"Your Name Here" Sign on the Side of a Building

Hidden Hat: what’s in a name?

Why Hidden Hat? I have fielded that question a few times now. It’s interesting because I’m not sure I know the answer. There was a brainstorm and a list of, at one point, at least fifty names. Hidden Hat somehow made it there – perhaps early on, or possibly later as a twist to an existing hat-related possibility. I do know that hats featured a lot.

First of all, why hat? For some reason hats and monkeys feature heavily in my projects. Often monkeys appear in codenames for products and projects. AdMonkey, PressMonkey, ApiMonkey. Hats turn up mostly in debug messages in my code. There’s rarely anything witty or original about any such messages. Hats! or Hat 2 or the classic hat hat hat HAT (hat). Of course, the question “why hat?” is poorly answered by ‘because debug’ – since that only invites the follow up “why hat debug?”.

I suppose it’s because hats seem to me a little comical and ever so slightly surreal. I rarely wear hats, but I love them.

In the 1970s on British TV, a children’s cartoon named Mr Benn featured an eponymous bowler hatted protagonist. Mr Benn was a bland-featured city gent who, every episode, visited a fancy dress emporium. There, he would encounter an unctuous but mischievous shopkeeper who’d encourage him to pick a new outfit. In the fitting room, he’d try on his costume – a moment of great ritual significance. Together with a magic door, the clothes would transform him and transport him, so that he became an astronaut on a mission, or a knight in a castle. Mister Benn, though, was never really all that transformed – he remained the same blankly smiling figure, only – and this is the point – almost always wearing a hat. It was the removal of his bowler and the donning of the new costume with its signature hat that initiated his strange non-transformation.

Here is Mr Benn becoming a cook:

I think the hats of my debug messages are Mr Benn hats – mysterious and silly, ritualised and inconsequential. A debug message, like Mr Benn in his disguise, appears suddenly in a new context. It’s out of place and awkward. But it’s also a catalyst – it often does some good for the world into which it falls.

So why hidden hat? Alliteration is part of it certainly. And hidden is apt for my debug hats. Debug messages are artefacts of state and data – a space behind the scenes. They pop up occasionally on web pages or in alert boxes (or consoles or logs) during development. They are, in that sense, doubly removed – first part of the machinery of a system then cheekily thrust into an interface that should not itself be seen because it is not yet ready for public presentation.

There’s also a paradox implicit in hidden hat and, of course, coders tend to gravitate towards both recursion and paradox. If a hat is hidden, how do you know it is there? And then, as soon its hatness becomes apparent, it is no longer hidden. I am caught by this paradox every time I look for an image for the site. Any hat I show is not hidden, and a hatless image is all hidden and no hat. I enjoy this in a small way.

The front page hero image for this site showing a gent trying on a hat (by Clem Onojeghuo via Unsplash) caught my eye both because it captures a street scene in my current home town of Brighton and because, if the hat is not hidden, the face of the shopper at least is obscured. If it is not a hidden hat, it is a hat in the presence of hiding.

A man tries on a hat in a Brighton lane

When it came to the Hidden Hat Press logo we circumvented the paradox to some extent by blanking out a (presumably) hidden hat using a discreet shade. Thanks are due to my brother, Joe Zandstra, who is far too important to be building logos for obscure blogs but still, as a favour, turned round a very confusing brief in a matter of hours.

hidden hat press logo

For other images, I tend to give up on subtlety and just source images of hats. Did I mention I like hats?

So. Does that clear things up at all? No. Probably not. That is the mystery of the hidden hat.

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Thanks for reading. Next time: a check in on progress.

Photo by Austin Kirk on Unsplash