SteelSeries 6GV2 Keyboard Layout (UK)

UPDATED: Latest version supports Alt Gr + E,R and Y to give you €, £ and ¥ respectively. Also Alt Gr + ` (key to left of rightmost shift key) gives |. Existing users might need to switch to a standard keyboard layout, uninstall the old 6gv2 (control panel, programs etc.) before installing the new driver.

I bought a SteelSeries 6GV2 keyboard the other day. It’s a really nice keyboard but the layout is a bit odd. Anyway, I’ve made a correct layout for it and the Windows installer is available here:

http://netizensmith.org.uk/keyboards/6gv2.zip

Download, unpack and run setup.exe. I’ve only tested it on 64 bit windows (7 & 8) but I think it should work for 32bit and maybe older OSs too. If you think I’ve got something wrong please leave a comment here to let me know.

EDIT: I’ve made an OSX keyboard map too. That can be found here:

http://netizensmith.org.uk/keyboards/OSXSS6gv2.zip

Extract the file SS6gv2.keylayout from the zip file.
Copy the SS6gv2.keylayout file to the Keyboard Layouts folder within /Library or ~/Library.
Reboot, or log out and log in again.
Enable the new keyboard layout via System Preferences › Language & Text › Input Sources.

Parallels – Underhanded shenanigans

I use the virtual machine software “Parallels” on my Macintosh computer. It’s an excellent bit of sofware, allowing me to run the Windows and Linux operating systems from within my Mac. However, quite often when I run the software it shoves an advertisement in my face before letting me get on with my work. It’s pretty annoying. This isn’t shareware, or a trial version of the software. This is legitimate software that I’ve bought and paid for. It shouldn’t be forcing me to close advertisements should it? The answer is no.

I went onto the parallels forums to ask about it. After asking I noticed that a few others had also asked. The responses in each case took the form “responded via private message”. This was getting curious. Eventually my private message arrived. It contained instructions on how to permanently disable the adverts along with a request to not post this information on the forum. That’s wrong.

Anyway, here’s how to disable the adverts in parallels:

Applications –> Utilities –> Terminal and run the command:

defaults write com.parallels.Parallels Desktop ProductPromo.ForcePromoOff -bool YES

When DRM goes wrong

Digital Rights Management. DRM is everywhere. DRM is a way for publishers to control who gets to see, hear or play their stuff. The digital age makes it a necessity I suppose. Anyway, here’s a story of what happens when it goes wrong.

When Sony launched the Playstation Portable (PSP) I bought one. The games came on little silver discs, like tiny CDs. You could also buy games that you downloaded from Sony’s store – the Playstation Network (PSN). Rather generously Sony allowed you to install any game you bought on up to 5 PSPs! Wow! Why would you need to be able to do that? Well, if you owned 5 PSPs I guess? Or maybe if your kids had a PSP they could have a copy too? Well, no.

See, to be able to play the game the console needs to be ‘activated’ to your PSN account and the terms state that you mustn’t give those details to anyone else. So, the best you could do is put your account on your kid’s PSP, download the games for them and make sure to remove your password. Fair enough? I guess so.

Anyway, I bought a PSP at launch. Then when the next model came out I sold the old one and upgraded. Then the next one came out so I sold the old one again and upgraded again. Then I decided I didn’t like that new model so sold it and went back to the previous model. Then the PSP Go came out and I bought that, decided I didn’t like the limited number of games available so sold that too. All told that’s 5 PSPs I’ve owned.

Each time I sold a PSP I was very careful to ‘deactivate’ it from my PSN account. Sony don’t even tell you you need to do this but being a bit of a geek I knew and was careful to do so. Fast forward to last week when I swapped a DS Lite for another PSP Go. I tried to download my purchased PSN games from the PSN store only to be told that I already had 5 PSPs active on this account.

What!?

To cut a long story short I spoke to someone at Sony Tech support who, after accusing my children of sharing my PSN account with their friends, told me that unless I could provide receipts (proof of sale) for every PSP I’d sold then Sony would do nothing.

As it stands I have one PSP I can play my games on. If that PSP were to break, or be stolen I’d have no way of playing any of the games that I’ve paid for.

Sony haven’t got back to me and I doubt they will because they don’t care. Their DRM system and philosophy is broken.

I doubt I’ll ever pay for any DRMd content ever again for any media.

Update: 1st March 2011

Spoke to Sony again (after not getting a call back). Very helpful chap says head office is looking at it.

Update: 26th October 2012

Sony have allowed you to deactivate all your devices in one go:

https://account.sonyentertainmentnetwork.com/cam/devices/device-media-list.action

Ebook prices

A message to book publishers:

I’ll keep this simple. Your electronic books need to be cheaper than your physical versions. I don’t need to tell you why.

Ebooks have been around for years. You’ve all had plenty of time to work a sensible pricing structure but still we see £4.99 paperbacks costing £16.99 in electronic form (from the same publisher). I’m not going to buy paper books anymore. I’m going to buy electronic versions. Unless they cost more than the paper equivalent in which case I’ll obtain it electronically some other way and donate the cost of the paperback to Booktrust.

