One Good Thing

March 20, 2020, was the last day my team worked in the office before the state of N.Y. shut down because of COVID. Since then, we’ve been working from home.

It’s been an interesting transition and a combination of the company scrambling to procure devices such as laptops and technology to enable easy remote access and people being willing to use personal devices to continue to be productive and effective.

We are executing on a huge website replatforming project – working remotely isn’t necessarily the best way to facilitate this. Unlike the norm, my team has more than doubled in size during this unprecedented time – going from three members (including me) to seven. These are some tough circumstances under which to build a team and to launch a new website. But, against all the odds, we have, thanks to the wonderful people on my team.

We have daily remote calls, sometimes we’re all on camera, sometimes no one is, and sometimes it’s a mixture. The essential things are, we meet every day, and people know they have a choice about whether or not to be on video.

When we started our remote daily “stand-ups,” I asked everyone to start the call with “one good thing” that happened the previous day. My original intent was to help us all stay focused, for at least a moment, on gratitude. It’s turned out to have quite an unexpected and unintended positive outcome.

We’ve gotten to know each other better during a time in which the team is onboarding new members from both outside of the company and within the company, but from different groups. From my perspective, it’s been a really unique time and way to do team building.

There’s no substitute for in-person interaction, but we’ve made the best of it. We share lots of things, from recipes, to what we made for dinner the previous night to sidewalk chalk adventures.

Here are some things I’ve learned about my team members (using initials, so I don’t infringe on anyone’s privacy).

A.B. is from Korea and is relatively new to our industry. She is eager to learn and more than willing to embrace feedback. A has recently started to explore the world of visual art and recently was brave enough to share her drawings with the team, something we all appreciated. She very much enjoys movies, books and food from her native land, and during the pandemic has been able to connect with many of her friends from all over the world. Her face lights up when she is delighted and that is often.

R.B. has been living in Buffalo since the pandemic made landfall, which has been good for him. He’s had time away in a positive living environment and away from his toxic roommate in Syracuse. As the mom of kids who’ve experienced some toxic roommate experiences, I totally get it. Even before he temporarily relocated to Buffalo, he had started to discover his talent in the kitchen, and it’s grown from there with an appreciative audience to share dinner with. He’s also exploring the world of clothing design – great things to come, no doubt. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that his dog has been surrounded by cats for the summer, and it has resulted in some very amusing anecdotes.

S. E. is the mom of two beautiful children just starting out in the world, a 4-year-old and an infant, not a newborn – but not yet a year old. Her 4-year-old daughter is now dabbling in sports such as t-ball and is loving it. Both of her kids enjoy neighborhood gatherings and family outings to explore the area. According to her daughter, S’s husband, in addition to being a medical professional, is also a lawn care professional who is bringing life to the lawn in their newly built home. Last but not least, she’s a caring person who makes treats for others in her neighborhood.

S.T. loves the outdoors and spending his time biking and hiking. He also loves to read – Stephen King is one of his favorite authors, and he’s also a fan of podcasts and is always connecting the dots between events. If you want a recommendation for an outdoor escape, he’s definitely a go-to person. He loves dogs, is very handy at remodeling – and has made substantial home improvements with the help of Home Depot during the past few months.

T.C. is a jack of all trades, and more than competent at all of them. He’s a vegan chef, a Moped rebuilder, and more than handy around his house. T is a wonderful dad, who loves his daughter beyond words, it’s touched me more than once to see their morning hug. He also is an excellent reference for where to go in the great outdoors – and also where to go to get great craft beer. He loves helping his friends, even though he hasn’t necessarily come out and said that, it’s obvious – and I have no doubt they appreciate him as much as he appreciates them.

T. R. recently moved into a house with his fiance. They’re planning a wedding for October of 2021. He has a new baby sister, whom he’s gotten to see twice during this strange time – looking forward to more pictures of her as she grows. He’s done a fantastic job of making his new house a home, and one of his latest projects is making sure the new grass seed takes hold. He and his fiance enjoy quiet nights at home together. One of the things they enjoy doing together is cooking, perhaps especially making meatballs together to put in the freezer so they can enjoy meatball sandwiches together.

I imagine my team has learned a few things about me as well, but I’ll leave that to them. I’m just grateful to be working with a group of people who are so willing and able to make the best of things.

