotional drainage. How can anyone remain emotionally receptive if they can’t even remember people’s names? I’d be much much happier for him, and I wouldn’t be judgmental, if he had been bringing home a different woman every night for mind-blowing sex. Youth!!

So, if you want to complain about my “ew”, then I think you’d need to say that, if someone can fuck anything that moves, they should also be able to love anything that moves. I’m not sure there’s a name for this but maybe “love-shaming?”.

In any case, I stand by my “ew”: I don’t think loving one or two people per day is possible. And the woman he ended up with found him, which was different and broke his cycle, kind of proving my point.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m a statistician with four-or-so years of work experience, but currently in the last half year or so of a applied bayesian stats PhD. I have seen the rise of R and Statistics as a hot, talked about subject. And for some reason, I am getting nervous about all the new cool kids that play around on Kaggle; that they will take ALL THE JOBS, and that there will be no space for slightly less cool, more classically trained statisticians such as myself. After all, all we’re doing is a bit of running a glm, or a cluster analysis, or some plotting. A monkey could learn that in three months. Sometimes I wish everyone would stay away and let me have all the datasets for myself.

Am I being unreasonably nervous about the future?

Have Stats Want to Analyze

Dear HSWA,

First, I wanna say, I had high hopes for your sign off until I wrote it out. Then I was like, wtf?! I even googled it but all I came back with was the Hampton Shaler Water Authority. And I am pretty sure that’s not what you meant. And keeping the “t” in didn’t help.

Second, I’ve got really good advice for you. Next time you’re in an interview, or even if you’re just on a bus somewhere with someone sitting next to you who allows you to talk, mention that Kaggle competitions are shitty bars for actual data scientists, because most of the work of the data scientist is figuring out what the actual question is, and of course how to measure success.

Those things are backed into each Kaggle competition, so hiring people who are good at Kaggle competitions is like hiring the chef who has been supplied with a menu, a bunch of recipes, and all the ingredients to run your new restaurant. Bad idea, because that’s the job of the chef if he’s actually good. In other words, it’s not actually all that impressive to be able to follow directions, you need to be creative and thoughtful.

Make sure you say that to your interviewer, and then follow it up with a story where you worked on a problem and solved it but then realized you’d answered the wrong question and so you asked the right question and then solved that one too.

I’m not nervous for you, thoughtful statisticians are in high demand. Plus you love data, so yeah you’re good.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’ve been working as faculty in a new department this year and I have repeatedly had the feeling that the support staff is not treating me the way they would if I were 50 and male instead of young and female (although with the rank of professor).

It’s small things like roundly scolding me for using a coffee mug from the wrong cupboard, or hinting I should make sure the kitchen cleaning is easy for staff (I’m not messy!), or the conference support staff ceasing to help with basic support on a conference (and complaining about me to other people), or wanting me to walk some mail to another building.

I realize this is all small potatoes. But I have started to feel like by just taking it passively (e.g. smiling and nodding) I might be saving myself time and anger now but I’m helping to perpetuate the system. I rigorously avoid confrontation and I think I’m typically regarded as a very friendly and helpful team player by my peers. (How could I prove bias anyway, and would confrontation help?). But I’m not sure I can spend my whole life putting up with small potatoes along with the bigger potatoes I encounter from time to time.

Spud Farmer Considering Pesticides

Dear SFCP,

First of all, again, disappointed your sign-off didn’t spell anything. But will let it pass.

Second of all, my guess is that they are sexist. I have a prior on this because I’ve encountered so much sexism in this exact way.

Third of all, I’m also guessing they are administrative people in academia, which means they are also just barely able and/or willing to do their jobs. Again, experience, and since I am administration now in academia, I am allowed to call it. Some people are great, most people are not.

Fourth, I don’t know why you are “rigorously avoiding confrontation” here. The very first thing you should do is choose your tiny battles wisely and create small but useful confrontation. Examples:

  • Someone asks you to mail a letter. You say, “oh who usually mails letters? I will be sure to bring it to them.”
  • Someone doesn’t want to do their part in helping with basic support on conferences. You say, “Oh that’s not your job? I am so sorry. Who should I be asking for help on this?”
  • Someone scolds you for using the wrong coffee cup or some such nonsense. You say, “I am new here and I don’t know the rules but I will be sure to remember this one! I am one of those people with a strong work ethic, and it’s great to see how people around here pull together and make things happen.” You know, be aspirational.

Fifth, if it comes to it, get a faculty ally to explain which staff are bitter and why, and which of them are juts plain nuts, and which ones do everyone else’s job. Useful information. Make sure it’s an ally! Complaining about this stuff to the wrong person could give you a reputation as a complainer.

Sixth, do not let this stuff build up inside you! Make it an amusing part of your day to see how people wiggle out of their responsibilities and blame other people for their mistakes. And keep in mind that the faculty are probably the biggest and best examples of such behavior.

Love,

Auntie P

——

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia welcomes you after one week away celebrating her middle son’s and the nation’s birthday. She’s not sure she will be able to incorporate such a topic into the Q&A so she’s jumping on the opportunity to spread the love emanating from this video (hat tip Mike Hill):

It comes from this webpage entitled Putting the Crotch Into Crochet which you really need to check out if the above video titillates, which really how could it not.

To business! Aunt Pythia is doing a speed round today, after grabbing her oldest from a JFK redeye and before making said son his favorite breakfast of banana and chocolate chip pancakes.

You ready? Strap on your seat belts, we’re still driving the luxury Winnebego!

Without further ado, let’s begin. And please, after enjoying the on-board cheese and cracker snacks, do your best to

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

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.

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

Seven years ago I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It’s grow in back four times since, once during chemotherapy. Doctors consistently toss around words like “inevitable” and “incurable” when talking about my tumor and its recurrence.

But still, I have probably at least a decade, maybe more, depending on how medical science goes. And that’s a long time to spend alone.

But when I go out on dates, I feel like I’m leading women on by not disclosing my potential expiration date. When in a relationship would you recommend revealing this key fact?

Not Left Brained

Dear NLB,

First of all, I am sorry this is happening to you, it sucks.

Second of all, this is your private information, and you have no obligation to tell people private stuff before you’re ready. When you go on a date with someone, that’s merely an offer to spend an evening with someone, and most people don’t think beyond that 4 hour obligation, nor should you.

At the same time, you do have the obligation to not mislead, as everyone does. So third of all, that means that you wouldn’t want to start living with someone or otherwise get serious without them knowing your status.

I imagine this kind of thing comes up almost immediately in relationships, possible even as soon as the first date, when a woman might ask you if you want children. My suggestion is to tell her, or anyone else mentioning long term plans, that you don’t have long-term plans for anything, nor are you expecting to. That is sufficiently vague – yet also sufficiently transparent – so nobody would accuse you of being misled. Women who want kids, say, or to get married, will interpret that appropriately. It will also sort out people who hang out with you simply to enjoy your company, which I assume is what you’re going for.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Auntie P,

I’m a woman in a graduate program which is heavily female-dominated (so not math, clearly). Like most grad students, I’ve got some dear friends and some real stinkers in my cohort, with plenty in between.

I was having lunch this week with one of the newer students, “Belle”, in the program. Ostensibly this was a working lunch, but somehow Belle managed to squeeze in the fact that she was in a new and exciting relationship with another woman in the program, “Linda”.

The problem is that I’m much better friends with Linda than I am with Belle, and Linda isn’t out. To anyone (or at least anyone in the program), including me. Well, until now.

How do I handle this? Do I gently inform Belle that Linda is closeted and she needs to get her approval before outing her, even to her friends? Or do I hope that she notices on her own what she’s doing, and notices before she does something damaging? Also, when I’m around Linda, do I continue to act as if I know nothing about her sexuality? (Honestly, this isn’t that hard, since her personal life is not something she brings up much.) Also, when I’m in a social situation where both of them are present, do I act as if I don’t know they’re together (and be awkward towards Belle) or as if I do (thus putting Linda in a bind)?

Closets Inform Every Lunch I Take Out

Dear CIELITO,

Nice sign-off! I had to use a Spanish dictionary, but I’m impressed.

OK so first I’ll give you good advice and then I’ll tell you what I’d do.

The good advice is to stay out of it and pretend you are oblivious. It’s really none of your business and you don’t want to get in the middle of something potentially messy.

The thing I’d do is tell Linda what happened, so she can address it with Belle if in fact it’s not what she wants. After all, Linda is your friend and she should know what’s going on.

Tell me what happens!

Auntie P

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

I still wonder if brute force, generate and test is a viable method for discovering good parameter settings for a system. I don’t like how long the programs take to run, but they seem to provide good information. I assume that you would have a better idea, just because you probably would be in the “neat” perspective, while I am definitely, and in long standing, a “scruffy”.

Lost in Space

Dear Lost,

I have practically no idea what you’re talking about but I like people who call themselves both lost and a scruffy. As for brute force optimization, yes go ahead but remember to have a clean data set to test your parameters on, because you’re surely overfitting.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

To what extent are women obliged to “stand and fight” when working in fields that are male-dominated and where they feel slighted on a regular basis? I am tired of seeing people to go my male colleagues for information in which I have superior expertise, for example. And god forbid you should be a woman working in computational/applied mathematics since applied math is already looked down upon. Even male TA’s are disrespectful.

On the one hand, if all the women are pushed away, we have no women to serve as role models for the next generation. On the other, each of us has only one life to live. I feel that I deserve to be happy, deserve to be respected, and so on.

I am pretty fed up. I don’t want to become one of the bitter and bitchy ones, and I don’t want to give up my career goals. Any thoughts?

Woman in Computing

Dear WiC,

There is absolutely no obligation at all to stand and fight, by any woman or man, whatsoever. It’s a silly argument that one should role model for a position that’s miserable. It’s almost ludicrously bait and switch, in fact.

Having said that, there’s usually a reason that people are competitive with each other. In business it’s almost always about money (or status, but those two are highly correlated). In academics it’s all about status, and men do it to each other as well, although the fight is dirtier when it’s directed towards women.

So, I’m not sure this will help, but if you see the fighting and competition as a direct product of the system, it might help you to take it less personally. Personally, I’ve been in so many different contexts, and I exist as such a threat against other people (both men and women), that I recognize sexist pushback almost as a sport (how does sexist pushback work in journalism? Oh, that’s how).

I’m not saying it never gets to me, because it does, but not for long. Because in the end it’s an external distraction, and staying external is always a mistake, just look at the dieting industry.

My best advice is to keep your eyes on the prize: figure out what your agenda is, and go for it. And don’t be surprised that, as you get closer to the goal, people will be more threatened, not less, and they will embarrass themselves with bad behavior. Don’t get distracted, because you have to stay internally focused.

In other words, it’s not about some vague obligation to society. It’s about a very real obligation towards yourself, which you set.

Good luck!

Aunt P

——

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

 

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia has missed you guys, and apologizes for the last two weeks of lost advice-giving opportunities. Her metaphorical advice bus broke down, but it’s back on the road again, it’s got a full tank of gas, and we’re ready to drive anywhere. It’s kind of a luxury winnebego advice bus today, I’m thinking. Here’s the exterior:

luxurywinnebago

Action shot!

And here’s the interior, before the Aunt Pythia advice seekers get there:

The disco ball is currently recessed.

The disco ball is currently recessed.

Aunt Pythia is either up in front, driving, or she’s reading her new and already beloved copy of The Cartoon Guide to Statistics by Larry Gonick and Wollcott Smith.

Without further ado, let’s begin. And please, after enjoying the on-board cheese and cracker snacks, do your best to

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

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,

Thank you for publishing my responses to your Alternative Dating Questions a while back: that was fun! As for getting the “dog or cat” question wrong, it was probably the easiest of the ten for me to answer, on the grounds that when I was young, most of the local canine population decided to redress the “humans eat hotdogs” balance on me, even though I never liked the damned things myself. So I am prejudiced – but with good reason.

I’ve now tried out your questions on my friend Female And Remote And Well As Yummy, and these are her answers (and mine):

  1. 1.How sexual are you? (super important question)  This morning – not very; Approx 8/10 (but sometimes only 2/10, and occasionally 11/10)
  2. How much fun are you? (people are surprisingly honest when asked this) 7/10; In the right company, this can reach 4/10
  3. How awesome do you smell? (might need to invent technology for this one) I smell fantastic; Only about 3/10, I’m afraid, but I could scrub up a bit
  4. What bothers you more: the big bank bailout or the idea of increasing the minimum wage? The big bank bailout; Neither – both bore me
  5. Do you like strong personalities or would you rather things stay polite? Strong personalities; I’d rather things stay polite? 
  6. What do you love arguing about more: politics or aesthetics? Æsthetics [she didn't actually answer with the ligatured a and e, but it's a cultural difference we've discussed many times, so I felt justified in correcting her]; Politics, just
  7. Where would you love to visit if you could go anywhere? England; The Antarctic
  8. Do you want kids? Yes (I’m happy with those I’ve got); No
  9. Dog person or cat person? A cat person; A cat person
  10. Do you sometimes wish the girl could be the hero, and not always fall for the hapless dude at the end? Absolutely; Yes

So my question for you this week (if it’s not greedy to have another one so soon) is: Does Aunt Pythia think there is chemistry here? And if not, what does she think to the chances of at least a little physics?

Kind regards

Male And Deluded

Dear Male and Deluded,

A match made in heaven! First because you’re both cat people, and second because she agreed to fill out this ridiculous questionnaire, which she’d only do if she was interested, and which you’d only ask her to do if you were interested, the vital ingredient. I’d go easy on the spelling corrections though.

Just to be clear, though, the original point of the questionnaire was that normal dating site questions don’t actually supply you with useful information, and I thought we could improve them. So the real question is, after seeing her answers, are you more interested in her? I thought so.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m very sorry about the length of the last letter. I wasn’t in a very good way at the time of writing, and I understand if it wasn’t very comprehensible. I also managed to figure out the answer to my other question (I’m sticking with just doing as much physics as possible and hoping that my record in grad courses makes up for my previous idiocy. Hope you aren’t offended). I’ll keep this as concise as I’m capable of being.

The impossible happened. I have a girlfriend. Combined with my research starting to pick up, a possible end to my financial troubles, a grad school opportunity just peaking up on the horizon, and a good, if not perfect GPA this year (we’ll see), things are looking up. I’ve never felt this positive about my prospects in a while, in spite of the challenges I’m still facing. So, my frame of mind isn’t like it was last time, to be clear. I have two questions about my relationship:

1) I’m going to be in Germany for the summer doing research and we really haven’t been in a relationship for long. We are both a little worried about this and hope to keep going over the summer. Any suggestions for keeping the “flame” alive? She was coming off a pretty rough period when she met me, and was distraught when I was leaving, and I’ve never handled this before.

2) It all feels a little anticlimactic. Is that normal? Part of this might be my insights about life (I finally agreed to get therapy shortly after my first run in here, and it’s helped), about the fact that there is nothing wrong with being a loner and that I shouldn’t try to force myself to be otherwise. But part of it is I don’t feel as *crazy* about the person as I feel I would be about a girlfriend. It could be that what I feel should be isn’t realistic. Though I strongly enjoy her company (we’re both a little weird), I don’t even desire the sex like I thought I would. Is that normal for early relationships in life, when you are figuring everything out, or is there something else going on? I mean, I don’t plan on marrying her or anything, so isn’t that OK? I also occasionally worry about her stability and her place in life, than feel like a hypocrite because I just got some of those issues fixed.

Don’t take any of this to mean that I regret getting into the relationship, it has been a plus so far in my life.

PS: (you can cut this out if you want)

To clarify what I meant, Isaac Newton spent his entire life celibate and isolated. Sheen more than hasn’t and has probably had a lot more fun. Yet, I know who I’d rather be, and in my more misanthropic moments, I think Isaac Newton knew what he was doing. Sex is fun and should be encouraged. But ultimately, it pales in importance to other things. It’s so funny, it seems to be the worst of both worlds in America, with the sex-obsession and the puritanism simultaneously occurring.

I have a LOT of opinions and ideas for the world. Funny you mention the Ukraine, I’m ridiculously interested particularly about foreign policy/politics-I sometimes catch myself thinking about that when I need to do physics. I occasionally bore my girlfriend to tears. I had (have) a lot of problems socially, but believe me, that’s not one of them. Back when I was searching for a girlfriend, I tried to use these interests (foreign policy, literature, history, other cultures, supercomputers-the title I mentioned comes from a play) to meet people and became frustrated when it didn’t work out like I planned. I met the good lady on a dating website that I had long since given up on. The trouble is talking about mundane, day to day things or subjects that I have no interest in. When she wishes to talk about her field of interest, I try my best to hang on, but it can be tough.

Draußen vor der Tür

Dear Draußen,

Here’s the thing. Last time I cut out a bunch of your letter, but this time I left it all, except I did edit a bit (there are spaces before parentheses as well as after) to make things readable. I’m not sure why I’ve decided to do this except that I like to share my pain with my readers. I hope you appreciate this, readers!

