Friday, March 16, 2018

TV Binge Review - Jessica Jones Season 2

Marvel Comics' Jessica Jones is back on Netflix with the recently released Season 2!

  Jessica Jones’ second season is the latest Netflix\Marvel superhero collaboration and was released this past weekend. While it has taken me a week or longer to watch the previous 6 13-hour productions from Netflix/Marvel (and less for the 8 episode Defenders) once I started watching Jessica Jones on Saturday afternoon I could not stop. I watched the first six episodes on Saturday and the remaining seven on Sunday despite losing an hour sleep to daylight savings time. As the ‘too-long/didn’t read’ crowd may surmise I found the series to be stellar and I put it as a narrow second place behind the first Daredevil series for how I rank the eight Netflix\Marvel series produced so far.

  Jessica is running her private investigation agency and gets some information from her adoptive sister Trish Walker which is a lead to a link between the car accident that killed her family and her subsequent super powers. Meanwhile she is approached by a character called the ‘Whizzer’ who claims to have super speed but only when scared. Jones puts off the Whizzer as a fake but finds out that he does have his super speed moments before he is murdered which Jones links to the medical facility where she vaguely remembers being kept and experimented on and the ‘accidental’ death of the doctor running the facility.

  At this point the story looks like a pretty routine hero-villain story as Jones is hunting down the super powered being that is hunting other super powered beings (including Jones) that were treated by a mysterious IGH corp. At least it was pretty routine until the murderer is found to be Jones’ own mother who has even more super strength than Jones but is hampered by an unstable mentality that leads to fits of violence to anything that upsets her or threatens her husband (IGH head experimenter Karl Mallus) who has taken care of her and mostly successfully moderates her bouts of rage.

  The story then weaves Jones’ conflict between bringing her mother to justice and trying to understand her motivations as well as get her the help she needs with the other subplots that center around series regulars that want to use powered beings or gain super powers themselves. High powered attorney Jeri Hogarth discovers she has ALS and tries to find a rumored IGH experimentee that gained ‘healing’ powers to cure herself. Trish Walker gets addicted to a performance enhancing inhaler used by ‘Nuke’ in the first season. When the inhaler runs out and she can’t reproduce the contents, Walker kidnaps Mallus and tries to make him alter her DNA to give her powers. The experiment seems to fail but there is a hint at the end that Walker may have gained the super reflexes of her comic book ‘Hellcat’ persona.

  The show was less a super hero series than a show about people with powers trying to deal with them. Once the murderer was revealed to be Jones’ mentally ill mother there wasn’t any villain although season one bad guy Killgrave did make a one-episode appearance in Jones’ visions when she become too much like her mother for comfort. The show was about a group of dysfunctional people with and without super powers whose actions oscillate from being helpful or incredibly destructive to each other to satisfy short-term goals.

  The pace of the episodes was excellent. All the previous Netflix/Marvel shows have three or four episodes of downtime where the plot slows to a crawl while we explore some aspect of the main characters past in snail-paced flashbacks. Jessica Jones had one bottle episode which was an extended flashback to explain her mother’s motivations but the other 12 episodes all worked together to advance the plot. Except for cameos from the petty theif ‘Turk’ and lawyer Foggy Nelson from Daredevil there was no crossover to the rest of the Netflix series. I thought this helped the show keep a lively pace as too many characters from other shows tend to lead to extra character development and explanation that slow the plot. The lack of crossover left more time to delve into the motivations and actions of Hogarth, Walker, and Jones’ private investigator assistant Malcom.

  Another aspect of the show that compared favorably with the recent Netflix/Marvel shows was the complete lack of the countless ninja fighters that infected Daredevil Season 2, Iron Fist, and the Defenders. All three of the shows would take the easy way out from any character conflict by conjuring up dozens or hundreds of ninjas for our heroes to battle to get some pointless action scenes (pointless because the supply of ninjas were inexhaustable) and then rush through the characters' individual situations. The ‘no-ninja’ policy forced Jessica Jones’ showrunners to deal with the messes they created for the characters instead of dissolving them into ninja-mania.

