Office Hours with David J. Malan

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The popularity index of David J. Malan ’99, the lecturer of the hugely popular but also notoriously brutal Computer Science (CS) 50 course at Harvard College, skyrocketed after Harvard Thinks Big, a recent collaborative effort between the CEB, HUTV and the UC that assembled a team of 10 Harvard professors, each of who gave a 10-minute presentation on any topic that they are passionate about.

In that all-star lineup of captivating thinkers and speakers, Malan stood out with his energetic pitch for CS50, complete with an impassioned ripping of a phonebook to demonstrate binary search. He is the youngest speaker, with a statuesque figure and a sleek sense of style, and that definitely did not hurt.

Unsurprisingly, in the evening that shortly precedes Valentine’s Day, Malan emerged as the latest HarvardFML and ISawYouHarvard (ISYH) sensation, inspiring hordes of sexually frustrated posts that ranged from desperate pleas “Be my Valentine!” to sincere compliments of his attractiveness and charisma.

“The Guy Who Never Left”

Sitting in his office on the third floor of Maxwell Dworkin, Malan seems quintessentially “Harvard.” Seemingly plain and terse in his blue jeans and conservative blue sweater, Malan actually packs a boxful of pleasant surprises. Hailing from Connecticut, he spent his undergraduate years at Harvard, three of which in Mather House ­–“The best house!” he declares– went on to Harvard graduate schools for his Master and Doctorate in Computer Science, and is now lecturing in the College and the Extension School. He is, in his own words, “the guy who never left.”

“Almost,” he quickly appends, explaining that he left Harvard for three years, moving to Philadelphia for one of them for a startup, taught at Tufts for half a year, then continued to moonlight there for the summer.

“So I kind of left,” Malan says. “But I always came back.”

The Beginning

It is very hard not to be captivated by Malan. He has an interesting story. Originally a Government concentrator, he took CS50 during his second year at Harvard, and as they say, the rest is history. What started out as a whirlwind romance with an elective transformed over the years into a longstanding and committed relationship. It was love at the first p-set.

“It was the first time that, quite literally, homework was fun,” he says. “On the very last possible day, I changed from Pass/Fail to Graded status, and at the end of the semester, I re-declared my concentration as computer science.”

The event that sparked off Malan’s journey towards becoming a lecturer was, interestingly enough, his failed bid for the UC presidency in his junior year. You learn from your failures, and what Malan took away from this “miserable” lost was the realization that he needed to polish up his public speaking skills.

He joined the Harvard Computer Society (HCS), he said, with the intention of taking over their seminars program and the occasional classes that were offered to students on campus.

The HCS stint then led to a paid job as a Teaching Fellow at the Extension School, and finally the golden opportunity to lecture for the same course when its original lecturer unexpectedly stepped down. Malan, then a senior in his final semester of college, found himself lecturing for an audience of about 100 students, with his five or six friends as TFs.

“We all had a great time,” he reminisces.

He clearly did, because barely eight years later, Malan came full circle and took the lecture stand at the College, for the very same course that ignited his passion for computers in the first place.

It is the classic story of how a student arrives at Harvard with a preconceived notion of how his path at school and life will proceed, takes an unexpected turn, and never looks back. It is the story that you probably embody yourself, but amazes you all the same once you hear it directly from another.

Computers, Computers, Computers

Somehow, computers always find their way back into our conversation, leaving nary a tinge of doubt where Malan’s passion in life lies. He can talk about computers for hours, with a glint in his eyes as he savors the opportunity to engage in the one topic he loves the most.

I try to stealthily veer the conversation into more Voice-y territories, probing him about his social life and his experience at Harvard. Malan answers my inconsequential questions dutifully and thoughtfully, but I could tell he was dying to get back to speaking about programming and web applications.

During his time at the College, Malan was a User’s Assistance on campus and for three years, ran the Frosh IM program with his Mather roommate. It was during this period of time that he wrote one of the first programs for campus, which was to replace the piece of paper used at the time for registration with a website. That was when Malan taught himself how to make Website.

A typical day in his life now revolves around Harvard-specific application and coding projects like Shuttleboy, Harvard maps, Harvard tweets, Harvard news, etc., which are all hosted on CS50.net.

