The “El Capitan” is Not Yet Compatible With Your Device

I signed up with a certain VOIP company that rhymes with “Tragic Frak” – one of the few that requires a USB dongle (hereafter referred to as “the device”) which became totally dysfunctional upon updating my Macs to El Capitan.  Hey, it happens, and a software update from the VOIP company would fix it.  But I became annoyed that a full month after El Cap was officially released publicly, the company had still not even acknowledged, anywhere on their site, that their product would not work on Apple’s current, major OS, let alone whether an update was pending, or what to do if your device stopped working due to incompatibility.

Like other companies whose corporate values occasionally vacillate – this one is nevertheless feigning support in public forums (Twitter etc.), but not, say, on the company’s website or support pages, which is where concerned users will go first.

For it’s also at this website where the decision to click the BUY BUTTON happens.  And naturally there is a risk that prospective customers might not click the buy button if say, one discovered that one’s OS was currently unsupported, or that the company appeared to be uncoordinated and ineffectual. Both of which appear to be true in this case, so we can’t have that.

Selfish, or weak, and sometimes both. Those are the only two root causes of every usability issue on the entire web.

Selfish, or weak, and sometimes both. Those are the only two root causes of every usability issue on the entire web.

“So”, the thinking goes, “we’re working as hard as we can on the update – it will be out, well, soon we hope please God, and it would sure be better to keep the product’s proposition appearing squeaky clean in the meantime, wouldn’t it? Why dirty the sales website with current compatibility problems?  But let’s make a public show of being supportive on Twitter with those few agitated customers who publicly take us to task.  And hopefully there won’t be many.”

When companies I’m engaged with provide poor customer service, and then do their best to limit their expense and exposure by being deceptive, virtually dead-ending feedback on their site or utilizing weak or insufficient support channels, in short, making my life more difficult, I enjoy rooting out any cost-center they may have (sales associates are fun to call because they ALWAYS answer the phone) and making them spend money or getting them to acknowledge their weakness.

Thus the following is my virtually unnecessary, but telling, web chat with a support representative from the afore mentioned VOIP company.  To protect his identity, I’ll change the rep’s name to “Dickhead”:

Chat Window
Status:  Connected

Dickhead: Hi, my name is Dickhead. How may I help you?

Joel: Hi Dickhead.  I’m Joel, and I need some help!  I carefully checked your site for any warnings or notices about upgrading OS X to El Capitan and found none (your information shows to have been updated very recently), so I naturally trusted that your product was current and I updated my system. Now my (DEVICE) no longer works. Is the OS seriously unsupported? Or is there some other issue I missed?

Dickhead: I see
Dickhead: Unfortunately The “El Capitan ” is not yet compatible with your device.

Joel: Oh no.  It’s the el capitan’s fault?  

Dickhead: As of now we are still working on it to make the device be compatible on your “El Capitan “.

Joel: Why haven’t you warned users that your product isn’t current? That would have saved me. I depend on this service as my international phone (per your marketing). No one can reach me now.

Dickhead: Okay
Dickhead: Actually it it’s Because it is a newer Version of Mac So that our higher department will work on it for the devices will be compatible .

Joel:  That doesn’t answer my question.  Though I’m greatly reassured that your higher department will work on it. At the same time I’m a bit concerned that you didn’t say your “highest department” will work on it. But I take it that’s still better than the rest of your departments.  Unless by “higher” you mean that they do drugs more often, which I find never helps when writing code – now that I think about it, that could explain the delay in the update.  Do your other teams know that you refer to them as “lower”?  Or is it “sober”?
Joel:  Anyway,  I must ask again, why haven’t you warned people who might buy your product – or who might update OS X – that the device will not work – since we have now established that you know it won’t?

Dickhead: I understand how you feel right now Joel , For us we are unexpected for the Upgrade of the OS of the Mac , So that we have to make some move also to make the devices to be compatible on the Newest Version .

Joel: So… I think you’re saying that you never expected Apple to upgrade OS X(?) Indeed that they upgraded it so suddenly that you could not possibly have been expected to maintain compatibility? But then, it’s been out for a month and Apple released a beta version of the OS to developers (like yourself) several months prior. So surely it’s stretching a bit to classify this entirely as  “unexpected”. So why is there not at least a statement on your site that the device won’t work?

Dickhead: Okay

Joel: …?  When is the update scheduled to be released?

Dickhead: As of now we do not have an exact time frame on it , But as soon as the Upate will be done you will know about it .

Joel: Well, that’s something. I’ll tell the people trying to call me. Oh wait – I don’t have a phone.  So will you return the fees I paid for the time period that my phone has been made inoperable by your not keeping up with major OS updates? My device has been dysfunctional for one month to the day.

Dickhead: Unfortunately no .

Joel: …  So you’re selling a defective product – but aren’t taking responsibility for that?

Dickhead: we are not selling a defective device the only Problem here is the compatibility of the device through your Mac .

Joel: Ah. Sorry.  Ok, that makes more sense.  So it works, but it’s incompatible, so it doesn’t work. Incidentally, on your FAQ under the specific question of Mac compatibility, you state: “YES. (THE VOIP DEVICE) is compatible with Intel-based Macs.” Had you added “…except for anyone running El Capitan which our dev team has been staring at stoned for 5 months” you would have saved me a serious headache. I should add that this specific FAQ answer shows that it was updated on Oct 16, 2015, more than two weeks after El Capitan was officially released – which itself followed 4 months of developer betas, which I assume you had access to. And I can find no other or contrary mention of the topic of OS X compatibility anywhere else on your site

Dickhead: I understand how you feel right now Joel .

Joel: Why is there no mention of the fact that your product is currently dysfunctional with the latest major release of OS X – anywhere on your site?

Dickhead: One moment please…
Dickhead: As per terms of service We reserve the right to modify the Services and Associated Software, temporarily or permanently, with or without notice or liability to you.

