Thing I Learned About My Little Pony, By Watching My Daughter Watch My Little Pony

It’s happened. My 4 year old has found a franchise to latch on to. It’s not ideal: the one thing I’m the most allergic to in the world is horses. But if she’s into ponies she’s into ponies and there’s nothing I can do about that except embrace it. She’s got the toys, she’s got the bed-blanket, she’s got the t-shirt, and her favorite pony is Rainbow Dash. It’s a thing.

As an overprotective curling-dad, I consider it my solemn duty to learn about this thing that’s absorbing her attention. So I have been watching the show with her, trying to soak up the pony lore, learn of the details that make out this equestine construct.

The show follows Twilight Sparkle, a purple unicorn, as she visits “Ponyville” — the shining gem of the land of Equestria. You know… from equo in latin? Horse-land? Get it?

Moving on.

Twilight makes friends in Ponyville. Several of them. And she’s taught that though they are all different in appearance, interests, personality and even race, their friendship is the most important thing there is. When they’re all together, their friendship is literally magic. It’s in the tagline.

Sounds good right? It’s perfectly fine that my daughter watches such a diverse, female-positive and all-embracing show, right?

One of my favorite episodes of Lost — bear with me — is the one where wheelchair-bound John Locke cries “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” and then goes on a walkabout. This is at the core of the values I want my daughter to learn: if she can dream it, she can do it. For that reason I already know the answer to questions she might one day pose to me: “Can I be an astronaut, dad?” YES. “Can I be at the Olympics, dad?” YES. She’ll learn eventually that it might not be a walk in the park, but there’s no reason she should have some sort of arbitrary mental block put in place by me, preventing her from even trying.

Which brings me to Equestria. In Ponyville, there are three races of ponies. The ponies you know, unicorns who have magical powers, and pegasi who can fly and make it rain. They all live and work together seemingly in perfect glittering harmony.

How does this even work? How aren’t the only-ponies perpetually jealous of the other two races?

Ponies are literally born with predisposed skills. Unicorns have magic powers, one of them being that they can write. Pegasi can fly. Sorry Applejack, I suppose you have to manually pluck those apples for selling on the market to make ends meet. If only you were a unicorn you could just use magic, but hey, life’s tough right? Applejack is basically caste-blocked from ever advancing beyond her racially defined place in society.

The fact that only unicorns can write has its own problems. History is written by those who can, well, write… right? I hope everyone trusts the unicorns to be truthful. Better not upset them.

Ever noticed how My Little Ponies have back-tattoos? Applejack has apples, Pinkie Pie has balloons. Those are literal coming-of-age tattoos. Puberty isn’t mentioned, but it’s implied that once a pony reaches that age, whatever “talent” they have is stamped on their back. Forever. A visual indicator of what you are.

The stamps are called cutiemarks.

Back-tattoos aside (some of those are really lovely, I’m sure) I don’t know that I appreciate the idea that you even can have a talent as such—how about those 10,000 hours? What about multiple “talents”: which one gets stamped on you? And why does your one talent need to be permanently advertised to the world? What if your talent is not showering? If you’ll indulge me as I recall a history lesson about mechanical vs. organic societies, this “know your place” undercurrent that permeates Ponyville is a trait I do not find attractive. Also, if I am to ever get a back-tattoo I want it to be something I choose to get. Probably a japanese glyph I think means “fire” but in fact means “toast”. Something I can laugh at years down the line, not something that forever defines my place in the world.

Another observation was that every single pony in Ponyville is either beautifully styled and coiffed at all times. Or an unsightly donkey dragging a cart with a grumpy look on their face. In fact I don’t think I’ve seen a single handsome donkey on the show. They’re like morlocks.

One of the dude-ponies was called “Shining Armor”. A bit on the nose, eh, Lauren Faust? Also, why weren’t there any any girl knights? My daughter happens to love playing knights and princesses. She’s the knight, I’m the princess.

I don’t know what the lesson is. I think I wanted to vet the show, but having now watched one too many episodes with my daughter on the couch, I’m not sure there’s really a lesson to learn here.

Selma likes ponies, she likes watching them on the television with me. Perhaps she doesn’t have to learn about societal norms and expectations and caste systems and harmful stereotypes through a kids show about magical ponies, at age 4. She likes Rainbow Dash, and I think it’ll start and end with that.

As you were.


This post originally appeared on Medium, but is reposted here so I can laugh at it in 10 years. 

"Because You're Worth It"

A popular brand uses this as their tagline, and it’s always annoyed me terribly.

I was brought up to know that as a human I have inherent value. I try to raise my daughter the same way, so I keep reminding her how much she means to me, bolster her heart to protect her against inevitable douchebags. In that vein, everyone is worth it.

Is worth what, exactly?

