Say hello to Lucia Rose

Lucia Rose, wide awakeMeet my new daughter, Lucia Rose. She was born today, 1/3/13 at 1300 (i.e. 1 p.m.). She was 7lbs, 2oz, and 18–1/2 inches long and had a full head of dark brunette hair.

Lucia shares a birthday with my favorite author, J.R.R. Tolkien, born this day in 1892, and the famed pianist/humorist Victor Borge. Her feast day is the Holy Name of Jesus and St. Genevieve.

This was a scheduled c-section, since Melanie has 4 caesarean sections already and the option for natural birth is long in the past. However, the schedule was not exactly the schedule we thought. Lucia was supposed to be born on 12/31, but Melanie had caught a cold over Christmas and then a stomach bug and was in such bad shape for her pre-op appointment last Sunday that they re-scheduled her. But as they say all things work out in the end for good, since not only does Lucia get this auspicious day for her birthday, Melanie also managed to get her favorite OB, Dr. Shaw, for the surgery.

Untitled Dr. Shaw does not have a private practice, but only does hospital work. She takes unexpected c-sections mainly and she delivered Anthony, who came earlier than his scheduled date. She has an amazing bedside manner and is acknowledged as one of the best OB surgeons in the area. (The nursing staff both times gushed over Dr. Shaw, which tells you something.) As it turned out, Melanie said this was the easiest of her deliveries, with the least anxiety and the least pain, during and after. Let’s hope this is a sign of things to come as recovery always seems to take forever for her.

As we were preparing to head to the hospital this morning, I took a moment to review how I captured the moment for the other four births. Each one has been chronicled in one way or another online.

UntitledFor instance, with Isabella in May 2006, I took a photo in the recovery room and posted it online later that evening when I was back home on my iMac. The next morning, I wrote a blog post with all the details of her birth. Since that was before the ascendancy of Twitter and Facebook (remember those days?), that was the extent of it.

By the time Sophia was born in March 2008, Twitter had come along and so after a brief post to the blog from my oh-so-barely-adequate Blackberry, I tweeted some updates, but also had a series of blog posts over the next few days as we tried to get her to come out naturally before having to resort to c-section. (A harbinger of stubbornness to come.) Happily, the hospital now had Wifi and so we had our laptops in the room during labor and afterward. Melanie even blogged during labor.


When Ben came around in July 2009, the social media revolution was in full swing and so in addition to updates on Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr, I had a nice blog entry introducing my son. Interestingly, Benedict got the most media exposure as Michael Paulson, who was then covering the religion beat for the Boston Globe, featured our naming of Benedict after Pope Benedict, in his blog at the Globe’s website. (The comments were a mix of nice remarks and the usual troll-droppings you find in newspaper comboxes.)

And then there was Anthony in February 2011. By the time of his birth, live tweeting was old hat. I now had an iPhone that I could take pictures with, post online, write tweets and status updates and all the rest. Interestingly, I primarily used the web services Posterous at the time to simultaneously post to my blog, Twitter, and Facebook. Since then the service pivoted to providing a different kind of experience and then was acquired by Twitter.

7 lbs 2oz. 18-1/2 inches. Born on 1/3/13 at 13:00

So now we have Lucia in January 2013. I was able to use the Buffer web service as an able replacement for Posterous that can post to Facebook, Twitter, and, all at the same time. I also used the new Flickr app on my iPhone to post photos to Twitter and Facebook. I took a short video of Lucia in the OR to send via iMessage to my mother-in-law so she could show her to the other kids at home. Interestingly, for the birthing center staff this raised not a single eyebrow. Whereas for the first three kids at least, the presence of computers and smartphones was occasion for at least a little surprise, for the last two it is clear this has become commonplace.


I had hoped I could up my game this time and live videostream the delivery, but Melanie was dead set against it. (Kidding! Although the nurse did say that they sometimes Skype the delivery so that servicemen overseas can take part.)

So now I am home with the kids in bed while my mother-in-law stays with Melanie and Lucia in the hospital. And all is right with the world. What a great beginning to 2013. I can only hope it stays up like this.

Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit book that started it allMelanie and I took advantage of having her mom with us and not yet having a newborn baby to go to the movies, something we don’t ever get to do. I think the last movie we saw in a theater was the Star Trek reboot in 2009. So this time, we went to the matinée of The Hobbit in IMAX 3D at the local theater.

To put my remarks in perspective, I will point you to the photo accompanying this post. It’s a photo of a 36-year-old copy of The Hobbit. When I was eight, I saw it sitting on my mother’s bedside nighttable and picked it up, thus changing my life from that moment. Over the next two decades I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings several dozen times, as well as The Silmarillion, the 12-volume Histories of Middle Earth, Unfinished Tales, the Children of Hurin, etc. I am a devourer of Tolkien’s literary opus magnus on Middle Earth. Not only that, but the book also launched me on a lifelong love of the genre, which admittedly has resulted in plenty of not-so-good imitators and very few almost-as-good novels.

So when I say I approach this film differently from many movie fans, that’s what I mean. The obvious question is whether I liked the movie. Having heard so many disappointed reviews I was braced for the worst, but I did recognize going in that those who I knew were Tolkien fans like me had given it high marks.

First, I know I sound like an old man, but when did movies get so loud? Right from the first trailer, I actually had to hold one hand over an ear at times. Second, while I enjoyed the IMAX 3D experience, Melanie did not and made me promise for the second and third movies that there would be no 3D. She said it makes it seem blurry to her.

As for the movie itself, I liked it. I thought the addition of the material from appendices was a good move. In a sense the director Peter Jackson isn’t making The Hobbit, per se. He’s making a movie that fills in the gaps in the story of the War of the Ring at the End of the Third Age that the first three movies did not tell. I’m okay with that.

