Under(steer) Control

After playing Gran Turismo Sport with six-axis tilt steering on the PS4 controller I was impressed at how well it compared to using my Logitech G29 steering wheel. Great I thought, I can play Project Cars 2 downstairs on the sofa and not have to re-arrange my office to set the wheel up all the time.

Then I tried to actually play PCars2 like that.

Jeez, how can it feel so bad compared to GT Sport?

And so began the long and tedious process of changing the settings, trying it out, swearing, going back to the options, tweaking again, saving, trying… repeat until rage quit. Wait a few days then start again.

I spent ages doing this. So long in fact that a game update was published in the meantime ( that added a new option – Opposite Lock Assist.

After much reading and experimenting I found out two things…

  • The opposite lock assist is related to the Speed Sensitivity setting. (Ok, this wasn’t hard to find out – it’s right there on the settings screen)
  • The Speed Sensitivity settings don’t feel the same for all cars.

The second point was the key. I’ve had to change the speed sensitivity setting depending on the performance of the car I’m using. Between road cars and GT4 class, it feels great with the settings specified, but anything faster than that and even at slow speeds the steering doesn’t respond quickly enough or far enough to allow the car to make tight turns.

For now I’ve settled on these settings as a decent compromise, presented here for others to try and so I have a record of them for when I inevitably make things worse by tinkering again later.

Steering Deadzone    5
Steering Sensitivity    37
Throttle Deadzone    0
Throttle Sensitivity    15
Brake Deadzone    0
Brake Sensitivity    30
Clutch Deadzone    10
Clutch Sensitivity    25
Speed Sensitivity    75
Controller Damping    60
Controller Vibration    100
Minimum Shift Time    0

G29 Wheel (-y good) Fix

This is how I fixed my Logitech G29 steering wheel whose left paddle shifter was intermittently unresponsive. If I pulled the paddle say 10 times, it would register the click about 3 times. Not good when it’s the downshift in a racing game.

I’ll cut right to it…

Step 1
Take the wheel off the spindle to access the micro switches. There are loads of step by step videos on Youtube. It’s just 6 screws from behind the wheel, then the circle of bolts on the front around the logo. Oh, and unclip the short ribbon cable connection the wheel to the hub.

Mine seemed to be stuck in the bottom right of the red rotator switch (as you look at the wheel) but it was just a small clip inside that unclipped when I took a brave pill and pulled it harder.

Step 2
Once you’ve got access to the micro switches that the paddles click, spray contact cleaner into the switch. I used the gap around the ‘clicky’ bit that sticks out under the metal spring lever.

Step 3
Gently bend the metal spring out away from the plastic switch body so it needs a bit more force to click. Not sure this is 100% necessary but it makes it feel a bit better when used.

Step 4
Put it all back together. Job done.

That fixed it for me, but obviously your mileage may vary.

And just in case you’re America – Any disassembly you perform is on you. I’m not responsible for any damage you may cause, warranties you may invalidate or injuries you may cause to yourself or others. And if it doesn’t work, that’s not on me. If you don’t agree with any of that, then leave the screwdrivers alone and walk away.

Form over(priced) Function

Writing this article makes me sad. It’s like my dog, if I had a dog, had gone and killed next doors pet rabbit. Not my doing, but still saddens me.

When it comes to techie things I’ve always tried to be fairly agnostic and go for the best tool for the job when it comes to choosing a platform or manufacturer. After rage quitting Windows XP many moons ago after a nasty virus infection I went to Linux. Unfortunately I arrived at a time when Linux was mired in package dependency hell and the desktop applications really weren’t mature enough. So I bit the bullet and bought my first Apple computer. It was a PowerPC based Mac Mini & I loved it.

Since then I’ve used MacBooks. My current machine is the first aluminium unibody model from late 2008 packing a massive 4Gb memory and helped along by an SSD upgrade. And it’s fine. Just about fast enough for all I need, including Xcode development work.

