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The Cuckoo's Egg (wikipedia.org)
14 points by whalesalad on Jan 29, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 10 comments

This is the only book I've read in a single sitting. I started at about 5p one day, and finished about 7am the next day. I seriously couldn't put it down. What's great about this book vs. a book like "Takedown" is the author doesn't pretend that he's a mastermind for being able to track down a criminal. He is quite humble and candid telling the story. I read the book probabaly 20 years ago, but one candid incident still pops into my head occasionally and always makes me smile. It's the time when his shoes were wet, but he had to meet with an FBI agent, so he put them in the microwave to dry, when the FBI agent arrived, he asked if there was a tire factory near by. Kinda sticks with me as there used to be a rubber factory near where I lived that had a pretty bad smell.

Same here, I read it all one Sunday.. couldn't put it down.

The Cuckoo's egg is a must read for anyone persuing a career in Devops or Security - It covers such a wide range of debugging techniques and ways to track down unusual behavior, that it's still a relevant read and great primer. The early anecdote about 'mirroring' the typing if his hacker by hooking up line printers to phone lines is particularly ingenious - using `tee` as a tool for the same effect has saved my hide many a time, and helped me understand complex systems. Introspecting median output is great tool (see also printf debugging).

On a different note, Cliff Stoll is himself a great dude, fun and witty and very friendly. I bought a Klein bottle[1] from him as a present for my father, who loves it, but the real treat was for me - I went in person, and he gladly took an hour of his time to show me his warehouse and custom robot he uses to manage it, and chatted about everything - Life, The Universe, his book and his business and software problems (I was at a videoconferencing startup, and he'd also done some work with telcos that proved relevant and illuminating). If you have a chance, buy a bottle and have a chat.


In the mid-1990s, I corresponded briefly with Cliff, and he seemed amicable enough; The one thing I recall from our emails is that he was adamant that he didn't persecute 'hackers', apparently pursuing a semantic split between 'hacker' and 'cracker'.

I talked a lot with Hans Hubner as well afterward when he worked at Art+COM, a good bit more than Cliff. I found Hans to be extremely generous, the sort of guy who was just flattered that you sought him out and would literally create an account on his Unix and VMS hosts if you just asked, despite the expensive metered rate he was paying for TCP/IP access at the time. He didn't talk much about the whole Cuckoo's Egg saga though.

Very nice people on both sides; Makes you wonder how much of it was circumstance.

"The book was chronicled in an episode of WGBH’s NOVA entitled “The KGB, the Computer, and Me”, which aired on PBS stations on October 3, 1990"

I think it's this one:


Oh,me I'm ROFL: an actor is identical to one of X-Files "Lone Gunmen". When he explains the beeper to his wife I needed the oxygen. It's like "Doctor Who vs hackers" :-)

Debugging of networks with logic analyzer, counting round trip with the oscilloscope's divisions, what glorious times ! :-)

I highly recommend this book. It's easily accessible, fun to watch the story spin out, and recalls the magic of early UNIX and dial-up internet. Cliff Stoll is quite a character - check out his TED talk to see what I mean.

"Early UNIX". Ouch. The events of the book took place in 1986, at which time UNIX was more or less like what we use today. Except for the absence of modern scripting languages, a modern user could use UNIX from 1986 with very little problem. I tend to think of "early UNIX" as things like V6 UNIX from the 1970s, but to be fair to you, much more time has passed from 1986 to now than did from the dawn of UNIX to 1986.

Fair point - as you say I was thinking more of the relative lengths of time before and after the events in the book happened (at least in my limited knowledge), but your interpretation of "early" is probably the one that most people would go with first.

I can still remember watching the NOVA episode of this in the early 90's


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