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Aunt Pythia’s advice

Great to be here, and glad you came.

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

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

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

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

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Aunt Pythia,

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

ORR

Dear ORR,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

Perennial Employee

Dear PE,

Awesome!

Auntie P

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

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

Idea

Dear Idea,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

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

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

Best,

Sardonic Albeit Distinctly Fearful About Gay-friendliness

Dear SADFAG,

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Aunt Pythia

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

 

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Readers, readers!

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

Clitorides

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

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

Penes

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

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

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

Back to our regularly scheduled advice column

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

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

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

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

Confused in RI

Dear Confused,

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

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

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

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

Lonely in New York(?!)

Dear Lonely,

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

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

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

Auntie P

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

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

BK

Dear BK,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

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

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

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

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

Possibly Not Research Ready

Dear PNRP,

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

Screen Shot 2014-04-05 at 6.20.45 AM

Man, we played a lot of bridge that summer.

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

Data Internship Youngster

Dear DIY,

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Pythia,

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

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

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

Thanks again,
EVENFLOWIV

Dear EVENFLOWIV,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt P,

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

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

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

Jenny Taylor

Dear …umm… Jenny,

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

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

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

Aunt Pythia

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

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

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

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

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

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

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

Thanks,
Bitcoin Boogie

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

Dear BB,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope that helps!

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

Too Sensitive

Dear Too,

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

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

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

Good luck!

Auntie P

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Dear Aunt Pythia.

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

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

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

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

Yours,

Seeking Habitation In New York

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

Dear SHINY,

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

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

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

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

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

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

Just Pondering

Dear Just,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aunt Pythia

——

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

 

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Tia Pythia’s advice

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

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

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

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

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

——

Dear Tia Pythia,

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

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

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

With love,

Future Anxiety Revealed, Troubling Situation

Dear FARTS,

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

Tia Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

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

Draußen vor der Tür

Dear Draußen,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck,

Tia Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

What do nerdy women talk about at lunch?

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

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

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

Lunch Uncomfortable Need Conversation Help

Dear LUNCH,

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

Tia Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

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

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

Stop Propagating Antagonizing Messages

Dear SPAM,

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

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

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

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

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

Tia Pythia

——

Dear Tia Pythia,

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

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

Open Relationships Rock

Dear ORR,

Wait, what article? That’s super unfair.

Tia Pythia

——

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

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

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

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

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

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woman Turning Forty

Dear WTF,

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

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

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

On to the questions:

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

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

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

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

Thanks again for the opportunity to vent!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

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

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

Another Alpha Female

Dear AAF,

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

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

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

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

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

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

Elvis Von Essende Nicholas Friedrich Lester Otto Widener IV

Dear EVENFLOWIV,

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

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

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

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

inequality map 630

Did you have something else in mind?

Aunt Pythia

——

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia has some exciting news.

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

I just love me some Starbuck!

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

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

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

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

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think? Am I overreacting?

Scientista (in training)

Dear Scientista,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

Thanks!

Serious Pondering About Money

Dear SPAM,

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

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

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

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Is it OK to review NSA grant proposals?

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

Not Sure Actually

Dear NSA,

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

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

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

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Auntie Pythia,

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

Love,

Lots Of Valentine’s Extrapolations

Dear LOVE,

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

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

Who is actually on Facebook divulging their marital status?

Who is actually on Facebook divulging their marital status?

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

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

Best,

Aunt Pythia

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

Dr. Suspicious Ignorant Naive

Dear Dr. SIN,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

Quantifried in Canada

Dear Quantrified,

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

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

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

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

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

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

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

No Acronym

Dear NA,

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

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

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

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

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

Confused Foreign Visitor

Dear CFV,

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

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

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

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

Good luck, and welcome to our country!

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

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

Brandishing One Nasty Erection Rythmically

Dear BONER,

First, nice acronym.

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

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

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

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

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

You asked.

Aunt Pythia

——

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Ask Tante Nina and Aunt Pythia

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

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

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

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

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Dear Tante Nina and Aunt Pythia,

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

Nosiness Seeds Awkwardness

Dear NSA,

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

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

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

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

Tante Nina and Aunt Pythia

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Dear Tante Nina and Aunt Pythia,

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

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

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

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

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

With much love,

Serious Woman Always Genderized

Dear Reluctant Fan Girl,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warmly,

Tante Nina

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

Thanks,

Not In Love

Dear NIL,

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

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

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

Aunt Pythia

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Hiya, Aunt Pythia,

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

Does Representation Of PhD Overstate / Understate Talent?

Dear DROPOUT,

Nice.

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

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

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

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia and Tante Nina

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

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

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

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

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

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

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

Don’t overlook My expertise

Dear DoMe,

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

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

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

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

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

Professional

Dear Professional,

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

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

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

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

This will sound made-up but it’s not.

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

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

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

Decidedly uncertain of proper events to divulge

Dear Duopetd,

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

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

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

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

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

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

Pop Music Makes Papa Leer

Dear PMMPL,

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

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

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

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

Auntie P

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

Thanks!

Against Carpal Tunnel

Dear ACT,

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

Aunt Pythia

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

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

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

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

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

Desperate To Move To Washington State

Dear Desperate,

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

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

Aunt Pythia

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Aunty Pythia,

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

Pat from Canada

Dear Pat,

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Aunty Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

Kind regards,

Alien

Dear Alien,

How would I know?

Love,

Aunt Pythia

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Dearest Aunt P,

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

What do you think?

With love,

A Curious Thing…

Dear Curious,

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

Love,

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

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

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

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

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

Any advice would be appreciated.

Bernoulli honored Descartes eventually, Steltjes learned Minkowskian parabolas

Dear BhDeSlMp,

First, nice acronym.

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

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

And have fun!

Aunt Pythia

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia woke up this morning wondering what to wear now that the bipolar vortex is showing its warm side. Something flannel, obv, but what exactly? Believe it or not, this kind of quotidian conundrum is how Aunt Pythia gets warmed up (har!) to answer your lovely questions. Please, enjoy Aunt Pythia’s advice, and don’t forget to:

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

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

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

My husband and I both have Ph.D.s in the same STEM subject from the same university, so educationally we are on the same footing. His career has progressed to tenure, and mine has not. Every time I even hint that I might have been mistreated because of my gender, in terms of invitations to talk or grant applications, we end up having an argument.

He claims to be feminist, and I suppose his rational self is, but the implicit bias is there and he finds it very difficult to act to counter that or even talk about the issues with me without getting angry at me. How would aunt Pythia conduct these discussions at home without a fight? Or should I just not even bother bringing gender issues up with him?

Implicit Bias at Home

Dear IBaH,

Super hard problem, and I have a ton of things to say about it, having worked in the same math department with my husband in two jobs. But first I need to mention that I met my husband when he was being offered professorships and I was still a grad student, so we didn’t have the same exact problem. Still, we had enough.

For example, I experienced an enormous amount of bullshit, especially in my Assistant Professor job, at the hands of my husband’s colleagues. Outrageous shit, which at some point I will blog about. And it was extremely difficult to talk to my wonderful feminist and supportive husband about that treatment, because these people were also his colleagues and he wanted so much to like and be liked by his colleagues.

After much retrospection and many years and jobs later, I’m here to explain what happened there, at least from my perspective. The key phrase to keep in mind is cognitive dissonance. It means you have two opposing sets of beliefs and, since they don’t make any sense when put together, you get really upset when someone tries to bring up both things. And I mean REALLY upset, as in irrational and angry.

When you challenge the fact that he’s being offered good jobs and you’re not, he can’t actually think clearly about it, because the key fact for him is that he’s being offered good jobs and that’s something he’s been working towards for half his life or more. He knows it’s a good thing and therefore cannot be a bad thing. The fact that you’re not getting these nice offers can be a bad thing, considered separately, but he will have a huge problem connecting that bad thing to the thing he knows is good.

And I’m not trying to trivialize the guy, I really think what I’m saying is true at a deeply emotional level.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that my marriage improved 100% on the “supportiveness” front, when I took a job in a place my husband didn’t work. At last, when someone said something sexist, dismissive, and humiliating to me, my husband could take my side unfettered. I had my supportive husband back, and it didn’t take me long to see why. He had no stake in those assholes liking him, so he could hate them with me and for me. In fact we even developed a fun ritual, where I’d complain about a colleague or a situation at work, and he’d immediately say, “Go tell those guys to SHOVE IT!!” in a gleefully violent way. It was so much better than wondering if I was crazy.

My advice: if I were you I’d try to give him some understanding on this point, because his ego is on the line. That’s not to say you shouldn’t talk about it, you should. Just understand that he is protecting another thing which is very very important to him.

Also, he’s very likely to be perfectly reasonable about how other people get treated poorly. Get him to read this article, for example, about hidden biases. Make sure he treats his female colleagues and students really well. Make sure he sticks up for women in general. Appreciate and encourage his feminism in other manifestations.

