Cal's Consumer Tips and Links

The purpose of this page is not to develop an all-encompassing consumer reference.
Just some things I've found helpful or some products that I have firsthand experience with.
You web-savvy surfers no doubt can find product reviews and do much more shopping and
comparison than I have the time to include here.
If you have things that you think others might be interested in, or questions, then please
let me know via my form link. Thanks.


Useful Guides & Links

Current features... Ants   Staples Sleazy Rebates   Computer Buyers Scam   Birdbath Algae   Casio Watches   Computer Tips   Cordless Phones   Digital Imaging   Leather & Sheepskin   Household Plumbing   Tax Time   Vacuums   Digital Cameras/Photos   IrfanView   Personal Computers   Printers   Internet Browsers   Cabelas   Kitty Litter   Pet Food   FORM

Here's Something You May Have Never Considered

Keep all of your valuables in a box or a can out in the garage. If theives or the Secret Service rob you, they usually attack the master bedroom and/or the computer room.

Staples Easy Rebates = Staples Sleazy Rebates

I had read the reviews across the internet. Staples Easy Rebate program was a farce. I thought that some media attention would have made Staple's fix their fraudulent attacks on their customers. I was wrong. Staples Easy Sleazy Rebate program sucked me in. They have an army of form letters that they use fight their customers over rebate denial. Staples is fraudulently denying promised rebates to its customers. One of the most common denials is, "According to our records you returned the product. If you want the rebate you must prove that a) you didn't return it, b)didn't exchange it, or c) didn't price match it." Say what?

I guess it comes down to this. Will Americans fight for their rights or let businesses continue to defraud them with their phony and often unfulfilled rebate programs?

Click Here to Look up the BBB Website in your area

Proof of Junk Concepts at Best Buy

In September of 2004 I walked into my local Best Buy. I was not surprised by what I found. There were several rows of tables selling electronic garbage as "pre-opened packages". This is all junk that people bought and returned. And it fully confirmed my reviews below. There was a row of cordless phones. All except for one that was GE (I bought one of those once and threw it away in 3 months). The rest were Panasonic. The other row was computer printers. About 75% were Epson with the remaining ones being from HP and Lexmark. Apparently, even the manufacturers don't want them back. And since Best Buy's practice is to fight you tooth and nail on returns these items probably represent some pretty angry customers.

Using credit cards for online or phone orders?

Many credit card issuers are now offerring "one-time" or "single-use" card numbers. How does it work? Simply call your card company and request a "one-time" card number. Then go online or make your phone transaction. Once used, the number is expired and cannot be used again by anyone who may steal your information. This will also prevent companies that attempt to bill you for services or items they have hidden in the fine print of their customer agreements.

Cellphones in the Checkout

With the increasing use of camera phones, be extra careful that the person next in line isn't taking a picture of the credit card you are presenting to the cashier while they fiddle with or appear to be in the middle of a call.

MAIL-IN REBATES: This offer is subject to change or cancellation at any time without notice.

That's the exact wording in the fine print of many mail-in rebate offers. They lure the consumer in, then WHAM.

Either way, you still pay sales tax on the full purchase price before rebates.

F$%&#$g Ant problems?

Don't stock up on pesticides that may harm your pets or yourself. This really works. Get one of those $5 garden hose attached fertilizer sprayers and fill it with dish soap. The blue soaps seem to work better. Don't spend a lot on it either. Buy either the gallon jug at Costco or the bottles of cheap soap at 99 cent stores or what have you in your area. Fill your sprayer and spray the infected areas. It kills ants on contact like you wouldn't believe. It also kills spiders and other undesirable insects. For leafy plants you should rinse afterwards. Most grasses don't mind it. Roses don't like anything, even water, on their leaves. Dish soaps are generally low in PH and don't exacerbate excessive PH balance problems. For spot spraying, just mix a 1 to 10 solution in a household spray bottle. This also disrupts ant trails because ants navigate by scent and the soap covers it up causing them to get lost. This isn't a long term solution like some poisons but with a little diligence, ants only have two choices, die or relocate.

Got Algae in the Birdbath?

Then throw in your two cents worth. Literally. I put a few pennies into the birdbath to try it out and was surprised. The algae turned red and released it's grip. Every time a filled it after that more and more of it just peeled off and was easily washed out. The water stayed so much cleaner and algae growth became a thing of the past.

Casio Products

10 years ago, I bought a casio watch. It still works great. But I year ago I bought a new one. This one ended up in the trash. It could not keep time. It acted as if it was haunted. The databank was constantly corrupted. It was hard to use it's functions. The calculator gave totally erroneous info. It scrambled whatever info was stored into it. Looks like Casio has chosen to cheap out. As a consumer, I do not plan to buy another Casio product ever again. This watch was a true WMD, Weapon of Mass Dysfunction. Time is valuable but this watch never knew what time was or time zone it was in.

