October 20th, 2014

How Do You Halloween?

800px-Orange_peepsDo you start planning out Halloween costumes months in advance, or are you rushing to the store at the last minute hoping there’s still something left on the shelf?  If time is not on your side, take a deep breath and read on.

Let’s start with costumes.  Are you the envy of the neighborhood because you can make your own costume? Or do you prefer the more retail approach? This time of year, costumes are everywhere and the choices can be overwhelming.  But did you ever notice that some of the most creative costumes are those that are so simple you wish you would have thought of them? Several years ago, a friend and I attached a small rope through a belt loop of our jeans, pinned some laundry to it, and were… a clothesline!  Last year, teachers at a nearby school taped Smarties candies to their pants and went as “Smarty Pants.”  Whether you go all out or keep it simple, costumes are a great way to take on a new personality!

Are you planning a costume party this season?  Halloween parties can be a scream with the right attention to detail.  Spooktacular decorations, creative lighting, perfect music, paired with festive food and drinks will be sure to please your guests.  Come visit your local branch of the Cecil County Public Library and borrow some music to set the mood.  Try out “Golden Records:  Spooky Halloween Hits” or “Halloween Sound Effects” to lure your guests into the Halloween spirit!   If you’re looking for some great ideas to set your celebration apart from the rest, try browsing some of our favorite seasonal books, including “Spooky and Bright:  101 Halloween Ideas (Country Living)” or “Best of Halloween Tricks & Treats” to help inspire you this Halloween!

You can also find great Halloween music and movies on Hoopla – as well as holiday inspired digital magazines from Zinio.

Oftentimes, the biggest fans of Halloween are children.  Besides admiring each other’s costumes, children love to play games, make crafts, and eat fun treats.  One of our favorite games is Boo Bowling.  Simply cover bowling pins or water bottles with white cloth and decorate them to look like ghosts, and bowl with a small pumpkin!  You can also try Pin-the-Wart-on-the-Witch and the Monster Freeze Dance.   A super-easy craft is to glue cotton swabs or pieces of dried pasta on black construction paper in the shapes of skeletons.  There are some very simple crowd-pleasing recipes for your party, too.  Start with pretzel sticks and small marshmallows.  Attach a marshmallow to each end of the pretzel stick, then dip the whole thing in some melted white chocolate.  Let cool and your guests can snack on skeleton bones!  Making a candy corn layer cake is as easy as 1-2-3!  Bake 3 round cakes in the colors of orange, yellow, and white.  Stack them together with your favorite frosting and you’ve got it!  Take a look through “Wormy Apple Croissants and Other Halloween Recipes” at your local branch to get more idea starters for some creative children’s party ideas.

Be sure to check out our Pinterest board for fabulous Halloween crafts!

No matter what, Cecil County Public Library has what you need to make it a night to remember!  Happy Haunting!

How do you Halloween?

photo source: “They’re Back!” by Jackie

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October 14th, 2014

October is Cyber Security Awareness Month – How Secure Are You?


It seems like every week there is another news story about a business being hacked and user information stolen.  Unfortunately, these attacks are outside of your control unless you go off the grid and use cash for everything.  However – there are things that you can do to help protect yourself!

Some are easy.  First and most important, don’t believe everything on the Internet.  I hate to be the one to tell you but you haven’t won a foreign lottery if you just send money to process the transaction so you can collect your winnings.  That’s almost as bad as Springfieldians sending “Happy Dude,” a.k.a. Homer Simpson, a dollar in season 7.

Second, always make sure to watch your email for phishing scams.  These scams are getting better every year.  The phishing emails now look cleaner and more professional, the English is better, and they are targeted.  If you click a link in an email make sure that the web page is correct and it didn’t send you to a web page that is just similar.  When in doubt always use Google to search for a business’s web page.

The last point is – passwords.  Passwords truly are the bane of your online existence but they don’t have to be.  As users we have all been conditioned to make complex, hard-to-remember passwords.  We see the instructions every time we sign up for something: password must be at least 8 characters, password must contain at least one number, lower case, and upper case letter.  We see this and then we go and create a password something like this G7d3X$nq.  That is a good password – but frankly, I don’t have a chance of remembering that.  I don’t think I’m in the minority admitting that.  If you can remember that without a lot of work you should see if you can also count cards since there are table games in the Perryville Casino now.

There is an alternative to hard-to-remember passwords.  Most websites now allow longer passwords so you can instead use a passphrase, which is a group of 4 or 5 words. Always use 4 or more words, that mean something to you and are easy-to-remember.  You can associate the words with whatever the password is for.

Say I wanted to make a password for my library account.  I would pick a phrase that I associate with the library that would be easy for me to remember like escapewithgoodscifi.  Now if I take that and add a few capital letters to it, for instance EscapeWithGoodScifi that is even better.  That wouldn’t meet the complexity requirements for some sites though because it lacks a number.  But If I had to I could add a number into that that means something to me Escape279WithGoodScifi.

When you add numbers to a passphrase, you should avoid the common substitutions like 0 for o, @ for a, or 1 for i.  Those substitutions are very common so they should be avoided.  So I now have a 22- character password with numbers, upper and lower case letters that is easy for me to remember.  Another benefit to this method is you can create a different password for every site easily and remember them.  You never want to use the same password on multiple sites.

If you want to stop reading here and just accept what I said, great–  please go forth and try out a few passphrases and see if you like it.  Just remember to give it a little time to get used to the new idea.

For those of you that are still reading and wonder why passphrases work well, it all comes down to complexity.  Simplifying the problem down, if you have an 8-character random password there are about 94 different possible characters on a standard keyboard which gives you around 6 quadrillion – 1 quadrillion is a 1 followed by 15 0s or 1,000 trillion – possible combinations of characters.  That sounds like a lot but a computer can guess very quickly.  Since we are looking at a simple example let’s assume a computer can guess 1 billion times a second.  It would take a computer about 70 days to guess all possible combinations of an 8-character password if there are 94 different possible characters.

When we look at the passphrases we need to make a few assumptions.  The Oxford English Dictionary contains about 250,000 different words.  Taking into account capitalization of just the first letter raises that number to 500,000.  So there are 62.5 sextillion –1 sextillion is a 1 followed by 21 0s – different combinations of 4 words in the English language.

If we then include the 3 numbers from our example passphrase it ends up being about 62.5 septillion —1 septillion is a 1 followed by 24 0s.  I bet some of you never thought of numbers this high before!  If I did the math right, which I’m not promising since that’s a lot of 0s to put into the calculator, a computer guessing 1 billion times a second would take about 1,981,861,998 years to guess all possible combinations.  What’s the expected life of the Sun?

This was a simple example using very basic math but I’d feel confident in saying that my new passphrase for my library account was pretty secure.  That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be compromised another way through phishing, my own carelessness, or being used as an example in a blog post.

If you are interested after making it to the end of this blog and I haven’t scared you away with math and very large numbers, I will be talking at a program at the Elkton Central Library on October 20th at 7pm about computer security for small businesses but a lot of the information can also apply to everyday life.

Have you visited the National Cyber Security Awareness Month site? Stop.Think. Connect.

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