September 2, 2023


In our twelfth episode Bryan, Karen, and Micah find themselves talking about…

  • All things White County with Sparta District Manager Ben Clark and District Customer Relations Supervisor Tammy Odom.
  • “Tech to School”: The latest technology and app recommendations for students young and old.
  • The latest at Channel 6 and outdoor events around our area.
  • Micah’s Dad Jokes Review and more!

Show Notes

Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

Bryan Kell: Welcome to The BLC Connection Podcast. I’m Bryan Kell.

Karen Wilson: I’m Karen Wilson.

Micah Lawrence: And I’m Micah Lawrence.

(All Hosts): Let’s get connected.

Bryan Kell: Welcome into The BLC Connection Podcast. And dare I say, this is Sparta. We find ourselves at the Sparta office along with –

Micah Lawrence: Micah Lawrence.

Karen Wilson: Karen Wilson.

Bryan Kell: Alright, so we’re here to have fun over here in Sparta. Karen, what can we expect on today’s podcast?

Karen Wilson: We have all kinds of great things coming up. We’re down here and talking to Ben Clark and Tammy Odom, who is the Sparta district office manager and the customer relations supervisor. They’re going to tell us all the great things going on in Sparta. And then, of course, we’ve got wonderful technology, back to school things. We’re going to talk about that. And just, you know, we always have a good time.

Bryan Kell: Yeah. In fact, I think, Micah, we’re going to talk about education or something like that. Maybe?

Micah Lawrence: Education?

Bryan Kell: Technology maybe, and education. You got some info for us on that?

Micah Lawrence: Well, yeah, that I can do.

Bryan Kell: Okay. And you also brought your bag of tricks with you.

Micah Lawrence: Yeah. We’re going to do something different today. You’re going to like it.

Bryan Kell: Okay, well, I hope so. All right. So up next, we’ve got Tammy and Ben. We’re in Sparta. Hang loose. It is The BLC Connection Podcast.

Bryan Kell: BLC Connection Podcast. Bryan Kell, also Micah Lawrence. And we have with us two of Sparta’s best, two of White County’s best, Tammy Odom and also Ben Clark. Guys, welcome into the BLC Connection Podcast.

Ben Clark: Thank you, sir.

Tammy Odom: Thank you.

Bryan Kell: Yeah, I know Tammy is real excited.

Tammy Odom: I am. Super.

Bryan Kell: We’ll get to you in a minute. Okay. Ben, It’s been a couple of years now, I think, since you became the district manager over here in Sparta.

Ben Clark: Correct.

Bryan Kell: Tell us about that and tell us about you.

Ben Clark: Well, it’s been an exciting venture for me. You know, I’ve been a Ben Lomand employee for 24 years. Since I started in construction in 1999, I always had a goal of trying to find somewhere where I was comfortable. I enjoyed construction work. I was young, you know, everything was good. But once I moved into the install repair, after a couple of years, I started finding out where I really wanted to be. So I started setting my goals, and it looked like that Mike Prater was going to – he was the existing manager at that time. And it looked like that maybe that might be where I would like to be someday. So I set my goal on it. And here we are. Yeah, I’ve had a great career here. I will have to thank the board of directors and Greg Smartt. Without them, I would not have this opportunity. They put confidence in me. Greg did. And here I am.

Bryan Kell: Good bunch of guys.

Ben Clark: Great bunch of guys. They are.

Micah Lawrence: Yeah. So, Ben, you know, we see that the Sparta office serves around 8,000 customers currently in White County. And some people may not know it. About 2,000 more out of Van Buren County. We’re starting to see these numbers grow and new people coming into these areas. As a lifelong White Countian, talk about the growth being experienced in these areas. And you know what the the office here in Sparta is doing.

Ben Clark: Yeah, well, it’s a great time for us as a company. I think things are really going well. We’re just wide open everywhere, every are. Looks like Tennessee must be the place to come because that’s where everybody wants to move, it seems like. But on the other hand, it is a double-edged sword. We need, you know, a lot of things. We still have some fiber areas in copper that need to be built in fiber. And we have a lot of fiber working in White County. But as far as how things have changed, I think the demographic as a whole has changed in White County. You know, I grew up here. I’ve been, I was born and raised in White County. Things have changed. I mean, it just has. And of course, change is something we have to roll with. We always have to find a way to make it through these changes. And so that’s as far as how it’s changed what we do, we just got a lot more people to serve. I mean, a lot more areas that, and it’s hard to future proof our facilities. You know we’ve just got a lot of adversity to overcome. But from a company standpoint, we have really done well, I think.

Bryan Kell: Ben, you know, Micah brought this up as far as covering White County, Van Buren County. Let’s let’s talk about White County. It’s where the office sits right here in Sparta. Over the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of work. You’ve talked about kind of blowing and going and really kind of staying pretty busy with you and your crews. Tell us about the areas that maybe have been built, and what is currently being built and kind of what’s on the horizon? So kind of the past, present and future of white County builds.

Ben Clark: Well, we’ve had a little bit of an advantage in White County simply because when the CEO at the time, Levoy Knowles, had a plan and the copper was kind of going away. And they just decided this is probably been 17, 18 years ago to anywhere the copper plant was going bad, we would go ahead and implement fiber. Well, it just happened to be White County where we kind of started with that. And, you know, the Old Zion area, the Bon DeCroft area, and now Van Buren, you know, that’s just where they went. So we had a little bit of an edge over the rest of our service territory simply because we were the first to get the fiber to the home. The thing about that is, as time goes on, it takes a while to get all this stuff coordinated as far as getting the engineering done, the staking done, the crews to get it built, the trying to figure out, do we put this here, do we put that there? But as far as a whole, White County has been on the edge of this fiber for some time. Now, we did have some areas like Doyle, for instance. We have just gotten done with Doyle this past year and have opened it up. And I know those folks down there have been suffering for a while, you know, But I mean, I kept telling them we were coming, we were coming, and we did. And we’re there now. So man, if you live in Doyle, we’ve got you covered. And now we’re trying to get some areas in White County that kind of got skipped over a little bit. Because in the beginning stages of this, we thought our copper was going to be sufficient for somewhat. The broadband needs weren’t as much as they are now. Now we’re seeing that the fiber is the only thing that’s going to carry it. And so now we’re having to go back to these shorter distances, some of these remotes that didn’t have a lot of serving customers in it now. And so that’s going to be our plans in the future, is to get White County completely built out.

