Posted on Aug 11, 2020 at 9:00 AM
When it comes to the way we interact online, things have changed drastically in the last few years. We have seen a migration from the phone to email, from email to instant messenger, and from instant messenger to server-based community groups such as Discord or Microsoft Teams. Likewise, we have seen many programs come and go such as Ventrilo, Teamspeak, Skype, and many others as better and more robust programs replace them.
These days, it seems that the options are limitless when it comes to professional conference calling, but what if you are looking for more than this? Microsoft Teams can offer additional features such as meeting scheduling, calendar integration, and group chats within your organization. You can also record meetings for later viewing and send it out to participants. Other programs such as Zoom offer a smoother calling experience, at the expense of many other features.
For grouping on a personal level, nothing beats Discord these days. The server customization options are nearly limitless, and for the low cost of $0 it is no wonder nothing even comes close in terms of competition. They even took a major step with the COVID-19 outbreak and expanded their server capacity to allow for up to 50 users to stream video at one time from a server - something even professional services could only dream of offering (and probably at a hefty cost). The UI is unmatched and very easy on the eyes - it is also fairly customizable.
Things will always evolve - I do still recall when Skype was king - it will be interesting to see where the future takes us with these communication platforms, but I am eager to see what emerges in the coming years.
Last week, we had our July Quarterly Event of Mini Golf at Max’s Sports World. It’s been so long since we had a Quarterly! Our last one before this was in January when we played retro games at Pin Up Arcade. That’s because the team-building event we usually have at around April was cancelled due to COVID. This particular event was special because there were a couple of my colleagues that I had not seen in person since January. Plus, we’ve welcomed back Shauna into the team!
We enjoyed the sunny, summer weather though it was definitely very hot that afternoon. We split up into 3 teams of 3:
Rob, Matt and Sean S.
Sean L., Sean M. and myself (aka Dev-Sean’s and me!)
Ryan, Todd and Shauna
We played 9 holes in the Blue Course, all the while practicing social distancing and/or wearing a face mask. Beyond a doubt, the highlight for me is Sean L.’s (aka Legger) “chipper” move! I totally LOL’d (laughed out loud) every time he did the trick. And what an impressive trick it was! By “chipping,” he jumped the ball pass the barrier, thereby cutting down the strokes it took to get to the hole. It was a risky trick as one time he chipped the ball and made it fly out into some bushes. (Side Note: please excuse my golf terminology or lack thereof as I’m no expert in the subject.)
There was a lot of comradery between all of us with a lot of cheers and helpful tips throughout the afternoon. It’s always very amusing and memorable when we play our quarterly event games.
A team that plays well together works well together!
This is going to be a bit of a meta post. As I was struggling to come up with some good ideas for blog posts this month (it can get a little dry constantly posting about how to change your web content and what to do when it comes to web security etc.) – I realized I had the perfect topic sitting right in front of me – writer’s block.
Change It Up for a New Perspective
Getting the inspiration to write about something fresh or new can be tough! Sometimes if I find myself staring at a blank page without even a topic idea, the best thing you can possibly do is just do something different for a little bit. It is a pretty quick and apparent thing if you do not have something obvious to write that there are not going to be words randomly materializing on the page – you need to get your ideas from somewhere!
Chat Up a Colleague
For inspiration, the first place I will usually look is to others, but in an indirect manner. Strike up a conversation with a friend or co-worker about the day or something unrelated to what you are doing. The unexpected elements of conversation can often act as a catalyst to ideas and new sources of writing. The same can be said for taking a walk somewhere or going out to take care of an errand (something of that nature) if you are stuck writing. It can simply break up the day a bit and when you return, you may just have the inspiration that you did not have previously.
New ideas can be tricky as sometimes this can require extensive research on the topic you’ll be writing about, but take this as further sources of inspiration! You may find something else you want to write about next time too while hunting for information.
There is no doubt that human beings are creatures of habit and routine for the most part. Yes, we do need a certain amount of diversity in our day to break things up and make things slightly interesting, but for the most part we crave routine and it makes us happy, really without us realizing it for the most part.
Routine is Key to a Good Workflow
For the majority of us, we do have our individual routines and these can be very distinct and different at work than at home. I think as long as both routines are consistent, they can be different, this is fine. At work, the routine becomes very important as the lack of routine or the shake-up of the norm can really throw a wrench into workflow. Using tools such as scheduling platforms and calendars can help you organize your day, but if it lacks structure from the beginning this will do you little good other than to show you how busy you are.
Categorize and Organize Your Tasks
There are generally certain types of tasks a person is generally responsible for on a daily basis, even if the specifics for the task changes. A common strategy is to set blocks of time in your day to deal with certain categories of tasks, and once your time has elapsed to finish what you are doing and move onto the next block. This can not only help keep your day moving, but if you are noticing one particular task is remaining unfinished every day it points to either more time needed for that category, or the fact that those tasks could be being done quicker.
