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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!


SEPTEMBER 2021 CONSUMER TIPS
GENERAL CONSUMER ITEMS/ISSUES:
 
■  Things you can do with Disposable Shower Caps – When traveling and staying hotels and motels, grab the shower cap if it is included in your bathroom amenities and throw into your baggage for future use.  The following are just some of the things you can use them for: > Use as a temporary shoe bag to keep clothes clean in your packed bag.  > Use as an ice bowl to keep things cool or cold.  > Use as a temporary dog/pet water bowl.  >Use as a shoe bootie to keep mud, paint or other messy things from getting on your shoes while working in a messy environment.  >Use as a bike seat cover to keep it dry when it rains.
 
■  Kirkland AA Alkaline Batteries – Costco carries both their own Kirkland brand as well as the popular Duracell brand.  The name brand is more expensive.  Buy the Kirkland brand because it’s made by Duracell and is exactly the same battery but with a Kirkland brand battery shell.  The performance and specification are the same.
 
■   Certified Hepa Room Air Purifiers – Last year during the bad, smoke filled days from the Wild Fires in the Western States, we  got two of them and they work really well and so quiet we don't even know they're on.  If you’re interested, here's a link you can use to order them from Woot.com.:  https://home.woot.com/offers/winix-c545-4-stage-wifi-air-purifier-20?ref=w_gw_dd_1.  These are the Winix C545 4-Stage Wifi Air Purifier with Plasma Wave Technology - $70 Factory Reconditioned.  Current price from Amazon is $173, new.  Woot.com is an Amazon company and shipping is free for Amazon Prime Members.
 
■  Stuck without a mirror? – Try using your cell phone in the selfie mode.  This tactic can be used to examine a wound on your face or to apply makeup, etc.
 
■  Need a Magnifying Glass to examine something small? – Like above, use your cell phone and take a photo of the object using normal or telephoto lens setting.  Once you have captured/recorded the image, you can enlarge the image on your cell phone screen using the cell phone zoom feature.  This has come in handy to read the fine print on medications, ingredients on packaged goods, reading instructions on the flap of a container, etc.
 
■  Protect yourself from Identity Theft and other Personal Security Issues - Shred all documents and printed material that contain sensitive data such as your name, address, account numbers, balances, investment properties, etc.  You don’t own a shredder?  No problem.  Simply take your papers for shredding to any Kaiser Permanente clinic or medical offices and deposit them into their shredding bins liberally located throughout the facility.  It is intended as a service to member patients to shred medical reports and other hard copies of possibly sensitive data.  No one monitors them and no one will object unless you abuse the privilege by bringing in bulk quantities to shred.  And while you’re there, use their receptacle containers to dispose of medical waste (Hypodermic Needles and other small, hazardous items, etc.) and outdated or no longer used medications .
 
MORE ITEMS YOU SHOULD AVOID OR NOT PAY FOR – (CONTINUED FROM PREVIOUS AUGUST 2021 EDITION OF CONSUMER TIPS); Source: Consumer Reports.
 
Car Dealership Add-ons
Paint and fabric protection, rustproof coatings, VIN etching, key-replacement plans, wheel locks, pin stripes, bike or ski roof racks, dent insurance, wheel packages, window tinting…these add-ons almost always have little value, are priced with outrageously high markups, and are sold using aggressive, misleading pitches. Be prepared to say no. If you really want a bed liner for your truck or whatever, you can probably buy it elsewhere for a lot less.
 
Car Leases
Even though ads featuring low monthly payments make vehicle leases look like good deals, in the long run these plans will cost most consumers more than buying. Unless you purchase the wheels at the end of your lease, you have to give back the car and won’t own anything; you’ll then have to lease or buy something else, starting a process of paying for a new ride’s steep depreciation all over again. Plus, you can’t customize a leased car, drive it farther than preset annual mileage limits, or damage it without paying the vehicle’s real owners extra fees.  Whether you lease or buy, avoid overpaying.
 
Car Repairs at the Dealership
Unless the work you need is covered by a new-car warranty or manufacturer recall, use an independent shop, not a dealership. Many consumers believe dealers have access to proprietary knowledge, sophisticated diagnostic software, and better tools than independent garages. That’s not true. And when we use our surveys of consumers to compare quality of work at dealers and non-dealers, the non-dealers on average score better. We also find that dealerships typically charge a lot more than independents.
 
Car Repair Warranties
Vehicle extended service contracts are incredibly profitable for auto dealers and other companies that sell them. But because many new cars are very reliable, most owners make few service claims. Even when something goes wrong, many consumers who buy these plans find their claims are often denied due to sneaky fine-print exclusions. We reviewed the lists of excluded repairs buried in several contracts and were left wondering if there was anything on the car left to cover.
Cloud Data Backup
You definitely should periodically back up all your devices. Dozens of websites offer free cloud backup, usually capped at 2 to 5GB, which is plenty for most people. If you need more, sign up with multiple sites. If you mostly have photos and videos to store, Amazon Prime members can back up unlimited pics and videos to its cloud for free.
 
Credit Reports, Scores, and Monitoring
Carefully watch your credit and accounts for signs of fraud, but don’t pay a company to do it. Identity-theft monitoring services cost $10 to $30 a month, but you can easily do it yourself for nothing.
Federal law entitles you to one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Request yours at AnnualCreditReport.com.
You can stagger your requests to get a free report from one of the three major credit bureaus every four months. Because of the pandemic, you can access a free online copy of your credit report from all three credit bureaus once a week until April 20, 2022. And identity theft victims are always entitled to unlimited free credit reports from the credit bureaus.
 
The credit bureaus’ free reports won’t include your credit scores. But you don’t need to pay extra to get yours. Many financial institutions have set up access so their customers can monitor their FICO scores for free; check the websites of your bank, credit union, and credit card companies for how to enroll.
 
Debt Relief and Counseling Services
Many of these outfits prey on consumers by promising solutions they never deliver, charging high fees, or even outright theft. Their customers often end up in worse financial shape than before they asked for help.
No company can magically eliminate your debt or quickly repair your credit scores. On your own, you can do most of what even the legitimate services can accomplish. If you need help, read the warnings and advice offered by the Federal Trade Commission. It advises that you deal with only certified, trained counselors who offer in-person meetings, and to avoid those that charge high fees or hidden fees, or urge clients to make “voluntary” contributions that produce more debt.
 
Defective Products
We’ve all bought stuff that arrived broken, didn’t perform as promised, or died too soon. Many frustrated buyers give up and pay for something else. But consumer protection laws entitle you to receive defect-free products and provide several paths to satisfaction, even if the manufacturer’s warranty expired or there wasn’t one at all.
 
Start by asking the retailer for a refund or replacement. It’s reasonable to expect a store to stand behind products it sells and to make things right for a valued and loyal customer. If that doesn’t work, check whether there’s a manufacturer’s warranty. Even if there isn’t one, or it has expired, you still likely can demand a replacement or free repair under your right to an implied warranty of merchantability. In the U.S., unless a seller explicitly declares a product is sold “as is,” there’s an implied warranty that the item was provided free of defects and will remain so for a reasonable amount of time.
 
Still no resolution? Complain to your credit card company. You can dispute a credit or debit card transaction and request a “chargeback” if you’ve tried to resolve a dispute with a business and it won’t budge.  This also another good reason to use your credit card instead of a Debit Card.  You will have less consumer rights when using a Debit Card.
 
Dental Treatments You Don’t Need.
Be suspicious if a new dentist recommends far more treatment than your previous one—for instance, if suddenly many fillings need to be replaced, several teeth need to be crowned, or your gums need extensive surgery. This is an area where we receive frequent complaints in our surveys of patients. To help you decide on a treatment, your dentist should fully describe the condition of your mouth and all treatment options, including those that might cost less. If a dentist recommends extensive treatment, get a second opinion.
 
Drugs—Name-Brand
Always ask your doctor whether  less-costly generic brands can be subbed for name-brand drugs.
 
Extended Product Warranties, AppleCare, Etc.
Purchase protection. Service contracts. AppleCare. Whatever retailers call them, these policies are sources of easy revenue for the outfits that hawk them and for the insurance companies that administer them and honor infrequent claims. But we find they are usually bad deals for you. For example, buy an iPhone 11 and for no extra cost you get a one-year limited manufacturer’s warranty covering repairs and 90 days of tech support. Pay an extra $149 for AppleCare and it extends that warranty for another two years; spend yet another $100 and you’ll get coverage for theft or loss.
 
The problem? Even after paying those premiums, you’ll still have to pay extra if you run into trouble. Cracked screen? There’s a $29 deductible to fix it under AppleCare; you’ll pay $99 if your clumsiness or a product defect necessitates a different type of fix. And if you bought Apple’s full-boat policy covering theft and loss, you’ll still have to shell out a $229 deductible to replace a lost phone.
 
So you’re out $699 for the phone, plus $149-$249 for AppleCare, then up to another $99 if you break it or $229 to replace it. That means if something goes wrong you could be out-of-pocket $248–$478 to cover a $699 purchase.
Even if you want an extended warranty, you can usually get it for free. Many credit cards automatically provide free extended warranties when you use them to pay for products that have manufacturer’s warranties. Costco also offers free warranty extensions. That so many companies give away extended warranties is an obvious sign that they’re not worth paying for.
 
Eyeglasses Lens Extras
Anti-reflective and UV coatings. High-index lenses. Scratch-resistant coatings. Polarized lenses. Photochromic lenses. When shopping for eyewear, you get offered lots of add-ons. Many of these options have value but don’t make sense for everyone. For example, if you usually wear contacts and sunglasses outdoors, it’s a waste to get transition lenses for your backup eyeglasses. If your glasses have not gotten scratched in the past, or if reflection has never troubled you, don’t pay for add-ons to fix something that isn’t broken. And if you have a low prescription, there’s little need to pay more for high-index lenses.
 
Home Warranties
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. We find these warranties are terrible deals for most homeowners.
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 stick them with much of the costs for product repairs or replacements. The vast majority of plan buyers will pay far more in premiums and service fees than they’ll get back for covered repairs. 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 for home warranty companies.
 
Hotels’ Early and Late Check-in Fees
We often can get fees for early or late check-ins waived simply by asking nicely. If the hotel isn’t expecting a full house, they’re usually happy to accommodate. And members of loyalty programs of some chains get free late check-outs as a perk. If there are no extra rooms at the inn, most places will happily store your bags (tip the bellman) for the day while you sightsee or grab a bite before check-in or after check-out.
Want to rest up before a redeye flight? Although they don’t advertise it, many hotels allow guests to pay for a half night’s stay, letting you hang on to your room until evening for less money.
 
HVAC Maintenance Contracts
Some heating and A/C companies swear by these contracts, arguing that regular maintenance helps avoid untimely breakdowns during peak-usage months. But many really push these plans to keep their technicians busy during otherwise slow months—and to maintain a steady flow of revenue.
 
Internet Modem and Router Rental
Many cable companies and internet providers charge $12 or more a month to rent their modems and wireless routers. You can buy your own for less than $100; the savings from not paying for a monthly rental will quickly pay back your investment.
 
Junk Haulers
We provide dozens of ways ways to get rid of unwanted belongings, including donations to charities—some will even pick up. Websites like The Freecycle Network match you with people who think your trash is a treasure. If you need to unload an entire household’s worth of stuff, working with an estate sale company will generate revenue for you.
 
Medical Alert Devices
Our researchers tested several models and found that most medical alert device makers’ products delayed emergency response and provided less-than-precise location data when we hit the alarm button. We could recommend only one company: GreatCall, because it offers wearable devices that can connect its customers directly to 911 instead of a company-run call center. Wearable devices like Apple Watch also offer good options for those who want a panic button at hand that can actually get them help in a hurry.
 
Medical Bill Gotchas
Double-check your medical bills and statements from your health insurance plan to compare them against your policy to make sure you’re not paying too much for routine and preventive care like annual physicals, well-woman visits, mammograms, flu shots, colonoscopies, etc. Usually, out-of-pocket costs for these types of services are lower than other types of appointments and treatment. If you get a surprise sky-high medical bill, consider hiring a patient advocate to negotiate a fair price for you.
 
Rental Car Insurance
When picking up your rental car, you must face THE QUESTIONS about insurance coverage. We find that for most drivers, the plans the agent “strongly recommends” represent unnecessary expenses. Most of us already get sufficient coverage from a combination of our personal auto insurance policies and the credit cards we use to pay for the rentals. Plus, you get liability coverage automatically from the rental car companies themselves, as required by the state or country you’re visiting.
 
Restaurant Ordering Services
Although ordering apps like DoorDash, Grubhub, and Uber Eats charge you low fees to ferry food to your place, we find most charge restaurants steep commissions and fees, typically totaling 20 percent, and sometimes 40 percent or more. These fees force many restaurants to raise their menu prices paid by you and other eaters.
 
Tech Support
At the end of your rope trying to program or hook up a new TV? Can’t get your new tablet to find your Wi-Fi network? Can’t configure that new laptop? Some stores, including Costco, offer free tech support. Or ask a techy friend for aid in exchange for lunch.
 
Tires—Nitrogen Fill
The pitch is that filling tires with nitrogen will more effectively maintain air pressure, which means you’ll get optimal fuel economy and tread life. That’s true, but the benefits are really small. And if you have to pay for nitrogen fill-ups (many shops charge $7 or more per tire), then it’s a waste of money.
 
Tire Protection Plans
Most tire sellers offer tire protection plans, which cover damage to tires due to road hazards during normal driving. In other words, if you get a flat caused by a nail, glass, or other road debris, the company promises to repair or, if necessary, replace the tire. But if you get a flat from accidentally running over a curb or other driver-caused errors, you get bupkis. And these plans never pay for failure from worn tread; that type of problem is (poorly) covered under the manufacturer’s warranty. Some stores (including Costco) provide this type of coverage for free, but most plans cost an extra $50 to $80 for a set of four tires. Unless it’s free, these add-ons aren’t good deals.  Even if a nail flattens your tire, you can get it plugged by an auto repair shop for only $20 or so. Paying $50 to $80 to protect yourself against a $20 risk doesn’t make sense.
 
Tire Rotation
Periodically rotating tires extends tread life by allowing even wear among all 4 tires.  When shopping for new tires, look for retailers that offer free tire rotation.  Costco, Walmart, Big O Tires and other tire shops offer this service at no charge.
1 See clarification note below
 
Upgraded Tech Speeds and Capabilities
Internet and cell service providers push their customers to upgrade to “better” plans that offer faster speeds and higher data-download allowances. But before you pay out the wazoo for 1,000 Mbps download speeds, unlimited cell data, and the like, consider whether you really need it. You don’t need too much bandwidth to watch Netflix or attend all those dreaded Zoom meetings. And although each year our Smartphones gobble up more and more data, most of us still can get away with monthly allowances of 20GB or less, rather than a pricey unlimited plan.
When shopping for new gadgets, consider whether you really should shell out a lot more money to buy the latest thing. Plopping down thousands of dollars for an 8K Ultra HD TV model to watch Cheers reruns doesn’t make sense, especially when “older” models from a few years ago cost 90 percent less yet deliver the same picture quality for your needs. And although 5G smartphones sound amazing—download a movie in minutes!—the carriers haven’t built out their networks enough for us to take advantage of it, and how often do you need to download the latest Oscar-winning flick to your phone, anyway?
 
Utility Line Warranties
Homeowners across the U.S. often receive ominous, official-looking letters bearing the logos of their utility companies warning they are responsible for repairs to water and sewer lines on their property. The clincher: If there are problems, the homeowner could be on the hook for thousands in repair costs. Although these mailings seem to come from their utilities, they’re really pitches from third-party companies. They’ve struck sketchy partnership agreements with utility companies allowing them use of their names and logos to hawk (in our view, lousy) warranty coverage. The ploys work: So far, more than 7 million homeowners have purchased these plans.
But our research found that few homeowners ever have to deal with expensive water or sewer line repairs or replacements. These warranties are bad deals.
 
NOTE:  1. THE FOLLOWING IS AN ADDITIONAL COMMENT ON REHEATING PIZZA FROM LAST  MONTH:  “■  Reheating Pizza, a Review:  Previously, I had mentioned that the best way to reheat pizza at home was to place the slice/s in a cast iron or non-stick fry pan on low – medium low heat with a lid on for approximately 5 minutes (no oil needed).”  Sir John Noll recommends adding 2 tablespoons of water into the hot pan near the end to create steam to thoroughly heat the topping ingredients.  I tried it and it does help on thicker crust or heavily loaded toppings on the pizza.
 
NOTE 2. IN THE SAME ISSUE, I WROTE: “■  Things You (Probably) Shouldn't Pay For: We’re often warning about products, services, and extras that aren’t worth shelling out for, from duct cleaning to lousy insurance plans to tire rotation.”  CLARIFICATION: That was a direct quote from the Consumer Reports article but it is out of context.  They’re not saying Tire Rotations are not needed.  Instead, they’re saying you shouldn’t have to pay for it.  See the Tire Rotation item above.  This was brought to my attention by Sir John Noll.
 


AUGUST 2021 CONSUMER TIPS
 
 
GENERAL ITEMS:
Shopping Lists, Notes, Reminders, To Do List, etc.
Do you still make out lists on a notepad as reminders of things to do, buy, or people to see or call?  Have you forgotten to take your list/s with you? Do you sometimes lose these lists?  An easy solution is to make out your list in the conventional manner but instead of carrying the note with you, simply take a photo of it on your cellphone.  Delete the photo/s as you accomplish your tasks. You won't misplace or lose your lists anymore.  But it will be so very easy to refer to it on your cellphone.
 
Vehicle Battery Replacement: Car batteries are an essential part for a reliable automobile.  That’s why it’s so important to know when to start considering a car battery change, as well as what you can do to extend its lifespan.  On average, new car batteries last about 2 to 4 years.  When it becomes apparent that you need to replace the battery, do not simply use the replacement chart at your local auto parts store or tire shop.  A better way is to measure the battery mounting base (usually under the hood) and find the largest electrical capacity battery that will fit within that mounting platform and height limitation.  Here’s why.  If you simply replace it with the O.E.M. battery or its equal, it may be undersized for the continuous job of starting your car and running all of its accessories.  Manufacturers are not known for installing high quality or adequate power rating batteries when building their vehicles.  New vehicles of today feature so many more power hungry accessories than before. In the interest of economy on the assembly lines, the O.E.M. battery is often the same for their less expensive, entry trim level as it is for their more feature laden, higher trim levels for any given model.  The higher the battery capacity the less hard it has to work and that will help extend its working lifespan.  It will also give you some added protection against being stuck somewhere with a dead battery because a light or accessory was left on after leaving your vehicle.  The specifications you should look for are CCA (cold cranking amps) and AH (amp hour).  Cold Cranking Amps describe the ability of the battery to provide strong currents required for starting/cranking of internal combustion engines, usually for 30 seconds, while Amp Hours (Ah) describes the capacity of the battery and its ability to provide certain current for, usually, 20 hours.  The larger battery will only be marginally more expensive.  As an example, an alert mechanic at my local shop recommended a replacement battery for my 2015 Subaru Outback that was 2 steps bigger but was only $22 more!  The cost increase was less than 20% but the CCA and Ah were 36% more.  That’s a good investment in longevity and purchase value.
 
A Primer on Smartphone Wireless Fast Charging:  Not long ago, the cost of a Wireless Fast Charger unit was about $40+.  The cost has recently dropped dramatically.  Now they can be found on a regular basis for about half that price.  I just bought one from Woot.com (an Amazon company) for $7.99 + tax (free shipping for Amazon Prime Members).  It works extremely well and fast charges my Galaxy Note 10 in less than ½ the time of the standard charger rate.  These wireless chargers come as a ‘lay flat’ charger where your Smartphone simply lies on flat on top of the charger device or in ‘charger stand’ format where you simple place your Smartphone on (vertically or horizontally) for charging and/or viewing/use.  In all cases, your Smartphone is fully operational – watch a video, chat with somebody via cellphone call, watch streaming programs, play games, – all wirelessly for both greater freedom and convenience as well and at Faster Charge speeds.  You can still use your device while charging, and your device is always accessible so you can answer a call without having to unplug it.  And there are no issues with whether your Smartphone uses Mini USB or USB C input plugs.  For Fast Charging, be sure the AC Power Adapter is rated for at least 7.5W or 2 amps.  Note – Charger Stand units are generally sold without an AC Power Adapter (usually available for under $10).
 
Make A Home Inventory for Insurance Purposes:  We now live in precarious times due to the possibility of losing our homes to wild fires, earthquake or floods.  In the case of loss, the insurance companies will require you to file a documented claim.  The best way to be prepared for assembling a list of your loses is to make a photo inventory of everything in your home, office or workspace.  Simply go to each room in your house, office, place of work and take photos of all the contents.  Do this for every drawer, closet, all furnishings and all other places of storage.  Make a secure file of all these photos and save it on a USB drive, any Cloud service, CD/DVD, or other secure format for future referral when needed.
 
■  Reheating Pizza, a Review:  Previously, I had mentioned that the best way to reheat pizza at home was to place the slice/s in a cast iron or non-stick fry pan on low – medium low heat with a lid on for approximately 5 minutes (no oil needed).  I’ve had many comments and questions (all good).  This is meant as clarification about this method.  1. The pizza will crispy on the bottom and the toppings should be melted, hot and gooey.  2.  If you have a countertop Convection Toaster Oven, that will also work, but it may take a little longer.  3.  If you want to add other wet/moist toppings (e.g. fresh tomato, artichoke hearts, pineapple chunks, etc.) simply place under the toaster oven broil mode before or after either the fry pan or convection oven reheating process.  Everyone that has tried the fry pan technique really likes it.  Note:  I don’t recommend reheating pizza in the microwave because it results in a very soggy, limp, chewy mess!
 
■  A Primer on Laundry Detergent, Elissa Sanci, Columnist, New York Times.
If you’ve ever reached into your dryer expecting to pull out a load of downy-soft laundry only to find a pile of stiff, starchy garments, there’s a good chance you’re using too much laundry detergent. 
 
Laundry detergent obviously gets dirt and stains out of your clothes, but if you use too much, you wind up creating a new mess. This is a result of detergent residue that hasn’t been fully rinsed out, and it can turn your previously soft wardrobe into a crunchy, scratchy, uncomfortable-to-wear load of clothes. Too much detergent also creates a surplus of suds that can prevent your garments from rubbing against one another (which helps release trapped dirt from your clothes), according to Tide’s website.
 
Though it seems counterintuitive, the more detergent you use past a certain point, the dirtier your clothes become.
To restore your wardrobe to its full glory, you need to remove the buildup of detergent burrowed into its fibers. Whirlpool advises soaking soiled laundry in a mixture of vinegar and water. In a deep sink or your bathtub, mix 1 cup vinegar into 1 quart water, and then toss in dirty clothes. If there are any visible detergent stains, rub the stained bit of the garment against itself to loosen the buildup. Whirlpool recommends soaking for up to an hour and then running the clothes through the washing machine in a normal wash cycle. 
Laundry stripping, which is a similar method of removing detergent buildup, has recently gained popularity on TikTok. This method aims to remove any excess laundry detergent, fabric softener, body oils, and hard-water minerals that have built up in your clothes over time. And it involves a specific mixture of ingredients: a tubful of hot water, ½ cup borax, ½ cup washing soda, and a small amount of detergent. Add your laundry to the tub, and mix everything together, making sure all your clothes are submerged. After four hours, wring your clothes out well, and run them through a normal wash-and-dry cycle. Our experts don’t necessarily think stripping makes your laundry noticeably softer—but that’s not to say you shouldn’t try it if you want to strip all the trapped materials from your clothes. “Go for it,” Sarah says. “I have a feeling you’re not going to notice your towels being softer. You’re just going to know how disgusting you are—which is fine. We all are!”
How Much Detergent to Use?
 
To effectively clean your clothes, you need to use only 2 tablespoons per load at most—and that’s for big loads weighing 12 pounds or more. As staff writer Sarah Bodgan and senior staff writer Liam McCabe say in our guide to the best washing machines, 1 tablespoon is enough to thoroughly clean an average load, which usually weighs around 8 pounds.  And if your hand-washing, Sarah recommends that you use even less.  “When it comes to laundry detergent, a little will go a long way.”

The amount of detergent you should add varies greatly among brands, but keep in mind that the back of your bottle might recommend that you use more than 2 tablespoons per load. “Some detergent manufacturers are going to lie on the label,” Sarah warns in a Wirecutter video about laundry stripping. “But remember, they’re selling a product, and they want you to buy more of it.”
It can be even worse if you’re using high-efficiency (HE) detergent, which is made from high-concentration, low-sudsing formulas and can be used in both traditional and HE machines. Liam and Sarah explain that HE detergents are at least double the concentration of traditional detergents. To clean your clothes, a high-efficiency washer uses less water than a traditional washing machine, so there’s even less water to dilute the detergent. 
 
