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Personal Blog

I am just reposting this article.

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
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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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jamie
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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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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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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 (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 2 in a single channel, Thunderbolt 2 used PCI-Express version 2 over a duplex channel (allowing communication both ways). PCI-E version 2  achieves 500MB/s per lane, equivalent to 4Gb/s over a single lane. Thunderbolt uses 4 PCI-E lanes and can achieve 10Gbps with this. Thunderbolt 2 making it bi-direction achieves double the speed. 

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. 

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
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Okay, so I'm one of those people who was prepared to wait until Windows 10 was ready for my computer rather than trying to install it myself (well actually I did, but the thing turned into a nightmare, failing three times due to IMAGE_WRITE_FAIL, UNPACKAGE_FAIL and IMAGE_CORRUPT on each occasion, even using a different image each time).

I decided on July 29th to wait for it on my other computer and then on August 5th I decided not try and install it again on to my other PC until it was officially ready.

Nonetheless, two weeks later I still have not been informed that it is ready to install on either of my computers - my custom built i7 machine with a Radeon R7950 with nothing out of the ordinary and my Asus convertible tablet, released only in October 2014. 

To tell the truth, Windows 10 looked/looks like it will be worth the upgrade (afterall, I hated Windows 8 as much as anyone).

So where are my upgrades? (if this was Apple, I'd already have my update downloading but it would still have four days left to finish downloading!).

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
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10
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ready
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For some time I have been noticing that several error logs across my site have been filled with errors relating to attempted header updates in PHP that are failing.

I found out today what the problem is.

The error for most of them occurs on line 1, and it's because of Aptana Studio saving in UTF with BOM. BOM or Byte-Order-Mark is a single array of characters that is put at the start of a UTF file. The BOM can be seen with a hexeditor such as Notepad++ on Windows or hexdump on *nix machines.

It looks like this:

EF BB BF

Because PHP recognises this as output, it simply leaves it in and therefore PHP flushes the headers and the headers cannot be sent. Don't get fooled by this issue that has had me fooled for months.

Hex Fiend

There is more information here:

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/8028957/how-to-fix-headers-already-sent-error-in-php

http://ext.raneous.net/post/16512690236/my-utf-8-byte-order-mark-bom-adventure

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
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problems
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Yes, it's true. I am beginning to like Microsoft again.

Let me tell you a little secret. Since Ballmer left Microsoft, I have slowly began to like them more and more. I'm not talking about everything - I mean certainly not the Nokia side of Microsoft and Windows Phone. But there are parts of Microsoft that I believe are good and doing well, and one of those is the way they are going with Windows 10.

I was not, latterly, a fan of Windows 8, but I do believe it works well with devices designed specifically for it - touch devices. 

Truthfully, I never disliked Microsoft, and I certainly don't dislike everything they do. I just became too obsessed with Apple. 

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
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Two's Complement is one of those tricky little things that you can easily mess up, but what if there was an easier way of doing it than the traditional methods?

Well indeed there is.

Let's do it.

Example 1

For this example, we're going try and calculate -64. This should be easy.

The first step is to figure out how many bits we are going to need. For this we will need 8 bits. As a result our first place holder will be 128.

128 64 32 16 8 4 2 1

But wait a moment, the next thing we do, and we do this before putting down the placeholders, is we want to calculate a negative for the first place holder.

So what do we do? Well here's my way of doing it, and I don't know of anyone else who does it this way but:

0 - (128 - 64) = -64

Now write that as the first place holder instead. We always have a 1 for a negative number (the sign bit) so put a 1 underneath it.

-64 64 32 16 8 4 2 1
1

The next step is to keep adding until you get to 0.

-64 64 32 16 8 4 2 1
1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0

Easy peasy.

-64 + 64 = 0

Example 2

Now for -34

0 - (128 - 34)

-94 64 32 16 8 4 2 1
1 1 0 1 1 1 1 0

-94 + 64 + 16 + 8 + 4 + 2 = 0

Like I say, I don't know anyone else who uses this, though I do know of a technique similar to it. If you're teaching this to students or pupils, I don't recommend using this to teach, just to check that they got the correct answer.

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
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complement
school
binary
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Lately I have been working to improve the cable management in my room and it feels like it's always an on going task. Now I've finally got to the stage that it's no longer an issue after completing it by buying an IKEA SIGNUM cable manager:

My cables in 2011, before my BlueLounge CableBox even

Around 30 cables run along here, yet they don't really affect my room at all.

8 of the cables run right around the desk and have zero impact on the appearance thanks to cable trunking.

My Mac mini, which is mounted to the bottom of my desk, has five cables (currently) that run to it and are neatly hidden in Ikea cable trunking.

Another three run all the way to the far side of the desk and are connected through the USB hub on my monitor

The cables that run around my bedroom are now trunked - reducing dust and making it more pleasant to the eye. I've left corners open so that they can reach the sockets

Finally, my personal switch in my room (which connects to our main network through an RJ-45 on the wall which has been there since 1999) is found in a basket under my desk.

You can also read about my other cable management tools such as the BlueLounge Soba cable management system or the BlueLounge CableBox and how they've helped organise my wiring better.

Oh yea, and I achieved this with flat cables too, which are a fantastic way of routing cables around a desk like this.

I will likely do a tour of my bedroom soon, as this is long overdue.

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
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management
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