We’re All Better Off For Chris Kimball Leaving America’s Test Kitchen

Chris Kimball

It’s not often that a messy public divorce, of sorts, leaves nearly everyone — or at least those of us who weren’t part of the relationship—better off for the split. Of course, I’m not talking about a real marriage or family, but of a corporate relationship.

In 2015, Chris Kimball left or was forced out of the America’s Test Kitchen empire he had founded several decades before. In case you don’t know, ATK includes an eponymous PBS TV show and another a second show called Cook’s Country, a magazine of the same name and its more famous, older sibling Cook’s Illustrated, as well as recipe and equipment review web sites, and a cookbook publishing business.

Kimball founded the company in 1993 and led it from a Brookline, Massachusetts, brownstone until he left. Right before that point, the company had brought on its first CEO as it tried to deal with the changes in the way Americans get their food journalism in the age of the internet, but at some point in 2015 Kimball was forced out of his company by co-owners who thought he was no longer the man for the job.

At the time I was very skeptical of the move. I write here that this was a big mistake: “Chris Kimball is the face and personality of ATK and its driving force. This is like John Scully forcing Steve Jobs out of Apple in the 1980s. It is Kimball’s homespun, stolid Vermonter style that underpins everything they do from the magazines to the TV shows to the radio show.”

I’m happy to say I was wrong. Certainly things have worked out for Kimball, but it’s also worked out for ATK. Read More and Comment

The People Behind the Headlines

I have a neighbor who was in the news a couple of months ago and not for a good reason. Now, to be clear, I don’t know this neighbor personally and only became aware of them the day the news trucks were in front of their house a few streets over. But I do walk by their house every morning on my daily constitutionals.

They were in the news because they were a government employee who allegedly succumbed to temptation and stole public funds. It wasn’t a little bit, but it wasn’t a kingly sum either (given they were living in a small ranch-style house like mine). Still, it was allegedly a crime and a breach of the public trust so I’m not offering any excuses.

The reason I bring this up now is because I see they have suddenly sold their house. I don’t know for certain why—perhaps they had been planning a move all along—but the timing certainly suggests that the sale is not unrelated. Mounting a legal defense is expensive and paying restitution would not be cheap. And given that the person charged with the crime is now out of work and probably unable to get a new job at similar pay, finances are probably tight.

Again, I’m not interested in excusing a crime, even white-collar crime, but I am looking beyond the headlines and news stories to remember that there are people behind every story. People make bad decisions every day, maybe not criminal decisions like these ones are alleged to be, but certainly sinful ones. And we suffer the consequences of those actions. Sometimes we suffer the consequences of other people’s actions, like the family of the accused or another neighbor who recently had an out-of-control driver crash through her house and render it uninhabitable, not to mention the young lady in the car who lost her life.

It’s a reminder to me to remember the news is not a reality show, that there are people in pain and hurting all around. These are people who need prayers and care. I regret that I didn’t know these neighbors and don’t know most of my neighbors despite having lived in this house for a decade now. Such isolation is a symptom of our modern life, of the general disconnection among people who live in this area, and of my own introverted tendencies. I need to remedy that.

I need constant reminders that the people in the news or who go viral on social media or who show up in the comment boxes online are all real people with real struggles who are loved by God and for whom Christ died to save. It seems so simple and yet I often need reminders.

How Scott Hahn Changed the Church

We’ve been doing some major tidying up around our house, which led me to tackling the bookshelves in my office. And that led me to pulling down some of my very old sets of Scott Hahn audiotapes. These date back to the 1980s and include his series on Salvation History as well as a set on the Lamb’s Supper and on the Eucharist.

I still remember my 11-hour drives in the early 1990s back and forth to and from school between home and Steubenville, Ohio, listening to these tapes for hour upon hour. Or before that during my daily commute to work or while I was doing chores at home.1 Then eventually I was able to take some classes with Scott as part of my theology major and to interact with him as a student to teacher.

It was Scott who was a major part of my decision to go to Franciscan University to study theology in the first place. I’d been dithering about going back to school, where to go, and what to study. Then I attended a one-day conference at St. Marie’s parish in Manchester, New Hampshire, where Scott was speaking along with his wife, Kimberly, and Peter Kreeft and Tom Howard. (What a lineup!) In the vendor area, Franciscan University had wisely set up a booth and so, inspired by what I’d heard, I picked up an application and the rest is history. Read More and Comment

More Nonsense about Free College

Progressives/liberals are obsessed with the idea of free college for everyone, probably because it’s an electoral winner. What it is is another trillion-dollar boondoggle. Here’s the latest proposal from the op-ed pages of the Boston Globe.

