October 15, 2017

Artificial intelligence vs spirituality - Stanislav Petrov

Something entirely different in this brief blog entry. Though faintly related to computer systems commonly used by ordinary people, this post focusses on Artificial Intelligence and spirituality. The two seem impossible to reconcile, which currently is indeed the case. Hyper computers, based on ordinals, are in the early stages of operation. It will lead to computers building the next generation of computers that exceed the capacity of mankind to perceive with exponential pace. A perspective frightening to most people. Or is it?

I am probably able to write this thanks to Stanislav Petrov and you are able to read this thanks to him as well. He is believed to have averted a thermonuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union in 1983, which (of course) never made it into the reports of lamestream (excuse me: mainstream) media. Mr. Petrov recently passed to better realms at the age of 77 years. Details of the story can be found here. I wrote about this in Facebook. The text of the post is copied here:

I just happened to see a tv series (New tricks) in which this event played a part, although it was portrayed slightly different. Whatever really occurred, this world is dangerously dependant on non-human intelligence. Petrov most likely acted intuitively, which isn't a trait of machines. He took an immense risk, but - as a drilled soldier - opted for the most unlikely..... Humans are spiritual beings regardless of how exceedingly we've been lead to believe otherwise. Such reports, that reflect events that potentially have devastating consequence, should make us think whether we choose to continue our current ways or take time to explore our spiritual essence.

After which I added a comment, the text of which is copied here:

If systems are built and programmed by humans whose inner and outer world entirely focuses on reason, while excluding humankind's spiritual essence, the properties of such systems are obvious. The binary code from its outset incorporated an intrinsic path that was bound to lead to clinical logic. Advanced ternary or base-3 systems have the potential to mimic the mindset of humans that ignore their spiritual side with incredible pace, making systems able to predict (and therefore control) human behaviour. Identifying the possible human / machine problems that may arise from this also comprises the answer. Developing innate spiritual talents is part of the solution, since intuition grants access to the omnipresent information field (black ops scientist Pete Peterson - 1, 2 and 3) that has / is totally integrated logic, far exceeding the code and functions of restrictive man-made systems.

The reasons why I expressed the above is obvious. When watching the Project Camelot interviews with Dr. Peterson, it will become clear what is necessary to restore our human spiritual capacities, which involves much more than meditation. These interviews were conducted in 2009, but their importance is timeless. We live in an age of programs and computers, but should not neglect our spiritual talents. A hint of what humans are capable of when they use more than 10% of their brain capacity is shown in the movie 'Lucy'. At some point in the movie, it becomes clear that it is completely unknown what humans are capable of when they are able to use in excess of 40% of their brain capacity....

However, the cinematic tale suggests that humans do not need computers when they use the entire power of their brain. It may be the reason why humans are deliberately oppressed in particular fields, why an abundance of false information is made easily accessible and true information is made difficult to find or vigorously kept hidden. Some force in the universe wishes humans evolve in a particular direction, that causes them to lose control over life. Although the reason for doing this is obvious, it is also largely unknown why this is the case.

Those not lost in ratio's straight jacket may find this web page an interesting read:

October 10, 2017

Is QuarkXpress a serious contender to InDesign?

It is quite noticeable on the Internet that the dislike of Adobe's subscription policy (some even call it prisonware) is increasing. In spite of the comprehensiveness of the collaborating programs in Adobe's suit, many DTP-ers are looking for alternatives to continue their work. At first glance it seems there aren't many serious competitors to InDesign, at least not ones that are similarly feature rich. But for users to be driven to consider a switch to an other program, because they feel plundered, in spite of the magnificent features of InDesign, indicates that something is wrong with the capacity to make proper decisions in Adobe's management (although the bloke that persuaded them to do it, most likely reached his target with a rousing fanfare - Subscriptions to Adobe’s popular Creative Cloud software have powered a 44 percent increase in revenue since 2013...). Users have to overcome a steep learning curve in order to be able to work with an alternative program and have to convert a number of their documents that they created in InDesign. But the time, effort and money that it costs, does not seem to stop many from looking for alternatives nevertheless. That should ring some bells at Adobe, but I assume they think that their industry leader position prevents them from losing too many users, which they believe will be more than compensated by the revenues resulting from their grippingly expensive subscription policy.

In the past Aldus PageMaker was a program that re-invented the art of Desktop Publishing. It became available for Macintosh computers in 1985 and for Windows machines in 1987. No contending program was able to match its features. In 1994 PageMaker was bought by Adobe. Its latest release was version 7.0 that was launched in 2001.

