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SIR BRANCH - 128

SAN RAMON VALLEY

Jim Quon's Consumer Tips

 
 
 
Here are some handy consumer tips from SIR Jim Quon that you might find useful.
 
Check out Jim's Consumer Tips Archive covering items 2013, 20142015, 2016, 2017, & 2018!


JULY 2020 CONSUMER TIPS
 
 East Bay Times Best of East Bay Survey: The following is the 2020 listing of the annual ratings for restaurants and bars in East Bay.  These are rated by public reader survey responses. These are not necessarily  my choices or recommendations.  These are ranked by local reader survey.
  • Best Sports Bar:  Clementine’s, San Ramon
  • Best Wine Bar: First Street Wine Company, Livermore.
  • Best Bakery:  Primrose Bakery, Pleasanton
  • Best American Food: Clementine’s, San Ramon
  • Best BBQ: Back Forty BBQ, Pleasant Hill
  • Best Brew Pub:  Danville Brewing Co., Danville
  • Best Chinese Food: Uncle Yu’s at the Vineyard, Livermore
  • Best Deli: Geneva Deli, Walnut Creek
  • Best French Food: Reve Bistro, Lafayette
  • Best Frozen Yogurt: Yogurtland, various locations
  • Best Ice Cream: Fenton’s Creamery, Oakland
  • Best Italian Food: Melo’s, multiple locations
  • Best Japanese Food: Sato Restaurant, Pleasanton
  • Best Mediterranean Food: Shish Grill, San Ramon
  • Best Mexican Food: El Charro, Livermore
  • Best Pizza: Zachary’s, multiple locations
  • Best Seafood: Walnut Creek Yacht Club, Walnut Creek
  • Best Steakhouse: Ruth’s Chris, Walnut Creek
  • Best Thai Food: Lemongrass Bistro, Livermore
  • Best Vegetarian: Veggie Grill, Walnut Creek
  • Best Vietnamese Food: Kevin’s Noodle House, Walnut Creek
 
Hand Sanitizing: When using a small pocket/purse spray applicator to dispense alcohol based sanitizer, spray liberally on one hand and clasp and rub your hands together spreading it on all parts of both hands.  If you try to spray equally on both hands, the liquid is so thin in viscosity that it will evaporate from the first sprayed hand before you can do the other hand.  Also, because it is high in alcohol content, do not use in close proximity to any live flames.
 
■ Plastic Lens Care: By law, all eyeglasses sold in the U.S. must be made of either high impact resistant plastic or tempered glass.  Plastic is less expensive, easier to shape and lighter in weight.  90+% of all eyeglasses are fitted with plastic lenses.  These lenses should be cleaned with care as they are easily scratched even when coated with scratch resistant, protective coatings.  Never use any dry paper products – not even Kleenex or even dry lens tissue.  Always use these products in a wet or moist form so the fibers are soft enough to avoid scratching the lens surface.  Use moist towelettes commercially available for this purpose or use soft cotton or microfiber cloths.  When using a commercial eyeglass cleaner solution, do not spray directly onto the lenses.  Instead, spray your cleaning cloth to moisten the cloth for use.  Tip: Pre-moistened Lens Cleaning Towelettes can be purchased in bulk packs (20 – 120 moist, sealed pouches) for as little as 5¢ each, at Walgreen’s, CVS, Dollar Tree and 99¢ Only Stores.
 
■  Kitchen and Food Items:  Now that we are cooking and eating at home more due to Shelter In Place restrictions, the following ideas/methods may be of help to you.  These are intended to supplement any cooking tips from John Noll.
 
1. Peeling Potatoes?  Instead of pulling out your trusty peeler, grab a pot of boiling water instead. Trace a small line with a knife around the center of each potato and allow the entire bunch to simmer in the boiling water for fifteen minutes. When the time is up, transfer each potato to a bowl of ice water. When the potatoes have cooled down, you’ll be able to slide the peel off easily and continue with the rest of your cooking.  This technique will work on most varieties of potatoes.  This also works when doing just a few potatoes in the microwave.
 
2. Extend storage life of fresh berries by dipping in a mild solution of water & apple cider vinegar, drain and store in fridge.
 
3. Put a Dishtowel Under Your Bowls and Cutting Boards - There’s nothing worse than trying to prepare something in the kitchen while all your tools are slipping and sliding around your counter. Whether you’re mixing in a bowl that keeps trying to get away from you or slicing on a cutting board that won’t stay put, creating a little traction on your counter will lead to easier cooking.
 
4. To make bananas last longer - Wrap plastic wrap around the stalk end of a bunch of bananas to cut off exposure to oxygen in the air to slow down ripening process.  Secure with a rubber band or tying off the plastic wrap.
 
5. For Fluffier Scrambled Eggs - Add a spoonful of mayo to scrambled eggs instead of water or milk.  It will also improve the flavor.
 
6. Fast Freeze Berries - When freezing berries, place berries on a flat sheet in a single layer and place in the freezer for fast freezing.  When frozen, transfer to a Ziploc Bag and seal with as little air in the pouch as possible.  Fast freezing results in less moisture loss upon thawing because ice crystals are smaller.  This means the berries will better retain their original shape, flavor and texture after thawing.
 
■ Comcast/Xfinity Users Tip:  Comcast/Xfinity, like all internet service providers will occasionally suffer outages. If you should lose your Internet connection (may include telephone, TV and home security system) the fastest and easiest way to determine if it is a local system issue or you own internal home issue – use your cell phone and text “outage” to #87808.  You will be notified of the system status for your local area.  If the service is normal for your area, you can report a problem at your location at that time.
 
■  Keeping Your Vehicle Battery Charged:  Most of us have two or more vehicles in the household even though we’re ‘empty nesters.’ That may mean that in this time of Shelter in Place, one or more of the vehicles will not be in use for long periods of time.  To keep the vehicle battery properly charged, it’s a good idea to make a point of driving your secondary vehicles at least once every 3 to 4 weeks, or more frequently if the battery is more than 2 years old.  In lieu of driving it periodically, you can start it and simply let it idle for about 10 minutes.  That should be enough to keep the battery charged and circulate warm/hot oil through the engine.  If you are going to leave the vehicle unattended for months at a time, you can connect an AC powered trickle charger to the battery or connect a 5 watt solar panel charger.  Both can be used to keep the battery at full capacity.
 
■ Consumer Reports New CCR Feature: CR has just announced a new program that allows shoppers to get ratings and reviews on products by scanning the QR code (when available) on the product display materials or on the product for ‘brick & mortar’ locations using your Smartphone camera.  This code will also be displayed on web pages for online shopping websites (when available).   Look for the “CR RECOMMENDED” logo.  Here’s how it works – manufacturers of products that earn high ratings after comprehensive testing in the CR labs may choose to display “CR Recommended” for their products on their own sites, on other shopping sites, in stores, and on their product packaging, provided they agree to abide by CR’s strict guidelines.  Scanning this QR code or ‘clicking’ on the CR Recommended symbol will provide shoppers with the CR overall score and short review.  Manufacturers will pay a small flat fee for this CR feature.  This feature was designed to assist the increasing population of online shoppers and combat fake online reviews and scams.  This new CCR feature is available to all.  Membership to CR is not required.
 
■ Mudbuster Portable Dog Paw Cleaner: Mudbuster is a clever device for cleaning the paws of dogs before entering the house after a dog walk in rain, mud or other outdoor environment.  This avoids having to clean up inside the house from your dog feet  trackings.  It’s small, portable, convenient, fast, easy and does a great job.  It’s available on Amazon.  Simply search for “Mudbuster.”  These come in various sizes starting at $6 up to $14, depending upon size.
 


JUNE  2020 CONSUMER TIPS
 
■  Personal Cyber Security: It’s obvious that we now live in a very different world, especially in this digital age.  As Covid-19 has put so many people out of work and resulting in much less public reality crimes that greatly reduce the opportunities for criminals such as robberies, product scams, fraud schemes, etc., they have turned to new ways to rob us of our money and financial security.  Criminals have come up with new ways to take advantage of our heightened anxiety over Coronavirus.
 
1. Scam of the Week: Exploiting the Coronavirus: Malicious Zoom Installer:
Whether you’re working from home or trying to stay in touch with loved ones, video conferencing apps like Zoom are becoming the new normal. Cybercriminals have exploited this type of application before, but their latest scam may be the trickiest yet.  Scammers are sending out phishing emails with links to download the latest version of Zoom. When clicked, the link takes you to a third-party website–not the official Zoom site–to download an installer. If you download and run the file, the program truly does install Zoom. The trick is, the installer also places a remote access trojan (RAT) on to your computer. This RAT gives cybercriminals the ability to observe everything you do on your machine. This includes keylogging (saving what you type), recording video calls, and taking screenshots–all of which can be used to steal your sensitive information.
 
Don’t fall victim to this scam! Remember the following: 
  • If an email directs you to install or update an application, do not click on the link in the email. Instead, go directly to the official website through your browser. This ensures you are accessing the real page and keeping your credentials safe.
  • When using a work device, reach out to your IT department before installing any software. They can check that the application is legitimate and safe.
 
Stop, Look, and Think. Don't be fooled.  (From IT Dpt., Fibre Stars, Inc.)
 
2.  False Products For Sale: Con artists love to take advantage of new health scares to cash in on public anxiety.  There are currently 1,000s of products being sold online with claims that they help fight or can prevent Covid-19.  These range from ‘protective hats,’ access to Beta tested vaccines to vitamins and supplements that can build your immune system to ward off virus infection.  Snopes.com, Liveabout.com (aka Urban Legends), Breakthechain.org and Hoaxbusters.org are just a few good online sites that try to keep up with the fake claims. (From IT Dpt., Fibre Stars, Inc.)
 
3.  Phishing Scams: With more people working from home, cyber-criminals eager to gain access to corporate computer systems are on the prowl.  Some email letters that may appear to be from the World Health Organization (WHO) or the CDC claim to offer new information about the virus.  Some emails may also hint at the availability of a vaccine and others to be from charitable organization looking to raise money for people with the disease. (From Consumer Reports)
 
Consumers must be vigilant and use common sense before clicking on email links about the coronavirus pandemic.  And never respond to emails asking you to confirm your personal data to prevent loss of service or closing of accounts to your bank or other financial institutions.  If you feel there may be some merit to their warning or threat, do not use the provided link.  Instead, open a new tab or window and go directly to bank/financial institution’s online site to log on and check your account status. (From Consumer Reports)
 
 
■  Kitchen and Food Concerns:  Now that we are cooking and eating at home more due to Shelter In Place restrictions, the following ideas/methods may be of help to you.  These are intended to supplement any cooking tips from John Noll.
 
1.  Do not wash or rinse raw chicken before marinating or cooking.  Washing chicken does not remove bacteria.  Washing chicken may increase your chances of getting food poisoning.  Washing in the kitchen sink can’t be be done effectively without leaving a trail of bacteria everywhere that you handle the chicken.  It’s far better to make sure you minimize the handling of raw chicken and be sure to cook it to a minimum temperature of 165°F. 
 
2. Try A-Sha Tainan Style Ramen:  This Taiwanese style noodle, unlike most ramen noodle packs, is a much healthier choice due to it’s much lower fat and reduced salt content.  It tastes great!  It can be easily used for a soup-noodle dish or a stir fry noodle dish.  It’s inexpensive, quick, nutritious and inexpensive at $7.99 for a ten-pack at Costco.  Tip: Do not overcook it.  Just 2 – 3 minutes in boiling water until it becomes tender is good enough.  It’s better to have a little “al dente” to it than being to too soft due to overcooking.
 
3.  When Frying or Sautéing – always heat the oil in the pan until hot.  Never start frying with a cold pan.  The oil will be ‘shimmering’ when it is hot enough to put the food item in.  When you put cold or uncooked food into a properly heated pan, it should make a loud sizzling sound.  If it doesn’t, you will have a tepid result with loss of texture, color and nutrition – a bit like stewing the food instead of frying it.
 
4.  Semi-homemade Marinara Sauce:  Last month I mentioned a really good and tasty tomato-based pasta sauce, the Raos Homemade Marinara brand.  It’s a bit pricey at just under $10 for a 26 oz. jar. (about $12 for a 2-pack, 28 oz. jar at Costco) but well worth it.  If you prefer, you can take a jar of inexpensive sauce (Trader Joe’s Marinara @ $1.39) and augment the texture and flavor by adding 1 green pepper, a stalk of celery, 1 medium white or yellow onion all diced and sautéed before adding to the store-bought sauce.   Add some fresh, minced garlic.  Simmer for about 20 minutes and it will be ready for use.  Tip:  Sautee some diced Zucchini until it is lightly browned and add to the sauce.  The browning will add even more flavor to the finished sauce.
 
5.   Consider Acquiring an Air Fryer:  These can be an excellent addition to any kitchen.  Think of them as a small but very powerful (hot) and fast Convection Oven.  They are outstanding for quickly reheating and browning baked/roasted/fried meats and other proteins, baked or deep fried pastries and sautéed veggies.  These are simple devices – simply a heating element, a powerful fan, a cooking basket and a thermostat and timer.  They’re really easy to clean up.  You can quickly reheat pizza slices, toast bread/rolls/muffins – faster than in a conventional toaster or convection toaster oven.  They were expensive when first introduced.  Now you can get a good sized capacity unit from Big Lots for just $22.  Frozen or leftover fried foods reheated in an Air Fryer are as good as when they were first fried.  Baked potatoes can be done quickly by microwaving them in their skins and then crisped up in the Air Fryer.  This technique of heating something in the microwave (comes out hot but limp) and crisping (browning) them in the Air Fryer is simple, tasty and fast.  Leftover or frozen Beignets, malasadas, fried dough, deep fried Chinese Sesame Balls, Arancini, Fried Shrimp, Tempura, steaks, Fried Chicken, Schnitzel, etc. all come out beautifully.  Frankfurters for hot dogs can be done in about 2 to 3 minutes but with a good exterior texture instead of a limp dog!
 
6.  Microwave Fresh Corn on the Cobb:  This is a fast way to do corn – 2.5 minutes on high per ear with the husk still intact.  After cooking, allow it to cool and chop the stalk end of the cobb off and peel the husks back and the silk should come off cleanly and quickly.  To strip corn off the cobb, use a sharp, thin-bladed paring knife.  Hold the cobb vertically on a cutting board and cut downward.  The kernels should fall vertically to the cutting board without popping off and out onto your counter.  The use of a larger, thicker blade such as a 7” Chef’s knife will produce a mess with kernels all around your counter.
 
7.  A Good Quick, Easy Chopped Salad can be made in a matter of a few minutes.  Simply dice 1 Medium Cucumber (English or multiple Persian), 1 Green Pepper, 1 Medium Celery Stalk, 1 medium tomato, 1 cup corn and 2 – 3 tablespoons of French or Catalina Dressing and add salt & pepper to taste.  Mix it all together and refrigerate for at least an hour and garnish with diced Fresh Green Onions.  Tip: Fresh Diced Green Beans and/or Fresh Dice Carrots can be added but they should par-cooked for a few minutes in the microwave to avoid their texture being too hard.
 
■  Personal Health: 
 
1.  Don’t skip your Annual Eye Exam!  Nearly 60 percent of people with diabetes skip their yearly eye exam, according to research from the Wills Eye Hospital. "Diabetes is a disease of blood vessels.  In the eye, diabetes causes bleeding and leakage of fluid in the retina, which can cause loss of vision," Wisner says, “If detected early enough, some of this loss can be reversed, but the more profound the damage, the harder it is to correct.”  That's why an annual dilated eye exam is crucial.
 
What's going on in your eyes is a direct reflection of what's happening in your kidneys, he adds; if an exam shows diabetes is not well controlled you have an opportunity to take steps to preserve your eyesight-and the rest of your body. Jessica Migala has written for Prevention, Self, Marie Claire and more than 30 other magazines. (From AARP Magazine)
 
2.  Diabetes and the Brain - Diabetics tend to exhibit poor blood flow in the brain which may impede clearing out plaque and tangles in the brain.  Studies have shown that people w/ Alzheimer’s have reduced blood flow.   Some folks in the medical community sometimes (unofficially) refer to Alzheimer’s as 'Type 3 Diabetes, because the disease has demonstrated a relationship with an insulin hormone that's involved in Type I and II diabetes.    This “type 3 diabetes” is a term that has been proposed to describe the hypothesis that Alzheimer’s disease, which is a major cause of dementia, is triggered by a type of insulin resistance and insulin-like growth factor dysfunction that occurs specifically in the brain.  This condition also has been used by some to describe people who have type 2 diabetes and are also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease dementia. The classification of type 3 diabetes is highly controversial, and it’s not widely accepted by the medical community as a clinical diagnosis. (From AAA Magazine)
 
Tip: If your Primary Care Physician or other MD tells you that you are Pre-Diabetic, take that idea to heart.  You should immediately begin your own education about Diabtes.  It is incumbent on you to know all about what could potentially harm you or shorten your life. (From AAA Magazine)
 
3.  Check your earlobes - It's long been observed that a diagonal crease in the earlobes, descending downward at about a 45-degree angle (known as Frank's sign), is an indication that you should be extra cautious about your heart disease risk.  But the link has become more clear in the past few years.   A recent study of 241 patients who were hospitalized with an acute ischemic stroke found that nearly 79 percent of them had earlobes with this exact crease.  Another study showed that men with Frank's sign who were suffering from metabolic syndrome had shorter telomeres  (a sign of accelerated aging) and greater degrees of atherosclerosis compared with those who lacked the sign. (From AARP Magazine)
 
■  Tesla Car Wash Caution: Tesla has warned owners not to use automated car wash systems that don’t allow drivers to stay in their car.  Some car washes have declined to wash Tesla Model 3s vehicles.  And Tesla owners have reported in online forums that it can be difficult to leave their vehicle in Neutral without a driver present because Teslas have safeguards to prevent rollaways of unattended vehicles. (From San Jose Mercury News)
 
 ■  Many More TV Channels Are Now Available via Internet Streaming of their programs.  When considering the acquisition of a ‘Streaming Stick.’, the Roku Stick is still the best way to stream content.  It is recommended that you take a look at their devices rather than Apple TV.  You can get the Apple TV+ channel on Roku devices now, and there is much more free content available on Roku as well (roku.com). (From San Jose Mercury News)
 
■  Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV):  Rabbits are now the 3rd most popular domestic household pets in the U.S.  A Deadly Rabbit Virus appears to be headed to the Bay Area.  Rabbits are the 3rd most popular domestic house pets (after dogs and cats).  This disease is almost always 100% fatal to wild and domesticated rabbits.  That’s the bad news.  Humans can pass it to rabbits but rabbits cannot pass it onto humans.  That’s the good news.  More good news - A number of vaccines are available against RHD and are sold in countries where the disease is endemic. All provide 12 months of protection against RHD viruses.  This RHD has been made its way to Los Angles and is expected to arrive in the SF Bay Area in the not-too-distant future.  Strict quarantine of pet rabbits is the best way to contain this virus.
 
■  Hearing Aid Batteries - last longer if used with manual controls instead of the software App loaded to your cell phone.  Several days of use can be added to the battery life cycle in this manual mode.  The cell phone app for control uses energy from the tiny battery to power the Bluetooth connection between the cell phone and the hearing aid.
 
■  Hotel Concierge Tipping Info:  Tip $5 to $10 for theater tickets or dinner reservations; $20-plus for special services. No tip for standard services (e.g., directions, door opening, etc.   Tip $3 - $4 per night for Housekeeping Service.  Leave cash daily on the desk or in front of TV.  Tipping daily is better for the housekeeping maids because they seldom work consecutive days and the person that did the work might not be the one on duty to receive the appropriate tip for the previous nights work.
 
 


 
MAY  2020 CONSUMER TIPS
 
■  Battery Bounce Test: You can determine if an alkaline battery is ‘dead’ by comparing its ‘bounce’ off a solid, smooth surface (marble countertop works best) with a similar battery known to be a good, fully charged battery without the use of a test meter.  Simply hold the battery in a vertical position with the negative (flat bottom) end down about 2” to 3” above the counter and drop it on the hard, smooth surface.  Do this 3 or 4 times while observing listening to the bounce.  Then do the same with a good battery.  You should be able to discern a noticeable difference.  The ‘dead’ battery should ‘bounce’ in a livelier manner and sound more ‘solid.’  As the battery becomes depleted with use, the internal chemical composition hardens and becomes more solid while the new battery is still in a semi-gel state and absorbs some of the energy when bounced off a solid surface.  Think of it as similar to the way to determine if an egg is raw or hardboiled via the spin test.  A raw egg will be very liquid internally and that will absorb the spin energy and stop in just one or two revolutions.  But the hard boiled egg is internally solid-like and without the internal friction to absorb the energy, it will spin many revolutions before stopping.
 
■  Coronovirus Grocery and Restaurant Work Arounds – It’s very obvious that our daily lives have been affected considerably with the arrival of the current Pandemic.  This has resulted in severe restrictions to normally simple tasks like grocery shopping, getting a haircut or manicure, dining out, visiting friends and family and shopping for everything from a new home to all the furniture and accessories for the home.  Here are some alternative ways to get around the restrictions.  Most of these are common sense and already in use by many of us.  But, some of us may not yet have tried these alternate methods.
 
1. Online Grocery Store Order/No Contact Pickup at Curbside.  Our experience for this kind of grocery shopping has not been good.  We’ve tried Safeway, Nob Hill/Raley’s and Walmart Neighborhood Grocery Store.  The biggest problem is trying to get a date/time slot opening for the pickup.  This is because they are swamped and don’t have the manpower required to serve everyone that wants to use this kind of shopping service.  The 3 that we tried took weeks to find an opening and they were all about a week out.  Another problem is ‘out of stock’ issues so when your order is delivered, it might only be 2/3 filled.  And there is no warning with these item shortages with Safeway and Nob Hill/Raley’s.  You won’t have any warning of substitutions or shorts unless you audit your order right there at curbside or in the parking lot. Walmart was the best – only 2 items out of stock but at least we were advised of this and any substitutions (5) the day before the pickup date/time.  When we picked up the Walmart order, they asked us if we were OK with the substitutions and shortages.  They were willing to make adjustments on the spot.  And the Nob Hill/Raley’s order had an additional problem.  There was a big price disparity between the ordering price and the billed price on 5 out of 17 items ordered.  I had to go back to the store after getting home and noting the exceptions.  That, of course, defeated the whole idea of ‘No-Contact’ pickup!  It turns out their computer system is not able to ‘see’ the ordering price and simply bills the whole order out at the current prices at the time of pickup!  Walmart’s system was the best and easiest to work with.  They allow you to make changes to your order up to the day before pickup.  The other two stores simply cancel your entire order if you try to make any changes!  There is a minimum order ($35 - $50) required for all 3 store chains to qualify for free pickup.
 
