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If, like me, you’re irritated by the whole “volumes” thing The Hub and Discovery Family insist(ed) on for the iTunes version of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, I’ve uploaded to my “Stash” a zip archive containing two sets of season icons to replace the existing “album art”, using the same 480-pixel-square size the existing images do.  One set uses the same design for all seasons: large “SEASON X” text and the current series logo on a simple dark-purple background. The other set uses smaller text and the appropriate title card for each season—the old pink series logo for seasons 1–6 and the new purple series logo for seasons 7–9. Also included are icons without season text.

If other download services beside iTunes use the same “volumes” model, I hope these images will work for them as well. Below is how to apply the images in iTunes for Mac; I haven’t used recent versions of Windows, so I’m afraid I don’t know how the process would work there.

1. Download and unzip the archive, which contains two folders of icons; choose which set of icons you prefer to use.

2. In iTunes, select a season of MLPFIM and go to Edit > Get Info (or press command-i); a dialog box pops up with metadata for the season.

3. Click on the “Artwork” tab (near the top of the dialog box, second from the left), which brings up a large preview of the artwork used by the season.

4. Click on the “Add Artwork” button at the lower left of the dialog box, then navigate to the file-system location where you put the downloaded PNG images and choose the appropriate season image (“mlpfim-SX.png”, where X is the season number).

5. iTunes will ask whether you want to replace multiple items. I did, so all the individual episodes now use the season artwork; I’m not sure what happens if one chooses not to.
First, I apologize for spamming my watchers with navigation icons. I didn’t think about it at first; when I did, I looked for the check-box to disable notifications—but as far as I can tell that option seems to exist only when updating, not upon first submission.

Anyway, I recently decided to pony up for a paid Deviantart membership to help support the service I’ve been using for several years now. I knew I wanted to take advantage of nesting gallery folders, and promptly started rearranging the furniture to do just that. The more I got into it, though, the more possibilities suggested themselves to me.

Moving all the individual submissions into subfolders left the top-level folders barren. Rather than leave them appearing abandoned, I populated them with, in essence, duplicates of the sidebar navigation. Clicking through those duplicates introduces an extra step in the navigation, since one then must click the “Proceed to the gallery” link in the submission description, but it’s better than nothing, and in a gallery view it puts the navigation front and center.

I strongly recommend nested folders to every Deviantart paying member. It reduces clutter on any single page; I can’t count the number of galleries I’ve seen with enough folders in the sidebar to make my eyes glaze over with the tyranny of choice. For those interested in how I implemented it, here’s a breakdown.
  • At the gallery’s top level, one can see a set of basic category folders—five, in my case, covering all the sorts of projects I submit.
  • Clicking a basic category folder brings one to a set of subfolders within that category. In my case, at the time of writing the number of subcategories ranges from two to six.

There are some additional details, such as adding to the profile page a “featured folder” widget for each of the five category folders, but what it all boils down to is stripping away as much as possible to emphasize navigation.

All that said, I don’t recommend more than two levels of folders. That should suffice for all but the most complex Deviantart gallery, and when browsing through folders, it means no level is more than a single click away (including the “Gallery” tab). At worst, when inside a bottom-level subfolder, one can click the superfolder link to get back to that level of navigation.
Eh, what the heck, some audience participation time. Got questions for Grimoire Lectern, Rose Brass, or Cookie Pusher? Ask away! I’ll reply with answers in character. Depending on how it goes, elements might end up in stories.
Crecious could use some commissions, so go commission her! She’s posted details on her Deviantart journal.
Cross-posted from Fimfiction
Lectern’s New and Used Books is presented as a general-use setting for Equestria Girls fan fiction, especially slice-of-life stories rated for everyone or for teens. While there should be some particular reason for a story to take place in Lectern’s rather than in some other public setting (for example, the Sweet Shoppe), that is not a requirement. The descriptions below may be updated as needed.

