Jamie Balfour BSc

Welcome to my personal website!

Technology enthusiast

I am very interested in technology, particularly relating to computer science. I am most interested in web design and development.

My main hobby is programming. One of my most well known products from this is ZPE. I also am the sole creator of BalfBlog, BalfBar and BalfSlider.

A little bit about me

In 1997, when I was six years of age, I got my very first computer. I was always very interested in the ins and outs of it and dismantled it to see how it worked.

Years later, in 2016 I received my BSc (with honours) in Computer Science, obtaining a First class degree.

I'd like to welcome you to my website and hope you enjoy using it as much as I have enjoyed building it!

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Me
Jamie Balfour BSc
Full stack developer

Personal Blog

Very recently I created an online tool for converting Spellcraft elements into the spells that Spellcraft uses. It's reasonably simple but none the less I find it really useful. You can find it here.

My converter

Since the day Apple announced that they were going to drop their skeuomorphic design patterns, everyone has tried to follow suit - me included.

Skeuomorphism is all about making your design look like something from the real world - something I aimed to do with my website by making it look like a page on your screen (I have since dropped this and moved to a much flatter design). 

But why is it that skeuomorphism has disappeared all of a sudden and what really is it?

In this post, I'm going to talk a little about what a skeuomorphic design would look like and why flatter designs are much more convienient.

Skeuomorphism

By building a system with a real-life-like design using a skeuomorphic design pattern you make the learning curve much smaller: what looks like a microphone is a microphone. This means that more time ends up being on developing the interface than with a non-real-life-like version. 

Skeuomorphism has however one drawback. Complication. Whilst yes it is true that skeuomorphism reduces time spent learning the interface, it also complicates the interface. Buttons may not be so obvious, taking for instance, a volume toggle which you rotate. This would be obviously complicated unless you knew how to use it before hand. This is an example of skeuomorphism at it's worst.

Skeuomorphism also tends to rely on images and gradients as well as other computationally complex elements (including rounded corners and the like). All of this adds to the time spent loading the interface. 

This div below appears with a skeuomorphic interface.

Skeuomorphic design

'Flat interfaces'

Flat may not be the best word to describe these interfaces but it's a good one. Microsoft was one of the first companies to introduce a flat interface with Windows 8:

Microsoft's website is an example of a flat design

The main benefit flat interfaces have over skeuomorphic interfaces is that they tend to be easier to produce and then tend to be easier to render on the client system. Flat design rely less on images, gradients, curved borders, box shadows and a lot of the new CSS 3 styles that are being added and goes 'back to basics'. 

The focus of a flat interface is contrast, making colours the dividers, not box shadows. It also focuses on solid colours, not gradients. And finally, it attempts to make the interface more rectangular than circular (on this note, I may be changing my logo from the orb design to a more square design). 

Below is an example of a flat interface (and also happens to be the style of the buttons on my website):

Flat design

Flat designs do have a few problems however. The first and foremost obvious failing of these designs is that it is difficult to give it a personal feel. Almost all flat designs are in some way or another similar to the next. This ultimately is why flat designs work well however, since they are very easy to understand and are now commonplace. 

More importantly, there is less of an oomph of feeling for the website. Since it can be difficult to make a flat design interesting and not just another boring website, it is very difficult to build a flat design effectively (I do not believe I've got my flat design perfect yet).

The future

The future may see the world go back to a skeuomorphic design again and like all designs, flat interfaces may only be a phase.

Whether or not the design will disappear or not, the design is here to stay for now.

The following image inspired me to write about this:

This image came from Web Designer Depot

Infographic: Flat design vs. skeuomorphism

Alan Rickman by Marie-Lan Nguyen is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

It seems that I am constantly writing these tributes to favourite actors year upon year. This tribute is to the wonderful Alan Rickman, whose voice is was so distinct and made him one of those stand out actors.

To me, Alan Rickman was one of my favourite actors (as you'll observe if you visit the About me page on my website).

He starred in several favourite films of my own. His role in the Harry Potter series as Severus Snape was perhaps his most prominent but he also played the fantastic baddy Hans Gruber in the original Die Hard film and the Sheriff of Nottingham in the Kevin Costner Robin Hood: Price of Thieves film.

He also played Harry in Love Actually, another favourite film. And I nearly forgot, he also did the voice of the Blue Caterpillar in the Alice In Wonderland films by Tim Burton, where he starred along side another favourite actress of mine, Helena Bonham Carter. Alice In Wonderland also happens to be one of my favourite films and I'm looking forward to the next film in the series.

Alan Rickman's role in the films he was in was what made him the brilliant actor he was, he starred in so many great roles and never ceased to be a great actor. He will be missed dearly by fans and family, but let's remember he was a brilliant actor who managed to star in some roles that not many others could have pulled off, particularly Severus Snape.

I'm very happy to say that JBlogs has finally got a new name that I of course like. BalfBlog is the same product but it's just got a new name. I hope you all like the name. I will put an updated version up as soon as it's ready.

