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The Best Things In Life (and Online) Are Free

Posted by amustard on October 8, 2015

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With the holidays right around the corner, everyone is keeping an eye on their bank account. Living a frugal lifestyle may seem like it has its limitations but don’t let money get in the way of doing what you want to do. There’s more free resources online than you might think, and we have the list to prove it!

Education

Codecademy

If you are interested in coding, Codecademy offers free coding classes in nine different programming languages including HTML, CSS, Javascript, Python, PHP, jQuery, AngularJS, and Ruby.

Duolingo

Are you interested in learning a new language? Duolingo is a free language-learning platform with over 40 different language courses across 23 different languages.  This service is offered on their website as well as an app.

Wikipedia

Did you ever have an encyclopedia set when you were younger? This expensive collection of books required a lot of space for storage, and lots of time to find the information you were looking for.

Luckily, we now have Wikipedia - a free online collection of information that is created and edited by the general public (with the help of Wikipedia’s own content moderators).


Entertainment

Songza

Next time you have friends over and are looking for something to fill the background silence, go to Songza’s website or app to access free custom playlists created by both music experts and enthusiasts.


My Abandonware

Do you remember playing games like Cross Country Canada, Doom or Oregon Trail? You no longer need a Commodore 64 to access these classics. Visit My Abandonware to play all your favourite childhood games for free. You can download these games or play them right in your Internet browser.


Project Gutenburg

Are you a big reader? Offering over 50,000 free eBooks, Project Gutenburg is an effort to digitalize and archive cultural works to “encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks”.


Tools & Resources

Gimp

Before uploading photos to social media or sending to friends, pictures are often edited to increase quality or to give the image a new perspective. Programs such as Photoshop are Industry Standard, but are very expensive. Gimp offers many of the same photo editing features with one key difference – it’s free to use.

Skype

Eliminate travel costs by visiting with friends and family over a video chat using Skype, the popular video chat application. This program is available on your web browser, as well as your mobile phone.


Google Maps

Thinking about purchasing a new GPS for your vehicle? If you have a smartphone, there is no need. Google Maps, a web mapping service developed by Google, is available on most mobile devices and, paired with the included navigation function, can assist you in getting to your destination for no cost.

If you are already an experienced Google Maps user, check out a recent Execublog post about taking this service to the next level with a program designed to create a video of your specified route.


We hope you find this list of free online resources helpful. Remember - another free resource that is both valuable and underused is the great outdoors. Make sure you take time to enjoy the beautiful fall weather before we all hibernate for the winter. 

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Andrew Mustard, Marketing Coordinator


Devoted Leafs fan through the good and the bad - mostly bad. Born and raised in Stratford, Ontario - with more swag than Bieber. Success isn’t a maybe - it’s a must.


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With a title like “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”, I went into this expecting a movie that would be too sentimental, too predictable, or too overwhelmingly sad to fully enjoy. Instead, I got a movie that was very witty and unique, and actually brought me more laughs than most of the movies I’ve seen this year.

The movie seems to begin like any typical “coming of age” high school movie; it’s Greg’s senior year and he’s just trying to make it by while trying to figure out what he wants to do after high school. But it goes far beyond this basic plot line when Rachel, a girl Greg knows from school, is introduced. They barely know each other, but when Greg’s overbearing mom finds out that Rachel has been diagnosed with Leukemia, she forces Greg to go over and hang out with her. This marks the beginning of an unorthodox friendship between the two.

Greg is an awkward “lone wolf” type who is so afraid of commitment that he can’t even refer to Earl, a kid he’s grown up with and known all his life, as his friend – he refers to him only as his “co-worker”, because they create short films together. Greg is sarcastic and funny, but completely self-critical. So it’s no surprise that his relationship with Rachel isn’t sappy or passionate, but more laid-back and relatively void of any acknowledgement of what she’s going through. I really appreciated this, though. It’s very real. This movie is much more accurate in its depiction of how high school students would likely react in such a serious situation than any “A Walk to Remember”-type film, and I commend it for that.

It wasn’t only the way in which the characters interacted that made the film unique, but the cinematic elements as well. For one, there were unexpected stop-motion animations interspersed throughout the film. They were humorous and often reflected Greg’s thoughts, and they added an interested aspect. There were also captions when there were scene changes, which I thought were really funny. Even the camera angles were often irregular and interesting, and changed the dynamic of the scenes. All of these choices contributed to the movie’s quirkiness, and pushed it far past typical.

