Richard J.

Level 5 Contributor

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About Me

A resident of Glendale, California, I founded and ran for over 30 years 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.


consumer issues, ethics, single-payer healthcare, peace

62 Reviews by Richard

• Updated review

UPDATE: Now DSLExtreme seems even more worthless (if that's possible)--it doesn't even answer its support phone. My email client (Outlook) can't send or receive and says the problem lies with DSLExtreme, which, as stated, is unreachable.

Tip for consumers:
Don't go near it!

Skip this ISP
Verified purchase
• Previous review

I've been using this company since 2001, and have been happy with it until the current problem. Although I recently switched to another (bundled) ISP, I chose at that time to pay a small monthly fee to continue DSLExtreme's email service, provided via the servers of Zimbra. Zimbra does not provide user support directly to DSL Extreme users, who must get help from DSL Extreme. After a very recent announced change in Zimbra, my user interface suddenly became largely unusable; for example, the Preferences tab, with which a user can create or modify filters, became inaccessible. I was able to reach by phone a DSL Extreme level 2 support tech, who indicated that my issue was not shared by other users, but in a seemingly interminable session in which he related to me in a rude and insulting manner, he provided no solution. My efforts fo follow up in writing on DSL Extreme's site have been totally ignored.


This is the best online source for meanings of acronyms and initialisms (wisely not distinguished in its listings)--but it's burdened by problems that could easily be corrected:

(a) Its organizational structure is needlessly opaque. Translations of each abbreviation are arranged in columns according to usage categories [Information Technology, Business & Finance, etc.]. The first column, formatted a bit differently, is headed "All definitions." The user is led to believe that this is simply a restatement in one place of the various definitions in the other columns, but this is not the case. (For example, the common meaning of ABS as antilock braking system is found only in the "All" column.) The site should either [1] have the "All" column reflect exactly what may be seen in the other columns, or [2] rename it "All other" (or similar), and have it reflect only what may not be seen in the other columns.

(b) Confusion is proliferated by the site's introductory statement, "Find out what any acronym, abbreviation, or initialism stands for." In fact, Acronymfinder understandably makes no attempt to define the thousands of abbreviations that are neither acronyms nor initialisms.

(c) A disturbingly high number of the links found in its expository pages lead nowhere--including a link that appears in several contexts to its contact or feedback page. In view of its boast, "100% human-edited by paid staff," one wonders why a member of this staff could not take the few minutes to use one of the many free online tools that will easily track down such dead or broken links.


Years ago I switched to DirecTV from Charter because Charter's customer service was known to be the worst--and, sure enough, DirecTV's was an improvement. Then ATT acquired DirecTV and the service went rapidly downhill. The latest incident followed the failure of my satellite receiver to continue working. I had to speak to five (5) different people and spend (actually) hours on the phone before it seemed I was looking at a resolution--but it was not to be. I was given a four-hour window for a tech to arrive with a replacement receiver, and half an hour before the end of the window I called to confirm and was told the technician was "on the way." But the tech never arrived and now a day-and-a-half later I have yet to hear from anybody at the company.
UPDATE: Today in arranging the cancellation of this account, The DirecTV rep told me someone did keep my 8am to noon appointment--but at 3pm (when I was no longer there)! No reason for the delay was given.


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.


Only after your service is completed will TaskRabbit notify you of a 7.5% "Trust & Safety" fee that is separate from the service fee. (The service fee is deducted from the take of the "tasker," but the T&S fee is simply added on and kept by the company.) My inquiry about this duplicitous practice has gone unanswered.

Another problem with TaskRabbit is one of communication. After arranging a service, I needed to provide additional details to the tasker. The only way to do that was through TaskRabbit--but TaskRabbit never conveyed the message (or even got back to me!).


1. Like too many other websites, this one sneakily makes you await the results of a lengthy search and provide your own information before it reveals what you must pay for a deeper search--seemingly an opt-out monthly fee. (If you decide to pay it, be sure to opt out immediately.)

2. Before committing any money, read Brian's SiteJabber review at and rep Carla's response. It's perplexing why Carla submitted any response, as it completely ignores Brian's primary objection, which is the absence of the paid reports' important information.


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.


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.


I volunteer at (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.


I'm giving this site more than the lowest rating because it's a way to meet a lot of folks with similar interests fast (and maybe the only way on the Web). Be warned however that signing up will bring tons of spam. The site offers settings that lead one to believe the spam can be controlled, but without creating your own independent filters that's really impossible.

For example, the site will send you solicitations to join additional meetup groups based on what Meetup deems to be your interests. It also invites you to check those interests on a provided list. One would think that the solicitations would be sent according to the interests you've listed--but not so. For example, even though as an atheist I have listed "atheist" and "humanism" and nothing relating to meditation or acting, I've received today a solicitation for a Prayer and Meditation group, and another for The Actors Alliance. In response to my complaints I get double-talk ("... we try to strike a balance between recommendations based on each member's current interests and suggestions for Meetups they might not have thought to seek out themselves").

The above is just one of the many many kinds of spam Meetup will send to members. Some of these can be controlled by settings, but these settings are a challenge to find. For others there are no settings at all, such as the repeated pleas to take over from a group leader who has resigned.


(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 [which I've also reviewed for SiteJabber].


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.


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.


Angie's List charges users for what other review sites provide free, with the suggestion that its reviews are thereby more reliable. I've found however that there's no reason to believe that its reviews are superior in any way. Furthermore, to participate you have to accept a membership agreement that can have huge negative consequences for you (see below). And unless you're really careful you'll find you're signed up in perpetuity, paying a new membership fee each year.

