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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• Answer: read my book, which is now slightly out of date, do some projects on your own and post them on a personal webpage, and start applying.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

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.

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,

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. 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.

I was bummed out when I heard about that, but not too upset. But then I heard (aka not 100% sure) that an incoming grad student next year got an NSF but he wanted to teach (which you can’t do while taking NSF money), so the department said they would give him $7000 extra his first year (so 32k total) so he can defer his fellowship and teach. Also, because the department doesn’t care or it’s just something they have overlooked, I think (again not 100% sure) if you get a job over the summer, you can still get the summer stipend, which doesn’t seem fair to me since they won’t give it to someone who has a fellowship and staying at school yet they’ll give it to someone who is working for someone else. I know money isn’t everything and it’s a small amount of money and I should just be grateful for having the NSF in the first place, but I just feel jipped especially since I am now saving the department/school a significant amount of money for the next 3 years (NSF pays a 34k stipend + 12k tuition for 3 years)! How much room do students have to push/negotiate with departments? I know some schools give out bonuses for bringing in outside money. Clearly, mine is not one of those schools. I *definitely* do not want to get on someone’s bad side or look that money hungry. Am I being way too whiny and should I just suck it up? Or should I say something? I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus, so how would I even go about doing this (especially since I am *so* timid and shy)? TooTimidForLife Dear TTFL, Gosh, I have no idea. I mean, beyond offering to teach, so your situation would be more analogous. I mean, as of now, unless my head is still drunk, you don’t actually have a conflicting story. But I don’t know what the standard practice is, and the only person in this household who does is currently snoring. That means it’s an awesome question for a hangover column, because I’m betting some of my readers will have opinions about this. In any case, it is indeed fantastic that you got that NSF! Congratulations! Aunt Pythia —— Good Day, My name is (something), am here to testify of a great spell caster called Dr. X. This man is truly a great spell caster indeed. I contacted this great man for a help and just within two days my problem was completely solved. My ex- came back to me just within 48 hours begging me to accept him back. Now we are fully back again as lovers, all thanks to Dr. X and his great temple for restoring pace to my life. His contact email address is, xxxx@xx.com. He is also specialized in the following. 1. He can help you cast a spell to get pregnant. 2. He can help you cast a Death Spell. 3. He can help you cast a Promotion spell. 4. He can help you cast Lottery spell. 5. Spell of luck. 6. Spell of Finance. 7. If you have been scam before, he can help you cast a spell to get your money back. 8.He can help you solve your low sperm count. And many more.. contact him on his private email and explain what you want him to do for you i assure you he shall help,His email is: xxxx@xx.com. Good Luck (something) Dear (something), HAHAHAHA I’ll take #7. Love, Aunt Pythia —— Dear Aunt Pythia, Not too long ago I graduated from a good school, landed a great job, and came out as gay and somewhat naively thought that with all of this things would “get better”. I’ve never really been on a date before and still feel like I’m making up for awkward middle/high school development most folks around my age have gone through (super shy around guys, does he “like me like me”…etc.). One thing that I didn’t account for and never really thought would be an issue is race. I happen to also be black, and find that there seem to be a looooot of people who either feel that they simply don’t find black guys attractive, creepily fetishize it (lots of chocolate references and expectations that I’m super aggressive), or don’t even consider a date possible because they don’t tend to think it’s possible for black people to share their interests. It doesn’t seem unique to white people either. I noticed this before when people thought I was straight but it seems really prominent/visible on the gay side of things and the data available suggests this (see this for example). I respect people’s preferences and totally understand I’m not the center of the universe…but what am I supposed to do now? It almost doesn’t really feel as though coming out was worth it anymore (and frankly all this hurts more than I thought) especially if I’m just hoping to find mutual attraction for minorities within a minority group. What’s worse is I’m wondering if things only “get better” for certain people. Any tips, or words of wisdom are welcome. Until then I’ll just keep telling people that I too “love to laugh”, listen to NPR, and judge Kardashians. Just Like You Dear JLY, First of all, congratulations on all your accomplishments! Sounds like you are awesome and crush-worthy. If it helps, I have cute white friends who leave what I think of as large American progressive cities because they are gay and the scene is too small. So you’re not alone in finding this difficult. If you needed more evidence, I just googled “good scene for black gay men” and I came up with an article entitled, Are All Single Black Gay Men Bitter? Here’s the thing, I know nothing about being a black gay man. But I do know statistics, and I suggest you play the numbers. That would mean spending time in New York or San Francisco whenever you can to meet people in a larger dating pool. I have no idea where you live normally, but make it a point to visit whenever you can, on vacations or even weekend trips. Keep meeting people, and get used to hanging out in a social and fun way, and eventually work your way into a date. I wouldn’t suggest telling anyone that you’ve never been on a date before: fake it til you make it on that score. And anyway, that’s not important, because being on a date is just like hanging out and talking with someone. The only real difference is, if it goes well, you can get all crushed out on them and not feel weird about it. Good luck! Aunt Pythia —— Congratulations, you’ve wasted yet another Saturday morning with Aunt Pythia! I hope you’re satisfied, you could have lazed about in your pajamas for longer. Oh wait, you’re still in your pajamas, I take it all back. Well done. But as long as you’re already here, please ask me a question. And don’t forget to make an amazing sign-off, they make me very very happy. Click here for a form or just do it now: Categories: Aunt Pythia ## Aunt Pythia’s advice Aunt Pythia has barely recovered from her pastry indulgences of last weekend, and yet it is time to once again act the advice tailor and dispense terrible and ill-fitted advice pants (probably because of said pastry indulgences) to anyone who will listen. Don’t ask her why, but Aunt Pythia is into the concept of a tailor who will do house calls this morning, especially if that tailor will deliberately make ugly clothes. It’s a weird metaphor which Aunt Pythia is just going with, so please join her on this bizarre wavelength. Here’s how she’s feeling: Well, not ill-fitting like this, but who could resist. Are you here? Are you prepared? And moreover, do you merely have a grotesque and morbid curiosity about other people’s problems, or are you also prepared to order and be fitted for your very own terrible advice pants as well? If so, don’t forget to: ask Aunt Pythia a question at the bottom of the page! By the way, if you don’t know what the hell Aunt Pythia is talking about, go here for past advice columns and here for an explanation of the name Pythia. —— Dear Aunt Pythia, I’d hoping you’ll weigh in in a debate I’m having with my husband about sex, relationships, and human nature. He and I have had an open marriage for the last 2 years (out of 12 total). It’s generally been overwhelmingly positive for us, and has helped us survive the sometimes soul-numbing simultaneously responsibilities of small kids + demanding jobs reasonably happily (shout out to Dan Savage, for making me realize that this wasn’t a totally insane thing to try). My husband thinks open marriages will become a lot more common in the coming decade, as sexual openness increases. I agree that they might increase somewhat as they become more normalized, but argue that the fundamentals of human nature inherently limit this. I think jealously is so common that only the people that are naturally low on the jealousy distribution are likely to make open marriages work. Thoughts? One Philosophically Engaged Nonconformist Dear OPEN, I’m glad that is working for you guys! I am all for people figuring out how to be happy. The longer I’m married the more I realize how much of a miracle it is that anyone can stand being in a long-term relationship with anyone else, including themselves. As for what will happen in the future, I have really no idea. The culture we live in changes so quickly, and assumptions are so ephemeral. Just think about how quickly things have changed – in super positive ways – for gay people. Just 30 years ago shit was ridiculous, now we’re seeing gay couples get married and divorced. Just last night, I was at a comedy club where one of the comics mused about the possibility of gay men saving themselves for marriage. Who knows? Maybe. I mean, it’s just one example, but it proves my point: this stuff just keeps moving along. Once upon a time we women got married because of stuff like economic need. Now that is thankfully more or less off the table. It once was assumed that everyone would have kids, now that’s no longer true. Shit changes! Here’s what won’t change: people will continue to have lots of sex with each other. The thing I always come back to, when I talk to open marriage people, or people in the “poly” community, is that people have always found ways to fuck each other, married or not, and this new-fangled way of talking and thinking about it is just that: a new-fangled way of talking and thinking about what’s already happening. I’m not saying talking about it so much is bad, although it may, as you suggest, provoke more jealousy at times then the old-fashioned way of staying on the down low. At other times it’s fine, and maybe even great! I’d venture to say that, whether we talk about it or not, there’s a lot of nooky going on everywhere. I’d bet money on that continuing, and yet once again, I have no bets on the way we’ll talk about it in the future. Good luck! Aunt Pythia —— Dear Aunt Pythia, A few of my intellectually curious friends that are not actively socially conscious or involved in local communities (aka your average nice citizen) often wonder about the usefulness of protests like Occupy or the ones surrounding Ferguson/policy brutality. My response is that it connects likeminded people and I give you and the group you work with on alternative banking systems as an example. They’re also the ones who question using social media, although I find that social media often brings people’s attention to issues they’re tangentially aware of (or not aware of at all), and normally could happily pretend doesn’t exist. I think this is useful for society. I also have seen social media campaigns to mobilize activists to pressure local officials, similar to the way a petition shows authorities the level of support an issue is receiving from the general public. Do you have more examples and arguments I can use? Single Jogger Wins! (aka SJW, aka Social Justice Warrior) Dear SJW, I started out in Occupy offended by the way the financial system doesn’t work. Nowadays I think about all sorts of things, like mass incarceration, minimum wage, basic guaranteed income, and the privatization of education. I think about these things primarily through the lens of the finance system, and primarily because I am involved with the Alt Banking group. So I guess what I’d say to your friends is that we live in a network of people and in a system of power, and the way we learn about how that system functions or doesn’t function is by questioning and critiquing the corners of the system we understand, until those corners give way to corridors and rooms that we thought were disconnected but aren’t, and we start to see patterns of inequity and structural failure, and that process connects us with other people in the system but even more importantly connects things in our own brain that were previously disconnected. And along the way the failures of the system come down the hardest on the same group or groups of people, and it is maddening and depressing, but because you now have this network of like-minded people you also gain faith and strength that it can’t go on. Then every now and then something like the Ferguson report comes out, delivered by the actual power structure, and you know you’re making at least some progress. I hope that helps. Aunt Pythia —— Dear Aunt Pythia, I’m 25, male, and finishing up my undergraduate Computer Sciences degree. I am also completely inexperienced in romantic relationships; I can count the number of romantic relationships I’ve had on [lim–>0] hands. (This applies to the amount of sex/kissing/touch I’ve had as well, BTW.) I’m pretty sure I’m not asexual. And I know I’m attracted to girls romantically because it’s happened a (very) few times in the past. [The first two were taken and the third sorta faded out before we got to a ‘relationship’ stage.] My mind tends to be really picky, so this is an extremely infrequent event. There is a further complication; I have someone I know in Australia. Despite being on opposite sides of the world, we are very close. In a platonic sense. I’m not sure whether this is filling up my mental ‘relationship slot’ or not. Anyway, we use the symbol <> (instead of <3)… it’s complicated. So. I’m not in a conventional romantic relationship, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin in getting into one. And I’m curious. [1] How do you go about finding people you’d like a relationship with? [2] …and if they’re willing, how does a relationship happen? [3] …and how do you keep it going? [4] Since it’ll probs come up at some point, how do I explain to a relationship partner that I also have this *other* platonic relationship with someone on another continent? [I’m NOT giving up said friend under any circumstances whatsoever.] Simply Concerned Over Optimal Platonic Sincerity Dear SCOOPS, Two things. First of all, I’m gonna go ahead and say yes, you are into that Australian, for the following reasons: 1. The last line of your letter indicates that you feel strongly for them, 2. The line before that indicates you think the Australian might be a threat to any other relationship, and 3. I’m interpreting your explanation of “<>” as a coded message to said Australian, who might read Aunt Pythia columns sometimes and might be touched. Second point: do you remember Dan Savage’s advice not to masturbate really hard, with your hand clenched, because then your penis will get used to it and actual sex won’t satisfy? I think it was Dan Savage anyway. Well I kind of feel like saying that to you, but it’s not your penis you’re clenching, it’s your brain. I think you are too picky. I want you to stop being so picky, and start looking for reasons to like the people around you. Find an excuse to have a crush on the next woman who smiles at you. Even more importantly, give that next woman an excuse to have a crush on you, by being charming, funny, and kind. You know, people think that attraction comes from other people, but it’s a damn lie. Attraction stems from ourselves. We make the person we are with attractive, by projecting the person they want to be onto them, and by simultaneously allowing them to let us be as gorgeous, fun, and as sexy as we secretly know we are. When I have a crush on someone, I swoon half at their captivating mojo and the other half at my own ability to detect it and to amplify it. Here’s the best part, namely that it is something we all know how to do if we train ourselves to do it. And you, my friend, are out of practice. So go do some sexy pushups, focus on having a sweet pineful moment, on this continent, on a daily basis, and generally speaking stop clenching so hard, because reality will be a disappointment otherwise. Good luck! Aunt Pythia —— Dear Aunt Pythia, Not a question, but thought you might like this (if you haven’t seen it already). Loyal Reader Dear Loyal, Yes! Love it. Hot. Auntie P —— Dear Aunt Pythia, Why are all the cute girls lesbian (or taken)? Looking Eagerly, Surely, But Inevitably Aborted Near Success Dear LESBIANS, When I was single, I kept seeing these cute guys with amazing homemade sweaters, and I would be disappointed when I found out they already have girlfriends or wives. Then one day it occurred to me that they were wearing the sweaters that their girlfriends had made them – duh – and that I should look for a guy who would look good in a homemade sweater. Done and done. You, my friend, are into the lesbian look. And who isn’t, really. There’s a reason I have blue hair. I suggest you find a straight girl who isn’t taken – there are plenty of them – and convince her to dress like a lesbian once you guys are hot and heavy. Easy peasy, especially since lesbians have badass style that nobody can resist. Good luck! Aunt Pythia —— Congratulations, you’ve wasted yet another Saturday morning with Aunt Pythia! I hope you’re satisfied, you could have made progress on that project instead. But as long as you’re already here, please ask me a question. And don’t forget to make an amazing sign-off, they make me very very happy. Click here for a form or just do it now: Categories: Aunt Pythia Tags: ## Aunt Pythia’s advice Hello, friends. Aunt Pythia is grateful, as usual, to be able to perform her favorite function this morning, namely doling out questionable and downright misleading advice to earnest and vulnerable nerds. She wishes she could do better than that, but there it is. For example, here’s some terrible advice that Aunt Pythia is offering up, although nobody even asked her: if an ultra-orthodox jewish man comes onto the plane and is assigned to sit next to you but refuses to because you’re a women, and he doesn’t want to worry about the possibility sexual contact, then just go ahead and whip out your tits and rub them against him to let him stop worrying. Oh, and there’s also this, which I hope you all watch: Awesome, right? And no, I don’t care if it’s fake. Please signal your agreement by: asking Aunt Pythia a question at the bottom of the page! By the way, if you don’t know what the hell Aunt Pythia is talking about, go here for past advice columns and here for an explanation of the name Pythia. —— Hi AP, In the spirit of your abominable snow woman pic, here is my favorite joke pertinent to the species. Two snow people are eating. One says to the other, “this tastes like boogers.” The other replies, “it’s carrot cake.” Real Men Don’t Eat Carrot Cake Dear RMDECC, No, wait, that’s not better than my favorite snowman joke, which is also shorter: One snowman says to another snowman, “do you smell carrots?” AP —— Aunt Pythia, OK, update. Communication was a good thing in this case. A very big misunderstanding occurred, actually more than one. I guess you can answer the question anyhow if you like, since you love sex questions almost as much as sex. Just put this update in here and tell dudes that if a guy somehow gets the impression that a girl is being shy about getting theirs in return that they should FUCKING ASK. Also tell them that pulling your hips back a little is not the universal sign of “stop, I’m about to come.” METOO Dear METOO, Wow. What? It took me a while to parse this letter, but I think I get it now. You are the person whose letter I published last week, which caused a bit of a stir. Quick summary: new guy, he came and then ignored you, what should you do, and I suggested next time you make sure you come first. Some readers were like, yo, talk about it. Now that I’m against talking about it! I am not against talking about it! I am simply of the opinion that doing is even better than saying in some cases, especially cases where feelings can get easily bruised. Actually, let me be more nuanced. I think pillow talk is great, and I highly encourage it, but I think you need to time it well, preferably after both people have orgasmed and there’s no immediate reason for defensiveness. Anyway, back to the update: I really have no idea what the update says, but clearly you seem to have made some progress in some way. Good for you! I have no idea what you are talking about regarding hips. If you mean that he had some weird theory about body language and interpreted yours to mean he was allowed to ignore your orgasm needs, than obviously that is fucked up reasoning. On the other hand, he might have just made that up on the spot to explain the unexplainable. In any case, I hope things are going better. Good luck, METOO! Aunt Pythia p.s. yes, I do love talking about sex as much as sex. I mean, maybe not as much, but it lasts much longer, so yes, as much. —— Aunt Pythia, What do you think of Fit Kids February? I can’t believe we have a major media company fat-shaming children… NYC1NOT Dear NYC1NOT, I have three things to say. 1. I can’t believe I am still in February with letters. The way I do Aunt Pythia is from oldest to newest, and I never peek ahead, and it’s exciting that I still have more than a month of backlog. That’s never happened before! 2. There’s a difference between fat-shaming kids (bad) and convincing kids to exercise (good). Personally I have no problem with pro-fitness messaging as long as there’s no shaming. Do you have examples of that program being shaming? 