Monday, November 30, 2015

Product review: AIBI Waterproof Solid Stainless Case Gold-tone Pearl Dial Quartz Wrist Watch for Women


This is a very nice looking watch. The watch is decorated with crystals (around the dial as well the numbers). I was a little worried that it might look too gaudy in person, but it is not. It looks elegant. It has a stainless steel body. The band's maximum width 9". This is too large for me and I was able to take out a few links with a link removal tool (not included). The face is white with slight pearlescent coating.

The face of the watch is 1.245" wide and the watch is 0.277" thick. The back of the watch states it has Japanese quartz movement. The watch is water resistant to rain and splashing but cannot be submerged into water.

The package include an English manual. The manual covers many watches and none of the faces match this one. But the watch only shows time (no day of the week or any other info) so it is very simple to set. In addition to a normal position the crown can be pulled and in that position it can be used to move the arms to adjust the time.

Overall, this is a very attractive classy looking watch. It comes in nice package, the box has a display pillow so the package would work well as a gift.

This watch is provided by ABBI for review. Getting a review product does not influence what I say, I leave critical reviews as well as positive reviews like this one. I have been wearing this watch for several weeks and it shows accurate time and I like how it looks.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Product review: aLLreLi USB 3.1 Type C Charging Cable for Nexus 5X / 6P


This listing combines several products, my review is for aLLreLi Type C to USB charging cable. I am using this cable with Nexus 6p.

I have been following Benson Leung reviews of Type C cables for a number of weeks prior to buying Nexus 6p. Benson has pointed out that many cables, including this one, violate the USB 3.1 specification that states that the termination resistor that advertises the maximum available current has been set incorrectly at 10K which advertises 3A of current, the correct value should be 22K which advertises 1.5A of current. However many Type A USB chargers are rated at 2.5A and some as high as 3A which are safe to use with this cable. I tried using this cable with a number of different chargers and the Nexus 6p phone. All of the chargers were self limiting to their specified capabilities, i.e. if the charger port is labeled as 1.5A that's what it approximately delivered, and charger ports that were labeled as 2.4A delivered approximately 2.4A.

To identify the maximum draw of the phone, I charged it with depleted battery using Type-C to Type-C cable and a Type-C charger provided by Google. My Nexus 6P has never drawn more that 2.5A when charging from the Type-C Google provided charger. Charging with aLLerLi cable and my various chargers stayed under this number as well. So I feel that the aLLeLi cable is safe for use with the Nexus 6p and a QUALITY charger. I don't want to say that it's safe for all combinations of devices, laptops like the Chromebook Pixel and the Apple Macbook draw more current than a phone, and there may be badly made chargers that lack current limiting and might burn themselves out. However with a quality charger that's rated for higher currents this cable will charge faster than a USB 3.1 compliant cable.

Below are the details of my tests. All test were done keeping all conditions the same: same level of charge for the phone, same apps running, keeping the screen on so I can see the results.

1) Type C to Type C cable that came from Google in Nexus 6p package with the phone discharged to the level at which is does rapid charging to see maximum draw
The phone draws 2300 mAh, the status indicates that it is charging rapidly. The phone battery level is at 61% to 62%.

2) aLLreLi Type C to Type A cable with several wall charger. I am using a current monitor to see how much it draws and compare the results with the cable received from Google in Nexus 6p package
With the battery level at 76% to 78% the phone does not use rapid charging. With non-rapid charging both cables behave the same
- aLLreLi cable 1.32A, Google cable is 1.31A

3) aLLreLi and Google cable with several different car chargers. The phone battery is at 58%, at this level it uses rapid charging if possible.
- aLLreLi cable using Bolse 3 port charger, 2.4A port: 2.31A (charging rapidly), Google cable on the same port 1.73A (charging)
- aLLreLi cable using Bolse 3 port charger, 1.5A port: 1.76A (charging rapidly), Google calbe on the same port 1.52A (charging)
- aLLreLi cable using Bolse 2 port charger, 2.1A port: 2.13A (charging rapidly), Google cable on the same port 1.51A (charging)

Attached are images from my tests that show the results with both cables.

The aLLreLi cable is 40 inches long. The cable inserted without a problem on the phone with a silicone skin on.

I received this cable from aLLreLi for testing and review. Bottom line: aLLeLi cable is not USB 3.1 compliant and does behave differently from a USB 3.1 compliant cable provided by Google in "rapid charging" mode however I see no harmful effect on the phone with good quality self-limiting chargers and I am using this cable on regular basis.

YOu can find "aLLreLi USB 3.1 Type C Charging Cable" on Amazon by following this link

Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Friday, November 27, 2015

Product review: H&R Block 2015 Deluxe + State Tax Software

I just finished my preliminary tax return and happy to report that I have not encountered any problems. Overall, the interface looks very similar to last year.

