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Second paragraph of third chapter:
Today, these accelerators are obsolete—their mega-electron volt energies long surpassed by giga-electron volt particle colliders. They're no longer winning Nobel prizes, but physicists and graduate students still wait six months for time on an accelerator beamline. After all, our accelerators are fine for studying exotic nuclear particles and searching out new forms of matter, with esoteric names like quark-gluon plasmas or pion condensates. And when the physicists aren't using them, the beams are used for biomedical research, including cancer therapy.
The 1980s were more innocent times than ours. This is the first-person account of how Stoll, an astrophysics graduate turned sysadmin at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, spotted unauthorised access to the departmental VAX one day in 1986 and set off on a detective trail that eventually led to Cold War hacking and espionage. One has to admire his forensic attention to detail, in the face of apathy from the USA's own intelligence and security services and the constant threat of being told to get on with his day job by his bosses; but it's also extraordinary to reflect on how things have changed, in that there would be no difficulty now in getting a government agency to pay attention to hacking on this scale; there would be no legal difficulty in bringing a prosecution; the technical tools to track down hackers are much better developed; and the big international threat to cybersecurity is not in Russia but further east. Still, it's a great book.

We actually came across it because Stoll's day job now is to make Klein bottles, and we got young F a woolly one for Christmas. But a little further investigation turned up this book which also looked like a good bet; and indeed it was.

This came to the top of three of my lists simultaneously: the most popular unread book on my shelves acquired in 2015, the most popular non-fiction book on my shelves, and the top recommendation from you guys. Next respectively in those sequences are Tales from the Secret Annexe, by Anne Frank; Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, by Svetlana Alexievich; and Tove Jansson: Work and Love, by Tuula Karjalainen.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 19th, 2016 05:17 pm (UTC)
I was organizing the science track for the 1991 Worldcon when, somewhat to my surprise, Cliff Stoll volunteered to speak. I was eager to have him, because I was planning a bunch of program items about networking and the social implications of computer use. I had an inkling these might be important in the future. (The Web had been invented the previous year, but I hadn't heard about it yet.)

I also put Bruce Schneier, Mike Godwin, Eric Raymond, and Steve Jackson-- whose game-publishing company had recently been raided by authorities-- on the program.

Cliff gave a wonderful presentation about the Cuckoo's Egg affair in his uniquely antic style.

Another thing from that weekend: After he arrived, Cliff mentioned that an old friend had recently moved to Chicago, someone he was trying to persuade to attend the Worldcon. As he described his pal, a fellow astronomer who had recently become a Jesuit, a light began to dawn. I'd had no idea Cliff Stoll knew Guy Consolmagno. And no idea that Guy, having passed through the novitiate, had landed in the Windy City!.

This was terrific news; Brother Guy, who I knew slightly, was to spend a couple of years here, allowing us to get to know one another much better.

Chicon V's Program Ops even managed to find a spot on a panel for Guy on extremely short notice.

It turned out to be a pretty good science track.
Jul. 19th, 2016 07:36 pm (UTC)

I read The Cuckoo's Egg in my mid-teens, at a formative age. The copy I have was published in 1991. I was just starting to find out about Unix and the Internet - I also have a copy of Eric Raymond's New Hacker's Dictionary (aka The Jargon File) published in the same year, and my copy of The C Programming Language has a school prize bookplate from 1992.

(See my tweet for a picture of my copy of Stoll's book :-)

I can't remember where I found out about The Cuckoo's Egg - a magazine article? a bookshop? There was just starting to be a trickle of articles about the Internet in computer magazines, which I followed avidly...

I spent my gap year, 1993-1994, discovering Usenet culture rather than doing what I should have been - I probably wouldn't have even known about Usenet without these books and mags.

And from that, I met many of my friends, and my wife.

I remember it being a cracking story, but I don't think I have read it in the last 20 years. I should read it again to remind myself :-)

(Stoll's TED talk is good, too)

Edited at 2016-07-19 07:39 pm (UTC)

Jul. 19th, 2016 11:23 pm (UTC)
I read this for the first time at the start of this year (a Christmas gift from my brother) and was captivated; glad it caught your interest too. I'll be passing through Brussels en route to Bruges and back in the next week, if there's any chance of catching up?
Jul. 20th, 2016 02:56 am (UTC)
I saw the Nova episode first and have a memory that they showed Cliff and his girlfriend together in the shower when one of his alarms went off...or something. I finally tracked the DVD or VHS tape years later and that scene was no longer there!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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