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Consumer Tips 2015
 

 
 
 
Here are some handy consumer tips
from SIR Jim Quon
that you might find useful.
Items on this page
cover 2015!
 
 
 
Tip Posting Date Details
RUBBER AND VINYL PROTECTANT December, 2015 Armor All is commonly used on the vinyl and rubber parts of your car or boat to protect and preserve these parts from sun damage.  Try using Nu Vinyl in place of Armor All.  You will find that it will last a lot longer.  It can be find in auto stores and general stores, like Target, Walmart or Kmart.
Marinating Meats, Fish and Fowl December, 2015
Some To provide more surface area for the marinade to penetrate into the interior of your food article, make cross-cut slashes in the surface of the item.  This will speed up the marinating process.
Dry Cell Batteries December, 2015 Alkaline and conventional carbon types should not be left in portable tools, devices or instruments for long periods of time.  These batteries can leak and the acid can damage your device rendering it useless.  If you do discover they have corroded, if the corrosion is not too bad, you can try saving the device by cleaning out the battery compartment and spray liberally with CRC Battery Cleaner.  Dry the areas with a rag and insert new batteries.  This spray fluid becomes a foam.  Let it sit for 10 – 15 minutes and it will neutralize the acid and clean the contacts.
A Personal Safety Tip December, 2015
Recently, there has been a spate of elderly drivers mistakenly stepping on the gas pedal when they confused it with the brake pedal while parking or maneuvering.  This has resulted in some serious injury and fatal accidents.  The population is getting older.  Consider where you sit that could make you vulnerable to such an accident.  Avoid sitting at window or sidewalk seats/benches where vehicles part diagonally or ‘head-in.’ This idea was contributed by Cam Reed!
A Good, Inexpensive Christmas Gift December, 2015 There is a very inexpensive but good Tablet, the Amazon Kindle Fire Tablet, now available for just $49!  The HD version is more expensive.  This is a real bargain, operates very well and is extremely reliable and can handle rough use.  It also comes in a child’s version.  It is highly recommended by Consumer Reports.
Dining Scene in the Tri-Valley Area December, 2015
Things, they are a changing! 
 Yiping, San Ramon, has changed hands and while it is still a Chinese restaurant, it now features more Cantonese and less Szechuan cuisine.  A new Chinese restaurant, Gum Kuo, has opened up in Dublin across the parking lot from Dick’s Sporting Goods and across the driveway from Jersey Mike’s.  Try them.  We thought it was very good. 
 Kinder’s Meats and Deli, Pleasanton is no more.  A new, Organic Certified, Fast Food place, Organic Coup has moved in.  It’s a bit of an odd place.  They cook only one thing – Organic Fried Chicken.  But, you can have it as a Salad Bowl, Wrap or a Sandwich. It’s $8.99, each, regardless of format.  I had the sandwich and Joyce had the bowl.  Both wer not bad but not great, either.
 Locanda Ravello, Danville, replaces Father Nature’s Shed.  It’s Italian. We tried it a couple of weeks ago with the Cerri’s.  We wanted to like it but despite the rave reviews they’ve been getting, we found it disappointing.  The food was just OK but the service was really slow and disorganized.  But, they are very friendly!
Travel Tips December, 2015
•  Use a luggage strap to go around your luggage to discourage baggage handler and thieves from breaking into your bags to steal contents.  Zippers can be breached in 5 seconds with the point of a ball point pen!  I can demonstrate how easy it is to do that.  The point is to make it less easy for people to gain quick access to your bag interior so they will pick an bag that is very easy to open.
•  Now that Winter is here, the long, narrow plastic bags used by the newspaper delivery people to keep your paper dry on rainy mornings - use them for inexpensive, disposable shoe bags in your luggage.
•  Even though your luggage is labeled/touted as a ‘Carry On Bag,’ avoid nasty surprises at check-in time.  Physically measure your bag and compare those measurements to the requirements published by the airline’s website.  Many bags made as ‘carry-on’ exceed the published dimensions and airlines are cracking down on fliers as this is a lucrative source of income to them when they force you to check your bags!
Buying a New Car?  December, 2015
Before final selection/decision, check to see if it comes with a spare tire.  Today, many cars come with no spare and come with Run-flat Tires or a can of pressurized sealant.  This is done to save weight that results in better gas mileage to help the manufacturers meet critical gas mileage goals set by Federal D.O.T. Standards.  Run-flat tires are very expensive to replace, often provide lower wear performance, result in harsher ride and more road noise and, in some cases, must be serviced only the dealerships due to special tire mounting tools and equipment. The disadvantage of the sealant is that it can only be used when the hole is less than ¼” diameter and the puncture is not in the sidewall.  If the model you are considering for purchase comes only with Run-flat Tires, you may want to check the Internet for experiences and general consensus by current and past owners of Run-flat technology.
•  If your present vehicle is earlier than 2012, you want to upgrade to a new or newer vehicle to take advantage of a major safety improvement – VSC (Vehicle Stability Control).  This safety feature is mandated by D.O.T. since 2012 and was motivated by the earlier problem of fatal, roll-over accidents of top-heavy SUVs.  This feature is designed to eliminate the possiblilty of roll-overs in all vehicles, not just SUVs. And, I can personally attest that it works.  It went into effect recently on our new Subaru Outback Wagon when another car suddenly veered into my lane, forcing me to make an evasive maneuver.  The onboard Collision Avoidance System and the VSC kept us out of a severe accident.  The Collision Avoidance System automatically initiated emergency braking to avoid hitting the other vehicle and the VSC kept us from fishtailing out of control to keep us in the shoulder area away from the center divider or veering back into another lane.
Adaptive Cruise Control December, 2015 Makes for a much more relaxing way to drive but it may not result in the best gas mileage.  It will maintain the prescribed, safe interval between you and the vehicle ahead or maintain your selected steady speed.  When the traffic in front of you varies their speed, your onboard system will mimic this variance by applying gas and brakes on constant vigil.  However, it cannot know well in advance that there is a traffic slow up ahead in the automatic mode and will maintain high vehicle speed when you could in anticipation, manually, disengage the feature and coast a bit to save on gas and brakes.
Tire Pressure Monitor Alert December, 2015 Winter is here!  That means temperatures are now much lower.  When this happens, your tire pressure will be reduced.  When it reduces to 5 psi or more below the standard level, your warning dash light will come on.  This does not require a trip to the dealership to correct.  You can add air pressure yourself or take it to your local tire shop.
Dead Battery December, 2015 Modern vehicles are loaded with computers.  If your battery declines so far that it will not start the engine, do not completely disconnect the dead battery to replace it with a new or charged one without using an interim power supply to keep the computers from completely shutting down and dumping their memory and programs.  The cost can be very high to ‘re-flash’ the computers and replace sensors that ‘crashed’ when they lost all power.  The cost on our 2001 Avalon was $1500!  Instead, hook up an external battery to keep the vehicle circuits alive while replacing the old battery.  This can easily be done with a simple device powered by its own 9 V battery purchased from an automotive supply store for about $10.  It will come with complete instructions for easy, temporary installation and use.
Factory Maintenance Intervals December, 2015 Always check your Owner’s Manual for the recommended maintenance items.  Unscrupulous garage or dealerships may urge you to perform services more frequently than the manufacturer recommends. As an example, many garages will urge you to replace spark plugs at 60K or 80K.  Most Toyotas use Iridium plugs and should go 120K before replacement.  Oil changes are another big misleading recommendation.  Oil change interval varies considerably – 5K to 10K and not always with an attending filter change.  And, it is not necessary to take the vehicle back to the dealership to maintain your warranty.  Just keep proof that the required services were done at the recommended intervals to keep your warranty intact.
Travel Tips: Cruise Transfers, Hotels and Shore Excursions:  November, 2015
Your cruise line will offer you these items – transportation from the airport to the ship or hotel and from the hotel to the ship.  You will save a lot of money if you make your own arrangements.  It’s easy enough to do.  For example, using the cruise line’s hotel option would have been $120/night more for a location in Manhattan, NYC.  Their transfer charge from JFK Airport to Manhattan would have been $140 per person.  It cost us $56 for a cab, flat rate.  Similarly, their transfer fee from the hotel to the Cruise Ship Terminal would have been $109 per person.  Our cab for the both of us was $25, including tip!
 
