Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ecos Magnolia and Lily Laundry Detergent - 100% Natural, Works Fine in Cold Water

Ecos Magnolia and Lily Laundry Detergent - 100% Natural, Works Fine in Cold Water Reviewed by Dmiko on .

We have been using the Ecos Magnolia and Lilies Ultra Laundry Liquid for over a year now. We bought 4 100-oz bottles and the last one of them is almost empty as we have a 2-year old and need to launder a lot of clothes almost daily.

In addition to being natural, this detergent was supposed to work in cold water, which is what we virtually always use. Advantages are several: fewer chemical substances are supposed to be better for the environment, better for our skin and the use of cold water is gentler on clothes and on the electric bill.

The 100-oz bottle we use is large without being inconvenient to handle. In the past I used to get a very large bottle of detergent (e.g. Tide) that would have a spout for pouring detergent, which resulted in a mess. This bottle is designed well so there is no mess and the pouring is easy.

The detergent works in both HE (high efficiency) washing machines and the conventional ones. We have a conventional one and therefore have to use double the dose comparing to HE. So instead of 100 full HE loads we can wash 50 conventional loads using this bottle. The reality is we frequently run partial loads and use less detergent per load as a result: 2/3 oz for "low" water level, 1 1/3 oz for "medium" and 2 oz for full.

Measuring is relatively easy as the cap that doubles as a measuring cup has lines for 1 oz and 2 oz. The detergent has syrupy consistency so you have a lot of time to react when you are pouring.


We use cold water and this might affect the results somewhat. Still, the results are decent, but not great. Because most of the laundry is baby stuff and our son doesn't need spotless clothes, just the clean ones, we are satisfied with the fact that the laundry is not to the cleanliness level you can achieve with Tide. And it does come close.

The smell is not unpleasant, but just... different. It is not your typical chemical "fresh" smell. I don't mind it and it doesn't bother me. There isn't much of it either.

Bottom Line

For a 100%-biodegradable product that has no phosphate formaldehyde or petrochemicals and is 100% natural plus used in cold water, the performance is acceptable. And it was cheap also, several times cheaper than Tide at less than 6 cents per full HE load.

For clothes, especially whites, that need to be spotless though, I still use Tide and warm water.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5.

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Health-o-Meter BFM688KD-81 Weight Trackng, Body Fat & Hydration Percentage Scale Review

Health-o-Meter BFM688KD-81 Weight Trackng, Body Fat & Hydration Percentage Scale Reviewed by Dmiko on .

We have used this scale for over 4 years. It still works fine and is still on the original set of the AA batteries. The scale seems to be very accurate when it comes to weight and I was able to measure myself repeatedly with 0.2 lbs variation or less. I also was able to measure packages that I was about to ship by standing on the scale first with the package, then without and then subtracting the numbers. 

Some Features 

The scale can remember the numbers for up to 4 people and can track your progress if you are trying to loose (or gain) weight. It shows you the increase/decrease in your weight comparing to the first measurement and you can easily see how you are doing in regards to your goal. 

A small issue is the fact that the numbers don’t stay on the display for long after you get off the scale. So you have to look quickly at the numbers and /or hit the Select button to save them, otherwise the screen goes blank. 

Of course, this being a digital scale, you cannot just get onto it. You have to turn it on but pushing a button, then wait a few seconds while it calibrates itself. 

Body Fat Measurement 

My bigger issue with this scale is the body fat percentage measurement. You have to be barefoot when you measure it. The scale measures your weight, hydration percentage and the body fat percentage, the latter by passing electric current up one leg, across the abdomen and down the other leg. Then it runs some math. 

I suspect the math is faulty or something else is at play here. I consistently get around 20% of body fat percentage, which makes it sound that I could use a fat-reduction regimen of some sort. Perhaps I should stop eating all those pizzas and drinking all that Coke with ice cream. Except I don’t. According to all sorts of formulas I found online, based on my weight, height and waist circumference, my fat percentage is actually around 10%, which places me in the “athletes” classification. 

Knowing that the absolute body fat percentage number that this scale shows is inaccurate, I could simply use this number to track the trends in my body fat, right? Nope, the number fluctuates with the food/beverages you consume and I can keep better track simply by comparing my weight with the hole I am using on my belt. 