Joel: Whoa, Dude seriously?  This… sounds like a last resort. When you took that “moment” did you like, have to get someone to turn a second key to launch that? But you know, bravo, very convenient term of service BTW! Setting aside the fact that it intimates you did this on purpose, it means you literally don’t have to provide a paying customer with, well, anything whatsoever, right? Sweet gig I guess. Hey, I know!  That line should totally be on your home page under “Our Guarantee”.  I bet everyone will buy your product then. 

Dickhead: I believe that I have already provided you all the information needed; I would like to ask permission to end this conversation with you. Thank you.

Joel: Actually I 

Dickhead has disconnected.

And who can blame him?

iOS Ad Blockers: Why Advertisers Are Suddenly Going Diarrhea In Their Pants

Apple recently released ad blocking capabilities in iOS, and the ad and publishing industries began frothing at the mouth. Every emotion from spitting panic to disdain have been hurled into the webversphere over the capability. And as a consumer, and an ex-advertising shill, I love it.

I am particularly fond of the most vicious ad blockers, the so-called ‘blunt instruments’. The ones that leave gaping, blank maws between thin slices of actual content. The ones that so severely disable Forbes ’welcome page’ (an interruptive page of ads feigning value with some irrelevant ‘quote of the day’) that you are required to close the resulting blank window and click the article’s original link again to see the content.

Yes, I even revel in the extra effort it requires to get past all the newly broken, well-blocked bits. It’s harder in some ways. But you know what? It’s payback time. And that extra effort? It’s a pleasure. I know that each tap and empty window is sending a message.

With every whiny press release and industry insider wailing about the “end of content as we know it” a delightfully warm, glowing feeling washes over my insides.

I admit it, it’s an unhealthy pleasure in general. And in any other context I wouldn’t celebrate it. But here? I’m gonna party like its 1999.  Because for all the ad industry has learned since then, it might as well still be.

I’m gonna party like its 1999.  Because for all the ad industry has learned since then, it might as well still be.

This is what selfish, self-inflicted industry ruin smells like. Banners in ashes, melted trackers. A stockpile of suddenly outmoded scripts and tactics, all in embers. The dumbfounded expressions of dim-witted middlemen watching the gravy dry up.  Ah, there’s that warm glow again.

Unfortunately, ruin is what this will take.

I realize there is a risk that the arms race will result in even more devious forms of advertising, that the penicillin will result in resistant strains. But the relief for now is unquestionably worth it.

Even so, some are feeling guilt.  Under peer pressure, I assume, a few creators of Ad blocking technology are trying to give a crap.

Marco Arment pulled his ad blocker from the iOS app store, after 3 days as the top seller, I assume, with a last-minute guilty conscience.

He said: “Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.”

I believe his observation is mostly correct but his response was wrong. And his kids will probably hate him someday for leaving a sizable portion of their inheritance to someone else’s family. To wit, other excellent ad blockers have already moved in happily.  At least he hopefully slept better that week.

Then there is the new “AdBlock Acceptable Ads Program” where the previously dependable ad blocker now whitelists so-called ‘acceptable ads’ – allowing these ads through by default.  They define acceptable ads as adhering to a manifesto they’ve concocted which attempts to qualify approved types of interruptions.  I commend the attempt – but it is critically flawed,  a fundamentally incomplete manifesto, that sits precariously on an arbitrary portion of the slippery slope.

In an article posted to the Verge, Walt Mossberg wrote: “browser ads represent both an unwanted intrusion and a broken promise”. I read that and wanted to virtually high-five him since I momentarily thought he shared a core belief. But then I kept reading and discovered that the only ‘intrusion’ he referred to was the surreptitious collection of your information, and the ‘broken promise’ was the delivery of ads that weren’t as personalized and useful as he felt should be possible.

Well, ok he has a point, a reasonable one, but completely misses THE point. He’s a Kool-Aid drinker debating flavors.

So, What Is the Point?

Those of you who have read this blog in the past know that my world view of interactive media has, since the early 90s, been based on a small handful of very stable principles. Interactive Axioms.

The most sweeping of all, what I call “The First Axiom of Interactive”, is that the user is, by definition, in control. “The User is your King. You, the creator, are merely a subject.”

People don’t often acknowledge that this medium would simply not even exist if delivering control to the user was not the singular top-most goal.  There is nothing inconsistent or squishy about this reason for being.  Any functional capability you can point to will distill upwards to the quest for control.

The sheer existence of an affordance, a button say, anywhere on a remote control, or a website, or app, is a promise. It’s not one that we talk about much. But the obvious, unspoken promise is that it will react predictably and instantaneously.

The medium itself is an affordance – and the expected result of that affordance is control.

THAT is the promise.  Said another way, the medium itself is an affordance – and the expected result of that affordance is control.

If you remember DVDs and you happened to be in the USA, you might recall the FBI Duplication Warning at the start of every movie. Upon seeing these warnings, every one of us pressed the “skip” button. And then we subsequently experienced a moment of inner outrage because the button had been temporarily disabled requiring us to view the FBI warning in its entirety.

The promise of control had been intentionally wrested away from us. And it felt like a violation.

Because it was.

Today interactive media is based on an even wider and more articulate provision of such control. It is a ubiquitous and fundamental condition of the medium. As such, any time anything happens that is not what we wish, we feel something similar to a sense of injustice. A violation of the medium.

So, yes, of course Walt Mossberg is right, spyware and irrelevant ads sit somewhere on the spectrum of broken promises. But what he does not acknowledge is that the mere existence of interruptive ads in the first place, ads that were not explicitly requested, is the spectrum.

That’s further the problem with the Adblock Acceptable Ads Program manifesto.  It attempts to carve out a little plateau on the slippery slope that allows for *some* control to be wrested away from you.  But they miss the point which is that sheer interruption of any kind, not degrees of interruption, is the violation.  My rewritten manifesto would be very simple and would contain only one test, “Acceptable ads do not, in any way, interrupt the user’s attention.”

Acceptable ads do not, in any way, interrupt the user’s attention.

That would be acceptable.

