Home > Aunt Pythia > Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia’s advice

December 28, 2013

Aunt Pythia is almost embarrassed today by how much fun it is to be her. Almost. But honestly she doesn’t embarrass easily.

So in case you don’t get a kick out of today’s column, especially by the end, then please take comfort in the fact that Aunt Pythia got a huge kick out of writing this stuff. It was really a pleasure, thanks. Oh, and please

think of something to ask Aunt Pythia at the bottom of the page!

By the way, if you don’t know what the hell Aunt Pythia is talking about, go here for past advice columns and here for an explanation of the name Pythia.


Aunt Pythia,

I’m a math undergrad at a large state school working on the side as a tutor at my university’s campus learning center. There are 2 flavors of tutoring that I do: “drop-in” tutoring (which is essentially an emergency room for lower division math students doing homework) and “group” tutoring (which is a course-specific, supplemental problem solving session). I don’t care much for the “drop-in” part, but I really, really love the group tutoring, mostly because I have control over how to run the class.

Every week I TeX up a nice little sheet of practice problems for my kids and they get to come up to the board one-by-one to work on them while I sit on their shoulder being a snarky, spiritual math-guide. I’m very passionate about involving the kids directly and consider it my moral duty as a math tutor to create an environment where that can happen. However about half of the students dropped after hearing that they would be required to directly participate. The ones who stayed though have stuck it out like champs and they’ve all reported an improvement in their course grade as a result of doing the extra problems.

But here’s the problem: my supervisor keeps criticizing the low attendance (which is about 50% of the average group size) and either wants me to change my style of teaching or give me fewer group hours next quarter (which means more icky drop-in hours) if I keep things the same.

What should I do? I asked my students if I should change things up and (surprisingly) they all emphatically said “no,” adding that despite being initially intimidated they were able to overcome their confusion more quickly by being put on the spot and having the instant feedback from myself and the rest of the class (it was a touching moment).

On the other hand, I can understand where my supervisor is coming from because the learning center gets funded based on how many students are using its services, and tutors who solve more example problems at the board for free get more students. Am I too low on the food-chain to be this principled about how to run a supplementary problem solving session for a single lower division math class? Working out problems at the board has always been the most effective way for me to learn math. But maybe it’s not for everyone?

Won’t Oppose Modifying my Perspective

Dear WOMmP,

It’s definitely not for everyone. But on the other hand, it is very effective for the students that have chosen to stay with your class, and I think you should be proud of the work you’re doing with them.

In terms of advice, I think it depends on your situation. If you’re not desperate for this job, you can just tell your supervisor that this is how you work, and the results for your students will be excellent, and you will refuse more drop-in hours, and that you will quit if you are not appreciated for your efforts.

If you are desperate for this job, then you probably want to find a compromise. Maybe it can be something like, for the first half (or more) of the hour you will not do the work for them but in the last part you will answer questions. That way people will be coaxed into thinking for themselves but they will know they have the option to be lazy.

Good luck, and thank you for being such a devoted math teacher!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia

In online discussions – and in real life – what is the best response to someone who calls me or infers something inappropriate about me?

On blogs it can be easy to spot the offenses, though in general I find it aggravating how humor cloaks a lot of sexist and generally demeaning comments in life.

I tend to be the kind of person to let bygones be bygones, and chalk it up as a sign of victory in the preceding debate; however, I am uncertain. Does my continuing to talk (obviously not right after the blow up) to that person somehow justify or encourage their methods?

I hate to leave these conversation spaces altogether (sometimes they are good dorky fun) but I noticed that though I keep my cool with the aggressors, residual bits of negativity stick in my mind and sometimes ooze into my other interactions. I appreciated your niece’s advice that “it’s not about me” but sometimes I wonder if by being present and vocal I am making it about me.

One more bit of color, the last straw attack was a sexually offensive name. And though several comments, some coming to my defense, were deleted from the thread the comment attacking me stayed up. When I complained to a friend about the incident, he suggested (jokingly, of course) that I enjoyed being called nasty names.

In public? On a blog some of my colleagues read? Exactly what is it with men? Sorry that’s a larger, near rhetorical question. Thanks.

No Offense To All’s Cool Until Negates Truth


First of all, it’s not about you, and any guy who calls you a cunt because you don’t agree with them has problems.

Second, what are you doing on discussion forums that allow such comments? Surely there are better things for you to do with your time. Like even just taking a nap would be a better use of your time.

And if you tell me I’m being sexist because men still have the option to be on such forums without being called a cunt, I’d argue that anyone there is wasting their time.

It’s a sad fact about anonymity of the web that there are weird, sad people who spend their time being hateful, as hateful as they can be, to as many people as they can be, via comments. I’ve had to go from allowing comments to moderating all mathbabe comments because of this problem, and it’s a total pain in the ass, but the only other option is frankly to forbid all comments. And since I cherish good thoughtful comments, I don’t want to do that. But keep in mind it’s a real investment of time to moderate comments!

My advice is to find a place to talk to people that’s either in the real world, or in an online forum where the comments are well curated and hateful speech is removed.

And one last thing. If someone has identified themselves as an asshole, by saying something hateful and sexist to you after you try to make an intellectual point, please ignore them forever after. That way your quality of life has improved and, as a bonus, assholes are not being encouraged to continue with their asshole tactics.

Aunt Pythia


Aunt Pythia,

What do you think is the sexiest knitwear? (Assuming, of course, that the set of sexy knitwear is nonempty.)