Shore Excursion markups are equally marked up.  In Boston, the cruise line charge for the “Hop-on-hop-off” tour bus was $129/person.  We took the free shuttle bus downtown and bought our own tickets for a “Hop-on-hop-off” tour for just $30/person!  In St. John, Nova Scotia, the least expensive tour offered by the cruise line was $129/person.  We hired a cab for $30/hr. and it was a pretty nice, personalized tour by a very knowledgeable, English speaking cab driver.  We did the same in Quebec City with similar savings
Travel Tips: Dining Options:   November, 2015
The dining room menus are printed similar to restaurant menus.  But, if you see more than one entrée that ‘speaks to you,’ don’t be afraid to order more than one entrée.  There’s no additional charge.  You don’t have to eat it all.  And don’t feel badly about leaving good food uneaten on your plate.  The way the ship’s kitchen operates, all food that is prepared, regardless of whether it is served or not, is not save and disposed of in accordance with standard shipboard health regulations and practices to avoid any possibility of food borne contamination.
Travel Tips: WiFi Service:  November, 2015 All cruise lines offer WiFi service packages for use while onboard.  The service is inordinately expensive and is, often, slow speed.  On our cruise from NYC to Montreal, virtually every port of call had free WiFi at their dock/terminal or very close by.  I took my Kindle Fire Tablet with me every time we went ashore and found the WiFi service to be excellent and free!  I packed my 10” Asus Netbook but never used it for WiFi.  I used it to download my photos from my two, conventional, digital cameras each day to help organize my photos and to make sure I had plenty of capacity on my memory cards.
Travel Tips: Your Medical Record:  November, 2015
Have you ever been sick while traveling?  Having your medical record for review by the ship’s doctor, hotel doctor, local clinic or hospital would be a nice thing to have with you.  For Kaiser members, you can request it and for $5, it will be given o you on a small USB Flash Drive device.  Or, simply go to the Kaiser Website and go to the My Medical Record tab and click on “Download my health summary” and follow the prompts to download the info onto your own USB Flash Drive or create a file for use while traveling. The summary includes allergies, immunizations, ongoing health conditions, prescriptions, test results, and some procedures.
 
For non-Kaiser members, it should be available upon request from your health provider.  Charges might apply for this service.
Buying a car in the near future? November, 2015
Safety technology has improved so much in recent years that you should seriously consider the safety options of Collision Avoidance, Lane Departure, Adaptive Cruise Control and Rear Cross Traffic Warning (more than rear camera option).  The upcharge is well worth it if can save your life or mitigate bodily injuries.  I can attest that the VSC (Vehicle Stability Control) feature saved us from a serious accident just last week!  On Ch 5 news, there was a video clip where a Uber driver avoided a serious collision using the Autopilot feature.  Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c90pKNe-jcw.  The same feature is available on most brands and levels of new vehicles.  On our new Subaru, the feature is the “Eyesight” safety option.  It really works well and I highly recommend it.  It also makes driving in stop/go, commute traffic a lot less stressful.  Simply steer and let Eyesight do the brake/gas for you in complete safety and comfort!  It can actually make driving enjoyable, again!
 
After you take delivery of your new car, be sure to learn all its features.  The easiest way to do this is to go to “YouTube” and search for your specific make/model and feature and there will be an instructional video that is much simpler and easier to understand than the manufacturer’s DVD or Owner’s Manual!
Lighted Magnifying Vanity Makeup Mirrors November, 2015 The hotels in Montreal and NYC and on board our cruise ship had this nice feature in the bathrooms.  I really got used to using it for shaving and was impressed at how easy it was to spot missed long hairs.  I looked for one and was surprised to find one for a mere $15 at Costco.  It is a great buy and works well.  It is 1X on one side and with an easy flip, it is 10X magnification on the other side.  The self-contained light is a fluorescent bulb that provides natural, daylight for makeup purposes.  It does require a 120 V outlet.
BUYING A NEW CAR? October, 2015 Last month I reported our excellent experience of buying a new car using the Costco Car Buying Service.  We've had our new 2015 Subaru Outback Wagon for over a month now and have become familiar with many of it's features.  Based on this experience, I strongly urge everyone to seriously consider the following three features available on all new vehicles offered for sale today.   Adaptive Cruise Control, Rear Cross Traffic Warning Alert and Collision Avoidance/Mitigation System. The first takes all the tension out of stop-and-go traffic conditions in addition to making it safer whenever following other vehicles at all speeds – even in town and around the neighborhood.  The second is vital when backing out from any situation where your vision to the rear on either side is blocked.  The third will help you avoid a forward collision or, at least, lessen the impact and resulting damage.  These would be optional upgrades as most brands now include the Rear Camera and Blind Spot Warning in even their lowest cost, base model.  Another feature I could not do without in any future vehicle we own is the Self Dimming Rear-view and Side Mirrors.  I hate it when a tall car, SUV or truck behind me is blinding me with their bright lights.
SPEAKING OF CARS October, 2015 1. Save water by using a dry dust mop sold in auto parts stores designed to pick up dust, pollen and other airborne particles that settle on your vehicles surface without scratching the paint finish.  One brand name is California Car Wash.  You can extend the period between washes using this dry mop technique.  2. Take your car to the local car wash.  They recycle their water so it's not completely lost as it would be if you washed your car at home.  3. If you really wanted to wash your car using recycle or 'gray water' saved from your household uses, wash your car using a plastic bucket and 'Drill Driver Pump' and two pieces of hose remnant.  You would use your portable electric drill to power the small, portable, hand-held pump to pump the water out of the bucket and direct it onto your vehicle. It's not high flow so it will take some patience to do this!
WALMART SURVEY SCAM October, 2015 Beware of any emails you receive from Walmart stating:  “Congratulations on your Walmart Survey Reward . . . Click Here to Redeem.”  It's a scam.  It's not from Walmart.  It is made to appear that it is from Walmart.  They want you to take a simple, 30 second survey followed by a the reward – offers of horrible/worthless merchandise, subscription offers, offers of free questionable, OTC medications.  All these “gifts/rewards” require you go give them your phone number, email address and mailing address.  This information is gathered for the sole purpose of building more prospect lists for Direct Sales companies.  You could expect many more robo-calls and increased Junk Mail as a result.  Another similar scam is also circulating directed at Amazon shoppers.  This one is a little different.  They don't claim to be Amazon.  Instead they claim to be authorized by “Amazon” to conduct the survey!
KAISER PERMANENTE MEMBER  October, 2015 Did you know that as a Kaiser member, you can obtain your entire medical record/history as known by Kaiser in the form of a handy, compact, USB Memory Stick?  And best of all, it' free!  Simply go to your local Kaiser Membership Services Office to request it.  This could be incredibly useful/important if you travel a lot, especially abroad.  Any medical facility would be able to 'read' your file in the event of any medical emergency away from your home area.  Also, pill boxes are available at all Pharmacies at no charge!
FORGET TRIVAGO October, 2015 Trivago is a website that is heavily advertise on TV to be a better hotel/motel search site.  They compete with Kayak, Priceline, Orbitz, Hotwire and others.  Trivago is a waste of time.  No matter what they claim, their searches turn out to be no lower than the other leading search websites!!  I've tried them myself for several months and many dozens of searches.
TRAVEL TIP  October, 2015 Pack high performance clothing using  man made fibers.  This will mean a lighter load with more packed items.  At your local luggage or travel accessories store, purchase inflatable hangers, plastic clothespin hangers and powdered detergent and you are all set to do laundry in the wash basin of your room as you travel!  The inflatable hanger will separate the front and back of the articles of clothing to speed up drying.  You can wash items and hang them up to air-dry within 4 hrs.
A RETRACTION AND APOLOGY   September, 2015 Last month I recommended a new place, Bill’s Café, Pleasanton, for breakfast, brunch and lunch.  It pains me to report that this location has not lived up to expectations – not even close!  I’ve been very disappointed in the two times I have been to this place, once for breakfast and once for lunch.  Also, I’ve had negative reports from friends and fellow Sirs to the same effect.  I had based my original recommendation based on a referral by the Subaru dealer in San Jose while buying a car from them.  That experience was very positive and we found their reputation for their other San Jose locations to be very high.
LEFTOVER FRENCH FRIES September, 2015 If you have fries or other potato food dishes leftover from home or dining out, a good way to use them is make a breakfast hash out of them.  Cut/chop up the fries or other starch items and add diced white/yellow onions along with bacon, ham, sausage, wieners or other protein.  Season with salt and pepper and other appropriate spices or herbs
ODDS & ENDS OF COFFEE September, 2015 If you have small amounts of various old or unidentified coffee (beans or ground), a good use for them would be to cold-brew them, together and use the liquid as a concentrate to make hot coffee using hot water or iced coffee.  Beans need to be medium to coarse ground.  Place all the coffee into a suitable glass or metal container and add plain tap water, cover and let stand for at least 3 days, stirring occasionally the first day or two.  Use about 3X amount of water to grounds.   Pour off the coffee liquid being careful not to disturb the grounds that have fully settled to the bottom.  Additional filtering may be needed if the grounds were a fine grind.  Use this liquid as a concentrate to make the coffee drinks of your choice!  Cold-brewed coffee is low in acid and is, usually, very smooth in flavor.
NEW SERVICE FOR HOME COOKING OF MEALS September, 2015 If you are still cooking and eating at  home, there is a new service that might benefit you and your family.  Check out “Blue Apron” at www.blueapron.com!  Dan Poulin alerted me to this company.  They produce entrée dishes using good, pre-portioned, raw ingredients along with the recipe/directions and all the seasonings to make the dishes and ships them to you on a schedule of your determination.  It’s quick, convenient and no waste.  Here’s what Dan Poulin said: “It’s a company that ships a box of pre-portioned ingredients and menus for 3 meals (for 2) on a weekly schedule.  Our box shows up on Saturday.  The cost for the 3 day plan for 2 is $59 which we have found to be a great value for the quality of the ingredients provided.  The menus are fairly simple yet interesting and delicious.  In 4 weeks, we have had only 1 meal which we did not really care for so now look forward to see what is coming from week to week.  You can also control deliveries say if are going to be away and register any dietary restrictions you might have.”
NEW CAR PURCHASE September, 2015 It’s been a very long time since we purchased a new car.  I had been successfully buying high mileage used Honda’s, Toyota’s and Subaru’s in good condition at low prices from private parties.  This worked very well for us for many years as we would operate them for another 100K miles with very few problems.  But, more recently, the price of used cars has risen to the point they are no longer a good bargain.  This is a result of the recession and belt tightening throughout the economy some years back.  So, we decided to buy a new vehicle.  Naturally, remembering the old days of having to haggle/negotiate through several layers of salesmen and managers, I dreaded the whole process.  But, times have really changed.  I have to admit that I even enjoyed the experience.
 