But the problem for advertisers, then, is that such an ad will take up no screen real estate.  It will call no attention to itself. It will not seek to draw the user.

In short therefore, it will not exist – until explicitly sought out. That is an acceptable ad, because that is an ad that honors the promise of the medium.

John Gruber occasionally points to his ad partner The Deck, as a viable ad model, intimating that it is less invasive, and more relevant, and therefore an appropriate ad format. Ads, but not “garbage”. He claims not to understand someone who wants to block ads. But I hope you can see that he is still defining the Deck’s format merely by contrasting it with the grosser violations of other advertisers. Yes, it’s a degree less offensive, sure. A comparison to “garbage” ads actually makes sense because they are, after all, genetically closer, interruptive cousins. But we are not comparing it in context to, say, the content the user sought out in the first place. Because if we did that we would see that such an interruptive ad is still quite a lot further away.

If you’re an advertiser, or an interruptive-ad-funded writer or publisher, I’m sorry if your livelihood may yet suffer as a result of ad blockers. That’s no one’s goal. But it’s you who’ve chosen to base your livelihood on such a patently inauthentic payment format, one that defiles the very medium it exists in. Tidy and convenient though it may have seemed for you at the start.

It’s a kind of Faustian bargain. Content creators agree to include interruptive advertising to afford creation of their content or derive wealth. But the ads are, by definition, not the content. I seriously doubt a single one of these content creators would choose to include an interruptive ad on the merit of the ad alone. Which reveals a truth.

That interruption in the user’s quest, the user’s wishes, is not allowed in this medium. If you break this rule – you must accept the penalties.

You say, “But ads are the necessary cost of receiving content!”  No, actually they are not. It’s the cost of receiving your content. And if you stop, unable to afford creation of your content any longer, don’t worry, someone else will be there to take up the slack.  And I think you know that.

“But ads are the necessary cost of receiving content!”  No, actually they are not. It’s the cost of receiving your content.

Do you seriously think that without advertising content creation will go away?  Please. It will result in industry upset perhaps. It will inspire more authentic payment systems, or not. But it won’t go away.  Fees from advertising is not a prerequisite for creation of content.

All these publishers and content creators who complain about the bluntness of the ad blockers, arguing about which interruptive ads should be blocked, are already working way outside true-use of the medium. Ignoring the basic fact that they stand on stolen ground to begin with. They rather seem to be suggesting that there is a way to break the law of the medium in a good way. They remain hopeful that they can remove maybe just a little of your control. And that should be totally ok with you.

Well, sorry, I appreciate the work many of you do – but you’re wrong. It’s not ok. You have merely gotten away with the violation until now.

Authentic Advertising

Authentic advertising (if you can even call it advertising) requires an advertiser to be part of the very business it’s selling. To promote the product through authentic interaction with the product itself (I’ve written about this before). And/or to create something that is so inordinately valuable and powerful that it will be sought out. To become the very content, services and products that people want.

To create authentic advertising you must embrace that you must be CHOSEN (or ignored) by the King. If you interfere in any way in your King’s journey to suit your own interests – even daring to appear when the King doesn’t wish it – you are a violator. A criminal.

Since you are not allowed to present yourself until invited, authentic advertising is hard. Much harder than the ad industry is accustomed to.  Traditional interruptive ads need only be good enough that users maybe won’t look away after their control has been wrested away. That kind of traditional, interruptive advertising of course is much easier to produce.

But rather, honest to god valuable content that people might be willing to pay for, or invest their time and networks into, takes the same effort, risk and expense that developing a successful product does.

Interruptive ads need only be good enough that users maybe won’t look away after their control has been wrested away.

Do not confuse this with so-called ‘native advertising’ as it’s been disingenuously referred to, which is little more than a cheap ad aping the appearance of content.

Authentic advertising in interactive is not easy to produce, and it’s often the subject of inordinate luck. This means advertisers wishing to defensibly game that system have to resort to great expense and extravagance. And precious few are willing to do that.

Conversely, interruptive advertising requires little to no luck, and demands roughly the same work and expense that advertisers are used to applying. The difference is that these advertisers are still, unbeknownst, spending wildly. The resource these advertisers have been spending rampantly without qualm is your goodwill. Your willingness to continue to tolerate their violations.

Well advertisers, you’re in a deficit now. A really big, fat overwhelming deficit. Hope you enjoyed the ride, because interruptive advertising has drawn down your accounts and built tremendous debt.

And ad blockers are just the latest means of putting holds on your well-worn credit cards.

An Open Letter to the Creators of the New Muppet Show

Dear Disney and ABC,

Holy crap, how could you assholes so monumentally blow it!?

Whoa… I’m… I’m so sorry, that just came out. I totally meant to intelligently build up to that point.  Sorry, let me start over:

Dear Disney and ABC,

There is precious little joy in our world. Such little magic and wonder. Far too little care-free innocence.

When we connect through media today, our lives are more commonly associated with terrorism, disease, economic meltdowns resulting from greed, natural disasters, child shootings, police brutality, suffering, intolerance, hatred and the ongoing horror and assault of the seedy bottom half of real life.

Hold on, before you jump into writing me off as some “the world is going to hell, whatever happened to the values of this great country” kind of person, who worries that video games are perverting our youth or thinks television should be censored or whatever, please know that I enjoy violent video games and I like seeing movies and TV shows that push the limits of acceptability. Things change. Boundaries get crossed. That’s progress, art and evolution. Live and let live. No I truly don’t give a crap about breaking the rules and pushing the limits of inappropriateness.

But over the last several weeks I’ve discovered that I actually do give a crap – a really big, fat, loving crap, about the Muppets.

A New Muppet Show!

When I heard that you were bringing the Muppet Show back – with a new, more modern take – I remember thinking, “YES! It’s about time!”

The news was reason enough for celebration. I told my wife and some friends and they too shared the very same sentiment. Who wouldn’t? One would have to carry a very cold, dark heart not to feel that way.

But as I have been exposed to your new pre-show clips, teaser, pseudo press releases and marketing, a slow dawning has crept over me. It took a while, but I have begun to feel something unsettling that has taken some effort to define.