I saw some didn’t like the more playful elements, like the Dwarves throwing the dishes at Bilbo’s home or the Goblin King’s too-humanness or Radagast’s oddities or the three trolls’ vaudevillian act. All those scenes are true to Tolkien’s original story and in fact, in some cases I think Jackson could have gone further. I genuinely missed Bilbo’s tricking the trolls with the different voices, not to mention their names: Tom, Bert, and William. But he also changed the substance of the scene, where the book has Bilbo getting entangled with the trolls because he wants to prove himself as the burglar he was hired to be.

Of course, being a big-budget blockbuster, there has to be plenty of action, a lot more than the book offered. Melanie counted at least six literal cliffhanger scenes (someone actually clinging to a cliff) and a whole lot more pitched battles. I suppose I also accept the presence of Azog the Orc. I can see the filmmaker’s need–where the novelist had none–to have an antagonist to thread throughout the story against our protagonists. As others have pointed out, the book is very episodic and not a continuous story, like The Lord of the Rings. You can tell it was composed as a series of bedtime tales that thread together. Thus Jackson needed something to unite all the episodes across three movies. I think this method will do.

If I were to be a strict adherent to Tolkien, I would be more disturbed by the places that diverged from the book, especially where such divergence didn’t seem necessary for the medium. But that’s not me. I can appreciate the movie on its own terms and as a creative work separate but related to Tolkien’s, a sibling artwork, if you will.

Finally, I’ll leave you with these final thoughts. Every time I saw a sweeping vista or the framing of an iconic place in the story, whether it was Hobbiton or the Misty Mountains or Erebor, I was caught up in the joy of seeing it for real. Of course, I know intellectually that it’s not really Middle Earth, but some location in New Zealand. And yet, it also seems real. As a boy, I lived in Middle Earth in some sense, or it inhabited me. I pored over those books and over every map and companion guide I could get my hands on. I knew every corner of the place. And now here before me in glorious IMAX those places have come to life. In that theater, I felt the old yearning I had as a boy to be there, to go there and back again, if you will. And perhaps it’s The Hobbit’s ability to elicit that fundamental response in me that let’s this fan boy say, I really, really liked this movie.

Best iOS App Updates of 2012

I gave you my Favorite iOS Apps of 2012 earlier and one of my criteria for that post was that they would all be apps that either came out in 2012 or that I discovered in 2012. But there are a few additional apps that have been around for a while and saw huge improvements in usability and/or functionality with new versions that came out in 2012. Some were already great and are just even greater, while others weren’t quite ready for primetime until now.

N.B. Click the images for larger versions of the screenshots.

1Password 4.0 for iPhone and iPad

1PasswordWhen I setup a new computer or iOS device, one of the first pieces of software I install is 1Password from Agile Bits. they make it for all the major platforms, Mac, Windows, iOS, Android. 1Password stores all your online passwords, credit card numbers, software serial numbers, and sensitive notes in a secure database. But it does so much more. The idea is that it allows you to create long, random passwords that are extremely difficult to crack, and allows you to use them in software protected by a more memorable password that unlocks 1Password. That password is theoretically more secure because it nevers leaves your computer or device. 1Password on your Mac or PC also integrates with your web browser so you can login to websites with your secure passwords right without leaving the browser. That’s it in a nutshell.

They’ve had a couple different versions of 1Password for iPhones and iPads with one kind being called Pro and being a Universal app and it was all kind of confusing. Now with 1Password 4.0, it’s one app for all. And it’s even better than ever.

First, it syncs your passwords with 1Password on your computer as it always has, and now allows you to sync either through Dropbox[1], if you use that service, or iCloud.

Second, because the Safari web browser in iOS doesn’t allow the external hooks that web browsers on the Mac do, 1Password can’t work from within Safari on iOS. Instead, they built a web browser into 1Password. This browser existed in previous versions, but the new one works even better. It now allows you to keep multiple tabs open and could even be your every day web browser.

The new 1Password also allows you mark certain password listings as favorites so if you find yourself consulting the same entries again and again (Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, etc.).

The interface also got a much-needed overhaul to make it sharper and more useful and the syncing works faster. Your master password is also the same across platforms now. It used to be that you could have different passwords on Mac, iPhone and iPad. And on the iPhone you had both a 4-digit PIN and the master password. Now it’s all much more convenient and consistent. had a comprehensive first look at the new 1Password that’s worth checking out.

1Password is currently $7.99 for the iOS version for a limited time.


EvernoteAnother piece of software that’s in the first five applications installed on any new device is Evernote. It’s also available in Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS versions, plus a few more. Evernote is your second brain or external memory. It comes in both free and paid versions and it let’s you store text and images (and other kinds of documts in the paid version) and then indexes all the text (including text in images) to let you search for it later. It, too, integrates with web browsers to make it easy to store and retrieve information. I wrote about Evernote’s desktop version about 18 months ago, but it’s gone through several important revisions since then.

The biggest improvement in Evernote for iOS has been the speed boost. Everything is much snappier now. Searching for a note or opening notebooks used to take a long time, especially when you first opened the app and it was downloading the latest updates from your Evernote notebooks in the cloud. But now you can open it up and get to work searching right away without hardly any lag.

The next big improvement is the stability. There were times when I’d tried to capture a photo of something with my iPhone into Evernote and just after I’d snapped the picture and was trying to type a title for the note it would crash. Crashes are much less frequent these days.