Lectern’s New and Used Books
A rebuilt bungalow, currently painted in a satin-finish white, houses both the bookstore and a small studio living space at the front of the second floor. This combined retail-residential use almost certainly wouldn’t be allowed today, but the original conversion dates back decades, when code and permit requirements were far less rigorous. City records of the time also include a most unusual, and somewhat mysterious, zoning exemption that remains in force so long as the building continues to serve as both business and residence. Should the business go belly-up, or should the resident be forced to move out without someone else ready to move in immediately, the waiver would be revoked, with potentially drastic consequences.
        At the time, the district was in decline, not yet revived to its current quaint charm, so the waiver may have been a way to ensure someone would be on the premises more or less continuously. Exactly why the original owner chose to open a bookstore in that neighborhood is open to question; certainly nobody in city hall today can remember the reasons. Lectern probably doesn’t know either, since he bought the property after the previous owner died a generation or more ago. A relative had moved in hastily to satisfy the terms of the zoning waiver, but had no desire to remain in the long term, so the family sold on very favorable terms.
        Over the years since, a few mayors or city councils have mounted assaults on the building’s exceptional status, but so far all have been turned back by the solid and unequivocal terms of the exemption. Clearly the city, and possibly some other business owners in the neighborhood, would like nothing better than to do away with this bothersome square peg. Fortunately for it, the store currently is in sound financial shape, Lectern is in sound physical shape, and there’s no sign of either changing in the foreseeable future.

The Building and Lot
The bungalow is built on a forty- by hundred-foot (twelve- by thirty-plus-meter) parcel located on the northwest corner of a four-way intersection in a renovated and gentrified low-rise business district. Colorful flower beds immediately surround the house, and a single mature oak tree, flanked by a couple of bushes, graces the front yard on the side away from the intersection. The rest of the front setback is landscaped with mulch and low-growing native plants. A sturdy wood sign board is posted transverse to be visible to oncoming foot and motor traffic; the lettering is raised from a rough-carved background and brightly painted. Directional lights on arms mounted to the sign’s underside provide nighttime illumination.
        The back yard features a half-dozen shade trees, a small garage near the lot’s streetside back corner, and a raised terra-cotta-paved patio furnished with tables and chairs. Ground cover consists mostly of gravel for drainage around the house and garage and mulch elsewhere, since most plants would be shaded out by the trees and buildings. Concrete paths provide access, with a plank ramp leading down from the patio and a small plank “causeway” connecting the patio to the back door of the house.
        The bungalow’s interior features a great deal of oak-varnished wood. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves hold the shop’s inventory. Wainscoting and crown molding set off otherwise bare walls and ceilings painted in light earth tones. The staircase is all wood. The check-out counter is a retired bar. The front sitting room is set up for patrons to sit and converse or read quietly, with a baker’s dozen overstuffed chairs, a few small round coffee tables, and pole lamps in three corners. Most of the furnishings, whether built-in or free-standing, were obtained piecemeal, often as architectural salvage, but reupholstering, revarnishing, and careful juxtaposition minimize the potential for clashing.
        When Lectern purchased the building a generation ago, the movement to improve accessibility was beginning to gather momentum. Since the business, and the building, would be closed for renovation anyway, he took full advantage of low- and zero-interest government loans to install a LULA (limited-use limited-application) elevator in addition to the ramps. The demanding requirements of even a small elevator shaft and mechanism necessitated extending the building’s rear edge by six feet, by far the most expensive and extensive modification. The enlarged footprint, combined with the garage, exceeded forty percent lot coverage, which caused some legal wrangling that ended only when an accessibility advocacy group caught wind of the affair and brought the story to the local media.
        Interior and exterior plan views are available for orientation, and have been updated extensively after consultation over architectural and zoning issues. NB: Since the scriptwriters are careful never to place the Equestria Girls setting in any particular locale, it probably is wisest to do the same by avoiding detailed descriptions of exactly what the native flowers and other plants are, or exactly what roofing is used on the bungalow, since those can and do vary by region. Oak trees are widely distributed across the northern hemisphere, so that is reasonably safe, though even they come in a wide variety of shapes and species.

