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Consumer Tips 2013
 

 
 
 
Here are some handy consumer tips
from SIR Jim Quon
that you might find useful.
Items on this page
cover 2013!
 
 
 
Tip Posting Date Details
A caveat for Amazon.com shoppers November, 2013 There is a shameless game being played over shipping fees.  Amazon allows their 2nd party sellers to post an artificially low price to come across as the best price in a search and then charge high shipping fee that turns it into a not-so-good deal.  Don’t assume that the shipping charge has some sort of built-in limit.  It does not.  Be wise and be aware of the total cost of the each item including shipping. The combination of being in too much of a hurry, not noting the shipping cost, and using the “one click” buying feature can get expensive very quickly.  It's usually best if Amazon is the seller and not a 2nd party eTailer.
Having trouble opening jar lids? November, 2013 Keep a pair of Mechanic's Glove handy for jobs that require a good grip on things such as opening jar lids, opening anything that has a twist-off lid, for gripping of slippery items while pulling or pushing on them. They're much sturdier than rubber, vinyl or nitrile gloves and have a good grip surface.  The working surface is a tough, rubberized material while the top/back of hand area is a breathable cloth material.  This makes it comfortable to wear and easy to put on\take off.  A pair can be easily purchased at hardware stores or building supply places for about $5. 
Discount coupons available on the internet can provide significant savings November, 2013 This good tip is from SIR Bill Olmo: "I needed a new washing machine and decided to get it at Lowes.  My daughter told me I should go to ebay and buy a 10% discount coupon. I bought one for $3.49.  It was emailed to me.  I used it the next day and saved $79.  A GREAT investment!  Bill" 
Having trouble getting that last bit of lotion or sauce out of the original  container? November, 2013 Thick or viscous lotions or sauces in plastic squeeze or dispenser-pump bottles can be difficult to get the last portions out.  An easy alternative to turning it upside down and hoping that the thick material will flown down and out - punch a hole in the bottom using an ice pick or sturdy awl and squeeze the bottle and it will squirt out the hole you just made.  Be sure you have a suitable receptacle for the material exiting the bottle.
Are you contemplating the purchase of a new, portable GPS for your auto travels? November, 2013 Watch the frequent Fry’s Electronics print ads.  They often feature "refurbished" units (Tom Tom, Garmin, Magellan brands) on sale for well under $100. The best part is they often come with "Lifetime Updates" so you can be sure to have the latest, most current maps for your unit at no extra cost.  We bought a refurbished Garmin Nuvi #1390 for just $65 and it works beautifully.  It would have cost us $60 to purchase a 'one-time update' for either of our two older Garmin units.  So, getting the factory refurbished unit was a no-brainer for us!  And because they are a local retailer, I could have returned if it did not immediately perform satisfactorily.  We’re very happy with the new unit.  It has better features than our older units.  However, I still avoid refurbished or reconditioned items from eTailers where returns and exchanges by freight or mail and email or phone calls become disasters just waiting to happen.
Check product availability before you drive all the way to the store November, 2013 Speaking of dealing with Fry's Electronics, have you seen an item in their ad that you wanted at a great price only to drive all the way to the store and find that they don't have it in stock?  That's frustrating and used to happen to me a lot!  Here's the way to fix that - call the local store and ask for a stock check before you hop in the car and waste the time and gas to go to the nearest store.  You must have the Fry's Item #.  The call will be handled by a Call Center.  They will look it up and tell you how many units your local store has on hand.  If that store is out of stock, they will advise you of stocks in other alternate store locations.  This eliminates the frustration of stock outs!  Fry’s will hold the item for you for one day.
New Identity Theft scam to be aware November, 2013 Be very wary of 'phishing' attempts by crooks pretending to be your bank requesting verification info in order to 'keep your account in force.'  They just  want to steal your  identity!  I recently received an email from "Chase Bank" informing that we had paid "City Storage" by check but the amount was over the limit we had set for such transactions.  It looked authentic except  just above the text message was a strange statement, "no text included."  But there was text showing with an active link to click on to 'connect to the bank.'  I tried to print the message to ask/show my wife if she knew what it was.  The printout was most strange - gibberish or code but it was in Russian!  I marked the message as "spam."  I went to look at it, again, in the Spam Folder and to my amazement, it wasn't there.  It had totally disappeared!  Then, the next day, I received a similar request from "Wells Fargo Bank."  Again, I sent it to the Spam Folder and, again, it disappeared all on it’s own.
If you are paying for your own medications, it will really pay you to shop around November, 2013 A report aired just this week on KQED about how the price of generic drugs can vary widely.  An example they used was a prescription for a generic cancer drug they shopped around and the price range was incredible - a low of $11.40 (Costco) to $479 (CVS)!  BTW, you do not have to be a member to shop the Costco Pharmacy.
Did you know that many generic consumer products are just as good as the name-brands? November, 2013 A report on generic consumer products offered by big chain stores in the latest issue of Consumer Reports really surprised me.  Many products offered by Sam’s, Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Target and Costco were deemed to be just as good as their name-brand counterparts but a lot less costly.  These included grated cheeses, juice drinks, mayonnaise, frozen foods, ice cream, roasted nuts, trail mix and ketchup.  In a few cases, the generics were judged to be better than the big, name-brand, leader item.
Try bundled services if you really want to save on your TV, Internet and phone! November, 2013 Most of us use a provider like Xfinity/Comcast, AT&T/Uverse, Verizon or Dish TV for our incoming television signal, phone and Internet.    It’s important to review your bundled services for potential savings.  Repackaging the mix of TV channels or dropping the channels that you do not watch can result in significant savings.  We did this with Comcast.  We were paying $214/month for TV, phone and Internet service.  I complained about the high cost and intimated that I wanted to look at the competition and they reviewed our package and found that by ‘re-bundling’ our TV channels, we could save significantly.  The weird thing is we gave up no channels, phone service or modem speed at all.  Our monthly bill changed from $214 (HD Premier Bundle XF) to $159.99 (Promotional Rate 24 Months), a $54.96/month savings!!!  We did have to sign for 2 years but the total savings during those 2 years will be a whopping $3,839.76!!!!
