Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Walking Dead: A Polar Bear's Review

When I was little, I was scared of two things: 1) waking up past 6:30 am on Saturday mornings, because that meant my sister was eating the last of the Pac-Man cereal and watching Care Bears shoot rainbows from their bellies through the Land Without Feelings, and 2) zombies, for obvious reasons. As a result of the latter unfounded anxiety, I've never been a fan of zombie fanfare... until I watched the first episode of The Walking Dead.

Over the years I've actually grown fond of waking up past 6:30 a.m. on Saturdays, and recently, I've become a fan of zombies, but I call them "walkers" effectively making them less like zombies and more like a collective infestation of racoons. Walkers mozy around downtown Atlanta not because of some voodoo magic poured out of a salt shaker in some backwoods bayou but as a result of some unexplained virus called TS-19, whose properties are explained in detail in The Walking Dead Season One Finale.

Walkers are stupid. They can't climb stairs, open a door, or run, but they will stop at nothing to feed, whether that means keeping the deer population down, cleaning the roadkill off the middle of the highway or chomping on the face of someone's grandpa. Sounds gross, yes, but that's only half of 3/4 of a percent of what this show has to offer. It's so much more than a plague of dead people traversing the globe in search of sustenance.

The Walking Dead is a production of AMC which has been hitting a lot of shows out of the park as of lately, with Mad Men (15 Emmy wins), and Breaking Bad (4 Emmy wins). The Walking Dead is another such show, and it brings a largely different fan base to it's channel surfing knees every Sunday evening. It breaks the mold on an otherwise well-known horror genre, and zombie fans are watching closely. I'm watching closely for different reasons... because it's a freaking awesome television show! Excuse my French or Haitian/Creole.

If you take the character development of Lost, the drama of ER, the intensity of 24, and the writing of the Sopranos, and throw them all into a Zombie Apocalypse then you've just scratched the surface of The Walking Dead. Be warned, it's not a family show, with all the intense language, nor is it a dinner time show, with all the eating people alive craziness, but it is entertaining.

Each episode confronts real issues we all face and then adds the elements of no electricity, no government, and no hope of rest from a constant onslaught of dead people. However, the constant onslaught isn't as constant as zombie fans prefer. It subsides now and then, just long enough for the plot to keep moving and some drama to work it's way through the many characters. It then continues for a few minutes only to tease another plot twist and keep viewers on the edge of their seat.
To be honest, The Walking Dead isn't horrifying, it's suspenseful and you don't have to like zombies to get sucked into it. But you do have to like good television.

Believe or not, other than good television and "a 'safe' and offbeat excuse for guys to horde guns, ammunition, tactical gear and other survival supplies without being tagged as being a member of a militia or other extremist group"* zombie apocalypses make for good CDC publicity. Yep, that's right folks, take it to the craps table and double down on the eights: the CDC actually has an official page on Zombie Preparedness. They claim "If you are generally well equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack." There you have it. In the interest of disaster preparedness, you can't ignore AMC's The Walking Dead. Your very survival depends on it.

*Urban Dictionary: Definition 3 of Zombies

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Teacher Becomes The Shepherd