The Business
Lectern indeed carries used books and offers a fairly generous trade-in policy, especially to those willing to accept store credit rather than cash, but from his point of view that mostly is a sideline—something that benefits the community, but doesn’t contribute much to his bottom line. The real source of his prosperity, aside from carrying a broad inventory of new books on a wide variety of subjects, is his connection to the networks of rare-book dealers and brokers. Other than unique or vanishingly rare specimens, such as one might find in museums or the most exclusive collections, if it is or ever has been in print, Lectern may be able to get it. Those books reside in the locked and reinforced bookshelves behind the check-out counter while they await pick-up and payment. In addition, the building is equipped with a monitored alarm system.
        The store’s hours run from nine in the morning (0900) to nine in the evening (2100) five days a week. Sunday and Monday it usually is closed, though there are occasional exceptions for various reasons, generally arranged in advance. Lectern himself runs the place during slack hours, and for busier times employs a never-ending parade of high-school and university students on a part-time basis, most of them for relatively short periods. He’s a fairly understanding boss, but only within reason—he’s perfectly willing to punt the occasional slacker or malcontent with a polite but clear lecture on exactly why he’s doing so.
        He doesn’t leave the house often during business hours, and he rarely travels at any time. Once or twice a year he may close for a weekend or a week of vacation, usually to visit family. Often, but not always, this is during the holidays, though he also has hosted small parties for staff and some steady customers, notably when an unusual number of them lack nearby family for their own celebrations.

Grimoire Lectern
Yes, Grimoire is his first name; no, he isn't particularly fond of it. To most people he’s “Mister Lectern”, and always has been. To acquaintances around his own advanced age he’s just “Lectern”. A few old cronies and close relatives are permitted to call him “Grim”, though his grandchildren can get away with “Grandpa Grim”.
        A generation ago he was a recent widower whose grown children were starting families of their own. Rather than “rattle around like a pea in a box”, as he put it, he retired, sold his previous much-too-large home, and took up running, and living in, the bookstore that now bears his name. Though at first a distraction from an empty nest and bereavement, the shop and bungalow have grown important to him in their own right, and he genuinely enjoys this latest phase of his long and somewhat checkered life. He has no connection to Equestria, magic, or otherworldly doings.
        His voice is a clear tenor, only a little creaky with age. He is well-spoken, with an educated and slightly archaic vocabulary, and is intelligent and observant. His interests and knowledge are broad, especially history and society. He firmly believes “this too shall pass” is the most universal aphorism—but “it’s more complicated than that” runs a close second.

Lectern is one of nature’s gentlemen: good-humored, patient, and understated, treating others—regardless of age, sex, or lifestyle—politely and with respect. In return, he requires civility toward himself and everyone else in his vicinity, and is perfectly willing to speak up when necessary or even to eject truly recalcitrant individuals; he is quite serious about enforcing the shop’s placard stating “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone”. Should someone willfully push him past his fairly broad limits, his temper emerges in quiet, sharply chosen words.
        He makes an effort to stay in touch with the times, especially the digital technology that has become so important and all-pervasive. On the rare occasion he inflicts a story from the Old Days on a younger audience, he does his best to make it concise and interesting, or at least amusing and on point. He still remembers, if a bit hazily, what it was like to be young himself, and less hazily, what it was like for his children, so he treats teens and even children with the same dignity and courtesy he shows adults and never dismisses the concerns of youth out of hand. He may have trouble keeping a straight face when they are exaggerated beyond reason during a bout of adolescent angst, but will offer practical, straightforward advice if asked.

Lectern is of average height and size for his age, and gets a decent amount of exercise—after all, he spends a lot of time carrying stacks of books and going up and down stairs. His features are strong and mobile, with a clean-shaven round face that twinkles or smiles easily and often. His complexion is a new-brick red and his eyes are a piercing leaf green. His halo of balding hair and bushy eyebrows are snow white, though whether the white is natural or due to age is hard to tell. Think of a cross between Ian McKellan and Michael Gambon. (Thanks to Ggunsailor, who came up with a better look for Lectern than I originally had in mind!)
        Lectern’s wardrobe tends toward white button-down shirts, charcoal-gray suspenders, and black slacks, with black Oxford shoes, though he does have other clothing appropriate to various social settings. He favors bow ties over neckties, but owns a few of each. His eyesight is good, requiring little correction aside from small round thin-frame reading glasses, which often sit perched on his nose.
Go thou and commission SmudgeDragon!
Roan now is available in PDF form for download from Drive-Thru RPG. My understanding is the hardback version will be available soon from them, Amazon, and possibly other sources.
Over the last year or two I’ve worked, in a desultory fashion, on rewriting Pony Tales to remove the Open D6 elements from the rules and to remove explict references to the television series. The goal, of course, was to create a new manuscript suitable for print, spurred by a plethora of other pony RPGs passing Pony Tales by on their way to an actual market.