In fact my initial elation has now settled into deep disappointment.

Although as of today the show has yet to premiere, I believe (but continue to hope you’ll prove me wrong) that you have mistranslated and misunderstood Henson’s great, iconic legacy. Worse, I believe you may be in the process of undermining it, surely unintentionally. But surely nonetheless.

Until I saw the teaser for the New Muppet Show (UPDATE: the video has been pulled) I confess I took the long-standing values of the Muppets and the reality of their world quite for granted; how they behaved, how they deftly interacted with our real world at arms length. They made it seem effortless.

And one of those values, a key attribute, perhaps the most critical of all, is that the Muppets never – ever – fell below THE LINE.

The Line

When I talk about the line, I mean the line above which the Muppets remain arguably pure creatures at heart, connected to the joyful world they came from, and largely driven by the pursuit friendship and the spreading of happiness. Sounds a bit corny – but in fact isn’t. And the line below which the Muppets would become just another part of real-life’s ugly bottom half, inconsistent, undependable, self-centered and cynical.

Naturally, good humor demands breaking boundaries, stepping over some line. And at their strongest, the Muppets were so very good at doing that.  The Muppets always broke boundaries. They understood magic – of playing with the medium (whatever medium they were contemplating) – of breaking the 4th wall – of being surprisingly self referential. And in so doing concocted their own, very recognizable, brand of magic.

And I imagine, aside from Henson’s obvious challenge of inventing, or rather, raising the art form to a new level, it must have taken tremendously hard work and commitment to that vision to maintain that position – above the line.

Henson, Oz and company always stayed above the line. Dependably. They clearly worked very, very hard to find new humor and boundaries to break above the line. Satire and social comment are all possible above the line of course. Tear-inducing laughter is possible above the line. Pixar, for example, dependably and successfully lives only above the line. Boundaries can be broken above the line. And like it or not, the Muppets made clear that being above the line was a fundamental tenant of the brand.

As I reflect on my feelings upon seeing your new teaser, the pseudo PR and marketing for the new show, I believe the tone with which you are approaching the new Muppet Show, the direction your underlying compass is aimed, is fundamentally inauthentic and careless.

I further argue, that this approach you’ve taken, this direction, required very little effort. You merely chose the easy path.

You’ve just drug The Muppets way below the line, sacrificing everything that came before it, in exchange for a few cheap laughs.

You’ve just drug The Muppets way below the line, sacrificing everything that came before it, in exchange for a few cheap laughs. You chose the dark side.

You chose the dark side.

Did you think, for one second, that the temptation to do what you have just done was not an easy temptation all along to the original teams, just as it was for you?

Do you think that living in 2015 somehow suddenly makes such a thing a good idea? Perhaps that only now would we “get” such a joke? Give me a break.

Yes, yes, the Muppet Show was made “for adults”. And quite often the show would venture briefly into comically dark places. But these ventures always fell short of true cynicism of cold reality. Never would the Muppets cross the line into the seedy underbelly of real life. Of genuine cynicism, grime and fear. The Muppets were never cynical, they were never crass. They always reassured us with a deft wink. They were always tethered to a balloon that kept them floating, kept them from descending. And in so doing they defended and insulated us from the bottom half of life. That was their role and very reason for being after all! They gave us a world that we could to escape into. One that wasn’t reality.

Why then have you concluded that being an“adult” today must equate to being cynical, inwardly conflicted and cold?

I have no doubt that as the new show and its tone was being developed words like “edgy, fresh, and real” were used. Which always, bar none, sounds like a good idea in any board room.  Who wants to be the opposite of that?  Further that you probably felt the writing of the later Muppet movies and presentations were growing stale and you must have talked at length about breaking through that staleness with a “modern, fresh take”.

I do not believe, as you must, that the Muppets innate lack of cynicism, and consistent distance from the grotesqueness of the bottom half of real life, was the reason the material was not compelling enough, not fresh. That, I believe, would be a misdiagnosis on your part.

We can debate the quality of much of the writing in later movies and years. Some of it was admittedly a bit tired and occasionally not very good. Not as good as Pixar. Some of the later movies suffered a kind of lack of meaningful stakes for the characters to respond to (one might also argue this was true of Most Wanted). But, and I suppose this is one of my main points, I do not believe, as you must, that the Muppets innate lack of cynicism, and consistent distance from the grotesqueness of the bottom half of real life, was the reason the material was not compelling enough, not fresh. That, I believe, would be a misdiagnosis on your part.

What’s worse, by depicting The Muppets in our often tragic, imperfect real world via the reality-TV, documentary style, and imbuing the characters with peculiar new behaviors, inconsistent with their legacy, you have, perhaps unintentionally, established that anything the Muppets may have been before – any purity or innocence they may have shown us in the past – all of that was actually unreal, an illusion, just show. That by rewriting their characters and motivations to be able to exist in our world, you have introduced the idea that whatever we thought they were – with their original personalities, these were just parts, roles they’d been playing before. That only now are we seeing the “real” Muppets, their real lives, behind the scenes, for the first time. The suggestion is that they were actually like this all along, we were just never exposed to what they do off-camera before now.

As a result, you have instantaneously undone and debunked Henson’s entire great legacy.

What a shame.

As a result, you have instantaneously undone and debunked Henson’s entire great legacy. What a shame.

Yes, Miss Piggy, and others as well, have made occasional appearances in our “real world” for decades.  And it was always met with a level of heightened enthusiasm from audiences.  It’s pretty transparent that this partly inspired your approach.  But it was not so simple.  These appearances, and the occasional overlaps with our real world was always a delicate balancing act. Those brief appearances were a magic trick that only worked because their world, the Muppet’s world, still existed somewhere. Piggy was only visiting us, breaking the 4th wall of their world.  And we were all in on the joke. Her dips, so precariously close to the line on those occasions, were handled with extreme care and awareness.

