Don't miss Prime Day: July 10 (9pm) though July 11

Monday, December 31, 2012

Product review: Asus Google Nexus 7 ASUS-1B32 32GB Tablet - Quad-core Tegra 3 Processor, Android 4.1

We owned Nexus 7 since July 2012 (6 months as of writing this review). We can't be more pleased with it. We had no technical issues of any sort. Google maps awareness feature is so good sometimes it is a bit spooky, it know where we are and what we want to do. Jelly Bean improved voice recognition to a level where we now always talk to the tablet. Auto updates are terrific, it it nice not to be dependant on the cell phone carrier.

This is our second Android tablet. We also bought a Samsung Galaxy 7.7 tablet a few months before Nexus 7 became available. In this review I will compare the features of these two tablets.

The big difference between the two tablets is that Nexus 7 always runs the latest version of the operating system. This is because Google is pushing out regular updates. My Galaxy is still on HoneyComb 3.4. I purchased it through Verizon and they are notorious for being slow with the updates.  Why does it matter? (1) Some new features available in Jelly Bean OS are really nice (such as improved voice recognition and Google maps awareness features) (2) Eventually more and more applications will not be compatible with the old OS.

Nexus 7 does not have a cellular capability. Galaxy 7.7 has this capability, but we did not purchase a data plan. Instead we use the cell phone as a hot spot if there is no WI FI available. The only time this was an issue when we travelled internationally without having an International plan. Outside US we managed by hovering near venues that had free WI FI.

The size of the device was one of the major considerations when we were shopping for both tablets. I wanted to have a tablet that would fit into my purse, so I can have it with me anywhere without carrying another item. My husband wanted a tablet he can stick into his pockets (pants or jacket). 7.7 inches works well in my purse, but does not fit his pants pockets. 7 inch Nexus, however, in its neoprene sleeve is a perfect fit for the pockets. I am attaching a collage of 3. Photo #3 shows Nexus 7 going into a pocket.



7 inches is also just the right size to use in the car as GPS. It has a bigger screen that our Garmin so it is easier to see the map. My 7.7" tablet is a bit too big to use as GPS as it covers a more of the windshield and creates a bit of visibility issue. To navigate we use either Google Maps or Sygic. The reason we use both is that Google Maps requires a WI FI connection and in some rural areas of Vermont and Maine there are areas with bad cell coverage. Sygic, however, works from its own maps and does not require a WI FI connection. See photo #1 shows Nexus 7 running Sygic navigation as we drive.

The speaker on Nexus 7 is not very good. We notice this particularly when we began using it as GPS as we could barely hear it. However purchasing a blue tooth speaker solved this problem beautifully. The sounds now is loud and clear.

Nexus 7 has no Micro-SD slot (by comparison Galaxy 7.7 Tab does have a Micro-SD slot). However, we resolved this issue by attaching a USB flash drive to Nexus by purchasing Nexus Media Importer app (which currently costs $2.99).

I like that I am able to purchase apps from different sources such as Google Market place as well as Amazon. If I want to dable in writing my own mobile apps, I can do so using my own PC and free Eclipse platform with free Android development plug-ins (either under Windows or Linux) without any extra investment. If I wanted to develop apps for iPad I would need to buy a Mac.

Google's Jelly Bean really improved voice recognition for searches. Under Honey Comb and ICS the search results sometimes were hilarious, especially if tried searching on foreign names, but update to Jelly Bean made a significant difference and now my husband only talk to his tablet. It gets it right 99% of the time.

Nexus 7 has a front facing camera, Samsung Galaxy has two cameras (front and rear facing). None of the cameras are as good as our other cameras, so we don't use them much.

Galaxy's AMOLED display is brighter and more brilliant than Nexus. Neither one of us sees any difference in sharpness of text. The higher contrast does make Galaxy screen easier to read in the sun. However, Galaxy 7.7 cost was almost three times as much Nexus 7. Is the screen three times better? No.

We use both tablets on daily basis. I listed pluses and minuses for both. For me the most significant difference comes down to the lack of timely OS updates for Galaxy 7.7. So if I had a do-over I would go with two Nexus 7 devices. Nexus 7 has been reliable, helpful, and fun to have.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Product review: Fulcrum 20019-301 Battery-Operated LED Clip-On Task Light

I bought this clip light to replace an CFL clip light which fell and shuttered in a million small pieces (plus Mercury). I decided that an LED light will be safer to have in this tight busy area  and the description made me think it should be bright enough.  However the light it generates is not very bright if compare it with CFL lights, and the beam is very narrow with a very sharp edge. 

I am attaching a collage of 6 photos numbered 1 through 6 that I will be referencing in this review.

Photo #1 shows the lamp on gridded mat for size reference.  The lamp is fairly large. When I was buying the lamp, it was difficult to tell the relative size of lamp from the stock photo. I thought it would be slightly larger than my Mighty Bright Black Xtraflex clip light, so I am showing them together in Photo #5.  This lamp is much larger!

The lamp's goose neck is 20 inches long.  The clip is 7" long and 2.5" wide. Photo #3 has a close up of the clip.  The slip can open as wide as 3.5".  The lamp shade is 4.5" long and 3.25" wide. It has one large button to turn it on and off, it has one light setting. Photo #2 shows a closeup of the lamp shade.  It has 6 bulbs.  Photo #4 shows the bulbs, you see that it has 2 larger bulbs, and 4 smaller bulbs.

Photo #6 shows the light the lamp is producing in a darkened room. For comparison I turned on the Mighty Bright Black Xtraflex light as well. The Fulcrum lamp generates is brighter than the Xtraflex booklight.  The photo shows the spot light with hard edges that this light generates.  Even in the spot light this lamp is much dimmer than what I used to get from 60 watt CFL light. The light is case next to the gridded mat and you can see that the spot light is about 10 inches wide.

