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Learning to be a Human

I don't live in my body.

I was 48 years old before I discovered this. Now, such a basic fact, you might think, would be intuitively obvious much earlier. But I've only (to my knowledge) been alive this once, and I haven't had the experience of living as anyone else, so I think I might be forgiven for not fully understanding the extent to which my experience of the world is not everyone's experience of the world.

Ah, if only we could climb behind someone else's eyes and feel the world the way they do.

Anyway, I do not live in my body. My perception of my self—my core essence, if you will—is a ball that floats somewhere behind my eyes, and is carried about by my body.

Oh, I feel my body. It relays sensory information to me. I am aware of hot and cold (especially cold; more on that in a bit), soft and hard, rough and smooth. I feel the weight of myself pressing down on my feet. I am aware of the fact that I occupy space, and of my position in space. (Well, at least to some extent. My sense of direction is a bit rubbish, as anyone who's known me for more than a few months can attest.)

But I don't live in my body. It's an apparatus, a biological machine that carries me around. "Me" is the sphere floating just behind my eyes.

And as I said, I didn't even know this until I was 48.

This is not, as it turns out, my only perceptual anomaly.

I also perceive cold as pain.

When I say this, a lot of folks don't really understand what I mean. I do not mean that cold is uncomfortable. I mean that cold is painful. An ice cube on my bare skin hurts. A lot. A cold shower is excruciating agony, and I'm not being hyperbolic when I say this. (Being wet is unpleasant under the best of circumstances. Cold water is pure agony. Worse than stubbing a toe, almost on par with touching a hot burner.)

I've always more or less assumed that other people perceive cold more or less the same way I do. There's a trope that cold showers are an antidote to unwanted sexual arousal; I'd always thought that was because the pain shocks you out of any kind of sexy head space. And swimming in ice water? That was something that a certain breed of hard-core masochist did. Some folks like flesh hook suspension; some folks swim in ice water. Same basic thing.

I've only recently become aware that there's actually a medical term for this latter condition: congenital thermal allodynia. It's an abnormal coding of pain, and it is, I think, related to the not-living-in-my-body thing.

I probably would have discovered all of this if I'd been interested in recreational drug use as a youth. And it appears there may be a common factor in both of these atypical ways I perceive the world.

Ladies and gentlebeings, I present to you: TRPA1.



This is TRPA1. It's a complex protein that acts as a receptor in nerve and other cells. It responds to cold and to the presence of certain chemicals (menthol feels cold because it activates this receptor). Variations on the structure of TRPA1 are implicated in a range of abnormal perception of pain; there's a single nucleotide polymorphism in the gene that codes for TRPA1, for instance, that results in a medical condition called "hereditary episodic pain syndrome," whose unfortunate sufferers are wracked by intermittent spasms of agonizing and debilitating pain, often triggered by...cold.

I've lived this way my entire life, completely unaware that it's not the way most folks experience the world. It wasn't until I started my first tentative explorations down the path of recreational pharmaceuticals that I discovered there was any other way to be.

For nearly all of my life, I've never had the slightest interest in recreational drug use, despite what certain of my relatives believed when I was a teenager. Aside from alcohol, I had zero experience with recreational pharmaceuticals until I was in my late 40s.

The first recreational drug I ever tried was psilocybin mushrooms. I've had several experiences with them now, which have universally been quite pleasant and agreeable.

But it's the aftereffects of a mushroom trip that are, for me, the really interesting part.

The second time I tried psilocybin mushrooms, about an hour or so after the comedown from the mushroom trip, I had the sudden and quite marked experience of completely inhabiting my body. For the first time in my entire life, I wasn't a ball of self being carried around by this complex meat machine; I was living inside my body, head to toe. (I recall looking at Eve and saying "I go all the way to the ground!")

The effect of being-in-my-bodyness persisted for a couple of hours after all the other traces of the drug trip had gone, and for a person who's spent an entire lifetime being carried about by a body but not really being in that body, I gotta say, man, it was amazing.

So I did what I always do: went on Google Scholar and started reading neurobiology papers.

My first hypothesis, born of vaguely remembered classes in neurobiology many years ago and general folk wisdom about psilocybin and other hallucinogens, was that the psilocybin (well, technically, psilocin, a metabolite of psilocybin) acted as a particularly potent serotonin agonist, dramatically increasing brain activity, particularly in the pyramidal cells in layer 5 of the brain. If psilocybin lowered the activation threshold of these cells, reasoned I, then perhaps I became more aware of my body because I was better able to process existing sensory stimulation from the peripheral nervous system, and/or better able to integrate my somatosensory perception. It sounds plausible, right? Right?



Alas, some time on Google Scholar deflated that hypothesis. It turns out that the conventional wisdom about how hallucinogens work is quite likely wrong.

Conventional wisdom is that hallucinogens promote neural activity in cells that express serotonin receptors by mimicking the action of serotonin, causing the cells to fire. Hallucinogens aren't well understood, but it's looking like this model is probably not correct.

Oh, don't get me wrong, psilocybin is a serotonin agonist and it does lower activation threshold of pyramidal cells, oh yes.

