Automattic Meetup 2019

I just got back from our annual Automattic Grand Meetup in Orlando, Florida. We had over 800 employees from across the globe, suddenly filling 1 hotel for the week. I love building things in person with people I usually only communicate with via text (and the occasional GIF). It can be a bit overwhelming, but I always walk away with a few new friends.

Speaking of that, this was my first time working closely with my new team. I used to only support Jetpack, but now I participate in public support for Jetpack, WordPress.com, WooCommerce, Akismet, VaultPress, Gravatar, WordAds, Crowdsignal, and Simplenote! Our team is almost evenly spread across timezones, so we don’t often get a chance to be online together, much less in the same room for a week. 🙂

We built and learned quite a bit, and though we have no specific announcements yet, please watch the blogs of the above products for exciting news. Oh, and did you know we acquired Tumblr? So, the Tumblr Blog too! As for myself, I have a few photos to share:

In case you’re wondering, that last photo is of our very talented band of Automatticians.

For more photos, stop by the a8cgm tag on WordPress.com and on Instagram too.

If any of this looks interesting to you, we’re always hiring!

Rewatch – Batman: The Animated Series

Of course the first animated series I review here is going to be Batman: The Animated Series, a 1992 children’s animated series that has aged incredibly well. There series is dark, artistic, thematically dense, and unlike anything on children’s television at the time. Collecting numerous awards and nominations throughout its run, Batman: The Animated Series redefined Batman and many other characters for generations.

Kevin Conroy voiced Batman and Bruce Wayne, and started the trend of considering Bruce Wayne as a mask that Batman wore, rather than the other way around. Wayne had a high-pitched and jovial voice, while Batman had a lower pitched rough voice. When alone (or amongst trusted friends) in Wayne Manor or the Batcave, you heard Batman’s voice, whether he was in costume or not. Bruce Wayne’s voice only came out in public when he was out of costume or on the phone as Bruce Wayne. He was Batman, and Bruce Wayne was simply a disguise that he wore for the public.

Mark Hamill voiced The Joker, and quickly became a fan-favorite Joker for a whole generation, perhaps more. Arleen Sorkin voiced Harley Quinn, the series was actually the introduction for the now fan-favorite character. Michael Ansara voiced Mister Freeze, a haunting voice that I will always and forever read his character with. Adam West (yes, the 1960’s Batman), voiced The Gray Ghost, a television hero from Wayne’s childhood. These are just my favorites, but there are many more.

This clip is from the Mask of the Phantasm spin-off film, but it’s the best quality I could find with both Conroy and Hamill as their characters.

Most of the episodes are self-contained, there are a few two-parters, and one or two that reference previous episodes, but it’s generally safe to start at any point and skip around. I recommend starting with the show’s third episode and introduction of Mister Freeze, Heart of Ice. If you’re still wondering how you’d enjoy a children’s show, this is the episode that will change your mind.

Batman: The Animated Series had two spin-off films. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm hit theaters, and Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero was direct-to-video. Both are definitely worth watching too. As for the show itself, you can stream Batman: The Animated Series on DC Universe, or buy the complete series on iTunes for $79.99. Batman: The Animated Series is a genre-defining success that still holds up to this day, and I hope you agree!

Rewatch: Generation X

Well, this is an odd one. Generation X wasn’t exactly a TV series, but it was supposed to be one. Instead, it’s a failed TV pilot episode re-packaged as a TV film. As far as I can tell, it aired only once on February 20, 1996, and it was never released on home video. Perhaps most notably, it’s the first live action attempt for the X-Men franchise, predating the first live action X-Men film by 4 years and the first live action X-Men TV series by 11 years.

If you aren’t familiar with the Generation X comic series, you’d be forgiven for thinking this wasn’t part of the X-Men franchise, that is if you just missed the few incredibly short references to the Xavier School for Gifted Children. All of your fan-favorites are here! Banshee (Jeremy Ratchford), The White Queen (Finola Hughes), Jubilee (Heather McComb), Skin (Agustin Rodriguez), M (Amarilis), Mondo (Bumper Robinson), Buff (Suzanne Davis), Refrax (Randall Slavin), and Dr. Russell Tresh (Matt Frewer)! Not ringing any bells? Yeah, I understand. In fact, Buff and Refrax are totally new characters subbing for Husk and Chamber due to special effects budget concerns. The standout is of course Frewer as Dr. Tresh, as there is an incredible eccentricity to his portrayal that makes Jim Carrey’s Riddler look tame.

