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!

The answers appeared obvious to me

On the left the Prima Official Star Wars Battlefront II Game Guide, on the right Simple Solution Cat Stain and Odor Remover.

After I took five boxes of rubbish to the recycling centre at our local Tesco, I popped next door to Pets at Home and PC World for a couple of essentials. In both places I was asked questions the answers to which appeared obvious to me.

Pets at Home

I handed over a bottle of Simple Solution Cat Stain and Odor Remover to the woman at the cash desk.

Me: This is great stuff!

Woman: “Really? What do you use it for, … cats?”

Me: [Pausing to stop myself saying something sarcastic.] “Yes. Cats.”

She’s now got me wondering, what other things can I use it for? Does she have recipes?

PC World

The only reason that I got any good at Star Wars Battlefront was because of the Prima Official Game Guide. So I reckoned that the appropriate guide for Star Wars Battlefront II might be similarly useful. So I popped next door (from Pets at Home) to PC World.

At the front of the queue I handed over the book to the woman at the till. She took it and scanned it.

Woman: Is this for home use?

Me: [Pausing to stop myself saying something sarcastic.] Yes. Home use.

How do much I wish that I could have said, “No. No, this is for the first Scottish Episcopal Church All-Clergy Star Wars Battlefront II Online Gaming Expo next month”! It could have been a taxable expense if there was such an event.

We need more user-friendly backup options

Don’t try this at home: the interior of a hard disk drive.

An interesting article on The Register a few days ago about Dell‘s plans in the US to offer customers “the option of adding an automatic back-up system to their new PC when they buy one of three models from its Dimension range.”

The article goes on to explain that

for an extra $99 it will install a second, 80GB hard drive in new Dimension E310, E510 and XPS 400 models. The drive will be configured to continuously back up the main drive, protecting personal data against the dreaded hard drive crash.

I presume that this is simply a RAID 1 setup, which is something that more and more modern PCs are capable of — mine is, for example and it’s a couple of years old — although Dell have called this “DataSafe”.

RAID 1 is an arrangement where two hard disks are set up to save exactly the same data on both drives; one is a mirror of the other. The obviousl advantage there is that should one drive fail or get corrupted then (hopefully) all your data will be safely stored on the mirrored drive.

I find it quite incredible that it has taken an OEM computer company up until now to realise that people’s data is so often so important to them that some kind of simple, user-friendly backup method should be an essential part of a new setup, particularly when more and more people are having to use PCs, many (most?) of whom don’t know too much about them.

A lot of new PCs come with ‘restore’ partitions, that is a separated area of the hard drive that contains data to completely restore the main hard drive (C:) to the state that it was in when it was delivered to your door. But the problem with this is that it will also wipe all your personal data.

A lot of new PCs come with this ‘restore’ partitions instead of a genuine Windows XP CD-ROM, which can also lead to other problems, like when you’re trying to install some piece of hardware that requires a few files from the XP installation CD. I was delighted when my current PC arrived from NetHighStreet with a Windows XP Professional CD.

There are more and more people using PCs nowadays. Many of whom haven’t the faintest clue about how their PC is setup (which is fair enough), what all the buttons do, and why certain features are arranged the way they are. All they want to do is switch it on, check their email, write their documents, watch a DVD or two, and maybe play some games. It can’t be that difficult to design a user-friendly backup system now … can it?!

eSword – freeware Bible software with an edge

Screenshot of eSword Bible software
A screenshot of the free eSword Bible software for Windows.

Next up in my “I’ve been meaning to blog about this for ages” series comes the excellent eSword bible software. I’ve been using eSword for a couple of years now, and it’s now at the truly holy version 7.7.7. (Stryper would be proud of them!) There is also a version available for Pocket PC (or whatever Microsoft are calling their PDA version of Windows).

What I really like about eSword is its variety of Bible versions available. I regularly use The Message, Contemporary English Version (CEV) and International Standard Versions (ISV), as well as occasionally in Hebrew or Koine Greek. Sadly, the New International Version (NIV) and New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) are not available as their publishers haven’t granted eSword a licence.

The user-interface is really quite simple too: Select the version you want (of those you have installed) in the central section, and in the left-hand pane select the book and chapter you want to view. It couldn’t be more simple than that. If you have any commentaries installed you can access information from those in adjacent panes; or create your own study notes.

eSword also has a Compare function, showing your selected Bible verse in each version you have installed; or a Parallel function, allowing up to four versions to be viewed side-by-side.

Searching for a passage is a simple case of clicking Search and telling the software what you’re looking for, and in which version.

It’s certainly worth checking out. But if you want to download everything then you’ll certainly need a broadband connection as it clocks in at over 336 MB.