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SAN RAMON VALLEY

Jim Quon's Recent 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!


MARCH  2022  CONSUMER  TIPS
 
GENERAL CONSUMER ITEMS/ISSUES:
 
PHISHING ATTEMPTS ON OUR CELLPHONES”
 
 This is something we’ve all experienced. 
 
SMS phishing warning signs: You receive a suspicious text from an unfamiliar number, and when you open it, the sender claims to be from your bank or internet service provider and urges you to click on a link. Chances are it's a scam artist using a tactic called SMS or text phishing to steal your personal information. 
 
Here are a few ways to spot this trick and actions you should take if you get a text you're unsure about..
 
1.  They play with your emotions -You might get a message that says payment was successful for something you didn't buy, or even that your sensitive data has been compromised. The goal is to make you react without thinking.
 
2.  They urge you to click on a link -Scammers will often send you a link, hoping that you'll click on it. This link may infect your device with malware, install spyware, or steal your information. If it doesn't, it may take you to a fake site that asks you to voluntarily enter your personal information. Don't click on the link.
 
3. They ask you to respond -Real companies send text messages asking you to reply “STOP” to no longer receive alerts. Cyberthieves have emulated this tactic to find out whether your number works so they can send you more messages. Don’t respond unless you can verify the number is real and that the vendor is who they say they are.
 
4. They don't use your name -If you have an account with a company, charity, or organization, it will probably send you personalized texts. Scammers sending phishing messages likely don't know your name. Instead, they’ll use a generic greeting like “Hello,” “Dear Customer,” or “Dear Member.
 
5.  They use incorrect grammar -Established companies and organizations have teams dedicated to proofreading emails, so incorrect punctuation, grammar, or spelling should be a warning sign that it may be a phishing message.
 
Help Stop SMS Phishing Scams: Once you know about common text phishing tactics, it’s easier to keep your data safe.  Here are some simple ways to do so.
 
REPORT THE SCAM
Tell Your Carrier:  1. It’s simple. Forward the suspicious message to 7726 (text message).  2. Tell the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  Go to the FTC’s reporting website so they can add the suspected scammer’s number to a list of known fraudsters. 3. Block the Number:  Both iPhone and Android devices have the ability to block unwanted calls and texts from their own cell phones.
            Source: SR Smith Corp. IT Dept.
 
■  Age –Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) – is a leading cause of blindness and affects the sight of approximately 11 Million people in the U.S. and growing.  AMD is a progressive disease with symptoms usually appearing from age 50 onward.
 
Diagnosis and treatment
If you have a family history of AMD, it's vital to have your and your children's eyes examined by an ophthalmologist early on and regularly throughout life. To check for macular degeneration, a dilated eye exam is necessary. Make an appointment with an optometrist or an ophthalmologist, who can perform a complete eye exam.
 
Currently, there are only a few treatments for late forms of dry AMD, including AREDS2 supplements, available as OTC meds at your local pharmacy.  Research into the wet form has demonstrated that treatments involving injections into the eye have revolution1zed the outcomes for afflicted patients.  These injections, especially when given early in the disease, when it presents with good vision, are effective.  "It does not slow or stop, or restore, vision loss in all cases.  But in some cases vision has been able to be restored, and the patients who have good vision at the time of treatment do much better. In fact, some patients who are 20/20 still after four years of injections, and  some even longer."  "Being diagnosed with AMD is going to be an emotional experience.” "Getting injections into your eye on a regular basis is not a pleasant thing, but it's critical to keep up treatments or the faulty blood vessel formation can reoccur. This condition is not dissimilar to diabetes; it takes regular and continual management." Use the information available to check your own vision. "Know your family history and, above all, follow a healthy lifestyle.  Remember: We are what we eat and how we live:"
 
Normal vision: Clear vision of both eyes.  Macular degeneration: Blind spot in center of field of vision.  VISION SYMPTOMS - By the time you experience the symptoms of AMD, it's already quite advanced.
 
Symptoms include blurred areas near the center of your vision, straight lines appearing wavy or crooked, objects appearing smaller than normal, colors appearing less bright or difficulty in adapting when going from
light to dark.  The American Macular Degeneration Foundation recommends periodically checking yourself by using an Amsler grid (macular. org/amsler-chart) to see if straight lines look wavy or if you perceive a central  darkening.  Anyone can use this Amsler Grid Chart.
 
Use this link: https://www.macular.org/amsler-chart.  Download/print this chart and follow the simple directions on that website to check to see if you have any signs of AMD.  It’s easy and simple enough to do this on a daily basis.  Do it once a week at the very least.  Like any disease, you want to catch this early rather than allow it to mature.  The earlier you catch this, the more options you will have.
          
           Source:  Costco Connection February 2022 Edition
                           American Macular Degeneration Foundation Website
          
■ Best Value in Chef’s Knife for Home Use:
 
TOP KNIFE OVERALL: Henckels Premio 8 Chef's Knife $40. 
CR'S TAKE - The Premio has great force transmission, so you don't neeed to exert as much effort when cutting, and the contoured handle is comfortable for a wide variety of hand sizes and grip styles.
 
STURDY& SMOOTH CUTTING:  Wüsthof Classic 8"Chef's Knife $150.
CR'S TAKE: This knife was heavy but still comfortable for all of our panelists.  Good force transmission. let it glide through
tougher-to-cut foods, like chicken.
 
BEST BUDGET CHEF'S KNIFE:  KitchenAid Classic 8" Triple Rivet Chef Knife $20.
CR'S TAKE: Considering its bargain price, this knife has decent force
transmission. And the design is reminiscent of much pricier knives, such as the Wüsthof.
 
GOOD GRIP: Global Classic 8" Chef's Knife $125
CR'S TAKE:  Great for chefs who use a pinch grip (when thumb and
index fingers grip the top of the blade).  Plus, the handle resisted
slipping in wet hands.
 
               Source:  Consumer Reports, Jan. 2022 issue
 
■ Sleep Aid Supplements:  How effective are the more popular supplements?  Here’s what Consumer Reports says:
 
Melatonin
This popular supplement is made from a natural or synthetic version
of the hormone melatonin, which signals to your body that it's time
to sleep. It can be helpful for older adults (who produce less melatonin
and those with wonky body clocks (night owls, jet-lagged travelers,
and night-shift workers). But a 2013 meta-analysis found that, on
average, people fall asleep only about 7 minutes faster after taking melatonin. Talk to your doctor before trying this Supplement, and consider taking it only occasionally: Research is still pending on the safety of long-term use, beyond about three months.
 
Iron
Iron deficiency is closely linked to restless legs syndrome, a condition
marked by uncomfortable sensations in the limbs and an uncontrollable
urge to move them-which can interfere with sleep. Think this might
be your issue? Consult a doctor before self-treating. Taking iron could mask a more serious problem.  Plus, in people without deficiency, supplementing could lead to iron overload, which can damage organs.
 
Vitamin D
A growing body of evidence suggests a link between low levels of vitamin D and sleep troubles. One study of 89 adults with sleep disorders, published in 2018, found that when people whose vitamin D levels were on the low side, but not deficient, took supplements regularly for eight weeks, they said they nodded off faster, slept longer, and had better sleep quality than those who received a placebo. But other research has found that in certain populations, the supplements have no positive
effect on sleep, or may worsen it.  What to do? Talk to your doctor about vitamin D testing and whether supplements might be worth a try.
 
Valerian
This root has been used for centuries to treat insomnia. And several studies suggest that this supplement may help people fall asleep faster and wake up less often at night, though next-day grogginess may occur. But other studies show no benefit. Such mixed findings may be due to the variable quality and instability of active ingredients in valerian, according to a 2020 research review, so be sure to check for a trustworthy seal on the bottle (see more on seals
at CR.org/seals0222)
 
               Source: CR Reports; Feb, 2022 Issue
 
■  Debit Cards vs. Credit Cards
 
Credit cards are preferable to debit cards in many ways, but learn the pros and cons of each before deciding what's best for you. With a credit card, you're essentially drawing on a line of credit from your card's issuer, and you're expected to pay off your debt each month.  If you don't, you'll be charged interest. A debit card, on the other hand, draws directly from your bank account, as if you were writing a check.  There's no borrowing involved. An advantage of debit cards is that they don't let you rack up debt.  You can't buy what you can't afford.  That means you also don't receive a bill every month that needs to be paid off.  Debit cards also generally don't charge annual fees -- while many credit cards do. Credit cards, meanwhile, offer many benefits.  For starters, using a credit card responsibly -- that is, paying your bills in full and on time is a good way to build a high credit score, which can help you get better interest rates when borrowing money. (On the flip side, though, applying for too many cards or racking up debt can depress that credit score.) 
              
Many credit cards offer perks such as a percentage of your purchase price back in cash or the ability to earn points toward discounts. Travel credit cards can offer access to airport lounges,
upgrades for hotels and flights, and dining credits at restaurants. Some
credit cards offer purchase protections and extended warranties, too.
              
Credit cards also offer safeguards that debit cards don't. Their issuers tend to monitor usage, and will often flag suspicious activity before it becomes a problem.  And by law, you're not on the hook for more than $50 if unauthorized charges are made on your credit card.
              
The downsides of credit cards being charged steep interest rates and racking up lots of debt can be disastrous, though.  Consider using a
credit card, but treating it like a debit card paying off your bills in full right away.
 
