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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 Thursday, September 14, 2006: When in doubt, stay out. And I'm in BIG doubt about markets at present. I'm not the only one. Fortunately I feel comfortable sitting heavily in cash and bonds. Imagine I were managing other peoples' money. Imagine every day I had to try to make my numbers by gambling on something happening. I'm long commodities because that's been a good strategy for several years. Now it stinks. I'm short stocks because most have been falling since May, fulfilling the old adage "Sell in May and Go Away."

Suddenly, things have gone topsy turvy. Commodities have plummeted. Stocks and bonds are rising. You'd be forgiven for feeling that Mr. Market was out to get you. He's succeeding BIG TIME. Want to sense the desperation on Wall Street? What about the fellow with several million shares of KFX. Look what happened yesterday.

He learned about the guaranteed way to make a small fortune. Start with a large one.

Want to feel heavy desperation? Read today's Heard on the Street from the Wall Street Journal:

As Energy Prices Sink, Many Firms Are Buoyed.
Airlines and Retailers Likely Will Be Among Beneficiaries As Oil, Other Commodities Fall

Now that energy and other commodities are down, the fortunes of a number of companies are looking up.

Oil prices remain near five-month lows, despite a small rise yesterday. Other commodities, from copper and zinc to gold and aluminum, also have been falling. Because they serve as critical inputs for the production of a range of products, the fall of these commodities will help many companies -- and likely will give a shot in the arm of consumers suffering at the pump.

The drop in commodity prices has spurred investors to search for stocks that might benefit. Airlines are obvious candidates. Major airlines around the globe continue to see strong passenger demand, so profits could climb if they are able to raise prices while their own costs drop, as fuel prices fall.

A study of trading patterns during the past three years by Bianco Research LLC in Chicago points to airlines as the sector most inversely correlated to oil prices. Some investors, such as Appaloosa Management LP, a $4 billion Chatham, N.J., hedge fund, bought airlines such as American Airlines in recent days, according to people familiar with the situation.

Shares of AMR Corp., the parent of American Airlines, rose 2.1% yesterday to $22.67.

One caveat: Some airlines have used derivatives to lock in the price they pay for fuel. This shelters them temporarily from high energy costs but also can keep them from enjoying lower costs when crude prices fall. More broadly, another caveat is that the price declines might prove temporary. Energy prices, say, could surge if the winter is colder than expected or talks with Iran over its nuclear program fail.

Retailers also are likely to benefit if a drop in energy helps consumers deal with the impact of a housing downturn. Target Corp. has been among the most sensitive to oil prices in recent years.

Some traders say the recent surge in shares of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Home Depot Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp. is a result of shorts -- those who have borrowed and sold these stocks, betting on lower prices as housing weakens -- who now are scrambling to buy back shares.

Companies that make consumer goods could be helped if consumers, with extra money in their pockets that was previously covering higher gasoline prices, treat themselves, says Bob Morris, director of equity investments at money manager Lord Abbett & Co. Retailers also are helped by cheaper gasoline because it costs less to drive to their locations. Casual dining restaurants like Applebee's International Inc. that have fallen hard in recent weeks could benefit, according to Patrick Dorsey, head of stock analysis at Chicago researcher Morningstar Inc.

Some investors are piling into Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., arguing that it will benefit as lower energy prices reduce the costs of producing tires. Sixty-five percent of the company's raw materials are derived from oil, including carbon black and butadiene, a synthetic rubber, according to a Goodyear representative. Raw materials, in turn, are 35% of Goodyear's cost of goods sold.

Others point to Procter & Gamble Co. as a winner because lower commodity prices make its goods' plastic and metal packaging cheaper, while giving a lift to consumer buying of its products.

Chemical companies like DuPont Co. and paper companies like International Paper Co. both buy significant amounts of oil to make and transport their products. While some chemical companies have little pricing power lately, limiting their gains, these sectors have their fans. "If oil and natural-gas prices are lower, you might start seeing much better numbers from these companies in the third and fourth quarters," says David Giroux, co-manager of the $8.1 billion T. Rowe Price Capital Appreciation Fund.

