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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Book Review: Zero Day by David Baldacci

Just when you think you figured it out, Baldacci takes the story in a new direction
 
The new book from David Baldacci "Zero Day" introduces us to a new hero, John Puller. Like in his other books David Baldacci the plot develops quickly and makes you root and care for the hero. He is a army Special Agent who prefers field work to advancement in the military ranks. He is called to investigate a case in rural area in West Virginia, and unravels a conspiracy that reaches well beyond the borders of West Virginia borders. The plot is fast-moving, enjoyable, and unpredictable. Just when you think what is happening Baldacci takes the story in a new direction.

I got this book on a vacation day when I was supposed to do a slew of errands... however, I could not put the book down and wound up reading the book all day turning my chore day into a fantastic trip into imagination and adventure.

The book ends in a way that makes you think we will be seeing this hero again, and I am looking forward to it.


You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★

P.S.
I "discovered" David Baldacci only about a year ago. My plan is to read all David Baldacci books, so I put this list together with all the books and which series they belong to, I hope someone else will find this list useful as well.

David Baldacci book by publication year

Absolute Power (1996)
Total Control (1996)
Winner, the (1997)
Saving Faith (1999)
Simple Truth, the (1999)
Wish You Well (2000)
Last Man Standing (2002)
Christmas Train, the (2002)
Split Second (2003) King&Maxwell series
Hour Game (2004) King&Maxwell series
Camel Club, the (2005) Camel Club series
Fries Alive! (2005)
Collectors, the (2006) Camel Club series
Mystery of Silas Finklebean, the (2006)
Simple Genius (2007) King&Maxwell series
Stone Cold (2008) Camel Club series
Divine Justice (2008) Camel Club series
Whole truth (2008) Shaw&James series
First Family (2009) King&Maxwell series
True Blue (2009)
Hell's Corner (2010) Camel Club series
Deliver us from eval (2010) King&Maxwell series
The Sixth Man (2011 King&Maxwell series
One Summer (2011)
Zero Day (2011)

Baldacci books by series

Sean King and Michelle Maxwell
1 : Split Second (2003) by David Baldacci
2 : Hour Game (2004) by David Baldacci
3 : Simple Genius (2007) by David Baldacci
4 : First Family (2009) by David Baldacci
5 : The Sixth Man (2011) by David Baldacci

Camel Club
1 : Camel Club, the (2005) by David Baldacci
2 : Collectors, the (2006) by David Baldacci
3 : Stone Cold (2008) by David Baldacci
4 : Divine Justice (2008) by David Baldacci
5 : Hell's corner (2010) by David Baldacci

John Puller
1 : Zero Day (2011)

Freddy and the French Fries -- Genre: Fiction' Children & Young Adult' Humorous Fiction
Fries Alive! (2005) by David Baldacci
Mystery of Silas Finklebean, the (2006) by David Baldacci

Shaw & James
1 : Whole Truth, the (2008)
2 : Deliver us from evil (2010)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Product Review: Plantronics SupraPlus CS361N Noise-Canceling Wireless Headset DECT Plantronics SupraPlus CS361N Noise-Canceling Wireless Headset DECT

Works well. Painless exchange when first set died after 6 months
 
I purchased this Plantronics SupraPlus headset to work with Sysco desk telephone (VOIP). I use this phone in a relatively noisy office, so binaural design was important to me to block out unrelated noise.  Wireless was important so I can move into enclosed office for privacy (conference rooms do not have phones, so one needs to initiate a call in a cubicle).  The headset met all my expectations and I am pleased with it.

SET UP

Setting up adjustments for sensitivity requires two people. It took us a good 10 minutes to figure out which of the numerous settings would provide good sound on both ends.  Originally even though I could hear well, I was either not heard on the other end or my voice had a lot feedback.  I recommend making a test call once you do the initial set up to make sure that when you make an important call you can be heard well.
Once the tuning was done, my voice sounds good on the other side as long as I position the mouth piece close to my mouth.  If the mouth piece is not positioned close the sound on the other end has echo.


OPERATION

The phone is very comfortable and light. I can use it for multi-hour conference calls without any discomfort. I use the padded cushions (the headset also came with the foam cups).

The best feature of the headset is the distance the sound carries.  I am able to walk more than 50 feet away from my office and still be able to talk on the phone.  During long conference calls I put the call on mute and even able to go to the bathroom while still listening to the conversation!


Phone lifter is not included in the package (but can be purchased separately), so I need to start the phone call on the actual phone and then move if I need to make a phone call in another location.

I have not run out of power on this phone yet.  When the headset is not in use it is recharging on the stand.

After approximately 6 months of use the headphones stopped functioning.  I called Plantronics support line and they walked me through trying to reset the headset. When this did not fix it, they said they will ship the new headset and I needed to return the old headset within 30 days for the exchange to be free.  This replacement was quick and painless.  The second headset has been in operation for more than 6 months without any issues.

