Home & Garden

NeighBORROW – borrow a cup of anything

Posted on October 15, 2008. Filed under: Home & Garden | Tags: , , , |

NeighBORROW.com is a FREE website for borrowing/sharing books, videos, music, tools, and other stuff with neighbors, friends, and colleagues:

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My utility company PG&E is sending me a check for $60

Posted on September 30, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized, Utilities | Tags: , , , |

My utility company in California, Pacific Gas & Electric, also known as PG&E, is sending me a check for $60.00.  Why? About 2 weeks ago, I called 800-299-7573 to schedule a FREE pick-up,  based on their refrigerator and freezer recycling program.  You can also visit www.appliancerecycling.com for more information.

This morning, I had my old refrigerator picked up.  For this, I will receive $35.00. I also had an old air conditioner taken.  If I had brought the window unit to my local dump or had it picked up through my local garbage collection, I would have had to pay them for hazardous waste disposal.  Instead, PG&E is paying me another $25.00.  I’ll get the rebate check in the mail in 6-8 weeks.

Better for the environment and my wallet.

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DIY Build your own HDTV Antenna

Posted on July 29, 2008. Filed under: Entertainment, Home & Garden, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

Please Note:  on July 6, 2009  I posted an updated version of this article which includes the 4 key things every good antenna must have on LivingWellonABudget.com called The Post DTV Transition Explained Part 2:  How to Build Your Own DIY HDTV Antenna and Save Money

For additional background and information, read the blog posts:

The Post Digital TV Transition Explained Part 1: What’s in it For You? What You Need to Know Now covers why the Digital TV transition happened, how you can benefit, understanding the UHF/VHF channel reassignments, why you might be experiencing reception issues and which DTV option is best for you?

and also How to Recycle An Old Satellite Receiver Set Top Box instead of Buying a Digital Converter Box

Stay tuned and subscribe to the www.LivingWellonaBudget.com Part 3 of The Post Digital TV Transition Explained, is a work-in-progess that will provide details on how to build an easy, yet very unique,  compact VHF/UHF antenna (i.e.,  low SWR over a very wide band width, high gain, directivity and scalable).  The design is ‘out of the box’ thinking and is very different.

This is the original blog post from last July, 2008:

TV stations are now broadcasting both the analog (VHF) signals and the digital (UHF) signals. In February, 2009 analog will go away. Some of the stations will return to the old channel assignment which will be in the higher VHF range. TVfool.com will give you all the info for the stations, channels and signal ranges in your area. There are also some definitions and good explanations about antenna basics for beginners at HDTVPrimer

My very first post was about switching from cable television to free Digital TV and how I did it. In that post, I mention that I am currently using rabbit ears perched on top of my tv set. I also mention that my father, a true geek in the best sense of the word, has committed to building me a better antenna which I have yet to receive. I think he is contemplating design and packaging for shipping from Massachusetts to California, most likely with some assembly required on my part. He also works full-time as a sales executive in the IT industry, so his free time for his hobbies is limited.

Here is a photograph of one of the antennas my father made that he is currently using at home with a flat panel HDTV. He designed it for the UHF HDTV station spread in the Boston market (e.g. 500 to 650 MHz). He says it works like a champ and receives all the stations in the Boston area at signal levels of between 9 and 10. His house is at sea level, the antenna is indoors on the second floor, and the stations are 24 to 28 air miles away.

The antenna is 18″ long and has 7 elements, the longest being 15″ and it works as well (perhaps slightly better) than a db4 or the double quad he also made. My Dad made this antenna (elements and boom) from 1/2″ x 1/16″ aluminum stock that he bought at a Lowes home center for about $8. Construction is pretty straightforward. He used nylon screws and nuts to isolate and attach the 2 booms together. The elements were fastened to the boom with 4-40 screws and nuts. The piece that looks like a tail at the end of the antenna is called a coupler, which is an impedance transformer to convert from 300 ohms to 75 ohms.

The antenna shown above is based on a rather sophisticated LPDA (Log Periodic Dipole Array) antenna designed by the US government. The selection of design parameters to arrive at the antenna’s exact physical design specs needs to be customized to the task. It requires advanced mathematical calculations that my father used an online JAVA calculator to perform. Unless you’re an engineer or math whiz, it may not be for the novice antenna builder.

By making it longer with more elements, my Dad says it will beat the pants off of anything you can make or buy. It can also be scaled to cover from VHF through UHF. He feels it’s his best effort to date, although he is constantly looking for ways to improve it or “build a better mousetrap.” To that end, my father has been scouring his local area for a discarded or unused Dish TV satellite dish to design an antenna around. This includes checking out the free “swap shed” at his town dump.

If you’re interested in learning how to build your own HD TV antenna and other DIY techie projects, a great resource is the forum on the LumenLab website. There are much simpler yet very functional designs, posted about in the HDTV antenna thread. For example, the double or quad array bow tie antenna (also known as DB2 or DB4) which can retail for $50+. Many of these design implementations could easily be built by the average person and use common everyday items and tools you probably have lying around the house or garage, such as glue guns, wire coat hangers, cardboard, scrap wood, metal screws, washers, and aluminum foil. There is a good video on how to build an HDTV antenna out of wire coat hangers on YouTube worth watching.

Here is an example of a DB4 posted by Squeeto on the LumenLabs forum made from copper wire, synthetic building wood and cheap cooling racks.

You can find my father’s posts there under the member name Serndipity (spelled as such). Also look for posts by Pitman2, along with various designs, modifications, and lots of good advice.

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CraigsList.org – free local classifieds and forums for jobs, housing, for sale, personals, services, local community, and events

Posted on July 21, 2008. Filed under: Entertainment, Home & Garden, Travel & Leisure, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

I didn’t make any entries in my blog over the weekend because I was busy with other things, socially as well as home improvement projects. One of the projects involved perusing Craigslist.org in my area for free sod leftover from other landscaping projects. Craigslist provides free local classifieds and forums for jobs, housing, for sale, personals, services, local community, and events. It was founded in 1995 by Craig Newmark in the San Francisco Bay area, and given that and the population here, the SFBA Craigslist site is probably one of the largest. It’s been a fantastic resource for me.

I have found jobs and clients on Craig’s List, employees and interns, a seamstress to inexpensively recover some chair cushions ($20 and she even piped the edges), offered short term housing rentals, found garage sales, auctions, advice, and good stuff for cheap or free. Recently, my coffee grinder broke and I was able to get a good used replacement for $1. There is a fee for job posting if you’re an employer.

CraigsList has grown tremendously all over the world. As of September, 2007, Craigslist had established itself in approximately 450 cities in 50 countries. Recently, my sister in southern Maine very excitedly informed me that they finally have a CraigsList site for her area, previously the closest was metro Boston.

Back to the sod. I found two sources within 3 miles of my own home and was able to pick up about 100 square feet of free sod. Cut sod has a pretty short shelf life. My gardeners don’t come until Wednesday, and I am no green thumb, but I looked up “how to DIY” online. It was relatively easy. I worked up a little sweat breaking up the packed down soil to prepare it for the sod and a roll of sod can be rather heavy. I was able to install the 8 rolls on one side of my brick patio area in a little less than an hour, including giving it a good watering. One of the sources had leftover dwarf fescue, the other unknown, but they seem to match pretty well. It’s not as perfect as if I had gone through a professional landscaping service or a single supplier, but it looks so much better than before as you can see from the photos. To complete the job, I probably still need another 150 square feet for the other side of my brick patio. So I will continue to search Craigslist for FREE sod daily.

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Ed’s recipe for homemade Windex cleaner

Posted on July 8, 2008. Filed under: Home & Garden, Uncategorized | Tags: , |

My Dad swears by his recipe for homemade Windex (for cleaning
windows, mirrors, counter tops, etc.) and he suggested I post it on here. As far as cleaners go, it’s not exactly “green” like vinegar or baking soda concoctions, but it does work really well and is very cost effective.

