Has the worm made you squirm yet?

As we (and everyone else) warned a couple of weeks ago, a security hole in the most popular versions of Microsoft's(Nasdaq: MSFT) ubiquitous Windows operating system was ripe for exploitation. Sure enough, a virus-like worm called "Blaster" has been making the rounds this week.

Blaster is not an overly harmful worm; at this point it has only been forcing computers to shut down. The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, however, had to close all its offices yesterday while administrators worked to clean the worm from its system.

If you haven't yet installed the patch that will keep Blaster -- and any other programs designed to exploit the security hole -- away from your system, read Microsoft's Hack Attack to see if your operating system is vulnerable and, if so, how to patch it.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Gillette Sues Schick

By Rex Moore (TMF Orangeblood)

The most fascinating story of our time has taken yet another strange twist. Faithful readers will recall that back in May, I announced the Blade Count had reached four. Yes, a generation after Gillette(NYSE: G) introduced the two-blade design, and a few years after the count reached three, Schick is all set to roll out the world's first four-bladed razor.

Why? Because, as an old Saturday Night Live skit reminds us, we'll believe anything.

So, the new twist today is this: Gillette is suing Schick for violating its exclusive patent on absurd marketing ploys. No, wait. Gillette is really suing because Schick's $9 four-blade Quattro allegedly uses the "proprietary progressive blade geometry technology of the [three-blade] Mach3 system." Ha! Who says lawyers don't have a sense of humor?

The lawsuit is asking for a halt to Quattro's planned September rollout, as well as trebled monetary damages. Schick -- which was recently sold by Pfizer(NYSE: PFE) to Energizer Holdings(NYSE: ENR) -- has yet to comment on the situation (probably because its lawyers are trying to think of equally funny stuff to say).

Speaking of lawsuits, I'm getting set to file one myself against humor columnist Dave Barry. Six weeks after my four-blade story, he stole my idea and wrote one of his own. I'm asking for $12.85 in damages for "the publication of an article using proprietary progressive algebraic four-blade humor, while making it exponentially funnier than the original."

However, I'm willing to drop the lawsuit in exchange for the right to reprint Barry's words here because they are so fitting. In a fit of nostalgia, he referred to the days of the one-bladed razor as:

"The Golden Age of Not Having Razor Companies Introduce Some Ludicrously Unnecessary New Shaving Technology Every Ten Damn Minutes."

Amen, brother.

Quote of Note

"If you don't mind smelling like peanut butter for two or three days, peanut butter is darn good shaving cream." -- Barry Goldwater

Dishing EchoStar

Satellite TV and Internet service provider EchoStar(Nasdaq: DISH) trumpeted solid earnings this morning, but is there more than meets the eye?

The company reported Q2 EPS of $0.26, up from $0.07 a year ago, on a 22% vault in revenue. It added 270,000 subscribers, an 18% jump, to hit 8.8 million. Hughes Electronics'(NYSE: GMH) DirectTV is No. 1 with 11.6 million subs as of June 30, 7.5% over last year. Despite the news, EchoStar dropped over 4% during the day.

In an unusual move, the company provides free cash flow numbers in its press release -- $150 million for the quarter. We like that and often write about the Joy of Free Cash Flow as an indispensable investment tool for measuring green production, though it's not infallible. Free cash flow equals net cash from operations minus capital expenditures, so a company could always reduce capex to show better short-term numbers but be starving the business. That's why we need to stay alert and learn what is maintenance capex and what's discretionary.

EchoStar doesn't break it out in the press release, but that's not worth a spanking. Hardly anybody does -- two exceptions are Duke Energy(NYSE: DUK) in materials posted on its website and Costco(Nasdaq: COST) in its SEC filings' management discussion.

But why does EchoStar provide quarterly free cash flow in its press release and omit the balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement? Because companies routinely select only that information for the press release that they want to see in the media, because their PR professionals know full well that deadlines and editorial pressure force 99% of financial writers to parrot the press release. But they usually hide the cash flow, not the balance sheet or income statement.

Of course, the full numbers will appear in the 10-Q filed with the SEC, but news is now, the 10-Q comes later, and few journalists have the skills to evaluate it -- a state of affairs that the non-profit Association for Investment Management and Research works hard to fix through its excellent online and in-person media seminars that help financial journalists read company PR hype with a more critical eye.

