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Inflatable You


With the stock market off to a solid start this year after sharp gains in 2003, you may find that your employee stock options are worth something again. One good way to check on their value is myStockOptions.com, one of a few such sites that has kept growing while some rivals went dark. Along with a slew of educational materials, the site offers a free record keeper and options calculator. (Premium memberships, with more articles and calculators, plus graphing and modeling tools, cost $79 a year.)

The basic calculator, which lets you specify federal, state, and local tax rates, will figure aftertax proceeds if you sell holdings at a given price. You can track each type of employee incentive -- nonqualified stock options, incentive stock options, restricted stock, and employee stock purchase plans. Site creator Bruce Brumberg says a frequent reader question is: "Can you exercise underwater options and in-the-money options at the same time and have them net each other so there's no tax gain?" Sadly, no. Tax rules don't allow it. How to handle options after losing a job also remains an area of keen interest. Las Vegas may be better known for slots and showgirls than the loftier arts, but the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art (bgfa.biz) is out to change that. From Jan. 30 to Sept. 13, the gallery, on the Bellagio hotel's casino level, will display 21 paintings by Claude Monet on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Included are depictions of Rouen cathedral, water lilies, and his wife, Camille. Admission is $15, but it may well be worth it for a respite from casino clatter. Thanks to the new maximum federal tax rate of 15%, dividend income is more valuable than ever. Here's an easy way to get a slug of dividend-payers into your portfolio: iShares Dow Jones Select Dividend Index Fund. It's an exchange-traded fund that's listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol DVY.

This ETF invests in 50 of the higher-paying stocks in the Dow Jones U.S. Total Market Index. The fund's adviser, Barclays Global Investors, also screens the companies for their financial strength and dividend-paying history. At the recent price of $54.38, the payout is just 3.8%. Still, compared with the 1.53% yield on the Standard & Poor's 500, it's downright plump.

You won't need layers to fend off the chill with W. L. Gore's Airvantage adjustable insulation (airvantage.com). Blow into a tube to increase the insulating properties, trapping body-heated air in a maze inside the garment. As you work up a sweat, release the air to stay comfortable. It's built into jackets and vests from Boathouse, Columbia, Lands' End, Oakley, and others.


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