To summarize:

I LIKE:

1. The clip works very well. It opens as wide as 3.5" inches so I was able to attach it a variety of surfaces. 
2. The goose neck is long  (20"), is flexible but rigid, so once you position it it stays in that position.
3. LED technology has no Mercury, if I knock it down and break, I will not be spending hours of cleaning up hazardous waste.

I DON'T LIKE:

1. Not as bright as I hoped
2. Has a very narrow beam
3. The beam has very defined edges

I was not able to use this light as I originally planned, but because the clip and neck are so versatile I found other uses for this lamp. "Ultra-bright" word used in the description of this light is relative, without providing lumens in the description it all depends what you compare it with.  I hope the pictures I posted of the light this lamp produces will help you determine if it is a good fit for your use or not.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★☆☆

Friday, December 28, 2012

Product review: Martha Stewart Crafts Edger Punch Scallop

I own punches by three different manufacturers: Martha Stewart, CK, and Fiskars. I thought they would be pretty much the same, I was picking based on the design or sale price. Well, turns out who makes the punch does make a difference.
Fiskars is a very heavy duty punch, it handles different thickness of paper flawlessly, I don't think I ever had it jam.
CK is a little lighter than Fiskars, it works on with no problems on light paper, but occasionally jams on heavier paper.
Martha Stewart punch is very light, feels very flimsy, and jams pretty often.

I think there are two flaws in the design of this punch: (1) It is very light, I found heavier punches work better especially on the heavy paper. (2) This punch has a handle on which you press in order to cut. The long handle might look attractive, but the punch works better if you press right on top of where the blade is located as in CK an Fiskars designs.

Martha Stewart punch like most punches has a guidelines which help you make continuous design cut. The cutting blade is 2 1/8 inches long. The guide is 5 2/8 inches long.

I am attaching a collage of two photos for reference. Photo #1 shows the well cut edge on top, and the one where the cutting guide is not used correctly. Photo #2 shows how the guide works.

In order to get a continuous cut you need to align the top of the paper with the top of the punch, and then align the edge of the cut with the drawing on the guide. It is also important to know where the blade ends within the punch itself. Notice that on my punch I marked the start and the end of the blade on the side of the punch by drawing two lines in pencil (best seen in photo #1) . This helps me to know how much to the left I need to move the paper if I want to avoid uncut areas in the middle of my design.

I bought several Martha Steward punches at a local Michael's craft store when they on sale under $10, but I will not be buying this brand again even if I see another sale. I can't recommend it.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★☆☆☆

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Are you worried about security of paying for items from your mobile device?

As more and more people use their phones and tablets to do shopping and paying for their purchases, are more and more people at risk for a cyber attack?  Yes.


 
If you are interested in this topic I recommend reading an article by Kenneth Corbin "Researches Warn of Security Threats to Mobile Payment Platforms".

 In this article Javelin Strategy and Research concludes that moving money through a mobile browser is inherently less secure than using apps. The firm counsels that merchants offer payments channels through secured apps, and that shoppers avoid transmitting money through an open mobile browser, where users can fall prey to spoofed websites and phishing and man-in-the-middle attacks.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Product review: Gatco 1434C Contempo Paper Towel Holder, Chrome

This is a very well made solid brass with chrome finish paper towel holder.  I am very pleased with the way it looks, but after one week of using it I realized I made a slight mistake in installation.  I hope this review will help you to avoid my mistake.

I am attaching a collage of 7 photos under customers photos that I will be referencing in this review.

Photo #1 shows everything included in the package disassembled: a 4 piece towel holder and hardware. The hardware include dry wall anchors. In this photo you can see the construction of the holder, it is spring loaded, and the holder is held in on both ends, so the roll paper towel does not fall off when you use it.

Photo #2 shows the towel rack assembled on the table on a 1 inch grid mat for size reference

Photo #3 shows the towel rack on the digital scale, it comes in at 1 pound 08 oz and feels very sold.

Installation was pretty easy because the pieces are small and easy to hold. You need a drill, a Phillips screw driver, and a pencil to mark where to drill.  One thing instruction don't tell you is what size of drill bit you need: if you are installing into dry wall you will need the 3/16 drill bit.  If you are installing into wood without dry wall anchor you will need 1/8 drill bit.

Once you attach the first holder side you need to decide how far from it to install the second side.  Photo #4 shows what I did.  I am holding the bar next to the mounts so you can see how much compression I allowed.  This is where my mistake comes in.  I should have measured the width of the paper towel, and made the width of the bar just barely fit the roll so the balls on the side of the rack are positioned touching (or maybe even just inside) the paper towel roll.  I positioned them a little too wide (perhaps a quarter of an inch too wide). So the paper paper roll has a lot of play and easily unravels.  Photo #6 shows how my paper towel fits on the bar.  Unfortunately, instructions did not specify how best to determine the position of the screws. 

Finally, the last photo shows how far the the holder protrudes from the wall - about 2.5 inches.

Overall, this is a high quality very well made paper towel holder.  I hope my installation tip will help others to position it a little better than I did.
You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Monday, December 24, 2012

Product review: Davidsbeenhere: Portable Travel Digital Luggage Scale

To the chagrin of my husband I don't travel light.  This travel luggage scale will save me money by making sure I don't get hit by excessive baggage fees.

The scale is requires a 2032 Lithium Button Cell which is not included and needs to be purchased separately. You can find this battery on Amazon here.

I checked the accuracy of the scale by measuring my weight with and without a bag and then comparing it with the results of the luggage scale.  It was accurate within a pound. When packing I would stay a minimum of 1 pound under the limit.

The luggage scale battery compartment does not indicate how to insert the battery (no polarity shown).  I am attaching a collage of 4 photos under customers photos, photo #4 shows the battery being inserted into the slot of the scale in the proper orientation.
Photo #1 shows the scale with the battery compartment closed, and photo #2 shows the handle with the battery compartment opened.