One last thing. I don’t avoid fights at home. I mean, I don’t go looking for them, but I certainly don’t avoid them. If you think there’s a specific thing you could ask your husband to do or not do that would help alleviate this problem, by all means talk it through with him. I’m not sure what that would be though, because it wouldn’t make sense for him to refuse to give a talk or to suggest you instead – both of those would be weird. The problem here is that it’s a systemic bias thing, and your husband is not directly in control of it, and neither are you. It’s really frustrating but that’s one reason it continues to exist.

Having said that, in the future when you or your husband is in charge of a seminar or hiring, you should by all means talk through who you’re inviting to speak and why, or who you’re making offers to and why, and make sure you’re not propagating the same biases that were used against you. That’s about the best approach I know of.

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

What are your thoughts on offering blow jobs or another form of sex in exchange for doing extra work around the house? Note – I am assuming everyday work is already split more or less evenly (which I know is not reality), so we are only talking about an extraordinary chore or two, such as cleaning out the basement. I’m also assuming this is more motivating for men, which obviously won’t fit every case, but probably is a reasonable supposition.

We asked some friends, and the pattern of responses was amusing. Most of the women we’ve asked said they would never offer this (or would feel guilty about doing so) because it was demeaning to the man. Every single man was totally onboard, thinking it was an excellent idea.

So is this an acceptable method of encouraging chore doing?

OK, I’ll Bite

Dear OKIB,

In terms of “acceptable”, I’m very open minded, as you might have guessed. What could possibly be the negative externality of such a deal? If everyone involved is happy and nobody else gets hurt, then do what you want, it’s a free country. For me it’s all about whether the plan will work.

One caveat to that. I’m wondering if the blowjob (or the other form of sex) is something that is normally withheld? In which case I’d feel weird saying to go for it, because I’d feel weird about the withholding part. But maybe that’s just me. Or maybe it’s an in between, special occasion kind of sex act, which I can totally dig.

For now let’s assume that blowjobs (or the other form of sex) are not normally withheld. Then my guess is the guys just get a kick out of having made such a deal. They might figure that, if they don’t agree to this deal, they’ll end up cleaning the basement anyway with nothing to look forward to. Yes, I totally get that.

It might even make the entire cleaning process somewhat titillating. Who knew Hefty garbage bags and work gloves could be sexy?! Probably someone, actually, there are all kinds of people out there.

It seems to me that the only reason not to go for it would be if the woman’s discomfort at demeaning her husband – a discomfort which is not shared by the husband – overwhelms her desire to get her basement cleaned quickly and happily by an eager spouse. I highly doubt this possibility! I know from personal experience that women love a clean basement way more than is rationally explicable.

Conclusion: I see this plan working. Please report back.

Auntie P

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

What can I say to people who assume that I need to have a baby, and have one now? I am a woman in my early thirties, and have been married for a few years.

While my husband and I would welcome a child, we have decided to take life as it comes to us, and are happily engaging in many activities for personal and professional fulfillment that we know we would have to cut back on once a child enters the picture. When asked if I have kids, or plan to, people take ‘no’ and ‘maybe’ to launch into all sorts of unwanted details about their own lives, implying that all I need to do is try harder, pray harder, or turn my husband into my baby-sex slave. (Not that I would mind the last one if he did so on his own, but it seems demeaning to make such demands.). And gasp, I better hurry, because, you know, that ticking clock!

Do you have any short witty comebacks to end such discussions? The best I have so far are “it’s none of your freaking business” and “Gee, I really like to plan ahead for major events and to have all of my key positions covered. I still have some openings for 3am feedings and diaper laundry, which would you prefer?”

Maybe Baby

Dear Maybe,

First of all, don’t discount the baby-sex-slave role for your husband too soon. It’s really much better than it sounds. And don’t assume something is demeaning to your husband without checking (see above)!!

There are two things about human nature that will not end just because you wish them to: people interpret ambivalence as an opportunity for advice, and people want kids. Maybe there’s a third, which is that people want you to want what they want.

In any case, your ambivalence, which is showing up loud and clear in your letter, is getting you into trouble. If you really don’t want advice from nosy outsiders, then I suggest you train yourself not to display an iota of ambivalence. Examples of what you can say:

  1. Oh, my husband and I don’t want kids.
  2. My husband and I do not wish to be “breeders.” Then send them here.
  3. We have pets, and that’s already too much work.

As soon as you say “we don’t want kids yet” then the whole ticking clock door will be opened, so hold yourself back. As soon as you say “we’d welcome a child” then it opens the door to the problems with passivity and possible IVF treatment starting tomorrow.

But if you say “we don’t want kids” and leave it there, then only the pushiest people will have something to say back, and then you can just repeat it or you can say, “actually, I’ve never wanted kids and neither has my husband. It’s something we completely agree on, and that’s nice.” Case closed.

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia

——

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia is on her yearly retreat to her favorite yarn store in the world, otherwise known as Webs in North Hampton, MA. It’s a nice town but very cold. In that spirit, and as you are enjoying today’s column,

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

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

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

Being a divorced father of three lovely grown daughters, two of whom who live in AK, I have decided to be with them over the holidays. Now according to them and most other women there, “it is where the odds are good, but the goods are odd.” That of course reflects the fact that there are many more men than there are women in Alaska, but the men are a bit kooky.

Anyway, I have three questions for you. First, will I be viewed as being “odd” because of my two year involvement with Occupy? I mean, there are not a lot of enlightened people in the red state of Alaska, women or men. You do remember Sarah Palin, right?!

Now considering myself an ‘enlightened man’, my second question is this: if I do have the chance to have a tryst with an un-enlightened woman, should I go for it, and talk politics afterward?

And the third question is if, I do go for it, how do I get out of my daughter’s home without raising suspicion? I mean… I cannot tell them that I am going out to the ‘deli’ because having been raised in the East, they know there are no such things in Alaska, so this would automatically make them become suspicious.

Soon To Be Bewildered In AK

Dear Soon,

First, do you mind if I change your name to “Recently”?

Second, I know there was an Occupy Anchorage arm of the movement, so please go find those guys.

Next, always talk politics afterwards. If then.

Finally, you’re a grown man, I’d expect you can just tell your daughters you’re sneaking out to get lucky and ask them to keep their fingers crossed.

Good luck!

Auntie P

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

For the last 2.5 years I have been the care taker for my seriously ill elderly parents of whom one died over a year ago. I only now feel free to apply for full time faculty positions, but I am worried how to explain this situation on my job applications. I know I can’t just ignore it as my last paper was published in 2011. I have though continued to do some research and have backlog of seven papers that are at least half finished. Other than getting those papers out, what other advice do you have?

Thank you

JAA is Another Acronym

Dear JAA,

I honestly think you just tell them straight up that you were taking care of your seriously ill elderly parents. Mathematicians are people too and they have sympathy.

And yes, get the papers out, and talk about how much you love teaching and doing research. When you think about it, 2.5 years isn’t really that long, if you can still demonstrate that you’re active in research. I’d probably try to go to a conference in your field as well to be on top of things.

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia

——

Hello Aunt Pythia,

I am really fascinated by your acceptance of your body. However, I don’t have that. Is that something that one can develop?

One thing that is an obstacle is that being overweight increases my chances of developing type II diabetes like my parent and grandparent. My doctor would like me to lose weight, I want to lose weight, which makes it hard to accept my current weight.

The second issue is that my mental image of attractiveness involves not having rolls of fat. I don’t care about size so much as about the body not being lumpy. I find it very difficult to accept that I am sexually attractive.

Unhappily Overweight

Dear Unhappily,

I’m not sure how easy it is to develop acceptance of your own body, but it’s definitely worth a try and even small improvements will be worthwhile. Here are some tips.

  1. Think long and hard about what actually looks and feels attractive to you in terms of clothing, and do what you can to wear clothing that emphasizes parts of your body that you like. I go through phases of this, sometimes it’s “fit and flare” dresses that avoid the tent problem, sometimes it’s jeans and flannel shirts with funky shoes that just make me feel badass.
  2. Make a list of activities that leave your body feeling good and that you enjoy doing, and make a daily high-priority appointment with yourself to do one of those things – block out some time and don’t make appointments then. Taking a brisk walk works for me, and so does swimming and biking. Try to do something like that once or twice a day, but forgive yourself immediately if you don’t, so you’ll try again the next day.
  3. Keep in mind that nobody really knows how to lose weight, including doctors, so a doctor telling you to deal with it is kind of useless and promotes guilt in you without solving the problem. Fuck that.
  4. Which is not to say you should ignore your risk of diabetes. If you are taking unavoidable naps a couple of hours after meals, and if coffee doesn’t help but sugar does, that’s a bad sign, which I experienced when I was 39. What helps for me is to religiously avoid “fast carbs,” and I encourage you to experiment.
  5. But in any case keep in mind that other people are at risk for diseases too, and that doesn’t make them question their attractiveness. Try to separate the two issues.
  6. Next, stop watching TV or whatever media is convincing you that you cannot be attractive. Just turn it off. I’m in a hotel this week, so I’m exposed to TV in ways that I’m normally not (we don’t have TV at home) and I really can’t believe how many ads there are for weight loss – probably timed for New Year’s resolutions. I’m getting carpal tunnel syndrome from all the turning off I’m doing here. What does that mean? It means there’s an industry out there trying to make you feel bad so you will pay for their products. Fuck that.
  7. Finally, I suggest denial of small imperfections (or large ones, what the hell). Some people have body dysmorphia, but I’ve invented another condition which I’ve termed “body eumorphia” and which consists of believing I’m pretty much irresistibly attractive, at least to people who are wise enough to acknowledge it. It is achieved through following the above advice and just willing it to be true.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

I was recently reading about 23andMe’s plan to collect all of our genomes, merge them with Google’s don’t-worry-your-privacy-is-totally-protected data stash (a founder of 23andMe is married to Sergei Brin), and create some orgasmic data analysis of Hitachi Magic Wand proportions. I’d like to ask your advice on how to design my own virus genome to irretrievably corrupt their system.