I don’t find the hydration percentage of any use. 


The Health-o-Meter BFM688KD-81 Weight Trackng, Body Fat & Hydration Percentage Scale works well to help you accurately keep track of your weight, changes thereof and does so for up to four people. As for the body fat percentage measurement, it is somewhat inaccurate, and it requires you to be barefooted.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Insolvent Banks, Fractional Reserve Lending and FDIC

One interesting fact is that most banks are currently insolvent. There is also a lot of blame to go around for the financial crisis. But the banks should be the most responsible party. They use so-called fractional reserve lending (FRL), which created inflation during the bubble years and is creating deflation now. FRL increases leverage. It was the banks' monster revenue generator and now is causing them tremendous pain.

Now, there is no need to worry if you are under FDIC limit, but without FDIC I would be very worried about my money.

So here is how fractional reserve lending works. Banks can lend money while holding only fraction of the amount in reserves. Doesn't sound scary? It is.

Imagine you have $1,000 and keep it in your wallet or at home without spending it. So you have the $1,000 and it is safe and secure (unless you get robbed or have a fire, etc.)

Now imagine you take your $1,000 to the bank and assume that the bank will put your $1,000 in a safe. You feel that your money is safe and secure. But this is not what is happening.

The bank uses FRL to keep the fraction of your money in its reserves and lends the rest out. So, assuming the reserve requirement is 10%, the bank keeps $100 and lends $900 to someone to buy a car, a house or simply to spend using his/her credit card.

Let's assume the person who got the $900 in question is Joe and he got it as a part of the loan to buy a bike. So Joe turns around and gives $900 to the seller, whose name is Jim. Jim takes $900 and deposits into a bank (the same as yours or the other bank). The bank keeps 10% ($90) as a reserve and lends $810 to Nancy as a part of the loan to buy a house. She spends $810 on the house (among with more money from other depositors) and the seller (Karl) takes $810 to the bank (again, among with more money from other depositors).

The process repeats many times over. So, as a result, we now have almost $9,000 extra dollars going through the economy, generating inflation. BTW, I use the Austrian economic definition of inflation as the expansion of the amount of money and credit. Prices (e.g. CPI) follow, so generally inflation causes prices to go up and deflation causes them to go down.

Compare the two outcomes (money at home or at the bank with no FRL vs. money at the bank with FRL). Instead of 0 money going into economy, you end up with almost $9,000, which is not only higher than the original 0, it is much higher than the $1,000 that really exists.

So, the lower the reserve requirement, the more credit is created and that causes prices of assets (along with food, oil, etc.) to go up. Housing bubble anyone?

The assets are used as collateral to obtain ever larger loans as the asset values grow like mushrooms. Banks are using tons of money and everyone is happy. The age of prosperity has arrived. Until the music stops. If the value of the collateral starts going down, the process works in reverse. As the value of the house goes down 20%, the bank has to make provisions for losses (even if the owner is still paying) or record losses (if the owner defaulted and the house is foreclosed upon and resold).

What if all houses loose 30% and the default rates on credit cards, auto loans and other debt increase to 10% (for simplicity's sake, lets assume that the weighted average of losses is 20%)? The banks in aggregate loose 20% of the $9,000, which is $1,800. $1,800 is obviously more than the original $1,000. So now banks have to come up with money from somewhere. Banks have excess capital - money collected from creditors when banks issue bonds or from shareholders when the bank sells stock (shares of the bank) during an IPO or a secondary offering.

So the bank's shareholders and creditors have to loose $1,800 so that you can get your $1,000 back.

Let's not forget that the losses create a contraction of credit because every $1,800 lost reduces credit in the system by almost $16,200. This is deflation. This also causes "credit crunch". Deflation causes additional declines in prices of houses and other items used for collateral, triggering more losses. This is called positive feedback loop (very frequently incorrectly called "negative" feedback loop; "positive" or "negative" does not refer to "good" or "bad", but to whether the feedback is amplifying or counteracting the original change).

