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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

59 Reviews by Richard

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GasBuddy

GasBuddy

9/7/11

Every driver should bookmark this site. It's useful in two ways: (1) It will locate the cheapest local or en route gas sources, and (2) It will tell you what the gas used in a contemplated trip will cost. I use it primarily for (2), and in the process I also learn the number of miles of my trip.

In order to get accurate results, I need to submit an online form detailing what vehicle I drive and its year, and which grade of gas I buy (and of course my starting and ending points). Or I could enter my gas mileage if I know it.

A minor downside is that as of now GasBuddy will not retain information that I give it, so I theoretically could have to spend a fair amount of time refilling the form every time I want GAsBuddy's help for a new trip. In practice however your form filler or password manager (such as RoboForm) should save your data for you and remove that necessity.

GotFreeFax

GotFreeFax

9/6/11

As the name suggests, this Web app lets you send free faxes, without a fax machine. There's a heavier-duty paid version, but the free version should be enough for most folks not in business. You can send up to 3 pages in a fax, and up to 2 faxes a day. You get free cover pages also, and there are no ads.

Unfortunately, this site facilitates outgoing faxes only. I'm not aware of a source for free incoming faxes, aside from trials. (eFax still will enable free faxes for its basic customers, but will currently accept only paid subscriptions.)

SaferProducts.gov

SaferProducts.gov

9/6/11

From the government's Consumer Products Safety Commission, this site provides valuable information on products you own or may be considering buying.

BetterWorldBooks

BetterWorldBooks

9/6/11

Ebooks are great, but for real books you can't beat Better World Books. I recently was searching without success for an L.A. Thomas Guide map book in the old smaller format. The current editions of these books go for $34.95 plus tax.

I found what I sought here, and my total price for the purchase was $5.03that's right, five dollars and three cents. This included an optional five cents for "carbon neutral shipping"; shipping is otherwise always free. Described as in "good" condition, I would have called the book's condition "very good"; aside from a few small library stickers on the cover (probably removable), I could hardly distinguish it from a new book off the shelf.

The icing on the cake is the outstandingly helpful and friendly customer service, in sharp contrast to so many customer "service" operations. Hint: Make a note of the customer service number, (574) 252-5303, which is not easy to find on the website.

Scoutmob

Scoutmob

9/6/11

This is a deal-of-the-day site like Groupon and Groupon's many imitators. The big plus with ScoutMob is that, unlike nearly all the others, it requires no payment up front. You're not committed in any way. I use Scoutmob's restaurant deals, and I've been pleased with each of the venues.

Since you don't pre-pay, the deals are not for fixed dollar amounts but for percentages offso they're just as good for singles as for couples and groups. And the discounts aren't piddling; my experience has been 50% off. You can if you like catch the offers with your cell phone.

Quickscan.bitdefender

Quickscan.bitdefender

9/6/11

Web-based scan of your computer for infections, from BitDefender.

In its favor, it's lightning-quick, free, and requires no downloading. The not inconsiderable drawback is that it scans for in-memory infections only (will not see dormant malware).

Good for a second opinion.

Magazines.com

Magazines.com

9/5/11

As counter-intuitive as it may first appear, you can often get a better deal from a so-called middle-man than you would direct from the supplier. That's the secret behind the success of deal-of-the-day sites like Groupon, and it applies as well to magazine brokers. Both kinds of brokers get you a better deal by delivering new customers to the original supplier, albeit at much less profit.

While the provider clients of deal-of-the-day sites may be motivated by the prospect of continuing after-deal business, magazine publishers benefit from the brokers even without it. That's because the cost to the publishers of each additional magazine copy is so low. (In fact, the only significant cost is that of mailing, for which the Postal Service gives them a special rate.) In practice, however, the publishers often do even better, as less careful buyers renew their subscriptions directly and not via the broker. These considerations explain how magazine brokers are able to offer the huge discounts that you'll see.

Magazines.com is the magazine broker I've used, and aside from the bargain prices its service is satisfactory in every way. You can use it to purchase new subscriptions or to extend current subscriptions. If you change your mind about a magazine, magazines.com will provide a full refund for all undelivered issues. And toll-free customer support is available 6 days a week.

Tip: Magazines.com does not want you to renew via the publisher, so unless you tell it not to, it will automatically renew every subscription you order. But telling it not to is easy: just phone the site after you order at its regular number (800-624-2946).

Chase.com

Chase

9/5/11

Chase's website is well designed and easy to use, for bill pay and other purposes. This is the best part of the Chase customer experience.

