Coffee heat rising

Angie’s List Class Action: Of Interest!

Here’s a little gem about Angie’s List that I just (quite literally!) stumbled upon: Angie’s List has agreed upon a settlement in a class action suit about their deceptive rankings practice. By now you surely know that when you search for, say, a plumber in your neighborhood, the order in which the listings appear does not reflect the exuberance with which customers rhapsodize about their plumbers but rather the amount the vendors are willing to pay Angie’s List.

Yes. You pay to get your business to appear at the top of the search results.

Don’t believe me? Less than ten days ago, a business owner filed this report at Consumer Affairs:

As a business, we get multiple calls per month to advertise with Angie’s in order to put our business in the spotlight. We do not advertise our business on Angie’s List. 3 top complaints: We received a negative review. I researched all the information provided in the review, I could not find the customer or address in our database. I’m not sure if someone accidentally posted to the wrong company or if someone was deliberately posting a false review. When I called A.L. to discuss, they said if they cannot reach the reviewer, they cannot remove the review. Eventually it was removed;

I saw a review that did not make sense. I spoke to our customer who wrote the review and she said A.L. contacted her and said to stay at a lower subscription price, she was required to make a certain number of reviews. So she quickly posted reviews to meet her requirements; Most recently, we received a call saying effective August 1, 2016, that our company will have minimal visibility. This is because we do not advertise with Angie’s List.

The beginning purpose of the company was homeowner based, driven by homeowners that paid a fee to write a review for the sake of other homeowners. Then it was about which businesses paid for more exposure. Now, to make things even worse, non subscriber “homeowner” users can comment which opens A.L. to abuse of the ratings system by an unlimited number of false reviews.

—b. of Pittsburgh, PA, on August 16, 2016

These points dovetail neatly with what my painter told me, a couple years ago, about what he has to pay to get himself listed in the first few pages of an A.L. search.

This, of course, renders Angie’s List pretty much useless for the consumer’s purposes. You can go to Yelp for questionable rankings and reviews — without having to pay for the privilege.

So I had already decided, earlier this year, not to re-up for Angie’s list when the subscription comes up for renewal in December.

Then, along comes an e-mail from Angie’s List informing me that they’re changing their terms of service to accommodate a new system whereby you have to choose from several “plans” to get a specific level of access to reviews and data. Of course, the more you want to know about a vendor, the more you have to pay… And the new ToS included some onerous privacy invasions, too.

First off, I see that they have automatically enrolled me in the priciest plan!

Then, come to find out, in order to finish out the year I’ve already paid for, I have to click “I accept” the obnoxious new ToS!!!

I don’t think so.

So I contact their chat staff and tell them I wish to discontinue my service and want a refund.

Saying I’m done with Angie’s List launches an aggressive campaign to keep me from leaving. They now demand that I explain myself: why exactly do I want to leave? Daring to say you don’t trust them and you resent being co-opted into an expensive new “plan” launches still more resistance. Finally I think I get rid of them.

But no. Yesterday I find them still pestering me.

During yesterday’s exchange, I said I wanted a prorated refund of the amount I paid last December. It’s only August, so they have four months worth of “dues” that I will not be able to use — even if I wanted to. Another lengthy argument ensues. I have to contact chat personoids twice.  The second one tells me they have refunded the money to my credit card.

Now A.L.’s machinery sends me a form email reporting that they’ve refunded $9.17, all right: to my defunct Costco AMEX card. And since I resisted being switched to Citigroup, that means they threw $9.17 into a black hole.

I contact another chatbot. She informs me that they have to refund to the “channel” through which it was paid. I say there is no channel. She says oh, don’t worry: it’ll just show up on your Citigroup Visa. I say I don’t have a CG Visa. She is now stymied and basically says, not in so many words, so go fuck yourself.

THEN to add insult to injury, along comes a machine generated “survey” again demanding that I explain myself and asking how I liked their customer service!!!!!