Wirecutter recommends liquid detergent only, since it’s predisolved. Though pre-portioned pods are convenient, you have less control over the amount. This can quickly lead to a buildup of chemicals and cleaning agents that stiffen your laundry. We don’t recommend powder detergent, either, since it doesn’t always dissolve and can leave behind clumps in your laundry.
 
 
■ From June 2021 issue, Consumers’ Checkbook:
 
Plumbing Do's and Don'ts
Make sure everyone in your household knows where water shutoff valves are and how to use them. If you don’t know, ask a plumber to give you a tour; then label each valve with a description of its function and instructions for turning it off. If a pipe bursts, quickly stopping the flow of leaking water can prevent extensive damage. Once or twice a year, test the main water shutoff valve to your home to make sure it is working properly.
 
Periodically check shutoff valves, exposed pipes, faucets, and your water heater for leaks. Regularly inspect ceilings and walls for signs of water damage. If you find a leak, have it repaired immediately.  If you have a septic-tank system, have it inspected regularly by a licensed professional.
 
Install smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors near your water heater and furnace.  Keep all flammable and combustible materials away from your water heater.  To reduce the risks of fire or health hazards, have a plumber or heating and air-conditioning service check your water heater’s venting for proper draft and to make sure the room is properly ventilated.
Dispose of grease or rendered-down fat in the trash; never pour it down a drain.  Cover bathtub and shower drains with screens to prevent hair from clogging up pipes.  Chemical drain cleaners are extremely dangerous—pay close attention to package directions and warning labels. When pouring a drain cleaner into a drain, avert your face and keep it as far away as possible from the bottle and the drain.  If a drain is completely clogged, do not use a drain cleaner—it will likely produce a large pool of highly caustic water. Also, using a drain cleaner on completely clogged drains may simply enlarge the blockage.
 
Periodically check the temperature setting of your water heater—most models should be set between 120° and 140°. Running the burner at the lower end of that range saves energy and extends the life of the appliance. Follow manufacturer’s instructions on how to drain the sediment from the bottom of your model. If it seems too complicated, ask a plumber or HVAC repairperson to do it for you the next time one comes to your home to fix something else. 
 
Don’t flush anything down the toilet that doesn’t belong there. Baby wipes, paper towels, feminine products, disposable diapers, cat litter, hair, and other items can clog up the works.
Use care when operating your garbage disposer. Make sure that its on-off switch is not located in an area where it can be accidentally turned on. If you have children, consider buying a batch-feed model that won’t operate without a stopper.  Heed warnings in your garbage disposer’s operating manual. Many models can become clogged if you try to dispose of coffee grounds, uncooked rice, etc. Always run a steady stream of water into your garbage disposer when in use. 
 
Free floor drains. Avoid expensive backups by pouring water into indoor drains to make sure they, well, drain. Make sure outdoor drains aren’t covered or clogged up with leaves and other debris. 
If you’ve had backups in your main sewer line due to tree roots invading the works, flush half a cup of copper sulfate crystals down a commode (don’t pour it down a sink or bath drain; that might corrode your indoor pipes).
 
Things You (Probably) Shouldn't Pay For:
 
We’re often warning about products, services, and extras that aren’t worth shelling out for, from duct cleaning to lousy insurance plans to tire rotation. Drawing from that advice, what follows is our list of things that aren’t worth the coin.  Keep in mind that we didn’t include obvious things like those gadgets advertised on late-night TV and online ads (you know those inventions won’t really change your life, right?). And our undercover shoppers always find that the biggest money waster is failing to shop around.

We call duct cleaning work a solution in search of a problem. Companies that do it claim that their services will improve your home’s air quality, but there’s little evidence this yields any substantial benefits. Even if you have dust allergies, you may want to avoid having your ducts cleaned: The little independent research that exists indicates duct-cleaning work may temporarily worsen problems.
 
Our undercover shoppers find that auto insurers are relentless in pushing additional coverage to pay for a rental car if your own ride needs bodywork. The problem? The modest coverage offered—typically $30 per day with a limit of $600 per claim—usually costs $30 to $70 per year for each car on your policy. The additional premiums are, over time, likely to greatly exceed any benefits you can collect. We say don’t buy it. Carefully evaluate other types of optional coverage using a similar cost-benefit approach. Many add-ons are just marketing gimmicks. If a company offers “accident forgiveness,” “vanishing deductibles,” and other benefits for no extra premium, great; but these features really aren’t worth much.
 
Commercially Bottled Water - Each year, U.S. consumers pay more than $100 billion to a bottled water industry that gobbles up about 100 million barrels of crude oil to manufacture and transport plastic bottles. Getting your drinking water from the tap is nearly free and doesn’t waste all that energy.  Food & Water Watch, an advocacy group created by Public Citizen, says that tap water in the U.S. is usually safer to drink than bottled water, since it is tested more rigorously. Plus, bottled water is more likely to be contaminated by microplastic particles.  If you need to filter your community’s tap water, and your refrigerator doesn’t have a built-in filter, you can buy a standalone model for less than $20.
 
 


JULY 2021 CONSUMER TIPS
GENERAL ITEMS:
■ The latest news on Alzheimer’s research. One big development is something called “Alzheimer’s in a Dish.” They’ve been able to form mini Alzheimer’s brains, with plaques and tangles, in a petri dish by using neurons from patients. That work was done at Massachusetts General Hospital and is a very big advance because you will be able to see if a drug works quickly. They can screen hundreds or thousands of drugs in months, compared to a more costly, time-consuming process using mice.
 
What are some preventive measures people can take on their own?
 
Diet. People on vegetarian or Mediterranean diets have cleaner brains in regards to Alzheimer’s pathology than those who eat a diet rich in saturated fat. A vegetarian diet has been associated with reduced amyloid pathology in the brain. Reducing vascular risks, controlling blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, weight—all of those have been shown to reduce your risk for developing dementia. Be mentally and socially active.
 
Hearing loss may be one of the biggest potentially reversible factors for Alzheimer’s risk. Studies have shown that if you have hearing loss for a long period, it causes shrinkage of brain regions that are very close to the memory centers. So hearing aids and regular hearing tests are very important.
 
What about sleep?
We know that sleep is when the brain boosts our immunity and archives our memories. We know that sleep is important for clearing toxic proteins from the brain. All those are crucial. So yes, it is important to get a good night’s rest for a healthy memory.
Much of the treatment and therapies seems to be targeted for those in the early stages. What about those in the middle or later stages?
We have medications on the market that treat symptoms of those in the middle stages, but we haven’t found anything to fix the damage in the brain once it has occurred. That is why there is so much urgency to develop preventive strategies.
 
What impact has the pandemic had on Alzheimer’s patients?
It prevented Alzheimer’s patients from getting proper care during the last 12-15 months. More people with Alzheimer’s died during the pandemic than with any other disease. There are some studies that have suggested there is an increased incidence of dementia among Covid survivors. We may end up with a new term, Covid dementia.
The research on Covid vaccine technology has really given a boost to the field in terms of rapid mobilization of resources and working with regulatory agencies. I’m hoping that will spill over into other fields, like ours.
 
What prevents people from getting tested?
 
Fear. Alzheimer’s is the most feared disease, even more so than cancer. People fear losing their independence, their identity and having to give up everything, from driving to managing their accounts. But a lot of patients who are diagnosed and in early stages can still drive and manage. It requires coordinated family planning around it to see what can and can’t be done.
Others think that it’s not worth getting evaluated because nothing can be done about it. But if you don’t get evaluated, you don’t know if it’s Alzheimer’s or something else. I had a patient who thought he had Alzheimer’s but it turned out to be a severe vitamin deficiency. We corrected it, and his cognition was back to normal.
It’s also important for people to get tested so they can make plans, including financial ones. 
  
Source: Wall Street Journal, By Clare Ansberry, June 7, 2021
 
■ SUNSCREEN PRIMER:  CHEMICAL VS. PHYSICAL SUNSCREEN
These two types of sun protection work in different ways to Protect your skin from the sun's rays.  Which one is best?  Whichever you'll use generously over and over (with broad-spectrum protection and an SPF of at least 30), says the American Academy of Dermatology.  Here's how they work:
  • CHEMICAL: Using a chemical reaction (ingredients include avobenzone and oxybenzone, among others), these products are absorbed into the skin where they trap UV light, turn it into heat rays and release them from the body.  They’re best when you need a water or sweat-resistant formula that absorbs quickly.
  • PHYSICAL: These sunblock products contain mineral ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that work like a shield, sitting on the surface of the skin (sometimes leaving a white residue) and reflecting the Sun's rays. Because they're not absorbed, they are often more tolerated by sensitive skin types. they trap UV light, turn it into heat rays and release them from the body. They're best when you need a water- or sweat-resistant formula that absorbs quickly.
 
■ A REALLY GOOD CELLPHONE APP – GOOGLE LENS:  This is a free app for Android and Apple Smartphones.  Google Lens lets you search what you see, get things done faster, and understand the world around you—using just your camera or a photo.

SCAN & TRANSLATE TEXT
Translate words you see, save a business card to your contacts, add events to your calendar from a poster, and copy and paste complicated codes or long paragraphs into your phone to save time.

IDENTIFY PLANTS & ANIMALS
Find out what that plant is in your friend's apartment, or what kind of dog you saw in the park.

EXPLORE PLACES AROUND YOU
Identify and learn about landmarks, restaurants, and storefronts. See ratings, hours of operation, historical facts, and more.

FIND THE LOOK YOU LIKE
See an outfit that catches your eye? Or a chair that's perfect for your living room? Find similar clothes, furniture, and home decor to the one you like.

KNOW WHAT TO ORDER
See popular dishes on a restaurant menu based on reviews from Google Maps.

SCAN CODES
Quickly scan QR codes and barcodes.
This is simple and very easy to use.  First, download the app from the App Store.  It’s free and works on Android and Apple phones. Simply use your Smartphone to take a photo of something, someone or a place and click on your Google Lens icon.  The app will search for the item/place against images in the Google data base and show you similar items, places, identify what your photo is, etc. and provide information that you may use to shop for products, items, places, etc.
 
LOCAL DINING TRENDS:
 
► CUPCAKIN’ BAKE SHOP COMING TO WALNUT CREEK:  Cupcakin’ Bake Shop, the Steph Curry-favorite located in Berkeley and Oakland, is coming to downtown Walnut Creek this summer.
Owner-baker Lila Owens is moving into the former Kara’s Cupcakes spot which closed in 2020 after more than 10 years at 1388 N. Main St. Owens is known for her from-scratch-daily cupcakes in 20 or so flavors, from Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Lemon Cream Pie to Funfetti and Gluten-Free Lemon Blackberry. She makes vegan cupcakes, too, in flavors such as Vegan Milk Chocolate and Banana Chocolate.
 
Cupcakes cost $3.95 each, or you can get one dozen mini cupcakes for $23.40. A soft opening is slated for July 1, with a grand opening planned for July 3 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Owens started her baking career with a home-based cupcake catering business in 2007. Seven years later, she opened the first Cupcakin’ Bake Shop on Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue, followed by a second shop inside Oakland’s Swan’s Market and third location in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto, in the space previously occupied by the 65-year-old Virginia Bakery.
 
■  LB STEAK Brings Prime Cuts to San Ramon:  A dozen years after opening its first upscale-Silicon Valley steakhouse, the Left Bank/Vine Hospitality restaurant group has expanded to the East Bay.
LB Steak featuring an upscale ranch-themed decor - is now open at City Center Bishop Ranch in San Ramon, with outdoor seating and limited in-door dining and bar seating. The steakhouse is an offshoot of noted chef Roland Passot's Left Bank Brasseries in Menlo Park, Larkspur and San Jose.  LB Steak caters to the steak lover with a menu of prime An-gus cuts aged in-house, A5 wagyu from Japan's Hokkaido, Miyazaki and Takamori prefectures and - thanks to the French influence of Passot - a temperature guide that allows customers to order their steak cooked to any one of six levels, from "blue" to "well done" (or in French, quelle horreur).  Signature items on the menu include a 48-ounce Tomahawk rib-eye for two, 50-day aged pork chop and maple glazed pork belly and, from the seafood side, Maine Lobster tail, lobster bisque and whole Branzino.  Dinner is available nightly.  Soon Lunch and Happy Hour will be added to the San Ramon location.
Source:  Izavoral@bayareannewsgroup.com
 
■  SAN RAMON, CA — Crumbl Cookies, a gourmet cookie shop, is coming to San Ramon next month.
 
Crumbl Cookies will be located at 152 Sunset Drive and offer a rotating menu of six cookies each week, alternating between choices from its repertoire of 130 cookies, said Arlene Wall, an owner of the San Ramon franchise. More cookie recipes are in the works but guests can always count on finding Crumbl's best-known milk chocolate chip cookie, plus a chilled cookie, which is typically topped with icing.  Other Crumbl flavors include chocolate cupcake, lemon poppyseed, lime and peaches n' cream.  Crumbl will sell beverages such as milk and chocolate milk, and eventually plans to sell ice cream too, Wall said. Anyone with a sweet tooth can swing by to pick up Crumbl Cookies in the company's signature pink box beginning July 9, on the date of its grand opening in San Ramon. The store will be open from 8 a.m. to midnight.  Wall and her co-owners plan to open three additional Tri-Valley locations in the future in Dublin, Livermore and Walnut Creek.  Crumbl has franchises across the country, including in Bay Area locations Brentwood, Rohnert Park and Concord. 
 
■  How to Tell If Eggs Are Bad:  
All egg cartons and trays sold in Australia must be marked with a best before date and this is the easiest and most reliable way to check whether eggs are still ok to eat. The best before date signifies the end of the period in which eggs are safe to eat and is calculated as six weeks from the day the egg is packed into the carton.  But what if you’ve stored your eggs without the carton?  Well, in short, you should always store eggs inside the carton you bought them in, inside the fridge.  Egg shells are porous and the carton helps protect the eggs from any potential contamination.
 
If you don’t have the best before date, it’s sometimes possible to determine a bad egg simply by smelling it.  Good eggs don’t smell at all but off eggs will emit a slight sulfuric smell that warns you something isn’t right.  If you’re unsure, crack the egg onto a clean plate to smell it properly.  If there’s any pungency, throw away the egg and wash the plate thoroughly.  A cleaner and undoubtedly more fun method is to conduct the egg floating test. This is not a myth; fresh eggs sink while bad eggs float to the top.  Simply fill a bowl with cold tap water and place your eggs in it.  If they sink to the bottom and lay flat on one side, they are fresh and good to eat.  A bad egg will float because of the large air cell that forms at its base. Any floating eggs should be thrown out. 
 
■  AUTOMOBILE ITEMS
►  A little scratch or chip in the paint of your car, it isn’t worth the expense of fixing it up professionally. Of course, the unfortunate downside to this is that you end up driving around with unsightly scratches on your car. We bet you didn’t know you could cover those up yourself! All you need is a little bit of nail polish.  As long as you can match the paint on your vehicle pretty closely, a little bit of nail polish will cover up the scratches well enough that nobody would notice if they weren’t looking for them.  Note: Nail Polish is not UV resistant and may fade considerably when regularly exposed to sunlight.  See note below for outdoor paint vehicle codes.
► Pick up some silicone cupcake wrappers and slip them into your car’s cup holders. They’ll keep all that loose change organized, and are easy to remove and clean, keeping the cup holders pristine.
► If you need to make some space in your backseat, pick up some carabineer hooks and attach them to your headrests.  They can be used to hold bags, groceries, umbrellas, and etc.
► If you need a place to keep your purse, bag, or mask without your stuff going everywhere, simply attach a Scotch Command Hook at floor level or below your dashboard. That keeps everything you need accessible, neat, and tidy.
Source: definition. Org/car hacks
NoteAn exact match Touch-Up Paint for your vehicle is available at modest cost at your local vehicle dealer or Auto Supply Stores.  You will need your vehicle’s paint code.  To find the location for this code, Google “Where is the paint code on a 2015 Subaru Outback?” as an example.
 
► CAR CARRIERS/RACKS EFFECT ON GAS MILEAGE: Have you ever wondered about the gas mileage penalty there is for leaving an empty car-top carrier or rear trailer hitch mount on the vehicle for regular operation?  CR has done some testing and this is what they found.  They found the fuel economy loss can be as low as 2% and as high as 19%, depending on the type of car and type of equipment carrier.  A roof rack on a Nissan Altima traveling at 65 mph cost the Altima an 11% fuel economy penalty. When CR added a cargo carrier to the roof rack, mileage dropped 19%!  They also tested a 2019 Toyota RAV4.  Since SUVs are already shaped like refrigerators, fuel economy is worse to start out with but dropped less during testing. The RAV4 saw only a 2% drop from the roof rack alone and a 13% drop when the cargo pod was added.  The bike rack that attaches to a tow hook behind the car did less damage to the car's fuel economy, averaging a
2%-3% loss when not carrying bikes.
               Source: Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.
 
■  HOLD YOUR KEYS TO YOUR HEAD TO EXTEND THEIR RANGE:  It sounds stupid, we know, but we swear it works!  If your keys don’t have much of a range, hold them right under your chin and press the button again — the fluids in your head will act like a larger antenna to extend the reach of the signal just a little bit.  Seriously, if you don’t believe us, just try it for yourself!
            Source: definition.org
 


JUNE 2021 CONSUMER TIPS
 
TIPS AND GENERAL ITEMS
 
■ Reducing Scar Tissue – If you have red, raised scars on your skin that are easily visible can often be treated with Mederma Scar Gel or Cream.  Some of us are Keloidal, a condition resulting in raised scar tissue after an injury has healed.  These are pink or reddish, raised, unsightly scars.  To reduce or even eliminate them, treat them with Mederma Scar Gel or Cream.  It works well to reduce the swollen look of the scar so it will blend into the surrounding skin tissue.
 
■ Proof of Vaccination – Upon completion of your Covid-19 vaccination procedure, you will have a completed Vaccination Card that can be used to verify you as being relatively safe to others for spreading Covid.  Some folks laminate this thin paper card for to make it durable for keeping it in your wallet.  However, when and if it becomes necessary to update the info in the event of future booster shots or other developments, the lamination makes it impossible to add updated data.  It would be better to make a photo copy or take a picture of it with your cellphone and store it in memory for quick retrieval when needed to demonstrate ‘proof of vaccination.’  Keep the original in a safe manner similar as your passport or other important I.D. documents.
 
The Average Lifespan of Major Appliances – This often comes up in when deciding if you should repair or replace these expensive household devices.  The following average life spans are listed below to help you in your decision process. 
> Refrigerators: According to the 23rd annual portrait of the U.S. appliance industry, standard refrigerators usually last anywhere from 10 to 18 years, with an average life expectancy of 14 years. Compact refrigerator lifespan is even shorter, ranging from 4 to 12 years with an average life expectancy of 8 years.
> Freezers: On average, the life expectancy of a refrigerator-freezer or chest freezer is 16 years.  Freezers typically last anywhere from 12 to 20 years.
> Washer & Dryers: CR members expect a washer and dryer to last 10 years, on average, according to our 2018 survey. Most major manufacturers say you can expect at least that. Speed Queen is unusual in that it claims its machines can last roughly 25 years.
> Dishwasher: The average lifespan of a modern dishwasher is approximately 6-10 years.  Over time, major components like the motor or pump may wear out, and out-of-warranty repairs can easily run $400-$600 or more once parts, labor and trip costs are calculated.
 Source: Consumer Reports
 
■ Computer Wireless Trackball Mouse: Need a new or better mouse for your PC/Laptop?  I recently received a Logitech M570 Wireless Trackball Mouse as a gift to replace my 10+ year old Wireless Logitech Mouse.  This newer one is a major improvement.  For starters, it is both PC and Apple compatible.  Next, it’s a 2-piece unit. The old one was 3-piece (wireless sender + receiver + trackball device).  The new one is all contained in one unit.  The battery life is greatly extended – up to 18 months instead of the old 2/3 month lifespan. It’s true ‘Plug n Play.’  No more pairing of trackball to sender required.  No tools are required to easily pop out the trackball for cleaning.  The cost is only $34 from Amazon.  The old one was $98!
 
■ A Bidet In Your Own Home:  Years ago our son gave us a Bidet Toilet Seat that was easy to install and worked wonderfully well.  We never had to sit on a cold toilet seat.  It gave us over 15 years of comfort and really clean bottoms.  But, alas, it recently became a casualty of wear and old age.  We immediately replaced it and we are, again, happily enjoying the benefits.  It’s easy to install – just like replacing a standard toilet seat with the addition of a very simple hookup to the water supply line to your existing toilet.  The job can be done in just 15 to 20 minutes using simple household tools – pliers, adjustable wrench and a slotted screwdriver.   The Bidet Toilet Seat kit comes with an easy to install “T” valve for easy water hookup.  Installation can easily be done if you are handy with tools.  If you need a plumber or handyman to install it, it should be at the minimum cost for a house call.  The units cost is $220 to $290 from Amazon depending upon features desired.  The following are the benefits:  1. No more sitting on a cold toilet seat.  2. The bidet has adjustable water and seat temperatures and water stream pressure.  The gentle stream of warm water washing your tush is most pleasant and does a far better job than toilet paper. 3. There is a big savings in toilet paper.  4. And if you get the higher end ones, a drying fan of warm air is also provided. However a built-in dryer feature is not really necessary because natural air drying will occur in a very few minutes.  5. Even the lower end models feature a memory setting for two people – water and seat temperature, position of the nozzle and, of course choice of front and rear wash cycles are saved in memory with custom settings .  Electrical hook up is super easy – simply plug the unit’s power cord into a common, standard 110/120 V outlet.
 
■ Alien Tape:  A video review of the widely TV advertised Alien Tape reveals a lot that is not shown or stated on those fabulous TV ads!  First, The 17 lb, holding power is highly inaccurate.  The TV image shows putting heavy objects on porous surfaces such as brick and cement substrates.  User testing has shown even 10 lbs. is too much to hold even for a day.  And the instructions say to use it on smooth, dry, clean surfaces, very unlike the TV images!  Second, don’t believe that it’s reusable.  The holding strength of the adhesive is significantly degraded after the first application.  And when rinsing the used tape off with water of any debris left behind and imbedded into the adhesive coating, the holding power is even further degraded.  Third, when rinsed with water, the tape tends to shrivel and become tangled within itself, rendering it a mess to untangle and smooth back out.  Third, when removed from painted wallboard, it ripped the wall surface off at the spot of adhesion.  And the object being put on the wall can also be damaged.  A 10 lb. box of nails failed after a few minutes and when the Alien Tape was removed, it tore the cardboard material of the nail box.  This does not meet the parameters of “removable.”  Removability should mean no damage to either substrates (wall or cardboard box).
Source: YouTube
 
KITCHEN AND FOOD TIPS
 
■ Avocadoes - When shopping for fresh avocadoes, look for just a hint of softening at the stem end of the fruit.  Never choose Avocadoes when they are cold because they will feel very firm/hard.  Typically, they are stored in refrigerated spaces in the markets and put out on the shelf/bins in the morning.  Shop in the afternoon after the fruit has had a chance to come up to room temperature.
■ Romaine Lettuce – These are smaller, easier to handling during prep, sized better for many applications and last longer at home in the refrigerator.  Artisan romaine has the refreshing crunch of Iceberg Lettuce and the sweet flavor of a Romaine Heart.  They are often packaged three in a plastic bag.  The price is a bit more but they’re well worth the slightly higher price.
■ English cucumbers - Cucumis sativus, were actually bred to create a cucumber without some of the more undesirable characteristics that this vegetable has, such as a tough outer skin, large seeds, and a bitter taste. They are also known as hothouse cucumber, burpless cucumber, seedless cucumber, and European cucumber. They are often individually vacuum wrapped in plastic to protect their thinner, more fragile outer skin.  This also keeps them fresher longer after you bring them home.
■ Mixing Dry Powder in Liquids – When mixing drink dry mixes into liquids and using a spoon to stir-mix it into a thoroughly mixed solution with no clumps, lumps can be challenging.  Use a small, battery operated Milk Frother.  They are available on Amazon for $10 or less!  Get one that has it’s own stand so you can leave it on the counter next to the sink for easy and quick access.  The following link is just one of many models: https://tinyurl.com/vmrcfcf3.
■ Shelling Hard Boiled Eggs:  Here’s a super easy way to quickly peel the shell from hard boiled eggs.  Even eggs that were not cooked in the specified procedure to ensure easy peeling shell as recommended by cooking gurus.  All you need is a medium-size Mason Jar and lid or any other similar container with hard sides and bottom.  All you need do is fill the jar to about 1/3 full with ordinary tap water.  Drop your hardboiled egg into the jar, screw the lid on and vigorously shake it.  The egg will ‘self peel’ inside the jar.  Simply retrieve your peeled egg and dump the shells and water down the garbage disposal.  Because we are facing a drought this year, you can save the water and strain the shells out of it to discard.  It won’t matter if the eggs you want to shell are cold, old, room temperature, etc.  It should work on any hard boiled egg.
■ Better Instant Coffee – Instant coffee mixes are super easy to use.  They have been around for decades but none are nearly as good as freshly brewed coffee.  Starbucks introduced their VIA Instant Coffee and is a marked improvement.  Trader Joe’s now offers a Cold Brew Instant Coffee that I believe is even better and closer to fresh, brewed coffee.  Try it.  You might like it.  And it is considerably lower in cost than Starbucks VIA.
New Small Appliances in the Kitchen:  The last few years has seen a proliferation of many new kitchen small appliances that are designed to make cooking more fun, simpler and more foolproof.  Here's a little rundown on them from CR.
 
