Coffee heat rising

Why You Need a Call Blocker

…and why telecoms should be required by law to provide the NoMoRobo call  blocker

Did you see this amazing story? Police in India busted a ring of 61 crooks who were in the business of calling Americans, impersonating IRS agents, and threatening the marks with arrest if they didn’t pony up “late” taxes. This scam has been around for awhile, and it’s had enough press that you’d think most people would be wise to it. But no: apparently it’s true that there’s one born every day. According to Homeland Security, this merry bunch collected $3 million from feckless phone customers.

In Mumbai, $3 million goes a mighty long way…

These crooks called me at least three times that I know of before I installed the CRP V5000 call blocker that I ordered up from Amazon. Since then, they haven’t been able to get through long enough to choke out even a few words of their pitch.

US telecoms refuse to install NoMoRobo

A powerful, effective system developed over the past couple of years is called NoMoRobo. This is the only call blocking program approved by the Federal Trade Commission, which awarded its makers a prize and urged all US phone companies to make it available to customers.

Telecoms responded by failing to do so. In my parts, Cox will make it available to business customers but refuses to extend the same courtesy to home customers. This, despite figures showing that in 2016 alone, American consumers were bombarded by 2.4 billion robocalls per month! Obviously, they wish not to cut off a flow of cash from these scammers — there really is no other rational explanation.

NoMoRobo is now available for cell phones, including the iPhone, at a nominal monthly cost. To get it on a land line, you’ll need to switch to VoIP, dropping your regular telecom provider. Ooma is one service that offers NoMoRobo. To do this, you’ll need some tech proficiency — not a lot, apparently, but still, some degree of DIY is involved. Most people are pleased with NoMoRobo, which blocks nuisance calls effectively enough to make any extra cost or hassle worthwhile.

So how else can you defend yourself against robocall scammers?

There are other options. For your landline, the CRP V5000 (which comes with 5,000 pre-programmed blocked numbers) is only one of nine highly rated in-line call blockers available on Amazon.

I remain very pleased with the device, BTW. The company’s customer service can’t be beat. And though it’s a little inconvenient to ride herd on the spoofed calls and the out-of-area calls to be sure you don’t accidentally block a legitimate call, it sure as hell improves on upwards of a half-dozen nuisance calls a day.

For your smartphone, here are ten recommended call blockers that run on Android. As of late 2016, we were told a number of new apps for the iPhone were forthcoming; more recently, the Mr. Number call blocker & reverse lookup has racked up 4½ stars at the Apple store.

The only way to defeat these crooks and pests is to take their market away from them. The most effective way to do that, of course, is to force telecom companies to provide a proven technology, NoMoRobo. In the absence of government rules to enforce that, though, about the best you can do is install your own call blocker. Given the risk of fraud, to say nothing of the constant invasion of privacy and interruption of your daily life, you should get one of these systems now. Not later.

Real Estate, Money, and Style

So the handsome young Mega-Church Audio Engineer, who apparently earns a fairly decent living if the cars he and his wife drive are any indication, has put his house on the market. This two-child couple are classic urban upwardly mobile folk, the sort who buy in an aging neighborhood like ours and, bless’em, handsomely fix up decrepit houses that they perceive a) as better built than the present ticky-tack and b) quaintly Mid-Century Modern.

The house they bought was a crumbling rental right behind the house SDXB  used to live in.

The original owners, a reclusive pair who had lived there for at least a couple of decades, were thought to be mother and son. Whatever they were, they were quiet but strange: good old-fashioned slobs. They let the place run down year after year after year.

Way. Way. Waaaaaayyyy down.

Eventually they sold the place to the Perp, a guy who turned our neighborhood into his personal rental empire by converting every home he could grab from elderly original owners, who had no idea they were giving away their property for a fraction of its real value. The Perp did a little do-it-yourself fix-up, filled in the nonfunctional swimming pool, and rented it to some serious sh!theads. The last of his tenants was a guy who abused his children so violently that the neighbors across the street sold their home to get away from the sound of the screaming. They announced — to the Perp himself as well as everyone else — that the abuse was upsetting their own children so much they could no longer live there.

SDXB was up on his roof doing some shingle repairs, when he glanced down into the guy’s backyard and noticed the sh!thead had penned two young puppies in a cage out in the glaring 100-degree sun. He reported this to the Perp, who lived next door to him at the time. SDXB announced that if he saw this again he was going to call the SPCA.

