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- MILLENNIUM APPROACHES: Gibbs Smith, the Layton publisher, has never been one to play it safe. Over the years the company has brought out everything from coffee-table books full of photographs of furniture to collections of cowboy songs complete with CDs.

Now the publisher is pitching one of the quirkiest volumes of the year: "Countdown to 2000: A Kid's Guide to the New Millennium." The book is small, it's purple, it costs $14.95 and it's full of wild and weird illustrations by Brad Teare and odd observations and things to do from Bonnie Bader and Tracey West.An example? The fortuneteller bonanza created by the millennium.

"The trouble with most prophets is that their predictions aren't exactly cheerful," the authors say. "Many predictions about the year 2000 have to do with floods, wars and earthquakes." Among the warnings are the famous Nostradamus prediction that a "king of terror" will descend from the sky in July 1999, as well as the Amazing Criswell's claim that aliens will conquer the Earth in 1999.

Sounds like a big year for humanity.

I think I'll just catch the new, sci-fi movie "Independence Day" instead.

- NOTHING TO SNEEZE AT: Sometimes conversations at a newspaper are stimulating, informative and high-minded. Other times, they're like this one, an exchange from yesterday that I jotted down:

"You know Sneezy the dwarf?"

"Not personally."

"You know what I mean. Do you think he sneezed because he had allergies, or a chronic cold?"

"I think he had a deviated septum. Why are you asking this?"

"Because I've been reading an article about sneezing. It's fascinating. I mean, have you noticed that no one says `Gesundheit' anymore? I used to say it all the time, and I don't even know what it means."

"I think it means `Make me sick and I'll kill you.' Anyway, `Bless you' always seemed a more American way to respond."

"In Mexico they wish you `health' the first time you sneeze. If you sneeze a second time they wish you `love' and on the third sneeze they wish you `money.'

"What if you sneeze four times?"

"They wish you'd just go away."

"I've heard that a sneeze is the nearest a person comes to death. It's the one time your heart actually stops. I've heard if you sneeze 13 times in a row you die."

"I've heard that. And I've also heard that people sneeze whenever they think about sex."

"Interesting. That just might explain Sneezy's problem. Ever notice how he starts sneezing whenever Snow White enters the room?"

- PRINTER'S INK FOR BLOOD: Unless you love language, never watch televised basketball games with an editor. They tighten up the sloppy sentences of the commentators, they keep summing up the action in cogent little headlines.

I was watching a Jazz-Spurs game with one of my department heads as John Stockton scurried down the court and hit a three-point shot as the half-time buzzer sounded. My editor pumped his fist in the air, tilted his head back and shouted: "Wow! What a punctuation mark!"

If language isn't your thing, better to watch basketball games with doctors, lawyers and backhoe operators.