Robot sex machines? Yes please!

Of all the deadly sins, my favorite by far is Lust. In fact, I’m actually a bit rubbish at all the other ones, so great is my fondness for Lust. I am also a huge fan of mixing sex and tech. So when I saw a crowdfunding campaign for a “robotic blowjob machine,” as you can probably imagine, I had to get on board with it. Women generally seem to benefit the most from the intersection of sex and technology, so the notion of a sex robot for men had more than passing appeal to me.

The campaign was a success, and I recently received in the mail one “Autoblow 2,” the robotic sex machine whose marketing campaign advertises “unlimited blowjobs on demand.” (Seriously.)

It’s an interesting-looking piece of kit:

Not quite as stylish, perhaps, as the new wave of vibrators from companies like Lelo and JimmyJane, but hey, I’ll take it.

This thing has two parts: the base, which contains a motor that moves a pair of spring bands covered with little rollers up and down, and a sleeve that inserts into the base. The sleeves come in several sizes, and are made of this really bizarre soft silicone material that flops about and feels kinda squishy. (Materials science is an avenue of human endeavor that has, until now, rarely been applied to the pursuit of the ultimate orgasm, more’s the pity. For hundreds of years, leather, stone, wood, and ivory represented the state of the art for Things To Make You Come, so I’m pleased to see improvements in this area.)

Still, when the time came to put my willie in this thing, I will admit I was a little apprehensive. I looked dubiously at it for a bit, until my sweetie zaiah said “oh, give me that” and took it away from me. She squirted some lube into the “insert willie here” end and stuck it over my junk.

No robotic blowjob machine would be complete without a speed control, and sure enough, there’s a little knob on the bottom that makes it go. She turned it on and it whirred to life, stroking mechanically away.

Now, I’ve had some amazing blowjobs from some exceptionally talented partners, so honesty compels me to admit this gadget does not really feel like a blowjob. It’s a fair approximation, I suppose, considering the formidable engineering challenge that a real blowjob simulator would face, but it isn’t quite up to a true blowjob experience. A double-blind face-off between this thing and genuine oral sex would, I suspect, be rather lopsided.

However, even if it doesn’t quite capture the true essence of the oral arts, this robotic sex machine does feel good. Really, really good. I was surprised, in fact. I cranked it up to maximum speed and, yeah, it did exactly what it says on the tin.

I am normally multiply orgasmic; it’s not uncommon for me to get off half a dozen times or more during sex. But this thing…well, when this thing got me off, it was intense and it got me off for good. I was done when I finally stopped screaming.

At which point I discovered a design flaw. The little control knob on the bottom? It’s little. As in, really difficult to find in a hurry when you’re gasping and panting and your body’s still shaking. I tried to yank it off my junk, but my partner grabbed me by the wrist. “No,” she said, and held it there until I found the control.

Which, naturally, brought up a really interesting idea, because I’m a kinky motherfucker and there’s no innocent pleasure I can’t find a way to corrupt with wicked thoughts.

A lot of women quite like the notion of forced orgasms, and it’s pretty easy to do, really–there are entire Web sites dedicated to the high art of the forced orgasm, but when you get down to brass tacks all it really takes is a bit of rope and a Hitachi magic wand. It’s more difficult to find ways to do the same thing to a person with an outie rather than an innie…

…at least until now.

This thing feels good on its own, no question about it, but a bit of rope, perhaps a blindfold, a gag if you don’t want to wake the neighbors, and this gadget can be so much more. Tie your guy down, set this thing going, and wait. You probably won’t have to wait to long. If my brief experience is any indication, the results should be pretty…um, dramatic.

You can find this robot blowjob machine here. (Full disclosure: I liked it enough I signed up as an affiliate.) Get one for yourself or that guy in your life you want to tie down and make scream give the gift of pleasure! You’ll be making the world a happier place and encouraging new high-tech sex toys for men, both of which I think are laudable goals.

Visiting Chrome

“What do you want to do tonight?” I asked Eve.

“Dunno. What do you want to do?”

“I’m up for anything,” I said, in a rare moment of underestimating the true meaning of ‘anything.’

“Well,” she said, pointing to her laptop screen, “this looks interesting.”

And so it was we left this plane of reality and stepped into William Gibson’s version of 2014, as seen from the mid-1980s.