And on a superficial level, yes, most of the movies even appear to happen in our world – but they never did. It was always the muppets own world, and it only looked a lot like ours. On the Muppet Show and in every Movie, human actors always joined the Muppets in their world.  Not the other way round.

…one instantly feels that we were never meant to see any of this.

But by eliminating the existence of the Muppet’s safe, insulating world, as the new show appears to have done, you have scraped them raw. Laid them bare. There is no Muppet world left to poke through or join into. The magic has been surgically removed. Like pulling the skin off a live animal, we now see with discomfort, the organic muscle, ligaments and bones hidden underneath. And one instantly feels that we were never meant to see any of this.


I think the appearance of Fozzie in your teaser best captured this problem and as such caused my heart to sink most of all.
So, Fozzie has a sexy human girlfriend. Um… ok. Feels quite out of character and slightly creepy, but alright, I’m sort of with you, maybe, MAYBE that could work, Miss Piggy was briefly attracted to William Shatner years ago (although that WAS absolutely in character for her).

COMIC howard the duck magazine 7

Howard the Duck and Hot Girlfriend

But then you bring us to the real home of his girlfriend’s disapproving human parents, they reveal their “secret” romance, she calls him “Honey”, Fozzie’s panic over his pending unemployment, and all that stark reality is run through a way-below-the-line, icky exploration of a kind of cartoon bigotry and a clear intimation of sexuality. Such ideas were somewhat funny in the Howard the Duck comics – a comic world specifically designed to explore these topics – but feels utterly out of place and even grotesque here because this is not some random bear. This was, we all thought, our innocent, beloved Fozzie. But it slowly dawns on us that, no, this is not our Fozzie, it’s a strange imposter. Even Fozzie’s voice change, no longer performed by the brilliant Frank Oz, might have passed by without bothering us much, but packaged within a sweaty real world just makes us feel queasy.

As a result of this scene, we are not so subtly asked to consider Fozzie’s underlying drive for survival and even his reproductive needs. Requisite mental images of the two of them “sleeping together” conjure naturally as a side effect of your scenario. Oh, sorry, you didn’t even think of that, right? Images of the two of them having sex? Never occurred to you? Uh huh, sure, how sick of me to even think that. Yeah, right, convince yourself of that.

Images of the two of them having sex? Never occurred to you? Uh huh, sure, how sick of me to even think that. Yeah, right, convince yourself of that.

Face it, the joke of that scene – the uncomfortable humor – comes from the fact that a real woman is really truly dating a bear puppet. Ha ha ha. The rest of the mental images are just falling dominoes.

Gonzo’s love affair with Camilla the Chicken never had this kind of real-world context and intimated followthrough.

You’re showing us inauthentic things that, speaking as a viewer, we never wanted to see. You’ve pushed deep below the line and opened a big ol’ can of slimy worms: if Fozzie can be unemployed, does he get unemployment checks? Since he’s in our world, well, one must assume that he does. If he can’t afford food does he go hungry or beg? Does he mooch off his friends? Either way this is all a kind of undeniable, below the line thread that just feels icky. But why stop there? One is almost encouraged then to wonder all sorts of things – perhaps whether Fozzie gets feces stuck to his fur when he defecates. Does he wear a condom? No, don’t feign surprise at all this. Please see that this is the natural result of pushing below the line as you have. You have broken those boundaries, and opened these thoughts, not us. Though undoubtedly you would feign surprise at such implication.

Good god, Disney! You have whole buildings full of departments in place devoted to ensuring that Mickey is never caught in compromising positions. How dare you turn around and do this to our dear old friends.

Kermit and Piggy

Good god, Disney! You have whole buildings full of departments in place devoted to ensuring that Mickey is never caught in compromising positions. How dare you turn around and do this to our dear old friends.

Really, now Kermit actively dates and is “hopelessly attracted to pigs”… in general? Ugh, too much information, yet again.

Gonzo was insane – and loved chickens. That worked. It never dipped into sexuality because he was truly an eccentric. But Kermit is sane, he’s our hero, the reasoned one – and therefor this new intimation that Kermit sleeps around is once again moving towards the too-real grotesque. And this focus on his and Piggy’s TMZ break up – as though they actually ever had a relationship – seems totally misguided.


The garbage can in the foreground says it all.

Yeah, yeah, we get it, if they are “broken up” it gives the characters and narrative something to build to. And it’s tabloidy which plays into the whole theme, and maybe most important of all, serves as free marketing.


Hey, you’re the writers, but throughout the Henson years, the beauty of their story was that, well,  Kermit and Piggy never really had an official relationship to break up over.  They flitted around the idea, flirted with it you might say, Piggy always on the offensive, and Kermit never quite connecting. Like so many other things, even their relationship always hovered just above the line. They’re so-called relationship was a slippery and elusive concept. Totally non-committal.  By design.

But by bumbling into the the Muppet universe flailing, mouth-breathing and drooling as you seem to be, you are knocking over these delicate constructions, it seems, without much care for the original rationale or their great benefits.


This failure, like the others, is so obvious and easy to see.

In your teaser you chose, of all characters, Gonzo to criticize use of “the office interview” format.

Should have been funny. I wanted to chuckle because the observation was a good one. But I found myself wincing a bit. Don’t you see, you chose perhaps the only character in the entire Muppets main cast, next in line perhaps to Animal, who lacks enough self-awareness to even have such an opinion in the first place? So it just feels strangely “off” somehow. Not to mention that Gonzo’s, well “GONZO” has been completely denied. Now Gonzo is suddenly just some calm, rational guy? Seriously?

Hello?! Gonzo is many things, but calm and self-aware was never – and I mean like ever – one of them.


Gonzo recites the seven-times table… balancing a piano. Naturally.

This is the guy who overenthusiastically agrees to every insane, wrong idea, no matter how absurd – in the name of art. That’s who he is. You see that, right? The guy who shoots himself from cannons, wrestles a brick, tap dances in oatmeal, recites shakespeare while hanging from his nose, Plays bagpipes from the top of a flagpole, recites poetry while diffusing a bomb, hypnotizes himself, and wants to go to Bombay India to become a movie star because it’s not the “easy way”.

