Posts Tagged ‘gadgets’

“Less Lethal” Weapons

August 10th, 2011 No comments

Public Domain image of US Navy pepper spray demo.

After viewing the likely-to-be-censored Al Jazeera documentary “Bahrain: Screaming in the Dark,” it’s particularly creepy to read this August 1 article from Alternet about less lethal weapons available to or anticipated by the military and police around the world. The technologies include blinding lasers, microwaves and sound weapons. Of course, I knew about them all from watching The History Channel. But then, I’m not some Alternet hippie, now, am I?

Here’s Alternet’s Rania Khalek with her take:

The demand for non-lethal weapons (NLW) is rooted in the rise of television. In the 1960s and ’70s the medium let everyday Americans witness the violent tactics used to suppress the civil rights and anti-war movements.

Today’s rapid advancements in media and telecommunications technologies allow people to record and publicize images and video of undue force more than ever before. Authorities are well aware of how images of violence play out publicly. In 1997, a joint report from the Pentagon and the Justice Department warned:

“A further consideration that affects how the military and law enforcement apply force is the greater presence of members of the media or other civilians who are observing, if not recording, the situation. Even the lawful application of force can be misrepresented to or misunderstood by the public. More than ever, the police and the military must be highly discreet when applying force.”

The global economic collapse coupled with the unpredictable and increasingly catastrophic consequences of climate change and resource scarcity, along with a new era of austerity defined by rising unemployment and glaring inequality have already led to massive protests in Spain, Greece, Egypt, and even Madison, Wisconsin. From the progressive era to the Great Depression to the civil rights movement, Americans have a rich history of taking to the streets to demand greater equality.



The Terrafugia Transition: the Future of the Flying Car

July 17th, 2011 1 comment

About a year ago, the UK’s The Engineeer reported that the newest hope for a Future Filled With Flying Cars, the Terrafugia Transition, was likely headed for airports in the United States. It had just cleared a major regulatory hurdle in the United States when the FAA had allowed manufacturers an extra exemption in their attempt to qualify in the “light sport” category of aircraft.

That’s important why? Because aircraft in the light sport category only require about 20 hours of training to fly. It means that craft need to be under a 1,320-pound limit, but the FAA unexpectedly gave Terrafugia an extra exemption of 110 pounds. That means the folding-wing craft will probably qualify. But according to an article today in the Daily Mail, shortly after that story things looked dicey, when the FAA requested changes amounting to something like $20 million.

Well, the U.S. military came to the rescue, inveigling the Boston-based Terrafugia into its $60 million plan to develop a flying Hummer. (I’ve been working on that for years, too, but the damn flight attendants…scratch that, no, no, I just can’t go there.) Once the FAA approves the Transition, it’ll be a small matter for the European authorities to clear it, too, since they tend to follow the FAA’s lead on small craft.

Anyway, the Transition is far more promising than this bizarre vehicle, which showed at the Bangalore airshow…and appears to be an economy car that someone staple-gunned a wing on the top of.

Importantly, though, the Transition isn’t the sort of fly-by-wire thing that was trumpeted at the end of last century by Davis, California-based company Moller, which planned its Skycar to be flown on an automatic system that guaranteed cars wouldn’t run into each other in the air. That proved out of reach, along with some of Moller’s other technology — and Moller declared bankruptcy a few years back. By all accounts, the Moller Skycar is dead, and it looks like the Terrafugia Transition assumes its Jetsons crown. In general, the flying car category is the resting place of many wacky designs, as well as fantastically bizarre claims from “experts” — like those from NASA who said, in the press for a 2007 design competition, that “45% of all miles traveled” in the future might be by “personal air vehicle,” or ultra-small plane (aka “flying car.”)

The short version? We won’t be zipping around city skies any time soon or flipping bitches between the Twin Peaks TV antennas. The Transition is flown just like a light sport plane; the wings fold up in 15 seconds at the touch of a button and you can stash it in your garage or drive it on the freeway. It needs about 1,500 feet to take off, but in the U.S. it would be unlawful to fly it randomly off the freeway.