Asking for a friend

Dear Asking,

Great question! Lots of knitting is sexy. In fact anything is sexy that either a) shows off people’s bodies or b) is so incredibly scrumptiously comfortable that you just want to get inside it with the person wearing it.

In terms of the first category, let’s start with a corset-ish (but not actually one of those crazy freaking shapewear things) that shows off women’s curves, kinda like this (which happens to have been designed by a friend of mine):


Not at all constricting.

Next, we have the skin-baring type of sexiness that everyone can get behind:


Technically this is crochet. But nobody cares.

Next we’ve got some examples from the latter category, of scrumptiously sexy:


This is my favorite design, I’ve made it 3 times, and it’s super simple. Top down. I usually make it with REALLY BIG BUTTONS.

and for the man-loving crowd:


Who doesn’t love a man in an Irish sweater?

Did I mention there are sexy things you can knit?

Lipstick cosy. Seriously.

Lipstick cosy. Seriously.

Finally, I want to mention that it’s of course also possible to be sexy while knitting, which is kind of different but also makes the final product titillating, at least for those in the know:


I’m seriously hoping I’m not sued for putting this picture here.

Did I answer your question? What was your question, anyway? I’m completely distracted.


Aunt Pythia


Hi Aunt P,

Porn. I’m tired of the options for women. I don’t want the traditional hetero porn and I’m not into lesbian porn. Where can I find sexy, thoughtful, and maybe even *nerdy* porn (on or off) the internet? Even well-written erotica would be a nice diversion.

Upstate Upstart

Dear UU,

Look I’m as nerdy and as horny as the next girl, or maybe I’m off the spectrum for each, but even I’m not looking for thoughtful porn. If anything I’m looking for totally thoughtless porn, as long as it’s not nasty (in a bad way). And I agree that there’s not enough of it for us.

Here’s an idea, which I totally haven’t tried but I want to, and I learned about through this amazing article (thank you Business Insider!) which talks about Amazon banning smut like “Cum for Bigfoot” by Virginia Wade (not her real name!) and which contains the following unbelievable line:

“‘It’s f—ing Bigfoot,’ hissed Shelly. ‘He’s real, for f—‘s sake.’ Horror filled her eyes. ‘With a huge c—.’”

Yes! What!? Go here for more. I’m thinking New Year’s resolution.

Auntie P


Please submit your well-specified, fun-loving, cleverly-abbreviated question to Aunt Pythia!

Categories: Aunt Pythia
  1. John Zelnicker
    December 28, 2013 at 10:00 am

    Upstate Upstart — Since you mentioned written erotica, I thought of my favorite “The Pearl”. It is allegedly the compilation of 18 issues of a Victorian erotic magazine published from 1879-1880. There are novels, short stories, poems, limericks and more. I find the writing style to be very sexy and tasteful. With all the variety you might find something interesting. My paperback copy was published by Ballantine Books in 1992, but I don’t know if it is still in print. Good luck on your quest.


  2. Christina Sormani
    December 28, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Dear Won’t Oppose Modifying My Perspective,

    As a professor at a large state university, I recommend that you allow students to attend without coming to the board, but still conduct your lesson exactly as you have been. Take attendance every day telling them attendance is “required” and give extra “points” for those who participate by coming to the board. Of course it helps if you can influence the grades the students receive.

    As for texing up a problem list, is this part of the job or are you supposed to be going over the homework the professor assigned? If other sections are going over the official homework, then this would explain the attendance problem more than your teaching style.

    You might also try collecting emails the first day of class and then contact people who are missing to see why they have not come. Don’t offer reasons just ask why.


  3. EJD
    December 29, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    However about half of the students dropped after hearing that they would be required to directly participate.

    Directly participate and go demonstrate your ignorance at the board in front of strangers ( or worse students you will see in classes) not the same!

    I am frequently struck by how inhumanly clueless us STEM professionals can be. (Inhumanely?)

    Let me quantify for you, I rocked out of math classes 7 times because of overwhelming shyness at the high school level. Combined with the built-in punishments of stepping “out of track” and begging my way back into math class to again be confronted with some self-indulgent instructor who wants to do what they want impact or effectiveness be damned.

    When I finally conquered my limitations I made a point of raising my hand and being “the dumbest one in class” to be told after every class “I’m so glad you raised your hand” by one student or another.

    You are, for the University, selling a product / service and willfully driving away 50% of paying customers.

    This is why the Education department spends so much time on soft skills.
    This is why class time is wasted on getting comfortable with each other and building trust, which then enables an environment that allows openness about addressing ignorance.

    Now I hear you say “consider it my moral duty as a math tutor to create an environment where that can happen”, but I think you are doing it after the class self-selects, and probably not doing it as well as you think or you would not be saying such blatantly intimidating things in the description of the class.

    AP- sorry for such a long hijack

    That said, I think your personality ( I perceive your heart to be in the right place) and methods will work, just not day one. Or get sneaky, bring in a ringer first night to do Everything wrong, and demonstrate he doesn’t get shamed and eventually “gets” it, but keep him at the board forever, long after shy folks would have died.
    (Btw, even folks do not classify as shy, public speaking in front of groups is #1 fear nationwide.)


  4. Wogglebug
    January 3, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    I’m suggesting commercial endeavors, but I swear I have no association with them and they don’t pay me. Circlet Press publishes erotica with a nerdy/science-fiction slant, and Ellora’s Cavern is known for publishing erotica for all tastes.


  1. No trackbacks yet.
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: