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Aunt Pythia is in a rush this morning, people! She is going to see Jurassic Wold, in Imax 3D no less, and she needs to finish this here advice column quickly in order to make time for the Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle (har har). So here goes.

This is a D Rex. It’s a genetically modified T Rex, because those guys are wimpy.

ask Aunt Pythia any question at all 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,

I’ve noticed a bunch of Masters’ in Data Science programs have been launched at various reputable universities lately. Can you vouch for the usefulness/value of any of them? Or would you say they are largely the product of big-name schools wanting to make a few bucks off the “Big Data” hype train?

Don’t Wanna Get Scammed!

Dear DWGS,

Yeah, my guess is both. I mean, I think most of them would teach you something, but I’m pretty sure these programs are also cash cows. As to their usefulness, one thing I’ve noticed is how few of the programs want to hire someone who has actually worked as a data scientist in a company. That doesn’t mean there is not internal person, in the academic institution, who knows a given skill, but it probably means that there’s not much direct advice for people going into this field.

To be any more specific, you’d have to name a program for me to look into.

Aunt Pythia

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Hmm. Gotta think of a sex question for Aunt Pythia.

I’m a guy and I feel really guilty that I have sexual thoughts in a professional setting (although I do keep them to myself). For example, when women give math talks, I notice I am analyzing their sexiness – are they thin or at least quasi-thin, how ideal their boobs and curves look, how revealing and/or form-fitting their coverings, how well is their boob support functioning, and speaking of curves and forms, I imagine relating my pole to their their holes, after removing our pairs of pants and busting out my canonical divisor (ya know, the thing that kind of rhymes with genus) I’m at the cusp of an, um, singularity. More thoughts follow: Are they on their period, are their periods irregular? I compare their height in their heels, the depth of their voice, and the dimensions of their bust. When the latter two match up, i’ve found it possible to reverse a variety of positions, even if things aren’t completely smooth. My thoughts are quite wild and perverse and I feel somewhat ashamed for thinking these thoughts. Are these concerns rational, irrational? Do you think respectable, upstanding “nice-to-women” male members of the math profession have these thoughts, or is it just dirty minded guys like myself? Do you think lesbians have these thoughts?

Umm, this started out as a totally real question, but then my love of math super-seeded my love for women’s bodies. I think the same thing happens in the talk … eventually I’m able to pay attention to the math.

Do women check out guys while they are giving math talks? What might their thoughts be like?

Perverse Chief

Dear PC,

I think mostly everyone, or at least every adult, has thoughts along these lines. The question is, how long does it take for someone to “eventually” pay attention to the math? I think that’s critical, and it might depend on how much interaction they have with the opposite sex in their regular life, or how well they’ve been sleeping, or whether they’ve gotten exercise lately, or any number of things.

Obviously it’s better for both audience members and the speaker at a math talk if the math is the center of attention, but there’s no way to remove our humanness entirely; at the end of the day it’s a person, in front of other people, explaining some beautiful thing, and there’s bound to be human interactions.

And that’s not a bad thing. I remember concocting a crush on the speaker, male of female, of most talks I went to in order to enjoy their talk more. It worked!

So, if there’s advice to give, I’d say stop feeling guilty about checking out women, do keep your deeper desires to yourself, and enjoy the math. And if possible, try to crush out on the men too.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

I love your answer to Porn Not Scorn. Have you seen Erika Lust’s TED talk? Enjoyed any of her films?

Intersecting Feminism and porn To overcome objectification

Dear IFapToo,

Wow, no I hadn’t heard of her, but I love her talk! I’ll check her out. I hope others do too.

Aunt Pythia

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Hi Aunt Pythia,

I wrote to you about a year ago when I realized that I wanted to leave my PhD program for a data science job (‘Slightly Hyperventilating’). You gave encouraging advice–thanks! I ended up taking a job a little too prematurely into my search, but it’s allowed me to improve my programming skills and rub shoulders with internet user behavior datasets which is awesome. But now I’m on the job market again and excited to find a new team!

Here’s my question: at my current company, there’s a ton of tension between the engineers and the analytics people. It’s really weird and gross and counter-productive and stops me from learning from them which is what I want to do. How common is it that engineering teams look down their noses at stats-leaning, data analyzing folks? And what questions do I ask in the interview to find this out? What other indicators should I look for?

Seeking Nice Engineers

Dear SNE,

Oh my god, you were on the luxury winnebago edition of Aunt Pythia. I remember it well. Sigh.

So, great! You did everything right. The thing about data science jobs is that they don’t last forever. People are expected to jump ship once they get the basic idea of stuff and the learning curve decelerates, or when the politics of the office get annoying. In your case the latter has occurred, so go for it.

And no, I don’t have experience with nasty programmers. Most of the people I’ve worked with have been incredibly sweet. I mean, there’s some macho brogrammer posturing every now and then, but I have never seen that dominating. Just find a new job, and keep in touch!

Love,

Aunt Pythia

——

People, people! Aunt Pythia loves you so much. And she knows that you love her. She feels the love. She really really does.

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia is very sorry to be late, and especially since last week she was away on vacation (in the woods! no wifi! many bugs!).

She knows her readers misses her tremendously, and the feeling is mutual. In order to make up for her tardiness, Aunt Pythia has made everyone banana chocolate chip pancakes:

Got a fork and a knife? And milk and coffee and syrup and strawberries too? Good, let’s eat up. And, before you leave,

ask Aunt Pythia any question at all 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,

I like that Malties cereal in the mornings: I’m sure you have them over there too – little rectangular lattices of about 18x21mm side length. For convenient pouring in my bleary morning state, as I open a fresh box, I transfer the as much of the contents as possible to a large plastic dispenser, from which I pour a serving each morning. The container I use has a rectangular base of about 80x205mm.

What troubles me is this: when I pour the cereal in, it of course tumbles randomly into the container. A boxful never quite fits. Would it make much difference if the lattices were neatly stacked in nice horizontal strata?

If I wasn’t so hung up about this from the moment I wake each day, I’m sure I’d be more receptive to my partner’s early morning advances, too!

Yours in desperation,
Get A Bigger Server, OR Get All Malties Stacked

Dear GABS OR GAMS,

I keep thinking your sign-off means something, but I can’t figure out what.

Also, I keep thinking there’s some deeper meaning to your question, but I can’t figure that out either. I mean, if you wanted me to estimate how much space you’d save by stacking your cereal carefully in a storage box, at the very least you’d have to tell me how tall each little Maltie is and how tall your storage container is. I suppose I could try to eyeball a solution to the problem using those measurements as variables, but then you’d be overestimating how much work I’m willing to do here.

In fact, without knowing the height of a Maltie, I wouldn’t even know how to neurotically arrange them to save space; lying them in rows, flat on the bottom, would leave space along the edges, and I don’t know how many more you can fit by arranging them on their side without knowing more.

Anyhoo, I think it’s sufficient to say that yes, you can definitely save space by doing this. And at this point, I think you own me a picture of your perfectly arranged storage box. After that, by all means, be receptive to your partner’s advances.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am a PhD student in physics, where I am pretty much the only person who wears a dress – between men and a few women that there is at the department. I am telling this to emphasize that I like being girly. But, I realized last weekend that I am not girly enough. I had a get-together with my long-time girlfriends (we all live in different continents now), and was judged on pretty much every piece of my appearance from not-plucking-my-facial-hair-good-enough to why-am-I-not-doing-something-about-my-misshapen-teeth.

Another thing was when we were discussing birth control: they are dead against pills, or IUD, because these things directly control your hormones which then controls your periods and a woman having her period is the most natural thing on Earth. And what if you can’t have children because of that, how would I forgive myself knowing that I could’ve just used condoms and prevented that?

I find these people very beautiful, fun, and actually strong women because they can pose for a picture and not worry about opening their mouths too much not to show their teeth.

Anyhoo, my question is: Knowing that I shouldn’t conform deep inside, how do I actually feel neutral about having all these not-so-beautiful stuff about my body? Or is it just easier to wax every week?