Bryan Kell: Yeah, outside of the work with crews and builds and kind of planning out what’s going on with that in your position, we all know this, but folks out there may not know. But, you know, in your position too, you’ve got to work, you know, with local, city and county officials and kind of be a liaison, you know, between Ben Lomand and them. Kind of talk about that.

Ben Clark: Well, we do. We need to be a presence in all the local governments and the city and county. I try to attend at least one county meeting a month and at least two city council meetings a month. It’s just important for us, I think, as a company to stay plugged in and get that handshake good and tight because we support the community as much as the community supports us. And so any kind of relationship that you can have with these local leaders, I think it improves, you know, their situation and ours. As a company, it makes us stronger, gives them a better service. You know, they know that we’re going to be there. We’re local. You know, they see us every day. Any time that you can communicate with the local governments in a positive way, that gives the public the view, “Hey, they’re for real. You know, they are here to stay.” You know, we’re I mean, we’re plugged in. We do a lot in the community, not just with local governments, with the school systems. We’re just everywhere that you look, Ben Lomand is present.

Bryan Kell: Literally, we are here to serve.

Ben Clark: Yes.

Bryan Kell: Whatever that means.

Ben Clark: Yes.

Micah Lawrence: So let’s shift gears here. Tammy, tell us about you.

Tammy Odom: Lived here most of my life. It’s a great place to grow up. Lots of family, friends, small community. Went to work right after graduation at Citizens Bank, worked there for 12 years. Joyce Dodson and Debbie Mills recruited and pretty much was asking me if I would be interested to come to Ben Lomand. Best decision I ever made. Been here for about 23 years now, nearly. And a lot of changes. We at that time was basically doing just landline service, dial up Internet and just starting DSL. And we’ve seen a lot of changes since then, a lot faster speed, a lot more demand.

Bryan Kell: You’re the district customer relations supervisor.

Tammy Odom: Yes.

Bryan Kell: Right. So I guess to put that in terms that both us and folks listening can be able to – the front office, ladies and men, that are up there serving folks as they come in the drive through and also walking up. You’re kind of in charge of that bunch over there which that can be like herding cats when Christie Judd’s around, but that’s just on a side note there.

Tammy Odom: Uh, yeah, all of them, really.

Bryan Kell: For folks that haven’t been to Sparta, the office here in a while or maybe ever, talk about some of the just, first of all, I guess the structural changes to the front and some of those new faces that folks can see.

Tammy Odom: When did we redo the building? Do you think about five years ago?

Ben Clark: Something like that, yeah.

Tammy Odom: Yeah. We kind of made it more modern. At the time, it was more ’80s. Back in the 80s, we had a little mauve. And you know, that’s how long it had been. But we do have some new hires. I think the last time that we had hired anyone was about 12 years ago, and we hired Dawson Givens about three years ago. He just graduated high school. And recently we have a new hire, Molly Wittenberg, that about 3 or 4 months she’s been with us. They catch on so quick. You know, they’re used to the technology. You know, that’s what they grew up with. Whereas, you know, we had to learn it as we kind of went along. And it takes us older folks a little bit longer to get used to it. But hey, we catch on.

Bryan Kell: Yeah. Tell us about the bond between you and the folks up front and also the people that come into the office or through the drive-throughs, because I know that I’ve seen that. I mean, there are folks that love coming in. I mean, they could pay their bill through the drive-through, or they could pay it online and all that stuff. But they just really love coming in. And it’s a there’s a bond there, right?

Tammy Odom: Well, yeah. I mean, we try to make people feel like, you know, they’ve walked into a place where we’re happy to see them, and we truly are. We want them to have a good experience. And, you know, they might even go out of the office with a hug. Or, you know, here, would you like a bottle of water with how hot it is right now? You know, so. And the bond I have with all the girls and guys in the office, they’re perfect. I mean, it’s just like we’re a family. And if one’s going through something, we all go through it. You know, we encourage each other. We try to pull, you know, our weight and everybody to do their job, to do what’s right for the customers.

Bryan Kell: I like what you said there, it’s like a family. Because I was going to say, it’s a very homey atmosphere when the customers are in the building, when the customers aren’t even in the building. Between everybody here and really with the customers as well, it’s one big family.

Tammy Odom: It is. And you’ll catch us kidding around with each other and acting silly. And we even do it with some customers. You know, some customers, you can get by with that. But, you know, we just love to see new faces come through the door. And we love to see those older ones, too, because, you know, the older ones is the ones that really make their appearance. And we try to really make them feel good about coming in. And they’re the ones that usually get the hugs or picked on, whichever, you know. But they love it.

Micah Lawrence: So Tammy, you know, we are talking about people coming in and coming into the office and talking to you ladies and men. So how long does it kind of take for someone to come sign up for service. And, you know, is there anything that they can do beforehand to maybe speed it up, or is there an alternate way of signing up for service?

Tammy Odom: Well, I have noticed a lot of people are emailing us now about services. So a lot of times I will pass those on to the other girls, or I do them myself. We either email them or call out. Most time I call out. And I try to get all the information over the phone. What we need from them is just, you know, like their address, what service they’re interested in. We do need a copy of their driver’s license. Some of it can be done by email. Some of them choose to come inside and sign the paperwork. But most of the time I try to do it all right over the phone, so I can hurry up and get them scheduled. Because, you know, our schedule can be out two weeks and some people don’t want to wait that long, you know? It takes maybe ten minutes on the phone at most, and then they can zip right in, sign the paperwork, give us their driver’s license, we can make a copy. Or they choose to do it email and send it back, which that’s fine too. But if they come in the office 10-15 minutes. Try to give them all the information they need and get it done, get them in and out as quick, but still try to, you know, make them feel comfortable.