The fly in the ointment is that evidence from fMRI and BOLD studies shows an overall inhibition of brain activity resulting from psilocybin. Psilocybin promotes activation of excitatory pyramidal cells, sure, but it also promotes activation of inhibitory GABAergic neurons, resulting in overall decreased activity in several other parts of the brain. Further, this activity in the pyramidal cells produces less overall cohesion of brain activity, as this paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explains. (It's a really interesting article. Go read it!)

My hypothesis that psilocybin promotes the subjective experience of greater somatosensory integration by lowering activation threshold of pyramidal cells, therefore, seems suspect, unless perhaps we were to further hypothesize that this lowered activation threshold persisted after the mushroom trip was over, an assertion for which I can find no support in the literature.

So lately I've been thinking about TRPA1.

I drink a lot of tea. Not as much, perhaps, as my sweetie emanix, but a lot nonetheless.

Something I learned a long time ago is that the sensation of being wet is extremely unpleasant, but it's more tolerable after I've had my morning tea. I chalked that down to it being more unpleasant when I was sleepy than when I was awake.

It turns out caffeine is a mild TRPA1 inhibitor. That leads to the hypothesis that for all these years, I may have been self-medicating with caffeine without being aware of it. If TRPA1 is implicated in the more unpleasant somatosensory bits of being me, then caffeine may jam up the gubbins and let me function in a way that's a closer approximation to the way other folks perceive the world. (Insert witty quip about not being fully human before my morning tea here.)

So then I started to wonder, what if psilocybin is connecting me with my body by influencing TRPA1 activity? Could that explain the aftereffects of a mushroom trip? When I'm in my body, I feel warm and, for lack of a better word, glowy. My sense of self extends downward and outward until it fills up the entire biological machine in which I live. Would TRPA1 inhibition explain that?

Google Scholar offers exactly fuckall on the effects of psilocybin on TRPA1. So I turned to other searches, trying to find other drugs or substances that promoted a subjective experience of greater connection with one's own body.

I found anecdotal reports of what I was after from people who used N-phenylacetyl-L-prolylglycine ethyl ester, a supplement developed in Russia and sold as a cognitive enhancer under the Russian name Ноопепт and the English name Noopept. It's widely sold as a nootropic. New Agers and the fringier elements of the transhumanist movement, two groups I tend not to put a lot of faith in, tout it as a brain booster.

Still, noopept is cheap and easily available, and I figured as long as I was experimenting with my brain's biochemistry, it was worth a shot.



To hear tell, this stuff will do everything from make you smarter to prevent Alzheimer's. Real evidence that it does much of anything is thin on the ground, with animal models showing some protective effect against some forms of brain trauma but human trials being generally small and unpersuasive.

I started taking it, and noticed absolutely no difference at all. Still, animal models suggest it takes quite a long time to have maximum effect, so I kept taking it.

About 40 days after I started, I woke up with the feeling of being completely in my body. It didn't last long, but over the next few weeks, it came and went several times, typically for no more than an hour or two at a time.

But oh, what an hour. When you've lived your whole life as a ball being carted around balanced atop a bipedal biological machine, feeling like you inhabit your body is amazing.

The last time it happened, I was in the Adventure Van driving toward the cabin where Eve and I are currently writing not one, not two, but three books (a nonfiction followup to More Than Two titled Love More, Be Awesome, and two fiction books set in a common world, called Black Iron and Gold Gold Gold!). We were listening to music, as we often do when we travel, and I...felt the music. In my body.

I'd always more or less assumed that people who talk about "feeling music" were being metaphorical, not literal. Imagine my surprise.

I also noticed something intriguing: Feeling cold will, when I'm in my body, push me right back out again. Hence my hypothesis that not being connected with my body might in some way be related to TRPA1.

The connection with my body, intermittent and tenuous for the past few weeks, has disappeared again. I'm still taking noopept, but I haven't felt like I'm inhabiting my body for the past couple of weeks. That leads to one of two suppositions: the noopept is not really doing anything at all, which is quite likely, or I'm developing a tolerance for noopept, which seems less likely but I suppose is possible. Noopept is a racetam-like peptide; like members of the racetam class, it is an acetylcholine agonist, and while I can't find anything in the literature about noopept tolerance, tolerance of other acetylcholine agonists (though not, as near as I can tell, racetam-like acetylcholine agonists) has been observed in animal models.

So there's that.

The literature on all of this has been decidedly unhelpful. I like the experience of completely inhabiting my body, and would love to find a way to do this all the time.

I'm currently pondering three experiments. First, next time I take mushrooms (and my experience with mushrooms, limited though they are, have universally been incredibly positive; while I have no desire to take them regularly, I probably will take them again at some point in the future), I am planning to set up experiments after the comedown where I expose myself to water and cold sensations to see if the pain is reduced or eliminated in the phase during which I'm connected to my body.

Second, I'm planning to discontinue noopept for a month or so, then resume it to see if the problem is tolerance.

And finally, I've enlisted Eve to help do a controlled blind experiment involving capsules filled with noopept and capsules filled with confectioner's sugar. Eve has offered to fill a month's worth of capsules with each and then place them in numbered but otherwise unmarked bottles. The idea is to take the contents of one bottle, chosen at random with Eve not aware of which one I've chosen, for a month, recording how I feel, then take the contents of the second bottle for a month with similar record-keeping, and see if there's any subjective experience that is not consistent with the placebo effect. (Yes, I know that a sample size of one is not exactly rigorous science. I'm looking for a way to connect with my body, not publish a paper.)

I'm fifty years old and I'm still learning how to be a human being. Life is a remarkable thing.


Right now, Eve and I are in the remote cabin in the woods where we wrote More Than Two, working on two new books: a nonfiction book called Love More, Be Awesome and a novel called Black Iron.

The cabin has very limited Internet access that's approximately the same speed as old-fashioned dialup, so fetching email is always a bit dicey. Imagine my disappointment at the timing, then, of a large-scale malware attack.

The emails are all very simple: just two lines and a bit.ly URL shortener address. They come from a wide range of IP addresses with a large number of different forged From: addresses, and they all look exactly the same:



The system behind this email, however, is anything but simple.




The Network

The emails all contain a URL shortening address that uses the popular bit.ly URL shortener service. There's a complex network behind that short URL, that does a number of different things: promotes dodgy products such as supposed "brain boosting" pills, and attempts to download malware and trick people into phoning phony tech support Web sites that scam victims for hundreds of dollars in fake tech support charges (and also dupe victims into downloading more malware).

*** WARNING *** WARNING *** WARNING ***

All the sites mentioned in this post are live at the time of writing this. Most of them will attempt to download malware or redirect you to sites that attempt to download malware. Do not visit these sites if you don't know what you're doing.


When you click the link in one of these emails, you're redirected via several steps to a site called wholesoil.com that then sends you off to one of many, many possible destinations, some of which are typical run-of-the-mill spam sites and some of which are malware sites. The network looks like this:



This chart is not complete; there are many, many other malware sites that you may be redirected to. I charted well over a dozen more such sites before I quit looking.

Clicking on the link contained in the email enters you into a lottery of suck: Will you get spam? Will you get pwn3d? Hard to say!

I'm not 100% certain it's entirely random. There may be some element of looking at the browser's user agent or the visitor's IP address; visiting wholesoil.com repeatedly in a short span of time will tend to result in getting redirected to the same spam URL over and over after a while.

The people behind this network have gone to considerable lengths to hide themselves. For example, one step of the redirection happens via a domain parking service called tracted.net. The redirection script that relays traffic through this site scrubs the referrer header. When you travel from one Web site to another, your browser sends a "referrer header" that tells the new site where you came from; this is how people can tell where they're getting traffic from. But this network carefully removes that information, so that the owners of tracted.net can not easily detect this traffic.

The most common spam destination is a subdomain on a site called fastgoodforms.com. These subdomains change often: 570-inteligen.fastgoodforms.com, 324-brain.fastgoodforms.com, 923-inteligen.fastgoodforms.com, and so on.

But more often than spam, users will get redirected to a phony tech support page that displays a fake Windows error message. These sites look like this:



These sites attempt to download malware—specifically, a remote control program that allows attackers to take control of an infected computer. They also attempt to prevent the user'sWeb browser from leaving the site, and display popups over and over and over again telling the user that the computer has been infected by a virus and to call Microsoft Support at a toll-free number.

The toll-free number is owned and operated by the scammers. If you call it, you're sent to a person in India who will attempt to get your credit card number, and will try to talk you into installing software on your computer to "fix" the "problem." This software is, of course, remote control malware.




How the mighty fall

While I was tracing out this network, I discovered many, many, many of these fake tech support Web sites that are being used to spread malware and try to con users.

And that's where I noticed an interesting pattern.

The overwhelming majority of these malware sites are hosted, not on dodgy services in China or the Netherlands as you might normally expect, but on GoDaddy.



Not all of the malware sites are hosted on GoDaddy (I found one hosted on One, one hosted on Hostwinds, and one on IX Web Hosting, for example), but the vast majority—literally dozens—are.

I believe that GoDaddy is the choice of malware hosts because their abuse and security teams, which once upon a time had an excellent reputation in the Web hosting industry, have been pared back to the point they can no longer keep up...or perhaps simply no longer care. (GoDaddy was bought out by an investment group a few years back, which is when its reputation began to decline.)

I reported the Hostwinds-hosted malware site to Hostwinds abuse; it was removed about ten hours later. I reported the malware site on IX Web Hosting; it was gone in 17 minutes. But malware and phish sites on GoDaddy remain, in my experience, for an average of about a month before GoDaddy acts, and spam sites remain essentially forever.

Spammers and malware distributors are adaptable. They move Web hosts often, leaving hosting companies that take rapid action against them and congregating on tolerant sites that permit spam and malware. I suspect the fact that so many malware and fake tech support sites are hosted on GoDaddy is a consequence of the indifference or inability of their abuse and security teams.

To be fair, if you make enough noise, GoDaddy will eventually act. I have engaged with GoDaddy on Twitter, and when I do that, they will generally take down a site I complain about within a few days. The dozens of other sites, however, remain.




I am currently a GoDaddy customer. I do not use GoDaddy for Web hosting, but I do have a large number of domains registered there. I intend to begin removing my domains from GoDaddy, because I do not like supporting spam-tolerant companies. (Ironically, this was the reason I left Namecheap to go to GoDaddy; Namecheap is owned by a company called Rightside, that has become notorious for willingly hosting some of the biggest players in the spam business.)

