Blog

These Go to 40

Why don't you just make 39 be the top number? ... ... These go to 40.This weekend we celebrate as Jessica joins me amongst the ranks of quadragenarians. She's not going quietly, either.

Charitocracy is lucky to have someone of her age maturity seniority experience at the helm! Let's wish her a year, nay a decade, full of meaning and purpose and 80s references... while she can still remember them.

24 candles later... I'm still waiting for you, Jessica

Glass Half Full

A glass half empty remains plenty full enough

What has become known as The Year of Benj is now half over. Let me rephrase: I'm now beginning the best half of TYOB!

I'm in a serious groove right now. It doesn't matter if I've already worked all day or if I've been out partying and get home after midnight: prime me with a couple squares of dark chocolate, tune the Apple TV on my desk to John Oliver, and next stop will be 8:30am and a half dozen items off my to-do list.  Repeat about 4 times per week, and things truly start happening!

Yesterday I worked from the beach just to prove that I could. TYOB, YOLO! It was in the mid-70s (degrees, not decade, sadly) but the wind was obnoxious. I had goose bumps the whole time. However, the equipment test mission was a success! My new beach umbrella and sand anchor didn't budge in the wind. I could see my Mac's screen just fine thanks to the dorky but effective Pixel Sunscreen. And I scoped out the beach access closest to a cell tower, which afforded me 3 bars of AT&T signal. (I'll try for 4 next time, but 3 gave me a steady 1Mbps up and down, fine for my typical needs.)

Now I just need to work out a system for accepting dark chocolate donations...

Did I mention, Charitocracy contributions are tax-deductible?

Total Eclipse

Don't know what to do, always in the dark? Totally get the Eclipse debugger!

🎶 Once upon a time I was calling printf, my debugging skills were falling apart... Nothing I could do but then I found Eclipse, now I ❤️. 🎶

I have plenty of experience with debuggers: db, ladebug, gdb, jdb, NetBeans, WinDbg (affectionately known as WindBag), Xcode, and perhaps my all-time favorite, SoftICE. I've used them almost exclusively to debug low-level device driver code. This is my first time since last working on cutting-edge web code circa 1999-2001 that I've had the need to debug server back-end scripts.

PhpStorm seems to be the most highly praised option out there, but they don't offer discounts to non-profits, and it's pricey at $199 for the first year! The next most popular is Eclipse for PHP Developers, and the price is right: free. It uses PHP's Xdebug extension, and worked like a champ. I was setting breakpoints in my PHP functions, actually hitting them, inspecting variables, stepping through code, and fixing bugs (in 3rd-party code of course, not mine) with hasty abandon!

After three all-nighters in the past week, I'm really starting to get the hang of web development again. Don't get me wrong, I miss needing a debugger that lives below the operating system, and sifting through PCI buffer traces for broken command packets caused by multithreaded race conditions. Really, I don't. But someone has to make sure deadbeat donors with expired credit cards receive an encouraging email with a link to remedy the situation, right? That someone is me.

Introducing Benj, Charitocracy's fastest coder

Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses

Cowboy coding, I wish I knew how to ⌘Q you

The sun has set on my unbridled "cowboy coding" for the last time. (Geek alert. You've been forewarned.)

Traveling 5+ weeks and not touching Charitocracy the entire time was never my plan. I thought I would have remote access to my home server, but something went wrong. (I still don't know what, but I have some suspicions.) I set up a more reliable VNC connection as an immediate countermeasure when I returned home so this particular obstacle wouldn't repeat itself.

Really, though, I needed to rethink my overdependence on an old Mac Mini (MM). I chose it as my main staging server by virtue of it being the only unutilized Mac in my house, purchased as a home theatre PC before Apple TV made it obsolete. I used dynamic DNS to direct charitocracy.org traffic to my home network, then my router port-forwarded to the MM. It just worked... except when it didn't. Namely while on my trip, and about half the times I tried logging into it from neighborhood coffee shops.

Meanwhile, I have a powerful mid-2015 MacBook Pro (MBP) at my fingertips any time I'm working. It runs circles around my circa 2009 MM. I never need to access it remotely over a questionable net connection. So why am I trying to use it as a dumb terminal into an ancient machine across the house, across town, or across the world as the case may be, with mixed success at the best of times?

