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Music Movies and TV

XBONEI was one of the few gamers who was actually excited to hear that Microsoft would be focusing on entertainment with their new console – the XBOX One.  Like many XBOX360 owners I both game and watch TV on my 360…but let’s face it there is a lot more time in a working guy’s week for TV than gaming.

I knew my beloved Media Center was dead, and was preparing to deal with the separation.  What I didn’t know is that Microsoft was thinking of killing the usefulness of our local home networks as well. 

I loved my 360 and my feelings for Windows Media Center are well documented. (In a fit of faith in Microsoft I traded in one of my 360s last weekend to make room on the shelf for the new arrival.)

*head slap*

The XBOX One has NO utility for searching across your home network to find music, photos, or videos stored on a home Windows 8 PC.  You have to walk over to to the PC, select the file and choose “PlayTo“….then walk back across the house to see the content.

Dear Microsoft:  This kind of defeats the entire purpose of having a client device, now doesn’t it?

This is not only the death of Windows Media Center, it is the death of the home server/client philosophy that Microsoft has promoted since XP!

One guy (Kudos to him for figuring out how to do this…) has found a workaround that requires you to pass your home PC content through your phone.  EXCUSE ME MICROSOFT?!?  The XBONE has an 8-core processor, 8 gigs of ram and I’m supposed to pass video through my Android phone first? WTF?

For home theater enthusiasts the XBOX One has no more value than a stinkin’ ROKU player…wait – that’s not true.  The ROKU will play files off of a local PC.  OOPS!

It is clear to me that the XBONE is now merely a device for locking you into Microsoft’s entertainment ecosystem.  An overpowered AppleTV (oh wait…Apple TV can stream music and video from a PC running iTunes – D-OH!) designed to lock us into streaming from XBOX Music and Video.

Why not just use Xbox Music?  Xbox Music streams lossy WMAs and the band Metallica (amongst others) is nowhere to be found.  Over the years many of us have created bit-perfect collections of lossless WMAs…and Metallica is essential to any music collection – especially when gaming.  If you have a solid home theater sound system, then lossy music just won’t cut it.  Not to mention I’ve already bought the music I like – why would I pay $10/month to listen to the albums I already own in a format that sounds worse than what I have?

Other home theater sins of the XBONE:

  1. Can’t play Dolby 5.1 or 7.1 through the optical out.
  2. Cant download Movies from Xbox Video – it can only stream them.  (The frame rate is better when you download…plus it makes me feel closer to my copy of Star Trek: Into Darkness.)
  3. It can’t take a video feed from a PC Tuner Card.
  4. To use DVR functionality on your cable box you have to leave the XBOX Dashboard and just use the Cable Box Remote…Kinect only works on live TV.
  5. No Xfinity App.
  6. No Analog audio out (I knew this one in advance, but it still pisses me off).
  7. No 24-bit audio streaming.

Albeit, these are First World problems.  There are people starving, with their homes and lives destroyed by Typhoons….so do I feel a little silly complaining about my game console in my comfortable and safe home.

I am perplexed major review sites which have been fawning over the new XBOX and are simply omitting that it renders the content you own at home all but unreachable.   I think they must have the same exact problem that the news media has with our politicians – the problem of access.  The price of access seems to be the elimination of critical thought.

Did you write an article that points out the flaws in our (INSERT HERE: car, gadget, public policy)?  If so, then you will no longer have access to (INSERT HERE: test drives, E3 invite, interviews with the candidate).

I feel that a certain trust has been broken by Microsoft with it’s most recent product.  If you are a home theater enthusiast, and have not yet ordered your XBONE – Don’t.  This $500 paperweight needs some major updating to make it do what a $69 media streamer can do out of the box.

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Time for confession, I like hair metal.  Can’t get enough of it and in my humble opinion one of the best and certainly most high-brow hair metal bands of all time is Queensryche.  Their album Operation: Mindcrime is by far my most favorite album of all-time.  It influenced my teens and twenties in a significant way (and apparently still does – I named the blog in honor of that album).

I’ve been listening to Queensryche since 1989. I have bought every album and every DVD they’ve ever made. I have seen them in concert at least 10 times. Then, after “Dedicated to Chaos” (or as I called that album ‘Phoning it In’) I decided to give up my hope for a post-Promised Land album that was worth listening to.

Apparently, there has been some recent drama in the band that led to the existence of two competing Queensryches.  One fronted by original singer Geoff Tate and the other (Which I’m referring to as Queensryche 2.0 for the purpose of clarity in this post) containing much of the original band – drummer Scott Rockenfeld, guitarist Michael Wilton, and bassist Eddie Jackson.  This new Queensryche (2.0) is fronted by singer Todd La Torre.

I sampled the new Geoff Tate QR album “Frequency Unknown” using a streaming service and it only served to reinforce my resolve to give up on my once favorite band.  Frequency Unknown or “FU” made “Dedicated to Mediocre” look like a work of art – it was gawd-awful.