Did you, even for a second, consider that just maybe Gonzo was the completely wrong guy to feel vaguely self-conscious and introspective enough care about such a subtle little narrative device? Do you really think he, of all characters, would really care? Piggy sure, Fozzie maybe, but freaking Gonzo?! You’ve lost me. The reason that joke wasn’t funnier (and it should have been), is because you chose the wrong guy. You went fully against his long-standing character. And we all felt it. Maybe younger viewers don’t remember enough to care, and maybe most long-time viewers couldn’t quite put their finger on why – but sure enough – it just felt weird. And it’s another example of your apparent inability to defend and shepherd The Muppets at a most basic level.

What Worked

Lest you think I did not appreciate any of your effort, there were, what I would call, a few “authentic, above the line, classic Muppet moments” in the teaser too.

Miss Piggy’s walk, smack, into the glass, leaving a nose print. A brilliant moment.

That creepy “incredibly obscure character” with glasses who talked with his tongue between his teeth was funny as crap.

I’m conflicted on Rowlf wearing the big surgery collar. I laughed authentically at that. And although that doesn’t sit above the line, maybe ON the line, a very careful, self-aware break like that can clearly work, so long as the Muppet universe is still intact.

Work Harder

Look, truth is – the idea that, say, a puppet is dating a real girl, probably has sex, meets her disapproving, real parents, and maybe loses his job and all that, that’s actually really funny.


Ted smokes weed.

Seth Macfarlane’s Ted did that a couple years ago and it was a good movie. A teddy bear that has sex, smokes weed, swears – it’s totally juvenile and funny as Hell. I loved it.

And then there’s “Meet the Feebles”, Peter Jackson’s obscure, disturbing puppet movie that includes a frog prone to vietnam war flashbacks, a pornography-directing rat, suicide, adulterous three-ways, alchoholism, drug-running and all sorts of other far below the line topics.


A gun to the head of a character in “Meet the Feebles”

But the Muppets? In one of your bumpers Rowlf talks about being followed by cameras into his bathroom at home. It’s kind of funny, but so now Rowlf uses the can? This is a very slippery slope you’re on.

In the old days these topics could never find their way into the Muppet consciousness. The Muppet world was intentionally disconnected from all that. But now, stripped from their world, these  real-life concepts begin to co-mingle, and indeed they will.

And that’s not who the Muppets are. You should have known better.

“Hey – you’re making all this up! We never said they had sex, and we definitely would never show them doing drugs or taking a dump!!” you say.

No? But that is the world you have directed them to inhabit. All these ideas, and a lot more, exist in our real world, and you have placed them in that exact real world. You have provided no buffers. No signals. No insulation from the edges of that very cold reality. Indeed, your every creative decision has amplified it. You have said, “They live with us here, amidst our real-life challenges, filth, and complexity.”

What a monumentally bad call.

You have said, “They live with us here, amidst our real-life challenges, filth, and complexity.”  What a monumentally bad call.

If that’s the show you wanted to make, why, oh why didn’t you just work harder, take some risk (e.g.. by not trying to rely on the automatic, positive associations we all have for the characters), and instead invent a new set of colorful characters of your own. Some who could more naturally play out the decidedly unMuppet-like topics you are shoe-horning our old friends into? I would have actually enjoyed seeing that show to be honest. I would have tuned in, and I’m sure I would have laughed. Ironically the connection to the the Muppets and every other pillar of innocent puppetry would have been obvious. But at least then you would have been arguably protecting and defending something the world still needs.

We needed the Muppets that Jim Henson left us.

We needed the Muppets that Jim Henson left us.

But instead you chose to exploit our gentle, rainbow-yearning friends into the same old, daily gutter that we were all, ironically, trying to escape. All in trade for a couple easy, if uncomfortable, laughs and the benefit of a built-in audience.

“Hey, the Muppets were all about cheap laughs.” True, but you did it at the utter expense of their very long and hard-earned legacy. You threw that gentle, magical, innocent legacy under the bus of reality. And that is not where The Muppets great and endearing humor belongs.

In doing so you have so far proven yourselves unworthy guardians of these beloved icons.

And from Disney of all places. Hard to imagine.

Well, I’ve made my point ad nauseam. So all I can do now is beg you, please, please be more careful.

These are our dear friends.

And corny as it sounds, the world still needs that rainbow.  Maybe now more than ever.

Messages From The Future: What Happened to Apple Watch

As some of you know by now, I am from the future.  And slightly annoyed to be here.  But anyway, this is what became of Apple Watch.


Truth is, being back in 2015 is such a trip. All this talk about “wearables”. I have to laugh, I remember that! Ugh, It’s so quaint to hear that again. “Wearables”. For the record, in the future no one talks about “wearables” like it’s some classification of device. That’s just you guys coming to grips with the fact that technology is everywhere. It’s in everything, it’s networked, and no, you have no privacy. But that’s a different post.

Today I wanted to let you in on Apple Watch since I guess you’re only now about to see it launch. Weird.

A lot of you are asking “Why would I use it?”, “What’s the killer app?”, “Why would I pay so much for it?”.  Yeah, yeah. You do that every time Apple launches a new device, did you realize that? Android users are staring at it dismissively thinking they would never want one since it probably doesn’t do that much.

“Why would I use it?”, “What’s the killer app?”, “Why would I pay so much for it?”.

Admittedly what the first Apple Watch did was only a glimpse at it’s value. A few years after Apple Watch was released it became pretty obvious what it was all about, and yet it still took a decade before absolutely everybody stopped doubting.

Indeed Apple Watch not only survived a decade, but it survived quite a lot longer than that. It outlasted PCs. It outlasted iMac, iPhone and iPad. The Apple Watch strand functionally outlasted almost every other product strand of Apple device and consumer hardware model you are aware of today. It was still going strong when I popped back here, but by then auto-implanted alternatives were becoming pretty common – even though they gave me the willies.