So I tell them how I liked their customer service, none too graciously, and go about my business.

Within an hour, along comes an e-mail containing THIS communiqué:

Current or former members of Angie’s List, Inc. may benefit from a proposed Class Action Settlement.

To login and file your Claim on the Settlement Website, please use the Member ID Number and PIN Number, shown below.

Member ID Number: NNN9258
PIN Number: 888P68KAJ7

A proposed settlement has been reached with Angie’s List, Inc. (“Angie’s List”) in connection with three putative class action lawsuits focusing on Angie’s List’s acceptance of advertising payments from service providers, and whether those payments affect service providers’ letter-grade ratings, reviews, and place in search-result rankings. Angie’s List denies Plaintiffs’ claims, including denying that advertising revenue can affect ratings or the content of reviews in any way and asserting that it discloses that it receives revenue from certain service providers who are rated highly by members and further discloses that such revenue can affect the order of search-result rankings under certain settings. The Court has not decided who is right. In order to avoid the expense and risks of continuing the lawsuit, the Parties agreed to a proposed class settlement.

Who’s Included? You received this email because Angie’s List’s records show that you may be a member of the Settlement Class. You are a member of the Settlement Class if you were a paying member of Angie’s List at any time between March 11, 2009, and July 12, 2016.

What Are the Settlement Terms? Settlement Class Members who submit a timely and valid Claim Form may choose: (1) an estimated cash payment of $5 and/or $10 (subject to a possible pro rata adjustment upwards or downwards) depending on the timing of their membership and the number of valid Claims submitted; or (2) one free month of membership to Angie’s List for each full year he or she paid for membership during the relevant periods (up to a maximum limit). Angie’s List also has agreed to expand upon the disclosures about service provider advertising made in its Frequently Asked Questions on its website and in its Membership Agreement.

How Can I Get a Payment or Membership Benefit? You can quickly file a Claim online at or by clicking here. You can also download and print the Claim Form from the website.  You must file your Claim Form so that it is received (if submitted electronically) or postmarked (if submitted by mail) by November 15, 2016.

Your Other Options. If you do not want to be legally bound by the settlement, you must exclude yourself by October 24, 2016. If you do not exclude yourself, you will release any claims you may have against Angie’s List, as more fully described in the Settlement Agreement, available at the Settlement Website. You may also object to the settlement by October 24, 2016. The Long Form Notice available on the website listed below explains how to exclude yourself or to object. The Court will hold a Hearing on December 5, 2016 to consider whether to approve the settlement and a request for payment of attorneys’ fees and expenses of no more than $937,500 and for service awards of $12,500 to be shared by the three class representatives. You may appear at the hearing, either yourself or through an attorney hired by you, but you don’t have to. For more information, call 1-888-293-9919, or visit the website listed below.

For more information about the settlement, please visit, which includes a full copy of the Settlement Agreement and a more detailed description of the settlement and other important information. Please check the Settlement Website for updates and further information.            1-888-293-9919

SOURCE: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Well. I think it’s spam, of course: some sort of phishing. So I look it up on the Internet, and by golly! It is the real thing. Shoofing around, I discover that about what you’ll get back is $10.

But that’s fine. It covers the amount Angie’s List owes me.

If you’re an Angie’s List member, you may be entitled to a little something for the deception they worked on you, too: here’s the place to file a claim:

And here are the details:

Deadline is November 15.


Countertop Oven as Fire Hazard?

So Mrs. JestJack advises that the proposed countertop oven may be a fire hazard. This sounds like a reasonable proposition, because a) they’re kind of dinky things and b) they’re not actually major appliances and so may be able to slide under whatever codes exist relevant to, say, a built-in oven. And of course, c) just like everything else, they’re no doubt made in China, where safety codes are irrelevant.

This warrants some exploring around.

In the first place, I discovered that those who know anything about fire & smoke alarms recommend a heat alarm in the garage, not a smoke alarm. The reason is kinda obvious: your car puts out a lot of particulate exhaust, and besides, it’s dusty in a garage.