So housing prices fall more, banks loose more money and at some point become insolvent (liabilities exceed assets). But the government cannot allow this to happen. It allows banks to engage in accounting fraud known as suspension of mark-to-market rules. This allows banks to pretend that the loans they made are still worth close to 100% of the money loaned, even if the loan is delinquent (until the foreclosure or/and a foreclosure resale happens). This is one of the reasons you hear about people not paying the mortgage yet not yet being foreclosed upon. The banks don't want to take a loss.

The government takes taxpayers' money and injects capital into banks thinking that through the "magic" of FRL the injected money will be magnified and credit expansion makes everything better. Since for every $1,000 of extra capital (be it your deposit or government injection) there will be approx. $9,000 of loans made (using our 10% reserve requirement), things should be great again. But they aren't. The banks are not lending as much because of the above-mentioned positive feedback loop of falling asset prices and deflation. And consumers are not borrowing due to poor economy, falling asset prices and deflation.

BTW, the "bailout"/capital injection is not a giveaway. The government expects the repayment at some point, with interest. So, provided this happens, this is not bad for taxpayers. But this is not good of the bank or its depositors. Because the bank is still insolvent. The money given by the government solved nothing, but just delayed the inevitable. There is a hope that banks will be able to "earn" their way to solvency. Whether this happens remains to be seen.

A lot of banks went belly-up for this very reason. FRL allowed them to lend money they didn't own. If you lend out $900 and owe $1000 to the depositor and only keep $100, a loss up to $900 can occur. Any loss has to be taken by the bank using the bank's excess capital. Shareholders or bondholders of the bank must take losses until the bank has no excess capital anymore and becomes insolvent.

But the government didn't want the bank bondholders and equity holders to take losses they rightfully deserved to take.

The major banks used the suspension of mark to market accounting to report fake "profits" in the beginning of 2009, causing their stock prices to go up. When the prices went up, they held secondary offerings to sell new shares of stock to get money from "investors" to use for future losses. Still, this doesn't make them solvent.

Some say we are "saved" by Bernanke, Paulson and Geitner. Unfortunately, nothing is further from truth.

Absent FDIC insurance, which is backed by the faith and credit of US government, I would not put any money in any bank. Even though the government cannot afford to have a major run on the bank and therefore would probably protect depositors to some extent, this is a major risk.

FDIC is running out of money, but can borrow from the US Treasury and can increase fees it charges banks.

With FDIC, I would not put more than the FDIC limit in any of the bank accounts. 

One more thing is certain: we are following the path of Japan to "lost decade(s)", deflation and zombie banks.

Disclaimer: The above is not an investment advise or guidance. It is not intended as an investment advice or guidance, nor is it offered as such. It is solely the personal opinion of the writer, who is NOT an investment counselor/professional.

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Internet Makes Car Buying Easy

My online car buying experience started long time ago. In September of 1999 after visiting several dealerships and finding out how mean and rude they were, I read an article about 2 online car buying services. I mean sites where you can really buy a car like you would buy a book on Amazon.com.

In my case these were CarOrder.com and CarsDirect.com. Both gave me good prices for the car of my choice (2000 Mitsubishi Galant ES). 

In fact, I ordered 1999 model, but they didn't have them so I got 2000 model - improved and with more options for the same price! And the price was below "Dealer's Invoice Price" (the price dealers pay for the car), so I went to 2 dealerships after that and test drove a car (unfortunately you cannot do this online!) and than, after showing them the printout of the price I can get online tried to make them beat this price. They couldn't even match this price, so I went home and "proceeded to checkout".

I got my car in less than 2 weeks. They could deliver it to my home (free!), but I decided to pick it up, so they gave me a limo to get there (again, it was free).

The entire experience was great! You can choose options and see the price immediately change to reflect it. You can also get approved for lease or loan online - on the same site!

Out of 3 of those web sites in existence when I was car-shopping years ago, there is at least one left in business (CarsDirect.com). So you can at least get a baseline price there. And while the shopping experience and perks will probably be different now, the opportunity to get a good deal with minimum effort did not change.

Of course, you cannot buy a car you know nothing about. I suggest you do the same thing as I did. 

