December 21, 2022

Underwhelming acquaintance with Windows 11


Today I began configuring a Minisforum mini PC with a Ryzen 9 CPU, a dedicated GPU and 64 GB RAM, which should run very fast. However Windows 11 Pro was pre-installed on the rig and it is incredibly slow, has a lot of trouble accessing plugged in USB drives and hangs too often; user complaints are flooding the web about these problems. Windows 10 on my previous very old computer (from 2004....) was much, much faster. The Minisforum 64GB RAM machine that I ordered, by the way, came without the RX6600M GPU drivers installed, which forced the machine to use Microsoft's generic driver that was unable to recognize multiple screens, apart from having a less than a snail's pace. This is strange, because if Minisforum equips its HX90G mini PC with a dedicated GPU, one would expect the driver for that graphic card to be installed. It feels rather weird to advertise / boast that the machine has a dedicated GPU, while not bothering to install its driver.

Anyway, that was strange, but an easy fix. I understand that Minisforum thought it was a good idea to pre-install Windows 11 Pro, because that would save buyers the trouble to perform an upgrade themselves, but I guess only few would have thought that MS new platform would be so mind bendingly slow, before having tried it out themselves. Also, I hope that Minisforum has tested Windows 11 before installing it on their product.... Windows 11 has been around for some time now, but Microsoft has not yet fixed its problems that are of a magnitude that simply can not be ignored, particularly the inaccessibility of USB drives is a major fuck up (pardon my French). Users all over the web have franticly been trying to find all sorts of workarounds, none of which work. If you do a Google search in an attempt to resolve the problem, Google says it found close to 17 million websites that offer solutions (of which only a fraction are presented of course), but you will soon get frustrated trying the suggestions, because you are going to find out that they do not work. Also Microsoft's Disk Management and fixing drive errors do not improve its file explorer woes at all, even after the system indicates that scanning and fixing the connected drive is necessary. All sorts of weird messages keep popping up after 'fixing' the problem, leaving the users with the same set of problems as they had before attempting to apply numerous very time consuming fixes or search for non-existing solutions. Apart from Microsoft, Intel and AMD haven't sped up the platform's speed either. In this day and age of incredibly fast developing AI, it apparently is a problem to let the world's most used platform run at a proper speed, even after installing updates that promise improvement.

When Windows can't find something, it does not exist.

I would recommend those, that make a living with programs that run on their computer, to stick with Windows 10, particularly those that think they are forced to buy a new, expensive and more powerful computer to even get Windows 11 running. Windows users must hope that by the time Windows 10 support has come to an end that Microsoft will have repaired the current (December 2022) Windows 11 problems, because in its current state it is pretty much useless, to be honest. The only thing that I noticed is improved, is the stability of Bluetooth that does not drop the connection with devices every few minutes, like it did in Windows 10. But that is by far not enough to upgrade a Windows 11 system. It leaves Windows 11 users to wonder how long it will take Microsoft to sort out the problems or simply return to good old Windows 10.

Update December 23 2022

After exhaustingly having tried all suggestions presented on the web without luck, I ordered a 10 port USB 3 hub to connect the external drives, most of which were USB 3 drives. It raised the performance significantly and Windows 11 Actually recognized all disks instantly. This means that most of the problems mentioned in this article are related to deficient USB 2 hubs (which I used before) and drives, that are either not recognized by Windows 11 or fastidiously slow. I am still not convinced that Windows 11 outpaces Windows 10, but at least using the USB 3 hub resulted in a significant improvement. So, those troubled by Windows 11 not finding external USB drives, very slow opening of such drives, snail's pace editing of files or even hangs and crashes, make sure external drives are connected to USB 3, either directly to the computer or through a USB 3 hub.

€ 77,99 10 port, externally powered USB 3 hub

It remains odd though that Microsoft did not bother to make Windows 11 backward compatible. On the other hand that company demands hardware systems to meet requirements that force many of its users to upgrade their computer, find workarounds or even buy a new machine to be able to install Windows 11. In doing so, backward compatibility is thrown out of the Windows. Years earlier the world should have seen the obvious consequence of this policy coming when Microsoft fired most of its test engineers, that did the testing before a new upgrade or version was released and created the perfidious 'Insider Program', thereby basically making their clients the testers a.k.a. guineapigs, which probably boosted Microsoft's revenues, and let (would be) nerds do the testing for free, while giving those suckers the impression that they belong to some sort of 'elite'. They're the chosen ones alright - the chosen idiots. This type of crooked policy causes the rest of Windows users to wait longer for updates that contain more bugs. However, as long as Microsoft gets away with such tricks, it's no skin of their nose.

€ 1200 64GB RAM Minisforum HX90Gwith a dedicated graphics card

In the case of Windows 11 Microsoft has decided to enforce the purchase of new hardware on users in order to be able to run the new system - TPM, UEFI, secure boot and new versions of USB as concluded in this blog entry. It is a deal between corporations in the computing industry, just like when Apple banned Flash, that was used a lot in advertisements. Allegedly for security reasons, but Flash' replacement HTTP5 ads are much more difficult to block with native browser software and extensions, because it is built of the same type of code as that used to create websites, which is why the internet world of today is flooded with a horrendous load of obtrusive ads and annoying pop ups, that can't be blocked. So, I suspect that Microsoft will not be in a big hurry to fix the USB problem of Windows 11 any time soon. They will first have to reach the target on which the corporate cartel agreed, before they will be allowed to present a solution to the problem. This of course is all speculation from the far end of the twig to which I will nevertheless stick until Microsoft does what it is legally supposed to do, which is offering properly working products to paying customers. If that makes you feel like a bug tester for Microsoft, you probably are not far off the mark. Since the company ditched its department of professional testers, it has invented the 'Insider Program', which delegates the testing to the people that bought their platform. Such a measure probably is a good boost for Microsoft's profits, but for its users it's not so good, like outsourcing integral parts of an organization rarely is a good idea. Except for the bean counters of the company.