The scale is shaped like a handle with a belt attached to it.  You loop the belt around the suitcase handle and back onto the scale so you can lift the suitcases using the digital scale as a handle. This handle is ergonomically shaped I was found it convenient to hold while lifting the suitcase. Photo #3 shows how it fits into my hand.  For size reference I have small size hands, glove size small.

The only negative I have to say that I wish the package came with the battery included.

I received a sample scale from Davidsbeenthere for evaluation and honest and fair review. I have described positives and negatives of my experience with this digital scale and if you have any questions on the features I covered I am always happy to respond to comments.

It works. It is fairly accurate. If you don't travel light this scale will help you stop worrying about excessive baggage fees.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Product review: Davidsbeenhere Inflatable Travel Pillow with Cloth Cover

I found this travel pillow very comfortable. The difference between this pillow and an old inflatable pillow I usually travel with is that the center part of this pillow is flat. This means the pillow does not push your head forward, it only allows you to rest your head to the side. This is a very good design!

This pillow's nozzle has a valve, so when you stop blowing into it it does not instantly deflate. However, this mechanism makes it a little tricker to let the air out. To inflate the pillow the instruction say to pinch the nozzle. The first few times I tried to inflate the pillow I had trouble doing so because I was pinching too low. I though the right place to pinch would be where the valve that holds the air is. Instead the right place to pinch is on the neck of the valve, at the very top. I found that the easiest way to squeeze was not with out hand, but with hands pushing the valve with my two thumbs. This way I could easily place my lips on the valve without my hand getting in the way.

And a final note on inflation, inflation gets easier every time you do it. Before I figured out the pinch method described above I used a foot pump to inflate it. If you have trouble inflating trying that one time, it separates the plastic sides from each other and inflating by mouth will be easier.

To deflate the pillow you also need to push on the valve right at the very top. To get all the air out I found that rolling the pillow while squeezing was the best way. When I wanted to make the pillow totally flat I used a small object to depress the valve directly while doing the final roll.

I am attaching a collage of two photos.

Photo #1 shows the pillow and the storage pouch it comes with. The pillow has a cloth case that can be washed.

 Note that Amazon sells two versions of Davidbeenthere travel pillow:  this one  and another one which is similar, more expensive, but without a case. I asked Davidbeenthere about the differences and he told me that the pillows are identical, but this newer model has a cloth case and a new pricing.

The second photo demonstrates the technique for quick deflating without pinching I described earlier.

The the pouch with the folded pillow is sized: 6 inches wide x 5 inches long x 2.5 inches thick (thickness depends on how well the pillow is deflated).

The pillow is 14.5 inches measuring the long end that goes behind the head, and 9.5 inches front to back.

I received a sample pillow from Davidsbeenthere for evaluation and honest and fair review. I have described positives and negatives of my experience with the pillow and if you have any questions on the features I covered I am always happy to respond to comments.

Overall, I find this that this pillow puts my head into a more comfortable position that the old pillow which inflates evenly without a flat part in the center. I recommend it.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Book review: Green Beans & Ice Cream by Bill Sims Jr.

Even though the concept of positive rewards in order to induce the desired behavior is not new the author's thoughts on the topic are witty and insightful, and I found myself enjoying the book. His examples of poor management decisions reminded me of my bad bosses, and approaches that worked reminded why I found some people more pleasant to work with than others.

Even though this book is mostly aimed at managers anyone can benefit from it, as all of us have people around whose behavior we want to influence. Mr. Sims drives his points home with many stories and examples. They illustrate both approaches that work and those that do not.

One of my favorite examples was from experiment held in 1927 in Hawthorne Works factory in Cicero, Illinois. The researchers wanted to study the effects of lighting on the worker's productivity. During the first week they dimmed the lights by 10% and closely monitored the worker's productivity. The productivity increased. Each week as they continued to dim the lights the productivity continued to increase. During the entire period the workers were aware of the experiment and were given feedback on the number of parts they produced. After the lights got very dim the researchers returned the lights to their full strength expecting to erase all productivity gains only to find that the productivity increased again. Their conclusion was that it was not the lights but the feedback the workers received that were the cause of the productivity gains.

Another interesting observation of the author is that in typical company there is usually less than 3% difference in the pay between under performing employees and the highly motivated ones. This makes it clear that money is not the only thing that motivates people. Often that extra something is the recognition of people's contributions.

The lack of recognition has the opposite effect. It made me think of one of my least favorite bosses. We were working particularly hard for several months trying to satisfy a totally unrealistic deadline he set. We worked weekdays and weekends to get things done. During one of the meetings we asked him if after we deliver the product we could get some time off to make up for the long weekends at work. His reply was "Be grateful you are getting a pay check." That totally deflated our enthusiasm, after all we did not have to work weekends. Very few people came in the weekend after that meeting.

Positive reinforcement has to be tailored to a specific person. Mr. Sims uses another amusing story to drive this point home. One employee complained about her boss "Every morning I get a message from my boss telling me I am doing a great job, and that I am the best." What's wrong with that? Turns out when she talked to her co-workers she learned that they all get the same "You are the best" messages, so they considered their boss to be insincere and did not take his messages as positive reinforcement.

At the end of the book the author puts positive reinforcements in three categories: tangible, social, and self. Tangible awards are cash, stock options, gifts, and so forth. Often, the catch with tangible awards is that they are based on employees salaries more than the specific contributions each person have made. Social rewards are employee-of-the-month awards or team cook-out events. The catch of social awards is that you cannot reward someone by your presence if they hate your guts. If your least favorite boss has a cook out you are likely to find an excuse not to be there. Self reinforcement rewards is only something a person can do for himself. Some people are very self-motivated about work. It is hard to teach self-motivation, but it is fairly easy to destroy it by demoralizing, downsizing, cutting pay, and giving more work to fewer people. Which kind of reinforcement is best? All of them.