Ed’s Recipe for Homemade Windex – Makes 1 Gallon

    Mix 1 cup of ammonia
    1 pint of rubbing alcohol
    1 tablespoon of hand dishwashing liquid (do not use more or streaking may result)
    Top with with enough water to make 1 gallon

He makes it in an old laundry detergent container (a recycled gallon milk jug would also work) which he then uses to refill an old Windex (or equivalent) spray dispenser. What cracks me up is that I have seen my Dad use a couple drops of food coloring in it, so it actually looks like Windex. Sometimes, he reminds me a little of the father in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, who thought Windex was the cure for everything. I say that with affection (especially since I know he will read this). He even uses it to clean his 25+ year old Scandanavian Design teak dining room table. The wood finish is surprisingly still in pretty good shape.

Here is an estimate of the savings (if I got the math wrong, my Dad would certainly let me know).

Brand name Windex for sale price this week at Walgreen’s
$3.00 64 oz. (2 32 oz./$5 with mail in rebate brings down it to 2/$3)*
.42 stamp to mail in rebate
$ 3.42 for 64 oz.*
$ 5.00 for 64 .oz* (if you don’t submit the rebate)

Cost of ingredients for Ed’s recipe:
.75 16 oz. rubbing alcohol (based on $1.50/32 oz. sale price at Walgreens)
.19 8 oz. ammonia (based on $1.50/64 oz. sale price at Longs)
.05 1 T (.5 oz.) Dawn (based on .99/11 .oz sale price at Walgreens)
$ .99 cents for 64 oz.*

* No additional manufacturers coupons were factored into this cost analysis nor was any state sales tax

Share your recipe for homemade cleaning products

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Freecycle.org – Give something or Get something

Posted on July 7, 2008. Filed under: Home & Garden, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

I joined Freecycle in my local community a few years ago when I first read about in it the Parade magazine that comes with the weekend newspaper.

As stated on their website (stats as of today): The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 4,537 groups with 5,416,000 members across the globe. It’s a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer (them’s good people). Membership is free. To sign up, find your community by entering it into the search box above or by clicking on “Browse Groups” above the search box.

When you sign up with a local Freecycle group on Yahoo, make sure you read and follow the rules of engagement specific to that town or group. Basic protocol works like this: you post to the group an OFFER for something you have and would like to give or a WANTED request for an item you would like that someone else may have, but not be using or want. If you post a WANTED request, and receive the item, you should post a RECEIVED message. People who OFFER items can decide at their discretion who to give an item to, non-profits are often given first priority. It may also go to someone on a first come, first served basis, or just because someone likes how you replied to the offer. Some givers will post a PROMISED message so they stop getting email responses to their OFFER post. Once the offered item is picked up, the giver will post a TAKEN message to the group.

If you read my magicJack post, you know that I recently posted a WANTED request for a digital answering machine. A few days went by with no responses, and I started researching purchasing one. But once again, Freecycle came through for me. I received an email from someone who said he had just purchased a combo cordless phone with built in answering machine and he no longer needed his older AT&T 1750 model. He said it still worked fine except for the time date stamp feature wasn’t always accurate. That was okay with me, so I responded I would gladly take it. He emailed me his address and said he would leave it outside next to the garage and I could pick it up anytime the next day or evening. It works great and now I can cancel my AT&T voicemail service.

Examples of other things I have received on Freecycle:
– small set of free weights
– Mrs. Meyer’s green cleaning products (it turned out the woman who bought
them has an allergy to rose oil)
– a Petmate cat drinking water fountain
– a bicycle tire pump
– a crockpot cookbook
– the game Cranium

Examples of some things I have given on Freecycle:
– a cat carrier
– a small computer desk
– an adjustable metal bedframe
– the game Trivial Pursuit
– some old, but still usable, garden tools

I have never really had a bad experience using Freecycle, but once, after I had picked up a box of used canning jars, I received an email requesting them back, because the man had not checked with his wife first. I guess he was in “trouble”. Of course, I was disappointed, but let him pick them up. I have also received items, because I was “next on the list” of responders, when someone never showed up to pick up the item. So be aware, that does happen on occasion.