This brand sells … perfume? Face cream? I can’t even recall, and I don’t even care. The point is, their tagline is pointing out that you deserve to spend your money on their product. Well what if I can’t afford the product? Does that mean I’m not worth it?

We’ve been over this. The human condition is tough. Things don’t always go as planned. Some people get a particularly short end of the stick of life. There’s no justice to it, just wanton cosmic random chance. Whether you end up able to afford the face cream you’re worth is entirely up to a unique combination of the absence of bad luck, decades of hard work, and growing up in a place where such hard work pays off as it should.

I don’t usually watch TV, so I’m mostly spared zapping by beautiful models parrotting off the tagline in a bubbly tenor. Thankfully, because I think I’d go insane. In a world with people who would take medicine, antibiotics or clean water over a goddamn face cream, the phrase cuts me like a knife on a blackboard.

Everyone is worth it. I believe it’s in a charter somewhere.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

How’s that for a face cream tagline?

Ethical Adblocking

Apple just released iOS 9 yesterday, and with it allowed adblockers into the app store. Since the mobile web is increasingly a Big Deal, this fact heralds a sea change for the web.

An article about adblocking made the rounds a few weeks ago. Here’s a pullquote:

If blocking becomes widespread, the ad industry will be pushed to produce ads that are simpler, less invasive and far more transparent about the way they’re handling our data — or risk getting blocked forever if they fail.

That’s a load of manure.

A big part of the problem is how slow the ad industry itself has been to adapt. To this day most ads are still big squares (300×250) or giant skyscrapers (120×600). They’re not hi-DPI, they’re not responsive, and they’re usually ugly blinking GIFs. With all the technology we have available to us today, you’d think we’d be able to see better ads at this point.

Ads don’t offend me. Well some specific ads do, but the idea of exchanging my attention for a free service such as reading news on the web, that doesn’t offend me. I’m an adult, I can make an informed decision as to which services I will leave my data with, whether those services are free through ads or are entirely paid.

The problem creeped up on us slowly: the more attention you could sell, the more money you could get. Ads became bigger and more plentiful. First came popups, then they were blocked. Now we’re dealing with full take-over ads, interstitials, lightbox ads, and if you dare browse the mobile web, you’ll be looking through blinds in the form of social sharing links at the top, and “dismiss” buttons that don’t actually work. It’s pretty bad, and it makes browsing websites slower.

In the end, it only takes a few horrible ads to poison the well, and adblocking would eventually become inevitable. It’s like television, and Ghostery is the Tivo of the web. With iOS 9 content blockers, adblocking is going to be mainstream fast, and this is where the pullquote above falls apart: ad networks aren’t going to get better, probably the opposite.

Today it’s possible to make a living running a site that’s free to read, solely because of ad revenue. Some can even make a good living. As adblocking grows more widespread, ads are going to be more intrusive to get around this, more guerilla, and even bigger, all in a fight to make the same income off the dwindling flock that still aren’t blocking ads. It’ll happen to good people that run these sites. Despite their best intentions, their staff have families to feed, and if they just use this slightly larger ad and add an interstitial, things can stay the same for a while and no-one has to be fired.

It would be unfair to blame them. It’s human nature: millions and millions of sites aren’t suddenly going to see the light at the same time and change their ways all at once. Even if they did, it’s unlikely everyone would suddenly stop using adblockers because of this. Once the adblocker is installed, once web-ads have been poisoned by years of bad practices, ads aren’t coming back.

John Gruber tweets:

I feel your pain, John. It’s the same pain GigaOm felt when they died this year. It’s not pretty. And I like Deck ads. They’re nice. I agree they shouldn’t be blocked. But they’re still ads, and adblockers block ads. It’s not your fault, it was that monkey ad, remember? Shoulder to shoulder, we stand. Love is a battlefield.

There is no ethical adblocker which blocks only the bad ads and leaves the “good” ads. I’d like to feel like an activist fighting for pure content when I install Marco Arments $2.99 “Peace” ad blocker. I want to believe that by blocking ads, I help force positive change on the advertising companies (and the livelyhoods that depend on them), force them to adapt.

But that’s a beautiful illusion. What’s more likely is that web ads are going to get way worse, adblocking is going to go way up, and at some point in this arms race, after the death of many a media company, eventually some will indeed have adapted. The big question is whether you’ll like the alternatives. It can be apps. It can be inside Apple’s Newsstand (featuring unblockable ads). It can be inside Facebooks instant articles. It can be subversive native ads. It can be paywalls. Think in-app purchases: “Pay $1 for this article, or pay by watching a video.”

Nature will find a way. But we aren’t suddenly going to wake up to rainbows and unicorns. No matter how cool that would be.


A version of this post originally appeared on Google+. Yes, that ghost town you may have heard of. Bring chains and white blankets, let’s haunt things.

