Calling Home for the Holidays

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many families will not be able to gather in person as they normally would whether due to financial situation, health concerns, travel restrictions, etc. It is important to take time to connect with family and friends, even if you do it from afar. Here are some options available to help you and your loved ones connect digitally via audio/video this holiday season
while distant.

Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays

‘Cause no matter how far away you roam

If you want to be a happy in a million ways

For the holidays, you can’t beat home, sweet home

There really is no place like home for the holidays. Unfortunately, home sweet home might not be a physical, in-person reality this season. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc for many families medically, financially, and otherwise, many are opting to postpone or avoid family gatherings due to concers with the health of relatives, or due to quarantine. But family is the most important thing, and being able to be with one another especially during the holiday season is important, so in this brief blog post, let’s take a look at some of the options available for remotely and virtually gathering your family together this holiday season.

If you can’t be face-to-face in person, still being able to see each other is the next best thing! Here are some options for video calling services that are free.

Jitsi Meet

Jitsi Meet is a free online video meeting solution that offers video calling and screen sharing. Not only is it free, but you don’t even have to make an account or download any software to use it! Just create a meeting name, start your call, and have others join. Jitsi Meet offers HD audio and video, unlimited free access for up to 50 participants at a time, end-to-end encryption, multi-screen sharing, remote control, and other neat integrations as well. Not only is it available in your web browser on your computer, but Jitsi Meet also has Android and iOS apps as well. I personally use Jitsi a lot, and highly recommend it.

Download for Android | Download for iOS

Google Duo

Google Duo is another free online video calling solution. Duo is available in a web browser on your computer, and also has apps for Android and iOS as well. If you don’t already have a Google account, you’ll need to make a free account which only takes a few minutes. It features one-on-one calling, group calling, and end-to-end encryption as well as a variety of fun features. Duo also integrates with Google smart products and is built-in to many Android devices already. I’ve used Duo on several occasions, and do not have any major complaints.

Download for Android | Download for iOS

Facebook’s Messenger

Facebook’s Messenger platform recently launched a new feature called “Messenger Rooms,” a video calling solution different than their existing group video call functionality. While you can still create a group message in the Messenger app and begin a video call, now you can create a video call “room” with a shareable link. Friends and family can join your call via the link–even if they don’t have a facebook account. With a wide variety of other fun and functional features, Messenger is definitely a viable option for gathering your loved ones virtually. Messenger is available on Android, iOS, and Windows 10 from the Microsoft Store.

Download for Android | Download for iOS | Download for Windows 10

Apple’s FaceTime

FaceTime is perhaps one of the most well-known video calling applications in existence and is a functional solution for up to 32 participants, though everyone has to have an iPhone, iPad, or Mac computer. If your family isn’t entirely in the Apple ecosystem, this might not necessarily be the solution for you. Despite that, friendly features such as Animoji, stickers, and integration with iMessage–all without a subscription–make this another great option for some people.

Download for iOS

For the technologically agnostic…

And don’t forget: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with simply picking up the telephone to have a phone conversation with loved ones, or even writing a letter. Because home isn’t necessarily a house, a dining room table, or living room with a Christmas tree. Home is where your heart is, and connecting with your friends and family from afar whether by video, phone, or in writing, can help you be home for the holidays.

What is the holiday season looking like for your and your loved ones this year? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Wishing you each the merriest of holiday seasons and a safe and happy new year.

Review: Wing Alpha (MVNO)

Introduction

Let’s face it. Cell phone carriers have gotten pretty bad over the years. Many familes today spend huge portions of their monthly income to have mobile telecommunications devices and service–and I’m not even talking about getting the latest iPhone or whatever. I’m just talking about an average phone with your average plan (including some amount of data, of course). But beyond that, there have always been folks looking to save a buck or two.

These types of people have spawned a demand for a slew of Mobile Virtual Network Operators who lease space from the primary wireless carriers (such as Verizon, AT&T, etc.) and resell it under a different name for a lower price. Some of the oldest and most popular MVNOs include Tracfone and metroPCS. But with an uptick in the demand for more affordable cell service, many other options have come into existence. You may have heard of MVNOs such as Ting, Tello, Mint, PureTalk, Twigby, h2o Wireless, Reach Mobile, Cricket, US Mobile, Red Pocket Mobile, Xfinity Mobile, and so many more.

Like many other people, I went looking for a MVNO due to the cost savings. I decided to give Wing Mobile (also known as Wing Alpha or Wing Tel) a try. I had seen their advertisements online quite a bit, and the comments on their posts were always highly positive with very few negative comments. I figured it was worth a shot. Let’s have a look at my experience! If you’re just looking for a quick thumbs up or thumbs down for Wing, scroll to the end of the article.

Signing Up

Signing up with Wing was incredibly easy. I headed over to their website and started a chat session with one of their representatives after looking around for a bit. I explained that I wanted to see about signing up to try their service, that I was currently with Verizon, and that I would want to keep my existing phone number and bring my device. I also explained that I would need a Verizon-based plan as they’re the only infrastructure in our area of rural Nevada that has good coverage. While AT&T is also in the area, they do not have adequate coverage for where I live and where I travel.

The representative was friendly and helpful. After providing the IMEI of my device so they could check for compatibility, the representative confirmed that my device would be compatible with their Verizon-based network and that they would be able to port my existing phone number in. They even said if I had remaining device payments I could submit the final bill for the device to them and they’d take over the payments, and the amount would simply be added to my monthly amount due for their service. It sounded pretty good. Maybe too good, but I’d have to wait and see.

