Archive for the “News You Can Use” Category

We’re getting ready for Somerville Reads 2016 – our next One City, One Book program, which will take place in the early Fall – and we need your input! Which of these books would you most like to read and discuss as a community? You can read about each book below (the reviews have been edited for length) then vote for your pick at the bottom of this post.

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowel
What do you get when a woman who’s obsessed with death and U.S. history goes on vacation? This wacky, weirdly enthralling exploration of the first three presidential assassinations. Vowell (The Partly Cloudy Patriot), a contributor to NPR’s This American Life and the voice of teenage superhero Violet Parr in The Incredibles, takes readers on a pilgrimage of sorts to the sites and monuments that pay homage to Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley, visiting everything from grave sites and simple plaques (like the one in Buffalo that marks the place where McKinley was shot) to places like the National Museum of Health and Medicine, where fragments of Lincoln’s skull are on display. An expert tour guide, Vowell brings into sharp focus not only the figures involved in the assassinations, but the social and political circumstances that led to each-and she does so in the witty, sometimes irreverent manner that her fans have come to expect. (Publisher’s Weekly, starred review)

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
If Jesse Owens is rightfully the most famous American athlete of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, repudiating Adolf Hitler’s notion of white supremacy by winning gold in four events, the gold-medal-winning effort by the eight-man rowing team from the University of Washington remains a remarkable story. It encompasses the convergence of transcendent British boatmaker George Pocock; the quiet yet deadly effective UW men’s varsity coach, Al Ulbrickson; and an unlikely gaggle of young rowers who would shine as freshmen, then grow up together, a rough-and-tumble bunch, writes Brown, not very worldly, but earnest and used to hard work. (Booklist, starred review)

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?: a Memoir by Roz Chast
New Yorker cartoonist Chast (Theories of Everything) had vaguely thought that “the end” came in three stages: feeling unwell, growing weaker over a month or so in bed, and dying one night. But when her parents passed 90, she learned that “the middle [stage] was a lot more painful, humiliating, long-lasting, complicated, and hideously expensive” than she imagined. Chast’s scratchy art turns out perfectly suited to capturing the surreal realities of the death process. In quirky color cartoons, handwritten text, photos, and her mother’s poems, she documents the unpleasant yet sometimes hilarious cycle of human doom. (Library Journal)

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
A resplendent novel from the author of The Sky Is Everywhere. Fraternal twins and burgeoning artists Jude and Noah are inseparable until puberty hits and they find themselves competing for boys, a spot at an exclusive art school, and their parents’ affections. Told in alternating perspectives and time lines, with Noah’s chapters taking place when they are 13 and Jude’s when they are 16, this novel explores how it’s the people closest to us who have the power to both rend us utterly and knit us together. (School Library Journal)

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
In a radical departure from her Jackson Brodie mystery series, Atkinson delivers a wildly inventive novel about Ursula Todd, born in 1910 and doomed to die and be reborn over and over again. She drowns, falls off a roof, and is beaten to death by an abusive husband but is always reborn back into the same loving family, sometimes with the knowledge that allows her to escape past poor decisions, sometimes not. Alternately mournful and celebratory, deeply empathic and scathingly funny, Atkinson is working at the very top of her game. An audacious, thought-provoking novel from one of our most talented writers. (Booklist, starred review)

The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff
In 1692, the Massachusetts Bay Colony executed 14 women, 5 men, and 2 dogs for witchcraft. The ensuing terror cut a wide swath through the colony, affecting residents of all ages and educational backgrounds. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Schiff (Véra; Cleopatra) chronicles the surrounding events, painting a vivid portrait of a homogeneous, close-knit network of communities rapidly devolving into irrational paranoia. Proving, yet again, that truth is stranger than fiction, she mines existing records, extrapolates all the major characters, and pieces together the unfolding story in suitably dramatic fashion as neighbors, friends, and family members turn on one another. (Booklist, starred review).

Click here to vote for your choice!

Somerville Reads is a project that promotes literacy and community engagement by encouraging people all over the City to read and discuss the same book.

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…is available for public review  at the Central Library, 79 Highland Ave. Ask at the reference desk for help finding it.

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revereSomerville’s annual Patriots’ Day celebration will be held at Foss Park on Monday, April 18 10-11:30 am. There will be a Colonial Fair with games, music by the Somerville High School band, period refreshments, and colonial reenactors. If you play your cards right, you might even get to meet Paul Revere’s horse (she has a very busy social schedule; she can’t make time for everyone).

If you are interested in reenactments of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the National Park Service has a complete schedule of events here.

