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.


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.


Cartoon by David Hingley (
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.

Review: goodnight Sweetheart

I’ve just watched the special for goodnight sweetheart (BBC Sept 2nd 2016). Goodnight Sweetheart was a sitcom/drama back in the 90s about a tv repairman (Garry) who finds a portal back to the 1940s during the world war London Blitz. This deeply flawed time traveler then flits back and forth between the 1990s and the 1940s with a woman in each era.

The show was and still is, very well written. The jokes are masterfully done and I appreciate how much the show dovetailed the two times.

** Spoilers below, but I think spoilers add to the experience **

The part I always found fascinating is the time travel stories. There’s one episode where he has to stop pearl harbor attacks, he fails, goes back to the 90s to discover everything changed. Apparently in his universe he was able to stop the attacks by pretending to be a British spy. There’s another where he finds a portal back to the 1800s by going the wrong way round and discovers that Jack the ripper is actually a time traveler from the 1940s.

So this is a sci-fi and a comedy. But it’s also a drama. The snarky biting tension between his wife Evon and him as his marriage falls apart, the pressure on his friend Ron who’s business and life is ruined by Gary’s self centered story. It’s the best possible balance and the three way split between funny, interesting and serious reminds me a lot of Back to the Future; where some quite complex (for mainstream) time travel is the backdrop for some funny shenanigans. The only difference is that Goodnight Sweetheart has more time over six seasons to develop and the drama is a lot more serious when it’s there.

I’m writing this so my friends in the USA can find themselves a copy and see if they like it too. It’s an off-brand British sci-fi of the best kind. Something I wish we did more of to be honest. But hopefully this series has enough seasons to really binge watch.

The new special which caused this blog entry was excellent. Although it’s not a good idea to watch it without having seen the original series. In fact the show should be watched in order as there’s a lot of layers that build on each other as the show progresses and even the jokes and often back references. For example Gary playing music from the Beatles during the war, and then everyone believing that the famous band stole all their hits from Gary.

It was very funny seeing Gary, who often would be the one to be ‘in-on-the-joke’ with regard to technology and time travel, be thrown into 2016, where he’s been missing for 17 years. He tries to use a public phone box, but they’re all not-phones (the gags are great). No one responds to him because they’re all on their phones and there’s just a ton of jokes at the expense of how things have changed since the 1999. The Adel song was quite sweet actually, it’s hard to imagine Gary learned the song in a single car ride, but I’ll forgive it because it fits so well for what he’s been through.

Well, if you’re interested in the show. Check it out now! and let me know in the comments what you thought.

Re: Control is Highly Overrated and Overpriced

Ken’ Hess has posted a blog article on ZDNet about how control over your own computer is overrated. This sentiment I feel is an attempt to embarrass people into moving their computing further onto the cloud.

This type of thinking also deeply effects the free and open source culture. Since one of the reasons for using FOSS is ultimate control (and responsibility).

From an individual perspective the goal of personal control is simple: You have this responsibility to provide this service and you do it with this property running this configuration. It’s human nature to want to control directly the service you’re responsible for. The other option is to pass over control to a good friend who you have a good positive relationship with (company or individual is irrelevant).

I think the failure of a speedy transition to “cloud computing” has been a failure in relationship building, but I’m sure that will come along in due time as the industry matures.

From a social perspective, having everyone on the same centralised system can introduce a fragility which can cause some interesting cascading and simple root failures which would be very bad for economy should enough businesses all move to the same few providers.

A lot of the people who would want their services taken care of are already not in a good mood from the 20 years of bullshit from the likes of Microsoft, as providers go we’ve had some fairly nefarious characters in control of everyone’s desktops.

I think it will take a while to turn that around, of course I’m putting my bets on distributed computing using things like the sheva plug or the free software router currently in development, because distributed resources that are properly designed can be much more interesting that centralised service prevision.

What are your thoughts?

Ubuntu’s Non-Free Parabox

Our venerable friend Jono Bacon has posted an interesting blog post concerning the outcome of the bug to enable the nonfree installation of Flash on Ubuntu. It would have manifested itself in the installer, by having the nonfree checkbox switch on by default.