The next thing I know, I get a notification from Verizon that another carrier was porting my phone number in. The representative said that I would receive my free SIM card in the mail within a week and when it arrived to contact them via chat or phone again and they would help me get activated. All in all, signing up took less than 10 minutes, even with me asking questions along the way.

Week 1

Alright. The SIM card arrived with a nice little welcome card. Not bad. I chatted back into their website and provided my information and said I had a SIM card I needed to activate. The representative walked me through providing them the ICCID (or SIM card number), powering off the device, putting the new SIM card in, and powering on the device.

I was able to make a phone call, and receive text messages. All seemed well. Activation only took 5 minutes! Our chat session disconnected and I went about my day. It wasn’t long before I realized I did not have 4G data–or data at all, for that matter. A new chat session was opened and I was directed to call a phone number for customer support. When I called, I got the technical support for Clearway–an entirely different MVNO. Okay…that’s odd. Is Wing a reseller of a reseller or something? I never got an answer on that. Anyway, the Clearway representative got my data working by adding an APN (Access Point Name) in my mobile network settings. Things seemed alright for a bit.

I’m a member of several group texts (a friends one, a family one, etc.). On the evening of the first day, it became apparent that I was missing some messages, receiving others, and could not send or receive picture messages (MMS messages) at all. I called the Clearway number back and was told that they could not support me because I was not a Clearway customer; I’d need to contact Wing. Huh. That’s weird. So after some digging I find the customer support phone number for Wing and give them a call. Cue me spending the next couple of hours on the phone being transferred between multiple representatives, getting disconnected a few times, etc. After a long and frustrating support session, I finally am able to call, text, use data, and send/receive picture messages. Whew. I chalked the issues up to being with an “off brand” carrier, rather than paying for the convenience of a “name brand” carrier, and went about my business.

Week 2

Week 2 was worse than Week 1. At the beginning of the week, I suddenly couldn’t do anything. No calls. No texts. No data. Of course, this also happened to be the week that I had some very important calls coming in. Over the course of the next five (5) days, I would spend nearly 20 hours on the phone or in chat sessions with Wing representatives, trying to get my phone service situation sorted out.

I should make it clear that I have never felt more/true rage than when dealing with Wing during my second week of “having their service” (which I didn’t really have, because I couldn’t use it).

After spending the equivalent of a part-time employee’s work week on the phone with more than 10 Wing representatives–who each told me an entirely different story/excuse for the situation–I finally got a representative who checked a couple of different things and then told me that my phone was not compatible with their Verizon network. What? I explained that when I signed up they checked my IMEI and make/model and verified that it was compatible with their Verizon-based network. The representative said “I’m not sure why they would tell you that. We don’t offer CDMA-based Verizon service in your area. You’d need to be on our AT&T service if you want to keep the phone you have.” To which my response was frustrated and direct. I re-explained that I could only have Verizon service where I lived due to the coverage and the representative then tried to sell me a phone that I already said I didn’t want to buy.

After another hour it was clear that I wasn’t going to be getting anywhere, so I told them I would need to be put in contact with whomever could cancel my service, port my number back out to Verizon, and who I could talk to about refunding my first month’s payment since I was unable to use their service due to their dishonesty.

Luckily, they were immediately able to port my number so I could go back to Verizon. Unfortunately, they refused to refund my payment as “it’s a prepaid service, so we don’t do refunds.” While I understand the concept of prepaid accounts, I prepaid for service. Service I couldn’t use due to their dishonesty. So to me, it felt like they not only lied to me, but stole from me as well.

Oh well. Whatever. I was done. With my number ported out, I opened a Verizon account again and got phone service back, putting my attempt to work with Wing to bed and leaving the bad experience in the dust.

Or so I thought.

1 Month Later

Much to my surprise, a month after I had cancelled my service with Wing and gotten back on Verizon, Wing bills my debit card $55 for monthly service. Monthly service I no longer had (not like I ever had it anyway).

I spent an hour on the phone between two different representatives to get to the bottom of why they were still stealing money from me.

The representative explained, “Well, it looks like we billed you because you had AutoPay enabled on your account.” To which I explained that I shouldn’t have an account and that I cancelled my service a month ago. She had me log into my online account and lo and behold, there’s my debit card number with “AutoPay” next to it. Interestingly enough, there was no way to remove my debit card number from my account/profile.

I eventually got the representative to remove the method of payment from my account on their end–but they only did that once I asked for a contact in their legal department. I logged into the online account to verify the method of payment was gone (and it was). With that, I told them to be sure they closed my account this time, and laid the issue to rest.

Pros

Quick and easy sign-up

Quick and easy activation

Cost savings–theoretically

Cons

Poor communication

Dishonest representatives

Snake-oil sales tactics

No way to remove your payment information from your account

Conclusion

Was it worth it trying to save a few bucks by switching from Verizon to Wing? Absolutely not. I regret it tremendously and could not recommend Wing/Wing Alpha/Wing Tel/Wing Mobile to anybody in good conscience. That is, unless you want to be exceedingly frustrated, lied to, stolen from, and not have mobile phone service. Despite no longer having their service, I keep receiving sponsered ads and posts from them on Facebook. I often left a short, honest feedback about my story (a couple sentences), until they blocked me from commenting on their content. Apparently that’s how they keep up their appearance of being “highly recommended.” Yikes.

