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"When you write something, you look at it the next morning and think, `Boy, is this ugly.'"

--General Electric's Jack Welch, on his upcoming book, Jack: Straight From the Gut Ever find those snatches of televised testimony by Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan a bit difficult to follow? You're not alone. Even the man himself knows he can be nearly incomprehensible. "I used to be concerned that I would be inadvertently clear," he quipped to 1,500 black-tie dinner guests of the Economic Club of New York in late May. "But then I noticed that people had little Fed-speak dictionaries" to help them cut through "some of the obscurity with which I have become well-versed."

The crowd chuckled appreciatively at Greenspan's self-deprecation. But that didn't save them from the circumlocution to come. In tracing recent economic history, Greenspan offered such nuggets as: "The persuasive evidence that the growth of structural productivity remains well maintained and that prospective long-term rates of return probably have been only marginally diminished suggests a solid underpinning to capital spending."

When he was done, someone asked Greenspan if he thought the tax cut conflicted with the Fed's monetary policy. "There has got to be a way to answer that question without saying anything," he replied. Then, of course, he found it. If you're wondering when to expect that promised tax refund from Uncle Sam, check the last two digits of your Social Security number. If they fall between 00 and 09, you'll be among the first to get your check. Expect it sometime after July 20. However, if your Social Security number ends closer to 99, don't spend your $300 just yet--you won't be getting it until late September, earliest.

President Bush's tax plan, approved in late May, left the feds with the task of figuring out how to issue 98 million refunds. They couldn't do it by the first two digits of people's Social Security numbers, they decided, because that would favor people born on the East Coast, where SSN's begin with low numbers. So they decided to go by the last two digits, which are more randomly assigned. "This is the most efficient way of getting the checks out the door," explains a Treasury Dept. spokeswoman. With the government dispersing $38 billion, efficiency matters. Forget eBay and Yahoo! For his own portfolio, Bill Gates prefers low-

profile, traditional companies. While he has picked some dogs, his 14*

publicly reported major holdings rose an average 10.9% this year, compared

with the S&P 500's dismal -4%.** Here are his better picks:

* Gates's Mar. 31 disclosure of holdings of more than 5% in compliance with SEC requirements. One other holding, Busybox.com, is not included because the company was delisted in April.

** Value as of market close on June 4

*** Traded as of Mar. 6

Data: 21st Century Investor, Bloomberg Financial Chinese hackers, upset over the American spy-plane incident earlier this year, have been attacking U.S. government Web sites since April. According to official U.S. accounts, they've merely managed to post anti-American graffiti but not much more.

However, cyberhooligans did score a direct hit on one of several e-mail systems used by the State Dept. The strike knocked out an unclassified service used for external communications by public-relations officers in Washington who communicate with U.S. embassies worldwide. The incursion penetrated four State Dept. file servers, affecting e-mail addresses ending "pd.state.gov," sources at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo tell BusinessWeek. Hackers sympathetic to China are suspected.

Service has been partially restored, but many U.S. diplomats are still making do with alternative e-mail addresses or, in some cases, their personal Hotmail or Yahoo! accounts. Should tensions over Taiwan or trade flare again, expect more fireworks from China's hackers. The third season of The Sopranos ended with a bang in May. Yet for some New Jersey businesses featured in the HBO hit, the boom continues. The dozens of restaurants and stores, used to give a realistic view of the Garden State, are profiting from their newfound celebrity and becoming tourist attractions.

At Fountains of Wayne, a patio and garden store, customers "constantly" mention the store's March cameo, says manager Brian Winters. Although he can't estimate the financial impact of the appearance in which Tony Soprano buys (you guessed it) a fountain, he says the value of the free advertising far exceeds the $8,000 HBO paid to use his store. "The show made it easier for new customers to identify us," says Winters. Adds Joe LaSpaba, whose Joe's Bake Shop in North Arlington appeared in the first season: "That's kept us going for two years now."

Sopranoland sites will soon get more visitors, courtesy of Georgette Blau, whose On Location Tours runs buses to Satin Dolls nightclub (screen name: Bada Bing) in Lodi, North Arlington's Pizzaland, and Jersey City's Skyway Diner. Blau says more than 1,500 people have taken the $30, Sunday-only tour: "We're starting weekday tours to accommodate summer demand, and we haven't even done any advertising yet." Does our money need to be laundered? You might think so after hearing from Peter Ender, chief of infectious diseases at Dayton's Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. He has come up with yet more proof that money is disgustingly filthy.

Ender, who with his researchers collected 69 $1 bills from businesses in Dayton, found five had bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumoniae) that could infect healthy people--if the bills touched the mouth or an open cut. Another 59 bills had a variety of germs that "have been known to cause significant infections in those with depressed immune systems," says Ender. He presented his findings to the American Society of Microbiology meeting in Orlando in May.

But Fred Weinberg, a currency expert and president of the Professional Numismatists Guild, scoffs at the idea of money as a health issue. "I have been doing this for 30 years, and I have never heard of anybody who got sick from handling a $1 bill."

Even so, your mother was right: Wash your hands after handling cash. With California's power supply stretched to the limit and the prospect of blackouts looming, a government research lab is offering a way to keep constant tabs on the situation. That way, people can see whether they need to break out the flashlights and crank up the generator and businesses can prepare to adjust work and production schedules as demand nears capacity.

The brand new Web site, energycrisis.lbl.gov, created by scientists at federally funded Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, tracks California's actual power consumption in real time. It then creates simple-to-read line graphs showing how close the state is to maxing out and updates them every 10 minutes. "People can learn to respond to when the peak is occurring and when they should get their equipment switched off," says longtime power-conservation researcher Alan Meier.

Meier cautions that his site can't show where blackouts will happen, just that they will. "I created this because I couldn't tell when we were nearing a serious situation," he says. Now he can--and you can, too. Adults polled who say they are baseball fans: 58%; of those, ones who have "called in sick" to attend a game: 12.6%

Data: Maritz Poll


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