Have An Influence pRoblem

Dear HAIR,

This is a seriously great question. Plus, nice sign-off. I even know what it means.

Here’s the thing about rules. Rules often exist for a purpose. But I like to challenge rules, and to do so I try to backtrack to their original purpose, and then decide whether:

1. the rule was a good one given the purpose, and
2. whether the purpose matters to me at all, and
3. whether it matters more to me than it bothers me to follow the rules.

Let’s use this approach for the stuff you’re dealing with pertaining to the rules around personal grooming and general “girliness” or “womanliness.”

Hair

Women are supposed to keep their hair off of everything except their head. That is to say, they get pushback for having hairy armpits, hairy legs, and even hairy private parts. Conversely, they get push-back if they shave their heads. Those are the rules. Oh, and they’re only supposed to have hair on the part of their heads away from the face. Hair on the face is to be shaved or plucked.

What’s the purpose behind this? It’s a tricky one, but I think it basically boils down to looking young. Men, we are told, are attracted to young women, so women have pressure to appear young. Young people’s hair is very fine, and almost invisible, so to appear super young we should appear hairless.

What’s strange about this purpose is that men are actually attracted to women, not girls, so they should be comfortable with at least a certain amount of hair, unless they’ve been talked out of it somehow. It’s clearly at least somewhat a cultural fad, perhaps even created by shaving and grooming companies that want to make more money off of selling products to women.

So, going back to my approach, I feel like the rule that we have to remain hairless-looking (except for some parts of our head) is kind of random and maybe even commercial. It’s a bad rule. Also, the purpose doesn’t matter much to me, because although I like men being attracted to me well enough, I’m okay with self-selected “I like hair” men.

I do have an exception, however, for facial hair, perhaps because it is so closely associated with oldness and therefore unsexiness. To be honest, I don’t feel completely happy with my own chin-hair issues, and I wish I could transcend them. I strive to be that old lady with a beard, wearing purple hats and poking young people on the subway with my umbrella when they misbehave.

Teeth

Good teeth have historically been a very important signal of nutrition. Read Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and you’ll see how incredibly obvious terrible nutrition was in Europe in the mid-1700’s. Very poor women had no teeth, and the saying “a tooth for every child” was very real.

Nowadays, not so much, but we still rate each other’s health and wealth on how many and how straight our teeth are. Oh, and how white they are, which is again a marketing miracle. So the purpose behind giving you shit about your teeth is that people will judge your health and your wealth badly if you don’t.

Is this a good rule? Should you care? I think it depends on how crooked your teeth really are, and how much it matters to the people you’re trying to impress. If you’re an actress, it matters a lot. But if, in your profession, you are somewhere in the average range, give it no further thought. And I’d wager that, in physics, standards are pretty low.

Hormones

They want you to not take hormones because “having your period is natural” and “you might not be able to conceive afterwards. To be honest neither of those reasons sound convincing, first because first I have never heard of the pill making it harder to conceive, except maybe the copper IUD but it doesn’t sound like you mean that one, and second because historically women have had far fewer periods due to a combination of more pregnancies, longer breastfeeding, and poorer nutrition.

However, I personally have reasons I’d never take hormones, so I will mention them here. I have experience both with pills, which I’ve been on three times in my life, and the Mirena IUD, which I also used for 2 years. In all of these hormonal experiments, I have been more easily depressed, less ambitious, and generally uninterested in everything. Whenever I get off the hormones, I get incredibly energized, horny, and ambitious. I know things affect women differently, so I won’t speak for everyone, but my experiences have convinced me never to do it again.

And of course, the convenience of not having to worry about getting pregnant is pretty great, so you have to weigh things against each other. There is no perfect solution to anything.

Friends

One last thing, although you didn’t ask. What’s the purpose of a bunch of women getting together and criticizing each other? Not to say they didn’t also support you, I’m sure they did.

But it’s a general “rule” that women do this, so their must be an associated purpose. I think it has something to do with reinforcing the sense that they aren’t wasting their time plucking their facial hair, getting their teeth straightened, and posing for pictures whilst having their natural periods. And that reinforced sense also feeds into why they give off a sense of being “strong” women.

The truth is, though, that it is kind of a waste of time, often, but it’s a difficult subject to breach in certain company. In any case I wanted to let you know that you’re probably doing it right – you’re enjoying your girliness in your own way and at your own level, but not at the level that your friends expect. In my book, that means you’re enjoying it but not wasting time on it, so well done!

Aunt Pythia

p.s. Update: just saw this related Times Opinion piece.

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Dear Auntie P,

So I’ve recently started sleeping and developing emotional bonds with someone. All great, everything clicking the way it should, so much so that we both feel half our age, which would put us back in the heady days of high school – read “we were unprepared for what we both knew was going to happen and did the rumpus unprotected.” To be clear, pregnancy protection is in place but barriers were not.

My question isn’t “how do you go to the other person and say that we’re going to go back to using condoms”, because the answer is to look the other person in the eye and say “I think we need to go back to using condoms”. No, the question is, when my partner probes my thinking on this matter, how do I navigate the undercurrent of not being sure that my partner isn’t possibly a carrier of an STI, and/or saying that they should not feel secure that I amn’t? Going barrier-less functions in the modern world, I’d say, as a fairly high-trust-threshold signal, but is there a better way to answer the question “why should we use condoms” than “because I don’t fully trust you yet, or because you shouldn’t fully trust me yet, or some nonlinear combination of these”?

Complicating factor: hubby has in the past experimented with non-monogamy, though they found it not to their liking; and I’d like at least the option of non-monogamy to be open to both of us going forward. These are matters we’re working out, but aren’t urgently crying for final resolution. Let’s just say that at the moment, we’re occupying each other’s time quite capably.

Trusty Lusty

Dear Trusty,

I’ve read this letter a bunch of times, and I’m still a bit confused.

Let me start with what I think – think – is happening.

1. You are married.
2. You are also having an affair.
3. You are sexually active with both your husband and your lover.
4. You recently didn’t use a condom with your lover.
5. You are wondering how to “go back to using condoms” without having an awkward conversation about trust.

If the above is all correct, you have put yourself and your husband at risk of STD’s. I’m not sure your sign-off is entirely warranted.

As for advice, yes I have some: an awkward conversation, pronto. Tell your lover that you would love to go with him to a testing facility to make sure you haven’t exchanged any STD’s. Feel free to mention that an STD could have come from you, and that he’s not the only suspect. If you feel like it would be an easier conversation, suggest that your husband has experimented with non-monogamy in the past and so there’s yet a fourth person, who neither of you know, in the mix.

But in any case, even if you never convince your lover to get tested, go get tested yourself, and be sure to use condoms from now on. Also, get tested again in 6 months.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear AP,

What do you think about hacking ethics? In particular, I’m thinking of this article, which details how some students sneaked a peak at their admission results by hacking a website.

I’m tempted to side with the students against the B-schools because, y’know, business schools. But, then I realize that these applicants, if successful, will become business school students. So, have to be against them, too.

At the root of it, though, hacking things is such a great part of nerdy engineering culture and the best way to learn how things really work (maybe?). Feels like hacks should be celebrated when they aren’t being used for nefarious purposes. And what harm comes to the business schools if applicants know the decisions early? Weigh that against the benefit to the applicants of being able to plan their lives, like buying a Duke sweatshirt and renting an apartment in Durham (maybe?).

Crotchety in Seattle

Dear Crotchety,

I am OK with them getting kicked out of B-School because this wasn’t really hacking, this was cheating. They didn’t even figure it out, for god’s sake, they just followed instructions! That’s not hacking. Plus it’s also a sign of dumbness that they thought they could get away with it.

I’m with you that hacking is a fun side of nerdy engineering culture, but I much prefer hacks that have mischievous or even higher goals attached to them for me to defend the hackers. Aaron Schwartz I’ll defend, a disappointed Sloan School student I won’t.

