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300 Seconds Episode #111: “My Coronavirus Story Part 5: Back to Irk”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who would prefer to not hear the sound of my voice. 😉

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You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 111: “My Coronavirus Story Part 5: Back to Irk,” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

After being laid off from my job back in April, or a few episodes ago, as the case may be, I started looking for a new job online, and, as many of you Dear Listeners are aware, the pickings in 2020 are pretty slim.  As in-person job fairs are out of the question right now, I attended online virtual job fairs which were just as virtually terrible as the real-life ones, so score one for consistency.

From May to September, I had a total of three interviews including one of those awful virtual ones where you awkwardly record answers to questions into your webcam.  Fortunately, the third time was the charm, and thus, I started a new contract-to-maybe-there’s-possibly-a-chance-you-might-just-could-be-hired gig a few weeks ago.  It would be an understatement to say that I’ve had to make just a few life adjustments in going back to living a nine-to-five life.

The biggest and most immediate adjustment I had to make was to my sleeping habits.  In my effort to lose weight, I had been waking up early in order to go for a walk in the mornings.  But as the Texas summer got hotter and hotter, I shifted to walking in the evenings which of course, meant sleeping in.  According to Google Maps, my new office was about thirty miles away.  That meant that I had to wake up pretty early to make it to work on time.  Funny thing about me:  I don’t have trouble waking up early.  Once I hear my alarm, I’m up.  No problem there.  But as a night owl, going to bed early is something of a challenge.  So while I might be up at five-thirty in the morning, I won’t exactly be “up and at ‘em.”

Thus, a morning commute became a thing again, and of course, with a commute comes traffic.  I had to drive from one side of San Antonio to the other, so my commute was going to be thirty miles of suck regardless of which route I took.  I eventually settled into taking the route that presented the most opportunities to stop for breakfast along the way.  Being stuck in a traffic jam is much easier to deal with when you have a Breakfast on a Bun from Whataburger along for the ride.

My new job has me working in an office, so that means I have to ‘mask up’ every day.  Since my pandemic travels up to this point were limited to the grocery store and the occasional drive-thru window, I had been making do with a few cloth masks, or the occasional shop towel mask whenever those were in the wash.  I now needed enough masks so that I could wear a different one each day.  I also had to get masks with solid colors or patterns that would be office-appropriate.  Of course, in the process of doing so, I ended up buying one or two that fit too tight because I have a big head.  Another fun big head thing that I have to deal with was that some masks would begin to irritate my ears after several hours of wearing.  Fortunately, I improvised an ‘ear saver’ using a rubber band and a pair of paper clips.

If there is one thing that I definitely need at work, it’s coffee.  I rarely drink it outside of the office, but when it’s provided by the company, then I am more than happy to partake.  When working from home, I would enjoy an occasional cup of Nescafe to keep the neurons firing.  I don’t know if this is how the new office works or if this is a virus thing, but there isn’t any coffee available at the office.  There aren’t any vending machines where I can grab a soda, either, and at the risk of being ‘that guy:’ I CAN’T WORK UNDER THESE CONDITIONS. 

Where there’s a will, there’s a way, but Will’s not here so I have to solve my own problems.  I happen to have a mini-fridge that holds six cans of soda.  I’d purchased it during my days as a field technician, but that’s a story for another time.  In any case, problem solved!  Almost.  In the interest of watching my budget, I bought generic diet cola.  I quickly began to notice that I wasn’t feeling the caffeine boost that I was accustomed to getting from a soda in the afternoon; my metaphorical tail was still dragging after chugging one down.  I randomly checked the ingredients on the can one day and discovered, to my horror, that generic soda contained less than half the caffeine of the name brand stuff.  I guess that’s why it costs a buck and a quarter for a six-pack!

This has been 300 Seconds, the next episode will be posted after I set my alarm.  For more witty words written by me, visit Eduardo Soliz dot com, and I thank you for listening.  Be good, take care and God Bless.

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300 Seconds Episode #110-“Freaking Metal Phones”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who would prefer to not hear the sound of my voice.

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You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 110, “Freaking Metal Phones,” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

I’ve owned a number of smartphones over the years, starting with a T-Mobile Dash running Windows Mobile 6 over a decade ago.  Since then, I bounced over to Android, went through a weird time when I had a not-so-smartphone, enjoyed Windows Phone for a spell until Microsoft gave up on it, and had a few iPhones. I currently have an Android phone…for now.

I’ve never really been overcome with ‘techno-lust’ when shopping for a phone, probably because I tend to think of my smartphone as a communications device.  I use it for email, social media, and yes, the occasional phone call or text message.  I don’t watch movies or TV shows or listen to music on it, and I don’t think I’ve ever installed a game on my phone, except maybe for spending a few weeks with Angry Birds just like everybody else.

