Spring Cleaning…getting rid of the wood burning fireplace

Spring is the time of year when many engage in a little extra cleaning around the house.  This year we added another item to the annual work order—Get rid of the wood burning fireplace!

1Before 1 IMG_0039

After a winter of “spare the air” days last winter, we decided it was time to move on…and away…from toasty wood burning evenings in the family room.  This, of course, required contracting with professionals to carry it out.  We still wanted a supplemental heating unit in that room and elected to go with an electrical unit instead of a natural gas unit.

So we got out of the way, so to speak, and within a few days, Ohana Construction  of  Petaluma presented us with this…

DSCF6274WEB

Now, when we want to take the chill off the room, we merely have to click a remote! No more kindling…no more ashes…no more checking on whether it is a “Spare the Air” day.

_____________________________

 Work Photos

Photo Gallery (Click to Open)

 

 

Shopping Cart Protest in Petaluma!

Given the unrest in various quarters of our society, both locally and nationally, it was no surprise that a group of shopping carts decided to occupy a local shopping center. They were objecting to the tracking devices, wheel locks, and other restrictions being placed on some of their fellow carts, thus inhibiting their unrestricted movement around and about town… 

CARTS HAVE RIGHTS! © Frank Simpson

The protest was also a warning to future carts at shopping centers under construction that it could happen to them also if they did not stand up for their rights to freedom of movement…

Carts on Strike! © Frank Simpson

What will happen next? I hear rumors that plastic bags are organizing! They are angry about proposals to ban them and to otherwise limit their freedoms. They are particularly upset over treatment such as this…

Shopping Bag Abuse! © Frank Simpson

Yes, indeed! Things are very interesting in Petaluma on this April 1, 2012.

Happy April Fool’s Day

The Drug Problem in Your Medicine Cabinet

The proper disposal of leftover or out of date pharmaceuticals is receiving more attention as part of a national concern over contamination of our water tables.

Think this is not a problem in your household? Just for fun, check your medicine cabinets, dresser drawers and cupboards to determine how many pill bottles and medications are in your home…

  • How many are current?
  • How many are out of date?
  • How many are no longer being used?

In Sonoma County, local officials from many jurisdictions and agencies have developed a joint program to remedy the problem by creating recycling locations around the county–The Safe Medicine Disposal Program.

Background

According to the Centers For Disease Control: Almost 50% of the US population has taken at least one prescription drug in the last month. In the United States, 2.34 Billion prescriptions are issued annually. 

Add the volume of over the counter (OTC) drugs and household inventories can build up dramatically.

While most drugs and pills are consumed, many are not due to changes in treatment, recovery, or death. If discarded drugs and medicines are not kept out of our landfills and waste-water systems, they will contaminate our water table by leaching out from the landfills or passing through (in whole or in part) even the most sophisticated waste-water filtering systems.

So, what do we do with the household inventory of out of date or unused medications and drugs? In the past, the advice and practice was to simply throw them in the trash or flush them down the toilet. Today, such disposal practices are not recommended–if not illegal in some jurisdictions.

The better practice is to gather all of your unused or out of date medications, pills, lotions, liquids, etc. and take them to a location that will ensure their safe disposal.

Sonoma County water agencies are now providing such convenient disposal options…

Sonoma County Safe Medicine Disposal Program

The Safe Medicine Disposal Program is a countywide pharmaceuticals recycling program jointly managed by several agencies providing convenient locations for you to safely dispose of unwanted medicines without charge. It has been in operation since 2008. For more infomration on the program and disposal sites, go to Safe Medicine Disposal and Sonoma County Drop-Off Locations

Heather Johnson, Santa Rosa Environmental Compliance Inspector, provided numbers measuring the growing effectiveness of the program: 

Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Sebastopol

  • 2008–2552 pounds
  • 2009–4492 pounds
  • 2010–7475 pounds
  • 2011–4612 pounds to date

To fully appreciate these numbers, note that they are exclusive of bottle or container weight.

In Petaluma, Jamil Harb of The Medicine Shoppe advises that his take back program is currently processing 100 pounds a month.

In addition, an official of Petaluma’s Water Resources & Conservation Department advises that they are setting up a disposal site program at “…two public building locations (one to serve the western sections of the community and one to serve the eastern portions)…Our goal is to have the full-time program in place by the end of the summer in time to be announced in the fall newsletter.” 

The Department recently sponsored a one day take back program at the Petaluma Senior Center that recovered 114 pounds.

Below are related links providing additional information on medicine disposal and related recycling issues.