The new layout is also great. You can now see your most recently accessed notes as you start the app and you can easily browse by notes, notebooks, tags, and now places. Yes, you can now see all your notes that were created in a particular place, which could useful for, say, when you’ve been to a conference. For example, if I go to Macworld Expo every year, I could gather all my Macworld-related notes from all the years I’ve gone, just by looking at notes created at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

There are a lot of other improvements in the app and a big new area is Evernote Business, which is designed for, you guessed it, companies and organizations to use collaboratively. I don’t use it myself so that doesn’t enter into my calculus for why this is one of the best app updates of 2012.

Evernote is free to download and use. A premium account is $45 per year and gets you more file types that you can upload and larger upload quotas.

Evernote Food 2.0

Evernote Food Another Evernote product is Evernote Food. No surprise, I love food, both cooking it and eating it. And I’m obviously not alone to judge by all the food blogs and photos of dimly lit restaurant entrées posted to Instagram and Facebook.

The idea behind Evernote Food is that it helps you document the food-related parts of your life, whether it’s a meal you cooked yourself or an outing to a restaurant or food-related business. The first version of Evernote Food was just okay at this, but version 2 goes much further to add an element of food and recipe discovery, especially in the iPad version.

It offers four sections now: My Meals, in which you document meals with location, photos, and captions; Restaurants, which lets you find food business around your current or another location; My Cookbook, which uses some intelligence to sift through your full Evernote account for food-related articles you’ve saved; and Explore Recipes, which offers up recipes from a panoply of food blogs.

The Restaurants section is powered by Foursquare and it will show either places you’ve saved in Evernote already, places you’ve documented in My Meals, or places you search for based on a keyword and location. Once you’ve found a place, you can call up details and save it to your Evernote. Of course, being powered by Foursquare, the reliability is subject to the overall reliability of Foursquare’s database. I found several outdated or inaccurate listings in my small hometown.

However, the sections I use the most–after the somewhat foodie self-centered My Meals–are Explore Recipes and My Cookbook. I’d saved some recipes in Evernote in the past, but not too many only because we have a dedicated recipe program that we use on our kitchen Mac called MacGourmet. But with this easy discovery through this app, I can see adding many more recipes here through a quick clip from my web browser as I come across them. And Explore Recipes is a fun glimpse at an interesting an eclectic mix of recipes that you won’t find in any established cooking magazine.

Evernote Food is free to download and use.

Flickr for iPhone

Flickr for iPhoneI’ve been a Flickr user for a number of years and I’ve been a paid user since 2006. Similarly, Melanie has been a paid Flickr user for almost as long as she’s had her blog. The service’s strengths are in the ability to organize your photos and to use it as a way to host images for a website. (Melanie uses it this way.)

Unfortunately, with all the turmoil within parent company Yahoo in recent years, Flickr has been somewhat neglected and hasn’t kept pace with other similar services. And even though they’ve had an iPhone app for a few years, it was pretty bad and I never used it.

That all seems to be changing. The new Flickr app for iPhone came out in December, fortuitously, just as Instagram was alienating its user base, and it’s good enough to bring me back to using it instead of Instagram.

For one thing, the app excels at taking photos now and while it offers the now ubiquitous silly “artistic” filters, they are easily ignored. Where Flickr is an improvement over Instagram is that it doesn’t force me to crop all my photos as a square. Plus the presentation of photos is far prettier and user friendly and I can set up sets and collections and manage privacy in a granular way. Yet like Instagram, I can choose to share my photos to Facebook, Twitter, and a Tumblr account.

Of course, another reason for my immediate switch to using Flickr–maybe even the best reason–has to do with the old adage that if you’re not paying for a service, you’re not the customer, you’re the product being sold. Since I have the option of paying for a Flickr account (and do), I have more confidence that Yahoo won’t try to monetize me and my photos through onerous privacy-stripping means, unlike Instagram which provides no mechanism for me to truly opt-out.

The Flickr app is free, but only comes in an iPhone version at this time.

  1. That is an affiliate link. I earn extra space in my Dropbox account if you sign up for a free or paid account. You also get bonus space too.  ↩



Favorite iOS Apps of 2012

Perhaps the most tired cliché in all of publishing is the end-of-the-year “Best of” list. But since this hasn’t been the most scintillating spot for intellectual conversation in the blogosphere lately, you’ll have to take what you can get.

Actually, I’d written a post like this last year, but I managed to accidentally delete the post–after hours of work–before uploading it. Alas, you will never know what were my favorite iOS apps of 2011. But rejoice, because now you can hear about my favorites of 2012! Let’s get right to it.

N.B. Click the images for larger versions of the screenshots.


Google Chrome

My preferred web browser on all platforms is Google Chrome. Not only is it faster and less prone to memory leaks than either Firefox or Safari, the browser extensions are great (with some that you can’t find for either of the other two)[1] and the syncing among all your computers and devices works great.

This year, Google brought Chrome[2] to iOS and I’ve been using it whenever I have a choice. First, it allowed syncing of tabs before iOS 6 brought it to Safari and since I only use Chrome on my Mac, this is the only way to syncs them. I can also access any individual tab on any of my devices, like my work Mac, my laptop, our kitchen computer, my iPad, or my iPhone, from any of the other devices. Can’t tell you how handy that’s been.

Now the downside. Apple doesn’t allow you to switch default browsers for iOS. While individual developers can choose to you the option, you can’t (unless Apple changes its mind in a future iOS update) have a link in your email, say, open up in Chrome as long as you’re using the stock Mail app on your iOS device. (Of course, you could use the Gmail app, if you’re using Gmail, and then get links to open in Chrome.

Chrome is free to download.