Despite a cast of mostly industry unknowns, there are actually no bad actors in this TV film, just bad choices. To name just one, there are so many Dutch angles that I wondered if the production could only afford a broken tripod. I’m not sure what director Jack Sholder’s goal was here, but if he wanted to disorient the audience for almost the entire TV film, it worked! Roger Ebert once said of Battlefield Earth, “The director, Roger Christian, has learned from better films that directors sometimes tilt their cameras, but he has not learned why.” I’m getting the same feeling here.

Generation X is not a terrible TV film, it’s actually one of the more entertaining TV films I’ve ever seen. If you’re looking to fill an hour and a half of your time, get some friends together and watch it! You can watch Generation X via the YouTube video embedded above or download it from The Internet Archive.

Rewatch: Stargate Atlantis

Stargate Atlantis is technically the second spin-off of Stargate SG-1 (read the Rewatch review here). Stargate Infinity came first, but it’s not great and largely no longer considered canon, so I like to think of Atlantis as the first true spin-off.

The show premiered in 2004 during the 8th season of SG-1, so a lot of the universe’s ground work was already laid. They’re able to focus exclusively on the new worlds, technology, and cultures of the Pegasus Galaxy without getting bogged down with explaining previous Stargate lore. The show initially followed the team of Joe Flanigan as Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, David Hewlett as Doctor Rodney McKay, Rainbow Sun Francks as Lieutenant Aiden Ford, and Rachel Luttrell as local recruit Teyla Emmagan, all under the leadership of Torri Higginson as Doctor Elizabeth Weir. The series begins with the discovery of Atlantis in the far-away Pegasus Galaxy, and we very quickly and accidentally awaken the Wraith, the primary villain of the series, who literally feed on the humans. It’s time for our heroes to quickly get to work both exploring the galaxy and stopping the enemy they inspired, which when you put it that way, sounds a lot like SG-1, and that’s a very good thing here.

Like SG-1, the cast is great. Also like SG-1, there were some notable cast changes during the entire 5-season run. In season 2, Francks’s character is essentially replaced by Jason Momoa as Ronon Dex (though you may know him as Aquaman these days), and in season 4, Higginson’s character is essentially replaced by Amanda Tapping as Colonel Samantha Carter (who transitioned over from SG-1 when the series ended).

And finally, in season 5, Tapping left the show and was replaced by Robert Picardo as Richard Woolsey. You may remember him as The Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager, and speaking of doctors, Jewel Staite as Doctor Jennifer Keller was upgraded to the main cast this season.

Compared to SG-1, the villains don’t feel as developed. You’ve got the Wraith, they’re basically vampires who routinely conquer the galaxy by feeding on most of the humans, slumber for decades, and do it all over again. They’re bad because that’s bad. They aren’t pretending to be a variety of established gods from our past, like the Goa’uld, they just feed on humans and we obviously don’t like that. You’ve got your re-imagined Replicators, in which they actually have a more believable origin story, but not much else. You’ve got your evil Asgard, who only show up for two episodes. And, finally, you’ve got your variety box of bad humans doing bad things.

Despite those shortcomings though, there are some fascinating individual villains, in particular Christopher Heyerdahl as Todd the Wraith, who forms an often tenuous alliance with Atlantis when the Wraith hives start fighting each other over their food supply. Wraith fighting Wraith is definitely advantageous for both sides, but they always know where they really stand with each other, and Todd has a solid wit when it comes to calling our heroes’ bluffs. Every episode with Todd guarantees plenty of delightful dialogue sparring. And it’s always fun when Robert Davi shows up as Commander Acastus Kolya, a mostly one-note character, but one who is played with a captivating singular conviction.

As I mentioned earlier, the cast is great, but a few really stand out. Hewlett really shines as McKay, and has the most character growth throwout the series, along with some impressive solo episodes. He grows from a cowardly, selfish, know-it-all scientist; to a cowardly, selfish, know-it-all scientist who is happy to return fire with the enemy and take charge of rescuing his team. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but if you were to watch the first and last episodes back to back, it’s quite a range given how Hewlett handles the character. Picardo shines if only for one brief season as Woolsey. He started in SG-1 as a paper-pushing policy-enforcing overseer, but once he’s actually put in charge of Atlantis, he begins to learn that policies don’t have all the answers. His growth is similarly subtle, but Picardo again puts some impressive range into it. And last, but not least, David Nykl as Radek Zelenka. Zelenka is often paired with McKay as his top subordinate, perhaps equal, perhaps even his better. He’s not part of the main cast, but he almost always manages to save the day when he’s around, and he presents a delightfully humble balance to McKay.

Stargate Atlantis ran for 5 seasons, and though it was canceled before it could be given the ending its creators intended, the ending it did receive wasn’t a cliffhanger and offered a lot of closure. Stargate Universe followed in 2009 as the final spin-off of SG-1, and I’ll get around to reviewing it as soon as I’m done rewatching it. You can stream Stargate Atlantis on Hulu or buy the complete series on iTunes for just $49.99. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is the newest themed land inside Disneyland Park. Sarah and I visited a few days ago with a few friends, and for a Star Wars fan, the experience is simply breathtaking. Imagineers have truly outdone themselves here, as Galaxy’s Edge has a look that does not match any other land in the park, it’s hard to describe, but it doesn’t look fake. It really feels like you’re walking through Black Spire Outpost.

The first things you’ll probably notice as you enter Galaxy’s Edge are that the buildings are suitably weathered and most are unmarked (you’ll need the Disneyland Mobile App to get around, or just try every automatic door), most products in the outdoor market area have a very handmade look to them (like they were built by the folks who run the shops), ships are docked throughout, Stormtroopers are often patrolling the area, and the official playlist really ties it all together.

In particular, the Stormtroopers actually interact and improvise with the crowd, which is not something I’ve seen in any other part of Disneyland, outside of scheduled (and mostly scripted) events. This video isn’t mine, but it’s adorable:

If you’re planning to visit Galaxy’s Edge soon, here are my recommendations:

  • Get to Disneyland when it opens, and visit Galaxy’s Edge first. You’ll want to experience walking through it while attendance is low.
  • If you want to even see the inside of Oga’s Cantina, book your reservation in the app as soon as you enter the park. We weren’t interested in drinking (yes, they serve themed cocktails, beer, and wine) at 8 AM, so we made the mistake of waiting. Every time we checked until close, reservations were booked 4 hours out, so we had to skip this one.
  • If the wait for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run is under 90 minutes, get in line! It’s worth it, there’s no FastPass yet, and the line can get up to 3 hours.
  • Eat in Galaxy’s Edge. The themed food is a bit unusual compared to the rest of Disneyland, but it’s the best food in the park by far.
  • You’ll want to build your own Lightsaber (why else did you come?), so book your reservation for Savi’s Workshop in the app as soon as you enter the park. Reservations are not as competitive as the Cantina (due to the $200 cover charge, I assume), but you won’t want to miss this. Contrary to rumors spread by people who obviously haven’t even been to Galaxy’s Edge, the parts are metal and the final product has a very solid weight. If you don’t believe me, find any video of the experience, and you’ll inevitably hear someone drop a part.

Photos don’t do Galaxy’s Edge justice, especially mine, but here’s a small gallery:

If you live in California, or you’re planning to visit soon, visit Disneyland and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. You won’t be disappointed!

Rewatch: Stargate SG-1

Stargate SG-1 is the best and most balanced series to have ever aired on television. Ok, so some of you who have followed me for a very long time are thinking, “He’s making the same mistake he did on Splash Panel, reviewing the best too early on!” and you’re right. I guess I just find it hard to move forward with my mind constantly drafting the review of my favorite, so it’s time to get this out there.