But he didn’t have to: when the neighbor across the street made his announcement that he was moving because of the child abuse, the Perp (to his credit) (I guess) told his charming tenant that if he heard one more word of any such shenanigans, he was going to report them to Child Protective Services. By dawn the following morning, tenant, wife, and bruised children were gone, disappeared into the shimmering mirages of the Cadillac desert.

Shortly thereafter, Perp sold the house to a couple who took up residence there like normal people. The wife was a kind of DIY decorator who liked to do fix-up, and they did improve the place considerably. Not enough to where it looked like a normal house, but better. Much better. Amazingly, they excavated the pool. But they never so much as touched the decrepit, feral front yard.

They divorced. The wife got custody of the house. She turned it into a rental again and moved to California. Not surprisingly, the deterioration resumed.

What a wreck it was! And it’s right at the entry into our neighborhood, so anyone who was coming to look at a house for sale in our area saw, first thing out of the box, this slum property. Needless to say, our property values did not soar into the stratosphere.

Finally, along comes the present young couple. They get the house, and the first thing they do is shovel out the gawdawful landscaping. They, as it develops, are no-nonsense gentrifiers. After several years of painting and clean-up and pool renovation and interior restoration — much of it on a DIY or barn-raising basis, the house looks pretty darned nice.

Nice, but not gaudy.

Just a few days ago, they put the house on the market. They want $429,500 for it!!!

What are they smoking?

Some Biblical weed, apparently: last August they listed it for $399,500; about two weeks later they dropped the price by 20 grand, and then they took it off the market in October.

Not, when you come down to it, the antics of someone in his right mind.

Zillow thinks my house is worth about $317,000. His is the same model as mine; he’s persuaded Zillow that it’s worth $367,241…possibly by overstating the square footage. He’s claiming it’s 167 square feet larger than mine, suggesting he’s probably counting the garage in the livable space…which is illegal. Oh well.

I imagine this spate of grandiosity is inspired by the Amazing Starburst of the fix-up around the corner.

This vintage (real!) Mid-Century Modern babe was bought by professional fix-and-flippers after the ancient old guy who lived there finally passed away. It’s huge: 5 bedrooms, and the original owners converted the garage into a gigantic TV room, thereby manufacturing 2861 square feet in which to raise their several children.

The kids grew up. The wife died. The Old Guy lived out his life in the house, deaf as a stone, with his two miniature schnauzers. They had bushy gray mustaches. He had a bushy gray mustache. Pretty adorable bunch.

The speculators ran amok in upgrading the place. It looks like they put in top-quality stuff, and the style is Late Urban Loft. It’s quite a production…

It’s a little hard-edged for my taste. They painted all the woodwork, throughout, black. But you have to allow: it’s just the thing for a young couple, straight or gay. And young couples, straight or gay, are exactly the future residents we old-timers in the ‘hood covet.

Okay, so hang onto your hat: They want $624,950 for the thing.

HOLY shee-ut! We have arrived in Richistan!

After contemplating these phenomena, I came home and looked around the Funny Farm.

Could this $317,000 shack really be worth something over 400 grand? Hmmm…

Not much has been done to it since I moved in, about 13 years ago. Compared to the Richerati Moderne around the corner, it’s beginning to look a little shabby. Needs new paint, inside and out. Its handsome cabinetry and black appliances (and its oven that dies if you dare to turn on the broiler) are…well…getting a bit dated.

But it occurs to me that with minimal painting on the inside — minimal as in even I could do it myself — the place could be made to look a lot more up-to-date.

Fortunately, my friend Elaine, who chose the paint colors for this place, had a real flair for style. The color scheme was well ahead of its time. Those fancy new houses are painted in shades of gray and pale beige. So, interestingly, is the Funny Farm. The difference is, the living room is a sort of swamp green — well, that’s what we called it. It has an accent wall in swamp blue — a kind of deep aquamarine, sort of dusky blue-green. The hallway and adjacent accent wall in the dining room is this crazy Mexican orange, something I came up with and have loved a lot, but that I do recognize is pretty idiosyncratic.

If I were to paint the swamp blue wall in the living room that soft color of green (one of these houses has a wall in a very similar color) and then paint the hallway and dining-room accent wall the very lovely ivory white (almost beige but not quite) that inhabits the dining room, the family room, and the kitchen, that would bring the interior color scheme right up to date.

There’s not a thing I can do about the kitchen and bathroom cabinets and countertops. It might not cost that much to replace the counters with granite, but new cabinetry would run upwards of $15,000 or $20,000, which I surely couldn’t afford. Probably couldn’t afford updated countertops, either.