Chase has taken over several banks, in my case Washington Mutual. The level of customer service I've encountered has deteriorated markedly. For example, Chase now makes it *really* hard to talk with a human on the phone. When you finally get to a human, you're likely as not to reach someone who'll waste your time, and may steer you wrong. You're also likely to receive wrong information in person. The company has also tightened severely Wamu's criteria for free checking accounts.

Sjc.mozilla.com

Sjc.mozilla

5/16/13

Firefox is a pleasure to work with. Its big advantage over its competitors is the availability of over 5,000 tweaks ("add-ons") that will meet virtually anyone's needs or desires. If you're particular but not willing to look into its add-ons, Firefox may not be for you.

Regarding technical support: Fx's support, although not available by phone, far exceeds that of the also popular Internet Explorer. Beyond basic support (available at support.mozilla.org), Fx users will in my experience almost always provide all the help required, at forums.mozillazine.org/viewforum.php?f=38.

Gmail

Gmail

9/4/11

Gmail is a top-notch (probably the best) Web-based email service, featuring lightning-quick message retrieval and superior spam filtering, as well as many other useful tools. For example, it allows you to receive your emails elsewhere and can send emails as if coming from another address. If you opt for Basic HTML view, you'll encounter no ads at all. Otherwise you as the Gmail user may see inconspicuous text ads, but your recipients won't see ads in any case. The major downside is the lack of direct customer support; there is however an excellent help section and a forum.

For more, see my extensive review at http://notbarter.com/gmail2_.html.

PayPal

PayPal

11/14/13

(Updated.)

PayPal is convenient but problematic.

1. PayPal goes to great lengths to avoid paying the tiny bank charges it incurs when you use your credit card. I guess it figures a penny saved is a penny earned. You have to be exceedingly diligent to avoid being shifted to a different funds source (like your bank account).

2. PayPal will not tell you the address or phone number of any merchant that might want to conceal that information. This of course facilitates shady or even fraudulent actions on the part of those merchants, since it discourages or prevents complaints and lawsuits. (For example, the Better Business Bureau will not process a complaint without a mailing address.)

3. PayPal touts its "PayPal Purchase Protection." What you won't read in PayPal's glowing words is that PayPal will apply it only for "tangible" purchases -- meaning purchases that are sent to a physical address. So problems with purchases of any kind of services, including links to downloadable software or special Web pages, or promises of support, are of no interest to PayPal. PayPal may tell you to pursue the question with your credit card provider, which, since the creditor is PayPal and not the merchant, is a dead end. Even worse, should a merchant's fraudulent actions come to light, you can expect PayPal to continue processing payments as for any other merchant.

- - - -

PayPal does have toll-free phone support. That support has markedly improved in recent years, but it's still far from perfect.

Craigslist, Inc.

Craigslist, Inc.

9/4/11

This phenomenally popular bulletin board serves over fifty million online users in the U.S. alone, and, except for modest fees in designated cities for certain classes of ads, all its services are without charge. Its huge popularity makes Craigslist a top choice when trying to get responses, even when compared with paid services.

Beyond its imperfect documentation, however, Craigslist support is essentially non-existent (understandably so, in view of its enormous popularity and the modest size of its staff). Also on the downside, Craigslist will block an ad for any or no reason, simply on the basis of users' flags.

Currently, Craigslist is plagued by "ghosting," which is the inexplicable failure of a posted ad to actually appear. It's hard to say how many posters this affects, as Craigslist will still confirm a posting even if it's ghosted.

For more, see my writeup at http://notbarter.com/clguide_.html.

Google

Google

9/4/11

I won't touch on Google's search service, since as the most widely used search engine it's already so well-known -- except to say that for IE users the addition of Google's toolbar is a great convenience. (At last look the Firefox version had bothersome problems.)

Google offers a vast array of other products, nearly all free, many providing services unavailable elsewhere. Too many of these are overlooked by folks who could benefit from them.

For one example, Google Voice lets any landline-possessing U.S. resident phone anyplace in the country free, and throws in free voicemail, free transcripts, free call blocking, free call forwarding, free conference calls, and much more. A comprehensive link list endeavoring to cover all official Google services (over 100), is at googleservicesguide.blogspot.com. Google's own link list (prettier but less complete) is at www.google.com/intl/en/about/products.

Google's major downside is the absence of direct customer support for its free services. There are however excellent help sections and forums.

For more, see my thorough writeup at http://notbarter.com/google_.html

HelpOwl

HelpOwl

11/14/13

****Second update****

This help site, like many others, offers advice provided by users. The help concerns issues with one of the listed online and offline companies, of which there is a huge number. Unlike the competition, the site materially rewards those who answer the questions.

