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Aunt Pythia’s advice

December 15, 2012

Aunt Pythia has two wee bits of bad news.

First, nobody helped out NYC and Wondering from last week looking to get educated via internships past college age. Maybe if the question were worded differently it would have gotten more responses.

In the meantime, NYC and Wondering, I’d suggest you look into MOOCs on Coursera, Udacity, and the like. There are Meetup groups you can join once you’re in a course like this one.

Second, Aunt Pythia has been informed that some people are getting error messages when they try to submit questions. That’s no good! If that’s happening to you, please comment below using the phrase, “question for Aunt Pythia” and it will automatically go into my mailbox instead of getting posted.

On to this week’s questions:


Dear Aunt Pythia, 

I am suffering from severe Facebook phobia. Is the entire phenomenon as repulsive as I think it is?  

Curmudgeon Lee Luddite

Dear Curmudgeon LL,

Here’s the thing. I am totally grossed out by Facebook on so many levels. As a concerned data scientist, the shit they pull with respect to personal information, letting other people post private information about you, and selling your data makes me really uneasy. Read this recent article about the Facebook Doctrine (“What’s good for Facebook is good for you”) if you want to hear more. Mind you, that Doctrine seems to be pretty clear-cut if you modify it just a bit: “What’s good for Facebook is good for the stock price of Facebook”: the market loves the trend of information selling because it’s magnificently profitable.

Another thing that pisses me off, which I learned about in the student presentations last week at the Columbia Data Science class I was blogging: people are posting various legalese-sounding letters to Facebook on their timeline which tells Facebook to keep their hands off their personal data. Guess what, kids, it’s too late, you signed away your rights when you entered, and such crap only serves as yet another illusion of control (along with the Facebook privacy settings).

Having said all that, I use Facebook myself – but of course I never post anything remotely private on it. But for that matter I also use Google+, and I’m ready and willing to use another platform when one comes along that’s less creepy.

Curmudgeon, to answer your question, yes it’s just as repulsive as you think. I fully defend your disgust, and if anyone questions it just send that person to me, I’ll set them straight.


Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

Should I go to the Joint Math Meetings if I’m thinking of leaving academia realllly soon?


Dear Katydid,

It depends. Is it tough for you to go? Would you miss job opportunities by doing so? I’m assuming you are planning to leave academia but you haven’t actually gotten another job.

If the answer is that it’s relatively easy to go and that you don’t have any other plans that weekend, then by all means you should go. And you should make a plan beforehand on what information you can gather about jobs that math people do.

For example, make sure you have a good idea of what kind of jobs in academia there really are, by interviewing a bunch of people about what they do on a daily basis. But keep in mind that most of them will be drunk because it’s the Joint Math Meetings and that’s kind of the point. And also keep in mind you’re hearing much more about academia than about industry since you’re at this meeting.

But that doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck only hearing about academia! Because I’ll be there, talking about the world outside academic math, and so will a few other people. I am particularly psyched that I’ll be speaking on the first day so I can meet people after my talk and hang out with them for the next few days, getting drunk and playing bridge. It’s very serious business, of course.

See you soon I hope!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

Is health insurance a sound financial investment?


Dear Uninsured,

Great question. It’s not really an investment, and it’s only a good idea once in a while; the problem is knowing in advance when it’s a good idea.

I say it’s not an investment because usually with an investment you can expect to make money, whereas insurance is never like that. Once you pay insurance premiums that money is gone.

Insurance can, however, be seen as a financial bet: you’re betting that losing a predictable and smallish amount of money is less painful than the overall risk of losing an unpredictable and large amount of money if you get horribly sick and need major treatment.

There are plenty of problems with this explanation though, including:

  • it’s not so smallish if you don’t have work or if you have crappy work through a place like Walmart,
  • you personally might be very healthy and the risk of getting super sick might not be high, say if you’re 24 and fit; this means that your money may be better spent buying high quality food than paying for health insurance, and
  • the large amount of money you may get billed with if you do end up horribly sick can be discharged through bankruptcy, and in fact most of the bankruptcy proceedings happen because of medical debt of uninsured people. Keep in mind you will lose your house (if you have one) if you go this route, so only consider it if you’re willing to take that risk.

In the end it depends on your situation whether it’s worth it to buy health insurance.

I hope that helps!

Aunt Pythia


Aunt Pythia,

Why do some foods burn when you stir them? It doesn’t make sense that my rice or pasta should burn when there is still a lot of water in the pot just because I stirred it.

Physics-Inclined Wannabe Chef

This is a great question! Is it even true? Does it also happen with orzo? People, get out your pots and do some mythbuster-type experiments! And then comment below with your ideas and results.

I’m counting on you nerdy folks to get to the bottom of this, so to speak.


In the meantime, if you have a moral, personal, or emotional dilemma or somesuch, please share avec moi below on my gorgeous new form:

Categories: Aunt Pythia
  1. deb
    December 15, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    “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?”

    I didn’t understand the question. She’s looking for training opportunities that are MORE experiential than internships—this to me would rule out online courses, or your typical adult ed courses because they are just that: courses, not experiences. An internship, lame as so many of them are, are the most “experiential experiences” you’re going to have short of being hired and then trained for a job. So yes, I was confused by the question.


  2. Leila Schneps
    December 15, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    I’m sure rice and pasta don’t burn BECAUSE you stir them, especially if there’s water in the pot. That’s not what’s happening. What does happen, though, is that if you haven’t stirred for a bit, the rice or pasta at the bottom of the pot can have stuck to the bottom and started burning even if there’s water higher up. Then when you stir, the really disgusting burning flavor permeates right up through the whole pot of rice and it becomes gross and inedible and you have to throw it away. (Rice gets worse than pasta.) The moral of the story is that you should stir a bit regularly to make sure nothing sticks. But iwhen you do stir your cooking rice or pasta, you should first dig a bit with your spoon at the bottom to see if any is already stuck down there. If it has, DON’T stir, but pour out the unstuck part into your colander with the remaining water. Leave the gross burned stuck part in the pot to soak away and wash later, and save the remaining part by setting it to boil a bit longer in freshly boiled water if it wasn’t quite cooked yet.


    • novembertwentyeleven
      December 17, 2012 at 2:04 am

      I agree with Leila.

      Physics-Inclined Wannabe Chef: Your stirrer may also be a problem. It may be not wide enough to do proper stirring, in this case, to scrape the rice or spaghetti off the bottom of the pan.


      • JSK
        January 3, 2013 at 8:17 am

        I disagree with both responses, at least for rice. Here’s a mechanism for the rice phenomenon: the remaining water settles to the bottom of the pan, gradually boiling away and preventing burning at the bottom. If you stir, you distribute the water throughout the “sponge” of cooled rice above. The bottom layer of rice then burns if the heat is hot enough and the water can’t percolate back down in time to prevent the burning. The same mechanism can hold for many other dishes, but not for pasta floating in a large pot of water, as there’s no shortage of water in this case.


  3. Tara
    December 15, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    I hate to say it, but if you’re 24 and fit, you can still get cancer. My brother got cancer at 25. Young men in their 20s are the second largest demographic for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, after men over 65 (if I remember correctly). He did have some crappy health insurance that only covered catastrophic situations. Needless to say, they dropped him as soon as the policy expired. He now pays more for health insurance than for rent (and he lives in NYC). I think it is crazy, even if you are young and fit, to forego insurance entirely. I believe that catastrophic coverage policies are relatively low in cost.


  1. January 5, 2013 at 7:59 am
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