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The Prince of Pain
The Prize

University Communications

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Fall 1997
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Or, how close friendships, unbridled audacity and the pioneering spirit made UCLA the first site on the Internet and the New Frontier of computer networking

By Matthew Lyon
Illustrations by Monica Gesue

Steve Crocker '68, Ph.D. ‘77 was still a teenager at Van Nuys High School in the late 1950s when he received permission to use the computer lab at the University of California, Los Angeles. Crocker had a natural affinity for math and science -- by age 13 he had taught himself the elements of calculus, and before he completed 10th grade, he had mastered the rudiments of computer programming.

"I remember being thrilled when I finally understood the concept of a loop," Crocker says. "Loops enabled the computer to proceed with a very lengthy sequence of operations with relatively few instructions. I was a bit callow, but I remember thinking this was the kind of revelation that must have led Archimedes to run down the street naked, yelling, ‘Eureka!'"

By his senior year at Van Nuys High, Crocker was taking courses at UCLA. On weekends, he would trek to campus to use the university computer. Often he brought along his best friend, Vint Cerf M.S. '70, Ph.D. ‘72, another precocious kid from the Van Nuys High math club. Crocker and Cerf soon became fixtures in the lab; their presence there at any hour, day or night, wouldn't have raised a single eyebrow.

But when they arrived one Saturday in 1960 the computer building was locked, and no one was around to let them in. "I couldn't see any choice but to give up and go home," Crocker recalls. Then the pair spotted an open second-story window. They looked at each other. And before either of them could give it a second thought, Cerf had climbed onto Crocker's shoulders and into the building. Once inside, the boys put tape over a door latch so they could come and go all day. "When the Watergate burglars did the same thing a dozen years later and got caught," says Crocker, "I shuddered."


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