3. In any case, thanks for reminding me that I’m looking forward to reading this book: Fat Talk Nation, The Human Toll of America’s War on Fat, written by Susan Greenhalgh, a Harvard anthropology professor. Thank goodness someone is finally working on this issue. Love, Aunt Pythia —— Dear Aunt Pythia, Here’s a little suggestion: there once was man who taught a class on his own time back in California called “Love 1A” after the suicide of one of his students. His name was Leo Buscaglia. During the 1980s his PBS series were very well received – sadly, it appears that a lot of what he spoke about in regards to relationships sort of have fallen by the way side. May I humbly suggest that those who have such issues at least watch his ‘Speaking of Love’ before they may/may not do something they will regret? Mid-age Monastic Mainframe Mechanical Miserably Masturbating in Minnesota Dear MMMMMMM, This guy is awesome. Here’s part 1 of 6: My favorite line: “When you think I’m crazy, that gives me lots of leeway for behavior.” This guy was an inspirational speaker before they became full of shit. Thanks! Aunt Pythia —— Dear Aunt Pythia, I am contacting you because lately I have met a personal crisis. I am hoping you can give me some advice because I think you seem to have such a career that you love. In May I graduate from my bachelor in Computer Science. I have been involved in several research projects as an undergrad and have been certain I wanted to join the academic game. However, not long ago I “discovered” I have never had a proper job, and thought “How can I be so certain about joining academia?” My reasoning before is that I firstly love computer science and the problems I have been solving in a research setting, as well as the curious environment. However, I also realize I enjoy most challenging mathematical/computational problems… What if life as a data scientist in a company I like/or my own would prove even cooler? Sometimes I just want to leave this safe environment I feel like I am in now, and explore the tech world on my own (but perhaps I am scared?). I am now working on a project that is essentially a modeling problem, given some cool data. I have been learning a lot more machine learning algorithms and statistics. I really like this and it makes me want to become a data scientist. I am a very impulsive decision maker- I always listen to my (stochastic?) stomach. And these days my stomach is telling me to go out after I graduate and check out a different environment. I know that my family and people now expect me to do a master etc (and I have applied), and in a way I also expect that of myself because I have wanted it for so long and set these goals. I think there is only one of the masters I applied to that I truly want to do. It is hard to remove these influences and think straight. My worry is that I don’t do something that truly excites me. I think I am a tough person and should be handling this uncertainty well- but I just end up in circles and it drives me nuts, especially when people say “in the end everything will be ok”. The end????! Hence I am contacting you Aunt Pythia. I just want some advice from your wise past on how to deal with these ticking issues that occupy too much thinking time these days. Did you always know you wanted to do academia as an undergraduate? Any advice to a random confused 21 year old who is trying to make sense of randomness is much appreciated. Miss Stochastic Process Dear Miss Stochastic, Great name. Also, I’m possibly the worst person in the world to give advice on this, but that won’t stop me. Go get the masters, maybe a Ph.D.; it won’t be the last thing you do, and you have lots of time. You can try it out and see how it goes. Instead of thinking about what you want to do for the rest of your life, do something that you are likely to enjoy for at least a while, with a strict promise to yourself to quit and change directions once you stop liking it. That’s not to say you should give up at the first sign of trouble or difficulty. By no means am I saying that. If anything it’s the opposite: a challenge is a reason to stick with it. At the first sign of boredom, however, you should start looking around. Good luck! Auntie P —— Congratulations, you’ve wasted yet another Saturday morning with Aunt Pythia! I hope you’re satisfied, you could have made progress on that project instead. But as long as you’re already here, please ask me a question. And don’t forget to make an amazing sign-off, they make me very very happy. Click here for a form or just do it now: Categories: Aunt Pythia ## Aunt Pythia’s advice Holy shit people we’ve got an awesome column today. Aunt Pythia shall not disappoint, and when she says that, she really means that you wonderful readers have not disappointed Aunt Pythia – your questions are surprising and rich and thoughtful as always. It brings a sweet lightness to Aunt Pythia’s otherwise heavy, snuffly head. For you see, Aunt Pythia is suffering from a springtime cold, so nothing too terrible, but it probably didn’t help that Aunt Pythia refused to acknowledge the rain yesterday – because it was 61 degrees! – and insisted on biking everywhere. Not my actual bike, nor the actual spot I was biking yesterday. But close enough for Aunt Pythia. After you all enjoy this marvelous column chock full of ridiculous advice, please don’t forget to: ask Aunt Pythia a question at the bottom of the page! By the way, if you don’t know what the hell Aunt Pythia is talking about, go here for past advice columns and here for an explanation of the name Pythia. —— Hello dearest Auntie P, I just wanted to bring your attention to this calendar – sorry that it’s a buzzfeed article – and wish you the best with sexy pin-up men with various knitted objects. I suppose I don’t really have a question, other than maybe other ideas you have for good calendar pages relating to men posing with sexy yarn? But I hope you have a good day looking at this anyway! Much love, Casting-on Relishly Adorable Fellows To Sex Dear CRAFTS, Oh. My. God. Did you know my dear hubby is Dutch? Did you know I sometimes go to Amsterdam? This is seriously the best thing I’ve ever learned about that place, I’m not much of a smoker. The name “Club Geluk” can be translated as “Club Happiness,” which seems pretty appropriate given this calendar. Here’s my favorite: Is he holding a kiwi? Also, it reminds me of my (previously) favorite calendar, which I buy each year and hand out to some baffled friends and visitors, namely the NYC Taxi Calendar: You can never have too many calendars. Readers, please do send me awesome calendars, I’m officially – as of now – a collector. Love always, Aunt Pythia —— Dear Aunt Pythia, Heads-up: I’m going to try to steer this away from the classic millenial-trying-to-find-purpose-in-life story, but it could go there. I’m a 22-year old trying to decide whether to do a Ph.D. in pure math (topology/geometry). I’m currently taking grad classes in a non-degree program and my thoughts bounce around from “What’s the point of this?” to “Omigoodness my brain is in love” to “I’mstupid-Ihatethis-I’mstupid-Ihatethis”. It’s the sort of thing where I’ll decide ‘definitively’ not to go to grad school, and then immediately solve a hard problem and get into my reach school. Amidst all that, I’ve been looking at alternatives to Ph.D. programs – things that are still intellectually rigorous/analytical but seem more relevant to the world. I’ve even considered switching to (shhhh) applied math. So my first question is this: what options/careers would you suggest to mathematicians who want to be able to “be useful”? My second question comes from the fact that one of the main alternatives to math that I’ve considered is journalism. I enjoy writing and loved the journalism classes I took in undergrad. I was lucky enough to go to a talk you gave recently in which you mentioned data journalism. I’m thoroughly intrigued, but I have no idea how to look into it. How does someone ‘get into’ data journalism? Moral of the story, I’m pretty confused. I love math (and have advisers pushing me towards grad school), but I’m not sure if I like it enough for a Ph.D. (or that I like who I am when I’m doing math). Any/all thoughts you have to offer on this silly mid-life-crisis business would be wonderful. Thank you so much! Does \exists \phi: Me \rightarrow Career, \phi isomorphic? Dear Does, I hear you, it’s tough. Personally I did a better job, when I was your age, at ignoring any possibility besides going to math grad school. I was laser focused. It’s good and bad to be that way, though, because it means you don’t hesitate to make bad choices. Also, I don’t think I’d ever suggest not getting a degree in math. It comes in handy in all sorts of ways even if you end up doing something else. Even if it just trains you to be humble about your abilities, and know how to admit when you’re wrong, two basic and critical take-aways. As for journalism, that’s such a tough field, and you’d find yourself hanging out with people who write articles like this (which is to say they won’t understand math enough to realize that describing Cuomo’s changes in education as a “victory” is not supported by fact). Not saying everyone in journalism is like that – in general I like the skepticism I encounter there – but there’s also real ignorance in some corners, and very few great jobs. But again, also a super rewarding job sometimes and for some people. I wouldn’t tell you not to pursue this if you’re truly interested. The way to get into it – my best guess, not from experience – is to start doing it and posting your pieces on a blog – yours or your friends – or Huffington Post, so you can develop a portfolio that you can show people when you apply. That and work with journalists on their stuff. I guess my overall advice is to get the education you think you want, and realize it’s flexible and can be used in lots of ways. It’s not something math professors tell you, mostly because they don’t know this, but math Ph.D.’s or masters degrees impress people in the outside world. In the meantime take programming classes, keep in touch with applied math people and data journalism projects, and dip your toe into some of those waters when you can; do some projects. Don’t worry too much that the nerds around you are laser-focused, they might have changed completely in a few years, and it’s really not a competition. And good luck! Aunt Pythia —— Dear Aunt Pythia, I’m a female undergraduate at a very good math department about to enter grad school for mathematics. I have a few stereotypically female qualities which I have found to have negatively impacted my time in undergrad. I don’t want to change who I am, but I’m also sick of the sexism in mathematics. Just a quick background of what I’m talking about: Most of my side interests are stereotypically feminine: kids, baking, volunteering. I want to be a serious mathematician, but I also enjoy volunteering in local schools and do so quite frequently. I also am pretty feminine in dress/in personality. I’m not that assertive, and I prefer to not answer in class, despite knowing the answer. Most of the males in my classes are much more assertive, aggressive in answering, and authoritative (even if they have no idea if they are right). I feel that I’m taken less seriously by my peers and taken advantage of because I’m female, but I’m quite shy and quiet and speaking up is very unnatural for me. I perform at the top of my classes and have been successful in my research experiences, but my classmates don’t respect me (probably because I don’t talk about my success or assert my knowledge). I’m fine with my quiet personality, but I don’t know how to deal with my peers. Examples: • Peers assume that I’m going to be a high school math teacher, and are surprised I’m going to grad school. • Many people applied to REUs from my school, but most didn’t get in anywhere and I got into most of the ones I applied to. Two male students complained in the hallway that I only got in because I’m female (which is not true at all – I’ve taken much more math than them and have published before). They only knew I had gotten in because my professors had told them. They don’t know that I heard them. • I TA for Analysis II and Algebra II and students often “bully” me for the answers. When I say “no,” they don’t respect that and just ask again. I’ve tried being more assertive and authoritative. The students don’t pressure my fellow male TAs for answers and don’t ignore their refusals to give more help after many hints have been given. • I’ve been told by my peers that I have a better chance at the grad schools I applied to because I’m female. These are just a few examples – I’m treated differently and feel alone in my undergrad department. I’m just generally lost! I want to be stronger in grad school and I want people to respect my mathematical abilities, but I don’t know how to be assertive without being arrogant or over-confident. I want peers to stop assuming that I know less. Do you have any advice about how I can change in grad school? Sorry for the super long question! Wants To Change For Grad School Dear Wants To Change, First of all, congratulations. Sounds like you’re killing it. Seriously, and I’m so glad that your talent is being acknowledged and welcomed by the people who admit you and recruit you to REU’s and grad schools. It tells me that you are in a better place than you let yourself think. Spend a few minutes just gloating. Second of all, fuck those assholes. Seriously. Fuck them. I know what you’re going through because I went through that stuff too, even though I wasn’t at all shy. The worst kind of person is the arrogant young man, they are unbelievably insufferable. I knew more than my share of such men, and let me tell you, they drove me nuts, and they also drove nice men nuts, as well as all the professors. They are universally despised and tolerated only because sometimes they turn out to be human by the time they get older and humbled (see above letter). Third, some advice: 1. Stick with it, everyone gets better when they are a bit older and less insecure. The truly insecure people often self-select out of the math scene altogether because they’re afraid they can’t cut it. For the horrible ones that stay, they become less and less relevant as they are isolated and everyone hates them. 2. Never bake anything for math people. Seriously, there’s something about the act of baking in a department that brings out sexism. Stick with your baking for high school kids who will simply love you for it. 3. Just ignore students who ask for answers. Yes, they are bullying you because they are completely unthreatened by you. But when they learn you don’t do that, they will stop. 4. I would suggest you challenge yourself to answer questions in class, especially if you are taking a class from someone you hope to work with. It is a great habit to have. 5. I would never suggest you change anything else about yourself, except for experimentation’s sake and if you are comfortable doing so. You might find people take you more seriously in certain outfits, and I’d never tell you not to wear them, but in this day and age the idea that you have to conform to other people’s standards of what a “serious” mathematician looks like is fucked. 6. Most important, remember that you’re there to be educated, and it’s all about you, not them. Their egos are crying out in pain because they are threatened, and sometimes the noise is deafening, but learn to put on a set of ego headphones. 7. Also, feed yourself. You might sometimes have problems with your own ego, and you should also be able to seek support, even though it won’t come at the expense of others. Think about how you can get it. I’m imagining that volunteering is a source of that for you, in which case please think of it as an alternative to therapy, and don’t ever ever give it up. Good luck! Aunt Pythia —— Dear Aunt Pythia, You’re (still) my favorite blogger, but I feel like you may have erred in your response to “Gossiped About And Hurt Humongously”. You accuse him of claiming women are “discriminated in favor of”, which he did not. He said, “I was arguing that gender plays a role in fellowship/scholarship selection and college admissions”, which does not indicate in who’s favor that bias might be directed. I think in this case you’ve unfairly put word in his mouth that were not there. Am I missing something here? Sad And Disappointed Dear SAD, Yeah, maybe. I mean, I agree that I read into it a bit, but I’m not sure what I did was unfair. Let’s go back to what he said about the actual conversation: I’m a guy and a grad student and I was talking to a fellow grad student, Z, about gender issues in academia. Specifically, I was arguing that gender plays a role in fellowship/scholarship selection and college admissions, and she claimed that no, an applicant’s sex does not have any detectable influence on such decisions. We started talking about affirmative action and before we had time to even discuss the implications of affirmative action, she had to go to class and I thought that was the end of it. I took from this description that he was arguing that there existed affirmative action in admissions, and that this would promote women. I don’t think that was a crazy jump, since I’ve never heard of affirmative action that promotes men. Readers, what do you think? The full question and answer are here. Aunt Pythia —— Dear Aunt Pythia, OK, I fucked up. He does say later in the article, that he did make the pro female bias contention. As my girlfriend just pointed out to me. I still don’t think that is by default sexist, but I have to admit I read right over that without even seeing it, which may be. Sad And Dissapointed SAD, Oh, what? Let me take another look. Oh right, he goes on to say, “being female sometimes helps in getting scholarships and in college admissions”. Thanks for writing back! Aunt Pythia —— Dear Aunt Pythia, After some years of “screw it, I’m not even bothering to date,” I met someone I like a lot. He is very smart, interesting, etc, etc. I made him wait ages to spend the night at my house, and last night he finally stayed over. So anyway, the making out was awesome. We hit the bedroom, and all the clothes come off. Then, four minutes into giving him a blowjob, he just comes. No warning, but I’m ok with that, and I apparently give pretty good ones. What I’m not ok with was that we were now done. Excuse me, what the fuck? This guy isn’t a selfish jerk at all, and I get that maybe the mood dies for him a bit after he’s gotten his. I also seem to have an effect on some men that makes them a bit “quick.” Given all that, what the hell do I do now? I will give him another shot, but if the same thing happens, he might be getting dumped. On the other hand, he’s practically the only man I have really been interested in for a long time (like, years). I am not interested in having a discussion about it, and I especially don’t want to make this guy feel bad if he has some medical/PE type issue. However, I also can’t let him think this is acceptable. Anyway, what would you do? (Actually, I know you, and you’d probably just grab his head and put it between your legs. Any other thoughts for the less assertive among us?) My Enjoyment The Optional Orgasm Dear METOO, Alternative, less aggressive, no-talk option: start masturbating. What’s he going to do, watch? I mean, maybe. Or maybe he will help you out. He sounds like it’s worth a try. Although, to be very honest, that’s what I’d start doing first, before the blowjob, when you get him into bed the next time. He’s already shown you that he goes second. Good luck! Auntie P —— Congratulations, you’ve wasted yet another Saturday morning with Aunt Pythia! I hope you’re satisfied, you could have made progress on that project instead. But as long as you’re already here, please ask me a question. And don’t forget to make an amazing sign-off, they make me very very happy. Click here for a form or just do it now: Categories: Aunt Pythia ## Aunt Pythia’s advice Dear readers! Do you know where Aunt Pythia is right now? She’s on a train from Washington D.C., coming home from a very short and very pleasant visit, involving a delicious dinner, an evening talk, and even more delicious desserts. Not the actual desserts from last night. Readers, it needs to be said that not one, not two, but three different times – in the span of 4 hours – someone mentioned to Aunt Pythia that she shouldn’t forget her duties the following morning. And has she forgotten? No, she hasn’t, and it’s not only because she was reminded so gently and so often last night. No, it’s because Aunt Pythia loves and adores you – worships you, really – and could never forget you. If she doesn’t write it’s because she can’t write. And as Amtrak’s wifi is holding up (so far!), we are all in for a treat. Auntie P knows she is, anyway. Give it up for trains people, and after that, don’t forget to: ask Aunt Pythia a question at the bottom of the page! By the way, if you don’t know what the hell Aunt Pythia is talking about, go here for past advice columns and here for an explanation of the name Pythia. —— Dear Aunt Pythia, You have written that sexual compatibility is important in finding an appropriate partner. But how do you ask or find that out when meeting people to consider dating? And when/how/where does when ask the question, “so how many sexual partners have you had?” I guess you have to date a person to find that out, and I know I shouldn’t ask that on the first date, and maybe even 2nd. And if the answer is above say two, how does one end the courtship without making the other person feel bad? Here’s where I’m coming (hehe) from: I have been using okcupid to select for people that seem sexually compatible based on the questions they answer (e.g How many dates till sex?), but as is par for the course when it comes to online dating (at least for guys like me who are not tall, handsome, and/or rich) it is very hard to get responses (let alone dates) to the tons of (non-sexual) messages of interest I send. (I’ve had about 5 dates over 8 years of online dating). So I’m trying other ways (speed dating, meet ups, friends, and perhaps, math conferences) to meet people. I am very sexually inexperienced – I am in my mid 30’s and haven’t made it past a 2nd date; I’ve never had a girlfriend; never been kissed (except maybe by my mom), and so on. My answer to the “how many dates till sex” is the “6 or more” option, and I only contact women with that answer. (I can’t fathom going on only 3-5 dates with someone and then having sex with them!) I am not comfortable dating someone with a lot of sexual partners, because I’m scared of STDs. I mean, you can test for some of the major STDs, but for others (e.g HPV, warts) it’s not always clinically practical, and then what about latency period during which microbes not detectable, and so on. In fact, I’d prefer to date a virgin like myself for that reason, but unfortunately that is unlikely to find at my age (apart from religious people; but I don’t like religion and would not get along with them). Also, my mom is a religious sex-negative nutcase (who has made sex shameful for me)- for example she isn’t happy or comfortable that my sister married a guy who had two previous partners; but he has been an awesome husband for the past 5 years. very inexperienced regarding getting into nooky Dear virgin, First thing’s first. The way you figure out whether you are sexually compatible with someone is by having sex with them. And it may be great, or it may be terrible, or it may (and this is the most likely one) be not terrible but not great, in which case you might have to get better at it with that person (or just get better at it, period). Which may not work, even if you try a bunch, in which case you need to find another person and try again. Conclusion: you might find yourself having sex a few times, maybe even a lot of times, with a few people, or many people, before you find the right person for you. Secondary conclusion: if you run across someone who has had sex a bunch of times with a bunch of other people, then you should assume that they are doing it right. You should not assume they are an STD waiting to happen. Unless they are, of course, that is also possible. Make sure they practice safe sex. Next question: when do you ask someone how many sexual partners they have had? Answer: never. That is never a relevant question, in my book. Why does it matter? Unless you’re dealing with a freaked out virgin who has been convinced to worry about STD’s, there’s really no point in having that conversation. Next question: how do you end a relationship with someone because they’ve had more sex than you without making them feel bad? I’d have to say, first think about how to have a relationship at all, with a real person, then worry about that. Oh but wait, since you’re never going to ask them how many sexual partners they’ve had, this won’t come up. Here’s the thing. Once you’ve gone this long without getting laid, it takes on mythical proportions. It doesn’t need to. Sex doesn’t have to be all that mind-blowing or earth-shattering. Or dangerous, either. Sex is just like prolonged hugging, except stickier. Friend, you have fallen prey – big time – to the most common mistake of online dating, namely using the information that has been disclosed via online dating and assuming it is sufficient to understand whether you could love someone. It is not. In fact, that data is mostly misleading, especially the picture (and here are Aunt Pythia’s alternative questions). Also, I think you might need to reread your question and think about the role your mother has had in your life. Specifically, with religion and sex. I’m no expert on this stuff (but fuck it, pretending to be is really the whole point of this column), but it looks like, in an effort to keep you on the religious path, your mother has deliberately perverted your expectations about sex. That might work in some contexts, where there’s a village matchmaker pairing off young virgins, but it aint here. We are in a free market in terms of sex, for better or for worse. If you want to know more about that, please read Why Love Hurts, a really excellent book. My advice: stop thinking about STD’s, start thinking about things that matter long term like whether you want kids, or where you want to live, or how you want to be awesome. Cultivate a reason for a woman to fall in love with you that is better and sexier than fear. Good luck, Aunt Pythia —— Dear Tia Pythia (summoning my inner Spaniard), I’m 20 years removed from official education, when I received a B.A. in Math. I worked in an actuarial department for a few years, and then for about 15 years in the IT dept of an accounting firm, where I did some programming, some design, and a lot of higher tier technical support. I was let go about 18 months ago, and am now applying to a few Masters degree programs in Management Information Systems. I’m also contemplating applying to Data Science Boot Camps (there are a few out there), but they’re all in the$15,000 range. I’m skeptical about spending that on a program which doesn’t result in an actual degree, but I am curious to get your opinion on such technical boot camps.

