The Cuckoo’s Egg by Cliff Stoll

As I write this, I am listening to my Scott Joplin CD and in some ways I think that Cliff Stoll would find it fitting as this music fits his style of writing (i.e. lively and funny). This book is the story about how Stoll, an astronomer, foiled KGB backed computer hackers. Yes, this story is about computers and security, but don’t turn me off just yet; hang in there and let me tell you about it, before you make up your mind.

Now, if you are still with me, you probably want to know why I think that you should read a book about computer security. We’ll get to that in a minute. Right now, I want to tell you about the plot.

The story opens in 1986 to find Stoll on his first day as a system administrator for the UNIX mainframe housed at Keck Observatory. In an attempt to occupy him on his first day, his co-workers assigned him to find out why there was a $0.75 error in the system’s billing logs. The result: a search for an international hacker that Stoll, a moderately left wing hippie wannabe, spent the next year of his life trying to track down. For someone, who thought that the government was evil and that socialism was a good thing, there were some major hurdles coming his way. When theory met reality, Stoll discovered that he wasn’t so keen on socialistic sharing of information. As things snowballed, Stoll discovered to his surprise (and the disgust of his girlfriend and buddies) that he was talking with the CIA, NSA, FBI, Air Force OSI (Office of Special Investigations) and DOE. By the end of the chase, Stoll was giving reports and lectures to men and women from each of those departments as well as members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Stoll had many moments of crisis when he realized that there were good people in these “bad” organizations that served the well fare of our nation – normal people with families, friends and passions not just trench coats and sniper rifles.

Knowing that most people aren’t interested in topics like this, I wouldn’t bother to even mention this book but for two reasons. First, the principles that Stoll tries to teach the reader regarding computer security are even more important today than they were way back in the dark ages of the internet. (I remember those days; I feel old.)

Secondly, this book is genuinely funny and interesting. If you enjoy movies about criminal investigations, you will probably enjoy this. Stoll writes from a mixed first and third person point of view. Actually, this works quite well for him as it makes you feel as if you are his friend. Picture your best friend telling you a story about his vacation. This method of storytelling is exactly how Stoll writes. Even if you are bored with computers generally and find them confusing, I am fairly certain that you will find this book an easy and enjoyable read. (I mean, really, who puts their chocolate chip cookie recipe in the foot notes?)

Just one warning; Cliff Stoll is not a Christian. He has no problems dropping in swear words if it is an accurate representation of the facts. There aren’t too many of these, but there are some (the worst in the first chapter). I would rate this title as a PG-13. Stoll also lives with his girlfriend and another female roommate. Their morals are not acceptable, but Stoll doesn’t spend much time detailing these.

So what are your thoughts? Is this a title that would interest you? Why or why not?

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Living the Cross Centered Life by C. J. Mahaney

Gospel. What a word that is so filled with hope it’s essentially profound. How often do you stop and think about it? What does the word “gospel” mean to you? It wasn’t that long ago when I thought of the word as something you gave to a sinner. They hear the gospel, act on it, become saved, and voila! Christianity sets in. I thought of it simply as a beginning, the very first stepping stone in this journey of faith.

How very little of the depths of the immense wonder of this word did I understand. The gospel is so much more. The gospel: it’s the main thing. It is the profound reality of God’s great love for you and me summarized in a 6-letter word.

In our never-ending desire to move forward and make sure that everything we think, say, and do is relevant to modern living, too many of us have stopped concentrating on the wonders of Jesus crucified.

I opened C.J. Mahaney’s, Living the Cross Centered Life at a time when my faith wasn’t feeling very resolute. I had been looking at modern Christianity around me and found it stuck in a box. People were complying to rules and regulations and clinging to their leaders as sovereign masters. The church had ceased from being a sanctuary and had become a mold. Everyone was coming out looking, acting and thinking the same.

I wondered where or how I fit in. In the confusion this created in my mind, my passionate love for God became numb.

But then I began to read this book. The very first thing Mahaney did was challenge the core of my life. He asked what it was; he wondered what it was that defines me. What was the passion of my life? What consumed me? What did I love to talk and think about? What was of first importance? Now he had me thinking.