Bryan Kell: I haven’t been involved in this side of the process in a while, but I think folks well, yeah, they can still be able to go to our website. If they’re interested in a service or services name, phone number, email, just some real quick things on their interest level and probably safe to say within 24 hours definitely, but sometimes it’s 12 or even less than that, you guys can get that from folks that are kind of collating that information. And if they’re from White County, they’re sending them to you guys and be able to reach back out. So even going to our website, if somebody goes to any of our pages really and says, hey, I’m kind of interested in security, or I’m kind of interested in secure everywhere, you guys are getting that information and turning it around and reaching right back out to them.

Tammy Odom: Yeah, yeah, I had one yesterday. I think they had sent it in like at 3:45, and I think I responded probably within five minutes. But that’s not always the case, because we could be with a customer or the weekend or whatever. But we try to get with them as soon as possible, so they know we’re interested in getting, you know, them taken care of so.

Bryan Kell: Mr. Ben.

Ben Clark: Yes.

Bryan Kell: We are sitting inside an award winning building here today, award winning office here in White County. Talk about last year’s Chamber award.

Ben Clark: Well, it just goes to prove that Ben Lomand is definitely represented well in White County. All the business owners, all the residents, they realize how important we are to the community. And I think that was just evident of it. You know, everyone voted on that within the organization, and they just thought Ben Lomand brought the most as far as influencing change in this community as any business. And I thought that was – I received it well. I think Ben Lomand was well represented there that night. And it was just great, a great accomplishment for us as a company.

Bryan Kell: Well, and I will say this, over the years, you’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. The White County Chamber is first class all the way around. And they’ve been a huge champion of Ben Lomand over the years because they’ve seen those people that you guys were talking about earlier that are moving into this area and what broadband can mean to somebody who’s working from home, education. You’ve seen it, and you’ve talked about it. That’s been big for the Chamber to promote that.

Ben Clark: Oh, it’s huge. And, you know, Marvin Bullock, he’s simply – he just turned his time in. I hate to see Marvin go.

Bryan Kell: I hadn’t heard that.

Bryan Kell: Oh, yeah. He’s retiring and stepping down at the end of this year, I think. But man, he’s been a great advocate for us as a company. He knows, you know, he’s a retired school teacher, and then took this position as an industrial recruiter / chamber president. But man, he’s done such a great job. And he is a strong advocate for us. Knowing the first question these businesses want to know is, what kind of broadband service can I get? And he knows right off the bat. Ben Lomand is there to serve, and so that’s great.

Bryan Kell: Well, salute – I’m hearing that for the first time. So salute to Marvin Bullock because he has truly been a gold standard of what it means to kind of bring together a chamber.

Ben Clark: Yes.

Bryan Kell: Kudos to him.

Micah Lawrence: So Ben, I know, you know, as you’re talking about how Ben Lomand has helped the community and things of that nature, we know there’s this small thing that happened in 2020 with the pandemic, right?

Ben Clark: Yes.

Micah Lawrence: I know that we have – and I worked with you and everybody else – to put in some Wi-Fi hotspots for a lot of different reasons. So tell, why did we put those hotspots in? Where can they find them? You know, tell us a little more about that.

Ben Clark: Well, you know, a lot of our community just, you know, for whatever reason, their broadband service just wasn’t efficient enough to do their school work. And these children were having to be you know, they sent them home to do schoolwork from home. And a lot of them didn’t have Internet access for whatever reason. You know, whether it was where they lived or whether they were in between homes or whatever. So we set up a couple of spots in the county within, you know, one of them is out here at our main office. You know, it’s right out in our parking lot. You can pull up any time still today and get this free Wi-Fi if you so need it. And like if you’re in between jobs or whatever and things are, you know, a little bit misfortune as far as finances, and you’re needing to search for a job, just pull right up in our parking lot, jump on your phone and find it. Also, down in the west end of the community at the White County recreational complex, we set one up down there. And so you can pull up in that gravel parking lot by the baseball fields at any time still today, they’re still in operation for the folks to get on and do what they need to do.

Bryan Kell: Our mobile – talking about Wi-Fi – our mobile Wi-Fi van has also played a part in some important gatherings in White County over the years. Talk about those kind of events, Ben. I know that come to mind – Liberty Square, also the airport. It’s played a part in trying to bring people connectivity in some places they wouldn’t expect it right?

Ben Clark: Oh, it really has. And, you know, the need for that type of thing at some of these organizations set up for, like I know last year, it seemed like each year we add something to it. This last year, we set it up over at the courthouse pavilion for the National Day of Prayer. And so, man, that was a huge, you know, because they streamed that service, and so they were looking for a way to get it, you know, out to the folks that couldn’t come. And so that was huge. We go to the White County Fair every year and set up with it. For all the folks around the grandstand area to be able to get on their mobile devices. And even some of the vendors there, you know, get on it to use it to scan credit cards or whatever for their payments. And so we do that. We do it at the Van Buren. I think it’s a Spencer homecoming they have.

Bryan Kell: Absolutely.

Ben Clark: We do it up there. The White County Upper Cumberland Regional Airport has an air show in the fall. We always set up for that and the vendors set up, of course, and they utilize that, you know, to create sales at their point of sales has to have an Internet access, and it’s up there. They just set it up, and man, it just works great for them. Same thing at Liberty Square. You know, we set it up for that Liberty Square celebration each year. And so I know there’s other things that it’s been used for, but that’s mainly White County and Van Buren County.

Bryan Kell: And special thanks to Micah Lawrence being involved in that.

Ben Clark: Oh, yeah.