Marcella Bombardieri of the Center for American Progress pushes the group’s new plan that would give free in-state public college tuition, room, board, transportation and other expenses to students from families that make less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Middle-class families would pay up to 10 percent of their income. Upper income would pay 20 percent. (There’s nothing to indicate what they mean by “middle” and “upper”.) If they go to private schools or out-of-state public schools, they would pay “slightly higher.”

For their part, schools would be given golden handcuffs of promises of more federal and state funding in exchange for certain guarantees of quotas filled and “benchmarks” reached, i.e. “teach this in this way and enforce these social engineering rules, follow these government mandates, etc.”

What would be the cost of this little plan? Just $60 billion per year, they claim, a pittance compared to … name your big federal program here. But of course, the real cost would be more than that. Way more than that. Why?

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Podcasting Equipment For Beginners

As someone who has been involved in podcasting for almost a decade and who podcasts as a full-time job now, I often get asked for recommendations for podcasting equipment for beginners. I wish I had a good quick answer for that, but I don’t. That’s because there is a lot to consider first.1 But before we get into the equipment, first dispose of any ideas that podcasting is like what you see on TV shows like God Friended Me. Just no.

What kind of podcast?

Is this going to be informal for a few friends? Are you going for a wide audience? Are you planning on commercializing it? Are you podcasting for your business or organization?

Where will you record it?

At your desk? In the car? On the go? Coffee shops? At a podium or lectern? In a lot of different places?

Who will you record it with?

Are you making a solo podcast? Are you doing a podcast with a co-host? A group of people? The same people or a changing panel?

How will you record it with them?

If you’re recording with other people, will they be joining you in your office? Via Skype or other remote service? In a car? Outside? On the road?

How much is your budget?

You can spend almost nothing up to thousands of dollars, although a decent setup that can last you through several advances in expertise can be had for a couple hundred dollars.

How long do you think you’ll be doing this?

Are you not sure if you want to make a commitment? Are you looking to experiment? Or do you plan on doing this years with a regularly scheduled show?

Starting small

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Looking Back on 2018

It has become my custom to spend the last couple of days of each year to write up a review of what happened in the previous year and then to give a brief glance forward.1

Moving to SQPN Full-Time

This was a year of a big job transition and a big leap of faith. As 2018 began, the Star Quest Production Network (SQPN), where I had been working as a part-time executive director since 2015, underwent a large transition. The last original founder, Fr. Roderick Vonhogen, left SQPN and that left the network at an inflection point. After much consideration, the board of SQPN and I agreed to take a leap of faith and bring me on full-time as CEO to re-launch the network on its original mission with mostly new shows. We started with just two shows that we’d carried over and how have about a dozen shows as we begin 2019. We still have a long way to go to make self-sustaining, but I’m very excited by what we’re doing now and the support we’re receiving.

Of course, moving to SQPN full-time meant leaving Mass. Citizens for Life, where I’d been for two years. While the work they do is important, I do not miss driving into Boston for a commute. Being able to work from home has meant a huge change in lifestyle for our family and we’ve proven that I can do recordings without interruption or negative impact from a small house full of homeschooling kids.

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Easier iPhone 6 Battery Replacement

iPhone 6

You might remember from earlier this year a so-called scandal over Apple throttling CPUs to save battery life in certain models of iPhones, particularly the iPhone 6, leading to a battery replacement program. What you might not know is that there’s a better way to get an iPhone 6 battery replacement than standing in a store.

While claims of nefarious intent are somewhat overblown,1 Apple did agree to replace batteries at a steep discount until the end of 2018. The price before the deal was $79, but for now it’s $29. (After January 1, it’s only going up to $49, which is better than before.)

Unfortunately, everyone forgot until the last minute and Apple Stores, which are always jammed before Christmas, are even more jammed with people looking for appointments to replace their batteries. (Also keep in mind that only Apple is officially doing repairs. You may see other places offering battery replacement deals, but these aren’t part of the official plan and may charge you more.)

Last weekend, during some clean up I found that I still had an iPhone 6 that I’d forgotten about. I recall now that we’d been using it as a glorified iPod for use in the car, but—you guessed it—the battery life was a problem and we’d forgotten about it. So now, I was faced with the question of whether to bother braving the crowds to get in the deal before the end of the year.