Personal Health Tip - Another Reason Not To Put Off Getting A Hearing Aid October, 2013 By now, most folks know of my efforts in the area of hearing impairment awareness.  Recent studies from Sweden indicate that when individuals ignore their hearing acuity, their total situational awareness declines as well.  They become less aware of what’s going on around them.  They miss out on information and current happenings.  When a person loses their vision, other senses (hearing, touch, smell) improve to help fill the sight loss.   Not so when hearing declines.  It, apparently, affects the other senses negatively.  This can become a safety issue.  As they lose their personal alertness, they become much more accident prone.  Watch your loved ones.  You may see life begin to pass them by as their hearing gets worse.
Personal Health Tip - Reduce Your Risk Of Alzheimer's! October, 2013   A new study from Roots Medical Center, Chicago, indicates that people that are fully vested in life and actively pursue personally rewarding activities are less prone to early onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s.  This goes beyond the idea of “use it or lose it.”  The quality of the mental activity seems to have some bearing how well you retain your mental abilities.  Those folks that engaged in highly rewarding activities had up to 35% lower risk of Alzheimer’s.  Researchers believe that the sense of personally rewarding accomplishments is key to good mental health.  People that excelled in volunteer work, care givers, highly praised and accomplished work in their chosen fields – seemed to fare better in fending off mental decline.  So go out and get involved in rewarding programs and activities.  The better you are at it, the better your chances of good, long mental health!
Low WiFi signal?  October, 2013 If you have a problem with very low WiFi signal in a hotel room or cruise ship stateroom, try moving to various spots in your room.  If that doesn’t help, try opening the door!  Most commercial establishments must meet fire codes that call for fire resistant doors and that means they are metal-lined making them very good barriers to WiFi signals!  Surprisingly, opening the door ajar on our last cruise ship did improve the WiFi signal.  I thought the ship’s Purser was joking when he suggested it when I complained of poor signal.
Avoid buying refurbished or reconditioned appliances from eTailers October, 2013 Customer satisfaction surveys that buy from online vendors have much higher ratings when they stick to new merchandise.  This satisfaction rating declines sharply when refurbished/reconditioned items are involved.  Why?  Usually, the low rating is not due the quality of the product.  It is because the customer is forced to deal with the Customer Service Dept. of the online vendor!  Most online vendors have minimal customer service staff.  
Beware of online coupons and voucher programs October, 2013 If you use Groupon, Amazon Local, Living Social, Yelp and other online companies that offer discounts for dining, services and products, be sure to read the fine print.  Some vouchers will retain your paid price value even after the expiration date.  For those, the promotional value expires but the price you paid for them will be honored by the merchant.  On some, however, all value is lost after the voucher/coupon expires.
Door stop for doors with a big gap at the bottom? October, 2013 The gap under some doors is so large that a standard rubber door stop won’t work because they are not tall enough.  Try using a golf ball!
Left over sauce?   October, 2013 Most of the time, we put left over liquids like pasta sauce or gravies into a small, semi-rigid, plastic containers.  Instead, try using plastic zip lock bags.  Place them flat in the freezer so they freeze in a thin layer.  This makes thawing a lot faster and easier than a block.
Can’t remember your license plate numbers?   October, 2013 When checking into a hotel, they always ask you for a credit card and your vehicle license plate at check-in.  If you can’t remember all your vehicle plate numbers, write them on the face of your credit card!  Use a small label or use a  strip of white correction tape to do this.  If you use the correction tape, cover it with a piece of ‘Scotch tape’ to protect the fragile image.
Travel Tip! Packing for Air Travel September, 2013 Pack lighter for air travel by taking high-tech fabric (Coolmax, Nylon, Dacron, Rayon blend) items that can be washed/rinsed in the hotel sink to dry in a matter overnight.  The hotel shampoo will work well as a laundry detergent unless it is too highly scented.
Travel Tip! Drying Clothes While on the Road September, 2013 When hanging thing to dry, always leave it in the bathroom because the hotel ventilation system, per most commercial building codes, is constant and always on.  The shower curtain rail or the shower head is a good place as any drips will fall into the shower stall or tub.
Travel Tip! Using Your Credit/Debit Cards September, 2013 When traveling in many foreign countries, including Canada, check your credit/debit cards to see if they are Smart Cards – with a chip in the card.  If you have just the conventional magnetic stripe type, many commercial places will not be able to read them, easily, and may have to resort to a manual process using a separate mag card reader.  Gas pumps and most ATM's in Canada will only read Smart Cards. You'll have to go into the office and have the cashier or a bank to do the transaction manually.  Check with your issuing bank or Amex to have them issue you a Smart Card before your next foreign travel trip.
Travel Tip! Pay Attention to Local Parking Regs and Traffic Laws
 
September, 2013 Be very careful about conforming to parking regulations and traffic laws.  This is true whether you drive your own car or rent a car.  In Canada, many of the municipalities use automated license plate scanners on their parking enforcement vehicles and they are exceedingly good at catching violations even just a few minutes overdue.  And, it is not done with chalk marking of tires so don't bother with trying to simply moving your vehicle to another spot or stall.
Travel Tip! Renting a Car in Canada September, 2013 When renting a car in Canada, be sure to have a valid credit card.  The rental car agencies will not accept debit cards.  If you try to use a debit card, you will have to establish a line of credit before they will release a car to you.
Travel Tip! Don't Leave Home Without That Blue Painter's Tape September, 2013 Pack a roll of 3/4” wide, 3M, Blue Painter's tape for various uses.  Because it is a removable, clean release tape, it is handy to use for temporary labels, to hold envelopes closed, temporary repair of various items and can be used to tape notes up on mirrors and doors as reminders or instructions for others.  I've used it with the note pads in hotel rooms to make a temporary pill box for medications when going down for breakfast room.
Travel Tip! Using Your Golf GPS Outside the USA September, 2013 When golfing in Canada, check with your Golf GPS manufacturer to be sure you will have service in Canada or beyond the U.S.  Many users of the Garmin S1, S2 and S3 Golf GPS Watch were surprised to learn that they could not access any of the courses in British Columbia!  My Hybrid Bushnell GPS/Laser unit worked flawlessly at all 5 courses we played.  However, it took a lot longer than normal for the GPS unit to “find” the courses, so be patient.