Before that time an other DTP-program, named QuarkXpress had conquered the DTP market, because it had many more functions than PageMaker. QuarkXpress 4.0 made that company grow so fast that Quark intended to buy Adobe. The latter averted the take over and developed InDesign that was based on Shuksan or K2 that Aldus had already began to develop in the time it was bought by Adobe. That eventually resulted in Adobe issuing InDesign. This program rapidly gained Adobe a leading position in the DTP realm, which it has been able to expand over time.

But Adobe's subscription model forces users to pay indefinitely for the right to use its programs. Its monopoly on the market probably prompted the company to make such a choice, thinking that professional users in Desktop Publishing would have no choice but to use InDesign. I am not on some type of crusade against Adobe, but I just feel it is exploiting its market position. Their suit is excellent and its programs work together in a great way. However, expecting users to endlessly pay for programs instead of buying a license and allowing users to decide to upgrade when they feel it is necessary, is not good business conduct.

An other contender, Microsoft's Publisher, is not taken seriously by professionals due to its lack of advanced features, while FrameMaker - suited to create large, structured documents - purchased from Frame by Adobe in 1995, used mainly in big business environments where less fancy lay-out features are required. FrameMaker is commonly used for database publishing, which is a specialized trade. It reads ODBC / SQL / XML objects and links them in documents automatically, so whenever the information in the database is changed, they are applied in the document instantly. It is a tool particularly useful for companies that continuously need to process large amounts of data, to which DTP-specialists have to do few or no editing at all. Airliners for example, quarterly receive approximately 150,000 pages that update the manual for a specific large type of aircraft. These include legacy data (bitmaps) and editable data. FrameMaker is therefore almost never used as a single program production platform; many other programs are involved in the update process - database shells, programs for vectorizing bitmaps (rasters), OCR etc.

Open source Lyx that is a shell based on Latex typesetting that does not follow the WYSIWYG principle is also operating in the DTP world. It is predominantly used in academic circles and is perfectly capable of creating and integrating (editable) complex mathematical formulae in documents, but it does not attract many users outside of its niche and does not seem to attempt to do so.

A great DTP program that once adorned the business of lay-out enhancing artists is Ventura that was bought by Corel in 1993. Ventura had been around from the pre-Windows era, running on DOS. Its transition to Windows was excellent. Renown for the way it handled styles and its magnificent interface, it slowly dissolved into oblivion after Corel didn't bother to give it some TLC. It might have earned them tons of money, but apparently the Corel company had other priorities. Some of its functionality found its way into their flagship CorelDRAW, but that is not a specialist DTP program. A missed opportunity I think.

Finally Scribus is also an open source DTP program which interface resembles word processing applications at first glance. I've tried to use it, but I find it difficult to find the features that would allow it to properly function as a professional DTP program. Perhaps it's just me having no feeling with Scribus User Interface, because it hides functions much better than InDesign. But as I wrote before, I am currently trying QuarkXpress to create DTP documents.

So, is QuarkXpress a good alternative to InDesign? It probably is, but its UI is entirely different and it requires a lot of effort for users accustomed to InDesign to create documents of similar complexity and appearance. While in the process of learning QuarkXpress I intensively explored the program's user forum and Youtube to find out where the functions are and how they work. InDesign users may find QuarkXpress' UI not logical in a number of respects. Some functions, like anchoring an image inside a text box, require cut and paste instead of being available as a dedicated function that is easy to find in the menus or by right clicking. In addition anchoring images requires a specific sequence of actions for it to work properly - create an image box, cut and paste it where the image should be anchored inside the text and lastly import the image in the pasted box. After that fiddling with inserts and tabs is necessary to position the runaround text. The image box consequently starts to behave as text..., eventhough some (but not all) of the image properties remain editable.

I'm not saying InDesign's anchoring function is flawless, but it is more intuitive, is less difficult to find (because it is in a logical position in the menus), faster to accomplish and edit, while significantly less tedious and more flexible for users to work with. And what is more: it bloody works! I mention this feature specifically, because it is a crucial function for those creating and editing long documents, especially if items or pages have to be inserted in the beginning of a document. Note: No one seems to dig deep in to core of this fundamental DTP-function in the QuarkXpress forum and Youtube, I suspect because it is a shortcoming so far not addressed. Five paragraphs below this one I refer to problems with legacy functions that developers must deal with in order to maintain UI logic and accessibility of functions, without confusing existing users of a program. It may be the root of this problem in QuarkXpress.

