Heading into Christmas, a consumer report…and a few gift ideas

I feel that testing products gives me a chance to see some new and unusual products, as well as check in on how some old favorite brands are doing.
Here’s a few tidbits I wanted to share.

Dashboard cams are starting to ‘race to the bottom’ in prices. Motion sensing and recording cameras are starting to flood the market from China. While dashboard cams are still often priced in the $150 range, I am starting to see some decent cams enter the market lower and lower. Tonight I saw one just listed for $48 that I’ll be testing soon. Many are coming with storage disks, adding to their value. I project that by the end of this quarter, there will be some amazing deals on them. The same holds true for IP cams and surveillance cameras in general, though ‘big’ corporate brands with more user-friendly software will continued to be priced high. If you are technically proficient, look for no-brand clones to become very affordable.

With online shopping, be very careful of sizing issues with Asian sellers. While many are starting to get “Small” and “Medium” sizes correct, larger sizes still elude their ability to properly denote. Be very careful with purchases on discount sites for plus size clothing unless you are already familiar with the site. Many ‘dress’ sites are popping up on social media featuring very inexpensive dresses that are often stylish and cute, but many of these are from the same lots that I’ve tested and found to be way off in size and cut for the American market.

Some really good deals do exist coming from Asian vendors- I have been overall impressed with the quality and value of knit goods for instance, and there’s some very nice messenger bags, backpacks, and tablet portfolios on the market.

Some eco-friendly products that I’ve liked have included wool dryer balls and fragrance diffusers. The dryer balls help speed clothes drying time, soften clothes naturally, and can be used to scent laundry by applying essential oils to them. I’ve had a set for months now and they work great. The diffusers help scent a home naturally.

The citrus essential oils, such as orange, lemon, lime, and grapefruit, are usually a good bet for quality. are generally inexpensive, and most people enjoy these scents.

I am NOT having much luck with heated electric linens, such as electric throws, blankets and underpads. I’ll write more on this later but for now my advice for now would be to steer clear of these items for gift giving. Too many are failing, even from brands most Americans have come to know and trust.

For the PREPPERS and multi-purpose gadget lovers – There is one product whose brand I will mention by name. They did send me a free copy to test, but this is NOT an affiliate link. It is NEVER my policy to make income from third-party vendor product tests.

This light is really very unusual. It functions as a light, AND a charger for USB powered items, like smartphones and tablets. The solar panel is a good size and works well, and it took me 3 full days to run this light down after one sunny day’s sunlight charge. It also works like a regular light bulb, if you prefer to use it like that. I’ve found it practical, unusual, and “delightful.”

There are some very unusual (to me at least) LED lights coming out of the Asian markets. I was contacted about one that is a regular screw in LED lightbulb, but it’s ALSO a Bluetooth speaker. I look forward to testing that one!

That’s all for now. If I can ever be of assistance with ideas, clarification, or recommendations, feel free to contact me. As long as I have a bit of time, I’ll try to help.

Taste of Beirut: 175+ Delicious Lebanese Recipes … A Cookbook Review

Taste of Beirut: 175+ Delicious Lebanese Recipes from Classics to Contemporary to Mezzes and More

by Joumana Accad

I chose this book because I have often heard that Lebanese food is some of the best in the world. It’s an area which has had contact with multiple cultures for thousands of years, and that influence has honed the spices and cooking techniques a great deal.

I was delighted that I learned something useful in the first few pages! I often find myself cooking or sweating onions at the start of each meal, but the author recommended doing many in advance, and storing them in the oil. This is already saving me time on a weekly basis. Indeed, the food storage and preservation tips were all quite new to me, and quite useful. There’s also a detailed explanation of ingredients that are unique to this cuisine such as sumac, bulgur types, fava beans, and other staples.

The book builds on itself, so that the first chapters introduce basic spice mixtures and condiments that later are used in other dishes. For instance, there’s a delightful recipe for yogurt cheese early on, that is later used in sandwich recipes as a spread. Delicious falafel is also covered in detail, with tips on getting just the perfect texture.

The book also contains a lot of full color, gorgeous photos. I’m going to pick up a hard copy of this cookbook soon; I like enough to want to own a hard copy for my cookbook collection. It’s one of the better, more interesting cookbooks I’ve read lately, with several recipes and techniques that I’ve already adopted. I do highly recommend this one. Most of the ingredients are quite easy to find, and many of the recipes are quite inexpensive to make, but full of taste and freshness.

5 out of 5 stars

Disclosure: I was provided an unfinished electronic galley copy for purposes of review via the publisher.

The Full Catastrophe: Travels Among the New Greek Ruins by James Angelos- A book review

The Full Catastrophe: Travels Among the New Greek Ruins

by James Angelos

This was a hard read only because there are so many facts and explanations in the text. They are needed, but slow down reading a bit. I found the best way to read this book was one chapter at a time. The chapters are relatively long, but this strategy works well as because each chapter really illustrates a key contributing factor to the political, social, and economic problems in Greece.

There are a lot of visits and interviews with people from all levels of Greek society – from old grandmothers that collected blindness disability when she wasn’t blind, to the doctor and prefect that signed for her to be able to. It covers them a lot of ground with people, from immigrant Muslims to immigration officers and people who can’t stand them, to politicians and civil servants.

