Trojan Terror: The End of the Invincible Mac?

(Originally reported April 18, 2012)

Trojan Terror: The End of the Invincible Mac?

Last week, Apple took a huge hit to its reputation. A Trojan horse virus ripped through 600,000 Macs, disguised as a Flash Player Installer. Trojans are known for looking legitimate and appearing to perform a necessary function while actually facilitating unauthorized access to the user’s system. And that is just what this fake Flash Player did. With the Apple “look,” the virus asked users to update their Flash Player and proceeded to steal usernames and passwords stored on the computer. The symptoms, reportedly, are not visible, except for sporadic connections to unknown servers that can only be seen in the Firewall logs.

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Apple was, surprisingly, not the first to react. Instead, a Russian antivirus company was the first to report that the Trojan virus was attacking Apple products. Apple continued on in silence for several days, as one news source after another remarked upon the virus. Small viruses had infected Macs before but never to this capacity. Could this be the end of the invincible Macs?

Apple’s response to the Trojan virus was, to say the least, a bit lackluster. By Wednesday, April 11, Apple released a support page on their website addressing newer versions of the systems that read, “Apple has released software updates for systems running OS X Lion and Mac OS X v10.6 that will update Java to fix the security flaw, and remove the Flashback malware if it is present.” So what about the older versions of Macs?

Many users of older Mac operating systems await a permanent remedy. In the meantime, all the users can do is disable Java, which is a shoddy fix when Java is so omnipresent. Apple’s specific repair against the Trojan horse virus came about six weeks after Microsoft (plagued repeatedly by viruses), Adobe, and Oracle already released their fixes. Although Apple disclosed that they were working on eradicating the virus earlier in the week, when normally Apple severely downplays security issues, their response was comparatively slow. So the real question is this: Why wasn’t Apple on top of the virus before it became widespread?

As Mac OS becomes increasingly more attractive, it will also become more exploited by virus trolls. Back in 2008, another Trojan horse virus was launched, pretending to be an update for Apple’s iTunes media player. While the Trojan virus infiltrated Macs, Apple ignored notifications about the virus and ended up waiting more than 1,200 days to completely patch the problem. It took three long years to fix the problem: just imagine the suffering of the customers. Additionally, about a year ago, Macs were struck by a malware called Mac Defender. While the virus infected tens of thousands of computers, Mac and the virus tugged back and forth, fixing and infecting for several weeks. Apple has managed to keep both of these unfortunate instances on the down-low, however, and haven’t suffered from much backlash from their customers. Although their muted responses to viruses doesn’t seem fair to the customers, for those who don’t know about the destructive infections, Apple’s silence keeps purchases of Macs rolling in.

Clearly, Apple isn’t the best about informing the public about its products’ vulnerabilities and security issues. Why would you want to expose your weaknesses, after all, especially when you’ve built a reputable name? Apple is supposed to be the best of the best when it comes to protecting its users from viruses, but evidently that’s not always the case. This incident is bound to draw attention from Apple customers. If 600,000 Macs can be successfully infected by a malware that looks legitimate, who’s to say another criminal won’t create a new virus next month?

As of today, 140,000 Macs remain infected, denoting that the Flashback Trojan virus isn’t the easiest to dismantle. The numbers are declining on a daily basis, and Apple promises their next software update, called Mac 10.8 “Mountain Lion,” will include a new security feature called “Gatekeeper” that will battle against viruses better than ever before. As a dedicated Mac user, I’m already looking for antivirus software that I previously brushed off as unnecessary for Apple products and simply hoping Apple steps up their security a couple notches.

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Nonprofits: Because You’re Worth It!

Nonprofits: Because You’re Worth It!

This may seem a little out of my realm, since I’ve mostly done reviews for various television shows, films, comic books (etc), but since I was presented with an opportunity to share my experiences with nonprofits in another class, I could carry it on over to my blog for editing and publishing. After all, the semester is winding down, and life lessons are to be had.

