Home > Aunt Pythia > Aunt Pythia’s advice: online dating, probabilistic programming, children, and sex in the teacher’s lounge

Aunt Pythia’s advice: online dating, probabilistic programming, children, and sex in the teacher’s lounge

May 11, 2013

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, preferably combining sex with something nerdy (see below for example) and, more importantly:

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


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I met this guy online and we met for three dates. I pinged him to meet up again, but he pleads busyness (he’s an academic, he has grading to do). Thing is, when I go on the dating website, I see that he’s been active–NOT communicating with me. I haven’t heard from him for a week. I sent him a quick, friendly email yesterday in which I did, yes, indicate that I was on the dating site and saw that he was active there. Is this guy a player, blowing me off, or genuinely busy with grading at the end of the semester?

Bewildered in Boston

Dear Bewildered,

I’m afraid that the evidence is pretty good that he’s blowing you off. To prevent this from happening in the future, I have a few suggestions.

Namely, you can’t prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future – not the part where some guy who seems nice blows you off. But you can prevent yourself from caring quite so much and stalking him online (honestly I don’t know why those dating sites allow you to  check on other people’s activities. It seems like a recipe for disaster to me).

And the best way to do that is to have a rotation of at least 3 guys that you’re dating at a time, which means being in communication with even more than 3, until one gets serious and sticks. That way you won’t care if one of them is lying to you, and you probably won’t even notice, and it will be more about what you have time to deal with and less about fretting.

By the way, this guy could be genuinely busy and just using a few minutes online to procrastinate between grading papers. But you’ll never find that out if you stress out and send him accusing emails.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m an algebraic topologist trying to learn a bit of data science on the side. Around MIT I’ve heard a tremendous amount of buzz about “probabilistic programming,” mostly focused around its abilities to abstract away fancy mathematics and lower the barrier to entry faced by modelers. I am wondering if you, as a person who often gets her hands dirty with real data, have opinions on the QUERY formalism as espoused here? Are probabilistic programming languages the future of applied machine learning?

Curious Mathematician

Dear Curious,

I’ve never heard of this stuff before you just sent me the link. And I think I probably know why.

You see, the authors have a goal in mind, which is to claim that their work simulates human intelligence. For that they need some kind of sense of randomness, in order to claim they’re simulating creativity or at least some kind of prerequisite for creativity – something in the world of the unexpected.

But in my world, where we use algorithms to help see patterns and make business decisions, it’s kind of the opposite. If anything we want to interpretable algorithms, which we can explain in words. It wouldn’t make sense for us to explain what we’ve implemented and at some point in our explanation say, “… and then we added an element of randomness to the whole thing!”

Actually, that’s not quite true – I can think of one example. Namely, I’ve often thought that as a way of pushing back against the “filter bubble” effect, which I wrote about here, one should get a tailored list of search items plus something totally random. Of course there are plenty of ways to accomplish a random pick. I can only imagine using this for marketing purposes.

Thanks for the link!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I heard that some of the “real” reasons couples choose to have children are peer pressure and boredom. Is that true? I never understood the appeal of children, since they seem to suck the life (and money) out of people for one reason or another.

Tony’s Tentatively-tied Tubes

Dear TT-tT,

I give the same piece of advice to everyone I meet, namely: don’t have children!

I think there should be a test you have to take, where it’s really hard but it’s not graded, and also really expensive, and then the test itself shits all over your shirt, and then afterwards the test proctor tells you in no uncertain terms that you’ve failed the test, and that means you shouldn’t have children. And if you still want children after all of that, then maybe you should go ahead and have them, but only after talking to me or someone else with lots of kids about how much work they are.

Don’t get me wrong, I freaking LOVE my kids. But I’m basically insane. In any case I definitely don’t feel the right kind of insanity emanating from you, so please don’t have any kids.

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I feel like a math fraud. I teach algebra and geometry but don’t have a math degree, (I just took the math exam for the single subject credential). I love math but fear I do every problem by brute force, taking twice as long as my fellow faculty members who show wicked fast cleverness in our meetings. Should i just sleep with everyone in the department to feel more like part of the gang? I am not finicky when it comes to orientation.

Faking under circumstances, keen math enthusiast

Dear Fuckme,

I really appreciate how you mixed the math question with the sex question. Right on right on!

I infer from documents like this that you are a high school math teacher. If you don’t mind I’ll address the sex question first, then the math question.

Honestly, and it may just be me, but I’m pretty sure it’s not, I’m hoping that all high school teachers have sex with each other at all times in the teachers’ lounge. Isn’t that what it’s for? Besides smoking up and complaining about annoying kids, of course. So yes, I totally approve of the plan to sleep with everyone in the department. Please report back.

Now on to the math: one thing that’s awesome about having a teacher who both loves math and is slow is that it’s incredibly relatable for the students. In other words, if you’re a student, what would you rather have for a teacher, someone who loves math and works through each problem diligently, or someone who is neutral or bored with math, and speeds through everything like a hot knife through warm butter?

Considering this, I’d say your best bet is to project your love for math to your students, by explaining your thinking at all times, and never forgetting how you thought about stuff when you were just learning it, and always telling them how cool math is. If you do all this you could easily be the best math teacher in that school.

Good luck with both projects!

Auntie P


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