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Aunt Pythia’s advice

August 8, 2015

Aunt Pythia asked a few days ago whether her advice would be better dispense in video format, and there was near consensus: no indeed.

You have spoken with one voice, loud and clear! And that is why Aunt Pythia has readers, dear readers, and not viewers. She toasts to you.

Holy crap I want a mimosa.

Holy crap I want a mimosa.

But readers, please read this next line carefully, not all is well. As of today, Aunt Pythia only has enough questions for one more week of her advice column.

That’s right! Aunt Pythia is starving for ethical conundrums! She’s thirsty for romantic entanglements and she’s eager to ponder, muse, and ruminate on your deepest and darkest quandaries. Let her help! Please please please:

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.


Aunt Pythia,

Would you be willing to share your recipe for those identity crisis crepes? They look delicious and very helpful.

Handling Undeniable Nagging Gripes Requires Yummies


Why of course. I use a modified Joy of Cooking recipe – modified because I use salted butter and 2% milk, and the recipe book usually calls for unsalted butter and whole milk. I also triple the recipe to feed my kids and the neighbor kids, which I happily present. Mix in a large bowl:

  • 2 and 1/4 cups white flour
  • 1 slightly rounded teaspoon of salt
  • 1 flat tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup or so of powdered sugar (I just shake a bit into the bowl)

Then add:

  • 3 cups of milk
  • 6 eggs
  • a large dash of vanilla

Mix everything until it’s relatively smooth. Next, find a nonstick pan (or two if you’re ambitious) and put a generous pat of butter on the pan on medium heat. Spread the butter around to coat the entire pan, and when it’s frothy add a ladle spoon of batter, spreading it out over the whole pan by tipping the pan this way and that. Turn it over as soon as the spatula lets you, and cook on the other side for about the same amount of time (maybe 3 minutes for each side). Then put your finished crepe on a platter and continue. Makes about 9 crepes.

I serve the pile of crepes on a table set with cut-up fruit, nutella, jam, syrup, and powdered sugar. When I’m feeling Dutch I also offer bacon and eggs and I call them “pannekoeken” instead of crepes.

To make them “identity crisis” specific, simply use extra nutella at the end and pair with mimosas.

Aunt Pythia


Aunt Pythia,

How do I convince myself, in the face of half a lifetime of evidence to the contrary, that there are women who want to date me and might even eventually want to sleep with me?

Forty And Increasingly Lonely

Dear Forty,

I actually have quite a bit of experience giving advice in this realm, but not knowing anything more about you is going to severely limit my advice. So, if you were here with me I’d ask you a bunch of questions about your habits, attitude, and previous attempts. I’ll do my best to give you general advice though.

First, make sure you exercise regularly. This doesn’t make you lose weight, contrary to popular marketing belief, but it gets you out of the house, wards against depression, makes you feel good in your body, and forces you to take regular showers. All good things.

Second, figure out how to meet people. A lot of people, preferably in a female-dominated setting. I suggest joining a class at your local community college on cooking or pottery or meditation. Really nice people go to such classes, and they are often open to meeting new people. If you have the inclination, go to church, or even better, choir. There are basically no straight men in choir, and those that there are get snatched up.

Third, examine your self-confidence. Figure out mysterious and compelling things about yourself and practice making them even cooler. About half of self-confidence is the belief that other people will want to spend time with you, so practice being a good listener and asking polite and encouraging questions. Don’t forget to flatter people (when it is deserved and not creepy), and figure out how to accept compliments graciously as well.

Finally, ask people out a LOT. Make it a habit to put yourself out there, in a non-threatening way, pretty much every time you actually want to see someone a second time. Sometimes it will work, other times it won’t, but it’s the only way you’ll ever start a relationship. And it doesn’t have to be romantic, either: asking someone out to coffee to continue a conversation is something that people do, and you should be sure you do it whenever you feel like it.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

p.s. if you have more specific questions, feel free to email me personally. My email address is on my “About” page.


Aunt Pythia,

Is there any part of these arguments with merit?


Dear K,

I actually feel dumber for having read – well, skimmed actually – that article. Good news is he gave himself away early with the word “shrill”; after that I knew he was a woman hater.

The only positive I came away with is that I might want to dye my armpit hair blue to match my head hair.

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

So, Mathbabe says that some smarts and math skills are essential for being a data scientist. In particular, mathbabe says if one lacks the quantitative prowess to invert a matrix, then they do not have the math aptitude to be a decent data scientist. Does someone have to be able to get the concept instantly and effortlessly when they see it for the first time?

I was a humanities (history, specifically) major in college and I currently work in education, and I want to pursue an MS in statistics. I can invert a matrix pretty comfortably now, but it did take some effort (study group, office hours) to figure out how to do it when I encountered the concept for the first time in a linear algebra class. I am necessarily aiming to be a data scientist, per se. I see data as a promising and powerful tool for advancing problems I really care about, and I want to be able to meaningfully interact with people who analyze data to understand what they have done and make sense of what it can and cannot do.

Depressed in the Suburbs

Dear Depressed,

Just to be crystal clear, I don’t actually think everyone needs to go around practicing how to actually invert a matrix. Personally I’ve memorized the inversion of a 2 by 2 matrix, but if I were to invert a 3 by 3 matrix I’d have to derive the formula.

The real purpose I have in talking about matrix inversion is to point out the computational fragility of inverting a “nearly uninvertible” matrix, namely a matrix whose determinant is very close to 0.

Why, you might ask, would I have to worry about this? Well, for two reasons. First, when you’re dealing with real world data, everything is an approximation of truth. That means that if you have two vectors that are theoretically pointing in the same direction, they will only very approximately do so when the computation is worked out. For the same reason, when you have a matrix which theoretically should have dependent rows or columns, when you actually calculate the determinant, it will not be zero, but simply a very very small number, say 10^{-14}.

