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Aunt Pythia’s last column

Dear readers, some bittersweet news today.

Aunt Pythia is retiring. It’s been a blast, and she will always remember you with fondness. She has truly enjoyed handing out consistently bad and possibly dangerous suggestions to all you wonderful and earnest people. She’s learned so many things, during this time, as well, and is truly grateful for that.

Just in case you haven’t read all the past Aunt Pythia columns, she’s compiled a cheat sheet of sorts for your benefit:

  • Question: how do I become a data scientist?
  • Answer: read my book, which is now slightly out of date, do some projects on your own and post them on a personal webpage, and start applying. Make sure you know linear algebra well enough to explain PCA and understand why you need to actually care whether a matrix has a near-zero determinant before inverting it, and make sure you know statistics well enough to explain statistical significance to a CEO and margin of errors to anyone at all.
  • Question: why is math so hard?
  • Answer: Math is hard because we rarely spend time dawdling over thing we already know, however beautiful they are; instead we push ourselves to the very limits of known theory. We are impatient and hungry for more knowledge. That’s a good thing, and it’s human nature, but it’s also nice to dawdle sometimes. Think about just how cool Galois Theory is every now and then.
  • Question: how will I ever get laid?
  • Answer: Be a human, listen well, try to seem like you’re making an effort, but don’t act desperate. Be realistic about what makes things more likely to work, and put yourself into a situation that makes things more likely to work, but never get creepy. Finally, there are lots of people in the world, so don’t obsess with one of them if things aren’t working out, but if things are working out then try to appreciate it daily.
  • Question: I have this secret crush on someone, and it’s really intense, and I have a sense that they might like me too, but I’m afraid to do anything about it. What should I do?
  • Answer: Go for it. You only live once.

To finish off this final Aunt Pythia column, I will stack the decks in my favor with a lovely letter I just received:

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I wrote to you in this column about a long term love. I told him. It worked. He has felt the same way for years. It is glorious and strangely serious for only being one month.

Thanks,

Grateful

Dear Grateful,

I am so glad, and good on you for writing back and telling me. It’s so wonderful that after so long you guys can get busy making each other happy.

Finally, thanks for making my advice seem good!

Love always,

Aunt Pythia

Categories: Aunt Pythia, Uncategorized

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia is very excited to announce that she’s discovered her new career, thanks to her dear friend Becky Jaffe who sent her this video the other day:

That’s right, readers! Aunt Pythia has always wanted to be one of those “crazy old purple ladies” – although with dogs instead of cats – but she’s felt just too darn ridiculous to go it alone. Luckily, there’s a group of like-minded grannies whose goal is “the enhancement of the ridiculous.” Right on, right on. I’m wondering if I’m too young to qualify.

I have a feeling there are more people out there interested in this. Contact me and we’ll form a local chapter.

And now, on to business! Let’s go quickly to the part of Saturday morning where Aunt Pythia spouts nonsense to anyone who will listen, shall we? Homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are on the dish, help yourself. Yes, that’s right, I said oatmeal and chocolate chip. There’s no fucking law against that.

After the cookies and advice, please don’t hesitate to:

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.

——

Dearest Aunt Pythia,

I have been trying on and off for almost a year to enter the word “binner” into Urban Dictionary, but it is always rejected! I’m at my wits’ end! 

Below is my submission:

Binner: The inner erection of the clitoris that females get when aroused; the inner boner.

The part of the clitoris, the clitoral glans, that is seen on the outside of the body is only one piece of the clit, and it’s got all the nerve endings. However, the rest of the clit extends down into the body and is made of erectile tissue.

This part of the clitoris fills with as much blood as a penis does when males get erections, so it can be thought of as the inner boner or the “binner.”

Example the first: I got such a binner watching those smokin’ hot dudes playing beach volleyball.

Example the second: I can’t really think right now because my raging binner’s sucked all the blood from my brain.

Can you help?!?!

Blue Binnered in Indy

P.S. Hi Aunt Pythia! I’m Trisha Borowicz, one of the directors of Science, Sex and the Ladies. My web analytics led me to your post about the movie trailer. I stayed to read because you got some pretty cool, feminist, mathy shit going on here, and I just couldn’t resist asking Aunt Pythia a question. Anyway, thanks for writing about my trailer. Oh – and my question is absolutely true…and when I went to my original post about it, I see that it has been 2 years and probably about 5 tries.

——

Dear Blue,

Holy crap, that’s an awesome word. And we needed one for that. Next can you come up with a word for a mistress that’s a man? I’m thinking you’re gonna go with “manstress.” I can’t believe I didn’t think of that until now. You have inspired me.

I guess my only question about binners is this: how do we know if we’ve got one? I mean, I’m sure I get binners all the time but don’t know it, right? It’s not as obvious for us ladies is all. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Maybe that’s the missing ingredient in the submission?

Another possibility is that lots of different people have submit similar definitions for them to believe it’s really a word? What do you think, readers? Is this a great way to spend your Saturday mornings, or is it the best way to spend your Saturday mornings?

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

What I love about mathematics is an amazing feeling of understanding what precisely someone meant, deciphering dense texts, capturing the idea someone tried to convey by an accidentally misleading example. Solving problems is not so enjoyable, but they help in the long run. The research is the worst. It’s so hard, and the results are usually boring compared to beautiful ideas already existing in the literature.

I am a PhD student at one of the top US universities, so I’ve done some research, somewhat successively, but didn’t enjoy it. I am fairly confident that I can finish my current program and eventually become a mediocre mathematician and maybe discover something awesome once or twice in my life.

Doing research to get a job and teaching calculus for thirty years is not a wonderful future, but it’s also not so bad. Am I ruining my life by sticking to this plan?

Most other careers also look bad for me in the same way. Everywhere from politics to videogames the core of success is the ability to extract information which exists, but wasn’t intentionally put there. Finding hidden patterns in the data, reading against the grain, applying ideas outside of their usual domain. All of this I don’t enjoy.

I am noticeably better than most other people at figuring what the creator of the information wanted me to understand from it. This skill sometimes help, but usually is absolutely pointless. Maybe personal relations benefit from it, but I’m not great at them for different reasons.

Should I just grow up more and accept that the world wasn’t designed to be enjoyable? But then I look at my friends who seem to really love doing original work and consider learning from books to be boring but necessary activity, and I feel that maybe I just have a different system of thinking. One where you don’t do awesome stuff and don’t earn millions, but instead, I dunno, have an inherent property of coolness in your soul. Or something. I usually avoid thinking about that. Sorry for such a long letter and a striking example of a “first world problem”.

Rather Educated Although Dumb

Dear READ,

I’m going to rephrase what I hear you saying. You love learning math, you are good with working stuff out that you know to be true, but you dislike working hard on something that might not end up being true.

So the payoff – that moment of clarity – is joyous, but the stuff leading up to it is painful for you. Without knowing more about why it’s painful, I can only guess. Here’s a list:

  1. You are anxious that you won’t ever discover the truth, and the anxiety gets in the way of enjoying anything.
  2. You choose problems that are too hard and so you go into the process unprepared.
  3. You postpone the process because of your dread and then you never feel like you have the mental space to think straight.
  4. You feel like other people have an easier time with not understanding math and it makes you feel bad in comparison because it’s hard.
  5. You are simply impatient.

I am just throwing around ideas here. I actually have no idea what is going on for you. Even so, I have a few thoughts.

First, part of me wants to tell you to look around and imagine you left math altogether. Then what? What do you think you’d want to do? Don’t think about it as a career for the rest of your life type of thing, but rather a project you’d embark on. What project do you think is cool? Work on that one. Give yourself space to choose; if not every project, at least some of them.

Next, I’d advise you to be realistic in the following sense. There is no perfect job. You can quit one job, or one career, and then start a new one, and you’d still have problems. Take it from someone who knows. Right now I’ve got an awesome consulting gig, doing a project I totally care about and I think is important, but even so I feel like a hustler, because being an independent consultant makes you a hustler.

Finally, I’d suggest that doing research requires patience, and a certain dose of humility, and a lack of caring about other people. These are all things that you can work on. But at the same time, there are fields in which the results are faster and easier and are still important. Data science is a faster, easier field than algebraic number theory. Projects go faster, people care about minor advances, and so on. On the other hand, the questions you answer weren’t asked by Diophantus. So there’s a trade-off too.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am a young male professor in computer science. Being closer in age to postdocs and PhD students than other faculty, I find myself, especially at conferences, hanging out with them, going out in the evening, and so on.

While these kind of circumstances often lead to encounters and hookups, I have always been careful not to hook up with anyone, as I feel the differential of power and the scarcity of women in our field make it somewhat problematic for faculty to hook up with students (I am also in a monogamish long-time relationship, but that would not be a problem neither for me or my long time partner).

About two years ago, I found myself having a great connection with a PhD student at a conference (she studies in a different country, so I only see her at international meetings, but our fields have some overlap). We ended up talking all the time, and spent a lot of time together, nothing romantic being on the table.

Since then, every time we have seen each other, we have had incredible chemistry and end up going out a lot, in a group or not. This has been going on for a bunch of conferences now. I have no intention of acting on the situation, both because I feel it would ruin our relationship, and because I am afraid it would be detrimental to her career (though I am fairly certain we both feel very strongly about the other).

However, I am always very excited to see her each time there is a chance, and we both want to talk all the time, etc. As a consequence, I strongly suspect lots of people assume that we are indeed hooking up. I don’t want to be part of the creepy atmosphere that make it harder to be a woman in computer science, and I don’t want her reputation to be hurt by the situation, if people assume she is sleeping with older faculty. On the other hand, I really feel I am doing nothing wrong here! What should I do ?

Becoming the patriarchy

Dear Becoming,

You’re doing nothing wrong, they’re all jealous. Please enjoy each other.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

As a man approaching middle age and managing people in their twenties in the tech world, I often find that I just relate better to a lot of the men. We share common interests (sports, similar sense of humor) and I am just more comfortable asking them to grab the occasional drink in a one-on-one situation.

I can’t help wondering what some of the women in my group feel about this. Would they be grateful that I am leaving them alone, or resentful of the extra bonding their male colleagues get? I do regular meetings with the women, and take them out to coffee once in a while, but the guys get that extra, less guarded time.

It also makes my job more fun, as I like drinking and socializing with tech nerds. I think I am being fair when it comes to review time, but that could be a delusion on my part. I can also see that even if it was true, it may not be perceived as true .

I think the women on the team are funny, smart people too, and I would probably enjoy the occasional drink with them as well. It just feels weird to ask them to join me for a drink. I have no such problem with female colleagues, where there is no power imbalance in the relationship. What do I do?

Mature Intelligent Man Or Sexist Asshole

——

Dear MIMOSA,

Oh. My. God. I want a mimosa. With you. Right now.

OK, so I have no problem drinking with men. I’ve always done it, and I don’t think it’s weird. In fact I love it. Alcohol has the magical ability to help people find common interests. You don’t need to know what they are in advance. You don’t even need to drink alcohol; just being in a bar, ready to engage in a real conversation with another person, is enough. I think you should try it. Here are two suggestions.

First, ask a friendly, open-minded young woman you manage by saying something like, “Hey I sometimes have drinks after work with Tom or Jim, and I’m wondering if you’d like to join me one of these days? I’d love to get a chance to talk in a relaxed manner. It doesn’t have to be after work, and it doesn’t have to involve alcohol, but it could. What do you think?

Once you’ve done it with her, it will be easy for the other women to think of it as super normal.

If that seems weird – which I don’t think it is – then I’d suggest invited a small group of people for drinks and making sure the group involved one or two women. Like, make it a celebration of a project getting done or something.

The caveat is that women – and men of course – may have family duties with young children. For that reason, please never make it a spontaneous after-work drink event, or make it required. Always give people advance warning, at least 3 or 4 days, so they can arrange things.

And please have a drink for me next time!

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: Uncategorized

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Readers, Aunt Pythia must apologize. She was taken over last weekend with the intense urge to craft. This is a coping mechanism of hers which takes over in times of stress, and the Paris attacks combined with anything Trump says, ever, overwhelmed her for about a week and it started last weekend. The good news is she got her project done:

Alexandru_front

It’s a baby blanket for my friend Adrian’s new baby. The design is here.

 

Alexandru_back

It’s reversible. Except for the name.

As for yesterday, Aunt Pythia had family over and was whipping up 5 dozen pancakes. Forgot to take pictures of them, but there were a lot of bananas and chocolate chips involved.

Anyhoo, that’s the explanation, but rest assured she has recovered and has emerged from her craft cave that exists inside the head. She is here for you and wants nothing more than to listen to your questions and give her half-reasoned and pseudo-sound advice. Before that, though, a small interruption.

Public Service Announcement: Reading Aunt Pythia has been known to improve mental and physical health, if only because it keeps you away from Thanksgiving leftovers for a few extra minutes. This effect is not statistically significant. I repeat, not statistically significant. This has been a Public Service Announcement brought to you by state and local authorities. In the event of an actual emergency, this announcement would not be helpful. I repeat, unhelpful.

If, after reading the below, you want to waste even more time, please don’t hesitate to:

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,

I’d like to tell you an anecdote, one that is both mortifying and instructive. I offer it in the hope that it will elicit some thoughtful discussion from you, and from your other readers.

I am a male mathematician of a certain age. About twenty years ago, in my capacity as a member of a journal editorial board, I received a paper to handle. The author, a European, was nobody I had heard of. I took a look at the paper and decided that it was not up to the journal’s standards. The theorem was correct, but I could explain it to myself quickly using standard ideas in a routine way, by arguments simpler than those in the paper.

So without sending it to a referee I wrote a polite rejection letter explaining my reasons. From the author’s name, I assumed she was a woman. In fact he was a man.

I learned this about ten years later, when I happened to meet him at a small international conference. I don’t believe that either of us acknowledged the fact that our paths had crossed long ago. Several embarrassing thoughts flew into my head. Had he received a rejection letter starting “Dear Ms ____”? I would like to think that I knew enough back then to write “Dear Professor ____” or “Dear Dr ____”. Maybe I did.

But the thing that really made me squirm was that, as soon as I learned that she was a he, it came to me in a flash that I had written the letter in a sexist frame of mind. Imagining that I was writing to a woman, probably a struggling new-fledged female PhD, I had adopted a condescending tone that I don’t think I would have taken with a struggling new-fledged male PhD.

I can’t say for sure whether the air of condescension would have been obvious to the reader, but it was certainly there in my head. If I couldn’t see my own sexism in that case until this chance discovery made it apparent, how can I guard against similar attitudes when I’m teaching, or writing a reference letter, or reading a job application or a grad school application?

Baffling, Our Own Biases, Yes?

Dear BOOBY?,

I get it. I’m like that too. In fact women are just as sexist as men. I often find myself wondering if I spoke too condescendingly to women. I sometimes wish I could “play back the tape,” as it were, from old conversations so that I could apologize when appropriate.

But of course, you can’t do that in a conversation, because we don’t record conversations, or for that matter take any other anti-bias steps for real-world interactions. On the other hand, we can and should for formal situations like submitting papers.

Here’s a very concrete suggestion: Make it a rule that you obscure the name of every article that comes in to every journal, and that at least one referee sees each one. This way you, who saw the name before it was obscured, will not be tempted to immediately dismiss articles written by women. And as a happy by-product you won’t have to fret later on about your own sexist impulses, which again we all have.

Maybe you can arrange for someone else to do the obscuring-of-the-names process so you can look at the papers yourself. Maybe you could arrange with another editor to obscure their names in return for them obscuring yours. Whatever. Do what it takes to make it a blind audition.

I’d like to add that, whenever possible, do this for grad school applications and job applications as well. I know it’s hard for job applicants, because they are known personally at that level, but try to put processes into place that at least mitigate this kind of thing.

Good luck, and please know that once this system is in place you will have accomplished way more than you are now by kicking yourself needlessly and fruitlessly.

Aunt Pythia

——

Aunt Pythia,

My wife, her sister and I are all in our late 40’s and empty nesters. My sister-in-law, Naomi, is divorced and currently between boyfriends. As a result, she usually shows up at our place Saturday mornings. She and my wife, Allison, go shopping or to an art exhibit or other places, returning to our house in the late afternoon. They both shower and get dressed and then the three of us go out for dinner and other activities. I’ve edited some of the conversation below to make it more coherent.

Allison showers in the master bath and Naomi in the guest bath. They both come to the double sink in the master bath to fix their makeup, do their hair, and talk. I’ve taken to joining them because they both primp while wrapped in bath towels and I’m hoping for a flash. Allison will usually oblige pretending to need to get something from the under sink. She bends over keeping her legs straight. Then she’ll straighten up and smirk at me.

Several weeks ago Allison was alone in front of her sink when I came in. She smelled so fresh that I couldn’t resist. I knelt in front of her, put a hand behind her thigh for balance, pulled down her towel, and licked her nipples. All of a sudden Naomi showed up. Allison was trapped.

“Ronnie, don’t embarrass Naomi!”

I took one more lick of each nipple making sure Naomi could see my tongue flicking each bud. I stood up.

“Sorry, sometimes I get carried away,” I said to Naomi.

“Looked like fun,” Naomi replied. “I wish I had someone to do that to me.”

The minor exhibitionism revved me up. That night I was harder than I had been in a long time. Allison was hot also. She had a couple of orgasms.

Since that Saturday night had gone so well, I decided to try the same thing the next week. When I walked into our bedroom Allison was naked and still drying off. Unfortunately Naomi was already there. My disappointment showed.

“Aww, no sugar tits this week, Ron,” Naomi said and laughed.

The following week I pulled down Allison’s towel before Naomi showed up. Allison was moaning when Naomi walked in on us.

“Ronnie, stop Naomi’s here.” But she didn’t push me away.

“Yeah, Ron. You’re making me jealous.”

I took one last long lick to make sure Naomi saw.

“Doesn’t your sister have nice breasts?” I cupped one of Allison’s breasts and turned to Naomi.

“Mine are bigger.” Naomi pulled her towel down for about three seconds before covering up again.
That night Allison was all over me as soon as Naomi left.

“Did you like seeing my slut sister’s big boobs?” I was sucking Allison’s breasts so it took me a few seconds to reply.

“They’re okay.”

“Don’t bullshit a bullshitter. I saw the way your eyes bugged out when she flashed you.”

“Honey, I’ve told you before, anything over a mouthful is wasted.”

“So you would waste a lot if you sucked her boobs?”