An other example, for call-out creation and editing, Quark placed that function in the Item menu, while related functions are in the EditStyle and Window menus. Why not combine them all in one place or make them accessible in one dialogue box? It all works when properly applied, but users shouldn't have to do exhaustive digging in the menu structure to get the job done. It feels more like a workaround instead of a dedicated function. I'm aware of the fact that veteran QuarkXpress users may shrug their shoulders over my remarks, but if QuarkXpress aims to expand its audience, then something should be done about these things, because they are oddities that all new users (that aim to switch from InDesign for example) run into.

InDesign has a wealth of filters that allow images to be transparent with a number of properties, including fading transparency that can be applied instantly. These are not available as dedicated functions in QuarkXpress and require more clicks after users have figured out where to find the functions and how they work. Editing in photo / bitmap editing programs can sometimes not be avoided, because it can't be done in QuarkXpress; editing of fading transparency of images or boxes at an angle of choice for example. Also creating interactive documents in QuarkXpress forces users to look for functions that are not user friendly or simply non-existing. In view of this, I think the QuarkXpress forum is lacking in proper assistance and there aren't many video clips on Youtube that shed an efficient light on complex DTP matters either. That means that users that want to make the switch from InDesign to QuarkXpress have to figure out these things by themselves. That is a shame really, since many DTP-ers simply do not have the time to discover these functionalities. It is a situation that the people at QuarkXpress have to seriously consider, especially now that there is a lot of annoyance among DTP-ers with regard to Adobe's subscription policies, urging them to find usable alternatives. QuarkXpress puts a lot of emphasis on persuading users to opt for their less expensive licensing policy, but neglects making a greater effort of improving their program's UI and functionality, while leaving their support section with a lack of support.

Meanwhile, rumours have it that Serif, that also developed Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer, is in the process of creating a DTP program as well - Affinity Publisher. Date of issue has been delayed several times, but in view of Affinity Photo's and Affinity Designer's most outstanding capabilities, expecting that their future DTP program may have similarly magnificent features is probably not far off the mark. The current situation in the DTP market should force Adobe and QuarkXpress to reconsider their chosen paths; Adobe might rethink if its subscription policy may have been an unfortunate decision, capable of harming Adobe's market share in the long run and QuarkXpress should probably do some work on its UI and extend its user support.

It isn't a disgraceful thing for QuarkXpress to mimic the useful parts of Adobe's UI - the Corel suit allows users to chose between several interfaces, which means it is feasible for programmers to achieve such a feat. Most importantly: it makes switching from Adobe to QuarkXpress much easier. If Adobe and QuarkXpress miss the boat in the departments indicated, Serif may pass them both in the near future, especially since the combination of Affinity Photo, Designer and Publisher would make their suit quite complete. Perhaps adding a webdesign program would be the cherry on the cake.

Affinity's advantage over both InDesign and QuarkXpress, is that Serif has no need to consider legacy functionality - it can do things right from scratch and it has no legacy tool functions to take into account (unless it is going to transform its Serif Plus DTP-program into Affinity Publisher...). A lack of legacy functions to consider, tends to make programs easier, faster and cheaper to develop, resulting in a more user friendly UI that requires less clicks and endless plunging into menus. Serif has shown to be well capable of doing exactly that with Affinity Photo and Designer. This observation may have the ability to cause Adobe and QuarkXpress to worry, because they're basically stuck with modifying legacy functionaly.

In addition Affinity's low price policy may tempt users, companies and print shops to (re)calculate their (long term) operational costs, which may not lead to conclusions that are favorable for Adobe and QuarkXpress, provided that Serif will be able to manage its programs' pre-press compatibility with existing hardware in a way that will not force print shops to make investments necessary to make proper prints that require much time to complete. I will most certainly keep an eye on Serif's progress with regard to the development of Affinity Publisher and write about it once they have issued the program.

October 4, 2017

Affinity - alternative to the Adobe and Corel suits?

After continuous crashes forced me to look for alternatives to the bug ridden Corel PhotoPaint I ran across Affinity Photo some time ago. While experimenting with open source GIMP, I remained on the look out for other programs to create bitmap art, mainly because GIMP has an entirely different approach and many features are still being developed. Photoshop licences used to be immensely expensive, which got even worse since Adobe switched to a horrendous subscription policy. It has definitively made me forget about using software from that company. All functionality and integration of the programs in the Adobe suit are far outweighed by their deceptively overpriced subscription scam.

