WordPress 4.7 “Vaughan” Released

The WordPress logo. A "W" cut out of a dark gray circle with an outline of the same color. "WordPress" is written below the logo. "Word" is a dulled blue and "Press" is the same gray color as the logo.

WordPress (WP) has released version 4.7 of their blogging and content management software. It has been codenamed in honor of the legendary jazz vocalist Sarah “Sassy” Vaughan. Here are some of the new features:

Twenty Seventeen

As always, new version, new theme…

WordPress 4.7's default theme: Twenty Seventeen. Twenty Seventeen focuses on business sites and features a customizable front page with multiple sections. Personalize it with widgets, navigation, social menus, a logo, custom colors, and more. Our default theme for 2017 works great in many languages, on any device, and for a wide range of users.
WordPress 4.7’s default theme: Twenty Seventeen

Theme Starter Content

When you setup a new theme with no content, the theme can provide some starter content to show off it’s capabilities.

Edit Shortcuts

New icons appear in the Customizer to show what content can be changed in real-time within the live preview.

Video Headers

Video headers can be added to themes with a video selector that shows up in the Customizer.

Blank Pages During Menu Creation

If you don’t have content for your site yet but know how you want your menu structured, the menu editor now allows creating blank pages on the fly while setting up the menu.

Custom CSS

Custom CSS can be added through the Customizer (note that such file-editing features are often disabled on most hosts as they often are the source of exploits and malware).

PDF Thumbnail Previews

PDFs that are uploaded now generate image previews just like images:

Image showing a PDF file with an image preview in the media library.

Dashboard in your language

The admin can now have it’s own per-user language set.

REST API Content Endpoints

Endpoints for posts, comments, terms, users, meta, and settings are provided by default in this version as they continue to build in the API components.

Post Type Templates for All

Post type templates are now available for all custom post types.

Custom Bulk Actions

One of the most-often requested features is now available in this version. In the past, adding custom bulk actions required a lot of hacking and going around the existing code. Now there are built-in functions to assist with adding custom actions that can be applied to many posts at once.

WP_Hook

The code that runs the actions and hooks has been rewritten, fixed a number of bugs, and added a few new capabilities.

Settings Registration API

The register_setting() function has been updated to include type, description, and REST API visibility.

Customizer Changesets

A new post status (customize_changeset) that is created when something is changed in the Customizer prior to being published. [More Information]

 

Google Chrome 55 Released

Google Chrome Browser Logo: Blue gradient circle with a thick white outline and a larger circle behind it with red, yellow, and green trisection coloring from top to bottom left.

Google has released version 55 of the Chrome web browser (based on the open-source Chromium browser) a few days early (was supposed to be released on the 6th). There was over $70,000 paid out to security experts, developers, and white-hat hackers for finding over 25 different security-related issues with the browser.

Noteworthy features:

async & wait functions

ES2016’s async and await function flags will be fully supported and allows making function calls that do not delay the main browser thread (asynchronous). Note that because IE does not support this (though can be mimicked using a settimeout polyfill; Edge has this feature behind an experimental flag) it will be awhile before it can be used cleanly. Babel (the ES6->ES5 JavaScript transpiler Node.js module) transpiles these for browsers that do not support it using the settimeout polyfill.

Pointer Events

Pointer Events API will be fully supported and allow capturing mouse and touch move, over, and leave/out events combined into a single event.

Persistent Storage

Persistent Storage will be supported. Note that pretty much all browsers support localStorage, but it is simply up to the browser when to remove the data. For instance, when hard drive space runs out, storage data gets wiped automatically to free up space. Persistent Storage provides a mechanism that allows the developer to request their data be kept unless clearing out all non-persistent data still does not free up enough storage space. It identifies whether or not their request was accepted or the browser is simply only accepting non-persistent storage.

Chrome 55 is expected to use significantly less memory. Chrome was the first browser to support per-tab processes – but has always been at the cost of using a fair bit more memory than other browsers. Now they have a goal to, eventually, reduce the memory usage enough that Chrome can be used easily on a computer with just 1GB of memory. Version 55 is the first step toward that goal as it both uses a fair bit less memory and has a rewritten garbage collector.

Chrome Security Update: 45.0.2454.101

Google Chrome Browser Logo: Blue gradient circle with a thick white outline and a larger circle behind it with red, yellow, and green trisection coloring from top to bottom left.

Google has released a security update for it’s Chrome web browser. The new version, 45.0.2454.101, includes fixes for a reported cross-origin bypass that affects both the document object model (DOM) parser as well as the V8 JavaScript/ECMAScript engine.

