Thursday, February 28, 2013

Product review: i-Ecko High-Tech Laptop Sleeve. 15.6"

This is a neoprene sleeve for laptops with size up to 15.6 inches.
Photo #1 shows the laptop sleeve on the gridded mat and ruler for size reference. It is 15.5" wide, 11.5" high (from the bottom to the zipper), the bottom is 1" but the sides expand to accommodate somewhat thicker laptops. The front has a pocket which sized 8" by 10", the side to the right of the zipper is 9". It comes with a detachable shoulder strap.

The sleeve is made out of one layer of thick neoprene. The zippers are heavy duty and operate smoothly. The handles have an extra layer of neoprene and Velcro on the inside so they form a comfortable thick handle.

The sleeve fit my laptop as a glove. Photo #2 show the laptop in the open sleeve, and Photo #3 shows the sleeve half zipped. The sleeve had enough room for me to put in all the cords.

The sleeve formed a very neat snug package, giving protection without taking up any extra room. Because of it size it nicely fits into my backpack. When I travel with a laptop during business trips I can keep it in the backpack and then easily pull out at the airport for the security check. This saves me from carrying a laptop case as an extra piece of luggage.

I received a sample laptop case for evaluation and review.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.
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Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Book Review: BrandingPays: The Five-Step System to Reinvent Your Personal Brand by Karen Kang

The author of the book has a very impressive background as she worked for Regis McKenna who did brand positioning for Apple. And who has done a better job branding than Apple? Karen Kang transfers what she learned about branding companies to the idea of personal branding. Branding yourself.

Ms. Kang uses a phrase "a cake with icing" when she talks about personal branding. The cake is your expertise, your knowledge, your experience. The icing is your personality, your image, your smile. Icing make people like you and trust you. Without the cake the person has no substance, only fluff. Both the cake and the icing are needed to do well in whatever you undertake if you want to be very successful.

The author explains why just having the core qualifications are not enough. The key to success is to let people know the qualification you have. She recommends that each person thinks of themselves as a product. And how you position "the product" is not constant, it varies depending on three key factors: target audience, your strength, and competition.

Suppose your goal is to get a promotion. To determine your target audience you would examine who can influence your promotion: obviously your direct boss, but there might be other players. Then determine the problem/opportunity that is important to the influential people and what strength you have to address that problem. As your work on addressing this issue, keep them in the loop. If you do not have all the information about the decision makers you need to do homework. For example, if you are going for an interview learn who you are interviewing with, look them up on Linked in, Google search them, learn about the company. When you describe your strength highlight those that are more relevant to that specific company or person. It is a lot more effective than having a generic pitch about yourself. Each company gets a lot of qualified candidates. Try to find something unique about your skills relevant to that specific company that will make you stand out from the competition. If you have little experience, stress you have a fresh point of view. If you are older, stress your long record of achievement. If you know foreign languages and you are interviewing with multinational company stress that skill even if it may not be immediately applicable to your job. Prove your expertise by using specific examples from the past. If you don't have enough experience build it up by volunteering, teaching, finding a way to increase experience even if you don't get paid for it. After explaining the general approach the author gives several specific examples.

An interesting concept in "Messaging" chapter is what the author calls "The elevator pitch". The elevator pitch is a set of talking points that succinctly answers "What do you do?" or "Tell me about yourself". You never know when the opportunity will arise to tell someone about yourself, and you want to think through what you would say to take advantage of this opportunity in the best possible way. The author provides a template of key points to cover in this message for 5 seconds, 30 seconds, and 60 seconds option of the pitch. Sample pitches for people with different backgrounds help to put this lesson in context. What else can you do with your Elevator pitch? Use it in your LinkedIn profile.

Speaking of LinkedIn, Ms. Kang has a whole long chapter on Social Media and branding. It contains a lot of nice tips from what should be included in your profile to why you should not change your profile photo often.

Through her book Ms. Kang stresses again and again that to help you reach your goals it helps to have influential supporters. The authors spends quite a bit of time of talking how to identify and form relationships with individuals who can advocate on behalf of your brand.

To summarize the gist of the book is that people will not take you seriously if you only have social skills, but everyone is a lot more helpful to the people they like. Ms. Kang recommends not to just focus on growing your core skills, but spending time on relating to people and cultivating relationships especially with career influencers. Her book will help you to form a plan of action.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

I receive a review copy of this book for an honest and unbiased review.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Table of content:


The Importance of Reinventing Your Personal Brand
What's Inside BrandingPays
My Story

Chapter 1

Take Charge of Your Personal Brand
Branding a Political Candidate
What Is Personal Branding?
Personal Branding Myths
What are the Benefits of Personal Branding?
Rebranding Throughout Life
Your Goal for Branding
The Branding Journey
Every Brand Needs Cake and Icing
Personal Branding Assessment Questionnaire
BrandingPays System: Five Steps to Your Cake and Icing

Chapter 2
Step 1: Positioning
Position Yourself for Opportunities
What Is Positioning and Why Do It?
What Is Your Goal?
Positioning Triangulation
Positioning Statement
Who Is Your Target Audience?
Problem or Opportunity Statement: What do they need?
Value Proposition: How can you provide the solution?
Differentiation: Why are you the best one to provide it?
Evidence: How can you prove it?
Sample Positioning Statements
Chart Your Position
Iterate to Hone Your Positioning
Chapter 2 Summary
Chapter 2 Action List

Chapter 3

Step 2: Messaging
Message for Clarity and Impact
The Elevator Pitch and Your Evidence
Sample Elevator Pitches
Different Value Messages for Different Audiences
Back Your Positioning Claims with Evidence Messages
How the Positioning Statement Can Feed Your Linkedin Profile
What Is Your Tagline?
Chapter 3 Summary
Chapter 3 Action List

Chapter 4

Step 3: Brand Strategy
How to Develop Your Brand Strategy
Brand Strategy Platform
Key Brand Descriptors
Sample Brand Strategy Platforms
Chapter 4 Summary
Chapter 4 Action List