Affinity has a wealth of functions that almost make it match Adobe's usability and quality and its pricing is no less than spectacular. The desktop versions of Affinity Photo (for pixel pushers) and Designer - for vector drawers - both sell for 55 Euro. The iPad versions cost just under 20 Euro! This means you buy a license and are not forced to endlessly pay for the use of Adobe's programs and work in their cloud! Affinity's pricing is a humongous financial advantage over that of the Adobe programs. I haven't yet bought the Affinity programs, but watched many tutorials on Youtube, which kindled my enthusiasm. Affinity's programs were selected Apple's editor's choice for very good reasons in 2014 and have improved their functionality ever since. Today there are Mac and Windows versions of the programs, which makes exchange of files a piece of cake.

Affinity exports to psd-files with conservation of all layer information, allowing Photoshop license holders and subscription victims to flawlessly edit them (and send them back to Affinity users if needed). To learn more about Affinity Photo's dazzling feature list, please visit this page. And here you find the Designer feature roadmap. Affinity's managers have even acknowledged it will be possible to import CorelDRAW files some time in the future. This would potentially lower the threshold for quite a few CorelDRAW users to make the switch to Affinity. I remain very curious to their software development progress. The time to ditch the established players on the market that abuse their monopoly position, is nearing rapidly. It was only a matter of time before less expensive but very usable alternatives would emerge. They have become available now and work most excellently.

Update October 6 2017:
I've tried Affinity Photo and was positively surprised by some functions. In Particular the the Pen-tool (comparable with the Path-tool in Photoshop) that actually is parametric, which means you can apply changes to it afterwards, because it actually is a vector shape inside a pixel program. In addition the Pen shape can be turned into a selection that can be blurred... The same parametric property goes for the Prefabricated Shape-tool (of which there are many available) and the Text-tool. The fully customizable Transparency-tool can also be changed afterwards. These are magnificent features for artists and designers. More over, the entire history of applied tools can be viewed and edited, which is something no other bitmap editing program allows to do. I must say I am thoroughly impressed by Serif's programming, Serif being the company that has built Affinity Photo.

I am totally convinced that Affinity Photo is going to gain a market share rapidly, once its presence / availability is going to be noticed by a growing audience. I feel I can safely recommend both the Photo and Designer programs Affinity has created. They're a breath of fresh air in a market that looked like it was being choked by Adobe and Corel. The open source programs GIMP and Inkscape are going to have to step up their development pace if they intend to keep up with Affinity, especially since the company has put a more than friendly price tag to their programs and made them work on Windows, Mac and iPad platforms. Affinity has the potential to change the landscape of graphic design, which is a huge compliment.

September 4, 2017

Fiddling with GIMP, dumping Corel PhotoPaint

As I indicated in the previous blog entry I got fed up with the Corel PhotoPaint bug of crashing every time when attempting to export images as .png-files, I began practising with GIMP. The latter is an open source image editor which is completely free. Png files are important because they are lossless files, which means they do no lose quality after each time they are opened, like jpg. It is possible to define the resolution and colour profile - these are necessary functions for artists who intend to have their work printed.

I start this blog entry where I left off while creating the Mark Twain portrait project. I resized it to 40 x 40 cm and changed the resolution from 72 dpi to 300 dpi. This required some work on the details since it basically made the image 20 times bigger - 5 times because of the rescaling and 4 times because of the increased resolution. GIMP had no problem whatsoever exporting the image native format into png.

I am still getting used to the program's interface and functions, but I feel I'm getting there. The main thing I appreciate is that the program is stable and actually does the export job very well. GIMP took its time (approximately one minute) to convert the native format (xcf) to png. So far the file size is 8.74 MB. I resized the file for the blog to 888 x 888 pixels, resulting in a 547 KB file size. I work on a computer with an i7 CPU and 16 GB RAM memory. The graphic card is an NVIDIA GTX 750Ti.

I had to create custom brushes to render the skin pores texture, which works quite well once I got the hang of it. I created animated custom brushes, because emulating the skin requires an organic texture. GIMP allows to create very complex animated brushes, but I discovered that an animated brush based on three different layers will do the job. The skin pore texture is made with a transparent background and three layers with different dot patterns that rotate randomly when drawing. The spacing (space between rotations) is kept at a default setting of 20.

I placed the date and time in the captions below the images of different stages. The oldest will be at the bottom, the newest on top.

