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Personal Blog

Although I would never spend the amount of money required to get a Mac Pro since my MacBook Pro is my work machine, it's always both exciting and inspiring to see how the Mac Pro changes and to follow it's paths.

Mac Pro has had it's latest update this June and the new update was very welcome. Gone is the dustbin-design of 2013 and in is the more classic and traditional looking Mac Pro with a new twist.

I thought I'd take a look at this thing in my living room

This thing, on paper at least, is a monster in terms of both performance and upgradability. It's actually on a new level for upgradability too. Featuring 8 PCI-E slots, all x16 in length of which a maximum 3 are actually full x16 slots capable of 16 lanes of PCI-E 3.0. Although Apple could probably have held out a little longer for PCI-E 4.0 this is still a beast.

Design wise, I'm really happy to see Apple move back to a more traditional looking machine.

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I'm very happy to announce that this week I will release version 2.3 of BalfBlog.

That's really it. But what BalfBlog 2.3 brings is a huge update, by far the biggest update since BalfBlog changed from JBlogs or perhaps since it changed to having it's own backend. 2.3 has brought so much that I don't have time to skip through the changelog to find all of the features it brought. I will name a few of the key features however:

  • 2.3 moves to a more modular and better design of blogging system.¬†
  • Polls! They were created so long ago and yet I am now finally releasing this feature. It's not quite perfect but it should do for now.
  • User biographies - write about yourself and become¬†a narcissist.
  • A lot, lot more Ajax - that means when you press a submit button, in most cases you will not leave the page to do this
  • A new Administration section
  • Move from PHP¬†associative array and constants to a JSON file for the settings.
  • Better subscriber and user management
  • Export tools have been improved.
  • New information¬†section
  • Moved from MySQLi to PDO, making the blog more efficient
  • Template system has been brought back, allowing you to completely change the way a post is displayed
  • New help desk feature allows remote login¬†to help you setup and maintain your installation
  • More flexible content management system
  • Option to switch to CKEditor instead of TinyMCE.
  • An update to the new post, update and delete¬†backend¬†appearance
  • Soon to have a logo (hopefully in time for this release)

If you are interested in the next version of BalfBlog, let me know by getting in touch, I know the next version has one new website which is going to commit to using it instead of something like WordPress or Joomla which is great!

October 27th 2016 was set as the date that the new Macs were to be announced. The date was obviously the date set for the Apple Special Event, the event where we normally expect new Macs (but don't always get what we want).

Apple's event largely focused on the Macs, but it started off with a bit of information on the new TV app coming to the Apple TV and iOS. The new app will let you watch live TV and find relevant video content. 

As well as this Apple launched a new range MacBook Pros. These MacBook Pros also feature a new OLED Touch Bar and Touch ID (it's taken ages for Macs to get this, as fingerprint recognition has been around for at least 10 years in the public domain) as we expected. Also, Apple did not refresh the Air, so MacBook Air users will be hugely disappointed.

Was the event exciting as it has always been? No. I don't feel that there is much in the way of huge innovation with Apple anymore, and certainly not with Macs. It's the same old stuff year after year and it's this that is finally swaying me away from Apple.

I'm actually inclined towards a Windows 10 machine now with the Razer Blade Stealth. 

Apple is running out of ideas

Apple chose not to refresh the MacBook Air

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Apple's 2016 event was hyped to be about the new iPhone 7 and Apple will not disappoint. Other things expected included the wireless EarPods and the removal of the 3.5mm jack on the iPhone. 

I'm hoping for a change in the stupid design of the Apple Magic Mouse and having the Lightning connector moved to the top of the mouse so you can use it whilst it charges but that's likely not going to happen.

Anyway, the presentation begins soon so I'll need to begin writing since this post is now live.

Apple + Nintendo

This might sound too good to be true, but I'm happy that Nintendo chose Apple to release their new Mario Run game. Firstly, seeing Miyamoto at the Apple Event was absolutely awesome. The game looks good fun for a mobile game (I'm not a huge fan of Mario games on my Wii U).