Little Things Make a Big Difference
Simple parts of the routine are important too. Didn’t get your morning coffee? Well this could drastically affect your ability to properly function in your day if it is part of your routine. Road delay caused you to be 10 minutes late? If this affects your routine, it is going to cause a lot more than 10 minutes of delay for you in the day. Make sure to take care of your needs every day as well, as it can be hard to stay at 100% in your routine (easier to cheat or deviate from it) if you lack sleep, proper nutrition, hydration etc.
Listening to music is a deeply personal thing, and everyone has different attachments to different music. Some people cannot get through their day without a constant soundtrack, while others can only handle 1 song or even dislike music altogether while they are trying to focus on tasks. For myself, there are certain genres I go to depending on the nature of the task at hand.
Calming Classical Tunes
If I need to answer a large number of customer emails or deal with any sort of situation which requires assisting a person/diffusing a situation, there is something about Classical Music that really helps with this. Whether it is the calming peaceful nature mixed with the brain-stimulating orchestration I do not know, but it allows you to pleasantly deal with just about any situation while still thinking clearly. I highly recommend this for the “Email” phase of your day.
If there is tedious or grunt work to be done, the rock music comes out. This could be anything from data input to assisting a customer with a technical issue (doing the work, not the email reply). It helps to just put your nose to the grindstone and power through, and it does help with your energy levels I find.
Stimulating Lofi Electronic Music
When I need to do research, I will often put on a very low-key electronic music of some kind to stimulate thought, as if I am exploring new ideas, I want place myself in a mental state where I will be more receptive to these ideas.
These are examples, but find what works for you as it is again deeply personal when it comes to music selection. There is great power in music though, and it can help with your day!
If you ask the average person today what web browser they use, I think most would tell you that they use Google Chrome. It is a powerful browser with direct ties to Google Services, giving the browser a lot of power under the hood. The Google team itself is also a massive force, so you know the browser has a lot of support behind it in terms of a workforce.
Along with this power, comes a great loss in privacy as well as quite a bit of social profiling being done on you in the background by 3rd parties. Google makes a lot of money off of you without you being aware of specifically what they are doing.
The Search for Alternatives
I spent a long time looking for alternatives, but there is always a pitfall if you stray from the Chrome platform. If you try and move towards non-Chromium browsers you start to run into compatibility issues on some websites. If you gravitate towards international browsers, you may be feeding your data into unknown or questionable sources. It took a long time, but I found a solution for myself. I want to be clear that this opinion is a personal experience and does not reflect the views of the REM team as a whole necessarily, this is a personal blog entry.
I was recommended to try Brave by a friend of mine on the basis that it has a native adblocker/tracker blocker, and is based on the Chromium platform. This means it was addressing my privacy concerns at the same time as not compromising to the compatibility issues I feared would occur by leaving the Chromium base platform. What I didn’t know was that it would also give me the option to view “non-invasive” ads for essentially money. The browser gives you the option to opt in to see up to 5 ads per hour in exchange for a small amount of money (I think my cell phone was paid $2.50 last month, so it is nominal). The thing is, I didn’t notice the ads and I didn’t see any other ads for the entire month. My browsing experience was flawless and I enjoyed ad-free YouTube and various other platforms without needing to use 3rd party addons to Chrome.
Encrypting Personal Data
In addition to this, Brave also automatically tries and upgrades non-secure http connections to https automatically. This can potentially help encrypt your data across server connections where it would otherwise be exposed. You can also outright block scripts right from the URL bar.
While not everyone will benefit from such a browser, especially in a more business-like setting where you may be required to see advertisements etc., or follow a company policy on browser – I personally would highly recommend this browser for home use to help protect your privacy, make a small payback on the ads that you do opt to see, and sacrifice absolutely no quality or functionality.
A concept many people are becoming more familiar with these days, working from home is something that is only recently becoming practical for many people.
In our industry, it is something that can be done easily and seamlessly thanks to the speed of current home internet connections, and the fact that most people do have computers in their homes now. Go back 20 years, and it was the vast minority who could work from home if needed. There are some careers, such as construction, which for obvious reasons will never be home jobs – however for those of us who can work from home, these can be some essential tips and tools for the tasks at hand.
You are going to want to make sure you are lined up with all the gear you need before you sit down to begin. I would highly recommend that if you work on a monitor/monitors at the office, you get a peripheral to allow your laptop to connect to your home monitor/monitors as well. Clear your desk of any distractions you may have in your field of view, and try your best to make the surrounding environment quiet enough to work in. Having a good pair of headphones at home will really help, and if it also has a built-in mic, you are covered for your phone as well. Wireless is key here for home, as it will allow you to go to your kitchen and other areas of your home while on the phone. Having a USB hub will also help ensure you have all the connections you may need.
