TechMan Texts: Watch out for tracking ... and for ants

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The revelations about NSA snooping in people's digital lives have been widely discussed, but two recent comments from icons of the computer age caught my eye.

Richard Stallman, a longtime privacy and free software activist, founder of the Free Software Foundation, sees the recent revelations as just another aspect of what he calls the "security-industrial complex."

"For years I've called portable phones 'Stalin's dream' because of their surveillance capabilities. (Their movements are tracked, and they can be converted remotely into listening devices that transmit your conversations all the time, even when you try to shut them off.) For years I've warned that it is a mistake to entrust personal data to websites, or even identify yourself to them. For years I've paid cash rather than use my credit card."

A little more mainstream is Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, who talked to the British newspaper The Times.

"The original design of the Web of 24 years ago was for a universal space; we didn't have a particular computer in mind or browser, or language. When you make something universal ... it can be used for good things or nasty things ... we just have to make sure it's not undercut by any large companies or governments trying to use it to get total control."

Computer pest of the week: Having a computer is no picnic. With viruses and trojans and hackers, maybe you thought there was nothing more to worry about as a computer owner. Well, now there are crazy ants.

Repairmen in Texas have been finding air conditioners shorted out and filled with masses of dead ants, according to The ants' small size allows them to crawl inside cellphones, computers and appliances.

Their bodies can create connections between electrical contacts, which can lead the circuits to short out and electrocute the ants causing them to release a scent that ants use to communicate that they are "under attack." The scent attracts even more ants.

Internet shutdown of the week: Yahoo has announced that it is shutting down the AltaVista search engine, one of the most popular pre-Google search engines, on July 8. It was created by researchers at Digital Equipment Corporation's Network Systems Laboratory and Western Research Laboratory. Yahoo bought it in 2003.

You look familiar: The Electronic Frontier Foundation last week filed a lawsuit to compel the FBI to produce records in response to Freedom of Information Act requests submitted a year ago. The records give details of the effort to build an advanced biometrics database, particularly its use of face-recognition software.

The new program will include multiple biometric identifiers, such as iris scans, palm prints, face-recognition-ready photos and voice data, and that information will be shared with other agencies at the local, state, federal and international levels. The face recognition component is set to launch in 2014.

Website of the week: As of Monday, Google shut down its popular RSS reader, Google Reader, leaving many, TechMan included, to find a substitute. Just in the nick of time, the news site Digg has unveiled a bare bones RSS reader at There are others such as Feedly, the Old Reader, NewsBlur and Newsvibe, but TechMan doesn't care about social sharing or bells and whistles. He just wants a quick way to know what is going on at sites that he in interested in and Digg Reader seems to fill the bill.

Geek word of the week: Prii, according to Toyota, is the plural of Prius.

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