Hopefully this move will lead to more collaboration and more games from Nintendo on our Apple devices.

iWork update

The next big thing to be mentioned was the update for iWork. This update adds real-time collaboration with colleagues or the like using iWork applications. This is very similar to the way that Google Docs works or whatever.

Apple Watch

Pokémon Go for Apple Watch

Niantic, developers of Pokémon Go, are now bringing Pokémon Go to the Apple Watch. It's more convenient than checking (or staring) at the phone screen and I think although the audience didn't look too interested, I think it looks great.

Apple Watch Series 2

Whilst it was predictable that Apple would make the next iteration of the Apple Watch more waterproof, the way it has been designed is phenomenal. The speaker that is used to expel water after a swim is well thought out that only Apple would do. The screen has been revamped too, now with a brightness of 1000 nits. It also now includes built-in GPS. It now also features a dual-core processor.

Obviously, Apple have also released some new designs too. Nike came on to talk about their new Nike Plus Apple Watch which attempts to motivate you to run - to me perhaps the most useful reason for me to get an Apple Watch since I cannot ever motivate myself to get out and run!

Apple have priced the Apple Watch Series 2 at $369 and renamed the original watch as the Series 1 and priced it at $269 and added the same dual-core processor found in the Series 2.

Pictures of the Apple Watch 2

The new Apple Watch Series 2

iPhone

Apple has now sold over a billion iPhones - making it:

The best selling product of it's kind in the history of the world.

iOS 10

You can now raise your iPhone to activate it. Machine learning has been added to the auto correct in the keyboard. HomeKit has had a major improvement, adding it the Control Center and adds hundreds of support. Tim Cook believes that HomeKit is going to be a big deal.

Messages is getting many new features including stickers and the ability to send payments using the messages app.

iPhone 7

iPhone doesn't always excite me - I'm more in to the Macs, but I'm excited this year because it's the tock in the Apple tick-tock cycle.

A 'gorgeous new design' according to Cook. The new iPhone 7 actually is beautiful and it's high gloss back looks absolutely amazing. It's made using as few parts as possible, making it more solid than previous versions. The antennas have been far better hidden and don't look as ugly as before. Here's a picture of the new iPhone 7 in gloss black. 

Pictures of the iPhone 7

The gloss black iPhone 7

As expected, the iPhone's home button is getting haptic feedback and the iPhone is being made water and dust resistant. It's classified as IP67. 

The camera is still a 12MP but has a better flash LED. Phil Schiller also explains that the images are much better and showed some examples that shows how good it is when the object is moving. The iPhone 7 also features a new 7MP front-facing camera. 

The iPhone 7 Plus now features a 2x optical zoom. A nice addition but not enough yet and I will stick with the simple iPhone 7 if I get it.

However, the addition of the portrait feature might sway me, since this allows you to take a depth of field photo - and they do look amazing. Here's the picture shown in the event:

Depth of field photo

A depth of field photo taken on the iPhone 7

It's about time but Apple has finally added stereo speakers to the iPhone 7. Another expected change was the move from the 3.5mm audio jack to the Lightning connector - something that is nice but will take time for people to change to. Apple has kindly included an adapter from Lightning to the 3.5mm jack. My main concern now is how this will work with my next MacBook Pro (not considering one at the moment).

Next: Wireless EarPods, known as Apple AirPods. I must admit, I really dislike the looks of them and really wouldn't go around with wireless waves going through my head like that but they may appeal to some! 

Apple has added their latest quad-core CPU to the iPhone 7 called the A10 Fusion - 120x faster than the original iPhone, 40x faster the iPhone 5 and 2x faster than the iPhone 6. It's design is unique in the sense that it runs two cores on low performance mode which are designed for processes that require less power and this should make it more power efficient. In terms of graphics, the new graphics processor is 240x more powerful than the original iPhone's graphics processor. A sample of this was shown where we get to see 400 flying monkeys. Phil then tells us that:

Nothing quite shows the performance like 400 flying monkeys

Apple claims that they have improved the battery life over the iPhone 6. We'll see about that.