Sources & Reference Links

REDUX–First Your Home…Now Your Pension?

My article of September 21, 2010 regarding pension overpayment recoveries produced several e-mail responses and inquiries, particularly concerning the 76 year old female Alzheimer’s patient who had been receiving a pension for 11 years.

I can now provide a few additional facts.

The pension in question started with a 1999 letter from the employer’s pension administrator that opened with, “This will confirm that you are entitled to receive a vested accrued benefit under the…Plan in the amount of $… per month…for your lifetime.” Then, as I reported previously, on September 17th of this year, she received a letter from the bank currently administering the pension advising that she had been overpaid and they were asking her to repay $42,814.42.

The bank in question is Wells Fargo. To be precise, the letter came from Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust in Minneapolis, MN. Wells Fargo recently took over administration of the pension after acquiring Wachovia. The underlying pension is an employer plan subject to the rules and regulations of  ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act).

The pensioner’s 81-year-old husband, as Power of Attorney, has filed an appeal of the decision in accordance with ERISA.  In addition, he has contacted an attorney familiar with this area of the law.

I also became aware of an advocacy group for pension rights and I am including a portion of a recent e-mail from that organization:

“Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.  As you may have seen in the Wall Street Journal article you mentioned in your blog, we work in conjunction with several legal assistance projects across the country.  The lead attorney for the Western States Pension Assistance Project was also quoted in that article.  This project, with funding from the U.S. Administration on Aging (AOA), provides free pension assistance to individuals who live in California (among several other states).”

Pension Rights Center in Washington, DC (www.pensionrights.org).

That’s all for now. I will keep you up to date as circumstances warrant.

First Your Home…Now Your Pension?

You can’t trust anyone or anything…

Except for my landscaper and my computer guru, this is my motto.

The front page article in last Sunday’s Press Democrat, System stymies mortgage fix simply reinforces my world view when it comes to banks and other financial institutions and their recent mortgage practices.

But for those who may not have mortgage woes, take no comfort.  You, too, may soon be subjected to the whims of financial institutions and insurance companies in other aspects of your life.

Consider this story from somewhere in Northern California as it may apply to you or someone you know…

YOUR PENSION

You are retired. Note

You’re collecting your pension….perhaps for many years. Red rose

Then, one day you get a letter from the institution paying your pension saying: “Oops! So sorry, we miscalculated and have been overpaying you. Please forward $42,814.42 within 10 days.”  Storm cloud

Impossible, you think. Unfortunately, such tactics are becoming a common practice. Wilted rose

In a current local case, a 76 year old pensioner had been receiving a pension for 11 years until presented with an overnight letter on September 17, 2010, advising that she had been overpaid and she had 10 days to accept the repayment terms outlined in the letter.  What really adds spice to the story is that the pensioner is an advanced Alzheimer’s patient in an assisted living facility.  There are a lot of other very “interesting” facts associated with the story. I am holding them back until it matures further…also in the hope that the bank comes to its senses and I can drop it.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an excellent article detailing this new phenomenon of recalculating pensions and how some people are fighting back.  I recommend it to you. In fact, if you are currently receiving a pension, it is essential that you read it.  Click on ‘Overpaid’ Pensions Being Seized.

There are ways of resisting such claims for repayment. However, one needs to hire a lawyer familiar with ERISA (The Employee Retirement Income Security Act) and benefits law to negotiate and litigate.  In many instances, the pensioner can rightly claim equitable estoppel if they can prove that it was reasonable for them to rely upon the original representation of their pension amount.  

There are no guarantees, and frankly, I suspect many people will not realize that they need legal assistance, much less have the resources to hire a lawyer.  Notwithstanding, I think that lawyers may stand in line to take this one on…

Stay tuned…

Point Reyes Station…Truth In Advertising!

In these days of exaggerated and misleading claims for products and services–advertising, if you will–it is rare to find a company that is clear about its product and does not sugar coat it in any fashion.  This sign on the side of Toby’s Feed Barn in Point Reyes Station, CA sets a new standard for honesty and truth in advertising…

If the above is not clear enough, consider the product…

There is absolutely no doubt as to the nature of the product—and its purpose.

Perhaps this will set a trend for other businesses. 

Just think!

  • What if banks and loan companies were just as candid about their mortgage and consumer loans?
  • What if cell phone companies wrote their service contracts in no-nonsense language similar to that of Double Doody Cow/Horse Manure?