Both of those apply: every time Gerardo and his guys are tromping around, they blower dirt into the air and into the garage. Monsoon winds do the same — the aged garage door has a gap all around it, and dust flows in at the slightest breeze.

Guys talking to each other at an electrician’s forum seem to favor what’s called a “rate of rise” heat alarm for a garage: one that’s less likely to be set off by summer temperatures. I wonder how you find such a thing? It gets hotter than a two-dollar cookstove out there in the summertime…and…heh…since a two-dollah cookstove is what we’re about to install, we have a problem. FEMA prefers a hard-wired heat alarm. Now, I suspect, we’re beginning to push this project past the cost-effectiveness barrier… I don’t know what such an alarm costs, but my electrician seems to have retired — his phone has gone away — and hiring someone to install such a thing sounds like it will costs some serious dollars.

Searching for countertop oven + fire hazard, one finds that one big offender is Black  & Decker. Kiyipes!! Complaints are recent, and they’re very serious:

Timer did not turn off heating element. Entire unit in flames and smoke.

The unit was blowing the circuit breaker in my house. The unit also caught on fire when trying to toast 2 English muffins. The rear heating element bar on the bottom caught fire in the middle and I burned my right arm while putting out the fire.

[uhmmm…HELL-o… Why would you keep using an electric appliance that repeatedly blew the circuit breakers? Is there an IQ here?]

…turned on the toaster oven and everything sounded normal. Then a few minutes later a loud explosion happened where all of the glass on the door and the door handle violently exploded outward.

[This person included a photo of the offending appliance, as did several others.]

I started to heat some pre-made corn tortilla taco shells in the toaster oven. After about 4 minutes I noticed there was a fire in the oven. I had to unplug, and with towels carried it to the bathtub where I had to spray with water. My 2 nearest smoke detectors were going full blast but I had to continue to spray the fire out.

[Man but people do some stupid things when confronted with a fire!]

It has caught on fire, not once, but twice!! The first time it happened, I thought that it occurred because there was too much grease. Cleaned my oven thoroughly and then it happened again!

The exploding doors story appears four times here…and I haven’t even begun to scroll all the way down through the page. One of the Black & Decker models blew up all over a lady’s dog, spraying the animal with molten glass.

Hmmm… Here are a few posts that suggest unplugging small appliances when they’re not in use, the principle being the same: electric appliances in general are fire hazards. This one looks pretty good: it notes that there’s been a lot of fire-related recalls of toasters and toaster ovens, and suggests they always be unplugged when not in use. “Safety experts found that when the appliances are connected to an electrical outlet, the heating element could energize and impose a fire hazard. If the appliance is near flammable items, it can also cause fires through combustible ignition.” Date’s not given…but it surely sounds believable.

Good Housekeeping (same source, down a page) says Breville’s toaster ovens receive the best ratings, both from GH and from consumers. Apparently Panasonic is way up there. In another post, GH says they recommend Kenmore (not on your life: the offending wall oven is a Kenmore) and Breville. But I think they’re talking about toaster ovens (the kind you lay pieces of toast in to toast flat) rather than countertop convection ovens, which function like a real, regular oven.

ohh-kayy…here’s the National Fire Prevention Association on “home fires involving cooking equipment.” This looks one helluva lot more credible. Click on that link for the report!

Good grief:

Overall, cooking equipment was involved in 45% of reported home fires, 17% of home fire deaths and 42% of reported home fire injuries. Ranges, with or without ovens, account for the majority (61%) of reported home structure fires involving cooking equipment and even larger shares of associated civilian deaths (86%) and civilian injuries (78%). Unattended equipment is the leading cause of cooking fires. More than half (54%) of nonfatal civilian cooking fire injuries occurred when the victims tried to fight the fire themselves.

That last figure’s not surprising, after reading some of the stupidity self-reported in the Black & Decker whinges, above.