Over the past semester, I have worked with two nonprofit organizations. Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks’ (BBBSO) goal is to pair children facing adversity with positive, adult role models to change the children’s lives for the better, forever.

When one of BBBSO’s employees moved on, Katie Davis, the CEO, immediately pulled me away from the marketing/communication aspect of the job and had me start applying for and researching grants. Before BBBSO, I had never written a grant; I had never even read a grant for that matter. Fortunately, Katie lent a guiding hand and I built off grants BBBSO applied for in the past. After this experience, I can suggest two valuable tips:

1)     Be Concise

2)     If they ask for a specific word count (i.e. less than 1,000 words), you reach that mark, no matter what.

This means making every word count. With every sentence, the person reading your grant needs to be able to understand why the organization is worth it. Basically, with grants, you’re a L’oreal girl and you better make them believe it.

I can’t call my grant writing a success yet; getting one approved doesn’t outweigh the several BBBSO hasn’t heard back from yet. But I certainly have my fingers crossed that will change.

Working with the other nonprofits was an entirely different and less satisfying experience. After meeting with representatives from two organizations, my teammate, Kaitlyn, and I decided we would complete three things: 1) a logo for an upcoming event 2) brochure revisions and 3) a reconstruction of the website.

The first nonprofit provided us with an excellent contact. As we worked on the logo, she used our time wisely, replied to our emails in a timely fashion, and told us exactly what she wanted.

The finished product:

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However, Kaitlyn and I couldn’t help but feel disappointed when we saw the finished product. Part of the logo was missing and we felt we could have been more creative with the design. Of course, we learned a lesson the hard way: you can’t choose what an organization uses – you can only make suggestions.

We then started trying to communicate with the other nonprofit. Earlier, we had requested additional photos and information for the website and brochures. We were in the homestretch with nothing to work off of. I was used to receiving a reply within a day; with this nonprofit, our contact rarely replied within a week. At this point, even though we may complete the brochures, we have come to the realization that our third goal, the website renovation, will certainly not happen.

The real difference between BBBSO and the other nonprofits lies in the fact that BBBSO utilized my time and skills effectively. Communication was such a key tool here; even simply answering an email or phone call within a couple days instead of a week could cause a giant leap in our progress. It seems so simple, but it certainly makes the difference.

 

Happily Never After? A Graphic Novel Review of Fables: Legends in Exile

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Over the past few years, I’ve read a few graphic comic books recommended by one of my good friends. Since last year, he’s been talking about this series of comics called Fables, written by Bill Willingham and published by Vertigo Comics.

In these stories, fairytales are real, not every princess found an everlasting happily ever after, and the villains of the past have reformed. After facing an enemy, various characters have been exiled to our world into a place called Fabletown, buried inside of New York City. The Adversary is never specifically named, other than a tyrant who dominated the Fable world land by land. The first volume hints at the destruction of their old world and eventually reclaiming their lands; it makes me curious to see if these Fables start a war of epic proportions.

The fictional characters who survived the tirade integrate among the humans (or “Mundys/Mundanes” as they’re called) and those who are unable to blend in live at The Farm in upstate New York. Other than finding out that The Farm is a rather detestable place, the reader doesn’t know much, and the story focuses more in on the other characters, living amongst the human race.

In the first volume, Snow White is Deputy Mayor of the city of Fabletown, and boy is she a piece of work. She and Prince Charming have split, due to his infidelity with her sister Rose Red, and Snow White possesses a sharp tongue and little appreciation for others. When Bigby (A.K.A. the former Big Bad Wolf) tells Snow White her sister is the victim of a violent crime, Miss White immediately latches onto the case.

