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Aunt Pythia’s advice

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.

——

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

——

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

——

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

——

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.

Well, here’s your chance to spread your Aunt Pythia love to the world! Please ask her a question. She will take it seriously and answer it if she can.

Click here for a form or just do it now:

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

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 finger crossed about that.

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,

Uncertain about Academics

——

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.

I hope that’s helpful!

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.

1. He can help you cast a spell to get pregnant.
2. He can help you cast a Death Spell.
3. He can help you cast a Promotion spell.
4. He can help you cast Lottery spell.
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.
8.He can help you solve your low sperm count.

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.

Click here for a form or just do it now:

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

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 I couldn't help it.

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).

Loyal Reader

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.

Click here for a form or just do it now:

Categories: Aunt Pythia Tags:

Aunt Pythia’s advice

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.

Click here for a form or just do it now:

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

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.

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.

——

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?

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.

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

——

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

——

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).

Third, some advice:

  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

——

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?

Sad And Disappointed

Dear SAD,

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

——

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.

Sad And Dissapointed

SAD,

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

——

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

——

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.

Click here for a form or just do it now:

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Dear readers!

Do you know where Aunt Pythia is right now? She’s on a train from Washington D.C., coming home from a very short and very pleasant visit, involving a delicious dinner, an evening talk, and even more delicious desserts.

Not the actual desserts from last night.

Not the actual desserts from last night.

 

Readers, it needs to be said that not one, not two, but three different times – in the span of 4 hours – someone mentioned to Aunt Pythia that she shouldn’t forget her duties the following morning.

And has she forgotten? No, she hasn’t, and it’s not only because she was reminded so gently and so often last night. No, it’s because Aunt Pythia loves and adores you – worships you, really – and could never forget you. If she doesn’t write it’s because she can’t write. And as Amtrak’s wifi is holding up (so far!), we are all in for a treat. Auntie P knows she is, anyway.

Give it up for trains people, and after that, 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,

You have written that sexual compatibility is important in finding an appropriate partner. But how do you ask or find that out when meeting people to consider dating? And when/how/where does when ask the question, “so how many sexual partners have you had?” I guess you have to date a person to find that out, and I know I shouldn’t ask that on the first date, and maybe even 2nd. And if the answer is above say two, how does one end the courtship without making the other person feel bad?

Here’s where I’m coming (hehe) from: I have been using okcupid to select for people that seem sexually compatible based on the questions they answer (e.g How many dates till sex?), but as is par for the course when it comes to online dating (at least for guys like me who are not tall, handsome, and/or rich) it is very hard to get responses (let alone dates) to the tons of (non-sexual) messages of interest I send. (I’ve had about 5 dates over 8 years of online dating). So I’m trying other ways (speed dating, meet ups, friends, and perhaps, math conferences) to meet people.

I am very sexually inexperienced – I am in my mid 30’s and haven’t made it past a 2nd date; I’ve never had a girlfriend; never been kissed (except maybe by my mom), and so on. My answer to the “how many dates till sex” is the “6 or more” option, and I only contact women with that answer. (I can’t fathom going on only 3-5 dates with someone and then having sex with them!) I am not comfortable dating someone with a lot of sexual partners, because I’m scared of STDs. I mean, you can test for some of the major STDs, but for others (e.g HPV, warts) it’s not always clinically practical, and then what about latency period during which microbes not detectable, and so on. In fact, I’d prefer to date a virgin like myself for that reason, but unfortunately that is unlikely to find at my age (apart from religious people; but I don’t like religion and would not get along with them). Also, my mom is a religious sex-negative nutcase (who has made sex shameful for me)- for example she isn’t happy or comfortable that my sister married a guy who had two previous partners; but he has been an awesome husband for the past 5 years.

very inexperienced regarding getting into nooky

Dear virgin,

First thing’s first. The way you figure out whether you are sexually compatible with someone is by having sex with them. And it may be great, or it may be terrible, or it may (and this is the most likely one) be not terrible but not great, in which case you might have to get better at it with that person (or just get better at it, period). Which may not work, even if you try a bunch, in which case you need to find another person and try again.

Conclusion: you might find yourself having sex a few times, maybe even a lot of times, with a few people, or many people, before you find the right person for you.

Secondary conclusion: if you run across someone who has had sex a bunch of times with a bunch of other people, then you should assume that they are doing it right. You should not assume they are an STD waiting to happen.

Unless they are, of course, that is also possible. Make sure they practice safe sex.