2. Online Grocery Store Order/Delivery to Your Home.  This is very similar to the above ‘No-Contact pickup.’  The delivery service will be an independent commercial delivery company like InstaCart, Shipt, Peapod, etc.  Your first delivery is free ($35 - $50 minimum) but subsequent orders will have a delivery charge based on time (like a taxi service).  The big problem is like the pickup program – getting a date/time slot!  A smaller issue is the extra cost of a delivery fee for future orders.
 
3. Restaurant Order Online/Pickup Inside or Curbside.  This works fairly well.  You may have access to their entire menu – a big plus.  And our order will be more accurately filled and in a timely manner.  The restaurant will bring your order out to your car or you can go to a dedicated place on the property to pick up your prepackaged order.
 
4. Restaurant Order Online/Home Delivery by Commercial Service. These are companies like DoorDash, Uber Eats, GrubHub, etc.  For us the biggest problem was the lack of eligible restaurants.  We tried 3 nights to order food delivery but when we logged onto the delivery website, we couldn’t find a place that was open or participating in the delivery program that we liked.  Each of the delivery websites will indicate many locations but when you start clicking on the restaurants listed, it seemed like ¾ of places listed were either closed or not accepting orders for delivery.  I finally found one place (Hula Wok) but they don’t offer their whole menu for delivery.  That turned out to be true of almost all the participating restaurants – limited menus.  And, like the grocery delivery, your first order will be free of delivery charges but subsequent deliveries will have a delivery charge and adding a tip increases the total cost of your ‘limited menu’ order. Take advantage of free, express, non-contact pickup of groceries from stores and order Take Out for pickup from your favorite restaurants if they are still open for Take Out food.
Summary – For grocery shopping and free pickup, Walmart Neighborhood Store works the best.  You’ll still have trouble getting a date/time reservation but the rest of the program works very well with the least amount of ‘out-of-stock’ items and very close (acceptable) substitutions at no additional cost.  For restaurant takeout orders, save yourself the shopping hassle (limited restaurant availability and menus), we found calling the restaurant yourself and picking it up to be the easiest, lowest cost and most reliable way to get food from your favorite restaurants that are still open for Takeout orders.
TIP: When trying to get a delivery or pickup reservation slot, keep trying.  Try checking just after Midnight when the next day’s worth of open slots might be posted.  Also, some stores may have Waitlists that you can get on.
 
NOTE:  We found two ‘hybrid’ online stores but we were only able to sample one of them, Surplusproduce.com. I didn’t have time to try the other service, goCheetah.com. before writing this article.  Both are wholesale distributors formerly serving the restaurant industry.  In these difficult times, they’ve opened up their business models to include individual consumers.  You would go to their websites to shop and pay for your order and pickup your order at several designated pickup places throughout the local area.  There is a small delivery charge of $2.99 - $3.99, depending on the location of the pickup spot.  Our pickup location was Inkling’s Coffee, Pleasanton.  Surplus Produce delivers here on Tuesdays and Fridays.  We found SurplusProduce.com to be an excellent resource.  They specialize in produce items including fresh fruits.  We were very impressed with this enterprise. ALL THE ITEMS IN OUR ENTIRE ORDER (6 ITEMS) WERE REALLY EXCELLENT, RIPE AND BEAUTIFUL.  There were no stock outs nor any substitutions.  They filled the order perfectly.  I felt like we were getting premium, hand-picked product at mass merchandise, supermarket prices.  Their company name is no indication of their product quality – far from it! We may continue to use them after the ‘lockdown order’ is lifted.  There wasn’t time to try an order through GoCheetah.com so I can’t comment on that company at this time.
 
■  Mini-Tripod and Smartphone Camera Grip – Last month, I recommended a Smartphone holder that could be used as a tripod mount or an improved hand held grip for your Smartphone.  Last week I found and bought another device that does the same as I mentioned above but has the added advantage of having a built-in tripod base that folds out to form an extraordinarily stable mini-tripod.  It’s small, compact and even more versatile than the previous device.  It’s the Kingjoy Mini Tripod Compact Desktop Tabletop Tripod Adjustable Camera Stand Holder Mount Adapter Universal Clip for iPhone, Android Phone Sports Cameral Go Pro.   The cost is only $9.47 on Amazon Prime: https://tinyurl.com/y8nblx8m.
 
■  Recommended Local Costco Buys:  1. Raos Marinara Sauce, has been rated as the best bottled/canned Marinara Sauce by a number of culinary magazines, is available at Costco (2-Pack 28 oz. jars @ $11).  The supermarket, in-store price, for a smaller size jar (24 oz) is about $8/jar.  We recently discovered this product and can vouch for its high quality, great taste and texture.  2.  If you have a Cookie Monster in your household, look for Raspberry Crumble Cookie  ($8.59/dozen) in the Bakery Department of your local warehouse Costco store. You won’t be sorry in getting them!  3.  If you or someone in your family is a fan of Potato Gnocchi, look for the De Cecco brand.  The product is shelf-stable and requires no refrigeration until after opening of the sealed package.  The cost is about $3/17.5 oz. package.  Placed in boiling water, they only take 2 to 3 minutes to cook. This, along with some of the above premium commercial Marinara Sauce and some diced Italian, smoked beef or Andouille Sausage makes a really quick, easy main dish!
 
■  Current Tipping Guidelines – The standard tip for a sit-down and served meal in a restaurant has grown to be 18% - 20% before the Pandemic.  But that kind of service is currently unavailable.  So, what about takeout orders? Julia Esteve Boyd, an etiquette consultant, says,  “You don't have to tip when picking up takeout.  No one's delivering the food or serving it to you in the restaurant, so it's not necessary to tip when you're picking up food to go.  Therefore, a tip would be optional.  A fair tip for a food delivery order is $3 to $5 per delivery.  Stash an envelope of bills near your front door so you’re always ready when food arrives. Raining or snowing? Consider tipping a few extra dollars. Bigger orders, like for an office get-together or a family party, will often include gratuity. Check the receipt before you hand a delivery person anything more.
 
■  Sierra Trading Post + Duluth Trading Co. – The next time you are in Portland, OR, check out these two , very unique retail stores.  Both are clothing retailers for outdoors, sports and active lifestyle folks. They are really fun stores to browse.  Their inventory is a combination of outdoor living and recreation, sporting goods and casual life store.  They have clothing, equipment and supplies for active families.  They are outlet stores located on Hayden Island, aka Jantzen Beach. Prices are generally discounted.  The Duluth Trading Co. Store is a hoot.  Their main business is catalog and Internet Sales.  Humor is a major theme, reflected by the many puns on the individual item descriptions all throughout the store.  They are clever, funny and informative.  They are famous for their super-durable and comfortable private branded underwear, base layer and outerwear.  The Sierra Trading Post are also mainly in the catalog/online store business with ‘brick & mortar,’ clearance center stores sprinkled around the country.
 
■  How long in freezer? – Previously, I wrote about how “use by, Expiration, Sell Bye” dates were arbitrarily stated on processed and packaged foods.  I wanted to report some anecdotal info about frozen foods in found in our large, upright freezer out in the garage.  We were trying to use up aged and aging frozen items during the current ‘hunker down, Pandemic period’).  We found a 10-year old, 3.5 lb. Beef Tip Roast, a 12 year-old package of commercially packaged, Oven Roasted, BBQ Chicken and a 4.5 year old New York Beef Steak.  I thawed them all out, thinking we would throw them out.  But my curiosity got the better of me and I cooked them using the Sous Vide method followed by searing to finish them.  Amazingly, the 10-year old Beef Roast was fine and had no hint of being that old.  It tasted as good as any Roast Beef you would buy from a Supermarket Butcher Counter.  It was very tasty, tender!  The steak did taste a bit old along one edge.  Trimming that part off solved that problem.  The cooked chicken did taste old and was tough after thawing.  But, it was still edible – just a bit dry and not very tasty.  We ate some of it but did discard the majority of it.  But, clearly, a 10+ year old piece of beef is not a problem if properly wrapped and well sealed.  The take away here is – don’t assume that old freezer items are no longer edible. 


 
 
APRIL 2020 CONSUMER TIPS
 
■  Insomnia Revisited – Most Seniors I talk to complain of suffering from various degrees of insomnia.  I’ve mentioned that I (and some other SIRs) use THC Cannabis in the form of edibles (candy, gummies) with good success.  CR states that all OTC sleep drugs rely on older antihistamines—diphenhydramine (Sominex, ZzzQuil, and generic) or doxylamine (Unisom SleepTabs and generic)—which have drowsiness as a side effect.  As such, they are of limited value for most people.  Prescription meds provide better results but with potentially more severe side effects.  And, on average, the prescription meds only provided approximately 20 – 30 more minutes of sleep.  A new, non-med treatment, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Insomnia, or  BT-I,  seems to provide better results for more people.  The cognitive part of CBT-I teaches you to recognize and change beliefs that affect your ability to sleep. This type of therapy can help you control or eliminate negative thoughts and worries that keep you awake.  The behavioral part of CBT-I helps you develop good sleep habits and avoid behaviors that keep you from sleeping well.  For more information about CBT-I check with your Primary Care Physician or your HMO.
 
■  Mattress Shopping – The February issue of CR had some really good, illuminating information.  It was so good that I wished that we had this information the last time we bought a mattress just last year!  In the summary of mattress ratings, under Foam Mattresses, the Amazon Basics Memory Foam 10” (from Amazon) at $245 was the least expensive foam mattress tested and was rated at 68.  The most expensive foam mattress, Tempur-PedicLuxeBreeze Firm at $4,500 only rated 62.  The Amazon Basics was judged an excellent buy, especially for side and back sleepers.  For back sleepers, the foam Sleep Innovations Marley @ $430 (77 rating) was the winner over the foam Casper The Essential @ $600 (60 rating).  There are other examples and a full table of ratings but it was clear that price and quality are not necessarily connected.
 
■  More Xfinity Upgrade Features:  If you use X1 Xfinity/Comcast for your TV cable service, you may not be aware of a couple of new features - Smart Resume allows you to automatically fast forward through ad breaks. Currently, this is only available on recordings of ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, and CW primetime shows 30 minutes after the program end time.  Simply press the fast forward button (>>>) 2 or 3 times and it will zip you through the ads in your recorded programs and resume play mode at the end of the ads. This only works on recorded programs of 1 hr. or more in length.  And it doesn’t work for On Demand programs.  Lightning Mode feature allows you to get to where you left off in no time by pressing the fast forward or rewind button on your remote five times. This speed allows you to traverse content in under 12 seconds - regardless of the program's length.  Note: If you are not using the X1 system with the Voice Command capability, you should go to Comcast and have them upgrade your entire system.  It should be at no cost and ask them to audit all your instruments to delete unused instruments, outlets and program features to lower your total monthly bill.  We lived with the old system until last year when I went to Comcast to complain about my high monthly bill.  They immediately told me that we should upgrade to the newer, current X1 system with many more features – record and watch 4 programs at the same time and have all TVs connected to the DVR so we could have the DVR use on all TVs, even those not installed as HD units.  And you can start playback of a recording on one TV and decide to move to another room’s TV and resume the same or different recording without difficulty.  It also comes with Voice Command for easy search of channels and programs.  Best of all, they lowered my total bill and improved my system capability considerably.  That rarely happens!  Go see Comcast to make sure you’re getting the latest system at the same cost as the old, limited features system.  You might lower your cost and improve your system!
 
■  No Ring Around the Collar - Try using your shampoo to remove ring around the collar. Since the ring is usually caused by oil, dirt and grime that gathers around the neck, shampoo - which is made to remove body oils - should remove it from clothing too.  Just apply the shampoo, gently scrub, then stick it in the washing machine
 
■  Easy Removal of Blood Stains From Clothing - Soak blood-stained clothing in cold salty water for at least an hour, and then wash as normal in warm water.  The clothes will look (and smell) as good as new before you know it!
 
■  Avoid Bruising Fruit and Vegetables in Fridge – Line your refrigerator drawer with bubble wrap scavenged from merchandise delivery packages.  Non bruising should eliminate the development of spoilage spots on your stored produce.  Note: Never store fresh tomatoes in the refrigerator to avoid loss of flavor.
 
■  Something for Historians and Food Lovers – If you are a ‘foodie’ or a student of American History, check out The Food That Built America, Season 1.  This is now appearing on the History Channel and tells the stories of most of the iconic name brands – Hershey Chocolates, Birdseye Frozen Foods, McDonald’s, Colonel Sanders, M&M’s, Mars Candy,  Kellogg’s, etc.  It’s entertaining and very informative.  If you use Cable TV, it’s on Channel #758 and #1478.  It started airing last August and is still being shown.  You can also use your Xfinity benefits to watch it using “On Demand” or stream it using the Xfinity app.
 
■  Flavorful Origins – If you are interested in the various cuisines around the world, check out this mini-series on Netflix.  It will take you to many countries using many short segments of 5 to 9 minutes in length.  It is an in-depth look at the people, the culture and the food of each specific place around the world.
 
■  Knife Sharpeners Revisited – Last month I mentioned that there were no manual or electric knife sharpeners available that would handle both the Asian (12° - 15°) and Western (18°- 22°) blade angles.  Well, I found two – Chef’s Choice 4643 ProntoPro Diamond Home Manual Knife Sharpener.  This can be found on Amazon Prime for $35.98.  It has separate sharpening slots for “Asian” and “Euro/American” blades to accommodate the two types of blade angles. The accompanying reviews for the product appear to be favorable.  Smith’s 50264 Adjustable Manual Knife Sharpener, also at Amazon Prime, features an adjustable blade angle to accommodate Asian and Western knife geometries.  Price is $16.08.  Smith’s is a well known, respected brand of knife sharpeners for hunters, anglers and field sportsmen over many years.  Freight/postage is free for Prime Members on both these items.
 
■  Winter Tire Inflation – We’re now coming to the end of the Winter Season.  Some of us have seen our “Low Tire Pressure Light” illuminate on the dashboard of our vehicles.  At that time, you either inflated your tires yourself or you took it into a garage or tire shop and they added air to bring you tires up to the correct pressure.  But, what is that ‘correct pressure?’  That can be found on a decal on the inside door sill of the driver’s side door.  But winter temperatures in our locale can be much lower than summer.  To compensate for this difference in temperature, realize that tire pressure drops about 1 PSI for every drop of 10° of temperature drop.  As a general rule, add 5 PSI to the recommended tire pressure during winter months.  This will keep your tire pressure within the acceptable limits of the tire pressure warning system and the light will not come on.  If you move or drive to areas that have much colder climate, you may have to add more than 5 PSI.  Remember to add air in the morning and before having driven more than 5 miles when your tires will be at their lowest temperature.  Even if your tire pressures exceed the recommended level after more driving and the day’s temperature has increased, they will still be well within the limits of the maximum safe pressure (found on the side of every tire) and will be of little or no consequence during normal use.


 
 
MARCH 2020 CONSUMER TIPS
 
 
More Reason to Avoid Rock Chips in Windshield:
We all know what a nuisance it is to have to replace a windshield because of a small rock chip.  But with the new, high tech features on modern vehicles of today, there is extra incentive to avoid rock chips – the extra high cost of replacement.  This because many of the sensors and transmitters (laser, photo and/or radar devices ) used for Frontal Collision Avoidance, Adaptive Cruise Control, Auto Lane Centering or Lane Keep Warning are built into or “see” through the front windshield.  The glass must meet specific clarity and light transmission specifications.  And after the windshield has been replaced, the various devices must be recalibrated by the dealer using O.EM. proprietary systems equipment.  As an example, the cost to replace and recalibrate the windshield on my 2015 Outback is about $1500.  For a plain windshield replacement without the Subaru proprietary Eyesight Safety features, the cost would only be about $400.  So leave plenty of space when following dump trucks, large flatbed trucks hauling construction or earthmoving equipment and 18-wheelers.  These are the vehicles that cause most rock chips as they get thrown up/out from their big tires at higher freeway speeds.  Some auto insurance policies now have higher costs or higher deductibles because of the higher cost of glass replacement as these safety features become standard on all makes and models, even the cheapest base models.
 
Shopping For Knife Sharpeners: 
If you are in the market for a knife sharpener, electric or manual, be aware that most sharpeners are designed to work with Western style blade angles of 18/22° blade angles.  The Asian knives are produced with a thinner angle and are more agile, sharper and generally lighter weight blades with about 15°.  Use of most electric sharpeners intended for Western blade angles will damage the finer knife edges of the Asian blades.  Look for sharpeners that have specific slots or adjustment procedures to accommodate the two different types of blades.
 
Senior Health – Beware of Dehydration:
Seniors are at greater risk for dehydration because of how body composition changes with age.  Older adults have less water in their bodies to start with than younger adults or children.  But as you age, your sense of thirst diminishes. So, even when your body needs to be replenished with water, you might not realize it. Because of that, many older adults don’t drink enough liquids. “By the time they are thirsty, that’s already an indication of early dehydration,” says geriatric nurse Anne Vanderbilt, CNS. 
 
Water is necessary for nearly every bodily function, from lubricating joints to regulating body temperature and pumping blood to the muscles. So not getting enough of it can have serious health consequences.
Adding to the problem is that symptoms of dehydration in the elderly often go unrecognized, Ms. Vanderbilt says. Many of the earliest signs, like dry mouth, fatigue, dizziness and muscle cramps, are nonspecific and could be easily attributed to other medical conditions, medications or natural effects of aging.  Persistent dehydration that causes difficulty walking, confusion, rapid heart rate or other more severe symptoms can land seniors in the hospital.  The obvious remedy is to drink plenty of water throughout the day.
 
How do we know that we’re drinking enough?  There are some easy ways to check your own hydration level.  The easiest thing to do is to visually check your urine.  A fairly clear color in the toilet bowl is a good indication that you are well hydrated.  Another way is to use test strips available from local pharmacies or Amazon to determine your pH level (basic or acidic).  Electronic pH meters are also available (about $15 from Amazon) for the same purpose.  A neutral pH is 7.0. The higher the number, the more basic (alkaline) it is. The lower the number, the more acidic your urine is. The average urine sample tests at about 6.0.  If your urine sample is lower (acidic), this could be an indicator of acidosis, dehydration, diabetic ketoacidosis or diarrhea.  A higher-than-normal urine pH (basic) could indicate gastric suctioning (reduces normal stomach acids), kidney failure, kidney tubular acidosis, pyloric obstruction, respiratory alkalosis or urinary tract infection.  Bottom line – stay hydrated and stay out of trouble.*
 
*Above information is a compilation of 4 Internet articles and some discussion with Sir Mike Young.
 
Xfinitiy Announces Call Blocking:  Finally, there may be some relief from Robo calls if you use Xfinity/Comcast for your telephone service provider.  Here’s their announcement:  Xfinity Voice:  Anonymous Call Rejection is a feature designed to cut down on unwanted calls by automatically rejecting calls from numbers with Caller ID blocked. Callers who block the display of their name and number will hear an automated recording that you're not accepting calls with Caller ID blocked. The message instructs them to un-block their Caller ID and dial you again. This feature is included at no additional cost with your Xfinity Voice Unlimited, Unlimited Select, and Local With More calling plans.

As of March 6, 2020, this feature will be enabled by default for all new Xfinity Voice users. Additionally, as of March 17, 2020, all existing Xfinity Voice users with a qualifying call plan will have this feature enabled by default.

Anonymous Call Rejection is not guaranteed to detect or protect against all unwanted calls, and while legitimate calls ordinarily include Caller ID information, there is a risk that wanted calls lacking Caller ID information may inadvertently be blocked from time to time.

You may opt out of this feature by following the instructions provided further below.
Here’s How to Use Anonymous Call Rejection From Your Home Phone:
 
To Deactivate Anonymous Call Rejection
  1. Lift the receiver and listen for the dial tone.
  2. Press *87 and listen for a confirmation tone that the feature has been canceled.

To Re-Activate Anonymous Call Rejection
 
  1. Lift the receiver and listen for the dial tone.
  2. Press *77 and listen for a confirmation tone that the feature has been activated.
 
Reminder of Good Sewer/Waste Water Practices in the Home:  Our February speaker was Ben Lavender, a Community Affairs Representative for the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District.  It was very informative and we all learned a lot.  These are things that should not be entered into our drains – FOG (fats/oil/grease) as these can congeal in our pipes and clog up further down the line in the municipal systems.  Similarly, do not use “flushable wipes.”  Unlike toilet paper and Kleenex, these paper products do not dissolve quickly nor easily and, definitely, clog the municipal treatment facility.  Also, do not flush meds/pharmaceuticals down the toilet as it can contaminate the treated end product for discharge into the environment.  Instead take them to local collection sites.  Ditto hazardous waste products. Take them to the Household Hazardous Waste Facility maintained by the Sanitary District.  For more information on how to properly dispose of these materials, visit: www.sanramon.ca.gov/HHW.
 
And finally, if your home is not equipped with a Sewer Overflow Protection feature, it’s highly recommended to add this to your home system.
 
Frosted/Cloudy Headlight Lens Covers: The protective lens cover integrated into the lamp housing of our vehicle is designed to protect your headlights from rocks and other small road debris.  It is made of polycarbonate plastic which deteriorates over time due to UV light and other environmental conditions.  When this happens, the brightness of your headlights can be cut by as much as 40%.  This can be a dangerous condition for nighttime driving.  Replacement cost of this cover using O.E.M. parts averages about $250, each.  Aftermarket replacement covers cost about $75 but may be of questionable quality.   Labor to install these replacement covers can take upwards of 2 hours of labor plus another half an hour for aiming for each replacement.  That all adds up to about $600, each!  Car Wash, auto repair shops and tire stores offer professional restoration for about $50 per unit.
 