That lack of techno-lust combined with my desire to not overspend on a phone, meant that I ended up with quite a few ‘middle of the road’ (and yes, occasionally cheap) phones.  Nearly all of those phones had cases made of plastic or rubber or some kind of weirdo mix between the two.  Because I wasn’t spending a lot of money on my phone, I never felt the need to buy a case for it because replacing the phone would be fairly inexpensive if something bad were to happen.  Also, when you buy a less-expensive phone, cases tend to be harder to find. It’s like the people that make them are busy concentrating on the folks with money. You know, those rich folks buying iPhones and Galaxys. I was also lucky to have never cracked a screen despite my occasional case ofthe butterfingers.  And sure, that plastic case might pick up a ding or a scuff here and there, but I could live with that.

Naturally, all that changed a few years ago when I decided to quit being a cheapskate and buy a ‘nice phone’ in the form of an iPhone 6.  I’ll admit, the little nerd in my head went ‘ooh, shiny’ when the guy at the store took it out of the box.  As part of the deal, I was entitled to some free accessories.  The salesman encouraged me to get a case for my phone, and I agreed. After all, I didn’t want anything bad to happen to my shiny new phone!  And a free case? So much the better!  I dutifully picked one out and watched as the salesman turned my sexy shiny new phone into a hulking slab of plastic and rubber that was impervious to harm.  I could even clip it onto my belt for quick access.

For the most part, I very rarely ever saw that shiny iPhone 6 exterior ever again, which made me wonder: what was the point of a cell phone having a pretty exterior if it was just going to be covered up by a case?  Granted, part of my paranoia about my iPhone 6 being damaged was due to the fact that I had bought it on a payment plan, but when I upgraded to an iPhone SE later on, I repeated the process of buying a hard case despite having paid for that one in full up front.

iOS eventually got on my nerves to the point where I decided to go back to Android, so I bought a mid-range Android phone; an unlocked Moto G5 Plus.  Like my iPhones, it too had a metal case, though not quite as shiny as the iPhones had been.  This time around, I finally got over my phone damage paranoia and didn’t buy a heavy-duty deluxe polycarbonate drop-proof shock-proof bomb-proof bear-proof case for it.  Now, I wasn’t about to let my phone go au natural because I didn’t want the metal to be scratched up to all heck, so I bought a fairly relatively inexpensive rubber case.  I liked it because it doesn’t make the phone that much bigger, so I can slip it into my pocket instead of having it clipped to my belt.

I don’t know when I’ll be buying my next phone, but I think I’m over metal at this point.

A few weeks after I bought it, I noticed that my Moto was getting a little grimy around the edges so I took off the rubber case in order to give the screen a proper wipe-down.  I looked at the back of the phone, and lo and behold, I saw a dent in the metal.

Crap.

This has been 300 Seconds, the next episode will be posted after I go to Amazon to buy a hard case for my phone.  Subscribe via your favorite podcast app, and for more wonderfully weird words written by me, visit Eduardo Soliz dot com. Thank you for listening!  Be good, take care, and God Bless.

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300 Seconds Episode #109: “My Coronavirus Story Part 4: The New Sort-of Kind-of Not-Quite Normal”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who would prefer to not hear the sound of my voice. 😉

Click here to listen to this episode!

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 109: “My Coronavirus Story Part 4: The New Sort-of Kind-of Not-Quite Normal,” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

The week after the office I worked at closed, the city of San Antonio went on lockdown.  Thus, I had to adjust to not only working at home, but also to being at home nearly all of the time.  I am a bit of a homebody, so being stuck at home wasn’t that big of a deal, but it was still annoying to not be able to go anywhere. 

One of the first things I did was to designate the dinner table as my home office in a feeble effort to keep some division between my home and work life.  For the most part, it worked fairly well, since my dining room table had not been getting much use anyway.  The only problem that came up was that I quickly learned how uncomfortable it was to be sitting on my unpadded wooden dining room chairs for several hours.  I eventually abandoned the dining room table for a cubbyhole in the apartment, which, while offering less desk space, did have an office chair that was much more comfortable to sit in.

Like most folks, I didn’t own any masks when the pandemic started hitting home.  I figured that if nothing else, I would have to eventually go to the grocery store, so I thought it would be a good idea to get some masks and be a responsible member of the community.  Additional motivation was provided by the fact that I have a few boxes checked off on my ‘if you catch this, you’re in deep trouble’ bingo card.

After doing some searching, I ordered some masks online from independent makers, but I needed something to tide me over while those got made and shipped.  My first attempt was the ‘cut up an old t-shirt’ method.  That ended up being a spectacular failure because I have a big head topped with a mass of thick curly hair.  Even working with a size double-XL shirt, I was unable to get it completely around my 23 and a half inch melon.  I’m also not the best with scissors, so there’s a pretty strong chance that I cut the pattern the wrong way.  I eventually found a bandana from high school that worked until I bought a roll of shop towels and made my own with staples and rubber bands.  Eventually the masks I ordered did arrive, and yes they did have animal prints on them.