A few things. First, congratulations on finding a girlfriend. As to whether the feeling of anti-climax is normal, I guess it depends on what exactly you expected but I’m afraid it isn’t very normal, at least not in my experience. I mean, falling in love is a rush, with dopamine and all that good stuff, so I’m going to guess you aren’t actually falling in love. Maybe your positive feelings are just relief that you’re no longer alone? That’s not the same thing.

Next, the thing about “I don’t plan on marrying her or anything, so …” makes me feel weird. Note I’m not suggesting that you should marry her, but even so it seems like you’re prematurely categorizing her as someone you won’t take seriously, which I think is strange and self-defeating. I might be wrong, and it’s quite possible I’m just responding to cultural norm which I don’t like, namely that men avoid commitment like it’s a punishment, but it just seems like, with that attitude you might not let the relationship succeed.

Finally, the last line of the letter: When she wishes to talk about her field of interest, I try my best to hang on, but it can be tough. This makes me think that either you are seriously one of the most single-minded people in the world, only interested in your immediate field, or you have very little respect for or common interest with your girlfriend, or some combination of those things. This is another red flag, but I’m not sure how you can address is besides looking for a girlfriend who works in the same field as you.

One last meta thing, and I hope I’m not being too tough on you, because you’ve obviously made progress.

I sense that you are someone who consistently sees things in terms of how they affect you. So, for example, you mention that the relationship “has been a plus so far in my life. But if you are too self-absorbed, you will miss the two most crucial elements of successful relationships: first, enjoying making the other person happy and, what is the flip side of the same coin, feeling grateful that the other person will put up with you. I spend about half of my time being grateful that my partner puts up with me, which is probably not enough, and that gratitude makes my marriage work better.

Does that make sense? Can you be grateful for her patience with you, and can you take pleasure in making her feel secure and loved? If you can, and if you can do that consistently, then I don’t think your Germany trip will be too tough.

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’ve passed my stats PhD qualifying exams and have been meeting with an adviser for several months, but want to leave my PhD and become a Data Scientist (or something like that). The problem is I haven’t interned since acquiring my stats skills.

Should I apply for semester internships (these can be completed while taking a course or two and doing research at my program) and a summer 2015 internship and then leave my program (hopefully with a job secured)? Should I also be applying for jobs this coming school year? I’m hesitant to apply for jobs right now as I’d like to improve my computation skills and will be taking a Machine Learning course in the fall. Should I tell my adviser? I don’t want to have to leave the program yet as many internships require you to be in a grad program, and many jobs require past internship experience.

Thank you so much your time!

– Slightly Hyperventilating

Dear Slightly,

If I’m a company looking for a data scientist I’m super happy to hire you after you’ve passed your quals, taken Machine Learning, and acquired keen computational skills. So yes, it’s a great plan.

As for telling your advisor, I think it depends on what they are like and whether they think everyone should be an academic or at least strive to be. Maybe ask other students of this advisor who have left or stayed and see what advice they give?

Good luck, and tell me how it goes!

Aunt Pythia

——

Aunt Pythia,

Final exams (3rd year university) are around the corner and though I have studied throughout the year I feel I’m still falling short of knowing enough to pass these exams. I keep saying if I don’t pass my finals at least I can retake them but this doesn’t seem to calm my nerves.

Are there any suggestions you can offer to chill (please spare me the British prewar ‘keep calm…’ quotes)?

Thanks,

Anxious about failing

Dear Anxious,

My guess is this advice is coming a little late, but here it is anyway: get together with other students – more than one other, and on separate days – who are also studying for this test and ask them questions and have them ask you stuff. It will surprise you how much you already know and it will solidify your learning to explain stuff to other people.

Good luck!

Auntie P

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Peoples! Peoples!!

Aunt Pythia is super glad to be here. It’s a gorgeous day, Aunt Pythia has super fun plans that involve this place in Morristown, New Jersey, and the world is looking bright and colorful and happy. Aunt Pythia’s usual skeptical gloom has given way to rainbows and puppies (Aunt Pythia is a dog person).

Are you with me peoples?! Give it up for life! Give it up for humanity!!

Having said that, Aunt Pythia has more than her usual number of slapdowns to administer today, as you will soon see below.

Don’t be intimidated, though, folks! After watching the abuse, do your best to

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

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.

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

Have you seen this, combining two blog interests?

Huh

Dear Huh,

So yeah, shortest Aunt Pythia question ever. Turns out “this” is an article about yet another person who “hacked” OKCupid to find the love of their life. A male mathematician who dove headlong into the data mining of love. Ho hum.

Please also see [another earlier article], where it was a woman instead of a man. I can’t find it now because this article became so popular that it’s cockblocking my google searches. Wait, I think she gave a TED talk as well. Oh yeah here she is! And she reverse-engineered the algorithm, too. And honestly she’s telling her own story which is way more engaging than that article.

Anyhoo, here’s the thing. First of all, ew. He went on way too many dates too quickly. I’m glad he found love eventually, but let’s face it, he was making himself less receptive, not more receptive, by going on all those dates. Plus he was posing artificially based on his “mathematical research,” which came down to a clustering algorithm. Plus the woman he eventually proposed to FOUND HIM. Plus ew.

I think this reaction post said it best:

“…the idea that math (or, more broadly, “formulas”) can be used as a dating tactic is a surprisingly popular belief based on a number of very flawed premises, many of which reveal pickup artist-flavor misogynist attitudes among the nerdy white guys who champion them.”

Now given that I also have an example of a woman doing this, I’m not gonna claim it’s all about sexism (although there’s more than a veneer of nerdiness!). Rather, it’s all about the weird non-human mindset. Here’s another stab at what I’m talking about:

“But much of the language used in the story reflects a weird mathematician-pickup artist-hybrid view of women as mere data points anyway, often quite literally: McKinlay refers to identity markers like ethnicity and religious beliefs as “all that crap”; his “survey data” is organized into a “single, solid gob”; unforeseen traits like tattoos and dog ownership are called “latent variables.” By viewing himself as a developer, and the women on OkCupid as subjects to be organized and “mined,” McKinlay places himself in a perceived greater place of power. Women are accessories he’s entitled to. Pickup artists do this too, calling women “targets” and places where they live and hang out “marketplaces.” It’s a spectrum, to be sure, but McKinlay’s worldview and the PUA worldview are two stops along it. Both seem to regard women as abstract prizes for clever wordplay or, as it may be, skilled coding. Neither seems particularly aware of, or concerned with, what happens after simply getting a woman to say yes.”

So, again, it’s not just men who do this. Women who are ABSOLUTELY OBSESSED WITH FINDING MR. RIGHT also do this. They stop thinking about men as people and start thinking of them as bundles of attributes. You have to be tall! And weigh more than me! And culturally Jewish!

If you want to think about this more, and how deeply damaging it is to society and our concepts of ourselves and our expectations of the future, not to mention how we perceive children, then take a look at the book Why Love Hurts: A Sociological Explanation. It’s super fascinating.

So there you go, a long answer to a short question.

One last thing: I’m not saying that you should give up on your own algorithms and trust OKCupid’s algorithms. Far from it! I just think that the key thing is to stay human. Plus all online dating sites are asking the wrong questions, as I mentioned here.

Auntie P

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m about to start a PhD in Math at a top-ranked place. I’m pretty sure I won’t end up in academia for a variety of personal reasons (mostly that my partner is a non-academic with a job that needs to be in New York, SF, or DC). What should I be doing my first year/summer to make sure I’m in a reasonably good place for a non-academic job hunt 5 or 6 years from now?

(And to make matters more complicated, both finance and government creep me out morally, but I really want to end up somewhere with some fun, interesting mathematics.)

Higher Education, Less Professionalism

Dear HELP,

Nice sign-off!

Make sure you know how to code, make sure you know how it feels to work in a company, make sure you keep your eye on what makes you feel moral and useful and interested. Oh, and read my book! I wrote it for people like you.

By the way, I’m hoping that, by the time you finish your Ph.D., there are better non-academic jobs out there for morally centered people with math skills. I’m just feeling optimistic today, I can’t explain it.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

With data science hype at an all-time high (and rising), I’ve been hearing of more and more people who are deciding to make a career change to data science. These acquaintances are smart, science-minded people, but without any background in advanced math, statistics, or computer science. An example background would be a bachelors degree in Chemistry. They are planning to take a few online courses, or a semester-long course or two, and then enter the job market.

My question is, do you think there’s a place for “data scientists” like these? Who’ve learned all the programming/machine learning/statistics they can in 3 months part-time but nothing beyond that? As someone with a strong technical background, I am skeptical that data scientists can be successfully churned out so quickly. Then again, if the hype is all it’s hyped up to be, maybe they’ll all get great jobs. Wondering what your take is.

Sincerely,
Some Kooky Elitist Person Trying to Intuit Climate

Dear SKEPTIC,

Niiiiice sign-off! I am super proud.

Two things. First, I certainly believe that anyone who has a high general level of intelligence and works hard can learn a new field diligently. So I don’t doubt the intentions or efforts of our chemist friends.

On the other hand, do data science jobs allow for follow-up training and – even more importantly – thinking? I’m guessing some do but most don’t. So yes, I agree that for many of these people, it’s a disappointment waiting to happen. And yes, certainly 3 months training does very little. At best you can start thinking a new way, but it’s up to you to actually make things happen with that new mindset.

They might find out their job is really nothing like the job they thought they had. They might end up being excel or SQL database monkeys, or they might find out their job is a front so that the company can claim to be doing “data science.” Worst case they’re asked to audit and approve models they don’t understand which are being used in a predatory manner so they’re on the hook when shit gets real.

On the other hand, what are the options really? It’s a new field and there’s no major for it (UPDATE: there are post-bacc programs popping up everywhere, for example here and here). This is what new fields look like, a bunch of amateurs coming together trying to figure out what they’re doing. Sometimes it works brilliantly and sometimes it produces frauds who ride the hype wave because they’re good at that.

In short, stay skeptical but don’t presume that your friends and acquaintances have bad intent. Ask them probing questions, when you see them, about which above scenario they’re in, it might help them figure it out for themselves. Unless that’s creepy and/or obnoxious.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

How useful do you think “generate-and-test” results are? I am searching for good parameter settings using recent history from the last twelve days. For example, I just checked the report that is being generated and saw successful results eight times out of twelve. I actually could run a check against history, not including the last result and see how often the next result is good. Is this crazy or what?

Sleepless in Mesquite

Dear Sleepless,

I have never heard of “generate and test” so I googled it and found this, which honestly seems ridiculous for the following reason: how will you ever know your “solution” works?

So there is an example where it will work that illustrates my overall point. If you know that you have a line (“the solution”) and you know two (different) points that are on that line, then once you find a line with those points you know you’ve found the solution, because it’s unique.

Similarly, if you know your solution is a quadratic equation, then all you need to do is test it on three (different) points and you know you’re good.

But in general, how do you “test” a solution? Unless you are given, a priori, the form of the solution, to test your solution in general you’d need to try it on every point in the universe where you care about the solution working. That doesn’t sound like a useful approach.

I know I’m talking abstractly here, but you gave me very little to work with. In any case 8 out of 12 doesn’t sound very convincing, and 12 doesn’t sound big enough for much of anything. That is, even if you got 12 out of 12 I still wouldn’t be convinced you’re done unless I know more information.

I hope that was helpful!

Aunt Pythia

——

One more thing which didn’t come up in my questions but I wanted to mention (hat tip David Opela): this article, entitled There’s No Such Thing As A Slut, which I also posted recently on mathbabe. Most important excerpt, as noted by a commenter, is this:

Armstrong notes that midway through their college experience, none of the women had made any friendships across the income divide.

Take a look!

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice, hungover edition

You might notice that Aunt Pythia’s advice is getting posted later than usual. That’s because Aunt Pythia is a wee bit slow on the uptake this morning due to a mighty exciting and exhausting week followed by celebrations of said week. Please bear with her as she gives groggy, possibly irrelevant suggestions to your lovely, deeply and heartfelt questions.

And please, after reading her worse-than-usual advice this morning/ afternoon,

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

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,

I seriously consider the “Ask Aunt Pythia” series on mathbabe.org as the greatest and bloggiest thing on the blogging planet (granted, I explored only a part of it, and this is only an individual opinion).

Is this the right place to say it?

Mount Trouillet With Love

Dear MTWL,

Why yes, yes it is. Thank you darling.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

As a grad student, I feel guilty constantly. Guilty that I am probably not spending enough time on my research, guilty that I don’t spend enough time on teaching, guilty that I sleep too much… You get the idea.

To have a successful academic career, how much should one be working, assuming average intelligence? Also, how should one avoid feeling guilty all the time?

A Grad Student Who Loves To Sleep

Dear AGSWLTS,

Sleep sounds like a gooooooood idea right about now, I think I will.

One of the things I don’t miss about being an academic is the constant guilt I imposed upon myself. It was all me, and I can’t blame anyone else. I can blame nothing except possibly the intense and competitive environment, which again, I chose to live in.

It was, I guess, the internal drive to write papers and stay abreast of my field, and without it I might never have done those things, but it sucked. I don’t even think I could summon up guilt feelings like that if I tried nowadays. Instead I do things out of sheer excitement about the ideas. I guess sometimes I feel frustrated that I haven’t had time to do the stuff I want to, but that frustration is definitely preferable to the old guilt. And come to think of it, a much more efficient way to work too.

My advice to you is to give yourself one day a week to do stuff that you just totally love, and banish guilt from your life. You might end up getting more done that way, and then you could expand it to two days a week, who knows. Tell me how that works for you!

Auntie P

p.s. Please work on your sign-offs. “AGSWLTS” means nothing to me.

p.p.s. Never skimp on sleep. Skimp on reading Aunt Pythia, but never skimp on sleep.

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

I have lived in a different country in each decade of my life and currently use three different languages on an every day basis. No language do I master well, especially in speaking and listening. The doctor says that I am healthy, and I try to study and practice as much as possible. But, I have communication difficulties in any language. Should a more drastic action be taken? For example, find a job that requires more oral communication. Or, move back to my mother tongue country and try to reactivate my native language ability? 

Regards,

Smurf, or Schtroumpf

Dear Smurf/Schtroumpf,

I just wanna start this out by saying how very much I enjoyed the smurfs as a child. It was weird, the show was never very good but I always ascribed to those little blue creatures much more interesting lives than they seemed to have. At the end of each episode I remember thinking, “and now they’ll go back to even more interesting things they do in their village in the woods with mushroom houses.”

I think that was their magic, in fact, to seem more interesting than they are. Smallish confession for Aunt Pythia readers: I have been doing my best to summon up a similar more-interesting-than-she-seems cachet pretty much all my life. That’s right, everything I’ve ever done or ever will do goes back to my fascination with the smurfs, and especially papa smurf, who always seemed wiser than even Alan Greenspan back in the day (“NOT LONG NOW!”).

As for your question, I’m of the opinion that people get good at what they focus on and what they are patient for. If you really want to focus on getting good at a given language, then you’ll need to stop moving countries and just forgive yourself for not already knowing stuff you don’t know, it will come with time. My husband, who is not particularly good with languages, has gotten really good at English since I met him 20 years ago.

Stay blue!

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

Your thoughts on the mathematical community being possibly less empathetic than average really hit home for me, because my experiences of being trans and attempting to do math have been really pretty miserable.

So with that said, let’s confront some cissexism:

Plenty of human females have penises. Trans women are female.
Plenty of human males have vaginas. Trans men are male.
(and of course such porn exists)

Talking about sexism in science is interesting. But we can (and should!) do it without erasing the experiences and existence of trans people, whose gender and sex are valid and real.

Further reading here.

Thanks,

Cisnormativity Is Silly

Dear CIS,

Thanks for the corrections, CIS! You are totally correct that I ignored trans women in my recent piece about female penes.

And although I strive to be empathetic, ignoring someone is a common way to be the opposite. And so I apologize, and I’ll try to be more thoughtful in the future. Thanks for writing!

Aunt Pythia

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia is sad this morning, folks. You see, she just found out that her favorite show, Psych, was canceled after its eighth season. What is Aunt Pythia going to do, folks? Besides rewatching old episodes, that is. And don’t say watch the Mentalist, the premise of that show is absurd.

I am also pissed that the rapture index is so damn high. Suck it, rapture index!

In spite of her funk, Aunt Pythia is going to muddle through for her readers. Anything for you people!

Please, after reading her advice,

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

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.

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

Why don’t we spend more time naked?

People seem to enjoy their bodies a lot more when they spend a lot of time naked, by confronting themselves to being judged, they free themselves from the general canons of beauty that are imposed on them. Yet nowadays most people who show their bodies are the ones matching those canons of beauty- or you have to join one of those creepy nude beaches.