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Bigby, who has the ability to appear human, is as rough around the edges as Snow White. He too has suffered for hundreds of years, but fortunately he’s found his niche as the Fabletown sheriff. From the get-go, the reader gets the idea that Bigby is sharper than the average wolf and possibly has the case solved from the minute he leaves Rose Red’s blood-streaked apartment. He accuses Rose’s boyfriend, Jack (yes, the one from the Beanstalk) as well as Bluebeard, who is a renowned nobleman with an affinity for slaughtering his wives and who was previously involved with Rose Red. There is something under the surface, however, and you realize that Bigby is not letting on all he knows. Throughout the story, the reader is also introduced to recognizable fairytale figures, like a divorced and ass-kicking Cinderella and the distraught couple we once knew as Beauty and the Beast.

In the meantime, through witty quips and insults, Snow White follows along every step of the way, drawing her and Bigby closer as the pair interrogate the suspects and attempt to find Rose Red’s killer. Naturally, the reader sees a hint of a love story, and by the end, you have the “Ah-ha” moment on all accounts.

I don’t want to give away the ending, just in case this strikes the fancy of someone in class, so I’ll move onto the appearance and writing.

Seeing as I’m not a huge fan of comic books, I can’t say much for the artwork, but overall, it was interesting to see how the artist portrayed each character. If they weren’t identified through conversation, the reader certainly wouldn’t recognize their faces, but then again, this is no Disney spin-off; this is a dark world where all the fables have been humanized to the extreme. The dialogue was also funny and engaging, even though it ventured on the cliché side when it came to the con-artist, Prince Charming. The sex scene near the beginning is downright silly – the girl actually cries out, “Yipee! My hero!” It had me laughing, as did Prince Charming’s pick-up lines. The parodies/new versions of Beauty and the Beast, Pinocchio, and others also had me cracking up. Of course, people never consider what happens after the “happily ever after” and Fables does a nice job of making the stories real – Could true love last three hundred years? According to Willingham, not so much.

ImageI was apprehensive when my friend handed me these comics, but now I’m looking forward to reading through the series.

Happily Never A…

To The Max! A Revisit to Saved by the Bell

To the Max! A Revisit to Saved by the Bell.

Netflix is a glorious thing.

As soon as Saved by the Bell popped up as “Recently Added,” I couldn’t help but sit back, relax, and enjoy the pure cheesiness. This is almost as good as Boy Meets World.

Welcome to Bayside High, home of the hip, cool freshmen in high school who love chilling at their favorite hang-out called The Max.

Now, to give you a quick overview, I decided to start with the second season of Saved by the Bell. Why?  Well, Saved by the Bell started out as Good Morning, Miss Bliss, set in Indianapolis and revolving around a teacher named Miss Bliss, rather than the familiar cast of teenagers. Zach Morris, Lisa Turtle, and Screech existed in this pre-show, but it was definitely not the same without Kelly Kapowski, Jessie, and A.C. Slater. Now onward:

The show doesn’t offer a solid intro for all the characters; in this “pilot,” you deduce who these characters are just from lines, rather than receiving any backstory.

In the opening, Zach and the rest of his cohorts are hanging out at The Max, when the owner interrupts a snazzy dance party to announce that the television show Dance Party (real original, right?) has chosen the restaurant for a dance contest. Awesome!

Well, of course, the gang has to enter, and Zach and Slater immediately vie for Kelly’s attention. After grabbing her away from Slater – because Kelly is more of an object than a girl to them – she says she would love to go with both of them but that’s just *pout* impossible. Who ever will she choose for a partner?

Slater proceeds to dance – and oh baby, it’s worth watching this episode just for his jiving – and Zach challenges him to a dance off. I’d personally like to know what happened to dance-offs. Can one happen in the Commons soon?

And now for your viewing pleasure, I’ve included the clip of Slater dancing. Because he’s worth it. (Oh and ignore the Jesus tagline at the end. Unless you’re religious and wanna get into it. That’s all on you, readers.)

In the meantime, Screech – the annoying, tag-along friend who I would like to grab by his scruffy hair and shove in a locker – chases after superficial and rich Lisa Turtle, and Jessie Spano avoids the dance contest because she feels she is too tall for all the boys in school.

Strangely, throughout the episode, she rarely calls herself, “too tall.” Instead, she says, “I’m too big for you,” when she has a signature Saved by the Bell fantasy moment later on in the episode. Guess that shows how word meanings have changed since 1990.

Later, we see some of Jessie’s dancing skills when, in music class, the gang and others speed up the music to make it more fun whenever the teacher walks out of the room. It’s a ridiculous, fluffy scene and certainly doesn’t move the plot forward. But hey, it made kids laugh. And we weren’t addressing real teen issues in the show just yet.

Jessie, surprisingly, doesn’t shake her moneymaker like a pro, which is rather surprising, since she later pole danced in life (I’m referring to Showgirls if you haven’t seen or heard of that travesty of a film.)

The audience can infer that Zach has been long-time friends with Jessie, when he barges into her bedroom to ask for dance lessons to win against Slater. She also makes a pointed allusion to the fact that he usually crawls through the window rather than using the front door. How Shawn Hunter of him.

Throughout the rest of the episode, Jessie instructs Zach how to dance, and she eventually confides in Zach that she is insecure about her height. He, like the other girls, assure her that height shouldn’t matter: She is pretty, intelligent, and sensitive.

When it comes down to the dance-off, Zach tells Kelly to do herself a favor and go with Slater, then tells them all that he would rather go with Jessie. Kelly acts disappointed that Zach wouldn’t “fight” for her and slightly offended that he chose her best friend. Uh-oh, Kelly, big-haired blondie may have something over you. But she reluctantly retreats to practice with Slater.

Although I watched this show throughout childhood, I couldn’t help but notice that Kelly came off, to be frank, dumb, and entirely happy with being the toy between Slater and Zach. Good role model, kiddos. She also has the hair-flip down pat.

Jessie and Zach share a moment, a look you could say, and you think, “Ah, perhaps this was all a set-up for Jessie and Zach – best friends – to be brought together as more.” But alas, anyone who knows the show realizes that Kelly wins out and Jessie ends up with Slater.

Kasey Karem, a rather famous radio host in that day and the original voice of Scooby-Doo, makes an appearance as the host of Dance Off and of course, the final three couples are: Slater and Kelly, Jessie and Zach, and Lisa and Screech. The latter probably sounds surprising, but Lisa ended up spraining her ankle when she kicked in the T.V. set. She became a little ticked off when she found out Revlon discontinued her nail polish (see what I mean by superficial?), and since her friends feel bad for her, the episode ends with Lisa and Screech doing “The Sprain,” their own invented dance.

It was definitely one of the odder pilots I’ve watched, with far less character development than most. It was framed like a continuation, even though the previous season only half the characters even appeared. I can’t say I’m going to watch every season on Netflix, but I was highly amused during the whole of the episode.

Shakespeare, you slay me. Much Ado About Nothing.

Much Ado About Nothing: Movie Review

Over Spring Break, while vacationing in Florida and running around Disney World and Universal like I child, I happened to find time to watch Much Ado About Nothing, a 1993 adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play of the same name. It is a delightful comedy, telling two love stories of very different natures.

The film tells the tale of Beatrice and Benedick (played by Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh), who scorn love and marriage but of course, the pair is drawn together in the end. On the other side of the story are Claudio and Hero, a young enamored couple. Kate Beckinsale made her debut in acting as Hero, and although she is pretty and embodies all that is beautiful and pure about love, there’s not much to say for her acting, other than a few tears and longing looks at her lover.

Much Ado About Nothing is one of those films that screams, “Nominate me!” so I was surprised to find it was not among the listed Oscar nods. Other than a few scene transitions, where images fade in and out over each other while cheesy, whimsical music plays in the background, the film captured each scene well enough, and other than Keanu Reeves (don’t worry; we’ll get to him), every actor did a fine job in their role.

Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh are fierce as lovers in a “merry war” and perhaps some of their chemistry arises from their real romance at the time the film was made. Branagh played a duel-role as actor and director, and it made me curious to see what other films he starred in or directed. Emma Thompson never surprises me nor am I ever disappointed by her acting abilities. She reminds me of Meryl Streep in the fact that whenever I watch her in a film, she just brings it. Even if it was some pathetic movie, that chick will give her utmost. However, unlike Streep, I find Thompson incredibly hard to dislike, no matter her role. (Trelawney fans anyone?)

The actors who played Hero and Claudio did their jobs: I honestly have nothing negative or positive to remark on. They were certainly the pretty faces of the film; Thompson and Branagh were the real meat. Denzel Washington also starred, as Don Pedro of Aragon, who seems quite marriageable yet remains single by the end of the play, quite literally. Don Pedro is just standing there while everyone is celebrating at the end. He even puts himself out there for Beatrice, but alas, she rejects him – gently – and they remain friends. I’m sure that’s what he was going for.

Poor Denzel. You’ll play a love interest in another movie.

Keanu Reeves – sadly enough – plays the villain as Don Pedro’s half-brother, Don John, who is forlornly dissatisfied in life and seeks to wreak havoc on others. He does a shoddy job at all acting; I honestly don’t think Reeves knew what he was saying half the time. I know Shakespeare can be hard to understand, but somebody get this dude a tutor.

 So, if you can suffer through Reeves’ performance…

After conspiring with his men, Don John manages to ruin Hero and Claudio’s wedding by calling out Hero as – well – a whore. Or you know, a wilted flower or something if it’s in Shakespeare’s terms. He escapes when he is found out but is later imprisoned.  We must have our happy ending after all.

Spoiler warning: Much Ado About Nothing ends with everyone celebrating and in pure bliss, happily in love and matched perfectly (except for Denzel).

I was pleasantly surprised by Much Ado About Nothing and would even recommend this play or movie to someone who isn’t a Shakespeare fan. Although it is in the analogy ridden, convoluted, slightly confusing language and all that, it is still incredibly easy to comprehend the plot and what each person is trying to communicate. There are also many quips and jabs that are quite amusing.

My only warning would be this; Much Ado About Nothing is a old-age romantic comedy, thoroughly. So perhaps not all men would plop down on the couch to watch this one. Regardless, it is a well done film – despite silly Keanu Reeves – and very enjoyable.

The Flying Tomato: Restaurant Review

Restaurant Review:

 The Flying Tomato branches off of the bar and grill, Trolley’s, as a more family-oriented restaurant. You can literally walk through the bar into the restaurant, separated only by a narrow hallway and a drastic lighting change. From the outside, The Flying Tomato’s green building stands out amongst all the bars and coffee shops and fortunately, it is easy to get to, despite the hassle of parking downtown.

The building itself is brighter than most, and once you step inside, you can feel an exaggerated Italian atmosphere around you, with murals on the walls of Italian scenery and a few depictions of tomatoes splattered about. It’s slightly ironic that through a hallway lies the complete opposite: a dark bar and grill.

My group arrived around 6:30 and we immediately noticed the building was practically empty. Only a couple women sat at a table, and one server stood near the entryway. Typically, empty restaurants don’t bode well for the experience. I’m glad to say this wasn’t the case.

The waitress, Ashley, immediately offered us any table in the house, and after seating ourselves, she treated us with nothing but pure courtesy and fine service. She regularly refilled my drink, constantly checked if we wanted more bread, which of course we did, and even chatted with us a little, without butting into our conversations too much.

After debating for some time, Marily and I split the Tuscan Spinach Dip, made fresh from spinach with a three-cheese dip that came with chips or bread. The appetizer spread before us in no time flat. Marily and I both agreed that while the dip was good and we continued to devour it, it definitely could have had a richer taste.

