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Harry Newton's In Search of The Perfect Investment Technology Investor. Harry Newton

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9:00 AM EST, Monday, May 11, 2009. Accounting is about as close to fantasy as you can get. I actually have an accounting degree. So I say this deliberately.

Once there was a rule companies should report the value of their assets as to what they could sell them for on the open market. They changed this rule because the price of their assets had fallen. Now management is free to pull numbers out of its tushy and show whatever numbers it wants to -- a result of discarding FASB's mark-to-market rule. This morning, banking giant HSBC Holdings said its first-quarter underlying profit was substantially ahead of a year earlier due to $6.6 billion of one-off gains.

The "gains" happened because the price of its own debt on the market had fallen. It hadn't actually sold anything. It hadn't bought anything. It just took the price fall as a "profit" and then announced the price of its debt rebounded in April, meaning much of the "benefit" will be reversed in the second quarter.

How can you trust anything the banks tell you?

I don't make this stuff up.

How to sell your house. He's selling for $1.8 million. They offered $1.4 million. A neat trick: Offer to split the difference.

Would you believe? Computers flat out lie. I spend $150 a month on eSignal's QCharts service. It's a poor man's Bloomberg. Correct that. It's a poverty stricken man's Bloomberg. One of QCharts' "features" is real-time portfolio tracking. I entered three holdings into QCharts. Notice the wrong calculations on the cost:

I called QCharts tech support. They said, "We never imagined anyone would own such a large number of shares."

"Two thousand shares is a large number of shares?"

"Our system works to five hundred shares." Which it does:

"How come your computers can't multiply?" I asked.

"It's more complicated than that," they answered.

I guess it is.

Remember our motto: CHECK. CHECK. CHECK.

Deer ticks revisited: First, they're very dangerous. Second, you want to remove them instantly. Third, if you don't get them out quickly (like they're in for a few days), take the tick to your doctor. Have it tested for Lyme Disease. Fourth, don't believe old wives tales about removing them with soap. After I mentioned my wife's tick on Friday, I was inundated by kindly readers sending me a "school nurse's memo" about removing ticks with soap. Wrong! The only way to get a tick out is with tweezers or that special tick removal tool that looks like a bottle opener. Grab the tick as far down as you can and pull it out. More on Snopes.

Reader Anita Smyth emailed:

Your comment about ticks spurred me to drop you a line. As a wetland scientist, my job brought me into close proximity to all sorts of natural hazards, insects among them. Sometimes I’d get several dozen bites over the course of a day or two of fieldwork and the itching is annoying, setting aside the risk of West Nile virus and other risks.

Several years ago I discovered the “Buzz Off” line of clothing from Ex Officio, which has insect repellent (and an SPF 30 rating) built into the fabric. I find the chemical repellents, well, repellent so this has been a good option for me. The first time I wore my new shirt, I got over 20 mosquito bites through my jeans but nary a nibble on my upper half, including my face and hands which weren’t covered. We don’t have a big problem with ticks where I live, but the tags indicated that the repellent worked on them.

They aren’t cheap garments but they are a lot cheaper than West Nile virus or Lyme disease. Mine still looked new after several years of using it for field work.

For Ex Officio "Insect Shield" garments.

Motivation, Islam-style. Some Somali pirates are thinking of giving up their trade. Says Abshir Boyah, a towering, notorious Somali pirate boss who admits to hijacking more than 25 ships and to being a member of a secretive pirate council called “The Corporation,” says he’s ready to cut a deal.

“Man, these Islamic guys want to cut my hands off,” he grumbled over a plate of camel meat and spaghetti. The sheiks seemed to have rattled him more than the armada of foreign warships patrolling offshore. “Maybe it’s time for a change,” he said.

News stories in gorgeous photographs. The Internet's best photographs are at's "The Big Picture." Sample:

Elke, a five-day-old Francois Langur, makes her media debut at Taronga Zoo's Wildlife Hospital in Sydney, Australia on March 24, 2009. Taronga's keepers have decided to hand-raise the monkey after she was rejected by her mother. (REUTERS/Daniel Munoz). For more photos.

Please be careful lifting. My friend is just out of the hospital with a hernia operation. He tried to lift his daughter's heavy suitcase. Dumb.

Dilbert on the new economy:

What attracted people to Madoff? Madoff reported annual returns of 8.5 percent to 11.7 percent during the past five years, according to Swiss banker, Notz Stucki.

The heart warming elephant story: In 1986, Peter Davies was on holiday in Kenya after graduating from Northwestern University ...

On a hike through the bush, he came across a young bull elephant standing with one leg raised in the air. The elephant seemed distressed, so Peter approached it very carefully. He got down on one knee, inspected the elephants foot, and found a large piece of wood deeply embedded in it. As carefully and as gently as he could, Peter worked the wood out with his knife, after which the elephant gingerly put down its foot.

The elephant turned to face the man, and with a rather curious look on its face, stared at him for several tense moments.

Peter stood frozen, thinking of nothing else but being trampled.

Eventually the elephant trumpeted loudly, turned, and walked away.

Peter never forgot that elephant or the events of that day.

Twenty years later, Peter was walking through the Chicago Zoo with his teenaged son.

As they approached the elephant enclosure, one of the creatures turned and walked over to near where Peter and his son Cameron were standing. The large bull elephant stared at Peter, lifted its front foot off the ground, then put it down.

The elephant did that several times then trumpeted loudly, all the while staring at the man.

Remembering the encounter in 1986, Peter could not help wondering if this was the same elephant.

Peter summoned up his courage, climbed over the railing, and made his way into the enclosure. He walked right up to the elephant and stared back in wonder.

The elephant trumpeted again, wrapped its trunk around one of Peter legs and slammed him against the railing, killing him instantly.

Probably wasn't the same elephant.

This is for everyone who sends me these heart-warming bullshit stories .

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.