What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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The Cuckoo’s Egg
by Clifford Stoll

Field-Tested by Jake Walker

on an international flight

When I pack for a long distance, international trip, I try to minimize weight, working towards the lofty and usually unreachable goal of carrying on my luggage and being the first to clear customs. The last thing I think of, usually as I'm headed out the door, is “What in the world am I going to do for x hours?”

The only answer, of course, is to read a book. And when that question arises, most people would grab a new book, something interesting they've been dying to read. Not me. I go for the same book, every time. That book is Clifford Stoll's The Cuckoo's Egg.

The Cuckoo's Egg is the story of a very geeky astronomer who accidentally gets a job working in a Berkley computer lab. His first assignment is to track down a minor accounting error (this is back in the day when departments would pay for time on a “supercomputer”). Before you know it, our awkward hippie hero is making friends with “spooks” and helping to track down a ring of communist spies who are invading military computers using the Berkeley network. He enters a world where he's told by one spy to send some paperwork to: “Teejay, 20505. It'll reach me.”

It's a true Cold War story that weaves through the world of Unix and the early Internet. In fact, the book is full of very technical details of how the hacking happens, but it's done in a way that anyone can understand. That it's true outweighs the fact that it happened in a different era; it is immensely believable and extremely captivating. Pardon the cliche: it is a book I can't put down.

And it's a good thing too. Have you ever tried to sleep on an international flight? Impossible.

Jake Walker is a partner in The Show and was called “the nine-year-old Andy Rooney,” by one of the seven listeners to his 1991 radio show, “Jake Speaks Out.”

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