Theme Me Up Scotty: The Clearspace Edition

It was bound to happen. I mean I couldn’t hold out forever. I have now been at Jive for over thirty days and thus feel it is safe for me to start waxing eloquent on the ways of Clearspace, you know to my two non-technical followers. (Hi Mom!! Hi Dad!) I also got a kick out of the title of this post. No one at Jive will get it (nor will Ma Self unfortunately) but maybe some of you IBMers might.  And no, I didn’t “go there” because IBM still owes me $53.84 on my Amex card.  $53.84 that I am sure they would have collected from me of course!  Okay, well maybe I did, just kinda ☺

Let me first hit on some of the basic steps that I have mastered here at Jive in a little “how to” with just a few “shout outs*” on the Clearspace side.

First, let me begin by prepping for a little theme development. Oh wait, I don’t have to locate some obscure .xmi file hidden deep within the confines of WebSphere to disable caching first?  Hmmm. Nor do I have to wait the eighteen minutes while Portal restarts?  This just seems too foreign to me.  I don’t gotta do nothin’.

So first on the Clearspace side and step number eighty-five on the WebSphere Portal side I am going to change the logo in the top left corner of the page.  Here’s the kicker! In Clearspace I don’t ever have to touch the file system. I can do this all though a web UI. (Granted yes, okay Portal now has that “Theme Builder Portlet” and Jive has the “Theme Builder Plugin” so I think they can both just cancel each other out there. I’m talking about ‘theme-ing’ for the hardcore users here!) So here are the steps:

  1. Log into the Admin Console of the Clearspace instance.
  2. Navigate to System -> Management -> System Properties.
  3. At the bottom choose to Add a New Property.  Name the property skin.default.headerHTML
  4. Set the following value with a link to your own Branding image.  In this example I just linked to an image I had uploaded to Clearspace. You know why I can do this? Because every file upload, blog, discussion, etc. has its own unique addressable URL.  Weird how that works, huh? ☺

<table cellspacing=”10px”>
<tr><td><img src=””&gt;

Next I want to change the way the top banner renders. Now let me remember, I need to find the banner.jspf file, the topNav.jspf file, a CSS file that is actually a set of three JSPs….nope, not with Clearspace!!! Heck, I don’t even need access to the file system, once again! Instead I have the ability to create a “custom css” template that can be used to override the default CSS settings.  Here is all I need to do:

  1. Log into the Admin Console of Clearspace.
  2. Navigate to System -> Settings -> Themes.
  3. For this example I will just edit the custom theme available out of the box. So click Edit next to this theme.
  4. Select the template from the dropdown named /template/global/custom-css.ftl. Click Create New Template.

(Now using firebug you were probably able to figure out which class definitions you needed to include to change the banner but I will list them below.)

5.  For the Template Value enter the following with your color, width, etc. specifications.

/* custom-css */
#jive-userbar {

Do the same with any other CSS Class definitions that you find.  Next all we need to do is handle the Theme mapping aspect. Yes, this part is just like the “Color Palette” option in Portal but without all the steps.

6.    Back on the main Themes page in the Administration console under Global Theme Map, select custom. That’s it. Refresh your page and you have a new theme.

So before I end, and I know this has been a long one. I do want to point out something particularly interesting about this Theme Mapping aspect. Here you have the ability to map a custom theme at a Space level, sub-space level or even to a particular blog. All in one location!

* Note: all “Shout Outs” will be subtly highlighted throughout this post.


The Cat-o-larium

(Yes, Ma Self, this ones about you again. You are just such an easy target. ☺ )

This past week I got the chance to kill two birds with one stone and visit the ‘rents in Baltimore while seeing a customer in Philly. (I won’t mention the fact that Ma Self and I were partying it up at Denny’s (yes, you heard me right, Denny’s) until about one in the morning the night I had to drive to Philly but oh well).

When I visit my parents I stay at my moms’ house with her and her two cats – Lucy (Luc-i-fur) and Bob. I am deathly allergic to cats of course – but this doesn’t stop Ma Self from contemplating a third cat at the same time that she is apologizing to me for the fact that “Lucy” seems to prefer to sleep on my bed. “I mean that is where she finds herself the most comfortable”. The cats don’t get along (I use that term lightly) and the third cat is somehow meant to alleviate the situation. At least that is what Ma Self’s kitty psychiatrist tells her.

