December 27, 2021

Creating my personal crest in Affinity Designer and Photo


In this blog entry I briefly explain how I made my personal crest of which below you see the image. The main challenge was to find a way how to draw the snake's scale texture inside its winding body that also is narrower towards its tail section. After some trial and error I figured out a way to do it. 

The completed rendered drawing

First I did some testing in a separate drawing in order to be able to create the scales texture I had in my mind. To make the scales I drew and duplicated diamond shapes, with the result you see below. It is an early version, because the one I actually used, is too long for this blog, but this one gives a good idea of how I drew them. 

The first attempt to draw the base of a vector brush in Affinity Designer

After drawing these, I inverted the image and mesh warped it in Affinity Photo as is visible in the image below to kind of approach the texture width inside the winding and tapered body of the snake. It is possible to leave the diamonds unmeshed in a rectangular shape, but playing with the Stroke width only in Designer, to spread the scales properly over the body, leads to distortion of the texture. Hence this preliminary approximation. The inversion was done, because png's that are used for custom brushes must have a black background to make sure the brush has a transparent background once imported in Designer.

The brush visible above mesh warped and inverted in Affinity Photo

I created a png of the above and imported it in Affinity Designer as a New Texture Intensity Brush in Designer. In the Brush dialog I set the Size Variance to high in order to be able to tweak the brush's width to the desired value. If the Size Variance is left at default zero, it is impossible to tweak the width of the brush afterwards in the Stoke panel.

Then I did some testing in yet an other separate drawing that you see below. Tinkering with the stroke width in Affinity Designer and manipulating the node handles of the vector brush allows to get rid of unwanted interference of the scales. I then found out that I had to draw different brushes (particularly longer ones since the snake's body is of considerable length) in Designer that were edited in the same way as described above in Affinity Photo, to be able to make a more realistic scale texture. For such purposes trial and error to get things right is difficult to avoid. By the way, vector brushes can be given any (gradient) colour in Designer as demonstrated in the image below.

Testing of the (not clipped) vector brush in Affinity Designer

I drew the base for the texture with Designer's Pen tool, so that it could be edited accurately with the Node tool. Then I applied the Vector Brush to the stroke drawn with the Pen by double clicking on the Brush type, while the stroke is selected. Inside Designer I then clipped the vector brush inside the snake outline curve as is seen in the image below. I tweaked the brush widths in Designer's Stroke panel along the vector brush line to the proper values. Also, in the Effects panel I applied a colour overlay to tune the texture to the correct intensity.

The clipping of the custom made vector brush in Affinity Designer

Below is the deceptively simple screendump of the vector outline of this image. The essence of this drawing is within the effects applied (the feature rich Layer Adjustment & Layer Effect tools, Gradient fill tool for shapes and strokes, Gradient opacity tool) to the vector curves at which Affinity Designer excels. Attempting to match the vision in the mind's eye is a challenge, but the Affinity programs allow artists to come a long way.

Vector outline of the drawing

Finally in the Tone Mapping Persona of Affinity Photo, I enhanced the texture of the vector drawing, with the result that is visible in the image at the top of this blog entry. The Tone Mapping (to my surprise) resulted in a kind of patina effect to the shield, which I think is quite nice. It probably is the result of the multi node gradient colour function applied to the shield in combination with the Tone Mapping settings.

Note: The version of the brush I used in the end, is quite large (4208 x 164 pixels) in order to be able to properly render this image also in large sizes without getting a jagged and blurred appearance, because the drawing contains pixel elements in its complex non-linear textures.

My Chinese Zodiac sign is a Water Snake, which is the main feature of this personal crest. The meaning of the arched Latin text is 'Serpent Power' or 'Serpent Kingdom'. The X is a symbol of the Sun God who sustains life, secrecy or protection of (mystical) knowledge. The circle represents magical protection and sacred space. The mistletoes refer to protection against poisons and to mystical powers. 11 and 22 are master numbers pertaining to my birth date and name, according to the art of numerology. The infinity symbol at the bottom hints at my spiritual origin. Only after having reached the age of an elder was I considered to have grown sufficiently to understand that a symbol is worth a 1000 pictures. 

Hope this concise tutorial helps to create similar textures.

December 16, 2021

After two months of working with Nicepage


After just over two months of working with Nicepage, I remain enthusiastic about the program, after having bad experiences with MobiRise and PineGrow. I realize that maturing such a complex program requires time and effort. After all it has managed to allow website designers to break away from the restrictive blocks, object and element positioning of the bootstrap based programs, which is no small feat. In addition it has brought an interface that makes it ridiculously easy to learn how to use the program within a brief period of time, besides adding a ton of functions, like animation of images, icons and shapes that allows to create webpages of a different level. The integration with CMS systems like WordPress and its open source equivalent Joomla make it applicable to a much wider range of websites. Particularly since both systems support a ton of plugins, like ecommerce, that makes building web shops possible. In today's lockdowns and restrictive access to public provisions, creating online sales points have become a lifeline for many.