               Source: San Jose Mercury News, Financial Section
 
■  Description Audio Feature: During the last few days of the Winter Olympics TV coverage, a strange ‘thing’ happened to our 2004 wide screen LED TV during viewing.  A new female voice suddenly began to describe the action that was taking place on the video that was in addition to the regular program audio.  It was describing in narrative style everything that was going on in the program.  It was very distracting.  I ‘Googled’ this new phenomenon and discovered that this was a standard feature as an assistive feature to blind or visually handicapped viewers that can be invoked by the viewer.  I followed the various instructions given on Google and nothing worked.  After a couple of hours of trying, I finally turned the problem over to our son.  It took him all of 2 or 3 minutes to find the hidden feature and turned it off.  Google was wrong.  It wasn’t in the TV set.  It was a part of the Comcast Xfinity features controlled by the Xfinity Remote Control.  If this ever happens to you and you subscribe to the Xfinity Cable programs, simply click the DOWN ARROW button on the remote.  A new menu will appear on the bottom of the screen.  Highlight this menu bar to go to the far left screen item “DA” and click on it to toggle this feature on/off to eliminate this annoying, narrative, voice-over feature.  Problem solved!!
 
EAST BAY DINING SCENE:
 
Bette’s Oceanview Diner: Last month I reported the impending closing of this iconic place in Berkeley after 39 great years of operation.   Late breaking news – it will reopen in March as The Oceanview Diner.  Ownership will be a group of former staffers that include the Chef, Darryl Kimble and Manager Rima Ransom.  It will be a coop arrangement with equal ownership among all the former staffers.  Target date for reopening is early March 2022!
 
Rock Wall Wine Company, Alameda:  This popular urban winery has closed after 14 successful and fun years of serving the East Bay.  This Urban Winery was a new concept developed by the famed Rosenblum family.  They are, apparently, victims of the current Covid economy and the lack of qualified staff to serve their clientele.
 
Pho Saigon, Dublin, closed last November and moved to a new location in Pleasanton next to Honey Baked Ham and across from the now-shuttered Sweet Tomatoes.  They reopened in January but suffered a devastating kitchen fire and will be closed for repairs for the next couple of months.  However, the story doesn’t end there.  There must have been some ‘Musical Chairs’ skullduggery going on because their former location has already reopened.  The name is new but the staff is mostly made up of the former Pho Saigon folks!  It is now known as Pho Dublin!
 
           Source: San Jose Mercury News
 
New Steakhouse in Bishop Center:  L B Steak is a relatively new eatery to open up on the ground floor of City Center Bishop Ranch within the last year.  It’s an excellent Steak House.  We like it a lot.  However, it’s expensive.  Their least expensive steak is a 6 oz. Filet Mignon @ $54 and the most expensive cut for one person is a Boneless, 35-day Dry-Aged 12 oz., Rib Eye @ $59.  Their signature steak is a 48 oz. Tomahawk, Bone-in, Rib Eye (for two) @ $130!  We’ve had the 12 oz. dry-aged Rib Eye and it was outstanding in flavor, tenderness and cooked perfectly medium rare. They also offer a good selection of Japanese Wagyu steaks priced at $25 - $30 per oz. depending on District of origin in Japan.  Minimum size is 4 oz.  Steaks are started on a lower temperature flat-top grill and finished in a Salamander at 800°F  1000°F.  Professional service, ambiance and hospitality are top notch!  BTW, “L B” stands for Left Bank, the French Brasserie Chain of  restaurants.
 
               Source: Our visit 2 weeks ago.
 


FEBRUARY 2022 CONSUMER TIPS
 
GENERAL CONSUMER ITEMS/ISSUES:
 
Dollar Tree/General  is no longer 99¢ - CLARIFICATION: Last month, I reported that the ‘standard’ price for all regular merchandise in our local Dollar Tree and Dollar General Stores is now priced at $1.25/each.  I have now visited two other Dollar Tree/General stores and per their staff confirmed that their ‘standard’ price is now $1.25/each, on a nation-wide basis.  This new pricing structure will remain in effect until their cost of merchandise reduces to pre-Pandemic levels.  That’s very unlikely to happen!  However, during a visit to the Livermore 99¢ Only Store, I was told by their staff that they have not received any word from their HQ of any future price or operational changes coming.
 
■ Do Not Purchase Car Repair, Home Repair and Appliance Repair Warranties: Extended Service Contracts for vehicles, homes and major appliances are incredibly profitable for auto dealers, appliance retailers, and other companies that sell them.  But because many new cars and major appliances are very reliable due to improved, robotic assembly techniques and computer designed, 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 exclusion. “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.“­
Also, our oldest son worked for Macy’s Stores doing Hi/Stereo and Home Theater installations for the equipment sold by Macy’s. He quickly learned that these types of service contracts were so lucrative that he was offered a bonus of $150 if he could get the customer to sign up for any of these contracts.
          Sources: Consumer Reports; Consumer’s Checkbook; Jonathan Quon
 
Personal/Financial Security:  We all know that Identity Theft is on the rise.  All the financial experts recommend that we shred all documents that might have personal or confidential information that should not fall into the wrong hands.  They even go to the trouble of specifying that the shredder should be a cross-cut design to make it more difficult for someone to piece the written data back together to reveal what you might want to keep secure.  A good alternative to a shredder is a self-inking stamp device that will cover up that sensitive data quickly and easily.  And, they are small, inexpensive and can be put in your purse, pocket or briefcase.  We use one from Amazon for just $12.  See it at  https://tinyurl.com/2p8btw8u.  It works very well and I plan on getting more of them to give as gifts.
 
■ Handy Storage of your Covid Face Masks: I see a lot of cars with the Surgical Masks hanging from the inside rear view mirror.  This is not a good idea as it can block forward vision during driving.  If you want a nice, easy, convenient way to store the masks, go to the hardware store and buy plastic hooks with self-adhesive strips attached to ‘stick’ to a convenient place on your vehicle dash or console.  If you get the 3M brand, removal of the hooks can be done quickly and without adhesive residue remaining on the substrate surface when you want to remove the hooks.
 
■ Genuine Butcher Shops are a dying breed among local food purveyors.  The last real butcher shop that I can recall in the Tri Valley area was Lawrence’s Meat Market, Alamo.  However I’ve learned there are 2 real butcher shops still alive and well.  1. C&H Meat Company, Castro Valley, home of the Oakland Kalbi® - yes, that's a registered trademark - this Korean ‘All You Can Eat’ eatery and butcher shop started in San Francisco in 1982, long before the Bay Areas obsession with Korean food began. These days, you'll find Mama Cho's exclusive cut of Angus beef short ribs at the meat counter in Castro Valley along with prime, grass fed and organic cuts of everything else you need to master Korean barbecue or Japanese dishes like Shabu Shabu.  Located inside Lake Chabot Public Market, C&H's friendly, knowledgeable staff offers a dizzying array of marinated beef, pork and chicken options, plus unique items like house-made spicy Thai chicken sausage and Kurobuta pork belly. You'll find rib-eye sliced specifically for Shabu Shabu and paper-thin brisket for bulgogi and chadol baegi.  2. LIVERMORE BUTCHER SHOP -  Family-owned and operated with a wide variety of cuts, including bone-in pork chops, rib-eye steaks and house-made sausages, plus sandwiches.  282 S. L St., Livermore; livermorebutchershop.com.
 
■ East Bay Dining Scene:  The loss of formerly viable restaurants has increased from 25% after the first year of  Covid.  Per the San Francisco Restaurant Association, it is now over 35%!  Some of the more notable closures are Brown Sugar Kitchen (15+ years), Specialty’s Café & Bakery Chain (33 years), Chow’s (22+ years), Bette’s Oceanview Diner (40+ years) and Pappo’s Restaurant, Alameda (16 yers). This was just a partial list of the better known eateries.
 
■ Kitchen/Cooking Tips:
 
■ Care and storage of fresh vegetables from the store: 
▪︎Fresh Corn – While shopping, don't peel back the husk at the tail to see if the kernels are plump/whole/mature. You can actually feel it through the husk and that will leave the corn undamaged. Store in damp paper bag or paper towels. Use a Ziploc bag in the fridge but leave the mouth of the bag open.
▪︎ Tomatoes  - Smell them. They should smell earthy with a strong tomato presence. Press on them with your thumb but do not Dent them.  They should give a little. If it's rock hard they're not going to ripen anytime soon.  It's OK to put them in the fridge if they are ripe.
▪︎Cucumbers  -  English style are wrapped in plastic and will last longer in the fridge. You can do the same with Farmer’s market fresh cucumbers.  Simply wrap them immediately in Saran Wrap tightly.  Supermarket cukes are coated in wax which do the same thing.  Tip: The large, plastic wrapped, English Cucumbers will last much longer than the unwrapped ones.  That also applies to the smaller Persian Cucumbers.
▪︎  Carrots - If the market has the green's still attached choose those over a bag one without the green tops. The bagged variety were picked as much as a month to 2 months ago. The ones with the greens still attached were picked just A-day or 2 ago. When you get home cut those greens off because a carrot has a root and you don't want the root feeding those greens and losing flavor and nutrition.  Put the carrots into a Ziploc bag but leave the opening open
and put them in the fridge.
▪︎ Lettuce - First thing is dry as much of the lettuce as you can roll/wrap them in paper towels and insert into a  Ziploc bag with mouth open. Also remove any rubber bands or other banding material because they'll rot underneath that band.  Wash just before making your salad. 
            Source: America’s Test Kitchen, S21/Ep24.
 
■ Cook Frozen Foods in Air Fryer: Cook just about any frozen food in your air fryer to crispy, take-out quality perfection. (I'm looking at you: Trader Joe's mandarin orange chicken). Oh, and it's great for crisping up any leftovers, too.
 