Overall, I am very pleased with the headset and would buy it again.


You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Product review: Roof Ice Dam Breaker & Gutter Deicer and Prevention


I have two areas with ice dams - the top of the dormer and a the steep lower roof.  This review evaluate a commercial available solution which did not work for me, and my own version of it which worked.

Last year I tried using RoofIce Dam Breaker, which is essentially a long tube filled with salt, which are supposed to deposit on top of your roof where you have ice dam problems.  RoofIce Dam is a big heavy ice stock. It you can safely get it to the roof it works fine. However I needed to solve the ice dam problem after 60" of snow already fell, make it impossible to get on a ladder safely. Raising the big stock full of salt to the top of the dormer roof turned out to be very difficult. I was able to put it on top of the ice dam on the steep lower roof, but it slid off under its own weight. The sock is too heavy to stay on roof with steep angle. However, I found a solution that worked for both of my problem areas.

I took a nylon stocking, filled it with calcium chloride to form a sausage about 4" long. To make it easier to fill the stocking I took a 16 oz yogurt container and cut out its bottom. This made a nice sturdy funnel which kept the top of the stocking wide open for pouring the calcium chloride.

I tied the top of the stocking onto itself and then tied it to a garden thread so I could retrieve the stocking later (who wants a roof full of stocking?). The thread turned out to be helpful on my failed attempts, when the sock wound up in the bushes and I had to pull it out and try again.

Then I took an extension pole used for a roof rake. I replaced the big rake with a small brush so it would be easier to hoist it up to the level of the roof of my dormer where my major ice dam is located.
My first few attempts were to fold the sock over the brush and dump it on the roof. But that did not work as either the stocking fell before it reached the desired spot, or I could not disengage the brush without knocking the sock down.

Finally, the solution that worked was using the pole and the brush as a lever. I put the thread attached to the sock over the brush, and raised the brush to the roof positioning it where I wanted the sock to be located. The stocking meanwhile was laying on the ground. Then, using the brush as my lever, I pulled on the thread to raise the stocking to the roof. This worked very well the first time I tried!

My second problem area, is the steep lower roof. I could not get even a small stocking to stay on the lower roof as it has a very steep angle. However, my dormer windows are above the ice dam, so I suspended a stocking with ice melt on a thread from a window. 

I also want to make a note that the nylon gets stuck to the ice. When I tried repositioning one of the socks it would not budge. The gravity makes it drops when the salt melts the ice around it, but repositioning the sock to another spot turned out to impossible because it is stuck to the ice, and pulling it might tear the stocking dropping all the salt at once rather than via slow release.



24 hours later I saw that the ice stocking built a channel. I can see the trapped water coming out of the channel.

The idea behind this method is not to melt the entire ice dam, but to give water an outlet from under the ice dam. So all you need is a small channel. The water will go where there is the less amount of resistance.

After my first successful ice dam break I put the sock on the roof of the dormer before the snow. When the snow began melting (and normally this is when my problems begin), I noticed that the biggest icicle is formed right under where the sock is placed on the edge of the roof. The unexpected bonus is that the salty water from this big icicle is dripping on the lower roof and pouring into the rain gutter. The rain gutter (which in the past was totally uncased in ice) did not freeze right under the big salty icicle, thus allowing the water to drain into the gutter.

Ali Julia review ★★★☆☆

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Product review: Glad Small Garbage Bags 4 Gallon and Ruffies 4 Gallon Trash Bags

I was looking for trash bags to fit the small trash can from Nine Stars Touchless Automatic Motion Sensor Trash Can, Set of 2

The trash bin of the small can measures 11" height x 9" width x 5" depth, and I found that this 4 gallon trash bag fits it perfectly.

Not all trash bags product descriptions list the exact dimensions of the bags, only the volume, so until I purchased the bag I was not sure how good the fit was going to be.

The trash bag measures 18" by 17" (see photo labeled G1). The Glad bag has pretty good thickness, in photo G2 you can see my hand inside of the bag and you can barely see my hands outline.

I also purchased Ruffies 4 gallon trash bags. They are sized 18" by 16.5" (see photo labeled R1). As you can see in photo R2 they are much thinner than Glad bags, you can see my hand inside the bag very well. I also could not find unscented version of Ruffies. The ones I purchased are scented with "Vanilla cream". It is not too strong, but noticeable, and I prefer unscented Glad bags.

So overall, I like Glad bags better than alternatives. Normally, Amazon is my preferred shopping option, however current Amazon price is surprisingly bad. I purchased my Glad bags at a local grocery store for $1.49 cents, which works out to be 5 cents per bag.  I purchased Ruffies at Walmart also at 5 cents per bag.

I give Glad 4 gallon trash bags 5 stars, and Ruffies 4 gallon trash bags 3 stars.


