To use this website fully, you first need to accept the use of cookies. By agreeing to the use of cookies you consent to the use of functional cookies. For more information read this page.

Personal Blog

Hello folks, I hope everyone is okay and not as fed up as I am with everything going on in the world at present!

Today I was thinking about something that I use every day - switchable graphics. See in my MacBook Pro I have an Nvidia 750GT - a decent dedicated graphics card that can run some games well but has never been used for gaming. In fact, my dedicated card only gets used for graphic and video editing on my MacBook and therefore remains cool and quiet using the Intel Iris Pro graphics. The fact that my computer automatically switches without me even noticing (other than the notification I have setup) is quite truly amazing.

So, what about switchable memory? Have a low power implementation such as LPDDR3 and then high-performance DDR4 as the fast memory. It wouldn't be a particularly good idea in smaller laptops but in a laptop such as 15" machine such as my MacBook Pro it might be an excellent idea. Something like this could help a device such as the Nintendo Switch, a lower power RAM for on the move then a powerful implementation that would be activated when it is docked.

Just a thought...

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
ram

Visual Basic was the first language that I learned all the way back in my early teens. I built some amazing things with it including my own Photoshop program and a web browser with many big features. But now Microsoft has declared the end for it. 

Read more below:

https://www.thurrott.com/dev/232268/microsoft-plots-the-end-of-visual-basic

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
microsoft
visual basic

Many of you will know I was a bit of a geeky kid who enjoyed lots of things that involved computers. One of my passions, when I was younger, was writing books about technology and computers.

I wrote my non-fiction first book in my first year of school and it came to 180 pages. It was based on what I would be studying a few years later, Standard Grade Computing.

In my fourth year of school I began to write my second book (technically the third since my second did not amount into anything), and this book was used for the training department in what I was trying to make into my own company (Balfour's Business). The company never became anything and I ditched it for Jambour Digital in 2017. The book was 382 pages long!

I've now started a new book called Complete Computing. This time Complete Computing will be made publicly available. This book is covering S3/Level 3/4 Computing and covers several different topics. CC is based around the S3 course at the school I teach at mixed with the course at another school which one of the co-authors works at. 

Oh yes, and I didn't mention that this time to assist with the writing of the book I have encouraged someone else to co-author the book with me. 

The ultimate aim of this book is to provide a resource for Level 3/4 Computing covering a wide range of topics that can be used. Whether I intend to publish it or not is still undecided. 

Posted by J B Balfour in Education
complete computing

A major part of my childhood and the early years of the last decade was developing my own software applications. These include programs like Painter Pro, Wonderword, Data Project, Cobweb and more. I still have all the code for them on my system but haven't touched them for years. You see the problem is they were only designed for Windows machines, not Macs and Linux machines. This is because they were written in a combination of C# and VB.NET.

As a result, they've remained untouched for a long time. One of my last innovations in them was that of BlackRabbit Script - a language that could directly communicate with the applications it was running in. It was quickly replaced by the cross-platform, Java written ZPE. 

ZPE has obviously been a much bigger hit and also a much bigger project, but it's also hundreds of times faster than BlackRabbit. 

So I thought I would try something. What if I were to get ZPE in place of BlackRabbit in those older applications? Would it work? This is definitely something I'd like to try and will be trying tomorrow and will be reporting back on here.

zpe
.net framework
c#

In recent weeks I have been integrating ZPE into my smart home equipment, helping me set commands to perform certain things that would otherwise be very difficult. 

One such feature of ZPE that I find both useful and efficient is that of shutting down and starting up my PC. This is all done from our smart home's Raspberry PI which sends out wake on LAN requests and ZPE shutdown requests. ZPE acts as the webserver to our house, too. The web server responds to webhooks from IFTTT and deals with them as appropriate, making the PI respond based on the hook.

ZPE 1.8.1 also includes proper encryption between the server and client instances. Both the ZPEClient and ZPEServer have been rewritten as well and are now the ZENClient and ZENServer. The improvements to these not only make them faster but more stable.

ZPE 1.8.1 will include a few more features and will hopefully release on Sunday.

zpe
1.8.1

ZPE is now coming up for it's five year mark, but it's actually stemmed from something I started 8 years ago. 

In this article, I am looking back at ZPE through the years, asking myself questions.

Why did I start ZPE?

BlackRabbit Script, the predecessor to ZPE, was written only for use on Windows computers which were originally my own development base. It was written in C#.NET. When I learned a bit more about parsers and making them efficient I decided to rewrite the BlackRabbit Script parser in C#.NET using the new knowledge I had obtained. I received a decent performance gain. In 2015 I decided to give it a go building it from scratch as part of a university project. I gained huge performance improvements.

