TechMan Texts: Take advice from the National Security Agency

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Out-of-date spy book of the week: The National Security Agency, which monitors and records all types of foreign communications coming into the U.S. searching for terrorist plots, has put out a manual for searching the Web.

Well, put out is not quite the right phrase, because the super-secret NSA won't tell you anything about what they are doing with your tax money unless forced to.

The 643-page manual, developed for NSA official use, was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed in April by a website that charges fees to process public records.

Tech Talk: Another technology edition of 'Jeopardy'

This week on "Tech Talk," Ced Kurtz and Laura Schneiderman play technology "Jeopardy." (Video by Melissa Tkach; 5/13/2013)

The manual is filled with rather pedestrian advice for using search engines, the Internet Archive and other online tools. The chapter titled "Google Hacking" is the most interesting and has a few tricks. For example, the book says you can find spreadsheets full of passwords in Russian by typing "filetype:xls site:ru login." Why you would want spreadsheets full of Russian passwords is another question.

Some of the advice might seem dated as the manual was last modified in 2007. A free copy is available at

Website of the week: Last week Time magazine debuted a feature that shows time-lapse satellite imagery taken over 30 years. The images at are nothing less than stunning. You can see Dubai grow into the water from a barren coast, Las Vegas consume the desert or glaciers shrink.

The technique is partly based on the CMU-developed Gigapan Time Machine. Carnegie Mellon's Randy Sargent, who splits his time between the Create Lab and his duties as a visiting researcher at Google, played a key role.

Futility of the week: I've written before about Texan Cody Wilson, 25, whose website published the files for making guns with a 3-D printer. The State Department has ordered the website to remove what are believed to be the world's first such online instructions. Although the plans were up only a few days, they have been downloaded 100,000 times.

The plans now appear on many websites and are being offered by the infamous file sharing site Pirate Bay. Once something escapes onto the Internet, it is futile to try to eradicate it.

Surveillance of the week: A bill sponsored by Pittsburgh Councilman Ricky Burgess to install technology to detect gunshots in the East End area centered around Homewood passed last week, Moriah Balingit reported in the Post-Gazette. Called Shotspotter and made by SST Inc., the audio part of the system has been successfully used in other cities.

SST will provide maintenance and monitoring services for $150,000 a year. Another company will install $1 million worth of pan-tilt-zoom cameras that can be operated remotely. About 20 cameras and 15 to 18 gunshot detectors per square mile will be installed.

Gunshot-detection technology was developed in the early 1990s by a seismologist applying earthquake monitoring techniques.

Audio sensors placed on buildings can pinpoint any gunshot and allow police to instantly know the caliber, number, location, speed and direction of shots. Obviously, if the system reduces gun violence, it is a good thing. But it is another device watching, and in this case listening, to us.

Geek term of the week: Sparroware: Pirated version of software. Named after Jack Sparrow from "Pirates of the Caribbean."


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