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About Me

A resident of Glendale, California, I founded and ran for over 30 years NotBarter.com The Los Angeles Skills Pool, which enabled folks to obtain quality services from each other at no charge beyond the membership fee.

How I Can Help

I've been giving advice and help on consumer matters for many years. A good part of each of my member newsletters was always devoted to these concerns.

Interests

consumer issues, ethics, single-payer healthcare, peace

57 Reviews by Richard

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BeenVerified

BeenVerified

2/21/18

1. Like too many other websites, this one sneakily makes you await the results of a lengthy search and provide your own information before it reveals what you must pay for a deeper search--seemingly an opt-out monthly fee. (If you decide to pay it, be sure to opt out immediately.)

2. Before committing any money, read Brian's SiteJabber review at http://bit.ly/2ERzUeV and rep Carla's response. It's perplexing why Carla submitted any response, as it completely ignores Brian's primary objection, which is the absence of the paid reports' important information.

Roboform.com

Roboform

2/3/17

As one of its earliest customers, I've been using Roboform's paid version for a great many years, and have been completely satisfied--until now.

Roboform works by storing the user's sign-information in a database to whose entries the user (at the user's advance option) has either immediate access or access via a private master password. In either case Roboform will fill in sign-in information upon the user's request via the browser's context menu. For those who (unaccountably) don't want to use the context menu, Roboform will do the same via the Roboform toolbar. Like most computer users, I've chosen not to burden my computer screen with an unnecessary toolbar, and have used the context menu.

Except that a few days ago, in my Firefox browser, Roboform no longer worked! Clicking any of Roboform's context menu entries now does nothing.

With very great difficulty I finally reached a support technician, who told me that without removing the context menu entries and without any notice to users, Roboform had discontinued support for Firefox's context menu. For some reason Roboform's own separate menu (available from its taskbar icon) also would not work unless its toolbar was continuously displayed.

So my only option was either to display the Roboform toolbar continuously or switch browsers.

Neither of these is acceptable to me, so I'll be installing a different password manager. One free one recommended by Firefox and others is KeePass.

Service
Value
Quality
Epson America

Epson America

6/21/16

Steve C's review here doesn't belong--he's reviewing the product, not the site. Moreover, his assertion that "Nobody really can compete" is ridiculous unless he's made a thorough investigation of all competing products, which is not credible.

My review is of the site, as used for support. The written support is pretty good. But think hard before you phone for support. The level 1 support personnel (the ones who take your call) are almost universally clueless, and will take an unbelievable amount of your time, which may or may not solve your issue. The level 2 personnel (to which level 1 can connect you) may be better, but don't depend on it.

I speak from sad experience with my XP-420 printer, which although I rarely need to use it has necessitated a dozen support calls in just a few months. Every time I call I'm kept on the phone for close to an hour or more.

Canon

Canon

11/13/15

I volunteer at HelpOwl.com (under the name Odin) to assist folks with a broad range of products including the widely used Canon products. For many years Canon's online support was comprehensive and top-notch, maybe the best in the business. For an inexplicable reason Canon has removed entirely that support site and substituted this new one, which is rarely helpful. I've tried by both email and phone to find out what's behind the change, but cannot. Of course you could always phone Canon but after 90 days phone support will probably cost you.

Quality
Meetup

Meetup

8/12/15

I'm giving this site more than the lowest rating because it's a way to meet a lot of folks with similar interests fast (and maybe the only way on the Web). Be warned however that signing up will bring tons of spam. The site offers settings that lead one to believe the spam can be controlled, but without creating your own independent filters that's really impossible.

For example, the site will send you solicitations to join additional meetup groups based on what Meetup deems to be your interests. It also invites you to check those interests on a provided list. One would think that the solicitations would be sent according to the interests you've listed--but not so. For example, even though as an atheist I have listed "atheist" and "humanism" and nothing relating to meditation or acting, I've received today a solicitation for a Prayer and Meditation group, and another for The Actors Alliance. In response to my complaints I get double-talk ("...we try to strike a balance between recommendations based on each member's current interests and suggestions for Meetups they might not have thought to seek out themselves").