Beginning in 1997, Stargate SG-1 was more or less a sequel to 1994’s original Stargate film. There are some notable small differences for whatever reason, but the point is, if you’re a fan of the original movie, there’s no reason you wouldn’t be a fan of this series too. It expanded the mythos, characters, and the overall Stargate universe for 10 whole seasons, 2 straight-to-DVD films, and 2 successful spin-offs. If you were sad that there was never a film sequel to Stargate, this is far better than you could have ever hoped for.

The series follows Colonel Jack O’Neill and Doctor Daniel Jackson from the original film, joined by new characters Captain Samantha Carter and Teal’c. The series kicks off quickly when we learn that Ra of the original film was not the only alien posing as a god in our galaxy. In fact, his entire race, the Goa’uld, make quite the habit of it. Stargate Command quickly assembles several SG teams to both explore our galaxy’s vast Stargate network, and to take down these false gods whenever they can. Our main cast makes up SG-1, in particular Teal’c joins during the first episode. Cementing the show’s premise, he’s a former Jaffa First Prime of Apophis (like a second-in-command), who turns on his master when he realizes that SG-1 may be the first who can convince everyone that the Goa’uld who have dominated the galaxy are nothing more than false gods.

The cast takes about a season to really mesh together, but that may very well be a story element too, as Carter and Teal’c really haven’t worked with O’Neill and Jackson before, and O’Neill and Jackson weren’t exactly the best of friends either. There really isn’t one stand-out actor here, Richard Dean Anderson as O’Neill, Michael Shanks as Jackson, Amanda Tapping as Carter, and Christopher Judge as Teal’c are all outstanding and bring constantly believable depth and emotion to their characters.

Where Stargate SG-1 shines for all 10 seasons is its balance, and I really have never seen a show balanced this well since. It manages to maintain long over-arching plots with constantly returning enemies (Cliff Simon as Ba’al is a personal favorite) alongside fun stand-alone episodes with relative ease, and much of that is due to the engaging characters. Like a good book series, you aren’t watching the next episode based on its synopsis, you’re watching to see what these characters do next. The world that the Stargate film crafted seemingly never stops growing, and you will easily find yourself watching all of it. There is no “best episode” in this case, it’s simply a wonderfully engaging experience.

As with any long-running series, there are cast changes, but surprisingly not many for a series of this length. Shanks left the show after season 5, replaced by Corin Nemic as Jonas Quinn, who was then replaced by Shanks when he returned in season 7.

Anderson retired after season 9, replaced by Ben Browder as Lieutenant Colonel Cameron Mitchell for the final season. And if you thought Browder wasn’t enough to bring back the Farscape nostalgia, don’t worry, Claudia Black also joins the team in the final season as maybe-reformed and possibly ex-thief Vala Mal Doran. The incredibly low cast turnover really helps you engage with the characters for the entire length of the series.

Besides running for 10 seasons, Stargate SG-1 was followed by Stargate: The Ark of Truth and Stargate: Continuum, both straight-to-DVD films which wrapped up the show’s remaining plots. Two successful spin-offs followed the show, which I’ll get around to reviewing eventually. Stargate Atlantis (read the Rewatch review here) began in 2004 during Stargate SG-1’s 8th season, running for 5 seasons, and Stargate Universe followed in 2009 for 2 seasons. 2002’s animated Stargate Infinity is loosely considered a spin-off and fun if you have kids to watch it with. 2018’s Stargate Origins completely ignores any continuity established by any of the television shows and is actually pretty terrible.

You can stream Stargate SG-1 for free on Amazon Video if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber or buy the complete series on iTunes for just $99.99. If you love military science fiction, if you love long-running and engaging characters, or even if you just love the original Stargate film, watch at least two episodes of Stargate SG-1, and I guarantee you’ll be sufficiently locked in for the rest of it.

Rewatch – Earth: Final Conflict

I grew up loving Earth: Final Conflict, so when I decided to start rewatching shows that I grew up with, this was naturally one of the first. Many years later, it still holds a lot of complex feelings about what it meant and especially what it could have meant if it wasn’t utterly sabotaged from season 2 onwards.