  My favorite side piece was Hogarth’s revenge against the IGH nurse Inez and her ‘healer’ friend Shane. The pair con Hogarth into getting Shane out of prison and putting the pair up at her penthouse apartment while Shane is healing her. Hogarth feels like she is being cured only to discover the pair has stolen everything they could and split. Hogarth finds out where the pair live and convinces Inez that she has evidence of Shane conning multiple women and Inez is about to be left as a victim to take the fall for the theft of Hogarth’s possessions. She seems convincing to me and especially Inez, who accepts a gun from Hogarth and shoots Shane while Hogarth reports the gunshot to the police. I expect to see Hogarth cured from her ALS at some point and her conniving performance makes me think the character could carry her own series if needed.

  The series ended with very few loose ends but enough lingering conflicts to set the stage for a third season. Jessica is left distanced from former assistant Malcom and friend/sister Trish but has a new love interest in building superintendent Oscar and an attachment to his young son Vido to set the stage for a possibly revenge filled third season. The only Netflix/Marvel series scheduled are Luke Cage season 2, Daredevil season 3, and Iron Fist season 2. If they can bring back the same showrunners for Jessica Jones I expect there will be a season 3 sooner rather than later given the high quality of this recent series.

Friday, March 9, 2018

On The Road Again

  A little more than two months ago my contract ended at the place I was programming at in Ames. I didn’t have another job lined up and had resolved to be a bit choosy in picking my new job with the end result hopefully to be making closer to the incredibly generous rate I was being paid in Ames and working closer to Marshalltown than the 60 mile commute to Des Moines I had in the past few years.

  In order to let the world of recruiters know I was available I updated my resume on and changed my status on LinkedIn to ‘looking for work’. Almost immediately recruiting companies started making contact with me. Most of the jobs openings were what I considered low-paying ‘contract to hire’ jobs with no benefits with the idea that the promise of being hired after six months to a year will make up for the low rate.

  I explained to the recruiters that my salary range was higher than the openings and also explained that that my range was subject to change. That was good enough for most of them. One recruiter submitted me for a direct hire position but would not accept my explanation about not considering a particular contract to hire position. The same recruiter wrote to me two weeks later to ask about the contract to hire position and I replied asking if he heard anything about the direct hire position he had submitted me for. I got a reply asking me if I would talk to his supervisor about the contract to hire position.

  I said OK and talked to the supervisor in the afternoon. The supervisor told me that he didn’t understand why I wouldn’t consider the contract to hire position because he had ‘been in this business a long time’ and they were offering the going rate. I couldn’t resist asking how old the supervisor was. He was 32 which meant that I had been programming before he had been born and we probably had vastly different ideas about what ‘a long time was’ (he has been a recruiter for 7 years which may be a long time for being a recruiter but I wouldn’t think so).

  The supervisor and I weren’t going to agree but when I asked why I didn’t get any feedback about the direct hire job he said he was going to call his contact at the company in the next week and apologized for the ‘mis-communication’ which was really non-communication since there would have to be a communication in the first place for a ‘mis-communication’ to have taken place. I heard back from the recruiter the next week saying the position had already been filled which tells me that this recruiter had no relationship with the company except to spitball resumes in their direction or else he maybe would have known how the hiring process was getting along. I haven’t heard from the recruiter or the supervisor since which means I haven’t had any time wasted by them which is a positive in my book.

  When you deal with the recruiters of the world (or at least in Central Iowa) you get a good feel for who has relationships with the hiring companies and who is just throwing resumes at companies. Most of the recruiters are trying to get candidates for a few jobs at the same companies. When only one recruiter is mentioning a company that is a good sign they have a personal relationship and you will be considered more carefully if they submit you. By the middle of February I had four in person interviews and two phone interviews in the span of two weeks. All the face to face interviews went well enough and three of them were for what I would consider top-shelf companies that had good pay and interesting work. I thought I did well in the interviews where I was asked concrete questions (solving deadlocks, dealing with an unforeseen issue) and less well where I was asked questions where the right answer was some buzzword that I wasn’t familiar with. I felt the buzzword type of questions were trying to see of someone my age was up on newer technologies since they were almost always brought up by younger interviewers.

  I decided that I would want to work for three of the four companies I had interviewed with and would accept an offer from any of them given the right compensation. The only problem was that the companies are all 60 miles away in Des Moines. I had a phone interview with a company in Grinnell that was 45 miles away and had the perk of being able to work from home two days a week but they were deliberate in their hiring process and had scheduled a face to face interview for a week after the other interviews.