It wasn’t actually our intention to travel to a dystopian alternate reality, you understand. We were looking for an evening’s casual entertainment, and didn’t feel like watching Guardians of the Galaxy. So she did a Google search, and found a thing called Richmond Night Market.

If Canada had truth-in-advertising laws, the name “Richmond Night Market” might raise eyebrows at whatever regulatory bodies (tribal meetings of Kurgan warriors? Men in polar bear skins pounding on each other with long decorative spears?) may exist in the bitter frozen wastelands of the North.

“Richmond Night Market.” It’s what you might call a flea market with unorthodox hours, or perhaps a weekly gathering of fishmongers selling wares straight off the boat to the finest sushi restaurants in downtown Vancouver. “Richmond Night Market.” The name conjures wholesome images of open-air commerce, the sort of place where one might go to buy a new china bowl for serving fruit punch in.

One would not expect, from the name, a gigantic rubber duck. Nor a dystopian world of stimrunners and outlawed bioactives, shivs and black docs.

We got there after sunset. The line already wrapped around the fenced perimeter, snaking beneath massive concrete pilings supporting the whining elevated trains. Loudspeakers encouraged us to buy books of passes, which would get us in at a discounted rate. Eve climbed a bit of broken concrete and leaned over the perimeter fence for a picture.

We eventually made our way in, via a quick bit of social engineering to persuade the people in line around us to pool our resources for a passbook (“skip the line!” the cute Asian woman hawking them said. “Save fifty cents!”). Passbook in hand, our ratag group went to the special entrance, and stepped through the perimeter into…into…

If Ridley Scott decided to do an adaptation of Neuromancer, this is where you’d go to find a Netrunner. If Neal Stephenson were to reimagine Snow Crash as a Canadian made-for-TV series, you might find Raven here, scowling and skulking among the stalls. If I ever run a postcyberpunk RPG, this place will be there, somewhere, a glittering Easter egg of neon and LEDs waiting for the players to find.

On the surface, the Richmond Night Market is an open-air collection of vendors selling wares. But such a simple explanation fails to do justice to it, in the way that describing the Great Pyramid of Cheops as a “big pile of rocks” or the combined works of William Shakespeare as “a bunch of words about people being awful to each other” fails to convey the pure Platonic essence of these things.

Richmond Night Market is an open-air collection of vendors selling wares. But such a place it is, and such wares.

Upon entering the Richmond Night Market through the special, skip-the-line-with-your-magic-passbook gate, one is confronted with a riot of bright lights and busy signs, most in Chinese and English, some in Chinese only. Crowds of people flow like oil through the interstitial spaces between the stalls, while vendors work busily to separate them from their money.

We passed hastily-erected tents offering e-cigarettes (“Vape! Vape! Better than smoking!”), small radio-controlled drones with cameras on them, and long black swords (“buy one, get one free!”). Next to the stall selling smartphone accessories was another selling DNA typing (“put your name on the registry! Find an organ donor!”). A dazzling display of laser lights led to a bored-looking woman with a collection of drop knives and canisters of pepper spray. Across from her, another booth offered stem cell tissue typing (“must be between 18 and 35,” the stern-looking woman said). Around the corner, we found small paper buckets of battered squid tentacles, deep-fried Mars bars, and computer services (“Unlock your phone! Run any software! Any software you like!”) Eve accepted a sample of exotic tea in a tiny paper cup that leaked. “They don’t seem terribly interested in selling tea,” I said. “Probably contraband biologicals in the back.”

At one booth, a dour-looking man about the size of Philadelphia stood with his arms folded. A small sign was propped against the table, showing two exuberantly muscled men standing back to back, one holding a sword. “What do–?” I started to ask. He growled. “I’ll just keep moving, then,” I said.

Signs tied to an enormous rubber ducky with bits of nylon rope promised a Magical Candyland. We wandered around, blinking, until we found it: a low concrete wall with flaking paint, behind which a couple of elderly women sold lollipops from a yellowing plastic bin. I didn’t ask what the magic was; I’m still not entirely sure I want to know.

A momentary turbulence in the flow of people disgorged a friend of Eve’s. “I found pens!” she said, before the crowd swallowed her again. “Hello Kitty!” Behind her, a man dressed as a panda sold airline tickets to mainland China. “Samsung TV!” said a guy to my right. “True 4K! Only $3,000!”