Multi-Cooker (Instant Pot is the most popular):
One-pot meals that would typically require hours to cook take half the time using a multi-cooker's pressure cook mode.  It can steam, sauté, and slow cook, too (though our tests show that slow cookers are still
better at that particular task). 
 
Common mistakes to avoid: The pressure cooking mode requires liquid to work properly. But the liquid will not evaporate, so use less than you usually would or your dishes could turn out watery and bland.
 
What's new: Certain models have separate broiling lids, either included or sold separately, that allow you to crisp up your foods once they're cooked. We're also seeing models that can dehydrate and perform as a sous vide (precision temperature water bath) unit.
For your feast: Take advantage of the speedy pressure cook mode to make otherwise time-consuming dishes, such as wild rice and Mac & Cheese.
 
Toaster Oven:
A toaster oven can bake, roast, and broil, and is up to most any task your full-sized oven can accomplish but just on a smaller scale. That makes it a smart standby when the oven is occupied or when you're cooking for just a few people.
 
Common mistakes to avoid: As with baking in a full-sized Oven, a dark-colored pan accelerates the transfer of heat, possibly causing roasted vegetables or cookie bottoms to burn.  So use a light-colored pan instead, or lower the temperature by 25° F. 
 
What's new:  In the past five years, certain toaster Ovens have added features such as air frying, convection, dehydrating, and slow cooking.  For your feast: Consider the toaster oven a trusty sidekick to your full-sized oven, great for baking rolls and casseroles, and roasting meats in smaller portions.
 
Air Fryers:
Air fryers circulate hot air around food to cook it quickly and create a deliciously crisp texture using less fat than deep-frying. With just l or 2 tablespoons of olive oil, Brussels sprouts and
cauliflower come out tender yet irresistibly crispy, asparagus is beautifully blistered, and salmon fillets are moist inside and nicely browned outside.  You can even use an air fryer to bake: Banana bread emerges with an extra-crispy top.  All the air fryers in our tests turn out nicely cooked food.  The biggest differences are their capacity, how easy they are to us and clean and how much noise they make. 
 
Common mistakes to avoid:  Food can cook unevenly or turn out soggy if a batch is too large.  For best results, don’t overfill the basket, and shake it every 5 minutes or so for even browning.
 
What’s new:  Air-frying has become so popular that we’re seeing this function added to all kinds of other appliances, including toaster ovens, microwaves and multi-cookers.  We tested the function as part of the evaluation of the toaster oven, microwave and multi-cooker models that feature it in our tests and all of them made delicious, crispy foods such as chicken, fries and spring rolls.
For your feast: Use it to roast potatoes or cook veggies for your holiday meals.
 
Note: We use it a lot to freshen up baked and deep fried goods, fresh and day-old pastries, frankfurters for hot dogs, left over steaks and roasts.  Refresh fried foods.  Fried chicken/shrimp from commercial vendors reheated in an air fryer comes out, sometimes, even better than when it was finished at the store.  All pastries such as Croissants, Apple Strudel or Butter Horns from Costco, supermarkets or real bakeries come out fantastic!  But when reheating fried or baked foods, let the item rest about 5 minutes before consuming.  That allows the exterior to crisp up.  Use it in a two-step process to re-warm or defrost bread, buns, rolls and other baked, roasted or fried item, first in the microwave (thaw/warm the interior) that leaves them soft and spongy.  Put them in the air fryer to crisp up the exterior and it might be better than freshly made.
 
Blender: 
Sure, blenders are great for smoothies, but you can also use them to make a velvety purée or sauce to go with your favorite foods.  Some can even heat ingredients using the friction of the blades, so you don’t have to separately heat up, say, soup. 
 
Common mistakes to avoid:  Hot ingredients can cause certain blenders to malfunction.  Check your blender’s manual to see whether hot ingredients can be used.  If the blender lid doesn’t have a vent hole, heat will build up pressure, which can cause the lid to pop off. 
 
What's new: A growing number of models can heat ingredients while blending, so you can prepare soup without using the stovetop.
For Your Feast:  Make a soup or an herb sauce to accompany the meal. 
               Source: Consumer Reports
 
Automotive Items
 
If you’re shopping for a new car, it might be helpful to know the best and the worst of the brands for reliability.
  • Best:  Lexus, Mazda, Toyota, Porsche, Genesis, Hyundai, Subaru, Dodge, Kia
  • Average:  Nissan, Honda, Infiniti, Audi, Lincoln, Ford, BMW, Buick, Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Mercedes Benz
  • Worst:  GMC, Tesla, Volvo, Chevrolet, Jeep, Volkswagen, Acura, Alfa Romeo, Cadillac.
.
   Note: The above are listed in descending order; Source: Consumer Reports
 
Three Features That Save Lives
1.     Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB)
2.     Pedestrian Detection (usually a part of AEB)
3.     Blind Spot Warning (BSW)
 
Two Features That Make Driving Easier and Safer
1.     Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC)
2.     Lane Keeping (LKA)
 
Customer Satisfaction of Infotainment Systems by Brand (Ranked in descending order within each category)
  1. Most Satisfied: BMW- iDrive; Fiat-Chrysler - Uconnct 4; Hyundai/Ford/Lincoln - Sync; Genesis - Genesis Display; Hyundai/Kia – Hyundai Display & UV03; Porsche – PCM;  Tesla - IVI
  2. Average:  Audi – MMI; GM – GM Infotainment;  Infiniti – Infiniti InTouch; Nissan – NissanConnect; Subaru – Starlink; Volkswagen – MIB II; Volvo – Sensus.
  3. Least Satisfied: Acura – AcuraLink; Honda – HondaLink; Lexus – Remote TouchPad/Remote Touch;  Mazda – Mazda Connect; Mercedes Benz – Comand; Toyota - Entune.
Note:  Source for all automotive items in this issue are from various editions of CR.
 


MAY 2021 CONSUMER TIPS
 
Consumer Tips, General Items
 
Beware of Home Warranty Reviews –  Be wary of online search results for home warranty reviews. Some appear to be sham rankings, likely paid for by the touted companies.  For instance, some sites with generic domain names pop up in a search, ostensibly listing the best home warranty companies. One company appears as "best overall" on one site and is the top-listed home warranty company on another site with a slightly different domain name.  If you look up the company through the Better Business Bureau, though, you can see it has received more than 10,000 complaints in the last three years, and more than 4,000 in the last 12 months alone. Despite these complaints, it gets a B rating from the BBB. Don't trust the customer testimonials that appear on a home warranty company's website, either. You'll likely find mostly five-star ratings and rave reviews. One company offered glowing reviews on its website, but on the BBB's website, the firm received a one-star rating on average based on 593 customer reviews. It, too, got a B rating from the BBB.
 
The BBB's ratings are based on:
  • The number of complaints
  • The size of the business
How well the business responded to complaints, how quickly the complaints were resolved and whether the business made a good faith effort to resolve complaints
A better approach might be to look at BBB's website for companies rated “A” or “A+” plus and contacting them directly.
Bottom line If you decide to go with a home warranty, be sure to check its rating with the Better Business Bureau, and don't assume a B rating means "above average."
Also, take the time to closely review the contract describing standard coverage, optional coverage and upgraded items. Understand the limitations. It may not be necessary to pay a higher premium for optional or upgraded coverage. Premiums, exclusions and caps on benefits vary widely, so shop around. You have a choice of paying annual premiums for peace of mind or building an emergency fund for unexpected expenses later on. It may be better to rely on an emergency fund than to pay premiums for a home warranty contract that may or may not be needed.
 
■ Truly Good Ice Cream – Salt & Straw might be some of the best ice cream you’ll ever be able to buy, commercially.  Salt & Straw began as a food cart on Alberta Street, Portland, Oregon and three months later the company opened its first brick-and-mortar location. Since opening in 2011, Salt & Straw has opened three other locations in Portland and offers a home delivery service throughout the US.  The company packs its ice cream in dry ice and kraft paper. Salt & Straw has locations in Portland, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Francisco, San Diego, and Seattle.  Salt & Straw is partially owned by film star and wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.  Flavors offered at the ice cream shop vary depending on the seasons and ingredient availability, as all main ingredients are locally sourced. A list of regular Salt and Straw flavors follows (though these differ by location):
  • Double fold vanilla
  • Pear and blue cheese
  • Sea salt and caramel ribbons
  • Chocolate and gooey brownies
  • Strawberry balsamic and black pepper
  • Coffee and bourbon
 
■ Shortages In The Land Of Plenty – The Pandemic has many unforeseen consequences.  Gasoline and other fuels delivered by tanker truck – As the Pandemic allows us to become less restrictive, damage to our workforce has already been done. The labor force has been highly impacted.  So many jobs were lost that people dropped out of their normal field of work and tried to establish new careers in order to survive.  This means there is a huge deficit in jobs and some career areas.  An example is the Hospitality Industry (restaurants, hotels, entertainment, domestic and foreign travel, etc.) that has taken a huge hit.  This will result in shortages in the service areas (truck drivers, public transportation workers, retail services, etc.) because of the infrastructure required to distribute goods and services.  Restaurants have been severely impacted – over ¼ of all restaurants in the U.S. have either shut down, many of them permanently.  In trying to reopen or return to normal operations, they are now faced hamstrung by the lack of qualified workers as a large portion of that workforce has ‘pivoted’ by going out their professional work area.  Same with the trucking industry – lack of qualified drivers has already resulted in shortages many basic products and services.  Gasoline will, again, become scarce or more expensive as the general public attempts to returns to normalcy.  The lack of experienced/trained drivers, commercial driving schools have already caused price for gas to rise to over $4/gallon. This will, in turn, cause other disruption within our society.  And the ripple effect will negatively impact our business economy for the near future.  Rental Car companies sold off much of their inventory during the Pandemic to reduce operating costs in an attempt to survive.  Now, the shortage of rental cars has resulted in either no cars available or at incredible high cost to even loyal customers (some rental companies charging as much as $350/day).  This is, of course, a blow to the travel industry.  Even basic grocery and daily living items inventory – anything delivered by truck – has already been affected.
 
■ Don’t Shirk On Your Daily Dental/Mouth Hygiene – Brushing your teeth twice a day can reduce your chances of contracting pneumonia. This simple/basic regimen is required of patients in many hospitals.1    Use an inexpensive breathing exerciser.  Example: Voldyne 5000 Volumetric Exerciser, available from Amazon for just $6.49!
Source: Kaiser Permanente
 
■ Parklet Potential Danger – In a past issue I warned of the danger of being run down by errant vehicles when seated at restaurants with curbside and window tables located adjacent to vehicle parking spots.  This same warning applies to newly installed ‘Parklets,’ installed during the Pandemic to allow expanded, outdoor table service.  In most establishments, there is little or no attempt to keep vehicles from intruding into this seating area.  Avoid these exposed tables if there are no barriers to protect you from errant drivers.
 
■ Duct Cleaning - Although duct-cleaning operations may insist that duct cleaning is essential for your health, the evidence does not support their claims. While it intuitively makes sense to clean ductwork—after all, you dust and clean the rest of your house, so why not clean your ducts?—the fact is dust that settles in your ventilation system generally stays where it is, unlikely to become airborne unless disturbed. Under most circumstances, it is inert and harmless, and stirring it up with cleaning equipment actually creates bigger problems. Little research has been done on the effects of duct cleaning. U.S.- and Canadian-government studies and health professionals who have investigated duct cleaning stop short of recommending against it, but neither do they endorse it as a routine measure.
Source: Yahoo News Today
 


APRIL 2021 CONSUMER TIPS
 
Consumer Tips, General Items
 
■  Removal of a Stripped Screw: When trying to remove a screw with a stripped head, take a flat, wide rubber band and lay it flat across the screw head.  Using your screwdriver (slotted or slotted), press down hard onto the rubber band and screw head while turning the screwdriver.  Hopefully, the extra rubber material is enough to add some extra grip for the screwdriver to turn the head of the stripped screw.  If the above doesn’t do the job, your next best bet is to purchase a Screw Extractor Set.  Here’s a link to this tool set from Amazon for just $12.99:  https://tinyurl.com/3mxz6anc
 
■  Hazardous Waste Disposal:  It's lurking out in your garage and underneath the kitchen sink.  Household hazardous waste-unused paint, solvents, motor oil, herbicides, pesticides, pool chemicals, automotive chemicals, drain cleaners, batteries, and more.  It’s stuff that accumulates and clutters because you don't know how to dispose of it properly.  The good news is if you still possess your dangerous goods, that means you haven't sent it to a landfill, incinerator, or poured it down a drain - actions that create pollution and put sanitation workers at risk of injury.  And besides being a bad idea, depending on where you live, improperly disposing of household hazardous waste can be illegal. In general, if a product is labeled with "Caution," "Warning,” "Danger," or "Poison," it deserves special handling.  Examples include Paint (both latex and oil-based), varnish, stains, and
polyurethane, Home, lawn, and garden chemicals used for pest, insect, and weed control.  Anything containing mercury - old fluorescent light bulbs and tubes, thermometers, thermostats, and barometers.
Gasoline and most car-care products-used motor oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid, gear oil, and gas additives, batteries, flammable cleaning solvents such as kerosene, turpentine, varsol, mineral spirits, parts cleaners, floor strippers, rug cleaners, and spot removers, adhesives and hobby chemicals, .cosmetics, nail polish and removers, Corrosives such as muriatic acid and lye, oven and drain cleaners, swimming pool chemicals, propane tanks, etc.
 
               Municipalities operate drop-off sites or sponsor special drop-off days.  To find one near you, visit Earth911.com, which maintains a
database of drop-off sites plus their contact information, days and hours of operation, and which materials they accept.  Before you go, call ahead or check the facility's website to confirm that the site accepts the materials you intend to bring.  Note that facilities typically accept waste only from residents of their municipality, so bring a driver's license or other identification.  These sites do not accept waste from businesses.
               Unlike compact fluorescent light bulbs, which contain a small amount of mercury and should be treated as potentially hazardous, LED bulbs can be safely thrown in the trash or recycled.  If your municipality doesn't recycle LEDs, drop them off during your next trip to retailers such as Home Depot, IKEA, or Lowe's, which offer bulb recycling bins.
 
               Many retailers accept single-use and rechargeable batteries for recycling or proper disposal. While rechargeable batteries are overall better for the environment than single-use ones, rechargeables often contain toxic heavy metals (such as nickel, cadmium, and mercury) - so don't toss them in the trash.  Find nearby recycling drop-off sites on Earth911.com and Call2Recycle.org.  You can bring car batteries to most household hazardous waste drop-off facilities, but car battery retailers also accept them for recycling; there may be a small disposal charge.
 
               Many disposal and recycling locations do not accept latex paint because it is water-soluble and does not present the hazard that oil-based paints do.  However, latex products still contain pigments and other chemicals; do not empty excess latex paint down your household drain or a storm sewer. If there is less than a quarter can left, leave the can open and let it evaporate.  If there is more, use an absorbent commercial paint hardener or cat litter - to solidify the remaining paint. You can then dispose of the paint can with your normal trash. ­1
 
1 Source: Bay Area Consumers’ Checkbook, Vol. 18m Winter/Spring 2021
 
■  New FTC Website to Makes It Easier To Report Fraud: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the government's fraud-fighting agency, received 3.2 million consumer complaints last year dealing with everything from identity theft to online shopping problems.  The FTC just launched a new website, ReportFraud.ftc.gov, which makes it quicker and easier to report scams, fraud, and bad business practices.  Fill out the online complaint form, and you'll get a tracking number that can be used to update your report if something changes. The site also sends an email with the next steps you should take. The FTC won't take action on behalf of individual consumers.  But filing a report will help it and law enforcement agencies that use its information to fight fraud.
 
■  Amazon Prime Membership Worth it?:  Most Prime subscribers signed on for expanded free-and-faster shipping and to stream free movies, TV, and its  Prime-exclusive Amazon Originals content. But a $119/year (or $12.99/month) subscription also offers: 
  • Unlimited photo storage/backup. This is our favorite freebie.
  • Plenty of cloud-based companies offer to store your digital stuff, but most cap it at 5GB, and you have to pay up if you need more. Because our kids are so darn photogenic, we need more-a lot more. With
  • Prime, you get free unlimited full resolution photo storage/backup plus 5GB storage for video. 
  • Music streaming. Companies like Apple and Spotify offer unlimited listening libraries, but charge for them.  If you have Prime, you get its similar ad-free, on-demand music service at no cost. 
  • Free e-reads. Unlimited free access to more than 1,000 e-books and magazines.  Prime members also get early access to one soon-to-be-released "editor's pick" title each month.
  • Free Twitch subscription. Prime members can subscribe to one channel per month for free.  (This has value only if you are a ‘gamer.’)
  • Access to Prime Wardrobe.  Buying clothes online is
  • a pain. With this program, you can select up to eight items at a time, try them out for free for up to seven days, then return what you don’t like.  You get charged only for what you keep. 
  • Discounts on many household and personal-care products if you sign up for regular delivery. For example, you can get a 20 percent discount off diapers and baby food.  The company makes it easy to turn off subscriptions, skip a shipment, or get an extra order if you're too fully stocked or need more.
  • Free Prime memberships for students. Hey, college kids also get to mooch off Amazon! You can sign up for its "Prime Student program using an email address with an "edu” domain. After the trial, you get to keep going for half off the regular $119 rate.
 
More Perk Providers.  Other groups offer even more perks.  Good places to go hunting for them include credit unions, USAA, and college alumni groups.  Many large employers offer benefits such as discounts on mobile phone plans and free gym memberships;  Check with HR.  Seniors, armed forces members, teachers, and healthcare workers also often get perks like special hotel rates, retailer discounts, and free coffee!
 
The Retail Store Landscape Continues to Shrink:  Let’s face it, retail stores are closing all over the country.  Here in the Bay Area, Fry’s Electronics has permanently closed all its stores.  Many strip malls have many shuttered stores and offices.  Office Max and Office Depot have merged resulting in less places to buy office supplies.  In olden days, most everything was available on a local basis.  Now, online shopping is often the only alternative to get some things.  Shopping online saves a lot of independent trips for many various things.  I believe it saves me a lot of time and gas by buying most things from home using a computer or Smartphone. 2
 
2  Source: Consumer Reports, February 2021 edition
 
■  Get the Last Drop Out:  When using viscous gels or liquids such as shampoo and body lotions from plastic pump bottles and the pump no longer pumps because the fluid level is below the level of the pump intake tube.  Yet, there’s as much as 20% still remaining in the bottom of the bottle.  To get the remainder out, try this – place the near-empty bottle in a small metal mixing bowl standing it tilted about 30° to 45° from vertical so that the fluid can collect mostly in one corner of the bottle.  Leave it in that position for a day or two so the slow flowing liquid settles into that one corner.  Take an ice pick/awl or some other sharp instrument to poke or drill a hole in that corner.  Now, you can access that remaining lotion/gel simply by squeezing the bottle with the pump still tightly attached.  You can squeeze the fluid into your hand or into another suitable container.  You can open a new jar of product and use some so it is not completely full.   Remove the pump and hold the old container with the leftover product inside directly over the spout of the newly opened bottle and squeeze the remainder of the product out into the newly opened bottle.  Replace the pump on the ‘full’ bottle and properly dispose (recycle) the old (now empty) plastic bottle.
 
■  Review Your Home and Auto Insurance. If you have not audited your home and auto insurance in a long time, now is the time to do so.  Home and auto burglaries have been on the rise since the Pandemic arrived.  Did you know that most auto policies cover the theft/damage to the vehicle but not the contents in the vehicle?  Does your premium credit card provide basic coverage for your rental cars?  Check your policies for coverage, deductibles and limitations.  Do you need a ‘rider’ attachment for special coverage.
 
■  Mobile Covid-19 Virus Home Test Kits Now Available.  If you need quick access to a Covid-19 Virus Test, go to DoorDash.com.  The cost is about $120,  Some US residents can now get a DIY Test Kit  alongside a meal after food ordering service DoorDash announced they'll deliver at-home tests to cities across the country. Two types of tests will be available - a nasal swab or a saliva sample - the company said. Both can yield results within 24 to 48 hours.  It is the first such scheme to be launched by a delivery service. "Amidst the pandemic, one of our priorities has been to make health and wellness essentials more accessible for customers, and we will continue to expand our offerings in the healthcare space," a spokesperson for DoorDash said.  DoorDash is offering polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test kits from Vault Health and Everlywell.  Such tests can pick up smaller amounts of the virus that other tests might miss.  They can be ordered in two ways: via the DoorDash app or through Vault Health's website.  Delivery via the app is available in 12 cities including Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Minneapolis, and Phoenix, with plans to expand.  Ordering via Vault Health's website allows users in 20 cities - including Houston, Las Vegas, and San Diego - to have a test kit delivered to their door.
 
■  Pick Up Small Pieces of Broken Glass:  If you break a glass or some other glass object on the kitchen floor or counter, don’t try to use your fingers or hand to pick up tiny shards of glass. Instead, grab a piece of bread and press it down over the area. It should pick up those little pieces you don’t want stuck in your fingers or the bottom of your feet!  A small, wireless handy vac (Dustbuster or similar device) is even better, if you have one.
 
 ■  Polarized and UV Blocking Lenses. From a technical point of view, polarized lenses are made with a special filter that blocks horizontal bands of light. While at first this may not seem that useful, it’s important to know that glare, the squint-inducing light reflected off of surfaces like car windows in summertime traffic or off the surface of water (lakes, ponds, rivers, oceans, etc.) is transmitted in these same horizontal bands of light!  In effect, polarized lenses block that glare to provide more clear and defined vision.  Polarized lenses are also useful in the detecting flaws in critical metal parts.  Minute cracks and stressed/work-hardened areas can often be seen in the reflected light off a smooth, metal surface.  UV Blocking lenses are used to block out harmful Ultra Violet light rays.  Think of UV filtering lenses as “sun block” for your eyes.  Both Polarized and UV Filtering lenses are available as options in prescription eyeglasses.  When shopping for OTC, non-prescription sunglasses look on the attached tags/packaging for the above features.
 
 Alkaline Batteries:  When shopping for Alkaline batteries for your cordless/portable devices, don’t think of private or off-branded products as being inferior to name brands.  Per CR, most private/off-brand batteries are made by the name brand manufacturers.  So the private branded Alkaline batteries from Costco, Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, CVS, RiteAid, Kroger, Sharper Image, etc., are usually equal to the name brands.  As an example, Costco’s Kirkland Signature Alkaline batteries are made by Duracell and are identical to the Duracell brand units except packaging and printed graphics.  Alkalines have a 10-year shelf life so don’t worry about buying in bulk.  Alkalines contain 3 to 5 times more power than the inexpensive, carbon-zinc standard batteries.  Alkalines work best in low-power, low drain applications.
 
■  New TV Series:  Two new series are now available for viewing on your broadcast channels.  For a superb travelog experience, tune into “Aerial America/Greece/Britain” on the Smithsonian Channel.  These are extremely informative, interesting and really beautifully edited and photographed.  Don’t miss these if you are a history buff or have a curiosity about people, places and things.  And for those with a high culinary interest, there’s “Top Chef Season 18”  premieres with a supersized episode on Thursday, April 1, on Bravo Channel.  This new series is filmed mostly in and around Portland, OR. 
 
