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Personal Blog

For the very first time since buying my 2012 Mac Mini in 2014 I have reformated it with a fresh OS X install. There was no particular reason for this other than wanting a fresh install of OS X with the very minimal install again - too many files on my system were taking up my drive, so it was just time. The system was still running absolutely as it was when I bought it, so it was nothing related to that. Just saying, Macs don't need that kind of reformat anyway.

Anyway, since this is the first reinstall of OS X on that machine, I thought I'd give my configuration script a try. It really is wonderful, and it's really all thanks to my friends Ben and Merlin that it's as good as this.

The script looks like:

Bash
ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Homebrew/install/master/install)"
brew install rlwrap
brew install Caskroom/cask/smlnj
brew install Caskroom/cask/osxfuse
brew install sshfs
brew install python
brew install homebrew/x11/swi-prolog
echo "Insert Dropbox path:"
read input_variable

echo "export $DROPBOX=" >> ~.bash_profile
echo "$input_variable" >> ~.bash_profile
if [ ! -d ~/Pictures/Screenshots ]
then
    mkdir ~/Pictures/Screenshots
fi

rm ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.dock.plist
rm ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.finder.plist

sudo cp "$DROPBOX/Mac configurator/configuration/com.apple.dock.plist" ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.dock.plist
sudo cp "$DROPBOX/Mac configurator/configuration/com.apple.finder.plist" ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.finder.plist
defaults write com.apple.screencapture location ~/Pictures/Screenshots;
killall SystemUIServer

So once I got my Mac up and running and Dropbox installed, I run this script to copy all the necessary files across to their places, which restores my Mac to how it should look (i.e. it makes Finder and the Dock identical across my Macs). I've highlighted line 12 because it is where my Dropbox directory is put into my Bash profile so that I can reference it from any script easily.

By the way, this is not me saying that Bash is beautiful, because the syntax is horrible. All I am saying is it is a pretty powerful little shell scripting language.

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
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shell
script

As I'm sure anyone who read my blog for technology related stuff will know, Moore's Law is a fundamental 'law' that defines that the speed of computers will double every two years. It's not entirely the case but it holds true for the majority of systems produced.

The law is more of a theory of a computer scientist called Gordon Moore, one of the founders of what is now Intel. It was theorised in 1965 and what it really stated was that the number of transistors that can be crammed in to one integrated circuit will double every two years. 

Intel call this a tick in their 'tick-tock' cycle. Examples of Intel CPUs include the Sandy Bridge range (tick) when compared with the Ivy Bridge range (tock). Both of these ranges were based on the Sandy Bridge architecture. The Haswell architecture which was the next tick could fit twice as many transistors in the same size of integrated circuit, following Moore's Law. 

But on the release of Broadwell, which was based on the Haswell micro-architecture and was the successor 22nm Haswell, we have arrived at transistors that are only 14nm in size, compared with Haswell's 22nm transistors this change is huge. The next step after 22nm according to the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors will come in at 10nm. Currently, Skylake, which is the current range of Intel APUs and is a tick in the tick tock cycle, is facing several problems with going further. For the very first time in the history of Intel's tick-tock cycle, there are going to be two ticks (tick-tick-tock). Why you may ask?

The answer is that Moore's Law no longer holds true with current fabrication techniques. In fact 10nm is posing such problems that it has been delayed until 2017. Cannonlake (formely Skymont), which will be the tock in the cycle will succeed the successor of Skylake, codenamed Kaby Lake. It will drop the size to 10nm. From here on however, there is considerable worry about whether or not we can go any further. We may see for a few years that computers cannot get any more powerful. What worries me is that the companies may use this to make money out of us at no extra cost to them (since the technology will change but the systems will be no more powerful).

So what's the next step then? Quantum computing? Chemical based computing? Biological computing? Good question. 

For the foreseeable future I would imagine that quantum computers will be the future, since they currently already exist. What worries me about the future is how will devices we currently use (such as the world wide Internet) interface with these new devices? I worry greatly about this and how the transition will turn out.

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
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Back in the day, when Netscape and Microsoft started the First Browser War, Internet Explorer and Netscape Communicator fought to become the most popular browser. 