The cacophonous bell breaks an eerie silence as it's clang enters the ears of every student at Leonard Nimoy High School. A raucous shuffle ensues as teachers yell final assignments over deaf ears and the hall fills with commotion. One teacher stands at his door and takes in the sights and sounds as oxygen. He breaths, looking forward to the next onslaught of eager minds ready to take him for all his worth. This won't happen for another 2 hours, so he quietly bows out of the doorway and walks to his humble desk like a proud warrior walks to his steed. The slamming lockers and vocal buzz softly fills his empty room through the open door. The chair creaks as he sits and the intercom buzzes over head.
"Mr. Thorne?" came the voice from overhead.
"Yes?" head tilted, eyes down, ears up.
"Mr. Stricthouser would like to see you."
"Right now."
"Okay, I'll be right down." Mr. Thorn closes a few books, opens a calendar, writes some notes, shuffles some papers and sticks a pen in his breast pocket. He pushes himself off the desk and proceeds to the Principal's office. The still busy halls receive him with smiles and greetings from students. On his way he nods and smiles expecting the best from everyone he encounters. Respect is an afterthought. He strives to challenge.
In the stairwell, he wonders and his knees buckle slightly as he ponders, a "What if" scenario. He catches himself, mentally and physically and continues the journey through the administration office past a couple dejected students sitting in some chairs outside Mr. Stricthouser's office.
"Chin up, Thomas. It's a learning process, just take this like a man, and walk out of this place better for it."
"Yes Sir, Mr. Thorne."
"And Ralph, you've got to start acting like the guy I know you are. Learn some self control and you can soar."
"Yes Sir, Mr. Thorne." He looks at Tommy and snickers.
Mr. Thorne smiles and knocks on the cracked glass pane.
"Come in," came the inevitable answer and he opens the door and shuts it behind him.


Lunch Lady Land now has a new Supervisor, Mr. Thorne. He won't be roaming the vibrant halls upstairs anymore between classes. No more savoring that fresh paper aroma on the first day of class. Hygenically challenged freshmen will have to find another teacher to ask for a spritz of Right Guard before taking on the day. The kitchen receives him like boiling water receives uncooked spaghetti.
Steam thickens the air in his new white sterilized amphitheater of food. He holds his chin up as Mr. Thorne ties on a new apron and embraces his new humiliating position in the ranks of public education. The "What if" scenario he entertained walking down those stairs 8 months ago pans out. He tries to think of his other options again, then thanks God for his new job. He would make this his briar patch and meatballs and marinara would be his specialty.
Oregano and Garlic search wanting noses on this Monday morning, the first day of school. Lunch time looms like sweetness in the air, and the Pavlovian lunch bell cues the drool at the corner of every yapping jaw. The first watering mouth enters the serene kitchen holding a tray with both hands.
"Mr. Thorne!" the sophomore yells in surprise.
"Andrew!" mimics Mr. Thorne.
"What are you doing here?"
Mr. Thorne practiced countless answers to this question for weeks before setting foot on school grounds.
"Making you a feast!" he hadn't practiced that one. There is an excitement in his voice he didn't realize was going to be there. The young minds he longs to challenge walk with hungry stomachs and he is eager to feed these wandering sheep. The flock crowds around the banqueting table and Mr. Thorne beams as he feeds their stomachs and nurtures their starving souls.
Marinara Monday turns into Turmeric Tuesday and everyone looks to Mr. Thorne for life in an otherwise dangerous pasture of loneliness and constant threat. He gives up teaching 100 and becomes the Shepherd to thousands.
Students expose their deepest secrets, teachers share their biggest struggles, and administrators find strength for the hardest challenges in his cozy kitchen.
One step closer to his destiny, he holds a wooden spoon as a metaphorical shepherd's staff and earns
earns a valuable apple of gold that year to share with his son 10 years later.


"Son, Don't fear failure, it's only a stepping stone to your final destiny. That 'What if...?' in the back of your head will only get bigger if you entertain it. Smack it now, while it's still small enough to hit with a fly swatter."


**Not the usual blog from the Polar Bear, I know, just something I've been thinking about for a few days.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Modern Day Villain

We're saved. Sabu, also known as Hector, has helped the "good guys" nab the "evil doers" who are Anonymous. Anonymous is a large group of hackers that fight the power by crashing mainframes and exposing secrets of the: government agencies, big banks, Wall Street fat cats, and high profile religious organizations, among others. They are Robin Hood meets Fight Club meets Occupy meets Neo. The FBI has done us all a big favor. All noobs can rest easy. Surf the vast expanse that is the Internet with less trepidation. Press any button you want on your computer. Download what you want when you want from where ever you want. Open unsafe email attachments, Click on pop-up ads, and lick the bottom of your curbside trashcan.
Hold it. Don't do any of that.

