Tag Archives: Saturday Solutions

Where I’ve Been: Grappling with Changing Realities

So, I disappeared for a week. A few of you probably wondered what happened, LOL. I’ll try to recap as concisely as possible. My spinal decompression treatments have had one unexpected “side effect”, for want of a better word. It’s working, and for the first time in 27 years, I’m faced with the almost unreal possibility of being pain free and healthy.

How’s that a problem? 🤷‍♂️ Because I’m so used to starting to succeed and then getting knocked on my butt yet again, that I’ve been struggling to wrap my head around not having that pain there as a roadblock. It’s gone so far as even wondering how much of it was the pain and how much was just ME being a failure. The joys of having completely unsupportive, hyper-demanding parents. It’s a shame parents like that don’t realize the long term damage they do.

I didn’t understand “fear of success” for a long time, until I read that the fear is the success will lead to a bigger failure. It made sense after that. It makes even more sense now. When I failed before, it was the pain. It’s been insidious also because it was up and down. It would drop to about a 3 on a 1 to 10 scale at times, and stay there just long enough for me to think “I can do this”, whatever “this” was at the time. Real Estate to writing, it always boomeranged back severely and derailed my efforts.

The answer slowly formed over the last week. It started with feeling better, and focusing on how tired I was of living as a hermit, not being able to provide for myself or contribute meaningfully to the household, etc…

It further crystallized when I got even further proof that my chiropractor was just going through the motions, running a patient mill and depending upon the traction machine to do all… well 95% of the work. I got pissy about it since we dished out $4000 for treatment. After I refocused, I realized I have two choices: I could stay angry, give up and resolve that I was getting sub-par treatment that had a fair chance of not having lasting benefit, OR I can put everything I’ve learned over the years to use, go the extra mile, and take responsibility for my own recovery. With the progress I’ve made, I feel like I’m in a position to make that difference too.

The final breakthrough came when I went to Dave Ramsey’s recent livestream: “What Now: Your Money and COVID-19” on Thursday. Yep, I was in the audience. Separate post coming on that. Spoiler Alert on that livestream though: The takeaway was “treat it as a NEVER AGAIN moment”. The message was so on point I could easily see it applying to my back and neck therapy and life in general.

So, yes! I’m fired up now. I’m going to fight my way through this. You know the occasional movie where a character gets hit by a car or something and is never supposed to be able to do anything again, but spends hours a day beyond what the therapists work with them, and makes a full recovery. THAT is going to be me!

And I’m going to work my ass off just as hard at writing and whatever real work job I may have to take to pay the bills too. Chances are, you’re going to see more Cristian Mihai type posts here too. Maybe I can inspire a few of you along with myself.

Legitimate Free, Quality Alternatives to Adobe Products

Yes, Lightroom CAN be that bad…

I was reading a blog earlier today with yet another story of inexcusably horrific customer service from Adobe. Since Photoshop and their other products have a huge market share, Adobe tends to treat it’s customers with utter contempt. The post inspired me to go through multiple articles and links, and post the best alternatives to Adobe, their bad service and even worse prices. I worked on this post eight hours and found FREE alternatives to almost everything Adobe makes.

Almost everything I’m posting here is legitimately free, often open source coding based, and frequently just as good if not close to Adobe products in quality. Many of them are available in Linux, and Windows versions, sometimes Mac as well. I’ll note accordingly where I can. Many of them also have at least a few tutorials on YouTube and elsewhere also.

This will be a LONG post since Adobe has several products. Worth the read though if you’re paying $50 a month plus for access to the full Creative Cloud. Let’s get started.

PHOTOSHOP REPLACEMENT OPTIONS:

GIMP: Probably the most well known alternative to Photoshop. Early versions were pretty crude with clumsy interfaces / controls. Newer versions are very close to Photoshop in every regard. Very much worth a look, and it has several tutorial videos and sites out there, even at it’s home site. Just search GIMP Tutorials. GIMP also comes in versions for Windows, Linux, Mac, and Unix-like machines.

GIMP Home Page and Download Page Links

Photopea: Is a cloud based photo editor. While not as nice as GIMP, it does do a fair amount, and is good for people using less powerful PCs. It’s good for people using the ChromeOS (ChromeBooks, etc...)