One gets the feeling that Malan treats and treasures these projects like a father would his kids–with much attention and pride. And in a way, they are his children. He excitedly broke the news to me that Shuttleboy –the application that allows users to access the shuttle schedule easily via text messages–received over 2,000 texts in the course of the past week.

When asked what he thinks a computer-less world would be like, he pauses before finally answering, “Both less stressful and less fun.”

What strikes me the most about Malan, besides his palpable love for the “geeky” branch of science, was that he evoked the rare sense of security that can only be found in someone so consumed in his passion that he remains oblivious in seeing his own allure.

“Dorky”, “boring”, and “very boring” are but some of the less-than-flattering terms he uses to describe his collegiate self at Harvard years ago.

Malan has a problem with CS50’s reputation as a “monster” course that undeniably prevents many students, including himself in his freshman year, from taking it. He called the concern valid but unfortunate.

“More than 70 percent of the class had never taken CS before, so its absolutely not the case that most students of the course had taken AP CS or were geeks in high school and knew everything there was to know about programming,” Malan clarifies. “It’s very much the opposite.”

“Finals Clubs or Fraternities?” I encourage Malan to answer one last question before walking out of his office, even though I already know the answer.

“Neither. That was never my scene. Though I was actually invited to dine at The Spee last night. I was finally cool enough to eat at a finals club.”

He finishes the sentence with a gentle smile that in many ways encapsulated perfectly who Malan is: kind, unpretentious, and almost unsettlingly inspiring.

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Kathleen’s Guide to Facebook Stalking

It’s Facebook Official, So It’s Real. Obvi.

By Kathleen French ‘13

We all do it. You first go through all the profile pictures—to see the best they have to offer. Then you scan the recent tags—to see what they really look like. If you have access to it on your phone, may the Lord be with you.

Facebook stalking.

It’s a phenomenon, but also an art. There are some people (myself included) who have perfected this skill to a scarily professional level. I have literally added people I met at a party while still at said party (thank goodness for cellular Wi-Fi). I know the ins, the outs, the in-betweens—you can even call me a Facebook connoisseur.

First steps: see if a) if he is in a relationship, b) which team he plays for, and c) if his profile picture is (or ever was) his avatar from World of Warcraft. If he passes this test with flying colors, there is still one more obstacle: interests. If he lists anything as elementary as “girls, girls, sports, oh yeah, and girls,” then I know it would be a wise idea to run for the hills because his conversation might be as stimulating as one with a dining room table.

Given the knowledge I have acquired through the wealth of my experience, and being the expert and philanthropist that I am, I have decided to become, my dear Harvardians, your stalking sensei. No worries, it’s totes legal.

The Guide:

  1. 1. Profile Pictures

If there are in excess of 40, then there are vanity issues at stake. If you see someone with over 200 profile pictures—just stop. Stop now. No, their physical appearance is irrelevant. They like looking at themselves. And that’s not okay.

  1. 2. Friends

Friends are important. It kind of sucks to watch re-runs of Will & Grace with your dog when you could be out partying with actual, living and breathing human beings.

If this number is less than 60 this means either a) they just joined Facebook and deserve a second chance, b) they, uh, don’t use this very often, which means that you should, uh, not look at it anymore, or c) they don’t have friends. If (c.) is true, I strongly recommend you reconsider your interest.

If you have mutual friends, congratulations! Your friends know this person in real life! Meaning (drum roll please) that the object of your affection actually EXISTS.

  1. 3. Personal Information

Now, this is particularly ambiguous terrain. It’s like jumping into the big kids’ pool without your floaties on for the first time, screaming “Oh, my God. The life instructor is so beautiful, but I’m drowning, and this sucks, and I’m going to submit this scenario to some form of an FML website.” (See http://www.harvardfml.com.)

Anyway, this area of Facebook is difficult to analyze to accurately evaluate a person’s grasp on reality and humanity. But don’t fret, Harvardians, it is possible. We simply have to do some categorizing.

CATEGORIES OF FACEBOOKERS

The Minimalists: These people display very little, usually only their email and birthday. The latter serves the primary purpose of making them feel special on the anniversary of the day they emerged from the birth canal by granting them more than 147 notifications. This is a deceptive little tactic, however, because it means that either a) they are the coolest people you will ever meet and don’t need to elaborate on their personalities because it couldn’t ever possibly fit in such a limited space, or b) they have no life. This creates a toss-up of pursuit. These profiles require more complex measures to determine the personality of people in question, via pictures and posts left on their walls. If all (actually, any will suffice) of these posts are from their moms, then I have nothing more to say.