As always, I'm happy to hear that Apple manufactures using the most environmentally friendly materials available. 

The end

As always the event finished with a song and I must admit the song was a dreadful choice in my opinion, but that's just me. I was also disappointed that no new Macs or a new iPad were announced today. Overall the keynote was good and the iPhone 7, which dominated the keynote, looks beautiful.

I was a bit disappointed to find out Apple is not offering the 32GB model (which is now the base model) in the Jet Black model, but as I have a 64GB version as it is I may choose the 128GB anyway. I still believe this will be an off putting factor for many.
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When I first released my website, there were occasional pages with expletives within them but as my website became more and more public and eventually used within my role as a teaching assistant I had to make the decision - remove them all or just hide them.

At first, the latter appealed to me more. I developed a JavaScript (using jQuery) script that would simply hide the words and show them when the user hovers over the word. I have since decided to remove this in favour of removing the words altogether but I thought I'd share my original code with you:

JavaScript
//Swear words
if (showSwearing) {
	jQuery(".swear").mouseenter(function() {
		var sword = jQuery(this).attr("data-sword");
		var nword = jQuery(this).html();
		jQuery(this).attr("data-nword", nword);
		jQuery(this).html(sword);
	})
	.mouseleave(function() {
		var m = jQuery(this).attr("data-nword");
		jQuery(this).html(m);
	});
}

This very simple script works on the basis that each word contains an nword (normal word) and sword (swear word) set in the data attributes on the span element that contains the word. As I say, it's a simple little implementation that works well enough for the job, but you could do it quite easily with CSS.

As HTML, CSS and JavaScript keep advancing, the power that resides in your web browser grows. More can be done efficiently and interactively with JavaScript in the web browser, and with server side languages doing back-end processing. As a result of this, more and more software applications are being written in web languages instead of standard systems languages such as Java. 

This post has come to be because of something I noticed the other evening when out for dinner at one of my favourite restaurants - they were using Google Chrome to manage orders and so on, this was the first time I'd ever seen this kind of e-commerce application.

I'm a huge fan of web technologies and developing for the web, but I'm not entirely a fan of the use of the web to develop every bit of software required out there. For a start, none of the languages used on the front end are compiled before being sent (now this would be a good idea for JavaScript) so it's easy to manipulate them with some kind of other underlying program (such as a virus). This could indeed by a security problem that could be avoided by a compiled program written in a language such as C. Also, as JavaScript is an interpreted language, it is interpreted considerably slower than that of a compiled program.

But web based technologies do offer some major advantages that can be seen as the main reason for their use.

The first is that they are available on any computer with a web browser. This also makes them platform independent since the web is a single standard that must be implemented by all web browsers. It also means if they are on a server somewhere, they can be accessed from anywhere and indeed do not need to be installed.

The second reason is because of the kinds of tasks being performed in these applications are relatively simple and do not require the full power of a system. As a result, the JavaScript scripting language is sufficient for performing these tasks and therefore cheaper too.

The third reason relates to user-preference as web-based applications offer a much easier alternative to other applications when it comes to setting user preferences. First off, we have cookies and session storage. Both of these let us save information for later and quickly restore it, and there are plenty of APIs for using this kind of stuff. Secondly, CSS makes it really easy to style items on the screen and is far more favourable for most companies out there.

Processing performance is a big advantage here too since we can do major processing on a server that is connected to the application rather than doing it on the local machine. This is a huge advantage that can help with mission-critical situations, such as a traffic monitoring system. 

Another major argument is scalability. Whilst some desktop languages really suffer as applications grow, web applications are by nature sub-divided into smaller programs and can be seen as more scalable. Expanding an application written in web based technologies does not need a full redeployment of the application, simply that a user refreshes the page. 

Security is also a huge advantage now, at least in terms of keeping parts of the application safe. This is because the code that is stored on the server will never be transferred to the client, so you can keep all of the secure stuff away from the users of application. This all makes it less likely that the application will be misused by its users.

Finally, the main argument for many developers, including myself, is ease of development. HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP or JSP are easy to develop for. It is this argument that draws most developers to it.