The above is just one of the many many kinds of spam Meetup will send to members. Some of these can be controlled by settings, but these settings are a challenge to find. For others there are no settings at all, such as the repeated pleas to take over from a group leader who has resigned.

Service
MagicJack

MagicJack

9/15/13

magicJack offers virtually no customer support, and no phone contact except a line for billing matters. I answer questions about a great many websites and companies for a help site, and magicJack engenders by far the most complaints. Many of those complaints have to do with not being able to get the device to work (perhaps after it has worked just fine for a while). Others concern renewal nags *after* the renewal has been purchased, or paid renewals that did not renew serviceor, most troubling of all, charges for calls whose cost should according to the company's promotions be covered by the purchase price.

magicJack's justification for these unexpected charges is this provision in the middle of magicJack's extensive hard-to-read Terms of Service:

"We may require prepaid purchase and/or we may charge you for calls to conference lines, platforms and certain high cost calls, or any call wherein we incur a cost from another carrier."

The average consumer, even if he or she were to look over the Terms of Service, will not grasp the import of this nearly-hidden provision.

Some magicJack customers are happy with the product. I don't advise however taking that chance.

Target

Target

9/8/13

Pluses: Value is good. Stores are attractive. Pharmacists (at one store, in my experience) are quite helpful--though their assistants, not so much.

Minuses:

1. The product search engine on the Web site is essentially useless, so off the mark that using it is a complete waste of time.

2. Customer service by phone in my experience is almost as useless, for any except the simplest of questions.

3. To look in the store for a type of merchandise not a major category (mens' clothes, furniture) can best be described as a fool's errand. This has happened to me 4 out of 4 times [never again!], of which a description of my most recent experience may be instructive. I entered the Eagle Rock, California store at the upper level, seeking alarm clocks. The greeter had no doubt exactly where they were, on the first level. Except that they weren't. After searching in vain I proceeded to Customer Service, where a representative (also confidently) directed me to a section on the second level. With some difficulty I found clocks: wall clocks. I went back to the same customer service rep, who called another employee on the phone. When the other employee arrived, she wanted to give me more instructions, but agreed to escort me. She took me to a place on the second level, nowhere near where I'd been directed previously. Nobody apologized. The last person explained that the merchandise used to be somewhere else.

Adblock Plus

Adblock Plus

5/12/13

These days almost any browser will will include a built-in pop-up blocker. Even the best however will let pass ads that are not pop-ups and some pop-ups as well.

Free Adblock Plus will handle those persistent ads, and also comparably irritating social media buttons. A useful extra is its option for automatically correcting typos in your address bar, to spare you from visiting unwanted and possibly dangerous websites. It's currently available for the Firefox, Chrome, and Opera browsers.

Three hints:

1. For top usefulness, download Adblock Plus's Element Hiding Helper (also free).

2. You'll probably want to disable ABP's permission for "acceptable" ads, easily done.

3. No ad blocker will deal satisfactorily with the ever-changing display ads you'll often see down the right side of a page. For this annoyance I recommend another free utility, Clearly [evernote.com/clearly]. Clearly will work with Firefox and Chrome.

Time.is

Time.is

5/9/13

All our computers' clocks are almost certainly off by small amounts. In addition to giving you the exact time, this page tells me the amount by which my computer's clock is ahead or behind.

Safeway

Safeway

12/17/12

This review is of the (central) customer service, not the markets.

Customer service either by phone or their Web form is incredibly useless. Why they encourage such communication is a mystery, as I've found on each of several occasions that it's just about impossible to get any information or help in that manner. You will lose your time and gain nothing but frustration.

Angie's List

Angie's List

3/20/14

Angie's List charges users for what other review sites provide free, with the suggestion that its reviews are thereby more reliable. I've found however that there's no reason to believe that its reviews are superior in any way. Furthermore, to participate you have to accept a membership agreement that can have huge negative consequences for you (see below). And unless you're really careful you'll find you're signed up in perpetuity, paying a new membership fee each year.