A less costly alternative is to purchase a DIY restoration kit widely available at your local, retail, auto parts and supply store.  These require about 10 – 20 minutes of effort and can work fairly well.  An economy kit is the Mother’s PowerPlastics4lights 8808 for a mere $10.  Highly rated kits are Turtle Wax T-240KT and Meguiars G2000.  If you purchase a restoration kit, keep it on hand.  These plastic covers will likely need to be restored again in the next 3 – 5 years.
 
Decoding Costco’s Price Codes:  Check the shelf marker pricing tag.  Most prices shown will end in “.99.”  That’s the norm.  If it ends in “.97,” that’s an indication that it has been marked down from its original price at least once.  Items with an”*” in the upper right-hand corner aren’t being reordered.  You won’t be seeing that product again once the stock is sold out.  That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been discounted, but it likely means the price won’t get any lower.   Look for other ‘odd’ pricing.  Prices ending in “.49, .79 and .89” can be a sign that Costco got a special deal from the manufacturer, which mean very low prices to you.  A price ending in “.88” or “.00” indicate local Manager markdown intended to move the indicated product off the shelf very quickly.*
 
Another Costco tip – if you are buying refrigerated or frozen items, take a portable, soft cooler with you and add ice from the Food Court soda fountain.  This will ensure your items will remain cold for many hours to come.  These soft, foldable coolers are very efficient, work well and take up almost no space in the trunk/rear of your vehicle.  They run $10 - $20 depending on size.  Keep one in each of your vehicles.
 
*from businessinsider.com and Consumer Reports. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIL5m5XznNY
 
California Real ID Drivers License: Effective Oct. 1, 2020, a REAL ID qualified license  is needed if you wish to continue to use your driver license or identification card to board domestic flights within the U.S. or enter secure Federal facilities.  If you want to continue to use a U.S. passport, U.S. passport card, military ID, enhanced driver license, or other federally accepted identification to do those things, you do not need to get a REAL ID, however, it is recommended.  To apply for a Real ID, you will need to fill out an application, gather your documentation and visit a DMV office.  This works best if you will be renewing your California Drivers License as there would be no additional charge beyond your normal license renewal.  However, if you are not up for renewal soon, a Real ID Card might be a good option for you.
 
A Real ID Card is a separate wallet-sized ID card that serves the same function as the California Real ID but is independent of the DMV-issued ID.  The cost of this Real ID Card is $35 and the same documentation to show identity, proof of Social Security Number and Proof of California Residency Address are the same.  A big advantage is you will not have to go to a DMV (very long wait for appointments) field office.  Instead, you can go to any U.S. Passport Office.  There is one at the San Ramon City Hall.  Parking is super easy and appointments can easily be made.  Stop by the San Ramon City Hall and pick up the application form and make your appointment to return with your documentation.  For more information, call them at: (925) 973-2500 or go to their website:  http://www.sanramon.ca.gov/
 
Spring is Allergy Season:  How do I know if I have allergies or a cold?
Runny nose and sneezing are common symptoms of both colds and allergies. ... If you have allergies, your mucus will typically be clear, thin and watery. If you have a cold, the mucus from coughing or sneezing may be thick and yellow or green. Yellow or green mucus could indicate an infection requiring medical attention.  Check with your Primary Care Physician.
 
Yes, allergies can make you feel tired. Most people with a stuffy nose and head caused by allergies will have some trouble sleeping. But allergic reactions can also release chemicals that cause you to feel tired.   A lack of sleep and constant nasal congestion can give you a hazy, tired feeling.  Allergic reactions can also cause inflammation, which can lead to joint and muscle aches and even result in a low-grade fever. Chronic body aches may be a sign of an immune system reaction, such as arthritis, but also can be a sign of allergies. Repeated coughing or sneezing as a result of your allergies can also cause soreness.  Tip:  If you use name brand OTC meds for colds or allergies, look at the label for the “Active Ingredient.”  Note this and go to your favorite Drug Store, Supermarket or Costco and look for their private branded equivalent for about half the price of the name brands.  I use Aller-tec from Costco and it is the same as Zyrtec.  If you have any questions, ask the pharmacist on duty.


 
 
 
FEBRUARY 2020 CONSUMER TIPS
 
■  How To Talk To and With Other People:
The Ten Commandments of Communication:
1. Thou shalt not speak from another room.
2. Thou shalt not speak with your back turned (or their back toward you).
3. Thou shalt not speak while walking away
4. Thou shalt not start speaking and turn away from the person with a hearing problem.
5. Thou shalt not speak in competition with something else (turn off the water, turn down the TV etc.).
6. Thou shalt get the attention of the person with the hearing problem (do not start speaking while they are reading or concentrating on TV).
7. Thou shalt try to speak face to face at all times.
8. Thou shalt try to remove obstructions while speaking (your hand from your face, the cigarette from your mouth, etc.)
9. Thou shalt try to speak distinctly
10. Thou shalt try to be patient.
By John Leddo, Director of Audiology at the Easter Seal rehabilitation center of eastern Fairfield County, CT.
 
■  More about Costco
1.  Note, if you travel to Canada and visit a Costco store, your U.S. Costco Visa Card will get you through the door into the warehouse, but you can only use cash for your purchases. Canadian Costco accepts only Capital One MasterCard. And, since Costco gas doesn't accept cash, the US Costco Visa card will not work for gas purchases. You could go into the Costco and use cash to buy gift cards and use those for gas purchases.  This is per Bill Wu, a friend, after his recent trip to Canada.
 
2. Trouble finding your keys, wallet, phone, backpack or other small personal items?  Consider the NIB 2 Pack Pebblebee  Tracker Finder and 1 BlackCard.  This is on sale for $19.99 ($29.99 - $10 instant discount at register) in the warehouse.  Best price I could find for this item was $42 on eBay.  I use a similar system, Tile, and it works very well for me!  They use a remote sender that you attach to the items you may wish to find and use an app on your cellphone  as a finder/receiver via Bluetooth.
 
3.  Generally speaking, the least busy hours to shop Costco is 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM.  People are in a hurry to go home in prep for dinner.
 
■  Best Uses for Baking Soda For Health  (Courtesy Trish Fierro article) - 
  • Add baking soda to your bath water to relieve sunburned or itchy skin.
  • Make a paste of baking soda and water, and apply to a burn or an insect bite for relief.
  • If you crave sweets, rinse your mouth with one-teaspoon baking soda dissolved in a glass of warm water. Don’t swallow the mixture; spit it out. Your craving should disappear instantly.
  • To remove pesticides, dirt, and wax from fresh fruits and vegetables, wash them in a large bowl of cool water to which you’ve added two to three tablespoons of baking soda.
In the Kitchen
•  Clean your refrigerator with a solution of one-teaspoon  baking soda to one quart of warm water.
•  Pour a cup of baking soda into the opening of your clogged drain and then add a cup of hot vinegar. After a few minutes, flush the drain with a quart of boiling water.
•  To remove stains from your coffee and tea cups, wipe them with a damp sponge dipped in baking soda paste.
•  Boil two inches of water in a pan with a burned bottom, turn off the heat, then add half a cup of baking soda. Let it sit overnight. In the morning it will be easy to clean.
•  Sprinkle a teaspoon of baking soda on the bottom of your toaster oven to eliminate the burned smell from drippings and crumbs.
 
In the Bathroom
  • Soak toothbrushes in baking soda and warm water overnight to clean bristles.
  • Keep your rubber gloves dry and smelling good by
  • sprinkling baking soda inside them. They’ll slip on more easily too!.
Miscellaneous Uses
  • Add a pinch of baking soda to boiled syrup to prevent it from crystallizing.
  • Lay down a barrier of baking soda under sink-pipe openings and along basement windows to keep carpenter ants, silverfish, and roaches from invading. Roaches eat the baking soda, dehydrate, and die.
  • A light baking soda paste on a damp cloth will remove bugs and tar from cars without damaging the paint. Let paste sit for a few minutes before wiping and rinsing clean.
  • Sprinkling baking soda on your front steps will provide traction and melt the ice. Unlike rock salt, kitty litter, or sand, it won’t damage outdoor or indoor surfaces or shoes.
  • A paste of baking soda removes red sauce stains from plastic.
  • On Clothing - To remove perspiration stains, make a thick paste of baking soda and water. Rub paste into the stain, let it sit for an hour, and then launder as usual. 
  • Gasoline and oil odors can be removed by putting clothes in a trash bag with baking soda for a few days before washing them.
 
■  Dating of documents in the New Year. With the new decade upon us, filled with hope, optimism and prosperity – there is the potential for those in the shadows to implement fraudulent acts.  With the year being “2020”, many people will be inclined to date documents with two-digits for the year ( 1/3/20 versus 1/3/2020).  This creates the potential for the date to be manipulated, or specifically, backdated.  In my example, 1/3/20 could become 1/3/2019 by simply adding the “19”.  This could change the effective date of whatever document I have signed.
 
All banking/financial institutions as well as the legal community are strongly suggesting that everyone use the full four digits for “2020” on any enforceable documents and contracts.  (Courtesy John Noll/ Michael T. Picard, CDA)
 
 ■   Shoot better pictures on your Smartphone. When using the telephoto lens or Panorama feature on your Smartphone, it is very hard to hold it steady for a clear/sharp photos.  Improve on this problem by using a more secure and comfortable grip accessory, the Aoonar Smartphone Grip Handle Rig.  It is a Phone Stand Holder with Wrist Strap, Tripod Mount, Cold Shoe Mount for Lights and Microphones.  It will fit iPhones and Android phones.  It fits easily in your pocket or purse and is super easy and quick to attach to your phone.  I have successfully used this device to shoot hand-held, 10X, telephoto shots!  See it at:  https://tinyurl.com/wb5hc7q
 
■  Check out 99¢ Only Store Bargains. There are 3 store locations in the East Bay – Livermore, Hayward and San Leandro.  I believe they carry a better grade of merchandise than Dollar Tree, Dollar Store or Dollar General and seem to have a wider inventory that really does change daily.  Here are just a few things I found and bought this week:
  • 5 –in- 1 C.O.B. Penlight @ $1.99 seen at Ace Hdwe for $9.99
  • 8 oz. Oscar Meyer Hard Salami @ 99¢ - $2.75 Safeway
  • 8 oz. Oscar Meyer Smoked Ham @ 99¢ - $3.39 Raley’s
  • Resistance Bands Exercise Cords @ $2,99 - $13.99 Amazon
  • Kraft Catalina 16 oz. Dressing @ $1.49 - $2.69 Lucky Stores
  • Zebra Highlighter w/spare refill @ 99¢ - $1.99 Staples
  • Iceberg Head Lettuce @ 99¢ - $1.99 – Raley’s
  • Fresh Express Italian Salad Bagged @ 99¢ - $3.48 – Raley’s
  • Jello Lemon Meringue Pudding Sensations @ 99¢ - $3.49 Raley’s
  • Super Glue Foam Mounting Tape Double Sided roll 0.75” x 6 ft. @ 99¢ - $2.99 eBay
 
Keeping your personal cooler cool – You can use a commercially made, frozen, ‘Blue Ice” pack.  However, a Freezer grade Ziploc bag filled with water or ice cubes and frozen will work better and last longer.  Be sure to use a Freezer grade bag (heavier gauge plastic to resist puncture by the hard ice cubes
 
Auto Break-ins are at an all-time high.  1. Never leave anything of value in plain sight of your vehicle interior, even with tinted windows.  If you have any electronic devices equipped with Bluetooth, turn the Bluetooth off or put them in an RF containment bag or sleeve.  The bad people can scan for the Bluetooth signal emission that indicates the presence of some sort of electronic device.  2. Consider parking in a safe location near your destination and use Lyft or Uber to get you to your real destination if it is in a high auto burglary crime area.  The cost will be minimal and it could save you the trouble of replacing stolen items and repair the damage to your vehicle.
 
■  Make your own cord holder/ties/keeper.  Women's Elastic Pony Tail hair covers/holders in multiple colors make excellent cord holders.  These are available at 99¢ for a 12 pack (small elastic band size; 99¢ for 10 pack (large elastic band).  The colors can be used to color code the cords you have tied up.
 
■  Senior Driver Safety:
Per the CHP, the most common dangerous maneuver Seniors make in California traffic is merging at too slow a speed when entering freeway on-ramps.  Always increase your speed rapidly to match the normal flow of traffic already present on the freeway.  It is easier to brake to match traffic flow than to accelerate to catch up to traffic flow.   “Cautious” merging can be dangerous driving when it impedes traffic.
 
■  Prius and Hybrid Driver Safety
If you drive a Toyota Prius or other Hybrid vehicle, be very aware of your safest speed.  Your safest speed is to keep up with the current flow of traffic.  If you drive conservatively at a slower speed indicated as the more economical speed by your dash information display or the posted speed limit but the traffic flow is going much faster, you will be creating a traffic hazard around you!  People will be swerving in/out of lanes to avoid your driver created bottleneck and you risk angering other drivers that could result in Road Rage incidents endangering you and other nearby drivers.


 

 
JANUARY 2020 CONSUMER TIPS
 
15 things Seniors should buy from Costco - Per Kiplinger Magazine
 
1.  Costco Membership – The current membership fee is $60.  Executive Membership is $120 but provides more benefits such as 2% rebate on Costco purchases.  If your annual purchases are less than anticipated, you may can cancel your upgraded membership and receive a credit for the extra $60 upgrade fee.
 
2.  Eyeglasses - Why Costco? Put simply, I found that the warehouse club offered the best product and service at the best price, especially compared to the retail eyewear outlets conveniently tucked inside your eye doctor’s office.  (Costco lenses include hard coatings, UV filter, Blue Light Filter, etc. that other provides charge extra for)
 
3.  Tennis Balls and Golf Balls - As many athletically inclined retirees might recall, Costco's highly lauded Kirkland Signature golf balls first hit the market in 2016 -- and promptly sold out nationwide. At the time, the balls were being compared to the highly regarded Titleist Pro V1.  Yet, a Costco-branded golf ball retailed for 60% less than the Titleist. Kirkland Signature golf balls are back on Costco shelves just as the snowbirds are flocking south and just in time for the holidays. We can't guarantee your game will improve, but we can guarantee you'll save a few bucks.  Costco serves a good deal on Penn Championship Extra Duty tennis balls. A case of 60 balls (20 cans) was selling for $38.99, or about 65¢ per ball. Target offered a 4-can pack of the same Penn tennis balls for $8.69, or more than 74¢ per ball. At Walmart, a 6-can pack ran $21.99, or $1.22 per ball. Not even Dick's Sporting Goods could top Costco's price. The specialty retailer was selling a case of 36 Penn balls (12 cans) for $24.99, or just over 69¢ per ball.
 
4.  Coffins & Urns - At some point we all have to think about the unthinkable. Costco’s right there with you as a cheaper alternative to buying a casket through a funeral home. Costco members can go online to purchase a casket for delivery. Standard shipping is included in the online price, but expedited shipping is also available. The shipping address and the billing address must be in one of the 38 states (plus the District of Columbia) approved for casket sales. The Federal Trade Commission requires funeral homes to accept any casket purchased from an outside source. Casket prices at Costco.com range from $900 to $1,350; urns range from $90 to $150.  Oh, and Costco also sells urns for pet cremation remains. The Near & Dear Pet Memorials Classic Paws urns are $40.
 
5.  Cruise Packages - The warehouse club has its own online travel service, Costco Travel, with plenty of packages available.  Across the board, Costco cruise packages are substantially lower in cost compared to other Travel Agencies or even direct from the cruise lines.  Most also have more perks and privileges for their members including Travel Insurance.   (Car Rentals are also lower in cost as well as no charge for a 2nd driver)
 
6.  Passport Photos - Stop by the one-hour photo shop inside Costco, present your Costco membership card to the clerk, pay $4.99 for four headshots compliant with U.S. passport requirements, and you’re in. The clerk will take your picture with a DSLR camera, show it to you for your approval, and have it printed and good to go in about 10 minutes. The Post Office charges $15 for two passport photos.
 
7.  Luggage - Time to pack, and whoa, your luggage is ancient. Cruise on over to Costco for a suitcase upgrade.We found a two-piece Samsonite Bantam XLT hardside luggage set selling for $169.99. That same set was selling on eBay for $199.54.
 
8.  Vaccinations - Consumer Reports found that vaccinations cost less at Costco than at drug stores such as CVS or Walgreens.
 
9.  Books – According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, retirees spend 73% more on reading materials than average households. If you’re one of those retirees looking at retirement as a time to finally tackle your reading list, Costco can help you do it for less. Books of all kinds are located at the center of the store. I made a beeline for the bestseller section and found the hardcover edition of “The President is Missing,” by former President Bill Clinton and best-selling author James Patterson, selling for $16.99. The thriller was going for $21 at a nearby Target and for $17.99 on Amazon.com (new, with free Prime shipping). “Lincoln’s Last Trial,” by Dan Abrams and David Fisher, was selling for $14.99 at Costco versus $16.19 on Amazon.
 
10.  Hearing Aids - Costco’s made some assertive moves into the business of selling and servicing hearing aids, offering an array of devices at reasonable prices. Free hearing tests are even conducted in-store at Costco Hearing Aid Centers. Costco works with four major suppliers of hearing aids, and also carries its own store brand. The Kirkland Signature 8.0 Premium Digital Hearing Instruments Kit costs $1,600 and includes a pair of hearing aids (available in 10 different colors). And, of course, you’ll need batteries: A package of 48 Kirkland Signature hearing aid batteries is $8.49. To compare, a package of 60 hearing aid batteries was selling for $15.30 on Amazon.
 
11.  Watches - You can find decent watches at clock-stopping prices at Costco.  For example, we spotted a Citizen Chandler men's eco-drive watch for $159.99. The same watch was being sold at Kohl's for $195.
 
12.  Medical Equipment and Supplies - Beyond hearing aids, Costco is ever-increasingly entering a retail sector once an exclusive of medical supply stores and standalone pharmacies: Selling rolling walkers, canes, reachers, wheelchairs and nonslip shower chairs, along with adult briefs for incontinence as well as medical alert systems. There’s even a $4,400 Access Tubs wheelchair accessible slide-in tub with air bubble massage.
 
13.  A Cheap (or Free) Meal - There are always long lines at the Costco hot-food stand, especially during the lunch and dinner hours. The food is inexpensive: An all-beef hot dog with a 20-ounce soda and refills goes for $1.50. An 18-inch whole pizza is $9.95. Cheeseburgers are $4.99. And for dessert, a twisted churro, for a buck.
 
14.  Kirkland Mature Vitamins - Active retirees need the right multivitamins, and Costco has stepped up to the plate. A bottle of 400 tablets of Kirkland Signature Adult 50+ Mature Multi Vitamins and Minerals is just $11.49. At a nearby Target, a bottle of 200 tablets of Centrum Silver was $17.39.The appeal of Costco’s store-branded Kirkland products doesn’t end at vitamins. Kiplinger has sung the praises of several Kirkland Signature items, ranging from booze and beer to batteries and bacon. Costco even sells Kirkland Signature Energy Shots for those occasions when a multivitamin doesn’t provide enough of a pick-me-up.
 
15. MORE ABOUT COSTCO YOU MIGHT WANT TO KNOW! (from a  recent issue of Consumer Reports)
► Whether it’s from your mom, your aunt, your neighbor, or a friend, having a Costco gift card in hand means you’re allowed to enter the store without any questions asked. So what are you waiting for? Don't get that membership if you're not willing to commit, just get yourself a gift card!
► Costco will honor price cuts for a 30-day duration if an item you bought goes on sale a few weeks later.
► An asterisk located in the upper right corner of a Costco price tag means that you probably won't see that item in the store ever again. So, if something you love has been marked with the tiny asterisk of doom, think twice before leaving it for next time. You might never see it again!
► Not everyone knows this secret, but to those who have deciphered the Costco gift card code are already enjoying discounts on movies, restaurants, and other adventures they would’ve gone on anyway. So, next time you’re on a Costco mission, be sure to check out the gift cards and see if there’s anything worth taking advantage of. 
► Nobody in the local area is lower than Costco.  The reason is simple. Costco uses a Gross Margin system of just 14% - 18%.  Other retailers use a much higher markup.  For example, Hearing Aids, Mattresses, Jewelry, etc. are set at 200% - 400%.
► Free Samples - We went to the effort of checking for you and can confirm that there is no unwritten “one per customer” rule. So, go back for seconds if a flavor takes your fancy. It’s only your own pride holding you back. For the Costco staff, the more you try, the more you’re likely to fall in love with the product and buy it, so they’re more than happy to keep dishing up the samples. It is, after all, their job
► The best time for peace-loving shoppers to enter the land of Costco is on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.
► While Costco is known to offer some of the best deals on famous brand names, their discount brands like Kirkland offer the results at an even better price. Expert homemakers swear that the far more affordable Kirkland toilet paper puts Cottonelle to shame. Duracell even manufactures the bargain batteries Costco offers.
► Don’t buy sodas from Costco.  Get your soda from a regular grocery store or better yet, avoid buying them altogether. They aren't exactly the healthiest things for you anyway! 
► When traveling to other countries, one of the hardest things to remember is that your home country may not use the same kind of outlet, meaning you need to bring along or buy a converter. However, there are a few workarounds if you forgot. One of the easiest things to do is simply plug your phone charger into the USB port on the back of the TV. With modern TV’s in almost every hotel these days, it’s a fairly foolproof method.
 