The Braggarts: These list every achievement they have ever attained in high school and college on their personal page and, therefore, use it as a self-aggrandizing résumé to attract people, jobs, fans, etc. If you’re into that, re-evaluate your life.

The Ironic: You’ve hit the jackpot. These are gems of human flesh and bone who list “Religious Views” as something outrageous like “feet.” That’s weird. But I like it. Beware of the hipsters, though. They will steal your clothes and your Tao Lin books. Uncouth.

The Artsy/Profound: Usually these profiles comprise a smorgasbord of artfully listed fragments that claim said person’s interest. This can be done well or dreadfully. Many have tried, and many more have failed:

Fail: “Candlelight on my bedside table as I write with my quill pen… [smiley face emoticon].” Enough said.

WIN: “I enjoy burning old love letters.” Come on. You know you want to watch that go down.

The Musician: They are in a band and they make you very aware of this fact. Link after link after link. But to what, their Myspace page? No. Not okay.

Bands can be sexy, but there is a fine line: only good bands are sexy. Proceed to evaluating his/her musical group’s tracks. If a chipmunk would commit suicide with a Popsicle stick after hearing the first chorus, I recommend you consider sketchily un-friending them. Don’t worry—they probably won’t realize it for a couple months. Facebook is great that way.

The Norm: If none of the above really apply, this one is tricky. They don’t really walk any weird lines, so you have to be cautious. Check out the Facebook groups they’re in. If more than one includes the words “One Million Strong Against/For,” turn and RUN. Why? Because, frankly, it’s annoying. Stop joining those groups. Stop making them. YOUR MICROPOLITICAL ACTION DOES NOT SOLVE ANYTHING.

In addition to the above instructions on perfecting your lives and determining who you ought to love/marry/date/have long walks on the beach with, I must also leave this little nugget of wisdom with you:

For your reading pleasure (as well as my own personal satisfaction), the following is my construct of 22-year-old Eleanor Roosevelt’s Facebook profile, if she lived in good ol’ 2009. SHAMWOW.

Personal Information

ELEANOR ROOSEVELT

Activities: Not being cheated on by FDR, but he still cheats on me. FML. Getting crunk, writing sad poetry, violence, maybe I’ll be a better person later, getting my hair did.

Favorite Music: This kid just friended me on Myspace. His name is Elvis. He’s pretty good, but we’ll see.

Favorite TV Shows: Flavor of Love, Rock of Love, Rock of Love when they’re on the bus—there are just so many diseases! And OMG, that girl shat on the floor! There’s something so gutter-butt about Nibblz.

Favorite Movies: Juno… obviously. Reminds me of two years ago. NBD.

Favorite Books: When things were rough, What To Expect When You’re Expecting was a solid read. Other than that… Twilight. If it weren’t for Franky, I would find myself a vampire. Kinky.

About Me: I had a really bad phase I like to call the “Irish Tea” period, but we do not speak of it. I like the beach and dancing to “Get Low” by Lil’ Jon & the Eastside Boyz. I’m in a committed relationship with this guy who will probably be president one day because he’s fairly intelligent and stuff, but whatever. He caught my eye with that shiny Harvard degree, but he hardly ever texts me back. I have so many feelings.

Now readers, go forth and use your new knowledge wisely. Procrastinate on that paper and tag yourself in 30 pictures. And remember, stalking is never okay. Except when the person in question is unquestionably dreamy. Just kidding.

DISCLAIMER: This article serves as commentary on a social phenomenon popularly known as “Facebook stalking.” The phrase is not a creation of The Voice, nor does The Voice condone or encourage stalking in any form. Just making that crystal clear, you know, given our past. Please, please, don’t feature us again, E! News. At least, not for this.

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PfoHo House Masters – Nicholas & Erika Christakis

By Bonnie Cao

You remember that scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when John Corbett rolls up to the tiki torch-lit Portokalos house with his parents, and they’re all introduced by Toula’s father – mid-roasting a pig on a spit – to everyone and everyone’s second cousin, followed by a half-tackle, half-bear hug of pure, welcoming, exuberant Greek love? Stepping into the Christakis household is not far off – and not just because spanakopita was involved.