■ Microwave lemons to get more juice out of them: After a quick 20 seconds, they're so much easier to squeeze and yield so much more juice.
 
■ Instead of sautéing mushrooms in olive oil or butter, start cooking them in a dry pan for a few minutes. This gets much of the moisture out so they brown better.
 
■  Pre-make roux in big batches, then freeze it in silicon ice molds. Use the individual portions of roux whenever you're making something like gravy, mac 'n' cheese, or béchamel sauce. It's a total time saver.
 
■ Bake with browned butter instead of regular butter. Brown butter has a richer and nuttier flavor that will enhance whatever you're baking (cue: the world's best chocolate chip cookies).
 
■  Add a little bit of mayonnaise to beaten eggs before scrambling them or making an omelette, quiche, or frittata. It makes them super light and fluffy.
 
■. Use the spice packet that comes with instant ramen as a popcorn seasoning. Mix the powder with some melted butter or margarine and then toss with the popcorn. It's even better than the movie theater stuff.
 
■ When making grilled cheese sandwiches, schmear a little bit of salad dressing on the outside of the bread. Most people do this with mayonnaise, but salad dressing (like store bought Italian dressing) is even better. Just a light spread is all you need.
 
■ Line the lid of your slow cooker with paper towels to soak up extra condensation and prevent your food from getting watery. This is especially useful if you're making dishes with a crispy top like lasagna or mac 'n' cheese with a bread crumb topping.
 
■ If you're making soup, stew, or even a sauce that looks too thin, add a bit of instant mashed potatoes as a thickener. It's an easy fix when you realize too late that you've added too much liquid.
 
■ When breading something like a chicken cutlet, forget about the egg and coat it in mayonnaise before the breadcrumbs.
 
■ You can boil eggs in the air fryer with no water necessary. Set your handy appliance to 270°F and place the eggs inside the basket. Cook 10 minutes for soft boiled or 15 minutes for hard boiled.
 
■ Starchy foods like rice, pasta, potatoes, and quinoa taste better when cooked in stock, rather than plain water.
 
■ Make homemade whipped cream shake for about 20 seconds. You'll have delicious, fluffy whipped cream in no time.
 
■ Add a dash of vanilla extract and cinnamon to pancake or waffle batter. It gives the final product a touch of sweetness and richer flavor.
 
■ Mix soy sauce and butter to instantly boost the flavor of just about any savory dish like fried rice, mushrooms, or salmon.
 
■ For the crispiest fried or roasted potatoes, dip them in ice water first. When you're cutting potatoes, toss them into a bowl of ice water. Give them a swirl to wash off excess starch, then drain and pat them dry. Even soaking them for a few minutes is enough to get them really crispy.
 
■ Add a few drops of lemon or lime juice to a cutting board before you dice onions. It doesn't impact the flavor whatsoever, but the acid from the lemon neutralizes the fumes from the onion so you won't cry.
 
■ Add a small amount of water to the pan when frying bacon. The water significantly reduces the amount of fat splattering, and it actually results in really crispy bacon.
        Source  for Above  19 Items: buzzfeed.com/hannahloewentheil
 
■ Rewarming Leftover Pasta: This can be tricky.  Reheating pasta in cream or other thick type sauces will often result in the sauce breaking down into oil and other components of the sauce.  The key is to reheat it slowly.  Here are two methods I use. 1. Reheat it in your microwave oven set at just 20% power.  “Baby up” on your target temperature slowly, using 5 minute maximum cycles to avoid the oil component of the sauce from separating.  2. Put the leftover pasta into a oven safe dish or wrap in Aluminum Foil.  Place in oven or Toaster Oven or Air Fryer for 20 - 25 minutes.  Use a digital thermometer with a long probe to check the temperature of the food being reheated.
 
Tip for eating noodles in Asian restaurants: If you are not proficient in using chopsticks, soup noodle and stir fry noodle dishes can be very difficult and messy to eat.  Try asking for a pair of scissors to cut your noodles into shorter lengths to make the use of a fork or large spoon less frustrating.  Many Asian places often have scissors for use by their customers for this purpose.  The server may even offer to cut your noodles up for you for eating or serving ease.
 
■ Brita Water Filter Pitcher Battery: Ever wonder about the power source for the little gauge on the top of the pitcher used to remind you that it’s time to replace the filter cartridge.  There is nothing in the User’s Manual or product packaging material to indicate any need for service.  It’s a sealed meter and is designed to require no service by the user.  The battery is a small, sealed, wafer-type battery with a 5-year shelf life.  The battery will last a lot longer than 5+ years.  The battery or the gauge is not user-replaceable. The battery, gauge and pitcher lid are not sold separately.  You’ll have to replace the whole pitcher if the meter dies on you.
 


JANUARY 2022 CONSUMER TIPS
 
GENERAL CONSUMER ITEMS/ISSUES:
 