  The next week my face to face interview in Grinnell got postponed for a week but a recruiter called with a job opening in Marshalltown. We talked in Wednesday and scheduled an interview for Friday. The only problem was I got a job offer on Friday morning from a company in Des Moines. I said I wanted to take till Monday to think it over which was accepted. I told the people in Marshalltown about my situation during the interview but they told me that the process would take at least two weeks to determine if an offer would be made or even if a second round of interviews was going to be necessary.

  The interview went well enough and I let both the Marshalltown and Grinnell recruiters know that I had to make a decision on Monday. I didn’t hear from anyone so I decided to accept the job I was offered and take myself out of the running for the other jobs. Did I make the right call? I’ll never know. I do know that I was concerned with being the second choice from the other jobs and not having any job after interviewing for a bunch of top-shelf jobs.

  There was a third option that I didn’t pursue which was to accept the job and renege on the deal if a better offer had come along. From a cold analytical standpoint this was the correct option to take as long as I didn’t mind giving my word and going back on it. For me this was not an option. I’ve accepted jobs in the past and then gotten counter offers to remain where I was and increased offers from other companies and increased offers from other jobs. I’ve never gone back on my word and never regretted it either. I like being able to go to sleep not thinking about having broken my word. Also almost every job I’ve had has either provided me extra income after leaving or new skills to make me more valuable to the next job and I don’t expect this job to be an exception, The only downside is that I am back to the hour long commute each way which is 40 minutes longer per day than the commute to Ames and an hour longer than the commute to my living room if I could have gotten a work-at-home job.

Unlike Willie Nelson I am not looking forward to being on the road again, perhaps because while Willie will be in places that he's never been, I will be on the same stretch of asphalt over and over and over...

Friday, March 2, 2018

In The Fall

  When I last checked in to describe the progress of my stock market forays using my self-directed 401k along with my Found Money Fund or FMF (money I get from secondary programming jobs, chess coaching, etc.…) it was just before Christmas and I was of the opinion that the stock market was primed for a fall that I didn’t know when and where it would occur. Since then the stock market reached record highs in late January before dropping 10% in 2 week stretch and settling around 4% off its previous highs.

  My Found Money Fund followed this same pattern, hitting an all-time high in profit and assets between January 26th and February 1st and then dropping 7% in the next week before retracing to a 3.7% loss over the rest of the month. Losing the 7% was especially sad as it represented a 44% drop in my FMF profit which happily did not turn into a loss. All in all the FMF is back where it was in the beginning of January with heavy investments in the three pillars AT&T (T), Phillip Morris (PM)), and Coca-Cola (KO)) with a minor position in real estate trust KO). What all four stocks have in common is dividends ranging from 3.5% to 11% a share with the three pillars having raised their dividends every year for the past 10 (PM) to 50 (KO) years. Fidelity automatically reinvests the dividends for me and when the market is down those dividends are able to purchase more shares. The FMF uses the classic ‘buy and hold’ strategy with minimal option plays. When my pillar stocks were at year highs I used my excess cash to play my option game with Intel through most of 2017, netting $600 and 3.5 shares from reinvested dividends in profit from November 2016 to November 2017.

  Once Intel made its big jump to over $50 a share it became less attractive to me. My attention turned to AT&T whose stock price has trended downwards primarily due to a delay in getting permission from the government to complete its merger with Time-Warner. In my last FMF post I displayed how I netted 2.5% over 5 weeks buying 200 shares of T along with an accompanying option sell. When that option expired I turned around and bought 200 more shares of T at 38.54 on December 18th with a $150 discount for selling an option to sell the shares on January 23rd for $38.50. My ace in the hole was that T was issuing a 50 cent dividend on January 9th so if the shares held their price my option would be called after 3 weeks and if the price fell I would get the dividend for myself. T rose over 39 a share at the beginning of 2018 but dropped under $38.50 by January 9th and I collected the $100 dividend. The stock then dropped to $37 and I was able to buy my options back for $3 and sell a new set of options expiring on February 23rd but this time I was only able to get an extra $87. Since then T has dropped even further to a little over $35 and I was again able to buy my options back for a fraction of the cost. At this point I am ‘stuck’ with 200 shares of T showing a paper loss of $33 at last Friday’s close of 36.72. I used the ‘air quotes’ around the word stuck because as soon as T rebounded over 37 I made $44 by selling the option to sell these shares at $39 up to April 6th. In this case I am leaving some option money on the table in the hopes of selling the stock for an extra 50 cents a share with the higher strike price. If the stock drops again I will buy the option back for a dollar or two and be ready to collect another dividend on April 9th, when I expect to be able to sell an option for $38.5 to further lower my break-even point and until then I can collect the 50 cent dividend every three months.

12/18/2017Buy 200 T @ 38.5452-7713.99
12/18/2017Sell 2 T Option @38.5 (.84)
Expiring 1/26/2018
1/19/2018.50 dividend payable 2/1/2018100
1/23/2018Buy 1 T Option @38.5 (.02)
Expiring 1/26/2018
1/24/2018Buy 1 T Option @38.5 (.01)
Expiring 1/26/2018
1/25/2018Sell 2 T Option @38.5 (.46)
Expiring 2/23/2018
2/20/2018Buy 2 T Option @38.5 (.02)
Expiring 1/26/2018
2/26/2018Sell 2 T Option @39 (.25)
Expiring 4/6/2018
Total (If option is exercised)467.326.06%
Break even price36.69

  My self-directed Fidelity 401k saw a wider swing hitting an 8% drop but rebounding to with a half percent of its peak at the close last Friday. The drop and rebound were more pronounced because my largest holding is Apple (AAPL)which went from a peak of $180 to $150 in the two week correction span. I bought 100 shares of AAPL on December 26th and on January 24th. The December buy has been an exercise in buying back my options to sell them again at a higher strike price but with the stock tanking there was no longer a market for these options. The January buy was meant to collect a quick three day profit on an option but the timing was awful being right before the correction. This was a test of me and my system of grabbing small amounts of cash from short term covered calls. I didn’t panic but instead bought my options back for pennies on the dollar, collected a small dividend (63 cents or a third of a percent) on February 9th, and waited. When the Apple rebounded to 165 I sold the option to sell the stock at 177.50 five weeks in advance for $1.50 a share which sounds impressive but was a fraction of what I was collecting before. Since then, Apple has caught an updraft and is over $179 and has yet again set an all-time high this week. I used the updraft to collect an extra $77 by extending the options an extra week. My patience seems to have been rewarded but my decisions will look silly if the stock tanks before April 6th. It is a fact that I would have collected way more for the option by being even more patient and waiting an extra week.

12/26/2017Buy 100 AAPL @ 170.0457-17009.52
12/26/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @170 (1.62)
Expired 12/29/2017
1/2/2018Sell 1 AAPL Option @172.5 (1.06)
Expiring 1/12/2018
1/11/2018Buy 1 AAPL Option @172.5 (2.69)
Expiring 1/12/2018
1/11/2018Sell 1 AAPL Option @177.5 (1.12)
Expiring 1/26/2018
1/22/2018Buy 1 AAPL Option @177.5 (1.49)
Expiring 1/26/2018
1/22/2018Sell 1 AAPL Option @177.5 (4.03)
Expiring 2/2/2018
2/2/2018Buy 1 AAPL Option @177.5 (.04)
Expiring 2/2/2018
2/9/2018.63 dividend payable 2/15/201863
2/14/2018Sell 1 AAPL Option @177.5 (1.50)
Expiring 3/29/2018
2/27/2018Buy 1 AAPL Option @177.5 (5.4)
Expiring 3/29/2018
2/27/2018Sell 1 AAPL Option @177.5 (5.85)
Expiring 4/6/2018
Total (If option is exercised)1311.157.71%
Break Even Price164.39

1/24/2018Buy 100 AAPL @ 175.145-17519.45
1/24/2018Sell 1 AAPL Option @175 (1.62)
Expiring 2/2/2018
2/2/2018Buy 1 AAPL Option @175 (.06)
Expiring 2/2/2018
2/9/2018.63 dividend payable 2/15/201863
2/14/2018Sell 1 AAPL Option @177.5 1.5)
Expiring 3/29/2018
2/27/2018Buy 1 AAPL Option @177.5 (5.4)
Expiring 3/29/2018
2/27/2018Sell 1 AAPL Option @177.5 (5.85)
Expiring 4/6/2018
Total (If option is exercised)891.155.09%
Break Even Price168.59

  With the sudden selloff one of my favorite stocks Exxon (XOM) dropped under $77 a share for the first time in over a year. $77 is a magic number for me because Exxon pays a 77 cent dividend every quarter and a share price of $77 means a healthy 4% return from the dividend alone not even counting the yearly dividend increase that Exxon has provided the past 35 years. On Wednesday February 14th I bought 200 shares of Exxon for 75.62 a share and collected $207 for the option to sell the stock at $75 by Friday February 16th. It was a defensive play designed to give me either a quick half percent profit or have 200 shares of Exxon at an effective price of $74.63 with plenty of upside. Exxon burst over 77 on the 16th and the option was exercised leaving me with a profit of $74.41 for a three day investment.

2/14/2018Buy 200 XOM @ 75.615-15127.95
2/14/2018Sell 2 XOM Option @75 (1.07) Expiring 2/16/2018207.66
2/16/2018Sell 200 XOM @ 75 (option was exercised)14994.7

  I was so pleased with this result that I decided to try it again the next week. On Tuesday February 20th I bought 200 more shares of Exxon at $76.62 and made $133 for the option to sell the stock for $76.50 on Friday the 23rd. The very next day the stock market had a bad day and Exxon dropped under $75. I had an automated sell to buy back my option for $20 and it executed leaving me with $113 and 200 shares of devalued Exxon stock. This did not bother me because Exxon is a money making machine that would still pay better than a 4% dividend for me to hold onto it. I didn’t have to wait long. The next day (the 22nd) Exxon rebounded to over $76 and I made another $96 for option to sell the stock for $76.50 by March 2nd. Since then Exxon has stayed mostly above $76.50 and has even flirted with $80 so once again my profit could have been bigger by waiting an extra day or two. Nothing is certain but it appears that my options will be exercised on Friday leaving me with a profit of $180 (1.18%) for an 11 day investment or in a worst case scenario (aside from a bankruptcy or zombie apocalypse) holding a 4%+ dividend paying stock.

2/20/2018Buy 200 XOM @ 76.5967-15324.29
2/20/2018Sell 2 XOM Option @76.5 (.70) Expiring 2/23/2018133.66
2/21/2018Buy 2 XOM Option @76.5 (.10) Expiring 2/23/2018-20.08
2/22/2018Sell 2 XOM Option @76.5 (.51) Expiring 3/2/201896.81
Total (If option is exercised)180.81.18%
Break Even Price75.60

  The ups and downs of the stock market have become exacerbated by programmed trades that tend to create spirals of activity driving prices up and down. This seems to play in well to my generally conservative strategy of buying stocks for short term gains through the use of covered calls. I seem to have passed the test of the first correction in a couple of years by not panicking and even had plenty of cash on hand to take advantage of the situation by purchasing Exxon on sale to make a quick profit through options of holding at a reasonable price. This events of the last month only underscores to me the importance of sticking with solid companies that have a history of paying and raising dividends. If I was investing in shaky companies that didn’t offer dividends I’d have probably bitten off my fingernails and fingers also this last month.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Movie Review - Black Panther

The highly acclaimed 'Black Panther' is the latest Marvel super hero movie.

  I went to see Marvel’s newest superhero movie ‘Black Panther’ last weekend. While most of the movies I’ve gone to this past year had single digit attendances for the weekend matinees even on the opening weekend the theatre was half full. Unlike almost all the previous Marvel movies, ‘Black Panther’ was a self-contained film with no crossover appearances of other characters in the Marvel Universe except for the obligatory appearance by Stan Lee.

  The movie gives a fairly faithful rendition to Don McGregor’s ‘Panther’s Rage’ story line that appeared in Marvel’s Jungle Action comic of the mid 1970’s. McGregor excelled at showing the current king and Black Panther T’Challa not just as a super hero but as the King of the mythical African nation of Wakanda which is unique for having the planet’s only known reserves of the super-metal Vibranium which can absorb sound, vibration, and kinetic energy. This has made the country exceedingly rich and technologically advanced while remaining largely hidden from the outside world in order not to become a target for Vibranium thieving nations and villains.

  The film starts with a reference to a theft of Vibranium by a man named Klaue (Klaw) and a long ago confrontation between T’Challa’s father and his brother Prince N'Jobu in Oakland. It is revealed that N’Jobu aided Klaue in the theft of the Vibranium for use in helping Africans and their descendants around the world who have been victimized for hundreds of years revolt against their oppressors. The plot then skips ahead to the current time where T’Challa’s father has been killed in the ‘Captain America: Civil War’ movie and T’Challa is ready to take the crown. Wakanda is a land of deep tradition and T’Challa has to fight in ritual combat against any challengers to take his crown which he does. After taking his crown, T’Challa ingests the secret vibranium infused flowers that give him the Black Panther powers and enters the ‘ancestral realm’ where he meets his father.

  At this point the action leaves Wakanda while T’Challa and crew (his lover and chief spy Nakia and chief of guards Okoye aka Dabai Gurira / Michonne from Walking Dead fame) head to South Korea to attempt to capture Klaue and the long ago stolen vibranium. There is a gunfight in a casino and a wild car chase. Klaue gets away with help from Erik Killmonger who is a black ops specialist and Prince N’Jobu’s son which makes him T’Challa’s cousin and part of the royal family.

  When T’Challa gets back to Wakanda he meets with some disdain from the tribal leaders who expected him to return with Klaue but that is trifling compared to his finding out that his father killed his uncle and abandoned his cousin to the streets of Oakland. His real problem comes when Killmonger makes his appearance in Wakanda, exercises his right as a blood relative to challenge T’Challa for the crown and proceeds to beat the living tar out of him before throwing him off a cliff and take over the throne. Naturally T’Challa hasn’t died in his fall from the cliff and he manages to win a final confrontation with Killmonger and retain his throne and decides to bring Wakanda more into the open as a nation and surreptitiously help impoverished African descendants in other nations.

  ‘Black Panther’ is a box office hit and is also receiving critical acclaim. I would place it on the top shelf of the Marvel movies but a cut below 'Thor : Ragnarok' which was more of a fun movie. The plot was easy to follow and the action and fighting scenes were great with the exception of the South Korea street race which I found poorly lit and hard to follow. Killmonger was a true Marvel anti-villain – capable of evil deeds but with a backstory that makes him an understandable and sympathetic character. I especially liked the merging of technology and mysticism in the three visits to the ancestral realm where T’Challa and Killmonger meet their respective parents and discuss their decisions. The ‘morality play’ of keeping Wakanda hidden from the world or using its technological resources to take over the world was the overarching subplot of the movie and handled in a direct manner.

  The morality play is what I found most fascinating about the movie. Before Killmonger takes the throne the royal family seems to be steeped in the tradition of the Wakandan people and the five tribes that were affected by the vibranium metor. T’Challa is content to keep Wakanda’s vibranium and technological prowess hidden from the world as it has been for generations. Killmonger take the throne and decides to arm Africans and their descendants with vibranium powered weapons to take over the world. What struck me was how easily so many of the Wakandan royals discarded their traditions in an attempt to overthrow Killmonger after he attained the throne according to their own traditions. When Killmonger is ready to strike T’Challa a death blow he is stopped by the high priest who offers his life instead. T’Challa’s mother, sister, and Nakia leave Wakanda and bring the secret ‘Black Panther’ herb to a rival tribe in the hopes of overthrowing Killmonger.

  The morality I took from the movie is that people in power will do whatever it takes to keep themselves in power. Killmonger was open about using the Wakandan traditions as a means to getting power but everyone except the royal guards acted the exact same way except being less open about it. T’Challa’s father abandoned his nephew in America because bringing him back to Wakanda would have opened a debate of the use of Wakanda’s power. The royal family’s adherence to tradition comes to a screeching halt when tradition prevents them from holding their power. Only the royal guards followed their tradition of protecting the throne no matter who sat upon it. Everyone thought they were doing what was best for themselves or their country which made a nice parallel to the current day political climate where so many are so convinced they are so right that dissent is vilified rather than ignored or discussed.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Trouble With Harry

These pictures from November, December, and February show Harry's gradual loss of feather cover on his neck...

  I’ve written previously how one of our two cockatiels was killed by Daisy in 2014 when he flew too close to him, leaving us with one cockatiel named Harry. Eventually, Kathy and I decided not to try to get Harry a new cockatiel to be friends with because the process of introducing cockatiels to each other is long and has no guarantee of success. We also found out that while cockatiels are happier when they bond they don’t have to bond with another cockatiel – they can bond with humans as well.

  Since then Harry and I have bonded – every morning during his outdoor time he sits on my finger and I rub his head and feathers for about 20 minutes until he gets bored and ambles over to his play area. It seemed he was happy with the arrangement until last November when I noticed he was getting a bald spot on his neck. I kept an eye on the situation and saw that new feathers would start to grow back and would disappear before transforming from porcupine like quills to actual feathers.