There’s also something very primal and aesthetic about being (even partly) naked, both of which I’d argue we all need more of.

While I understand that we need to come to work with clothes on, that even inside we can’t spend all day juggling about the pendents, there’s surely something we can do. What practical measure would you suggest to expose more of everyone’s skin without having to move further south or joining a sauna club?

Thanks for your enlightenment,

Dekan

Dear Dekan,

You had me until you mentioned “creepy nude beaches.” Can’t have it both ways. Anyway, there are plenty of nice nude beaches, like the one close to the math department at the University of Vancouver.

As for how we can all be naked more and accept our bodies in all their glories and pendants, I think about it this way. It’s not the clothes that are the barrier, it’s our mindset. And we can change our mindsets without touching our clothes, or anyone else’s. Finding beauty in everyone’s body, including our own, is a kind of mindset challenge that is both entertaining and uplifting. And clothes do not pose much of a barrier here, they’re generally speaking very thin.

Aunt Pythia

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Hi, Aunt Pythia!

Mother Jones has just published an article called, “Is New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez the Next Sarah Palin?”. The article is reasonable—obviously not positive about Governor Martinez, but it seems like an acceptable piece of partisan journalism—but the title bothers me.

Nobody would have thought to say, “Is [Man in Politics] the Next Sarah Palin?” If the article were in fact about Chris Christie, I wouldn’t have a problem with the comparison to Palin.

Clearly it is relevant that Governor Martinez is a woman, insofar as Republicans are madly scrambling to find someone, anyone, who isn’t a white man to run for national office. People are allowed to note that she’s a she, and maybe there’s an interesting article and headline in there. But I don’t think this Palin headline is OK. It bothers me that the media (Mother Jones, of all publications!) finds it so easy to make fun of women for being women. Am I supposed to find it funny?

So I ask: do you think Mother Jones screwed up here?

Extremely Sensitive Liberal

Dear ESL,

First of all, the article itself is good. It talks about things Martinez has in common with Palin, Bush, and Christie. It has insane audio recordings (how did they get those?). And the truth is – of course! – politicians do have profiles, and it’s an important part of their draw. I don’t think the writer of the article, Andy Kroll, over-emphasized it.

Second, the title is often chosen to get clicks, even without consulting the writer. I’ve heard more than one journalist complain about their title being changed on them to something less than appropriate for their article. So we can blame Mother Jones but not necessarily Andy Kroll if we think the title is terrible.

But, is the title terrible? I think not. There are lots of commonalities between Martinez and Palin. They are both vindictive, narcissistic, and uninformed. They are also both women and being used in a cynical way by the Republican Party for their gender. Not that the Democratic Party doesn’t also do that.

I guess what I’m saying is that you can be offended, but I advise to instead be a bit more realistic about how politics actually works.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’d like to apply, please.

  • Approx 8/10 (but sometimes only 2/10, and occasionally 11/10)
  • In the right company, this can reach 4/10
  • Only about 3/10, I’m afraid, but I could scrub up a bit
  • Neither – both bore me
  • I’d rather things stay polite? 
  • Politics, just
  • The Antarctic
  • No
  • A cat person
  • Yes

Best Regards,

Male And Deluded

Dear MAD,

It took me a second but I figured out you are answering my “new matchmaking questions” from this Aunt Pythia column. Let me provide a more complete conversation for myself and my readers (your answers are italicized):

  1. How sexual are you? (super important question)
    • Approx 8/10 (but sometimes only 2/10, and occasionally 11/10)
  2. How much fun are you? (people are surprisingly honest when asked this)
    • In the right company, this can reach 4/10
  3. How awesome do you smell? (might need to invent technology for this one)
    • Only about 3/10, I’m afraid, but I could scrub up a bit
  4. What bothers you more: the big bank bailout or the idea of increasing the minimum wage?
    • Neither – both bore me
  5. Do you like strong personalities or would you rather things stay polite?
    • I’d rather things stay polite? 
  6. What do you love arguing about more: politics or aesthetics?
    • Politics, just
  7. Where would you love to visit if you could go anywhere?
    • The Antarctic
  8. Do you want kids?
    • No
  9. Dog person or cat person?
    • A cat person
  10. Do you sometimes wish the girl could be the hero, and not always fall for the hapless dude at the end?
    • Yes

You had me until cat person. Wrong answer!!

Auntie P

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

What’s the deal with casual sex?

As a society, we tend to both condemn it and desire it. It sounds good to be free spirited and enjoy our bodies, but at the same time we are usually scared (and excited) to share that level of intimacy with a stranger.

Common wisdom seems to suggest that there’s not that much to be gained from it, especially if you are already in a working relationship. So why does everyone (you included?) keep coming back to it all the time? Is it just a way to talk about sex? I don’t get it.

Currently Amused, Slightly Under Aroused Level.

Dear CASUAL,

Nothing to be gained from casual sex? What common wisdom manual have you been reading? Have you never watched Up In The Air?

My theory is that certain things are hugely important but you’re not supposed to talk about them. Or rather, you can talk about them in the abstract but not admit you’re involved personally. For women, casual sex is in this category, and for men it isn’t. The mismatch is borne out by the lying statistics we see all the time when (straight) men and women estimate the number of their partners and the averages do not match, a mathematical impossibility unless a bunch of men had sex with a bunch of old ladies that just died.

Also, I don’t think the fear of sharing intimacy with strangers holds too many people back. In fact I don’t think anything holds people back as a general rule. There’s a whole bunch of casual sex happening all the freaking time, all around us.

Finally, yes, it is just an excuse to talk about sex. Thanks for providing it.

Aunt Pythia

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia is super excited to have you on her nerd advice bus this morning.

And readers, you knew the time would come that Aunt Pythia would be saying this, but the time is now, peoples: we’re talking about female penes. I’m saving it for the end, but for those of you who are too impatient, you can go ahead and jump to the bottom of the page.

That is, as long as you remember to:

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

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.

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

De Blasio recently released his tax return, he had over 200K in income but paid only 8.3% in taxes. How does that work?

Guy who actually pays taxes in NYC

Dear Guy,

I’m no accountant but I suspect is has to do with “taking a loss” on the value of their home – which is pretty much a one-time accounting trick – as the article you provided described. Also, mortgage payments are tax deductible, which is a regressive tax and should be slowly phased out starting immediately.

By the way, if you’re getting all huffy about de Blasio, pardon me if I get much huffier about Bloomberg.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am a female physics PhD student. A colleague once said to me that “If women want to be respected, they should not show cleavage.” What do you think?

Breasts of Oppression

Dear Breasts,

I’ve always thought quite the reverse. Namely, if men had boobs, they’d be showing them off all the time.

Different people can disagree about this, but my feeling is that cleavage is a kind of power, and some men and women find that threatening and/or distracting, and they don’t like feeling threatened or distracted so they make up nonsense about respectability (people in general don’t like to acknowledge threats).

That doesn’t mean women shouldn’t do use that power, it just means they should be aware of it and make sure they are in control of their power. I think it’s like men and muscles or height. You see tall men standing up to make a point and to use their height to their advantage. And you never hear a woman tell a man not to show off their height if they want to be respected. In fact, that sounds ridiculous.

My response to someone who said that would be to laugh in their face, honestly.

That’s not to say one can’t go too far. It’s not a linear, “cleavage is good so more cleavage is better” situation. At a certain point it can go too far, just as a man who wears muscle shirts and is constantly flexing his biceps in meetings – yes I’ve seen that happen – would be ridiculous.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

Why can’t their be a different “shadow” banking system that’s only casting shadows because it’s out in broad day light and is transparent? Why can’t groups of ordinary people pool their money and lend it to each other at market rates via a community oriented savings bank? Did these types of banks ever exist? If not, shouldn’t we be able to create them today with all of our cleverness and technology?

RobFromAvon

Dear RobFromAvon,

First, it’s a great thought experiment. What are the obstacles to having a bunch of people create a network of loans? Mostly it’s trust: if someone doesn’t pay back their loan, or someone in charge of holding money just goes missing or spends it, the community needs a recourse. That’s where the government comes in with its legal and justice system. Not to mention FDIC insurance in case the banking entity somehow can’t give you back your deposits.

In other words, banks really do something, at least in conjunction with the threat of jailtime, and you might not want to depend on your neighbor for that function.

That said, there is a growing movement afoot to simplify banking down to very basic functions as you describe, namely through Public Banks, although sometimes the customers are businesses and municipalities rather than individual consumers. Also don’t forget credit unions.

Aunt Pythia

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Hi Aunt Pythia,

My husband (a mathematician) and I (a stay-at-home-mom once employed in **cough** finance) love reading your blog.

My husband is a manic-depressive. When we got married 8 years ago, we didn’t know that. And believe me, it sucked.

We made it for 3 years but that’s probably because my job had me away from home 14 hours a day. When I took him to the doctor, the diagnosis became life-changing. Now when he has a relapse, we usually see it coming and I am rooting for him instead of wondering who I’m married to.

That is, up until we had a baby last year. Our doctor is worried that emotional changes and the disruption to our schedule increases the risk of a relapse. He started a higher dosage combined with an additional daily pill.

This new level of prophylactic medication is impacting his work.

If it were just me and him, I would say, bring it, relapse! Now that we understand the relapses, they aren’t confusing or hurtful, at least not to _me_. But we are both worried about how it might affect our new family.

There must be lots of people doing research math with a variety of mental illnesses and different family arrangements, but it hasn’t been easy talking about it in his department. It doesn’t help that the relationship between mental illness and math is sometimes made out to be somewhat glamorous. What is your take on the relationship between mental illness and math research? Our other question is: what can we do so that he can work? I personally am in the locking the werewolf in his office on full moons camp, but we will run any thing that could help by our psychiatrist. A big thanks from both of us!

Hoping it’s a nonexclusive decision, life or work

Dear Hoping,

Sometimes I worry that I am unqualified to give advice in certain situations. In this case I’m not worried because I am absolutely sure that I’m unqualified to give you advice. So instead of advice, I’ll make some observations and leave it at that.

First observation: kids are resilient. They don’t need their families to be happy and perfect all the time. In fact some strife and tension is good for kids, especially when that strife is resolved and the love is there. So I’d make sure that you two explain to your child or children, even before you are sure they can understand it, that things will be all right and that you love each other and that you’re rooting for daddy to get through this tough time and that you’re sure he will. Give kids the message not that disturbances will never occur, but that they will blow over. The fact that you’ve figured out why this stuff happens is critical and revelatory, and I’m sure that as much as it helps you it will also help your family.

Second observation: math communities are not much more likely than other communities to understand or accept people with mental health problems. Math people have their quirks, and it’s possible that they are somewhat more likely to have mental health problems – and if you believe Hollywood depictions of us, we are much more likely – but when it comes to compassion and empathy I don’t think we’re there. In fact I might argue that we are a bit more on the Aspy spectrum than your usual crowd, and that makes us less empathetic in general about other kinds of mental health issues. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not surprised your husband is having trouble talking about this at work.

My final, very very practical observation is that if you keep close track of the dosage, and the environment, and various life events, then you might be able to track the illness and find patterns that will help you balance the symptoms with the ability to do research. Another approach might be to research ways to help him realize his research potential while fully dosed – after all, his intelligence is still there. Maybe it would help to go for a brisk walk first thing in the morning and then spend 3 hours alone with a notepad? You probably already tried that, but I’m just saying you can optimize within any given set of constraints.

Again, I have no qualifications for this advice, so talk to professionals. I’m just a practical-minded person.

Finally, good luck! I’m really proud of you guys, and you in particular for leaving finance.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I just read this article about a group of insects with “female penes.” This question is two-fold: First, how would human sexuality be different if women penetrated men and forcibly extracted their sperm to impregnate themselves? Secondly, what sort of ramifications will this have on porn? (Is there already female + penis, male + vagina porn out there?)

Also, please feel free to give a scathing remark to the researcher who comments that females with penes are more “macho” than other females. Ugh.

Person Of Random News

Dear PORN,

I deeply love this article, and your sign-off, and you as a person. You have made me happy, PORN.

Readers! You now have a standard to live up to! Please take note of the perfect Aunt Pythia question.

My favorite line in the article is where a researcher describes the findings as “really, really exciting.” Also, this on the side of the article:

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 7.36.34 AM

Pretty much everything about this article is a hoot.

And look, I realize that human females typically don’t have penises – at least until they buy them (update! by this I meant strap-ons! I had no intention of being cissexist and apologies if that’s how it came off) – but in terms of sucking sperm out of the men in order to get pregnant, that’s pretty much what all my girlfriends do once they want kids. Tell me if I’m wrong, ladies. It’s a matter of perspective of course, but there you have it. There are really more commonalities than differences here.

As for the macho comment, I think that’s kind of dumb and/or tautological. Macho just means manly, and for most people, manliness is at least confounded with, if not defined by, the presence of a penis. So if a woman has a penis, people are going to say she’s macho, especially if said penis has been built to last 70 hours and has spikes. HOLY SHIT! Tell me that’s not “really, really exciting.”

Bring it on, PORN! More articles, please!

Aunt Pythia

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

May 3, 2014 Comments off

You know how sometimes when you wake up, your back hurts and you’re still pissed at the guy who shoved you on the subway when it rained and service was slow, but then other days you wake up and you just want to hug everyone you see and make the world some chocolate chip cookies? Well Aunt Pythia is in the chocolate chip cookie kind of a place today, so welcome in, and tell me if you’d prefer gluten free.

 

cookies

Aunt Pythia is here for you, my friends, and she’s listening to your complaints and questions with a sympathetic ear and an empathetic heart. She wants to help and to nurture, and she hopes she does both.

Please, after enjoying today’s Aunt Pythia post and cookies and advice:

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

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.

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Dear Aunt-Mama-Dr.-Professor-Occupier-Quant Pythia,

My question is: how do you do it? Are there more hours in your day than there are in my day? More days in your week? Do you have extra fingers? Seriously; do you have a schedule you keep? Wing it? What’s the deal?

Awed Observer

Dear AO,

Awww.

First of all, some of it is illusory. I am no longer a quant, nor a professor. Although I work at Columbia again, I am now officially part of the administrative bloat, as a Program Director: staff, not faculty. So the first trick is to switch jobs a lot. That makes you seem really diverse.

Next, here are my tricks for avoiding ever wasting time. First of all, I am creative and I squeeze stuff into corners and spaces in time. I blog before anyone else wakes up, for example. I absolutely have a calendar, and the best part about it is saving space for my own thoughts and writing on it.

In other words, I use my calendar as a device to avoid scheduling stuff. Actually putting stuff on my calendar is a regrettable and final option. And that means I say no to almost everything that I can. I have not once gone to an event at my kids’ school that I didn’t have to, and I’ve also skipped the majority of required events, which makes me a huge asshole but also saves an asston of time. Plus my kids don’t like organized sports, bless their hearts, so I never go to soccer games and such. Huge time sink. I don’t even have a car, so I never get stuck in traffic.

I also rarely exercise or shower. My biggest luxury is sleep, which I do whenever I can. I am, in short, a disgusting human being.

Finally, a few odds and ends: it helps that I am a neglectful parent, and that I have a great coffee machine. The former allows me to ignore my kids whenever they want to ignore me, which is to say blissfully often, and the latter allows me to start writing almost immediately after waking up.

Love,

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

You have provided advice to a reader about the custom of giving tips to service sector workers. I confess that I sometimes inadvertently forget this, usually when patronising a restaurant or salon staffed by migrants from my homeland, because we are all in there speaking our own language and I forget that I am in a different country.

Can you think of any other unusual/unique customs calling for special vigilance on the part of newcomers?

Thank you!

Always be Courteous

Dear AbC,

Thanks for giving me an excuse to get people to see these NYC Subway Etiquette cartoons, they are a hoot! And so wise and true. Here’s an important one:

The only unrealistic thing about this is that there'd be an empty seat in the first place.

The only unrealistic thing about this is that there’d be an empty seat in the first place.

And here’s a funny one:

BI_140501etiquette2

 

There are more here.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I came across this description of Barnard here, and it contained the following:

Because of its relationship with Columbia, Barnard has in effect no ability to govern itself. It cannot and/or will not support its own faculty. Its faculty go through two tenure processes, the first at Barnard, the second at Columbia. Columbia gets the final say. This means that even if Barnard votes to grant a beloved faculty member tenure, Columbia can still turn the person down, and the person will be fired. There have been a number of shocking well-publicized cases of this kind, and also of the type where the Barnard tenure committee will deny a faculty member tenure in anticipation or fear of a rejection by Columbia. This points to the pervasive, utterly depressing inferiority complex and Columbia-loathing (which has nothing to do with Columbia and everything to do with Barnard) which characterizes the Barnard faculty and administration as a whole. Barnard faculty have to meet Columbia’s standards for tenure, yet Barnard faculty are paid less, teach more, and do not have access to benefits including housing and access to the school for faculty children. Finally, the crowning insult: Barnard tenures fewer women than Columbia–more evidence of the institution’s crippling self-loathing complex. It doesn’t help that the place is stacked with “spousal hires,” the less-qualified wives of Columbia profs. A nice place to teach for a few years, but don’t go anywhere near the tenure process, and don’t expect any kind of collegiality.

