Home > Uncategorized > Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia’s advice

People! PEOPLE! Aunt Pythia needs your help!!

Here’s the thing, dear readers. Aunt Pythia screwed up royally. She told you a couple of weeks back that she had plenty of questions, and in a sense she did, but that was misleading, and moreover it has backfired tremendously.

You see, Aunt Pythia finally read all those questions, and for some reason they were almost entirely spammy, nonsense questions, and moreover none of them were at all about sex, so that’s also a terrible fact. Don’t do this to me, it’s uncalled for.

But the worst part is that, since Aunt Pythia (wrongly) declared her mailbox full, she’s not receiving new letters! In fact, it’s a dire situation, and Aunt Pythia might be shutting down the advice bus and selling it off for spare parts before the week’s end unless something is done.

Is this not the saddest sight in the whole wide world? And it's made even sadder because it's in black and white.

Is this not the saddest sight in the whole wide world? And it’s made even sadder because it’s in black and white.

We’re talking urgent sex questions, down below, stick ’em in, and pronto. Aunt Pythia desperately loves her job and doesn’t want to stop. Her standards are low but please make it coherent and sex-related.

That request once again:

ask Aunt Pythia a made-up sex question 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.


Dear Aunt Pythia,

Super Pi day = “Once in a century”?

What about in Europe where dates are written:

So April 31, 2015 is:

Dated in Europe

Dear DiE,

First, condolences for your unfortunate sign-off.

Second: hey, I was thinking the same thing – what if you write it in some other base? Like, using this online calculator, you can convert any base 10 number into whatever (integral) base you’d like. They even have the option to use “pi” or “e” or “sqrt,” because they are good nerds! That gives you a ton more “Super Pi Days,” if you’re creative enough.

And if you do it more generally, you could even choose a non-integral base! Hey, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that, allowing the base to be arbitrary, and allowing dates to be written European or American style would mean that most dates qualify as “Super Pi Days.”

To be clear, it doesn’t mean those days becomes less super, just that almost every day is super. Or maybe pi is always super. In any case, it would be an awesome excuse to party every day whilst feasting on pie.


Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

When I grade, I spend about 10 minutes grading. Then I spend 5 minutes thinking the world is doomed. Then I calm down a bit, and spend 5 more minutes thinking that just my students are doomed. Then I spend 5 minutes thinking about how it’s all my fault because I’m an incompetent teacher. Then I spend 5 minutes thinking about how little anything I could have done differently would have made a difference. Then I spend 5 minutes thinking about how I’m wasting my time with these idle thoughts, and 5 more minutes considering that not having these idle thoughts would be intellectually dishonest. Around this time, I’m ready to go back to grading, at which point the cycle repeats itself.

Obviously, I can’t really afford to always spend 4 hours doing grading that should really take 1 hour.

Any advice for dealing with this?

Feeling Absolutely Incompetent Looking Upon Results on Exams


Here’s the thing. Your expectations are all wrong. Instead of being disappointed when not everyone understands everything, you have to be overjoyed when someone understands something. Also, you need to learn how to trick yourself into a success story. Let me tell you how it’s done.

What I do when I grade is create an internal environment inside my head, kind of a suspension of disbelief zone, where I lower my expectations to to the point where I’m like, man I hope someone passed this test.

Then I charge ahead with grading like a steamroller, practically holding my breath the entire time, and I don’t let myself breath until all the grades are added up and plotted in a histogram. At that point I’m like, ok here’s the distribution of scores, I will define the grades so that, by construction, a good portion of people have passed. That way my fantasies always come true, even if the scores are crowded down around 17.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

What is your take on what is happening in Seattle with restaurants? To me, it was predictable that restaurants would not be financially viable with $15 an hour wait staff. We apparently assumed that it would work and so forced the issue on that basis. Was this another case where our left-wing activist buddies ignored science and economics, or am I just too much in the hip pocket of rapacious big business?

Between Planets

Dear Between,

Wait are you talking about recent closures of Seattle restaurants blamed on the minimum wage hike? Well, I google “Seattle restaurants minimum wage” and immediately came upon this article arguing that it is a bogus claim.

In any case restaurants go out of business all the time, it’s a crazy industry. Anybody looking for evidence that they are going out of business for a given reason would have plenty of statistical noise ready and willing to distract them. I’d have to look at many years of data to be convinced.

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I try not to pay attention to politics, but I have become increasingly worried as I can’t help but hear about things that seem threatening. I want to live in the same country that I grew up in, where we were free to think what we wanted, and if we dared, to speak about it. I also liked the fact that we voted for representatives who served in Washington, making votes for us. I don’t want to live in a new Venezuela with a new supreme leader. I hope that I am panicking needlessly. Sorry for a political topic. I am generally an insurgent, in that my first vote for president was for Eldridge Cleaver. In 1980, I voted for John Anderson. I am sorry that I voted for Ron Paul in 1988, but that is water over the dam. I would like to vote for Elizabeth Warren, if she would dare to run. What can we do?