Update December 25 2022

The swansong about my of Windows 11 experience goes on. Watching a live performance of the brilliant band Cake, it came to mind that it would be a good idea to install an equalizer and I ran into a site that suggested the Realtek driver, which I had used before in Windows 10 without a problem. Big mistake on Windows 11. After installing the program it said the driver would not be active until I restarted my computer. After doing so my main monitor had disappeared. Looking in the Device Manager all of a sudden the driver of my GPU reported a problem. I uninstalled the driver and searched for new hardware, which the computer was unable to find. After uninstalling the Realtek driver, I was once again asked to restart the machine. And after the restart my main monitor had magically reappeared. That hints at the fact that the installation of the Realtek driver messed up the driver of my AMD Radeon RX 6600M and the TranslucentTB program that allows to fiddle with the appearance of the Taskbar. Now this can probably not be entirely blamed to Windows 11, but the system gave no clues whatsoever of what was going on and how to correct the mistake. I guess if future civilizations 10,000 years from now dig up computer hardware and software of today, they will place this age along with the stone age. So, Windows 11 users, whatever you do, DO NOT install the Realtek equalizer driver.

Update Sept 16 2023

And what do you know, years after the release of Windows 11 Microsoft is getting 'serious' about File Explorer sluggishness, freezes and crashes. The company should really be given a standing ovation for such an amazingly swift and professional response and, who knows, the promised improvement might even work this time. The bug has been known for years - Windows 11 runs SSD's at half their speed - but after such a long time, it just seems that Microsoft simply never bothered to do anything whatsoever about this utterly annoying problem. It makes users wonder: What on earth happened in the Microsoft developer department - did someone actually wake up? Or did they decide to tell their all powerful AI to solve an important issue instead of wasting its mind boggling prowess on useless trivia and unnecessary functions, that paled users' endlessly repeated request to please get rid of the damn bug. Developments of Microsoft's File Explorer debugging get more weird by the day: Some Reddit users say that pressing F11 to enter full screen in File Explorer and the pressing F11 again speeds up File Explorer performance multiple times while working in File Explorer, which may indicate that Microsofte really has no clue what can actually be done to cure the bug. Such unobvious 'workarounds' randomly discovered by imaginative users should not be necessary to improve Microsoft's lack of attention for fundamental functions of their platform. By the way, the improvement by using this trick is really marginal I found after trying it out, indicating that Microsoft has not yet solved the problem.

Run ViVeTool that is available on Github to get File Explorer with tabs, which is a feature that many users have been asking for for years without success. An other annoying bug is that users can set speakers or headphones as default sound source as often as they want, Windows 11 keeps going back to settings users do not want or get no sound at all, until they define their preferred sound setting after putting their machine to sleep, restarting or shutting down. With all the prowess of the assistance of AI, it should not be too difficult to get rid of this bug, but it still exists. Don't bother to find help in the shipload of 'solutions' that are presented on forums all over the web - none of them work. It saves wasting a ton of time that could be spent more useful and it prevents a lot of frustration.

Update October 19 2023

According to the Tom's hardware website, the slowness of Windows 11 file management is caused by the fact that the platform has Software Bitlocker encryption enabled. It slows down the speed of SSD's by up to 45 percent (!!!) and forces the CPU to decrypt and encrypt data each time data is retrieved or stored locally. This is a problem of Windows 11 Pro specifically, Windows 11 Home edition does not support Bitlocker, which is why it does not have the slowness problem. Running the Command Prompts as an Administrator 'manage-bde -statuswithout the parenthesis, should show if your disks are encrypted or not. I ran this command and none of my disks were encrypted, but still the platform runs slow. Perhaps you have better luck than I do. The Samsung SSD's (the ones I use, unfortunately) seem to suffer the most from this. Other brands that do not use software Bitlocker do slightly less worse. The point is that Microsoft should work harder on this annoying matter and make all brands of SSD's run as fast as their producers claim they can run. The company has forced degraded SSD performance for Windows 11 Pro users. To disable Bitlocker Encryption run 'manage-bde off C:' in the Command Prompt as an Administrator for every drive that is connected to you system. In my case the Encryption was already off, so I continue to suffer from slow SSD performance until Microsoft comes up with a solution that actually works. Towards the end a solution is presented on aforementioned website (in the link in this paragraph) , which is an entirely fresh install of Windows 11 Pro and all the programs you have installed, after copying all the data of your disks before the installation and restoring them afterwards (....), which I do not have the time to do. Microsoft perhaps could have prevented this sad situation if it had not fired its entire professional testing department. But they did kick the team out and as a result haven't yet repaired the problem.

Apparently I'm not the only one pissed off by Window 11's utterly frustrating sluggishness, like savvy former Window's employees. Updates (supposedly) fix all sorts of bugs and bring a ton of additional features, but the platform's fundamental problem of horrifically slow file management remains unaddressed. Third party alternatives like Files Explorer aren't a solution either, which means users will have to put up with this utterly annoying bug until Microsoft issues a proper fix that has been galling the crap out of users for years in a row (as per May 22 2024). Therefore it is no wonder that the user base of Windows 11 is increasing at a crippled snail's pace, just like its file management, because Windows 11 basically is slower than my grandmother wrestling uphill during a landslide. Working with the platform is as slow as my previous first generation i7 rig from just after the turn of the century.