Have you tried a MVNO? How was your experience? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Internet in Elko, NV

Each of the main providers has ups and downs, but in general, we have had a good experience with Rise Broadband and Zito Media. I do not recommend Frontier Communications. That said, here is what I recommend considering if you’re looking for internet service in Elko

Do you live in Elko (or or the surrounding areas)? Then you likely know well the plague that is bad internet service providers. We’ve all been in a situation where we are trying to download something, stream a movie with our family, play a game, participate in a work video call, etc and suddenly the internet drops. You call your ISP and they say they can send someone–but it won’t be until next week. And now you’re stuck.

Why is it that internet in Elko…well…sucks? Who is the best provider? In this blog post I want to explore some of the reasons that we can’t seem to get good internet and provide some insight to my experience with each of the three primary providers.

This is a longer post, so if you’re just looking for the “too-long-didn’t-read” (TL;DR) version, scroll down to the Conclusion section.

Why is internet in Elko “bad?”

I believe there are a number of factors that contribute to the overall negative experience with internet service here in Elko.

First and foremost, I have to at least mention complacency. Take a look at the state of Frontier Communications’ copper/Ethernet network in Elko. It’s not good. Too long have their data lines been neglected. You can have the best equipment and the most efficient configurations, but if you put a crappy connection between all that technology and the user’s house, their experience is only going to be what the crappy connection can provide. Through various news articles and town meeting minutes, we have learned of the complacency of Frontier as an internet service provider.

Complacency stems from another one of the reasons internet in Elko is so bad. There isn’t any competition. When a primary or sole provider of a service doesn’t have to compete with another provider to offer the “best” service and win over customers, they tend to get lazy. It doesn’t matter what they do because people will just use them anyway. While a poor business mentality, when the number-crunchers look at the big picture, going above and beyond to maintain the same number of customers that would already be there while doing less isn’t going to look like a return on investment to them.

Lastly and unfortunately, we are a rural/remote town, which means that a link from us to the internet has to travel quite some way. With a limited amount of fiber running into Elko, new providers wanting to come in often would have to bury/bore their own fiber from their nearest hub–like Boise, ID or Salt Lake City, UT. With that limited amount of existing fiber to support Elko, issues have been inevitable.

The issues with Elko’s primary internet service provider–Frontier Communications–have frustrated residents and customers for at least 15 years. But it’s not just the residents who are fed up. The Elko City Council also decided that it was time for Frontier to get their house in order if they wished to continue serving members of the community. In a special city council meeting, Frontier representative(s) heard and anwered questions and complaints from the Countil on behalf of residents of Elko County. When little to no improvement was seen, the City approved a fee break in franchising fees to providers interested in coming to the area to encourage more providers to compete with Frontier. See additional reading at the end of the post.

Why are the prices so high?

Again, we see lack of competition as a cause of problems. Frontier Communications being the largest provider of internet services in Elko coupled with restrictions and red tape preventing (or at least making it difficult) for new providers to enter the market, there is very little competition to drive rates down for internet service.

But wait! You only pay $40/mo for your 25 Mbps Down / 5 Mbps Up plan? That might not seem bad to us here in Elko, but in larger cities you can spend that same money and get gigabit service (1000 Mbps Down / X Mbps Up). That’s 40x the bandwidth for the same price. So here in Elko, we pay more–for less. So what exactly does our over-expenditure get us? Let’s take a look…

Review of Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

Frontier Communications

For the first year that my wife and I were married, we had internet from Frontier Communications. Frontier offers DSL internet, which is an internet connection carried into the home via a phone line. We had an “up-to” connection with a cap of 25 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload; there was no data cap. At the time, that plan on a promotional rate was $43/month. After the promotional period, the price would go up $20 putting it in the $60-65/month range. You can save roughly $10/month if you purchase your own modem/router combo instead of renting theirs. I’m sure they offered a static IP address, but never inquired about the pricing for one.

Frontier’s customer service was nothing to praise. If you ever called for technical help, they’d run you through their script and then inevitably say they need to send a technician out to fix the issue. Their scheduling availability could be next week, or next month. And when they did schedule you for a day, they would only say “they’ll be there between 8 AM and 5 PM, so make sure someone is home.”

Well,that doesn’t matter too much, because the technicians typically miss the first appointment. One time we had a scheduled appointment. I popped over to our neighborhood convenience store one block over while my wife was at home waiting for the technician. As I was walking up to our property, I saw the Frontier technician sitting in his truck. When I got to our front door, there was a note stating they tried to contact us but nobody was available. I went to talked to the guy and got him to perform the service call. Once he left, my wife said that she never heard a knock, and was sitting in the living by the front door the whole time. The guy didn’t even try. What a shining example of Frontier’s care for their customers. Once you do get someone to help you, their “fix” for whatever your issue is, will likely be simply replacing your router. Over and over again.

Another example of their customer care shows in one of my wife’s attempts to pay our internet bill. Due to having some banking security issues, we had to have new cards issued and could not electronically pay our bill as usual. She called the local Frontier office repeatedly for more than a day trying to pay over the phone. After failing to reach anyone, she drove down to the office and spoke to a representative there. During their conversation, the phone rang and rang and rang. My wife said, “If you need to you can get that, I’m in no rush!” The lady just said “Oh, I don’t make enough money to deal with that, so I just ignore it.” Hm. Not going to say any more on their customer service after that one.

In terms of actual internet, we usually got about 12 Mbps download / 2 Mbps upload (that’s 48% of the advertised “up-to” speed). Most internet service providers will guarantee 60% of the advertised “up-to” speed, so this fell far below our expectations. I guess the bright side was that they offered 24/7/365 phone support, so you could always reach someone to at least generate your trouble ticket.