The new title I had in mind was The Magical Land, which, while a call-back to the series, was a vague and general phrase suitable for any fantasy RPG. I figured to retain the US letter size but minimize page count; my philosophy based on my professional experience is, a book that’s wide and tall, but thin, is less intimidating than a smaller but thicker book. (Look at children’s picture books, which tend toward the same principle.) The rules would need extensive reworking, but the setting information would need complete rewriting. Well, that’s nothing unexpected; any project of significant size often goes through a transformation of similar scale. It’s a bump in the road, but nothing insurmountable.

Not long ago, however, Hasbro announced something I never in my wildest dreams imagined actually happening: They contracted Riverhorse, a company with a so-so reputation based on its past games, to create and publish a canonical role-playing game. Since the short elevator pitch for The Magical Land boils down to “a grown-up version of Lauren Faust’s original vision for Equestria”, that news complicated matters immensely.

Another factor is that crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter require incorporation for any entity submitting a project. As I am abjectly poor, there is no way on God’s green earth I can scrape up the wherewithal to incorporate in California, which is fairly small-business-hostile. That molehill’s turning into a mountain.

In addition, I still feel quite a lot of burn-out over the whole project, and it’s hard to summon up the enthusiasm needed to tackle it. Most of the time nowadays I regret having started the whole damned thing in the first place. Even if I did continue I can’t guarantee I could rewrite the book sufficiently while still retaining the essential elements that are the whole reason for writing it in the first place.

At this point I think the game pretty much has reached the end of the road. There’s a sense of mingled relief and frustration in that conclusion—relief that there really isn’t a lot of point to continued support and frustration because it would be a nice vindication to boost what was one of the earliest pony RPG efforts to stand beside all the later efforts brought to publication.
. . . How much like hobbits the ponies are in MLPFIM? (That’s a good thing, by the way.)
Thirty days hath this month, that month, and the other month . . .

For me, at least, that little jingle utterly fails of its purpose, being no easier to remember than the raw information it purportedly organizes. Instead, I use a trick taught to me in my youth by my mother, who in turn learned it (if I recall correctly) from a grandmother or great-grandmother. Any time I’ve mentioned or used it, I get stares, as if I suddenly grew a second head; apparently nobody else knows of it, at least in my part of the US. For that reason, I suppose I should document it.

Make a fist of one hand and hold it out with the knuckles up. Put a fingertip of the other hand on the index knuckle. That’s January, a long month.

Move the fingertip to the “valley” between the index and middle knuckles. That’s February, a short month.

Touch the middle knuckle. That’s March, another long month.

Touch the valley between the middle and ring knuckles. That’s April, another short month.

Proceed along the rest of the knuckles and valleys, counting off months, to the pinkie knuckle and July.

Start over again with the index knuckle and August. Proceed again through knuckles and valleys to December.

I always have my hands with me, and the only things I have to remember are the order of the months and the principle of ticking off knuckles and valleys. It even correctly accounts for July and August being two long months in a row.

Knuckle is long month; between knuckles is short month.
Today Baron-Engel broke his right clavicle in a fall. As he is right-handed, this puts him out of action for the immediate future, and certainly will affect his work queue. Please be patient, and let folks know.
. . . acknowledged in its categories the existence of physical/tabletop games, which pre-date digital games by at least several thousand years.
Now that pony role-playing games have become a thing—and I’m involved in multiple projects to develop more—I’ve decided to jump on the bandwagon and redevelop mine into a full-fledged print version to place on the market.