Tweetbot for iPad

Tweetbot for iPad

Tweetbot, the awesome and popular Twitter client, was one of my picks for 2011 for it’s iPhone version, but 2012 brought us the iPad version, specially constructed to take advantage of the larger screen.

I’ve tried many Twitter clients for iOS. (At least fifteen by my rough estimate.) Tweetbot is the one that stands head and shoulders above the rest. The interface is intuitive and makes reading your tweets a pleasure. A very nice feature is the ability to synchronize between devices so you can pick up on your iPad where you left off in Tweetbot for iPhone or Tweetbot for Mac. Also, not to be underestimated is the ability to monitor several separate Twitter accounts which benefits those who have split personalities or who need to access work and personal accounts.

Tweetbot for iPad is $2.99.[3]

Drafts for iPhone and iPad


At first glance, Drafts (for iPhone and iPad) looks like a simple notepad app. When you first launch it, you’re presented with a blank screen and a couple of icons. Each time you open it, you’re presented with a blank slate to work with, while your previous notes are available with the tap of an icon.

Where Drafts really comes into its own is its integration with other apps on your device. Type some text into the note screen, tap the share button, and you can have a long list of actions to take with the text: Email it; Tweet it; post it to Facebook; send as an SMS/Message; Print it; Add as an item or note to Omnifocus; Create a Reminder; Create a calendar event; Save it as a text file to Dropbox or append it to another file; Save it to Evernote; Send it to a dozen different text editors or social media apps. The list goes on and on.

I like to use it to take meeting notes at work and then send them right into Evernote for long-term storage. It’s also handy for quickly creating a calendar meeting or appointment, especially in conjunction with another favorite, Fantastical (see below). And by keeping it in my Dock, it’s available for quick launch. Drafts is just a very versatile toolbox disguised as a simple notepad.

iPhone version is $2.99 and iPad version is $3.99.

Fantastical for iPhone

Fantastical for iPhoneAs with Twitter clients, I’ve tried a number of different calendar apps to find the one that works best. My calendar needs are somewhat complex with my personal calendar in iCloud, another personal calendar in Google that subscribes to my wife’s Google calendar; and a work calendar in Google, plus any number of subcategories in each. Getting all of my calendar items to show without having any duplicates has been difficult for most apps to accomplish.

Fantastical isn’t perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction. I’ve been using the OS X version for some time and on the Mac, it sits in your menu bar and when you want to add a calendar event, you click on it and then start typing in plain English. The app has enough smarts to figure out the who, what, when, where, and why of your event and parse the different parts into the appropriate fields. The iOS app does the same thing, as well as displaying your calendars in a uninque day-at-a-time view.

Where other apps like Calvetica and Agenda display events in a pleasing manner, entering new events is a much greater hassle than it should be. Fantastical makes it much simpler. And if you have a newer iPhone you can simply dictate the event to the app. What could be easier?

Fantastical is $3.99. It’s not a Universal app and there is no iPad version yet, but the iPhone version works fine on the iPad.

Just Landed for iPhone

Just LandedThis is an app that you’re not going to use all that often, but provides a handy service that most of us can appreciate. Many people have experience with having to pick someone up at the airport and while there are apps that can tell you whether a flight is on time, Just Landed goes a step further.

In addition to tracking a particular flight, it also notes your location in relation to the airport and monitors traffic conditions in between, calculating the best time for you to leave where you are to get to the airport as the plane lands. It even provides notifications to you when the app isn’t open.

While the plane is in the air, you can see it’s estimated time of arrival and even the terminal and gate number, as well as a countdown to when you should leave. When you arrive at the terminal you are given the option of sending a text message to the person you’re picking up alerting them that you’ve arrived. When the plane lands you’re sent a notification and even told which baggage claim area you should go to.

This isn’t a multitasking wonder. Just Landed does one thing and it does it so well, you’ll want it on your phone always.

Just Landed is $0.99.

Day One

Day One for iPad

In a sense, my pick of Day One (iPhone and iPad versions are separate) is for the app on both iOS and OS X. This beautifully designed app lets you keep a journal or diary. You’re not the “Dear Diary” type? That’s okay, because you can use it to keep track of anything that will benefit from chronological entries. Track the progress of projects. Document meetings at work. Keep track of your children’s school assignments. Write drafts of blog posts.

The iOS and OS X apps sync via iCloud or Dropbox so that you always have access to all your entries. (And it’s all password-protected so you can feel free to be as honest as you want to be.) But the iOS version has a few added features, namely it can automatically add the location of your entry as well as the weather. Both versions let you include photos and on iOS you can add snap the photo with the camera right then and there. If you link to your Foursquare account

You can “star” favorite entries; put tags on them for organization; show your timeline as a list or on a calendar or list them by year.

It’s like your a blog or social network for your eyes only.

Day One is $4.99 each for the iPhone and iPad versions which must be purchased separately.

Sara Jenkins’ New Italian Pantry

Sara Jenkins New Italian Pantry

This is a relatively recent addition to my iPad and while I haven’t delved deeply into the recipes yet, Sara Jenkins’ New Italian Pantry still one of my favorite apps of the year due to its beautiful design and unmistakable promise.

Jenkins is a New York chef who owns an Italian restaurant and an Italian sandwich shop. What sets the app from other cooking apps is that it’s designed to help you cook in the classic spontaneous Italian style, where you cook creatively from your pantry and whatever the market has available.

To that end, the app starts with a visual list of 16 core Italian pantry ingredients as assembled by Jenkins that give the mximum variety. The user selects which ones he has in his pantry as well as whatever main ingredients you have or are considering–chicken quarters and asparagus, say–and then the app generates a list of recipes using those ingredients.