■ Possible Fraudulent Book About Covid 19 Rapid Testing:
THE TRUTH ABOUT FDA-APPROVED HOME TEST KITS AND N95 MASKS FOR COVID-19 PROTECTION: Everything about Binaxnow, Ellume, Lucira Check It, Quickvue, Saliva Antibody, Rapid, Antigen & Self-Test by Dr. Bryson Bob is a book offered for sale on Amazon.com.  Unfortunately, this appears to be of no real value.  Per Amazon reviews, the book is self published, the author is fictitious and the information in the book appears to be of little or no value.  One reviewer calls it a “fraud.”  For a full explanation, go to: https://tinyurl.com/2kp43fsu
■ Dollar Tree is no longer 99¢: The supply problems caused by the Pandemic have really put pressure on the Dollar Store business across the U.S.  The only way for these stores to stay in business is to raise prices.  Dollar Tree has not made any major announcement but per my visit to our local store, yesterday, it appears they are now using $1.25/each, as their standard price.  That’s a 25% jump!  Dollar General, a part of this chain store, probably is doing the same.  I also visited 99¢ Only Store, Livermore, yesterday and they were still selling their general merchandise for 99¢, each.
■ Consider Using the Flat Rate Priority Mail Boxes Offered by the U.S. Postal Service:  I recently sent something by Parcel Post to Portland, OR.  I paid the $10+ charges.  After I left the counter, I suddenly remembered that there is a flat fee service, Priority Mail.  This parcel service is a flat rate determined by the size of the furnished box/envelope.  If your items will fit in one of three sizes of box, the flat fee for that box, regardless of weight, applies.  The fee for the three sizes are:  Priority Mail 2-Day™ Large Flat Rate Box, USPS-Produced Box: 23-11/16" x 11-3/4" x 3" or 12" x 12" x 5-1/2", priced @ $21.90; Priority Mail 2-Day™ Medium Flat Rate Box, USPS-Produced Box: 13-5/8" x 11-7/8" x 3-3/8" or 11" x 8-1/2" x 5-1/2", priced @ $15.50; Priority Mail 2-Day™ Small Flat Rate Box, USPS-Produced Box: 8-5/8" x 5-3/8" x 1-5/8", priced @ $8.45.  I could have saved $2 and would have saved having to find a box at home and do the packaging. The above rates are for destinations within Zone #1.  Delivery by regular Parcel Post is 3 – 5 days.  The Priority Mail would have been 2 days!
■ Wendy’s Offers New/Improved French Fries: On Oct. 12, 2021, the company announced its new "Hot & Crispy Fry Guarantee" in an attempt to attract customers to its restaurants and steer them away from its competitors. The new fry recipe is made with real potatoes for "improved heat protection and crispiness" and is available across the country.  Texturally, the Hot & Crispy Fries were definitely crispy and seemed crispier than even a fresh batch of the previous fries. Additionally, the crispiness had a good amount of staying power. ... When it comes down to it, Wendy's new Hot & Crispy Fries do indeed present hotter and crispier French fries.    Source: https://www.wendys.com
Note:  My wife and I recently tried these new fries and they really are an improvement over the older version.  I liked them better than the McDonald’s product.
■ An iPhone Tip While Composing:
             If you have been looking for an undo or reverse button on apps such as Notes and Mail, you won't find it.  However, Apple still provides a way to delete text without pushing the backspace button multiple times.  The next time you need to make a correction, shake your iPhone.  
             It may sound silly, but in iOS, the way of undoing things when there is no undo button present is to shake your iPhone.  You don't need to shake it much — just give it a quick flick.  After a moment, a prompt will appear titled Undo Typing. Tap "Undo," and your typing will be reversed.  This method works across iOS, so don't think it's solely limited to just your Notes app. You can apply the following steps to most other apps and situations you and your iPhone face.  It will even help you undo an undo (or, better put, redo).
             Shake it after you undo, and you can redo or undo another step.  I have found that many iPhone users are unaware of this feature.  I am glad to pass it along and hope everyone finds it useful. 
             Source: Don Lindich at www.soundadvicenews.com
■ Brine Your Turkey, Chicken or Pork Roast Before Roasting: America’s Test Kitchen did a “Roast Turkey Taste Off” prior to Thanksgiving 2021 to determine what the best method of roasting a turkey.  They prepared brined/non-brined, fresh/frozen and commercially basted/non-basted turkeys.  Mary’s Free Range Turkey was judged the winner!  They also recommend brining or salting your bird or pork roast for at least 4 hours before roasting.  Also, Butterball Turkeys are injected with a salt solution during processing and qualifies as “brined.”
■ Blow Your Nose Just Before Getting a Covid Test:  Blowing your nose before getting tested will result in a more accurate test result.  By doing so, you will be bring fresh, moist mucous to the surfaces within your nostrils for the swab to collect a viable sample for testing.  This is why the medical professional administering the test inserts the cotton swab so far up/back of your nose.
             Source: Chan. 5 KPIX News Interview
■ Emergency Finger Cots:  If you accidentally cut or scrape a finger and have applied a Band-Aid, the best way to protect the injury is to slip a Finger Cot on the finger to cover the bandage and keep the injury dry.  If you don’t have any commercially manufactured Finger Cots on hand you can make some by cutting the fingers off of a new/clean rubber, nitrile or vinyl disposable glove.
■ Use of Disinfectant Spray Instruments, Keyboards, Appliance controls, TV Remote Controls, Touchtone Phones, etc:  Do not spray the disinfectant directly onto these predominantly plastic surfaces.  Excess liquids can drip down into crevices and enter the instrument’s internal workings that may be harmful.  This will definitely damage keyboards, phone pads, etc.  Instead, spray the disinfectant onto a soft, clean cloth and wipe down the objects.  This will ensure that no excess fluids will drip down into the device or overspray to contaminate surrounding surfaces.  This technique is also good for cleaning eyeglasses!
■ How to Get Results When Complaining About Service, Products or Merchandise: It happens even to savvy consumers, including Consumers’ Checkbook staff: Sometimes - even after you do extensive homework before making a purchase or contracting for a service - things still go wrong.  The supposedly repaired clothes washer is once again inoperative, and the repairperson says it’s a new problem (which, of course, it’s not).  The TV starts acting screwy exactly one week after its warranty expires (of course).  A crown falls out of your tooth after only a few months of chewing (seems like it should outlast your caramel cravings by a few years).
Per Consumers’ Checkbook staff, although most of us gripe about service headaches to family, friends, and co-workers, we seldom (studies show it’s as few as one out of four) complain to the company that dropped the ball. And many consumers who do complain to businesses do so ineffectively.  Also, lot of consumers remain silent because it seems like too much trouble to complain or they want to avoid a confrontation.  Others don’t complain because they think it won’t help - the warranty expired a week ago, so the store won’t do anything. But, telling a company - especially a reputable company - that things didn’t go well usually produces good results. The trick is to complain effectively, and to diligently follow up.
The first step is to make sure the company’s owner or manager knows you are dissatisfied.  Even if the employees you dealt with know you’re unhappy, that information might not reach someone who has the authority - and cares enough about customer service - to put things right.  If your gripe is with a large company, call to obtain an email address or phone number for the company’s CEO or president.  Although the company’s top executive is unlikely to handle your complaint personally, his or her staff is likely to get it to someone in the company who can help you - and is more likely to respond to a request that comes from the top.
If your complaint involves a product that you bought or was installed, contact the manufacturer.  Even if your problem did not result from a manufacturing defect, the company may want to settle your claim rather than risk your ill will.
In your complaint, state the facts as you view them, why you feel entitled to relief, and how the company can make amends. Make your request reasonable.  For example, don’t ask for a full refund on a home improvement project if four out of five tasks were performed correctly.
Complain in a Firm But Nonthreatening Manner.  No one responds well to hostility: If you are intemperate, an otherwise reasonable business owner might respond in kind.  As a result, what could have been a calm (and quick) resolution escalates into a feud.  Even if you believe you were intentionally cheated, don’t utter words like “crook,” “criminal,” “incompetent,” or...you know...worse. Harsh words rarely get positive results.
If complaining in writing, attach to your email, or enclose with your letter, copies of relevant documents such as contracts, invoices, receipts, and previous correspondence.
Another option is to post your complaint - and your desired resolution - on Facebook or Twitter, and tag the company.  This forces the company to decide whether it wants to attract good or bad publicity from your dispute.  While it’s not too risky to ignore complaints from one customer, many companies will respond to complaints broadcast to hundreds of other potential customers.  Many companies, particularly national ones, have staff who monitor social media websites to resolve complaints quickly and show that the company is responsive to its customers.
Still no favorable resolution? Complain again. With large companies, ask that your case get “escalated” to the next manager on the corporate customer service food chain. Unfortunately, with some companies you might have to fight (politely!) through several layers of staff to reach a resolution. For example, I recently had to complain to increasingly higher-up staff at Alamo Rent a Car for nearly six months to get a refund for the $276 “special cleaning fee” it charged me to vacuum my kids’ crumbs from the backseat of a rental.
If the company won’t do the right thing, there are third-party programs that can help.
If you paid using a credit card, the federal Fair Credit Billing Act and the policies of credit card issuers provide enormous leverage by allowing you to withhold payment for goods and services you believe are defective or not delivered as promised.  After you’ve tried unsuccessfully to resolve the matter with the service provider, contact your credit card bank to dispute the charge (you usually can do this even if you’ve already paid the bill).  Once you’ve requested this “chargeback,” your credit card bank will place a hold on the disputed charge and investigate. The service provider can protest the chargeback, but sellers rarely successfully reverse chargebacks if the customer has returned (or tried to return) the goods or can document the service defect.
Another option is to file a complaint with a government consumer agency.  Your most broad-reaching resource is the California Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) (800-952-5210), which has legal authority over many types of businesses.  You can complain to the DCA even if you’re not sure it has jurisdiction over your complaint: It will refer matters it can’t handle to the Attorney General’s office, another state agency, or a federal agency.  The matter might be resolved via phone or email, but the DCA may also perform inspections, gather evidence from third parties, do legal or technical research, or mediate the dispute.  The DCA staff might do more than resolve your complaint; they might get the merchant to agree to change business practices and/or provide relief to additional aggrieved consumers; or they might force the business to pay penalties.
In addition to government consumer agencies, you can seek help from a private agency, such as the Better Business Bureau, or from the watchdog department of a local media outlet—for example, KGO’s 7 On Your Side (415-954-8151) or NBC Bay Area Responds (888-996-8477). Consumer Action (415-777-9635), a nonprofit San Francisco-based consumer advocacy group, is another great source for help.
Bottom line – the way you complain will likely determine whether you get satisfaction or not.
          Source:  Kevin Brasler, Consumers’ Checkbook staff
 
■ “Ghosting” in Your Home:  “Ghosting,” to a builder or painter, refers to apparently unexplainable dark streaks or patches on walls, ceilings, and carpets, especially on interior walls, ceilings and corners.  What causes ghosting in a house?
 It is the result of a slow build-up of soot, dust, dirt, and other particles that have attached to objects such as studs, joists, walls, ceilings, rafters, and even sheetrock screws.  The buildup of ghost marks can be caused by any combination of moisture, cold spots, static electricity, air currents, and a supply of dust, soot, and other particulates that can drift with the air.  Cold spots on walls and ceilings get damp from condensation, and air-borne dust clings to the dampness.
How do you stop ghosting?  1. Stop using candles or combustible oils and frying foods in oil.  In most cases, these are the three main culprits.  2. Improve your attic insulation. Ensure the insulation covers the ceiling joists/rafter ties. ... 3. Lower your interior RH. The issue is exacerbated by the excess humidity in the air.
In greater detail, it all has to do with the construction of a home. To evenly heat and cool a home, there must be 3 barriers that surround the home to protect it: a thermal, air and moisture barrier. Together, the 3 are called the building envelope. While there should never be gaps, penetrations or voids, they are present in homes with ghosting issues, allowing air and moisture to be carried by the air current through the gaps that cause the ghosting.
■  5 Ways to Prevent Catalytic Converter Theft
A stolen catalytic converter replacement can cost as much as $3,000 for the often-targeted Toyota Prius.  Catalytic converter theft is on the rise nationwide.  Thieves can steal this antipollution device in a matter of minutes and sell it to scrap metal dealers for several hundred dollars for the precious metals it contains.
A replacement for a stolen catalytic converter can cost as much as $3,000 for the often-targeted Toyota Prius, says Colby Sandman, owner of Muffler Tech in Sacramento, California, who saw an uptick in thefts as the lockdowns took hold.  Now, his shop replaces 15 to 20 stolen catalytic converters each day.
Such a theft is a “crime of opportunity,” Sandman says, so removing that easy opening will cause these cat burglars to move on to easier prey.  Here are the top tips from mechanics and law enforcement agencies to avoid a wrenching experience and a costly repair.
1. Know if you're a target for catalytic converter theft
Call a good local muffler store and ask what cars have been targeted in your area, Sandman recommends. I called a shop and, sure enough, they reeled off many vehicles affected nearby, such as Ford trucks, Honda Elements and Jeep Cherokees, that had often been seen in the shop for a catalytic converter replacement.
“The Prius is the No. 1 vehicle for cat thefts” in the Sacramento area, Sandman says. As an ultra low-emissions vehicle, the Prius has a catalytic converter that contains more of the rhodium, palladium and platinum that render pollutants harmless.
Trucks and SUVs are often hit by thieves because it’s easy to slide under the vehicle rather than jack it up. Sometimes thieves unbolt the catalytic converter, but more often they just cut the connecting pipes using a battery-operated saw.
2. Install an anti-theft device on your catalytic converter
Investing in a cable locking device is much cheaper than replacing a catalytic converter, says Arantxa Chavarria, public information officer for the Long Beach, California, police department. The internet is filled with such devices to protect the catalytic converter, which is part of the exhaust system that runs along the bottom of your car. The anti-theft devices Sandman’s shop installs range from $250 to $800.
Here are a few of the popular devices:
·        A steel shield that fits over the catalytic converter, requiring time and extra tools to remove.
·        Cages made of rebar or other high-strength steel that's difficult to cut.
·        Stainless steel cables welded from the catalytic converter to the car’s frame.
Some muffler shops will custom-weld such a device to your car. But Sandman cautions that attaching the catalytic converter directly to the car’s frame can be noisy since the exhaust system otherwise is suspended from the car by sound-buffering hangers.
3. Paint your catalytic converter
Some sources recommend using a high-temperature fluorescent orange paint, such as those sprayed on barbecue grills, on your catalytic converter and then inscribing your vehicle identification number in the painted surface. This makes it traceable, and in theory at least, a reputable scrap metal dealer might decline to buy it.
 
4. Set an alarm or camera to catch thieves. 
You can turn up the sensitivity of your car alarm so that it goes off when thieves jostle your car. That’s fine, but as Sandman points out, then the alarm blares when your cat jumps on the car in the middle of the night. Other alarms are designed to be activated when the car is tilted, such as when it's jacked up. Installing a motion-sensitive dash cam can notify you of a theft in progress or possibly record the license plate of the getaway car.
In addition to alarms, Chavarria recommends getting motion-sensitive lights and parking in your driveway or a closed garage whenever possible. She also suggests getting to know your neighbors so you can recognize strangers who might be casing parked vehicles. I checked my local Nextdoor.com and found almost a dozen accounts of catalytic converter thefts in the past three months.
5. Check your car insurance
Comprehensive insurance covers stolen auto parts.  If you have full coverage — liability insurance, plus collision and comprehensive policies that repair or replace your own car — you're covered, minus your deductible amount. It's typically required if you have a loan or lease.  If you have a vehicle at high risk for a catalytic converter theft, you might consider lowering your deductible amount.  If you carry liability coverage only, you're not covered for theft.
What to do if your catalytic converter is stolen
If you come out in the morning and start your car, you’ll know by the loud exhaust noise that your catalytic converter was stolen. Here are a few steps that can get you going again:
·        Aftermarket catalytic converters are cheaper, but make sure they're allowed in your state. A good muffler shop should know what's legal. In some cases, an aftermarket catalytic converter will be less desirable and prevent future thefts.
·        Ask your mechanic if driving your car without the catalytic converter will further damage it. If not, drive only to the repair shop.
·        Contact your insurance company and take pictures of the damaged exhaust pipe where the catalytic converter used to be.
·        File a police report, which can easily be done online in many jurisdictions. This will help police track such crimes and might assist in arrests.
·        While your new catalytic converter is being installed, ask the repair shop about adding an anti-theft device to prevent future thefts.
Source: Philip Reed, NerdWallet.com
 
 
 
 


DECEMBER 2021 CONSUMER TIPS
 
GENERAL CONSUMER ITEMS/ISSUES:
 
  Covid 19 Rapid Testing”
            Joyce and I had to make a quick trip up to Portland, OR on some urgent family issues.  We drove in order to avoid crowds and places that might expose Joyce to the Covid 19 virus.  We took this precaution because of her weakened Immune System caused by the Chemotherapy.  While en route, we had covid scare – Joyce woke up with a sore throat.  We quickly did some research via Walgreens, Safeway and CVS Pharmacies.  There are 3 types of Covid rapid tests, 1.  ‘At home’ self-test kits with results shown in 15 minutes.  2. Self-test kits that are sent in to a lab with results available in about 24 hours.  3.  Go to a lab, hospital, clinic or other medical facility to be swabbed by trained medical staff with results known within 24 hrs.
 
How tests work - Rapid tests are antigen tests, and they're a little different from the PCR tests that your health care provider probably offers.  Antigen tests identify proteins of the virus SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19. They tell you whether you are infectious at the time of testing, which is useful information heading into a holiday season where you might be interacting with vulnerable loved ones. 
 
One of the most common tests on the market is Abbott's BinaxNOW, which comes with step-by-step instructions for swabbing your nose, inserting the swab into a few drops of liquid that comes with the kit and immediately reading the results – which like a pregnancy test, show a control line.  If another line appears, that indicates the test is positive.  If no other line shows up, that means it’s negative.  Other brands include Quidel’s QuickVue test and BD Veritor’s digital test kit.  Chain pharmacies like Walgreen and CVS carry at-home, along with stores like Walmart and Target.  A quick check of Bay Area Stores showed prices ranging from about $15 - $30 for a two-pack. 
 
The one we bought was the BinaxNOW at $23 from a local Portland Walgreen.  We followed the instructions carefully and the test came out negative.  Follow the instruction carefully.  If you keep it out too long, it can look like a positive.  False positives are a problem.  But if it’s negative, it is usually negative.  You can feel good about that.”  1
 
The immediate results of the test were negative.  The following morning, her sore throat was gone.  Because the box held 2 complete test kits, we still had one left.  We will use it the next time there is any question about her Covid-19 status.
1            Source :  ederuy@bqyareaewsgroup.com
 
■  Coffee, Tea and other food/drink containing caffeine can reduce your risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease:  Caffeine has well-known short-term stimulating effects on central nervous system, but the long-term impacts on cognition have been less clear. Dementia and Alzheimer's disease (AD) are rapidly increasing public health problems in ageing populations and at the moment curative treatment is lacking. Thus, the putative protective effects of caffeine against dementia/AD are of great interest. Here, we discuss findings from the longitudinal epidemiological studies about caffeine/coffee/tea and dementia/AD/cognitive functioning with a special emphasis on our recent results from the Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging and Dementia (CAIDE) study. The findings of the previous studies are somewhat inconsistent, but most studies (3 out of 5) support coffee's favorable effects against cognitive decline, dementia or AD. In addition, two studies had combined coffee and tea drinking and indicated some positive effects on cognitive functioning. For tea drinking, protective effects against cognitive decline/dementia are still less evident. In the CAIDE study, coffee drinking of 3-5 cups per day at midlife was associated with a decreased risk of dementia/AD by about 65% at late-life. In conclusion, coffee drinking may be associated with a decreased risk of dementia/AD. This may be mediated by caffeine and/or other mechanisms like antioxidant capacity and increased insulin sensitivity. This finding might open possibilities for prevention or postponing the onset of dementia/AD.
            Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20182054/
More information:  Conclusions: We found that drinking coffee and tea separately or in combination were associated with lower risk of stroke and dementia. Intake of coffee alone or in combination with tea was associated with lower risk of poststroke dementia.
            Source: National Library of Medicine, Nov. 2021
 
■  O.E.M. Wiper Blades Last Much Longer than ‘Aftermarket Replacement Blades:  I have noticed that the original wiper blades of each of our new cars seemed to last considerably longer than replacement blades purchased at tire shops, auto parts stores, big box stores, etc.  Our original factory equipped 2015 Outback wiper blades are still in excellent shape after 6 years of normal use.  Typical replacement brands seem to last only half as long.  Similar experiences were true, as well, with all the new cars we have ev r acquired.  An article in our local newspaper confirms this phenomenon.  Therefore, I recommend that you purchase your future replacement blades from the local dealer for your brand of vehicle.
Source: San Jose Mercury News, Car Talk Column, Nov. 2021
 
Food,Tasting and Dining Issues:
 
 ■  Substitute for Buns in Mu Shu Pork/Chicken: Whenever you order Mu Shu Pork or Chicken from your local Chinese take out restaurant, they only give you 4 of the white wheat buns.  But, there is more filling leftover.  Try using small 6” diameter Wheat Tortillas as a substitute.
 
Try Trader Joe’s Green Onions:  We seem to have a problem with typical supermarket Green Onions. They begin to show signs of spoiling within a few days if not used immediately. We have found that the prepackaged ones from Trader Joe’s last much longer that that – up to 2 weeks when unopened.  Somehow, the packaging helps to preserve the fresh onions inside the pack.
 
Summary Rating of National Chain Store Sandwich Shops:  The following are listed from worst to best!  Subway; Blimpie’; Quizno’s (recently filed for bankruptcy); Which Wich; Panera; Atlanta Bread Co.; Corner Bakery; Schlotzky’s; Potbelly Deli; Pret A Manger; Firehouse Subs; Jimmy John’s; Au Bon Pain; Jersey Mike’s Subs.  Tip:  If you have an air fryer at home, put your sandwich in the air fryer on high for a couple of minutes and it will freshen up the exterior and provide an improvement on the bread/bun texture – a crunchy exterior. Note: my wife grew up in New Jersey with access to Philadelphia.  She was terribly unhappy that none of the sub shops made really authentic Hoagies until Jersey Mike’s entered this West Coast Market.  That’s now her favorite Hoagie/Sub/Grinder.  It’s the oil/vinegar/Italian seasonings that make a big difference.  BTW, this kind of sandwich is said to have originated in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyards during WWII as an inexpensive but substantial sandwich for the workers of that era.
 
The single biggest mistake made by restaurants putting up their “orders to go.”  This is an easy one.  I’m sure that you, too, have experienced this – the customer receives an incomplete or wrong items when they come to pick up their ‘to go order.’  Tip: Always check your order before leaving the restaurant!  This function of putting up orders ‘to go’ is primarily a human error when it happens.  So, double check the contents before you leave the restaurant!
 
 ■ Supermarket Taste-off of Strawberry  Ice Cream:  Starting with the best and ending with the worst.  Tillamook Oregon Strawberry Ice Cream. 4- star; 365 Organic Strawberry Ice Cream ((Whole Foods), 4-star; Breyer’s Strawberry Ice Cream, 3.5-stars; Haagen-Daz Strawberry Ice Cream, 3-star; Straus Family Creamery Organic Strawberry Ice Cream, 3-star; Turkey Hill Premium Strawberry Ice Cream, 2.5 stars; Alden’s Organic Strawberry Ice Cream, 2.5 stars; Baskin-Robbins Very Berry Strawberry Ice Cream, 2-star; Humboldt Creamery Organic Strawberry, 1.5 stars; Signature Select Strawberry Ice Cream (Safeway), ½ -star; Sunnyside Farms Premium Strawberry Ice Cream (Lucky Stores), ½ -star.
            Source: San Jose Mercury News, Aug. 1, 2021.
 
Considering Dentures?  Recently a ‘foodie’ friend lost a tooth and was left with the following options – install a partial denture, go through a lengthy/expensive implant or, lastly, do nothing.  He discussed his options with his dentist and chose to go with a partial denture.  After the procedure, he was very unhappy.  Why?  He complained bitterly that it changed his tasting ability.  My wife had a similar experience.  So, I decided to investigate this loss of taste phenomenon.  It turns out that the dentist in both cases should have included the part of loss/change of taste might be a consequence of the dental work.  I ‘Googled’ this ‘loss of taste’ and it turns out that any work in the mouth could result in the loss of taste.  The entire inner mouth is covered with taste buds.  A denture – even a partial one – will cover some of these taste buds and that will alter the individual’s ability to taste as well as before.  Leaving a void where the tooth was extracted or installing an implant should not affect the existing taste buds.  The dentist should have advised the patients of this before proceeding.
 
New Additions to the Tri Valley Dining Scene: 
Pleasanton
Elia is, perhaps, the best Greek place in East Bay.  It’s a bit pricey but the food and service is excellent.  If you like Octopus, this is the place for you! 
 
Brava Garden Eatery has been open about a year but it is excellent.  This is primarily Italian pastas with an Argentinean twist.  If you like Empanadas, I recommend their Chicken and Beef versions of this iconic dish.
 
Pho Saigon has moved from Dublin to the mall where Sweet Tomatoes was located.  It is not yet open but, hopefully, they will open by the end of the year.  The new address is 4555 Hopyard Rd., Pleasanton, CA 94588. Phone: 925 829-9361; 925 549-7944. The new location will have a bar, plenty of parking and a larger menu that will include Vietnamese ‘Street Food.’ They will have a new name but I don’t know it, yet.  
 
Livermore
Locanda Wine Bar – they are related to Locanda Amalfi, Pleasanton;  Locanda Ravello, Danville and Locanda Positano, Lafayette.  They are all popular but our experiences were just so-so.   
 
Dublin:
Amakara is newly relocated a block from their former location.  Menu is still the same but parking is non-existent and I’ve heard reports that the food is not as good as before and it is now higher in price.   
 
Berevino has changed hands but I have no reports or experiences to mention, here.  The menu remains similar to the former operator’s offerings. 
 
Rhama Mediteranean Grill is a new, casual, fast food place across from Taco Bell near the Dublin Post Office.  They offer sandwiches, wraps, bowls, platters in chicken, beef, lamb, etc.  Prices are reasonable and the food is  very tasty. 
 
San Ramon:
Gaucho Brazilian Steakhouse & Lounge – A newcomer offering Brazilian Churrascaria Steakhouse dining format.  This opened in the space formerly occupied by Sh Boom Club.   Again, I have no reports by friends or trustworthy reviewers of any experiences here, yet. 
 
Roam Artisan Burger, Bamboo Sushi, Mendocino Farms, Salt & Straw, LB Steakhouse and Ramen Hiroshi are all newly opened eateries in the Bishop Ranch complex.  I can heartily recommend Salt & Straw (originally started in Portland, OR).  This could be the best, small batch, high end ice cream shop.  Tip – instead of waiting in the long long lines out the door, simply walk into the lobby and select your flavor from pre-packed ice cream in the display freezer and pay for it without any delays.  Mendocino Farms is a typical sandwich, soup and salad place.  We can heartily recommend Ramen Hiroshi.  It’s excellent!  Tomahawk is a new steakhouse that now occupies the shuttered Rodney Worth Ranch Barbecue across the street from the Crow Canyon Safeway. Unfortunately, I have no word on how good or bad it is, yet.  DareDevil Hot Dogs – this is a small place with wide variety of hot dogs.  They have a Chicago Dog listed but it is not quite authentic.  It is missing the poppy seed bun, neon-green relish and needs more celery salt.  But, it’s a start.
 
Good Buys for Christmas Gift Giving: The 3 hottest gift items for use in the kitchen this year are Air Fryers, Sous Vide Machines and Instant Pots.  Air Fryers are very simple devices.  They are nothing but a heating element coupled to an internal fan to move the hot air in an enclosed cooking chamber. A timer will determine how long the unit stays on.  They are designed to achieve temperatures of 250°F to 410°F.  We use ours on a daily basis and sits out on the kitchen counter at all times.  It’s great for reheating foods, crisping up food item exteriors and is great to crisp up the exterior of fried foods.  French Fries, pastries, onion rings, sandwiches, etc. come out great!  I’ve seen these appliances for as low as $40.  Ours (compact Dash Air Fryer) is now about 3 years old and still works beautifully.  Sous Vide Machines are gaining popularity as method to cook using a precise temperature water bath.  Here’s a good one from Amazon for just $40. https://tinyurl.com/ycks7jwu.  These are great for cooking steaks, chops, roasts, fish, chicken and more.  The long, low, precise cooking temperature can yield very tender proteins using inexpensive cuts of meats.  There are thousands of Sous Vide recipes on the Internet.  Use it to cook medium rare throughout a cut of meat precisely each and every time.  You can use Tri Tip that will rival Prime Rib or Filet Migon at considerable savings.  Note, however, there is no browning during Sous Vide cooking.  You will have to brown/sear your food using a separate step using a hot grill pan, outdoor charcoal or gas grill, an oven broiler or propane torch.  Instant Pot units can be found in various sizes on sale for about $45 in the 6 qt. size.  These units are capable of multiple cooking methods all in one unit.  These can add new meaning to “one pot meals.”  These devices have earned the respect and recommendation from Consumers Reports.
 


NOVEMBER  2021 CONSUMER TIPS
 
GENERAL CONSUMER ITEMS/ISSUES:
 
AUTOMOTIVE ITEMS:
 
■  Hidden Features on Many New Cars That You May Not Even Know About.  Check to see if these are part of your vehicle features.
 
Lane Assist
Lane assist has become one of the best additions to any car, and probably saved countless drivers from accidents or near-fatal collisions. Not only does it correct your car based on the road’s lines, but it shows you the visual representation on the dash now, too.
 
Drowsiness Detector
One of the most important breakthrough additions to newer cars is the drowsiness detector, which monitors your erratic steering and head movements, hoping to notify you before you get too tired behind the wheel. While this is a luxury for now, expect it to be in all cars soon.
 
Signal Change Detector 
This is one of the most practical on the list, and should be finding its way into more cars soon. This sensor on the back of your rearview mirror watches for the stoplight to switch green, then promptly alerts you in case you’re distracted on your phone or something while waiting for the light to change.
 
Road Condition Detector
You may not notice road condition detectors if you live in a warm place, or somewhere it doesn’t rain much, but these detectors are incredibly useful in wet, snowy and frozen environments. This way you can be informed of dangerous roads before their treachery grabs hold of you.
 
Built-In Vacuum
We all know how easy it is for your newly cleaned car to go from spotless to a disaster in a matter of days, so when larger SUVs that typically were transporting more people added mini vacuum cleaners, it totally made sense. And recently, more larger vehicles have followed suit.
 
Auto-Dim Rearview Mirror
Rearview mirrors are solid, but a lot of times lighting can make them less effective, especially when the sun’s behind us. But more recently, auto-dimming mirrors have been the norm, and they have actually done an amazing job considering most people don’t even realize it’s a feature.
 
Automatic Hazard
Sometimes cars break down on the side of the road, and if there’s an underlying electrical issue, it can be dangerous if you’re not able to activate your hazard lights. Luckily, more cars have auto hazards built in now, which activate when they know the car is in trouble and incapable of driving correctly.
 
Tire Pressure Monitor
This is one everyone has at least noticed. Typically you will see the exclamation mark in the yellow triangle when your air pressure is running low, and it can be really useful if you find a nail or some other debris that’s affecting your tire. Surprisingly, some people don’t even know what it means!
 
Internal Trunk Release
This is a safety feature that unfortunately isn’t in every car, but is increasingly pushed by people to be a necessary component of every car with a trunk. The internal release allows the trunk to be opened from the inside, just in case someone is trapped inside for any reason.
 
Lower Windows Using Keys
A mind-blowing feature that the majority of modern cars have is one of the least known, but coolest of all – hold down your unlock for 5 seconds, and you’ll see your windows roll down! This is brilliant for cars that need airing out in hot places, especially if you’re in a rush.
 
The above items are excerpts from thedelite.com
 
GENERAL INTEREST ITEMS:
 
Unscrew A Broken Lightbulb With A Potato 1
Have you ever broken a light bulb while it’s still in the socket? If so, you know how frustrating it can be to remove it. But, you can use a potato to get it out without cutting your fingers.
Cut the potato in half, push the soft side into the broken bulb and turn it counterclockwise until the broken glass is embedded into the potato. Don’t forget to turn off the power and put on protective gloves before you attempt this hack!
 
Repair Dents In Wood With A Hot Iron 1
You can quickly and safely remove small dents in furniture and hardwood floors with an iron. Wet the indentation with a small amount of water and place a moist towel over it. Then run the iron over the area in a circular motion.
 
Remove Marker Or Crayon Scribbles On Walls With WD-40 1
If your paint has a sheen, you can use WD-40 to easily wipe off markings from crayons or marker. However, if you try to use this trick on matte or flat paints, the oil in the WD-40 can stain the walls, making matters worse. In that case, you should try a Magic Eraser.  WD-40 is also good for removing road tar and tree sap from your vehicle.  It is also great for removing adhesive residue from pressure-sensitive labels like price marking labels.  And, have you ever let a used paint brush dry without cleaning it? You’re not alone. WD-40 can help soften and remove paint, even after it dries. It can also clean spray paint nozzles, remove paint from shoes and help you open stuck paint can lids. You can also spray some on your doorknobs before you start painting to keep them clean and paint-free.
 
Clean Grout With Toilet Bowl Cleaner 1
Apply toilet bowl cleaner to the grout and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then scrub with a small cleaning brush or toothbrush. Finally, mop the area with warm water and prepare to be amazed.
 
Spot A Toilet Leak Using Kool-Aid 1
If you suspect a leaky toilet, use a 20-cent packet of Kool-Aid to find out. After removing the lid of the toilet tank, pour in the contents of a dark-colored Kool-Aid packet.
Wait 30 minutes, and if you return to find the inside of your toilet bowl the same color as the Kool-Aid, then you’ll know you have a leak. Just make sure that you don’t flush your toilet while you wait for the Kool-Aid to work its magic.
 
Clean Your Bathtub With Dish Soap And A Broom 1
Save your back while you put dish soap and a broom to work cleaning your bathtub. The same soap that cuts grease on your dishes will tackle soap scum and mildew in the bathroom.
 
Remove Rust From Chrome With Foil 1
Another nifty use of aluminum foil is clearing rust off of a chrome surface. Merry Maids cleaning service recommends cleaning the surface first with a microfiber towel and soapy water, then dipping your aluminum foil into clean water before rubbing it on the rust.
 
Use Tennis Balls To Open Containers 1
Need help getting a grip on your jar of pickles? Cut along the lines of the tennis ball to get the perfect opener. You will be shocked how well this works.
 
Prevent A Door From Shutting With A Rubber Band 1
If you’re doing something such as bringing in groceries, let a single rubber band lend you a hand. By looping it over the outside door knob, twist it once before looping over the inside door knob.  The rubber band will form an "X" over the door latching mechanism toprevent the door from latching.
 
Rotate Your Ceiling Fans Correctly 1
Changing the rotation of your ceiling fan can save you heating and cooling costs. Fans should turn clockwise, at a low speed, during the winter to pull the warm air up and around the room. During the summer, set them to counterclockwise to push the cold air down. While a fan won’t actually change the temperature of the room, the warm or cool air on your skin will make you feel warmer or colder and you’ll be more likely to give your thermostat a break. Note: Most fans have a switch mounted on the motor housing that can be flipped to change direction, while newer models offer the option on the wall panel.
 
Paint Screw Threads With Nail Polish To Prevent Them From Coming Loose 1
It’s amazing what a thin coat of nail polish can do! By painting the screw threads with nail polish, which acts like glue, before screwing it in, it is more likely to stay in place.
 
Fix A Clogged Printer Cartridge With Windex 1
If you’ve got a clogged printer cartridge, you can easily clean it with some Windex to delay the need for buying an expensive new one. Just spray some Windex on a paper towel before wiping the bottom of the cartridge, where the ink comes out, against the wet surface. You should see streaks of ink on the paper towel when the job is done.
 
Pour Hot Water Over A Propane Tank To See How Full It Is 1
Not sure how much propane you have left in your tank? There’s a safe and easy way to check before you fire up the grill. Boil a cup of water then pour it over the side of the tank. Then, feel the tank. The point where it goes from hot (empty) to cool (filled with propane) is your propane level.
 
Use Bread To Protect Hands From Broken Glass 1
If you find yourself with broken glass scattered across the floor, don’t pick it up with your hand and risk cutting yourself. Use a slice of bread! The bread will latch onto both small and big shards of glass, making it a safer way to clean up an accident.
 
Peel A Whole Head Of Garlic Using The Microwave 1
OK, this one isn’t really a home repair hack, but if you love garlic then you know the struggle of peeling it. Save yourself some time by placing individual cloves on a plate or paper towel and microwaving them for about 20 seconds. The skins will slide right off.
 
Law & Order is Returning 1
Law & Order is being revived by NBC. The network previously ran for two decades between 1990 and 2010 before it was canceled for no good reason after 456 episodes. Rerurns have been a television staple for nearly as long.  After eleven years, #LawAndOrder has been revived for Season 21 at NBC.
 
1  Source for the above Consumer Items: thedelite.com
 
Price Increases Across the Board 2
It is readily apparent that Consumer Prices have gone up as a result of manpower, raw materials shortages and transportation woes brought upon our economy by the huge effects of the Covid Pandemic.  This, however, will be additionally impacted in the near future by another problem – the serious drought that California is now immersed in.  We are the major supplier for 80% of the nation’s produce.  Scarcity of water has forced farmers to eliminate some of the most water-hungry crops that will result in shortages and higher prices.  Farmers are foregoing almonds, avocado, rice and other highly profitable crops.
2  Source: Chan 7 ABC News
 
Mandatory 10-Digit Dialing Becomes Effective on October 24.3
A reminder - Beginning October 24, 2021, you must dial 10 digits (area code + telephone number) for all local calls.  On and after this date, local calls dialed with only 7 digits may not be completed, and a recording will inform you that your call cannot be completed as dialed.
3  Source: Google News
 
Parklet Dangers
Outdoor Dining Parklets, a product of the current Pandemic, will be with us for awhile into the future.  Be aware that these are highly vulnerable to vehicular intrusions (crashes) that may result in serious injury or even death.  In most cases, there are few, if any, protective measures to avoid accidents by the local traffic.  Some are better designed than others.  Choose your seating with care.  Look for tables  that have some natural or constructed barriers or closed street restrictions.  Look around and use common sense before sitting down for a meal. 
 
Homemade Italian Meatloaf
A very easy way to make Italian Meatloaf at home is to use your regular recipe for this classic dish but simply use a mixture of beef + mild Italian sausage or beef + pork or veal + mild Italian sausage.  Optional – add 1 tsp Dry Oregano.
 
New Danville Costco Gas Station Coming
By now, you may have heard that the Danville Costco will be adding a gas station across the street in the former Office Depot property.  You may not have heard, however, that it will be the largest gas station in Northern California!  It is planned to have 32 gas pumps.  There is no estimated opening date at this time.
 
Pho Saigon, Dublin, is moving
Unfortunately, lease increases, constant maintenance costs not covered by the landlord and lack of mall security has forced Pho Saigon to move to a lower cost, more modern and secure location in Pleasanton.  The new address is 4555 Hopyard Rd., Pleasanton, CA 94588.  Phone: 925 829-9361; 925 549-7944.  The new location will have a bar, plenty of parking and a larger menu that will include Vietnamese ‘Street Food.’  The move will take place in November.  At first it will be limited to take out and delivery services only.  Dine In will be a bit longer – probably January 2022.  The new location is in the same mall as Honey Baked Ham and the former Sweet Tomatoes and Red Smoke Grill.
 


OCTOBER 2021 CONSUMER TIPS
 
GENERAL CONSUMER ITEMS/ISSUES:
 
■  Scam of the week - SPEAR PHISHING1: 
Spear phishing is a phishing attack that targets a specific person and appears to come from a trusted source. One of the easiest ways for cybercriminals to find a target is through social media. Spear phishing attacks on social media often come from fake accounts, but in a recent scam, cybercriminals used real, compromised accounts. After hijacking an account, cybercriminals impersonated that person and targeted their friends and followers. 

In this scam, cybercriminals use the hijacked account to engage in friendly conversations with you in an attempt to lower your guard. Since you don't know that the account has been hijacked, you are more likely to trust information that they send to you. Once they think they have your trust, the cybercriminals will send you a Microsoft Word document asking for you to review it and give them advice. Once you open the document, the program will ask you to enable macros. If you do enable macros, your system will automatically download and install a dangerous piece of malware. 

Follow the steps below to stay safe from this scam:
Think about how a conversation with this person typically looks and feels. Do they usually ask you to download files? Are they typing with the same pace, grammar, and language as usual? Be suspicious of anything out of the ordinary. Before you enable macros for a file, contact the sender by phone call or text message. Verify who created the file, what information the file contains, and why enabling macros is necessary. Remember that cybercriminals can use more than just links within emails to phish for your information. Always think before you click!
                              1  Source: SR Smith Corp.  IT Dept.
 
■  Scam of the week – WINDOWS 11 1:  Microsoft Windows is the most widely used operating system in the world. This October, it is getting an upgrade. Microsoft has announced that starting October 5, compatible systems that run the current version of Windows 10 will be offered a free upgrade to Windows 11. 

Cybercriminals are sure to use this announcement in several ways. In the coming weeks, we expect to see update-related phishing emails, fake Windows 11 web pages, and pop-up ads designed to look like a Windows update. 

Don't fall for these scams. Follow the tips below to stay safe:
Always think before you click. Cyber attacks are designed to catch you off guard and trigger you to click impulsively. 
Only trust information from the source. If you want to learn more about the Windows 11 update, go directly to Microsoft’s official website or follow their official social media pages.
If you are prompted to update your work computer, reach out to your administrator or IT department. They can check to make sure the update is legitimate and safe.
                              1 Source: SR Smith Corp.  IT Dept.
.
■   Wipe Your Data Before You Sell, Donate, or Recycle Unwanted Computers and Smartphones 2: 
Before getting rid of an old tablet, laptop, desktop computer, or smartphone, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to properly “wipe” the memory.
Before starting, back up any files you want to keep to the cloud or another hard drive.  “You want to bring that device back to factory settings, and that means reinstalling the operating system,” said Robert Siciliano, a digital security expert with Protect Now, a cybersecurity consulting firm.
 
For desktops and laptops, here are links to manufacturers' instructions on how to do that:
Mac
Chromebook
PC
Doing a total reset on a PC still may not remove all your info and files; afterward, it’s a good idea to run a utility program, such as Disk Wipe or DBAN. Both of these free apps will destroy whatever data is left on the drive.
                    2  Source:  SR Smith Corp. IT Dept.
.
 
■  Beware of Scanning Bar Codes for Information 2:  Fear of COVID-19 made touchless interactions essential, QR codes became the “safe” way to place orders and make digital payments. Since the pandemic, half of all full-service restaurants now have digital menus accessed by QR codes, according to the National Restaurant Association. PayPal QR code payments are now accepted at CVS, Nike, Footlocker, and around 1 million small businesses, according to The New York Times.
Once scanned and clicked, a QR code takes you to a website (the URL is embedded in the image) to place an order, make a payment, download coupons or apps, or learn about new products and services.
The rapid acceptance of QR codes has been good for retailers, but it’s also provided cyber criminals with a powerful new tool.
“The more people start using QR codes, the more of an opportunity it creates for attackers,” said Lorrie Cranor, director of the CyLab Security and Privacy Institute at Carnegie Mellon. “Most of the time, the QR code takes you to whatever website you thought you were going to, but sometimes you wind up going to a phishing website or a website that’s full of viruses or malware.”
For the fraudsters, hiding a malicious link in a QR code is better than including it in an email or text message, where the intended victim might spot it. You can’t look at that little square and spot the danger.
“Since a QR code can send you to any webpage, [the criminals] can do almost anything they want,” said Hank Schless, security solutions manager at Lookout, a global security firm. “They could send you to a rogue website and ask you to verify your identity—and in doing so, grab your personal information, maybe a Social Security number or credit card number. They could also ask you to download malicious applications that have hidden functionality to swipe sensitive data from your device.”   
2  Source: Consumer’s Checkbook
 
■   Keep Flies Away from Your Porch and Patio 3 : Don't pay for expensive pest exterminators just yet... this little-known bug hack could save you hundreds of dollars every year.
There's been a lot of viral videos around this unique method to repelling annoying bugs. And we've done some research to see just how effective it is. Irish Spring is known for its classic “invigorating” scent, and there are plenty of success stories on the internet from people using it to banish flies and even rodents around their home. You can get a mesh or nylon bag, place the bar of soap inside and hang it on your patio or porch. Most pests, including larger animals like rabbits and deer, hate the smell of strong soap, so this trick should keep your social gatherings and garden pest-free all summer. Many people claim that it must be the original green bar. It's worth a try to see if it works for you!
 
Give Your Air Conditioner Some Space 3:
Just like we need to breathe, your air conditioner needs space where it's getting air easily. Many AC units are surrounded by shrubs that can restrict the airflow it needs to run efficiently. Take a few minutes this weekend and do the following:
·       Trim up any bushes that are touching the unit so there is at least 1 foot of clearance 
·       Clean up the ground for any loose debris or leaves 
·       If the outside of the unit has a lot of debris clogging it up, consider having a professional service and clean it out
 
               3  Source: Yourpennysaver.com
 
■  Opening Lightweight Plastic Grocery Bags:  When shopping in the Produce Section of your local supermarket, it is maddening to try to open those thin plastic bags that you tear off the roll to hold your produce, meat product packages and other loose items.  If you wet your fingers using the moisture from the wet produce due to their periodic misting feature, it becomes really easy to generate enough friction to get the layers of the thin plastic separated.  If there is no moisture around, look for a liquid sanitizer often located throughout most supermarkets.  Use this liquid cleanser as your ‘friction generator’ for your fingers to easily separate the layers in order to open the bag.
 
■  No Vehicle Gas Filler Cap?:  You’re driving a rental car, or a friend’s car or your brand new car off the showroom and can’t find a filler cap the first time you go add gas to the fuel tank – don’t panic!  Some new cars now come with a spring-loaded gas cap inside the gas filler tube.  It automatically swings out of the way when you insert the gas pump nozzle and swings back to the closed position upon removal of the gas pump nozzle.  If you want to add gas via a small, approved,  portable gas can, you will need to use a funnel shaped like the gas pump nozzle end to push the spring loaded cap out of the way.  A special funnel is often supplied by the manufacturer on those new cars that have no external gas cap.  Check the Owner’s Manual for the storage location for this special funnel. 
 
■  Costco Update:  1. Costco has, again, begun to limit sales of paper products and other select products due to shortages in the current National supply chain.  These are mainly manpower issues – truck drivers, dock workers, manufacturing staff, etc., all due to the Pandemic.  The duration of nationwide shortages is expected to last through the end of the year.  2. Costco is installing compressed air hoses at all Costco Gas Stations to provide FREE AIR for Costco gas customers.  The Danville Store will be adding a new gas station across the street from the main store on property formerly occupied by Office Depot.
 
■  Corn Cobs:  Don’t throw out corn cobs or put them in the composting bin.  They can be used to add flavor to soups and broths.  They can also be used in place of wood chips/chunks in outdoor grills or dedicated smokers to add a nice mild smoke flavor to various foods.
 
■  Canned Tomatoes 4: When buying canned tomatoes, look for whole, peeled tomatoes.  Use kitchen shears to cut them up for use as diced tomatoes.  Use a food processor to make crushed tomatoes when needed.  Why?  Diced and crushed tomatoes are more highly processed and have Calcium Chloride added as a firming agent during the cooking/canning process.  This alters the flavor.  Whole, peeled, canned tomatoes use steam to remove the skin and needs no cooking or additives to retain texture of the flesh.  This will result in a brighter, fresher flavor in your finished product.
4 Source: America’s Test Kitchen TV Show
 
■  If you have a squeaking floorboard, door hinge or other mechanical item in the house in need of lubrication,  WD-40 is excellent for this use.  If you don’t have any WD-40 or 3 In One Oil, use Pam Cooking Spray as a lubricant substitute.  Like WD-40, it can also be used to remove any residual adhesive after removing labels and self-adhesive pricing labels.
5 Source: Living Magazine
 
■  Women’s Elastic Hair Bands:  These are very inexpensive and make excellent cord minders/organizers.  These often come in assorted colors within the pack.  Use them to color-code cords/wires of different uses and applications.
 
■  Clothes Washer Steam Option Feature 6:  The Steam option on clothes 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, washing capability or sanitizing ability.
          6 Source: Consumer’s Report
 
■  Comcast Cable TV Remote:  If you have Comcast Cable TV, the low battery warning indicator will appear on your TV screen when using certain functions/modes.  It’s very small and faint and easy to miss.  A better indicator is the loss of some remote functions.  The Voice Command is one of the high energy use functions that will become erratic or inoperable when the battery power is low.
 
■  Free Whole Foods Delivery to End:  Starting on October 25, every Whole Foods delivery order placed through Amazon Prime will include a $9.95 delivery charge. Amazon Prime members were notified of the change via email Friday, CNN reported.  The new fee is designed to help cover operating costs associated with delivery related equipment and technology without raising grocery prices, a Whole Foods spokesperson said, noting that Whole Foods delivered three times as many orders in 2020 as it did in 2019. Whole Foods piloted the new fee in six markets over the summer - Portland, Maine; Providence, Rhode Island; Manchester, New Hampshire; and the greater Detroit, Boston and Chicago areas - before making the move nationally. There are extra fees for one-hour delivery orders.
 
■  Don't Buy Vehicle Service Contract aka Extended Vehicle Warranty 7:
There's no point in paying thousands of dollars for coverage for repairs you likely won't need and backed by companies that often refuse to pay out if you have a problem.  Keep in mind that vehicles now come with longer manufacturers' warranties and better reliability. Most owners will have few problems, which makes it even less likely that a vehicle service contract will be a good bet.  The risk of even expensive car repairs isn't worth insuring against. When buying one of these plans, you're betting that the cost of your vehicle's repairs will exceed the price you pay for the coverage itself. The plan's seller is betting the opposite-but it gets a lot of leeway in deciding when and how much to pay out for most repairs, which means it's making a safer bet.  So it's not surprising then that a survey by Consumer Reports of auto repair service contract customers found more than half never used their coverage; even those who did ended up paying hundreds of dollars more than they saved on repairs.  You'll do better by planning on paying for repairs yourself. 
            
That's also our advice if you're thinking about purchasing other kinds of service contracts, whether for your home's HVAC systems or appliances, computer devices or smartphones, or water and sewer lines.  Even if your vehicle needs a repair, you want to be in charge of decisions, not a company focused on holding down its own costs.
 
 One final warning: Be careful when financing the purchase of a new or used car. The Federal Trade Commission warns that some dealers have been caught sneaking the costs of service contracts into loans or leases.
             7  Source: Consumers Checkbook, Spring/Summer Edition


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.