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Bottling Clifford Stoll

Cliff Stoll is handing out Klein bottles. Including Klein bottle wine bottles. If our universe had four spatial dimersions, it couldn’t hold wine, but fortunately, our world has three spatial dimensions, and it can.

Stoll is a legendary white hat hacker and now a legendary techno-skeptic. He’s not showing powerpoint slides, but actual photos on a flatbed camera system. We see photos of Stoll with Robert Moog, and he mourns the great man’s passing.

Stoll now teaches eight grade science four times a week – his way of standing on the front lines and making sure that real education is being done at the middle school level. He tries to teach undergrad-level physics to eight graders, not using calculus, but using really good experiments.

Recently, Stoll’s students measured the speed of light in the lab, and got within a 25% margin of error, which is pretty astounding. That’s a bit much for us to set up on the stage, but we do get to measure the speed of sound.

Stoll generates a tone – about 1760 Hz – and fires up an oscilicope which shows the wave generated, and the waveform of the sounds picked up by a microphone. He puts the microphone right by the speaker of the osciliscope – the peaks of the two waves align. He moves the microphone far enough so that the peaks are one off from another. He measures the distance he’s moved the microphone – 20cm – and shows an equation written on his hand – frequency times wavelength = constant… the speed of sound. 1760 Hz times 20 cm equals 353 meters per second… which he figures out using a slide rule. (The speed of sounds is actually 340.29 m/s, but hey, that’s pretty good for an impromptu experiment.)

It’s clear that Stoll is more than a little mad, as he tells a story about being chased across UC Berkeley by teargas-throwing cops… but also clear that he’s more passionate about science than many people are about their own children, and that’s an amazing thing.

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