Always pay your Pony Mercenaries

I took my daughter to see the new My Little Pony: The Movie (2017) which I admit that I enjoyed as a daddy-daughter activity and since I’m a brony myself, I got to see it on the big screen too. My daughter loved it and I thought the film was ok, super safe plot with less of the charm of the show itself. But serviceable for fans and kids.

But what I wanted to talk about today is a repeating lesson from these predictable plots that it really should be a tv tropes (but I couldn’t find what it’s called if it exists). In both the History of England podcast and other historical stories there is this saying that comes up over and over again. “Always pay your mercenaries!” this is because if you don’t, they’re usually the ones with the physical power to clobber your untrustworthy ass back into the dirt and take your now liberated land, your treasury or anything of value as payment instead. And it’s happened A LOT in history.

In kids films and tv shows this trope is repeated over and over again. It’s a way to show how a second in command can flip sides from an untrustworthy big bad guy to the side of good. Usually because the big bad has promised something and then either can’t deliver or just won’t because they believe their now unbeatable.

I find the trope to be handled clumsily usually. It’s wheeled in to fit in a plot that needs an about face, but it doesn’t usually earn it. This is because the big bad has to be very stupid. Not just unusually cruel or nasty (which is how it’s framed) but actually dumb. This doesn’t teach kids that there’s a sense of trust and professionalism that your enemies will have between themselves, but that they’re going to be unrealistic bumbling back stabbers. (take note UK Tory party!)

To have a good bad guy, they have to have motivation AND competence. A thin plot will often have “take over the world” fill in for motivation and for competence, well that’s a combination of sheer luck or destroying the competence of the good guys. Thin narrative gruel when a writer employs both at the same time.

So if you feel like having a world where military conflict is going to appear from time to time, you have employ some military nous and really think about what a conflict would look like. You don’t have to have brutal murders in your pastel pony show, but you do have to imagine good and bad guys as competent agents able to deduce strategies and counter strategies.

Why do I expect so much from kids shows? Because I’ve seen just how many great kids shows can be done right. When watching Avatar the Last Airbender, did anyone think the Fire Lord Ozi was a fool who wouldn’t pay his generals or mercenaries? No. We thought he’d pay them and then set fire to us in our dreams, he’s a scary SOB. Even Azula kept her ‘friends’ close and only lost it when she tried to over power them with a fear base power play. When Azula turned on people, it was earned, there was a journey the character had gone through and alienation seemed very likely as she misunderstood how politics is really played with friendships and rarely with threats.

So when I see the Storm King refuse to honour his agreement with Fizzlepop Berrytwist and cause her to switch sides and turn him to stone… well there just wasn’t really anything developing that. Storm King is a jerk, but he’s not earned anything because let’s be honest the villains don’t get much screen time and we just can’t understand their relationship at all. We can only assume that the Storm King has no idea how to pay mercenaries, despite seemingly being in charge of both a sizeable army and long term control of a sizeable amount of land. All things that require logistical competence.

So. Don’t have invading armies if you can’t read military basics and a bit of history. That’s all I’m saying. Or at least, read the Saxon invasion of England for ideas about how defaulting your mercenaries will play out.

Your Company on Free Software Design

I don’t know why I get so wound up by Alan Pope‘s apologetics in the latest Ubuntu Podcast. What he says isn’t materially any different from what he’s said in the past and I doubt very much that his mind can be swayed from the arbitrary centre he always post-ad-hocs for himself after all these years.

So in a way, this is just my own bellicose frustrations. And I reserve the right to make a fool of myself on my blog when someone on the Internet is wrong. Full disclosure, I’m an Inkscape developer and when people argue design is harder without Adobe, I let me pride get in the way and you get fun ranting blog posts.

Adobe’s to Gnome’s

First let’s kick Pope back in line for choosing ‘The Gimp’ of all the Libre-Grahpics tools when comparing tools designers use. Firstly a comparison to Illustrator is just daft since The Gimp is a raster tool and Illustrator is a vector tool. Secondly comparing the oldest and most baggage laden brand in the Libre Grahpics cannon to anything else, just because you can pick and choose your open source straw man project to compare something favourably to, is cheap and unfair.

Gimp isn’t a design tool, it’s an old world grab bag of part-time design, photo touching and sometimes art tool. It’s got it’s issues and most of those boil down to “It’s old”, “It tries to do too much” and “It’s got an awful lot of opinions”. But mostly that it’s not the wow-wee latest chrome plated project that all the kids are working on these days.