Automotive Items:
■  SEMI AUTONOMOUS DRIVING SYSTEM: Do you know what that is?  You might even have it on your vehicle if it is a 2015 model or newer.  This is when you have engaged your Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keeping safety features.  It means the vehicle will drive itself to safely stay in your lane of traffic and at a safe and proper distance from the car in front of you.  You can proceed without use of the brake or gas pedal at the speed you have set for the Cruise Control.  It is excellent in stop/go commute traffic.  I use it for about 90%of my total driving – even in the neighborhood.  These and other safety features such as Forward Collision Avoidance and Blind Spot Warning are now included in most major brands/models of new cars starting in 2020 – even the base entry level models.
■  AUTO START-STOP SYSTEM: In automobiles, a start-stop system or stop-start system automatically shuts down and restarts the internal combustion engine to reduce the amount of time the engine spends idling, thereby reducing fuel consumption and emissions.  Some systems work more seamlessly than others.  If your system is irksome, turn it off.  In most cars, this feature can easily be turned off.
ADAPTIVE CRUISE CONTROL WITH STOP AND GO: Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go provides the convenience of a conventional cruise system, plus the added benefit of automatically adjusting to maintain a comfortable preset GAP distance from the vehicle ahead. It can also bring the vehicle to a stop and resume acceleration.  If the vehicle is stopped for longer than one second, the driver must intervene and press the "RES" button or accelerator pedal to resume system operation.  When activated, Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go automatically keeps a constant speed and a preset distance from the vehicle ahead, without the driver having to work the accelerator or brake pedals. It can also bring the vehicle to a stop if necessary and resume acceleration automatically.  In addition to the convenience factor, Adaptive Cruise Control may also eventually lead to diminished traffic jams now that more and more vehicles have this feature.
 
MISCELLANEOUS CONSUMER TIPS:
■  COB (Chips on Board) is a new technology of LED packaging for LED light engines. Multi LED chips are packaged together as one lighting module. ... LED (light emitting diode) is new technology with advantage of saving energy and very long lifespan.  Relatively new to the LED market, chip on board (COB) LEDs offer many advantages over the standard options. COB LEDs are basically multiple LED chips (typically nine or more) bonded directly to a substrate by the manufacturer to form a single module.  To the untrained eye, it will appear to be a single LED.
 
■  Butter Warmer -The real butter offered at hotel buffets usually has one major drawback: it’s way too cold to be spreadable. Rather than waste precious time waiting for your butter packets to soften, you can  try this clever hack. While you’re toasting your bread or muffin, lay the packets on top of the toaster. By the time your bread  is done, the butter will be the perfect consistency for spreading on all of your toast with none of the frustration.
 
■  Amplify Your Life -When you’re luggage space is limited, it’s worthwhile to consider which items are truly necessary, and which are just nice. You might feel like a trip devoid of audible music is worthless, but there’s a great hack to help you enjoy your music without having to carry along a speaker. No matter how small they may be, there’s no need to bring the extra gadget along, because you can make your own speakers by playing music from your phone within one of the mugs or large glasses available in most hotel rooms.  Simply tune to your desired music and insert your phone into the cup/mug and the sound will radiate off the sides of the rigid ceramic or glass for improved overall sound.
 
■  Power Up - These days, many hotels require a key card to be inserted into a slot near the door in order to keep the power on in the room as an energy saving feature. Rather than turning everything on and off every single time you leave, you can stay plugged in by asking for an extra key card when you check in. However, if you forgot, you don’t need to suffer while waiting for the AC to kick in once again. You can throw any card into that slot.
 
■ Keep The Shower Caps -Though many of us may not use shower caps on a regular basis, the ones offered by hotels have more uses than to keep your hair dry when you bathe. If you happened to forget to bring some extra plastic bags, they can be used to keep dirty shoes separated from the rest of your luggage. They can also be used to cover the TV remote if you feel like it hasn’t been disinfected well enough prior to your stay.
 
■  Sous Vide Steak Temperature Chart: If you were lucky enough to receive a new Sous Vide device for Christmas, here is a handy temperature chart for steaks.  For Rare: Set Sous Vide at 120-128°F; For Medium Rare: Set Sous Vide at 129-134°F; For Medium: Set Sous Vide at 135-144°F; For Medium Well: Set Sous Vide at 145-155°F; For Well Done: Set Sous Vide at 156-162°F.
For tender cuts, set timer for 1.5 to 2 hrs.  For tougher cuts (Chuck Steak) set time for 12 hrs.  Start your cooking time from when the water bath reaches the set temperature.  Time/temperature for roasts and other meat formats can be determined by Web search “Sous Vide.”
 
■  A Way To Your Hold Your Cell Phone Camera Steady For Better Photos: The following cell phone camera accessory, a cell phone mount, can greatly improve your photo taking experience. It is pocket-compact, well made, cleverly designed and inexpensive.   This is available from Amazon.  https://tinyurl.com/wb5hc7q.
 
■ DRINK PLENTY OF LIQUIDS BEFORE GOING FOR BLOOD DRAW to plump up your veins to make it an easier task for the lab technician to hit your vein on the first attempt to draw a blood sample.
 
■ Avoid Porch Piracy When Shopping Amazon:
Unless you have a secure area for Amazon package deliveries to your home or office, consider using their Amazon Lockers Option.  It works great!  I’ve been using them for the last 6 months and it’s great.  You will be notified when your package/s are ready.  Input the code or scan the bar code from your message and the locker door will open.  It’s quick and easy and parking is never a problem.  They have many 24-hr. locker locations to choose from.  I highly recommend this option.  If the package is too large for a locker delivery, you will be advised at the time of order entry.  Simply choose another address.
 
Tip Posting Date Details New Restaurant News Dec, 2020
 BurgerIM NEWLY OPENED:  Finally, we now have our own local BurgerIM.  For those that are unfamiliar with this fast food burger chain operation, it is relatively new and offers a wide variety of high quality burgers at a very reasonable price.  Their mission statement reads: “We are driven by the belief that quality, innovation, variety, consistency and customer care are critical fast-casual experiences and understand that committed owners are the components of our gourmet key to our success.”  They are now the fastest growing burger franchise business in the U.S.!  Like Habit Burger Grill and In N Out, they use high quality meats and ingredients.  Unlike Habit and In N Out, they offer a lot of variety in their burgers.  They offer 8 different burgers in their full-sized burgers (1/3 or 1/2 pound).  But they also offer these same varieties in a smaller, 3 oz. version (think sliders).  The big burgers are about $6.99 or $7.99.  The mini’s are two for $6.99 and three for $9.99.  All burgers come with Roma Tomato, Leaf Lettuce, Shaved Onions, Pickles, American Cheese & House Sauce.  Premium toppings at extra charge include Bacon, Avocado, Fried Egg, Pineapple, Jalapeños, Onion Ring, Pepper Jack, Swiss Cheese, Cheddar Cheese, Red Cabbage, Sautéed Onions and Sautéed Mushrooms.  They also offer Fries, Onion Rings,  Chicken Wings, Chicken Strips, Salads and Milk Shakes.  Service is friendly and quick.  Prices are very reasonable and it all tastes great (pass on the fries – get the onion rings).  The self-service, soft drink bar offers a huge variety of drink flavors from a single machine.  BurgerIM is located across the parking lot from the Walmart Neighborhood Grocery Store near the San Ramon Golf Course.  I recommend the Duo Combo (2 mini burgers of your choice + onion rings or fries + small drink @ $9.99).
 
OTHER RECOMMENDED BITES:  
 
Bounty Hunter, Walnut Creek, is a new eatery worthy of your visit.  It’s mostly American cuisine and it’s very good.  Try their Smoked Prime Rib, a 14 oz. cut with Whipped Potatoes & Seasonal Vegetables @ $32.  It’s outstanding – one of the very best Prime Ribs I’ve ever had!  And there will likely be leftovers to bring home for a second meal!  The Smokin’ St. Louis Cut Ribs: Full Rack - $32 Half Rack - $17 are also superb.  We’ll be going back to sample more of their menu, soon! 
 
Tea 4 U is a chain of Boba Tea drinks and Taiwanese Street Food.  But, that’s not the main attraction for us.  Try their Basil Popcorn Chicken, $5.25.  It’s a real bargain and tastes great.  You will be surprised at how good it for a snack or on top of salads for a Chicken Salad at home.
Another Earthquake Emergency Kit Addition Dec, 2020
I forgot to mention in a previous post that a very compact, lightweight, fairly powerful, butane stove should be a part of your Emergency Kit.  I recommend a single-burner unit that is available under various brand names including Camp Chef, Campland, Coleman, etc. at $17 to $20 (without fuel) on Amazon.  These can produce 8,000 BTU, hot enough to do most things except high-heat sauté.  All are equipped with spring activated spark ignition for easy lighting without matches or lighter and use self-contained, snap-in fuel cannisters.  Watch the Sunday newspaper ads for Big 5 Sporting Goods.  They often have a version of this stove on sale for $18.  Each fuel canister costs about $2 and can last an hour on the high heat setting.
 
And, make sure that you have attached a Gas Valve Wrench to your gas meter where the main gas shutoff valve is located.  After an earthquake, most fires are started by leaking/broken gas lines.  Use the wrench to turn off the gas line into your house.  A small nylon, wire tie is a good way to strap this to the gas line/meter for easy, quick location and access for this emergency tool.
Battery Corrosion Cleanup Dec, 2020 Dry cell alkaline and lead-acid batteries used to power portable devices such as radios, flashlights, camp lights, timers, clocks, various types of meters, blood pressure monitors, penlights, laser pointers, etc., have a high incident of leaking when not used for long periods of time.  This leakage will damage the device/instrument by inducing heavy corrosion, often rendering the device/instrument useless.  Before discarding the device, however, try a commercial Battery Cleaner to neutralize the acid and dissolve the corrosion on the battery compartment contacts.  But your best defense against this kind of loss is to remove the batteries from the unit if you know there will be a long period before the next use.  This Battery Cleaner is available in automotive supply stores and at Amazon for only $7.43/can: https://tinyurl.com/vjbw33j.  Shipping is free for Prime members.  Tip: After removing the batteries, tape them to the device/instrument for easy location and re-inserting them into the device for use. Cleaning Eyeglasses Dec, 2020 The easiest and quickest way to use a commercial, pre-moistened, Eyeglass Lens Wipes, available from Walgreen’s, CVS, Rite Aid, etc.  The best buy will be at your local 99¢ or Dollar Store.  These wipes are also useful for cleaning cell phones and tablet screens, small instrument digital displays and other optical devices and instruments.  If you want to use a commercial cleaner and rag, do not spray the cleaner onto the glasses/devices – always spray the cleaning cloth and then proceed to clean the glass or plastic screen or lens Cleaning Interior Automotive Glass Surfaces Dec, 2020 After periods of hot weather, it is common for a grayish film to form on the inside of your windshield and all the windows of your vehicle, especially on new vehicles.  This is not dust, grime or cigarette smoke.  This is a thin coating of chemicals (plasticizers) migrating out of your soft interior vinyl surfaces (floor mats, upholstery, dashboard, padded armrests, etc.).  This is called “off-gassing.”  Use a clean, dry, soft towel or rag to wipe this film off.  Do not use any kind of liquid cleaning solutions as that will simply smear it around and likely make it worse.  These plasticizer chemicals have an affinity to glass surfaces and will attached themselves to the clean, dry rag Christmas Gift Suggestions Dec, 2020 Here are two ideas – 1. Car Jump Starter Multi-Function Battery Charger Mini Power Bank.  Good for jump starting cars with dead/weak batteries.  Also could used as high capacity Power Bank for charging cell phones, tablets, etc.  This could be a good addition to your home Emergency Earthquake Kit in lieu of a solar charging Power Bank.  These are available online from Walmart, Costco, Amazon, etc. $35 - $75.  2. Air Fryer.  These are not new but the prices have come way down – now widely available locally and online.  Prices are now $30 - $75.  These are superb at reheating baked or fried foods/pastries.  Try using your microwave to thaw frozen things and then use the Air Fryer to crisp up the exterior and improve the interior texture. They now come in two different formats – original round shape with small counter footprint and new Toaster Oven size. Yelp Suggestion Dec, 2020 Yelp is widely known and used for restaurant ratings by customers.  But, they can also be used to find ratings for contractors, tradesmen, salons and other retail establishments.  They can also indicate wait times, provide wait lists that you can register on to save a place in the current wait line or make a reservation.  Always read some of the reviews, especially the negative ones.  Look at the pictures posted by reviewers to get a better idea of the place.  Beware of places that have less than 150 reviews. Buy adaptors to connect your new smartphones Dec, 2020 SOME NEW CELLPHONES/TABLETS NOW USE TYPE “C” CONNECTOR PLUGS:  Instead of buying all new cables for connecting to existing chargers  and other devices, purchase adapters that will convert standard mini-USB plugs to the new Type “C” available on Amazon.  I bought these: https://tinyurl.com/upvogox (8 for $7.99) from Amazon and they work really well. These also have a spring clasp that clips to your existing cord/cable so you won’t loose it when being used as a standard Mini USB plug.   Dec, 2020
■  REMOVING CHEWING GUM:  There are several ways to do this.  1. Place the article in the freezer or use an ice cube to harden the gum.  Then smash it with a mallet to break it up and off the item it is stuck to.  2. Use Goof Off, a commercial solvent product from Home Improvement and Hardware Stores.  3. Use WD-40.  It will soften the gum to allow removal.  WD-40 is also good for removing road tar and tree sap and pitch from vehicle paint surfaces.  It’s also good for removing self-adhesive labels - price stickers, product labels on jars and bottles, tape residue from containers.  It’s also useful to lube the track on sliding glass doors/windows.
■  DEHYDRATION:  It is critically important for Seniors to stay hydrated.  But, how do you know when you are becoming dehydrated?  That’s fairly easy.  Simply look at your urine when going to the bathroom.  If it’s clear in color, you’re in good shape.  If it is yellow, you could be approaching the danger zone of dehydration.  Drink liquids immediately.
■  DIY COPY STAND:  A copy stand is very useful when you are working on your PC and need to frequently refer to printed text documents.    A copy stand is perfect for this work situation.  If you don’t have one, make one using any kind of spring clip (spring clothes pin, bag closure spring clip, etc.) and attach it to side of your computer monitor.  Clip your document up for easy reference.
■  PASSIVE + ACTIVE SAFETY SYSTEMS IN YOUR NEW CAR:  Do you know what safety features are built into your new vehicle?  Probably not!  But, they can’t do their best job if you don’t know how to use them!  AARP believes that only 20% of folks with newer cars really know how to utilize them for best benefit.  Therefore, they have a new program – free classes open to all, not just AARP members.  These are available online or live classes.  Unfortunately, the live classes are not yet scheduled for Northern California.  Currently, they are available in Southern California.  For more information, go to their website: https://tinyurl.com/qly8v7o
■  CAR MODELS/BRANDS TO BE DISCONTINUED:  The following models will no longer be produced after the 2019 model year:  BMW 3 & 6 Series Gran Turismo & Gran Turismo Gran Coupe, Buick Cascada, Buick LaCrosse, Cadillac CTS & XTS, Chevrolet Cruze, Chevrolet Impala, Chevrolet Volt,Ford Fiesta, Fiat 500, Ford Taurus, Jaguar XJ, Lincoln MKC & MKT, Nissan 370Z Roadster, Nissan Rogue Hybrid, Smartcar, Volkswagen Beetle.  Lagging sales on these cars dictates their demise. There may be some excellent deals on these vehicles if you are so inclined.
N95 Filter Mask Controversy Nov, 2019 After the earlier Santa Rosa/Coffee park wildfires there was a huge demand for N95 rated mask to filter out the smoke particles in the air blown down from the North fires.  This time a government agency in Sacramento made a public statement to the effect that those N95 masks did not work.  Here’s the real story if one digs further into it.  The N95 rating means the filter will filter out 95% of the smoke particulate but the problem is that the filters are quite dense so they make normal breathing more difficult – so difficult that if there are any leaks around the mask edges, polluted air will be more easily drawn in around those leakage areas.  This makes the mask much less effective.  The statement should have clarified this issue.  The masks will work if properly fitted and therein lies the problem.  Getting a perfect fit is not easy.  First, there should be no facial hair since that will make a good seal impossible.  Then the size must be correct for the individual face.  And the fit must be tight and will feel uncomfortable.  But, even if it leaks, some filtration is better than no filtration at all!  Use the N95 mask but try to make as tight and close a fit as possible! Earthquake Emergency Kit Revisited Nov, 2019
While this idea of an ‘Emergency Kit’ was noted last month, the recent PGE Power Shutdowns adds a new light to this idea of extended periods without power.  You may want to revisit this article.  The folks that were caught without power and had no portable Power Banks and/or Solar Chargers to recharge their cell phones would have benefited greatly from them if they had them.
How to fill liquids in a 'blind' container Nov, 2019 We have an 18-oz., ceramic, Rachel Ray, Olive Oil Dispenser that is difficult to fill without spilling over and making a mess.  It’s totally opaque and fills through the small opening at the pour spout and there is no way to see the level of the contents inside the bottle.   Sometimes it overflows during refilling and makes a big mess.  Here’s how we now avoid that scenario.  First we determined the full capacity of the bottle by pouring out any remaining oil into another container to ensure that the bottle is empty.  Then we filled the empty bottle with plain tap water and poured that water into a large 3-cup measuring cup to determine the actual capacity that turns out to be 18 oz.  Now that we know the true capacity, we simply measure out 17 oz. of olive oil and using a funnel or a beaker, we refill the bottle through the small neck and it’s done simply, quickly and without any overflow mess!  We use the same technique for a sink-mounted liquid soap dispenser. Ballpoint pen skips when trying to sign a cash register receipt Nov, 2019 This happens a lot when you receive your restaurant check and want to add a tip and signature.  The heat sensitive, coated paper that allows the thermal printer to produce its image does not provide enough friction for the tiny rolling ball to roll properly to dispense the ink from the pen.  It skids across the surface and not rolling.  To provide enough friction for the pen to function, place a paper napkin or some other thin/soft padding under the receipt before signing.  The soft, padded vinyl portfolio that is used to deliver your check is a good substrate to use.  The cushioning effect of the added layer will provide enough additional friction to make the tiny ballpoint roll and properly dispense the ink for a good hand written image. Care and feeding of your shredder Nov, 2019
The use of a reliable, durable, cross-cut shredder should be considered an essential appliance in your home or office as a standard security device to prevent fraud and/or identity theft. Avoid inexpensive strip shredders.  It is very easy for someone to reassemble the strips to reveal all your information.  Shred all confidential papers and envelopes that reveal your name, address and any other personal information.  Many models today will shred staples, small paper clips, credit cards and compact discs.  Want to keep your shredder running smoothly and safely? Follow these tips:
 
▪ If your shredder jams, use the reverse button and try gently pulling the paper toward you. If remnants remain stuck, unplug the shredder before trying to remove them—with needle nose pliers or other long, thin implements.
 
▪ Lubricate your cutting blades with shredder oil or a lube sheet. Without proper lubrication, the shredder heats up due to the friction of the blades, which can reduce performance and life span. Be sure to follow your manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
 
▪ Avoid shredding certain materials. These include adhesive items like mailing labels, metal or thick cardstock. Continually shredding materials a machine is not rated for will degrade your shredder’s longevity.
 
▪ Keep kids and pets away, and don’t let jewelry, long hair and loose clothing get too close when shredding. *
 
* The above is from the October issue of the Costco Connection Magazine
Does "Unsubscribe" work? Nov, 2019
We all get emails we don’t want, and cleaning them up can be as easy as clicking ‘unsubscribe’ at the bottom of the email.  However, some of those handy little links can cause more trouble than they solve.  You may end up giving the sender a lot of information about you, or even an opportunity to infect you with malware.  Of course, not everyone who sends you mail is a spammer and if you know that a sender is trustworthy it’s safe to unsubscribe.
Unfortunately phishing attacks rely on the fact that it’s very, very easy to fake who and where an email has come from so it’s all but impossible to be 100% sure who has sent you an email.  Here are 5 reasons why unsubscribing can be a bad idea, whether you do it by sending a reply email or opening an “unsubscribe” web link:
 
1. You have confirmed to the sender that your email address is both valid and in active use.  If the sender is unscrupulous then the volume of email you receive will most likely go up, not down. Worse, now that you have validated your address the spammer can sell it to his friends. So you are probably going to hear from them too.
 
2. By responding to the email, you have positively confirmed that you have opened and read it and may be slightly interested in the subject matter, whether it’s getting money from a foreign prince, a penny stock tip or a diet supplement.  That’s wonderful information for the mailer and his pals.
 
3. If your response goes back via email – perhaps the process requires you to reply with the words “unsubscribe,” or the unsubscribe link in the message opens up an email window – then not only have you confirmed that your address is active, but your return email will leak information about your email software too. Emails contain meta information, known as email headers, and you can tell what kind of email software somebody is using (and imply something about their computer) from the contents and arrangement of the headers.
 
4. If your response opens up a browser window then you’re giving away even more about yourself. By visiting the spammer’s website you’re giving them information about your geographic location (calculated based on your IP address), your computer operating system and your browser. The sender can also give you a cookie which means that if you visit any other websites they own (perhaps by clicking unsubscribe links in other emails) they’ll be able to identify you personally.
 
5. The most scary of all: if you visit a website owned by a spammer you’re giving them a chance to install malware on your computer, even if you don’t click anything. These kind of attacks, known as drive-by downloads, can be tailored to use exploits the spammer knows you are vulnerable to thanks to the information you’ve shared unwittingly about your operating system and browser.
 
So how do you avoid unwanted email without unsubscribing?  If the message is unsolicited then mark it as spam.  Marking something as spam not only deletes the message (or puts it into your trash) it also teaches your email software about what you consider spam so that it can better detect and block nefarious messages in the future and adapt as the spammers change their tricks.  This not only helps you, but also everyone else too.*
 
* From “Naked Security by Sophos:”
Bargains seen & heard around town Nov, 2019 At Costco:  Kirkland thick sliced bacon made from European Pork Belly.  This quality bacon shrinks less, fries flat without use of a bacon press - $10.49 for two 1.5 lb. packs.  Too much for a household of two?  It will freeze well for up to 6 months.  At Daiso (Japanese Dollar Store, Dublin, next to Baskin & Robins):  High quality alkaline batteries in small packs (including AAA, AA and 9-volt sizes) at prices as good as Costco’s larger bulk packs.  At Dollar Tree:  Specialty 3.0 volt Button Batteries CR 2016, CR 2032 @ two for $1.  Also 1.5 volt AG1, AG3, LR44 @ four for $1. Fact check things before forwarding to others Nov 2019
Currently there is an Urban Myth email circulating around this time about “rising from bed too quickly can result in stroke or sudden death.”  A purported medical professional talks about the dangers of waking up in the night to go to the toilet. Such messages purport that rising from bed to quickly can cause strokes and sudden death. As such, the messages advise that readers should wait for a quoted length of time before exiting their bed. Most versions of the message quote a minute and a half (three 30 second intervals) while other variants quote 4.5 minutes (three minute-and-half intervals.)  It’s cleverly and well written and sounds like good medical advice. 
 