Click the image to visit the Nicepage website

The minor flaws that I have run into, will be corrected really fast, I'm sure, because I have noticed that the support department on their forum page responds quickly, which probably results in the high update pace of the program. Communication with the mods on the Nicepage forum is done from within the program as well, by the way, which is quite a useful feature. Since I started to use it approximately 2 months ago, there have been some 5 updates, all of which can be installed from within the program, while offering the possibility to back up the created sites before updating. I did not have to use this option, because the updates did not cause any problems, which hints at the fact that the developers do some sound testing before releasing the updates. All in all, these are positive experiences some of which I haven't encountered while using other programs that I used previously. So, for me, switching to Nicepage was a perfectly on the mark decision. 

Updating Nicepage from within the program

The minor flaws I referred to in the previous paragraph concerned to sometimes fiddly positioning of elements (text and images), in automated fluid repositioning of them in laptop, tablet and mobile devices resolutions and screen orientation. With some trial and error these can all be corrected quite easily however. Other programs I used, preform much worse in this department. Note: making sites work for display on multiple screen resolutions and orientations in an environment that is more complex than the popular, but restrictive object positioning bootstrap method, is quite an achievement. An other weird flaw I encountered, is the colouring of the bullets in a bulleted list, that strangely enough works on Opera's android vertical webpages for mobile devices, but not in the desktop versions of Opera and other browsers. Bearing in mind the proven prowess of the Nicepage developers, however, this is an oddity that they should easily be able to correct.

In the near future I plan to test Nicepage in combination with Joomla to add ecommerce functionality to a website. This will have to be done in a sub-domain that I will need to create, since my own site does not require the use of Joomla. Stay tuned to learn of my experiences with this type of web site building.

Another nice feature of Nicepage are the Animation options, that allows designers to draw the attention of the website visitors to a particular area of the page. These all work flawlessly and are fully customizable. It shows the attention to details of the developers that really understand the needs of designers.

Animating images and icons etc. in Nicepage

While on the subject of understanding what designers need - the recently introduced Mega Menu allows designers to create a so called (you guessed it) Mega Menu, in which visitors immediately see what the categories in the dropdown options are in a clear way. So the developers tailor the program to the designer's needs who then can create a website tailored to the visito's needs. Absolutely great!

The Nicepage Mega Menu

What has also become perfectly possible with Nicepage is to build websites, without outsourcing the UI / UX-design, since the program has a functionality and flexibility that its competition lacks. These features could potentially speed up the creative process, because the UI / UX design phase can be skipped entirely. In these times of budget cuts and decreased face to face communication, Nicepage may save businesses a considerable amount of costs, while freelancing website builders can accept more different types of assignments and accomplish them in less time, while being able to include visually more appealing effects in the sites they build. This makes the program the ideal choice for the designers that do not have a whole lot of legacy data to take into account. The plethora of templates the company offers makes many assignments a breeze, in addition to which these are easily editable, which includes the perpetually changing SEO requirements. Especially for non-coders this program is a dream, because it allows them to do things that required a lot of skilled coding in the past. Coding costs skill and time and the program makes creative design accessible to anyone. If you want to get a proper idea of the possibilities and use of Nicepage, take a peek at this video:

October 26, 2021

Nicepage site builder made my jaw drop


In the early days of the web, text only pages were all that existed. Somewhat later images were added to some pages, which gradually evolved into the media rich bootstrap method of website building that allowed to place text boxes, images, tables and videos on fixed grid positions. Meanwhile at this point in time (October 26 2021) the 5th version of Bootstrap has been released which includes minor updates and possibilities compared to the previous version. The type of websites in the first days of the Internet was called Web 1.0. Bootstrap sites are Web 2.0 type sites and now it is possible to build Web 3.0 type sites that allows text boxes, images, videos, tables and shapes to be placed anywhere on the page and even on top of an other object, making overlapping of objects possible. No more restriction of having to place objects within the coercive matrix of the bootstrap grid; just place, resize and scale objects anywhere you want, without writing a single line of code.... In addition, you are free to determine the object's rank along the Z-axis. It is the web designer's dream, because it allows them to focus on exciting esthetics instead of dull coding. 

The program that makes all this possible is called  nicepage . Just draw elements anywhere on the page and move, resize, scale, reshape and reorder in the Z-axis, determining which object is above or below the other. Nicepage's UI is very intuitive and contains loads of functions that are absent in the programs of the competition. Discovering nicepage was kind of a gift from heaven to me since MobiRise suddenly made it impossible to add blocks, which is kind of a crucial function in web design. On the forum mods simply wrote: 'Yeah we know it affects some users', without offering any solution whatsoever (....). For website builders that work for clients this is disastrous - they are stuck and cannot make changes their customers require. It basically makes the program totally useless. After watching a few videos on Youtube that explained the features and use of nicepage I was won over and bought nicepage. Mind you it costs a one time fee, which includes free upgrades for the period of one year and you own the program for life. Below you see the first attempt of rebuilding my home page, which allowed to incorporate subtleties that are impossible or at least excruciatingly difficult to make with Bootstrap based editors (which makes a ton of CSS coding necessary). So, for non-coders such as me, nicepage most definitely is the way to go.