Apparently I Like Bad Movies

I watched Jupiter Ascending yesterday, and from the moment I saw flying roller blades, I was in love. The film is saturated with color, culture, style and fashion and detail. It has layers and layers and layers, it’s creativity all the way down! Did you notice the design of the wooden bill the robot servitor bribed the bureaucrat with? It had the slickest little design and it was on screen for barely two seconds. The amount of work that went into this film was astounding, and apparently Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t care, and that makes me sad.

It’s not that I’d prefer everyone like the things I like. I’m routinely made fun of for thinking Time Cop is a good movie, and for ranking Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow close to Raiders of the Lost Ark on the list of my all time favorites. It’s fine, we don’t all have to agree, I’m comfortable with my taste in movies.

What gets me is that that we’ll probably never see another movie like Jupiter Ascending. We’ll certainly never get a sequel. Neither did Serenity, or John Carter, or A Series of Unfortunate Events. Or Ninja Assassin. Yet they made Transformers 2, Transformers 3, Transformers 4, and they’re making Transformers 5. That seems so wrong to me.

I understand how it works. The movies I mentioned either did bad at the box office, or critically, or both. Transformers 2 on the other hand pulled in $836m on a $200m budget. Little did it matter that it is almost universally deemed bad. I did see the full thing and to this day regret not staring at drywall for 2h30 instead. I don’t often criticize things — okay actually I do that a lot — but Transformers 2 deserves it. You could cut it down to a 30 minute short, and not only would the film be better, but there might actually be enough story to warrant its runtime.

Jupiter Ascending really didn’t deserve the critique it got. Even if the film wasn’t for you, it had so many other things going for it: the elaborate space backdrops, the castle-like spaceships, the dresses, the sets, hell even the spacesuits that looked like they were ornately carved from wood. Did I mention the flying roller-blades? Jupiter Ascending oozed creativity and worked on so many levels. I still can’t think of a single level Transformers 2 worked on, and I played 100+ levels worth of Desert Golfing.

Successful movies get sequels, and the Transformers franchise is like a pinata filled with money and shame. It’s only natural that studio execs want to keep wailing on it with 2-by-4s. It’s just so unfair.

Windows 11

I’m not sure Microsoft Windows will be around in a decade, and that makes me sad.

I used to pick Windows computers. I used to like the operating system and feel more productive on it. I’m sure the price point helped.
I still miss full-size arrow keys and having a functional text-selection model, but today I’m decidedly a Mac user. I like that the terminal is a Unix terminal, and I like that I can uninstall an app by throwing it in the trash.
My phone runs Android, and I like how sharing information between apps work, enough that I’m willing to put up with phones that are too big and cameras that aren’t great.
But there’s no longer a place in my life for Windows. Sure, I run it in a virtual machine to test things, but that hardly counts.

Although Windows 8 was a nightmare hellride to actually use, I really liked how starkly new it felt compared to how operating systems have looked and functioned for decades. The swiss design style (( I refuse to call it Flat Design™ because that’s a stupid term that suggests a flat sheet of color is somehow a recent invention. )) is something I never thought we’d see in computer interfaces. Going all in with this on Windows 8 was a ballsy and rather couragous move, even though it obviously didn’t pan out. Turns out you can’t just throw out decades of interface paradigms between versions, who knew?
Windows 8 was a glorious failure, but it did include a new application runtime that’s shared with Windows Phone, and it looks like Windows 10 will be fixing the UI wonkiness. I’m still left wondering if it’ll be enough to turn things around.

I’ve been a big fan of new CEO Satya Nadella’s work in the past year. He seems to thinking what we’ve all been thinking for decades: it’s weird that Microsoft hasn’t been putting their apps on iOS and Android. Windows RT was stupid. No-one is using Windows Phone.

But that last one is disconcerting to me. While I’m a happy Android user and fan of iOS, a duopoly in smartphone platforms isn’t good for anyone. I would prefer Microsoft to have a semi-succesful presence in the mobile space, if only to keep Google and Apple on their toes. Most developers aren’t going to voluntarily maintain an app for a platform that only has 3% of the market, and without apps, no-one will adopt the platform. Recent news suggests Nadella understands this, and is giving their mobile efforts one final shot. The hope is that by making Windows 10 a free upgrade, app developers might have more incentive to use the new app runtime so their apps will run on desktop and mobile alike. I would think if this strategy fails, it’s likely Microsoft will more or less be conceding the smartphone form factor entirely.

On the one hand this seems like exactly the kind of tough choice a forward-looking CEO needs to make in order to ensure Microsoft has a future at all, but on the other hand it leaves an even bigger question of where that leaves Windows for PCs if Microsoft concedes defeat on smartphones. While in the near term Windows for desktops and laptops is probably safe, in the longer term there are growing threats from Chrome OS, a potential Android on laptops, and apps running in the cloud. Even if Windows marketshare survives past these challenges, the price and therefore revenue of selling operating systems has been converging on zero for a while now. It’s only a matter of time.