As much as I enjoyed this book, there was one minor thing that I found a bit annoying. Many chapters had references to the author's web site, where you can read additional details of a story the author is telling. I am typically reading a book away from the computer so having references to a web site in the middle of story felt like a tease. Why can't those memos from Tiger Oil owner be included in the book? If this additional information was included in the appendix rather than part of the main story line, I would just think of it as bonus info. Well, perhaps the author is experimenting with another behavior modification technique on his readers.

Table of content:

One: The Little Rebel
Two: Why Did He Do That?
Three: Changing Attitudes and Self-Motivation
Four: Does Punishment Really Work?
Five: The Church of Here and Now
Six: Why Does R+1 Work
Seven: Blinded by the Light
Eight: Why Cash Isn't King
Nine: The $3,000 Jacket
Ten: Behaviors We Haven't Learned to Observe
Eleven: Why Do I Have to Recognize People Anyway
Twelve: "Stop Recognizing Those Employees!"
Thirteen: A T-Shirt for a Million Dollar Idea?
Fourteen: Who Killed the Work Ethic?
Fifteen: Daughter of the Month
Sixteen: Most Likely to Succeed
Seventeen: "You Can't Positively Reinforce People If They Hate Your Guts"
Eighteen: Teacher's Pet Syndrome Nineteen: Pink Cadillacs Twenty: CAVE People: One Size Does Not Fit All Twenty-One: "Business Is Behavior" Twenty-Two: Stuff That Rolls Downhill Twenty-Three: "Feel-Good" Recognition Twenty-Four: Not Another Baseball Cap Twenty-Five: Isn't a Paycheck Enough? Twenty-Six: Is Cash Really King? Twenty-Seven: I Hate My Boss! Twenty-Eight: Is It Positive or Punishing?
Twenty-Nine: Don't Drink the Pink Kool-Aid
Thirty: Chocolate, Vanilla, or Strawberry? The Great Debate
Thirty-One: Empowering Employees is R+1
Thirty-Two: What Makes a Great Leader?
Thirty-Three: Why Green Beans & Ice Cream?

I enjoyed reading this book. If you want to change people's behaviors in a positive way this book will help you do it. I recommend it.

You can find this book on Amazon by following this link.
>


Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

I received a review copy of this book to provide an honest and unbiased review.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book review: Proverbial Aesop: The Complete Aesopic Proverbs Translated with Commentary by Chandler A. Phillips

I really enjoyed this book. The proverbs are insightful, witty, and wise. The author discovered a set of proverbs attributed to the famous story teller Aesop that were previously untranslated. So he set out to create the translations himself. When the translation were done he realized that the modern audience may not be able to fully appreciate them without additional context that would help them comprehend the proverbs as the ancient Romans and Greeks would have interpreted them. This is how the author came up with the idea of adding fables to the proverbs. He found fables that either supported or opposed the meaning of each proverb included in the book. The difference between proverb is fable is that the proverb is typically just one sentence, where is a fable is a short paragraph with a few sentences.

I am including one example from the book below to give you a flavor of how this book is organized.

PROVERB 6.1(7):
You see the face, but you cannot know the mind.
*************************************************
SUPPORTING FABLE:
A cat was enamoured of a handsome youth and begged Aphrodite to change her into a woman. The goddess, pitying her sad state, transformed her into a beautiful girl, and, when - young man saw her, he fell in love with her and took her home to be his wife. While they were resting in their bedroom, a mouse ran in front of her. She at once forgot where she was, leapt up from the bed, and ran after the mouse to eat it. (Acs. 50, FAG. 88, SAH. 96 [etr.]).
*************************************************
CONTRASTING FABLE:
The countenance is the portrait of the soul, and the eyes mark its intentions.
Cicero

I found that I enjoyed the combination of the proverbs and fables together very much, they really enhanced my comprehension and delight in the wit and spirit of the ancient observations.

You can find this book on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Note: I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book to provide fair and unbiased review

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mobile App Review: Norton Mobile Security Virus Malware Scan , Free App (7.7 Samsung Galaxy Tablet, Nexus Table, Nexus Phone, Android)

We own two Android tablets (Nexus 7 running Jellybean and Samsung Galaxy 7.7 running Honeycomb 3.2) and recently added Norton Mobile Security apps to both. The Norton Mobile app in Amazon store appears to be available only for Kindle, so I installed the Android version from Google Play (searching on Norton Virus brings it right up).

The Norton Mobile Security app identifies apps that are potential risks or have annoying behaviours. The free version provides free anti-malware scan. The pro-version provides anti-theft, backup, and web protection, which are not available in the free version.

When you start the app it gives you an option to sign in or skip sign in. Signing in allows your to register your device with Norton Security.

The scan for malware is very quick. The results are presented in two tab view: the first tab has a list of malware apps, the second tab has apps with present other risks. Norton identified no malware on my tablets, but one of the tablets had an app that was flagged as "other risks". It displayed the application icon and name and when I clicked on it gave me a list of reasons why this app was flagged. I am including a screen capture show the information that is presented


Detailed info about the flagged app showed the following information:
- collects your device info
- puts ads on notification bar
- adds icons to device screen
- modifies browser bookmarks
- displays ads in the app

The Norton app gave me an option to mark the application as trusted or to uninstall it. When I marked it to be trusted, it was removed from flagged risks count but it remained listed on the page so I could back revoke trust or uninstall at any time.

The list of other actions available from the menu are: Display the activity log (it shows updates, scans, what you marked trusted), settings (frequency of updates, what is displayed on the icon bar), LiveUpdate, Help, Report a problem).

The scan for new threat definitions occurs on daily basis, rule update happens automatically if needed.

The application looks and feels well done. It has logically organized controls and navigation is easy and intuitive. Logging is detailed without being overly verbose.

In a way I am glad it found a minor risk as it gave me more confidence that it works. So far I don't feel that it slowed down my tablet in any way.