Both Luc-i-fur and Uncle Bob are pure-breads. (Yeah, I didn’t know they made pure-bread cats either.) She paid the big bucks for them (more then Myles) but I guess if you are going for the hypoallergenic kitty one has to be prepared to spend big. (A hypoallergenic cat is about as real to me as the ‘seamless’ integration between Lotus Connections and Lotus Quickr but I digress.) Lucy came first and she was cute as a kitten but in true cat fashion she now refuses to speak to anyone except for Pa Self. With Lucy Ma Self had grandiose plans for a “scratching palm”. This would be a multi-story structure that would be wrapped in brown rope (for the scratching) and topped with some fake palm leaves (for the palm part). Ma Self lost interest in that project shortly thereafter and so in her living room now just stands a “scratching trunk”.

Next came Bob, the bane of Lucy’s existence. Bob demanded more then “just a tree trunk”. Bob longed to be one with the birds and the squirrels. So Ma Self tried to train him to stay in the fenced in backyard, like one would a dog. But seeing that cats can climb trees and generally have little regard for rules, Bob would scurry away and stroll back home around dinnertime after the rest of us spent a frantic afternoon searching for the Gucci of all cats. As a result Ma Self decided she would fence in her deck and create what I now refer to as the “cat-o-larium”.

So here it is, the finished product. Note how um, curious my dad is. He is trying to think of something nice to say I think. Oh and that is Bob in the background. He likes it so I guess it was all worth it. Ma Self did say though that this is seasonal. That when it rains, is windy, snows – basically not 75 degrees and sunny, the whole contraption collapses. Guess its time to go back to the scratching palm.

I gotta Run, Bike and Swim?!?

In January I signed up for a triathlon.  What can I say? It was a slow time at work — not much left to buy on the Internet and not much going down in the celebrity world.  At the time it was merely a blip on my radar – I mean it was in August! There were still six months of winter and three hundred dog walks (in sub-zero wind chills) sitting between me and that silly little triathlon.  Well, not anymore! I have exactly three weeks to go and I am officially about thirteen weeks behind in training. I blame IBM. I mean why not. ☺

About two weeks ago I decided to get serious. I ‘googled’ triathlon training programs (once I figured out how to spell ‘triathlon’) and managed to find one that advertised an ‘accelerated’ program.  Since the Internet never lies I figured I this one would do and dug out the cap and goggles and kicked it into high gear.

The running part was cake. I have been running ever since all the other sports started costing money and requiring better planning skills.  I have no idea how far I will be running in this triathlon thing but I do know that I have a super cute “running shirt” picked out. It matches my new kicks – white with some light blue highlights.

Biking is another story. In order to get Mr. Engineer Boyfriend off my back I reluctantly agreed to use the “clippy” pedals. I am not sure if you are familiar with the concept but for someone who can wipe out riding in normal pedals, clippies are a guaranteed injury/injuries. I was given a complete dissertation as to why I should use the “death pedals” to which I paid little attention but then I found some cute blue “clippy shoes” that matched my ensemble and so I was sold. Two skinned knees and pretty banged up elbow later I am pretty good I think. Well as long as I don’t have to stop very often…or bike in crowds.

Finally there is the swim.  Now the problem here is that I hate being cold. Hate it.  I can be cold when it is 85 degrees out – ask anyone.  This, as you can assume, makes swimming in Chicago really, really challenging.  For one there is the fact that the lap-swim hours in the public pool are way early and that chlorine turns my hair green. The second thing is that in order to get the real triathlon experience I was going to have to suck it up and take a dip in the Lake, as in the Lake Michigan – the one that probably borders with Canada or something.

So this past Friday I gave it a go. All gussied up in my wetsuit (which I might add is about the most unflattering of all swimming costumes!), swim cap and goggles I trotted down the beach avoiding the syringes and broken glass to the water. I dipped ‘Lucky’ (my big toe) in and immediately I was frozen. I have no idea how I am going to survive the swim. I lasted about twenty minutes on Friday and spent the next four hours chattering (and picking nasty seaweed out of my hair!).