You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★,★★★☆☆

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Product review: Zeikos ZE-FLK49 49mm Multi-Coated 3 Piece Filter Kit (UV-CPL-FLD)

Perfect fit for SONY NEX 5N.  Exactly what I was looking for: inexpensive and it works well!

  I was looking for a UV filter to protect the lens on my SONY NEX 5N, and this three-pack was such a good deal that I could not pass it up. All filters fit SONY NEX 5N perfectly, they are easy to put on and take off. The original SONY lens cap fits securely.

The UV filter stays on the camera permanently - I notice no degradation in the image and it protects the lens from dirt and scratches.

I also used the polarizer filter a fair number of times, and has been satisfied with how it cut reflection and glare. I have a much more expensive polarizer on my full-size SLR camera and this one does as good of a job as the other one. I am very pleased.

FLD filter is useful to correct color contrast (white balance) when shooting under fluorescent lights, however when I need to do this correction I use Photoshop features to correct this, so I have not used this filter so far.

The filters come in a nice case, which keeps the filters well protected. I am attaching a photo showing the filters and the case.

Overall I am very satisfied and the price for the set is very good.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Food review: Near East Couscous Mix

I love Near East Couscous. I always have a few boxes of couscous on hand for "emergencies" when I had no time to cook and I am in a hurry. Not only do I like the taste it is the easiest and fastest thing to prepare that I know.

Couscous is a coarsely ground pasta made from semolina, a type of wheat. When cooked it is light and fluffy, not gummy or gritty. Instant couscous already has been steamed and then dried again before it is packaged. To prepare it it only needs be soaked in boiling water until it swells, a process that takes only a few minutes. You don't even need the stove.

To start, measure out your couscous.
Pour it into a heatproof bowl.
Add hot water – the general proportion is 2 parts couscous to 3 parts water. So for 1 cup of couscous you'll need 1 1/2 cups water.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 5 minutes.
Fluff with a fork before serving.

Couscous doesn't have a lot of flavor on its own, but it works well as a base for vegetable or meat dishes. I have not found anything does NOT go with it.  I like it with chicken, fish, lamb, and beef. I especially like it with the dishes have sauce as couscous absorbs the sauce so well.  It also mixes well into salads and can be flavored with herbs like coriander, basil. It's a great base for all sorts of dishes.

I recommend it. It is a must have in pantry!


You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Friday, December 23, 2011

Product review: Wasabi Power Battery and Charger Kit for Sony NP-FW50, Alpha SLT-A33, SLT-A35, SLT-A55V, NEX-3, NEX-5, NEX-5N, NEX-7, NEX-C3

Great deal! Now works with SONY NEX-5N
 

I purchased this battery pack for SONY NEX-5N (a SONY camera that came out in September of 2011), which takes NP-FW50 battery. SONY NEX-5N uses batteries at a pretty fast clip, so having a couple of extra batteries that this battery pack offers is very handy.

Wasabi battery pack is a great deal. It includes two batteries, a recharger, a car charger and European plug converter for the price that is less than the price of one original SONY NP-FW50 rechargeable battery.


I charged one of the Wasabi battery in the SONY recharger and one in Wasabi recharger, and they both charged successfully in similar amount of time.

The camera accepted the battery and work well.

One note on the Wasabi charger design. The first photo illustrates this point. The battery charger has thin plastic arms extending upwards to hold the battery in the charger. These arms extend up about 1/2 inch from the body of the charger. They are not collapsible. This seem to be a fragile point in the charger especially if you travel with this recharger. Thin plastic parts are likely to break as the luggage is tossed around in transit. Without them the battery will not make proper contact to be recharged.

* Compatibility

Sony has a special chip in every battery. So even though the batteries are NP-FW50, they are chipped for different versions. The older version of NP-FW50 compatible batteries do not work in SONY NEX-5N. When buying a non-OEM battery make sure your SONY NEX-5N is explicitly listed on the compatibility list.


You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Product review: Sony FDA-EV1S Electronic Viewfinder for NEX-5N Digital Camera

I purchased Sony NEX 5N this fall and overall enjoyed the camera (see my review for details). The one issue I had with the camera was ability to see the LCD screen in the sun, but I knew this OLED view finder was coming and hoped it would resolve the issue. I received it yesterday and I am very pleased!

Note that this viewfinder is only compatible with Sony NEX 5N, and it is not compatible with Sony NEX-3C.  I owned NEX-3C briefly and traded it in for NEX 5N for exactly this reason.

The OLED display is very clear. Not only does it help me to see the image perfectly, it also allows me to see text and numbers better as it has a control that allows you to adjust it to your eyesight. I am slightly far sighted and was able to get the display perfectly calibrated to my eyesight. The adjustment can go much higher and lower, so I know it will continue to work if my eyesight changes.