Those of us living in Pforzheimer Househave already seen our fabulous House Masters in action, from baklava in their backyard, to ownage of Currier in IM soccer. We know how lucky we are, and now it’s time to make you all embrace the jealousy you secretly feel inside.

Nicholas and Erika Christakis took on their roles as House Masters for Pforzheimer House this past fall, moving in with their three children, Sebastian, Lysander, and Eleni, who have all become a fixture of PfoHo life, frequenting both the dining hall and Grille alike. Rounding out the family are two adorable, rambunctious, furry puppies—Rudy and Elsa.

The residential housing system is nothing new to Erika, who spent her undergraduate years here at Harvard College studying Anthropology. She went on to earn a Masters in Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, and continued on to pursue a career in public health, first at Johns Hopkins University, followed by a period of work in international health. She then became the director of a progressive preschool, where her experiences showed her the “certain parallels between college students and preschool students.”

Christakis goes on to highlight the fact that both preschool and college mark developmental milestones for both students and parents alike as the students are essentially launched into the real world of playgrounds and dorm living. Glancing over at his wife as she elaborates on this analogy, Nicholas states plainly, “She’s one of the most broadly educated people I know.”

Before his inclusion in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2010, Nicholas Christakis trained as a physician and a social scientist, working originally as a hospice doctor. As he researched how to improve the care of the dying, he soon became interested in what was known as the “Widower Effect,” which delineates the phenomenon that when one person dies, the risk of the spouse dying goes up in what he terms a “non-biological spread of disease.” He now does research on health and social networks – how they form, how they operate, and what they ultimately mean.

Nicholas reassures that there were and would not be any sort of Big Brother-esque social experiments conducted within PfoHo. However, his work has affected him in his new role as House Master in different ways. He says that he become “more mindful of the effect of our behaviors and feelings, and how they spread through networks…and impact each other.”

The Christakises’ decision to become House Masters stems from a simple idea: “It really fits our lifestyle.” Their passion for people and life is evidenced through the constant bustle of their household and the constant excitement with which they treat each and every PfoHo resident. Their key goal as House Masters is to “signal to the whole community that we’re interested in them, [wanting] every student to feel connected and interested at every level.”

So if you walk over to the PfoHo House Masters’ home down Linnaean Drive, you will not see tiki torches.  Nor will you see pigs on a spit. You will, however, see lightboxes. You will see two small balls of fur hurtling towards you. And you will see the pflove.

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Sex Toys: Your New Best Friend

By Christine Yu, Lena Chen, and ‘Hand Solo’

I’m as big a fan of self-love as a newly sexually-awakened postpubescent, but sometimes a couple of digits just won’t do. That’s when I reach for my favorite vibrator made by Fun Factory, a German sex toy company. Before I came across their nifty invention, I’d tried a lot of toys that left me feeling dissatisfied, so I resorted to masturbation without technological enhancements. Though it’s cheaper and equally pleasurable (especially if you’re familiar with your own body and nimble with your fingers), masturbation alone can get boring and sex toys can add variety to the bedroom. Some women have a difficult time reaching orgasm and can get closer to their goal with the aid of a toy. For me, finding the right vibrator made me realize that sex toy shopping is a little bit like playing Goldilocks. You have to find the toy that’s juuuust right and there are a lot of factors that come into play!

According to The Tech’s Sex Survey, 13 percent of all MIT students have a sex toy. Overall, 16 percent of MIT women have toys. However, this statistic is as low as 6 percent for the females in the freshman class, whereas it shoots up to 26 percent for the females in the senior class. These numbers argue that sex toys become more prevalent as students go through their MIT career, and whether you’re a virgin or one-half of a couple, you can integrate toys into your sex life and use them to get better acquainted with your (and your partner’s) body and preferences. To protect your health and prolong the life of your product, keep in mind the following when purchasing and using:

Cost: Good toys aren’t cheap, but they don’t have to be outrageously expensive either. All of the products reviewed below are well-known brands carried by reputable retailers like Babeland, which only sell quality toys. Though it might be hard to justify spending triple digits (at some point, you’re really just paying for the brand), there’s a huge difference between a $15 plastic dildo made in China and a $60 silicone one that comes with a warranty. If the price makes you wince, it’s better to skip toys altogether. No vibe is preferable to a toxic vibe.