The Internet has made everything much more transparent for well-informed buyers.  It is very difficult for a dealer to make a big profit from an intelligent buyer.  There are multiple websites that will provide the current prices that customers are paying for their purchases.  These websites also provide specifications, performance figures.  Select specific models equipped to your specification and you can make direct comparisons to help you choose your vehicle.  Independent car reviews are also readily available from many additional websites.
 
Once you have selected your vehicle and all the options you want on it, simply request quotes from any or all dealers in your local area.  All dealers have an “Internet Department.”
You can, virtually, do everything remotely from home except take the vehicles for a test drive.  In most cases, you will know the price of your vehicle and simply go to the dealer to complete the legal paperwork, pay for it and take the car home (if it is in stock).
 
In our case, I elected to use the Costco Car Buying Service, included in the Costco member benefits.  Costco has contracted with specific dealers of almost all foreign and domestic brands in all the major markets throughout the U.S.  Each dealer negotiates a specific price list with Costco.  When you call or email Costco, they will call the local dealer/s in your area and you will be called by the dealer’s Costco Specialist.  You can request the price for the vehicle of your choice as listed on the contract.  In our case, we chose a vehicle that was not on the contract.  But, because the Costco contract is very important to them, the dealer gave us a very good price ($2,200 of the MSRP) even though other Subaru dealers were selling this particular model (2.5i Outback Limited w/Eyesight & Moonroof Options) at full MSRP, or even above MSRP.  They didn't have to do this.  They also worked hard to get us the color (Twilight Blue) we wanted even though there were few of this color produced.  The only negative was that we had to wait over 2 weeks for it to arrive from the Indiana Assembly Plant.
 
We believe the Costco program is a really good way to purchase a new or used vehicle.  The dealers sell more cars via the Costco program than any of their other national or local marketing programs.  They sell so many more vehicles this way that they work really hard to keep customers happy.  Costco followed up during and after the sale to make sure we had a good experience.  I had the sense that they would have intervened on our behalf if we were not happy with the dealer or the progress of the sale.  I had sought out other Costco members that had used the program to hear their experience.  All, including Sir John Kent (he bought 2 Mazdas through Costco) had nothing but good things to report.  And, if there is a dealership you want to buy from but they are not a Costco contract dealership, tell them you want to check the Costco dealer in the area for the vehicle you're interested in and they may meet the Costco contract price.
CAR OPTION TIPS September, 2015 Take advantage of newest safety technology:  The Technology is advancing rapidly in new cars.  Most cars now include a Rear View Camera and Vehicle Stability Control systems even on their base/economy  models.  Seriously consider adding the other safety features such as Adaptive Cruise Control/Collision Mitigation, Blind-Spot Detection/Side Assist/Collision warning and Lane-Departure Warning.  Not only can these features prevent an accident, your auto insurance policy will be reduced and might pay for these options over time.
 
The Adaptive Cruise Control is truly amazing.  I drove 192+ miles en route from L.A. to home without touching either the gas or brake pedal while driving in heavy, congested traffic as well as at high freeway speeds.  I use it even in stop/go city traffic.  The system can react faster than I can if the car in front of me suddenly stops or a car cuts in front of me!  It also makes commute traffic a lot more tolerable – even relaxing!  The rear, side searching radar warning takes all the fear out of backing out from a blind parking spot with large vehicles blocking view of oncoming traffic from the side.  To me, these are “must have” safety features!
 
•  Make sure these options are demonstrated or clearly explained to you:  The amount of operating change and sophistication in newer vehicles can be quite daunting.  The owner’s manual can be huge and difficult to read.  The dealer should go over these controls and features at the time of delivery.  Some manufacturers provide a DVD as part of the Owner’s Manual.  If there are no DVDs for your vehicle, ‘Google’ the Internet or search YouTube and there will be videos to explain their function and show you how to use them.  You can also check Consumer Reports ratings and reviews to see which vehicle/brands have the most simple or intuitive controls for the various features.
 
If anyone would like more information or help in using the Costco Buying Program or explanation of optional safety options, please feel free to call or email me!
Wine In The Car During Auto Trips August, 2015 We’ve all taken wine to dinner or given wine as gifts.  During the car ride, the weather can be quite hot in our area.  And if the journey is of any distance or length of time due to traffic, a very good wine can suffer badly if it is allowed to become warm even for just a short time!  Protect that temperature-sensitive item by using a thermal bag.  The interior of a parked car on a hot day can easily reach 160° F. in just 10 minutes!  Keep a foldable, soft cooler in the trunk for quick and easy use.  We keep a large one and smaller insulated lunch bag in our cars.  They take up no room and weigh next to nothing but can come in handy whenever carrying wine, ice cream, frozen food items or other temperature-sensitive things, including medications.
Lysol Spray Disinfectant August, 2015 How do you kill pesky flies in the house?  Flyswatters can be difficult to accurately hit the fast-flying critters.  And they can make a germ laden mess. An electronic flyswatter is better but still requires some fast hand coordination to catch the flies on the electrified grids.  Try using a pressurized spray can of Lysol Disinfectant or other private-branded product like Lysol!  Simply spray it at the flying insect and the spray will knock it down and more spray will kill it and sanitize the spot as well!  Yet, the errant spray will not harm furniture, curtains, cabinets, etc.  It’s inexpensive and available at the supermarket or chain drugstores.
AAA and AARP Discounts August, 2015 Most hotels and many merchants and restaurants offer discounts for AAA or AARP members.  Always ask for these or “Senior Discount.”  Many hotel chain websites allow you to make cancellable reservations without cancellation fees on discounted room rates.  That can be a big benefit.
Your Refrigerator August, 2015 We recently had to replace the ice maker in our 11-year-old French Door Kenmore Refrigerator.  We learned a number of interesting things from the repair technician.  He told us that the average life of all ice makers (regardless of brand) is only 6 – 8 years.  Therefore, we had already beaten the odds and were overdue.  Furthermore, he only carries three different ice maker modules in his truck.  These three units are total replacement units for about 80% of current home refrigerators.  The retail price for these replacement units are about $150 and the time to diagnose, replace and test the repair job should only be ½ hour of labor, plus the service call charge.  He also said the best way to adjust your freezer/refrigerator temperature is to turn the refrigerator compartment temperature control to its coldest setting.  Then set the freezer temperature control to about 1/3 coldest temperature.  Place a reliable refrigerator thermometer in the refrigerator portion of the appliance for reference and adjustment.  Adjust the freezer temperature control until the refrigerator area reads 40° F.  Allow at least 4 – 6 hours after each freezer temperature adjustment to provide time for the refrigerator section to stabilize.  The refrigerator temperature control merely controls a cold air door/valve from the freezer section.  This method will assure your refrigerator section will be at the optimally cool temperature without overtaxing the refrigerant mechanism for optimal energy consumption.
Taking Pills, Tablets and Capsules August, 2015 Many of us older folks take medications in the form of pills and capsules of various shapes.  Unfortunately, all these shapes tend to roll and the smaller ones are hard to find when they roll off the table or counter onto the floor!  To avoid this when assembling your daily medications or weekly meds in pill boxes, do this by using a clean towel on the table or counter to assemble your meds.  This will reduce the rolling action of these meds!
FasTrak Flex August, 2015 This is the new FasTrak transponder equipped with a switch to signal the FasTrak system the number of occupants in your vehicle when using the new Express Lanes coming this Fall to the Bay Area and already in use in SoCal.  This upgrade is free to all present FasTrak account holders.  Simply call the customer service center at 877 229-8655.  They will send you a new FasTrak Flex transponder with instructions on how to return you old unit.  
Costco Car Buying Program August, 2015 Last month I noted that we were in the process lf using Costco to buy a new Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited.  As an update, I am happy to report that the experience was an excellent one!  The particular vehicle we chose was an exception to the Costco pricing contract.  But, even though the special Costco pricing did not apply, the Costco authorized dealer still gave us a sizeable discount even though they were not required to.  They sell so many cars through the Costco program that they want to ensure that they keep the Costco contract.  So they really wanted us to be a satisfied customer.  I called other dealers, both Costco qualified and non-qualified dealers but they were selling this same model at full MSRP price or higher because of the shortage of inventory on this specific model.  We saved $2,300 off the MSRP!  We are very pleased!  John Kent, a new SIR member had a similar experience via the Costco program!
New Local Dining Venue August, 2015 Bill’s Café, Pleasanton recently opened.  This is a really good breakfast, brunch and lunch place.  They started in San Jose back in 1977.  Until just this last year, they have had steady and respected growth in the San Jose area.  Pleasanton is their 6th location and the first outside of the San Jose area.  The food is excellent and the service is both friendly and quick.  Portions and prices are also good!  The Pleasanton location occupies the former Zorn’s.  Give ‘em a try!  Dan and Chris Poulin like them, too!
Clean your wiper blades:  Clean your wiper blades July, 2015 An easy way to clean the wiping edge of your vehicle windshield wipers is to use a pre-moistened towelette, the kind sold for quick/easy cleaning of eyeglass lenses.  This will do a good job of clearing away any accumulated street scum and oils on the wiper edge.  Keep some in your glove compartment for easy access when you need them!
Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar July, 2015 Some time ago, I mentioned that this was a very good value for food, service and ambiance.  Something I forgot to mention is that because they are always super busy during peak dining hours, all the tall tables in the bar area are non reserved seating.  So what we do is – upon arrival, we check for an open, high table in the bar area.  The food, service, menu and prices are the same as the regular dining room.  But, might score immediate seating even when there is a line out the door!  But, again, we do not recommend the Concord Lazy Dog.  Stick with the Pleasanton store!
Best time to shop at Costco July, 2015 Do you want to avoid the crowds and find a parking spot, easily?  Try going at 11 AM and 5:30 PM.  By about 11 AM, the first wave of shoppers (usually on a specific mission) have finished their task and have started to leave in order to get on with their day.  At 5:30, mothers usually must leave to get home to get dinner on the table for the family.  This usually means shorter lines at the checkout stands and more parking spaces available.
New Smart Cards will be standard issue by October 2015 July, 2015 These new credit/debit cards have a micro-chip imbedded in the plastic card.  The entire U.S. is now poised to catch up with the rest of the modern world by employing the newer technology that Europe and Asia has been using for almost the last decade!  Smart Cards are a deterrent to fraud.  It is super easy for crooks to make a fake conventional credit card with a magnetic strip using your personal information previously found or stolen by bad persons.  What does this mean to us as consumers? First, you will soon be receiving new credit cards from your credit card issuer.  Take care of your new Smart Card.  Consider the use of an aluminum card case or a metallic Mylar sleeve for your new Smart Cards to avoid anyone near you equipped with a scanner to pick up your personal information stored on the imbedded chip.  These are based on RF (radio frequency) technology.  Second, be prepared for some problems at smaller retail stores.  The retailers must convert their card readers over to this new system.  Smaller, independent retailers may lack the expertise and may not be able to afford the cost of the new systems and equipment required to read the new cards. These retailers may not accept your new Smart Card and the magnetic strip cards represent a liability to them since they will be liable for any fraud resulting from the continued use of the magnetic strip system.  You may want to carry extra cash or your check book when shopping at small independent retail stores beginning in October until things get sorted out.
Buying a new car is now so much easier July, 2015 The Internet has had a huge impact on car buying.  You can now easily avoid all the hassles of negotiating with a salesmen, closers, finance managers, etc.  Armed with information that is now so easy to get off the Internet (MSRP, option prices, inventory, factory invoice, etc.) the mystery of getting a good price is no longer difficult to achieve.  All of this web-based info is now so common, all dealers have an “Internet Sales Department” that, essentially, solicits and quotes prices to anyone interested in their make/brand of vehicles.  And to make it even easier, simply call or email Costco to use the Costco Car Buying Program.  Costco will provide take your information (type and brand) to their local contract dealer/s and a salesperson that works the Costco program for that specific dealer will call you and take care of you.  They will quote prices to you via phone or email as well as current and incoming inventory and work with you to select the vehicle to satisfy your needs.  It works very well and provides a pre-negotiated discount off the factory invoice price for each vehicle.  Costco will also be monitoring the transaction by surveying all buyers and will verify the proper prices to be sure the dealer is abiding by the contract terms.  In short, you have some assurances from Costco that all will go well within their program.
Do you use heartburn OTC medications? July, 2015
A new study by researchers at Houston Methodist and Stanford University shows that a category of drugs commonly used to fight acid reflux, called proton pump inhibitors, may raise the risk of heart attack. Proton pump inhibitors include such well-known brands such as Prilosec, Nexium, Prevacid and others.  "Proton pump inhibitors increase the risk of heart attack in the general population by about 15 to 20 percent," Dr. John Cooke of Houston Methodist Research Institute told CBS News.
In the study, which examined anonymous, electronic medical records from 2.9 million patients, researchers found a clear association between proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and heart attack. Analysis of patients using another type of antacid drugs called H2 blockers, such as Zantac, Tagament, Kirkland Acid Reducer or Pepcid, did not show this increased risk.
Habit Hamburger Grill July, 2015 We don’t frequent fast food chains for burgers a lot, but when we do, Habit is our first choice.  If you like In N Out, you’ll love Habit burgers.  It is char-grilled over a live flame.  I think that adds a bit more flavor via the caramelization of the meat exterior surface.  It also helps make the texture a bit more firm.  And, unlike In N Out, they have salads, grilled Tuna and Tri Tip Beef sandwiches, providing some nice options other than a burger.  Try their onion rings – only $1.95 for a generous portion.  These are made using real, fresh, battered onion and are crispy and non-greasy!  Also, try their Tempura Green Beans!!!
Looking for a good low-fat Hot Dog? July, 2015 Good hot dogs often contain as much as 23+ grams of fat.  Unfortunately, most low fat wieners lack good flavor and/or have no “snap” texture when biting into the casing.  I recently tried a new product (to me) that really seems to ‘fill the bill’ for a low fat wiener – Boar’s Head Lite Beef Frankfurters.  These are a regular sized frankfurter with just 6 grams of fat!  They taste great and have a nice ‘snap’ when biting into them!  I got them at Sprouts.  The cost was $4.99/package.
Pickleball anyone? July, 2015 Pickleball, aka Paddle Ball, is growing rapidly in popularity.  This is played indoors or outdoors on a small court with an easy-to-set-up, portable net.  The ball is a plastic ‘Wiffle Ball’ about the size of a tennis ball.  Paddles can be wood about 1.5 larger than a ping pong paddle.  Advance players usually graduate to a high-tech, composite paddle.  The courts are small enough to fit about 3 of them on a standard tennis court.  This means that those of us with limited mobility can play and be competitive.  It’s easy to learn and a beginner can begin to play the game within an hour of introduction.  Pickleball is played Monday through Friday mornings at the Tice Valley Community Center and Sunday mornings at the Pleasanton Middle School Gymnasium.  There is a site in Livermore as well but I am not familiar with the location or times.  Anyway, I recommend that you give it a try – men and women!
Your own Comcast WiFi network June, 2015 Did you know that if Comcast is your Internet Provider, your wireless router can be used by Comcast to provide a ‘Hot Spot’ connection to other Comcast subscribers?  You own the router but Comcast owns the system and they do provide public WiFi to their subscribers.  What this means to you is that you could sign onto your WiFi thinking that you are password protected.  But, it is possible that your device ‘reads’ the Comcast public network and logs you onto an unprotected, public connection, making it possible for others to capture your data and sensitive information.  To avoid this possibility, when logging on, check to see Internet access your device has electronically selected.  If it is your own WiFi connection, you’re fine.  If it is the Comcast public WiFi, disconnect and select your own WiFi connection to be secure.
Gift Cards issued by credit card companies June, 2015 Be aware that when you receive or give a preloaded credit card to someone, that card will have monthly fees that will begin to erode the balance within a stated period of time after issuance.  Last week, I received a rebate from the iDine program in the form of an American Express Credit Card in the amount of $21.51.  I went to the AMEX website stated on the back of the card to check my available balance and to read the fine print.  That card was subject to a $2.00 Account Service Charge every month beginning 3 months after the issuing date!  So, use those cards quickly to avoid losing any value loaded onto the original card amount!
Date new appliances, tools and other household/garage items of value or have limited time warranties. June, 2015
Our memories are very fragile these days, so when something breaks, gets stolen or lost, the date and value of the item can be critical for insurance or service warranty issues.  An easy way to know the date and cost of acquisition, simply write the info down on a label and attach it to the article in an inconspicuous place.  If you don’t have labels handy, Scotch Blue Painter’s Tape works really well for this purpose and can be easily removed without defacing the finish on the item. 
 