The original article at the Engineer was saying the plane/car would likely go on sale for about $194,000, but the Daily Mail is now saying it’ll be closer to $250,000 in the U.S. That may sound like a chunk of change — it does to me — but it’s actually not completely out of step with what a new small plane costs nowadays, and most small planes don’t hit the highway unless it’s in a bad way. A new single-engine Cessna, for instance, starts in the low $100,000s, though you can get one used in good condition for a heck of a lot less than that. The Terrafugia Transition is said to get up to about 42 miles to the gallon on the ground. The Daily Mail says it drinks high-octane gas, but I’m not clear on exactly how high-octane. Usually I would assume that means AvGas, the typical fuel for small planes in the United States. But it looks, from the photo above, like it actually means straight-up road gasoline, srsly.

The advantages of a flying car over a light airplane are many, and will be obvious to anyone who’s ever flown in a small plane to an airport and then had to arrange ground transportation; getting a cab to come out to the kind of places they tend to stash recreation-friendly small-plane airports is sometimes pretty challenging. It’s one of the (many) reasons seaplanes are so popular places like Alaska, where one can tether a plane to your dock and not have to worry about finding an airport.

Plus, from below, it looks like a hammerhead shark:


Tags: ,

Japanese Company Neurowear Creates Wearable, Brainwave Controlled Cat Ears

May 9th, 2011 No comments

If you’re crazy cat ladies like everyone here at Techyum, then like us, you know how expressive cats can be. And I’m not just talking about the presents they leave after terrorizing the local rodent population, the gift of shredded curtains, or loving tokens of having eaten too much food too fast and being overcome with the spirit of sharing in the hallway in the middle of the night.

No, I’m talking about their adorable ears. When your kitteh is pissed off, cat guardians know that the ears are often the first indicator that you’re going to lose a pint of blood if you don’t stop petting immediately. Or, perky and inquisitive ears adorably tell you that kitteh is interested in what you have to say, especially if you’re speaking the language of can opener or treat.

To the delight of cat owners like me that like all things kitteh perhaps a bit more than I should, and definitely to the excitement of furries the world over, Japanese company Neurowear has produced a prototype of brainwave controlled cat ears to be worn by humans.

I’ve done a significant bit of research on brainwave controlled consumer products. I have covered Neurosky and OCZ for CerebralHack, visiing both companies and tested their products, including OCZ’s Neural Impulse Actuator (NIA) and Neuorsky’s Brain Computer Interface (BCI) games. Video of me at Neurosky using their BCI and moving objects in the game with their headset and my brainwaves, is here.

(We love Neurosky on Techyum: don’t miss our post about their X-Wave Mind Interface Device for the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch)

So it’s with great interest that I’m thinking about what it would be like to wrap a set of Necomimi’s on my head. Necomimi is a combination of the Japanese words for cat and ear): they look likea cat ear headband a teenage girl might buy at Claire’s (in the mall) around Halloween. The band has a sensor on the forehead area that transmits neural impulses into the rig, which causes the ears to move based on what kind of signals it receives. The response is said to be from thoughts or moods – but in my experience with BCI, it is actually difficult to control as they require a strange combination of relaxation and focus. According to Psyorg, the ears “stand straight up when the wearer is concentrating, or wriggle and turn slightly when amused, or lay flat when tired or bored, demonstrating what the company calls, an ability to reveal emotion.”

But we may not find out how well the Necomimi works, if at all, for a while. It looks like one prototype has been made, and was taken to a conference with an exhibit hall – but the Neurowear website and their Facebook page are brand new, and quite sparse. So little is to be found about the product or the company, I would think it’s a prank – if they hadn’t shot this video of people trying out the Necomimi at the Smile Bazar convention in Shibuya, Tokyo (April 28):

Regardless, I want a pair really bad. In black. And yes, I’ve emailed Neurowear asking how to get a set of Necomimi’s for review, as I’d gladly cover them for CBSi. I really sort of need a set of Necomimi… So far, the company (if they’re really a company) has not responded to inquiries. Keep your paws crossed.

Video Shows iPad Was Predicted 17 Years Ago

April 29th, 2011 No comments

A recently discovered research video, filmed 17 years ago, remarkably predicted the arrival of the iPad.

Scarily accurate, the video predicts the form factor of the iPad – an impressive feat given the era of the film was produced in was dominated by gray desktop PC and CRT monitors. It pre-dates the emergence of the flat-screen monitor or the all-in-one computer. Also accurate were the weight of the device, the touch-screen interface and one of the most popular uses for tablets – catching up on news.

In explaining the possibilities for tablet-based reading of editorial, the film introduces the concept of embedable video within a story – again something that was not currently possible back 1994.