Kiwi Gear, Leather & Sheepskin - Exceptional Quality, Exceptional Prices

Save your cash and get the best.
Boots, gloves, slippers, mittens, rugs, hats etc. from New Zealand. Forget the department store Ughs and the department store prices. For unsurpassed quality you can get the best at Kiwi Gear located at:

1221 S. Pacific Coast Hwy in Redondo Beach, CA.

Incredible quality at half the price. If you are not in southern Cal. visit them online at:

You won't be dissappointed.

Upgrading Your Plumbing?

Several years ago I upgraded some of the faucets in my house with Kohlers purported top-of-the-line. Needless to say, I wasn't impressed. Reliability, durability and quality of components seemed to be lacking. In-store parts availability was also non-existant and the retailers said it would take a week just to get a parts list. So I called Kohler directly (I tried EVERYWHERE beforehand, no one could seem to come up with Kohler parts) and they were prompt, professional and identified the part I needed and offered to send it to me free with one short phone call. Wow!. And I received it within a month. In this case, the manufacturer actually offered better service than the retailer. Replacing the part turned out to be quite a chore. It would have been easier to just replace the whole thing. Meanwhile, Moen fills every parts store with tons of parts. Is that because their stuff breaks even more? Something to ponder.

Cordless Phones

One thing to check whenever buying a new cordless phone (or other device) for home use. Are there replacement batteries, especially 3rd party ones, available for the device? Face it. If the battery dies and can't be replaced, it doesn't matter how much the device cost or how many features it has, it is useless. Since many manufacturers skimp on the batteries they initially provide with their products, it is often one of the first problem areas encountered. The variety of electronics batteries continues to grow beyond what stores keep in stock. Panasonic phones and batteries are the worst.

Out of the last 6 cordless phones I've owned here is the bottom line.
Panasonic = These phones boast a 5 hour talk time per charge. Good luck getting 20 minutes.
This was the stupidest phone I've ever had. The speakerphone would not work with the phone in
the cradle nor would it work when the handset battery was dead (which it always was).
V-Tech = Outperformed many of the phones I've had.
Uniden = Earlier ones were pretty bad. I'm testing a later model now and so far it is performing
well. So well in fact that after 9 months, I am actually elated at how well this phone has performed and lived up to its promises. Either, I got an exception, or Uniden has made a great leap in the quality of their products.

Auto Fueling and MTBE

Another environmental lesson learned. MTBE is impossible to get rid of in our drinking water and soil. Plus, it reduces gas mileage. I am sure someone is making a bundle of money on the junk. It was no surprise when Gov. Davis called to have MTBE removed from California fuels by 2003 that the oil companies and their MTBE suppliers cried afowl. "There is no way we can quit using it for at least 2 or 3 years," they bemoaned. "Alternatives will raise the price of your gas." "Costs of conversion will run into the billions." And thus the deadline to quit using this crap was extended.

So what did Union 76 do? They simply quit using it. It wasn't as hard as Chevron, Exxon and Sunoco (who met with the VP trying to make MTBE a requirement for federal funding) made it out to be. And guess what, Union 76's average price for gasoline is lower.

Enter "MTBE" into your favorite search engine and learn more about the issues surrounding this carcinogenic substance.
The oil boys and their buds don't care what poison they dump into our environment as long as they are making a fortune.

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Need a good Vacuum Cleaner?

Get an Oreck.

The last vac you'll ever buy.


Shopping for clothes or outdoors gear? Cabela's is one of the best. When I lived in Colorado I flew out to one of their Nebraska stores regularly just to "SHOP". It was great! Radio the airport 15 minutes out and Cabela's had a van waiting by the time the plane was tied down. The stores themselves are quite an experience and had a great cafeteria. The quality of goods is exceptional. They encourage you to return anything that doesn't live up to expectations. They will take anything back, even years later. I've never returned anything but know a few who have. They do not pay me to endorse them. I just do because my experience has been good products, good prices, good backing, great service and prompt shipping. Now that I live in California, it's a bit far for a Cessna hop but I still order products from them on a regular basis.

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Digital Cameras

Thinking about a digital camera? Don't waste your money on magapixels or features you won't ever use. Anything above 2 megapixels is usually worthless as many photo editing software packages will degrade the image in the process of shrinking it to a size that fits on your screen. All 'zooms' are not created equal. If a cameras ability to zoom-in is something you are looking for, pick a sign or something in the back of the store and compare its clarity at maximum zoom. If you have any questions feel free to ask. See below for the more on the photo side of the digital boon. Personal preference,... the Olympus C7xx series. Superior zoom. Superior everything.

