Cliff Stoll, the beautiful glass-blown nerd

While eagerly demonstrating my feelings to my significant other, I stumbled on the wonderful character of Clifford Stoll, of astronomy and computer science fame, who now sells glass Klein bottles in the most amazingly adorable fashion.

I’m not romantic by the usual meaning. I hate flowers, surprises, and shopping, whether for myself or anyone else, I don’t dance in public nor drink at all and I know diamonds are a scam. So my options are severely limited when it comes to materially professing my feelings to my significant other.

However, if I get an inkling about something she may like, it’s usually easy for me to jump on the occasion and liberally spend my money attention, knowing that it will be well-received. And when my partner directly provides me the website and the specific product she’d like, I will make the purchase in under an hour.

The product? Glass Klein bottle earrings. Klein bottles are a topological curiosity with all sorts of interesting mathematical properties, and pretty much no practical properties, especially not to contain any liquid. They’re just pretty and useless, which makes them perfect earring material.

The website? ACME Klein bottle. In an Internet world full of bloated websites with tons of Javascript and polished designs, this hand-crafted HTML website1 with a non-design from 1995 felt both refreshing and a little sketchy. I was determined to get to the bottom of this Klein bottle (spoiler, there’s none), so I ordered the earrings, through Paypal to be able to contest the transaction if the website was indeed sketchy.

Oh, how wrong I was. The very next day, I received a couple of wonderfully quirky emails about the Klein Bottle earrings to tell me they were on their way from a certain Cliff Stoll. Yes, this Clifford Stoll. The second email contained 12 pictures of the earrings, inside his shop or outside in his flower garden, inside and outside their packaging, with and without Stoll in the picture.

The package itself was filled with funny mathematical pamphlets (that he calls “topological agitprop”) about the properties of the Klein bottle, decals and stickers. The Wikipedia page for Clifford Stoll taught me that he made a series of appearances on the Numberphile mathematics show, and one of their videos is dedicated to his Klein bottle business involving a homemade remote-controlled mini forklift to retrieve boxes from his stash of hundreds of Klein bottles in the crawlspace under his own house.

Since this excellent interaction with my partner we’ve bought a couple more bottles from Stoll, one for her father, and one for my friend who I know will appreciate this weird and wonderful gift, and we’ve happily received yet more delightful pictures, of full size Klein bottles this time.

I didn’t know Clifford Stoll a week ago, and I’m already in love with him.

Godspeed you, beautiful nerd!

  1. ^ For all its charming superficial simplicity, the website still loads a first-party-hosted CloudFlare fingerprinting Javascript library, browser beware.

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