Trying to turn the circular corner of my career

Dear Trying,

Yeah, I have no idea. I thought of starting one of those boot camps myself out here in New York, but then I realized the cost would be pretty steep to make it work, and in particular the very people who I’d want to attract wouldn’t have the cash, because the point of it would be to train them into shape to get the job.

That said, if they are really devoted to data, they should have data on how well their graduates do in the job market.

Also, getting a masters degree sounds good, but only if the skills it will teach you are up-to-date and will get you a job afterwards. If I were you I’d compare the curriculum to the stuff listed on LinkedIn as required knowledge for the jobs you want.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I want to support female mathematicians, and make sure they feel comfortable and welcome at conferences. And I make sure I my encourage female students and call on them and that I don’t make comments to put them down and so on.

Ok, now that we got that out of the way. I’m a single guy in my mid 30s (never had a girlfriend despite wanting one). Is it inappropriate to go to math conferences with hopes of finding love? (My mom suggests I do this, but I think my mom is clueless; she is not in math).

My question again is, is it appropriate to indicate romantic interest to a female mathematician I meet at a conference, and if so how? Typically I won’t know whether or not she is single (e.g she may not be wearing any obvious wedding ring) so then how should I go about figuring out (or asking) if she has a boyfriend? Is it appropriate to ask “Do you have a boyfriend?” And to be clear I’m not interested in a one-night stand, but a loving relationship between one man and one woman, as the holy bible requires (I actually can’t stand religion, just added that facetiously because I support gay rights).

Do you have a strategy for how I should go about this goal? Should I study her mathematical work (which I likely would be interested in, regardless of my interest in her) before the conference, and then use that to begin a mathematical conversation with her, and perhaps even a mathematical collaboration with her (which I would enjoy, even if there was no reciprocal romantic interest on her part)? Given my lack of past success with women, I am not confident that she will have any romantic interest in me, which may lead to great awkwardness.

Should I feel ashamed for posing such a question (to Aunt Pythia)? I get the sense (based on some past Aunt Pythia column comments) that going to conferences in part to meet women interested in math might offend some feminists (but if I was gay, my question would be about meeting men). And I wonder how is it some mathematicians are in relationships with other mathematicians whom they met “at work” (e.g in grad school, post-doc, professor, etc) – how’d they navigate past the possibility of sexual harassment? I am confused. I long for love, like everyone else does. And I’m sad I can’t seem to find it anywhere.

Great question. It’s all in the details. You’ve got some good thoughts here, but you’ve also got some stuff that comes across as super creepy. So let’s clean it up a bit.

