Technology Investor 

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, July 21, 2006: Yuch. Another big fall yesterday. More volatility. I repeat my three warnings:

1. Stay away from tech. Look at Intel.

Look at Microsoft:

Look at Dell (today it announced a lower outlook and it will fall much lower today, probably under $20.):

I've talked about shorting techs or buying puts (a la Hickey's advice). I hope some of my readers did.

2. Stay in cash. We are not yet at the bottom of this downdraft. Predicting where the War in the Middle East will turn is too difficult at this point. Ultimately investors will thoroughly despair and stockmarkets will be ripe with bargains. We aren't there yet.

3. Assess carefully each of the stocks and investments you own. Are these the ones you want to own going forward?

Like Having a Secretary in Your PC:
Talk to your PC. Watch accurate words materialize on your screen. It's been my dream for years. Now the dream is apparently realized. The stuff works. Read this review by David Pogue, a respected technology writer on the New York Times:

TESTING, testing, one two three. Is this thing on?

Well, I’ll be darned. It’s really on and it’s really working. I’m wearing a headset, talking, and my PC is writing down everything I say in Microsoft Word. I’m speaking at full speed, perfectly normally except that I’m pronouncing the punctuation (comma), like this (period).

Let’s try something a little tougher. Pyridoxine hydrochloride. Antagonistic Lilliputians. Infinitesimal zithers.

Hm! Not bad.

Oh, hi, honey. Did you get to the bank before it closed? Oh, hold on, let me turn off the mike. Wouldn’t want our conversation to wind up in my column!

O.K., back again. The software I’m using is Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9.0, the latest version of the best-selling speech-recognition software for Windows. This software, which made its debut Tuesday, is remarkable for two reasons.

Reason 1: You don’t have to train this software. That’s when you have to read aloud a canned piece of prose that it displays on the screen — a standard ritual that has begun the speech-recognition adventure for thousands of people.

I can remember, in the early days, having to read 45 minutes’ worth of these scripts for the software’s benefit. But each successive version of NaturallySpeaking has required less training time; in Version 8, five minutes was all it took.

And now they’ve topped that: NatSpeak 9 requires no training at all.

I gave it a test. After a fresh installation of the software, I opened a random page in a book and read a 1,000-word passage — without doing any training.

The software got 11 words wrong, which means it got 98.9 percent of the passage correct. Some of those errors were forgivable, like when it heard “typology” instead of “topology.”

But Nuance says that you’ll get even better accuracy if you do read one of the training scripts, so I tried that, too. I trained the software by reading its “Alice in Wonderland” excerpt. This time, when I read the same 1,000 words from my book, only six errors popped up. That’s 99.4 percent correct.

The best part is that these are the lowest accuracy rates you’ll get, because the software gets smarter the more you use it — or, rather, the more you correct its errors.

You do this entirely by voice. You say, “correct ‘typology,’ ” for example; beneath that word on the screen, a numbered menu of alternate transcriptions pops up. You see that alternate 1 is “topology,” for example, so you say “choose 1.” The software instantly corrects the word, learns from its mistake and deposits your blinking insertion point back at the point where you stopped dictating, ready for more.

Over time, therefore, the accuracy improves. When I tried the same 1,000-word excerpt after importing my time-polished voice files from Version 8, I got 99.6 percent accuracy. That’s four words wrong out of a thousand — including, of course, “topology.”

For this reason, it doesn’t much matter whether or not you skip the initial training; the accuracy of the two approaches will eventually converge toward 100 percent.

NatSpeak 9 is remarkable for a second reason, too: it’s a new version containing very little new.

Yes, they’ve eliminated the training requirement. And yes, the new NatSpeak is 20 percent more accurate than before if you do the initial training. Then again, what’s a 20 percent improvement in a program that’s already 99.4 percent accurate — 99.5? That’s maybe one less error every 1,000 words.

(Nuance has done some clever engineering to wring these additional drops of accuracy out of the program. For example, the program has always used context to determine a word’s identity, taking into account the two or three words on either side of it to distinguish, say, “bear” from “bare.” The company says that Version 9 scans an even greater swath of the surrounding words.)

But the rest of the changes are minor. The top-of-the-screen toolbar has shed the squared-off Windows 3.1 look in favor of a more rounded Windows Vista look. You can now use certain Bluetooth wireless headsets for dictation, although Nuance has found only two so far that put the microphone close enough to your mouth to get clear sound. A new toolbar indicator lets you know when you’re in a “select and say” program like Word — that is, a program where you can highlight, manipulate and format any text you see on the screen using voice commands.

At least Nuance hasn’t gone the way of so many software companies, piling on features and complexity in hopes of winning your upgrade dollars. For the second straight revision, the company has preferred to nip and tuck, making careful and selective improvements.

Now, Nuance isn’t the only game in speech-recognition town. Microsoft says that Windows Vista, when it makes its debut next year, will come with built-in dictation software.

Nuance claims not to be worried, pointing out that Vista will understand only English. NatSpeak, on the other hand, is available in French, Italian, German, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, British English and “World English,” which can handle South African, Southeast Asian and Australian accents.

NatSpeak is also available in a range of versions for the American market, including medical and legal incarnations. Mere mortals will probably want to consider either the Standard version ($100) or the Preferred version ($200), each of which comes with a headset. Both offer the same accuracy.

