TechMan: NSA has big plans for all that data

Having a practical bent, when TechMan heard about the National Security Agency collecting phone and Internet information on a vast scale, his first question was not, "Is this government surveillance run wild?' but, "What are they going to do with all that stuff?"

Apparently they are going to store it.

In Wired Magazine last year, James Bamford reported that the NSA is building a $2 billion data storage facility in a mountain valley in Utah scheduled to be completed in September: "The NSA Is Building the Country's Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)". It will be more than 10 times the size of the U.S. Capitol Building.

Tech Talk: Terminology related to electronic surveillance

The PG's Ced Kurtz and Laura Schneiderman talk about the latest technology news, this week focusing on terms related to electronic surveillance. (Video by Melissa Tkach; 6/10/2013)

The massive size of this self-sufficient complex (it has its own power station) allows for the storage of a vast amount of data. Estimates are that the center will be able to hold 5 zettabytes of data. A zettabyte is the amount of data that would fill 250 billion DVDs.

It is estimated the total of all human knowledge created from the dawn of man to 2003 totaled 5 exabytes. A zettabyte is 1,024 exabytes.

As if this weren't enough, according to, the NSA broke ground last week for another massive data center costing $565 million in Fort Meade, Md., home of the NSA headquarters.

So why does the NSA want all this data? They want to datamine it. They likely will apply computer programs that look for connections -- people who call suspicious phone numbers, visit known terrorist websites or email terrorist suspects. And they will look for encrypted communications.

Nitro-burning supercomputer of the week: ArsTechnica reports that a Chinese supercomputer known as Tianhe-2 has been measured at speeds of 30.65 petaflops, or 74 percent faster than the current holder of the world's-fastest-supercomputer title. A petaflop is one quadrillion floating point operations a second. And Tianhe-2 was only running at 90 percent capacity during testing.

Tianhe-2's numbers were revealed this week in a paper by University of Tennessee professor Jack Dongarra, who helps compile the bi-annual list of the Top 500 supercomputers in the world. The current champion is Titan, a U.S. system that hit 17.59 petaflops.

Will China's new entry be at the top of the list? The rankings will be unveiled June 17.

Old TV project of the week: Working for a morning newspaper, TechMan labored for more than 20 years at night, thus missing a lot of primetime TV. While generally that was a good thing, there were some shows I would have enjoyed.

So I decided that this summer, while primetime TV is awash in reruns, I would take advantage of modern video technology and watch some of those old shows. So far I have watched the entire lone season of "The Lone Gunmen," a spinoff of "The X-Files" on YouTube and have started to watch episodes of "MacGyver" on

"The Lone Gunmen" has held up pretty well but "MacGyver" is awash in 1980s and early 1990s clothing and hairstyles. I can't believe we dressed like that. On the list for watching: "Firefly" and "Farscape."

Website of the week: -- A new site from Discovery Channel featuring lots of video on science and tech.

Geek word of the week: Doxxing -- Obtaining and posting private information about people, particularly celebrities, found by scouring the Internet.


Send comments, contributions, corrections and condemnations to First Published June 11, 2013 4:45 AM


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