The Lucifer Effect effect

Eve loves to read to me. It’s one of the love languages we share, and it’s been a part of our relationship for years. We’ve read fiction (like Use of Weapons) and non-fiction (like Parasite Rex) together.

The Lucifer Effect is a book by Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist who designed the now-infamous Stanford prison experiment. The Stanford prison experiment was an attempt to understand the dynamics of deindividuation in prison environments. Zimbardo hypothesized that prisoners lose their sense of individual identity in institutional settings. The experiment, which had been focused on prisoners, ended up showing that prison guards become abusive not because they are evil or abusers, but because the psychological environment of prison creates enormous pressure for otherwise normal people to become abusive and sadistic. The experiment recruited a group of college students to role-play prisoners or guards in a false prison. Within days, the students assigned to guard roles became so violent, abusive, and sadistic, and tortured the students playing the role of prisoners so severely, that the experiment was discontinued.

And the book has turned into a rough ride for me.

Reading the book, which goes into great detail about the physical and psychological abuse inflicted on the “prisoners” by the “guards,” has been surprisingly difficult. When Eve reads this book to me, I find my blood pressure shooting up, I end up angry and irritable, and I have trouble sleeping.


This is Venango Elementary School, in Venango, Nebraska, the tiny town where I grew up.

It’s more fair to say this was Venango Elementary School. It closed for lack of students decades ago. Venango had 242 people living in it when I was there; at the last census, the population had fallen to 167, none of whom are children. The grounds are still maintained by a retired gentleman who’s lived in Venango most of his life, but nobody’s had a class here in a very long time.

When I was in middle school, I was socially isolated and alienated. I was the only kid in town who didn’t follow football, and the only one who owned a computer. I had no friends, and spent my time building model rockets or dialing computer bulletin boards from my TRS-80.

Needless to say, I was bullied extensively during my career in middle school. The two worst offenders were the two Mikes, Mike A. and Mike C. They were both a couple of years older than I was and quite a lot bigger, and they were inseparable. One of them—I think it was Mike C., though time may have garbled that detail—was fond of coming to school in a T-shirt with iron-on letters on it that spelled out “It’s nice to be injected but I’d rather be blown.” (It’s about cars, geddit? Geddit?)

The particulars of the abuse I suffered at their hands is as predictable as it is tedious, so I won’t bother cataloging them. The official response from teachers and faculty was also tediously predictable; they were aware of the abuse but not particularly motivated to intervene.

I went into high school shy and with few social skills. Then, about the time I was midway through my senior year, I changed.

I had always believed that the reason I was bullied was the reasons bullies gave for bullying me: I wore glasses; I didn’t like football; I liked computers. It took a very long time for me to learn that the content of bullying is completely separate from bullying. That is, bullies bully because they are bullies. If I didn’t wear glasses, if I didn’t like computers, if I did like football, they would still have bullied me, they just would have bullied me about different things.

But that wasn’t the life-changing revelation. In fact, it didn’t come until after the life-changing revelation.

The life-changing revelation was that bullies bully people who don’t fight back. If you want to end bullying, you walk up to the biggest, meanest bully of the bunch, reach back, and punch him square in the face. When bullies realize you bite back, they look for easier prey.

So I went into college with a whole new attitude about violence, one that a lot of folks who know me now find difficult to believe. I was, for a while, quite willing to resort to casual violence in the service of self-protection. I got into fistfights often, and learned yet another lesson: victory does not go to the biggest or the strongest person in the fight. Victory, nine times out of ten, goes to the person who escalates fastest, the one willing to do what the other person is not. I could get in a fight with opponents far larger and stronger than I was, and I almost always came out on top, because I escalated swiftly and aggressively.


I am not the person I used to be. Or, more accurately, I am not the people I used to be. I’m not the shy, friendless, unsocialized bullying victim I was in Venango. I’m also not the aggressive, in-your-face, ready-for-a-fight guy with a hair trigger I was in college. In fact, most of the time it’s hard for me to connect with either of those mindsets any more.

But man, this book.

This book does not mince detail. It describes, directly and even clinically, the abuses suffered by the “prisoners” on behalf of the “guards,” abuses that range from verbal bullying to refusing to allow the prisoners to use the bathroom and forcing them to urinate and defecate in their rooms.

When Eve reads this book to me, I’m transported back to the person I was in college. I can feel my body amping up—I can feel the adrenaline, the shaking, the hair trigger coiled up inside me ready to explode that I used to feel back in my college days whenever someone would start harassing me. And I mean that literally; my hands will shake while she’s reading.

I can identify with the group of students who were made into prisoners. I can understand what they’re experiencing. And I believe that if I had been chosen to participate in an experiment like the SPE and had been assigned to the role of prisoner, there is a very strong likelihood I would have injured or killed one of the “guards,” or been injured or killed myself in the attempt.

It’s been rough, this book. It’s brought me viscerally back to a time and place that I haven’t been in for more than half my life now. We’ve had to switch from reading it in the evening before bed to reading it in the afternoon, because when we read it at night, I can’t sleep.

The book is an excellent deep dive into the underworld of institutional evil (and it’s astonishing how closely the casual abuse that happened in the faux prison in the basement of the Stanford psychology building mirrored the abuses in the real world at Abu Ghraib, and for exactly the same reasons). It’s a book I think everyone needs to read, now more than ever, and I’m glad we’re reading it.

But man, it’s turned into a painful slog.

2015: The Year in Review; or, Bugger Off and Good Riddance

Here we are, nearly two weeks into 2016, a land of promise filled with mistakes yet to be made and nascent errors still unhatched. It is customary, as the calendar ticks over from one arbitrary designation to the next, to look back upon the road traveled and ask questions like “what the hell was that?” and “how in the name of God did I get here?”

In the spirit of that tradition, allow me to take a moment to offer a retrospective of 2015, a year that can well and truly fuck right off.

To be fair, it wasn’t all bad. Indeed, many parts of the year, taken on their own, were quite joyful. To help separate the good from the bad, I will be using a thumbs up icon for the bits I liked and a red X for the bits I didn’t, because I’m told clarity in communication is a virtue.

In matters such as this, it is difficult for any of us not to be an unreliable narrator. We are, after all, only imperfectly aware of how others see the world, and even of how others perceive the events in which we take part. That said, I will endeavor to be as objective as I can about the massive suck that made up an unfortunately disproportionate part of the year now past, and to polish what nuggets of win I can find amid the rubble.


Mechanical Difficulties
The year started with replacing the engine in Zaiah’s car, a four thousand dollar expense necessitated when Jiffy Lube installed a defective oil filter and then refused responsibility for the error, causing catastrophic destruction of the engine. Always a nice way to start the year. Lesson learned: Jiffy Lube is not a place where one should do business. This turned out to be a theme; hang onto the thought, I’ll get back to it.

In the meantime…


Seclusion and Murder
2015 (woe be unto it) started on a good note. Eve and I spent some time in the same remote wilderness cabin where we wrote More Than Two. It’s a lovely place, far from…everything, really. It’s a lovely place with a lovely (if murderous) cat and a great way to spend the first days of a new year filled with promise and the hope of a bright new future. And the murder of small furry animals by an adorable feline, but you have to take the bad with the good, or so they say.


Carelessness of the heart
Eve and I spoke at a poly conference, which was a lot of fun save for the fact that I met a delightful woman whose interest, initially quite mutual, I feel I handled poorly. I was not appropriately cautious and became aware of significant incompatibilities too late to avoid hurting both of us unnecessarily.

