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.
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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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Skip College, Go to Trade School

I’ve been beating this drum for years. More young people should consider skipping college, learn a trade, and start life without a crushing burden of debt for a degree you never needed. The Wall Street Journal has now noticed a trend, profiling the new generation of students who don’t opt out of college because they don’t have the grades, but because they want to take a different path.

In 2009, the last year for which data is available, 19% of high-school students were concentrating in vocational subjects, down from 24% in 1990.

Even as more students enroll in college, “40% to 50% of kids never get a college certificate or degree,” said Tony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. And among those who do graduate, about one-third end up in jobs that don’t require a four-year degree.

Why go into tens of thousands of dollars of debt (in some cases, hundreds of thousands), to end up in the half that don’t finish anyway or the large percentage who don’t end up using all the expensive “book learning”. And let’s not forget the crazy classes and ideological indoctrination and crazy bacchanalian libertinism.

Meanwhile, the kids who apprenticed or went to a trade school or got vocational training are out there earning good salaries and getting their lives started without crushing debt.

My older brother Bernie never went to college, but he owns his own business driving a tractor trailer and is quite successful, much more than I will be having gone to 4+ years of college. That path will be one of the options my children will explore.

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