If that isn’t possible, what’s the best way to knock delivery drones out of the sky?

I’m glad Reagan is dead

Dear IgRid,

Wow, no offense, but you’re kind of evil. And I like you. I don’t think you really need my advice though, since you have much better ideas than I do. Instead I’ll ask you some questions.

First, when drones deliver our goods in the future, what’s gonna stop us from stealing those drones and repurposing them to our own benefit? I mean besides the video cameras and other surveillance mechanisms that will tip off Amazon and its private army about what we’re up to?

Second, have you seen this article about how shitty the current generation of genetics testing is? That’s not to say that it will be shitty in the future, especially when they sequence our entire genomes instead of looking for tiny little markers.

In fact, the whole industry has an incredible potential for creepiness, and I’m glad you’re thinking about ways to push back. Please keep me updated with your progress.

Love,

Auntie P

——

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia is almost embarrassed today by how much fun it is to be her. Almost. But honestly she doesn’t embarrass easily.

So in case you don’t get a kick out of today’s column, especially by the end, then please take comfort in the fact that Aunt Pythia got a huge kick out of writing this stuff. It was really a pleasure, thanks. Oh, and please

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

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

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Aunt Pythia,

I’m a math undergrad at a large state school working on the side as a tutor at my university’s campus learning center. There are 2 flavors of tutoring that I do: “drop-in” tutoring (which is essentially an emergency room for lower division math students doing homework) and “group” tutoring (which is a course-specific, supplemental problem solving session). I don’t care much for the “drop-in” part, but I really, really love the group tutoring, mostly because I have control over how to run the class.

Every week I TeX up a nice little sheet of practice problems for my kids and they get to come up to the board one-by-one to work on them while I sit on their shoulder being a snarky, spiritual math-guide. I’m very passionate about involving the kids directly and consider it my moral duty as a math tutor to create an environment where that can happen. However about half of the students dropped after hearing that they would be required to directly participate. The ones who stayed though have stuck it out like champs and they’ve all reported an improvement in their course grade as a result of doing the extra problems.

But here’s the problem: my supervisor keeps criticizing the low attendance (which is about 50% of the average group size) and either wants me to change my style of teaching or give me fewer group hours next quarter (which means more icky drop-in hours) if I keep things the same.

What should I do? I asked my students if I should change things up and (surprisingly) they all emphatically said “no,” adding that despite being initially intimidated they were able to overcome their confusion more quickly by being put on the spot and having the instant feedback from myself and the rest of the class (it was a touching moment).

On the other hand, I can understand where my supervisor is coming from because the learning center gets funded based on how many students are using its services, and tutors who solve more example problems at the board for free get more students. Am I too low on the food-chain to be this principled about how to run a supplementary problem solving session for a single lower division math class? Working out problems at the board has always been the most effective way for me to learn math. But maybe it’s not for everyone?

Won’t Oppose Modifying my Perspective

Dear WOMmP,

It’s definitely not for everyone. But on the other hand, it is very effective for the students that have chosen to stay with your class, and I think you should be proud of the work you’re doing with them.

In terms of advice, I think it depends on your situation. If you’re not desperate for this job, you can just tell your supervisor that this is how you work, and the results for your students will be excellent, and you will refuse more drop-in hours, and that you will quit if you are not appreciated for your efforts.

If you are desperate for this job, then you probably want to find a compromise. Maybe it can be something like, for the first half (or more) of the hour you will not do the work for them but in the last part you will answer questions. That way people will be coaxed into thinking for themselves but they will know they have the option to be lazy.

Good luck, and thank you for being such a devoted math teacher!

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia

In online discussions – and in real life – what is the best response to someone who calls me or infers something inappropriate about me?

On blogs it can be easy to spot the offenses, though in general I find it aggravating how humor cloaks a lot of sexist and generally demeaning comments in life.

I tend to be the kind of person to let bygones be bygones, and chalk it up as a sign of victory in the preceding debate; however, I am uncertain. Does my continuing to talk (obviously not right after the blow up) to that person somehow justify or encourage their methods?

I hate to leave these conversation spaces altogether (sometimes they are good dorky fun) but I noticed that though I keep my cool with the aggressors, residual bits of negativity stick in my mind and sometimes ooze into my other interactions. I appreciated your niece’s advice that “it’s not about me” but sometimes I wonder if by being present and vocal I am making it about me.

One more bit of color, the last straw attack was a sexually offensive name. And though several comments, some coming to my defense, were deleted from the thread the comment attacking me stayed up. When I complained to a friend about the incident, he suggested (jokingly, of course) that I enjoyed being called nasty names.

In public? On a blog some of my colleagues read? Exactly what is it with men? Sorry that’s a larger, near rhetorical question. Thanks.

No Offense To All’s Cool Until Negates Truth

Dear NOTACUNT,

First of all, it’s not about you, and any guy who calls you a cunt because you don’t agree with them has problems.

Second, what are you doing on discussion forums that allow such comments? Surely there are better things for you to do with your time. Like even just taking a nap would be a better use of your time.

And if you tell me I’m being sexist because men still have the option to be on such forums without being called a cunt, I’d argue that anyone there is wasting their time.

It’s a sad fact about anonymity of the web that there are weird, sad people who spend their time being hateful, as hateful as they can be, to as many people as they can be, via comments. I’ve had to go from allowing comments to moderating all mathbabe comments because of this problem, and it’s a total pain in the ass, but the only other option is frankly to forbid all comments. And since I cherish good thoughtful comments, I don’t want to do that. But keep in mind it’s a real investment of time to moderate comments!

My advice is to find a place to talk to people that’s either in the real world, or in an online forum where the comments are well curated and hateful speech is removed.

And one last thing. If someone has identified themselves as an asshole, by saying something hateful and sexist to you after you try to make an intellectual point, please ignore them forever after. That way your quality of life has improved and, as a bonus, assholes are not being encouraged to continue with their asshole tactics.

Aunt Pythia

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Aunt Pythia,

What do you think is the sexiest knitwear? (Assuming, of course, that the set of sexy knitwear is nonempty.)

Asking for a friend

Dear Asking,

Great question! Lots of knitting is sexy. In fact anything is sexy that either a) shows off people’s bodies or b) is so incredibly scrumptiously comfortable that you just want to get inside it with the person wearing it.

In terms of the first category, let’s start with a corset-ish (but not actually one of those crazy freaking shapewear things) that shows off women’s curves, kinda like this (which happens to have been designed by a friend of mine):

image_medium2

Not at all constricting.

Next, we have the skin-baring type of sexiness that everyone can get behind:

ensemble_medium

Technically this is crochet. But nobody cares.

Next we’ve got some examples from the latter category, of scrumptiously sexy:

5334133359_68c4005dbf_z

This is my favorite design, I’ve made it 3 times, and it’s super simple. Top down. I usually make it with REALLY BIG BUTTONS.

and for the man-loving crowd:

3-2_medium2

Who doesn’t love a man in an Irish sweater?

Did I mention there are sexy things you can knit?

Lipstick cosy. Seriously.

Lipstick cosy. Seriously.

Finally, I want to mention that it’s of course also possible to be sexy while knitting, which is kind of different but also makes the final product titillating, at least for those in the know:

tumblr_inline_mrg10wtY5K1qz4rgp

I’m seriously hoping I’m not sued for putting this picture here.

Did I answer your question? What was your question, anyway? I’m completely distracted.

Love,

Aunt Pythia

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Hi Aunt P,

Porn. I’m tired of the options for women. I don’t want the traditional hetero porn and I’m not into lesbian porn. Where can I find sexy, thoughtful, and maybe even *nerdy* porn (on or off) the internet? Even well-written erotica would be a nice diversion.

Upstate Upstart

Dear UU,

Look I’m as nerdy and as horny as the next girl, or maybe I’m off the spectrum for each, but even I’m not looking for thoughtful porn. If anything I’m looking for totally thoughtless porn, as long as it’s not nasty (in a bad way). And I agree that there’s not enough of it for us.

Here’s an idea, which I totally haven’t tried but I want to, and I learned about through this amazing article (thank you Business Insider!) which talks about Amazon banning smut like “Cum for Bigfoot” by Virginia Wade (not her real name!) and which contains the following unbelievable line:

“‘It’s f—ing Bigfoot,’ hissed Shelly. ‘He’s real, for f—’s sake.’ Horror filled her eyes. ‘With a huge c—.’”

Yes! What!? Go here for more. I’m thinking New Year’s resolution.