Naturally, I have to mention the toilet paper thing.  Holy cats, if I live to be a hundred years old I will never understand what the hey that business was all about.  Fortunately for me, I live alone and my digestive system is fairly regular, so I don’t use too much, I don’t think.  That said, I didn’t want to be caught off guard, so I started keeping track of how long certain things, like toilet paper, lasted.  Originally, I was concerned with how long a roll of toilet paper, a bottle of hand soap, and a tank full of gasoline would last.  Gasoline wouldn’t have come to mind, but San Antonio flipped its collective lid back in 2017 and caused a shortage after Hurricane Harvey out of self-induced hysteria.  I was pleased to discover that a roll of toilet paper and a twelve-ounce bottle of hand soap each lasted about three weeks.   I was also happy to discover I was getting two months to a tank of gas in my Honda CR-V because I was only driving to the grocery store.  At one point I did have to hunt for toilet paper for a friend who was running low.  Lucky for her, I was fortunate enough to find some and save the day. 

A nice habit that I picked up during this time was walking to the nearby dollar store to pick up things in between my main grocery store trips.  At first, the pleasant weather of late March and April made for some nice afternoon walks, but as the Texas summer started to do its thing, those trips got pushed further and further into the evening until eventually I would wait until after sundown to head out.

Of course, once I was done with work, I had to do something for entertainment, so I’ve been watching movies from my DVD and Blu-ray collection, and even picking up a few new ones to while the evenings away.  I’ve actually been keeping track of what I’ve been watching, and I’m up to about eighty movies so far, not counting repeated viewings of Casino and Goodfellas.  I’ve also gone through all the original cast Star Trek and the first series of Batman movies.  I think I’ll try Star Wars next, but I’m not sure how far I want to go with those.  I recently reactivated my NetFlix account and have enjoyed the new shows that my friends have been talking about, like BNA, Beastars, and Warrior Nun.

Except for going to the grocery store or to restaurants and fast food joints for take-out, I spend all my time at home.  As I’m sure many of you will also attest, the days began to blur together.  Weekends suddenly became meaningless, because there was nothing happening to look forward to.  No comic cons, no camping trips, no local theme park visits, no casino trips, not even a trip to the mall. Instead, Saturdays and Sundays became the days that I didn’t sign into my work laptop…yippee.

And, as fate would have it, not long after I got settled into that new normal, it was thrown out of the window after I got laid off.  If you’d like to hear the gory details, you can go back two episodes.  Suddenly, instead of sitting at my work laptop hunting for trouble tickets to work on, the better part of my day was now filled with absolutely nothing!  

This has been 300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, the next episode will be posted after I mail back my work laptop.  Subscribe via your favorite app, and visit Eduardo Soliz dot com for more wonderfully weird words written by me!  As always, I thank you for listening! 

Be Good, Take Care, and God Bless.

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300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, Episode #107: “My Coronavirus Story Part 3: Laid Off”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who would prefer to not hear the sound of my voice. 😉

Click here to listen to this episode!

If you are looking for a professional voice to represent your business, your organization, or yourself, send me an email at edsoliz@gmail.com.

And now, on with the show:

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 107, “My Coronavirus Story Part 3, Laid Off,” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

April the 30th of this miserable year of 2020 was just another day at home in this weird time that is both very interesting and yet uninteresting at the same time.  The company I work at had closed all of its offices back in mid-March as the nation started trying to come to grips with the pandemic.  My job, as a deskside technician, was to be the ‘boots on the ground’ in the San Antonio office, but now that the office had been closed, my workdays consisted of sitting at my dining room table on my work laptop hunting through open incidents for something to do.  Thanks to the lock-down, the number of remote techs working from home had multiplied five-fold, so the pickings were very slim.

A fellow tech had posted a ticket into our group chat asking for help, so I seized the opportunity and raised my virtual hand. I had been hired in December and there was still a lot that I didn’t know.  Thus, I began searching through the knowledge base so I that wouldn’t be flying completely blind when I got in touch with the customer.

I had barely started to read the first article when the message: “Do you have time for a call?” popped up on my screen.  I frowned at my dumb luck.  Of course, the boss has to ping me the one time that I actually had something to do.  But, you know, he’s the boss, so I replied:  “Sure, I have time.” 

“Okay, I’m sending a meeting request.”

I logged onto the video chat to find my boss and two other people that I had never met before on my screen.

My Spidey-sense started tingling.  The first thought that popped in my head was:  This is it, I’m being let go.  In my mind, the two newcomers were the online equivalent of someone bringing a security guard with a cardboard box to your desk.

Once my boss introduced the pair of morose-looking gentlemen as being from Human Resources, my internal estimate of whether I was about to be let go from my job went from ninety-nine percent to one hundred.   The only question now was going to be whether I was going to be laid off or fired. 

The HR guys introduced themselves; one of them said that he was sorry we were meeting for the first time under these circumstances.  I almost cracked a joke about this being the last time we were meeting, too. I kinda wish I had.  Maybe it would have lightened the mood a little.  Then again, it may have also made the unfortunate proceedings about to happen even more awkward.  I chose to be a professional and held my tongue, which was probably the smarter thing to do.

After introducing them, my boss pretty much let the HR guys take over the meeting.  He didn’t even bother looking into the camera, which was off to the side of his PC.  I later found out that I wasn’t the only person to be let go, so perhaps he was setting up those meetings as well.  I can’t say I envied him having that job, but at least he still had one.

