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Those of you who have read Part I and Part II of this 3-part series on cybersecurity may be tempted never to turn your computer on again.
But take heart. While there are villains out there who seek to take control of your machine — and they may even be successful – you are not defenseless against hackers.

Home computer users can significantly reduce the chances of being hacked by taking several steps to protect their machine.
Home computer users can significantly reduce the chances of being hacked by taking several steps to protect their machine.

Part III:

Lisa Lancor, chairwoman of Southern’s Computer Science Department, says several steps can be taken to protect your machine. “Unfortunately, no single solution exists to protect your computer from all of the risks that are out there,” she says. “But securing your computer and your digital transactions should be thought about in layers.”

Here are her suggestions:

  • Layer 1: Operating System – Regardless of the operating system you use (e.g., Windows 7, Windows 8, Mac OS X, etc.), always apply updates when you are notified. Most, if not all updates, are released to patch one or more security vulnerabilities. On your Windows machine, set the updates to happen automatically. On your Mac, when you see your App Store icon indicating that you have new updates to apply, do so immediately.
  • Layer 2: Internet Browser – It is critical that your browser stay up-to-date. “Historically, vulnerabilities in your browser have been a goldmine for hackers,” Lancor says. “Some browsers automatically check for the most recent version and if you don’t have it installed, it redirects you to update your browser before it allows you to access the Internet.” You can usually check if you are updated by going to the “About” page of your browser.
  • Layer 3: Third Party Applications and Plugins – Third party applications are stand-alone programs that work with your system, but are written by someone other than your operating system provider. Third party plugins are software widgets that add a feature to an existing software application. Adobe FlashPlayer, Adobe Reader and Oracle’s Java are examples of third party software. Always update this software, but beware of fake update messages for these and all applications and operating systems. Never click on a link to apply an update. Instead, manually navigate to the corresponding site and apply the update directly from the site.
  • Layer 4: You – This may be the most important layer of security. Many attacks are designed only to have an effect if you are duped into running malware. “As someone who studies this area, I have on several occasions almost been fooled by some very clever and targeted phishing email attacks,” Lancor says. “There was the UPS tracking message that appeared to be sent from Amazon during the holidays and then the very clever looking faux-Facebook email that enticed me into checking out some comments that ‘friends’ wrote on my wall. The friends listed were actual Facebook friends – clearly an attack that was targeted just for me.” The best way to handle these types of attacks is to never click on links in your email – simply navigate to the site manually. In the event that you need to click on the link, always hover over the link in your email and make sure the domain matches the site you are going to visit. Also, update your antivirus software. “If you don’t update your antivirus engine and signature file, your system won’t be protected from the latest known malware  that is out there,” Lancor says.

“The key is to be smart when surfing the Internet and always think like a hacker so that you can protect yourself from having your machine taken over,” Lancor says.

Happy and safe surfing!

Note: Lisa was interviewed Tuesday on WTIC’s (1080 AM) “Mornings with Ray Dunaway” about some of the latest hacking incidents and what people can do to protect their computers.

In Part I of our 3-part series, Wise Words focused on the myth that hackers have no interest in the computers of everyday individuals who do not store sensitive information on them. As you may have read, nothing could be further from the truth. Hackers can use the storage or processing power of your computer for multiple nefarious functions, even if you keep only the most innocuous of information on your machine.

Today, we look at some other popular misconceptions.

Part II:

Myth: Using and updating antivirus software is enough to prevent my computer from becoming vulnerable to security incidents.

Reality: The use of antivirus software certainly is one step you can take to help protect your system. And it is helpful against known malware (malicious software), according to Lisa Lancor, chairwoman of Southern’s Computer Science Department. (Southern recently restructured its M.S. in computer science degree to focus on cybersecurity and software development.)

“Unfortunately, antivirus software does not protect you from malware that it does not know about,” Lancor says. “Malware that exploits a brand new vulnerability is referred to as a ‘zero-day attack’ because the security community has known about the vulnerability for zero days.”

Nobody wants to see the dreaded virus alert pop up on their screen.
Nobody wants to see the dreaded virus alert pop up on their screen. Keeping your antivirus software up-to-date is just one of several steps you should take to minimize the chances of your computer getting sick.