Like most people who claim to love this series, I loved season 1, and I barely tolerated the other 4. TV was different back in the late 1990’s, you generally stuck with a show until it ended simply because there was nothing better on, and that’s not saying much. The best episode, Sandoval’s Run, happens half-way through season 1, and that’s never a good sign. The show was based on some notes found after Gene Roddenberry passed away (you know, Star Trek’s Gene Roddenberry), and brought to fruition by his wife, Majel Barrett. Roddenberry’s plans clearly ran out when season 1 ended, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The show starts three years after a seemingly benevolent alien species (the Taelons) make first contact with Earth. They have improved almost all facets of our lives, from agriculture to medicine, though some still doubt their sincerity. In this sense, the series walks a middle line perfectly. The Taelons seem to have Humanity’s best interest a heart, yet they also have difficulty comprehending Humanity in general, like our need to explore the stars. “Why risk your lives when we can simply give you the information you seek?” You can see how that rings altruistic, but also with a hint of “What are they hiding?” The Resistance, on the other hand, surely must have our best interests at heart, yet they’re also lead by a “by any means necessary” extremist. An online marketing campaign at the time, even had you sign up for an account and newsletter either with the Taelons or the Resistance.

The star of the show is undoubtedly Leni Parker as Da’an, the Taelon Companion to North America. She brings the character to life in way that I have never seen before nor since. To this date, it is the single greatest portrayal of a humanoid alien I have ever seen on screen. She plays the androgynous character, who is referred to as male throughout, with an incredible feminine grace that is just slightly not human enough to be uncomfortably inhuman and yet incredibly comforting at times. The little things, like how they modulate her voice down for English, but let her natural voice shine through for the Taelon language is incredibly captivating. And for an alien race that generally does not show emotion, she often manages to convey profound sadness, anger, and fear from underneath that facade, many times outshining the rest of the cast. I can’t really come up any further description that does her portrayal justice, so I suppose you’ll just have to watch at least the first episode, it’s worth it.

The second best actor on the show is Von Flores as Ronald Sandoval, attache to Da’an. There’s an impressive conviction to his role, but he’s also the only character in all 5 seasons of the show. Technically he’s one of the villains, but this leaves the viewer in an odd position of following his story more closely, because he’s the only one you recognize throughout, and that just sort of highlights where the problems start.

Kevin Kilner as William Boone wasn’t the strongest actor on the show, but he was the lead for season 1, and he did provide a compelling narrative and almost a noir detective feel. Rumor has it that the studio didn’t renew his contract, so he was killed off-screen between the finale of season 1 and the premier of season 2 (I know, right?!), replaced by Robert Leeshock as Liam Kincaid, a far less engaging, far less mature, and I guess far younger character, but more of a “man of action.” He existed mostly to drag you through whatever was left of the plot. But, Kilner wouldn’t be the only departure. Throughout all 5 seasons, all of the main cast of season 1 left, except Flores. This wasn’t Game of Thrones either, most were not killed off for story or character development reasons, they just ceased to be on the show.

Rumor has it that Majel Barrett left after Kilner’s departure, which left producers scrambling to construct their own idea of where Roddenberry’s story went from there. They did not do a good job. Season 1 left us with a feeling that the Taelons needed us for something, and that we would need them to protect us against an terrifying cosmic force that even they feared. What we got were the Jaridians, a generic military alien that just didn’t like the Taelons, and we were in their way apparently for some reason, shrug. It was all downhill from there, gone was the intrigue of questioning whether or not the Taelons really were benevolent or malevolent. One of the main Taelon characters even launches a plan to steal all of the Earth’s gold “by any means necessary.” Remember when we didn’t know if these were the bad guys or not? Sigh. If you thought it stopped there, don’t worry, the Taelons and Jaridians merge and become vampires that feed off of the humans in season 5. Welcome to rock bottom.

This could have been such a great a show, the intrigue between the two factions was incredible, and the performance of the Taelon characters was captivating in a way that I have seen no other humanoid alien portrayed since. Yet when studio money took the forefront, all good things were lost, and it simply became disappointing and a constant reminder of what we could have had. I wish I could have seen this show fully conceived by either Gene Roddenberry or Majel Barrett, but that will simply never happen. Instead, we got proof that studio heads are a poor substitute for both.