Auntie P

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia had a late start today, because for some reason knowing she has two weeks of staying at home with the kids made her want to doze a bit longer.

But Aunt Pythia has not forgotten you! And she’s here to give you some pretty great questions and what she thinks are pretty great answers! She hopes you agree! And remember, as you enjoy today’s column:

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

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

——
Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’ve managed to achieve a modicum of notoriety in my career, which means I sometimes get interviewed. And in those interviews, I sometimes get asked questions which people who meet me in other professional and even most personal contexts don’t ask me, like, “Were you ever married” (“No”). “Were you ever asked/Did you ever think about it” (“No”).

Now the convention is for single women to at least profess an interest in being married, and not doing so reveals you to be seriously maladjusted. But honest answers to this line of questioning (or the related one, “Do you regret not having children?”) would reveal me to have seriously deviant attitudes and have the potential to undermine my hard-won professional credibility.

I regard this type of questioning as inappropriate, but somehow interviewers think it’s OK to probe the personal lives of women the way they never would men. Do you have any suggestions as to how to politely tell them this is off limits?

Nina from Argentina

Dear Nina,

By some amazing coincidence – or possibly not – this question came up recently in a Bloomberg article about Swedish CEO and “Banker of the Year” Annika Falkengren. In her case it was questions about what kind of mom she could possibly be considering her very busy job. From the article:

Gender bias is still a hurdle for women trying to reach the top, Falkengren said. Her own encounters with sexism came from unexpected places: When she became CEO with a baby at home, she said, reporters repeatedly asked how often she took her daughter to daycare and how much time she had for traditional mothering.

When Lars Nyberg, the former CEO of phone company TeliaSonera AB “had two kids below the age of 2, he was never asked that question,” Falkengren said. “I was still getting that question when my daughter was 8.” Former Volvo AB CEO Leif Johansson “was running Volvo with five kids, and he never got the question.”

Next, I wanted to mention this BBC article which describes how the new German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen was hyper-sexualized, depicted as a Lara Croft-type character on a German TV station.

Finally, take a look at this Wall Street Journal article on the reactions men have to the presence of women. Turns out when they are in a war-mongering environment they get more so, and when they’re in a peace-loving environment they perform exaggerated good deeds. And women, in the presence of men, don’t change their behavior.

My conclusions from the above as well as my personal experience in a “man’s world”:

  1. Some men are deeply threatened by women and want to put them into one of two boxes: sex object or mother.
  2. If you are neither it makes them very confused. They want that confusion to be your problem, not theirs.
  3. In general people want to make it your problem to explain your deviance from “normal”.
  4. In general it’s the people who deviate from normal that make life worth living. Abnormal people should be celebrated, not reprimanded.

In terms of advice for you, I’d try to turn it back on them (“them” refers to anyone asking you this kind of thing, not just journalists). This can be done with various levels of aggression and activism. If you’re really annoyed, ask the interviewer how often they’ve asked a male scientist that question. And then wait for an answer. If you’re feeling less aggressive, mention that many mathematicians you know don’t get married. In other words, make it deliberately ungendered. Also consider asking why they chose that question for you. Make them aware of how inappropriate it is.

In general, though, keep in mind that you don’t have to be polite with journalists. They have super thick skins. And don’t forget the magic phrase, “this is off the record”. It’s totally fine to respond with, “this is off the record, but your question is totally inappropriate and I won’t agree to finish this interview until you agree to remove it from this interview.” You can be sure that they’ve heard worse.

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m a CS Babe that tends to end up involved with men who are also into some kind of technical nerdery. While they know how to stimulate me intellectually, they tend to lack expertise physically. I like to think of myself as having a healthy and full social life, and that’s involved a pretty good amount of sex with a number of different partners and situations.

Most of the men I end up with, however, have a lot less experience than me. I think they’ve mostly watched a lot of porn, and while they probably recognize that real life sex isn’t like that, they still have that as kind of a baseline model for a sexual encounter. They want to give me a satisfying experience, but that can be hard to do. Eventually, the fact that I’m not getting off eclipses any amount of interest I have in a guy. I’ve tried dating men where our physical compatibility outweighs our capability for interesting conversation, but that ends in frustration too.

I don’t mind helping them out and trying to teach them what I want, but I’m looking for an equal partner when it comes to sex, not a pupil. Do you have recommendations to help me get what I want from less-experienced partners without feeling like I’m TA-ing Orgasms 101? Any ideas of how to seek out and identify people that I can click on multiple levels with- or should I just find someone I like intellectually and invest my time into developing his sex skills?

Thanks,

Sex Life: Unending Training

Dear SLUT,

I’m going to go with the latter. Find an awesome guy and teach him how to pleasure you. Do it super deliberately and honestly, and really really often, and within about two weeks you will be getting seriously good sex if the guy is a diligent student. Who knows, you might be with that guy for a long time, and it’ll be worth the investment. In any case you’ll be improving the world for other future nerd girls.

The key point here is, if you’re going to be a TA, then you might as well make that explicit. Don’t pretend, ever, to enjoy something that isn’t actually good. Bad sexual habits can be learned within nanoseconds when it comes to inexperienced and insecure men. And then, once learned, they are much harder to break, because it immediately becomes a matter of ego. This requires you being super encouraging with all the requisite grunts and groans, so get used to doing that.

And if you want to go easy on the guy in becoming his sex teacher, then tell him you’ve got a special kind of clitoris, or something, and make it seem totally OK that he doesn’t know how to deal with this special thing. And then tell him exactly what to do.

Also, don’t forget to tell him how to talk dirty. I’m sure there must be some kind of online resource you can find that will give him advice on this front. In fact, after googling for one second I found a billion places he could go.

One last thing. It’s not clear that any man actually knows what they’re doing, so count your blessings that you get to start from scratch and get it right. It actually might be worse to start with someone who is 80% good and who thinks they don’t need any tutoring (but if you do find yourself in that situation, don’t forget the “special clitoris” approach).

Good luck, and may all of your students be bright!

Auntie P

——

Dearest Aunt Pythia,

I am studying algebra, specifically algebraic number theory, and my friends try really hard to be supportive of my work. But our conversations always go something like this:

Friend: What are you working on now?
Me: Investigating abelian extensions in generalized Dedekind domains (or whatever other really nerdy part of algebra I’m thinking about that day).
Friend: Is that more algebra?
Me: Yeah.
Friend: Didn’t I take algebra in like, 9th grade?

I understand my work is not very accessible to most non-math people, but do you have suggestions for fun/creative ways of describing abstract algebra versus high school “algebra”?

Friendly Algebraist Nerd (of you!)

Dear FAN,

Just say, yes, it’s the same field. But whereas in high school we learn how to think about abstracting away numbers to become variables, in my field we build up interesting structures with sets of abstract variables and see what kind of patterns we can detect. For example, we all know about addition on integers or real numbers, but it turns out that you can create sets of abstract things that have an “addition law”. They’re called “groups” and sometimes the sets are finite, like with clock arithmetic, and sometimes they pop out of nowhere, like the points on an elliptic curve. Oh and by the way, you can think of an elliptic curve topologically as a donut with sprinkles, and you’ve chosen one of those sprinkles as the “0″ of the addition law.

Anyway, if you start with something like that you might end up with a new algebra fan. Or at least someone who kind of gets how algebra is both like high school algebra and much much cooler.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice, flannel version

Aunt Pythia aint gonna lie, she’s all about flannel this week. Right now she’s wearing flannel pajamas and snuggled underneath a flannel sheet. She’s looking forward to taking a warm bath and then getting into flannel lined pants and a flannel shirt, also lined.

[Aside: it's all about the lining.]

It’s been a particularly good year in flannel fashion, just in case you’re wondering. And, the clothes horse that Aunt Pythia is, she’s been sampling the various wares.

Conclusion: LLBean knows from comfy warmth.

Now that we’ve addressed the theme of the day, it’s time for some serious advice distribution. And remember, as you enjoy today’s column:

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

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

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I have two (much) younger brothers, aged 4 and 5. Can you recommend any books/youtube videos/games I can read/play/do with them to help them learn about and enjoy math?

Rapt in Flatland

Dear RiF,

I really think that age range is too young to explicitly learn math from a book. But it’s not too young to have discussions (it’s incredibly important to make this an interactive Socratic dialog, not a monologue from an adult!) about, say,

  1. the number line (where’s 0? What’s on the other side of 0?)
  2. why the earth spins
  3. what the solar system looks like (talking first without pictures or models)
  4. why the moon looks different on different days

If that all seems cool, you can move on to

  1. why there are seasons
  2. why daylight is shorter in the winter
  3. what really defines a “pattern”

In other words, super concrete things that require mind-expanding 3-dimensional visualizations and/or questioning of basic assumptions and definitions. You’d be surprised how many weeks these conversations can last with a 4- or 5-year old.

Also, please keep in mind that jigsaw puzzles, while not strictly logical exercises, are super awesome. And the Tower of Hanoi puzzle is super mathematical as well, the solution being a coded way to count in binary.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

p.s. Just gave my yearly contribution to wikipedia. Love that site.

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

My girlfriend has a genuinely very complicated family life, and, though she definitely loves me, has much much less time to be with me than I would like. I do love her, but now I’m increasingly irritated at being alone so much even while I nominally have a girlfriend, and it’s affecting my feelings and even my desire for her. But this is absolutely not something we can discuss. She is doing her best and that’s it, and gets upset at any discussion, sometimes even hostile. It may end badly.

Suggestions?

Increasingly Irritated

Dear II,

Yes, I do have a suggestions. Discuss it with her. It’s the only way you’re going to get relief and get to a relationship that works for both of you.

I think it might help to ask her to make an appointment with you to discuss the arrangement between you two, and it might also help to imply that it’s very important to your future as a couple. Give her some time to prepare for this discussion but not an arbitrary amount of time.

To be super explicit, here are some phrases you might want to use. “I’d really like to sit down with you and discuss our relationship and its future. It would be great to have a discussion in the next two weeks. Here are some times that work for me, and where we have as much time as we need to finish the first part of the conversation, which I know will be difficult for both of us.”

That way you’re both respectfully demanding a discussion and giving her the emotional credit that it’s going to be tough on her.

A bit more advice: don’t conflate why it’s difficult with your request for a discussion. Then she’ll ignore the request and focus on how difficult it is for her.

Now, you didn’t ask this, and I don’t know much about your situation, but can we spend just a moment wondering what’s really going on here? I don’t want to sound negative, but whatever it is that’s going on, she’s not spending much time with you and is not even really willing to explain why. Those two things in combination make me want to advise you to just break up with her now, and forget the discussion.

In fact, in breaking up with her, you might get a discussion for free, if she really wants to keep you. And if she doesn’t, you should be the hell out of there anyway and with someone who’s making time to be with you.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

As 50 approaches and work opportunities seem to be disappearing, do you really think it is possible to reinvent yourself and move into a different field?

I have applied my expertise in various quantitative and analytical fields to move from number cruncher (and forecasting) to more policy-based analysis roles. Is management the only answer? Every other role seems to be eaten by the progression of technology into various fields.

Grumpy Old Dude

Dear GOD,

My guess is that your salary and experience has made the lower-level analyst jobs both unappealing and out of reach for you. If you’re going to cost that much, the reasoning goes, you need to be doing more. Thus management.

Can I just make one argument in favor of management? If someone with your experience is in charge of telling people with very little or no experience how to do number crunching and analysis well, then things would be much more efficient. In an ideal world, that would be your role as manager – doling out sage advice to inexperienced analysts. So see if that makes sense and excites you.

But, to answer your question, it’s never too late to reinvent yourself. Some of my favorite people did so when they were 75.

Good luck!

Auntie P

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m a Libertarian. I find it pretty much impossible to have an intelligent discussion with liberals about anything even remotely related to politics. The same is not true with conservatives, even though I disagree with them just as much. Consequently I just don’t participate in such conversations. Unfortunately I both love a good debate and live in a very liberal state, so this has lead me to feel somewhat isolated and starved for good conversation.

I’ve talked to other libertarian minded people and they’ve had similar experiences. Conservatives can be infuriating in some of their beliefs, but at least you can reason with them on most issues. With liberals it’s impossible, unless you already pretty much agree and are just quibbling over details.

You’re about as liberal as people come. Do you have any advice on how one could have a civil discussion with a liberal on issues where you have relatively fundamental disagreements?

Lonely Libertarian

Dear LL,

Yes. Discuss what your commonalities are first, and move cautiously and carefully outwards from there. Suggestions here include: Too Big to Fail banks are not OK, Google and the NSA stealing our private data is not OK, and other currently shitty things about the world.

Next, before going to the inevitable argument about how to fix these problems, talk about exactly why these things are not OK. Then start talking about the concept of fixing them – what characteristics would a solution enjoy? What is not acceptable, and why?

That should take enough time to get through lunch.

Good luck! And don’t forget, liberals make great lovers! They’re really into massages.

Auntie P

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

So, after all the turkey and pie and so forth, was the ratio of time spent agonising in the kitchen to time spent going ‘Yay, Thanksgiving’ a good one? And how would you determine a metric for Thanksgiving enjoyment?

(Asking in contemplation of what’s likely to happen at Christmas…)

Strange Oblivious Briton

Dear SOB,

I could totally tell you were British from your weird spelling of “agonizing!”.

For me, Thanksgiving was a success if 1) the turkey didn’t make anyone sick and 2) nobody threw plates frisbee-style at each others’ heads in the heat of an argument.

A particularly good sign is when people are still willing to hug each other when they finally leave the building, assuming anyone’s actually still there at all and hasn’t stormed off in a huff.

Haha just kidding, kind of. The truth is these big meals are just so so difficult, I honestly think you should keep standards as low as possible and be pleasantly surprised at every moment of happiness.

And whatever you do, stop agonizing in the kitchen, nobody will appreciate your effort anyway!! Just throw a bird into the oven and come back 6 hours later, seriously.

Merry Christmas,

Aunt Pythia

——

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice: sex at the end

You guys know Aunt Pythia loves you. And Aunt Pythia feels the love from you readers as well, especially in person (some of you are reticent to add comments online, for whatever reason).

So don’t take it the wrong way when I say this: you guys are nerds. I have like a 5-to-1 ratio of math-related versus sex-related questions, and today I’m effectively withholding the sex until the end as a hook to keep you guys.

Don’t get me wrong, I love nerd questions. Happy to answer them. But people! Let’s spice this up! And if you can’t go all the way to sex at least come up with something about breastfeeding in public or thereabouts. As you know, Aunt Pythia doesn’t make up questions – that would be beneath her – but she has no problem with prompts.

In other words, as you enjoy today’s column:

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

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

——

Aunt Pythia,

What’s the deal with employers being dishonest in their job descriptions, and the general acceptance of this sort of unethical behavior? I work in a somewhat prestigious buy-side shop where I was told I’d be in a front-office quant research position. After I arrive, I find out that my responsibilities are really more like that of a middle-office tech position. Instead of doing research on market inefficiencies, I’m relegated to automating an endless number of reports. My employer knew what the job would entail before I joined and yet portrayed it to be something it’s not. Worst of all, it seems like 80% of the people I consult with say (expressly or implicitly) that I should be glad I got my foot in the door and that this stuff is very common, so it’s nothing to fret about. WTF’s wrong with people?

Perennial Employee

Dear PE,

For whatever reason, which I certainly don’t relate to, there are some people that still desperately want to work in finance as front-office quants. They want it so badly, in fact, that they’re willing to pretend to be doing that while they actually do other stuff. You seem to not be one of those people. Awesome.

My suggestion to you is to get another job, simple as that. You’re not going to change their mind about what your job should be, since they’re clearly perfectly comfortable with lying to people. I mean, once you’ve got another job lined up, there’s no harm in telling them you’re leaving unless you get moved to the position you were promised, but please don’t hold your breath for that to actually happen.

One last thing: look outside finance! There are plenty of other ways to be a nerd.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

How does Mathbabe break down a data problem into manageable steps? I’m a mathematician who has tried a few data mining problems on the side for fun, and I get totally overwhelmed whenever I try to start. If I were solving a math problem, I’d read relevant papers to see what is known and get ideas for techniques, I’d break down my desired result into lemmas and work on them one by one, and I’d have a plan in mind throughout (it might change, of course, but I’d always know why I was doing what I was doing).

But if I’m trying to, say, classify a bunch of labeled feature vectors, I’m at a loss. I experiment and play around with the data, but I feel so random about everything. How do I choose how many hidden units to have in a neural net? How do I choose K in K-nearest neighbor classification? And so on. Some stuff works better than other stuff, but I don’t know how to be systematic. I end up getting discouraged, which is too bad because data problems are awesome and I want to master them.

Any tips for this mathematician on how to solve problems whose solutions aren’t proof-based?

Proof Machine

Dear PM,

Great question! And I’m glad you’re asking that. It’s a sign that you want to do things right, and know why you’ve made decisions. I want you to cultivate that desire.

First, (after separating my out-of-sample data from my in-sample data) I spend a lot of time with smallish samples getting the feel of things through “exploratory data analysis.” This helps make sure the data is clean, gives me the overall distribution and feel for the various data sources, and gives me some idea of the kind of relationships I might expect between the inputs and possibly the target, if there’s a well-defined target.

You’d be surprised how much you learn by doing that.

Next, how do you even choose which algorithm to use, never mind how exactly to tune the hyperparameters of a given algorithm? The answer is that it’s a craft, and over time you gain intuition, but at first you just don’t know and you experiment. Put the science in data science. Try a bunch of different ones and see which works better, and hypothesize on why, and try to test that hypothesis.

Here’s another possibility. Start with synthetic data that is “perfectly set up” for a given algorithm – figure out what that means – and then pretend you don’t know that, and see whether the above testing procedure would give you the correct result. Now add noise to that perfect data set, and see how quickly (i.e. with how much noise) your perfect solution doesn’t seem optimal anymore. That gives you an overall way of thinking about optimizing algorithms and hyperparameters. It’s hard, even with linear regression.