Fair enough. But what are the chances of being hit with a “zero-day attack?”

It’s not that rare, according to Lancor. “A recent report by McAfee Labs indicates that its researchers find and catalog close to 100,000 new samples of malware per day,” she says. “That equates to 69 new, zero-day malware samples per minute. Are you keeping up with antivirus updates every minute?”

Even more disturbing, malware developers can sell their code on the black market of the Internet, Lancor says. They can sell for tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars. “Clearly, creating zero-day malware is big business for hackers these days.”

Myth: Mac users are safe from malware.

Reality: It is true that at one time, Mac users were relatively safe from malware, though there are always exceptions. But because the number of Mac users has increased significantly during the last decade, virus writers have set their sights on Apple, according to Lancor. Just recently, a malware called IceFog was discovered that attacks both Windows and Macs and provides a backdoor into your system. “It can accept instructions from a command-and-control infrastructure to have your system do whatever hackers want,” she says.
Lancor points to the FlashBack virus that infected more than 600,000 Macs and included them into one of the first significant Mac-based botnets. Apple has been continuously adding security features, including its own anti-malware applications, into its operating system. Mac users are advised to follow safe security practices, just like PC users.

Myth: As long as you don’t click on ridiculous email links from people you don’t know, you should be pretty safe.

Reality: These aren’t the spam attacks of your grandparents’ day…er, in your parents’ day…um, in your older siblings’ day. It’s not just the Nigerian banker who wants to deposit money into your banking account, or the Viagra link, or an announcement that you’ve won the lottery of a foreign country for which you never bought a ticket. “Hackers are fully aware of the security education and training that you have been receiving about not clicking on links in emails from people you don’t know or trust,” Lancor says.

She points out that “smart phishing attacks,” also known as “spear (very targeted) phishing attacks now come from people you do know, or from hackers acting as someone you do know. “Hackers go so far as to study the content of previous email exchanges that you have had with someone and then they mimic the language and styling in an attempt to let your guard down and click on a malicious link,” she says. “The malicious link will look legitimate and quite benign.” Examples might include “annual sales report” or “a properly formed UPS tracking number. “If you click on the link, it will take you to an exploit site that is set up to blast your browser and operating system with every vulnerability that it knows about in an attempt to gain access to your machine.

“And to make matters worse, while it used to be the case that you always needed to click on something to get infected, now there are drive-by-downloads that require you to do nothing. Just visit a website that is compromised and without you noticing, it will redirect you to a site that will fire everything it has at you (to take over your computer).”

Coming soon:

Part III — Protecting yourself against hackers, malware

Caution: What you’re about to read may make you want to turn off your computer, bury it, sprinkle it with holy water and return to a pre-1990s lifestyle that was devoid of all things cyber.

De-bunking popular misconceptions about cybersecurity can be a wake-up call for casual computer users that your machine is quite vulnerable to those with bad intentions. Spammers, phishers and those who like to spread viruses for the “sport” of it are just some of the individuals that your unit needs to be protected from in cyberspace. The recent hacking of the Target computer network – which has led to the breach of credit and debit card information for an estimated 40 million of the company’s customers and other personal data (email addresses, phone numbers, etc.) of up to 70 million others – has sparked concern and outrage from the public.

But what kind of risk do people face with their home computers? Do hackers have any interest in your computer? The answer is yes.

Computers at work, school and home are all vulnerable to attack from hackers.
Computers at work, school and home are all vulnerable to attack from hackers.

Today, Wise Words launches a 3-part series devoted to the topic of cybersecurity. Part I focuses on the myth that hackers are not interested in your personal computer because you don’t have any top secret information on it. In Part II, we will explore other common misconceptions of cybersecurity.

But don’t worry. In Part III, Wise Words, through the insight of Lisa Lancor, chairwoman of Southern’s Computer Science Department, will offer steps that the average computer user can take to minimize their exposure to hackers. Southern recently revamped its M.S. degree program in computer science to place increased emphasis on cybersecurity and software development.