Material: Silicone toys cost more, but they’re hypoallergenic, easy to clean, and as close as you can get to the real thing. Rubber/jelly and latex toys are less expensive but are also porous, which makes them difficult to disinfect, and may contain phthalates, a common rubber softener which has been correlated with negative health consequences. Toys are also made out of hard materials like plastic, glass, and aluminum (used in Tantus’ Revolve and JimmyJane’s Little Chroma).

Safety: Toys made of rubber, latex, or jelly are porous and harder to clean (see below) so I highly recommend using a condom with penetrative toys made of these materials. In general, however, condoms are a good idea because they act as a barrier against toys with materials that contain allergens (latex) or dangerous chemicals (phthalates). Condoms are an absolute necessity if you’re sharing toys with a partner and if you’re switching between vaginal and anal penetration.

Lubrication: As always, don’t forget to lube up, especially if you don’t get wet on your own. Remember to keep the silicone lube away from your silicone toys or you’ll destroy the surface of the latter. Stick to the water-based stuff, which is safe for all materials, or use saliva when in a pinch (It’s better than nothing!).

Care: To prolong their lifespan, don’t put off cleaning your toys. Most toys will do fine with a warm water rinse accompanied by anti-bacterial soap, but rubber, latex, and jelly toys are more porous than silicone so they require extra rinsing to get rid of excess soap. If you want to make sure your toys are squeaky clean, silicone and glass products without electrical parts can be boiled or run through a cycle in the dishwasher (stick them in the top shelf, though).

This edition of Sex Ed focuses on products for women, but don’t worry, boys. We’ll be reviewing unisex and couples toys in an upcoming installment. In the meantime, the boys can read a review of the Fleshlight by “Hand Solo.”

Womolia ($99.95) & Femblossom ($99.95) by Emotional Bliss

CHRISTINE: Using silver ions as an antibacterial agent, Emotional Bliss’s selling point is the almost self-cleaning nature of their personal massagers. To clean it, it’s as simple as wiping it down with water. I don’t know about others, but I find cleaning my sex toys to be such a hassle. So much so, I’m hesitant to use them when I’m on a time crunch, even though I could really use an orgasm to wind down. This makes these toys perfect for those who don’t want to boil silicone after every usage. And, these toys self-heat! But, they never get too hot. I prefer the Femblossom because of its design. The Womolia (pictured above) is a bit too thick and long for internal usage, in my opinion, and for clitoral purposes, its shape is awkward. Out of all the toys I tested, Emotional Bliss also had the best speeds, but they’re incredibly loud. So loud that I consider it a major product flaw for college students— I think they’re louder than “indoor speaking voices.” It’s a small price to pay, though, for a quick orgasm, which the higher speeds definitely afforded.

Design: B+

Efficacy: A

LENA: The U.K. company Emotional Bliss has garnered a large following in Europe with its line of intimate massagers, which include the Womolia and the Femblossom. These are the only vibrators on the market that heat up by warming to the speed and frequency selected. Though the vibrations are strong enough to suit my preferences, the toys are also extremely loud so discretion is next to impossible if you’re not living in a single. I also wish they didn’t resemble shower heads and came in a sleeker design. Both are rechargeable (so you can forget batteries) and curved for comfort. One big plus: Since the products are made of Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE), which is non-porous, they’re super easy to clean and also contain an antibacterial agent that sterilizes the massager after it they are wiped with water.

Design: C+

Efficacy: B

Onye ($55) by Big Teaze Toys

CHRISTINE: I wanted to like the Onye. With its pretty satin-lined case, I thought I was in for a treat. Plus, it wasn’t terrifyingly large. If anything, it looked like a thicker, shorter version of JimmyJane’s Little Chroma, which is one of my favorite toys on the market. After stealing my AAA batteries from my TI-89, I should’ve known I was in for a disappointment. My batteries will be staying in my TI-89. The eight speeds are nice, but none of them quite did the trick. Plus, it’s very much like a bullet vibrator in the sense that the speed button is the same control which turns it on and off. In my opinion, this is just an overpriced, oversized bullet.