I can’t remember, but weren’t you at Barnard for a while? Any comments on the above description?

Milly

Dear Milly,

I really liked Barnard personally. I did notice people assuming that I was only hired because they wanted my husband at the Columbia math department, but I don’t blame Barnard for that, I blame those people. And wait, I didn’t assume it exactly, they told me that with their own mouths. Assholes.

I’ll speak for myself when I say that there is a weird relationship between the two schools, and probably weirder still in the math department because it’s a combined Barnard/ Columbia department, housed at Columbia. But I never felt self-loathing personally. Even so, it’s a personality thing: if someone treats you bad, do you blame them or do you blame yourself? I blame them.

This is honestly a much bigger conversation, but the whole thing about access to Columbia resources can be traced to the relative sizes of Columbia’s endowment versus Barnard’s, which itself can be traced to the sexist practices of alums back in the day, where Columbia was male-only and a Columbia man would marry a Barnard girl, they’d get rich, and then they’d give money to Columbia. The end result is that Barnard is relatively poor.

There are various ways to address this, but sadly Barnard’s current approach is horrible and includes taking Ina Drew as a trustee in order to whore themselves for more endowment. Ew.

Auntie P

——

Aunt Pythia,

The BK from this Aunt Pythia column is almost surely not the real BK. The story sounds too close to the Belle Knox story that made CNN several weeks ago. A student at Duke who didn’t want to go into debt and feels that this society is too prudish and went into porn. Outed by classmates Duke thankfully said it has no rules about outside employment. Good for them. But I doubt she is writing mathbabe because she is going into law.

It’s a wonderful story and I do believe our views are changing about sex and porn in the USA. Albeit slowly. Yes it’s objectifying, that’s the point. Like the point of finance is to make money. But there can be morals in both industries there is just too little of them now.

You may have been punked

Dear Ymhbp,

Yes I was totally fooled, although I don’t care at all, and I stand by my advice. As for the true BK, I still worry about her, especially now that I’ve googled her name and seen how much shit she’s had to go through. I gotta say, I’m not very impressed with our views here in the USA.

Aunt Pythia

——

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Beep, beep! The nerd advice column bus is here, and impatient to start. Aunt Pythia is driving that nerd advice column bus. Cool? Are we getting the imagery? Also, the bus is painted in bright colors and has plastic flowers glued on to it in all sizes and fashions. It’s kind of a psychedelic hippy nerd advice column bus. And it’s rarin’ to go. There might be tinted windows too, not sure. Wait, yes there are, a few, in the back. Who knows what’s going on in there. I hear there’s a mini fridge and a couch back there too, but that was just a rumor.

After riding in – and exploring – Aunt Pythia’s spacious bus, please:

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

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.

——

Aunt Pythia,

How do I deal with the possibility that my skills as a scientist will become less hot?

I just defended and got an awesome technical staff gig. There is some grinding, and some research. I’m trying to stay published although I don’t want to ever be a professor. But there were hot spots of research I could see coming up as I was writing my dissertation, and neat projects underway with the new grad students using techniques I never practiced. We could hire some of them soon.

I’m afraid of being pigeon-holed to do exactly what I did in grad school, but I also don’t know how wide to spread myself; especially since I am now working with other professionals who (although not in my field) have spent years doing what I would be learning, and might more reasonably be assigned much of the task.

If I am a smart, capable researcher with good connections now, will I always be? Will I be discarded in 5y for some young, hot thang? Will my salary always beat inflation?

Crisis Of Narcissism

Dear CON,

Stay connected, go to interesting talks, don’t be an asshole, ask good questions, be generous to others, prevent yourself from stewing in jealousy, and you’ll be fine. Or else you won’t be fine because the whole economy blows up, but then it’s a crisis for everyone. I’m not worried about you in particular.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Please excuse my bad manners when I addressed you by your first name sans the kinship relation. I vow to be a better nephew in the future! :)

Glad my reply to your reply about fairness rankings provided a good rant opening for you (on America’s outrageous prison system). Yes, I think the relative chance of not being incarcerated for an action that under law can bring incarceration, and other probabilities like it, would make a great start towards an overall fairness measure. If possible I’d also like to measure how fair the laws and legal system are to begin with. The sheer number of laws on the books would probably play a role in this, but since this number is partly just a reflection of societal complexity, there would need to be more.

Yours,
Elvis Von Essende Nicholas Friedrich Lester Otto Widener IV

Dear EVENFLOW IV,

Do you know what you (and everyone else on the bus) need(s) to do? Read The New Jim Crow. I just finished it. Devastating.

One of her major points is that the rules and laws are often colorblind or otherwise written to be fair, but they are not deployed in a fair manner. Specifically low-level drug charges are hugely discriminatory and largely responsible for the mass incarceration of so many black men that we’ve grown accustomed to during the last 25 year of the so-called War on Drugs.

In other words, the official rulebooks are rarely on their face unfair. The system has grown smarter than that. It’s an argument for understanding effective racism rather than deliberate racism, for example, by measuring outcomes.

Of course there are other ways to be unfair as well besides race, but I’m fairly convinced this is the biggie.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am a undergrad in mathematics and want want to pursue research in pure mathematics. I claim no evidence for any exceptional ability in math and I wanna do it because I like it.

First of all the choice of Math as a major was rather criticized from where I come from (they are more into engineering). So I looked up for the opportunities for a math grad and realized that they are immense. But rather alarmingly I came to know that the recent opportunities in math are almost exclusively in Applied Math.

I would like to know if indeed there exist a place for someone average (in contrast to the math geniuses out there) to do pure math research and get a well-to-do job?

I never wanted a very high paying and demanding job. Just a simple one where I could be happy and free and won’t have to worry about my employment in near future.

Hoping that you would understand,
Thanking you,
A math undergrad

Dear math undergrad,

Very few people get paid to simply think about pure math. It’s a fact. Even professors are expected to teach. The exceptions are the faculty at the Institute for Advanced Study. There aren’t very many of those.

So, I’m glad you like math, but the chances that you’re going to get a well-to-do job thinking about pure math when you’re not particularly talented at math are slim. Of course, you might be wrong, and you might be super talented at math. People are notoriously bad at knowing that kind of thing because they get distracted with things like social expectations and shitty timed math tests.

But let me take your word for it for the sake of the argument, that you’re into math but not very good at it. Actually I’ll assume you’re pretty good at it but not super top-notch. In that case I suggest you think about getting a job that allows you to pair your love for pure math research with something else, like teaching (of course you have to be quite good at math to teach it but there are different levels), or doing basic analysis in industry (i.e. applied math). There are lots of jobs that fall into this category, so don’t despair. Check them out with an open mind, many of them are very interesting. And good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

What is this preoccupation with size? There’s any number of baseless articles, in silly magazines, implying (or worse, stating) some link between hand – genital – finger – brain – height – etc, with some aspect of sexual prowess – desirability – ability – intention – inclination.

And now the silliness has spread, zombie-like, to your readers!

So, how would one go about showing a correlation between gullibility and inconsequential ideas?

Satisfied in Melbourne

Dear SiM,

I think of this stuff as pure entertainment. People just want to talk about sex because they like sex and, although they can’t just have sex with random people (or so they think), they can strike up a ridiculous conversation about the relationship between hands and genitals. I’ll speak for myself when I say that I do that because I actually just want to talk about genitals. There, I said it, my secret’s out. Everybody knew that already. That’s why I blog.

It reminds me of the debate on pubic hair and shaving (or not shaving: Bush is Back, Baby). At the worst moment this seems like yet another oppressive patriarchal scheme to infantilize women. On the other hand, I’ve never heard of a man who, when actually confronted with copious hair, has refused to go along with it. So I’m tempted to think that for most men, and most of the time, it’s just an excuse to think about genitals rather than an oppressive scheme.

I mean, it’s both, but this morning I’m feeling generous.

In terms of the relationship between gullibility and inconsequential ideas, I think that’s the wrong question. We should really be thinking about the relationship between insecurity and inconsequential ideas, and we should use as the prime example the beauty industry. First they make us insecure, then we obsess over trivial and inconsequential things. But it’s insecurity that makes us gullible.

Aunt Pythia

——

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Great to be here, and glad you came.

Please hop on the nerd advice column bus for another week of ridiculous if not damaging guidance from yours truly, Aunt Pythia.

And please, after enjoying today’s counsel to other poor, unsuspecting fools:

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

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.

——

Aunt Pythia,

I’m so SORRY. When I asked your opinion about conference sex the other week I thought I had pasted the link to the article: Will you still medal in the morning? It’s all about the behind the scenes sex at the Olympics.

ORR

Dear ORR,

Let me remind readers of your original question (after giving them a chance to read the article). You (thought you) gave me the link and then made the comment:

If conferences like JMM were to have bowls of condoms at the end of the tables where you pick up your badge do you think people would get the idea and pocket a hand full, then use them?

Answer: no. And that’s a good thing. As much as I’m sex positive, and I truly am, I don’t think what’s going on there in the Olympic Village is really about sex. I mean, that’s super dumb for me to say, because obviously tons of sex is happening, but it’s really about freedom and control and conquests.

So, for example, when you go to college, you notice that the kids who had controlling parents and no freedom in high school are particularly prone to spending too much money, drinking too hard, and fucking anything that moves, even relative to the kids whose upbringing was more relaxed and free. It’s about asserting control over their destiny and their freedom, and it lasts a couple of months and then calms down, hopefully in time for them to pass their classes. I’m absolutely sure of this phenomenon but come to think of it I’ve never seen statistics, which is probably a good thing.

Now think about Olympic athletes. They have lives utterly controlled by their coaches and parents and practices, and between you and me it’s often a neglectful if not abusive situation for those kids. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they hate every minute of it, especially the ones we hear from who win the medals, but if you account for the selection bias for a minute and just think about the childhoods these kids have, your heart breaks for them.

So when they finally get to be somewhere away from their coaches, and this ridiculous pressure is off after their events, they need to somehow assert their freedom to themselves, and the most obvious way to do that is to party hard and fuck anything that moves. Plus it’s even better if they have a long list of conquests, because they’ve been trained to be super competitive.

Now think about math people to contrast this. I’m not saying no condoms are used at a math conference, but generally speaking math people have agency over their own lives, time to have sex when they want and so on, so when they get to a math conference, they just have more of the same. There’s some tension built up before one’s talk, and so in that sense there’s some blowing off of steam, but it’s not Olympic level.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I wrote to you a while ago ranting about how my boss sold me a middle-office IT job as a front-office quant role. Anyways, just wanted to let you know that I did manage to land a quant research role at another buy-side firm, and even though you can’t tell if it’s a scam without being there, it seems promising (I’ll start in about a month). I asked smarter questions this time and the pieces seem to be lining up. I want to thank you for providing a voice of sanity, which is always welcome but especially crucial in trying times where one needs to cut through cognitive dissonance.

Perennial Employee

Dear PE,

Awesome!

Auntie P

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Reading about people who are trying to find love or a companion at various places (via online dating or in physical environments) at Aunt Pythia’s Saturday column, why do not you consider creating an online dating site for these high-profile intellectuals?

I considered doing this myself during graduate school when I had many smart and single people around who wanted to have a girl or boy friend but for some reason could not, I did not have the courage or time to invest in this.

How about Aunt Pythia, who has so many followers? I personally checked out some online dating environments, but it was so hard to find really sophisticated people and I did not feel like talking to all those people with the hope that one of them was the good looking nerd I was after.

Idea

Dear Idea,

I like your idea (har har!), but here’s the thing. If I started an online matchmaking thing, I’d first of all not restrict to “high-profile intellectuals,” and second of all it would be very very different from the stuff that already exists.

So for example I’m definitely of the opinion that knowing someone’s age, race, height, and weight and seeing a picture of them makes 99% of all people unfairly unattractive.

It’s a case of knowing the wrong thing about someone. I mean, I’m not saying that you don’t eventually know those things about someone you’re into, but you don’t focus on them if it’s an organic meeting. It’s just the wrong information to provide and makes things less sexy and painfully judgmental.

Let me say it this way. Some woman going online for a date might think she needs the man to be taller than she is, and filter stuff out that way, but in real life she’ll meet someone at a party and be really into him and later realize he’s probably a couple inches shorter than she is and she won’t care at all.

So what information would I ask people to provide instead? That’s a toughie, and I’d love your help, readers, but here’s a start:

  1. How sexual are you? (super important question)
  2. How much fun are you? (people are surprisingly honest when asked this)
  3. How awesome do you smell? (might need to invent technology for this one)
  4. What bothers you more: the big bank bailout or the idea of increasing the minimum wage?
  5. Do you like strong personalities or would you rather things stay polite?
  6. What do you love arguing about more: politics or aesthetics?
  7. Where would you love to visit if you could go anywhere?
  8. Do you want kids?
  9. Dog person or cat person?
  10. Do you sometimes wish the girl could be the hero, and not always fall for the hapless dude at the end?

That’s a start. Again, looking for more. I think there should be about 20. Also people should answer in sentences.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m a graduate student in a STEM field who happens to also be of the male inclination….oh, and I’m gay.

Now, this normally isn’t so much of an issue (though it has been!) with my social circle/friends outside of the academia, but I’m a bit concerned about disclosing this sort of information to the department, my advisor, and other STEM graduate peers, because, well

  1. in my humble opinion, STEM departments are not the most gay friendly. I mean, if you’re a gay male, surely you should be studying creative writing or writing your thesis about continental philosophy’s role in post-WWII imperialism (honestly, the former has been said to me….though the latter sounds like an interesting blog post or two), and 
  2. my main concern is the future of my academic career. Who are we kidding here, people making hiring decisions in the future may not be that cool with the whole “I’m here and queer!” thing. It could affect my career, negatively. (Ever been to Princeton btw?)

Please feel free to straightsplain to me that I’m being paranoid (though I won’t think I was being paranoid, would I?)

Best,

Sardonic Albeit Distinctly Fearful About Gay-friendliness

Dear SADFAG,

First of all, I have been to Princeton, thanks for asking.

Second of all, I don’t think you’re being at all paranoid. In fact it warms the cockles of my heart that you might even feel like you’re being paranoid asking about this, and it’s a testament to how far this country has come since I was a graduate student. Progress!

But only partial progress, to be sure. One of the weirdest things about the academic math market is how you’re expected to up and move to just about anywhere for a one year post-doc or what have you. And many people, especially outside of math, don’t actually want to do that, even if those places are nice places. When you add to that the fact that many of those places aren’t particularly nice, and are still crazy backwards when it comes to accepting gay people, then your job search is getting narrower.

Even so, you might want to take that job in that no-so-nice place, especially if it’s only for one year. I get that.

My short-term advice to you is to do what you need to do to keep your options wide, and if that includes coming out because you’re fed up with this bullshit, then definitely keep that in mind. My long-term advice is to end up eventually in a nice place where you can be accepted. Such places exist and the great news is they are increasing in number.

Love,

Aunt Pythia

——

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

 

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Readers, readers!

Aunt Pythia rarely does this, and really has never ever made up a question, but she absolutely needs to share a couple of things that nobody even came close to asking about this week. And yes, they’re about sex, or at least about genitals. Please skip this next section, and possibly all Aunt Pythia columns ever, if you are not interested in vulgar discussions of dirty topics. And yes, she’s taking this as an excuse to use the plural forms.

Clitorides

First, it might not surprise people to learn that Aunt Pythia talks about sex with her girlfriends. A lot. And she’s noticed a pattern in those conversations: some women can orgasm during intercourse, others cannot. And when I say cannot, I don’t mean cannot without help from, say, hands or a toy (Aunt Pythia does not often meet women who are in the alleged 15% of the population who cannot orgasm). I mean women who cannot through intercourse alone, with only a partner’s pelvic bone as tool.

Such an intriguing and natural categorization of women does not leave Aunt Pythia cold! She wants to get to the bottom of this! Why is this not one of the most basic conundrums of human existence, she wonders? Well, it is, and it has been (possibly! hopefully!) solved, in this article. It’s all about measuring distances, and once you say it like that, it makes perfect sense. Mystery revealed.

Penes

Aunt Pythia has been thinking a lot about objectification lately, and wondering why it happens so much more to women. One slightly philosophical approach to this question is understanding the extent to which men’s genitals are, to put it delicately, ripe for objectification versus, say, women’s breasts.

And the thing is, dear readers, they are not. Not as a general rule. And that is why, in my opinion, this video is so deeply radical. Warning! Please do not watch this video unless you are ready to have your mind blown! And please don’t say I didn’t warn you about this video.