Earth: Final Conflict is available for free on Amazon Video for Amazon Prime subscribers. Season 1 really is worth it, and I hope you love it as much as I did, just like I hope you’ll heed my warning to stop there.

Batman v Superman: Accidentally Perfect?

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is not the greatest superhero film, that honor still belongs to Logan, but through a series of odd choices and behind the scenes happenstance, it became the perfect comic book film. Now I know a lot of you probably hated this film, so please bear with me while I explain. Also, I’m referring to the Ultimate Edition (the extended cut) throughout. It restores a lot of character development, and I absolutely agree that the theatrical edition is a waste of time.

The film opens on the traditional Batman origin scene, but that’s the only origin we get throughout the film, which is kind of odd for a film that also features Superman, and introduces Wonder Woman and Lex Luthor. Despite this, a lot of time has passed between that origin and the Batman in the film. It’s never explained why Wayne Manor is in ruins, or why all of the Bat-vehicles have two seats while Robin’s costume sits in memorial with “Haha, joke’s on you, Batman” scrawled on it. It’s safe to say that, despite seeing an origin for Batman, we are missing some critical backstory.

With Ben Affleck done as Batman, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see this backstory, or any further story featuring this Batman after Justice League for that matter. Similarly, though this is a sequel for Man of Steel, watching that film is definitely not a requirement. The ending of Man of Steel overlaps the beginning of Batman v Superman, this time told from Bruce Wayne’s point of view, as embedded below. Really, all you need to know is that Superman is fighting someone who’s probably just as strong as him, and people are dying because of it.

And, that’s kind of the point here, there isn’t much effort given to the backstories of these characters, and it’s not really needed either. Now if you say that sounds terrible for a film, you’re right, but this is exactly how we read comics! People who are drawn in suddenly by issue 37 on the shelves don’t rush out to buy and read issues 1 – 36, they just start with 37. “Who’s this character? I don’t know, but she looks important. Oh cool, she is important!” That’s what reading new comics is like, and this film accidentally invokes that!

Now we know that Ben Affleck is out as Batman, but it looks like Henry Cavill may be out as Superman too, which puts the whole franchise in jeopardy, so there may not be an ending, but that’s just like reading comics too! With the exception of random continuity reboots, these characters’ stories don’t end, you just stop reading them. So again, Batman v Superman has accidentally invoked the experience of reading comics.

Batman v Superman is not a great film, but by having little-to-no character backstories, and quite possibly no future prospects, it has perfectly invoked the experience of reading a comic book. In this way, it is quite possibly the perfect comic book film.

Space Command

About 7 years ago, I backed Space Command, an ambitious project from Marc Zicree to create a series of sci-fi films the feel large-scale, but on a small-scale budget with no major studio interference.

The first film is almost done, and all that remains is post-production on the last half, but you can watch the finished first half now. For such a small-scale production, it’s outstanding, plus it’s filled with all of those wonderful “Oh, that actor!” moments.

Space Command has been a wonderful project to follow, and if this all sounds great to you too, there are 6 hours left to back the second movie, so hurry! I hope you enjoy it just as much as I do, if not more. 🙂

Update: The Kickstarter for the second movie is over, but you can always donate on the main site, and I’m sure there will be another Kickstarter for the next movie.

WordPress 5.2 Released

WordPress 5.2 has been released! Along with accessibility and privacy updates, and new blocks for the editor, this release introduces a new Site Health system, which will help you debug common issues and help you collect crucial information for support requests. PHP Error Protection joins the party to help you fix or manage fatal errors, such as those caused by plugin or theme installations and updates. As of this release, WordPress now requires PHP 5.6.20 or higher. This is a big leap from the old PHP 5.2 requirement, but considering that even PHP 5.6 reached its end of life 4 months ago, it’s definitely a necessary move.

327 volunteers contributed to this release, lead by Matt Mullenweg, Josepha Haden Chomphosy, and Gary Pendergast. At the time of writing this, WordPress 5.2 has been out for about 1 hour, and has already been downloaded 147,717 times!

All users can safely update from Dashboard -> Updates or download and update manually, though you should probably backup first just in case, unless you’re already using VaultPress, which you really should be.

If you run into any problems, stop by the known issues first, and please let us know if it’s not covered there!