Basically I think it is safe to say I am, well, screwed. While I might have had grandiose dreams of becoming big on the triathlon scene I think my only goal now is to survive. The same goal I wound up setting for myself when I signed up for the marathon last year. I gotta stop doin’ this. Hopefully this year I will be swamped in January and not go down this path again.

Oh, and can anyone tell me how long each event is in an Olympic Distance triathlon? Or should I just be surprised on the day of the event?

Phantom, Sticky and Lamar

While I was leaving IBM one of my previous teammates threatened me that if he ever came up against me in a competitive situation he was going to spill the beans about Sticky, Phantom and Lamar.  To take a proactive approach on the situation I figured I would air my dirty laundry here beating him to the punch.

I am an only child. (I know, I know, shocker, huh?) Only children have imaginary friends.  Sometimes these friends follow us into adulthood. Sometimes (as it went with Lamar) our real friends are forced to acknowledge our imaginary friends when they almost sit on them in the cab on the way to the airport.

Phantom and I have been friends since I was a kid. Phantom is a hand puppet so he is naturally very expressive, wearing his heart at the end of my sleeve so to speak. With Phantom I always know where I stand. I can tell when he is happy, when he’s sad and when he is uncomfortable. Phantom can bite and pinch too – a presumed quality of the hand puppet.

Sticky, or ‘Msr. Stick’ is French. I think he used to be American because I found him in Texas in ’99 but when I took him to Paris in ’03 he fell so in love with the city that he asked to become a citizen of France. (Finding him a birth certificate and social security card was a real b!tch!) Sticky is very pretentious and incredibly aggressive. He went after Mr. Engineer Boyfriend once – I think it was partly jealousy. Sticky and Phantom DO NOT get along, as Joger can attest to.

Lamar is the baby of the “family”. Joger insists Lamar is African American because of the name but being that he is invisible I don’t think race really applies. Lamar has no arms and no legs. Lost ‘em in the War. (Not sure which War but hey, I’m just repeating what he told me.) His lack of mobility makes him very needy but also really easy to take care of because I can leave him places and know he will be there when I get back. Lamar is Joger’s favorite. Joger used to let him sit on his lap when we would fly to Sao Paulo.

I personally see nothing wrong with hob-knobbing with the invisible.  And to be honest I don’t think Joger sees anything wrong with it either. If you haven’t noticed he is all over all three of my imaginary friends. He knows their name and will oftentimes ask how they are doing. (He used to keep in touch with Lamar over e-mail but since Sticky refuses to help him type anymore that has all fallen by the wayside.) So maybe Joger and I are like two peas in a pod. So take that as a warning my dear Roger (I mean Joger) – you spill the beans on P, S and L to a potential customer and I will make sure to bring up you and Lamar’s little “relationship”.

And yeah, I still believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

*Name changed to protect the innocent.

My Blackberry Can Do That!

Or at least it could have I think – that is before I lost it in the “transition” a little over a week ago. 

You see up until about six days, three hours and forty-two minutes ago I was a self-proclaimed blackberry addict. I mean who isn’t? Yes, I suffered through the dirty looks, the arguments, the injuries and, as of late, the withdrawal but through it all I was a devout “blackberrier”. In my prime I could text with the best of them; could easily pull off the “look and type” – maintaining eye contact with customers while making dinner plans under the desk. Yes, I could even look up phone numbers while driving…oh, I mean while parked on the side of the road. Yeah, I would always pull off to look for those numbers. Totally.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and so upon my resignation from IBM I was forced to turn over my beloved blackberry. Kinda in the same way that one might rip a helpless puppy from the hands of its owner and cart it off to some cold, dark shelter. But oh well, I’m not bitter – nope, totally not bitter. (Twitch, pace, grit teeth) I heart IBM. 