Folks. Let’s have a little common sense interlude here. When something catches on fire in your house, GET THE HELL OUT OF THE HOUSE.

Better — far better — that your house should burn down to the ground than that you should end up in the hospital or dead. Fire fighting is something best left to professionals.

Okay, back to the question at hand: This is pretty interesting:

Households that use electric ranges have a higher risk of cooking fires and associated losses than those using gas ranges. Although 60% of households cook with electricity, 80% of the ranges or cooktops involved in reported cooking fires were powered by electricity.

The rate of reported fires was 2.7 times higher for electric ranges than for gas ranges. Civilian injuries and direct property loss were 4.1 times higher for households using electric ranges!

Geez. Who’d’ve thunk it?

This is big:

Unattended cooking was the leading factor in cooking fires. Unattended equipment was a factor in one-third (34%) of reported home cooking fires and almost half (46%) of the associated deaths. Abandoned or discarded material, which may be related to unattended equipment, was a factor in 11%.

Kinda obvious, of course. But…who hasn’t gone off and left the turkey baking? Or turned away from the stove to attend to a screaming kid?

Cooking equipment is the leading cause of home structure fires and associated civilian injuries and was the third leading cause of home fire deaths during this period.

Well, I suppose that’s not surprising, either. Faulty wiring, I imagine, has got to be a big risk, maybe even more so than cooking indoors. And of course, the ever-popular stupidity: candles next to drapes, going off and leaving a room heater on, that kind of thing.

Okay, here’s a report that claims toaster ovens are hazardous, at least by comparison to microwaves. I don’t know what this site, Take Part, is. But the author cites the same NFPA report to the effect that “toasters or toaster ovens caused nearly half of the 3,000 reported household fires involving “portable cooking or warming devices”—more than woks, more than your countertop grill, more than deep fryers, and way more than microwaves….” This is derived from data presented in a graph, and I’m not at all convinced it’s a correct interpretation. Take Part also claims the problem is food residue and grease left in the appliance, which also isn’t exactly what the report says — NFPA makes a generalization, not a statement specific to portable heating and cooking devices. I think the conclusion that toaster ovens per se are any more dangerous than other appliances cannot really be drawn from the NFPA report. Ranges and cooktops, according to the figures presented, are by far more guilty of causing household fires.

Okay. Here’s what I believe to be the takeaway messages here:

Shell out the cash to buy a high-rated brand, such as Breville or Kitchenaid.
Avoid Black & Decker!
Do not place the countertop oven near anything flammable.
Unplug the oven when it’s not in use.
Keep an eye on it: do not leave it unattended while it’s on. (This would mean you can’t bake bread, cook a casserole, or roast a chicken in one of the things.)
Clean the device carefully every time you use it. Remove all grease and crumbs after each use.
Be sure there’s a functioning smoke or heat alarm in the vicinity.
Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.

Most of those things, except maybe leaving it unplugged most of the time, seem kinda commonsensical. I doubt if you’d burn the house down if you followed these guidelines.

Of Rain, Work, and Chores

Seven-thirty in the morning and it’s pouring. We’re having a “scattered shower.” Pretty unusual at this hour: usually monsoon-season thunderstorms roll through late in the day. If at all, anymore…

But it’ll be nice: should cool things down for an hour or two.

Dreamed up an elaborate chore for myself yesterday: Clean all the kitchen woodwork, since I now have two new kitchen cabinets. Yesterday I got through half the job: scrub down the cabinets with Murphy’s Oil Soap, dry well with a rag as you’re going, then polish with orange oil. So half the kitchen looks pretty darned nice. Today I’ll finish the job.

As I was sitting here yesterday evening contemplating the defunct ovens, I realized I hadn’t cleaned and oiled that cabinetry since before the Adventures in Medical Science began…and that was over two years ago! Holy mackerel.

