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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, February 5, 2007: Stratfor is the best global intelligence firm. They have just released their 2007 Annual Forecast. It contains political analysis on all corners of the globe and an overview of the global economy. Here's what they say about the U.S.

The U.S. economy at the beginning of 2007 is enmeshed in a slowdown. The expansion that took place over the past four years — which averaged an impressive 3.4 percent per quarter — is over, and the system needs to take a bit of a breather. Data supporting this stance include a weak housing market, stubbornly high inflation, robust energy prices, sagging worker productivity and an inverted yield curve — all classic indicators of economic malaise. This is where the U.S. economy begins the year.

But slowdown does not equal recession, and both for structural and tactical reasons we expect the slowdown to be mild and brief. Structurally, the foundations of the U.S. economy — emphasis on technology, a well-developed infrastructure, a culture of entrepreneurship that rewards risk-taking, an educated workforce, etc. — remain in place. This slowdown is simply a cyclical downturn, not a symptom of a broader structural deficiency. Furthermore, as the U.S. baby boomers mature, their retirement savings are making the world awash with capital. This is keeping interest rates far lower than they would “normally” be, and should contribute to that often-sought-after “soft” landing for the American economy.

Tactically, in the past month commodities prices — whether corn, oil or copper — have plummeted from their historical and near-historical highs. When these products’ prices fall, economic activity of all stripes tends to get a new lease on life. So just as the American economy is taking a breather, the building blocks of a strong recovery are falling into place. Add in that the U.S. stock markets have not experienced a serious sell-off and it seems that investor sentiment has never really soured. All this indicates a mild correction — not a recession.

Barring a severe shock to the international system, the slowdown likely will evaporate sometime around the beginning of the third quarter, although if past proves prologue the media will recognize that the U.S. slowdown is real by about the time it has ended.

"My cable modem is SLOW. My DSL line is SLOW": There are five things to know about the speed of your Internet connection.

1. Your provider bundles your traffic together with all his other customers. This means your service is faster when others aren't on -- in the middle of the night. It's faster if your provider has a faster link to the Internet. The Internet is also a shared medium. Everybody's traffic flows over the same lines. None of this is controlled, regulated or guaranteed. Carriers are very reluctant to talk about the actual speed you might get. They prefer to talk about "blazingly fast" and "50 times faster than dial-up."

2. Your connection speed will depend, to some extent, on the quality of the wires from your cable or DSL modem to your provider. Those wires include the ones in your house and those in the street. You can improve these by replacing them with new cable that runs directly to your modem. No connections. Straight cable. The stronger the signal, the better. A signal loses a little strength each time it hits a splice or a join. You don't want to share your cable modem service with your geeky neighbor, for example. If you bitch loud enough, your provider will replace your cable with a new one. If you motivate your installer (money works), he'll do a better job.

3. Your "speed" will also depend on the speed of server at the other end. Contact a popular site or a badly-written site and you could have an excruciatingly painful session. Funny thing last week: When I complained to Time Warner about the glacial slowness of my line, they had me test the line with their own web site. As they watched, my connection dropped four times. They were concerned. They escalated me to a high techie. He said, "Ooops. Our site is new and not working well. Try this other one." Sure enough, my results were better. No dropped connections.

4. Service from your local cable company tends to be a lot faster than from your local phone company. Some phone companies are upgrading their local lines to fiber. They should be faster.

5. Your "speed" will be faster if you have a faster, cleaner newer computer with more memory. When you download stuff from the Internet, it comes in a stream of data. To make it into pretty pictures and handsome text, you need a computer to do the significant work necessary. Your browser supervises the work, but it can only work as fast as your computer can. Computers are cheaper these days than your time. It's better to buy the fastest available with at least 3 gigabytes of RAM. Do not think that 1 gig will make it any longer. You also need a cleaner computer. See below.

If you're curious about your own connection, close all your programs, reboot your computer and try this simple test:

Here are my results and those of my friend Dan, who's a few miles out of Palm Springs, California. Note the dramatic differences. Send me your results. I'll chart them. It should be an interesting study.

Download speed -- kbps
Upload speed -- kbps
Harry's NYC Time Warner cable modem, test 1
Harry's NYC Time Warner cable modem, test 2 (three days later)
Harry's Country Taconic Telephone DSL
Dan's California Time Warner cable modem

The clean computer and the cloned hard drive: As it ages, your computer slows. Stuff gets loaded, old programs get bloated, spyware affixes and your computer makes mistakes. Your computer's operating system -- Windows or Mac -- does a valiant job of coping. But the price is slowness. There is only one solution -- go back to square one and start again. The easiest way to do this is to clone your computer's hard drive when it's new and you've just loaded it with all the software you need. Put the clone in a corner. When you decide it's time to go back to square one, pop the old drive out into your computer, copy all your working files back onto it. Bingo, you have a new, faster machine.

There are many ways of cloning your computer's hard drive. I prefer EZ Gig from Apricorn. You need to call them and check precisely what will work for your system -- 800-458-5448.

Progress (of sorts) comes to China: For years, foreigners in China have delighted in the loopy English translations that appear on the nation's signs. But as the 2008 Summer Olympics loom, Beijing officials have a plan to stop the laughter. Among my favorites from today's Wall Street Journal:

The deep south has its charms: Every country has its "idiots" -- someone to be the brunt of a bad joke.

The owner of a golf course in Kentucky was confused about paying an invoice, so he decided to ask his secretary for some mathematical help. He called her into his office and said, "You graduated from the University of Kentucky and I need some help. If I were to give you $20,000, minus 14%, how much would you take off?"

The secretary thought a moment, and then replied, "Everything but my earrings."

A group of Alabama friends went deer hunting and paired off in twos for the day. That night, one of the hunters returned alone, staggering under the weight of an eight-point buck.

"Where's Henry?" the others asked..

" Henry had a stroke of some kind. He's a couple of miles back up the trail," the successful hunter replied.

"You left Henry laying out there and carried the deer back?" they inquired.

" A tough call," nodded the hunter. "But I figured no one is going to steal Henry!"

A senior at Louisiana was overheard saying... "When the end of the world comes, I hope to be in Louisiana."

When asked why, he replied he'd rather be in Louisiana because everything happens in Louisiana 20 years later than in the rest of the civilized world.

The young man from Mississippi came running into the store and said to his buddy, "Bubba, somebody just stole your pickup truck from the parking lot!"

Bubba replied, "Did you see who it was?

The young man answered, "I couldn't tell, but I got the license number."

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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