Archive for the “News You Can Use” Category

Somerville Public Libraries will close at 5 pm today and will be closed all day both Thursday and Friday.

Normal hours resume on Saturday, November 29.


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googleDo you have a Gmail account? If you’re reading this (and therefore an Internet user) you probably do, since Gmail is the most popular email service. After all, it’s reliable and it’s free, right? Well, it’s free in that we don’t pay money for it.  But as the saying has it, “If you’re not paying money for the product, by default you are the product.” Google collects information about you and what you do online and sells that data to other businesses so that when you’re online, you’ll be bombarded with ads chosen specifically for you.

Once I was emailing a friend and saw an ad on my computer screen disappear and be replaced with one related to what I was writing about. Creepy.

Have you ever wondered what information the Big G has collected about you, and how to make them stop doing that? Log in to your Google/Gmail account and follow the instructions in  this step-by-step guide from Business Insider.

And while you’re at it, considering installing an adblocking service such as Ghostery: it can make your web browsing a much less cluttered experience.


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logo-drop-shadow-2xA couple months ago, I decided to take a month-long workshop offered by the City of Somerville called Mental Health First Aid. This program, begun in Australia in 2001, aims to give ordinary citizens training on how to identify mental health issues, listen and provide some support to sufferers and offer suggestions for professional treatment.

At first, I considered the training to be part of my professional training as a public librarian. But as the class continued, I realized that many of the skills I was learning were very appropriate in everyday life – for friends, family and coworkers. We primarily discussed issues with depression, anxiety, trauma and psychosis; issues related to substance abuse; how to raise the possibility of suicide or self-harm; and ways to gently convince someone to get professional help, even if their personal or cultural beliefs prohibit getting mental health help. We kept ALGEE in mind when considering action:

A – Assess for risk of suicide or harm.
L – Listen non-judgmentally.
G – Give reassurance and information.
E – Encourage appropriate professional help.
E – Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

Through role play and group assessment of various scenarios, our class learned the best way to broach these subjects – from everyone to our closest friends and family to strangers on the street. It was very enlightening, and I’m very glad I attended. If you’d like to participate, instructor Patty Contente will be holding a new round of classes March 19, March 26, April 2 and April 9, 2015, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., location TBD. You can email her at for more information. There is a suggested, tax deductible donation of $40 to take these classes.

Here are some organizations that can help:

Somerville Trauma Response Network or call 857-221-0942
National Alliance on Mental Illness – Massachusetts
Families for Depression Awareness
Somerville Teen Connection at SHS: 617-575-5690
Guidance Center Referral Line: 617-354-2275
Mass. Substance Use Helpline: 800-327-5050
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255) or en español at 888-628-9454

And remember, having mental health issues is nothing to be ashamed of. (That was one of the first things that Patty accentuated during our classes. A mental health problem is just like any other physical health issues – like MS or heart disease – and it can be treated!) One in five U.S. adults will struggle with a mental disorder in any one year.

Take care and be well!


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Do you use Whisper, the  social networking app that provides a safe virtual space to say things you wouldn’t on Facebook? That supposedly guarantees anonymity? Well, according to The Guardian, Whisper not only tracks its users, the company staff monitor the activity of users who might soon be newsworthy, and they maintain  a searchable database of posts, including posts users think they’ve deleted. Whisper also recently revised its terms of service: even if you have turned off your smartphone’s geolocation device, the company can still more or less determine where you are–within about 1600 feet.

As you can imagine, Whisper executives aren’t happy with The Guardian, going so far as to call the paper’s reporting on the company “a pack of vicious lies.”

Meanwhile, Buzzfeed has temporarily suspended its business partnership with Whisper over the issue of tracking.

I’m sure this is only the beginning of a big brouhaha.  Stay tuned….


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When you check out a book (or anything else) from the library, that information is supposed to be private. Safety is essential for personal exploration and growth, and one way to help people be safe is ensuring that what they read or watch or listen to is known only to them and whomever they decide to share that knowledge with.

One of the software programs developed for reading ebooks is Adobe Digital Editions. And recently various sources reported that the latest version of the program, Digital Editions 4, is guilty of heinous violations of user privacy. Digital Editions 4 sends to Abode servers extensive unencrypted information about what every single user is reading: not just what books they’re reading, but even what page they’re on. And this information is available to anyone who can hack web traffic or who has access to Adobe’s servers. Adobe employees can do the digital equivalent of looking over your shoulder while you’re reading. And if you were wondering, yes, Adobe Digital Editions is one of the e-reader platforms available for Minuteman titles.

Apparently unencrypted transmission of user data doesn’t occur with earlier versions of Adobe Digital Editions.

The American Library Association has demanded an explanation from Adobe, which has responded that its collection of user data is strictly for purposes of “license validation,” but adds that an update to the process of transmitting user data will be available no later than the week of October 20.