Photopea Home Page Link

LIGHTROOM REPLACEMENT OPTIONS:

Lightroom is a simplified photo editing program that allows applying filters and other effects quickly with professional results. There are alternatives however.

Darktable: Consistently named the best free alternative to Lightroom. It does everything, or nearly everything, that Lightroom does. The only drawback is a slightly less polished interface. Available for Windows, Mac, and multiple versions of Linux have custom versions. A fair number of tutorials available as well.

Darktable Home Page and Download Page Links

RawTherapee: Another Lightroom replacement with very similar features to Darktable. There are also a decent amount of tutorials out for this program, so for Mac and Windows users, it’s largely a matter of style / interface appearance. Linux users can download an Applmage version.

RawTherapee Home Page and Download Page Links

ILLUSTRATOR REPLACEMENT OPTIONS:

Adobe Illustrator is a vector graphics program typically used for creating logos and other digital artwork.

Inkscape: Is a full featured vector graphics program with an impressive set of drawing tools and effects. It can do anything Illustrator can do. Some lists claim Inkscape’s interface is fairly dated, but it was recently overhauled a few months ago. Decide for yourselves. There are several tutorials out there but I’m not sure how well they carry over to the new release. Inkscape has Windows, Mac and Linux versions available.

Inkscape Home Page and Download Page Links

Vectr: A web based vector graphics “program” (site). It’s been described as sleek and responsive, with the ability to collaborate online on a project.

Vectr Home Page Link

Gravit Designer: A second impressive web based alternative to Illustrator and Inkscape. Said to be great for UI design.

Gravit Designer Home Page Link

PREMIERE PRO REPLACEMENT OPTIONS:

Adobe Premiere is their video editing software, used by everyone from movie professionals to YouTubers and vloggers.

DaVinci Resolve 16: Full featured video editor that’s capable of even editing 8K definition videos. Professional quality and more than enough for the average YouTuber or video blogger. There is a paid version if you really want to go Hollywood level. Numerous tutorials available, which attests to it’s popularity as a substitute for Premiere. Mac, Windows and Linux versions available for download.

DaVinci Resolve 16 Home Page Link. Button in middle of home page will open a download window.

OpenShot: A little more basic than DaVinci, but still with a wide array of features that include adding as many layers as you need for watermarks, background videos, audio tracks, and so on. Features like video effects, slow motion and time effects are available on this tool. The program has a simple, clean interface, and is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. Plenty of tutorials available also

OpenShot Home Page and Download Page Links

HitFilm Express: Another full service video editor that promises to combine the best of Premiere and After Effects into one package. Some features are only available as paid add-ons though. Available for Windows and Mac, but not Linux. A goodly number of tutorials available for it as well

HitFilm Express Home Page (download link there) and Add-On Store Page Link (so you can see what’s a paid extra)

AFTER EFFECTS REPLACEMENT OPTIONS:

After Effects is for adding visual effects and motion graphics editing. Probably more advanced than most readers will deal with. None the less, there are options out there. Perhaps it’s best to say ONE option that’s free and isn’t tied to a specific video editor.

Natron: Most sites I searched listed this as “having the same basic features as After Effects”, for what that’s worth. SO, it might not be ideal for somebody producing the next Star Wars movie, but I imagine it will be fine for most other folks. It’s site has several community created plug-ins available also. Available for Windows, Mac and Linux. As usual, plenty of tutorials are available via YouTube and elsewhere.

Natron Home Page Link (download available from home page)

AUDITION REPLACEMENT OPTIONS:

Audition is Adobe’s sound editing program. I found three potential replacements here of varying complexity & features

Ardour: The closest thing to a match in terms of features, and capable of supporting almost any audio editing need. As with almost every program I’ve listed today, it’s available for Windows, Mac and Linux. Only a modest amount of tutorials, so it’s probably not suited for a rank novice, but if you’re familiar with sound editing already, the controls are very standard.

Ardour Home Page and Download Page Links

Audacity: Has been around 20 years with it’s latest version released last month. It at least comes close to Ardour in features level. With more tutorials available on YouTube and elsewhere, it may be better suited for somebody with less experience recording and editing audio. Available for Windows, Mac, Linux and other platforms.