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Digital Photos (and scans)

OK. You have that digital camera. You install the software that came with it. You also may have some stuff from Microsoft that came with your PC designed for editing digital photos. Be forwarned. All photo editors have their strengths. And most have incredible weaknesses. Some will increase the file size* with every edit (sometimes doubling, tripling or even more) without increasing the photo size or quality. Some work well for simple editing but degrade the quality severely with each resizing or resave of the image. Some degrade the original image just by adding text, borders or drawings.
ArcSoft Photo Studio or Adobe Photoshop are other products on the market. Each has its own learning curve, terminology and weaknesses. Microsoft** has a variety of photo editing products and there are others.
In my opinion, these are all junk because they have all forgotten the basics of image optimization. Tons of features, yes, but your friends are going to hate you for sending them a crap photo that is 5 meg over email.

* Many of the products will expand a 40K jpg into a 200K jpg without increasing visual size or quality. Try them if you like, hope they don't degrade your photos. If you do web sites, size can become a big problem and really slow things down. There is a Freeware editor called Irfan View (check the link). Irfanview works better than anything I have ever tried for editing or resizing images without destroying the image quality. Excellent for creating thumbnails. Irfanview was created by a college student in Bosnia as a class project. Since its initial release (10 years ago) it has been updated and enhanced many times. Best of all it is FREE and you can download plugins for many other filetypes. It gets better all the time and it is still simple, logical and straight-forward to use. This guy has more brains than most when it comes to digital image software. Irfanview doesn't do EVERYTHING, yet, but is getting better all the time.

** Beside the usual problems I had with Microsoft products like PictureIt there was another horrible feature. The tendency to save previously lowercase file names as upper case. And when you list pic.gif or pic.GIF, Microsoft software lists all extensions as "FILETYPE file" without regard to case sensitivity. It doesn't really pose a problem on your own machine but when you start putting your files on the web, where case sensitivity matters, you quickly learn that just because your webpages test fine locally, they do not work once they've been placed on an internet server. Another thing for advanced users to be aware of.

PC performance Tip

In some cases it may be better to leave USB devices that are not often used unplugged. When the system detects these during startup, it may load additional drivers and software that use up memory and system resources. Scanners may turn on and off while performing an unnecessary check cycle each time the PC is started.

For a plethora of PC tips and other fun stuff visit the Jeff Levy on Computers website.

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Cat Food

I'd have to pick IAMS. My Squeeker Kitty Baby is 23 years old and her health amazes the vet at each visit. She has been an IAMS cat all her life. You can ser her at my The Crew page. If IAMS is this good for cats, it may be good for your other pets as well. And don't forget the following review regarding 'OUTPUT', hehe.

Cat Litter

BEST: Smart & Final's Smarty. Also one of the most inexpensive at $6 for 25 pounds.

NEXT: Swheat Scoop. - A product made from wheat. Clumps pretty good. Not very expensive and is lightweight which is good for people who don't want to lug around those heavy bags, boxes or buckets in their sport-cars.

Cheapest: Target Stores Pet Essentials - Works moderately well at half the price of most other products. If you are at a Target store, you can get the 28 lb box for around 5 or 6 bucks. Works 10 times better than the higher priced garbage listed below.

From good to bad: PaPurr Scoop. - A product made from recycled paper. Earlier formulations were very fine grained. It clumped well and tracking wasn't a problem. Now, some if the granules are the size of marbles and seem to follow the cat out of the box. It doesn't clump well and has gotten to be a real mess.

WORST: ExquisiCat - The clumping type doesn't clump. The aggregate (like many of the popular brands) is so fine that about all you get is dust and tracking. They also have an "Advanced Scoop"
formula. Costs more. The granules are so large they don't filter through the scooper
and it still sticks to kitty feet and tracks all over the place.

WORSE than WORST: Feline Pine (and other wood products)- Whoever came up with this idea? The pellets turn to sawdust when wet and the foul glop sticks to everything including your cats feet and the scooper. It stinks and it sticks. Clean-up is a joke.

Most wood products also irritate the respiratory systems of many animals and people and should not be used around children, dogs, cats or rodents. Bad for humans, bad for pets. This stuff is known to kill guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits. Cedars and other "oily" wood products sold in pet stores are carcinogens and simply should not be used. Sure, some of them smell nice but they can cause serious respiratory damage. The FDA should warn consumers about this.

From BEST to Worst: Dr. Elsey's Precious Cat. This brand was at the top of my list years ago. The new formula is slow to absorb. So slow that even if you pile it 4 inches deep, the wet stuff goes all the way to the bottom and doesn't clump until it welds itself to the bottom of the litter box. It is still one of the most expensive. They got a reputation for quality, then they switched to crap to save money hoping the consumer wouldn't notice.

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