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Harry Newton's In Search of The Perfect Investment Technology Investor. Harry Newton Previous Columns
9:00 AM EDT, Monday, September 14, 2009: All the investment paths I followed on the weekend led nowhere. Which reinforces my 423rd investment dicta: You got to research a lot of frogs before you want to kiss any. And then that frog may still not turn into a Prince.

Tough times drive start-ups. It's a good time to start your own business. Labor is cheap. Rent is cheap. You get the message: From USA Today:

More people launch own firms to make ends meet

SAN DIEGO — Inside a freshly renovated building, 27 restaurant trainees scurry around sweeping, shaping dough and cutting 12-inch practice pizza crusts into eight slightly misshapen slices.

"Keep your elbow up" and "Turn your wrist ?-inch at the end" are among the slicing tips that practicing pizza cutters hear from scrutinizing managers.

It's 9 a.m. on a Friday in August. The recession that started in December 2007 plods along as businesses continually fold, jobless claims tick up and millions of families desperately try to make mortgage payments and curtail spending.

Yet in this eastern San Diego strip mall, hopes abound.

Here, in three days, the first CiCi's Pizza buffet in California will open. The chain is known for cheap prices, peppy workers and a variety of pizza toppings.

For CiCi's Enterprises and its nearly 650 other restaurants in 32 states, this is an entree into a potentially lucrative market at a time when many of CiCi's expansion plans had to be scuttled because of the economic crisis.

For franchise owners Melissa and Andre Carter, it's a new beginning.

When the restaurant opened to a long line of CiCi's lovers on Aug. 10, the Carters' venture became one of nearly 30 million U.S. small businesses.

In this recession, starting a business from scratch or buying a franchise has been the way out for many. Of job seekers who gained employment in the second quarter of 2009, nearly one in 10 — 8.7% — did so by launching their own businesses, according to outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas' quarterly Job Market Index. That is up from 6.4% in the first quarter and is twice the rate reported in Challenger's 2008 second-quarter update.

For the full USA Today article, click here.

Beware. Beware. Beware. You have not over-reported income to the IRS. You did not order a Samsung refrigerator. Nor will you get $6.5 million from somebody for help in getting his inheritance. Nor will you ever get a free credit report and free score. These emails either contain an attachment which has a virus or an invitation to send them money to help get them (and you) more money.

If you open the attachment, your PC will be buggared. That's an impolite Australian expression for wrecked, ruined and infected. If you send them money, you will never see any of it back.

Accept your fate. I am the only person who loves you. And I'm not sending you free anything, except dubious advice and multiple boring warnings -- repeated endlessly.

Check. Check. Check. On Friday, I wrote "It's raining cats and dogs. In 17th century England, houses had thatched roofs - - thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the dogs, cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained, it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying "It's raining cats and dogs."

This is, of course, total nonsense. Cats and dogs don't live in roofs. They live on the ground. But the good news is that many readers emailed me to remind me of my motto: CHECK. CHECK. CHECK.

For the real explanation, click here or here.

My PC is slow. What now? All Windows machines slow over time. There is no magic bullet to make them fast again. Some "strategies."

1. Fill your PC with 3 gigabytes of RAM memory.

2. Buy a solid state drive (SSD).

3. Uninstall all software you no longer use.

4. Uninstall junk in MSCONFIG -- especially auto update software and the crap from Adobe and Apple.

5. Run CHKDSK to make sure your file system is clean.

6. Defragment your hard disk.

7. Go back to the clone of your hard disk you made when you got your PC and first installed all your software.

If none of this works, you'll need to start from scratch. Start with a brand new hard drive (they're cheap), add Windows, add your software and your working files. Remember: the more software you install, the slower your machine will run. Good idea: Use an old machine to test-drive software you're thinking of buying.

If you want specifics, send me an email.

Oih, yoih, yoih: From ComputerWorld:

Microsoft said Friday that some "in-place" upgrades from Windows Vista to the new Windows 7 may take some users over 20 hours to complete.

The best that users can hope for is a 1 hour and 24 minute process, said Chris Hernandez, who works in the Windows deployment team, in a company blog published Friday.

So-called "clean" installs, where the user overwrites an existing edition of Windows to end up with the OS, but no former data or applications, take less time: from 27 to 46 minutes.

For the full miserable story, click here. I'm sticking with Windows XP.

Big Spenders? They wish. Isolated in our comfortable houses, we often forget that this has been a devastating time for many people. This is the sad story of Dorothy Thomas, as reported in this weekend's new York Times.

ONE afternoon in November 2006, a policeman spotted an expired license plate on Dorothy Thomas’s 10-year-old Toyota Corolla as she drove through San Jose, Calif. He ordered her to pull over.

Struggling under the weight of thousands of dollars in credit card bills, Ms. Thomas was perpetually short of cash. She had not bought a $10 auto registration sticker. The officer checked his database and recognized that she had already been ticketed once before for the same thing. He arranged to have her car towed away.

“I got down on my knees and begged that officer,” Ms. Thomas recalled.

As she watched her car being hauled off, she sensed that this was the beginning of a descent into a crisis from which she might not easily escape. Without money to pay the towing and storage fees, she could not extract her car from the lot, and the tab soon grew to $1,600. Without a car, she could not reach the hospital where she worked in the administrative offices, so she lost her $16-an-hour job. Without a paycheck, she could no longer pay the rent on her modest home. She moved to Oakland, where a friend lived in a beaten-down, rented house on a street they called Crack Avenue. By year’s end, Ms. Thomas, then 49, was occupying a bunk at a homeless shelter, searching in vain for a job in an economy plagued by unemployment. ...

Dorothy Thomas

Spirited and eloquent, Ms. Thomas had worked her way up from rural Oklahoma poverty, enduring the strains of forcibly integrated schools, before settling in California. She had become one of the first African-Americans to sell cosmetics at a Sacramento department store. Then, she forged a career in medical billing, at one point making $22 an hour. She had lived beyond her means, but not out of decadence. For years, she had rented homes in better neighborhoods than she could afford in order to send her two daughters to quality schools. She had run up credit card balances to pay for summer science camps and school supplies. She had never earned more than a high school diploma, but one of her daughters already had a master’s in education; the other was about to start college.

“I truly bought into the idea that education is the way out of poverty,” Ms. Thomas said. “If your kids are going to school with kids who are preprogrammed to go to college, then that’s what they will expect. I didn’t get myself out of poverty. But I got my daughters out. I was the bridge.”

Long before “subprime” entered the American lexicon, before Wall Street convulsed with the collapse of giant institutions and the financial world seized with fear, a slower-moving crisis was already under way for tens of millions of ordinary people like Ms. Thomas. The shock of recent times has merely intensified this deeper crisis, rendering void a mode of living that was already unsustainable. ...

“If you had told me before that a person could look for a year and not find a job, I’d have said they were just lazy,” Ms. Thomas said. “Every day, I feel like I’m losing a piece of myself.”

BY early 2008, the electricity and water had been cut for lack of payment at the house on Crack Avenue. For Ms. Thomas, 12 months had passed without work, despite dozens of applications at medical billing offices — those she could reach without a car. One potential employer rejected her after she failed a credit check.

“They’re saying that credit is a reflection of your character,” she said, choking back tears.

The confident young woman who had once sold expensive cosmetics had become a middle-aged woman bulging out of sweat pants, her face sagging with exhaustion, her hair matted for lack of access to a shower. Each rejection intensified her fears that she might never work again.

“Is it my age?” she asked. “Is it because I’ve gained weight?” She had been visiting a nearby food bank. “They give us cakes and cookies,” she said. “Then you wonder why poor people are fat! They’re not giving us fruits and vegetables.”

She riffled through a folder, proffering her résumé — evidence that she belonged in the white-collar world. “I’m articulate,” she said, shifting into the smooth tones of a receptionist as she pantomimed answering the phone. “How may I direct your call?”

“When you get discouraged, it’s hard to recover,” she said. “People who aren’t poor, it’s as if they think we don’t know what our lives are like and what’s happening to us. But we know. Poverty is like a prison without bars.”

Three months later, the crumbling house on Crack Avenue fell into foreclosure, and Ms. Thomas was forced out. She thought of asking her oldest daughter for help. But her daughter was struggling to pay her own bills on a teacher’s salary.

So Ms. Thomas checked into a homeless shelter for battered women and substance abusers. She pretended to be a drug addict in order to stay, using the free bed as an opportunity to reconstruct her life.

In November, she got a job scheduling appointments for a chain of medical clinics for $16 an hour. She could reach the offices using public transportation. She wore a crisp white blouse and a neat ponytail. Her face radiated calm.

“I feel so good,” she said, “because I feel so normal.”

A long stretch of hopelessness had given way to the outlines of a future. A few weeks later, she had saved $1,600. Soon, she bought a used car, a Toyota Rav 4, which greatly expanded her field of potential workplaces. Another few months of work and saving and she figured to have enough to recover her independence.

But in late January this year, with the economy still deteriorating, her new employer laid her off.

“That first week, I really slipped under,” she said. “I did feel suicidal. I just felt so knocked off the block. To lose that job was just devastating.”

She was sobbing.

“I’m back at Square One,” she said.

This month, amid reports that businesses were beginning to receive new orders, Dorothy Thomas was still living in a homeless shelter, unemployed.

Before the end of the month, she will reach the shelter’s time limit and be forced to move again. Yet, a new confidence was evident in her words. After nearly two years of rejection and terrifying proximity to the streets, she had tapped back into a deep resilience. She had polished her résumé, acquired a penchant for saving and secured transportation. All that sat between her desperation and renewal was an item that — in the traditional American narrative — was supposed to be available to anyone willing to work: a paycheck.

“A job,” Ms. Thomas said, “is really all I need.”

You can read the entire New York Times article here. It's adapted from a new book “Past Due: The End of Easy Money and the Renewal of the American Economy,” by Peter S. Goodman, a reporter for The New York Times.

The world is changing exponentially. China and India have more bright people than we do. Alll the skills we used last year at our job will be obsolete in three years. You get the message. Facebook has more members than most countries. A video on YouTube explains all. Allegedly some managements play the video for their boards. Maybe it injects a sense of urgency? Click here.

The joy of Facebook. "I would rather have a rectal examination on live TV by a fellow with cold hands than have a Facebook page." -- George Clooney during Up In The Air press conference at Toronto Film Festival.

2009 U.S. Open Tennis Final is on Today: Roger Federer plays Juan Del Potro this afternoon at 4:00 PM EDT. It's either on ESPN2 or CBS. And it will probably repeat on the Tennis Channel.

In one rally against Djokovic yesterday, Federer was the net. Djokovic lobbed Federer, who ran back to the baseline and hit the ball through his legs for a cross-court winner.

The crowd went wild. Even Djokovic smiled in admiration. Here's reply: For the YouTube replay, click here and scroll down or click here. What we learned later was that Federer actually practices the shot. I've never heard of anyone ever practicing that shot.

Only in Australia (my home country):
A young ventriloquist is touring the clubs and, one night, he's doing a show in a small town in Tasmania. With his dummy on his knee, he starts going through his usual dumb blonde jokes.

Suddenly, a blonde woman in the fourth row stands on her chair and starts shouting, "I've heard enough of your stupid blonde jokes. What makes you think you can stereotype women that way? What does the colour of a person's hair have to do with her worth as a human being? It's men like you who keep women like me from being respected at work and in the community, and from reaching our full potential as people. You and your kind continue to perpetuate discrimination against not only blondes, but women in general...pathetically all in the name of humour!"

The embarrassed ventriloquist begins to apologize, but the blonde cuts him off.

The blonde yells, "You stay out of this mate! I'm talking to that little shit on your lap!"

This column is about my personal search for the perfect investment. I don't give investment advice. For that you have to be registered with regulatory authorities, which I am not. I am a reporter and an investor. I make my daily column -- Monday through Friday -- freely available for three reasons: Writing is good for sorting things out in my brain. Second, the column is research for a book I'm writing called "In Search of the Perfect Investment." Third, I encourage my readers to send me their ideas, concerns and experiences. That way we can all learn together. My email address is . You can't click on my email address. You have to re-type it . This protects me from software scanning the Internet for email addresses to spam. I have no role in choosing the Google ads on this site. Thus I cannot endorse, though some look interesting. If you click on a link, Google may send me money. Please note I'm not suggesting you do. That money, if there is any, may help pay Michael's business school tuition. Read more about Google AdSense, click here and here.