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U.S. News & World Report Article: How to Guard Against Rising Gas Prices; LA Times says BBB rates MyGallon.com ‘F’

Posted on July 5, 2008. Filed under: Home & Garden, Travel & Leisure, Uncategorized, Utilities | Tags: , , , , , , , |

U.S.News & World Report
How to Guard Against Rising Gas Prices

Stock investments and prepurchased gallons are hedges for consumers
Wednesday July 2, 3:17 pm ET
By Kimberly Palmer

Rising gas prices are inspiring drivers to find new ways of protecting
themselves against future increases–including buying gas in advance
and investing in stocks that tend to rise along with the price of

One new company, MyGallons.com, lets customers buy gallons ahead of
time based on the current prices in their area–in theory, locking in
a lower price–and then redeem those gallons at a later date,
regardless of any price increases in the interim.

Consumers can also invest in oil companies, coal companies, and other
stocks that are likely to benefit from more expensive oil. “Look for
companies that will benefit indirectly from oil prices and directly
from increased energy efficiency,” says Paul Larson, editor of
Morningstar StockInvestor. That way, he says, consumers can balance
higher expenses at the pump with higher returns on their investments.

At MyGallons.com, the company makes those investments itself. Founder
Steve Verona says that the company protects itself against future gas
price increases through taking positions in the stock market. That
way, customers can enjoy the simplicity of purchasing and redeeming
gallons for an established amount and avoid experiencing market
fluctuations themselves. Verona says the company doesn’t plan to make
money on gas, but rather from the annual membership fee (about $30),
the interest float on the money that is paid before the gas is
redeemed, and advertising on its website.

For consumers interested in hedging their own bets, one option is
investing in oil companies. “When gas prices go up, generally oil
prices have gone up, and that raises [oil companies’] revenue,” Larson
says. He also suggests looking for companies that benefit indirectly
from rising oil prices, such as railroads, which are a more energy
efficient way of moving cargo over long distances than trucks. “That’s
why railroads are doing so well today,” Larson adds.

Oil exploration companies such as Southwestern Energy also offer a way
of protecting oneself against future gas price increases, says Peter
Cohan, president of a management consulting and venture capital firm
that bears his name. In addition, he recommends coal companies,
including Walter Industries, Arch Coal, and Peabody Energy, since coal
can be used as an energy source instead of oil. Alternative-energy
companies, on the other hand, tend to be overvalued right now, Cohan
says, and he advises staying away from them.

Of course, gas prices could come down, which could turn any of these
investment ideas into losing propositions. As with all investments,
says Tim Maurer, director of financial planning for Financial
Consulate, a Baltimore advisory firm, consumers need to be prepared to
stomach volatility. In fact, his firm has recently limited its
exposure to oil in expectation of a short-term market correction.

If prices do indeed fall, then what will happen to MyGallons.com
customers’ prepurchased gallons? Verona says most people will simply
hold on to them until prices go back up again.

But what if prices are currently at their peak and don’t go up again?
Verona says that’s unlikely. “Very few analysts expect prices to come
down…because current demand is increasing, while supply has stayed
steady. We’re talking years, if not decades, before [proposed]
solutions have any impact. In the interim, prices should continue to
rise,” Verona says. He adds that if customers opt to drop out of the
program, they can get a refund for their purchased gallons.

Still, the simplest way to protect oneself from rising gas prices,
says Charlie Ober, vice president at T. Rowe Price and manager of its
New Era Fund, is to drive less, plan vacations closer to home,
carpool, and drive more fuel-efficient vehicles. “I think as a
consumer, you’re going to have to get used to a world of higher
gasoline prices,” he says, “and that is potentially a
lifestyle-changing event.”

