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A cold, a dog and a tornado.

Now that I cover a region that goes from the Hudson Bay to the Rio Grande I spend a lot of time traveling.  (Yeah, some things never change.) I have selected Southwest Airlines as my ‘airline of choice’ in a concerted effort to avoid all things O’Hare and NOT because of the fact that I like them ‘cuz I don’t.  At all. (It all points back to ’02 when I was an IBM consultant there and the combination of a jumpy velcro wall, some minor swear words, a prostitute and several late night runs to IHOP forever tarnished my impression of everyone’s (but mine) favorite airline) Unfortunately, my desire to avoid the big “O” came back to haunt me. You see, last week, Southwest Airlines gave me the flu.

Yeah, yeah, maybe it was the four-city tour through the heartland that Jamie forced me to go on in an effort to keep me from voting, the three hours of sleep I got on Thursday night or perhaps it was just because it was the first Friday in November, and I always get sick in November…whatever it was, I got sick and I blame Southworst. (Free drink coupon anyone?)

What was truly fascinating about this ‘sickness’ though was not the disease itself (calling it a disease seems so much more dramatic) but how my dog, Myles handled it. OMG! What a sweety-pup!

Starting Saturday morning (after my trip to the gym where I rather unsuccessfully tried to ‘sweat it out’) and straight through to Sunday night (and four hours of ‘Storm Chasers’ whereby nary a tornado was spotted) Myles never left my side – not even to eat. He didn’t bring me a bone, he didn’t bring me a squeaky toy – he just curled up and pressed his hot little water bottle body up against my side. When I coughed, Myles would whine and lick my face until I stopped.

Isn’t that what dogs happen to do when they know that death is eminent you ask? Oh yeah, it totally is.  So all weekend, while half of me was so touched by this outpouring of doggie emotion the other half of me kept wondering if Myles knew something that I didn’t know. Would I be around next Sunday to see the Storm Chasers finally catch their tornado? Would I live to fly to Omaha again?

Alas, come Monday morning the dog was back to dumping his toys on my lap and dragging his dog bowl around the kitchen floor. Guess Myles ‘the Grim Reaper’ just got his signals crossed.

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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”.

Slightly Used Dog Toys $5. OBO.

Tonight I started to go about selling stuff on craigslist. Its been a slow Saturday night – nothing good was on Dateline. For the most part I just want to get rid of this annoying IKEA lamp that I can’t seem to find a home for. And when you live in a 900 sq. foot apartment in the middle of the city with “Mr. Engineer Boyfriend” and his six computers and four video game consoles (oh and did I mention a dog?!?) there is no room for superfluous stuff. I mean lets be honest, in the kitchen cabinet, stuffed next to the spaghetti pot (that I have never used) I have a plastic case of 4 hard-drives. And yes, I know. “It’s for security reasons”.

But after entertaining myself for way too long selling crap on craigslist and being further entertained checking out the crap that others were selling on craigslist this lovely Saturday night I got up to grab myself a Gatorade (purple of course) from the fridge and tripped over…well first I tripped over the dog… but then a “rawhide twisty bone thingy”. Or at least what used to be a “rawhide twisty bone thingy”. And this got me thinkin’. Perhaps I had the energy for just one more post…

Slightly Used Dog Toys $5. OBO. City of Chicago.
Approximately 14 Bone Nubs. Some in better shape then others. Of course these are (or were) small dog bones but a small dog with a big heart. Hey, when you buy jeans you pay a premium for the broken-in look – the same should apply when shopping for rawhide. You dog will thank you.

6 (oh okay Myles, 5. Geez!) Stuffed animals. An elephant, a frog (is that what that thing is?!?), an otter, a cat (of course!) and a duck. Some are missing arms, some legs or wings (whatever the case may be), some both. Don’t let this dissuade you, all are capable of soaring through the air at high speeds and then being “retrieved”.

One super (yes Myles its going) annoying red squeaky ball with spikes that seems to smell like whatever catnip would smell like to a dog. Perhaps your dog is a little more mature and will be able to handle it better then my Myles. (Yes, Myles when you turn 3 we can think about getting you one again) If I hear one more squeak from that thing, followed by incessant whining while on a conference call I am going to post a small white Havanese on craigslist! (Just kidding sweety-pups, mommy loves you.)

Huh, funny. Someone else must have just had a similar idea since I just saw a post for 75 used tennis balls. I hope this doesn’t take away some of my potential buyers.

Bow-lingual: The next Translation Server?

Two things happened to me last week that prompted me to fritter away a Sunday afternoon blogging. The first was an excellent post by a friend of mine around the translation capabilities of Lotus Connections. The second was the discovery, or re-discovery, of the “bow-lingual” – a “Ma Self” original (circa Christmas 2005) – while cleaning out my desk over the weekend. “Bowlingual” as described by my Engineer Boyfriend is a total hoax. The “Magic 8 Ball of the Animal Kingdom” he declares it. Designed to “randomize responses or comments whenever it heard anything approximating a bark” (we will prove this wrong shortly, see below) — who would buy such a ridiculous contraption!?! (FYI – As of Sunday “Ma Self” vehemently denies purchasing said “bowlingual”.) In fact Engineer Boyfriend was so incensed (read intrigued) by this device that he snatched it out of my unsuspecting hands and stole off into his little engineer cave to begin assembling it. I didn’t hear from him for another 15 minutes until he returned and instructed me to “Strap it on him and make him bark”.  “Him” being Myles – our test subject who was completely content chewing on my toothbrush.

For easily the next forty-five minutes the two of us grown adults ran around the apartment like two crazy people, jumping up and down, making our best “woof!” and “bark!” sounds, running into the hallway and knocking on the front door, pretending to act scared, surprised, shocked. Nothing worked. Myles occasionally looked up from my toothbrush but overall kept a tight lip – i.e. he didn’t bark. 

Just about to give up, I grabbed a sausage treat. I dangled it in front of Myles’ nose. He started Bark-Yelling at the top of his little lungs, and at that moment, given the situation, I knew exactly what he was saying, I didn’t need “bowlingual” to interpret. “Gimmmmmeeeeee sausage! Sausage! Sausage! I neeeeeed sausage! Pant. Pant. Pant. Oh man, sausage.”

Did “bowlingual” agree?  We rushed to grab the transmitter device (yes, there is both the neck contraption for the dog, and the receiver for the owner) to see. After about two minutes of “thinking” (Gotta wonder if behind the scenes this thing is runnin’ Portal or something!) “bowlingual” told us the what Myles had actually said was “I’m scared. Get away from me”.  Someone was actually able to patent this thing?!?

Long story short (cause we continued to waste an entire weekend playing with this thing) here is what I am wondering. Given the relative inaccuracy of the bowlingual – do we at IBM feel there is anyway that we could improve upon it? Possibly bring it “in house” and give it a “blue wash”. Make it so incredibly hard to use but yet so completely precise that not only could we translate our software into our traditionally served languages but also to those who are currently unserved. Possibly to our friends in the animal kingdom.
In fact after a few tweaks on the current “bowlingual” I was able to conduct the following interview.

Angela: Myles what does “dogear” means to you?

Myles: Pant. Pant. (He was thinking here). Baaaaaarkk. Woof. Woof. Bark, arf, arf, growl, bark, bark. Woooooof. (He had a lot to say).

Bowlingual: Myles said. Dogear? Dogear?!?! Are you making fun of my ears. I am so tired of people picking on my damn ears. Lay off the ears!