I've used H&R Block's tax software (formerly called TaxCut) every year since 1995. Several times when I saw a promotional deal I purchased both H&R Block and TurboTax to compare. I found that both programs satisfied my needs but H&R Block costs consistently less. I have been buying the Deluxe version of H&R Block because it covers it the mutual funds sales and cost basis calculations are included (Schedule D) and the form for Foreign Tax Credit from mutual funds is present (Form 1116). To get this functionality in TurboTax you need to buy the Premium version of the software.

The price on this package changes often and you can catch some great discounts. I use a nice tool that shows history of Amazon prices. If you enter "Amazon price history alert" in Google it will come up at the top, my favorite has the word "camel" (repeated 3 times) in the name. You can set up the tool to send you an alert when you desired price drop is reached. During the last tax year season the price fluctuated between $20 and the list price of $44.99, and was on the gold deal special a couple of times.

' I had no problems with my install. However in 2013 I helped a friend resolve an install problem on a Windows 8 PC us installing from a CD. I am including what we did again as I know a few people told me in helped with 2014 install. Normally the automatic install runs a file called "tcauto.exe". This file in turn calls another program located under "installers" directory which actually does the work. We were able to by-pass the error by executing the exe program in the installers directory directly, this year it should be called "HR_Block_Tax_Software_2015_Deluxe__State_-_Windows_CD.exe" (it is the only file in that directory).

' If you encounter issues with display, such as not seeing selection boxes, check your screen resolution. Both Windows and Mac minimum requirement for the screen resolution is 1024 x 768 pixels or higher. At a lower resolution H&R Block software will have problem with display such as not properly displaying selection boxes. Screen resolution can be changed on your control panel by change PC's display settings.

' If you are using a digital download you will need a key-code to install the software after you dowload it. The key-code can be located several ways.
Option 1: In the past when my download finished the install started automatically and offered me a choice of two links "View Keys" and "Install".
Option 2: This year the install did not start automatically so I clicked on the install program myself, and on the first screen it asked for "Activation code". When I purchased the software Amazon sent me a message which included a Product Code (note that they did not call it Activation code) which is the number I needed.
Option 3: You can locate it in your Amazon account:
1) Log into Amazon
2) Select Your Account at the top right of the page
3) Select Games and Software downloads which is towards the bottom of the long page you see when you log in
4) Then under H&R software entry you will see the key-code that you need to enter to unlock the software

' If you have a virus scanner it will generate an alert the first time you run the program, change the permission to "Permin Always" otherwise the program will be blocked.

' Does H&R allow to install the software on two PCs?
I found the answer on H&R Block web site FAQ under the topic "Installing Software on Another Computer"
I quote the FAQ answer below:
"There are just a few steps necessary to re-install the H&R Block At Home program from the CD you received in the mail. Follow the steps below to re-install the program or install it on a second computer.
Insert the H&R Block At Home CD into your computer.
Click the Need to Re-install? link on the menu bar at the bottom of the screen.
The Frequently Asked Questions page will open to the first FAQ titled, "Can I install the software on a second computer?"
Enter your activation code and last 4 digits of the credit card you used to purchase the program initially and click Activate.
You can find your activation code in your purchase confirmation e-mail.
Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the installation."


I purchased H&R Block Deluxe plus State. This version entitles me to 5 free federal e-files. It allows me to print and mail as many returns as I want, there is no limit on printed returns.

One state software is included in the package but the package does NOT include free e-file for the state return (see one exception below). If you want to e-file your state return you will need to pay a fee of $19.95 to e-file each state return. Alternatively, you can print all the forms and mail them using US post office without any additional fees. If you need to file taxes for an additional state, each additional state is $39.95 plus $19.95 e-file fee.

Note 1: NY state residents can e-file state returns for free if their income is $60,000 or less.
Note 2: It is not possible to e-file a state return for New Hampshire, it has to be mailed in.


I just finished my preliminary tax return and below are my observations. Note: the forms are not final until mid January of 2016.

' Pet Peeve: H&R Block starts the interview process with an annoying up-sell pitch, recommending an upgrade from Deluxe to Premium even when it is not necessary. In my opinion, they should wait until the person enters this year's data and suggest the upgrade only if there is something about the return that can benefit from the Premium version. That would have been useful.

What is the difference between Premium and Deluxe? The Premium version offers advanced tools for self-employed and rental property owners: cost basis of home sales, dividends, gifts, and inheritance assets. It has advanced schedule C guidance to maximize deductions for self-employment income. And finally it has guidance for rental property income and expenses. The rest of the Premium package is the same as Deluxe.

Note that the Deluxe package has support for self-employed income as well as stock sale cost basis calculations.