Each of the 16 pantry items has an accompanying video narrated by Jenkins explaining the ingredient , how to select it, and her take on it in Italian cuisine. The app also starts up with a video that explains the entire concept and while it’s a good introduction, I wish it didn’t automatically play every single time you launched the app. (You can stop it and move past to the main menu, but it’s a bit of friction in an otherwise nicely designed app.)

New Italian Pantry is $3.99 and is iPad only.

And that’s my list of favorite iOS Apps introduced in 2012 (or that I installed in the year anyway.) Next up is my list of iOS Apps with Best Updates in 2012 and my favorite OS X Apps in 2012.

  1. To be clear, none of the iOS versions of these browsers allow the use of extensions.  ↩


  3. All links go to the iTunes Store.  ↩


  5. Prices were current as of publication date of this post.  ↩



Searching for meaning in great tragedy

When we see large tragedies like the Newtown shooting, they’re often followed by stories of people helplessly searching for ways to “do something and you don’t know what to do”. They feel helpless. It’s a natural feeling, but I wonder if people who have a deep abiding faith are less prone to it.

There’s something in us that sees a tremendous evil and wants to do something, anything, in response. We saw it after Columbine, after 9/11, after Aurora, and after natural disasters like Katrina and now Sandy.

While there are some obvious ways to help—blood drives, giving to charity, etc—still people need a way to memorialize, to take an existential stand against the evil they confront. So either they build memorials of flowers and teddy bears and stand awkwardly in front of them, perhaps after traveling to the place under a kind of compulsion, or they do the same memorial building and candlelighting, but turn to the Lord in prayer, knowing that only the Father who loves so much that He gave His only begotten Son, His pure, innocent, unblemished Son to die to turn death from meaningless into eternal life.

This is the only way that we can make sense of how we feel after such incidents. My prayer is that all who are confronted by this evil can turn to the Lord to find the meaning and consolation they seek.

Photo: Boston Globe/AP

Backup strategy: Protect what’s irreplaceable

Hard drive

A friend recently asked me about backing up his Mac. He’s been using the built-in Time Machine feature that’s a part of OS X, which is indeed a good basic backup solution, but he identified its flaw, which is that if the backup hard drive fails, you lose your only backup. The fact is that while Time Machine is better than nothing–which is what most people have–I don’t think it’s sufficient, especially when so much of what’s important to us is beginning to exist solely in digital form, including and especially photographs, but also email, documents, music, videos, and more.

So he asked me what I do. Here’s what I said: My philosophy about computer backups is that you can’t have too many backups and if a file doesn’t exist in at least 3 places, it may as well not exist at all.

Here’s what I do for backup: [1]

  1. I have a Time Machine[2] backup on my desk here at home. This is for quick recovery of files that I’ve either accidentally deleted or mangled (i.e. saved with a change I later regret). I consider it the least safe in terms of “If everything goes wrong.”
  1. I do, not one, but two clones of my hard drive every day. I have one here at home and one at work. (This obviously works best for a laptop you carry back and forth but you can also do it with carrying hard drives back and forth, swapping them each day on your desktop computer at home). Obviously, this is the most extreme, but if something very bad were to happen to my hard drive and/or computer, it would get me back up and running in the least amount of time. I automate the backups[3] so I don’t even have to think about it, except to make sure the hard drive is attached at the right time. Having one clone at work means if, God forbid, the house burned down or we were robbed, I still have the one at the office.
  1. I use Backblaze for $5/month.[4] This backs up everything over the Internet to a remote server. Keep in mind, when you first set it up, it will take forever to do the first backup. I have a lot of data (about 600GB on a 750GB hard drive), and it took about a month(!) for my first backup. But it all happens in the background and the software is smart enough not to slow you down when you’re actually sitting at the computer, using the idle time wisely. This part of the backup plan is for worst-case scenarios, like if a natural disaster wiped out my home and office or if both clones are corrupted somehow or if I’m on a trip and urgently need to recover a particular file. You can recover files over the Internet if you need to, which you can’t do with Time Machine or clones. If you do need to recover your whole hard drive, they will Fedex a hard drive with your data to you, for an additional fee, so you don’t have to take days downloading it. (Download speeds on broadband are faster than upload but still not that fast.)

What you choose to do depends on your level of paranoia and comfort. I’ve had drives fail and have lost irreplaceable files in the past–the name “Zip drive” still makes me shudder–so that’s why I’m so anal about backups.

I should add as an appendix that I use Dropbox[5] to store all my documents and files for both home and work. On the one hand, it means they’re available on any machine I’m using at the moment (including my iPhone and iPad), but also they are backed up in the cloud and versioned so that if I need the version of the file from three changes ago I can get it. So it’s a kind of backup. However, it’s only for documents. Even with the 100GB, $10/month service that my work pays for, I can’t fit my music, videos, or photos in there. Nor can I put all my system preferences and all that in there either.

So, in order to do all this, you’ll need at least two hard drives (Time Machine and clone) or three if you want an offsite clone too, plus Backblaze. Also, you’ll want to test your hard drive backs up every once in a while to make sure they’re not dead and are still backing up.

Does it sound complicated, time-consuming, and expensive? It’s only time-consuming when you set it up, but in practice it’s nearly invisible. The expense depends on how much your data is worth to you. Our photos of the kids are priceless so the cost/benefit analysis is highly weighted in favor of my solution. What I end up with is peace of mind and the ability to be like Star Trek’s Scotty, able to pull a miracle out of my hat when all seems lost.