Travel Tip! Posting Your Golf Scores September, 2013 When golfing in Canada or Mexico, write down the course name, rating and slope along with your score if you intend to post your scores.  Neither  Canada nor Mexico courses are available for the automatic score posting on the NCGA website.  You will have to use the 'manual' mode and that requires you to know the “rating/slope.”
Travel Tip! Using Your Cell Phone Outside the USA September, 2013 Check with your cell service carrier before you leave the U.S.  I was surprised to discover that I had no cell voice or text service at all – not even able to connect to Verizon Customer Service to 'fix' the problem.  Joyce's cell phone (same carrier but different plan using prepaid minutes) had roaming capability so we were able to call Verizon but International Roaming is super expensive.  Make your arrangements for foreign service before leaving home!
Travel Tip! Gas Up Before Leaving the USA September, 2013 If you are driving up to Canada, fill up your tank in Blaine, WA, just before you cross the border into Canada.  Gas in Canada is close to 2X more expensive!  We paid $1.45/liter.  That's close to $6/U.S. gallon.
Travel Tip! New Airline Baggage Option!   August, 2013 Both American and United Airlines now offer a delivery service for your checked bags.  For an additional charge, these carriers will take your curbside/counter checked bags and deliver them to your home, hotel, resort or office.  Normal checked baggage fees still apply, plus $30 for one bag, $40 for two bags or $50 for 3 to 10 bags.  Check the airline website for more specific information.  This could be a big help for golfers and other travelers with excess bags to handle.
Travel Tip! New Door-To-Door Luggage Shipping Service!  August, 2013 If you are traveling to domestic or foreign destinations, there is a new service for shipping your bags that is less than FedEx rates.  Check their website at http://www.lugless.com/ for pricing and additional information.  Flat rate prices start at $39 for small bag and golf bags at $89 for domestic destinations.
Travel Tip! Warning About Check-In Times!   August, 2013 Be very wary about your required check-in time for your specific flight.  It varies by airline, departure airport and destination.  Noncompliance may result in your reservation being cancelled and the airline can ‘resell’ your seat to another passenger.  Not only would you miss your flight but you will be penalized for the change charge to book another flight.  A ticketed couple checked in recently for their Hawaiian Air flight at SFO to Maui at 42 minutes before flight time.  The official, stated time was 45 minutes.  Their reservation was cancelled and they had to fly another airline at premium, last minute pricing and suffered the penalty of lost value (change charge) on the Hawaiian Air ticket when they do use their tickets in the future.
Travel Tip! How do you get to the airport?   August, 2013 We have driven ourselves and parked at/near the airport.  On long trips, that can be very costly at $12 to $18/day for long-term parking.  We have tried the door-to-door shuttle/limo services with terrible experiences (Joyce had nightmares after one particularly hair-raising shuttle ride).  Avoid the hassle and form an alliance with a friend or neighbor.  They take/pickup you and when they go, you take/pickup them.  For us, it works really well and is so much easier on the nerves for reliability and driver safety.
Beware of FTD and some other telephone/online floral services!   August, 2013 Complaints about ordering flowers for delivery in another city are the norm.   Arrangements seldom live up to their advertised appearance as shown on the website or in the published catalogs.  Flowers often arrive wilted or are delivered and left out in the hot sun on door steps and porches.  Delivery windows are often missed.  It’s better to use the Internet to find a florist in the city you want to have flowers delivered and call them, directly.  In any case, ask the recipient to send you a photo of the flowers so you can personally assess the quality of the service.  You may have some recourse if you have photographic evidence.
New Television Shopping In Retail Stores? August, 2013 The normal customer reaction in purchasing of a new, large, flat screen, HDTV is to visit local showrooms to audition various brands and models.  Tip – Most TVs in showrooms are operating in “demo  mode.” This emphasizes the colors and sharpness of the picture to impress potential buyers!  Use the TV remote to call up the menu and change the picture mode to “standard” picture mode.  If you don’t know how to do it, ask the salesperson to do it for you for all the sets you want to audition.  Upon delivery at home, during the initial setup, use the “standard” mode.  Leaving it on “Demo” or “Bright” mode will shorten the life cycle of the TV set.
Tasting Beverages Directly From a Can?   August, 2013 Taste and flavor are greatly influenced by your sense of smell.  Drinking directly from the can may greatly affect the taste of any beverage because the full bouquet may not easily reach your nose.  Without the sense of smell, all you can taste is salty, sour and sweet without any of the nuances.  If you paid for the drink, shouldn’t you get all the flavor you paid for?  Transfer the beverage to a glass or cup with a bigger rim and it should result in much more flavor!
Bargain Zip Lock styled plastic bags?   August, 2013 The most important feature for this type of plastic bag is its thickness.  Bargain bags are often made of a thinner gauge material.  This results in a much more fragile bag with much less resistance to being punctured.  Minute (tiny, sometimes microscopic) punctures jeopardize the seal and the integrity of the bag that can lead to early spoilage or drying out of the food item.  Also, avoid using regular bags for freezing food.  Use bags designed for freezer use.  The gauge is much heavier.  Why?  Ice crystals inside the bag will easily puncture regular-gauge bags and can result in freezer burn much more quickly!  When freezing foods with a hard crust or sharp edges like Fried Chicken pieces or BBQ Pork Ribs, wrap them in a paper towel before inserting them into the plastic bag as a soft buffer to avoid puncturing the thin plastic walls of the bag. 
Want to use your own coffee in a K-cup machine?   August, 2013 Walmart grocery stores sell a plastic/fine wire mesh, K-cup adapter that you fill with your own coffee for use in your K-cup machine.  The cost is less than $4, considerably less that the adapters sold in kitchen stores or by Keurig.  This will allow you to brew coffee flavors/blends that are not offered in K-cups and/or may reduce the cost of your finished coffee.
Cheap Gas Prices?   August, 2013 Cheap places for gas besides Costco are the little independent gas station in downtown Pleasanton, the Safeway in Pleasant Hill and Pleasanton (near the Fairgrounds).