But being pre-retina it’s a bit of a struggle to develop user interfaces for retina iPhones – when simulating an iPhone for example, only a quarter of the phone screen fits on my laptop screen. It’s also the first model that isn’t able to run the new macOS Sierra operating system.

So I reckoned it was time for an upgrade. I’d saved some money in anticipation of the new MacBooks being announced. I watched the event ‘live’ on Apple TV as they were revealed, and by the end of it I had my head in my hands.

Apple, you dicks.

I was geared up to by a new 15” Macbook Pro for pretty much any price, within reason.

You priced them outside reason.

I don’t give a monkeys about how thin it is, or how heavy it isn’t. It’s a computer, not an After Eight fucking mint. It’s a tool that should be able to do stuff. The doing of said stuff isn’t helped by removing all the ports used to connect it to other things that do other stuff.

MacBook Pros were the tools of choice for most iOS developers, a huge number of Photoshoppers and a whole bunch of musical type too. See that? I called it a TOOL. It’s used to create things.

By turning it into some flouncy extension of Jony Ive’s inner being or some such crap, Apple have stuck two fingers up to all those people who needed something useful.

So what do I do?

Well, Linux isn’t for me. Windows is looking more interesting, but I need Xcode. So it looks like my only real options are a second hand retina MBP, or stick with my current model.

If anyone is selling, let me know. I have a stack of cash waiting that Apple don’t seem to want.

Virtual Progress

I’ve been a gamer for over 30 years. Mainly because I’m raving old and, well, I’ve enjoyed playing video games since I was a kid.

A long time ago on an 80’s computer far far away, I played a Star Wars “game” that involved trying to shoot down a Tie Fighter that looked like this:


Amazing huh? To be honest, it might have looked like this:


It was a long time ago and I can remember the specifics, but it was definitely ASCII characters that flickered across the screen in black and white. A quick image search came up with this, which isn’t the Tie Fighter game in question, but it looks familiar and shows the hight of gaming graphics at the time.



Yes, that’s a full screenshot, not a close-up of an iOS icon.

Fast forward to now, and my recent purchase of Sony’s new Virtual Reality headset peripheral for the Playstation 4.

I’ll spare you all the many, many years of ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amiga, 486 PC, Pentium PC, Playstation 1, Sega Dreamcast, Sega Something else, Nintendo 64, Nintendo Gamecube, Playstation 2, Xbox, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 gaming in-between.

(Most of those are still in the loft!)

I’ve said for a while that in-game graphics are peaking and the next big things in gaming will be Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence.

A.I. because it’s all well and good having a photo realistic rendering of a bad guy but the immersion is ruined when he doesn’t seem to notice a fellow baddie being shot in the face right in front of him. I guess he just might not care enough to react, but either way it breaks the spell and detracts from the game.

And VR because whilst the constant upping of resolutions and frame rate is welcome, the pictures you look at in glorious high resolution are still constrained by the size of the rectangular screen or three sat in front of you.

Once the practicalities of things like hardware capability and affordability are sorted and the pesky chicken and egg matter of nobody risking developing VR games until the predicted sales are enough, and nobody buying VR hardware until there are enough games available is cracked I think VR will take off.

Sony’s kit was released 10 months ago and I’ve been hovering over the ‘buy now’ button ever since. Last week I gave in and the next day a nice man in a white van handed over a couple of parcels.

After revelling in the new gadget smell and wrestling the octopus of new cables, it was all set up and I gave it a go.

Holy crap.

I know the resolution is relatively low and it’s expensive and the cables are annoying (to those who are easily annoyed) but the level of immersion is incredible. The kind of experience that prompts an actual laugh out loud followed by an incredulous “F**k off…..!”

In my case anyway.

It’s hard to describe the sensation but I’ll give it a go:

Imagine putting your head up inside a large, upside down goldfish bowl, but instead of the bowl being transparent, someone has projected an image around the whole of the inside of it. As you look around inside the bowl, you see different parts of the image covering your full 360 degrees of head movement.