Yet, curiously, the company filed its 10-Q the same day as its press release and it's available now. We looked at it quickly and at first glance couldn't find any red flags that might lead the company to leave the tables out of the press release. That's the rub: There's hardly time for even analysts on deadline to read the fine print. So the company escapes another spanking, though barely.

We were all fired up to attack the company for an Enron-like omission of its balance sheet from the press release, but given the same-day 10-Q filing, let's just ask them to put the three financial statements in the next press release and give harried business writers a break. They aren't all The Motley Fool, ya know.

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IRA Rollovers 101

Do you have money sitting in a former employer's retirement plan? My, you must be feeling generous to your old boss.

A little-known fact about 401(k) plans is that, like every other financial service, the provider charges administrative fees. These costs used to be assumed by employers. But more and more the expenses are being shifted to plan participants. And many of those plan participants no longer work at the company.

According to the Department of Labor, we move to a new employer once every four years, leaving a trail of old 401(k) and 403(b) plans that total in the trillions of dollars. If you have money sitting in a former employer's retirement plan, it's time to take control and move your money into a self-directed IRA, completing the process that the financial services industry has dubbed the "rollover." Doing so will give you more investment options at a lower cost.

Operators are standing by! With the average 401(k) balance at $50,000, it's no wonder that companies such as Fidelity, Vanguard, and Merrill Lynch are spending big marketing bucks on prime-time rollover commercials.

To catch your eye and assets, they've improved the way rollover business is done.

  • Discount brokers are making it easier than ever to roll your money over into a self-directed IRA. It can take as little as one form to complete the rollover transaction. Remember, you don't just want your old employer to simply cut you a check for your balance. The moment you touch the money, you'll pay some ugly taxes and penalties.

  • To keep assets once you move them, companies are beefing up customer service. Demand a free toaster. (Just kidding.) At least consider the level of customer service (e.g., phone support, online account management, etc.) when you move your money. See if any of the special offers in our Broker Center fits your needs.

  • On the other hand, don't be tempted to trade more than you would -- or buy risky investments -- just because of some perk you are offered.

  • Watch out for fees. Some brokers charge an IRA maintenance fee. Again, it pays to shop around and do a side-by-side broker comparison to see how each stacks up.

  • Despite your new investing power, keep contributing to your current employer's retirement plan -- especially if they offer some sort of matching program.

Discussion Board of the Day: Television Banter

What do you think of ads these days? Are they funnier? Are they more informative? Bottom line: Are they more memorable and therefore effective? All this and more -- in the Television Banter discussion board. Only on Fool.com.

Not yet a member of the Fool Community? Jump into our discussion boards free for 30 days!

Quick Takes

In an extremely odd tactic, labor unions currently locked in a dispute with Verizon Communications(NYSE: VZ) are asking customers to "pledge to switch your local and long distance phone service to AT&T(NYSE: T), another unionized carrier, if and when union leaders say it's time." The Communications Workers of America and the AFL-CIO apparently don't think lost business would mean less need for the company's 78,000 workers.

Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) has Sam to thank for part of its 16% increase in second-quarter earnings. Sam's Club, Wal-Mart's low-price warehouse club, saw a 13% jump in operating profits despite a fierce price war with rival Costco(Nasdaq: COST). By contrast, Costco warned last week that it would not meet earnings expectations.

While Wal-Mart is thanking Sam, News Corp.(NYSE: NWS) is toasting Joe, Clay, and Reuben. Helped by Fox TV hits like Joe Millionaire and American Idol, News Corp. reversed a year-ago loss to earn $0.28 per share in its fiscal fourth quarter. Besides the strong television showing, the company showed record profits in its film, cable, and book publishing segments as well.

In local news, unemployed gymnastics teacher Timothy Willard threw himself to the ground yesterday -- and missed.

And Finally...

Today on Fool.com:

  • Annuities... who needs them?
  • Medifast has bulked up 700% by selling weight-loss products.
  • He's the world's best trader, but that's not how he makes his real money.
  • If you want to catch up on today's interesting news and commentary, bookmark our ever-changing News section.

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