Auntie P

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People, people! Aunt Pythia loves you so much. And she knows that you love her. She feels the love. She really really does.

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Dearest Aunt Pythia readers! Do you know what makes Aunt Pythia super happy, blissful beyond belief? Aunt Pythia will tell you the answer to that right now: sweet letters from amazing nerd girls.

As you may or may not know, Aunt Pythia lives with and cares for a veritable brood of nerd boys – three of them, and four if you count her husband – but longs for a maternal role with nerd girls, her absolute favorite people in the world. But it just didn’t work out that way, no it didn’t. And she tried, oh yes.

So, given the reality of the situation, Aunt Pythia did her very best to make do. And make do she has done! In fact, the good news is that she has officially succeeded, as of yesterday, when she received this letter (which the writer has kindly agreed to allow me to publish):

Hi Mathbabe,

I just wanted to send you a fangirly email saying THANK YOU for publishing your blog. I’m going back to university for computer science after deciding years ago in high school that I just “wasn’t a math person,” and it’s been so reassuring and inspiring and FUN to read your blog and realize that …

a) I’m not the only person who feels inadequate sometimes!

b) It’s okay to study math even if you’re a little slow so long as you still like doing math!

c) It’s possible to study topics like math and computer science with a social justice angle and engagement with the world around me! (Sometimes it all seems so abstract and money-grubbing, you know?)

Anyway you rock. Whenever I feel down in my first-year calculus class, I check out your blog and feel good about my life again. You are a great role model.

Seriously, people, this is the stuff. It’s awesome.

Hey, and here’s the thing, Mathbabe a.k.a. Aunt Pythia has just started. She’s raring to go, in fact. So please, after enjoying today’s column:

ask Aunt Pythia any question at all 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,

Do you have a position on trigger warnings in higher education?

The issue seems to have provoked a lot of controversy lately, and the controversy seems to have fallen along partisan lines. The argument on the left is that trigger warnings are a way to support the diversity of identities and experiences in the classroom and they are just as innocuous as movie ratings or “slippery when wet” signs. The argument on the right is that trigger warnings infantilize students and potentially have a chilling effect on open discussion in the classroom.

My opinion is that it is polite to warn someone before showing them disturbing images in any context, including and especially the classroom, but I am rather nervous about formal university policies which require trigger warnings or recommend the removal of triggering material. What do you think?

To Resist Image Gore? or Guarantee Everything Revealed?

Dear TRIGGER,

I remember being in high school. I think it was my junior year, and in social studies we were reading the Greek myths. It seemed like every other story was about an earth woman who was super attractive, was raped by a god, and then punished for her seductive powers by the god’s jealous wife. I kept on getting outraged and stuck on this idea that women could be punished for being attractive and even for being raped.

Here’s the thing, though. I had a good teacher that year, who allowed me to declare my dismay at the story. We had a discussion in class about how morals change with culture. We talked about blaming victims and the inequity of those stories, from our perspectives. We even talked about the nature of human existence and desires, and of course the nature of godliness, and how that might have or might not have changed since the Greeks. Or at least that’s how I remember it. In other words, what started out as shocking became a learning experience.

I feel like my kids, when they become juniors in high school, might not get shown this stuff at all, depending on who the teacher is and what the climate is. That would be a shame. I think I benefitted a lot from that discussion, especially since I can still remember it, and especially because it was the first time I can remember examining brutality through the lens of intellectual inquiry. So I’m a firm “no” on removing material that would have a theoretical trigger warning on it, at least by the time they’re 15.

As for actual trigger warnings, I’m ambivalent. On the one hand I like the idea of girding people for oncoming tough moments, especially if signals people to pay more attention. On the other hand, I feel like sometimes they wouldn’t help, because the outrage is there whether or not you’ve mentally prepared, and trigger warnings might serve as a way for people to opt out of being engaged.

But my main problem with trigger warnings would be if they were seen as a replacement for the discussion of what’s so fucked up about punishing rape victims, or whatever it is. The point is that, as learners, we each must consume and metabolize the things we read, and a well-led discussion is when that all happens. It’s critical we don’t replace that with a tepid catch-all phrase that renders our rage unarticulated.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am a heterosexual male, and I’m facing a bit of a dilemma. On one hand, I would like to consider myself a feminist, or at least sympathetic to feminism (perhaps one must engage in public activism to earn the title “feminist”). On the other hand (sometimes literally), I like porn.

Of course these two sensibilities are in tension because the pornography market is overall one of the most hyper-masculine, patriarchal, and misogynistic industries on the planet. And the problem is not limited to the product – porn actresses are systematically mistreated and underpaid, and having appeared in porn is a scarlet letter which can follow you around for the rest of your life.

One step which I took a long time ago was to never pay for porn or click on advertisements so that I could claim to have never directly supported the industry. It turns out that limiting yourself to only free porn is not much of a limitation at all, but I wonder if this is really as much of a stand as I make it out to be. Also, it doesn’t address the rather idiotic standards of content that seem to be rather universal in the industry. Sometimes on a Friday night all I want is to get drunk and relive the amazing sex I had with my ex-girlfriend, but this sex did not involve her wearing boots the whole time or me ejaculating on her face at the end.

This is turning into a bit of a rant, so let me cut to my actual question. Is there such a thing as ethical porn, and if so where does one find it? More generally, is it possible to be a consumer of porn without participating in offensive industry practices?

People Of Responsible Nudity, Never Overly Tormented Sexually; Can One Remedy Needs?

Dear PORN NOT SCORN,

So, you’re not alone. Lots of people look at porn, and many of them want to feel like good people too. So what steps can you take? I’m afraid I have to start out by saying that, by refusing to pay, you might have done the opposite of what you should have been doing.

For example, take a look at the advice described here for ethical porn consumption:

1. Stick with porn from big brands, who have higher standards for their actors. You will have to pay for this.
2. Stick with performers you know and who control their careers and have their own websites.
3. In fact, pay for their content directly from their websites, and don’t watch pirated versions on YouPorn.
4. Finally, if you want alternatives, find home-made sexy time videos and pay for them. This sounds harder to validate.

Another couple of ideas: watch porn cartoons, where there’s no real people, or watch content from kink.com, where they interview the actors and you can feel somewhat relieved (but perhaps not entirely) that the stuff they just did was not coercive.

Here’s Aunt Pythia’s feelings about porn, that for the most part turns her off, and this is even ignoring the coercive and seedy sides of it, in a way. Very very very little of it concerns the woman’s pleasure. In fact there’s quite a bit of it, in her statistical sampling, that concerns blowjobs, or anal sex, or what have you, that is almost entirely not directly stimulative for the female partner (Deep Throat’s premise notwithstanding). On top of that, lots of it has embarrassingly unconvincing grunts and moans coming from the woman. Horrible.

It’s almost like the viewer is being trained to ignore what woman actually want in bed. For that reason alone she thinks it’s bad news for men, especially young men who don’t know what to expect with a real live woman.

I feel like there is a niche out there for this stuff, and maybe that’s what the “home-made videos” are all about, where the people involved actually know and enjoy each other’s naked body, and they aren’t ashamed, and both of them have a great time. I’m pretty sure it will cost money though, and that’s fine.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

What skills might I need to be a credible candidate for a big data job? I just applied for one, although I seem to be missing a lot of what they asked. I program in Python, Java, Smalltalk, and Clojure. I could probably do Jython, as well, as there is a market for it, seemingly. There are groups in the Dallas area that are using NoSql databases, MySQL, Hadoop, Ruby on Rails, and Python. I found this opportunity by searching with Python. I think that they want Python and Django experience, while I only have Python right now.

Lost in Space

Dear LiS,

I’m not sure what kind of “big data job” you’re referring to. As an engineer? As a data scientist?