Just Wondering…

Can someone reconnect with a friend whom they met in the sixth grade, exchanged letters for a few years, but hasn’t communicated with in over 40 years?

I’m going to try.

Over Thanksgiving, tales of my adventures with my best friend from sixth grade were told and retold. She and I shared some wonderful times exchanging secrets, torturing siblings and attempting to build tree houses. We also went to movies, played barbies and spent hours ice skating under the guise of looking for cute boys.

Our conversation at Thanksgiving prompted my dad to contact an acquaintance who might know Lynn’s dad, a conversation that led to my receiving an email with the contact information for my best friend.

In a newspaper article, celebrating the 90th birthday of her dad – she was mentioned within the context of her married name. From there it wasn’t all that difficult to find the contact information for her husband. Thus the email I received, which included a not so subtle nudge from my dad to find a way to reach out to her via the contact info he found.

This past weekend, I unearthed my one and only Scrapbook and memories of the past rolled down my face and at the same time, filled me with joy. There, within the yellowed pages and still bound to the pages by yellow, brittle scotch tape, were letters from Lynn – my best friend at the time, a person I’ve never forgotten and always have held dear.

What to do?

Here I was with a boatload of memories from my scrapbook and the contact information for an Orthopedic Dr. in Rapid City, South Dakota, the name of the man she is married to.

Is it her? I can’t be sure, but it seems like a reliable trail of clues. I felt more than a bit of angst over calling or emailing the office to make a connection with her. These days, I’m certain I would have been written off as a total weirdo.

So, instead – at my mom’s suggestion, I found her home address through a Google Search. I know, that sounds a little creepy as well – but, honestly, the internet is cool when used in the right ways.

I’ve composed a letter, and am sending her a copy of one of her correspondences to me – we’ll see where this goes.

I hope we reconnect.

More to come…

Sixth grade memories

So many memories flying around in my head right now.

Stop the Technical Issue Merry-go-Round

I am Joy-full

One of the things I find the most difficult about owning my own business is troubleshooting technical issues with my laptops. Yep, laptops, I have two. Owning two laptops is both a blessing and a curse.

This morning the computer issues I’d experienced last night hadn’t magically resolved themselves, they’d gotten worse. Yesterday I was unable to connect my wireless booster to the network and this morning I can only access a handful of websites from one of my troubled laptops.

My computer saga started last year when instead of the lovely “starting windows” logo my screen said, “cannot start windows.”

This would be scary enough on any given day, it was even worse because I had students scheduled to arrive for a workshop. I started the recovery process, drove home like a madwoman to get my jump drive, and babbled irrationally to my parents about all of the horrible implications if my laptop didn’t recover.

Thankfully it did recover and so did I. The class went well, the laptop behaved, and life carried on. I didn’t take it into Best Buy because I couldn’t be without my laptop and successfully meet my deadlines. So every day, I kept my fingers crossed and hoped that the “cannot start windows” issue was only a fluke.

The approach worked for a few months and then, just days before I was scheduled to fly to St. Louis it happened again. It recovered again, but it became painfully obvious that I needed a back up plan and I headed to my favorite store, Best Buy.

I attempted to keep the feelings of panic at bay and make a good decision about which laptop to purchase as my back up. I reluctantly purchased one with the Windows 8 operating system because I had no other choice.

I took my dead laptop into Best Buy to be diagnosed. Long story short, the solution involved recovery disks and reloading every application from scratch. Two days later, Toshiba released a bug fix for the problem I experienced. At least I wasn’t the only one, knowing that made me feel a little better about the situation.

I had a few months of semi-smooth sailing on the technical front and I was able to resolve issues like installing printer driver updates without too much of an issue. But last month started a new round of issues.

Another full system recovery was required to fix performance issues with my Windows 7 laptop and now it looks like my Windows 8 laptop is going to require a “do-over” as well. :(. I’ll know more after I take it into Best Buy this afternoon. I wonder if they get tired of seeing me?

It’s ironic that my positive affirmation for today is, “I am Joy-full.”

I am Joy-full

When I created it, I intentionally misspelled joyful. I’m not usually a fan of miss-spellings such as “Kwik” instead of “quick” and other even less appropriate made up words. But in this case, it seems to me that the word joyful should have ended with two “L’s.”

