Secondary relationships

In polyamorous circles, there are many people who want only “secondary” relationships outside of their existing “primary” relationship.

However, the term “secondary” is confusing and often means different things to different people. In the interests of helping clarify some of that confusion, my friend Edward recently proposed a short questionnaire that might be useful to help get everyone on the same page about what exactly is meant by the term “secondary.” I’ve taken his idea and turned it into a handy 3×5 index card, which you can print out and hand to prospective suitors. You can even download a PDF version of the card here.

Adventures in Europe, Chapter 31: Minas Tirith and Beyond

The previous day’s exploration around the immediate vicinity of the castle had inspired in some of us a certain wanderlust, which grew inexorably until it eventually became so powerful as to compete with the other variety of lust. So it came to pass that after the morning’s kinky sex activities, many of the folks in the castle took it upon themselves to propose a trip to the nearby town of Chauvigny, which in addition to being surrounded by Outdoors also was allegedly was positively brimming with History.

That combination sometimes produces Neat Stuff To See, so when I was invited along, I said ‘yes.’

Now, it is a truism often repeated in many circles that kinky poly folks are as difficult to herd as a gaggle of cats. And, it must be said, there is sometimes some tiny grain of truth, however trivial or vanishingly small, to this perception.

We opted to take two cars into Chauvigny, which turned out to be something of an error. An unfortunate error in communication between the two drivers of these two cars sent us to entirely different rendezvous points, with the sort of comical results one might normally expect from a Hugh Grant movie.

We, meaning the folks in the car I was in and I, ended up at a rest stop just outside the town, adjacent to a small walled cemetery. French rest stops are fascinating things. Like their American counterparts, they have bathrooms. Unlike their American counterparts, the bathrooms are not segregated by sex. Oh, they look the same, more or less–plain concrete buildings with just enough room for a row of toilet stalls.

But in France, both sides are filled with stalls. The urinals are on the outside of the building, in plain view of the parking lot.

The cemeteries are weird, too. Everything is smaller in Europe, including the cemeteries themselves. The graves are packed in shoulder to shoulder, with scarcely any space between them.

While we waited (hopelessly, as it turned out) for the folks in the other car to arrive, we decided to take advantage of the location to shoot some pictures. I love the look on Emily’s face here.

I wonder if this is sacrilegious.

Eventually, phone calls were made, our mistake was realized, and we piled back into the car to go to the place where we were supposed to meet with the others, who had apparently been waiting for us for some time.

Along the way, we passed the ruins of Minas Tirith. I didn’t realize it was in France, though I suppose in hindsight the fall of its sister-city at Minas Ithil, later renamed Minas Morgul, makes more sense now.

Our path actually took us right past the ruins themselves. Look, you can see the spot where Denethor set fire to the keep, right before the Haradrim started their seige!

In 1775, a man who professed himself to be a doctor invented the word “nymphomania” to describe a condition of unnatural and pathological sexual desire in women, where “pathological” desire was thought, apparently, to mean any desire at all. The good Dr. Bienville, the gentleman in question (whose life could perhaps have benefitted from some greater sexual desire on his own part) wrote that there were many symptoms of this grave and indecent lust, including a fondness for chocolate and the reading of books.

If this is the case, Chauvigny is a very indecent city indeed, because if there’s one thing it has a lot of, it’s books. The history of Chauvigny is closely tied up with the history of printing. When news of Gutenberg’s new invention arrived in France, the citizens of Chauvigny, realizing that literacy was likely to be something big and that the printing of books is a profitable enterprise in a newfangled literate society, fell all over this printing thing like Dick Cheney on a taxpayer’s penny. Even today, the city is dominated by quaint little bookshops–rows of them, all along the narrow twisty streets.

The town pays tribute to this rich literary heritage with many displays of antique and modern printing equipment, that lines the roads and twisty little parks. Emily, who if I recall correctly is a librarian, particularly appreciated the old printing equipment, and asked me to take a picture of her next to some of it.

Chauvigny is a lovely town, with more charm than you can fit in a wheelbarrow. Besides the bookstores, they also have churches, two things one does not normally see in such close proximity.

And, down by the waterfront, tucked back from a narrow alleyway behind a grape-covered stone wall that forms a private courtyard, they have an English café. A real English café, featuring English tea and breakfast.

As we were by this point some hours from breakfast and with dinner still hours in our future, many of our party were beginning to suffer from tea withdrawal. So it was only natural that we should choose to feed our addictions sample their hospitality.

And oh, God, it was good.

The British take their tea very, very seriously, with the result that they are very, very good at it. This café served vey good tea indeed, and crumpets as well.

Now, here in America, we have these things we call “English muffins.” English muffins are to crumpets what a Segway is to a mint-condition Ferrari F430 Spider. A crumpet is an English muffin touched by the hand of God, and covered in sweet, sweet creamy butter straight from the loins of Aphrodite herself. It is an English muffin that has attained the transcendence of Nirvana and returned bearing the wisdom of Solomon, only with less proclamations about cutting babies in half and more warm melt-in-your-mouth goodness.

The café also had a friendly, playful black cat who immediately decided to adopt the whole lot of us. He was especially fond of seinneann_ceoil‘s long scarf, which he thought was absolutely the coolest thing he’d ever seen in the whole history of ever.

The view from the café was just stunning. I took this picture from my seat at the table:

Bizarrely, the café also featured this mannequin, complete with bunny ears, across from the cash register. I felt compelled to get a picture for emanix, who was feeling unwell and had not accompanied us.

Our unnatural thirst for English breakfast tea slaked, at least for the moment, we headed across the bridge to explore the cathedral (early Gothic, according to seinneann_ceoil) on the other side. The high vaulted ceilings and arched stained glass windows were quite beautiful, though my travels in Russia had led me to expect more in the way of over-the-top religious iconography and gold leaf.

The kneelers were pretty cool. As soon as she saw them, Emily had to try them out.

This picture makes me feel wrong in so many ways, I might not ever want to feel right again.

They’re everywhere. Don’t blink!

We left the church and walked around the small park adjacent to it. This is the view from behind the church.

Just a little ways farther down the river, and a bit to the right of the bridge, we could see the courtyard of the café where we’d had our tea and delicious, heavenly crumpets of heavenly heavenliness.

The flowers were in full bloom, everywhere we looked. As we wandered back toward the car, I found these growing on a bush near the café.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, like the last few crumbs of crumpet on the serving plate of destiny. We headed away from Chauvigny, that harlot, that nymphomaniac, that literate and wanton mistress in a far-off land, with her kneelers and her books and her crumpets topped by the goddess of love, and went back to our castle for an evening of…

…but this has gone on for quite long enough already, and I shan’t bore you further.

Adventures in Europe, Chapter 30: Things to Do in France Besides Sex

There are things to do in a Medieval castle located in rural southern France other than orgies, kinky group sex, and strap-on gang-bangs, as hard as that might be to believe.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s rural France! What else could there possibly be to do for entertainment? It’s not like you can go to Wal-Mart or turn on the television to see reruns of “Friends,” so that pretty much only leaves kinky group sex or fishing, right? And given that the van we arrived in lacked the space for fishing poles, that whittled down the pool of available options considerably, right?

As it turns out–and I wouldn’t have known this had I not been there–the south of France has “Outdoors,” and there are actually some interesting things there. So a few days into our stay, having exhausted (temporarily) my appetite for kinky group sex and looked out the window long enough to realize that the invention of Outdoors had skipped across the pond and made it to Europe, where the French had adopted it enthusiastically, I opted to go poking around it.

Just, you know, to see what it was all about. I didn’t expect that the Europeans could make Outdoors to compete with the famed Outdoors factories of the Pacific Northwest, which manufacture such popular classics as Stunning Basalt Cliffs Which Fall Off Dramatically Into The Sea…but I was curious anyway.

The walls of the castle were covered with ivy vines, which I gather are something of a requirement for quaint picturesque castles in rustic rural settings.

The vines were covered with lovely blue flowers that bloomed for about three or four hours in the early afternoon and then closed up again.

There was a path through the woods that partly surrounded the castle, which led down to the water’s edge and also to the old ice house built in the side of an outcropping of rock. The old ice house was home to a single solitary fruit insect-eating bat, which I tried to get a picture of but sadly failed.