FYI the Internet is not any safer now than it was 48 hours ago, and I'm about to tell you why.
1.) They only caught a handful of hackers. As it says on their website, Anonymous is "Legion, and we are many." Your neighbor's son could be Anonymous. Otto the bus driver, Jill the typing tutor, Joe the plumber. They are everywhere like V for Vendetta. A dirty dorm room with Ramen Noodles dripping from a half open cabinet on the edge of a desk glowing from the computer screen of a hunched over twit wearing a 4chan t-shirt can be the essence of Anonymous.
2.) Anonymous isn't after you unless you make more than $500,000 a year, take vacations to the Moon, or eat prawns for lunch at some Bel-Air buffet. Anyone eating prawns? No? Then... "Safe!" said the umpire. Big Brother doesn't like them. While trying to nab these modern day Robin Hoods the government is ignoring the nastiest computer villain of them all: Conficker. It's a superworm, and it's like nothing you've ever imagined.

But I will try to help you imagine it.

Close your eyes, WAIT NO! Keep reading, I mean.
Imagine if someone mailed you a letter, and on that letter was a little germ or virus. You catch the virus but nothing happens. You function in your life as normal, and that virus paves a nice little path to your cerebral cortex then sends out a signal to some mad scientist in Romania, And tells him that you are infected. You continue to function in your everyday life. Meanwhile, a similar letter is being sent to 10's of millions of others and they are being infected with the same virus. Everybody goes to sleep on a certain night and the mad scientist who created this virus decides that this is the night. He flips a switch in his dungeon science lab and laughs a maniacal laugh as he suddenly has control of you and millions of others. Using a microphone mounted to his laminated countertop, he can tell you to do anything and you have no choice but to do it because this virus has control of your brain - everyone's brain. So he tells them go run amok through Gotham City, burning giant piles of tires and eating candy corns. Then after everyone runs amok through Gotham City, burning giant piles of tires and eating candy corns, he flips the switch off and everyone goes back to their beds. They wake up the next morning with a stomach ache and the smell of burning rubber all around them, but everything else is normal. Now imagine that same thing happening with your computer and it all starts with an email you opened or a pop-ad you clicked on. That little virus or worm is called Conficker.

"What Conficker does is penetrate the core of the [operating system] of the computer and essentially turn over control of your computer to a remote controller...[That person] could then utilize all of these computers, including yours, that are connected. ... And you have effectively the largest, most powerful computer in the world," says Mark Bowden, author of Worm: The First Digital War. We're talking 10's of millions of computers all working together as a Galactus botnet to suck the technological world dry with it's giant self.

Worst case scenario it could crash the internet. So what? You won't be able to check your Facebook or buy doohickeys from eBay. Right? Well, unfortunately, we have decided to use the internet for everything, and by "everything," I mean, most things, and by "most things" I mean, only the important things, and by "important things," I mean technology. Air Traffic Control, medical communications, power grids, the Stock Market. Conficker could take it all down like a fire sale.

Don't worry though, there is a Superhero to this Super-villain. I recently heard an interview on NPR about a small group of computer genius's funded completely by Twinkies and Hot Pockets who are taking on this ominous Conficker worm. They are...wait for it...the Conficker Working Group (umm...okay...I guess the superhero name generator was broken that day.) Despite the yuppie name, these guys are actually making some headway. They think it started by some restless Ukrainians in South America, but they are struggling to get ahead of it. Check out Terry Gross's interview with Mark Bowden to hear a fascinating discussion of the implications of such an endeavor. Then come back.

