An expression of Elegance; Base 3 math

27 May 2015

I have been playing around with the Balanced Ternary number system. I gave a talk at DC4420 on Monday night on this, and I am posting the presentation slides up here for anyone interested.

Presentation (pdf)

The further reading links on the last slide are:

Wikipedia Page

Paper by Brian Hayes

Hackaday Project

Paper on a Balanced Ternary adder circuit design (pdf)

More evidence that bulk snooping dosent work

27 April 2015

But little came of the Stellarwind tips. In 2004, the F.B.I. looked at a sampling of all the tips to see how many had made a “significant contribution” to identifying a terrorist, deporting a terrorism suspect, or developing a confidential informant about terrorists.

Just 1.2 percent of the tips from 2001 to 2004 had made such a contribution. Two years later, the F.B.I. reviewed all the leads from the warrantless wiretapping part of Stellarwind between August 2004 and January 2006. None had proved useful.

Article on IMSI Catchers and Stingrays

24 April 2015

I have been helping a proper journalist, Brady Dale, write a article on the use and abuse of Stingrays and other IMSI catchers. It turned out quite well. It is up on Motherboard.

Open Streetmap v Google smackdown

24 April 2015

While everybody seems to be using Google maps, the quality of the maps in Open Streetmaps has quietly surged ahead. Now the detail and useful information on OSM easily beets Google into the covers. Here is a simple example of a location in Reading that I know well.

osm screenshot

Open Streetmap of and area in Reading UK

google map screenshot

Google maps of the same location


The street names are there in the Google version, and one or two building outlines. Bus stops are in both, but in OSM these all have labels. Many more amenities are in OSM that Google, and they probably score equally on businesses. I would have thought that Google would have many more businesses, but perhaps these are not all displayed in trying to keep the map clean.

Try it yourself and see if you can find an area where Google is better!

Fridge lighting hack

14 April 2015
With the new LED lighting

After: The fridge with the new LED lighting strip installed.

It took way longer that it should, but I have managed to complete my LED fridge lighting project. This was to replace the single bulb at the top of the fridge with a strip of LED lights around the top and sides of the fridge. I found an old power supply I think it was a laptop brick, that would do 12 volts reasonably. Replaced the IEC connector with a screw connector, and presented the 12v output on PCB mount screw connectors.

Before the change

Before: The fridge with the original incandescent light at the top.

Next was a replacement cover, this I designed in OpenSCAD to cover over the power supply and replace the moulded lamp cover that was there before. Then an 10 hour 3D print run to create the cover. Although there were a few minor mistakes the cover worked pretty well first time so I didn’t have to do a reprint.

The LED lighting is a big improvement, the whole fridge is illuminated and because the light is coming from different angles no shadows, and even illumination. The only down side is that the power supply can take a second to come up after opening the door. The fridge does have a temperature management system and a LCD display, so presumably there is some low voltage floating around there, that I could have used. But that would have meant much more disassembly and potential breakage of the fridge.

DRIP letter part 2

27 February 2015
I got a reply to my previous email to my MP Alok Sharma, with a note from James Brokenshaw, basically reiterating the the well publicised position of the government on the DRIP act. I wont type all of this in here, but here is my response to this.

Dear Alok Sharma

Thanks for the response to my letter from James Brokenshire of the home office. This appears to be a form letter reiterating the government position, rather that a response to any of my issues. It was also good to chat briefly to you when you called at my house a couple of weeks ago.

I get the impression you don’t fully grasp the importance of this. The internet at the moment is the preferred tool of communication for many in some circumstances, but it is rapidly becoming the only way of communication for many things. For the UK to prosper it is essential that individuals and businesses can operate here in a secure manner.

I noted that your response was a physical letter, and so not subject to electronic surveillance, or retention. Why should there be such a vast difference in the government and police powers depending on the medium of communication?

I and most people would agree that the Police need to have access to electronic data and the RIPA should be the basis of that access. That a warrant is required, and it has to be specific, relevant, and proportionate.

What we object to is the “Collect it all” attitude of turning the internet into the total surveillance tool. Firstly because it is amoral and repugnant in a free society, and secondly because it does not work in catching criminals.

The DRIP act extends the current powers in crucial areas, for the government to assert otherwise is misinforming the public. (see )

What should we do about this? The best laws are those based on clear principals, not on specific technologies. Like the Human Rights act. So when a court such as the CJEU rules that a domestic law breaches human rights the government should take note and adjust the domestic laws. Not just pass another “emergency” law to reinstate the powers that the court have ruled on.

I hope that you will consider this carefully when the DRIP act comes up for renewal, and pledge in your election manifesto not to support this law.

Kind Regards

Stuart Ward

Mobile banking apps

29 January 2015
I have been getting slowly frustrated with my bank, First Direct who I joined soon after they launched, because they were then offering the latest technology in telephone banking. Removing the frustration of having then to go physically to the bank to get anything done. Back then this was quite revolutionary. But they have not kept that zeal going and everyone else has caught up with them, and overtaken them. Time to find a new bank.

Well now we have moved on from that position through the internet to mobile banking. My idea was to evaluate the various banks that I could move to in terms of their mobile offerings, and choose the one with the best mobile presence.

Lets define what I am looking for here. The mobile app should be fast, and integrate well with the Android user experience. I have seen many apps transferred from iOS that don’t adapt to the way Android works. I don’t care about the Apple app as I will never use that. My bag is security so it needs to have good security. Preferably integrate with Lastpass so I can have a password that is too complicated to remember.

I have no interest in offers, cash-back, or other gimmicks, just a business like interface that presents clear information and allows simple actions.

Here is a list of the main contenders and their current rating on the Google store:

First direct   3.3
first direct Banking on the go - screenshot thumbnail

This one I know well, it works OK but is essentially a iOS app transported to Android. It is slow and clunky, every menu item or back button involves some spinning icon wait time. Getting to the login screen takes about 20 seconds. They do some funny stuff to stop me using Laspass to log on. I cannot paste my password in, password for the mobile app is limited to 8 characters. If you change focus to another app it may log you out. The menu button just shows the about page, you have to use the iOS style menu button at the top of the screen to navigate. and the back button only works sometimes. I am sure that all the apps here have these sorts of problems, but many of these aspects I can’t evaluate without signing up for an account.

HSBC   3.8
HSBC Mobile Banking - screenshot thumbnail

This is clearly the same as the First Direct app, and this is to be expected as they are the same banking group. They have these offers and rewards on the front screen, this just says to me our service is so bad we have to offer you stuff to use it.

Lloyds Bank   4.2
Lloyds Bank Mobile Banking - screenshot thumbnail

This is clearly better, but why have an ATM finder in there, I can get that from my mapping app (I use osmand which is based on the Open Street Map data, so better than Google. The login is through convoluted letter selection from a password, so I have to have a password that I can remember and can’t use Lastpass to store it in, thus reducing my security.


 Nationwide  4.1

Nationwide Mobile Banking - screenshot thumbnail

This feels like I am in kindergarten. and there is a login by the selection of digits from a pass number. Even harder to remember a complex number, and reduced entropy of only providing 3 digits. I have enough stupid PIN number to remember I don’t want any more. This feels like the best so far though.

Metro Bank    3.9
Metro Bank Personal Banking - screenshot thumbnail

Well what about the new comers to the banking market, perhaps they can produce a decent mobile app. Looking through the comments it seems that setting this up is a pain, lost of PINs and pass-codes before you can start. Summarising the comments they say it is a workable app, clunky, but functional.
Well at this point I cam across a news item on the BBC saying that two new banks offering internet only service were starting up. Atom bank have a website, and are recruiting people but there is nothing to see in the way of a mobile app to look at yet. The other is a German bank Fidor. So let us have a look at their German offering.   4.6
Fidor Bewegungsmelder - screenshot thumbnail

This looks much more professional. They have widgets so show current status, so you can see these without opening the app. The app itself uses the Android 9 dot pattern for authentication, easy to remember and enter on a mobile, hard to guess. There are not many reviews there, only one describing issues. The news article says that this is launching in the UK in March, so not long to wait.


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