Having been fired before as well as having been part of a mass layoff, I knew what was coming.   We’re very sorry it had to come to this.  Business needs.  This wasn’t planned in advance.  Blah blah blah.  The only part I was interested in was whether I was being laid off or fired.  I did a Mr. Spock eyebrow-raise at what I thought were some questionable statements, such as:

This is about business needs, which translates to: This is about saving money.  That statement would have gone over better if I hadn’t had to sit in on an hour-long presentation with our CFO just the day before where he mentioned that the company was doing fairly well in spite of the lockdown.  Yeah, that definitely does not computer.

This wasn’t planned in advance: Yeah, I don’t buy this for a second, especially given that it was a large company.  Large companies never do anything quickly.  It had been a month and a half since the office had closed down, and I wonder if there was some threshold they were waiting to hit before dropping the axe.  If that statement was true, a company that just drops people at the drop of a hat isn’t the kind of company I want to work for.  Granted, that issue seems to have taken care of itself, but still. 

There were also a whole mess of things involving health insurance that I won’t go into here because this is 300 seconds and not 600.  For those interested, the gory details of that mess are posted on my blog at Eduardo Soliz dot com.

Near the end of that whole sad affair, I was told to not mention anything to my coworkers, because others were going to be let go as well.  Sure.  A box would be shipped out so that I could return my work laptop and charger.  I also had an access card for the office and a skeleton key, so I offered to get in touch with my local manager to return those items to her.  I was told: “I know it sounds silly, but put those things in the box and mail them over to Milwaukee.”  In my mind I thought: That doesn’t sound silly. It sounds stupid.  But, I didn’t fight it.

The meeting done with, began to clean up the improvised home workspace that would go back to being my dining room table.  I quickly discovered that my work access had been revoked, so score one for efficiency.

I sighed, logged out of my work laptop for the last time, and then came to an unfortunate realization:

I had forgotten to reassign that ticket.  Oh well.

This has been 300 Seconds, the next episode will be posted after I visit the job websites.  For more witty words written by me, visit Eduardo Soliz dot com, and I thank you for listening.  Be good, take care and God Bless.

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300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, Episode #106: “Weight off my shoulders, my stomach, my legs, and so on…”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who would prefer to not hear the sound of my voice. 😉

Click here to listen to this episode!

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 106, “Weight off my shoulders, my stomach, my legs, and so on” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

I like to joke that going to the doctor feels like going to confession, because in both instances you have to own up to your sins.  Actually, seeing the doctor is worse, because the doctor knows what you did or didn’t do.  After all, the numbers on the scale and on your lab results don’t lie.  Thus, all you can do is suck it up and own to all the sins that you have committed towards yourself since your previous visit.  Penance is optional, but there is no absolution to be found until you get your act together. 

After my latest less-than-pleasant checkup, I finally decided to get more serious about losing more weight.  For years my weight had hovered around two hundred and seventy-five pounds, topping out at two hundred and eighty a few  years back.  Thanks to a change in medication, I’d gotten it down to two hundred and forty five, but clearly, we still had more work to do.

I used to be a programmer and I’m a numbers guy, so I decided to go all in and use the FitBit app to keep track of everything.  First my activity, or lack thereof: I’d been using a FitBit for a while to track my steps, trying my best to get 8,000 steps a day.  Yes, I know that should be ten thousand but I do computer nerd things for a living, so come on, man.

I had been concentrating on the number of steps; doing a twenty minute walk in the morning around my apartment complex and maybe a lap or two in the evening if I was short of my step goal.  I decided that counting steps was not enough and that I needed to do a sustained workout.  I started doing a half hour walk around the neighborhood every morning.  In addition to the increased distance, the roads had some ups and downs which required a little more effort than the relatively flat apartment roads.  Suddenly, reaching my step goal didn’t require too much additional effort.

Next was weight, so I bought a smart scale.  It’s one of those fancy ones that also estimates your body fat percentage.  I was already in the habit of weighing myself every morning, but syncing the scale with the app required less effort than typing everything into Excel and it also made it easier to see patterns.  Also, I hate Excel, but that’s a topic for another time. Of course, that first weigh-in was pretty eye-opening; while I wasn’t overly surprised by how much I weighed, the body fat percentage was definitely an unpleasant surprise.

Finally, and most importantly, my diet. I set up a weight loss goal using the FitBit app and picked up a kitchen scale so that I could start practicing some portion control.  As I’m sure most of y’all can relate to; this was the hardest part.

I don’t know what it’s called, but I’m sure there’s a name for the psychological thing where you delude yourself into thinking “Oh, I’m not doing that bad” when in fact you are doing AWFUL.  Once I actually saw how many calories the things that I loved to eat contained, my first thought was: GEEZ, NO WONDER I CAN’T LOSE ANY WEIGHT.  I then started weighing my portions and thinking really hard about where and what I would eat on those now-fewer occasions when I would order take-out.