The rules are being revamped to make them more original, but without moving them completely away from the general feel and approach. The explicit division between “literal” and “figurative” games by now is obsolete and will be removed in favor of a more graduated approach to customizing rules for specific aims and desired results. Background material will be rewritten, not to change the nineteenth-century Industrial-Revolution milieu presented, but to allow the rulebook to stand on its own without external references.

Eventually I plan to look into publishing, perhaps via crowdfunding. However, before even starting such a process, I would want to have a complete ready-to-print document: Trying to handle project development and a crowdfunding campaign simultaneously would be a huge headache. Being able to say “Yes, I could fire off a PDF file to a printer right this minute” not only would reduce my stress, I imagine it might reassure potential backers that the project would not become vaporware.

Right now I’m in the early stages, mostly working on the necessary rules revisions. I am not currently soliciting assistance on the project, but neither am I rejecting the idea. Be aware that I cannot at this time offer any assurances as to timeline for milestones, or recompense—other than credit—for any submissions or collaboration.

Existing sections of “guest content” are subject to removal unless I receive explicit (written) permission to retain them. After all, it’s one thing to contribute a little essay, story, or character material gratis as a favor to a friend for an all-volunteer project. It’s quite another when a formally published project and all the attendant business affairs are involved, and I want to be scrupulous about that.
I’ve been engaged to handle graphic design and page lay-out for a pen-and-paper pony role-playing game book titled Roan. The creator, mh47e, has started a Kickstarter campaign to cover the costs of payment to myself and other contributors, most especially illustrators, and of printing and distribution.

The setting is strongly influenced by pulp adventure—both the original interwar fiction featuring the likes of Doc Savage and the Phantom, Terry and the Pirates and Billy Barnes, and latter-day homages such as Indiana Jones, the Rocketeer, and Sky Captain. The game mechanics are a licensed customized version of the Ubiquity rules set by Jeff Combos.

The project was funded to the tune of more than $20,000! Now the real work begins.
I’m looking actively for new clients, preferably steady ones, who need graphic design and/or production art services. I can telecommute anywhere, of course. My professional Web site with sample work is at
Long-time friend and roommate Baron-Engel and I are considering the concept of a monthly hour-long podcast on, well, pretty much any topic we find interesting—though world-building would be the primary area of discussion. Though it would be a new medium for us, we do have a good deal of experience as panel moderators at furry and science-fiction conventions, and a good deal of background in and enthusiasm for creative endeavors in general and world-building in particular.

Note that, for the same reasons traditional newspaper comic strips maintain a thirty-day backlog, we’d assemble several episodes before we’d begin releasing them. Addendum: We’ve decided on a tentative title of Six Honest Serving-Men—ten trivia points to anyone who knows where it comes from.

Who would be interested in such a podcast, and what subjects would folks be interested in hearing about? Examples of subjects we’ve covered in past convention panels are:

• Building detail and variety into fictional societies and cultures
• Design and discomfort in clothing and body decoration
• Ergonomics in a furry (or otherwise nonhuman) world
• Designing histories for fictional worlds
• Espionage in a furry (or otherwise nonhuman) world
• Mad science and mad scientists in fact and fiction
Last Christmas I received an Amazon gift card; in a fit of enthusiasm, I blew it on MLPFIM Enterplay CCG decks. After scratching my head over the rules, my interest waned pretty completely, and so it’s sat, collecting dust.

So then, for fifty bucks US plus shipping (or best offer), I’ll send it off to someone who’ll give it a good home. Included (photo) are:

• Double-deck Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy set
• Single-deck Twilight Sparkle and Applejack set
• Single-deck Rainbow Dash and Rarity set
• Rarity carrying tin
• Sundry booster-pack cards
• Five acrylic deck boxes

The tin, deck boxes, and booster-pack cards are effectively free—the deck sets alone cost about fifty bucks. No original packaging is included; the intent was to play, not to collect.
The family gifts of Sun and Moon play sets I’d intended to give out a couple of Christmases ago still sit, incomplete, in a corner. It’s time to look around again for a sculptor to create exemplar figurines from which to cast resin play sets.