They’re pretty decently finished and so don’t dry up and warp or anything like that. But they certainly do benefit from periodic maintenance. For reasons I don’t understand, Satan and Proserpine fronted all the cabinetry and doors with pine. They claimed this was to their taste; my guess is it was the cheapest real wood available.

Pine is very soft. It dents and scratches easily.

So the cabinetry, which has got to be pushing 15 years old now, has a lot of little dings. When Charley was a pup, he would try to jump up on the counter — his big old claws scored long dents down one of the lower cabinet doors. The doors under the sink have a mystery mar…I don’t know what it came from, but think maybe I whacked it with a vacuum cleaner. And when I moved in, the panel across the silverware drawer had a bunch of little dents around the drawer pull, where Proserpine’s wedding ring had hit it whenever she opened the drawer. I don’t wear rings, but have found that even a fingernail will inflict a dent.

Oiling the wood disguises these flaws admirably — the cabinets look almost new after they’ve been cleaned and rubbed down. I’ve found that orange oil seems to work best, though lemon oil does the job, too.

Meanwhile, I didn’t do a lick of real work yesterday, except for sending the manuscript to a friend who vaguely agreed to beta-read the thing…before she had a chance to think better of the idea! 🙂

  • I did not post 87 gerjillion ads and plugs to the social media, a chore I loathe.
  • I did not write the introduction.
  • I did not write the two or three chapters that remain to be done.
  • I did not call around to find groups that might let me speak to them (that’s probably premature, anyway).

I did, in short, not work.

I don’t think of household chores as “work” because they’re so unproductive: the job is never done. Write a book, and it’s written. Clean the cabinets, and in another month or two they need to be cleaned again. Housework is a chore — a never-ending chore — because in fact you never accomplish anything.

BrevilleInstead of ordering the proposed countertop oven from Amazon, I believe I’ll drive over to Williams-Sonoma. Although the Oster, the KitchenAid, and the Breville are well reviewed, some people have said they had trouble trying to return or get service on the things that they’d bought through Amazon vendors or through Sur la Table. In the past (anyway…), Williams-Sonoma has had a very strong policy of standing by the stuff they sell.

And… Their price is significantly better. Amazon is peddling the Breville Smart Convection Plus oven for $269; it’s $200 at Williams-Sonoma.

They may have changed the consumer-friendly policy, given their business tribulations. But I’m going over there to ask about it, anyway. If the rain stops by the time I finish cleaning the cabinetry, I may visit them today. Probably will have to order it, which will be good…

Because I sent off an email to the handyman asking about the wattage question JestJack raised yesterday.  The desired Breville oven schleps up 1800 watts. I dunno about that… Anyway, ordering it from W-S will give plenty of time for him to notice my query and answer it. If he says “don’t do that!” then it will be easy to decline to pick it up from a local store: a lot less hassle than shipping it back to Amazon.

Interestingly, there have been more class action suits against Whirlpool over the self-cleaning ovens that you can’t self-clean. The most recent filing I managed to dig up was dated 2014, so presumably if anything came of that it’s too late to make a claim.

But…whenever I have the money (right!!!), I think I’ll have the control panel replaced on the defunct oven, which will be a lot cheaper than replacing the oven. If I’m right in thinking that I won’t need a wall oven in the presence of a countertop unit, then there will be no reason to replace the set. If I ever sell the house, the oven will have to be functional. So whenever it’s fixed, I’ll just turn off the circuit breaker and let it sit. Turn it back on if and when the house ever goes on the market.

Dollars to donuts that’s exactly what Satan and Proserpine did.


Worthy of Note: CFPB

CFPB: That would beConsumer Financial Protection Bureau.” It’s a federal agency that fields complaints about credit card issuers, banks, credit bureaus, and the like. And mirabilis! Apparently they at least try to do something about it.

There’s nothing like the feds to get action when you sic them on a bank. Lo! These many years ago, when the local Arizona bank the ex- and I had patronized for decades was acquired by a faceless national bank, said FNB lost a $20,000 municipal bond belonging to me.