So, yeah, lesson learned. Mindfulness at all times in all interactions with other people? It’s a thing I need to do.

This was also when I began to fully grasp the weird–and often dangerous–ways that the one-sided intimacy inherent in being a writer and speaker who offers up bits of one’s inner life for public consumption can distort human interactions, especially with new acquaintances. Another lesson learned: Flirting with fans is a dangerous game, and is a risk I’m no longer willing to take on myself or expose others to.


Bionic penises
The next few months of 2015 were relatively calm and reasonably normal, at least for those values of “normal” as one might expect. Hmm. Normal. There’s a word I use only cautiously, and perhaps should consider striking from my vocabulary altogether, except insofar as it has a negation in front of it…but I digress.

The first third of the year was all about bionic cock. Eve and I got serious about launching a business to investigate producing the dildo that provides sensory feedback to the wearer, by which I mean Eve, who is rather the amazing mastermind and who has a can-do attitude that would make Ernst Stavro Blofeld jealous, enrolled us in a business accelerator competition that brought us together with investors and mentors and taught both of us how to say “penis” in a room full of people without blushing–a valuable business skill, it must be said, if one’s aim is to develop a bionic penis.

Penis, penis, penis. See? Hardly a twitch.

It turns out that business accelerators are a lot of work. We did market research about penises. We built business plans around penises, and had our penis business plans examined, dissected, critiqued, and torn into teeny tiny shreds by a procession of investors and business leaders. We built value chains focused on penises. We constructed penis value propositions for penis market segments of folks who want to know what having a penis feels like. I’ve run my own business since about 2001 and I learned more about how to run a business between February and May of last year than in the ten years before.


Sick kitties
My cat Kyla has never been terribly healthy. Shortly after she adopted me and declared me hers, when she was still a very young kitten, she got a respiratory infection that nearly killed her. I spent long nights awake with her, holding her and rubbing her chest, and she eventually recovered.

While I was away in Canadia-land dodging Kurgan raiders, she got sick again and very nearly died.

Well, technically speaking, she did die. Twice. She stopped breathing, and Zaiah brought her back with kitty CPR.

She’s a fighter, Kyla is, and she really, really likes being alive. Kinda like I do. She got through it with minor damage to her balance that seems to be permanent, but she did bounce back. So I suppose on the whole that’s good, or at least better than the alternative, but it’s bad it happened.


Indiana Jones Goes to a Swinger’s Conference
2015 was the year Eve and I started getting more speaking conventions than we could hope to say yes to. One of those invitations was a swinger’s convention in Canada that wanted us to talk about ways to do non-monogamy beyond swinging.

Swingers have a problem. Since at least WWII, swinging has been the go-to style of non-monogamy for people outside the leather scene. But now it’s getting harder and harder for swing clubs to find new members, what with Millennials growing up witht he idea that polyamory and other styles of non-monogamy are just options among the many out there and TV shows about polyamory and all. You don’t need the structure and safety of a swinger’s group when non-monogamy just isn’t that big a deal.

So we said yes, hopped into a rented car, and were on our way.

We were driving along the Crowsnest Highway (insert appropriate Scottish joke about taking the crow road here) when from out the window of the car I spied with my little eye something beginning with “ooh, look, pull over, that looks like the ruins of an old mine shaft up there!”

Eve, familiar in the years we’ve been together with my many and varied eccentricities and often given to indulging me, pulled over. We looked at the mine entrance, a few hundred feet up the side of a slope.

“Think we can get up there?” I said.

“Sure,” she said.

So we started the scramble up. We climbed up an embankment, past a row of trees, up over another embankment, and..whoa. Serious Indiana Jones moment.

The detour cost us several hours, dirt all over our clothes, and more than a fair bit of hard physical labor, but man, was it worth it.


Have a nice trip!
I have long been something of a straight arrow when it comes to the many pleasures of chemical mind alteration.

I know, I know, hard to believe, what with me being an Internet sex gargoyle and all, but until I was in my late 40s I never once experimented with any chemical alterant beyond alcohol. I didn’t try any recreational drugs at all until I was 46, when I experimented with hallucinogenic mushrooms–an altogether positive experience, and one I’ve been thinking about writing about for a while. I didn’t even drink ’til fairly late in the game.

We arrived at the swinger event considerably dustier than we had been, and were offered ecstasy by a person who apparently quite likes the experience of swinging while on E.

Now, as I mentioned, I’ve not dabbled far into the ocean of recreational biochemistry, and in fact have barely gone so far as to build sand castles on the beach of recreational chemistry, the waters being not to my liking and even the sand being more coarse and gritty than is perhaps entirely pleasant, and the sun and sounds of the gulls are…where was I going with this metaphor? Anyway, I’ve never felt the siren song of pharmacologicals, but I will admit to a certain level of curiosity about ecstasy. So we accepted his offer.

Ecstasy is not an easy molecule to synthesize by any measure. It’s a complex, fiddly, two-day process that involves a lot of extremely close monitoring and very careful mucking about, and one of the waste products of a more popular synthesis pathway is elemental mercury. All of which means that what’s often claimed to be ecstasy in the dystopian nightmare that is the market for street drugs is anything but.

I’m still not 100% sure what it was we took. Google suggests it was methamphetamine, based on its color, consistency, and the absolutely miserable night we had.


Ten carbons, fifteen hydrogens, one nitrogen, all the rage and hate of Lucifer after the Fall

I want to impress upon you, Gentle Readers, exactly what “miserable night” means. To do this properly, I will wander off for a moment into a story about a bucket of chicken. When I had first met my former wife, she and I were kinda sorta in what kids today might call a “quad” with two close friends of mine, and we spent many a night doing things to make a bishop blush, often with a video camera. We got some bad chicken at a KFC one evening–salmonella, I believe the diagnosis was. My friend’s girlfriend and I spent about three continuous days on the bed together barfing our guts out more or less nonstop. It was a waterbed, see, so whenever she would start throwing up, the waves in the waterbed would start shaking me, and then I would start barfing too, and that would set her off, and…you get the idea.

I describe this because I can now say it was the second most miserable time of my life.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, not every moment of the experience was bad. The first four hours were great, seeing as how we both had turbocharged libidos and couldn’t get enough raw animal sex, and raw animal sex is not something that I’m normally on distant terms with–Internet sex gargoyle, remember?

But after that…

The closest I can come to describing what the rest of the night was like is I had the visceral experience that there was something in my body that hated me and wanted to hurt me. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t stop moving…I don’t often use the word “evil,” and when I do, it’s not usually about organic molecules, but meth is an evil, evil molecule. I can not comprehend why any human being would knowingly take that stuff in full awareness of the ride it was going to give them. Dante’s most vivid descriptions of Hell are a walk across a breezy tropical island compared to what meth feels like, assuming that is in fact what it was. Without hyperbole, I can state with confidence that I would rather get hit by a bus than experience anything like that ever again.

One star. Do not want. Should you, Gentle Reader, ever want to go down this road, learn from my example. Do not trod this path without a testing kit, which if you’re in the US you can find here and if you’re in Canada you can find here. Wish I’d’ve known about that sooner.

The weeks following the swinger convention were a whirlwind of chaos, the kind of chaos only two chaosbunnies in the same place can create.

My sweetie Maxine came into town, and we spent weeks traveling the deserts of the Pacific coast photographing ghost towns. Mining towns, railroad towns, logging towns, you name it, we visited it–a journey I’m still in the process of journaling.

Maxine and I are both chaosbunnies, so the two of us together is pure concentrated chaos. Into any such maelstrom good and bad must go. I will touch only on the hilights here, some of which I have not yet documented.


