Adventures in topology: The Cuckoo’s Egg and meeting Cliff Stoll

I recently finished up reading “The Cuckoo’s Egg” by Cliff Stoll. It was a fascinating story that details some of the first examples of computer hacking and computer forensics.

This post isn’t a review of his book, however! It’s more to document some adventures that resulted after reading it.

First, a quick summary:

In 1986, Cliff Stoll was  an astronomer working at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory when he was tasked to look into a $0.75 discrepancy in compute time billed to physicists and other scientists who remotely connected to their machines.

What resulted was a year long wild-goose chase that ended up in the arrest of a KGB operative in Germany who remotely connected to university computers in the United States in order to gain access to military networks through ARPANET (precursor to the Internet of today).

Cliff wrote a book about his experience that went on to become a best seller. For fans of esoteric computer history, this was one of the first documented examples of hacking and marked the beginning of computer forensics. This book was published 35 years ago and deals with (now) antiquated technology that the young ones around here know nothing about — but oh wow, did I thoroughly enjoy this!

Anyway! That’s not why I’m here. I’m here, because I keep seeing his name pop up in various places (more recently Hacker News). A post mentioned his TED talk in 2008. It’s a hoot — and pretty inspiring, too!

One person mentioned that he makes Klein Bottles (an interesting manifold that ends up being a container with zero volume, as it only has a single surface) out of his home in… North Oakland. Oh, he also enjoys visitors.

Oh, really?!

The Klein Bottles are a really interesting object and have been a fun talking point with friends. I ended up purchasing a Klein Bottle from Cliff and asked if I could pick it up, since I live nearby. He happily obliged.

I ended up bringing our oldest kiddo and we had an absolute blast. He spent an hour with us, showing some of the artistic stuff he’s been working on (mathematical quilts!), showing off various gadgets he’s made (a fun device that draws images on his shipping boxes using Sharpies — an automated personal touch), and letting my kiddo drive the remote controlled robot he built that runs under his crawl space (!).

Just an absolutely memorable time. Thanks so much, Cliff!

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