■  Topgolf Complex coming to San Jose:  Topgolf’s official Instagram account states that the north San Jose venue is slated to open sometime in April.  Topgolf operates high-tech driving ranges that allow people to hit golf balls equipped with microchips that record distance and accuracy.  The venues typically also include dining and drinking establishments.  These facilities are suitable for group gatherings with competitive activities and prizes.  They are also available for corporate events.  In north San Jose’s Alviso district, the Topgolf complex features a large curving structure along with a huge golf driving range. The structure appears to have three levels. A lengthy driving range and circular targets for golf shots are also visible. Among the amenities touted: A wine bar, game-watching bar, outdoor patio, conference rooms, and 120 bays from which people could hit golf shots.  Currently, there are Topgolf loctions in Las Vegas, Roseville and Portland with many more throughout the U.S. 3
3 Source: San Jose Mercury News,
       

MARCH 2021 CONSUMER TIPS
 
Consumer Tips, General Items
 
How to clean your laptop1:  In summary, there are two cleaning protocols that can easily done by the casual user.  A quick/light cleaning will take about 5 minutes and deeper cleaning procedure can take 15 minutes.
■  Here’s What You’ll Need:
Microfiber cloth: Any microfiber cloth will do, but if you don’t have any freebies that came with eyeglasses, TVs, monitors, or laptops, we like these MagicFiber ones. For most, this is the only thing you’ll need. Compressed air (optional): If you can open your laptop and remove the bottom panel (that’s a big if), then compressed air is useful for blowing dust out from the fans. Any brand will do—we’ve used Falcon Dust-Off.  Screwdriver (optional): If you can open your laptop, you’ll generally need tools to do so, and if you’re lucky, you can remove the bottom of the laptop with a Phillips head screwdriver. If your laptop has Torx (the screw that looks like a star) or other speciality screws, you may need a precision toolkit.
Cotton swabs and 70% isopropyl alcohol (optional): Any brand of cotton swabs and isopropyl alcohol will do.
■  Quick Clean Procedure:
Power down the laptop, unplug it, and remove the battery if you can. 
Wipe down your whole laptop with a dry microfiber cloth. This will pick up the majority of dust and light scuffs. If there’s stubborn dust, hair, or leftovers crammed between any keys or design embellishments, give the keyboard deck a series of short blasts of canned air to remove it (don’t hold down the canned air’s nozzle because this creates condensation).
If you spilled something on your laptop, or the keys and trackpad look reflective with finger grease, it’s time to do a deeper clean. Lightly dampen the microfiber cloth with a small amount of water and give the laptop case another wipe-down. Don’t forget the trackpad/trackball, but be careful not to press down too hard when cleaning it. And don’t ever spray or pour water directly onto the laptop.
For stubborn stains, grab a cotton swab, dip the swab into isopropyl alcohol, and then use the swab to focus on any trouble spots. This is acceptable only for certain materials, typically harder, nonporous plastics (including the keyboard on MacBooks), so do a spot check first to make sure the alcohol doesn’t cause any issues.
           
You should not use isopropyl alcohol on softer plastics, like the material often found on some palm rests, and it may cause issues with some key materials, so always try water first to see if it’ll suffice.
To clean the screen, we’ll return to our old friend, the microfiber cloth. For glass screens that have fingerprints, take a dry microfiber cloth and wipe the screen down with a little pressure. If the screen isn’t glass, use a light touch to gently wipe away any dust.  If the screen has more-stubborn residue, like sneeze drops or soda spots, dampen the cloth with water and wipe the screen again. Don’t ever spray water directly onto the screen. In our experience, special screen-cleaning sprays aren’t useful.
To remove sticker residue - start with a little water on a microfiber cloth to see if that’s enough to remove the residue. If it doesn’t work, experiment with a small amount of isopropyl alcohol.  If the alcohol doesn’t work, a product like Goo Gone might prove useful as a last resort, though we’ve always found that isopropyl alcohol works with most stickers. Goo Gone has the same cautions for nonporous plastics and can stain some surfaces.
 
  For A Deeper Cleaning: Depending on the type of laptop you own, you may be able to remove the bottom panel and clear out dust in the fans. This isn’t an issue with every laptop, but if you’ve noticed the fans on your computer kicking on more than usual or that they’re making strange sounds, then it’s worth cleaning. 
Power off your computer, and then remove the bottom panel. This requires a screwdriver, often one with a special bit for electronics. Remember where you remove each screw from—some laptops use different-length screws for different parts of the chassis. Once you have access to the bottom of the laptop, use short bursts of canned air to blow dust out of the laptop. Do the same to the vents and fans, but hold the fan blade in place to prevent it from spinning too fast. Once the dust is cleared out, you can replace the bottom panel and screws.
Note: Summarized from www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/, courtesy of Nancy Lewis
 
■  Got A Package You Didn’t Order? A Growing Internet Shopping Scam has recently become more prevalent.  The FTC and cyber experts have been warning consumers about “brushing” schemes.  Third-party sellers on Amazon, eBay and other online marketplaces pay people to write fake positive reviews about their products or do it themselves.  To be able to post the reviews, these “brushers” need to ‘trick’ the selling site into making it appear that a legitimate transaction took place.  So, they’ll use a fake account to place gift orders and address them to a random person whose name and address they find online.   This creates a tracking number, and when package is delivered, it allows the brushers to write a ‘verified review.’  If you’re on the receiving end, you are not charged for the item since it came as a “gift.”  But, you are left in the dark as to who is repeatedly sending the ‘mystery packages.’  Nothing bad has happened to you or will happen to you.  If you call the seller/shipper, they won’t know what’s transpired and will be confused.  It’s not illegal to send customers unordered merchandise as long as they are not billed for it.  But FTC has long gone after marketers that use fake reviews.  This is fraudulent activity.  Amazon’s policy prohibits this “brushing” activity, as do most other online marketing companies.  The ‘damage’ to all of us is the potential of ordering specific, quality merchandise but, in fact, end up buying inferior products due to the misleading reviews.  If you receive merchandise you did not order, inform the seller/shipper so they can delete the fake reviews and track down the offending person/s. 2
2  Note: Excerpt from San Jose Mercury News, Feb. 2021.
 
■  Minimize Windshield Wiper “chatter.”  The rainy season is upon us.   Even if your windshield wiper blades are in good condition, they can still “chatter/judder” as they sweep across your windshield in the rain.  Oil and other contaminants from the roadway are splashed up onto the glass as you drive.  These contaminants can settle at the far end of each blade’s sweep to create an small area of a different frictional quality.  Run your fingers over this contaminated area and you can feel this road film.  To eliminate this phenomenon, keep some hand wipe or lens cleaning towelettes handy in your glove box or center console.  When this irritating chatter occurs, simply use a moist, treated towelette to clean that road film off the glass.  Tip: During the Pandemic, retail stores, restaurants and other consumer services places will often have treated sanitation hand wipes for public use.  These will work as well.  Warning – do not use these sanitizing towelettes to wipe down your Infotainment Touch Screen in your car.  They could remove the Anti-Glare Coating applied by the manufacture and will make your screen more difficult to view due to increased glare.
 
■  To Write Superscripts/Subscripts in MS Word: A superscript is a character, symbol or number set slightly above the normal line of text. It is always smaller than the usual font and is typically found in mathematical or scientific formulas.  If you need a superscript in your Word document, here's how to go about it.
1. Click where you'd like the superscript to appear. If you already typed what you want in the superscript, highlight that number, character or symbol. 
2. Click the X2 button.  You can find the superscript button on the 'Home' tab. It's located near all the font options.
3. Type your superscript.  Type whatever you want to be included in your superscript. It should immediately be set above the normal text line and be smaller.
 
■  Clean and Lube Your Sliding Glass Door Track Guides: Open the door and vacuum the tracks. Use a vacuum attachment to reach into the corners of the tracks. Try to lift up any larger pieces of dirt or debris so that it's easier to complete the rest of the cleaning. 
  • Mix 1 cup (240 ml) of water with a drop of nonabrasive cleaner. Put a couple drops of cleaner, such as Murphy Soap, denatured alcohol, or dish soap, into a bucket with a cup of warm water. Mix the solution together.
  • Scrub the tracks with a nylon or wire brush and cleaning solution. If you don't have a wire brush, you can use a toothbrush instead. Dip the brush into the solution and scrub on the inside of the tracks. Work your way from one side of the tracks to the other and concentrate on problem areas where there is stuck-on dirt.
  • Wipe down the tracks with a rag or paper towels. Once you've scrubbed the tracks, wipe them down with a paper towel or dry rag. Remove any traces of dirt in the tracks.
  • Spray a silicone lubricant onto the tracks. It's important that you clean your tracks first before you lubricate them. You can purchase a silicone lubricant online or at a department store. Point the end of the nozzle towards the tracks and pull the trigger to spray the lubricant into the tracks.  Do not use a petroleum-based lubricant.  Those will attract dust and dirt and make the track sticky in the future.
  • Wipe down the tracks with a dry rag. Once you're done spraying the tracks, wipe down the excess lubricant with a rag. This will also help spread the lubricant so that it's equally distributed on your tracks.
  • Spray lubricant into the hole on the edge of the door. Your sliding glass will probably have a hole on the side. Look for the hole in the door over the tracks or on the inside of the door. Place the straw attached to the lubricant into the hole and press the trigger. This will lubricate the wheels that are inside of your door.
 
 UV Eyeglass Lenses:  Polarized Sunglass Lenses do not protect against UV light spectrum.  The only way to determine if the lenses are UV light filtering, always look for a label on the eyeglasses at the time of purchase.  The UV filtering option is available on prescription lenses merely by asking for the option.
 
■  How Much To Tip Hotel Concierge: Tip $5 to $10 for theater tickets or dinner reservations; $20 + for special services, no tip for standard services (opening doors, getting directions to a nearby destination, recommendations for places to dine, etc.).
 
■  Clothes Washer Steam Option: Consumer Reports does not recommend buying the Steam Option on new Washers/Dryers.  They can use up to 600% more energy and increase the amount of water by 18 more gallons used.  Yet, for all that, CR tests show no improvement in stain removal, washing capability or elimination of bacteria.
 
■  Retail Closing:  The entire chain of Fry’s Electronics has closed down by the end of February 2021.  There are no retail electronic parts and supplies stores left in the Bay Area.  This leaves Best Buy as last remaining Consumer Electronics and Computer Store chain store in the area.
 
Food News, Trends and Tips:
 
■  A Good Reason to Keep Your Kitchen Knives Sharp – Do you cry when cutting/chopping onions? This could be due to the use of dull knives.  A sharp blade will cut through the onion meat quickly, easily, cleanly and with much less ‘bruising or damage’ to the onion.  This means there will be less loss of onion juices onto your hands and cutting board.  It’s the fumes from the juices that irritate your eyes!
 
■  Brava Garden Eatery – This is a relatively new place on Main St. in downtown Pleasanton started in 2019 by a young couple from Argentina.  The menu is Italian with some Argentinean items added.  On Mondays, they feature more Argentinean items on the menu.  It’s nice to have Argetinean cuisine added to the Tri-Valley area.  The food is excellent.  Pastas are Al Dente.  Empanadas are moist and nicely filled.  They have a very nice patio out in back for outdoor dining under current Covid restrictions.  The space they occupy was formerly the Uptown Burger.  Reserved spaces in the adjoin parking lot still bear the Uptown Burger identity and are available for use by Brava customers.
 
■  Eataly is Coming to the Bay Area!  Eataly is an Italian Food Market complex featuring quality delis, bakeries, meat markets, restaurants, gelato shops, wine shops, etc., all housed in one convenient, multistory building.  This is a new development in the U.S.  They were started in 2007 in Turin, Italy.  There are now locations in NYC, Toronto, Boston, L.A., Las Vegas and now, Santa Clara.  They will be situated in the Westview Valley Fair Mall scheduled for opening later this year.  For more information about Eataly, go to: https://www.eataly.com/us_en/
 
■  Locanda Amalfi, Pleasanton is Now Open – This is the third restaurant by Enzo Rosano and joins sister restaurants Locanda Ravello, Danville and Locanda Positano, Lafayette.  Locanda Ravello seems to be very popular with the locals.  All three have outdoor seating that meet current Covid requirements for table service.
 
■  Campo Di Bocce Closes – By now, you may have heard that this interesting and entertaining dining venue in Livermore has closed, permanently.  Unfortunately, they are another ‘victim’ of the Pandemic.  Their Los Gatos location is “temporarily closed.”  Their future business may also be in jeopardy.  Only time and the Pandemic will determine if their Los Gatos location will survive.
 
■  Ostro, Scheduled to Open in Walnut Creek – It was just announced that this new restaurant will open in late 2021. This will be located in the now vacant space formerly occupied by Chili’s.  The principal owner behind Ostro is Feras Gaban, co-owner of Manakish Oven and Grill, a popular Mediterranean restaurant that opened in Walnut Creek a little over a year ago.  The exact concept and format is not yet been announced.
 
■  Augie’s Montreal Smoke Meat – Has moved from its original location to the former Brennan’s, 700 Essex Way, Berkeley, CA 94710.  Montreal smoke meats are well known in Canada and the Northeast.  Think of it as a slightly more spicy version of NYC deli Pastrami.  It’s excellent!  They also serve Smoked Turkey, Latkes, Cole Slaw, Poutine and Smoked Meat Mac & Cheese.
 
■  Eat ‘The Concord Taco Trail!’ – Per The Diablo Magazine, Concord has more than its fair share of good Taco places.  They suggest a culinary treat awaits folks willing to ‘eat the Concord Taco Trail!  There are far too many Tacquerias to list them all but they do recommend the following:  El Faro, Los Portales Tacqueria, Mercado Del Sol and Tortileria El Molino.  Ask for “Quesabirria,” a new taco ‘flavor’ of beef & cheese taco filling,.  It’s not on most menus but it is popular with the local folks.
 
■  Ghost Kitchen Concept Continues to Grow – The concept of a shared kitchen facility for smaller independent restaurants was started some years ago as a cost cutting measure.  The Pandemic has put even more pressure on restaurant owners to reduce costs during this very difficult period.  “Shared Kitchen” has recently opened to provide food prep services in the East Bay for Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen, Proposition Chicken, Mixt, Saucy Asian and Senor Sisig.  Recently opened Saga Kitchen produces all the menu items for 3 independent Asian restaurants in Alameda.  The Vine Kitchen, another shared facility unaffiliated with Local Kitchens, opened its doors last wee to supply San Jose restaurants Left Bank Brasserie, LB Steak, Mac’n Cheese Shop and Skewery by Meso.  There will be more ‘Ghost Kitchen’ operations opening in the near future as a way to combat rising labor costs.
 
■  2  New Restaurants Opening in The Veranda Shopping Center, Concord  – CRUMBAL COOKIES, A  high-concept cookie and  ice cream chain is opening its second Bay area location (the first is in Brentwood) this year in the Veranda Shopping Center.  CREPE LA FONTAINE, a creperie by the folks  behind Walnut Creek’s authentic French bakery, Brioche de Paris will be opening soon.
 

FEBRUARY 2021 CONSUMER TIPS
 
 Covid – 19 Vaccine Update
■  There is only one thing that can be said about the current vaccination program – it’s all screwed up.  There seems to be a total lack of any unified program to get the general population vaccinated.  There are many programs that seem to be operating independently of each other.  Worse, there is a shortage of the vaccines, themselves.  Fortunately, after signing up for our Covid Vaccine shots via 5 different websites/organization, we managed to get our first shot last week and only after another full week of trying to get reservations for our second shot, I finally succeeded after receiving a tip from Big SIR John Kent.  My advice to anyone still trying to get their vaccine shots – don’t be passive.  Be as aggressive as possible.  Sign up for every organization and website service that you can find.  Take the first ones that you can get, then fight like Hell for your second set of reservations.  Don’t worry about double booking or having to cancel later reservations.  The sites I hounded were Kaiser, Contra CostaHealth Services, 2 different Fire Districts, Alameda Health Services and Myoptumserve.com (OptumServe is the federal health business of Optum and UnitedHealth Group. We are proud to partner with the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs and other organizations to help advance the federal health system and improve the health and well- being of those we collectively serve.).  Contra Costa County came through for the first shot reservations and through Myoptumserve.com, we were able to get our reservations for our second shot to achieve maximum protection.
■  Face Masks – Always wear your face mask when away from home.  There is concern about the variants of the Covid – 19 Virus that appear to be more contagious.  Some medical authorities are recommending the wearing of two masks for added filtration.  Higher filtration masks (N-95 and KN-95) would be even more effective.  KN-95 masks are readily available from Amazon and Medical Supply Houses.  When shopping for KN-95, check the CDC website for the list of approved brands as a precaution against cheap, shoddy, knock-off masks.  And remember, good filtration still requires a good fit to the face!
■  Staying Informed – Obviously, listen to Dr. Fauci and other reputable science and medical people for latest Pandemic developments.  Another good source is “Getting Answers” on ABC Chan. 7, noon, weekdays.  Dr. Jennifer Ashton is a regular participant on this hour-long show.  Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is a regular on CNN.  Dr. Chin-Hong is a local Infectious Disease doctor often a guest on our local NBC station.
 
From the Latest Issue of Consumer Reports:
 
■  Membership Clubs Do Well on Pricing for Small Appliances
 
We asked (Consumer Reports) members about their overall satisfaction with a retailer as well as their views on price, selection, service, in-store atmosphere, and website usability.
The three national warehouse clubs—BJ’s Wholesale Club, Costco, and Sam’s Club—all earn the lowest mark for selection. Sam’s and BJ’s also rate lowest for service, along with Canadian Tire and Walmart. But all three warehouse clubs receive Very Good ratings for price. Here are more highlights:
  • Price: No small-appliance retailer gets our top rating, but nine receive favorable marks: Abt, Exchange, Costco, QVC.com, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Sam’s Club, JCPenney, and BJ’s Wholesale Club.
  • Selection: Abt and Amazon earn our top rating.
  • Service: Abt and Williams-Sonoma excel.
  • In-store atmosphere: Williams-Sonoma alone gets the highest mark.
  • Website usability: Abt receives our top rating.
 
■  Best and Worst Furniture Retailers
 
Of the 17 online furniture retailers scored, Room & Board and Costco.com boasted the highest ratings, with RH (Restoration Hardware) joining them toward the top of the chart. Ashley Furniture HomeStore was the lowest-rated online retailer. 
 
Walk-in furniture shoppers in our survey reported having the best experience at Stickley and Room & Board. Costco and independent retailers also received high marks overall. Among the worst-rated walk-in stores were Walmart and Ashley Furniture HomeStore.
 
According to the survey, in-store and online furniture shoppers have a lot in common. Both prioritize quality, style, and price over factors such as safety, eco-friendly materials, and whether products are made in the U.S. They also expressed similar opinions when describing their overall furniture shopping experience, which the overwhelming majority said left them feeling “highly satisfied.”
 
■  Countertop Microwaves
Countertop microwaves don’t require installation like OTR microwaves do, but they take up a fair amount of countertop real estate. Large countertop microwaves are typically about 2 feet wide, a foot high, and about a foot-and-a-half deep. Smaller models have a smaller footprint but tend to be underpowered and generally do not perform as well in our tests.
 
Microwaves from Breville, LG, Signature Kitchen Suite, Maytag, Hamilton Beach, and Insignia stand out as the most reliable brands—all six brands earn an Excellent rating. Five of the 32 other brands in our survey earn a Very Good rating.
 
Of the six top brands, only Breville earns an Excellent for owner satisfaction. Panasonic, which earns a middle-of-the-road Good rating for reliability, also receives an Excellent rating for owner satisfaction.
Two brands of countertop microwaves—KitchenAid and Whirlpool—receive a Fair or Poor rating for predicted reliability and, as a result, are not eligible to make our recommended list.
 
Most Common Countertop Microwave Flaws
Complaints about countertop microwaves are similar to those about OTRs. Failure to heat food properly and excessive noise top the list. Each affects 5 to 6 percent of the countertop microwaves owned by our members.

The next most common problems are control panel buttons that break or don’t work properly and microwaves that are slow to heat up food. However, overall these problems plagued only 3 percent of the countertop microwaves in our survey.

Here are the brands highlighted in our survey for specific problems:
  • Farberware, for having excessive noise.
  • Black & Decker, Danby, and Toshiba for heating food too slowly.
Reliability, ease of using controls, and how well microwaves heat food were the best predictors of members’ overall satisfaction with their countertop machines.

As a group, countertop microwaves tend to be a bit noisier than over-the-range models, although in our microwave tests, none earn a Poor rating. In our heating evenness tests, most countertop models earn an Excellent or Very Good rating, with the exception of small microwaves, which earn mediocre scores at best.
 
■  Over-the-Range Microwaves
An over-the-range microwave is a strategic choice if you’re short on counter space and like the fact that it doubles as a range hood (though typically an underpowered one). Replacing an OTR model can be a bit of an ordeal because you have to unbolt it from the wall and cabinets. So when your old one breaks, you’ll want to install a new one from a reliable brand.
 
OTR microwaves from Electrolux, Samsung, and Jenn-Air are likely to develop problems or break at a higher rate than their competitors, according to our survey. “Because of this, none of these brands can be recommended by Consumer Reports at this time,” says Tian Wang, a survey research associate.
 
Better bets are OTR microwaves from Hotpoint and Whirlpool, brands that earn an Excellent rating for predicted reliability. Of the 20 brands rated in our survey, 10 brands earn a Very Good reliability rating. Five brands get a Good reliability rating, which is high enough to retain their eligibility status for a recommended rating.
 
Three brands earn a Very Good rating for owner satisfaction—LG, Sharp, and Signature Kitchen Suite. No brand earns an Excellent rating on that measure. Of those three brands, only LG makes our recommended list
 
The Most Common OTR Flaws
The most frequently reported problems? Excessive noise, control panels that don’t work properly, and doors that don’t lock correctly. Six percent of the OTR microwaves had a problem with noise, and 5 percent had a broken or faulty control panel and/or door.
 
After that, the most common problems reported for OTRs by our members were microwaves that fail to heat food evenly. Members also reported problems with turntables, interior lights, exhaust fans, and cooling fans, but these problems affected only 2 to 3 percent of the microwaves.
  • Electrolux, in particular, stands out as one of the brands more likely to have problems with control panels and interior lights.
Other brands that stand out in our survey for having specific problems include:
  • Samsung, for having broken controls.
  • Magic Chef, for being too noisy.
  • Jenn-Air, for faulty control panels.
We also asked our members what they like about their OTR microwaves. We found that the attributes that most affect members’ overall satisfaction with their OTR microwave were reliability, how well it heats food, ease of using the controls, appearance, noise, variety of features, and venting capabilities. On the attribute of appearance, four brands rose to the top for how they look—Bosch, Jenn-Air, KitchenAid, and Sharp. Bosch and Sharp also get a thumbs-up for quiet operation.
 
Consumer Reports tests microwaves for performance, including whether or not a microwave heats evenly and how noisy it is when operating on the highest setting. To avoid problems, opt for a model that aces these tests. There are plenty to choose from.
 
Refrigerators:
■  Top-Freezers
Short on style and features, this traditional configuration offers the best value. Only 5 percent of refrigerators in CR’s survey are top-freezers.
Top-freezers, as a category, have the highest predicted reliability. Despite these high marks, most top-freezer brands are rated low in terms of owner satisfaction.

Within the category, seven of the nine brands earned an Excellent rating for predicted reliability: Amana, Frigidaire, Kenmore, LG, Maytag, Samsung, and Whirlpool. But only LG received a positive owner satisfaction rating (earning a Very Good), making it the best top-freezer brand to choose.

GE and Hotpoint top-freezers got Very Good ratings for predicted reliability, but both brands received Poor ratings for owner satisfaction.

■  Bottom-Freezers
These refrigerators aren’t as widely sold as French-door and side-by-side models—in fact, they make up only 6 percent of the models in our survey—but they do provide a slightly more upscale look than top-freezers.
The best bottom-freezer brand is LG, which earned an Excellent rating for predicted reliability and a Very Good rating for owner satisfaction. Kenmore also received an Excellent predicted reliability rating, but just Good for owner satisfaction. Four more brands—Amana, Fisher & Paykel, GE, and KitchenAid—also earned a Very Good score for predicted reliability, but Fisher & Paykel was the only one to also earn a Very Good rating for owner satisfaction.
 
Two brands, Maytag and Whirlpool, received a rating of Good for reliability, while Leibherr got an unfavorable Fair rating. All but two brands received a Good or Very Good for owner satisfaction. The outliers are GE and Leibherr, which received Fair ratings for satisfaction.
 