So if you have a domain registrar you use, please leave a comment! I would love to find a replacement for GoDaddy and pull all my domains away from them. (If you're using GoDaddy for Web hosting or domains, I advise you to do likewise, unless you fancy staying with a company whose approach to security and malware is so lax.)

I would also like to invite GoDaddy representatives to offer their side of the story in the comments as well.



Part 1 of this saga is here. Part 8 of this saga is here.
Part 2 of this saga is here. Part 9 of this saga is here.
Part 3 of this saga is here. Part 10 of this saga is here.
Part 4 of this saga is here. Part 11 of this saga is here.
Part 5 of this saga is here. Part 12 of this saga is here.
Part 6 of this saga is here. Part 13 of this saga is here.
Part 7 of this saga is here. Part 14 of this saga is here.



Bodie, California was a Victorian-era gold mining town high in the mountains between California and Nevada. The Victorians weren't very big on human rights, or treating workers well, or sex, or just about anything else, but there is one thing they liked very much, and that was technology.

At some point, today's cutting-edge tech will look as hopelessly antiquated as the detritus littering the ruins of Bodie. But tech always starts somewhere, and the Victorians were all for embracing the bleeding edge, especially where it making money.

One of the many places Bodie kept up with the state of the art was transportation. When the town was founded, horses and stagecoaches were the order of the day, but that changed as the automotive arts gained ground. Today, the ruins of ancient cars lie scattered all over what's left of the town.









The residents of Bodie were willing to adopt any new technology that offered to make their lives better or, more to the point, more productive. They may not have had a sewer system, they may have dug their wells directly downstream of their outhouses, but they were on top of mechanization as soon as it was out of beta.

And the trend of abandoning old tech where it lay and replacing it with new didn't end with mining or stamping machines. The derelict wrecks rusting quietly into the hills span years of the automaker's art.



They also used whatever worked. In the winter, snow in Bodie could get two stories deep. If that made it most practical to let the horseless carriages get buried and break out the sleds in winter, that's what they did.





Some of the abandoned cars look personal; others look like working vehicles.



There's a certain sleek beauty to the lines of this one, I think.



Compare that to the severe utilitarianism of this (possibly horse-drawn?) ore cart.



But they weren't technofetishists. Their approach to technology was relentlessly, brutally practical. If it worked, they used it. As many of the vehicles dotted about Bodie are old tech as new.



This is a different relationship to technology than many of us have today. They wanted things that worked, not things that were new. If it helped them get gold out of the ground, they used it, and that was that. It's hard to imagine that utilitarian a mindset today. "New iPhone? Why? My phone makes calls just fine."

One of the creepiest and most splendid things about Bodie is the fact that when the gold left, so did the people, sometimes with such abruption it seems as thought they forgot to pack.

In reality, it's more like they didn't bother to pack. It's difficult to get up and down the mountain even today; in a time when the only way in our out was by stagecoach (on a toll road!), there would be little incentive to take anything with you that could easily be replaced when you got wherever you were going.

So the buildings in Bodie have rooms that look like their owners stepped out a half-century ago to pop on down to the store for milk and eggs, and never came back. It's both unsettling and marvelous.

The cast-off child's toy in this room is a reminder that people raised their kids here, in this inhospitable mining town with its brutal heat and bitter cold and chimneys belching mercury fumes.



Bodie had its own post office, which doubled as the postman's living quarters.



This was someone's home. Someone cooked meals here, sang songs here, experienced joy and sorrow here, lived here.









It's hard to forget that countless lives played out here, from beginning to end. These people lived in an inhospitable place, in a different time, but they lived here, and they experienced the same range of feelings that you and I feel.











This was, first and foremost, a working town. The town had a blacksmith. Apparently, according to the tour guide, this was it. I have no idea what those things on the table are.



The general store looks very much like it did when the town was at its peak, at least if you ignore the film of dust that has fallen like a funeral shroud over it all.



I bet the aspirin was a guaranteed best seller.



The plaster bandages too, I reckon. Industrial accidents in the stamping mill were horrifying.





The Bodie Hotel is one of the best-preserved buildings still remaining. The sign says "meals at all hours," and I believe it. This place probably never slept.



This room still has a bunch of toys, long abandoned, and what looks like it might be a proto-skateboard of some description.

I wonder if the child these belonged to was sad to give them up.



This room looks expensive to me.



The headline is less interesting to me than the article beneath it: "Blast at magnesium plant injures 22." There are people today who want to abolish OSHA. How short our memories are.



Bodie at its peak was home to many, many taverns. Today only one remains.





Next door to the sole remaining tavern is a gym. And you want to know something freaky? The cabin where Eve and I wrote More Than Two has that exact same model of hob.



Seriously. The exact same model. Check this out:



Freaky!

One of the guides explained that this was a "buggy," as opposed to a "stagecoach." There's a big difference, apparently (and in fact the toll road into town had different tolls for buggies, wagons, coaches, and freight wagons).



We left Bodie as the sun grew low, and headed out to...well, that is a story for next time.


"But I'm changing it from within!"

Many years ago, I had an online conversation with a woman who was a devout, practicing Catholic.

She was also a polyamorous, pro-choice sex activist in a live-in relationship with her boyfriend, to whom she was not married.

When I asked her about the contradiction between these two things, she said that she recognized that Catholicism was behind the times on issues like women's rights and nontraditional relationships, but that she remained Catholic because she wanted to change the Church from within.

