Switching to Microsoft 365 Has Been a Huge Mistake

After a l-o-o-o-n-g hiatus the Consumer Guy is back.

A variety of other projects drew me away from this avocation but it’s now my intention to add new material whenever the inspiration hits.

This post is a personal one. In December I had decided to upgrade my software from Windows 10 to Microsoft 365.

I was motivated by the fact that Microsoft was terminating support for Windows 10 and that MS 365 includes a tremendous amount of cloud backup in its OneDrive service and access to the tech support that was no longer available with Windows 10.

I can say without reservation that this was the worst computer-related decision I have ever made. I have had nothing but trouble.

I have suffered through six phone calls with Microsoft tech support totaling approximately seven hours. In addition, I have struggled for seemingly endless hours trying to work through cures on my own.

Included in these issues are the following:

  • Temporarily lost programs;
  • Lost drivers that had enabled my computer to wirelessly send content to my TV set and that had enabled my HDMI connector to function. Tech support has been unable to restore them;
  • Removal of all files from my computer, moving them to the cloud. This compelled me to copy thousands of files back to my computer – a process that took over 12 hours;
  • The complete loss of a file that contained an ongoing log of personal medical information;
  • Loss of sleep.

The upshot: Think twice before opting for Microsoft 365 at a rate of $99 per year. If you buy  a new computer you will have little choice other than to go with an Apple machine.







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(cont. from part 2)

I am going to condense the rest of the story because the intricacies can be mind-boggling.

Since I could not reach him electronically I decided to contact Michael Tucker, Avis Budget’s legal counsel, by writing an actual letter. You know, the kind that involves pen, paper, envelope and a stamp. I explained my story and insisted on payment of what was now $458, including the original $297 plus court costs and my parking expenses at the courthouse. A week later, I received an email from his assistant. This was followed by a phone conversation. That was followed by contact with a paralegal, Ted Kushner, who claimed they had known nothing of my dispute.

“How can that be?” I queried, considering that the company sent a representative to the first trial.

“Why didn’t you have the court send the judgment to our headquarters?” Ted parried.

“Because a California court has no jurisdiction in New Jersey,” I replied. “All legal processes were sent to your agent for service in Sacramento. That’s why you have an agent for service.” Ted responded that he researched my claim and found my complaint(s) to be valid. He promised that Avis Budget would cut me check for the full $458.

“I’ll need to receive it before the next court date,” I warned, “or I will be back in court and you will have more problems with me.” (All quotes in this story are approximate paraphrases as no one in or out of their right mind and claim to come close to exact conversations … ever.)

A few days before the August 18 court date (yes, this had been going on for eight months!) I left messages with both Michael Tucker’s office and Ted Kushner. I warned them that the judge had issued a bench warrant and that they had better send me the check. I received no reply whatsoever.

You have probably guessed it already. Back to court I went. The defendant failed to send a representative but there was no penalty. Why? The nimrod “judge” from the previous court session never issued the bench warrant. This judge, however, said she would.

I was in a tizzy. Actually it was a Toyota. Nevertheless, I was now considering flying to Avis Budget’s Parsippany, New Jersey headquarters to try my hand at terrorism.

The next day a UPS envelope arrived. In it was a letter from Ted Kushner explaining that the issuance of the check had run into some bureaucratic complications and he is sorry for the delay. Enclosed was a check for $458. He could have called two days earlier to tell me this before I went back to court. But n-o-o-o, that would have been efficient, and from my experience I have come to believe that efficiency is not in Avis Budget’s DNA.

Perhaps Avis's clogan should be "We Try Hardly.'

The companies from whom I will never again rent a vehicle. Photo – en.wikipedia.org

Let me add one more bit of proof to that allegation. At the beginning of this story I mentioned Avis had sent me two $25 coupons when I first complained about the rental screw-up. Well, a few days before the last court appearance I decided to use the coupons to rent a full size sedan from an Avis Budget location near my home. Why the hell not? I made an online reservation and received a confirmation. And when I got to the location the next day, guess what. Yep, they had no full size cars, so I had to take an SUV. And when I returned it, there was no one at the counter. After waiting about five minutes I called out. The rental agent appeared from the next room and said, “I’ll be right with you.” I stood there another five minutes. When she reappeared, she was chewing on some food and said, “ I had to finish my lunch.” Really?

Case closed.

And that is why I will never again rent a vehicle from Avis … or Budget.

But wait! This just in. I was reviewing my monthly credit card statement this very afternoon and although the charge for the rental should have been 17 bucks., it was $33.62. I called the rental agency and the very same woman told me it was because I had only put 18 miles on the car and that when customers put on so few miles they usually (my italics) don’t replace the gas. Avis charges $13.99 for each delinquent gallon. When I told her that I returned the car with the same amount of gas as when I took the SUV, she would not budge, saying that I should have shown her the receipt and that I had only 24 hours to make a correction. This, despite the fact that I did not get my credit card statement until a month later.