So fast forward a couple days and there I am at the AT&T store picking up my new 16GB (white to match my dog) iPhone. I was immediately overwhelmed by this feeling of phone inadequacy. Everything I touched on the iPhone just didn’t feel right, I missed the track ball that stopped working when it rained and the two-day delay in receiving data. I missed that screaming do-do-do! sound when my phone cut out. I missed the brick game.  This new iPhone was trying to fill the void left by my blackberry and it just wasn’t cuttin’ it. Anything that Mr. Engineer Boyfriend, or the sixteen gazillion other people that asked to play with it, showed me I just frowned, looked away and whispered, if only to myself, “My Blackberry could do that.” Sigh. I think I should talk to someone about this. Take more vitamin E or something.

All things considered there was one thing that I didn’t account for. One comment from an old friend (yes, friend, you know who you are!) who came out of left field to throw some more salt on the wound. To let me know that there is one issue that usurps all the others I was experiencing in the transition to the iPhone. A stigma that is attached to each and every iPhone owner, one that I, (in the same way that I believed no one ever boozed it up in High School) had no idea about.  Something he referred to as (his words, not mine) “iphone douchebaggery”.

Although I do sense a bit of “iPhone envy”, I will share his ideas here because he, the unnamed, is too Web 1.0 (chicken 🙂 )  to create his own blog and everyone, even this guy, is entitled to his opinion. 

* Note, I have done some minor editing to remove the 42 instances of the “f” word.  

why the iphone is not cool – it’s too big to fit in your pocket, and as such it is necessary to carry it around in your hand, then when you sit down you have to place it infront of you on the table for everyone else to see that you have an iPhone (you’ll find yourself doing this – a lot) just so you can let everyone know that you can check the temperature in Lusambo in the Democratic Republic of Congo, if you really wanted to.  The placing of ‘large’ electronic items infront of you is unfortunately a key indicator of what I like to call ‘douchebaggery’…  it’s up there with people who pretend to be freelance something or others in coffee shops (or other eating establishments that tolerate people bumming their wifi for hours) who sit way too close to the line and make it freaking obvious that they are being creative by sighing and looking at the Word doc on their Mac…  Apple products have become too ubiquitous and far too closely associated with douchebags to be cool.  I will not be buying an iPhone…  blackberry’s cooler… especially when accompanied by “oh flipping heck” when an email comes through…  indicating I’m carrying this because I have to, works paying for the thing and I’m not going to buy my own phone too.  

This iPhone has become like a really pretty white shiny thorn that does all kinds of cool stuff including, but not limited to, taking pictures, playing music, twittering, giving me that weather in Lesotho, in my side. Whatever, it isn’t the worst.

“All About Me”

…but really nothing about me. Nope, this one is all about none other then my mother, a.k.a. “Ma Self”. And no, contrary to popular belief, she was not an only child like myself, but rather the youngest child, the baby of the family.  Not really sure which is worse – you will have to ask Mr. Engineer Boyfriend that one 🙂

To kinda sorta set the stage let me just fill you in on a few things about the one and only Ma Self. She is an art teacher by trade and an artist by nature. I don’t mean to stereotype or anything but for me this meant I grew up with an interesting mix of business savvy (Pa Self) and um, a complete and utter lack of respect for “the man” (Ma Self).

Yep, it has been Ma Self who has always encouraged me to give up my day job and become a lifeguard. “You always loved the water!” And Ma Self who gave me a “tie dye” kit for my college graduation.  Ma Self who paid an animal psychic to connect with Bill the dog (who left us in ’02) to try and understand how she could have raised us better – sibling rivalry and all. Yes, and it was Ma Self who named the dog, “Bill”.

It was a shock of course to Ma Self when I graduated college and instead of living off the land somewhere went to work for the biggest of all corporations – IBM. It was a shock to me eight years later when she decided to trade in the pens and pencils and take up Powerpoint. Yes, Powerpoint. And not just any version of Powerpoint – but Powerpoint 2007.  (She is way too advanced for all the other versions, her words, not mine.)

So over the course of 2007 and well into 2008 Ma Self took a one credit hour course in Powerpoint. I of course feel as though I took that same course – if only virtually. Yes, while the final deliverable was just a  single (as in one) presentation she could present to her class named “All About Me”, to my mother, the “Blank Template” one finds when selecting New -> Presentation stood as an empty canvas; one just waiting to be painted with jumping dogs, waving hands and ringing bells.