Camping in the Wilderness
This is, as it turns out, something Bunny has become quite adroit at, with a set of mad camping skills that’s little short of awe-inspiring. Seriously, when the Big One hits and civilization collapses, I hope I happen to be on the same side of the pond as she is. Build a campfire in the pouring rain, armed with nothing but a flint and a soggy roll of toilet paper? She’s the one to do it.

We had a fantastic time, even if there was rather less sex than perhaps there could, or should, have been. (Note to self: next time, plan a less ambitious schedule and leave more time for the horizontal mambo.) It was fantastic to spend some quality time with her in the deep desert.


Break a rib!
It is telling, I think, that when you make a list of all the things that went wrong during the year, you keep forgetting “oh, yeah, I broke a rib.”

If I could go back in time and give information to the younger me, I would definitely tell myself “don’t try to cross that stream on that slippery fallen log.” Well, first I would tell myself the Powerball numbers, but after that, I would definitely tell myself the thing about the log. Well, okay, the Powerball numbers, the stock price for AMZN throughout the second half of the year, and then the thing about the log.

But I lack access to a time machine, and so the younger me said “hey, look, a log across a stream! That seems a reasonable thing to walk across!”

Fast forward a few seconds and I was tumbling into ice-cold snow runoff, pausing just long enough on the way down to whack my side against the log.


The desert defeats us
One of the stops on our tour was an old lead mine, closed in the mid-1800s and since left alone, high atop a mountain in the middle of Black Rock Desert.

Or rather, one of the stops on our tour was supposed to be an old lead mine, closed in the mid-1800s.

It took us rather a long time just to find the old road–little more than a narrow, rutted dirt track, really–branching off the paved road in the direction of the mountain. It took us a couple of hours to crawl along that road, such as it was, to the base of the mountain. It took us another hour to climb halfway up it, then two minutes to realize that the grade had become so steep that the van simply would not move, even in low gear–and, for that matter, the wheels wouldn’t spin either. Another minute after that convinced me that any additional tilting at that particular windmill would only destroy the transmission, which was already slipping.

From there, it took five minutes to realize that turning around was an absolute impossibility, five minutes to realize that the van could not back down the grade as heavily loaded as it was without the back bumper digging into the earth, twenty-five minutes to unload everything onto the side of the dirt track, half an hour to back cautiously down to the point where a wide spot afforded opportunity to turn around with only a moderate chance of tumbling off the edge of a cliff, and half an hour to load everything back into the van again.


Black Rock desert. That thin dark line in the lower left is the “road” we came in on.

It should be noted here that before we set out on this journey, Eve had suggested I get a GPS locator beacon, in the event that, I don’t know, we should encounter problems deep in Black Rock Desert or something. I pooh-poohed that idea, because, really, what were the odds? Next time, I will not so easily discard that idea.

I still haven’t fixed the damage to the van’s transmission. The shop says the transmission needs to be replaced. So far, they haven’t been able to come up with an estimate. I’m not optimistic.


Bored and Terrified…at the Same Time
Our misadventure in Black Rock Desert was merely the appetizer for the main course of mechanical suck–the price, I suppose, of adventuring in a 23-year-old camper van.

We set out on the last leg of our trip straight over a mountain that Siri, in all her passive aggressive navigational glory, didn’t think to send us around. That particular part of the adventure will most likely get a blog post all its own, filled as it was with ominous signs and squadrons of US Marines, but the hilight, which I will briefly mention here, was definitely the trip down the far side, during which with a thump and a cloud of foul-smelling smoke the van’s brakes failed.

We were, at the time, in a remote area unserved by cellular signal–indeed, it’s quite likely that most of the natives were entirely unfamiliar with any communications technology more advanced than the telegraph, or perhaps smoke signals–and 70 miles from the nearest town.

Therefore, with no other options availing themselves, we spent almost the entire night on a white-knuckle journey across seventy miles of narrow and windy mountain roads in first gear at about ten miles an hour with no brakes, relying on engine braking to manage our speed.

I did not, prior to that night, realize it was possible to be both utterly terrified and completely bored at the same time.

The next day, we found a Les Schwab service center. I’d never heard of Les Schwab before I moved to Oregon, but Zaiah swears by them. “Great customer service!” she told me. “Awesome warranty!” she told me. I was skeptical, but when I bought the van I had the brakes serviced at a Les Schwab.

It took them an hour just to work up an estimate–never a good sign when it comes to brakes. They gave me a number. I choked. “Well, we need to replace everything in the front,” they said. “…” I said.

“We looked you up in the computer. You still have a thousand miles left on your warranty,” they said. “It will all be no charge.”

“…!!” I said.

Sometimes, fortune favors the foolhardy.


Uterine Thunderdome
June decided to continue the theme of random bodily injury started with the rib thing in May, because why mess with what works, amirite? And so it came to pass that I ended up with weird pain that left my doctor scratching his head and muttering about the possibility of a kidney tumor, that got worse and worse until eventually I ended up in a CT scanner shot full of contrast that made my eyes feel like they were melting.

The CT scan was illuminating, both as to the nature of the problem (appendicitis) and to why it was tricky to figure out. Apparently, my internal geography is as unorthodox as my romantic life.

More distressing, perhaps, was finding out that such unusual innards are often the result of a situation whereby a person becomes pregnant with twins, one of which absorbs the other early in development in a kind of uterine Thunderdome–two fetuses enter, one fetus leaves.


I have no idea if Tina Turner was there or not. It was too dark to see.

But hey, there’s a silver lining. From now on, if anyone gets all up in my face, I can say “don’t fuck with me, man, I ate my twin!”


O Canada
Eve, in her ongoing attempt to make me more self-sufficient in the nutrient procurement department, has been encouraging me to learn the dark arts of cooking and baking, by whose secret alchemy ingredients are transmogrified into food.

As part of that ongoing effort, she had me decorate a cake for Canada Day. I must say, I think it turned out rather well.

A most excellent representation of the spirit of Canada, if I do say so myself.


The Big Book of Franklin Gets It Wrong
2015 is the year my memoir, The Game Changer, finally saw the light of day.

Writing it was rough. For years–decades, really–I’ve written about polyamory and kink and relationships, but I’ve never really told my story. I’ve talked a lot about the things I believe, but not very much about how I got there. The Game Changer was a new kind of writing–one that’s not very comfortable for me.

It also tells the story of things I’m not proud of. It’s about the mistakes I made and the people I hurt, because those are the experiences that led me where I am. In fact, while I was writing it, I called it The Big Book of Franklin Gets it Wrong.

The response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive, and it’s reached a lot more folks than I expected it to. I am deeply grateful for that, no matter how hard it was to write.


Dancin’ the Blues
One of the many things I’ve been working on this year is learning to blues dance.

I’ve always quite liked to dance–generally more gothy than bluesy, and without a partner–but partner dancing is new to me. Eve’s been teaching me, and it’s turned out to be rather a lot of fun.

In the fall, Eve and I went to Northwest Recess, which is rather like Burning Man only with fewer flamethrowers and a lot more dancing.

A whole lot of folks got together in the middle of nowhere, set up tents, and spent several days dancing without the distractions of civilization, like Internet, television, or potable water. And it was absolutely lovely. How come nobody ever told me how much fun blues dancing is?


More bionic penises
2015 was the Year of Travel and Presenting. Most of the presenting revolved around polyamory, but we took just enough time from talking about the whys and hows of multiple lovers to talk bionic cocks at Arse Electronika.


