As you probably know, 4.93 million Google accounts were hacked on Tuesday, and the usernames and passwords posted in a Russian Bitcoin forum. So if you use gmail, change your password. And enable two-step verification. It’s quick. It’s easy. And it’s a good idea to change your password(s) now and then anyway.

If you’ve been following the news about the hack, you might have heard there’s a website where you can find out if your account has been compromised. But nobody in the media has verified who created the website. And if you do a whois request, you’ll see that this “service” was created on Sunday, two days before the hack:


And consider getting a password manager, a program that will encrypt your passwords.  Any password that a human being can remember can be hacked. If you’re a Mac user and you want to try Password Safe, the password manager created by security guru Bruce Schneier, note the links to the Apple versions on the left side of the screen.


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graham-joyce  I’m sad to learn that Graham Joyce is dead. He had been suffering from lymphoma for over a year. It’s odd: if you had asked me recently to name my favorite authors, his name would never have come to mind. I never put any of his titles on my list when I took part in the Facebook “10 Books That Have Stayed with You” meme. And yet….whenever I pick up a novel of his, I don’t get anything else done. I simply cannot put down a Graham Joyce novel until I’ve finished it. His novels are “speculative fiction,” what some people would call fantasies but I would call contemporary fairy tales. And when I say “fairy tales” I don’t mean silly Disneyfied garbage, I mean fairy tales in the Grimm or Andersen sense,  stories that use the fantastic to illuminate reality: the pangs of growing up, how much love can hurt, the essential unknowability of other people.

I first became aware of Joyce’s work when a friend aggressively urged me toothfairyto read a novel called The Tooth Fairy. Now the traditional concept of the tooth fairy is bizarre enough: a creature that visits in the middle of the night, takes small parts of your body, and leaves some spare change.  The title character of this novel is even stranger. The scaly, smelly creature that visits young Sam Southall in the dead of night is jealous, vindictive, and protective all at once, taking young Sam on a journey of terrors and passions that last throughout his adolescence. This strange, chilling novel won the 1997 British Fantasy Award.

Another of Joyce’s novels, Some Kind of Fairy Tale, begins with the disappearance of fifteen-year-old Tara Martin. The loss psychologically destroys her parents: overnight these confident, capable adults become “frail, powerless, elderly and lost.” It also tears a permanent rift between Tara’s brother Peter and his best friend, Tara’s boyfriend Richie. The police believe Richie murdered Tara and he never completely recovers either from his treatment by the police or the loss of his friend. Then on Christmas Day twenty years later Tara walks into the Martin home. And she hasn’t aged at all.  The turmoil her reappearance causes is almost as great as that created by her vanishing. Joyce relates this eerie, unsettling story in his typically subtle, crisp prose.

factsThe Facts of Life: Frank Vine is born in Coventry, England early in World War II, the result of his  mother Cassie’s one-night stand with a soldier. It soon becomes apparent to his grandmother, the clan matriarch, that Frank has a talent that afflicts certain members of the Vine family in each generation: a sixth sense. Little Frank sees things other people don’t, says names he shouldn’t know, and from his earliest years has occasional meetings with someone he calls “The Man Behind the Glass.” But as with many of Graham’s other books, this supernatural element is less an engine that drives the plot than it is a catalyst that intensifies the tensions, fears and desires that grip the other characters. This is a story of Frank’s extended family, how they get on from day-to-day at the height of the Blitz and through the rest of the war and then navigate the pitfalls and opportunities of life in postwar Britain.

If you’re curious to read Graham Joyce, there’s a complete list of his books here. The Guardian’s tribute to him is here. And here, by Joyce himself, is an account of one of the last days of his life and a meditation on  what he called the “shocking clarity” of cancer.