I gave up on her and called my credit card issuer who promptly credited me for the $16.62 overcharge.

And THAT is while I will never, ever, ever, rent form Avis or Budget again.



Part 2

On our first full day in Southern Italy, with no practical vehicle at our disposal, Cheryl and I took a train from Sorrento to Pompeii.

The ruins at Pompeii

Pompeii. Photo by Alago,public domain, commons.wikipedia.org

The following day we had no choice but to take a bus down the treacherous Amalfi Coast with a return stop in Positano. We passed a dozen places where, if we had a car, we would have loved to stop to soak in the views and take photographs. It was not to be.

The narrow, winding road to Amalfi

The treacherous Amalfi Coast Road

Upon our return home to San Jose I asked our travel agent, Barbie, to see about getting our money back for the car we had reserved, or at least the approximately   140 dollars extra we paid for the automatic transmission. She contacted Auto Europe, the company that booked the car with Avis. Auto Europe was unsuccessful in getting our money back. I contacted Avis Budget Group. myself. They sent me two 25-dollar coupons toward a future rental and a denial of responsibility for blowing our reservation .

I contacted American Express, which took a long time to reply, telling me that I should not have accepted the car Avis had offered me, as if we would have otherwise taken three trains and a bus to get to our hotel. I could have given up at that point, but there was a principle involved here. After all, I am the Consumer Guy.

Trying to call Avis Budget Group at its headquarters in New Jersey got me nowhere. Its answering system is totally digital and I had no way of knowing whom I needed to speak with. I looked up its legal department online and found the head honcho is Michael Tucker. I called back again and entered Mr. Tucker’s name but apparently the system did not “know” that he exists, despite his being Avis Budget’s chief legal counsel.

Can you say, “lawsuit”?

So off I went to my local small claims court, paid the filing fee, and had a subpoena served on Avis Budget Group via its agent for service in Sacramento. I should explain this. If a company does not have an administrative office in the state where you are suing it, it must have an agent for service which can accept legal documents such as California’s “Plaintiff’s Claim and ORDER (sic) to Go to Small Claims Court.”

On the trial date Avis Budget’s representative showed in court. His name is bill. He is the airport manager for Burbank Airport, over an hour away from the courthouse. Bill had never heard anything about the case until the day before. He had virtually no defense. The judge awarded me the $297 plus $45 court fee. Avis Budget was notified that it had 30 days to pay up. By this time it was rush hour in L.A. It would take Bill at least an hour and a half to get back to Burbank. Think of it; five hours of the airport manager’s time to defend a case about which he knew nothing and that was indefensible.

But justice was done. I’m kidding. Avis Budget didn’t pay. So back to court I went. The next judge issued an “Order to Produce Statement of Assets and to Appear for Examination.” A new trial date was set at which Avis Budget was to present a list of its California assets. Don’t ask; in theory it would have to show where everything it owns in the state is located and what it’s worth.

Three months had now passed since I filed in December of 2014 and once again Avis Budget dropped the ball (or kicked it into the stands). Back to court I went and once again the defendant was delinquent. The new judge (in small claims court the “judges” are usually lawyers who sit in for real judges but who supposedly know the ropes) said he would issue a bench warrant that would require a representative of the company to show up. This would involve the assistance of a sheriff’s deputy. The judge set a new court date.


 Why I had to sue Avis Budget Group after it failed to provide the car I had paid for

– Part I

     My wife and I vacationed in France and Italy in May of 2015. Several months before our departure we had our travel agent reserve us a car for Fiumicino Airport outside of Rome. Our intention was to drive the car to our hotel in Sorrento in the south of Italy. From there we would drive to Pompeii as well as the legendary Amalfi Coast. Since the roads in that area are notoriously narrow and most of the Amalfi Coast road is on the edges of cliffs, we wanted to be sure to have a small car. And because my wife is unable to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission, we needed one with an automatic. Only by sharing the driving would each of us have the opportunity to gawk at the scenery.

     In order to insure that we were going to get just the car we needed, we paid in advance through Auto Europe, an American booking agency, for an Avis rental. The automatic transmission just about doubled the normal rental rate to $297 for four days.

Car we had reserved for Fiumicino Aeroporto

What we were supposed to get … an Audi A2 or similar

     When we landed at Fiumicino we went right to the Avis desk only to discover a huge crowd waiting for service. We had to take a number and wait our turn; about one and a quarter hours. When we got to the desk we reminded the agent that we had reserved and paid for an economy car with an automatic transmission. “I am sorry,” she responded, “but we have no automatic transmission.”

