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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, December 11, 2006: In the days of the Roman Empire, they made the bridge's engineer stand under his bridge while the worker's removed the scaffolding. If the bridge held up, the engineer got to build another. If it didn't .. well, they got another engineer. There are a few money managers I'd have stand under their bridge. Did the Roman engineers have contests to build the most extravagant, widest span bridge -- like hedge managers have contests today to borrow the most, to bet on the highest-flying, most thinly-traded stocks.

Spam works. All of us are inundated with email about hot stocks. You'll be pleased to know that this stuff works -- just not for you and me, the unfortunate recipients. From this weekend's New York Times:

Why Does Spam Thrive? Easy: It Works
Canada’s Voxbox World Telecom Inc. does not claim to be a profitable company. But “Francis,” the spammer who hyped the company in e-mail messages last week, doesn’t care.

“Francis” probably bought Voxbox stock cheaply before sending his e-mail message and waited for gullible or greedy recipients of his spam to bid up the price so he could sell his shares at a profit.

Such “pump and dump” stock schemes are exploding on the Web. The antispam firm Postini said that unsolicited messages accounted for 93 percent of all e-mail in November — a record — and spammers are always finding ways to elude spam filters.

Spammers seem to prefer stock scams now, since they require no links to Web sites — just a message hyping an obscure stock.

An Oxford University professor, Jonathan Zittrain, and a Purdue University assistant professor, Laura Frieder, recently studied such schemes and reached a surprising conclusion: they work. Spammers often make a 5 to 6 percent return in just days. The suckers who buy the stock — and some inevitably do — lose 7 percent of their investment.

There is, of course, a simple, foolproof way to protect yourself. Delete the spam. Do not buy the stock. But for those who still don’t understand or simply can’t resist, even stronger warnings are on the way.

Most of the companies promoted in spam (including Voxbox) are traded on the Pink Sheets, a New York-based electronic exchange that doesn’t require companies to file financial reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Pink Sheets chief executive, Cromwell Coulson, said the exchange will create a new tier of companies in March that do file disclosures. Firms that do not will be flagged with a skull and crossbones if they are promoted in spam, he said.

In the meantime, Mr. Coulson offered some simple, age-old financial wisdom: “A free stock tip is worth what you paid for it.

Do NOT install Microsoft's new Office 2007 -- yet: I spent three hours of totally wasted time testing Office 2007 over the weekend. I cannot find one compelling new feature. It has a nice (read different) menu/interface. But what you can produce and do with it -- documents, spreadsheets, PowerPoint slides, letters -- really hasn't changed one iota.

The biggest problem -- at least for me -- is that I have a label printer that will print labels directly out of Outlook and Word. It's called a Dymo LabelWriter EL40:

My Dymo LabelWriter EL40

When installed inside Outlook or Word, it sets a small print icon next to the normal printer icon. Hit the Dymo printer, and it prints a mailing label for my Outlook contact or addressee in a Word letter. It’s the most useful desktop tool I have. It saves huge time making labels for envelopes. It no longer works inside Outlook 2007 or Word 2007. I tried re-installing it. But that didn’t work. Microsoft, for some reason, removed something called an “add in manager” from this version of Outlook. It was in previous version and it allowed you to add in useful outside software. No more.

The second problem is that Microsoft has messed up Lookout. Let me explain. Once upon a time, a company called Lookout Software made a search engine for Outlook. You downloaded it and installed it. Suddenly you could find things quickly in Outlook. Then Microsoft bought Lookout and, well, the ending is not happy. Lookout no longer exists. Microsoft has morphed it into something called Windows Desktop Search which doesn't work 90% of the time and the rest of the time is wildly inaccurate -- either saying it can't find anything or it finds completely wrong things. In short, Desktop Search is completely useless. And Lookout is gone.

The only good thing about Office 2007 is a new interface. It's more visual. Here's an example. I truncated it on the right to fit the column.

My problem with this new way of finding things is that my failing eyesight has trouble reading it. Why anyone would design blue on blue is beyond my brain. Worse, there's no way to change this miserable color scheme -- to say, black on light blue. Office users (like you and me) will take a while getting used to this new menu. And the opthamology industry will boom. I don't think the investment of your time installing Office 2007 at this point is worth it.

I have told Microsoft of my problems. There's some hope -- slim at best -- that they will listen and make a repaired version of Office 2007. Office brings in a huge percentage of Microsoft's revenues. If others react as poorly as I have and Microsoft doesn't fix it in coming months, Office 2007 will not be good for Microsoft revenues.

Holiday tripping with the wife
Billy Bob tells Luther, "Ya know, I reckon I'm 'bout ready for a vacation. Only this year I'm gonna do it a little different."

"The last few years, I took your advice about where to go. Three years ago you said to go to Hawaii. I went to Hawaii and Earlene got pregnant."

"Then two years ago, you told me to go to the Bahamas and Earlene got pregnant again."

"Last year you suggested Tahiti and darned if Earlene didn't get pregnant again."

Luther asks Billy Bob, "So, what you gonna do this year that's different?"

Billy Bob says, "This year I'm taking Earlene with me."

Telling the truth
"You're in great shape," the doctor confidently says, "You'll live to 70."

"But doctor, I'm 72," says the patient.

"So?" the doctor replies, "Did I lie?"

Collecting on the money
Doctor, "The check you gave me came back."

Patient, "So did my arthritis."

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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