My collection of projects for the web designed for my own website and designed to be easy to use elsewhere too, is currently known as my Web Neutral project. It will continue to use this name but with the prefix Balf in front of it.

My Web Neutral project currently consists of:

  • JBlogs (my blogging system)
  • JBBar (my jQuery dropdown menu plugin)
  • JBSlider (my jQuery slideshow plugin)
  • JBPopup (my jQuery popup plugin)
  • JBRibbon (my jQuery ribbon tab plugin)

Currently all of these start with my initials: JB. All of these will be renamed to drop this prefix in favour of my nickname from school; Balf. So: JBlogs becomes BalfBlog, JBBar becomes BalfBar, JBSlider becomes BalfSlider, JBPopup becomes BalfPopup, JBRibbon becomes BalfRibbon.

I will begin changing these soon, since many of them will affect several places on my own website even. 

I am also adding this post under a new category on my blog called Web Neutral Project where you can find information about these web projects.

Here is another of my summaries of the year things that I do at the end of the year. I always find it sad saying goodbye to another year and here we are saying goodbye to 2015 and hello to 2016.

I write these posts every year, probably just because I'm sentimental and enjoying doing this.

Last meal I ate: Smoked salmon sandwich

Last thing I had to drink with a meal: Shloer White Grape, Rapsberry & Cranberry

Last place I went out to eat: Goblin Ha'

Last film I watched: Quantum of Solace

Last game I played: Minecraft

Last song I listened to: Out Here - Pendulum

Last person I have sent a text to: My mum

Last friend I have spoken to in person: Nick Thompson

Last TV programme I have watched: Scotland's Hogmany Live

Last major purchase for myself: Asus Transformer Book TF100TAF

I've had a great year in 2015 and I'm hoping 2016 will also be a brilliant year.

I wish you all the best and a happy new year for 2016!

2015 was generally a really good year for me.

First of all, third year of university, I managed to get 6 Bs and 2 As, which is good enough for me and I achieved an average of 67% (if this average continued I'd be en route for a second class honours, although a first class honours is not impossible either).

My fourth year at university started out good, and I got several good marks back; 86% for one coursework, 74% (part one of my dissertation) for another and then 70% for another. The rest of my courses seem to have gone well too, so we'll see what happens with them. I did have a small breakdown during the 5th week of semester one, but that has happened before in my second year (admittedly, not quite as seriously). I nearly quit university despite getting good grades down to stress!

This year, I was also formally asked if I wanted to become a lab helper in one of my favourite courses involving one of my favourite aspects of computer science in a course called Web design and Databases. I've always wanted to be a lab helper, so this is a great opportunity for me.

On top of this, I finally got the opportunity to work in school as a teacher as part of one of my university courses. This has been one of, if not the, greatest experiences of my life. I am thoroughly enjoying this. 

As a result of one of the courses I did in this year of university, I also improved my own programming language, finally bringing an end to BlackRabbit Script and replacing it with my new Zenith Language. Most of my free time this year has been spent on the Zenith Parsing Engine (or Zengin) and now it has become one of the most, if not the most, important projects I work on now. In March I started ZPE and then it was restarted in May with a proper compiler. 

In terms of my website, I would say it has been at it's best since I started. This year I focused on reducing the size of my JavaScript files and CSS files and I managed to reduce over 30KB of data. On top of that, I managed to reduce the amount of HTML produced on mobile devices using a PHP library called Mobile Detect. I also finally made the decision to stop tweaking the design of my website in September after I changed the sidebar. The vast majority of the website has remained consistent since then. One major change did happen after that however, with the change from my inconsistent curved style to a much flatter design. One example of this is what I call my pill inputs:

My pills

The new 'pills' design that came to my website was all about creating a flatter look.

2015 was also a very successful year for my website. Across the whole year, 1,940 users have visited my website and over 40,000 pages have been visited. Of all visitors, 1,940 of the pages visited are also by new visitors. As well as this, Zengin has been downloaded some 500 times since May!

My tutorials featured on my website also got recognised by the online tutorial maker Udemy. They claimed to really like my website and the tutorials that I have written.

I also brought my own menu to my website, called JBBar, a free and open source menu bar that can be downloaded from my website. This replaces the jQuery Smartmenus menu that came with a lot of extra baggage. 

As well as this, I created my first website for a business, which went very smoothly and has been named very 'innovative' by many. In fact, I'm so proud of that website that it also backward inspired my own website.

JBlogs also got a huge upgrade, becoming object-oriented and easier to use. Not only that, but a lot of security issues were patched and the design became more flexible to other websites. It took me less than an hour to put JBlogs on to a Bootstrap themed website (more on that in the new year) and it integrated pretty perfectly. JBlogs also became more efficient than it was at the end of 2015 as a result of this new design.

I also managed to achieve one whole year of being a pescatarian in September this year - something I'm very proud of!