December 6, 2022

Skinny dipping at night poem

At times, out of the blue, I become overwhelmed by poetic feelings. They urge me to step out of bed and write down what lingers in my mind. Here is an example of what such moods bring me to do. Click the image to see a larger version of it with better readability in Google's Lightbox. Enjoy.

Skinny dipping at night

Today, December 8, the number of visitors to this blog past the 160,000 mark, which is over three packed Johan Cruijff Arena stadiums in Amsterdam. It a small number nevertheless, but a milestone for me for a certain reason, since this day is special to me in more than one respect.

December 4, 2022

Occult image retouching experiment


Affinity Designer is the program I use most from the Affinity suit and I haven't yet done a lot with Affinity Photo. So I thought it was time to do a little experimenting. I found an image of an occult statue on line, that intrigued me and used it to retouch it to my personal preference. I narrowed its wings and changed its face somewhat (among other things). As I wrote on my website, I am not a fluffy clouds and pink bunnies type of person, that I think reflect the denial of the perverted 'reality' in this dimension into which life was thrown. People's comfort zones for centuries have been squeezed into a infinitesimal bag of imposed rubble in which there is no room for the truth, because the high brow perverts and liars plan it to be a 'reality' controlled by those who keep the illusion.

I have to practice more with Affinity Photo, which I will do when I have more time. Being a vector drawing aficionado this type of work is a little out of my comfort zone, but looking outside of it probably is a good thing to do in this life, bearing in mind that many matters obviously are intentionally induced and imposed, which of course has an unknown purpose that does not necessarily concur with my intuition. To keep people thinking within the allowed space of reason a meticulously crafted comfort zone must be maintained that limits the people's perception; anyone who oversteps the limits of that zone is a danger to the hidden purpose against whom measures have to be taken so that his or her explorations beyond the allowed limits will not be shared with fellow open minded ones.

The plethora of organizations that perpetually issue a deluge of dogmas, laws and rules that they insist that people adhere to and obey, can not be the true purpose of life. People are born to be independent and allowed to think critically in order to develop an awareness with which they can find their way though space and time, that is hindered by increasingly strict policies that feel like traps put in place to do the bidding of those that do not want mankind to ever reach the outer boundaries of its potential, which is immeasurably rich and huge, but very difficult to achieve in this dimension.

So whether this image shows a representative of one the powers that suppress human potential or not is for those to decide that want to think open-mindedly and independently. It probably sends them on a rough ride, but that is what this dimension presents them. Perhaps there are other realms that do not limit man's potential in cruel and ruthless ways. Clinging to imposed comfort zone's limiting rubble gets no one anywhere, except into the venues of this world that is enforcing limitation and paradox.

November 30, 2022

Art Nouveau practice drawing 01

I've always been attracted to Art Nouveau imagery, particularly that of the utterly brilliant Alphonse Mucha, who is largely accredited for starting that appealing movement, although he did not like the word movement. I wanted to wrap my mind around the specific aspects of the craft of which this practice drawing is the first attempt. I plan to do more Art Nouveau all vector drawings in the future, unlike this image that contains both vector and bitmap embedded files, because this image is a mere test. Technically this image is some sort of blend of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, the latter being the successor of the first art movement, I guess.

Alphonse Mucha was a gifted graphic designer, an illustrator and (sadly) also under appreciated painter, who deserves much more acclaim for his oil paintings than he has been given so far. His work in each of these categories is characterized by amazing technical skill and a keen eye for well balanced, appealing compositions. Even in his incredibly detailed black and white line art he was able to create a stunning - almost Rembrandt like (....) - play between light and dark areas of his work. An oversight of his mind blowing art oeuvre you find here. A documentary about the interesting man Mucha was, you find here. And his son recounting aspects of Mucha's life you find here.

In his graphic (poster) art Mucha exclusively drew with colour pencils and painted with water colours) beautiful women, because they are much more pleasing to watch than men and this type of work served to earn him a living. In some of his work symbolism has a more or less dominant presence, with which Mucha was familiar since he had at some point in his life become a freemason. His outlandish skill allowed him to integrate symbols in a subtle yet unique and stunning way, which makes his art rise above and beyond the compartmentalization that linear time relentlessly imposes on life.

In the 60's of the previous century Art Nouveau experienced a revival, be it in different forms for different purposes, but this originally and essentially commercial type of art's appeal has never faded, because figurative beauty simply never starts to bore audiences that don't know of or don't care about the opinions of a certain variety of prejudiced art critics and 'experts'.

Later in life Mucha decided to return to his area of birth Moravia, that today is part of the Czech republic, to dedicate his art to the Slav history and culture. When the German troops invaded what was then Czechoslovakia in the second world war, the Gestapo almost immediately arrested (the patriot) Mucha, who was in his seventies at the time, but they released him a few days later. Mucha was already ill then and a few months after his arrest he passed away.

The composite drawing

Embedded flower motive

Mandala background

The images above are part of my first attempt to mimic the essence of Art Nouveau works. They are created in Affinity Designer version 2, that oddly crashed on me once in this relatively simple image. I am not sure if it is Designer or the Windows system that is to be blamed for the crash, but the directory I had just created, to store my Art Nouveau artwork, did not give me full access, which was likely the cause for the crash. After changing the access permission I experienced no more crashing. I experienced a similar type of problem when trying to install Affinity Designer version 2, which is kind of weird. i described it several blog entries ago - 'Serif released version 2 of the Affinity programs'. So, for Windows users of this program, this may be a thing they should perhaps check before they start to draw, particularly since I read threads on the forum about the Affinity version 2 programs crashing and having problems saving files.