The second-generation prototype lacks the glowing lights, sadly

We were told we’d won the Golden Kleene Award for tech in sex, but weren’t able to pick it up as we had to depart for the airport immediately after our presentation to head to Europe. That right there ended up becoming the theme of the next five weeks.


Roads go ever ever on, over rock and under tree
The book tour. Ah, yes, the book tour.

What to say about it? The book tour was very, by which I mean parts of it were very good and parts of it were very bad but none of it was mediocre.

I started touring with The Game Changer a couple of weeks before Eve joined me for the European leg with More Than Two. I also ended up in urgent care midway into the second week, diagnosed with bronchitis.


The bunny ears are mandatory. The bunny ears are always mandatory.

As for the European bits…

We miscalculated, we did. During last year’s book tour in Canada and the US, we lived in the back of the Adventure Van traveling from town to town talking about polyamory. We packed our European schedule with the same density of events, neglecting to consider that:

  1. We would be on foot or relying on public transit for most of the tour;
  2. We would be dragging all our luggage with us everywhere we went; and
  3. We would be dependent on the schedule of the trains for our schedule.

They say good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgment. If that’s true, we’re now so absolutely brimming with good judgment we should be on the Supreme Court and at least seventeen less supreme courts.

Meeting people was amazing. The folks we met on the trip were absolutely wonderful. And I don’t think I’ve ever been so utterly exhausted in my life. By midway through, we were hanging on by the skin of our teeth, putting one foot in front of the other, and all those other cliches that one resorts to when one is too damn tired to be able to think.


This is how most mornings started: double-fisting cups of tea.

And it was still unbelievably amazing.

One thing we never did get used to: no cats. Such a dearth of cats, in fact, that on no fewer than three occasions we were forced to seek company of the feline variety in various cat cafes across the European continent.

We spent our last night in Paris atop the Eiffel Tower, drinking champagne and looking out over the city. I got to cross “spin poi in front of the Eiffel Tower” off my bucket list.


I didn’t even know it was on my bucket list.

We flew home the day before the terrorist attacks in the city. When we hit the ground in San Francisco, we both had a bit of a freakout about it.


Oh, you wanted to breathe with those lungs?
On returning, finally, to Oregon, I visited my doctor to follow up on the bronchitis thing.

He did the poking and prodding doctors do, and then welcomed me to the wonderful world of adult-onset asthma, the result, apparently, of the pneumonia I had in Atlanta a few years back and the more recent spell of bronchitis.

If there were a god, I think he or she should have made us from something a bit more durable than meat. Just sayin’.


The last twist of the knife
2014’s last fuck-you was the destruction of Zaiah’s engine by the incompetent boobs at Jiffy Lube. Not to be outdone, 2015 had to get in its last little dig in the same spirit of giving, when the radiator in her car–the same one we’d only just put a new engine in–erupted in a cloud of steam.

Fortunately, this was a far less expensive fix. Still, they say it’s the thought that counts.

So that’s the way it was, the Year of Very. I still hold out some hope that 2016 will be a bit less very, though I have a feeling that this year will be a bit of a roller coaster as well. And I don’t even like roller coasters.

In which Franklin has a weird appendix

For the past few months, I’ve been dealing with weird pain in my lower back. It’s been an ongoing thing that has followed a consistent pattern: I wake up in the morning in intense pain, take ibuprofen, the pain goes away, I go about my day, and it comes back the next morning.

Being a middle-class citizen of an industrialized twenty-first-century nation, I did what any middle-class citizen of an industrialized twenty-first-century nation would do in such a situation: I consulted the Oracle at Google. And lo, the Oracle at Google said that this might be a kidney infection, so I should talk to an actual practitioner of medicine rather than Googling my symptoms.

And so it came to pass that I made an appointment with the doctor, on the day before I was scheduled to head to Canada for several weeks. The doctor poked and prodded my back, made me pee into a cup, asked me lots of questions, and said “hmm” a lot. Then she disappeared for a while, leaving me to sit in a small room with an old-fashioned electro-mechanical clock on the wall that reminded me of the clocks in the elementary school I attended in the plains of Nebraska.

A short time later, she returned to say that whatever my issue was, it definitely wasn’t a kidney infection (take that, Google!) but it could be a kidney tumor, and I should make an appointment for a medical imaging test. Oh, and stop taking ibuprofen, that can aggravate kidney tumors.

Naturally, on my return home, I consulted the Oracle at Google once more, and Google obligingly filled me with horror stories about renal adenomas and such. I also made an appointment to have the imaging done–something that would, they said, take a month to schedule.

Head now completely filled with the possibilities of a rapid and gruesome death, I ventured to Canada, sans ibuprofen.

The pains kept getting worse, and then worse after that, until finally Eve offered me industrial-strength painkillers…that did pretty much nothing. Well, nothing save for making me feel like my head was stuffed with cotton balls, anyway.

So I called my doctor who suggested I make my way posthaste to an urgent care center for imaging.

Now, we live in a twenty-first century world that still clings to nineteenth-century notions of borders. My insurance, as it turns out, is not valid in Canada. So we piled into a car, Eve and I, and drove across the border to Bellingham, where I explained the situation and was admitted with alacrity.

A short time later, I was able to mark “Get a CAT Scan While Wearing Bunny Ears” off my bucket list.

For those of you who have never had a CAT scan, the whole experience is a bit “bureaucracy at the DMV meets a scene from a science fiction movie.” You’re cataloged, bar-coded, and wheeled into a futuristic-looking room where the technician feeds you into a giant machine with displays and blinky lights and a big spinny thing.

That part’s pretty cool. The bit that’s less cool is the stuff they inject you with to make your innards show up better to the machine.

“You will feel hot,” the dude said. “And then you will feel like you’re peeing. Relax. You’re not.”

That didn’t exactly fill me with images of pleasant frolics through a lovely garden, but the reality turned out to be even less pleasant than he suggested. He shot me full of some transparent liquid and I could feel it traveling through my body as a wave of intense heat. Even my eyeballs got hot–something I hope never to experience again. As promised, when it hit my waist, I felt like I was peeing, though he’d neglected to mention that it’d feel like I was peeing hot lava.

Then the machine did its spinny blinky thing and Was wheeled back.

After a bit of waiting, an earnest-looking and overworked doctor came in to give me the news: my kidneys were fine. No problem at all. The problem, he said, was totally different: I had appendicitis. And, apparently, my morphology is as unorthodox as my ideology. My appendix is in entirely the wrong place; the end of my large intestine points toward the front of my body and curves up, leaving my appendix pointing straight up at my liver like a defiant middle finger raised against one’s oppressors. (I’m not saying I have an oppressive liver, mind you; it’s a metaphor. Work with me here.)

He told me the Three Wise Men (the doctor, the radiologist, and the surgeon) had consulted, and my appendix was right on the threshold of the point where they would normally opt to remove it, but after some deliberation they’d made the decision not to. He gave me a CD of the CAT scan (complete with autorun.inf file–seriously, has anyone in the entire world not got the memo on why autorun is a terrible fucking idea?) and told me to follow up with my doctor, who should figure out what to do with me.

So the problem is still ongoing: I wake up in the morning with pain that dissolves at the touch of ibuprofen, even though it’s intractable in the face of rather more potent painkillers, and go about the day.

Apparently, my insurance only covers out-of-state medical care if it’s an “emergency.” I’m not sure if “appendicitis that’s right on the fuzzy border of requiring surgical intervention, so we’re going to pack you up and send you home” is an “emergency” or not. A part of me is still holding my breath wondering if I’m about to be hit with a huge hospital bill for all of this.

