• Rewatch: The Dresden Files

    Rewatch: The Dresden Files

    Before I begin, I don’t mean this to be a hit piece. I love both platforms dearly, and as I’ve been noticing myself spending much more time on one than the other, I thought I’d explain why.

    Let’s start with my old friend, WordPress. WordPress is an open-source publishing platform. It’s software, provided for free and developed and supported by volunteers, that you install on a hosting provider. So you take this free software and install it, your site is entirely self-contained, and that is its biggest strength, something no other platform can claim. You own and can do everything. And I’ve been doing that a long time, since the start. This year, I’ve been using WordPress longer than I haven’t, and that’s mind-blowing!

    WordPress is powerful; it does so much. Its editor can’t be beaten if you want complete control over your posts. If you want full control over how your site looks, the site editor will let you easily reach your heart’s desires. That is power, real power, for free. Is that not enough power? No problem, there are currently 59,271 free plugins available. Don’t want to customize your theme from the default? No problem, there are currently 9,603 free themes available.

    That’s a lot! It’s truly incredible, in many ways freeing, but it’s also a lot. Sometimes, or I guess often these past few years, I need less, and that’s where Tumblr comes in. I’ve been on there for 2 years now, and the more I’m there, the less I’m here. One word can summarize that: convenience. Or, more specifically, convenience by ease of use, and most important, lack of options.

    That’s not to say Tumblr is crippled; it’s not, and far from it. Tumblr’s editor may not have as many options as WordPress, but it’s more than enough, and it’s getting better every day (and now powered by Gutenberg). There are no plugins, and theme editing is limited to editing raw HTML and CSS, but you can still find a theme that’s close enough to what you want.

    You simply get your Tumblr site looking the way you want, then use the app or visit the site and start writing and sharing content you love. And I know what you’re thinking right now; WordPress has an app too, but again: convenience and lack of options, just write and share.

    So, that’s where I am right now. If I have something short to share; a few paragraphs, an image, a video, or an article I love, it will be on Tumblr because I can do that with nothing in the way. But if I’m writing a long post like this, something I’d be happy to know is on a platform where I fully own the content, it’s going to be posted here with WordPress. A long post is by no means a quick process, and the tools here are just more suited for that. This is by no means a character limit thing, just to clear that up. Tumblr is not Twitter. A single text block on Tumblr can have 4,096 characters, and a single post on Tumblr can contain 1,000 blocks.

    So, at the end of this stream of consciousness, it’s all about using the tool that’s best suited for the purpose. Tumblr is quick and convenient, and excessive options don’t get in my way. It’s perfect for short and immediate content creation and sharing. WordPress is powerful; it’s perfectly suited for building longer content that I don’t mind spending time on.

    In short, use the right tool for the job, or perhaps, more importantly, use the tool that feels right to you.

  • WordPress 5.8 Released

    WordPress 5.8 has been released! Along with more editor improvements, this release introduces an entirely new widget interface with the ability to use blocks as widgets, new photo filters, the new Blog Pattern Directory, and drops support for Internet Explorer 11 (which Microsoft essentially replaced with their Edge browser roughly 5 years ago). For specifics, check out the changelog.

    530 volunteers contributed to this release, and at the time of writing this, WordPress 5.8 has been out for just a bit over a day, and has already been downloaded 7,810,277 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 Jetpack Backup, which you really should be.

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

  • Earth Day, 2021

    Earth Day, 2021

    It’s Earth Day, a day to reflect on the planet we inhabit, the only one we can, and it’s a great day to start saving the environment for free, going carbon negative, donating to Trees for the Future, and taking even more action.

    The end of the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight, some of us are now immune, and the rest of us hopefully understand how to safely be outdoors by now. Without us for over a year, nature has begun to bounce back in some very impressive ways. Hopefully, as we begin to re-engage outdoors, we’ll keep that in mind.

    If you can, try to spend some time outdoors today, and make sure you do it safely if you’re not already vaccinated. If you can’t be safely outdoors today, or you’d rather not, please enjoy this video.

  • Happy Belated 20th, Aqua!

    Happy Belated 20th, Aqua!