This app works well on my Samsung Galaxy 7.7 Tablet (my Galaxy 7.7 review) running Android HoneyComb 3.2. As well as Nexus 7 running Jellybean.  I had no technical problems and the app scales to my screen size very nicely.


The Kindle version of this app is free from Amazon Android Store and You can find this app on Amazon by following this link.


Other Android versions can be found in Google Play Marketplace by searching on "Norton" and "virus". 

I am including Norton Mobile Security icon (to the left of this text) so you can easily recognize it among other mobile security apps.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Product review: Energizer Watch/Electronic Batteries, 3 Volts, 2032, 2 batteries (Lithium Button Cell) Energizer Watch/Electronic Batteries, 3 Volts, 2032 (Lithium Button Cell)

I was a little concerned reading other reviews about getting old stock batteries, but my batteries are 2011 stock (date appears on the back of the blister pack). The package contains two new 3V Lithium Energizer batteries in the original blister pack.

CR2032 is a large button type battery (6/8" of an inch in size). This is a battery that needs to be purchased separately to power Davidsbeenhere: Portable Travel Digital Luggage Scale .



It fit and is working well. I am attaching a photo of this battery being inserted into the digital scale for reference.

I will keep this review updated with longevity of the battery.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Book Review: 2-at-a-Time Socks: Revealed Inside. . . The Secret of Knitting Two at Once on One Circular Needle Works for any Sock Pattern! by Melissa Morgan-Oakes

I am an experienced knitter who has made dozens of socks using 4 knitting needles method. When I saw a book by Melissa Morgan-Oakes in the local library I was intrigued by the possibilities of making two socks at once so I would not need to keep track of the design to repeat it perfectly on the second sock. However, after spending several days I was disappointed in the technique. It is much more awkward and time consuming than the 4 needle method. I had to spend a lot of time fussing with my work, my hands were at much higher tension and were tired (which I never experience with 4 needle method).

Because I am an experienced knitter I thought instructions did not seem right and looked up errata for the book, and found a very large number of corrections (I am including them at the end of this review). A less experienced knitter would just be left frustrated.

I LIKED:

1. The book has spinal rings and lays flat easily
2. The book has nice photographs
3. I like trying new techniques and even though I went back to the old method I am glad I now know how this method works

I DID NOT LIKE:

1. The technique itself is awkward and fussy
2. The book is 143 pages, but the explanation of the technique is only 17 pages. I did not find the instruction easy to follow and had to re-read them many times despite being an experience knitter. I attaching a photo of a sample page.
3. The book contains a large number of mistakes in the instructions (see errata below).
4. There is only one method for turning the heel. The short row heel technique (the look of which I prefer) was not shown.
5. Most patterns are shown in 3 sizes: women medium, women large/men small, men large. I wear women small and was disappointed to see very few patterns shown for women small size.

ERRATA FROM STOREY PUBLISHING

Corrections

2-at-a-Time Socks
The following revisions should be applied to all patterns:
Page - Knitting the Legs

The Note should read: "End ready to begin sock A heel . . ."

Page - Turning the Heels

The Note should read:
"Turn the heel on each sock separately, working in rows and beginning with sock A ."

And in the last 2 lines of that section:
" Sock A heel now has. . ."
"Follow directions above to turn sock B heel ."

2-at-a-time Technique
Page 15 - Dividing and Joining Sock A

Step 5. . . with your working yarn by knitting into the first cast-on stitch .

Page 16 - Dividing and Joining Sock A

Step 7. . . Now, work the remaining 16 stitches of sock A in K1, P1 rib .

Page 19 - Working the Heel Flaps

Caption of 2nd photograph should read: "completing row 2 of heel flap A"

Page 20 - Working the Heel Flaps

Caption of 1st photograph should read: " purl row of heel flap B"

Step 17. . . End having just worked a right-side row of heel flap B. Sock B will be a row shorter than sock A, but that's okay.

Page 21 - Turning the Heels

Sock photos should be of Sock A and therefore blue

1st paragraph:
"For the 2-at-a-time method, you work each heel turn separately, beginning with heel flap A. "

Step 18. . . On heel flap A , K10, ssk, K1, turn.

Page 22 - Turning the Heels

First sock photo should be of Sock A and therefore blue. It's caption should read:
"completing sock A heel turn"

Caption of 2nd photograph should read: "completing sock B heel turn"

Step 22. . . you have 10 stitches for the heel flap of sock A .

Step 23. . . Move to sock B , slip stitch. . .follow short-row heel-turn direction for sock A. You'll end having just worked a wrong-side row.

Page 24 - Picking Up Gusset Stitches

Caption of 3rd photograph should read: "picking up gusset stitches of sock A "

Step 29. . . Pick up and knit one stitch between the sock B instep and heel flap. . .Work across the heel stitches of sock B and down the left heel flap. (Adjust needles so that the cable loop separates the instep stitches of sock B from the newly picked up gusset stitches.)

Page 25 - Working the Gusset Decreases

Caption of photograph should read: " decrease round completed, next round begun "

Page 27 - Shaping the Toe

Step 36. . .On sock B, K1 , ssk, knit to the last three stitches of sock B, K2tog, K1.

Step 39. . . Work three more decrease rounds, with no even rows between

TABLE OF CONTENT


THE SECRET REVEALED 2-AT-A-TIME TECHNIQUE (17 pages where the technique is explained)
2-AT-A-TIME PATTERNS (17 patterns)
Berry Season
Spice
Be Mine
Varsity
Belle Epoque
Frolic
Coquette
Socks for Aidan
Twilight
Sugar Maple
H Sock
Athena
Emily's Socks
Sailor's Delight
Pitter Patter
The Classic Sock
Ragg Hiker
APPENDIX
Glossary
Pattern Stitch Key
Abbreviations
Standard Sock Sizes

You can find this book on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★☆☆☆

Friday, December 14, 2012

Product review: Blue Marble Designs Llc 100040 Snap 'N' Grow Ladder Trellis

"BLUE MARBLE DESIGNS" SNAP 'N' GROW LADDER TRELLIS is 6 feet tall (72") 23.5" wide and 1" thick. It is painted with Rosewood stain, and it smelled really nice (pine?) when I opened it. It looked simple but very nice.  

