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Nontrepeneur: Clifford Stoll

This essay is part of a series on nontrepeneurship.

Cliff Stoll is an astronomer, educator, and klein bottle salesman.

You know you're a nontrepeneur when you have to clarify that your business is not a joke:

Yes, there are many math jokes on this website, but despite that, I really do sell Klein bottles

-- Cliff Stoll

[any profits go directly into Zoe & Danny's College and/or Bail fund]

-- kleinbottle.com

Lesson: How vs. Why

It's not knowing the answer that's fun for me.

-- Cliff Stoll

By hunting down the source of a $0.25 accounting error, Cliff Stoll unraveled an international conspiracy. He tells the entire story here -- it's one of my favorite videos on the internet.

Business and engineering departments ask "how": how to build a product, how to find customers, how to raise profits, etc.

But the pursuit of curiosity -- asking "why" -- is often unprofitable and impractical. As a result, knowledge itself becomes your bottom line, and play becomes your sharpest tool.

Lesson: Preparation vs. Improvisation

Seeking a topological solution to the global financial crisis? Help the world economy by purchasing an Acme Klein bottle!

-- kleinbottle.com

What do you when you're broke, when you're stupid, and when you're discouraged? It seems to me that's the situation that we always find ourselves in.

Think of your own experience: you never find yourself with too much money, being too smart, with a huge mandate -- that never happens. There's no client anywhere that's going to fund you that way.

In other words, you're doing the right thing.

-- Cliff Stoll

He accidentally pioneered the field of cybersecurity by building a device to snoop on proto-internet traffic and log activity via stolen printers..

He turned his home's crawlspace into a warehouse and built a forklift robot from a car door's window motor.

Lofty goals demand funding, R&D, market research, hiring, business strategy, etc.

But Cliff Stoll plays at the human-scale. He doesn't blame the universe for defying expectations. He doesn't bemoan a lack of knowledge or resources.

For people with purpose, everything is already enough.