Bryan Kell: The genesis of that. That was a great project.

Micah Lawrence: Yeah, it was fun, exciting to create that because it was something new and different, you know. And to see the benefit of it, of being able to go to, you know, different places through our service territory. It’s been great. So switching back to Tammy, White County seems to have, you know, been a special place for Ben Lomand. You know, it sounds like from both of you guys talking, it’s been great for us. Tell me what it means to you to live and serve in White County.

Tammy Odom: Well, White County has been a great place to raise my children. I have three. They all played sports, made tons of friends throughout the sports, the families traveling. And then working here at Ben Lomand, you get to really know the people that live here. It’s a small town, but we serve quite a few people. And I just love White County. It’s just a great place.

Bryan Kell: Yeah, it really is. As far as anything in closing from either one of y’all. Tammy, anything that we might have missed or that folks out there need to know about White County or the Sparta office here or anything.

Tammy Odom: If you have any questions about any of our services, we would be glad to answer those. And if we’re unable to, we can get Ben Clark to help us out with that. We try to be knowledgeable in Sparta, but sometimes we have to lean on Ben here, so. And he knows everything.

Ben Clark: Well, I don’t know about everything.

Bryan Kell: Good person to rely on.

Tammy Odom: Yes.

Bryan Kell: Yeah. Ben, anything in closing that we need to mention?

Bryan Kell: I will step right on top of what Tammy was saying about a good place to raise your family. Because my wife and I have been married 37 years. My mother and daddy were both bi-vocation. They farmed and worked public jobs. My wife and I are farm oriented and bi-vocation, and her family does full time farming. So it’s just a great little farming community. We’ve been insulated from a lot of things of the world, you know, simply by being in a small town. But it is a great place to raise children. I’ve got three myself, and two of them are school teachers and the other one’s a senior at Tech and auctioning and real estate business with True North Realty. And so he’s really done a great job, too. And so as far as raising children, you couldn’t find – and that’s one reason people like to move here. They come here. They visit. They see the small town scenarios, and they just love it. They just, they want to move here and here they come, you know. And so I will say one other thing about what makes us great as far as being in Sparta and White County and Van Buren County is our employees. Every service technician, every CSR up front from the assignment group over here, Mark Benningfield and Dawson Gibbons, we’ve just got a great group from beginning to end. And without them they make Tammy and I look really good. I just tell you; they just do.

Bryan Kell: Well, in closing a couple of words. Very rarely ever say this, go warriors.

Tammy Odom: Yeah.

Bryan Kell: Right. And then yert!

Tammy Odom: Yert.

Bryan Kell: Whatever that means, right?

Tammy Odom: Yert.

Bryan Kell: So anyway.

Ben Clark: Hi. How are you? Have a great day. Yert.

Bryan Kell: That’s what that means. It’s all comboed together.

Ben Clark: Yeah.

Bryan Kell: Okay, well, you learn something new today here on the Ben Lomand Connection Oodcast. Ben Clark, Tammy Odom, thank you all for being on the podcast.

Tammy Odom: Thank you.

Ben Clark: Thank you.

Karen Wilson: This is the BLC Connection Podcast, and it is time for our Connected Home segment. And we’re going to branch that out a little bit further into technology and going back to school. I’m Karen Wilson, and Micah and Brian are back to talk to us about the back to school time and all the technology that could be utilized for students this year. So let’s start with something old school. What, for each of you, was your favorite back to school purchase when you were a kid?

Bryan Kell: Do you want the – I almost said normal – the regular person? Or do you want Bill Gates over here?

Karen Wilson: Well, let’s start with Bill Gates.

Bryan Kell: Okay.

Karen Wilson: And then we’ll go to –

Bryan Kell: Take it away, Bill.

Karen Wilson: You.

Micah Lawrence: I mean honestly, I didn’t look forward to anything. Like it was school. I mean, I didn’t care for school. But as far as me, the thing I look forward to is the report card at the end of the school year. That’s about it. So.

Bryan Kell: Wow.

Micah Lawrence: Yeah. I mean, as far as, you know, I didn’t care about backpacks or pencils or pens or anything like that. It’s just, you know, it’s just find me a pencil so I can do my work that’s really [it].

Karen Wilson: Just strictly utilitarian.

Micah Lawrence: Well, I didn’t say I wasn’t weird, you know, I just. You know.

Karen Wilson: You never claimed to be normal.

Micah Lawrence: I was going to say, I never claimed to be normal.

Karen Wilson: What about you, Bryan?

Bryan Kell: Well, that’s superficial, people. Karen, as you kind of said before we started this, man, it was all about getting a new trapper keeper for me. I mean, when you kind of threw this question out, I’m like, oh, it’s the trapper keeper. It’s little things like – and I still see it on social media – the sports pencils where you could get like NFL teams, you know, and stuff like that.

Karen Wilson: You could buy those at our little school pencil shop.

Bryan Kell: And I always started with the Atlanta Falcons, and then who was my next favorite team. And I didn’t want to use the Miami Dolphins or, you know, all those. But yeah, just the specialness of all that kind of stuff going on.

Karen Wilson: I know, it was kind of fun to like have this whole new tool set, you know. Mine was, other than the trapper keeper, my box of crayons, the big one with the sharpener in it and stuff.

Bryan Kell: You didn’t like that?

Micah Lawrence: I didn’t care.

Karen Wilson: To have new crayons that were not dull and just all the new colors and stuff. That was.

Bryan Kell: Wasn’t it like a box of a hundred or something like that?

Karen Wilson: Or something like that.

Bryan Kell: Just big. It had all the power here.

Micah Lawrence: What about the color changing pencils? Did y’all have that?

Bryan Kell: Yeah, where you could click down different sides of the pencil.

Micah Lawrence: Oh, that’s the pen. But yes, that’s definitely old school there.

Bryan Kell: Yeah.