OK:

• Making friends with people at conferences, men and women.
• Reading their math beforehand and asking them to discuss it in person, knowing it is almost certainly remaining a professional connection which you actually value.
• Being open to love if things click.

NOT OK:

• Following around women, glomming on to them, or otherwise making them uncomfortable at a conference. Whatever you do, ask yourself, “would I do this to a man?” and “why don’t I got ahead and do this to a man for a while so I can convince myself and others that I’m not a creep?”
• Studying up on someone’s math for the sole purpose of enticing them into a “work conversation” so then you can turn it into a date. Ew, totally gross.
• Acting like a conference is a sexy sexy party. It’s not, although sometimes there are parties at conferences, and sometimes they get sexy. To be on the safe side, assume that the women there are there because they want to talk math and meet mathematicians in a professional way. Just because they’re at a party and drinking doesn’t mean they are open to advances.

If you are unsure of whether your actions are creepy, my suggestion is to ask a man or woman who knows you and likes you and whom you trust is not themselves a creep.

In general, my suggestion is to be nice, and friendly, and invite multiple people to lunch, or join a group of people for lunch, and take the opportunity to engage in a fun conversation with the person sitting next to you. If you’re enjoying the conversation, mention that you’re planning to go to restaurant X tomorrow for lunch, and would they like to join? Stuff like that. Make it easy for them to say no, and to bring friends, and be sure they never feel pressured in any way.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Aunt Pythia,

There is a function that I can run online. There is apparently some Visual Basic code that implements the algorithm. I pay to have access to be able to run the function. I would like to be able to do automated testing of the function, but to do that, I have thought that I need to have my own implementation. The guy behind this has some functions that he gives me a script that explains how they work.

In the case of this one, there isn’t a script, just code that is not publicly available. The function takes as input two three-digit numbers. the output is 12 three-digit numbers. Is there a machine learning approach that I could use to derive the function so that I can test its performance?

The answer is no, at least with the information you’ve given me. I have no idea how that function is derived, what form it’s in. If I knew it was a polynomial function (or 12), with some kind of well-defined form, then absolutely, I could infer the coefficients using linear algebra. But given that it always transforms a three digit numbers into three digit numbers, it doesn’t sound polynomial.

It might not even be intrinsically integral: maybe it uses cosines and logarithms and at the very end it lops off the digits to the left and right of some three digits. The point is, without more information I simply have no idea how to infer the function. I need more, and so do you.

Aunt Pythia

——

Aunt Pythia,

I’m interested in your take on the recent New York Times op-ed piece, Searching for Sex.

It seems to me that there are a lot of assumptions contained in the analysis. But I’m writing to ask for your view, not to share mine. How correct do you think his claims are? Should we care about them?

Person seeking every unique dictum on this one recently seen opinion report

Dear Pseudotorsor,

Fantastic sign-off.

You know, I kind of love it when statistics point out how much people lie about sex. It’s one of my favorite things. What I especially like about the condom story in that article is how it’s obvious that both men and women exaggerate how often they’re having sex, at least with condoms. I say, awesome! I love how people always think they’re porn stars. And although men lie more, it’s cool that women also lie.

Here’s the thing, though. Do we really want to be corrected? I mean, given that I haven’t had nearly as much sex as I wish I had, can’t you data people just leave me alone to my imagined life? Does it do any good, really, to think about just how many weeks go by that are utterly dry?

My theory as to why people lie: when you have sex with a person, it creates a temporary (but fantastic!) amnesiatic effect, where you can’t remember what you were mad about, what was wrong in the world, or how long it had been before that moment that you last had sex. It’s also an amazing hangover cure.

So your brain does this thing, in response, whereby it guesstimates that you must have been having sex pretty regularly, i.e. about once a week. And that brain fart lasts for like 4 weeks. Thus the bias.

My point is, it’s a good bias to have, in general, for most people. In fact (and somewhat ironically!) only actual porn stars are suffering from too little perceived sex. Go us! Go imaginary sex!

In other words, I think the author is wrong to ask, why do we have so little sex? I think we instead should be asking, how can we be unreasonably happy about other things just like we are unreasonably happy about our sex lives?

Auntie P

——

Congratulations, you’ve wasted yet another Saturday morning with Aunt Pythia! I hope you’re satisfied, you could have made progress on that project instead.

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Dearest readers, do you know how much Aunt Pythia loves you and misses you during the week? So much that she’s baked everyone a pie for pi day:

Confession: I stole this pic off the web. I could never make a pie that perfect.

According to my calculations, it’s about to be a once-in-a-century moment to celebrate the number pi, so please grab a fork.

Also, you know what they say about April showers bringing May flowers, right? Well now it’s March showers too. It’s raining impressively outside. It’s all good though, because Aunt Pythia is counting on the rain to wash away all those nasty cigarette butts that have emerged from the dirty melted snow. Yuck!

A final word before we get started: this column doesn’t just happen, it’s all about you guys asking your very serious and important questions (no fewer than two sex-related questions this week!) and Aunt Pythia’s terrible and poorly thought out advice, and then of course the commenters who correct me. In other words, it’s just like public radio except more titillating.

All this to say that, after you read today’s column, don’t forget to:

ask Aunt Pythia a question at the bottom of the page!

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

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I met my boyfriend last spring. We’re both STEM majors and had a DiffEq class together. We quickly learned to integrate. We also found ways to locate the local maximum quickly when needed or to calculate the slow, asymptotic convergence to the major axis. My problem is not with Jim.

We each live in apartments off campus even though our families are in the local metro area. We have visited each other’s homes many times. In late spring when it got warm we began going to Jim’s mother’s house on the weekend to swim in the pool and get some sun.

Mrs. W is divorced and she dates frequently. Jim has told me she has no serious relationships, but he thinks she has several FWBs. She is a partner in a prestigious law firm. She works long hours so Jim and I frequently have the uninterrupted use of the house.

One Saturday in June, we went out to the house to go swimming. When I walked out to the pool, I saw Mrs. W sunning herself. Dressed in a tankini with boy shorts, her mid-forties, well-toned body looked fabulous. She got up to greet me as always. She usually gives me a collarbone-to-collarbone hug and a kiss on the cheek. This time the hug was a full-body hug and a wet kiss landed on the side of my neck. Additionally, one of her hands ended up low on my back; so low that her pinky rested on my bikini bottom right at the top of my butt. The full-body hug, kiss on the neck and hand low on my back became her standard greeting whenever we met.

On Labor Day Jim and I decided to have an end-of-summer pool closing party. I drove out to the house early to help set up. When I got there, Mrs. W greeted me at the door with her hug and told me that Jim had run to the store to get drinks and snacks. She followed me to Jim’s room where I stripped off the shorts and tank top I had worn over my bikini. She hugged me again, telling me how glad she was that Jim and I were dating. It was her standard hug, except this time her hand slipped inside my bikini bottom until her fingers rested over the top of my crack. After about 5 seconds, she jumped back apologizing profusely for being clumsy.

In December she announced that she was giving me clothes for Christmas. We went shopping at a very upscale department store. We selected several outfits for me to try on. She also selected four halter tops that she said she would need when she and an FWB went to Aruba for New Year’s. We entered the dressing room and I eagerly began mixing and matching tops and bottoms. Mrs. W took off her blouse and bra to try on the halter tops. Soon we had chosen the outfits for me. Mrs. W had selected the tops she wanted also. The last top did not look good against her skin and she suggested that I try it on.

She took it off and handed it to me. When I had it on, she said it looked great and we would get it so I could wear it for Jim in the spring. I slipped back out of it. Mrs. W told me how much she enjoyed taking me shopping and gave me a hug. We were both topless and she held me for half a minute or more. I was surprised at how nice it felt.

Since that shopping trip, Mrs. W has featured in some of my solo fantasies.

My birthday is coming up in early March. As my birthday gift, Mrs. W has invited me to go on a ‘girl’s only’ weekend to a resort spa. I’m excited about the possibilities yet a little scared to go.

Now my two questions: (1) Am I reading her signals right? (2) She’s my boyfriend’s mom!?!?

Befuddled In MAssachusetts Yet Bewitched and Excited

Dear BIMAYBE,

Holy. I can’t, even. I mean, for fuck’s sake.

How long did it take you to concoct that story?! That is absolutely amazing. You should totally start writing singles for Amazon Kindle. You are really miles ahead of your competition. I’m sweaty over here on a chilly rainy late winter morning.

Plus, the math at the beginning, and the sign-off at the end. Just phenomenal. Maybe my favorite all-time Aunt Pythia submission (har har).

Thanks, here it is: can you come over and hang out with me and tell me how you come up with that stuff? I’m all ears. My email is on my “about” page. Please let me know it’s really you by sending me the next chapter.

And, just in case you are for real, I’ll just say, my advice is to write down what happens next and send it to me via email (which is on my “about” page). Because there’s really nothing at stake here, no morals to worry about, at least that I can see from my vantage point of heavy breathing voyeur.

So yes, my question and my answer amount to the same thing: SEND ME MORE!

Love,

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Do you think that we will ever see legal, on-line gambling or will the gambling interests be able to continue to block it? There is a Costa Rican website that we are allowed to use, but I don’t understand why poker players can’t gamble legally? I have thought, at least, that is still true.

Sonambulist

Dear Sonambulist,

Huh? What? Gambling? Not sure, completely distracted. Please do look that up.

Oh wait, it looks complicated. As in, you’d probably not get in trouble as a user, but if you wanted to set something up you might want to be prepared to flee quickly if and when your site is discovered. Also, it might depend whether you can convincingly argue that poker is a game of skill, not of luck. Personally I have been very very consistently unlucky with poker, so I’d say luck.

Auntie P

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

My Office Cat likes to sit on my keyboard and set in front of the display. What can I do? He needs to be in the office, because his litter box is in the office closet. Also, he likes to be with me.

Dear ML,

I think you’ve confused me for a cat person. I am not. I am a dog person. Dog people don’t understand cat people in various aspects, and this would be one of those aspects. From my perspective, you have a few choices:

1. find a new job (with dog people),
2. bring your dog to work,
3. figure out a way of making your keyboard less comfortable, or
4. figure out a way of making something else more comfortable for the cat than your keyboard. For example, build the cat a place to play. Be this guy, who is super awesome and makes me love cat people. Then, after you build the cat palace for 15 years or so, you can get your work done.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Total egghead here. I want to write an op-ed, but I’d like to find some data to support my arguments. (“For example, at Big State U, precalculus courses make up 80% of the courses taught, and they’re taught largely by mathematics graduate students.”) But the problem I’m facing as an out-of-date mathematician is this: how the hell do you actually get your paws on data?! Surely public universities should make such data available…somewhere. Right? Or am I nutters?

Upstate Upstart

Dear UU,

Auntie P

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Sorry in advance for any TMI. I’m a 20-year-old female nerd suffering from a common sexual dysfunction: it’s a chronic muscle spasm in my nether regions which makes any form of penetration incredibly painful. I’ve never been able to insert so much as a tampon without discomfort.

I can certainly experience pleasure in other ways, but as a horny and regrettably heterosexual college student, this has really thrown a wrench in my romantic/sex life. I exude the personality of someone who’d have a lot of casual sex, but I frequently pass on hookups I’d otherwise pursue for fear of embarrassing myself or disappointing the person in question. I’ve had some very understanding partners in the past, but I’m single right now and about to move to a new place without any old flames.

Obviously you’re not a physical therapist and can’t fix my actual problem, but I guess my question is, is it impolite to pick up dudes at a bar or party with no intention of letting anything more than a finger in my cooch? How transparent should I be about my issue? How weird will I come off as if I dodge the act without going into detail about why? Do you have any ideas for a smooth exit strategy?

Again… sorry for TMI…

Venture Among Girls Instead Now? Invoke Spinsterhood? More Uncomfortable Sex?

Dear VAGINISMUS,

ARE YOU KIDDING?!!? Aunt Pythia does not understand the meaning of the phrase “TMI.” Plus, she loves learning about new things, although this specific thing is bad news, and she’s very sorry you have to deal with it.

As for your question. It is very very clear in my head that you have not made any vaginal promises to a man just by picking him up in a bar. There are all sorts of ways to enjoy time together, clothed or naked, without doing something that would cause you pain. You have no apologies to make, and neither do you have explanations.

I do think you might want to be prepared to offer pleasure in other ways, but goodness knows you already have a long list of such methods. There’s not a drunk male alive that wouldn’t be satisfied with that list. If you get to know someone well, and it’s actually a sober 5th date, then of course you might feel like explaining what’s up. But absolutely do it on your own time, and don’t stand for anything except gratitude.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Congratulations, you’ve wasted yet another Saturday morning with Aunt Pythia! I hope you’re satisfied, you could have made progress on that project instead.

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Readers! Lots of love to spread today, and I’ve got a love shovel. So be prepared to get covered from head to toe in love.

And no, it’s nothing like snow, so don’t worry about wearing boots or anything. In fact it’s best experienced naked, as most good things are. Think of it as powerful self-love which has been donated to you by a good friend, along with a strong cup of tea and a delicious piece of chocolate babka from Breads Bakery. Holy fuck that’s good stuff.

If you don’t know what I mean by self-love then go ahead and read this piece (hat tip Becky Jaffe).

Also, and relatedly, if you find self-love interesting, you might also find Bitch Planet interesting. I haven’t read it yet but I read this review, and I found it fascinating, especially this line:

Penny not only feels more herself at her size … she also doesn’t care if she offends your eye; in fact, she prefers it.

Fascinating food for thought.

Hey, now, don’t let me get distracted. It’s time for some advice! It’s that time again when I take your perfectly reasonable questions and utterly fuck them up with terrible suggestions. Are you ready? Let’s do this!!

And afterwards, don’t forget to:

ask Aunt Pythia a question at the bottom of the page!

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

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m a math student in my last year (yay!) who has found an incredible study/friend group to work/socialize with since starting college and, overall, I would say life is pretty awesome (infinity yay!). Recently one of these friends (let’s call him X) has come out and, being a gay guy myself, I feel super proud of him and I want him to feel supported by everyone and to help make this transition as smooth as possible (I remember only too well how unpleasant it was for myself).