In the pages and chapters that followed, Mahaney took my hand and led me to Calvary. He picked up the cross of my bleeding Savior and raised it before my eyes, slamming it into the ground on Golgatha. This, he emphasized, was the only essential thing.

I realized I was conforming to a mold other than the cross. I had known the cross was necessary, the initial starting point. I had left my burdens at Calvary, and experienced salvation. But then I had moved forward. I descended the hill that Christ suffered on. Unbeknownst to me, I was moving away from it, and leaving it behind me.

In a poignant manner, C.J. Mahaney took me on a journey. He escorted me to the agony of Gethsamane. He strikingly portrayed the suffering of my Savior and there I stood in horrific awe of the agony He endured. The utter evil, hate and anger of the mob that surged around Him as He was unjustly condemned filled me with indignation. But then Mahaney pointed to somebody in the crowd, and I saw myself.

Unless you see yourself standing there with the shrieking crowd, full of hostility and hatred for the holy and innocent Lamb of God, you don’t really understand the nature and depth of your sin or the necessity of the cross.

I was the guilty one, but He was the one who stood condemned. He went to Calvary and bore my guilt because He loved me.

This book points you to the cross, and makes you never leave its shadow. It renews your perspective and helps you understand that the true Christian life is not centered on our good, but on His cross.

And there, at the foot of the cross, is hope, joy and holiness that can be found no where else. It’s His blood, His righteousness, and apart from His cross we are absolutely nothing. That is the main thing, and must be the very core of our lives.

If there were a book I would recommend to any Christian, it would be this one. Once I started reading it I found it difficult to put down. C.J. Mahaney is not only an eloquent author, but he has a powerful message that we all need to hear over and over and over again.

We all face disappointments and difficult circumstances; we all experience trials and suffering. But understanding the gospel lets us marvel at God’s love regardless of our circumstances.

I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I do know this: Because of the cross, I’ll be doing much better than I deserve. That’s why, for the rest of my life, I want only to move deeper into the wonderful mystery of God’s love for me.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Suspense. Murder. Romance. This book has it all. It is a thrilling novel to read. The style in which the book is written is very different than most authors. The book opens up with the end of the story and then goes back to the beginning of the story to explain the circumstances found in the beginning of the book.

Rebecca is a story of a young orphaned American girl, who, while traveling in Europe, meets a man considerably older than herself. They end up getting married within the month, and the girl goes to live with her new husband in his manor house on the shores of Southern England. The girl’s name is never revealed even though the story is told through her eyes.

This is how the story goes:

The girl gets married to a man she literally just met on vacation. She knows there is something about him that is strange. There are signs of a woman in his life before she came into his life. The former wife’s name, she finds out, is Rebecca. For some reason, everywhere she turns, Rebecca seems to pervade throughout all areas of her new life with her husband. Numerous events happen when her and her husband’s relationship is strained because of something pertaining to Rebecca. Then the bombshell hits. It comes out that her husband killed Rebecca through an accidental discovery in the bay that the manor house overlooked. Efforts are made to re-cover up the murder and cover up that it even was a murder. Their efforts are rewarded. Her husband gets away with the murder, but with the consequences of being left without a permanent home. This is the point at which the beginning of the book makes sense.

All in all, it is a book worth reading, even though it is not by a Christian author. There are a few things that one must be forewarned about, though. Freudian thought permeates the book. There are no lewd or sexual scenes, but a murder scene is described by one of the characters in detail. Also, be careful to look out for themes throughout the book. The book is more clear and understandable if the reader identifies the different themes throughout the book. Younger readers may not understand the book because the content is somewhat geared towards an older audience that understands Freud’s theories.

A Crown For Elizabeth by Mary M. Luke

Most teenagers avoid biographies like the plague: including me, until I found this one. Part two of a three-book series on the Tudor dynasty of England, “A crown for Elizabeth,” is an exciting rendition of the famous monarch’s youth.