Armed with all the data I that needed, all I had to do now was execute my  plan, and I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy at the start.  Living in South Texas meant waking up early to avoid the summer heat, and it was a struggle during that first week, especially since I’ve been out of work these last few months.  The walk itself isn’t too bad, and I even went as far as to lengthen it by taking a lap around the apartment complex to start off.  So I don’t get burned out, I take it easy on the weekends by walking just around the apartment complex like I used to.

Now getting a handle on my eating was definitely hard.  What I’m eating hasn’t really changed a whole lot, but what has changed is how much.  With a few exceptions, if I want to get take-out now, I have to adjust my diet for the rest of the day so I don’t completely destroy my calorie goal.  Because the FitBit app sets a goal based on your activity level, that goal fluctuates throughout the day.  The app also tries to guess how many calories you’re burning when you aren’t exercising, but I think it overestimates that part.  Either way, I’m learning to adjust as time goes on now that I’m armed with all the information.

It has been a month and change since I started this plan and so far I have lost over ten pounds. I’ve also been feeling better overall.  Things being what they are right now in the time of coronavirus, I am fortunate to be able to devote the time to exercise and measure what I eat and so on and so forth. I’m pretty happy with how things are going right now.  The next challenge is going to be maintaining these good habits once life inevitably returns to something resembling normal.

You know, I think I might actually be looking forward to my next trip to confession!

This has been 300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, the next episode will be posted after I think  really hard about what I’m going to have for dinner.  For more podcasts, check out my website at Eduardo Soliz dot com, and I thank you for listening.  Be good, take care and God Bless.

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300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, Episode #105: “My Coronavirus Story Part 2- Work From Home?”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who would prefer to not hear the sound of my voice. 😉

Click here to listen to this episode!

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 105, “My Coronavirus Story Part Two: Work From Home?” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

I am a creature of habit.  As such, I like routines, especially when it comes to my job.  Wake up at a certain time, go for a walk, take a shower, get dressed, have breakfast, drive to the office, drink coffee, fix stuff, drink coffee, have lunch, drink some more coffee, fix some more stuff and then drive home.  Monday through Friday, five days out of the week, that is my work life and I’m fine with it.  I don’t do quite as well with open-ended jobs where I am left to my own devices without an overarching plan of some sort, but that’s a topic for another time. 

Monday, March the 16th was my first full week of working from home following the shutdown of our offices the previous week (and the previous episode) so I had to create a new routine to settle into.  I set my work laptop up on the dinner table and dedicated that space to be my ‘home office’ for the time being.  Like everything else in life, the new normal that I settled into had its ups and downs.  One immediate improvement was that since I no longer had a commute, that time that I was spending on the road could be put to better use in bed sleeping.  Not having to wear pants or even a polo shirt was also nice.  The biggest downsides of working from home were the lack of human contact and the blurring of lines between home life and work life.  I’m one of these people who likes to use a giant metaphorical Sharpie to draw a big thick metaphorical line between my home life and my work life.  I will say that having a dedicated work area away from my personal space helped immensely.  After all, even before we were forced to isolate, the dining room table didn’t get much use.

My new routine quickly became: wake up, go for a walk, take a shower, get dressed, have breakfast, sit at the dining room table, log into my work laptop, have a cup of coffee, wait for things to happen, have lunch, sign in to our afternoon meeting, wait for things to happen again, and then log out of the laptop.  There wasn’t much work to do for reasons I’ll go into in a moment.

But first, I have to bring up our daily meetings.  Holy cats, those daily meetings sucked.  Over the course of my 20+ year career, daily meetings have always sucked.  Inevitably, they turn into the same thing every day and they usually go away in favor of weekly meetings which eventually go away to monthly meetings, which eventually die out completely.  Our daily meetings got dull to the point where our supervisor flat-out told us that he didn’t even care for them, but we had to have them because the home office said so.  Thus, every day we all spent the better part of five or ten minutes looking at our screens waiting for somebody else to bring up a question or issue that hadn’t already been bought up in our team chat.  It rarely happened.

Another thing that rarely happened was actual work.  We had a small team of techs that handled remote issues over the phone.  It was very rare that we in-person techs had to pick up their slack because they were always on the ball.  But with everyone working from home, we now had four to five times as many techs now handling the same number of remote issues.  At first, there was work to do helping folks, particularly the staff members, get their work from home setups established, but once that was over with the amount of work available to everyone dried up considerably.  We were stuck hunting for open tickets in the system and occasionally asking if there were things we could help with in chat and during our daily meetings. 

The days turned into weeks, and with no end to the pandemic on the horizon, I couldn’t help but wonder how long this state of affairs would last.  I would get an answer to that question at the end of April, and you’ll get the answer in the next episode.

This has been 300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, the next episode will be posted after I make a cup of coffee.  Subscribe via your favorite app, and visit Eduardo Soliz dot com for more wonderfully weird words written by me!  I am Eduardo Soliz and I thank you for listening!  Be Good, Take Care and God Bless.