One sector that isn't an obvious beneficiary of a prolonged drop in commodities is technology stocks. Although these companies generally are less energy-dependent than those in many other sectors in producing their products, momentum-oriented investors who flocked to commodity-related stocks in recent years could pile into other areas, including tech. Tech is on the radar of more investors on the heels of a rash of leveraged buyouts and a sense that some of the companies are inexpensive. Lower gasoline and other energy bills also would free up billions for big U.S. companies to spend on areas like technology, which can increase productivity.

Tech stocks have trailed energy shares for two to three years "as energy stocks supplanted tech stocks as an investment for momentum players," says Thomas Galvin, chief investment officer of the growth equity group at U.S. Trust in New York.

Maybe the most intuitive choice is transportation stocks. Big auto makers like General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. could see higher demand for high-margin trucks and sport-utility vehicles if gasoline prices keep falling.

But many companies in the transportation group, such as truckers, have been able to pass on their higher fuel charges to their customers in the way of surcharges, so maybe they won't enjoy a dramatic benefit unless they see more demand from suddenly flush customers. That might be unlikely, because the economy is expected to slow. Also, many of these stocks already have surged, and big U.S. car makers are still buckling under heavy labor costs.

Of course, getting excited about stocks in the aftermath of the commodities tumble might be foolhardy -- the drop in these commodity prices is partly a result of a slowing U.S. and global economy, a phenomenon that could weigh on the earnings of all kinds of companies. Stock markets around the globe didn't climb during recent periods when commodities fell.

But some analysts, like Howard Simons of Bianco Research, argue that the recent drop in various commodities likely is "best described as an internal correction in that market" rather than as a flashing sign that the economy is about to head lower. "If we really were seeing a global economic downturn, we wouldn't be seeing commercial real estate strong, credit spreads tight and emerging markets strong," he says. "This is not a sign to head for the hills."

How to call cheap: I shall admit it. I was the culprit who started the phone industry on the road to selling cheap. When I started, a minute from New York to Los Angeles was 35 cents a minute. Now it's essentially free if you use Vonage, Broadview or Skype. That's the good news. The bad news is that as price has come down, so has quality. Some of the problem is that some suppliers -- e.g. the VoIP guys -- are using the Internet or Internet-like connections that simply weren't made to carry voice.

The only solution for you and I today is to have a multitude of alternatives at hand. Dial with the cheapest first, then move up until you finally connect. And if you don't connect -- for example on many international calls -- send an email and ask them to call you. It is not unfair to say that in many respects America's phone system has become decidedly third world, especially for calling overseas.

There is one bright spot on the horizon: Skype-to-Skype calls. Last night, I downloaded the latest Skype software, donned a headset and had a lovely, long, free conversation with a friend in Australia, though this morning's conversation with Chicago was awful. Everything I said I was echoed back to me. The big problem with Skype is that it seems to be half-duplex, which means the circuit is one-way and it's hard to interrupt the person speaking. It's like CB radio. You almost have to say "Over," pause and allow the other person to get a word in. With Skype both of you have to have Skype software loaded on your computers, have both them turned on and both connected to a broadband circuit -- either cable modem or DSL. It's great for people who have families overseas and can set up appointments for calling. Get yourself a decent headset. Keep the mike near your mouth. The Skype software easy to download and install. With luck, you'll get a clear circuit. Go here.

Watch those minor cuts: A friend cut her elbow, then rubbed it on a smelly mat at the gym. Soon she's got an infection raging up her arm that powerful antibiotics can't stop. By the time you read this , she may be in hospital, attached to an intravenous antibiotic drip. Not pleasant and very dangerous.

Next time you notice a minor cut, paint it with NewSkin liquid bandage. Keep painting it until it seals completely.

New Skin was invented around 1900 and first trademarked in 1901. I hear it's made a number of people very rich. Which is great, since the product really works.

Unprotecting and copying DVDs, downloaded music and movies and TiVos: The entertainment business has a million ways to stop you copying its products. The copying of CDs and music and their free distribution to all and sundry has hurt that business. Kids are the worst with music. The movie business is trying to avoid that same fate. It's trying to stop you copying a DVD for even your own use.

None of the industry's copy protection works -- if you know your way around it. Tomorrow, I'll give you a tutorial on how to unlock the copy protection (also called digital rights management) and make copies for your legitimate personal use. For my research, if you have some pet techniques/pet software, let me know.