Just before I finish, I'd like to say thanks to everyone who has been there for me this year, particularly when I've had problems! The main people this year are my good friends Jonathan, Mark and Merlin, who have made this year much easier for me! Without this trio I'd most likely have left university. I'd also like to thank Rob and Helen (lecturers) for convincing me to stay and helping me feel up again! Of course, I cannot forget to mention all of the other people at university, who have also always been there for me. 

So that's another year almost over. 2015 was generally a great year. Now let's hope 2016 is also a great year!

First of all, this post is not an appraisal of Apple in anyway, quite the opposite, which is not normally what the posts in the Apple Everything category are.

2015 was not just an odd year for Apple but in my opinion, one of the worst in terms of design.

The MacBook (Retina)

I was so hyped when the MacBook was being re-released but incredibly disappointed by a certain number of things about it.

The Retina display is a lovely addition to this computer and makes it one of the highest resolution displays in the market at the moment along side it's bigger brother, the MacBook Pro.

I happen to be the owner of a Pro and feel somewhat disappointed by Apple's recent changes that they have been bringing to the Pros - particularly the minaturisation of components since this has resulted in Apple taking away all of the possibility of upgrading components.

On the subject of the MacBook, absolutely nothing can be replaced and the laptop itself features just one connector. A single USB-C connector provides the power inlet as, the data connector and video connectivity. I'm not a fan of these designs where functionality suffers for design to gain.

This is why the MacBook fails for to grab me.

As well as offering just the one physical connector, the MacBook is powered by a measly 1.2GHz Core M - a mobile CPU that is intentionally cut down for a better thermal design power. Again, this is well suited to making the computer smaller and thinner, but at the end of the day this is still a laptop computer. Other than that it is a stunning machine and had it not suffered functionally, I would have considered one.

Apple Magic Mouse 2

The Magic Mouse 2 was released as the final release of 2015 along with a new Magic Keyboard and a new Apple Trackpad.

The Magic Mouse 2 is, in my personal opinion, the biggest design flaw in any wireless mouse ever.

The Magic Mouse 2 is finally a rechargeable Magic Mouse, meaning you can say goodbye to the AAs required in the previous version. The big flaw with this is how it is charged however.

The Magic Mouse 2 is charged via the Lightning connector. This is alright I suppose, although I'd rather have seen it being charged by MicroUSB but I could never imagine Apple doing this since they like to use proprietary connections that they have developed for everything.

However, the charging connector is on the bottom of the mouse. This means that the mouse cannot be used while it is being charged. I mean what?! This is so ridiculously stupid and it may seem impossible to even think that this is the same Apple who designed the iPhone, the Unibody Macs and the iPad but it is.

I'm not the only one to have complained about this, but this is entirely my own thoughts on this. Take a look at the picture here to see what I mean.

Apple Pencil

The Apple Pencil for the iPad Pro is a really great idea, something that has actually existed for many years on Windows tablets, like my 2010 Fujitsu Lifebook T4410.

The Pencil allows the user to simply write on the screen with a stylus but have the benefits of things like pressure sensitivity and angle detection so that the stylus produces more realistic results. This is great with things like Microsoft Onenote and taking handwritten notes and drawings.

The problem with the Pencil is one of the ways in which Apple has allowed users to charge the device. When the Pencil runs out of the juice, the user has the choice to take it to a plug socket with the adapter included and charge it using that. Alternatively, if they only have the iPad Pro on them, they can charge it using the Lightning connector on the base of the Pro. This allows them to go completely mobile and leave behind all charging devices.

The problem is how it is charged however. Putting the Pencil in the bottom of the iPad Pro and charging it makes the Pencil more susceptible to being broken. Remember all those USB ports that have been broken by leaning on the cable when it's plugged in? The same can be said with the Pencil when it is in the iPad Pro Lightning connector.

Take a look here for a picture of this.

iPad Pro Keyboard

The iPad Pro also came with a keyboard case thing as an option. I was very pleased to see that Apple was adding a physical connector for the keyboard, since a Bluetooth keyboard is not an ideal solution in my idea. I was let down by the fact that it is what I to refer to as a 'cloth keyboard'. I'd have really liked it to have been one of the hard keyboards, transforming the iPad Pro into a convertible tablet, somewhat like my Windows tablet.

Mac Mini 2014

I decided to include the end of 2014 in this post since I wanted to bring up the Mac Mini 2014. Once again, the Mac Mini received no updates in 2015, but a 2016 refresh with Intel Skylake is expected.

None the less, the Mac Mini, the modder's machine in Apple's words, was completely redesigned in 2014. This redesign involved removing any parts that were modifiable and replacing them with parts that could not be changed. What a disaster. The same will be with the 2016 version.

Conclusion

While I am happy with my current range of products, my favourite device I own is my Mac Mini due to the fact that I can change parts inside. I have a 2012 top model and refused to take the 2014 model due to the fact that there were no quad core options available as well as due to the lack of removable parts.

Apple has gone the wrong way recently with design, and knowing Apple they will not change this and will stick to their guns. Who knows if I will ever buy another Apple product.

I wish you a Merry Christmas for 2015 and hope you all have a wonderful day! Here's that same picture as last year.

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