The exterior needs a whole new paint job, and that is going to cost $4,000 or more. The paint around the slab has crumbled away — it needs to be scraped off and the cracks sealed, a certifiable bitch of a job. I’ve really liked the colors and would probably just repaint in the same shades, except for the chimney. But all of the paint has faded, and so everything, walls, trim, chimney, you name it, would have to be repainted.

Interior painting I can manage myself. Exterior: not a chance.

But four hundred thousand dollah? Seriously? That’s almost twice as much as I paid for the place.

The neighbors and I think we’re looking at another housing bubble. These prices are completely out of proportion to what the houses are: 1960s and 70s tract homes elbow-to-elbow with not one but two dangerous slums.

But one could argue that we’re looking at gentrification of yet another close-in middle-class neighborhood, movin’ on up…and turbocharged by the ultra-stylish, über-urban light-rail line. For all its impracticality and all the unlikelihood that any of them are going to use it on a regular basis, the hipsters romanticize that light-rail to a high pitch.

The historic Encanto district, where the ex- and I lived after we married, gentrified just like this shortly after we moved there, and it has never un-gentrified. The house we paid $33,000 for is on the  market, as we scribble, for $824,900.

So…anything’s possible. I guess.

Beautiful Toes! How to beat back toenail fungus

This is a tacky topic. Sorry. BUT…it really is so amazing, I’ve just gotta tell you about it. According to Wonder-Dermatologist, if you don’t need to know about this now, sooner or later you will.

Here’s the deal: It turns out that as you age, your immune system ages (not surprisingly). And as your immune system ages, its ability to beat back the normal yeasties and other fungus critters that occur naturally around us tends to…well…fade. Hence — Gawd Help Us! — toenail fungus!

So a few weeks ago, I’m at the dermatologist’s office forking over some taxpayer dollars to be told (as usual) that I don’t have malignant melanoma, so while I have him trapped in the examining room, I ask him about the nails that are lifting off both toes, “Fungus,” he opines.

Then he says the drug they give you to beat back toenail fungus can make you passing sick, and he doesn’t recommend it. BUT, he has an alternative. He suggests

…hang onto your hat…

Vick’s VapoRub.

I give him The Look.

He stands his ground and says that there’s evidence that the aromatics in Vick’s are mildly fungicidal, and that if you use it often enough and long enough, it will beat back nail fungus and keep it beaten back.

Suspecting he’s been smoking some of the ingredients, I come home and look it up in the Hypchondriac’s Treasure Chest; to wit, the Internet. Of course, the usual LiveStrong woo-woo is on the float. But lo!! I do find a study, one that appears to be a real study, published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. It’s a very small study — that is not good — but it does hint at the possibility of positive results.

The researchers followed a group of 18 participants over periods of 4, 8, 12, 24, 36, and 48 weeks, during which subjects were asked to treat affected nails with Vick’s VapoRub and periodically self-report the results on a 5-point Likert scale. Cutting to the chase: about a third of them — five patients — experienced a “cure” in that the fungal microbes were no longer detectable after treatment. (Several fungi can cause nail disorders; one is a common yeast infection and another is also very much in our environment — these two and only these two were found to have been eradicated by the end of the study.) Ten had a partial improvement, and three showed no improvement.

Yet — here’s the weird part — when asked to assess the results subjectively, all 18 participants “rated their satisfaction with the nail appearance at the end of the study as ‘satisfied’ (n = 9) or ‘very satisfied’ (n = 9).”

Okayyy….this looks like a “nothing ventured nothing gained” affair. The dermatologist said that if it worked, keeping the fungi at bay would require applying the stuff for the rest of my life. But why, I ask myself, not?

Meanwhile, I also learn that miconazole is sometimes prescribed for nail infections. Well, hell. Miconazole is available over the counter — gents, you can find it in the feminine products department of any grocery store or drugstore. It’s used to treat vaginal yeast infections. Just pretend you’re buying it for the wife.

If one’s good, two must be better, I figure.

So I buy a course of miconazole treatment — 3 vaginal suppository tubes of 3% cream plus a small tube of 2% cream for external use — plus a little jar of Vick’s VapoRub. Over at Michael’s, I pick up the cheapest small, stiff oil-paint brush I can find: this is ideal for applying said chemicals.

One suppository tube of miconazole lasts for a couple of weeks: dab a small amount of it under the top of your nails, around the sides, and along the cuticles. Then do the same with the VaporRub.

The VapoRub does, it is true, stink to high heaven when you apply it. However, the odor quickly dissipates. I’ve learned to cover my feet with ankle socks for an hour or so. After that, the stuff has soaked in and the smell is gone.