I can’t honestly say that I am full of joy today, I’m frustrated but trying to maintain a positive outlook. I believe that my project of creating and focusing on a positive affirmation every day is making a difference in my outlook on life.

It doesn’t change the fact that I have computer issues that need to be resolved and that there is frustration that goes with it. But the process of actively thinking positive thoughts instead of negative ones is a way to stop  the merry-go-round in a different way.

Frustrating things happen and we can’t control them, but we can control our response to them.

Wish me luck as I try and resolve the next set of technical issues in my world. With any luck I’ll have a funny encounter at Best Buy that will make me smile. 🙂

If you’re interested in seeing the complete collection of journal entries to-date, you can view them here.

Up next is a fun story about a letter writing experience.

How Many Phone Transfers Does it Take?…

A couple of months ago I got a call from Comcast advising me that my modem was outdated and that I should trade it in for a new one so we could take advantage of the fastest internet connection available.

I called Comcast and requested the new modem and promised to return my old one to the nearest Comcast store. A few days later the new modem arrived, Christian plugged it in and we were good to go. I was not at all impressed with the “fast internet connection,” if anything it seemed slower than before.

It took me a few weeks to return the old one and after waiting for 30 minutes while the customer service rep tried to process the return, I learned that we hadn’t received the right modem. The one I got was not for the high speed access and it didn’t have a slot for the phone. (which explained why I had no dial tone and the land line hadn’t rung for some time)

For some reason, she couldn’t give me the right one and so I had to make another trip back to the store and return the one that had been sent to me. Yesterday I made the final exchange and figured we were only a few minutes away from having high speed internet access and a dial tone again.

The instructions said to connect the modem to a computer, which didn’t seem to make much sense since we’ve got a wireless network, so we figured they must mean the router. Christian hooked everything up and we had phone and cable almost instantly, but no internet. Hmmmmm

A few minutes later Christian checked for internet access from his phone and was redirected to an “activate services page.” The process looked straight forward and once again I thought I was seconds away from having internet access.

I signed in and clicked “activate”:

SOS We can’t connect to your modem, please call…”

I dialed the number and answered the minimum number of automated voice prompts before hitting “zero” to be connected with a customer service rep. A young and very pleasant female voice greeted me and asked how she could help.

After verifying my home phone, address, and the last four digits of my social security number she asked, “Is the modem plugged into your laptop?”

“No, it’s plugged into the router, why would I want to plug it into my laptop?”

She replied, “That’s where you need to start, plug the Ethernet cord into your laptop.”

I was puzzled but I followed her instructions. She tried pinging the modem, nothing. I realized that in my haste, I’d unplugged the Ethernet cord from the modem and now had my laptop connected to the router. Doh’! I corrected the connection, read her all of the tiny numbers from the back of the modem and still nothing.

“I think I may have simply missed a step or done something wrong in the set up. Can you just walk me through the steps?”

“Miss Beth, I think that it’s best if I transfer you to a specialist at this time, please hold”

One thing that I will never understand is why you have to verify customer information to each new person you talk to. I’m all for security and privacy, but it seems a little excessive.

I provided the next customer service rep my verification information, confirmed that the Ethernet cord was plugged into my laptop and listened to her provide a 5 minute overview of the advantages of the xfinity super customer service program.

“Miss Beth, since we are still unable to get your internet service working I need to transfer you to a technician. But before I do that, I need to activate the additional $10.99 per month charge for 24 x 7 access to the technical representatives.”

“What?! You’re telling me that you can’t help me troubleshoot this and connect to the internet unless I subscribe to this additional service?”

“Yes, it’s only $10.99 per month and the service will also help you troubleshoot your laptop, iPad, iPhone, and even your printer.”

“I don’t need all that, I just want to connect to the internet.”

“Well, there is another option for $5.99 per month that is internet only.”

At this point it looked like the only way I was going to resolve my internet dilemma was to sign up for this additional service so I did and made a mental note at the same time to call and get it removed as soon as possible.

I verified my account information and explained my situation for the third time.

“So the problem is that you aren’t able to activate your internet service?”

“Yes.”