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As many of you know, I'm a huge fan of the Warcraft game series and since the very first game I ever played was a Warcraft game, I've always been not only entertained by the series but fascinated by it's lore. 

Once about 10 years ago, slightly after the release of World of Warcraft, I declared that I could not play the game because of two reasons. The first of those was the price of £8+/month and the second was that I believed it would ruin the Warcraft story lines. 

Well today, I tried out WoW for the first time (and I've been wanting to do this for a long time, but I really do not like the idea of playing it on my own). My opinion has changed. I learned so much about the mechanics of the game today (I thought at first that players battled each other constantly, it seems I was wrong!).

Today I even got the pleasure of experiencing a moment I remember from 14 years ago when I played Warcraft III (my favourite game of all time) for the first time when I saw King Terenas' throne room.

King Terenas' throne

An amazing sight - King Terenas' throne

All of this is enough to convince me that this game is for me. 

I obviously thank my good friend Calum for finally making me see sense and getting into WoW!

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Java is a great programming language and platform to work in but in it's best moods it is, at best, a pain.

Today I fixed a huge issue that I thought was just with Java, but discovered it was so much more than just Java's fault. An application I use on my Mac called Flexiglass was causing problems. 

When I open a menu item within a Java application (such as the basic GUI builder in my ZPE editor) I get the following error: 'component must be showing on the screen to determine its location'.

This comes from Flexiglass, since Flexiglass changes a few system properties and therefore interferes with Java's menu system in some way or another. Anyway, the fix is to turn off the two checkboxes as pictured below:

The fix

The simple fix is to switch off two checkboxes

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Whilst I do use technology on a regular basis and find using my Mac straightforward most of the time, there are things that Apple is doing that make macOS as it will soon be overly complicated.

I talk of things like deeper cloud integration and, in particular, security measures. As a result of Apple's move to making macOS a secure platform in a similar way to the closed iOS operating system they develop for mobile devices, macOS will be a very tight and secure system, making developers' lives much harder and making it much harder to tweak your system. Closing the operating system more and more, Apple has chosen to make it now so that you cannot download apps from the internet and run them unless they have been signed. This is very bad for me since I use things like NoSleep to keep my MacBook awake when I shut the lid amongst others. Apple's closing of the operating system is reminiscent of when they closed the hardware on all their machines - taking out the ability to remove your RAM and replace it with new stuff and making it more expensive to replace the SSD, a move that nearly put me off Apple altogether. 

As well as this, the deeper cloud integration that Apple has been implementing recently has become overly complicated. Keychain is one of my favourite tools of iCloud, but it's also devilishly annoying when it comes to a system reformat. iCloud Keychain can also be an absolute pain when it comes to changing one's password. All of this makes me wonder why I bother with Keychain, oh yeah, my passwords are all stored on it.

Tell me what you think then, do you find that Apple's attempts to become more closed than ever is a good thing? 

WWDC is getting less exciting as the innovation begins to get less innovative. I'm personally no longer shaken by the new releases of iOS since version 7, which was the last real iOS that I could say was exciting. Since then Apple's software releases have become less exciting and certainly don't hold the same level of innovation.

Anyway, WWDC last night was the moment Apple dropped the name OS X and named it macOS. So now, my Mac will no longer run on OS X but on macOS. The new version will be known by the name macOS Sierra. I'm happy to say the inclusion of Siri is something that I am excited about. This is something OS X should have had a long time ago.

iOS 10 is opening up to developers and third-party apps more and more. First off, Siri is being given an SDK and opened to developers so that apps can take advantage of the power of Siri. Third party developers such as WhatsApp will have more power over the iOS device too.

The most interesting part however was with tvOS. I feel that Apple has made a few crucial updates such as the new dark mode, which you may think is not crucial but let me tell you, it is. There was also the addition of the new single-sign on option for different apps stream through cable TV. 

Overall, WWDC 2016 was very lackluster and one of the least interesting WWDCs of all time. A lot of this is down to the fact that Apple have run out of fresh innovation since they've already implemented most of the important features of our smartphones - all they do now is move things around.

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