There is, however, one quirk of his that I don’t approve of and try to discourage: continually hitting on/sexually objectifying a straight male friend of ours (let’s call him Y). Y has confided in me that he is extremely uncomfortable with him doing this. I’ve seen it in action before and really any person (gay or straight) would share the same visceral reaction of extreme discomfort seeing X behave as he does around Y. I’ve tried a few times to take X aside and explain that I, too, have had feelings for straight male friends and wanted to act out the way he does, but it’s actually very rude and inconsiderate to do those things; in fact it’s no different from a straight male making unwanted sexual advances on a female colleague. But it doesn’t seem to stick. I thought it would get better once he started seeing guys, since he would have an outlet for his sexual energy, but it’s only gotten worse.

More recently, his unwanted sexual hovering has spread to basically any straight male he finds attractive. Obviously, I’m concerned for X’s sake that if he continues acting this way, he’ll end up alienating himself both professionally and socially from a lot of people (man and woman, gay and straight). My opinion (barring exceptional cases) is that people who come out before the age of 25 should get a 6-month pass to clean up whatever shit they brought with them from their straight days. But it’s been almost 4 months and it’s not getting any better.

What can I say (if anything at all) to my sexually-objectifying gay male nerd friend X? Am I doomed to watch this turn into a train wreck or should I just accept that I can’t fix this problem for him and move on? I still care a lot about his well-being and obviously want the best for him. HELP US, PLEASE?

Got A Lotta (\bar{Q}uirky/Questions)

Dear GAL(\bar{Q}/Q),

If I saw such behavior I’d just speak up, for X’s sake, Y’s sake, and a whole bunch of other (Y’)’s sakes. And I think you should too.

In fact, you’ve got a wonderful set of points to make to him, along these lines:

1. I’m really glad you came out, good for you.
2. In general I think people get a 6-month pass on weird stuff after they come out.
3. For you it’s been 4 already, and I’m getting worried.
4. Because I see some of your behavior as offensive, even if you don’t, and I’m worried about you.
5. Namely, you focus too much sexual energy on straight guys who are not inviting it.
6. I’ll talk about this more if you want, but I want you to know I’m here for you.

Obviously, when you make such a speech to a friend, they are likely to feel ashamed and angry. So expect that, and give it time. You will be doing the right thing, and I expect your friendship will survive. And if it doesn’t, you might not want to hang out with him after all.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Auntie P,

I am new to the site and I’ve already read all of your articles for this year. Every time I revisit your website, I have to scroll down for a while until I can find the next article I haven’t read. I appreciate the ‘Categories’ button but I’ve still encountered the same issue here.

I was wondering if you could organize the site better to make it easier to navigate around. Here are a few sorting suggestions:
1. Sort for most popular to least popular.
2. Sort based on blog entry year.
3. Sort based on oldest to newest.

Thanks!

Seeking Order Restore Trust

Dear SORT,

Nice sign off.

OK so let me get this straight, you want the greatest Aunt Pythia hits, and my current system of search by category is getting you down. I appreciate the love and want to help, obv.

The thing is, I’m not sure how to correct this. WordPress.com only gives me so many tools to work with. Moreover, they’ve lately been arbitrarily presenting me with a “new” and an “old” system for blogging, and in the old system I had categories laid out for me, hard to ignore or forget, and I’d pretty consistently categorize my posts with “Aunt Pythia” when applicable, but in the new system the categories are impossible to find, so some recent Aunt Pythia columns don’t even get categorized in the Aunt Pythia category!

In other words, major sorting calamity.

I’d love to do better. If anyone knows more than I do about how to work with an archive of wordpress posts, please pipe up, thanks.

Love always,

Auntie P

——

Hey Aunt Pythia!

Thanks for your column. I want to get your thoughts on a situation been going around and around in my head for ages (help!). I know there won’t be just one answer to this – but I wanna get yours!

You write about being someone who falls in love all the time, but you also write about being in a relationship. How can other couples get past the hurt/betrayal that so often seems to accompany extra-relationship flirting / crushes / affairs?

I’m in a long-term relationship I value and I see it continuing indefinitely – unless I get caught flirting and cheating again. My partner feels betrayed by this behavior, but I’m not sure I can (or want to) resist the thrill I get from it. We both want to make our relationship work but aren’t sure how.

Lots of different approaches to this, naturally.

Important question: you say your partner feels betrayed by this behavior, but you don’t say what you’ve said to your partner when you’ve been previously caught cheating. Did you promise never to do it again? Or did you explain that you still love your partner and still want to stay with them?

I know to many that may sound like splitting hairs to some, but I think it’s key.

For the cheaters I know, at least the successful ones, they don’t lie to their partners and pretend they’ll never again stray. They acknowledge the feeling of betrayal, they try to prevent pain in their loved ones, but they don’t promise they’ll change, because they know they won’t.

Here’s my advice. In a moment when there’s no temptation in sight, when you are not crushed out on anyone and so there’s no imminent threat, talk to your partner about your love for them, about your desire to stay with them, and about the irresistible thrill you get out of flirting and – yes – sometimes more. Explain that you don’t think this is something that will go away, and that if you “promise” it will never again happen, you’re afraid that will be an empty promise. See what happens.

For fuck’s sake, don’t wait until you are dying to fuck some cutie at work to bring up this topic, because that will come out and then jealousy will ensue. Talk about it abstractly to see if an arrangement can be made.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

p.s. Some readers might wonder what I mean by “successful cheaters.” I’m gonna leave it there for now but feel free to ask.

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Perhaps you would please give me some study advice. In disregard, but no doubt substantiating, Hardy’s admonition: do not attempt over sixty (as in the essay you mention on the blog), I am a 70 year-old self studier having started three years ago.

Needless to say I am nowhere near as proficient as I would like to be, but so what. I really dig it.

I have picked a lot of the low hanging fruit in a standard undergrad curriculum. As an alternative to academic texts (I have been quite picky in choosing them), I would really like focus and cultivate a bit of expertise in some niche area.

I would appreciate any study recommendations: I would be most interested in a cool topic, especially if it has a masterpiece text or set of notes. I am deliberately avoiding expressing any preferences for particular areas as I am more interested in the process.

Thanks for giving this your consideration.

Best regards,

Antipodal

Antipodal,

Are you kidding me? I learned everything I know from wikipedia and other people. I basically never read technical books.

But good luck!

Aunt Pythia

p.s. Have you seen this?

——

Congratulations, you’ve wasted yet another Saturday morning with Aunt Pythia! I hope you’re satisfied, you could have made progress on that project instead.

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

Categories: Aunt Pythia

My, my, my. It’s been a while. Aunt Pythia plum forgot about her duties last Saturday, what with all the math nerds and such in San Antonio.

Many apologies! But don’t think Aunt Pythia didn’t miss you, because nothing could be less true: Aunt Pythia positively pined for you this last week. It was excruciating and slightly adorable. Trust me on that one.

Before I begin, Aunt Pythia wants to share her latest knitting pattern with you, since it’s butt cold here in the East and was even freezing cold in Texas, so we all need cowls. Yes we do, and here’s the one I’m making (along with the hat!):

Mine is burgundy and black. And I’ve heard from good sources that this doesn’t actually look like Klimt’s art at all, even though it’s called a “Klimt cowl.” Artistic license.

Isn’t that just darling? And warm? Aunt Pythia knew you’d agree.

OK, onto the day’s delightful task. I am feeling more than usually oracle-esque today, tell me if you agree in the comments below. And in any case,

ask Aunt Pythia a question at the bottom of the page!

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

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

What has happened to the Occupy movement? In the media that I read, it is totally disappeared. I was thinking that you were still involved, at least in Finance. Right now, it seems like the current administration is owned by Wall Street bankers. That can’t be a good situation. Is there a mathematical angle to this?

Missing Person

Dear Missing Person,

The Alt Banking group still meets every week on Sunday afternoons. We often have super interesting guest speakers and we’ve been writing pieces for the Huffington Post. We also continue to get positive feedback about our book and our cards. Feel free to come to the meetings! And even if you can’t come, you can get on the mailing list by emailing that request to alt.banking.OWS@gmail.com.

In terms of the Obama administration, yes, it’s owned by Wall Street, and to be honest I didn’t think it could get worse but we’ll see if I’m wrong starting now. I hear the Republican congress has even worse plans for watering down Dodd Frank than have already been exposed.

Jesse Eisenger’s recent column was right on, in my opinion. If Obama wants to redeem himself and leave a less-than-shameful legacy, he needs to act big right now. Also, keep an eye on Bernie Sanders from now on, as well as Liz Warren.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I live in San Francisco, but I work on international human rights not in the tech industry. Naturally, a handful of my friends work at Google or at start-ups – things that fall under the umbrella of “tech.”

I had dinner with them tonight and I walked away feeling very agitated. Whenever I hang out with them, I always walk away with the sense that they think they’re smarter than me. I can’t figure out if this is my projection onto them or they really give off this attitude.

The night was going fine but then we talked about the Google shuttles fiasco. We had a friend visiting from out of town who was curious why people were protesting the buses. I told her that some people felt that it was reducing access to local transport, since they used government bus stops. All three of my tech friends, two of whom work at Google, scrambled to tell me 1. that I have a skewed perception, I’m blowing things out of proportion, and that I don’t have an accurate assessment of the situation 2. that they really haven’t caused an decrease in access to services and 3. that now that Google has an official contract with the MTA, that everything is fine and resolved.

My response to 1 was that I was merely explaining, in one sentence, why there were protests to someone who is unfamiliar with the situation. I wasn’t trying to capture all the nuances in one sentence. My response to 2 was that I actually met a group of people from a disability advocacy group that had to stage a protest because the shuttles were blocking access to the municipal buses. It was causing situations like making blind people or people in wheelchairs go around a Google shuttle to get on a bus in the middle of a street. I never got to respond to point 3.

I know that the situation with Google and other tech industries is nuanced, but the lack of scrutiny and the immediate scramble for defending a large player like Google seems so ridiculous to me. I’m not a Google fangirl or any sort of product fangirl, so I don’t understand this mentality. When I gave the example of the disabled people lacking access to the city buses, one of the Google employees stated that it must have been some individual case of a badly trained bus driver. My response was that it happened enough that they had to protest, and that they’re going to hold Google responsible not the individual bus driver. He said they were wrong for doing that. I think he’s wrong for thinking that!

I guess my questions are this: Are my tech friends assholes? Is the future of America doomed if privileged people are so threatened by simple conversations like this? And how do I engage with people like that without feeling like I’m being talked down to/talked as if I’m not smart enough to understand?

Don’t Understand My Brethren That Emphasize Constant Hurrahs In Electronics/Tech Seriously

Dear DUMBTECHIES,

First of all, awesome sign off.

Second of all, this is not about you being dumb. This is about them being defensive. Defensiveness leads to terrible reasoning abilities, so the only way for defensive people to win arguments, since they can’t do it with their logic, is to do it with a bullying attitude. In other words, they aggressively describe their stupid reasoning, and then act like you must be an idiot if you don’t see what they are saying as obvious. But it’s all a front because they know they have nothing to stand on. If they weren’t defensive, they would treat you like an intelligent person and ask you what you think.

Important Life Lesson: 99 times out of 100, if you are in a conversation where the person talking to you is making you feel dumb, then it’s about them, not you. It means they feel dumb about something and they are compensating. If you can, turn it around on them immediately, even if it’s as simple as saying, “you’re acting like my points are dumb, but I don’t think they are, I’m just trying to have a conversation. Is there something about this topic that makes you uncomfortable?”

So, why the defensiveness? Here’s the thing, Google employees work for Google, and it’s kind of a cult, like many companies are, and they feel lucky to be there and want other people to think they’re lucky too, so they defend things even when those things don’t make sense.

I actually don’t think they are any weirder in this regard than people who work in other industries, defending things like the wisdom of financial engineering or the wisdom of promoting fossil fuel. People are pretty good at defending their own interests. These guys just happen to be working at a very recognizable place.

In terms of approaching the topic, if you ever choose to discuss this again, I would suggest talking about what would happen if the Google buses ceased to exist – how would Googlers get to work? To what extent would that interfere with municipal buses? Certainly traffic would increase, for example. And since everyone has the right to go to work, you are working from a super reasonable starting position, namely thinking through the pluses and minuses of the Google bus system. Admit there are pluses and maybe the other side can start to admit there are minuses.

Or you could just hang out with other folks.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

p.s. I could be wrong, they could just really think they’re smarter than you. Cults also have a way of encouraging that kind of thing. But if they really think so, they might admit it. Ask them if they think they are smarter than “non-Googlers” and see what they say.

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

What are your predictions for kinky sex in the UK now that they banned all fun porn?

Curious Sub

Dear Curious,

What? Seriously? Oh wait, yes. Among the outlawed activities is “facesitting,” which makes little sense to me, given that “unlike smothering, in facesitting the bottom partner is not deprived of air.” What’s next, banning doggy style?

Also, female ejaculation is now banned. What? This is one of the few indications in porn that the woman is alive, and now we’re banning it. That makes sense.

OK, well, it’s dumb. And stupid as well, since the internet will provide horny people from the UK with plenty of facesitting and female ejaculation opportunities if they so desire. Basically it’s a loss of market share. I’m tempted to add “and nothing else” but when market share gets moved to places further in the shadow, things get less consensual and more coerced, and that’s never good.

Auntie P

——

Aunt Pythia,

Fivethirtyeight recently published the article “Economists Aren’t As Nonpartisan As We Think”. What really interested me in this piece was the author’s chart that demonstrated that on average, political bias has crept into the numerical results of economic research.

In the footnotes they explained a bit more: “Specifically, we ran a regression of numerical results, which were standardized within fields, on predicted ideology while controlling for field. Among the models we ran, the R squared ranged from 0.07 to 0.14.”

I did a little searching and found that R squared values can be misleading. Either way this single result with a R squared value of 0.07 – 0.14 seems a bit weak-sauce if you are trying to support such a broad claim as “economists are partisan”.