This book covers all that I heard in the news- the corruption in Greek society and government, tax evasion, nationalistic and anti-German feelings that led to the rise of Syriza, racial and ethnic tensions that led to the rise of the Golden Dawn. It is all covered and well. The chapter on German relations was extraordinarily well written, I felt. It really brought the human element to life, and I really felt like I’d gained a more comprehensive understanding. Some of the personal histories about made me want to cry – the mass executions, 300,000 starving. Part of this chapter is the story about Manolis Glezos as a young man, daring to remove the German flag of the occupation. I think the author used these stories so well- I felt a gained a much deeper understanding of how the politics of anti-German sentiment gained so much traction and power. Later, discussing immigration issues the Greeks have, I could see The Golden Dawn became almost an inevitability.

The book is highly quotable in many places. It’s funny in others- imagine a country using aerial surveillance to root out people’s swimming pools, while defense spending for NOTHING that ever materializes is a black hole in politician’s pockets, or in a civil service system that considers working behind a computer such a hardship that workers need 6 extra paid days off a year for having to do it.

It is often as much an examination of the broader issues of democracy and capitalism, and political corruption as it is of the Greek situation specifically. I learned a lot from this book. What is so scary is that I see some of these same problems creeping up in America. I know I’d always thought of ‘political corruption’ as being a problem mainly with politicians. This book really illustrates how the participation in rampant corruption, the kind that bankrupts a country, actually can span from the poor and powerless to the highest social classes.


5 out of 5 stars

Disclosure: I was provided this book free for purposes of review via the publisher.

Simple things I learned this week…

Old Lady Gif

I learned a few simple random things this week that I thought I’d share.

  1. Kroger’s bottled brand generic Ranch Dressing tastes like Hidden Valley Ranch & it is a lot less expensive.
  2. Aldi’s hot sauce tastes like Franks to me, and is in the same size bottle at a fraction of the cost.  It makes good hotwings. Aldi’s has great prices on produce. Also, their generic brand Dill Pickles are good.
  3. Red’s all natural burritos are much more 2-3x more expensive than El Monterey’s, but they are worth it.
  4. Avocado oil is as good as argan oil to me for my hair, and it is GREAT on skin. It is also less expensive.
  5. It’s definitely worth it to upgrade the Android version on a smartphone. My battery is lasting a lot longer and the camera now works better.

I’ve been participating in Bzzagent’s Kroger’s Store Brands campaign, so I have been trying new generic foods and paying more attention to them. The salad dressing mentioned in this post though, was provided free directly by Kroger via digital coupon. If you’ve not signed up for Kroger’s Digital coupons yet, I do recommend it- they usually have a Friday freeby and occasionally freebies just show up in my account as well.Kroger.com I find it pays to always check the items under their SAVINGS tab.

The Great Firewall of China Constrains Like a Too-Small Bra

Bras are so constraining- sometimes you just wanna take em off
The Great Firewall of China constrains their businesses like a too-tight bra, and one day, I expect everything’s going to spill over, or the whole thing will pop off.  I think it will have to.  It does not fit their ambitions to compete in the global market.

I only know the fake names they use in their emails to me- Suki, Charlie, Mandy- for some reason, there’s a lot of Chinese workers that take the name of Mandy.

The reasons they write me vary, but primarily it is to ask for my opinion of a product that they are either hoping to sell, or  are actively trying to sell to the American market. Usually they are all business, but occasionally our communication will continue and I’ll get a glimpse of the person I’m communicating with. For instance, last week Suki wrote me about being excited over Chinese New Year, and going home for a long vacation.

I can’t help but wonder about their lives. One Mandy in particular was hoping to sell undergarments to US women on Amazon, and confided to me that she would like to see her garments have the perfect sizing and quality to maybe be sold at ‘Nordstrom’ and big US stores ‘on the street.’

Sizes really confused her though. I had sold lingerie myself as a hobby business for years on-line, and, really hoping to help the American consumer get better merchandise, I thought I’d try to help.

There are, of course, obvious and constant issues, at least to most women, of the Chinese underestimating the size of Americans. They often consider their largest size, a 3x, as being actually smaller than our average woman, or about a US size 12! She seemed to have no concept of a cup size past a D being anything that might sell. Of course all this was easy to advise her on. She was really confused about how our 34B bras are not really 34 inches on the under-band, and that’s pretty hard to explain. (There’s some old convention still widely used in which they’d add 3, sometimes 4 inches to the measurement, but then elastic content matters too.)

I sent size charts, and found a wonderful blog that explained all this. I sent her the link.

I got an email back from her, and if it is really possible to see a face fall across the world though an email, I did. She wasn’t able to access the content. It was blocked.

I asked her if I could send her the information in the charts, but she said it might be a problem and probably best not to since it was blocked. She wanted to stay within the set limits.

Really, what an awful shame, though. The information was strictly about the bra market and industry standards here in the US for bra sizing- just the information she needed. The Chinese want to compete in a global market, and we often see the business advantages of them doing so- they often have cheap labor, and locally sourced materials, and subsidized shipping. But it is also clear to me that they have a very large disadvantage when it comes to competitive intelligence and product development. They can’t get the information they NEED to research what US customers expect, or to research quality improvement.

A free and open Internet brings the best of information with it. Yes, there’s lots of drivel that can be found on-line too, even accidentally, but at least Americans are empowered to decide for ourselves, and really, that’s what open access to information is – it’s empowerment to anyone that takes advantage of it. Watching her struggle to understand something so vital to her business as sizing has made me feel even more committed to an open and free Internet.