Plot: The history of the Tudor dynasty, from Henry VII’s battle for the crown to the crowning of his great-grand-daughter Elizabeth I as queen of England. The events at the beginning are given in less detail, but are overviewed (in case you haven’t read book 1). The bulk of the story starts just before the death of Henry VIII: yes, that was THE King Henry the 8th, of six-wives fame. His life seems boring compared to this stretch of Elizabeth I’s life . Plots and counter plots, imprisonments and spies, battles galore, not to mention the religious struggles of an England under changing monarcial leanings, all centered around the young lady who began as an ignored third child in line to the throne, and ended with the whole court rallying to her as her sister Mary dies (which, for reasons you’d have to read the book to understand, Elizabeth finds discouraging).

Pluses: The Reformation and the political and economical implications of it are gone into in depth (albeit from a non-Reform perspective, but the overall historical detail is incredible. Explains a lot of the wars and battles that followed). Also, many moral points are made by example as the consequences of Henry VIII’s famous infidelity play out in the lives of his children. The mechanical workings of the English government at the time also get some inadvertent screen time. I know this all sounds highly intellectual, but these details are explained as part of the understanding of what happened. And that makes the Tudor dynasty seem exciting. The glory of this biography, though, lies in the mini-biographies it present of the peripheral characters. Basically everyone connected to Elizabeth is given interesting details (one example: Phillip II of Spain, who tried to woo Elizabeth shortly after marrying her older sister. Yes, the same Phillip II who sent the famous Spanish Armada against England. History is so much more INTERESTING when you know the whole story, isn’t it?), and become 3-D characters in a play with more twists and turns than the most complex soap-opera.

Minuses: Some descriptions of torture and execution methods used back then, though not overt or graphic. Martial relations and infidelity are referenced, and bawdy humor mentioned though not explained in detail. Extreme religious bias is noted, though mostly in original documents that are reprinted in the book and as a way of explaining a particular person’s view of the situation at the time.

Overall: Highly recommended. The most fascinating book I have read in a long time. Becoming queen is harder than it looks: you have to survive to get the crown.

Brewster’s Millions by George Barr McCutcheon

Millionaire’s Memo
Current Balance: $1,000,000
To Do: Get rid of it all in one year

Sound crazy? It’s exactly the quandary facing the hero of George Barr McCutcheon’s turn-of-the-century novel Brewster’s Millions. Montgomery Brewster is a young professional content to work his way up the business ladder the usual way—one rung at a time. However, on the night of his twenty-fifth birthday, he suddenly finds himself the recipient of a one million dollar inheritance from his deceased grandfather.

This changes his life, but an even bigger surprise lies shortly ahead for both Monty and his readers. An unknown uncle of his dies, and leaves the young man seven million dollars—if… Oh yes, there’s an if, a rather big one. Montgomery Brewster will become a multi-millionaire if he is literally penniless on his 26th birthday. Thus, Monty must spend the original million in a year’s time.

What would you do with that kind of money? Monty struggles with this question under the additional stipulations that he is not allowed to just give it away and that he can tell no one of his goal. If that were not enough, he quickly discovers that everything he invests in profits—even shares in an oil company about to go bust! Figuratively speaking, he has the golden touch!

The misadventures that ensue are hilarious and thought-provoking, as he throws himself into the task with gusto. He gives several lavish parties, spends countless thousands on flowers for a girl he thinks he loves, and eventually takes his friends on a sea voyage around half the globe. His rather bumbling attempts at romance add another twist to the story, with its own laughs and heartbreak. By the time he has reached the final months of his quest, he has found who his real friends are (the ones who stick with him even when they think he’s crazy), and given us a few lessons in finances (no joke!) and friendship. Adventure, comedy, and a little touch of mystery make this buoyant book an enjoyable read all the way through.

This book is not strictly Christian, but that does not mean that it lacks morals. It is actually quite descent (probably because it was published in 1902), and though Monty is not flawless, his strength of character is ground and sharpened throughout his trials. He emerges throughout the story as having a very solid and admirable character. There are many instances of drinking and smoking, and some readers may not appreciate the countless parties Monty throws. One needs to remember, however, that this book is not set in modern time and such parties in high-class circles were not the shameful affairs they often are today. There are also a few instances of violence (including a scene where a man is shot in order to rescue the life of a young woman), and some mild profanities are uttered throughout. A little mature for younger audiences, but still a good read-aloud if the narrator is willing to be wary.