Recent Events

It’s been a strange few weeks.

There was the referendum, and its immediate aftermath. That’s still ongoing, of course, and won’t be over any time soon.

Then there was my leaving do from work, as I’d reached the end of the at-risk period, and am now redundant, obsolete, out of work, etc. The do was good. We had a decent turnout of current and former colleagues. My boss’s boss’s boss, the one who told us the news that we were being made redundant, turned up (he is the only one of the hierarchy who is based in Britain, the intervening layers being in Manila) and paid off the tab at the time he left, which must have been about 7pm. We still managed to spend just over £250 after that, which was optimal, as there were five of us.

I got an Uber home, and accidentally discovered what the difference between “Pool” and “UberX” is. I found myself in a car with four strangers (including the driver). To be honest I don’t think “Pool” was an option when I last used an Uber. I assume the “X” means “Exclusive.”

Anyway, they were all going to Islington, which left me to snooze on to Hackney, so it worked out fine.

And then I was unemployed. It didn’t quite hit me at first, because my beloved and I had a weekend trip to Avebury, which was fascinating. Here’s a picture of some stones. And a sheep.

AveburyCoveAndSheep

But Monday dawned, and I set to with my new daily plan:

  • 8:00 – Get up, go for a swim.
  • 9:00-ish – Home, breakfast.
  • 9:30-12:30 – Job-hunt things.
  • 12:30-1:30 – Lunch.
  • 1:30-5:00-ish – Side projects (indie dev/writing).

As you might imagine, I haven’t exactly been sticking to that 100%. But the idea is that it’s going to be important to have some structure to my day now that I don’t have one imposed by full-time employment. And job-hunting can be very time-consuming, so treating that as my job for at least part of each day seems like the right thing to do.

The first day was strange, because I kept having this sense at the back of my mind, “I’m working from home today, so I’ll be in office tomorrow,” which would have been true on Tuesdays and Thursday afternoons for the last few years. But then of course it would hit me: no office; no job.

I’m enjoying the experience, though, so far at least. I’ve managed to do pretty well with the schedule, and even extended the swimming to using the gym at the local leisure centre. This is the first time I’ve ever used a gym, except for a few years ago when I had physio after injuring my leg.1 The guy who did my induction managed to hide his disbelief of this fact quite well. And now that I’ve done a few sessions I’m thinking, “Why didn’t I do this years ago?” Oh well.

So all in all, a time of change and newness — which would generally be good, and some of it is. But see the first point, above, and the debris from that. An unknown new Tory government who don’t seem to be quite willing to accept that parliament is sovereign, and so it needs to decide whether or not to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. And Labour too busy tearing itself apart to hold the government to account.

As to the Labour leadership business, I’ll have more to say about that when I’ve worked out what I think.


  1. I’m wryly amused to see that at that leg link from 2004 I’m expressing bafflement about people who would want to leave the EU. []

Pokémon Gone

I am so not a gamer.

Oh, I loved Asteroids back in the day. I solved Monument Valley, and I got on fine with Alto’s Adventure. But I’ve never got more sophisticated modern games. There’s a whole big post about that that I’ll maybe write one day.

But Pokémon Go has lit up the internet for the last week or so, and it sounded kind of fun. So I thought I’d give it a try. Probably more healthy than arguing about the Labour leadership crisis on Facebook, anyway.

I was just out at the shops, and I remembered I had it, and sure enough, there was a wild Golbat outside the local supermarket. You’ve got to throw the pokéball to catch them, right? I’ve seen enough of the TV series with my kids to get that.

A hovering Golbat superimposed on a shop called 'Local Supermarket'.

But could I catch it? Could I buggery. No matter how many times I flicked up on the screen to send the ball towards it, it just would not connect. I must have tried like fifty times, standing outside the shop like an idiot.

This is why I never get into games. I soon hit upon something frustrating and get bored with them. No doubt I was doing something wrong. I’ll try again, I suppose, but it’s very discouraging.