But I found that it wasn’t necessary. Apple has a mail-in program for the replacement. I went on their website and filled out a form, they sent me a box and packing materials and instructions overnight to my house, I packed up the phone, and I dropped it off at a Fedex dropbox the same day, and the phone got to Apple’s repair depot the next day. That’s pretty fast!

Now, I don’t know how long it will take to get the phone back. I’m expecting it to take a few days, but that doesn’t bother me as this isn’t my primary phone. But it sure beats going to a mall and fighting the crowds while racing the end of the year clock to get my iPhone 6 battery replacement.

Update: I got the iPhone back in just three business days (dropped at Fedex on Thursday, December 13, and received it back on Tuesday morning, December 18). That’s pretty fast! And it’s good as new.

  1. At worst, Apple was guilty of a failure of transparency. Fevered claims of planned obsolescence and manipulation don’t match the facts. All phone manufacturers use forms of throttling to stretch battery life. But Apple should have acknowledged that the iPhone 6 battery did not live up to their expectations for its service life and should have told users that they would experience throttling effects unless they replaced their batteries. And they should have allowed people to turn off the worst throttling if they needed better performance in the short term versus battery life.

Isabella’s New Computer

Yes, we got Bella a new computer and it’s not a Mac. No, I have not apostatized or lost my mind. I am still a dyed-in-the-wool lifelong Apple fanatic and shareholder who always chooses the Apple product. So why a Chromebook?

A couple of simple reasons. First, we’ve been thinking of getting her a computer of some kind for her own. She’s 12 years old now and starting to do work that requires regular access to a computer for writing and other needs. For one thing, her writing ability outstrips her typing ability, meaning her ability to compose something in her mind is far greater than her ability to type it out, so we need voice-to-text typing.

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Uber Deception on the Benefits of Congestion Pricing

An Uber executive writes an op-ed in today’s Boston Globe touting the benefits of congestion pricing to reduce traffic in Boston. Andrew Salzberg, Uber’s head of transportation policy, says that it’s a fact that traffic in Boston is among the worst in the country and that are mass transit systems need new investment. But his argument is based on sleight of hand and misdirection and his claims of Uber’s selflessness are misleading.

Before looking at Salzberg’s claims, I should note that congestion pricing and per-mile tolling have long been part of some politicians’ wish lists. As recently as 2016, the Legislature considered a bill to begin a pilot program to tax drivers based on the number of miles traveled. Earlier, the former state governor Deval Patrick floated the idea of toll gates at every exit on every highway in the state. So, this is not some pie-in-the-sky isolated proposal by Salzberg and Uber.

Now to begin, Salzberg claims that “all vehicles should pay to use the roads,” implying that unless you’re paying a toll you’re driving for free. This is false. We arelady pay for the privilege of driving on Massachusetts roads through a use tax that is the gas tax. In fact, we pay 26.54 cents per gallon in state tax 1, which in 2016 brought in $766 million total, a significant growth from prior years due to both an increase in the tax from 24 cents in 2013 and the rebounding economy. Now, advocates will claim that increasing fuel efficiency of vehicles is lowering the amount of gas consumed (that’s not a bad thing!), but as we can see that is a very long term problem, not a short term one. However, the bottom line is that Massachusetts taxpayers are indeed paying a road fee to the tune of three-quarters of a billion dollars per year in just gas taxes.
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My Backup Strategy in 2018

It’s been six years since I wrote about my strategy for safeguarding my irreplaceable data with good backups, and I think I’m due for an update.

In the main, much of what I wrote hasn’t changed much. I still do multiple backups, onsite and offsite, to ensure that my data always exists in at least three places, but some of the details have changed. Some of that is because of the introduction of new cloud services and some because my own situation has changed.

I still run a Time Machine backup of my primary computer, which is now an iMac. I also do daily clones of this computer to an external hard drive, although I do not daily do two daily clones1. Because I work from home, there’s no offsite location for the second clone to reside. I do a weekly backup of the second hard drive in my MacBook Pro2, but because I keep all my important data in Dropbox, that all gets backed up when I back up my iMac. Likewise, I still do a Backblaze offsite backup of all my data from my iMac.

Additions to my backup scheme include iCloud Photo Library and iCloud backups for my iPhone and iPad. I pay for the iCloud 2TB storage tier, which may be a bit of overkill, but I’m also backing up Melanie’s iPhone and my Mom’s iPhone and some hand-me-down iPads that the kids use and that puts us over the 200GB of the next lowest plan.3 The iCloud Photo Library ensures that my photos are not only backed up from my iMac (where I have set the preference to “Download Originals to this Mac”) on my clones and to Backblaze, but also in Apple’s cloud.4
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