Chapter 5

Step 4: Ecosystem
Ecosystem: Leverage Influencers to Establish Brand
Taking It to the People
What Is the Brand Ecosystem?
The 90/10 Rule
The Brand Ecosystem Model
Take Time for Relationship Building
Four Keys for Strong Ecosystem Relationships
Identifying Influencers
Managing Your Ecosystem Relationships
A Word About Networking
Chapter 5 Summary
Chapter 5 Action List

Chapter 6

Step 5: Action Plan
Build Your Brand Action Plan
A36o-Degree Brand
Brand Improvement
Brand Communication
Four Phases of Brand Communication Using the Ecosystem Model
Brand Action Example
Lessons from Rebranding an Entrepreneurial Company
A Word of Advice for Entrepreneurs
Chapter 6 Summary
Chapter 6 Action List

Chapter 7

360-Degree Branding: Vision, Symbols, Words and Dei
The Care2 Story: Rebranding from the Inside Out
Vision or Thought Leadership Branding
Your Look, Your Image: The Basics
Branding in Multimedia
Chapter 7 Summary
Chapter 7 Action List

Chapter 8

Portable Branding and Social Media: Getting Started
Why You Need to Be in Social Media
Choose Your Social Networks
Own Your Online Real Estate
Your Google Search Results
Your Avatar
To Blog or Not to Blog
Should You Promote Your Personal Brand or Your Business Brand Online?
Online Reputation Management
Do a Few Things Well
Chapter 8 Summary
Chapter 8 Action List


Reinvent Your Brand for New Opportunities
Four Stories on Overcoming Diversity Challenges in Personal
Branding and Life

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Product review: Pillowpacker Pillows Pillowcases

Pillowpacker pillow cases are designed to fit Pillowpacker pillows. Each Pillowpacker pillow is 19" by 14" (slightly smaller than a regular size pillows which are typically 24" x 19").

I am attaching a collage of 3 photos.

Photo #1 and Photo #3 shows the Pillowpacker pillow case construction. This is a european-type pillow cases which fold over rather than have one open end. I prefer this style of pillow cases to the ones with one open side for their neat appearance. The pillow cases are made out of 100% percale cotton. They comes in 5 different colors. In the photos I attached you see red one and blue one.

Photo #2 shows Pillowpacker pillow next to a regular size pillow for a relative size comparison.

I hand washed both pillow cases in hot water to test for color fastness. On the initial wash there was a tiny amount of color bleed. I repeated the wash three times, by the third time there was no color bleed at all. There pillow cases did not shrink.

I received sample pillow cases from the manufacturer for an evaluation and unbiased review. These are high quality pillow cases and the fit is perfect since they are specifically made for these pillows.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Product review: Pillowpacker Pillows Down Pillow Set / Microfiber Pillow Set

I had a couple of back surgeries, so finding a comfortable position in bed is always a bit of a challenge especially when I travel. At home I use a pillow with more loft for my head, and a flatter pillow under my knees to keep my spine in a position that does not hurt.  When I travel I often find hotel pillows uncomfortable.  They are usually either too fat to feel comfortable under my knees or too flat to be comfortable under my head.

This is where Pillowpacker Pillows come in.  The unique feature of this travel pillow is its construction.  It is shaped as a regular bedroom pillow (but somewhat smaller), but inside it has multiple layers: the out layer is either duck down or microfiber, and inside layer is an inflatable pillow.  You can control the thickness of the pillow by how much you inflate the inflatable pillow.  The softness of the duck down or microfiber makes you feel like you are sleeping on a regular pillow.  By changing the inflation of the pillow I could make it fit both of my needs thicker under the head, and flatter under the knees.

Photo #1 shows a fully inflated pillow (blue) and minimally inflated pillow (red).  The valve used to inflate the pillows is very easy to use. It is hard plastic screw valve. Blowing air into it is very easy, it takes only a few blows to inflate it (much easier than other inflatable pillows that have a silicone plug). 

Photo #2 shows the Pillowpacker pillow next to my regular size pillow. My regular pillow is 24" x 19", the Pillowpacker pillow is 19" by 14".

Photo #3 shows the construction of the pillow: dark blue is the pillow case, light blue is the sleeve that contains goose feathers, white is the inflatable pillow between the two layers of goose filling.

Photo #4 shows the Pillowpacker pillow case. This is a European-type pillow case which folds over rather than have one open end.  I much prefer this style of pillow cases for their neat appearance. It is made out of 100% cotton.

I prefer duck down pillows in general, my husband prefers microfiber, so I got one of each. In the photos above I used the blue pillow case for down pillow, and the red pillow case for the microfiber one. When I inflated both pillows I was able to get the same thickness on both of the pillows, they both weigh 5 oz. They both compacted similar well when I rolled them up for packing.  They do feel slightly different in a squeeze test. By squeezing each I can tell the difference between down and microfiber as microfiber has a bit more spongy feel to it. The down pillow is very soft, you cannot feel any quills, this pillow is made with top quality duck down.

Originally I thought I would use these pillows only when I travel, but I found the ability to adjust the pillow loft for my back problems so useful that I began using them as my "under the knees" pillow every day.  I found that being able to change the inflation really helps my back, as some days the back feels better with knees slightly higher and some days with knees slightly lower. 

Whether you want more custom comfort when you travel, or you use pillows to adjust leg position when you sleep this pillow can be customized to fit your needs. I recommend it.

You can find the Pillowpacker down pillow on Amazon by following this link.

You can find the Pillowpacker micro fiber pillow on Amazon by following this link.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Friday, February 22, 2013

Product review: Bolse® Universal Travel Adapter with USB Charger

Bolse universal travel adapter is plug adapter. It does no voltage conversion. This plug adapter is different from other international plugs adapters I have in two ways:

(1) It is all-in-one plug not multiple small plugs like my other adapter sets. This is good because pieces are not going to get lost and always be there when you need them. The "price" for being all-in-one plug that this unit is bigger than any one of the individual country adapter. The Bolse adapter's size is 2 3/8" x 1 3/4" x 2 1/4" with all prongs retracted. Its weight is 3.1 oz.