A friend-turned-CFP ill-advised me to buy this thing shortly after the Great Divorce, and it had been in the local bank’s safekeeping since then. Local bank, whose founder we happened to know and whose founder’s daughter (by then a banker herself) had gone to Stanford with the ex-, functioned like a credit union in some important ways. To wit, it had customer service.

Can you imagine?

That went out the door when the mega-bank came in, and so after a year or two of unsatisfactory relations, I told them I wanted that muni bond, because I wanted to move the money elsewhere (by now, I was acting on the advice of my current financial advisors, who happen to be highly excellent).

Believe it or not, they stuck the bond in an envelope, pasted a first-class stamp on it, and DROPPED IT IN THE MAIL!

At least, that’s what they claimed.

When it never showed up, they told me they’d mailed it to me and so it was my problem.

After much frustrating argument, I finally complained to the regional banking commission in San Francisco.

Shortly, a bank factotum showed up in person at my front door with the muni bond in hand.

This, my friends, is why you need the federal government on your side.

Take a look at some of these hilarious fiascos. For better entertainment value, enter a search term on that page: Citibank Visa. 😀

Interesting, on their unfiltered page, how many of these complaints are targeted at credit bureaus.

Oh well. Take note: this could be a useful resource someday.

Cox Wheedled Down; Phone Solicitors Walloped

BlackPhone…for the time being, anyway. Learning that La Maya and La Bethulia, who live less than a block from the Funny Farm, get cable as well as Internet and a land line for the same amount I pay for no cable, I called up Cox and whined until they gave me a nice deal: $30 less a month AND “selective call blocking” AND “anonymous call rejection.” Between you ‘n’ me, I was willing to pay extra for these in hopes foiling at least some of the damned phone solicitors. The best I expected was a wash. So I felt like I came out a winner to get both of those and a cut in the monthly bill.

I get about a half-dozen nuisance calls a day from damned phone solicitors. Don’t answer them — they listen to my interminable voicemail message until their machine hangs up — but still is really an annoying nuisance.

The kind of work I do is abstract, difficult, often very complicated, and it requires me to focus. A jangling phone interrupts my concentration and the aggravation breaks my train of thought. Some of what I do is painfully boring and all I want to do is get THROUGH with it. Any distraction means that much longer it’s going to take to get done with the project.

A half-dozen such distractions is really beyond the pale.

1896_telephoneCox’s call blocking service is limited to 30 numbers. Phone scammers spoof numbers and change them all the time, so you soon run out of space — which is annoying. There is a program — a free one approved by the FCC — called NoMoRobo, but naturally Cox refuses to accept it. Cox claims this is because its system doesn’t support a needed feature called “simultaneous ringing,” which is ridiculous because they provide it for business customers. Probably, like the deservedly defunct Qwest, they sell residential numbers to phone solicitors.

However…as I was chatting with Cox’s exceptionally helpful CSR, she remarked that most phone solicitors, including those that call from 800 numbers and that spoof numbers, use caller ID blocking. One possible solution, she suggested, is to combine “selective call blocking,” which allows you to block up to 30 numbers from specified callers, with “anonymous call rejection,” which blocks calls from phones with caller ID blocking.

So yesterday I signed up for these.

Along about 10:00 this morning, it dawned on me that I hadn’t gotten a nuisance phone call. They usually start around 8 a.m.

From what I see in the various forums habituated by Cox users, selective call blocking and selective call rejection are far from perfect. The perps’ software soon figures out what you’re doing and finds ways to foil you. And with room to block only 30 numbers, they quickly overwhelm this service.

The FCC gave NoMoRobo’s developers an award, and users say it is the most effective way to foil nuisance phone calls. So it’s infuriating that a major telecommunications company like Cox refuses to accommodate it.