     “But I paid for one,” I responded, to no avail. I agreed to settle for a small car with a manual transmission.

     “I’m sorry, we have no small cars.” But, as if it were some kind of compensation, she proffered that she would give us a very nice vehicle and a five euro per day discount. And what kind of vehicle did she have for us instead of the small car with an automatic? A Volvo station wagon with a manual tranny.

What we got ... a full-size Volvo station wagon

What we got … a full-size Volvo station wagon

     Because we had no other practical way to get to Sorrento, 176 miles away, we were forced to take the behemoth vehicle.

     Getting to the garage, taking possession of our bus-of-a-car, and leaving, took another half hour. So far, we were two hours behind schedule.

     When we got to Sorrento we saw how unbelievably crowded and narrow the streets were. Not for the faint hearted in a full-size station wagon. We contacted the Avis Sorrento office. They did not expect to get any small automatic transmission vehicles. We made the decision right then and there that we would not use the car until we were to return it to the Naples airport four days later. So each day we boarded the hotel shuttle bus into town and transferred to public transportation.

(episode 2: What we did next)

Hospital Insurance Gaps Could Make You Sick

You know those extra charges that hotels sneak into your bills, like resort fees, convenience fees, service fees and the like? Well hospitals and their doctors frequently inflict worse ills upon their insured patients. And you could be left holding the bag, and I’d rather not specify what kind of bag I’m referring to.

The problem is worst in emergency situations. Let’s dissect how this happens. If your in-network doctor brings in a specialist, consultant, or other hospital employee who is not part of your insurance network, your insurer may cover only a portion of that person’s fees, or none at all. And when you’re on a gurney in an ER it could be a bit difficult to question their insurance credentials of the gal who just shoved that thermometer into your mouth.

If you are on Medicare, you’re protected against excess fees. But if you have private insurance there are steps to take to protect yourself:

  • Know where to go in an emergency. Make sure the hospital is in your network and inquire as what percentage of ER doctors and medical personnel are in your network. If the percentage is low, look for another facility.
  • If you are to undergo a scheduled procedure, ask your doctor who else will be involved in your procedure and demand in-network providers unless there is an exceptional necessity for an out-of-network specialist.
  • If an out-of-network specialist is required, talk to your insurer well in advance to see if it will cover your costs. If it rejects your request, try to talk with a person higher up the chain of command.
  • If that doesn’t work, wait until you receive a rejection and then file an appeal.
  • If all else fails, you may try asking your state insurance department or attorney general’s office to intercede.

A bit of careful preparation could save you thousands of dollars and ton of grief.

Source: Interview with Elizabeth Ryden Benjamin of Community Service Society, in Bottom Line Personal, November 15, 2014.


Robocalls? Not Much we can do . . . but Maybe a Little.

 I once sued a telemarketer for violating the National Do Not Call Registry. I was awarded $1,500 by the small claims court commissioner. I had fully intended to follow suit by supplementing my income suing every son-of-a-bitch company that showed contempt for both the registry and my inalienable right to a peaceful dinner while watching Jeopardy!

National Do Not Call Registry logo

You can fight against unwanted telemarketing calls by signing up on the Do Not Call Registry

Even though I know that small claims court is a piece of cake and a great way for the little guy to take down the bullies of telecommunication, I find an inexplicable emotional inertia within me when it comes to going to court and filing the suit.

So what alternatives are left?  First, sign up on the registry at https://www.donotcall.gov/Register/Reg.aspxHere are a few tips to wrangle successfully with the robo-rascals.  But  know this: anyone with whom you have an ongoing business relationship—for instance, a credit card company—is exempt from the do-not-call prohibition. Political campaigns and charities, as well as government calls for emergency situations, are also exempt.

First, get a phone with “caller ID” capability. They are relatively cheap. Then, get an answering machine. They’re cheap and easy to use.  If you get a call and you don’t recognize the number, let the machine pick it up. If it’s a call you want to deal with, pick up the phone. Otherwise, let the call die away.

If you do answer the phone and a recording instructs you to press a certain number, DON’T DO IT, not even if it tells you to press a number that will take you off their call list. It tells the calling device that it has reached a legitimate number that’s ripe for receiving telemarketing calls. Just hang up.

Check out the site nomorobo.com. It works best with VoIP and mobile phone services. VoIP is Internet phone service.  It often comes as part of a package with cable and Internet services. Nomorobo blocks any calls it recognizes as coming from unwanted robocallers. I use AT&T landline service and Nomorobo is not yet supported by AT&T landline service, although it does work with AT&T VoIP service.