So, my questions for you is what does the chart in the Fivethirtyeight article mean? What is the meaning of the R squared value in this research. Is this a robust claim?

Many Thanks,
Mr. Should be studying for finals

Dear Mr. Should,

I’m gonna have to go Bayesian on your ass and mention that the title of the piece should have been, Economists Aren’t As Partisan As We Wish They Were, But We Knew That Already. Anyone who has ever read or spoken to economists would already suspect this.

Which is to say, I have a bayesian prior that this result is true, and their R squared value is enough to add fuel to my fire.

It’s not just economists, though. It’s everyone! See above w.r.t. Googlers, for example.

Here’s another thing getting in the way of me critiquing this paper: one of the authors, Suresh Naidu, is a good friend of mine.

In general, though, even when I already think something’s true, and when my friends are involved, I try to remember that data analysis is, at best, an evidence-gathering activity, not a proof. After it’s done a bunch of different ways and remains robust to various important choices, I start believing it more and more. For example, global warming is real.

Aunt Pythia

——

Well, you’ve wasted yet another Saturday morning with Aunt Pythia! I hope you’re satisfied! If you could, please ask me a question. And don’t forget to make an amazing sign-off, they make me very very happy.

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Didja miss Aunt Pythia? Because Auntie P sure as heck missed you all, over there in Utrecht, Holland, where all the food was fried and all the time was family time.

But! But! Aunt Pythia did not fritter away opportunities to do ground-breaking sex columnist research for your benefit. Oh no, absolutely not. In fact, Aunt Pythia has three – count them, three! – important things to share with you.

First, a book. It’s called How To Build A Girl, and everyone reading this should stop what they’re doing and go buy it and read it right now. Honestly, it’s one of the funniest coming of age stories I’ve ever read, and it’s about a girl! So exciting! Aunt Pythia lovers in particular will love it, because there’s lots of masturbation in it. Not enough, in my personal opinion, but a fabulous start. Hopefully the new trend in feminist autobiographies.

Second, this list of things that turn women on. Summary: almost everything except flaccid penises and Axe Body Spray. It’s not really a good list, but I get turned on by lists of things that turn people on, so I just threw it in anyway.

Third and finally, the most amazing technological invention ever, especially considering my addiction to Candy Crush! Namely, a combination kegel exercise machine, vibrator, and video game controller:

Ladies, it’s time to do your kegels. OK you can stop now. No, really.

Not really sure how this wasn’t invented as soon as people understood batteries, but whatevs, we’ve got it now.

OK, so are you ready for some amazing advice? Aunt Pythia is prepared to give legendary advice today, so buckle up tight. And don’t forget to

ask Aunt Pythia a question at the bottom of the page!

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

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

So I’ve been reading a math blog online, and like every other math blog I read, it provides fun descriptions of cool math, targeted at math people, without needless symbols or jargon. This is awesome.

Anyway, the author of this blog posted a picture of herself in one of the posts; it turns out, the author was an African-American female. When I saw the picture, I was pretty surprised. After I realized I was surprised, I was immediately ashamed. Why should it be a surprise that an African-American female runs a math blog post? By being surprised, I felt that I was contributing to the implicit white-male bias in math. (By the way, I’m society’s image of “normal”: a cisgender hetero white male.)

But that’s the thing; I’m *not* prejudiced, and I’ve thought about this. Having attended Mathpath, HCSSiM (2011), and Canada/USA Mathcamp, I’m totally used to there being extremely competent and smart women and members of racial minorities in mathematics. (I’m writing a letter to one such person!) In my undergraduate experience, the women in my classes have been just as competent as men. I have thought about how I behave, and I don’t talk down to female professors or nonwhite students. Partly nature, but also partly because of my high school experience.

I understand that there’s a problem with a lack of mathematicians who are not white males, and I understand that I probably assumed that the author of this blog (from above) was a white male simply because statistically, there’s an extremely high probability that being a math person, they were a white male. In my head, this makes that feeling of surprise seem like a symptom of the problem, rather than a part of its cause.

But I still keep thinking to myself that maybe I’m secretly prejudiced and I’m contributing to the problem. I can’t really shake that feeling, despite knowing in my head what’s really the case, as described above. And I’m kinda scared about that. What should I do?

Anxious Math Junior

Dear AMJ,

Yes, you are prejudiced! We all are! I am too! It’s an important part of growing up, admitting such things. We are flawed, and we are contributing to the problems of our culture. Fact.

Now, as to what you should do, I’m thinking the first step is admitting that you’re prejudiced. You’ve come almost all the way on this one, but it’s clearly difficult for you to step firmly up to the plate. Go for it! And keep in mind that you’re joining a whole bunch of well-meaning people once you do.

Next, make sure that other people join you on that plate. Talk about this experience you’ve had, and how it made you acknowledge a part of you you’d rather not exist, but out of sheer decency and self-reflection you have to admit does. Get other young men and women in STEM to talk about all the fine and competent people in math and how great math – or indeed, any intellectual endeavor – could be if people were just taken as they are, people learning and arguing and exchanging ideas and making discoveries.

Finally, be on the lookout for behavior or practices that expose, continue, or expand stupid prejudices. Call people on such behavior. Be outspoken and cool. Send your young friends to HCSSiM and other places that you think are good places to learn how to be thoughtful about this stuff.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia.

A while back, you wrote about how you say and/or feel that you have crush on someone very often, and how this is something fun and playful for you. So maybe you can help me.

My problem is that I fall in love with practically every man that I like and that seems to like me back. For this reason, I have zero male friends. When I start to like a guy, notice that I get a long well with him, I always also have a reaction of weak knees/getting nervous around them etc., which at some point I also realize they notice, at least on a subliminal level, which leads to some kind of “flirting” behaviour (I put it in quotation marks because I am really not flirting on purpose, I just behave a bit awkwardly and sometimes guys behave back in the same kind of awkward way and so the situation feels charged. It is hard to describe but maybe you know what I mean).

I am in a long-term relationship that I enjoy and that I do not want to give up, so it is not that I am actually looking for a new love. I would however really like to have male friends because I would sometimes like to hear a male viewpoint regarding things I think about which is not my boyfriend’s or father’s.

But the only options I seem to have is either (i) avoid the guy and thus (again) contribute to the sad fact that I have zero male friends or (ii) get to know him better and risk some form of emotional chaos that scares me, like developing a more serious crush.

Of course, I would never choose option (i) if the guy is single and seems interested as I do not want to lead somebody on. But if the guy is also in a relationship, and has not expressed romantic interest in me, but just general interest (maybe in a friendship with me — but maybe also for something else, hard to say often), what do I do then? Is there a chance to develop a crush into a friendship? How do you do that?

It feels morally ambiguous to me to try to seek this guy’s company in those cases, like sitting next to him when I have the option, and so I don’t do it and the potential friendship cannot develop.

I feel like you might know how to deal with this problem, so that is why I am asking you, and unfortunately I cannot discuss this problem with my female friends (I have tried once or twice but nobody seems to have any idea what the hell I am talking about, since they claim to fall in love so rarely that it happens once or twice in their life.)

Of course, another idea would also be that maybe my boyfriend and I have a serious problem, otherwise those crushes wouldn’t happen to me, but I don’t think so.

Thoughts? How can I break this pattern?

Many thanks! (Sorry for the bad acronym and the long text! :))

Cannot Remain Unemotional — So Hide?

Dear CRUSH,

First thing’s first, great sign-off. I do NOT mind a bit of tortured punctuation in the name of appropriate acronyms! Nobody would ever accuse me of that!!

OK, now on to your fantastic question. I love it, and I honestly have an immediate crush on you for being so honest about it. I do have a bunch of advice for you as well.

First, listen to emo music. Seriously, there is sanctuary in emotional music. My favorite band for such purposes is Bright Eyes, Fevers and Mirrors (obv), as many of my closest friends will attest to. I listened to it non-stop for an entire year when I first discovered Bright Eyes, and this was in 2002, when I was pregnant with my second kid. So don’t think this stuff ever goes away, either, you will need coping mechanisms your entire life, so get started!

And if Bright Eyes doesn’t suit you – which would be weird – then go ahead and find something else. But definitely have a place to retreat to when things get super emotional.

OK, next piece of advice, which I think you’re anticipating: go ahead and have the crush. It won’t kill you. In fact it will (eventually) make you stronger, even if it takes a few months of pining and incredibly amounts of emo music to deal with.

Because here’s the thing, you’ve got to be brave. You’ve got to live your life fully, and engage in the things that attract you, and trust yourself not to lose it entirely. You’ve really got no other options. Otherwise you’re retreating away from the only thing you really have, which is this one life. Fuck that! Go ahead and take some risks, and sit next to that man or woman who might temporarily throw you for an emotional loop with their perfect wit and amazing smile.

And no, there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just wired differently from other people (but not me, I’m just like you). You fall in love with everyone, all the time, and that means you experience more. It’s cool! We’re lucky! And eventually you will of course become friends with people who you originally crushed out on, and sometimes you won’t, but it’s worth a try.

Here’s a little secret that a very good friend told me: almost nobody gets sexier when you get to know them better. People are at their very sexiest when you know about 10 minutes about them, scattered over a few weeks or months. They put on the charm, they seem to listen and laugh at your jokes. It’s after 10 years of real conversations that you get to know people really well, well enough to see into their inner zits.

Which is to say, by getting to know these people more, by sitting next to that yummy guy when you have the chance, the problems you are dealing with will generally fade, not increase. And for those very rare few who actually become sexier when you get to know them better, well they deserve your crush so it’s all good.

Ha! I made it sounds pretty good, right? Remember, when you’re an emo, it’s all about enjoying the pain. I’m not called the Queen of Yearning for nothing.

As for your relationship, I don’t think you’re more likely to fuck it up by letting these crushes happen than by trying to suppress them. Suppression does weird things. I also don’t think you’re more likely to fuck up your relationship than people who only fall in love rarely. Personally I re-fall in love with my husband pretty much weekly, which might bore him but it’s absolutely awesome for me.

Good luck!!

Auntie P

p.s. May I suggest that you just go ahead and actively, deliberately flirt? First of all because it’s fun to flirt, and secondly because it might give you a sense of control of the situation, which you don’t currently have?

p.p.s. Also, here’s a suggestion for how you can do everything I’ve suggested all at once: you sit down next to that yummy guy and you say, “How’s about we flirt for a while, to acknowledge the sexual tension between us, and then after a memorably conversation, we lay down the foundations of a lasting friendship? I’ll start. You look amazing in that sweater.” I have found that being incredibly honest about my intentions sometimes helps. Also sometimes backfires, but whatevs! It’s a crazy mixed-up world!!

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Has anyone accused you of being a sex tourist for visiting Haiti? I’m just curious because as a single male there is practically nowhere that I could go by myself or with a buddy without accusations of sex tourism, especially Hispaniola. Nobody seems to care when women go to Haiti or Jamaica despite those places being well known for catering to ALL of a woman’s needs. This double standard reeks of cartel tactics. I personally believe that prostitution should be legal but regulated.

Globetrotter

Dear Globetrotter,

Nobody has. Most white women in Haiti are there for charity or on religious missions. I’m sure there is sex tourism there but it’s not on a huge scale.

Question for you: who accuses you of being a sex tourist? How does that come up?

Also, in terms of legalized prostitution, I don’t agree. I like that Dutch prostitutes have a union, but in places like Haiti I think legalized prostitution is one step away from paying people for their body parts. It’s not really a “chosen profession” if you are forced by dire need to do it. My two cents.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear AP,

Should women compete in men’s sports? I’m thinking of games that are highly skill and determination driven (so there doesn’t seem an inherent bias for taller or stronger players) but where top female players are at a lower standard to the top male players.

Is it better or worse for women to have segregated leagues and competitions in these sports?

Always Separate but Equal?

Dear ASbE,

What sports are we talking about exactly? Most sports I know about have huge biases for strength. Even darts, which I watched copious amounts of in Utrecht (2014 World Darts Championship! Fuck yeah Michael van Gerwen!!), seems to favor huge men, maybe not for their strength per se but for their balance and inertia. Or maybe it’s all that time spent in pubs drinking beer.

I also watched an amazing round of the Dutch version of WipeOut, which was brilliantly combined with a blind date TV show, and I was amazed by how much easier it seems to be to jump from one floating disc to another if you’re a tall Dutch man than if you’re a tall Dutch woman. The winning couple was a charming pair named “Hippy” and “Hoppy”. They won because Hippy was willing to use his body as a prop to help out his partner. All the other couples had the men springing ahead and leaving their female partners behind. Let that be a lesson to all you non-hippies out there. Be more of a Hippy.

Not sure I’m answering your question, ASbE, but let me throw in one more unrelated opinion because I’m on a roll. Namely, American football is quickly becoming a sport to which poor minority men sacrifice their bodies. Richer and more educated parents don’t let their kids play the sport, and as we now know it’s incredibly traumatic for the players. We might as well just admit it’s a modern day Gladiator Contest, used to maintain a culture of violence for a people convinced they must be warriors, or at least that others should be. Instead of letting women play football, let’s just stop anyone at all from playing it, at least as it is currently being played.

Sincerely,

Aunt Pythia

——

Well, you’ve wasted yet another Saturday morning with Aunt Pythia! I hope you’re satisfied! If you could, please ask me a question. And don’t forget to make an amazing sign-off, they make me very very happy.

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Here’s the thing, peoples. I love you – I really do, each and every one of you, except the douchey trolls – but, holy crap, peoples!

Where are the sex questions?!

Have I been unclear? Have I been beating around the sex question bush?

I think not. I think I have been more than forthright in my request demand. And, since none – I repeat, zero – of the questions this week are in the least sex-related, I’m going to have to insert something kind of awesome myself, namely this picture of a bouncey house snowman’s vagina. Remember, you made me do it:

They originally planned a cylindrical tent attachment entrance for the bouncy house, but they thought twice.