And Adobe may soon have other problems in addition to the bad press. Most states have privacy laws about library books, so the company may be answerable for their actions in courts across the country.


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aam_2012-2October is American Archives Month, the purpose of which is to promote awareness and value of archives in society – as our country’s collective memory. The city of Somerville has its own archives, as does the SPL in the form of our Local History Room. I love old pictures, so I enjoy visiting the city archives’ tumblr, too.

While it’s unlikely you actually work at an archive, you may want to create your own personal archive. Right now, it may be a shoebox full of old photos and letters, or it may be a folder on your computer’s desktop. Or, if you’re like me, it’s a mixture of both — and more, spread across social media accounts, the cloud and a rusty old filing cabinet.

I’d like to highlight a few online resources to help you organize and build your own personal archive – one that can last for generations. The Library of Congress has a lot of great tips for preserving records, photos, audio, video, websites and emails.

Tips include:

-Locate and inventory all your files, whether they are on *gasp* floppy disks or on websites or in a tangible file folder.
-Decide which ones are important enough to keep and if the final draft or other versions are necessary to keep.
-Organize the items by giving them descriptive names, placing them in a folder also with a descriptive identifier and making a sort of key to your collections, a few sentences to remind yourself what’s in there.
-Make copies and store them in different places. At least two copies are recommended, one on your computer’s hard drive and one on a disk or thumb drive. It is suggested that you store one copy at home and another at a friend’s or relative’s or even in a safe deposit box. Make sure you check your physical copies every few years to make sure writing has not faded.

Here is a brief brochure in pdf format to help you get started and a longer one if you really get into your personal or family archiving project.

And, check out these books from the Minuteman System:

Personal archiving: preserving our digital heritage, edited by Donald T. Hawkins

How to archive family keepsakes: learn how to preserve family photos, memorabilia & genealogy records by Denise May Levenick

The unofficial family archivist: a guide to creating and maintaining family papers, photographs, and memorabilia by Melissa Mannon


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Apple has released patches for the Shellshock security flaw. They’re probably not 100% effective but far, far better than nothing: download links and other information here.

Go the follow links to access the patches for RedHat, Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora and CentOS  here.


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KeepcalmBy now many of you have probably heard about the Shellshock bug and the dire threat it poses to computers world wide.  If you don’t know what it is, it’s a flaw in the user interface of some computers’ operating systems that provides an opening for hackers to take control of other people’s computers. Some tech journalists were opining that Shellshock could be bigger than Heartbleed, the security bug last spring that put half a million servers (and all the passwords on them) at risk.

Well, don’t panic. First of all, if you use a Windows computer, you’re safe (oh, the irony!): the security flaw occurs in Bash, a program that appears only in computers that use the Linux or OS (i.e., Mac) operating systems. Second, if you’ve got a firewall enabled on your computer, you should be fine. A friend who works in IT pointed out that the hackers exploiting the Shellshock bug are more of a threat to servers than to individual computers. Hackers could trick you into running some of their commands on your home computer, but simply take reasonable precautions by keeping an eye out for phishing websites or malicious emails. If you don’t know what I’m talking about take a look at PC World’s guide to security traps.

Earlier this week the major distributors of Linux operating systems have released patches to fix the Shellshock bug, but they’re not 100% effective. Some more thorough patches were released in the past 24 hours. Meanwhile, Apple is working on a security patch for their operating system.

More later.


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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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“Mr. Vaughn, what we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, an eating machine. It’s really a miracle of evolution. All this machine does is swim and eat and make little sharks, and that’s all.” –Hooper in Jaws.

Those are great lines from a scary movie,  and you know what? They’re true. sharkSharks have existed for at least 450 million years. That’s almost twice as long as dinosaurs. And five major mass extinctions have occurred in the past 439 million years. Sharks survived them all. Miracle of evolution, indeed.

And now Shark Week is upon us, the media’s annual celebration of all things shark. Sharks are fascinating (they can regrow teeth and detect electric currents). And Shark Week is fun. However, you should take much of what you watch on the Discovery Channel (the birthplace of Shark Week) with a large grain of salt. University of Miami marine biologist David Shiffman is a harsh critic of Shark Week television. So what’s a Shark Week fan to do? First you can apply Shiffman’s advice for watching Jaws to Shark Week specials: have fun, just remember it’s fictional. If you’re on Twitter you can learn facts about sharks and keep up with shark news by following Shiffman’s feed @WhySharksMatter. And you can read about sharks at Shark Savers (an international organization that’s basically the Lorax for sharks). And check out the National Geographic Channel’s Shark Fest.

Stay tuned for more Shark Week news and shark fun facts….we’ll even have info on the relatives of sharks...



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