For you gamers out there, the ping/latency was not consistent at all, but typically lived in the 90-200ms range. Playable at 90ms, but a bit frustrating at 200ms or higher when it would spike.

Our connection would go completely down/out quite frequently. I would say over the course of a year, we were up 80-85% of the time. Now while that might sound like an okay range, 80% means that 73 days of the year, we didn’t have internet. That’s a little more than 2 months! Ultimately, the combination of poor customer service and the connection being down so often led us to leave Frontier Communications.

Rise Broadband

We have had Rise Broadband for two years. Rise Broadband services customers via fixed wireless. This is where you have a small radio dish installed atop your roof or on the side of your residence. This radio points at a tower on a mountain-top and you wirelessly link to their system with that hardware and a normal Ethernet cable runs into your router. It is important to note that we have business-class service, not residential. On a promotional rate, we paid $89/month for “up-to” 25 Mbps download / 4 Mbps upload with no data cap. After the promotional period the rate would be in the $100-110/month range. In our case, we had to provide our own router (which was totally fine with me). A static IP address was available for $20/month.

Rise Broadband’s customer service was great when you could get a hold of someone. For whatever reason, the support call center is only open for typical office hours and is not available in the evening or at night at all. Seeing as how the few times our internet did go down it was exclusively in the evening, this was a problem for us. Representatives were generally friendly and helpful, though, so working with them wasn’t too much of a pain.

The one time we did have to have a technician come out, they arrived within the predetermined service window and were friendly and knowledgeable.

In terms of actual internet, we usually got about 17 Mbps download / 4 Mbps upload (that’s 68% of the advertised “up-to” speed). Most internet service providers will guarantee 60% of the advertised “up-to” speed, so while this didn’t quite meet my standards, it certainly fell within the normal/expected range of bandwidth for our account.

For you gamers out there, the ping/latency was ultra stable at 28-33ms. That’s pretty dang good.

Overall, our connection rarely went down. I would say over the course of two years we maybe spent a total of a week without internet. That’s a 99.98% up-time. Not too shabby. While we loved Rise Broadband, the high cost and hard-to-contact support led us to explore other options.

Zito Media

Take this section with a grain of salt, as we’ve only had Zito Media (formerly SatView) for a little over a month. Zito Media is a cable internet provider. They bring internet into your residence via coaxial cable (like you’d use for your television), then install a modem to which you connect your router. We pay a promotional rate of $60/month for an “up-to” 100 Mbps download / 10 Mbps upload connection. After the promo period, if not locked into a contract, the price increases to $80/month. You can save roughly $10/month if you purchase your own modem/router combo instead of renting theirs. A static IP address is available for an additional $10/month.

Zito Media’s customer service seems to be pretty good. The 24/7/365 support call center is easy to contact, though has longer than desirable wait times. Representatives are friendly and generally knowledgeable. I’ve contacted them twice this month–one call to finish up the install/turn-up of our new internet service and one call with a quick question about the first bill. Both were handled quickly and adequately. The install technician arrived within the 2 hour service window and was friendly and helpful.

In terms of actual internet, we are getting an average of about 92 Mbps download / 9 Mbps upload (that’s 92% of the advertised “up-to” speed). Most internet service providers will guarantee 60% of the advertised “up-to” speed, so this not only meets my expectations of coming within 10% of advertised speed, but also is well above the industry “standard.” I’ve had peaks of connection around 120 Mbps download. Around 5 PM to 7 PM, I have noticed that the connection does slow down to about 20 Mbps download speed or slightly less. This is due to the nature of how cable internet works. The more people sharing the same tap/hub, the more everyone sharing the connection slows down. Given that 5 PM is when lots of folks get off work and come home to start using their internet, this makes sense. It’s typically not a huge issue.

For you gamers out there, the ping is pretty stable at 80-90ms. It’s higher than I prefer, and definitely more delayed than our Rise Broadband connection was, but it’s still absolutely playable. Most games consider under 100ms to be “good” ping.

In the month that we have had Zito Media’s internet service, we have experienced 100% up time (though it’s a very small sample size). The combination of good customer support, faster/as-advertised internet, and the lower price has us thinking we might just stay with Zito for a while. While this sounds great, also keep in mind that as with any ISP, your mileage may vary. With technologies such as cable internet and DSL, distance from the hub and how many other users with which you share the bandwidth are crucial and can be the difference between a great experience, and a horrendous one. I have had friends and associates with Zito internet in different parts of town who have had polar opposite experiences–including two friends who didn’t have internet for an entire three months.

Other Options

There are multiple other options from smaller providers such as White Cloud, Choice Broadband, and satellite internet providers such as HughesNet and ViaSat. I’ve not tested any of these, but in general their pricing seems similar to the three main providers, but with less bandwidth and possible data caps. Do note that satellite internet connections are entirely unusable for gaming or timeout-sensitive activities (such as working from home over VPN).

Better options are coming, however. Southwest Gas has been creating a trench for their gas conduit and concurrently, fiber optic cable is being laid as well for CC Communications’ project “Fiber to the Home.” In 2021 and 2022, Elko residents can expect new internet service to be available with significantly higher speeds and much more realiable service than the copper- and wireless-based solutions which the majority of residents currently attempt to use.

