Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.

Cuckoo’s Egg

A friend recently loaned me a copy of The Cuckoo’s Egg. The book is a narrative account of the real life experiences of Cliff Stoll, an LBL astronomer that unwittingly starts tracking a spy hacking into LBL’s computers. While Stoll is professionally trained as an astronomer, through experience, he starts gaining expertise in the then nonexistant field of network security. Despite his efforts to continue as an astronomer, he is drawn into this world that eventually causes him to collaborate with federal agencies like the FBI, CIA, and NSA. People start to view Stoll as a computer expert as he gets more involved in finding a hacker disguised as a legitimate user in his system.

Sometimes life takes us in directions where we do not have professional training. However, as we gain experience and competence, we can overcome this lack of a formal education. Past a certain threshold, we may even be able to talk with professionals without letting on that we are amateurs.

The title of Stoll’s account comes from the fact that cuckoos lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and hope that these birds will hatch the eggs for them. Strangely enough, this piece of ornithology was taught to me in an information theory class.


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