To view the article on the U.S. News & World Report site:

From the Los Angeles Times

Gasoline seller MyGallons.com gets ‘F’ from Better Business Bureau
A report questions how MyGallons.com processes transactions.

By Elizabeth Douglass
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
July 4, 2008

With gasoline prices at nosebleed levels, MyGallons.com sounds like a great deal: Pre-purchase gasoline through the website and save cash as the price climbs.

But pumpers should beware.

In a new report, the Better Business Bureau gave Miami-based MyGallons.com an “F” rating, citing what it called “a material omission of fact” in the publicity material distributed as part of the service’s launch Monday.

“It’s just like in school, so ‘F’ is obviously bad,” said Alison Preszler, a spokeswoman for the bureau. “We’re not calling this a scam. . . . We just have serious concerns.”

The company said its gas- redemption program used the Voyager fleet network, a bank-card processing service owned by U.S. Bank. But it has become clear that MyGallons.com doesn’t have a deal with the bank and currently doesn’t have any other card processor in place, Preszler said.

“This is obviously a huge red flag for the Better Business Bureau, because they don’t have the most basic system up,” she said.

MyGallons.com founder Steven Verona said it had an agreement to use the Voyager network through a regional reseller and had processed its card transactions through that system during a three-month trial that recently ended. Verona said he believed his contract was still in effect when he issued the news release about the program’s launch.

Verona supplied the Los Angeles Times with an electronic copy of a June 15 invoice from the reseller, Go Gas Universal. The bill, which includes an account number and MyGallons’ address, lists a total due of $847.70 for 208 gallons of gas purchased in Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

“We had an agreement with them. We’ve agreed to go our separate ways, and we are replacing them with one of their competitors,” Verona said in an interview Thursday. “We’ll have a big announcement on Monday or Tuesday with the replacement.”

Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp provided a statement Thursday saying: “Neither U.S. Bank National Association ND, nor Voyager Fleet Systems Inc. have a contract to do business with MyGallons.com LLC, and there are no ongoing negotiations to enter into any agreement with MyGallons.”

U.S. Bank didn’t say whether it once had a contract with MyGallons.com, either through the bank or through a regional reseller, and a spokeswoman was unable to immediately verify MyGallons’ claims about Go Gas. Officials at Go Gas Universal couldn’t be reached.

Verona was surprised to hear that his company had been given an “F” grade. “I’m looking forward to straightening this out with the Better Business Bureau,” he said.

The report was posted Wednesday by the Better Business Bureau of Southeast Florida and the Caribbean.

“They’re saying to the public, here are the gas stations where you can go and use this card. Yet there’s no ability for the card to be utilized,” said Michael Galvin, a vice president at the Florida bureau. “They have to prove to us that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and right now their advertising is erroneous.”

The bureau made no assessment of MyGallons’ business model, which allows consumers to contract to buy gasoline at current prices and store the credit on a debit-like card. The company said the prepaid gas card could be redeemed at a long list of filling stations, including major brands such as Shell and Chevron.

Annual memberships cost $29.95 or $39.95 and there is a $1.95 fee each time customers refill their cards.

MyGallons said it was investing most of the customer money in low-risk accounts, with 20% of it used to purchase fuel-price hedges.

A similar membership service from GasBank USA is set to launch this year. The Boynton Beach, Fla.-based company also would issue debit-like cards that could be used at nearly any gas station — but the company’s website doesn’t say who will process the financial transactions.

In 2000, a Priceline.com affiliate launched a program that allowed users to name their price for gasoline, but the unit, Priceline WebHouse Club, went out of business later that year.

Verona, 39, has been involved in a string of companies including DB Net Ventures Inc. in Upper Darby, Pa.; Jewish Jeans Clothing in Columbus, Ohio; and an online store called Pursue Peace Clothing. Verona confirmed that he filed for personal bankruptcy in Ohio in 2001.