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americanmuslim1Our “Muslim Journeys” programming series ends this fall. Those of us who have attended the programs have learned a lot.  I was especially heartened to learn from one of our speakers, Harvard Islamic Studies professor Jocelyne Cesari,  that the United States has done a much better job of accepting and integrating Muslim immigrants than European nations.  I was surprised by this, given all the incidents of Islamophobia I’ve seen and heard of. Harvard Divinity School professor Leila Ahmed told me that one of her students (who was identifiable as Muslim because she was wearing a headscarf) was once pushed off the sidewalk into the path of an oncoming car (fortunately the car swerved and didn’t hit her). Travelers who “look Muslim” are profiled by the TSA. In 2007, when the first Muslim member of the House of Representatives was sworn in, people across the country were upset that he didn’t swear his oath of his office on the Bible (instead he was sworn in using a Koran that belonged to Thomas Jefferson).

But Dr. Cesari told us that after Sept. 11 law enforcement at almost every level was directed not to consider Muslim-Americans a threat but as part of the solution to violence. The FBI opened channels of communication with leaders of mosques. And government policy aside,  the American-Muslim community has inherent differences from its European counterparts. American-Muslim diversity makes it difficult for them to live apart as a distinct community. In France, by contrast, the vast majority of Muslims are from Algeria. Most German Muslims are from Turkey.

And since the American Muslims in a town or region who come together to (for example) build a mosque individually represent so many varieties of Islam, they readily accept that their religious tradition is open to interpretation, a tolerance many Catholics or Evangelical Protestants would find difficult. “American Muslims,” quipped a writer for The Economist, “are the Episcopalians of the Islamic world.”

Naturally, familiarity breeds tolerance. In last year’s documentary The Muslims are Coming, a group of Muslim-American comics toured the U.S., often visiting parts of the country where few people had ever met a Muslim. One of the film’s best moments occurred in Salt Lake City’s Temple Square, where they held up a sign that read “Hug A Muslim.” A couple of passersby yelled hostile comments. Then people lined up to give those guys hugs.

But possibly the most interesting sign of acceptance I’ve seen is the popularity of Kamal Khan, a 16-year-old Pakistani-American who’s the latest Marvel Comics superhero. Seriously, what’s more American than being in a comic book? As a fictional character, Khan is eminently relatable. Her parents have expectations for her that have nothing to do with what she wants. She fights with her brother. At times she feels lonely and isolated.

Think about it: many Americans still hear the word “Muslim” and think “terrorist.” But many American kids of Christian or secular background might reach a point where they hear the word “Muslim” and think, “someone like me.”


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A tip of the hat to Jenny at Robbins Library in Arlington for pointing out that apple-picking season is upon us and that the Boston Globe has a handy map of farms that allow you to pick your own apples.  And when planning your apple-picking trip, place a request for Somerville Public Library cookbooks such as A Basket of Apples or  The Apple Lover’s Cookbook.

And if you have a perverse affection for those out-of-date educational films many of us were subjected to in elementary school, you might enjoy the 1950s gem Apples: From Seedling to Market:


Sadly, it’s not hosted by Troy McClure.

If you think you’ve got some gaps in your apple knowledge that need filling, read this collection of useful information about apples from Penn State Extension  here.

And when you’re all done with your apple-picking, take a moment to read the last word on the subject:


After Apple-Picking

by Robert Frost

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

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internetWant to keep businesses from sniffing around in your web browser and putting up ads related to whatever you’re reading? Download Adblock Plus for Firefox or for Safari.

Want to keep online snoops and crooks from finding out your email address, phone number and credit card number(s)? Download DoNotTrackMe.

Want to read the best article on Edward Snowden and the NSA that I’ve found so far? It’s in Wired here.

Google, it seems, has some issues with consumer choice: they’ve banned a privacy and security app from their online store.

And here’s the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s take on two privacy bills under consideration by Congress.



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Cover of Julius Lester's Let's Talk About Race

In the middle of he news coverage about the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, and the subsequent demonstrations and moments of unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, a particular story got a strong reaction between library workers and library supporters around the social networks. The story centered around Ferguson Public Library, and how it became a safe haven for children to spend time and learn when the public school district decided to postpone the start of the school year due to the tense situation.

The story is a reminder that public libraries are more than a place to find books or media or a quiet space to study or gather thoughts. This story is pertinent because it shows how a library is actually an integral part of its community, and how and why it provides services to its community. And that service is changeable and dynamic.

