Free WordPress Theme! Introducing Civique.

I’ve been working on a WordPress theme lately.  It’s a theme designed for non-profit organizations, but it could work well for almost any organization.

It is MIT Licensed (compliant with GPLv2).

It has full support for…

  • Theme Customization
    • Header color
    • Logo (keep it under 75 px tall)
  • Header Images
  • Post Thumbnails
  • Attachment alignment
  • Menus
  • Sidebars

It includes other goodies, too…

  • Non-profit Summary Shortcode
    A shortcode that uses the ProPublica Nonprofit API to generate a page of information about your 501(c)(3) organization, including summaries of non-profit financial activity.  Insert the shortcode [civique_summary] to display the non-profit rundown.
  • Fundraiser Progress Widget
    Add the Civique Fundraiser Widget to your sidebar to easily show progress on one or many fundraisers.  Add as many fundraisers as you need.  They will show a progress bar, and a link to an online donation page, if you include it.

It is an open-source project hosted by the United Way of Albany County.

WordPress Goodie: Theme Customization API code generator

This isn’t quite as robust as what I usually find over at GenerateWP, but it’s certainly handy, and it makes it easy to correctly link your settings to groups to controls.

There are some limitations

  • No support for non-text WP_Customize_Control elements.  This is an easy fix, and you should reference the official WordPress API Documentation for more help.
  • It is an Excel spreadsheet.  It SHOULD open in OpenOffice/LibreOffice/Google Spreadsheets, but I make no guarantees, nor have I attempted to test these claims.

Download WordPress Theme Customization API Generator (Excel Spreadsheet)

MIT Licensed

Copyright (c) 2014 Brad Kovach

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy
of this software and associated documentation files (the “Software”), to deal
in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights
to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell
copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is
furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:

The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in
all copies or substantial portions of the Software.

THE SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED “AS IS”, WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THE WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND NONINFRINGEMENT. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE AUTHORS OR COPYRIGHT HOLDERS BE LIABLE FOR ANY CLAIM, DAMAGES OR OTHER LIABILITY, WHETHER IN AN ACTION OF CONTRACT, TORT OR OTHERWISE, ARISING FROM, OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE SOFTWARE OR THE USE OR OTHER DEALINGS IN THE SOFTWARE.

The death of TrueCrypt: a symptom of a greater problem

UPDATE: 29 May 2014 at 9:30 MDT

The TrueCrypt development team has broke their silence to the audit team.  My suspicions articulated in this post were correct.  You can learn more at GRC.  TrueCrypt will be adopted by the Linux Foundation, ensuring its continued vitality and success as an open source project in the free world.  Join the Linux Foundation if you can.

Open Source Software (OSS) is in danger.  We rely on OSS every day to encrypt online banking and shopping, serve our web pages, move and deliver our email, render our web pages, manage our websites, power the world’s encyclopedia, and so much more.

These projects are essential to the backbone of the internet.  Typically, they rely on volunteers for development, testing, reporting bugs, and evangelism.  They also, typically, rely on donated financing as well…

So, these projects, free as in speech and as in beer, are powering significant portions of the web.  In the case of Apache Web Server, “Apache is used by 60.5% of all the websites whose web server we know” (W3Techs, May 2014). OpenSSL is used to encrypt 16% of websites among Alexa’s top million websites (Datanyze, May 2014).

But these projects are struggling.  Recently the TrueCrypt Foundation announced the end of the TrueCrypt project.  Some suspect foul play from three-letter government agencies.  Others suspect hackers.  But the undeniable reality remains: TrueCrypt is an open source project written and maintained by anonymous volunteers.

TrueCrypt has fallen under intense scrutiny lately.

  • a third-party audit (an important but still gut-wrenching process for the developers)
  • increasing reliance on TrueCrypt as Snowden’s NSA revelations come to light
  • angry reactions to open source failures, namely the OpenSSL Heartbleed Vulnerability.