It is recommended that you update your browser to this version to prevent possible exploits. You can do so by clicking the main menu icon (three dashes in the top right) and going to Help / About Google Chrome or by downloading from:

http://www.google.com/chrome/

Firefox: Stolen and Fixed

Mozilla Firefox web browser logo: an orange fox with yellow flames for a tail wrapped around a dark-blue globe.

Mozilla, an open-source software community run by the non-profit organization, Mozilla Corporation, and developers of the Firefox web browser, has announced it’s bug tracking software, Bugzilla, was hacked. The organization’s blog post states that the account that was compromised had access to privately-listed bugs representing zero-day security flaws in the browser. However, if you keep your browser up-to-date you are protected. The zero-day flaws that were stolen were all patched as part of version 40.0.3 released August 27, 2015. The post does not state the date that the account was compromised.

Green bug being swept up by a broom. Icon / clip-art.
By Poznaniak, pozostali autorzy w plikach źródłowych via Wikimedia Commons

This should definitely be a wake-up call for you to keep the software you use up-to-date. Many applications today will automatically update (including the more recent versions of Firefox) but some do not. In addition to keeping you safe from security flaws, the latest versions of programs also deliver features that make using the software more enjoyable and sometimes easier. In the case of web browsers, it also delivers new tools for web developers to use to make better web applications and websites that are more visually appealing and interactive.

More Information

More detailed explanation of why you should take the time to ensure the software you use is up-to-date will be in an upcoming post! I will link the post here.

Google’s Cell Service Play

Google Project fi logo - a green and blue lower-case "f" and yellow "i". The dot above the "i" is white and overlaps the cross of the "f".

Google likes to jump into a number of businesses that involve technology. They are heavily involved in robotics and are developing a self-driving car, conduct a number of research projects, jumped into the cloud computing ring, more recently became an ISP (Internet Service Provider) by rolling out fiber-optic internet to a number of cities across the United States, and develop the Andorid OS (operating system) that runs roughly half of the world’s cell phones. Now they are looking to take over your cell phone service as well. Google just announced Project Fi, their new mobile phone service.

Google Project fi logo - a green and blue lower-case "f" and yellow "i". The dot above the "i" is white and overlaps the cross of the "f".
Google’s Project fi Logo

The new service — currently only open to a few who request an invite — offers mobile phone service for $20 per month with data starting at $30 per month for 3 GB (gigabytes) — total of $50 per month. That is a little underwhelming given that other wireless carriers offer similarly-priced plans. It is not until you add in the discounts and features they it becomes mildly intriguing. First of all they refund you for the data you did not use. So you get refunded for the amount of data you don’t use under $3. So if you only use 1 GB in a month they will refund you $20 (data is charged at $10 per GB). There are no contracts.

One of the major drawbacks of this service is the phone selection. There is none. Currently you can only use the Motorola-produced Google Nexus 6. Sorry, no Apple iPhones here.

Where this show gets somewhat more interesting is how the service works: It uses 2 networks. Google partnered with Sprint and T-Mobile — both providers use similar technology in their networks — and the phone can simply hop onto the network that has the strongest signal. This probably increases the signal strength mildly since Sprint and T-Mobile are the smaller networks operating in the U.S. The other way to make calls is over a Wi-Fi network (including the many open networks available at restaurants, coffee shops, airports, and other offices and retail stores nationwide). However, even that is not new: T-Mobile already offers a service that allows for calls over a Wi-Fi connection.

On the plus side if you travel a lot it could be a sigh of relef. Some other mobile service providers make you jump through hoops, pay a little to a lot more for service and/or data, or simply don’t offer service in other countries. This new plan from Google works in more than 120 countries (since Sprint and T-Mobile use the same wireless technology the majority of service providers outside the U.S. use it is more compatible) though data speed is limited since only 3G connections will work. They also do not charge any more for data when traveling. It’s still the same $10 per GB. International calling rate of $0.20 per minute apply. No extra charges for texting internationally.

It’s an modest start — it’s not likely to cause a mass-exodus from other cell service providers — but will be interesting to see how their service evolves.

YouTube Has Gone Native!

HTML5 logo consisting of the word "HTML" at the top in bold black lettering. Below the title is a large orange "bent shield" design with a large white "5" in the center.

Today the Google-owned YouTube video-on-demand (VOD) and live streaming service that brought you kittens in teacups has switched to using the HTML5 native video tag by default. What does this mean? Up till now the majority of videos on YouTube have required the Adobe-produced Shockwave Flash plugin to play videos. However, over the years browser standards have evolved and now support playing video directly through the browser. Playing video through the browser without using a plugin is generally faster to load and faster to play. They have also introduced a few new standards to the mix to allow for encryption, protection, and streaming of content directly in the browser.

HTML5 logo consisting of the word "HTML" at the top in bold black lettering. Below the title is a large orange "bent shield" design with a large white "5" in the center.
The logo/badge developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for HTML5.