Bringing it all together

Getting internet in Elko can be rough. The three main providers have their share of issues, and smaller new providers have trouble creeping into the market. The rural location and lack of real competition cause further trouble for residents just wanting to stream their Netflix, game, work from home, video call loved ones, etc. Each of the main providers has ups and downs, but in general, we have had a good experience with Rise Broadband and Zito Media. I do not recommend Frontier Communications. That said, here is what I recommend considering if you’re looking for internet service in Elko;

  • What is it that you need to accomplish? Stream Netflix? Work from home over a VPN? Make video calls? Game?
  • How many users will be using your internet simultaneously?
  • What is most important to you–price, speed, or stability? You’ll have to compromise.
  • Check with neighbors and friends who live near you, as their opinion of the service is really all that matters, as it will be similar to what you could expect. Keep in mind that location/distance matter as mentioned earlier.

With these things in mind, I hope you’ll be able to make the choice and settling on an internet provider that will connect you and your family with the world wide web in an adequate manner.

What have your experiences been with internet in Elko? What do you think about the lack of competition in the area? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


Additional Reading

Elko Daily Free Press – In the trenches: Internet expanding to Elko, Spring Creek customers

Elko Daily Free Press – Frontier hears Elko council’s internet questions

Elko Daily Free Press – Bring in the Internet: City OKs fee break

Employees don’t leave jobs–they leave managers.

Introduction

If you’ll bear with me for a bit, I’d like to share an experience with you. We’ve all heard the age-old phrase “If you take care of your team, your team will take care of you.” If you’ve not heard that exact verbiage, you are likely familiar with any of theses similar phrases: “Take care of your employees and your employees will take care of you.”

It seems logical enough, yet so many managers and others in positions of leadership fail to espouse the theory. More than likely, every person will run into such a situation during their career. I’ve had more than one of these experiencing, but only one that really affected me to the point where I feel it important to share it; my treatment by a particular person in a position of leadership–despite the lack of leadership demonstrated. My treatment by this person, and the company’s leadership team, was bad enough that it affected my mental health. I became depressed and anxious, hating my life, and by the end of it all, had sought medical care.

The Situation

Let’s set up the situation. I worked for a company in a rural part of the state. The company and its properties had been around and well-known by community members for more than 40 years. My departmental team consisted of myself and my boss, Joe. We served hundreds of employees effectively and efficiently, and had a good reputation with everyone. We were both a bit underpaid for what we did, but we loved our jobs and looked forward to work each day.

Company LLC bought our company and Joe and I now had a new big boss, Kevin. To his credit, Kevin had extensive experience in our industry–but primarily abroad, and primarily in very, very large metropolitan areas. Initially, he seemed like a laid-back and funny kind of guy. But the longer I worked under him, his true nature began to show. Everything we had in place, was incorrect and not good enough. Why use this vendor instead of that vendor? “Because it was what was in budget at the time, and is stable and performs perfectly.” But it wasn’t a vendor he liked, so it was wrong (mind you, he wasn’t with the company when such an action was taken, so how could we possibly conform to his preferences in the past).

In the early days of the acquisition by Company LLC, he stopped by our town a few times, but the visits grew fewer and fewer. When he was around, he would show up in cargo shorts and flip flops (our culture was more of a business-professional setting, with us wearing dress shirts and slacks). He would spend the entire duration of his visit on the phone with various people, instead of actually interacting with us locally. When he did interact, it was “F*** this,” “F*** that,” “F*** you.” I brushed it off, as I’m not one to take things personally, and not everyone is as overly nice as Joe and I. Bit by bit, new companies and locations were acquired, and as such, other departmental personnel were acquired as well.

I had a historical record of stellar performance spanning multiple companies, and a fantastic track record in our company pre-acquisition by Company LLC. My diligence and commitment were quickly realized and put to work with Company LLC. I was made the technical lead for our team of technicians, and it was verbally communicated to me that I was expected to oversee and assist the other technicians with anything they were working on, in addition to my existing workload. No worries, I was happy to help, and liked our less-experienced techs and wanted to help them grow in their knowledge and abilities. I was not supervisory to them, so I was essentially getting the fun part of mentoring and managing, but without the actual management responsibilities (hire, fire, discipline, time and attendance, etc.). Sweet gig, right?

It wasn’t. Kevin’s communications became less and less frequent, and when they existed, they were simple directives: “I want this done,” “Make sure this happens,” “Teach Scully/Richard how to do this.” Interactions were by phone or email, and typically consisted of two sentences at most. As more and more other companies and locations were acquired, there were more and more things that I required from him in order to be able to accomplish that which he requested. This would have been fine, if he ever responded and provided those things which were necessary to complete the requests. In the meantime, I completed each request as per industry best practices and standards as I usually did.

I became increasingly frustrated with the situation. I was putting in long hours — 14 hour days, often 6 or 7 days per week. At one point I worked approximately 30 days on without a true day off. This was becoming common at Company LLC, and many of the other employees were receiving compensation increases proportionate to the additional work they were taking on–but I had received no such increase. All to try and complete requests and assignments that had no details or instructions. I voiced my frustrations to my long-time direct boss, Joe, and my new big boss, Kevin. Kevin scheduled a call between me, Joe, and himself as a “resolution” to my frustrations. The call was brief, and consisted mostly of Kevin making feeble attempts to sound concerned, and ended with him telling me that if I had communication concerns, to route them through Joe and that would work better.