While the tinfoil hat conspiracies are fun to entertain, it is likely not the reality here.  TrueCrypt’s developers have shown us the reality of the world without free, open-source security.  We are left to trust our OS vendors and their closed-source unverifiable encryption.  The “ominous” message posted to the TrueCrypt SourceForge page, in my opinion, is designed to be hyperbolic and terrifying!  Without the support of the open source community, TrueCrypt cannot survive.  Without a compassionate community that understands that TrueCrypt is a hobby for the developers, it is unsafe for TrueCrypt to continue the project.  Potential for legal liability is high (even though the developers are completely anonymous).

In other words, if your hobby ever becomes the golden standard for file encryption, and it is being used to rifle state secrets about the globe, or to foil a child pornography investigation, you might want to take a step back.  And it’s possible that that’s exactly what TrueCrypt’s developers have done.

After the world’s kneejerk reaction to the OpenSSL Heartbleed vulnerability, people got mad at the small development team for pushing such shoddy, insecure software.  But the reality is this: the OpenSSL library, for its one failure, has had billions of successes.  But nobody cared.  Heartbleed scared people, and that, in the court of public opinion, overshadowed those billions of successes.

Suspicious Shutdown…

People are citing an out-of-character shutdown for the TrueCrypt project.  Some consider it to be a warrant canary (since their behavior is so different from TrueCrypt’s MO).  Many of the recommendations made by the TrueCrypt team are ironically terrible advice considering how cautious we’ve become with TrueCrypt at the helm.

If you have files encrypted by TrueCrypt on Linux:

Use any integrated support for encryption. Search available installation packages for words encryption and crypt, install any of the packages found and follow its documentation

In other words they’re saying “just search for something and use it.”

On the Windows end of things, they’re simply stating that we should embrace a closed-source solution that they’ve been subverting for the past 10 years.

This is satire.  In satire, irony is militant.  And the point of this satire is: “good luck without us.”

If you were a TrueCrypt developer…

So taking the totality of the current state of TrueCrypt into account, it’s a massive burden for the development team to bear.  On one hand, it has been a monumental success for privacy advocates and data security, but on the other hand one small vulnerability could destroy its credibility and its meteoric rise to fame might collapse in days.

So the developers did what anybody in this position might do.  They called the game.  They left us with an ominous picture of the world without TrueCrypt: trusting our data to closed-source solutions, with little to no recourse against three-letter agency interests in backdoors.  Developing TrueCrypt was a thankless job, and they don’t want to be responsible for its collapse.

If the world doesn’t want to invest in open source software, it’s the world’s loss.

I hope the developers of TrueCrypt are safe, and that the conspiracies are not true.  This might be the wake-up call open source needs.

Let’s discuss this on Twitter. Follow @bradkovach to chat with me.

Further Reading

Exciting WordPress Developments

I have been working on some exciting new WordPress things that I plan on releasing in compliance with the GPL.

First, since there wasn’t a decently simple (free) front-end profile management system, I decided to write one if my own. It is completely customizable with short codes and allows you to validate input with regular expressions before you save the data. All of this is controlled in the post editor. It is nonced using WordPress’ nonce API. It’s pretty elegant in its implementation.

Next, I plan to release some sort of iteration of my SCSS/CSS and WordPress template framework tools. I have tons of code generation spreadsheets that make grid design and implementation a piece of cake. Provide a couple parameters and the spreadsheet will calculate responsive grids. The grid is based on 6 columns and intelligently resizes all the way down to small screens. I have spreadsheets to make a lot of development work easier. It would be a shame if I didn’t share.

Why Is Bitcoin Valuable?

The misunderstood cryptocurrency has a value, and I'll tell you why...

Bitcoin.  It’s everywhere in the news.  It was 2013′s best investment, and it’s taking the world by storm.

So why is it a big deal?  And why does it have value?  Well, this is my attempt of explaining one of the fundamental facets of currency: a proof of work.

Disclaimer: I am no economist.  There are other variables at play when valuing a currency.  Please bring these discrepancies and concerns to my attention in the comments.

Proof of Work

Proof of Work is arguably one of the biggest things that make a currency valuable.  The idea is that when we have something, and when we want to use that as currency, we need to know that it wasn’t produced trivially.

Traditionally, up until recently, we have used gold (or other precious metals) as proof of work.  We understand that gold (etc) is rare, and if someone is able to produce a quantity of gold, we know that they worked a specific, non-trivial amount to obtain that gold.  As a result, our currencies have been defined by precious assets.

