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Personal Blog

A2 Hosting are an amazing bunch of people. I wouldn't have learned half of what I know about setting up a server if it had not been for them so I'm very thankful to them. They offered a very good service at a very good price but they also had their problems.

When I first set up my VPS early last year I got a lot of help with setting up DNS records and so on (something I can do myself nowadays) but what I didn't get I got from a website I came across a few years ago called DigitalOcean. 

I cannot tell you how many times I've googled something and found an article on DigitalOcean that explains a perfect solution to my problem. More and more I started to think it would be good to host with DigitalOcean but I stuck with A2 until about November. 

In November I got hosting credit for DigitalOcean so I thought I'd give it a try and see what DigitalOcean was like, especially now since I am more competent with setting up my own server. I wrote the server_setup script that I use to configure a server, created my first Droplet and transferred a recent site backup to DigitalOcean. Boom! It worked.

Performance wise, on the front end DigitalOcean was a bit faster than A2, which to me seemed unbelievable since A2 was blazingly fast as it was. 

But I mentioned A2 had problems. There weren't many of those and I think A2 are fantastic but they did have one thing lacking that something that is more tailored to system admins/developers should have and that is snapshots. When I first moved to A2 I asked if they offer snapshots but unfortunately not. DigitalOcean provides snapshots! Snapshots allow me to make backups from time to time, for instance before a big update or whatever. It also means I have a secondary, weekly backup of my server. 

So all in all, I'm sad to be leaving A2 but happy to be moving to my fourth host for my fourth iteration of my website. Hello DigitalOcean!

Posted by J B Balfour in Website news

I'm going to be working on a few major things over the next few weeks. My main focus recently has been refurbishing my website with a much more elegant backend and I'm happy to say this was finished on Sunday the 7th after hours and hours of work.

As part of the redesign, I took out my developer tools. I was just this morning looking at my Google Analytics page and found that actually, my developer tools were my most visited pages on my website. As a result, in the next few weeks, I will bring them back. 

Girder will also see some fixes and improvements, although as I have mentioned, it's largely a finished project now anyway. I particularly think I will bring in printable columns and flexes to the next version. I'm also going to move it to a SASS/SCSS based stylesheet that will make it easier to select what you want from it.

Poor old Dash hasn't seen an update for a while now either, so it's time for me to get on with the main project I'm working on.

ZPE hasn't seen an update for months because I've begun work on ZPE 2.0 but that shouldn't be the way it is. In fact, I am going to make big changes to ZPE 1.5 in the next few days to make it perform better. I will not stop supporting the Java version of ZPE until the code in the new version is 100% compatible with the Java version and all features are available in both versions. I also may not even drop the Java version, because it's really good as an educational tool now.

BalfBar 1.2 has had some fixes over the last few days so make sure to download that. I will also be putting the code up for the amazingly lightweight BalfPopup tool that, in my eyes, is better than Magnific Popup due to the size of it. 

Posted by J B Balfour in Website news

As you may know by now I have been in the process of developing a new personal website for the past few weeks. Well, it's finally here!

The new website is meant to be as similar to the old one in appearance as possible, but its aim is to increase performance and change the way it works. The new website uses my Girder framework for the layout and focuses on reusable CSS classes rather than repeating - something that plagued my old website from the beginning (remember, I wasn't really into web development when I started to rebuild it in 2013). 

Although version 3 was the big build for my website, version 4 fixes a ton of stuff that made version 3.x less efficient than it could be. Version 4 also now uses all of my newly developed web tools, BalfBar 1.2, BalfPopup, Dash 1.0 and of course Girder. Dropping things like Magnific Popup makes the website even smaller, and in direct comparison, my new website is about a third of the size of my old one. As well as this, it uses my new development site strategy, allowing me to modify the development site independent of the live site.

Version 4 loads in less than 500ms when tested from Europe. Version 3 took approximately 1000ms to load. On top of that, I've developed a faster way of producing the pages, thus reducing the load on my server when running the PHP and in turn allowing more than 100 concurrent requests at once.

For historical reasons, I have kept just one page of my old website intact and available at

I've got tons of stuff still to bring to the new website, but the main aim of this update was to make the new site ready for improvements. My new website is by no means finished, but it's very functional and serves its purpose.

Posted by J B Balfour in Website news

It will be early 2018 before I can update my personal website. This is because it's quite a big job. I've decided a lot of the content will be removed, and even though the most visited part of my website was the Developer Center, it will be removed in the 2018 update. 

Performance wise the new website is approximately six times faster, taking advantage of a new DragonScript X Engine which is the final iteration of it. DragonScript X is built into all of my websites because it's now a server feature as opposed to a website feature. 

I will be further building my website around the new Dash updates that focus on one install multiple blogs.

Posted by J B Balfour in Website news

It's been four whole years since my website received a major refurbishment and it's now time that it did. 

The major refurbishment will retain the exact same layout design but will focus on better performance. It will use my Girder framework and will integrate more deeply with Dash. 

Speaking of Dash, I have not worked on Dash for a while, but with the new refurbishment, I aim to focus on making it easier to work with. 

I have been contemplating this redesign since the launch of Girder and the new Jambour Digital website, so now it's actually coming to fruition. 

I've also been building a few other websites as of recent, and due to their success with clients, the change seems to be very obvious.

Posted by J B Balfour in Website news

It's happened again, I've moved up even further in the Alexa ranks in my latest check!

Since this time last year, my website has increased 5 million places in the global rank! 