My favorite affliction, Plumbers Crack: Duluth Trading sells a t-shirt that's 3" longer, designed specially to hide plumbers crack. 3M is far more creative.

Mind Games. What neuroeconomics tells us about money and the brain. Some economists are trying to figure what motivates us. They've learned that all of us normal people hate losing money more than we like making it. That emotion will often make us make stupid investment decisions. Getting emotion our of investing is why I keep harping on my inviolate 15% Stop Loss Rule. My son graduated with a brilliant fellow called Peter Sokol-Hessner, who's now studying something called "neuroeconomics." The September 18 issue of the New Yorker Magazine has a long piece by John Cassidy on this new science. Some excerpts:

Like many people who have accumulated some savings, I invest in the stock market. Most of my retirement money is invested in mutual funds, but now and again I also buy individual stocks. My holdings include the oil company Royal Dutch Shell, the drug company GlaxoSmithKline, and the phone company British Telecommunication. I like to think that I picked these stocks because I can discern value where others can’t, but my record hardly backs this up. I invested in BT in 2001, shortly after the Nasdaq crashed, when the stock had already fallen substantially, only to watch it slide another fifty per cent. I should have sold out, but I held on, hoping for a rebound. Five years later, the stock is trading well below the price I paid for it, and I still own it.

I sometimes wonder what goes on in my head when I make stupid investment decisions. A few weeks ago, I had a chance to find out, when I took part in an experiment at New York University’s Center for Brain Imaging, in a building off Washington Square Park. In the lobby, I met Peter Sokol-Hessner, a twenty-four-year-old graduate student, who escorted me to a control room full of computers. Sokol-Hessner is completing a doctorate in psychology, but he is currently working on a research project in the emerging field of neuroeconomics, which uses state-of-the-art imaging technology to explore the neural bases of economic decision-making.

Sokol-Hessner is particularly interested in “loss aversion,” which is what I was suffering from when I refused to sell my BT stock. During the past decade or so, economists have devised a series of experiments to demonstrate just how much we dislike losing money. If you present people with an even chance of winning a hundred and fifty dollars or losing a hundred dollars, most refuse the gamble, even though it is to their advantage to accept it: if you multiply the odds of winning—fifty per cent—times a hundred and fifty dollars, minus the odds of losing—also fifty per cent—times a hundred dollars, you end up with a gain of twenty-five dollars. If you accepted this bet ten times in a row, you could expect to gain two hundred and fifty dollars. But, when people are presented with it once, a prospective return of a hundred and fifty dollars isn’t enough to compensate them for a possible loss of a hundred dollars. In fact, most people won’t accept the gamble unless the winning stake is raised to two hundred dollars....

In 1979, two Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, published a paper in the economics journal Econometrica, describing the concept of loss aversion. At the time, few economists and psychologists talked to one another. In the nineteenth century, their fields had been considered closely related branches of the “moral sciences.” But psychology evolved into an empirical discipline, grounded in close observation of human behavior, while economics became increasingly theoretical—in some ways it resembled a branch of mathematics. Many economists regarded psychology with suspicion, but their preference for abstract models of human behavior came at a cost.

In order to depict economic decisions mathematically, economists needed to assume that human behavior is both rational and predictable. They imagined a representative human, Homo economicus, endowed with consistent preferences, stable moods, and an enviable ability to make only rational decisions. This sleight of hand yielded some theories that had genuine predictive value, but economists were obliged to exclude from their analyses many phenomena that didn’t fit the rational-actor framework, such as stock-market bubbles, drug addiction, and compulsive shopping. Economists continue to study Homo economicus, but many recognize his limitations. Over the past twenty-five years, using methods and insights borrowed from psychology, they have devised a new approach to studying decision-making: behavioral economics.

... Richard Thaler, was among the first economists to cite Kahneman and Tversky’s work; beginning in 1987, he published a series of influential articles describing various types of apparently irrational behavior, including loss aversion.

