The thumbnail viewer of Windows Media Player 1...

The thumbnail viewer of Windows Media Player 12 in Windows 7 Home Premium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

UPDATE (6/16/2014):  Since this post gets a lot of hits I feel the need to do a brief update.  I do not think that the technique here works any longer with the newer versions of Android OS and Google Music player.  I abandoned using Android out of frustration with this process once my phone updated to Ice Cream Sandwich.  (Windows Phone does sync natively with Windows Media Player – FYI).  If you are using a version of Android (2.x or 3.x) this process may still work. 

 

I dislike loading extra software onto my PC or phone.  I’m always worried that whatever is being installed will clutter up my otherwise clean OS and create conflicts and performance issues.

Therefore, I use Windows Media Player to organize my music collection and prefer to use the stock music player on my Android phone.  Unfortunately, WMP does not transfer playlists to the Android music player when it syncs the music files.

After much research and experimentation I finally discovered that it is possible to simply cut and paste a native .wpl (Windows Media) playlist into the Android “Music” folder and the Play Music app will see it and play it.  No additional software required.

Google Play Music

This is a nice discovery considering that Windows Media Center is my preferred home entertainment platform.  Thus, you can make a playlist conveniently on your PC, use the same list on your Xbox360 for the home and have that playlist work on your Android phone.

UPDATE 11/23/2013:  I need to be super clear up front here.  The predictions I made in this article are WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!!  My Xbox One arrived last night and it cannot even stream video or music from a PC without going to the PC and using PlayTo! 

I love my Windows Media Center setup.

WMC

A few years ago my cable company was charging me $15-20/month per HD-DVR for what I felt was an expensive and pretty lackluster service.  The capacity of each DVR was pretty small and they were incapable (at the time) of  sharing content between my DVRs which forced me to have to delete documentaries that I was saving in smug self-satisfaction and to have to decide which TV I would watch a show on before I set it to record .

To deal with these issues I built a home theater PC with a Ceton Tuner that has 4 Terra-bytes of storage space and which paid for itself in 28 months, once I ditched the cable company’s DVRs.  (Not bad!)  The HTPC outputs content, both live and recorded to my XBOX 360s through using it as a Windows Media Extender.  It also pushes movies and music to the Xbox extenders which makes for a great whole home entertainment solution.

Unfortunately, Microsoft has been killing off my beloved Windows Media Center (WMC) and there are numerous discussion boards and articles which discuss and bemoan its demise.

XBONE

Causing even more consternation for those of us in the WMC crowd is the release of the new Xbox One and its emphasis upon home entertainment and TV…yet no mention of its working as a WMC extender.  The existence of HDMI pass-through also seemed to indicate an intention on the part of Microsoft that the new Xbox would only provide an overlay to cable companies’ set top boxes – thus shackling us to their fees and tiny storage capacity.

As fans of new technology what are we supposed to do?  Get a cable box? Not get the latest toy and be an outcast amongst our geeky friends?  Have two devices to do two different jobs? Seriously?  After all we’re not savages!

Then while reading through the “What It Does” page on the Xbox One website, I noticed a footnote leading to the following requirement for TV Functionality:

“1. Supported television tuner or cable/satellite set top box with HDMI output and HDMI cable required (all sold separately).”

What is the most important word in that little footnote?  I’d say it’s the humble little word “or”.

It’s so important that it burst out to me like a ray of sunlight through the clouds.

London to Brighton Veteran Car Run

If I am parsing the meaning of  that sentence properly, it seems to indicate that there will be an option to use a tuner that is not a set top box.  This opens up all kinds of possibilities.

My biggest wish for the previous big Xbox 360 Dashboard update (Metro) was that they would ditch the native music and video players and ‘bake’ the functionality of Windows Media Center straight into the metro-style dashboard.   Hypothetically using something like the Windows Media Player Network Sharing Service to serve up content stored on a PC hard drive (such as music and movies), and then add network tuner support for sending live TV across a home network.  Support for TV tuners MIGHT mean that they are taking a step in that direction.  Additionally, the fact that the new Xbox will have Windows 8 built-in seems to indicate that this kind of integration is at the very least possible.

This is the hope that I am clinging to – but of course, this is all just rampant speculation and wishful thinking on my part.

UPDATE:  As I was reading though some forum posts at “The Green Button” I came across a comment that pointed to the FAQ on the Official Xbox news thread, which read:

Q:    Do I need to have a specific cable or satellite TV provider to watch live TV on Xbox?
A:    Our goal is to enable live TV through Xbox One in every way that it is delivered throughout the world, whether that’s television service providers, over the air or over the Internet, or HDMI-in via a set top box (as is the case with many providers in the US). The delivery of TV is complex and we are working through the many technologies and policies around the world to make live TV available where Xbox One is available.

This seems to me to be further evidence of my aforementioned possibility of having WMC “baked right in” to the new dashboard.

