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Personal Blog

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
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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 http://2013.archive.jamiebalfour.com/

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
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2018

I thought I'd take a bit of time to look back at my 2017 a bit earlier than normal, but focusing only on the technology side of things and what's happened this year.

This year has been an incredible year for me technologically, as I've learned way more than any other year before. This year, perhaps the biggest gain for me was moving to a virtual private server (VPS) for my website. This gave me the technical knowledge that I never ever had and allowed me to learn server admin stuff. I now know a lot more about Linux servers and the Apache web server and, as a result of this, have started a business hosting websites for clients that I build websites for - something I wanted to do years ago. As well as this, I've learned to tinker the performance to get it right for my website and my clients' websites.

This year also saw me get my first job, working at Maglabs, which was a great place to work but I was just so anxious that I wanted to take the next step and ended up working at DH Systems after just six months at Maglabs. I only ended up at DH Systems for one month really before deciding that it would be better if I took time out for my health. As a result of the timeout, I actually ended up drawing up a business plan and formed Jambour Digital, which I'm very happy to have done. The company isn't quite active yet, but I've got plans to get it up and running in the new year.

I've also learned a bunch of new technologies such as C++, React.js, Angular JS, Node.js and Symfony 2 this year. I've also learned a lot more about Linux command line and now spend most of my day with a Bash Terminal open on my Mac - an incredible difference compared with last year. 

Perhaps my biggest achievement this year is Dash. Dash was originally named BalfBlog at the start of this year, but it has since become so much more than what BalfBlog was and needed a name to reflect that. Even as late as May of this year, huge improvements were coming to BalfBlog and eventually Dash to make it the incredible piece of software it is!

Another thing that I'm working on now is ZPE 2.0, which is being written in C++. Whilst I wouldn't say I'm near finishing it, I would say it's progressing quite well. 

I must not forget to mention setting up my own personal branch exchange for a SIP phone! Yes, this year has finally been the year that I have ditched my standard telephone and taken on a SIP phone instead and I now have my own business phone line. There was a steep learning curve with it but I got there eventually.

I also finally got my Razer Blade Stealth, the only ultrabook I've ever wanted to own! As well as this I got myself another similar device (well in the sense it docks into a more powerful system) with the Nintendo Switch, which to date may be the greatest console around.

Posted by J B Balfour in Life
2017
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tech
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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
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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
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Another new contract and another new technology. 

This month has been pretty good for me obtaining contracts; just finishing one at the start of the month, getting a new one at the start of the month and a week ago and a potential fourth one this following week. I aim to provide my clients with the best possible service I can, and if I say so myself, I think they are pretty happy with what I offer them at present.

For my latest contract, I've been working with Stripe, which in case you haven't heard, is a fantastic way to build in a payment method into a website. I have used PayPal's API in the past and found it to be very easy to handle, however, some websites demand more than just PayPal due to users not having access to PayPal or whatever.

With the latest contract, I am working on, reviewing the requirements specification document we formed, it's completely necessary to have a seamless, transparent payment system that allows users to quickly input their details including payment details. For this, I turned back to Stripe, which I have used briefly in an experimental website I was developing a few years back. Stripe is secure and easy to use. It also looks very professional. 

Let's talk API stuff now. Stripe provides an exemplary API, however, I decided to use the PHP wrapper found on GitHub to make this lightweight. I then made my own wrapper that transforms it into a reusable script across all of the sites I host.

The great thing about the API is there is no redirect or required way in which you process data, and you choose what you want to do with the finalised output of the form. In fact, you don't even need to take payment (that's a bit silly but it's true). You need to write a simple script that will process it after. 

The main benefit of this is that you can do all sorts of things prior or after the form submission such as sending an email of receipt or a notification of a purchase on the website. You can also add this to a database that stores what a user has purchased. 

But the main thing about Stripe is its ease of deployment. It only took me about 2 hours to get the whole site up and running with a test version of Stripe.

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In the last few months since I setup my own server I've been experiencing something I didn't even know might have happened before now.

I'm talking about brute force attacks on each of the websites I host. None of them are at all clever and I've been mitigating these problems recently anyway. 

But before I had root access to my server I had no idea that these attacks happened so often. The last few days I have been blocking several IP addresses from SSH and website visits on the sites I host, but I'm starting to notice a trend.