“Who the hell,” I asked Eve, “comes here and drops three thousand bucks on an impulse buy?”

We wandered through the noise and mayhem, feeling a bit like the main character of Zero Theorem at the party. Everyone around us seemed to move with purpose, crowds of people here each with an agenda, and almost none of those agendas involving Hello Kitty pens. Eddies swirled in the crowd, looking random–one in front of the DNA testing tent, another at the place selling drones. “Vape! Vape! Run any software! Tissue typing!” A crowd gathered in front of the booth advertising “The secret knowledge of the Bible, what Jesus REALLY said!” and disappeared just as quickly.

Eventually, the flow of the crowd deposited us near where we’d come in. “So, um,” she said, “are you ready to leave? Because this place–”

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I am.”

We headed out empty-handed. I was too old for tissue typing, didn’t have a spare three thousand dollars for a new TV, and wasn’t sure I wanted to start trafficking in restricted biochemical agents just that evening.

Still, I will admit to some nostalgia for the days when we thought dystopia would mean netrunners and celebrities with Zeiss Ikon eyes, rather than the dreary same-old same-old of run-of-the-mill corporate malfeasance and Middle Eastern war we ended up with. We had, for a brief, shining moment, a taste of the more interesting ways society might have run off the rails, and that world seemed so much more fascinating than the dystopia we settled for.

1984: How George Orwell Got it Wrong

When I was in high school, one of the many books on our required reading list in my AP English class was George Orwell’s 1984. As a naive, inexperienced teenager, I was deeply affected by it, in much the same way many other naive, inexperienced teens are deeply affected by Atlas Shrugged. I wrote a glowing book report, which, if memory serves, got me an A+.

1984 was a crude attempt at dystopian fiction, partly because it was more a hysterical anti-Communist screed than a serious effort at literature. Indeed, had it not been written at exactly the point in history it was written, near the dawn of the Cold War and just prior to the rise of McCarthyist anti-communist hysteria, it probably would not have become nearly the cultural touchstone it is now.

From the vantage point of 2014, parts of it seem prescient, particularly the overwhelming government surveillance of every aspect of the citizen’s lives. 1984 describes a society in which everyone is watched, all the time; there’s a minor plot hole (who’s watching all these video feeds?), but it escaped my notice back then.

But something happened on the way to dystopia–something Orwell didn’t predict. We tend to see surveillance as a tool of oppressive government; in a sense, we have all been trained to see it that way. But it is just as powerful a tool in the hands of the citizens, when they use it to watch the government.


As I write this, the town of Ferguson, Missouri has been wracked for over a week now because of the killing of an unarmed black teenager at the hands of an aggressive and overzealous police officer. When the people of Ferguson protested, the police escalated, and escalated, and escalated, responding with tear gas, arrests, and curfews.

Being a middle-aged white dude gives me certain advantages. I don’t smoke pot, but if I did and a police officer found me with a bag of weed in my pocket, the odds I’d ever go to prison are very, very small. Indeed, the odds I’d even be arrested are small. If I were to jaywalk in front of a police officer, or be seen by a police officer walking at night along a suburban sidewalk, the odds of a violent confrontation are vanishingly tiny. So it’s impossible for me, or real;y for most white dudes, to appreciate or even understand what it’s like to be black in the United States.

This is nothing new. The hand of government weighs most heavily on those who are least enfranchised, and it has always been so. All social structures, official and unofficial, slant toward the benefit of those on top, and in the United States, that means the male and pale.

And there’s long been a strong connection between casual, systemic racism and the kind of anti-Commie agitprop that made Orwell famous.

It is ironic, though not unexpected, that the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is raising a “reward” for the police officer who “did his job against the negro criminal”.

So far, so normal. This is as it has been since before the founding of this country. But now, something is different…and not in the way Orwell predicted. Surveillance changes things.


What Orwell didn’t see, and couldn’t have seen, is a time in which nearly every citizen carries a tiny movie camera everywhere. The rise of cell phones has made citizen surveillance nearly universal, with results that empower citizens against abuses of government, rather than the other way around.

Today, it’s becoming difficult for police to stop, question, arrest, beat, or shoot someone without cell phone footage ending up on YouTube within hours. And that is, I think, as it should be. Over and over again, police have attempted to prevent peopel from recording them in public places…and over and over again, the courts have ruled that citizens have the right to record the police.

It’s telling that in Ferguson, the protestors, who’ve been labeled “looters” and “thugs” by police, have been the ones who want video and journalism there…and it’s been the police who are trying to keep video recording away. That neatly sums up everything you need to know about the politics of Ferguson, seems to me.

Cell phone technology puts the shoe on the other foot. And, unsurprisingly, when the institutions of authority–the ones who say “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear from surveillance”–find themselves on the receiving end rather than the recording end of surveillance, they become very uncomfortable. In the past, abuses of power were almost impossible to prosecute; they happened in dark places, away from the disinfecting eye of public scrutiny. But now, that’s changing. Now, it’s harder and harder to find those dark places where abuse thrives.

In fact, the ACLU has released a smartphone app called Police Tape, which you can start running as soon as you find yourself confronted by police. It silently (and invisibly) records everything that happens, and uploads the file to a remote server.

If those in power truly had nothing to hide, they would welcome surveillance. New measures are being proposed in many jurisdictions that would require police officers to wear cameras wherever they go. The video from these cameras could corroborate officers’ accounts of their actions whenever misconduct was alleged, if–and this is the critical part–the officers tell the truth. When I hear people object to such cameras, then, the only conclusion I can draw is they don’t want a record of their activities, and I wonder why.

William Gibson, in the dystopian book Neuromancer (published, as fate would have it, in 1984) proposed that the greatest threats to personal liberty come, not from a government, but from corporations that assume de facto control over government. His vision seems more like 1984 than 1984. He was less jaundiced than Orwell, though. In the short story Burning Chrome, Gibson wrote, “The street finds its own uses for things.” The explosion of citizen surveillance proves how remarkably apt that sentiment is.

The famous first TV commercial for the Apple Macintosh includes the line “why 1984 won’t be like 1984.” The success of the iPhone and other camera-equipped smartphones, shows how technology can turn the tables on authority.

The police commissioners and state governors and others in the halls of political power haven’t quite figured out the implications yet. Technology moves fast, and the machinery of authority moves slowly. But the times, they are a-changin’. Orwell got it exactly wrong; it is the government, not the citizens, who have the most to fear from a surveillance society.

And that is a good thing.

Cloudflare: The New Face of Bulletproof Spam Hosting

…or, why do I get all this spam, and who’s serving it?

Spammers have long had to face a problem. Legitimate Web hosting companies don’t host spam sites. Almost all Web hosts have policies against spam, so spammers have to figure out how to get their sites hosted. After all, if you can’t go to the spammer’s website to buy something, the spammer can’t make money, right?

In the past, spammers have used overseas Web hosting companies, in countries like China or Romania, that are willing to turn a blind eye to spam in exchange for money. A lot of spammers still do this, but it’s becoming less common, as even these countries have become increasingly reluctant to host spam sites.

For a while, many spammers were turning to hacked websites. Someone would set up a WordPress blog or a Joomla site but wouldn’t keep on top of security patches. The spammers would use automated tools capable of scanning hundreds of thousands of sites looking for vulnerabilities and hacking them automatically, then they’d place the spam pages on the hacked site. And a lot of spammers still do this.

But increasingly, spammers are turning to the new big thing in bulletproof spam serving: content delivery networks like Cloudflare.


What is a content delivery network?

Basically, a content delivery network is a bunch of servers that sit between a traditional Web server and you, the Web user.

A ‘normal’ Web server arrangement looks something like this:

When you browse the Web, you connect directly to a Web server over the Internet. The Web server takes the information stored on it and sends it to your computer.

With a content delivery network, it looks more like this:

The CDN, like Cloudflare, has a large number of servers, often spread all over the country (or the globe). These servers make a copy of the information on the Web server. When you visit a website served by a CDN, you do not connect to the Web server. You connect to one of the content delivery network servers, which sends you the copy of the information it made from the Web server.

There are several advantages to doing this:

1. The Web server can handle more traffic. With a conventional Web server, if too many people visit the Web site at the same time, the Web server can’t handle the traffic, and it goes down.

2. The site is protected from hacking and denial-of-service attacks. If someone tries to hack the site or knock it offline, at most they can affect one of the CDN servers. The others keep going.

3. It’s faster. If you are in Los Angeles and the Web server is in New York, the information has to travel many “hops” through the Internet to reach you. If you’re in Los Angeles and the content delivery network has a server in Los Angeles, you’ll connect to it. There are fewer hops for the information to pass through, so it’s delivered more quickly.


Cloudflare and spam

Spammers love Cloudflare for two reasons. First, when a Web server is behind Cloudflare’s network, it is in many ways hidden from view. You can’t tell who’s hosting it just by looking at its IP address, the way you can with a conventional Web server, because the IP address you see is for Cloudflare, not the host.

Second, Cloudflare is fine with spam. They’re happy to provide content delivery services for spam, malware, “phish” sites like phony bank or PayPal sites–basically, whatever you want.

Cloudflare’s Web page says, a little defensively, “CloudFlare is a pass-through network provider that automatically caches content for a limited period in order to improve network performance. CloudFlare is not a hosting provider and does not provide hosting services for any website. We do not have the capability to remove content from the web.” And, technically speaking, that’s true.

Cloudflare doesn’t own the Web server. They don’t control what’s on it and they can’t take it offline. So, from a literal, technical perspective, they’re right when they say they can’t remove content from the web.

They can, however, refuse to provide services for spammers. They can do that, but they don’t.


History

CloudFlare was founded by Matthew Prince, Lee Holloway, and Michelle Zatlyn, three people who had previously worked on Project Honey Pot, which was–ironically–an anti-spam, anti-malware project.

Project Honey Pot allows website owners to track spam and hack attacks against their websites and block malicious traffic. In an interview with Forbes magazine, Michelle Zatlyn said:

“I didn’t know a lot about website security, but Matthew told me about Project Honey Pot and said that 80,000 websites had signed up around the world. And I thought ‘That’s a lot of people.’ They had no budget. You sign up and you get nothing. You just track the bad guys. You don’t get protection from them. And I just didn’t understand why so many people had signed up.”

It was then that Prince suggested creating a service to protect websites and stop spammers. “That’s something I could be proud of,’” Zatlyn says. “And so that’s how it started.”

So Cloudflare, which was founded with the goal of stopping spammers by three anti-spam activists, is now a one-stop, bulletproof supplier for spam and malware services.


The problem

Cloudflare, either intentionally or deliberately, has a broken internal process for dealing with spam and abuse complaints. Spamcop–a large anti-spam website that processes spam emails, tracks the responsible mail and Web hosts and notifies them of the spam–will no longer communicate with Cloudflare, because Cloudflare does not pay attention to email reports of abuse even though it has a dedicated abuse email address (that’s often unworkakble, as Cloudflare has in the past enabled spam filtering on that address, meaning spam complaints get deleted as spam).

Large numbers of organized spam gangs sign up for Cloudflare services. I track all the spam that comes into my mailbox, and I see so much spam that’s served by Cloudflare I keep a special mailbox for it.

Right now, about 15% of all the spam I receive is protected by Cloudflare. Repeated complaints to their abuse team, either to their abuse email addres or on their abuse Web form, generally have no effect. As I’ve documented here, Cloudflare will continue to provide services for spam, malware, and phish sites even long after the Web host that’s responsible for them has taken them down; they kept providing services for the malware domain rolledwil.biz, being used as part of a large-scale malware attack against Android devices, for months after being notified.

One of the spam emails in my Cloudflare inbox dates back to November of 2013. The Spamvertised domain, is.ss47.shsend.com, is still active, nearly a year after Cloudflare was notified of the spam. A PayPal phish I reported to CloudFlare in March of 2014 was finally removed from their content delivery network three months later…after some snarky Twitter messages from Cloudflare’s security team.

(They never did put up the interstitial warning, and continued to serve the PayPal phish page for another month or more.)

Cloudflare also continues to provide services for sites like masszip.com, the Web site that advertises pirated eBooks but actually serves up malware.

In fact, I’ve been corresponding with a US copyright attorney about the masszip.com piracy, and he tells me that Cloudflare claims immunity from US copyright law. They claim that people using the Cloudflare CDN aren’t really their concern; they’re not hosting the illegal content, they’re just making a copy of it and then distributing it, you see. Or, err, something.

I am not sure what happened within Cloudflare to make them so reluctant to terminate their users even in cases of egregious abuse, such as penis-pill spam, piracy, and malware distribution. From everything I can find, it was started by people genuinely dedicated to protecting the Internet from spam and malware, but somehow, somewhere along the way, they dropped the ball.

I wonder if Michelle Zatlyn is still proud.