Before writing this critique I purchased a membership, studied its materials, and also as a journalist interviewed spokesperson Cheryl Reid by phone.

Angie seeks to minimize ringer listings (reviews by the reviewees) by "proprietary" means which may include cross-checking reviewers' phone numbers, addresses, email addresses, etc. Angie also restricts the number of reviews of a single provider coming from one userbut I couldn't discern much if any protection against a merchant's attempting to buy off bad reviews by offering incentives to the reviewers to withdraw them.

Particularly worrisome is the fact that Angie will without prompting reveal to each service provider the identity of every reviewer of that provider's service. After I discovered this practice I asked a rep about it. The rep boasted that no lawsuit against a reviewer had prevailed. The rep would not say how many lawsuits had been filed. Of course, defending even against lawsuits that fail can be extremely costly, stressful, and time-consuming. "Reputation protection" services have of late become quite popular, and there is a dismaying probability of lawsuits from negative reviews. There's also the fact that a consumer may continue with a problematic provider (like a physician specialist for example) rather than take a chance with a competitor. In such instances the consumer may be reluctant to write a review even partially negative, knowing that the provider will be reading the review.

The likely result of Angie's notification policy is all but the most positive reviews will be self-suppressed or at least toned down, affecting seriously the reliability of Angie's List assessments.

Angie's List does accept advertising from listed providers who wish to offer discounts, and it reportedly solicits that advertising aggressively. Members may choose to search for providers offering these discounts, which purportedly don't otherwise affect the listings or their placement. They're available only from A- and B-rated providers.

***Membership agreements***

You must agree to Angie's privacy policy before joining. This document takes up an excruciatingly long page of tiny text, essentially impossible to get through and harder yet to comprehend. However: the super-diligent will note that buried in the interminable fine print is permission for Angie to disclose *any* information "permitted by relevant law." (So why all the fine print? Guess.)

The general membership agreement makes you liable for "liquidated damages" of up to $10,000.00yes, ten thousand dollarsfor a single violation of its terms, which cover such issues as how you use the reviews. These terms are about as easy to understand as those of the privacy policy. Moreover, you incredibly must agree in advance to any changes in the agreement made without notice to you.

(On the other hand, Angie is not at all strict about fulfilling its own membership obligations. The same membership agreement states without qualification that "Monthly and annual memberships include a subscription to the Angies List monthly magazine." Yet in over a year I never received a single issue. When I inquired, I was told that magazines aren't sent to those with my class of membershipbut that I was free to upgrade.)

Many members will be surprised to learn that they've signed up for membership in perpetuity. Angie's memberships are opt-out, that is, automatically renewed and re-charged, until the member affirmatively resigns. You can opt out of the opt-out when signing upbut if you do, get confirmation in writing!

***Site navigation and customer service***

Site navigation is quirky and sometimes frustrating. Customer service is highly accessible and friendly but too often clueless, and simple inquiries can consume half an hour or more.

***Bottom line***

I don't advise joining unless (a) you realize that Angie's reviews are skewed to the positive, (b) you're unconcerned about your privacy, (c) you're willing to wade through the extensive and opaque general membership agreement, (d) you're prepared to re-read the changeable agreement before taking any action related to the service, and (e) before joining you've opted out from automatic renewal, and have written confirmation in hand.

Service
Value
Quality
Amazon

Amazon

9/24/14

(Fourth update.) I've been purchasing from Amazon fairly heavily for years, not really because I think it's the best source for merchandise (although it often is) but because its gift cards are the reward of choice for my participation answering queries for helpowl.com [which I've also reviewed for SiteJabber].

Pluses:
[Note that these pluses apply only to Amazon-shipped merchandise.]

1. Price. Prices are generally excellent, and most purchases are tax-free. Many items are "eligible for free shipping," meaning that Amazon will not charge for shipping such items if their total price in one order is $35 or more.

2. Return policy. Return policies are easy and quite generous, and with most items the company pays for return shipping, or may even waive the need to return the item at all.