■  French-Doors
This configuration, which gives you side-by-side doors for the fresh-food section that don’t swing out as far as a bottom-freezer’s doors, has become the most widely sold refrigerator type in recent years. That’s confirmed by our survey, in which 59 percent of refrigerators our members purchased over the past 10 years were French-door models.
Despite their popularity, no French-door brand earned above a rating of Good for predicted reliability, but 13 of the 17 brands in our results received a Good rating. The 13 brands are Amana, Bosch, Café (made by GE), Fisher & Paykel, GE, Jenn-Air, Kenmore, KitchenAid, LG, Maytag, Monogram (made by GE), Signature Kitchen Suite (a subsidiary of LG), and Whirlpool. All but LG and Signature Kitchen Suite also earned a rating of Good for owner satisfaction. Those two brands received satisfaction ratings of Very Good.
 
You’ll probably want to avoid Electrolux in this configuration because it received ratings of Poor for both predicted reliability and owner satisfaction. Frigidaire and Viking also received Poor ratings for satisfaction, but Fair ratings for reliability. Samsung is the only brand that received Fair ratings for both reliability and satisfaction.
 
  Side-by-Sides
Only 24 percent of refrigerators in our survey were side-by-sides, which are ideal for tight kitchens because of their narrow doors that swing out to each side. All but three side-by-side brands received a rating of Good for predicted reliability, including Amana, Frigidaire, GE, Kenmore, KitchenAid, LG, Maytag, Samsung, and Whirlpool. No brand received a higher reliability rating.
 
In fact, all but one brand rated Fair or Poor for owner satisfaction. The exception? LG, which managed to rate Good for both reliability and satisfaction. On the lower end, Bosch, Café, and Electrolux earned a Fair rating for reliability and a Poor score for satisfaction.
 
■  Built-Ins
This upscale configuration sits flush with kitchen cabinetry, providing a seamless look. Many models are also “panel ready,” meaning you can attach panels to the front that match your cabinetry. Only 4 percent of refrigerators in our survey were built-ins.
 
In terms of predicted reliability, the best built-in brands are Frigidaire and Thermador, which got reliability ratings of Excellent. But for owner satisfaction, Frigidaire received a Fair rating, while Thermador received a Very Good rating. Bosch, Jenn-Air, and Sub-Zero received reliability ratings of Very Good and satisfaction ratings of Good for the first two and Excellent for the third.
 
Despite its name recognition, Viking anchors the bottom of our results, rating Poor for reliability and satisfaction. A step up is Liebherr, which got a reliability rating of Fair but a satisfaction rating of Good.
 
The remaining brands fill out the middle of the pack with a Good score for predicted reliability. Those nine brands are Café, Electrolux, GE, KitchenAid, LG, Miele, Monogram, Samsung, and Signature Kitchen Suite. For owner satisfaction, Miele received a Very Good rating, while Café, GE, and Monogram received a Fair and Electrolux received a Poor. The rest received Good ratings for owner satisfaction.
 
Amazon and Amazon Prime Items:
■   Amazon Prime Benefits at Whole Foods – Prime Members receive special pricing concessions at all Whole Foods Stores.  The quickest and easiest way to identify yourself as a Prime Member is to download the Amazon Prime App on your Smartphone.  There is a scanner at each checkout station.  Simply pull up this app and click on “Whole Foods” near the top, left hand corner.  A QR Code will appear.  Scan this graphic code and you will automatically receive any and all special pricing or sale advantages currently in use for Prime Members as you check out.
■  Lightweight, Expandable Garden Hose From Amazon - Water Hose with Heavy Duty, Solid Brass Fittings - Strongest Durable Stretch Material - Hose Spray Nozzle - no Kink Garden Hose black (50 FT @ $19.99 (free shipping Prime Members) is a lightweight, easily stored, super flexible/collapsible/expanding, kink resistant garden hose made of double latex pipe and stretch polyester fabric.  It comes with a Pistol Grip Spray Nozzle with 10 Spray Patterns.  This is great for light-duty jobs such as car washing, hand watering a small garden, clearing the walkway or driveway of light debris, etc.  This comes with its own compact storage bag for easy portability.  Check it out: https://tinyurl.com/y4t8jeyp
■  Rechargeable Hand Warmer – This is a unique, double-use item.  OCOOPA makes a 10,000mAh Rechargeable, Electric Hand Warmer that doubles as a Power Bank.  It will provide 15hrs Long Lasting Heat, 3 Levels of heat – fully controlled heat in just 3 seconds.  As a Power Bank, it will provide more than two charges for iPhone XS or Galaxy S10, and over one charge for iPad mini 5. It’s small, pocket-sized and super easy to use.  Joyce uses it here at home for her hand arthritis.  I use on cold mornings playing golf and tennis.  This high capacity battery price is $34.99.  A smaller unit (5200mAh) is $26.99.  Shipping is free for Prime Members.  See it at Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y56bhjuc.
 
General Consumer Items
■  Online Security – Stay especially vigilant in these trying days to protect your identity and private information.  Phishing is the fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information or data, such as usernames, passwords and credit card details or other sensitive details, by impersonating oneself as a trustworthy entity in a digital communication. Typically carried out by email spoofing, instant messaging, and text messaging, phishing often directs users to enter personal information at a fake website which matches the look and feel of the legitimate site.  Phishing emails have more than doubled in the last 18 months.  In my own email account, 6 of 17 incoming emails in one day were Phishing attempts.  Here are simple things you can do to guard against this type of fraud attempts:
1. Look at the “sender” address.  It should never be a person’s email address.
2. Look for grammatical and spelling errors – sure signs of an amateur at work and, therefore, not authentic.
3. Ask yourself, is it plausible?  I’ve been asked to verify account information ‘by a bank’ that we have never done business with!
4. Perhaps the best idea, never use the link they provide.  Instead, use a new tab or page on your browser and go directly the official web page you would normally use.  When you get there, you can check on your account activity and any possible warnings or messages from the business will be there.  This way, you will be safe and secure.  Using the provided link will take you to a fake website and anything you give them will then be ‘stolen.’
 
■  Personal Appearance – According to the fashion experts, when meeting new people, the things that people notice the most at first glance are your hair and your shoes.  So, when attending an important meeting or other public appearances, make sure you have your hair well groomed and your shoes in good condition!
 
■  Commercially Packaged Orange Juice – Tastes better if is first aerated just before consuming.  This is easy enough to do.  Simply shake it vigorously in the bottle or carton before pouring it into your glass.  Two other ways – use a wine aerator or use a battery operated milk frother used to make fancy Espresso Coffee drinks.  Air whipped into the orange juice enhances the flavor Coffee.
 
■  Peeling a Tangerine – Tangerines, aka California Cuties, are typically a very easy citrus fruit to peel.  However, there can be some difficulty getting it started.  Tip – start at the bottom of the fruit instead of at the top stem area.  The rind is softer and easier to pierce with your finger nail at that point.  Once started, the rest is easy!
 
■ Good Things to Try From Trader Joes
 
If you like Clam Chowder, try their Refrigerated Clam Chowder.  It’s creamy, relatively low in fat and sodium but high in flavor.  It’s economical, 20 oz. @ $4.49, each.  Another good soup is their Garden Vegetable Soup, a 25.75-ounce jar for just $3.99.  It is an incredibly hearty version of vegetable soup.  Find it on the shelf along with their other canned and boxed soups and broths.
 
If you like pizza, try making it using TJ’s Pizza Crust, Pizza Sauce and various shredded cheeses and simply add any topping you like!  The Pizza Crust is already baked (think flat bread) and is packaged 2 per pack, 6” x16” rectangular crusts @ $2.99/package.  This shape is very similar to the way the Pizza Shops in Rome bake their huge selection of pizzas.  It’s not thin crust but it’s not really thick crust, either.  Look for it in the bread section. The Giotto’s Fat Free Pizza Sauce is perfect in taste and viscosity per 16 oz. jar at $1.99, each.  It’s high in flavor but not too spicy so that it doesn’t overpower the finished product.  Find it on the shelf along with other pasta sauces.  TJ’s also offers a wide variety of shredded cheeses.  I like Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio (Translated, “Four Cheeses”).  It’s a blend of Parmesan, Asiago, Fontina and Provolone. The Parmesan and Asiago are hard cheeses. The Fontina is very soft and the Provolone is a slicing cheese. Parmesan has a mild flavor and Fontina is very mild. Asiago is a little tangier than Parmesan and the Provolone is probably the stinkiest of the quad. What that adds up to is a super nice blend of Italian cheese that have a wide variety of uses and works perfectly for pizzas.  A 12 oz. resealable bag is $4.99.  There are a number of sliced processed meats you can select from for your toppings.  Cut the crust into desired sized slices, smear the sauce on the crust and add the cheese and choice of toppings.  Bake in a Convection Toaster Oven, air fryer or place in a fry pan at medium low heat with lid on and heat until the cheese has melted and the toppings are hot.
 

JANUARY 2021 CONSUMER TIPS
 
■  Ancient Trivia – Where is the oldest Chinese restaurant in the U.S?  No, it’s not in San Francisco or New York.  It’s the Pekin Noodle Parlor, Butte Montana, opened in 1911 and is still open, today.  It is still owned and operated by the same family.  However, because of the Pandemic, they’re not sure how much longer they can hang on.  I was born in Butte in 1938 and we knew the family.  My parents ran a tailoring shop in Butte just a block away from the Pekin (that spelling is not correct but that’s what the family chose at the time).  At that time, ethnic Chinese made up almost 10% of the Butte population.  My mother specialized in making Cowboy Shirts.  Her order book has all the measurements, notes and history of her customers that included Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Wyatt Earp, Will Rogers and many lesser folks.
 
■  Ratings of Services and Businesses – How do you find a good Electrician, Handyman, Plumber, Carpenter, Auto Repair Service, AC Service, etc.?  You could try the following rating services online:  Yelp, Google, Diamond Certified, BBB, County/City Licensing Boards and Angies List.
 
■  Product Reviews – When looking for product reviews of things like large/small appliances, household goods, automotive items, etc., Cnet.com, Wirecutter.com, Amazon website and Consumer Reports Magazine and online summaries.  Amazon lists customer reviews of all the products it sells.  This information can be very helpful and it’s very easy to navigate their web pages to find these reviews.
 
■  20# Propane Tank Refill – When it’s time to refill your empty propane tanks, try using Ace Hardware (aka Richert Lumber) exchange program.  They charge $18.87 for a full filled 20 lb. tank.  Most other exchange programs only fill their tanks to ¾ full, approximately 15 lbs. at $20 or more.  The Ace Hardware is a much better buy!
 
■  Face Mask Fit – If you regularly wear eyeglasses, fogging of the lenses often occur.  To reduce this potential vision hazard, remove your glasses before putting your mask on.  Put the mask on.  Pull the top of the mask slightly high and your put glasses on top of top edge of mask.  This will help ‘seal’ the top fit of the mask to reduce or avoid fogging.
 
■  Extend Shelf Life of Mushrooms – Fresh mushrooms have a very short shelf life in the refrigerator.  Sauté or par boil/blanch the mushrooms and thoroughly dry them to extend their shelf life.
 
■  Camera Position When Using Video Conferencing Webinars, etc. – When prepping for use of Zoom, Skype, Face Time, Duo or other video conferencing calls/meetings on your cell phone or laptop, place the camera at or very near eyelevel to avoid the camera “looking up your nose.” 
 
■ Amazon Echo Show - Staying in touch with senior members of a family can be very challenging if they are not competent at operating a computer or Smartphone.  The Amazon Echo Show is a good alternative for those that are technology challenged.  Although it boasts of being one of the most advanced communication devices in the market, Amazon Echo Show is uncomplicated and relatively easy to use.  Amazon Echo Show is a smart 8” HD screen with an integrated smart home hub that allows seniors to make video calls easily. This device comes with built-in Alexa, which allows the elderly to make a video call through voice activation. The seniors will just need to orally instruct the device to call a specific person or persons, and if the people are in the contact list, the video call will be patched through to them.  In addition to the video call feature, the Echo Show Can be used to perform a wide range of other functions.  It can be used to manage voice control enabled devices in your homes, such as security cameras, thermostats, and lights.  It can also be used to display your albums from Amazon photos and showcase step-by-step cooking recipes.
 
■  Plastic Bowl Lids Make Good Splatter Shields – Disposable bowls used in restaurant takeout orders for soups, salads and other foods requiring a wide-mouth container will likely have a snap-on plastic lid varying in size from 5” to 7.5” in diameter.  After consuming the food in the bowl, save the lid.  These make excellent splatter guards for use in microwave ovens.  Best of all, they’re free to you and you’ll be practicing recycling!
 
■ Open Sealed Package Wrapping on Candy and Snacks Easily – Instead of looking for the serrated edge of the wrapper, grasp the sealing seam of the package and pull it apart.  It is ‘welded’ close with an adhesive.  This seam will open with less effort.  Best of all, it will separate in a predictable path and manner.  You can avoid spilling the contents or crumbs from the package because access to the contents will be very wide and you will be able to withdraw the contents easily.  You may also avoid crushing the contents as well.
 
■ How to Clean Your Dishwasher – This procedure is too complex to describe here.  Instead, go to the following website: https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/how-to-clean-your-dishwasher/.  (contributed  by Nancy Lewis)
 
■  Lease Car Turn In Detail – When your lease is up on a leased car, there are contract details that must be met or extra charges may apply.  Most lease contracts will stipulate a required tread depth of no less than 4/32” upon return, plus no damage that would render the tires unsafe. So if your leased vehicle's tires are worn out, you'll definitely want to replace them before returning the vehicle.  How much will you have to pay? The exact fees for any excess wear will not be included in your lease contract; they will be determined when you return the vehicle. Usually, this fee will be the cost of replacing the worn or damaged tires. What’s more, the cost will be the dealership’s price, which can be the highest in town. Depending on the make and model of the vehicle, charges could be upwards of $400 per tire!  You may want to take care of this detail before turning the vehicle in.  When replacing the tires on your lease, be sure to replace them with tires of the same size and specifications as the OE (Original Equipment). This information is found on the tires themselves, as well as on the vehicle’s door placard, a sticker found in the driver’s side door jamb. In most cases, you’ll be expected to have a matching set, or at least matches on the back and front respectively. They may have used tire sets for use as replacement tires that could be at a significant savings over a new set of tires.
 
■  Easy Way To Pay Someone –  If you owe a friend a sum of money for various reasons or buy something from someone, the Zelle App is a very easy and quick way to pay up.  The Zelle App is easy, fast, safe and convenient to use from your Smartphone.  Forget running to the ATM or mailing a check. With Zelle, you can send and receive money with peace of mind. Safely and easily send money to people you know through your trusted banking app - or the Zelle app if your bank doesn’t currently offer Zelle.  Pick a person to pay.  Once you enroll, all you need to send money with Zelle is the preferred email address or mobile number of the trusted recipient.  Enter the amount you want to send. If your recipient is already enrolled with Zelle, the money will go directly into their bank account, typically in minutes. If they aren’t enrolled yet, they will get a notification explaining how to receive the money simply and quickly.  Again, it’s quick, secure and easy to use.  And, there does not seem to be any charges to the sender or the receiver of the funds.  I use it to pay my son when he goes grocery shopping for us.  Dan Poulin uses it to make and receive payments in his Fantasy Football activity.  He has also collected NCGA fees from our golfing members wanting to renew their NCGA dues for 2021.
 
■  Calibrate Your Cooking or Household Thermometer – Simply fill a cup or glass with ice cubes and fill with tap water.  Wait a few minutes for the water to cool to its lowest temperature.  Immerse the probe of your thermometer into this cold liquid.  It should read 32°F.  If it reads higher/lower than that, many of these thermometers can be adjusted to give a true reading.  Some digital, instant-read units have a calibration mode.  Analog units often have a locking nut on the back of the face that can be loosened and the dial turned to align with the 32° mark.
 
■  Costco Good Buys – 1. 2017 Kirkland Pinot Noir is an excellent sample of this popular varietal for just $6.99, in the Wine Section!  2. A package of 12 Croissants at $4.99 in the Bakery Department is an outstanding buy.  The pastry is excellent for a bargain price.  It will be even better if you put it in your Convection Toaster Oven or Air Fryer for a very few minutes.  Warning – it will be so flaky and tender that it will make a big mess when you eat it.  You may want to eat it outside or leaning over a sink to minimize cleanup.
 
■ Top 10 Hot Dogs to Buy – According to a panel of taste testers, per WashingtonPost.com, the top 10 hot dogs fall in the ranking shown below.  Taste, ‘snap,’ texture and overall customer appeal were considered.  Price was not a consideration.
 1.  Costco Kirkland Beef Hot Dog – 93 score
 2. Nathan’s Angus Beef Franks – 84
 3. Oscar Meyer Classic Beef Uncured Franks – 82
 4. Trader Joe’s Uncured Beef Hot Dog - 73
 5. Wellshire Sugar-Free All Natural Uncured Beef Frank – 72
 6. Whole Foods 365 Uncured Beef Hot Dogs – 71
 7. Ball Park Beef Hot Dogs – 68
 8. Safeway Signature Select Beef Franks – 68
 9. Dietz & Watson Deli Beef Franks – 67
10. Hebrew National Beef Franks – 67
 
■ Catalytic Converter Thefts – The theft of Catalytic Converters is at an all time high.  Why?  First, it takes as little as 3 minutes to cut one out of a vehicle using a powerful, cordless saw with a metal-cutting blade.  Second, they are easy to sell at scrap yards due to the rare metals inside the converter unit.  Thieves can easily make $200 - $450 for each unit.  The Prius is a prime target because it has 2 catalytic converters.  Vehicles, mostly SUV and pickup trucks are prime targets because of their higher ground clearance (approx. 9”) making it easier to gain access to the units quickly while the vehicle is parked.  The cost of replacement varies from $945 to $2475 (Prius typically is $1800).  To avoid theft, always park in well lighted areas or in an enclosed space.  Muffler shops can also install a Catalytic Converter Security Plate at a cost starting at about $250.
 
■  Lip Protection – Most folks are aware of the need to apply sun block lotions and sprays to much of our bodies for protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays.  But don’t forget the lips!  I speak from experience.  To date, I’ve had to undergo two procedures (Moh’s Surgery and Topical Chemotherapy) for Squamous Carcinoma, the second most common form of skin cancer.  Both procedures are painful and very unpleasant.
 
■  Upgrade to 5G ? – For those folks that are bent on owning the latest and greatest technology things, the following may surprise you!  In the ads, 5G means blazing fast speeds—download a movie in mere seconds!—and more reliable service in crowded places, such as airports and sports stadiums. The goal is to convince customers to take part in the “5G revolution” and buy new Smartphones.  The carriers all have maps showing how many cities already have 5G, but that can be misleading. The fine print says “actual coverage may vary.” It means the super-fast 5G coverage is limited to specific areas in that city—in some cases, just a few blocks or even specific buildings.  Consider these published summary comments about the subject:  1. “Generally, we're seeing exaggerated claims, claims that tout the breadth and depth of 5G service that's just not yet available to consumers,” said Bonnie Patten, executive director of TruthInAdvertising.org.  2. Brian X. Chen, consumer technology reporter at The New York Times, struggled to find 5G service in San Francisco when he reviewed the new iPhone 12 in October. He criticizes the wireless carriers for not being transparent and over-promising what 5G can do in these early stages of deployment.  “If they're going to call it a technology revolution, I'm going to call it a revolution happening in slow motion, because everything they're hyping up and raving about has yet to happen,” Chen told Checkbook. “The super-fast speeds they talk about are accessible in a very, very small portion of the country. The rest of the country is going to get something that's way more modest.”  3. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon insist they are not trying to mislead customers, but as Patten points out, the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau “has repeatedly determined the three major wireless carriers have engaged in false and deceptive marketing of 5G.”  4. PCMag.com tested 5G in 26 cities and found it to be “disappointing all around, on every carrier,” editor Sascha Segan wrote.  Based on PCMag’s extensive testing, Segan told Checkbook: “5G is really nothing to write home about at this time. In some cases, its slower than 4G.”  Verizon has “superfast” 5G, but almost no coverage, and he said it’s pretty hard to find any AT&T 5G service “that gives you a fresh experience.”  Segan found that T-Mobile’s mid-band 5G, available in some parts of some cities, does give “a serious performance boost,” providing download speeds that are two or three times faster than 4G
Note: The above are excerpts from the current issue of Consumers Checkbook.
 
■  Hazardous Waste Disposal - Old batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, oil paints, chemicals used in pest-killing, household tasks, etc.: Anything labeled “Caution,” “Danger,” or “Poison” needs to be disposed of at a facility that handles hazardous household waste. To find one near you, visit Earth911.com and enter your Zip code.  Also, for Contra Costa County Household Hazardous Waste Program, call (800) 750-4096, select Option #1. 
 

DECEMBER 2020  CONSUMER  TIPS
 
Miscellaneous Holiday Dinner Preparations and Cleanup
 
Yes, Thanksgiving has come and gone.  But, there is still Christmas dinner yet to come, shortly.  Use the following for Christmas or save them for future use, next year!
 
Make Your Own Cranberry Relish. Typically, Canned Cranberry Sauce/Relish lacks real zip or bright flavors.  I recommend you make your own.  It’s simple, easy and quick to make.  All you need is 1 package of fresh (or frozen berries), 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water or orange juice.  Use a 1.5 qt. saucepan to bring all the water ingredients to a boil.  Simmer the mixture until most of the cranberries have burst, approximately 10 minutes.  Use a whisk or slotted ladle to stir everything to promote the individual berries to break up.  Optional, add some lemon zest for added flavor.  Your finished product will be much brighter in both flavor and color with a much more pleasing texture.
 
Check Label for Frozen Turkey Ingredients.  Frozen turkeys are plentiful and inexpensive and can be put away in the freezer for a long time.  Fresh and frozen turkeys can benefit from being brined before roasting.  Brined meats and fowl will be more moist, more tender and often, more flavorful.  However, check the label on your bird.  If it is a “Butterball” or has been injected with other ingredients, do not brine.  Those processes by the poultry processors are a form of chemical brining.  ‘Double brining’ is not a good idea.  For more information about brining and a recipe for the brine, Google the term on the Internet.
 
■  Cleaning Fine Wine Glasses: Many people wash their fine wine glasses b hand.  But, as it turns out, hand washing is not the best way to clean wine glasses.  Manufacturers of even the thinnest, most expensive stemware recommend washing wine glasses in the dishwasher. Counterintuitive as it may seem, you’re far more likely to break delicate stemware when you’re washing it by hand.  But there are some steps you should take to extend the life and shine of your wine glasses if you wash them in the dishwasher. 
  • Dishwasher detergent: Whatever you have on hand is probably fine. If you really care about the lifespan of your glassware, get something that allows you to control the dose, such as a powder detergent (not tablets or gel packs), since too much detergent can etch the glass over time.
  • Rinse aid: This helps prevent your glasses from coming out cloudy or covered in water spots. We like Finish Jet-Dry, but you don’t need it if your detergent (like most Finish tabs) already includes rinse aid.
  • Bottle brush: If you must wash your wine glasses by hand, using a bottle brush is the safest way to do so. We like the soft, durable OXO Good Grips Bottle Brush.
  • Dish soap: We like Seventh Generation Dish Liquid because that dish soap cleans well and is unscented.
  • Polishing cloth: If you want to get your glasses really sparkling, a microfiber polishing cloth will erase smudges more easily than a cotton kitchen towel and won’t leave lint behind.
  • Hot water: For tough spots, it helps to steam the glass first by holding it over a cup of hot water.
Source: Summary of an article on Wirecutter.com; submitted by Nancy Lewis
 
Consumer Tips:
 
Ziploc Seal Closure:  Avoid a poor sealing of this type of plastic bag by using a technique that is foolproof.  Instead of starting from one end of the seal strip and squeezing the Ziploc mechanism shut while running your fingers all the way to the opposite end, try this: start in the middle of the seal and squeeze with your thumb and first finger until you feel and hear a noticeable ‘click’ indicating closure at that point.  Repeat this procedure at about every 1.5” for the entire seal length.  Finally, squeeze and run the entire length of the seal between your thumb and first finger.  If you don’t do these initial, individual, spot seals, the ‘seal mechanism’ can and will jump the track and fold over onto itself without producing a seal.
 
 
Face Masks worn for Covid-19 protection don’t last forever: Both reusable cloth and disposable paper filter face masks can be cleaned for extended life.  Reusable cloth masks can simply be machine-washed.  Laundry detergent will kill Covid 19 viruses.  For the paper filter of the commercial paper face mask, gently hand-wash the using dishwasher detergent.  Replace your mask when you notice the elastic band loses its elastic quality and fails to hold your mask in place for a good fit, or if you notice fraying and tears in the filter material.  The best way to check this is to hold the mask up to sunlight or some other bright light source and observe how much light comes through.  If the material remains relatively opaque, it’s still good.  If it is somewhat transparent (lets lots of light through the material), it’s time to replace the mask.  This is, essentially, the same method for checking your AC/furnace filters for replacement.
 