Cool.  But what about Bitcoin?

Glad you asked!  Bitcoin derives its value from computation.  I.E., Bitcoin is valuable because we use computers to create it.  But how do we create a proof of work out of our computing power?  Easy.  We create problems that take computers a very long time to solve.  In the design of Bitcoin, this is achieved with hashing.

Okay… What’s hashing?

According to Wikipedia, hashes are defined as

[functions] primarily used to generate fixed-length output data that acts as a shortened reference to the original data. This is useful when the original data is too cumbersome to use in its entirety.

Consider a hash as a boiled-down version of its input.  The hash of a pot of soup would be some sort of reduction scraped off the bottom of a pan.

What is fascinating about hashes (and this is where the soup analogy stops working) is that hashes are one way.  In most cases, it is impossible to effectively reverse a hash without using trial and error.

In other words, there is no way to tell what a hash’s input was.

This is where Bitcoin’s value comes from.

Hashes and the Blockchain

Bitcoin transactions are recorded in a special, public data structure called a block chain.  Special programs called miners are used to add new blocks to the end of the block chain.

A miner’s task is to gather recent transaction metadata and a few other pieces of metadata, and find a random number that, when combined with the rest of the metadata, produces a hash that meets the difficulty requirement of the network.

For example, a recently mined block has the following hash

What’s worth note is that this block’s hash has 15 zeroes at the beginning.  This is evidence of the proof of work.  Finding a hash of the block is incredibly difficult right now, and as the Bitcoin network’s computing power increases, the required hashing difficulty increases accordingly.

How does a computer find a hash?

  1. Gather necessary metadata and structure it according to standard.
  2. Generate a random number and place it in the block.
  3. Hash the block.
    1. If the hash meets the network’s difficulty requirements the block is appended to the block chain, and the next block begins.
    2. If the hash doesn’t meet the network’s requirements, the computer is welcome to try again until it finds a valid hash.

At the moment, it would take one computer at least 98 years to hash a block by itselfThis is a proof of work.

Why are hashes good for this?

Again, good question!  Good hashes are full of entropy.  This is to say that minor changes in the input has a massive effect on the actual output of a hash.

The following inputs were hashed using MD5.  The passage on the right is missing the period at the end.  Otherwise, the passages are identical.

Input

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus varius nulla mauris, ac ornare eros venenatis quis. Curabitur elementum risus vitae arcu mollis, vel accumsan nulla tincidunt. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. Maecenas et condimentum lacus. Maecenas eu nisl ac arcu congue interdum. Sed risus elit, consectetur et venenatis eu, egestas eget nibh. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. Donec a ligula purus. Vestibulum magna ligula, consequat sed varius sit amet, mollis sollicitudin lorem. Nulla et elit neque.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus varius nulla mauris, ac ornare eros venenatis quis. Curabitur elementum risus vitae arcu mollis, vel accumsan nulla tincidunt. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. Maecenas et condimentum lacus. Maecenas eu nisl ac arcu congue interdum. Sed risus elit, consectetur et venenatis eu, egestas eget nibh. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. Donec a ligula purus. Vestibulum magna ligula, consequat sed varius sit amet, mollis sollicitudin lorem. Nulla et elit neque
Output (md5) 35f45fa061f48a3d9cfc9ef3dee03aa1 313fb0e8e65bf7ac0a3f16f30f958e17

What’s interesting is that the hashes are dramatically different.  Consequently, it is nearly impossible to effectively game the inputs of a hash with an understanding of how it will affect the output.

Interestingly, these two hashes are such rare combinations of letters and numbers that performing a Google search for either hash will probably only lead to this article.

Most computers with a good graphics card are capable of computing around 30-50 million hashes per second.  That’s 30 to 50 million GUESSES per second.

The size of the entire network is at 17625 Thash/s.  In other words, the network is guessing 17,625 billion hashes per second attempting.

Hashes are relatively easy to calculate.  So once a random number is appended to the block and calculated to a valid hash, it can be recalculated instantly and reliability.  This verifies the proof of work.

The miner that successfully hashes the block is awarded an amount of Bitcoins for their work.  This is how Bitcoins are minted.The first miner to hash the block successfully gets the reward.  As a result, the network races to verify transactions.  Most Bitcoin transactions are committed to the blockchain within 10 minutes!