Rather than a fancy exhibition-grade set with, for example, individual figures for the princesses or extravagant barding for the soldiers, I’d prefer a basic set of five figurines—one each for the five playing pieces of princess, earth pony, pegasus, unicorn, and shooting star. The idea is to evoke the classic Staunton chess pieces, clean and elegant, but standardized enough to be recognized instantly by any player, thereby preventing errors of play through unfamiliarity.

I suspect the most practical design would be to sculpt each figure from the waist up in a rearing position, emerging from the top of a squat column no more than an inch in diameter—less if feasible. A pocket in the bottom of the column would conceal a weight, similar to the way chess pieces are weighted to keep them from tipping too easily.

Outside of those basic guidelines, though, I’m open to ideas; certainly even within the regulations governing Staunton pieces there’s room for creativity.

For the game boards, I have round wood blanks, eighteen inches in diameter, originally intended as small tabletops. I need to find some way of silk-screening or otherwise printing the play fields, astral on one side and terrestrial on the other, on the blanks. (Then, of course, they’d be lacquered for protection.) Any ideas out there?
Map and journal post updated Wednesday evening 23 April 2014.

I’ve posted what I intend to be an evolving map defining the physical lay-out for the Valley of Heart’s Delight—the PDF file posted is enabled for comment and annotation, to allow for suggestions from interested parties. Additional information on the valley can be found on pages two and three of part four in the rulebook.

Added most recently are the settlements along the north edge of the floodplain; the River Road and the railroad right-of-way string them together. The approximate locations of tributary creeks flowing in from the north also are indicated.

Working on the map

Physical design is settling on a look reminiscent of, but not identical to, atlas and sheet maps of the late nineteenth century. The background is an aged-paper texture I ginned up a few years ago, expanded and tiled to fit. The current iteration of the map uses a low-res downsampling of the texture, since a print-quality version expands file size pretty dramatically.

After much difficulty, I’ve found a method to generate a heightmap,
 using real-world elevation data, with which to decorate the relief map. The data source is the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission; actual data plats can be downloaded from a bare-bones USGS site.

Reading and converting the data requires specialty software. Most of that software seems to be either expensive commercial specialty professional applications or kludgey open-source specialty professional applications. For the Mac, the shining exception is SimpleDEMViewer—its interface is very un-Mac-like and rather clunky, but it doesn’t require its user to hold a PhD in computer cartography in order to get useful results.

One thing I’ve learned after starting to noodle around with the heightmap is that I made the Valley much too big. The dimensions I gave in the original briefing document, which in an edited form I transferred to the rulebook, were twenty by forty miles. As it turns out, that’s a hell of a lot bigger than the Santa Clara Valley, which is causing me scaling problems.

As a result, I’ve reduced the Valley of Heart’s Delight by twenty-five percent, making it fifteen miles by thirty miles. That’s still somewhat bigger than the Santa Clara Valley, but the difference should be much more manageable and shouldn’t cause major problems in the pilot game. More to the point, it matches more closely my original mental picture of the Valley as being only slightly larger than its real-world inspiration.

Background information

The inspiration for this region comes from the Santa Clara Valley (a.k.a. Silicon Valley), which—before electronics took over—was a major orchard land because of its forty feet of topsoil. The surrounding Santa Cruz and Diablo ranges are only a few thousand feet high, but are extremely rugged, with outcrops of sandstone and other rocks. The Honey is bigger than the creeks that water the real valley in order to provide a sizable transportation artery and port location.

The Honey River serves as the valley’s main transportation artery, along with the (comparatively) newfangled railroad, and it’s navigable by small to medium riverboat up to the horseshoe bend around the castle promontory at Bitburg. It’s roughly the length and width of the Russian River in Northern California—which is why it won’t support larger riverboats—but unlike the real river, it isn’t dangerously energetic in the winter.

The Honey’s tributaries are no more than creeks. Some may be navigable, at least by small rafts and boats; a few may allow passage onto the Honey (and vice versa), but others may require portage. The number, location, and courses of those tributaries currently are open to development, though the Old Road and Griffin Road each more or less follow one.

Ponyford is the founding settlement, or at least the oldest, at the end of the Old Road. The eponymous ford is over one of the tributary creeks rather than the Honey, crossing just before the drop to the river’s floodplain, but road and rail bridges long since have replaced it.