Design: C

Efficacy: D

LENA: The Onye, which comes in eight modes, is short, thick, and does the trick. As a 5’ 2” gal often intimidated by the giant phalluses on display at adult store, I appreciate smaller vibrators which are more realistic about the size of the orifices they’ll be used in. Made of hypoallergenic and phthalate-free ABS plastic, the Onye is aesthetically pleasing, but even if it weren’t, it comes in its own satin-lined case for discreet safekeeping. One big down side is that the button for the different speed and vibration modes is the same button that turns the toy on and off. No one likes being interrupted at key moments.

Design: B

Efficacy: B

Revolve ($89.99) by Tantus

CHRISTINE: The Revolve didn’t impress me, but I am not someone who has figured out how to give myself a G-spot orgasm. Plus, it’s incredibly cold (being aircraft aluminum). When I use it, I can’t help but think of smart balls and Kegel exercises, which don’t really get me off. I think that the Revolve is an afterthought for Tantus, kind of like how Brooks Brothers started designing women’s clothing — realizing they could make a profit by branching into an area they aren’t nearly as good at. Tantus is known for high quality silicone sex toys, and the butt plug they sent is by far my favorite silicone butt plug. However, I prefer my butt plugs to be made of glass, as I prefer silicone lube for anal play. Nonetheless, for those interested in high quality silicone toys, Tantus uses medical grade silicone.

Design: B

Efficacy: B

LENA: Unlike the other toys in reviewed in this piece, the Revolve doesn’t vibrate which, for me, means more work to get off. If you’ve mastered G-spot orgasms, however, the non-uniform curves make this toy your new best friend. The Alumina Revolve is made of anodized aluminum, a seemingly weightless material which initially feels cool until it warms to the temperature of your body. I’m the type of gal who insists on having sex with the covers on, not because of prudishness but because of sensitivity to cold. If you’re like me, run the Revolve under hot water first to warm it up. A bonus feature: It can also be unscrewed in the middle to be mixed and matched with parts from other toys in the Alumina line.

Design: A

Efficacy: B-

Little Chroma ($125) by JimmyJane

CHRISTINE: The Little Chroma is what introduced me to sex toys; so obviously, my thoughts are biased. It is arguably the quietest toy on the market, but what really makes it special is the replaceable motor. It’s depressing when a sex toy dies. With heavy usage, it’s easy to kill one in six months, so instead of buying a whole new toy, JimmyJane does what more companies should: selling motor replacements. Made of aluminum, it only has one real speed (arguably, one could not fully tighten it when turning it on, giving a slower result), but even then, I don’t think it limits the toy. I do wish it had more speeds.

It also runs on 2AA batteries, which surprisingly allow it to last up to 16 hours. In my long term usage of the toy, I find this number to be about right, which means it outlasts some of my rechargeable toys. It’s better for clitoral use, but it’s not super thick or super long, making it also a good toy for vaginal use. I’m impressed with JimmyJane’s display at Good Vibes. As a friend of mine put it, “if Good Vibes were a Best Buy, then JimmyJane would be the Apple display.” They market themselves with sleek designs, and for those not willing to drop $100 on a toy, I would suggest trying their smaller version with their iconic bullet (priced at $16.)

Design: A

Efficacy: A-

LENA: Also made of aluminum, the Little Chroma is one of the more affordable options in JimmyJane, a luxury sex toy company that is to vibrators what Tiffany’s is to jewelry. This is an especially apt comparison since JimmyJane is well-known for manufacturing jewel-encrusted toys adored by celebrities like Kate Moss and Teri Hatcher. This little vibe is one of my favs in terms of design and whisper-quiet to boot. It also packs a powerful punch despite its diminutive size. My only complaint? Though I appreciate the sleek and smooth shape, a curved shape would fit my body better. If you think you might have similar concerns, the company’s hefty Form 6 might be a more appropriate option.

Design: A+

Efficacy: B+

SaSi ($150.01) by Je Joue

CHRISTINE: The SaSi is not intuitive. However, for those willing to read an instruction manual, it can consistently give an orgasmic experience. Unlike other sex toys, the SaSi can be programmed with an individual’s favorite patterns to get off. It’s supposed to simulate cunnilingus, but I don’t find the speed fast enough (It has possibly the weakest motor of all the toys I tested.)

It has a ball-like item inside the toy, which can move up and down, left and right — in a similar fashion to a tongue; additionally, it vibrates and pulsates. It is probably the best thing on the market for oral sex simulation, but I’m not sure that I necessarily want my toys to be just like the real thing. Part of the fun of sex toys is that they’re a different experience.