I was reminded of that conversation recently when i had another online conversation with a guy who claims to be pro-gay rights and pro-gay marriage, who professes horror at the Republican Party's treatment of women, who says he is appalled at the way the Republican party uses fear of immigrants and sexual minorities to raise votes, and who says that anti-Muslim sentiment is morally wrong...but who is still a member of the Republican Party and plans to vote the Republican ticket this November.

I asked him how he can, in good conscience, be a part of an organization whose values are so antithetical to his own. He said the same thing: "I want to change the Republican party from within."

He and the woman I talked to all those years ago had one other thing in common besides saying they wanted to change the groups to which they belonged from within: They were both rather thin on details about what work they were willing to do to make that happen.

Both of them said they want to change these groups from within, but neither one of them was working to make that happen.

Which, in my book, is dishonest.

Changing a large, entrenched organization from within is hard. It requires serious work and serious commitment. It requires sacrifice. If you are a pro-life Catholic or a pro-immigration, pro-gay Republican, you will suffer if you make those beliefs known. You will face condemnation. You will face ostracism.

Working to change an organization takes dedication. If you actually want to change a political party, that means getting involved, deeply. It means showing up at the party's national convention. It means becoming a delegate or an activist. It means voicing objections when the party attempts to make a platform plank out of hate and fear.

If you actually want to change the Catholic Church, that means becoming part of the church hierarchy. It means going to seminary. It means becoming a respected theologian and integrating yourself into the church's structure.

Steering a ship requires getting on deck and putting your hand on the wheel.

Neither of the people I spoke to, all these years apart, were doing any of these things. Just the opposite, they were doing exactly what the rank and file are expected to do: go to church, tithe, vote in a straight line for every name with an (R) after it.

This is not how you change a group from within. This is how you signal the group that what it is doing is working.

It does no good to toe the line while secretly disagreeing within the privacy of your own head. If you do that while claiming to be "working for change from within," you're being dishonest. You're running away from the genuine hard work and the real social cost of change.

You do not fight segregation by docilely sitting at the back of the bus like you're told, then grumbling about it on the Internet. You fight segregation by sitting at the front of the bus, getting arrested, and inspiring others to do the same.

"I am changing things from within" is, all too often, a bullshit justification, a wimpy self-rationalization for complicity in atrocity. If you can not point to direct, tangible things you are doing to create that change, even when--especially when!--it costs you, you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. You are not a force for change; you are a participant in the very structures you claim to want to change.

No bullshit, no evasion: if you're working to change the world, ask yourself, what have I done to make that happen?


Email o' the Week: Beta Male

This just landed in my inbox from the More Than Two contact page. Formatting as in the original.

To: Franklin <franklin@franklinveaux.com>
From: Mrkoolio [email address redacted]
Subject: New Message From More Than Two - Contact Us

Dude...Buck up and have a back bone. When she wants to see other people it is because you are not fulfflling a need or you are not the one. It is exactly what you feel when you are not in love. This never works unless everyone is banging around at the same time. This is, "I want to screw other people, but if they dump me ...it will be great to run back to you and you can help pay the bills too. If she meets a guy that does it for her, she will all of a sudden become monogamous. I can tell you are a beta by looking at you. Hand out with the alpha males a copy them. And the next time a chick says "I am poly." You say," good for you ....I am gone". Or you can do the laundry while she is out banging around. Don't be a pussy. Deep down...girls want a tough confident man....listen to Tom leykis. Let me guess, u were raised by a single mom who taught you all this bs....grow a pair....it will be so much better


I am a beta. He can tell by looking at me. So now you know.

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The revolution is Nigh...Impossible

As part of the ongoing development of the bionic cock project I'm working on, I'm in the process of teaching myself 3D modeling and 3D printing. We're using 3D printing to make positives for molding silicone prototypes.

3D printing is amazing. It offers incredible potential for people everywhere to be able to make whatever they want on demand, as long as "people everywhere" means "people with access to computers and the Internet and 3D printers and spools of plastic, and the cognitive ability to be able to design things and operate the equipment." So not really people everywhere, but no matter, right?

3D printing is also incredibly stupid. The state of the art is so appalling. The software is deplorable--a throwback to the bad old days of obtuse design usable only by the select few.

The first time I tried to make a print, I was horrified by what passes for design in the world of 3D printing. It's a case study in why Linux has never made significant inroads into the desktop, despite being free. Open source software is still software made by developers for developers, with no thought (or sometimes, with active contempt) for users who either don't want to or don't have the time to learn every small detail of the way their systems work.

By way of comparison, if color inkjet software worked the way 3D printer software works, every time you hit the Print command on your computer, you'd be confronted by something like this (click to embiggen):

A twisty maze of confusing ad indecipherable options poorly laid out

This...is why we can't have nice things. The open source community isn't democratic; it's elitist.

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A lot has changed in twenty years

Wow, has it really been twenty years? My God.

Back in 1996, I released the first version of the sex game Onyx. It's a game for two to six adult players, played a bit like Monopoly (the players can buy properties on a game board) but with a twist. Each player fills out a profile specifying sex, orientation, and kinks, and if a player lands on a property owned by someone of the correct sex and orientation, the player can pay rent or work off the debt. Working off the debt causes the game to search its database of sex acts and draw an appropriate act that fits the genders and kinks of the players.