The menu is the basic American selection: pastas, pizza, steak, chicken, and sandwiches, even though the restaurant definitely seems more grounded in the Italian flair. Because of that, I ordered the Cavatelli, which, according to the menu’s description, is a “shell pasta tossed in our rich cheesy alfredo sauce and touched with fresh garlic and parmiagiano cheese.” I also ordered a salad with the house dressing.

The nice thing about the salad: free refills.

The sad thing about the salad: I didn’t want any.

The lettuce tasted watery and the dressing was a little too sweet for my liking. This was a slight disappointment but nothing dampened my spirits about eating pasta.

As soon as the server set the Cavatelli in front of me, I was immediately reminded of Springfield Brewing Company’s delicious Mac & Cheese. The presentation was lovely, with cheese bits scattered on top, as well as garlic sprinkled over the shells. Upon first taste, the dish was a little too hot to actually absorb the flavor, but after waiting a little bit, I finally dug into my meal.

The Cavatelli not only looked like Brew Co.’s Mac & Cheese, it also tasted quite a bit like it. Excluding the fact that the Cavatelli was spicier, the dish definitely reminded me of macaroni and cheese. Whether or not they were going for that, I’m not sure, but regardless, it was rather enjoyable. I felt like it could have been cheesier, especially after the repeated advertisement in 99 percent of The Flying Tomato’s pastas that said, “rich, cheesy alfredo sauce.” Overall, it was a typical Italian meal at a low cost.

Also: I advise future customers to order the smaller sized dishes. There are two prices listed for each meal: one is for the large portion, the other for the regular sized. Either way, you definitely won’t spend a fortune on a meal, but the smaller one is more than worth it. Additionally, if you order any appetizers or even a salad, the regular dish will fill you up completely. All four of us girls had leftovers to take home with us.

Price Range: $7-$15

Contact Information:

The Flying Tomato on Facebook

(417) 799-0309

Location:

Downtown Springfield

107 Park Central Sq., Springfield, MO 65806

Chi Straightener vs. Hot Shot Tools Flat Iron

So here’s the deal. Since childhood, I’ve been a little fro-baby, the person with black-girl hair, and the one with the crazy hair. Needless to say, my curly locks have a very unique texture and thickness and not every product will work with it. Recently, I’ve been curling my hair, and I decided that I would set up a test:

Which is better: A $75+ Chi Straightener or a $50 Hot Shot Tools Flat Iron?

Now, onto the curling. Usually, one would show a tutorial, a video, but seeing as how I’m not interested in the process, here is the result:

Now let’s back-track.

After spending a good two hours and running Chi Silk Infusion through all of my hair, I started out with the left side, curling with my roommate’s lovely straightener.

The Hot Shot Tools Flat Iron:

– formed loose curls and I had to re-curl several strands

– fuzzies (pieces that refused to curl/straighten) remained near my skull

– the flat iron steamed every single time I curled a strand. So much that the steam made my eyes hurt!

– separated the strands of hair too much, to where I had to work to make them mesh   together

 

 

 

 

 

The Chi definitely fared better.  The expensive straightener:

– formed tighter curls and fell in line with other strands better

– smoothed out fuzzies

– steamed less! My eyes weren’t hurting this time.

– definitely gave the better overall  appearance

 

 

 

 

 

 

All in all, I must admit, I figured the Chi would do better. It’s a well-known, highly sought-after brand, and after my test, it was well worth the money. Then again, you always have to take into consideration different hair textures and thicknesses. As I said, my hair is not the most conventional type. Additionally, because I lack the oils in my hair that most people have (as I said, black girl hair!), I don’t wash my hair every day. I actually wash my hair every 4-5 days. Thus, I cannot assess the damage a Chi or Hot Shot Tools flat iron could wreak on my hair until a week or two later.

Regardless, I do recommend shelling out the extra cash on the Chi if your hair looks half as well as mine did after using the flat iron.