Yes, by the time it was all said and done Ma Self managed to create a presentation that broke every single rule one could think of in the corporate world. It had animation, it had sound effects, it was choreographed, there were different fonts, different transitions…there was the fact that it was 2.1GB and would crash everyone elses laptop except for my own trusty rusty T60. But the one thing it wasn’t was ugly. Although I can safely say her “movie” (I will refer to it that way now since it was way more a production then a presentation would not have flown at any conference to which I have been a presenter it was certainly a true representation of her – imagined, creative and inspired. I wouldn’t have expected anything less.

And so here are just a couple of my personal favorites – some of the smaller ones I could actually take a screen capture of.

(The “I Have Lived in 6 States Slide” is completely animated. With the initial click, a John Deere tractor zooms in from the right to point to Illinois AND makes a honking sound.  Another click and a spinning Alamo lands with a splat in the state of Texas. Click again and a few bowling pins appear in a checkerboard pattern over Ohio. Moments later a crab claws its way onto the screen and so on and so on. This process takes about ten minutes to complete and when it is all said and done the slide alone = 540MB, generally crashing Powerpoint)

(The “My Daughter Angela” slide. This one starts with a drumroll. And some flickering of the background image before a rather unflattering picture of me with a beer and a nasty green background appears on the screen. Oh and did I mention the name “Angela” goes screeching, yes, screeching in from the left and then slides back to the right.)

The Power of Potato

Today at work we started talking science. My only contribution to the conversation was the fact that I once made a potato clock. The funny thing is that the moment the word “potato clock” rolled off my tongue I had this revelation. Why, if we can run a clock off a potato, can we not run a car off a potato? Hmmm. Makin’ you think, huh? 

I think my idea was immediately shot down at work but I brought the idea home to ponder it over with Mr. Engineer Boyfriend figuring if he saw promise in my proposal we could retire early. He of course did not. But we did spend the next few hours debating it because I wasn’t going down without a fight.

The reason was of course, because M.E.B. made the mistake early on of saying, and I quote:

One f*ing potato could maybe get you five feet OR run your radio for maybe a second. That is the most ludicrous f*ing thing I have ever heard.

Huh, so you’re saying there’s a chance…

As you can assume I immediately jumped all over this five foot thing – the ‘ole brain started working. I imagined finding a way to grow bigger potatoes. If a standard Chicago potato could go five feet how far could an Idaho potato go? Could I somehow grow a three-hundred pound potato that could go three-hundred times the distance? And that begged the question, how would one get a three-hundred pound potato on the back of a Toyota Prius? A ha! I would mash it! I would mash hundreds and thousands of potatoes and stuff them in a box and then sell “potato boxes” on the side of the road. A mashed potato had to be way more mobile then a potato shaped potato. Genius!

Are you kidding me?!? (M.E.B. was getting frustrated now) Have you ever tried to stuff a bunch of mashed potatoes in a box? (Um actually, no M.E.B, I haven’t….but I am quite intrigued that you obviously have!) Potatoes expand (blah blah blah some engineering speak here) when they are mashed and mixed with milk. Yuck! Who puts milk in their potatoes?!? – whatever.

Mashed and Monster potatoes aside all I kept coming back to was the fact that said potato could power my car about “five feet”. He said it. I think you all heard it. With that as my inspiration I went to work on what may soon be in every Physics’ text book around the globe, the theory of spud-taneous combustion.  And the following equation that I plan to submit to the EPA or the Emissions’ people or the Department of Energy (whoever deals with this stuff) soon, explains it all to the layman.

(*** In order to present this internationally I have decided to perform all calculations using the metric system)

P = Idaho (big) potato
p = Chicago (standard) potato

P = .7112 meters
p = .3048 meters

My house to the nearest Panera (no radio) = 3862.43 meters
Radio multiplier .75
My house to the nearest Panera (with radio) = 2896.8225 meters

Number of Potatoes (P) to Panera (no radio) = 3862.43 / .7112 = 5430.86
Number of Potatoes (p) to Panera (no radio) = 3862.43 / .3048 = 12672.01

Now if we are selling Potatos for a penny a piece we’re looking at a mere $5.43 to get to Panera. You can’t beat that! Or wait, is it $54.30. Crap. I need a calculator. Either way someones’ makin’ money! I think we all can agree its time to buy futures in potatoes!