Illustration: Public domain image

  1. While Time Machine is Mac-specific, cloning and online backup are available for all platforms. A quick Google search reveals lots of software that claim to be like Time Machine for Windows, I have no information about them.  ↩


  3. I should add that in the latest version of OS X, Mountain Lion, software can take advantage of a feature called Auto Save, which is sort of like a kind of Time Machine inside of files. Your documents are constantly being saved instead of you having to remember to save them, and when you need to go to an earlier version you get an interface just like Time Machine’s. Melanie uses this when Anthony gets his little fingers on her unattended MacBook and “retypes” whatever she’s working on in Pages.  ↩


  5. The software I’m currently using is SuperDuper from Shirt Pocket, but you can also use Carbon Copy Cloner. With the latest updates, I’m thinking of switching because of the new features in CCC. In any case, both do a “smart update” by updating only the files that have changed since your last clone, thus drastically reducing the length of time each successive cloning takes.  ↩


  7. I picked Backblaze over Carbonite, because I wasn’t a fan of Carbonite’s software, although it does have a nifty option to back up to a hard drive you store at a friend’s house; a sort of compromise between #2 and #3.  ↩


  9. I’ve written before about Dropbox and it’s only improved in the three years since then, including dropping its price.


The Nest keeps our nest warm

Ever since I heard about the Nest Learning Thermostat (Amazon affiliate link)
a couple of years ago, I wanted one. But I knew I wouldn’t get one because it just seemed so expensive compared to all the other $250+ things that we truly needed. Happily, I recently came into possession of one and didn’t pay a dime.

The Nest is unique among thermostats, not because it’s programmable (there are plenty of those), but because it’s designed as a consumer electronics appliance. You could compare the state of thermostats before the Nest to the state of MP3 players before the iPod and smartphones before the iPhone[1]: Clunky, requiring an investment of time and effort to use, and not for the mainstream. Most people wouldn’t bother with programming their thermostats, but would just continue to manually adjust them as they felt the need.

The Nest is different because:

  • It is designed to be extremely simple to install. They take great pains to make each step dead simple with a great instruction booklet, videos online if you need something a little more detailed, and even include a screwdriver with the perfect size bits.[2]
  • It learns. The system includes an artificial intelligence that can learn from how you set the controls and eventually begin anticipating your needs while encouraging you with small prompts to save a little more. When you first install the Nest, you set it manually, just by turning the dial a bit to change the temperature. Over time, it begins to learn your patterns: what time in the morning to turn on the heat and how high; when you go to bed and how low you want it set; when the house is unoccupied and the heat can be turned low or the air conditioning turned up. The great thing is that as the seasons change, the Nest learns from you and adjusts accordingly. And if you feel particularly cold one day, your manual adjustment won’t throw off what it’s learned.
  • It’s connected. The Nest has wifi built in so you can connect to it remotely via an iPhone or iPad app or from your web browser. So if Melanie’s on the couch nursing a baby and needs to turn the heat up, she doesn’t have to yell for a child or get and disturb the child. She can do it herself remotely. Or if we go visit a relative for the day, I can turn down the heat before we leave and then, when we’re say 20 minutes away, I can access it remotely and turn the heat back up.

The Nest is fantastic. Like I said, I’ve wanted one since I’d first heard about it, but it was just too expensive for me to justify. So when I was able to get one through Amazon Vine[3] I jumped at the chance. The thermostat was so easy to set up, it took just 20 minutes. I had a few problems, mainly due to my house and the bizarre renovation decisions made by previous owners (the old thermostat had a big hole behind it so I had to fudge a bit on the Nest’s install) and I had a brief problem with a wire that I didn’t seat all the way in the Nest, which interrupted the setup process until I quickly reseated it, but other than that installation was a breeze. The videos online were a great help in explaining how to do this very easily.

In the three weeks since I installed the thermostat, our weather hasn’t been that extreme so Nest hasn’t had a chance to do a lot of auto adjusting of the temperature. However, there has been enough variation for the thermostat to begin to learn our patterns, and for it to teach us when we can lower the temperature for savings. (It shows a little leaf graphic when a particular temperature would be a good one and it gets brighter as we home in on the sweet spot.)

If I could do anything differently, I would have installed it higher on the wall because it’s very tempting for the kids to touch and play with. It’s just very cute and friendly and approachable. The old clunky thermostat never elicited any interest like that.

I just can’t think of anything I would improve about this thermostat. It’s well worth the price, even taking into account that I got this one for free. I can’t imagine what they’re going to do for their next product.

  1. The iPod/iPhone analogy is apt as the founder of the company formerly worked at Apple and was one of the guys who developed the iPod.  ↩


  3. As an example of their attention to detail, they suggest you put a small label on each wire as you disconnect it from the old thermostat. The sticky labels are provided, not on a slip of paper in the package, but right in the instruction manual at the point you will read that you need them.  ↩


  5. I might have mentioned before that Vine is an invitation-only program from Amazon that allows participants to receive free goods in return for promising to write a review. They’ve had everything from books to major kitchen appliances. I’ve gotten a lot of great stuff for free in the past few years, including a $1,000 home theater receiver, a $300 auto GPS, the Nest, software like VMWare Fusion and Dragon Dictate and quite a bit more. You’re reviews don’t have to be positive if you don’t end up liking the product and there’s no deadline on the reviews, although you have to review 80% of your items after receiving the maximum of five before you can request more. A new list of available Vine items comes out monthly.  ↩


My Election Reaction

My Facebook posts in the days after the 2012 election provide a glimpse into how and why I reacted the way I did to what happened.