Acknowledging that people don’t always behave rationally was an important, if obvious, first step. Explaining why they don’t has proved much harder, and recently Camerer and other behavioral economists have turned to neuroscience for help. By the mid-nineteen-nineties, neuroscientists, using MRI machines and other advanced imaging techniques, had developed a basic understanding of the roles played by different parts of the brain in the performance of particular tasks, such as recognizing visual patterns, doing mental computations, and reacting to threats. In the mid-nineties, Antonio Damasio, a neurologist at the University of Iowa, and Joseph LeDoux, a neuroscientist at N.Y.U., each published a book for lay readers describing how the brain processes emotions. “We were reading the neuroscience, and it just seemed obvious that there were applications to economics, both in terms of ideas and methods,” said George Loewenstein, an economist and psychologist at Carnegie Mellon who read Damasio’s and LeDoux’s books. “The idea that you can look inside the brain and see what is happening is just so intensely exciting.”

In 1997, Loewenstein and Camerer hosted a two-day conference in Pittsburgh, at which a group of neuroscientists and psychologists gave presentations to about twenty economists, some of whom were inspired to do imaging studies of their own. In the past few years, dozens of papers on neuroeconomics have been published, and the field has attracted some of the most talented young economists, including David Laibson, a forty-year-old Harvard professor who is an expert in consumer behavior. “Natural science has moved ahead by studying progressively smaller units,” Laibson told me. “Physicists started out studying the stars, then they looked at objects, molecules, atoms, subatomic particles, and so on. My sense is that economics is going to follow the same path. Forty years ago, it was mainly about large-scale phenomena, like inflation and unemployment. More recently, there has been a lot of focus on individual decision-making. I think the time has now come to go beyond the individual and look at the inputs to individual decision-making. That is what we do in neuroeconomics.”

When people make investments, they weigh the possible outcomes of their decisions and select a portfolio of stocks and bonds that offers the highest possible return at an acceptable level of risk. That is what mainstream economics says, anyway. In fact, people often have only a vague idea of the risks they face. Consider my investment in BT. Back in 2002, there was no way that I could have predicted how much profit the company would make in 2006, let alone in 2010 or 2020. I bought the stock, nonetheless, convinced that it could only increase in value.

As imaging technology gets more sophisticated and easier to use, it may become possible to monitor investors’ brains while they trade stocks at their offices. For now, however, economists are restricted to laboratory experiments, in which they pay volunteers to play simple games designed to imitate situations that people experience in daily life. In one study, Camerer and several colleagues performed brain scans on a group of volunteers while they placed bets on whether the next card drawn from a deck would be red or black. In an initial set of trials, the players were told how many red cards and black cards were in the deck, so that they could calculate the probability of the next card’s being a certain color. Then a second set of trials was held, in which the participants were told only the total number of cards in the deck.

The first scenario corresponds to the theoretical ideal: investors facing a set of known risks. The second setup was more like the real world: the players knew something about what might happen, but not very much. As the researchers expected, the players’ brains reacted to the two scenarios differently. With less information to go on, the players exhibited substantially more activity in the amygdala and in the orbitofrontal cortex, which is believed to modulate activity in the amygdala. “The brain doesn’t like ambiguous situations,” Camerer said to me. “When it can’t figure out what is happening, the amygdala transmits fear to the orbitofrontal cortex.”

The results of the experiment suggested that when people are confronted with ambiguity their emotions can overpower their reasoning, leading them to reject risky propositions. This raises the intriguing possibility that people who are less fearful than others might make better investors, which is precisely what George Loewenstein and four other researchers found when they carried out a series of experiments with a group of patients who had suffered brain damage.

Each of the patients had a lesion in one of three regions of the brain that are central to the processing of emotions: the amygdala, the orbitofrontal cortex, or the right insular cortex. The researchers presented the patients with a series of fifty-fifty gambles, in which they stood to win a dollar-fifty or lose a dollar. This is the type of gamble that people often reject, owing to loss aversion, but the patients with lesions accepted the bets more than eighty per cent of the time, and they ended up making significantly more money than a control group made up of people who had no brain damage. ...

Not long ago, I drove to Princeton University to speak to Jonathan Cohen, a fifty-year-old neuroscientist who is the director of Princeton’s Center for the Study of Brain, Mind, and Behavior. Nine years earlier, while he was teaching at Carnegie Mellon, Cohen attended the conference that Camerer and Loewenstein organized. “I had never taken any economics courses; I had no idea what they did,” he recalled. “I thought it was all about setting interest rates.”