Before writing this critique I purchased a membership, studied its materials, and also as a journalist interviewed spokesperson Cheryl Reid by phone.

Angie seeks to minimize ringer listings (reviews by the reviewees) by "proprietary" means which may include cross-checking reviewers' phone numbers, addresses, email addresses, etc. Angie also restricts the number of reviews of a single provider coming from one user—but I couldn't discern much if any protection against a merchant's attempting to buy off bad reviews by offering incentives to the reviewers to withdraw them.

Particularly worrisome is the fact that Angie will without prompting reveal to each service provider the identity of every reviewer of that provider's service. After I discovered this practice I asked a rep about it. The rep boasted that no lawsuit against a reviewer had prevailed. The rep would not say how many lawsuits had been filed. Of course, defending even against lawsuits that fail can be extremely costly, stressful, and time-consuming. "Reputation protection" services have of late become quite popular, and there is a dismaying probability of lawsuits from negative reviews. There's also the fact that a consumer may continue with a problematic provider (like a physician specialist for example) rather than take a chance with a competitor. In such instances the consumer may be reluctant to write a review even partially negative, knowing that the provider will be reading the review.

The likely result of Angie's notification policy is all but the most positive reviews will be self-suppressed or at least toned down, affecting seriously the reliability of Angie's List assessments.

Angie's List does accept advertising from listed providers who wish to offer discounts, and it reportedly solicits that advertising aggressively. Members may choose to search for providers offering these discounts, which purportedly don't otherwise affect the listings or their placement. They're available only from A- and B-rated providers.

***Membership agreements***

You must agree to Angie's privacy policy before joining. This document takes up an excruciatingly long page of tiny text, essentially impossible to get through and harder yet to comprehend. However: the super-diligent will note that buried in the interminable fine print is permission for Angie to disclose *any* information "permitted by relevant law." (So why all the fine print? Guess.)

The general membership agreement makes you liable for "liquidated damages" of up to $10,000.00—yes, ten thousand dollars—for a single violation of its terms, which cover such issues as how you use the reviews. These terms are about as easy to understand as those of the privacy policy. Moreover, you incredibly must agree in advance to any changes in the agreement made without notice to you.

(On the other hand, Angie is not at all strict about fulfilling its own membership obligations. The same membership agreement states without qualification that "Monthly and annual memberships include a subscription to the Angie's List monthly magazine." Yet in over a year I never received a single issue. When I inquired, I was told that magazines aren't sent to those with my class of membership—but that I was free to upgrade.)

Many members will be surprised to learn that they've signed up for membership in perpetuity. Angie's memberships are opt-out, that is, automatically renewed and re-charged, until the member affirmatively resigns. You can opt out of the opt-out when signing up—but if you do, get confirmation in writing!

***Site navigation and customer service***

Site navigation is quirky and sometimes frustrating. Customer service is highly accessible and friendly but too often clueless, and simple inquiries can consume half an hour or more.

***Bottom line***

I don't advise joining unless (a) you realize that Angie's reviews are skewed to the positive, (b) you're unconcerned about your privacy, (c) you're willing to wade through the extensive and opaque general membership agreement, (d) you're prepared to re-read the changeable agreement before taking any action related to the service, and (e) before joining you've opted out from automatic renewal, and have written confirmation in hand.


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

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

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

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



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.


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

The quality of the answers provided at the site has improved markedly since the site's early days. At this time many of the answers are exceedingly helpful. I submit many answers myself [as "Odin"] and folks can completely rely on my answers--but I see as well an impressive amount of valuable information submitted by others, and only a tiny number of answers that are off-base. This may be the result of HelpOwl's [perhaps too much] in screening both questions and answers.

My reading of the negative reviews here has been a revelation to me--not about Help Owl but about the strange ideas of some Sitejabber reviewers, One says, "These people will try to smooth talk you into a deal"--Help Owl doesn't make deals. Another says, "Helpowl does not credit account"--but in over 10 years I've always received prompt credit, which if claimed on a Thursday will be awarded the next day. Another talks about a "good faith deposit," but HelpOwl never demands deposits at all.

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


1. Compensation. This is negligible for questioners but can add up well for answerers.

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

3. Personal notification of questions about your selected companies and websites.

4. Helpful information.


1. Staff review of answers not accepted by questioners is too often inept.

2. Questions are deleted for unexplained reasons, even occasionally after answers are submitted.

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

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

UPDATE. Same star rating, but I thought I should mention that the awarding of points/credits is off base. Help Owl considerately does publicly track the points awarded to the top contributors--and it's annoying that one whose answers are wrong [not accepted] close to half the time can rate higher (in the 15-day count) than one whose answers are accepted close to 90% of the time. This system rewards answerers who give little thought to correctness in favor of quantity, and thereby compromise the reliability of the site.


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 service—or, 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.


Pluses: Value is good. Stores are attractive. Pharmacists (at one store, in my experience) are quite helpful--though their assistants, not so much.


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.

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

Regarding technical support: Fx's support, although not available by phone, far exceeds that of the also popular Internet Explorer. Beyond basic support (available at, Fx users will in my experience almost always provide all the help required, at


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 []. Clearly will work with Firefox and Chrome.


All our computers' clocks are almost certainly off by small amounts. In addition to giving you the exact time, this page tells me the amount by which my computer's clock is ahead or behind.

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