Last week I declared an end to amateur hour by doing the following:

  1. I installed MAMP on my MBP.
  2. I set up a git source control repository (with origin backed by my iCloud drive) to host Charitocracy web code and database.
  3. I rebuilt the Charitocracy beta site from scratch on my MBP, submitting to git at intervals along the way, using my MM's site as a reference.
  4. I created a pre-commit hook that automatically adds a SQL database snapshot whenever I commit code changes.
  5. I installed and configured PageKite, a pay-what-you-want tunneling service which allows me to receive Charitocracy network traffic (including TLS/SSL) wherever I like, including on my MBP, even if I'm in a random waiting room or coffee shop (as I am right now).
  6. After proving the new beta site worked as well as the MM's, I pulled all the code and data back from git and proved I could easily clone the site on my MM, redirect PageKite to serve it up externally, make changes to the site on MM, and pull the changes (code and DB) back onto my MBP.

So I'm finally baking some real engineering discipline into my coding process. Nothing falls through the cracks. I can go back to previous snapshots of code and data. I can easily view and search through changes, even if they were in the DB or in code I didn't write myself, like plugins. I can travel. And all of this is quick and robust, because 99% of it is happening right on my laptop (credit card processing is one exception, but that traffic works seamlessly through PageKite, too). And if I get hit by a bus stagecoach tomorrow, you'll all be able to pick up where I left off, right?!

I still have plenty of engineering discipline yet to adopt, the sorts of things truly necessary when working in teams with fluid requirements and actual deadlines. So I reckon I'll just ⌘H the cowboy coder until the coast is clear. Yeehaw!

Callin' the VT100 a dumb terminal? You sure you wanna be doin' that, Benj?

Back in the Office

Looks like you've been missing a lot of work lately, Benj.

"I wouldn't say I've been missing it, Bob." I packed 6 months of travel into 6 weeks, but got it out of my system. Let's hope.

You'll recall before I left, the IRS totally punk'd us with a letter saying "We got your application, now sit tight for 6 months while we think about it." Then after I left town, they followed maybe two weeks later with a letter saying, "Just kidding, we love you guys, don't change a thing, you're totally in." I'm paraphrasing, the actual letter of determination is here.

If you want to know what goes into a full-fledged Form 1023 these days (not the shortened -EZ version) you can take a look at that here.

I thought I'd be taking my time getting the web site up, and that the IRS making donations to Charitocracy tax-deductible would be the long pole in the schedule. Suddenly I'm the weakest link! Charitocracy's only obstacle to going live is me. The pressure is back on, friends. Jessica be all like:

Yeah... I'm going to need you to come in on Sunday, too. Usual Time.

Nailed It!

Benj is away so the kids and I eat lots of meat, watch horrible (nay, amazing?) movies, and sleep in the big bed. I have the pleasure of taking out the trash and getting the mail. Glamorous life, I tell ya!

Bison chili? Nailed it. Watching the very 80's and mildly inappropriate for kids Adventures in Babysitting? Oh, we SO nailed that! Middle of the night visits to my bed by each kid? They each nailed it. Recycling? Well, I missed the first week's pickup but I totally nailed it this week!

Getting the mail? Yeah, I'm mostly terrible at stopping by the post office even though I drive by it multiple times a day. I mean, why bother? Christmas card season is over. It's no one's birthday. And I have enough credit cards, thank you very much.

But, OMG, YOU GUYS!!! Look what came in the mail this week!!!

Letter Of Determination

Getting approved for our 501(c)(3) tax-exempt public charity status on the first try?

Yeah. WE NAILED IT!

On the Road Again

vacation

I'll be on the road for the next five weeks. First a couple of weeks in Seattle and London visiting dear friends and family, then three weeks in Massachusetts prepping our old house for sale. My Boston to Portland flight on Tuesday was the first since... August?! I used to fly at least monthly. It was good to be back up in the friendly skies after six months on the ground!

On my way up the east coast, before dropping off my car with Dad & Maryann near Logan Airport, I spent a day in New York City snowed in with my cousin-in-law, Hillary. We had an insightful and timely conversation about the next phase of Charitocracy development: cause nomination, discussion, and voting. It's just what I needed to psych myself up for tackling this next and most critical aspect of Charitocracy functionality.

Hillary also suggested including a portal for non-profit nominees to join the discussion without being donors themselves. Brilliant. This way they can correct any well-intentioned but inaccurate information in the nomination pitch, provide more details about their mission and current activities, and respond to any criticism. Hopefully it keeps a grass roots feel without too much of a polished marketing department aftertaste. But it will certainly add an important voice to the discourse.