The Old Road crosses the northern mountains, more or less following the Ponyford creek, in part because that was the easiest pass and in part to remain near a water source during that part of the settlers’ journey to the valley.
“Rainbow Falls” is the first episode since “Wonderbolts Academy” to feature the Wonderbolts in general and Spitfire in particular. Otherwise an acceptable but not strong installment, its storyline crashes and burns on the same problem that torpedoed the previous Wonderbolts outing.

Spitfire and Fleetfoot simply do not act like mature, experienced military officers. In fact, a real-world field-grade or general officer (in an organization of good quality) who behaved in like fashion immediately would be hauled up on charges before a board of inquiry and possibly a court-martial. The charge in question is, in United States military parlance, “conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman”—or lady, in this case. British wording for the same offense is similar, though not identical. In both cases, military slang shortens the phrase to “conduct unbecoming”.

The reason for this is simple. Part of military training for all ranks, and even more for officers, is to instill a strong and consistent code of morals and ethics. One may quibble over some aspects of that code, but it exists and is critical to the success of the service in question. The widespread belief, fostered by Hollywood, that military officers are bloodthirty barbarians with no moral compass rests on the flawed assumption that any such code must rise from the same foundation as the social contract of the civilian world. In fact the two must be, and are, utterly different: War is the most extreme activity any society can undertake, with uniquely harsh but vitally necessary imperatives and requirements. (This, incidentally, is one reason why military personnel, especially those who engaged in frequent combat for long periods, often experience difficulties reintegrating into civilian life.)

A military officer is responsible both for the individual fates of the personnel under his or her authority and very possibly for the fates of nations. Balancing one against the other in wartime is an agonizing ongoing process, often with mere minutes or seconds in which to make decisions great or small, on little or no (or even faulty) information. At the same time, while patriotism or other abstract motivations may have led one into donning the uniform, what keeps the same person going in the cauldron of battle is loyalty of a very personal sort—the need to keep faith with one’s comrades because everyone’s lives and, perhaps more importantly, victory and the survival of one’s country depend on it. In short, every instinct in Spitfire and Fleetfoot should impel their behavior toward Soarin’ to be exactly the opposite of what it was in the episode.

The military code has been refined and tempered in that cauldron over the millennia of recorded history. Details vary from nation to nation and service to service, but the broad outlines remain generally the same—and that is the answer also to any objection based on the observation that brightly colored magical ponies might be different from hairless apes. While true, it overlooks two facts: First, that war and combat would impose the same strains and urgencies, and require the same personal and institutional responses, regardless of species; second, that pony society has been shaped by the writers to resemble human society, mostly to ease storytelling for themselves and their young primary audience.

Allowing active-duty military officers to participate in an athletic festival, particularly representing a civil municipality, is shaky, but can be justified by invoking “ponies have different traditions”. The same can be said of allowing an individual to participate in only one event, especially with the justification that said rule encourages participation by as many ponies (or, apparently, griffons) as possible, which comports well with the Equestrian ethos.

So, again, the question legitimately may be raised: “How would you do it, smarty-pants?” The answer in this case is simpler than for “Wonderbolts Academy” and apparently has occurred independently to others. Instead of the Wonderbolts, the Cloudsdale team should have been foalhood friends of Rainbow Dash—perhaps fellow alumni of the Junior Speedsters, as was Gilda in “Griffon the Brush-off”. Not only would it avoid the whole tangle of involving military personnel in a dubious ethical and legal situation, it would heighten Dash’s test of loyalty by making it a good deal more personal: Which cherished friends does she support, and which does she leave aside?

If retaining Wonderbolts as characters is absolutely necessary, make them junior officers—second lieutenants (nicknamed “butter bars” in US military slang for their single gold-colored rank bars). There are several storytelling benefits to this tack: They are closer to Dash’s age and therefore more like peers—and would be of the rank she would hold upon Academy graduation. They are young and therefore more likely to engage in brash borderline behavior, and it could have been an opportunity to show them being chewed out or an ominous hint of disciplinary action for their improper behavior.

. . . And why did the winner of Manehattan Fashion Week design an athletic uniform that looks like a tablecloth?