The Preferred edition, however, offers several shiny bells and whistles. One of them is transcription from a digital pocket voice recorder. This approach doesn’t provide the same accuracy as a headset, and it requires what today is considered an excruciating amount of training reading: at least 15 minutes. But it does free you from dictating at the computer.

The Preferred perk is voice macros, where you teach it to type one thing when you say another. For example, you can say “forget it” and have the software spit out, “Thank you so much for your inquiry. Unfortunately, after much consideration, we regret that we must decline your application at this time.”

There’s also a $900 version called Professional, which offers, among other advanced features, complete control over your PC by voice; it can even set in motion elaborate multi-step automated tasks.

NatSpeak also runs beautifully on the Macintosh. The setup is a bit involved: you need a recent Intel-based Mac, Apple’s free Boot Camp utility, a copy of Windows XP, and a U.S.B. adapter on your headset. And you have to restart the Mac in Windows each time you want to use NatSpeak. But if you can look past all that fine print, NatSpeak on Macintosh is extremely fast and accurate.

If that sounds like too much effort, there is a Macintosh-only alternative: iListen ($130 with headset). Version 1.7, newly adapted for Intel Macs, offers better accuracy and a shorter training time than previous versions, though nothing like the sophistication or accuracy of NatSpeak. After 30 minutes of training, the program made 42 mistakes in my 1,000-word book excerpt, which the company says is better than average.

As for NaturallySpeaking: if you’re already using Version 8, it’s probably not worth upgrading to Version 9. Most people will find the changes to be too few and too subtle.

But if you’re among the thousands who have abandoned dictation software in the past, it’s a different story. Version 9 is a stronger argument than ever that for anyone who can’t or doesn’t like to type, dictation software is ready for prime time; the state of this art has attained nearly “Star Trek” polish.

Excuse me — what, honey?

O.K., I’m just finishing up here; I’ll be right down. Let me just turn my mike off.

For more information on Naturally Speaking 9, click here. I'll be buying the Preferred version today. I love the idea of being able to dictate to my computer, even though I type quickly.

The Middle East remains an unsolvable mess. To my brain:

1. Hezbollah seeks political gains from this war. Wars against Israel are always popular among poor, unemployed people. And there are plenty of them in the Middle East. Hezbollah is run by a cleric called Hassan Nasrallah. I'm guessing he wants to emerge as Lebanon's Supreme Leader (like what happened in Iran). To achieve his political ends, he doesn't care that he'll destroy Lebanon along the way.
2. Excepting Israel, all countries in the mid-east are dictatorships. Deflecting unhappiness with internal problems -- lack of jobs, lack of freedom, etc. -- onto Israel is a proven way of staying in power.
3. Iran is trying to establish itself as the leading regional power, appealing to Shiites. It arms Hezbollah, is popular because Hezbollah (which also runs hospitals) is popular among the poor.
4. Iran as a regional power with nuclear weapons is seriously threatening to states like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan which are Sunni.
5. Russia is comfortable with Iran's nuke ambitions, since it wants to sell them billions of dollars worth of nuclear fuel and materials.
6. China needs oil. It is a major buyer of Iranian oil and is negotiating a deal to buy LNG (liquefied natural gas) over the next 25 years.
7. The French, the Germans and other European countries are worried about buying oil and selling the Middle East weaponry, planes, etc.
8. The Israelis have insisted for years that Iran is building a nuke and Iran needs to be stopped because Iranian politicians talks of wiping Israel off the face. (See yesterday's column.) Iran also runs conferences on Holocaust Denial.

In short, a continuing, unsolvable mess.

"Dad, what is the difference between potentially and realistically?"
The father thought for a moment, then answered, "Go ask your mother if she would sleep with Brad Pitt for a million dollars. Then ask your sister if she would sleep with Brad Pitt for a million dollars, and then, ask your brother if he'd sleep with Brad Pitt for a million dollars.

Come back and tell me what you learn from that."

So the boy went to his mother and asked, "Would you sleep with Brad Pitt for a million dollars?"

The mother replied, "Of course I would! We could really use that money to fix up the house and send you kids to a great University!"

The boy then went to his sister and asked, "Would you sleep with Brad Pitt for a million dollars?"

The girl replied, "Oh my God! I LOVE Brad Pitt I would sleep with him in a heartbeat, are you nuts?!?!?! "

The boy then went to his brother and asked, "Would you sleep with Brad Pitt for a million dollars?"

"Of course," the brother replied. "Do you know how much a million bucks would buy?"

The boy pondered the answers for a few days, then went back to his dad.

His father asked him, "Did you find out the difference between potentially and realistically?"

The boy replied, "Yes... potentially, you and I are sitting on three million dollars......but realistically,.........we're living with two sluts and a homosexual.

Beware the Mexican Virus





Mexican hacker

Experience picking lemons
The woman applying for a job in a Florida lemon grove seemed way too qualified for the job.

"Look Miss," said the foreman, "have you any actual experience in picking lemons?"

"Well, as a matter if fact, yes!" she replied. "I've been divorced three times."

The weekend:
In short, nothing of great import to report today. Have a great weekend. Get some rest. Hug the kids.

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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