I will continue to update this post as I learn more.

In the past 48 hours there have been two developments in the gun control debate that merit some consideration.  The good news is that the laughably moderate gun control package I mentioned in my previous posting has passed in Colorado and was signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper this morning.  Tragically, the (very) right-leaning Denver Post allowed the so-called “Colorado Citizens Protecting our Constitution” to post an ad that declaring that the law banned ALL FIREARM MAGAZINES, when in fact it only bans magazines with a capacity of more than 15 bullets.  (see image)

Lies

If you click on the ads they take you to a single page which equates the new laws with disarming women so that they can be raped.  The “group” funding the ads is a 504(c) and does not have to reveal where they get their money from.  (Linked article refers to another incident where this same 504(c) has struck before in Colorado.  The Citizens United decision really is the gift that keeps on giving, isn’t it?)  The Denver Post should have some minimum standards of ethics for the advertisements they run, but apparently they do not.  If we look at the slanted writing in their coverage of the bill signing, it could be discerned that they even agree with the pro-gun-massacre groups.

While I have been personally highly critical of Governor Hickenlooper in the past I would like to take a moment here to point out that it took courage to sign the gun-control package into law.  Fortunately for him, universal background checks enjoy 80% support and magazine size limits enjoy 60% support.  I think he’ll be OK.

The other event is that the Senate Democrats have removed the assault weapons ban from the Federal Gun Control package.  A federal ban would be much more effective than a patchwork of local bans since assault weapons are so easily transported across state lines.  The cowardice of Harry Reid and company is simply deplorable.  The public gloating of the NRA over their victory is worse.

Since it appears that tragic assault weapon massacres are going to remain a fact of life here in the United States; I’d like to take a cue from the Weather Channel (who is now naming snowstorms) and suggest that the media just begin naming massacres.  We can start with the names of Wayne LaPierre and Ted Nugent, but then let’s move on to every Senator who didn’t have the courage or common sense to vote for a comprehensive ban.

I have been keeping one eye on the debate over Colorado’s proposed “gun control” laws and am simply disgusted with the level of discourse that has been taking place online.  I am constantly appalled that the radical right feels empowered to make completely bogus claims and the so-called left pathetically compromises with their absurd positions.  Our society contains a small but self-righteously vocal element that forces us to compromise with their childish, racist, ignorant and insecure would views – by merely entering the debate and being given a platform by the media in the name of ‘balance’ they pull the discussion rightward.  Unfortunately, the left has had no such ability to do the same.  I’d really like to see these people that the Tea-Baggers supposedly fear who want to take everyone’s guns away – because I’d like to vote for them.

In reality the proposed Colorado bills do 4 things:

1.) Limit ammunition capacity to 15 rounds per clip

2.) Expand background checks

3.) Make the gun owner pay the cost of his or her background check

4.) Prohibit people with a history of domestic violence from clearing a background check.

These changes are not major, and are almost laughably cosmetic.  But to hear the rabid right and the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners association (a group that makes the NRA look like a bunch of hippies), these laws will overturn the Second Amendment or will result in the state legislature “taking their guns away”.

To the RMGO and your insane, illiterate, paranoid followers let me offer you an alternative view of gun control.  Real gun control would look like the following 5-year plan:

Years 1-2: The manufacturing, importing, and sale of guns are banned, the government offers to buy guns and ammunition for $100 per gun and $5 per bullet.

Years 3-4: Gun ownership by private citizens is illegal, owning a gun will result in a $2000 fine and one month’s imprisonment.

Year 5 and beyond: Owning a gun remains illegal – penalties increase to $10,000 and 1 year in prison for firearm possession.  Additionally any reports of gun ownership will result in the National Guard (the “well regulated militia” that is actually mentioned in the 2nd Amendment) being sent to your house to search for said weapons.  If they find a working gun of any kind then you will get the bill for the cost of having sent them to your home in addition to the aforementioned penalties.

There – that is what REAL gun control would look like.  Quite frankly, it is the kind of gun control I would actually like to see.

In comparison – the proposed Colorado laws only limit your gun to killing 15 people before you have to reload to kill 15 more.

So, to all of the paranoid freaks out there who are crying that your freedom is being taken away by a marginally more adequate background check system…Relax – it could be worse.

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.

One of the most dangerous and most unchallenged assumptions in the whole gun-control discussion is that guns are effective for self-defense.  They are not.  Most of the “Rambo-Wannabes” and “paranioa warriors” that tout the need for home defense because the police can’t respond fast enough would be useless in a firefight.  Under real pressure, your aim sucks, you aren’t James Bond fast on the draw, and in the past few mass shootings the killer wore body armor.  I respect the police, and in my experience working with them they are to the last dedicated, compotent, highly trained professionals who live to serve and protect their communities – but even they have trouble keeping their bullets on the intended target.    What makes the gun-nuts think they are so much better than our police or even the secret service?  (see image below)