However, April 18 is also the day of the Boston Marathon, which will affect traffic and MBTA service. So getting around the greater Boston area is going to be quite difficult. You can learn about road and station closures here and here.

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First the good news:  it seems to have infected relatively few computers.

To find out if your Mac has been infected (and learn how to remove it) go here.

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Transmission, a popular Mac application for downloading videos and music, has been infected with ransomware. It encrypts the data on users’ Macs and demands they fork over roughly $400 in bitcoin. Apple took steps to neutralize the malware over the weekend, but some Macs may have been infected as of today.

You can read more about the problem here and here.

Stay tuned.

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I’ve posted a fair bit about protecting your online privacy, but most of it’s only applicable to PC users. However, Mac users have an array of privacy self-defense tools at their disposal as well. First, go here and follow Lifehacker’s instructions on configuring OS X to maximize your privacy (it’s not at the top of the screen–you’ll have to scroll down a bit to find the instructions. They’re under the heading “Audit OS X’s System Settings.”

For iPhone and iPad users: there’s a free app called MyPermissions that will scan your online accounts and devices to see who’s accessing your personal information. MyPermissions also sends alerts whenever applications gain access to your private information: you can immediately confirm or revoke permission for access.

For completely secure and private phone calls and texts, download the app Signal. It’s available for iPhones and Android phones. If you’ve got any doubts about Signal’s security, don’t take my word for it, take Edward Snowden’s.

For more tips and suggestions on being secure using your Mac devices, go here to the Mac Security Blog.

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pcmagIt’s an  election year. Candidates are saying a lot of things to get people’s votes, which means many of them are, to be blunt, lying.

How do you know what to believe? How do you sort fact from fabrication? Surprisingly, the Internet can actually help if you go to the right places.

Factcheck.org is just what it sounds like: a website devoted to finding the truth behind politician’s statements, misleading headlines, and viral rumors. Factcheck is published by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and it’s refreshingly bipartisan: today posts’ dissected the spin in the Republican candidates’ most recent debate; earlier in the week their writers took Obama to task for some exaggerations and omissions in the State of the Union address. And if you have a question about something you’ve heard that’s not covered on their website, you can ask them.

Politifact is another reputable fact-checking website published by the Tampa Bay Times. Their staff subject politicians’ statements and campaign ads to their famous Truth-o-meter and their Obamameter tracks how well Obama’s kept his promises from the 2004 and 2008 campaigns. Their page “Pants on Fire” lists recent lies by public figures, untrue stories circulating online, and faked viral images and videos.

Of course, skepticism is warranted all the time: not just in an election year, and not just about what’s on the news. If you’re snopeswondering if a charity is legitimate, if a story going around on Facebook is true, or if that email forward from your uncle has a single fact in it (hint: probably not), you can find out on Snopes.com, a site devoted to debunking rumors, conspiracy theories, urban legends, and hoaxes.

If you’re interested in taking the time for a more in-depth analysis of what appears in the media, try the podcast On the Media from NPR. it’s where I learned one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given about breaking news coverage: don’t listen. In the hours immediately following a disaster, a terrorist attack, an assassination or any other big event, reporters are under a lot of pressure to have something to report, but the bottom line is no one knows anything yet, and all they’ve got to go on is hearsay.

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Now that I think about it, this blog post title sounds like it should be the name of a kid’s book–the If You Give a Pig a Pancake for the automated warfare age. But seriously, drones were one of the most popular gifts this Christmas. And anyone who owns a drone has to register it with the Federal Aviation Administration–even if it’s tiny, and even if you’re not using it to attack people. So, to register your drone, go here.

And somebody out there go write that kid’s book.

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Income inequality: it’s one of the most troubling issues we face. A presidential candidate has made it the focus of his campaign. Two years ago a book on the issue made a French economist into a media rock star. Even some billionaires are worried about it.  You may think it’s something only the federal government can address, but as a Speaker of the House from this area famously said, “All politics is local,” so go to the Alderman’s chambers in City Hall tomorrow night to share your concerns and ideas and listen to what both the aldermen and other members of the public have to say about what can be done to make Somerville a more affordable place for all its residents.

The Place: Aldermanic Chambers, City Hall, 93 Highland Ave.

The Date: Thursday, Dec. 10

The Time: 7 pm.

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Two copies of the Union Square Neighborhood Plan and the draft Fiscal Impact Analysis of Union Square and Boynton Yards are available at the library for public review and comment. The city Department of Planning and Zoning is accepting public feedback through noon of December 31. Their email address is planning@somervillema.gov. Other contact information is available on their home page.

The documents are in the upstairs reading room at the Central Library on the shelf beneath a window near the Consumer Reports.

 

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