But hey, no kidney tumor! That bit was a huge relief; we (my sweeties and I) were, I think, more worried about that than we’d realized at the time this was all happening.

Operation Choke Point; or, We Know What’s Best For You

Before I can really go into the things I want to talk about, I’ll need to offer you, dear readers, a bit of back story.

As many folks who’ve read this blog over the years know, I am, among many other things, a game designer. I’ve developed a game called Onyx, which I’ve maintained and sold since the mid-1990s. Onyx is a sex game. It’s designed for multiple players, who move around a virtual “game board” buying properties. When another player lands on your property, that player can pay rent or–ahem–work off the debt.

I sell Onyx on my Web site here. It’s lived there for many years, and for the past thirteen years or so, I’ve accepted credit card payments for the registered version of the game via a merchant account provider called Best Payment Solutions.

This past April, I received notification from Best Payment Solutions that they were terminating my account. They gave no reason, other than they “sometimes terminate accounts for risk reasons.” In the thirteen years I’d been with them, I’d only had one chargeback–a rather remarkable record I doubt few businesses can match. Didn’t matter.

I was told that BPS would no longer work with me, but their parent company, Vantiv, would be happy to give me a merchant account. Vantiv’s underwriters, I was told, had looked at my Web site and had no problem with its contents.

So i did the requisite paperwork, turned it all in, and…nothing. For weeks, during which time I was effectively out of business.

Then, four weeks later, I heard back from Vantiv. We’re so sorry, they said, we thought we could give you a merchant account, but we can’t. When I asked why, the only thing they would say was “risk reasons.”

Thus ensued a mad scramble to find a new merchant account underwriter, a process that’s normally very time-consuming and tedious. I finally found another underwriter, which I will decline to name for reasons that will become obvious once you read the rest of this post, and I’m back up and running again…but not before I was out of business for over a month.

Onyx registrations pay my rent, so as you might imagine, this has been a stressful time for me.


Okay, that’s the backstory. A sad tale of a merchant account underwriter that got cold feet for no clear reason, I thought. Annoying, yes, stressful, you bet. But one of those things that just kind of happens, right? Banks make business decisions all the time. So it goes.

It turns out, though, that I’m not the only one this has happened to. Indeed, it’s happened to lots and lots of people. The same pattern, across different businesses and different merchant account providers: A business receives a sudden notification that their merchant account (or in some cases, their business checking account) is being terminated. When they ask why, no answer beyond “risk reasons” is forthcoming. Porn performers, payday loan services, dating sites, fireworks sellers, porn producers, travel clubs…it’s a very specific list of folks who are having this problem. And, not surprisingly, there’s a reason for it.

The reason is the Department of Justice, which for the past couple of years has undertaken a project they call Operation Choke Point.

The goal of Operation Choke Point is to pressure businesses in morally objectionable fields out of business, by leaning on the banks that provide services to those businesses. If you can’t get banking or credit card services, the reasoning goes, you can’t stay in business. So the DoJ is approaching commercial banks, telling them to close accounts for individuals and businesses in “objectionable” industries.

It should be noted that the businesses being targeted are not breaking the law. Lawful businesses and individuals are losing access to lawful services because the government objects to them on moral grounds.

The banks being pressured to close accounts are reticent about talking about it; however, one business owner, whose instincts were in the right place, apparently managed to get a recording of a phone call in which his merchant account processor (EFT) told him they were pressured by the government to close the account. His recording has made it to a Congressional hearing looking into the program. (Some banks have reported being told that they would be investigated for racketeering if they failed to close accounts belonging to targeted businesses, despite the fact that the targeted businesses are acting lawfully.)

There’s a backlash brewing. Congress is starting to hold hearings about businesses targeted without due process. The DoJ has backtracked. The FDIC, which was involved in pressuring banks to terminate targeted businesses, has reversed course. All that is good. And yet…and yet…

I can’t help but think the backlash isn’t because people really believe the program was wrong, but rather because it included one industry that is considered politically sacrosanct by the Obama administration’s opponents: guns.

In addition to adult businesses, Operation Choke Point targeted small gun and ammo retailers. And there’s a small, cynical voice inside my head that whispers, if they had contented themselves with going after people like me–people who make or sell things related to sex–would anyone have cared? The right-wing blogosphere is filled with angry rants about Operation Choke Point, as well it should be…but none of the angry rants mention adult businesses or porn. They all focus on guns. And I just really can’t make myself believe that the people rising up against the program have my interests at heart. If it were just me, I believe we wouldn’t hear a peep out of them.

Don’t get me wrong–for once in my life, I’m glad the Republicans are taking action about something. But I hold no illusions that next time, they will still have my back.


By the time all was said and done, I lost somewhere around $700 from the problems I had. Not a lot, really, in the scheme of things, though I did have to scramble to make rent this month. It could have been worse.

I know there are a lot of folks in various adult-related businesses who read my blog. I’d really love to hear from you guys. Has this happened to you, or anyone you know? What was the outcome? Let me know!

Jiffy Lube: Home of the $4,000 Oil Change

Yesterday, my partner zaiah and I drove her car home. This was a major milestone in a saga that began with Jiffy Lube, a tale of mechanical incompetence, corporate irresponsibility, and a four thousand dollar oil change.

Let’s say you saw an offer on TV: Jiffy Lube will change your car’s oil for a mere $3,975 for an oil change! Before you say “no,” wait! With this special offer, the oil change will only take 46 days! You’ll have your car back before you know it!

Of course, they didn’t advertise it that way. They claimed the oil change would only be twenty-nine bucks.

It all started last August. My partner took her Chevy Tracker, an eminently practical car with plenty of room to take the poodles to the dog park, in to Jiffy Lube because you’re supposed to change your oil regularly. We went to the one at at 10227 NE Halsey in Portland, Oregon. It’s an unimpressive-looking place, even by the standards of oil change places:


Doesn’t really look like the city’s epicenter of gross incompetence, does it?

Changing the oil in a car is not an intellectually challenging task. It’s not like they were trying to, say, land a probe on a comet 317,000,000 miles away or anything like that. The procedure is well-documented and almost simple enough for your dog to do it, if your dog had hands and an attention span longer than five minutes. You drain the oil, put more oil in, take off the oil filter (this is the most challenging part of the whole operation), and replace it with a new one. Cooking spaghetti and meatballs is, in all seriousness, a more cognitively challenging task.

They did this, but got a bit hung up on the last step, the bit where you put a new oil filter on. The person1 who performed this entire challenging operation neglected to notice that the gasket wasn’t properly seated on the filter. That, as it turns out, is kind of important.

For the next couple of months, the Tracker stayed in the driveway, rarely being used except to take the dogs to the dog park. All seemed well, until October 19, when zaiah took the car to Washington State, the first long-distance trip she had made since the oil change.

All was good right up until the moment there was a loud “bang!” and the engine stopped turning. Just like that, in the middle of the road in rural Washington. Naturally, because this is often the way of things, there was no town around for miles.

So she called for a tow, because the car sure as hell wasn’t going anywhere under its own power, and had the car hauled to the nearest small town. She stayed in a cheap motel and the next day had the car brought to a mechanic, whereupon she discovered three rather unpleasant things.

First, there was a hole about the size of a fifty-cent piece all the way through the engine block, where a vital bit of the engine’s interior had decided it was tired of its career as a part of the engine’s interior and it wanted to become exterior.

Second, there was no oil in the car, hence the interior bit traveling from the inside of the engine to the outside of the engine with enough vigor to punch right through the engine block.