Storified by Domenico Bettinelli · Mon, Nov 12 2012 12:00:47

On the Wednesday after the election, I woke up in a very bad mood. While we’d won the Question 2 assisted suicide vote in Massachusetts (just barely), we’d lost nearly everything else: Senate, presidency, marriage votes in three (and later four) states, legalized marijuana. Everything.
Fair warning to everyone I encounter today: I’m in a piss-poor mood. America has embraced lies, economics of envy, destruction of family, blindness to extremists and terrorism, rejection of religious freedom. Is it any wonder when we are at historic lows for people who profess a religious faith and adults who are married? When you have lost family and faith, the only institution left is government. I hope you all are very happy together.
Why was I so angry, though? It’s not like the people I’d voted for hadn’t lost elections before.
Fr. Matt said I should co-host on <a href="" class="">The Good Catholic Life</a> today instead of him. That would be a very, very bad idea. Entertaining for others, but only in the "car crash at Talledega" way.
I concluded that it must be precisely that reason. We keep losing elections and we keep losing them with candidates we’re not all that excited about in the first place.
People keep saying that Obama won the "Catholic" vote. Does having some ancestor who once worshipped in a Catholic church regularly make you Catholic? In what meaningful way can someone who rejects the faith be called Catholic?
And we keep losing the elections with Catholics voting for candidates that should inimical to them, candidates who support positions that should be unacceptable. So I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been fooling myself all this time. I used to tell myself that however bad things are, there is a silent majority of conservatives, that when push came to shove a majority of Americans wouldn’t support marriage, morality, and an economics of common-sense. I believed this despite the evidence of that past several decades which clearly show the United States moving in the exact opposite direction. And so I conclude that this was a phantasm of my own wishful thinking.
‎"If you’re discouraged today, it’s because you don’t have enough faith or don’t trust in God or you put your trust in the wrong things." <br> Screw that attitude. I’m discouraged because the love of God doesn’t mean our country isn’t going to go up in smoke. God loved the Romans in the Roman Empire. He loved the Carthaginians. He loved all the Catholics in North Africa.<br> <br> Yes, God is faithful, but man is not and our country just gave him the big middle finger. We haven’t just passed the tipping point. We passed the point of no return. There just aren’t enough people left who believe in traditional morality, traditional work ethics, traditional self-sufficiency.
I was thus discouraged not by a single election, but by the realization of what we’ve truly lost. We’ve passed the point of no return where it will take a major catastrophe to bring people to a point to realize what we’ve done.
More adults in the US are unmarried than married for the first time. No offense to single folks, but people are who are married with kids think differently and form the stable, conservative foundation against wild swings. We have the highest rate of people who have no faith in history. That’s another massive difference. Even people we used to think as conservative are okay with homosexuality, with contraception, with all the other crap. This time I think it’s too far gone to come back without everything going to hell. Until we’re stripped of everything but God, we won’t wise up as a people.Domenico Bettinelli
What I’ve learned in the past 48 hours is that if I’m disappointed in the results of the election and the direction the country is headed in I’m a hater who lacks faith in God and/or the American people, who’s unwilling to compromise and who’s being whiny rather than rolling up my sleeves to make the change I want to see (because I don’t get to have a moment to be disappointed or angry) and who should stop being blind in my political preferences and "nanny nanny boo boo, you lost and we won." <br> Or so I’m told.<br> <br> Does that about cover it?
Of course, there are those who were quick to label people like me whiners and haters. They said we couldn’t get past our dislike of a particular politicians and move on for the sake of America. They just don’t get it. It’s not about Obama or any one politician, but the whole lot of them: Democrat, Republic, third-party. You have to search very hard to find a true conservative and even then they’re outliers. What upsets me is that it’s all gone to pot. And so now the disappointment and anger I felt on Wednesday has hardened into determination. I’m not going to turn into a conspiracy theorist who sees black helicopters and concentration camps in our future, but neither am I inclined to mollycoddle or mince words. 
The doctor recommended a prescription for a medication that could radically improve my life. It’s not directly life sustaining, but it would make an amazing difference in the quality of my life. <br> Unfortunately, it’s $200 per month and our insurance doesn’t cover it.<br> <br> In the New America, shouldn’t I demand this by right from the 1%? If Sandra Fluke can get free birth control from her Catholic university employer so she can bed down with whomever she wants at no (fiscal) cost to her, should I demand my Catholic employer give me whatever medication I want to improve my quality of life? Granted I’m a middle-aged white male and thus by definition somehow one of life’s great privileged few and de facto member of the 1%. <br> <br> Nevertheless, the lesson from our latest election is that my wants and needs trump the common good, so …. GIMME!!
Dom, I was out of work for a year. My meds that I DID NEED TO SURVIVE cost $2700 a month. I was bringing in $1100. Thanks to a govt. program I was able to get them at reduced cost, but since that happened under Obama I guess that’s a bad thing.Bob Duncan
Bob, but you did need them to survive and were out of work. I don’t need them to survive and have a job, thus I am one of the privileged. Still, we live in the era of the handout so maybe I can get one now. We’re giving away everything for free now, so why not?Domenico Bettinelli
The government programs that provided your meds well pre-existed Obama and they’re there just sort of situations. Obamacare opens up the goody bag so now any horny co-ed who’d rather not spend the weekend beer money on the Pill can get free ones from her Catholic employer. It’s a brave new world!Domenico Bettinelli
I’m going to say what I think and damn the consequences. I’ve already had some people unfriend me on Facebook and other social media. (Although this new attitude seems to be popular because I’ve had an unusual number of friend requests too.
The "Man who killed Bin Laden" will brook no dissent from the men who actually killed Bin Laden. After SEALs criticized him and campaigned against, Obama will
retaliate against all Navy SEALs. BEcause if there’s one thing that defines the Chicago way it’s revenge and payback.
This is a new era we’re in. This lame-duck lame president is going to be driving us to new lows in our country. Maybe that will finally wake up the sheep who thought we should give this incompetent, self-important boob from Chicago four more years because four years just isn’t enough to fix… well, anything. (Never mind that Reagan and even Clinton were able to do it.) And so while I sit up nights trying to figure out how to pay the oil bill and buy food and pay the mortgage, I can console myself that at least I didn’t vote for this situation, but have fought it all along for the past twenty years. I wonder how the idiots who voted for all this will console themselves.