(2) In addition to the AC outlet it also has an USB port built into the unit.
Having a USB port is extremely handy for recharging mobile devices.
I tested the USB port with Tested with Nexus 7 Tab, Galaxy Nexus Phone, Galaxy 7.7 Tab using 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 results of my test is that the plug worked well with Nexus Android devices, but did not work with Samsung Galaxy Tab.
✔ Nexus 7 Tab........................... charging at AC rate
✔ Galaxy Nexus Phone............... charging at AC rate
✔ Samsung Galaxy 7.7 Tab......... discharging

The plug operated very smoothly and I am attaching a video which demonstrates how the plug is switched between different configurations.

✔ For USA plug
Slightly press the button and slide to the right for USA/AUST plug completely as shown. Make sure the contact blades are turned to the parallel position.

✔ For Australia/New Zealand plug
Slightly press the button and slide to the right for USA/AUST plug completely as shown. Make sure the contact blades are Rotated to "\ /"position.

✔ For United Kingdom plug
Slightly press the button and slide to the left Ir UK plug completely as shown. Pull out the insulated ground pin from the housing.

✔ For EUROPEAN plug
Make sure the button is slid back to the center then press the button for Europe plug to pop out.

When the adapter is plugged into the wall socket, the "power" indicator lights up showing that the AC power and USB are operational. This plugs maximum power is 6A. This means some appliances that require higher power (for example some hair dryers) may not work. Check your appliance label to see if it requires less than 6A.

I am also attaching a collage of two photos.  The first photo demonstrate how this plug fits on the power strip. It is fairly large and covers two outlets on the standard size strip. The second photo demonstrating Galaxy 7.7 tab running the Battery app (discharging).

I was provided a sample unit for testing, evaluation and writing a review. I provided pluses and minuses of my experience with this unit, and if you have questions I have not answered I am happy to reply to comments.

Overall, this plug performed well in all tests other than charging Samsung Galaxy Tablet. This plug is very well suited to those people who travel to many different countries. They can really take advantage of one plug that works in over 150 different countries. If you only travel to one country, then one dedicated plug might work better because it is smaller and lighter.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Product review: Geritrex benzoin compound tincture for skin protectant

Benzoin tincture of benzoin is typically used as a treatment for damaged skin. It is often applied before applying tape or other adhesive bandages, especially if you have to keep taping and re-taping the same area. I use it slightly differently. I have a friend who is an avid skier and applies Benzoid Tincture to avoid blisters from skiing boots. When I told him about a corn I have on top of one of my toes which is irritated by otherwise very comfortable shoes, he suggested I start using a bit of Benzoid Tuncture on top of my toe. Since Benzoid tincture is often used as an antiseptic (due it the benzoin as well as its alcohol solvent) I felt safe using it on a corn that was irritated. I found that the compound really helps. Now my corn feels less irritated and less painful.

I am attaching a photo that shows an open container of the benzoin tincture. The content is a dark brown thick liquid that hardens a bit as it dries. A small hole in the cap allows you to dispense a small amounts. The liquid does stain if you spill it as I found out the first time I applied it to my toe. Now I put something under my foot as I apply the compound.

Overall, using it on my toe every day made me more comfortable and I recommend it.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Monday, February 18, 2013

Product review: Bolse® 150 Watt 12v DC to 110v AC Power Inverter with Dual USB and AC Port Charger

This power inverter allows you to convert the DC voltage in your car plug to AC voltage, so you can plug in devices that do not come with a car plug.

This plug offers many positives (listed below) and one negative which I illustrate with a short video. I am also attaching a collage of three photos.


The inverter is 5 3/8 inches long from the tip to the end with the outlets. It is 3 inches wide. The plug pivots about 45% in each direction.

Photo #1 shows the inverter plugged into the cigarette lighter outlet in the car. Photo #2 shows that despite being fairly wide it fits into a tight area where the cigarette lighter outlet is located.


✔ This inverter provides 2 AC outlet and 2 USB ports.
✔ USB charging ports rated at 5 VDC. When I plugged in Nexus 7 Tab and Galaxy Nexus Phone directly into USB ports of this device they get AC level of power.
I used Battery App by Elvison to determine how mobile devices 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.
Photo #3 show Galaxy Nexus running the battery app while plugged into the USB port of this inverter.
✔ I tried several devices in AC port and they worked well as well. My most frequent use for the AC outlets is to use it with my battery chargers: my camera's recharger as well as my AA/AAA battery recharger.
This inverter supports devices with continuous power requirement of 150 watts or less. Note that the manual recommends that devices plugged into inverter should require 80% or less of the 150 watts rating for this device (i.e. 120 watts).
✔ The inverter has built-in low voltage protection, over voltage protection, over load protection, short circuit protection and over heat protection.


✔ To provide cooling the inverter has a built-in fan. The fan on my plug generated noticeable hum. I took a short video to illustrate the noise. It really did not bother me, but my husband was somewhat annoyed by it.

I was provided a sample unit for testing and writing an honest and unbiased review. Overall, I liked this inverter. About a year ago I bought a similar inverter from Radio Shark so I would be able to recharge batteries for my cameras on field trips. Comparing the two plugs I like this plug better because (1) its list price is less expensive then the amount I paid at RadioShark (2) it gives me two AC outlets and two USB outlets, where as RadioShark unit gave me one of each.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Product review: FRIEQ® Universal Waterproof Case for Apple iPhone 5, Galaxy S3, HTC One X, Galaxy Note 2 - IPX8 Certified to 100 Feet

This waterproof case is rated for 100 feet submersion. I have used cases with similar closures in the past for my camera and had good successes having my camera in a kayak even when I flipped the kayak. To be sure about this bag I tested it by enclosing a wad of toilet paper to approximate the thickness of the phone and dropped into a bucket of water. Several hours later I examined the toilet paper and it remained dry.

