When big tech gets careless: Google Forms spam

So lately, I've seen a thing in my inbox. Well, I mean, I see a lot of things in my inbox, but this is an annoying thing: 419 scams inside Google Forms invites.

I'm getting a ton of these:

Google forms spam

In spam fighting communities, these are called "419 scams," from Section 419 of the Nigerian criminal code. Most of them originate from Nigeria, and they’re a form of scam called “advance fee fraud,” where the scammer promises to give you a lot of money if you just pay these fees (bank certification fees, wire transfer fees, blah blah blah whatever) in advance. You pay all the fees and then you get…nothing. That’s it. That’s the whole scam.

I’ve noticed an absolutely enormous uptick in 419 scam emails using Google Forms as well. In fact, I’ve spent the past few weeks collecting examples and figuring out what’s happening, and I think I have a handle on what’s going on.

419 scams are a large, bulk-market business. Maybe 1 person in 10,000 is dumb enough to fall for these scams. (Fun fact, the scammers use the slang term “maga” to refer to the dupes fooled by these scams; in a pidgin of English and Yorùbá often used by these scammers in Nigeria, “maga” means “fool.”) That means a 419 scammer has to send a lot of emails to succeed.

But spam filters, especially Bayesian filters, have become really, really good at detecting 419 scams. In fact, many spam filters actually have “probably 419” as one of their identifiers for spam email.

Enter Google.

Google lets people send emails for free using Gmail. However, Gmail mail gets passed through normal spam filters, which flags the bulk of 419 scams.

However, Google has a service where you can create a Google Form and then invite people to visit your Google Form. And for some reason I don’t understand, outgoing invitations from Google servers for a Google Form don’t pass through Google’s spam filters—don’t ask me why.

Furthermore, the Google Form header or HTML wrapper or something seems to prevent client-side or email-host-side spam filters from identifying the emails as 419 scams, too. Why? ¯\_ಠ_ಠ_/¯

For whatever reason, 419 scams that appear within the body of a Google Form invitation fly right past spam filters. As soon as the 419 scammers discovered this, they were all over it like flies on cowshit. At the moment, I’m receiving several of these emails an hour.

It started a few weeks ago and shows no sign of letting up. I’ve emailed Google’s abuse team multiple times about it but so far no reply.

Check out my new book!

2020 has been a bit shit, no question about it. However, it's also been the most creative year of my entire life, in no small measure because I've been spending all my time at home away from people.

I'm pleased to announce that one of the many projects I've been working on, a new novel with the delightful Eunice Hung, is now coming to fruition.

We have written the first in a series of far-future, post-scarcity erotic science fiction theocracy novels called The Passionate Pantheon. May I present: The Brazen Altar.

The book doesn't publish until May 1, 2021, but you can get a copy before then and also help show there's a market for smart, literate erotica with nuanced characters and rich worldbuilding! The book is live now on Indiegogo, and you can get it early for less than cover price!

The followup novel, Divine Burdens, publishes Fall 2021. Want to find out more about the world of The Passionate Pantheon? The Web site for the series is live! I guarantee you've never seen erotica anything like this before.

Apple Silicon and losing our legacy

I am concerned about Apple's move to its own home-grown processors.

It's not because I'm worried about the new silicon, or Apple's ability to make high-performance CPUs, or even because I am worried about changing architectures. I survived the move from Motorola 68K processors to PowerPC, and PowerPC to Intel.

I’m still using High Sierra on my 2016 MacBook Pro. I still have legacy 32-bit software I use professionally, and I also boot this computer into Windows with Boot Camp to play games like Fallout 4 and Witcher 3 that won’t run in Parallels.

I am concerned about the switch to Apple Silicon because I'm worried about what it means to archivists and historians.

I understand why Apple is doing it. I get it, I do. But I’m really worried about what it means to the legacy of the late 20th century.

Desktop publishing revolutionized human communication. It’s hard to overstate what a Big Deal desktop publishing was. It arguably democratized communication more than any other invention since the printing press. It fueled an explosion of creativity and led to a boom in the underground ‘zine scene.

PageMaker, the first DTP software, revolutionized entire industries…plural. Overnight the entire publishing community moved to it.

And, of course, mergers and acquisitions happened as the disruption shook itself out. Aldus, the startup that created PageMaker, got swallowed by Adobe. Quark arose to compete, and a lot of the industry jumped ship, since QuarkXPress was objectively better. Then Adobe created a new program, InDesign, which was objectively better than QuarkXPress, and the industry moved on. That’s how capitalism is supposed to work, right?

But here’s the thing:

A vast chunk of the history of desktop publishing, including countless underground ’zines of significant cultural and historical value, are still tied up in old files. Old files that can still be accessed, albeit with difficulty.

InDesign CS6 can open PageMaker and QuarkXPress documents. Later versions dropped the ability to open PageMaker files.

