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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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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.

RoboForm

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
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.

UPS

UPS

8/25/18

Brother International sent me a replacement printer that proved unnecessary almost immediately, but as UPS had left the package when I wasn't home I couldn't follow Brother's instructions to refuse delivery. I followed UPS's instructions to call after delivery. Over a span of many days multiple reps--including 2 supervisors (!)--solemnly promised a pickup the next day or (when my follow-up was on that day) the same day.

No one ever came.

I received no excuses--just further unkept promises. The closest UPS office is inconvenient and UPS told me that the nearby "UPS Store" [a different operation] would not accept my return. Fortunately, I called the UPS Store, which did accept my package and provided a receipt.

Calendar-365.com

Calendar-365.com

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.

FormMail.To/You!

FormMail.To/You!

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.

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).

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.

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.

Amazon

Amazon

9/24/14

(Fifth update.) I've been purchasing from Amazon fairly heavily for years, not 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:

1. Price. Prices are generally excellent, and some 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 $25 or more.

2. Return policy. Return policies are easy and quite generous, and with items shipped by Amazon 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. I've now downgraded my star rating because of the increasingly terrible customer service. The good news is that phone support is usually, perhaps always, available. The bad news is the quality of that support:
(a) Thick accents by agents apparently based in other countries--even supervisors--make their advice largely unintelligible.
(b) Even when one can understand them, 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 often does not; and written support, usually provided as boilerplate, is usually still worse.
(c) Inquiries to Amazon's sellers must almost always be made via Amazon's online form; and, incredibly, Amazon cannot track such inquiries or follow up unless the purchase has already been made.

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 last check 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.

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.

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.

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.

NudgeMail

NudgeMail

9/15/11

Since I check my email many times a day I find that the best way to schedule upcoming tasks and events is to receive the reminders in my inbox. Of course I could send myself an ordinary email, but I couldn't arrange future delivery.

I've tried numerous email reminder services, and Nudgemail is the walk-away winner. You don't even have to sign up. You just specify the date and/or time of arrival in the To line, to end with @nudgemail.com. And of course if you want to put off a task further, you need only forward the message with a new To line. Use the "Snooze" function to be reminded in an hour, or any of various other options. Unlike some of the free competition, the message will arrive with the subject of your choice (often a subject will be all you need).

Nudgemail's major drawback is that your reminders aren't editable. It's simple however to delete a reminder: just send back your confirmation email with "Remove" in the subject. And you can easily re-send with a modification.

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
Apology Letters

Apology Letters

9/15/11

Three dozen types of personal and business apologies, including an all-purpose apology letter. Copy and paste, then modify to suit.

Mrquery

Mrquery

9/20/11

With one search box this site will initiate any of 12 Google searches plus 127 others (more promised). Especially useful for folks who like a particular search engine but don't want to be limited, or may want to see different sets of search results, which can in fact vary quite a bit. Note that a recent study by the Hitwise marketing service indicates that Bing users achieve a "success rate" substantially higher than Google users, even though Goggle continues to be the most popular search engine.

(Mrqery references Bing under its old name of Live.)

LowCards.com

LowCards.com

9/24/11

Those thinking of switching credit cards or adding one will find this well-organized comprehensive site an excellent place to get the "low" down. Covers over 1050 cards. (Note: Removing a credit card will usually have a negative impact on your credit rating. Adding a new one will have a similar impact at once, but over the long haul may raise your credit rating as a result of your lower utilization of available credit.)

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.

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

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