Part I:

Many people believe that because their machine is only for personal use, hackers have little or no interest in trying to compromise their unit. After all, we frequently hear about incidents involving hacking into computers belonging to government agencies, businesses, large institutions and political entities. Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, trade secrets, candidate strategies and classified documents can be at stake.

But what would anyone want with a computer filled with pictures of someone’s family dog, Little League schedules and the latest standings of their Fantasy Football league?

“Hackers value your computer for its resources, regardless of whether it has valuable information or not” says Lisa Lancor, chairwoman of Southern’s Computer Science Department.

“In fact, they will secure your computer after they have compromised it so that no other hacker can own your machine. It’s a sad state of affairs when hackers start patching and securing your system for you.”

What Makes Your Computer so Attractive to Hackers

Lancor points to several purposes:

  • Storage devices – Hackers may want to store their bootlegged movies, illegal pornography and other contraband on your hard drive. “This way, you run the risk of getting caught with the illegal content and not them,” she says.
  • Processing power – Hackers may want to use your processing power for a variety of reasons. Some examples include using it to help solve computationally difficult problems, such as finding the next prime number (millions of digits long); generating Bitcoins, a decentralized, globally recognized e-currency that requires significant computer processing power; and folding proteins to help researchers understand diseases. “Solutions to computationally difficult problems can provide a big payout,” Lancor says. “And producing Bitcoins can be big business since one Bitcoin at today’s market price is currently worth about $950. Learn more about how bitcoin work via bitcoinogg.com.”
  • Service provider – Your computer could be become an unwitting “spam machine.” The hacker may have set it up to deliver spam messages.
  • Use as part of a bot network – Bot is a shortened name for Web robot, a program that conducts repetitive functions automatically. Like many things on the Internet, a bot can be used for good or ill. Hackers sometimes take control of others’ computers to become part of a gigantic botnet composed of thousands or millions of compromised computers that are controlled by a “bot master,” or a “command and control” server located anywhere around the world. “Underground Web-based storefronts sell botnets of 1,000 U.S.-only compromised computers for the current market price of about $1,000,” Lancor says.
  • Launching pad – Hackers are usually savvy enough not to use their own computer to launch an attack. That’s what your computer can be for, just in case law enforcement traces the attack back to the launching point. “The FBI might come knocking on your door because an attack was launched against the White House or National Security Agency from your IP address,” Lancor says.
  • Free ride into your bank – Those who do some online banking or make other financial transactions via a compromised computer, watch out! Your machine can include a keylogger,  a piece of surveillance software that records every key stroke on a machine and can be used to decipher even the most secure passwords.
  • Ransom — Believe it or not, some hackers have taken to encrypting your photos and documents and holding them “hostage” with a key that only they know. They tell you to deposit Bitcoins into their anonymous e-wallet in exchange for decrypting your files.

Scary, huh?

Coming soon:
Part II — Other myths about cybersecurity

Oink, oink. It’s baaaaack!

The H1N1 flu virus — commonly known as the “Swine Flu” — put a scare into U.S. public health and medical professionals starting in the spring of 2009. Public health specialists, fearing the potential for one of the worst flu outbreaks in memory, had raced against the clock that year to develop a vaccine for that form of the flu so that it could be ready for the fall. The general flu vaccines that had been prepared did not include H1N1 because it was not predicted to be a widespread threat until after those vaccines were produced.

And while there was a pandemic, it was not as widespread or as virulent as many had feared.

Fast forward 4 years. After a brief “hiatus,” H1N1 has returned. And this time it has gone “mainstream,” generating relatively little media attention compared with 2009. Yet, it has been the dominant strain during this flu season. When people talk about the flu this season, they are almost certainly talking about H1N1. The reduced media visibility may be due, in part, to the fact that this year’s general flu vaccines offer some protection against the Swine Flu. Thus, there is no panic within the public health community.

The 'Swine Flu' -- which made headlines when it caught public health officials by surprise when it surfaced in 2009 -- is back. The H1N1 virus is the dominant strain of flu this season, but public health officials are ready this time with vaccines that include some protection against the bug.
The ‘Swine Flu’ — which made headlines when it caught public health officials by surprise when it surfaced in 2009 — is back. The H1N1 virus is the dominant strain of flu this season, but public health officials are ready this time with vaccines that include some protection against the bug.