Old Mac emulators like SheepShaver can open even older files, by running ancient PowerPC apps directly. I recently rescued a bunch of old ‘zines I published in the early 90s this way.

But a window is closing.

It’s starting to close even without the move to Apple Silicon. When I set up a SheepShaver PowerPC Mac emulator to install the software to rescue these files, one of the pieces of software tried to contact activation servers that went offline in 1999. I had to do a bit of hacking to get the software to install.

I opened PageMaker 4 files in PageMaker 6, opened the PageMaker 6 files in InDesign CS6, and opened the InDesign CS6 files in InDesign 2020.

I opened Macromedia Freehand files in Freehand, saved them as EPS, opened the EPS files in Illustrator 6, saved them, and opened them in Illustrator 2020.

Now here it gets tricky.

InDesign CS6, the last modern app that can read a PageMaker file, won’t run on new versions of macOS because it’s 32-bit only.

It won’t run in emulators like SheepShaver because it’s OS X only.

SheepShaver and InDesign CS6 both won’t run on Apple Silicon.

We are on the cusp of losing the ability to open PageMaker files completely.

In a perfect world, someone would write a Mac emulator that lets you emulate a High Sierra Mac on Apple Silicon hardware, just like SheepShaver lets you emulate a PowerPC Mac on Intel hardware. If you can bring old software and old emulators with you, those people—historians, digital archivists, and the like—can, with enough faffing, still recover the rich legacy of information from the early days of desktop publishing.

But for various arcane technical reasons, writing an emulator for x86–64 on ARM is a huge undertaking, something beyond what an open source project is likely to do. I honestly don’t see the open source community writing a Mac emulator that will run High Sierra on Apple Silicon. Emulating x86 on ARM is an enormous project, one that requires a well-resources company to do.

A company like…Apple.

It turns out Apple has done this. It’s called Rosetta 2 and it’s built into Big Sur.

What I’d like to see is Apple donate code to emulate an Intel processor on ARM to the open source community, so they can build an emulator for Intel Macs. This would permit access to ancient files and legacy software—albeit with rather a lot of faffing—and permit access to apps and files all the way back to the PowerPC (and 68K, since the PowerPC system 9 has a 68K emulator). This would, I feel, show corporate responsibility on Apple’s part, without really costing them anything. The Intel emulation is already done.

But without that? I really do feel we as a society are, in the relentless march of late-stage capitalism, destroying part of our own history simply because there’s no profit in keeping it.

And that worries me.

Breaking my silence

"If you are being abused, there is a very high chance that you will be accused of being abusive or of otherwise causing the abuse. That’s because this accusation is devastatingly effective at shutting you down and obtaining control in a dispute. It’s important to be able to distinguish abuse from other things that may happen in relationships that are hurtful, or may even be toxic or unhealthy, but are not fundamentally about entitlement and control."
—Shea Emma Fett

I fled Vancouver, and my relationship with Eve, on March 19, 2018. I crammed everything I could fit into a suitcase, and put everything else I had left in Canada that Eve hadn't destroyed in her fits of rage into a rented storage locker, then climbed on a bus for the eight-hour journey to Portland.

When I sat down, I saw this written on the window:

It was the longest bus ride of my life. I was numb. I was blindsided. I was still trying to process what had happened, and understand what had gone so wrong. In many ways I still am.

How did I get here? Who am I without someone telling me how to be? Other people certainly seem to know who I am. The internet has some very strong opinions on who I am. My social media profiles say ‘Part mad scientist, part gonzo journalist.’ My website says that I am a writer, computer consultant, polyamory and BDSM activist, sex educator, and sometimes amateur photographer. But that’s what I do. I don’t know who I am. I’m not entirely sure I ever knew.

I still can't talk about my experience with Eve without centering or referencing her. Our relationship revolved around her: her experiences, her feelings, her desires. I have been trying for over a year now to work out how to talk about my experiences, and it just keeps coming out as a story about Eve and what she did and what she wanted from me. Everything about me was lost. She controlled my clothing, my diet, my hair style, my activities, my friends, my other potential dating partners. Even my general physician could not be my own choice; when I chose a doctor, Eve said no, and demanded I go to the one she chose for me. I was a mirror, reflecting back Eve’s wants.

Part of this was my fault. I have always allowed other people to write over me. This is a wide open door for abuse. In all my years of watching other people go through it, it never occurred to me that I had opened this door myself and invited controlling partner after controlling partner into my domain, because I never even saw it as my space. It's humbling and painful to write words like this, after spending so many years telling other people to have better boundaries, as if it’s that easy or that simple to do.

Knowing, deep down, that this was my fault for opening the door—that's just one more tool to keep that door open. I deserve this. This is my fault. I am the bad one here. Clearly I need someone to take charge, because I obviously can't manage myself. And the spiral continues down.