The trellis comes disassembled.  The instruction say that the trellis will take 5 minutes to put it together and assembly does not require any tools. It took me about an hour and I needed tools to work around some misalignment issues of how the notches and holes were cut on some of the bars.

I am attaching a collage of 8 pictures numbered 1 through 8 under customer photos that I will be referencing in this review.
1) Photo #1 shows the package as it arrived.
2) Photo #3 shows the hardware that comes with the trellis: plastic male and female screws that hold the trellis and 2 metal brackets that can be used to mount the trellis itself.
3) Photo #2 shows a close-up of the male and female screws that snap together to hold the vertical and horizontal slats together.  The three tall slats have notches where the horizontal slats fit and then held together my male/female screws.
4) Some of the holes had wood debris still attached to the hole. When I tried forcing one of the plastic screws through without clearing up the debris with a drill/screwdriver I damaged one of  the mail screws.  Photo #4 shows the screw.  After that I learned to clear the hole with a metal screwdriver first.  Fortunately, the kit has three extra screw pairs so I was able to discard the damaged screw.
5) Most of slats went in without too much problems, but two of them had real alignment issues. Picture #5 demonstrates the alignment issue where the notch and the hole do not light up with the holes.  Photo #7 shows one of the slats which have a proper alignment.  By enlarging the hole I was able to snap the screws, but this made a trellis a bit more wobbly than the parts that align well.
6) Photo #6 shows a large splinter on one of the tall slats.  I have glued it down with a wood glue, hopefully this will hold.

My recommendations for assembly:
1. First examine all holes, and smooth them out with a screwdriver or a drill bit, so the plastic screws don't get damaged by having to push through wood debris.
2. Then attach all horizontal bars only with female screws (i.e. do not snap in male screws) to check the alignment. If you need to enlarge holes to fix alignment it is a lot easier to do when you can easily disassemble the entire trellis, fix the holes, and put it back together. It is possible to unsnap the screws but I was worried about breaking the wood slats, they are not thick.
3. I found the following tools helpful:
--- mallet for taping in the screws
--- drill to enlarge misaligned holes
--- screw driver to remove wooden debris from the holes so the screws are not damaged when they are pushed in
--- wood glue to glue down any large splinters

Overall, I found the trellis nice looking: simple pleasant design, attractive color, just what I was looking for. I was somewhat disappointed in quality but was able to work around the problems.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★☆☆

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Product review: Columbian CO148 (#10) 4-1/8x9-1/2-Inch Grip-Seal Security Tinted White Envelopes

I am very pleased with these envelopes. I was looking for the following combination of features (1) self sealing, (2) security marks on the inside, (3) sturdy with good thickness, (4) good price per envelope. This is exactly what I got in this product.

I am attaching a collage of two photos. Photo #1 shows the envelope opened so you can see the security markings on the inside of the envelope.
Photo #2 shows the grip-seal being lifted.

Grip seal works well, I do not have to re-tape with scotch tape. The security markings prevent the writing being seen through the envelope if you look at the envelope in regular lighting situation. However, be aware that if you look through the envelope by bringing it to a light sauce you can still see the letters and numbers on a piece of paper inside of the envelope despite the security markings.

Overall, I am pleased with the envelopes and would buy them again.


You can find these envelopes on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Monday, December 10, 2012

How to convert a USB data cable into a charging cable

In several of  my reviews of charges and external power supplies I mentioned the difference between a power cable and a data cable.

Charging cables short the two data connections together (rendering them useless for data transfer), but this fools devices to see them as an AC power connection, and thus accept the higher current of the charging source. 

You can see the difference in performance between two cables by using a battery app.  My favorite is Battery App by Elvison as it clearly shows how each device recognized the charging source. 'AC' status means the charging is at full charging rate. 'USB' status indicates charging at a lower charging rate. 'Discharging' status means that the charging rate is below the power that the device is consuming so it slows down the discharge rate but does not re-charge.

You can buy a charging cable on Amazon or alternatively you can convert any USB data cable into a charging cable as shown in this video.

Product review: Real Bug Digging Kit - Excavate 3 Genuine Specimens. Discover with Dr. Cool

Let me start by saying that kids enjoyed this bug kit. But we were all somewhat surprised by what we found... but that is not necessary a bad thing just a surprising thing. I hope my review will remove the surprise for the parents and leave the fun for the kids.

From the kit description I expected that I would need to do some preparation by berrying the bugs that would arrive in a box shaped like a big green bug. I also expected that the bug themselves would be loose bugs painted with transparent acrylic paint to preserve them, that the kids would be able to touch, move their feet, etc.

I am attaching a collage of 4 photos that I will be referencing in this review.

This kit works a bit different from what I imagined. The green beetle is not a box, it is made of clay and the bugs are embedded within the clay. Photo #1 and #2 show the clay bug top and belly. The bugs themselves are not loose but are inside of acrylic marble. The bugs are quite pretty and colorful. We found a spiny spider, a fortune beetle, and a scorpion. The marbles are small, in Photo #4 I have them next to the ruler. Each one is 5/8 of an inch. The bugs within the marble are 1/2 inch in size. There were three marbles in the clay.

The kit includes a brush, a little chisel, and a magnifying glass. The clay was pretty hard and that little chisel alone was not enough to break it up. After some struggle, I was the one who use a hammer to tap the chisel to break up the clay and find the three little marbles inside. Photo #3 shows the broken up clay beetle after a 2 marbles were found. The kids squealed in delight and made me break up the clay bug into very small pieces as they were hoping to find more marbles hidden within.