MyGallons.com’s Monday launch got widespread publicity. Verona said the site had signed up 6,000 members. Customers will be sent cards once the company finalizes a deal with a replacement processing firm, he said.

“Things are going great,” Verona said in an interview. “We’ve gotten a tremendous response from the public, and we’re very excited.”



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magicJack (almost) free phone service

Posted on July 2, 2008. Filed under: Home & Garden, Utilities | Tags: , , , , , , , |

An updated version of the magicJack article is posted on LivingWellonaBudget.com, click here

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Goodbye cable, Hello DTV!

Posted on July 1, 2008. Filed under: Entertainment, Home & Garden, Utilities | Tags: , , , , , , |

NOTE: This article has been updated on my new LivingWellonaBudget.com site, here:

I finally did it. Broke the cable habit and switched to free Digital TV. I was already at the lowest and cheapest cable package Comcast offered – limited basic (I downgraded right after HBO aired the final episode of ‘Sex in the City’ – one of my guilty pleasures). Canceling cable will save me $16.42 per month or $197.04 per year.  So far, my withdrawal symptoms are almost non-existent.  I get most of the same channels with DTV as with limited basic cable but I do miss Comcast’s more comprehensive online guide for tv programs. Here’s how I did it:

Step 1
I went to tvfool which allows you to enter your zip code to locate TV transmitters, look at coverage maps, and optimize your HDTV setup. I currently have a 6 year old, 25″ Symphonic SDTV, i.e., a  tv that only supports standard definition. tvfool.com is a good resource to learn about digital TV and how to incorporate it into your home theater system.

Step 2
I applied for a $40 coupon from the government toward a digital tv tuner at https://www.dtv2009.gov/ApplyCoupon.aspx . It took about 3-4 weeks for the coupon to arrive in the mail and looks like a credit or debit card.  Make sure to note the expiration date on the card and use it before it expires.

Step 3  Zenith DTT900 Digital TV Tuner
Meanwhile, I started researching DTV converter boxes. Luckily, I have a father who is analytical with a degree in electrical engineering and a HAM radio buff. He has expertise in these types of things. He owns and recommended the Zenith DTT900 Digital TV Tuner (if it’s good enough for him…).  I price shopped on and offline and found the best price (and in stock) at my local Frys Electronics store. My father told me to make sure I bought a unit with the box stamped Apr 08 or later. Apparently, there were some minor sound problems with earlier Zenith DTT900 units.  There were only 2 units left at that Frys, but they were Apr 08 so I purchased one.  With tax less the coupon, it cost me $11.87.  Click here for more info on the Zenith DTT900 Digital converter box.

Step 4
I went into my garage and dusted off my old rabbit ears antenna from when I used to live cable-free in Boston more than 11 years ago (sometimes it does pay to hang on to old stuff).

Step 5
I unplugged my cable box and plugged in the Zenith DTT900 and attached it and the rabbit ears to the back of my tv.  The installation process was very easy and straightforward, even for a non-electrical engineer.  Signal strength varies by channel and time of day where I live, so some adjustments need to be made to the “wabbit” ears frequently.  The Zenith tuner does have a tv program guide feature, but you can only see what the programming is for the current time and the next hour. I found a good Digital Television/HDTV Channel List for within 100 miles of San Francisco.

Step 6
I called Comcast and canceled my cable service. I returned the cable box and remote to the local Comcast office. They didn’t even put up a fight.

Step 7
My father, who lives in Massachusetts, said he will build and mail me a better antenna out of wire coat hangers, cardboard and tinfoil. I’ll give an update on that when it happens. He said it’s an easy DIY project and “even you could do it.” Thankfully, I won’t have to since he does this for fun.

Update on 7/29/08: I also had to get a two way tv splitter to connect both my DVD player and the DTV tuner/rabbit ears to my tv without having to swap cables around every time I wanted to watch a DVD – cost at Fry’s $1.89 +tax

Related articles/blog posts:

How To Recycle an Old Satellite Receiver Set Top Box instead of Buying a Digital Converter Box

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