The symptoms are largely the same as the other, garden-variety versions of the flu of years past. It usually involves a sore throat, cough, fever, chills and fatigue that can be extreme. Vomiting and nausea are sometimes associated with it.

But what distinguishes the Swine Flu from other flu bugs is the target audience. While the very young and the elderly are generally more vulnerable to the flu, the Swine Flu seems to target teens and young adults more heavily than older people. Experts believe this may be because many individuals born before 1950 were exposed to Swine Flu-like viruses early in their lives, and therefore have developed some immunity to the H1N1 strain.

This dog knows what to do in case of flu.
This dog knows what to do in case of flu.

So, how can you avoid catching the Swine Flu? Although there are no guarantees, there are some steps you can take to reduce your chances, according to Dr. Diane Morgenthaler, director of Southern’s health and wellness center.

She strongly recommends consulting with your doctor about getting a flu vaccine. While there are some people who should not get it for health reasons, most individuals probably should, Morgenthaler says. College students often have the option of checking with their campus health services.

“It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take full effect,” she says. “But we haven’t reached the peak of flu season yet, so there is still time.”

Morgenthaler’s suggestions also include:

  • Consistently use good hand washing techniques and make frequent use of hand sanitizers, especially after touching common areas, such as door knobs, light switches and remote controls.
  • Consider a fist bump, instead of a handshake. If you do shake hands – and especially if the other person shows signs of being sick – wash your hands thoroughly. Or, at least, use a hand sanitizer.
  • Eat well and get plenty of sleep. You want to keep your immune system sharp in case you are exposed to the virus.
  • Avoid crowded places when possible.

And what if you suspect you might already have caught the flu?

“Antiviral medication may be helpful, especially in the first 48 hours,” Morgenthaler says.

“Most people are better within 1 to 2 weeks using over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, cough drops, antihistamines, salt water gargles and by drinking lots of fluids. But don’t spread the virus around. If you are sick, stay home if at all possible. Most bosses, professors and teachers will understand.”

Stay well!

Happy New Year, everyone!

It’s hard to believe a year has passed since we launched Wise Words. Throughout the year, we explored a wide variety of topics that we hope have proven to be both interesting and informative. During that time, the blog has received more than 6,000 views. Thank you for your stopping by!

Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!

We look forward to continue sharing insightful posts with you in the coming year. Whether you’re a student, a parent or a member of the general public, we invite you to check us out in 2014. We strive to make the blog an even better resource for the community.

Our Jan. 4, 2013 post (our very first) talked about keeping New Year’s resolutions. If you never read it, or even if you have, we thought it might be worth checking out.

We wish all of our readers a happy, healthy and productive new year!

If you’re a college student, chances are you’re busy this week studying for final exams. In fact, some of you may have taken at least one exam already.

And high school students, your first-semester (or second-marking period) is probably about to close after the first of the year. And you know what that means. It won’t be long after the holidays that the Exam Grinch comes knocking at your classroom door.

High school and college students are preparing for their semester exams.
High school and college students are preparing for their semester exams.

Denise Zack, a counselor in Southern’s University Counseling Office, has plenty of good advice about how to keep your stress levels to a minimum during this time of year.

There is no way, of course, to avoid some anxiety of exams. And frankly, a little bit of stress can actually enhance your success on the exams. But high school and college students run the risk of “stress overload,” which can detract from your optimal performance.

For some suggestions on how to cope with pre-exam stress, check out our May 21 post.

Good luck on your exams!

For more than a decade, colleges and the business world have been trying to adjust to the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial Generation – those who were born from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s.

The differences among the generations often create misunderstandings.

For example, that sense of independence – if you want to do it right, do it yourself approach — brought to the workplace by Generation X (born from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s) was clashing with the collegial ethos of the Millennials. And unlike the Baby Boomers (born 1946 to the early 1960s), who put a lot of value in working long hours at the office, Millennials place a higher premium on getting the job done efficiently.

Keynote speaker Kim Lear talks about generational differences during a recent forum at Southern.
Keynote speaker Kim Lear talks about generational differences during a recent forum at Southern.