Question: is that what you needed to see so early on Saturday morning, before you’d even put on clothes (I’m picturing you all naked or very slightly pajama’d) and before you’ve even finished your morning coffee (and I’m also picturing you all kind of sleepy)?

I think not! So let’s all do better next time, and we can avoid this awkwardness in the future. What that means in concrete terms is a request to:

ask Aunt Pythia your sex question at the bottom of the page!

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

——

Hi Aunt Pythia,

I love your blog and Slate Money Podcast and can think of few people better to share my early life crisis with.

I recently quit my consulting job in San Francisco to move back in with my parents for a year at 29 years young (how sexy is that) and take a few pre-requisite math classes while I study for the GRE in preparation for what I had planned to be admission into a dual MBA/MPP program. Except, something unexpected has happened, I’m finding myself enjoying mathematics for the first time in my life and it has me interested in pursuing something more quantitative than most MBA/MPP programs offer.

I’ve never been a math superstar, but I earned A’s and B’s at a UC in the math courses I was forced to take as a liberal arts major. I have a strong interest in learning how to solve problems and make sense of the world around me. And I’m beginning to see that math, as opposed to economics or finance, may be the best tool for doing so.

I spoke with a professor at the junior college I’m taking these math courses at and she suggested looking into an Applied Math program that would let me get exposure to everything from math, statistics, physics, computer science, and economics to different forms of engineering and finance. Her other suggestion was to remain enrolled at the junior college, complete their calculus sequence, real analysis/linear algebra, and other math electives that would allow me to apply to both undergraduate and graduate level math programs a year or so from now with a few more math classes on my transcript.

I took a look at a few applied math program curriculums and the courses look a lot more interesting than the marketing, strategy, accounting and finance I’d be stuck in at an MBA program.

But there’s a problem… being fascinated and interested by a math curriculum is great, working to gain the the skills necessary to handle those fascinating courses is the hard part.

Which leads me to my question (sorry for the wait): Do you know of any liberal arts undergraduates that have transformed themselves into successful Math or STEM related graduate students? Are their programs for students in my situation? Is this even a possibility? I’m not expecting to be the model candidate for MIT’s program but is their a path to an applied math program at a decent public/private school for someone in my position? Are there other programs outside of Applied Math that might better suit my math curiosity? Any books I could pick up at the library to help me figure out what may best interest me mathematically?

Keep up the good work and thank you for your math help!

Boomerang

Hi Boomerang,

I liked your letter, and I decided to print it, but to be honest I’m not convinced I know how to answer your question. I’ll just say a bunch of things that I hope will be helpful, and then I’ll sign off with some positive last words. Maybe my dear Aunt Pythia readers will have more concrete suggestions! Here goes:

First of all, I’m not familiar with people who have done what you’re trying to do after finishing college. I have met people who’ve gone back to finish a 4-year college program, got interested in math in the last year, and then furiously took a bunch of math classes. I even know someone who went to grad school in math after that. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done, just that it’s on the late side.

I also think the advice you’ve already received is good. Basically, take the fuck out of the available math classes and learn some good shit. Find out what your taste is and be an insatiable consumer of math. It’s all out there, waiting to be gobbled up by you. And to be honest, it’s never been a better time to learn math, the resources, online and otherwise, are phenomenal.

So I want to encourage your math habit, obviously, but at the same time, I do want to stress that any program in which you’re expected to learn and understand how to solve problems will or at least should involve math. Math is a field in its own right, of course, which I hope you find your way into if that’s your thing, but it’s also the major heavy lifting tool for all other fields. That’s just to say that, being a math nerd in an MBA program is still a good and useful thing, especially if you’re not an MBA asshole.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Is it possible to get over a crush and maintain a platonic relationship?

At the end of the last school year, I developed a crush on a substitute teacher at the school where I’ve taught for 7 years. I’ve been married and monogamous for 23 years, and this is the strongest crush I’ve had in that time – lascivious thoughts and everything (thoughts only). Over the summer, I did some soul searching, and decided that even if I did connect with my crush (it was by no means clear that I would or could), it would be an incredible act of selfishness on my part and wouldn’t get me much in the long run. In fact, it was clear that I’d lose a lot that I value greatly: my marriage, the respect of my coworkers, my kids, my wider family, etc.

Since then, my crush has been hired to the regular staff at my school, and we have become close friends. I have decided that I am not available romantically, and have rededicated myself to my marriage. I am closer to my wife than we have been in a long time (I had been “phoning it in” for a long time – I am now more present in our marriage).

My new friend has confided in me that she and her children were abused in her previous marriage. I intend to be a “safe male” in her life – someone available to listen and support her while she gets her life back together, but I will not seek a romantic relationship.

Is this even possible? Likely?

A Male In Denial Or Obviously Making Everything Difficult?

Dear AMIDOOMED,

Gosh, I love your sign-off, and I love you. You just seem like a wonderful man.

Here’s the thing, some people are amazing and awesome and just plain old crush-worthy. And this is a good thing. An amazing thing, in fact, and handy. Think of adult crushes as a way for your body to force you to make friends with people when you’re busy.

You see, when you’re young, you just have this boatload of time to spend with people, and do ridiculous things like try to hide large objects in your stomach skin (I’m looking at you, Matt Cook), which overall serves as the bonding activity for life-long friendships. It’s amazing and wonderful, and when you finish college you feel like a like-long friendship pro.

You will never have as many friends again, however. Because soon after college ends, the harsh reality of adulthood sets in, and you often gain a spouse if you’re luck and into that, a couple of kids if you’re interested in that kind of thing, and a pile of responsibilities and time-consuming duties that keep you from spending ridiculous amounts of idle time bonding with random people. In other words, you’re at risk of never making another friend again.

Enter the adult crush. It’s a quick-bonding mechanism. Think of it as the super glue of post-college friendship. It can happen for men or women, to men or women, it doesn’t have to be romantic, and it supplies you with enough interest in the other person to care about maintaining a lasting and meaningful relationship. A rare event in these busy times!

So, to answer your question, no, you will never get over your crush, at least not if you’re lucky, and I think you’re amazing and awesome, and so does your family, and so does your new friend, and honestly she needs a good friend so good on you, and it’s all good.

And if I seem like I am enjoying your conflicted agony, then let me suggest it’s actually a huge improvement over not having it. So do your best to enjoy it. And don’t forget to have amazing fantasies.

Auntie P

——

Hi Auntie P

Two quick questions for you

1. Should I use dropbox?
2. How should I de-clutter my computer?

A bit of context, maybe. My private computers are full of stuff. We have 2-3 laptops and 4-5 back up disk which are all full of stuff.

Of course, it’s my own fault. Most of it is just old back up of my computer (so there is a lot of overlap), but I don’t (feel like I) keep a lot of stuff. Mostly music and pictures of my kids. Only I tend to listen to a lot of music and we have a lot of kids (so 2 private laptops and one iPad is actually not all that much). And as much as I like to de-clutter and get rid of stuff – on my computer or otherwise – I do wanna keep those. And I can do it too: my work computer is always completely empty. Since my private computers are so old, they don’t function well with that much stuff. I’d like to put my stuff on dropbox but then I’m not sure, you know with all the data stuff and all. More specifically:

1. I don’t know if I should really share my data – is there really a risk with my kids pictures and my music?

2. Is there a chance that dropbox actually gets hacked or collapses and my data disappears?

And of course, being a well structured efficiency nerd, (have you seen xkcd #1445? that’s me), and you being you, this brings up another topic: how should I go about organizing my stuff on my computer? I really like structured approaches to de-cluttering my life (thank you Gretchen Rubin) as long as they are practical and work. And you’re quite practical and you work. So I thought I might ask you.

Looking Forward to Saturday

Dear LFtS,

This is a non-problem. Data gets cheaper all the time and you never need to organize anything.

I’m sure there’s an app that collects all your music and picture files and makes scrapbooks for you. So don’t think about that for a moment longer. In terms of storage, if you’re worried about being hacked, which I wouldn’t be but don’t listen to me, then buy a couple of modern large hard disks and copy everything onto them. I say “a couple” because you should have more than one copy in case one breaks. Then after you have done that, throw away the 5 backup disks and 3 laptops you’re keeping around as inefficient storage devices.

Also, you can probably stop storing music altogether, unless you like Unbunny like I do, which is hard to stream. No, I take it back, it’s easy to find Unbunny everywhere. Phew.

Aunt Pythia

p.s. What’s happening Saturday? I hope you don’t mean my crappy answer to your question.

——

Aunt Pythia,

I’m a Junior studying Math, but I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve told myself I like Math since Junior year of high school when I learned Calculus. It was like a lightbulb went off in my head. I thought, “finally, this is what its uses are!” And I found it beautiful. So beautiful I was ahead of the class for the last half of it. I couldn’t wait to go back home and teach myself more of it. That passion has gone away.

I tell myself I like Math. It’s why I majored in it. But I don’t like working most of the time. There are times when I do enjoy dedicating hours to a class, like when I prove the propositions left as exercises in lecture. It’s thrilling. But most of the time, it’s hard for me to get out of bed and go to class, or sit down and do the work.

I feel like I’ve squandered two and half years on a Math degree my school paid for, and my parents, potential employers, and myself won’t value because I’m barely able to put my GPA on my resume. As a Hispanic, I’m acutely aware of how little of us are STEM majors. If I walk into a class, I will be the only URM there. And because I’m lucky enough to have grown up in an upper middle class neighborhood, I feel like I’m doing a disservice to my people. For myself, it’s more frustrating because I have an interest in Data Science, but from what I’ve gathered, graduate school probably isn’t for me.

I don’t know why I feel like this. Is it because I’m lazy? Is it because I’m privileged and have never been challenged? Is Math not for me? Am I depressed? I guess the big question is, how should I figure these questions out?

Anxious Math Junior

Dear Anxious,

I’m feeling your pain. You feel stuck. It’s not uncommon and you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it. Plus, it sounds like you are carrying extra weight on your shoulders.

So, the first step, in my opinion, is to get rid of that extra weight. You are not living The Life Of The Upper Middle Class Latino. You are living your own, personal, never-to-be-repeated life, and you gotta figure out how you want to live it. And you’re still a junior and you can switch majors and still graduate, so don’t worry that things are too late.

Let me suggest you go to a counselor at your school and tell them you want to discuss changing majors. There are, for example, personality tests that people sometimes find very helpful in helping them figure out what to do with their lives. Two of my close family members have been aided by such tests. Sometimes they clarify something you already kind of know, other times they really point you to something you didn’t even know was an option. In any case, not a waste of time, and I encourage you to look into them.

And by the way, it’s a great sign that you once were passionate about calculus. You have the talent and ability to master a difficult subject when the moment is right. The goal is to figure out how to create those moments and see where they will take you.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Well, you’ve wasted yet another Saturday morning with Aunt Pythia! I hope you’re satisfied! If you could, please ask me a question. And don’t forget to make an amazing sign-off, they make me very very happy.

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia has something in the works for you dear people, but it’s not quite ready yet, and you’ll have to wait another week. Rest assured, it will be worth it. And apologies to mathbabe.org subscribers who received an errant test post this week.

In the meantime, Aunt Pythia is going to write a quick column today from a Montreal hotel room after an amazing workshop yesterday which she will comment on later in the week.

So quick, get some tea and some flannel-lined flannel, because damn it’s wintery outside, all snowy and shit. Aunt Pythia’s about to spew her usual unreasonable nonsense!

From earlier this week in Montreal.

LET’S DO THIS PEOPLES!!! And please, even if you’ve got nothing interesting to say for yourself, feel free to make something up or get inspired by Google auto complete and then go ahead and:

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,

This may not really be an “Aunt Pythia” question. But could either you or Mathbabe comment on this article on sexism in academic science?

I can imagine many ways they could be misrepresenting the statistics, but I don’t know which.

No Bias, Really?

Dear No Bias,

I was also struck by the inflammatory tone and questionable conclusions of this article. But you know, controversy sells.

So, here are a couple of lines I’ll pull out. First:

Our country desperately needs more talented people in these fields; recruiting more women could address this issue. But the unwelcoming image of the sexist academy isn’t helping. Fortunately, as we have found in a thorough analysis of recent data on women in the academic workplace, it isn’t accurate, either.

And second:

Many of the common, negative depictions of the plight of academic women are based on experiences of older women and data from before the 2000s, and often before the 1990s. That’s not to say that mistreatment doesn’t still occur — but when it does, it is largely anecdotal, or else overgeneralized from small studies.

I guess right off the bat I’d ask, how are you collecting data? The data I have personally about sexist treatment at the hands of my colleagues hasn’t, to my knowledge, been put in any database. The sexist treatment I’ve witnessed for pretty much all of my female mathematics colleagues has, equally, never been installed in a database to my knowledge. So yeah, not convinced these people know what they are talking about. It’s famously hard to prove something doesn’t exist, especially when you don’t have a search algorithm.

One possibility for the data they seem to have: they interviewed people after the fact, perhaps decades after the fact. If that’s the case, then you’d expect more and better data on older women, and that’s what we are currently seeing. There is a lag on this data collection, in other words. That’s not the same as “it doesn’t exist.” A common mistake researchers make. They take the data as “objective truth” and forget that it’s a human process to collect it (or not collect it!). Think police shootings.

The article then goes on to talk about how the data for women in math and other science fields isn’t so bad in terms of retention, promotion, and other issues. For there I’d say, the women have already gone through a mighty selection process, so in general you’d expect them to be smarter than their colleagues, so in general their promotion rates should be higher, but they aren’t. So that’s also a sign of sexism.

I mean, whatever. That’s not actually what I claim is true, so much as another interpretation of this data. My overall point is that, they have some data, and they are making strong and somewhat outrageous claims which I can dismiss without much work.

I hope that helps!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

In his November “Launchings” column, David Bressoud has presents some interesting data on differences between male and female college calculus students. As much as I’ve appreciated all of Bressoud’s careful explorations of mathematics education, I find I’m a bit irritated by his title, “MAA Calculus Study: Women Are Different,” because it appears to take the male experience as the norm.