Micah Lawrence: But, like, well, Ben Lomand gave out some of these pencils at one point in time where you held it, and the heat from your hand would make it change it to a different color.

Karen Wilson: That’s too technological for us. I mean, yeah, I was already working by the time they developed those.

Micah Lawrence: So what you’re saying is, you know, Moses wasn’t handing those out when you were going back to school?

Bryan Kell: I’ll say that. Sure. What about the little eraser guys and stuff like Space Invader kind of things? To be able to collect those, I thought was so cool too, back in the day.

Karen Wilson: Yeah. Well, my how times have changed. That is for sure, and technology has been a big part of that. Micah, as many students are utilizing laptops now, let’s start with that. What types of laptops or tablets are good for maybe each age group because you’re thinking about, you know, elementary school is one category, and then you get into like middle school and high school where they’re more responsible, and then college.

Micah Lawrence: So I get asked this question a lot. A lot of different people, they’re wanting to know, what can I get my kid? Where I see this more on is on the college kids side. Mainly because, you know, in elementary side, they’re generally given most of the time things like tablets or maybe Chromebooks. We’re even seeing this on the high school side. Now as far as a, you know, computer to have it home for them to do their work, you know, just any computer is going to probably work. And the reason being is because most of the classrooms have shifted to, you know, like a Google classroom where, you know, the ability to have a word processor or an Excel spreadsheet type thing, you know, it’s all driven Web based. So that’s the reason why Chromebooks work really well. I know I bought my daughter a Chromebook that, you know, would be ours at home for her to do her homework in case, you know, like let’s say they left theirs at school or, you know, anything can happen. So I think for most of your elementary and high school type groups, Chromebooks are going to work good. You know, they’re really inexpensive. They’re generally anywhere from $300 to $500. It’s not a bad deal. Now college ends up being a different story because it does not seem to have, as yet, you know, where colleges are utilizing more of the Web based stuff.

Micah Lawrence: So I always tell people, you know, you want kind of at least a medium of the road processor. Intel is kind of the most popular one. They generally have an i3, i5 and an i7 processor. And all that means is that’s the order of quality and performance. So what I would say anything with an i5 or i7 is good. Nowadays, as far as operating systems are concerned, because everybody’s buying Windows, mostly. If you’re buying Mac, honestly, just about any Mac or Apple computer is going to be good. But you know, with the memory, you want as much memory as you can get. Hard drive space. You know, it’s just everything that they’re coming out with nowadays is really good. But one of the things, they’ve got this new technology called solid state drives. What it is is, there’s no mechanical parts in this hard drive and which is good for a couple different reasons. One is, since there’s no moving parts in the hard drive, if anything gets dropped or slightly dropped, and we know when it comes to college kids, you know, throw them in your backpack or, you know, falling off your dorm room desk, you know. It can easily damage it because it’s moving parts in there.

Micah Lawrence: So with solid state drives, it’s what’s called flash memory. It’s very similar to what’s in your cell phones and your tablets, things like that. There’s no moving parts to that storage. And then the second part about this is you get the performance. They’re super fast. From the Managed IT perspective, when we go out to some businesses, they have some computers that are not really too old, but when you look at their system resources, they’re basically twiddling their thumbs. They’re sitting there waiting for the hard drive to catch up. So we can go out there for these businesses, swap and clone their drives to solid states, and it’s almost like a brand new computer. So in terms of performance, there’s a big deal with those. So those are kind of the three big things I would look at is one, the processor. Number two, the memory. You know, as much memory as you can get for the price. And then lastly, I would do a solid state drive. If you kind of hit those three, you’re pretty much are going to get a decent laptop or desktop. And then also I’m looking at from the longevity perspective of, you know, is it going to last them all the way through college? And even outside of that, I’d say absolutely do that.

Bryan Kell: Speaking of longevity, this just hit me. How long can someone expect an average laptop starting off, used at school, whether it’s for high school use or college use, to be good for them for X number of years. What’s your thoughts when people ask you that?

Micah Lawrence: Well, and that comes to your definition of good.

Bryan Kell: Yeah.

Micah Lawrence: You know, to me is the way technology is progressing. I would say anywhere from 3 to 5 years. You’re looking at probably wanting to upgrade because, you know, the latest version of Windows is out or the latest version of Apple’s out. And it’s kind of like your cell phones. You know, you’re 3 to 5 years, you’re starting to notice that one, they’re not really updating your software anymore, or it’s not really performing the way it did at one point in time. You know, that’s the other question I get asked too, you know, about Internet. They’re like, well, it used to be on dial up. It used to fly. Well, when we were on dial up days, it was mostly your web pages were text. You know, when you go to things like Fox News or any of these news websites now, it’s just absolutely full of pictures and videos. And that takes it even a step further. They’re like, well, DSL used to be great at one point in time. Well, now we’re in the age of video, too, and very high graphic video. So, you know, DSL is no longer quite cutting it anymore, which is why we’re trying to move everybody to fiber. So it’s just things progress. And so you have to kind of go with the technology. Now, you can be on the cutting edge. You can be on the bleeding edge. There’s lots of things you can do. And I would always encourage, you know, everyone to say, okay, you know, find you a good budget. You know, look at replacing 3 to 5 years. You know, if you buy a better laptop now, you’re probably looking closer to the five year edge. As opposed to if you buy something that you buy at some of these, you know, stores that are here local, that their intention is to sell you something cheap, you’re going to get what you pay for.

Karen Wilson: Right.

Micah Lawrence: Definitely with technology.

Karen Wilson: And I’m sure keeping your updates on your laptops and things like that are always good. That way, it’s got the latest software and virus protections and things like that.

Micah Lawrence: Yes.

Karen Wilson: Because I know that’s what tends to slow people down sometimes is all the little bugs you get.

Micah Lawrence: That’s right.

Karen Wilson: So, Bryan, after the student comes home with the device, how does the speed of the Internet in the home make a difference? And what speeds would you think students would need?