Tip:  The instruction manual, ‘Quick Start Guide,’ warranty and any important notes can be put into an envelope and tape it to the appliance for quick and easy reference.  The “fix” for turning off the “low toner light” on my mono-laser printer is taped right to the side of the printer so I can easily and quickly refresh my memory on how to deal with this false signal.  Otherwise, I would have to take the time and effort to ‘Google’ the remedy all over, again.

Tip:  When using the Blue Painter’s Tape or any other kind of adhesive tape, cut the tape on a diagonal and fold the “point” under to make a double fold when finished with any use.  This way, finding the ‘start’ of the tape will be quick and easy!
Keeping score during golf!   June, 2015 What happens when the point on the cheap, little golf course pencil breaks?  Do you have a pocket knife to sharpen it with?  It can be frustrating.  Save yourself some grief and the next time you’re at Office Depot, Staples, etc., buy a cheap, plastic, disposable pencil sharpener.  They cost about $1.99.  Throw it in your golf bag along with tees and markers.
Grilling season is here June, 2015
Clean your grill and check/tighten all your propane/gas connections before your next use.  Refill your propane tank, now.  Turn it on to make sure it works well.  This way, you won’t be disappointed when it comes time to use your equipment only to find that it is not in proper working order.

Tip: Clean your grill grates with a ‘scrubbing block.’  The metal bristles on a grill brush, especially older ones, can come loose and become ingested with the grilled food.  This does happen and it usually requires surgery to remove from your digestive system.  These bristles are too sharp to pass through on their own and puncture the tissue resulting in potentially lethal infection or internal bleeding.

Tip: The cheapest price on exchange service propane tanks is at Walmart Neighborhood Grocers.  Exchange tanks at supermarkets, gas stations and hardware stores are about $19.99 - $23.00.  Walmart’s price is currently $16.99.
Kitchen Shears June, 2015 This can be a super convenient tool in every kitchen.  But, it is often overlooked when buying good knives or knife sets.  We use ours a lot to cut open packaged foods, cut food items (works great on noodles, canned tomatoes and other soft foods).  They can be used to cut food items into ‘bite-size’ quickly and easily.  Make sure they are designed for kitchen use so they can withstand frequent washing and can be disassembled for complete cleaning.
Avoid potential kitchen fires and ruining pots/pans!   June, 2015 At our age, it is easy to become distracted while cooking.  When you put a pot or pan on the stove with the burner on medium or hotter, set an audible timer, just in case you become distracted with a phone call, someone at the door, a TV show gets your attention, etc., to remind you that you have a burner going!  This has happened a couple of times until we got into the habit of setting a timer as a warning device!
Tip:  Always have a working fire extinguisher available, quickly and easily in the kitchen.  Remember, water is not a good option for grease or oil fires.
Franchise restaurants are not all alike!   June, 2015 Sometime ago, I mentioned that Lazy Dog was a good, new and fun dining place in our area.  This was based on our experiences at the Hacienda Dublin location.  Recently, we visited their Concord location and we were very disappointed.  The staff seemed indifferent about serving their customers.  And, they seemed bored and unhappy about being there.  That made it very uncomfortable for us.  Avoid the Concord store!
Beignets VS Malasadas? June, 2015 During the last Yankee Hill Winery cooking class session, Beignets were the dessert course.  That brought up a discussion about how they differed from the Hawaiian/Portuguese Donut, Malasada.  I thought Malasadas were lighter and airier.  It turns out that both are very light and the biggest difference seems to be that Beignets are covered with powdered sugar and Malasadas are covered with granulated sugar.  However, I can recommend a place for Malasadas – Hawaiian Wok, located across from BevMo, Crow Canyon Rd., San Ramon.  They are also available at another new Hawaiian place, Hawaiian Grill Express, next to Fresh Pixx Pizza, Dublin, across from Dick’s Sporting Goods, off Fallon Rd.
SOME NEW FOOD OPTIONS IN OUR AREA! June, 2015
The new Whole Foods Market, Persimmon Place, Dublin is now open!  This is a new, expanded store with a Noodle Bar, Brick Oven Pizzas, wine bar and a Barbecue counter.  And, of course, they have their standard deli counter, soup and salad bar.  We tried the noodle bar and had a Pork Belly Ramen that was not bad.  We liked the pizza by the slice – 2 slices for just $6.  There were about 4 different pizzas to choose from.  Their pizza box is innovative and eco-friendly.

Pacific Catch, a new, interesting, food service place is under construction across from Whole Foods. This is a new concept in seafood.  They offer sushi and other Asian fusion menu items along with traditional fish & chips and fish tacos.  It should be open, soon.  They have other locations opened in the Bay Area.  We really need a good seafood place in the local area!