Only it’s all bogus!  Always fact-check things before passing them on.  Here are some websites that you can use to do this: Snopes.com; thatsnonsense.com; liveabout.com and truthorfiction.com.  There are others – simply Google “fact check websites.”
Do not top off your gas tank Nov, 2019 Topping off your gas tank can cause pressure to build in the tank and flood the carbon filter vapor collection system, which is only meant for vapor. Subsequently, this overflow can affect your car's performance and could possibly damage the engine.  Besides, what’s the point in adding an extra pint of gas?  And, because the gas nozzle automatically clicks off when your tank is full, topping off can result in your paying for gasoline that is fed back into the station's tanks via the pump's vapor-recovery system. Local Food Trends Nov, 2019
1. Per Diablo Magazine, the top ten new restaurants in the East Bay are: Albatross, Slanted Door, Bounty Hunter, Vineyard Table (former Wente), Tozai Izakaya, FOB Kitchen, Sidetrack, Yimm, 4505 and Tacos Oscar.  This is their ranking, not mine! 
 
2. Walnut Creek recent closings include Miraku (same location for 34 years), Fuddrucker’s, Stanford’s, Corner’s Tavern, Mangosteen, Le Cheval, Evie’s Hamburgers, Mary’s Pizza Shack and Tender Greens.  High rent, lack of qualified staff and stiff competition are cited as primary factors. 
 
3. Newest trends in local cuisines: Middle Eastern (Halal, Persian, Mediterranean), Churrascaria (Brazilian Steakhouses), Taiwanese/Shanghainese Chinese and Burgers (BergerIM, Shake Shack, Burger Lounge, True Burger, Roam Artisan Burger).
OCTOBER  2019  CONSUMER TIPS Oct, 2019
⦿  Earthquake Emergency Kit – Sir Jerald Cerri asked a very good question about an item for their Emergency Kit.  In the event of an earthquake and we have no power for an extended period of time, how can we maintain a charge on our cellphones?  I recommend a rechargeable Power Bank.  Here are two from Amazon – the first link is for a large capacity unit (25,000 mAh capacity @ $31) and the 2nd is a smaller unit (10,000 mAh @ $24).  The larger unit also comes with a mini USB fan and can recharge 3 devices at once.  Both can be recharged from their own built-in solar panel or from an active AC outlet and have a built-in flashlight.  The larger unit should give you 4 – 5 charges of your cellphone before it needs recharging, itself, that can be done using the solar panel.  BTW, Power Banks with or without solar recharging capability are good to have even for non-emergency times.  These can be very handy when traveling extensively and can free you up from having to look for AC outlets at airports, restaurants, hotels, convention sites, etc.  Don’t forget your connecting charge cords.
https://tinyurl.com/y5z6dwsv
https://tinyurl.com/y6y2a23d
⦿  Vehicle Safety Features:  Back in earlier days, vehicle safety features amounted to just a few items - anti-lock brakes, a few airbags, 3-point seatbelts and traction control?  Today most buyers will not let go of their hard-earned cash unless the majority of the latest safety features are fitted to their new car.  Results from America’s Insurance Institute for Highway Safety survey show that improved safety features dramatically lower road fatalities and the risk of injury. According to an IIHS survey of 2015, there were 7,700 fewer driver deaths in 2012 than there would have been had vehicles remained the same since 1985.  So what are the main five safety features that most motorists cannot do without?
Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC):  Available on the vast majority of new cars today, this system uses sensors and radar, normally mounted inside the grille, to lock onto the car ahead and maintain a safe distance by automatically applying the throttle when acceleration is required and the brakes when traffic starts to slow down. ACC is mostly used by drivers on long highway cruises or when things get sticky in heavy congestion. If it senses a potential collision, the ACC system will brake heavily and tighten the seatbelts.  When used in congested, stop/go traffic, it has shown to reduce rear end collisions by 72%!  And it will reduce driver fatigue.
Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB): This is a feature that more and more drivers are looking for when purchasing a new car. In fact, a close friend called just last year to ask me to recommend a car that had AEB because he had just crashed his 17-year old German sedan after dozing off at the wheel. If a car fitted with AEB senses a potential collision, and the driver does not react in time, then the car will start braking for you. IIHS data show rear-end collisions fall by 50% on vehicles with AEB. Responding to an IIHS survey, an Infiniti Q50 owner said, “It is much faster than me reacting to emergency situations. The brakes are already applied before my foot hits the pedal.”
Lane Departure Warning/Lane Keep: These are actually two different systems that work together to keep you in your lane.  Lane departure sounds a warning or buzzes your seat or steering wheel to inform that you are crossing the white lines or unintentionally leaving your lane.  Lane Keep will gently steer you back into your lane if you drift out of it. When lines are faint or the system has trouble detecting lines, the system can be switched off.
Blind Spot Detection:  In driver education, remember how you were told to look over your shoulder and incessantly use your mirrors to see what was behind you and in your blind spot.  Blind spot detection picks up what you might have missed and also warns you of  vehicles approaching from the rear quarter by shining small orange or yellow lights in your side door mirrors. 
Rear-view Camera:  Rear-view cameras have two main purposes; firstly to give the driver a clear view of what’s behind the vehicle when reversing and, secondly, to protect children and animals from being accidentally hit or run over. These cameras typically use wide-angle lenses to give up to 180-degree backward views.
New safety technologies Coming Soon:  But while these features are offered today on a wide variety of vehicles, here are three new safety technologies that will start to appear on production cars within the next few years. And within 5 years, they will be standard equipment.
Safety Exit Assist:  As seen in the recently revealed Hyundai Sante Fe SUV, Safety Exit Assist temporarily stops kids from opening the back doors when vehicles and bicycles are approaching from behind. It’s an extension of the blind spot monitor and has the potential to be one of the most sought-after features for parents of young children.
Facial Recognition Software:  Facial recognition software is just starting to appear on reasonably priced vehicles like the Subaru Forester which was revealed at the recent New York Auto Show. It constantly measures a driver’s level of alertness and warns the driver when it sees you not paying attention. Other carmakers will also follow suit within the next few years until this technology, like ABS for example, becomes standard equipment. These warnings, for now at least, come in the form of a buzzer that sounds to alert you, but in the near future, we can expect more proactive systems that vibrate parts of your seat.
In addition to night vision features that can warn drivers of bicycles and pedestrians on dark streets at night, and smart headlights that lower their hi-beam automatically towards oncoming traffic, the seven features mentioned here will all become technologies that drivers will expect on their new cars within the next 4-5 years.*
*Summary of article by Peter Lyon, Forbes Magazine, May 2018.
⦿  Made in America Items:  The following is the summary of an Internet article that was sent to me by a friend:  Costco sells Goodyear wiper blades for almost half the price that you will pay other retailers and they are made in the U.S.A.  Did You Know that there is no electric coffee maker made in the US and that the only kitchen appliances made in the US is Viking? This information came from a report by Diane Sawyer.   
I DIDN'T KNOW HALLMARK CARDS WERE MADE IN CHINA!  That's why I don't buy cards at Hallmark anymore, They are Made in China and are more expensive!  I buy them at Dollar Tree and Dollar General - 50 cents each and made in USA!  I have been looking at blenders available on the
Internet. Kitchen Aid is MADE IN THE USA.
Yesterday at Wal-Mart I found some Plastic Waste Baskets made in China for $6.99. But on further looking around, I found some at $2.50 made in USA. They are just as good.. Same on a kitchen rug I needed. I had to look, but I found some Made in the USA - what a concept! - and they were $3.00 cheaper.
 
While shopping at Lowe's for garden hose attachments and found that they were all made in China. The next day I checked Ace Hardware and found hose attachments there. They were made in USA!  I was at Kroger looking for 60W light bulbs and Bounce dryer sheets. I was in the light bulb aisle, and right next to the GE brand I normally buy -- was an off-brand, labeled, "Everyday Value" I picked up both types of bulbs and compared them: they were the same except for the price. .the GE bulbs cost more than the Everyday Value Brand, but the thing that surprised me the most was that that GE was Made in MEXICO and the Everyday Value brand was made in - you guessed it - the USA at a company in Cleveland, Ohio.   So, on to the next aisle: Bounce dryer sheets. Yep, Bounce cost more money and is made in Canada. The Everyday Value Brand cost less, and was MADE IN THE USA! I did laundry yesterday and the dryer sheets performed just like the Bounce Free I have been using for years, at almost half the price.
 
⦿  Costco Hearing Aids:  Last month I mentioned the cost difference for the same or similar instruments elsewhere can cost over $2500 more.  Last week, I was in for a cleaning and an adjustment and discovered that the price of the Kirkland Brand 9.0 Premium model has been reduced even further.  The current price is now just $1500/pair!  While I was there, one of our members was getting fitted for a pair.  He told me that he had just come from Kaiser where he was quoted $4200 for the same brand, Rexton.  The Kirkland model is made by Rexton and the only difference is the Kirkland does not come with rechargeable batteries, about a $40 accessory item.  Plus, I don’t like the rechargeable batteries as I found it a nuisance to have to charge them every night.
 
 And while I was there, Nick, in the Hearing Aid Center cleaned my instruments and replaced the plastic line and tips that go into the ear – at no charge.  He also demonstrated to me the proper way to clean them at home.  It has made a big difference in their performance!  I can’t say enough about the quality of service and professionalism of Vicki Nickolas and her crew.  She is the Audiologist in charge at the Livermore Costco Store.  BTW, the new Hearing Aid Center at the Danville Store is now open but the wait time for an appointment is now out to January 2020!  And, I would choose the experience of Vicki over any other Audiologist.  She has fitted over 3 dozen of our members over the last 10+ years and all are happy and satisfied.  I can’t stress how important the Audiologist is in getting new instruments.
 
One more thing, those of you that have hearing aids and don’t wear them or wear them only for special occasions – you’re missing the point and still allowing life to pass you by.  Put them on in the morning and leave them on until it’s time for bed!
 
⦿ Reduce Food Waste:  What do those dates printed on food package labels really mean?
BEST IF USED BY/BEFORE = Indicates when product will be of best flavor or quality.  This is not a purchase/safety date.
SELL BY = Tells store staff how long to display product for sale and inventory management.  This is not a safety date.
USE BY = Last date recommended for use of the product while at peak quality.  Not a safety date except when used on Infant Formula.
Note: CR recommends you use your nose and eyes to determine if food is still good for human consumption.  It’s very simple and safe – if it smells bad or you can see visible signs of mold/spoilage and then throw it out.  Nature was good enough to give us these warning signs so we should use them.  BTW, this is the way the food banks in your local area do it!
Food tips to extend the life of your food:  Wilted vegetables – soak in ice water 5 – 10 minutes may crisp up wilted veggies.  Stale Food – Toast stale chips, crackers, cookies, etc. for a short time in a regular oven, toaster oven, convection oven or air fryer to crisp them up.
Salty Food – Add vinegar, lemon juice or brown sugar – or dilute a soup or sauce with water, crushed tomatoes or unsalted broth.
 
⦿ Tire Pressure Warning Light:  All vehicles manufactured from 2003 are equipped with a Tire Pressure Warning Light that illuminates when your tire pressure drops to 25% of the recommended tire pressures for your vehicle.  That’s a good safety feature mandated by D.O.T. but you should not use this as a standard way to care for your tires.  As a safety device, it is really telling you that you have been negligent about checking your tires.  25% below normal inflation level is not a good thing.  Tire experts will tell you that 10% is a much better threshold for a safety warning.  If your tires are that underinflated and your vehicle is fully loaded and will be driving at freeway speeds for more than just a few minutes, your tires can easily overheat and can result in a dangerous blowout event.  And, at the lower pressure level, you are decreasing your gas mileage by as much as 15%.  You should check your tires on a monthly basis and catch any problems before the TP light tells you that you have a problem.  I recommend that you keep a small, digital Tire Pressure Gauge in your vehicle for this purpose.  They are more reliable, accurate and easier to read than the old ‘pencil style’ tire gauge.  They can be found on Amazon.com for under $10.
 
⦿ Beware of Tip Calculations Shown on Restaurant Tabs: When you receive your bill after dining at a restaurant, do not believe the suggested amounts shown at the bottom of the bill to be accurate.  Unfortunately, many incorrectly base the calculations on the total bill, including tax, when you should be tipping only on the before tax amount.  An easy check is to take the subtotal (before tax amount) and determine what a 20% tip should be and compare it against what the bill recommends.  Last night, our bill came to $26.00 +$2.41 tax = $28.41.  A 20% tip computation on $26 should only be $5.20.  But the restaurant bill suggested $5.68.  On a small check like this, it’s not a big deal.  But, if you are dining at an expensive place or are hosting a large party with a big total tab, the difference can be quite significant!  Check that bill next time!
 
Earthquake Emergency Kit Sep, 2019
Sir Jerald Cerri asked a very good question about an item for their Emergency Kit.  In the event of an earthquake and we have no power for an extended period of time, how can we maintain a charge on our cellphones?  I recommend a rechargeable Power Bank.  Here are two from Amazon – the first link is for a large capacity unit (25,000 mAh capacity @ $31) and the 2nd is a smaller unit (10,000 mAh @ $24).  The larger unit also comes with a mini USB fan and can recharge 3 devices at once.  Both can be recharged from their own built-in solar panel or from an active AC outlet and have a built-in flashlight.  The larger unit should give you 4 – 5 charges of your cellphone before it needs recharging, itself, that can be done using the solar panel.  BTW, Power Banks with or without solar recharging capability are good to have even for non-emergency times.  These can be very handy when traveling extensively and can free you up from having to look for AC outlets at airports, restaurants, hotels, convention sites, etc.  Don’t forget your connecting charge cords.
Vehicle Safety Features Update Sep, 2019
Back in earlier days, vehicle safety features amounted to just a few items - anti-lock brakes, a few airbags, 3-point seatbelts and traction control?  Today most buyers will not let go of their hard-earned cash unless the majority of the latest safety features are fitted to their new car.  Results from America’s Insurance Institute for Highway Safety survey show that improved safety features dramatically lower road fatalities and the risk of injury. According to an IIHS survey of 2015, there were 7,700 fewer driver deaths in 2012 than there would have been had vehicles remained the same since 1985.  So what are the main five safety features that most motorists cannot do without?
 
  • Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC):  Available on the vast majority of new cars today, this system uses sensors and radar, normally mounted inside the grille, to lock onto the car ahead and maintain a safe distance by automatically applying the throttle when acceleration is required and the brakes when traffic starts to slow down. ACC is mostly used by drivers on long highway cruises or when things get sticky in heavy congestion. If it senses a potential collision, the ACC system will brake heavily and tighten the seatbelts.  When used in congested, stop/go traffic, it has shown to reduce rear end collisions by 72%!  And it will reduce driver fatigue.
  • Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB): This is a feature that more and more drivers are looking for when purchasing a new car. In fact, a close friend called just last year to ask me to recommend a car that had AEB because he had just crashed his 17-year old German sedan after dozing off at the wheel. If a car fitted with AEB senses a potential collision, and the driver does not react in time, then the car will start braking for you. IIHS data show rear-end collisions fall by 50% on vehicles with AEB. Responding to an IIHS survey, an Infiniti Q50 owner said, “It is much faster than me reacting to emergency situations. The brakes are already applied before my foot hits the pedal.”
  • Lane Departure Warning/Lane Keep: These are actually two different systems that work together to keep you in your lane.  Lane departure sounds a warning or buzzes your seat or steering wheel to inform that you are crossing the white lines or unintentionally leaving your lane.  Lane Keep will gently steer you back into your lane if you drift out of it. When lines are faint or the system has trouble detecting lines, the system can be switched off.
  • Blind Spot Detection:  In driver education, remember how you were told to look over your shoulder and incessantly use your mirrors to see what was behind you and in your blind spot.  Blind spot detection picks up what you might have missed and also warns you of  vehicles approaching from the rear quarter by shining small orange or yellow lights in your side door mirrors. 
  • Rear-view Camera:  Rear-view cameras have two main purposes; firstly to give the driver a clear view of what’s behind the vehicle when reversing and, secondly, to protect children and animals from being accidentally hit or run over. These cameras typically use wide-angle lenses to give up to 180-degree backward views.
  • New safety technologies Coming Soon:  But while these features are offered today on a wide variety of vehicles, here are three new safety technologies that will start to appear on production cars within the next few years. And within 5 years, they will be standard equipment.
  • Safety Exit Assist:  As seen in the recently revealed Hyundai Sante Fe SUV, Safety Exit Assist temporarily stops kids from opening the back doors when vehicles and bicycles are approaching from behind. It’s an extension of the blind spot monitor and has the potential to be one of the most sought-after features for parents of young children.
  • Facial Recognition Software:  Facial recognition software is just starting to appear on reasonably priced vehicles like the Subaru Forester which was revealed at the recent New York Auto Show. It constantly measures a driver’s level of alertness and warns the driver when it sees you not paying attention. Other carmakers will also follow suit within the next few years until this technology, like ABS for example, becomes standard equipment. These warnings, for now at least, come in the form of a buzzer that sounds to alert you, but in the near future, we can expect more proactive systems that vibrate parts of your seat.
In addition to night vision features that can warn drivers of bicycles and pedestrians on dark streets at night, and smart headlights that lower their hi-beam automatically towards oncoming traffic, the seven features mentioned here will all become technologies that drivers will expect on their new cars within the next 4-5 years.
 
*Summary of article by Peter Lyon, Forbes Magazine, May 2018.
Made in America Items:  Sep, 2019
The following is the summary of an Internet article that was sent to me by a friend:  Costco sells Goodyear wiper blades for almost half the price that you will pay other retailers and they are made in the U.S.A.  Did You Know that there is no electric coffee maker made in the US and that the only kitchen appliances made in the US is Viking? This information came from a report by Diane Sawyer.   
 
I DIDN'T KNOW HALLMARK CARDS WERE MADE IN CHINA!  That's why I don't buy cards at Hallmark anymore, They are Made in China and are more expensive!  I buy them at Dollar Tree and Dollar General - 50 cents each and made in USA!  I have been looking at blenders available on the
Internet. Kitchen Aid is MADE IN THE USA.
 
Yesterday at Wal-Mart I found some Plastic Waste Baskets made in China for $6.99. But on further looking around, I found some at $2.50 made in USA. They are just as good.. Same on a kitchen rug I needed. I had to look, but I found some Made in the USA - what a concept! - and they were $3.00 cheaper.
 
While shopping at Lowe's for garden hose attachments and found that they were all made in China. The next day I checked Ace Hardware and found hose attachments there. They were made in USA!  I was at Kroger looking for 60W light bulbs and Bounce dryer sheets. I was in the light bulb aisle, and right next to the GE brand I normally buy -- was an off-brand, labeled, "Everyday Value" I picked up both types of bulbs and compared them: they were the same except for the price. .the GE bulbs cost more than the Everyday Value Brand, but the thing that surprised me the most was that that GE was Made in MEXICO and the Everyday Value brand was made in - you guessed it - the USA at a company in Cleveland, Ohio.   So, on to the next aisle: Bounce dryer sheets. Yep, Bounce cost more money and is made in Canada. The Everyday Value Brand cost less, and was MADE IN THE USA! I did laundry yesterday and the dryer sheets performed just like the Bounce Free I have been using for years, at almost half the price.
Costco Hearing Aids:  Sep, 2019
Last month I mentioned the cost difference for the same or similar instruments elsewhere can cost over $2500 more.  Last week, I was in for a cleaning and an adjustment and discovered that the price of the Kirkland Brand 9.0 Premium model has been reduced even further.  The current price is now just $1500/pair!  While I was there, one of our members was getting fitted for a pair.  He told me that he had just come from Kaiser where he was quoted $4200 for the same brand, Rexton.  The Kirkland model is made by Rexton and the only difference is the Kirkland does not come with rechargeable batteries, about a $40 accessory item.  Plus, I don’t like the rechargeable batteries as I found it a nuisance to have to charge them every night.
 
And while I was there, Nick, in the Hearing Aid Center cleaned my instruments and replaced the plastic line and tips that go into the ear – at no charge.  He also demonstrated to me the proper way to clean them at home.  It has made a big difference in their performance!  I can’t say enough about the quality of service and professionalism of Vicki Nickolas and her crew.  She is the Audiologist in charge at the Livermore Costco Store.  BTW, the new Hearing Aid Center at the Danville Store is now open but the wait time for an appointment is now out to January 2020!  And, I would choose the experience of Vicki over any other Audiologist.  She has fitted over 3 dozen of our members over the last 10+ years and all are happy and satisfied.  I can’t stress how important the Audiologist is in getting new instruments.
 
One more thing, those of you that have hearing aids and don’t wear them or wear them only for special occasions – you’re missing the point and still allowing life to pass you by.  Put them on in the morning and leave them on until it’s time for bed!
Reduce Food Waste: Sep, 2019
What do those dates printed on food package labels really mean?
 
BEST IF USED BY/BEFORE = Indicates when product will be of best flavor or quality.  This is not a purchase/safety date.
 
SELL BY = Tells store staff how long to display product for sale and inventory management.  This is not a safety date.
 
USE BY = Last date recommended for use of the product while at peak quality.  Not a safety date except when used on Infant Formula.
 
Note: CR recommends you use your nose and eyes to determine if food is still good for human consumption.  It’s very simple and safe – if it smells bad or you can see visible signs of mold/spoilage and then throw it out.  Nature was good enough to give us these warning signs so we should use them.  BTW, this is the way the food banks in your local area do it!
 