Bryan Kell: So, you know, one thing that Ben Lomand is that we don’t have the plural. We have the singular, here at Ben Lomand, especially when it comes down to fiber. And right now, as we speak, close to 88% of our entire territory is fiber. So that is being chipped away on every day. So we offer a synchronous gig both in download speed and upload speed. So a few things that I’ll talk about that I’ve heard from our customers that they love about what we offer when it comes down to education. Number one is reliability. Micah could speak at this much better than I could, but, and I think we’ve done some podcast topics on this before, but just the number of outbound connections that we’ve got to the Internet, I think that stands at eight today, I think. And so should there be an issue with one of our connections, we’ve still got multiple, multiple, multiple connections to be able to provide Internet to our customers. So the reliability factor has been very huge. Should there be something that does happen at your home, and you’ve got one of our GigaSpire routers. If you’re on a deadline to get something turned in and something’s going wrong, man, we’ve talked about this just about every podcast. The fact that we’ve got folks that are sitting in our McMinnville office waiting to take your phone call and help troubleshoot an issue with you to be able to get you in a situation where, okay, wow, now I’m good.

Bryan Kell: So that has always been very good feedback from our customers when it comes down to folks that are studying or being able to turn in reports online situations. And another thing too, that a lot of other companies don’t highlight that we have, especially over the last couple to a few years, and that is our upload speed. And so more and more situations where your kids. Karen, my kids, you know, Micah’s child is moving into high school and all that stuff. And so the ability to be able to, you know, upload large files, should that be the case with a particular homework assignment or report or whatever that is. And then also being able to communicate from a video chat standpoint, too. And so the need on the upload side, especially during the pandemic, we saw it from people that were working from home, people that were in education and having to school from home, those have been some of the things that I’ve seen and I’ve heard from our customers as what’s important to them when it comes down to education from home. But I will throw it to you in case there is something I’ve missed. You being the techie, that you are.

Micah Lawrence: Well, the only thing I’d like to bring out is, you know. I know at Ben Lomand, we make a big attention to the whole upload part of this. I don’t think a lot of customers understand why this is important. And the reason why it’s important is, you know, most of your daily use is going to be download, right? You know, that’s where you want your highest speed. And this used to be an issue when it came to DSL because your download was always higher than your upload was. Well, we’re moving into a different age of, you know, communication across the Internet. And one of the things is like, you know, I’ve heard of homework assignments of, you know, make a YouTube video, and then post it and then this is a part of your homework assignment.

Karen Wilson: Yeah, your grade, right?

Micah Lawrence: And, you know, what people don’t realize, that is upload. And when we talk about video, it’s just like what we just talked about with dial up and DSL. You know, bandwidth requirements have changed. And so when you start uploading, you know, video files, it’s going to take a while if you don’t have fast enough speed. So that’s the reason why it’s really important. You know, I’d also encourage people to look at, you know, what they’re doing when they’re recording videos on their iPhones, for example. You know, they’re getting to be better cameras, higher megapixels, you know, higher resolutions, 4K, 60 frames per second. You know, you hear all these fancy words. What it means is consumes a lot of bandwidth.

Karen Wilson: That’s right.

Micah Lawrence: And so if you got things like iCloud on your Apple devices, and I’m sure Android’s got, you know, Google Drive and things like that, this is all upload when it syncs and backs your stuff up to the cloud, this is all upload. And at one point in time you did not have enough upload to be able to do some of these services. So upload is a very important thing, especially when it comes to homework assignments and, you know, things of that nature. So it’s really important. So I just wanted to kind of throw that out there because sometimes that’s not really talked about on the upload side.

Karen Wilson: Yeah. And like you said anymore, we’re not just getting information, but we’re giving information to our teachers, professors, work. And we’re having to send that and sending is the upload side of it. So Micah, you know part of the battle, I guess when the kids come home from school is keeping the kids on task with their homework, with all the technology distractions and things like that. I know we have Experience IQ. How does that kind of help with the problem?

Micah Lawrence: So obviously, your biggest issue is your kids are wanting to be distracted by a text message. By, you know, an app that’s constantly giving them notifications – hey, click me and finish this part of the video game.

Karen Wilson: Somebody snapped you!

Micah Lawrence: Or somebody sends you a Snapchat or, you know, all kinds of different things. And what Experience IQ allows you to do is it allows you to set time limits where you can take their specific devices and say, okay, I’m only going to give you an hour. Or I’m going to say between this time period and this time period, you cannot use the Wi-Fi and use your phone. And so these are good things. You know, used to, we would have to say, well, if you want, you know, we’d have to go and change the Wi-Fi password and say, if you want today’s password, you know, do your homework, and then show it to me. And then I’ll give you the password. So this gives you a little bit more flexibility where it’s kind of more automatic, where I think it’s very beneficial. Because we do have to try to eliminate those distractions because even as adults, we get distracted as well. So, you know, sometimes we got to train these habits for them.

Karen Wilson: Yeah, yeah. There are a lot more distractions. It’s not just Gilligan’s Island and the Munsters on TV anymore. Going old school again.

Bryan Kell: Yeah, I love that. That’s awesome.

Karen Wilson: So let’s go back to kind of what, you know, each of you, what you think about what app do you use that you wish were available when you were a student? Or an app that is good for students, you think?

Bryan Kell: Me go first?

Micah Lawrence: Go for it.

Bryan Kell: All right. One that one, and I think I’ve said this before, as far as what what my favorite app is, and it continues to be something I know that helps me and Karen both, and that’s Grammarly. I just think it’s so – being somebody when I was in high school and college that was not the best writer at all, and gradually tried to get better as I moved along. But just what Grammarly can do for me, even in today’s world, I know for you too, just being able to look at at what you’re trying to say, how you’re trying to say it. And so whether that’s for education purposes and writing a report, or sometimes long answers that you really want to feel like you’ve kind of put on steroids a little bit and really let it be something that shines, Grammarly has helped me at work and would have helped me tremendously in college being a journalism major, broadcast journalism, or even in high school in writing reports. I can’t imagine in today’s world writing a report without at it and think, Man, I wish I would have had that back then because it would have made it so much easier. But maybe by plowing through it like we did, you know, it caused us to have to be a little bit more creative on our own without something supplying us with a little bit more of that creativity.

Karen Wilson: Yeah, I can remember in college having to buy a Harbrace because you had to refer back and think, okay, is this a, you know, is there a comma splice or whatever, so.

Bryan Kell: Yeah,

Karen Wilson: It just does make us better writers.

Bryan Kell: And, also just to to wrap it up, too, I still have in my office from the fall of 1990, my dictionary and thesaurus. And the thesaurus was such a godsend for me to have, but now everything’s at our fingertips and especially Grammarly. It says, “Don’t you want to say it this way? Or what about this word?” And all that. So it’s been great.

Karen Wilson: And there’s free versions of it that are still really good.

Micah Lawrence: I’m going to tell you, I probably wouldn’t have made it through some of my English classes without a Harbrace. So I know what you’re talking about there.

Karen Wilson: Right? Right.

Karen Wilson: What do you use a lot of now that you wish, or you know that you think is good for students?

Micah Lawrence: So, this is a two-part answer here. But part number one is I’ve recently found that there is an app called I think it’s Calculator 84. And it is an emulator for your iPhone. It’s an app that emulates a TI 84 calculator from Texas Instrument.

Bryan Kell: I was going to say, TI, Texas Instrument.

Micah Lawrence: So again, I’m a nerd. I understand. But I love math. I enjoy math a whole lot. And, you know, to be able to have a full blown TI-84, or I had an 83 when I was in school. No telling what it was. I think it changes as years go along. But being able to have that on my phone because I’m helping some nieces and nephews with math, and then also help my daughter and things like that, just to be able to have that, to do those complex equations is really good. But I want to take that a step further with saying also I found and discovered a website that could be good for everybody else. You know, I graduated in 2000, so my ability to retain and remember how all those equations works is a little difficult. There is a website called MathIsFun.com. And it has all the equations that these kids go through and gives examples and English descriptions of how it works and, you know, all that good stuff. It has helped me refresh my memory to help them. So that kind of two part is good. But as far as to answer your original question of what I would have loved to have had back then, this is really bad. Okay.

Karen Wilson: Okay.

Micah Lawrence: Have you heard of ChatGPT?

Karen Wilson: Yes, we have. I mean, it’s going to change things.

Micah Lawrence: Okay. So, you know, I know that you can go on there and say basically “I need a term paper on the subject of this, this or that,” and basically it’ll write it for you. So, you know, from a student’s perspective, that would be great.

Bryan Kell: How do you manage that as a teacher? I mean, that’s just wild.

Micah Lawrence: That’s the good part is, is from a teacher’s perspective, is now they’re coming out with software that squash that or identify that these have been written by the artificial intelligence that are out there right now. So teachers have to defend against that, obviously. So, you know, but like I said, from a student’s perspective, so I didn’t have to write half of those papers, I would have loved to have that.

Karen Wilson: So just to let the audience know, to take a peek into the brains of Bryan, Micah and Karen. Karen loved her crayons. Brian liked his trapper keeper, and Micah liked the TI84. So you see who the smart is in the room here.

Bryan Kell: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Karen Wilson: So, but with all of us, we’re a well-rounded panel, I will say.

Bryan Kell: I think so.

Karen Wilson: So thank you for giving all of your thoughts on that. There’s some great apps and technology devices out there for kids. Always as we like to remind people at Ben Lomand. Keep an eye on your kids as they’re on their devices and things of that nature and just help them help themselves with those things. But all great ideas for helping make students’ lives easier. And thank you, Bryan and Micah.

Micah Lawrence: We’re back with Connect with BLC. Karen, what can we expect for Channel Six or the YouTube Channel or Connect magazine?

Karen Wilson: Well, we’re diligently uploading older content to YouTube. So for those of you who have missed episodes of things in the past, go to our YouTube channel. So that’s always a great resource. Also, Channel Six is getting really busy with all the fair pageants coming up and football season is coming up. So August and September, just look for all that great content on Channel Six.

Micah Lawrence: All right, Bryan, what can we expect for some events in our service area for September?

Bryan Kell: Karen’s already teased it. Fair, fair, fair. So here’s what we’ve got going on in September. September 5th, the Coffee County fair begins. Or maybe it’s the fourth, which is Labor Day, I guess they’re really starting it, I guess on Labor Day.

Karen Wilson: The weekend before. Actually the Friday night before Labor Day, I believe, is when it starts.

Bryan Kell: Okay, so it’s the first then?

Karen Wilson: Yeah.

Bryan Kell: I guess. Okay.

Bryan Kell: And then White County Fair begins on.

Karen Wilson: Same time.

Bryan Kell: Same time. So that Friday as well. Okay. Yeah. Which is why we’re breaking up and doing all that. Behind the scenes we’re trying to get to all these different places. So we’re going to have free Wi-Fi around the grandstand, is that correct? And also around our Gig Box or our Biz Box. We had it over there last year. So we’ll have two areas where folks can be able to get free Wi-Fi from Ben Lomand, which is kind of cool. So you can find the Gig Box right beside the Kwanzaa huts as you get ready to go into the midway there at the White County Fair. September 8th, I think that’s the right date, Warren County Fair begins. The Wi-Fi van will show up beginning September 11th, which I think is on a Monday.

Karen Wilson: Yes.

