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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Jamie Balfour BSc
Full stack developer

Personal Blog

Windows 10 was an amazing operating system for a few days when I first installed it on to my gaming PC. My gaming PC, The Zebra X2, is a beast of a machine which can run most games that I play like Starcraft II and GTA V in the highest available settings (Core i7 4770K, 256GB SSD, 8GB DDR3 RAM and an AMD 7950) but latterly it struggled with simple things like starting up.

After I installed Windows 10 the machine ran fine. However, one day when I was playing a favourite game of mine, Command and Conquer 3, I noticed a slight drop in framerate from playing it the time before. I didn't think too much of it at the time but gradually I noticed that each time I played this game it was getting worse. At the very end before I ridded myself of Windows 10 it was running so slow that when I used the graphics intensive Ion Cannon superweapon the game would just freeze and the animation for the superweapon would not be shown. The game would resume after the Ion Cannon blast was finished. So what the heck was going on?

My initial thoughts were that the hard disk drives that I stored my games on were starting to fail. I tested them all with SMART tools and none of them showed any signs of failure. I then assumed that it was my SSD so decided to install an old SATA III HDD into the system and installed Windows 7 on to it. It ran fine. I upgraded it to Windows 10 and again, it ran fine. So I assumed it was the SSD. I left the SSD in the system just disconnected. 

After time, the same weird thing happened to my system - it began slowing and the graphics were getting messed up in games. So now I assumed it was the graphics card or the PCI controller that had failed on me. I took the GPU out of the system and used the dedicated graphics built in to the CPU. The system ran just the same so I now knew it wasn't the graphics card that had failed, but wasn't sure if it was a motherboard fault such as the PCI controller or the memory controller.

I decided to reinstall the SSD and flash my BIOS. Clearing the BIOS meant that I could set it back to the factory defaults and test it with them (I had tried this several times before but to no avail). Nothing changed. 

My next choice was to clear the SSD and install Windows 7 on it. After reinstalling I panicked slightly as it wasn't working well at all with the Desktop Window Manager crashing on startup. After installing Service Pack 1 everything seemed to work perfectly. I would like to say that Windows 7 was the solution but I can't be sure. 

I would probably put the problem down to several things: Windows 10 was clogging up the system (don't know why), the original BIOS was not designed for Windows 10 and would have required an update (I have since updated again and may try it again in the future with Windows 10) and that Windows just needed that little reformat that us Windows users need to do on a regular basis.

My fix appeared to have come from the reinstall of Windows 7 and the BIOS reset. I will keep everyone up to date with my progress with Windows 10 again in the future.

The Windows 10 upgrade tool can be a pain!

08.06.2016

Due to the upgrade tool in Windows 7, I have been upgraded to Windows 10. This time the system appears to be running well - that is at least in comparison to how it was before. I will keep you posted when it begins to slow down again (if it does).

Today I have decided I will no longer add support for Internet Explorer 8, 7, 6 and below to BalfBlog, BalfBar, BalfSlider, BalfRibbon and my own website.

Subsequently, users of these will see a very small reduction in file size. 

After many years of adding extra support to my website for older browsers, I have decided it is time to move on. I am officially ditching a percentage of users of these older browsers.

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

Just yesterday I got myself an Xbox One (There may be a review on this coming soon). I tried out Internet Explorer on it, which I found out was Internet Explorer 10.

I also discovered that my PHP script to detect Internet Explorer 8 accepted Internet Explorer 10 as being an older version than Internet Explorer 8. This is a simple mistake to make but it's also incredibly easy to fix.

Here was what I had:

PHP
preg_match("/.* MSIE [1-8] .*/i", $userAgent)

And here is a working solution, to detect all browsers less than IE8:

PHP
preg_match("/.* MSIE [1-8].[0-9]?; .*/i", $userAgent)

And the reason for this happening is down to the fact this only checks the first number of the version, not the second, so IE10 would be recognised as IE1. I also put in, just for the sake of it, a check for a dot (.) and a check for a minor version number ([0-9]) and a semi-colon at the end. At the beginning and end of the regular expression match are any symbols.

As much as one of my YouTube videos states that Windows 8 is in my opinion a recommendation, I will not be purchasing it. Sure DirectX 12 will not function on Windows 7 and that means I cannot take advantage of this great new API. Unfortunately, that is not enough to make me give up features that I use and need on a regular basis.

Windows 8

For a start, I could not give up the Aero glass theme as I am and have always been a fan of the theme. I could live without it but I would rather not have to trade in something I love for something that I may prefer for features like DirectX 12. I am not too much of a gamer these days anyway.

The next reason is because I have bought loads of software for Windows 7 (much more than before) and a lot of this is now incompatible with Windows 8, for example Stardock Windows Blinds 7. Even if it is compatible, most of it looses its novelty.

I will not be upgrading my desktop, MacBook Pro or netbook to Windows 8. In fact, this business is pushes me to love Windows 7 and Mac OS X more and more by the day.

Finally, I have heard that because of the fact that it is a new design of the Windows operating system, it is glitchy from the kernel upwards. I am not going too much into this but I have discovered that a lot of drivers that I used on 7 do not work with 8. Therefore, compatibility is something that I would loose with a lot of hardware. I just could not use 8 without full compatibility.

Since I now own Stardock WindowBlinds 8 for Windows 8 after the recent release, I have since transferred over to Windows 8 and I am loving it. I have the Start8 from Stardock to bring back the Start button and I have a Dell S2340T touchscreen display.

Also, my Gigabyte board has since had drivers released for Windows 8, meaning I can use it together with Windows 8.

Simply, I have upgraded my desktop to Windows 8 now. My post back in October 2012 is now absolutely out of date because I now actually want to use Windows 8.

I have been looking for the ideal monitor solution too and came up with the Dell S2340T monitor which I will be getting at the same time as my next PC which probably will come around about November this year (will not be a gaming built machine this time, as I will be keeping The Zebra to serve that purpose). It's funny I had a Dell monitor previously and loved it, traded it for a much better IPS Asus monitor, loved it too and here I am looking at another Dell monitor. That also means that the Asus PA238q will be for sale, so if you are interested in a 23" IPS LED backlit display which has absolutely remarkable picture quality and is only 2 years old, you can email me through my website to show your interest.

I am probably looking at a low-powered Mini ITX form factor based PC or, to most people who read this blog's shock, a Mac Mini when they get the 2013 model released. Whatever computer I get next as my primary computer, it will be running Windows 8 without a doubt. I am much the fan of the touch technology built into Windows and have been using it for about 4 years now (with my Fujitsu).

What I now love about Redmond's Windows 8 is still unclear to me, but things like the newly designed Windows Explorer, the new touch keyboard (which will work well with the Dell S2340T), the Start screen on touch, support for USB 3.0 and perhaps the fact that there is now an app store (but it probably should not be referred to as the 'app' store considering that is the first three letters of Apple, hence why they called applications 'apps').

Windows Blue

Microsoft has today confirmed that Windows "Blue", which is the successor to Windows 8, will be a free update for those running Windows 8, although it will have significant changes, following the footsteps of Google and Apple with their respective OSes; Android and iOS.

According to this site, Microsoft aims for a June release for the first developer release. "Blue", as it was previously known, will be released under the name Windows 8.1. This follows a similar approach to Apple's version numbering with Mac OS X, flowing from 10.1 to 10.8 making it a minor release rather than a major release. Microsoft however, intend for 8.1 to be an important step required for the improved Windows and have brought many new (and old) features into 8.1.

Hopefully this will fix a lot of the disaster that is Windows 8. Pfff!

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