Third, well…remember the part where I said the gasket wasn’t seated on the oil filter correctly? The reason that turns out to be kind of important is the gasket is the bit that keeps the oil from pouring out of the engine and onto the road under high pressure.

The mechanic looked at the oil filter, and the telltale smear of oil that had flowed out of the filter all over the engine, nodded, and said “yep, here’s your problem.” He took off the filter and pointed to a trail of little tiny bits of metal under the gasket. “Those used to be part of the engine,” he said. “See how the bits of metal are under the gasket? That’s where the oil was leaking. It’s like a trail of cookie crumbs, from the jar to your four-year-old’s bed. Not too hard to figure out what happened.”


Mmm, cookie crumbs. Honey bits o’ engine part.

She ended up spending two more nights in that town, while the mechanic called around for a new engine and put together a jaw-dropping estimate to replace it. Given that the repair was likely to take a week at the least, not counting the time to, you know, find a new engine on account of ’cause the old one had a hole in it, and given that staying in this quaint and no doubt charming but still quite distant little town was apt to create logistical problems re: the entire rest of her life, she rented a U-Haul with a car carrier to bring the car back to Portland.

I’d say that’s when the fun started, but in this tale the fun never starts.

The first thing we did when she got back home was get in touch with Jiffy Lube Corporate, who handed us off to the local Jiffy Lube franchise owner, the dudebro who owns the rather sad-looking commercial establishment pictured above.

The second thing we did was take the car to a Portland mechanic. He looked at the car, looked at the filter, nodded wisely, and said, “yep, here’s your problem, bum oil filter gasket. See all the little slivers of metal under the gasket here? Those are bits of your engine. You can tell the oil was leaking here because–” and we said “trail of cookie crumbs, four-year-old’s bed, yeah, we know.”

He gave us an equally eyewatering estimate to replace the engine. He also told us he sees occasional cars pass through his shop with engines wrecked by improper oil changes from commercial oil-change places, which is something I would not have guessed. Live and learn, I suppose. Apparently, the training, quality control, and meticulous attention to detail that so characterizes the rest of American industry is conspicuous in its absence from the oil-change trade.

Anyway, he started calling around for a replacement engine, and we started talking to the owner of the Jiffy Lube franchise, a bloke named Shawn Corno. Mr. Corno had us jump through a lot of hoops, sending him a written statement from the mechanic as to the cause of the disaster, an itemized estimate of the repair costs, and so on. Now, from one perspective, this all makes sense, I suppose; it’s necessary to keep innocent oil change places from being hit with false bills from, I don’t know, the roving bands of mercenary con-artists who deliberately wreck engines and then charge other people for replacing them or something.

In any event, after several go-rounds with Mr. Corno, he finally sent us this email:

Thank you for providing the documents I requested in regards to this claim, after digging into this a little bit further there’s a few things that just don’t work out, one if the filter was Miss installed the vehicle would’ve had issues far before the amount of miles and time that have gone bye, based on these facts Jiffy Lube is denying liability of your claim.

All spelling and capitalization verbatim.

In Mr. Corno’s world, it seems, defective oil filters all come fitted with a Mission-Impossible style countdown timer featuring a built-in timer that displays how much time is left before they destroy the engine. In this world, an employee who fits an engine with a defective oil filter starts the countdown timer before he closes the hood, so it just stands to reason that if someone calls with a ruined car after the normal time that one might set this countdown timer for, it must not have been ruined by the oil filter!


This is what a defective oil filter looks like, in Jiffy Lube-land.

Now, in real life, as opposed to the weird fairy-tale world of spies and countdown timers inhabited by Mr. Corno, there are many factors that might influence how much time passes between the moment a bad filter is installed on an engine and the moment when the parts inside the engine become the parts outside the engine. Like, say, the fact that the car spends most of its time parked in a driveway. Or the fact that things went kablooey the very first time the car was taken onto the freeway after the oil change.

I’m not suggesting, of course, that there is anything wrong with Mr. Corno’s calculations about how long should elapse between an oil change and the complete destruction of the engine, oh dear me no. I’m sure they are highly advanced and based on careful research, rather than simply being an excuse not to have to pay for the problem he caused. Perish the very thought that he might have been blowing a lot of smoke because he didn’t want to pay for something. There’s never been a time in all human history that someone has lied to get out of paying for some disaster or other they might have caused, and shame on you for thinking otherwise.

We finally got the car back yesterday. The total repair bill looked something like this:

  • New engine, plus labor to replace said: $3,100.
  • Tow from rural Nowherestan to the closest town: $390. (With roadside assistance. The bill without it would have been enough to choke a billygoat at five hundred paces.)
  • Motel, for three nights: $200.
  • U-Haul to tow the car back to Portland: $285.

Total cost: $3,975, not including the initial $29 for the oil change and filter.

Jiffy Lube is proving intractable. Jiffy Lube Corporate has insisted the responsibility lies with the franchise owner, but has invited us to fill out a customer care survey to let them know how they’re doing. (Here’s a hint, guys: YOU’RE DOING A CRAPPY JOB.)

Mr. Corno, the franchise owner, is sticking with his Mission Impossible Oil Filter Countdown Timer Scenario, insisting that if the filter were defective it would have shown up sooner, regardless of how often the car was used.

In the meantime, ended up stuck with $4,000 in bills just before Christmas, something that does to one’s Christmas spirit what a pail of cold water does to one’s mood when one is…well, I’ll leave that to your imagination.

A few days ago, this showed up in the mail:


I’ll get right on that, you gormless muppets.

Happy New Year. Fuck you, Jiffy Lube. Fuck you in your stupid ear with a jagged metal dildo. And barbed wire.

If you want to get your car changed. go somewhere else. Anywhere else. Hire Bruce Willis and Vin Diesel to come change your oil for you. Have your car flown to whatever factory it came from. Either of those options will be cheaper than Jiffy Lube.


1 I’m assuming it was a person, and not a trained dog genetically modified to have hands. I have no evidence this is the case.

Some thoughts on listening to patients

A couple weeks ago, before we started the second leg of our book tour promoting More Than Two, I went to the dentist. I had a couple of old-style silver amalgam fillings that were disintegrating (who, I wonder, was the first person to say “Silver and mercury! I know, let’s put that in people’s mouths!”?), so I decided to pay someone to take a small high-speed drill and root around in my mouth for a while.

Now, whenever I go to a new dental practitioner for the first time, there’s a little speech I have to give. It’s my mother’s fault, really. She has some kind of genetic quirk, you see, that makes her for all intents and purposes immune to common local anesthetics in the Novocain/procaine/Lidocaine family. I appear to have inherited a genetic allele from her that gives me a high degree of resistance to these anesthetics, which is, as you might imagine, more than a little inconvenient when facing a trip to the dentist.

Anyway, the little speech. It hasn’t varied much over the past few decades, and it goes something like this:

Before we get started, you should know that I am highly resistant to local anesthetics like Lidocaine. It’s really, really hard to get me numb. It is probably going to take you a lot of work and multiple tries before I’m numb, and it wears off very quickly.

Now, every time I give this little speech–every single time, with only one exception ever (when I went to an oral surgeon to have an impacted wisdom tooth chiseled out with a backhoe, farm equipment and oil-drilling machinery), the result is always the same: “Oh, pish-posh. I won’t have any trouble at all!”

And then the misery starts.