Audacity Home Page and Download Page Links

Sodaphonic: A more basic audio editor that’s web based, again making it ideal for people with older PCs or using Chromebooks. Availability of tutorials seems limited however. It should be capable of handling basic audio editing needs.

Sodaphonic Web Page

ANIMATE REPLACEMENT OPTIONS:

Animate, AKA Flash rebranded, is Adobe’s 2D animation software. Once again, I have options for you.

Synfig Studios: described by multiple sites as a great all around animator with powerful tools. It even allows some vector art editing as well. Synfig has it’s own wiki and several tutorials. That makes it an ideal option for beginners or experts. You’ll be asked for a VOLUNTARY donation at the download screen but it’s not required. Available for Windows and Linux, and I believe Mac also, but I was having trouble verifying that.

Synfig Studios Home Page and Download Page Links

Pencil2D: A more simple 2D animation tool with an an interface similar to Animate’s (or so I read). Described as fairly basic but easy to work with. A good option for complete beginners and users who just want to play around with 2D animation occasionally. There are a fair number of tutorials available also despite the program’s simplicity. Available for Windows, Mac and Linux

Pencil2D Home Page and Download Page Links

OpenToonz: A truly professional quality animation tool with numerous features, some provided via free plug-ins. Numerous tutorials available also. It looks like it would have a little bit steeper learning curve than the other two, but give you powerful creative options in the end. While it is supposed to be Windows and Mac compatible, one of it’s plug-ins is available for Windows only. No Linux version.

OpenToonz Home Page Link (downloads available from home page)

INDESIGN REPLACEMENT OPTIONS:

Adobe Indesign is the company’s desktop publishing app; similar to MS Publisher. It’s used primarily for creating posters, flyers, brochures, magazines, newspapers, books etc… I have two options here, depending upon intended use. One is my only paid recommend of this post, but it’s fairly inexpensive.

Scribus: If you’re doing any sort of simple desktop publishing for emails, flyers, magazines, etc… this looks like an absolutely amazing program with a ton of features, and it is free. It makes my copy of Microsoft Publisher look pretty pale by comparison. It’s Scrivener for desktop publishing. Tutorials abound, and it’s available for Windows, Mac, several flavors of Linux and a few other OS as well.

Scribus Home Page and Download Page Links

Scrivener: If you’re writing a book, even a short one, this is THE way to go. You’d need Microsoft Office’s most expensive edition to do everything that Scrivener does. You can even organize notes on characters, locations, etc… right in the program, all the way up to detailed storyboarding. The price has currently been bumped up to $50. Not as cheap as it used to be, but still worth the investment, and still less than half the price of MS Office Home and Student Edition. Available for Mac, Windows and iOS. Tutorials abound also.

Scrivener Home Page and Download Page Links

ACROBAT REPLACEMENT OPTIONS:

Here is the one program where replacement options are fairly limited. PDF readers are a dime a dozen, and even most browsers can open PDF files. If you’re trying to create a PDF file, Microsoft Word and similar programs will allow you to save your work in PDF format.

Actually EDITING a PDF file like the full version of Acrobat will do… that’s more limited.

There are a few free options though:

First, the previously mentioned Inkscape can be used to do a moderate degree of editing of PDFs.

Microsoft Word (2013 or newer) will also let you edit a PDF, *if* you convert it to a DocX format first. Convert, edit and save back as a PDF. To be honest, I’ve had mixed results with the program’s ability to do this properly.

LibreOffice’s “Draw” program will let you do some PDF editing as well.

Sedja Online PDF Editor: This is a mostly full service PDF editor that’s web based. There are a handful of limitations to keep your PDF work free however. PDFs have to be smaller than 200 pages, less than 50 megs in size, and you can only work on three PDFs per hour. Beyond that, it seems to be able to do most everything Acrobat can do. Uploading PDFs from other websites is not an issue either.

Sedja PDF Editor Website Link

PDFelement: I could describe this as the least bad option as opposed to a good option. PDFelement does everything Acrobat will, BUT unless you’re paying the annual subscription fee, the program watermarks every page of your document. Annoying, but that’s the trade off for the free version of the program that truly will keep up with Acrobat.

