Grilling Essentials

I’ve always loved grilling, especially throwing some nice cuts of meat on my Weber filled with charcoal. There’s nothing like the taste of food cooked over open flames. But this year I’ve stepped it up a bit and I think it’s for two main reasons: (1) We now have a partially-covered patio where the grill can sit conveniently and (2) I now work from home so I now have the time to fire up the coals on any given night.

People who see my grilling photos on Instagram often ask me about my tools and techniques so I’ll describe my grilling set up here. To begin with, I’m a charcoal guy. A few years ago I bought a cheap propane grill on Amazon to supplement my charcoal grill and I regret that decision. I thought the convenience of propane would be useful, but I still prefer the charcoal for the smoke and flavor and it doesn’t take that much more time.

My grill is a 10+ year-old Weber Performer Deluxe, which is their standard 22-inch kettle with an attached side table and a charcoal bucket. The grill includes a propane charcoal lighter system that I never used and I use the charcoal bucket as storage, but overall I’ve loved it. I notice they’ve made some improvements over the years, especially to the table material, the wheels, and the ash catcher. But my grill is still in pretty decent shape for how old it is and how often I use it. I did replace the cooking grate once because it got rusty over one winter, but I’d say that’s pretty durable.

Instead of the propane starter, I swear by the Weber Rapid Fire Chimney Starter. I never want to taste lighter fluid on my food, so I just dump all the charcoal in the top, put a wad of paper underneath, light the paper, and in 15 minutes the coals are lit and ready to dump. No muss, no fuss.

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How I Work in 2018

It’s been three years since I first did a “How I Work” blog post (at the prompting of Tom McDonald) and since then I moved to a different full-time job and then to another (current) full-time job, where what I do is now almost completely different. And where I work has now shifted to my home office. So, I thought it would be fun to do an update of that post now. Some of the details have not changed, but I will share those that have.

Location:

South of Boston, still, but in a different town. I work from home in a room we’ve set aside as the office, but which is also our primary library and the TV room, so occasionally, usually when the weather’s too bad outside or the kids are sick, I have to vacate and work from another room in order to let the kids watch a video.

Current Gig:

I am now the CEO of the StarQuest Production Network (SQPN), a podcast network whose show explore the intersection of faith and pop culture. I first became connected to SQPN as a listener more than 10 years ago when I started listening to Fr. Roderick Vonhogen’s podcasts and then to other shows on the network after it was formed about 2006. In 2010 and again in 2013, I helped organize SQPN’s Catholic New Media Conference when it was in Boston. Around the time of the second CNMC Boston, Fr. Roderick asked me to co-host the Secrets of Star Wars podcast with him. Later, I also joined the Secrets of Doctor Who in 2014. I became a part-time executive director in 2015 and then as of January 1, 2018, Fr. Roderick stepped down as CEO and I took over, first as part-time, and then on May 1, I took on the job full-time.

One Word That Best Describes How I Work:

Intensely.1

Current Mobile Devices:

iPhone X (256GB); iPad Pro 9.7” (128GB); Apple Watch Series 1 (42mm)

Current Computers:

2017 iMac (Retina 5k, 27-inch), 3.8GHz Intel Core i5 with 40GB RAM and 1TB Fusion Drive; 2015 MacBook Pro Retina 13”, 2.7GHz Dual-core Intel Core i5 with 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD

Attached to the iMac is 27” is a BenQ GW2765HT 16:9 27” monitor at 2560×1440 resolution. You can never have too much monitor display space.

The keyboard is a pre-2007 vintage Apple Keyboard that I replaced my Magic Keyboard with because I prefer the solid key travel of the older keyboard.2 I also use the awesome Apple Magic Trackpad. I swore off mice several years ago when I realized that my hand stopped cramping when I used the trackpad instead of the mouse.

What Apps/Software/Tools Can’t You Live Without?

Why?

I won’t rehash everything I said last time because most of it still applies, although the reason Creative Cloud is indispensable has changed. In 2015, it was because of InDesign and Photoshop for creating bulletins and web site graphics. Today, I spent most of my CC time in Audition, editing podcasts.

The last four are new to this list. Forecast didn’t exist in 2015 and I would haven’t needed it then anyway. It’s a great podcast encoder that takes the big uncompressed audio files that come out of Audition and compresses them down to a manageable size. But that’s not all: It also has smarts in it to identify the audio file and embed the proper artwork, title, and description in the final file. It saves me multiple minutes per podcast as well as eliminates the need for several other programs.

