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Phone Poker


Stocks have been rocky, largely because of surging energy prices. And with interest rates rising, bonds haven't been any better. Yet short-selling -- betting on falling prices -- isn't allowed in individual retirement accounts (IRAs) or 401(k)s. You can, however, use "inverse funds" as a proxy for a short.

Like index funds, these mutual funds track specific benchmarks, such as the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index, the NASDAQ 100, or the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond. Rather than try to match those marks, managers mix futures, options, and short sales to create a fund that moves in the opposite direction. Most aim to return 100% to 200% of the inverse of an index' daily performance. ProFunds' Bear ProFund (BRPIX) and its juiced-up sister, the UltraBear ProFund (URPIX), for instance, are both linked to the S&P 500. If the index drops by 2%, the value of Bear ProFund should increase 2%. The UltraBear ProFund should jump 4%. The reverse is true if the S&P rises.

Ill-timed calls can make for losses. Last year, the Rydex Juno Fund, which moves in the opposite direction from the price of long-term U.S. Treasury bonds, seemed like a sure bet. When long rates went down instead of up, Juno lost 9%.

The fees of these funds, although generally lower than employing other short strategies, are higher -- 1.88% on average -- than those of domestic equity funds -- 1.24%. Shares offered through a retirement plan may be cheaper.

Still, if you're comfortable with short-selling, the inverse funds can be savvy plays. And unlike traditional shorting, the potential for loss is limited to the size of your original investment. With Apr. 15 coming soon, an inverse fund may be a good place to park your next IRA deposit.

Visit any Web site hawking educational toys and you're likely to find Mozart CDs. The sales pitch: Listening to Wolfgang Amadeus makes children smarter. Never mind that the 1993 seminal study indicating a relationship between Mozart and spatial intelligence made claims only for college students. So why did it unleash a frenzy, resulting in pregnant women playing Mozart tapes to their unborn babies? Chip Heath, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Swiss psychologist Adrian Bangerter traced the evolution of what they call a "scientific legend" in a recent study.

The clamor grew out of an experiment at the University of California at Irvine that showed college students who listened to a Mozart sonata for 10 minutes temporarily improved their spatial reasoning. Heath and Bangerter analyzed hundreds of news stories over the next decade and discovered that the coverage distorted the findings by linking Mozart listening to long-term intelligence gains among infants, children, and high school students. The hype continued even after 20 later studies discredited the original research. Their conclusion: The "Mozart Effect" idea persisted because it counteracted anxiety over public education.

Now you can use your cell phone to ante up for real. Starting on Apr. 11, cell phone users can download a free interactive poker game at PokerRoom.com. (Previously, they could only go head-to-head with a computer.) You can play the ever popular Texas hold 'em, select between tables, and chat with other players. Most states ban online gambling, but like other casino sites, PokerRoom's servers are outside the U.S.


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