I am attaching several photos which can be located by following 'customer photos' link under the main photo.

The size of this case is 4" by 7". The case is flat so if you are measuring your device you need to allow room for thickness as well as length + width.

I used Nexus Galaxy phone for testing. Several notes about the phone. The Nexus Galaxy phone is not officially listed as a phone which would fit into this case. However Nexus Galaxy phone is similar in size to Galaxy SIII and Galaxy SI SGH-T989 (it fits cradles made for these phones). In addition Nexus Galaxy phone is normally used with an extra large battery (Hyperion Verizon Samsung Galaxy Nexus 3800mAh Extended Battery) which makes it significantly fatter than a standard battery.

I tested both configurations with a regular battery and the large battery figuring this will be of interest to some people. Not surprisingly, it was a good fit for the regular battery. The larger battery was not a good fit. It was so tight that I stopped the insertion in fear of tearing the case. I am attaching a photo of the phone with the large battery being inserted into the case so if you use a similarly thick battery you can see the fit for yourself.

Whether you like water sports, skiing, or just want to keep the phone dry in a pouring rain this case will do a nice job.

I was provided a sample cases for testing and for writing a fair and unbiased review.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Book review: The 5th Dimension Password Keeper by Michael E Pipkins

We are all familiar with a problem of trying to come with good strong passwords for various web sites we use and then trying to remember them. The author's goal is to solve both of these problems.

People have used ciphers to encode messages for ages. To decode a message you need to know a cipher and a key. A cipher is a source of letters which are used to substitute the letters in your text, and a key are the rules which use you to make the substitutions.

The authors adapted this standard encoding technique and applied it to password generation and an aid for recollecting passwords. The book contains a brief 7 page explanation of how this cipher works. It is written in a simple language which is easily understood by people who are not familiar with any encryption techniques. The rest of the book provides 104 pages which you can use to generate and keep track of your passwords. Each of 104 pages containing its own cipher and with the use of the same key (i.e. your rules) you would have a 104 different passwords. The length of the password and the position of the letters is your key. As long as you don't mark the book to expose the rules you are totally safe even if someone sees a page for a specific web site.

Once you make a commitment to his approach, you will not be able to remember your passwords without this book as they will be random strings of letters and symbols. The author of the book offers a pocket edition of the password keeper on his web site (currently $2.94 including shipping), which allows a person to keep 15 most used passwords (3 computer logins, 3 emails, 9 websites) in a wallet. The tables on the 15 pages of the pocket book match the first 3 tables for logins, the first 3 tables for emails, and the first 9 websites in the full size book. So when you create your passwords in the full size book you need to keep in mind which passwords you want to include in your pocket size guide and put them first. If you don't want to use the pocket guide, you can use a copier to copy and shrink those pages to take with you.

There are situations where this approach does not work very well. For example, several web site I use impose very strict rules on passwords. For example, some require the password to have one capital, one number, and one special character. Your key may not generate a string that follows those rules. I also ran into some website that do not allow special characters, which are included in the cipher tables, so you might not be able to use the string generated by the key. The author anticipated such situations by suggesting writing down the exception below the table, such as "replace the first character with a capital" or "replace the third character with x", which does not decrease security by much. I agree. However it makes the rules more complicated and marries you to the book even more.

This is a very secure way to generate passwords. The downside of this approach is that you become totally dependent on this book, and if you forget to take your cheat-sheet with you when you travel chances are you will not be able to get into your own accounts.

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

Ali Julia review ★★★☆☆

The author provided me a review copy of this book for an honest and unbiased review.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Product review: FRIEQ® Premium Microfiber Cleaning Pads for Phones and Tablets (iPad, iPhone, Nexus, Galaxy)

FRIEQ Microfiber cleaning pads are unique because each pad is a little pocket. To demonstrate how they work I am attaching a video and a collage of 4 photos. The video demonstrates the cleaning pads cleaning my tablet. They remove the smudges very effectively.

Photo #4 and #4 show before and after photos of the phone, where the cleaning pad took care of cat hair and smudges. Photo #1 shows the content of the entire package - it contains three pads. I put one near the computer, one in my purse, and gave one to my husband. Photo #2 shows the pads next to the ruler. Their size is 2.5" by 5" (the entire length) with 3" pocket. The material feels like suede. It really holds what it picks up well, I noticed this particularly with cat hair! The pads are washable.

I tested using this pad for cleaning my glasses but did not like it as much for that use as I did for the tablet and phone. I like cleaning my glasses by rubbing on both sides of the glass at the same time rather than swiping. This motion with the pad on both sides of my eye glasses was a little awkward. It worked, but holding the pad was not convenient for me. By comparison when I cleaned the tablet/phone the pad's pocket felt like a natural fit for the motion.

I received a sample for evaluation and writing an honest and unbiased review. I hope my demonstration gives you a good idea of the effectiveness of this cleaning pad.

Overall, I found them very effective in cleaning, and their small size in convenient for carrying around.
You can find these cloth on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Product review: Ayl Accessorise (TM) Portable Bluetooth Wireless Mini Speaker System for PC / Cell Phone / Tablet / MP3 Player (Silver) Accessorise (TM) Portable Bluetooth Wireless Mini Speaker System

Several months ago we were on the market for a bluetooth speaker for the car, so I have done quite a bit of research comparing different mini bluetooth speakers. The overall winner of that comparison was DBEST London PS4001BT speaker.  When I received an offer from Accessorise to receive an evaluation unit of their mini speaker for review purposes I was eager to compare it with the other speakers I recently evaluated.

Accessorise mini bluetooth speaker is an attractive black/silver dome which is 2.4 oz in weight and about 2.5" wide. It can be used as a bluetooth speaker as well as be plugged in using 3.5mm jack for devices that are not bluetooth enabled. I tested it pairing with Nexus 7 Tab, Galaxy Nexus Phone, Galaxy 7.7 Tab and using the jack with Sansa Clip+ MP3. All of them worked well.