It’s the Product That Matters

Consequentialism is the ethic of caring for the end result. The argument that Ubuntu’s design is the only thing that matters is for the one step arm chair philosopher. What is the ‘product’ that we want? It seems somewhat obvious that the product is a well designed Ubuntu. But, a well designed Ubuntu isn’t sufficient to make Ubuntu a success. It requires a strong ecosystem of Free Software projects providing the functional tools that sit on top of all that shiny pragmatism. Some of the users are going to want to have capabilities which designers have. Tools that work to do design.

Unfortunately, those tools don’t get any advantage from their distributors. So they’re not stretched and matured by the mistakes that the undoubtedly well trained design team would make trying to use the available Free Software tools. Libre Graphics design tools would benefit from the attention of Ubuntu’s own internal graphical opinionators. That’s right, “Libre Graphics tools needs YOU! to make them fail for your project TODAY!” Because if you don’t try and then fail to do your designs in Ubuntu, who will?

Best tool for the Job

It’s true that the total throughput in the short term of new hires is going to be higher with Adobe tools. That’s what their Adobersities teach them. But the best tool for the job often depends what you are trying to do.

Just making a poster for your high school band or a new company banner ad? Use your Adobe monoculture training. It’s the mainstream dominant cultural monopoly that suppresses the Linux desktop needlessly, but it just doesn’t matter when you’re working in a regular design job and the company’s ethos is elsewhere.

Best system for life

But. Want to Change The World ushering in the next great industrial and political revolution with freedom and beauty for all? Well that’s a culture and political thing. An ethos. Now you want to have all your staff really on board with the company product. Because the company product is a symbol of something bigger than just a semi transparent left leaning app list. It’s about grand ideas and it has important things to saytm. It grabs the minds of people through a mixture of competence and radical frankness that we may be a repressed minority with petty bigots barring our way to functionality, but we’re going to fight to make our ideas, the better ideas, be THE ideas of the future.

Or you know *yawn* you can er, what was I saying, yeah, something, about moving the buttons or was it *yawn* making the next version exactly the same as the previous dozen while completely *yawn* forgetting any motivation for doing anything at all.

Community

I think Canonical’s design team haven’t had a good ethos given to them. Their own company’s ideals about spending time on making it better for everyone instead of just yourself and caring to make a community beyond the company walls. Yes. It’s not the job you’re paid for, it’s the job you should want to do if you want to believe in a company like Canonical doing great things with it’s great ethos. Passion for design should go hand in hand with a passion for Free Software designing.

And if a company can’t enthuse a captive audience like a set of well paid employees into believing it’s core ethos… Well that speaks volumes about the strength of that ethos in that company. Unfortunately.

Apologist

Cartoon by David Hingley (https://www.youtube.com/user/TheTitaniumBunker)
So to conclude. I don’t like Alan Pope’s ideas. He’s a fine man, but a terrible philosopher. An apologist. I think he’s wrong about Free Software and wrong about what symbols and ideas mean to our users.

But it’s ok to disagree and I hope he (and Canonical’s much abused design team) can take this on the chin. If they ever read it that is.

Too much? Too harsh? Too wrong? Tell me below in the comments.

Does Restaurant to Another World Critique the Fantasy Genre

Restaurant to Another World is an Animated television show by Junpei Inuzuka. It tells the story of a restaurant in Japan which is open during the week to regular customers. On Saturdays it closes to regular customers and instead accepts customers through a different door from where odd characters from a completely different world appear.

The show is structured in way that focuses on the Saturday patrons. As they discover the doorways that lead to the restaurant, as they enter into our world and as they are kindly invited to enjoy the food prepared by the chef.

Each person who comes is blown away by the food. Be they royalty, adventurers or dragons. The reaction is always amazement at the quality, the perfection of the food and the consistency of it. We hear stories of how they experience a little bit of our world in terms that would cross the cultural barriers between the real and fantastical worlds (i.e. food)

The back stories make it clear how difficult their world is. Despite (or because) of the existence of mystical creatures like dragons, magic and knights with giant swords. There is much suffering in between any epic story line and continued hardship which is softened by, but not extinguished by, visiting this restaurant once a week.

This, I think, serves to highlight just how ridiculously blessed we are in the modern world to be surrounded by such riches. That we’ve become numb to our good fortune. That our tv and films provide us escape into fantastical worlds that would actually be more dangerous, more difficult to survive and less fun. But we desire to experience these worlds without being able to see just what we’d give up.

The survival horror genre is much like that too. If everyone died, and I survived, what a world I could build by starting from scratch. It’s tempting. And rarely do shows like this focus on the cornetto of truth, that we have such wealth already.