Care and Maintenance of Windshield Wiper Blades: Winter is finally here!  Check your windshield wipers on your vehicles.  Use a clean rag moistened with Rubbing Alcohol (aka denatured alcohol) to clean the wiper blade leading edge that contacts the windshield.  If that does not improve the blades performance, replace them.  TIP: Put some disposable hand cleaning or eyeglass towlettes in your glove box or Center Console Bin for quick, easy access.  Use these to spot clean the windshield if and when your wiper blades begin to make a ’chattering’ sound or motion as the wiper blades sweeps the glass.
 
■  Download Text/OCR App Onto Your Smartphone: When reading a newspaper, book or magazine or even a menu in a restaurant that you would like to be able to refer to for future use, you can easily and quickly use your Smartphone to scan it and record it .Simply go the the App Store for your type of instrument (Apple, Droid, Microsoft, Amazon) and download the App/s.  They are often found in the ‘Utilities’ part of the App Store.  They may have “OCR” in the name of the App listed.  Simply scan the text material and let the App convert it into a savable text file.  You can, then, Copy/Paste any or part of the text for use in email messages or for use in any document you are writing.  This is much better than simply taking a simple photo of the text you want to save because you cannot use Copy/Paste format to manipulate the text information for incorporation into whatever you are writing.  Note: I use an OCR Scanning App on my Samsung Android phone to produce a good portion of each month’s Consumer Tips.  It saves me time, effort and reduces errors by scanning and using “Cut/Paste” technique to assemble and format the information from various print media sources.
 
■  Download Home Depot App: If you are a handy person, you are probably familiar with Home Depot and shop them for parts and supplies for your various projects around the house.  My son is in the process of converting his van into an RV.  He gets a lot of his tools, supplies and hardware from Home Depot.  He uses this App frequently to check stock, prices and inventory.  Best of all, the App will tell him where (aisle & bay) and how many/much they have of any given item being sought.  It’s free and easy to use.
 
■  Confused About What Cooking Oils To Use?
 In 2003, two small-scale studies claimed that coconut oil could decrease belly fat and increase metabolism. Over the next decade, the newly christened health food blew up in the wellness world. People were cooking just about everything with it, blending it into smoothies, and stirring it into their coffee. Advocates and some research credited it with the power to clear up acne, lower cholesterol, and even improve memory. A 2016 survey of 2,000 Americans showed that 72 percent rated coconut oil as healthy.  But coconut oil contains over 50 percent more saturated fat per serving than butter. In 2017, the American Heart Association released an advisory statement suggesting that people ease off their coconut oil consumption, citing the link between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease. The following year, Harvard epidemiology professor Karin Michels made headlines when she called the oil “pure poison” in a lecture at the University of Freiburg.
 
Colorado-based Kylee Van Horn, a registered dietitian nutritionist, encourages skepticism about coconut oil’s health benefits. “It’s still hotly debated in the health professionals world,” she says. Pure MCT oil, which has demonstrable health benefits, is often derived from coconut oil, Van Horn explains, so the two get lumped together, but just 14 percent of coconut oil is made up of MCTs. Much of the research cited in favor of coconut oil is actually conducted on purer forms of MCT—including the two studies that started the buzz in 2013.
Other claims—like the idea that coconut oil promotes belly fat loss—stem from small-scale studies or have been taken out of context. For instance, the idea that coconut oil can improve cholesterol levels is misguided, Van Horn explains. It does offer a small boost in good cholesterol (HDL), which our body needs to regulate overall cholesterol levels and clean out arteries, but that bump is far outweighed by a major increase in bad cholesterol (LDL).
 
At best, the hype around coconut oil is overblown, but you don’t have to throw out your jar. Just use it the same way you would butter or bacon fat: sparingly. In moderation, it can be a fine addition to a well-rounded diet that includes healthy fats from a wide variety of sources. Aim for oils that are higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which help reduce bad cholesterol and are critical to normal bodily functions.
Here’s a guide to navigating the cooking oil aisle. The below options each contain roughly 40 to 45 calories per teaspoon and four to five grams of fat and can liven up your cooking while boosting your health in the process.
 
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil:  Good old-fashioned olive oil is a kitchen staple, and there’s no need to cut it out of your diet. It’s made up almost entirely of monounsaturated fat, specifically oleic acids, which are high in phenolic antioxidants. (Avocado and hazelnut oil are good sources as well.) Van Horn points out that these are beneficial to overall health, thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties. Olive oil has a relatively low smoke point—the temperature at which an oil will begin to burn and change flavor—of 320 degrees, so it’s rarely used for baking, but it’s ideal for most other applications, like sautéing or as a base in salad dressings and marinades. Plus, it’s one of the cheaper oils you can buy.
 
Avocado Oil:  Its smooth, buttery flavor makes avocado oil great in salad dressings and for all sorts of cooking, according to dietitian and ultrarunner Amy Tribolini. Thanks to an extremely high smoke point of 500 degrees, it’s one of the most versatile oils for baking, frying, sautéing, and even grilling. Plus, it’s composed primarily of heart-friendly monounsaturated fat. While avocado oil is a bit pricier than olive oil, it’s the most multipurpose option on this list.
 
Hazelnut Oil:  Hazelnut oil works well for baking and roasting, having a high smoke point of 430 degrees. Try it drizzled on some sweet potatoes sprinkled with cinnamon for a tasty treat. A teaspoon provides 3.5 grams of inflammation-fighting monounsaturated fat. It’s also high in vitamin E. Hazelnut oil has a roasted, nutty flavor and works well as a topper for your morning bowl of oatmeal or a sweet rice dish. Just be sure not to use it in anything you wouldn’t want tasting like hazelnuts.
 
Macadamia Oil:  Macadamia oil boasts an even balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as heart health–boosting antioxidants. Like hazelnut oil, macadamia oil has a slightly nutty taste, but with buttery notes rather than a roasted flavor. The delicate flavor doesn’t hold up well to high heat, but it’s an excellent finishing oil or salad dressing base. Try it atop grilled vegetables or shellfish or as a vegan substitute to mimic butter in lower-temperature sautéed or pan-fried dishes.
 
Canola Oil:  The wellness world overlooks canola oil because it’s typically highly refined and thus stripped of antioxidants and vitamins. Plus, it’s associated with fried food. But of all the oils on this list, canola is the highest in polyunsaturated fat—1.2 grams—and it contains 2.8 grams of monounsaturated fat. With a high smoke point of 400 degrees and a completely neutral flavor, it’s a good choice for frying or baking, but it won’t add much to your salad dressings or sautées. In the United States, an estimated 95 percent of canola oil is made with genetically engineered crops, so opt for an organic expeller-pressed option if you’re concerned about GMOs.
 
Source: Molly Hurford is a fitness + nutrition writer, wanna-be ultra-runner, cycling coach and occasional yoga instructor. She's also the author of the Shred Girls series
 
■  6 ways to keep your immune system healthy
Your immune system plays a vital role in keeping you healthy. It’s your personal line of defense against sickness, infections, and disease. And as we face daily challenges due to COVID-19, it’s important now more than ever to make sure your immune system is at its peak. Here are steps you can take to help keep your immune system healthy.
1. Protect yourself from infectious diseases
  • When your immune system is working to kill a virus or disease, it can take a toll on your overall health. So, it’s important to avoid infections whenever possible. For example, wearing a face covering when in public will help prevent your exposure to COVID-19 — and help protect those around you. Other things you can do to protect yourself include:
  • Practice proper hygiene
  • Wash your hands, avoid touching your face, and shower or bathe regularly.
  • Get vaccinated
  • One of the best ways to strengthen your immune system is by staying up to date on your vaccinations — especially during this year’s upcoming flu season. Because it’s possible to get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, getting your flu shot will help reduce your risk of getting the flu — which will help keep your immune system healthy.
  • Attend recommended health screenings
  • Health conditions like heart disease or type 2 diabetes can weaken your immune system. But these diseases can often be prevented — especially if the warning signs are caught early. Attending preventive care visits — even by phone or video when appropriate and available — may help your doctor catch the early signs of a disease before it causes serious health complications.
2. Eat healthy
Studies have shown that malnutrition — or a poor diet — can weaken our immune systems.1 To keep your immune system in top shape, give your body the nutrients it needs to thrive. This means eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, and lean proteins — while limiting saturated fat, added sugar, and salt. Need healthy and simple recipes ideas? We’ve got you covered.
3. Exercise regularly
Maintaining a consistent workout routine can help you build strength and endurance. And when your body is strong and healthy, your immune system can run at peak performance. Just make sure not to push yourself too hard. Excessive exercise can have the opposite effect by wearing down your body, so you have less strength to fight infections. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise every week. Whether that’s a walk, online yoga class, or HIIT workout.
4. Stress less
Stress can put a strain on your immune system and your body’s ability to effectively fight disease. You can help your immune system by taking steps to control your stress levels. Activities like journaling, deep breathing, and yoga can reduce stress. And research suggests that meditating may help improve your immune system.2
5. Quit tobacco
Smoking, vaping, or using tobacco products damages your body. Tobacco use — like smoking cigarettes — may cause inflammation which can impact your immune system’s ability to do its job.3  Quitting tobacco can be tough, but there are many resources and programs available to help you.
6. Get enough sleep
Good sleep is an important part of the immune system process.4 Allowing your body the time it needs to rest can help keep your immune system healthy.
How much sleep should you get? The standard recommendation is 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night. But how long you sleep is less important than how you feel when you wake up. You should wake up feeling refreshed and ready to start your day. If you don’t, then you can explore ways to get better sleep.
 
Bottom lineThe best way to give your immune system a boost is by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Explore our health and wellness resources to learn more ways you can stay healthy and thrive
 
Source: Kaiser Permanente Member Newsletter
 
Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel:
Big news for arthritis sufferers: Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is now available at Costco! Voltaren is the first prescription-strength, Over-The-Counter, topical gel for treating arthritis pain.  The active ingredient in Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel is diclofenac sodium, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) included in the same class as other NSAIDs such as
ibuprofen and naproxen. It is clinically proven to relieve the pain of arthritis, reduce stiffness and improve mobility.  Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel penetrates deep through the tissue and targets pain directly at the source to deliver powerful arthritis pain relief to hands, wrists, elbows, feet, ankles and knee.  As with any new medication, you need to ask your doctor or pharmacist before using Voltaren. Available in the warehouse
and at Costco.com. Item #1369089.
 
Source: Barb Bradford, Costco Magazine
 
Note: Voltaren is also a very effective topical anti-inflammatory medication. I was personally introduced to it by the professional guides on The Milford Track, New Zealand over 20+ years ago.  I injured my knee in a minor fall while descending a 3,000+ foot mountain pass.  The guide used Voltaren that night to reduce the swelling and I was amazed at how effective it was on my injury.  Since then, I have always kept a tube of  it on hand at home.   It has been available worldwide as an OTC medication for over 30+ years.  The U.S. FDA just changed their restriction as an OTC item just this February.
 
Technology Update of Consumer Television Devices:
Your next TV will be much clearer.  4K or UHD (ultra-high definition) televisions offer four times the resolution of a 1080p HDTV. Instead of a screen with roughly 2 million pixels, these televisions boast more than 8 million pixels resolution.  Buying a new television is a lot like ordering a pizza: You think it’s an easy task until you realize how many options there are.  While you might feel overwhelmed by your choices - brand, size and screen technology - there's never been a better time to buy a TV.   
 
You simply can't go wrong with today's stunning (and stunningly thin) models.  While 4K refers to the resolution of the television, also look for a TV with HDR (high dynamic range), as these models reproduce a wider range of brightness levels and contrast; colors won’t break the bank, either.  The following are a few things to consider.
.
Screen type:  flat-screen television are more vibrant, today.  You might also see televisions branded with technologies like HDR10 and Dolby Vision, two improved types of HDR.  The two main screen types today are LED-backlit LCD TVs (the most common) and OLED televisions. Some TV makers have boosted the Smart TVs picture quality of LED TVs by adding local dimming (which dims LEDs that don't need to be on) and 'quantum dot" technology that significantly enhances the color. Samsung often uses the term Smart TVs to allow you to access online content via Wi-Fi, be it for video streaming (such as Netflix and Disney+) or online photo galleries and much more.  You can download apps the way you do QLED" for its quantum dot TVs. on your Smartphone.  Other manufacturers, like LG, come with a voice remote to communicate with the embraced OLED TVs, which are incredibly thin and energy efficient, and deliver deep, dark blacks for an amazing picture.  Many TVs have an integrated personal assistant, such as Google Assistant, so you can use your voice to ask a question or issue a command.  Most smart TVs also let you wirelessly play content from mobile devices, like Smartphones and tablets, using AirPlay or Chromecast.
 
Source:  MARC SALTZMAN, Syndicated Consumer Electronics
 
 
 

NOVEMBER  2020  CONSUMER  TIPS
 
Keeping Safe in our Digital World of Personal Communications:
 
■ There’s a very simple way to make sure that you’re never taken in by a phishing scam.
 
If you ever get an email reporting a “problem with your account,” don’t click the link in the email message. Instead, open your Web browser and go to the website in question (Yahoo, in this case) by typing the Web address (carefully!). Log in as usual. If there really is some kind of problem, the website will let you know about it.
1  Source: San Jose Mercury News, Oct., Nov. 2020 issues
 
Don’t click on hyperlinks in emails from people you don’t know. This piece of advice is a little less obvious than you think. Yes, your mother, husband, sister and aunt are not trying to send you spam. But that doesn’t mean that their email accounts aren’t vulnerable to being hacked. So always make sure to hover your mouse over the linked phrase in question. Usually the address of the item will pop up in a gray box at the bottom-left corner of your browser.  If it doesn’t look familiar, steer clear.
 
Also, smartphone operating systems are currently much less vulnerable than those of your computer. So if you’re unsure about something, try opening it on your mobile device (Apple products are usually less vulnerable to viruses). This might protect you from getting malware, but if you start typing in your bank account number on a phony site, you’re still in a world of trouble.
 
Verify your web URLs. Whenever you visit a site that requires you to enter sensitive information (credit card numbers, your Social Security number or other financial information), check the URL in your search bar. It should show “https://” rather than “http://,” and usually a secure connection is displayed with a little padlock image like the one below. You can double-click the padlock to see the security info that lets your browser verify that the site you’re connecting to is what you think it is. SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It keeps all the communication between your browser and your websites’ servers private and secure.
 
Just completely ignore pop-up windows. Pop-up windows are inherently sketchy because without a bar that displays a site’s URL, you can’t actually verify that it’s a secure site. So don’t enter your sensitive info into one, and always make sure to click the X in the top corner of the box to get rid of them. Clicking the Cancel button can sometimes send you to a link, or automatically install malware.
 
Look out for weirdly formal language. Modern companies don’t usually write royal English or handpick their customers to receive thousands of dollars. If anyone calls you “Sir or Madame” in an email and she’s not the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey, it’s probably a scam.
 
■  Do I have to, like, download some software?
Yeah, that’d be a good idea.  First and foremost, you should get antivirus software that will help protect you from bad stuff floating around online. The type you should choose depends entirely on your operating system. Here’s a good resource for PC owners. And if you don’t want to spend any money, this is a legit list of free services. Whatever you choose, make sure to keep it up to date. Your web browser is much more susceptible to a hijacking if your security software goes stale.
 
 Anti-spam software isn’t essential, but it lowers your chances of falling victim to a phishing attack, since many of them come in spam form. PC Mag has an extensive list here. And many browsers provide add-ons that help protect your computer. Chrome, for instance, has a free AdBlock extension. So does Firefox. 
 
■  And then there’s anti-spyware software. Unlike malware, which is intended to damage or disable your computer system, spyware infiltrates your hard drive to collect information. This is something that Windows owners, above all others, must be cautious of. Here’s a list of free anti-spyware software that can prevent the problem before it happens.
  • Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition
  • AVG AntiVirus Free
  • ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus
  • Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free
  • Avast Free Antivirus
2  Source: Consumer Reports, October, November 2020 issues
 
PSPS (Public Safety Power Shutoffs) Issues
 
■  Integrated and Portable Generators can be a big help if you live in an area prone to PSPS shutdowns by PG&E.  If you have such a system, be sure to turn it on and run it for about 4 hours as a practical run-in test.  Last week there were two house fires in The Bay Area.  Both these home fires were traced back to recently installed generators by the homeowners.  In one case, the exhaust pipe for the gasoline engine that powers the generator was found to be mounted too close to the exterior wall of the house, causing the outside wall to catch fire.  This unit was installed by a professional contractor.  Obviously, it was not tested enough to discover this problem.  In the other, the fire was traced back to the generator but the specific fault was not disclosed.
 
■  When a PSPS shutoff occurs, turn all your sensitive, expensive electronic devices off.  Do this to prevent damage to these items due to power surge when the power grid becomes re-energized.  Tip: Purchase Surge Protectors  and install them on the power lines and outlets plugged into these AC lines.
 
■  Consider the purchase of a small, portable, countertop Butane Stove for use if/when the power goes off for any reason.  These are small, compact units often used by restaurants placed on rolling carts to make flambé dishes at the table.  They are capable of producing up to 11,000 btu (about 2/3 the output of your home electric or  gas stove),  These are available from Big 5 Sprting Goods, Amazon, Walmart and Outdoor stores for about $20.  Butane cartridges cost about $3 per canister and will last about an hour on “high” setting.
 
■  Purchase a 20,000mAh Power Bank for uses as a portable battery charger, high capacity compact external battery pack for fast charging of iPhone, iPad, Samsung Galaxy, android phone, tablets and more.  Keep this external battery charged for emergency use.  This will allow you to charge your devices even if the power grid is down.  Cost is $15 - $30 from Amazon or other online sites.
 
General Tips:
 
■  Is wearing a required face mask for Covid – 19 suppression uncomfortable for you?  If so, try using a “Mask Bracket.”  This is a plastic or silicone device that fits inside most masks and provides  a number of  benefits -  reduces the discomfort of  accumulated heat inside the mask, better fit on the nose/cheeks means it is a better fit and may prevent your eyeglasses from fogging up, may provide a  more comfortable fit and lastly, helps to avoid lipstick smear inside the mask for women.
 
■  Hopefully, we may be through the worst of the wildfire season.  In the event we have more fires that result in having our cars and other property covered with fire dust and ash, hose off this coating immediately.  Don’t let it sit on any painted surfaces too long.  There are components of this fire ash that can pit and etch painted surfaces.
 
■ When hosting a crowd for a BBQ or picnic, cut down on dishwashing while simplifying your logistics tasks.  Consider using a Steel Muffin Tin for serving various condiments for burgers, hot dogs and other foods that often benefit from condiments and add-ons.  This is an easy, efficient way to serve these extras while minimizing the number of dishes in use.
 
Need a quick, clean, easy to use fire starter?  Try using Doritos or some other fried snack item with a reasonable amount of oil in the product.  Use it like you would use kindling to build a fire of charcoal or wood.
 
■ Do you have trouble opening blister pack products?  Using a utility knife or some other bladed tool can be difficult and even dangerous.  Try using your Manual Hand Held Can Opener.  It’s safe, easy and will cut through even the stiffest, clear-plastic blister pack.
 
■ Do you have trouble peeling the shell off of hard boiled eggs?  While there are special ways to cook hard boiled eggs that result in easy-peel shells, you can try try adding a teaspoon of backing soda to your cooking water for your eggs.  This should help to make the shell
come off more easily.
 
■ Cream-based sauces often break down and separate when reheating leftovers in the microwave oven. The reason why microwaving broke your sauce is because the fast heating microwave cooked out the water content, breaking the water/fat emulsion. Try reheating on stove top, and if you see the sauce bubbling around the edges of the pan, add a splash of water and stir until the right consistency is achieved.
3  Source: Consumer Reports, November 2020 issue.
 
■  We are now indulging in more outdoor dining options as the Shelter In Place regulations have become more relaxed.   Be very aware of the potentially dangerous seating arrangements where temporary tables have been set up on the sidewalk in front or sides of the existing restaurants.  There has been an increase in deadly accidents where senior drivers have accidentally confused the gas and brake pedals while trying to park and end up running down diners seated next to or adjacent to these parking areas.
 
■  The Holiday Season is upon us, again!  Looking for a good, unique Christmas gift to give? 
 
The Panasonic Home Chef 4-in-1 Countertop Multi-Oven (model number NN-CD87KS, $479) is an advanced technology microwave with a built-in air fryer. Like my friend said, how cool is that?
“The genius of the combination was immediately obvious to me. I had an air fryer, but it was not getting much use because I had to take it out and set it up every time I used it. It also requires cabinet and counter space, both in short supply in my kitchen. When I read about the Panasonic Home Chef, I realized if the air fryer was part of the microwave, always there and ready to go, I would do a lot more air frying than I did before. I now cook delicious, low-fat fries for myself all the time.
 
Not only does the Home Chef have a built-in air fryer, it is an exceptionally good air fryer. The microwave carousel rotates to ensure that everything in the tray receives even heat and airflow for consistently excellent results. The fries I have been making are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, just as they should be.
As you may guess from the 4-in-1 moniker, the Home Chef has two additional functions, a FlashXpress Broiler and a convection oven. As great as those functions are, it is the microwave/air fryer combination that makes it so irresistible to me. It also has the look and feel of a luxury product, which adds to the appeal, and the microwave functionality is state of the art. The Panasonic Home Chef has proven to be an incredibly hot seller (no pun intended) and dealers are selling out as soon as the product hits the shelves. If you want one, get your order in ASAP.”
4 Source: Don Lindich, Bay Area News Group, Nov. 28,2020
 
■  Steam option on new washers is not a good thing. They can use up to 600% more energy and increase the amount of water by 18 more gallons used. Yet, for all of that, CR tests show no improvement in stain removal or washing capability. 
5 Source: Consumer Reports
 
■  Buying New Eyeglasses or Sun Glasses.  Polarized lenses do not protect against UV light spectrum. To determine if the UV filter elements is included, always look for a label on the eyeglasses at the time of purchase.
 
■  Lab Tests from your Blood Draws – Make sure you are fully hydrated before going in to the lab for your blood draw.  If you are dehydrated, the tests run from your blood samples may not be accurate.  I recently was required to repeat a blood test because the Potassium figure was abnormally high.  My doctor suspected that I could have been dehydrated at the time of the blood draw.  I repeated the test after I took extra steps to be fully hydrated and my readings were normal.  TIP:  Drink lots of water before going in for your blood draw.  This will help ensure that you will be nicely hydrated.  Also, it will help ‘plump up’ your veins for easier detection and needle insertion by the Medical Technician, especially if you have small or deep veins. 
 
■  Christmas Sales Are Early This Year!  The retail world is far different today due to changes mandated by Covid-19 restrictions.  Black Friday ‘promotional pricing’ will be in effect for the entire month of November at many chain stores this year.
 
■  FYI, the 24th Annual Meyer Outlet Sale is being held early this year.  Many of you are fans of this annual sale.  However, there are some changes this year – the sale dates are earlier than usual – November 11 through November 22, 8 AM – 6 PM.  The standard 30% discount off the already discounted Warehouse Price is, again, in effect.  However, an additional 10% discount is in effect this year for First Responders with ID.  They will also recycle any cookware you bring in, regardless of brand.
 
■  The following item about kitchen knives is intended to augment the article written and published in this issue of the Rooster by John Noll in his Cooking Tips column.  “PRO TIP - USE A REALLY GOOD KNIFE.
I confess I was a doubter. After all, I've seen guys who could barely break 100 on a par-three course blow $350 on a putter, and it didn't suddenly turn them into Tiger Woods - so how was an expensive knife going to make me a better cook?  Michele Belotti of Oakland's Belotti puts it this way: "A good knife makes cooking easier and faster-and the food looks better."  "Knives are really important," says Murray, a stance echoed by Marquez, who points out Something I unfortunately learned firsthand: "If you cut yourself with a dull knife, it hurts more than with a sharp knife."  So, my wife, Maggi, and I invested in a Japanese Global knife, which is so sharp that it makes everything easier and faster-and the fact that we haggle over who gets to use it is proof of its value.  Can I point to any one way that the knife made the meal better? No.  But did it make the process more efficient?  No question.  Bottom line:  A good knife, like good health, enhances everything it touches.”
6  Source: Diablo Magazine, November 2020 issue
 
 
 


October 2020  Consumer Tips
 
Tips for a Better Take Out or Delivery Food Order Experience
Ordering food from a restaurant for takeout or delivery can be a less than good experience.  Any number of problems can mar the experience.  Here are some ideas to minimize these problems.
 