The OLED display has to be attached/removed to the camera while the camera is turned off. Once you connect it, there is a lock screw that holds it down. One of my concerns was that I could easily knock the viewfinder out of the connector while using the camera, but with a screw down mechanism there is no danger of that. The eyepiece if firmly in place while I pressed on it with my eye.

The eye piece can be adjust in many different positions so you can place it at different angles depending on how you need to hold the camera, so it works much better than the fixed position eye piece. I am attaching several photos showing the angles of the view finder to the camera. The two photos in this review show the different positions of the viewfinder. I left the camera's lens cap in the photo for size reference.

The OLED display comes with an end cap which protects the connector and soft cloth bag, which protects it from scratches.


The instructions recommend that the OLED view finder is always transported separately from the camera to avoid damage to the connectors.

There is a button which controls whether the LCD screen is on or off when the view finder is attached. The options are to have the display in both view finder and LCD screen or either of one of the two. I found having both on is handy when you want to use the screen to control the location of the focus. Auto focus prefers the center of the camera, and I often like off-center focused images for better composition. Even in the sun I can see the general area of where I want the focus to be, and then I look into the view finder for the final shot composition. Since the camera gives feedback to where the focus is located (the green square) I can confirm that my touch screen operation did what I wanted it to do. It is not a perfect solution for focus override but it works.

If you wear glasses it possible to remove the rubber eyepiece cup from the unit, but I did not find this to be an issue when I tried using the camera with my eyeglasses on.

OLED view finder is very sensitive to water. More sensitive the camera without the view finder. If you don't have a rain jacket for the camera, it is best not to use the view finder in the rain.

I LIKE

1. Clear image which I can see in the sun
2. Has diopter adjustment for perfect eyesight calibration
3. Lock screw holds it firmly in place
4. Allows me to control when I want LCD on (for touch screen focus control) and off (for battery power savings)

I DON'T LIKE

1. The price

Overall, it makes the camera much better for my use and I recommend it.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★



Monday, December 19, 2011

Product review: Fushigi Magic Gravity Ball

It sounds better than it is in reality
 
I bought this ball for a Yankee swap party at work.  It sounded like it would be a lot of fun and before the ball can be tried out it was a popular choice...   Lots of people got to try it after the gift giving part of the party has ended.  Despite the claim that "simple hand manipulation will make Fushigi ball appear to float" there was nothing simple about it. Making the ball appear to float requires lots and lots of practice, too much for most people.  And tossing the ball can damage the furniture, walls and floors. I was glad people were trying it in the empty conference room with only industrial furniture around.  At the end of the party there was nobody who wanted to take the ball home.

I don't recommend this ball.

Ali Julia review ★★☆☆☆

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Product review: Manfrotto 375 Multiclip by Bogen

Multiclip has multiple uses - a very handy gizmo!
 
Bogen Manfrotto multiclip is a very useful gizmo. I use this clip not only for photography but around the office as I found many uses for the clips.

The multiclip consists of two 3-inch-wide spring-loaded clips connected by a U-shaped metal bar. The clips can rotate around the bar, and provide enough friction to hold any the position you leave them in. I use one clips of the multiclip as an anchor to clip to something (photo stand, photo reflector, shelve, table lamp) and the other clip to hold something I need. I have use the multiclips (I have two of them) to hold either cards to reflect light forming "barn doors" on my light, hold a color gel, hold a background fabric, or for a non-photographic use to hold a piece of paper to prevent reflections on my monitor.

The clips are not strong enough to hold heavy objects, but they work great for paper, cardboard, photo gels, and background fabric. If I were to buy a photo light with real "barn doors" it would cost me a lot more money than by home-made barn doors with the use of these clips.

These Manfrotto Multiclips are very handy and I recommend them!

You can find them on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Product review: Maxi-lock Cone Thread 3000 Yards-White

Good Quality thread

Maxi-lock thread is a good quality thread and is cost effective. I don't have the serger sewing machine, yet I find it very useful for my quilting, embroidery, and sewing needs.

I use it in two way:
(1) I use it as a top thread using thread cone holder.
(2) I use it as a bottom bobbin thread. To wind it I use thread cone holder.

For general sewing I use Maxi Lock in top and bottom of my sewing machine. For embroidery and quilting I use Sulky thread as the top thread, and Maxi Lock thread as the bottom thread.

I am able to find tension on my sewing machine, which allows me to use Sulky thread as the top thread and maxi-lock thread as the bottom thread. I do this by setting the top tension to zero, and making small adjustments to the bobbin tension. This works particularly well when the bottom thread is close in color to the top thread. Maxi Lock has a huge variety of colors available. I have a large selection of bobbins with different Maxi Lock colors sitting ready to go to match whatever my top thread happens to be.

