Talk about a secret recipe.

Turns out Egyptian mummies weren't embalmed with oils extracted from juniper as was long-suspected, but cedar. This, according to Reuters, shocked many an "Egyptologist," despite ancient references to "cedar-juice," not to mention what was essentially a recipe outlined in "a work by Pliny the Elder, a Roman encyclopaedist who wrote of an embalming ointment called 'cedrium'."

What finally broke the case? Unused embalming material that had been laid down next to the superbly preserved 2,500-year-old mummy of "Saankh-kare." It all seems so obvious in hindsight.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Kodak's Critical Moment

By Rex Moore (TMF Orangeblood)

This is turning out be one of the most memorable days in the 122-year history of Eastman Kodak(NYSE: EK). The floundering photo giant -- trying to develop a clear focus and strategy -- is being pulled in different directions by those with a financial interest in its well-being.

To begin with, the company this morning reported third-quarter earnings from continuing operations of $0.88 per share, down 19% from the same period last year. Revenue, excluding the favorable impact of foreign currency exchange, fell 1%.

But another in a long line of disappointing quarters is only part of the news. Today, a group of disgruntled shareholders is meeting in New York to discuss ways to nudge Kodak away from its plan to realign the company around digital technology. The group, led by the Providence Capital investment firm, reportedly is comprised of about 60 institutional investors owning 25% of the stock.

Kodak recently slashed its dividend for the first time ever in order to help finance the shift from its core film business to digital imaging. But the digital market is highly competitive, and the group is not convinced Kodak can compete effectively as a latecomer.

Meanwhile, some photo retailers are offering up a different point of view. Mitch Goldstone, owner of Irvine, Calif.-based 30 Minute Photos Etc., is urging Kodak "not to be distracted from its strategy and vision for expanding its reach towards digital imaging." The developer of the Teacup Index says the new print-at-retail photo kiosks and online services "will make my business bigger, [and] it will also translate into rewarding growth for Kodak as well."

If my experience with a Kodak digital camera is any indication, the company is still struggling with its new focus: I've had a tech support issue go unanswered for nearly a month, even though an automated email promised I would "be receiving a personalized response from the Kodak Support Team within 24 hours."

This is clearly a critical period for the company as it tries to please the different factions of shareholders, retailers, and customers.

Quote of Note

"I believe in looking reality straight in the eye and denying it." -- Garrison Keillor

Nextel Connects Again

Nextel Communications (Nasdaq: NXTL) knocked analysts for a loop once again this week when it reported third-quarter results. The impressive numbers continued Nextel's recent trend of blockbuster performance, distancing the company from its peers.

Nextel reported net income of $348 million, down slightly from $383 million a year ago largely due to debt retirement charges. Revenue rose a healthy 27% to $2.89 billion from $2.28 billion. Showing continued confidence, the company again raised guidance, upgrading its outlook from $1.00 to at least $1.15 EPS for the year.

But the most impressive part of Nextel is the numbers behind the numbers -- those metrics that tell how well a business is performing in a brutally competitive market. Evidence here shows that Nextel has been on a tear for the last 18 months, taking a business that was once buried in debt (and facing bankruptcy) to the highest performer among all the major U.S. wireless carriers.

The company's recent performance metrics are untouchable: 646,000 subscribers added in the quarter, average revenue per user (ARPU) of $71, and a rock-bottom churn rate of 1.4% -- the lowest rate of any carrier. Stellar operations lead to impressive cash flow -- the company now expects to generate more than $1 billion in free cash flow this year, almost double the $600 million projected earlier. But far from a one-hit wonder, Nextel's improvement has been steady for several quarters, and the writing was on the wall months ago.

Skeptics argue that Nextel owes much of its performance to its signature Direct Connect service, which is now under attack from the competition. Recently, Verizon Wireless(NYSE: VZ) launched its own Push-To-Talk (PTT) service and SprintPCS(NYSE: PCS) is rumored to launch the same by year's end. AT&T Wireless(NYSE: AWE), Cingular (a joint venture between SBC Communications(NYSE: SBC) and BellSouth(NYSE: BLS)), and T-Mobile, subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom AG(NYSE: DT), also have expressed intentions to implement similar services in 2004.

But the recent threats don't seem to be bothering Nextel. And for good reason -- since Nextel's PTT offering is proprietary, they actually stand to lose few customers. Dumping Nextel and picking up a competing service would divorce subscribers of all their walkie-talkie contacts. And since the lion's share of Nextel's customers are business accounts with multiple units, switching is a very costly proposition.

While the future is never certain, figures continue to show Nextel's making the right connections.

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Have Your Cheesecake

Sweetness, revisited. When Cheesecake Factory(Nasdaq: CAKE)posted a slide in restaurant comp sales back in March, investors had every right to be nervous. The company pointed to the heavens, faulting pesky storm clouds. The jaded followed suit, only coming to the conclusion that the sky was falling.

After 42 consecutive, possibly even miraculous, quarters of higher same-unit sales, the company proved mortal. And in a trendy world of eateries where taste buds go fickle, mortality is simply one lost breath away from concept fatality. Hot chains sputter and fade away. Others such as Outback Steakhouse(NYSE: OSI) bounce back, but it's rarely painless.

Cheesecake Factory may have dropped the ball earlier this year, but after regaining its winning comp ways during the June and September fiscal periods, it can claim having higher same-store sales in 44 of the last 45 quarters.

For the third quarter, the popular casual-dining chain reported earnings of $0.28 a share on a 22% rise in sales. This time, it also pointed to the sky, only this time to praise the heavens. Good weather helped prop up capacity at some of the units with outdoor patio seating.

As famous for its huge portions and quality entrees as it is for its list of dozens of signature cheesecake desserts, the company seems to have skirted mortality yet again. With only 68 locations -- and now another 16 slated to open next year -- it will take years before it exhausts its expansion potential the way its more mature casual-dining peers such as Applebee's(Nasdaq: APPB), Darden(NYSE: DRI), or Brinker(NYSE: EAT) may have.

Keeping the streak alive with a 1.8% gain in third-quarter comps? That's just the topping on the cheesecake.

Discussion Board of the Day: Fools Fighting Fat

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Today on, it's Yahoo! vs. Google vs. Microsoft on The Motley Fool Radio Show.... Think the NYSE Is Bad? Meet the American Stock Exchange.... Robert Brokamp counsels you couples out there to get the fighting out of the way before the Christmas Cash Crunch and the relatives arrive.

Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Paul Elliott, Mathew Emmert, Jeff Fischer, Jeff Hwang, Tom Jacobs, LouAnn Lofton, Alyce Lomax, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Dave Marino-Nachison, Dave Mock, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim