Movie review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Hollywood is awesome. Hollywood serves an important role in society, by warning us of the many dangers that bedevil mankind. For example, Hollywood teaches us that if we create artificial intelligence, it will kill us; if we genetically engineer potatoes, they will kill us; if we build self-determing machines, they will kill us; if we make contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, it will kill us; and, most recently, if we uplift another species, we will all die horribly.

Which, at least in the latter case, is not necessarily that far off the mark, as two or more organisms competing for the same ecological niche generally results in what biologists like to call “a bit of a sticky wicket.”

However, the fly in the ointment of this particular Hollywood trope is that there are currently just south of seven billion human beings on the planet, making us one of the most populous species of vertebrates in the whole history of ever, and therefore a rather difficult adversary to unseat.

Plus, we have, like, machine guns and cell phones and stuff.

Fortunately, Hollywood screenwriters are up to the task of disposing of such trifling little technicalities with the flick of a plot twist. Unfortunately, they aren’t up to doing it well. The end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes had me screaming “EPIDEMIOLOGY, MOTHERFUCKERS! DO YOU SPEAK IT?” in my best Samuel L. Jackson voice (which, truth be told, isn’t really that good), but still…EPIDEMIOLOGY, MOTHERFUCKERS! DO YOU SPEAK IT?

The movie goes something like this:

A group of CHIMPANZEES is chilling in the FOREST
MAD SCIENTIST: Check that out! An uplifted chimpanzee can solve that puzzle! Faster than that dude on Fox News! How cool is that?
RESEARCH DIRECTOR Can we make money? Because I’d really like to make money. I drive an expensive German car. Money is cool.
MAD SCIENTIST: An uplifted chimpanzee! Solving a puzzle!
MAD SCIENTIST: I can totally cure Alzheimer’s.
Cut for spoilers; click here for more!

More on the Mathematics of Sex Toys

I’ve been posting a bit about the Tormentor, a sex toy I’m designing for the sole and nefarious purpose of not letting the user get off. Quick recap in case you haven’t seen the project so far: it’s a vibrator connected to a programmable microcontroller that’s programmed to run the vibrator in random patterns for random lengths of time with random pauses in between, to keep the wearer sexually aroused but without being q-u-i-t-e enough to allow the wearer to come.

Because, yeah, I’m kind of a bastard.

My sweetie lapis_lazuli beta tested the first standalone prototype, the Tormentor version 0.2, and the biggest problem that arose was that the deice was just too damn bulky.

Part of this was the fault of using a 9V battery to run the microcontroller, but part of t was the fact that the Arduino Uno board I’m using is just plain big.

I mentioned this problem to roadknight last time I was in San Francisco, seeing how he’s also a micorocontroller hacker and general mad scientist. He suggested that I use a Teensy USB board in place of the Arduino, and even gave me a spare that he happened to have handy.

The name doesn’t lie.

Size comparison, top to bottom: 9-week-old Tonkinese kitten, Arduino Uno, Teensy USB

The Teensy is certainly that; it was the second-smallest programmable microcontroller in his collection. (The first was an obscure Chinese something something on a flexible board, about the height of a grain of rice and three times that long.)

I’ve started looking into building the Tormentor version 0.3 around a Teensy. It’ll take a bit of work; the Teensy lacks an on-board voltage regulator, for instance. I’m thinking of using a 6.3v lithium battery to drive both the Teensy and the sex toy; I’ll have to cobble together a recharge/regulator circuit of some sort, but it should let me get the finished gadget very, very small indeed.

The Teensy people don’t understand something that Apple does: User experience matters. The Teensy board is unlikely ever to knock over the Arduino as the reigning champ of DIY microcontrollers, even though the Teensy is smaller and has better technical specifications, because the user experience when it comes to programming a Teensy is, to put it bluntly, abysmal.

You don’t get no Arduino-style all-in-one IDE and device programmer, where you can type code into a window and press a button and bam! The device is working! Oh, no. The Teensy requires you to install a gcc compiler, then type your code in a text editor, run it through gcc with make, and then load the resulting hex file onto the board with a loader program. It’s archaic and barbaric, and it brings back memories of my Programming 101 class in college, in which I wrote 8080 assembly on a CDC Cyber 760 mainframe, compiled it to a hax hex file, copied it onto a floppy disk, then ran it on a CP/M machine using a hex loader.

Someone, please kill me now.

There is, though, an Arduino IDE plugin for the Teensy, and though it’s a bit weird and doesn’t run all Arduino code, it looks like it should work for me.

Welcome to Earthlink, where security is something we…wait, what does that word mean again?

Welcome to Earthlink LiveChat. Your chat session will begin in approximately 1 minutes. Feel free to begin typing your question.
‘Michael’ says: Thank you for contacting EarthLink LiveChat, how may I help you today?

Me: You have been hosting a “phish” page that is intended to steal sensitive financial information from people for more than two months.

Me: Repeated emails to your support and abuse addresses have been ignored.

Me: Months later, the phish site is still active on your network.

Me: Who do I need to call to get you to take responsibility and clean up your network?

Michael: What phishing site are you referring to?


Me: Went live on June 18, first notified abuse about it on June 20, have since sent a number of emails to support and abuse addresses.

Michael: Have you tried to contact 1-800-955-0186?

Me: I have not. Is this standard accepted practice for notifying Earthlink of phish sites?

Me: Can you explain why your abuse and support email addresses don’t appear to be read?

Michael: What abuse address are you sending the reports to?


Me: These are the abuse addresses defined in the ARIN Whois information and at

Michael: I am not sure why our Abuse department has not responded, but it is best you contact the number I gave you

Me: OK, I will give them a call. Let me say, though, that I am extremely disappointed by Earthlink’s lack of responsiveness and willingness to permit this kind of flagrant network abuse.

