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UPDATED 08/21/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/21/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT

Trade Secret
Up to their ears in kid stuff, a mom and pop start an online swap meet

Being parents is something Jens Christensen and wife Neguine Navab wouldn't trade for anything in the world. Old strollers are a different story. Two years ago the couple, both computer scientists living in Los Altos, Calif., wefe frustrated as sons Niles, now 4, and Julian, 2, began to "outgrow things really quickly—things you pay a lot of money for," says Navab, 37. So the pair's latest baby is WebSwap.com, where barter buffs describe unwanted items and what they hope for in return. "Getting something without spending money is very cool," says chairman and Danish citizen Christensen, also 37 (his wife, born in Iran, is a vice president). Paying cash is an option, but trading takes the spotlight: One of WebSwap's 140,000-plus registered users (the site recently waived its transaction fees) bartered vintage World Series tickets for a cell phone; another, cat toys for a tarot-card reading. Swapping, says Navab, is "a win-win situation."

My Favorite Site

Cyndi Lauper
Girls just want to have fun—out moms with toddlers sometimes just want a little advice. "I go to Amazon.com and buy self-help books," admits the singer-actress, 47, mother to son Declyn, 2, with actor husband David Thornton. "I'm a new mother, so I have to buy Your Two-Year-Old: Terrible or Tender or Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy, things like that. Our Babies, Ourselves," Lauper, starring in the indie movie The Opportunists, likes that the Net has helped fans find one of her lesser-known CDs, 1996's Sisters of Avalon. "The Web," she says, "really served me."

Internet Manners

What's the proper salutation for business e-mail?

In today's khaki-clad office scene, we're almost all on a first-name basis, so inter-cubicle missives can start with a cheery "Hi, Bob!" "Bob:" or nothing at all. The same goes for outside contacts you're already acquainted with, unless you're a peon and they're big cheeses ("Dear Mr. Gates..."). Don't know your recipient? Stick with Mr. or Ms. Traditionalists won't bristle, and whipper-snappers will be tickled.

Whenever I talk to guys online, all they seem to think about is sex. What can I do to stop them?

Besides unplug your computer? Good luck. Stick to chat rooms about specific topics such as hobbies—less likely to be pickup scenes. (Not an adult? Get thee to a policed kids' chat room!) If a private chatter gets frisky, politely but firmly inform him you're not interested in cybersex and leave if he persists. Or go incognito: Switch to a male-sounding handle.

Click and Get It

Gain in the Neck
Wear Julia Roberts's neck brace! The device, worn by the actress in the hit flick Erin Brockovich, is up for bidding through Aug, 19 at auctions.amazon.com, Other available props: a Harley-Davidson jacket sported by Brockovich's biker beau (Aaron Eckhart), one of her baby blankets and her diaper bag. But none of her industrial-strength push-up bras.

Word Up, Sherlock
Why do ex-tipplers say they're "on the wagon"? What makes clams—as in "happy as a clam"—so chipper? If such questions keep you up nights, check out the case files at word-detective.com. Millersport, Ohio, writer-sleuth Evan Morris, 50, enjoys turning up trivia: "When you delve into the history of a word, you're opening a window on how the people who coined it lived," he says. "On the wagon" dates from when dusty roads were watered from wagons; ex-boozers were said to be "on the water wagon." Morris, who gets some 500 e-queries a week, is following his destiny, digitally: His father, William, edited the first American Heritage Dictionary. With his own The Word Detective book coming out next month, Morris is as content as a bivalve—or "happy as a clam at high tide," an expression he says was once a catchphrase in New England.

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