November 15, 2022

Continuing jaguar illustration in Affinity Designer 2


Crashes, crashes, crashes!
After having too many crashes and freezes in the high potential VectorStyler with the jaguar illustration I continued it in the newly released Affinity Designer 2 to test out this new release with more intensity. I crashed three times in Designer 2, but the first time I was offered to open a backup file that did not appear to have lost too many data. The second time no such option was presented. Restarting after the third crash, offered to load a recovery file, but a lot of work was lost. Upon re-opening the document crashed in the same way and it was not possible to save whatever was newly drawn.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that already in this relatively early stage - stage 1 - there are a ton of objects, to all of which several effects were applied. As mentioned in the previous blog entries, my computer is from before the Jurassic era, which may also be part of the crash problem. But probably there is also something not right with the software.

Whatever may be the case, here is the continuation of the art I started in VectorStyler. I exported the file as an .svg and opened it in Affinity Designer to take it from there. In the imported .svg, all shape blurring was removed, but some of the ripple distortion had remained in tact. I was relieved, because this meant that I only had to make a few minor adjustments.

First experience in making a complex vector drawing in Designer 2
Drawing in Affinity Designer 2 doesn't feel much different from the previous versions - I installed all the previous Beta versions - apart from the coloured icons in the toolbar, the rearranged functions in the fx dialog box and the changed layout of the Layers panel, as I've noticed so far. From the tools added to version 2, I only used the 4 point distortion, which at times needs a refresh by zooming in and out again and  and the shape builder tool to adjust a spot. A vector ripple distortion tool like in VectorStyler would have been useful to apply to the spots in the fur in this drawing; in Affinity Designer I had to apply the distortions manually with the pen and node tools. 

As usual the newest stage will be placed on top and the oldest one at the bottom. On a PC or Mac, click on an image and scroll through the images using the mouse wheel and quickly shift through the images to see the difference between the various stages. Additional comments below the image captions.

Stage 10 - added the texture base. Somehow the old
machine did not crash after drawing the previous stage.

The jag's tail was reworked, its left eye was made slightly bigger and the base for the fur texture was added (experimenting with this, because it must be vector only). No 'vector' brushes, no symbols and no patterns were used, because they are not real vectors, which are among the sadly still missing functions in Affinity Designer version 2. My outdated machine is barely able to keep up, but surprisingly did not crash during this stage. Exporting the file to .png however took an eternity. The original size of the drawing is: 3735 x 2270 pixel, because I have vague plans to have this drawing hi-res giclée printed on aluminium covered with a high quality lacker layer. The image placed on this site is smaller and therefore contains less detail than the original.

Stage 9 - tedious face fur detail drawing.
Crashed only once (....)

Although weary of crashes, began drawing the fur texture in the face of the jag, for which I used a number of tricks that I may explain in a separate blog entry somewhere in the future. No vector brushes were used whatsoever, because these are bitmaps drawn along a vector stroke, so no real vectors. The new X-ray view in Affinity Designer is quite useful to select objects in a drawing that contains many objects. This drawing is 100% vector. The old machine is behaving above expectation and I crashed only one time....

Started to draw the face fur texture detail - stage 9

This is the vector outline view of the image right above this one.

Did some work on the reflections on the water surface
in this 8th stage. No crashes fortunately this round.

I could not leave the project alone, so I cautiously proceeded., hoping the crashing would not occur. After having received a tip from Stuart RC on the affinity forum to use the pencil tool for certain aspects of the image, I was able to speed up the drawing process considerably. Never used the tool before, so I guess I underestimated its usefulness. Also did detail the jag's hair in the ear areas.

7th stage - an other crash in Designer 2. I was given an option
to open a recovery file, but much data was lost. To make things
worse, the crashing continued after opening the recovery files.

Yet an other crash in Affinity Designer 2 when editing the water surface of the river and foliage in the background. I have become careful and save the file after drawing every new object; still more data than that was lost. In spite of all these annoyances, I got the base of the water and background done. A bug I detected was that when area objects that were given a Gaussian blur overlap a weird line displays in the contour of the overlapped object.

Detailing of spots and whiskers - sixth stage

So far so good; no crashes in Affinity Designer 2 anymore. Made several minor changes to the various shapes, like changing the contours and colour adjustment. I also added the whiskers with adjusted stroke properties and mild Gaussian blur. Pussycat is starting to come alive on its way to kill.

Coming along nicely without crashing in fifth stage.

The biggest pain  - drawing all the spots without having a ripple distortion available - is now behind me. What is left is drawing of shadows' lighter areas and accents and tweaking them. Plus the reflections and colouring of the water ripples of course. In reality - to be safe - I have so far saved 17 files of this image, including those drawn in VectorStyler before switching to Affinity Designer. The Aomei on the fly backup system will hopefully prevent data loss.

Continuing to spotify and balance the colours in fourth stage.

The quality of portraits is defined by their appeal, which is determined by the intensity and tone of its accents. Subtle changes can impact the impression that an observer gets in a way that is disproportional to the extent of the change. They have to be balanced in combination with the tweaks of their environment. Trying to do this properly, so that the cat comes alive, so that its murderous mindset becomes tangible.

Affinity Designer version 2 crashed for the second time in
this third stage. Complexity apparently is difficult
to process for my struggling old machine

The abundance of spots have a shedload of nodes. I sometimes think that today we are still in the stone age of computing, in spite of what manufacturers want us to believe. At least that would probably be what people from a far away future think of man's current achievements in this field. I was not presented with the option to re-open a backup file this time, so I guess I have to see what happens from here on with working in this 100% vector image. Keeping my fingers crossed is the only option I have until my new, more powerful rig arrives.

Many more spots to go - stage 2
I think I didn't miss a spot yet ....

Imagine, in the jag's DNA code is included each and every coordinate of every single hair, its colour, length and type. It makes drawing a vector image of the big cat a walk in the park by comparison, however tedious drawing may be. For the final stages I will have to use my Huion tablet to draw the (dark, medium and light) hairs to make the jag's fur look more realistic.

First stage after the transfer from VectorStyler.
Strewing spots all over the hunting feline.

The jag's image, drawn in VectorStyler, still looks weird in this stage, similar to the early stages of almost anything else, which hints at the fact that from weirdness often coherent appearance comes. With so few objects or shapes drawn, it is hard to properly balance anything. So, I progress as fast as possible to leave this initial stage behind me.

November 12, 2022

Serif released version 2 of the Affinity programs

Apart from raving reviews about Affinity's version 2 update by users that have not encountered difficulty installing the programs, there are installation problems for a number of users of the Windows platform that should not have occurred. After having waited for a long time to be able to download an upgrade that was not a Beta version, expectations of version 2 were quite high and running into problems installing the programs caught me and many other users by surprise. In this blog entry I will offer a constructive contribution to (temporarily) resolve this problem, expecting a company release soon that will enable successful installation, this being a situation that Serif must put behind them as soon as possible.

On the Affinity forum several work arounds have been suggested, most of which do not work for most users struck by the problem, which tempts people like me to search for other solutions that actually do work. Below you find one that resolved the problem I ran into, although I am aware that changes in the installation code have to be applied in order to avoid users having to apply work arounds or figure out themselves what to do, to install the version 2 programs of the Affinity suit successfully right out of the box. In this blog entry I will focus on Affinity Designer predominantly, since it is the suit's program that I used most often.

Programs will not install
The long awaited release of version 2 of Affinity Designer, Photo and Publisher has recently taken place. I purchased and downloaded them from the Affinity forum, but when I tried to install them I received a message that the installation was cancelled because an error occurred in parsing the apps (all three of them). The file format of the installation was msix. When browsing the forum I soon learned that this affected other users too. Several possible solutions were offered by the mods and advanced users, but none of them cured the problem for me. Later I downloaded the apps from the Microsoft Store, which was the beginning of a solution, since at least .exe-files were placed in WindowsApp directory in the Windows User directory, which isn't the location where Windows users, accustomed to the traditional installation process would expect the files to be placed.

The programs would only open by right clicking the .exe-file from the WindowsApp directory in the system disk and choosing the run as administrator option. They would not start from the Start menu or from the shortcut icons that I placed on the Taskbar. Also I was unable to open files I had drawn in the older Beta versions by dragging them from Windows Filemanager onto the desktop of the programs.

When diving into the problem at a certain point I discovered that the properties of the Affinity (sub)directories in the WindowsApps directory displayed a message that the Permission file was corrupted (in bold red type). I set the permissions to full control for myself and after that the programs opened without using the Run As Administrator command, from both the Start menu and the shortcuts I placed on the Taskbar.

Apparently the .msix files interfered with the user permissions of the Affinity (sub)directories in the WindowsApps directory, necessary to run the programs properly. This directory is located at C:\Users\UserName\Downloads on a Windows 10 system, in which the Affinity programs are in directories with the following name: affinity-designer-2.0.0.msix, in this case for Designer. After running the exe-files from this directory users are prompted to one time fill in their Affinity ID information and the programs appear in the Start menu from where they can be pinned to the Taskbar. Fortunately this problem does not affect all users, but to those that encounter this problem, it is a rather painful disappointment. 

Affinity Designer 2 start up screen

First impressions
I had become curious to the functionality increase of the version 2 programs after watching various Youtube videos that featured them and I must say I was happy to try them. There still are functions missing in Designer that are included in programs of the competition - such as the Mesh gradient tool (which I personally do not miss), the vector trace tool (that I never use), the shape blender tool (which would be nice), the vector eraser and liquify tools and the stroke width tool to name just a few, but overall the upgrades work well and I think they are somewhat worth the money, though Serif could have included more new tools. There is a temporary discount for buying all programs in the suit, a package deal, which is why I hesitantly decided to upgrade. It is a €120 one time payment - no subscription fee - for the entire suit, by the way.

Affinity Photo 2 start up screen

The shape builder tool is a long awaited function that the devs added, the knife / scissors tool as well and the versatile warp tool are absolutely great. In addition the UI has been improved, in particular the Layers panel. Check out the Affinity channel on Youtube, The Affinity Revolution channel, The Brown Bear channel, the Design made simple channel, Olivio Sarkas' channel, the Games From Scratch channel and Kru Mark's channel to get an idea of what the version 2 upgrade is all about. All these persons did an excellent job of exploring the version 2 programs from their own perspective, providing arguments for users to upgrade or not.

The problems for the developers
Kru Mark compares the upgrade to the functionality of Affinity's competition and there still are some tools missing that are included in Illustrator and Inkscape for instance, but for the type of work I create, they are not crucial. I am aware of the fact however, that there are users that would benefit from the missing functions as mentioned by Kru Mark. The improvements the devs actually did include in this version are a welcome addition and perhaps other improvements will be included in the upcoming Beta versions. But not including them in this version, is somewhat of a missed opportunity.

I think Serif was under a lot of pressure to release version 2, because it has been a rather long time since they released the previous upgrade, but I assume the stability of the programs in the suit is a major prerequisite, meaning more time and effort goes into programming and testing. But because Serif did not provide any information why the upgrade took so long, some users wondered if Affinity was dead...., a situation that could have been avoided by keeping users up to date concerning the development of version 2. Had Serif come up with buggy programs in its suit it might have resulted in a bad reputation that is extremely difficult to repair and therefore bad for business. Also the necessity of coding 3 programs to the next upgrade level simultaneously, may have accounted for the lengthy upgrade interval. 

Perhaps because of all these factors, the pressure on the devs in the Serif office was a bit too high, which may have resulted in the aforementioned installation problems, that could in fact be caused by Microsoft's installation policy, requiring companies to use the .msix files instead of traditional installation methods in which the running of .exe files places programs in the Program directory of the system disk or any other directory on any disk the user prefers to install it on. I think the changes necessary to integrate the version 2 suit with the Microsoft Store installation policy, may have given the devs a headache as well and resulting from that Serif's clients, that ran into bungled installations.

Affinity Publisher 2 start up screen

But since it is possible to correct them, I think the Serif team will be able to sort out the problems, but this should have taken place before the release.The installation engine may be separate from the rest of the program, but this is no concern of users - they just want thingsto work properly, which is what they paid for. Although at this point I am intensively experimenting with the absolutely brilliant VectorStyler program, I will still to use the Affinity suite for production purposes for the time being, because VectorStyler still in the development stage. But if Serif slows down the upgrade pace while VectorStyler steps it up, there will come a moment in future when I will make a different decision.

The reason of the update pace being quite low, perhaps has to do with the fact that the software is developed for Windows, Apple silicon - both the Mac OS and iPad version - and the fact that all three programs in the suit are integrated, which means when working in Publisher to make changes to vector art or pixel art Designer and Photo do not have to be opened separately, but all editing can be done from within Publisher. This Studio Link integration, that is the first of its kind in the graphics world and DTP business, will noticeably increase the artists' productivity.

Publisher by the way, can now be installed on the iPad as well, which adds a lot of value to Apple's tablet. because it makes the iPad the first tablet capable of running an (almost) full fledged DTP-program. A long awaited major tool that finally made it into the new Publisher for all platforms is the possibility to create footnotes, endnotes and side notes, which is a function any serious DTP-program must have. This integration of this tool makes Publisher's upgrade the most 'necessary' of the programs in the version 2 Affinity suit.

So, apart from some good aspects to this upgrade, there are too many bad ones, that are not mentioned in may other places on the web or elsewhere. Yet, a certain number of these things nevertheless are worth being put forward, because these programs have become (part of) the livelihood of many that continue to search for ways to survive crumbling economies and continuously soaring expenses. I have listed them below and added some related issues:

  1. The installation trouble for a number of Windows users should have been sorted out before the release of version 2. The mods on the forum should not be suggesting work arounds that require users to dive deep in their operating system (registry tweaks have been suggested), which could easily lead to breaking more than the average user is able to foresee, while most suggestions did not even resolve the problem. This situation should most definitely have been prevented
  2. As Kru Mark correctly reported, there still are several crucial functions missing in version 2 that, in view of the long time that has passed since the previous upgrade, could have been and should have been integrated
  3. Possible upgrades and / or additions of certain tools will most likely be presented in future Beta versions, that are by definition not stable. I one time received the advice in the forum not to use a certain Beta version, because it would not export .png-files properly (which apparently was a known issue, that did not occur in earlier versions....), which brings me to think: Why the heck issue that Beta version in the first place? Is it for users to test or to keep them happy by showing them development still is ongoing? And why would Serif release a Beta version that it advices users no to use? This is a weird type of advice to give to users that simply report that the program is not doing what it is supposed to do and (moreover) what it did correctly before, which makes the situation even more strange
  4. The reason I bought the various Serif products is because I loathe the overly expensive Adobe subscription policy, aside from the other type of disdain they display for their userbase, but I estimate Serif is now at a turning point on how to proceed in the market in which they are operating. The price of the Affinity programs has almost doubled compared to the period in which they were issued for the first time. They still charge a one time fee, but how long will Serif be able to determine its own policies in a time in which giant players simply buy companies that they deem to be interesting for their strategy - meaning: use their code or simply kill them off
  5. Innovation should be higher on the list of priorities of the Serif company, because its competition seems to extend their lead in this field. As a small player in the arena fighting the big boys, the lack of innovative progress is a danger riddled situation to be in, that leads to venues where no company wants to be
  6. The absence of a roadmap that indicates the planned progress of the future versions, is an ominous sign. Blender for instance, continuously updates their publicly issued road map and relatively swiftly integrates the announced improvements, while coding 3D software is necessarily more complex that coding 2D software. Serif not being transparent about where it is going with the suit's development, is rather odd, to say the least, because it leaves users in the dark about the direction in which the company aims to develop. It feels like hopping on an airplane and not knowing where one is going to end up
  7. The startup screens of all 3 programs in version 2 flash a message that the 'Microsoft Store registration is checked' each time the program is opened. It makes sense that Serif registers its users for obvious reasons, but I fail to see why it is necessary for Microsoft to register Affinity users, yet it demands every company that sells products through their store to amend their code. To what extent and in what way would be interesting to know. Particularly since Microsoft is not world famous for being overly concerned with the wellbeing of its users. This seemingly trivial detail could have far reaching consequences that only but very few users are capable of imagining in a society in which the increase of centralized control has gone beyond the type of measure that complies with democratic principles
  8. Almost immediately after buyers of version 2 ran into rather serious trouble - failed installation, not being able to open the programs and not being able to save files created (among a number of other bugs, most of which Serif has not yet resolved....) - this message appeared on the forum in bold white type on a red background at the top of each page: 'Our response time is longer than usual currently. We're working to answer users as quickly as possible and thank you for your continued patience.' Either Serif bit off more than it could chew with this release or other situations have occurred behind the scene that I prefer not to speculate on, but either way, this is bad news. Not being at least somewhat transparent about this towards its users / buyers does not help as well, because such conduct most certainly will provoke conjecture.