“I guess so.” After that the conversation waned as I moved lower on her body.

We all felt a certain excitement the next Saturday when the girls got ready for their showers.

Allison was still drying off when I caught her out of the shower. This time as I lowered my lips to her nipples I slipped the hand that I used to balance on the back of her thigh up higher until my fingers were against her sex.

“You be good if Naomi comes in. Don’t embarrass me.” Naomi showed up a minute later.

“Don’t you two ever get enough?” I licked both nipples before raising my head and looking at Allison.

“If Naomi is going to watch us each week, don’t you think she ought to show us something?”

“Yeah, Sis. Show us your boobs again.” I dropped my head back down and watched out of the corner of my eye as Naomi lowered her towel to her waist. After about fifteen seconds I raised my head again.

“Do you think she wants her nipples licked?”

“Sis, do you want Ronnie to lick your nipples?” Allison moaned. Then she spread her legs farther apart. My index finger slipped between her moistening lips.

Naomi didn’t reply, but she drifted over beside me. I turned my head and put my other hand on the back of Naomi ‘s thigh to balance. Of course that hand slipped higher to touch between her legs. I moved my mouth to her nearest nipple. As I sucked, Naomi spread her legs a little. I extended my finger upward. After about five minutes of switching back and forth and tonguing four nipples, I was about to explode.

“Ronnie, we need to finish getting ready for dinner.”

“Yeah, Ron, I bet you’re hungry,” Naomi added hoarsely.

I got up reluctantly.

That night I was licking between Allison’s legs.

“Do you think Naomi would like it if I licked her clit?” I asked as I stopped briefly.

“My sister’s such a slut. I bet she would give you a blowjob and swallow if you licked her clit. But maybe you shouldn’t get confused about which sister you’re married to.” With that she dug her fingernails into my shoulder hard enough to hurt. “Get back to my clit.

So, here’s my question. Is my wife giving me permission to steal third base or is she calling me out and sending me to the dugout?

Wants to Smell the Roses but Afraid of the Thorns

Dear WrStRbAotT,

First of all, I want to thank you for your letter. I appreciate the work you put into it, I really do. It’s obvious what you put yourself through on Aunt Pythia’s behalf, and she appreciates it.

Second of all, I don’t have a sister, but if I did, I am pretty sure I’d never want to be sexual with her or in her presence. I mean, I have a brother, so I know how I feel about that kind of thing, and I’m pretty sure sisters are similar. Even so, it seems like – and I’m generalizing from Happy Days and Fonzie, but who doesn’t – it seems like this is a common enough male fantasy.

fonzie

I guess to probe just a bit on this topic, how would you react if I talked about having sex with you and your brother at the same time? Would that turn you on? I doubt it. Just saying.

In answer to your question, I think your wife has been giving you mixed signals, and maybe you should take that as a sign of ambivalence, or maybe she’s just saving the best for the next chapter, if you will.

To sum up: I’d definitely let her take the lead if I were you. If she wants you to do the nasty with her sister, believe me, she’ll tell you to. Or maybe show you how (cough).

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

About seventeen years ago when I was a grad student I was in the computer room of a national science facility analyzing my data. The only other person there was a fellow grad student analyzing her data when her thesis supervisor came in the room and started to sexually assault her.

Without thinking, I pulled him away from her and dragged him to my desk where I said “here are those plots which I mentioned before” which is true because a few hours earlier I was talking to him about that data. He looked quite livid, but said nothing and left the room.

The grad student was stunned and left the room. Neither of us said anything either then or later. I have not seen XXXXXX (AP: name redacted) for at least ten years. The recent news about the sexual harassment case at Berkeley has made me think of these memories after so many years of not wanting to think of them. I have also started wondering whether what I did really made a difference in her life and so I have thought of contacting her directly and asking that question.

There is no question in my mind that what I did was the right thing, yet somehow it would be nice to get some sort of acknowledgment. Do you think contacting her and asking her whether what I did made any kind of difference in her life be a good idea and if so, how would you word it ?

Old Memories Arise Again

Dear OMAA,

Hmm. I’m thinking, you maybe didn’t do the wrong thing, but I don’t think I’d characterize it as “the perfect thing”. That’s not to blame you at all, because I think your intuition was good, and you definitely defused the situation. But I’m wondering if the internal conflict you’re feeling might arise from the fact that you could have done more. In short, you diverted him but you didn’t keep him from trying it again.

The problem with diversion, as a technique, is that it doesn’t address the underlying issue, and it doesn’t call it out as fucked up. It simply avoids it in a short-term way. So for example, there’s no reason to think that your colleague ever felt safe going back to that computer lab to do work again, even if she got a new advisor.

So, if you’re wondering what you’d do if that situation came up again, I’d suggest 1) telling him he’s doing something illegal while he’s doing it, 2) telling your colleague she has every right to call the police, and 3) calling the police yourself in front of both of them. That way he gets the message, and even if he ends up thinking he did nothing wrong, which is typical in this kind of situation, at least he’s been through enough that he doesn’t think doing it again is worth it. Introduce serious friction into his predatory ways, in other words, and it will at least slow him down, and at best get him fired.

As far as contacting her, I don’t think you should, especially with your current expectation of “acknowledgement” for “doing the right thing.” If I were that woman, I’d kind of want to say, “why the fuck didn’t you speak up?” and I would definitely not appreciate it. If, on the other hand, you wanted to reach out and ask her what you should have done, and what would have helped her the most, then yeah, maybe that could fly. But it would have to be done carefully.

Finally, I think it’s strange that you’d say her name. Is that some kind of signal to me that this is a fake question? In that case, please don’t send me fake questions; better to say what you’re sending me is a hypothetical. Otherwise, I’m not clear on why you’d name the victim at all. Is it an unnecessary pseudonym? I don’t get it.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

What do you think of the heartbreaking story of Anna Stubblefield – to me it reads like a Shakespearean tragedy: brave woman leaves her white cis-male husband for a differently-abled man of color, but instead of being praised she is arrested and send to prison on ridiculous charges without any evidence.

LIM

Dear LIM,

Wow. Seriously?

Anna Stubblefield is super nuts. Yes, in a tragic way, but still. The best thing I can say about her is that she’s nuts and I don’t think she had evil intentions. But she’s still nuts.

Otherwise said: people have an amazing ability to believe what they want to believe. I know this because I worked in finance and I get that Lloyd Blankfein was not joking when he said that Goldman Sachs was “doing God’s work.” For reals some people are true believers, and they are the scariest people around.

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: Uncategorized

Aunt Pythia’s advice

It’s a crisp autumn morning, and Aunt Pythia is deeply enjoying snuggling into her La-Z-Boy whilst wearing her cottony and fluffy hoodie, and she’s looking forward to a good long chat. She’s drinking coffee but she’s willing to make you tea if that’s your preference. In any case, make yourself comfortable, Aunt Pythia has some explaining to do.

Honestly I like both.

Honestly I like both.

Confession the first: recently Aunt Pythia has been going on somewhat of a craft binge. She’s taken to sewing lined curtains for her New York apartment, and the learning curve for someone who has never successfully done more than seam pants is steep. So far one prototype, a lopsided affair that looks much more 1970’s than she had envisioned. Stay tuned for updates, but please also make it your plan to sympathize with uneven hemming and puckers for a little while. Solidarity, people.

Also! Aunt Pythia readers, another confession/ brag. About a month ago Aunt Pythia received an email requesting her presence for an underwear modeling shoot, and she said yes (exact quote from CEO Julie at the shoot: “nobody has ever said yes that quickly. Most women have a million questions.”). It’s safe to say, dear readers, that the only question Aunt Pythia had about the underwear modeling gig was, why did it take you so long to ask me?

Two reasons this story might matter to you: first, you can check out the pictures here – please note Aunt Pythia’s hair goes with her shirt – and second, you can get an “Aunt Pythia discount” on Dear Kate underwear for women by using the discount code AuntPythia30, good through November 30th.

Now that all has been revealed! Aunt Pythia is getting on with the important stuff: your problems, ethical dilemmas, and general questions. Let’s do this, people! And after we do that, please don’t forget to:

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,

In light of the discussion started by “Woman not at a bar”, I’ve been thinking about what women say about where it is OK to express romantic and sexual interest. I have been repeatedly told that men shouldn’t approach women they don’t know, because that shows that they only care about her looks.

Also, that a man shouldn’t approach a woman at a recreational activity (sports team, crafts, class, etc), because if she says no she might feel uncomfortable or scared and feel forced to drop out of the activity. One shouldn’t approach a woman at work, because that implies not taking her seriously as a professional. And approaching a close friend risks ruining the friendship.

All of these make sense to me individually, and if a woman says that something makes her uncomfortable I believe her, but they don’t seem to leave much room. Sometimes people tell me to wait for a woman to show clear signs of interest before making a move, but that seems to mean waiting forever (twice in the last ten years for me; one was a student in a class I was teaching, and the other one turned out not to be interested after all).

So is there any way to approach a woman that doesn’t make her feel threatened if she isn’t interested? And if not, perhaps it’s time for women to switch to making the first move as a rule?

A Single Heterosexual Adult Male Experiencing Distress

Dear ASHAMED,

You had me until the student in your class. I don’t think it’s ever ok to “make a move” on a student in your class. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you meant you waited at least long enough so that she wasn’t a student anymore. That’s a requirement. But let’s put it aside. It’s over there, next to the sugar bowl.

Here’s the thing. I think you might have gotten bad advice, but I think it happened before your scrutiny of the situation set in.

Because yes, if you assume the set-up is, “I approach a woman, not knowing if she likes me at all, and I make my moves” then I agree, it’s really hard to know when that’s appropriate. In fact it might never be. But the good news is, that’s not how it actually works. Or at least I’ve never seen that approach work unless it’s at a bar or a party and everyone’s incredibly drunk and horny, and even then it often doesn’t work.

What actually works, IRL, is that you slowly orbit around someone that you’re interested in, and you pick up on positive feedback, and you test things out with the other person, and after a bit of back-and-forth, and some body language, and after she laughs at your jokes, and you laugh at hers, and after you both figure out how to spend more time together without making it seem like it’s on purpose, then you find yourselves “Interested” with a capital I. It’s a whole lot of very ambiguous, somewhat ambiguous, then not-so-ambiguous communication leading up to the first “move.”

It’s called flirting. It’s fun, and it’s the number one way you determine whether someone wants to date you. I suggest you practice doing it, because it’s basically a requirement for someone who wants to avoid the above misunderstandings.

Why do I say that? Because if you’re trying to find a girlfriend in your native environment, then yes, it’s generally speaking not appropriate unless the flirting has established it the two of you as “a possible thing.” You cannot abruptly “make a move” on someone you work with, or someone you play sports with, or someone on the streets you’ve never met, without seeming like a creep. You just can’t. And that’s because it is creepy, actually, and it’s creepy because there’s this technology called “flirting” which everyone knows about and is an expected and required lead-in to making a move. Think of flirting as a means of obtaining consent for a move.

Exceptions can be made in the following circumstances:

  1. You are being set up by mutual friends. So it’s already a date.
  2. You meet online at a dating website, so it’s already a date.

But even if the above things happen, and it’s “already a date,” I suggest you still diligently engage in the flirting phase anyway, because it’s still a great way of establishing mutual feedback, a non-creepy persona, and an atmosphere of lighthearted and sexy fun.

Wait, I hear you saying, how do I flirt so that it’s not creepy? How do I slowly but surely cross the spectrum from “friendly” to “sexy”?

So, when you encounter a woman you are attracted to, you are friendly, and you listen. You figure out what she likes, and what she likes about you. You do not think to yourself, “I am attracted to this women, when can I make a move?” but rather you think, “how do I know if she’s interested in me? what encouragement has she given me that she likes me, and what encouragement have I given her that I like her?”

Evidence of encouragement can be stuff like, in order of ambiguity (a very incomplete list!):

  1. she makes eye contact when you arrive and smiles
  2. she laughs at your jokes and asks you questions about yourself
  3. she touches your arm or hand when she talks to you
  4. she mentions she’s going somewhere and invites you to come along
  5. she sits on your lap and grinds

Flirting works kind of like a ladder, where you and the woman are both climbing it at the same time. If she is on the 4th rung, you should be on the 3rd, 4th, or 5th for you guys to stay close. If she goes one rung further than you, then you can keep up, and then even go one rung further yourself.

But by no means do you ever leave her behind on the ladder. Then she’d feel like, “Dude, I’m not keeping up with you, haven’t you noticed? Why aren’t you paying attention to where I am on this flirt ladder?” And you will come across as a creep. Creeps are people who aren’t paying attention to what the woman actually wants and are just barreling ahead based on what they want.

Does this all make sense? And, given this context, does it make sense that “making a move” on someone is almost always creepy? It’s basically like showing up at the top of the ladder. Maybe like stilts, except even less stable. And the woman is like, holy crap, you might fall right on top of my head and give me a concussion.

I hope this little story has helped. Now, go forth and flirt!

Love,

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Re: the aunt pervert.

Another blogger I read got confused by the same sort of Google traffic and looked into it. Apparently it’s not incest, it’s that in India and Pakistan the word “aunt” is used in porn searches for older women the way people here might use “MILF”.

The blogger in question realized that his searches were coming from people who misspelled “auntie fuck” as “anti faq” and wound up on his Anti-Libertarian FAQ. No kidding. So unfortunately, a column by Aunt Pythia that mentions sex or boobs is going to get those kind of visitors…

Absurdly Understood Naughty Terminology

Dear AUNT,

I’m not complaining! But thanks, I do feel a bit better about it now that it’s less incestuous.

Auntie P

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Would you mind pointing me in the direction of resources for women in math trying to figure out how to be thoughtful about what it means to be a woman in math? (In addition to your blog, of course!)

I am a fourth year statistics and economics student at UVA, and I find myself increasingly desirous of things to read to help me articulate and name and talk about the challenges of being a lady in the math department.

As I have spent more and more time in math, there have been things that have happened that have made me upset, and I have struggled to articulate *why*. For example: I went to office hours for my probability class – maybe ~75% male, with a male professor – and there were four of my male classmates there as well. I asked a question, and immediately all five men responded with some version of “that’s a dumb/obvious question” in a please-don’t-waste-our-time-tone. I explained that they had misunderstood my question, that my question was really X not Y, and the professor kinda sorta answered X.

I left, very upset at what had just happened, but not being able to quite articular why. It would be natural to be upset if five people in general shut down my question. But what about how it had been five *men* did I find particularly offensive/upsetting?

Another example: A few weeks ago one of my (female) friends withdrew from our stochastic processes class, which had 4 women out of 22 students. For me this was a painful things to watch, but I again, I had difficulty saying why. She was a math major and withdrawing wouldn’t change that.

What was wrong? Was it that it felt so avoidable, that if things had gone so slightly differently I knew she would have stayed (and so this wasn’t even about gender at all)? Was it that I’ve watched the number of women in my math classes decrease with every successive class I’ve taken, and here I was watching this war of attrition happen before my eyes? She’s happy, so why am I upset?

Another: Until this semester I have never had either a female professor or TA in any economics, statistics, math, or CS class. I’m a fourth year, so I’ve taken a lot of classes aka had lots of opportunity to have had a female instructor in my field. I have yet to successfully explain why that’s hard – not just philosophically too bad, but hard – to my friends. Or to successfully communicate *how* that hard-ness presents itself. Sometimes I think the things that upset me maybe shouldn’t upset me, or that I’m seeing ghosts where there are none.

That math is just really hard, and it’s hard and even lonely for everyone, and that men/everyone experiences the same thing. I don’t know how to respond to that devil’s advocate in my head, or how to think well about that either. I would love your advice on what to read and where to go to learn how to coherently articulate my thoughts and frustrations in this arena. Especially because I only have room in my schedule to take either abstract algebra or a feminism class next semester, and I would really like to take the math class AND have the intellectual resources to think well about these things.

Sincerely,

Woman Here In Math Seeking Intellectual & Constructive Assistance, Legitimately (WHIMSICAL)

Dear WHIMSICAL,

I don’t know whether to be offended that you needed to spell out your sign-off for me. I supposed I deserve it, sometimes in the past I’ve missed some really good ones. Apologies to all those Aunt Pythia contributors!!

Here’s the thing. I think you’re already miles ahead of where I was at your age, because of two things. First, you’ve figured out what’s bothering you. I remember not knowing why I was upset, but simply bursting out in tears every now and then. It was bewildering.

Second, you’ve found my blog! And I’m so glad about that! One of the major goals of my blog is to be here for you.

Now, here’s the bad news. I don’t really have too much in the way of concrete advice for you. I’ll do my best though, here goes:

  1. I’d also be sad to see that woman go, and I’d also be confused as to why. I feel that way whenever I see women leave math, even though I myself left. But of course I don’t regret that I left, and I’m much happier now, so it doesn’t make sense at the individual level to feel sorry for a woman who chose to do something else.
  2. Maybe we’re both just feeling bad for math’s culture itself, that it can’t seem to get itself together to be a welcoming place for all these wonderful women. I’m sorry for you, math culture. And I’m not sure you can hear me, or what you’d say if you could answer me, but believe me you’re missing out on some majorly wonderful people by being so difficult.
  3. Having said that, the underlying math, the actual math questions and riddles and puzzles, is awesome, and when it’s just you and it, and the rest of the culture is shut out, then it can be magical.
  4. About the men: they are dumb, immature, and asinine. Including the professor. But not everyone is like that. So my advice here is: seek out men and women who are not like that, and figure out how to do math with them.
  5. I remember being in Victor Guillemin‘s MIT math grad class on differential geometry. He is so nice, and the math was super beautiful. There was this really badly off man who would come to the class, maybe he was homeless, and he’d ask bizarre and unrelated questions. Guillemin would, without fail, figure out a way to turn it into a really good question and would quite gallantly and kindly answer it, ending with something sincere like, “thanks so much for asking that!” Love that guy, and love how consistently elegant he made that potentially disastrous situation.
  6. Which is to say, we all have something to strive for. In your story above, the least we could expect from the professor is an honest answer to the question he thought you were asking, and we didn’t even get that. Lame.
  7. So, my advice to you is, trade up. Spend time with the people who are closer to Guillemin and further away from those people. And if that’s momentarily impossible, make do but keep in mind that there are better ways to run a culture, and that when you’re in charge you’ll see to it that it does get better.
  8. So when you’re a professor, you will never ridicule a question because it might end up being much deeper than you expect and after all math is really hard and sometimes we have brain farts and that’s ok too. Make your worst case scenario that you never humiliate anyone or call into question their basic dignity, and you’ll be rising the level of discourse by a mile and a half.
  9. Find women in math, at conferences and whatnot, and make friends. A little commiseration goes a long way.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Four-plus years after #OWS, I find myself within sight of a reputable liberal arts degree in both Politics and Economics, facing an uncertain job-market just over the horizon. So far, I feel like I’ve chosen well, trying to make sense of the financial system through an interdisciplinary lens. I have read a lot of the post-crisis canon, in hopes of new directions to pursue. I found your blog years ago following the Frontline feature, and was struck by mathbabe’s candor (No one understands the ‘whole financial system’) and quantitative rigor. As for my own skills, I’m good at compiling and interpreting research, written exposition, and creative analysis. I have some training in econometrics, but it’s definitely not my forte. I’ve done a couple of legislative internships, but I’m more and more certain that I need to pivot to a finance-related position or institution.