Sonoma Soul


Good news, Bernie Sanders is running. Bad news, money in politics paired with the new micro-targeting strategies probably mean that no insurgent will ever win again. This is ironic considering that Obama was an insurgent and won but also built the modern micro-targeting machine. He closed the door behind him.

Aunt Pythia


Congratulations, you’ve wasted yet another Saturday morning with Aunt Pythia! I hope you’re satisfied, you could have lazed about in your pajamas for longer. Oh wait, you’re still in your pajamas, I take it all back. Well done.

But as long as you’re already here, please ask me a question. And don’t forget to make an amazing sign-off, they make me very very happy.

Click here for a form or just do it now:

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Allen Knutson
    May 2, 2015 at 10:54 am

    I’m not sure this grading advice will address any of FAILURE’s issues, but I’ll throw it out there. Grading goes way faster if you (loosely) presort from best to worst. (In week 1 use handwriting as a proxy for competence; after that you’ll already know what to expect from people.) Then the first bunch of people will tell you the reasonable way to answer the question based on what the class knows.

    Of course this is a bit unfair; it makes it harder for people to climb out of a hole, if they did badly in the beginning but caught up later. But (1) homeworks typically count little toward the final grade (2) such people are vanishingly rare.

    I had a TA working for me once who was unable to deal with partial credit. I showed him a lousy answer on one person’s test. “That’s wrong, couldn’t be wronger. Zero.” Then I pulled out my ringer, a _really_ terrible answer on another test. “Okay, that’s wronger.” Then I told him it was his goddamn job to assign people partial credit, and he reluctantly got with the program.


  2. May 2, 2015 at 11:02 am

    I do something a bit different from Allen, but in the same spirit. For any given problem I am grading, for whatever pile of problem sets or exams I am grading, I do a quick sort based on the type of mistake made, the approach used, etc. That way, I can at least try to be consistent in how I award partial credit for various partial solutions. Also, I do try to have fun grading. Students are creative — sometimes they find better answers than the ones I expected.


  3. May 2, 2015 at 8:07 pm

    Looks like it’s the grading question getting the most virtual-ink. My advice: The very first thing is to craft a test/assignment that you’re so thrilled/overjoyed/excited about getting data back on, that you can hardly help yourself from grading it. I wasted a lot of energy for years making assessments I thought I was “supposed” to do (some bad advice in grad school) that were aggravating and dispiriting to grade.

    Second and related, the assignment should be easy to grade with assessed points set in advance; people talk “rubrics”, but for a short math problem it may be as simple as: perfectly written 2 points; first mistake/partly correct 1 point; second mistake/total garbage 0 points. (When I did programming assignments, I picked 4 specific features to test and called those the “points”; 4 = A, 3 = B, etc.) By all means, avoid debating partial credit valuation mid-stream in the stack.

    The *first* time I give a particular test, if this comes out ridiculously off-scale, then I go and look for unintentionally hard/broken questions and consider adding a fixed number of points back post hoc. But I edit it on that test-template going forward, and don’t expect to be scaling stuff in later semesters; students should have an objective expectation/measure for success. Generally I can predict in advance that the mean score on all my mature tests will be right around 75% (C). If one section comes in and get markedly lower, then I know it’s their problem, not mine, and let the chips fall where they may.


  4. French Engineer
    May 2, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    We did not have a 31st of April in Europe, we went from the 30th directly to the 1st of May, a public holiday !


    • May 2, 2015 at 11:29 pm

      Sure, but if you want to get creative, why not consider 1 May to be 31 April? Or, allow us to consider the 314th of January? remember, excuses to eat pie are at stake!


  5. Auros
    May 2, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    It’s well known that every positive integer is special. 1 for several reasons, 2 and 3 are prime, 4 is square, etc… If there were such a thing as a non-special number, then as you counted up, eventually you’d come to one — and as the smallest non-special number, it would be special.

    And since every date can be regarded as an integer, every date is special. 😉


  6. Min
    May 4, 2015 at 9:44 pm

    @ Between Planets

    Economics and science are equivocal about the results of minimum wage hikes. They do not empirically seem to have much immediate effect on business. One reason, I suppose, is that they put money into the hands of people who will spend it, and merchants benefit from that spending. It may even be that by increasing the flow of money in the local economy, minimum wage increases such as we are seeing now will be generally beneficial. We shall see.


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