Since then, Cohen has collaborated with economists on several imaging studies. “The key idea in neuroeconomics is that there are multiple systems within the brain,” Cohen said. “Most of the time, these systems coöperate in decision-making, but under some circumstances they compete with one another.”

A good way to illustrate Cohen’s point is to imagine that you and a stranger are sitting on a park bench, when an economist approaches and offers both of you ten dollars. He asks the stranger to suggest how the ten dollars should be divided, and he gives you the right to approve or reject the division. If you accept the stranger’s proposal, the money will be divided between you accordingly; if you refuse it, neither of you gets anything.

How would you react to this situation, which economists refer to as an “ultimatum game,” because one player effectively gives the other an ultimatum? Game theorists say that you should accept any positive offer you receive, even one as low as a dollar, or you will end up with nothing. But most people reject offers of less than three dollars, and some turn down anything less than five dollars. ...

Several explanations have been proposed for people’s visceral reaction to unfair offers. Maybe human beings have an intrinsic preference for fairness, and we get angry when that preference is violated — so angry that we punish the other player even at a cost to ourselves. Or perhaps people reject low offers because they don’t want to appear weak. “We evolved in small communities, where there was a lot of repeated interaction with the same people,” Cohen said. “In such an environment, it makes sense to build up a reputation for toughness, because people will treat you better next time they see you.”

Unfortunately, some of the emotional responses that we developed millennia ago no longer serve us well. As Cohen put it, “Does it make sense to play tough with a person you meet on a street in L.A.? No. For one thing, you will probably never see that person again. For another, he may pull out a gun and shoot you.” Obviously, we can’t alter our brain structures, but it may be possible to influence decision-making by tinkering with brain chemistry. Last year, a group of economists led by Ernst Fehr, of the University of Zurich, demonstrated how this might be done, in an experiment involving what economists call “the trust game.

Trust plays a key role in many economic transactions, from buying a secondhand car to choosing a college. In the simplest version of the trust game, one player gives some money to another player, who invests it on his behalf and then decides how much to return to him and how much to keep. The more the first player invests, the more he stands to gain, but the more he has to trust the second player. If the players trust each other, both will do well. If they don’t, neither will end up with much money.

Fehr and his collaborators divided a group of student volunteers into two groups. The members of one group were each given six puffs of the nasal spray Syntocinon, which contains oxytocin, a hormone that the brain produces during breast-feeding, sexual intercourse, and other intimate types of social bonding. The members of the other group were given a placebo spray.

Scientists believe that oxytocin is connected to stress reduction, enhanced sociability, and, possibly, falling in love. The researchers hypothesized that oxytocin would make people more trusting, and their results appear to support this claim. Of the twenty-nine students who were given oxytocin, thirteen invested the maximum money allowed, compared with just six out of twenty-nine in the control group. “That’s a pretty remarkable finding,” Camerer told me. “If you asked most economists how they would produce more trust in a game, they would say change the payoffs or get the participants to play the game repeatedly: those are the standard tools. If you said, ‘Try spraying oxytocin in the nostrils,’ they would say, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ You’re tricking the brain, and it seems to work.”

Economics has always been concerned with social policy. Adam Smith published “The Wealth of Nations,” in 1776, to counter what he viewed as the dangerous spread of mercantilism; John Maynard Keynes wrote “The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money” (1936) in part to provide intellectual support for increased government spending during recessions; Milton Friedman’s “Capitalism and Freedom,” which appeared in 1962, was a free-market manifesto. Today, most economists agree that, left alone, people will act in their own best interest, and that the market will coördinate their actions to produce outcomes beneficial to all.

Neuroeconomics potentially challenges both parts of this argument. If emotional responses often trump reason, there can be no presumption that people act in their own best interest. And if markets reflect the decisions that people make when their limbic structures are particularly active, there is little reason to suppose that market outcomes can’t be improved upon.

Consider saving for retirement. Surveys show that up to half of all families end their working lives with almost no financial assets, other than their entitlement to Social Security benefits. Saving money is difficult, because it involves giving up things that we value now — a new car, a vacation, fancy dinners — in order to secure our welfare in the future. All too often, the desire for immediate gratification prevails. “We humans are very committed to our long-term goals, such as eating healthy food and saving for retirement, and yet, in the moment, temptations arise that often trip up our long-term plans,” David Laibson, the Harvard economist, said. “I was planning to give up smoking, but I couldn’t resist another cigarette. I was planning to be faithful to my wife, but I found myself in an adulterous relationship. I was planning to save for retirement, but I spent all my earnings. Understanding this tendency stands at the heart of a lot of big policy debates.”