Oh, and buy my book. It should hopefully help.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

p.s. when I worked in math, I didn’t break things down into lemmas first. I first tried to answer the question, why is this true? (maybe by starting with small examples) and then only later, in order to explain it on paper, would I break things down into lemmas.

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I have a tenure-track job in a “hard-core STEM field”; I’m also a very young looking woman. I have a serious and rewarding research program, I really enjoy teaching at the board, and I hear that I give great seminars.

Yet recently, for the first time, I have been overcome with extreme, physiological, panic when I stand at the front of a room to give a seminar. This is not because I’m worried about the material; I’m not. This is also not stage fright; I have iron nerves about performing.

It is a feeling of panic brought on by watching the room fill up with men, with maybe only 1 or 2 very junior women. I start thinking “what happened to all the other young women who, like me, loved mathematics? At what point were they all removed from the community? When will too much get to be too much for me too?”

This started happening about a year ago and it’s only getting worse. I’m not expecting to change all the weird experiences of being a young woman in my field; I just want to figure out how to deal with my own thoughts as I stand in front of my audience.

Feeling like a fox in a room full of hunting dogs

Dear fox,

This is going to sound trite, but here goes: you are not a statistic, you are an individual person. And although you are a woman person, that doesn’t mean you have to do stuff that other women have done. If things are working for you on a minute-to-minute basis, then that means you can be happy and proud of having set up your life to be fulfilled.

Nobody is asking you to explain why other people do the things they do. We can barely explain why we do the things we do – and then half the time the understanding only comes years later. Just focus on who you are, who you want to be and how you want to spend your time.

I’d also like to mention that, as a woman who left math, I also loved teaching and I loved giving seminars – that was the good stuff! For that matter there were lots of great things about being a professor. And I didn’t leave because I was a woman and felt like it was time to leave – nor did I not leave because I wanted to prove a point about women not leaving. I left because, in my individual life and with my individual goals, it was what I wanted.

So I guess I’m suggesting that you be a bit more self-centered and somewhat less identified with women, at least at those moments, if that is possible and if that helps. If that doesn’t help, consider going to a cognitive therapist who specializes in dealing with panic attacks. Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I feel an eerie compulsion to answer this email. I love the broken grammar and all. What should I do?

Hello,

How are you doing today? My name is Colvin Hostetter. I came across your e-mail under the Graduate Students portal while surfing online for tutorial for my daughter, Debra is a 18 years old girl. She is ready to learn. I would like the lessons to be at your location. Kindly let me know your policy with regard to the fees, cancellations, location and make-up lessons.

Also, get back to me with your area of SPECIALIZATION and any necessary information you think that might help.

The lessons can start by last week of November. Mind you, any break during Thanksgiving and Christmas would be observed respectively.

Looking forward reading from you.

My best regard,
Mr Colvin.

Professor Has Ignored Silly Ignoble New Game

Dear PHISING,

Really? PHISING? I think you really are a bit kinky in the grammar and spelling rules department.

So this must be a spam email, since it’s talking about an 18-year-old girl who is “ready to learn.” It sounds like soft porn. And it doesn’t describe what she needs to learn – math? physics? German? I’d be not at all surprised to hear someone describe the actual financial bamboozling mechanism that would transpire if you did answer this, although a quick Google search doesn’t uncover it.

My suggestion is to mark this, and any other similar emails, as “spam” so that Google will do the work for us in the future and delete this bullshit.

AP

——

Dear Auntie P,

My wife and I have not used any birth control other than rhythm and/or withdrawal for more than 16 years now (~mid late twenties to early mid forties.) We have not had any unwanted pregnancies through this. We did have one successfully planned pregnancy that corresponded exactly to the month she charted to pinpoint ovulation.

So, are we lucky outliers or is this a much more successful strategy than we were both led to believe in high school sex ed?

Any suggestions for here on out?

Thanks,

Lucky in love

Dear Lucky,

The reason that rhythm might not work is if women have irregular ovulations. If your wife doesn’t, though, then cool (although she may experience that as she approaches menopause).

The reason withdrawal doesn’t work is because men often forget the “withdrawal” part of the plan. I mean, it’s certainly possible to get pregnant with the pre-cum (just ask Alice) but super unlikely.

In other words, you are a special, special man with a very excellent memory.

Here on out: don’t forget to remember the plan! And be aware of irregular cycles!

Aunt Pythia

——

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice: the long and boring edition

If you’re feeling anything like Aunt Pythia is feeling, you don’t want to even look at any food that has been peeled, baked, poured into a pie crust, mashed with butter, or stuffed into a turkey. It’s chopped cucumbers and raw apples from here on out, with plentiful brisk walks in the sunshine. Yes or no?

And also, is it just me, or has it been approximately 40 years since Aunt Pythia’s last column? Or is that just measured in “dishes done” years?

Before Aunt Pythia gets down to the advice part of the column, which is particularly long and boring and for which she apologizes, she wants to draw attention to the Black Friday protests that many of her Occupy friends took part in yesterday in Secaucus, New Jersey at Walmart.

It was a national day of Walmart protests, but here in Secaucus we had a large Occupy presence - note my friend Marni, who is holding up a deceased Walmart employee. More pictures are available here.

Now down to business. As you enjoy today’s column (or as you nod your way through it, as the case may be),

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

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

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Some cosmological theories talk about the universe as being a mathematical space, rather than a pile of floating rocks and other real stuff. I always thought that mathematics consisted of rules for writing squiggles on bits of paper that sometimes produced sets of squiggles that corresponded with the real out-there stuff.

Am I a tiny part of the solution to a humungous equation? I’m happy with being made of fundamental particles but this is something else. What’s your take? Are there any practical consequences?

Perplexed

Dear Perplexed,

I’m no philosopher, but as a mathematician I’m here to tell you that mathematics doesn’t describe the universe. It’s at most used as a tool to understand certain parts of the universe, but only at the level of an approximation.

So for example, there’s no such thing as a circle in reality. It’s an idealized shape we use in mathematics that comes in super handy for various reasons, but because actual matter is made up of stuff, there’s never going to be a true circle, except in our brains. You can extend that concept of approximation to other mathematical models of the universe as well, at least as far as I understand it (Peter, please correct me if I’m wrong here!).

As far as each of us being a tiny part of a solution to a humungous equation, it all depends on how you look at it. I’m sure I can set up an equation that would dictate how many children my parents had, and then by construction I’d be in some sense a part of the solution to that. If you’re thinking more metaphysical than that, I can’t help you, and I doubt it would be more meaningful than that, although it might be wrapped up in fancier wrappers.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am mulling reinventing myself (again). I used to be a lawyer, but it was entirely too demanding and inhumane to manage that and a family life. So I downshifted. Now I use the law degree writing for a legal publication. It’s a 40 hour work week, I have awesome benefits, I am able to take my kids (including the special needs one) to all their crap.

There are only two problems with this nirvana: I don’t make a lot and I’m bored off my butt. My spouse is, unfortunately, utterly useless at home and has proven that he (1) will always put work first, period – because he thinks he’s making the world a better place, and (2) won’t sell out and make some money, because that would be evil. Look, it’s a package deal and that’s who he is, apparently.

This leaves me with a conundrum, and I’m getting quite tired of being poor. One needs a tutor and one needs more behavioral therapy, and I’m not sure where that money is going to come from. I can go and take a government counsel job, I believe that I can get one, and make substantially more than I make now. Like, twice as much roughly. The hours will be a little worse, the commute will be a lot worse. All told, I figure I’d lose 2 extra hours a day, at least.

There’s no guarantee I’ll like it, of course, but I know I’m bored with the current job. And it has no room for growth. I wonder if I’m better off trying to take a second job or make money contracting rather than going whole hog and jumping careers again? I’ve been where I am about 3 years.

Considering Aunt Pythia has jumped ship quite a few times with her skill set, I’m curious if she has insight for me.

Proudly OK on Rent, But Otherwise Rarely Excited Daily

Dear POoR, BORED,

First, I appreciate your sign-off, and second, you were seriously bumping up against the length limit but the sign-off got you through.

And I get needing to prioritize your kids, but I’m going to take issue with two things: your hubby and your boredom.

First, your boredom. Not cool. You need to be interested in your own life, and being bored off your butt is seriously not cutting it. Be more selfish than that, and do it for your kids. They need a mom who’s also a role model. Go find a better job, that pays enough for your needs and that interests you.

Second, your husband. Also not cool that he’s “utterly useless at home,” both because you are wasting time resenting him and because you genuinely need his help. And don’t give me that “because he’s saving the world” crap. He’s not helpful because he’s gotten away with not being helpful. It’s a deal you made with him, possibly (probably) without thinking enough about it. Time to renegotiate. Oh, and renegotiating shitty deals that don’t work for you is also a good role modeling opportunity for your kids.

Here’s how I’d work this. Sit your husband down when the two of you have time, on a weekend evening after the kids are asleep, and tell him you’re bored, need a more challenging job, and that will mean he needs to help out with the house and the kids, because chances are your new job will have more commuting time or whatever.