Staying along that spirit, I want to use this opportunity to illustrate how all libraries, including our own, can help us better understand and discuss the complex dynamics at play in Ferguson – dynamics that are not distant and are actually also part of our daily lives here in Somerville, in Massachusetts, in the United States at large.


Race, prejudice, oppression and racism are concepts that are around us every single day. These words carry years of tension and generate discussion that we sometimes prefer to avoid. But silence doesn’t make the reality of race-based prejudice and racism any less harsh. In a moment like this, we can see what resources we have available to educate and evaluate ourselves and to help educate and listen to others around us. Remember that some people might have the option to discuss race and racism from an angle in which they haven’t experienced prejudice or discrimination, but for others those are a constant in their lives.

The-Skin-You-Live-in-by-Michael-Tyler-illustrated-by-David-Lee-CsicskoChildren need to have a clear understanding of these issues to better navigate a world that will confront them with prejudice and oppression. They need to be able to understand when they are being cast in a different shadow because of their skin color, or when they are the ones actually casting the shadow on others. This is important because – although for some it might not seem that way – childhood is racialized. As children go through different stages to learn how to walk and talk, they also go through a series of stages on understanding race. They learn that their skin color is a permanent characteristic and will start to understand the role their race plays in their identities. It is important to expose them to conversations about race so that they can start evaluating themselves, the world around them and present-day prejudice.

Promoting and reading diverse books is not only about supporting books that reflect ourselves and others, but also what it means to be ourselves/others and how we are perceived and treated in society. Books provide the opportunity to teach kids about racial and ethnic differences, as well as the historical and contemporary racism. Much like there are books that help children to read, learn and understand the difference between red, white and blue, there are also a variety of books that tackle issues of skin color, race, racism and oppression to help children have a conversation about race.

Books to start or continue a conversation about race: (Available in the Minuteman Library Network)

The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler and David Lee Csicsko

Under Our Skin: Kids Talk About Race by Debbie Holsclaw Birdseye and Tom Birdseye

Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester and Karen Barbour

All The Colors We Are by Katie Kissinger

Bein’ With You This Way by W. Nikola-Lisa and Michael Bryant

The Color of Us by Karen Katz

Shades of People by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly

Who Belongs Here? by Margy Burns Knight

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

The Palm of My Heart by Davida Adedjouma and Gregory Christie

Black, White, Just Right! by Marguerite W. Davol and Irene Trivas

Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake

Daisy and the Doll by Michael Medearis,  Angela Shelf Medearis and Larry Johnson

Crossing Bok Chitto by Tim Tingle and Jeanne Rorex Bridges

Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, Gwen Strauss and Floyd Cooper

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell


Resources for teachers, educators and parents:

Anti-Bias Education For Young Children and Ourselves by Louise Derman-Sparks & Julie Olsen Edwards

White Privilege in Schools by Ruth Anne Olson

The First R: How Children Learn About Race and Racism by Debra Van Ausdale and Joe R. Feagin

Teaching for Change

Anti-Defamation League

Understanding Race

Facing History and Ourselves

Zinn Education Project


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facebookBy now you’ve probably heard or read about Facebook’s new app Messenger, which, annoyingly, people are being strong-armed into downloading on their smart phones. And since I’ve been blogging about privacy issues, Facebook Messenger is worth mentioning here. The degree of access the app has to smartphone functions has provoked some hysterical press commentary everywhere from Amarillo TX’s Newschannel10 to Cosmo. And the Messsenger app’s capabilities do sound scary, on the face of it: the app can access your camera, send SMS messages to numbers in your phone book, and access your smartphone’s microphone, to name three of them.

However, there are actually good (and rather mundane) reasons for Messenger to have those capabilities: if you want to upload photos to Facebook using the Messenger app, it needs access to your camera. If you add a phone number to your FB account, Messenger sends a confirmation code via SMS to the new number.  And since the Messenger app is designed to enable you to call Facebook friends, it needs access to your microphone.