Ulysses is my multi-platform Markdown text editor of choice with plenty of the features I want and no extraneous fluff, plus I can publish to my blog right from within the app, no extra copying and pasting needed. Keyboard Maestro is an incredible automation system that lets me trigger complex scripts with a key combination, at a particular time or interval, or even when it detects a particular piece of equipment has been attached. TextExpander is another automation tool that lets me type a small string of text and it expands it into boilerplate text. For example, every time I upload a podcast file to our online storage, I have to type the same information with a few changing bits. So I invoked the TextExpander snippet, fill in a few fields, and everything fills itself into the proper fields.

What’s Your Workspace Setup Like?

My office setup

You can see in the photo how my desk is setup. The desk is an Ikea Galant3 that is 63” long by 31” deep.I like to have plenty of space to spread out and work. In front of me is is the iMac with the MacBook Pro usually closed and connected to hard drives and power in front of me, ready either to be opened and used or grabbed to go. Next to the laptop is my Scansnap ix500 sheetfed scanner into which every piece of paper that comes into the house and needs to be preserved is fed to go into Evernote. Next to that is my Dymo Labelwriter 450 Twin Turbo with both address labels and e-stamps so I never have to go the post office for the very occasional letters I need to mail.

The microphone boom stand is the Rode PSA 1 Swivel Mount Studio Microphone Boom Arm and the microphone is the very reasonably priced and surprisingly high quality Audio Technica ATR2100 USB/XLR. That is connected to the Mackie ProFX8v2 USB mixer that is on the old TV stand to the right of my desk. Above that is our TV which is mounted on the wall. To the right of those is a bookshelf with a 24-port Ethernet switch, my Synology DS216+II network-attached storage RAID with 3TB of storage and Buffalo TeraStation 4TB RAID.

The phone stand is a Seneo Wireless Charger, which is great for keeping my phone topped up all the time. The speakers are Creative Sound BlasterX Kratos S3 2.1 speakers connected via USB. On the wall behind the computer and display are a bunch of 3M Command hooks that hold cables and headphones and even the speakers for the TV sound system. I particularly like the Cord Organizer. Also on the wall is my Amazon Echo Dot in a wall mount, which I use to control all sorts of home automation stuff, including the lights in this room.

My desk chair is the ErgoChair 2 from Autonomous. It’s not as expensive as the high-end quality desk chairs you can get, but it is very adjustable. I did have a problem where the caster sockets broke earlier this year, but they sent me a new base to replace it. I do sit in this chair most of every day.

Here are the home screens of my iPhone and iPad:

The home screen of my iPad

The home screen of my iPhone

What’s Your Best Time-Saving Shortcut/Life Hack?

I’ll go for a different hack than the one I gave last time. I picked this one up from Dr. Drang a while ago and it uses Keyboard Maestro. Essentially, wherever I type the letters “xfurl”, Keyboard Maestro runs a script that puts the URL from the current tab of frontmost window in Safari in its place. This is very helpful when I’m doing things like writing a blog post, for example. If I have a page I’m referencing in Safari, I don’t have to switch from Ulysses, click in the address bar, copy, switch back, paste. It all happens right there. A similar macro lets me pick from the list of all the open tabs in Safari. And it wouldn’t be difficult to adapt if Chrome is your preferred browser. See what exactly how it’s done in this blog post.4

What’s Your Favorite To-Do List Manager?

It’s still Omnifocus, which only gets better as time goes on.

Besides Your Phone And Computer, What Gadget Can’t You Live Without And Why?

I love my third-generation AppleTV. When they added apps a few years ago, it changed how I use the AppleTV and it is now the primary interface for how I watch movies and TV, especially since I can watch Netflix and Amazon Prime TV on it.

What Everyday Thing Are You Better At Than Everyone Else? What’s Your Secret?

It’s still pretty much the same skills as I said before. I’m not a great typist per se, but I think the ability to type one thing while having a conversation about something else with another person is still pretty cool and unusual.

What Do You Listen To While You Work?

Another one that hasn’t changed since 2015. I don’t usually listen to music while I work, and if I’m listening to anything, it’s to podcasts, usually of the light conversational variety. But when I’m writing, I can’t listen to something else and of course when I’m recording a podcast, I’m not listening to anything else either.

What Are You Currently Reading?