I know, I know.  Too much to hope for…http://images.Quebles.com/hotmail/emoticons/1511082.GIF

Privacy–Protecting it in our Web World

The current controversy over Safeway’s scanning of licenses for all alcohol purchases in Rohnert Park and Petaluma will resolve itself one way or the other.

For the moment, I would like to turn to some of the larger questions it has raised in my mind. I will come back to Safeway at the end of this article.

For Better or Worse…The web is with us

Most people (including our household) have histories and data stored in an almost infinite number of data bases and computers. Frankly, it is unavoidable, unless you are living in a cave…

  • We shop online
  • We pay bills online
  • We e-mail
  • We blog
  • We Facebook
  • We can even pay our taxes online
  • We give out our e-mail addresses to stores, retailers, banks, and financial institutions
  • We use GPS

Even for those who elect to live in a cave, there is a good chance that Google has taken a picture of the entrance and posted its location on the Internet.

Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems most likely described the situation best when he said, “You have no privacy. Get over it.”  The simple fact is that records have been generated by us or kept on us for a very long time. 

What is different now is the ability to pull it together and distribute it digitally around the world in mere seconds.  Therefore, what is critical is the management and protection of that information so that it is not used in a harmful or criminal manner. That, of course, requires legislation that keeps up with the technology and enforcement of laws regulating the use and distribution of information. On this front, I believe we are way behind the curve.

It is a cliché, but the “Computer Web” is clearly a two-edged sword. For example, GPS is a wonderful tool, particularly when emergency services personnel are trying to reach you.  If your car or cell phone has GPS, they know where you are and can get to you quickly.  On the other hand…remember, they know where you are…

How to Cope…Living on the Web

There are a few things an individual can do to reduce the risk of fraud or identity theft.

  • Regularly review all bills and bank statements for unauthorized charges
  • Carefully review credit card or debit card statements to make sure that someone has not submitted unauthorized charges. Also make sure that automatic charges have ended if, in fact, you have cancelled the service or product.
  • When paying a bill in a restaurant with a credit card or a debit card, make sure that your card is returned to you.  In a busy restaurant, it is possible for the server to mix up the cards.
  • Consider not giving out personal information and your e-mail address to secure future coupon and discount offers from a retailer. It has been our experience that all we receive are offers for things we don’t purchase, not to mention the daily e-mail ads. If you still wish to do so, consider setting up a separate web e-mail to receive the advertizing/promotional e-mail.  I think you will find that you will rarely open it.
  • To better identify potential credit card fraud problems, use one card for online transactions and a separate card for “real world” transactions.
  • If you use public Wi-Fi or public computers, do not connect with your bank, credit card, or brokerage accounts.
  • If you receive a call from someone purporting to be from your credit card company, bank, or brokerage to report a problem on your account, do not give out information without first verifying they are in fact who they say they are. A usual clue is if they start asking for account numbers, social security numbers. The best procedure is to terminate the conversation and call the company on a number that you have to verify the call.

If there is a single overall caution I could offer– be careful about giving out personal information.  Granted there are legitimate reasons and legal requirements to do so in the course of our daily lives when establishing bank accounts, financial records, etc.  However, one should question other requests for your identifying information such as street address, social security number, driver’s license number.

This brings us back to the Safeway policy of scanning a driver’s license to purchase alcoholic products…

  • While it may be permitted under California law, there is no mandate that it be done. 
  • While there are legal limitations on how the data is to be used, violations are difficult to detect and if detected, the penalties are not particularly severe. 

I said in an earlier article that I accept Safeway’s assertion that they are complying with California law. I accepted it largely because I have elected to do my shopping elsewhere.

However, in researching this issue generally, I noted that the creators of the scanning hardware and software tout its data storage and data mining ability.  One company is even pushing a scanner that not only records the data on the magnetic strip but also images both sides of the card during the scan. Let that feature spin around in your mind for a few minutes.

In closing, the Safeway system is far from foolproof.  For $20 or less, one can buy a card reader/writer and create any date they want on a magnetic data strip. I am sure that it would be a simple task for a 19 year old to adjust his or her license.  

FOR ALL ARTICLES ON SAFEWAY SCANNING>> (CLICK HERE)

USEFUL RELATED LINKS (A Web Bibliography)

1. First, a  twenty minute film, ” Smart Card”  which, while painting an extreme future, may give you a different perspective on today. If you view nothing else on this page, be sure and check out this film.  Links below:

2.  Information from the  California Office of Privacy Protection

3. For an industry article on the problems of scanning see Retailers Caught in the Middle on ID Checks

4. Also See Driver’s license scanning reduces fraud, but may alienate shoppers