Using these large cones saves me a lot of money. They are so much more economical than the small spools, especially the wonderful (but expensive) Sulky threads.

I noticed that the price on the on this product on Amazon fluctuates. With a good sale I can find this thread at around $2 a spool. There is a nice online tool that I use to help catch a good price on Amazon, this tool is called "Online Price Alert". This tool will send you an email when the Amazon item price reaches the target price range that you specify. If you search on "online price alert" in Google it will be come up at the top. I find this tool to be very helpful.


You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Friday, December 16, 2011

Product Review: Philips PET729/37 7-Inch LCD Portable TV/DVD Player

Disappointing Purchase

I was looking forward to receiving this portable TV, but it turned out to be a disappointing purchase. I wanted it for multiple uses: to use in two rooms that don't have a cable outlets and to use during emergencies.

In addition to built-in antenna (based on reviews of other people) I also purchased Terk Antenna Terk Technology HDTVi VHF/UHF HDTV Indoor Antenna. However, downstairs I get no stations with built-in antenna and only 2 stations with the Terk Antenna. Upstairs I can get 3 channels with Terk Antenna ( NBC, ABC and PBS. I am missing CBS). If I connect the TV to a cable outlet it finds all the stations, but I don't need it in the rooms that I have an cable outlet.

Other problems:

* With antenna attached the unit is not portable (see picture), the cables are relative short and the antenna is huge.
* The antenna does not have a stable base, so it has to be on a very firm leveled area.
* The connection to the antenna is very bad, it falls out out of the TV easily. This is due to the design of the outlet in the TV. I purchased several connectors and none o them have a good fit.
* There is no way to turn on or turn off the unit using the remote control. Because the antenna is unstable and has to be located a flat surface and TV is attached to it by a cable, I can't easily reach the TV to turn it on and off. I have to get up and walk up to it. Annoying!

I don't recommend this product.


You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia reivew ★★☆☆☆

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Product review: Swiffer Disposable Cleanining Duster / Refills / Unscented

Terrific! I am totally converted to the Swiffer

 I used to use my lamb wool duster for ever, but when I saw Swiffer Duster coupon at Costco a while back I decided to give it a try. I loved it! I am totally converted to using this duster now. Here are the reasons why:


1. No matter how much dust I have, it never falls off.

2. When you are done, you don't have to figure out where to shake off the dust. You just take it off and toss it in the garbage. Very handy especially in the winter since I used to shake it off outside. However, when I shake it off in the yard I would see pieces of dust on the bushes. Not any more!

3. It is light and easy to maneuver. I use it for dusting everything from TV screens to blinds.

4. It is unscented.

5. If the house is not too dusty, I can get a couple of uses from each duster.

I am attaching a photo with two views: one of the duster's fluffy side and the other of the side which has sleeves to slide onto the duster handle. The fluff does not go all the way around, but I don't find that to be an issue. It dusts very well with what it has.

A note on price: The best price for the duster I found at Costco especially when they have a coupon for this item. Amazon price is pretty good but fluctuates. There is a nice online tool that I use to help catch a good price on Amazon, this tool is called "Online Price Alert". This tool will send you an email when the Amazon item price reaches the target price range that you specify. If you search on "online price alert" in Google it will be come up at the top. I find this tool to be very helpful.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Monday, December 12, 2011

Product review: Shake Weight for Women (Excercise)

Adds variety to an exercise routine

I recently had a serious back surgery and I am always looking for new things to keep me motivated exercising as it is very important for me to avoid further back problems. The novelty aspect of Shake Weight Dumbbell attracted my attention.

This weight is a molded plastic handle with a spring at each end that compresses and extends as you shake it back and forth. I like them because they add a bit of variety to my exercise routine. However, they are not providing a harder workout or burning more calories than the traditional weights. A recent Consumer report (July 2011) did electrocardiographic studies to judge how effective the Shake Weight system is and found that it is not any better than traditional weights. It does not not mean you should not use these weights, the study just clarifies that it is not a magic bullet. Any resistance exercise builds strength and any movement burns calories, and so does Shake Weight system.

If the novelty of Shake weight gets you exercising it did its job!

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book Review: The Camel Club by David Baldacci

First Baldacci book, but will not be the last.

"Camel Club" was my first David Baldacci book, and it will not be the last. It feels fantastic to discovery an author whose writing style you enjoy and who has a lot of books you can read/listen to. After a back surgery I need to walk as exercise, and a good audio book makes me want to do my exercises. This book did a splendid job at that - it made me want to keep walking and finding out the rest of the story.

When I was in the middle of my second Baldacci book  I realize "Camel Club" was part of the series and it was a pleasant surprise when a second randomly picked book ("Divine Justice") turned out to have the same hero (Oliver Stone). I was delighted! However, I realized that it would be helpful to figure out the order in which to read the books as the story references to previous adventures. It does not prevent one from enjoying the book not knowing the details of references, but the writing makes you care about the hero and I think reading the series in order would enhance the enjoyment.