Addendum: I feel like there should be a phrase invented for that video. Something like, hey man, don’t make me robocop your dick, or hey dude, don’t robocop your own dick. Suggestions welcome.

Back to our regularly scheduled advice column

After enjoying (or not!) today’s Aunt Pythia post and advice:

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

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,

Inspired by the PDF Hackathon, I was wondering if anyone has scraped any of the sites where things like NECAP and MCAS scores are posted ala Wikileaks. Are these things publicly available, and I just haven’t looked in the right places?.

I’m working on a letter to the chair of a committee in the state legislature that is considering a bill that would exempt teachers rated “highly effective” or “effective” from being evaluated the next three years. The link you posted to the six articles on VAM in New York have provided me with a lot of material. Mandatory inclusion of test scores in teacher evaluations is scheduled to be implemented this year in RI and I’m hoping that if we can drag our feet in RI until the negative effects in early adoption states become widely known maybe we can avoid making some of those mistakes. Unfortunately our education commissioner is one of Jeb Bush’s infamous “chiefs for change” and has a lot of clout.

Confused in RI

Dear Confused,

First, I feel your pain. And I’m not sure which link of mine you were referring to but it might as well be Eugene Stern’s guest post on his fears of a VAM-like model being implemented in New Jersey, which he wrote about a year ago, when it was being pushed by Chris Christie (I wonder what happened to that initiative? Eugene?). In fact please feel free to write your letter with many of the same points Eugene was making.

Second, there’s no way we want student test scores leaked ever, and for this purposes especially. The models themselves are secret, and the amount of details and information necessary to reconstitute even one teacher’s VAM score would expose many innocent people to scrutiny that they don’t deserve and is outright illegal and rightly so.

I’m afraid you will have to play this out politically, not using data. The whole point of it is that they control the data and are using the model as an opaque and threatening weapon.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

My best friend and I used to talk often on the phone (like once a week for an hour, over the course of 5 years) but gradually over the past year, the frequency and length has declined, and also now she never initiates the calls or texts. She’s pretty busy – she is overworked at a job she hates, and has had various boyfriends, and recently moved in with one, and hangs out with friends who live close to her (I don’t). A few times lately she has failed to return my phone calls.

I am a really lonely guy … I have tried basically the kitchen sink at finding a girlfriend, but haven’t been successful yet and so she is who I typically turn to for emotional support. Anyways, I love talking with her, but often times lately I have been feeling sad because I feel so ignored by her, and I kind of feel that I am not valued as a friend. Do you think I should I stop initiating calls and texts? Not because I want to stop being friends with her, but because it’s a bit unfair of me to ask for so much support from her, and I should try to finding an actual girlfriend instead?

Lonely in New York(?!)

Dear Lonely,

I love it when my job is easy and the tough answer has already been provided. Yes, you need to go find your own girlfriend and stop asking one friend for that much support and love. She probably loves you and knows you need to disconnect from her in order to connect with others. Once you have a real live woman to talk to in New York I bet she’ll be psyched for you and more willing to return your (less frequent and less pathetic) calls.

Plus, according to this interactive love map created by Jonathan Soma, you should count your statistically lucky stars that there are 5 extra single women per 100 single men in New York.

And by the way, you definitely should start hanging out with friends first. Making friends is easier than finding a girlfriend and often helps.

Auntie P

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m an undergraduate woman at a well-regarded (and presumably well-endowed) university in the South, in fact it once had the winning Putnam team and the winning NCAA basketball team in the same year, or some such nonsense.

Tuition is exorbitant, and in order to afford it, I have turned to some financially rewarding but controversial, um, artistic endeavors, let’s say, in which I exhibit my natural beauty and enhance my acting skills.

Some say these gigs are demeaning to or objectify women, others say they are a freedom of expression of things our culture tends to repress. Anyways, what would your advice to me be? Should I stay in the industry?

BK

Dear BK,

Let’s think about this pragmatically and long-term. Besides the risk of STD’s, which I assume you’re taking care of, I think the main question is the extent to which you are putting your future goals at risk by taking these gigs now, rather than a more standard, presumably lower-paying evening job.

So, how easily identifiable will you be to later potential employers? And what kind of employment are you interested in? In the extreme case, where you want to be a politician and you’re a huge internet porn star, I think we have a problem. On the other extreme, where you want to be a lab scientist and you are stripping at a local bar with no recordings, I don’t think there’s a major risk.

Your actual case is probably in the middle, and although I don’t know what it is, I’d venture to guess that you also don’t know exactly what it is, because you’re probably 19 or 20 or so and don’t know exactly what you’re doing with your life.

So my advice for staying or leaving hinges on this concern, that your options are being at least somewhat narrowed without you really knowing it. Or even if your options are not explicitly being narrowed, I’m hoping you gird yourself for assholes and assumptions, and I hope you can push back.

And when I say that, I’m also saying “fuck this society” under my breath. We are super prudish in the best of times and at less good time we are freaky and hostile towards women. That’s not your fault.

As to whether the industry is demeaning and objectifying, I’d say it’s objectifying almost by definition, and whether it’s demeaning is probably something you will not be able to fully answer until you live with the ramifications of having been in it. So get back to me in 10 years and tell me what you think.

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia

——

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia is psyched to be writing today after missing a couple of days of regular posts. Aunt Pythia loves you people and understands how much you rely on her ridiculous advice, so she really goes out of her way to get up on Saturdays, stretch out on the couch in her underwear and armed only with a laptop and copious coffee, and spout utter nonsense. She knows you love it to, and want it to continue indefinitely. So please, after enjoying today’s bilge:

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

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,

I am an undergraduate at a liberal arts college applying to REUs. If I don’t get into any, I won’t have any opportunities to do research before applying to PhD programs. Would that mean I won’t get into grad school either? What options do I have to prove I am research-ready?

Possibly Not Research Ready

Dear PNRP,

I’m just blown away by the list of REU’s that have sprung up since I was a wee lass. I mean, I went to one, it was at Duluth and run by the incomparable Joe Gallian, but I’m more or less sure it was the only one around back then. He’s been doing it since 1977, and although I wasn’t at the very first one, I was early enough so that all the participants names could fit on one shirt. Holy crap there’s a picture of me from this page at my REU:

Screen Shot 2014-04-05 at 6.20.45 AM

Man, we played a lot of bridge that summer.

OK sorry for the nostalgic stream of consciousness. I will now attempt to answer your question.

First of all, given that very few people used to do REU’s before grad school, I obviously don’t think that it’s strictly necessary. On the other hand, given how many now exist, I’m guessing it’s become a common if not vital signaling device for getting into grad school (readers, weigh in!). It’s also probably gotten easier to get into. Definitely apply to many of them.

If you somehow didn’t apply to enough and it’s too late and you don’t get in anywhere, don’t despair. Look around for a teacher at your school or a nearby school, or even online, that is willing to do a reading course with you and develop some kind of senior thesis type project, or open problem to solve.

I feel that I need to add that most of these programs don’t actually ask you to solve open problems. It’s more like a peek at graduate school math and a mindset of research rather than an expectation that you will publish a paper. I know because I’ve taught at a couple since my college years.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

What kind of skills/classes do I need to break into data science as an undergrad? It seems like a really interesting field and I don’t know whether I’m qualified to jump into an internship or not. Currently a math major without any stats classes under my belt.

Data Internship Youngster

Dear DIY,

First steps: take a CS class in a scripting language like python, take probability and statistics, and read my recent book or at least skim it at the bookstore.

Second steps, if you have time: take classes on machine learning, Bayesian statistics, and ethics.

Third steps, if you have even more time: take an advanced programming class, an optimization or information theory class, and become an anthropologist.

In the meantime, keep an eye on the curriculums for the industry data science camps not popping up everywhere, for example at the Microsoft Research Center.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Pythia,

Thank you for answering my question about “fairness” rankings by mentioning the Gini coefficient and upward mobility study, both of which I found interesting and hadn’t seen before.

Though obviously major, money wasn’t the only thing I had in mind. Judicial systems that imprison unfairly – possibly due to unfair laws to begin with – unfair job and housing discrimination, unfair environmental conditions and situations (Bhopal comes to mind), reasonable access to medical care, or lack thereof – all of these could be tossed into a fairness score as well.

I guess that in the end though, “fairness” may be a little too vague and subjective a term to be attached to any meaningful objective ranking. Fortunately the world already has lots of watchdog organizations that observe and report on objectively measurable facets of human life. OWS is one such organization.

Thanks again,
EVENFLOWIV

Dear EVENFLOWIV,

First of all, that’s Aunt Pythia to you. Har har.

Actually, even though it doesn’t appear that you’ve asked another question, I want to thank you for giving me an opening to my favorite recent rant.

In the context of my weekly Occupy meetings, I’ve been thinking more and more about the outrageous prison system in our own country and the multitude of mostly minority young men in that system. It’s a truly disgusting and predatory big business. As one of my co-occupiers said, if you’re too poor for us to make money off of you directly, we will throw you in prison and make money off of your incarceration.

Which brings me to your idea of measuring that kind of unfairness, even within our own country, and indeed even within the city of New York. Here’s the idea I’ve been tossing around inside my head.

It’s been long tossed around that the rate of marijuana use is similar for whites and blacks but blacks are going to jail way more for possession, essentially because of Stop & Frisk. In other words, blacks are more likely to get caught and to not have a fancy lawyer to get them out of trouble when they find themselves in trouble.

It brings up a host of questions, but I’ll focus on one: what is the relative chance that someone can get away with a mistake?

In other words, think about it this way.  We all make mistakes, and young men (and women) are especially impulsive and judgment-lacking. So instead of asking whether they make mistakes, ask instead what the chances are that such mistakes will land them in jail or prison. I feel like those probabilities might be a good start at what you’re getting at. Do you agree?

Love,

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt P,

My question may appear a little blunt but it’s one that’s troubled me for ages and I can’t think of any other way to ask it, so here goes: Does clitoris size reflect sexuality?

I mean, might larger be associated with more dominant or further along the hetero/homo-sexual scale, for example?

My follow-up question is, how would one go about assessing this? No, I don’t mean you to say ‘with warm hands and a micrometer’ but a suggestion of the mathematic parameters and procedures.

Jenny Taylor

Dear …umm… Jenny,

I’m going to say no. I have the following reasons for this answer, with exactly zero evidence gathered and assessed. Namely, it’s patently untrue of penises, which we all think about all the time in this society, so why should it be true of clitorides? Yes, that’s the plural of clitoris, I looked it up.

Now it’s true that a given woman’s clitoris ebbs and flows depending on how sexually stimulated she is, but other than that I think you just assume randomness.

As far as follow up, I’m gonna have to say: none needed, but if you want to turn this into a weird pick-up line at a bar then the more power to you.

Aunt Pythia

——

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia is so very pleased to bring you more of her pearls of wisdom this nearly-believably-spring morning.

In celebration of above-freezing temperature, she’s extra cheerful and she welcomes the clouds and drizzle. After all, late March showers bring late April flowers, or something like that! Let there be blooming and cleansing!

And please, after you enjoy Aunt Pythia’s wisdom, and possibly after you clean out the front closet, please don’t forget to:

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

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,

What the hell is goin’ on with Bitcoin? Will it survive into the future (or something else akin to it) or is it ultimately doomed???

Thanks,
Bitcoin Boogie

p.s. – I hope you realize you’ll probably have more success explaining quantum mechanics to me than Bitcoin.

Dear BB,

I promise not to try to explain Bitcoin’s underlying algorithms. But I think I can still answer your questions.

First of all, Bitcoin has been in the news lately in bad or confusing ways, first with the exchange (Mt. Gox) that went bankrupt, and second because regulators and institutional authorities are having trouble figuring out what Bitcoins are.

Even so, think of these hiccups as growing pains, according to Coinbase co-founder and former Goldman Sachs foreign exchange trader Fred Ehrsam, quoted as saying inspiring things like:

I would go to the bathroom and trade bitcoin on my smartphone and then return to my real desk to do my real job trading real currency.

If you don’t know about it, Coinbase is the “digital wallet” company that you’d probably sign up with if you wanted Bitcoins and you weren’t a huge nerd or a criminal willing to do things on the technical downlow: it makes owning Bitcoins easy, like signing up for a normal checking account.

And they are seeing lots of people joining, and they just got Overstock to accept Bitcoins as payment. So Ehrsam and people like him are pretty positive, and you never know.

Between you and me, though, I think the biggest competitor out there is Google, which has plans to allow people to share money over gmail (hat tip Suresh Naidu). Instead of paying heavy fees, you – guess what – tell Google about your checking accounts and other financial information. I see this potentially competing with banks, Apple, and of course PayPal, which sucks.

I hope that helps!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am originally from a country where it’s normal to be sentimental. I am easily moved to tears and worry that this annoys others around me. Of course I can take counter-measures, for example I try to steady myself if the music is becoming emotional or before viewing some breathtakingly beautiful scenery, or, when news about a disaster or a sad film is being shown on the television I discreetly leave the room before it affects me.

I would like to be strong enough to withstand what appears to provoke no reaction in people here. Do you have any suggestion?

Too Sensitive

Dear Too,

I hear you, I’m a huge cryer too.  I blame the Irish side of my family.

What I do is I playfully prepare people I’m around, for their own comfort, and especially when they are not familiar with this side of me. So when I feel some sentimentality coming on, I’ll announce, “Hey I’m about to totally cry, because that’s what I do! Please bear with me and please ignore the tears, I’ll be OK in 10 minutes or less.” and then I’ll laugh, usually out of embarrassment.

That way they will know I realize it’s about me, not them, and that they’re not responsible to comfort me in any way. It works great, and it’s easy for me to do because I’m an extrovert. If you’re shy, it’s going to be harder, but the alternative is often that you have to explain yourself while you’re crying, which I think is worse.

Good luck!

Auntie P

——

Dear Aunt Pythia.

I am but a humble traveler trying to win you over with a Firefly reference and desperately seeking your advice.

Come July, I will find myself in New York for a week. I will be in need of a place to stay and some things to do while I’m visiting your fine city.

I have been looking on airbnb for a place to stay over a hotel or a hostel but am overwhelmed by all the options. Do I stay in Brooklyn, or Lower Manhattan? Harlem or the Upper West Side. I am a young data analyst from New Zealand, what do I know of New York neighborhoods?

And then there is the sightseeing, do I go and tick off all the tourist spots or are there better things for me to do with my time? Do you know any secret spots filled with good food, great coffee and devoid of the fanny-pack wearing, obnoxiously-photographing tourist hordes?

Yours,

Seeking Habitation In New York

P.S. In New Zealand we call fanny-packs ‘bum-bags’. A fanny in NZ is something entirely different!

Dear SHINY,

I don’t know from Firefly, sorry. But I’ll answer you anyway and let readers add their opinions.

I’d suggest you stay in a different neighborhood every night or two. That way you get to see more of New York, and any annoyance is short-lived. Most of your time will be spent traveling from place to place, so pack light. Make sure at least one night is in Astoria, Queens, which is just cool and kind of the epitome of the melting pot.

The reason I suggest this is that, for me, official tourist destinations are incredibly boring and expensive for what they offer (and what they offer is bum-bag bearing tourists, which you can already see in NZ anyway). I mean, if you think you’ll regret not going to the top of the Empire State Building, then by all means go, but go 10 minutes before they open and depart quickly.

Authentic sight-seeing in New York City consists, in my opinion, of walking through neighborhoods and checking out bars and restaurants and the local cultural gathering places. Look for live music in each neighborhood you stay in, if you like that sort of thing. Or if you are into food, make a plan for a foodie tour of each neighborhood. Yum!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

In searching online dating profile in New York City (I live nearby), I encounter a bunch of profiles of finance professionals working in, say, investment banking. After reading your blog, I have become convinced that people who work in banking

1) are morally bankrupt
1.5) are swindlers
2) are not very thoughtful in regards to the concerns of the 99%
3) are greedy
4) are arrogant … they think they are the best and the brightest, and point to the fake wealth they created to justify their salary
5) are overworked, stressed out at work, and their job is slowly killing them physically and emotionally
6) have expectations of a lavish lifestyle (nothing wrong with that, just not for me…I can’t compete, and perhaps mo money mo problems)

Am I right or am I right? Should I even bother expressing an interest in these profiles?

Just Pondering

Dear Just,

There are two questions here, which I’d like to pose separately.

First, are investment bankers are morally bankrupt swindlers who ignore lesser folk and hate their jobs?

Second, how do optimize my chances of finding love – or at least great sex with a tolerable partner – on an online dating site?

The answer to the first questions is, of course not. There are plenty of people in finance and even in investment banking that are perfectly nice and even sensitive and empathetic. On the other hand, there is some story explaining why they’re there, and it often exposes a weird side to them. On the other other hand, who here doesn’t have a weird side? On the whole I’d say, never disqualify someone on one attribute, especially if they otherwise seem great and you find yourself liking them at a basic human level.