Next question: when do you ask someone how many sexual partners they have had? Answer: never. That is never a relevant question, in my book. Why does it matter? Unless you’re dealing with a freaked out virgin who has been convinced to worry about STD’s, there’s really no point in having that conversation.

Next question: how do you end a relationship with someone because they’ve had more sex than you without making them feel bad? I’d have to say, first think about how to have a relationship at all, with a real person, then worry about that. Oh but wait, since you’re never going to ask them how many sexual partners they’ve had, this won’t come up.

Here’s the thing. Once you’ve gone this long without getting laid, it takes on mythical proportions. It doesn’t need to. Sex doesn’t have to be all that mind-blowing or earth-shattering. Or dangerous, either. Sex is just like prolonged hugging, except stickier.

Friend, you have fallen prey – big time – to the most common mistake of online dating, namely using the information that has been disclosed via online dating and assuming it is sufficient to understand whether you could love someone. It is not. In fact, that data is mostly misleading, especially the picture (and here are Aunt Pythia’s alternative questions).

Also, I think you might need to reread your question and think about the role your mother has had in your life. Specifically, with religion and sex. I’m no expert on this stuff (but fuck it, pretending to be is really the whole point of this column), but it looks like, in an effort to keep you on the religious path, your mother has deliberately perverted your expectations about sex. That might work in some contexts, where there’s a village matchmaker pairing off young virgins, but it aint here. We are in a free market in terms of sex, for better or for worse. If you want to know more about that, please read Why Love Hurts, a really excellent book.

My advice: stop thinking about STD’s, start thinking about things that matter long term like whether you want kids, or where you want to live, or how you want to be awesome. Cultivate a reason for a woman to fall in love with you that is better and sexier than fear.

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Tia Pythia (summoning my inner Spaniard),

I’m 20 years removed from official education, when I received a B.A. in Math. I worked in an actuarial department for a few years, and then for about 15 years in the IT dept of an accounting firm, where I did some programming, some design, and a lot of higher tier technical support.

I was let go about 18 months ago, and am now applying to a few Masters degree programs in Management Information Systems. I’m also contemplating applying to Data Science Boot Camps (there are a few out there), but they’re all in the $15,000 range. I’m skeptical about spending that on a program which doesn’t result in an actual degree, but I am curious to get your opinion on such technical boot camps.

Trying to turn the circular corner of my career

Dear Trying,

Yeah, I have no idea. I thought of starting one of those boot camps myself out here in New York, but then I realized the cost would be pretty steep to make it work, and in particular the very people who I’d want to attract wouldn’t have the cash, because the point of it would be to train them into shape to get the job.

That said, if they are really devoted to data, they should have data on how well their graduates do in the job market.

Also, getting a masters degree sounds good, but only if the skills it will teach you are up-to-date and will get you a job afterwards. If I were you I’d compare the curriculum to the stuff listed on LinkedIn as required knowledge for the jobs you want.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I want to support female mathematicians, and make sure they feel comfortable and welcome at conferences. And I make sure I my encourage female students and call on them and that I don’t make comments to put them down and so on.

Ok, now that we got that out of the way. I’m a single guy in my mid 30s (never had a girlfriend despite wanting one). Is it inappropriate to go to math conferences with hopes of finding love? (My mom suggests I do this, but I think my mom is clueless; she is not in math).

My question again is, is it appropriate to indicate romantic interest to a female mathematician I meet at a conference, and if so how? Typically I won’t know whether or not she is single (e.g she may not be wearing any obvious wedding ring) so then how should I go about figuring out (or asking) if she has a boyfriend? Is it appropriate to ask “Do you have a boyfriend?” And to be clear I’m not interested in a one-night stand, but a loving relationship between one man and one woman, as the holy bible requires (I actually can’t stand religion, just added that facetiously because I support gay rights).

Do you have a strategy for how I should go about this goal? Should I study her mathematical work (which I likely would be interested in, regardless of my interest in her) before the conference, and then use that to begin a mathematical conversation with her, and perhaps even a mathematical collaboration with her (which I would enjoy, even if there was no reciprocal romantic interest on her part)? Given my lack of past success with women, I am not confident that she will have any romantic interest in me, which may lead to great awkwardness.

Should I feel ashamed for posing such a question (to Aunt Pythia)? I get the sense (based on some past Aunt Pythia column comments) that going to conferences in part to meet women interested in math might offend some feminists (but if I was gay, my question would be about meeting men). And I wonder how is it some mathematicians are in relationships with other mathematicians whom they met “at work” (e.g in grad school, post-doc, professor, etc) – how’d they navigate past the possibility of sexual harassment? I am confused. I long for love, like everyone else does. And I’m sad I can’t seem to find it anywhere.

too sad for acronym

Dear too sad,

Great question. It’s all in the details. You’ve got some good thoughts here, but you’ve also got some stuff that comes across as super creepy. So let’s clean it up a bit.

OK:

  • Making friends with people at conferences, men and women.
  • Reading their math beforehand and asking them to discuss it in person, knowing it is almost certainly remaining a professional connection which you actually value.
  • Being open to love if things click.

NOT OK:

  • Following around women, glomming on to them, or otherwise making them uncomfortable at a conference. Whatever you do, ask yourself, “would I do this to a man?” and “why don’t I got ahead and do this to a man for a while so I can convince myself and others that I’m not a creep?”
  • Studying up on someone’s math for the sole purpose of enticing them into a “work conversation” so then you can turn it into a date. Ew, totally gross.
  • Acting like a conference is a sexy sexy party. It’s not, although sometimes there are parties at conferences, and sometimes they get sexy. To be on the safe side, assume that the women there are there because they want to talk math and meet mathematicians in a professional way. Just because they’re at a party and drinking doesn’t mean they are open to advances.

If you are unsure of whether your actions are creepy, my suggestion is to ask a man or woman who knows you and likes you and whom you trust is not themselves a creep.

In general, my suggestion is to be nice, and friendly, and invite multiple people to lunch, or join a group of people for lunch, and take the opportunity to engage in a fun conversation with the person sitting next to you. If you’re enjoying the conversation, mention that you’re planning to go to restaurant X tomorrow for lunch, and would they like to join? Stuff like that. Make it easy for them to say no, and to bring friends, and be sure they never feel pressured in any way.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Aunt Pythia,

There is a function that I can run online. There is apparently some Visual Basic code that implements the algorithm. I pay to have access to be able to run the function. I would like to be able to do automated testing of the function, but to do that, I have thought that I need to have my own implementation. The guy behind this has some functions that he gives me a script that explains how they work.

In the case of this one, there isn’t a script, just code that is not publicly available. The function takes as input two three-digit numbers. the output is 12 three-digit numbers. Is there a machine learning approach that I could use to derive the function so that I can test its performance?

Missing Link

Dear Missing Link,

The answer is no, at least with the information you’ve given me. I have no idea how that function is derived, what form it’s in. If I knew it was a polynomial function (or 12), with some kind of well-defined form, then absolutely, I could infer the coefficients using linear algebra. But given that it always transforms a three digit numbers into three digit numbers, it doesn’t sound polynomial.

It might not even be intrinsically integral: maybe it uses cosines and logarithms and at the very end it lops off the digits to the left and right of some three digits. The point is, without more information I simply have no idea how to infer the function. I need more, and so do you.

Aunt Pythia

——

Aunt Pythia,

I’m interested in your take on the recent New York Times op-ed piece, Searching for Sex.

It seems to me that there are a lot of assumptions contained in the analysis. But I’m writing to ask for your view, not to share mine. How correct do you think his claims are? Should we care about them?

Person seeking every unique dictum on this one recently seen opinion report

Dear Pseudotorsor,

Fantastic sign-off.

You know, I kind of love it when statistics point out how much people lie about sex. It’s one of my favorite things. What I especially like about the condom story in that article is how it’s obvious that both men and women exaggerate how often they’re having sex, at least with condoms. I say, awesome! I love how people always think they’re porn stars. And although men lie more, it’s cool that women also lie.

Here’s the thing, though. Do we really want to be corrected? I mean, given that I haven’t had nearly as much sex as I wish I had, can’t you data people just leave me alone to my imagined life? Does it do any good, really, to think about just how many weeks go by that are utterly dry?

My theory as to why people lie: when you have sex with a person, it creates a temporary (but fantastic!) amnesiatic effect, where you can’t remember what you were mad about, what was wrong in the world, or how long it had been before that moment that you last had sex. It’s also an amazing hangover cure.

So your brain does this thing, in response, whereby it guesstimates that you must have been having sex pretty regularly, i.e. about once a week. And that brain fart lasts for like 4 weeks. Thus the bias.

My point is, it’s a good bias to have, in general, for most people. In fact (and somewhat ironically!) only actual porn stars are suffering from too little perceived sex. Go us! Go imaginary sex!

In other words, I think the author is wrong to ask, why do we have so little sex? I think we instead should be asking, how can we be unreasonably happy about other things just like we are unreasonably happy about our sex lives?

