Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Dick E. Bird News Online / No Longer in Print

How old do you have to be to read The Dick E. Bird News?
Subscriber, Ruth Sheets, wrote that she was 92 and wondered who the oldest subscriber might be. I cannot accurately answer that question. Revealing your age is not a prerequisite of being a reader of The Dick E. Bird News. I do know that long time subscriber Ed Parker is in his late 90s, and I know of at least one other long time subscriber that is pushing 100. There is actually no age limitations for subscribers to this paper. It can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Some of you will read and learn about history in the paper and some of you made it.

Gaila told me to call a few suspects and ask. I might look stupid but I learned a long time ago never to ask age—especially a woman.

I never think of myself as old but I am often reminded by younger people. I was at the lumber yard one day buying a bunk of cedar to build bird feeders. A young man helped me load the truck. When I entered the contractor’s office to pay for my load I overheard another customer asking the young man if he had any cedar. His response was, “No, some old man just bought everything we had.” That reminded me of an old Jack Handey saying, “The face of a child can say it all, especially the mouth part of the face.”

Although I am noticing, now that I am an AARP member, that after a certain age the shyness to reveal age not only disappears—it completely reverses itself.
My late friend Gene Hegel used to send me all kinds of great stuff before he passed away. This is one I always enjoyed and seems to fit here:

When you’re a little kid, you’re so excited about getting older that you think in fractions. When children are asked how old they are, they respond, “I’m 6 and a half.” Nobody ever says “I’m 53 and a half.” The greatest day of your life is when you become 21. But you turn 30, and it makes you sound like bad milk. Then you’re pushing 40. It’s all slipping away. Then you reach 50.Next, you make it to 60. By then you’ve built up so much speed that you hit 70. After that, it’s day by day. You hit Wednesday. In your 80s, you hit lunch. In the 90s you start going backwards: “I was just 92.” Then, if you make it over 100, a strange thing happens. You become a kid again: “I’m 104, and a half.”

There are all kinds of old jokes—I mean old jokes about the old—and old depends on where you are thinking from. In the Marine Corps I remember a guy named Richard Herberger. He was drafted into the Marines (yes, during the Vietnam era the Marines did draft). He was 26 years old and the rest of us were 18. We called Herbie—“The Old Man.”

Here are a few descriptions of age:
• Middle age is when the narrow waist and broad mind begin to change places. —Auman
• As you age, you first forget names. Then you forget faces. Then you forget to pull your zipper up. Then you forget to pull your zipper down. —American Legion
• At my age the only thing I exercise is caution. —Harry Eberstadt
• Old age is when all the pills have extra strength, and you don’t.

On my first book tour I did a signing at a Barnes and Noble store in Seattle. They wanted me to do a talk that would attract children. Gaila and I were busy setting things up as a whole slew of kids began showing up. One little guy raised his hand before I even started talking. After a short introduction I knew I had better call on him before his arm flew off. When I called on him I was anticipating a bird question, but as Art Linkletter will tell you—never expect the obvious from children. In a quizzical voice the little boy said, “How come you’re so old and your wife is so young?”As his mother was dragging him away I yelled, “I think it has something to do with Miss Clairol.”

Personally, I don’t care if I look like Rip VanWinkle (or is it Van Wrinkle) as long as I can hike until well after Willard Scott is bragging about me. To answer the original question—if you are pushing 100 you are definitely in the top ten oldest subscribers to The Dick E. Bird News. I’m proud to have everyone of you regardless of age and would like to recruit about 10,000 more of you—so put the word out. --Keep Smilin', Dick E. Bird

Stealth Birdfeeding
As the sun rises over London’s Trafalgar Square, hundreds of pigeons huddle under Nelson’s Column in a scene reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s "The Birds."
Thirty minutes later, a frenzy of cooing breaks out as a woman approaches wheeling a large suitcase. Inside Shelagh Moorhouse’s luggage is 15 pounds of corn. On opening it, she is engulfed by a swarm of flapping wings.
Moorhouse is one of a band of activists dedicated to saving the pigeons of Trafalgar Square. Mayor Ken Livingstone, who calls them "flying rats," has spent the past six years trying to banish the birds, saying they’re a health hazard and their droppings cost 140,000 pounds ($280,000) a year to clean up.
"We’ve got a despot with a pigeon phobia in charge of this city," says Moorhouse, 69, a retired radiographer. "It’s cruel and wrong to starve them just because one man doesn’t like them. You should be entitled to feed birds anywhere."
Since his election in 2000, Livingstone has pursued the pigeons with the same vigor he put into introducing a congestion charge to reduce traffic in the city center. He evicted the square’s bird-seed vendor, made pigeon-feeding a crime and deployed huge vacuum cleaners to suck up corn as part of an effort to beautify the square.
Where an estimated 35,000 pigeons once flocked, only about 1,000 now remain. Signs in half a dozen languages inform tourists of the bird-seed ban.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Preening and Cleaning

