Don’t ZOOM into trouble

Do learn the secrets to a great virtual meeting.

Don't Zoom Into TroubleThere are some gaffes co-workers never forget. And with the likes of Zoom, GoToMeeting and FaceTime bringing business gatherings into many homes, the potential for memorable pitfalls only increases.
“Don’t take your phone with you to the bathroom during a video call” should most likely be the first rule to remember for any team shifting to virtual gatherings. A quick search on YouTube will show you the wisdom of that policy.
While there’s potential for unintentional blunders during video calls, the tools also offer an indispensable resource for teams. In many cases, productivity would grind to a halt without the ability to connect virtually through broadband.

So, here are a few “Dos” and some “Don’ts” to consider before your next virtual meeting:

DO dress fully. A work shirt on top and running shorts or pajamas on the bottom can prove embarrassing if you forget to turn off the camera before standing up. It happens, often.

DO take a few minutes before the meeting to confirm you know how to turn the microphone and camera on and (likely more importantly) off in the software you’re using. It’s also a good policy to stay muted unless speaking.

DON’T leave your notifications turned on when screen sharing during a meeting. Otherwise, everyone attending might see the message from your hungry spouse regarding the takeout lunch you promised to deliver.

DO have a clear, detailed agenda and stick to it. The attention of participants can wander, and a well-paced plan can keep everyone focused.

DON’T ignore the background. People will judge you on the contents of your bookshelves. Also, if there’s a forgotten not-safe-for-work bit of kitsch visible on a shelf or wall, don’t expect your co-workers to spare you embarrassment. They may just enjoy the humor.

DO consider lighting. Everyone looks better with good lighting, and a great presentation can not only set the tone for how others perceive you but also boost your self-confidence.

DON’T forget to take the time before the meeting to get a glass of water or cup of coffee.

DO jot down any notes about points you wish to cover, and keep a pen and paper handy. Know the steps you need to take to help you be more present during the meeting, and repeat the formula every time.

DO remember to inform other household members you’re joining a video call. More than one relative or friend has taken an unintended star turn during a serious discussion.

DON’T leave the cats and dogs free to wander. Disembodied voices may draw their attention, usually at the most inopportune time. While a stray tail or untimely howl might add levity to a meeting, know your audience and prepare accordingly.

DO remember that the most important thing of all is to laugh. Isolation and, often, stress can counterbalance the freedom of remote work. Every meeting, take a moment to appreciate your co-workers, share a joke, smile and laugh. Enjoy the virtual time together.

That’s a formula for a great, productive meeting.

Buck Wild Animal Rescue & Wildlife Rehab is always ready to help

Sonny and Cher MacawKatie Buck was taking care of animals before she was old enough to take care of herself. “I’ve done it my entire life,” she says. “My grandfather had animals. I was with him daily as a kid while my mom worked. He helped me save animals anytime I would find something injured, sick or orphaned.” Now a veterinary technician, she opened Buck Wild Animal Rescue & Wildlife Rehab in 2016, after securing the necessary licenses.

The Ingram rescue is open 24 hours a day every day. Volunteers staff it around the clock, and contributions fund the services the center offers free of charge. The majority of the animals that come in are orphaned newborns who need regular bottle feedings to survive — not just wildlife, but sometimes orphaned puppies and kittens that people discover after other pet rescues have closed for the night. “We have opossums, raccoons, foxes, owls and hawks,” Buck says. “We get ducks, pigeons, all kinds of songbirds and migratory birds. We deal with homeowners who find a baby squirrel or bird that’s fallen out of the nest or a little deer.”

The rescue is divided into three areas. One of them is specifically for domesticated pets and farm animals, and another is for reptiles. The wildlife enclosures are farthest away from where the people are. “We are not open to the public for tours because with the wildlife, we do as little exposure to humans as we can,” Buck says. “Once the babies are weaned from Sonny and Cher, gold and blue macaw parrots, found a permanent home at Buck Wild Animal Rescue & Wildlife Rehab. the bottle, we try to do as little human contact as possible from then on, so they can transition back to the wild easier.” Animals must meet species-specific benchmarks before release — for instance, birds must be able to fly, and raccoons need to know how to find food. If an animal’s medical needs are beyond Buck’s capabilities, the rescue relies on its relationships with local veterinarians.While the people who bring animals in have the best intentions, sometimes the situation would resolve itself, given enough time. “One of the things we try to stress to the public is calling us first,” Buck says. “In a lot of situations, animals get brought to us that didn’t need to be. That’s a waste of our resources, and it hurts the animal more to be in here than in its natural environment. There’s a lot of cases where people think they’re helping, but it would have been better if they had just called first.”