Of Gnostics and Religion Professors

The Gospel of Jesus Wife papyrus

In September, Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King ignited an international controversy when she claimed to have found a piece of what she claims is a fourth-century papyrus that refers to Jesus’ “wife”.[1] (To be fair, she doesn’t claim that she believes that Jesus was married, only that whomever wrote the scroll believed He was. Of course, most of the media coverage didn’t make the fine distinction and played it up as evidence that orthodox Christianity was wrong and/or hiding the truth.) There’s been plenty of criticism of King and her claim and even the way she went public about it.

However, on Sunday the Boston Globe–which was one of the few media outlets that King and Harvard went to for an exclusive on the papyrus in September– did a profile of King and her background.

What I find interesting in the profile is how King–an Episcopalian raised as a Methodist and now a professor of religion who was one of the founders of the women’s studies department at Harvard–views what many of us consider heretical–or at least heterodox–beliefs in the past and today.

King began to consider how this insight might apply to the Nag Hammadi literature and other ancient Coptic texts discovered since the late 1800s, which included prayers, revelations, and teachings of Jesus that ultimately did not make it into the New Testament canon in later centuries. The “Gospel of Mary of Magdala,” for example, presents Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ favorite disciple and has her relating a strange vision she alone received from him.

All these texts had been lumped together as “heretical” or “Gnostic.” King began to argue that those labels were misnomers. When the texts were written, there was no such thing as orthodox Christianity — or Gnosticism, she argued. There were only tiny communities of a minority faith, scattered across the ancient Mediterranean, each caught up in their own political and cultural realities, and struggling to make sense of Jesus’ teachings and death.

“I started seeing that the lines that were being drawn between orthodox or correct Christianity and heretical Christianity couldn’t be drawn that way,” she said. “I had to step back and start sort of fresh and say, ‘What are the similarities and differences among [ancient] Christians, and how might we account for them, in terms of them belonging to this place?’ ”

King argued that these texts should be seen as part of the story of Christianity, not as distortions of a complete belief system articulated by the Gospels and handed down by the fathers of the early church. She contends that the early history of Christianity needs to be rewritten to include these previously marginalized voices, taking into account how “a limited set of perspectives has shaped what people believe.”

From a liberal Protestant perspective this makes perfect sense. When you reject the authority of the Church, then who’s to say what is authoritative or orthodox? The decisions on canon, for example, are just arbitrary. History is written by the victors and orthodoxy is determined by those who hold hierarchical power. From there, it’s just a matter of deciding what you want to consider is authoritative.

However, from a traditional Catholic Christian perspective, this doesn’t make any sense because, of course, there was an authority in the ancient world that wasn’t just based on powerful sects, but on the office of apostle starting with those directly appointed by Christ and then by their descendants. We believe that the Holy Spirit protects and guides the Church, especially in this case with the understanding of what is inspired by Spirit and what isn’t and thus what is canon and what isn’t. but once Luther and Calvin and the rest threw out the authority of the Church, then the logical consequence is to throw out that which was decided by the Church.

It’s also a case of reading into the past the biases and categories of our present ideologies. The fact that King is a liberal academic–which we know from her background–influences her mindset. This happens across the academic humanities disciplines, so that, for example, literary critics turn Jane Austen into a 20th-century feminist or ancient Gnostics into liberal Protestants. I’ve even seen an anti-Catholic fundamentalist turn Anabaptists, Maniecheans, and Gnostics into orthodox Christians so that he could trace his splinter of Protestantism back to the apostles without having to acknowledge that indeed had split from the Catholic Church.

So when liberal academics like King or Elaine Pagels or the like attach some equal significance to some scrap of payprus that any random person could have jotted down that they do to the Gospel of Mark[2], it shouldn’t surprise us because they’re just being consistent with their overall approach to faith, religion, and the world.

Photo from Harvard Divinity School and Karen King 2012.

  1. “Historian’s finding hints that Jesus was married”, The Boston Globe, September 19, 2012  ↩


  3. It’s like someone in the year 3812 finding a scrap of page from The DaVinci Code and concluding from it that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.  ↩


Pats’ fan Moms at Mass

Patriots fan face painting

I’ve noticed a trend in the last couple of weeks of moms of school-age kids showing up to Mass in jeans and Patriots jerseys. Now, people dress down all year ’round, not just during football season, and men and children are dressed down just as frequently. So why is it that these jersey-wearing moms stand out so much?

Maybe I just expect more from your average mom than going to Mass looking like you’re heading to the sports bar for the game (and I do think the outfits are entirely appropriate in that context). I think of moms as being the ones who set the standard for our appearances in public. So when they just as slovenly and out of place, it strikes me as especially odd.

Melanie’s theory–which addresses general slovenly dress– is that many women don’t have appropriate dress clothes anymore, that dress clothes are those more appropriate for a night of clubbing than Sunday morning church. It’s possible. Certainly I found that to be true of high school girls when I was leading Confirmation preparation in a parish. We had to give exact instructions to the girls about the outfits to wear to Mass or they’d show up in low-cut, off-the-shoulder blouses and mini-skirts.

What’s especially bizarre is that these are the 15% motivated to actually come to Mass on Sunday morning.

Photo by bearklektor, on Flickr