The thing is, you’ve listed programming languages, but I think the main thing people are looking for is problem solving experience and ability. Languages are the medium through which you formalize your solutions to problems, but they are only that; the main obstacle to most data questions is thoughtful approaches. And the way you develop them is by having lots of experience in knowing how to define and refine questions using data, how to measure and interpret signals, which algorithms do what, and so on. What language you’re using isn’t irrelevant, but it’s not the first thing I’d be talking about.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

I was talking to a fellow academic about the under-representation of women in some areas of academia. He started with the typical “there is no sexism in academia, there might have been, but all those professors are about to retire.” I have arguments for this, like all the studies showing that women are judged harder than men with the exact same CV. But before I could respond, he continued with “and besides, we all know that women like babies and fluffy things more than hard math. By the way, do you want to go on a date with me?”.

Is there any possible response other than punching him in the face?

Female Mathematician

Dear FM,

Violence doesn’t solve anything! Or rather, why do with violence what can be accomplished much more easily with words?

I would suggest the following words in this scenario:

Hahahahahahaha! Oh my god you really got me there! For a moment you had me convinced that you really were the most horrifying asshole ever, and then to top it off, asking me out like that! What a HOOT!

Seriously, do you do stand-up? Is this your persona? It’s dead on.

Oh wait, were you kidding? You weren’t? You actually think that stuff? And you think that, in any universe, that would be attractive to women? How bizarre. I’m afraid I have to leave, I’m late for a meeting of women in math, where we discuss the cool math we’re doing, and afterwards we have pizza and gossip about conversations like this one.

Seriously, it takes some courage, but be direct. Tell the guy – through humor, if it helps – that this attitude is a direct obstacle for him getting what he wants. Make him reevaluate what he’s trying to achieve. If you punch him, it becomes all about you, thus defeating the purpose.

And good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

People, people! Aunt Pythia loves you so much. And she knows that you love her. She feels the love. She really really does.

Categories: Aunt Pythia

My friends, good morning. Go ahead and let yourself in, there’s hot tea in the pot over there. Somewhat stale cookies as well, somewhere. Come sit on the couch with me when you’ve collected yourself.

Friend, please don’t expect too much from Aunt Pythia this morning, and pretty please: keep it down to a whisper.

Here’s the thing. The TomTown Ramblers, my bluegrass band, had a gig last night. And it wasn’t at some random place, no. It was at Aunt Pythia’s house. And yes, we killed it. It might have helped that we invited a bunch of people who love us and who knew it was their job to tell us how great we were, but still.

Killed. It. It’s dead. Just like the kitchen.

It’s always easier to clean up after parties than it seems. Or at least fingers crossed about that.

Aunt Pythia mentions this because you should all know that, instead of cleaning up the immense amount of empties and stale Doritos, she is stepping carefully over it all to sit on the couch and dole out the advice. But she’s pretty sure she’s off her game, so please add comments to correct her many mistakes below.

Be vigilant, people! Help a sister out in her hour of hangover need! And while you’re at it, please:

ask Aunt Pythia a made-up sex question 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.

——

Hi Aunt Pythia,

I’m a university student studying science. I find I struggle a lot more than some of my friends in my program, who grasp the concepts faster and more comprehensively than I do. A lot of these people are gifted in the sense that they were segregated during high school for achieving high scores on aptitude tests. I, on the other, scored in the average range on such tests. When I compare myself to my friends, I often feel hopelessly inadequate. It’s like I’m struggling to catch up while everyone around me is moving relentlessly forward. It makes me question whether I should remain in my program and whether I can achieve my ambition of eventually doing research in my field as PhD.

Do you think this is all in my head? Is natural intelligence a significant factor? Do you believe it’s innate or can be built up? Do you think the IQ test (or other aptitude tests for that matter) accurate reflect a person’s talent or “potential”?

Thank you,

——

Dear Uncertain,

I don’t know the answer to your questions, but here are a few things I do know which might help.

First of all, you don’t have to be a certified genius to be a scientist. There are plenty of people who become scientists wondering how they got the job, because they’re surrounded by people that “seem like geniuses” and they feel mortal in Comparison. But here’s the thing, they are my favorite people, because they’re doing what they love in spite of feeling out of place. They feel lucky to be there.

Second of all, there’s no reason to think you’re not a genius. People in those partitioned and accelerated programs often get a big jump on college-level classes and sophistication. Moreover, they get a decidedly huge jump on the ability to act as if they already know stuff when they don’t. So if you interpret their casual remarks on face value, they might seem lightyears ahead of you, but who knows. The main point is that a couple of semesters of college is worth an entire high school career, so sit tight and see how things shape up in a few months.

Third of all, and most importantly, do what you love. Yes, there are a bunch of tests to see “how smart you are” and then there are tests in your classes to see “how well you know something,” but all of that should be ignored when you think about who you actually are and what you actually want to do. I’m not saying you’ll never compromise, or that you’ll ignore your professors if they tell you to modify your expectations, but I do want to emphasize that this is your life, and you get to control it, and nobody – and especially no test – has the ability to determine whether you are well-suited to a given topic. That’s up to you to decide.

Finally, my husband thinks that intelligence is something you do, not something you are. I think that it might be more complicated, but it’s a good first approximation. In other words, if you focus on good habits of mind, including being skeptical, disciplined, curious, and earnest (with a good dose of humility), then you will be far more prepared for a lifetime of science than by being anxious, competitive, or even cocky.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I think you blew it in your answer to “too sad for acronym” in this Aunt Pythia post from a few weeks ago. I’ve been monogamous for going on 45 years, so you can take my opinion for what it’s worth BUT:

The key point is mathematicians are people, too. It’s fine to talk math with a lovely stranger, but at some point you have to say “Hmm, that’s all interesting. How did you come to be interested in that problem? Where did you do your undergraduate work?” and then, “Oh, that’s interesting, where are you from originally?” followed by “Ah, yes, I’ve been there. Have you been to Chez XYZ? Yes, that’s a great restaurant.” After a while, you’ll get to, “Do you have a family? What do they do for a living? Ah, very interesting. Mine are pretty colorful, too…” And pretty soon you aren’t talking math any more, and you can say “do you want to go grab a drink/coffee/dessert?”

And after that it’s up to you. But you need to stop feeling sorry for yourself; otherwise none of this will work.

Good Scientist Trying to be a Good Human

Good Scientist,

It’s great advice, to be sure. However, I think you’re missing half the context if you start with the conversation already happening. Mostly what I was trying to counter with “too sad for acronym” was the idea that you could initiate a conversation with someone on the assumption that you’re interested in (their) math, and then use the opportunity to hit on her.

In other words, if you just happen to be having dinner with someone, your advice above is great. But if you got her to have dinner with you by saying, “I’d love to discuss your paper!” then not so great. In fact it will seem to the person like a bait and switch.

Basically all I was hoping to achieve with my advice was a way to avoid that, by deliberately creating a bunch of opportunities where you would eventually “happen” to have dinner with someone. After which you could follow the advice above.

Aunt Pythia

——

Aunt Pythia,

I am a first year PhD student in math and just got awarded an NSF graduate research fellowship. Prior to receiving this fellowship, my department guaranteed 25k for three years, part of which is a small summer stipend (about $6000). When I told my department I got an NSF, I asked if I could combine the summer stipend with NSF and they said that I would not be able to do this and that they were rewriting/changing my funding letter that they gave to me last year. I was bummed out when I heard about that, but not too upset. But then I heard (aka not 100% sure) that an incoming grad student next year got an NSF but he wanted to teach (which you can’t do while taking NSF money), so the department said they would give him$7000 extra his first year (so 32k total) so he can defer his fellowship and teach. Also, because the department doesn’t care or it’s just something they have overlooked, I think (again not 100% sure) if you get a job over the summer, you can still get the summer stipend, which doesn’t seem fair to me since they won’t give it to someone who has a fellowship and staying at school yet they’ll give it to someone who is working for someone else.

I know money isn’t everything and it’s a small amount of money and I should just be grateful for having the NSF in the first place, but I just feel jipped especially since I am now saving the department/school a significant amount of money for the next 3 years (NSF pays a 34k stipend + 12k tuition for 3 years)!