Once the marbles were out and washed we sat down with the colorful guide to read more about the insects and study them with a magnifying glass. The information was educational as well as fun and kept the kids interested.

Overall, we enjoyed this kit. My recommendation is to have this bug party with three kids so each one of the kids gets to keep a marble with a bug.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Note: I received a sample bug kit for testing from "Discover with Dr. Cool" to write an honest and unbiased review and I covered both pluses and minuses of my experience in this review.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Product review: Grace Digital GDI-GSD8200 gdock Charging Speaker Dock for Samsung Galaxy Phones


Gdock is designed for be used as a docking station for use with Samsung Galaxy phones. It can also be used a speakers for any device if the device is connected via AUX IN port by audio cable (included). I received this unit from manufactory for testing purposes to write an unbiased and honest review. I tested this speaker with Android Phone, our two Android tablets (Nexus and Galaxy) as well as a computer speaker. You will find both positives and negatives I encountered during my testing.

Gdock works with AC power source or alternatively can work through a lithium-ion rechargeable battery (sold separately). However, it recharges the phone only when plugged into the AC source. When it operates on the battery it only behaves as the speakers.

I am attaching a collage of seven photos numbered 1 though 7 that I will be referencing in this review.

Photo #1 shows everything that comes in the box: Gdock, cradles, remove control, power cable, audio cable, power supply and cable.
Gdock comes with 6 holders for Galaxy SIII, Galaxy Note, Galaxy SII SGH-T989, Galaxy SII GT-I9100 SGH-1777, Galaxy SOO SPH-D719. The GDock comes pre-installed with a cradel fro S III cradle. The cradle can be removed by sliding it up, and replaced with another cradle if needed. Photo #1 shows me sliding one of the cradles into the dock.

Photo #2 shows the back of the unit, where in the center you see audio in and power connections. On the sides of the unit you see two bass ports for extending the bass performance.
One of the things I found in testing is that the sound is significantly improved if you position the unit in a way that the sound coming out of these port holes has a solid surface to reflect on. The difference was significant and significantly improved my opinion of the sound quality.

Photo #3 shows Gdock on the digital scale. It weights in at 3.3 pounds and feels significant and well built.

Gdock comes with a remote control, which has the following operations:
1. On/off
2. Mute on/off
3. Volume up and down
4. Reset to factory settings
5. Bass up and down
6. Change audio from Aux In to Samsung Galaxy
7. Treble up and down

When the unit is turned on a blue LED light on the front of the speaker is turned on. This light is a bit subtle, it shines through the speaker cloth and I did not notice it right away. I put a red square around this light in picture #7 to bring it to your attention.

To position the phone in the doc the phone is slid into the cradle from the top, through the arms of the cradle and inserted into the micro USB jack connector at the bottom of the cradle. The phone can be positioned either vertically or horizontally on the doc by rotating
the docking port.

Photo #4 shows the Nexus Galaxy phone I used for testing. Several important notes on the phone. The Nexus Galaxy phone is not officially listed as a supported phone. In addition the phone is normally used with an extra large battery which makes is significantly fatter than a standard battery. Despite the "unofficial" configuration I thought this test would be of interest to people who own this phone model.

1) Two of the cradles fit the Nexus Galaxy phone with the standard battery: Galaxy SIII and Galaxy SI SGH-T989.
2) When the phone had its extra large battery even though none of the cradles fit, the unit could be inserted into the USB connection without the cradle.
Photo #5 shows the side view of phone with the extra large battery on Gdock.

Photo #6 show the phone charging. I used Battery App by Elvison to determine how each device recognized the charging source. 'AC' status means the charging is at full charging rate. 'USB' status indicates charging at a lower charging rate. 'Discharging' status means that the charging rate is below the power that the device is consuming so it slows down the discharge rate but does not re-charge. The battery app showed that the phone is connected and is charging at slower USB rate. This is not surprising, since the USB connector has to be a data connector to carry music data to the speaker.

Gdock USB source ... 1% charge in 10 minutes
(by comparison AC source charges this phone 6% in 10 minutes)

Difference between a charging cable and a data cable:
Charging cables short the two data connections together (rendering them useless for data transfer), but this fulls devices to see them as an AC power connection, and thus accept the higher current of the charging source.

Photo #7 shows the phone playing music. However, Nexus Phone appears to be incompatible with the speaker. The speakers did engage, even though the battery app showed that the phone was connected and recognized by Gdock. Since this phone was not officially listed as a supported phone, I am not deducting any stars from the rating, but this finding was a surprise to me and I wanted to share it with other Nexus Galaxy phone owners.

The rest of my experiments was using the audio jack on the back of the unit. I tested Gdock with Nexus 7 Tablet, Galaxy 7.7 Tablet, and as desktop computer speaker. As I mentioned earlier the key to getting good sound from this speaker is to put right agaist a wall or in our case a window pane. This really improved the bass performance. The front facing stereo speakers generate crisp and clear sound, the mid-range was very good. With speaker against the surface the bass sound was reasonable.

When I was testing this speaker as a computer speaker I compared it (using the same piece of music and two different computers) to Cambridge Soundworks speakers and Labtec speakers.
These speakers did not perform as well as my Cambridge Soundsworks but better than Labtec speakers.

To summarize:
1. The mid-range of the speaker was very good, bass performance somewhat weaker but reasonable.
2. Charging is at USB rate
3. Speaker does not work with Galaxy Nexus phone, the charger does work.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Product review: Yubi Power pack external battery, Review for use with Nexus 7 Tab, Galaxy Nexus Phone, Galaxy 7.7 Tab, Sansa Clip+ MP3

I tested I 5200mAh Yubi Power external battery pack with Nexus 7 Tablet, Samsung Galaxy 7.7 Tablet, and Samsung Galaxy Nexus cell phone, and SanDisk Sansa Clip+ player.
I received 5200mAh external battery pack for testing from the manufacturer to write an honest and unbiased review and you will find both pluses and minuses of my experience in this review.