The gratitude of customers from the other world, the way they treat the door as a treasure or sacred, directly informs us about how we could readjust our world view to look upon the simple pleasures of food and the security and safety within which most of us live. We could be happier with what we have.

It’s a quiet animation overall, which only touches lightly upon the epic of the other world. An epic which would be the central concern of any other shows is thrust to the backdrop to hang over the patrons like a cloak, but never detracts from them coming in, ordering amazing food and enjoying the break from that epic.

The chef, for him, he likes making food and likes making people happy. There’s no malice or unfolding narrative for him other than a life well lived through meeting people, making them happy by making them food and maybe trying a foreign flavour every now and then.

Anyway, what do you think? Is this quiet show an answer to big loud epics or is it something else? Comment bellow.

Waste to the Top

Humans are interesting creatures, we are animals that need a certain amount of resources to survive and then again some more resources after that to make life easier, or just less likely to collapse after a trial.

But on the other hand we’re social beings which brings with it a competition innate to nature as much as hunger which drives us to greater social standing. To prove that social standing is important one only has to look at how stress can be measured by how big your house is compared to the houses near to where you live. Think about it for a second, not your house compared to all houses, but your house compared to your immediate neighbours.

So we have this drive to prove ourselves to our peers. That we’re just as good if not better than everyone. This might explain why most people think they’re better than the average for driving, it’s just a part of the whole ego and social standing system.

We also live in a world of terrible waste. I should say, it’s not the natural world that’s wasting, it’s the human world that is using more earths than earths per year and those earths only furnish a tenth of the people with SUV level consumption.

I think that these two things are linked. The passion for proving your place in the social order and the huge amounts of waste. It certainly makes sense that we’re always hitting the upper buffers of what’s available to exploit and never seem to have enough. Because our frail egos depend on having more and proving more. We’ve encouraged this system of waste, with advertising that targets the social climbing “aspiring nature” of consuming products and the way governments want to keep people happy with more and more consumption… this is especially dangerous with energy.

What’s ironic is how egalitarianism has caused some of this. Think about it, in the past if you wanted social stature, you’d fight for it and earn actual titles and patronage or demonstrate piety, politeness or intellect. But when we dismantled all alternative social standing devices to make everyone equal, what we did was leave the last man standing to dominate. That last man of inequality is of course capital. So money and specifically ability to purchase largess becomes the only way to show others your standing. Not to say largess is a new thing, oh lord no, but now it’s pretty much the only thing.

As an environmentalist this is all frightening. And I’d dearly like to think of ways to change the way we talk about and think about the issues of waste.

And I see some movements over the years. More people take pride in recycling, or reusing supermarket bags.

But I think we have to go further, much, much further. Entire nations have to somehow change what national pride is based on and what each person inside considers important for their social position. A full 180 would be using the amount of resources you’re not wasting as a mechanism, you can see these in those letters you might get from your water or gas company comparing your usage to your neighbours.

But that doesn’t have to be only way to show standing. We could get all the ego buffs we ever could want online, the social standing of being the best, most police, most rational debater. Or the most helpful contributor. Or perhaps the best player in Wesnoth. It doesn’t actually have to matter and you don’t need to get really deep philosophically. It only needs to be something you can compete it, something that’s visible to you and your neighbours and if it includes your actual physical neighbours, so much the better!

What do you think? What would you use to show you’re better than everyone else?

Story: Over here

To whomever Finds this,

I don’t know how long I have to write, for once, my brevity rather than my verbosity is sought. For you see, I am hunted by something unholy, and I don’t know how long it will let me write here at this desk. I hear the wail of the storm outside that brought this upon me and wonder why I’m spared. I only hope that this warning finds the next owner and that they can understand what happened here.

My story started rather joyously, for, you see, I had the good fortune of being in the company of the new Lord-Lieutenant of all of Ireland, and he had promised that, in exchange for my support in his settling the Kings local affairs, I would be granted lands and a house more splendid than anything I could have looked forward to with my standing in England.

Foolishly, I know now, I also took someone very dear with me on my journey, my grand daughter Felicia. She was, quite tragically, orphaned at age eight by a terrible business in York County that I would rather not go into. She had accompanied me for two years since, and I had enjoyed her youthful naiveté and playful inquisitive nature. In our exchanges I taught her of the high ranks of England and introduced her to many great families who she may one day hope to marry into. I didn’t care for too many servants to come between us, as the dear child being my only remaining family, was special to my sentiment and a cure for my ongoing progression in years. I would always remark to myself how grateful I was to be succeeded so graciously and fortunately by this one remaining heir.