PDFelement Home Page (download links on home page)

Analyzing A News Story for Bias:

Time for another Solutions Saturday. If we’re ever going to get to a point where we act like a civilized society again, we HAVE to start approaching the media (and public officials) with a discerning eye. With that in mind, I want to dissect a recent NBC Article about conspiracy theorists and the coronavirus.

First, I’d like to take a moment to quickly clarify a couple of my last posts. I am NOT among those who believe that the coronavirus is fake. I’ve said all along I believe it’s real. I do have SOME question as to how dangerous it truly is. At this point I also strongly disagree with some of the draconian, fascist measures being taken by SOME government officials in the name of protecting people. I think at this point we CAN begin to carefully open things back up in responsible ways. I also disdain the censorship and ridicule being spread by the media and government.

With that said, let’s get to the article from NBC. First, a link to the story.

‘What are we doing this for?’: Doctors are fed up with conspiracies ravaging ERs – NBC May 6th, 2020

The Headline:

We’re led into the story with a sensationalist, yellow journalism style headline. We’re led to believe that conspiracy theorists are somehow disrupting or clogging Emergency Rooms at hospitals. The trouble is, if you read the story, there’s absolutely NOTHING about that happening. The headline is a complete LIE.

If you read the story carefully, what you’ll find is that the first portion of it actually details the stories of a couple of doctors trying to reason with conspiracy theorists on social media, presumably on their off time. If they’re social network debating at work, as paragraph four suggests, you have wonder why they are doing so instead of helping patients.

The Lead In Picture:

Here’s another game of deception. If you don’t look closely at the small print description beneath the photo (in the story), you would assume that the protest being pictured is in front of a HOSPITAL. That’s what the headline said, right? Well, the picture is actually taken in front of the Connecticut governor’s house.

The paragraphs that follow are designed to subtly give the reader the impression that it IS in front of a hopsital though. Not only that, but the sign in the picture saying “Fake Crisis” is also used by the story to tie anyone disagreeing with lockdowns to conspiracy theories.

How do I reach that conclusion? First hand experience with the media during the Atlanta Olympic Games. Note the sign says. “Fake CRISIS”, NOT fake disease. That person may very well feel that the disease is real, but not quite as dangerous as it’s made out to be. I can certainly argue that point statistically myself. They likely also simply want to return to work. At NO point does the story interview this person to find out what they believe or want. We’re simply left with the implied assertion that they’re a rabid conspiracy nut.

Note the flag on the car participating in the drive-by portion of the protest too. This was included in the shot to connect patriotism to deranged thinking also.

CONTINUING THE STORY…

We read how painful this social media interaction is for these doctors. At NO point does anybody bring up the the nearly thirty year old maxim for avoiding this kind of crap. “DON’T FEED THE TROLLS”! If you don’t want the drama, walk away! Nobody is forcing these poor abused doctors to get into pissing contests with these trolls.

THEN we suddenly make the leap to other doctors sharing “similar” experiences of treating patients with COVID-19. The story cites ONE specific case of an idiot ending up in the ER after drinking bleach. The article doesn’t even specifically say it was in an effort to prevent or treat COVID-19, nor does it quote the patient as saying that was the reason, just that he did it.

The story THEN points out that this happened just DAYS after President Trump suggested injecting disinfectants to kill the disease. The story completely fails to mention that Trump was being sarcastic and trolling the media.

THAT said, I will admit that was another classic Trump foot in mouth moment. He should have realized that:

1) the media would run with it regardless.

2) There’s always some idiot that will do any stupid thing a politician suggests. Remember the guy who was arrested for shooting a shotgun into the air after Vice President Biden suggested that was all that was needed to chase off burglars?

We have to get our Trump bashing in the story somehow though, right? Speaking of which, the second picture is a perfect example of stereotyping Trump and anyone who supports him. As with the first picture, there was no attempt at objective journalism and asking the man pictured what his exact beliefs were, nor did they really show anyone else at the Reopen Oregon Rally.