When I was barely into adulthood, I believed that I would never find anyone who would be like me and that I was lucky to have found even one person to put up with who I was. So I got into relationships with people who didn’t seem to really like me, exactly, but seemed to like what they could shape me into.

I didn’t know this at the time, but when I was still married to Celeste, my current wife was rather put off by some things she saw in my relationship with Celeste. When The Game Changer came out, and she learned about what my relationship with Celeste was like before she had come along, she said that she would never have dated that Franklin. My current wife waited until Celeste and I had separated before she started dating me, thinking that I would be out from under a controlling relationship and be better able to become a whole person.

I never saw my first marriage as “controlling.” I do now. I have a lot of things to unpack still. There were things in my relationship with my ex-wife that made my current wife uncomfortable, even after Amber came along and shook everything up.

When I didn’t magically become a whole person after my divorce, my current wife kept her distance, emotionally, even though we had started dating by then. She and Amber had several arguments over me after my relationship with Celeste ended and I moved in with Amber. This is one of the things I did that invited abuse into my relationships. I was largely absent in my own relationships.

I have often said that grown adults should be free to decide who they associate with. I’ve never believed that one of my partners has to like the others. We’re all adults, right? Every adult should sort out their relationships on their own, right?

I was blind to the effect that condoning bad behavior might have on the people I love, and to the sheer amount of work I was expecting them to do in maintaining those peaceful relations around me. My current wife tried to explain this to me a long time ago, but we were both much younger then. She says that she didn’t have the right words, and I didn’t have the context to understand.

My partners were left to their own devices to work out their conflicts without my presence. My wife and Amber fought for the better part of two or three years before finally learning how to work together. I could have solved some of those conflicts by simply participating in the relationship, since they were all about me and how I was or was not relating to each of them. All I had to do was show up and say “I want this” or “I don’t want that”, and the conflict might have been over. Because my consent was relevant. It should have been vital.

But I didn’t do that. I didn’t really know who I was, let alone what I wanted or didn’t want. I had to go along with whatever my partners wanted, even if that resulted in conflicting wants from different people, because I didn’t have wants of my own. Not really, other than larger, generalized, overarching wants, such as being non-monogamous. So my wife and Amber fought in long phone calls and email chains over a couple of years, and I wasn’t present for any of it. They brought their conclusions to me, and I went along with whatever their resolution ended up being.

These arguments all boiled down to me not being a whole person and Amber taking on too much responsibility for managing my other relationships. I don’t know why Amber did this, but it was probably related to the socialization pressure she felt to “care for her man”. And I let her. Because I could, and because it was less work than developing skills that I had never been pressured to learn (in fact, that Celeste had actively encouraged me not to learn) in the first place. They don’t come naturally to me.

Someone had always taken care of me. I am only just now getting a peek into how big a problem this was, thanks to my current partners, painstakingly, in excruciating detail and with the help of my therapist, explaining my privilege to me. Even this is a symptom of my privilege - that I have people who have been socialized as women around me, taking the time and energy to chip away at my blindness—even as they receive social penalties for continuing to associate with me.

What neither I nor my current wife knew at the time was just how this pattern of accommodating my privilege could leave the door wide open for abusive partners, starting with Celeste and culminating in the nuclear fallout that was my relationship with Eve.

It can’t happen to me

I always assumed I was too 'rational' and 'logical' to be taken in by an abuser. But when your abuser manages to turn your own brain against you....you will twist yourself into all sorts of painful shapes to fit with their image of you. And when I inevitably failed—every time I couldn't twist or cram or break myself into small enough pieces to satisfy her—then she would blame me. She would lay out my flaws and explain how I had failed her this time. And I would agree with her, because I had already accepted that I needed to be improved, to be retrained, and she was doing this all selflessly, for my own good.

This even happened on the day I was getting handfasted to my current wife. I spent hours just trying to console her, appease her, understand what I had done wrong this time, on a day when I was supposed to be joyously celebrating with my new wife and my polyfamily around me. Even when she abruptly left the night before, taking both my tuxedo and the van I was supposed to be sleeping in, I still believed it was my fault, that my own failures meant I deserved that treatment. That all her demands for attention—the long, intense, angry messages, the absolute refusal to allow me any time or space to focus on my wife or our handfasting later that day—were all reasonable behaviour, and that if only I could find the right combination of words she wouldn’t be angry at me anymore. That I wouldn’t flinch every time my phone dinged. That being curled, silent and shaking, in a fetal position in the back of the van on my handfasting night with my new wife holding me was just what I deserved for having made a simple scheduling mistake.

Early warning signs

Very early in our relationship, in October of 2012, Eve decided she wanted nothing at all to do with my live-in partner Zaiah. She mailed Zaiah a letter telling her that Eve wanted no contact with her whatsoever, then or in the future, under any circumstances. There was no argument, no fight, no clash; Eve simply didn’t like her.