Perhaps I was already annoyed because of a NYTimes op-ed, “Academic Science Isn’t Sexist”, in which Wendy Williams and Steven Ceci claim that “[w]e are not your father’s academy anymore,” and that the underrepresentation of women in math-intensive fields is “rooted in women’s earlier educational choices, and in women’s occupational and lifestyle preferences.” Here, too, the message seems to be “don’t worry about changing the academy — women are different from the norm, which is (naturally) that which works for men.”

My question for you, Aunt Pythia, is this: am I overreacting here?

I received my PhD in mathematics in 1984, and I’ve seen significant change for the better in the academy since then. Child care at AMS meetings? A crowd in the women’s rest room at same? Unthinkable when I started. But if women are still disproportionately “choosing” to go into other fields, might we look a little more closely at the environments in which girls and women are making their educational and “lifestyle” choices?

I welcome your thoughts. If you’re eager for more data analysis, I’d also love to hear your take on the paper by Williams, Ceci, and their colleagues.

Still One of the Underrepresented After All These Years

Dear SOotUAATY,

Without even reading that article, I can say without hesitation that yes, it’s a ridiculous title, and it’s infuriating and YOU ARE NOT OVERREACTING. To be clear, that is bold-faced, italicized, and all caps. I mean it.

The word “different” forces us to compare something to a baseline, and given that there is no baseline even mentioned, we are forced to guess at it, and that imposes the “man as default” mindset. Fuck that. I mean, if the title had been, “There are differences between male and female calculus students,” I would not have been annoyed, because even though “male” comes first, I’m not a stickler. I just want to acknowledge that if we mention one category, we mention the other as well.

To illustrate this a bit more, we don’t entitle a blog post “Whites are different” and leave it at that, because we’d be like, different from whom? From blacks? From Asians? From Asian-Americans? See how that works? You need to say different from some assumed baseline, and the assumed baseline has to be a cultural norm. And right now it’s white male. Which is arguable one reason that calculus students act differently when they are men (har!).

As for the other article, I already shit on that in the previous answer but I’m happy to do it once again. It’s bullshit, and I’m disappointed that the Times published it.

As for the article, I don’t have time now but I’ll take a look, thanks!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am twenty years old, near the halfway point in my senior year of a mathematics BS at a large, well-regarded public university in the Northeast. I’ve been aiming my energies at graduate school, and I am now looking at PhD program applications. Most apps ask for two or three letters of recommendation from a faculty member who is familiar with your work. This poses a very big problem, because all of my professors hate me.

Okay, maybe it’s not quite like that. But I’ve had a really lousy time in the math department at LWRPUN. My fellow students are dispassionate, unresponsive, and unfriendly. My professors are dry, uncommitted to their students, and the ones who aren’t mathematically incompetent are lousy teachers. On top of all this, a crippling bureaucracy has prevented me countless times from taking classes I’m interested in (few as they are in this catalog), substituting instead ANOTHER REQUIRED SEMESTER OF ANALYSIS.

So I haven’t made any personal connections of the sort that might benefit me in the form of a letter of rec. My work hasn’t even been that good; my depression and anxiety (in general as well as re all this) have increasingly prevented me from completing even easy homework assignments. Nobody here has seen my best mathematical work, and for that matter, nobody anywhere else has either*.

And for four years, everyone I’ve come to with this gathering creeping progressively life-eating concern has given me the same old BS about You should really put yourself out there! and It’s just so important to go to your professor’s office hours! without considering maybe — I’ve tried, I really have.

What can I do, Aunt Pythia? I’m really passionate about mathematics, but I’m worried I won’t be able to pursue my studies without these magic papers.

Anxiously,
Reports Embargoed by Crummy Lecturers, Earnestly Seeking Solace

*I thankfully have a professor from an outside experience willing to write about my teaching credentials, but that one letter is surely not sufficient to show my potential as a graduate student and researcher.

Dear RECLESS,

I am afraid I will have to call bullshit on you, RECLESS. Plus your sign-off doesn’t actually spell anything.

Here’s the thing, there are no mathematically incompetent lecturers at large, well-regarded public universities. There are, in fact, mathematically very competent people who can’t get jobs at such places. Such is the pyramid-shaped job market of mathematics. So whereas I believe you when you say your lecturers have been uninspired, and uncommitted to their students, the fact that you added “mathematically incompetent” just makes me not believe you at all, in anything.

Here’s what I think is happening. You think you’re really into math, but you’ve never really understood your classes, nor have you understood that you’ve never understood your classes, because your self-image is that you’re already a mathematician, and that people have just not acknowledged your brilliance.

But that’s not how math actually works. Math is a social endeavor, where you have to communicate your ideas well enough for others to understand them, or else you aren’t doing math.

I’m not saying you haven’t had bad luck with teachers. It’s a real possibility. But there’s something else going on as well, and I don’t think you can honestly expect to go to the next level without sorting stuff out. In other words, even if you don’t love the teacher, if you loved the subject, got into it, and did the proofs, you’d still be getting adequate grades to ask for letters. The thing about writing letters, as a math prof, is that you don’t have to like the student personally to write a good letter, you just need to admire their skills. But since you can’t do that either, you won’t get good letters, and moreover I don’t think you’d deserve good letters. And therefore I don’t think you should go to grad school.

Suggestion: look carefully at your own behavior, figure out what it is you are doing that isn’t working. Maybe think of what you love about math, or about your own image of being a mathematician, and see if there’s something you really know you’re good at, and other people know it to, and develop that.

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia

——

Dearest Aunt Pythia,

I have a sex question for you! Kind of. You have to get through the boring back story first…I’m a 19 year old female physics major. I’m quiet, rather mousy, and awkward. A lot of the time I feel like I have more to prove than the boys do, because I’m a girl, and because of the aforementioned shyness.

People seem to automatically assume I’m unintelligent. I think I’m just as intelligent as the boys in my program, but I don’t come off that way! Point is, I want to be this cool, strong, independent, successful, respectable girl who doesn’t take shit from misogynistic people who assume I’m inferior.

However, I feel extremely guilty about my sexual preferences. I’m pretty submissive. I’d like power exchange in my relationships…hair pulling, bondage, spanking, being bossed around, the whole bit. I like to be dominated by men. Older men. Smart older men. Hopefully I’ve successfully conveyed my dilemma. I want to be respected by the men (and women, and others) I’m surrounded by in my academic life, but taken control of as a girlfriend.

Why does what I despise happening to me in an academic setting please me so much in a romantic/sexual one? Agh, I feel like such a bad girl! (and not in the arousing way…)

Help!
Much Love,
Conflicted

Dear Conflicted,

This is such a relief – finally, a sex question! – and it’s honestly one of the best questions I’ve ever gotten, ever, in Aunt Pythia or elsewhere. I’m so glad I can answer this for you.

It is absolutely not in conflict to want something in a sexual context that is abhorrent to you in normal life. It is in fact a well-known pattern! You shouldn’t feel at all weird about it! Lots – LOTS – of the submissives I’ve met are, in their day jobs, the boss, literally. They have companies and are extremely fancy and in control. And then they love to be bossed around and spanked. Seriously. If anything, my feeling is that your sexual proclivities point to being alpha in real life, but maybe I’m going overboard.

So yeah, no problem here. You are killing it. And in 3 or 4 years I want you to write back and explain to me how you’ve found an amazing lover who gives you what you want in the bedroom and worships your physics prowess outside it. There will, in fact, be people lining up for this role.

And those people in your program? Do your best to ignore them. Men are just impossibly arrogant at that age, but time will humble them somewhat even as your confidence will rise as you learn more. I’m not saying it ever evens out entirely but it does improve.

Also: find other women (and super cool men) to study with. Surround yourself with supportive people. Take note of obnoxious people and avoid them. Trade up with friends whenever possible.

Love always,

Aunt Pythia

——

Well, you’ve wasted yet another Saturday morning with Aunt Pythia! I hope you’re satisfied! Please if you could, ask me a question. And don’t forget to make an amazing sign-off, they make me very very happy.

It’s been a tough week, friends. Aunt Pythia is both excited and anxious for the future of the country. What with the Ferguson situation, and the Eric Garner protests, there’s very little time to knit. I’ve got nothing of my own to show you today, so instead I’ll just post this:

OK now let’s get to your questions! And don’t forget to

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 are your thoughts on the push to eliminate the algebra requirement for college students (see the AMATYC statement on “Alternative Pathways”)? This is different from simply beefing up statistics education, I’ve looked fairly closely at several of these alternative pathways (Quantway and Statway and the Math Lit textbooks of Almy and Mercer) and they are mathematically very weak. This appears to be a cynical ploy to keep pushing students through the (very expensive) process of getting a degree without actually completing worthwhile work.

I think that Algebra is the grammar of mathematics and that it should be a prerequisite for any course in statistics that is at all useful.

ES

Dear ES,

I couldn’t find that statement, so I don’t really know what’s at stake. The problem – or maybe it’s not a problem, because I’ve used it when developing curriculum myself – is that two people probably wouldn’t agree on what “algebra” means.

For example, I was at a talk recently where a woman from Microsoft was advocating a new way of teaching computer science in high school, and she made a point of saying it wouldn’t involve algebra but would introduce students to formalized thinking and, in particular, formal manipulation of symbols. For me, that was a ridiculous statement, because that’s what algebra is. But I say that knowing there are probably a huge number of things being stuffed into an “Algebra” course that have little to do with my definition.

There’s another problem, which is pinpointing exactly what is useful and what isn’t useful for a non-mathematician to understand later in life. It’s a fuzzy issue, and honestly I’m probably someone who would rather see people be able to read, understand, and dissect statistical statements about medical research than solve the quadratic equation from scratch, on the grounds that it’s more important to their actual health and well-being to understand accuracy than to understand square roots, especially of negative numbers.

Not sure that helped, but if you want more explicit opinions, please write back with links.

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

My wife and I have been married 5 years (no children). Last year she changed jobs. She became friendly with a girl at her new job, “Janet.” Janet has since been over to our house several times and she and my wife have a “girl’s night out” (GNO) once or twice a month.

Last week after another GNO my wife was subdued. The next night after dinner, my wife told me that Janet had made a pass at her. She had turned Janet down but now wanted my permission to pursue Janet.

When I asked if she was suggesting a threesome, she said that she wanted it to be just the two of them. When I asked if that meant I could find a girl on the side, she became angry and said that this was different.

I had no previous indication of my wife’s bisexuality. What should I do?

Not Open to Sharing With Individuals Nor Groups

Dear NOSWING,

Nice sign off!

So wait, let me get this straight. Would you have been into a threesome? Would you have been OK with the Janet stuff if you also got to play outside? I mean, I am seeing your sign-off as a signal of unhappiness, but I’m not sure what the flavor of the unhappiness is.

Look, every marriage figures out its own way in these things. The good marriages are the ones that figure out ways that work for them, and the bad marriages are the ones that don’t. As far as I know there is no lasting marriage that never gets tested at all. Contrary to modern opinion, most marriages don’t instantly dissolve when someone has a fling or even an affair. Good marriages take things in stride, at least if things don’t get too intense and both parties actually want things to work out and stay in the marriage.

In other words, there is no absolute answer, there is only the negotiation you come up with with your partner. And the definition of “it’s working” is “it’s working for us.”

So basically, my advice is to not take any advice. But if you want my advice, it would be to spend more time asking why your wife gets to try out Janet and you don’t get to look around as well. It’s not obvious to me why Janet is “different”; after all, she’s a person, and she’s not in your marriage, and as such she’s a potential threat to you, and a potential cause of jealousy. If you are willing to put up with those things, your wife should be too.

Which is not to say your negotiation should end there, where neither of you get to do anything, but that there should be some sense of equity. Otherwise you will feel resentful, and resentment kills relationships.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

——

Dear Aunt Pythia:

I am a mom. My daughter is a first year at a women’s college (let’s call it B) affiliated with an Ivy league institution (let’s call it C) in a major metropolitan market.

My daughter has always appeared to have a very strong aptitude for patterns and puzzles. Yet given the nature of our home school district (not good), she probably did not have the quality of math prep that kids at other schools benefited from. In general, she has always been a very good student, though not a extraordinary standardized test taker, i.e. SATs.

She is showing a strong interest in math and computer science. However, the women’s college (B) does not seem to be the place where the MAT and SCI stuff occurs. Instead, the B students are required to go to the neighboring co-ed institution (C) where male students with 800s on their math SATs likely dominate those classes in their potentially intimidating manner.

My question is rather vague: But what is your advice about how I can help her navigate this challenge? I am wondering if it’s not true that many students who would be excellent math students in many environments will be scared away from this one?

(And I know you can’t answer this one but: In an era when B is touting female empowerment and the world is conscious of the need to get women involved in MAT and CompSCI, wouldn’t it be great to see B offer more math and csi?)

Thanks

Wants a Girl to Code or Do Math

Dear WaGtCoDM,

When I was at Barnard, I started a course called “Introduction to Higher Mathematics” which was exactly addressing the problem that most male math majors came in with lots of experience from high school math camps and math competitions in how to write proofs, but most women interested in math came in just interested and excited about math, but very little background in writing proofs.

The course was a huge success, and was mainly attended by women, although there were men of course, since both Barnard and Columbia classes are open to everyone (except Barnard first year seminars). I wrote about it here, go take a look.

Some good news: the class is still offered. I’d suggest you tell your daughter about it, or about a class like it, if I’m wrong about where she goes to college.

Go nerd girls!!

Auntie P

——

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am in a quandary. My Ph.D. supervisor is a lazy man. Sometimes when I go to him he starts talking to me about non-thesis related topics. Commenting on Politics is his favorite job. We have diametrically opposite ideologies.

Listening to his right wing rants takes a serious toll on my well-being. I am not a very articulate speaker so I do not think I would go very far if I decided to have a political argument with him. I am quite happy if he would discuss only maths with me. I don’t know how to bear his diatribes about morality and meritocracy. I feel like taking a shower every time I come back from visiting his office.

Politically Against Thesis Supervisor

Dear PATS,