How much room do students have to push/negotiate with departments? I know some schools give out bonuses for bringing in outside money. Clearly, mine is not one of those schools. I *definitely* do not want to get on someone’s bad side or look that money hungry. Am I being way too whiny and should I just suck it up? Or should I say something? I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus, so how would I even go about doing this (especially since I am *so* timid and shy)?

TooTimidForLife

Dear TTFL,

Gosh, I have no idea. I mean, beyond offering to teach, so your situation would be more analogous. I mean, as of now, unless my head is still drunk, you don’t actually have a conflicting story.

But I don’t know what the standard practice is, and the only person in this household who does is currently snoring. That means it’s an awesome question for a hangover column, because I’m betting some of my readers will have opinions about this.

In any case, it is indeed fantastic that you got that NSF! Congratulations!

Aunt Pythia

——

Good Day,

My name is (something), am here to testify of a great spell caster called Dr. X. This man is truly a great spell caster indeed. I contacted this great man for a help and just within two days my problem was completely solved. My ex- came back to me just within 48 hours begging me to accept him back. Now we are fully back again as lovers, all thanks to Dr. X and his great temple for restoring pace to my life. His contact email address is, xxxx@xx.com.

He is also specialized in the following.

5. Spell of luck.
6. Spell of Finance.
7. If you have been scam before, he can help you cast a spell to get your money back.

And many more.. contact him on his private email and explain what you want him to do for you i assure you he shall help,His email is: xxxx@xx.com.

Good Luck

(something)

Dear (something),

HAHAHAHA I’ll take #7.

Love,

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Not too long ago I graduated from a good school, landed a great job, and came out as gay and somewhat naively thought that with all of this things would “get better”.

I’ve never really been on a date before and still feel like I’m making up for awkward middle/high school development most folks around my age have gone through (super shy around guys, does he “like me like me”…etc.).

One thing that I didn’t account for and never really thought would be an issue is race. I happen to also be black, and find that there seem to be a looooot of people who either feel that they simply don’t find black guys attractive, creepily fetishize it (lots of chocolate references and expectations that I’m super aggressive), or don’t even consider a date possible because they don’t tend to think it’s possible for black people to share their interests.

It doesn’t seem unique to white people either. I noticed this before when people thought I was straight but it seems really prominent/visible on the gay side of things and the data available suggests this (see this for example).

I respect people’s preferences and totally understand I’m not the center of the universe…but what am I supposed to do now? It almost doesn’t really feel as though coming out was worth it anymore (and frankly all this hurts more than I thought) especially if I’m just hoping to find mutual attraction for minorities within a minority group. What’s worse is I’m wondering if things only “get better” for certain people. Any tips, or words of wisdom are welcome. Until then I’ll just keep telling people that I too “love to laugh”, listen to NPR, and judge Kardashians.

Just Like You

Dear JLY,

First of all, congratulations on all your accomplishments! Sounds like you are awesome and crush-worthy.

If it helps, I have cute white friends who leave what I think of as large American progressive cities because they are gay and the scene is too small. So you’re not alone in finding this difficult.

If you needed more evidence, I just googled “good scene for black gay men” and I came up with an article entitled, Are All Single Black Gay Men Bitter?

Here’s the thing, I know nothing about being a black gay man. But I do know statistics, and I suggest you play the numbers. That would mean spending time in New York or San Francisco whenever you can to meet people in a larger dating pool. I have no idea where you live normally, but make it a point to visit whenever you can, on vacations or even weekend trips. Keep meeting people, and get used to hanging out in a social and fun way, and eventually work your way into a date.

I wouldn’t suggest telling anyone that you’ve never been on a date before: fake it til you make it on that score. And anyway, that’s not important, because being on a date is just like hanging out and talking with someone. The only real difference is, if it goes well, you can get all crushed out on them and not feel weird about it.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Congratulations, you’ve wasted yet another Saturday morning with Aunt Pythia! I hope you’re satisfied, you could have lazed about in your pajamas for longer. Oh wait, you’re still in your pajamas, I take it all back. Well done.

But as long as you’re already here, please ask me a question. And don’t forget to make an amazing sign-off, they make me very very happy.

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia has barely recovered from her pastry indulgences of last weekend, and yet it is time to once again act the advice tailor and dispense terrible and ill-fitted advice pants (probably because of said pastry indulgences) to anyone who will listen.

Don’t ask her why, but Aunt Pythia is into the concept of a tailor who will do house calls this morning, especially if that tailor will deliberately make ugly clothes. It’s a weird metaphor which Aunt Pythia is just going with, so please join her on this bizarre wavelength. Here’s how she’s feeling:

Well, not ill-fitting like this, but who could resist.

Are you here? Are you prepared? And moreover, do you merely have a grotesque and morbid curiosity about other people’s problems, or are you also prepared to order and be fitted for your very own terrible advice pants as well? If so, don’t forget to:

ask Aunt Pythia a question 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’d hoping you’ll weigh in in a debate I’m having with my husband about sex, relationships, and human nature. He and I have had an open marriage for the last 2 years (out of 12 total). It’s generally been overwhelmingly positive for us, and has helped us survive the sometimes soul-numbing simultaneously responsibilities of small kids + demanding jobs reasonably happily (shout out to Dan Savage, for making me realize that this wasn’t a totally insane thing to try).

My husband thinks open marriages will become a lot more common in the coming decade, as sexual openness increases. I agree that they might increase somewhat as they become more normalized, but argue that the fundamentals of human nature inherently limit this. I think jealously is so common that only the people that are naturally low on the jealousy distribution are likely to make open marriages work. Thoughts?

One Philosophically Engaged Nonconformist

Dear OPEN,

I’m glad that is working for you guys! I am all for people figuring out how to be happy. The longer I’m married the more I realize how much of a miracle it is that anyone can stand being in a long-term relationship with anyone else, including themselves.

As for what will happen in the future, I have really no idea. The culture we live in changes so quickly, and assumptions are so ephemeral.

Just think about how quickly things have changed – in super positive ways – for gay people. Just 30 years ago shit was ridiculous, now we’re seeing gay couples get married and divorced. Just last night, I was at a comedy club where one of the comics mused about the possibility of gay men saving themselves for marriage. Who knows? Maybe.

I mean, it’s just one example, but it proves my point: this stuff just keeps moving along. Once upon a time we women got married because of stuff like economic need. Now that is thankfully more or less off the table. It once was assumed that everyone would have kids, now that’s no longer true. Shit changes!

Here’s what won’t change: people will continue to have lots of sex with each other.

The thing I always come back to, when I talk to open marriage people, or people in the “poly” community, is that people have always found ways to fuck each other, married or not, and this new-fangled way of talking and thinking about it is just that: a new-fangled way of talking and thinking about what’s already happening. I’m not saying talking about it so much is bad, although it may, as you suggest, provoke more jealousy at times then the old-fashioned way of staying on the down low. At other times it’s fine, and maybe even great!

I’d venture to say that, whether we talk about it or not, there’s a lot of nooky going on everywhere. I’d bet money on that continuing, and yet once again, I have no bets on the way we’ll talk about it in the future.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

A few of my intellectually curious friends that are not actively socially conscious or involved in local communities (aka your average nice citizen) often wonder about the usefulness of protests like Occupy or the ones surrounding Ferguson/policy brutality. My response is that it connects likeminded people and I give you and the group you work with on alternative banking systems as an example.

They’re also the ones who question using social media, although I find that social media often brings people’s attention to issues they’re tangentially aware of (or not aware of at all), and normally could happily pretend doesn’t exist. I think this is useful for society. I also have seen social media campaigns to mobilize activists to pressure local officials, similar to the way a petition shows authorities the level of support an issue is receiving from the general public.

Do you have more examples and arguments I can use?

Single Jogger Wins! (aka SJW, aka Social Justice Warrior)

Dear SJW,

I started out in Occupy offended by the way the financial system doesn’t work. Nowadays I think about all sorts of things, like mass incarceration, minimum wage, basic guaranteed income, and the privatization of education. I think about these things primarily through the lens of the finance system, and primarily because I am involved with the Alt Banking group.

