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This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site

Clifford Stoll, The Sceptical Sysadmin

I remember Clifford Stoll well from a 1990 documentary about his hunt for a cracker who’d broken into military networks (as told in The Cuckoo’s Egg). Cliff’s a quirky, enthusiastic storyteller, and it was a groundbreaking case, so the TV programme is still worth watching on YouTube (look in Related Videos for parts 2-6).

But he’s not the computer-lovin’ hacker type you might expect; in fact, Cliff Stoll was sceptical, even scathing, about the use and promotion of computers. I recently stumbled upon a talk he gave in 1996, in which he passionately warns against focussing on getting computers into schools, instead promoting the need for effective teachers. I think he underestimated the extent that computers would integrate into commerce and communications, but some of his concerns about education and society were sensible. Even an anti-social geek like me doesn’t want kids to be sat in front of screens all day, or branded as failures if they’re not into computers.

Nowadays, Cliff sells Klein bottles, raises his kids and teaches physics. In some ways it’s a shame he doesn’t have a blog or podcast, as I think he’d be entertaining and offer a fresh perspective… but then he’d have less time for parenting and teaching, which is kind of the point he was making, right?


Cliff Stoll could so easily have cashed in on his notoriety all throughout the nineties, but he didn't. A man to look up to, indeed.

I used to see him around Berkeley all the time when I was in school. He was my hero, but I knew better than to bug him.

— Max, 20th Sep, 4:30pm

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