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Harry Newton's In Search of The Perfect Investment Newton's In Search Of The Perfect Investment. Technology Investor.

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8:30 AM EST Monday, August 21, 2006: Welcome home proud Harry. We hear you biked 168 miles up hill and down dale. You didn't keep up with your 24-year old son who did 230 miles. But you did OK for an old fogey. And your legs are recovering, albeit slowly.

Comfortable, prosperous and timeless: That pretty well sums up Austria. We biked through mile after mile of countryside. Not one pile of junk in someone's yard. Not one piece of paper out of place. But lots of enormous farm houses and well-tended farm plots. Europe treats its farmers well. And they, in turn, live like kings. I gave up counting the Mercedes parked in the driveways of farmhouses.

TriPath came good. Becton Dickinson offered to put TriPath out of its misery for $9.25 a share. TriPath had been at $5.12 before BD popped the news. I think TriPath is worth more. I'm not selling until I see if Paul Sohmer, TriPath's talented, but tired, CEO can squeeze BD for a buck or two more. Paul once told me he was hoping for $20. He's done it before -- building companies and selling them out.

Traveling with a laptop:
1. This is the most useful traveling gadget. It's called a Targus 70-Watt Universal Auto/Air Adapter and costs between $40 and $70, depending on where you buy it. EBay is cheapest. The gadget lets you plug your laptop into an auto or a plane (if they have laptop outlets).

What Targus doesn't tell you is that this thing only works on 12 volts and destroys itself if plugged into anything higher -- like the 24 volts on our bus or the 48 volts on a private plane I once plugged into. Before you plug in, ask what the voltage is. Don't assume it's 12 volts -- just because it looks like a normal cigarette lighter,

2. Broadband Internet access in Europe is pretty horrible, usually slow and usually expensive. But you can get on -- sometimes through your hotel, sometimes through an Internet Cafe. Typical price was one euro ($1.25) an hour. But an Internet cafe in Vienna charged by the minute, coming to nearly $10 a hour. The key is not to write emails online. Batch them out, blitz them and get off. Assume you'll be days without email.

3. Cell phone service is excellent all over, even in the smallest of towns. Buy a cheap GSM phone. Buy prepaid SIM cards in each country you visit. Roaming across borders is expensive.

4. ATM machines are all over. I used a bank debit card. I'm told the fees are minimal.

5. You can bargain with airlines. Lesser popular airlines charge less to Europe. Air France gave us cheap two-for-one business class tickets -- into Prague and out of Vienna. We got what we paid for: Coming back we were on an old plane with old seats and no laptop outlet. Fortunately, I had extra batteries. The only place we had lines for security was Paris. Everywhere else (including New York), we breezed through in seconds. Go figure.

Why Europe drives diesel cars: It's a lot cheaper.

War on Daddy’s Dime. This is Thomas Friedman's latest column in the New York Times. The numbers are fascinating.

I’m not sure yet who’s the winner in the war between Hezbollah and Israel, but I know who’s the big loser: Iran’s taxpayers. What a bunch of suckers.

Isn’t it obvious? As soon as the reckless war he started was over, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, declared that Hezbollah would begin paying out cash to the thousands of Lebanese families whose homes were destroyed. “We will pay compensation, a certain amount of money for every family to rent for one year, plus buy furniture for those whose homes were totally destroyed,” said Nasrallah. “These number 15,000.”

Nasrallah also vowed that his organization would help rebuild damaged houses and businesses, promising those affected that they will “not need to ask anyone for money or wait in queues” to get relief funds. To paraphrase the All-State commercial, “You’re in good hands with Hezbollah.”

But wait — where will Hezbollah get some of the $3 billion-plus needed to rebuild Lebanon? Last time I checked, Hezbollah did not have any companies listed on the Nasdaq. The organization doesn’t manufacture anything. It doesn’t tax its followers. The answer, of course, is that Iran will dip into its oil income and ship cash to Nasrallah, so that he will not have to face the wrath of Lebanese for starting a war that reaped nothing but destruction.

Yes, thanks to $70-a-barrel oil you can have Katyusha rockets and butter at the same time. When oil money is so prevalent, why not? Hezbollah and Iran are like a couple of rich college students who rented Lebanon for the summer, as if it were a beach house. “C’mon, let’s smash up the place,” they said to themselves. “Who cares? Dad will pay!” The only thing Nasrallah didn’t say to Lebanese was, “Hey, keep the change.”

In the cold war, Russian taxpayers were the suckers who rebuilt Arab armies every time they got crushed by Israel. Now Iran’s citizens will foot the bill with their oil income — assuming the ayatollahs actually put their money where their mouth is. (Iran was always happy to spend money on Hezbollah rockets. Let’s see if it will pay for schools and clinics.)

This is why I am obsessed with bringing down the price of oil. Unless we take this issue seriously, we are never going to produce more transparent, accountable government in the Middle East. Just the opposite — we will witness even more reckless, unaccountable behavior like Nasrallah’s and Iran’s.

Been to Syria lately? Why do you think it can afford to shrug off U.S. sanctions? It also is not making microchips. It is, though, exporting about 200,000 barrels of oil a day, and that is what keeps a corrupt and antiquated regime in power. The Syrian regime subsidizes everything from diesel to bread. As in Iran, almost half of Syria’s people are teenagers, and without real economic reforms, widespread unemployment and unrest are just around the corner — but for now, oil money postpones the reckoning.

Ditto Iran. Iran is OPEC’s second-largest producer, selling the world about 2.4 million barrels of oil a day and earning the regime some $4 billion a month — the government’s main source of income. To buy public support, Iran’s regime subsidizes housing, gasoline, interest rates, flour and rice.

According to an Aug. 2 report on, “Iran spent $25 billion on subsidies last year, or more than half the $44.6 billion it collected through crude oil exports.” But Iran actually has to import more than one-third of its gasoline, because it can’t refine enough itself. This became so expensive the regime wanted to ration subsidized gas but feared a public backlash. No wonder. Bloomberg reported that subsidized gasoline in Iran is 34 cents a gallon.

Repressive governments like Iran’s and Syria’s use oil money to buy off their people and insulate themselves from the pressure of political and economic reform. When oil prices get high enough, they can even buy a month-log war in Lebanon. Why not? It’s like a summer sale: “Now, this summer only: 34 cents-a-gallon gasoline and a war with the Jews and new living room furniture for Lebanese Shiites! Such a deal!”

If we could cut the price of crude in half, it would mean that all of Iran’s oil income would go to subsidies — which would be unsustainable and therefore a huge threat to the regime. It would also make Iran’s puppets, like Nasrallah, think three times about launching wars with Israel that might ravage Lebanon again.

Too bad we have a president who tells us we’re “addicted to oil” but won’t do anything about it. That sort of hypocrisy just makes Nasrallah’s day.

Backroads is great: We went with a company called Backroads, which builds itself as "an active travel company." They take care of everything. They provide the bikes, map the route, book the hotels and chase us in cheery vans loaded with water, snacks and a ride home if our legs give out.

Nice people. I'll go with them again. For more on them, Click here.

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. Please note I'm not suggesting you do. That money, if there is any, may help pay Claire's law school tuition. Read more about Google AdSense, click here and here.
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