Rebuilding my home page in nicepage

Update November 1 2021 - Nicepage features
I uploaded my website that was created in nicepage. Still learning and checking for errors although I think most of the major ones have been corrected, but fine tuning will be done in the time to come - editing for mobile devices, the adding of links, SEO etc. A few features of the program that make it pleasure to work with:

  • Export to local directory, WordPress, Joomla and via FTP runs very fast. Integrated FTP function is quite useful
  • The structured nature of the program saves a lot of time - site wide changes (in Menu, Header and Footer) can be made in a flash
  • Numerous prefabricated types of grids can be inserted to any Block and then be resized (or not) to the designer's liking
  • Images can be made to fill a grid area in a block with one click or be scaled to the desired size manually with an accuracy to the pixel or be cropped to the designer's preference
  • The option to edit the site for all sorts of devices works flawlessly - objects can be edited for each device (including hiding objects for a particular device) without affecting the design for other device resolutions
  • The artistic freedom - without any coding - that the program offers is simply stunning. Web 3.0 is a dream for creative web designers. Unrestricted positioning of objects and possibility to change their order in the Z-stack among the most useful features
  • The positioning and sizing of objects can be carried out manually or with the properties panel with pixel precision
  • The interactive guides are a great asset that helps edit a lot faster, on the fly, manually
  • Text formatting is non-restrictive - colour, bold, italics, underlined, hyperlink insertion all are possible
  • Hyperlinks can be made to visit URL's, write e-mails, make telephone calls and be linked to files to be uploaded
  • Alignment can be applied to blocks with all objects in it or to individual elements that may have a different alignment compared to other elements in the same block
  • There also is an outline view which is useful when locating and editing objects in a complex lay-out in which many objects are stacked in the Z-axis. In this view the ranking of objects in the Z-stack can be changed by dragging objects up or down - images are named 'images', text blocks are represented by a capital 'T' and the first two words of the text, lines are named 'line', cells are named 'Cell' and grids are named "grid' - a consistently logical syntax
  • When copying text from other documents that contain links, the hyperlinks are automatically copied as well (not all web editors to this) - a time saver in many cases
  • The program has plugins for WordPress (12 widgets so far) and Joomla, which greatly enhance its usability for more advanced WordPress users and designers working with Joomla
  • Nicepage has thousands of prefabricated templates (9000+ and counting), blocks and elements which can contribute to speed up the building process significantly
  • Most images (those merged into the grid background) in a site created with nicepage aren't downloadable right off the bat; it requires some knowledge, which most visitors probably do not have.....
  • The program's User Interface is very intuitive, logically structured and offers extensive editing functionality
  • The User Interface text can be set to 10 different languages
  • Previews can be opened in an internal Quick Preview, Chrome, Opera, Internet Explorer and Edge
  • Projects can easily be exported quickly
  • With many functions, that can effortlessly be applied, that nicepage's competitors do not have, the program is miles ahead of the rest

Nicepage UI on my monitor in an earlier stage

One thing is for sure, I will never return to using MobiRise and Pinegrow, since the former program all of a sudden was unable to perform a key function and the latter crashed my site beyond repair. These are flaws that can seriously harm the business of web designers and their clients, so consider these matters before purchasing a web editor that you want to use professionally or just to create your own beautiful site that you must update frequently.

In some articles I read negative reviews and comments, but I urge people that are interested to try the free version to arrive at an opinion of their own. Either writers of negative articles and comments haven't given the program a serious try, know zilch about web design or they have little or no experience with other web designing applications to compare nicepage with. For newbies to the program, there is a Youtube channel that has excellent tutorials on the program's functions.

Sure, a program capable of building complex web 3.0 websites, that its competition can only match with extensive coding, requires some effort to master its default functionality, but that does not mean its interface in unintuitive; it just requires getting familiar with, which is a whole lot easier than writing the code necessary to achieve complex web 3.0 lay-outs. Those who claim its UI is difficult to learn, just haven't bothered to dive into the new approach that nicepage offers to designers who hate to spend loads of their time coding because they prefer to focus on the creative aspect of creating websites.

Or perhaps they are just hired by the competition to submit negative reviews and comments - not a conspiracy theory, just concealed common corporate practice on today's web. Because the competition is well aware of the fact that their products are way behind of what nicepage is capable of. When potential clients find out about the superb features of nicepage, the back lagging companies may see their sales drop like a ton of bricks, so while trying to catch up with the more advanced functionality of nicepage they will do anything they can, to keep web designers away from nicepage or scare them away by publishing intentionally made up bad reviews. And by the way, I'm not paid by nicepage to write all this, I just wanted to give my honest opinion with regards to this program, so that designers will be able to build next level pages without any coding at all for a very affordable one time fee, which includes the option to make useful plugins and themes for WordPress and Joomla.

Bottom line: If you liked Bootstrap, but gradually became annoyed by its constrained object positioning, as a result of which you find yourself coding as a madman to work around those limitations in order to build Web 3.0-like websites, I am confident that you will absolutely love nicepage's Web 3.0 functionality. In the past I have worked with Dreamweaver, Bootstrap Studio, Pinegrow, Pingendo, Macaw, Mobirise and several online programs, so I think I'm capable of comparing the old school apps with the new breed of programs of which nicepage is the first, so far (November 2021) the only one and therefore the best. Considering its huge number of features, I guess it will be quite difficult to come up with something better. If you want to get a proper idea of the possibilities and use of Nicepage, take a peek at this video:

September 28, 2021

Radius Elite hubless sport bicycle


Inspired by the UCI world championship bicycle road racing, I created this hubless concept sports bike. Transmission is a variable planetary gearing. Position of saddle and handlebars can be adjusted to suit rider preference. Just below the saddle a bidon or storage unit can be clicked into the frame. Lighting is placed on both sides of the rim covers - white LEDs at the front, red LEDs at the rear. On the left handlebar an adjustment wheel is placed to dim the lighting. The right grip of the handle bar can be rotated to switch gears without taking the hands off the handlebar. The image was drawn in Affinity Designer. Click the image to see a larger version of it in Google's Lightbox. Turn the mouse wheel to flick between the images (on a desktop computer).

Changed the head light & handlebar strut

Radius Elite hubless sports bike concept

Bike with mudguards

Vector wireframe view

September 13, 2021

Apache logo - vector art


Years ago I was mainly into creating airbrush art, with various types of airbrush guns and paint. I used the Paasche V1, Paasche Turbo and in rare occasions the Fischer Aerostar. The paints I used were Illu-Color and Holbein acrylics. My favorite subjects were Native American Chiefs and warriors. All freehand airbrushes, i.e. without using masks. I did many demos on art fairs for Revell, promoting the Vega 1000 airbrush and Revell paints. At one point one of the sales persons asked me: 'Do you ever airbrush something different than indians?' Of course I did, but not during demonstrations, because it was sure to draw a crowd. I was - and still am - fascinated by Native American culture, their way of life, wisdom and sadly horrific oppression by invading western armies and colonists.

Some 10 years ago I switched to digital art creation, because of the countless undo functions that way of art creation allows, along with the endless tinkering it makes possible. In addition digital printing has soared in the last decades, which allowed me to print art work on many different surfaces (canvas, paper, aluminium etc.), while applying all sorts of lacquer layers to create magnificent effects. But once and a while I think back at those analog days and my favorite subject: Native American art. Below you see one of my most recent, simple digital vector creations that was used for T-shirt print. It was drawn in Affinity Designer.

Apache logo

August 26, 2021

Photo retouch - Victoria Lynn Morgan


When seeing a photograph of her, I was struck by the beauty of Victoria Lynn Morgan. I think such things happen to all straight men every now and then, in addition to which I like to state that I don't condone her actions for which I feel however, she did not deserve to be butchered. Because when Googling her, I learned that she was murdered. Allegedly bludgeoned by her housemate Marvin Pancoast. But a Vanity Fair article shed an entirely different light on her demise. I placed an image of this article at the bottom of this blog entry. Click on that image to see a larger, better readable, version of it. I marked parts of this article that suggest there was more to her death than what some parties wanted the general public to become aware of.

The suspicious events surrounding this murder are that Pancoast moved in to Morgan's house just 3 weeks before he was supposed to have smashed her skull with the baseball bat of Morgan's 14 year old son - some would say Pancoast was planted there purposely. Morgan had an affair with multi millionaire Alfred Bloomingdale who was 54 years old when he first met the then 17 year old Morgan. He was a member of high society and was a close buddy of president Reagan. Bloomingdale organized sex parties in the White House in which Morgan participated. He was a sadomasochist and the sexual dalliances were taped. Morgan was thought to have copies of those tapes.

Had those tapes become public, it would have been a huge scandal for the White House, which usually results in the secret service being drummed up to cover up what the public is not allowed to know. Also after Bloomingdale died, his wife Betsy cut of the monthly allowance of 18,000 USD per month that he gave Morgan in return for her sexual favours to him and evicted her from the mansion that her husband had bought for her.

Pancoast was said to have turned himself in to the police, admitting he just bashed Morgan's skull. But police investigations revealed that there were no blood stains on Pancoast's clothes, nor were his fingerprints found on the bat. In addition, Morgan's apartment was ransacked after the murder probably because someone was looking for the copies of the sex tapes she was believed to be in possession of and her memoirs she was believed to be in the process of writing. Whether she was indeed writing them or not, those that could be mentioned in them, would not take a gamble on the fact that she might have been writing them.

A woman mentioned in the Vanity Fair article said it was Marilyn all over, referring to the death of Marilyn Monroe, whose house had been forayed by the CIA after she was killed. The agency was probably looking for documents that contained classified information that JFK might have shared with Monroe. This commenter also suggested to check Pancoast mother's bank account after some time, claiming that she would well be taken care of for life as a compensation for her son getting rid of Morgan, most likely on order of Betsy Bloomingdale and / or the White House officials that were recorded on tape during the sex parties in the President's Palace. 

I retouched one of the scarce photos of Vicki Morgan that I was able to find on the web. I coloured the black and white photo in Affinity Photo, moved her right ear upwards and removed the strands of fur before her chin, so that it does not look like she has a beard, anticipating trolls that usually post ludicrous comments from their attic or basement on the internet at any opportunity they get, already before I started editing.

The retouched photograph

The reference photograph

The Vanity Fair article about the murder of Vicki Morgan

August 21, 2021

WIRED: You're probably not using the web's best browser - Vivaldi


If you want to use a proper browser, consider Vivaldi. I was an avid user of Firefox up to a few years ago, until I read that Mozilla was going to team up with Soros. They did this to integrate into their browsers a real time fake news detector, which means that the likes of Soros and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar determine what is fake and what is not. That made me say goodbye to Firefox instantly. After that I used Opera for some time, but me being picky, the browser's sidebar lay-out annoyed the crap out of me. At some point it made me look for alternatives and I ran into Vivaldi. After finding this browser with a slim sidebar, I found that it has many more excellent features that I came to enjoy rather fast.