Speed

Google bought On2 Technologies, the company that produced the VP9 video codec (and likely using Google’s WebM wrapper), back in 2009. Since then they have open-sourced it and have been pushing all browser developers to support it. VP9 is able to get similar visual quality to the popular H.264 codec while reducing file size moderately. The codec is also able to be loaded very quickly, especially within the browser. YouTube claims a 15-80% decrease in start-up time over using Flash and H.264 (note that the vast majority of the load time would be starting up the Flash plugin). YouTube also claims it will enable them to start delivering 4K video at 60FPS.

Encryption & Content Protection

YouTube is also using Encrypted Media Extensions and Common Encryption standards to deliver content securely and behind a pay-wall where necessary. Unlike alternatives such as Flash and Silverlight, these content protection standards are completly separate from the content. Which means you don’t need costly proprietary software to rewrite all or part of the content to create and store it. It is also not limited to one or two pieces of content protection software. Anyone can develop their own protection schemes using the standards and offer it for free or sell it on the open market. It will be interesting to see what happens as this becomes the de facto standard over time.

Real-Time Broadcasting?

Within the same announcement, YouTube engineers also hint at the possibility of using the WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) standard built into most modern browsers as part of a live video streaming stack (should OBS and XSplit be worried?). WebRTC is already being used in part by Google Hangouts and it is already known that YouTube has wanted to expand it’s live streaming video offerings. Could this be a foreshadowing? Very likely. We will have to wait and find out.

Native Adaptive Bitrate

Most video streaming is done using a couple of proprietary technologies and one standard. Software like Adobe’s Streaming Media Server deliver content using Real Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) and Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) which have become outdated and unsupported. They also cause problems with corporate firewalls that block unknown protocols for security reasons. Microsoft’s Smooth Streaming is a more recent entry but is meant specifically for their proprietary Internet Information Server (IIS) and for their Silverlight browser plugin. Adoption by anyone except large media conglomerates looking to protect their content while making it near-impossible to view on any other devices (and thereby pissing off their customers) has been lackluster at best. The HLS standard created by Adobe is the most popular and easiest to implement solution so far. It provides a specific layout for playlist files and how videos should be broken into pieces that can be downloaded more quickly and allows proper management software to determine the best bitrate to use depending on the user’s bandwidth limits.

In comes Media Source Extensions. This new standard is meant to allow the script embedded in all browser – JavaScript – to create it’s own media media streams without having to rely on any specific media type or how it is acquired from a server. It also allows the browser to manage much of the back-haul and caching without requiring a large, slow script to be produced by engineers and revered by everyone.

Obviously these new standards a fresh-off-the-press having just been released this month so they will undergo a number of months of commenting, scrutiny, and alterations before they are finalized.

Lastly, YouTube is changing over their embed codes. Gone are the old <object> tags that dominated the landscape. They are now replaced with shiny new iframe embeds. The “page-within-a-page” design of iframes allows them to load the technology that is needed for each user – be it HTML5 or Adobe’s Flash plugin.

New Website

Screenshot of dark gray and black responsive WordPress theme featuring a customizable large featured image and two smaller images to the right above a set of four columned text areas with icons.
Screenshot of dark gray and black responsive WordPress theme featuring a customizable large featured image and two smaller images to the right above a set of four columned text areas with icons.
Screenshot of “Website” Responsive WordPress theme by kubasto from ThemeForest

After going without a website for quite a while I finally put up a new site that I will use for public posting of items just in general as well as for technology posts (instead of just spitting out status updates on Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn). I did not (and still don’t) have much available time but I am going to add updates when I can. I also struggled to figure out what design I wanted to use. After putting together a number of crummy simple themes that I was never happy with I finally came to my senses. I am not a designer. While I can put together themes using SEO enhancement, interactive elements, and database-driven applications I can not make them look good. So I purchased this theme to use after digging through thousands of various themes I finally settled on this one. It has a good combination of enhancements and design options that I like; It is the “Website” (yes, a very generic name but it fits) theme by kubasto.

Why?

Another reasons is to start showing showcasing some of the small side-projects I am working on. I work on a number of large projects over time as well as help others out both online and IRL (in real life) as well as contribute code, bug reports, and fixes to open-source and freely available repositories from time to time. I have my own git repository with a couple of small JavaScript libraries on BitBucket that I will add to as well as my Stack Overflow account I am using to help people out with smaller scripting and database issues. I will also post my own thoughts on various topics in life as well as science, technology, programming (along with some code snippets), and possibly a few others from time to time. Finally I also plan to feature and show off a few projects from time to time which this theme seems to support rather well.

So check back as there will be a number of updates and changes to this site in the near and long term!