I am attaching a collage of 3 photos (it can be located by following 'customer photos' link under the main photo). The first photo shows the speaker next to the ruler. Phone #2 and Photo #3 show the two sides of the speaker. Photo #2 shows the button that controls all functions of this speaker. If you briefly touch the button it turns the speaker on and off (which results a slow blink of the blue light on speaker). If you push the button and hold it it goes into pairing mode (which results a quick blink blink of the blue light). The same button is used to pause (press while playing), skip to the next or previous song (rotate change volume control), or change volume (rotate left or write and hold). Because one button is overloaded with many functions it requires a slight learning curve to learn how to operate it. The main trick for pairing is to make sure you see a fast blink before you scan for bluetooth devices.

The speaker can be recharged by connection the standard USB cable.

The range of the speaker is about 30 feet (approximately 10 meters). When I went further away the sound began breaking up.

To do the comparison with DBEST mini speaker I listened to both speakers in the car. I used two music pieces to evaluate speakers, playing each using one speaker then the other: Edith Piaf, Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien and well as a classical music piece.

Both speakers were impressive and were able to generate well amplified sound. Mid range was comparable for both speakers, DBEST produce better richer base.

There is one other minor but possibly significant in practice difference: DBEST speaker has a loop as part of its body, which gives us multiple options for mounting it in the car. We have it hanging from that loop on the driver's side. Ayl speaker has no options for hanging, it is designed to stand on it base. If we were to use it in the car we would need to rig something up, perhaps gluing a loop to it.

Overall, it is a nice little speaker with the sound which is rather impressive for its size.

You can find AYL speaker on Amazon by following this link.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Product review: URBAN TOOL sport Holster Ergonomic Shoulder Holster for Sports

This is a very convenient holster for your music player and a few other small items while you exercise. I usually wear a small fanny pack with my mp3 player and keys when I exercise outdoors. This holster provides a better alternative.

I am attaching a collage of 4 photos  which I will be referencing to illustrate this review.

1. Photo #1 shows how this holster is worn.
2. Photo #2 shows the holster on 1" gridded mat for size reference. In the back the holster has a nylon pocket, where you can carry your MP3 player or a phone, and some other small items like keys or chap-stick. The size of the pouch is 6" by 4".
I ordered size S1 (female XS-L, male S). In my photo you see my Sansa Clip MP3 in the pouch. The pouch has velcro closure so your items are securely trapped within the pocket.
3. The left front strap has a retractable key ring (photo #4). This key ring is removable and is attached to a loop that can be used to hold something else. The right front strap has another built-in loop.
4. Photo #3 shows the closure mechanism for the straps. It is an adjustable Velcro strap which is 6 inches long. That means in total you can adjust the arm opening by 12 inches.

If you find that the fit is not too small, the straps can be further adjusted to be larger by sewing on an extension of your own strapping with a bit of Velcro material on the end of each strap. I found that when I wear a thicker fleece I was more comfortable adjusting the arm opening to be bigger than the largest setting. The key to working with strapping is to singe each edges so the edges don't unravel. The strapping material does not burn, it melts. The melting forms a protective coating on the edges so you don't need to worry about them coming apart. Also it allows you to connected the two straps with minimum bulk, you don't need to fold them under. Adjusting the size of holster in this way allows me to wear it for both indoor and outdoor exercises.

I received an evaluation copy of this holster to test and write an unbiased review.

Overall, I really like wearing this holster when exercising. It gives me a better balance than wearing a fanny pack or sticking my mp3 into my pockets, and I am less likely to get caught on a cord, since it is out of the way and goes a very short distance between the pocket on my back to my ears.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Friday, February 8, 2013

Product review: Jan Marini Benzoyl Peroxide 2.5%

My dermatologist recommended a mild 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide Wash (any brand) for treating blackheads. There are a lot of stronger Benzoyl Peroxide options, but I did not find a lot options for the 2.5% wash so I went with Jan Marini wash even though it seemed a bit pricey. 

I have been using it for over a month. I use it once a day. It does not irritate my skin and I am beginning to see positive results.

I am attaching a collage of three photos. The bottle is fairly large, photo #2 show it next to the ruler - it is 5 inches tall not measuring the cap. Photo#1 shows the top without the cap, this small hole allows you to use in small amount so it will last. Photo #3 shows the wash in my hand - the content is cream-like substance.

Directions from the back of the package:
* Apply a small amount (about the size of a quarter) to the face. Work into a lather.
* Gently remove with a wash cloth and lukewarm water.
* Splash face with lukewarm water. Pat dry.
* Because excessive drying of the skin may occur, start with one application daily, then gradually increase to two or three times daily if needed or as directed by a physician.
* If bothersome dryness or peeling occurs, reduce application to once a day or every other day.
* If going outside, apply sunscreen after using this product. If irritation or sensitivity develops, stop use of both products and ask a physician.

Active Ingredients:
Benzoyl Peroxide-2.5%

Inactive Ingredients:
Water (Aqua), Sorbitol, Propylene Glycol, Cetyl Alcohol, Stearyl Alcohol, Glycerin, Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, Carbomer, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Diazolidinyl Urea, Disodium EDTA

Overall, I am please with the effects.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Product review: LG 800G Prepaid Phone With Triple Minutes (Tracfone) . Inlcudes help on installing external memory SD card.

We have been using Tracfone for a family member who only uses the cell phone occasionally. Tracfone has been a perfect phone for this level of use. 1 year service is around $100 and you can roll over unused minutes year to year. The minutes do not expire as long as the service is extended before the expiration date. I purchased a LG800G phone to replace an 6 year old phone that stopped working.

To transfer the old number and minutes
1. Before activating and transferring the old phone number and left over minutes, the new phone needs to be charged.