The Vivaldi logo

Vivaldi was founded by now Vivaldi CEO Jon von Tetzchner, who was building browsers before most people knew what a browser was. He was also a co-founder of Opera before he started his own enterprise. So, he has many ideas based on experience and creativity about browser functionality, UI and appearance. Many of those are implemented in Vivaldi that is based on the open source Chromium engine. Now this engine is known to be a memory hog, but Vivaldi built its own core based on Chromium, resulting in the fact that Vivaldi is a lot faster, more feature rich and a lot more customizable than its adversaries, which are characteristics that many users appreciate.

Compared to its competition Vivaldi does very well. In this article it says there is no IOS version, which by now (August 2021) however, there is. Wired even stated in an article that if you're not using Vivaldi, You're probably not using the best web browser. Now, I am not a run of the mill mindless fan boy of anything, but I'm just posting this article based on my personal experience. If tomorrow a new and better browser would become available, I would most likely switch to it after testing it. However this, for the time being, seems unlikely in view the pace at which Vivaldi upgrades its innovative product, introducing bug fixes and adding functionality that often is not incorporated in other browsers. 

Contrary to Mozilla, Vivaldi genuinely cares about user privacy and their freedom to decide for themselves what they want to read or have a look at. Mozilla has integrated MITI (Mozilla Information Trust Initiative) into its browser, that Mozilla claims to be an attempt to filter out disinformation. That means that Mozilla determines what disinformation is for you, which is nothing but sheer censorship, no matter what they say it is. Mozilla, the company that once took pride in being independent, has hereby taken a step that diametrically goes against everything it once stood for. As soon as I took notice of this swerve, I uninstalled Firefox.

It therefore makes sense that Vivaldi teamed up with Duckduckgo to ensure (provided you use the Duckduckgo plug-in however) that Google analytics does not record and store your every move on the web. This partnership with Duckduckgo is important to Vivaldi, because using this search engine generates a part of their income - each click represents a recompense that is transferred to their account and in the process prefers users to use the search engine that does not track users and the search parameters that they have entered.

I know, perfection is a state that continues to allude us, but it's a goal that many of us try to reach, even if often it turns out to be out of sight. But some just do a better job than others in pursuing it anyway. In the landscape of competing browsers I think Vivaldi is doing quite a good job when comparing it to its rivals. Browsing the web has become an important part of modern life, so the tool used for that purpose is equally important. If you want to decide for yourself what information you access, Vivaldi is among the options that lets you do just that.

August 19, 2021

Geronimo - from analog airbrush to digital art


In the previous century I was deeply involved in the Dutch airbrush scene and sprayed a lot of portraits, in which a returning preference was the airbrushing of Native American chiefs and warriors. Some of those portraits were not finished or could use improvement. After the turn of the century I leaned more towards creating digital art and not too long ago I decided to rework the old portraits with digital means. One of those is the portrait of the famous Apache chief Geronimo of which you see various stages below.

While airbrushing with airbrush guns and paint I usually used the Iwata HP-BH airbrush gun and various paints, mainly Illu-Color and later Inspire H2O waterbased paint. In the digital episode of my life I initially used CorelPaint until that program began to crash more often than not, particularly when exporting work to the png format from Corel's cpt format. Some 5 years ago I accidentally ran into the Affinity suit and changed to Affinity Photo for pixel editing.

I gave the document a look that suggests a canvas background in Affinity Photo that I thought matched the portrait better. This is easy to do in Affinity Photo by using various Filters and Layer Effects. Digital art creation allows to make many different versions with different feel relatively easy, while printing techniques have evolved to a stage that makes it difficult to distinguish analog from digital art. In the case of this portrait I could for instance, choose to have it printed on canvas and give it a lacquer layer, which would give a convincing impression of authenticity to the observer.

I still like to pick up the Iwata's every now and then, but today my main focus is on digital art creation. It is an entirely different way to work, but unlike many airbrush purists, I like to endlessly fiddle in the software that allows to infinitely apply changes without the headache that that the traditional analog trade forces artists to make. The oldest stage - the unfinished analog airbrush - is at the bottom and the various digital tinkerings are above that. Click on one of the images to see them in Google's Lightbox that allows to flick through the images by turning the mouse's scroll wheel.

Fourth digital stage

Third digital stage

Second digital stage

First digital stage

Unfinished analog airbrush portrait

August 12, 2021

Apple's M1 machines make the switch from Windows to Mac tempting

Currently I am considering a switch from Windows to Mac, mainly because my computer is having trouble rendering complex drawings I created in Affinity Designer. I am impressed by the speed of the Apple's M1 CPUs that I have seen testers rave about in Youtube videos, that it basically far outpaces its competition, while using little electricity and producing a very modest amount of heat.

Up to not too long ago Apple products were at the top of the most expensive list in their class unchallenged. But since the company is in the process of ditching Intel and (to a somewhat lesser extent AMD - gpu's for their Intel based machines) manufacturing their own CPUs (that also take over the role of GPUs), the market seems to be changing quite a bit. The Mac Mini in particular has drawn my interest. It is less expensive than comparable small form factor Windows mini PCs, is much faster, less energy hungry and runs a whole lot cooler, which probably means that the Mac machines will live longer.