Perhaps the only significant prediction that is wildly incorrect is that the content for the tablets would be delivered by storage cards inserted into them, rather than the Internet. Given that the Internet was already gaining traction within early adopter and academic communities in 1994 it is surprising this wasn’t considered as a more likely delivery route.

The film which was produced by former media-technology and publishing firm Knight-Ridder, now owned by McClatchy.

Tags: , , , ,

More Fun With Drugs and Submarines

February 15th, 2011 No comments

Screencap from the CNN story.

As if the U.S. submarine fleet didn’t have enough to handle what with all their nuclear missiles and nicotine fits and all, now they have to worry about running headlong into Colombian narco-subs packed to the rafters with cocaine.

According to a report in RTT news picked up by CNN:

The Colombian Navy has seized a fully submersible submarine believed to be used by drug cartels to smuggle cocaine to Mexican shores.

Powered by two diesel engines, the 31-meter-long fiberglass vessel was found hidden in a jungle area in Timbiqui in south-western Colombia on Sunday, media reports quoting Navy officials said on Monday.

Capable of traveling nine meters below water surface, it was the most sophisticated drug smuggling submarine the Navy had found so far.

Navy officials said the ready to launch submarine could carry four people and up to eight tons of cargo.


And, having been to that region of the world a time or two, I’m gonna lay odds that the interior probably smelled like cigarette smoke.

Even though it’s built out of fiberglass, you can tell from the shape of the thing that this vessel is miles ahead of the more typical narco-trafficking “semi-submersibles” that the Colombian Navy started intercepting in 1993. Those puppies don’t go all the way underwater and are essentially commercial boats that have been thoroughly refitted in a way that’s as thoroughly ingenious as it is haphazard. It’s not like the Cartel wants to qualify for maritime insurance from Lloyd’s of London.

This screencap from an earlier VBS.TV video shows that, as the Colombian officer in the documentary explains, Colombian smuggling vessels are built out of cigarette boats, covered over and fitted with pipes so the crew can breathe and the engines can pump out exhaust. This one below looks pretty crude compared to the new discovery, which has a conning tower and could travel fully submerged.

Screencap from VBS.TV

I am reminded of the case of Ukrainian-Jewish-Israeli mobster Ludwig “Tarzan” Fainberg, who was expelled from the USSR in the 1980s and became the most prominent Russian mobster in the United States during the huge influx of the Organizatsiya into the U.S. in the 1990s. At the tail end of his career as a federal informant, he tried to buy a Russian Navy sub for use by a Colombian narcotics-smuggling operation. The quoted price? $5.5 million.

In any event, the Colombians never got their Russian sub — at least not from Fainberg. His deal never went through, because the investigation into him was wrapped up and, in light of his cooperation with the U.S. authorities, he was deported to Israel following his conviction, rather than being incarcerated in the U.S. (Israel later shipped Tarzan to Canada, where he was arrested and re-deported for being involved with the “sex trade,” whatever that means.)

Not like they needed it, apparently. The new captured sub is, by my estimation, about a quarter to a fifth the size of the smallest Russian naval diesel-electric subs (which, in any event, aren’t made out of fiberglass).

I’m betting this one is a hell of a lot easier to park in the jungle than Tarzan Fainberg’s would have been.

The Hawaii Chair

February 9th, 2011 No comments

You know those things where you’re not sure if they’re really stupid or the most awesomest thing ever? They’re both, and this is one of the stupidest, most awesomest. I am thrilled to live in a world where someone invents, develops, and markets a hula chair, and sends it out into the world to waggle its hips back and forth with this divinely ’70s infomercial.

In case you’re slow on the uptake, this is an office chair that lets you do the hula while you work. “If you can sit, you can get fit” is the general idea.

This is what the marketeers say about it:

“Use the Hawaii chair while answering phones, using the computer, balancing books or filing paperwork! You can hardly call this work! With the Hawaii chair, it takes the ‘work’ out of your workday!”

…Which I’m damn sure it does. There’s a good goddamn reason why up until now I’ve made it a policy to work at a desk and do the hula at the luau. If I tried to work in this thing while wobbling back and forth, I swear I’d puke my roast pig and poi all over the manuscript of my latest potboiler.