So now that you have unsuccessfully prevented yourself from peeing in your pants for fear of being victim of such a worm, you can rest assured. I will tell you some symptoms of such an invasion and provide a link for a computer test to see whether your computer is affected. Here's a list of possible symptoms:
  • Account lockout policies being reset automatically. Translation: The password thingy is being weird.
  • Domain controllers respond slowly to client requests. Translation: Picture's of crocheted oven mitts take 1 hour to load.
  • System network gets unusually congested. This can be checked with network traffic chart on Windows Task Manager. Translation: Blah blah blah blah...can be checked with...blah blah blah...Manager.
  • High-port TCP and UDP P2P Activity Translation: A geek had a stroke.
  • Click here for more symptoms or here for a test to see whether your computer is infected.

If your computer is infected take it to a professional or set a video camera to record its antics 24/7 and see if you can film it rummaging through your fridge or smoking marijuana in the basement while you are sleeping. If that doesn't sound fun throw your computer off the back porch and go medieval on it, like the printer scene from Office Space. You'll have to get a new one, but hey, wasn't that fun.

If your computer is not infected consider yourself spared... this time, Mwuahahaha

Back in prehistoric days, before the alphabet and the first one and zero, cavemen worried about getting hit on the back of the head with clubs from fellow cavemen, trying to take their hot and hairy cavewomen, their stone wheels, their waterfront cave. We still fear caveman clubs and some of us fear hot and hairy cavewomen, but we still need to protect ourselves. One of the simplest things you can do is just log out of your computers and reboot them once a day, and for Pete's sake keep reading this blog. Next time your girlfriend asks you if you have protection say, "Of course, I read The Polar Bear Periodical."
The Polar Bear says, "Spread the word, stay protected and happy surfing everyone!"


Tech Editor - Dr. David Lauro
Language Editor - Dr. John Hines

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Polar Bear Reviews Acts of Valor

Nothing could have been timed more perfectly. You're 2nd child, the game winning goal between U.S. and Spain, A comedians punchline, all have good timing, but none of them are going to net you 12 million dollars in one week. Acts of Valor started as a Navy Seal recruitment video for the Armed Forces and ended up as a motion picture alongside Tyler Perry's Good Deeds and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengence. It's number one in the box office and promises to reveal for the first time on film active duty Navy S.E.A.L.S. during combat training.   Real Navy S.E.A.L.S. do not make good actors, however, they do make for good marketing.  Thank you Osama Bin Ladin for making Navy S.E.A.L.S. the baddest Mama Jamas since the RAF of World War II. SEAL team six did for the Armed Forces what the knife did for sliced bread.
Do you realize what this film has done? It has helped propel a new genre of movies into the mainstream. Reality filmmaking is what it is being called. Controlled drama. Real .50 caliber bullets, actual Navy Seals, real world situations, it's a guaranteed success. Who wouldn't watch that?
I saw the movie opening weekend. After the movie ended the theatre was in utter silence for 2 or 3 minutes before anyone dared to move. The theater filled with awe. It was like Mount Rushmore, The Great Pyramids of Egypt, Stonehenge, The Great Wall of China and the Moon all suddenly decided to sing the Star Spangled Banner with Jesus himself and then enjoy a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis before surfing off the coast of Australia. This movie didn't just entertain, it inspired. It challenged the status quo and made the viewer realize what it meant to be free. It made us recognize the real cost of what it takes to be able to make a choice to go to a theatre and see a movie that we want to see. It doesn't just cost 10 dollars and whatever you pay your baby sitter. Someone died for you to be able to watch this movie. Someone with a family and kids, sacrificed his position as a father and a husband to give you the opportunity to choose between Tom Clancy or Dr. Suess. He knew you were never going to think about him when making that choice but he didn't care. He wanted you to have that choice.
Acts of Valor props itself above the white noise inundating action films these days.
Saving the world had almost become cliched until Acts of Valor made it heroic again.
Thank you to all the men and women who have sacrificed to make this country what it is today.
Go see Acts of Valor. Take your kids to see Acts of Valor. Be grateful for Acts of Valor.