The ice house itself was kind of interesting. I was surprised to observe it was not stocked with cheap beer of inferior quality; my media and advertising overlords had led me to believe that that’s what icehouses are for.

At the edge of the river, the path snaked along the riverbank for a while until it met an ancient stone wall, part of some long-forgotten fortification or battlement or something, I reckon. It was interesting to think that this wall was built, stone by stone, by people who lived and died centuries before I existed, ad about whom I know absolutely nothing.

When I discovered the wall, I was joined by a lovely young lady named Emily who was part of the group staying in the castle. She thought that the wall and the river nearby would be a great place for a quick photo shoot, and I agreed.

The result is probably not safe for work, unless you work at Tantus or something.

Clicky this link only if you're not in a place where nekkidness in a picturesque setting in southern France will get you in trouble!

reCAPTCHA is Toast

Over the past six weeks or so, one o my email accounts has been flooded with spam advertising phony Internet “pharmacy” sites and penis pill sites.

It still blows my mind to this very day that people actually give money to these folks and actually believe they are getting real drugs, rather than corn starch and food coloring, in return, but that’s a whole separate issue.

The spam I have been getting differs from the ordinary, garden-variety junk “pharmacy” spam I get in that all of it advertises URLs belonging to social networking sites. Each URL is a phony profile of a bogus user, whose user information is nothing but a redirector to a spam site.

I’ve seen this happen before. Usually, it happens when some naive person decides to set up a niche social networking site of some sort, like a social networking site for professional engineers who work in Third World countries or a site for some obscure band or something, but doesn’t know anything about security.

The Russians love people like that. Nearly all Internet pharmacy sites, even (especially) the ones that claim to be Canadian, are run by Russian organized crime. The various crime gangs use bots–computer programs that automatically scan through hundreds of thousands of Web sites per day, searching for small social networking sites. When they find one, they attempt to create phony users. If they succeed, the bot software will start setting up thousands, or even tens of thousands, of bogus users, all automatically, and stuff those bogus user profiles full of ads for the phony pharmacy sites.

So you’ll end up with some Web site that’s dedicated to fans of some Brazilian soccer team or something, and it will have 27,498 users with names like “BuyCheapTramadolHere.” Whenever you visit the user profile page for the site, you get redirected to the fake pharmacy. The spammers then advertise the URL of the Brazilian soccer team site in their spam emails.

This is why it is absolutely essential that anyone who sets up a Web site that allows users to sign up and create profiles must, absolutely must, use some kind of system to prevent bot software from creating phony profiles.

Enter the CAPTCHA–those weird squiggly lines of text that you have to type in in order to fill out many Web forms. The idea behind a CAPTCHA is that a computer program can’t read the words, so computer programs can’t be used to fill out the form.

Organized crime has spent a huge amount of money and time in trying to figure out ways to break CAPTCHAs. Some of the most cutting-edge work in computer optical character recognition is coming from Eastern European organized crime. (Some Web services, such as Gmail, are worth so much to organized crime–mail sent from a Google mail server is almost never blocked by spam filtering software–that organized crime gangs have been known to pay unemployed Third Worlders a penny or so apiece to sit in front of a computer typing in CAPTCHA codes all day.) Another strategy that criminals have used to defeat high-value CAPTCHAs is to do things like set up phony Web sites offering free porn to people if they type in CAPTCHA codes first.

In the past, whenever I have received spam advertising a URL or a redirector hosted on a social networking site, the social networking site isn’t using a CAPTCHA. That makes it trivial for the spammers to create phony accounts to act as redirectors to their spam sites.

CAPTCHAs are such a mandatory part of good Web practice that there are businesses whose sole business is providing CAPTCHA generation software or services to Web owners. One such business is a company called reCAPTCHA, which provides free CAPTCHAs for Web site owners. Hundreds of thousands of Web sites, including many high-profile sites like Craigslist, use CAPTCHAs generated by reCAPTCHA.

And that’s where things get interesting.

Back to my inbox.

Like I said, it’s been flooded lately. I’ve seen literally thousands of bits of spam all advertising bogus profiles on various social networking sites.