2. You can activate the phone on-line (if you have an on-line account with Tracphone AND if your old phone is operational). To do so go to Tracfone home page and choose "Activate Phone" link at the top of the home screen, and then selecting "Transfer my number and service from one TracFone to another". Since the old phone was not working I called the service representative 1-800-867-7183.

3. To do the transfer you will need the IMEI number (also known as the serial number) of the old phone, the SIM card number of the old phone, and the old phone number. You will also need the serial number of the new phone which is printed on your activation card.

4. I had no issues getting full credit for all the old minutes. To activate the phone the operator had to give me five long series of numbers and even though the call center was in India I had no trouble understanding the accent and found the operator pleasant and easy to work with. The first procedure she performed gave me credit for half of the minutes on the old phone, and then without me having to ask she said she needed to do several more steps to get me the balance of minutes. I had to turn off and turn on the phone twice to see minutes added in two steps.

5. The new phone added 10 units and 60 days of service to the minutes and service time left on the old phone.

6. The software version I received on the phone purchased in February 2013 is V10e. The older version of the software had problems (specifically version V10d).
You can check what version of the software you have by clicking on a blue square with 4 dots on the main screen. Then tapping on the following: Settings - Phone - scroll down to Information - Device Information - S/W version.
If you have V10e or later you are all set. If you have V10d you have an older problematic version and should upgrade.
I went to LG web site, found support page, and entered 800G. I found a page where there are steps to install software that performs an upgrade for the the phone. The instructions say "If your phone needs to upgrade, the "Start Updating " button will be enabled.
I did not test this because my phone is on the latest version already, but I wanted to see if LG had a page for updates and I found it.
This is a link to  LG 800G software software updates.

What I like about the phone
1. I found the touch screen to be responsive, although it requires a little more pressure than the touch screens of my Android devices

2. The screen is bright and easy to see. The phone size is 4" (length) by 2.25" (width) by 0.375" (thickness). Screen size 1.75" (width) by 2.25" (length). 3" diameter. It weighs 3.1 oz.

3. This phone will be used by someone whose vision is not very good, and I was pleasantly surprised by many font size choices and how well the font scaled up without losing the usability of the menus and prompts.
I am attaching a collage of five photos. Photo #1 shows font options, Photo #2 shows a screen with font size set to medium size, Photo #3 shows a screen with large font.

4. The price of this phone is hard to beat. This phone provided triple minutes for the life of the phone. That means when combined with 1 year service/400 minutes it is 1200 minutes for $90 (current price on Amazon including shipping), which is 7.5 cents per minute. Or for someone who uses a phone less than 400 minutes a year (which is the case in our family), then it is $7.50 a month for the security of having an emergency phone.

5. The phone has a small set of useful apps: a calculator, a notepad, an mp3 player, and few others. Using these apps does not use minutes. If you use the browser then the minutes are used as soon as you connect and stop when you disconnect.

6. A charging connector is a standard micro USB connector. I have been able to charge this phone using my own cables, so if you already have a car charger or an external battery that uses a standard USB connector you don't need to buy anything special to use it them with this phone. The charging port on LG800G is on the left side of the phone and is covered by a small panel which you need to lift up and turn 90 degrees to expose the connector.

Customization I have made
(1) I increased the screen time out. This is done by hitting a blue squares with 4 dots (also known as the Menu icon) and then selecting 'Settings'. From the 'Settings' screen select 'Phone' and then 'Auto-lock'. You can choose a time between 10 sec and 60 sections or 'Never'. If you select 'Never' the screen will dim but will not lock. The downside of 'Never' that if something in your purse accidentally presses on the screen you could be dialling or starting up a browser without meaning to do so.

(2) I removed the browser from the main screen to the apps bar (so it would not be hit accidentally start using minutes). And added "Profiles" to the main screen, which allows to change the phone into silent or flight mode quickly.

(3) I populated the contacts, and then added several numbers to the speed dial. Once the speed dial is set you will be able to access it by clicking the phone icon on the main screen, and then hold down the number of your speed dial. Speed dial #1 is your voice mail. Note that when you access your voice mail you get charged minutes. Speed dials also appear as individual buttons on the screen on the second page. To get to the second page you need to swipe your finger across the main screen right to left.

(4) I changed the font of the display. This option is accessible by hitting the Menu icon, then 'Settings', then 'Display', then 'Font'.

(5) I changed the ring tone. To get to this setting you need to go to the second page of Settings. Start with Menu, then Settings, then slide your finger right to left to flip the page, select 'My stuff', then 'Sounds'. The phone comes with 12 choices for rings tones.

(6) You can activate and deactivate sounds by using the volume button. To do so you need to press and hold the lower portion of the volume button. You will get a brief message on the screen "Silent activated". If you press it again you will deactivate silence and get "Silent deactivated" message.

Adding SD Memory Card
The phone is operational without adding an SD memory card. The phone comes with some (relatively small) amount of internal memory. Information about your contacts, calendar, tasks & notes are stored in internal memory. If you are planning to take photos or videos, or listen to music, you should add an SD memory card. Note that you contacts, calendar, and tasks will continue to be stored the internal memory. I purchased this SD memory Sandisk 4GB MicroSDHC.

1. SD memory card slot is located under the battery. This means that you first need to remove the cover by sliding it down. The first time I had to remove the cover it was a bit difficult, as the cover is very slippery and has no groves to hang on to. I finally was able to do by using the grippy material used to open cans. Photo #4 shows me removing the battery cover. It generated enough friction that the cover finally slid off. After removing the cover, you need to remove the battery.

2. The memory card slot is on the left side of the white SIM card. The gold bars on the card face should down towards the gold bars on the phone. The memory card goes under the metal holder.
You need to lift the metal holder, place the memory card, and then lower the card holder, and push it down until it snaps in place. Note that lifting the holder for the first time
requires some force, I used a tiny screwdriver to give me leverage to push it up. Photo #5 show the holder up, so you can see what you need to do to insert the memory card.

3. After the memory card is in place, you need to replace the battery and the phone cover, and power up the phone.

4. Now, you need to set your default memory to external, and tell the camera, the video recorder, and the voice recorder to use external memory rather than the internal memory like before.

