Tip: always use the latest drivers

Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Platinum
Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Platinum

It just goes to show that you should always keep your device drivers up to date! That was my task this lunchtime.

Having installed the drivers that came with my Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Platinum everything appeared to be working fine. Listening to music in WinAmp everything sounded lovely: responsive, crystal clear and other phrases that you might read in a Hi-Fi magazine.

Battlefield 2 was another matter. BF2 is the only game so far that has been developed specifically with the X-Fi soundcard in mind:

Digital Illusions, Electronic Arts and Creative Labs worked closely together for six months to optimise Battlefield 2’s audio engine for Sound Blaster X-Fi. The Digital Illusions coders were among the very first engineers outside of Creative Labs to get access to Xtreme Fidelity technology, well before details of the new sound card were even released to the press…

Battlefield 2 benefits from super-accurate sound placement, stunning audio quality, and powerful audio acceleration when you have a Sound Blaster X-Fi in your system.

I fired up BF2, clicked on the Options page and selected Creative X-Fi as my audio renderer (the other options were ‘software’ or ‘hardware’) clicked Apply and I was dumped rather unceremoniously back on my Windows desktop. A couple more attempts resulted in exactly the same response. After a quick search online for a solution, I headed over to the Creative Support website and downloaded the latest drivers and installed them.

For those who aren’t quite sure what device drivers are here’s what the ever-wonderful Wikipedia says:

A device driver, often called a driver for short, is a computer program that enables another program, typically, an operating system (OS) (e.g., Windows, Linux, FreeBSD) to interact with a hardware device. A driver is essentially an instruction manual that provides the operating system with the information on how to control and communicate with a particular piece of hardware. In layman’s terms, a driver is an important, vital piece to a program application; the main ingredients of the system.

So, it should be fairly obvious then, if your device drivers are out of date then you can’t expect everything to work as well as it should.

What I do wish, however, is that Creative improved the information on its website about its latest drivers and applications. It’s not the most intuitive of layouts for those of us who simply want to download the latest files and update our systems. While the ATi Radeon support site presents one file (the latest one) the Creative site has a list of umpteen files. Do I download both driver updates, 0003 and 0004? Or are the updates from 0003 also contained in 0004? Who knows, because it doesn’t make this clear! Rant over.

I downloaded 0004 file in the hope that it did contain the 0003 updates too. Installed. Rebooted, so that Windows could load these newly updated files as it started up, and ran BF2 again.

I can happily report that this time BF2 was willing to accept the X-Fi settings and that the sound quality is incredible. Sitting at my desk, with my 6.1 surround sound speakers about me it feels as though I’m emersed in the game environment. I can hear computer generated characters moving about behind me. The sound of my character’s feet walking or running on gravel sounds remarkably different to when my character is walking on grass, or tarmac.

BF2 is a game that makes me nervous anyway, it’s an all-action FPS with alot going on. Now there is so much more information from the sound that it makes the game so more immediate and intuitive.

I’m still not very good at it, however.

My coloured friend Jonny

Jonny Coore as a smurf
One of the few photographs of Gareth with long hair, and Jonny as a smurf.

Following my post Not everything in black and white makes sense I discovered this photograph of my good friend and former flatmate Jonny Coore. The photograph was taken in 1996 by Mark T. Powell while we were living at 108a Camberwell Road, London SE5 to celebrate his gift of a large cooking pot, which you’ll see we’re modelling.

Now I think I can safely say that in that photograph Jonny is very definitely a ‘coloured’ gentleman!

I now sound great!

Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi breakout box installed on my PC
The Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi breakout box now installed on my PC.

Following Morning Prayer, earlier this morning, I installed my new Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Platinum soundcard and it sounds GREAT!

I thought it was about time, as I’d had this piece of £100 kit sitting in its box beside my prayer desk for the best part of three weeks. What’s the point of having a great gift if you’re not going to use it? (I’m sure there’s a sermon in there somewhere!)

From previous experience of opening up one of my machines, replacing hardware and installing new drivers I was a little nervous. But this whole experience was a dream. The hardware was installed: PCI card slotted snuggly into the vacating slot left by my old Audigy2 and connected by a cable to the ‘break-out’ box which slid neatly into a vacant 5.25″ drive bay. I booted up and installed the software, which caused my ZoneAlarm Pro firewall to offer me more pop-ups than a jack-in-the-box convention. But it all installed fine, and on rebooting I now have an amazing sounding system. It’s quite remarkable just how much clearer the audio now sounds. Just wait until I try it out in Games mode with Battlefield 2, which has been optimized for the X-Fi hardware.

One great thing was that when it came to setting up my speakers configuration it offered 6.1 (6 = front and back: left, right and centre speakers; 1 = subwoofer bass speaker) which is what I have, and not just the 5.1 and 7.1 offered by my previous Audigy2 setup.

