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NNNNSFW San Francisco - birthplace of the gangbuster "startup" culture - also breeds alternative sexual communities and practices. Where better to host a small symposium on Sex Hacks? (And where better to encounter loyal Register fans crawling out of the woodwork to introduce themselves?).

The Center for Sex and Culture, a modest library-like room furnished with pews, this week hosted four presentations, which were so disconnected from "normal" sex as to veer from comical to creepy. But most were entertaining, if only accidentally.

Platform shoe, or shoe platform?

The creators of The Aphrodite Project make a big shoe for prostitutes, loaded with gadgetry. But they can't decide if their high-tech footwear is meant for self-protection, self-promotion, or sheer beauty. Which may be why it doesn't seem to do any of those things. The oversized, over-kitted shoes are, however, a brilliant self-parody.

The project website says it best: It is a "sexologically hacked shoe for sex workers," or perhaps "Social sculpture: an interactive, wearable device that is a conceptual homage to the cult of Aphrodite." That's "conceptual," as opposed to "practical."

In real life, what actual streetwalker would wear a huge shoe containing a semi-functional GPS tracker, a high-decibel alarm, and an endless-loop video player - the screen visible at sidewalk-height - which she might program with self-promotional, er, footage?

Only the most diligent and talented hookers would even have the opportunity to sport this weirdly "wearable computing," since all the shoes will be DIY: between turning tricks, she must buy all the electronic kit, construct her own magnetic-latched doors, mold her own plastic support structure, and cover it with fabric herself. Oh, and she has to wait for the instructions to be published in Make magazine this fall. Any working girl who could build this could probably earn more as an engineer.

Shot of the sex's workers shoe with lots of buttons

Gnudity

Say, as an engineer like green-haired Kyle Machulis of SlashDong.org, an inveterate sex-toy tinkerer who promises to open-source as many sex-toy interfaces as he can get his hands on.

He is a funny, frenetic talker, with lots of soundbites for an ubergeek audience("computer-sex interfaces are like fucking your printer driver"). He has lots of eager ideas on the mechanics and electronics of genital stimulation.

How many ways can one drive an off-the-shelf vibrator? With voices and music separated by bass and treble? With graphical icons representing whole rhythm-patterns sculpted for optimum effect? With the "rumble" outputs from game controllers, or HTTP queries from virtual Second Life paramours?

Machulis also works with "electro-stim" (mild electrocution), and with plain-old-mechanical back-and-forth stroking machines, but prefers vibrators because they're non-threatening, cheap, and easy to inject his precious signals into.

His is a typical geek pleasure; he waxes lyrical not about the nuance of teasing a clitoris, nor the yumminess of orgasm, but about the elegance of Fourier-modulated amplitudes, the coolness of using 2.5mm jacks as a standard interface, the patent-bashing benefits of Open Source. "I don't think even five people have actually built the toys I describe... I write about them mostly to get people interested in robotics and to educate them." True passion.

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