WOODSTOCK, NY (September 16, 1999) -- Roaring across the shores of the appropriately named Cape Fear, Hurricane Floyd, perhaps the resulting merger between the boxers Hurricane Carter and Floyd Patterson, violently attacked the eastern United States today, K.O.ing roofs from innocent homes and sending countless people to shelters.

Potential power outages threatened Fools up and down the East Coast. Floyd delivered on his threat to this Fool, who's now putting the finishing touches on this portfolio report in the dark with a flashlight in her mouth. The venomous storm has even threatened the cancellation of the Miss America parade in Atlantic City, N.J. When will the terror end?

Sometimes it feels like the Rule Breaker Portfolio is being attacked by financial analysts who think they work for the Weather Channel! Here are some news quotes appearing this week. Are they comments made in the aftermath of Barron's attack on America Online (NYSE: AOL), causing the stock to drop significantly since Monday, or thoughts on Floyd? You make the call.

"Minimal damage against what could've been catastrophic damage."
"Still very rough-going."
"Evacuate your position."

AOL warnings? Nah� simply comments about the hurricane. But eerily applicable to both scenarios.

Speculation has been rampant all week about the impact of free ISPs on AOL's growth. Rick doesn't empower the panic; Jeff is on the fence (unless Floyd has blown him off); and me, well, I'm perfectly comfortable with AOL over the long-term.


Being a Mac user who frequently succumbs to AOL's inferior Internet browsers for Mac, I rarely use AOL for Internet access. Personally, I'm not a big fan or user of AOL. But the operative word here is "big." I still use it, and love to use it, on a regular basis.

I couldn't conceive of living without it. At around $20 bucks a month, it's cheaper than cable TV, cat food, any of my four phone lines, and my weekly garbage pick-up. I even pay more for a pedicure (with paraffin, of course). A monthly subscription to AOL is cheaper than taking a family of 4 to the movies once a month, let alone buying popcorn and soda for that family. So it's certainly cheap enough to keep around.

More importantly, AOL is constantly adding more content for its members, which makes it easy to use and navigate. Just yesterday the company announced an alliance with online health services provider Careinsite Inc., which will allow AOL's tens of millions of users to consult doctors and other healthcare suppliers over the Internet.

Believe me, when I'm journeying back to my bed after involuntarily depositing a day's worth of nutrition in my toilet, I want the easiest online navigation possible to get advice on how to relieve my symptoms. I don't have the energy, time or patience to call up a search engine and visit hundreds of pages of references; AOL's one click system is the therapy that the doctor ordered.

I can also always count on AOL to offer me up-to-the-minute information and easy access when major news breaks, whereas Internet sites are frequently jammed or unable to be entered. This is particularly important during hurricanes or transcripts of Monica Lewinsky's testimony.

In addition, a study released today by The Yankee Group envisions online retail sales increasing to $125.6 billion in 2003 from $11.5 billion last year, as shoppers become more comfortable about the security of Internet purchases. AOL -- not to mention Rule Breakers Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) and eBay, Inc. (Nasdaq: EBAY) -- is in the perfect position to benefit from this increase in Internet buying mania.

There is no way I think humongous numbers of AOLers will abandon their homey and user-friendly service for free ISPs. Sure they'll lose some members; but there'll be a whole batch of newbies who desperately need the ease and convenience AOL offers to take their places.

I also believe AOL management will not sit on the fence alongside Jeff without finding some way to compete with this new threat. In the past they've always risen to the occasion; when they find the appropriate yeast, they will rise again.

In my favorite tidbit of Rule Breaker news, Amgen's (Nasdaq: AMGN) genetically engineered hormone leptin helped a 9-year-old, 210-pound girl safely drop more than 36 pounds during the course of a year. As much as I wish that Amgen had found a miracle cure for weight loss, it's not the conclusion that can be drawn.

Unlike the little girl, most overweight Americans already have plenty of leptin in their systems. But the discovery confirms the importance of leptin in the regulation of body weight, and establishes an arena for Amgen researchers to dig deeper into the fat reduction issue. When I see my company as a continual leader in research on topics that are huge potential moneymakers, I sleep soundly.

Uh oh� gotta run. Funny how the hurricane's thrashing rains continue to remind me that I forgot to fix my leaky porch roof. Anyone got an extra bucket?