3. Promptness. Shipping is always prompt, even when free.

Minuses:

1. Support. The good news is that phone support is usually, perhaps always, available (excluding a few types of questions, which must be posed by other means). The bad news is that the quality of the phone support, though variable, is terrible: too many of the support personnel seem entirely clueless, taking the customer's time to no good end. Escalating to a supervisor sometimes works but not always; and written support can be still worse.

2. Product descriptions. These are wrong much too often.

3. Product search. The variety of products available is overwhelming, and Amazon's product search engine is awful. For example, a search for a "queen-size single fitted sheet" yielded many hundreds of results (as I recall, about 1,400!), pointing to sheets of various sizes, nearly all sheets sets. Of all those results I found only 1 that matched my search criteria. One suspects that Amazon deliberately fudges search results to offer more choices, with the goal of increasing sales.

4. Merchant reviews. As of this writing Amazon allows reviewers without significant limitation to withdraw their reviews. This policy encourages merchants -- many of whom depend on Amazon for patronage -- to go after reviewers whose reviews are not favorable in order to buy them off. This has happened to me.

The consequence of these minuses is that you could easily spend hours trying to meet your need, which may in the end be unfulfilled or, even worse, fulfilled badly.

Privnote.com

Privnote

12/11/11

First of all, I need to take issue with previous reviewer Ian's panning of this site on the basis of its privacy policy. I invite readers to review that policy, at https://privnote.com/privacy/. I see no problem with it whatsoever, and I've written Ian repeatedly in the hope he would share with me his concerns, but I've received no response.

I recommend Privnote as a free alternative to paid by-subscription email tracking services, which I've found to be worthless or worse (worse because of misplaced reliance the user may place on them). Instead of tracking your email, Privnote tracks when the recipient reads a note to which she's referred by a special link you include in the message.

Privnote promotes itself as a means to send notes that "self-destruct," and that's true enough. In my view, though, its value lies, as mentioned, in its tracking capability. A secondary benefit is the air of importance assumed by a private note that can be seen only via the link.

The self-destruct feature can be marginally useful if you want to be sure nobody else has read your note. And before the note's been read you can use that feature to cancel the note, should you have second thoughts.

ObjectGraph

ObjectGraph

12/4/11

This review is of www.objectgraph.com/dictionary. If you type the Web address as displayed here by SiteJabber (ending with ".com"), you'll be directed elsewhere.

Even though you get to this site by ending the URL with "/dictionary," I don't really recommend this as a dictionary. Believe it or not, the source dictionary is almost 100 years out of date!

I recommend this site as what I've found to be the best *thesaurus* on the Web. To find a word with similar meaning, you have to be in Thesaurus mode (see below). Then start typing the word in the search box. Once objectgraph identifies your word, it will provide you a huge number or related words, bound to include one that will meet your needs.

If you want a definition of that word (or any word), just switch from Thesaurus to Classic (for the classic 1913 dictionary), and follow the same procedure. Or you could switch to another reference, such as FOLDOC (Free Online dictionary of Computing). Same search box for every reference,

The only major downside is that as of this writing the site is set to Classic by default. That means that to use it as a thesaurus you'll always have to switch to Thesaurus mode, using the menu on the right. It's just one click, but it is an inconvenience.

Owner Gavi Narra has told me that he will change the default behavior to select the previous choice (ordinarily in my case, Thesaurus).

Formmail.to

Formmail.to

11/8/11

There are many form creator websites, and I've looked at a dozen or more, but FormMail wins hands-down. I've used it now for about 8 years. You can see one of my FormMail forms at http://formmailto.com/freeforallreg.

First consider the price. There are free form creators, but in my experience they're worth what you pay for them. They're typically exceedingly limited, and will produce amateurish results. Some will give you a better product if you pay for a premium version, at a price much higher than FormMail's. Others are too hard to work with. FormMail is nearly free -- per month only a dollar per form! (FormMail has in the past offered a completely free version, with advertising, and you may see a reference to the free version on its website.)