You can report any robocalls to the federal government at 888 382-1222 or at https://complaints.donotcall.gov/complaint/complaintcheck.aspxBut I am dubious about the number of people who would bother to take that road. I am also dubious about the effectiveness of such reporting.

And finally, if you are receiving telemarketing calls from a local company, get the person on the line to give you the company phone number and address. Then get in touch with your local small claims court to learn about the procedures to get the evildoers into court in order to sue them for the $500 fine to which you are entitled; even more for multiple violations.

Good luck.

Auto Accident Insurance Payout Could be Highway Robbery.

Your car is hit by an at-fault driver. His insurance company reimburses you for the loss in value (the diminished value) of your car. And, after the initial trauma, all is once again right with world. Right? Maybe not.

According to the Insurance Consumer Advocate Network (ICAN), if you don’t watch out, you could get run over by some sleight-of-hand tricks commonly employed by insurance companies. Sometimes insurers deny that diminished value is covered. According to J.D. Howard of ICAN, never assume that an insurer’s initial diminished value offer is fair. He says that even a fender bender will reduce a car’s resale value by at least 10 percent even if the vehicle is perfectly repaired, because a subsequent buyer will be afraid of hidden damage due to the accident. In case of a serious accident, the loss can be much greater, even with complete repair.

Fender bender

Auto Accident. Photo-Ryanand lenny

What to do if the at-fault driver’s insurance company balks at paying for diminished value? Well don’t tread lightly. Hire an appraiser to establish diminished value. The ICAN website has a list of DV appraisers (www.ICAN2000.com). If the DV appraiser substantiates your vehicle’s diminished value, you can “grille” the insurer and demand compensation. And don’t forget to include the cost of the appraiser’s services in your claim.  

Sources of the above: The Auto Insurance Rip-off,” Bottom Line Personal, November 15, 2013; and Consumer Advocate Network, ICAN2000.com.

But be aware, if you carry collision insurance and your vehicle suffers major damage, your own insurer should cover your loss and seek compensation for your deductible from the at-fault driver’s insurer. Just make sure that you are reimbursed for the diminished value as well.

I’m Glad my Laptop Doesn’t Have a Built-in Camera


This is a detachable webcam

My detachable webcam

In George Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother—that is, the omnipresent government—uses hidden cameras inside residents’ homes to keep an eye on them.

Well, in case you were unaware, anyone who is proficient at hacking might be able to do the same to you if your computer is on and it has a built-in webcam.

Ergo I’m glad that my laptop uses a USB clip-on camera for the rare times I Skype.

Hackers who are so inclined can manipulate websites and imbed an invisible permission prompt for the use of the webcam. The nefarious no-goodniks place the prompt on top of a video’s “Play” button, or on another button or link, so that an unaware user gives the hackers permission to start taking pictures through the webcam.

The website www.MakeUseOf.com recommends that folks with webcams download the most recent security updates for their cameras. They also recommend that you regularly scan for malware (better yet, have a security program running on your computer). Of course, you should use a firewall. And just to be sure, watch your webcam’s external light (if it has one) to be sure it’s not on unless you are using your webcam.

If all of this is too technical for you, just place a piece of paper over your webcam when you are not using it.

Now, where the hell did I put my camera?

Airline Fees – I Like Them! Say What?

Let’s say that you book a hotel room and the rate includes drinks from the in-room liquor bar, use of the workout room and the pool, in-room coffee, pay-per-view movies, and afternoon tea in the lobby.

Now let’s imagine that you are a person who doesn’t drink alcohol, nor work out, nor swim, nor drink coffee, nor watch movies, and who hates tea. What if you could book that room for, say, a 50 percent lower rate that does not include the amenities. You’d jump at that price, right?

Well, guess what, that’s exactly what the airlines have been doing. In 1954, a roundtrip ticket between San Francisco and New York cost about $200 plus a 10 percent government tax. Not long ago I booked that trip for a little under $400. I took carry-on luggage. I brought my own meal, which I purchased at Trader Joe’s, including fruit and a little dessert, for about 10 bucks. The flight was hours shorter than the typical flight of 60 years ago when coast-to-coast travel was by four-propeller planes.

Let’s calculate inflation. 200 smackers in 1954 would equal about $1,700 today. I would rather not pay for baggage handling, a meal, a snack, extra legroom, etc., and instead save all that moolah. If I want to check a large bag or two, I can pay for it. Same goes for extra legroom, airline food (which is never as tasty and healthful as the stuff I bring along), a movie, or any other airline perks.

So, as with the hotel room example I posed, I would rather pay for only those amenities of which I avail myself. In the old days, we paid for all that stuff whether or not we used it.

So quit kvetching about how little the airlines give us and thank Southwest and other no-frills carriers for bringing a price-saving revolution to the airline industry. Now where’s my neck pillow?