Minisforum HX90G

10 port USB 3 hub

Update December 21 2022

The new Minisforum Neptune HX90G mini PC arrived with Windows 11 and installation of the Affinity suit programs from the Microsoft store went without problems. More on running Windows 11 on this computer in this blog entry. So, upgrading to Windows 11 from my very old 2004 rig (first gen i7) cost me an arm and a leg. It includes the hardware - computer and USB hub - and Serif's Universal License. Corporate rule affects an increasing part of today's world.

October 23, 2022

Exploring VectorStyler - Part II


After losing the files I saved on a network drive in VectorStyler, as stated in the previous blog entry, I decided to save them on the system drive, which in itself worked well. The problem is that my computer is too old and lacks the power to properly create advanced graphics - realistic vector portraits - as I found out this time with exporting the various stages of development in the png-file format. My old rig has a first gen i7 Intel CPU from 2008 (....), has dead slow 16 GB 1333 MHz RAM memory and an extinct NVidia GeForce 750 Ti, which in today's world probably is considered to be a prehistoric system. I am therefore considering to upgrade to the Minisforum Neptune HX90G with an AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX CPU, 64 GB RAM memory and a M2 512 GB SSD, that has a dedicated GPU - the Radion RX 6650M, while taking up very little space (2.8 liter case). I prefer this x486 AMD mini PC over its Mac competition, because it offers the right to repair and upgradability, plus the fact that the software I purchased, is written for the Windows platform.

The reason that I continue to experiment in this constantly updated, ongoing blog entry with VectorStyler in spite of the problems I encounter with running the program properly, is that it has an absolutely huge potential and many of its incorporated functions already work excellently, while some still require a bit of tweaking. Its developer - a single person, named Csaba Ráduly Baka has so far done a most outstanding job creating and developing the project, in a way that made me convinced of the fact that at some point the bugs will be written out of the code and even more new features will be added. So, this series of blogposts is an on-the-fly test / review / in depth exploration that will last as long as VectorStyler will continue to be developed into a mature state, even when I may encounter additional obstacles.

Export Problem & portrait stage sequence
Because I was unable to export the vector portrait in png-format properly, I made screendumps so that I can still place the progress sequence of the various stages of development in this blog entry. The most recent one is at the top and the oldest one is at the bottom. Where necessary I will enter a comment below the screendumps in addition to the image captions. One crucial aspect of my drawing technique is that I place the reference image on top of all other objects and make it transparent, so that it is easy to retrieve whenever necessary, while its transparency can be changed whenever I temporarily need a more clear image. This is useful especially when a drawing contains hundreds or even thousands of (clipped: objects inside of other objects) objects. From what I have seen in tutorials on Youtube, most artists place the reference image or photo below all others, but for me this does not work for the reason mentioned here.

When the portrait is completed, I will post the vstyler-file in the VS forum, for fellow users to inspect. Note: all photos of Maria Orsic on the Internet are a kind of grainy and jagged black & white type of images, that probably do not do her beauty justice, but I do my utmost to make the best of it. The lack of quality in the photos implies that I was forced to interpret aspects of her face in order to be able to create a portrait that includes the attributes of a realistic depiction of a person. In addition I permitted myself the liberty to lean towards a personal elucidation of miss Orsic' stunning appearance, that also is known as 'artistic freedom', which is a style signature that is present in all the portraits I create.

Tools used in VectorStyler
An other thing is that I did not draw this portrait using the Mesh Gradient tool, which I feel is tedious and time consuming to work with, but I drew separate objects (most of which are clipped several layers deep and blurred, that I named accurately in the Layers panel so that I can find them back at a later point in time for further editing. Also, all objects that are drawn are vectors that will rescale and remain sharp in every size into which the image is rescaled, while the mesh tool is a simulation of pixels in vector format that requires a great amount of calculation when rescaling the image. For instance: many of the shadows consist of a single line with 2 (or in some cases a few more) nodes that probably require less computing power when the image is being rescaled. Editing objects at a later point in time, I find easier also when they are separate objects, each of which can be tuned to what it needs to be, which is especially useful when balancing shapes and colours when an image is in the final stages of the design process.

Brief tutorial on creating objects with varying blur levels
I uploaded a brief tutorial on the VectorStyler forum on how to create objects that have areas of varying blur level ratios along their circumference, that is a technique I often use in drawing realistic vector portraits. The usual type of vector portraits created in Adobe Illustrator almost always have hard edged areas (shadows, creases, hair, facial parts like eyes, ears, nostrils, eyebrows etc.) that make them unrealistic, even though they are presented as realistic vector portraits. Adobe's marketing department has managed to successfully sell Illustrator's shortcomings as a feature and, as commonly is the case, the ignorant majority of the market fell for the carefully concocted scam. An example of such an awful portrait you find here. No offence, but I don't think these portraits qualify as realistic, nor do they deserve to be the maistream standard in that conjured category. But as long as most people prefer to think with their spinal cord, such basically ridiculous type of 'artwork' will be considered to be 'great' by those that have no clue of what greatness is. I have been creating realistic vector portraits for years now and examples of what I mean by that can be found in my website; those portraits hardly have any hard edges, which is exactly what does make them realistic. The process described in this blog entry is the first realistic vector portrait that I drew in VectorStyler - the ones on my website were created in Affinity Designer. I am seriously considering switching from the latter program to the former one mentioned in the previous sentence, which is why I am creating the portrait shown below as a test.

