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GP24Mar04: Malaysia, MeansBusiness, Philip Greenspun, Vacillando

Off the Beaten Track.  We keep finding answers in unlikely locales.  For example, with so many stocks and stock markets overpriced, Malaysia might be the offbeat place where you could still make a nickel.  Business magazines, such as Business Week and Fortune, have become thin in every sense, but MeansBusiness.com, up in Massachusetts, puts out a useful, free digest to keep us tuned in to some current management practices.  The home sections of our daily newspapers and the do-it-yourself magazines pump the wares of their advertisers, and little else besides.  Web cognoscente Philip Greenspun can give you a rich assemblage of detail on the workings of the Web, how to redo your kitchen, what to see in Cape Cod, as well as other unvarnished advice.   

Investment Outlook 24 March 2004.  You will find our new investment outlook posted in the Investor Digest section this week.  This is a time of maximum peril for most investors: Many of us had returns of 40 or 50% last year, which could make us rest on our laurels, even though we know we have to move on from the super deep-value companies that have now become pricey.  But what to do?  As Andrew Smithers of London says, “I know of no information that would allow investors to make a rational decision to buy shares in any market at the moment.”  (See the New York Times, March 21, 2004, p. BU 7.)  Of course, the nimble investor has to be mildly irrational or at least intuitive to win in these irrational, volatile times. 

Our counsel is to go to places that look dangerous because they are troubled or out of the way.  So we point to niche companies in energy and oil (i.e., our energy system and the Middle East are broken) and in healthcare plus its pharma- and medical-devices tributaries (i.e., our healthcare system is bankrupt and probably creating illness). Or to investments in obscure nations like Malaysia.  For more on our wayward investment thinking, look at our most recent Investment Outlook

Business Trends.  We’re frankly shocked at the sad estate of the 4th-estate, especially when it comes to print business journalism.  The news there is not new.  If you root around on the Internet, however, you can find some great specifics on new trends that search engines will never uncover for you.  For instance, you might take in the March 19 newsletter from MeansBusiness.com, an executive education company.  Its staff reads everything and culls out business gems from assorted publications—it’s an educated search engine, if you like.  See their archives at www.meansbusiness.com/ideas_archive.asp.  In the current digest, they’ve picked up on our puzzlement over American productivity: Nobody knows why it fell, why it has risen, or why, in our opinion, its recent gains have been associated with a fall in our standard of living.  (For more on productivity, see our entry, “Surge in American Productivity” in Big Ideas.)  There, too, you can learn how Google can be used to test advertising messages.  MeansBusiness is one of several Internet resources that can keep you one step ahead.   

It’s mind-boggling to think that we may no longer get perspective on the future by skimming through our major media.  Along similar lines, our colleague in Hong Kong, Andrew Tanzer, has found that English-language media in Greater China, whatever their ownership, don’t provide much of a window on China.  However, Chinese language newspapers, as they are privatized and somewhat freed up by the government, are much improved, giving you quite a feel for what’s going on.  We’ll be posting his observations on Global Province in a couple of weeks. 

Philip Greenspun.  Self-help publications, do-it-yourself products, and other aids to getting our life in order have been around for several generations, but they come up short when it comes to really telling you how to get the job done.  We came on Philip Greenspun some years ago when we discovered that he’d come out with the best help on navigating the Internet.  He even offered it for free, if you were willing to download it from his website.  We just happened to be looking into Henckel knives last week, and, lo and behold, that led us to Maestro Greenspun’s essay on dealing with his kitchen and more.  See www.Philip.green
spun.com/materialism.  As fun is his look at Cape Cod and other vacation haunts, which is enriched by an assemblage of photos.  See www.photo.net/us/ne/cape-cod.  

He’s just one example of  the ultimate promise of the Internet.  Increasingly, knowledge and insights are shared on sites and blogs that never get aired in the press or published in books. In weeks to come, one of our colleagues plans to talk about the growth of free, scientific content on the Web—wisdom and research that does not get widely disseminated in the world of expensive scientific journals, but reaches a wider audience on the Internet.  

Vacillando.  As people in the Latin countries might say, we need to take a meandering.  If we remember rightly, John Steinbeck got it right in The Log from the Sea of Cortez or some book about Baja.  He told of little, circuitous walks, maybe to the post office or to the grocery, where you took back paths and side streets with the explicit goal of not getting anywhere fast.  The whole point of the trip was what you saw along the way, not what you found when you got there.   

These days everything worth knowing or seeing seems to be five miles from the mainstream. On the Internet.  At the ends of the earth.  Creativity and value arise as we step off the curb and move away from the highway, the big river, the hub airport, the shopping mall, and all the other places where we used to think something was happening.  Intelligence is now widely distributed, no longer clustered in all the old familiar places.       

P.S.  Greenspun also tells you all about investing.  He likes best an old Italian adage: “There are three ways to make money. You can inherit it. You can marry it. You can steal it.”  For more of his thoughts, see http://philip.greenspun.com/materialism/money.

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