Apparently Ellen DeGeneres agrees with me; she found that she couldn’t even talk on the phone while shimmy-shaking her ass in the Hawaii Chair:

This thing was apparently all the rage in Blogistan about three years ago, which is when Ellen featured it. But somehow I missed it, thus denying me the pleasure of three solid years of almost constant amusement just knowing there’s such a thing as a Hawaii Chair. But hey, why mourn over things passed? Today is the first day of the rest of my life. And a damn fine life it’s gonna be, because now I know there’s such thing as a hula chair!

Tags: ,

Water-Powered Jet Pack

January 12th, 2011 No comments

No need to despair about the flying car! The blog Techfyre points me toward a water-powered jetpack being flown over the Thames as part of the London International Boat Show this past week. Running off a water-hose intake, the JetLev jetpack can achieve a height of 30 meters and go 22 miles an hour.

Turns out you can find out lots more at The manufacturer describes the technology thusly:

Unlike conventional aircrafts and jetpacks, the innovative Jetlev concept greatly improves thrust-to-weight ratio by locating the propulsion engine, fuel and related systems on a separate vessel tethered behind the jetpack, and uses water as the jet propulsion medium because its high density can carry vast amounts of power at much lower velocities, and generate nozzle reaction forces much more effectively, than gases.


Check it:

Wanna know my very favorite part of the video? The disclaimer at the beginning:

What to think, then, of the fact that you can get your training on The YouTube?

Anyway, the fact that the JetLev can’t carry its own supply of water, of course, limits it applications, but as for having beaucoups fun while looking weird and slightly ridiculous, it seems to be perfectly applicable.

The Daily Mail says the thing costs £110,000, and says that it’s recruiting dealers, and you can fill out a form to be considered. It’s also licensed the technology to developers in Germany and Dubai.  The site still says it has “plans” to make a model available for demonstrations in Florida starting in November 2010, and that:

We are planning a limited rollout in select markets including South Florida, Hawaii, Bahamas, the Caribbean and the Asia-Pacific region, hopefully by December 2010. Other regions are also under consideration.

Given your other jet pack options, like commissioning a custom-made rig from Jet Pack International, the Rocket Belt, buying one from a more questionable dealer or building one yourself, if you’re dead-set on jet pack recreation, the JetLev looks like a bargain.

Tags: , ,

Print-On-Demand Human Organs

January 10th, 2011 No comments

Late last month, Stephen Harris of the UK magazine The Engineer wrote up the staff’s Top 10 Technologies of 2010. Most year-end top-10 lists are reasonably predictable, and this one’s no exception, sporting the iPad, glasses-free 3D screens, brain implants for the paralyzed, the Terrafugia flying car (sorry, Moller) and two important British aviation developments, a new stealth fighter and an awesome unmanned non-scramjet spaceplane.

But the point of a top 10 list, for me, is to see how my memory is and to see what I missed. By far the coolest thing I missed on this list was The Engineer’s article on using the additive manufacturing technology in 3D printing to create human organs. 3D printing, in case you don’t know, is where a 3-dimensional object is created by laying down successive layers of materials. It’s used extensively for industrial modeling applications, and has been proposed for use in paleontology (recreating fossils) archaeology (mimicking priceless artifacts for study), forensic pathology and crime scene recreation.

Now, as it turns out, at the end of 2009 the world’s first 3D “bioprinter” went into experimental operation:

The first ’3D bio-printer’ for making human tissue and organs became available at the end of last year. Produced for a San Diego biotechnology company, Organovo, by Australian automation specialist Invetech, the machine is being evaluated by research institutions studying regenerative medicine – the technique of growing organs using cultures of a patient’s own cells.

The bio-printer is based on research by a group led by Prof Gabor Forgacs at the University of Missouri. It combines two separate disciplines: the layer-by-layer building of solid objects through a printing-related technology; and the still mysterious ability of proteins and other biological materials to organise and self-assemble into complex structures.


Wikipedia tells me that the device uses Organovo’s proprietary NovoGen technology. According to The Engineer, the technology promises to make the organ transplant list “a thing of the past.”  The current rendition of the $200,000 machines are strictly for research purposes, and are clearly a few years away from being in clinical use even on an experimental level. But proposed uses include creating skin grafts for burn victims as well as producing arterial grafts and ultimately solid organs.

What I didn’t realize is that additive technology, which is the underlying technology behind 3D printing, is already used to produce medical and dental implants, according to a related article:

…By far the biggest adopter of additive technology is the medical devices sector and, around the world, many patients sport hip replacements, dental crowns or even cranial implants that have been produced by clinicians on laser-sintering machines. Indeed, the largest-volume application of additive manufacturing is in the production of hearing aids, with customised hearing-aid casings now almost exclusively made using additive techniques.