Also, because it’s not user-friendly, it’s easy to push the wrong buttons and get unexpected results. It’s rechargeable, but sometimes it heats up too much. However, it’s easy to clean, with a slip-off silicone cover. It doesn’t look like a sex toy, although it slightly resembles a tongue. In its packaging, though, it looks more like a phone, sitting on a stand. I do commend the creators of SaSi for the sleek design and the plethora of options; I just wish it had a stronger motor.

Design: A+

Efficacy: B-

LENA: The Sasi is the most expensive and most impressive product of the bunch. Designed to simulate cunnilingus, this silicone device cradles your curves and gently massages your clitoris with a rounded tip that protrudes from under a silicone skin. By far one of the best options I’ve ever come across for women who don’t like penetrative sex toys, the Sasi comes with varied pre-programmed modes and can also remember which patterns you like best. The only thing that kept the toy from an A- is my preference for stronger vibrations. I tend to like the real thing hard and rough, and in that regard, the SaSi just isn’t quite sassy enough.

Design: A+

Efficacy: B+

Fleshlight ($64.95–69.95) by Interactive Life Forms

HAND SOLO: The Fleshlight represents one of the few mainstream sex toys marketed towards men that aren’t interested in playing with their rear end. It was designed by a SWAT officer, the manliest of men, so: Guys, there’s no reason to be a scrotum and be afraid of owning a toy.

The Fleshlight is a plastic container, vaguely approximating the appearance of a flashlight, with an elastomeric gel sleeve insert. And, in case it isn’t obvious, you insert your penis into the sleeve. The sleeve itself is very stretchy, and if anchored at both ends can serve as an impromptu slingshot. Although the container comes in different colors, its primarily point of customization is sleeve options.

A variety of options are available on their website (fleshlight.com), ranging from different “skin tones,” orifice depictions, and inner texture. When I bought mine a few years ago, there were several tones available, from caucasian to “pink” to african; the only options these days seem to be pink and “ice” (clear). Bummer! The orifice selection is abundant: options include the Lady (vagina), Mouth, Butt (anus), Mini-Maid (buttocks), and Stealth (nondescript). The inner texture selection is equally abundant: Original (plain 3/4”), Super Tight (plain 1/2”, rectum emulator), Ultra Tight (plain 1/4”), Vortex (diagonal ridges), Wonder Wave (vagina emulator), Super Ribbed (mouth and throat emulator), and Speed Bump (reportedly the most intense).

I have the Lady in pink with the Original texture in a black case. I figured that the Original was the most vanilla and would leave me the most satisfied by future ladyfriends.

The first thing you’re going to want to purchase with your Fleshlight is lube, because it is literally as useless as a paperweight without it. You can’t expect to give it some wine and kiss its neck and expect it to become lubed like a real vagina. The lube type is strict: water-based only! Silicone-based lubes will eat away at the polymer.

In use, it does the job. It does not emulate the act of “humping” by any means, and as someone who has tried clamping it to a desk with a Quick Grip, I can say trying that is less than satisfying. I would recommend hand-held use only. There is a cap at the back that can regulate suction, but it has only a very mild effect. I would recommend keeping it closed to contain the “effects.”

Speaking of effects, herein lies the Achilles’ Heel of the Fleshlight: cleanup. According to a few girls I’ve talked to, it seems much easier to clean a real vagina than this thing. First off: clean it immediately after use. If you wait, things start to dry and start to smell. Once, I was post-orgasmically lazy and decided to put on the front and rear caps and clean it “later;” later ended up being when I found it under my bed after a week. The cleanup from that was truly horrifying. But even if you wash it immediately, it is a pain washing the inside and outside of the sleeve, and then the many parts of the container. The inside of the sleeve is particularly difficult, as it involves stretching it to inhumane geometries to properly get a cleaning digit/utensil deep in. The sleeve cannot be boiled, so it cannot be sterilized easily, and thus should be used by a single individual only. Even after proper cleaning, the surface of the sleeve is a bit cohesive, and powdering it occasionally with cornstarch is recommended. It is for this cleanup regimen that the Fleshlight is docked points for design.

A final note about couples’ use: recommended. Giving your girl a second vagina to wield can be a psychological turn-on for her and a physical one for you.

Design: C

Efficacy: B+

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