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Aunt Pythia’s advice

July 25, 2015

Dear readers,

Do you ever wake up not knowing what you want to do when you grow up? And then you realize you’re far too old to feel that way? Well, that’s the way Aunt Pythia feels this morning. She’s in no position to give anyone advice.

And yet. And yet, it’s fun to give people advice! So here goes. Afterwards she’s planning to whip up a batch of delicious “Identity Crisis Crepes” to cheer herself up a bit. They’re going to look like this:

Identity Crisis Crepes have extra nutella.

Identity Crisis Crepes have extra nutella.

Are you addicted to carbs like Aunt Pythia? Do you wish to demonstrate solidarity to the cause? If so, before you go,

ask Aunt Pythia any question at all 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,

A bit lazy to sugarcoat this. I’ve noticed that your personal history/internal biases come out very strongly on some topics and result in irrational/illogical conclusions/actions including banning challenges to your logic.

Have you noticed this yourself? Do you care? If you do care – how would you (do you try to?) address this issue (which I assume every single person suffers from)?

Curious About Rational Exchange

Dear CARE,

Why, no, I hadn’t noticed! Isn’t that why they’re called internal biases? If you’d like to point out specific examples, we can discuss further.

Come to think of it, there are certain things I’m happily opinionated and even stubborn about, but that’s what it means to have a personality, isn’t it? And isn’t that why people ask an advice columnist her opinion? Because the other person is bound to have an opinion?

Of course, one is free to ignore someone else’s opinion, even if it comes from a blogger. But I wouldn’t advise it (har har)!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia:

My work history includes math, data, operations and government analyst jobs, and direct service work. I love collaborating and sharing ideas but I find myself frustrated at a lot of the shitty attitudes that are moving into this space now that its “hot”. I loved your four political camps of big data post and felt like it was one of the few things I’ve come across that addressed this thing I am trying to get my head around.

My problems are twofold:

(1) Not punching someone in the face when they tell me they want to “hack poverty” or any number of other things that speak to a critical lack of familiarity with the context of public interest or work for social good.

(2) Feeling left behind in the job race and shut out of the bigger conversation. I’ve been doing solid research and policy work on issues I care about for quite some time and I hate the idea that the even the president (given his community organizing background) is touting corporate tech as the place to find talent to help build data capacity for the govermment. How do I get my invite to the big kids table?

For now my plan is to keep on keeping on putting data to use in communities I care about and helping community based organizations build capacity around data use and service delivery but I need some help planning ahead.

Yours Truly,


p.s. Sorry there’s not a sex piece to this!


I feel you! How about you email me (address available on my “About page” and tell me what you’re working on, why it’s important, and then we can scheme on how to get more publicity for you. I agree that there is far too much absolute bullshit out there, and I’d like to help by promoting substantial work.

Also, one thing about the four political camps. There should have been five, I left out the academic camp which consists of people who genuinely want to make progress on stuff like medicine research and are constantly frustrated by HIPAA laws that protect privacy. Take a look at Daniel Barth-Jones’s work for a great example of this perspective.


Aunt Pythia

p.s. Nobody’s perfect!


Dear Aunt Pythia,

What the…

Google Chrome Listening In To Your Room Shows The Importance Of Privacy Defense In Depth

…is this for real?

Overheard, In California

Dear Overheard,

Well, I know it’s for real, because my son showed me how to use the “OK, Google” feature on his MacBook. But in order to use it, you have to activate it in your Google Chrome settings (or at least that’s what they claim!).

As for how creepy this is, it really depends on how you think about it. I mean, Siri listens too, right? Is that creepy? I think it depends on how much we trust Google and Apple. And the answer is: a fuck ton. We let Google read all our emails already, don’t forget.

As far as I know, voice transcribing still doesn’t work very well compared to actually have the text of email. So I guess if I had to list the creepy stuff in order, I’d start with gmail.

Aunt Pythia


Hi Aunt Pythia!

Here is my probably oh-so-familiar story. I’m a grad student in pure math, looking to get out and interested in data journalism. I’ve looked through your notes from the Lede program, and think that working at ProPublica would be AMAZING (though likely a pipe dream).

Beyond material at the level of AP exams, I have no experience in statistics, programming, nor journalism. However, I think reporting stories stemming from statistical analyses or making interactive news applications for readers to explore data themselves would be really cool. For someone in my position with these goals, would you make some suggestions for skills to pick up, people to talk to or emulate, workshops or informational events to attend?

(Addendum/Clarification to the question: Searching the web for “data journalism” and its variants, I find programs and resources for journalists to bulk up their data-science skills or calls for programmers to get involved with news agencies. However, what concrete suggestions would you give to someone starting from scratch who wants to break into this field? I am somewhat more interested in analyzing and interpreting data than in making graphics.)

Thank you in advance!

News Enformer Wanna Be

p.s. You should check out Amanda Cox’s work and talks if you haven’t!

Dear NEW B,

I happen to have some good news for you. Scott Klein of ProPublica came to the Lede Program and told us he hires people based on their webpage projects. If they are cool, innovative, and newsworthy, then he is interested. This is somewhat different from other editors who depend on your ability to get your work published by mainstream news outlets.

So in other words, I suggest you create an online portfolio of work that you think is super interesting and newsworthy, and then you start applying for jobs. To do this, you’ll need to learn statistics and computer programming, but I’d suggest starting with the project and then picking up skills you need to do it. Steal ideas from various online syllabi and such, and feel free to enroll in an actual program or do self-study. Go to hackathons and learn quick and dirty skills.

It’s a long-term plan (or at least not a short-term one), and you might not get a job at ProPublica, which I agree is a dreamy kind of dream, but you might well get another great job, and in any case you’ll learn a lot. Also definitely collaborate with journalists starting now – many great freelance journalists already have great stories and would love to work with mathy/ computer people. Go to a local journalism school and introduce yourself.

Aunt Pythia

p.s. Amanda Cox kicks ass!


People, people! Aunt Pythia loves you so much. And she knows that you love her. She feels the love. She really really does.

Well, here’s your chance to spread your Aunt Pythia love to the world! Please ask her a question. She will take it seriously and answer it if she can.

Click here for a form or just do it now:

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. S. Carnahan
    July 28, 2015 at 2:19 am

    Dear earthling taking name “Aunt Pythia”:

    Thank you for your input concerning irrational biases/ illogical behavior. This will help us sort/assign/bin the members of your species after the invasion (friendly and peaceful) is complete.


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