While the hours are long and the pay nonexistent, the rescue’s crew has formed a tight-knit community around a shared interest.Katie Buck has been taking care of injured and orphaned animals since she was a child. “We’re a family, and we love animals,” Buck says. “Releasing them is a bittersweet moment. As much as we love them, we know the best thing for them is reintroducing them into the wild. It’s just very rewarding to know that we save lives. I thank all of my volunteers for playing a part in saving these animals’ lives. It takes a whole team of us to make this happen.”

The rescue relies heavily on its HCTC broadband connection to communicate with volunteers and donors. “It’s absolutely our lifeline to the community,” Buck says. In late July, she discovered that HCTC’s commitment to its members isn’t just lip service. When a lightning strike knocked the rescue offline, HCTC stepped in to help, even though the cooperative didn’t own the damaged equipment. When Buck posted on social media asking for suggestions on how to restore her service, HCTC’s Kerry Sutton reached out to help. After a quick visit from a technician, the rescue was back online. “I knew the problem was somewhere between my house and the office, and that’s all my equipment,” Buck says. “We were just losing money left and right. We weren’t able to do so much. They came and helped me get up and running, and they did it at no charge. I just thought that was so special of them.”

Making a change

High-speed connections power service organizations across the country

In March 2020, Chowgirls Killer Catering in Minneapolis was busy preparing for its Sweet 16 party, complete
with signature food and a swing band. Like many events in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the celebration was ultimately called off. The next day, while watching Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz recommend against large gatherings across the state, it occurred to co-owner and CEO Heidi Andermack that one canceled party was the least of her problems. “We had a big leadership meeting about what to do, because all our events were canceling,” she says. “Our chef, who had been working with Second Harvest Heartland, thought of calling them to see what they were going to do. We would have a big empty kitchen, so maybe we could work with them.”As service organizations, charities and churches throughout the nation learned, creating connections to serve their communities meant relying more on online tools, broadband access and digital communication. They learned to talk, collaborate and succeed with the help of technology. Chowgirls had first partnered with Second Harvest Heartland, a member of the Feeding America network of food banks, on a food rescue program around the 2018 Super Bowl. The two groups met once again and created the Minnesota Central Kitchen to feed families in need. Chowgirls is now one of eight kitchens cooking for Minnesota Central Kitchen, preparing 30,000 meals weekly for hungry populations in the Twin Cities area. Large-scale donors such as restaurants, grocery stores and food distributors contribute ingredients, which are managed using Feeding America’s MealConnect app. Chowgirls Killer Catering in Minneapolis leveraged online tools to better serve their community. Chowgirls prepared 30,000 meals weekly. “It’s a lot of meals to keep track of, so our high-speed internet has been pretty key to keeping it all coordinated,” Andermack says. “We also organize all of our meals and what is available using Google Spreadsheets. We’re not just tracking our kitchen but tying together a whole network of kitchens.”

While the importance of online tools is nothing new to service organizations across the country, they have become all but essential over the last year. Rev.Chad Ramsey at Smithville First Baptist Church in Smithville, Tennessee, has relied on the ability to stream services online to reach parishioners who might find themselves homebound. “Streaming is huge everywhere,” he says. “We see that in the media world with Netflix, Disney+ and all the stream-ing services. But the same is true for the church.” Smithville FBC not only streams live services for parishioners who can’t make it to the church but also has its own studio for recording and uploading training videos for everyone from new members to those preparing for mission trips. With so many demands on the church’s inter-net service, Ramsey isn’t sure what they would do without a fiber connection.“We saw where things were going in this world and knew that having that ability to connect with each other would be important, whether it’s sharing files, videos, streaming or uploading to social media,” he says. “People are so much more connected than they have been, and if you don’t have that consistent and quality connection, you’re going to be left behind.” That approach has helped Smithville FBC build a church that appeals across generations, attracting millennials and seniors alike. And while their preferences for how they worship may not break down as neatly as expected, the fiber connection provides the flexibility to meet everyone’s needs. “You might see someone really young who wants things to be done the way they were decades ago, and then there are other people who are much older who want to know why we aren’t making the changes we need to to be around for another 100 years,” says Ramsey. “That’s the challenge: Getting the focus not on style but the purpose. We’re here to serve God, not ourselves. That’s what makes us tick.”

