John A McInnis: ‘I wonder if you could clear up something for me and your other readers. A few weeks ago I was unpleasantly surprised to see that one of the funds I own in my retirement account, Oakmark International (OAKIX), had dropped 18% in one day. Since then I noticed a number of other funds I own have had precipitous one day drops. I have been told that this has something to do with the year-end capital gains distribution that these funds make, but I thought that the capital gains distribution was only a bookkeeping convention designed to let the IRS get its hands on gains I have not actually gotten my hands on yet. I’ve owned these funds for several years and this has not happened in the past. So, two questions: What the hell is going on here? And . . . am I screwed?’

☞ You are not screwed. Indeed, given the tough stock market of late, your funds were wise to take some profits last year. Either the fund sent all that cash (18% of your holding) to your retirement account, or else (if you signed up for dividend reinvestment) used it to buy you more fund shares.


A while back, I gave the iPhone mixed reviews. Update: It’s not cheap, and the Blackberry (which I also carry) is still much better for email, but c’mon: the thing is pretty great.

I leave to others comprehensive reviews, but just wanted to mention three things:

  • Visual voice-mail, as it’s called, shows you a list of the people who’ve called (by name, if they’re in your address book, or else by number) so that you can listen, call back, or delete in any order you want. No more calling a voice mail number, punching in codes, and then listening to, ‘You have . . . three . . . new messages and . . . six . . . old messages. To play new messages, press Pound Two’ . . . and then pressing #2 and being told, ‘You have three new messages. First new message, recorded today, at 5:35pm’ . . . and then finally hearing the first message, which you don’t need to hear anyway because you already talked to that caller. And so on.
  • (Wish list: I don’t see a way to forward a voice mail to another number. That would be nice. Say Marie called and you wanted Charles to hear her message, too. Why not be able to tap ‘forward’ and then select Charles from your favorites?)
  • Earbuds, as they’re called, plug in to the iPhone and let you listen to music and/or talk while the phone is in your pocket (or as you look through your email or check the weather or your stocks). I was slow to try this, focusing on potential cord-tangle and all manner of other vague concerns. But it’s really great.
  • There you are listening to the life of Alexander Hamilton or the soundtrack from Across the Universe, totally lost in thought, speed-walking through the Pentagon (or someplace) . . . and suddenly (except what’s so elegant is that it’s not sudden or abrupt) the book or music fades and you hear your phone ringing. (You’d swear it’s actually ringing, and that everyone else can hear it too.) If you like, you can glance at the iPhone to see who’s calling; or you can just take a chance and take the call no matter who it is – which you do simply by squeezing a little bubble on one of the two earphone wires, around chin level. You have your conversation and then just squeeze again to ‘hang up’ – at which point your book or soundtrack fades back in exactly where you left off. It works amazingly well.
  • (Wish list: how about a second ‘bubble’ that lets you run the song or book back or forward without having to pull the iPhone from your pocket?)
  • If you encounter a problem with your phone, there may be a simple solution I had not been aware of. You can ‘reboot’ it, much as you’d reboot your laptop, by pressing and holding two things at once for about 15 seconds: the ‘home’ button, center bottom on the front, and the ‘sleep’ button on the top edge.
  • I don’t know whether rebooting would have fixed the problem with my first iPhone that I had to exchange for a new one – probably not, as I assume the Apple folks tried that before agreeing to the exchange. But the other day, for the first time ever in several months of fairly heavy use, the iPhone ‘froze.’ Rebooting this way quickly got me back up and running with no loss of data.


A year ago I threw propriety to the wind and touted a ‘resortlet’ that a couple of friends and I were building in Costa Rica, inviting you to click to see it.

A year later, it’s up and running and our guests seem to have enjoyed themselves. (My partners swear all the guest comments since June have been included on the web site. This policy may change if we ever get a bad one.)

I’ve been shy about further touting it, in part because expensive vacations in Costa Rica are no way to grow your net worth. Better to plan a quiet week at home sleeping late and reading good books . . .

In part because it’s a little embarrassing to be touting one’s own self-interest . . .

And in part because I really want zero liability, legal or even just emotional, in case you go and get bitten by a snake or you slip and fall on the tile floor (dry your feet before you come in from the pool!) or, misjudging the distance, you plunge your rental car over the unguarded side of the very steep driveway – or, for that matter, rattle your brains out on the still-not-finished gravel road from the local airport. Or fall through one of the soon-to-be-replaced but still horrifyingly unsafe bridges along that road. (By next winter, the road should be like any country road in Connecticut.) Or are laid low by food poisoning; suffer a broken vertebra from a too-vigorous massage; are swept out to sea; or get buried in a mudslide.

None of these things is likely, but it is both cheaper and safer to stay home.

That said, the customer comments have been gratifying.

In no time, you could be shooing monkeys off the deck of your four-bedroom villa overlooking the Pacific (complete with broadband that often works and flat screen TVs) . . . bird-watching in a wildlife refuge less than two miles away . . . riding horseback to a waterfall, surfing in nearby Dominical, or snorkeling through nearby coral reefs, whitewater rafting, sportfishing, zip-lining* . . . or just getting a massage out by your private infinity pool.

* My partners and I have divergent marketing philosophies. ‘Zip-lining,’ I wrote, ‘involves a tremendously strenuous climb to the canopy of the rain forest, where you are hooked onto a wire – that could break, for crying out loud – to ‘zip’ from tree to tree, easy prey for whatever lives up there that wants to bite you, sting you, or peck yours eyes out. Are you out of your mind?’ This description was revised to: ‘Climb to a height of over 100 feet with your English-speaking guide and savor the beauty of this rare and awe-inspiring natural resource, while perched on the canopy of one of the primary rainforest’s ancient trees. Once you’ve had the time to observe the rainforest’s exotic birds and wildlife, you’ll fly from treetop to treetop, adding even more excitement to your adventure!’

If you go, I wish you a great time – but I wash my hands of the whole thing. (As for taking children – are you out of your mind?)


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