Zaiah was so hurt and devastated by the nastiness in Eve’s letter, she got together with some of her friends and burned it.

Later, Eve would gaslight me about it. She told me that I discourage communication among my partners. I encourage my partners not to talk to each other, she said. I keep them apart. And, as I later discovered, she didn’t just tell me that, she told everyone who would listen that I kept them apart.

And the thing was, she was so convincing. She was so absolutely certain that her estrangement from Zaiah was my fault that she had me believing it. How on earth did I just forget that nasty letter? How on earth did I allow Eve’s funhouse-mirror reality to overwrite my own?

It’s fucked up and deeply violating to have someone you love replace your reality with something else. I doubted my own mind. Do I keep my partners apart? Did I just make up this whole episode where Eve didn’t want to talk to Zaiah? Did I just imagine all the things Eve did to my partner Maxine?

I fell so far down the rabbit hole that even when Zaiah and Maxine and my wife were telling me about their experiences and perceptions of being violently pushed away by Eve, I still accepted Eve’s narrative that it was somehow my fault she wasn’t talking to them.

During my handfasting, when I was curled up in the van, disassociating from everyone, my loved ones sat outside trying to figure out what was going on, it all came out. My partners, the ones who I supposedly “kept apart” from each other, physically sat in a circle and talked. Listening from inside the van, I was reminded that they all had troubling experiences with Eve over the years, and they all had memories of conversations where Eve instilled doubt and distrust about each of them to the other.

Before I started dating Eve, each of my partners had a long-standing relationship with each other, independent of me. They had all met each other through other venues before I started dating each of them. They all also strongly believed in good metamour communications. So, as I so often do, I absented myself from the relationship and I let them all work themselves out. They each considered each other friends, separate from me.

As my relationship with Eve grew, their friendships all got strained. It started with that letter to Zaiah. Eve went to each of my other partners to complain about Zaiah, telling her “truth” in a way that was believable, but not accurate. This left Zaiah without her support system when she got the letter from Eve, effectively isolating her in the way a good abuser does, because my other partners pulled away, thinking that Zaiah was the instigator because of how Eve framed their conflict.

But at the handfasting, their natural caring and compassion for each other overrode all the seeds of mistrust that had been sown. And they talked again, like they used to. Because, for them, their relationships with each other were always more present than their relationships with me, since I wasn’t really there. It’s strange, now, to hear other people describe my network as all the women centering me in their lives and being estranged from each other, whilst the women in my network tell me that one of their biggest criticisms of our relationship is that I’m mostly not really in it and that they have a stronger relationship with each other than with me.

Listening to them talk to each other that day while I was, once again, absent and in my own space in the van, the veil was lifted. I had no idea all of the not-exactly-untruths Eve had been spreading or how each of my partners felt about Eve. Even though they had all, separately, told me their feelings, I still did not hear it until that day, when I was forced to hear it all echoed by each of them, one after the other.

But I was in pain. I was in denial. Eve and I had a brilliant, creative relationship. We accomplished extraordinary things together: we wrote a fantastic book, we traveled the world, we founded two companies together. I loved her. I trusted her. So when I left our family space, filled with people who see from different perspectives and who share their perspectives and who respect each other’s agency, and who respect mine, I went back to Eve alone. The veil got pulled down again. Without my own sense of self, and without my loved ones’ handles on their own identities and on my agency to shield me, I lost my reality again to Eve’s and it took another 6 months for things to finally fall apart for good.

My abuser is woke

I’ve spent a lot of time with my therapist unpacking how I could allow another person to so distort my sense of reality. Part of it is that Eve is extremely gifted with manipulating the language of social justice—she was able to take me to a place where I believed things that weren’t true without technically lying. (I’ve since learned there’s a word for lying without uttering a technical falsehood; it’s called “paltering.”) She wove facts into tapestries that made me believe up was down and left was right. I’m still working to untangle it. My feet still aren’t steady beneath me. I don't yet know when or if they will be.

Every time she publishes another article or does another podcast interview, the world underneath me shifts. I go to my partners and close friends and ask “did that happen? Did I really say that? I don’t remember that. Am I going crazy?” I was never very good at the details. I’m more a big-picture person. I grasp larger concepts, but I tend to forget the details of how we got there. This leads to the opening of more doors for people to abuse me and my partners.

Nothing is as it seems. Everything about who I am - what I want, what I’ve done, what I’ve said - everything is nebulous. I feel misty, amorphous, intangible. How can anyone get a sense of who they are, when who they are can so easily be overwritten? How do you all do it? How do you know who you are without someone telling you who you ought to be? How do you know who you are, underneath what other people want you to be? That's the question I'm still trying to answer for myself. Maybe someday I'll find out.