Grad school seems a remote possibility for the future, but right now I want to chart a course in the direction of economic journalism or policy analysis. I have major qualms about finance’s ability to confront long-term risk and deliver sustainable growth. Someday, I’d love to contribute to a prominent publication or think-tank, and help to craft the financial reforms we urgently need. (Stop me, please, if you see more effective ways to intervene for someone with my background). If you see fit, I am eager to hear which organizations you think are making the most progress, or what roles a newly-minted grad could hope to play therein.

So far, I’ve researched numerous SRI/ESG-based firms, government regulators (especially those agencies empowered by Dodd-Frank), industry monitors like FINRA, and even mission-oriented banks, CDFIs, B-corp lenders, and the like. I have yet to explore consulting or other professional services in as much depth. Is there a phylum that I’m neglecting here? Do you have any specific suggestions? I also wonder: if you or others in the Alt-Banking community knew as undergrads what you knew now, what organizations or roles would you have striven for?

Thanks for your consideration.

Curious About Robust Economic Empowerment & Risk Strategies

Dear CAREERS,

Thanks for the question. It’s a tricky one. One of the things that finance successfully does as a field is to make itself seem impenetrable for people not on the inside. At the same time, it’s an absolute requirement of a working modern economy. So there you have it, only insiders can penetrate and understand it, it has to exist and be healthy, and yet insiders are often corrupt (even when they don’t know they are).

So part of me doesn’t want you to go into field at all, because it kind of stinks. But on the other hand, the other effect that’s making things worse is that only money-grubbing jerks ever do go in. So, in the name of not wanting the field to be entirely overwhelmed by such people, I will in fact encourage you to go in, keeping your eyes open of course.

What I suggest is to get a job at a big bank and think of it as a sociological experiment, a la Karen Ho’s Liquidated. Then maybe go work for regulators or something. Honestly I know it sounds terrible – I’m suggesting you be part of the revolving door problem, but I don’t think it makes sense to be a financial regulator without actually having experience in finance.

Readers, weigh in if you have other ideas for CAREERS.

Good luck, and keep in touch!

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: Uncategorized

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Readers, Aunt Pythia needs your help. She’s decided to start a women’s magazine, inspired by this recent article and this front cover suggestion:

womensmag

My idea would be to expand the “sex advice” section a bit by adding sexual fantasies, written from the women’s perspective, to talk about the pros and cons of shaving in general (with a bottomline recommendation not to give in to pressure from the patriarchy), and to list the 10 easiest ways to get rid of douchebags from your life (go ahead, text him, see if he wilts). Stuff like that. Other ideas from Facebook friends include: how to choose birth control, how to get good plumbers and electricians, and how to decide when to say “fuck you” in response to comments about your fashion sense (answer: pretty much always).

As usual, I’m looking to you, dear readers, for yet more awesome ideas on how to make women’s magazines great. Whaddya got?

After thinking up more subjects for listicles, and after disagreeing vehemently with Aunt Pythia’s ill-considered suggestions below, please don’t forget to:

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,

I had a very bad time in the first year of my graduate program. Nothing went well. Now I feel much better, but the thoughts of people who caused me lot of problems in the first year keep cluttering my mind. Sometimes, I just can’t get over it. Can you help?

Cluttered Mind

Dear Cluttered,

I’m sorry that those shitheads got to you. And I know how you feel, because I’ve been there. Here’s what has helped me. You can totally ignore this plan but the good things about it for me is that it’s a plan, and it has worked for me.

First of all, give yourself some time each day to think about what happened. Like, not a huge amount of time, maybe 20 minutes. Think of it as a meditation on this issue. The important thing about setting aside time to think about it is that, the rest of the day, you don’t have to. In fact avoid thinking about it the rest of the day, knowing you’ll have ample time later. Clear up the rest of the day from thinking about this. That’s just as important as setting aside time to think about it.

Next, during those 20 minutes, think about what happened, why it happened, why you reacted to it the way you did, and so on. After you remind yourself of those things, and try to learn lessons from it – but don’t dwell on lessons, that’s not the point – imagine it all stuffed into a box. Now imagine the box in the corner of a room. Now imagine that room expanding, bigger and bigger. That room is your existence, or your mind if you’d prefer it, and that box is pretty small compared to the size of the room. If that box consisted of stinky cheese, it would be stifling if the room were small, but since the room is enormous and growing larger all the time, it’s barely noticeable. It’s not gone. It’s still there. But as the room grows, it just doesn’t overwhelm the room anymore. No more clutter!

Do this every day for a month, and then take stock of how much less it hurts after a while. If you decide you don’t have time to think about it on a given day, good. That’s progress.

Love,

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Should I take condoms to mathematics conferences?

Can One Negligently Damage Own Marriage?

Dear CONDOM,

Absolutely, you should, but it’s part of a general rule that you should take condoms everywhere, especially as a woman. By the way, your sign-off is also a question, and the answer to that is also, obviously, yes, but it’s also part of a general rule that you can damage any relationship through negligence. To sum up: bring condoms, don’t be negligent.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I would like to start an organization in my department that will give math PhDs easier access to industry opportunities that will utilize their mathematical expertise. I’ve noticed that when students get to their 4th and 5th year and realizing that they likely won’t get an academic position or they no longer want to pursue academia, they are lost and don’t know what to do with their expertise in math. There are so many opportunities for us to make an impact in industry actually, it’s just not obvious to most grad students. The club will bring these opportunities to the forefront and will proactively prepare math PhDs for success in industry to complement their preparation for success in academia.

Do you have any advice on how to open the door to industry mathematics to pure mathematicians? One idea I had was to have guest mathematicians from companies here in Chicago give us talks about what they do. I know that you jumped from academia to industry. What opened your mind to that idea? Thanks so much!

Curious math PhD student

Dear Curious,

Great idea. Don’t do what I did, which was just move to the only job I absolutely knew about existing, namely being a quant at D.E. Shaw, simply because I got recruitment emails about the job and knew people who had done it. I wish I could go back in time and explore more about non-academic math opportunities.

Having said that, I’m not sure how many jobs there are for pure math Ph.D. folks without extra training. I was in a sense super lucky that D.E. Shaw was prepared to train me from scratch. It seems like nowadays the opposite is true – even data science jobs require specialized knowledge. Personally I was turned down recently for a data science job because I didn’t have experience with a specific algorithm, which I found bizarre.

Maybe what you could do is think about starting an internship program in the summers so that graduate students can go work for free or for very little and at the same time learn about an industry. I’m not sure how hard that would be to set up, but I bet it would work. Just an idea.

Keep in touch and tell me what happens!

Aunt Pythia

——

Aunt Pythia,

I am a guy and have never had any luck with online dating, because I am short for a guy. So now that Aunt Pythia (sadly, but I guess I see the logic in your post explaining your change of position) no longer recommends math conferences or, I assume, math seminars as places to try to meet a woman to form a relationship, I guess I am thinking about the gym or the grocery store.

I have hobbies (mostly sports), but they are even more male dominated than math – and the male competition is extremely fit and muscular, unlike typically in math. Also, I am interested in a relationship, not solely or even immediately sex – there is a difference as was pointed out in the comments to your explanation (although you said that for people asking out at a conference, most people thing they are asking for sex).

Any advice for I should I go about picking up women at the gym or grocery store? Or perhaps I shouldn’t because if I ask them out the first time I meet them, they have to assume I’m asking for sex, which I’m not (not immediately, anyway). Not interested in the bar scene; want to pick up a classy lady.

Man not at a bar

Dear MNAAB,

That’s the shitty thing about online dating. They ask for very few, poorly chosen statistics, and if you don’t fit into what people think is desirable, you’re totally fucked. Unless you lie, but that leads to other obvious problems. That’s why Aunt Pythia came up with her own online dating questions which she thinks would far outperform the standard ones.

So far, though, no major online dating site has taken up the call, so it’s not helpful to you. That’s bullshit, since you still need to find a girlfriend.

Here’s what I’m going to go with: friends of friends. Don’t people have parties anymore? Can’t you meet the friend of your best friend’s girlfriend somehow? I remember there being lots of people being semi-set up through friends and it working out pretty well back in my day. Or they’d just have parties and everyone would drink and make out. Maybe that was just me, in Berkeley, in the early 1990’s? I know that wasn’t just me.

Also, I’d suggest that women at bars can be quite classy. Don’t rule them out. I’ve been at plenty of bars myself. Not sure if that raises the bar though.

What do other people suggest for MNAAB?

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: Uncategorized

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Readers, Aunt Pythia is a bit sad and a pinch exhausted today. On Thursday, Aunt Pythia’s sweetiepie 7-year-old had an accident at school and broke his tibia bone. And it really caused him such excruciating pain, readers, that it was terrible to behold. You all would have been crying alongside Aunt Pythia if you’d been there.

Now he’s got a good cast on, thank goodness, and a waterproof one at that, which means he can take showers and even baths with it, and things are normalizing, but it isn’t great, and bathroom visits are a real ordeal.

The moral of that story is, thank goodness for casts.

You can even swim with it. The water goes in but then drips out.

You can even swim with it. The water goes in but then drips out.(this is not a picture of my 7-year-old)

For that matter, can we take a moment to just appreciate penicillin too? And our present-day understanding of hygiene? And surgical techniques and such? That stuff is amazing, and I’m glad I’m alive today to enjoy it all. Who’s with me?

After meditating on modern medicine, and digesting the questionable content below, please don’t forget to:

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,

I need your help! I am a (relatively) young womanly person of late 20’s who is striving to become more conscientious about where to ethically invest my earnings. When researching how much I need to have prepared for retirement, all of the online calculators and financial advisers I’ve consulted have thrown a figure my way in the ballpark of $2-3 million assuming a retirement age of mid to late 60s and a 4% gradually increasing annual withdrawal rate.

While I make a decent income (70K), there is not much of a chance that I can save that much in the next 35 years without falling into the trappings of Wall Street investment returns. I can’t do much about the restrictions my employer has placed on my 401K investment options, but I do have control over my IRA and general savings/investment practices.

What micro-level advice do you have for people starting out in ethical retirement planning/investing? Any resources or must reads? Much obliged.

Confused And Tentative

Dear Confused,

First, let me just say that you are way ahead of your peers in planning this stuff. I really haven’t started planning myself, because kids cost so much and so on, and I’m figuring I’ll just work until I die.

Second, there’s really no way every person can have $2-3 million in retirement savings. I just don’t think it’s reasonable or realistic. Think about that as a social policy: hey everyone, I know you’re still paying off your student loans, and that the cost of renting is sky high, and homes are already overpriced and poised not to rise, and daycare costs more than ever, but please save $2 million on top of everything else. WTF.

Not a viable expectation for the average household. Politically speaking, retirement in this country is going to have to change as the post-Boomer population gets old and continues to be broke.

Also, you’re right, there are few options for ethical investing that aren’t risky. I mean by that that you can always sponsor your friend’s ethical business, but most businesses fail, so it is super risky. More generally, if you’re interested in avoiding fossil fuel investments, take a look at this, and if that catches your fancy, check out this website.

But my general advice is to do your best, and stay healthy, and not worry too much about money. If you have retirement investments, great, and think of putting some in an ETF that tracks the market just as a hedge against political manipulation more than anything else.

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I love your column. It feels like a community of warm hugs. I have gone back and forth on sending this embarrassing question so many times, but I finally decided that I need your honest insight.

As a minority grad student in STEM, I routinely come across mean, patronizing jerks. I have learnt to survive my interactions with them with my sanity somewhat intact. However, what catches me off guard is my reaction when someone decides to take an interest in me and mentor me academically and personally. I end up developing a crush almost every time.

I want to make it very clear that I don’t want a physical connection with them at all. But, I do fantasize about an emotional and intellectual bond with them. Some of these relationships have actually led to some wonderful (strictly platonic) mentoring relationships.

Grad school and academia can be very isolating, so it’s so nice to have someone to talk. And if this someone has been in your field doing the work that you dream of doing one day, that’s even better. Still, I can’t help feeling guilty for feeling so vulnerable that even the slightest bit of attention or praise from them makes me feel so exhilarated.

I have friends outside of my field and am a somewhat social person with a fairly fulfilling personal life. So, what is it about charming, passionate, and kind STEM people that brings out these intense feelings in me? How do I avoid developing these silly crushes?

Lastly, (I’m not even sure that I am prepared to hear an honest answer to this), do you think my feelings are obvious to them? I am always respectful and deferential to them, but I wonder if they might have an inkling anyway. I love what I do and I don’t want my work to be undermined by these stupid feelings that I can’t seem to be able to control right now.

Great Regrets About Pining Heart

——

Dear Pining,

Oh my god, I am so glad you wrote. I am the same way. Seriously. And the crushes can be quite intense, sometimes, right? I remember when one of my sons (I won’t name his name because he’ll hate me for it) went through his first crush when he was about 6 and he said to me, “I love her so so much, it’s getting worser and worser!” and he looked positively anxious about what would happen to the explosion happening in his little heart. Well, I got him at that moment, and I get you now.

But wait, and here comes what will become my tag line, what’s the problem here? You haven’t actually told me why this is a bad thing except for how you sometimes get embarrassed by them.

To answer your question: do people notice your crushes? Maybe, probably not in an exact way, but even if they did it would be super flattering. And since it’s platonic, and you’re looking for an emotional bond, I’m thinking that’s exactly appropriate, and probably also what they want.

Finally, I’d say you are controlling yourself with respect to these feelings, in spite of your sense that you’re not. In other words, you can’t control your feelings directly, but you can control what you do in response to them. And since you haven’t actually done anything super impulsive, and stuff hasn’t developed beyond intellectual and emotional realm, I am not only proud to say I get you, I’m proud to say you’ve done great.

You know what? I feel sorry for people who aren’t like us, and for whom it takes weeks if not years to develop strong emotions for people and things. They don’t get to experience the intensities that we do! And yes, it means they spend less time lying on couches crying about broken hearts to dear friends who have heard it all before many times, but whatever, we always eventually pick ourselves up again and go find a new person to love. Plus we buy our friends beer and they merrily forgive us.

Many warm hugs,

Aunt Pythia

p.s. there really is no way to avoid this, it’s part of you, like your arm. I’ve tried. Just buckle up and try to enjoy the ride.

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m in my early thirties. I have a newborn, my first child, and I find it so damn hard to take care of him. He’s now 8 weeks old, and I’m on maternity leave for 6 months (luckily I’m in Europe, can’t imagine what I would have done in the States).

Both my husband and me live abroad and have no family around to help. I consider myself a pretty capable person, and I keep thinking how the hell do other people manage. There are so many babies, children, people in this world. How do all millions of moms manage, when I’m barely surviving?

I have figured out how to be highly successful academically and professionally. I have learned to have good relationships and a pretty good life. But I am probably average at taking care of a newborn. I find it so hard.

Dear Aunt Pythia, did you have a hard time too when you had your first baby (and second and third)? What helped? Any tips? Ideas? Strategies? What would you do differently if you had your first one again?

Maybe Overthinking Motherhood

Dear MOM,

Thanks for asking. I tell this to everyone I know with a newborn, especially if it’s their second.

Namely, the first 4 months of a baby’s life, and especially the first 6 weeks, is really really hard. In fact the way to survive it is to try to quantify how difficult yesterday was, and compare it to today, and take note of the minute differences. Give yourself a break, and a chance to cry, every time there’s been a regression, and give yourself a party every time there’s even the smallest amount of progress. In other words, keep your head down, in a day-to-day sense, and you will slowly begin to see how certain things have gotten easier (breastfeeding, putting them down to nap, walking around without pain) even as other stuff is momentarily harder (sleep deprivation, never getting a chance to take a shower, running out of groceries). It’s super painful, and surprisingly difficult, but after a few weeks you begin to see things improving, and then by the time they’re 6 months old, you almost feel human again.

Oh, and the moment they try to keep themselves up to say up with you when they’re tired is the moment when you can train them to sleep through the night. This usually happens at 5 months or so. And the trick there is, if you notice a bunch of fussing with an 8pm bedtime, then put the baby down at 7:30 the next night. And if they’re fussy at 7:30, try for 7pm the next night. Sounds counter-intuitive but it works.

Finally, the only moment where I really felt truly desperate was when I had a newborn and a 2-year-old and my husband went away for a math conference for a week, and I was working. Please kill me now, I thought, and I meant it. But even that ended, and now those two kids are like, almost adults, and they are my favorite people to hang out with. The younger one just explained fission to me the other day.

In the words of my wise mother, sometimes you just have to muddle through. Also, good babysitting is worth it. Go into debt temporarily if necessary, it’s still cheaper than therapy.

Hugs,

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I want to fuck an aunt.

Manoj

Dear Manoj,

Thanks for the note. It reminds me that, as a WordPress Premium member, I get to look at all kinds of statistics with respect to how people got to my blog, what they looked at and when, and which links they click on while they’re here. It’s interesting, and I look at such statistics daily.

One of the categories is a list of search terms that people used to get to my blog, and by far one of the most common ones has been, over the years, something about aunts and sex, so a kind of incest fetish thing. For example, here’s a screenshot of today’s search terms:

Every day. Every single day.

Every day. Every single day.

So, what can I say? Aunt Pythia constitutes – possibly defines – her own bizarre porn fetish category. It’s somewhere in between flattering and repulsive.

So Manoj: thanks, I think.