The answer to the second question is a lot trickier, though, and is related to the first in the following sense: if you are playing the numbers – which is all you can do on these websites – then you might well decide to avoid investment bankers. After all, you only have so much time and some many free Friday nights, and you want to optimize for best chance of liking someone. All you have is demographic information like their job and age, and even if you gather more information through emails, you might first want to filter out red flags, and you might find “investment banker” to be a red flag.

As an aside, I would love someone to do a quantitative and qualitative investigation to see how people have changed their dating and mating habits through online dating. It seems like the most profound area of the internet affecting cultural practices.

My bottomline suggestion is to try to find a date through a friend of a friend. Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

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

 

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Tia Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia is coming to you from Costa Rica, where she’s been on vacation all week and is officially 100% sunburnt, relaxed, and happy, except for the occasional digestive issue.

To commemorate the occasion and location she’s temporarily changed her name to “Tia Pythia”, but don’t worry, you can expect consistent obnoxious and over-the-top advice coming from her. She hasn’t lost her edge, even in 95 degree heat!

After you enjoy her column (and the copious fruity drinks!) today please don’t forget to:

think of something to ask Tia Pythia at the bottom of the page!

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

——

Dear Tia Pythia,

I am a graduate student still early in my career, at a university that I am quite happy with (people, subject areas good; geography tolerable for 5 years). However, my (would-be, as-of-yet-unofficial) adviser is moving to a more prestigious, if less outwardly friendly, math department (the way it was described to me is, my current institution is solidly “tier n” while they are considering moving to a “tier n-1″ school). They have offered to bring me with them, but I am nervous about a)whether I could cut it at a more competitive place and b)even if I could, whether 3-4 years of relative misery is worth a “more prestigious” degree.

I’m very excited about the research that my adviser is doing and the field in general, and the prospect of more favorable geography along with a higher “payoff” (in terms of where my degree is from) is attractive, but I’m still seeking sage advice in case I haven’t thought of it in a certain way.

Also, a more direct question: could you have done everything you’ve done since getting your phd if it hadn’t been from Harvard, but from some middle-of-the-road school?

With love,

Future Anxiety Revealed, Troubling Situation

Dear FARTS,

Nice sign-off, and it kind of makes up for a super long letter.

As I’ve written about recently, not all graduate school experiences are the same. Even so, Harvard wasn’t known as the most friendly department and I made it work for me, partly because of the location and the fact that I could make friends outside math. It helped that I grew up in the area and knew people like Nancy from Fair Foods and crucial information like where the best yarn stores were.

I’d suggest visiting the place and seeing if it can work. And importantly, try to make it work. Having an exciting advisor you trust is crucial to the graduate school experience, so I would definitely do my best if I were you to stick with him or her.

In terms of prestige, I definitely think it helps me personally, but I’m never sure how much of that is because I’m a woman – it definitely still seems true that you have to be top-notch to impress people if you’re female whereas men often get the benefit of the doubt.

Also it depends on whether you’re talking to someone inside math or outside math, because outsiders don’t have a definite sense of ranking and also don’t usually care too much. So it also depends on what you want to do with your life after school.

Good luck!

Tia Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’ve never had a girlfriend. I’ve worked for a long time (years) to get one. It hasn’t been a complete waste of time from a social skills and self-improvement point of view, but I haven’t gotten anywhere, and the lack of success has taken its toll.

Logically, I tell myself that it has no bearing on my worth as a human being (compare Isaac Newton and Charlie Sheen for example), that I should enjoy being young and single, and I don’t get as depressed about it as I once did, but we all know that logic isn’t everything. And to clarify, I know I don’t need or am entitled to a girlfriend (I know a lot of guys in my situation do), and my life is satisfying – or getting there – on my own.

I fear that when I’m older, I’ll look back on these years-my most sexually fertile, as well as my most “fun” ones, and see barrenness, when others see great memories with lovers. And I’ll be constantly reminded that they do. I just feel so… tired, or deadened sometimes when thinking about it. What can I do about this?

Draußen vor der Tür

Dear Draußen,

Pardon me for cutting about 85% of your letter, it was just too long. I’m in a short question – short answer kind of mood this morning. Something about the last day of a vacation. And I didn’t cut out the part about Charlie Sheen, because honestly I don’t get it and I’m wondering if readers do and could comment on a possible interpretation.

Look, I have sympathy for your situation. As a guy in physics (part of what I cut), I’m sure you spend most of your time around other guys. It must be tough to meet nice women.

But at the same time, I guess I’m wondering what it is you’ve been doing to try to meet women, and importantly how you’ve talked to them when you’ve met them. From the 85% of your letter that I cut, I can tell you spend a lot of time thinking about yourself and what you should do with your life.

But to be honest, unless someone is already your friend, they probably don’t care about that stuff. At all. If I meet someone who starts talking about that stuff, I find a quick reason to depart.

You need to make sure you have opinions about other things besides yourself. Like, do you read the paper? What do you think about Ukraine? Or the new SAT? Make sure you are not too self-involved and that you have truly interesting opinions and things to say before you meet women. Even better: have ideals. Have plans to fix problems. That’s interesting! That’s possibly even sexy!

Another idea: try reading How Not to Be a Dick: An Everyday Etiquette Guide (hat tip Becky Jaffe). And I’m not saying that because I think you’re a dick (although I’m also not saying you aren’t a dick!) but because it has lots of great points about communication and making sure you’re coming across well. I know I learned something reading it!

One last thing: it doesn’t have to be work. Find something you like doing that lots of women also like doing, and go enjoy yourself. Joy is extremely catchy. Worst case you make some new friends.

Good luck,

Tia Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

What do nerdy women talk about at lunch?

I’m a woman who recently started working in an office after a few years of working at home. It’s an educational technology company, and I’m in the unique and fortunate position of being both an educator and a software tester in training.

Most days when I go to the communal kitchen to heat my lunch, many of the women from the education team are engaging in loud discussions about their kids. I’ve started noticing that most of the men educators and people from other departments bury themselves in a book or take their food back to their desks. As a non-parent, I’m sometimes curious about life on the other side, but there’s such a thing as too much information. Today after yet another round of hearing about children’s eating habits, sleep habits, etc, I took my plate and headed for the tech zone for more stimulating conversation.

Any suggestions on things I can ask my coworkers with kids to steer the topic in another direction? I would like to get to know them better and pick their brains on their career paths and aspirations. Or am I better off spending more time with the mostly male tech geeks and absorbing their lingo?

Lunch Uncomfortable Need Conversation Help

Dear LUNCH,

First, congrats on the new job, it sounds cool.

Second, to be honest I have never encountered this problem personally because I’m such a freaking loudmouth. I pretty much just barge into conversations and change the topic if I’m bored. I often even tell people they’re really boring and need to spice up their conversation, preferably with sex. Nobody ever seems to complain that they want to talk more about their sleeping or non-sleeping kids. Not sure they like me, but whatevs.

I mean, I don’t literally interrupt the conversation, because I’m not totally rude. But I’ll wait for a good moment and just jump in with something off-topic like the new SAT or Putin or whether House of Cards is too cynical or not cynical enough.

My advice: come prepared with a short list of 4 non-parenting but general topics and see how they fly. I’m guessing they are themselves just bored and talking about that stuff out of habit and will welcome new blood.

Also, engage the men as well, especially if you go with sex.

Good luck!

Tia Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

An acquaintance has started sending emails urging his “friends” to call upon their political leaders to oppose immigration reform. The first time, I assumed his message was spam and deleted it. I replied to the second message saying that I thought his account had been hacked. He replied that he had indeed sent it, explaining his position. After another message, which he forgot to BCC, one of the recipients replied with a well-reasoned rebuttal. The spammer’s response was to remove that person from his contact list.

Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I was initially confused because:
1. I met this person through an organization that celebrates cultural diversity.
2. His wife and stepson are immigrants.

His reasons for opposing immigration reform:
1. He was forced into early retirement because his employer went out of business.
2. Big business is profiting off cheap illegal labor, taking better paying jobs from Americans.
3. “Those people” are migrating northward, taking over, etc. (His wife is from a country bordering Europe, and the immigrants he opposes come from other places.)

So, the question is, should I ignore the emails, ask him to stop, or attempt to find common ground? I would generally ignore such spam, but I consider his wife a good friend. What kinds of holes can I point out in his argument, like the many forms of corporate greed?

Stop Propagating Antagonizing Messages

Dear SPAM,

Awesome sign-off. Both topical and sensical. Seriously, you should hold a master class in these motherfuckers.

In terms of your quandary, I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d ask him politely to take you off the email list, and I’d never discuss it again with him. I’d continue to be friends with his wife.

Here’s why. He’s gotten it into his head that he lost his job for an abstract political reason. In doing so, he’s made it incredibly personal, and no amount of factual evidence is going to change his stance. You are not going to change it either.

Maybe at some point something will change it, but it will be emotional and deeply personal to him, not something you can effect.

Better yet, just build a filter to send his emails to trash and never think about it again.

Tia Pythia

——

Dear Tia Pythia,

From your remark of blowing off steam at a conference I remembered this article. Have you read it? It’s very informative and fun.

If conferences like JMM were to have bowls of condoms at the end of the tables where you pick up your badge do you think people would get the idea and pocket a hand full, then use them?

Open Relationships Rock

Dear ORR,

Wait, what article? That’s super unfair.

Tia Pythia

——

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia missed you very much last week and is ever so grateful to return today. And although she usually takes on four questions from readers, today she feels like switching it up and taking on three but making them extra delicious. She hopes you agree that this was the correct choice. Plus she’s running out of questions again, so she’s conserving.

In other words, after you enjoy Aunt Pythia’s wisdom, please don’t forget to:

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

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,

So about that Valentine’s Day article which you asked us to ask about… so many questions!

1. In consecutive paragraphs, she says that educated men want “younger, less challenging women” and then that educated women will be frustrated with someone who “just can’t keep up with you or your friends.” Question: is this more insulting to women or to men?

2. She says that “College is the best place to look for your mate. It is an environment teeming with like-minded, age-appropriate single men with whom you already share many things.” Is she talking about STDs here?

3. Did she actually write the sentence “Men won’t buy the cow if the milk is free.”?

4. She writes, “And if you fail to identify ‘the one’ while you’re in college, don’t worry—there’s always graduate school.” So she’s encouraging the old MRS degree. Question: what year was this article written?

That’s all I’ve got for now… I can’t bear to read any more of it!

Woman Turning Forty

Dear WTF,

First, may I express deep satisfaction and pleasure at both your willingness to hate on this article with me and your gorgeous and appropriate acronym. Nicely done, we should hang out. Plus we are age-appropriate, so I’m sure Susan Patton would approve. In fact, here’s a picture of Susan Patton approving or not:

She actually looks like she's reserving judgment in a baffled way.

She actually looks like she’s reserving judgment in a baffled way.

On to the questions:

1. Great point, but I’d have to go with “equally insulting to all human persons” here. The basic assumption she makes is that people can be meaningfully measured by external attributes such as age and education level. Some of the stupidest people I’ve ever met were at Harvard and MIT, and some of the wisest – and in some sense, most threatening – people I’ve met are young children, who can really say it like it is. As to the assumption that men are only interested in young, less challenging women, I’m going to assume that’s the way she raises her sons to be, and I pity them.

2. I mean, look. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take lovers in college, and experiment with STDs for that matter, when it suits you and you have the time and interest. In fact you should fool around as much as you care to, and it’s a natural thing to do considering how many hormones are knocking about. But the idea that you should feel like you’re already late to the critical party if you graduate from college without a fiancee is just putrid advice. People make desperate and bad choices when they are insecure, boxed in, and panicking for time. The way I see it, getting people to marry young is a kind of social control that old people exert on the young, before they really know how to say “fuck this particular model of conformity”.

3. OMG yes she did, and guess what? That’s sexual objectification, pure and simple, and it’s not empowering. If she doesn’t see that, she should watch this video with Caroline Heldman, the chair of the Politics department at Occidental College. In fact everyone should, it blew me away.

4. I’m eyeballing the answer as before 1920, the year women were given the right to vote.

Thanks again for the opportunity to vent!

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

You asked for questions on the Susan Patton column. This is barely a question, but here you go.

I have a lot of “alpha” traits that may be stereotypically associated with males. Your posts on being an alpha female have definitely helped me understand some aspects of myself and why it can be confusing for me when I interact with other women, so thanks for that.

For example, my ego likes it when I’m the smartest one in a group, or earn the most money in a relationship or something. But that isn’t always actually what will make me happiest/best off. I am an amateur musician, and I have learned to enjoy being in a musical group where I am the weakest link. I don’t like being a burden to the other people in the group, but if I’m the worst, that means I’m making music with a bunch of people who are even better than I am, so I am making really great music. (And of course I work hard to improve and play as well as I possibly can.) I don’t like playing music with people who are so much better that they will hate the experience, but if I’m the worst by a little bit, it’s perfect for me. Sure, it would give me a little ego boost to be the best and look down on the other people, but that ego boost isn’t as good as the feeling of making better music.

Likewise, if my family’s earnings were limited to 2x, where x is my salary, I would be worse off than if I had a partner who made more money than I did (assuming that money can buy happiness, which it basically can). But in the Patton piece, she talks about the old trope that men don’t want to be out-earned by their partners. My question is, what’s the deal with that? Why are people (stereotypically males, I guess) so threatened by having a partner who earns more than they do, or who is smarter than they are?

Another Alpha Female

Dear AAF,

I just want to make a couple of remarks before getting to your question. First of all, everyone likes feeling like a smart person in a group, and second of all, not everyone is willing to be the worst player in a band. So good for you for being willing to put yourself out there, and alpha female or not, people need to challenge themselves. Plus keep in mind many people – maybe even all – will think they’re the worst person in a band, because they notice their own mistakes more than they notice other people’s.

As for the money thing, I think there are two effects going on here. First, there’s a very temporary “attributes seem important” effect when you first meet someone. This was illustrated recently by various reports (e.g. this) on how people create artificial filters in their online dating profiles – things like height, weight, and education requirements. As it turns out, people are much more restrictive online than in real life, partly because of the nature of the information that is available to online daters.

So just as you think you want a tall guy when you fill out a form, if you meet someone in real life who is two inches shorter than you but makes you laugh yourself silly, you will not even notice his height. And just as men might abstractly be seeking a woman who earns just a little bit less than he does – although I’m not sure men think about it explicitly like this – there’s a good chance he will fall in love based on how she smiles when she plays guitar rather than her paycheck.

There may be a longer term intimidation problem as well, where men and women are accustomed to the idea that the man should be in some way dominant. For example, I still think that men are less likely to leave bad jobs because they have more of a sense of duty towards their images as workers. I’m not sure how to address this in a relationship except to advise women to find a man who loves his job.

Finally, I don’t think anyone ever thinks they’re “not as smart” as their partner. It’s a combination of the multidimensionality of intelligence and human nature that we all find ways in which we’re plenty smart with respect to our long-term friends and partners. I guess the exception might be if both people work in the same exact field and so one dimension of smarts is overemphasized. In that case I’d suggest working in different jobs or at least focusing on other kinds of talents whenever possible.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

Isn’t fairness at least as quantifiable as happiness? Why have no fairness rankings of nations been published? If psychologists can study happiness, then surely sociologists can study fairness.

Elvis Von Essende Nicholas Friedrich Lester Otto Widener IV

Dear EVENFLOWIV,

Well, depending on what you mean by fairness, there have been a few attempts. For just plain income inequality, we have what’s called the Gini coefficient with an associated map:

In 2009, USA had a terribly high Gini coefficient. Most recently it is 0.486.

In 2009, USA had a terribly high Gini coefficient. Most recently it was measured at 0.486, the very top of that bin.

For other concepts of fairness like “given your situation at birth, what’s your situation later on?” you have the concept of mobility, and here’s a graph of that by city from the New York Times:

inequality map 630

Did you have something else in mind?

Aunt Pythia

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia has some exciting news.

After spending about 5 days of the last 7 in bed with an awful flu, and finishing off both seasons of House of Cards (with the associated feeling of being simultaneously drowned in cynicism and phlegm), Aunt Pythia started in on Battlestar Galactica, which she honestly should have done years ago.

I just love me some Starbuck!

And do you know who stars in that series, at least in Season 2? None other than yours truly, Pythia the Oracle of Delphi! I am honored, and I hope you are honored by association. Go ahead, feel the honor.

After you enjoy my column (and the honor!) today please don’t forget to:

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

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,

I gave a talk at this year’s JMM in Baltimore. It was one of those super rushed 10-minute talks. But giving any talk at all sufficed for my university to pay for my travel and lodging. That’s not to say that I didn’t take it seriously. I did. I even dressed nice for it, which I don’t normally do as a grad student and mother of a toddler. I bothered to care about a talk that has only enough time to explain its title because this year is an important year for me. It’s my last year of my PhD and I’m applying for postdocs and jobs. It’s why I attended the JMM.