Oh, and I couldn’t get the name I wanted. “Devilgate” was taken, but so was it along with just about every suffix I could think of, including just random strings of numbers.

Kind of cool to see the pokéball rolling off under the vegetable racks, though.

January

The first month ends and I haven’t yet written a proper post: a very poor start to the blogging year.

Never mind. 2016, eh?

Hello.

URLs and searching

URL hiding

A while ago, I read a piece called “Improving the URL Bar” (turns out it’s almost a year old, but never mind). I made both mental and Pinboard-based notes of it, because my response to it was, “That’s not improving the URL bar, it’s destroying it.”

Reading it again now, I don’t feel quite so strongly; I partly agree with what the author was getting at. But I feel we lose something important as we make URLs less visible. They show something of the hierarchy of a site, its structure — or at least that’s the origin of the path part.

The argument against that of course is that the path part is an implentation detail that doesn’t need to be seen by users, and perhaps more importantly, the whole thing is meaningless at best, confusing at worst to most users.

Well, maybe so. But to those of us who do understand them, hiding them can be confusing, even annoying.Of course you can click in the URL bar, or press Cmd-L or Ctrl-L, to see the whole thing. More usefully, In Safari, which I’m currently using, there’s a preference called “Show full website address”, which overrides the behaviour. So you can have your choice.

Searching

But then there’s this whole thing that we have now, of browsers doing a search when you type something in URL bar; especially (though not exclusively) when it’s not obviously a URL that you’ve typed or pasted.

I don’t like it.

Or I didn’t. I’ve been using Safari since I wiped and reinstalled this Mac because it was getting really slow (successfully, I might add). I decided to keep things as stock as possible (within reason — I wasn’t going to switch back from Lightroom to iPhoto, for example, or from MailMate to Mail.app). And Firefox can sometimes be a bit of a resource hog.

But I spent quite some time trying to find out how to give Safari a separate search bar like FF has (or can have — it may be a plugin, but if so it’s one that I install without thinking). I had muscle memory that went Cmd-T, Cmd-K (or Ctrl-T, Ctrl-T when I’m on Windows) when I want a new tab I’m going to search in. Still have it, actually, because I still use FF on Windows on my work machine.

It turns out that you can’t have that on Safari. You just have to search from the URL bar. So I just got into the habit of doing that. And now I find I do it even on Firefox (you have both options there).

I don’t know; I still feel that the URL bar should be for URLs, and searching should be something else. but it doesn’t offend me like it used to.

Still, the effect is to further blur the distinction between searching for a site and going to a specific site. I see people — even experienced, technically knowledgable people — going to Google’s home page and typing “facebook.com” into the search box. I mean, what?

Oh, and of course if you search from Google’s home page in Chrome, your cursor jumps to the URL bar! Or it did the last time I used Chrome. Which blurs the distinction between site and browser, as well as between site and search.

In the end it doesn’t matter that much — people mostly get where they mean to go — but by making it less than clear what is going on when we navigate around the web, we make it harder for people to understand how it’s all put together, and I think we lose something important in doing so.

An elective monarchy, again

I was reminded of my recent post when I watched Thursday night’sThe Big Bang Theory. It was the episode where they try to recreate a high-school prom — at their originals of which, all of them but Penny had bad experiences, of course.

Sheldon refers to the possibility of him being “elected Prom King,” and goes on to say that he’ll point out that kings aren’t elected.

He’s smart, but not that smart. Prom Kings and Queens, by definition, are elected, and in that context, that’s what the words mean.1

And words mean what we make them mean, and meanings change all the time.


  1. People often say that parliamentary elections “shouldn’t become a popularity contest.” But that, of course, is exactly what prom ones are. []

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 overThe 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](http://www.head-fi.org/products/sennheiser-hd-450-headphones) 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](http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/may/28/apple-buys-beats-dr-dre-music-streaming) 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 setJust 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.