I'll be constantly on the move until March 1st without much opportunity to code, but I am looking forward to killing off the last few known bugs in the signup/donation process so I can start in earnest on nominations. I'm as excited as ever, but will use this self-imposed downtime to reflect on what's coming next. For now, it's Adventure Time with my buddy Kerry and his fam!

Adventure Time

Beta Tests and Mondays…

Mondays

... always get me down. Well not really, but it's not that exciting either.

Benj has been pulling all-nighters this week developing the sign-up section of the website. (In related news, I've been sleeping quite well since no one is breathing in the same room as me. Oh, did you hear that pin drop in London? Me, too!)

So, I spent a chunk of today beta testing this bit. I tried like hell to break the thing, but Benj did a fist pump when I told him that I couldn't. Don't worry, I didn't let him get away without taking my list of suggestions for improvement.

The best part, though, was creating accounts for all these "people" signing up. I might have used your face and assigned you an amazing superlative. So, if you need ideas when this thing goes live, let me know.

As for me, I shall henceforth be referred to by my Charitocracy Username. And since it's Monday, I'm totally okay with that.

Signed,

World's Okayest Wife

Puppy Monkey Baby

Let’s Encrypt!

Keymaster

This week I'm hoping to complete a critical component of the Charitocracy web site: donor signup & billing. The goal is to make it super quick and convenient for a new donor visiting the site to sign up and commence annual credit card donations of $13/year (or more if desired). Super quick, convenient, and secure!

Toward that goal, the main accomplishment I want to highlight has been adoption of secure communications (HTTPS protocol) for charitocracy.org at no cost to us. I'm running this blog on a hosted server without any extra security, but the main charitocracy domain, aka my 2009 Mac Mini sitting here on my desk, is now running HTTP over TLS with a certificate signed by Let's Encrypt.

Usually this is roughly a $100/year expenditure. You pay a 3rd-party company to check that you control the domain of interest, and they generate you a TLS (successor to SSL if you've heard of that) security certificate which you install on your server. If configured correctly, all data transmitted between your web site and your visitors will be encrypted so bad guys snooping the network traffic only see gibberish, whether it be credit card details or other private information. You'll know it's working because there will be a little padlock symbol next to the domain name at the top of your browser.

The beauty of Let's Encrypt, a relatively new non-profit organization themselves, is that they're helping make the web more secure by encouraging and empowering everyone with a website to self-prove their domain ownership and generate their own certificates all for free using a tool they've created and maintain. I secured charitocracy.org and saved Charitocracy a hundred bucks a year all while binge-watching Making a Murderer from the comfort of my living room couch. Feel free to hop over to charitocracy.org to admire our padlock. Thanks, Let's Encrypt!

Making

All Night Long

Everyone

I've officially pulled my first Charitocracy all-nighter! It's now 6:30am, so I'll keep this brief. But here are a few of the (debatably) exciting things I've done since last week:

• Applied for and was granted business checking and savings accounts at DCU, the credit union I've used since my first job at DEC in the mid-90s.

• Set up accounts at PayPal and Braintree (credit cards), the combination of which I intend to use for donation processing. Maybe I'll integrate Amazon, too, but I haven't decided yet. Braintree credit card entry will let us take credit card info without donors leaving our site, except that the text fields into which you type your numbers are actually little frames hosted at Braintree, covering most of the PCI security concerns: we won't see or store any sensitive data ourselves. I'm hoping that once Braintree is fully integrated into new parent company PayPal, they'll also offer PayPal's 0.7% nonprofit discount on transaction fees.

• Brought my 2009 Mac Mini back to life after blunt force trauma sidelined it during our most recent New England to North Carolina migration in August. I managed to get its original hard disk back up and running, and it survived zeroing the whole disk, upgrading from Snow Leopard to El Capitan, and even full disk encryption. But if it fails, I have a new 9.5mm 1TB fusion drive ready to install.

• Installed MAMP and other goodies on Mac Mini to serve as a staging... server. Interestingly, I lost a couple hours getting outgoing email (postfix) working. Well, it works now.  And I concede "interestingly" is a bit of a stretch.

• To put icing on my all-nighter cake, compiled the first draft of our privacy policy and terms and conditions, required by Braintree.  I'm... falling asleep here... just remembering the privacy policy and... terms and conditions...

ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzz

Hello