Right now, I’m reading Tom Clancy: Line of Sight (A Jack Ryan Jr. Novel). When Clancy died a few years ago, they had other writers take up his characters to continue their stories, Mark Greaney had been doing a very good job, but they recently switched the Jack Ryan Jr. books to author Mike Maden. I’m not done with the book yet, so it’s not a proper review, but in general, I don’t feel like it hits the buttons. It’s missing a lot of the flash that made the previous novels good and his Jack Jr. doesn’t quite feel the same.

Next on my reading list is S.M. Stirling’s Black Chamber, an alternate history of a fictional second term for Teddy Roosevelt and World War I. I’m also looking forward to Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, A Revolution by Nathanial Philbrick.

What Has Changed Over The Years Since You Started And What Do You Do Differently?

In one way, a lot has not changed, which is that I’ve returned to working from home full-time, except now I’m not alone in the house, but have my wife and five kids outside my office door. So much of the technology has changed for the better and in fact, there’s no way I could have done this job the way I am 25 years ago, or even 15 years ago. The tools just didn’t exist in the affordable and accessible way they are now.

However, the essential aspects of how I work haven’t changed. I still have to be very disciplined about keeping track of my projects, tasks, and to-dos. I still have to sit down at my desk every day and avoid distractions and temptations. On the other hand, I’m still relaxed about finding space in those obligations to be spontaneous and pop outside for a while to enjoy the weather or take in a matinée or go to a museum with my family.

Now that I’ve once again given up the grind of the daily commute and no longer have to account for my every working moment, I’m much more relaxed and more free of stress and happier. And so are Melanie and the kids. Melanie loves that when my work days I’m right there to help with dinner. The kids love that they can see me all day, that I can help with their schoolwork, or have lunch with them. It’s a better life.

  1. In 2015, I wrote “Focused” but I’ve decided it doesn’t adequately convey what I’m like when I get in the flow.
  2. I plan on getting a CODE Cherry MX keyboard someday when I can justify the $150 purchase. If you’re going to be typing 8 to 12 hours per day, it ought to be a good keyboard.
  3. It looks like they don’t make it anymore, but the Bekant seems to be the replacement.
  4. I just used the macro for that link. How meta.

Education is Not About Making Better Workers

US Department of Education

While I am on record about favoring smaller government and in general I applaud President Trump’s recent proposal to downsize and merge some federal cabinets and agencies, something about the merger of the Departments of Labor and Education stuck in my craw.

What bothers me is how the idea betrays the current belief—which crosses party lines—that education is about raising a new generation of employees and workers.

Among the specific proposals outlined is a plan to merge the departments of education and labor into a single Department of Education and the Workforce, or DEW. The combined agency would oversee programs for students and workers, ranging from education and developing skills to workplace protections and retirement security.

We hear all the time that we need to have better schools for our children so that can have better opportunities for jobs. We see parents fretting over pre-school programs in order to ensure their children can go to the right colleges and get high-paying jobs after graduation. But is that really what education is? Is education primarily just another name for trade school?

Yes, I want my kids to have every opportunity to live out God’s plan for their lives as adults, to be able to provide for themselves and their families, to contribute to society. But I also want them to be good people. I want them to be thoughtful, intelligent, and curious about the world. I want them to enjoy the beauty that surrounds them in nature and in music, art, poetry, and books. I want them to know what it means to be a good spouse, a good parent, a good neighbor. I want them to understand history in order to make wise decisions about the future.

Education isn’t about sitting in a school for 12 or 16 or 20 years in order to secure a career. Education is about human formation, about learning to think, to know, and how to ask questions. Education is about becoming a better person.

Government is perhaps one of the worst instruments for doing any of that and the higher up the government food chain you go, the worse that it becomes. Because education is about forming individuals, whereas the federal government only sees statistical millions.

It would be better if the plan was to eliminate the federal Department of Education all together and re-examine how we go about educating children in this country. But, alas, given the state of politics today, we’d be lucky to see these two cabinet agencies merge.

Even When He’s Right, Trump is Wrong

These are strange political times we’re living in. (Congratulate me on stating the obvious.) For me, it’s because we have a president whose policies I think, in general, are taking us in the right direction, but who is personally and politically so off-base that I have a hard time reconciling the conflict. I have a former colleague who insists that stating whether we think President Trump is a good person or not is stupid, when all that matters is his policies and decisions. But the ends do not justify the means and, as was decided by many conservatives in the late 90s, character and integrity matter.

That’s all preface to my main point, which is that the way the media, both mainstream and social, are reacting to Trump is shameful, even given his character issues and boorishness. It’s one thing to to lean one way or the other in your coverage and reactions. It’s quite another to baldy distort reality, to frame every disagreement as evil intent, or to outright lie.