  It seemed that Harry was pulling out his feathers. I looked up cockatiel feather pulling on the Internet and the possible causes ranged from boredom to parasites to sexual frustration to stress to a change in environment to diet. Nothing has changed in Harry’s environment and he seems to relieve his frustration easily enough by rubbing on a cloth toy in his cage like he has dome for years. I saw no evidence of parasites so I went to the Petco in Ames and got some advice, vitamins for his water, some new toys to give him something new to play with and be less bored by, and a spray for his feathers in case he was pulling feathers because of itchy skin.

  I put the new toys in Harry’s cage and play area and gave him vitamins right away but didn’t feel comfortable using the spray because winter has come with a vengeance and the spray warns against letting a sprayed bird get chilly. Harry liked the new toys and didn’t balk at the vitamin infused water but he was still pulling his new feathers out and occasionally some of the existing feathers around his neck.

  Our local vet doesn’t handle birds very much but recommended the small animal hospital at Iowa State University that has veterinarians that specialize in birds. I made an appointment for Harry on January 18th. I filled out an eight page questionnaire about Harry’s habitat, habits, and health and talked with a veterinary student about Harry and the best way to prepare Harry for travel. It wasn’t very warm on the day of Harry’s appointment so I warmed up the car for 20 minutes and put Harry in a cat carrier covered with towels. I put Harry in the passenger seat, removed the towel covering the door of the carrier so he could see me, buckled him in, and off we went.

  Harry handled the trip very well with only a minimum of squawking and we arrived in Ames 45 minutes later at 9am. Harry and I checked in and went to the Avian waiting area until Lynette the vet student brought us into an examination room. Harry stayed in his cage and I waited in the exam room with him until the vet came in and said they would bring Harry to a back room to get blood and stool samples. Harry went to the back and Lynette told me that I could go get lunch because while Harry would quickly generate stool samples in no time it would take over an hour to get enough blood for a sample.

  I went to Wal-Mart and ate lunch at Jimmy Johns and got back to the veterinary office an hour after I left. After a few minutes I was ushered back to the exam room and met with Lynette the vet student and two of the doctors. The doctors said Harry had no parasites and was in generally good health except that he weighed 90 grams which was a few grams overweight (90 grams is 3¼ ounces) and that his feathers were darker and had less spring than they would like. They attributed this to his diet of cockatiel food from the Wal-Mart which they said contained almost all fatty seeds and recommended a pellet based diet and even gave me some samples and some instructions on how to wean him off his seeds and onto the pellets because just like people, cockatiels prefer fatty foods over healthy pellet based foods.

  The doctors told me that Harry’s throat swab and stool sample both had high concentrations of yeast which led them to the conclusion that Harry had a yeast infection in his throat which was causing itching and his feather pulling. I was told the samples had been sent to the lab for confirmation but to help the infection I should switch his normal tap water out for a mixture of distilled water, apple cider vinegar, and honey. I was pleased to find out Harry was in good health and happily paid my $400 bill, put Harry back in the carrier, buckled him in the car, and we were home around 1pm.

  I changed Harry’s water with the distilled water/apple cider vinegar/honey concoction and started mixing in his pellets into his food. While Harry was super about taking his trip to Ames, he was less than happy about his new food and water. Harry would still sit on my shoulder but he resisted all my efforts to rub his head feathers like he used to. You could say he was an angry bird.

  This went on for around a week and then I got a call from the Lynette the veterinarian student to tell me that Harry didn’t have a yeast infection after all. It seems that his samples in the lab were tainted by yeast which lead to the false conclusion. I was glad to hear that Harry didn’t have a yeast infection but this left us right back where we started with the exception of knowing that Harry was in generally good condition except for being a couple of grams overweight. Of course if the doctors could be wrong about the yeast infection they could be wrong about Harry’s good health but I believe the doctors are genuine in their interest about Harry’s well-being.

  I decided to get Harry back on his fatty seed and tap water diet and after a couple of days he was back sitting on my finger enjoying having his head rubbed and whistling back and forth with me. Harry is at least 12 years old and cockatiels live in the wild for 10 to 14 years so it is possible that he is just reaching the end of his lifespan and his feather-pulling is some age related thing. On the other hand cockatiels can live 20 or more years as pets so I may have Harry for a number of years. My plan for now is to enjoy Harry pulled feathers and all and start to spray his feathers with the solution from Petco when the weather gets warmer.

Neck feathers or not, Harry is my buddy and I'm going to do my best to get him back to his old self!