Unsurprisingly, many of them are hosted by Ning, the failed and woefully insecure social networking platform cofounded by ex-Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen, and which today seems to serve primarily as a platform for spammers (as I’ve detailed here). The URLs in the spam look like this:

So in other words, about par for the course for Ning; it’s a sewer of spam, and since it recently fired most of its staff, it’s unlikely ever to improve.

But a lot of the other URLs I’ve been seeing aren’t hosted on Ning:

Those three sites (,, and have been hit particularly hard which each of them currently hosting literally thousands or even tens of thousands of spam profiles.

I visited these and other social networking sites that kept popping up in my spam, expecting to see that they were not using CAPTCHAs to protect themselves from bot software signups.

But that isn’t what I found at all. Instead, what I discovered is that every one of the sites I’m seeing that’s being attacked, including the Ning sites and the social networking sites not related to Ning, are using reCAPTCHA as their CAPTCH provider.

All of them.

Which suggests very strongly to me that reCAPTCHA has been busted. Organized crime has written, I suspect, software that is effective enough at breaking reCAPTCHA protection that it is effectively useless.

Adventures in Europe, Interlude: The Girl Who Spins Fire

The first thing I noticed about her was the fact that she spins poi.

No, wait, I take that back. The first thing I noticed about her, now that I look back on it, was that she is filled with joy. She radiates happiness in a way that’s very appealing and shiny; she’s a bright spark of joy in human form. The second thing I noticed about her is that she spins poi.

And fire, too, though I didn’t get a chance to witness that.

I didn’t bring my poi with me to Europe, which in hindsight was rather silly. She brought several pair, though, so we spun together at the castle, which was fun. She’s rather better at it than I am, truth be told. In fact, she’s rather better at it than most of the spinners I know.

And she struck me as being a deeply, profoundly happy person, which gets me every time.

Her name is L. Well, her name isn’t L, but that’s what I’ll call her here. She arrived at the castle after the rest of us did, and left before we did, which was really a damn shame.

Now, had someone told me on the first day we met that she would by the following day be doing obscene things to me with a strap-on, I probably would have said something like “I find that highly unlikely.” I don’t, as a general rule, often find myself in bed with someone I’ve only just met, even in Medieval castles with lots of kinky folks who are all part of the same poly netwo–well, maybe I shouldn’t say that, since I appear to be batting a thousand on that one. Every time I’ve been in a Medieval castle with lots of kinky folks who are all part of the same poly network, I have found myself having kinky adventures with a person I’ve only just met. Perhaps some recalibration of my internal model of self is necessary. Hmm. I will ponder this more.

In all seriousness, though, I feel tremendously thankful for the opportunities I had during the trip to France, and privileged to have met the people I did.

And I’m not just talking about the slinky hex. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an enthusiastic fan of slinky hex in all its many forms, and it was a lot of fun, no doubt about it. But a lot of the things that have stuck with me from the trip were less about that then they were about getting the opportunity to look at things from a different perspective. seinneann_ceoil, L, and I spent a good deal of time on several occasions talking about privilege in all its forms, for instance, and applying those ideas to a place where they aren’t often applied, polyamorous relationships. (I have a very long post brewing about polyamory and privilege that I’m working on with seinneann_ceoil and zaiah, which I’ll likely be writing soon; I have just under a thousand words of notes on the subject, and it’s turning out to be fairly difficult to write.)

And did I mention joy?

There’s something about happiness that really does it for me. She is a very happy person, at least in my experience of her, and that’s incredibly shiny. I really, really dig happiness. Combine it with smart and introspective and confident and expressive, and…yeah. It’s…yeah. I mean, seriously, do you see those socks? Those are very happy socks.

One of the nice things about joy is that it’s a bit like ebola: extremely infectious and hard to defend against. I am very happy that she made the trip just a bit more joyful.

Adventures in Europe, Chapter 29: What Rhymes with “Slinky Hex”?

It’s a trick question. There are many things that rhyme with slinky hex, like blinky rex or tinky dex or linky necks. The answer that’s probably on your mind, though, is “kinky sex,” at least if you’re a veteran, seasoned pervert like I am.