For Boomers and Xers, the unwritten rules at work said that as you climbed the hierarchical ladder, you would be involved in discussions of higher importance. That workplace culture is almost anathema to Millennials, who want to be part of those discussions from their earliest days at an organization. They prefer a collegial, more horizontal organizational.

The differences among the generations are often stark. But just as some organizations have learned to adjust to the Millennials’ expectations and create a more peaceful co-existence among the generations, a new generation with its own trends and traits is beginning to emerge.

Generation Edge – those who were born since the mid-1990s – is about to enter colleges starting next year. And some have already joined the workforce.

Will they be like the Millennial Generation – tech savvy, team-oriented, optimistic and with high expectations? While they are likely to be even more technologically advanced, the early indications are that they are quite different in many respects.

Cheshire High School students -- members of Generation Edge -- share a moment with Kim Lear (standing, fourth from left).
Cheshire High School students — members of Generation Edge — share a moment with Kim Lear (standing, fourth from left).

That subject was among those discussed recently at Southern during a forum, “Ready or Not, Connecticut, the Millennial Generation is Here!…And the GenEdgers Aren’t Far Behind.” The forum looked at the characteristics of the various generations throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

Kim Lear, an expert on generational trends and changes for a Minnesota-based company called BridgeWorks, gave the audience a glimpse into what the early research says about Generation Edge, sometimes referred to as Generation Z or NetGen.

She pointed to three budding trends:

*The brains of today’s youth may actually be changing, probably as a result of their technological immersion. Lear said that while people often refer to “multitasking” as a skill, it is not something the human brain can actually do. She notes that the actual skill should be called “switch tasking,” which is based on how much or little effectiveness you lose in between tasks, such as doing your homework while reading your text messages and watching part of a television show. “There are Harvard studies so far showing that GenEdgers are losing significantly less (effectiveness) than the rest of us do,” Lear said. “This is a function of their brain that other brains may not actually have.”

*GenEdgers may be able to create authentic, meaningful relationships with people via Skype and other technological devices in which people can see each other, even though they may be physically a long distance away from each other. “When the virtual world was becoming really big, there were a lot of studies to see if human beings can create relationships through a screen,” Lear said. “The conclusion was basically ‘no.’ But there is a study being done right now on young children and their relationships with their grandparents. There are some kids who are spending a lot of time on FaceTime and Skype and who only see each other once or twice a year. There are some theorists who are projecting that this may be the first generation that can build real connections with people through a screen. That obviously would completely change the workplace and even the marketplace over the next 15 or 20 years.”

*While Millennials are known for having a collaborative spirit, GenEdgers have a much more competitive spirit. This may be due to a change in parenting styles. Baby Boomers are largely the parents of Millennials, while GenXers are usually the parents of GenEdgers. Lear pointed out that GenXers are known for their straightforward, no sugar-coating style of communication. “We are actually seeing that their direct style of communication is exactly how they are speaking to their kids,” Lear said. “And when we are talking with 12-year-olds, their knowledge of the recession is unbelievable. Their parents are telling them money doesn’t grow on trees. Student loans exist. And these kids know that they’re not just competing for jobs with the people sitting next to them. They’re competing for jobs with kids in China who can do with that they can do, maybe better, and for less. That is going to have a huge impact on the way that people work and what they are motivated by in the future.”

The following is a chart of the 20th and 21st century generations, the corresponding birth years and the characteristics/milestones of each: http://www.southernct.edu/millennialforum-gen.html

The Millennials may be the most studied generation in American history.

Their size – which exceeds that of Generation X and rivals that of the Baby Boom Generation – coupled with their distinctive characteristics are fodder for a sociological analyst’s dream. Why do they appear to be so different from previous generations in the classroom, at work and in society, in general? Indeed, cultural shockwaves have been felt in the workplace since the Millennials’ entrance a decade ago.

To be sure, some of the same things have been said of every succeeding generation. After all, all one needs to do is look at the images of the late 1960s and early 1970s – the coming of age era for so many Baby Boomers – to feel the cultural stir that permeated society.

