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Aunt Pythia’s advice

April 20, 2013

Aunt Pythia is happy to be be here, striving as always to answer your questions helpfully and wisely. Even if they have nothing whatsoever to do with sex (single tear running down her face).

If you don’t know what you’re in for, go here for past advice columns and here for an explanation of the name Pythia. Most importantly,

Please submit your PG questions at the bottom of this column!

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

What are your thoughts about the use of amphetamines or other stimulants (specifically as performance enhancing drugs) in academia or the workplace? Clearly, there are legal issues that one could bring up should a person be obtaining them illicitly; so let’s say for the sake of argument that you read an article online interviewing an academic who has a doctor that knowingly prescribes her/him ritalin for its use as a “performance enhancer” (as opposed to prescribing it for ADD). The doctor assures the interviewer that she carefully monitors the academic’s use of the drug so as to minimize the effects of physiological dependence or addiction and that, from all observations she has made, the academic is responsible about taking the drug and does not abuse it. The interviewer then asks the academic why she/he uses it, and the academic responds that taking the drug allows for a level of productivity that is at or above the level of others in their field, and they fear they could not be as competitive as others in the job market should they stop taking it. What reaction are you left with after reading the (hypothetical) article?

Ever Reflect on the Debate On Speed

Dear ERDOS,

It’s no secret that Erdos was a benzedrine addict. My parents knew him when I was a kid (my dad wrote a paper with him) and so even if I hadn’t heard it through the grapevine I’d know it through that channel. It’s totally true. Moreover, he wasn’t the only mathematician who was popping pills beck then, or for that matter even now. It’s widespread.

In terms of my opinion, I have no moral opinion about it. As far as I’m concerned drug use isn’t a moral issue at all, unless it leaks out into people’s responsibilities to others, which as far as I know never happened with Erdos.

But I do have a personal theory about who does that and why, and Erdos is a great example for my theory. Namely, people who really don’t have any other interests in their lives except math. They are single-mindedly pursuing theorems at the exclusion of having a family, or love, or sex. They’re willing to forgo sex in order to prove theorems faster.

Note I say faster, because I don’t actually think drugs make you smarter, they just let you focus more efficiently. I might be wrong about this, it’s a guess. It would be interesting to see evidence one way or the other.

That’s a pretty huge sacrifice, since I usually think the way things work is something like: be good at something, so you can be successful, so you can get laid. Someone who is forgoing sex for the sake of being good at something is therefore, in my framework, sacrificing the end for the means. But all that means is that other people have different ends than I have.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

My son’s teacher was fretting about how dangerous it is to teach in view of sandy hook. Of course anytime you are in public someone could shoot you. But if you are alone you might choke with no one to help you. So it is it more likely to be saved or killed by a stranger when you are in public

Kill or be Killed

Dear Kill,

A more gruesome statistical question you’re never gonna see. I don’t know the answer either, especially if you consider the case where the guy was pushed into the subway tracks and nobody helped him. And if the killer has a gun, then what’s a bystander to do?

In general I think people who really want to kill each other are pretty good at doing it, at least the first time they try. Considering that, we are pretty lucky how rare that is. I’d also add that staying inside all the time is also pretty safe, but your quality of life is pretty low.

As far as the case at hand, namely teachers, I’d worry more about standardized testing and the vilification of my profession than about armed killers.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

Do you think introverts stand a chance when it comes to working up the ladder at a cutthroat large corporation?

Quiet in Seattle

Dear Quiet,

If you’d stopped at “large corporation” then I’d have said, “sure, why not?” since all corporations rely on the work of a bunch of different types of people, and introverts are bound to find a place there as well.

But you added “cutthroat” so it’s all about that word. I think you’re kind of answering your own question: if by cutthroat you mean you need to play politics with the sales guys and win, then no, introverts have no chance in such a place.

But if that’s the way it seems from your seat, I’d suggest there might be a different place in your company where you’d find plenty of introverts. Maybe you could switch your division. If not, then just get out altogether, it doesn’t sound healthy!

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

I have been writing Smalltalk programs that use heuristics to make lottery predictions. The process entails creating competing rankings of numbers and then using wheels to generate combinations. Numbers are ranked using rules about history patterns. The process is deterministic and a combination in a particular position is always generated with the same process. I collect winning information by block and by line. I play the best blocks or the best lines in the next drawing. Do you have a better system?

Lost in Space

Dear Lost,

Yes, yes I do have a better system. I call my system “don’t play the lottery.”

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’ve been interviewing at a lot of different places in data science in several major cities lately. One thing that really sticks out is that there has been literally zero female technical representation amongst the interviewers — besides myself, everyone is a [Caucasian/Asian] male. Where are all the chicks [and Hispanics/Latinos/African-Americans]? We’re such a huge chunk of the population, seems like I should be seeing more different types of people. And do you think this diversity thing matters much anyway?

Diversify This!

Dear Diversify,

I hear you! I think data science is a ton of fun, and I’d love to see more diversity in our midst. I’m getting feedback on my company’s upcoming bootcamp that we should make it for women, or at least make a version for women. That might help, And it would be a lot of fun.

In terms of whether I think it “matters,” I do think there’s an enormous amount of selection bias in the ways companies think about their users and what they want, and they shrink their potential by having only narrow views. So yes, I think it matters. But more immediately the question is how to improve it.

What do you think?

Aunt Pythia

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Please submit your question to Aunt Pythia!

Categories: Aunt Pythia
  1. April 20, 2013 at 11:22 am

    The feed is broken again.

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  2. April 21, 2013 at 5:16 am

    Regarding Kill or Be Killed’s question: There is a point of view that you should never worry about things that are headlines — it wouldn’t be a headline unless it were unusual. Someone should be able to estimate the probability of being killed at work (or more specifically while teaching) versus the probability of being killed traveling to work. I suspect the answer would be that you want to invest in a Star Trek transporter (with a good QA record).

    Like

  3. incredulous
    April 21, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    “Moreover, he wasn’t the only mathematician who was popping pills beck then, or for that matter even now. It’s widespread.”
    This sounds far fetched unless you are including caffeine? Do you have anything to back that up?

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