I’d better not see that on Facebook.

I’d better not see that on Facebook.

Here’s a quote you hear after every camera flash at every party you ever go to.  Or people milling about reminding people to not tag them in photos.

And why is that, exactly?  So their Mom won’t see?  So that potential employers won’t see what an animal they are?  (employers should never screen prospective employees using Facebook, but that’s a topic for another day)

The answer is: yes, to all of these questions.  But the reason is simple: people want to be in control of their digital identities.  And that leads me to the thesis: stop putting embarrassing photos of your children online.

We are pioneers of a new frontier.  We were thrust into a world with social media, but we weren’t given the foresight to see how it will affect our identities months, years, decades, or millennia in the future.  It was a slow fade–we all enjoyed tagging on Facebook, but then what happened?  People lost jobs, or were flatly refused employment as a result of their emerging online identities.  Our consciousness shifted.  We realized that there were consequences to sharing on Facebook.

It’s time for our consciousness to shift again.

The next generation is being forced into social media.  Their online identities are becoming known to Google and Facebook, and they don’t even have a say in the matter.  We live in a world where Facebook has facial recognition engines as good as (or better) than the human brain, but infinite capacity to store that data.

Facebook’s facial recognition is a terrifying collection of data.  This means that a photo you took in a Las Vegas club could actually connect you to the people in the background and margins of your frame.

We are subjecting our children to this scrutiny.  Our children are not even ready to fathom the expanse of the Internet and how it shapes their identity, yet we are dumping their lives, moments, and history into a machine that knows more about the state of humanity than the world has ever known.

Our lives are being cataloged.

Every photo you take is algorithmically scrutinized.  Every post you make is geotagged so you won’t forget where you were.  Every hashtag you use is intimately connected to the breath of global consciousness.

This is perfectly okay–for you.  Your children do not need their lives pasted into a digital scrapbook they have no control over.

In the past year, I’ve seen…

  • pictures of naked children in bathtubs (way too many, actually)
  • videos of children crying as they are forced into using a training toilet
  • videos of naked, panicked children running around the house during a rain storm

And I could go on.  If you’re not comfortable sharing this level of detail about you and your personal life on Facebook (Twitter, Instagram, etc), then you shouldn’t post these things about your children, either.

Best Alfredo.

I’m posting this because this is my favorite recipe.  And also I can never remember where to find it.

Creamy Alfredo

I made a tweak the first time I made it replacing the red pepper flakes with cayenne pepper.  I actually prefer it with cayenne.

Vegetarian.  Quick.  Delicious.

Why Is Bitcoin Valuable?

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

Fix Mixed-Mode YouTube Embeds in WordPress

Are you attempting to embed YouTube videos in a secure (https) WordPress site?  Well, browsers should be blocking that content since the videos are not coming in over a secure channel.

A consequence is that some YouTube videos won’t display, and an error won’t be displayed–which is annoying.

Here is a brief snippet that can be added to your functions.php file to fix the problem once and for all.

The line beginning with “$search” specifies that we are searching for non-secure links to YouTube, and the return line combs through the post, and fixes the links so the embeds display properly.  It’s a simple fix, based on WordPress’ powerful filter hook system.

#vinevortex: Consuming My Life 6 Seconds A Time

I just thought I should point out, publicly, that Vine is consuming my life.  Vine is the trendy new social network from Twitter that allows you to create and publish short, looping 6-second videos.  The creation controls are primitive, but the results have been extremely creative.

Your available options for editing include touching the screen to record, and not touching the screen to not record.

It’s pretty basic, but it’s hopelessly addictive.  iPhone only; for now.

http://vine.co

Brewing Iced Tea Properly

Picture: Starbucks Black Shaken Iced Tea.  More info at Starbucks’ Website.

Subtle. Suave. Sophisticated. Our premium black tea gets a snappy little splash of citrus, and then is shaken – not stirred – with ice. We’d tell you more, but the details must remain classified. Still, you do have license to enjoy.

Tazo® Black Shaken Iced Tea, Starbucks.com

Bitch, please.  Classified?  Ha!  Iced tea isn’t hard…

Why the hell am I blogging about this?  Because I see a lot of fools trying to make tea, and they all suck at it.  It’s not hard, but there is a way to do it right to get the crystal-clear, refreshing tea you’re used to seeing/drinking at Starbucks or McAllister’s.

Black Iced Tea, Proper

  1. Boil 1 liter of water.
  2. Cover 4 cup-sized black tea bags (Lipton will do just fine; Starbucks uses Tazo Awake tea, FYI) with 1 liter of boiling water.
  3. Steep for four minutes.
  4. If you love sweet tea, add 2 cups of sugar to the liter of strongly-brewed tea and stir until dissolved appropriately.* (note: this is how McAllister’s Sweet Tea is made)
  5. Add 1 liter of cold water.  Do not refrigerate.  Refrigeration causes tea to go cloudy.  Cloudy iced tea is bad tea.
  6. Pour a glass as follows
    1. Add equal parts tea and water
    2. Add ice
    3. Shake or stir
  7. Drink that tea.

I prefer 1/3 tea, water, and ice.  Adjust to suit your tastes.

EXCITING FISCAL NOTE: this is roughly 12 cents per pitcher and pennies per serving, even if you buy Tazo Brand tea from Starbucks.

* Never assume that everyone likes black iced tea.  Sweeten your own tea with sugar or simple syrup.

I made Twitter work yesterday.

Matt Jolley is an openly-gay high school senior from Worland High School (Worland, Wyoming).  This photo is being rejected from his yearbook because it is "too political."
Matt Jolley is an openly-gay high school senior from Worland High School (Worland, Wyoming). This photo is being rejected from his yearbook because it is “too political.”

I saw a petition on change.org that troubled me greatly.  The petition is from Matt Jolley, a high school senior from Worland High School.  Mr. Jolley is an openly-gay senior, and his senior photo was reflection of that.

But, unfortunately for Matt, his school board denied him the right to publish his senior portrait in the yearbook.  They reasoned that the photo was too political, and he must pay for the publication, since it was “an advertisement.”

Please view and sign Matt Jolley’s Petition.

So I did what I always do when I get mad: I got on Twitter, and I made shit happen.

I started watching for celebrities to tweet.  When a celebrity would tweet, I would send them a plea to retweet a link to Matt’s survey.

I sent these to dozens of celebrities.  And it worked.  In total, the tweets were shown to at least 300,000 people.  It cost me nothing, and earned Matt a lot of petition signers.

Here’s the first successful tweet, sent to LGBT icon/MTV personality Dan Savage…

Dan Savage retweeted it almost immediately, and then the petition started getting signed a little bit faster.  So I kept tweeting.  I follow a few celebrities, and I paid careful attention to them.  When they would tweet, I would tweet.  Within a few minutes, BAM! another retweet, this time from Chef Anne Burell.

I kept this up for the greater part of yesterday.  Got a lot of traction by tweeting @adamlambert.  He didn’t personally respond, but his fans did.

And then one final tweet, from @ChelseaVPeretti released a swath of new petition signers.

Twitter is full of free publicity, and it’s especially full of well-followed people that are willing and able to help.  Had I worked harder, or had a team of people to help me, and used a hashtag to organize the campaign, this would have had an even greater effect.

Regardless, this was a very fun use of a Sunday afternoon.  I learned a lot.  I received hundreds of retweets yesterday.  Not bad, considering I was in pajamas drinking wine all day.

BTW, I’m still mad at @RuPaul for not retweeting.  He was on Twitter ALL. DAMN. DAY. and he didn’t retweet me once.