■ Keep your order simple.  The more complex the order -  the higher the chance of the kitchen making errors.  If you call your order in, have the person taking your order read your whole order back to you for confirmation that they have taken it down correctly.
■ When ordering via a delivery service, be aware. The menus displayed by Uber Eats, DoorDash, GrubHub, etc. carry the penalty of higher prices.  The added charge is in addition to a delivery fee.  All the delivery services hike up the prices.  It's part of their business model, that's where the bulk of their profits come from. It’s food the restaurants wouldn't have sold otherwise, so they're expanding their base.  The prices are higher even for restaurants that aren't partnered with any delivery app companies.  This extra markup can be 15% to 35%.  There are some cities/counties that are trying to enact legislation to limit this markup by establishing a cap for the markup.  Restaurants are also charged a fee by the delivery app company.  It can be so high that the restaurant may even lose money on the orders they put up.  The best way is to call the order in by phone and pick it up yourself.  That way you enjoy a lower cost and the restaurant makes a better profit.
■ Be aware that many Asian restaurants use more oil for take-out orders than for dine-in orders for the same dishes.  Why?  Because in the take out business, time is money.  The more oil they use, the faster they can produce the finished items, the more orders they can jam through during peak business hours.  And, the customer won’t be on the property when they discover the pools of excess oil in the bottom of the individual food cartons.  The customer won’t be there to complain about it.
■ Deep fried foods can easily lose their crispy exterior texture.  Often, deep fried items – French Fries, Fried Shrimp, Egg Rolls, Popcorn Chicken/Shrimp can quickly turn soft/mushy - hot food in an enclosed container tends to ‘steam’ the food items soft.  Better restaurants use ventilated containers or will cut large ‘breathing’ holes in the standard containers to alleviate this ‘steaming’ effect.  Ask the restaurant staff how they ventilate the hot fried foods.  If they have no way to vent the hot food, avoid fried food items.  If you have a hot air fryer at home, you could crisp things up using that kitchen appliance.
■ Always check your packaged order before you leave the restaurant.  That way you might avoid one of the most common disappointments – wrong or incomplete orders – when you get home.
 
Improve the Fit of Cloth and Surgical Masks for Best Virus Protection and Comfort.
 
■  Many masks come in adult and children’s sizes.  Make sure that you choose the right size for your facial size and structure.  Choose masks that have a soft, bendable wire at the top that can be squeezed/bent to better fit your nose.
■  If you wear eyeglasses, choose a fitted mask that will fully cover your nose and cheeks - stopping just short of the bottom of your eyes.  Remove or raise your eyeglasses when donning the mask and then put your glasses on so that the nose piece rests on the mask at the nose point and that the eyeglass frame sits atop your mask on both cheeks.  This will help improve the seal at the top of the mask to your face to mitigate fogging of your eyeglass lenses while breathing.
■  If you also use BTE (Behind The Ear) Hearing Aids, choose masks that have very thin elastic straps that loop around your ears.  A thick elastic strap will be more likely to knock your BTE devices off your ears when removing the mask.  This is risky as you might lose them or damage the devices if they fall to the ground.  Also, when removing the mask, be sure to lift the top elastic strap from one ear and lift it high enough to clear the top of your ears while leaving your BTE units undisturbed.  Remove the elastic loop completely from one side before proceeding with the other side.
■ If your BTE devices constantly become dislodged or simply fall off with even slight movement, it is likely that the wired piece that goes into your ear canal is not properly sized to fit your ear canal.  In that case, go back to your Hearing Aid Provider and have them change those inner ear pieces for a better, more snug fit.  There should be no charge for this service.
 
General Consumer Items
 
■ Non-Contact IR Forehead Thermometer:  These thermometers are used by many businesses and institution to screen people for possible fevers before admitting them onto their premises.  The advantage is that there is no contact with your skin so there is no Covid contamination issue with the instrument.  And, the reading is obtained in just 2 – 3 seconds.  And the temperature is easy to read on the color-coded, digital display.  The cost of these units ranges from $20 - $40 from online etailers.  We recently got a $20 unit from Amazon Prime and it works very well.  Here is a link to the item if you are interested:   https://tinyurl.com/yc6xhsva
 
■ Monitoring Local Air Quality: If you or anyone in your household has bronchial or other medical issues that are particularly sensitive to bad air pollution, you may want to consider installing AQ monitors in and outside your home.  These are relatively easy to install and use your home WiFi to send/receive the data from the monitoring devices.  These can be installed to show the AQ to your own household or it can be set up to be shared with neighbors.  The PurpleAir PA-I-Indoor sells for $199.  The outdoor unit, PurpleAir PA-II costs $249, online.  There are other companies that make home consumer units, as well.  TIP: When using your Smartphone or computer to obtain the Air Quality Index in your local area, choose a website that indicates and allows you to choose the specific AQI Sensor nearest your home.  I’ve been using https://www.wunderground.com/. With good success.  It allows me to choose from 14 different sensors in the San Ramon area.  The AQI can vary considerably from each sensor location.
 
■ Consider the use of a home Air Purifier.  Due to the recent wildfires in California and Oregon that have produced extreme air pollution in our local area, we recently acquired a new Winix 5500-2 Air Purifier with True HEPA, PlasmaWave and Odor Reducing Washable AOC Carbon Filter.  The cost was $160 from Amazon Prime (free shipping for Prime Members).  It features True HEPA filter captures 99.97% of airborne pollutants; dust mites, pet dander, pollen and other allergens as small as 0.3 microns,  washable AOC Carbon Filter, made from activated carbon granules for removal of household odors.  It is super quiet at Decibels 27.8 dB, compact and can be placed into service anywhere you have access to a standard AC outlet.  It’svery easy to move it from room to room in the house.
 
■ Internet Security:  We receive Phishing and other scam emails almost daily.  How can we tell the legitimate emails from the scam emails from the bad guys?  Sometimes, it’s obvious that the sender address looks suspicious and can be disposed of as Spam.  If there is any doubt, simply copy a portion of the message or request and do an online search.  Here is a sample phrase from one of my emails pretending to be from Comcast: “The Classic version of Comcast Mail will be replaced by our new version. So it's time to verify, before you lose your email access.”  I pasted this phrase into Google Search and confirmed my suspicion that it was, indeed, a phishing attempt.  The scammer is simply trying to obtain my password and other account data.
 
■ During This Pandemic How Much Should You Tip? 1   Consider this - 20% is the new starting point – from takeout to actually eating out.  The vast majority of restaurant staff still depends on tips to earn something close to a living wage, an issue that's become even more urgent as more restaurants close for good or severely cut down on staff hours to survive.  In an ideal world, everyone would get paid enough to live, and we wouldn't have to worry about tips, but that's outside the scope of this guide.  Furthermore, as of now, only a tiny handful of Bay Area restaurants, notably Zazie in San Francisco, have eliminated tipping entirely and managed to stick with it.  So what should you tip?
 
FOR TAKEOUT AND DELIVERY:  Start at 20% in all cases. Though traditionally, getting takeout used to merit paying a smaller tip (if anything), takeout is sometimes the only thing a restaurant is able to offer right now.  Pay as if you were dining in. 
 
Curbside pickup, where you can wait in your car while a staff member delivers your takeout order to keep you from having to enter the building, is an additional courtesy provided by the restaurant, so tip in those cases as well.
 
Some places use a digital interface with three options for gratuity percentages; for example, you might be prompted to choose between 15%, 18% or 20% when you pay your bill on a Square tablet. Each business can set its own range, but you should feel free to ask the cashier to input another number if the percentage you actually want to give isn't displayed. 
 
On the third-party apps like Postmates and DoorDash, you'll be given a multiple choice option for your tip.  Be advised that the third-party delivery apps have faced criticism in the past for essentially commandeering tips and having them go to the companies rather than directly to drivers. Feel free to tip in (sanitized) cash, or ask your driver if you can send them money through an online payment app like Venmo or Cash.  When ordering online or through an app, look for an option on the menu that says "buy the kitchen a drink," or something similar.  Those are usually a roundabout way of ensuring that the restaurant staff actually gets a tip, since delivery tips go only to the couriers.  For example, Rich Table allows patrons to "order" a 5 tip for restaurant staff on Caviar.  Make sure you add that to your cart.  Another thing to keep in mind for ordering online is that every interface is different, and you may end up accidentally finishing the transaction without tipping at all if you miss the prompt. Double-check before for you pay.
 
FOR DINING AT AN OUTDOOR RESTAURANT:  In cases where you have to order at the counter and fetch your own food, tip a minimum of 20%.   If you’re able to sit and be served by a person in protective gear, go higher.  Tip at least 30%.
 
Be aware that, due to the requirements of social distancing, servers can’t interact as intimately with tables as they did before.  Read that behavior in good faith and don't penalize "aloof” service with a lower tip.
 
Many restaurants have opted to add 18% to 23% service charges on their final bills. You don't have to tip on top of that, though you're entitled to do so if you wish.  No hard feelings if you don't. 
 
OTHER CASES:  At bars, you can't currently order any drinks without ordering food in California, so tip on the whole bill as you would in a restaurant. 
              
At coffee shops, throw in $1 per drink.  Treat this as a starting point if this pandemic has instilled anything in the populace, it’s a greater appreciation for the people who make food happen. In fact, tips are generally up in the Bay Area.  Square, a company that provides point-of-sale systems to many local food businesses, found that average tips at full-service restaurants increased slightly to 18.9% in April of this year.  Quick-service restaurants, the kinds of spots where you traditionally order at a counter, saw greater increases between those same periods: 16.8% in 2019 to 20.7% this year. That doesn't account for transactions on third-party delivery apps like Door Dash or Postmates, which have become more popular as even fine-dining restaurants offer takeout and delivery.
              
If 20% is your baseline for tipping on a normal restaurant dinner in pre-pandemic times, perhaps that baseline should be higher now that worker’s job descriptions have changed so drastically.  At Fish, in Sausalito, staff members have been tasked with sanitizing public areas of the restaurant on top of their regular cleaning protocols, and the menu has been streamlined to make work easier for masked cooks working in the hot kitchen.  And Palette Tea House, a popular dim sum restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf and ain the Hillsdale Shopping Center,  San Mateo, has staff clean tables and chairs three times after each party leaves.
 
1 Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 09/06,2020 Page L6
 
Kitchen Tips
 
■ Better Browning:  The scientific term for the browning of meats, fowl and other proteins is called the Maillard Process. The Maillard reaction is heavily influenced by the pH balance (alkaline or acetic) of the product. Adding a base like baking soda will considerably heighten the surface pH. This will make the Maillard reaction happen much sooner. A light dusting right before it hits the heat is all it would take.  The appearance of the finished food item will be more pleasing and the flavor will be much improved.
 
■ Tenderizing Meats and Fowl Before Grilling:  Briefly soaking meat in a solution of baking soda and water raises the pH on the meat’s surface, making it more difficult for the proteins to bond excessively, which keeps the meat tender and moist when it’s cooked. Typically, a 15- to 20-minute treatment is all that it takes.  Dissolve baking soda in water (for every 12 ounces of meat, use 1 teaspoon of baking soda and ½ cup of water).  Soak the meat in the solution for at least 15 minutes.  Remove, rinse and pat the treated meat or fowl dry with paper towels or clean towels to prevent any steaming effect of the protein surfaces.  Adding a light dusting of Baking Soda per above can also be done before grilling on a hot grill or frying pan.
 
■ Add Baking Soda to Ground Beef or lamb:   Adding a baking soda solution with the meat (about ¾ teaspoon baking soda to 2 tablespoons water for 2lbs of grind) and letting it sit for 15 to 20 minutes before cooking, the beef/lamb loses less liquid, browns faster and tastes better.
 
■ Removing Coffee Stains From Cups:  All you need is baking soda and water!  Sprinkle a little baking soda into the stained coffee cup. Add just enough water to make a paste. Scrub the cup with a dishwashing sponge.
 
■ Corn Cobs:  It’s now the tail end of the corn season for this year.  But, if you get any more corn this year, don’t throw the cob away after you have eaten the corn off the cob or stripped of kernels it for use in cooking.  The cob is useful for flavoring of broths/soups/soups. After that, allow the cobs to dry and they can be used for smoking foods in place of wood chips in your outdoor grill  Save this tip for use next year!
 
■ Fire Extinguishers in the Kitchen:  Every kitchen should be equipped with at least one portable, multi-purpose fire extinguisher.  They should be placed/mounted in plain view or within easy reach for immediate access in an emergency.  Check them annually to make sure they are still holding pressure.  They should also be multiple-purpose rated to handle various types of fire in the home.  A:B:C fire extinguishers can be used for those three types of fires. Other multi-purpose fire extinguishers may have a combination of these classes, such as A-B or B-C. 
Class A extinguishers are rated for fires that involve ordinary household items such as wood, cloth, paper, rubber and plastics.  The numerical rating on class A extinguishers represents the capacity in terms of an equivalent volume of water. Class 1-A extinguishers have the equivalent of 1.25 gallons of water and a 4-A has the equivalent of 5 gallons.
Class B extinguishers are rated for fires involving flammable liquids such as kitchen grease, gasoline, oil, solvents and oil-based paint.  Class B extinguishers are numerically rated on the number of square feet of fire they can put out. A 10-B extinguisher can cover 10 square feet of fire.
Class C extinguishers are rated for fires involving energized electrical equipment, such as wiring, circuit breakers, machinery, electronics and appliances. This class does not have a numerical rating.
 
■ Asian, High Heat/Toss Fry (aka stir fry) cooking is possible using a wok or cast iron Dutch oven gas, electric or Convection stove tops.  Typical residential stoves do not have enough heat output for the effective high heat/toss-fry technique.  Very high heat allows faster cooking time but the individual ingredients retain most of their normal texture, color and nutritional value as well as flavor.  The work around for this is to augment the stove burner’s heat output using a butane kitchen torch – larger than the small ones used for crème brulee or other small jobs.
Place your pan/wok on the highest setting, add oil and toss the ingredients while pointing the butane torch at the food and the bottom of the vessel.  Adjust the flame for a hot, strong, blue flame.  This high heat cooking technique will produce dishes that taste really fresh, retaining their original texture, color and flavor – all hallmarks of classic Chinese cooking.
 
■ Protect the Nonstick Coating on Your Cookware:  It may sound harmless - even counterintuitive - but using a nonstick cooking spray, such as Pam or Smart Balance, can damage your pan's nonstick finish. Sprays leave a film that adheres to the nonstick coating and with use, turns into a hard resin-like  surface and cannot be removed with just soap and water.  Over time, that buildup of propellant reduces a pan's performance, and food may start to stick to it.  Instead, try a light seasoning of butter or olive oil - which is what we use during our nonstick food -  release tests, says Cindy Fisher, CR's lead cookware tester.  Then we fry eggs and evaluate how easily they slide off.   A pan that gets an Excellent score in this test allows eggs to slide off without any assistance and without any bits of egg left behind. 2
 
2  Source: Consumer Reports, November 2020 issue.
 
 


September 2020  Consumer Tips
 
NEW COVID-19     PANDEMIC DEVELOPMENTS
 
The Sniff Test:  Guests hoping to check into any of the Velas Resorts in Mexico these days will first have to offer up their foreheads to have their temperature taken. Then they'll be presented with a scented sachet.  It's not a welcome gift; it's a test.  Sniff and identify: Is that garlic, coffee or citrus?  The sensory check, part of the chain's extensive new "Stay Safe with Velas Program," is intended to detect probable cases of COVID-19, the hotels' management has announced.  Velas based the safety requirement on British research. "In a recent study by King's College, London, it was revealed that there are six distinct 'types' of COVID-19, each distinguished by a particular set of symptoms," the statement said. "Across all six types' there was a consistent symptom: loss of smell."  Guests won't be the only ones taking sensory tests.  All employees at these Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, Riviera Maya and Riviera Nayarit resorts will be required to do the same, both at home before departing for work and upon arrival. Other stringent safety protocols are outlined in a 15-page Velas manual based on World Health 0rganization and Mexican government standards. 
Source: Valley Times, Aug. 24, 2020 edition.
 
Proper Face Mask Fit: We see a lot of people donning face masks but leave their nose uncovered.  This is improper.  University of North Carolina found that the nose is more prone to Covid-19 infection because there are more cellular docking sites located in the nasal cavities.  One professor calls the nose the “Grand Central Station of viral infection.”  Covering your nose will afford some filtration and, therefore, some protection against Covid-19 virus infection.
 
GENERAL CONSUMER TIPS ITEMS
 
Beware of “Deals!”  This was seen on both TV media advertising and on a online ‘special’ just last week:  Online and on a TV ad - MY FOLDAWAY FAN by Bell & Howell.  Rechargeable Fan Ultra Lightweight Portable Compact Extendable .“  2 payments of $19.99 + shipping & Handling.  The Amazon Prime price for this very same item is just $29.95 and free shipping for Prime Members. This is a savings of $10+
 
■  Steam Option on Washing Machines: One of the optional features on high end washing machines is a Steam Cycle meant to deep-clean and sanitize the load of clothes.  Per a recent issue of Consumer Reports, they say this is not a good option to purchase.  They can use up to 600% more energy and increase the amount of water by 18 more gallons used.  Yet, for all of t hat, CR tests show no improvement in stain removal or washing capability.
 
Home and Auto Cleaning Tips  Google or search ‘how to clean’ basically anything, and you'll likely get results that suggest using distilled white vinegar. Diluted with water to about 5 percent acidity, distilled white vinegar is hailed as a natural non-toxic cleaning marvel, killing bacteria, dissolving hard-water deposits, and cutting through grime at a fraction of the cost of brand-name cleaning products.  But don't believe all the hype. “There is a common perception that vinegar can clean everything, but it isn't the catchall ingredient that you might think it is,” says Brian Sansoni, senior vice president of communications at the American Cleaning Institute. 
 
Distilled white vinegar is good at descaling your coffee maker and leaving windows streak-free because “the acid reacts with the organic chemicals in stains and dissolves them away,” explains Joe Glajch, a chemist and owner of JLG AP Consulting in Nashua, N.H. “But just as it eats away at coffee stains, imagine it doing the same thing to other surfaces in your home.”  Here are nine instances where you should skip the vinegar and grab a different cleaning agent for the job. In most cases, that’s going to be a product formulated for that specific purpose. For more cleaning tips (including easy, green cleaning solutions), pick up a copy of CR's book How to Clean Practically Anything.
 
Clothes Iron:  Using vinegar to clean the inside of your iron can corrode the heating element and permanently damage the inside of the appliance. Most steam irons have a protective coating inside the chamber, but acid can gnaw away at that lining and then the metal parts are next.  The best way to clean an iron really depends on the model you have. We spoke to Rowenta, the largest manufacturer of irons, and were told there's no universal method. Your best bet is to read your iron’s manual and follow the cleaning recommendations.
 
Countertops:  If you want to keep your stone countertops looking beautiful, don’t reach for vinegar. The acid etches and dulls natural stone such as granite, marble, and soapstone. It can make them lose their shine and cause pitting or scarring.  Instead, we recommend wiping down these types of countertops with a sponge or dish towel dipped in mild detergent. Use only plastic scrub pads to remove stubborn spots.
Dishwashers:  You may have heard that running a dishwasher with a bowl of vinegar in it will help get rid of hard water film and lingering odors. Some people even use vinegar as a rinse aid.  CR’s testers have tried it out in our dishwasher lab to see if vinegar could remove water film. “It didn’t do a thing,” says Larry Ciufo, head of the dishwasher lab at CR. “It was perhaps better than nothing back in the day, but there are specially formulated dishwasher cleaners today that work really well.”  Ciufo recommends using a dishwasher cleaner, such as those from Affresh or Finish, to remove hard-water film.  Not only is vinegar ineffective at getting rid of water spots, but dishwasher manufacturers, including Electrolux and Bosch, warn that the acetic acid can eat away at the rubber parts in dishwashers. “There are dozens of rubbers out there with different chemical compositions, some of which react with vinegar and some that do not,” says Glajch. “If you don’t know what kind of rubber is in your appliance and the manual doesn’t say you can use vinegar, then don’t.”
Electronic Screens: Vinegar’s great at leaving windows streak-free, but never use it on an electronic screen like that on our computer, Smartphone, tablet, vehicle touch screens or home TVs. "Vinegar can damage a screen's anti-glare properties and even make a touch screen less responsive," says Antoinette Asedillo, an electronics product tester at CR.  Use a soft sponge or cloth dampened with plain ole water instead. For stubborn spots, try a solution of dish soap highly diluted with water, applied to the cloth and not to the screen itself. (As a guideline for how much soap to use, Panasonic recommends a 100:1 ratio of water to soap.)  Note: Recently, after shopping at Trader Joe’s, I used one of their sanitizer wipes to wipe down my hands after reentering my car.  Then I used it to wipe down the controls I normally touch in the act of driving the vehicle.  This included the touch screen on the Infotainment Center Screen.  This sanitizer removed a portion of the anti-glare coating on this touch screen!  The resulting glare now makes the screen more difficult to see in bright sunlight.
 
Flooring:  Many flooring manufacturers, including Lumber Liquidators, warn against using vinegar to clean your hardwood floors. Some will even void the warranty if there are any signs that vinegar was used. Diluted vinegar can dissolve the finish that protects the wood and leave it looking cloudy, dull, or scratched. (The same goes for wood furniture.) Follow the manufacturer's cleaning recommendations or pick a cleaner that’s made specifically for hardwood flooring.  If you have stone tile flooring, you’ll want to skip the vinegar, too. See “Countertops,” above.
Knives:  You want to keep vinegar away from metals. Tools with exposed edges, like kitchen knives, are especially vulnerable. Not only can vinegar damage the finish on knives, but it can also leave the knife’s edge pitted, warns Jim Nanni, head of appliance testing for CR. Other common metals in the kitchen that you should keep away from vinegar include aluminum and copper. The best cleaning option is dishwashing liquid and warm water.
 
Ranges:  Vinegar won’t necessarily damage your range or cooktop (the metals in ranges are typically coated in enamel and smooth cooktops are made of glass), but if it’s a greasy mess you’re looking to clean, vinegar simply won’t cut it. “Acids make for lousy degreasers,” says Glajch. “Instead, opt for an alkaline cleaner, like ammonia or Borax.”
Small Appliances:  The plastic and glass surfaces on most small kitchen appliances, such as blenders, coffee makers, and toasters, are safe to clean with vinegar, but you want to avoid any rubber parts or metal that vinegar can corrode. This includes stainless steel. “There are different grades of stainless steel,” says Nanni. “The lower-quality ones are often used for small appliances and less resistant to rusting, which can be spurred on by acid.”
 
When in doubt, use diluted dishwashing soap instead. Get more advice on how to clean your small appliances.
Washing Machines:  Vinegar is sometimes used as a fabric softener or for getting rid of stains and odors in laundry, but as with dishwashers, it can damage the rubber seals and hoses in some washing machines to the point of causing leaks. It’s a problem that Steven Grayson, owner of Foothills Appliance Service in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, sees fairly frequently: “With continual use, vinegar can literally melt hoses, causing leaks and thereby possibly all kinds of additional damage to the house,” says Grayson. In his experience, front-load washers are especially susceptible to vinegar-related damage.  Plus, it may not even be doing much. “Vinegar isn’t very useful with stains that have already set into clothing, including food stains and bloodstains,” says Sansoni. Consumer Reports' recent tests of laundry stain removers reveal products that are great at removing tough stains, and you don't have to worry about any of them melting the rubber in your washer.
Source:  Consumer Reports, past issue
 
Keep Ziploc Closure Channels clean for good sealing:” Most people simply fold the top opening over onto itself to form a rolled-over, inside out collar to avoid contamination of the sealing grooves in the Ziploc closure while filling the Ziploc bag with wet food items or immersed in sauces and dressings.  An alternative method is to take a clean plastic bag of similar size and cut it in half so that you now have two ‘bags’ with open tops and bottom on one and 3 sealed sides on the remaining bag.  Cut the bottom closure of that 3-sided sealed bag so it becomes open at top and bottom, as well.  Now use either of those 2 cut up plastic bags to slip into the mouth of an open Ziploc to use as a collar to protect the inside top areas of the bag you are filling and sealing.  This will ensure a clean closure strip for good sealing.
 
Keeping the Bottom Track Clean on Sliding Glass Doors and Windows:  Use a vacuum cleaner keep dirt and debris out of the bottom track.  If there is debris caked or trapped in this track, use a nylon bristle brush and a mild soap solution of dishwashing detergent to clean the track.  When finished cleaning, dry with a cotton towel to avoid attracting  future dirt and debri.  This is ensure smooth operation of your sliding glass windows or doors.
 
