Trying to work out why some people think Kevin Mitnick is a hero

Free Kevin bumper sticker, advocating release ...
Free Kevin bumper sticker, advocating release of Kevin Mitnick (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the last six months I have been spending a fair bit of time in the gym – I am getting older and I need to lose weight and increase fitness.

In truth, I quite enjoy it in general, but there are moments when I want to stop just because running on the same spot on a treadmill is essentially not that exciting. And recently I have been upping my endurance and pace (from walking to slow running, that is), and the biggest challenge to keeping that up and extending it can feel like beating the boredom, not passing through any physical barrier.

So, I thought I’d try an audio book as a way of overcoming the running-in-one-spot-blues. The one I wanted –The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation – exists but I am banned from buying in the UK (so much for the free market), so I decided to try Ghost In The WiresKevin Mitnick‘s (ghost written) autobiography.

Now, I have listened to about an hour of this and I am really struggling to understand why so many people see Mitnick as a hero. So far he’s only 17 but has already described his engagement in sexual harassment, behaviour which got his mother’s phone cut off and general all-round anti-social unpleasantness.

I am not into lcoking people up and throwing away the key, especially for crimes against property which have minimal impact (after all if you steal a piece of software source code you don’t automatically diminish the utility of the code to the original user). But I think I would find it hard to be angry on Mitnick’s behalf. Perhaps greater injustice will be revealed as the book goes on, but so far Mitnick just sounds like a poorly socialised boor.

Hexxed – back again

My hex editor, Hexxed, is starting to take shape again after I more or less abandoned the first effort due to messy GUI code.

I won’t claim the model I am using now is perfect, but I found making use of the observer software pattern, along with the Java/Groovy JTable and JTableModel code has helped create a cleaner code base.

You can follow the code at GitHub –

FatFonts – coming to an infographic near you?

Infographics are familiar to most heavy users of the internet and in my professional life I have recommended clients make more use of them to convey complex arguments and statistics to the wider world.

FatFont mapping of Mount EtnaNow, reports New Scientist (the article seems currently only to be available to subscribers) info graphics could be given extra impact through “FatFont” – a numeric font developed at the University of St Andrews in Fife and the University of Calgary. In this the weight (inked area) of the font is proportional to the size of the number – hence 2 has twice as much inked area as 1 (within the same overall area for the numbers – see the photograph of Sicily and Mount Etna being mapped with FatFonts).

The advantage, say the developers is that it allows both broad information – Mount Etna looks darker because it is higher – and precise data (here to a precision of 1 – 99) to be combined (overall the system works for range 1 – 999). So it could be ideal for both those scanning a graphic out of casual interest and those looking for reusable and accurate data.

FontFonts are now to be tested with users and compared to alternative methods such as heat maps.

Bring Up The Bodies and Wolf Hall and a scientific mystery

Cover of Bring Up the BodiesI have just finished reading the fantastic Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel‘s telling of the story of the rise of Thomas Cromwell and the coming of the English reformation: a marvellous book that does what the best historical fiction must – makes us understand that the people of the past were just the same as ourselves.

Handily this leaves me with just a few days before the publication of the sequel, Bring up the Bodies, the story of Cromwell’s role in the downfall and destruction of Anne Boleyn which the early enthusiastic reviews on Amazon suggest is an even better novel.

But Wolf Hall does also point towards a scientific mystery – the rise and disappearance of the “English sweating sickness“.

This fever killed many thousands of people (including most of Cromwell’s family) in the late 15th and then 16th centuries, mainly (as the name suggests) in England (though Ireland was also badly affected and there were several outbreaks in continental Europe also) before seemingly disappearing without a trace.

Several different causes have been postulated – including spread by lice and ticks – but nothing is conclusive.

The problem with reading about these sort of things is that it is very easy to quickly become quite scared by them: human understanding of viruses is still quite rudimentary in many ways and the risk that our era could be struck down by a mystery disease is a real one. The rapid decline in the effectiveness of anti-bacterial vaccination adds to sense of fear.