Category Archives: musings

Suzi Q, where are you?

I got a card in the post the other day, from my friends Di and Johnny. Regular readers will know Di as one of the most frequent commenters here (ie, she has commented). We disagreed over The Great Gatsby.

Anyway, the card had a post-it stuck inside, with some writing on it that I couldn’t quite make out. Di wrote, “Been trying to get this for you for ages… can you guess who it is?”

I was slow to realise that the “who” referred to the writing on the post-it. But she also said there was a clue on the back of the card.

On the back she’d written “devilgate.org”.

The post-it looks like this:

SuziQuatroAutograph

And I read it to say, “To Martin. Suzi Quatro.”

I mean, if it says that it makes sense considering my origin story; otherwise, not so much.

Thanks Di and Johnny. It’s a lovely thought.

Aye, (Head)Phones

I’m not in the market for a new pair of headphones. My venerable Sennheiser HD450s are still doing fine for over-the-head use, and the same brand have provided me with a series of earbuds for mobile use. But I tried a pair of Beats by Dre phones in an HMV the other day, just to see what all the fuss was about.

They looked pretty good, felt comfortable, and sounded great. But the price!

Apparently Apple bought Beats more for the streaming service than the phones. That makes sense: if they’d wanted a headphone company they’d have gone for Sennheiser, obviously (and if they cared about earphones in general they wouldn’t have made horrible ones for years).

But you’d think that if they wanted a streaming service, they’d have gone for Spotify, which is surely more established.

So I suspect the truth may include a combination of the two, plus a degree of cool cachet, in what is perhaps a demographic that they don’t currently reach.

Either way, if the next iPhone or Mac comes with a cool pair of phones (unlikely thought that may be) I won’t be unhappy.

Why Devilgate?

I always expect people to ask me about my use of the handle devilgate, but they almost never do. But an old friend did recently, and I wrote him the answer, and I think it belongs here.

So sit back and relax, and I’ll fill you in on the whole story.

You’re familiar with the origin story of the comics character Daredevil, I assume? Well it’s almost exactly like that, except with less radioactive material/eye interaction, blindness and skintight costumes. But with added rock ‘n’ roll.

So, back around the time I was in primary 4 or 5 (age 9-10), Suzi Quatro, as I’m sure you know, had a song called ‘Devilgate Drive’ (or so I thought for decades; I was telling a colleague at work this story a few years back and we looked for it on Spotify, and couldn’t find it; until we split it into two words: ‘Devil Gate Drive’; somehow much less satisfying). I didn’t actually know the song back then, but some of my classmates did, and started calling me ‘Devilgate’, precisely because I was decidedly non-devilish (or so I assume). I was seen as a bit of a goody-goody, because a) my Mum was a teacher, and b) I was a bit of a goody-goody.

As nicknames go, it was a lot better than it could have been. I remember once another kid asking me what it meant, and I said, “Devilgate: the gate full of the devil.” Which is kind of embarrassing, but considering how goody-goody I actually was (altar boy, and all that), it’s surprising that I wasn’t more bothered by the diabolical nature. Perhaps further evidence that all children are naturally without belief, until and unless they’re indoctrinated into having some: I probably didn’t really believe in the devil.

Anyway, spin forward a few years and I got online and was looking for a handle somewhere — Slashdot might have been where I first used it, and I was just trying to find out whether you can find the creation date of your Slashdot user ID, but it seems you can’t. I have a vague feeling, actually, that I used it somewhere else first, but I can’t imagine where that might be.

Anyway, having established it, it became my go-to handle. Wherever there’s a web service, if there’s a devilgate (or Devilgate: I see that I capitalised it back in the Slashdot days), it’ll almost certainly be me. Except for eBay, where I’m devilgate_real, because some bampot had nicked my name by the time I got there.

And so when I finally got round to registering my own domain, it was obvious what I’d choose.

Some People Left for Heaven Without Warning…

Too many people died in 2013. So many, it seems, that when Philip Chevron of The Pogues died, I didn’t get round to finishing my post. Here’s what I wrote in October:

… Except there ain’t no fucking heaven, and too damn many people have left for it this year. I hate 2013.

If there’s one slightly positive thing about Philip Chevron dying two days ago for me, it’s that I was reminded that the box set Just Look Them Straight In The Eye And Say… Pogue Mahone! exists; and also that it is now available in an inexpensive format for about £14. I ordered it on Tuesday night, and it arrived today.

I’ve been listening to it all afternoon. It’s a combination of outtakes, demos, live tracks and radio sessions, and it’s very good.

