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Aunt Pythia’s advice

February 15, 2014

Good morning, fine readers! Aunt Pythia is very happy to be here this morning, and she’s got some wonderful news and a request.

First the news. It’s not snowing today! I take it back it just started snowing.

Now the request. As readers know, Aunt Pythia never makes up questions, but she’s not above making requests. That’s just how her ethics roll. And Aunt Pythia is itching to discuss this vile Valentine’s Day column from Susan Patton, so please take a look and let the questions roll in, thanks.

After you enjoy my column today – there’s sex at the end – please don’t forget to:

think of something to ask Aunt Pythia 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,

Before reading about the Target data loss, I didn’t realize that each company is responsible for the security of the in-store network that contains and transmits the data entered when I purchase an item. I thought there was some standard national process that controlled/enacted all debit/credit card transactions. How dumb I was. Now I am seriously thinking of trying to switch to using only cash. (This is leaving aside the motivation of achieving privacy in what I purchase.) I trust you to be savvy, so here are some questions:

  1. Is it worth switching to using only cash in-store?
  2. What about online? Just use Paypal? (How safe is that?) Have a credit card only used for online purchases, that isn’t linked to my bank accounts? 
  3. To be honest, I am somewhat freaking out that with an all-digital banking system my money (and millions of other people’s) could just vanish from my “bank account” in some hacking extravaganza. After all my “bank account” is just some picture on my screen representing my hard-earned savings. Should we print out bank statements every month and keep them under our mattresses? I have decided that I’ll count on the FDIC, but how do I prove to the FDIC how much money I had if my bank’s been hacked and all my online records destroyed?

Dr. Suspicious Ignorant Naive

Dear Dr. SIN,

Let me try to convince you to be more worried about being tracked than this particular security issue.

Your potential losses on lost or stolen credit cards and debit cards top out at $50 if you report the loss quickly – see the FTC website for more information on this. And by “quickly” that means from the moment you are made aware of it, either by being told by the company or by monthly statements that show erroneous charges. So keep an eye on those statements and you’re pretty well protected.

Credit cards have slightly better protection and you don’t ever actually pay the bad charges, which is why I opt for credit cards over debit cards when I can.

That’s not to say it’s fun to have your identity stolen, but that’s actually pretty rare.

On the other hand, the tracking issue is real, and is happening, and cash purchases will help but won’t be sufficient. Lots of tracking happens just by your phone usage, and even turning off your cell phone might not be enough, although you might like that feature if you lose your phone.

In other words, to get off the grid you’d need to use cash, leave your cell phone at home, and avoid the various cameras and sensors being placed everywhere. Good luck!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

Will the bitcoin protocol disrupt investment banking? Does this finally imply a means for fairer banking practices without putting regular folks on the hook? Here’s a related article.

Quantifried in Canada

Dear Quantrified,

I haven’t read that article, but I’ll just go ahead and answer the question anyway: no. The reasons that regular folks are on the hook for crazy bets on things like mortgage backed securities is complicated, deep, and will not go away because of bitcoin.

I’m not sure where or how this mythology got started, but even if an alternative currency worked flawlessly – which bitcoin does not, by far – we’d still have deep ties to Wall Street, and we’d still be bailing them out if and when.

For one thing, people’s retirement savings are increasingly involved in the fate of the markets and the banks, and that’s not gonna change just because our cash system gets separated from bank fees.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love the banks to have fewer ways to control their power, and part of their power definitely includes things like fees on international money transfers. Let’s free ourselves! Cool. But let’s not pretend that’s a panacea.

Plus it would be great if we could find an alternative currency where you get more money for saving energy, not for wasting it. Too much to ask?

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am friends with you on Facebook and I have recently got your book Doing Data Science on my kindle (to give you insight about our one sided relationship). There is more I want to say: with the inspiration and courage from you, I have quit my academic path in number theory.

I looked for jobs in the U.S.. However, a math Ph.D. was not good enough for the employers to jump on me. I now work as an evidence-based policy maker in science and technology matters in my home country.

However there are some problems. One is: I left a boy friend behind to get this job. Second: I do miss U.S., the wild nature, blue sky, fresh air and enough space for everyone. How can I be productive and still feel that I live in a beautiful world? The two notions does not seem to come together after quitting academia. Why is not U.S. more generous to let in people who would like to live there or let them look for jobs without time pressure?

No Acronym

Dear NA,

Holy crap, I don’t think I ever told anyone to be like me.

Here’s the thing, you never get rid of problems, you just exchange them for new problems. And your new problems sound pretty deep.

My suggestion for you is to understand your options – all of them – and make a plan to increase those options in the medium and long term so that you have a 5-year and 10-year plan to make your problems closer to your ideal set of problems.

I know that sounds vague, but I can’t help you much more than that because everyone’s ideal set of problems is different. Good luck!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am visiting U.S.A. from overseas. The guidebook says that a 15% to 20% gratuity based on the bill before sales taxes (with a minimum of 1$) should be given to staff of restaurants, taxis, salons etc. Are there other rounding conventions? And, is any of this discretionary according to customer’s appreciation of the service received?

I am from a country that has spent a generation (and indeed is still making efforts) to eradicate bribery and bring the informal economy into the realm of taxation, so it’s an awkward custom for me. I want to be respectful but prefer not to overpay due to ignorance.

Confused Foreign Visitor

Dear CFV,

First of all, it’s not bribery. These people depend on good tips for their salary. Waiting staff in restaurants have a minimum wage of $2.13, which is outrageous. They need those tips to survive.

I’m not saying it’s a great system, but it’s a system.

Second, your rules do not jibe with how I understand the rules of tipping. Here’s how I do it:

  1. For restaurant meals, I tip at least 1/6th of the cost of the food after tax. So if the bill with tax is $60 I pay $70.
  2. For taxies, I pay 10% for long trips and 15% or 20% for shorter trips.
  3. For delivery in my neighborhood, I pay the larger of $5 or 10% of the meal’s cost.
  4. For haircuts it really depends on the situation and whether the person listened to what I asked for. I give between between 10% and 25%. Then again I get about 1 haircut per year.

Good luck, and welcome to our country!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m in the 5th or 6th year of long distance in an almost decade long relationship with my girlfriend. I love her very much and intend to marry her when we settle down eventually. When we’re together we have great sex.

Anyway, I’m a very horny guy. Oftentimes, my mind wanders off to very naughty things. If it wasn’t for my awesome girlfriend, I’d probably be a classic man slut. I’ve never cheated on her, nor have I ever been in a relationship with anyone else actually, but that doesn’t stop me from frequently checking out girls, dreaming of threesomes, and watching porn. Usually it doesn’t really get to me, because there are much more pressing problems in my life I have to deal with (e.g. career), but in moments when those problems get put on the backburner for one reason or another, it’s like my libido starts consuming me alive. I just really, really want to have sex with another girl.

Aunt Pythia, what should I do? What mental pep talk should I give myself in these moments of anguish? I love my girlfriend and want to be with her, but I’m just so goddamn horny.

Brandishing One Nasty Erection Rythmically


First, nice acronym.

Next, I’m pretty sure this is a fake question, but I’ma include it anyway because I’m desperate to juice up this rather tame column.

Why fake? Because, if you were really a man slut, and if you’re really long-distance for your 6th year, then you’re almost definitely 100% already having sex with other people.

I mean, I would be! WTF?! Who stays faithful for 6 years?

OK OK I know what you’re saying – you made an oath. I get that. But nobody – and I mean nobody – can be expected to live apart from their lover for that long. It’s just nuts. My personal opinion, and I can already sense the disgust and dismissal of some people upon reading this. I’m shallow and overly devoted to my cruder instincts, all true. But I also have a standard of decency and quality of life that includes regular physical contact.

My advice to you: start living with your future wife very very soon, or break up with her and get relief with a local. Or tell your GF that you need to take a lover, maybe you guys can work something out.

You asked.

Aunt Pythia


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Categories: Aunt Pythia
  1. cat
    February 17, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    “… frequently checking out girls, dreaming of threesomes, and watching porn.”

    This doesn’t go away after marriage/cohabitation/whatever either. Some men are just better at clearing their browser history.

    Everyone has an active inner life and it it may be quieter when you have more contact with your significant other it never disappears.

    If thinking about sex more then you think you should is really your biggest worry about your current relationship you probably are missing the real relationship hurdles. Assuming you aren’t under the age of 25.


  1. March 8, 2014 at 8:28 am
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