Apple Mac Mini M1

This left me with few arguments to continue to use x486 Windows systems. The M1 in conjunction with the Rosetta 2 translation layer in the most recent Big Sur Mac OS - that allows to run software developed for Intel Macs to run on machines powered by the ARM M1 chip faster than they do on Intel Macs that have no need to run programs on top of Rosetta 2 and therefore run even faster.

Intel or AMD mini PCs often are barebone hardware that require the user to buy RAM and storage in addition to the small form factor machines, while the M1 Mac Mini basically can be run straight out of the box. That is, if the user setup does not include more peripherals than the bare minimum, like mouse, keyboard, monitor and external drive to let Mac's Time machine (real time data sync) do its job. It is the only drawback of the Mac Mini and its fellow M1 machines the MacBook Air and Pro, apart from the 720 resolution on the laptops' webcam.

Thunderbolt 4 dock

This lack of ports forces users to purchase Thunderbolt hubs or docks that offer more connectivity options, which of course comes at a price. But some of these hubs and docks maintain the excellent performance of the Apple silicon machines, so there really aren't any features that do not make the M1 machines preferable over their x486 competitors. And since Serif, that makes the programs in the Affinity suit, has optimized their code to run with the M1 CPU, they are said to outperform the programs of the Adobe suit by a rather significant margin.

The only thing that requires attention from those who are considering a switch from Windows machines to Apple silicon, is the transfer of data to the Apple format. But there are programs that support the transition. Also many companies develop programs for both the Windows and Mac platform, so after properly transferring the data, users should be able to continue to work with the Mac versions of those programs like they did when they still used Windows.

For me those are the most programs of the Affinity suit, Blender, Libre Office, the Vivaldi and Chrome browsers. I am considering doing web design in 10web, which is a plug-in in Wordpress, that is claimed to be capable of (almost) flawlessly importing any website (therefore including my own) and making it editable in Wordpress. 10web allows to build and maintain websites on any platform. So also software-wise there is not a lot to waive the switch.

I will make a decision somewhere in the next weeks. I am waiting for the reviews of mini PCs with the AMD 5900 HX chips (rumoured by the Morefine and Minisforum brands) that seem to be on the verge of being marketed. So far however, there are nothings but unevidenced announcements and shady articles. There are also rumours that Apple will market the M1X or M2 somewhere in the near future, which also is a matter to consider, should the near future not be too far away from this period where my Windows rig struggles to render complex files in a decent amount of time. And then there is the alleged SSD data swap problem - mainly with the 8GB RAM version running programs written for Intel Mac - that fuels my wait-and-see demeanor. The Mac Mini's SSD, in Apple's infinite wisdom, being soldered to the motherboard, can potentially turn this issue in to a serious problem.

In addition there is the not so flexible data storage on a Mac over multiple drives that makes me frown. Mac OS decides where data is stored on the two drives that it handles by default. There seem to be workarounds hook up multiple drives, but Windows users have become accustomed to having the freedom to store data by default on any disk in their own network or cloud server that they prefer. The data storage limitation on a Mac compared to Windows isn't necessarily a deal breaker, but certainly an annoyance to get used to for (ex)Windows users. How things can or can not be configured on a Mac can only be figured out adequately however when users actually are working with the Apple hardware.

Then there is the annoyance of the Bluetooth connection dropping at unpredictable intervals, a peculiarity that many Windows machines seem to suffer from as well. It may urge users to set up different types of (wired) connection to their peripherals, which means that more IO-ports are required of which the Mac mini does not have too many. This inconvenience is solvable by adding hardware like docks and hubs, but it will up the budget required to run the Mac mini for many configurations.

It is not enough for a new generation machine to just have speed that allows it to outrun the competition as its main feature. A modern computer needs to have sufficient IO and a guarantee for longevity, since its buyers are basically beta testers that stick out their neck to eliminate the bugs and report on the machine's shortcomings. This is not the way things should be, but that is how it is today, because companies are under constant pressure to upgrade their product line with a high frequency in order to keep up with the competition. But being a not officially appointed beta tester, that companies prefer to call early adapters, involves certain risks, the biggest of which is seeing investments going up in smoke.

The M1 CPU is a first gen chip, a category that typically has bugs that need to be sorted out - not just hardware issues, but also the software that runs on it. But nevertheless, Apple silicon is one of the most promising pieces of hardware to come to the market in a long time that has left its mark in many convincing ways. But perhaps next generations of this type of ARM CPUs will have less bugs and more IO that allows multiple set-ups and extends the machine's lifespan. What stands out are their dominant features of their excellent speed, modest power consumption and reduced heat production that no Windows CPU or GPU can match. So, I'll remain using my struggling Windows set-up as far as possible, to obtain a better insight in to the working of Apple silicon hardware of this generation and possibly the next.