(*** Futher note, since I started writing this M.E.B. has continued to argue with me on this idea (which makes me laugh really really hard at the fact he is continuing to research this on the Internet as we speak) and now insists that it allegedly takes five potatoes to power an LCD watch so there is no way a potato could get me five feet. But whatever, he said it. No take backs.)

Securing your Bookmarks in Lotus Connections

IBM Lotus Connections, by its very nature was designed with minimal access control. As a result, anyone who chooses to share information across the five services is well aware of the fact that what they chose to blog about, comment on, and bookmark is immediately visible to their entire social network. It would almost seem a bit impractical to impose limitations on a tool whose sole purpose is to facilitate open communication and in IBMs’ words not mine “collaboration without boundaries”. For better or worse this is how the product was designed. Don’t shoot the messenger.

That being said it can oftentimes be hard to teach an old dog a new trick. Or to put it more simply, tell one of those guys you run across in a meeting who has to tell you all about the time he fed punch cards through a mainframe (or whatever it is you do with punch cards) how to use the “world wide web”. Old-school mainframe guy aside, there will undoubtedly also be the wet blanket who insists on ruining all the fun by enforcing some structure or policing of all content. Either way, one will oftentimes face an uphill battle when selling Lotus Connections.

Now I am not condoning any of the aforementioned behavior but I am a technical sales specialist and so as a result do realize that sometimes, just sometimes, you gotta do what gotta do to make the customer happy, including grumpy guy in the back row, and just sell some darn software.

So in this post I will allude to a possible solution for one common use case that is not immediately addressed with an “out of box” Connections installation but can be with just a slight bit of creativity. I am just finishing a whitepaper with a colleague of mine that will be out shortly that will go into great detail and be a “how to” of sorts but in the interim you will just have to give it a go on your own. The following describes a common request by many an IBM customer:

Company XYZ, is a large retail establishment that runs a “Vendor Portal” supporting multiple vendors. In an effort to attract additional vendors by being all hip and trendy, Company XYZ has decided to add a social networking capability to their Portal – specifically a bookmarking and tagging service. Queue Lotus Connections Dogear Service. The challenge, however, is that no vendor is allowed to see the bookmarks created by another vendor. Yikes, now how are they gonna do that?

…By first familiarizing themselves with the concept of a portlet, with all its bells and whistles (i.e. the ability to create a single portlet application that can be customized to display different content to different people), and to an IDE called WebSphere Portlet Factory.

You see, the service within Lotus Connections that does have a bit of an access-control model is the Communities Service. And oh! Communities have bookmarks! So, what one could do is to create a community for each Vendor and then moderate this Community so that only Vendor A is allowed into Vendor A’s community and so on and so forth. Now as an employee of Vendor A, when I dogear something, it will only be added to the community to which I am a member. Therefore I am not “sharing” bookmarks with another vendor. Genius! And since a Community is represented by a uuid and a portlet can be access controlled, customized and personalized I can do some fancy pants coding on my portlet to guarantee there is never any cross-contamination of bookmarks. Problem solved!

The only piece missing is understanding how to custom develop all this. And for that you will have to wait. In the meantime you can check out the samples on the WebSphere Portlet Factory Wiki and just imagine all the cool stuff you can develop with Lotus Connections by just becoming acquainted with the REST Call Builder.

Once we finish the article I will include a link to it here. Stay tuned and happy coding!

Highway (or rather skyway) Robbery

This week I was out in San Jose, CA. (Okay, well if you happen to be my manager I am totally kidding. I was in Chicago the whole week workin’ hard and wishing I was in San Jose. Like, Brrrrrr! It was certainly cold out on the lakefront this week. And Argh!, that damn traffic on the Kennedy!!! Yeah, I was totally in Chicago…) Back in the day I was a regular out there flying the aptly named “nerd-bird” from Austin to San Jose every Sunday and every Friday. Now I just make it there on my own dime. Or dimes as the case may be.