Choose about a score and change of smart, creative, sex-positive folks, make sure they’re all veteran, seasoned perverts, make ’em all members in some sort of capacity of the same amorphous poly network, and put ’em in a 14th century castle in the south of France, and a certain level of slinky hex is the inevitable result. And just to clarify, when I say “a certain level,” I mean “rather a lot.”

Now, had I had my wits about me, rather than being addled by a day-long ride in a van with more than a dozen other folks and all their various and sundry bits of luggage, musical instruments, computers, sex toy bags, and other assorted implements of destruction, I would have photographed every room of the castle immediately upon our arrival, before the debauchery began. As it was, I barely managed to get any shots of the castle’s interior, and had to rely on the fact that another of our entourage was more proactive in that regard and kind enough to dump her camera’s card onto my laptop.

This is the main downstairs living area of the castle. This room, like the upstairs turret room, was soon converted into a play space, a process which had already begun by the time this photo was taken:

That’s a king-sized mattress; the fireplace is bigger than you think.

It’s also weirder than you think. There’s a big metal plate in the back of the fireplace, which is adorned with a relief sculpture that looks to me like a bunch of heretics being burned at the stake, which is rather grim decoration if you ask me.

There are also a bunch of big iron chains hanging down from the chimney, ending in a wide assortment of different hooks, some of them very large. I assume they’re probably for cooking or something; I’m sure I wouldn’t know about such things.

The odd religious imagery wasn’t going to deter such a group of seasoned perverts, though, and soon there was a roaring fire going in the fireplace. Not long after that, there was a roaring orgy going in front of the fireplace, though I didn’t attend that particular event as I still hadn’t met many of the folks there, most of whom had long histories with one another.

As the week progressed, though, I had the opportunity to engage in rather a lot of slinky hex, and to get many wonderful photos, some of which are quite lovely and one or two of which are quite sweet as well.

Most of those photos, you won’t see, as the folks involved chose not to have them posted. This is an unfortunate loss, but think of it like cell phone service to a Bronze Age tribesman: you can’t miss what you’ve never seen.

There are, however, some pictures which I do have permission to post. If you’re reading this at work, or you have delicate sensitivities easily offended by carnal images of the human form, or if you are living in China or Australia or any other place where sex is strictly forbidden by law, you might want to consider not clicking on the cut below.

If, on the other hand, pictures and descriptions of orgy in a castle seems your cup of tea, click here!

Lots o’ Linky-Links: Bizarre Edition

I currently have about 40 windows open in my browser, some of which have been sitting there for nearly two months, so you all know what that means! Time for another list of links bringing you wonders beyond imagination from all around the Web.

From the Department of You Can’t Make That Shit Up

In the news from Miami last October, a call went out to a bomb squad to defuse a suspicious package full of kittens. From the story:

Employees at a Cocoa Beach Social Security office called 911 to report a “suspicious package” was left on their doorstep with no postage or address. […] A quick examination by the experts determined the box’s contents was about to explode – with cute and cuddliness. Inside were two kittens.

Soviet Russia was a weird, weird place. When they weren’t building nuclear-powered lighthouses, they were floating projects to dam the Bearing Strait and melt the polar ice cap, which is certainly one way to get a northern port that doesn’t freeze over in winter.

In Italy, the land of the Pope and expensive leather shoes, the High Court annulled a marriage because the wife thought about having sex with other people. Apparently, she wanted an open relationship, he didn’t but married her anyway, then sought an annulment some time later because he couldn’t come to terms with her desire to do the deed with other men. The Italian courts called it a “virtual” betrayal, as opposed presumably to a real one. Thoughtcrime can apparently be a civil offense too. Wonder if he ever thught about another woman?

Unclear on the Concept: In Tennessee, a US judge wrote that military service should be open to lesbians, “thus giving straight male GIs a fair shot at converting lesbians and bringing them into the mainstream.” This would not apply to gay men, who he wrote “spread disease at a rate out of all proportion to their numbers in our population and should be excluded from the military.”

And in more political nuttiness, the new US subcommittee chair on environmentalism, right-wing religious conservative John Shimkus, says that global warming can’t possibly be happening because it contradicts the Bible. His reasinong for believing that global warming (and any other form of environmentla distruction) can’t ever happen: “I want to start with Genesis:8, verse 21 and 22, ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of man even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done. As long as the earth endures, sea, time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.’ I believe that’s the infallible word of God and that’s the way it’s going to be for his creation.”