' Pet Peeve: Help is not context sensitive. For example, when you click on "learn more" about a particular topic the general help window opens but it does not show help topics for the specific topic that you were working on. Instead you need to search and know which key words to use locate the relevant topics.

' H&R Block provides you some guidance for completing Form 1116 (foreign tax credit, for example foreign tax paid by mutual funds). However, you need to keep switching between whole-form view to enter data and then back to interview to read the instructions. Even though the form where you can enter data is visible at the same time as instructions you cannot enter data into it until you switch into whole-form view. This is cumbersome, but at least there is some guidance for this form.

' DeductionPro (which helps you put value on your charitable donations) is integrated into H&R Block software running on your local PC. It suggests reasonable prices based on condition of the donated item and it is nice not to have to come up with what is reasonable on my own.

' Pet Peeve: I don't use the default location for the tax returns due to how I set up my backup software. The H&R Block software does not initially remember this new location on the second start of the application, it told me I have no returns. I needed to pick the return manually from the File menu, as it did remember recently used files. The third time I started the software, it finally knew the location of the tax return file.

' For folks trying to download State Forms. The state forms are not available as of 11/20/2015. H&R web site says they will become available in January. To see the latest status you can go to H&R website, click on Dowload software, then hover over "Download Software" on the top banner and select "State Editions". Currently it says "Coming soon in January 2016".

When the state forms became available and teh state software can be downloaded directly from the program.

' At the end of the interview process there is a check step (which you can run at any time, but the interview ends with this check). This step flags problems (e.g. missing information) and potential audit alerts (e.g. unusual deductions) with red flags, and reminders (e.g. things you marked tentative) with yellow flags.

' Sometimes I want to return to some section of my return. The best way to jump to any section directly without navigating through other pages is to use "take me to" button which is displayed at the top of every page, on the same line as H&R Block banner.

' Does H&R has the ability to import TurboTax data from previous years?
Yes. TurboTax files have a .tax extension. Use the Browse button within H&R Block application to navigate to the folder you need and it will import the data from TT return.

' The final tax return can be saved in a .PDF format for future reference.

' Last year there were many reports of thieves filing fraudulent tax returns using stolen social security numbers
If this happens the person who tries to file their own tax return gets the following error:

IRS records show the spouse's Social Security number (SSN) on this return is the same as the primary taxpayer's SSN on another return already filed this year. Double-check your spouse's SSN. Fix any issues and e-file again. Otherwise, you'll have to file a paper return.

What to do if this happens?
1. Call HRB told them of the issue (1-800-472-5625)
2. Call IRS (1-800-829-1040) had them flag the SS#
IRS states that people need to mail completed return, a copy of police report or Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit, copy of Drivers License or passport or SS card.
3. Call Equifax and have them put an alert on the SS# (They notify Experian and TransUnion as well)
4. Call Social Security Administration and notify them (1-800-772-1213)
5. File with FTC
6. File a police report of a possible identity theft

I have been a H&R Block/TaxCut user for many years. I keep coming back because it works well for the tax forms I need to do and it is less expensive than TurboTax. If you have a question I have not covered leave a comment and I will do my best to answer it.

You can find H&R Block 2015 Deluxe + State Tax Software on Amazon by following this link

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Product review: Cat Window Seat SmartSpeed with Suction Cup


I want to start with a few words about the construction of the seat. The suction cups are LARGE (3.25"), so they provide a secure hold. The string that holds the seat is made out of twisted metal wires, like a heavy duty picture frame hanging wire, so that is also very secure even if the kitty runs its claws over it. The seat is made out of canvas bag with a waterproof lining inside the bag. The top material has a feel of canvas (it is not plush). The plastic tubes are hollow this provides structural strength. So I believe it can hold a couple of heavy cats. Our kitty cats are pretty small (7 and 8 pounds) so it sure holds them well. In attached video you see them rubbing against the wires supports and pulling on them with their paws, we held our breath watching them but the shelf held without a problem. The shelve has been up for more than 2 weeks with the cats going up and down and we did not need to readjust or reattach it.

Assembly was easy. The plastic parts push together to form a frame. The canvas bag is pulled over the frame. The canvas seat has two small holes through which you need to feed the wires that to to the top suction cups. As the cats sit on the shelve it does not remain taught, it kind of sags in the middle forming a nest.

I have to say that our kitties did not take to the shelf right away. They did not like the texture of the canvas. We fixed that by putting a towel over it as we know our cats love any towel. With the towel in place they had an initial fear of the seat, but we enticed them to try it out by placing a couple of Greenies in the middle of the shelf. Our kitties love Greenies so they went for it. Once they were on the shelf they realized it was a pretty good place to be. By the next day they did not need any enticement, and we see our cats taking turns sleeping there as well as looking out of the window. We put the window seat on the windows across from our bird feeders as our indoor cats often look at the birds through the windows.