And frankly, most smartphone apps are invasive: many of them want your location, access to devices on your wireless network, or your call log. Whatever you’re worried about Messenger being able to do, you probably have  already downloaded an app that’s doing just that.

The most compelling argument against the Messenger app is simply that it’s terrible: it drains your smartphone’s battery, it has “chat heads”–images that everyone finds annoying–and it’s unnecessary.   As one App Store customer put it,

There is nothing that I could add to my messages that would make it so special that it deserves its own app. ..I could be messaging someone on Facebook with the secrets to ColdFusion, extraterrestrial life, the origin of God, and who killed JFK, and it still wouldn’t deserve its own app. 

And you only have to download the Messenger app if you try to continue using Facebook’s original mobile app.  Avoid apps altogether for Facebook use and just open it on your smartphone’s web browser.

Problem solved.


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domesticspyunclesamOnline privacy (or the lack of it) is  of ever-increasing concern to many. Not only is our own government spying on us, but the world’s largest email  service provider and most popular search engine (which both belong to the same company) are quite open about tracking and saving as much information as they can about our online behavior (in other words, almost everything).

Fortunately there are ways we can get some of our privacy back. For starters, break the Google habit and start using the most excellent DuckDuckGo. Their motto  is “The Search Engine That Doesn’t Track You.”

Also go here to spend a few seconds learning about HTTPs Everywhere, a free web browser extension that encrypts your communications with a number of websites.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a mildly technical but quite good and comprehensive pair of guides to securing the privacy of your email and IMs.

If the EFF guide is too technical for you, here’s something quicker: if you use a pc, iPhone, iPad or Android, or use the Firefox or Chrome browser, download the encryption extension Virtru, which encrypts your email and attachments, allows you to control who can see them, and even makes it possible to recall sent emails.

Versions of Virtru that work with macbooks and mac desktops are in development, but in the meantime if you’ve got version 10.9 or later of the Mac OS, go here.

More on this topic later.


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whalesharkSince Monday’s post on Shark Week, I’ve received quite a few comments about the Discovery Channel’s sensationalist and inaccurate Shark Week programming.  And rightly so. Shark Week producers have actually lied to scientists to get them to appear in programming, and  Discovery airs “documentaries” in which most of the material is made up.

So don’t watch Discovery Channel.

And whatever you do, don’t let Shark Week stop being about the sharks.

The National Geographic Channel has some level-headed and scientifically informed (albeit dramatically titled) programming. And over on Facebook a friend posted “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Shark Week” (thanks, Sarah).

At SPL you can pick up books such as Shark Chronicles, in which the authors do justice to the inherent fascination of these misunderstood creatures.



And check out this short video from the PBS series It’s Okay to Be Smart: “What if There Were No Sharks?:”







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Movies and summer just seem to go together, don’t they? Well we think so, and we have some great ones coming up for kids, teens, and families.

Tomorrow at 6:30 p.m., we’re showing The Iron Giant! Kids of all ages and families are welcome to attend. Bring snacks and get ready for one of the coolest movies ever, one that answers the question “How can an 11-year-old boy keep a 50-foot tall, metal-eating robot from space a secret?” Following the movie, there will be a discussion of the book the film is based on, The Iron Giant: A Story in Five Nights, by Ted Hughes. The discussion is recommended for kids ages 9-12.

On Friday at 2:30 p.m., teens are invited to the monthly Anime and Manga meet-up for a screening of My Neighbor Totoro, a classic from Studio Ghibli. There will be Japanese snacks while they last, and a chance to say goodbye to Teen Librarian Cynthia, who will be much missed as she leaves us for another job opportunity.

Last, but certainly not least, a movie that needs no introduction: The Wizard of Oz! We’re planning to show the story of Dorothy and her friends on the front lawn on Wednesday, August 20th beginning at around 7:45 p.m., immediately following our Summer Reading Club Awards Ceremony. In case of bad weather this event will have to be cancelled – so keep your fingers crossed for a beautiful evening!

All of these events are free and will take place at the Central Library. We hope that you’ll be able to come!


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