One thing that stands out at the moment, though, is that their music is steeped in the imagery of death. “Some people left for heaven without warning” is a line from “Sally Maclennane”, of course.

Weirdest Customer Request?

This is one of those unpublished posts I told you about. I don’t know why it wasn’t published (well, except that I hadn’t written the last couple of sentences).

A while back I heard the strangest ever request from a customer.

As you might know, I work for a software house.1 We write financial software for banks. As a thing to talk about it tends to be boring, but it can have interesting challenges.

Anyway, one of our product’s problems, as a web-based app, is that it was written to specifically target the Internet Explorer browser.

I know that seems at best charmingly retro, and at worst appallingly non-standards-compliant, but there are a couple of good-ish reasons. Principally the fact that the original version of the web app was written by contractors who both only knew IE, and were told that our clients only cared about IE. The latter was probably true at the time, and as for the former, well: let’s just say that sometimes people in companies make some stupid decisions, and leave it at that.

Inevitably, and especially as the browser landscape has matured and Apple and Google have come to rule the world, there have been calls to fix things. But there have always been higher-priorities. Getting new features done takes priority over making things work better, sadly.

One of these years we’ll fix it — personally I don’t think it’ll be as difficult as people always think (that fear is another reason why we have resisted doing it).

But what it would really take to force us to sort it out would be if a client demanded it.

If it were going to make or break a sale, we’d be all hands on deck.

So it’s interesting that we got a query a while back wherein a client was concerned about the fact that the app doesn’t work properly in Firefox. This was causing some of their users distress, as FF is their chosen browser. Was this it? Was this the opportunity, at last, driven by customer demand, to bring our app into the late twentieth century?

No.

No, the client had a better idea. They wanted us to to change our app such that it would detect that the user was running something other than IE…

… and prompt them to use IE instead.

Oh dear.

(We didn’t agree to their request.)


  1. Incidentally, why “house”, I wonder? By association with “publishing house”, obviously, but why are those “houses”? I’m reminded of a discussion I had on a software mailing list in the nineties regarding the American tendency (then, if not now) for referring to a “shop”, meaning a programming entity, including an old-school IT department within a company. []

Understanding a Misunderstanding

Spotify has always behaved weirdly regarding how you queue tracks up. Today I think I realised why.

They think “Queue this track up” means “Cue this track up”. They’re thinking like DJs, but they are confused by homophones.

I’m thinking like a programmer, I admit: queues are first-in-first-out; but more importantly, like an ordinary person: you join a queue at the end, not just behind the person at the front.

See this discussion on their suggestions board which explains the weirdness, and is where (as I was adding a comment) I suddenly understood their thinking. Also definition 2 of “cue” is the appropriate one.

Edited: Queues are of course first-in-first-out, not last-in-first-out, as I wrote. That would be a stack, in programming terms. Whoops!

Google is Buying Sparrow, but not Updating the Apps

Google buys Sparrow, current apps will not get any new features | The Verge.

This is annoying. The only thing that was stopping me from making Sparrow my default mail client on my iPhone was the fact that it doesn’t do rotation to landscape mode yet. Now it looks like it never will.

It’s rarely good in the long run when big software companies hoover up small ones, it seems to me.

Weird Law-Enforcement Things

There were three slightly weird law-enforcement- or intelligence-related stories in the news today:

  • Two jailed in Northern Ireland over police officer’s murder.

    I heard the policeman’s wife on the radio. She spoke calmly about how getting the murderers off the streets was good for the community, and positively about the people who had bravely given evidence (at least one had to be given protection).

    The odd, disturbing, and intelligence-community-related thing is that army intelligence had a tracker device in the car of one of the murderers, and at first they refused to reveal its details to the police undertaking the investigation. The police had to threaten to get a warrant. Then when they did provide the data, it turned out to have sections mysteriously missing. You have to sympathise with the PSNI here: they had both the Continuity IRA bampots and the army working against them.

  • ‘Dark Arts’ involved in MI6 officer’s death.

    So what, this GCHQ codebreaker on secondment locked himself inside a bag using magic? I’m surprised that they’re even considering that it might not be murder here; or at least that someone has covered something up. More importantly, there’s the fact that the DNA evidence got messed up by a typo. Surely there’s got to be a better way?

  • Police officers deleted records of crime gangs

    And then there’s this business about the corruption in the Met. Evidence allegedly deleted on the orders of crime gangs? That’s some scary stuff. I’m pretty sure that when the Serious Organised Crime Agency was set up, it was meant to be anti-organised crime.

No real connection between these, I just heard about them all today.