So I guess what I’d say to your friends is that we live in a network of people and in a system of power, and the way we learn about how that system functions or doesn’t function is by questioning and critiquing the corners of the system we understand, until those corners give way to corridors and rooms that we thought were disconnected but aren’t, and we start to see patterns of inequity and structural failure, and that process connects us with other people in the system but even more importantly connects things in our own brain that were previously disconnected.

And along the way the failures of the system come down the hardest on the same group or groups of people, and it is maddening and depressing, but because you now have this network of like-minded people you also gain faith and strength that it can’t go on.

Then every now and then something like the Ferguson report comes out, delivered by the actual power structure, and you know you’re making at least some progress.

I hope that helps.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m 25, male, and finishing up my undergraduate Computer Sciences degree.

I am also completely inexperienced in romantic relationships; I can count the number of romantic relationships I’ve had on [lim–>0] hands. (This applies to the amount of sex/kissing/touch I’ve had as well, BTW.)

I’m pretty sure I’m not asexual. And I know I’m attracted to girls romantically because it’s happened a (very) few times in the past. [The first two were taken and the third sorta faded out before we got to a ‘relationship’ stage.] My mind tends to be really picky, so this is an extremely infrequent event.

There is a further complication; I have someone I know in Australia. Despite being on opposite sides of the world, we are very close. In a platonic sense. I’m not sure whether this is filling up my mental ‘relationship slot’ or not. Anyway, we use the symbol <> (instead of <3)… it’s complicated.

So. I’m not in a conventional romantic relationship, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin in getting into one. And I’m curious.
[1] How do you go about finding people you’d like a relationship with?
[2] …and if they’re willing, how does a relationship happen?
[3] …and how do you keep it going?
[4] Since it’ll probs come up at some point, how do I explain to a relationship partner that I also have this *other* platonic relationship with someone on another continent? [I’m NOT giving up said friend under any circumstances whatsoever.]

Simply Concerned Over Optimal Platonic Sincerity

Dear SCOOPS,

Two things. First of all, I’m gonna go ahead and say yes, you are into that Australian, for the following reasons:

1. The last line of your letter indicates that you feel strongly for them,
2. The line before that indicates you think the Australian might be a threat to any other relationship, and
3. I’m interpreting your explanation of “<>” as a coded message to said Australian, who might read Aunt Pythia columns sometimes and might be touched.

Second point: do you remember Dan Savage’s advice not to masturbate really hard, with your hand clenched, because then your penis will get used to it and actual sex won’t satisfy? I think it was Dan Savage anyway.

Well I kind of feel like saying that to you, but it’s not your penis you’re clenching, it’s your brain. I think you are too picky. I want you to stop being so picky, and start looking for reasons to like the people around you. Find an excuse to have a crush on the next woman who smiles at you. Even more importantly, give that next woman an excuse to have a crush on you, by being charming, funny, and kind.

You know, people think that attraction comes from other people, but it’s a damn lie. Attraction stems from ourselves. We make the person we are with attractive, by projecting the person they want to be onto them, and by simultaneously allowing them to let us be as gorgeous, fun, and as sexy as we secretly know we are.

When I have a crush on someone, I swoon half at their captivating mojo and the other half at my own ability to detect it and to amplify it.

Here’s the best part, namely that it is something we all know how to do if we train ourselves to do it. And you, my friend, are out of practice. So go do some sexy pushups, focus on having a sweet pineful moment, on this continent, on a daily basis, and generally speaking stop clenching so hard, because reality will be a disappointment otherwise.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Not a question, but thought you might like this (if you haven’t seen it already).

Dear Loyal,

Yes! Love it. Hot.

Auntie P

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Why are all the cute girls lesbian (or taken)?

Looking Eagerly, Surely, But Inevitably Aborted Near Success

Dear LESBIANS,

When I was single, I kept seeing these cute guys with amazing homemade sweaters, and I would be disappointed when I found out they already have girlfriends or wives. Then one day it occurred to me that they were wearing the sweaters that their girlfriends had made them – duh – and that I should look for a guy who would look good in a homemade sweater. Done and done.

You, my friend, are into the lesbian look. And who isn’t, really. There’s a reason I have blue hair.

I suggest you find a straight girl who isn’t taken – there are plenty of them – and convince her to dress like a lesbian once you guys are hot and heavy. Easy peasy, especially since lesbians have badass style that nobody can resist.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Congratulations, you’ve wasted yet another Saturday morning with Aunt Pythia! I hope you’re satisfied, you could have made progress on that project instead.

But as long as you’re already here, please ask me a question. And don’t forget to make an amazing sign-off, they make me very very happy.

Categories: Aunt Pythia Tags:

Hello, friends. Aunt Pythia is grateful, as usual, to be able to perform her favorite function this morning, namely doling out questionable and downright misleading advice to earnest and vulnerable nerds. She wishes she could do better than that, but there it is.

For example, here’s some terrible advice that Aunt Pythia is offering up, although nobody even asked her: if an ultra-orthodox jewish man comes onto the plane and is assigned to sit next to you but refuses to because you’re a women, and he doesn’t want to worry about the possibility sexual contact, then just go ahead and whip out your tits and rub them against him to let him stop worrying.

Oh, and there’s also this, which I hope you all watch:

Awesome, right? And no, I don’t care if it’s fake. Please signal your agreement by:

asking Aunt Pythia a question 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.

——

Hi AP,

In the spirit of your abominable snow woman pic, here is my favorite joke pertinent to the species. Two snow people are eating. One says to the other, “this tastes like boogers.” The other replies, “it’s carrot cake.”

Real Men Don’t Eat Carrot Cake

Dear RMDECC,

No, wait, that’s not better than my favorite snowman joke, which is also shorter: One snowman says to another snowman, “do you smell carrots?”

AP

——

Aunt Pythia,

OK, update. Communication was a good thing in this case. A very big misunderstanding occurred, actually more than one.

I guess you can answer the question anyhow if you like, since you love sex questions almost as much as sex.

Just put this update in here and tell dudes that if a guy somehow gets the impression that a girl is being shy about getting theirs in return that they should FUCKING ASK.

Also tell them that pulling your hips back a little is not the universal sign of “stop, I’m about to come.”

METOO

Dear METOO,

Wow. What?

It took me a while to parse this letter, but I think I get it now. You are the person whose letter I published last week, which caused a bit of a stir. Quick summary: new guy, he came and then ignored you, what should you do, and I suggested next time you make sure you come first. Some readers were like, yo, talk about it.

Now that I’m against talking about it! I am not against talking about it! I am simply of the opinion that doing is even better than saying in some cases, especially cases where feelings can get easily bruised.

Actually, let me be more nuanced. I think pillow talk is great, and I highly encourage it, but I think you need to time it well, preferably after both people have orgasmed and there’s no immediate reason for defensiveness.

Anyway, back to the update: I really have no idea what the update says, but clearly you seem to have made some progress in some way. Good for you! I have no idea what you are talking about regarding hips. If you mean that he had some weird theory about body language and interpreted yours to mean he was allowed to ignore your orgasm needs, than obviously that is fucked up reasoning. On the other hand, he might have just made that up on the spot to explain the unexplainable. In any case, I hope things are going better.

Good luck, METOO!

Aunt Pythia

p.s. yes, I do love talking about sex as much as sex. I mean, maybe not as much, but it lasts much longer, so yes, as much.

——

Aunt Pythia,

What do you think of Fit Kids February? I can’t believe we have a major media company fat-shaming children…

NYC1NOT

Dear NYC1NOT,

I have three things to say.

1. I can’t believe I am still in February with letters. The way I do Aunt Pythia is from oldest to newest, and I never peek ahead, and it’s exciting that I still have more than a month of backlog. That’s never happened before!
2. There’s a difference between fat-shaming kids (bad) and convincing kids to exercise (good). Personally I have no problem with pro-fitness messaging as long as there’s no shaming. Do you have examples of that program being shaming?
3. In any case, thanks for reminding me that I’m looking forward to reading this book: Fat Talk Nation, The Human Toll of America’s War on Fat, written by Susan Greenhalgh, a Harvard anthropology professor. Thank goodness someone is finally working on this issue.