Food tips to extend the life of your food:  Wilted vegetables – soak in ice water 5 – 10 minutes may crisp up wilted veggies.  Stale Food – Toast stale chips, crackers, cookies, etc. for a short time in a regular oven, toaster oven, convection oven or air fryer to crisp them up.
 
Salty Food – Add vinegar, lemon juice or brown sugar – or dilute a soup or sauce with water, crushed tomatoes or unsalted broth.
Tire Pressure Warning Light:  Sep, 2019
All vehicles manufactured from 2003 are equipped with a Tire Pressure Warning Light that illuminates when your tire pressure drops to 25% of the recommended tire pressures for your vehicle.  That’s a good safety feature mandated by D.O.T. but you should not use this as a standard way to care for your tires.  As a safety device, it is really telling you that you have been negligent about checking your tires.  25% below normal inflation level is not a good thing.  Tire experts will tell you that 10% is a much better threshold for a safety warning.  If your tires are that underinflated and your vehicle is fully loaded and will be driving at freeway speeds for more than just a few minutes, your tires can easily overheat and can result in a dangerous blowout event.  And, at the lower pressure level, you are decreasing your gas mileage by as much as 15%.  You should check your tires on a monthly basis and catch any problems before the TP light tells you that you have a problem.  I recommend that you keep a small, digital Tire Pressure Gauge in your vehicle for this purpose.  They are more reliable, accurate and easier to read than the old ‘pencil style’ tire gauge.  They can be found on Amazon.com for under $10.
Beware of Tip Calculations Shown on Restaurant Tabs: Sep, 2019 When you receive your bill after dining at a restaurant, do not believe the suggested amounts shown at the bottom of the bill to be accurate.  Unfortunately, many incorrectly base the calculations on the total bill, including tax, when you should be tipping only on the before tax amount.  An easy check is to take the subtotal (before tax amount) and determine what a 20% tip should be and compare it against what the bill recommends.  Last night, our bill came to $26.00 +$2.41 tax = $28.41.  A 20% tip computation on $26 should only be $5.20.  But the restaurant bill suggested $5.68.  On a small check like this, it’s not a big deal.  But, if you are dining at an expensive place or are hosting a large party with a big total tab, the difference can be quite significant!  Check that bill next time! More Automotive Tips & News Aug, 2019
■    Tree Sap and Pitch: Use WD-40 Lubricant to safely remove tree sap and pitch. It is an excellent solvent for this use and will not harm your paint finish and it is easy to wipe off any residue. Spray the WD-40 on a clean, soft rag to wipe off the offending spots. This also works well for road tar and sealant from newly paved roadways. Goo Gone is another effective solvent product but the residue must be washed off with detergent to avoid dulling the paint finish.
 
■    Rental Car Insurance: When you rent a vehicle, the rental agency will always try to sell you the optional insurance coverage. Check to see if you are already covered by your own auto insurance policy for rental and borrowed car use. Also, if you use the higher level (Gold, Premier, Black, etc.) credit card, you may be covered. Check with your own auto insurance agent.  If you rent a lot, consider adding the ‘Rental Car Coverage’ to your policy. It will be far cheaper than buying the optional coverage from the rental car company each time.
 
■    Gas Station Tip: If you happen to see a gasoline tanker filling the tanks at your local gas station, come back another day or go to a different station. As the station’s underground tanks are being filled, the turbulence can stir up sediment. Sediment in your gas can clog fuel filters and fuel injectors, causing poor performance and possibly necessitating repairs.
 
■    Ignition Key Wear: Does your car key share a chain with a dozen or more other keys? That’s a pretty heavy load hanging off the car key when it’s in the ignition. The weight, combined with bouncing while you drive, can wear out the tumblers inside the ignition and eventually lead to ignition switch failure. To add years of service to your ignition switch, purchase a lightweight keychain that allows you to separate your ignition key from the others. Drive with only the ignition key in your ignition. If your ignition key “sticks” when you try to turn on the car, it’s a warning that your ignition switch is about to fail. Replace it before you get stranded.
 
■  New Car Shopping: Use Costco Auto Buying Program or online auto dealers/buying services. If shopping in person at a dealership, do this within a day or two of the end of the month. All salespeople are commission folks and the end of the month is the end of a quota period. This is the most effective time for negotiating price/terms in your favor.
 
■  Avoid Dealer Add-Ons: Typically, dealers will try to sell you add –on features such as Vin I.D. Glass Etching, Upholstery/Paint Protector, Floor Mats, Nitrogen Filled Tires, Extended Warranty, etc. These are all at tremendous markup and of dubious value. Glass etching charges by the dealer range $150 to $300. And independent auto glass shop charges about $30 to $45. A glass etching kit from Amazon is only $8. And most insurance companies do not recognize this as a real theft deterrent and offer no discount on your premiums. Nitrogen is a scam – ordinary atmosphere is 78% nitrogen. Paint/Upholstery Protectorant is no more effective than using Scotchguard and a good spray-on/wipe off polishing product – all easily available at retailers and easy to use/apply. Most extended warranties are also a scam. If you read the fine print, there are many loopholes in the warranty. Dealer floor mats are super expensive and of dubious quality. After- market floor mats are much cheaper and some are much higher quality. Factory supplied floor mats are OK.
Miscellaneous Consumer Tips Aug, 2019
■  Stainless Steel Water Bottle Care: Many folks use stainless steel, insulated drink bottles for travel, sports and even at home to stay hydrated. These should be cleaned periodically to avoid mold growth or other potential contaminant sources.  Look around the lip and just below it for black deposits. Also, check the ‘shoulder’ below lip. This might be difficult to see so use your finger to ‘feel’ for any build up. Black residue on your finger is a definite indication of mold growth. Do the same for the lid/top assembly. These are the most common areas for mold to grow. Clean them with a brush and hot, soapy water and rinse thoroughly. To keep your metal water bottle from becoming dented – install a “Hydro Flask Water Bottle Boot.” This is a silicone protective cup that fits on the bottom of your water bottle. It can protect your bottle from becoming dented from accidental drops. And, they are much quieter in use – no more ‘bong’ sound when set on hard surfaces. They come in various colors and can be used to easily identify your bottle from other similar looking bottles. You can buy them from REI at the Dublin or Concord stores or order them online. They come in various colors and 2 sizes. The 2 sizes are based on the diameter of the water bottle – small size is approximately 2” diameter and the larger size is 2.5” diameter.
 
■    Battery Replacement of Amazon Kindle, Fire Tablet and other Amazon Devices: Almost all Amazon portable devices are not ‘user replaceable’ rechargeable batteries. Taking it to a service facility for replacement will cost from $45 to $150. When your device/s need a new battery, consider buying a used or ‘scratch & dent’ unit from Amazon with full warranty. When my Amazon Fire HD Tablet began to fail, I started to watch Amazon for “refurbished” units and got one for just $20!  A replacement battery would have been $45 - $60 depending upon the independent repair service. My son did the same thing and his was under $30 and we’re extremely pleased with the ‘refurbished’ units. There were no marks, scratches or anything resembling a blemish or used item.
 
■    Flea Shampoo: Forget about expensive Flea Dips and shampoos or powders. Any shampoo coupled with a good bath will work just as well and will be considerably less expensive.
 
■    Product Reviews: When buying something at a brick & mortar retail store, check online store sites such as Amazon, Walmart, Lowe’s, etc. for online product reviews This is especially useful when shopping for appliances and other larger ticket items. And, of course, use CR at public library.
 
■    Cleaning Stainless Steel Cookware: Heavy use cooking with stainless-steel pans will eventually result in black and brown burnt marks all over the cookware bottom. To easily remove without using toxic chemicals like oven spray, mix up equal parts baking soda with cream of tartar with a drop or two of liquid dishwashing soap. Put in on the burned spots and then add some hot water. Let sit for a few minutes then scrub the black marks out.
 
■    Repair Door Bell: Tired of missing package deliveries or your friends having to knock when they arrive? Fixing your doorbell is probably easier than you expect. Remove the screws that hold your current doorbell in place and remove the pushbutton. Disconnect the wires from the button, then touch those wires together. If you hear the doorbell, you’ve got an easy fix! Just buy an inexpensive replacement from your local hardware or building supply store and install it per instructions. The cost will be under $8! Better yet, install a new video doorbell such as a Ring (now owned by Amazon) or Nest. Installation is similar to the above with a few additional steps. You will need an app downloaded to your Smartphone to set it up and monitor the video alerts. The cost will be under $200.
 
■    Woot.com: Go to Woot.com for some really good buys on all kinds of various products. They are now owned by Amazon and Prime Members get free shipping. If you are not a Prime Member, shipping is always a flat fee of $5 regardless of the size or weight of the merchandise. They offer different items every 24 hrs. in 8 categories. You are not hounded by emails from the site except for an occasional alert to a special offer. Check them each day. They are Chicago-based so you can get the change of offers at 10 PM, West Coast time. I’ve bought a lot of things over the years from this site and have never had any complaint or issues. Everything has worked well and none were ever misrepresented. Try it. You might like it!
Travel Tips Aug, 2019
■      Hotel Bookings: Booking hotel/motel stays through 3rd party is a ripoff. Booking direct with hotel chain will usually give you best rate. Also, enroll in a frequent user/Rewards programs offered by large chains and concentrate your points accumulation through repeated bookings.
 
■      Salt Lake City Airport: Recently we flew to Cody, WY, requiring a connecting flight at SLC. If your destination is at any of the small regional airports, you will be leaving from a ground-lev- el ‘door’ on the “F” concourse. Be forewarned – this is a very long gate with 20 ‘doors.’ There are no jetways. This is just an enclosed walkway that is very long – about ¼ mile, maybe a little more! You may want to ask for wheelchair and attendant to push you. A small tip should be given to the service attendant if you use this service. Also, you will not be allowed to carry normal ‘care-on’ bags as these small commuter jet aircraft have very little overhead storage bins. Instead, they will collect your carry-on bag, tag it and load it on the aircraft baggage compartment. You will pick up your bag at the destination airport before entering the terminal.  And, we found that going from door #19 of Concourse F to Gate #16 on Concourse E was an incredibly longer distance – about a mile. I chose to use a wheelchair and attendant and be- cause of the excessive distance, I tipped her $5 and it was well worth it!
 
■      Smart Bags Not Allowed: Recently Airlines and TSA no longer allow “Smart Bags” (built-in, rechargeable power bank battery) aboard aircraft – totally, regardless of checked baggage or carry-on. The only exception would be if you can remove the re- chargeable battery from the bag and carried onboard as a spare battery bank. This is due to the potential for fire or explosion of the Lithium Ion battery characteristic. And for that reason, all spare batteries as well all your rechargeable electronic devices are allowed onboard only as ‘carry-on’ items. And they must be tak- en out of your carry-on bag so TSA can easily see and check them.
 
■      Packing Your Bags for a Trip:* Some damage to your suitcase can be self-inflicted: A bottle of perfume or sunscreen that you tossed in could leak and ruin the lining, or perishable food items might spoil–especially if the bag is delayed. So when you’re packing your suitcase, follow these simple rules: Put anything liquid in a sealable plastic bag, keep the heaviest items at the bottom of your suitcase near the wheels to lower the risk of it tipping over, and secure or remove shoulder straps or other attachments that could jam a baggage conveyor belt or carousel.
Also watch out for hazardous items, especially spare lithium batteries, which are prohibited in checked luggage because of the risk of fire. (They are allowed in carry-ons, however.) Be aware that certain food items, like cheese, can trigger false positives in airport explosives detection machines. Secure your bag with a TSA-friendly lock. Before you leave home, think about who is coming into contact with your luggage. Always use luggage locks. There are many different types to choose from, ranging from standard padlocks to straps. But experts say if you are checking your suitcase with an airline, a lock that's certified “TSA-compatible” will ensure that the agents can open it safely with a master key if it sets off an alarm or is randomly selected for scrutiny.  If you use a non-compatible lock, the screeners will break it in order to open your bag if it’s picked for inspection. The TSA, on average, selects around 10 percent of all checked baggage for additional screening, according to a spokesperson for the agency. Consider baggage wrapping services. Ever spot a suitcase at an airport covered in what looks like heavy Saran wrap? A number of companies, such as Secure Wrap, offer bag wrapping services at major international airports for fees starting at $15 for a standard-sized suitcase. The benefit is that your bag will be better protected from damage and pilfering of its contents. The downside is that if the TSA needs to look inside, it will cut right through that airtight seal, and the agents won’t rewrap it. And if you have soft-sided bag luggage, it can be tricky to remove the wrap without also slicing into your bag.
 
Protective covers. A simple way to guard against scratches and dings is to buy a protective sleeve to encase your bag. There are a slew of products to choose from, ranging from clear plastic sleeves to patterned fabric wrappers, and luggage manufacturers such as Hartmann are getting into this game. These accessories reduce the odds of plain old damage, and they might also make the bag less tempting to thieves—although keep in mind that they’re not impregnable.
 
*The above bag packing and use tips are from Consumer Reports.
 
More Automotive Tips & News Jul, 2019
■  Clarification of What Not To Leave in Your Glovebox:  In a previous issue, I noted what documents you should not leave in your glove box such as Title, Registration, Insurance I.D. Card, etc., that include contain specific information that could aid thieves to steal your car or burgle your home.  Some folks have asked how thieves might be able to steal the car.  Here’s an excerpt from an article in the local automobile section of the local newspaper:  You may not want to keep the owner’s manual in the glove box. That’s because it might include information that a thief can use to obtain a replacement key* from a dealer's Service Department, by returning later and pretending to be you, drive the the car off.   Or, there could even be a valet key sitting in the manuals pouch you may not know about.
 
The NICB (National Insurance Crime Bureau) says it's best to instead carry photos of  all auto-related documents stored in your cellphone.   Another alternative is to make a photocopy of the registration and insurance information, white out your address, and then make a copy of the redacted version to keep in the glovebox.  Either way, a law enforcement officer can usually still verify your registration information via the computer in his/her squad car.
 
■  Inexpensive Dash Cam: Are you interested in using a Dash Cam in your vehicle?  There is a very good, inexpensive unit, Wyze Cam, that is only $19.99, online.  It’s a small cube 2” square mounted on a small foot.  It has motion sensing, night vision, audio, 1080P resolution and is very sturdy and provides solid performance.  It’s more than a good inexpensive camera.  It’s a good camera, period!  Go to:  https://www.wyze.com
 
■  CD Player Unavailable in Some New Cars:  Technology can be a very frustrating thing due to rapid obsolescence.  Some new cars no longer offer CD players in their ‘Infotainment Centers.’  But there are folks that love their CDs and have no practical means of downloading their music collection onto memory cards for playback in the car.  And, they may not use a Smartphone to play their music via the Bluetooth feature included in all new cars.  There are two alternatives to this dilemma.   1. Buy a free-standing CD player and feed the audio signal via a cord into the Input Jack or USB port into of your Infotainment Center.  You can power the CD player via the 12 V cigarette lighter power supply.  2. You can go to a good car stereo place and have them install a replacement ‘Head Unit’ that will look and feel like a O.E.M. factory installed unit.
 
■  Looking for a Good Mechanic?:  Dealer Service Departments are always more expensive than local independent garages.  And, they are not necessarily better trained or experienced.  I have always recommended going to a good local independent.  But, how do you find a good, trustworthy independent garage?  Several things you can do – check online rating services like Angies List, Yelp and other similar sites.  You can also try automobile specific listings online but be careful as most of these listings are independents that subscribe/pay to be on the list.  Another resource is:  https://www.checkbook.org/san-francisco-bay-area.  They are affiliated with Consumer Reports and are unbiased and based on local reader’s surveys.
 
■  Automotive Tire Gauge?:  You should keep a small, accurate tire gauge in your glove box.  Even though new vehicles come equipped an onboard tire pressure monitoring system to alert you to a low tire condition, it doesn’t indicate which tire is the faulty one.  It would be nice to know which tire to watch for any future potential for tire troubles.  I recommend a small, pocket-sized, accurate, digital tire gauge.  The TEKTON 5941 Digital Tire Gauge, 100 PSI  is a really nice unit.  It’s available from Amazon for under $12!  It is very easy to operate and has a night light built-in.
 
■  Keyless Ignition:  If your vehicle is equipped with this feature, be careful about turning the ignition off if you want to stop the engine but wish to listen to the radio or music via the vehicle’s Infotainment Center.  On some cars you will need to touch the Keyless Ignition button twice in rapid succession.  The first touch will turn the entire electrical and engine systems off and the second touch turns on only the Infotainment Center items.  This allows you to operate the Infotainment Center features without running the battery down quickly.  On some cars you must follow a prescribed sequence to shut the engine down but activate the Infotainment Center.  Check with your dealer or the Owner’s Manual or do a search on YouTube.com based on your model/year.  If you don’t follow the sequence, you may have headlights and other accessories still left on which will might run your battery down in short order.
 
■  Bird Droppings on Car Finish: If your car has been targeted by birds doing their business, do not let the bird droppings remain on the paint finish for very long, especially in hot weather.  The acid in the bird droppings can and will penetrate the protective clear coat and cause it to deteriorate.   If left long enough, it can do the same to the paint layer underneath the clear coat.  Hose it off as soon as possible or practical before it develops into a permanent blemish!
Clean Scratchy / Staticky Volume and Other Rotary Switches and Controls Jul, 2019
Do you have a transistor radio, computer speakers, stereo components, etc. with rotary knob controls for volume, tone, stereo balance and other control modes that produce static or intermittent operation?  Simply ‘exercise’ the faulty control knob by rotating it back and forth for a few minutes.  Often, this is enough to fix the problem.  If that doesn’t work, go to an auto parts, hardware or building supply store and buy a can of Contact Cleaner and spray a bit of that into the part where the control shaft sticks out while rotating the shaft/knob it back and forth.  The small, round metal ‘can’ component is a variable resistor.  A layer of oxide can build up inside and ‘exercising’ the control may clear that layer of oxide away so the control will, again, have good, clean contact in order to operate properly.
Propane Tank Info Correction Jul, 2019
Propane Tank Error:  In the last issue, I stated that an empty, large propane tank weighed about 17 lbs. and the contents of a full tank is about 20 lbs.  Somehow I made a math error and said that a full tank should weigh 27 lbs.  Please correct that figure to show 37 lbs as the weight of a full 20# propane tank.  Half a tank will weigh in at about 27 lbs.  Sorry for the confusion!
Avoid Milk Spoilage Jul, 2019 Folks If you are ‘Empty Nesters’ like a lot of us at this age, a quart of milk might spoil before you finish the contents.  If you experience this, try Fairlife Milk.  It is a relatively new (since 2015) brand featuring ‘ultra filtered’ processing that results in 50% More Protein & 50% Less Sugar than Regular Milk.   It’s Lactose Free and tastes great.  We use it even though it is a tad higher in cost.  However, it is only available in ½ gallon plastic cartons.  That’s a lot for just the two of us but it doesn’t spoil even though it’s a bigger size jug. Food preparation tip Jul, 2019 Mise en place is a French cooking term that covers the make ready (prep) of all the ingredients that go into a dish that is about to be cooked/assembled for serving.  This would be all the chopped, minced, cleaned food items in preparation to cooking.  This usually takes a multitude of small plates or dishes.  To cut down on prep time and dishwashing, use plastic stretch wrap to line your small containers for all these ingredients.  When you have used the contents, simply throw the stretch wrap away and put the still clean dishes/plates back in the cupboard! Consumer Reports 101 Jul, 2019 In a previous issue I had mentioned a new consumer advocate TV program featuring Consumer Reports tips and information for the general public.  Now that I’ve watched a number of these programs (Chan 3, NBC, 09”00 AM, Saturdays) I have to say that I am not impressed.  Much of it is so very basic that I find it, somewhat, a waste of time.  Worse, it’s kind of ‘corny.’ Can You Remember All Your Passwords?  Jul, 2019 Our lives are complicated enough without having to remember all our passwords and PIN numbers.  CR recommends two methods of managing your passwords.  1. Use a Password Manager App.  There are lots of them available and most are free.  2. Keep a password protected file on your Smartphone or computer.  This way, you can quickly and easily determine all your current passwords.  But, be sure to update any changes you make to keep it current and useful. Free Pepper Grinder Jul, 2019 Well, sorta!  Purchase various spices or herbs from Trader Joes and many of them will come in its own grinder for the freshest of flavor and essence.  Use up the contents and refill with your own peppercorns or other spices.  Refilling is easy as it has a screw top mechanism.  These mills work very well and cost just a fraction of a good pepper mill at a kitchenware store.  It even makes an excellent portable mill for pocket or purse if you really like fresh ground pepper while dining out. Blurred Photos from your Smartphone Jul, 2019 If this happens to you, try going to “settings” in Camera Mode and select “2 second timer.”  This will delay the shutter release by 2 seconds after you touch the screen icon that triggers the shutter.  This may eliminate the shake of your hands as it allows you to concentrate on aiming and holding the unit steady and let the timer mechanism trip the shutter 3 – Outlet Surge Protector with 2 USB Ports Jul, 2019 This is a very handy electrical outlet available from Amazon for just $7.99 that is really useful for households that have multiple portable devices that need recharging via USB cable.  It transforms a single wall outlet or extension cord into 3 – 120 VAC outlets, 2 USB charging outlets and acts as a surge protector for all devices plugged into this versatile outlet.  This will ship free if you have Prime membership.  You can find these kinds of units at Target, Walmart or in your local hardware or chain pharmacy store but the cost will be about $17 - $25 and will likely not have the surge protector built-in.  These are good for home, office or travel use. Self-retracting USB Type C Cable Jul, 2019 This is a good accessory for anyone using cellphone, tablets, eReaders, Bluetooth rechargeable accessory items by eliminating long, tangling cable runs.  It’s so very small, compact and handy.  This is a perfect mate to the above 3-outlet plug.  Available in a 3-pack for just $9.99 or singly from Dollar General Stores for just $1 per cable unit.  Caution – most that you find will be for Android devices (Samsung, LG, Pixel, Huawei, HTC, etc.).  For Apple devices, you must find cable units that specifically fit their plug fittings or use an adapter. More Automotive Tips & News Jun, 2019
■  Consumer Reports Recommendation for New Cars: The latest Car Buying issue of CR has announced that they believe the addition of the ‘safety suite’ of options (lane departure warning, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic warning, adaptive cruise control, frontal collision avoidance/mitigation, etc.) is so critical for safe motoring that they will no longer recommend any vehicles that lack these vital features.  FYI, many of these safety features will become standard DOT requirements in 2020 models.
 