Yep, this week Mr. Engineer Boyfriend, the dog, a whole bunch of computer parts and gadgets (because you never want to leave home without your backup to your backup Cat 5 cable), and I headed the approximately 2163.76 miles to San Jose on American Airlines. The goal of course was to use up some Frequent Flier miles before they become as obsolete as an IBM Stock Option but funnily enough there was one member of the party who just couldn’t be paid for with miles and his name just happened to be “Myles”. Yep, the ‘ole puppers was gonna cost us.

Now I should point out that this wasn’t his first flight of course but it had the potential of becoming his last. I feel it is my civil responsibility to educate all the other thirteen pound dog owners (and yeah, thirteen pounds quickly feels more like forty when said dog deadweights himself in the corner of the carryon bag) to the “dog-stortion” going down in the airline industry today. Read on.

It all begins at the vet. Because everyone needs to get their cut on the whole “flying dog” thing, your local vet will charge you about seventy-five bucks for a printed receipt that shows you just paid two-hundred bucks to get your dog up to date on every vaccination known to man, dog and bird. Luckily, it is good for, oh say, about twelve days; enough to “get you there” but not necessarily “get you back”. Do this one time and one time only. There are many creative ways you can “alter” alleged certificate.

Next there is the purchase of the “doggie vestibule”. For those of you, like my mom, who do everything within their power to avoid buying “name brands” best of luck to you. The airline only certifies the something called the “Sherpa” bag. Somehow the same guys that guide you up Mt. Everest have also created a monopoly in “doggie bags”. And these bags don’t come cheap. Mr. Engineer Boyfriend picked up a “Large” at Petco for $125 and complained about it the entire week. I should point out that allegedly every dog, including dogs much larger then my Myles, love this bag. Myles does not. Paws splayed in every direction a chicken strip would not even lure him into the bag (two French Fries from Burger King finally did the trick). And once inside, Myles whined incessantly. At one point I did go against my better judgment and allow him to stretch his legs (I don’t recommend this!) whereby he let me know what he thought of our little family vacation by leaving a present in the middle of Terminal “L”. My recommendation, drug ‘em.

The coup-de-gras however is the cost of his ticket. As I mentioned before he does not qualify for Frequent Flier miles nor can he use them. (And trust me, I have asked.) The dog flies full-fare. Yes, to stuff my little white dog in a carryon bag and shove him under my seat in the same way that I toss my laptop, ipod and latest romance novel, I pay a mind boggling one-hundred dollars – EACH WAY! Up from the eighty bucks I paid just six months ago (and promised that I would pay when I booked him the ticket in March might I add – still gonna take that one up with American Airlines!!!) All this and he doesn’t even get offered a drink of water, no nasty salty peanut/pretzel mix thing; Myles can’t even pop his cute little head out of the bag for a breather. This my friend is skyway robbery. And you know what, I might happily hand over my hard earned hundred bucks and begin to feel at least slightly sorry for the plight of the airline industry if and only if they focused on a little thing called customer service. Yes, American, I am talking to you, when I pay two hundred dollars to fly my dog on a four hour flight the least you could do is “throw him a bone”.

Christmas in July

*** In honor of the 4th of July I figured I would post an abridged version of a Christmas Letter from back in the day when I actually wrote them. 170 days to go!!! ***

Dear Family and Friends,

So it is finally that time of year again and you should feel quite honored to have made the cut and become the proud recipient of the second annual Christmas Letter. Will there be a third? Will you still be on the distribution list might be another question – and honestly, would you be that offended if you weren’t?

This past year saw the passing of Bill. As a result I felt it was only appropriate to begin by dedicating this years’ Christmas Letter to the memory of our dearly departed brother, Bill. (No tears please, he is in a “happy place” now) Bill was a good dog – obedient, polite, accepting of others…sigh, Bill and I got along so well. But time heals all wounds and even while I am still continuing to pluck Bill hairs out of my wool sweaters and distributing him in IBM offices all over the country (as Ma Self says, “he always loved to travel”) he is being replaced with another sibling – a cat named Pippy, Floissa or Marge. Hmmm, I wasn’t allergic to my last sibling – I wonder what Ma Self is trying to tell me here. So anyway, like have a moment of silence for Bill or something but remember I was their first child and he was always stealing my thunder!