So, what did Apple Watch do that was so useful?

Much to the chagrin of a fair number of iOS App developers in this time, Apple Watch was not a platform that was ideal for, well, running apps. At least not like they do on iPhone and iPad. Sure people tried. But in short order it became clear that Apple Watch was about being used in conjunction with other devices. If your app did not involve another device or platform, your app-life was probably short lived. As a result many of the best app makers were also developers of apps on other platforms or device makers.  You almost never made an app for Apple Watch alone.

And that was a clue into Apple Watch’s true conquering strategy.

Apple Watch became your key. First and foremost. It was your unique identifying digital self. Your ID for all manner of technical configuration in every other device and context.

Apple Watch became your key. First and foremost. It was your unique identifying digital self. Your ID for all manner of technical configuration in every other device and context.

When I look back, the clues are all around you today:

Apple Pay, Continuity, Apple ID, iCloud, Apple TV.

These are some of the “existing” components that dovetailed to make Apple Watch what it was.

Ultimately, Apple Watch was not a device for consuming media, or even much in the way of experiences (with the exception of communication). Primarily, Apple Watch identified you, it was the key that unlocked your information and preferences and configured all your other devices and environments.

Secondarily Apple watch served as an interface for simple tasks (related to these devices and environments) and as a communicator.

This is not to say that the devices around you became dumb devices (dumb screens, dumb terminals etc). They were never that. They still carried the lion’s share of computing power required to perform their specialized tasks. But they were merely normally “un-configured”.

My Apple Watch connected to any friendly Apple TV and suddenly all my movies and shows appeared. All my content was in “the cloud” after all. (Btw, we don’t call it “the cloud” in the future, in fact we don’t call that anything, it’s just “storage”.)

Within a few years an iPad or iPhone in your household could switch between users depending on who was using it. Your unique desktop and apps would appear on any workstation you sat down to.  Because it knew it was you.

Apple Pay was just another variation on the theme. Apple Watch validated your identity and gave you the choice of credit card to use.

And I should mention, since there is a flurry of speculation, that yes, Apple Watch worked amazingly well with what you guys are calling the Apple Car (and other cars by the way). The Apple Car was particularly excellent. Your digital environment on wheels. Once identified, all your media was available, your seat, mirrors, mood-lighting, common destinations, and temperature adjusted to you, and of course you locked, unlocked and started your car with your Apple Watch.

There was some other stuff of course – once Apple and others started making things for the home. Thermostats, lighting, door locks and home security. It all responded to and was partly controlled by, your Apple Watch.

This system was ultimately more secure as well. None of your other devices had to hold content or information. It was encrypted in storage (sorry, in “the cloud”), and your Apple Watch merely unlocked it.  But in this way, none of your other devices became points of vulnerability.

Do you see what I mean – Apple Watch – plus our finger print (and later more convenient biometric ID – another post) – was our digital key. So it was with us literally all the time.

And this is why so many of us were so willing to spend so much on our Apple Watches. It was the most central piece of hardware we owned; a functional part of every other device we used and every modern environment we entered. It was perpetually on display, occupying the familiar, ornamental status of horological watches of the past. But even more important than that, it was the sole material manifestation of our digital selves.  And in the future, let’s just say, our digital world doesn’t get less important. For these reasons it was plainly worthy of inordinate expense and pageantry.

It was the sole material manifestation of our digital selves.  And in the future, let’s just say, our digital world doesn’t get less important. For these reasons it was plainly worthy of inordinate expense and pageantry.

It was so much more than critics today seem able to wrap their heads around.  More than a hobbled phone, more than the convenience of ready alerts and messaging.  It was your key, your hub, it was you.

There was admittedly an awkward phase where Apple Watch was lovely, if a little bulky. You’re in that phase now, well, or are about to be. But Apple quickly slimmed the device, and generated many more models. Once the dimensions were improved, and battery life extended, Apple Watch found it’s sweet spot. One that lasted for many years.  I could have spelled that “maaaaaannnny”, which is an actual word in the future, but I believe that’s still bad grammar in this time.

Anyway, having seen it all play out, I think Apple understood this larger system before most. Being the Apple with vision, they got all this at a time when other companies were scrambling around calling goofy, little, one-off technical experiments “wearable” when in reality few of them really were. No one wanted to wear visible gewgaws. It was just a fact. Existence of these technologies never sold anyone on wearing some device prominently on our bodies. Not on our clothes (except underwear for mostly medical reasons), and definitely not on our glasses. Not anywhere on display BUT OUR WRISTS. Oh, and our finger of course… ah, but that’s another post.

Apple Watch is NOT Replacing the Mechanical Watch

Time goes byMy little voice is nothing in the breathless rush of chatter about the Apple Watch. But I keep hearing the same set of sentiments from my friends and I think they have it all wrong.

In various ways, friends are lamenting the loss of the mechanical watch. Others are asking “Why do I need this accessory? What’s the killer app”?

Back in the day people had pocket watches. You’d dig in your pocket, and pull out your pocket watch to tell the time.

Then the wristwatch came along. It was smaller – but so much more convenient. The time was right there at a glance.

The thing people have wrong is that Apple Watch is not replacing the watch. It’s replacing your phone. Or it will rather. Apple is just hoping it can provide sufficient value through the form-factor in the meantime.

“But they call it a watch.”
Yes, it’s called “watch”, but calling the Apple Watch a “watch” is akin to calling the iPhone a phone, and not, say, a pocket computer. The Apple Watch is a wrist computer and will eventually replace your pocket computer. All based on pure convenience.

The Apple Watch is a wrist computer and will eventually replace your pocket computer.

“But I need a bigger screen!”, friends have then said. Of course you do for some things, and bigger screens will become accessories. And that’s another paradigm shift here – the watch is not the accessory, the screen is.

There is no way this first Apple Watch is the fully expressed big idea. This is just the first step.  Surely the plans for Apple Watch are long.