WiFi Access at our SIR’s Monthly Luncheon? August, 2013 Want to use your WiFi device (tablet, iPad, laptop or iTouch unit) as the San Ramon Golf Club?  Free WiFi is available at our luncheon site.  Simply log on to the wifi network there (wedgewoodwifi) end enter the password  “wedgewood”. 
Want to save Money on Printer Toner Cartridges? 
August, 2013 I use a Brother Mono (black/white) Laser Printer at home.  I love it!  Print speed is quick and quality is outstanding.  And it never fails to print.  I only have to change the toner cartridge about every 9 months of use.  The O.E.M. high-capacity, toner cartridge from Brother sells for almost $90!  I get mine refilled at Cartridge World for just $38!  The quality of the refilled cartridge is indistinguishable from the more expensive O.E.M. unit!
Easy way to cook and/or shuck sweet corn! July, 2013 Summer is upon us and fresh Brentwood corn is in season!  For easy cooking and/or shucking,  use your microwave.  MW on high for 1 minute per ear to make it super easy to shuck the husk/silk, cleanly.  MW on high for 2 minutes per ear to cook the corn in the husk.  For us, this method works much better than boiling or steaming the corn after shucking.  To apply butter, use a fork to hold a pat or chunk of butter for spreading onto the hot cob of corn.  The tines will do a much better job of holding the butter against the hot corn.
Stretch/Saran wrap can be your friend!  July, 2013 Use it to wrap individual items in a larger plastic freezer bag to make it easy to pull out the amount you want after the whole package is frozen.  Use it to seal small bowls and other containers for refrigerator storage.  Use is as a layer between the screw lid and the body of the container.  This makes for a better seal and makes it a lot easier to twist turn the lid on sugary or sticky food items.
Could you use some additional interior cooling? July, 2013 We just went through a full week of 100°F+ temperatures in our local area.  Some second-story rooms or sun-facing rooms may need extra cooling capacity.  Consider an Evaporative Cooler (aka Swamp Cooler) or a portable (window or roll-about) AC unit to augment your central AC.  Evaporative coolers work fairly well in our dry climate.  Portable ACs are even more effective but require either mounting in the window or venting through the window to the outside.  Evaporative coolers will be less than $175.  A true AC unit will cost $200 - $325 depending on cooling capacity.
Contemplating a new kitchen faucet? July, 2013 Check out this COSTCO bargain!  If you are contemplating a new kitchen faucet, consider the German-made, Hansgrohe brand.  Our plumber called it, “the Porshe of faucets!”  They sell at $450 - $510 at plumbing/building  supply places.  They are only $250 at Costco retail and $200 at Costco Online with free shipping!  We are super pleased and impressed with this new faucet!
Car Rental Insurance Tip July, 2013 Use your Smartphone/iPhone camera to protect yourself when renting a car.  Take photos of all four sides as evidence at both the time of check-out and check-in.  Use the images to dispute any potential claims of damage/dings against you by the rental company.  Don’t have a cell phone with a camera?  Most households have one or more digital cameras that no longer in regular use.  Simply put one in each glove box!  And, lf course, they can be very useful in case of an accident to document the scene for future legal issues.
Dirty baseball cap, sport visor or nylon/canvas hat? July, 2013 Perspiration will, eventually, stain the exterior of all sports/casual headwear over time.  There are two ways to clean washable hats/visors.  Treat the stained area with a pre-wash stain remover and letting the article sit overnight.  A gentle, front loading washer in the normal wash cycle with a regular load will work just fine!  Or, you can buy a plastic ‘hat form’ to hold the hat in shape and place it in your dishwasher for a full cycle.  Air-dry your hat to avoid shrinkage and additional shape stretching.
Hearing impaired?  July, 2013 Many people put off seriously considering the use of hearing aids.  Instead, they make life more difficult for others around them by continually asking people to repeat themselves.  Sound familiar?  Ask them to consider this – many hard-of-hearing folks are often mistaken for being ‘mentally retarded’ because when addressed or asked a question, the hard-of-hearing person may respond with just a silent look or smile because they did not hear (understand) the remark or request. This is especially true when meeting new people that are not familiar with the hearing impaired individual.  I heard this from a respected Audiologist!
• Already have Hearing Aids?  I have run across people that have hearing aids but don’t use them except for ‘special occasions.’  After further conversation, I learn that they ‘don’t work exactly right.’  My experience is that there are only three reasons for that situation – 1. Improperly fitted hearing devices; 2. Improperly adjusted/programmed hearing devices; 3. Outdated adjustment/programming.  All 3 issues are the fault of the user.  Why?  In #1  and #2, 100% satisfaction should have been attained at the initial purchase.  California State law guarantees all consumers a full refund within 30 days for any or no reason (full satisfaction).  Some dispensers (Costco) even offer up to 90 days “guaranteed satisfaction” full refund.  So, as a user, it is your right to make sure the fitting is good and proper.  Don’t be lazy or frustrated. Get those adjustments made until the instruments work well for you.  In #3, if your hearing devices are more than a few years old, they may need an adjustment to fit your current hearing profile.  In most cases, the individual’s hearing acuity will have changed in 2 to 3 years.  If those hearing devices are not adjusted to keep up with the additional loss or changes in the individual, they will, again, be hearing impaired!  Your original dispensing Audiologist should be willing to provide testing and adjustments at no charge for the life of your instruments.  Like any other body parts and organs, go get checked and have your hearing adjusted to match!  Don’t be thought of as ‘mentally impaired!’   And, remember that the devices continue to improve.  My new hearing aids are far better (zero feedback, whistling, less wind noise, better noise cancelling and discrimination ability, cleaner sound, added programs, longer battery life, etc) than my first pair just after 3 years!!!!  And, I cannot emphasize the importance of finding a good, honest, professional, qualified, experienced Audiologist for a good fitting and choice of instruments at reasonable prices!
• A Fourth Reason for poor results.  If a hearing impaired individual waits too long, the portion of their brain that controls cognitive speech may have suffered permanent loss from disuse.  The new instruments can physically augment the ‘lost frequencies’ to an audible level but the brain may no longer be able to translate those sounds into word/language recognition.  This is a clear example of “use it or lose it!”  Don’t wait too long if you are suffering some hearing loss!  By the way, a good Audiologist can test individuals for this loss of cognitive speech issue so you will not waste your money on instruments that would not help you understand speech better.