Also, I agree that the one thing the article didn’t discuss sufficiently is the question of selection bias. I mean, I have never asked google about my vagina, ever. I suspect there are quite a few people who don’t ask google about their vaginas. So instead of saying people are insecure about their smelly particulars, I think we might be tempted to conclude that insecure people ask google about their insecurities.

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.

Click here for a form or just do it now:

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Dearest readers, do you know how much Aunt Pythia loves you and misses you during the week? So much that she’s baked everyone a pie for pi day:

Confession: I stole this pic off the web. I could never make a pie that perfect.

Confession: I stole this pic off the web. I could never make a pie that perfect.

According to my calculations, it’s about to be a once-in-a-century moment to celebrate the number pi, so please grab a fork.

Also, you know what they say about April showers bringing May flowers, right? Well now it’s March showers too. It’s raining impressively outside. It’s all good though, because Aunt Pythia is counting on the rain to wash away all those nasty cigarette butts that have emerged from the dirty melted snow. Yuck!

A final word before we get started: this column doesn’t just happen, it’s all about you guys asking your very serious and important questions (no fewer than two sex-related questions this week!) and Aunt Pythia’s terrible and poorly thought out advice, and then of course the commenters who correct me. In other words, it’s just like public radio except more titillating.

All this to say that, after you read today’s column, 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 met my boyfriend last spring. We’re both STEM majors and had a DiffEq class together. We quickly learned to integrate. We also found ways to locate the local maximum quickly when needed or to calculate the slow, asymptotic convergence to the major axis. My problem is not with Jim.

We each live in apartments off campus even though our families are in the local metro area. We have visited each other’s homes many times. In late spring when it got warm we began going to Jim’s mother’s house on the weekend to swim in the pool and get some sun.

Mrs. W is divorced and she dates frequently. Jim has told me she has no serious relationships, but he thinks she has several FWBs. She is a partner in a prestigious law firm. She works long hours so Jim and I frequently have the uninterrupted use of the house.

One Saturday in June, we went out to the house to go swimming. When I walked out to the pool, I saw Mrs. W sunning herself. Dressed in a tankini with boy shorts, her mid-forties, well-toned body looked fabulous. She got up to greet me as always. She usually gives me a collarbone-to-collarbone hug and a kiss on the cheek. This time the hug was a full-body hug and a wet kiss landed on the side of my neck. Additionally, one of her hands ended up low on my back; so low that her pinky rested on my bikini bottom right at the top of my butt. The full-body hug, kiss on the neck and hand low on my back became her standard greeting whenever we met.

On Labor Day Jim and I decided to have an end-of-summer pool closing party. I drove out to the house early to help set up. When I got there, Mrs. W greeted me at the door with her hug and told me that Jim had run to the store to get drinks and snacks. She followed me to Jim’s room where I stripped off the shorts and tank top I had worn over my bikini. She hugged me again, telling me how glad she was that Jim and I were dating. It was her standard hug, except this time her hand slipped inside my bikini bottom until her fingers rested over the top of my crack. After about 5 seconds, she jumped back apologizing profusely for being clumsy.

In December she announced that she was giving me clothes for Christmas. We went shopping at a very upscale department store. We selected several outfits for me to try on. She also selected four halter tops that she said she would need when she and an FWB went to Aruba for New Year’s. We entered the dressing room and I eagerly began mixing and matching tops and bottoms. Mrs. W took off her blouse and bra to try on the halter tops. Soon we had chosen the outfits for me. Mrs. W had selected the tops she wanted also. The last top did not look good against her skin and she suggested that I try it on.

She took it off and handed it to me. When I had it on, she said it looked great and we would get it so I could wear it for Jim in the spring. I slipped back out of it. Mrs. W told me how much she enjoyed taking me shopping and gave me a hug. We were both topless and she held me for half a minute or more. I was surprised at how nice it felt.

Since that shopping trip, Mrs. W has featured in some of my solo fantasies.

My birthday is coming up in early March. As my birthday gift, Mrs. W has invited me to go on a ‘girl’s only’ weekend to a resort spa. I’m excited about the possibilities yet a little scared to go.

Now my two questions: (1) Am I reading her signals right? (2) She’s my boyfriend’s mom!?!?

Befuddled In MAssachusetts Yet Bewitched and Excited

Dear BIMAYBE,

Holy. I can’t, even. I mean, for fuck’s sake.

How long did it take you to concoct that story?! That is absolutely amazing. You should totally start writing singles for Amazon Kindle. You are really miles ahead of your competition. I’m sweaty over here on a chilly rainy late winter morning.

