Raising the Betts #43: What a Year This Week Has Been

On the latest episode of Raising the Betts: In the midst of this crisis, the Betts stop to ponder what positive effects on faith and culture can result from weeks or months of society-wide quarantine. They also discuss how the family is praying through this time, as well as a fun creative social activity they’re engaged in.

In A Crisis of Purpose, We Stop to Consider What God Wills for Us

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker last night in his press conference announcing mandatory closure of non-essential business and a stay-at-home advisory said something that caught my attention. He was musing on the existential oppression being felt by so many people stuck in their homes day after day, unable to work or engage in their usual social or civic activities. He said that for many, their purpose has been stripped away. Without the need to get up every morning, get dressed, commute to work, work hard all day, take the kids to sports or other events, being part of religious organizations, meeting friends–they’ve lost a sense of purpose in their lives. They are rudderless.

It makes me wonder if that’s one of the goods that God will draw out of this evil. Perhaps we had collectively found our purpose in the wrong things. Not bad things. Certainly necessary things. But not the purpose of our being. If my purpose–or to put in a way more familiar to Catholics, my vocation— is in my job or my social life or my volunteer work or anything else, even though they be very good, then I may have missed the mark. My essential purpose, the very fundamental purpose that underlies everything is, as the old Baltimore Catechism told us, to know God, to love Him, to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven. My vocation is how I do all that through my state in life, whether in marriage, priesthood, religious life, or the single life. Everything else flows from that.

But how often we get the priority wrong. How often does knowing and loving God take a back seat to my job, my activities, my busy-ness? How often does loving my family fall into second place to the demands of my job? There’s also a trap in thinking that loving my family is all the stuff we shuttle them around to, the things we do. It’s certainly a part of it, but it begins before that in connecting with them. With our kids, in loving them, forming them, forming their faith. With our spouse, in loving them, helping them in their journey toward heaven, in growing in relationship with Christ and being ever more open to the graces of the Holy Spirit.

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My Podcasting Workflow: Post-Production and Editing

I’m sometimes asked about my podcasting workflow, how SQPN goes about recording, editing, distributing, and promoting our shows. This is the third in 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 post was about my hardware setup, the second was on research, prep, and organization, and the third was how I record the shows.

After I finish recording a show and I’ve received all the files from others, I store them in a Dropbox folder until I’m ready to edit. My editing software of choice is Adobe Audition, a powerful application that is part of the Adobe Creative Suite. In addition, I use a set of audio processing plugins called Izotope RX 7 Standard.

I should give a disclaimer right here up front: I am not an audio engineer nor an expert sound editor. I know just enough–self-taught, helped by friends, and gleaned from numerous YouTube tutorials–to make our shows listenable. There are other people who are much better sound editors and we are lucky enough to have Victor Lams, who volunteers to help edit some of our shows, especially those with long lead-times for editing. But most of the editing falls on my shoulders at this point, until at least SQPN gets to a financial point not only where it’s breaking even, but with enough surplus to pay a real sound editor.

That said, here’s what I do.

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Raising the Betts #41: Down the Drain

On the latest episode of Raising the Betts, the Betts this week deal with a cascade of kitchen plumbing messes, including a new dishwasher, a falling sink, and new plumbing under the sink; enroll in Merit Badge U; race in the Pinewood Derby; review Spenser: Confidential and Knives Out as well as Eifelheim and The British Are Coming; and have some more great recipes that are good for Lent, including a great soup based on a Moroccan chickpea and lentil soup.

Listen to or download this episode or subscribe.

When Pandemic Was Our Neighbor

I’ve been reading “The British Are Coming,” by Rick Atkinson, a history of the American Revolutionary War, which is a fantastic book.1 One thing that has struck me was how precarious life used to be. Of course, I know how disease and death was much more common in the past, from plagues and pandemics and accidents and war and childbirth. But as Atkinson relates the story of the Revolution, he always lists alongside the casualties from battle, how many more men and women died from disease. Almost 3 times as many Americans died of disease as from battle.2 Smallpox, typhus, dysentery, and other diseases were rampant in both prison camps and army bivouacs.

Summer was not the idyllic time of vacation then as it was it now because summer was when pestilence and vermin ran rampant. Winter was no respite because of the threat of cold and starvation. (Imagine never being able to get warm enough to sit anywhere without being bundled up.)3 Childbirth was fraught with danger and maternal mortality was a constant threat as was the death of newborns and children from all kinds of dangers.

And yet much of that has essentially disappeared in our modern age, at least in the developed world. Our medicine today would seem like magic to our colonial forebears and we are relatively free from the kind of mortality and suffering that they endured. (Relatively).

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My Podcasting Workflow: Recording

I’m sometimes asked about my podcasting workflow, how SQPN goes about recording, editing, distributing, and promoting our shows. This is the third in 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 post was about my hardware setup and the second was on research, prep, and organization.

When it comes time to record a show, I rely on a couple of pieces of software. Now, I know some podcasters prefer to record only to a hardware audio recorder as a failsafe against a software crash taking out the whole recording. But that was back in the days when Skype was a lot less stable than it is now and more prone to crashing and taking everything with it. I also think those people tended to be recording on Windows.1


Audio Hijack

My main recording software is Audio Hijack from Rogue Amoeba. This is modular software that allows you to construct an audio workflow using block-like structures. It works in conjunction with another Rogue Amoeba product called Loopback, which allows you to route audio in non-standard ways around your computer.