• I would be happy to discuss, supply information or clarify any of the above items about hearing loss.  Just give me a call or send me an email.  And, we also have a wonderful resource in this area – Dr. Jim Creston is a retired, respected ear surgeon.  I’m sure he would be happy to help anyone wanting to know more about hearing impairment.
Trick to reduce your wait time at the DMV June, 2013 When the need to use the services of DMV, always make an appointment by phone or Internet, to save time.  However, you can go earlier than your specified time.  Upon arrival, you will simply enter a queue of all others that have an appointment for that day.  You will, then, be given a number for the next available clerk.  I had an appointment for 2:20 PM.  I arrived at 1:30 PM and within 10 minutes of checking in, I was being served by a clerk for my Driver License Renewal.  BTW, California DMV Field Offices do not accept credit cards, so bring cash or check.  They do accept credit cards when using their services online.
Preventing items from falling into the "crack" in your auto June, 2013 There is a space between the center console and the front seats of your family car.  Things have a habit of falling down this ‘crack/slot’ and getting lost or, at least, hard to retrieve.  Kleenex now comes in a special “automobile” pack that is ‘wedge-shaped’ so that it will fit in that space, making it really handy for the driver to access?  And, it can prevent things from falling through the ‘crack.’
Thinking of purchasing a new Volvo? June, 2013
Costco has teamed up with Volvo to offer Costco Members exclusive privileges that include:
  • Volvo Employee Pricing discounts w/all publicly available manufacturer incentives/rebates.
  • $500 Costco Cash Card
  • Additional $750 off Employee Pricing on 2013 models.
  • Qualifying Purchase must be made by July 31, 2013.
Offer is limited to participating Volvo dealers.  Visit Costco.com for details.  2014 models available July 8, 2013.
 
Tip for washing exterior windows June, 2013 Exterior window washing can be a real chore.  And, at our ‘senior age,’ climbing on ladders to hand wash windows even on a single story house can be potentially dangerous.  Try Windex Outdoor-All-In-One.  It’s a very simple and easy to use product that we found to work very well for us!  Simply wet your window/s using a spray nozzle on your garden hose; use the activated cleaner pads as instructed to easily spread the cleaner around the glass; hose it off and, Voila, you’re done!  The glass is clean and streak-free after air drying.  The pads mount easily on holder that can be used by hand on easy to reach glass areas and an extendable handle comes with the kit for higher/more difficult window areas.  Refill cleaner pads are available for use with the original ‘starter kit.’  These are readily available at your local supermarket, Target, Walmart and Bed Bath & Beyond stores.
Easier way to clean your shower June, 2013 If you use a squeegee to clean the shower stall after showering, consider the use of a ‘spray & rinse’ product in lieu of the physical effort of manually wiping down the wet surfaces.  I have used scrub-free Clean Shower Daily Shower Cleaner for about a year now and find that it works very well.  It’s inexpensive from Target.  Simply spray on the surfaces and rinse with the tap water.  We have a flexible hose attachment on our shower head that makes this super simple.  There is no scrubbing required.  It comes with its own hand-spray unit on the bottle for easy use.  Refill product can be bought in ½ gallon size jugs for very economical use.
Alternative to using expensive vinyl gloves for quick dirty jobs June, 2013 Have you ever had to handle something super dirty or messy and wish you had a latex or vinyl glove around to keep your hands clean?  If you don’t keep such gloves on hand, sometimes you can wrap your hand in plastic stretch wrap for a temporary ‘glove’ and discard it when the job is done.  I’ve done this with success when dumping the grease drip pan under the gas grill or emptying the smoker tray of the expended, burned wood chips and ashes.
Suggestion if you are considering re-plumbing your home June, 2013 If your home is an older structure when galvanized iron pipe was the standard plumbing material used, you may be suffering from greatly reduced flow rates due to internal corrosion choking off normal flow.  If so, you may be considering a re-piping of the house.  This can be done using copper or advanced plastic lines.  If you are facing such a job, consider the installation of a “Hot Water  Circulation” system.  It involves the inclusion of a third line and an electric pump that circulates hot water throughout the system.  This provides the advantage of ‘instant hot water’ regardless of the length of pipe run from the hot water heater to the faucet at the furthest end of the house.  The system installation cost is minimal. There is an energy savings since heated water is not going down the drain until the faucet runs hot.  This recirculation system can be utilized in conventional water heater or tankless water heater systems.  The circulating pump can be turned off at will.  When it is turned off, the system simply behaves like a conventional 2-line system.
Microsoft Windows XP Follow-Up May, 2013 Last month, I noted my displeasure with the new Windows 8 software. In that subject, I recommended staying with Windows 7 or XP operating systems. However, Dan Poulin points out that support for Windows XP will cease after April 8, 2014.  That’s an important issue. There could be future security problems if your XP operating system can’t be updated after that date.
Considering Gift Cards? May, 2013 When giving a ‘gift card’ to someone, avoid using the credit card types (Visa, Amex, MasterCharge, etc.).  Instead, give a chain store prepaid card, such as Target, Trader Joe’s, Safeway, Costco, Walgreens, Olive Garden, etc. Why? Those issued by the credit institutions come with charges for monthly account maintenance and other fees that will eat away at the cash value.  We once gave a $50 Visa Prepaid Card to a friend that forgot to use it and after 14 months, it was only worth $37!!! And per California law, prepaid cards cannot have an expiration date. They can be good until all funds have been fully expended.
Know what to do when your car suddenly accelerates! May, 2013 “Uncommanded Acceleration” was big news a few years ago,especially with the Toyota brand of vehicles. Things have calmed down. But, there was an incident not long ago in California - a fatality due to a stuck accelerator. The driver crashed into an irrigation canal and drowned. This could have been so very easily prevented. The driver panicked. To avoid panicking, PRACTICE SHIFTING YOUR VEHICLE INTO NEUTRAL BEFORE IT BECOMES NECESSARY IN A REAL LIFE SITUATION. Practice this so it becomes a part of your driver training! It could save your life.