Why am I speaking out now?

I have not spoken publicly because my lawyer has told me not to. There’s a legal dispute going on over ownership of the companies Eve and I cofounded. When I left, I was told to give up my share of our publishing company with no compensation. I was also made starkly aware of just how little control I had over my own life.

For such a long time, my employment, my living situation, the majority of my income, the likelihood of my Canadian citizenship application being rejected (with the associated risk of losing my access to Canadian healthcare) was not under my control. “Unless I see a certificate of divorce,” Eve told me, “I will make sure you never get Canadian residency.”

When I finally managed to extract myself, I risked losing all of these things by refusing to just hand over my part of our publishing company. That risk increased when I refused to divorce my wife. I would lose everything I had poured so much of my time and energy and love into.

The legal fight is still ongoing. But I am exhausted, weary of the constant battle of trying to find reality in a world of funhouse mirrors. My lawyer no longer believes that Eve is, or ever was, acting in good faith in our legal dispute. When there's nothing left, when even that small hope of being able to rescue something of value from that time is burned out...when there's no longer anything left but the sure knowledge that my part in all those beautiful, glorious, creative projects I was so proud to have been involved in has been gradually, intentionally, ruthlessly stripped away...

The constant anxiety, that repeated raising and crushing of hope, the ongoing stress of the last year and a half, has burned out all the energy I had left to fear loss. I'm done. There's nothing left for me to lose. So I'm choosing truth. I'm choosing vulnerability. I'm choosing openness, and courage, and hope. I'm choosing to reach out to my community.

I'm choosing not to be silent any more.

I haven't dared take that risk before now.

Fake social media profiles

I woke this morning to a bunch of angry, confused texts, messages, and emails. Someone is creating phony social media profiles that look exactly like mine and use the same avatars/userpics, and is using these fake profiles to send abusive, harassing messages to large numbers of my friends.

This person is also posting abusive social media messages in public.

If you receive a message that seems to be from me on any social media, please check it carefully before you assume I've gone off the deep end and started abusing you.

Fragments of SquiggleCon: Two mottes one bailey

If you've read my blog for any length of time, or for that matter been on the Internet for any length of time, you've probably encountered the phrase "motte and bailey argument" or "motte and bailey doctrine" before.

A motte and bailey argument is an argument in which you believe something, but you don't really have a good justification for it. So when you're attacked, you retreat into a different, much more specific belief, for which you do have a good argument. When the attack is over, you come back out to your original, more general belief, the one that's harder to justify.

An example of a motte and bailey argument I hear in polyamory circles all the damn time is this one:

"You need to have a veto in your relationship if you want your primary relationships to stay healthy."

"Veto doesn't necessarily keep relationships healthy. In fact, using a veto on someone your partner loves can break your partner's heart, and if you break your partner's hert then you are going to damage your relationship."

"But a veto just means you can discuss your concerns with your partner! It means you can talk about problems you see in their other relationships! You favor open communication in your relationships, right?"


"So you agree, all poly relationships need veto."

In this argument, the bailey is a need for veto, usualy understood to mean the unilateral and unquestioned ability to end a lover's other relationship. This is a difficult position to defend, so when called, a person may retreat into the motte ("When I say 'veto,' I'm only talking about open communication!"), then, when the argument is over, go back to advocating for unilateral and unquestioned ability to end a lover's other relationship.

The Motte and Bailey argument comes from a style of fortification called a "motte and bailey," which is a place where an area of land that's difficult to defend (the bailey) is overlooked by an easily defensible structure (the motte). If raiders or an enemy army or whatever show up, you evacuate the bailey, bringing all the people into the motte. The he motte can be defended from attack. When the attached tack is over, everyone goes back out into the bailey.

Okay, so now that you're up to speed...

The town of Lincoln in northern Britain is home to a motte and bailey castle, called, appropriately enough, Lincoln Castle. Naturally, I had to visit.

Lincoln Castle was built somewhere around 1068 or so, and has been in use continuously ever since. It's an unusual motte and bailey structure in that it actually has two baileys. The motte is a smooth, round valley between two hills. Naturally, since if one is good, two must be better, William the Conquerer built two baileys, one on each hill, and there you have it.

Originally, the motte was completely enclosed by a wood fence, and both baileys were built of wood. It was replaced over the years centuries with beefier fortifications of stone. Today, nothing remains of the original wood structures.

Lincoln Castle is still in use today--the castle is now the courthouse and, from what I gather, capitol building for Lincoln. The rest is an open-air museum. We had a blast running around the place.

Here's a view from one of the two mottes, looking down into the bailey. The round structure on the left is the fortified gate through the outer wall. The red brick structure to the right is an old Victorian-era prison. The round tower in the background is the second motte, because you know what they say about mottes: you can never stop at just one.

