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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 Friday, February 1, 2008: This is not good: Statistics released this morning show job growth contracted in January for the first time in more than four years. Nonfarm payrolls fell by 17,000 -- much weaker than the 85,000 job gains expected by economists surveyed by MarketWatch.

This "proves" two things. Economists aren't good at forecasting. Second, the economy is hurting.

I've watched the Republican debates. I watched Hillary and Barack "battle" off last night. All are giving boredom a whole new meaning. I pray someone somewhere comes up with a Vision I can get excited about. I'd like out of Iraq. I'd like to save the economy. I'd like healthcare for most. To me, those are like paying the rent. Got to be done. But not what I want my life to be about. I want to go to the moon, or its 2008 equivalent. Is anyone listening?

I was so bored with politics, I watched two ultra-violent, but super movies:

I've had a bunch of startups visit me. Nice that they're starting. Some great ideas. But three things are often lacking: an ultra-defined focus (they usually try to do too much), a marketing plan (someone has to sell the stuff) and realistic financial projections (tripling earnings every nanosecond doesn't look believable, or am I getting old?).

I"m looking forward to an active weekend -- anything to get the cobwebs out of my brain and get the juices moving.

Microsoft bids $44.6 billion for Yahoo! That's a P/E of a ridiculous 68 times. Yahoo is dying, struggling against a smarter, quicker Google. Yahoo made 31% less money in 2007 than it did in 2003. And it will make less this year. Microsoft says the combination of it and Yahoo will "create efficiencies" that will save $1 billion annually -- about 50% than Yahoo earned last year. I heard this "logic" when AOL bought Time Warner. It's nonsense.

Every so often companies do really stupid things, for really stupid reasons. This is one of them. Short Microsoft's stock.

Free utility condenses Windows Vista from 15GB to 1.4GB. I don't recommend using Vista, but if you must, read this wonderful story from Computerworld.

January 30, 2008 (Computerworld) A Croatian college student has created a utility that installs a seriously stripped-down Windows Vista, saying the heft of Microsoft Corp.'s biggest desktop operating system is just too big to believe.

"Who can justify a 15GB operating system?" asked Dino Nuhagic, a fifth-year student from Split, a Croatian city on the Adriatic. Not Nuhagic, or the uncounted users who have turned to his creation, vLite.

The free program lets users pick and choose which Vista components, hot fixes, drivers and even language packs are installed, then builds a disk image that can be burned to a DVD for unattended installation of the operating system.

"Why did I do it? Well, it's performance and work environment," Nuhagic said when asked why he came up with vLite. "Performance, that's easy to explain. The less things running, the more responsive the OS. But the environment part is where it gets down to personal preference."

Those preferences include options for leaving out virtually every component of Windows Vista, from the minor -- such as the bundled screensavers -- to the major, such as the firewall or Universal Plug and Play.

Some vLite users, in fact, have made it a contest of sorts to come up with the puniest-possible installation package for the operating system. While Microsoft recommends that users set aside 15GB of hard-disk space to install its pride and joy, Nuhagic's fans boast of squeezing it into an image file as small as 515MB that takes up just 1.4GB on the hard drive.

One user reported condensing Windows Vista Home Basic into a 526MB .iso file and installing it in a virtual machine that used just 1.3GB of drive space. "It worked well inside the virtual machine and since I have 1GB of RAM on the host I guess the little Vista would work well," said amocanu.

Nuhagic didn't come right out and say it, but he hinted that he -- like more critical users and pundits -- thought Vista was bloated and could use some reducing. "To be frank, I don't need 90% of Windows. But that 10%, which guarantees that you can run [the] majority of games out there, is what is worth isolating."

Crafting vLite wasn't easy, he said. But the time Nuhagic spent on its predecessor, nLite, which similarly squeezes Windows 2000 and Windows XP, paid off in spades. "Since I had four years of experience with tampering [with] older Windows, it was a lot easier than nLite," Nuhagic said of the development of vLite. "Also, it was easier than in XP because Vista does not have the old-style installation. It doesn't install components one by one, but simply extracts the image. Where XP would fail during install because a certain file was missing, that issue is not present in Vista."

Even though vLite features a simple graphical interface that lets users remove a component with a click, Nuhagic warned that the utility isn't designed for the average user: "Because of certain possible compatibility issues with the programs out there [that] expect full Windows, I'd recommend [it] only to users [that] want exactly that kind of tool. In other words, I would not recommend it to someone who installs their OS once every few years. But if you do it every few months, then it's a must." ...

Microsoft knows of the tools -- Nuhagic said the company has contacted him in the past about possible employment -- but it's done little to quash the condensing. When asked whether it had any thoughts on vLite, a company spokeswoman e-mailed a lukewarm warning.

"Microsoft does not recommend using any tool to strip out applications from Windows Vista prior to installing it on your system, as it may affect your ability to download future Windows Updates and Service Packs, and may cause your system to become unstable," she said.

But vLite's users praised Nuhagic's efforts with blunter language. "Thanks for spending your time making our OS less bloated," said one.

VLite 1.1 can be downloaded from Nuhagic's Web site.

This is hysterical: The background: The city sued Merrill because Merrill had sold it stuff without disclosing what it was. From Bloomberg this morning:

Merrill Lynch & Co. has agreed to pay Springfield, Massachusetts, $13.9 million to settle a dispute over collateralized debt obligations it sold the city that plunged in value. The money will reimburse Springfield for the cost of the so-called CDOs, securities tied to loans, mortgages and other debts that have been battered as more U.S. homeowners failed to make mortgage payments. New York-based Merrill said it agreed to refund the money after discovering the purchase was made without the city's consent. ...

Local government agencies from Florida to Washington state have been stung by their purchases of CDOs and other complex securities backed by collateral no one wants. The market for CDOs has frozen up because of surging subprime mortgage defaults that have hurt their credit ratings, making the securities difficult to sell.

Merrill this week said it will cut back on packaging home loans and consumer debts into securities because demand for the products has eroded. Similar securities have also saddled Wall Street banks with losses and threatened to undermine the bond insurance companies that guaranteed the debts would be paid.

Springfield bought its CDOs between April and June of last year from Merrill, according to city records. The value of those securities fell to $1.3 million in November. Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin's office subpoenaed documents and sought testimony last month from Merrill regarding the sale of the CDOs. ...

Merrill, the world's largest brokerage, sold Springfield investments in S Coast FD V CDO, TABS CDO, and Centre Square CDO, according to city records.

"After carefully reviewing the facts, we have determined the purchases of these securities were made without the express permission of the city,'' Merrill said in a statement. "As a result, we are making the city whole and we have taken appropriate steps internally to ensure this conduct is not repeated.''

Tents - Part 1:
Patient: "Doctor, one night I dream I'm a wigwam. The next night I dream I'm a tepee. What's wrong with me?

Doctor: "It's clear that you're just two tense."

Tents -- Part 2:
One night on a camping trip, Sherlock Holmes wakes Watson up and says, "Look at the stars. What do you deduce?"

Watson thinks for a minute and says, "Well, I see millions of stars, many of which resemble our sun, which most likely have their own planets, which most likely have life-forms like us, so I deduce that there is life on other planets."

Sherlock says, "No you idiot, someone has stolen our tent."

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.

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