    A long time ago, this used to be a side-blog about my Apple news, the “Mac” part of MacManX.com. That usage may have dropped off over time, but the name never changed. To avoid further rambling (this post wasn’t planned in advance, can you tell?), a variety of posts like this one from MacStories reminded me that Mac OS X turned 20 this year, and that awoke a lot of memories, specifically about its interface.

    mac os x aqua with cinema display

    I don’t have any screenshots myself, like this one I’m shamelessly borrowing from that article or the one below shamelessly borrowed from Wikipedia, but as I am reminded of what Aqua was like 20 years ago, I really kind of miss it. Steve Jobs described it as “lickable,” and yeah, it was. These glossy buttons, those smooth windows, the opacity, that blue, and heck even the overall aesthetic of that era with the Cinema Display. Everything is just so clean now, and don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we got out of Mac OS X 10.4‘s brushed metal phase, but part of me does miss the whimsy of that “lickable” interface.

    mac os x public beta

    I got my start on what is now Classic Mac OS, System 7 to be specific, and this totally redone interface was an exciting breath of fresh air. I stood in line for it! Who stands in line for OS releases anymore? Well, I guess no one these days, but the latest OS updates with their small design tweaks here and there will never compare to the massive whimsical overall of Aqua. Every step forward in that line was a few inches closer to something earth-shattering for younger me. I always enjoyed using my computer, but this made it fun!

    That “lickable” interface is long-gone. Apple still uses “Aqua” as the name for macOS’s interface, and the incremental changes over the years didn’t bother me, but looking so far back, the Aqua of macOS today is just not the Aqua that excited me 20 years ago. So, happy belated birthday, Aqua! I miss you!

    If you’re looking to reminisce a bit deeper, check out this collection of Macworld reviews, and this collection of Ars Technica reviews.

  • How I Make GIFs

    I launched MacManX Aside about a year ago, and since then, I’ve been filling it with animated GIFs. I’m no stranger to GIFs, I like that they can provide additional context on top of text when replying, and there is even a thankfully now-dormant Slack bot at work that pings me to return a reaction GIF instead of Slack’s built-in GIF sources.

    Folks have been asking me how I make GIFs for quite some time, and it seem appropriate on this almost-one-year anniversary of MacManX Aside to share that now. A quick note before you read any further, these instructions are for macOS only, but the basics might still apply to whatever you use on any other system. So, let’s learn how to properly make GIFs, or at least how I do it.

    First of all, you’ll need GIF Brewery. This hasn’t been updated in a few years, but it’s very feature-rich and still works great. That’s the only third-party thing you’ll need going forward, so find your GIF’s source, and open QuickTime Player.

    Get your source close to where you want the GIF to start, think of this like pre-editing, and in QuickTime choose File > New Screen Recording. Line up the crop markers and hit Record, play the video you’re recording from, and hit the stop button in the menu bar when you’re done. Not all video sources will let you record this way, some even blank out the video when QuickTime is recording. If you find that happening to you on a streaming service, try playing the video in Firefox instead, as it doesn’t seem to share the same qualms about this with other browsers.

    Once you have your raw screen recording in QuickTime, choose Edit > Trim to further edit your selection. Hold the shift key while dragging the selector to move frame-by-frame, and when you’re done, choose File > Export As > 480p. There’s no reason to export higher, because we’ll size it down even further later.

    Next, open the video in GIF Brewery. In the Settings section at the top-right, check “Calculate Frame Count & Delay” to synchronize your GIF’s frame rate to the video (so it’s not too fast or too slow), and “Optimize GIF Colors” and “Enhanced Color Optimization” for the best quality to file size ratio. For the color count, start at either 256 or 128 colors, more on that later.

    In the Resize section at the top-left, resize the GIF to 500px wide with “Maintain aspect ratio” checked. 500px is plenty big enough, and it’s the content width in Tumblr’s default theme. Remember, someone will have to download this to view it, maybe on a mobile phone, so there’s no reason to be posting huge GIFs. Now, finish up any necessary edits at this point by clicking Frames, where you can highlight individual frames and choose “Set Start” and “Set End.”

    Finally, let’s talk file size. First of all, many places allow maximum uploads of 10 MB, but don’t shoot for that. Again, someone will have to download this to view it, and they may be on a mobile phone, so be nice. I try not go higher than 5 MB in general, and no higher than 2 MB for reaction GIFs (by default, Slack won’t auto-play GIFs larger than 2 MB). When you click “Create” in GIF Brewery, after some processing time, you’ll see both your finished GIF and its file size. If you need to decrease the file size, mess around with the number of colors first, and don’t go below 48 colors. If messing with the number of colors isn’t enough, make the GIF itself smaller. I recommend no lower than 450px wide if it includes text, and no lower than 400px wide overall.