Here's what's left of the second motte, seen from the middle of the bailey.

As soon as I found out that Lincoln Castle has two mottes, I immediately, on that very spot, registered the domain name twomottesonebailey.com -- though I have absolutely no idea what I will use it for. Suggestions?

The second motte, which is in much better shape than the first. The tower still exists, though most of the rest of it is now a broken, hollowed-out shell in which it would be tremendous fun to film a cheesy low-budget movie.

See what I mean? This place is just screaming for orcs or spectral knights or some sort of special effect where mist flows through the windows before congealing into an undead sorceror or something.

The fortification has two gates, one on each side. Breaking in through one of these gates would be a nontrivial undertaking for sure. In the background, between the two trees, is a place where the wall widens into a large round structure that contains cells where prisoners due to be executed were chained up prior to being hanged--more on that in a minute.

Here's the actual "castle" bit of Lincoln castle. It has been the administrative center and courthouse for Lincoln for...oh, for longer than the country I live in has been a country, honestly. It's still used today, which is why I have no photos of the inside. Tourists aren't allowed in, being that it's a functional courthouse and all.

The Victorian prison. Touring this was interesting. Whenever I see something like this, I always wonder how many innocent people were sentenced here, and how many people ended up here for political rather than criminal justice reasons.

The inside had rather more windows than I expected, though I suppose in an age without electric lights, that makes sense.

Prisoners were kept in cells lining both sides of the stacked corridors. The building is divided into two halves, one for male and one for female prisoners. More on that in a minute, too.

Some of the cells were used by the prisoners to do tasks like washing laundry, making bedrolls, or stamping license plates.

This left fewer cells for actual housing of prisoners, so they were stacked in like cordwood.

Though to be fair, I have stayed in a hostel whose accommodations were roughly similar.

This being Victorian times, God was kind of a big deal (those Victorians were quite the bunch of God-botherers, even as they did the most ungodly of things), so of course the prison had a chapel, and of course, attendance was mandatory.

Each pew was a separate room, divided from its neighbors by a little door, presumably to make it more difficult for the prisoners to shank each other during services, that being considered rather uncouth and all. The prisoners could not see each other, but the person delivering the sermon could see all the prisoners, cleverly combining the functions of a chapel and a panopticon into one (a Chapelopticon? Panchapelcon? I don't know). Thus do we see religion reflected in architecture. God sees you, so stop doing that thing you do with your private parts ands that feather duster, you pervert.

I was, while we toured the prison, engaging in cybersex with a lovely woman who lives in Waterloo, Ontario, which was a bit freaky. I have now imprinted on Victorian prisons as arousal triggers. There's no way that can go wrong.

So yeah, executions. The Victorians were big on 'em. They'd kill you just as soon as look at you. Steal something? Say something bad about the king? Poke a badger with a spoon? You're a dead man walking.

Or women. They were remarkably egalitarian in the judicial application of death.

They had special cells in that bulge in the wall I mentioned earlier. They look like this:

Each one had a steel ring set in the wall, to which they would literally chain the condemned.

On the appointed day, after the crowds had gathered, they'd unchain the people, lead them out into the bailey, and kill them for the entertainment of the guests justice and peace of the land.

And yes, there were crowds. Big ones. People who lived in houses near the walls would rent out second-story rooms with a view at exorbitant rates to folks who wanted a good view. Apparently, there was a full-on riot on execution day when the star of the show had ruined everyone's entertainment by committing suicide earlier on--the people demanded to see someone be killed, but the prison didn't have anyone else to kill that day, and it was all a hell of a mess.

I guess that's what happens before the age of Marvel superhero movies.

So anyway, one of the Victorian prison wardens was a man of Science, who installed a telescope in one of the mottes so he could look at the stars. Err, yeah, that's right, the stars. To look at. In the sky. Stars.

Remember how I said the prison was divided into a male and a female wing? Female prisoners were kept in the back, and allowed into an outdoor courtyard behind the motte.

Here's a view from the observatory the warden built for his telescope.

...yeah. Apparently, from what our tour guide said, he had sevral illegitimate children with several different female prisoners.

Those whacky Victorians, amirite?

There is one other bit I don't have photos of, because photos aren't allowed in the super special room where it's kept: the Magna Carta.

Yes, the Magna Carta, one of the original handwritten copies. It's here, in a climate controlled room with the text of the thing up on the wall.

And there, right at eye level smack dab in the middle of this enormous wall of text, is Clause 54:

No one shall be arrested or imprisoned on the appeal of a woman for the death of any person except her husband.

Even back then, women's voices were never taken seriously.

Fragments of SquiggleCon: Writing Erotica

The various evil things spearheaded by my crush notwithstanding, being able to spend time with her in Europe was fantastic fun.