Next, explain how you’ve worked out the schedule for both of you (if you need to), or ask him to help work it out with you so that it all works. Don’t ask him for help like he’s got an option, because you need this, and that means the family needs this. You guys are a team, and teams work together to make things work.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Two economists have recently posted a paper arguing that Fields Medalists’ productivity decreases after they get their Fields Medal. While this certainly seems plausible psychologically (after all, proving minor theorems might seem anti-climactic after you’ve solved the major open problem in your field), when I looked at this paper, it seemed that the statistics in it were very naive, in that the authors completely ignored any possible post-conditioning; this leads me to believe that the conclusion is quite likely to be wrong. I have two questions:

Are the statistics used in most economics papers this poor, and if so, how can we trust economists to run our economy?

Would it be worth redoing the statistics in this paper to show up these economists, and maybe to defend Fields Medalists against their charges of being lazy?

Burnt-Out Prizewinner

Dear BOP,

First of all, without even reading the paper I’d say we shouldn’t trust economists to run our economy. They have already proved their vested interests are too distracting for such a responsibility.

Second, I scanned the paper, and I’m not very interested in their model but I am kind of interested in their appendix, where they have the following graph:

Screen Shot 2013-11-30 at 7.37.47 AM

After all, I want to see the data, and here it is. Look carefully at the comparison group for the Fields Medalists: people who won another big award besides the Fields Medal and have “above-media per-year citations” during the eligibility period.

My question is, why did they include that second part about citations? It’s muddying the waters, for me at least. Did the actual winners also have above-median per-year citations? Are we assuming that the Fields Medal committee uses that as a criterion for eligibility? It’s weird, and I think the data would be cleaner without that stipulation: we’d just be comparing Fields Medalists versus “other” medalists. Now I’m thinking we’re cherry picking. After all, I can imagine that people who get lots of citations are also like to write more papers.

Next, I’d like to see the data on the individual basis or in some way see what kind of error bars we’re talking about here. The fact that there’s a three-year average in the above graph tells me this data is somewhat noisy. Plus the fact that the three-year average is centered on the middle year is weird. All graphs should reflect data known by a certain date.

But finally, I’m willing to ask, who cares? I guess I don’t care about awards in math much, but even if I did, I’m not willing to agree that the whole point of giving out Fields Medals is to “encourage further achievement” on the part of the recipient, even if Fields himself said that. I’ma go with the other reason, which is to get people to compete against each other (yuck).

Whatever, it’s not like you’re going to get a second Fields Medal or something. If you were doing stuff in order to win a Fields Medal, then after getting it, you’d stop, right, and do something else that’s interesting? Makes sense to me.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I agree with your answers to recent question that often enough folks’ criticism of others stems from their own insecurities. Meditating on the fact was making me depressed, until I found an uneaten cupcake in the cupboard, and then thought: do you think that it also works the other way around?

Even if it doesn’t, your site is da bomb! <fingers crossed>.

Mmmm…a cupcake

Dear Mmmm,

First of all, I don’t trust cupcakes in cupboards. At least at my house that signals something very very wrong, that a cupcake made it into a cupboard. Shoulda at most made it onto the counter. Most cupcakes don’t make it out of the shopping bag around here.

Second of all, are you crossing your fingers because you’re hoping to get your question into the column? Or is it because you’re hoping mathbabe.org really is da bomb? Cuz it is, so your hopes have been fully realized.

Next, to your question. By “the other way around,” I’m going to guess you mean the following: when people are insecure about something, they accuse others of having that flaw. The answer is yes, absolutely.

In fact it’s generally true that when someone is sensitized to an issue, even if it’s not one of insecurity, then they see it everywhere, all the time, as if for the first time. There’s a running joke in my family that whenever someone starts a sentence with “Have you noticed lately that…” then what follows that will be a selection bias in exactly that way. So, have you noticed lately that everyone is wearing incredibly awesome flannel shirts? That’s because I got comfort on da mind over here.

Anyhoo, same thing for insecurities. If one is feeling like one’s acne is out of control, one sees other people’s pimples a mile away. If I am ashamed of myself for being overly bossy, then I see overbearing behavior everywhere and I can’t understand how people can stand it. And although we do our best to not accuse people of stuff we’re aware of being sensitized to, it doesn’t always work out that way.

Best,

Aunt Pythia

——

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia is hung over from excess rabble rousing and karaoke, but she’s determined not to miss another week of her beloved advice column. Aunt Pythia has missed you! As I’m sure you’ve missed her! Please enjoy today’s column, and

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.

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I have an older sister. She’s a lovely and good person. Very generous, very friendly. And very assertive, in an oldest-child-in-the-family way.

I love my family, but I often feel depressed and suffocated when I’m around my sister. Is it because I feel she’s constantly giving input on how I could do things differently, and why she’s chosen to do things the way she does as if she has a PhD on the subject, and I often am left doubting my own abilities to make decisions even though I know that in reality I have a pretty good head on my shoulders? Maybe. Is it because of the authority she speaks on any topic, even ones she knows very little about? Is it because she doesn’t seem to entertain the possibility that anyone else could have anything to add in terms of input? Is it because she rarely shows any kind of vulnerability? Is it because she’s so assertive that it often feels like she’s taking up all of the oxygen in the room? Is it because she does all of these things even while, at the same, she is being utterly helpful, generous, and selfless in most other ways? Yeah, maybe that too.

Whatever it is, it hardly seems like a good reason to get depressed or to distance myself from someone who genuinely loves me and whom I love. I get that this is my issue, and the problem is how I feel about myself when I’m around her. I want to get over this. I just don’t know where to start.

Family Stuff

Dear Family Stuff,

To be honest I double- and triple-checked that I don’t have any younger siblings when I read this, because it could be about me. I could totally be that older sister, and I imagine that many people feel this way about me.

But if I’m right, and if your sister is a lot like me, then I don’t think it’s “your issue” to get over. I’m guessing it’s more like a series of signals that she’s giving out that are not hitting the intended targets. And if I’m right, she actually does want you to add stuff, but she expects you to jump right into the ring and not need an invitation.

So, when she gives advice, think of her words as her unedited thoughts, and do with those thoughts what you may. You can test this theory by every now and then pointing out, “I tried that already, it didn’t work” and see what she says. If she’s like, “Oh cool, how about trying this?” then you know she’s just taking stabs.

And, when she has an opinion on everything, maybe she’s just trying to engage in a provocative conversation and wants to be challenged. I do that all the time (duh). So next time she says something that sounds uninformed, say something like, “Hey that sounds wrong to me – should we check the facts?” and see how she reacts. She might be psyched for the challenge and for the chance to learn something interesting.

As for your sister showing no vulnerability. The funny thing about family is, we are our most vulnerable with our family, and yet we are also very comfortable with them, because we know them so well. You might be surprised by how vulnerable she really is. At the same time, you might not want to test this one, because it’s usually a negative experience to expose vulnerability in someone else. In any case my advice here is to not assume an entire lack of vulnerability around family, even if it looks like that.

Last piece of advice: go read my recent post called “Cathy’s Wager.” It’s about how to react when people are treating you not-so-nicely. I think it’s relevant here, because the overall point is that it’s not about you. Your sister is who she is and she’s very likely not doing all this stuff in order to make you feel stifled and depressed. She’s a know-it-all loudmouth, true, but the sooner you can either get on her wavelength (see above tips) or roll your eyes and love her in spite of her pushy know-it-all ways the better for you and for her. Don’t take it personally.

Either that or just never see her again. That’s totally fine too, honestly. I don’t agree that you have to hang out with family, unless possibly if they’re dying or in need.

I hope that helps!

Aunt Pythia

——

Aunt Pythia,

What ever happened to the proof of the ABC conjecture by Mochizuki that you talked about a year ago?

Thanks,
Curious

Curious,

I unfortunately missed him when he came to Columbia, but Brian Conrad recently came and updated the math community on the status of the alleged proof. I believe the bottomline was that it has not been confirmed by anyone. So, I’d say this means it’s not a proof.

AP

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

This is a longtime worry of mine. Since you are a master of both abstract as well as the quantitative, let me query you regarding the deep connection that seems to exist between the two. To put it simply, the question is, “Does Size Matter?” More precisely, does Size influence tender feelings of the heart?

Sizeable Confusion

Dear SC,

I’d guess about as much as anything else physical, like boob size or leg length. In other words it might be a pretty big deal initially, as in during the first few minutes, but then when real love sets in it’s a total non-issue.

AP

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Many government officials testified that there is no way for them to tell how many people signed up for Obamacare. Can extracting the data from the website be that complicated? I am worried and lost.

Worried about Obamacare

Dear Worried,

Well many people have been busy counting this stuff since you submitted that question, and the final number for the first day of Obamacare seems to be 6. Given how small that number is, I’m going to assume it wasn’t that hard to count, or at least approximate at “0″. In other words, it might have been a political decision to repress the actual number.

On the other hand, engineering large-scale systems is actually pretty complicated, and it might not make sense to have a single repository to put all the enrollment figures – who knows, and I didn’t design this system, so I don’t – so I can imagine that it was actually non-trivial to figure out the answer to this question.