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300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, Episode #104: “My Coronavirus Story: The Fiesta’s Over”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who rather prefer to not hear the sound of my voice. 😉

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You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number one hundred and four: “My Coronavirus Story: The Fiesta’s Over,” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

For me, the whole coronavirus business started with an e-mail that dropped into my inbox one afternoon in mid-March, which now seems so long ago.  My job at the time was being the computer tech at a local night school.  The campus was small and the people there were nice, so it was a pretty cushy gig.  Except for the weirdo night school schedule and having to work the occasional Saturday, it would have been the perfect job, but that’s a conversation for another time.

I was aware of the coronavirus situation, though not a whole lot had changed for me personally; the security guard would spend time each day sanitizing door latches with Lysol and I had started sanitizing the keyboards and mice that were in the classrooms.  The week before, there had been a bit of a stir when one of the folks in quarantine at Lackland Air Force Base had gone to a local mall before testing positive for the virus, resulting in the mall shutting down for deep cleaning.  I remember Mayor Nirenberg having lunch at that mall after the reopening to reassure the public that all was well; I had actually gone to the same mall for lunch that day and joked to my friends about missing him.  While at the mall, I asked the gal at the register if things had slowed own and she gave a resounding yes with no hesitation whatsoever.

Otherwise, Thursday, March the 12th of 2020 was just another day at the office for me keeping computers, projectors, servers, staff, and professors up and running.  Sometime after lunch, the e-mail that would change everything arrived.  That night’s classes would be the final one of the session because all campuses were closing down.  From here on out, classes would be online only and everyone would be working from home.  That meant that folks had to gather up laptops, docks, monitors, keyboards, mice and pretty much anything else they might need to work from home.  The email mentioned that the closure would be through the end of the month, though I quickly heard rumors that the closure would last though the end of April.

My day became much more interesting after that. All I had to do to prepare for working from home was pack my work laptop and the professors were already accustomed to working from home.  That left campus staff who came to me asking for extra cables, headsets, mice, monitors and even a few docking stations.  After I took care of them, I began packing up the personal items that I had in my office.  That took some time, because as office workers are oft to do, I had accumulated quite a few things.  My Spidey-sense told me that I would not be coming back for a while, so I packed everything up.  Of course, at the time, nobody had any idea of how bad things were going to get.

The next day, March the thirteenth, was a sad and crazy day in San Antonio both at the same time.  Speculation had been circulating that Fiesta, the Alamo City’s 17-day long celebration of Texas independence, would be cancelled, and on that day, it was.  I honestly believe that the majority of folks in San Antonio did not take the coronavirus seriously until Fiesta was cancelled.  I say this because I decided to take a trip to HEB during my lunch break for a few things and it was INSANE.  The closest parking spot was in front of the store next door, and upon stepping inside, I was greeted by a mob of people with full shopping carts lined up all the way to the back of the store.  I quickly left upon seeing this and went to another store that wasn’t quite as packed.

I spent that workday logged into my work laptop monitoring queues and chats, waiting for something to happen.  It didn’t.

Ready or not, The New Normal was here to stay; it was just a matter of how long it was going to last.  It would turn to be longer than I had hoped and also shorter than I had expected.  You’ll see what I mean in the next episode.

This has been 300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, the next episode will be posted after I double-check on my stock of toilet paper.  Subscribe via your favorite app, and visit Eduardo Soliz dot com for more words written by me!  I am Eduardo Soliz and I thank you for listening!

Be Good, Take Care and God Bless.

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BUSINESS, Eduardo Soliz, TECH, TECH SUPPORT, WORK

Laid Off

Person in a bear costume sitting at a dinner table behind a laptop. He is wearing a yellow polo shirt and holding a coffee mug with the words "What's the Rush?" on it.

Working beary hard!

I was spending another day at home in this weird time that is both interesting and yet uninteresting. The company I work at had closed all of its offices back in mid-March as the nation started coming to grips with the pandemic. My job, as a deskside technician, was to be the ‘boots on the ground’ in the San Antonio office. Now that the office had been closed, my workdays consisted of sitting at my dining room table on my work laptop hunting through open incidents for something to do. Thanks to the lock-down, the number of remote techs working from home had multiplied five-fold, so the pickings were very slim.

A fellow tech had posted a ticket into our group chat asking for help, so I raised my virtual hand and seized the opportunity. I had been hired in December, so there was still a lot that I didn’t know. Thus, I began searching through our knowledge base so I wouldn’t be flying completely blind.

I had barely started to read the first article I had found, when the message: “Do you have time for a call?” popped up on my screen. It was from my boss.  I frowned at my dumb luck. Of course, the boss has to ping me the one time that I actually had something to do. But he’s the boss, so I replied: “Sure, I have time.”

“Okay, I’m sending a meeting request.” He replied.

What I call ‘Eduardo’s dumb luck’ kicked in again as my boss’ video chat request kept popping up on my phone instead of on my laptop. We use Microsoft Teams, and as much as I like Microsoft, their software seems to get squirrely as all heck once it’s running on something that isn’t Windows. After five awkward minutes of me sending “No, I can’t connect to the meeting” to my boss while walking around my home looking the cellular sweet spot that I hoped would make it start working on my phone, my laptop suddenly became cooperative. I joined the chat to find my boss and two other people that I had never met before on my screen.

