Admission to the University of Schadenfreude

Yale University

There’s a lot of fascination and glee over this college admissions scandal story. In case you aren’t following the constant stream of reports, ultra-wealthy and famous parents along with a bunch of college coaches and administrators in a federal criminal case that says the essentially bribed and lied to get their children into elite universities. Because it also involves a couple of TV actresses, it’s gotten even more attention. The Boston Globe has had more than a dozen stories in the paper the past two days about it.

It’s not just the newspaper. TV, print, and Web media are all over this and people are sharing the stories and commenting at a furious pace. We can probably guess why. Most people want their children to succeed in life and most see college as the path to success. They also see ultra-competitive, expensive schools as the surest of those paths, but only a tiny percentage of those who apply can get in. Meanwhile, many people have suspected for a long time that while their own smart kids have a tiny chance to get into the likes of Stanford, Yale, or even USC, if you’re rich enough or able to play a sport well enough, you get special treatment.

So now we learn that parents were able to cheat on their kids’ SATs or ACTs and get them fake-recruited on sports teams for the price of a tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars for the prestige of the right diploma from the right school.

But now they’ve been caught and people are fascinated by this, not just because it confirms previously held beliefs, but because it contradicts a belief that the rich and famous get away with stuff the rest of us cannot. Of course, not everyone has to resort to crime.

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Going iPad Only is Stupid

iPad on top of MacBook Pro

Sorry for the clickbait headline, but this does encapsulate some of the frustration I’ve been feeling lately. I listen to a lot of Mac/iOS/tech podcasts and read a lot of blogs in that space as well and one of the common trends I’ve seen lately is how many people have declared that the age of the PC is over and that the new touchscreen tablet era has begun.

Time and again, I see these pundits exclaim that they have eschewed their Macs, with their clunky keyboards and massive screens in favor of the simplicity of a touch interface and Apple Pencil, which has simplified their workflows and allows them to focus on getting their work done. Sure. Perhaps. But it sounds like a lot of hipster baloney to me.

I’m no neophyte with technology, but whenever I try to do my work on an iPad instead of my Macs, I feel like I’m trying to swim through a pool of pudding with one arm tied behind my back. It’s not that I can’t do my work there (although there are some things that are still not possible on an iPad), but that trying to do it there takes longer and is harder. So why do it? To prove a point? Read More and Comment

The Podcasting Moment

Coffee cup and smartphone playing a podcast

Podcasting is big right now as seen by the big media companies moving into the podcasting space now. The Boston Globe writes about the podcasting explosion locally and nationally, including Spotify’s acquisition of Gimlet Media and Anchor and how heavily invested in it that public radio entities are getting.

Podcasting is still not easy (yet) and there’s a significant learning curve if you want to do it right. It’s also difficult to stand out from the pack of all the other podcasts out there. In some ways, it’s like the days when blogging was transitioning from a hobby that a few people were turning into careers into professional advertiser-supported media platforms.

The article talks about the distributed nature of podcasting and how it would be a shame if one company became the gatekeeper and arbiter of podcasting, by which they seem to mean Apple, which had the first major podcast directory (and named podcasts after the iPod) but has not yet tried to control or monetize it. And while I’d guess that most people still find podcasts through Apple, there is a lot of competition in directories by Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn, podcast apps, and newcomers top the space like Spotify and Pandora.

But podcasts still have the problem that they’re hard for average people to find and consume. They have to download apps and subscribe to feeds, if they can find them, or listen to shows in open web browsers. It’s not like saying, “Watch that new show on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime.”

But it’s getting easier. If you have an Amazon Echo or a Google Home, you can say, “Alex/OK Google, play [Podcast Name] podcast,” and as you include the word “podcast” at the end, it should play it with no further fuss.

Of course, I have a vested interest in this whole conversation as the head of a small Catholic non-profit podcast network. I certainly wouldn’t be averse to some big player wanting to donate/invest money in our operation to help us keep going and reach more people.