What was the biggest hurdle for ZPE?

There were two very big hurdles when developing ZPE. The first of those was the mathematical parser. I knew that writing this in an efficient manner would be difficult, however, not so difficult that I would need to rewrite the mathematical and logic parsers three times to get them right.

The second hurdle was that I wrote BlackRabbit Script using my own class library that I began writing when I was 13. It contained a bunch of different tools that formed the basis for BlackRabbit Script and made it really easy to develop functions for it. Unfortunately, that class library is not available in Java and since ZPE was rewritten in Java I had to redevelop a bunch of those features for the basis of ZPE. When I moved from BRS to ZPE, BRS had around 100 built-in methods. ZPE only got this as of about version 1.5.x. 

What is my favourite feature of ZPE?

The web parser and ZEN. ZEN is a bunch of networking features for ZPE that make it well worth while. It also allows ZPE to act as a web server and it's a rather efficient web parser. ZPE powers my web server at home as it allows me to easily create plugins for it to automate things around the house.

What is coming up for ZPE?

There's a bunch of new performance improvements planned for ZPE that have been in the works since about version 1.5 that are finally going to get the time needed. Version 1.8 will start with version 1.8.1 (Quinn) which will develop the foundation for these improvements to go through.

There will also be improvements to the MySQL library over the next few months.

zpe
questions

Primrose Lake, also known as version 1.7.12 will be the last version of version 1.7 to be released. Despite this, it's a huge update. 

1.7.12 not only brings single line if statements using the if...then statements but it also brings performance improvements in two areas. 

The first area for a performance improvement is the When-Is statement (aka the case statement). The improvement in performance comes from statements that are long in size but unfortunately smaller statements get a performance penalty. For performance gains statements need to be around about 6 or more options. 

There have been a few parser improvements too.

But the most significant change is the way in which libraries are now imported. Any ZPE compiled library is no longer imported at startup and is now deferred. They are now imported only through the import command. 

ZPE 1.7.12 is now available from my Download Center.

zpe
primrose lake
1.7.12

I was talking with a friend the other day there about the topic of limiting the frames per second (FPS) in a video game when playing on your PC. The argument didn't end with a much clearer understanding than was originally the case and neither side won the argument. 

Many people do not realise how important limiting the FPS in a video game can be for performance. Think about it this way, every piece of information a computer's graphics card needs to produce is more work for the computer. 

If a computer monitor refreshes at 60Hz (around about 60 frames per second) then running 120 frames means that 60 of those frames are wasted. This is, technically, how V-sync works as well. Limiting the FPS allows the GPU to work on the next few frames without filling the GPU doing overtime. 

So go on, try limiting your frames per second.

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
fps
gpu
performance

Long story short, this has been a detrimental year for Intel and a collossal win for AMD. For myself however, the story isn't as simple as one or the other. My first AMD machine was a Turion 64 X2 back in April 2007. The machine itself was fine, it got a little toasty from time to time and it certainly couldn't play many games of its time and it eventually broke down three years after purchase. AMD had let me down. 

But way back in 2005, I was always very skeptical of the performance of my beast (but only in physical size) of a laptop that was supposedly a desktop replacement when compared with the AMD powered version. The Athlon XP and Athlon 64 versions often outperformed the Pentium 4 version and although AMD CPUs were perhaps better than Intel's at that time, AMD didn't have the market. 

Things got doom and gloom in 2010 onwards for AMD. AMD had definitely lost grip of the market. But as my blog followers will have noticed, I now keep banging on about AMD Ryzen and how it's the current reigning champion in the CPU market, with Intel struggling to keep up.

So where am I, a long term Intel fan who has finally switched to AMD for the first time in over a decade?

I would say that I am on the boundary edge of switching to AMD for my other computers. Every innovation that they add to the their chips such as the recent PCI-E Gen 4 makes me want to stay with AMD more. Performance on my PC is much higher than before, especially saying as I paid less than I have ever done for my PC this time around. 

However. AMD's lack of Thunderbolt, particularly in the laptop segment, means that I cannot connect some of the peripherals that I own to my computer. Uh oh.

So what do you think? Team Red or Blue?

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk

After having integrated push notifications into my website way back in early 2016, I'm now removing them from my website altogether. I think we can also agree, push notifications are quite an annoying thing these days and I've decided to remove them from my website - I never sent any for a while anyway.

From now on, the only push notifications that anyone will receive are from my blog. I intend to have an option to subscribe to these somewhere on my websites.

Posted by J B Balfour in Website news