But many experts say that the changes within the Millennial Generation are deeper and more ingrained than those from previous generations. Some say that members of this generation approach their careers in a different way than in the past. For example, paying your dues at an organization for a significant amount of time — a path doggedly taken by most Baby Boomers and their parents — is no longer viewed in the same light. Millennials tend to want to make a significant, sometimes dramatic impact, right away.

Similarly, this generation sees the world in more horizontal terms than in hierarchical terms. Ironically, Millennials appear to be less confrontational toward authority figures than their parents were at their age…perhaps because of their closer relationship with their own parents than Baby Boomers had. But that relationship also has been controversial as educators frequently bemoan a less independent student body. This style of “helicopter parenting” owes some of its genesis to the technological boom with the creation of cell phones, iPhones and other new communication vehicles.

blogphotomillennials

Interestingly, phone conversations for college students have decreased over the years, according to Ro Conforti, associate professor of media studies at Southern. She tells the story of how one of her students used to complain…not that her mother called her frequently on the phone…but that her mother did not know how to text her.

Texting is considered the communication vehicle of choice. It’s faster and less intrusive than calling someone, or even emailing. And while Conforti says the new technology, including social media, allows friends and family members to stay in touch more easily, she adds that it comes with a price tag.

“I see many young people having a lot of trouble articulating their feelings or thoughts,” Conforti says. “Texting and tweeting don’t allow a person to express themselves fully. And it goes even further in some cases. Growing up, I remember looking forward to when the phone rang. We’re finding that many younger adults today actually perceive phone calls as an interruption in their lives.”

The use of high tech communication devices is bound to continue among those in the post-Millennial Generation, those born around 1996 and later and sometimes referred to as Generation Edge or Generation Z. But the early trends are beginning to show some behavioral changes, according to some experts. The prevalence of “helicopter parenting” may be waning as the children of Generation X are growing up. While a single breadwinner was common place during the childhoods of Baby Boomers, the “latch key kids” era was a trend among GenXers. In other words, they grew up in a family environment that required them to learn self-reliance at an earlier age with both parents working. It’s not surprising, then, if the kids of GenXers are being raised to be more independent.

But since the oldest GenEdgers are just now approaching college-age, the jury is still out in terms of how they will differ from Millennials, as well as previous generations.

The trends among Millennials and GenEdgers will be discussed in depth during a Nov. 18 forum at Southern called, “Ready or Not, Connecticut, the Millennial Generation is Here!…And the GenEdgers Aren’t Far Behind.” The program will explore topics such as how these two generations differ from past generations; Millennials in the workplace ; how modern technology may be affecting the interpersonal communication skills of younger folks and how to bridge the generation gaps. For further information about the forum, go to: http://www.southernct.edu/millennialforum.html

Halloween is a tough time to be a bat.

Only a month ago, the Flying Mammal had a buffet of available bugs to choose from for its meals. But the cool weather of late fall has drastically reduced the volume of mosquitoes, gnats and other flying insects from which to dine. The chillier conditions and declining food supply has sent some bats into hibernation already, with others preparing for the long, sleepy fast.

Brown bats are common in the United States.
Brown bats are common in the United States.

But if that’s not enough to give bats the blues, their reputation is annually besmirched during Halloween season. In movies, we see Dracula turn himself into a bat, flying around a haunted house and sucking blood from his victims. Kids equate bat costumes with those of witches, goblins and other menaces of the night.

“With the exception of ‘Batman,’ we generally don’t see bats portrayed in a positive light,” says Miranda Dunbar, assistant professor of biology at Southern and a self-proclaimed Defender of the Bat. “But the reality is the bat is actually one of the good guys.”

Dunbar, who has conducted extensive research on bats, has offered to help dispel some of the biggest myths about bats. Here are some of them:

Myth: Bats like to suck people’s blood.
Reality: There are only a few species of bat that consume blood at all, none of which are regularly found in the United States or Canada. And even among the species that do feed on blood, such as the vampire bat, they prefer livestock.

Myth: Bats are dirty animals that often spread rabies.
Reality: Bats are actually very clean, frequently giving themselves and their young tongue baths. And while it is possible to contact rabies from a bat, like many animals in wildlife, you have a much higher chance of getting rabies from raccoons, rats, foxes or dogs. When a bat gets rabies, it often dies within a week, not allowing it to hang around very long to spread the disease.