But here’s the thing:

After six  weeks, it’s as the day to the night!

The nails are certainly no worse. If anything, they’re better. But the rhino hide that had grown around the nails? GONE.

After six weeks of applying a small amount of miconazole and a generous amount of Vick’s twice a day (morning and evening), the tough, calloused skin around the nails — especially around the worst affected ones — has softened so effectively it now looks normal. The result is that even if a clinical cure is not accomplished, the feet look so much better cosmetically that one wants to do a Dance to Spring!

VapoRub is your basic petroleum jelly with some aromatic chemicals mixed in. So it’s prob’ly not surprising that it would moisturize and soften damaged, toughened hide on your feet.

As for the nails: it will take quite a long time for them to grow out, of course. So I think no decision can be made about a “cure” (or whatever) for several months — the term of the study was 48 weeks. I’d guess that’s about when one can risk an assessment as to whether this works or not.

But in the meantime, I’d say it’s very much worth a try. In the present case, the nails themselves already look better, and the skin around them appears to have returned to normal.
_____________

And remember: I am not a doctor. No part of this post constitutes medical advice. Talk to a real medical doctor before applying or swallowing drugs, quack nostrums, or experimental treatments.

Day from Hell After$shock: The Water Heater Bill

Nine hundred eighty dollah and twenty-six cents. That’s what a new water 50-gallon water heater costs, installed.

I expected this, because the last time I bought a water heater — about 11 years ago when I moved into this house — the plumber said prices were headed for the stratosphere because of new safety requirements. He said then that heaters would run upwards of $600, which indeed they do. This one was $820, plus the cost of installation.

And now I see that Bradford White, the brand my new guy installed, is almost universally disliked and reviled. One buyer said their four-year-old model turned into a “blowtorch,” burned their house down, and killed their dog. That was just outside of Tucson…three months ago!

Well, the plumber didn’t get the icemaker line reattached. I may tell him to return the thing, when he comes over here tonight to connect that. Wish I’d had the sense to look it up yesterday before he installed it!!

Wouldn’t you think a plumber would know the products better?

What am I gonna do here…? There’s no way the guy is going to be able to return the thing, now that he’s installed it and filled it full of water. But holy mackerel…another Consumer Affairs commenter said a year-old model filled their home with carbon monoxide, poisoned her and her husband, and killed their dog. The thing is in the garage and the door between the garage and the kitchen is supposedly a fire door. But that door leaks like a sieve.

He wouldn’t take AMEX, so I had to give him a check. So that means I don’t have the credit-card warranty/insurance deal.

Why do I think I’m lined up for a royal screwing here? This does not look good.

I guess what I’ll have to do is buy a home warranty, which will replace the unit when it craps out (assuming it doesn’t explode my home), and also put a fire alarm and a CO alarm in the garage. There’s already a smoke alarm in the kitchen.

Another half-assed home warranty…dayum! Just what I need: another monthly charge. They cost about $500…maybe I’d be better off to simply put $42 each month toward the next water heater, which, if this one doesn’t burn the roof down around my ears first, will be in about six years and two days. It comes with a six-year warranty…which the guy failed to give me attached to the unit.

Five hundred dollah times 6 years is $3,000, enough to buy three new water heaters…

Well, meanwhile, it’s off to Costco to return the Panasonic telephone lash-up. The instructions are so complicated they are simply incomprehensible. I never have figured out how to bring up the “menu,” and to use the “Block Call” button to beat back the phone solicitors, you can’t just push the button. You have to somehow “select” the phone number, but you can’t find a way to “select.” And apparently “out of area” is not a blockable code.

The thing wasn’t that expensive, but with a thousand-dollar bill for a new water heater that may kill me, the dogs, or all of us, every little bit helps.

Communication Complication

🙂 So yesterday I bought a new communication complex at Costco. We used to call these things “telephones.” I’m afraid that term no longer suffices…

P1030444I bought it because if you have caller ID  you can use this contraption to block up to TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY nuisance callers. Hee heeeeee! That is SO much better than the five-minute answering messages that cause robo-calling machines to hang up.

Also, my beloved Uniden set is getting old. Replacement batteries for the Uniden are hard to find and a pain to install, especially now that Radio Shack has closed. I used to take the dead handsets up to the Radio Shack around the corner, where the guys would not only sell me new funny-looking battery thingies, they would put them in, too. That was very nice.

The Panasonic uses ordinary AAA batteries — well, the rechargeable kind — which you can get about anywhere and you can replace easily. So that’s a big plus.