Bryan Kell: And so we’ll have free Wi-Fi at the grandstand area. Drop by our booth at all of these places. We’ve got one in Coffee County. We’ve got one in White County, and also in Warren County as well, to get all kinds of cool little freebies from us and more information on all of the services we provide. And one last fair, I think it’s September 13th, Van Buren County Fair begins. You can take advantage of free Wi-Fi around the 4-H building around the food booth there. In fact, that’s on all the time. We talked about some of the pandemic stuff that we did back to help people out. That has been an area that continues to have free Wi-Fi provided for it, I believe, year round. So Van Buren, Warren County, White County, Coffee County, come see us. Get some free stuff and get some free Wi-Fi at just about every one of those. Hadn’t got to Coffee County yet, but hopefully soon.

Karen Wilson: We’d love to.

Bryan Kell: Yeah.

Micah Lawrence: Awesome. Thanks guys. So I want to try something a little different today.

Karen Wilson: Okay.

Micah Lawrence: So I see these videos online of people that they’ll take a swig of water and hold it in their mouth, and then they tell a joke and see if they can hold it.

Karen Wilson: Oh, like a challenge.

Bryan Kell: We’re going to slap each other with like the –

Micah Lawrence: With the tortillas.

Bryan Kell: Yeah.

Micah Lawrence: Yeah. So here’s what I want to do. I think some of the weirdest jokes are dad jokes because they’re on that fence of being super funny or just absolutely terrible. So I’ve got some here, and I want to share them with you. And I want you to give me a scale from 1 to 5, whether that’s hilarious or that was terrible.

Bryan Kell: So five is great. One is horrible.

Micah Lawrence: Yeah, that’s right.

Bryan Kell: Okay.

Micah Lawrence: All right. Ready?

Bryan Kell: Yeah.

Micah Lawrence: Why are elevator jokes so classic and good? Because they work on so many levels.

Karen Wilson: I’ll give that about a three.

Bryan Kell: Yeah, I was going to say 3 or 4. 3 or 4. Yeah, that’s pretty good.

Karen Wilson: Because you have to kind of think about that. Like my kids would probably go, huh?

Bryan Kell: Yeah.

Micah Lawrence: That’s right.

Bryan Kell: That’s really good.

Micah Lawrence: All right, so what do you call a pudgy psychic?

Karen Wilson: I don’t know.

Micah Lawrence: A four-chin teller.

Karen Wilson: I do like that one.

Bryan Kell: That’s pretty good. That’s pretty good. It might be a five, actually. Four-chin teller.

Karen Wilson: Yeah.

Micah Lawrence: All right. So I used to hate facial hair, but then it kind of grew on me.

Karen Wilson: That one’s a pretty basic. Yeah.

Bryan Kell: That’s a one.

Micah Lawrence: All right, how about this one? Why did Waldo go to therapy? Because he needed to find himself.

Karen Wilson: I like that. Because everybody’s into the.

Micah Lawrence: Where’s Waldo?

Karen Wilson: Finding themselves right now.

Micah Lawrence: All right. Last one here. Actually, no two more. What kind of car does a sheep like to drive? A Lamb-borghini.

Bryan Kell: That’s bad. So bad. Fact is, we’ve laughed at every one of these. Even the ones that you’re like, that’s a one or a two. It’s still funny.

Karen Wilson: You still get a chuckle, don’t you? Yeah.

Micah Lawrence: All right. Last one here, and we’ll see how you like this one. Why do melons have weddings? Because they cant-elope.

Bryan Kell: That’s good.

Karen Wilson: I like that.

Bryan Kell: You ended on a good note.

Karen Wilson: You did.

Bryan Kell: That’s a five. That’s a five. You did really well on that one.

Micah Lawrence: Glad you guys liked it.

Karen Wilson: Good job.

Bryan Kell: Well, we have wrapped up another podcast, this one being here in White County. And so, man, it’s so good to have Ben and Tammy here with us today. But Micah, as we wrap things up, how can folks get stuff to us?

Micah Lawrence: You can submit your questions. You can message us on BLC Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn accounts, or you can email us at BLCPodcast@benlomand.net. We’ve had a few people email us and ask us questions. We’ve put it on a podcast, so we love those. Feel free to do that. You can also listen to our podcast on Spotify, Apple, Google, Amazon, iHeartRadio and a bunch of other ones.

Bryan Kell: And I will say this, being a Spotify user, we have a 5.0 rating out of five on Spotify and quite a few reviews from folks. So thanks so much for the feedback that we’ve gotten. There’s a lot of folks in our industry that have got podcasts that don’t even have reviews. So to have a handful of reviews in there already and to be a 5.0, we want to thank folks for being able to reach out to us on that. Karen mini podcaster out there.

Karen Wilson: Yes, we love to focus on small businesses in our area and the things that they do well. So who knows where we’ll end up. We’re always looking for businesses. Reach out to us. If you think you excel at something which we know so many people do in our area, give me a shout, and we’ll interview you on a BLC Connection mini episode.

Bryan Kell: Those ideas can come to us at BLCPodcast@benlomand.net. It’s a great way to be able to get to us. All right. And as far as next next episode, we do, I have no idea. We got to get through fair. We got to get through all this stuff that’s going on. So when we do get that for you, it’ll be a little bit of a surprise because it’s not known to us at this time.

Karen Wilson: We always say we’re going to do one at the fair. Maybe we should think about that.

Bryan Kell: Maybe we could. Maybe we could.

Karen Wilson: It’s a lot, if we could keep from being distracted.

Micah Lawrence: Now, we might have an idea for September, though, right?

Bryan Kell: Could have an idea for September. Yeah, could be. Could be. Well, well, you’re saying this is coming out in September to record one in September.

Micah Lawrence: Yeah, but let’s keep that secure.

Micah Lawrence: Okay.

Karen Wilson: Well, I want to record one and eat a candy apple at the same time, so.

Bryan Kell: All right, let’s get ready for our fair. Take the ride. Thanks so much for taking the ride with us here in episode 12 here of The BLC Connection podcast. For Micah Lawrence, for Karen Wilson, for Tammy and Ben joining us today, we bid you adieu from Sparta and tell you, thank you so much for listening. Stay safe and stay connected.

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