My plan is to read all David Baldacci books, so I put this list together with all the books and which series they belong to.

David Baldacci book by publication year   
Absolute Power (1996)   
Total Control (1996)   
Winner, the (1997)   
Saving Faith (1999)   
Simple Truth, the (1999)   
Wish You Well (2000)   
Last Man Standing (2002)   
Christmas Train, the (2002)   
Split Second (2003)    King&Maxwell series
Hour Game (2004)    King&Maxwell series
Camel Club, the (2005)    Camel Club series
Fries Alive! (2005)   
Collectors, the (2006)    Camel Club series
Mystery of Silas Finklebean, the (2006)   
Simple Genius (2007)    King&Maxwell series
Stone Cold (2008)    Camel Club series
Divine Justice (2008)    Camel Club series
Whole truth (2008)    Shaw&James series
First Family (2009)    King&Maxwell series
True Blue (2009)   
Hell's Corner (2010)    Camel Club series
Deliver us from eval (2010)    King&Maxwell series
The Sixth Man (2011 King&Maxwell series
One Summer (2011)
Zero Day (2011)

Baldacci books by series

Sean King and Michelle Maxwell  
 
1 : Split Second (2003) by David Baldacci   
2 : Hour Game (2004) by David Baldacci
3 : Simple Genius (2007) by David Baldacci
4 : First Family (2009) by David Baldacci
5 : The Sixth Man (2011) by David Baldacci

Camel Club
1 : Camel Club, the (2005) by David Baldacci
2 : Collectors, the (2006) by David Baldacci
3 : Stone Cold (2008) by David Baldacci
4 : Divine Justice (2008) by David Baldacci
5 : Hell's corner (2010) by David Baldacci

Shaw & James
1 : Whole Truth, the (2008)
2 : Deliver us from evil (2010)

Freddy and the French Fries
(Note: this is Children & Young Adult' Humorous Fiction)

Fries Alive! (2005) by David Baldacci
Mystery of Silas Finklebean, the (2006) by David Baldacci.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★★


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Product Review: L'Oreal Paris Voluminous Full-Definition Mascara, Blackest Black

Inexpensive, yet gives you everything you want

This inexpensive mascara gives me volume and lengthening, and I don't need multiple layers. No extra layers is key to not getting "raccoon" eyes and clumpy lashes.

I have a friend who works as a make-up artist. She taught me a few tricks I live by:

1. I start at the base and wiggle the wand as I brush towards the tip. This wiggle is the key to depositing color evenly.

2. After applying the mascara I immediately use the eyelash comb to separate eyelashes and remove any clumps. I want to make it look like the color and length are natural not sticky and lumpy. It is important to do it right away before mascara dries out. Once it dries the mascara is no longer pliable.

3. If you need to apply another layer (two layers is max) then do it quickly before the first layer dries out. Repeat the brushing with eye lash comb right away.

4. If you get raccoon eyes, put less mascara on the lower eye lashes.

L'Oreal Paris Voluminous does a great job!

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★


Friday, December 9, 2011

Product review: H&R Block At Home Deluxe + State 2011 Tax Preparation Software

Please overall!  Solution for download/install problem included.

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 TaxCut and TurboTax to compare. I found that TurboTax did not do anything better than TaxCut while costing consistently more. In addition, I like the option of being able to file 5 free Federal e-files as I do taxes for other relatives who are less computer savvy. 

H&R Block software also wins if compared to the free on-line options. I don't like using the on-line tax programs for two reasons (1) I don't want my financial data to be on someone's web site (2) free offers include the Federal tax only.

This year I used a digital download for the first time rather than a boxed version. I liked the security of having a physical CD in case I need to re-install on another computer several years down the road. But you are supposed to be able to download the software again to a different computer and when the boxed version was not available I went digital. 


Solution to the technical issue

Downloading the software was easy, however during the install I got an error registering the software.  When I started the software it immediately gave me a prompt to enter a key-code which (the prompt said) I should have received in the email after purchasing the software.  The email I received from Amazon contained no such key-code.  I had to call Amazon support and they told me that this information can be found following these steps
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

Observations on usage

Once this was done the rest of the software functions well. In fact it looked more polished than in prior years. I always had minor display problems because I use large fonts and they never scaled quite right.  This year everything displayed perfectly.  I did a preliminary tax return and below are my observations.

1. 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. 

2. Copy and Paste from Interview screens is not possible. Sometimes I wish to do it for some issue as a reminder to myself. My solution is to do PrintScreen (holding ctl key, shift key, and PrintScreen key at the same time). This generates an image of the screen, which I paste into paint or photo editing software which I can print or save for later.