Meanwhile (early 2022) the Mac Studio has been released and it comes at a rather steep price and great operating speed. But traditionally Apple wipes its rear end with the right-to-repair or upgrade right, which is increasingly bugging me, while I have seen no report yet that it has properly solved the aforementioned SSD problem. The Mac OS 11.4 has reduced the problem, but not resolved it. Probably the software caused the problem, but it is somewhat of a red flag for users to buy a refurbished Mac, because there is no way to know what type of work the previous owner did on the machine. Also the buyers of new M1 machines haven't yet seen their worries taken away completely, especially since the main SSD is not replaceable. At about the same time, fully upgradable mini pc's with AMD's 6000 series APU's that include the fast RDNA 2 iGPU engine are beginning to enter the consumer market, while even faster RDNA 3 isn't that far away according to rumours. I expect many of such machines to have one or two M.2 SSD slots, that can be hooked up with a dedicated GPU. I am inclined to go for the upgradable open system approach at this point, in which hardware lifespan doesn't depend on an SSD that is soldered to the motherboard, while these increasingly fast mini pc's come at a reasonable price.

In addition, Qualcomm has boasted that they will release an M1 beater ARM CPU for laptops next year, which may run Windows 11 for ARM at unprecedented pace. Laptop CPU's and APU's tend to find their way into mini pc's, which is what I am waiting for. I realize that this still is beyond the horizon, but as long as my old and patience challenging desktop keeps tugging along I more or less find myself in a position to be able to wait for things to come. And finally, I think Qualcomm is quite capable of putting its money where its mouth is, bearing in mind the fast chips that use modest amounts of energy while remaining relatively cool at the same time, that they built for the mobile industry. Any of these Mac alternatives will give me the opportunity to save money for a dedicated GPU that I am unable to buy along with the mini pc due to budgetary impairment. The rigid Apple company strategy has the potential to bite them in the back, because I think I'm not the only one who was considering to switch to the Mac platform, who has his doubts about the lifespan and non-upgradable M1 (and successors) machines.

August 7, 2021

The Tree of Life - Celtic vector drawing


I am in a way struck when observing Celtic motives, which resulted in me creating this image. It probably has to do with impulses generated by my subconscious. There is symbolism hidden in the number of objects and values I assigned to colours, gradient colours, opacity levels and effects that obviously are visible only in the vector drawing that I created in Affinity Designer, as is usual for my 2D artwork. Affinity, by the way, has laid the foundation, from version, that future updates will profit from; the rendering speed has significantly been increased, especially if you have a proper GPU (which I don't have). It makes it easier for artists to meet deadlines and consequently have time to gulp a few beers in the pub (provided government imposed scamdemic suppression does not prevent them from exercising their basic human rights).

It means that the program requires less time to render complex drawings that have more native and embedded objects (Layers). As Dave Conrey assumed in one of his latest Youtube video clips, that may be the fundament on which future functionality will be based. A sound approach if true and possibly an indication that Serif has carefully considered long term plans with its programs - Designer, Photo and Publisher. It would explain the relatively slow addition of functionality in the programs since the programs were issued roughly 5 or 6 years ago, because Serif's position is that it is not a good idea to build the second floor and third floor if the first floor is not properly constructed. Although such suspicions are of course conjecture, they certainly make sense, especially in view of the way in which 1.10.0 was announced, shortly before release.

Ok, since I am diving a little deeper into matters, I may also point at the fact that Serif - the company that created the Affinity suit - read backwards reads fires, fire being one of the elements of life. I am not going to expound on this in this blog entry, but fire, along with earth, water, air and space, is one of the basic elements of nature and therefore life. One of the things that can be done with the programs in the suit is to express thoughts, observations and events or as professor Frank Tipler in his book 'The Physics of Immortality' has claimed: Life is the exchange of information.  This may seem far fetched to many, but when giving life a profoundly perceptive thought, conclusions often end up in a similar sequence of ideas, even in cases that at first glance seem unrelated.

Anyway, this Celtic logo, symbolizing the Tree of Life, is the underpinning of life as we know it and of life forms currently beyond our perception. I thought that this is a nice analogy with the way Serif operates. The fact that current life for the majority of humankind is not particularly a pleasant ride, is not a result of the fact that its foundation was not planned and conceived in a profound way, but rather the result of some entities (including derailed humans) having a perversely misguided and twisted mind that does not take into account universal law. Doing things right, as Serif does, is the way to go about things, in spite of the fact such an approach in this dimension of linear / cyclical time takes time. The reason that I include symbolism in my work is spurred by an alike mindset. If a picture paints a thousand words, a symbol paints a thousand pictures. Just so you know.

Below the rendered images you see the vector outline view, which shows there aren't any clipped objects this time, so this is a relatively simple image. Click on the rendered drawing to see a larger version of it in Google's Lightbox that also allows to flick through the images by using the scroll wheel of the mouse.

The Tree of Life as Celts may have imagined it

A slight colour change and darkening

A less 'burned' version of the drawing

Vector Outline View of the drawing

July 30, 2021

Warrior horse

In the series of vector paintings that I am in the process of creating, I thought I couldn't make one  that didn't include a horse, since the average horse is a better person than the average person. I've no clue yet where this is going, so it may be worthwhile to drop in every now and then to see what has changed, should you be curious. So, while I horse about, do whatever suits you. At his point - July 30 2021 - this vector painting is a work in progress. Drawn in Affinity Designer of course. Not a single pixel included, because I don't use Designer's pixel persona. I wouldn't call myself a vector purist, but rather some sort of maniac with a cause, who has an evidenced aversion of creating pixel art.

The warrior part in this blog entry's title may give away what I envisioned this image to be(come) around the time I started the drawing. But few things in life are certain in this life. In fact, probably nothing is and I'm not even sure about that. I guess Heisenberg guessed quite accurately when he invented his renown principle. Therefore, enjoy things while you can, preferably without becoming a hedonistic headcase.

As usual the image progress order that you see below is from the bottom to the top. I left out the first two stages that didn't contain anything worth publishing. Below the third stage you see a vector outline view of the most recent stage of the image, if I don't forget to update it. But as I mentioned above: you never know. Oh, and by the way, for those interested, in the update paragraph in the previous blog entry some of the techniques are described that I use to create drawings like this one. So far my uncommon working methods haven't crashed Affinity Designer beyond the point of repair. Although my old computer has a hard time keeping up, the software has behaved surprisingly well.

Artists looking for versatile, demolition proof vector software to make artistic complex doodles, should consider giving Affinity Designer a try. I'm on the Redmond OS; I don't know about the Big Fruit systems. It has a long trial period (90 days) and for one sixth (50 Euro) of the annual subscription fee of Adobe Illustrator, purchasers of the Affinity program, own it for life after they parted with just a one time payment. This is especially interesting for newbie artists that don't have to worry about editing legacy files (created in AI or other software) and build their entire portfolio in Affinity Designer or for graphic veterans that are fed up with Adobe's rip off deal.

Square cut out of the horse August 1 2021

Stage 5 July 30 2021

Stage 4 July 29 2021

Stage 3 July 29 2021


Vector outline view of the most recent stage

Vector outline view stage 5

July 14, 2021

Secret of the desert - vector drawing


This time I went for a desert scene, featuring people and a camel, that has some strange (mystic) elements. Created entirely in Affinity Designer, it is meant to be a 100% vector drawing once the drawing is completed. Therefore no vector brushes were used, because they are not real vectors. The desert is a unusual place that probably harbours many secrets below the sand which contains vitrified matter, which basically is a type of glass that was created from sand that was molten by extremely high temperatures, similar to the artificial matter that was found in the Nevada desert where the US military tested its first (in modern history) nuclear bombs after which the composition of the earth atmosphere - notably spikes of the amount of Krypton and Xenon - besides in increase of other types of radioactive particles. Archeological discoveries in addition suggest that the vegetation and climate of desert areas once was very different from what they are today. It indicates that tremendously powerful events may at one point in time have had great impact on what currently are the desert landscapes. Robert Oppenheimer - nicknamed the 'father of the atom bomb' - quoted the Bhagavad Gita: 'I am become the destroyer of worlds.' where details of an event were described that seem eerily similar to that of a nuclear attack.

This obviously is a work in progress (as of July 14 2021). I have in mind many details that will later be incorporated in the drawing. The original drawing is 6 times larger than the image posted here - 183 x 103 centimeters, showing much more detail. The oldest stage is at the bottom of this blog entry, the newer once above that. Click on one of the images below to see them in Google's Lightbox, that allows you to scroll through the images, using the scroll wheel of the mouse.

Below the stages I placed some supporting files, all of which are 100% vector drawings, created in Affinity Designer. Some are embedded into the main drawing, others are copied, since embedding at times gives strange results.

Update July 27 and explanation of some technical details
At this point my computer is barely capable of rendering the image. Although I consider it still to be a work on progress, I feel I am forced to put this drawing aside for the time being, while I am looking for options to render the drawing at a reasonable pace. Bear in mind it still is a work in progress and that many effects were achieved by duplicating layers on top of each other, applying different filters, effects, gradient fills and gradient transparencies to them (to fills as well as to strokes of complex varying thickness). Also multilevel clipping of layers was done (clipping one curve into an other in many levels), duplicating them too, while various filters and effects were applied to them. Once I've sorted out and applied the best way to overcome the slow rendering (which probably means buying an entirely new rig or addition of a proficient GPU to my current machine), the entire drawing will be drawn in vectors to enable rescaling to any desired size without loss of quality and preservation of detail, this of course for a specific purpose that I'm currently not inclined to divulge.

Stage 10 July 27 2021 - UFOs, desert flower & tweaks 

Stage 9 July 23 2021 - foreground detailing

Stage 8 July 22 2021 - Guard & girl's hair adjustment

Stage 7 July 18 2021 - experiment with background

Stage 6 July 17 2021

Stage 5 July 16 2021

Stage 4 July 16 2021

Stage 3 July 15 2021

Stage 2 July 14 2021

Stage 1 July 14 2021


Embedded Supporting Vector Drawings
Ultimately all parts of this drawing will be hand drawn in vectors. But as mentioned before, my computer is not up to the task at this point (July 2021). Once this issue is fixed much detail will be added to the components. Below you see the vector support drawings that I embedded into the main drawing so far. I have not used vector brushes at all in this image, because they are not real vectors in Affinity Designer. This drawing only contains hand drawn vector curves and strokes. It makes this document infinitely scalable, preserving quality and detail, plus it allows to make changes afterwards with an ease that is impossible to achieve in pixel art work.

Arabian sword - 100% vector support drawing

Saluki, desert hunting dog - 100% vector support drawing

Guard - 100% vector support drawing

Desert  flower - 100% vector support drawing