Chat session has been ended by the agent.

Welcome to Earthlink LiveChat. Your chat session will begin in approximately 2 minutes. Feel free to begin typing your question.
Please hold for an agent. While you are waiting, please feel free to begin typing your issue in the box below. Try to be as descriptive as possible. Once an agent is assigned to the chat, click SEND to transmit what you have typed.
‘Michael’ says: Thank you for contacting EarthLink LiveChat, how may I help you today?

Me: I just spoke to you about the phish site you were hosting. The 800 number you gave me to call directed me to a recording telling me to use the support chat, and disconnected.

Me: So, your abuse email doesn’t work and neither does the phone number. Any other ideas?

Michael: Can you please try again

Me: Try the phone number again?

Michael: i am not sure why you cannot connect to the number I gave you, as we have persons right now ready to take your call

Michael: yes

Me: I’m calling right now, ending up in a voicemail system. I am not an existing customer, I have not recently placed an order.

Michael: What is the system asking you for?

Me: The phone number associated with my account.

Michael: Just provide your phone number

Me: I say “none,” and I hear a recording about “We are experiencing high call volumes. Please call back later or use our online support at”

Michael: Try 1-888-3278454

Me: Ah, now someone is on the phone.

Michael: great

Michael: Thank you for using EarthLink LiveChat. Should you need further assistance, please contact us again.

Chat session has been ended by the agent.

(A long and frustrating conversation ensues, in which I try to explain to a person whose native language is not English what a “phish” site is and what the Web domain in question is)

Guy on phone: I do not see anything on that Web site.

Me: The top level of doesn’t give you anything but a 403 Forbidden. You have to go to to see the phish.

Guy on phone: Please hold.

Bad hold music plays…

Guy on phone: What company are you working for?

Me: Huh?

Guy on phone: I have been instructed to ask, what company are you working for? What is the name of your company?

Me: I’m not working for any company. I’m trying to tell you about a phish site on your servers.

Guy on phone: Please hold.

More bad hold music plays…

Guy on phone: I have spoken to our engineering team. They have inactivated the Web site.

Me: *does a little dance*

Seriously? This is abysmal. A (quasi-)reputable Web hosting firm that allows phish sites to remain active for months on its network, doesn’t pay attention to abuse reports, and makes people call on the phone to report phish pages? Now that is no longer the bad guys’ go-to for one-stop Internet fraud, it’s nice to see a domestic company like Earthlink stepping in to fill the gap.

I suppose I shouldn’t attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by stunning, jaw-dropping, jesus-christ-you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me incompetence, but still. Past a certain point, any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.

Assault and consent in the BDSM community

I had planned to spend this afternoon writing about the Long Now Project, which inspires some of the most optimistic parts of me and speaks to the parts of me that are profoundly in love with the potential of the human race.

Instead, I’m going to write about something that saddens me greatly.

A short time ago, a friend of mine was sexually assaulted during a play session with a person who’s prominent in the local Portland BDSM scene. The situation was complex, as these things often are; most rapes, whether they’re within the context of BDSM or not, usually don’t involve some perpetrator springing from a dark alley onto an unsuspecting victim. Yes, it can happen that way, but more often than not the victim knows the perpetrator, as was the case here.

This situation started out as consensual play, and turned into assault when my friend’s boundaries were overrun. And what happened next makes me especially disappointed and angry.

The purpose of this post isn’t to discuss the details of what happened. The things I’m going to say hold true regardless of the exact nature of the circumstances. Instead, what I want to do is talk specifically about the BDSM community, and how it often falls short of its own stated ideals, and often plays into cultural norms about men and women even while it supposedly enshrines values of individuality, negotiation, and consent.

Cut for potentially triggering content: rape, BDSM, consent, misogyny, and victim-blaming behavior

Movie review: Cowboys & Aliens

Okay, so I admit it. I am a tool of Hollywood. Every now and then, a movie comes out which I know I will see, despite the fact that my higher self is screaming at me in disgust and loathing for even considering the prospect.

Like the new Star Trek reboot, for example. I went to see it knowing it was going to be a travesty, and I was right. When the sequel comes out, I will see it, too, even though I know it’s going to be a disaster of a movie and I’m probably going to detest the whole shambling thing.

I saw the latest incarnation of the Indiana Jones saga adventure money machine, expecting it to be bad, and it turned out to be even worse than I could ever have dreamed. And if another one comes out, I’ll probably see it, too (and say snarky thins about it on my blog).

It was with that feeling I went to see a cheap matinee of Cowboys and Aliens.

It’s a gritty Western in which a rugged group of cowboys in a small Western town take on a rampaging group of aliens with spaceships and stuff. With a premise like that, how could it possibly go right? I mean, seriously, think Battlefield Earth for a prime example of what this idea is likely to lead to.

I was surprised.

And pleasantly so, which is a bit of a rarity. (That’s one of the downsides of being an optimist; an optimist is almost never pleasantly surprised.) The plot–there was one! I’m totally using that word non-ironically!–was surprisingly strong, and the move really was a whole lot better than it had any right to be. All it really needed was dialog, and it’d have been awesome indeed.

The film goes something like this:

COWBOY #1 wakes up in the middle of a DESERT
COWBOY #1 looks around with a STEELY GAZE
COWBOY #1: Hm.
COWBOY #1 looks at a GIZMO locked onto his WRIST with a STEELY GAZE
COWBOY #1: Hm.
COWBOY #1 hits the GIZMO with a ROCK. It FAILS to FALL OFF
COWBOY #1: Hm.
COWBOY #1 hits the GIZMO with a ROCK AGAIN. It still FAILS to FALL OFF
COWBOY #1: Hm.
Cut for spoilers; clicky to read more!