■  Fungal Toenail Maintenance:  If you have toenail fungus, hand filing of the hardened, misshapen toenails can be a painstaking exercise.  A much more efficient and faster method is to employ an electronic toenail pedicure tool that can easily and precisely grind down and smooth over any hard toenail buildup.  The Amope Splashproof Electronic Foot File Foot Spa Pedicure Tool Callous Remover-Pedi Perfect Advance 2 Speed unit.  This one is from Amazon for just $20 and it works really well: https://tinyurl.com/y6eds6rz.  You will save time and have a much easier experience in the trimming of your toenails.
 
PERSONAL  CYBER  SECURITY
 
Phishing Attempts to secure your private information:  Scam of the Week: “Are you human?” New Attack Uses a CAPTCHA as Camouflage.  Have you ever found yourself staring at a wobbly letter trying to decide if it is an X or a Y, just to prove to a website that you’re not a robot? This funny little test is called a CAPTCHA and it is used to help prevent automated malicious software, known as “bots”, from accessing sensitive information. Unfortunately, cybercriminals are now using CAPTCHAs as a way to make their phishing scams seem more legitimate.
 
In a recent Netflix-themed attack, scammers are sending a phishing email that claims "your payment did not go through and your account will be suspended in the next 24 hours". To resolve the issue, you're instructed to click on a link in the email to update your information. If you click the link, you’re taken to a CAPTCHA page. Once you pass the CAPTCHA, you’re redirected to an unrelated webpage that looks like a Netflix login page. Here you’re asked to enter your username and password, your billing address, and your credit card information. Don’t be fooled! Anything entered here is sent directly to the cybercriminals.
Remember these tips: Phishing emails are often designed to create a sense of urgency. In this case, “your account will be suspended in the next 24 hours”! Think before you click, the bad guys rely on impulsive clicks.
When an email asks you to log in to an account or online service, log in to your account through your browser and not by clicking the link in the email. That way, you can ensure you’re logging into the real website and not a phony look-alike.
 
Remember, anyone can create a CAPTCHA webpage, so don't fall for this false sense of security.
Source: KnowBe4 Scam Blog
 
FOOD SHOPPING TIPS
 
■  Fresh Cucumbers: When shopping for fresh cucumbers, look for the plastic shrink-wrapped “English Cucumbers.”  These will be a bit higher in price but they will keep so much better without spoiling and there is a lot less internal water because they are ‘seedless.'  They are wrapped with shrink-wrap plastic because their skin is very thin and fragile.
 
■  Country of Origin Food Safety: Always check all food for their country of origin. By law, all food products sold in the U.S. must state the country of origin.  However, we all know that food packaging, handling, and growing practices are not of equal safety among all nations.
 
Foods to avoid from China due to poor sanitation, food/agriculture laws and packaging practices: Watermelon, Farmed Cod, Garlic, salt (heavy metals), , Rice Noodles (Unfortunately, the factories that produce rice noodles have been known to use sulfur dioxide. In theory, the chemical helps the noodles appear “fresh”. In practice, however, sulfur dioxide has been linked with cancer. Stay away from this harmful chemical and try to find a source for your noodles that’s a little closer to home.), fresh or dried mushrooms (Beyond being filled with harmful chemicals, imported mushrooms are also sprayed with preservatives to appear fresher. Food inspectors have found many problems with mushrooms imported from China over the years.), Rice (Many rice factories in China include a synthetic resin in their rice. Not only are you basically eating plastic, but the chemicals included in the resin are known to cause cancer. If you don’t want to eat plastic rice, try to find a brand that isn’t made in China.), Shrimp (As with other seafood items from China, imported shrimp shouldn’t be at the top of your grocery list. A few years ago, the Institute of Environmental and Human Health food lab at Texas Tech University studied different bags of shrimp bought from different stores around the US. At the conclusion of their study, they reported that every sample was contaminated with enrofloxacin, chloramphenicol, and carcinogen nitrofurazone. Each of these substances is available in antibiotics that are illegal in the US. Due to the conditions in China, the shrimp are exposed to all of them. Consequentially, anyone who buys the shrimp then ingests those substances. Tilapia (Tilapia may grace your table more often than cod, but this fish isn’t any safer if it’s coming from China. Much like cod, tilapia sit in tiny tanks teeming with fish. The water in the tanks is full of toxic chemicals and other damaging substances that you never want to put in your body.  If your fish is imported from China, don’t buy it. Before they end up on your dinner plate, the fish have spent their lives soaking up the chemicals around them. They’re perfectly primed to pass those chemicals to you, so shop with care if you’re planning a seafood-themed dinner.), Canned Peaches - it’s not what’s inside the product that makes these Chinese goods dangerous—it’s the can that they come in.), Canned Tuna (Much like canned peaches, canned tuna from China is known to come with a significant amount of lead hidden in the metal of the can. Believe it or not, that’s not the only reason you should avoid imported canned tuna. In addition to the dangers of lead poisoning, canned tuna includes many of the harmful substances found in other fish exported from China. The fish farms are filled with pollution and toxic chemicals, and the fish are largely fed on a diet of animal waste. Each of those substances then finds its way into your can, threatening your health each time you buy a new supply.  Oil (While not all oil from China is tainted, the lack of security precautions and food safety laws make it far too easy for Chinese manufacturers to sell disgusting products. Their actions with oil are especially egregious.  A while back, a massive food company in China decided to take used oil from restaurants, filter it, repackage it, and sell it as new oil. If you’re buying oil from China, you might be purchasing recycled oil that has been “cleaned,” rather than new oil. Since you don’t know where that oil has been, it’s better to be safe and purchase oil not exported from China.), Soy Sauce (Unfortunately, soy sauce imported from China is known to have 4-Methylimidazole, a cancer-causing chemical. While this chemical isn’t in every soy sauce bottle, it plagues over 25% of all the soy sauce that comes out of China. If you want to keep your favorite condiment in your kitchen without fear, don’t purchase a bottle that comes from China.)
Summary of excerpts from Medical-News.org.
 
FOOD AND CULINARY TRENDS IN BAY AREA
 
■  Ghost Kitchens – The Latest New Development in the Food Service Industry. 
A revolution in the restaurant and commercial food service business has been underway during the last few years but has accelerated tremendously with the arrival of the Covid-19 Virus.  Isaac Yosef the owner of Frena Bakery & Café, a Kosher eatery in San Francisco, was in Israel when the shelter-in-place was suddenly implemented.  He immediately flew home to find an empty establishment.  He knew he had to do something. Fast.  Downtown was dead," Yosef recalls. "Half of our business was corporate catering and that was gone, too. We quickiy decided that if people can't come to Frena, Frena will come to them."  During the pandemic, pop-ups and other forms of geographic outreach are becoming an essential way for established San Francisco chefs to reach customers outside the city.  Some, like Frena, drive a van to corners across Northern California. Others, like China Live's George Chen, have opened ghost kitchens - commercial kitchens for delivery-only fare - from Berkeley to Belmont, so loyal customers who used to drive into Chinatown for his dumplings can enjoy them in the comfort of their homes. The tactic is not new.  Before opening a brick & mortar establishment, Yosef and his partners cooked their kosher dishes in a commercial kitchen and popped up in San Francisco and around the South Bay.  But this roadshow is different, with a rigorous weekly schedule - frenabakery.com/weekly-schedule - that clocks hundreds of miles.  At night, they bake and prep everything from falafel mix to pizza babkas, pack up each morning and head to Chabad centers and other gathering places, hitting three to four cities per day. On Wednesdays they're in San Mateo, Menlo Park and Palo Alto; Fridays in Oakland, Walnut Creek and Pleasanton, often in little to no traffic.  Yosef says the response has been amazing and that it currently accounts for the bulk of their business.  We now have customers that have never been to the Bakery!  He says, "We are lucky to have this supportive community and not have to rely on tourists and business professionals in San Francisco."
 
Last week, they went to Morgan Hill, Santa Cruz and Monterey for the first time.  On Fridays, Frena synchronizes its stops with the Richmond District's Hummus Bodega and Walnut Creek-based Afugå Coffee so customers can have creamy, authentic hummus and lattes to go with Frena's freshly baked pita and chocolate babka. This little culinary pod, at first unexpected, is now a pandemic mainstay, tucked into the suburbs, of all places.
 
Famed George Chen considered the food truck model as a way to curb lost revenue during the the pandemic.  But it wasn't the right fit for China Live, a massive culinary destination for modern Chinese cuisine. "We
have five kitchens. You can't put giant dumpling pans in a truck. And the heat required?  It wasn't feasible," he says.  Chen ramped up retail with meal kits and condiments, but knowing that 70% of his clientele was driving 10-plus miles to reach China Live before the Pandemic, he found a more relevant and long-term solution in Virtual Kitchen Co.'s Local Food Halls. The San Francisco-based company helps restaurants prepare local executions of their most popular menu items.  Last month, Chen launched 10 satellite kitchens in neighborhoods around the Bay Area, from San Jose’s Willow Glen to Sunnyale and Berkeley, offering China Live Signature Dishes like the Shanghai-style Shen Jian Bao, for delivery via DoorDash and other delivery apps.  He hopes to add kitchens in Oakland, Walnut Creek and Marin County next.  This Geographical distribution model has been very good for usll,” Chen says.  They’ve added more than 30% to our to-go revenue in a very short time. This is here to stay. If you don't pivot you're gonna die like a dinosaur."
 
That's why Brandon Rice of the Mission District’s forthcoming Ernest (www.ernestsf.com) is thinking ahead.  Rice, the former chef de cuisine at Rich Table, is weeks away from opening his highly anticipated first restaurant – for takeout only.  To preview his globally driven cuisine to the San Francisco public, Rice has been offering Ernest at Home dinners, everything from porterhouse steaks to prawn and scallop dumplings.  On the Fourth of July, he offered a wildly popular barbecue menu, complete with baby back ribs, buckets of fried chicken and New England-style lobster rolls.  But, it wasn't just in San Francisco.  Rice drove out to Walnut Creek, popping up near a park where his girlfriend's sister lives.  Naturally, news of a Michelin-cred chef bringing his food to Larkey Park traveled quickly on Facebook.  Rice sold out for the holiday and at the two pop-ups that followed.  He plans to return to Walnut Creek again, at least until he feels ready to open Ernest's patio for outdoor dining.
 
What does all this mean?  Using ‘Ghost’ (remote) kitchens working to produce finished food for multiple restaurants and food retailers is a tremendous cost savings. The above are scenarios of how creative entrepreneurs are developing their business to become more efficient, lower the cost of securing and keeping their customers and spreading their business footprint over a much wider area to more easily acquire incremental business they formerly could not reach.  This likely means that we will see more casual dining establishments operating with minimal kitchen investment, faster changing menus and a further melding of various types of restaurant operations, cuisines and serving formats.  These are challenging and exciting culinary times we now live in!  These remote kitchens are not new.  “Commissary Kitchens” were used in many chain restaurant and institution food service for over 50+ years.
Summarized from an article By Jessica Yadegaran, jyadegaran@bayareanewsgroup.com
 
 


August  2020  Consumer Tips
 
Communication Security Issues
 
Credit Card Protection Superweapon*
Defective merchandise. Shoddy plumbing jobs. Car repair shops that don't repair anything. Undisclosed and unfair extra service fees. Shipments that never arrive. Even careful consumers sometimes run into problems. 
 
We (Bay Area Consumer’s Checkbook) often advise our readers to pay using a credit card. That's because using plastic is more than just a convenient way to pay for stuff; when you use one, you automatically get incredibly strong protections against most lousy-service scenarios and companies that sell faulty goods.  The genesis of these protections is the federal Fair Credit Billing Act, which protects you from fraud by requiring credit card companies –not consumers - to deal with fraudulent charges. The law also provides important protections against billing errors. 
 
What many consumers don't know is that the law also requires your credit card company to give you the chance to dispute charges and withhold payment for goods and services that you didn't accept or that weren't delivered as promised. This means that if you used a credit card to pay for something that isn't satisfactory, and you tried to work it out with a seller who won’t budge, you can tell your credit card company you want to contest the payment and get your money back.  Ditto for defective or undelivered products.  
 
 And while debit card purchases aren't covered under the Fair Credit Billing Act, when you pay with a debit card that uses the Visa or MasterCard payment system to complete a purchase, that purchase is governed by Visas and MasterCard's consumer-friendly rules.  Most debit card purchases are routed through Visa or MasterCard; if you're asked when using a debit card to choose "debit" or "credit" at checkout, choosing "credit" pushes the transaction through the Visa or MasterCard system. 
 
To contest a charge, ask the bank or company that issued your credit card for its chargeback procedures. Often, you can do it on its website: Simply go to your list of purchases, select the transaction, and use a link to report a problem.  Some banks still require customers to submit requests in writing and mail in documentation (this is most common with debit cards).
 
Even if you already paid your credit card bill in full, you can still contest the charge. During the time that the credit card company investigates, the questionable charge is removed from your outstanding balance, and you are not required to pay it or the portion of your balance, or any interest, until the dispute is resolved.  If the credit card company rules in your favor, it simply pulls the money out of the seller's account and credits yours.  But, again we find that credit card companies side with the vast majority of these contested cases.
 
Stop Unwanted Calls And Mail*
Tired of being inundated with mail, messages, and calls from credit card and insurance companies, retailers, political candidates, charities, scammers, and the rest? Want to minimize the pitching and the waste of piles of junk mail?  Here's what you can do: 
Phones – The most effective and easiest way to curb telemarketing calls is to post your landline and mobile phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry. Created in 2003 by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), as of 2019 the registry had 239.5 million numbers on it, with more than 4 million of those added in 2019 alone. Sign up at donotcall.gov or call the FTC's toll-free hotline to register: 888-382-1222. Within 31 days, you should notice a reduction in unsolicited calls.  Your number will stay on the list until it is disconnected and reassigned, or you request that it be removed.
 
The Do Not Call Registry doesn’t guarantee all calls will stop.  That’s because a lot of companies are exempt from the do-not-call rules, including charities, survey researchers, political campaigns, companies that have an existing business relationship with you, and companies you have given consent to call you.  You may not even know you gave consent; some marketers obtain it surreptitiously by sending solicitations or emails with fine print indicating that if you click or respond, they can call you.  Crooks don’t respect the Do Not Call Registry.  Scammers are able to phone you from all over the world, often using phone numbers masking technology that disguises their numbers and locations, making you more likely to pick up.
 
Call blocking or call labeling is your best bet to stop scam calls.  Each type of phone (mobile, landline, VOIP) has its own call-blocking options.  Some phone companies offer call labeling, which will warn you on the caller ID that this is likely a call you don't want to answer (e.g., "Possible SPAM Caller"). The FTC has a comprehensive guide to call-blocking options at consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-block-unwanted-calls.  It's a great starting point for protecting yourself. 
 
To stop even more solicitations, you can ask a company or organization that calls you to put you on its company-specific do-not-call list. This means they're not supposed to call you, even if you have an existing business relationship or if it is otherwise exempt.
 
Paper Mail - If you want to get off as many national mailing lists as possible, first contact the Mail Preference Service of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). The association’s members are bound to honor the request of consumers who ask to be removed from mailing lists, and many other marketers who are not DMA members also honor these requests. 
 
The quickest (and least expensive) way to see results via the DMA is to register online at dmachoice.org. The site will ask you which type of mail (if any) you still want to receive.  There’s a $5 fee for online registration, and you reregister every five years.  If you’d rather register by mail, y ou can print and fill out a form available on DMA’s website and mail it to DMAchoice, Consumer Preferences, P.O. Box 900, Cos Cob, CT 0680, along with a $3 check or money order.
 
While signing up for DMA-choice should be your first line of defense, there are other things you can do to banish junk mail.  Valpak, which sends those blue envelopes of coupons, has an opt-out form on its website. CatalogChoice.org, run by nonprofit The Story of Stuff project (mission: "Stop junk mail for good") will connect you (free!) with a company's opt-out registration process; or if it doesn't have one, it will send a request to remove you from the company's catalog list.
 
To stop unsolicited credit card and insurance offers, you can opt out by signing on to a list operated by the four major credit reporting bureaus. These bureaus, which are a source of mailing list information for banks and others marketing credit cards and insurance, will then no longer be able to provide your name to these marketers. To sign up, call (888-567-8688) or visit optoutprescreen.com. You’ll have to supply certain personal information - phone number, Social Security number, birth date, etc.- to verify your identity, so make sure you’re using a secure connection to do that (in other words, don't sign up while using public Wi-Fi at a coffee shop). You can opt out for five years or forever.  Opting out this way won't stop all credit offers, however.
 
You may still get solicitations from companies you do business with, such as your current credit card companies, charities, and alumni associations.
 
*Source: Bay Area Consumer’s Checkbook, Vol 17, No.4, Summer/Fall2020
 
Personal Cyber Security
1. For latest online scam alerts – go to aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.
2. Before forwarding information – verify authenticity by checking at FactCheck.Org. and Google Search.
3. For Urban Myths – go to Snope.com
4. Be aware of phishing attempts – these are usually fake messages from banks, social media and organizations you know or do business with, asking you to verify your personal information and almost always state dire consequences will happen if you do not act immediately.  Never ‘click on’ any provided links in such emails.  Instead, use your Browser to go to the individual, official website of the organization you wish to communicate with.
 
Food/Cooking Items (Compliment to John Noll’s Cooking Tips)
  • Cowboy Caviar – Party Dip/Appetizer
Ingredients:
3 Roma Tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 Avocados, diced
1 Can 15 oz. Black Eyed Peas, rinsed & drained
1 Can 15 oz. Sweet Corn
1 Green Pepper, diced (or half green/half red pepper)
1/3 Cup Red Onion, Diced
1 Jalapeno Pepper, Seeded and Finely Diced
1/3 Cup Cilantro, Finely Chopped
Dressing:
1/3 Cup Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
2 Tbsp Lime Juice
1 Tsp Sugar
½ Tsp Salt
½ Tsp Pepper
¼ Tsp Garlic Powder (or Chili Powder)
 
Directions:
Mix all ingredients with the dressing in a mixing bowl.  Chill in refrigerator for at least one hour.  Serve with Tortilla Chips or Tostitos Scoops.  Do not freeze leftovers.
Source: Darlene Hom, Family Friend
 
Preserve Sweet Corn Flavor
This is the height of the corn season.  To preserve the wonderfully sweet flavor of fresh corn on the cob, cook immediately to lock the flavor in the kernels.  You can boil, steam or microwave fresh corn with the husk and silk still intact.  After cooking, it will be much easier to remove cleanly.  If you’re not going to eat the fresh corn right away, husk the corn and wrap each ear individually with Stretch Wrap to seal and preserve the flavor.
 
Never Wash Cast Iron Pots/Pans or Carbon Steel Woks
Washing with soap or detergent will strip the seasoning from the iron surface and the pan will ‘stick’ and have to be re-seasoned to restore the non-stick quality it once had.  Instead, fill the pot/pan/wok 1/3 to ½ full with boiling hot water.  Use a pair of long metal tongs to hold a copper scouring pad to scrape any food stuck to the surface for easy/fast removal.  A stiff, horse-hair brush will also work well.
Rinse and dry the vessel before storage to prevent rusting. 
 
Food Safety – the temperature danger zone
The temperature danger zone is food temperatures between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit, and the most rapid bacteria growth occurs between 70 and 125 degrees Fahrenheit. The longer food sits in this temperature range, the greater the risk that bacteria will begin to grow on your food.
 
As these bacteria reach unsafe levels, this can cause food to spoil and become unfit for consumption. Consumers should strive to avoid these issues by ensuring food is quickly chilled or heated to food safe temperatures.
How Long Can Food Stay in the Temperature Danger Zone?  As a general rule, it is recommended foods enter their proper temperature zones within 2 hours. For cold foods, the food safe temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit and below. For hot foods, the safe temperature is above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
 
Additionally, if you're operating in a warm kitchen that's above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, your food shouldn't be in the danger zone for longer than an hour. The warmer temperature can help bacteria grow faster, making it more important for you to heat or chill it to safe temperatures quickly.
Source: FDA website.
 
Instant Read Thermometer – every kitchen should have a good, reliable, accurate Instant Read Thermometer.  These are small, relatively inexpensive thermometers with a metal probe for piercing foods during and after cooking to determine their internal temperatures.  These come in digital and analog types.  A good instant read thermometer should reach it’s temperature in 5 to 10 seconds.  To determine the speed of your instrument, simply insert the probe into a food item or liquid and observe how long it takes for your instrument to stop and stabilize at a constant temperature.
 
A Versatile, Reliable, Easy General Purpose Marinade – I call this my “3/3/3 GP Marinade.  It is, simply, a mixture of 1/3 Orange Juice, 1/3 Red Wine and 1/3 Soy Sauce.  Your own choice of herbs and spices can be added if desired.  Minced fresh garlic is also optional. EVOO can be added if an oil is desired for cooking ease. This will keep for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.  This can be used to add flavor and tenderize meats and fowl.  It’s good on beef, lamb, pork, fish, chicken, etc.
 
An anecdotal story to illustrate it’s ease of use and versatility – some years ago, a friend of ours was undergoing chemotherapy and had no appetite.  The major caregiver, her husband was not a cook but attempted to cook for her.  I gave him this marinade recipe and it turned out to be the only thing she would eat during her chemo regimen was grilled chicken after marinating for at least 4 hours.  Red meats can marinate overnight.
Source: A cooking tip in the Portland Journal Newspaper many years ago.
 
Miscellaneous Consumer Tips:
Commercial Hand Sanitizer Warning: Check the ingredients listing on the product.  Avoid Methanol (wood) Alcohol.  Methanol poisoning can be serious even from occasional contact through the skin and can be fatal or result in blindness if consumed orally.  Look for safe alcohols - alcohol use on skin as in the case of hand sanitizers. Such products require at least 60% alcohol (ethanol) in order to most effectively kill illness-causing viruses and germs. Soap and water are preferred for hand hygiene throughout the day, but in the absence of convenient access to this method, using a hand sanitizer is the next best thing. The exposure to alcohol isn’t ideal, but unlike alcohol in facial skin care, alcohol-based hand sanitizers serve a necessary health-protecting purpose.
Source: Summary from Paula’s Choice Skincare website
 
Web Browsing Tip:  “Surfing” the Internet or doing serious research?  Use the full-view, Desk Top version of any web page.  Most web pages have a smaller/condensed version of their full-size web page for faster loading and to more easily fit the screen size format of mobile phones.  However, these mini-formats may not provide all the data and notes that you might be looking for.  Fortunately, you can request the full-size version of most web pages, easily.  On Android phones there are several ways you can view full versions of web pages. Here are two that you can use to turn your Android into a lean, mean, web page displaying machine. 
Option #1:  Google Chrome for Android provides a handy option for quickly viewing the desktop version of websites. Simply visit the site, then select “Menu” > “Request desktop site“.  Option #2:  Some web pages have a link for switching to the desktop version. The link is usually hidden somewhere at the bottom of the page. Look for links that say “non-mobile”, “classic”, “full site” or “normal page”.
Source: technipages.com
 
Shopping On Line:  When shopping on popular websites - 1. let your online shopping cart sit for a few days.  If you simply sign in to your account and stick a few items in your cart, don’t check out just yet.  Retailers often will email you a coupon in a few days to entice you to place the order. 2. Sign up for texts.  Surprisingly, you often can get better discounts from a store’s text email list.  Retailers tend to send their best discounts to text list members. That’s because text messages have a 98% open rate and there’s no spam folder for them to get filtered into.  You may not feel compelled to get sale texts forever, but signing up for a few weeks could help you get a nice discount on your next purchase. Then, of course, you can unsubscribe.
 
Top Tier Gas:  When filling up at your local major brand name gas station,  you may notice a sign stating their gas is “Top Tier Gas.”  Most people tend to look at fuel prices first when they choose a gas station for a fill-up.  Or drivers simply go to the station that's most convenient at the time. However, some automakers and plenty of experts recommend filling at stations that sell top-tier gas.  It's commonly believed that all brands of gas are more or less the same. This is partially true. All gas is refined in the same way and it comes from crude oil.  Gas in the U.S. is required to include certain additives to keep engines clean.  However, the top-tier gas brands do more than just the minimum requirements set by the EPA.  Top-tier gas meets the more stringent standards set by some of the top automakers.  It's a trademarked name that is derived from a program started in 2004.  It was then that several automakers were concerned that EPA standards weren't strong enough to protect their new high-tech engines. Top-tier gas uses a number of approved additives to reduce engine deposits and sticky valves.  Non Top Tier gas is usually found at independent discount gas retailers.  An occasional fill up of Non Top Tier Gas will not harm or pollute your engine.
 


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!