The casting in this movie was phenomenal. Thomas Mann as Greg was fantastic; he was perfectly awkward and weird and lost, and you couldn’t help but like him. Olivia Cooke, who played Rachel, was also amazing, but I really hope she doesn’t get typecast as a “dying girl”. I only knew her before from Bates Motel, where she plays a character with cystic fibrosis, so I’d like to see what she can do in a totally different type of role! Although she only appeared a few times, Molly Shannon was pretty funny as Rachel’s uncomfortably flirty/alcoholic mother. Earl, who was played by RJ Cyler, and Greg’s dad, played by Nick Offerman (you probably know him as Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation) both served well as comic relief throughout the movie.

Overall, this movie was very good. I really liked Greg and how weird he was, and how weird Rachel could be with him. I enjoyed Earl as a supporting character, and appreciated the cinematic choices the director used. The film went from laugh-out-loud funny to serious to downright sad, but the director knew exactly how much of each emotion to use – and when to use them – in order to keep the film balanced. I’d definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a genuine, quirky movie that’s sure to move you.

You can find Me and Earl and the Dying Girl on Execulink’s VOD channel (ch.100) from Oct. 6th to Feb. 28th.

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Caitlin Feehan, Blogger & Editor


Converse have been my footwear of choice for the past 9 years, I’m convinced that all doors and sidewalks are conspiring against me, and I enjoy sticking my head out of the passenger window on long car rides.


NASA Finds Evidence of Flowing Water on Mars!

Posted by cfeehan on September 30, 2015

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Photograph: Mars Reconnaissance orbiter/University of Arizona/JPL/NASA

 
In case you hadn’t yet heard, new findings from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) present the strongest evidence to date that liquid water flows on Mars. This is huge news in the field of planetary exploration and research! You might be thinking “this isn’t new, we’ve been hearing speculation of this for years”, but what you’ve likely heard about is the existence of icebergs, remnants of ancient lakes, and so on. But flowing liquid water, which is essential to sustaining life, is a whole other story.

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Photograph: Mars Reconnaissance orbiter/University of Arizona/JPL/NASA

What did they find?

The images that NASA’s MRO has captured are very high-resolution compared to those taken in the past. So high-res, in fact, that you can actually see dark streaks up to a few hundred metres in length running down the sides of cliffs and craters. These streaks, known as recurring slope lineae (RSL), are thought to be formed when flowing water runs down the side of these cliffs.

Using an imaging spectrometer on MRO, researchers identified signatures of hydrated minerals on the steep slopes where these streaks are seen. Rich Zurek, Chief Scientist at the NASA Mars Program Office says, “The salts detected on Mars are magnesium or sodium perchlorate. These are not typical salts on the Earth, but they have the attribute that they can keep water liquid to much colder temperatures which occur on Mars.” On Earth, naturally produced perchlorates are found in deserts, and some types can even be used as rocket propellant!

According to findings of MRO, the streaks actually darken and appear to flow down these steep slopes during warm seasons (when the temperature rises above -23 degrees Celsius) and then fade in colder seasons.

"We found the hydrated salts only when the seasonal features were widest, which suggests that either the dark streaks themselves or a process that forms them is the source of the hydration. In either case, the detection of hydrated salts on these slopes means that water plays a vital role in the formation of these streaks," said Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is the lead author of a report on these findings. He goes on to say, “this is the first spectral detection that unambiguously supports our liquid water-formation hypotheses for RSL.” Awesome.

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Photograph: Mars Reconnaissance orbiter/University of Arizona/JPL/NASA

Possible issues

There is currently a rover on Mars called Curiosity. So you’d think “perfect, we have a rover on Mars and there’s been a cool new discovery there, let’s send it over to do some research”, but it isn’t that simple. Unfortunately, the rover is not sterile enough to go near Mars’ water. If it did, it would risk contaminating the wet areas with bugs (microbes, spores, and dust) from earth that may still be alive on its surface.

Disallowing Curiosity to explore the wet streaks on Mars could hinder scientists’ hopes of looking for life on Mars, though, and some scientists are speaking out against this restriction. NASA’s Jim Green argues that the extreme radiation environment on Mars, in particular the UV light, likely killed any bugs Curiosity carried into space, which would make it clean enough to move into the sites.

On the other hand, a recent report from the US National Academy of Sciences and the European Science Foundation suggests that UV light might not get rid of the bugs, but could actually make matters worse. It states, “Although the flux of ultraviolet radiation within the Martian atmosphere would be deleterious to most airborne microbes and spores, dust could attenuate this radiation and enhance microbial viability.” There will be heavy discussion on this topic for the next few months in order to figure out what should be done.