Some examples are in order, but keep in mind that these are by no means isolated. They are drawn at random from today’s news and are representative of the vast avalanche of similar news reports every day.

Choosing His Own People

Here’s one: The superintendent of Yellowstone National Park has been reassigned to Washington, DC, from his current plum posting, but Daniel Wenk doesn’t want to go so he’s submitted his resignation, which is his right. However, he wanted to stay in his job until next March, instead of leaving by the deadline he was given of August. The Interior Department said No and he claims to be ill-used.

Okay, that’s the bare bones of the situation, but the real media bias crops up in the last paragraph:

At least eight other senior executives are being reassigned. Critics say many of the reassignments appear to be motivated by politics, sweeping aside those who disagree with the administration on issues such as climate change, wildlife management, and wilderness preservation.

Well…yeah. Of course it’s motivated by politics. The critics seem to suggest that a President doesn’t have the right to have leaders within the executive branch who will implement his policies. Shouldn’t that be understood? The President gets to make policy. Except when it’s Trump? This is, by no means, the most egregious example of bias, but it highlights how common and mainstream it is.

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Hi, I’m a Podcaster

Well, I’m moving on again. For the past two years, I’ve been Director of Community Engagement for Massachusetts Citizens for Life, an organization doing important work holding the line on assisted suicide against well-funded opposition and helping lower the abortion rate in Massachusetts. But as of today, Tuesday, May 1, I will be leaving that job to take on the full-time position of Chief Executive Officer of the StarQuest Podcast Network (SQPN).

Those of you with a memory for minutiae may recall that I have been Executive Director of SQPN since November 2015 in a part-time capacity. Last January, however, the former CEO and co-founder of SQPN Fr. Roderick Vonhogen left SQPN to focus on his Dutch-based media organization Trideo. After much consultation and consideration of SQPN’s future, the board of directors has decided to rebuild SQPN with an exciting lineup of current and new podcast shows. Part of that rebuilding has been a recognition of the need for someone working full-time to manage everything, to be a primary host of most shows, to schedule panelists, do the audio editing, manage the web servers, and so on. That someone is me.

So now as of May, I can say with all sincerity to the question, “What do you do?”: “I am a podcaster.”

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The Kitchen Painter’s Tape Trick: The Next Level

Last year, there was a lot of fuss online about a Food52 blog post that revealed an old trick that restaurant chefs use to manage their kitchens. They use painter’s tape to label every container in the refrigerator with what’s inside and the date it went into the fridge. We started doing this last fall with our fridge and it’s been a game changer.1

Before that we often had to guess at how old some leftovers or partial ingredients were and many times we’d discover some old broccoli or other food that had turned long ago.2 But ever since, we now put a piece of tape on all leftover containers and we no longer have to guess when we had pork chops for dinner (“was it last Thursday or before that?”).

However, we were still having a problem. Our fridge is always full and there’s a tendency for stuff to get lost inside. (I call it the River of Food, where natural currents and rhythms tend to push older or less used food items to the back and down while newer and more frequently used items come to the front and eye level.)

So I had to take the hack to the next level. As you can see from the photo above, now whenever we make a label we make two. One goes on the container and the other goes on the front of the fridge, giving us a running tally of leftovers. When I notice something has gotten old, I hunt it down and toss it, without having to do the sniff test. When I’m looking for something for lunch, I’ll look to the older leftovers first. And when the list gets long, we know it’s time for a “Leftovers for Dinner” night.

Is it more time-consuming to make two labels for everything? Sure, but we’re also throwing away less food (good for the wallet and for the planet) and I may never have to smell rotting broccoli again. I’d pay a lot of money not to do that any more.

  1. Incidentally, we don’t obsess over the tape like the chefs do. We don’t care if the edges are ragged and not folded over.
  2. And by we I mean me because I am the official food smeller and tester. I have smelled some awful things in my day, wheezed the old-timer.

Christ’s Resurrection Shook 200 Billion Galaxies Down to Their Atoms

The boys have been studying astronomy for a Cub Scout achievement and one of the facts that came up was that the Milky Way galaxy has 300 billion stars and that there are 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe. So huge.

And as I sit here contemplating the Resurrection, I think of how on one tiny planet, perhaps alone of all the trillions and trillions of planets around the trillions of stars bearing life made in the image and likeness of God, the Second Person of the Trinity was Resurrected.