Plus, the math at the beginning, and the sign-off at the end. Just phenomenal. Maybe my favorite all-time Aunt Pythia submission (har har).

Hey, you know what? Instead of answering your ridiculous and fabricated questions at the end, can I instead ask you a question?

Thanks, here it is: can you come over and hang out with me and tell me how you come up with that stuff? I’m all ears. My email is on my “about” page. Please let me know it’s really you by sending me the next chapter.

And, just in case you are for real, I’ll just say, my advice is to write down what happens next and send it to me via email (which is on my “about” page). Because there’s really nothing at stake here, no morals to worry about, at least that I can see from my vantage point of heavy breathing voyeur.

So yes, my question and my answer amount to the same thing: SEND ME MORE!

Love,

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Do you think that we will ever see legal, on-line gambling or will the gambling interests be able to continue to block it? There is a Costa Rican website that we are allowed to use, but I don’t understand why poker players can’t gamble legally? I have thought, at least, that is still true.

Sonambulist

Dear Sonambulist,

Huh? What? Gambling? Not sure, completely distracted. Please do look that up.

Oh wait, it looks complicated. As in, you’d probably not get in trouble as a user, but if you wanted to set something up you might want to be prepared to flee quickly if and when your site is discovered. Also, it might depend whether you can convincingly argue that poker is a game of skill, not of luck. Personally I have been very very consistently unlucky with poker, so I’d say luck.

Auntie P

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

My Office Cat likes to sit on my keyboard and set in front of the display. What can I do? He needs to be in the office, because his litter box is in the office closet. Also, he likes to be with me.

Missing Link

Dear ML,

I think you’ve confused me for a cat person. I am not. I am a dog person. Dog people don’t understand cat people in various aspects, and this would be one of those aspects. From my perspective, you have a few choices:

  1. find a new job (with dog people),
  2. bring your dog to work,
  3. figure out a way of making your keyboard less comfortable, or
  4. figure out a way of making something else more comfortable for the cat than your keyboard. For example, build the cat a place to play. Be this guy, who is super awesome and makes me love cat people. Then, after you build the cat palace for 15 years or so, you can get your work done.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Total egghead here. I want to write an op-ed, but I’d like to find some data to support my arguments. (“For example, at Big State U, precalculus courses make up 80% of the courses taught, and they’re taught largely by mathematics graduate students.”) But the problem I’m facing as an out-of-date mathematician is this: how the hell do you actually get your paws on data?! Surely public universities should make such data available…somewhere. Right? Or am I nutters?

Upstate Upstart

Dear UU,

Good question, and the answer is I’m not sure. Readers?

Auntie P

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Sorry in advance for any TMI. I’m a 20-year-old female nerd suffering from a common sexual dysfunction: it’s a chronic muscle spasm in my nether regions which makes any form of penetration incredibly painful. I’ve never been able to insert so much as a tampon without discomfort.

I can certainly experience pleasure in other ways, but as a horny and regrettably heterosexual college student, this has really thrown a wrench in my romantic/sex life. I exude the personality of someone who’d have a lot of casual sex, but I frequently pass on hookups I’d otherwise pursue for fear of embarrassing myself or disappointing the person in question. I’ve had some very understanding partners in the past, but I’m single right now and about to move to a new place without any old flames.

Obviously you’re not a physical therapist and can’t fix my actual problem, but I guess my question is, is it impolite to pick up dudes at a bar or party with no intention of letting anything more than a finger in my cooch? How transparent should I be about my issue? How weird will I come off as if I dodge the act without going into detail about why? Do you have any ideas for a smooth exit strategy?

Again… sorry for TMI…

Venture Among Girls Instead Now? Invoke Spinsterhood? More Uncomfortable Sex?

Dear VAGINISMUS,

ARE YOU KIDDING?!!? Aunt Pythia does not understand the meaning of the phrase “TMI.” Plus, she loves learning about new things, although this specific thing is bad news, and she’s very sorry you have to deal with it.

As for your question. It is very very clear in my head that you have not made any vaginal promises to a man just by picking him up in a bar. There are all sorts of ways to enjoy time together, clothed or naked, without doing something that would cause you pain. You have no apologies to make, and neither do you have explanations.

I do think you might want to be prepared to offer pleasure in other ways, but goodness knows you already have a long list of such methods. There’s not a drunk male alive that wouldn’t be satisfied with that list. If you get to know someone well, and it’s actually a sober 5th date, then of course you might feel like explaining what’s up. But absolutely do it on your own time, and don’t stand for anything except gratitude.

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.

Click here for a form or just do it now:

Categories: Aunt Pythia
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