5. To set the default memory:
- Tap the following sequence MENU - Settings - Phone - Memory Info - Primary storage settings
- Tap on External memory (red check will appear)
- There will be a FORMAT button at the bottom of the screen, tap on it
- The phone will ask for a security code, enter 0000. Once you enter the security code, OK button will appear on the bottom of the screen. Click ok. Format takes about 1 second.

6. To set the camera:
- Tap Camera icon on the main screen holding the phone vertically, turn the phone to horizonal position, as you turn you will see camera control setting appear on the screen.
Tap the gear icon which is on the lower left side of the screen.
The memory setting is on the second screen of camera settings, so you need to tap the slider on the right hand side (it will say 1/3, first page out of three) once you tap it will change to 2/3.
On the top row you will see a square called 'select storage'. By default it will look like a cell phone, once you tap it will look like a memory card.
Hit OK to save your change

 Here is a video that shows how to change camera and video camera settings: 
7. To change the video camera:
- Tap Camera icon on the main screen holding the phone vertically, turn the phone to horizon position, as you turn the camera controls will appear
- Tap the gear looking icon on the botton left
- Now you need to switch from camera to video, which is done by sliding your finger from camera to video camera icon on the right hand side slider
- If you do it correctly, you will see a red button appear where the video camera is. If you do it incorrectly, you will take a photo. It took me a few tries to get the pressure and location of where my finger slides correctly.
- The storage setting is on the second page of the video camera, so you need to page down on the slider by tapping on 1/2.
- Tap on 'Select storage' icon, and make sure you see a memory card, rather than the cell phone icon.
- Click OK to save your change
8. To change the voice recorder
- Voice recorder is on the second page of Settings. To get there select Menu - slide you finger right to left to page - tap on Voice recorder.
- The top option is 'Storage', tap on it to change cell phone icon to memory card icon.
- Click ok to save your change

Overall, the phone feels nice, the screen is easy to read, when I made a few "test" phone calls I was told that I sound very clear. The thing that I like least about the phone is that its speaker phone is not loud enough to hear well without putting the phone next to your ear. So I would not really consider it to be a speaker phone. Other than that I am quite pleased with this phone.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Update: I found a nice tutorial for LG 800G 

Product review: Rick Steves Clothesline (braided rubber clothline rope)

This clothline is made out of three braids of rubber, which can be pulled apart to poke through a small piece of the garment you want to dry. This means you don't need to worry about cloth pins when you travel. This clothline works very well indoors, however the rubber braids are not strong enough to hold clothing outside in the wind or near an open window with strong gusts.

The length of this rope without stretching is 40 inches. Each end of the rope ends in a Velcro loop which I did not include in the 40 inch measurement as it will be tied around something. The stretchy part is 32 inches, and can be relatively easily stretch to 42 inches giving you a total of 48 inches. However, I would not stretch it any more than that as I ran into issues: either the pull moves the objects it is tied to (when I use two chairs) or the Velcro undoes itself. I was also worried about pulling out the rope ends from the rubber part and ruining the rope. My solution to a relatively short length is to pack a short rope with a loop on one end. When I need extra reach to tie the clothline I attach the Velcro tie to the loop of the rope. This extension gives me the extra length to reach another stationary object when needed.

I am attaching a photo  which shows a close-up of the rope with a pen sticking through the braids to demonstrate how it stretches. You can also see how solidly the Velcro ties are constructed. They are quite thick.

When I travel I always wash my items in the sink. This allows me to bring fewer clothes as well as have a minimum amount of dirty underwear in the luggage. Most things I have dry over night. Typically hiking socks are the only things that remain damp. This becomes a problem if you are moving from place to place, so I carry a spare plastic bag where the items that are not totally dry travel if we are switching hotel rooms. To do the laundry I use the shampoo (either the hotel's or the travel bottle I bring myself if we travel in places which do not provide toiletries).

I found having this travel rope makes laundry on the go easier, and I don't need to worry about forgetting to bring cloth pins or using up all hangers for hanging laundry instead of cloth.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Monday, February 4, 2013

Product review: FRIEQ® New Conductive Fiber/Rubber Hybrid Stylus for iPad Nexus Android

This stylus is 5.5" long, 1.25" in diameter at the grip point, 0.4 oz in weight. The tip of this stylus looks like a metal fiber mesh waved into a rounded tip. In the past I have only used rubber tips. I did not notice any difference in performance or precision control. This tip worked just as well as others on Samsung Galaxy 7.7 screen (no screen protector).

I am attaching a collage of two photos (which can be located by following 'customer photos' link under the main photo) that I will be referencing in this review

✔ Sensitivity and performance of this stylus was very good. I most frequently use the stylus for typing and editing text, as it gives me best precision for positioning insertion point between characters. Photo #2 shows the pen in use.

✔ The I really like the grip of this stylus. The textured area is very grippy, so it does not slip out even when wearing gloves. I find the width of the stylus, the weight and the length of the stylus very comfortable to hold even when I used it for a long time. Photo #1 provides a close-up of the pen.

✔ It comes in several very attractive colors: cyan, magenta, black and silver.

✔ It has a clip, which allows me to clip the stylus while carrying it around. It does not get separated from my tablet in my purse, so it is there as soon as I need it.

Overall, I really like how this stylus fits and balances in my hand, and the how the grip feels under my fingers.

I received a sample stylus for evaluation and an unbiased review.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Product review: SimplyVibe SV-X6U1-Black Rechargeable FM, MP3 Player and Portable Speakers

SimplyVibe a mini boom box that can tune FM radio and as well as play the content of USB flash memory stick or SD memory card.

To illustrate my review I am attaching a video and a collage of 4 photos. The video demonstrate FM reception for voice and music, as well as SimplyVibe's ability to play MP3 content from a memory stick.