HAVE you ever noticed that birds seem to spend a lot of time preening themselves? They spend hours every day apparently doing nothing more than ruffling up their feathers. Whether they are parrots or pelicans, sparrows or flamingos, they all go through this daily ritual. Why? Are they merely trying to look their best?
The real reason is far more substantial than that. Birds need these preening sessions just as much as aircraft need an overhaul. In fact, maintaining plumage in good trim is a matter of life and death to birds. Their feathers suffer a lot of wear and tear, and preening not only keeps them clean and free of parasites but also maintains their aerodynamic functions.
The daily grooming routine involves "zipping up" any barbs of a bird’s feathers that may have come apart. When the barbs are properly hooked together, the feather is more efficient in giving the bird lift. Two groups of feathers need special attention, the flight feathers of the wings and the steering feathers of the tail.
Birds also have a constant battle to keep parasites at bay. In addition to posing a health hazard to the bird, the tiny parasites actually eat the feathers. Naturalists have noticed that birds with damaged bills cannot preen themselves properly and, as a result, harbor many more feather parasites than do normal birds. To facilitate the removal of parasites some bird species even cover themselves with ants, whose formic acid apparently acts as an effective insecticide.
Finally, the feathers need to be oiled. For aquatic birds the oil on the feathers provides a waterproof coating, and all birds get better weather protection from well-oiled feathers. Where does the oil come from? A special gland known as the preen gland, located just above the tail, secretes oils and waxes, which the bird patiently transfers to its feathers. Once again, flight feathers get special attention in the process. So we need not assume that a bird is idling away its time when preening its feathers. Granted, this process does help the bird keep up appearances, but it also keeps it healthy. In the bird world, preening is a matter of survival.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Click It or Ticket

"Could you at least go the speed limit?" "We’re going to be late." "You could have made that light!"
These are just a few of the suggestions my wife often makes when we are in the car together. I always counter with, "I stand on my record. I haven’t had a traffic ticket in 35 years."
In the past five years she has failed to see a very large, green, garbage truck stop in front of her in a mall parking lot. It turned our nice little Saturn into garbage. The insurance company totalled it. I bought the car back from the insurance company and replaced under $200 worth of plastic parts which reattached with only ten screws and the car was brand new—in case you are wondering why your insurance rates are so high.
My wife thinks 25 m.p.h. speed zones are stupid. "Cars were not made to go that slow." Unfortunately the local County Mounty’s don’t feel the same way. She cries every time she watches "Little House on the Prairie" but can’t seem to generate a tear when the police pull her over. She has become very proficient at reducing her speeding fines. She goes to the courthouse and offers to work it off doing clerical work. The first time the court said, "That will be fine. When can you start?" She said, "Well, it’s our busy season right now. How about next month." The court said, "No, that’s not how it works." But, they did cut the price of her ticket in half. It was still a money maker for the county. That was the time she racked up five tickets with one pull over. The officer started with rolling stop, speeding, and not wearing a seat belt. Then he noticed the address on her license was not current and that our van windows looked too tinted for Michigan vehicles.
Being pulled over is such a common experience for her that now she just confesses as soon as the authorities walk up to the car. The last time she said, "I’m sorry. I know I was speeding but I’m in a hurry—I have to pick up my daughter." The cop said, "I pulled you over because your taillight is out."
It’s not that I’m completely innocent. One day I pulled out of the post office in beautiful downtown Acme and the sheriff pulled me over a mile up the road. I knew immediately what I had done wrong. I didn’t have my seat belt buckled. Since I have a two belt system in my old car I buckled the bottom half in a stealth move that would not look obvious as I rolled down my window. The sheriff asked if I knew why I was being pulled over. Even though the local paper had a big article on a week-long seat belt sting, with a straight face I said, "I have no idea." He pointed out my unattached upper belt. "Do you usually wear your belt?" This was my wife’s perfect opportunity to blacken my untarnished record and silence my usual comeback about "Standing on my record."
At the same moment I was saying to the officer, "Yes, I always wear my belt"—my wife was saying, "No, he never wears it. Our daughter is always reminding him to buckle up.’"
As he slowly returned to his cruiser I said to my wife, "That was a great answer—it probably cost us about ninety bucks." He came back to the vehicle, gave me my license, registration and a stern warning. I explained it this way to my wife: "He went back to his computer, checked my record and found out just what I have been telling you for so long—I haven’t had a ticket in 35 years. Then he checked your record and found out you are a regularly convicted traffic felon. Now who do you think he is going to believe? Besides, I did everything right—I cried, said thank you a lot, and always answered his questions with ‘yes officer.’"
Since my official record is spotless, my wife will bring up now and then my unofficial record. I had to take a mountain of bird feeder sawdust and wood chips to the dump one afternoon. I borrowed an old utility trailer from my Uncle Vic. Vic had taken the trailer in on a car trade and it seemed good and solid. I also borrowed a hitch bar and ball from him. Everything looked fine, but I never checked to see if the ball was tightened onto the bar. Half way to the dump I saw something pass me on the right. Since that is my blind eye it didn’t quite register with my brain what it was. My first thought was a ball-bearing from the trailer axle. But when the trailer passed me I knew it was the nut from the ball. The trailer didn’t go far. When it hit the big telephone substation it stopped on a dime and a large, sawdust, mushroom cloud appeared. A lady came out of her house and said she would call someone, but her phone didn’t work anymore. That’s right, when you’re in trouble, the first thing you want to do is cut communications.
I knew I was going to do hard time for this one. Not only had I wiped out local phone service, I had put the license plate from my Airstream travel trailer on the utility trailer because I was only going up the road five miles to the dump. As Murphy’s law would have it, the sheriff showed up just when we didn’t need him. Lucky for me, when the sheriff found out the trailer belonged to my uncle Vic, I didn’t get a ticket. How did he find out? I knew they were friends, so I made sure I used my uncle’s name in every sentence, unless I could somehow fit it in twice without sounding to repetitive.
A year or so later I was looking over my insurance coverage and noticed the cost had jumped significantly. Knowing I had such a good driving record I called the agent. She said, "I don’t know why the sharp increase Dick, let me check out your account on the computer." Seconds later she said, "Does a telephone substation ring any bells? They are very expensive to replace." Sorry I asked!
Current technology now allows authorities to monitor roadways with sensor cameras that check speed and tag numbers and automatically ticket speeding drivers. You will not even know you’ve been busted until the postal service delivers your ticket in the mail. Soon my wife will be looking over her shoulder for mail trucks instead of police cruisers.
Seriously, traffic tickets are not all bad. Paying tickets is actually your civic duty. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. It creates jobs, heavily funds most court systems, justifies the existence of entire police agencies like state highway patrols, and virtually funds numerous local governments.
When you begin to grasp the full magnitude of the public and private good that depend on ticket taxing motorists, you begin to understand why my wife continues to contribute so heavily every year. No one knows how many traffic tickets are actually issued to her annually. Many local units of government deliberately hide this information so they don’t have to split her revenue with the state. No other class of "crime" is as profitable for state and local governments as is that of traffic tickets. They rely heavily on these people who contribute regularly.
Traffic fines are a seven billion dollar a year business. That explains why they can give a 50% off deal to regulars like my wife and still make good money!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Cremation Creations

Here is one of those not-so-rare stories that make you think—"Dick E. Bird made this up."
But,in fact, I diid not. You can actually become a bird feeder one day if you want. It is as easy as dyin’ and dryin’.
What the story fails to mention is that— "Your squirrel finally wins."
Those furballs have eaten everything else in your yard so they might just as well have you too!
You can now look forward to kicking the bucket in unprecedented style. Forget luxury coffins and fancy urns—your legacy can come to an end with Nadine Jarvis’ cremation creations. For those who prefer being reduced to ashes as opposed to rotting in a dirt hole, Jarvis’ Bird Feeder and Carbon Copies designs are the hottest new options on the market.
The Bird Feeders are available in two constructions: one being a solid casting of bird food, beeswax and ashes, and the other, rotationally molded with the ashes held inside. The feeders attract birds to nosh and naturally purge the ash or peck through the edible exterior, enabling the ashes to be released over time. After the feeder has completely disintegrated, the perch containing information about the deceased is the only thing left and becomes a keepsake.
Carbon Copies are actual pencils that are made from the carbon produced during cremation of the deceased. One cadaver is enough to produce a lifetime supply of these "personal" pencils. Activities such as writing letters, sketching, and long division will spark a fond memory of the deceased, who in fact, is helping you make your marks.
The UK-based designer has recently shown her postmortem works at the Design Museum’s Design Mart during this year’s London Design Week.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Social Insecurity