Mimic your Regular Schedule
Try your best to act like you are “going to work” for real. This means getting up at the same time as if you had to commute, doing your same morning ritual, and getting dressed as if you were going to go to the office. This part is important and the temptation is there to skip out on some of this as you do have the extra time and likely won’t be seeing anyone, but the mentality of getting ready for your workday will put you in “work mode” and help to wake up your brain, which may revert to “weekend mode” otherwise.
Try and take your breaks and your lunch at the same time you would at the office as well, as this will help keep your day on track. It is easier to work through lunch, or take excessive breaks if you are not self-monitoring more carefully.
It’s no secret that we love games and are very competitive at REM. Combine a passion for games with building comradery, rapport and trust and we got: an awesome company event!
REM's 1st 2020 team-building event
We played games at Pin Up Arcade Bar in Waterloo; a fun place with a cool vibe where one could hang out with friends and coworkers to play unlimited arcade games.
It has a very nostalgic, retro feel that would appeal to casual players and hardcore gamers alike. It’s also in a perfect spot uptown in a plaza where university students could come in to take a break from studying. Check out their Facebook page here.
In the arcade is a nice assortment of games such as super-retro ones from the 70’s that’s completely mechanical and analogue to machines that have bright, flashy digital screens. Some are familiar classics such as Pac-man, Super Mario, Tetris and Street Fighter, while others are based on TV or movie franchises like Terminator, Guardians of the Galaxy or South Park.
Competitive streaks came out as each tried to best their colleague by getting the highest score or by winning in a one-on-one game. A few of us got particularly competitive while playing 3 games:
International Shoot Out where a person controls a pair of paddles to shoot a ball into their opponent’s goal
Another game where one had to throw basketballs into a moving hoop.
And of course, at a few games of foosball on a table that lit up.
Below is a short video of Sean Legge getting “nothin’ but net!” Check out and follow us on Instagram for more videos and photos!
I'd like to take a break from the regular type of posts that I put out and talk about a personal passion of mine:
Since about as long as I can remember, I have always loved role-playing and adventure games. It can provide an escape from the mundane realities of daily life, and can give you a chance to be a hero, even if it is in an entirely seperate world. Of these types of games, the pinnicle would be the MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). It takes all the best elements of gaming, and mashes them together. You have level-up systems, fighting, peaceful gathering, teamwork, loot systems, chat, groups, unique art styles, massive worlds, and great storyline in most cases.
While these games are generally the best quality and most immersive of any game genre, this often comes at a price. They are not only generally full-price games to start with, but often come with either a monthly cost to continue playing, or a microtransaction system which is nesseccary to utilize to stay competitive within the playerbase. That being said, most of the great MMOs out there will offer at least 2 methods to pay for this: in-game currency, or real money.
Of any of the MMORPG out there (and there are plenty!), there are 2 that I have consistently played and come back to throughout my life, and which I can forsee continuing to be powerhouses in the MMO genre. I will be releasing 2 seperate blogs talking about these at another time, however both games have been going for more than 15 years and still have very stong playerbase numbers. These two games are World of Warcraft and RuneScape.
Stay tuned for the next blog where I do a feature spot on RuneScape (RS) and get into some details on that!
This year, three of us from the REM team decided to to dress up as our favourite characters from a 2004 movie called Napoleon Dynamite!
They are (from left to right):
Sean Sanderson as Napoleon: he put all the pizzaz and nerd-cool style in his costume by having an afro wig, a "Vote for Pedro" T-shirt, eyeglasses, a retro casette player and the coolest part: he drew on his notebook a sketch of a "Liger" (half lion, half tiger creature)
Brad Anderson as Kip: Brad's looking cool with his khaki shorts, blue polo shirt and glasses holding a "La Fawnduh" sign.
Christine Votruba as Pedro: vote for me: Pedro! Had a lot of cross-dressing fun by dressin' up in a short, black wig, eye-liner mustache, big blue dress-shirt, a bolo tie (made with a broch and shoe laces), belt buckle, "vote for pedro" pin and a "If you VOTE FOR PEDRO all your wishes will come true!" flyer. It was an easy DIY costume put together thanks to a few things from my house and Value Village!
We've had a lot of fun! We got into character for the photoshoot by having spaced-out, dorky looks on our faces. If you haven't seen this movie yet, I highly recommend watching if you're up for a lot of laughs.
To end this blog post, watch this scene from the movie of Napoleon's infamous dance routine. Enjoy!