Do you have trouble sleeping? May, 2013 Before considering using a sleep aid drug, read this from Consumer Reports: "Emergency room visits stemming from Ambien, Edluar, Zolpimist, and other insomnia drugs containing zolpidem have more than tripled in recent years, according to a new report.  Zolpidem is an effective insomnia treatment, but it can interact with other medications and alcohol; a third of ER visits were the result of mixing zolpidem with other drugs. Zolpidem can also cause next-day drowsiness, dizziness, and dependency, and even worsen sleeping problems if taken too frequently. Memory lapses, hallucinations, and some other bizarre behaviors such as sleepwalking, sleep-driving, and sleep-eating have also been reported."
Do you use artificial sweeteners like Splenda, Nutrasweet or Stevia? May, 2013 There is a new one on the market, Nectresse, made from Monk fruit extract and molasses. My opinion is that it has an artificial/chemical flavor to it when I tried it in coffee. I was not impressed. Stevia is good for me and is considered by some nutrition experts to be the safest of the artificial sweeteners on the market. Truvia is another name for Stevia. Costco and Trader Joe’s are good places to buy Stevia.
Getting your gas grill ready for summer! May, 2013 Summer is almost upon us! Now is a good time to check your gas grill before you do any barbecuing!  Clean your grill and empty the grease tray/collector. Clean your ‘flavorizer bars’ or turn your porous lava rocks over. This is to avoid excessive smoke and possible flare-ups on your initial use of the grill. Light your grill and turn it full-on for 10 minutes. If you cannot attain a temperature of 600° F. in that time, you have blockage in your gas system. Check for spider webs in the venture or contaminants blocking the orifices of the burners. Use a long, small, flexible brush to clear the venture tubes (attached to the burners). A stiff brass or stainless steel brush will open up the holes on the burners. And, again, going to a gas station or RV dealer to have your propane tanks refilled is better than going to a retail store for an ‘exchange’ tank. Those are only ¾ full and cost more than a refill service.
Low carbohydrate diets May, 2013
For those of you on a regimen of low carbohydrate diets, try ordering your burger “Protein Style.” at In N Out Burgers. You can still have it “Animal Style,” too. It will come wrapped in lettuce without the bun. Habit Burger Grill will do the same – just ask for “Lettuce Wrapped.” And, I found Breyer’s Carb Smart Ice Cream to be really good – creamy, good texture and very rich tasting/feeling with very low carb numbers!
Scotch brand Blue Painters’ Tape Uses
 
April, 2013 Scotch brand Blue Painters’ Tape is an excellent, low-tack, adhesive tape with many temporary uses. Because its adhesive is UV-resistant, it can be used outdoors in sunlight without becoming permanent. Unlike most adhesive tapes, it also makes a great label for foods in your freezer and will not fall off your packaging.
Do you have trouble remembering to bring your nice, reusable bags into the grocery store when shopping?
 
April, 2013
Most people leave them in their vehicle trunk – out of sight/out of mind.  Consider getting inexpensive, heavier-gauge, plastic bags with handles that are designed for heavy duty reuse. These are usually 25¢ or 50¢, each. They will fold flat and several can easily fit between your front seats and the center console for handy storage and easy retrieval for instant use. Best of all, they are in sight and, therefore, easy to remember before exiting the vehicle.
Low cost retailer for medical supplies, prescription medications, generic meds and OTC meds
April, 2013
Per Consumer Reports, Costco is the lowest priced retailer for medical supplies, prescription medications, generic meds and OTC meds. Did you know that you do not have to be a Costco Member to shop in their Pharmacy with the same pricing as members? Anyone can shop in their pharmacy or any other ‘members only’ pharmacy. There is a Federal law that requires all retailers to sell their meds at the same price to everyone and bars exclusive membership privileges or savings.
Are you considering teeth/tooth implants?
April, 2013
Dental Implants are hugely expensive – often exceeding $6K or more. Talk to your dentist about ‘temporary’ but far less expensive alternatives. Implants are considered “permanent” dental fixtures. It’s very possible that caps, crowns, bridges and fillings will work for shorter time spans at far less expense even if they have to be redone in 5 or 10 years. At our advanced age (65+) things do not need to last 30+ years anymore! Ask for a 2 nd opinion before plunking down thousands of dollars!
Where’s the best price for gas in our area?
April, 2013
I have found that Costco (none really close by or handy) is consistently the lowest.  However, the Safeway next to the Sun Valley Mall often meets the Costco price but the lines and traffic there can be horrendous. The Rotten Robbie Gas Station just South of that Safeway on Contra Costa Blvd. will have the same price but there is seldom a line!
Do you buy from Amazon?
April, 2013
Caution!  When buying online from Amazon, buy only items that stocked and fulfilled by Amazon. Avoid purchases from their 2nd party vendor system. Almost all Amazon customer complaints come from those 2nd party transactions. Dealing with those other vendors can prove difficult.
Summer season means Sunscreen!
April, 2013
The Summer season is just around the  corner and a fresh, new container of sunscreen should be on your shopping list. Consider the handy spray version from Trader Joes! It’s got all the right ingredients to make an effective, reliable sunscreen, it’s super easy to apply (spray it on your body parts or spray it on your hands and apply to specific body areas) and it’s not greasy or messy. As an avid golfer, I used to have to clean my club grips, frequently, until I started using this product. I have not had to clean my grips at all ever since I started using the Trader Joe’s spray-on sunscreen!
Need a restaurant recommendation while you are traveling?
April, 2013
When traveling and looking for a decent place to dine, add Zagat.com to your other restaurant review websites like www.Yelp.com, www.Yahoo.com and www.Urbansppon.com. Zagat used to be available by subscription, only. However, since they were purchased by Google, their reviews are now available to all, online, at no charge www.zagat.com.
Alternatives to typing emails and/or text messages March, 2013 Do you feel inhibited on sending emails or composing text messages because you do not 'touch type' or are very slow at 'two finger hunt n peck?' There are alternatives to typing on a keyboard, today. If you have a modern Smartphone (Droid or iPhone), use the voice recognition to dictate/compose messages or even text articles and send it to your email address as a message. Then, using 'highlight and paste' technique, 'paste' it into a text document on your computer. I have a small Droid tables that I use for 'voice to text' and it works very well. After pasting it into a text email or document, I will use spell check to clean it up and edit it for final version. Another method is to install Voice Recognition software on your computer. There are now freeware and 'pay for' software programs available.