Sep 05 2017 17:25

Sep 04 2017 22:30

August 9, 2017

Digital portrait of NS Captain World

I fiddled around with Gimp recently and although I think it is a great (free!) program, it lacks the finesse of Corel PhotoPaint. That isn't surprising, since Gimp is built by volunteers who have regular day-jobs, while PhotoPaint is created by an army of professional programmers. What I miss most in Gimp are the on-canvas-controls that PhotoPaint abundantly offers. Such functionality significantly increases the working pace. Also the tools like the brushes in PhotoPaint are definable with greater accuracy, which is quite important when making portraits.

Perhaps because I'm used to working with it, I find PhotoPaint's user interface more logical while less need to dig into menus is necessary to find the desired tool. But I guess the Gimp programming team will at some time in the future catch up more or less, because there will be a decreasing amount of functions to improve in the process of taking a program to the perfect state, which allows trailing competition to catch up with the established players in the image manipulation realm.

The subject of this portrait is the captain Henk Kuipers of No Surrender MC, a motor club of a different kind in The Netherlands. Of course the mainstream media that is controlled by the ruling powers, disapproves of such clubs and does everything within its might to discredit NS, whether allegations are true or not.

The crux of the matter is that ruling class does not like opposition that is well organized and in disagreement with the policies imposed by them, like donating heaps of tax payer money to the unelected EU, destruction of health care and care for the elderly citizens, while implementing hugely burdening tax rules and constricting the educational system. Also the removal of legal restrictions for corporations and increase of limitations of citizen freedom and privacy are opposed by the new political party, named Rechtdoor, which in English translates to: Straight Ahead.

NS was even more viciously targetted by mainstream press when its captain's plan to enter the political arena were revealed. The valid, humane points in the program of newly established party would obstruct the Dutch government aim to impose austerity on its citizens while filling up the deep pockets of the already fortunate. Although the captain specifically stated that NS and his political ambitions would be kept strictly separated, the press willfullly ignored it and started its usual smearing campaign in an effort to prevent him from entering the political stage.

I haven't yet finished the Mark Twain portrait yet, but I may redo it in PhotoPaint some time in future. Like in all posts, the oldest stage is at the bottom and the most recent on top. Desktop computer users may want to click on one of the image to enter Blogger's Lightbox, which allows to swiftly scroll through the various stages in order to see the progress.


Update September 2 2017
All of a sudden Corel PhotoPaint continuously crashes when attempting to export .png-files. Regardless of the size of the file. This is a basic function of photo-editing software and therefore very annoying. It pretty much renders the program unusable. I currently am in the process of switching to GIMP which is an open source program that actually is capable of performing this job properly. It is somewhat of a learning curve since the approach of the program is different, even tough there are many similarities where functionality is concerned.

After visiting a number of forums I noticed users have encountered this problem since at least version X5 of PhotoPaint. If Corel aims to compete with industry standard programs such as Photoshop it needs to fix this basic functionality or accept that it will not catch up with them (or that it may face even worse consequences). Personally, I'm done with waiting for this fix to take place and am watching GIMP tutorials in order to make the switch to a program that actually works properly.

An other color test

Color test

August 4, 2017

Mark Twain - digital portrait

I'm a temporary host for two cats that live in my attic, separated from my own cat who lives downstairs. One of my temporary companions lays herself down on my keyboard when I'm upstairs, making it impossible to work on my regular computer. So I am working on the machine in the livingroom that has modest specs. I downloaded the open source program Gimp that I've never used before and try to see if it's an option that works as well as Corel PhotoPaint that I use to make digital portraits.

The learning curve isn't very steep, but it takes some time to turn out a quality similar to that which is possible with PhotoPaint. The latter (2017 version) has a lot user friendly options that speed up working that aren't available in Gimp or perhaps that I just haven't yet discovered them. Besides, Gimp is free, so what the developers have achieved is more than excellent. Below you see the sequence of a portrait of Mark Twain; the oldest stage at the bottom, the newest on top. I forgot the record the first stages and started when I made some progress already.

Gimp is somewhat more coarse than Corel PhotoPaint and lacks on canvas controls (which speed up working significantly), but hey... it's free. I should have defined the resolution before starting to draw, but due to being unfamiliar with this program I forgot. The image size should have been larger as well to make sure prints would have the desired quality.

Tip for desktop users: Click on one of the images which will bring you to Blogger's Lightbox that allows you to scroll through the different stages, allowing you to see the difference between the stages faster and more clearly.