Safety.

This intensive hashing process also makes it virtually impossible to adjust the blockchain retroactively.  If an attacker wanted to undo or alter a transaction that happened in the past, the attacker would have to re-hash the block and every block after it since each block contains the hash of the block before it.  This is too much work for one adversary to achieve in a million lifetimes.

As a result, once a transaction has been committed to the blockchain, it is safe for eternity.  Bitcoin does not have refunds, or chargebacks for this reason.

Power.

Remember when I stated that one computer would take nearly 98 years to solve a block?  This leads to the exploitation of a very precious resource: our computing power.  At the moment, the Bitcoin network is capable of mining a block in about 10 minutes.

Mining is most commonly completed in pools that allow participants to solve hashes and share on the minted coins.  You are rewarded in proportion to the amount of work your computer completed.

Conclusion

Bitcoin is valuable, and we aren’t just pretending like it is for the sake of fantasy.  As with every other valuable currency, there is a proof of work involved in discovering new Bitcoins.

Rather than physically mining gold or precious metals, the Bitcoin network is seeking an answer (the hash) to a math problem that can only be found by trial and error.  The hash uses transaction metadata and a random number so that any changes in transactions would require rehashing each block of transactions.  As a result, it is impossible to retroactively adjust a transaction.

Try it!

Bitcoin is cool.  It makes it easy to send money avoiding restrictions regarding exchange rates and repatriation of money.

If you are looking to try Bitcoin, head to trybtc.com.  They’ll transfer a tiny amount of Bitcoin to a wallet of your choice.

Thanks for reading!  If you want to send me Bitcoin for any reason, my public address is 16sVVZiJuCUBpWhKRDse1AzSkNvxHNgceT

jQuery Goodies!

I started a new GitHub repo to fill with jQuery utilities and behaviors.

The initial commit is filled with viewport sizing utilities.  The utilities make it easy to use viewport-relative sizing in situations where browsers do not support VW and VH.

Something that I use a lot is the Letterboxing module.  Simply by adding .jq-letterbox, you can strictly enforce an element to have a widescreen aspect ratio.  This is very handy for sites that show lots of YouTube movie trailers.

Grab the Repo

https://github.com/bradkovach/jqUtilities

Installation

1. Import a recent version of jQuery

Note: script tags do not need type="text/javascript" when using HTML5.

2. Import the utilities AFTER jQuery

 Usage

Full usage information is available at the head of the jqUtilities.viewport.js file.

Help

By default, these utilities log errors to the console.

Known Limitations

  • Mixed markup and style information.  Style information is hard-coded into HTML markup.  This might be undesirable.
  • This is not a polyfill.  It is a workaround.  Nice polyfills exist, and that might be a better option for you.

 

The Developer’s New Struggle: Data Caps

These past 10 years have hosted a huge evolution in our data distribution technology. Since 2000, we’ve watched household broadband speeds move from about 0.5 mbps to somewhere around 20 mbps on average. This is awesome.

We have new LTE networks that are capable of pushing around 50 mbps over the air. Please note: this is faster than most household connections.

We live in an era of increasing bandwidth, and this is good news for web developers. This allowed sites like YouTube to become popular, because they finally had customers that could enjoy their product.

But developers have new struggles! Now, developing truly mobile applications (both native apps and web apps) must account for the new obstacle: carrier data caps.

How annoying. We’ve finally been given a trove of bandwidth (both low latency and high capacity), and we have to start using it very carefully–dare I say responsibly…

It’s food for thought. We have better networks and more ubiquitous access but increasingly more consumers have charted courses for the edge of a bandwidth cliff every single month.

So we must continue to adapt.