In the coming weeks and months, I routed everything through Joe, and still did not receive responses, guidance, or feedback on anything that was going on. Work was pervading my entire life. I was unhappy at work, and I was always working. In the small amount of time I got to spend with my wife at home, I was unhappy there as well, and it affected our home life. My mental health worsened tremendously. In the coming weeks and months, we went through hiring more than 4 technicians, all of which quit quickly due to the low pay, long hours, and poor treatment from Kevin.

I again expressed my concerns, and they fell on deaf ears. As a last resort, I met with Jennifer, our HR Manager, to discuss my concerns and see what could be done. The HR Manager and I started at the old company around the same time, and she knew me well for my glowing performance record. I explained the communication (or lack thereof) issues that were occurring. I expressed how the work environment had become hostile. I explained how my work life was never-ending and pervaded my home life. I explained how I sought medical treatment for my depression and anxiety. I explained all that the situation had cost me. She was very concerned by my experiences and said that she would go straight to the new owners with these concerns, as what was going on was not right and needed to be resolved some how.

Two days later, I become aware of the results of my meeting with HR. Kevin called me a liar, and said that I never worked as many hours as a I did (despite what my time sheet and daily/weekly reports showed). I was told that I was not worth any more to Kevin than what I was paid, and that instead of compensating me for the work I did, that they would be demoting me and reducing my responsibility. My rights, privileges, and access were restricted and my job got progressively more difficult as I had to rely on Kevin more and more, and was continually met with more and more silence. Jennifer advised that I should at least try to smooth things over with Kevin, so I wrote the below message and sent it to him:

The Letter

Kevin,

As I know you are well aware, I had a conversation with HR recently about my frustrations here at work as of late, after I had already had conversations with Joe, as well as you and Joe together, trying to make known my concerns and frustrations. The result of my meeting with HR was Jennifer playing messenger from you to me, and I now have some information that I am happy to have. Please bear with me as I have some things I wish to communicate in writing as don’t want to cause any miscommunication or misinterpretation. I understand that you shared with Jennifer some dissatisfaction with my attitude these past couple of weeks. Putting my reasoning or justifications aside, I acknowledge the poor attitude that has resulted from my organizational and corporate frustrations, and I wish to apologize for my attitude and seek your forgiveness.We are all under a lot of stress and have a lot to do, and I likely have not made any of that much easier with my frustrations and display of unhappiness with the situation. I do not wish for the current situation to become a barrier between you and I, nor between our team and success. I only went to Jennifer as I felt like you are I were not communicating as we should have been, and I wanted to try and get things right between us. Again, I think we have the makings of a great team and an impressive organization. I am happy to do what I can to help drive this forward in a team setting, receiving feedback along the way.

My largest frustration has not been money—that was just worsened by my other frustrations. I made that clear in my conversation with Jennifer. My largest frustration has been that I want nothing more than to do what you and Joe need for us all (the 5 of us—and more, should we keep growing) to be an amazing team and give Company LLC and its employees what it needs to become a seriously cool thing in the [our] industry. I think we have the makings of a great team here. I think Company LLC is setting up to be a huge player in the industry, which is an exciting thing of which to be a part. I have been frustrated because I am hearing things—delayed and eventually—but hearing things about your frustrations, disappointment, and dissatisfaction with my performance regarding certain situations and the way I have done things over the last couple of months when asking to do things. I have just learned about this; I was unaware of these dissatisfactions until late after the face of each situation. In no way do I want to do anything that does not result in what you want or that does not match your goals for our department. I’m a loyalty‐ and team‐oriented person.

I have also been frustrated at the number of things that I require your input on, but that you are too busy to assist with. Now this isn’t chalked up to just be your fault and I am not trying to point this huge finger of blame at you—you’re doing many things and are very busy with the acquisitions, mergers, and standardizations. I get it. But being the person that all the end [employees] dump their frustrations on because things are not getting done does get tiring, and I just want to help them. All I want to do is what is needed and be a part of our success. I like helping people. I’ve yet to have a job where it isn’t my job to help people. It’s kind of my thing!

We’ve had a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunications, you and I. Including what you thought to be a hierarchy of authority where you thought I was putting myself above Scully and Richard as their boss. Please be assured that is not so. “Lead” implies the foremost with others, not over others. My title is not supervisor, nor manager, nor director. Nor did I intend to make it appear as such. I provided Richard a document which showed path of knowledge and assistance seeking. IE, if he can’t resolve an issue, I’m a logical choice for him to reach out to for assistance. If the two of us cannot resolve it, we would go to Joe. Heaven forbid Joe and the two of us not figure it out, we could finally get a hold of you and ask for your help, etc. Rather than immediately going to the top of the chain for every little thing. Joe indicated that you did not like my documentation and procedural guides because I did not clear them with you first. I do apologize. You and I discussed this multiple times and had even agreed on getting the other [team members] access to the knowledge base which I created so carefully over my years with the company prior to your company purchasing ours. That is from where those guides came. I have since rescinded access for everyone except you, Joe, and myself and will not provide any of our team step by step guides as previously discussed unless approved by you first. This is just one such instance of miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Now that I have some information about things that you are not happy with, I will be doing my best to rectify these things. If I need clarification on any of these things, I will turn to Joe for clarification and further information. I had not previously rectified them because I was not previously aware of these things. If you have things that you would like done a certain way, I am eager to hear from either Joe or yourself how you’d like them accomplished, and I will ensure those things are done to your liking. If I accomplish something in a way that you do not like, please feel free and open to communicate with me to let me know, that way I can correct the situation and improve for the future. The good thing about feedback and communication is that if I am told that something wasn’t done right and that it should be a different way, then I can then take that information and use it to correct, adjust, and improve. Historically, I have a glowing performance record across multiple organizations and it is my desire to keep it as such and do what I can to be of assistance to our team and our organization. I don’t plan on being worse. I only plan on being helpful. My goal is to always ensure constant personal growth an development, and to encourage that in those around me as well.