Today only one phone solicitor got around the two blocking features. If and when the bastards start getting through again, it looks like the alternative will be to sign up with Ooma, a VoIP system that does provide NoMoRobo. Abigail over at I Pick Up Pennies highly recommends it — last time I talked with her, she said their bill is never over $5 a month. Even Ooma’s business service is only $10 a month, a far cry from Cox’s gouge…and lookit this! They’ll even help promote your business on the freaking Internet!

Anyway, I got one call all day long, from the outfit that calls once a day claiming to represent a breast cancer charity and talks over my voicemail message to ask, “Is the lady of the house there?” They’re now the first number in the selective call blocker. Not a one of the others have managed to get through!

So I guess I’ll give Cox one more chance. If this complicated, nuisancey scheme doesn’t work, then it’s good-bye Cox, hello Ooma.


Totally retro black phone (can you believe I used to have a phone like this?): By Kornelia und Hartmut Häfele, CC BY-SA 3.0,
1896 phone: By 1906 Kungliga Telegrafverkets apparater (Royal Telegraph Administration apparatus) at Project Runeberg. Public domain.



What Happened to Consumer Reports?

Harveyballs_red_black_modificationY’know, I haven’t read a Consumer Reports in years. Occasionally I’ll look at Consumerist, a related website, but I do not pay to access Consumer’s Union product reviews online. A few days ago, The Atlantic commented on the apparent decline of the venerable magazine, noting that it hasn’t done well in the computer age. The Atlantic itself being in a bit of a decline (IMHO), the article wasn’t very deep, although its author, Paul Hiebert, did ruminate on a study that pointed out some rather obvious differences between CR’s involved, systematic, and highly comparative reviews with the off-the-cuff user reviews you see online and cited the public’s tendency to give undue credence to online reviewers.

More telling were the comments to the article, in which readers complained about CR’s political biases (and yea verily, many a review there is informed by one sort of political correctness or another), about the paywall blocking access to information that can be had for free elsewhere, about the drop in quality of CR‘s content… and in amongst those comments is a reply from one of the magazine’s former editors, pointing readers to two articles describing the dissatisfaction of the many former staffers and the disgust of a former reader.

To that I’d have to say “yup.” Consumer Reports lost me the time SDXB and I purchased the same model of high-end Hoover vacuum, enthusiastically high-rated in the magazine. At the time, he was living in a house a block from mine. He could get into the Base Exchange at Luke Air Force Base, and when he came home with his, I noted his delight with it. A week or two later I bought one for myself at Sears.

My standards for vacuum cleaners are high but not astronomical. I had a German shepherd and needed the thing to extract dog hair from Berber-style synthetic carpeting that was easy to clean. SDXB liked his house clean but was not what you’d call Suzie Homemaker (not if you wanted to live, anyway…).

I found myself not very pleased with the machine’s performance. It was sad compared with my old Hoover, which had died of old age. But I’d spent a lot of money on this top-rated machine, so I stuck with it.

A year or so later, within two or three days of each other, both machines dropped dead! It was altogether too clear that we were looking at planned obsolescence. He had figured out by then that the things left a lot to be desired (like, say, quality). I had never been nuts about mine but was amazed when both machines broke in identical ways. They were just shoddily made.

So are consumers crazy to put more faith in Amazon reviews than in the decrepit Consumer Reports?

I doubt it. Most of us know that a lot of 4- and 5-star reviews are written by shills. We all know that many of the 1-star reviews are actually complaints about delivery or customer service. As grown-ups, we can generally parse out a pretty clear view of the typical consumer experience by reading enough reviews and winnowing out the ones that don’t appear to be a) real and b) valid.

Many of Hiebert’s commenters enunciated what we said just a few weeks ago: they start with the 3-star reviews, then peruse the lower- and higher-rating reviews. With the most credible-looking of all these in mind, they form a kind of “big picture” of what consumer experience is likely to be for a given product. Scientific? No. As good as the OLD Consumer Reports‘ hands-on testing? Probably not. But just now it seems to be better than whatever else is out there.

Consumer Reports modification of Harvey Balls. By Stephen Schulte.