I frankly don't know how FormMail provides what it does for the tiny amount it charges. It seems that the owner, Roger, treats it as a hobby rather than a business. The various options should meet any needs. Documentation is extensive. You don't really need to know HTML, although a basic knowledge is helpful. A huge plus is the level of support you get for your one dollar. With rare exceptions it'll take only a day or so to get any help you might need.

You don't have to pay even the tiny cost until you've successfully created your form and have decided you want to use it.

There are two downsides. First, you have to pay via PayPal, which I don't like. (See my PayPal review.) Second, you have to "subscribe" for 6 months at a time, with opt-out renewal. The 6 months are certainly fair, but I try to steer clear of any opt-out payments.

All in all, however, I strongly recommend FormMail if you need to create a professional-looking form.

Screamin Daily Deals

Screamin Daily Deals

10/26/11

This is a warning not to purchase deals from this site, also known as Spreebird.

This is one of the many copycats of Groupon. The other such sites I've dealt with, and especially Groupon itself, are very responsible with respect to any untoward experiences. Not so here.

I purchased a voucher for a restaurant meal, and a few days ago proceeded to the restaurant. I knew the restaurant was not really close, but I at least expected to be able to find it from the street address. In fact the street number provided was nowhere to be seen from the street. After driving around and then walking back and forth and about, I finally located the place deep inside an (unnumbered) shopping mall. All this hunting consumed an extra half an hour or more, and then I saw the business, shut down.

It turns out that Spreebird knew it was folded, but deliberately chose not to notify purchasers like me. Its entire reason seems to be that it didn't want to bother customers who'd already used the voucher!

When I asked for recompense, they amazingly wanted me to accept "spreebucks" in the amount of my purchase, toward another voucher. They did agree to refund my purchase price, but nothing at all for my time and trouble.

There are too many deal-of-the-day sites out there to go with a loser like this.

URLVoid

URLVoid

10/9/11

Some sites can infect your computer just by your landing on them! Even when that doesn't happen, following a site's links can cause serious problems. Enter the Web address here, and URLVoid will instantly scan for safety with TrendMicro Web Reputation, Norton SafeWeb, Web of Trust, and 14 similar services.

Calendar-365.com

Calendar-365

10/9/11

If you can always check the date easily with a nearby print calendar, you may not need this website. Otherwise, you may find it invaluable in your "Links" or Bookmarks Toolbar. Refreshing it with F5 will highlight today's date. Includes a calculate function, for periods between dates.

Usp.org

Usp.org

10/8/11

This review is of the "USP Verified Dietary Supplements" page, which you can reach directly at www.usp.org/USPVerified/dietarySupplements/supplements.html.

We all want to be sure the nutritional supplements we buy are acceptably pure and potent. To this end some shell out $33 a year to ConsumerLab.com for results of its periodic surveys. In most cases, however, a wiser course is to get completely reliable information here at no charge, from the venerable U.S. Pharmacopoeia. A plus is that you can also find out where to buy the listed products.

(It's true that USP charges the companies for its seal. The fact is, however, that some very inexpensive brands, e.g. Nature Made and Kirkland Signature, carry the USP seal.)

Better Business Bureau

Better Business Bureau

9/29/11

This review of the Better Business Bureau (of particular interest to SiteJabber followers) concerns the BBB's service in reviewing businesses for consumers. You can get to that service directly at www.bbb.org/us/Find-Business-Reviews.

As a result of outside pressure, the BBB claims it no longer considers BBB fee-paid "accreditation" in its ratings. However, the review pages for each non-accredited business will include three (3) prominent mentions of that status, which you should ignore.

Considerations that the BBB says it does apply include BBB complaint history, business duration, government actions, and questionable advertising. BBB will also downgrade if a company fails to provide to the BBB complete information, if the BBB has revoked accreditation, or if the nature of the business is suspect.

The BBB also has a link for consumer reviews (not to be confused with consumer complaints), which do not seem to figure into its ratings.

BBB ratings are a helpful resource in evaluating a company, but should not be relied on exclusively. ConsumerSearch (see my separate SiteJabber review) reflects a huge number of consumer reviews from across the Web, and would be a good supplement to BBB ratings.

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