Now, imagine that bowl picture shows the inside of a car. It feels a bit like you’re in the car as you turn your head to look out of the side windows or behind you to look out the rear window.

Next, imagine that it’s not a static image but a video that shows the car moving along from your drivers viewpoint and you can still look around.

Finally, imagine it being interactive. It’s not a video, but a game that you’re playing. You’re driving the car and can still move your head about and look around.

That’s VR.

Instead of a goldfish bowl surrounding your whole head, it uses a couple of small screens right in front of your eyes and fancy head tracking to see where you point your face and changes the projected images in real time to show you the bit of the bowl your face is pointing at. You can’t tell it’s doing this and the sensation is that you’re ‘in’ whatever it’s drawing around you.

The effect is so convincing that driving games make your stomach lurch as you catch air over jumps and vertigo is a real issue for new users. In one game where you have to lean out over a balcony it’s almost physically impossible to step ‘off the edge’. I know I’m playing a game but the immersion is so realistic that my natural life-preserving instincts are triggered.

We’ve gone from grey and white ZX81 block-o-vision to VR in my lifetime and that amazes me.

Playstation VR (PSVR) has been out for less than a year and there’s already a decent range of games available for it, with a healthy amount of stuff in the pipeline like Fallout and Skyrim VR and I can’t wait to see what else they come up with in the future.

In the meantime, here’s a video of me driving around a Scottish town in a Caterham in VR.


Too “busy”?

Don’t tell anyone, especially my boss, but I haven’t worked hard in several years.


That’s not what I meant.

I’ve not been “busy” in several years. And by busy, I mean the rushing between meetings, too hassled to eat lunch, no time to stop for a chat or go for a coffee busy. You know, badge of honour busy.

This is a conscious decision on my part. Mainly as a reaction to the recognition that when I’m under stress my productivity drops to near zero. My job as a programmer / consultant / general techie relies on me being able to use my brain and think clearly. When things stress me out, I lose the ability to do that.

So in order to perform at my best I avoid work stress. So, how do I manage that then?

I don’t work long hours. I do what’s been agreed with my employer and occasionally a bit more if needed or I feel like it. But it’s not typical, nor expected.

I don’t artificially increase my capacity. It’s common to take on extra work and put in the extra hours required to do it. This is a never-ending cycle and sets expectations, which can only ever increase. Accept that your inbox will never be empty. If I get too much to do I let all those asking for things know that something has to give and ask for priorities.

I also hate meetings. A favourite joke of mine is:

Why did the project manager cross the road? – Because Outlook told them too.

I know a lot of people spend most of their time going from one meeting to the next. But what I can’t work out is what a lot of those people actually ‘do’? What do they produce? What happens as a result of them being in those meetings? I seriously think that well over half of office meetings could be cancelled with no effect whatsoever on the company’s bottom line. I’d even go so far as to say that the time not spent in meetings would be far more productive for those concerned.

As with most salaried ‘thought workers’ I enjoy a nice salary, and always make sure my employer is -and feels like- they’re getting value for money when paying that salary. But there isn’t a cut-throat career ladder to climb. There isn’t a bonus or commission scheme. I simply have a job with my employer, or I don’t. I’m not on on piece work or paid per line of code or document written.

So why do 10 hour days, or work weekends?

Many moons ago I was a consultant at one of the ‘Big Four’, and it was fairly common for middle management to pressure the consultants to put in ridiculously long hours and to work most weekends in order to get projects delivered on time. In an open discussion I put it to one of the partners that this was happening and I thought it counter-productive. He agreed as it meant that senior management weren’t getting a true picture of the workload and capacity of their teams. (And I dare say missing an opportunity to add more billable hours to the project)

It was a culture that wasn’t for me, and after several years we amicably parted ways. But whilst there I saw how the culture of over-working and being proud of it was easy to lead people into and impossible for them to get out of. If they ever noticed they were trapped in it.

I love what I do. It’s mentally challenging, fun and of worth to our clients.

But it’s complicated, and impossible to do if you’re “busy”.