Love,

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Here’s a little suggestion: there once was man who taught a class on his own time back in California called “Love 1A” after the suicide of one of his students. His name was Leo Buscaglia. During the 1980s his PBS series were very well received – sadly, it appears that a lot of what he spoke about in regards to relationships sort of have fallen by the way side.

May I humbly suggest that those who have such issues at least watch his ‘Speaking of Love’ before they may/may not do something they will regret?

Mid-age Monastic Mainframe Mechanical Miserably Masturbating in Minnesota

Dear MMMMMMM,

This guy is awesome. Here’s part 1 of 6:

My favorite line: “When you think I’m crazy, that gives me lots of leeway for behavior.” This guy was an inspirational speaker before they became full of shit.

Thanks!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am contacting you because lately I have met a personal crisis. I am hoping you can give me some advice because I think you seem to have such a career that you love.

In May I graduate from my bachelor in Computer Science. I have been involved in several research projects as an undergrad and have been certain I wanted to join the academic game. However, not long ago I “discovered” I have never had a proper job, and thought “How can I be so certain about joining academia?”

My reasoning before is that I firstly love computer science and the problems I have been solving in a research setting, as well as the curious environment. However, I also realize I enjoy most challenging mathematical/computational problems… What if life as a data scientist in a company I like/or my own would prove even cooler? Sometimes I just want to leave this safe environment I feel like I am in now, and explore the tech world on my own (but perhaps I am scared?).

I am now working on a project that is essentially a modeling problem, given some cool data. I have been learning a lot more machine learning algorithms and statistics. I really like this and it makes me want to become a data scientist. I am a very impulsive decision maker- I always listen to my (stochastic?) stomach. And these days my stomach is telling me to go out after I graduate and check out a different environment.

I know that my family and people now expect me to do a master etc (and I have applied), and in a way I also expect that of myself because I have wanted it for so long and set these goals. I think there is only one of the masters I applied to that I truly want to do. It is hard to remove these influences and think straight. My worry is that I don’t do something that truly excites me.

I think I am a tough person and should be handling this uncertainty well- but I just end up in circles and it drives me nuts, especially when people say “in the end everything will be ok”. The end????!

Hence I am contacting you Aunt Pythia. I just want some advice from your wise past on how to deal with these ticking issues that occupy too much thinking time these days. Did you always know you wanted to do academia as an undergraduate? Any advice to a random confused 21 year old who is trying to make sense of randomness is much appreciated.

Miss Stochastic Process

Dear Miss Stochastic,

Great name. Also, I’m possibly the worst person in the world to give advice on this, but that won’t stop me.

Go get the masters, maybe a Ph.D.; it won’t be the last thing you do, and you have lots of time. You can try it out and see how it goes.

Instead of thinking about what you want to do for the rest of your life, do something that you are likely to enjoy for at least a while, with a strict promise to yourself to quit and change directions once you stop liking it.

That’s not to say you should give up at the first sign of trouble or difficulty. By no means am I saying that. If anything it’s the opposite: a challenge is a reason to stick with it. At the first sign of boredom, however, you should start looking around.

Good luck!

Auntie P

——

Congratulations, you’ve wasted yet another Saturday morning with Aunt Pythia! I hope you’re satisfied, you could have made progress on that project instead.

But as long as you’re already here, please ask me a question. And don’t forget to make an amazing sign-off, they make me very very happy.

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Holy shit people we’ve got an awesome column today. Aunt Pythia shall not disappoint, and when she says that, she really means that you wonderful readers have not disappointed Aunt Pythia – your questions are surprising and rich and thoughtful as always. It brings a sweet lightness to Aunt Pythia’s otherwise heavy, snuffly head.

For you see, Aunt Pythia is suffering from a springtime cold, so nothing too terrible, but it probably didn’t help that Aunt Pythia refused to acknowledge the rain yesterday – because it was 61 degrees! – and insisted on biking everywhere.

Not my actual bike, nor the actual spot I was biking yesterday. But close enough for Aunt Pythia.

After you all enjoy this marvelous column chock full of ridiculous advice, please don’t forget to:

ask Aunt Pythia a question 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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Hello dearest Auntie P,

I just wanted to bring your attention to this calendar – sorry that it’s a buzzfeed article – and wish you the best with sexy pin-up men with various knitted objects.

I suppose I don’t really have a question, other than maybe other ideas you have for good calendar pages relating to men posing with sexy yarn?

But I hope you have a good day looking at this anyway!

Much love,

Casting-on Relishly Adorable Fellows To Sex

Dear CRAFTS,

Oh. My. God. Did you know my dear hubby is Dutch? Did you know I sometimes go to Amsterdam? This is seriously the best thing I’ve ever learned about that place, I’m not much of a smoker.

The name “Club Geluk” can be translated as “Club Happiness,” which seems pretty appropriate given this calendar. Here’s my favorite:

Is he holding a kiwi?

Also, it reminds me of my (previously) favorite calendar, which I buy each year and hand out to some baffled friends and visitors, namely the NYC Taxi Calendar:

You can never have too many calendars.

Readers, please do send me awesome calendars, I’m officially – as of now – a collector.

Love always,

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

Heads-up: I’m going to try to steer this away from the classic millenial-trying-to-find-purpose-in-life story, but it could go there.

I’m a 22-year old trying to decide whether to do a Ph.D. in pure math (topology/geometry). I’m currently taking grad classes in a non-degree program and my thoughts bounce around from “What’s the point of this?” to “Omigoodness my brain is in love” to “I’mstupid-Ihatethis-I’mstupid-Ihatethis”. It’s the sort of thing where I’ll decide ‘definitively’ not to go to grad school, and then immediately solve a hard problem and get into my reach school.

Amidst all that, I’ve been looking at alternatives to Ph.D. programs – things that are still intellectually rigorous/analytical but seem more relevant to the world. I’ve even considered switching to (shhhh) applied math. So my first question is this: what options/careers would you suggest to mathematicians who want to be able to “be useful”?

My second question comes from the fact that one of the main alternatives to math that I’ve considered is journalism. I enjoy writing and loved the journalism classes I took in undergrad. I was lucky enough to go to a talk you gave recently in which you mentioned data journalism. I’m thoroughly intrigued, but I have no idea how to look into it. How does someone ‘get into’ data journalism?

Moral of the story, I’m pretty confused. I love math (and have advisers pushing me towards grad school), but I’m not sure if I like it enough for a Ph.D. (or that I like who I am when I’m doing math). Any/all thoughts you have to offer on this silly mid-life-crisis business would be wonderful.

Thank you so much!

Does \exists \phi: Me \rightarrow Career, \phi isomorphic?

Dear Does,

I hear you, it’s tough. Personally I did a better job, when I was your age, at ignoring any possibility besides going to math grad school. I was laser focused. It’s good and bad to be that way, though, because it means you don’t hesitate to make bad choices.

Also, I don’t think I’d ever suggest not getting a degree in math. It comes in handy in all sorts of ways even if you end up doing something else. Even if it just trains you to be humble about your abilities, and know how to admit when you’re wrong, two basic and critical take-aways.

As for journalism, that’s such a tough field, and you’d find yourself hanging out with people who write articles like this (which is to say they won’t understand math enough to realize that describing Cuomo’s changes in education as a “victory” is not supported by fact). Not saying everyone in journalism is like that – in general I like the skepticism I encounter there – but there’s also real ignorance in some corners, and very few great jobs. But again, also a super rewarding job sometimes and for some people. I wouldn’t tell you not to pursue this if you’re truly interested.

The way to get into it – my best guess, not from experience – is to start doing it and posting your pieces on a blog – yours or your friends – or Huffington Post, so you can develop a portfolio that you can show people when you apply. That and work with journalists on their stuff.