The quality of the answers provided at the site has improved markedly since the site's early days. This review however relates (only) to the use of the site for those who wish to provide those answersnot seek answers.

If you answer questions, compensation is in the form of gift cards from your choice of Amazon and two or three other providers. Each accepted answer is worth currently about 20 cents at Amazon or Walmart.com, somewhat less at iCard. If the questioner does not accept an answer, the site will after about 5 days accept what it considers the first good answer, for the same reward.

PLUSES:

1. Compensation.

2. Wide choice of companies about which you can submit your answers.

3. Notification by email or RSS of questions for your selected companies.

MINUSES:

1. Staff review of answers not accepted by questioners is too often inept. "Not Helpful" assessments by the questioners (or anyone else!), even when completely unwarranted, are too often cause for staff failure to accept.

2. Support is patchy. Some support questions will be answered; others will be ignored.

3. As a result of the site's promotional practices, a great many questioners believe they are asking help directly of the subject companies.

Propublica

Propublica

8/30/11

Lets you see how much money a given doctor has received from (named) drug companies. For example, it shows that Dr. Minh Mach in 2009-10 received $41,594 from four such outfits. Although many drug companies do not disclose this information, the data that is available may give you a good idea of a doctor's bias.

DrScore

DrScore

8/30/11

This is primarily a collection of patient ratings for a narrow range of listed practitioners. Amazingly, these ratings may not appear as submitted, and, even more amazingly, the company shows no interest in correcting such errors.

Avvo

Avvo

8/30/11

Avvo publishes consumer reviews that paint an excessively rosy picture of the respective practitioners. That's because Avvo will arbitrarily reject reviews on the basis of what it deems to be "personal attacks, insulting comments, or accusations."

Alice.com

Alice.com

5/9/13

Update: Alice now charges for shipping of any order of less than $49, so I've downgraded my rating.

Offers a huge selection of household items (incl. nutritional supplements) shipped free at a surprisingly low cost that's often reduced further by manufacturers' coupon offers. The minimum order of 6 items is easily achieved. Tip: For the best deals when searching for a particular item, sort by Price Per Unit or filter by Bargain Hunter.

Yelp

Yelp

11/14/13

Update: Yelp now designates its filtered reviews as "not currently recommended."

Review site Yelp touts its impartiality. The problem is, it filters out some reviews as "untrustworthy," and will not say why. Indeed, the filtering operates without any apparent rhyme or reason. Filtered reviews are accessible via a hard-to-find link but will not affect Yelp's overall rating for that business. Companies have repeatedly accused Yelp of extorting them for ads, promising better review placement.

A good case in point is Yelp's page for UPS (Los Angeles office). You'll see 25 reviews, and will not see 13 more that have been filtered outall extremely negative, many detailed and specific, each assigning the lowest possible rating to the company. (Those numbers will likely have changed by the time you read this.)

I still recommend Yelp for the multitudinous reviews, but suggest you seek out the "filtered" links and, especially, take Yelp's star ratings with a grain of salt.

Richard Has Earned 231 Votes

Richard J.'s review of PrivNote earned 7 Very Helpful votes
Richard J.'s review of MagicJack earned 3 Very Helpful votes
Richard J.'s review of Safeway earned 2 Very Helpful votes
Richard J.'s review of BeenVerified earned 14 Very Helpful votes
Richard J.'s review of Screamin Daily Deals earned 2 Very Helpful votes
Richard J.'s review of USP.org earned 4 Very Helpful votes
Richard J.'s review of Time.is earned 3 Very Helpful votes
Richard J.'s review of BlackboardEats earned 5 Very Helpful votes
Richard J.'s review of Better Business Bureau earned 3 Very Helpful votes
Richard J.'s review of Magazines.com earned 3 Very Helpful votes
Richard J.'s review of UPS earned a Very Helpful vote
Richard J.'s review of TaskRabbit earned 7 Very Helpful votes
Richard J.'s review of TaskRabbit earned a Fraud Buster vote
Richard J.'s review of GasBuddy earned 3 Very Helpful votes
Richard J.'s review of GotFreeFax earned 5 Very Helpful votes
Richard J.'s review of AllExperts earned a Well Said vote
Richard J.'s review of GiveAwayOfTheDay earned 3 Very Helpful votes
Richard J.'s review of AllExperts earned 5 Very Helpful votes
Richard J.'s review of Angie's List earned 14 Very Helpful votes
Richard J.'s review of Airport Dining earned 2 Very Helpful votes
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