All very straightforward, right?

Fast forward twenty years. I'm working on (among many, many other things) an update to Onyx, Onyx version 4, and I'm a lot more aware now than I was then.



Twenty years ago, I thought there were only two possible sexes, and the idea that someone might be trans wasn't even on my radar. (And nonbinary genders? Way outside my conception!) One of the things this new update includes is a complete overhaul of my assumptions, which means a complete overhaul of some legacy code that stretches clear back to version 1.0.

Onyx 4 will allow players to specify their own pronouns however they like, and will be much more accommodating of trans and nonbinary players. As part of the update, I'm going through the database of sex acts, and man, I made a lot of assumptions.

Assumptions about pronouns. Assumptions about genitalia. Assumptions about what would and would not be possible when someone identified as a particular gender.

It's slow going. There are hundreds of actions in the database, and I'm having to go through and check every one: am I using hard-coded pronouns? Am I presuming what the players' bodies look like? (Spoiler: Yes. Yes, I was.)

It's been an interesting exercise, being confronted with these assumptions in a direct and systematic way. I hope the new version, whenever it's done, will be more accessible and accommodating for more people.

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Some folks who read this blog might recall that it was right here, on this very blog, I first started talking about what would eventually become the Map of Human Sexuality, and first did a crude crowdfunding campaign to make it into a poster.

Well, it's time to do a reprint, and I'm doing another crowdfunding!

This is your chance to grab some posters of the Map of Human Sexuality at a reduced price. Put it in your living room! Put it on a corkboard and stick pins in it! Plan your next adventure with your lover (or lovers!) Score yourself some of my erotic fiction or a copy of the sex game Onyx while you're at it!



You can see the crowdfunding here. Get it while it's hot!

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Bizarre email o' the day

The email below appeared without explanation in my inbox today, and ranks in the top 10 most bizarre emails I've received. I have no idea what to make of this.

Delivery-date: Wed, 07 Sep 2016 18:58:56 -0500
Message-ID: <2B2E98CBC0142E5D8184CD794D1C0DE0@ibcmobile.com>
From: "SAVE US" <sales@ibcmobile.com>
To: <franklin@franklinveaux.com> (and 5 other email addresses redacted)

Subject: They kill with wars, alcohol and abortions. Save us!!!

They kill with wars, alcohol and abortions. Save us!!!


That's it. No link, no attachment, nothing. Just...that.


...not just a river in Egypt

Some while back, someone on Quora (a question and answer site on which I'm quite active) asked a question about encounters with racism and white privilege.

I told the story of something that happened to Eve and me at a Walmart in Florida. We were standing in a checkout line with about five people in front of us, when the cashier pulled us out of line. We thought she was opening a new register, but instead, she just brought us to the front of the line and rang us up. It was a little confusing, and it took a few minutes to register: we were the only white people in line.

This is, I think, a fairly typical example of everyday racism. There's nothing particularly weird or unusual about it; it's just part of the background institutional racism of life in the United States, one of the many small acts of racism that normalize racism on a larger scale.

What I didn't expect, and did find deeply weird, was the way people reacted to this story.













This, I think, is very strange. It's also very telling.

There are lessons in both the event and the responses to it, I think. Both Eve and I didn't recognize what was going on at the time it happened. As she wrote,

It was crowded and noisy. It happened really fast. We were stressed and distracted. Have you ever had someone pull you out of line because they were opening a new register? At first we thought that was what was happening. [...] We weren't even sure if everyone standing around us was actually in line. There was a lot of information to take in and respond to at once.

It was only after we checked out and were halfway to the exit that we looked around and realized that she was the only cashier open in her area and that the people around us had in fact all been in line - and were still there.

I mean yeah. We felt like idiots afterward for not realizing sooner what was going on. I certainly hope the experience will help us be more aware in the future if we encounter this shit again.


Neither of us recognized what was happening at the time, but we're now more aware of this kind of thing, and we're not likely to be taken by surprise in the future.

So that's the first lesson: sometimes, white privilege means being completely unaware of casual acts of everyday racism even when you're right in the middle of them.

The second lesson, though, is more interesting: it has become very, very common for people who are confronted with something uncomfortable to deny that it exists. And that's troubling.




To be fair, this is not limited only to racism. The same thing happened whenever people talk about any kind of topic where there's likely to be disagreement. I've written on this blog and elsewhere about the hysteria around GM food and how the machinery of fear of GM food is totally devoid of empirical evidence, and as sure as night follows day, every time I do, someone will reach into the attic of argumentative fallacy and haul out the tired old "you don't believe that, you're just being paid to say it" trope. It's happened both on Quora and, when a blog post about GM food made it to Reddit, on Reddit:











It hasn't always been this way. This reflexive, instantaneous denial--"You had an experience that makes me uncomfortable; I will refuse to believe it occurred," "You hold an idea I disagree with; you do not really believe what you're saying"--is new (at least to me).

Denial as an argumentative tactic isn't new, of course, but the fact that so many people reach for it as the very first response is.