Too Cool for Words

Tron: Legacy may have been a lame, half-assed attempt at a movie with dialog so astonishingly awful that Jeff Bridges actually wrinkled his nose while he was reciting some of his lines, but it gave birth to what is arguably one of the coolest things on the road: the street-legal lightcycle. This gorgeous piece of machinery comes complete with a helmet with cool light effects as well; here’s a picture:

I love urban decay. I love large-scale engineering projects. I love bizarre Russian cold-war excess. So it’s probably no surprise I’m a big fan of EnglishRussia, the Web site that dedicates itself to all things bizarrely Russian. One of my favorite EnglishRussia posts these days is this photo shoot of an old, abandoned Russian submarine base located in the Ukraine. If I ever make it back to Eastern Europe, I’d dearly love to see this place. (Also on EnglishRussia, the collection of Cold War military vehicles converted to tractors and construction equipment is pretty fun.)


It wouldn’t be a linky-links collection if it didn’t include sex. First up, for all you tentacle lovers out there, comes Necronomicox (link NSFW), customizable silicone sex toys inspired by the Cthulhu mythos. Cthluhu may be sleeping, but I’m coming!

In more technical news, it turns out that the pain centers in the brain are active during female orgasm. This handily explains why some forms of pain can enhance sexual gratification, and also shows just how complex the orgiastic response is.

And speaking of pain and sex, this article on non-consent and humiliation fetishes, excerpted from the book “Yes Means Yes,” is a good read. It talks about being both a feminist and a sexually submissive woman, something I’ve long said is not actually a contradiction at all.

Science and Technology

It still, to this day, blows my mind that people actually believe in homeopathy, the notion that water can somehow remember “mystical energy vibrations” from having things dissolved in it in such small concentrations that not even one atom of the supposed active ingredient is left in the “medicine.” According to this line of thought, if you have a headache you want to get rid of, take one aspirin, crush it into fine powder, dissolve one tiny speck of that powder in a bathtub full of water, and then take one drop of the resulting liquid, and that’ll fix you right up. This clever homeopathy vs. science metaphor nicely illuminates the silly reasoning–and I use that word very loosely–behind homeopathic “medicine.”

Research into schizophrenia is starting to suggest that a viral infection early in life, during a critical period of brain development, may be linked to schizophrenia later in life. This so-called “insanity virus,” or other viral infections which disrupt brain development, may be linked to other types of mental illness as well.

From Information Is Beautiful, which has linked to some of my sexual infographics in the past, comes this interactive Mountains out of Molehills chart showing the things we’re afraid of, extracted from media scare stories about various purported threats. The relationship between the level of danger (in terms of number of lives lost) and the level of fear is really interesting; people are about as scared of bird flu (which kills less than 300 people a year) as they are of swine flu (which kills 18,000), but are barely even aware of killer wasps, which kill 11,000 people a year.

Something that I’ve dreamed about for years is now one step closer to reality: flexible subdermal LEDs that can be implanted under the skin. Forget boring old-tech static tattoos; give me glowing tattoos, oh yeah! Though I think I’ll wait for the 2.0 version, myself.

Just For Fun

I’m Comic Sans, Asshole — a spirited defense of this much-maligned typeface that it’s so trendy to hate.

A world of fragile things

Tuesday morning, my friend Scott and I went out on a photo excursion of the waterfalls around the Columbia Gorge.

I’ve explored the falls before, in the summer. In winter, they’re a very different place, almost alien in their beauty.

The path up the side of Multnomah Falls, entirely encased in ice. Getting out just this far was treacherous, as the walkway along the base of the falls was covered in a thick layer of very slippery ice. A sign warned against traveling any farther, on pain of a $300 fine and visit from the sheriff (who, I would hope, would have better things to do than to pay personal attention to tourists who climbed too far up the path). The sign didn’t say anything about ending up in a pool of one’s own blood at the base of a 200-foot cliff, which I think might have provided a greater disincentive to the overly ambitious.

In another few months, this will all be green again.

Click here to see more huge, bandwidth-destroying images!