By the way, I’m planning to write some posts on how we are increasingly seeing pure engineering issues become political issues. There’s Knight Capital’s trading mistakes, then there’s Obamacare. Those are just two, but my theory is that they are just the beginning of a very long list. The nerds are taking over, in other words, or at least their mistakes are.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I sent you a question a few weeks back and you didn’t answer it (which is completely fine). What is your criteria for answering a question or not? Maybe your answer might help me rewrite my question in a way that suits you better.

Socially Awkward Dude

Dear SAD,

Here’s the thing. I’m pretty desperate over here, what with a pretty short list of questions, and a stubborn refusal on my part to make up fake questions (although I do accept other people’s fake questions!). So there had to be something about your question that didn’t sit well with me. Here are some possibilities as to why:

  1. The question was something I couldn’t answer, because it required expertise I don’t have.
  2. The question was really long and not easily edited down to something shortish.
  3. The question wasn’t really a question, just a rambling speech.
  4. The question was spam.
  5. The question was verbally abusive towards me.
  6. The question struck me as disingenuous in some way.
  7. The question is a lot like other questions I’ve already answered (note to the 40 people asking me how to become a data scientist: read my book called Doing Data Science!)

I have no idea which question was yours, but if you’d care to resubmit, making sure it’s to the point, has a specific and earnest question, and is about something I have knowledge about, then I’m guessing it will get through.

I hope that helps!

Auntie P

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am a late-20′s data scientist (working at a large non-tech company) about to apply for Ph.D. programs in machine learning. My reason for doing this is two-fold. One, I enjoy research and feel that I can contribute to humanity through scholarship, even if the contribution may be small. Two, I’ve grown disillusioned with working in a corporate environment – it seems like one needs to be more of a politician than a genuinely nice and high-performing individual to be recognized. But I realize this is partly due to the size of my organization (are start-ups any different?).

However, I’ve heard people tell me that academia is no different. Given the publish-or-perish paradigm, people are more interested in how many citations they have than they are about truly advancing human knowledge (for example, this was a depressing read).

You transitioned from academia into industry. Do you have any advice for someone who’s trying to make the opposite transition?

Naively Bayesian

Dear NB,

First of all, start-ups are sometimes different, although they work you really hard and often expect you to sleep under your desk. This might not work for you, but it might be worth it if you get to have influence. Also, I’d suggest going with a very small start-up: as soon as there are like 60 people, your potential influence typically gets pretty miniscule.

Second, my motto is “You never get rid of your problems, you just get a new set of problems.” So it’s more a question of which kinds of problems suit your personality than anything else.

But there’s one thing I can assure you: there’s politics everywhere. You’re not getting away from that, so if you’re really allergic to politics, I suggest you find a place where you can safely ignore that stuff, like maybe in a cave in the woods.

But seriously, I’d suggest you talk to a lot of people and see what kind of problems are there, without exaggerating them too much (I feel like that link is too aggressive for example, although there are grains of truth in it). And most importantly, try to find something to do that actually interests you in an intellectual way so you can become absorbed in your own sense of curiosity and shut out the real world at least once a day. Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia is well-slept and excited to be here to answer your wonderful and thoughtful ethical conundrums. Please do comment on my answers, if you disagree but especially if you agree wholeheartedly and want me to keep up the good work. Love that kind of encouraging comment.

And please, don’t forget to ask me a question at the bottom of the page!

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

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

What is your text editor of choice? The most popular ones, the ones in which I know die-hard fans, are for Emacs, Vi/Vim, and Sublime. I am personally an Emacs user, but I haven’t given any other editors a chance, to be honest. Which do you prefer to use, and why?

Text Editor

Dear TE,

I use emacs mostly, and xemacs when it’s available. It’s easy, it “knows” about python and other languages, and the drop-down menu is easier than remembering keystroke commands. I’ve been known to use an IDE or two depending on codebase context. For me it’s all about ease of use and, since I’ve never been a professional engineer and so I’ve never spent a large majority of my time with source code, vim doesn’t attract me, even though everything is keystroke and you never need to use your mouse.

As an aside, I’d like to argue this point, because it’s often shrouded in weird macho crap: why not use your mouse? Does it really waste that much time? I honestly have never been prevented from coding efficiently because my arm is too tired from moving from the keyboard to the mouse and back. Is the goal really to be able to stay in the exact same position for as long as possible? I’m the kind of person that is too fidgety for such ideas. I take the “stand up and walk around every 20 minutes” rule seriously, at least before 4pm, when I become a zombie.

Good luck, young padawan!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

What are your thoughts on the famous (infamous?) two-daughter problem? I have three PhDs who give different answers all of which appear to be statistically correct. Modinow says the answer is 1/2. The chair of the stats department at local university says the answer is 3/7, and a chap at Fl Coastal College has yet a 3rd answer which I have lost.

How can this be? 

Tombs

Dear Tombs,

OK I’m pretty sure there’s only one answer to this if it’s stated precisely. So let’s try to do that. Here’s the question:

Suppose I have two children. One of them is a girl who was born on a Friday. What are the chances of both children being girls?

Now I’m a big fan of making things incredibly easy and visual. So what I’m going to do here is identify the fact that, as far as children go, there are two attributes of interest in this question, namely gender and day of birth. I will assume that all options are equally likely and that they are independent from each other as well as between kids, and in my first iteration I’ll draw up a list of equally likely bins for a given child, namely of either gender and of any day born. That’s 14 equally likely bins for a given single child, and that means they happen with probability 1/14.

Now, for the second iteration, let’s talk about having two kids. You have a 2-dimensional array of bins, which you arrange to be 14-by-14, and you assume that any of those 14*14 = 196 bins is a priori equally likely.

Label the bins with ordered pairs (gender, day). The x-axis is first kid, y-axis is 2nd kid. Each bin equally likely.

Label the bins with ordered pairs (gender, day). The x-axis is first kid, y-axis is 2nd kid. Each bin equally likely.

If you label the first bin as “(Female, Friday)” and the second bin as “(Female, Saturday)” and so on, you realize that the condition that “one of the two kids is a girl who was born on Friday” means that we already know we are working in the context where we are either in the left-most column or the bottom row. Here’s my awesome rendition of this area:

The pink parts show where there's a girl born on a Friday among the two children.

The pink parts show where there’s a girl born on a Friday among the two children.

Specifically, the left bottom corner is the case where there are two girls, both born on Friday. The one to the right and above that corner refers to the case where there are two girls, one born on Friday and one born on Saturday. The stuff on the right and in the upper part of the column refers to the case where there’s a Friday girl and a boy.

Altogether we have 13 pink bins with two girls and 14 pink bins of a boy and a girl. So the overall chances of two girls, given one Friday girl, is 13/27.

I hope that’s convincing!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Auntie P,

What do you think about topological data analysis (some info here). Should we trust people who can’t tell the difference between their rear end and a coffee cup because the two are topologically equivalent?

Topological Fear

Dear TF,

Geez I don’t know about you but my rear end is not topologically equivalent to my coffee cups. You either need to go to a doctor or buy some coffee cups that don’t leak.

So, I don’t know very much about this stuff, but I do think it’s potentially interesting, and it’s maybe close to an idea I’ve had for a while now but for which I haven’t found a practical use. Yet.

The idea I have had, if it’s close to this idea, and I think from short conversations with people that it is, is that if you draw a bunch of scatter plots of, say, two attributes x1 and x2 and an outcome y (so you need numerical data for this), then you’ll notice in the resulting 3-dimensional blob of points some interesting topological properties. Namely, there seem to be pretty well-defined boundaries, and those boundaries might have certain kinds of curves, and there may possibly even be well-defined holes in the blob, at least if you “fatten up” the points (sufficiently but not more than necessary) and then take the union of all of the resulting spheres to be some kind of 3-d manifold. You can then play with the relationship between, say, the radius of these fattened points and the topological properties of the resulting blob.

Anyhoo, the idea could be that, if you see x1 and x2 then you can exclude a y that lives in a hole, or rather where point (x1, x2, y) would live in a hole. This is more than most kinds of modern models can do for you, but even so I’ve never seen this actually come in handy.

I hope that helps, and please do see a doctor!

Auntie P

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

This is a reaction to a previous post (maybe Oct 12?) where you said the following: 

My kids, to be clear, hate team sports and suck at them, like good nerds.

Now, as a nerd whose parents never let play team sports growing up and now plays one in college (a “nerd” sport, but still…), I have a question for you: Why do “good nerds” have to hate sports and/or suck at them? What classifies a “good nerd”? Does this generalize to other things that nerds are stereotypically bad at, like sex lives? Is there another category that should be created for nerdy type people that are also jocky-er, like a nerock or a jord?

With Love,
A “Bad Nerd”

Dear Bad Nerd,

Great question, and you’re not the only nerd that called me out on my outrageous discrimination. I wasn’t being fair to my nerock and jord friends, and that ‘aint cool. Although, statistically I believe I still have a point, there’s no reason to limit people in arbitrary ways like that, and it’s fundamentally un-nerdy of me to do so.

For all you nerocks and jords out there: you go, girls! and boys!

But just for the record, nerds are categorically excellent at sex. We all know that. Say yes.

Love,

Aunt Pythia

——

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia
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