Before I really get into my year in review I just want to clear up a couple of things. For one, I think it is perfectly normal to have imaginary friends – I myself have three. “Sticky” – who is currently living in England after a brief stint in Brazil, “Lamar” – currently studying “law” at Harvard, and “Phantom” who happens to be sitting in the seat next to me which was luckily empty. It is perfectly normal to talk to people that may or may not be there. I think so at least. Okay, let’s move on then.

This was undeniably the year of the “Wawa Pretzel”. I am addicted.  Having such a discerning palette it is oftentimes difficult for people like myself to make such bold statements but then again after coming clean about Sticky et al. exposing you to my unique eating obsessions just seems to come with the territory.  It has been years since I labeled a food a “favorite”.  1998 was the year of the “Potato Leek Soup”, the “Pop-Tart” graced to coveted title in 2001, “Italian Wedding Soup” in ’04… but this year, after one bagel (a favorite that has spanned many decades!) too many, our friend the bagel was “retired” into the “Hall of Fame” alongside  “spaghetti with anything” (‘99), “scrambled eggs with hot dog” (‘90), and the “toaster strudel” of 1980-1985. In search of a replacement “carb” I came across the twisted breaded beauty known as the “Wawa Pretzel” while working in Philadelphia. What a culinary masterpiece! If you are not from Philly (which after consulting my distribution list covers every single one of you!) you may not be familiar with “Wawa”. Think “Sheetz”, “Stuckies” or  “Luckys”?  Still lost?  Well, Wawa is just a gas station with a really “sweet” convenience store with a computerized sandwich maker – it doesn’t get much better then that! Being a local institution and the pretzel being like the state flower or something (where do pretzels come from anyway?) it all just fits.  The pretzel itself is seasonal, I mean it is available 365 days a year but the summer month pretzels are way better – the oppressive humidity keeps ‘em soft to the extent that they almost melt in your mouth. Wintertime can often produce a sub par pretzel with a hard outer skin and dried out insides. The pretzel itself does not fly well as they seem to harden up from the altitude and become as difficult to eat as those rice krispie treats or fat-free chocolate chip cookies that I am so famous for. In all seriousness I can’t say enough positive things about these pretzels; you just have to try one for yourself. In fact next time you are in Philadelphia (and you won’t have to look far as there is a Wawa is on every corner) stop in and grab a pretzel and a computer generated sandwich – tell them Angela sent you, I mean they will have no idea who I am but they will probably be nice about it at least.

Eating habits and intangible friends aside, you are probably beginning to wonder if I actually did anything this past year. I did, I mean I think I did, I just have to consult my blackberry – give me a minute. What a delight that toy is by the way!  I mean it is a tossup between it and the iPod for things I couldn’t live without but that again that would just be a whole other pointless story.

IBM is still the same – still solvent. I think I was home about fifteen days this year — maybe sixteen if you were to count that day I didn’t have to fly out until after eight.  All the traveling has been tiring (and often frustrating) but I have had the opportunity to travel to Brazil and Argentina several times (leaving Brazil with my watch and my passport which is always a good thing), spent a whole lot of time in Las Vegas for better or worse (ooh, that reminds me of a story… cue “Ma Self”, Aunt Norma, Aunt Judy, Cousin Jen, Cousin Rhonda and “Fremont Street Experience”), Philly (yes, the “Wawa”), and San Francisco.  I still don’t really know what I do there but I know it has to do with computers and that I make a difference because every December I get an email from Sam Palmisano letting me that he couldn’t have done it without me and my 300,000 closest friends/co-workers. (By next year it will only be 280,000 I’m sure as there are plans for another “Operation Breakaway” in the New Year! ) As much as I joke, I did really like my team this year and the work so working for IBM isn’t the worst.

And so once again we say goodbye to another year and get ready for new one filled with endless possibilities and limitless material for next years letter – lucky number five.  I wish you all the best this holiday season and in the New Year and hope that you remember to leave cookies by the fireplace for Santa and carrots for Rudolph (he’s a vegetarian) because they have a lot of work to do this Christmas.  Feel free to drop in on me this year, you are always welcome. Take care, be safe and have a Happy Holiday and Happy New Year!

Peace and Love,