This happens in politics ("You support Hillary, that's the only reason you're saying Jill Stein is pandering to pseudoscience"), in technology, in everything. It's pervasive. And it's gaslighting. It's built on the assumption that a person can tell you what your experiences were, what you believe or don't believe, all because he doesn't much like what you're saying. (I say "he" because with only one exception, all the responses I've screen captured above were from men.)

But when it comes to experiences of racism, it seems particularly deeply rooted.

I'm not sure if that's white discomfort at the idea of their own privilege, or if it comes from the fact that so many Americans truly want to believe that the election of a black President means we're living in a post-racial society, or what it is, but it's bizarre. What happened to Eve and me in Walmart isn't even that egregious an example. It's not like, just to use a random hypothetical that of course would never happen in real life, an unarmed black man was shot dead by police for doing nothing in particular.

Yet people really, really want to believe that it simply never happened--that it would not happen. They seem incredibly invested in that belief.




I would like to think that, had I been waiting in that line and seen what happened, I would raise a stink about that.

But here's the thing: I am white. I was born into a system that privileged me. I have never been on the receiving end of structural racism. If someone were to be brought in front of me in line, of course I would raise a stink about it; being able to raise a stink is part of my privilege. Many folks on Quora expressed surprise that none of the people in the line spoke up, but that's part of the problem. Being allowed to speak up about racism is not a privilege that those on the receiving end are permitted.

On Quora, several folks made exactly this point:








Talking about privilege is difficult, because a lot of folks who hold some kind of privilege (white privilege, male privilege, whatever) take the conversation as an affront. It's not always clear what we're supposed to do with the knowledge that we have these social privileges we didn't ask for, whether we want them or not.

I've heard folks become defensive and say things like "are you telling me I should feel guilty for being white?" or "are you telling me I didn't work for the things I have?"

And the answer is no, of course not. That's not the point at all. The point is to recognize these structures, so that you can point them out and you can help level the playing field for everyone.

Had someone in that line objected, he probably would have been seen as just another angry black person. Had we objected, that would have been a whole different ball o' wax. This video illustrates this nicely:



The right thing to do, had we recognized what was happening, would be to say "Excuse me, these people were in line first, why are you bringing us to the front?"

The wrong thing for us to do (which was what we did) was to be so unaware of what was happening that we simply allowed it to happen. The wrong thing for other people to do was to tell us that it never happened at all.

Of course, all this happens because racism is still a real and genuine thing, openly embraced by far more people than we are comfortable admitting (including, it must be said, a certain current Presidential candidate). Not everyone on Quora denied our experience. At least one person celebrated it. I'll leave you with this gem:



In 1995, writer David Joiner coined a phrase that I think has not received nearly enough attention: "psychic litter." In an issue of Wired magazine, Joiner defines it this way:

"Psychic Litter" is a term I coined to mean acts of immorality so small as to be below the level of consciousness. One example is wasting small amounts of the time of many people. Bruce Tognazzini, the user interface guru, once opined that by creating a product that wastes a half hour of time for each of 4 million users, you waste 900 work-years of human productivity. That works out to about 12 complete lives.


It seems appropriate that his 1995 example involved user interfaces, as the most glaring examples of psychic litter I've personally ever encountered invariably come from tech firms.

Consider this: Last night, I spent some hours combing through my hard drive with a fine-toothed comb in search of some missing gigabytes that, by all rights, ought to have been there. Imagine my surprise when I peeked into my Applications folder and saw this:



Yes, that's Chrome, the Google Web browser. Yes, it is twenty gigabytes(!) in size. No, that's not a disk directory error.

Chrome updates itself more or less constantly, all completely silently and in the background, without user notification. That's fine, but it turns out that every time it updates itself, Chrome (the Mac version, anyway) keeps the old version stashed within itself.

On the Mac, applications are actually "bundles," special directories that contain the executable code plus all its required libraries. That's how the Mac has made itself immune to Windows DLL Hell and Linux dependency hell; apps are self-contained.

You can look inside an application bundle by right-clicking it and choosing Show Package Contents from the popup menu.



When you do that on Chrome, you will see a folder called Versions. This folder contains a complete copy of every single version of Chrome that has ever been updated on that computer.

Google Chrome is about 200 MB in size. When it updates, it eats another 200 MB of hard disk space. When it updates again, there's another 200 MB gone. And another. And another. And another.

In my case, I'd been using Chrome since 2012, and those updates had swallowed up 20 GB of space.



This shows a profound contempt and disregard for the user's hard drive space.

Right now, by default, a brand-new Macbook comes with 256 GB of Flash storage; an 11-inch Macbook Air, 128 GB. That means my copy of Chrome would devour 15% of a Macbook Air's standard storage.

By way of comparison, the current Mac operating system takes about 8 GB of hard drive space. That means my copy of Chrome was more than twice the size of my operating system on disk.

The simplest solution is to periodically delete Chrome and download it again, which means you're swapping prodigious waste of your hard disk space for slightly less prodigious waste of bandwidth. The real solution is for Silicon Valley to become more conscious of the impact of their behavior on their users.

It's not just Silicon Valley, of course. Yesterday, I had to call Services Canada about getting a social insurance number. The phone number for Services Canada took me to a voice menu tree that had six minutes of talking before the menu options were presented, and did not permit me to skip that six minutes by pressing the right number even though I knew what it was. Worse, hitting the key to repeat the menu choices caused the system to recite all six minutes of recording before offering the menu prompts again.