Families & Literacy in Kerrville, Texas, is helping adults open doors to brighter futures. The organization serves adult learners throughout the community and inmates of the Kerr County Jail, helping them to earn their citizenship or GED or learn English as a second language. While most of the classes Families & Literacy organizes take place in local churches or other off-campus locations, the in-office broadband connection has been particularly helpful in getting prospective students on the path to learning as quickly as possible. Not every student has access to a reliable internet connection at home, so the organization pro-vides Chromebooks on-site so students can take placement tests and register for the appropriate classes. Families & Literacy even offers an ESL class that incorporates computer skills, helping prepare students to be ready to communicate in the work place and to better understand the tools they will be using day to day. “Computer technology is prevalent in pretty much every job you go to now,”says Families & Literacy Executive Director Misty Kothe. “It’s important that not only can our students speak the language and do the work but they can also efficiently use that technology. It just makes them more employable in the future.” Moving forward, broadband connections offer new opportunities for all three organizations. Families & Literacy aims to offer limited-size classes on location, outdoors if necessary, while Smithville FBC is eager to explore the possibilities of Bible study streaming services.Meanwhile, the Minnesota Central Kitchen project has proven so successful that Andermack now plans to incorporate its mission into Chowgirls’ regular operations even when the pandemic has passed. “We have always had a mission of reducing food waste, but now we’re looking at it as hunger relief,” she says.“It’s become essential to our business, helping us give jobs to chefs who would otherwise be unemployed and keep the lights on at our facility. Sometimes you just need to support each other, and it comes back in ways you don’t expect.”

Living, breathing history

Giraffe Y.O. Ranch Headquarters blends ranching traditions with modern comforts

When Byron and Sandra Sadler bought a portion of the storied Y.O. Ranch in 2015, they knew they were getting more than a business — they were investing in a legacy. The Sadlers renamed their land Y.O. Ranch Headquarters, and their staff celebrates the property’s history while embracing the tastes and comforts of today. “There’s an authenticity that goes with the Y.O.,” says manager Eric White. “If you come here, you can still imagine the time when cowboys were rounding up cattle to take to Dodge City. The Y.O. has provenance like only a couple of other commercial operations in the world have.”

Well-known as a prime hunting destination, the ranch also has a history of replenishing dwindling animal populations across the globe.
While many Texas ranchers now breed exotics — the term used to describe nonnative species — the Y.O. helped pioneer the practice in the 1950s. “The history of exotics in Texas is really the history of the Y.O. with wildlife,” White says. “We were kind of the original breeders of exotics.”
The ranch is currently home to more than two dozen exotic species.

As ranchers learned which animals thrived in Texas, large herds grew, and they sold the creatures as breeding stock or offered them to paying hunters. In some instances, the population of certain species in Texas exceeds those in the animals’ native countries, putting ranchers in the position of being able to help reestablish dwindling populations half a world away. Ranchers ensure the animals that are returned to their natural habitats go to areas with the infrastructure and ability to protect them and ensure their survival.

“That’s been one of the legacies of exotic breeding,” White says. “One of my first jobs here in 1986 was catching blackbuck antelope. We caught three loads of blackbucks and shipped them back to Pakistan to repopulate. In recent years, Arabian oryx went back to Dubai, and scimitar-horned oryx have gone back to northern Africa.”