So what’s Nadella’s plan? When Windows revenue eventually drops to zero, and Microsoft has no platform (and therefore app store with a revenue cut) on smartphones, what will be their livelyhood? In order for Microsoft to stay in the consumer space and not become the next dull IBM, they’ll need a source of income that is not Windows, and it’s probably not hardware either, no matter how good the Surface Pro 3 was.

So what remains of Microsoft must be what Nadella bets on as the next source of income. So that’s Office, Xbox, various cloud services and new things.

Microsoft has always been good at new things, but bad at productizing them. It seems Nadella has some skills in that area, so this will be an exciting space to watch in the next few years, but like all new ideas it’s like buying a lottery ticket. You increase your chance of winning by buying a ticket, but you might still not win.

The rest is tricky. The problem is that without owning the platform it’ll be orders of magnitude harder for Microsoft to sell their services. Unlike Google, Microsoft has to broker deals in order to have their apps preinstalled on Android phones, and though Android is pretty open, since they don’t own the platform they’ll always be subject to changing terms and APIs. Apple is a closed country entirely: you’ll have to seek out and install their apps if you want them, and even if you do, Microsofts digital assistant will never be accessible from the home button. It’s a steep and uphill battle, but I really hope Microsoft finds new footing. Because like how birds do, if life in one ecosystem turns miserable, I want to be able to migrate to another one, ideally a flourishing one. Oh, and I want to see how Windows looks when Microsoft turns it up to eleven.

Smart Watch

At the end of January was lucky to get my hands on a Moto 360 smartwatch. Though I’ve never considered myself a watch-person, I do enjoy tech, so naturally I’ve been wearing it since then. As Apple is about to launch their foray into the watch form factor, I thought I’d jot down some of my thoughts on how their competition is doing so far.

Android Wear is the umbrella term for the software that runs on the Moto 360 and other Android watches by Asus and LG. The 360 features a lovely round display and unless you know what to look for, you’ll mistake it for a traditional watch when you see it on someones wrist. The battery is conveniently all day and the screen decently readable outside. It’s also off most of the time but turns on with a wrist-flick. It’s an excellent first version, and that is a tremendously important milestone to pass.

I’m rarely a first-adopter of potentially sea-change inducing technology, but with this watch, I feel like I am. Give it a year or two, and the convenience level of these devices will have gone from that of a soft-close toilet seat to full on dishwasher. You’ll want one. But probably not today.

Android Wear does a few things well. It checks your heart rate, counts your steps, shows you all your phone notifications and lets you act on them. It’s a remote control for the media you play, and it’s feels pretty magical to play/pause a movie cast from Plex on your phone to the television through the Chromecast. Oh, and it lets you set timers, read your agenda, create reminders, and show you basic Google search results. Yes, there are flight notifications. It doesn’t yet speak danish, so all watch replies to my wife are currently transcribed from an adopted southern California accent. We have fun.

What gets me excited about the form factor is the potential that’s hidden here. All of the quantified self health stuff is all but inevitable, and that’s cool, but another way in which smartwatches can be transformative is in letting you get rid of your smartphone. XKCD speaks about the brief period in which our wrists were free, but failed to mention that this glorious period happens to coincide with a time when everyone’s looking at their smartphones instead. I don’t quite know if the smartwatch will make us talk again, but I hope so. As a sidebar, please dear Facebook, don’t put Instagram on the smartwatch.

The Android Switch

A little over two months ago, I switched to using an iPhone as my daily driver, having used various Android devices for the past half decade. I’m just about to switch back for a variety of reasons I’ll detail here.

I switched initially to get a deeper understanding for iOS, one that can only be had by committing fully. Given where things are going in UI design, it’s only prudent I know the platforms. If there is one single overwhelming conclusion I took away from this experiment, it’s this: you’re lucky to have either! It really is a remarkable time to be into gadgets — we carry little supercomputers in our pockets that are designed in a such a userfriendly way that more people than ever before can use them. The platform really doesn’t matter much anymore: smartphones are marvels of modern science that democratize technology in an unprecedented way. We are spoiled to live in an age where we can literally ask our phones questions and have answers presented based on the sum of human knowledge. For that reason I find it very hard, perhaps even petty, to criticise one platform over the other.

However, I also have an aversion to the words “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Nothing is ever perfect, and critical discourse is how we improve things. Neither iOS nor Android are perfect, but I’m still going back to the latter. Some of my reasons for doing so are bound to be due to muscle memory from using Android for a long time. Other reasons many will no doubt directly disagree with. Still, maybe some of the reasons I’m about to list are issues that are worth addressing in future versions of iOS.

Thank goodness you’re free to choose which platform you invest in.

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