For the past several months, we've been talking about collaborating on a writing project. She has built a fascinating world—a quasi-steampunk, high-tech, post-scarcity society with advanced biomedical technology ruled over by more or less benevolent AIs, worshipped as gods, who are fascinated by human sexuality, and so have bent the entire society toward the intersection of sex and religion.

It's a fun (and hot!) place to visit. We want to create a book of erotic short stories set in that world.

While we were all in Europe, she and I officially started that project...using her body as a canvas. She brought a collection of fountain pens with her. I spent a couple of hours in the orgy room, beginning the writing of the book..on her back.

This his is, I think, probably the most unusual way I have ever started writing a book.

I have no idea when it will be finished; there are a number of writing projects ahead of it, and I'm still shopping for a publisher. (I am considering pitching it to Cleis and Circlet.) Still, I'm really excited about this book!

As a side note, writing on human skin with a fountain pen is remarkably difficult. Also, remarkably fun.

Fragments of SquiggleCon: Sex and Probability

A short while ago, someone on Quora asked the question, What is the kinkiest sex toy you have ever used? It's a tricky question, but not for the reasons you might think. And I'm afraid the answer involves math.

And prime numbers. Hang on, I'll get to that.

I own three violet wands. I sometimes use one of them with a body contract probe while I hold a giant Medieval battle axe. Touching someone with the axe causes all these lovely blue sparks to jump from the axe to the person I’m touching. There are folks who think that’s kinky, and folks who are like “Violet wand? Ho hum.”

I have a set of poi-handled floggers. I can spin them the same way I spin fire, flogging the holy hell out of a partner while looking stylish doing it. I recently did so to my wife in front of a small audience. But at the end of the day, no matter how flashy your technique, floggers are still floggers—they're pretty much entry-level kink toys.

I have a straitjacket I’m quite fond of. I’ve been placed in that straitjacket by my partner Zaiah while she pegs me with a custom-modified strapon.

I have a sound. I got it on my wedding trip; it was used on me by my wife and my girlfriend at one of the wedding orgies. Actually, I now have two sounds, one of which I got recently in Boston—that will be the subject of a future episode of this series. (It involves churches and my crush. It's a good story.)

The sound almost got me in trouble, in fact. I was flying back from the wedding when the TSA agent ran my carry-on bag through the security X-ray multiple times, then finally tore it apart and found the sound, which was tucked (naturally) in my toiletries kit.

"What's this?" he asked. "Is this a weapon?"

"No, it's a sex toy," I said, and explained how it was used. He tucked it hurriedly back in my bag and waved me on my way.

But I digress.

Even a lot of hardcore kinksters wince and cover their nethers at the notion of sounding, but that doesn’t necessarily make a sound a kinky toy; the first time Maxine ever sounded me, she used a smooth aluminum chopstick. Are chopsticks kinky?

That's the problem with asking "what's the kinkiest sex toy you've ever used?" Kink is in the person using it, not in the thing itself.

So let's talk kink. And math. And probability. And prime numbers.

Right now, the kinkiest thing in my repertoire is probably this:

It's a six-sided die, unremarkable except that it's made of aluminum rather than plastic, because metal dice are cool.

Before I headed out to Europe for SquiggleCon, my wife, my partners, and my crush started a private Facebook group to discuss what to do with me. Or, more accurately, to me.

It was generally agreed that if I was to be in Europe at an extended orgiastic gathering in rural England, I should be in the proper...err, frame of mind for the event.

So the women in my life schemed and plotted, and hatched a Plan.

For the six weeks prior to flying to Europe, I would, each day, roll one six sided die. The day's roll would be multiplied by the previous day's roll, producing a number between one and thirty-six. That number would be the number of times I would edge myself that day.

Orgasm, however, was strictly forbidden.

For six weeks.

This had, as you might well imagine, Gentle Reader, the effect of focusing my mind to a laser-like sharpness, oh yes it did. You don't know what "horny" is until you've spent six weeks in mandatory compulsory edging without gratification.

The idea was to do far more than keep me horny, though of course having one be horny at an orgy has benefits self-evident to the most casual of observers.

No, they wanted me horny and malleable. It was hoped that the lengthy period of frustration might put me in a psychological state where I was more suggestible and more given over to doing whatever I was told.

When I was lying in bed one night after a particularly long session of self-non-gratification, my mind went, as it often does, to mathematics. I tried to figure out what the probability distribution for multiplied dice rolls was.

This is not easy to figure out.

If you add dice rolls, you get a perfect Gaussian distribution, as any player of pen and paper role-playing games well knows. The distribution of two six-sided dice added together looks just like you'd expect it to.

Look at that symmetry! Look at that perfectly even distribution! You know what you're getting, when you roll 2d6.

But what happens if you multiply the numbers instead of adding them?

Well, then the situation goes all cattywumpus. There is no beautiful symmetry, no lovely, lovely Gaussian distribution. The probability graph is disconnected and helter-skelter.