The ranch offers hunters a wide variety of game, from white-tailed deer to zebras, wildebeest and more. The prospect of going home with a new trophy draws in clients from across the U.S. and around the world. “All of our hunting is done with a guide,” White says. “You have a dedicated person with you from the time you arrive to the time you leave.”

Hunting isn’t the only way for visitors to see the ranch. For guests who’d rather shoot through a camera lens, there are wildlife and group tours of the 14,000-acre property. In addition to seeing the animals that attract hunters, tourgoers will see llamas, giraffes and rheas, the large, flightless birds native to South America.

Overnight accommodations include cabins dating back to the 1850s. Guests get three meals a day at the Chuck Wagon, and they can enjoy a taste of nightlife on the ranch by sipping a cocktail at The Lodge. There’s also horseback riding, clay pigeon shooting and trails specifically for off-road vehicle riding. “We’re constantly trying to add some activities, in keeping with the ranch’s history, that give people reasons to stay here longer,” White says.

Tune up your tech

Three tips — and a bonus — to make your devices hum

Gadgets, gifts and gizmos can brighten the holidays. And a few prudent steps can help you keep pesky tech gremlins out of the fun. Consider a trio of tips for getting the most out of your games, TVs, computers and more.

Remember, the more devices you connect to the internet, the more bandwidth you need. If it helps, think of this as the speed of your internet connection. Faster connections allow for more devices. How much speed do you need? For starters, many gamers prefer connections of at least 15-25 Mbps. Plus, streaming of high-definition video typically needs about 5 Mbps. Faster service becomes even more important if you have one person streaming a movie on one device while someone else is gaming on another. Each device must share the total available bandwidth.

Perhaps you wish to connect your smartphone or tablet to a stereo or speaker. Or maybe you want to link your smart TV to the internet. It helps to understand the two technologies.

Wi-Fi: This makes wireless internet possible. Radio waves replace the need for cables, allowing your computers, tablets, phones, security cameras, smart speakers and more to connect to the internet. Think of Wi-Fi as the gateway to the online world or to devices connected to your home network.

Bluetooth: Like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth also uses radio signals to make a short-range connection between devices. Think of this as a one-to-one link between two devices. For example, Bluetooth is often used to connect a smartphone to a Bluetooth-enabled speaker for streaming music. Or, Bluetooth can connect earbuds or headsets wirelessly to a phone for calls and other audio.

A power spike, whether from a storm or other problem on the electrical grid, can damage your devices. Consider buying a surge protector. Make sure the one you choose has a joules rating of at least 2,000.

Take the pain out of keeping up with passwords with a good password manager. And you’re in luck, because most web browsers such as Chrome, Safari, Edge or Firefox have basic password management built in. For an extra level of security and convenience, consider tools such as 1Password and LastPass. These allow you to use multiple browsers, offer suggestions for generating solid passwords and can warn about bad practices such as duplicate passwords or sites that have become security risks.

Festival of Lights – Have a Merry Time

River Walk - San AntonioThe lights shine bright across the Lone Star State every holiday season, but perhaps nowhere more so than on San Antonio’s River Walk when they change from white to the colors of Christmas, adding a new dimension of celebration to the watery path that winds its way through town and up to the Pearl District.

Holiday Lights on the River Walk begins the day after Thanksgiving and runs until shortly after New Year’s with more than 2,000 strands and 100,000 lights twinkling in the night. The recognizable bald cypress trees that dominate the riverbank sparkle with lights, and the familiar Go Rio Cruises boats sport red and green strands at the waterline.

“It’s a pretty effect in the water,” says Paula Schechter, marketing and public relations director for San Antonio River Walk Association, host for the event, along with the city of San Antonio. In addition to the boats and trees, magnificent hotels, such as The Hilton Palacio del Rio, change their balcony lights to festive red and green. The lights on the Hilton create a decorative Christmas tree pattern.

Throughout the month of December, enjoy watching carolers as they travel down the river. Every weekend in December, 2,000 luminaries will line the walkway down the River Walk to symbolize the “lighting of the way” for the Holy Family. “It’s the busiest season on the River Walk,” Schechter says. And it’s a wonderful season for visiting the River Walk, as the winter temperatures in San Antonio are generally mild enough for outdoor activities.