    What’s that about text? Yes, you can add text in GIF Brewery! Choose Text up top where you can type your text and choose its font, color, and size. In the editing window, you’ll be able to drag that text around and right-click it to set its start and end time. You can even add multiple text elements, like I did for The Code, which has no place being embedded here so you’ll just have to click the link. Or, if you don’t want to bother with that, try making your GIFs from already subtitled sources, like that massive tokusatsu library at ShoutFactoryTV.

    Most important of all though, learn by doing, tweak your formula as you go along. You won’t learn anything about making GIFs by not making GIFs, so go out there and have fun! If you don’t have anywhere to post GIFs, consider opening a Tumblr or WordPress.com site just for this. And when you post your GIF, don’t forget to share its source. If you’re using Tumblr, they have a special field for that.

    Everything in this tutorial is free except GIF Brewery, which is about the price of a fancy coffee and worth every penny, so start making some GIFs today!

  • WordPress 5.7 Released

    WordPress 5.7 has been released! Along with more editor improvements and a far more accessible admin color scheme, this release also includes a far simpler flow for moving from HTTP to HTTPS and improves overall performance by introducing lazy load for most iframe embeds. For specifics, check out the changelog.

    481 volunteers contributed to this release, and at the time of writing this, WordPress 5.7 has been out for just a bit over 1 hour, and has already been downloaded 592,229 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 Jetpack Backup, which you really should be.

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

  • Rewatch: Samurai Jack

    Rewatch: Samurai Jack

    Long ago in a distant land, Aku, the shapeshifting master of darkness, unleashed an unspeakable evil. But, a samurai warrior wielding a magic sword stepped forth to oppose him. Before the final blow was struck, Aku tore open a portal in time and flung the samurai into the future, where his evil is law. Now, the samurai seeks to return to the past and undo the future that is Aku. He’s gotta get back, back to the past, he’s Samurai Jack.

    Samurai Jack is a 2001 children’s animated series lead by Genndy Tartakovsky, starring Phil LaMarr as the titular Samurai Jack and Mako as Aku. The series ran for 5 seasons, though there was a 12-year gap between seasons 4 and 5, more on that later. To call it strictly a “children’s animated series” though is a bit of a disservice. Like with Batman: The Animated Series, some episodes definitely have a time-filler feel, but other episodes feature moments that can only be described as art.

    Stranded in the future, Jack (taking the name the locals call him) immediately sets out to find time portals or magic to send him back to the past and prevent the future that Aku currently rules over. The show focusses on his journey as a whole. He’s always walking towards the next rumored solution to his problem, encountering new challenges, friends, and people to rescue along the way. Though Aku appears a few times each season, Jack spends most his time dealing with robotic minions of varying statures in Aku’s employ. With that said, Aku is perhaps one of the best villains in children’s animation, largely thanks to Mako’s unique voice and comedic timing. It’s truly a treat whenever he shows up.

    Samurai Jack was canceled without a resolution after 4 seasons. The lack of resolution was intentional. The final episode is just another “someone needs help” episode, Aku isn’t even mentioned. Tartakovsky intended the viewer to simply understand that Jack will continue his journey. 12 years later, the show returned for a final season. Rather than being episodic and kid-friendly like the past 4 seasons, it had an overall arc and was darker and more geared towards the audience that grew up on the show. Sadly, Mako passed away in 2006, and Greg Baldwin took over as Aku. Regardless, the final season is an excellent end to Jack’s story.

    Samurai Jack is an incredibly diverse adventure, it’s art much of the time, and it’s simply fun. It’s well worth watching. Since the first 4 seasons are very episodic, it’s safe to check out episodes XXXV or XL if you want just a taste first, and I’ve posted a few GIFs if you need an even smaller taste. You can stream Samurai Jack on HBO Max, or buy the whole series on Apple TV for $84.99, so maybe just get HBO Max for a month and stream it.

  • Happy New Year! the 2021 edition

    Happy New Year! the 2021 edition

    2021 begins today, and while the new year is supposed to be about casting aside the bad things to focus on a bright future, it hardly feels that way in the midst of a global pandemic. But, writing these has been a tradition since 2013, and this doesn’t seem like a good year to break with any traditions.

    Keeping with the theme, the top post here was Working From Home, written at the start of the lockdowns in the United States. I’ve been working from home for 10 years, and now most of us are, so I hope folks found it useful.

    A quick list of favorites this year, I hope you enjoy them too:

    This year especially, we’ll need more people sharing their voices and experiences as we navigate our lives during this pandemic, so please considering launching your own site with WordPress (and Jetpack) or WordPress.com, or start posting again if you already have one! If shorted content is your thing, take Tumblr for a spin. I didn’t think I was going to do much there, but now it’s a big part of my online presence.