My Spidey-sense started tingling. The first thought that popped in my head was: This is it, I’m being let go. To me, the newcomers were the online equivalent of a security guard carrying a cardboard box showing up at your desk.

Once my boss introduced the pair of morose looking gentlemen as being from Human Resources, my internal estimate of whether I was about to be let go went from ninety-nine percent to one hundred.   The only question now was going to be whether I was going to be laid off or fired.

The HR guys introduced themselves; one of them said that he was sorry we were meeting for the first time under these circumstances. I almost cracked a joke about this being the last time we were meeting, too. I wish I had. Maybe it would have lightened the mood a little. Then again, it may have also made the unfortunate proceedings even more awkward. I chose to be a professional and held my tongue.

After the introduction, my boss pretty much let the HR guys take over the meeting.  He didn’t even bother looking into the camera, which was off to the side of his PC. Whatever was happening on his screen had his full attention; I later found out that I wasn’t the only person to be let go, so perhaps he was setting up those meetings as well. I can’t say I envied him having that job, but at least he still had one.

Having been fired before as well as having been part of a mass layoff, I knew what was coming. We’re very sorry it had to come to this. Business needs. This wasn’t planned in advance. Blah blah blah. The only part I was interested in was whether I was being laid off or fired. I did a Mr. Spock eyebrow-raise at what I thought were some questionable statements, such as:

This is about business needs, which translates to: This is about saving money. That statement would have gone over a lot better if I hadn’t had to sit in on an hour long presentation from our CFO the day before where he mentioned that the company was doing fairly well in spite of the lockdown. Yeah, that does not computer at all.

This wasn’t planned in advance: I don’t buy this for a second, especially given that it was a large company. Large companies never do anything quickly. It had been a month and a half since the office closure, and I wonder if there was some threshold they were waiting to hit. Even if that statement was true, a company that just drops people at the drop of a hat isn’t the kind of company I want to work for. Granted, that issue seems to have taken care of itself, but still.

They then started talking about health insurance, which is super-important for me. I found it interesting that the HR guys bought up COBRA (probably a requirement) but they didn’t bring up signing up for health care though the Affordable Care Act. Granted, I’m already aware of both, but not bringing up the ACA is doing a disservice to people. COBRA premiums are insanely expensive and in my experience, the ACA provided good coverage at a much lower cost. When I needed temporary health insurance last year when in between jobs, the cost of an unsubsidized ACA plan premium and my medications combined were lower than the COBRA premium by itself.  So if you are staring down the barrel of a crazy expensive COBRA payment, do yourself a favor and look into the ACA at healthcare.gov.

Finally, as someone who takes medication regularly for a chronic condition, being let go on the last day of a month was an extremely lousy thing to do, because it meant I had to immediately request refills and pray they were ready before my coverage ran out at the end of the day. Otherwise, I was going on the hook for a few hundred dollars. If this spiel is coming off as a little angry, that’s why.

Near the end of that whole sad affair, I was told to not mention anything to my coworkers, because others were also going to be let go. Sure. A box would be shipped out so that I could return my work laptop and charger. I also had an access card for the office and a skeleton key, so I offered to get in touch with my manager to return those items. I was told that to return those items with the laptop to the home office in Milwaukee, even though ‘we know it sounds redundant.’ In my mind I thought: That doesn’t sound redundant. That sounds stupid. But I didn’t fight it.

My last work meeting over with, I requested refills from my pharmacy (another painful experience that I won’t go into here) and began to clean up the improvised home workspace that would go back to being my dining room table. About an hour later, I heard a message ping come from the laptop. One of my now-former coworkers had also been let go and had sent a good-bye message to the group in chat. I figured that the cat was out of the bag, so I should probably send one too. Later, after cleaning up, I discovered that my access to work chat and email had already been revoked. Score one for efficiency. I sighed, closed my work laptop for the last time and then came to an unfortunate realization:

I had forgotten to reassign the ticket.

Oh well.

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Books, BUSINESS, Computers, CREATIVE, Eduardo Soliz, JUST SAYING, Nine to Five Lives, Podcasting, PODCASTS, Super-Short Storytime, TECH, WORDS, WORK, Writing

Super-Short Storytime: “Future Service”

ssst10

Welcome to Super-Short Storytime, literature listeners and audio aficionados!  I am Eduardo Soliz, the creator and narrator of the wonderfully weird story that you are about to hear. 

This story was influenced by my time spent working in customer service.  As much as I’d like to ‘get over it’ and move on, the general public have provided me with WAY too much story material in order for me to do so.   I call this cursory client conversation: “Future Service”

“Your call is very important to us, sir, and a technical support representative will be on the line with you shortly.” a female voice said over the communicator.

“Yeah, really important, that’s why I’ve been on hold for fifteen minutes…” the caller muttered as he paced back and forth.

“I apologize, sir.  Is there anything I can do for you while we wait?  Is there anything you would like to talk about?” asked the voice on the phone.

“No, that’s fine.” The caller said.  He stopped his pacing as he came to an unpleasant realization. “Wait, have you been on the line all this time?” he asked.