The design of voice menu systems is a frequent source of psychic litter. The people who record these systems rarely think about how they will be used, and often show contempt for the time of those who use them.

Sometimes, this is deliberate. Cell phone carriers have made voicemail messages longer to increase the the number of minutes of airtime used. More often, it's careless. It stems from indifference to other people and lack of concern about the effects of our actions.

I would like to propose a radical idea: Let us all, every day, consider the implications of all our actions on other people, even the actions that we normally don't think about. We all often find ourselves doing things that touch large numbers of other people. Even small acts of indifference, when multiplied many times, add up. We can all seek to be more considerate of other people in small ways as well as large.

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I am old enough to remember Richard Nixon.

I was in first grade during the 1972 campaign. My class had a mock election, in which I cast my "vote" for Nixon. Why? I have no idea. I was six; I liked his name better than that other guy, George Whoeverthehellitwas.

I remember the aftermath—Watergate, the resignation, the whole sordid mess. At the time, I recall thinking that this whole business of politics was a bit of shambles, and I'd probably never see anything worse. Ah, the optimism of youth.

Then, of course, came Bush/Gore, with the confusing ballots and the hanging chad and the election ultimately decided by the Supreme Court, some of whose members Bush's father had appointed. I remember Nader thinking he was all that, and Nader supporters thinking he was all that, and the peculiar brand of ardent zeal that has its roots so deep in the American psyche—the "take no prisoners, brook no compromise" approach to elections that usually ends up in the worst of two evils taking office.

I see that same cycle playing out again this election, which has unquestionably brought yet a new low to the American civic institution of voting. And I see the same arguments being put forth by a fresh new crop of take-no-prisoners, brook-no-compromise idealists absolutely convinced their candidate was the Chosen One, even though those of us who've been around longer knew he was unlikely to win. (Sorry, Bernie.)

And I see now, as I did with Nader supporters, a lot of folks saying "if I can't have my candidate, why should I vote for anyone? I don't want to vote for the lesser of two evils, I want to vote for someone who really represents me!

Which sounds reasonable right up until the moment you realize it's not. Because, you see, the world is not all about you.

One of the hardest lessons to learn in life is this: Other people are real. The world isn't the Story of You. Yes, I'm sure you're amazing and all, but other people are not supporting characters in the movie called You: The Reality.

There are three hundred million people, give or take, living in the US. Many of them (indeed, most of them) live lives different from yours. They face challenges different from yours, have priorities that are different from yours, and want things that are different from the things you want.

They deserve to be heard by the government that we live under, just like you.

A person who says "I want a candidate who represents all of my interests" is a person who's saying "fuck all those three hundred million other people; I am the only person who should count." And it doesn't—it can't—work that way.

A political candidate is not all you, all the time. In any reasonable democratic system, you will always be voting for a candidate who does not perfectly represent you, because it isn't all about you. A candidate must represent everyone, not just you, and a lot of people—real, legitimate people—are not like you. "Choosing the lesser of two evils" is just a self-focused way of saying "choosing a candidate who is not a clone of me, but who will, I think, better represent me than the other person will."

This is a huge problem for progressives, who rightly are horrified when they see candidates attempting to disenfranchise broad swaths of the population (gays and lesbians, say, or religious minorities, or women) but then in the same breath turn around and say "I refuse to vote for someone who I don't 100% agree with 100% of the time"—not recognizing that if the government were made up of people who 100% agreed with you 100% of the time, it would disenfranchise a whole lot of folks who are not like you.

Maybe not as directly as some politicians disenfranchise gays and lesbians or minorities, but make no mistake, it would still disenfranchise them just the same.

If a pluralistic society is to function, it must do so by recognizing that people have legitimate differences, and seeking to make sure that the voice of the government is not solely the voice of one demographic, or one person. This world is not the Truman Show, and you are not the starring character.

In this election, there has been no candidate who I agree with on all the issues all the time. And you know what? I'm okay with that. My job is to select a candidate who I think will best create the society I want to live in, while still recognizing that other people have to live in it too.

In the 2000 election, a lot of folks said there was no difference between Bush and Gore. That turned out, on hindsight, to be laughably, comedically wrong...and we're still paying the price. (Would Gore have led us into an invasion of Iraq post-9/11?)

I see that same thing being spouted in this election. There's no difference, I hear people say with a straight face, between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. And I boggle.

Or at least I did, until I realized what it actually means: "there is no difference between Hillary and Trump" actually means "I don't agree with Hillary and I don't agree with Trump, so I mentally place them both in the same cubbyhole." Which is, I think, a bit like saying "I don't eat eggplant and I don't eat arsenic, so they must be the same thing."

That's more than a little disingenuous. I don't like eggplant and I don't like arsenic, but one of them is a whole lot worse for me than the other. Given the choice of eating one or the other, it'd be pretty stupid to claim I don't see a difference between them.

We live in a pluralistic society. One of the current candidates is okay with that; one is not. I understand that a lot of folks are disappointed that their guy didn't win. I get it. That sucks. Of the choice ahead, though, one person better represents the values of a pluralistic society than another. And when you say "it's my guy or bust," you're basically saying that you don't care for a pluralistic society; you want things all your way or no way at all. There is a candidate who represents that view, but you might not like living in the society that results from his election.

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