3. I don't use the default location for the tax returns, as I want to my backup program to back up only the data not the software itself. The software does not  initially remember this new location on startup, it tells me I have no returns.  I needed to pick the return manually from the File menu, as it does remember recently used files. The third time I started the software, it finally knew the location of the tax return file.

4. Some forms (such as foreign tax credit over the limit to be directly on 1040) require entering data manually.  This year the foreign tax credit form is some what automated, when you hit next button it takes you to the next place on the form you need to fill out (last your you were just presented the form to fill out on your own). This form is not that hard to do manually as this form does not change year to year.

5. I use large font option on my monitor display and in the past had display issues (some things were displayed on top of each other). This year all forms displayed properly with this option. This is the first time in all the years I've used H&R Block software that I have no complaint about the display and did not need to change my monitor settings just to do the tax preparation. Nice!

6. H&R Block charges $19.95 to e-file each state return. Of course, this charge can be avoided by printing the forms and mailing them in.

7. In prior years the package include DeductionPro software. This year, like last year, this software is only available as an online tool. I will not use software that requires me to put my financial data on their site, and DeductionPro wants to import the data to H&R web site, so I will not be using it. Disappointing.

Price

The price on this package changes day to day. I found a nice tools that shows history of Amazon prices and allows you to generate an email alert when the price reaches our desired price range.  If you enter "price history alert" in Google it will come up at the top, it has the word camel in the name.  I find this tool very helpful.  I purchased this package for $31, last year I saw the prices fluctuate between $25 and the list price of $44.99.


Bottom Line

I have been a H&R Block/TaxCut user for many years. The interview process is helpful in reminding you things you might have forgotten. On-line help is useful.  2011 H&R Block package appears more polished and has a number of improvements to a couple of small pet peeves I had in the past.  So I am quite pleased with it and recommend it!

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Product Review: Covergirl Natureluxe Silk Foundation, 1-Ounce

It works! Small size fits in a purse easily

I recommend this foundation.

Here are some of the reasons why:
1. It provides good coverage without being heavy

2. I found that it stays on and I do not need to reapply it

3. Small size fits nicely in a purse

4. Has nice cucumber-like smell (although I would have preferred unscented)

A note on price. I noticed that the price on the on this product fluctuates and sometimes runs too high. There is a nice online tool that I use to help catch a good price on Amazon, this tool is called "Online Price Alert". This tool will send you an email when the Amazon item price reaches the target price range that you specify. If you search on "online price alert" in Google it will be come up at the top. I find this tool to be very helpful.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


 Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Product Review: Black and Decker PVF110 filter for PHV1810 Black & Decker vacuum

Be careful not to mix-up filters for 1800 and 1810 models of this vacuum cleaner

PVF110 is a filter for the new PHV1810 model of Black & Decker Pivot Vac 18V Cordless Pivoting Hand Vac. These filters are different in size and shape from the previous popular model PHV1800 (which took PVF100).

A friend of mine has PHV 1800 and I was hoping to buy the same model so we can share the filters my friend bought in bulk. However by the time I got around to buying the vacuum, 1800 was not available, and 1800 filters do not fit 1810 model. Not surprisingly, as B&D wants to sell more filters for the new model.

Be careful when you buy replacement filters, as there are still lots of filters for PHV 1800 on the market.


The PVF110 filters work well.  They are quite easy to clean without getting dust all over yourself.  They are also easy to remove and replace.  I get some extra live out of them by washing and re-using when they get dirty.  I usually remove one, wash it, and while it dries install another filter and rotate as needed.  However, I have not had to do this often,  these filters need cleaning less frequently than my Eureka Upright.

Black & Decker Pivot Hand Vac is an excellent vac (see my review of this vacuum), and having easy to work with filters add to my satisfaction with this product.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


 Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Product Review: Black and Decker Pivot Vac 18V Cordless PHV1810

I purchased PHV 1810 over a year ago, and I am very pleased with it.   It has really good suction and is fairly easy to clean without getting dust all over yourself.  It definitely works better than any other cordless vacuum  I have had in the past.  It easily picks up not only dust but small objects (like small stones on the car mat) as well.

A friend of mine has PHV 1800 and I was hoping to buy the same model so we can share the filters my friend bought in bulk. However by the time I got around to buying the vacuum, 1800 was not available, and 1800 filters do not fit 1810 model. Not surprisingly, as B&D wants to sell more filters for the new model. (Be careful when you buy replacement filters, as there are still lots of filters for PHV 1800 on the market)

A typical death for these units comes when the battery dies, and since the manual contains instructions for battery removal I spent some time investigating if it is possible to replace the battery to prolong the life of the unit. I found out from Black and Decker that the battery is not replaceable. The removal instructions are given only for proper disposal of the battery when the unit is no longer working.