“Yes, sir, it is our policy to never transfer customers to an automated system.” The rep replied with an air of pride. “We have learned that interacting with a live representative prior to speaking with a technical support specialist improves the overall customer experience.”

“So your job is to just sit there and talk to me?” The dumbfounded caller asked.

“Yes sir.” The woman replied.

“And you can’t do anything at all to get my problem fixed?” The caller said, his voice beginning to waver slightly.

The woman took on a condescending tone when she answered: “I’m afraid not, sir.  I am here to keep you company and ease your frustrations until a qualified technical support specialist becomes available, in about…” She paused as she checked her screen.  “Twenty minutes.  This new system has improved our efficiency and greatly improved customer satisfaction.  Are you still there, sir?”

“Yes.  So whenever I call this number, I will always get a person?”

“That is correct,” the woman cheerfully replied.

The android finally reached his breaking point.  He slammed a metal fist onto his dining room table and yelled into the communicator: “SO WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO TO GET A MACHINE AROUND HERE?!”

The End.

Like the old saying goes, you can’t make everybody happy.  Perhaps one day some company somewhere will perfect customer service over the phone.  Until then, we’ll have to “hold” on as best we can.

This has been Super-Short  Storytime!  Visit eduardo soliz dot com for more stories and free e-book downloads, and remember, listeners: Your call may be recorded for quality assurance, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be listened to!

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BUSINESS, CARS, FitBit, RANDOM STOPS, SMARTWATCH, TECH, WEATHER

42 Things I Noticed While Driving Around Texas

A few months ago, I started a field technician job which requires me to drive around the great state of Texas.  Of course, while on the highways, byways, and backways of the Lone Star State, I noticed a few things:

  1. My company car is a Chevy Equinox which is a boat compared to my Honda CR-V

    #7 My road! (sort of)

  2. I have dubbed my company car: “The Leviathan.”
  3. I do like that The Leviathan has a BRAAP horn as opposed to the CR-V’s meep.
  4. That moment when you’re happy to be back on a properly paved road
  5. …with a middle stripe.
  6. Whenever I see a Choke Canyon BBQ or gas station I’ll always think: “Hey it’s those guys who tried to rip off Buc-ees”
  7. I vaguely remembered a ‘Solis Road’ as a child and found it.  Of course, I had to take a selfie.
  8. Rio Grande Valley radio sucks.
  9. Rio Grande Valley drivers suck.
  10. “Next services 45 miles” means it’s time for a restroom break.
  11. It’s always funny to see the road literally change from one county to another.
  12. See also: county deputies waiting for speeders.
  13. Dear GPS: Unless there is a significant delay, clam up and let me stay on the route I’m on.
  14. Company-issued iPhone meant that I got to rediscover how lousy Apple Maps is.
  15. What is it with small towns and Y intersections just outside of them?
  16. Note to self: ALWAYS check how much range your gas tank has left before leaving a small town out in the middle of nowhere.
  17. I always think: “Warp speed, Mr Sulu!” whenever I see that first 55 MPH sign outside of a small town.
  18. This beats being in a crappy open plan office while the fluorescent lights suck the life out of me: I’m on my own, I get to listen to music, and the company pays for gas, room, and hotels.
  19. Gas plumes from oil drilling operations look eerie at night.
  20. If you need super-bright LED headlights, maybe your blind tail shouldn’t be driving at night
  21. See also: Fog lights the size of headlights.
  22. You know a town is really small when they don’t even have a Dairy Queen
  23. I’m not sure I want to go to a restaurant who’s slogan is: Put some South in your Mouth
  24. The road is a good place to charge your smartwatch.
  25. Fueling up in a small town makes one appreciate the city, especially given that the gas is 50 cents less expensive a gallon there.
  26. Granted I’m not paying, but still.
  27. Remote start is awesome, makes me feel all Knight Rider and stuff.
  28. It would be even more awesome if I didn’t always get inside the Leviathan just before the engine cuts out.
  29. Where’s the KITT personal assistant?
  30. Construction, just the thing to make I-10 north of San Antonio worse.
  31. Funny how in small towns there are nearly always signs directing you to the football stadium and cemetery.
  32. I kinda get the whole ‘put a cross on the top of a hill’ thing but I kinda don’t.
  33. Nothing like passing the Whataburger you had breakfast at 14 hours earlier on your way home.
  34. Getting on the road early means seeing some of the wildlife out and about, particularly deer.
  35. Saw a gas station that was converted into a computer repair shop. At least it wasn’t a liquor store.
  36. That moment when your GPS reads: “230 miles remaining.”
  37. Nothing like doing a hasty 180 because you passed the one gas station in a town out in the middle of nowhere.
  38. Sampling the local flavor can be a mite harder on Sunday.
  39. If you could display state lines more prominently, Google Maps, that would be greaaat.
  40. You know you’re in a small county when the county road names consist of single letters.
  41. My company and personal phones are on different providers. Few things make the hair on the back of my neck stand up like losing signal on BOTH of them.
  42. God Bless Dairy Queen!
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