It’s long been acknowledged that anyone under 30 who wears a mechanical watch today is essentially wearing jewelry. And that they use their phones to tell the time now.  For these users wrist watches are merely quaint objects on par with vinyl LPs and 50s geek glasses.  So for a generation of users who have abandoned mechanical watches for “pocket computers”, a wrist computer is so much more convenient, and it does not replace anything already there. For them, sheer convenience is the killer app.

For hipsters and us old farts who still think mechanical watches are beautiful and functional jewelry, yes, we need to “replace”. And if one is contemplating that switch there is no killer app. But there are 3 dozen small, functional features – in addition to telling time – that make the switch quite worthwhile.

Over time, I believe that switch will happen – even for them – as the Apple Watch replaces the iPhone.



Die Hard and the Meaning of Life: The Undeniable Attraction of Loyalty

I was watching a movie with my wife when I had an epiphany. I don’t want to tell you which movie because it doesn’t matter, and I would really rather not reveal the ham-fisted taste I have in movies anyway. But I was watching this movie and there came a point in the story that you will recognize because it’s part of every movie ever made – where the hero, who was obviously so committed… alright, I’m not going to be able to explain this without telling you which movie, it was Die Hard.

Die Hard

Die Hard, 1988

…Ok see? Now you’re going “oh, one of those guys”. Fine. Yes, I am. I am totally one of those guys. And so is my wife. Anyway there came a point where I found myself delighting in the fact that John McClane was not going to stop trying to save the hostages, one of whom is his estranged wife, no matter what happens to him. No matter what challenges and risks are placed in his way – he is going to try to save them despite impossible odds. And I realized that it’s really his unshakable, defiant loyalty to the innocent people he cares about that makes you cheer for this guy; his belligerent loyalty – in the face of possible death – to protect and honor the people he loves, that is so positive and attractive. I realized that in one way or another some display of loyalty is at the root of every moment I’ve ever cheered during a film – or conversely a lack thereof when I’ve been angry at a character.  And as the thought rolled over me, quickly becoming more complex and patterned, I had this epiphany: that loyalty, in all its positive flavors, is maybe the most impressive, attractive, beautiful and powerful behavior humans can display to one another.

When someone says “No! There is one more guarantee you have. You can depend on me. I will be here.” is there anything more powerful and uplifting?

Like I said – it doesn’t matter that the movie was Die Hard, because it became clear that this was true of every movie I’d ever seen, of every character relationship I’d ever read. And, I realized, it must be true of nearly every kind of interpersonal relationship we have as humans.

The world can seem unfair. The only practical guarantee you have is the end. We live life under a looming cloud of uncertain timing; in so many ways the universe is not aligned to favor us. But when another person rises and defies the dearth of life’s promises and through action says “No! There is one more guarantee you have. You can depend on me. I will be here” – is there anything more powerful and uplifting? One person’s will against universal entropy.


Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King, 2003


Step Brothers, 2008


Aliens, 1986

Good characters become bad guys when they are disloyal to the hero. And bad guys redeem themselves when they demonstrate a turn of loyalty to the hero. Back in my screenwriting days one of the mantras we carried with us was “Characters are what they do, not what they say.”

All sorts of interesting character dynamics emerge when we mix up what is said and done by a character. And when, despite claiming loyalty, a character sheds that and instead acts in his own self-interest, he transforms into a villain. That’s how important we naturally feel loyalty is. It seems there is nothing tragically, unjustly worse than losing the loyalty of another. The emotion is innate.  And gaining loyalty is similarly immediately endearing.

Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981        Indy: “Give me the whip!”      Satipo: “Adiós, señor.”


The Lion King, 1994


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 2004

So I came to realize, maybe too late in life, that loyalty is perhaps the most profound, meaningful, beautiful and useful behavior humans can give to one another. Indeed, loyalty is perhaps the only meaningful measure of humanity. Loyalty to your fellow man.

Some would say that love, sits on that throne. And I suppose it does sit above in principle. “Love conquers all” as they say. But loyalty is the action; the visible, tangible expression of that love. The “what characters do”. One must act, sacrifice and possibly face critical risks to remain loyal. And let’s face it, it’s loyalty that makes love so wonderful in the first place.


The Notebook, 2004


Titanic, 1997

I don’t mean to knock love, but I guess it’s just that love is so abstract and effortless – love just happens. Why do you think we say “fall in love”? Love’s happenstance is captured in the iconic moment where two characters bump into one another at a corner. Or when they unexpectedly glimpse each other across a room – boom – “love at first sight”. It’s easy. No effort. No will. Indeed love has no real meaning until action is required. Love cannot be measured – except through displays of loyalty.

Marriage vows, although of course well-intentioned, are mere promises of eventual loyalty (remember, characters are what they do, not what they say). So long as life is easy, so long as there is no temptation or risk, love is easy to profess. And lets face it, it’s never easier than when the future seems bright, a roomful of loved ones are smiling, and champagne and cake are in hand. Rather, it’s when life becomes hard, perhaps many years and tragic events later, when the darkest of life’s unfortunate challenges are faced, that’s when love – through displays of loyalty – has meaning.

Billy Elliot

Billy Elliot, 2000


Avatar, 2009


Drive, 2011

Even in unexpected places, loyalty plays an important role. I look around myself at work and I realize how grateful I am for those people who have stuck by me and the company’s mission, despite work’s up and downs. You know, those people who stick with you and seem almost immune to the business world’s constant seduction of self-interest. These are the people you want to reward. Because they have displayed such loyalty.


Skyfall, 2012


Schindler’s List, 1993


Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 1982

Forgive me, I’m on a journey; this may seem simplistic and naive to you. And observations like this don’t always have a practical application, but I suppose this one made me mindful of the importance of choosing my loyalties. Remembering that the measure of my loyalty is my action.  And it redefined what I look for and value in others.


Office Space, 1999

Léon: The Professional, 1994


Cinema Paradiso, 1988

The ebb and flow of loyalties can make us feel joyful and loved, or drop us into profound sorrow. But a life filled with mutual, positive loyalties is filled with meaning, and I’m not sure there is anything more important in the world.