• Rewatch: The Dresden Files

    The Dresden Files is a 2007 supernatural detective series based on the book series of the same name. The series follows wizard Harry Dresden as he continues to get caught up in supernatural mysteries throughout Chicago, anything from finding a lost item to busting a necromancer’s life insurance fraud.

    If you love noir-style detective stories and magic, this is a must-watch series! Narration throughout really makes things easy to follow, especially if you decide to just jump into the middle of the show or watch it out of order. There’s not much character growth, but the characters are all pretty much grown as it is, a benefit of jumping out of a well-established book series. The mystery starts, great characters resolve it, you have fun. What more could you ask for?

    Paul Blackthorne stars as Harry Dresden, a talented wizard and noir-style detective type who works as a consultant for the police when they need a “difference perspective” on very unusual cases. Valerie Cruz stars as Lt. Murphy, the only police officer who can stand Harry, and thus often his only source of case work. Terrence Mann stars as Bob, the ghost of an ancient sorcerer cursed to spend eternity bound to his skull, and Harry’s teacher. Conrad Coates stars as Donald Morgan, one of the wizards in charge of policing other wizards, and one who isn’t particularly fond of Harry.

    If you know the stories, the actors definitely don’t look the part, but they play their parts to perfection. If you go on to read the books, it’s easy to hear their voices delivering the lines, because they just are these characters. Blackthorne’s Dresden is sloppy, distracted, showy, and focussed and powerful when he needs to be. Cruz’s Murphy is curt, direct, and always focussed on the case at hand. Mann’s Bob is arrogant yet caring, a teacher anyone would be happy to have. Coates’s Morgan is the perfect mix of direct, powerful, and kind when he wants to be.

    Sadly, the series only ran for 12 episodes before being canceled, which is a shame, because it’s an absolutely wonderful show to just sit back and relax with. Fortunately, it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, and if you want more, you can always read the books.

    You can stream the series for free on IMDB TV, or buy the whole series on Apple TV for just $9.99. If you’re looking for one episode to get you started, try “Soul Beneficiary,” but really they’re all great, and I hope you enjoy watching The Dresden Files as much as I do!

  • 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!

    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!