Laibson has collaborated with Loewenstein, Cohen, and Samuel McClure, another Princeton psychologist, to examine what happens in people’s brains when they are forced to choose between immediate and delayed rewards. For a study the four researchers published in Science, in 2004, they used an MRI machine to scan a group of student volunteers who were asked to choose between receiving a fifteen-dollar gift voucher today and receiving a twenty-dollar gift voucher in two weeks or a month.

The scans showed that both gift options triggered activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex, but that the immediate option also caused disproportionate activity in the limbic areas. Moreover, the greater the activity in the limbic areas the more likely the students were to choose the voucher that was immediately available and less valuable.

The results provide further evidence that reason and emotion often compete inside the brain, and it also helps explain a number of puzzling phenomena, such as the popularity of Christmas savings accounts, which people contribute to throughout the year. “Why would anybody put money into a savings account that offers zero interest and imposes a penalty if you withdraw cash early?” Cohen said. “It simply doesn’t make sense in terms of a traditional, rational economic model. The reason is that there is this limbic system that produces a strong drive. When it sees something it likes, it wants it now. So you need some type of pre-commitment device to make people save.”

Laibson and Brigitte Madrian, an economist at the Wharton School, have studied one such “pre-commitment device” for 401(k) plans, which deduct part of an employee’s earnings each month and invest them in stocks and bonds. Because the plans are often optional, many people fail to join them, even when their employers offer to match a portion of their contributions. Laibson and his colleagues have called for people to be automatically included in the plans unless they choose to opt out. At companies that have adopted such a policy, enrollment rates have increased sharply.

Reforming 401(k) plans is an example of “asymmetric paternalism,” a new political philosophy based on the idea of saving people from the vagaries of their limbic regions. Warning labels on tobacco and potentially harmful foods are similarly intended to keep subcortical structures in check. Neuroeconomists have suggested additional policies, including warning buyers of lottery tickets that their chances of winning are practically nonexistent and imposing mandatory “cooling off” periods before people make big-ticket purchases, such as cars and boats.” ...

For the full New Yorker piece, click here.

Totally wonderful No Smoking scene: I have no idea if this is for real -- if someone actually painted this burial scene on the ceiling above a smoking area. If they did, it's brilliant. My hats off to them.

When I ran a company I'd pay my people $1,000 to give up smoking. Many did. Several suggested they'd take up smoking so they could get the $1,000 bribe from Harry to give it up. I thought they actually might. But they never did. Before we started with the Give-Up Smoking Tobacco bribes, we lost two of our people to lung cancer. One lady was a a single mother age 39 with two dependent young children. Her death broke my heart.

They sure knows how to hurt you - Part 1
When I was married 25 years, I took a look at my wife one day and said, "Honey, 25 years ago, we had a cheap apartment, a cheap car, slept on a sofa bed and watched a 10 inch black and white TV, but I got to sleep every night with a hot 25 year old blonde.

Now, we have a nice house, nice car, big bed and plasma screen TV, but I'm sleeping with a 50 year old woman. It seems to me that you are not holding up your side of things."

My wife is a very reasonable woman. She told me to go out and find a hot 25 year old blonde, and she would make sure that I would once again be living in a cheap apartment, driving a cheap car, sleeping on a sofa bed and watching a 13" black and white TV.

Aren't older women GREAT? They really know know how to solve your mid-life crises!

They sure knows how to hurt you - Part 2
When I went to the social security office to apply for Social Security, the woman behind the counter asked me for my driver's license to verify my age. I looked in my pockets and realized I had left my wallet at home. I told the woman that I was very sorry but I seemed to have left my wallet at home!

"I'll have to go home and come back later." The woman says, "Unbutton your shirt." So I opened my shirt revealing my curly silver hair. She says, "That silver hair on your chest is proof enough for me" and she processed my Social Security application.

When I got home, I excitedly told my wife about my experience at the social security office.

She says, "You should have dropped your pants. We would have gotten disability too."

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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