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: Uncategorized

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Readers, for all sorts of silly and unreasonable reasons, Aunt Pythia’s schedule was too hectic yesterday for her usual advice column. However, she misses you so desperately that she decided to ignore multiple hungry children crying for crepes with nutella in order to write to you all today. (And actually, they seem to be just fine playing Minecraft for the time being.)

Before Aunt Pythia goes on, however, she has to delve into the theme of the week! Namely, celebrating getting old.

Readers, too often I come across the concept of becoming old as a form of disease, as if we are expected to pity people for the very act of aging. I say no! I say celebrate that time! I expect to be a crazy happy old person, and possibly a happy crazy one too. Heck, more than half of my problems stem from concerns I simply won’t have when I’m 75, and the other stuff will probably also seem dumb.

Part of why people are so afraid of getting old is the bizarre worshipping of youth and its beauty. I’m not arguing that young people aren’t beautiful, because they are, but I think we need to do better than just pretending we’re young when we’re not. And you might think this means letting go of vanity, but I’d argue it just means finding sagginess beautiful, which is much easier if you think about it, and something I’ve already accomplished. Give it a try!

Of course, other problems do come up, and it would suck to be in chronic pain, or to see your friends fall ill, but I would like to insist that we appreciate the freedom of thought and worry represented by the senior citizen of sound mind and body, which increasingly is reality. And that’s wonderful. Let’s focus on quality of life, people, and let’s keep our standards high!

She is awesome. I'm thinking I'm looking at my future self.

She is awesome. I’m thinking – hoping – I’m looking at my future self. I’ll be wearing something much more garish, of course.

Update. if you think I’m nuts, take a look at handy chart:

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 6.04.01 PM

I hope you all are feeling the elderly love together as you dive into the ridiculous and mostly irrelevant counseling that Aunt Pythia plans to dole out. Please enjoy! And afterwards, 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.

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

What’s up with finance people being assholes to each other? I work as a quant at a buy-side firm where there are separate quant and fundamental teams. It’s a pretty small shop in terms of personnel, so when I first joined I tried getting to know the coworkers outside of my team. However, this kind of stuff is a two-way street, and the impression I get – especially from the fundamental research team – is that they want to have nothing to do with what they view as a quant geek. I guess in the elbow-chafing corners of finance, one must sport an Ivy League MBA, play golf, be a part of a country club, be a smooth talker, and watch football. Obviously I’m exaggerating… or am I? Anyway, I’ve given up trying to “fit in”, which results in a lot of awkward greetings – if at all – in the hallway. Company get-togethers are an absolute dread. Is this how life is supposed to be like on the buy side, and I thought only the sell side was like this?

Work at Office Really Kinda SUCKS

Dear WORKS,

Yeah. The culture is really different outside of academia, and it’s not just in finance. I think, as a rule of thumb, you can count on the people that make the most money to feel less like being friends, and more like ignoring the “unimportant people.” Or, if the money in the two groups is somewhat similar, you can expect some weird, tribalistic competition thing to make it hard to be social in a natural way. Money is so weird.

Inside academia, it’s not super social either, but it’s less directly competitive except among really strange people. On the other hand, there is a strict hierarchy in academia that doesn’t exist outside it. The currency is professional status, not cash money, and since professional status is slightly harder to measure, it makes people slightly less focused on it. That’s my theory.

Also, about the MBA crowd: the lack of sociability might be coming more from fear of looking out of place than actual malice. Those people are highly socialized to care about external opinions and “in-crowd” status. If you actually want to be friends with them, I suggest directly approaching the most alpha of all of them – the head salesperson or equivalent – who is probably less afraid of what things look like, and also likely extremely charismatic. Once you’re buddies with that person, the others might be ok with you.

And really I’m just talking about being friendly. I’d focus on friends outside of work for stronger connections.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

You should be delighted your kids rooms are a mess. A super tidy room is a key indicator of teen mental illness, specifically food disorders. I used to joke around with my kids, hoping their rooms would be a mess.

K

Dear K,

I will try to keep that in mind. I am delighted with my kids in general.

Aunt Pythia

——

Hello Aunt Pythia,

I was just wondering when your Weapons of Math Destruction book will come out. How long will I have to wait? Enjoying your blog until then. Wishing you lots of luck with finding a good fulfilling job.

My first job was at a cooperative bank, which is owned by it’s members (thousands of them) with a one-vote-per-person-regardless-of-number-of-shares-owned system to elect the managing directors, etc. I really enjoyed working there and was proud of the work we did.

Maybe there are small nice banks (which can only pay you a fraction of what you’d make at the big ones) over there, too? Wishing you lots of luck, anyhow.

Cheers,

The Bored Bookworm

Dear TBB,

Thanks for the encouragement! Unfortunately, it’s not going to be until September 2016. I know, it makes me sad too. But that day will eventually be here.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am a young woman who is a junior researcher in quantum physics. I am reasonably successful in my field and have been working with top names in Ivy Leagues throughout. I have been publishing first author work in top tier journals during my Ph.D. and postdoc, received multiple job offers/fellowships after my PhD and, was ‘top of my class’ whenever the idea of ‘class’ made sense!

Nonetheless, I not feel confident enough of my prospects in research any more. Recently, I have been thinking that a large part of my lack of confidence in my abilities stems from the constant lack of positive re-enforcement that probably everyone in academic (industrial?) research feels, in spite of evidence to the contrary. No one pats you on the back for a job well done etc., which is not entirely unexpected actually — we all do research for passion not accolades, right?

However, in my case, the situation is further exacerbated since I have felt shortchanged at various junctures throughout my research career. Be it my contributions being demeaned by treating me as an add-on afterthought on author list, or being overlooked for authorship credit altogether, to my ideas being criticized during discussions in not so pleasant and professional manner.

I try to be always professional in my dealings with my colleagues (listen to their viewpoint, never raise my voice, acknowledging their insights in the discussion etc.), but do not always find the same courtesy being extended to me especially in cases of disagreement. This, of course, happens mostly in instances where I am part of a collaborative team effort and not when I am driving the work almost completely by myself (i.e. when I am the first author).

I am an international scholar so navigating US academia was a bit of a cultural journey for me. Initially, I was the only woman on my entire floor, and when I did not see my other male colleagues struggling with the same issues — I figured that maybe it is the gender discrimination which I had only heard about till then. In a weird way, it was comforting to ascribe it to my gender, because somehow it felt so stupid and anachronistic in 21st century that it completely took away the feeling of my struggles being personal or specific to me as a person.

Gradually, however, a few more women trickled in (still the f/m ratio is 1:50), but they seemed to make it work better in terms of getting along with my male colleagues. This led me to think that it maybe something about me after all! [I am not sure how happy they were though, since I did not get to know them well enough. So it is possible that I am oblivious of their struggles!]

I have also heard from my husband and other friends, in different contexts though, that I come across as a strong personality and am not shy to voice my opinions, which in retrospect, may have proved to be a hurdle to working on teams and gelling along with everyone in the group. I have tried to ‘tone myself down’ in professional interactions keeping my opinions to myself even when I feel they may be relevant to the cause but it has only intensified my feelings of isolation. I have also been asked to be more ’empathetic’ though I am not sure what should I exactly change in my behavior professionally.

I fervently hope that I do not come across as a jerk.. 😦 I am thinking maybe I should try to get some independent money and move to a less high-nosed place than where I am currently. I have been advised against this by some who feel that given my trajectory this would look like a ‘step-down’ and a ‘failure on my part to work out an incredible opportunity’. The only other option is to leave Physics altogether at the risk of getting my heart broken initially, but I hope that I will be able to come to terms with the change, do well elsewhere and maybe be happier on the whole once the dust of this change has settled. What do you suggest?

Worried Over Misguided Antagonistic Nuisance

Dear WOMAN,

I’m glad you reached out. The first piece of advice I’d give you is to talk to more of your colleagues, not in your department necessarily but in your field. I think – no, I’m sure – you’ll find that the issues that you’re dealing with are pretty universal, both among women and men.

Let’s think about what that means, if you’d allow me to take it on faith. That means that absolutely everyone is jockeying for credit in your field. It is, possibly, exactly how power plays out, beyond the physics being done of course. It’s probably a good idea to take careful notes about what works and what doesn’t, what kind of conversations you might want to have with your collaborators before the authorship issue comes up, and so on. This is not going away, and believe me some of your colleagues think about this stuff more than they should. You don’t want to make it obsessive but you do want to give some order to the chaos, so at least you have a plan going in, and aren’t baffled every time by how things didn’t work for you or how they were surprisingly difficult.

And by the way, I’m giving you advice that I give myself. Think about things that involve power and make a plan. Not so that you take advantage of others, obviously, but so that you end up with what you think is fair. Having one-on-one conversations with people before a larger meeting gets you much closer to understanding what’s going to happen in the meeting.

The fact that you aren’t detecting frustration from your current colleagues isn’t saying much. People are good at hiding their emotions. Instead, make friends with people for real, and eventually you’ll know what’s going on with them.

Also, don’t worry about being blunt and opinionated. Whenever someone talks about how a woman is blunt and opinionated, I think about all the men who are even more completely blunt and opinionated and who never get flack for it, and I realize it works to their advantage, and that people are just trying to tame and sublimate us blunt opinionated women, and fuck that. It’s not something you can really change, anyway.

The only thing I’d suggest here is that you’re going to have a plan for these things (see above paragraph), and you don’t want to say anything that would deviate too badly from the plan. Stick to your own plan, and don’t try to change everything about yourself, just try to nail down what’s going on in these specific situations.

Finally, before you leave for another place, or leave physics altogether, I want you to think about how power plays happen everywhere, and sometimes they’re brutal, and ask yourself if you’re actually enjoying the physics you do. If you do, if you still love physics, and if you still get excited by your work, and if you can find consolation in knowing everyone is going through this stuff, not just you, and if you can imagine it getting better as you get better at managing it, then I’d say sit tight for now, talk to people around you, and devise a plan, and let it go through a few iterations before you reevaluate.

And if you simply can’t stand it, ignore me and go ahead and apply for jobs. I’m never going to tell a brilliant woman (or man) to stay in a miserable job on principle.

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: Uncategorized

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Readers, today I’m celebrating hair.

I think people under-appreciate hair, especially in this climate of shaving everywhere and everything, and I think we need a good old 1970’s style comeback of hair. Big hair, bushy hair, facial hair, leg hair, pubes, and armpit hair. This guy knows what I’m talking about:

Holy crap that's creative.

Holy crap that’s creative.

Who’s with me?! WHO CAN GET BEHIND HAIR THIS MORNING!?

If you’re still in doubt, read this and get back to me. I thought so.

OK, now that we’re all in hair agreement, it’s time for really terrible advice from yours truly. Please enjoy! And afterwards, 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.

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Is it perverse that one of my initial reactions to something bad happening in my life was “this ought to make good Aunt Pythia material”?!

To set the scene, I’m a young female maths PhD student, who attended a graduate school/conference a few months ago. Initially I didn’t know anyone at this conference (it was the wrong side of the atlantic) so it was great to find lots of really cool people to talk to. In particular I talked a couple of postdocs, whose research directly connects with mine. One of them, “Smith”, sent me preprint, which I exitedly read over the weekend (it was a 2 week event).

Aunt Pythia, is it wrong that our conversations at these events are not just mathematical?

Smith started paying me too much attention. Well, there are lots of other people at this conference so I can just talk to other people (I accept evasion was rather weak of me). Then during a break between lectures, in which I had elected to get on with work, he proceeded to ask me on a date. The humiliation was not even private, there were many other people remaining quietly in the room like myself.

This deeply upset me. I still like to think of myself as a serious mathematician sometimes, and so the rude awakening from my naive collaboration ambitions may account for much of that pain. Or perhaps it was the way he seemed so sure of a yes, or his remark “I can concentrate on the lectures now”.

I thought of several defiant responses to give to his question, but, alas, only hours later. My parting remark to him was “never do that to someone again”. He was misguided and somewhat upset too… I don’t think he will embarrass himself like that again anyway.

Aunt Pythia, I still can’t move on from this. I still feel the injustice when I think of it. How can I move on? Am I making too much of this?? I feel like I really want people to understand why this was upsetting for me.

Moreover, I wonder at my responsibility in this. There have been other situations in which I felt I may have won more favour than I deserved perhaps by being the female. Am I obligated to be sensitive to this bias, and reduce my level of warmth ‘just in case’? Smith is giving a seminar to my group in the near future. I’m not sure how I should behave around him, hence why moving on would be really great…

Woman not at a bar

Dear Woman,

First of all, I appreciate that certain situations are “Aunt Pythia material.” That is in fact a goal of mine, which I can now check off as “achieved.”

Second of all, I’m not really sure I understand why you are so upset. And I’m sorry for that, because as you stated, it’s important to you that other people understand this point. I am going to make some guesses because I think if I miss it, my advice will probably be totally useless. Here I go:

  1. You wish he had asked you in private, because it’s just a private matter and asking you in public put you on the spot too much.
  2. You hate him for acting like he was definitely going to get a “yes” from you, because it made you look and feel like you should be grateful for the attention and flattery, which you are not.
  3. You think questions of romance in the context of mathematical conferences degrade you as a mathematician, and you want to keep the two things absolutely separate.
  4. You think that his romantic attention, in front of other people, made them think he wasn’t taking you seriously as a mathematician, but only as a romantic or sexual interest, which might possibly make them also not take you seriously as a mathematician.

Now, just as an exercise, I want to imagine what this guy’s perspective on the whole thing was. Various versions as well:

  1. He met this amazing, brilliant math nerd and he thought things were going really well – they were talking about all kinds of things, not just math – but when he asked her on a proper date, she got really mad and told him never to “do that” to someone again, which confused him. Do what? He ended up sad.
  2. He met this amazing, brilliant math nerd and he thought things were going really well – they were talking about all kinds of things, not just math – but when he asked her on a proper date, she got really mad and told him never to “do that” to someone again. After thinking about it a while, he realized that he had put her on the spot and hadn’t judged the situation properly. He wants to apologize to her and remain friends (and he still has a crush on her, but whatever) but he’s not sure how to do it. He vows to be more careful and more private in the future.
  3. He met this amazing, brilliant math nerd and was really into other people seeing him score with her, so he asked her out in front of them, but it didn’t work out because she was onto him and called him out on it. He’s going to have to revise his plan in the future.
  4. He pretended to be interested in a female mathematician’s work so he could get down her pants. Plan failed with that one but he moved on to the next in line.

OK, so I am not sure which scenario you think this guy fits into – if any – but personal guess, bases on what I know, is he’s a #1. The thing about men (and women) is that nobody knows what they’re doing, but mostly they’re not trying to be bad people.

I’m not saying there aren’t people like #4, but I don’t want to assume anyone, ever, is actually like that unless I have really large piles of evidence. So I am advising you to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was just crushing out on you and had no idea that you’d be uncomfortable with the situation.

I also don’t see why you can’t collaborate with this guy. Honestly. Having a crush on you is his problem, not yours. I’d even say that crushing out on your collaborators might help the work. Certainly keeps it interesting, and it doesn’t have to lead anywhere or even mean anything. Honestly I don’t know if I can work with someone without developing something of a crush on them.

I don’t actually think we can separate our mathematical selves from our self selves, and sexual/romantic parts of us emerge no matter how hard we try to restrict them. That’s not to say the guy should have put you on the spot – I agree with you that it was an awkward if not somewhat hostile move – but I don’t think it makes sense to assume that working on math with someone isn’t an intimate thing to do.

In any case, if and when this happens again, feel free to have a response memorized along the lines of, “I really don’t want to date people within my field, it’s just not my style. But thanks anyway.” That way it’s not about them, and the answer is final.

The one thing I feel I should object to is the use of “injustice.” I think that’s going too far. The guy didn’t impugn your honor, integrity, or mathematical talent. He simply asked you out in the wrong time and place. Put it this way: you’re going to need a thicker skin to be a woman warrior in mathematics. Sad but true. Save the word “injustice” for when it’s really needed.

Here’s my advice about his upcoming visit. Go to his seminar, ask really good questions. Be a mathematician. Be warm because that’s who you are. Be attractive because that’s who you are. Don’t worry about people being falsely attracted to you because it’s real. And it’s not anyone’s fault and it’s actually awesome. Oh, and everyone has it to some extent, tall men especially, and they don’t feel weird about the attention they receive. Feel free to turn your attention to others when someone is being weird.

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear AP,

In my youth, I really enjoyed hagiographic and/or fictionalized biographies like Men of Mathematics and the Feynman autobiographies. Now, when I think of giving them to my own children…there are a lot of values I don’t want them to pick up. But also ones I do.

My Own Curious Karacter

Dear MOCK,

I think of myself as someone who doesn’t idolize or hero-worship anyone, at any time. Not to say I don’t have role models, I do, but only in limited ways. Nobody’s a saint, everyone has flaws, Erdos asked my mom to fix his buttons because she’s a woman and he treated women like servants, blah blah blah. I’ve always been like this.

Or have I? Now that you mention it, maybe I became like this from all the fucking mathematical hagiographies of dead white men that were so unlike me that I simply turned it off inside me in order to be able to imagine myself as a successful mathematician.

And it continues (turns out I have a rant about this, who knew)! Every time I turn on NPR, it seems like, I am hearing yet another piece about the genius mind of a mathematician – always a man – and how mysterious and how fucking genius it is. When is NPR going to realize that mathematicians are just people who like puzzles?

Fuck that idolatry. I would never give my kids that crap to read.

Aunt Pythia

p.s. what I do like is mathematical ideas. And I don’t really care if there’s a name attached to them, I think of those names as labels.

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Recognize anyone you know among the Ashley Madison customer list?

But seriously… who is morally culpable for the damaged marriages that will result? I’ll make it multiple choice:

  1. the cheaters,
  2. Ashley Madison,
  3. the hackers who stole and released the raw data,
  4. the people who processed the raw data to make it searchable,
  5. the people who searched through the data,
  6. write in your own answer.

Ashley Madison Is Simple A Disaster

Dear AMISAD,

Is this a moral issue? I’m not sure. I mean, call me nuts, but it seems to me that nobody is being forced to ruin their marriage over this stuff. There are all sorts of reasons I can think of not to ruin your marriage in fact, including:

  1. not looking at the data,
  2. not caring what you find in the data even if you look,
  3. caring what you find but realizing that maybe your marriage needs more communication, and maybe even different ground rules, rather than a divorce. Hell, it could help.

I mean, right? I figure many of the marriages that are going to be “ruined” because of Ashley Madison were kind of sucky anyway. Personally, I’m going with #1.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

This article, entitled Passions Supplant Reason in Dialogue on Women in Science, was interesting and I wanted to get your take.

K

Dear K,

It was kind of TL;DR for me, but I’ll pull out the most salient issue. Namely, there was an empirical study that women in science are favored in certain conditions for tenure-track hires. The push-back on this study was enormous, with a bunch of people calling it unscientific etc. etc.

So, here’s the thing. We don’t suspect that sexism is gone from science. We don’t suspect that girls are equally nurtured as budding scientists. We don’t see women getting hired as tenured professors at top colleges.

What we might see is better practices at one spot, namely at the tenure-track spot. That’s not to say they hire equal numbers of men and women at this position, because so many women have already been squeezed out. Just to be clear, this is exactly one spot along a huge line of decision points where it seems like women aren’t being fucked.

Do I believe it? Yes, I do. I know for a fact that colleges have specifically been pushing for more qualified women candidates, and there are all sorts of “woman-designated” spots created university-wide, for example at Columbia, specifically for this purpose.

So, great! It’s data, and it’s good news, and it doesn’t mean any of the other worse news is automatically gone. What we’ve done, if this study is upheld, is successfully removed one of many bottlenecks for women in science.

And I agree with the authors that if their study had found the opposite, there would have been very little scrutiny, at least from the people clamoring for their heads.

My take: we should all just stay calm and try to figure this stuff out so it can get better as we learn what works and what doesn’t.

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: Uncategorized

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Readers, so glad to be back with you this week, and many apologies for missing last week, but I was arranging my yarn collection.

It's all on ravelry.com now. Username cathyoneil.

It’s all on ravelry.com now. Username cathyoneil.

I’m back now, though, and reading interesting articles about the real life of a sex worker (not arousing, as it turns out) and recording my weekly Slate Money podcast (I’m particularly proud of this week’s episode on Disparate Impact).

Enjoy today’s column! And afterwards, 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.

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Must I go to my grandmothers funeral? I do not really even like her.

Greek Girl

Dear GG,

Let’s think this through. Your grandmother is dead, so she won’t mind if you don’t come to her funeral. Really the only people who are going to be bothered are the people in your family. If they are going to the trouble of having a funeral at all, I’d guess they think people should come to it. So your primary consideration, to my mind, is how much you feel obligated to them (assuming you care what they think about you in the first place).

Next, I don’t think you need to actually like someone to go to their funeral, but at the same time, if someone was really cruel to you, it’s totally acceptable to skip it. From the tone of your letter I’m guessing she wasn’t really horrible, though. So that’s not an easy out.

Finally, it may be difficult to get to, expensive, or time consuming. And you may be a busy person who doesn’t have extra time and/or money. If true, send your regrets and tell your family how much you’re looking forward to seeing them soon, at a happier time.

If it’s nearby and convenient, and your family really cares that you’re there, I’d say you’re stuck.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

In this age of hyper-macho global finance, how come individual stock markets such as the NYSE have ‘trading hours’ instead of just being open 24/7? Are there no computerized trading algorithms that are willing to sacrifice their family life to stay at work until 4 am on a Sunday?

Just Idly Musing

Dear JIM,

Great question. The technology is there, certainly. But why then isn’t the trading happening?

The answer is more or less, people don’t trade 24 hours a day because people aren’t already trading 24 hours a day. It takes a certain amount of liquidity for trading to be efficient, and without that you end up with large spreads between buy and sell and nobody wants to feel like they’re wasting money.

Of course, the algorithms could run all day and night, but at the end of the day people watch over those algorithms (really!) and they want to sleep. Plus, it’s actually true that most people sleep at basically the same time in the same time zone, and that people in the U.S. are more likely to care about U.S. stocks.

The flip side of that is that soon after the NYSE closes, the Asian market opens, then the European market. So it’s not like there’s a lot of downtime as it is.

Aunt Pythia

——

Aunt Pythia,

I don’t believe in imposter syndrome. It’s all the rage to tell us successful women how we have imposter syndrome and many successful women are saying this about themselves as if this is somehow rooted in their psyche.

I am a successful woman and I’ve discovered that what happens when you reach a certain level of success is a huge backlash. That is, I was permitted to be successful from my quiet little corner where people could just appreciate my work and grant me their benevolence. But when my success went too far, and I left that corner and stepped up as an equal to my former benefactors, I began to have everything I did questioned and lowered.

Now, some of my former benefactors, the ones who have truly stellar positions in society, they are still benefactors because I am still far beneath them. Thanks to these truly well located folks telling me my work is better than ever and they expect even more from me, I have had the confidence not to develop imposter syndrome.

If I was left with all the trashing my cohort has showered upon me since I joined them, I could well develop all the symptoms of that syndrome but not because I have a psych problem but out of mistreatment.

Shouldn’t there be a term for this? Its not quite battered worker syndrome or battered employee syndrome, because I’m speaking of someone who is very successful. It’s not imposter syndrome because I don’t feel like an imposter. But it is something and it infuriates me and it is very, very common.

Fortunate Uber Cunt Kicked Effrontery Down

Dear FUCKED,

They say to “Lean In,” but I say, to what? To these douchebags? I’d rather not.

So yes, I think you’re right. When it’s called “Imposter Syndrome,” it’s often a way for people to dismiss us as inwardly insecure and, therefore, incompetent. It’s used as an excuse to explain the mysterious forces which keep us from succeeding further, in fact.

On the other hand, it sucks for everyone at a certain level, and you have to be just totally focused on success beyond anything else no matter what, whether you’re a man or a woman. So there’s that too. Said another way, if I were a man I still wouldn’t want to be in that rat race, personally.

My advice to you is, call it “being an Uber Cunt that nobody can handle” and refer to it – breezily and often – as a superpower.

Auntie P

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I have a question about the fair trade of blowjobs. (I also must acknowledge before I move on that I was never sure if just licking someone’s genitals w/o them getting off on it is considered a ‘blowjob’. I use it here more as a pre-sex tool than as a way to come.)

I enjoy giving them. I don’t see it as a chore, or something my partner needs to earn. (I’ve even given unsolicited blowjobs at first dates!) My latest partner of several years is more stingy about giving blowjobs though. He still makes the sex interesting with finger-play, etc, but I don’t know why he doesn’t constantly offer a blowjob into the sex like I do.

I tried bringing up this a few times, but he kinda avoided the subject with comments like “I am sorry, i know.” – I should also add “I am sorry” is his first response to anything.

But even without getting them, I like giving blowjobs. Though lately, I have been thinking if I should appropriate my blowjobs. Should blowjobs only be traded on a one-for-one basis so that one party don’t get exploited? Am I adding to the sexism in the world by giving non-deserving men blowjobs? Is this a bigger issue than I think it is?

What is your take on blowjobs?

Being Lewd Or Wicked Sexy?

Dear BLOWS,

Amazing question and sign-off. And I think the “unsolicited first-date blowjob” is a generous concept that will earn you quite a few fans among my readership. We are on your side!

I’d say a straight-up conversation with said partner is called for. Specifically, ask him what the conditions are that make him want to give you a blowjob, and how you can achieve them more often. Who knows, he might be squeamish about certain smells which you can solve with a quick shower. What a shame, after all, if that’s all it would take and you just don’t know. Communication, communication, communication.

Now, as part of that conversation, you should add that, because of the unequal blowjobbery in your relationship, you’ve found yourself thinking somewhat and surprisingly quid pro quo in the blowjob department. This will probably spur him to action, as the urgency of the situation will immediately be revealed. You don’t have to directly threaten him, mind you, just mention that the count is off, the blowjob equity is lacking, and you need some relief.

Or else, maybe you do need to threaten? I mean, try the talk first, but I do think reciprocity in bed is a basic requirement of a good relationship, and if he’s not up for it (as it were!), plenty of other men would be.

And: wicked sexy, not lewd.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m thinking about buying one of those test kits that takes a sample of your DNA and reports your ancestry. There are a few companies that sell kits: Ancestry.com, 23andme, and National Geographic’s Genographic Project.

I’m wondering whether I should be concerned about my DNA data being misused in any way. Would you do it? Why or why not? More info here.  

If you did get yourself genetically tested, what percent Neanderthal would you wager you are?

DNA Data Skeptic

Dear Skeptic,

Not sure. I don’t think I’d be too worried about my DNA being used, but that’s likely because I’m not financially insecure, I’m a US citizen, and I have health insurance. I think other people might be more worried. And even if the company I gave my DNA to doesn’t sell it or something, there’s always the chance they’d get hacked. So I’d go in thinking that my DNA would in fact be public knowledge.

On the other hand, I’m also not particularly interested in my heritage, so the very small interest would not overwhelm the small risk, and I’d end up not doing it.

Here’s the question I was hoping you’d ask: would I send away my DNA to get it tested for possible hereditary diseases? And the answer there is a firm no, because as I learned reading this article, the results on those kinds of test are terribly innaccurate and vary wildly depending on the company’s methods. This is not yet science. And I’m not sure if the ancestry thing is better or worse.

Come to think of it, I might suggest you do it just to see how the answered vary depending on the company.

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: Uncategorized

Aunt Pythia’s advice

September 19, 2015 Comments off

Readers, Aunt Pythia is quite pleased with herself this morning. She has come up with an amazing solution to the problem of teenage dissipation and slovenliness.

Now, don’t get Aunt Pythia wrong: she’s got some amazing teenagers. They even do their own laundry, and take turns doing the dishes (when prompted!). But one thing they haven’t been able to do, no matter the level of coaxing, is to put away their clean clothes in their dresser. What invariably happens is they put their clean clothes in a bag, which gets turned over onto the floor in the following morning’s search for a clean sock.

Bottomline: their floors are always entirely covered with clothes.

Solution: get rid of their dressers altogether and replace them with a large “clean laundry” bin. These are the bins I bought which have just been delivered:

Strangely enough, their father doesn't seem as excited as Aunt Pythia. Something about the aesthetics.

Strangely enough, their father doesn’t seem as excited as Aunt Pythia about the “clean laundry bin”. Something about the aesthetics, or the size. His tune will change when there’s no laundry on the floor, though, I assure you. I promise to update you on this miraculous cure to all things slipshod and/or lackadaisical.

OK, on with the advice! And after you enjoy said advice, 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.

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m stuck in an interpersonal pickle and I need some insight from someone totally removed from the situation. Most of the time I have a pretty strong moral intuition but this has me at a loss.

I’ve known this woman, “Beth,” since high school. She has always been a difficult person to be a friend to, and I think I’m reaching my limit. (We’re both in our early 30s now, to give you an idea of the timeline.) Beth is difficult because she is a self-centered person, which is exacerbated by mental illness. Beth has been on medication for OCD since high school and for bipolar disorder since college.

While she is currently seeing a psychiatrist, she definitely never visited a mental health professional in high school and probably didn’t in college, either. According to her, she “diagnosed herself” with OCD, depression, and bipolar, then talked to her GP (a close friend of the family), who agreed with her assessment and wrote out the prescriptions. I don’t know how prevalent this kind of “self diagnosis” is, but I think this part of her background is relevant, so I’m including it.

For what it’s worth, I don’t doubt for a moment that she suffers from mental illness. I just worry that she is getting the wrong treatment, since she doesn’t seem any “better” after ten years of this particular cocktail of medication. (But I haven’t said any of this to her, and wouldn’t dare, because IMO that would be presumptuous and maybe she’s coming off worse online than IRL. That’s the job of a mental health professional.)

At the moment I am one of two people she talks to who aren’t her family (husband, in-laws, mother), her psychiatrist, or her current lover. (She has been having an affair for almost a year; this is not an open/”monogamousish” marriage.) I feel morally obligated to remain in her life to at least some degree, since I imagine she is probably very lonely, especially since she is in the middle of an argument with her only other friend. This “only two friends” situation is also something she’s told me; I’m not making any suppositions here. Otherwise, I would have cut ties a while ago.

I don’t like the person I become when I talk to her and I don’t think I have the right skillset or knowledge to help her. The only thing that happens as a result of our conversations is that she gives me minute-by-minute updates on her moods/activities, trash talks her husband, relates the sexcapades she’s having with her lover, and asks me for advice that she doesn’t follow. Occasionally she shares random news link with a few throwaway comments on them, and once in a while she asks me what I’m doing, but after a few lines of conversation everything is back to her.

Most people I think I could say, “I want to support you, but I’ve got a lot of stuff going on my self and it’s taking all of my cope just to deal with that. I’ll let you know when I’m feeling better.” or “You know, you tell me a lot about what’s going on with you, but you don’t seem to be displaying any interest in my life. I know that you care, of course, but it would be nice if you could show me that you do.” and, while it would sting, they would be able to handle it. But she is fragile enough that I think even that would crush her, considering that she is angry at her only other friend for essentially saying just that.

The silver lining in all of this is that I am hundreds miles of way and will remain there for the rest of my life, so I only have to interact with Beth online. At the moment I am basically checked out. I’ve limited myself to blase responses like “that sounds annoying” or “that’s good” to most things and outright ignoring what I think is the most harmful/unhealthy stuff she says, or the things that sound like a bid for attention or validation. Is this the best I can do? Should I tell her I need some alone time (or full-on ghost her) and reduce her social outlets by half? Am I overestimating my own importance? Am I underestimating her resilience? Am I making myself a martyr?

Thank you for your input.

Confused Friend

Dear Confused,

A few things. First, sympathy: your friend sounds really hard to deal with, and it’s kind of you to stick with her.

Second, I agree that she sounds like she has real problems, and I’m no professional so I wouldn’t hazard a guess what her problem is, but I’d suggest you spend some time looking at personality disorder profiles. I say that because it has helped me enormously in the past; when you encounter someone with a personality disorder, you feel bewildered and confused – and sometimes even partially responsible to help – but then, reading about the disorders, and the support groups for people who are married to people with them, you realize that you are not alone in your confusion, and that you are not capable of curing them.

Finally, advice. You are at risk of getting so fed up with your friend that you leave her entirely. Instead of letting your last ounce of true goodwill drip out of you slowly, I suggest you tell her about the difficulties you’re having, and asking for her help to remain friends, while you still can do it. Too often, people only express frustration at the point of no return, so the underlying message is, “you cannot convince me to be your friend anymore, it’s too late.” I would love to see your message be something more like, “you need to be a friend to me as well or else you’ll lose me.” It’s a much kinder message.

So, if you can do it, tell her truthfully what’s frustrating you, and be sure to tell her that you still want to be friends, and see what happens. In other words, don’t be a martyr, and don’t underestimate her resilience. If she cannot hear you, and gets upset and refuses to talk, then wait a few months or a year or two and get back in touch, because people often need time to recover, and their disorders often oscillate in terms of severity. Above all, keep careful track of what you’re thinking and doing versus what she accuses you of thinking and doing, because you’ll need to stay calm and reasonable, and that might be hard, but it’s what a good friend does.

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I have been close friends with a guy from undergrad for six years. We met my freshman year and became best (platonic) friends that year. He was dating a girl from his hometown, but they were never very close. He felt obligated to stay with her for intense family reasons, but the emotional bond between them was minimal. They fought often and had very little in common. There was no sexual relationship.

They broke up during our sophomore year and he approached me about starting a relationship. I was in a bad place and was not ready to be in a relationship. They got back together about six months later.

We remained very close throughout college – ran together, studied together, went backpacking together. We both told each other everything. I thought that we were really just friends, and that the people who thought we were dating or should date were reading into things (professors, friends, etc. frequently assumed we were).

After graduation, we remained very very close and he remained dating his girlfriend, still under strict family pressure. I realized after we both graduated that I was in love with him. I was/am very physically attracted to him and emotionally bonded with him. I didn’t say anything to him. We both started doctoral programs in New England (in the sameish field) and are both two years in. We don’t see each other much (about every 2 months), but talk on the phone once a week, write, and text often.

They broke up about four months ago and I’m at a loss of what to do. They definitely won’t be getting back together, but at this point, I’ve lived in stagnation for so long that I’m afraid to tell him. I don’t want to lose my best friend, and the long wait has left me more scared than ever. I don’t even know if I want to tell him. What do I do? Help me, Aunt Pythia! I dreamed of this for so long, but now I don’t know what to do.

Perplexed and Frozen

Dear Perplexed,

OK, so two comments. First, nobody writes to Aunt Pythia so that she can say, “don’t go for it, it’s a trap!”. That doesn’t happen. So obviously what you’re looking for here is the green light. They don’t call me Aunt “Go For It” Pythia for nothin’.

Second, I’ma give you the green light here. Not necessarily because I think it will work out – although it well might! – but mostly because I need you to move the fuck on. Holy crap, lady, you gotta get your love life moving here, and it’s been according to my calculations 6 years of this platonic friend crap at least. You didn’t mention how many love affairs you’ve been having on the side in the meantime, so I’m going to imagine at least a few, but jeez. How can you be so patient?!

As for my advice, it’s the oldest and simplest plan in the book. Invite your friend to stay with you for the weekend, get everyone out of the area with strict instructions never to return, and drink a ton of booze. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, with an emphasis on the lemon squeezy. And please do it quick, my patience is completely worn out. And then please write back and tell me what happened.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m a liberal arts/sciences undergrad focused on the obstacles to just climate and economic policies. I’m also interested in economics/finance, the political process, and social justice, among other things.

I want to get work experience related to my interests before I graduate, so I’m planning not to take classes in Spring 2016 so that I can do an internship (or several), but I’m not sure about how to find the right opportunities. I’ve reached out through some social connections to folks who might be interesting, but I should do more.

Do you have any tips for finding internships? Or even better, do you know of any great people who could use a smart research assistant this coming Spring? I do good research.

Thank you, Idealistic Human

Dear Idealistic,

Great idea, and I’m sure my commenters will weigh in with ideas. Personally I’d find underfunded organizations that do good stuff and I’d simply ask them if they need help. The ones that advertise for internships are way too overstaffed and organized.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

So, as a not young in body person (half a century, woohoo!) am a little surprised to find myself:

  1. with a job after almost 12 months out of work,
  2. excited like I was starting fresh, and
  3. worried about the future – aka ai/robots getting the work.

The job I am about to start shouldn’t last more than 5 years. The goal is to set up a reporting system for a variety of KPIs drawing on data from a variety of external organizations.

On the one hand, if I don’t manage to automate most of this, I would see it as a failure. On the other hand, what work will be left for others when I succeed?

I will be fine. After 5 more years of earning, I should be mortgage free and healthy savings. Should I feel a bit bad that I am helping software eat the world?

Frumpy Old Graduate Excitedly Yearning

Dear FOGEY,

A wise man (Suresh Naidu) once said to me, “protect the people, not the jobs.” I think he’s right. We are going to have to deal with the robot/ automation revolution sooner or later, and so instead of pushing to avoid automation, a futile gesture to save unnecessary and outdated jobs, we should be thinking about pushing for free college and training for the jobs of the future with all the money we’re saving as a result of this nifty automation revolution.

So, in short, no, don’t feel guilty. But be sure to do your part in figuring out what the future should look like for young people once you retire. Be an advocate for a fair and equitable future!

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: Uncategorized

Aunt Pythia’s advice

September 12, 2015 2 comments

Have you guys read the recent NY Times book review of three new sex and romance books? The books are called ‘Date-Onomics,’ ‘The Sex Myth,’ and ‘Modern Romance,’ and I have very strong opinions about them – surprise, surprise! – based only on the review.

Date-Onomics is premised on finding love by crunching the numbers and by assuming that all women are looking to snag a “good man” no matter what. Simplistic, but then again there are certainly numbers to consider, and the fact that more women than men attend college is definitely at odds with the way men don’t like to marry women who earn more than they do. And yes, I framed that to be an intentionally controversial way of looking at it.

Next, in the Sex Myth, they investigate the switch from everyone being a prude a short while ago to everyone supposedly – but not actually – being a kinkmeister now, and how we’d be better off not identifying ourselves so much with our sex lives. Also simplistic, since sex is a central aspect to our human identity. It’s not as if in the past we didn’t really care about each other’s sex lives; it’s just that sex lives were way more stifled. Name a moment in human history that we didn’t obsess and gossip about who was having sex with whom. I bet you can’t. Instead, I want us to have more than just sex as identities. It’s obviously terrible to only rely on your sex appeal, especially as you age and are suddenly unfuckable.

The third book reviewed is Modern Romance, and it seems to argue that we sometimes get carried away with the numbers and the seemingly endless options we have on the dating scene and forget to appreciate the humanity in each other. Also simplistic, because if you are the only person stopping to smell the roses, you will get trampled from behind. It’s a collective action problem, and a cultural problem.

trampledrose

OK, on with the advice! And after you enjoy said advice, 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.

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I was reading Flash Boys (I know I’m a bit late to the game!) and was wondering if you might comment a bit on its accuracy as well as how you feel about IEX? I’m very tempted to believe Lewis/Katsuyama, but after watching some videos of them together with people vehemently denying all claims in the book I have become a bit hesitant. I was hoping your insider knowledge would be helpful! Thanks for your time.

Not Smart Enough To Know

Dear NSETK,

Here’s the thing, it doesn’t really matter. For a few reasons, among them:

  1. The harm that was done by that whole scam, which is totally believable, is pretty small in terms of the trillions sloshing around in the market.
  2. There are plenty of other scams going on just like it. That’s what finance people do.
  3. It doesn’t affect the public nearly as much as the big stuff did like the financial crisis.

Putting all that together, who cares. I mean, Lewis is a great writer, and he tells a great story, but this time I think he just kind of randomly chose the good guys and bad guys and convinced everyone something terrible was going on because it sells books, when in fact it’s business as usual in the world of high frequency trading. If we could get rid of HFT altogether, that would be great, but that’s not what seems to be happening.

My two cents.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I want to apply for an assistant professor job at a particular university. This school has the overall department split into sub-departments and two of the sub-departments have openings for next year. My research could apply to either of the sub-departments, but the same person is listed as the search coordinator for both positions, so there is no way that it will not be noticed if I apply for both jobs. Is it “bad form” to apply for two jobs in the same department? Or do I have to pick just one?

Under Decision Paralysis

Dear UDP,

Hey, great news! You are qualified for not one but two jobs at the same place! Use it as an advantage. Apply for both, and in each cover letter mention that you’re applying for both, and that what this means is that your research will unite the two sub-departments and create synergies that everyone will really enjoy. Moreover, you’re sure you’d be incredibly happy taking either job. It doesn’t matter if the same people read your folders or not: assume not, but be the first person to frame the way to think of this as good news.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

How can we get America to not focus on the ‘hero’? I believe that this libertarian view has made the ‘winner take all’ acceptable. Those of us still employed are noticing that since only the ‘best’ are hired, there is no 2nd tier support staff, and we have to be do several jobs (thanks, computers).

Waiting For The Implosion

Dear WFTI,

Aunt Pythia hears you loud and clear. Did you hear about the new Harvard Business School report, where the alums they surveyed agreed that we should work on combatting inequality, the biggest problem of our day? Well, it might not surprised you to hear that they also said that the way to combat these problems are tax reforms and streamlined regulation, in other words stuff that will actually exacerbate it.

The answer is, I’m not sure. The way humans work is we care about individual stories. That’s why stuff got going about Syrian refugees after the picture of the little boy washed up on the beach. I guess what we need to do is make sure the individual stories we hear about are examples of larger issues important to a lot of people, rather than just aspirational hero-worshipping schlock.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am a professional woman in my mid 30s, no kids, although I don’t mind if others choose have them, preferably responsibly.

Over the past few years, I have become friends with several members of a large family where both parents are immigrants. The mother, despite circumstances, has encouraged her children and herself to become educated and start businesses. They live in a remote small town, but come to the city often for social and business events.

My question concerns their 20 year old son “Alex”. Like several of his siblings, he was home schooled, though he has yet to finish an official program or pass the GED. I’ve offered to tutor him, but he hasn’t accepted. Alex can be very motivated about some things and has lots of ideas, but he seems to dream more than do, and has not looked for a job outside of helping his parents with their ventures.

So, recently, rather than “nagging” Alex about getting a GED or job, I’ve switched tactics to asking him what he wants to do and how he plans to get there. He’s pretty receptive to ideas but rarely takes action. Last week, when I asked him what he wanted in life, he said “20 kids!” I thought he was joking, but he seems to think he can go back to his father’s country, where he will not only be entitled to a bride, but also to her sheep, goats, and house. So, now what? How can I encourage Alex to work towards a dream that helps him become independent before bringing somebody or many somebodies into the mix?

20 Questions

Dear 20 Questions,

Talk about a cultural difference! It seems like these kids haven’t entirely left their home country. Home schooling is obviously part of that, but also the fact that the he is working in the family business doesn’t help.

Even so, he’s made friends with you, and you’re concerned. I think you should continue to be his friend, and help him think through what his future might be like. Would he want to bring his wife and 20 kids to the states? How would he support them? Stuff like that, which he might not have thought about. I would guess you could help him plan, and you may have some influence on his plans by doing so, but I don’t think you can change his plans entirely. But it sounds like you’re already doing this, so I would say, keep it up!

Also, keep in mind he’s only 20, and lots of things in his life will change before he actually has 20 kids, if he ever does.

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: Uncategorized

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Readers, did you know Aunt Pythia is a rabid biker? And did you know that the High Bridge just opened for the first time in 40 years? Aunt Pythia is itching to bike all over it as soon as she’s shot this Saturday’s wisdom wad all over your browser.

This is a pic from 1900.

The High Bridge in 1900 connecting Manhattan and the Bronx. I love biking to other boroughs.

Fun facts about the High Bridge:

  1. It’s been closed for more than 40 years.
  2. It used to be an aqueduct.
  3. It is the oldest standing bridge in NYC.

Let’s do this, folks, we got stuff to do today! You too, amiright? Enough already with the chitchat then.

After cleansing yourself from today’s drivel, 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.

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I apologise, in advance, for the long question. After years spent battling one identity crisis after another, I (sort of) figured out, a few years ago, that my shtick was: angsty, feminist, WOC in STEM, and social justice advocate with a love for funky thrift store fashion finds. Over the years, I have tried to train myself to channel all my angst into a dark sense of humor while perfecting the smokey eye look.

As a result, I supposedly “exude an air of confidence which can excite and/or terrify people” according to quite a few people. As someone who was an outcast growing up in an extremely repressed country, this transition has worked out surprisingly well for the most part after my move to the first wold. The issue arises when I’m with my fellow science grad students.

As the only female in my program in my particular subfield (and often the only female or POC in most of my classes) with a very low tolerance for bullsh-t, I seem to find myself isolated again. I don’t mind being labelled the feminist killjoy when I call out intolerant behavior or when I’m just bulldozing over people. I refuse to accept the notion that minority grad students have to be at the bottom of the food chain. I get paid too little and love my field too much to not take pride in my work. I have close friends in other programs, but in my immediate professional family, I feel like everyone shies away from speaking to me. I sometimes wonder if the problem is that there a is a savvier way of being myself that I just don’t know of. The emphasis on networking for grad students makes me feel like this is something that I should care about. Please help?

She sells sea–oh, screw it.

Dear SSS-osi,

There’s a lot there, but let me just start by saying, thanks for writing and you’ve come to the right place.

Just this morning, Aunt Pythia woke up with that familiar yet unnerving and highly anxiety-provoking feeling that she’s gone ahead and done it once again: she’s been too much, somewhere and somehow, and the poor sensitive folks of that place and that manner of the moment are still reeling from her awful behavior.

As a fellow bulldozer, in other words, I know exactly what you mean. And in my darkest moments I succumb – temporarily – to the idea that I need to stop calling out intolerant and/or obnoxious behavior, that I should just sit there silently not mentioning injustice, that I should lean towards making people feel comfortable over so rudely asking them to acknowledge bullshit.

But then, when fully awake and reading the newspaper, or walking around outside, or even just drinking my morning coffee, I change my mind. After all, you and I, we have benefitted more from our sassy approach than have we suffered. There are people who love us and that must mean we’re not intolerable to be with, right? And although we sometimes go overboard and make mistakes, the world really could use a few more hot-headed loudmouths with our perspective, no?

Public service, world, you’re welcome.

Truth is, people can’t handle you because they’re not secure enough. They don’t “know what to do with you” so they avoid you, and I think it’s a pretty good indication that they really aren’t much fun. It’s kind of like, when you’re looking for some action, and you ask someone, “on a scale of 1 to 10, how sexual are you?” and they say, “I’m a 4,” then you believe them. In fact, subtract 2. The answer I was looking for was 17. Time to move on.

Advice: Go find other people who can be real with you. They’re out there, and one great aspect of being completely over-the-top real is that other people self-select for us. The ones who stick around can be trusted. That’s not to say you don’t go to grad student mixers, but go with the intention of just being completely yourself, and hilarious and smokey eyed and angsty, and some people – me, me!! – will naturally gravitate towards your amazing self. If that doesn’t happen, their loss.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

p.s. in terms of being close to your colleagues, I’d suggest study partners for specific problem sets or classes. Ask someone to meet over coffee, since that’s highly unthreatening and could well blossom into friendship.

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am a female in her late 20’s who also happens to be

  1. aspergian,
  2. asexual,
  3. religious/conservative (I guess the relational boundaries of the (3) are pretty easy to accept for me because of the (2)), and
  4. not particularly attractive.

I would really like to get married eventually, but I feel like I can’t understand and relate to people on so many levels, that P(marrying | (1), (2), (3), (4)) = 0. Actually, columns like yours are very useful to me to get to know what’s going on in other people’s minds, but the more I know, the more I feel like I belong to another planet.

My social life revolves solely around interest groups (nerdy and church-y), where I do meet quite a lot of nice guys. At best, though, they consider me a “bro”, which is great but not helpful, because even if I’m asked out, it is not a date. I have already tried asexy dating sites but unfortunately they are too sparsely populated.

What do you think? Should I just give up the thought of lifelong companionship and focus on my career and interests? Or should I decorate my laptop with a “lonely heart” sticker? Or what else? I’d really appreciate some advice.

Somewhat Preoccupied Individual Not Suited To Experience Relationships

Dear SPINSTER,

Fantastic sign-off, wow.

So, I never knew about adult asexuals before, but this Guardian article explains it pretty well, at least for the person who they interviewed. In his case, he found someone to marry by joining asexuality.org, which seems like a valuable resource and is a great example of what is so amazing about the internet.

So, it seems that asexual people like companionship and partnership like anyone else, just without sex. And, as long as that’s been made clear to both people in advance, and they are both cool with it, there’s really no issue at all.

Except for one thing, namely the rarity of your potential mates. As you are well aware, most men are sexual, and asking them to be in a long-term intimate relationship without sex would likely be a dealbreaker. So to optimize your chances, I’d give up on finding a boyfriend through your social groups, and I’d go straight towards asexual meeting places, either virtual or in person.

Turns out there are 44 asexual Meetup groups, and I suggest you start attending!

As for your concerns about being “not particularly unattractive,” you could either ask for advice from someone you trust on how to flatter your look, or you could just wear stuff that makes you very comfortable. That’s already an attractive feature. But in any case I’m guessing this society of asexual people is pretty open-minded.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

How can I find meaning in my life as a pure mathematician? I am a tenure-track professor, and I spend so much time studying and giving myself so much of a headache trying to understand totally pure math notions like perfectoid spaces, almost ring theory, p-adic Hodge theory, etc. These may of course have some practical use some day, but not today. And of course, I teach calculus and whatnot to mostly disinterested students, but teaching is not really where my heart is.

I don’t have a significant other because I am short and fat and all I want to do is study the aforementioned esoterica all day. I love it, there is nothing else I would rather do, but when the going gets tough, like when I can’t follow a proof, or when the road to all the mathematical topics I have to learn seems too long, I find myself wondering why am I beating myself over and giving myself such a hard time trying to follow such technical minutiae that don’t have any impact at all on the world?

It makes me unhappy, and so my mom tells me I should go work for Google and make significantly more money and have a 9-5 job and do work that makes a difference. I have no interest at all in working for Google, i.e “industry,” or making lots of money. I love the freedom that academia provides. On non teaching days I can get up when I want to, stay home in my pjs, etc. And of course I enjoy the freedom to study what I want. But how can I make studying pure math meaningful?

Almost Going Into Industry

Dear AGII,

A few comments:

  1. It is not true that short and fat people don’t date. That’s a myth. Here’s an entirely unscientific article that supports me in this.
  2. You can definitely go out and “make a difference,” but what kind of difference?
  3. Your mom just wants you to be happy, and she thinks making more money will make you happy. Will it? I don’t think so, you said yourself you don’t care about money.
  4. Academia is painfully slow, but you love it. You said so yourself.
  5. Teaching is the shit work of academia. Some of your students – most, actually – are disinterested, but some are not. They are awesome.
  6. The shit work of other jobs is much less awesome and (often) much more like shoveling actual shit.
  7. Having said all that, I left academia, and you know that, so it feels like you’re asking me to give you permission to do so, which I do.
  8. But even as I give you permission, know that some people (like my husband) are made for academia and would suffer outside it, and other people (like myself) have left academia but it’s not like that suddenly made them happy, because they are just naturally identity crisis prone people who are never actually happy and always wonder what they fuck they should be doing with their lives.
  9. Plus, I don’t actually want you to be happy.

Hope that helps!

Aunt Pythia

——

Hi Aunt Pythia!

I am a 30 year old female in the tech industry living in Washington DC. My family and I immigrated some 20 years ago and I am by far the only one doing well. I am looking down the barrel of becoming my parents’ living retirement plan and housing provider in a few years and, as such, I am trying to get as much traveling and ‘living’ out of the way before I take up that job.

I am doing relatively well financially: make a decent income, paid off my student loans, rent a cheap place, live on a budget, and trying to save 14% of my income towards my own retirement, but I’m also looking at what’s coming and thinking I need to figure out a way to prepare financially for that and I just don’t know how.

How would you advise someone like me in financially preparing for what is coming when what is coming involves elderly parents:
– With no savings
– With no property
– With no retirement plan
– With no ability to help themselves (language barrier)
– With very small social security payments (~$500 for the both of them)

Please keep in mind that I am not resentful of the fact that my mom and dad need the help (my unhelpful siblings, on the other hand, I do resent), I’m just worried I’m financially unprepared for it and trying to balance that with my own wishes/dreams.

Future Caregiver

Dear FC,

Well, I really don’t know. I think you should talk to someone who does, lickety split. Here are some basic facts that you’ll need to have ready:

  1. Are you parents green card holders?
  2. Are they eligible for medicare? Look here for some useful info on that.
  3. Are they prepared to go back to their home country for retirement? Is it safe? Does it have a safety net for them? Is it cheaper to live there? Do they have family and friends there still?
  4. Maybe the good place to start with possible future scenarios is finding other immigrants who have features similar to your parents but are slightly older, and see how they are living. I’d interview their functional children to see what they learned.
  5. As for your siblings, it could be a major problem down the line, but first thing’s first. Don’t take on the whole world at once.

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

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Readers! Aunt Pythia is extremely pleased to tell you that she’s on vacation in beautiful but arid northern California. This morning we’re planning a walk to the Santa Cruz boardwalk, and Aunt Pythia is even imagining a ride on a roller coaster.

980x323_ride_dipperfromocean

It’s all flights of fancy and whimsy over here, if you catch my drift, which is perfect for doling out the advice. Honestly, every Saturday is a vacation for Aunt Pythia, but giving out advice whilst on vacation just can’t be beat.

If you want to be kind to Aunt Pythia, let her know! 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.

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m in my early fifties, and my kids are teens. I’ve lived in a small, boring city since they were born, and would like a change of pace. I have a job that would allow me to spend two or three months per year elsewhere, but I would have to pay rent. Should I go for it, or is it my duty to save every penny for my kids’ futures?

If it helps, there’s more than enough to pay for (European) college for everybody; there’s by far not enough for them to live of it.

Inverted Matrix

p.s. I ran exercise sessions in linear algebra for so many years you can wake me up at 3am and I would remember the formula for inverting matrices.

Dear Inverted,

It occurs to me that “The Inverted Matrices” would be a good band name.

It is by no means obvious that we should make ourselves miserable for the sake of college costs. Even so, I’m wondering if it’s possible to think differently, and less dramatically, about your nice plan.

In terms of the economics: have you considered subletting your apartment while you’re away? That could easily earn you some money which could offset your travel costs. Or you could think about what other way you could either save or make more money, and imagine it going directly to the “travel pot.” Would that make it easier to plan for?

In any event, it’s not just economic; your kids will also benefit from seeing interesting places. Maybe they’ll get into the planning parts of it with you. Or maybe, being teenagers, they’ll find a friend back home to stay with while you go. That would also be great!

Also, consider going away for three weeks instead of three months, it might be enough for you. For myself, in spite of my nearly daily fantasies about travel, when I’m actually away (like I am right now) I long for the comforts and familiarity of home after about 5 days.

If you decide none of this applies to you, and you’re going to blow the college savings accounts on an awesome summer in Paris, just remember this: you won’t be nearly as badly behaved as my friend’s parents who didn’t help pay for college at all and even stole her identity to take out credit cards in her name while she was away, resulting in her having terrible credit from the get-go. Don’t be that person.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I have reached a point where I have pretty much exhausted all my emotional currency for finding romance. I’m at the love casino with my last $10, and I can risk gambling it away or cash in my chips and leave.

I have been at this point for several years now, sending men away rather than open my heart even a little bit. I know what I’m doing is self-destructive, that I’m taking the slow path to suicide with self-destructive behaviors that stem from lack of love and affection.

I should be a winner at this game. I’m smart and pretty and funny and well-liked. Do men just assume that women like that don’t have feelings or that we cannot be hurt? More importantly, what does a person do when they have nothing more of their self-esteem to invest in this game? I have so much confidence in so many areas of life, but I am shaken and defeated by the roulette wheel of dating.

Given Up Real Love

Dear GURL,

My heart aches for you. Knowing nothing specific about you, I can promise you that you’re not alone. This dating system we have is ruthless and defeating. I’m sure you’ve read this recent article from Vanity Fair about the dating apocalypse, and just in case you missed it the reaction from Tinder. The article is likely too painful to read, but I’ll give you a quote from a young ex-Ivy League investment banker in the first paragraph explaining his multi-women night’s plans: “You can’t be stuck in one lane … There’s always something better.” Barf.

The truth is, it’s not fair to say that Tinder that’s doing this to dating; Tinder is just making it more obvious. We’ve entirely commoditized sex, love, and even affection, and especially in places like New York where there are so many beautiful and single women, the single man feels like an idiot for settling with one. And Tinder is making every place feel like New York.

Now to your questions. Do men assume women don’t have feelings, or can’t be hurt? In some sense, yes. Here’s why I say that.

I think (many) men are better at learning the rules of a system and exploiting them viciously to their benefit. It may be purely socialization here, I don’t want to be sexist, but I’ve always been amazed how quickly the men around me adapt to the petty and arbitrary rules of power and status, whether in academics, finance, or engineering startups. Maybe it’s the testosterone? Whatever the reason, it’s pounding one’s chest stuff everywhere you look.

Not all men, mind you. But enough for one to imagine that there is in some sense a standard approach to putting your brain and your heart on hold, and just following the rules for all you’re worth. It makes sense when you’re in the army, kind of, but it also seems to hold in the mating game, where’s it’s downright obnoxious.

So in other words, I think those men have repressed their feelings, often, in the name of “winning” dating. So they (might) imagine that anyone they come into contact – i.e. other men who they’re competing with, or women who they’re attempting to woo – will also have done the same.

Let’s talk about the other men now, though. The ones that aren’t on Tinder, and that find themselves actually feeling stuff like loneliness and also – gasp – consider other people’s feelings. They exist but they’re harder to find. You want to meet them somehow, though, so I’d seek them out at meetups, bridge clubs, Nerd Nites, and other places where – gasp!! – actual ideas are being discussed.

And I’ll give you the advice I give many people in your position: meet people with the expectation of being friends, and open your heart to that. You might have only $10 to spend on love, but you might have thousands of friend bucks in the bank. And who knows, you might find that friend bucks are (eventually) convertible currency.

Oh, and read Why Love Hurts to understand more about the sociology of the love market.

Aunt Pythia

——

Aunt Pythia,

  1. “modified because I use salted butter”
  2. “1 slightly rounded teaspoon of salt”

Why the extra salt?

And, Aunt Pythia, what kind of butter did Marlon Brando’s character use in The Last Tango in Paris? Salted or unsalted?

Maria Schneider

Dear Maria,

I’ve decided you’re referring to my recent recipe for identity crisis crepes. However, you misunderstood. The recipe calls for more salt, but I cut it down because I use salted butter.

Never watched that movie because it seemed nasty. And now that I have read the wikipedia article about it, I’m sure I’m right. But as you’re a character in it, I should think you’d remember the kind of butter used. Sheesh.

Auntie P

——

Aunt Pythia,

Do you like big butts, or can you lie?

Music Is eXcellent – Always Like Appreciating Tunes

Dear MIXALAT,

Sir, I love big butts, thanks for asking! Also, I can absolutely lie; I’m amazing at lying, thanks for reminding me!

But I’m not lying about my love for big butts. Here’s how I feel in song:

Love,

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

Aunt Pythia and Sister of My Sister’s advice

Dearest Readers,

Oh My God! Holy crap!! I’ve got incredible news for you all. Namely, my best friend, who will be henceforth known as Sister Of My Sister, is here with me today to help dole out incredibly unhelpful, entirely silly, and possibly hurtful advice. Congratulations to all of you for receiving it!!

Before we begin, I need to mention my new hero, the woman who has slept with 3000 men:

Captivating!

Captivating! Is that a pole? What is that pole for?

You can read all about her here, my friends. Tell me in comments how much you love her too. What vim! What vigor! Also high on the my-list-of-favorite-people: this lady.

On with the main event! Readers, remember when I complained last week about running out of questions? Well, you’ve responded, for which I am very grateful. My trust Google Spreadsheet (soon to be the “Alphabet Spreadsheet”) is happily filled in with a dozen or so new questions. But that’s not to say it should stop! Please continue to add to my list, because why? Because it is a real pleasure of my life, which I look forward to all week and I am ever so grateful for it.

So please do a sweet Auntie a good turn and:

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,

I’m on the verge of graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, and suddenly I’m wondering whether going to grad school is the right thing to do – there are a few subjects (mostly in Complex Analysis) which I really like, and I definitely will keep reading about them in the future. Thing is, I really don’t know if I have what it takes to do research in math. I don’t know whether I should try going to grad school and drop out if it doesn’t work out, or whether I should just be content with my bachelor’s degree and keep reading Ahlfors in my free time.

Thanks for any reply,
E

Dear E,

Here’s the thing. We never know whether we have what it takes for anything. At least we who are not crazy narcissistic don’t. So I’d say, if you love something, and if the signals are good that you are capable (i.e. your profs are encouraging), then follow your instincts. It’s a very good sign that you want to read math in your spare time! Go with that.

Or, in the words of my good friend Jordan Ellenberg, do what you’d do if you weren’t insecure.

Sister of My Sister says: go to culinary school.

Aunt Pythia and SoMS

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I find this article disturbing. Here’s an excerpt:

[O]ne of academia’s little-known secrets is that private college admissions are exempt from Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination—a shameful loophole that allows some of the most supposedly progressive campuses in the nation to discriminate against female applicants.

Consider my own alma mater, Brown University. In 2014, 11 percent of men were accepted at Brown versus 7 percent of women, according to U.S. Department of Education data.

Brown is hardly the only, or the worst, offender. At Vassar College, the 34 percent acceptance rate for men was almost twice as high as the 19 percent rate for women. At Columbia University, the acceptance rate was 8 percent for men versus 6 percent for women. At Vanderbilt University, it was 15 percent versus 11 percent. Pomona College: 15 percent versus 10 percent. Williams College: 21 percent versus 18 percent. This bias in private-college admissions is blatant enough that it can’t be long before “gender-blind admissions” becomes the new campus rallying cry.

Colleges won’t say it, but this is happening because elite schools field applications from many more qualified women than men and thus are trying to hold the line against a 60:40 ratio of women to men. Were Brown to accept women and men at the same rate, its undergraduate population would be almost 60 percent women instead of 52 percent—three women for every two men. . . .

Today’s [admissions] officials . . . fear though that if enrollments reach 60 percent women, it will scare off the most sought-after applicants, who generally want gender balance for social reasons. “Once you become decidedly female in enrollment, fewer males and, as it turns out, fewer females find your campus attractive,” Kenyon College’s dean of admissions, Jennifer Delahunty Britz, wrote in The New York Times in 2006.

Any comments?

Smart Guy

Dear SG,

Interesting. So you’re saying there’s a de facto affirmative action policy for men taking place in elite colleges.

The statistician in me needs to make the following caveats: some of these statistics could be explained away if we found out that high-achieving girls tend to apply to more places than high-achieving boys on average. Then you’d see many of the same girls applying to a bunch of places, for example, and the boys might apply to fewer.

As a thought experiment, say girls apply to twice as many colleges as boys. From the perspective of the college, among their best applicants they see twice as many from girls. Their acceptance rates, even if they had consistent standards across genders, would be lower for girls. Does that make sense?

Also, keep in mind that a college’s acceptance rate isn’t the same thing as kids actually showing up at college. It could be – and we know it is likely true, in fact – that the same kids are being accepted at a bunch of places and then saying no to all but one. Again, we have to be smart about this, which is all a crazy and inflated system. And without being on the admission committee myself, I really don’t know what’s going on.

Having said all that, I don’t know of any statistics that would make us think girls do apply to more places. I conclude that the stats from the article definitely warrants more investigation.

Here’s another thing to keep in mind. Girls, statistically speaking, are better students than boys, but boys tend to do better on SAT’s at the high end. Personally I don’t think this is all that meaningful one way or another, because both “grades” and “SAT scores” are somewhat arbitrary systems of judgement, neither of which are particularly convincing to me of inner intrinsic worth. Even so, it might be partly responsible for college admissions; colleges might care more about SAT scores than about grades.

I guess that’s what it comes down to: how do colleges decide who to accept? What are their acceptance guidelines like, and are they gender specific? I mean, we might find them discussing the “too many girls” situation, or, more likely, we might just find them trying out different processes until they come upon one that results in “a satisfactory student body.”

A cynical person would point out that what colleges really care about is future endowment contributions, and in our sexist society men are more likely to be the contributors to that. I’m not saying it’s not a factor, but I’m not sure it could possibly be that explicit; it’s more likely to be embedded in an algorithm or at least a process, as many such assumptions are. In any case I’d love someone with more experience in the admissions process at an elite school to weigh in.

Sister of My Sister says she believes that our worst suspicions about the college admissions process are true.

Aunt Pythia and SoMS

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Which question that you’ve answered most affected you, and what was the effect?

Curiously Hunting And Obviously Sympathetic

Dear CHAOS,

Thanks for the question, it’s brought me great pleasure in thinking back at all the wonderful questions I’ve had the pleasure to answer. I hope it won’t bother you terribly if I admit that my favorite piece of advice wasn’t actually in an Aunt Pythia column at all, but rather was a mathbabe post called How do I know if I’m good enough to go into math?which, come to think of it, I should have referred my friend E above to as well. Hey E, go look at that post!

Here’s why that post affected me. I met the wonderful young person who wrote the question to me, afterwards, and she told me quite earnestly how much it helped her. She’s now a thriving and ambitious math major at an elite school. What a pleasant experience, to be able to encourage someone like that!

Moreover, when I went to visit my math camp earlier this summer, I was told that this note had been shared with quite a few of the participants as a way to ward off annoying and competitive behavior; hopefully it helped, but in any case I was super astonished at how much it is needed.

I guess I’m saying that, this is the piece of advice that is closest to that fantasy you have, that you could get in a time machine and go back to your previous self and say something like, hey self! Don’t worry so much, everything’s going to be okay, and you can go ahead and start feeling good now! Because there’s really no time to lose when it comes to just getting on with your life. And that’s really the best feeling that an inveterate advice giver like myself could possibly feel.

Sister of My Sister says that that post and every other is why mathbabe is her hero.

Aunt Pythia and SoMS

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

My wife of 5 years is a lesbian and I’m not a woman. We’ve known this for about 3 years.

As you might imagine this eliminates the kinds of sex that we find convenient to share with other people in most social settings.

We’ve taken to pretending we’re sexually conventional, even to close friends, because we fear that they’d be really awkward about it if we ever let on. Everyone we have told so far has made a point of avoiding the subject, as if they simply don’t know what to say, understandably I suppose. They’ve been supportive and kind, but awkward.

How can we avoid widespread social awkwardness without feeling like we’re deceiving our friends and families?

Accidentally Asexual Humans

Dear AAH,

Why are you two still married? Are there kids? If I’m a friend of yours, and you tell me this, and you don’t have kids, i’d be anything but quiet. I’d say, get the fuck out!

And that holds for anyone who tells me they aren’t getting regular sex from their partner – unless they have a very good reason, like an illness – and they don’t have kids. If they have kids, then fine, make an arrangement with your spouse to get some outside action while you keep a stable household and until the kids are in college. But for an unromantic atheist such as myself, marriages are not simply friendships, they are sexual arrangements. Moreover, to live a full life you want to at least have the option to get action.

You say you’ve been married for 5 years, and for more than half you’re not having sex. Moreover, it doesn’t seem to be ending soon. I just don’t get it. Your friends are too polite and confused to say what I’m saying now: get out, remain friends, and go find someone who can’t resist your manly self. There are plenty of women looking for a good man that would love to enjoy your company.

Sister of My Sister agrees with me wholeheartedly, but suspects there is some other compelling reason you’ve stayed with your wife and would like you to write back and tell us what that is.

Aunt Pythia and SoMS

——

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: Uncategorized

Aunt Pythia’s advice

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

Dear HUNGRY,

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?

K

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

Should Aunt Pythia go video?

What, what? My friend Becky Jaffe sent me this video of Tig Notaro giving advice:

I thought it was moving and intimate, just like an advice column should be. What do you think, should Aunt Pythia go video?

Pros for Aunt Pythia going video:

  1. the connection with the audience,
  2. doesn’t have to wear anything below the waist,
  3. can show nutella crepes in real life, no more boring pics.

Cons for Aunt Pythia going video:

  1. maybe too much intimacy (TMI),
  2. has to wear a shirt,
  3. sometimes fakes it and bakes Pillsbury cinnamon rolls.

cinnamon-rolls-with-icing

Please make a suggestion below if you are an Aunt Pythia fan. If you hate Aunt Pythia then I don’t really care what you think.

Categories: Uncategorized

Aunt Pythia’s advice

August 1, 2015 Comments off

Readers! Dear readers! Aunt Pythia lovers everywhere should stop what they’re doing and watch this trailer immediately, all about the female orgasm:

It looks adorable, n’est-ce pas? Aunt Pythia planning to watch it in its entirety very soon. Stand by for a review.

But enough dilly dallying, readers, Aunt Pythia has a serious job to attend to! If you enjoy her intemperate, unreasonable ramblings, then 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,

We had two interactions recently with the police and my wife disagrees with me if this is an example of “driving while white”, so I wanted your opinion of how this would have gone if I was African-American.

1) My 18-year old son was driving our Tesla on the PA Turnpike and was pulled over by the police. The officer walked over to the car and complemented him “Nice car.” And walked away without giving any other reason for stopping him. Do people actually get stopped to get compliments?

2) I was driving through Baltimore and looking for a rest stop. I took an exit and realizing that it was simply leading to another highway, I pulled off onto the very ample shoulder and then walked into the woods to pee. When I turned to return, I saw two Baltimore police officers with their hands on their holsters. They asked me what I was doing in the woods. When I told them they gave me a warning, saying I should “keep an empty bottle in the car for emergencies” and let me go on my way. Did I do something wrong? What did they think I was doing?

Why He Is Traffic-Stop Exempt

Dear WHITE,

Well, I’m also white, so I don’t have first hand knowledge of the counterfactual, but I’m happy to think about it with you.

I don’t know why anyone would be stopped for no reason at all, so let’s think about why your son was pulled over. I’ll wager it was because he was too obviously young to afford a Tesla, and the cop was wondering if he had stolen it. If that is the case, then the fact that your son didn’t appear overly nervous once he was stopped could have contributed to his not getting harassed further. On the other hand, imagine how it might have gone another way for the son of a black Tesla owner. The very act of being pulled over and confronted by a cop with suspicions might have freaked him out, not because he was guilty, but because he was aware of how cops treat young black men.

Similarly, why did those guys care about you peeing in the woods? I don’t know, but their hands on their holsters tells us they were ready for something violent. Again, the counterfactual is always missing, but then again unless you’ve been living under a rock it’s hard to rule out something ridiculous happening in both cases.

In summary, I can easily imagine how this could have gone differently for both you and your son had you been black, but I’m not sure that means there is something truly out of the ordinary going on in either case. That’s the thing with discrimination, it’s statistical rather than deterministic.

To answer your original question, I’d say that instead of thinking about specific events being white privilege events, think overall about how often your interactions with power are pleasant or unpleasant; after all, you have more than two data points. Personally I have gotten out of illegal driving maneuvers by crying, having kids in the car, and even once just because I had kid car seats in my car. I am most definitely a white woman and it has worked for me. Of course, those police might just have been nice to everyone; again, it’s statistics, and I can’t prove my white privilege, but I don’t doubt it one bit either.

Every now and then the situation is more clear cut. I was walking up Broadway the other day and I walked by a scene where a white man was getting a parking ticket from an black female cop. He was very upset about the ticket, and was swearing at the top of his lungs, stuff like, “This is complete shit! You’re an asshole! Fuck this ticket! I was only gone for a few minutes!” The cop said absolutely nothing while she wrote the ticket. She remained calm, and while I didn’t stay until the end, I presume she simply handed the guy his ticket at the end. I kicked myself afterwards for not whipping out my phone and recording it, but I do think it was absolutely inconceivable that if the roles had been reversed, and it had been a white male cop giving a ticket to a black women, I would have seen her acting in the same way.

Aunt Pythia

——

Hi Aunt Pythia,

A while ago, someone sent you a music video for “Dangerous” and you didn’t much like it. I just ran across this alternative video for the same song, and I think it meshes with your aesthetic much better…

But It’s Good! Don’t Argue, Try Again

Dear BIGDATA,

Very clever, I like it!

Aunt Pythia

——

Aunt Pythia,

Bad answer to the anal sex guy. I happen to like it myself, but seriously how many times does his girlfriend have to say “no” to having his dick in her ass before he listens? Your answer should have been more like “you first with a dildo.” Their tune changes very quickly when it’s their asshole being probed.

Answer

Dear Answer,

First of all, he might have been fine with a dildo up his butt; some people are just kinkier than other people. Second of all, I don’t think it’s great marital advice to tell your spouse to “shut up about their sexuality already.” That might work fine at work, or with an acquaintance, but with a spouse you’re really in it for the long haul and things could go badly if that’s your attitude. I stand by my answer.