The Evils of the Nintendo 3DS

January 3rd, 2011 No comments

"You lookin' at me?" Miguel-Antonio De La Stripey, who played too many 3D games and now pays the price. Let this be a warning to you! Creative Commons image by Stefano Mortellaro.

Guess what? It’s not just your kid’s brain, reasoning power, and moral compass that may be obliterated by video games. It’s no longer enough that the video game industry has conspired to turn your child into a ravenous bugblatter beast who slaps prostitutes, shotguns rival gang members, kills mutant Bosses with chainsaws, grabs coins out of midair, invades Normandy, and chops on the green instead of putting, just for kicks.

If you let your children play video games, they won’t just murder you with hatchets; they’ll do it while cross-eyed.

I got the story from BBC News, but you can catch it over at Joystiq and Network World and even over at the Wall Street Journal. Nintendo put out a warning on its website that their new 3DS, which goes on sale in March, can cause damage to the eyesight of children under six.

The new device shows content on two screens, one as an overlay to the other. It doesn’t require those extra-cool 3D glasses, which means your children won’t only be cross-eyed — they’ll be far less fashionable.

The problem is, of course, that the device uses stereoscopic vision to create the illusion of a 3D image. Kids under six aren’t all that used to focusing their eyes on one point — hell, they just found out about pooping on the potty, what do you expect out of these kids?

Therefore, says the BBC:

Parents should turn off this function if the handheld is going to be used by a child under six years of age, said Nintendo. It said the advice it had received from experts also applied to other 3D content that younger children might be exposed to…The companies have also warned that watching too much 3D content can cause adults discomfort.

Having had my own eyes scoured by Avatar last year, I have to agree with the BBC on this one; I’m still twitching, and to this day I have to fight the urge to do violence every time I see a white guy with dreadlocks, or Sigourney Weaver. I already killed Giovanni Ribisi and stuffed his body in a steamer trunk, so yes, I think that could probably qualify as discomfort. Thanks, James Cameron.

Anyway, Nintendo isn’t the first company to suggest that 3D games can cause problems. Sony actually suggested that parents should get medical advice before letting children play 3D games on the PlayStation, which uses glasses. Toshiba’s device doesn’t, and according to the BBC article, “Toshiba has said parents should keep an eye on children watching its TVs that can display 3D images without needing glasses.”

Is that, like, the same way I should keep an eye on my kids while they’re field-stripping their AK-47s while sniffing glue, or is this more serious? Less serious? More serious? I can’t figure it out.

At least one eye expert told Fox News that Nintendo is probably overreacting, and the Wall Street Journal expressed bewilderment, stating:

Given scant evidence of medical dangers, it wasn’t known what prompted the warning from Nintendo, which echoed that of other 3-D manufacturers. Some people in the industry speculated that it was a prospective effort to fend off litigation.

…Derp! As with so many consumer technologies, the warnings are so overwrought and unclear that nobody can tell what the company’s thinking. Warnings like this exist for the benefit of corporations, who — in case you were wondering — don’t give a damn if your kid goes cross-eyed or not, as long as you don’t sue them.

Tags: , ,

Amazon Erotica Authors Complain of Content-Based Removal

January 2nd, 2011 1 comment

Creative Commons image by Mike Licht of

A kerfuffle has erupted recently among authors of erotica who have published Kindle titles on It turns out that those featuring content that violates Amazon’s notoriously vague “content guidelines” have been removed not only from Amazon’s catalog but from the Kindles of customers that have already bought that title.

As KDawson posted to Slashdot on December 15:

“The independent writers who publish on Amazon report that erotica books containing incest are being taken down with no explanation by Amazon, and removed from the Kindles of purchasers of the books. Author Selena Kitt writes: ‘I want to be clear that while the subject of incest may not appeal to some, there is no underage contact in any of my work, and I make that either explicitly clear in all my stories or I state it up front in the book’s disclaimer. I don’t condone or support actual incest, just as someone who writes mysteries about serial killers wouldn’t condone killing. What I write is fiction.’ Kindle’s own TV ad features a book with a story line of sex between a 19-year-old and his stepmother, defined in some states as incest (Sleepwalking by Amy Bloom).”