My talk went well enough. I got a few questions at the end and I didn’t go over my time. And that should be the end of it. JMM is over. I can get back to stressing over my dissertation. But I got an email. An email from someone who was in the audience. He wrote to me that he enjoyed my talk and would like to meet me for dinner. He even added that this is “to be clear, a non-math invitation.”

My first thought was that I should send a reply correcting the many grammatical errors I found in his very short email. But that thought quickly changed into anger. I traveled a very long distance to work. I’m taking time away from my research, away from my 2-year-old so that I can present myself professionally to an audience of my peers and potential employers. I hope and expect to be treated like a real scientist. I remembered all the stories, all of the frustration of so many of my friends and colleagues, scientists who also happen to be women, who were treated with anything but respect just because they weren’t born with a penis. I was insulted, furious that some stupid little boy thought that this sort of behavior is appropriate.

But there was always the small chance that he is, in fact, stupid—in certain ways. After all, this is a math conference. There are mathematicians who, while brilliant, may not have (let’s just say) mature social skills. (Though this guy’s probably not too clever since a quick Google search would have revealed that I have a webpage containing a photo of me and my family and therefore not likely to be interested in dating.)

I replied with an invitation to meet for lunch. So that I can verify that he’s not developmentally challenged and confirm his implied intention. And then yell at him to his face. He didn’t end up showing, even though he sounded eager to meet in the multiple emails he sent following my response. He was probably scared away by the large crowd of my friends that had gathered around our meeting place to support me or, more likely, to witness the spectacle.

Most of the men I spoke to about this incident were sympathetic to the poor idiotic horny kid who clearly had no idea how to talk to girls. They recalled some embarrassing moments from their youth and said that I should have just mercifully sent him a gentle rejection.

I, on the other hand, find his action to be a stark example of how women are not taken seriously in science and feel he should be told that this sort of behavior is not excusable. Granted, a public shaming may not have been warranted. But I think that I am right to feel insulted in this situation.

I’m still thinking about emailing this guy and telling him off. My friend (who is usually a feminist) thinks that while the guy had absolutely no tact and needs some guidance on interacting with other humans, finding a speaker attractive and approaching her at a conference is not wrong. He thinks that had the guy joined me and my friends for drinks after my talk and then later admitted to his interest in me, I would not have been offended. I disagree.

What do you think? Am I overreacting?

Scientista (in training)

Dear Scientista,

Wow, that was a really long question, but I decided to publish it all anyway, because I can see you earnestly want my advice. Not so sure you’re going to like my advice though.

Because here’s the thing, you are absolutely overreacting. I mean, that’s ok, and no actual harm done, but what a huge amount of time wasted at JMM where you could have been doing math, drinking bourbon, or playing bridge.

That’s not to say I like what the guy did, it was definitely obtuse to the point of idiocy, but there you have it, he’s an idiot. Best thing to do in that situation is to delete the email and not give it another thought.

I mean, I guess there might have been a side benefit for the rest of the math community in this planned public shaming, if word had gotten out that this guy had written such an unsolicited and unwelcome email. It might have given pause to the 450 other such emails that happened that weekend. Or not.

Also, I think we should be careful to separate your efforts in preparing your talk and coming to the conference, which were real, from this guy’s sexual interest. I’m guessing that, had you gotten 5 emails talking about the math and how awesome it is, and this email to boot, you would have been able to shrug this one off. It’s the unfortunate nature of short talks that they take a lot to prepare for but there’s little chance of getting good feedback. But let’s not take out that frustration on him entirely.

In one way I’d like to defend this guy: at least he made his explicit desires known. It would have been worse, in my opinion, if he’d come up with some math pretext for meeting and then put his hand on your knee at lunch.

Plus, I’d like to take this opportunity to defend sex at math conferences in general. I mean, it’s one of the classic ways of blowing off some steam after a long day of whirlwind 10-minute talks, married or unmarried.

Finally, and I hope this doesn’t sound too harsh, I’d like to give you some general advice. You are a woman in math, which means you are a warrior, even if you didn’t want to sign up for that. And the best and easiest way to be a warrior is to have a thick skin, to remember the victories, and to ignore the defeats.

And I don’t mean stay quiet about awful, actionable sexism that threatens your job or your responsibilities at work, but I do mean deleting idiotic emails without a second thought, from now on.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Given that the entire financial industry seems to be loaded with unethical behavior, what do you think are ethical ways to invest your money? Certainly choosing credit unions over large banks seems to be a good way for your savings but I am curious about how you would invest for retirement. Do you think there are ethical ways to invest in stocks, bonds, etc?

Thanks!

Serious Pondering About Money

Dear SPAM,

I get asked this a lot, but I don’t have a good answer. And honestly I worry more about people who don’t have any money saved for retirement at all, and are stuck in student or medical debt.

If you really want my advice, I’d say there are three things you could or should worry about regarding savings: liquidity, risk, and ethics. You may have more things you worry about, but this is just a starting point. I’d suggest you divide your money up into those categories, depending on how you weight the associated concerns.

For the liquidity part, keep cash in a savings account (FDIC insured) or a money market account (not FDIC insured). For the risk part, invest in an ETF for the overall market, because we’ve seen that the government props up the market so you want to ride that buffered wave whilst minimizing fees. For the ethical part, track down a company – or even an individual – doing stuff you think is good for the world and invest in it. It’s highly illiquid and highly risky to do that, but you’ve already taken care of those concerns.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

Is it OK to review NSA grant proposals?

You might have seen Beilinson’s letter to the AMS notices extolling mathematicians to break ties with the NSA. I kind of sympathize with it. The AMS helps the NSA administer its grants program and I recently got two proposals to referee. These were from young mathematicians that I hold in high regard and think deserve to be funded. As NSF funding is dwindling, if they don’t get the NSA grant they might be unfunded. Moreover, I am knowledgeable about their work and felt that if I turned down the request it would be bad for them, so I decided to review the proposals. Have I done the right thing?

Not Sure Actually

Dear NSA,

I feel your pain. The funding is drying up for these worthy researchers, but you’d rather not feel like a collaborator. Those are directly conflicting issues.

And it’s exactly what I fear when I think of the oncoming MOOC revolution and the end of math research. Who is going to fund math research when calculus is gone? The obvious answer is private companies, private individuals, and places like the NSA. Not a pretty picture.

My best advice for you is to review the proposals because you want those researchers funded – and feel slightly better that they’re doing research external to the NSA – and at the same time get involved with solving the larger funding problem for mathematics. This could mean going to talk to your congressperson about the need for mathematical funding or it could mean spreading the word more generally about the importance of math research.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Auntie Pythia,

The Facebook Data Science folks posted a series of blog posts about love (or at least relationships). As a data scientist and sex oracle, what do you make of the results and/or on the use of social network data for these kinds of studies?

Love,

Lots Of Valentine’s Extrapolations

Dear LOVE,

Wow, thanks for the link. I happen to know the author, Mike Develin, of those posts, first because he was a (brilliant) student of mine at math camp way back in like 1993, and second because we worked at D.E. Shaw together – although he worked in the California office.

So anyhoo, I like the posts. They’re smart. The one thing I’d say, for example about the age difference of couples in different countries, is that I have to assume there’s a bias away from older middle-aged couples and towards couples where the husband is old and the wife is young. Here’s a picture:

Who is actually on Facebook divulging their marital status?

Who is actually on Facebook divulging their marital status?

I say this because, even if both members of the couple are on Facebook (and that already skews somewhat young), I would guess older people are less likely to divulge their marital status. That kind of thing makes me think we should look at these charts with the caveat that they are true “in the context of Facebook data”.

In terms of the ethics of this kind of use of aggregated data, I’d say it’s great. The stuff I think is scary is the stuff that isn’t aggregated and is hidden from us.

Best,

Aunt Pythia

——

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Good morning, fine readers! Aunt Pythia is very happy to be here this morning, and she’s got some wonderful news and a request.

First the news. It’s not snowing today! I take it back it just started snowing.

Now the request. As readers know, Aunt Pythia never makes up questions, but she’s not above making requests. That’s just how her ethics roll. And Aunt Pythia is itching to discuss this vile Valentine’s Day column from Susan Patton, so please take a look and let the questions roll in, thanks.

After you enjoy my column today – there’s sex at the end – please don’t forget to:

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

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.

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

Before reading about the Target data loss, I didn’t realize that each company is responsible for the security of the in-store network that contains and transmits the data entered when I purchase an item. I thought there was some standard national process that controlled/enacted all debit/credit card transactions. How dumb I was. Now I am seriously thinking of trying to switch to using only cash. (This is leaving aside the motivation of achieving privacy in what I purchase.) I trust you to be savvy, so here are some questions:

  1. Is it worth switching to using only cash in-store?
  2. What about online? Just use Paypal? (How safe is that?) Have a credit card only used for online purchases, that isn’t linked to my bank accounts? 
  3. To be honest, I am somewhat freaking out that with an all-digital banking system my money (and millions of other people’s) could just vanish from my “bank account” in some hacking extravaganza. After all my “bank account” is just some picture on my screen representing my hard-earned savings. Should we print out bank statements every month and keep them under our mattresses? I have decided that I’ll count on the FDIC, but how do I prove to the FDIC how much money I had if my bank’s been hacked and all my online records destroyed?

Dr. Suspicious Ignorant Naive

Dear Dr. SIN,

Let me try to convince you to be more worried about being tracked than this particular security issue.

Your potential losses on lost or stolen credit cards and debit cards top out at $50 if you report the loss quickly – see the FTC website for more information on this. And by “quickly” that means from the moment you are made aware of it, either by being told by the company or by monthly statements that show erroneous charges. So keep an eye on those statements and you’re pretty well protected.

Credit cards have slightly better protection and you don’t ever actually pay the bad charges, which is why I opt for credit cards over debit cards when I can.

That’s not to say it’s fun to have your identity stolen, but that’s actually pretty rare.

On the other hand, the tracking issue is real, and is happening, and cash purchases will help but won’t be sufficient. Lots of tracking happens just by your phone usage, and even turning off your cell phone might not be enough, although you might like that feature if you lose your phone.

In other words, to get off the grid you’d need to use cash, leave your cell phone at home, and avoid the various cameras and sensors being placed everywhere. Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

Will the bitcoin protocol disrupt investment banking? Does this finally imply a means for fairer banking practices without putting regular folks on the hook? Here’s a related article.

Quantifried in Canada

Dear Quantrified,

I haven’t read that article, but I’ll just go ahead and answer the question anyway: no. The reasons that regular folks are on the hook for crazy bets on things like mortgage backed securities is complicated, deep, and will not go away because of bitcoin.

I’m not sure where or how this mythology got started, but even if an alternative currency worked flawlessly – which bitcoin does not, by far – we’d still have deep ties to Wall Street, and we’d still be bailing them out if and when.

For one thing, people’s retirement savings are increasingly involved in the fate of the markets and the banks, and that’s not gonna change just because our cash system gets separated from bank fees.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love the banks to have fewer ways to control their power, and part of their power definitely includes things like fees on international money transfers. Let’s free ourselves! Cool. But let’s not pretend that’s a panacea.

Plus it would be great if we could find an alternative currency where you get more money for saving energy, not for wasting it. Too much to ask?

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am friends with you on Facebook and I have recently got your book Doing Data Science on my kindle (to give you insight about our one sided relationship). There is more I want to say: with the inspiration and courage from you, I have quit my academic path in number theory.

I looked for jobs in the U.S.. However, a math Ph.D. was not good enough for the employers to jump on me. I now work as an evidence-based policy maker in science and technology matters in my home country.

However there are some problems. One is: I left a boy friend behind to get this job. Second: I do miss U.S., the wild nature, blue sky, fresh air and enough space for everyone. How can I be productive and still feel that I live in a beautiful world? The two notions does not seem to come together after quitting academia. Why is not U.S. more generous to let in people who would like to live there or let them look for jobs without time pressure?

No Acronym

Dear NA,

Holy crap, I don’t think I ever told anyone to be like me.

Here’s the thing, you never get rid of problems, you just exchange them for new problems. And your new problems sound pretty deep.

My suggestion for you is to understand your options – all of them – and make a plan to increase those options in the medium and long term so that you have a 5-year and 10-year plan to make your problems closer to your ideal set of problems.

I know that sounds vague, but I can’t help you much more than that because everyone’s ideal set of problems is different. Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am visiting U.S.A. from overseas. The guidebook says that a 15% to 20% gratuity based on the bill before sales taxes (with a minimum of 1$) should be given to staff of restaurants, taxis, salons etc. Are there other rounding conventions? And, is any of this discretionary according to customer’s appreciation of the service received?

I am from a country that has spent a generation (and indeed is still making efforts) to eradicate bribery and bring the informal economy into the realm of taxation, so it’s an awkward custom for me. I want to be respectful but prefer not to overpay due to ignorance.

Confused Foreign Visitor

Dear CFV,

First of all, it’s not bribery. These people depend on good tips for their salary. Waiting staff in restaurants have a minimum wage of $2.13, which is outrageous. They need those tips to survive.

I’m not saying it’s a great system, but it’s a system.

Second, your rules do not jibe with how I understand the rules of tipping. Here’s how I do it:

  1. For restaurant meals, I tip at least 1/6th of the cost of the food after tax. So if the bill with tax is $60 I pay $70.
  2. For taxies, I pay 10% for long trips and 15% or 20% for shorter trips.
  3. For delivery in my neighborhood, I pay the larger of $5 or 10% of the meal’s cost.
  4. For haircuts it really depends on the situation and whether the person listened to what I asked for. I give between between 10% and 25%. Then again I get about 1 haircut per year.

Good luck, and welcome to our country!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m in the 5th or 6th year of long distance in an almost decade long relationship with my girlfriend. I love her very much and intend to marry her when we settle down eventually. When we’re together we have great sex.

Anyway, I’m a very horny guy. Oftentimes, my mind wanders off to very naughty things. If it wasn’t for my awesome girlfriend, I’d probably be a classic man slut. I’ve never cheated on her, nor have I ever been in a relationship with anyone else actually, but that doesn’t stop me from frequently checking out girls, dreaming of threesomes, and watching porn. Usually it doesn’t really get to me, because there are much more pressing problems in my life I have to deal with (e.g. career), but in moments when those problems get put on the backburner for one reason or another, it’s like my libido starts consuming me alive. I just really, really want to have sex with another girl.

Aunt Pythia, what should I do? What mental pep talk should I give myself in these moments of anguish? I love my girlfriend and want to be with her, but I’m just so goddamn horny.

Brandishing One Nasty Erection Rythmically

Dear BONER,

First, nice acronym.

Next, I’m pretty sure this is a fake question, but I’ma include it anyway because I’m desperate to juice up this rather tame column.

Why fake? Because, if you were really a man slut, and if you’re really long-distance for your 6th year, then you’re almost definitely 100% already having sex with other people.

I mean, I would be! WTF?! Who stays faithful for 6 years?

OK OK I know what you’re saying – you made an oath. I get that. But nobody – and I mean nobody – can be expected to live apart from their lover for that long. It’s just nuts. My personal opinion, and I can already sense the disgust and dismissal of some people upon reading this. I’m shallow and overly devoted to my cruder instincts, all true. But I also have a standard of decency and quality of life that includes regular physical contact.

My advice to you: start living with your future wife very very soon, or break up with her and get relief with a local. Or tell your GF that you need to take a lover, maybe you guys can work something out.

You asked.

Aunt Pythia

——

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Ask Tante Nina and Aunt Pythia

Today we have a special treat for Aunt Pythia fans and lovers, which is that her good friend Tante Nina has helped come up with wise answers to your timeless quandaries. I know you guys will enjoy her brief visit with us as much as I do.

After you enjoy her sage advice, please don’t forget to:

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

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 Tante Nina and Aunt Pythia,

What do you think of answering overly nosy questions (from acquaintances, cousins, etc) with something along the lines of “Sorry, you don’t have the security clearance for that information”? I feel like it can be done with enough humor that it’s not an insult… but I can imagine I might be bad at making that call.

Nosiness Seeds Awkwardness

Dear NSA,

Given how awesome your sign-off is, we think you’re witty enough to pull this off!

Look, we may not be the best ladies for this question. You ask, we tell. But, as Tante Nina’s mom always said – in Spanish, so it sounds better – “a good understander needs few words”.

Basically, most people will take a hint with just this kind of graceful little brushoff. If someone still doesn’t get it, you can keep going with your metaphor and say, “If I told you I’d have to kill you”.

For the truly obtuse or pushy sometimes, turning the tables can deliver the message.  Ask them a super personal question they’d rather not answer.  Or, you can always be direct (less fun, less old world, but often my go-to). “How did you get so nosy? Get outta here! I’m not answering that in a million years.”

