Archive for the “News You Can Use” Category

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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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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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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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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Hoopla is here! We are delighted to offer this new service that allows Somerville patrons free access to thousands of movies, television shows, music albums, and audiobooks for mobile devices and computers.

To start using Hoopla, download the free digital mobile app on your Android or iOS device or visit Then, begin enjoying titles from major Hollywood studios, record companies, and publishers. Titles can be borrowed for instant streaming or for temporary downloading to smartphones, tablets, computers, and Apple TV. Hoopla is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Best of all, there’s no waiting for popular titles and the service’s automatic return feature eliminates late fees.

To get to the Library’s Hoopla page, go to the catalog, click on databases, then scroll down the alphabetical list until you get to Hoopla.


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by Eileen and Sujei

If you’re like me, you have a ton of things on your mind/plate. And although I knew July was International Zine Month, I couldn’t quite pull the trigger on this blog post till now. But, all this information is still valid – and it’s always a good time to enjoy and make zines.

But wait – I should slow down, back up – and address a question you may have: What is a zine anyway?

A zine made by women over 40. Found at the Papercut Zine Library.

A zine made by women over 40. Found at the Papercut Zine Library.

For those of you not into underground, DIY publishing, first things first: Zine (pronounced “zeen”) is short for fanzine. A zine can be produced by anyone with something to say or share. The low cost of making one allows the maker the freedom to produce as many as them as he or she wants, for a limited/small circulation. They are usually cheap or free to obtain, and zinesters like to trade theirs with other makers.

Zines can contain anything one’s imagination can fathom – types of zines: perzines (personal zines), political zines, DIY zines, music zines, art zines, parenting zines, sexuality & gender zines, people of color zines, traveling zines, comics zines, e-zines, etc. They are often made by communities who are marginalized by mainstream society – like the poor or disabled, LGBTQ individuals, people of color, those with radical political views – the list goes on and on. They provide a unique glimpse of contemporary culture that challenges mainstream publishing industry and dominant historical narratives.

What do you need to make a zine? An idea, an interest, a gimmick, a pet peeve. And then you’ll need supplies: Paper, scissors, glue stick, markers, pencil, stapler … and a computer. But, wait, nope, you don’t need a computer or a typewriter. Because zines have been around a long time, many makers don’t use electronics to make their zines. Plenty of zinesters hand write or draw their content, cut them out and paste them on a master copy. Then, when satisfied with its content and layout, the maker makes copies of the zine, folds and sometimes staples them together.

But, you may be wondering, how can I obtain access to enough room to lay out my zine and make copies? Well, the library of course! Your local library has tables and chairs and a copy machine so you can make your copies. (SPL’s copiers cost 15 cents per black and white page; 30 cents per color page.) But, you may be thinking, I can’t draw. I can’t write very well. The important thing is to be able to express an idea, love, hate toward a particular topic. But can you fill up one sheet of paper with your art or ideas, no matter how “bad” or “silly” you may think them to be? I’m betting yes.

Boston’s local zine library – Papercut Zine Library – just moved a last month from Lorem Ipsum Books in Inman Square to Allston, for the time being anyway. They are still available for appointments and events, but are not circulating issues. For those who can get to Framingham, the local public library has a young adult zine collection.

And do you enjoy getting snail mail? Promote your zine online through distros or fests and make those trades! Start your own collection. And I’ve even seen zines sold on sites like for a few bucks. Chat with other zinemakers on twitter by checking out the hashtag #izm2014 or #zines. Network with other makers at this month’s New England Zine Fest and MICE (Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo) in October. You can also catch up with what happened at the RIPE (Rhode Island Publishing Expo) that just happened here.

Here are some sites to give you some ideas:

Books in the Minuteman System about Zines and Zinemaking
Whatcha mean, what’s a zine? : the art of making zines and minicomics by Mark Todd + Esther Peal Watson
Zine scene by Francesca Lia Block & Hillary Carlip
The Factsheet five zine reader : the best writing from the underground world of zines  Collected by R. Seth Friedman
Start your own zine : everything you need to know to put it into print! by Veronika Kalmar
Zine : how I spent six years of my life in the underground and finally found myself– I think by Pagan Kennedy
A girl’s guide to taking over the world : writings from the girl zine revolution Edited by Karen Green and Tristan Taormino


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More than a repository of books, public libraries host story hours, ESL classes, and community meetings, many libraries also include a cafe so patrons can relax with a good book and cup of coffee or meet other parents while their children are attending a book group.  The Boston Public Library has taken their cafe one step further to become a destination restaurant.

Check out the Boston Magazine’s review of the BPL’s Courtyard Restaurant at:


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FireworksJuly 4 is coming up, a day for fireworks, cookouts and spending time with friends.   Here’s a brief guide to local fun on Independence Day.

Somerville’s July 4th festivities will be Thursday evening at Trum Field. Live music  starts at 6:15, fireworks at 9:15. Everything you need to know, including rain date information, is here.

If you want to go to the banks of Charles, hear the Boston Pops and see fireworks you need to read this guide by cbslocal.

You could also listen to the Pops and see the fireworks on a big screen at Robbins Farm Park in Arlington. The details are here.

And tomorrow is the start of Boston Harborfest, an annual festival of activities and tours in and around Boston bostonharborfestthat begins July 2 and ends July 6. You can take architectural tours, play eighteenth century games, attend a chocolate-making demonstration, listen to Cape Verdean jazz, and more. Check out their calendar of events.

Have fun and stay safe.


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