Ultimately, to many people's dislike Internet Explorer won and Netscape disappeared. Netscape Communicator evolved into Firefox. At this time Internet Explorer's share of the browser market kept growing, largely due to the fact that it was bundled with Windows until the EU decided to make it compulsory for Microsoft to include a way for users to change to other browsers easily.

Since then, I have become a web developer, and I stopped using Internet Explorer again in favour of Firefox and eventually Safari. I'm not the only one who stopped using Internet Explorer however. Year on year the share for Internet Explorer has dropped. Here is are the statistics that shows this for November 2015 from W3 Schools:

2015 Chrome IE Firefox Safari Opera
November 67.4 % 6.8 % 19.2 % 3.9 % 1.5 %

And here is a set of statistics from 2002, 13 years ago (when I used Netscape I'll have you know!)

2002 AOL IE Netscape
November 5.2 % 83.4 % 8.0 %

But why is this the case?

Microsoft just didn't care

Microsoft were very bad at developing Internet Explorer between iterations, they thought because they had a huge market share that they wouldn't lose it. I only realised this after becoming a web developer myself, since developing for Internet Explorer all the way up to IE9 is very difficult.

Even if other browsers had features for a year or two, Internet Explorer would most likely not get these features for a long time after. Prefixed support wasn't even there. Microsoft, as always, just thought it was ok to just leave it. 

Microsoft only cared when Internet Explorer started to disappear.

The future

Microsoft will have a lot of catching up to do with Microsoft Edge since Internet Explorer got them the bad name of the browsers. I personally do not see this happening in a way that will transform the share so that Microsoft has the upper edge again, but I can see them regaining some of the lost ground with it.

Edge is a fantastic browser, especially from Microsoft. Edge really does support cutting edge technologies and implements most of the web standards well.

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
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past
present
future
what
happened

Today's post is about managing a large website from information architecture to the whole core of the website.

Since I relaunched my website with the refurbishment to last for the rest of my website's life, many small tweaks have been brought to the design. Many of these tweaks were based on small suggestions as well as the occasional large one (like building my own menu system). 

A website in some cases does not seem like an ongoing job, but for my own personal website, my web developerness always encourages me to do more. Knowing when to stop is a very difficult, if not impossible, task. There is always something new that could be brought to the site.

I often talk about how proud I am of my personal website since I wrote the whole thing from the gallery to the blog to the whole design, but what I don't talk about a lot is the content on my website.

As I'm sure you will agree, my website is rather large. Not only are there several pages of blog entries on my website, there are over 80 articles in my tutorials, I have quite a few reviews and articles, there is lots of information on the projects I'm working on, information on me, my pets and family, a gallery, information about my software, including my page dedicated to Zenith, a lot of stuff on university, some developer tools, newsletters and so much more. 

Information architecture

The information architecture (IA) of a website is crucial and is the very first thing that should be considered when developing. If you are interested in web development you will likely already know that putting an index.html or default.html page in a directory means that the URL does not need a dot, so http://www.test.com/about/index.html can become http://www.test.com/about/. 

Sticking to a procedure of putting the index or default page into a directory gives the site a better architecture also. Nested directories like articles/ and articles/computing/technologies.html are nicer than file paths like articles.html and articles_computing_technologies.html. 

Managing content

Content can be difficult to manage on a large website and while this website is reasonably small compared to some other websites, including ones that I've built, but none the less, I do have a very strict system in place to control images, CSS, JavaScript, PHP and text files that are considered assets to the website.

Site dependant content should be stored together in one central location on the website. I tend to use a folder called /assets/ as my content folder. Inside there exist several folders, particularly /assets/images/ and /assets/css/. This means that all images shared across the website can be found from this area.

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
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jamie
balfour
com
structure
information
architecture
web
design

Since the middle of mychildhood, I have always kept a close eye on computer connectivity and it has always been one of my biggestinterests incomputers.

Very recently I started to think a bit about what connections are on their last legs in their lifespan - ones that we probably will no longer be using in four or five years, and I came up with a list:

  • IEEE1394 or FireWire. FireWire is one of my favourite connectors for disks because it is relatively inexpensive compared with what most consider it's successor - ThunderBolt. Yet more and more wealthy professionals are moving to ThunderBolt, leaving the consumer market with USB 3.0. USB 3.0 maybe faster than FireWire in some situations but push FireWire development further and we could see it back at where it used to be - USB's big brother. However, development like this seems incredibly unlikely and FireWire, as great as it was, seems doomed.
  • eSATA and SATA. eSATA or external Serial Attached Technological Attachment was an attempt to bring SATA speeds to external devices and remove the bridge that both FireWire and USB required to communicate with such devices. eSATA keeps up with speed the core SATA implementation so it's about as fast as it's internal connector. eSATA has never kicked off properly though and it's only real purpose is to act as an external drive interface. SATA on the other hand is huge at the moment, but like eSATA, in my opinion, doomed. I say this because in the enterprise there is SAS - a much better alternative to SATA and more and more consumer laptops are moving to PCI-Express based drives and it will likely not be long before those who care for speed move to PCI-Express boards for their desktops too. From this, I do believe that eSATA is doomed and that SATA is a connector that will soon become very low-grade.
  • DVI. We've been saying DVI is finished for years and sure on consumer systems it is pretty much gone, but in the business world it's still there. My first PC to have a DVI connector was in 1999, my last monitor to use DVI ran until 2011. Since then I have moved to DisplayPort for the majority of cases and HDMI also (due to the fact that I run multiple computers from the same monitor and the majority of monitors feature multiple HDMI ports but only a single DisplayPort). Most business systems are built for budget and as part of this include budget monitors featuring only VGA and DVI. Some low end monitors are starting to appear with DisplayPort (since it is royalty free it is cheap to include). This new addition may signal an end for DVI in general.
  • Optical audio. Optical audio is one of the greatest inventions in the AV industry but the TOSLink connector that we use today is something of a novelty. More and more television sets are dropping this connector since the all-in-one HDMI offers uncompressed PCM 7.1 audio as well as video over one cable. This means smaller packages too, as HDMI is a much smaller connector (internally) and is already included in almost every modern television.

You may ask what about PS/2. PS/2 being one of the oldest standards in connectivity still in use still has not disappeared with it's brethern (the parallel and serial ports). PS/2 probably will not disappear for sometime still since, unlike USB, it's relatively cheap to implement and that makes it good for business. For gamers it's ability to send an interupt directly is incredibly fast and unlike USB it does not rely on polling, so it still could remain popular in that market too.

If you are interested in knowing about the benefits of the old PS/2 standard vs the ugly USB polling system, take a look at this article.

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
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esata
sata
sas
dvi
optical
audio
hdmi
displayport
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disappear
gone

I am just reposting this article.

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
who
killed
internet
explorer
firefox
chrome
safari
browser

This year, Apple's September event was, in a word, mediocre.

For those that did not see the event or know much about it, you can read more in the previous post on my blog.

The majority of the event focus on iPad. The new iPad Pro that Apple launched is 'the biggest thing to happen to iPad', literally. The iPad Pro is a 12.9 inch iPad (as predicted) which also has a new Smart Connector to connect a specific external keyboard. It also comes with a digitizer known as the Apple Pencil. The Pro is designed with business folks in mind.

The other major announcement was the iPhone 6s. Again, this was pretty much predicted down to the last feature. As expected, it supports 4K video recording and has a 12MP camera. The other new feature that was added was Live Photos, which are basically small video recordings take with photos and attached to them. This will work with El Capitan and iOS 9 and hopefully other devices in the future so that we can relive those photographic moments. As someone who takes a lot of photographs and loves to make memories, I really like this idea. The 6s also features faster Touch ID and more, but these features were pretty minor in the grand scale.

Apple also announced the next generation of Apple TV. This model brings solid state storage to the device and a remote control with both motion sensors and a microphone. Personally, this was the biggest announcement of the day. The storage is included so that app from a new dedicated Apple TV App Store can be installed. 

There was no mention of Macs, but there you go.

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
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event
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jamie
balfour

Finally, I have managed to get Windows 10. And the good news is it was so easy to install on my Mac (not like my PCs). 

Windows 10 scaling features work well, unlike Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 so I can finally use the high DPI of my Mac's display with Windows. I've been waiting for some time (since August 2014) to use Windows on my Mac (I had Windows until April of that year on my older MacBook and I've always had it on my Mac mini as well) and it's nice to finally have it again!

My tablet has just finished upgrading to Windows 10 as well due to the fact that unlike the installer Microsoft has been giving out, 'burning' a plain old ISO to a USB drive on my Mac works.

I will finally get round to doing my review. In general, I'm positive about the experience I'm going to have with this OS, considering Microsoft's tick-tock cycle of good OS (ME, XP, 7, 10) then bad OS (2000, Vista, 8).

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
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10
ten
last
ultimate
mac
os
x

When I first started to use Duck Duck Go (DDG) it was due to being a bit of an Apple fan boy. Apple were moving their default search engine to Duck Duck Go and I wanted to give it a try.

My original thoughts were that because of it's privacy policy - it would not share your information with third parties. Of course this is a great feature, but it's not the reason I use Duck Duck Go (nor is the fact that Mr Duckface is absolutely adorable).

Duckface

I will admit that Duck Duck Go is not the perfect search engine for it is still young and needs more time to improve. I very occasionally still use Google to search for things, but the majority of my searches are through Duck Duck Go.

No the main reason I use Duck Duck Go is because of the features they have started to add. I play a lot of Minecraft and I spend a lot of time reading stuff on the Minecraft Wiki. I also read a lot of Wikipedia articles. Duck Duck Go is the perfect search engine for anyone who does this kind of stuff. Why? Because Duck Duck Go takes a standard search over to the search page of a certain website.

Say I want to look up how to make a sticky piston in Minecraft, I would simply type into my search bar in Safari:

!minecraft sticky piston

And because Duck Duck Go is my default search engine I will be directed to the Minecraft Wiki searching for the term "sticky piston". This saves me a whole page or two of searching.

I have also changed my personal website to do this too. Now instead of typing "blog: google" to search for "google" in my blog only, you type "!blog google".

So go on, Duck It!

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
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go
duck duck
duck duck go
google
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engine

Let's be clear here; for the majority of Mac users, Thunderbolt is only ever used as a display connector, only utilising the DisplayPort properties of this interconnect. 

Apple and Intel's joint venture surprised many and was one of the key reasons I bought myself a MacBook Pro when I did. Since the MacBook Pro I originally owned (a late 2011 13" Thunderbolt version), Thunderbolt has progressed a long way. Not only has speed been increased, but in terms of the devices using it. Nowadays, it is not surprising to see a docking station adding more video ports, more USB 3.0 ports and gigabit Ethernet to a laptop which has but a few physical connections. Thunderbolt 2 was released in 2013 with a maximum theoretical speed of 20Gb/s compared to the original Thunderbolt specification which could achieve 10Gbps. This was due to the fact that instead of using PCI-Express version 1, Thunderbolt 2 used PCI-Express version 2, which achieves 500MB/s per lane, equivalent to 40Gb/s over a single lane. 

As many of you will know (if you read my website), my biggest interest in computing is physical computer connectivity, which I have had since about the age of 7 or 8 (where I became obsessed with PS/2 and parallel ports).

To me, physical connectivity is the way forward, wireless is a step backwards (in terms of data, not networking, although I still use almost all of my devices through our rather dated [1997/1998] network in the house which only receives moderate upgrades from time to time). This is why I have backed FireWire and Thunderbolt over many wireless standards.

At the same time, Intel has been busy (again working with Apple) developing USB-C, a full-speed USB 3.0 port which has the physical footprint of a Kensington Lock, allowing computers to get thinner and thinner as well as the ability to send video signals (including DisplayPort) and power (back to the device) over the one cable.

Combine USB-C and Thunderbolt together and you get Thunderbolt 3. Thunderbolt 3 supports PCI-Express 3.0 which achieves 78.8Gb/s or 985MB/s per lane. Thunderbolt 3 itself is given a maximum speed of 40Gb/s, which is a crazy amount of speed. What this now means is that a PCI-Express version 2 graphics card could be used external through the Thunderbolt 3 interface with no real problems. Intel even demonstrated this with the release of Thunderbolt 3.

What I am really hoping for now is Apple to release a USB-C-Thunderbolt 3 combination display that also features more than one damn input (this is the reason that I still do not have one of these displays and probably never will). This way they could ditch the MagSafe power lead and replace it with the single connector and it really would be the most fantastic way to dock your Mac.

Other than that, the bonus speed Thunderbolt 3 offers would be nice too, but perhaps not worth the extra money for a new computer at the moment.

To me personally, the release of USB-C was one of the most important releases of the last decade due to the fact that it really could become the connector that appears everywhere (oh how this saddens me too).

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
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