Added the darker areas in the hair and began drawing the left ear

In spite of the calculation / rendering problems my computer presents me, I decided to do a little more drawing. The old machine causes the program to freeze often and say that it is not responding (which lasts up to several minutes at best), but I was dissatisfied with the appearance of the previous stage. In this 12th stint I drew some darker accent areas in the hair, so that at least there is a hint into which direction I am taking this 100% vector portrait. Also corrected the lower eyelid of the right eye. I still need to tweak the colours, intensity, gradients in these areas and add more detail, but I'm afraid that would be challenging this archaic device beyond its limits. After the Minisforum mini PC has arrived and has been set up, I will continue to explore the superb Vectorstyler by way of this project.

Added some more shadows and drew the hair base

At this point the program on this very old computer is behaving very strange, which probably is the result of a dramatic lack of computing power, even when all other programs were closed. I ordered a new computer as described above and will continue when that one has arrived. The hair was done according to the technique I described in the seventh stage. It allowed me to draw a gradual transition area between the hair and forehead. The accents in the hair could not be rendered, which confirmed my suspicion that my machine simply was unable to handle the computations.

Tinkering with shadows on the face

Applying subtle shadows on a face, probably is one of the challenges of creating portraits. If a shadow is off just a minute amount in colour, intensity or blur ratio, there is a risk that entire portrait goes down the drain. So, this took me longer than I expected and I still am far from done. I discovered that in the gradient colour tool each node can separately be given a colour but also an opacity level. Nodes can be added by clicking on the gradient indicator line and typing '+', they can be removed from it by simply dragging the node off the line. Very intuitive. The easy way to draw subtle accents probably is to clip one area into an other (several layers of clipping) which also works well and is easier to control. I will try that in the next stage. In the previous stage I wrote that I wished the blur ratio had a bigger range until I discovered that the interactive tool includes nodes on the top and bottom of the reference circle to adjust the range, which is virtually without limit, unfortunately only in one direction. The developer Csaba Ráduly Baka must have advanced artistic skills besides being a brilliant programmer, because these functional details would never have been considered for implementation by a brilliant programmer who has no artistic skills or too little of them.

Added base shadow on mid and left site of the face

This is the seventh stage already. Edited the mouth somewhat. Tweaking the big shadow until I became senseless - with the blur ratio tool (which I wished would have a more extended range), opacity and gradient colours with a proper number of nodes. Probably some clipping of additional objects will be necessary to get things right. I uploaded a tutorial on how to create objects with a varying level of blurriness along their edge in the VectoStyler forum. Had I been more proficient with gradient colour editing (which is present in VectorStyler) I would probably have used it, but to be honest I dislike that tool from my experience with it in other drawing vector programs. I do like the mesh gradient transparency tool, but I still need to  practice it more in order to efficiently use it. I have to leave the image alone for a while and return to it at a later point in time. I'm sure artists are familiar to this type of situation in which the proper settings just elude them, while that seems to be no problem further into the future (I hope). Part of this problem is caused by the fact that I drew the shadow in one piece, in order to minimize the number of objects, which does not always work...... Also, my ancient rig is beginning to struggle, so purchasing a new, more powerful one kind of climbed on my bucket list. First I have to check the budget though, since being able to buy food is important.

Experimenting with dark background

Editing colour intensity of the blurred shadow area at the right side of face mainly to see how that would appear against a dark background. Most of my vector portraits have a transparent background so that I can place them before any type of background and change my mind whenever it seems appropriate to do. Colour balancing therefore is important.

Added mouth and chin line

Besides working on the mouth and chin area and correcting mistakes in the eyes area, I have begun experimenting with mesh transparency, which is an absolutely brilliant function that is present in none of the programs competing with VectorStyler. I will need this function at a later point in this design, but I don't feel familiar enough with it to apply it already. It is just one of the many functions offered by VectorStyler that devs of its competition have not figured out yet how to code. Still a heap to learn for me!

Added shadow to the right side of nose

While tweaking the left eye VectorStyler froze and offered a weird message without saying what was wrong. After closing the program and restarting it, I was offered the option to retrieve a back up, which worked just fine. Immediately the developer responded on the forum and reported a bug. This type of swift support I have never experienced anywhere in my long involvement with software. Great!

Added shadow on the right side of face

Besides adding the shadow on the face' right side did some tweaking of the right eye. Shadowing requires a subtle approach, both in intensity, giving objects a blur ratio and applying colour accents. There still are details that bug me, but I am sure that I will get them sorted out at some point, as I become more familiar with VectorStyler.

Added right eye

Copied left eye to the right. Reshaped elements with the move- and node tool. Adjusted colour accents and lighting, mainly in clipped objects. Renamed copied left eye objects to right eye parts in Layers panel, this because there already are many objects in the drawing that I need to retrieve at a later point in time for further editing, when looking to rebalance colour intensity, because in portraiture moving and reshaping (parts of) objects just a few pixels determines the quality of the likeness, as do do colour accents.

Added shadow behind the left eye

So far, I have mainly been using the Gaussian blur function, object clipping and interactive transparency, all of which work superbly. Many image effect functions - such as blurring - can interactively be fine tuned on the spot, which offers artists the option to exactly and instantly see the result of their tweaking.

Started drawing the face contour and left eye

When drawing realistic vector portraits, I always start with the eyes, because they are the dominant factor in facial features. For drawing I use the pen tool and the node tool to fine tune. Most objects are given a Gaussian blur effect. Colour management in VectorStyler is very easy to use with great precision.

Stage 15 - vector outline