Things That Are Concerning

  • Popular development frameworks can be rather bloated.  Twitter Bootstrap (minified) is 101kb and another 17kb if you want the responsive tweaks. .
  • Responsive images are not really taking off. Even Apple does not have a decent implementation for responsive image serving that doesn’t involve convoluted Javascript.
  • Developers that don’t pay attention to client-side caching techniques.  Make browsers get changes by using ?ver=[autoincrement] to force browsers to reload only when content changes.
  • Everybody wants “apps” and these apps need data. Lots of these apps send a lot of data (either as JSON or XML) without implementing a cache mechanism.  Twitter uses a neat trick to keep data transfer down: the since_id query parameter.  This minimizes payload by ignoring content that the client probably already has.
  • XML has too much data overhead on structure to be considered efficient, yet it is hailed as a great data interchange format–NOT FOR THE WEB!  Typically ever XML tag is matched by a closing version of the tag.  Look at the overhead here: <strong>this is bold text</strong>.  The strong tag and its closing tag take up 17 characters, which is equal to the length of the content it formats.  This is a massive overhead!  Mobile clients shouldn’t rely on XML for updating content (like a timeline of continuously updating information).

This was merely a brief rant about implications about data load.  This doesn’t even consider some of the changes that occur with data throttling, and packet shaping.

Worrying about data overhead is the new black.

Find Your Contrahobby

We’ve all been there: you’ve indulged in something you love so much that you get sick of it.  This something you love is your passion.  Hopefully this passion is your life’s work.  Maybe you’re a scientist working to find a cure.  Maybe you’re really into Dungeons and Dragons.  Perhaps you knit, or craft something with your hands.  You genuinely love it.  You love it so much that it is your hobby.

You love it, but now, unfortunately, you’ve overindulged.  You’re looking at something you love and you’re JUST. FUCKING. SICK. OF. IT.

So what do you do?  You’re experiencing burn out.  This happens to college students every semester.  And unfortunately, this happens to the best of us on occasion.  Well, it’s my opinion that you need to find your contrahobby.  Don’t bother Googling this word, because I made it up.

Let me first explain my personal etymology of this word.  It’s composed of a familiar word with a familiar prefix:

Hobby – An activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.
Contra – against, in opposition or contrast to.

So what I’m proposing is you find a hobby that is in opposition or contrast to your regular hobby.

I think of the word contra because of a simple concept in Discrete Mathematics: the contrapositive.  A contrapositive is a statement crafted in such a way that it is equally valid to another statement, but entirely different.  Formally, the definition states

If P, then Q;
If not Q, then not P;

For example, take a look at this contrapositive:

If Socrates is man, then Socrates is human;
If Socrates is NOT human, then Socrates is NOT man.

They’re both equally true.  Both say the exact same thing about Socrates, just differently.

The contrahobby has a similar purpose.  It uses a different approach to arrive at the same solution (the solution being that my mind is occupied with something that helps me unwind, relax, and enjoy myself).

Now, the proof of this won’t work out mathematically, but it does make sense topically.

My hobby (and my work) is web development.  I like reading about web development in my spare time, and I like playing around with many new techniques to make something work better, faster, or more intuitively.

But when that gets old, and my mind won’t take anymore, I turn to my contrahobby: cooking.  Yes, cooking.  It doesn’t make sense.  It doesn’t seem related to my interests–and that’s what makes it a contrahobby.  It is a very NOT computer way to solve a problem that normally takes a computer to solve.

So, hopefully I’ve illustrated the contrahobby concept to you adequately and I’ve given you some insight into another way to solve your problems.

Do you have a contrahobby?  Are you burnt out?  Let’s talk about it.  Leave a comment, or send me a tweet @bradkovach.

 

#challenge: Write an API

If you manage a set of code, take some time today to improve your flexibility by replacing a certain set of code with an API.

Common characteristics of an API

  • A logical group of functions surrounding a task or set of data.
  • A reusable system that is easy to document, and a joy to use.
  • Easier bug fixes.  Fix it once, and it’s fixed everywhere.

You might have a set of tasks or functions on a website, or in a program that could really benefit from reduced code duplication. Things like…

  • Email systems.  Do you send emails a lot?  Reduce the work involved in sending emails, by writing a nice email API. $email->setSubject("Hello!"); $email->setMessage($message); $email->setRecipient($to); $email->send();
  • Formatting systems. If you have structured semantic data, waste less time formatting it by creating a slick formatting engine.  Array goes in; formatted data comes out. $formatting->printUserList($users);
  • Logging API.  Create a simple system for you to write entries to a log file.  Rather than complicated stacks of code, use a simple function call like $debug->log("There was a problem")