1. First decide what car you want (edumns.com, CarPoint.msn.com and a lot of other sites may be helpful in your research), in my case "Car And Driver" magazine influenced me most (if you are not their subscriber, you still can go to www.caranddriver.com). Test drive it at a nearby dealer.

2. Go to CarsDirect.com and find the price on a car of your choice. Select all options you want and appropriate colors. Find out the price with destination charges, etc.

3. Get free quotes from nearby dealers. You can go to Edmunds.com or a similar site and request free quotes for the exact car/options you want. You will receive quotes by email rather shortly. When shopping for my other cars, I got quotes about $500 below the CarsDirect's price.

4. Purchase time. Go to a nearest dealership and test-drive a car of the exact same model and trim level you chose. After that (not before!) have them try to beat the lowest quote you got. Alternatively, just go to the dealer that offered you the lowest price and test drive the car.

I believe that using this technique you will save a lot of money and, not less important, a lot of time and nerves.

I have bought several cars this way, including a 2006 Honda Accord and a 2004 Infiniti G35.

And remember to use the correct grade of gas in your new car. You can also maximize your mpg potential in it and periodically use Marvel Mystery Oil in its gas.

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High Tension Indeed, but A Waste Of My Time

This is about the French movie called "High Tension".

Not frequently does a movie happen to provoke me to log in ASAP and post a negative review. In fact, I normally don't post movie reviews at all. But this is one movie that caused a strong response in some regions of my brain.

I normally have no problem with gore and violence, provided there is a point to it. This movie has lots of blood and spilled guts but the point is largely absent.

It appears to be a carbon-copy of some American horror flicks, including the "surprising" (not) plot twist at the end. Except American flicks of this nature are more organic and less pretentious.

Comparing the incomparable, this movie has a similar plot twist to "The Secret Window", except the latter is about 20 million times better and I don't have to use subtitles or suffer through the dubbed dialog. And having experienced awesome French movies before, I expected at least something watchable. 

In its defense, the movie has good camera work, sound and is indeed very tense.

I can see how some people might find this movie appealing. Watch at your own risk and only if you have time to waste.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Finding Real (Triglyceride, not Ethyl Ester Omega-3) Fish Oil That is Also Inexpensive

After taking Costco's Kirkland Signature fish oil for several years and buying their concentrated one-a-day fish oil as well, I found out that apparently the majority of fish oil really isn't. It turns out to make fish oil more concentrated and to do so cheaper, most of the time so-called molecular distillation is used and most of the time the end result is a substance that contains Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids as Ethyl Esters, as opposed to the natural form of Omega-3 (Triglycerides).

As a result, you get a more concentrated version of fish oil, but it really isn't the same thing found in nature, so not all of it gets absorbed, a small amount of alcohol is released when it is absorbed and you have to pay more than if you paid for non-concentrated plain old triglyceride version of the fish oil.

Caveat: there are concentrated fish oils that are converted to triglyceride form after processing, but they cost even more. I am not willing to spend close to $50 for a bottle.

Because there is little awareness of this issue, people generally assume that all fish oil is the same. It is not. And it is sometimes difficult to find the natural type of fish oil, the one with triglyceride form of it. After due googling, I read conflicting reports about different brands and products. I was mostly interested in a cheap yet natural triglyceride form of the fish oil, even if it is not concentrated and I would have to take a lot of pills.

I was mostly interested to find out about Costco's Kirkland Signature fish oil (300 mg of Omega-3 in one pill) and in several online forums I saw that someone (otherwise very knowledgeable) claimed it was made with Ethyl Esters. Which would be a shame, after all I have been taking it for years. Except when I went home and pulled the bottle out of the fridge, I read right on it that the Omega-3 in it is in Triglyceride form (unlike the concentrated, enteric coated Costco pills, that are marked as containing Ethyl Esters).

Bottom Line

So there you have it. The best quality fish oil (with low levels of contaminants to boot, as validated by Consumer Reports) is also the cheapest. At about 2 cents a pill, I get sufficient true (Triglyceride) natural Omega-3 for less than a quarter per day. And although the actual fish itself contains other important nutrients, fish pills let you avoid exposure to mercury and heavy metals as well as consume Omega-3 PUFAs in a convenient manner, every day.

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