One thing you might immediately recognize is that when you multiply the results of two six-sided dice together, you can never get a result that's a prime number greater than 5.

What's less intuitively obvious, until you think about it just a bit more, is you can also never get a number that has a prime factor greater than 5. 14, for example, is right out.

The probability graph looks like this:

Just...just look at that abomination!The most probable numbers are 6 and 12, with about an 11% chance of either. There's a great void between 25 and 30, and another between 30 and 36. You can get a 1....and it's exactly as probable as getting a 9.

It's very untidy.

It's a bit more useful to look at the probabilities as a matrix rather than a graph. When you do, you see that this matrix has interesting properties along every row, column, and diagonal.

This mathematical construct shaped my experience every day for more than six weeks. This seething, chaotic mess had me a seething, chaotic mess by the time I arrived in Europe. With the poi-handled floggers and the sound and the other kinky toys I own (lesson learned, by the way: put your sounds in checked luggage!).

Kink is always in the people. Using dice to change someone's psychological state so as to make them more obedient and open to suggestion? I'd say that's...relatively kinky.

The sound did end up getting used (several times, once while I was wearing the straitjacket), but is that the kinkiest toy I've used?

For right now, I'm going to go with no, the kinkiest toy I've used is...the humble six-sided die.

Fragments of Squigglecon: Lincoln Cathedral

In my last blog post, I mentioned that Lincoln Cathedral has become my favorite of all the various houses of worship I've visited.

Of course, this honor is conditional; I have not yet seen the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona--a place that's been on my bucket list for decades--so there's no telling how long Lincoln Cathedral will retain its heavyweight title.

It may be a tough challenge, though. Lincoln Cathedral is gorgeous. I spent a day there prior to the Black Iron photo shoot, taking (literally) hundreds of photos. During the shoot, we went up on the roof, which let us see some parts of the cathedral not normally visible to guests, and man, there's not a nook or cranny that is not magnificent.

Which is remarkable, considering how many nooks and crannies there are. You could say the whole place is made of nooks and crannies.

So without further ado, check it!

Yes, I am an atheist. I still love cuurches and cathedrals. They are among the finest examples of awesome architecture, and I use the word "awesome" in its original, literal meaning--architecture intended to inspire awe.

If you were a peasant living in a tiny thatched-roof shack with a dirt floor, this place must seem almost incomprehensibly grand to you. How else but through the grace of a supernatural entity could such a thing ever come to exist?

Someone needs to write a book about the use of architecture to evoke emotional response. I would read the hell out of that book.

Fragments of SquiggleCon: Black Iron in Lincoln Cathedral

I'm now back in the US after spending a week in Europe with the extended poly network, in which we rented a manor in the English countryside for debauchery and mayhem (an event we called "SquiggleCon 2"), followed by a week in Boston with my crush, who is now my "um, something something relationship," as we're calling it.

Now, a week in the rural English countryside with more than a dozen sex-positive, kinky people might seem invitation to nonstop orgiastic bliss, and you wouldn't necessarily be wrong to think so.

But having reached A Certain Age, namely, that age where orgies and similar sexual shenanigans are not exactly a rare event, but being in the English countryside is, joreth and I took a couple of days off to explore the nearby towns.

As regular readers may already know, my first professionally published novel, Black Iron, comes out this October. It's a Discworld-style romp through an alternate 19th-century England, one where Queen Victoria doesn't exist, the Protestant Reformation never happened, the Colonies are still Colonies, and the British don't drink tea. It features a princess and a ruffian and an overworked police constable and undead things made of other things.

Inspired by one of the scenes in the book, in which the Lady Alÿs, the aforementioned princess, is attending a formal dance aboard Queen Margaret's airship when she witnesses a strange little man Peter Pan over the edge in the wake of an Unfortunate Discovery, joreth decided to make a dress modeled after the one the character wore to the dance. And since there's no cosplay like cosplay in an 800-year-old Gothic cathedral built atop a 1,000-year-old Norman church, we packed up, headed into Lincoln, and did an all-day photo shoot in a magnificent cathedral.

Lincoln Cathedral is magnificent indeed. I've been to some amazing houses of worship—I've seen Mass at St. Peter's in Rome and at Notre Dame; I've visited the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood (Церковь Спаса на Крови) in St. Petersburg, Russia; I've looked out over Reykjavík from atop the peak of Hallgrímskirkja in Iceland; and I've climbed the 409 steps to the top of St. Mary's Church in Gdańsk, Poland—but Lincoln Cathedral may be my favorite. It's immense and beautiful and grand and awe-inspiring, and I spent two days of my seven days in England there.

joreth and I literally spent a solid day running about Lincoln Cathedral, camera in hand, and I think some of the images we got are quite grand. Take a look!