Then, on December 30, it was reported by Nom du Keyboard that the removal has been expanded to include male-on-male fiction on rape themes, pointing out:

“Recently word leaked out about Amazon removing titles containing fictional incest. Surprisingly that ban didn’t extend to the 10 titles of Science Fiction Grand Master Robert A. Heinlein that incorporate various themes of incest and pedophilia. Now, it seems that the censorship is expanding to m/m gay fiction if it contains the magic word ‘rape’ in the title. Just how far is this going to be allowed to proceed in relative silence, and who is pushing these sudden decisions on Amazon’s part?

…Nom du Keyboard’s post pointed us at  a post on the blog of Kyle Michel Sullivan), who has released male-on-male fiction with rape themes under the Amazon DTP (Digital Text Platform) system. Whether Sullivan’s work is intended to be erotic or arousing wasn’t entirely clear to me on first glance — but more on that later.

Amazon pulled Sullivan’s titles “How to Rape a Straight Guy” and “Rape in Holding Cell 6.” Sullivan quoted Amazon’s letter in response to a complaint about it:

During our review process, we found that your titles contain content that is in violation of our content guidelines. As a result, we have removed the books from our store.

Please note that if you continue to submit content that violates our content guidelines, we may conduct a general review of your account.  Actions resulting from such a review could result in a termination of your account.


Kyle wrote them back (in part):

I’m at a loss as to understand how my books violated your content guidelines.  They are not pornographic and have solid stories and meaning behind them.  The sex in them is not that much more detailed than what you find in Jackie Collins’ and Judith Krantz’s novels, all of which can be found in a library.  Also, you carry items that celebrate the torture and murder of women (see “Saw2″ “Hostel 2″ (oops) where a naked female is strung upside down and butchered so her blood can bathe another naked female lying under her) and the gleeful slaughter of human beings (“American Psycho”, for example).

Please don’t misunderstand me when I say I am not as outraged as Kyle Sullivan. It’s just that as an author, I’m not that surprised. Amazon’s content restrictions have always been bizarre at best. Their terms of service are complicated, like all terms of service, where the burden of understanding is on the user, not the company.

And what Amazon’s DTP terms of service say on the matter of content (last time I checked) is that no pornographic material is allowed. Amazon apparently feels empowered to decide what that means. I don’t roll my eyes at their willingness to make that call. I roll my eyes at their willingness to do so without telling me, as a consumer, what the hell they decided it means — except on a case by case basis, after the fact, and potentially after I’ve bought a title.

I have not read Sullivan’s work, so I have no idea if this is a case of a “serious” work of entertainment/social criticism/literature that happens to contain sexual and rape-relate themes. Whatever that word, “serious” means, let alone “entertainment,” “social criticism,” “literature.” It might also be a case of an erotica author pleading “redeeming literary value” in a reasonable argument for why explicitly sexual writing in all its forms should be allowed in any appropriate venue. I’m not so sure it matters, because that distinction is definitely in the eye of the beholder, and retailers like Amazon (or Barnes & Noble, or Waldenbooks, or Joe and Jane’s Bookstore) have made that call since time immemorial, on what grounds I couldn’t even begin to speculate from case to case.

As it pertains to Sullivan, since I haven’t read the works in question, I haven’t the foggiest idea whether we’re talking about “art” or “trash” or something in between — and I don’t care.

Amazon removing material from their site that they’ve arbitrarily decided violates their guidelines, after leaving it live for a few days, weeks, or months, is nothing new — virtually all hosting companies, credit card processors, blog engines, etc, have been doing this since dinosaurs walked the Earth. It is outrageous of them to do this, and it is a crappy way to do business. But it’s not new.

What’s new is that if you’re a Kindle consumer, Amazon can now come into your house and take your books from your Kindle because of their screw-up in not catching the content violation earlier.

As a reader of all forms of literature, and a ravenous consumer of books, I am thoroughly outraged by that.

The word “censorship” has been tossed around a lot in this matter, while all the Amazon apologists and kiss-asses flood the airwaves with their protestations that it’s only censorship if the govermment does it. I don’t know about that, exactly, but I’ll agree that censorship is a very dangerous word, and should be used with caution.

Anyone who has been writing erotica for any period of time knows — or, if they don’t, they’re not paying attention — that anywhere you write for (or publish with, even if you’re just photocopying your stories down at the Copy Kween) makes decision as to what they are okay with you saying using their property. They have no problem making money off of you, however, provided that what you say doesn’t violate, by their always arbitrary guidelines, what they consider sexually acceptable. Rape and incest, in explicit terms, has almost never been considered okay by publishers or bookstores, which is why they show up in bizarrely coded and camouflaged forms throughout the history of erotic literature.

