Home > Aunt Pythia > Aunt Pythia’s advice – nose rings, breakups, itchy fingers, and data science

Aunt Pythia’s advice – nose rings, breakups, itchy fingers, and data science

Aunt Pythia is yet again gratified to find a few new questions in her inbox this morning, but as usual, she’s running quite low. After reading and enjoying the column below, please consider making some fabricated, melodramatic dilemma up out of whole cloth and, more importantly:

Please submit your fake question for Aunt Pythia at the bottom of this page!


Dear Aunt Pythia,

Can I have a nose piercing and still be taken seriously as an academic in Mathematics?

Math Dyke

Dear Math Dyke,

Actually, I think you can. Mathematicians may be elitist snobs about some things, but it’s not about the way they’re dressed. They tend to be pretty open-minded about physically presented strangeness. Plus they’ll probably just think it’s some kind of cultural signifier that they don’t understand.

Don’t let this fear hold you back from getting your nose pierced if that’s what you wanna do! It’ll look fabulous!

Auntie P


Hi Aunt Pythia,

I was recently dating this girl, and thought I had no feelings towards her other than enjoying her company and being attracted to her. Recently, after dating for a month or so, she wanted to have a “talk” and make things serious. I confessed that I did not love her, but told her that I did not expect these feeings at this point. She dumped me. What could I have done? Should I lie? Thanks 😦


Dear Adones,

First of all, I’m sympathetic to your viewpoint. But I’m also sympathetic to hers – and I’m much more like her myself.

People just move at different paces, and yours was too slow for her. I think the conversation you two had was probably the best thing, and I’m glad you didn’t lie.

My guess is that, from her perspective, you guys had been dating for a full six weeks (I’m interpreting your “or so” broadly), that you were pleasant yet tepid, and that she just wanted more from her love life than that. She didn’t get the impression, based on your conversation, that passion was around the corner, so why bother? From her vantage point, she deserves an interesting and exciting love life.

But don’t despair: there are other women who want to move slowly, especially if they’re not interested in having kids any time soon. My advice is to go find someone with a slower pace that matches yours!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I love to twiddle my fingers . . . but I never took up knitting, for example, because I figured you have to have the mind of an accountant to keep track of the pattern. I supposed I could crank out a scarf or two …. Plus, wool is so itchy. (I note that linen is an option?). Should I be discouraged?


Dear Itchy,

One possibility is to have the “mind of an accountant” (I put this in quotes because I know a few accountants that may be offended by the assumptions) and count out each stitch as you go. Or you could instead have the mind of an artist, and not worry about imperfections in stitch count, since they add texture and individuality to your project. Or, you could do what I do, and have the mind of a mathematician, and choose or design patterns that allow you every now and then think, but mostly just happily knit whilst watching Star Trek or something.

The real reason I love knitting is that I love color and I love the touch of yarn. I just can’t get enough of touching it. And most luxury wool yarn is not itchy at all. My suggestion is to go to a yarn store and touch everything in sight. It’s what people do, don’t worry, nobody will be surprised.

Aunt P

p.s. if you live in New York, try Knitty City on 79th near Broadway.


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I don’t have a math background. I studied Political Science in college. But I’m fascinated by data science and want to learn more. If I keep chugging along, teaching myself things, do you think this is a viable career? I’m teaching myself programming right now (JavaScript, Ruby), a bit of R, a bit of SAS.

Don’t Always Take Advice

Dear DATA,

I do think you need to understand the math behind the algorithms in order to really be a good data science (as I explained in this post). But that doesn’t mean you have to have a math background – you can give yourself a math foreground right now. So yes, if you are willing to really go deep and understand these algorithms from top to bottom, of course you can become a data scientist. There’s no secret property of college learning that makes it somehow better, after all. And there are tons of online resources that you can use for this stuff, as well as the book I’m writing which will be out soon.

One more piece of advice: get yourself a github account and store your code for projects in that, as well as written descriptions of what problems you’ve solved with your code. Since you don’t have a standard background in math and stats and CS, you’ll have to have evidence that you really can do this stuff.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia


Please submit your question to Aunt Pythia!

Categories: Aunt Pythia
  1. Leon Kautsky
    May 4, 2013 at 10:40 am


    The correct answer to your question is: coursera.org

    Once you get there, check out University of Washington’s Introduction to Data Science

    If you have enough money to survive for a long-time/a day job, you could start doing Kaggle.com


  2. May 4, 2013 at 11:07 am

    To DATA,

    Many great scientists and mathematicians wrote introductory books for laypersons during the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, when the public was very eager to learn about science and math in response to their growing influence over society. (Yes, things were very different then.) Dover Publishing still sells many of these books, at very reasonable prices.

    If you really are “starting from scratch” (i.e., no more than maybe high school calculus), I recommend starting with Ian Stewart’s Concepts of Modern Mathematics, which is a very approachable introduction to the major “cast of characters” that populate modern mathematics. From there, check out the other similar books recommended by the editors; I’d especially recommend trying your hand at the books introducing logic and proof. That should give you a nice foundation to start taking more more focused subjects.

    Good luck! 🙂


  3. Victor3
    May 4, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    Off topic, and sorry for the nasty buzz kill, but I thought you all would sort of like to see this if you’re most immune to getting brain damage from being exposed to stupidity. http://ccssimath.blogspot.com/2013/03/godzilla-vs-consortia.html


    • May 4, 2013 at 6:58 pm

      holy crap


    • A pithy aunt
      May 5, 2013 at 8:06 am

      Other than your trying to be overly grammatically anal with colloquial hipster language and failing, what exactly are you saying is stupid?


      • May 5, 2013 at 8:42 am

        Do the first problem on paper, and then look back at the comments on the blog; I think then you’ll see the point.


  4. Wogglebug
    May 4, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    On the subject of knitting, I’d like to add that there are many kinds of patterns, ranging from ‘extremely complicated’ to ‘so simple you could do it in the dark’. If you just want something to keep your hands occupied, then pick a nice yarn, get some circular needles, and you can just knit around and around and around and around until you have a scarf. All one stitch, very easy, nothing to keep track of. (This will make a tube scarf, double-thick without any fuss.)


  5. aalasti
    May 5, 2013 at 7:36 am

    Are you an actual aunt? If you ain’t, is a pithy imperthonation of this persona a counterpoint to too much calculus, or is it a continuation of inclination? Are you the Alpha Auntie, then the Quant Aunt?


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