A new Chicago-style pizza place:  Mi Pi Pizza, features Chicago foods including deep-dish pizza, Chicago Hot Dog, Italian Beef Sandwich and other items traditional to Chicagoland.  I love Chicago Hot Dogs and this ‘almost’ authentic.  But, the bun is not quite right and the peppers are not the genuine Sport Peppers.  It is served ‘naked’ with the condiments served separately in a fancy glass and metal carrier – too fancy for a hot dog.  And the tomato slices are too fat.  That makes it really hard to eat.
NEW FOOD TREND - PREPAYING FOR YOUR MEAL! June, 2015 Prepay your meal at the time of reservation!  This is a new trend popping up nationally in the restaurant business.  Some restaurants will now only take your reservation when you agree to submit your credit card and the entire, estimated charge for the meals are immediately charged to your credit card account.  Any overs/unders adjustments in charges would be taken care of after your meal at the restaurant.  Just recently, Lazy Bear, San Francisco went to this system in May.  On the first day, they were sold out for the entire month of June!  Not reserved – sold out!  As in every meal for every seat bought and paid for in advance for an entire month!  An average price per person is used to calculate the amount of the prepaid charge.  This improves the restaurant’s bottom line because all “no shows” are eliminated so no business is lost due to people not showing up for their ‘reservations!’  Another tactic is to charge a non-refundable deposit for each reservation.  Let’s hope this idea does not become mainstream in the near future.
SLEEP May, 2015 It seems like the older we get, the more trouble we seem to have getting to sleep and staying asleep at night.  Here's something you can try.  Get a pair of yellow-tinted glasses that block out blue light.  Based on some recent studies, exposure to bright, artificial lights of computers, cellphones, TVs and other light-emitting digital devices tends to inhibit the internal production of Melatonin, a natural substance in our bodies that help us sleep.  Putting on these glasses when the sun goes down will help to screen out the blue spectrum of light that is thought to inhibit the production of Melatonin.  Hopefully, this will promote better sleep.
PRESERVING OPENED BOTTLES OF WINE May, 2015 The standard ways to keep an opened bottle of wine is to use a vacuum pump to extract the harmful oxygen or introduce an inert gas, like nitrogen, to displace the oxygen-rich air in the opened bottle.  Well, here's a new way!  Try the Savino Wine Saving Carafe.   Here's a link to it on Amazon:  http://tinyurl.com/ko3eylr  It is an ingenious carafe with a "floating top" that keeps the outside atmosphere from coming in contact with the wine in the carafe.  This cuts down on the dreaded oxidation that takes place within a a few days.  Wines kept in this device can keep your wine drinkable for up to 2 weeks!  It works very well for us and the glass version is attractive enough that you will not mind using it on the dinner table for service when guests are present!
SALT/PEPPER/SPICE/HERB GRINDERS May, 2015 Do you like or need a pepper or salt mill?  Just buy a spice or herb from Trader Joe's with a built-in grinder.  Simply use up the contents and refill with spice/herb of your choice.  These make an excellent travel mill.  There is a plastic snap cap on the top so you can grind as much as you like and if you don't use all of it at that time, simply snap the cap on and the already-ground contents can be sprinkled on your food at a later time without having to grind any new portions.
PUBLIC WIFI AND PUBLIC PC's May, 2015 We've all done it. We've all logged on at a public WiFi hotspot like Starbucks, McDonald's, Corner Bakery, hotel rooms, etc.  And many of us have used the public PCs at the Public Library, hotel business centers, etc.  Be very careful about your activities on your digital devices ion these unsecured, public places.  Even those sites that require you to input a password to access their network are no safer for your digital information than those not requiring the use of a password.  Avoid shopping/banking/sending data, etc., on these public sites where anyone with the proper equipment can monitor your digital work or activities.  Never use your passwords, bank or other financial accounts or any other sensitive/private data or information.  Think of these sites as being totally unsecured and fully public and bad folks can 'mine' the network for their own gain.
EUROPEAN TRAVEL May, 2015 If you've been thinking about going to Europe, now's the time, for a couple of good reasons.  First, the foreign currency exchange rate is at its best in many many years.  The Euro is no longer the big premium it used to be so the cost of goods and services in those countries using the Euro currency is not nearly as expensive as it used to be.  The other reason is that many of the credit card carriers are dropping the charges for foreign transactions.  It seems that with the issuance of the new "smart cards" for all American credit cards, the risk of fraud is much lower and that translates to cutting the fees for those foreign money transactions.  Check your credit card company to see if your card has changed their fee structure!
RECHARGING PERSONAL ELECTRONICS April, 2015 Today we have a plethora of electronic devices powered by rechargeable batteries that can be recharged using the USB port on any computer or other charging device.  But, what chargers will work with which devices?
â–ºTIP: All USB devices are the same voltage and are all compatible with any USB charger.  This includes Power Bank rechargeable batteries.  However, the charger must provide enough power to charge the device at its normal or designed rate or the charging rate will be very slow.  Therefore, when in doubt, use a higher powered charger.  Your device will limit the charge rate.  So, a .5 amp charger will charge a device that likes 2.4 amps but it will take forever.  Conversely, a 4.0 amp charger can be used on a small device like a small cell phone or bluetooth headset requiring only .5 amps since the device will accept only the rate of charge good for the device.  This means you can simplify things by using one charger for multiple devices at home or when you travel.

 
COIN OP AIR HOSE April, 2015 In olden days, all gas stations had free air available to keep your tires inflated to their proper pressure.  Today, they are, typically, coin operated devices.
â–ºTIP: Company-owned Shell Stations should work without depositing coins.  Simply press the “on” button three times and the air compressor should come on.

 
MICROSOFT OFFICE April, 2015 This is a powerful but expensive program.  But, it is an extra cost, upgrade on all PCs using Microsoft operating systems.
â–ºTIP: To avoid this extra expense, consider using the free Apache Open Office Software.  It allows the user to read and produce documents compatible with all MS Office programs.  Simply Google “Open Office” to find a free download site.

 
REDUCED BATHROOM FAN EFFECTIVENESS April, 2015  Are you using a very soft, premium toilet paper?  Check your bathroom fan vent cover!  It could be clogged with lint from this premium TP product over a long period of use!
â–ºTIP: Remove the vent cover to check for lint buildup that restricts airflow.  Use a vacuum hose to clean the cover and housing to improve airflow back to normal.

 
QUON’S QUICK FOOD PICKS April, 2015  I’m often asked for  recommendations.  Here are my suggestions for local, casual “Cheap Eats!”
 
Hula Wok, San Ramon, is a new Hawaiian, fast food place near the Crow Canyon Safeway Store.  Try the BBQ Mix Plate ($8.95) or Seafood BBQ Mix ($9.95).  Portions are large; proteins are tasty, tender and moist.
• Lazy Dog, Dublin, continues to be very popular.  Try the Pot Roast, Chicken Tenders, Fish and Chips and Chicken Pot Pie.  But, do not miss their Butter Cake dessert!  This will keep you coming back for more!
Kabob House, Walnut Creek, is a great place to learn about Persian cuisine.  The staff is really gracious and helpful and the food is outstandingly good with very reasonable prices.  Try the Lamb Shank or the Shrimp Lemon and Saffron flavored prawns!
Mixed Grain, Walnut Creek, is, similarly, a great place to learn about Korean cuisine with little risk.  The staff is young and very helpful.  Best of all, English is not a problem.  They will help you understand the menu.  The Spicy Chicken Wings are fantastic!
Habit Burger Grill, multiple locations, is, simply, the best fast food hamburger!  If you like In-N-Out burgers, you’ll love Habit Burgers!  They are char-grilled which gives them more flavor and a  better texture.  Also, they offer Tuna, Beef Tri Tip sandwiches and good salads.  Do not miss their Onion Rings at just $1.95!
Jersey Mike’s Subs, multiple locations, makes authentic, East Coast Submarine/Hoagie Sandwiches.  Most folks out here in the West have never experienced a real sub until their recent arrival.  I like #13, The Original Italian, with
Provolone, ham, prosciuttini, cappacuolo, salami and pepperoni.  Joyce likes #2, Jersey Shore's Favorite with Provolone, ham and cappacuolo.  We ask for it “Jersey Mike’s Way with extra seasoning.”  Join their ‘frequent buyer’ program for free sandwiches.  It’s super easy to enroll and is good across the country!
Pho Saigon, Dublin, offers the best Vietnamese Pho, the traditional Beef Vermicelli Soup Noodles.  But do try their Vermicelli Bowls – a sort of a ‘noodle salad bowl.’  Joyce is ‘hung up’ on their BBQ Chicken Vermicelli Bowl.  It’s inexpensive, filling and delicious as well as being low in fat and nutritious.
Peking Delight, San Ramon, located between Lucky’s and Walgreen is a superb value – a perfect mix of good, tasty Chinese food at low prices and huge portions.  Try their luncheon specials ($6.25 - $6.95), an entrée with steamed white rice or fried rice.  We did a Dine Out dinner here last year of 27 folks at cost of under $10 that included tax and tip!