Separating Art and Artist

Destruction of icons in Zurich 1524.

Over the past couple of years, society has been undergoing a new reckoning that has been dubbed the #MeToo movement. It’s part of a larger grappling with the problem of people who used to get away with abusing and using others for their own purposes and without personal cost.

This reckoning has taken down many famous personages and left us with some big questions, including what to do with the art and other work left behind by people who did bad things.

An illustrative example: The late Michael Jackson had long been dogged by accusations that his behavior with children was creepy and a new documentary has brought forth some men with credible allegations that he had abused him.

In response, the expurgation of the work of Michael Jackson has begun. Radio stations around the world have begun announcing they will no longer play his music–which is a substantial statement given how popular and influential his body of pop music has been.

The producers of the long-running “The Simpsons” have even removed from circulation a 1991 episode in which Jackson guest-starred. Given the longevity of the show and its penchant for celebrity guest stars, you have to wonder how many more episodes will be pulled.

This pattern is being repeated. Comedians, actors, authors, artists, musicians, directors, producers, journalists, chefs, and restaurateurs are all among those who have been accused and forced from public life and whose body of work has now been declared off-limits by those who decide such things for us.

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Reporting Systems are Fine; What We Need is Strong Leadership

Cardinal Seán O'Malley

Cardinal Seán O’Malley is instituting a new system for reporting misconduct by bishops of the Archdiocese of Boston. Of course, it’s mainly symbolic, but it sends a challenge to his brother bishops in the US and beyond to take similar action.

The new phone number and web site is similar to one that was set up in 2011 to report financial misconduct in the archdiocese from a company that specializes in setting up whistleblower systems for corporations and organizations.

At the moment, the only people it covers are the cardinal himself and his auxiliaries and his authority to institute it comes from his sovereign authority as bishop.

And therein lies a problem. The system exists at the will of the man who sits in the chair. Any successor of his could turn it off at a whim. The same is true for every other diocese.

The cure for these situations, like that of Ted McCarrick, the former cardinal and laicized cleric, is not that we need a reporting system. The solution can only come from having leaders willing to take action against those who undermine the Church, steep themselves in sin, and drive the nails through Christ into the cross by their abuse of the innocent or protecting those who do.

Cardinal Seán’s action is a good first step, but there are no easy solutions. What we need is for the Holy Spirit to bring us new strong and Christ-like bishops and for that we can only pray.

When is Bread Not Bread?

Eucharist held in the hand

The upcoming Pan-Amazon Synod for the Catholic bishops of the region has been gaining controversy for some of its controversial proposals, but this one is the worst yet.

One proposal wants to replace the wheat bread used to confect the Eucharist with a bread-like food made from yuca, a starchy tuber that grows in South America, Africa, and Asia. Msgr. Charles Pope sounds the alarm on this one by pointing out that the only valid matter for the Eucharist is bread made of wheat flour and water and nothing else. Not rice, not yuca, nothing.

Like other tubers, yuca can be used to make gluten-free “bread.” But it is not bread — it is merely bread-like. By definition, bread is made with grain. The Church has long been quite specific that the bread for the Holy Eucharist must be made with pure wheat flour. Nothing is to be admixed—no honey, no nuts, no other grains. This purity is necessary for validity.

I recall many years ago attending a Mass in the Diocese of Richmond near Virginia Beach at which the bread used for the Eucharist was leavened with yeast and had honey and, I think even raisins or nuts. It wasn’t good bread and it wasn’t the Eucharist. It was only one of the liturgical abuses present in that Mass.

Anyway, the reason they want to replace actual wheat bread for fake bread in the Amazon is apparently because it’s so humid there that the wheat hosts become mushy and, they claim, no longer bread. So, the bread is no longer bread and must be replaced with something that is not bread either?

We need clear instructions from Rome that this is unacceptable because down this path leads the denial of the sacrament to many of the faithful.