I have been using the vacuum regularly for more than a year later (at least once a week, sometimes more), and I am still very pleased with the vacuum. The suction is still excellent, I am still using the original filter, and in my use I have not noticed the battery deterioration yet. For the amount of time I use it is still as good as when I bought it. A typical job for me, for example, is vacuuming a car which takes 8-10 minutes or vacuuming small area rugs which takes 5-6 minutes.

I ever need to replace this vacuum I will not hesitate to buy another one just like it.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★



Product Review: Beka Rigid Heddle Loom

About a year ago I became interested in weaving and purchased Beka Rigid Heddle Loom to see if I would enjoy weaving. I have completed several projects on this loom and I really do enjoy it. I was able to create several scarves and sashes which are 4 feet long.

This review contains what I learned about this loom and additional items I needed to purchase/make to help me use and enjoy it.

This loom does not limit you too much in the length of the textile 
 you produce, just the width. I made 4 feet long scarves and could have made them a few feet longer if I wanted. The threads that will be used in the textile are wrapped around the board at the top of the loom (called warp beam) and the finished textile tangles from the front of the loom. This loom does not have a cloth beam on which the fabric can wrapped. As you make fabric you upwrap the threads from the warp beam and pull it down between the boards at the bottom tightening the hand screws to put the threads in tension for weaving. You can see this illustrated in the photos I am attaching to this review

Additional items needed:

This loom does not come with a few items that you will need for weaving. I read a few books and watched a few videos to understand what tools are needed and made most of them myself.

(1) You will need a warping board. This is a tool that allows you to measure out threads to put on the loom. I created one by purchasing a 1 foot board and 1/2 inch dowel from a local home improvement store. I asked the clerk to cut 1/2 inch dowel in two 9 inch pegs. I drilled two 1/2 inch holes in the board and put dowels into it gluing them for extra security. My dowels are 4 inches apart. If I were to do it again, I would put them 5 inches apart. I put a piece of felt on the bottom of the board. I also bought two C clamps to attach the board with pegs to my work table to create one end of a steady warp board. The leftover length of the 1/2 dowel is the second end of the warp board. I tie it to the chair and this allows me to place the second end as far as I need from the pegs on the board to measure out the length of the threads I need for the project. So for example, if I am planning to make a 4 foot scarf, I would put the dowel attached to the chair 5 feet away from the 9 inch pegs to give myself a foot for thread salvage. You can buy a warping board for about $120 dollar at a loom store. My solution cost under $10 dollars.




(2) You will also need a pick-up stick, which will allow you to pick up threads if you want to make a design. I got a stick which is used for mixing paints, and used sanding paper to create a pointy end. This took only a few minutes and made a tool which otherwise would cost a lot more. See photo of the tools I created.


(3) Dressing the loom can be challenging, if you don't keep all the threads straight it may take much longer then necessary. The most important thing is to come up with a way to hold your heddle while you are dressing the loom. I am attaching a photo of the system of clamps I came up with after several months of using the loom. I sped up the dressing of the loom tremendously with a few simple clamps and brackets I found in a local home improvement store. I wish I came up with this system earlier - I hope sharing this idea will save you time and frustration.

A paint mix stick is attached to the loom by a small clamp. This gives clearance on both sides of the heddle so you can approach it from both sides for dressing. The paint stick is attached to a metal bracket with another small clamp. And the metal bracket is attached to the table with a big clamp. The whole system takes about 1 minute to set up, and saves at least 30 minutes of fussing with threads.

(4) If you want to change colors in your design you will need another stick shuttle (the loom comes with one). Having more than one shuttle allows you to keep weaving without having to unwind the thread from the shuttle that comes with this loom which is time consuming and cat get your threads tangled. You can make your shuttle stick from the paint mixing stick by making notches at both end of the stick and then using sand paper to smooth out the notches.




What I like about this loom:


1. It let me try weaving without paying lot of money for a big loom

2. It is built solidly and works well

3. It is easy to use, it did not take me long to figure out how to weave

4. I liked that the loom came threaded, so it allowed you to start with weaving rather than "dressing" the loom (which is more tedious and complex than the weaving).

What I did not like about this loom:


1. The instructions that come with the loom are not sufficient to get you started if you are a novice
I had to read several books and videos to get me started. This not a big deal, just letting you know that you would need extra information to avoid being frustrated.
Since I started to weave the most helpful book for mastering weaving has been by Deborah Chandler "Learning to Weave."

2. The screws that create tension at the bottom of the loom tend to catch threads

3. When the piece is long and it tangles from the front of the loom you need to be careful not to step on it or run it over with you chair

4. Because you use one heddle at a time you are can't do fancy designs. But given that this is beginner loom this is to be expected.

Overall, I am very pleased with the loom and my new hobby!


You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★

A good video on dressing a rigid heddle loom is this one. It is not specific to Beka rigid heddle loom, but many concepts are applicable to any rigid heddle loom.