Now that I have been made aware Joe is involved in our extra-state locations (whereas the opposite was originally true) and that he is involved in ticketing (which I understand is another recent development I am just learning of), I will be turning to him as a closer resource as he becomes more familiar with the Old Co. legacy systems, the people, and our awesome new team member, Scully. I know you plan to try to distance yourself from a communication standpoint from the day‐to‐day operations as you focus on the numerous acquisitions, mergers, integrations, etc. and let Joe help you more with the day‐to‐day. I will do my best to bother you less and route it all through Joe as I now understand that is your desire.

Jennifer did relay that rather than increase compensation to match market value based on skills/experience/abilities, that you would rather decrease responsibilities to try and even things out with your determined value. That’s fine, it’s your department and you delineate that as you see fit. If you’d like me to continue working with Scully and Richard to help them, great. If you want me to just focus on our intra-state locations, that’s fine. If you want me to focus on just my city’s locale, that’s also fine. If you would like, I can transfer all my extra-state tickets to Scully. If you’d like, I can assist Scully and Richard on an as‐needed basis. Just let me know how I can best help you and our team. Please know that I am willing to do as much work as is needed—same as when we first discussed when we initially met five months ago. I just want us to all communicate so we all can do our jobs to the best of our abilities. I have no problem with work. I’m a driven team member willing to help. As long as I know what I am supposed to be doing, I’ll be doing that! I would ask, please, that if there is anything you ever need done, or a way you would like things accomplished, or something you wish to say or ask, do not hesitate. I am always wide‐open to communication, conversation, and teamwork. Anybody here in my city will tell you, I’m here to help. And as anybody in our extra-state locations can tell you, I’m happy to. We just need to have some better communication and structure, I promise that I will be doing my part.

Hopefully I’ve made some kind of sense. Please accept my humblest apologies for any issues or frustration I may have caused you.

Thank you,

Griff

The Outcome

I tried to humble myself, assign myself some of the blame, and apologize. The response I got? Nothing. No response. Instead, I continued to receive near radio silence, no help, no instruction, and only criticism and harshness relayed from Kevin through Joe. If my experiences to date had not been slap-in-the-face enough, this certainly was. I begin searching for work immediately. Kevin wasn’t going to be the bigger person, so I figured I was going to have to be–in a different way than I had previously tried.

I nearly immediately found an opening at another company with a local site. The next month was spent quietly interviewing, having meetings, survey taking, and eventually signing an offer with that company. They wanted me to start on Thursday if possible. I considered letting them know that I would need to give a two-week notice, but decided against it. I had no reason to be loyal to Company LLC or Kevin. They’d never given me a single reason to be loyal–and that’s saying something coming from me, because I am typically an intensely loyal employee. So I walked into the HR office the next morning and handed Jennifer my resignation letter. She looked said, as we were close friends, and I could tell that she was disappointed in how the company had been treating me and the lack of resolution to my concerns. Resignation complete, I walked out the doors of the building. In that moment, I felt the most enormous weight lifted off my shoulders, and a grin spread across my face. I was free.

I went on to start with the new company and loved it. Every day, I looked forward to going to work. The difference in company morale was incredible. Everyone was kind, excited, and happy. High-fives were an important part of the culture. After just a few short months, I had traveled to many of our locations, met lots of amazing people, and settled in. Months felt like the best years.

In the time since, Company LLC has gone through several more technicians and cannot keep a solid team together. The company has people quitting like its going out of style. They have an average rating of 1.5 stars on Glassdoor, and all their employee reviews share similar narratives — overworked and unappreciated employees, ignorant and blind/deaf management, and poor company culture. It’s not terribly surprising, given the behavior of top-level managers such as Kevin.

Moving Forward

The reason I share this story is to reinforce the title, and introduction. Employees don’t leave jobs–they leave managers. If you take care of your team, your team will take care of you. Company LLC failed to take care of their teams, so their teams are not taking care of them. In parting, I would like to provide some advice to anybody who is in a similar situation. Don’t wait to start looking for a new job, a new team, a new company. Don’t feel guilty. Apply, call, interview, and network as much as possible and get yourself out of that toxic situation. There are good people and good companies out there. Don’t sacrifice your career, life, health, and sanity for a manager that is not willing to do the same for you.

Be well, my friends, and best wishes in your professional endeavors.

~ Griff

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab S6

Released in August of 2019, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 becomes the new Samsung standard for tablets, in place of the Tab 4 and Tab 5Se. I  picked up the Tab S6 on an open-box deal from Best Buy (no deal or sponsorship). I have previously owned an iPad Mini years back, as well as the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, though I no longer have either. The itch for a tablet was strong, and this time around, Samsung won the vote. But why? Let’s take a look at some of the selling points.

Price | The Tab S6, without the open-box deal I got, currently retails for roughly 650.00 USD for the base model. However, if you keep an eye out, you can snag an open-box deal on one for about 200.00 USD less! And at that price point, this tablet really packs a punch. Why?

Specifications | Because 650.00 USD (or 450.00 USD in my case) gets you a 10.5 inch screen, 128 GB of solid state storage, 6 GB of RAM, and a snappy octa-core processor. The base price even includes the tablet’s pen like with the Microsoft Surface, which other tablet manufacturers either don’t have (looking at you, Kindle) or require you to purchase separately (Apple).

