Great Alternative to Adobe Illustrator

I’ve been using Adobe Illustrator for perhaps 16 years.  It’s been a trusty workhorse for me.   My old version of Illustrator stopped running well on new versions of MacOS – so I had to upgrade and move to their subscription model.  Since then, I’ve been trying to find another program to use.  I hated seeing the £16 leaving by bank account each month – especially when I’ve haven’t used it for a few weeks while I’ve been on holiday.

Finally – A good alternative to Adobe Illustrator... I needed a program which works on Mac and Windows.  I’ve tried the free programs like Inkscape (I love open source stuff) but it just isn’t as good enough.  Finally, I found Affinity Designer .  It’s a modern updated / rebranded version of a program called DrawPlus that’s actually need around for donkey’s years.   It costs around £50 and so it quickly pays for itself.   The really cool thing that they’ve done is make a trilogy of three graph programs which intergrate really well with each another to make a really cool workflow.  However, this post isn’t really about that.  It’s about their alternative to Illustrator.

Here is screenshot:

I mostly use Affinity Designer to create marketing material, patent drawings or design documents.  I’ve been using it for a while now and here are difference between Affinity Designer and Adobe Illustrator that I’ve noticed….

Improvements Over Adobe Illustrator

It Feels The Same – Firstly, it’s worth pointing out that 99% of the application feels the same.   The quick keys (such as “v”,”a”,”space-bar”) are all the same.  It feels natural (unlike swapping from Photoshop to GIMP which everyone tries at some point and then gives up).  The UI is basically the same.

Copy and Paste – This might seem slightly picky and random but something that I have always hated about Adobe Illustrator was the copy and paste function.   Illustrator would put the pasted object somewhere seemly random on the document.  With Affinitiy Designer it puts the pasted object on the top of the object you are copying.  The first time it happened, I searched around for the object and couldn’t spot it!  Copying the new object on top of the old one is excellent because you don’t have to search and often I find that I want the new object next to the first thing anyhow.

Selection – In Illustrator anything is in a dragged out selection box is selected.  I used to find this really annoying because you might just catch a tiny bit of an object in the selection box and then you have do a shift-click to deselect it.  In Designer only things which are entirely in the selection are sellected.  This is much much better usability.  I love it.

Disavantages Over Adobe Illustrator

Speed – Affinity Designer claims to be really quick.  I use it on both a Mac and Windows.  On my Mac it seem fine but personally, I don’t find it quite as quick as Illustrator on my Windows machine.  I’m sure that there is way to speed it up but out the box it seems to be the case.

Patterns – There isn’t a fill pattern library.  (Yes, this is hard to find in Illustrator but at least it exists).

Not everythings in the menu – Affinity Designer has loads of features and a context based menu.  This is great but you have to know what the icons on the menu do.  For example, it’s hard to find out how to evenly distribute objects until you find the button.  Which is here:

I will keep updating this post as I find more differences.  I hope this helps someone.

 

 

 

 

 

Another Short Canoe Camping Trip Along Thames

I thought it might be worth putting up my notes of a two-day canoe and camping trip that I did with some friends just south of Oxford.  Our kids are between 6 and 8.  They totally loved it.

The overall plan is to go from Clifton Hampden to Shillingford.

Camping Day's Lock Oxford

Day 1 – Clifton Hampden to Days Lock – 4km (approx)

You can get into the water very quickly at Clifton Hampden.  You can park next to the Church and carry the boats down to the water’s edge.  I then moved the car to another car parking space (so that the Church has the parking spaces available on a Sunday).

It’s a lovely paddle down passed lots of beautiful houses and fields.  It’s about 1.5 – 2hrs slow paddling.  As you near Day’s Lock, you can see the Wittenham Clumps in the distance.  The lock itself is motorised, and you don’t need a lock key.  The campsite is below the lock.  It is on an island and you can only enter from a small platform.

 

This is the entrance to the campsite.

The campsite is well equipped.  It has toilets, bins and water.  It also has a shower (but no hot water because the power was off).  The ground was quite flat.  You can’t officially have a campfire (apparently there are by-laws which prohibit them).  The campsite also feels a little hemmed in.  You have to get a key from the lock keeper to walk off the island because there is an imposing gate to keep people out.  Frankly, it didn’t feel as welcoming as it could have done to me.

