September 21st, 2009
05:21 AM GMT
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HONG KONG, China (CNN) – What do they say about clouds and silver linings?  Well, in the world of technology, there is an upside to the economic downturn: Cheaper gizmos and gadgets.

The popularity of the netbook is a good example of that, according to Jim Erickson, senior editor of business and technology at TIME magazine.  "These are very small, very cheap, very basic personal computers," he told me at an electronics store in Hong Kong.  Erickson believes netbooks are sure to be popular with budget-conscious students this back-to-school season.  "Just about any netbook selling for less than $300" is a good buy, says Erickson.

His picks?

1) Asus Eee PC 1005HA. "The screen has gone up from 7 inches to 10 inches," Erickson says.  "Keyboards have started to spread out a little bit so they are easier to type on."

2) Acer's Aspire One D250. "Very connectable," he explains.  However, he says the shorter battery life - two hours versus the Asus model's six hours – makes it a less attractive choice for those who want to take notes on their netbook during long lectures.

Here are some of Erickson's other faves for this autumn:

1) HTC Android-powered mobile phones such as the Magic.  These phones are similar to Apple's iPhone with "touch sensitive screen and scrolling."   However, Erickson says HTC phones are generally more affordable and the Google operating system gives users connectivity with Gmail and Google maps.

2) Creative Vado Pocket Video Cam VF0570. "It's a cheap, one-button video camera for taping lectures," Erickson told me.  The Vado is less expensive than other pocket cameras such as the Flip Mino, he says, and has a user replaceable battery.  (You can swap the battery after two hours of shooting in high definition.)  Erickson believes the new iPod Nano, which has incorporated a small video camera, is also likely to be a strong competitor to the Flip.

3) Sony Reader. "For textbooks and reading PDF documents such as notes," Erickson says.  The new Sony Reader has Wi-Fi and competes with other e-readers such as the Amazon Kindle.  Erickson is a fan of the technology which he believes will eventually allow students to carry all their heavy textbook reading in a single portable device.

What devices do you recommend? Share with CNN.

Filed under: RecessionTechnology

September 21st, 2009
05:05 AM GMT
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Is it the bloodbath in your retirement savings, or the lost equity in your home that’s got you thinking?   Or is it the seemingly constant news about investment professionals behaving badly (say, hosting lavish parties at foreclosed properties), or outright robbing their clients of billions of dollars (think, Bernard Madoff), that has you wondering how to protect what’s left of your nest egg?

For thousands of Americans, investment clubs are the answer.  I’d been wondering how the clubs have been doing in this downturn, and how average investors have been faring against the big professionals, you know, the ones with beach properties now up for sale to pay for their crimes.  So I visited an Atlanta-area club called “Mutual Investors of Atlanta,” to see what they’ve been up to.

This is a long way from the lavish boardrooms and offices of Wall Street.  This group meets in the back room of a local grocery store once a month.  Larry Reno, 62, started the club more than a quarter century ago.  At the height of the financial crisis, the club’s portfolio was down by 50 percent.  It slowly climbed with the market, and Reno now claims the group is ahead of big, professionally managed mutual funds.   The club’s $100,000 portfolio is now down just a little more than 2 percent.   Each club member expressed optimism about the future, and claimed they weren’t really terrified when things got bad.  They had each other.   I’m skeptical, but I’m also thinking, well, it’s better than the rest of us who were just afraid to look at our statements for six months!

The group is aggressively buying technology stocks and health services companies.  This year’s run-up on the NASDAQ has been kind to their portfolio. At the meeting I attended, they opted to purchase more PetMeds stock.  Most members are amateurs, but there are a couple of experienced investors on the team.  They help the other members understand PE ratios, work software to track stocks, and keep emphasizing the need to buy solid companies, dump the losers without looking back, and look for solid business fundamentals, not the latest media darling.

The meeting was professionally run, with the minutes recorded and read, and with each investor reporting on an assigned stock-- indicating whether they believed, based on the research, that the stock was a buy, sell or hold.   When one member drew a blank on “upside/downside ratios,” another club member was only too happy to explain what it meant (a ratio greater than 1 means more stocks are increasing in price than dropping). Does your broker do THAT?  Or does she send you running for to figure it out for yourself?

“Mutual Investors of Atlanta” is part of the Better Investing group, a national organization that sponsors educational programs, conferences, and promotes the idea that managing money as a group of equals, equals great results.  Check them out at  If you like the idea of individual accountability, strength in numbers, and if you have a strong stomach to stay the course, this might be an investment approach for you.

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