This last go-round, it took my dentist no fewer than six rounds of injections before I was finally ready to have the old filling carved out. Three rounds in, she jabs me with the needle and I’m all like “Ow!” and she’s all like “you can still feel that?” and I’m all like “remember how I said I am resistant to local anesthetics?” and she was all like “wow, you weren’t kidding!” and I was all like “I’ve had this conversation so. Many. Times. Before.”, though that last part was in my head and not out loud, and…

Yeah.

So anyway, about that. It is perhaps not surprising that some folks might greet claims of being resistant to anesthetics with skepticism–genetic resistance is documented, but uncommon1 (thanks, Mom!)–but to just dismiss them outright, and especially for everyone in the profession to dismiss them outright, seems to me to speak to a systemic problem. And that systemic problem is, we train doctors to be good at all the parts of treating patients except listening to patients, which might be argued to be rather an important bit.

Pseudoscience, quackery (“this random thing cures cancer! Big Pharma doesn’t want you to know, which is why you’re finding out about it in a Facebook group!”), and snake oil “medicine” are huge, and deadly, industries. According to an NIH document reported on NBC, alternative “medicines” (which might reasonably be described as anything that hasn’t been shown to work, since the name for things that have been shown to work is just “medicine”), is a $34 billion a year industry. That’s a lot of herbs, acupuncture, and magic water full of mystical energy vibrations but nothing else.

There are lots of reasons why. Anti-intellectualism is a big one, and the fact that anti-intellectualism tends to be joined at the hip to conspiracy nuttery doesn’t help. Rejection of science, distrust of “big corporations” (except the big corporations marketing herbal supplements, naturally), superstition, wishful thinking…all those things play a part.

But some of the problem is, I think, self-inflicted. Too many medical practitioners are at best dismissive of, and at worst hostile to, their patients’ own self-reported information. There are probably a bunch of reasons for that, from fear of drug-seeking behaviors (and the spectacular fuckedupedness of a medical establishment that doesn’t take pain management seriously is worthy of a blog post of its own!) to simple arrogance.

The new flavor of trendy pseudoscientific bullshit is the claim that cavities can be “cured” by minerals and “oil detoxification,” and unsurprisingly, this new brand of bullshit smells pretty much the same as all the old brands.

But dammit, I wish my dentist would listen when I say local anesthetics don’t work very well on me, instead of having to find out through painful (to me, that is, not to her) experience.

1 According to Wikipedia, the genetic allele associated with lidocaine resistance is linked to ADHD as well. Go figure.

Piracy and More Than Two: Caveat Emptor

This Blog post has been updated; updates are at the end.

Recently, a concerned blog reader sent me an email alerting me to a Web site that claimed to have a free ebook download for More Than Two, the polyamory book Eve and I just finished. He found the link on a YouTube “video” that was basically just a still spam image claiming that the book could be downloaded free, with a Web link in the description. The YouTube page looks like this:

Naturally, I was concerned; Eve and I have put a tremendous amount of work into the book. The eBook isn’t slated to be released until September 2; only our Indiegogo backers have a copy of it, so if it’s leaked, it came from one of our backers.

The download site is a place called masszip.com. It claims to have a huge number of “free” ebooks available for download, all of them pirated versions of books that are most definitely not free.

On the masszip.com page for More Than Two, there is a prominent “Download Now” button. Clicking it causes a “Premium Content” popup to appear:

The popup has several links for various online “surveys” and advertising offers. If you click on one of them, you are taken to another site called cleanfiles.net, which then redirects through a number of affiliate-tracking intermediaries to one of the sites offering “free*” (*particioation required) gift cards, surveys, and the other sorts of flim-flam that fill the scummy and less reputable corners of the Internet.

Both masszip.com and cleanfiles.net are served up by the Cloudflare content delivery network. I’m planning an entire computer security blog post about Cloudflare; they are either completely incompetent or totally black hat, and provide content delivery services for a wide assortment of spammers, malware distributors, and phish pages. (I’ve mentioned Cloudflare’s dysfunctional abuse procedures in a previous blog post.)

I jumped through all the hoops to download a copy of More Than Two, using a disposable email address created just for the purpose. The sites signal cleanfiles.net that you’ve finished the “survey” or filled in an email for an insurance quote or whatever, and then a file downloads.

It’s not necessarily the file you expected, though.

The first time I did this, I got a file that claimed to be an epub, all right, but it wasn’t More Than Two. It was a file called Ebook+ID+53170.rar, which uncompressed into a file called “Words of Radiance – Brandon Sanderson.epub”. Words of Radiance looks to be a real book–a somewhat pedestrian fantasy story about kings and assassins and heroes with secret powers.

The file was not actually an ebook, though. It was actually a Windows executable; and, needless to say, I would not recommend running it. In my experience, Windows expecutable files that mislead you about their names usually have nefarious purposes.

I tried the download again, using a different “survey” link and a different throwaway profile, and ended up being taken to this page:

I’m betting the violation of the Mediafire terms of service probably related to malware.

So basically, the site offers pirated eBooks, but actually makes you fill out surveys and apply for various kinds of insurance quotes and so on, presumably all to make money for the folks who run it. It doesn’t actually deliver the goods, however. Instead, it delivers Windows executables of undetermined provenance that likely don’t do anything you want them to do.

I examined each of the links and discovered the owners of the site are using three different affiliate tracking systems to make money. The affiliate system you’re routed through depends on which link you click. The system looks something like this:

Presumably, they also make money from malicious file downloads.

The site at trk.bluetrackmedia.com is an affiliate tracking site run by Blue Track Media, which bills itself as “The Performance-Based Online Advertising Company.” Typical URLs that run through Blue Track Media look like

http://trk.bluetrackmedia.com/cclick.php?affiliate=3239&campaign=9600&sid=139267348_21118_w_161238&sid3=2859

The people responsible for this scam are identified by the affiliate code “affiliate=3239”.

The site at adworkmedia.com is an affiliate tracking site run by AdWorkMedia, a site that monetizes Web sites using “content locking,” where certain parts of the site are blocked until the visitor does something like fills out a Web survey or gives his email address to an advertiser. Typical URLs that run through AdWorkMedia look like

http://www.adworkmedia.com/go.php?camp=7012&pub=11178&id=15672&sid=&sid2=2736&sid3=LinkLocker&ref=&shortID=198717

t.afftrackr.com is a site registered to a guy named Ryan Schulke. It’s listed as malicious by VirusTotal.

I can’t find out much about quicktrkr.com, except that it’s a new site registered February of this year, 1.quicktrkr.com is hosted on Amazon EC2, and it’s protected by a whois anonymizing service in Panama.

So in short, here’s the scam:

A Web site, masszip.com, promises free stolen eBooks. The site is a front-end for another site, cleanfiles.net, which makes money by using an affiliate system to try to get you to fill out surveys and similar offices. Advertising companies like AdWorksMedia and Blue Track Media pay the site owners whenever you fill out one of these surveys or offers.

If you do this, a file downloads to your system. it will claim to be an eBook (though not the eBook you thought you were getting), but analysis of the file shows it’s actually a Windows executable. The scam is spamvertised via YouTube “videos” that are actually nothing but spam front-ends.

If you’re looking for a copy of our book More Than Two, I suggest you don’t take this route. I understand that waiting for the book to be released on September 2nd might feel like agony (believe me, it does for us too!), but it’s a lot less likely to get your computer infected with malware, and it won’t help line the pockets of scammers at your expense.

Interestingly, some of the advertised sites you end up with if you jump through all the hoops are actually mainstream, big-name companies like Allstate and Publisher’s Clearinghouse, which apparently have no compunction in associating their brands with scams and malware.