In fact, this trend relates to a post I made when I first moved to WordPress. I haven't used WordPress for years and I'm happy to say that, because I wasn't a huge fan of WordPress. I ended my WordPress part of my website at the end of 2013 and I haven't looked back. However, my websites are still getting constant requests to access one certain file that doesn't exist. I'm talking about these errors in my Apache error logs:

  • /var/log/apache2/access.log.1:IP_ADDRESS - - [07/Nov/2017:12:38:28 +0000] "GET /wp-login.php HTTP/1.1" 404 28038 "-" "Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.1; WOW64; rv:40.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/40.1"
  • /var/log/apache2/error.log.1:[Tue Nov 07 05:37:02.133215 2017] [:error] [pid 30560] [client IP_ADDRESS] script 'wp-login.php' not found or unable to stat

There are hundreds of them! As a result, I've decided since none of my customers or myself use or will use WordPress, I'm going to block all wp-login requests.

If there's one thing you should take from this post, check your logs for the same issue!

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Now that ZPE 2.0 is really progressing, I thought I'd let you know about how it is doing in this post. Note by the way, that ZPE 2.0 is my C++ implementation of ZPE.

To be honest, I haven't worked as hard as I could have on ZPE 2.0 as other things still take precedence such as websites I have been working on. However, ZPE 2.0 got a bit of work last night that adds several features:

  1. If statements (no conditions yet, but if, else and end if)
  2. Tree generator view (one of the first modes added to ZPE 1.2 because it makes it easy to debug the code)
  3. Memory management tools

What will need to come next is a bit of interpreter stuff. To be honest this is where things get more complicated and I will likely need to take a bit longer than before to build it.

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It's been a while since I last worked on BalfBar but the latest improvement is a huge one! The latest update is version 1.2.

The newest BalfBar release brings a bunch of changes. Most important changes are removals which now includes the floating logo (BalfBar shouldn't manage this) and the Dark Mode (later named Alternate Mode). 

Let's start with why the floating logo / logo base idea was removed. In fact, let's start with why it came to BalfBar in the first place. Many of you will remember that I used the floating logo on my own website. This was removed in about 2015 when I changed to simply have my name. No body who used BalfBar that I know of was using this feature and more importantly, BalfBar shouldn't need to deal with minor things like this. It's removal was obvious and it makes the SCSS file much easier to understand.

Next, Dark Mode. One of the oldest features of the menu was Dark Mode, originally inspired by Mac OS X when it offered us a dark menu bar etc. I became a fan and decided to upgrade my own menu (powered by jQuery Smart Menus) to have this feature. When I developed BalfBar to replace it on my website I had to include the feature. Now I realise that even I don't use this feature. The main reason for it's removal is that firstly it complicates the SCSS file, secondly it will increase the CSS output file considerably and thirdly it can easily be added if needed by just compiling two SCSS files with the different themes anyway.

The SCSS file is now completely cleaned up and ready to use again. I'm also working on adding some new menu types to it including a large menu like I used to have. This will be sometime before it is ready though since my other projects are now taking precedence again.

I have now updated the JS file to work much more fluidly. However, no longer does BalfBar add a fixed_menu class to the HTML but only to the menu. This came from the idea that it's possible that two menus maybe on the same document at the same time, causing both to go to 'fixed mode'. It also allow it to remain more clean and succinct.

One more thing about the new change is that there is now both a desktop and mobile fixed height option. This also means the removal of the permanent mobile created in the CSS. To make a BalfBar instance always mobile, use -1 as normal.

Posted by J B Balfour in BalfBar
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2017 has been quite a good year for gaming but no one more so than Nintendo, at least for me.

Nintendo's two biggest releases this year have both been incredible. I'm talking about Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey and then let's not forget the launch of the Switch itself. 

I have spoken to loyal PS4 and Xbox One players and within both groups I have found quite a few of them were really wanting to own a Nintendo console for the first time for Breath of the Wild. To me, this marks a change because it was down to Nintendo marketing properly again. The Switch brings a fresh new Nintendo that feels more like the original Nintendo that disappeared in 2006 with the release of the Wii and one that isn't focused only on family games.

Yes, Nintendo have the year. There's no doubt.

Posted by J B Balfour in Gaming