Insurance Policys Should Be Reviewed Periodicaly March, 2013 When was the last time you reviewed your insurance policies with a person expert or knowledgeable in financial affairs? You should do this as your policies age and near maturity. Our Financial Planner recently did this with us and to our dismay, we found 2 or our 3 policies still in force were declining in cash value! As we get older, the cost of insurance increases. At some point on most Universal or Whole Life policies, this higher cost can no longer be covered by the annual premium or cumulative interest and the Cash or Surrender Value begins to decline. If your family/estate does not need the Death Benefit for burial expenses, you may want to cash the policy out.
Flat Panel TV Safety Tip March, 2013 Large, Flat-Panel TV Safety - Did you know that in the U.S., every three weeks a child is killed by a flat-panel TV flipping over? This is a shocking statistic and it does not include injuries to children, adults or seniors, nor pets that are killed. This has been confirmed by industry spokesmen that have admitted that it is becoming a real problem. There are commercial kits available for anchoring these large, top-heavy, flat-panel TVs on stands and cabinets, Another alternative is to mount them on the wall with a suitably stout wall mount.
Garage Storage Tip March, 2013 Need to reorganize your garage for more room or flexibility? Consider a 4' x 18" x 6' Rolling Chrome Steel, 6 shelve, rack from Costco for $60. It's very sturdy and stable. The caster wheels allow you to move it for maximum flexibility. I got one and am very happy with it!
Cruise Ship Tip March, 2013 Worried about engine fires on future cruises? Choose ships built after 2010. New ships of size now have 2 engine rooms. This redundancy is designed for safety and to eliminate the problem recently experienced by the Carnival Triumph.
For Longer Drives Off The Tee March, 2013 For Senior golfers - Want more distance on your drives off the tee? Wilson Zip, Wilson 50, Srixon Q, Taylormade Burner, Titleist HVC are just a few of the newer family of low-compression golf balls designed for maximum distance for golfers with swing speeds well under 100 MPH.
Steering Wheel Controls Tip March, 2013 If steering wheel mounted controls (radio volume, preset stations, cruise control) are balky on cold mornings or during cold days, 'jiggle' (rapidly turn left/right slightly but not enough to alter vehicle path) the steering wheel while operating the balky control. The contact switch in steering column needs 'a little help' when it is cold and electrical resistance is higher. The slight movement 'wipes' the contacts enough to establish a good circuit for the switch to carry the current properly.
 
Daytime Driving Tip March, 2013 If your vehicle is not equipped with "Daytime Driving Lights" (headlights on), turn your headlights on, manually. The accident rate for vehicles with Daytime Driving Lights is considerably lower because your vehicle is more easily seen, especially through tinted windows now so popular in rear and side windows of many vehicles.
Sanitary considerations during travel March, 2013 Consider this, the most germ laden areas in restaurants are the chairs/seats you sit on. Avoid touching them during seating. The next germiest item is the menu! A good strategy is to wash or satirize your hands after you have finished handling the menu. Another strategy is to develop the habit of “one clean hand” and handle things with one hand and eat with the other. In hotel rooms, the dirtiest item is the decorative pillow on the bed, easy chair or sofa. That's because the maid always throws it on the floor when making the room up to get them out of the way. The next dirtiest item is the bedspread. It is seldom changed or cleaned.
Loca Dining Scene Update March, 2013 The local dining scene has again changed!  Try the Corner Bakery and Habit Burger Grill, Pleasanton, both located across from new Safeway off 680 Frwy near the Alameda County Fair gate.  The Corner Bakery is great for breakfast and lunch.  The food is good, fresh, tasty and moderately priced.  If you like In N Out burgers, you will love Habit.  And they are not restricted to burgers.  They have good salads and a few other sandwiches.  Their onion rings are excellent at just $1.95!  Try Wence's.  This is the former Nibbler's.  It's good and it's not small plates.  The format is more like a cafe/bistro.  Prices are right.  Avoid Pasta Pomodoro, San Ramon!  It used to be good and reliable.  This chain has been sold and the new operators are cutting corners everywhere.  The food is not good, the tables are gummy because the varnish is deteriorating and the service is very amateurish.
Flat Panel TV Safety Tip February, 2013 Cleaning your flat TV, monitor, laptop screen? Be very careful as they are relatively fragile and can easily be scratched. Use only clean, soft cotton or polyester cloths to gently wipe dust/debris away. If heavier cleaning action is needed, spray a mixture of a few drops of mild detergent mixed with tap water onto your cleaning cloth – NOT DIRECTLY ON THE SCREEN and gently wipe the surface clear. Never use any paper products
Do you still travel a lot? February, 2013  Tuesday Morning, San Ramon, has the Case Logic Universal Travel Charger with both mini and micro USB cord ends to lighten/simplify your load to charge most cell phones, tablets, PDAs, etc. If you travel with any devices using AA batteries, they have the Polaroid USB Stick Charger with 2 – AA NiMH 2100 mAh rechargeable batteries for digital cameras, alarm clocks and other digital devices for $8.99.
Super Buys for the Home Cook February, 2013 Tuesday Morning also has some good buys for the home cook. If you follow the Top Chef TV series, they have the current chef’s recipes in the Top Chef Cookbook for $9.99. It might make a nice, inexpensive gift for someone. If you are looking for a countertop toaster oven or convection oven, consider the new Black & Decker NuWave Infrared Speed Oven for $79.99. It’s faster than microwave or convection oven. It browns, broils, fries or bakes very quickly. However, it has a slightly larger footprint than a conventional toaster oven.
Reheating Cold Pizza February, 2013 There are several ways to reheat cold pizza that you may find even better than fresh, hot, delivered or take-out pizza . For a slice or two, put them into a non-stick fry pan over low heat and cover with a lid. In about 5 minutes, it will be hot with the cheese and ingredients hot and melted with the bottom crust nicely toasted and crispy. For a whole or half a pizza, use a convection oven and place the pizza directly on the wire rack without a plate or other surfaces to interfere with the circulation of the hot air. Or use an infrared oven like the NuWave.