The only odd thing was during product registration. Once I’d told the ‘registration wizard’ that I lived in the UK it asked for which city and region I lived in. I live in Edinburgh, and technically, my region is The City of Edinburgh, which replaced Lothian Council in 1996 when Lothian region was split into West Lothian, City of Edinburgh, Midlothian and East Lothian.

A lot of software and websites still only offer ‘Lothian’ offer ‘Midlothian’ as the closest options for Edinburgh’s region. But not the Creative registration wizard. It offers: Midlothian/Edinburghshire:

Screenshot of the X-Fi registration screen

Edinburghshire?! What kind of made-up-nonsense is that?! I’ve just emailed Creative to inform them. You can’t accuse me of not being helpful!

World AIDS Day

AIDS ribbon

Today (1 December) is World AIDS Day.

World AIDS Day is now in its 18th year. The first international health day was initiated following a unique summit of health ministers who met in London in January 1988. They realised that a united global effort was required to halt the spread of HIV and AIDS. The first theme was ‘Join the Worldwide Effort’.

There are now young adults who have always lived in a world where there is fear of HIV and AIDS. Though, having just written that, I’m not certain that ‘fear’ is the right word. According to the World AIDS Day website “infection rates [are] continuing to rise in the UK” which would suggest that people have an ‘it-won’t-happen-to-me’ mentality about HIV.

I don’t currently know of anyone that I know who has HIV or AIDS, which is not to say that I don’t know anyone who has HIV or AIDS.

I remember when Queen singer Freddie Mercury died on 24 November 1991, having announced publicly the day before that he had AIDS. I was at St Andrews in my third year. I cried when the video for These Are The Days Of Our Lives was played on TV.

These Are The Days Of Our Lives

Words and Music: Queen. (From the album Innuendo.)

Sometimes I get to feelin’
I was back in the old days – long ago
When we were kids when we were young
Thing seemed so perfect – you know
The days were endless we were crazy we were young
The sun was always shinin’ – we just lived for fun
Sometimes it seems like lately – I just don’t know
The rest of my life’s been just a show

Those were the days of our lives
The bad things in life were so few
Those days are all gone now but one thing is true
When I look and I find I still love you

You can’t turn back the clock you can’t turn back the tide
Ain’t that a shame
I’d like to go back one time on a roller coaster ride
When life was just a game
No use in sitting and thinkin’ on what you did
When you can lay back and enjoy it through your kids
Sometimes it seems like lately – I just don’t know
Better sit back and go with the flow

Cos these are the days of our lives
They’ve flown in the swiftness of time
These days are all gone now but some things remain
When I look and I find no change

Those were the days of our lives – yeah
The bad things in life were so few
Those days are all gone now but one thing’s still true
When I look and I find
I still love you

I still love you

A Lena Fox House-themed week

Lena Fox House in Bermondsey, London
Lena Fox House, Bermondsey, London. Photograph taken in 1996 while it was a homeless hostel for young people (16-26 years) run by The Shaftesbury Society.

This week has had a bit of a Lena Fox House (above) theme, as my former deputy manager, Dave Gibbs, was staying with us on Saturday and Sunday nights, and today former administrator and AGW/GWs David and Bev Meldrum are coming to visit.

Lena Fox House (LFH) was a homeless hostel run by The Shaftesbury Society between 1996 and .. erm, whenever it closed (early-2000s?). LFH was a long-stay hostel for young people aged between 16 and 26 offering accommodation, support and life-skills training to help people move into longer-term accommodation on their own. I loved working there, and loved the people I worked with and alongside.

When Dave Meldrum came for interview I was on shift. Our manager, Bob Bailey, came into the shift office to tell us about the interviews that would be happening that day and he laughed as he said,

“Gareth, there’s someone coming down from Scotland for an interview … you’ll probably know him hahaha what with you being from Scotland too.”

“What’s his name?” I asked.

“David Meldrum,” replied Bob.

“Oh, yeah. I know Dave,” I said.

“Hahaha,” laughed Bob. (He might have said ‘hehehe’, I can’t quite remember from this distance.)

Fast-forward to lunchtime and while we were sitting around the table in the main lounge the doorbell buzzer sounded. Wandering through to the entrance hall, which was only the next room, I opened the door. It was David Meldrum.

“Hi Dave!”

“Hi Gareth!”

That people were surprised might be an understatement. “Scotland’s not that big a place,” I explained “We know everybody!”

In truth, David was in the year below me at St Andrew’s University (The University of Scotland™) and so I’d seen him about for three years at various events (CU, Christian Music and Drama Society, etc.) and while he was taking a few classes at St Mary’s College, the Divinity School (then a Faculty).

David got the job, met Bev there and they were married a few years later. David is now a Church of England priest in St Stephen’s, Wandsworth in the Diocese of Southwark. They have a blog called The Meldrums.

And given that they’re coming round mid-morning, and it is now nearly 10:45 I’d better go and have a shower and get dressed! We had planned to take a trip over to see the house in Fife, not sure that’s such a good idea now. It may bring back bad memories of hostel riots.