 
Local Dining Tip:  Poor Man's Big Mac March, 2015 Did you know that almost all fast food chain restaurants have a sort of a 'Secret Menu' that is known by the regulars?  These items can be better choices for both the food and their respective prices.  For instance, if you like In-N-Out burgers, try ordering it “Animal Style.”  Another good tip – if you like McDonald's Big Mac, try ordering it as “Poor Man's Big Mac.”  It will come without the third piece of bun in the middle, be lower in calories and be about half the regular price.  Ask for a McDouble with Lettuce & Big Mac Sauce instead of Ketchup & Mustard. You won't regret it.  TIP:  If you're interested in more 'Secret Menus,' go to this website.  You'll be amazed at the wide and varied selections that are not posted on the menu of all these restaurants!  http://aht.seriouseats.com/archives/2011/03/the-in-n-out-survival-guide-we-ate-every-single-item-on-the-secret-menu.html
Local Dining Tip: Local Hawaiian Food March, 2015 Just as Kilohana Grill (Market Place, San Ramon) closed, Hula Wok, across the parking lot from McDonalds and Safeway, San Ramon, opened!  They have Hawaiian BBQ beef, chicken and grilled chicken and seafood.  They also serve the traditional 2 scoops of white rice AND a scoop of macaroni salad.  Try the Masada for dessert.  It's a Portuguese/Hawaiian version of Beignets but much less messy  to eat!  They are light and airy, fried dough.  Hawaiian Grill Express also recently opened in Dublin across the parking lot from the new Dick's Sporting Goods and BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse at Fallon Rd. & 680 Frwy. For something different, try the Spam Musabi – fried spam on rice wrapped with seaweed.  The food is pretty good and the portions are very large.  This, of course, makes for a very good value!  Both of these are better than the popular Hawaiian chain, L&L Hawaiian BBQ
Local Dining Tip: Fresh Pies March, 2015 Do you still lament the loss of Marie Calender's pies?  You can still buy them in the frozen food section of your local supermarket.  Claim Jumper frozen pies are another good choice.  Or, try the pies at Nation's, the hamburger chain operator.  The pies are excellent for the price!  There are over 2 dozen locations throughout the Bay Area.  The Original Hick'ry Pit, Walnut Creek, next to the Kaiser Hospital, is another good pie purveyor!  I like their Banana Creme Pie a lot.
Local Dining Tip: Esin Restaurant and Bar March, 2015 Esin is, in our opinion, provides the most consistent, best food and service in the Tri-Valley area.  However, like most restaurants, noise is a problem.  It's hard to have a nice conversation with friends during dinner, here.  But, there are 3 tables that are quieter than the rest of the dining room.  When making reservations, ask for table #11, #12 or #25.
Toner Cartridges March, 2015 Toner cartridges for your inkjet printer are expensive and a frequent nuisance, even if you use refilled cartridges.  Ignore the “Low Toner Warning” when this prompt is shown on your computer screen.  In almost all cases, this is a premature notification because the manufacturer wants you to buy more toner!  This applies to Laser Printers, also, but to a much lesser degree since the frequency of replacement is infrequent.  Do a web search under the model number of your printer using words like “override toner low”, and you will likely find  will likely find step by step instructions on how to override it through the printer menu.  You may be able to defeat this warning on Laser Printer cartridges by covering the toner level window with black electrical tape.  The best low toner warning is watch the print quality of your printer output.  When it becomes light or with voids in the printing, it is likely time to replace the cartridge.
Public Wi-Fi Access March, 2015 Do you frequently use Starbucks, McDonald's, hotel chain, libraries, airports and other free 'hotspots' to connect to the Internet?  If so, do so with great care.  Don’t Assume a Wi-Fi Hotspot is Secure.  Most Wi-Fi hotspots don’t encrypt the information you send over the internet and aren’t secure. In fact, if a network doesn’t require a WPA or WPA2 password, it’s probably not secure.  If you use an unsecured network to log in to an unencrypted site — or a site that uses encryption only on the sign-in page — other users on the network can see what you see and what you send. They could hijack your session and log in as you. New hacking tools — available for free online — make this easy, even for users with limited technical know-how. Your personal information, private documents, contacts, family photos, and even your log-in credentials could be up for grabs.
Benefits of Coffee March, 2015 Consumption of coffee has been long maligned as being bad for our general health.  But newer studies have shown coffee to be, actually very healthy.  It is loaded with antioxidants and beneficial nutrients that can improve your health. The studies show that coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of several serious diseases.  Coffee may lower your risk of Type II Diabetes.  The studies show that people who drink the most coffee have a 23-50% lower risk of getting this disease, one study showing a reduction as high as 67%.  Coffee may protect you from Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia.  Several studies show that coffee drinkers have up to a 65% lower risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease.  Caffeine may lower the risk of Parkinson's. In studies, coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of developing Parkinson's Disease, with a reduction in risk ranger from 32 – 60%.  And, finally, coffee has been found to reduce the risk of Multiple Sclerosis.  Note that all except Diabetes are neural diseases.
Best Time to Shop Costco March, 2015 Avoid weekends!  The best time is 11:00 to 11:30 AM on weekdays.  Why?  The first wave of shoppers has come and gone for the 10 AM opening rush.  This means relatively easy parking for close-in spaces.  The next best time is 6 PM on weekdays.  People have already come from work to make their quick purchases and have rushed home for dinner with their families.
        TIP: The rainy season has arrived.  If you are in need of replacement blades, consider the Goodyear Assurance Flexible Rubber Wiper Blades at Costco for $7.99, each, with all the normal lengths in stock.  This much less than at the auto supply store prices and they are very durable.
        TIP:  Try a new item in Costco refrigerated case section, Red Moon Bao.  These are small, Chinese-style, steamed, wheat flour buns filled with ground, seasoned pork inside.  Simply heat them in the microwave for about 30 
Perfectly Hard Boiled Eggs February, 2015
Making hard boiled eggs that will peel easily with a perfectly set, yellow yolk with no darkening of the yolk at the edges is very easy to do.  Simply put the eggs into a pan and fill with enough cold tap water to cover them and put them on the stove and bring to a rolling boil.  Shut the burner off with a tight-fitting lid in place for 12 minutes.  Pour off hot/warm water and rinse/soak in cold tap water to stop further cooking.  Adding some ice cubes to make it an ice bath is even better.  This is by Alton Brown on the Food Channel.  
TIP:  If you do end up with hard boiled eggs that are hard to peel, try this – take the cold, refrigerated egg and immerse it for about a minute in very hot water to heat the shell and membrane just  under the shell.  This expansion of the shell/membrane may help it  separate from the firm egg white for easier peeling.
New Tires February, 2015 When replacing the tires on your car, refuse the recommendation to fill your tires with nitrogen at as an upgrade service at extra charge.  Nitrogen is said to resist migration through the tire walls better than ordinary ambient air.  However, this is false because our atmosphere is 90% nitrogen!
Latest Issue of Consumer Reports February, 2015 The latest issue is a real gold mine of information.  1. If you are contemplating the selling or buying a house, there is a valuable segment about how to easily boost the value of your house for faster sale and higher price.  You can learn which minor improvements will result in the best return for your money.  2. What medical tests should you avoid?  What is the accumulated radiation risk in the various X-rays and scans often ordered by doctors?  These items and more are illuminated in depth in another segment of this issue.  You will learn about MRI, CT and PET scans and the differences.  3. Considering the purchase of new vacuum cleaner?  Interestingly, Dyson machines are not highly rated despite their high cost.  A Hoover unit at 1/3 the cost of a Dyson is rated considerably better!  4. Repair and regular maintenance of your car/s – per reader surveys, independent garages are overwhelmingly lower in cost and better in quality of services and repairs provided than dealerships!  I've known this for a very long time and have always advocated finding a good independent garage to take your vehicles to when service is needed.