    If we work together and have empathy for not only one another, but also for those we lost along the way, we might just make it through 2021.

  • WordPress 5.6 Released

    WordPress 5.6 has been released! Along with expanded layout controls and auto-updates for major releases, this release also introduces the new Twenty Twenty-One default theme. For specifics, check out the changelog.

    605 volunteers contributed to this release, lead by Josepha Haden, Chloe Bringmann, and Angela Jin. At the time of writing this, WordPress 5.6 has been out for just a bit over 1 hour, and has already been downloaded 300,710 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 Jetpack Backup, 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!

  • Rewatch: Kamen Rider Kuuga

    Rewatch: Kamen Rider Kuuga

    I’ll be honest, this wasn’t a rewatch for me. This was the first time I’ve seen this show, but I absolutely had to write about it, so keep reading to find out why.

    Kamen Rider Kuuga is a 2000 Japanese tokusatsu series, following an unlikely hero’s struggle to stop an ancient race of evil monsters who see the killing of humans as a competitive game.

    There’s a huge cast in this show, which normally I’d ramble off, but that would be a bit much. The show primarily focusses on our unlikely hero, Yusuke Godai, played by Joe Odagiri (with Kenji Tominaga as his suit actor), and his police partner Kaoru Ichijo, played by Shingo Katsurayama. As the Kamen Rider series tends to lean towards a more mature audience than the Super Sentai series, the show is packed with characters who all have meaningful relationships, contributing to the drama and realism of the show.

    This show has depth, I can’t state that enough. To be honest, I watch these shows because they’re usually ridiculous and fun, and that’s what I was expecting here. That’s not to say this show isn’t fun. It is fun, but it’s also very good, shockingly good. The production values are very high for the year it premiered, the acting is great, and the characters are so grounded that you can’t help but feel for them.

    In particular, Godai is absolutely the ideal hero. When we meet him, he’s simply a self-proclaimed “professional dream chaser” who wanders into his friend’s archeological dig. The dig uncovers the evil Grongi, and the Arcle, which will eventually allow him to transform into Kuuga. When his friends are attacked, the Arcle calls to Godai, and he puts it on, transforms, and fights off the Grongi without hesitation. Godai declares that his mission is to “protect everyone’s smile,” and that’s exactly what he does.

    We’re all used to selfless heroes, but even our favorite heroes have moments of “Oh no, I’m going to miss my date,” or “I’m so tired from last time.” That is not the case with Godai. He relentlessly thinks of others first. Nothing in his backstory sets him up to eventually be a hero, he just accepts the responsibility and gets to work. That is not to say he doesn’t have a life outside of this. He works at his surrogate father’s restaurant and volunteers at his sister’s school, but if a Grongi is attacking someone, Godai is either fighting to stop it or still in a coma from the last fight. He also makes no effort to hide his identity. He’s always printing Kuuga’s logo on his clothes, painting it on his bike, and if he transforms in front of you, he’ll just give you a thumbs up. On the other hand, he makes no effort to tell people he’s Kuuga and capitalize on the fame. Godai is simply fighting because if he can’t stop the Grongi, people will stop smiling.

    At the beginning, the police see Kuuga as another threat. Over time, lead by Ichijo, a whole team of officers, scientists, and a doctor are formed to support Kuuga. To be clear, the police are not simply here to be Worfed. They hold their own in a fight against the Grongi often, and their science team is constantly coming up with weapon advancements. Since the Grongi are playing a game to see which of them can kill the most humans in the most creative way, the police are often charged with determining the motive and method for the killings, locating the Grongi, and paving the way for Kuuga to finish it off. Throughout the series, the team, and Ichijo in particular, go from not trusting Godai to practically becoming family.

    I cannot state enough, this is a good show, it is a shockingly good show. It’s easy to care about every character, and though the formula is often “monster appears and is defeated,” you’ll find plenty of engaging content between the margins.

    You can stream Kamen Rider Kuuga for free on Shout! Factory TV. If you want to try one episode, check out Revival (the same episode embedded first in this review), which is the first one, because no matter which episode you start with, you’ll keep watching. If you need a smaller taste before diving in, I’ve posted several GIFs, mostly because Godai is so GIF-able. I was really expecting something ridiculous and fun with this show, but instead I saw something very good and fun. I hope you’re just as surprised as I was!