Aunt Pythia’s advice
Last week I asked you guys to answer this question for me:
Dear Aunt Pythia,
How should I organize my bookshelf? I have 1000+ books.
As usual, you guys impressed me with your various uber-nerdy answers, some by email. Here are some excellent book-organizing suggestions:
- By color
- By publisher
- Via the tool librarything.com
- By your personal history reading the book – how old were you? This might be hard for me and Little House on the Prairie, which I read numerous times as a kid, then in Dutch to learn the language when I got married to a Dutch man, and now again because I just want to
- My personal favorite:
Sort books by copyright date of first editions. This would give an insight into the development of ideas. One problem with this is that it would make locating a book more difficult so an electronic index would be a valuable supplement. My initial thought was to do this only within categories, but as I think of it, it would be interesting to see fiction interspersed with history, philosophy or science.
Dear Aunt Pythia,
My kid went to California last year to study number theory, computer science and physics at a highly regarded university. After getting his dream summer job with a fast growing startup known for hiring only the brightest and spoiling them with great food, good money and lots of benefits he’s starting to adopt some of the libertarian founders viewpoints on life. For next summer, he’s interviewing with some hedge funds known to recruit and “develop” talented math kids. It is looking like he’s going to the Dark Side. What can be done to turn this around and avoid the pain Mathbabe’s father must have gone through?
Dear Failed Parent,
First of all, my dad was disappointed when I went into math instead of economics, psyched when I left academics for a hedge fund, and disappointed when I quit finance. So much for role modeling.
Second of all, I find your story consistent with my experience of super smart people finding it shockingly fun to be super smart and developing a viewpoint which allows them (or even encourages them) to take advantage of less smart people because they can and because it’s legal, independent of whether it’s moral.
There’s this whole machine, of which hedge funds are a large part, and some math and science camps too, which feed into this rhetoric and profit from it. I call it the fetishization of intelligence. People get so in love with their talent they think it transcends them above mere morality.
So the story isn’t good, and your son is another cog in the intelligence-as-fetish machine. And moreover, you’re not going to be able to talk him out of it, not now when most of the world is telling him he’s kind of an outsider and weak and unattractive (if he’s like most young men this is how they feel they’re treated, even if they aren’t actually unattractive or weak or outsiderish) whereas there’s this tiny contingent telling him he has super powers. Why would he listen to you?
My advice: wait it out. He’ll probably at some point realize he could be getting more out of life if he had stuff he’d done that he could be proud of. Then it’s time for you to have a list of things he might want to do that don’t involve taking advantage of “dumb money” and do involve applying his brains to discovery and solving important problems. Or at least have a pen and paper ready to help him make such a list.
One more piece of advice: if he claims that what he does is morally neutral because if he didn’t do it someone else would, please don’t pass up that opportunity to point out all the evil that has been done by otherwise decent people with that very line. I can’t tell you how many times I hear that. I refuse to help people feel comfortable with their uncomfortable choices.
Good luck, and please get back to me in 10 years to tell me how things are.
Dear Aunt Pythia,
I’m a PhD candidate in Math and I’m going to get into quantitative finance. I’m wondering how hard it is these days for a quant to maintain his integrity without undermining success? Any tips in doing so? Have you seen many happy yet righteous quant?
Fish in the Forest
After having a few jobs outside academia, I’m pretty sure that you get paid extra in finance partly because you’re smart and the skills you have are rare, but partly because you’re doing something pretty iffy on the righteous scale.
I’m not saying that there are no righteous quants, but I’m saying that if everyone had a righteous score and a salary score, then there would be a negative correlation between those two lists.
So I’m on the job market, and I am not totally against working in finance, because there are all kinds of jobs, but the ones I’m interested in are doing things like making accounting reports machine-readable and consistently formatted, to promote transparency. This doesn’t pay the big bucks as you might imagine.
Here are some snarky tips for you to continue to feel righteous if you work in finance:
- Figure out what the information is that you know but other people don’t. See if that matters to you. Example: insider trading, does it make you feel dirty? Maybe not, in which case you’re good.
- Start reading Ayn Rand and develop a sense that you are entitled to be rich because you’re so smart, and that anyone who doesn’t agree must be super dumb (see previous post for how to go about this, although you may be too old to go to summer camps).
- Do you mind lying? How about omitting the truth? How about pretending to regulators that you have a firm grasp on the underlying risk of a instrument class because there’s a magical mathematical formula someone with a Ph.D. came up with who can’t explain it to anyone? Good?
Good luck, and tell me how it goes!
Readers, it’s time for you to answer a question! This one is particularly outside my realm, but I have faith in you good people to help:
I’ve been finding it really hard as an adult who has stepped out of the higher education track because of a lack of funding to find resources for adults in the same vein as what i found as a young adult. Are there any resources out there that you would recommend for a minority woman aged 29+ looking for training opportunities that are more experiential than internship based?
NYC and Wondering
Please ask Aunt Pythia a question! She loves her job and can’t wait to give you unreasonable, useless, and possibly damaging counsel!