I guess my overall advice is to get the education you think you want, and realize it’s flexible and can be used in lots of ways. It’s not something math professors tell you, mostly because they don’t know this, but math Ph.D.’s or masters degrees impress people in the outside world.

In the meantime take programming classes, keep in touch with applied math people and data journalism projects, and dip your toe into some of those waters when you can; do some projects. Don’t worry too much that the nerds around you are laser-focused, they might have changed completely in a few years, and it’s really not a competition. And good luck!

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m a female undergraduate at a very good math department about to enter grad school for mathematics. I have a few stereotypically female qualities which I have found to have negatively impacted my time in undergrad. I don’t want to change who I am, but I’m also sick of the sexism in mathematics.

Just a quick background of what I’m talking about: Most of my side interests are stereotypically feminine: kids, baking, volunteering. I want to be a serious mathematician, but I also enjoy volunteering in local schools and do so quite frequently.

I also am pretty feminine in dress/in personality. I’m not that assertive, and I prefer to not answer in class, despite knowing the answer. Most of the males in my classes are much more assertive, aggressive in answering, and authoritative (even if they have no idea if they are right).

I feel that I’m taken less seriously by my peers and taken advantage of because I’m female, but I’m quite shy and quiet and speaking up is very unnatural for me. I perform at the top of my classes and have been successful in my research experiences, but my classmates don’t respect me (probably because I don’t talk about my success or assert my knowledge). I’m fine with my quiet personality, but I don’t know how to deal with my peers.

Examples:

• Peers assume that I’m going to be a high school math teacher, and are surprised I’m going to grad school.
• Many people applied to REUs from my school, but most didn’t get in anywhere and I got into most of the ones I applied to. Two male students complained in the hallway that I only got in because I’m female (which is not true at all – I’ve taken much more math than them and have published before). They only knew I had gotten in because my professors had told them. They don’t know that I heard them.
• I TA for Analysis II and Algebra II and students often “bully” me for the answers. When I say “no,” they don’t respect that and just ask again. I’ve tried being more assertive and authoritative. The students don’t pressure my fellow male TAs for answers and don’t ignore their refusals to give more help after many hints have been given.
• I’ve been told by my peers that I have a better chance at the grad schools I applied to because I’m female. These are just a few examples – I’m treated differently and feel alone in my undergrad department.

I’m just generally lost! I want to be stronger in grad school and I want people to respect my mathematical abilities, but I don’t know how to be assertive without being arrogant or over-confident. I want peers to stop assuming that I know less. Do you have any advice about how I can change in grad school?

Sorry for the super long question!

Wants To Change For Grad School

Dear Wants To Change,

First of all, congratulations. Sounds like you’re killing it. Seriously, and I’m so glad that your talent is being acknowledged and welcomed by the people who admit you and recruit you to REU’s and grad schools. It tells me that you are in a better place than you let yourself think. Spend a few minutes just gloating.

Second of all, fuck those assholes. Seriously. Fuck them. I know what you’re going through because I went through that stuff too, even though I wasn’t at all shy. The worst kind of person is the arrogant young man, they are unbelievably insufferable. I knew more than my share of such men, and let me tell you, they drove me nuts, and they also drove nice men nuts, as well as all the professors. They are universally despised and tolerated only because sometimes they turn out to be human by the time they get older and humbled (see above letter).

1. Stick with it, everyone gets better when they are a bit older and less insecure. The truly insecure people often self-select out of the math scene altogether because they’re afraid they can’t cut it. For the horrible ones that stay, they become less and less relevant as they are isolated and everyone hates them.
2. Never bake anything for math people. Seriously, there’s something about the act of baking in a department that brings out sexism. Stick with your baking for high school kids who will simply love you for it.
3. Just ignore students who ask for answers. Yes, they are bullying you because they are completely unthreatened by you. But when they learn you don’t do that, they will stop.
4. I would suggest you challenge yourself to answer questions in class, especially if you are taking a class from someone you hope to work with. It is a great habit to have.
5. I would never suggest you change anything else about yourself, except for experimentation’s sake and if you are comfortable doing so. You might find people take you more seriously in certain outfits, and I’d never tell you not to wear them, but in this day and age the idea that you have to conform to other people’s standards of what a “serious” mathematician looks like is fucked.
6. Most important, remember that you’re there to be educated, and it’s all about you, not them. Their egos are crying out in pain because they are threatened, and sometimes the noise is deafening, but learn to put on a set of ego headphones.
7. Also, feed yourself. You might sometimes have problems with your own ego, and you should also be able to seek support, even though it won’t come at the expense of others. Think about how you can get it. I’m imagining that volunteering is a source of that for you, in which case please think of it as an alternative to therapy, and don’t ever ever give it up.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

You’re (still) my favorite blogger, but I feel like you may have erred in your response to “Gossiped About And Hurt Humongously”.

You accuse him of claiming women are “discriminated in favor of”, which he did not. He said, “I was arguing that gender plays a role in fellowship/scholarship selection and college admissions”, which does not indicate in who’s favor that bias might be directed.

I think in this case you’ve unfairly put word in his mouth that were not there. Am I missing something here?

Yeah, maybe. I mean, I agree that I read into it a bit, but I’m not sure what I did was unfair. Let’s go back to what he said about the actual conversation:

I’m a guy and a grad student and I was talking to a fellow grad student, Z, about gender issues in academia. Specifically, I was arguing that gender plays a role in fellowship/scholarship selection and college admissions, and she claimed that no, an applicant’s sex does not have any detectable influence on such decisions. We started talking about affirmative action and before we had time to even discuss the implications of affirmative action, she had to go to class and I thought that was the end of it.

I took from this description that he was arguing that there existed affirmative action in admissions, and that this would promote women. I don’t think that was a crazy jump, since I’ve never heard of affirmative action that promotes men.

Readers, what do you think? The full question and answer are here.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

OK, I fucked up. He does say later in the article, that he did make the pro female bias contention. As my girlfriend just pointed out to me. I still don’t think that is by default sexist, but I have to admit I read right over that without even seeing it, which may be.

Oh, what? Let me take another look. Oh right, he goes on to say, “being female sometimes helps in getting scholarships and in college admissions”.

Thanks for writing back!

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

After some years of “screw it, I’m not even bothering to date,” I met someone I like a lot. He is very smart, interesting, etc, etc. I made him wait ages to spend the night at my house, and last night he finally stayed over.

So anyway, the making out was awesome. We hit the bedroom, and all the clothes come off. Then, four minutes into giving him a blowjob, he just comes. No warning, but I’m ok with that, and I apparently give pretty good ones. What I’m not ok with was that we were now done. Excuse me, what the fuck?

This guy isn’t a selfish jerk at all, and I get that maybe the mood dies for him a bit after he’s gotten his. I also seem to have an effect on some men that makes them a bit “quick.” Given all that, what the hell do I do now? I will give him another shot, but if the same thing happens, he might be getting dumped. On the other hand, he’s practically the only man I have really been interested in for a long time (like, years).

I am not interested in having a discussion about it, and I especially don’t want to make this guy feel bad if he has some medical/PE type issue. However, I also can’t let him think this is acceptable.

Anyway, what would you do? (Actually, I know you, and you’d probably just grab his head and put it between your legs. Any other thoughts for the less assertive among us?)

My Enjoyment The Optional Orgasm

Dear METOO,

Alternative, less aggressive, no-talk option: start masturbating. What’s he going to do, watch? I mean, maybe. Or maybe he will help you out. He sounds like it’s worth a try.

Although, to be very honest, that’s what I’d start doing first, before the blowjob, when you get him into bed the next time. He’s already shown you that he goes second.

Good luck!

Auntie P

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Congratulations, you’ve wasted yet another Saturday morning with Aunt Pythia! I hope you’re satisfied, you could have made progress on that project instead.

But as long as you’re already here, please ask me a question. And don’t forget to make an amazing sign-off, they make me very very happy.