The picture was about taking Trump supporters and people who want to return to work,and connecting them to conspiracy theories and deranged thinking. The media used to do the same thing with the TEA party also. Taxed Enough Already is what it stood for. All most members wanted was better accounting of government spending and reduction of waste.

Getting back to the story, the next paragraph goes:

“Folks delaying seeking care or, taking the most extreme case, somebody drinking bleach as a result of structural factors just underlines the fact that we have not protected the public from disinformation,” Maru said.

Yet there’s no specific cases mentioned, even in the case of the bleach drinker, where this DID happen. At best, it’s elementary school level sloppy writing. At worst, it’s complete BS. No doubt there are cases where this has happened, but the story doesn’t even come close to providing proof that it’s serious to the point of breaking ERs.

They don’t even let the doctor define “structural factors”. Note any time you see vague euphemisms like this, it’s because the speaker or author is trying to dance around exact wording to make a case that couldn’t otherwise be made. The NBC reporter DOES go on to define “structural factors” on their own as Social Media and YouTube.

The Remainder of the Story:

What follows is several more paragraphs highlighting some of the most outrageous conspiracy theories out there, rationalizing why people need to censored for the public good. We get precious little facts, just innuendo that anything disagreeing with the official line is bad. That includes emotional manipulation like this:

“It scares me more than anything that there are people who are basically controlled — and in the same way they feel they’re fighting against that control,” he said. “They go to YouTube, where they’re really being controlled, and they don’t realize it. That’s what’s scary.”

What you get from the remainder is a ton of rationalization for MORE censorship when social media and YouTube are already banning anything that even remotely disagrees with the WHO and it’s Chinese masters. The twitter video I had posted in a previous post that showed the WHO official hanging up on a reporter after being told that Taiwan was not China being a perfect example. It’s GONE now.

How was THAT any threat to anyone’s health at all? All it did was call attention to a corrupt bureaucrat whose loyalty laid more with China than his agency’s stated goals.

The Bill Gates conspiracy theory never explains why Gates & friends would patent an earlier version of the Coronavirus either. No, I don’t believe it was to make COVID-19. However, patenting a disease is sick first of all. Secondly, it blocks anybody else from researching it or engineering a cure or vaccine based on the disease’s genetic structure.

That’s a far cry from trying to kill off people with a new virus, but it is filthy greed and capitalism at it’s absolute worst.

Likewise, the Wuhan lab thing is quickly discounted as a wild hoax. Understandable right? China hasn’t lied to us about anything COVID-19, such as it not being able to affect anyone under 20, right? The lab may not be a weapons lab, but it’s a lab. If it doesn’t exist, as NBC claims, how do we explain these stories:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/04/14/state-department-cables-warned-safety-issues-wuhan-lab-studying-bat-coronaviruses/

https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/06/asia/coronavirus-china-wuhan-lab-origins-explainer-intl-hnk/index.html

https://www.thedailybeast.com/leaked-cable-shows-us-officials-flagged-safety-issues-at-wuhan-lab-years-ago

Those from The Washington Post, CNN and the Daily Beast. None of whom are friendly to Trump. The lab story is all a hoax though.

Ironically, the story ends with one of the doctors swearing off social media, after two separate yet completely unsubstantiated claims of organized harassment of doctors. What it does mention is that the doctor was greeted by New York City’s nightly banging of pots and pans and other noise making as a salute to health care workers as the interview was wrapping up. Some attack on doctors, huh?

What’s Missing:

What wasn’t said in the story? Aside from any real evidence for the claim in the headline…

  1. That we have civil liberties in this country that are supposed to protect freedom of speech
  2. That there are already multiple variations on fraud laws for people touting fake cures for anything.
  3. That there’s any difference between people wanting to return to work and conspiracy theorists.
  4. That just because the WHO and China calls something a lie does NOT mean it’s so.
  5. That dissent and peaceful disagreement are SUPPOSED to be the hallmarks of a free society and healthy democracy
  6. That conspiracy theories arise because people instinctively know when they’re being bullshitted by their so-called leaders.
  7. Any sort of objective look at such a dissenting opinion.
  8. Some small percentage of idiots will believe anything no matter how much you try to convince them otherwise or limit their access to information. Limiting that access only proves them right in their minds.