  1. The problem: We can not have what we want in the default install.
  2. The current solution: Provide a set of proxy packages which can install the functionality after the installation, moving the liability and problems from Canonical to the user.
  3. The problem with the current solution: It requires manual user interaction.
  4. Problem with checkbox solution: It’s against Ubuntu policy and the Technical Board Voted it down.

I’m a big proponent of “nonfree offsetting” (few people are, but I’m sticking to my guns); If Canonical wants to ship nonfree Flash instead of almost fully working GNU Gnash, then they should be willing to offset their balance with adequate investment into the free software alternative; i.e. they should be putting money into Gnash.

It’s funny because I was talking to Rob Savoye, winner of this year’s free software award, at LibrePlanet 2011. Overcoming the technical barriers to finishing Flash 10 support in Gnash, now that there is good documentation from Adobe, is so close. But the only businesses investing in Gnash are embedded systems; systems who need a Flash player to work on ARM and other architectures. Red Hat isn’t one of them, neither is Canonical, and I tire of not hearing from these companies on why they can’t invest more into solving these issues with an economic nudge.

Even if you don’t want to give the money to Rob, then send in your own engineers to get the job done!

Back to Jono: his position is that this issue is down to design. In his world view, installing nonfree Flash is required, it’s the only option and the one that we offer when you install Ubuntu; let’s assume that’s right for a moment. He’s asking designers to mull over how to achieve the right kind of communication to users to encourage them to click on the checkbox: This in itself is a policy paradox.

Anything we do to encourage users to install nonfree, nonessential components, is simply against the Ubuntu policy of shipping free software and encouraging its use. It’s hard to claim that this is a balance of free vs. nonfree with a straight face when your stated aim is to encourage users to install nonfree components.

In the comments to the blog post there are some very good responses from Alan Bell and ethana2, but there are also some comments from users who I think are more pro-compromise then they are pro-free-software. An example from Cleggton (I don’t mean to pick on you personally Cleggton, you’re just the easiest to quote):

If we take philosophy out of the argument for a second, then it seems clear that the users who care whether they are non-free, patent questionable etc are the ones that are most able and informed to uncheck a checkbox. And the ones that aren’t aware of the difference are our new users, who need YouTube just to work out of the box, lets make it work and then lets educate them later.

I hear this kind of appeasement argument an awful lot. Users don’t care (so we’re told) and free software is too hard to achieve. Not everyone of our users is going to care, especially when we so rarely tell them about free and open source software and it’s practical ramifications to them personally. But even that doesn’t make it irrelevant. Our users expect us to care about the things that will benefit them. In fact they expect us to care for them with careful policies. Even if polices get in the way of jam today; they’re there to make sure there’s jam tomorrow and users trust us to make those calls on their behalf.

Besides, you know what your mother always said about getting your own way without putting any work in: It trivialises the issues involved and waylays expectations and the reality of our situation. Then it’s much easier to ignore real solutions like spending the time creating free software and instead continue to make excuses on why we should keep the toxic workarounds like the nonfree Flash player in our ecosystem.

What are your thoughts?

Video: Why Free Software Matters

This is my response to some very good comments on my last video entry which I felt should be addressed with another vlog entry.

I’ve attempted to explain why Free Software is politically important, as much as open source is important to creators; we must be supportive of Free Software for user reasons and not just consider our own hacker culture issues.

Video Problems: Go directly to the video on here and download the source mp4 here.

Personal: The reason for begging your indulgence with the video blogs is that I’m inspired to practice my speaking skills in order to further eliminate my stammer. From a young age I was bullied and called names and I have gotten much better since, but seeing The Kings Speech really brought it all back for me.

Angry Birds

God damn this game and it’s attractive graphics and addictive game play physics.

There is another game that we designers and game players could learn from when it comes to addictive and attractive qualities in software interfaces. I mean take a look at the way the interface is laid out:

It’s a selection of levels, you can see how many you’ve got to go through, enjoy, it’s not too many like a giant block of levels like you would see if every level was present at the same time. And most importantly it’s cute and attractive with drawn graphics on everything and decorating every space.

Your thoughts?