Next, when you invert a matrix, you do a bunch of things and then divide by the determinant at the end. Of course, you’re not supposed to “invert” an uninvertible matrix, but you of course can invert a matrix that has incredibly small but non-zero determinant. What you end up with is garbage.

OK, here’s why I’m telling you all this. Because the data scientist’s job is mostly to figure out why their model is fucking up massively. Models never work the first, second, or 17th time they are run, so you’d better be good at understanding what’s going wrong. One thing that often goes wrong is trying to invert a matrix that is not invertible, but it doesn’t manifest that way as the above story explains. So the data scientist has to start with ridiculous garbage answers, and backtrack to the actual problem, and knowing something about how a matrix is inverted is critical in this story.

Of course, matrix inversion isn’t the only example of the mathematical detective work inherent in a data scientist’s job. It’s kind of a metaphor for what you might end up doing as a data scientist. But it’s also a good place to start.

Anyway, none of this stuff is easy or effortless, so throw away that misconception immediately. I’m sure that someone with general intelligence can learn this stuff. I just think that there’s plenty of stuff they’d actually need to know.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia


Readers? Aunt Pythia loves you so much. She wants to hear from you – she needs to hear from you – and then tell you what for in a most indulgent way. Will you help her do that?

Please, pleeeeease ask her a question. She will take it seriously and answer it if she can.

Click here for a form for later or just do it now:

Categories: Aunt Pythia
  1. Billb
    August 8, 2015 at 10:21 am

    The church choir I was in for a couple of years had lots of straight, married men. (I was one of them.) A better choice (and kind of the way I met my wife) is dancing. I don’t mean the bar/club scene though. I mean ballroom, swing, folk, etc. Larger urban areas seem to have multiple places to learn to swing dance and although there are competitions it seems most people just want to dance (and meet people). Many of them have beginner lessons before the dance and flyers for classes by various instructors. There is usually little smoking, not much drinking and ample opportunities to talk to people between dances. The choir I was in was too fast paced to allow time to chat. In addition, we were divided by voices (I’m a bass) and any eligible women were sitting too far away anyway.


  2. August 8, 2015 at 11:45 am

    In the goofy Breitbart article, aren’t items #7, 8, and 11 in direct contradiction with each other?


  3. Christina Sormani
    August 8, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    Dear Depressed,

    No one said learning to invert a matrix needs or should be easy. Go ahead and get that MS in Statistics. Work at it and you’ve set yourself up for a lot of well paid jobs. You could also take graduate courses in linear algebra and numerics learning to try to invert large matrices (with tens of thousands of entiries which may or may not be invertible and which may have small entries leading to serious errors resulting from rounding off decimal places in a computer) and still inverting the matrices would be difficult. Thats what mathematics is about, struggling with the hard problems. As long as you enjoy the struggle go ahead.


  4. spinster
    August 8, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    To Forty: your age will start working in your favor, although maybe it starts in the 50s. The women that married in their 20s and 30s are getting divorced. I’ve been following various dating events in NYC, like Date Walking, and for the 50+ age range, the organizers get tons of women signing up but no men. And for the 20-30 age range, it’s the opposite – tons of men, a paucity of women.

    But that’s if you want old ladies that have been around the block. If you want to go for the hot ones in their 20s here’s my advice. It helps to be rich, so in the interim, work on making bank if you haven’t done so already. Get a tattoo of the line from Scarface: “In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.” Women don’t actually know how much you have in the bank, so you need to fake it if necessary. Dress in suits, not sweat pants, even when you are going to get groceries. Have a watch that at least looks designer, but a knock-off should be fine.

    Aunt Pythia was on the right track with “get some exercise”, but a walk around the block ain’t gonna cut it. You have to get f***ing ripped. Get a gym membership and wake up at like 6am, and go lift. Then after work, go lift. You get to see hot chicks working it at the gym too, so that is a side benefit that will boost your motivation. (Not sure what AP was thinking with church, or choir). But AP was right about asking out a lot of people, and definitely work your game on the gym chicks. Start with something neutral, like “you training for anything?” at first, but once you get confidence, you can go with effusive compliments like “great bod, hun”. AP was right about boosting your self confidence, and getting ripped is a great way. Pumping iron generates anger and aggression, and that’s basically a superhighway to self-confidence.


  5. cat
    August 9, 2015 at 4:09 pm


    I would probably start with self improvement. Therapy, Meditation, and some form of exercise that works out the whole body. These first steps are to figure out who you are and accepting what you can’t change and then changing what you can. If you are lucky this will only take a few years.

    Then figure out what you want in a companion and be honest with yourself. There is no point in lying to yourself since this is a purely theoretical exercise, Figure out if you would actually be a match for this person. People date based on shared interests, shared backgrounds, and shared life goals. There are exceptions, but they are usually rich, famous, or attractive.

    Now is the hard part in finding a person who is a match for you and you are a match for them. This is usually accomplished by participating in the shared interests, blind dates, or internet dating.

    Its actually a lot of work, so good luck!


  6. noneya
    August 10, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    Saying “exercise doesn’t make you lose weight” is equivalent to saying that opening the drainage in a tub full of water doesn’t drain it. That’s only true if your water spout is putting more water in than you’re draining out.

    And maybe that article is indeed trying to challenge the idea that people keep eating the same amount of calories when they start exercising (which is in fact a reasonable thing to challenge), but that’s not at all clear from the linked article, and the actual scientific article link is broken within it.


  1. August 22, 2015 at 10:30 am
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