The seat comes without assembly instructions. My video include the major steps
1) putting together the frame of the seat
2) threading the wires through the seat
3) inserting anchors into the suction cups
4) attaching the seat to the window

This shelf was provided to our feline testers for review. Once they got over their initial fear they like it and told me to give it a 5 star rating. We see them on the shelf quite often, mostly sleeping rather than gazing out of the window, but they like it.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Product review: Rosewill 750W ATX12V EPS12V Power Supply Capstone G750


This is a nice power supply with enough for any personal computer. Its capacity of 750w and a large number of connectors (total of 8 connectors and 10+4 Main plug that is hard-wired). This power supplies provides a lot of room for growth.

Capstone 750 is 6 3/8" x 3.5" x 6". It uses ribbon cables, which are more flexible than round cables.

--> One 20 +4 Main plug, it is hard-wired
It can handle motherboards with both 20 pin or 24 pin connectors.
--> Two EPS12V CPU plug (modular)
The power supply supports two CPUs. It maybe be used for servers that use two CPUs, most desktops use one CPU.
--> Two PCIe (modular)
Supports two SLI graphics cards
--> Four SATA or Molex plugs
2 SATA cables, each with 4 plugs, total of 8 SATA devices
1 Molex cable, four Molex plugs and one floppy plug

I measured the power supply with a power supply tester and all votages are within tolerance. The attached video includes several screen shots that show the power supply tester output. The top number for each rail shows the expected results, the number below (in a slightly larger font) shows the actual reading. 0.5V is the acceptable tolerance. All readings are well within the tolerence. Its a good one!

This power supply is provided by Rosewill.

You can find it by following this link

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Product review: Balichun White Goose Down and Goose Feather Pillow

I have been sleeping on 100% down/goose pillows all my life, so I know exactly how they feel. This pillow is a bit different. It has a spongy center that I can feel. It has a core that feels like foam and goose/down envelope on the outside of the core. What I like about down pillows is that they are not spongy, this pillow has a lot of resilience while a 100% goose/down pillows do not. This is a high loft pillow.

This is not a bad pillow, I like it more than a pure polyester foam pillow, but if are looking for a down pillow that is made totally of goose feathers and down (like The Company Store pillows, for example) this is not it.

I ordered a standard size and the size was spot on - all my standard pillow cases fit perfectly.
Cleaning instructions from the label: do not wash in water, do not dry clean, tumble dry

I received this pillow for testing and review, as part of a new product introduction.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★☆☆

Friday, November 20, 2015

Product review: NewNow 20000mAh Power Bank Portable

This external packs turned out to be larger than I imagined from the stock photos. Its size is 5.75" x 1.75" x 0.75" and it weighs slightly over a pound. The power pack has two ports, both of them are 1A. The external pack as a small built-in flashlight. It generates a very small beam of light and is not very bright.

The external battery performed very well charging with my Android phone. It did not perform at am optimal range for IPad Mini. My current monitor showed that neither of the ports delivers over 1A, which is required for an optimal charge for Apple devices.

To see how well different chargers and external batteries charge my mobile devices I use a Nexus phone and an iPadMini to test each of them. The current drawn from the battery depends on each device using the battery. I always use the same two devices and I do my tests with the devices charged to the same level, running the same applications and using the same cables to keep everything the same. This allows me to do a relative comparison of each battery and identify the ones that do not perform well. Note that these tests are not testing for the maximum current each device can draw on each port as neither of my devices can max out the port.

I also tested to see if the battery supports pass-through charging (i.e. whether the battery can charge mobile devices while it is being charged). This battery does NOT supports charge through charging. It can not charge while being charged.

Samsung Nexus phone:
port 1: 1.02A/5.05V (excellent comparing the performance of the same device with other chargers)
port 2: 1.00A/5.04V (excellent comparing the performance of the same device with other chargers)
(for comparison the best charging monitor result for this phone is 1.00A/5V)

iPad Mini tablet:
Neither of the ports delivers over 1A, which is required for optimal charge for Apple devices.
port 1: 0.93A / 5.08V (average for 1A port for the same device with other chargers)
port 2: 0.93A / 5.10V (average fpr 1A port for the same device with other chargers)
(for comparison the best charging monitor result for this tablet is 1.70A/5V)

' size: 5.75" x 1.75" x 0.75"
' weight: 1 lb 7 oz
' number of ports: 2 - both ports are 1 Amp
' flashlight: yes
' pass through charging: NO (i.e. the battery CANNOT charge while being charged itself)
' cables: 1 charging cable

Since neither of the ports produced more than 1A this battery is best suited for Android devices, MP3 players, portable speakers etc. Just not devices that work best with 2A ports such as Apple devices.

This battery pack is provided by NewNew for testing and review. Getting a review product does not influence what I say, I run tests and report what I see purely based on a performance of the product.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★☆