Heavy Rain

I just finished playing Heavy Rain. Heavy Rain is a story-driven adventure game for the Playstation 3 and one of the titles I was really looking forward to. I didn’t play it as soon as it came out. Instead I waiting for Move controls to be added to the game and started to play it using this control scheme. For a number of hours I figured that I was just getting too old to play videogames as I failed to perform various ‘moves’ correctly but when I reached a section where the game repeatedly (more than 20 attempts) informed me that I had failed to move the Move controller from right to left I felt something must be wrong. So, I switched to using the standard control scheme using the normal Playstation Dual Shock 3 controller and passed that section first go.

I continued to use the default scheme for the rest of the game but by this time the damage had been done. By now the game assumed that I was very familiar with the controls I would be asked to perform and demanded a speed of response that I just didn’t have. It also offered me choices in the form of controller movements e.g. stick down, stick right and up or stick left and up? Well, I had no idea what any of those options would do so it became a game of trial and error.

I completed the game but came away from it feeling like I’d been robbed of a good time. The story was good but I was disappointed with my experience. In conclusion, do not even attempt to play this game using the Move controller scheme because it’s completely broken in this game and should never have been released in this state.

Disclaimer: My Move controllers are configured just fine. I have plenty of other Move games that work just fine, including the excellent Time Crisis : Razing Storm, which I’ll probably write about soon.

Comparing noise in digital images

I recently had cause to buy myself a new digital camera. I’ve been taking photos for many years and know what’s important to me when I look for a camera system. Back in the film days (I still use a Canon T90 on occasion) the faster the film, the more ‘grain‘ you got. For landscape photos – where I wanted vibrant colour and plenty of detail – I would choose Fuji Velvia film. This film had an ISO rating of 50, which meant that it needed a lot of light in order to expose correctly. This wasn’t a problem usually as I’d have my tripod handy and could happily let the shutter stay open for several seconds if need be. If I wanted to photograph BMXers at the local skatepark though I’d have put a roll of Ilford Delta 3200 in my camera. This film is black & white and requires five times less light than Velvia to expose correctly, just what you need for capturing fast action. The downside is that the film is very ‘grainy’

Fast forward to digital…

These days ‘grain’ has been replaced by ‘noise‘. It’s kind of the same thing. When you set your digital camera’s ISO to a high number ,the shutter needs to be open for less time, allowing you to freeze fast moving objects. The trade-off is that your image will contain more ‘noise’.

A few years ago all the manufacturers were striving to produce sensors with more megapixels. To the general public more megapixels = better. The megapixel race has slowed a little now and it seems that what we should really all be caring about is the amount of noise a digital sensor produces. Personally there are other features I’m more concerned about than low light ISO performance but I digress. The goal is to have as little noise as possible when using high ISO settings. This makes sense because at certain ISO settings the amount of noise in an image becomes so great that it degrades the image significantly.

So, why am I writing about this at all? Well, when you want to buy a camera it would seem sensible to visit sites like DPReview and Imaging Resource and compare the sample images of various cameras at the same ISO settings so you can see which one will provide you with the cleanest image when available light is low, yes? Well, not necessarily. We need to think about why we want to use a high ISO setting. Let’s put the idea of using large grain/noise to create mood to one side for now and look at the reason why 99% of the time we want to use a high ISO setting. We need a high ISO setting because after choosing the aperture we want to shoot at we see that the recommended shutter speed we need to get correct exposure is too slow for us to hand-hold and we know that the image will come out blurred. So, to get a faster shutter speed we need to either use a larger aperture or set the ISO higher. Assuming we can’t use a larger aperture (confusingly this is a smaller aperture number e.g. f/1.8 is a larger aperture than f/16) then our only option (tripod aside) is higher ISO.

So, given all that why shouldn’t you just head on over to DPReview and compare the ISO 3200 images from the Olympus EP1 against those of the Panasonic G1? Well, not all ISO settings are created equal. Olympus’s ISO3200 setting is actually less sensitive than Panasonic’s ISO3200. I first noticed this when looking at some figures on the DxOMark website where it seems that an Olympus at ISO3200 is actually less sensitive than a Panasonic at ISO 1600! Now, some people will tell you that the way DxOMark evaluate the ‘real’ ISO settings of a camera is wrong and maybe they’re right.

I decided to look at the sample images at DPReview. I took their ISO1600 sample studio images for the Olympus EP1 and compared the EXIF data from the Panasonic G2 at ISO1600. If we accept that the lighting conditions were constant then we should get identical aperture and shutter speeds showing on both shots. Here are the results:

Panasonic G2 – f/6.3 @ 1/1600th second

Olympus EP1 – f/6.3 @ 1/1000th second

We can see that the Olympus required the shutter remain open for longer than the Panasonic. This result ties in with DxOMark’s findings (not exactly it has to be said). As an additional experiment I took a look at the EXIF data for Canon’s 60D for the same scene:

Canon 60D – f/8 @ 1/640th second

More difficult to figure out because DPReview used a different aperture but if you adjust the aperture to f/6.3 then you’d need 1/1000th second shutter speed, the same as the Olympus.

So, what does this all mean? Well, it means that for a given aperture/shutter speed combination on two separate cameras you may find that one of the cameras needs a higher ISO setting than the other in order to provide equivalent exposure. So, should we be comparing noise levels at set ISO settings to determine the quality of a camera’s sensor? No,  I don’t believe we should. I think we should be comparing the noise levels of each camera at set aperture and shutter speeds because ultimately people want to know how well a camera deals with a given situation.

I’ve brought this situation to DPReview’s attention and am hoping for a response.

EDIT: It’s 26th october 2012. I’m not going to get a response from DPReview am I? :-)