That event, that amazing, historic, stupendous event shook the whole Cosmos right down to its foundations. Every atom, every subatomic particle, every string of dark matter, every neutrino was shaken … and CHANGED.

The Resurrection wasn’t just a big event. It was THE event. I can become so blase about it. Yes, God died for me and rose from the dead.

No, wait, listen: God … Died! He … Rose! And changed everything.

Scientists studying the Shroud of Turin say that the image was placed upon the fabric, not by paint or dye, but burned into the top layer of each strand by an unknown form of radiation that emanated not from the surface of the Body it contained, but from every cell of that body at once.

And that radiation carried more energy than that output by our sun in its lifetime. Then the cloth collapsed because the body within had moved elsewhere.

Why? Why would the Resurrection take place in such a spectacular manner, especially no one was in the tomb to witness it? Why not? Why would God create a universe of 200 billion galaxies for a people who would probably never travel beyond orbit of one star? Because it requires no drain of resources on Him, because creation is an act of His Will. And so the Resurrection would carry such power as an act of His Will and as a sign. It’s a sign for us today, 2,000 years later with our scientific understanding to begin to grasp the event.

This awesome spectacular event that shook the foundations of the universe and leaves me in awe. But also in joy.

Thank you, Lord. Praise you, Lord. Christ is Risen. He is Risen, indeed.

Looking for Real Solutions to Congested Commutes

Earlier this week, the Boston Globe reported that Boston has some of the worst commutes to work in the country and that it has gotten exponentially worse over the past decade.

In 2017, drivers spent 2 hours more in traffic than in 2016, up to 60 hours. I’m above average because I spend more than 30 minutes in traffic every day I have to drive to the office, which is 90 minutes per week times 50 weeks, which is 75 hours. And I only have to drive in 3 days a week. I also drive off-hours. I work in the office 7:30am to noon, then drive home and work the rest of the day there. When I was leaving the office between 3:30pm and 5pm, it would take 1 to 2 hours to get home, peaking on Fridays in the summer.

The article notes that bus schedules are being changed to reflect the reality of more traffic. Real estate agents have to allot more time for clients to get from property to property. Cost of housing closer to the city has skyrocketed and now even the very wealthy can’t find places they can afford.

Some people complain that the Big Dig—the massive, decades-long construction project in the middle of Boston—didn’t fulfill its promise, but the truth is it took so long that the fix it promised was overtaken by time. More people moved in. Imagine how much worse it would be without it. Census estimates tell us that 250,000 more people live in Boston since 2000 and unemployment is so low that 300,000 more people are working since January 2010. They’re all commuting to work in and around Boston.

So, we’re all agreed something has to be done. The problem is that nobody seems to be thinking realistically about it.

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Don’t Delete Facebook

Actually, delete Facebook if it will make you feel better, but the reality is that it doesn’t matter at this point and it won’t do any good.1 Here’s the backstory: A big news story broke this week about a British company, Cambridge Analytica, that used data harvested from a Facebook quiz by an academic researcher to compile profiles on millions of people that it then (maybe) used to target political ads. And because those ads may have been for Trump, everyone lost their minds and said they needed to save themselves from Facebook.

The fact is that you’re closing the barn door after the horse is gone, but you can take control of some of what Facebook knows and shares about you.

I say the horse is out of the barn because this harvesting of Facebook data for political purposes is old news. In 2012, the Obama campaign was openly bragging about the Facebook data it collected on the young users of its app. It’s the same data that Cambridge Analytica was seeing. And keep in mind that the data that Obama got six years ago is still very useful and has probably been dispersed into a bunch of successor organizations. They’re also been collecting all this data for however long you’ve been signed up and they don’t delete it when you quit. They’re also not the only one. This kind of Big Data harvesting is happening every day through Google’s ad networks and Amazon’s sales records and your music playlists and your brick-and-mortar purchases. This is the reality of the world we live in. So deleting your Facebook profile is just one drop in the bucket.

However, as I said, you can take back some control. For Facebook, you can limit what data it shares. For one thing, stop using your Facebook or Google profile to create logins on other sites. It is so tempting to do so because it makes life easier not to have to manage more passwords. For that I say, get a password manager.2 But you should know that if you do use your Facebook or Google profiles (it’s often OAuth or Open Authorization login), you are giving both Facebook and the site you’re signing into access to more data about yourself. In fact, that other site can pull in all kinds of data from your FB profile like your friends, your likes and dislikes, contact info, birthdays and more. This is all Big Data gold.

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