Leave the Cap On

Plastic bottles and recycling

I was surprised by the advice in this article about recycling plastic bottles. I don’t use a lot of water bottles, but we go through a lot of milk bottles and surely that must be similar.

The gist is that when recycling plastic bottles, you should leave the cap on so that caps don’t get sorted by the recycler into landfill-bound waster by the recycler. I’ve had a habit of leaving them on and recently stopped after Melanie asked me about it and I realized that leaving the cap on trapped moisture in the bottle, which can lead to grossness. So now I’ll start leaving it on.

However, I’ve always crushed plastic containers when putting them in recycling because an empty milk bottle takes up so much space, which means I have to empty the recycling more often.1 But now they say crushing the containers can confuse the sorting machines into thinking they’re paper and they’ll end up in the wrong place (if your recycling pickup is single stream and not pre-sorted).

So, on the plus side I was right about the caps. On the negative side, I guess I’ll be taking out the recycling more often.

  1. Taking out the trash and recycling is my job and with a family of seven it’s a constant battle to keep them from overflowing.

My Podcasting Workflow: Hardware Setup

Dom sitting at his desk with his computer gear

I’m sometimes asked about my podcasting workflow, how SQPN goes about recording, editing, distributing, and promoting our shows. Right now, for the most part, this is a one-man operation. However, we’re growing to the point where I’m going to need to start bringing on some help and handing off some of these elements to other people. So what follows is a series of posts that explain the multiple steps that take me from the beginning to the end of the process for each show we produce. The first step involves the hardware setup.

My office at home is where I do my podcasting. I have a big Ikea desk on which sits my computer and a second monitor and microphone. Actually “sit” isn’t technically true. Both the 27″ iMac and the 27″ secondary display are on separate swing arms that allow me to move and reposition them independently as needed. On a small rolling cart to my right sits my Mackie ProFX8 mixer. It’s a bit overkill for a single microphone setup, but I anticipate doing multiple microphone recordings in my office in the future and this will work well for that. The Mackie is connected to my Mac via USB.

My microphone, an Audio-Technica ATR2100, is connected via XLR to the mixer through a Cloudlifter CL-1 microphone pre-amplifier. The microphone hangs off of a Rode PSA1 boom arm and a shock mount along with a pop filter.

Hanging from an Elevation Lab AnchorPro headphone hook under my desk is my Audio-Technica ATH-M50x headphones which are directly connected to my iMac’s audio-out port.
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Too Many Cars? Private Enterprise Could Fix That

Around here we call Cambridge the “People’s Republic” for a reason. The city’s politics veer somewhere to the left of Leningrad circa 1985. So when they set out to reduce car ownership in the city a few years ago it had a decidedly liberal bent … and the predictable outcome. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

A few years ago, Cambridge set a goal to reduce car ownership out of environmental concerns and started by trying to encourage people to go without and instead rely on buses and bike routes and the usual stuff that works for singles and small households, but not larger middle class families. The gentle carrot approach didn’t work as much as they’d hoped so now they’re going for a little less gentle approach of limiting the available parking, on or off street. And if that doesn’t work…. can taxes or “congestion fees” or any number of punitive steps be far behind?

Unfortunately, Cambridge’s policies seem to assume that most people who live in Cambridge work in the city or in neighboring Boston and don’t really venture outside those cities for anything. Of course, if you have five kids like we do, you’re already a pariah in the PRC so complaints about schlepping kids and their stuff around or wanting to visit family in the ‘burbs or go on vacation or even just go to the grocery story once a week fall on deaf ears. Instead, you get suggestions that maybe you should pay for Instacart or Uber or Zipcar or a bunch of other expensive services that still aren’t quite aimed at big families or the poor for that matter.

Still, there’s a future coming in which there may be a way to reduce car ownership without onerous regulation, but relies on private enterprise to fill some of the gap. That’s because we’re very close to having autonomous electric vehicles available. Read More and Comment

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