UPDATE: The site at t.afftrackr.com appears to be owned by Cake Marketing, and is part of their affiliate tracking system. A Google search for t.afftrackr.com shows a very low confidence in the site, and a number of complaints and dodgy associations.

UPDATE 2 (1-July-2014): The YouTube account of the scammer has been terminated. I received an email this morning from Blue Track Media, saying the affiliate account of the scammers had been closed.

The scam is still active, and it’s now using the affiliate tracking company Adscend Media. Typical URLs used in the links on the scam download page look like

http://adscendmedia.com/click.php?aff=12842&camp=29168&crt=0&prod=3&from=1&sub1=141558590_21118_w_161238&subsrc=2859

I also filed a DMCA report with Cloudflare, and received a reply that basically says “we are a content delivery network, not a conventional Web host, so we don’t have to listen to DMCA reports.” Cloudflare is continuing to provide services to the scam Web sites.

UPDATE 3 (1-July-2014): Only a few hours after I emailed Adscend Media about the scam, I received an email saying they’d also terminated the scammer’s affiliate account.

UPDATE 4 (26-July-2014): I’ve received an email from a person who claims to be working for the Web site masszip.com.

From: Luella Forbes
To: [my franklinveaux dot com address]
Subject: RE: Your book has been taken down
Date: Fri, 25 Jul 2014 04:22:07 +0100

Hello Im Kathyne PAce

I am from masszip.com

i removed your book from our site http://www.masszip.com/two-practical-guide-ethical-polyamory-franklin-veaux-

Now now it does not exist on our site . Sorry for this.

I have removed your books on the web masszip
so you also please remove your post says about us here http://blog.franklinveaux.com/2014/06/piracy-and-more-than-two-caveat-emptor/

Thanks u !

Apparently, they don’t like blog posts saying they’re claiming to give away bootlegged books for free but in fact are distributing Windows executables.

UPDATE 5 (27-July-2014): I’ve received another email from the person who claims to be behind the site, apparently upset I haven’t taken down this post:

From: Luella Forbes
To: [my franklinveaux dot com address]
Subject: Franklin is gay!
Date: Sun, 27 Jul 2014 23:16:54 +0100

Franklin is gay ,ok update it on your blog now . U are lady ,that is true

I wonder if I should give this person’s email address to the publishers of all the books the Web site claims to have available for free download.

UPDATE 6 (14-August-2014): The page is back on Masszip advertising More Than Two. As before, it doesn’t actually lead to a download of the eBook; instead, if you jump through the affiliate marketing hoops to get it, you end up with a Windows executable disguised as an eBook.

Also, the Masszip folks are back to using the Blue Track Media affiliate link. I’ve emailed Blue Track Media about it.

Fuck Comcast right in their stupid EAR. And also, polyamory!

I am on TV right now. Or, at least, I think I am. I don’t know, because Comcast is the most miserable tech company I’ve ever had to deal with.

Err, actually the second most miserable, but only by a nose.

Some time ago, i got contacted by producers from the Oprah Winfrey network. They were shooting a segment of “Our America” about polyamory. I pointed them to some friends of mine, who they liked so much they set up a camera crew in their house for weeks. They also filmed a smigeon of zaiah and I, and… Anyway, I was curious to see how it all turned out.

The show was set to air today, something I didn’t realize ’til this afternoon. So zaiah went down to the Comcast Worker’s Dormitory, Public Relations Orifice, and Meat Processing Plant to pick up a cable box. We plugged it in. Went through a lengthy process on Comcast’s miserable Net-site to “activate” the box, whatever that means. Web site said “OK, now activating your cable box, please wait 45 minutes.”

Which is a little weird; in 45 minutes, Russian organized crime can infect 250,000 American PCs with malware, so taking 45 minutes to program a cable box seems inefficient. But whatever.

Then the Web site said “Success! Your cable box has been activated.”

It lied.

Connect the box to the TV, nothing. Okay, bad cable maybe? Go outside the house, in the rain, diddle with the cable connection. Nothing. Replace the cable. Nothing. Run a known-good cable through the window into the house. Still nada.

Take the cable connector out of the wall. Looks good. Replace the cable that came with the cable box, the one that goes from the wall to the box. Still nada.

Call tech support. “No problem, we’ll reset your cable box. Should take ten minutes.”

10 minutes later, I’m 10 minutes older but no closer to working cable.

Move the cable box around the house in a bizarre game of whack-a-cable-outlet. Nothing works anywhere. (Seriously, who uses cable any more, anyway?)

OWN is not available streaming over the Internet; presumably, Oprah, who is, like, the richest woman in he world or something, isn’t getting enough fees to allow Net streaming.

Okay, back on the phone with tech support. “We can’t see your cable box.”

Uh…

Okay, fine. Move it to a different cable outlet. “We still can’t see it. You’re on a TV show, you say? About polyamory? What’s that?”

The inevitable “what is polyamory?” conversation over, we start playing this whack-a-cable-outlet game again. No matter where we go, the tech says “I sill can’t ping your cable box.”

Go back online to Comcast’s miserable activation page on Comcast’s miserable Web site. “You have 1 cable device (1 not activated).”

Apparently, it will tell you “activation successful” even if the device in question is disconnected, turned off, shot repeatedly with a 12-gauge, and buried in a lead-lined box outside of Roswell, New Mexico beneath a crumpled up ball of aluminum foil and two empty cans of baked beans. When the Web site says “activation successful,” that doesn’t mean that the activation was successful, you see…it simply means that enough time has passed that the Comcast Central Babbage Engine should have been able to align the gears and pulleys to the right configuration to activate the box.

zaiah is still on the phone with the tech this whole time, while our dinner slowly turns to charcoal and then catches fire on the stove. The tech is being really patient (and curious), but nothing works.

Finally, I yank the cable out of the cable modem, which we know works on account of I was able to communicate through the web-net on the Internet-tubes to the Babbage engine that runs Comcast’s Net-site, and plug it straight into the cable box.

“Oh,” chirps the tech, “your cable box is defective. Please bring it to your nearest Comcast cable Box Redemption Center and place it on the redemption line.”

Which might have explained why when zaiah picked it up from the Comcast Worker’s Dormitory, Public Relations Orifice, and Meat Processing Plant the person-unit behind the counter mentioned casually as if in passing that she’d plug the box in and make sure the blinkenlights came on because “we’ve had a bunch of bad boxes lately.”

So after four plus hours of work, we were unable to see the show. We had several friends over who were also on the program, because, like, who the fuck has cable nowadays anyway?

If you could even begin to feel one one-hundredth of the depth of my frustration and rage at Comcast right now, your monitor would catch fire.

How the Skeptics Community Fails at Decency

Edit: 12:04 PM Pacific time Apparently, the problem has been resolved. Non-LiveJournal users can now see the blog post and its comments.


Last night, I posted a rather lengthy essay about misogyny and bias in the skeptics and freethought community. This morning, I woke to discover that at some point during the night, LiveJournal had for some reason evaporated that post for anyone who isn’t logged in (or isn’t a LiveJournal user). It can still be accessed by its URL directly, but it doesn’t appear to anyone who isn’t logged in and goes to the top level of my blog.

The post is here, for people who are having trouble seeing it. Unfortunately, it also appears that non LJ users (or users who aren’t logged in) can’t see or leave comments. I have an LJ support ticket open on the issue.

If liveJournal is not able to resolve the issue, I plan to delete and re-post the essay. This may lose those comments which have already been posted, sadly. Or I may re-post the essay as a new blog post with a pointer to the old comments, if I can figure out a graceful way to do so.