There is a beautiful place to swim in shallow water in the NNW part of the island.  You can step out the boats (while in the river), tie them up and go for a swim.

Day 2 – Days Lock to Shillingford – approx 4km.

We headed up the Wittenham Clumps in the morning for breakfast.  The kids loved playing in the field, rolling down the hill and looking at the view.

We then pottered down the river to Shillingford.  Again, it took about 1.5 to 2 hours.

It’s pretty straightforward to get out at the Shillingford bridge hotel.  They have parking and you can grab a cheeky pint too.   Hope this inspires someone to do this route!

Extracting data from Brother P-Touch Label Printer .lbx Files.

We recently had to extract barcode data from a large directory of .lbx files, which is the file format used by Brother P-Touch Label Printer software. We could have found the software, opened each file in turn and cut and pasted the data into a spreadsheet, but this didn’t seem very efficient.

Opening the files in a text editor revealed that .lbx files are actually standard zip files – if you change the extension from .lbx to .zip you can open them up to reveal two files inside – label.xml and prop.xml, both standard XML files. The contents of the label can then be found by opening the label.xml file and looking for a node called ‘pt:data’.

We wrote a quick and dirty PHP 5.2 script that extracts all the label data and displays it in a basic html table:

// Eg my_web_server_dir/data_dir/labels
$labelsDirectory = 'labels';

echo '<table>';

foreach (new DirectoryIterator($labelsDirectory) as $fileInfo) {

if ($fileInfo->isDot() || (!stripos($fileInfo->getFilename(),'lbx'))) {
continue;
}

$zip = zip_open($labelsDirectory . '/' . $fileInfo->getFilename());

do {

$entry = zip_read($zip);

if (!is_resource($entry)){
continue;
}

$entryName = zip_entry_name($entry);

if (trim((string)$entryName) != 'label.xml') {
continue;
}

$entryContent = zip_entry_read($entry, zip_entry_filesize($entry));

$xml = simplexml_load_string($entryContent);

$matches = $xml->xpath('//pt:data');

$barcode = '????';

if (isset($matches[0])) {
$barcode = $matches[0]->__toString();
}

echo '<tr><td>' . str_replace('_', ' ', str_replace('.lbx', '', $fileInfo->getFilename())) . '</td><td>' . $barcode . '</td></tr>';

} while ($entry);

}

echo '</table>';

How To Connect Phone To Mazda Mx3 via bluetooth

My friend has a reasonably new Mazda MX3.  Unfortunately she could not get her phone to connect to the Mazda’s bluetooth.  The main problem was that the Mazda bluetooth never appeared as a device on her iPhone.   She asked me to help and we followed the instructions in the manual.  The instructions for connecting a phone via bluetooth are:

  • Get your phone out and enable bluetooth
  • Navigate through the menu on the car
  • Select ‘BT Setup’ – annoying the last item in the menu
  • Select ‘Pair Device’
  • You are then offered a pin (by default 0000).
  • You should then see the car appear as a device on your phone (by default Mazda).
  • You then theoretically click on Mazda and then enter the pin.
  • You should then be connected…

The problem for us was that the Mazda never appeared as a device.   This means you can’t select it on the phone and the car just shows an ‘Err’ message during the BT setup process.   If you Google around for solutions, they all say you need to reset you whole car by disconnecting the battery or go to a dealer.  Well, who wants to do that!

The Solution

The solution we found was to setup the phone through the voice command system.   So, this is how to connect your phone to a Mazda via bluetooth.

  • Hold down the phone button on the steering wheel.
  • The car should go into ‘Listening’ mode and you then need to speak to it.
  • Say ‘Pairing options’
  • Then follow the instructions all the way through to the end which finishes with giving a name for your phone (you can make this up).  Please note – don’t give up too early (even if you think you have completed) because unless you name you phone it won’t be able to connect.

Voila – you should finally have connected your iPhone to your Mazda bluetooth.  I hope this helps someone.