Tante Nina and Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Tante Nina and Aunt Pythia,

My recent (and less recent) professional life has been marred with sexism, mainly of the form of men (usually much older than I, and in positions of power over me) degrading me based on my gender or sexualizing me.

I’ve been asked to become their department’s fan girl, received numerous unwelcome comments about my weight, had new wardrobes suggested to flatter myself better, etc.

I have never crossed the line of professionalism in my dress or manner, but whenever I address the issue with these men’s superiors, I always get the blame thrown back at me: Well, what WERE you wearing? ARE you working out? Have you suggested they’re being inappropriate?

I have no problem being forward towards these men, and I call them out when they make inappropriate comments to me, usually to have them attempt to intimidate me more or complaining that they’re just jesting and I’m taking the words too seriously.

Do you have any recommendations on how to deal with professional-level sexism? I feel very much like my profession is not being taken seriously, and I’m being judged entirely on my outward appearance (which never pleases the way they want, and doesn’t exist to please them at all).

With much love,

Serious Woman Always Genderized

Dear Reluctant Fan Girl,

First of all, let me say I’m really sorry you are going through this. It truly sucks. Sexism, like racism, is alive and well. You can always try to find a better work environment and I am sure there are companies that are better and worse than others, supervisors who are more sensitive than others, but no matter where you go sexism in the workplace will be an issue to some extent. It’s the world we live in.

That said, your question, is “how do I deal with it?” It would be a good idea to document incidents, perhaps by describing the events and emailing yourself at a non-workplace address. Copy yourself on emails where you set up meetings with superiors to discuss issues and describe the problem clearly. Keep track and have a record so that down the line if you discover you are being passed over for promotions you feel you deserved or being punished unfairly you have a case to present.  This is one way to approach your problem but by no means the only one.

I have often wondered how women like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor made it to the very top of their professions in a climate that was clearly even more hostile to women than anything we have come close to encountering in our own generation. Clearly, while sexism in the workplace presents a real challenge, and it is unfair that you have to deal with this, it is a surmountable challenge. You are trying to figure out how to work through this and it is exactly the right attitude.

There is some amount of legal recourse and documenting what happens will help you avail yourself of that avenue if you ever decide to take that route, but let’s face it, you don’t want to bring out the big guns unless you really, really have to.

So back to Ruth and Sandra. How did women of that generation get by?  On grit, excellent results, hard work, and playing dumb, dumb like a fox.

Don’t let these guys win by undermining your confidence, because that is what they are trying to do. With the little micro-aggressions they are trying to put you in your place. Showing any kind of upset plays right into that. These guys are jerks and bullies.  Jerks and bullies generally give up and go away when they can’t get a rise from you.

Laugh, brush them off with humor whenever possible, and remember that success is the best revenge.

Also, don’t worry too much, and give yourself some slack sometimes too. Try to put in place the support in other areas of your life that you will need to call upon to shore up your strength and pull you through.

Finally, remember you must be doing something right if all these guys are running scared.

Warmly,

Tante Nina

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

I have been dating someone for about 4 months, and in some ways things seem to be going well: we enjoy spending time together, we are attracted to each other, we have a lot of the same attitudes and goals. But I’m not in love with her, and am starting to worry that I never will be. In my previous relationships it happened a lot sooner. How much time should I give this?

Thanks,

Not In Love

Dear NIL,

I’m gonna say it, because I think it has to be said. Walk away. You don’t want to waste your time, and you don’t have an infinite amount of time to waste. Go find something truly satisfying, and stay good friends with this very cool person.

Also, who knows? You might figure out there is love there after you stop seeing each other and you miss each other.

But you gotta have standards, and being bored is not a good enough one.

Aunt Pythia

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Hiya, Aunt Pythia,

I’ve been seeing a lot of “PhD (ABD)” popping up on people’s LinkedIn profiles and resumes. Having dropped out of grad school when my advisor went on “indefinite” sabbatical four years into my own graduate study, after passing the written oral and qualifying exams for PhD candidacy, I’m wondering if I’m doing myself a disservice by “just” listing Master’s. On the other hand, I certainly don’t want misrepresent myself. What do you think? Is this something you’ve heard discussed in academic or business circles?

Does Representation Of PhD Overstate / Understate Talent?

Dear DROPOUT,

Nice.

Here’s the thing, DROPOUT, we looked over a few LinkedIn friends of ours to check out the sitch, and we’d like mention that we were also surprised by how many ABD’s turned up.

However, those people are all people who expect to get their dissertations written up soon, or at least claim to be well on their way towards that goal. Our conclusion is that “ABD” implies an active engagement with your thesis, which we don’t think you have. So we say: don’t do it.

And it’s possible you could fake it, but then if, after 10 years you still have “ABD” up there, it would look weird, and weirdly defensive. That’s just our opinion. Also, if we were you, we’d focus on other cool things you’re doing with your education rather than fretting over that.

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia and Tante Nina

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia missed you guys last week, she was sadly without wifi.

Or was she? Another possibility you might want to consider is that she was reading the entire history of the newly discovered NSFW critique my dick pic tumblr (not me! but kind of wish it were!), or possibly that she had finally discovered the way to bypass running out of lives on Candy Crush.

We will perhaps never know. But in the meantime, please

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

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.

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

Your letter from Sex Life: Unending Training brought to mind a reciprocal question from this straight male. Please posit, for purposes of discussion, that I’m not only experienced in bed but expert. And not one of your “80% good and who thinks they don’t need any tutoring” — I’m always eager to improve! A woman once told me in surprise, “I never thought you’d be subtle as a lover.” Others have said that had they known, they’d have jumped my bones sooner.

My question is this: how do I convey this to women like SLUT who would be interested in this fact, short of direct demonstration?

Don’t overlook My expertise

Dear DoMe,

First of all, I’m happy for you, kind of. I mean, what you’ve explained is that you exceed expectations, but then again that means you set them low to begin with.

My suggestion is to take a page from the Latin Lovers’ Handbook and sweet talk women with promises of amazing, mind-blowing experiences if they agree to go to bed with you. Turns out women love being flattered, and they also like signaling that emphasizes their pleasure as a priority.

In other words, the way to “convey” your mad skillz to women such as SLUT is to brag at length about them, in a raspy and whispery voice, directly into her ear. The more people around the better, this is no time to be shy. Commit to raising expectations, not lowering them, and be explicitly sexual. Women like sexy promises, especially if you can follow through, which you’re claiming you’ve got covered. I hope you’ve got that covered.

Oh and this all has to be done at the appropriate moment, of course, or else you’ll be super creepy.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

How do partners of professors thrive professionally? From what I can see, most professors are employed in small/medium towns where employment opportunities are already limited. How do they make it work?

I’m currently employed in a job I love and can work remotely, but I’m worried about 3-7 years down the line when I’ll be looking for another job. What if my best options are the next big city 250-1000 miles away? Is there a way to support one another’s career with the combination of shorter job stints in the private sector, tenure requirements and a glacial job market in academia?

Professional

Dear Professional,

Great question. Lots of examples come to mind of partners who are also professors, or who work in the college/university in question in an administrative capacity, or who have super portable jobs such as high school teachers or doctors or lawyers (although the different state bars make that less than ideal).

I suggest that, when you and your partner are negotiating with a given school, after your partner has her or his offer, you mention this as an issue. It’s a super common problem of course, and I’m sure the institution has come up with ideas in the past.

However, the truth is that this system was set up in a different age, where women and families were expected to follow husbands around. So sometimes it just sucks. My overall advice for you is to consider all your options as a family, including having your partner leave academics and work in industry or such.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

This will sound made-up but it’s not.

After accumulating a small but modestly comfortable stash, mostly for objectionable work in finance, I found a few years ago that I couldn’t find anything rewarding. This depressed me, setting me on a desultory search. Then a friend with 30 years’ experience managing grassroots developing-country projects told me he’d gotten into exporting non-conflict gold from small mines in darkest Africa and needed funds and a partner. He’d already raised a substantial amount from investors including a smart friend of ours. His bizarre adventures fascinated me, so I put a little into it but as urgency and promised payoffs grew I thought “what the hell” and invested the whole damn stash.

It turned out the friend, an intelligent, accomplished man, had a tragic weakness. He was a lover who sees no flaw even when his loved one is using the hell out of him – except his love object was Africans in general. I lost all my money.

My question: Five years after, possibly as a providential result of that act of personal creative destruction, I’ve found what I was looking for and am creeping back toward solvency. When I meet a woman and it may be getting serious, when do I tell her that her assumption that I’m well-heeled is wrong? This happened recently; after I told her things kind of came apart. It was relevant because she wanted children and it would be hard with little money. I think I’ll claw my way back to my previous wealth but can’t be sure. When and what should I have told her?

Decidedly uncertain of proper events to divulge

Dear Duopetd,

First of all, work on your acronyms – little words count, you know! You can’t assume “of” and “to” will be ignored!

Second of all, you’re right that the whole thing sounds completely made up, but mostly by you, in your weird little brain, because you don’t want to see the truth.

Here’s how I read your story. You made a bunch of money for the sole reason that you sold your soul at the right time. Then you got out and gave all your money to a swindler. Even so, you still like to think of yourself as a successful guy, so you maintain that facade to women when you date. When it gets serious, you either find out that those women are shallow and only wanted you for your money or that they can’t believe how dumb you were to give all your money to a swindler, or how sadly obsessed you are about money altogether. In any case the women leave, and I don’t blame them.

My advice to you is to get over yourself, and especially the idea that you need to be rich. Just get a job like everyone else and make sure you live within your means, and don’t take on airs, and please support your local public schools.

UPDATE: I’ve been told I’m being overly harsh here. It’s quite possible that people are misled by your nice clothes and resume. My advice is to nip the misimpressions in the bud on the first date. Figure out how to explain your true situation quickly and avoid longterm misunderstandings.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

The bro formula establishes a lower bound for the acceptable age of the woman in a romantic human male-female pair bond as 7 years + male age/2.

Is there a similar formula that gives a strict upper bound for the acceptable age of a pop music fan based on the age of the performer? Does it vary by gender of the performer and the fan? And, is there special treatment available for someone overage watching Girls Generation (ick) particularly?

Pop Music Makes Papa Leer

Dear PMMPL,

First of all, why is that the “bro” formula? Why does it have to always be about men and younger women? Why can’t women be interested in younger men? And how about older men and younger men, and older women and younger women? Sheesh. I hate that name.

But I don’t hate the formula itself. My theory is that this formula, correctly named and applied, is a nod to the fact that it is difficult to maintain an equitable relationship with someone with a vastly different amount of life experience. Of course there are exceptions (Harold and Maude) but in general we wish to maintain this kind of equity, and in general it makes more sense to do so – it’s easier to do so – with people of similar ages.

Having said that, when you check out the hip maneuvering on a music video such as this (terrible) Girls Generation offering, you are probably not expecting a long-term relationship with the doll-like characters. Putting aside how deeply fetishistic, stylized, and hypersexualized that overly produced crap is, I think the whole point of it is for everyone to leer. So you’re really just doing your job in some sense.

Having said that, if I had a young daughter I’d probably want to keep that stuff away from her, it looks like a breeding ground for eating disorders.

Auntie P

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

I saw an ad looking for a typist to generate a word doc from a typewritten manuscript. Is it unethical to scan the original document and use Optical Character Recognition software, and charge the same amount as a typist would?

Thanks!

Against Carpal Tunnel

Dear ACT,

I’m with you – if someone is dumb enough to not use technology, no reason you shouldn’t. However, there may be details about the requirements that don’t allow for your plan. Look carefully at the contract you sign.

Aunt Pythia

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia is getting some help this morning from a fellow math nerd whom she loves dearly. Feel free to try to spot the advice that comes from yours truly versus from this adorable snoring freak. And please,

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

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.

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

How unprofessional is it, in academia, for the spouse of an applicant to contact the department with questions about the search process? My husband isn’t really comfortable making any contact besides submitting the applications through mathjobs.org. I’ve been told by his colleagues that personal communication with the places one would really, really like to be is actually welcomed – but I’d better not try to do it instead of him. Any thoughts?

Desperate To Move To Washington State

Dear Desperate,

First, I’d like to corroborate your suspicion: if it’s really a job your husband wants, then it’s a very good idea for him to contact the schools directly, even if it makes him uncomfortable. Second, let me corroborate your guess that it’s not okay for you to do this. If I’m a professor on a search committee and someone’s spouse contacts me to ask how the process is moving along, I’m wondering why I’m not talking to the applicant instead.

Feel free to show this to your husband if it helps! He’s gotta take one for the team here!

Aunt Pythia

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Aunty Pythia,

I read this heartwarming article this morning. However I disagree that androgyny is not helpful at the office. I am a female geophysicist working in corporate Canada (the oil industry even) and I feel like both the male and female aspects of my personality are engaged and developed daily, for which I am thankful. The male aspects are obvious but I find so-called female aspects such as empathy, compassion and communication skills are golden. Success in an office depends on relationships and the female aspects of personality are strong in that. Please share your opinion on the article. How does being an alpha female (which is androgynous by definition) help you achieve awesome results? What male traits do you cultivate? What female traits do you prize?

Pat from Canada

Dear Pat,

As for the article, this is an example where less research might be good. And I don’t think Madonna is androgynous, by the way, she is and always was very female. If people interpret her power as male then they are just being narrow.

As for being an alpha female, I’m doing it without conscious effort, and as you might remember just recently realized I do it at all. I think that’s part of what makes it work. If I got anything out of the article at all it’s that people get considered “creative” if they successfully ignore stereotypes.

And in that vein, I don’t categorize my many traits as male or female. Why should I? They’re all mine.

Before I leave it there, let me mention that, when I’m around men I notice I think differently from most men, and when I’m with women I notice that I think differently from most women. And I guess if I had to define my own psychological gender I’d be confused and somewhere in the middle (although I definitely strongly identify physically as female). But it’s not clear that most people don’t feel exactly the same way as I do.

In other words, don’t most people feel like freaks on the inside? I think so. The trick is to own the inner freak, and freaks transcend categories, including gender categories.

Love,

Aunty Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

I appreciate and respect that there are many advantages to people having different values and points of view, like innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. But, I find that it’s just so much more cheerful when everyone around mostly wants to be like everyone else.

How can a person who comes from a place that strives for a harmonious society live contentedly in a Western country?

Kind regards,

Alien

Dear Alien,

How would I know?

Love,

Aunt Pythia

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Dearest Aunt P,

I was wondering if you’ve seen the game Clusterfuck developed by the Cards Against Humanity Team (introductory video here).

What do you think?

With love,

A Curious Thing…

Dear Curious,

I love the idea, but it’s not clear from the provocative video that anyone ever actually gets laid. Please confirm I am wrong by re-sending question with a new homemade video.

Love,

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

I recently started a new relationship with a woman who is into some dominant/submissive stuff in the bedroom. It’s all new to me, and I’ve been pretty careful to discuss anything I’m leery about, get consent, have safe words, and that kind of thing. It turns out that it’s something we’re both *really* into, and that’s interesting in itself. (I’m 37 and just discovering this about myself.)

Here’s my question, though. After 3 months of dating, I’ve become concerned for my partner’s emotional health, based on an on-going medical issue which has, in the past, caused severe depression. She also has some slow-motion family tragedies that would really do a number on someone’s self-esteem. She’s a strong, accomplished woman, but over the past week she’s been nearly bed-ridden with anxiety, missing work and occasionally meals.

It’s a scary situation, and I’m trying to give her as much support as I can until her new job’s health insurance kicks in. But she still wants sex, occasionally the submissive kind (rape fantasy, etc.).

How on God’s green Earth do I (consensually, with safe words) sexually “mis”-treat somebody who’s going through a crisis like that? I can’t figure out if going through with it would be a comfort for her, or make things worse; neither can I figure out whether saying no would be seen as a painful rejection. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to keep things vanilla with a bit of aggressive talk, until we can stabilize the situation.

Any advice would be appreciated.

Bernoulli honored Descartes eventually, Steltjes learned Minkowskian parabolas

Dear BhDeSlMp,

First, nice acronym.

Second, I think you are super thoughtful and nice to be worried about this, and I would encourage you to bring these things up with her very directly and double-check that kinky sex isn’t a threat to her emotional well-being. But my guess is that it’s a release and an escape from her problems rather than an addition to her problems, especially when she’s engaging in it with someone who is looking out for her and keeping her safe as you are doing.

In other words, the quotes around “mis” are there for a reason, and I don’t think you should feel abusive if she’s asking for this and you guys are both consenting and into it. That said, there are certainly ways to be unhealthy about this stuff, like any stuff, so keep your eyes peeled for danger signs. In the meantime snuggling up afterwards and engaging in thoughtful pillow talk might be just what she needs.

And have fun!

Aunt Pythia

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia
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