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Photograph: Mars Reconnaissance orbiter/University of Arizona/JPL/NASA

What’s Next?

Aliens. So many aliens. Okay, so I made that up, but the likelihood of some form of life existing on Mars is much more plausible now than it was before! Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program, says, "It seems that the more we study Mars, the more we learn how life could be supported and where there are resources to support life in the future."

This idea is supported even further by the fact that NASA has only searched 3% of Mars at resolutions high enough to see these detailed features. That leaves the other 97% of the planet to explore! NASA has even said that they are planning to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, which will be a giant step to discovering, first-hand, what else is out there.

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Photograph: Mars Reconnaissance orbiter/University of Arizona/JPL/NASA

Reddit AMA questions:

For those of you who are familiar with Reddit (I know there are a few…), you may have seen NASA’s “Ask Me Anything” forum that went up on Monday. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a place where Reddit users could go online and asks questions to the actual scientists at NASA, and they’d answer their questions! The internet is so cool. I’ve included some of the interesting questions and answers below.

Q: Could there be Martian life in the water since it's only there at certain times of the year? What might happen to the life when the water disappears?

NASA: It's possible. We know of forms of life that hibernate during dry seasons on Earth.

Q: What quantity of water are we talking about? What volume?

NASA: We think this is a very small amount of water -- maybe just enough to wet the top layer of the surface of Mars. The streaks are ~4-5 meters wide and ~200-300 meters long.

Q: In the articles I've read so far, the water is referred to as "briny" and that it's more fluid than it is water. What does that mean? Would this be something theoretically possible to drink or grow things with? Or would this be the kind of thing that would need purification before it could be used?

NASA: The salts in the water appear to be perchlorates, so I wouldn't want to drink the water. To be a future resource for humans, you would want to remove the salts.

They’re already discussing using the water on Mars as a possible resource for humans! And the possibility of hibernating organisms on Mars! This is definitely a story you’ll want to follow up with; it’s too cool to miss.

Follow NASA on Twitter for updates on this development and other cool space-related discoveries.

 

Sources: http://www.theguardian.com/science/gallery/2015/sep/28/water-on-the-red-planet-nasa-reveals-major-discovery-in-pictures

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Caitlin Feehan, Blogger & Editor


Converse have been my footwear of choice for the past 9 years, I’m convinced that all doors and sidewalks are conspiring against me, and I enjoy sticking my head out of the passenger window on long car rides.


Spy is Femtastic Fun

Posted by cirvine on September 28, 2015

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Paul Feig, the director of Bridesmaids, has hit more box office gold with the help of Melissa McCarthy in Spy. With laughs all the way through, great action scenes and some glamorous settings, this film keeps you entertained from start to finish.

First and foremost, the film is a parody of the James Bond franchise, and mimics those films’ dashing frontmen with the role of Bradley Fine, played by Jude Law. Fine is an over-the-top egomaniac who relies utterly on the help of his desk-jockey partner, Susan (Melissa McCarthy), whose pitiable love for Fine has kept her in his shadow. But her fortune changes when she must step up and become the active CIA agent that she always wanted to be. 

Through McCarthy’s transformation from a shy, awkward sidekick to a strong, self-reliant heroine, the theme of feminism comes to the surface. But Susan is just one powerful female in this movie. We have Susan’s boss, played by Allison Janney, as well as Rose Byrne’s villainous character, Rayna Boyanov. All three of these women are smart, skillful, independent women that have taken on the roles most often reserved for men in these types of films.

But let us not downplay the men in Spy. Jason Statham for instance is at his best as a hard-hitting rogue agent who plays by his own rules and is doubtful of Susan’s ability. Because Statham is known for his tough, action roles, his exaggerated version of that in this movie is hilarious, and unexpected from someone that we often see as a serious actor.

I won’t give away the jokes but expect to see some slapstick, some wit, but mostly, it’s just over-the-top fun. I won’t say it’s as good as Bridesmaids, but you’ll definitely get some laughs from this one.

You can catch Spy on Execulink’s VOD channel (100) from Sept. 29th to February 28th, 2016.