“Ma’am I’m really sorry to do this, but I’m going to need to transfer you to an activation specialist. This isn’t something I can help you with.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me, that’s where I started.”

“I wish I was kidding,” he replied.

“Ok, I know it’s not you’re fault, but I’m incredibly frustrated right now. See if you can do something for me. I don’t want to verify my account information for the 4th time.” (pretty sure I was growling at this point)

He returned after several moments and initiated the transfer.

“Welcome to Comcast, this call may be monitored or recorded for quality or training purposes. What is the 10 digit home phone number on your account?”

The fourth transfer put me right back in the land of automated voice prompt hell. I once again answered the minimum number of automated voice prompts before hitting “zero” to be connected with a customer service rep.

“Before we start I need to forewarn you that I will be doing my best to stay calm, but I’ve been transferred 4 times and the last time dropped me into the automated system and not to a real person.  I’m more than a little frustrated at this point in time.”

“I can certainly understand why, I’d feel the same way. Can you verify your home phone number, address, and social security number and then I can help you.”

It took a while, but she was very patient and walked me through the steps. As it turns out, there was never a need to plug the modem into my laptop because the goal was to activate the wireless service.

What I needed to do was plug in the modem, connect the cable and phone cords to the modem, click the “WPS” button on top of the modem, select the new wireless network from my network connections, and enter the serial number.

None of which was on the instruction card that I received when I picked up the modem.

comcast modem connection instructions

Can you say confusing?

I do have to say that normally I’m very happy with Comcast and have found their customer service to be very good. And while the experience was very frustrating, the reps were all very polite even when I got more than a little testy.

I’m thinking they should create a better list of instructions and that would make everyone’s life easier.

And in case you’re wondering, the internet connection speed is actually faster!

The Password you Entered is Incorrect…

When I was younger I knew almost every phone number in my network of family and friends by heart, today I have a hard time remembering my own.  

A few of my coworkers and I recently pondered the reason that none of us can remember phone numbers any more.  We decided it’s a combination of things; between speed dial and contact lists, there is no need to remember them and back in the old days you could count on neighbors having the same area code and you didn’t actually have to dial it. Not to mention the fact that people had one phone number not two or three. 

Now we click on a contact and dial a name not a number. In addition to friends and family, I have the doctor, dentist, day spa, my hairdresser, and the dog sitter in my contact list. If I receive an incoming call from a ‘number’ and not a ‘name’ I almost always decline or ignore it. 

For the past month I’ve made an exception to the rule and there are now a few ‘numbers’ I recognize and answer. However, they are short-term relationships and I won’t be adding them to my contact list.  My friends at the Geek Squad rank at the top of these incoming calls.

Like a school girl hoping to be asked to the dance, every day for the past month I hoped I would receive the call from Best Buy that my laptop was fixed and ready for pick up. The first call set the stage.

“It’s a software problem and we’re going to have to wipe everything out to restore it.” Ron politely informed me.

“Ok…thank goodness I backed everything up just before it crashed.  This is covered under the protection plan I purchased, right?” I replied.

“No, I’m sorry ma’am, the plan you purchased only covers hardware failure, this is software and it will cost two hundred dollars.”

Not the news I wanted to hear, but at least it was less expensive than buying a new laptop. 

 After ordering two recovery disks, surviving three trips to the store, and multiple conversations confirming that “Yes, I understand that a full system recovery will wipe out all my data,” at long last I heard the words I’d been waiting for.

“Your laptop is ready.”

Thankfully the pick-up was uneventful; I experienced no ghostly encounters or patrons who felt the need to entertain me with tales of free vacations that resulted from a ‘slipping’ accident. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find that since the final solution was to replace the hard drive, and since that was a hardware problem, the repair cost me nothing.

I muddled my way through downloading software and updating accounts. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself until it came time to reload Microsoft Office; my confidence was shattered with one simple message – ‘the password you have entered is incorrect.’

I was thrown into a state of panic.  What password did I use? Why hadn’t I added it to the spreadsheet of username password combinations?  Why does every website in the world seem to have different requirements?  And most of all why had I used my yahoo email account as my back up for receiving instructions to reset my password?  I hadn’t signed onto it in months!

It’s no wonder I can’t remember my own phone number.