UX | Obviously the user experience is a big deal, since I’m going to be the user experiencing the tablet. I was looking for a true tablet experience for while I am away from my custom desktop computer. I’m big on customization and versatility. I have a Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ running Android and enjoy it very much. The Google Play store has a huge variety of apps available, including the Microsoft Office suite, WordPress, as well as apps for social media, photography, games and other entertainment, as well as utilities that can be useful for an on-the-go IT professional such as myself. Additionally, while I like the Samsung flavor of the graphical user interface, Android allows me to overlay my own preferred launchers should I so desire–and without having to root or jailbreak my device to do so. I am currently using the Microsoft Launcher.

So thus far I’ve mentioned a few things that I really like about the device. But what cons are worth mentioning?

Downfalls | Let’s start with the pen. It is made of a plastic, which feels a bit light and cheap–though I suppose I didn’t expect too much for an included accessory. It pales in comparison to the pen that comes with the Microsoft Surface, and is also not as good as the Apple Pencil.

Despite being too light for my taste, and a bit cheap-feeling, my biggest gripe comes to storage of the pen. There is a shallow groove on the rear of the device beneath the camera lens. This groove has two magnetic points that hold the pen in place–uh, sometimes. The pen falls off the groove or gets knocked out of place easily, and the groove is difficult to find without looking at the rear of the device. I’ve lost my pen quite a few times in the last two weeks. To further my compaint, snapping the pen to the rear of the device means that the device can no longer rest flat on a surface such as a table, desk, and also restricts the use of some wall mounts. It also happens to be right where I prefer to hold the device while on the go, which is a bit inconvenient. None of these things will necessarily be a downfall for you, but they were for me. After extensive use, I’ve found that it is actually quite difficult to attached the pen to it’s groove without looking directly at it, and that the pen falls off quite easily, which has become annoying.

Further, the pen has less functionality than I would like. The S Gestures that you can do to interact with the OS are convenient and nice. Unfortunately, that is where the interaction runs out. The pen can be used as a replacement for your finger in other apps, but the button will continue to function in relation to the OS, not the app, thus prohibiting a large amount of usefulness. One thing I want to be able to do is hold the pen, lean back, and flick it up and down to scroll up and down a webpage or other app, but alas, this functionality seems to be missing.

Really, the pen was the only complaint I had with the purchase–and though I have things I wish Samsung had done better, the pen is still functional and is not uncomfortable to hold for short amounts of time. The pen might be a dealbreaker for you, or you might never touch it? So what am I doing with the device?

In the weeks that I’ve had the Galaxy Tab 6S, I have used it to import photos from my Canon DSLR (no additional software required), edit RAW image files in Google’s Snapseed photo editing application–which is shockingly good for being free, browse Reddit, the internet, access banking information, VPN into my home network, VPN into my work network, remote access and administer both workstations and servers, and listened to plenty of music and watched videos on YouTube.

I have had zero issues accomplishing what I need to. In fact, just earlier this evening my wife and I were at dinner and I had the tablet with me. I got a call from work with an emergency. I wouldn’t have lugged a laptop with me, but I happened to habe the tablet. Within a minute or so, I was VPN’ed into our company’s network, accessed a server, and did what I needed to do to assist an employee.

Similarly, the other night I had the opportunity to pick up my camera and create some images of my wife. I didn’t want to wait to import the photos on my desktop and process them there, so I plugged my camera into my tablet, imported the photos, and processed them, in Snapseed. Within 10 minutes I had a couple of fantastic images to share.

I’ve found that overall the tablet has conformed to my needs and flexed to every situation I’ve found myself in thus far. It has been a good buy. Would I buy it again? Most likely! Given that I like to use the pen and the pen is quite subpar, I likely would not pay full price for one, but I would willingly pay open-box or used pricing again. If you’re looking for a powerful daily driver of a tablet, then this might just be the ticket for you!

Do you have a Galaxy Tab S6? Let me know how you like it in the comments below! Cheers.

~ Griff


 AUGUST 2020 UPDATE

I had to come back to update this post after having used the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 for a longer period of time, as well as having traveled with it.

In the original post, I spent a fair amount of time griping about the terrible pen magnet/storage on the rear of the device. I’m sorry to say, but I am going to spend a moment griping about it again. Over the last several months, I have been constantly frustrated with the pen not attaching without careful placement, the pen falling off the magnet, and my inevitable loss of the pen since it fell off the magnet somewhere. Sure, you can get a case that secures the pen–but this should not be necessary. By design, the pen should be easy to keep track of, use, and stow. This has become a major downside to the device, for me at least. But onto more positive things.

One of my primary questions was whether I could use the tablet as a replacement for my laptop when traveling. The short answer is: absolutely! I spent the week of my recent vacation reading books, browsing the web, writing for this blog, editing a couple of casual photos, playing games, doing email, and a couple of other tasks, including troubleshooting some stuff with my parents’ home network. I had brought my laptop–just in case–and found that I didn’t pull it out even once. The Tab S6 was all I needed! Now, a qualification is necessary here. I did bring my Logitech MX Master 3 bluetooth mouse and my Keychron K6 bluetooth mechanical keyboard for when I was writing my blog posts, but otherwise, the tablet by itself was just fine.

So, my verdict after such extended use and travel with the Tab S6, is that I highly recommend it, but do note that some kind of case or other solution to keep track of the pen will be absolutely necessary.