But outside it is still ghastly, thinking of her now hurts so much, and I still do not know why I’m being allowed to continue to document what feels like a last testament. Perhaps the spirit is toying with me before it gets me as it has gotten the others…

…Yes, I should explain. I’m so very sorry about them. I journeyed from London to Drogheda with my three servants and my kin. My dearest friend, the Lord-Lieutenant, met with me for tea there, and we discussed our plans, oh so very many political plans, which I now not care much. The one which finds me here had us planning to allow a fellow Lord to have his way and build his new dock in Kinsale. The local millita was proving obstinate and unreasonable, even with requests from the Crown. My new job was to bribe or otherwise convince the locals of the British plans and further the strength in trade from the Americas. I was given this house here in Dunderrow to be close enough to have control but far enough to not be in danger of attack.

I moved in here last week and was just getting settled with Felicia enjoying the trouble of it all. I remember sending messages to the village to have new furnishings sent to more properly dress my new home here in Ireland.

It only took but five days to break the peace of the fine springtime with an unholy storm, which creped over the landscape, and from the north and upon this house it struck. The wind and the rain battered the windows angrily. Going outside was like entering a winter, even though the calendar would suggest pleasant warm showers, it was freezing and the foreboding dark from clouds even in the midst of the day did nothing for my mood.

I don’t say this candidly of course, at first I thought they were suicides since the nature of their demise would suggest it. One by one they ended themselves in the same spot on the grounds. Mrs Crawdford, my cook for fifteen years, was the last to walk with apparent calmness from the tallest part of the building in the howling wind and cold thunderous rain with myself calling out to cease. Her eyes filled with some other scene, and only the surrounding weather showing the emotion of the danger she was in. I was in terror that my dearest grand daughter would soon find herself calmly taking her life in repeat of what I had just seen. I quickly got together our things and decided to make way to the village despite the weather.

Calling after Felicia in the house left no reply. I searched where I knew she should be, but there was only the grand fire place still warming the only human part of the house, abandoned without struggle. Wrenching at the thought of the worst, I became unstable and grabbed at the mantle to steady myself with tears. I caught in the very mirror above the fire a series of fine cracks as they starting running over the glass before my eyes forming the terrible words: “your kin is to the land in debt and warning”

Shocked and upset, I must have succumbed right there as I brought myself up from the floor an hour after. I still can’t believe what I saw and what it meant for my dearest. All I know is that she is gone, the monsters of this land have taken her from me. That is how I come to write this, in anger at the land that took my happiness and in misery at my misfortune to be subjected so.

It’s only a matter of time before the awful wailing outside goes abroad to darken some other shores and I can quit this place forever, or either what malicious force caused my suffering will also cease it soon as I would welcome it. Only you who find this letter will know which.

CLt. Arthur Mercal

Originally written: 2011-11-30

Responsibility in Software

Pepper & carrot creator David Revoy has created a good blog post that goes into the problem that he’s personally had with the new release of Inkscape 0.92.

The issue with text and svg is actually kind of complex. It’s at the junction of specification, feature management and dealing with old formats. But it’s also a lot about how Free Software projects deal with users to a degree too.

This is because Inkscape is entirely volunteer driven, which means when Inkscape fails for us developers, only our pride is hurt. But actually out there in the big world there are real people who will be materially hurt by a bad inkscape release.

And my frustration is that there’s no serious Free Software way to connect developers to users in that essentially material way that binds them strongly. I’ve been banging the Money and Economics drum for A VERY LONG TIME, but fellow developers are just not interested in the idea that either Free Software could be a job of service instead of indulgence and that there really is a responsibility that we quite often neglect when we don’t have the right resources to deal with them properly.

This isn’t the case for all projects. Quite a few projects have key developers that manage to turn their pet project into a real full time job. OK so they’ll sometimes get some bias from their employer and the project can turn corporate, but that’s the trade off.

This is where the Inkscape projects really hits the wall. It’s a very big and useful project, that has an incredibly poor user to developer material binding. We need about 50 cents from every inkscape user to hire ten to twenty full time developers, managers and ancillary support. Of course the money would likely be bunched up into a few hands, but the project yearns to be in the greatest number of hands and not a few big players.

And maybe that’s the big barrier, a cultural one. Inkscape is built on the idea that all developers are equal and the project can be driven forwards in many directions by lots of developers at once.

I really wish I had some solutions. But given Inkscaoe’s current issues, I’m going to focus on actually fixing the issues we have and I’ll have to come back to how we solve the resources problem more fundamentally.