I am attaching a collage of 3 photos that I will be referencing in this review.

The external power battery dimensions are 4" length x 2" width x 7/8" thickness. It weight 4.7 oz. It comes with a 6 inch charging cable and 4 connectors: Mini USB, Micro USB, PSP, iPhone.
The battery pack should be fully charged before the first use. It took overnight for it to reach full charge. The manufacturer states that the battery life is over 500 cycles.

Photo #1 shows how each adapter connects to the USB cable. The adapters are a weak point of the design, they feel a bit flimsy and it is easy to loose all the small pieces.

A button on top of the unit turns the unit on and off (hold it for a few second to turn off). Note that the unit does not shut off when not in use. It wil continue to drain power unless you turn it off manually.

There 4 blue lights on top of the unit. A single light on one side of the button indicates on/off status. The three lights on the other side of the button indicate the charings status (3 lights full, 2 light 30 to 80% full, 3 lights charge is 80% or more. The power pack also has an LED light, which can be used a flashlight.

The 5200mAh Yubi Power has one USB outlet. I tested my four electronic devices using both my own USB cable as well as the manufacture cable+adapter. I wanted to see the difference between
the cables, and the difference was significant.

The provided adapters fit Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone, Nexus 7 tablet and Sansa Clip MP3 (as they take regular USB-to-micro USB cable) but none of the provided adapters fit Galaxy Samsung 7.7 Tablet (so for Galaxy I could only test with my own USB cable).

I used Battery App by Elvison to determine how each device recognized the charging source. 'AC' status means the charging is at full charging rate. 'USB' status indicates charging at a lower charging rate. 'Discharging' status means that the charging rate is below the power that the device is consuming so it slows down the discharge rate but does not re-charge.

The key findings:

================
(1) The power pack worked well with Nexus devices,but did not work at all with Samsung Galaxy 7.7 tablet.
(2) Using Yubi Power charging cables vs generic cables made a significant difference

Difference between a power cable and a data cable:
Charging cables short the two data connections together (rendering them useless for data transfer), but this fools devices to see them as an AC power connection, and thus accept the higher current of the charging source. Both my generic cable and Yubi Power cables used in my tests are charging cables.

Description of my tests:
I tested each devices charging them for 10 minutes using Yubi Power cable and using my own charging cable.

The table below summarizes my findings.


Samsung Galaxy Nexus Phone (photo #1)
-----------------------------------
generic cable ...... USB source ... 1% charge in 10 minutes
Yubi Power cable ... AC source .... 6% charge in 10 minutes

Nexus 7 Tablet (photo #2)
-----------------------------------
generic cable ...... AC source .... 0% charge in 10 minutes (barely charging, enough to power the screen and not loose charge)
Yubi Power cable ... AC source .... 4% charge in 10 minutes

Samsung Galaxy Tablet 7.7 (photo #3)
-----------------------------------
generic cable .... discharging
Yubi Power cable -- no adapter, cannot be used

SanDisk Sansa Clip+ MP3 Player
-----------------------------------
generic cable ........ works
Yubi Power cable ..... works

The MP3 player recognized the charger on both outlet, however it behaved differently than charging from the charger it came with.
When I charge Sansa MP3 with a standard AC charger, the MP3 player goes into charging mode, displaying the charging animated icon. When it was plugged into the Yubi Power external battery it continued to play the content. I listen to books on my MP3 player so this caused me to move forward in my book and I had to manually reset my position by a few chapters to get back to where I was when I started charging. The positive side of this, is that is possible to continue listening while MP3 is recharging. This is very handy for Sansa MP3 player since it has built-in battery that cannot be swapped for a charged one.

To summarize:

I liked:
-----------------------------------
1. Good behavior with Nexus devices.
2. Solution for MP3 player with built-in battery

I did not like:
-----------------------------------
1. Does not work for Galaxy Tablet 7.7 (with my own adapter, no Yubi Power adapter)
2. The multiple piece connectors are flimsy and easy to loose. I prefer a one piece charging cable I bought as a replacement.

Overall, I am pleased with this unit and recommend it for the devices I tested with the exception of Galaxy Tablet.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Product review: Toothbrush Crayola with Suction Cup

Our dentist gives out a free tooth brush after each visit. On the last visit he gave us a Crayola Toothbrush with a suction cup by Gum. Seemed like a neat idea at first, because some newer toothbrushes have thick handles that don't fit well into the tooth holder cup.

I am attaching a collage of two photos. The first shows close-up of the tooth brush head. It small in size and fits a small mouth quite well, the bristles are soft. The second photo shows the use of the suction cup, which holds up the tooth brush just fine.

However, after the toothbrush has been used it turns out that there is one fundamental issue with this design. Because you stick right to the vanity top the toothbrush drains directly to the vanity creating a mess. I did not like that it created extra clean-up work for me.

This toothbrush is no longer used as a tooth brush, it has been moved to the work shop for use in tools cleaning.


You can find them on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★☆☆☆

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Product review: Bark Mulch 2 cubic feet bag. How much does it cover?

I just had a deck replaced and needed to cover the 11 feet by 6 feet area under the deck with bark mulch. Bagged Bark Mulch typically comes in 2 cubic feet bags and I had trouble visualizing exactly how one mulch bag will cover and how many bags I would need to cover my 11' x 6' area. I needed to keep the depth of mulch at around 2 inches, so it does not overflow the pad on which the central air conditioner sits. I did a rough calculation and decided that 6 bags will do it. In fact, the right amount was 5 bags.




I am attaching two photos. The first photo shows how much one bag covers. The area from the house to the edge of the bark is 6 feet. The second photo shows 5 bags covering 11' x 6' area 2" inches thick.

Hope this helps someone working on a similar small mulching project.


You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★