■  10 Top Tier Gas: You’ve probably seen this on signs on and around the pumps at your local gas stations or on TV ads.  But, what is it and what does it mean to you?  Simply put, it is a higher grade of gas because of the additives and the amounts of them added to the gas at the time of production.  Top tier gas is better for the engine because of the extra solvents and detergents above and beyond the standard level called for by specification for gas. It is recommended by most car manufacturers. You end up with a cleaner engine and that means more efficient engine operation and performance.
 
■  Slow Gas Pumps:  When and if you should experience Slow Gas flow at a gas station – that could indicate poor maintenance of the pumps and the filters are clogged.  If the operators of the station are lax in one maintenance area, The chances are good that they may also be similarly lax on other things as well, such as checking and removing condensation moisture from the tanks that can result in ‘bad gas’ for your vehicle.  Skip these stations in the future.
 
■  Improved Gas Mileage:  Last month I noted that use of the newer, advanced features like Adaptive Cruise Control contribute to safer driving resulting in lower accident rates.  Well, additionally, the use of Adaptive Cruise Control (Subaru Eyesight/Nissan Pro-Pilot Assist and other similar features) can and will increase your gas mileage because the onboard computer does a much better job of balancing the right amount of acceleration when stopping/starting doe traffic and signals - fast enough to keep from holding up traffic and mild enough to not waste gas. 
 
■  Save on Maintenance and Repair Costs: If you engage the Adaptive Cruise Control on most newer vehicles so equipped at the designated legal speed on long downhill grades, you can avoid using the brakes heavily because the computer will apply engine compression for most of the braking effort, thus saving on brake rotor and pad wear as well as preventing warped discs that could require substantial additional repair costs, not to mention overheated brakes that can adversely affect normal braking performance.  Overheating can quickly warp rotors that can also degrade braking performance.   Avoid all of these brake issues by letting the Adaptive Cruise Control do the braking on those long downgrades.
Another Use for Empty Mason Jars Jun, 2019
1. If you start to peel a hard boiled egg and it turns out to be one of those difficult ones where the shell seems stuck to the internal membrane, try putting it into a Mason Jar (or similar glass jar) filled to 1/3 with plain tap water.  Put the lid back on and shake this assembly fairly vigorously and the egg shell should easily come off the egg/eggs.  Up to 4 eggs will fit nicely into a quart-sized jar.  Use a smaller jar for a single egg. 
 
2.  When removing the ‘paper skin’ on fresh garlic, place them into a Mason Jar and close the lid.  No liquids are needed.  Simply shake the assembly vigorously and the paper skins should easily separate from the garlic flesh.
Time to Clean and Prep Your Gas Grill Jun, 2019
Folks, Summer is upon us!  Now is the time to inspect your gas grill to determine if it is suitable for service.  Check the gas line connections.  Use a mixture of water with dish washing detergent to see if any bubbles appear, indicated a leak, when sprayed or daubed onto the connection.  Check the grill grates, flavorizer bars or Lava Rocks for excess grease buildup that can cause a serious flare once the grill is put into use.  Check the level of propane in your tank.  An empty tank weighs about 17 lbs.  A full tank capacity is 20 lbs.  Therefore, a full propane tank would weight about 27 lbs.  A half tank full would be about 17 lbs.  Use your bathroom scales to weigh your tank.
Golf Buddy Voice GPS Battery Replacement Jun, 2019
Folks using the Golf Buddy Voice GPS units can purchase a replacement battery from Amazon and change the battery themselves at a big savings.  The cost is only $14.95 (free shipping w/Prime Membership).  Search Amazon for the MPF Products 280mAh YK372731 Battery Replacement Compatible with Golf Buddy Voice, Voice+, Voice VS4, Voice 2 Talking GPS Range Finder with Free Installation Tools.  The replacement unit is much more robust than the OEM battery.  It was fairly easy to install if you have some patience and watch the YouTube video before proceeding. The cost to send back to the manufacturer for this battery replacement is about $45 and the factory O.E.M. battery is a lower capacity battery yielding a shorter service span after charging.
Special Program Savings from PG&E Jun, 2019
People who have a medical device at home, like a CPAP machine, can save on their PG&E Bill. They will give you an additional 500Kw of electricity at the lowest tier rate. This is a savings of about $0.06 - $0.07 per Kw giving about $30 savings per month. You have to fill out an application, have your doctor sign it and send it in to PG&E. Search for “PG&E Medical Baseline Program”.  NOTE: This tip is courtesy of Sir Jerry Hale.
Consumer Reports Items Jun, 2019
■  On Central AC units:  Only the Trane Central AC units top the CR ratings for both Reliability and Owner’s Satisfaction.  The others are not even close.
 
■  On Window Air Conditioners: A newcomer to the CR  ratings, the LG LW6019ER tops the list of small window units.  CR’s take: The Kenmore Elite 77087 tops our ratings of midsized models.  CR's take: A CR Best Buy, the large, feature-filled LG LW1216ER has digital controls, and cooling is top-notch.
 
■  On Steam Mops: The following are the top 3 models in their test ratings:  1. Bissell PowerFresh Deluxe #1806; $89.00 at Amazon, Lowes and Walmart.  2. Bissell PowerFresh Slim #2075A, $121.32 - $149.99 at Amazon, Macys.com and Overstock.com.  3. Shark Genius Steam Pocket S5003D, $52.92 - $69.99 at Walmart, JC Penny and Overstock.com.
 
■  On your Cable Bill: Recently CR recommended that consumers should contact their Cable Provider and try negotiating a lower rate for their service.  I did just that.  I called Comcast and complained about the high monthly cost of TV, phone and internet service.  Our monthly bill was approximately $288/month, including taxes.  The Comcast representative suggested deleting HBO, Showtime and the Sports Package to lower the monthly charges.  We didn’t want to do that.  I told her that I was unhappy enough to consider dropping Comcast and going to AT&T Uverse or Dish TV to get better pricing.  She suggested that I talk in person to one of their “Sales Specialists.”  This sales person came to the house a few days later and after he learned that we were a Comcast customer for over 30 years and that I was serious about my dissatisfaction with the pricing of my services, he offered a “new bundled program” that included Home Security at no charge at about $30/month less.  However, our net savings will be closer to $75/month because we have  now discontinued our ADT Monthly Monitoring Charge of almost $50/month.  There would be a one-time charge for the installation of additional sensors and hookup for the Security System.  He explained that this “new bundle” was ‘normally’ available only to new customers.  So, now we have a completely upgraded system that went from 400 Mbps to 1,000 Mbps and every TV in the house has the ability to act like a DVR and all our various TV sets have the same services including HDTV (no longer limited/basic cable service) and we can now record up to 5 programs at the same time!  This is a big improvement over our old, slower-speed system.  This newer system has many features including Voice Command/Search that make it really easy to use.  When watching a show of multiple episodes, it will ask you if you want to watch other episodes that have already aired and it will pull them up for viewing using “Xfinity On Demand.”  If it hasn’t yet aired, it will ask if you want to record future episodes when they do become available.
 
A big, unforeseen surprise was the improved TV picture quality on all our TVs!  Apparently, the increased signal bandwidth improves color saturation as well as pixel content.  The HD picture we now see on our kitchen and master bedroom sets (using the same old TVs) are really superb and delightful to watch compared to the old system.  The upgrades were all done in about 2.5 hours by 3 technicians so there was really no real disruption of service.
 
All in all, we are delighted with the improvements and lower cost.  I highly recommend you try to negotiate with your cable service provider.  It’s too bad we didn’t try to pressure them long before this. 
 
Interestingly, when I called ADT to discontinue their monitoring service, they offered to lower it from the nearly $50/month to $35/month!  I told them they were too late!  BTW, the old ADT security system only had 2 entry sensors and 1 motion detector sensor.  The new Comcast system has added 3 more sensors.  That is a doubling of doors, windows and motion sensors at no extra cost.
More Automotive Tips & News May, 2019
  • 10 Best Cars to Buy New: 1. Honda HR-V; 2. BMW X1; 3. Subaru Crosstrek; 4. Honda CR- V; 5. Toyota Tacoma; 6. Honda Civic; 7. Honda Pilot; 8. Mazda CX-5; 9. Porche Macan; 10. Subaru Impreza. The above are based on residual resale value (depreciation) after 1 year. Source: iSeeCars.com
  • Subaru Wins #1 Car Brand for 2019: Subaru and Toyota dominated the consumer Reports list of the best new vehicles of 2019. While Toyota scored four wins in the 10 vehicle categories, surging Japanese automaker Subaru was named best brand in the industry, beating even luxury competitors. Subaru ranked first overall among 33 brands, followed by four luxury brands: Genesis, Porsche, Audi and Lexus. Subaru also nabbed two of the 10 best-vehicle awards, with the Subaru Forester prevailing as best compact SUV and the Subaru Ascent winning best-midsize SUV.  Subaru was ranked 6th last year. The publication's annual Top Picks list is an influential guide for many American consumers as they shop for new vehicles. The list gauges customer satisfaction through comprehensive surveys and combines those measures with Consumer Reports’ testing of fuel economy, performance and reliability. It does not take into account styling preferences or popularity. In one key change for 2019, the publication updated its criteria this year to require advanced safety components, including pedestrian detection systems that trigger automatic emergency braking.
  • Use of Advanced Safety Components Reduces Crashes: Subaru EyeSight Driver Assist Technology2 , Nissan Pro Pilot and similar safety packages reduces the rate of rear-end crashes with injuries by up to 85%.
  • Don’t Leave Your Owner’s Manual in the Car: Owner’s Manual thefts are increasing as they often list a special PIN number, a valet key, your registration and VIN. Thieves will try to contact the manufacturer to get keys re- placed, claiming the car belongs to them. Then they'll return later to steal it. You will also save weight for better gas mile- age and end up with a lot more room in the glove compartment.
  • Planning to Buy a New or Used Car?: There is plenty of consumer information available to you in your quest to select the right vehicle for you. In addition to the traditional tools such as Consumer Reports, auto magazines, online vehicle reviews, manufacturers websites, etc., be sure to check out YouTube.com. You will be surprised at what you can discover about any vehicle you might be interested in. While helping a friend that is interested in buying a new Subaru Outback for some medium duty off-road use, I learned a bunch more about my own 2015 Outback, including 3 features that could be helpful while driving in snow, mud and other slippery conditions. It includes an automatic downhill braking system for descending rough, steep grades in a safe, slow, controlled manner. TIP; When you get your new vehicle, take the huge Owner’s Manual out of the car and put it away in your home library. For that kind of information on your new (or existing) vehicle, simply ‘Google’ anything and everything online and it will be a lot easier to find and understand than looking in the Owner’s Manual. And, you’ll improve your gas mileage by saving some weight in the car.
  • Fire and Crash Safety Info For Electric & Hybrid Car Owners: After an out-of-control Tesla Model S plowed into a stand of palm trees on a highway median outside Fort Lauderdale last month, police rushed to put out the ensuing blaze using a department-issued fire extinguisher. It was a wasted effort. The car kept on burning after the crash, which killed the driver.
  • The police may not have known lithium-ion batteries inside electric vehicles, once ignited, can’t be put out with chemicals from a conventional extinguisher. The battery fires are susceptible to a self-destructive chain reaction known as thermal runaway, causing a feedback loop of rising temperatures. The Tesla fire stumped a series of first responders in Florida. Firefighters eventually doused the flames with water, which seemed to work, but the wrecked car reignited twice more after being towed away. That prompted what a police report later termed “extraordinary measures,” including a call to Broward County’s hazmat unit for advice on stamping out the fire once and for all.
  • The accident illustrates the challenges faced by first responders unfamiliar with the special characteristics—and hazards—of electric vehicles’ powertrains. Safety experts say the only way to extinguish a lithium-ion battery inside a car is with thousands of gallons of water, much more than what it takes to stop a fire in a typical gasoline engine. The other option is to just let it burn itself out. “It’s such a difficult fire because it takes so much water to put out,” said Robert Taylor, fire marshal in Davie, Fla., where the crash occurred.
Miscellaneous Tips May, 2019
  • Alternative Way to Eat Mangoes: Eating mangoes has always been a very messy activity. Most folks slice the fruit into two halves above and below the flat ‘seed’ in the middle. Then they slice the flesh in those two halves into a criss-cross pattern and push up on the bottom to invert the natural ‘cup’ to provide easy access to the fleshy inner part of the fruit. An easier and less messy method might be to use a ‘grapefruit spoon’ (with a serrated front lip) to spoon out the flesh.
  • Bladder Control: As we age, our organs tend to lose their efficiency and ability to perform their specific functions. Incontinence can occur when this happens to the bladder. You can improve you bladder control special exercises. Exercise your Pelvic Muscles. Squeeze the same muscles you would use to stop your urine flow. Then hold for 3 seconds.  Relax 3 seconds. Repeat 15 times a session, 3 times a day.
  • Use of Antibacterial Soap: Don’t waste your money. Antibacterial soaps are no more effective than regular soap and water for killing disease-causing germs, according to the CDC. Regular soap tends to be less expensive than antibacterial soap and hand sanitizers. Regular soap won't kill healthy bacteria on the skin's surface.
  • Odor Control: Tired of the smell of your trash bin? Toss a dryer sheet on the bottom next time before you add your next bag, and you should get a fresher smell.
More Golf Tips May, 2019
  • Charge your GPS ‘on the go:’ Keep a small, inexpensive ($10-$20) charged Power Bank in your golf bag. If you have forgotten to recharge your golf GPS or Laser Rangefinder before play, simply plug your GPS unit into your Power Bank and let it charge. Most of these small devices can be charged in about an hour or less. You can be charging it while driving to the course and waiting for your tee time. Once you have enough of a charge to use your device, you can recharge your Power Bank using the onboard USB charging port on almost all newer golf carts.
  • Cleaning Your Golf Shoe Cleats After Play: I see a lot of people banging their golf shoe soles together in an attempt to dislodge the grass, sod and mud from the cleats. This is a bad idea because the repeated impact will eventually break the waterproof seal of the welt, the critical area where the sole assembly joins the shoe upper construction. This can also lead to the sole delaminating from the upper. Instead, use the compressed air blower located on almost all golf courses. Or use a Golf Shoe Brush. Tip:  When using compressed air, avoid aiming the nozzle at the welt area. The compressed airstream can be very powerful – strong enough to separate the welt seams. Tip: When using a Golf Shoe Brush, use a circular motion around the individual cleat. When walking and hitting, the feet rotate/pivot and that winds the grass around the cleat. Straight brush strokes will be less effective in ‘unwinding’ the grass wound around the cleat.
Personal Safety Items Apr, 2019
■ Pedestrian Safety Habits:  There has been a huge uptick in pedestrian accidents.  When crossing streets, always use officially marked crosswalks. MAKE EYE CONTACT WITH APPROACHING DRIVERS!  Watch for distracted drivers and drivers blinded by the sun low on the horizon in the early morning and late afternoon.
 
■  Avoid Seating in Exposed Positions Vulnerable to Vehicular Traffic:  As our demographics change with the aging population and more Seniors driving, there are more serious and fatal accidents due to drivers mistaking the gas pedal for the brake while parking.  Be vigilant about your ‘Situational Awareness.’  Curbside or front, picture window view seats might be nice for the view during a lunch or dinner  but be careful and vigilant!  Avoid these ‘front row seats’ when the parking is diagonal or head-on relative to the sidewalk.
 
■  When Assisting Someone Park:  Never stand behind or in front of the vehicle.  Always to the side of the vehicle’s path.
 
■  Keep Your Knives Sharp:  More self-inflicted knife  accidents happen when dull knives are being used.  More hand pressure and/or movement is required to make the desired cuts creating a more hazardous situation.
 
■  Wear Eye Protection:  Always wear protective safety glasses or plastic prescription lenses whenever working with rotary cutting tools or any environment where small, uncontrolled particles are being generated and can come in contact with your eyes.  Ditto when working with anything that might shatter or explode.  Your eyesight is precious and fragile.  Don’t take any chances.
Golf Tips Apr, 2019
■  Twist Face Driver:  This is the newest technology in golf.  Twist Face is a revolutionary new face curvature designed to deliver a corrective driver surface to control off center impact strikes – which in-turn can help produce “straight distance” off the tee.  This technology will not increase your driving distance.  But, it may help ‘straighten out’ your shots off the tee.
 
■  Clean Your Club Grips:  Slick, shiny or glazed grips on your golf club are not a good thing.  You will have to squeeze your hands much more tightly to hang onto the club during your swing.  This is not good for distance or control.  Clean them regularly using a strong cleaner like Formula 409, Method All-Purpose Cleaner, or Windex Multi Surface Cleaner..   Scrub with a clean towel and your liquid cleaner.  Then, thoroughly dry them using another clean towel.  Try to get the grip to be ‘tacky’ again.  If you cannot get some of that tacky feel back, replace your grips.
 
■  Always Leave the Pin In:  Under the new rules of golf there is no penalty for hitting/touching the flag stick with your ball.  This prompted some golf professionals to conduct a study of putting with and without the ‘pin’ in place using a Stimp Meter device to consistently launch balls to imitate repetitive putted balls under various conditions.  In all cases, more ‘putts’ were sunk with the flag stick in place.  Therefore, always leave the ‘pin’ in place.  You will have a better chance of sinking the putt and speed up play at the same time.  The only proviso is to make sure the flag stick is fully/firmly seated in the hole and not leaning.  Hitting the stick will not prevent the ball from dropping into the hole and will reduce the ‘over run’ when putting speed is too high.
Miscellaneous Tips Apr, 2019
■  Blue Ice:  Don’t buy commercial products meant to keep things cold in an ice chest.  They don’t work as well as plain water.  Frozen water will last 30% - 40% longer than frozen Blue Ice products of comparable shape and size.
 
■   Choosing Melons:  When shopping for Cantaloupes, look for a more prominent ‘netting’ on the exterior.  Avoid more smoother looking surfaces.  Also, look for a lighter color in the depressed areas.  When shopping for Honeydew Melons, feel the outer surface.  Choose melons that have a slightly ‘sticky’ (more drag on the fingers) feel.  Avoid smooth, slick feeling exteriors.  Look at the ‘belly button’ where the melon was attached to the vine.  That spot should be smooth as if it parted from the vine easily when picked.
 
■  Avoid Dyson Stick Vacuums:  The Dyson stick vacuum loses CR recommendation.  “CR analyzed survey data for more than 50,000 vacuum models purchased by our members - because of the results, we took action and adjusted our ratings. About half of Dyson stick vacuums are predicted to break or stop working within 5 years.”
 
■  Sodium Intake:  The daily recommended limit for sodium is less than 2,300 mg, but you would never know it from the amount packed into restaurant dishes and even some drinks. TGI Fridays’ Loaded Chicken Nachos appetizer, for example, has a whopping 4,930 mg of sodium; its Blackberry Margarita, 570 mg.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 71 percent of the sodium in the American diet comes from processed and restaurant foods. The top dining-out sources are sandwiches, pizza, hamburgers, chicken, Mexican entrées, and salads, according to a report from the Institute of Medicine. Keep that list in mind when you’re looking at a menu.
 
■  Use Old Tennis Balls:  Cut “X” slits in old tennis balls to temporarily attach them to the legs/feet of outdoor furniture before moving them on any surface.  This will prevent marking the concrete, brick, pavers or wood surfaces and also eliminates the horrible sound of metal scraping on hard surfaces.  This idea brought to us by Sir Jerald Cerri.  Caution:  Tennis balls have a very tough exterior.  And, because it is a round object, it is very unstable during cutting.  Be very careful.  Clamp it in a vise or ‘pinch’ it tight with large Vise Grips or Channel Locks to hold while cutting.  Use a very sharp Utility Knife with a new, disposable blade.
 
■  New Car Bargains:  If you are looking for a low price on a new vehicle, dealers are now trying to unload older inventory that do not have the newer suite of safety features such as Blind Spot Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Automatic Emergency Braking, Forward Collision Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Warning, Automatic Rear Emergency Braking and Adaptive Cruise Control.  Most of these features will be standard on all makes and models in the 2020 model year on even the lowest level of trim.  Cars without these features will be hard to sell.  If you are willing to forego these safety features, you should be able to find some low, bargain prices.
 
■  New Improved Staplers:  If you haven’t replaced your standard stapler/s, you may want to replace your older units.  Why?  Most new staplers now can handle 20+ pages capacity with ease using standard staple refills.  I recently got one at Walmart for just $7 and it works great!
 
■  Sirius XM Radio Option:  When buying a new car, this is a satellite radio option offered on all new cars.  It is a subscription service that costs from about $15/mon. to $40/mon. depending upon the channels and features you choose to subscribe to.  If you are interested mainly in music, I suggest you try streaming Spotify and/or Pandora via your Smartphone and into your vehicle via blutetooth.  You can try either of those services for free for an unlimited time but they will have short ads.  For ad-free service, you can upgrade for about $10/mon.
 
■  Clean Your TV Screen:  Not all TV screens are the same. Though the current TV market is dominated by super-bright, big-screen LCD (LED) and OLED TVs, many of us still have older sets, including plasma TVs, which they stopped manufacturing in 2014, and even CRTVs—also called tube TVs—which started disappearing around 2008.  If you're cleaning an older tube TV, then you'll have a bit more flexibility, because their screens are made of glass and can be cleaned like other glass items in your household. In this—and only this—instance, it's okay to use a window cleaner such as Windex.
 
LCD TVs, though, are far more sensitive and need to be carefully cleaned so that the screens don't get scratched or damaged. And though plasma TVs also have glass screens, manufacturers often have applied a sensitive anti-glare coating, so they should be treated like an LCD TV rather than a CRTV set.  For OLED TVs, the advice is similar to LCD sets: Clean with a soft, dry cloth to avoid scratching the screen.
 