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My Favorite Keyboard Maestro Macros

I got a request to share my favorite Keyboard Maestro macros and so I put a few of them together here. Keyboard Maestro (KM) is a Mac app that allows you to create complex automations to control your software in almost any way imaginable. It’s incredibly powerful, but it can also be useful even in simple ways.

I should note that while I developed some of my macros from scratch, others were shared by other users and I’m using them now or have adapted them to my use. I also have, no kidding, 181 macros so I won’t be sharing them all. Here are some of my favorites.

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Incrementing the Nanny State

January 1 is a traditional date for new laws to go into effect, 21st century humans being all about segmenting and notating things, and so I find myself perusing the latest new laws our overlords in Washington and Boston have seen fit to burden us with.

One that catches my attention is a new Massachusetts law that bans idling of car engines. While this linked page is about idling in Boston, it’s a new statewide law. The summary of the law is that you can’t leave your car unattended and running for more than five minutes. There are limited exceptions, like when you need the engine to do some necessary task like operating a lift. I’ve seen other descriptions say that letting an idling unattended car defrost the windshield is also permitted, but the law doesn’t explicitly say that .

But of course I’m also thinking of a different case. We’re now told by all the relevant safety figures that we should not buckle kids into car seats in bulky winter coast as it’s not safe. But if we can’t heat up the car on sub-freezing days, what are we supposed to do? Should I put my kid in a dangerously cold car with no coat on? If the goal is to prevent idling the engine to avoid pollution, sitting in the car with the child in a coat and unbuckled until the car is warm before taking off the coat and buckling him, then we’re not really saving any gas. We’re just creating frustration.

This is yet another law that adds to the thousands of laws on the books where many of them don’t think through all the possible consequences and just put us on the wrong side of steep fines.

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Looking Back on 2019

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 year and then to give a brief glance forward.

The growth of StarQuest (SQPN)

Last year I made the switch to working at SQPN full-time. I had been part-time executive director since 2015, but when Fr. Roderick split off with Trideo at the beginning of 2018, we had to make a decision about what to do with SQPN, either to go all-in or shut it down. And we went all-in.

As 2019 began, we’d had eight months to rebuild the network’s programming with a bunch of new shows, including our most popular one, Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World. We added even more new shows in 2019, including American Catholic History, Secrets of Technology, Secrets of Star Wars, Catholics of Oz, Secrets of Disney, and Raising the Betts. That last one is a show I do with Melanie where we talk about what’s going on in our family, the fun stuff we do, what we’re cooking and so on. It’s different from my other shows because it’s more personal and because it has brought Melanie into my working world. I always said I’d get her on a podcast.

My hope is that in 2020, we can finally get the network back to a financially secure footing, close our budget deficit, and be confident for the long-term future. It won’t take a lot to close that gap, but it seems to be the hardest gap to cross.

Home repair and improvement

It seems to have been a better year for home maintenance. We did have to replace our refrigerator this year. It was over 10 years old and held together by duct tape and replacement parts had become rare and expensive. We bought the new fridge on the Mass. sales tax holiday, saving a nice chunk of cash, and I’ve been pleased with how it’s worked out. While it’s not larger in exterior dimensions, there seems to be more usable space inside and replacing the swinging freezer door with a drawer has meant it is much easier to get things in and out of the freezer.

But other than that, it’s been a good year for the house. Which probably means that 2020 will be see a bunch of stuff needing to be done. It’s like there’s a cycle.

Trip to Gettysburg

Our big family vacation this year took us to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I wrote about that at length previously, but the short version is that we’d intended to go at the end of our big Kentucky trip in 2018, but Ben got sick and we had to go straight home. This time we got a full week at the end of July. The battlefield was awesome, as was the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton shrine nearby, but the weather was brutally hot and we left a day earlier than planned because we couldn’t take another night of sleeping in the oppressive heat. From now on, mid-summer camping is in the mountains or by the sea, where it’s cooler.
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Using Hue motion sensor temperature with Geektool and Keyboard Maestro

One part of our smart home setup is our Philips Hue lighting system. Over the years I’ve replaced many of our old light bulbs with Hue smart bulbs in various fixtures, which allows us not only to control the lights with automation and schedules, but also with our voices using Alexa and Siri. We can also group control of them through compatible switches without having to rewire what’s in the walls.

Philips also makes a motion sensor, which is great for rooms that don’t get a lot of traffic during the day, meaning that the lights go off when no one’s using them or where people often forget to turn them off. I have one of these sensors in my office and another in the pantry/laundry room. What’s nice is that these sensors also have thermometers in them, which means I can track the temperature in the rooms. Unfortunately, to find out out what the temp is, you have to open either the Home app or the Hue app to find out. Unless you do a little home programming.

I wanted to have the current ambient temperature of both rooms to be constantly updated and displayed on my desktop and, also, to get notifications if the temperature gets too cold in the winter or too hot in the summer and I might want to turn on the heater or the air conditioner to adjust the temperature.1

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