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Harry Newton's In Search of The Perfect Investment Newton's In Search Of The Perfect Investment. Technology Investor. Previous Columns
8:30 AM Wednesday, February 2, 2005: In praise of partnerships. Yesterday was the day for The Big Decision. I won't bore you with the details. Big Decisions are painful. I write the pros and cons down. I figure the logic. And then I agonize. In the old days I had a partner, called Gerry Friesen. He was intelligent, honest, and had skills I lacked. We built a nice business together because we had mutual respect for each other's talents. He and I together were always good with the Big Decisions. I'd argue illogically. Gerry would argue logically. He'd conclude. He was fast.

Gerry is retired now. I talk to him about our joint investments. (There are still a few.) I talk to him about his family. But I can't talk to him about my Big Decision, because he's not involved. I've started talking to my son, Michael, but he's building his own career and his own life. Yesterday, he said, "Wow, this stuff is really difficult." Welcome to the real world.

As a substitute for Gerry, I search for people with specialized skills. In real estate lending. In real estate syndications. In muni bonds. In accounting. In construction. In biotech. In business. I try to do for them what I did for Gerry -- make their lives more pleasant. Make helping me not the chore it really is. Make it mutually rewarding -- financially and socially. There will only be one "Gerry." I keep hoping to find another. He was truly special. You can't do it piecemeal. I realize that. You need a common goal. That's why partnerships can be so beautiful.

Tax Software Is Now Free to All: The makers of the nation's best-selling programs are giving away free software and electronic-filing services. The free software comes from a deal the IRS cut in 2002 with tax-preparation companies. The IRS is trying to encourage more people to file electronically. It promised not to provide its own free service during the term of the pact. In return, members of the alliance were required to offer free services, via the IRS Web site, to at least 60% of the nation's taxpayers. There are 19 software programs, including versions of the top-selling brands. They're available free through the IRS web site. Click here. P.S. My accountant told me this morning, "This software could not handle your return." That goes for probably everyone reading this column. Sorry about that. Tell your kids. Maybe their lives are still simple?

One incredible translation machine: Nothing impresses me any longer. Nothing. But here am I reading about DSL lines in Europe. They're cheap. They're fast. I need a translation machine to read Italian. A reader turns me onto Babel Fish. I test it. It's incredible. Click here and bookmark the site. You'll need it one day. Not just Italian.

Great for them, not for you: SBC Communications announces it will buy AT&T for $16 billion, virtually all in SBC stock. Plenty of dilution of SBC stock. Within days of the merger announcement, the companies predictably announce huge layoffs of 13,000 to justify the crummy, stupid deal. As is usual on Wall Street, mergers benefit senior management of both companies, but not the employees nor the shareholders. Wait till the bonuses come out in coming months. You'll be staggered.

Don't believe one word about the new "cheap" airline fares:
The airlines are still gouging where they can. I wanted to go for one day to Pittsburgh next Tuesday to interview a money manager. Cost $837. Reason? No discount airlines. I checked some other places where discount airlines -- like JetBlue and SouthWest -- don't yet serve. $608.30 to Mobile. $926.80 to Nashville, but much less for one day to Atlanta, which is further, but served by a cheap airline.

The old airline tricks still apply:
1. The Distant City trick.
Fly to Atlanta through Nashville. Throw the Nashville to Atlanta segments away.
2. Buy two back-to-back round-trip tickets.
Throw the end pieces away.
3. Buy cheap over-Saturday night, long-into-the future, tickets
and change the return at the airport gate -- where the agents are more motivated to get the plane out on time than to gouge you.
4. Fly into or from close airports.
New York has three airports. Newark is sometimes cheaper than Kennedy. But Kennedy is cheaper for flying to Phoenix and other places JetBlue serves.
5. Buy miles and swap them for a ticket.
This works most profitably with international business and first class tickets.
6. Use the American Express Platinum card to buy you two international business class tickets for the price of one.
7. Call your friendly local travel agent and beg her to be "creative."
She can call her airline sales rep and buy upgrades etc.
8. Check the trains.
They still ply between some cities. Occasionally they're on time.
9. Ask yourself, "Is the trip really necessary?"
Most often it's not. Travel is no longer pleasant.

What money can buy: A single dress in this year's Spring haute couture collection in Paris can cost as much as four years at Harvard, according to the New York Times' fashion reporter. Here's what you get.

For all the money, you don't even get the girl. Not that you'd want to look too long at those eyebrows.

Wonderful new technology:
With all the new technology regarding fertility, a 66 year-old woman was able to give birth to a baby recently.
When she was discharged from the hospital and went home, her relatives came to visit.
"May we see the new baby?" one asked.
"Not yet," said the mother.
"I'll make coffee. We can visit for a while first."
Thirty minutes had passed, and another relative asked, "May we see the new baby now?"
"No, not yet," said the mother.
After another few minutes had elapsed, they asked again, "May we see the baby now?"
"No, not yet," replied the mother.
Growing very impatient, they asked, "Well, when CAN we see the baby?"
"WHEN IT CRIES!" she told them.
"WHEN IT CRIES??" they demanded. "Why do we have to wait until it CRIES??"
"BECAUSE, I forgot where I put it...

Obvious solution: Tie a cell phone to the baby.

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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