In all cases, turn off the TV, or even unplug it prior to cleaning, per CR’s TV testing program. "In addition to it being safer for the set, it's usually easier to see dirt or finger smudges when the screen is dark.  It also gives the TV a chance to cool down."
 
Start With a Dry, Soft Cloth.  Screens can scratch easily, and even paper towels or toilet paper contain fibers that can do damage.  Use a soft, anti-static microfiber cloth—the kind uses to clean eyeglasses and camera lenses—and wipe in a circular motion. (Sometimes TV manufacturers will include a cloth for this purpose.)  Gently wipe the screen with a dry cloth to remove dust and other debris, but don't press too hard.  If there are more stubborn stains, you can dampen the cloth slightly with distilled water, and gently clean the screen. Don't spray water directly onto the screen, which could cause a shock or component failure if it drips or seeps into the inner workings of the set.  For truly stubborn stains, use a solution of very mild dish soap highly diluted with water, once again applied to the cloth and not to the TV itself. (As a guideline for how much soap to use, Panasonic used to recommend a 100:1 ratio of water vs. soap.) LCD screens, in particular, are very sensitive to pressure and can scratch easily, so don’t press too hard.
 
■ Blue Light Filter:  You may have seen/heard advice about not watching TV or working on your laptop or desk top computer just before bed time  because they emit a light in the “blue spectrum range” that can have a detrimental effect on your ability to sleep.  Almost all new TVs and Desk Top PC Monitors have a ‘Blue Light’ filter built into the screens.  Check your Owner’s Manual to learn how to turn it on/off.  This is per my Optometrist during my last eye exam.  Additional note – if you have a Kindle Paperwhite series E-reader, these do not emit ‘blue light’ and should not interfere with sleep.
More Automotive Tips & News Mar, 2019
Cars to be discontinued after 2019 model year:  The following vehicles will no longer be available for sale after this model year.  Most are due to low sales and/or need to invest in updating the design to remain competitive.
FORD: Taurus, Focus, C-max
CHEVROLET: Impala, Cruze, Volt
VOLKSWAGEN: Touareg, Beetle
HYUNDAI: Azera
TOYOTA: Prius V
NISSAN: Juke
CADILLAC: CT-6, XTS, ATS
 
■  Assistive devices for vehicle entry/exit:  At our stage of life, we know many folks that are infirmed or physically handicapped in various ways that make it difficult to get in an out of standard passenger vehicles and light trucks and SUVs.  If you have friends and/or relatives that need help in this activity, look into Auto Assist Grab Bar, devices that fit into the steel door latch mechanism on the vehicle door post.  The cost is minimal – under $20.  Another device is a Assist Strap that loops around the window frame to provide a handle to grab.  Both these devices make it much easier for someone to rise up out of a Transport Chair or Wheelchair to a standing position for entry into a vehicle.  Here are some links to websites offering these types of aids:
The above are from Walgreen but these are also available for delivery from Amazon and Walmart.
 
■  Tire Replacement on 4-wheel and AWD Vehicles:  Some time ago, I stated that it might be necessary to replace all 4 tires on these vehicles  if you damage just one or two tires because any new tire mixed in among the partially worn existing tires will, in time, damage the transmission and/or the gears in the Center Differential orTransfer Case.  All 4 tires must be of the approximate same diameter to avoid damage.  Otherwise you are looking at a very expensive repair bill!  There is another way around this.  Buy just one new tire and have it “shaved” down to match the diameter of the existing tires.  This can be done with special equipment at tire stores like Big O.
 

■  New Electric Vehicles Coming:  Thinking about going electric for your next car?   You're in luck: EV buyers in 2019 have more choices than ever before. In addition to new Iuxu BI model\s like the Audi E-Tron and Jaguar\-Pace, there are also more affordable electrics including the new longer-range Nissan Leaf Plus and the Hyundai Kona EV.  CR is now evaluating them and will report on them in a near future issue.

Time to check your investment strategy? Mar, 2019 Possible Recession Ahead?  Penny Wang, Money Editor, Consumer Reports writes,  "After nine years of steady economic growth, there's a growing risk that a recession may be approaching - or, at the very least, more extreme market volatility. For investors, it's crucial to review your financial plan to make sure you are taking the right amount of risk. Retirees should have enough cash to ride out a downturn, which will help them avoid tapping their portfolios during a market low. Small Appliances Trends   Mar, 2019
Mores small appliances will vie for a spot on your countertop than ever before.  New devices - Vacuum Blenders, Multii-Function Cookers (like Insta Pot) and Air Fryers have jumped a whopping 360% this past holiday season over last year.  Competition among brands of Air Fryers has resulted in much more affordable prices – some as much as 40% less than last year with more feature choices.
Mobile Phone News Mar, 2019
5G is Here! The newest, latest, greatest advance in Smartphone technology is about to descend upon us.  The new 5G cell phone systems are now ready for use and the new, compatible Smartphones that can use this new technology are about to hit the stores next month.  What is 5G?  It’s wider broadband cellular systems that can make your Smartphone operate at a considerably higher speed for computing, data transfer, streaming and all other general uses.  Get ready for the ad blitzes coming.  If you’re happy with your current device, you have nothing to worry about.  Stick with it.
Should You Buy a Home Warranty?   Mar, 2019
Home warranty companies run lots of ads promising to save you thousands of dollars when something goes wrong with your refrigerator, furnace, plumbing, and other appliances and systems. But don’t count on the peace of mind these plans promise. These warranties are terrible deals and simply aren’t worth their price tags or hassle.
 
Warranty companies are the subject of thousands of complaints to consumer agencies. Even after paying $400 to $1,000 for the coverage, consumers will find home warranty contracts typically are filled with fine-print exclusions that easily can stick them with much of the costs for product repairs or replacements. The vast majority of homeowners who buy these plans will pay far more in premiums and service fees and for uncovered repairs than if they skipped buying warranties. Plus you don’t get to decide who does the work. We find that the best repair services overwhelmingly disdain these plans and won’t work with home warranty companies.
 
The above does not apply to Home Warranties offered by builders and developers on new homes.
How to Safely and Easily Empty Liquid from a Large Container Mar, 2019
Got a big bucket or ice chest full of water or other liquid that needs to be disposed of?  Instead of lifting it up to a toilet or sink height, use a medium pot/pan as a ladle to ladle out1/2 or more of the liquid to lighten the load so you can easily handle the cumbersome vessel to pour away in the sink or toilet without spilling.
Free Tickets for Veterans Mar, 2019
Veteran Tickets Foundation:  This is from SIR Larry Feigenbaum: Good organization for vets to get free tickets to many local events.   Pay $14.90 handling fee for the 2 tickets...sometimes more.  Get daily or more frequent e-mails when tickets are ordered.  Go to:
Alzheimer’s Link to Gum Disease  Mar, 2019 Gum disease bacteria may play a role in Alzheimer's disease, researchers say.  They studied dead and living patients with diagnosed and suspected Alzheimer's and found bacteria associated with chronic gum disease in the brains of people with Alzheimer's, BBC News reported.  Tests on mice confirmed the bacteria,  Porphyromonas gingivalis could migrate from the mouth to the brain and that a toxic protein they secrete (gingipain) destroyed brain neurons Another Use for Hair Ties Mar, 2019 Elastic Hair Ties (30 for $3.99 on Amazon; 24 for 99¢ at Dollar Tree) make excellent ‘cord minders’ for power cords of small appliances and AC power adapters for portable electronic devices.  And, because they come in various colors, you can use them to identify specific cords.  I use one on my water bottle at tennis, golf and tennis to easily identify mine among a group of similar bottles. Yamazaki Ladle & Lid Stand Mar, 2019
While cooking, where do you put the lid to a boiling pot to stir or add ingredients or the cover to your skillet while frying?  If you lay it on the counter, a puddle of condensate will form from the hot lid drippings.  And it takes a whole lot of counter space when large lids are involved.  The solution – this $20 Ladle/Lid Stand.  See it at:  https://tinyurl.com/y5ebnra7.  It will stand even heavy, cast iron lids in a near vertical position to minimize the space needed.  And, because the stand has a very small ‘footprint,’ it can be kept on the counter for instant and easy use.  It also doubles as a cook book or iPad/tablet stand for reference while cooking.  When holding lids, large wooden spoons, ladles  or other cooking utensils, the condensation/sauce drips into a non-stick, removable drip tray for easy cleanup.  It’s available with free shipping for Amazon Prime members.  You will love this device.
Save on Dishes and Cleanup Mar, 2019 When doing prep work – “Mise en place” (chopping, dicing, slicing of ingredients) use inexpensive, disposable coffee filters, pieces of stretch wrap or  paper towels. This will save you from having to clean many small dishes. Avoid Pan Boil Over Mar, 2019 How many times have you had to clean up the mess on your stove when the pan boils over when cooking pasta, reheating soup or working with any liquids?  Avoid this in the future by laying a wooden spoon across the top of the pan.  When the boiling liquid boils up and about to spill over, it will come in contact with the wooden spoon and the bubbles and white froth simply calm down and disappear instead of spilling over the sides of the pot. Pedestrian Safety Tip Mar, 2019 Make Eye Contact:  When crossing a street, make eye contact with drivers of oncoming traffic.  There are way too many distracted drivers out there.  This will ensure that they have definitely seen you and acknowledge your presence.  The same holds true when you are driving and encounter pedestrians crossing the street.  They will often be buried into their cell phones and not paying full attention.  If they don’t make eye contact, proceed only with the utmost in caution. Automotive Tips Feb, 2019
Signaling vehicles without headlights on:  Without fail, we all see cars driving at dusk, night or foggy conditions without their lights on.  Rapidly flicking your own headlights to high/low beam has proven to be fruitless.  Instead, try switching your lights to High Beam and leaving it there until the other vehicle turns on their lights or has passed.  This method seems more effecting than flicking between high/low.
 
■  Cleaning gray film on inside of your windshield and all interior glass:  This is not dirt or smoke from smokers.  This is the out gassing of chemicals in the vinyl interior of your vehicle.  Do not use any liquid cleaners.  The best thing is to use a clean, soft, dry cotton towel.  These chemical, known as “plasticizers” will cling to the clean, dry towel much better than a damp or wet rag.
 
■  Costliest new vehicles to insure: Mercedes-Benz S65 & S63 AMG; Porche Panamera S; Mercedes-Benz S650 Maybach; BMW M6 Coupe; BMW Alpina B7 XDrive; BMW i8;Nissan GT-R NISMO; Mercedes-Benz AMG GT S.
 
■  Cheapest New Vehicles to insure:  Jeep Wrangler Freedom; Honda Odyssey LXl; Suburu Crosstrek; Suburu Outback; Fiat 500X; Mazda CX-3 Sport; Mazda CX-5 Sport; Jeep Compass Sport; Honda HR-V-LX; Ford Escape.
Troubleshooting 12 Volt Halogen "Peanut” bulbs   
Feb, 2019
These are often used in drop pendant lamps and other small lamps.  If they go dark, test the bulb with an inexpensive continuity checker.  The low voltage means they require a very good connection.  Over time, the small, wire prongs oxidize and no long make good enough contact to work properly.  Try wiping the two contact pins with steel wool or fine sandpaper.  Reinsert and wiggle them.  Contact might be reestablished and may, again, work well.
Save Pickle Juice Feb, 2019 Do not discard pickle juice once you use up the contents of the jar.  Cut up vegetables like carrots, cauliflower, peppers, onions, etc. and place in the jar with the pickle juice.  Shake well and refrigerate for at least 3 days.  They will be good as a salad or relish.  Dill, sweet or bread & butter pickle juice can be used. Make Kale Less Bitter Feb, 2019
There are compounds present in Kale that can make it taste bitter.  Cut your Kale up BEFORE massaging and rinsing.  Rinsing after the leaves have been cut will wash away some of the bitter compounds.
TSA Tips Feb, 2019
Avoid using Lubriderm or other hand lotions containing glycerin, a common component of many lotions.  If you have been randomly selected to be swabbed for explosives, the glycerin may trigger a false positive alarm.  The TSA equipment may detect the lotion residue as a component of nitroglycerin
Make Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs Feb, 2019
Put cold eggs in a pan in a single layer.  Cover with water by 1”.  Put the pan on high heat.  After reaching a full boil, cover the pan and let it sit (covered) for 15 minutes.  Then place the eggs in a ice bath (half ice half water) until completely chilled (minimum 10 minutes, preferably longer) stirring gently occasionally.  Your finished egg should be easy to peel and the yolk will be yellow and well set without any dark areas
Inexpensive Wine Ratings Feb, 2019
Looking for inexpensive but good wines under $20?  Go to http//cheapwineratings.com.  Tim Lemke, a wine blogger started this website in 2007.  He has rated over 700 wines using the familiar 100 point rating system.
Best way to whisk liquids for emulsifying Feb, 2019
Making salad dressing using oil and vinegar with seasonings is easy, quick and economical.  When using a wire whisk on the mixture, use a side-to-side motion.  It is most efficient and effective. This maximizes sheer forces desirable in emulsifying.  Avoid circular , vertical beating or figure 8 motions.
Military Discounts Feb, 2019
Per our good friend, Dirk Meyer, a Sir member from another Chapter that plays tennis with our group, Verizon gives Veterans a 15% discount.  Simply show your DD214 form (release from active duty).  Dirk suggests that you ask for Veteran’s discount at other stores and services.
Current SF Food Trands Feb, 2019
Cuisines on the rise:  Cafes + Breakfast/Brunch places – 35 opened/24 closed.  Ramen – 12 opened/4 closed.  Hawaiian – 5 opened/2 closed.  Hot Pot – 4 opened/0 closed.  Vietnamese – 12 opened/9 closed.  This count was from 01/01/18 through 12/08/18.  Total current restaurants in SF = 4,585.
Best Time of Day for Medical Visits and/or Procedures Feb, 2019
Avoid visits to clinics, hospitals, doctors offices, etc. in the afternoon.  Staff fatigue leads to many more errors and less attention to details including hand sanitizing leading to a higher risk of contracting infection.
Booking Flights on Southwest Airlines Feb, 2019
When looking for low cost/sale fares on this airline, go to their website and click on “Flights.”  On that page, look for “Low Fare Calendar.”  Enter your destination and the month/s of travel and enter “search.”  All the lowest cost fares for those selected months for that destination will be displayed so you can quickly and easily see the low cost fare available for those dates of travel.
Portable Butane Stove Feb, 2019
According to the Earth Sciences folks, Global Warming will bring more severe weather events.  This will likely result in more power outages even in metro areas.  A portable gas powered stove is a good thing to have at those times.  The Stansport Portable Outdoor Butane Stove is an excellent stove for emergency use.  It is small, lightweight, compact and uses 8 oz. butane fuel cartridges.  It only costs $15.93 on Amazon with free, 2-day delivery for Prime Members.  It is rated at 8,000 BTUs output from its single burner.  It has its own internal sparking mechanism for easy, match free lighting.  It’s also good for tailgating, picnics and other impromptu uses.
Automotive Tips Jan, 2019
Replacing vehicle battery on newer models:  New cars today are loaded with many more luxury and safety features than previous generations.  These features can be real electrical energy hogs.  Typically, OEM batteries of past years would last 3 to 5 years.  Today, 2 – 4 years is more typical.  The OEM units are often smaller/lower capacity to save money during production.  This often results in lower cycle life and less reserve power for starting in very cold weather.  Look for a replacement battery with the highest Cold Cranking Amps (CCA) that will fit your vehicle.  600 CC Amps is a good CCA value to look for.  Check to see if the next larger “Group Size” battery will fit.  Our 2015 Subaru Outback came equipped with an OEM battery that does not fill the battery mounting tray.  Upon further investigation, I have determined that the next group size larger will fit my vehicle.  This will give me much more reserve starting power and, most likely, longer battery life.
 
■  Use of Memory Saver.  Consider having your new battery professionally installed.  It is important to use a “Memory Saver” device prior to disconnecting your old battery.  Without the use of this device, you will lose all the memory settings on almost all your electrically powered features including safety features and computer memory stored that control all engine, drive-train and smog settings, radio stations, seat memory, etc.  This includes PIN (Person Identification Numbers) used as theft deterrent, primarily for high-end radio/stereo radios.  For DIY folks - if you have working knowledge of electrical circuits in cars, you can purchase a Memory Saver for about $10 - $20 at your local automotive supply store.
 
■  DIY TIP: Clean the battery posts of the new battery and the cable clamp fittings of your vehicle.  Add anti-corrosion felt pads to the new battery posts.  Coat battery posts with Lithium Grease before assembly and tightening.  These items are readily available at your local automotive retail store.
 
■  Placement of Stickers and Decals on bumpers:  Last month, I advised against placing any decals/stickers on bumpers because of possible interference with sensors for safety features (blind spot warning, rear cross traffic warning, rear proximity to objects, etc.).  Radar sensors will transmit/receive data through paper and vinyl decals/stickers without signal degradation UNLESS THEY ARE SILVER COATED MATERIAL.  The silver coating is sometimes used to protect the decal/sticker adhesive from UV exposure.  When peeling the backing off a decal/sticker, check the adhesive side and if there is no silver coating, it can be safely used without degrading the sensors’ performance.
Air Fryers:  Jan, 2019 Last month I mentioned these as a good gift. Some folks have asked about uses for this type of appliance.  It works great for refreshing day-old (or much older) baked or deep fried pastries or other foods.  It’s great for thawing frozen foods items.  It works beautifully for doing frozen foods such as Hush Puppies, Tater Tots, French Fries, Fish & Chips, Egg Rolls, or any other frozen items that you would take from the freezer and place in a hot oven.  Left over sandwiches are excellent when reheated on high heat.  The bread or roll will no longer be soggy and the inner ingredients won’t be refrigerator cold.  I like Jersey Mike’s Subs.  I will often order two of them, eat ½ of one and put the other 1-1/2 in the refrigerator and use the Air Fryer to freshen them upon demand.  I’ve kept them as long as 2 weeks!  Left over fried foods (Tempura Shrimp/Vegetables, Calamari, Onion Rings, etc.) are sometimes even better than when they were fresh served at the restaurant.  Pizza slices are another suitable item.  Sausages and frankfurters are also great and save getting out a frying pan or dirtying dishes in the microwave.  Crisping up limp potato chips and tortilla chips are super easy and fast.   You can easily and quickly make your own flavored croutons out of stale bread (or fresh bread if you are out and need croutons at the moment). Slow Gas Pump:  Jan, 2019 Ever go to a gas station where the gas pump seems to take forever to fill your tank?  This is a sign of a clogged fuel filter and could mean that the station is not particularly good at performing regular maintenance tasks.  Maybe you should avoid this station.  There could be moisture in the gas due to deferred maintenance of the tanks and pumps. Stop Spam Text Messages:  Jan, 2019
If you are an AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon or Sprint subscriber, report spam text messages to your carrier by copying the original message and forwarding it to 7726 (SPAM), free of charge. (This actually does stop the messages!)
Don’t purchase extended warranties: Jan, 2019 Most credit card issuers offer extended product warranties to their cardholders – a benefit many consumers are unaware they have. Many have no annual fee and others charge less than $60. Some cards will double an original warranty up to one year, while others will extend it up to two. Typically neither will exclude a claim based on wear and tear or the fact that an item was refurbished. Examples of cards providing this protection include Capital One Venture (doubles up to one year) and Citi Thank You Premier (doubles up to two years).  Other credit cards with similar protection are Visa/MasterCard Gold and American Express. Pay with a credit card:  Jan, 2019
Always pay with a credit card. 
This is the most common consumer recommendation from Consumer Advocates. Do not make major purchases with a debit card, check or cash – none provide the same consumer protections as a credit card. Should quality, delivery or service fall short, your credit card issuer can investigate on your behalf and, as necessary, work to get you a charge-back.
Buying merchandise to build additional airline mileage credit:  Jan, 2019
You usually get more value from your credit card airline miles by using them for flights than buying products through such programs' various partnerships.
Gift Card Tips:  Jan, 2019
This is the season where gift cards are commonly received.  If you received some and are not a regular buyer or user of those specific chain stores or service providers, here are some options for you:
 
1. Sell it:  Fortunately, some companies have made a business model out of buying your unwanted gift cards. Cardpool is a website that buys and sells gift cards. According to the Washington Post, Cardpool purchases gift cards by check or Amazon egift card from $0.75-$0.90 per dollar depending on the popularity of the store associated with the gift card.
 
2. Exchange It:  Now, you may just trade cards with friends, the way people used to trade collectible cards (like baseball and Pokémon cards). However, the cards available for trade may not be what you are looking for.
In a, somewhat, riskier option, you may join a gift card exchange, like the one found on reddit. The risks may seem obvious: you send the gift card and do not get your gift card. However, the way reddit structures the trades, it appears they have a high success rate. Through the use of a review system, experienced traders appear with higher reviews and higher numbers of trades associated with their account. While there may be difficulty in getting your first few trades completed, once you get started, it can be a convenient location to exchange your gift card for the exact payment type you desire.
 
3. What is my gift card worth?  So you decide to sell or exchange the gift card for your unique store’s gift card, say the Sockmarket, how much is that card worth compared to an Amazon gift card? Again, there are resources out there which tell the going rates for these gift cards. Cardpool will tell you a rate compared to cash, but the reddit exchange does not have a stock-market-like screen with all the gift card values on them. Gift exchanges are considered free-markets, so you may post your gift card and what you may want, say 80% Amazon in exchange for your $50 sock market gift card, which would mean you trade your $50 gift card for $40 Amazon gift card. All you need to do is wait for a message from someone interested or a counteroffer. It would be a good idea to check the sale sites before the exchanges because it can give a price floor for your gift card. Why take the risk of the exchange if you can get the same price from a retailer, which buys gift cards for cash. After all, cash is always king!
 
4. Philanthropic Alternative:  If this all sounds like too much effort for a gift card you just want out of your house, but you feel bad for throwing away something that is essentially money. Good News! You can donate your gift cards to a charity of your choice. On websites like CharityChoice, you may send the balance of your gift card to a charity of your choice. Not only do you get to help your favorite charity, you get a tax receipt!