Posted by J B Balfour in Website news

I will admit, the last few months have been very busy with Dash improvements and I've neglected my own website.

Not any longer! I'm working on improving a lot of stuff. Things like email that used to work before my change to a VPS package just worked, but not any longer. For this to work, I'm going to need some assistance from PHP Mailer (I may just use Dash Mail to do this - the wrapper around PHP Mailer) and I'm going to need a new email address for my domain.

After working on Dash day in day out, I've become really obsessed with clean and neat code. Refactoring Dash became a hobby, not a chore. But now I've got a lot of work to do with refactoring a lot of my own website (just the backend stuff, so you'll hardly notice anything happening).

Anyway, at the present time there are a few issues with glyphs not displaying correctly, so if you do find anything wrong, feel free to leave a comment below.

Posted by J B Balfour in Website news

I introduced my gallery over 3 years ago when I decided to write in whilst on my yearly get away to Dunkeld. I have finally updated it.

This means that I haven't quite finished adding the original content to it, but you'll see it performs much better for both my server and for you in terms of waiting.

Please be aware that some links on my website will no longer work as expected if they link to the gallery. I aim to have my gallery updated with all the content from the original gallery by the end of tonight. I also realise that a lot of people aren't even interested in my gallery as of recent, but I also have to point out my gallery is not for everyone. I built it as a way to share photos with my family and to build my own kind of 'scrapbook' of photos.

Posted by J B Balfour in Website news

As the pilots of the planes that crash into the Severnaya bunker say in Goldeneye:

Negative so far. Everything seems normal

Well now everything actually is normal. The transition has been made from to now points to my new host, and will be here in about 2 and a bit months time (due to restrictions on the transfer of domains, they can only be transferred 60 days after registration, and sadly renewed automatically just before I started the transfer).

I had to make some changes to BalfBlog, and I have no idea why these changes were actually needed, but they were (actually, come to think of it, I have a rough idea it might have something to do with the DocumentRoot directive in Apache2, but I'll test that out).

In the meantime, if there are any further issues across my site get in touch via Facebook or my contact form on my website. I've still got a lot of stuff to try out at the moment so the site may have some issues due to this.

What's new

There's a lot of new stuff coming to my website because of the change to running my own system from the ground up (well in a VM). 

My favourite new feature is the use of PHP 7. 7 is supposedly up to twice as fast a PHP 5 and I see a huge performance gain on my website. OPCache is enabled to reduce the amount of time spent parsing the PHP in the first place too. My site was always fast but now it runs only one core and 512MB of RAM and yet it performs better than it did on the shared host where I had 3GB of RAM and four cores. Ahh the benefits of VPS!

Posted by J B Balfour in Website news

Now that I am finally nearing the finishing line for this huge change to my website I'd like to update everyone on what's happened and what problems exist.

First off, I now have a new website, This is only temporary. I will be switching back to as soon as I can (I'm awaiting transfer on this). All of my subdomains are currently hosted on .net, and whilst this may change, I'm not sure there's much point in worrying about this kind of stuff. 

More crucially, since I'm now hosting on a VPS, I've had to learn how to do things without cPanel and the like. Nothing was too difficult. I originally worried about setting up subdomains but they've been painless and easy and I also like doing things this way a lot more. 

HTTPS or SSL is also now free since I found a fantastic CA that offers free certificates. I'm limited in space and memory and CPU power, but despite this, I've still found this to be a more performant option. 

From to Arvixe was the second web host I ever came to, the first being 123 Reg but I never took advantage of it as I had no idea what I was doing. When I opened in 2010, I never thought about using it for anything at all apart from sharing my software. In 2012, I decided to ditch the original template and begin a redesign. Still not a web developer myself, I went for a table based design. In early 2013 I decided to build it to do more. I learned both PHP and CSS and made my first dynamic website. In the second part of 2013, I learned JavaScript and responsive design and made my website more flexible and dynamic. 

In 2014, I made the change from to This was a big change for me. It sparked the point when my website had a meaning to me and that I actually was interested in web development for the first time.

As well as this, the plan was to use the new package to do more than just that. I wanted to run Python-based and Ruby-based websites on it too. Alas, this never came and the site was merely the way I managed to expand my website. 

Within the first year or so, I experience a huge amount of downtime. Almost half of the first year I was thinking about moving away from Arvixe. Toward the end of 2014 however, I was moved from Seahorse to Ayeaye. It offered 3GB of RAM and a quad-core CPU - a huge improvement. I saw much less downtime and my site was far more responsive. As time went on my demands became bigger and bigger and Arvixe was perfect for this. 

Arvixe to A2Hosting

After 3 years of Arvixe to the month, I decided to switch to A2Hosting. This is a huge change that brings lots of new benefits to my website, particularly, as mentioned earlier, VPS hosting. I've been contemplating VPS for about 6 months now as it would allow me to do more than just host a website. It will also give me the flexibility to experiment with other technologies such as Node.js, Django (Python) and Ruby on Rails and much more. I've got less space on this server but I'm not bothered since my whole website and all of its subdomains and my projects comes to less than 4GB. 

I've now officially abandoned on Arvixe and until it moves over, will be unmaintained. will also be in the same boat until it switches over, which will yet be another 60 odd days since it auto-renewed before I could stop it.

I'm hoping for a very happy time now with my new VPS package and I hope to have my website fully up and running by the end of the next week!

Posted by J B Balfour in Website news