Then late one night, I stumbled across a number of positive reviews for Queensryche (2.0)’s album titled “Queensryche”, and then sampled two tracks on YouTube…it was – dare I say- good!

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Even more positive reviews can be found here.

This is the best Queensryche album since Promised Land. This is the old Iron Maiden-esque Queensryche that you remember from the ’80s with a new twist (and vocalist Todd La Torre sounds just different enough from Tate to feel authentic, but not so different that the music is unrecognizable as Queensryche).

One of the online music reviews I read claimed that “this is the Queensryche album you have been waiting for” for over 20 years and another claimed that  “for the first time in over a decade Queensryche might be relevant again”…I couldn’t agree more.

My wife and I are a child-free couple and we’re happily and confidently content with our decision.  We like our friends kids, enjoy our nieces and nephews, I work in education, and in addition to her job as an ecologist she does volunteer work at a local nature center that often includes teaching children.  While we enjoy the financial benefits and free time that comes with a child-free lifestyle, we do not dislike children nor are we secretly pining for children of our own.  We are secure in our decisions knowing who we are and what is best for us.

What is fascinating to me is that we can’t seem to find examples of secure, content, and kind child-free people in entertainment media.  If we were to judge our lifestyles against what is available on the television we would certainly think ourselves an aberration.

What about all of the confirmed bachelors that populate action films and science fiction?  James Bond never had kids, neither does Captain Picard.  True, but they live lifestyles that simply prohibit families.  I’m talking here about characters that pursue or have meaningful relationships and do not fit into one of two stereotypes:

  1. Children Haters:  These characters feed the narrative that “people without children don’t like kids”.  I would also clump characters who are incredibly selfish into this category.
  2. Childless and Regretting It:  In other words “anyone without kids must be infertile and therefore goes home to cry about how empty their lives are.”

Here are a few examples I have noticed recently (contains a few very minor spoilers):

Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz on “The Big Bang Theory“: In the episode “The Shiny Trinket Maneuver” discusses her feelings about wanting to be child-free but then seems to give in to Wolowitz at the end of the episode, provided that he stays home with the kids.  This seems to turn a child-free character into a mere gender role reversal.  However, she too is hostile to children thus her hesitation to procreate is based upon the dislike of children.

Robin Scherbatsky on “How I Met Your Mother” was proudly child-free, but not inherently hostile to children.  She seemed like a good example of someone who was merely comfortable in the fact that they don’t want children.  Unfortunately, the writers ruined this by having it revealed that she is unable to have children, which feeds the annoying stereo type that the only people without children are those who can’t have them.

House of Cards” main character Frank Underwood openly dislikes children, he’s not exactly a stereotype busting character.  However, his wife Claire, while showing some pangs of regret over her decision not to have children with Frank, is kind to the children of Peter Russo.   She shows kindness while maintaining that she does not want children because it wasn’t for her.  Claire was the closest thing I have seen to a sensible child free character.  However, in the final episode of Season 1 she is seen in a fertility clinic to inquiring about her chances for having a child.  This change of character feeds the belief that even those who appear to be content with the child-free decision are secretly regretting it.  What compounds the stereotype is that Claire has her moment of regret after being confronted by a woman who derives her self-righteousness from being pregnant.  Suddenly awash with self-doubt Claire asks Frank if what they were doing with their lives was “for” anything.  (Implying that the only thing that makes a person’s life work worth something is if they procreate.)  Unfortunately, neither Claire nor Frank Underwood are exactly role models of a moral lifestyle, but I had hoped that she could at least exemplify a person being well adjusted when it comes to the child-free option.

I do not dislike these shows in fact they are all my guilty pleasures (man cannot live on Frontline and Nova alone!).  But it would be nice to see a few child-free by choice characters begin to emerge somewhere that are not excessively shallow and selfish and who like children.  I’m sure that someone who is a more devoted fan of the aforementioned shows could probably find nuances of plot or dialogue  that would diminish the value of my examples, but I feel they generally serve to support my case.

I do not know why the stereotypes of child-free people persist, maybe it’s just a tool for lazy writers to create drama and character conflict.  But when my wife and I sit down to watch TV we do not tend to watch shows about ‘busy families’ and we are finding that shows about single people in their 20s “looking for relationships” is starting to wear thin.  Those shows invariably have one of the main characters get pregnant and then gush about how life was so meaningless beforehand.

I would argue that advertisers and entertainment producers would be rewarded for embracing this key demographic.  A 2011 study by the Center for Work-Life Policy discovered that 43% of Generation X Women are childless (or child free) and that Generation X men and women are displaying a substantially increased preference for the child-free lifestyle.  Often these people have more disposable income and advanced levels of education, which may be prized by advertisers.

I have little faith in modern entertainment media’s willingness to take chances with challenging stereotypes just to do the right thing.  There is, however, cause for substantial faith in the fact that the desire to appeal to an audience with money to spend might just encourage the portrayal of more well-adjusted child-free characters.