Zipped Up

About 3 weeks ago, I signed up for Zip.ca, an online DVD rental site. I pay $25/month and they mail me DVDs with prepaid envelopes to mail the DVDs back. I can have up to 3 films at a time and when I finish viewing one, I mail it back and they send me one the same day (I notify them on the website that I put it in the mail). 

It's been working great! I've watched 7 movies so far - several of which would not even be available at my local video store. Plus there are huge savings. I can easily watch 10 films in a month from zip.ca. That's $2.50 per movie whereas locally I would pay $5 (the same as the going cost to buy a previously viewed movie!). It's also tremendously convenient. I can keep the movies for as long as I like (they actually make more money if I take a long time to watch it). They come right to my door and then I drop them off in a local mail slot on my way to work in the mornings.

The selection is really what I celebrate. They have a multitude of old classics, foreign films, documentaries, and best of all the Criterion Collection. I simply pick the movies I want to watch - I've got 66 in the queue now - and put them in the order I'd like to receive them. They do their best to send them in that order (I usually get movies from my top 10). 

To see what I've been watching lately, check out Zaak Watches Movies (by himself).

Oklahoma Citizen's Test

(thanks to Ty for this one)

MR Ducks
MR Not Ducks
O MR Ducks


Nice Touch, Life Touch

Notice anything?

Don't professional portraiteers have special gear for avoiding glare like this?

I passed on the portrait package.


Ministry Training on Christian Microfinance and Microenterprise Development

This past fall I took a second online course (first one) from the Chalmers Center in order to further my knowledge of international development. As the title spells out, the seven week course explained the principles of creating financing opportunities and enterprise training opportunities among the world's poor.

There are three main ways that this is done:
  • Providing funds through micro loans, rotating funds, or savings opportunities
  • Partnering with large scale microfinanciers and microenterprise developers
  • Promoting either of the opportunities with existing organizations
These are a few points I thought I would share, and this is by no means a comprehensive overview of the course. In the research that I looked over, microfinance (MF) and microenterprise development (MED) endeavors were most successful in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa while in Central and South America there was not nearly the success. My very generalized reasoning for the cause of this disparaging difference is the sense of pride that individuals in the first three continents have for repaying loans as compared to the lack of trust among the Latin American communities.

Another point that really affected me is how MF and MED suddenly, in the past decade, became considered the cure all for missions and development in the two thirds world. There are many wrong ways to implement this and many organizations have done more harm than good as everyone rushed to get their programs in place to receive support from the first world - any organization that wasn't doing this was clearly knocking on the wrong door.

The target for MF and MED in almost all cases was women. Men felt more comfortable defaulting on loans or misusing the funds. Women felt more responsible for repayment and also took more advantage of the opportunities to feed their family and pay for other essentials.

In the end, I was certainly inspired by the success stories. The poor can be a fiercely determined and innovative strata of society, even when faced with nearly insurmountable odds.


Top 10 R.E.M. Songs

I've been a fan of the Athens, Georgia band since grade ten when a classmate I was tutoring in math made me a tape of Out of Time (thanks Jennifer!). Depending on the day, I might call them my favorite band. I managed to ruthlessly narrow my favorite songs down to 23 and now down to 10. The best of R.E.M. as far as I'm concerned:
1. So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry) (Reckoning)
2. Fall on Me (Life's Rich Pageant)
3. Shaking Through (Murmur)
4. Man-Sized Wreath (Accelerate)
5. World Leader Pretend (Green)
6. Welcome to the Occupation (Document)
7. Bang and Blame (Monster)
8. Country Feedback (Out Of Time)
9. The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite (Automatic for the People)
10. Electrolite (New Adventures in Hi-Fi)
Yes, I think Apple should give me some kind of renumeration for so shamelessly promoting their store here.


Exciting Hockey

My brother-in-law Dean invited me to see the Oilers last night. It had been over 4 years since I had been to one and it was the same match up: Edmonton vs. Dallas. The game was awesome - plenty of scoring opportunities, some great fights, super goaltending, and the Oilers even won 4-1.

Oddly enough though, the most exciting thing happened just before the game started. We had been watching the Canadian National Junior team play the semi-final against Russia before we drove to Rexall Place. The score had been 3-3 when we left, and then it was 4-4 when we got to the arena. They had the game playing on the jumbotron as we were seated and then Russia scored with 2:20 left in the game. We figured it was over and the crowd was pretty subdued as we watched the puck go back and forth. Canada pulled their goalie with 1:20 left and Russia just missed and empty netter as the puck was iced; the face off ending up in the Russian zone. Then, Canada scored with 5.4 seconds left on the clock. The spectators in our coliseum went nuts!

The Oilers game started at that time and we just wanted to watch the overtime of the junior game. So, we craned our necks and watched the TV in the box behind our row of seats. 10 minutes of overtime passed quickly with no score, and then the shoot out. We watched the shots on the same small TVs and a small crowd cheered after Canada scored twice and Russia didn't score in the same number of opportunities. They made an announcement a little later at the coliseum and the crowd went nuts again. Great fun!

I'm going to a Flames vs. Blues game next week too.

Driving in on Queen Elizabeth II

I've driven Hwy 2 (Queen Elizabeth II highway between Edmonton & Calgary) dozens upon dozens of times. I drove it this afternoon after visiting my sister, bro-in-law, and niece. 

Today, our sunroof decided to start acting up and spontaneously opened about 10 times between Red Deer and Airdrie. Funny car. Ha ha. ha. 

Then, as we approached Airdrie, a shovel flew out of a small trailer behind a pickup truck. The shovel landed with some sparks ahead of us and bounced onto the shoulder on the left as I braked with plenty of room. Just a little bit further ahead and it would have sailed into our windshield.

Usually, the drive is uneventful and drab, especially in the winter. But...

In 5 days, it will be 9 years since I crashed my first car on this same highway. I was picking up a friend at the airport just before university classes reconvened at CUC. My car, which had summer tires on..., sailed off the second Leduc overpass heading north, across the median into oncoming traffic which were 2 tractor trailers. The first one flew by as I spun. Then my trunk connected with the second trailer's fuel tank. This sent me spinning counter clockwise and we (my friend Kris and I) finally halted in the middle of southbound Hwy 2. I put the car into reverse and backed on the the shoulder. My trunk was shaved right off and the cops were on scene within minutes, as were some other friends who were returning from the airport. 

My car was totaled. My insurance went up.