But…just lookit that thing. You can connect not one but two cell phones with it (does that mean when you’re using your cell you’re not using up minutes??). Its base unit will run on a handset’s batteries, so when the power goes out your phone doesn’t instantly go dead. It does things that no one ever heard of and no one really has any desire to do.

And thanks to all that functionality, the damn thing is SO COMPLICATED that the instruction manual is NINETY-SEVEN PAGES LONG!

The quick-start pamphlet alone is nine pages long. Holy mackerel.

However, once I figure out how to get it to work, it will have just as many extensions as the Uniden does (a phone in almost every room!), and it will allow me to block incoming nuisance calls.

Most times when the phone rings anymore, it’s a nuisance telemarketer. AARP (I suspect) sells its mailing lists to the crooks, so if you’re in the “senior” category you get blitzed with scammy pitches and frauds at all hours of the day and night. On average, I get three to five of these calls a day, even though I never answer the phone to them.

Only drawback I can see is that if someone calls in such a way that “no number” is available, the Panasonic will automatically block the call. Both M’jito and SDXB have phones that occasionally register with the Uniden as “Unknown Caller,” so I’m a little concerned that it will reject calls from them. Maybe there’s some way they can adjust their phones to make their numbers visible — it’s not consistent, so I don’t know why that happens.

Sure would be nice, though, to stop people from harassing you without having to buy a telephone that requires 97 pages if instruction…

New Model Shark Floor Steam-cleaner: FAIL!

Some of you may remember the raves I wrote, way back in the Dark Ages, about the glories of the Shark steam-cleaner for hard floors and the Shark steam iron and the Shark vacuum cleaner. Oh, how I loved that little Shark steam-cleaner…far as I was concerned, the Shark company had a customer for life.

Welp…mind changed!

Four, five years later, the handy-dandy steamer gave up the ghost. Naturally, I went out and bought another one, figuring to replace the thing with a unit that would be just as good or better.

Wrong.

Why, why, why do manufacturers think they have to “improve” products that already work perfectly? If it ain’t broke, guys…

The new Shark has an on-off switch — the old one had to be plugged and unplugged to turn it on and off. The new Shark has a larger footpad that can be flipped over — steam will come out of either side. Nice.

But whereas the old one operated quietly, the new model makes a stupid, annoying noise when you turn it on, one that increases in annoyance factor the higher the setting. Okay, you can live with that…

The new footpad, though, is much larger, too large to allow you easily to clip on a microfiber rag with a couple of clothespins. You HAVE to use their mitt-like thing that has to be pulled on with a great deal of back-bending hassle and that just. doesn’t. WORK to pick up dirt.

On closer inspection, actually, what doesn’t work is the device itself. Force it to hold a rag that will allow steam to pass through with one helluva blast, and you get the same result as you get with the steam gasping and struggling to get through the shag-rug thing that comes with the machine: a mess.

After a week or ten days on antibiotics, Ruby the Corgi Pup is down to peeing on the floor only a couple of times a day — a big improvement over a couple of times an hour. So I figured it was time to break out the contraption and clean the 1680 square feet of tilework that is my flooring.

Wasn’t very pleased with the Shark’s performance the first time I used it, two or three weeks ago. But by the time I’d vacuumed and dustmopped and done a lot of other housework, I was beat, and so I figured I’d just not done a very good job because I was so tired by the time I reached that last housecleaning stage.

No. Not so.

This time all I did was clean the floors, and since there wasn’t a lot of dog hair, I used dustmops to pick up the hair and dust. So was still feeling pretty gingery by the time to fire up the steam-mop came around. And after running the thing on the kitchen, family room, and dining room, I got exactly the same result that 265 Amazon.com customers got: it stinks.

The old cleaner’s pad (or microfiber rag) would need to be changed by the time I finished the kitchen. If I’d run it over all three rooms, it would be black. This thing’s pad was barely soiled.

The floors, however, were still plenty soiled: streaky, dull, and dirty-looking.

Damn.

Rather than go over all that tile again (and have to do that two or three times throughout the house), I decided to cut my losses and get out the wet-mop. Ordinarily I’m not fond of mopping with a wet string-mop…to my mind that process mostly just pushes the dirt around. But seeing no other choice, I filled up a bucket with hot water, Simple Green, and vinegar. Wrestled the mop in there, slopped it around the floor, et voila! In short order, the mop water was black, the floors clean, and the grimy-looking haze gone.

Very, very disappointing. I’ll never buy another Shark steam-mop again, and I probably won’t buy another Shark product at all.

Unfortunate. And highly not recommended.