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8:30 AM Monday, April 4, 2005: Back in New York. Horrible trip from California. Gigantic piles of unread mail. All sorts of minor disasters, like busted phone service.

Verizon's continued incompetence: Who can recommend the stock of a company which insists on buying a valueless, money-losing company (MCI), yet can't run its own miserable business. I spent half of last night on hold to Verizon's "customer service" call center... Well after midnight, I emailed the president, Ivan Seidenberg:

I returned from a month vacation to find my main line 212-712-2833 broken.
Calling it produced endless ringing.
Since it’s the first line in a hunt sequence, it effectively put me out of business. My accountant couldn’t find me. It’s tax season. This is serious.
I called Verizon. Your automated call repair system is half good. It scheduled a technician between 9 and 5 tomorrow. But it did not offer the option of busying out the line.
I called back and, after waiting 25 minutes, got a live operator who told me she would “busy out” the line. She lied. She never did.
An hour later, I called back, waited another 25 minutes, and got someone in your Syracuse call center called Laura. She said she couldn’t busy out the number nor could she call forward the number to my second line – 212-712-2834. She told me Verizon computers were unreliable.
She said she would send a note to operations who would fix the problem by 8:30 AM, perhaps.
Later I called Manhattan Cable to turn my cable TV back on. They did this painlessly in 3 minutes. They also offered to sell me VoIP and bypass Verizon entirely.

That’s your future. Treat your customers poorly – as you treated me -- and have them drop you like a hot potato. Why do you continue to provide 1960s service?
You’ve lost a lot of market cap in recent months. Perhaps there’s a relationship between your awful customer service and your share price?"

AIG remains the classic cockroach stock: AIG is no Enron, says New York Times' Gretchen Morgenson. But, on Sunday, she wrote, "There are, however, some disturbing similarities between A.I.G. and Enron: Asleep-at-the-switch auditors. Secretive off-balance-sheet entities that should have been included on the company's financial statements but weren't. A management team willing to try any number of accounting tricks to make the company's results appear better than they actually were.

And one more likeness: As A.I.G.'s shares have plummeted, the financial position of one of the company's insurance subsidiaries has taken a big hit.

Enron, remember, had ownership stakes in off-the-books entities in which its shares were pledged as collateral. As long as the company's stock remained above a certain level, those pledges were fine. But when the shares started to slide, Enron had to cough up more collateral to shore up those interests. The unwinding was ugly, and the need to shore up the entities hastened the company's demise." You must read Ms. Morgenson's full article. Click here.

"Real" watches or counterfeit watches? The world is awash in $20 copies of $2,000 to $20,000 Tiffanys, Rolex, Cartier, etc. I can't endorse theft. But my recent experience fixing "real" and fake watches concludes:

1. You get the same technology irrespective of how much you pay. The quartz movement in my wife's real $1,000 Tiffanys watch is the same as the quartz movement as in a $20 fake Tiffanys watch. I know. I've had both apart, changing batteries. In some cases the technology of the pricey watch is worse than the fake one. My wife's real Tiffanys watch is constantly breaking down. My wife's new real Cartier watch is losing time....
2. There are bad fakes and good fakes. Some of the good ones are excellent.
An untrained, casual eye couldn't tell the difference between a good fake and a real watch. Before buying, carefully check the fake out.
3. Don't buy gold fakes. The "gold" wears off over time. "Silver" holds better.
4. Watch out for "real" prices for fake watches in places like eBay.
5. The new Chinese versions of Swiss mechanical "complications" -- like those from Franck Muller -- are superb.

You buy real fakes in the bazaars of Asia, and the Chinatowns of big American cities, like New York and Los Angeles. A great birthday present is to spend $100 and buy seven them -- Rolexes, Cartier, Tiffanys, Baume & Mercier, Patek Phillippe, Brequet, etc. You'll get far more fun out a drawer-full of fakes than out of one real one. That's my humble opinion, as a technologist. But if you're someone who feels that something is worth what they paid for it, go for it. Waste your money.

JetBlue was six hours late out of Ontario, CA: Which made our return trip totally horrible. They delay wasn't JetBlue's fault. It was weather in New York. Kennedy Airport was shut down for seven hours on Saturday. JetBlue handled the delay gracefully and with intelligence and kept its passengers informed. Our pilot even talked to us. And when the whole ordeal was over, they gave each of us a free one-way ticket for a future flight. When was the last time a "real" (i.e. overpriced) airline did that for you? I like JetBlue. Its stock may have finished its decline.

The idiocy of the TSA. The Transport Security Administration opens cardboard and plastic boxes you ship as baggage, but not suitcases. I don't know. But it sure messes up the contents of your box. And you get the nagging feeling they stole something. In short, don't ship boxes as baggage on airlines.

Now you've won the lotto.
The Free Lotto Company out of Holland has informed me I've won $1 million. All I have to do is to send them a little money and they'll send me a lot of money. Beware, it's all a gigantic fake. And not even a real fake. But a fake fake. In fact, a real scam.

More about fish farms, your own business and some interesting business opportunities when I recover today and get my Verizon phone working. By the way, my "fake" BroadVoice Internet broadband VoIP phone line works more reliably than Verizon's "real" circuit switched phone line. And their service is better!

How to have a vasectomy
After having their 11th child, a North Georgia Mountain couple decided 11 was enough, as they could not afford a larger bed.
So the husband went to his veterinarian and told him that he and his cousin didn't want to have any more children.
The doctor told him that there was a procedure called a vasectomy that could fix the problem but that it was expensive.
A less costly alternative, said the doctor, was to go home, get a cherry bomb (fireworks are legal in the North Georgia Mountains), light
it, put it in an empty beer can, then hold the can up to his ear and count to 10.

The redneck said to the doctor, "I may not be the smartest man in the world, but I don't see how putting a cherry bomb in a beer can next to
my ear is going to help me."
"Trust me, " said the doctor.
So the man went home, lit a cherry bomb and put it in a beer can. He held the can up to his ear and began to count:
At which point he paused, placed the beer can between his legs, and resumed counting on his other hand.
This procedure also works in Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, West Virginia, Arkansas and parts of Alabama.

Not fair to all these wonderful states, but funny nevertheless.

Harry Newton

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. Thus I cannot endorse any, though some look mighty interesting. If you click on a link, Google may send me money. That money will help pay Claire's law school tuition. Read more about Google AdSense, click here and here.
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