Fun Exercise February, 2015 Are you in need of more exercise per your doctor's orders and/or recommendations but you find the typical exercise machines boring or too strenuous?  Try Pickle Ball, aka, Paddle Ball.  It is played with a hard, hand paddle, mostly indoors on a small court with a net between the opposing two teams.  The ball is a 'plastic wiffle' ball about the size of a softball.  The game is similar to tennis and ping pong.  It provides good physical exercise and is a lot of fun.  Anyone of any age with reasonable hand-to-eye coordination can play in a matter of minutes!  Tice Valley Community Center, Walnut Creek (Mon/Wed/Fri mornings) and Pleasanton Middle School (Sunday mornings) are two places that provide drop-in Pickle Ball play.  Wood loaner paddles are available.  The cost is nominal - $3 - $4 per session.  Call the respective Parks & Recreation Depts. for more information.
Water Saving February, 2015 Use a commercial car wash instead of washing at home.  Those businesses recycle their water.  Extend the time between wash with the used of a 'California Car Wash' brush – essentially a dust mop for your car.  It really does work and can be washed for repeated use without losing its ability to pick up dust/dirt without scratching the fine finish on your car.  These are readily available at all Auto Supply Stores.
Ziploc Bags to Store Foods February, 2015
Squeeze as much of the air in the bag out before sealing to exclude as much oxygen as possible to avoid spoilage and/or oxidation of the food item in the bag.  A vacuum system of special bags and a machine to evacuate the air is a good move but expensive.  You can manually squeeze as much of the air out without a vacuum machine but a better way is to use a standard Ziploc-type bag but after placing your food into the bag, immerse the bag and food into a deep bowl or pan of water until just the top of the bag is above water.  The water displacement will squeeze the air out for you and you can then zip the seal shut to seal the bag with almost no air remaining in the bag.  This is not as effective as a vacuum machine but much better than manually squeezing the air out before sealing.  This is called the “Archimedes Method.”
TIP:  If you're going to freeze the item, use only freezer grade bags.  These are heavier gauge to avoid lose of integrity by ice 
Watch Battery Replacement January, 2015 Most of us wear quartz watches powered by an internal battery.  When the battery dies, replacement can be a problem.  Many of the small concession stands in the malls and local major department stores are not skilled or competent in all types of timepieces.  And, they usually have a limited inventory of batteries for proper fit.  The concession at Sears, Stoneridge, ruined one of our timepieces!  I recommend you try Batteries Plus, Dublin, near the intersection of Village  Parkway & Amador..  Their regular charge is $7.99 but often have coupons for $4.99.  And, they have an incredible inventory of almost every battery known to man!  They stock batteries for autos, motorcycles, boats, cordless tools, cordless/cell phones, clocks, laptops/notebooks, flashlights, digital cameras, various instruments, etc.  They can also rebuild rechargeable battery packs for appliances such as Roomba Vacuums, cordless stick vacs, etc
Choosing Cordless Tools or Portable Electronics? January, 2015 Almost all these devices use rechargeable battery packs.  Choose items that come equipped with Li Ion battery packs, not the less expensive NiCad batteries.  Li Ion are lighter, retain a charge far longer and have no ‘memory’ effect to shorten their life cycle potential.  Li Ion battery packs are especially valuable when the tool/instrument is used infrequently with long periods of non-use.  NiCads are best for use in environments where the battery pack is used heavily and charged regularly on an almost daily basis.
Reheating Foods? January, 2015 The big holiday meals are now finished.  But, wait – do you have some beautiful roast beef, steaks/chops, roast turkey/chicken or other premium dishes as leftovers?  To reheat slices of rare red meat without overcooking can be tricky.  You can immerse the food into hot broth, taking care not to turn it into well-done meat.  But, this can be very tricky.  An easier way might be to place it on a plate and use your microwave oven set at 50% power setting for 5 minutes and monitor the heating progress by watching it through the glass door of the appliance.  As soon as the rare portions begin to turn color, stop the oven!  You can also check the temperature by placing your hand over the plate and if you can feel the heat, it's probably hot enough to serve.  This 50% power setting is very useful because it will result in more uniform heating and it allows you to 'baby up' on the correct serving temperature.  Similarly, this ‘50% power/5-minutes’ technique can be used with good results for plates of food consisting of various items on a plate.   I’ve found that it works better than the programmed cycle featured on our microwave.
Two Biggest Mistakes in Grilling Steaks and Chops at Home January, 2015
1. Always pat the meat dry using paper or cloth towels before placing on a hot grill.  Wet or damp meat will develop a layer of steam between the meat and the hot grilling surface or fire.  This inhibits proper searing and caramelization (flavor) of the protein surface where the best flavor is developed. 
2.  Always let the meat ‘rest’ for at least 5 minute before carving or serving.  This allows the meat juices to redistribute within the meat fibers for more flavor and more tender texture as the fibers are allowed to relax.  Make an aluminum foil ‘tent’ to place over the hot meat off the grill to avoid rapid cooling.  If you cut into a steak and juices begin to puddle on your plate - that is a sure sign that the meat was not allowed to properly rest.  Loss of that juice is also the loss of some wonderful flavor!
New Clothing Retailer in Town January, 2015 Check out Uniqlo Stores in Walnut Creek, Sun Valley Shopping Center and Stoneridge Shopping Center.  This is a new Japanese chain featuring low cost, high quality and current styles of men’s, women’s and children’s casual clothing.
Are You Avoiding Canned Tuna Fish? January, 2015 There’s been a lot of negative press about possible mercury poisoning due to eating too much canned tuna.  A good substitute for canned tuna is canned chunk chicken meat.  It can be used when mashed/minced for sandwiches or salads.  Use it in exactly the same manner as canned tuna as a direct substitute. 
Is Your Laptop or PC Running Slowly? January, 2015 Try cleaning out unnecessary files and Windows registry errors that clog and slow down your CPU performance using EasyCleaner Freeware by ToniArts.  Simply Google “EasyCleaner.”  Install it and run it and delete the ‘found’ files or errors.  It works well for Windows software up through XP and Windows 7.  It is said to work well with Windows 8 but I don’t know that from experience.  Warning – do not use the “Duplicate Files” search/delete feature.  That could delete some files needed by the operating system.  Sir Phil Reed is the fellow that gave me the tip to use this freeware and I’ve been very pleased with it.  I ‘clean’ my two Windows XP machines frequently – sometimes on an almost daily basis
What to do with Unused Rubber Wrist Bands January, 2015 Promotional rubber wrist bands that are no longer in vogue can be used as Jar Openers.  Simply stretch them out and place around the lid of large-mouth jars (pickle jars, Mason Jars, etc.) to give added friction for grip to aid in the removal of a tight lid!
Refresh Tortilla or Pita Chips January, 2015 Chips that were put out for a party or gathering but were not all consumed will lose their crispiness if left out too long.  They absorb moisture from the atmosphere.  The same happens if they are left in a bag too long.  To regain the crispy texture, simply put several handfuls on a large dinner plate suitable for microwave use and ‘zap’ them on “high” power setting for a minute or two.  This should drive the moisture out and regain their crispy texture.  However, be careful as the treated chips can be very hot.  If the chips so are old that the oil has become rancid to the taste, discard them.  They can’t be saved.