 

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Coupon Websites to Help You Save

Posted by cfeehan on September 25, 2015

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Everybody likes saving money. Whether it comes to food, vacations, or services, there’s one thing we can agree on – we all love a good deal. Ever since Coca-Cola introduced the first coupon in 1888, these wonderful money-saving wonders have been changing our lives for the cheaper. And now, since we have the handy World Wide Web at our disposal, coupons have become even more accessible. There are whole websites dedicated to providing consumers with the newest coupons for the best brands in the business; learn about some of the best ones below!

Red Flag Deals

Red Flag Deals looks like your classic coupon site at first glance. On the home page, you’re greeted with a bunch of pictures with captions outlining the deals being offered, so it’s pretty user-friendly! There are also different drop-down menus for easy navigation, but most of the good coupons are under the “Deals” tab. Some of the categories include Computers and Electronics, Beauty and Wellness, and Kids and Babies.

Something I liked about Red Flag Deals was that it has a tab for local flyers, which is great if you don’t get them delivered to your house (the student demographic, for example). This tab includes up-to-date flyers for grocery stores, apparel stores, and fitness stores. It also has a “Forums” section, where you can go to chat with people in your area about good local deals!

Tip: Always click the “Freebies” button under deals! This section is exclusively for free stuff, so there’s no “buy one get one” catch, or the like. There isn’t always a good find, but every once in a while, you’ll stumble upon something great! Like today, for example, I found out that on Saturday, September 26th (tomorrow), Cinnabon is giving away FREE Minibons at all Canadian locations between 11am and 1pm! You’ll also generally find lots of free samples and computer games in this section.

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Groupon

Groupon is a coupon website that isn’t quite as concerned with big-name brands as some of the other sites, but puts an emphasis on local businesses in your area instead. You just have to put your city into the search bar and you’re good to go! It’s great if you want to try a new local restaurant at a huge discount (sometimes over 50% off), try out a new activity or class (such as a group painting class or sailing adventure), or get a great deal on an event in your area, like a sporting event or concert. And yes, they still have coupons, or “Groupons”, for products as well – like huge discounts on laptops, fitness trackers, jewelry, and kitchen appliances.

One of my favourite things about Groupon, though, is its travel, or “Getaway” section. I still can’t quite grasp how they can sell vacation packages for so cheap. For example, there’s one package online now for a limited time featuring a 10-day vacation to Beijing and Shanghai, with airfare INCLUDED, as well as hotel accommodations, for just $799. That’s amazing!! If you happen to be interested, check it out here. If not, there are always a ton of other amazing options.

Tip: If I’m ever on vacation in a new city, I like to check Groupon to see if there are deals on the activities I was going to do anyways. For example, Groupon often has coupons for up to 50% off bus and walking tours in big tourist cities, which is a huge money-saver. I always feel like I have a secret when I conveniently pull out my Groupon on my phone, knowing that I’ve paid way less than everyone else for the exact same service!

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RetailMeNot

RetailMeNot is like Red Flag Deals, but a bit prettier. Its home page is bright and colourful, and has only two navigation tabs so it’s very simple to figure out. It has a “Today’s Top Coupons” section, so you should never miss out on the trending deals! The “Browse by Categories” tab presents you with all of the types of coupons beside little illustrated icons, so it’s very easily laid out. There are a ton of categories as well, so you should be able to find what you need! There’s also a “Popular Stores” section at the bottom, so something may catch your eye there.

Just like Groupon, it has a travel section, but it isn’t nearly of the same caliber. It doesn’t have travel packages advertised, but it does include coupons like “$100 off vacation packages over $1000” from Orbitz, or “up to 40% off New York vacation bookings” from Travelocity. So they’re definitely still useful!

Tip: I couldn’t find it at first, but RetailMeNot also has a Freebies section – just type “freebies” into the search bar and it’ll take you there!

More Coupon Site Tips

  • Be aware that sometimes you have to print coupons off and sometimes you just have to show your phone – look into this before you go to the store, so you’re not caught in an awkward situation.
  • Also, make sure to check the expiry date of your coupons before you get to the store!
  • If I can’t find what I’m looking for on a coupon site, I’ll try simply typing the name of the store I want to go to followed by the word “coupons” into Google.  For example, I would type “Zehrs coupons” right into the Google search bar. I almost always find some this way!
  • Check coupon sites early in the month, because this is when the best deals are likely to come out.

The power of couponing is now in your hands. Use it wisely!

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Caitlin Feehan, Blogger & Editor


Converse have been my footwear of choice for the past 9 years, I’m convinced that all doors and sidewalks are conspiring against me, and I enjoy sticking my head out of the passenger window on long car rides.