In short, it’s largely just an effort to discredit the alternative media, and tie conservatives to whackadoo ideas. Journalism is supposed to be reporting facts documented with supporting evidence, NOT emotion based manipulation.

CONCLUSION:

So there you have it. Some of the manipulation is pretty subtle, like the messages NBC was trying to send with the two pictures included in the story. Some of it was as subtle as a freight train, like the story’s efforts to tie Trump to the conspiracy theorists.

Regardless there was nothing truly supporting the claim made in the headline. Just enough implied superficial connections to get somebody skimming the article to go blindly along with it.

If you really want to break free, you have to read in depth and analyze what’s both implied and outright said. Skimming is shutting down your brain and letting somebody else do the thinking for you. You’ll always be led around by the nose that way.

Focus on the Positive and What You CAN Do

My first actual “Solutions Saturday” post since reorganizing the blog a few weeks back. I’ve seen several really good blog posts recently with advice on what to do while stuck at home, and keeping a positive mindset.

Sheltering in place has admittedly been less of an issue for me than many people out there. I have a bad back and neck, and while our income allows us to live in modest comfort, it doesn’t allow for many splurges. That means I’ve spent quite a bit of time at home the last handful of years. I’ve adapted.

After reading over those blog posts, I think I can better put into words what’s helped me survive.

OVERALL ATTITUDE:

Your mindset is going to be the biggest factor in how you deal with sheltering in place. You can look at it as prison, OR an adventure, vacation and / or chance to do new things. The one thing nobody can take away from you without your consent is how you choose to react to things.

Focus on the positive. You hear it from self-improvement gurus all the time, and for good reason.

MAINTAIN YOUR PERSPECTIVE:

Keeping things in perspective helps. Remember that while this outbreak is serious, it’s not as bad as the news is making it out. In just a matter of a few weeks, we should be seeing it dying out also.

FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN DO, NOT WHAT’S OFF LIMITS:

As an example, I could have focused all this time on not eating out as much as we’d like. Instead, I took the opportunity to become an even better cook. My food blog posts are now one of the most popular parts of my blog. I can out-do most of the local restaurants also, and for less money. Think of the fun of being able to wow friends and family with your cooking. Work? Yes, but anything worth having requires it.

Getting away from my own situation, there are other alternatives. Much like finding writing inspiration, it just requires opening your eyes to the possibilities.

Read a book, or watch that movie that you never got to see in theaters

Spend more quality time with your kids. It’ll help all of you feel better about this mess. They WILL remember it down the road also.

Take up a new hobby like cooking or photography

Pick up a new skill also. There are several free online classes to learn how to code for example. Who knows? It could even lead to a career change or new opportunities

If you have a patio or back yard, spend some time there so you’re getting some sunshine. Work in your garden if you have one.

Take care of any DIY projects you’ve got around the house. Doing something productive IS important psychologically and will give you an emotional boost.

Much like the last option, there’s cleaning also. It’s not fun work BUT you have to admit, it feels good to be in a clean house.

Yes, it’s OK to take some down time to self care or recharge the batteries also, just don’t wallow in it. 🙂

CONTROL THE MESSAGE:

This is one I’ve been pushing in my blog for a long time now. I’m talking about what and where you take in relating to news of the world. The media is all gloom, doom and hysteria. It sells papers as the old cliche goes.

Unlike some people, I don’t advocate a complete shutting down here. I believe that just leads to an uninformed public. Consider the source though, and their motives. Not just the media itself but the people they interview.

Likewise, actively seek out the GOOD stories out there. All around us there are tales of selfless health care workers and first responders, people rising up to help strangers, city wide events to applaud health care workers and show the strength of the human spirit. outpourings of donations to charities, etc…

I freely admit that last one is something I need to do more of. I get so caught up in fighting the BS out there that I sometimes forget to look for the good as well. There IS plenty of it to see if we just look. 🙂

CONCLUSION:

There you have it. Those are just a few ideas also. Use your creativity to find others. Look for ways to entertain and improve yourself, find things to do with your kids like building a fort out of blankets and couch cushions (credit to Sarah Krewis for that specific idea). Focus on what you have and put the rest out of your mind.

Remember, this too shall pass. Sooner than you think also.