1. The first photo shows the content of the entire package. Besides the unit itself, the package includes a USB charging cable, an audio cable, a rechargeable lithium battery, and instructions. The unit's size is 6.41 " x 1.50" x 2.30". The photo of the unit show is on 1 inch gridded mat for size reference, I also included a pen in the photo for relative size.

2. I found FM tuner to be a bit weak and a number of stations sounded a bit hissy. The attached video will give you a good idea of the reception I get on two different stations, one station will demonstrate speaking voice, the other will demo music. It is acceptable, but not as good as a larger receiver (I compared it to CC Crane radio FM reception). Photo #4 shows the display during an FM radio broadcast. The display is fairly small, and stays on only for a few seconds. As you see in the video I had to touch the button many times to keep the display active. The unit has a mode which displays a clock, but because the display turns itself off so quickly SimplyVibe cannot function as a general purpose clock. The controls take some getting used to, they are not totally intuitive and the display is faint and might be hard to read for people with presbyopic eyes.

3. Photo #2 show the side of the unit where you plug in USB memory stick, a charging cable, and a SD memory card. The speaker performed much better when playing MP3 music from a memory stick. The sound was louder and it was very clear. It even did a reasonable job with the base for a unit of such small size.

4. Photo #3 shows the back of the unit - the battery compartment and the audio plugs. You can attach headphones to the unit, or attached the unit to a laptop as an external battery.

I found this speaker to be a nice size to stand on my night table. The bottom of the unit is flat and it balances well.

My main use for this unit is when I want to have an mp3 player which has an external speaker instead of headphones. I listen to a lot of audio books, and when I am sick I like listening to the audio books in bed. I don't like falling asleep with the headphones in my ears so SimplyVibe gives me a nice alternative.

I was provided an evaluation unit for testing and review. I noted the pluses and the minuses of my experience in this review, and if you have any questions about the features I have not covered I am always happy to answer comments.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Product review: SimplyShred PSC310D 10 Sheet Micro Cut Heavy Duty Paper Cd Credit card Shredder

I am very impressed with SimplyShred PSC310D shredder:
(1) The shredder easily handled 10 sheets of paper at once
(2) When I shredded a credit card and wanted to take a picture of the shreds to include in this review, I could not find them among the paper shreds. I had to empty the bin and do it again so I could be sure what they looked like. They were totally minced!
(3) The shredder did a nice job on CDs.
(4) This shredder can handled staples

I am attaching a video demonstrates this shredder working on 10 sheets of paper, a credit card, and a CD. I am also attaching a collage of 6 photos that I will be referencing in this review.

1. This shredder is a pretty substantial unit. Photo #1 shows it next to my Fellows DM-6C shredder and you can see that SimplyShred is significantly taller.
SimpleShred is 26" high x 10.25" front to back x 14.5 inches wide

The shredding mechanism of this shredder is built into the frame of the unit. The bucket can be removed like a draw, which makes disposal of the shreds much easier. The glass window in the front of the shredder has an opening which serves as a handle to move the bucket in and out. The shredder does not operate when the bucket is removed.
The removable bucket is 15.75" high x 9.5" front to back x 12.5" wide. It capacity is 7.4 Gallons.

2. Photo #2 shows shredder working on a single piece of paper. It does a fine job on one or multiple pieces, but it is fairly loud. The video will give you an idea of how quickly the shredder works as well as the level of the noise it generates. The speed of the shredder is 8.5 feet per minute. The blue light on the front panel is on when the shredder is operating.

3. Photo #4 shows the size of the paper shreds produces by this shredder. SimplyShred cuts them into tiny pieces. For size reference the line you see the photo is 1/4 inch grout line. Shreds size is 0.12in x 0.31in (3 mm x 8 mm)

4. CDs are shredded by inserting them into the second slot on the top of the machine. Photo #3 shows how the cd was broken up by the shredder.

5. Credit cards can be shredded either in the front slot or the back slot. Photo #6 is showing the credit card going into the front slot. Photo #5 shows shredded credit card. You can see why I had trouble finding those remnants, they are very small and have the same shape as shredded paper.

6. Shredding starts automatically when you insert paper/credit card/CD. If the shredder jams the front panel has forward and reverse buttons which can be used to backup the paper and unjam. Shredding of papers with labels is not recommended as it can gum up the blades.
The manual states that one should not shred continuously for more than 7 minutes. If the shredder overheats it shuts off and red LED light is displayed on the front panel. If the bucket becomes full another red LED light will be displayed on the front panel.

7. The manual has a nice tip on how to oil the shredder. It recommends applying oil to a sheet of paper in a zigzag pattern and feeding it through the machine, rather then applying the oil directly into the opening of the machine.

Comparing SimplyShred PSC310D to my Fellows DM-6C Shredder I like SimplyShred better:
1. The micro shreds generated by SimplyShred are smaller and thus more secure
2. SimplyShred can handle credit cards and CD where as Fellows does not
3. In order to empty my Fellows shredder I need to manually lift the shredding mechanism (which litters the floor with small pieces of paper). SimplyShred shredder has the shredding mechanism attached to the frame of the unit so I can just remove the bucket.
4. SimplyShred handles staples, where as Fellows required me to remove stables before shredding
5. Fellows Shredder has a lip around the top of the shredder so it is easier to move around by putting my fingers under the lip. SimplyShred has no handles and is difficult to get a hold of for moving or lifting.

There were a couple of small things about SimplyShred shredder that I did not like:
1. The unit does not have any handles. It has totally smooth sides. This makes it very cumbersome to carry. It would have been better if it had either indentation or bumps to form handles on the sides.
2. The shredder has wheels with locks. But even after I unlocked the locks the wheels did not roll well.

However, SimplyShred does the job of shredding so well that these minor points do not prevent me from enthusiastically recommending it.

I received this new shredder model for testing, evaluation and providing an honest review. I described both positives and negatives of my experience with this shredder. I hope you found my observations, measurements, video and photos helpful. If you have any questions I have not addressed I am always happy to answer comments.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★