Myth: Bats are blind, at least during the day.
Reality: Although most have small eyes and don’t have great vision, they can see, even during the day. Some tropical species actually have vision that’s quite good.

Myth: Bats do nothing but sleep during the daytime hours.
Reality: Like other nocturnal animals, bats certainly sleep during the day. But they don’t sleep the entire time. In fact, they often groom and socialize during the day. Yes, they have friends.

Myth: All bats are brown or black in color.
Reality: While most in North America are some variation of brown, the Eastern red bats are actually a fiery red or orange. They are very handsome, but they tend to be a little high maintenance compared with the other bats.

Most bats wouldn't want to mess with this guy, an Eastern red bat.
Most bats wouldn’t want to mess with this guy, an Eastern red bat.

Myth: Other than eating some insects, the bat contributes little to the eco-system.
Reality: Not true. They eat a tremendous amount of insects – sometimes even their own weight in bugs during the course of an evening. But one of the little known facts about bats is that they are the primary pollinators and seed dispersers for many tropical fruits, such as bananas, mangoes and figs, as well as cashews and even for the Agave plant, which is used to make tequila. Their fur gets full of pollen when they eat the nectar of flowers. They then spread the pollen in their travels.

Note taking is one of the most underrated skills a person can learn in school.

You generally don’t get graded on it, per se, unless you take a class in shorthand. It’s often taught as a small component of another course.

But unlike some academic subjects that have little or no practical use after high school or college graduation, the ability to take notes has lifelong value.

blogphotonotetaking

Good note taking goes a long way toward making good journalists. Doctors and other medical staff rely on notes concerning a patient’s symptoms and diagnosis. Staff meetings often require taking down important information.

“Note taking is a skill – like shooting free throws or dancing the waltz – which must be learned and practiced to be done well,” says Lisa Kuchta, an instructor of communication at Southern.

She actually landed a job in college as a note taker. In the long run, the profitability of her job depended upon the accuracy and effectiveness of her notes.

Kuchta offers the following suggestions to students on effective note taking, although many of the same principles can be applied to adults, as well.

  • Do your homework. It is important to read the material on which a lecture is going to be based before the class. Teachers and professors will use terms or ideas from the readings in their lectures. If you don’t understand the material, it will be difficult to grasp the meaning of what is said in class.
  • Eliminate barriers to learning. Simply put, you can’t take good notes if you can’t pay attention. So, make sure you can see and hear clearly what is said and written on the board. Turn off your cell phone. Avoid the temptation of checking an email or instant message if you are taking notes via a laptop or tablet. And while students today are probably better at multi-tasking than in the past, research has shown that the brain can’t fully focus on two mental tasks at once.
  • Learn to pick out the main ideas. “Ten minutes of lecture can likely be boiled to a few main points and a handful of sub points,” Kuchta says. “Trying to write down everything the instructor says will inevitably cause you to miss important information. You just can’t write as fast as the lecturer can speak, unless you know shorthand.”
  • Practice, practice, practice. If you find yourself having difficulty choosing what to leave in and what to leave out, take some extra time to improve that skill. One way to practice is to listen to a news broadcast. After each story, try to retell the gist of it in one sentence.
  • Use a clear, outlined structure. Outlines enable the brain to think logically. They enable us to differentiate between major and minor points. You can choose your own style – Roman numerals, capital letters, stars and bullet points, or whatever system that makes you comfortable.
  • Put ideas into your own words. Just robotically copying what the lecturer says – even when you don’t have a clue as to what it means – isn’t going to help you understand the material later. “Instead, listen completely to what the professor is trying to tell you and — in your head – re-explain it to yourself in your own words so that it makes sense to you. If you realize it does not make sense to you, ask the teacher for clarification,” Kuchta says.
  • Type or reread your notes later that day. It takes a little more time, but it will be worth it in the long run. By re-reading and/or transcribing your notes, it will allow you to fill in the blanks on what you don’t understand while the information is still fresh in your mind. And it will also help you commit it to a longer-term memory.

“Becoming a better note-taker may take commitment and diligence, but improving your proficiency will make your job – in school and in the real world – so much easier,” Kuchta says.