Are you doing house or garage cleaning and have things to get rid of? February, 2013 Garage Sales are a lot of work, require lots of time and effort and expose your home to potentially bad people. Instead, try using FreeCycle.com. It’s very easy and people will come to pick up the items or you can arrange for delivery. I’ve used it with good success. However, it is only for giving away things at no charge. No sales are permitted on FreeCycle.
Are you on daily Aspirin Therapy (81 mg ‘baby’ aspirin dosage)? February, 2013 You may have seen an email that is circulating around indicating that it’s best to take it at night ‘because most heart attacks occur in the early morning hours.’ That is not entirely accurate. Go to this webpage on Snopes.com for the full, accurate story: http://www.snopes.com/medical/drugs/aspirin.asp 
Do you like Beef Jerky? February, 2013  Try the Pacific Gold Natural Pork Jerky from Costco. It comes in two flavors Asian BBQ and Spicy Korean Style. The former tastes a lot like the famous Chinese BBQ Pork (Char Siu). The Korean style is a little more spicy but not ‘hot’ spicy and is a bit similar to the Korean Beef Kalbi or Bulgogi flavor. Both are relatively soft and tender and a lot lower in salt.
Want to spend a day in The City sometime? February, 2013 Sir Jerald and Ann Cerri told us about their excellent visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum some time ago. We had friends from out of town and we took them. It was an outstanding experience. We all enjoyed it and it is really for adults, not just children. It is extremely well done and non-commercial. It is not connected to the Disney Corp. We highly recommend it! Check Groupon, Amazon Local, Living Social and GotDailyDeal.com for half-priced vouchers.
Using Vouchers to Dine Out February, 2013 Half-priced vouchers from Groupon, Amazon Local, Living Social and GotDailyDeal.com are also a good way to try new restaurants around the Bay Area at a bargain price.  However, please remember to tip based on the ‘undiscounted’ total of your check.   And, if you allow the voucher to expire, the original purchase price you paid is not lost.  It will be credited to your account.
New Paragon Outlet Mall in Livermore January, 2013 I’ve heard a lot of comments about how nice it is to have the new Livermore Paragon Outlet Mall so close to us.  Be very careful about shopping for merchandise at the major chain store outlets. You cannot assume that the goods and products at the outlet stores is of the same quality and standards as carried in their main retail stores. Look for lower thread counts, different quality stitching, method of assembly, quality of material, etc. Consumer Reports found these differences in many of the outlet stores when comparing them to their main, first-level stores.
Maintaining Your Golf Shoes January, 2013 For golfers, the wet season that is upon us is the primary reason for wearing waterproof golf shoes out on the course. Good care will prolong this waterproof feature built into your shoes.  To maintain the watertight integrity of your shoes, do not ‘bang’ your shoes together to clean the mud, dirt, grass and debris from the cleats. Use a brush or compressed air supplied by many of the courses. Banging them together accelerates the breakdown of the watertight welt between the uppers and the soles.  Also, use a leather treatment product or dressing, periodically, to keep the leather soft and water-resistant.   Check with your local shoe repair shop or outdoor/sports store for various products.
Starbucks Gift Cards Tip January, 2013 Most of us buy and drink coffee from Starbucks. Some folks may receive gift cards for Starbucks.  Be sure to register your Starbucks Card online. There are benefits when you do this – free drinks, account balance protection in the event of loss or theft of your card and notification of special promotions, discounts and events.
Got a Burned Out Headlight? January, 2013
Replacing a burned out headlight capsule in your vehicle is an easy, user-friendly item to fix. The typical cost at your local auto parts store is about $20.  Ignore the recommendation to upgrade to a premium capsule with higher light output. These upgrades add $10 to $20 per capsule more but will not provide good lighting further down the road. The distance for your lights is determined by the focusing of the reflectors and headlight lens, not the intensity, color, nor brightness of the light.
If one side burns out, the other side is probably not far behind. You may want to replace them both at the same time. Also, halogen capsules deteriorate with time and use. Changing them both may provide more light down the road as yours may have been getting dim before failing, completely.
Harbor Freight has standard replacement capsules for about half price. I’ve used them with good results.
Mobile Device Charging Tip January, 2013 Do you have cell phones, MP3 players, portable GPS units, golf GPS, blue tooth headsets, etc.? These all use 5.0 VDC chargers. These chargers are either plugged into cigarette lighters on your vehicle or into am indoor wall outlet. Many of these devices can also be charged from the USB port of your computer, laptop or netbook. This means you have a bevy of various charging cords and chargers.
You can easily simplify and consolidate these cords and chargers. First check to see if any of your AC or DC chargers has a cord that can be unplugged from the charger. If so, all you need is one AC (wall) and one DC (auto) charger and one ‘universal’ cord. This cord is available from Walgreens Photo Dept. for a mere $8 and has a double tip (std. USB and Mini USB) for use on all your various USB rechargeable items.
If you need a wall or auto charger, Walgreens has them, too, for $10 or $15. Their wall chargers come in two electrical capacities - .1A and .27A. Use a magnifying glass to read the specification off the original charger that came with your instrument for use as a guide to which AC charger you might need.
CAPSULE PRODUCT REVIEW: Hoover Windtunnel Paws Bagless Upright Vacuum, model UH 70240 January, 2013 We’ve been using a Hoover Upright for over 30 years with good results and it was still running very well but it was getting more difficult to get the correct bag. It was also very heavy and rather difficult to push/pull and maneuver in use. We saw the Hoover bagless unit at Costco for jut $100 and it was light, bagless and really easy to empty the dust cup and clean the filter. I looked it up in Consumer Reports and found it “Check Rated” and a Best Buy. We’ve used it now for about 3 months and it was surprising much better it cleans and how easy it is to use. The suction is tremendous! And, it’s not as loud as our old one! It is super light and compact and comes with accessory tools – pet hair brush, crevice tool, etc. The roller bushes can be turned on for carpet cleaning and turned off for bare floors. We highly recommend it.