George Burns said, "Retirement at sixty-five is ridiculous. When I was sixty-five I still had pimples." The government is trying to convince all the baby-boomers that they are too young to retire—that they are going to live as long as George Burns, and they won’t need much in the way of medical coverage. There are several reasons for this attempted psychological adjustment. The Geritol Posse is growing, the money is going and no one is sowing.
I’m 10 years away from retirement age and I already get three mailings a day pitching financial management. Those are the people that want to help you bury your nuts while they gather their own. If they were honest they would start the conversation with something like this, "I’ve reviewed your portfolio, and if we manage your stocks properly, there should be plenty of money for both of us."
What I am hearing mostly is, "Invest for the long-term." That usually means a short term investment that failed. Every one of these experts will tell you to give up your morning coffee and invest the money in the market. At a 10% annual rate of return you will be worth more than Bill Gates by the time you are ready to retire. Then they help you invest your money in schemes that return 3%, which is 1% less than inflation. If it was so easy to earn a guaranteed 10% return—wouldn’t that be the place to invest the social security lock-box. Remember the "lock-box?" That was all they talked about back in the Bush-Gore campaign. The box has been missing ever since.
Social security—isn’t that an oxymoron? At least reforming Social Security is a start. The government is finally admitting that it can’t be trusted with our money, and corporate America jumped right on that bandwagon. Did you notice as soon as the feds started making excuses about missing money the airlines and automakers climbed right into the saddle with them?
Is it a tax or just plain slight-of-hand when Social Security and so-called retirement accounts are raided with new rules? When I entered the work force and began feeding the fund, the age to begin drawing it out was 65. Now they changed the rules, and I can’t draw until 66. I would call that a huge tax on my money. If I draw at 62 they whack me for 30% the rest of my life. What do you suppose they are going to do in the next 10 years as I approach 66 and I disappoint the government and live?
Jean Baptiste Colbert, finance minister to Louis XIV, summed up his views on taxation, which seem very similar to this governments: "The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing."
You could use the same example against the money managers who keep plucking large management fees from the pockets of mismanaged portfolios.
Have you ever had a financial manager tell you about tomorrow? They all tell you about yesterday. I already know what I should have bought last year, it’s this year I’m interested in. They say you have to know if it’s a bull market or a bear market. Actually, you have to be more careful that the bull your financial advisor gave you isn’t eaten by a bear he didn’t tell you about. If beating the market was as easy as wildlife watching, I’d become a financial planner myself.
Let’s look at the truth about investing your beverage money. Instead of using the example most financial planners are using—you know, the fancy, fattening latte specials everyday on the way to work and the chocolate chip muffin to savor along with it. Let’s use beer instead. Say you gave up half your beer for a year. You invested it in Enron and Worldcom because that’s where the smart money was growing the fastest and you quadrupled your money. Now, both stocks are worthless. Had you continued to buy your beer, turned in all your cans for the 10 cent deposit, you would now be worth over $200.00. So a financial planner worth his salt would advise you to drink heavy and recycle.
So don’t be confused by the theories of diversification and asset allocation. If you put your hard earned money in a passive managed index fund and let it grow, even during the coming trickle-down, voodoo economic, hostile take-over of your funds, you will be further ahead. Though new government regulations are designed to make what you have left last longer—you can still leverage ahead of the masses that give their millions to the stranger that manages to misappropriate a large portion of the portfolio pie into his own pocket.
I was born in 1949, the same year "Silly Putty" was introduced. If I would have invested in "Silly Putty" when I first heard of it, what an impression it could have left on my balance sheet. Had I moved into "Hoola Hoops" when they first started going around, my portfolio would be swinging today. The sad fact is you never know. Instead of "Silly Putty" and Hoola Hoops" I could just as easily ended up with "" or "Kmart."
If I could figure out how some young guy took bankrupt Kmart and bought Sears with billions in leveraged stock I could probably afford to buy one of those expensive, new Diehard batteries—which is all Kmart sells, now that Sears owns them!
Maybe we should get this Sears guy to jump start Social Security. He could leverage it into the black with all the red ink in Washington! —Dick E. Bird

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Self Producing Your Own Quality Book Cheap

We have decided to not only self-publish our book Crossing the Divide but also self-produce it. Technology is quickly changing the publishing industry. When we started The Dick E. Bird News in 1987 it was possible because an inexpensive Apple computer allowed a small press to easily typeset and quickly change its composition. It was the desktop publishing revolution. But we were still a long way from the desktop output revolution. In the early years I had to drive 250 miles south to Detroit with my electronic file to output it on a $50,000 linotronic machine. The Middle Eastern couple that owned it, didn’t know how to operate it. They told me to read the manual and print my own pages. With pages in hand I still had to cut and paste graphics. Pictures needed to be screened before using them. Eventually Apple came out with desktop laser printers and I found printing businesses within a 100 miles that would do our output. Finally I bought a black & white Apple Laser printer for $6,000 that would output pages right on our own desktop. I just threw that boat anchor away last year. If I would have bought Apple stock instead of Apple stuff, I would be rich today—But no, I bought STUFF!
Our first computer came with 1 MB of memory. You can’t even turn your computer on with 1 MB today. But in 1986 it was big time stuff. Eventually scanners replaced all the cutting and pasting and gave us control of graphics output. Broadband connections allowed me to stay in bed on the morning we went to press instead of driving 60 miles through early morning Lake Michigan snowstorms, dodging deer. Today we just push a button on the computer and the paper is delivered as simple as an email.
Desktop publishing still has a way to go before it allows the individual to truly be the Captain of his own writing craft. Several years ago we started hearing about POD (Print On Demand). In theory it sounded good but most companies offering inexpensive short run book printing, using new laser printing technologies, were nothing more than the old Vanity Press industry preying on people who wanted to be authors at any price.
Several things need to fully evolve before self-publishing becomes a reality. Some of those factors are now beginning to emerge. Quality full color desktop laser printers are now available for under $500. Everything you need to know about perfect binding a book you learned in kindergarten. Building a book is nothing more than a craft project. When building your own book you end up with better quality. Until I started exploring the possibility of manufacturing our own books, I had no idea that my books published by Doubleday and Warner were built using cheap paper and cost cutting methods that show up as faded and curled pages.
Once you get over all the hurdles of writing, proofing, typesetting, printing and binding your labor of love—you still have to market it. This has always been the Achilles’ heel of self-publishing. But take heart—things are changing.
First, a little history. I can tell you from experience that hooking up with the big boys is no guarantee your work is aggressively marketed or marketed period. I received six figures up front for my books published by Doubleday and Warner, Birdfeeding 101 and Nuts About Squirrels. That alone made me think the books would get proper attention, if for no other reason, to assure the publisher would earn a return on his investment.
I was totally shocked when the books were given zero exposure. The publishing industry produces books much like mud pies. They throw them all against the wall to see which ones stick. I never met my New York agent but eventually she stopped calling me—she said I "Vented too much." I had lost control of my babies—sold them actually. Although the money was great it still bothered me that my children were not being properly cared for. The only front and center attention my books would get turned out to be when I was baby-sitting them. Coming out of a Seattle Barnes and Noble store after doing a book signing I stood admiring the entrance tables decked out in Dick E. Bird Books. I said to the manager, "How long will this display remain here?" She laughed and said, "Until you leave the store." That is the reality of the book business. It’s like any other business venture— "What have you done for me lately?"
Book signing and speaking engagements are a great way to market your own book. Book stores are always looking for free entertainment. Setting up your own book tour is as easy as making a few phone calls and setting up a schedule. The downside is you have to answer every question your audience throws at you. I did a bird program and signing at Powells Bookstore in Oregon for kids once. One little guy was there with his mother and I could tell by his body language that he was full of enthusiasm. He had his hand up with a question before I even introduced myself. I called on him and he asked, "How come you’re so old and your wife is so young?" As his mother was dragging him out by the ear I said, "I think it has something to do with Miss Clairol."
The garden variety vanity press has always been good at convincing anxious writers that they can market books as well as the big boys. Well, that’s true. They’re lousy at it too. The vanity press business is called that for a reason. They know people want to see their hard work in print. They make money if the well produces oil or not. They are a packaged printing deal making their profit from printing, proofing, artwork and design services. But when it is all said and done, you have a garage full of books to sell and they are on to the next victim.
Emerging today is a smorgasbord of electronic book marketing programs that you can choose from to make your book available to the world. Don’t get me wrong. You still have to do all the leg work and market your own masterpiece. The difference is that if someone decides they would like to buy your book they don’t have to come to your garage to get it anymore.
Most Print on Demand pricing structures are too high, even in volume, to make any money wholesaling books to retailers. This leaves you one option—selling direct. Building your own books can make all the difference in whether you make any money in the small margin book publishing business.
So even though it is not a perfect publishing world yet, we have decided to push the envelope a bit and set up our own publishing empire. We are starting with Crossing the Divide. We also have the rights back to Birdfeeding 101 and Nuts About Squirrels. Then I was thinking a great title would be–Why Am I So Old, And MY Wife Is So Young.
—Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird