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 sheds 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 both Bloomingdale and 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 during their sexual encounters. 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, while I was editing her portrait photograph.

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