The difference now is that consumers are purchasing works, paying for them, and then having them removed because Amazon has retroactively decided they shouldn’t have sold them in the first place. That is incredibly dangerous, and it’s designed to limit Amazon’s damage in the case of “violations” that were missed the first time around because there’s no meaningful pre-publication review process.

If this reminds anyone of 1984, it should. Back in 2009, people who had purchased an edition of George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eight-Four from a certain publisher found it had vanished overnight from their Kindles, owing to the little problem of who owned the Nineteen Eight-Four copyright. It seems obvious to me that the issue there was quite explicitly that Amazon was limiting its liabilities, not protecting consumers in any way. If Amazon had published a print edition, they would have been legally liable for all the books they’d sold that they didn’t swipe back from consumer’s bookshelves. Clearly, in the case of a print edition that would have been impractical. In this case? It just took the push of a button. No muss, no fuss — and nothing to do with Nineteen Eight-Four‘s content, in political terms.

But erotica, as any published erotica author knows (or should know), is a whole nother ball game. Publishers, editors, bookstores and other outlets, magazines and blogs that might promote one’s work — they all (and I mean ALL!!!!!!) make broad sweeping generalizations and restrictions on content grounds, of one form or another. Rape and incest have traditionally been two of the themes completely verboten in most outlets, and certainly any broadly commercial outlet. You can publish all the rape or incest erotica you want in a virtually unregulated and unrestricted non-commercial forum like the Alt Sex Stories Text Repository (or ASSTR — that link is NSFW, in a BIG way). But even publishing rape-themed erotica on your blog is a very risky proposition, which is why ASSTR is as bare-bones as it is.

The problem is, and always has been, that sorting out what is “pornographic” is as difficult as ever. Authors who claim not to be pornographic have always been treated differently than those who, without apology, submit that they write to arouse their audiences.

I’ll be the first to admit that there’s no good way to draw a distinction between “this story is pornographic” and “this story is a serious work of social criticism that may involve the sexual arousal of the characters and/or the readers.” Feel free to make whatever boneheaded broad, sweeping suppositions you like about “porn” vs. “erotica” vs. “literature” — retailers, and now de facto publishers, like Amazon, will make different suppositions, I guarantee you — and no amount of arguing with them will sway them.

That’s always been the big challenge of writing sexual work on challenging themes. Erotic literature pioneer Maurice Girodas of Olympia Press got chased around Paris by the gendarmes. He and his friends carried their printing press out the back door and into a waiting jalopy while the cops pounded on the front door. The Girodas family later published William S. Burroughs and Henry Miller.

Whether Amazon has censored a Burroughs or a Henry Miller or an Anais Nin or whoever by this action — or just a Thomas Roche, and who cares — I haven’t the foggiest idea, and I don’t plan to find out. Either way, it’s nothing new from a writer’s or a retailer’s perspective.

As a writer, as I alluded to earlier, I frankly don’t give a damn.

But I read a hell of a lot more than I write. From a consumer’s perspective, this trend is completely new, and is phenomenally dangerous. It must not be allowed.

In fact I would say that, as a buyer of books, Amazon’s trend of retroactively canceling sales and removing work from your virtual bookshelf is absolutely catastrophic. It renders Amazon completely unacceptable as a retailer. In the case, for instance, of a CD that I buy, then legally rip, then illegally distribute as a set of MP3s, it takes legal action to hold me liable for that.

If Amazon’s position is that their sale to you can be rescinded at any time without notifying you, it has ceased to be a retailer. It can’t even claim to be a library, because libraries are (nowadays, usually) free. It is, at best, the on-demand equivalent of a radio station, except most radio stations are free, too. Why would one pay for the temporary use of a piece of text that they might have snatched from their computer at any time, when in the vast majority of cases they could obtain the same text for the same price from a company that doesn’t have a history of changing its mind and taking its purchase back?

Again, I will deliver my opinion explicitly, in case anyone missed it: Amazon must not remove from customers’ Kindles books they have already sold to them.

Amazon, either lock down your content at the starting gate, or take your lumps when you profit from the sale of something you’re uncomfortable profiting from.

Tags: , ,