Aunt Pythia

——

Hi Aunt Pythia,

Do you have any friends who just suck your positive energy away? I do. This friend always has something to complain about her life, with so much drama. She is a really dear friend too, so I feel quite strong sadness with her every problem in life. But when someone is just dumping their problems on you (I know she is more like sharing them, but still), how sustainable that relationship is? It is horrible to abandon people when they need you, but is there a good time/reason/way to restructure your friendship with someone?

Friendship Rest In ENjoyable Distance

Dear FRIEND,

I feel your pain. Or actually, no I don’t. But I do acknowledge your pain.

And therein lies the difference, and my advice. Make time for your friend to tell you about her problems, but don’t make them your problems. Listen to her, have compassion, smile and give her love and support, but don’t get yourself empathetic to the point of suffering yourself, because that’s not helpful to either of you. That’s the first piece of advice I have for you.

Second: indicate to your friend that your conversations are somewhat lopsided, and you’d like to discuss happier things as well as struggles, because that way it is more fun and forward thinking. Tell her three things you are grateful for from the past week, and make it part of your relationship that you talk about more than her problems.

Another possibility, if that seems unlikely or too difficult to handle: make your meetings about something, rather than straight up bitch sessions or coffee. Go to Magic Mike XXL with her, or take a walk, or take her to the yarn store, or get her engaged in a project of some kind that she would like. Make the meetings about that project and the future.

If all else fails – and do try a couple of the above first – give yourself a break and tell her you are busy when it just seems like too much work to listen to her. Wean her off of you gradually, and she will find other people to talk to.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

p.s. One piece of advice I didn’t give you is to give her advice on her problems. I do this by nature, so I assume you’ve already tried it, but the truth is I don’t think it helps very much. I mean, it helps me think I’m being a good friend, of course, but my experience is that people who talk a lot about their problems don’t want advice to fix them. Of course, some people do ask advice and take it, but they are typically people who talk only infrequently about their problems. And also, giving advice extends the time that you spend talking about her problems instead of something else.

——

Readers? Aunt Pythia loves you so much. She wants 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: Uncategorized

Aunt Pythia’s advice

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,

BITCHY?

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

Dear BITCHY,

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.

Love,

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

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Hippety hop, chop chop, it’s time to get on the sexy advice bus. Aunt Pythia has already whipped up some delicious mimosas for today’s brunchy discussion!

I can't drink all of these myself, people.

I can’t drink all of these myself, people.

Aunt Pythia is oddly exuberant this morning, folks, and hopes her positivity comes through loud and clear. She’s extremely happy with the questions you all have come up with, and hope she gets many more chances to be an obnoxiously opinionated loudmouth in the near future.

Which will happen if you continue to supply her with your wonderful and genuinely interesting questions! Please do! 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.

——

Aunt Pythia,

Have you read “Sperm Wars” yet? Looking forward to the review.

Bated Breath

Dear BB,

To tell you the truth, it’s a slog. I am doing my best to read it – it’s the only nighttime reading I have next to my bed – but the obstacles are real.

For example, it’s pretty violent. There are lots of stories of men who abuse wives and children. That makes me upset, even though I know it happens all the time. Next problem: it’s extremely unromantic, talking in a weirdly clinical and almost hostile way about what constitutes arousal. Even so, at times it gets pretty technical, discussing different kinds of sperm hiding in various places along the Fallopian tubes, for example, waiting to kill other sperm or fertilize the eggs.

I guess the overall feeling I’m getting is that it’s dated, and that the scientific certainty it presents of “why people do what they do” with respect to sex is a huge turn-off for me. I’d like to see theories and then evidence, with measurements of uncertainty. I’d like to become part of the process of puzzling out whether a certain habit we humans have fallen into is due to our genetics or our socialization. Instead, the book lays it out like it’s all a done deal, and since I have trouble believing that it’s all so completely understood, I end up not knowing what to believe.

Here are some good things about the book. I think it’s interesting how the author treats women and men as equals in the scheming around sex. Too often you hear stories about philandering men without understanding what women stand to gain by sex. Also, it does a good job explaining how women have more to lose by being discovered as cheaters, and what that implies. The book also makes a convincing case that women’s fertility cycles are obscure by construction: it serves the human race in countless ways to confuse people – both men and women – as to when women might actually get pregnant. In particular, sex often serves as a way for humans to interact, and not just to get pregnant. Even so, there are ways that pregnancy can be planned but not planned, and that is intriguing as well.

I’m guessing this is the closest to a review that I’m going to write, and let me finish by wishing out loud that someone would take on the subject anew and do it with a bit more rigor.

Next up: Sex at Dawn. We’ll see if this book is the book I’m requesting. I am guessing it is not.

Aunt Pythia

——

Aunt Pythia,

Here is a question that has puzzled me for a long time: what exactly is a “date”? I was reminded of my puzzlement when you wrote “It doesn’t have to be a date if she doesn’t wish it to be, but it could be if she wants.” in your answer to HORNY’s question. I tried to imagine how I would behave as the male participant in each of those two scenarios, and here is what I came up with:

If it is a date:
I would dress nicely, be polite, ask her personal questions, share personal details about myself, and pay the bill at the end of the meal.

If it is NOT a date:
I would dress nicely, be polite, ask her personal questions, share personal details about myself, and pay the bill at the end of the meal.

So I’m worried that if there is truly a difference between a date and a non-date then I’m probably doing one of them all wrong. Of course there are some cases where the difference is clear; for instance, if it were a business dinner then I would probably limit personal conversation and propose splitting the bill.

Doesn’t Act Too Extreme

Dear DATE,

Great question. I personally have never been on a date, so I’m really not one to talk, or to define the term.

Let me rephrase that. I’ve been on dates, but I rarely would have described them that way beforehand. Instead they evolved into a date. By the end of the date I knew they were dates.

OK, I’m lying. I have gone out on “date nights” with my husband, where we had to get a babysitter. But that doesn’t count for your question.

But I substantially agree, “going on a date” is confusing and bewildering, and naming it is a large part of the confusion. Sorry for adding to that.

Here’s a confession which I am happy to spill. I’ve always had a confusing mixture of envy and disgust with people who “go on Dates” with a capital D. First of all, they seem to be completely at ease describing them that way, which already makes me hate them. It always seems so artificial to imagine a man dressing nicely and expecting me to dress nicely, and talking politely over dinner (and maybe a movie), and letting the man pay for everything, and then maybe (oh my!) a kiss on the front porch at the end of it. God forbid if the guy brings me flowers at the beginning of the evening, I might barf all over them. How can anyone be happy with that scenario?! Then envy comes when I imagine something so confusing becoming so simple. But the envy is quickly squashed again by the disgust and the smell of imaginary barf.

So no, I’m not a big fan of that whole paradigm. It’s an arbitrary and misogynistic construct. It makes the woman a passive receiver and at the same time puts too much pressure on the man to perform. Fuck Dating.

On the other hand, I really like people, and if someone wants to have dinner with me, I’m in! And of course, I don’t want to feel frumpy, and so I’d wear something that makes me feel adventurous and fun. If other people show up, then it’s great, but if it’s just the two of us, I naturally like finding out about people, so we’ll end up talking about our terrible childhoods or whatnot, maybe politely or maybe not, because I don’t lean too much on convention, and if the other person pays this time, with the agreement that I’d pay the next time, then all the better. After dinner, if we had a great time, and a couple of beers, and maybe saw some live music, we might end up making out somewhere, who knows. Or having a snowball fight and wrestling in the snow, that might work too.

So that’s the thing. Dating isn’t a well-defined thing, or if it is, then it’s weird and uncomfortable and synthetic, so let’s avoid that, and let it proceed from our natural desire to interact with someone else and learn about someone else. That is my ideal anyway.

As for my advice to you: chances of a given dinner “working out” into a date and then a real relationship are pretty low, so just enjoy the dinner with the assumption that nothing of the sort will happen, but being genuinely engaged in the event itself. Find joy in the moment, and in the moment be the person you wish you always were, including being curious and kind to the person you’re sharing dinner with. At the very least you’ll have awesome dinners.

Warmly,

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

My girlfriend and I have been living together for almost a year. We are compatible sexually and very adventurous except in one area: anal sex. I have tried to get her to let me take her that way, but she refuses.

She does occasionally let me use a finger, always with plenty of lube. But if I try with the next size up, she denies me or gets mad.

I did it twice with a previous girlfriend and we both enjoyed it. I will admit that it takes the right mood and preparation.

Do you have any suggestions for how to overcome this hang-up?

A Now-frustrated Ass Lover

Dear ANAL,

Ah, the age-old conundrum of sexual incompatibility. A few things.

  1. Did you know that men have prostate glands but women don’t?  That makes anal sex directly sexually stimulative for men but not women. So that might come into play here.
  2. That’s not to say that women can’t enjoy anal sex. Some of them do, by all accounts, but it’s usually indirect, say from the added pressure to the entire system. You might want to ask your lover what exactly it might take to make it interesting for her.
  3. Also, that might not be enough. You might just be living with someone who isn’t interested in this, even if it get her off. Then you’ll have to decide what to do next.
  4. For example, maybe employing another sex toy or two to help you achieve a similar sensation? And maybe your girlfriend can agree to help you out with appropriate whispers and caresses?
  5. In other words, try to work with her to get to an approximation of the goal.
  6. Also, make sure you’re helping her achieve her sexual goals! Have you asked her recently what she’s been fantasizing about?
  7. If all else fails, you have to decide whether this is something you can live without. I’d suggest having a conversation with her about this directly, after trying the above, and see what kind of compromise you can come to. By all means don’t wait until you’ve found an outside ass-lover and then break the news to her.

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia

——

Aunt Pythia,

I have a great deal of software development experience. I know Smalltalk, Java, and some Python, as well as Clojure. What do you think that I could do to get an opportunity to get into Analytics? I have only had one graduate level course in statistics, and that was a long time ago. I have done work with statistics since, but perhaps not heavy-duty enough to impress anyone. I keep applying for Java jobs, but I have not done Java programming since October 2007, so no one will look at me. I have an MS with a Computer Science major, with five doctoral-level courses in Computer Science.

Missing in Action

Dear MiA,

You need to bulk up your machine learning chops, unless you forgot to mention them. One graduate course in statistics is sufficient if you still remember it, but you actually need to be able to build predictive models nowadays with large datasets, and usually that means knowing how to implement all sorts of algorithms, as well as knowing when a given algorithm is called for.

If I were you I’d try to get my hands on syllabi of the various “data science bootcamps” that are proliferating, and see what skills are listed there that you don’t have. Also, obviously, be sure you know how to use Tableau and SQL.

Plus, and this is me talking, not your future employer, please consider the ethics of building and deploying algorithms. Take a look at this book I wrote a couple of years ago, and keep an eye out for this book I’m writing now for discussions of ethics. It’s coming out in about a year.

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia

——

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: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s Advice

Readers!! Dear friends! Aunt Pythia is overwhelmed with happiness. She is currently sitting in the middle of the woods scribbling away inefficiently on an android tablet, doing her best to deliver a knock-out advice column for your reading pleasure. It’s absolutely nuts that she can accomplish this fear considering her environment, but that’s just how much she loves you.

image

Definitely not as hot as Manhattan.

Please enjoy being rustic with Aunt Pythia!

Oh, and before you leave,

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,

Do you dream of composing the perfect Aunt Pythia question, complete with awesome sign-off? I guess you don’t, but maybe you have the same issue with Dan Savage?

That’s my problem. I just can’t stop obsessing and find myself so jealous of the problems of others. Why can’t I be “an intellectual property lawyer, who is launching a big data business with a former colleague/lover, who has just given up lesbianism and decided to become a man, and who can’t quite decide on how to deal with her residual feelings of attraction for said business partner”?

Or, what about wanting to be able to write “I’m completing my junior year majoring in Clown and, while I would love to go to graduate school, just feel I don’t measure up against my classmates who are so ahead they’re already working on Advanced Buffoonery  and researching theoretical foundations integrating hijinks, pratfalls, and farce. I feel like a Paul Reubens amidst all these future Lucys. Can I make it?”

With awesome problems like those, how can my mundane life make it onto the hallowed pixels of an AP page? I’m afraid I’m going to start creating a mini-crisis in my life, just to have some entertaining material for you. Help!

Lousy Sign-off Doesn’t Trump Really Interesting Person

Dear LSDTRIP,

I just can’t believe I figured out how to copy and paste on a tablet. Very excited over here.

Great sign off by the way. I get the impression it’s accurate as well.

Here’s the thing. You don’t need complicated problems. Asking how to feel happy or even non suicidal in the midst of everyday life is already hard and interesting. And I would prefer genuine kindness over being entertained any day.

As for the question of whether I dream of asking question, no. I have always wanted to give advice more than ask it. Probably a personality defect but there it is.

Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia,

I have a math question. I am writing a series of short stories, based the Many-worlds theory of Quantum Mechanics. The stories postulate (in contrast to current theory, science fiction, you know) that there is a way to pass information between universes. Naturally in an infinite number of universes, some, an infinite number, use this technology, like painting, photography, writing, mosaics, film, TV, and the Internet, for porn.

My questions is, if the resolution of every quantum event creates at least two new universes, what is the cardinality of that infinity? It seems like aleph-null but it’s been a long time since my last legitimate use of infinities.

No cats were harmed in the forming of this question.

Slim Odds And Possible

Dear SOAP,

Is this the day for weird questions? I mean don’t you need to tell me what a quantum event is and how often to expect a quantum event? Does it happen every time someone passes porn between universes? Even if that is the case I would need to know there are a positive number of horny people in existence.

Unless I am being dumb, I don’t have sufficient information here.

Aunt Pythia

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Aunt Pythia,

I think I’m in love with my best friend. She told me about a year ago that she wasn’t interested in romantic relationships because her ex-boyfriend hurt her / she hurt him / they had a bad breakup. I haven’t told her my feelings, because of a variety of reasons, including I wanted to tell her in person (we live on opposite coasts of the US), I don’t want to hurt her (she is going through some serious stuff right now, and I don’t want to add to that), I have literally zero romantic experience and I don’t want to fuck things up with her (I kind of feel like I’m going to fuck up my first few relationships), and last but not least I’m bad at talking. We’re going to college together next fall. I want to tell her at some point in the future, because of some kind of honesty idea and also it seems unfair to try and get rid of these feelings without asking her. What do you think I should do?

Having Equanimous Love Problem

Dear HELP,

First of all thanks for the perfect sign off and straight forward letter. Although not sure you are equanimous.

Next, believe me, you are in love. No need to say you think maybe you are. Babe, you got it bad.

Third, you want to tell her because love demands it of us. It has nothing to do with a sense of honesty or fairness. Love has its own logic, or illogic, and we are slaves to it. That’s OK.

Seeing as you asked, I say go for it. Make it happen my friend. Which is to say: tell her you love her in a dramatic and romantic and absolutely unmistakable way. Be that guy who really spills out his guts and lays it on the table.

You know what there isn’t enough of nowadays? I’ll tell you what. Gut spilling. We are all so careful not to offend or appear vulnerable we forget that none of that really matters. What really matters is living life fully and taking chances and going out on a limb and being the person you always wanted to be.

And here’s the thing about it. It’s not really a risk. If she says no you will be crushed, to be sure, but in fact you will be crushed if you say nothing. It will just take longer and feel less courageous. Also she’s your best friend so I imagine we can trust her not to be cruel.

Tell me how it goes, and good luck!

Aunty P

P.s. nobody has experience at your age.
P.P.s. if you’re worried about talking then write a letter of a song or a poem.
P.P.P.s. ignore her bad ex. Everyone gets over their bad exes eventually. Plus it’s been a year. Don’t ignore her current problems though. Just tell her how much you want to be there for her.

——

Aunt Pythia,

We clearly have a long way to go still for getting more girls and women into STEM careers, but there has been a lot of progress as well. For example, my department has a pretty M/F balanced group of faculty and grad students. I also notice there are various programs and events for women and minorities in mathematics, which appear to build some lasting professional relationships and you know, like,  friendships.

My gripe is that many of these programs are *exclusively* intended for women, leaving minority men, especially black men, out in the cold while universities are patting themselves on the back for publicly fulfilling their diversity initiatives. I don’t think there’s a great conspiracy behind this, just that there aren’t very man black men in STEM fields, particularly math, to let everyone know- Hey! We’re here too!!

Comparatively, women, black women, uh literally any other group you could reasonably get higher education statistics on, is doing better than we are. Most of these programs aren’t helping us, and I know of none specifically designed for us. You probably know the statistics better than I do, but according to this article [http://chronicle.com/article/Black-Man-in-the-Lab/149565/] from 1992-2012 there were only 203 black men that got math PhDs. Wait, in 20 FUCKING YEARS?? Please be a typo. One black guy per year in the ENTIRE COUNTRY has been getting a math PhD for two decades…? JESUS CHRIST ON A STICK, THAT’S SOME FUCKERY, PLAIN AND SIMPLE. No really, I have to be making some kind of error somewhere.

Of course, these are just averages; the actual count probably is trending upward and probably increasingly so from 2012-2015. JUST NO, VOICE OF STEADINESS AND REASON, TODAY YOU CAN STFU, YOUR SERVICES ARE NOT NEEDED. Why? For one, these numbers include graduates of historically black colleges and universities, which are disproportionately represented. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but if a sizeable chunk of the 203 PhDs are concentrated in these schools, then of course the rest have fewer than expected PhDs produced, and the baseline was already at WTF.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but as black guy interested in math, I don’t want to go to the black school I want to go to the math school; no offense to Howard, but I’m aiming for Harvard. The article then says, for all STEM degrees combined, there was an upward trend from black men making up 1% of all PhDs awarded in ’92 to 2% in ’12. If you have no soul, you can convince people of improvement by saying it doubled, but it’s still really, really fucked. So (finally) my question is: Given the obvious need, why isn’t there a program similar to Edge for men in math from underrepresented groups?

P.S. Who lets the mathematicians of the African diaspora website remain on the internet? It’s hella embarrassing.

Randomblackdude

Dear Randomblackdude,

I’m with you. Those are some outrageously low numbers. And I don’t know what resources there are out there but clearly not enough. Maybe my readers will fill us in. Also agreed about people who deliberately mislead with statistics having no soul.

Aunt Pythia

——

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