Category Archives: Relationships

Can 4K TVs help bring back family time?

Although I don’t have one myself, I’m pretty excited about the explosion of 4K / Ultra HD televisions in the market.

Why am I excited? There’s almost no programming available in 4K right now, and for what little programming you can find in 4K, it’s difficult for the human eye to detect the difference between Full HD/1080p (1920 x 1080 pixels) and 4K / Ultra HD (3840 x 2160 pixels) from across the room unless the TV is really big…like 80″ or more. And there’s no way my fiancée and I will be getting a TV that big for our townhome apartment.

But I’m still excited about 4K, because a 4K screen can be divided up into four smaller screens, each of them at 1080p.

Because TV sizes are measured diagonally, that means a 50″ 4K TV (like this one, currently $498 at Amazon) can be divided into four sections, each of them equivalent to a 25″ 1080p TV…just slightly larger than the 24″ 1080p TV I have in the office upstairs.

Love, marriage and separate screens

Aside from using the 24″ TV as a PC monitor, I often find myself using it to watch something different from what my better half is watching downstairs. As much as I enjoy her company, the Venn Diagram of our tastes in TV and movies does not overlap much. (She recently introduced me to Happy Valley, a rare show we can enjoy together as soon as I catch up to her.)

We’re not alone either: about 1 in 4 couples spends at least three evenings per week in separate rooms because they want to watch different things on television.

Sometimes we do take turns for the sake of togetherness. I’ve seen enough episodes of Switched at Birth to be familiar with the characters and plot, and she has sat through some CSI: Miami and House of Cards episodes with me. (This is all on Netflix.) But research shows this might not be the best solution for our relationship in the long run either.

But what if we could both watch what we wanted to on the same screen at the same time from the same couch? That’s what 4K can offer.

What about audio?

In the 1989 movie Back to the Future: Part II, Marty McFly, Jr. used voice commands to tell his 2015 TV to display six different channels on the screen at once. (See the section of this clip starting at the 2:10 mark.)

One thing that struck me about this was that the McFlys’ TV set was also playing audio from all six channels at the same time, leading to incoherent noise. I don’t know how Marty Jr. understood anything he was watching!

Presumably, if my bride and I were sharing a screen and a sofa while watching different shows, one thing that wouldn’t make sense to share is the audio from our disparate programs. Of course, one or both of us could wear headphones, but that would at least make it hard for our time together to be all that much of an improvement over our time apart.

Monaural Bluetooth headsets would be an improvement so we’d each at least have one ear free, but I’m not sure if the new 4K sets are sophisticated enough to split the audio from each screen to different sources. Closed captioning could work, depending on the program. Switched at Birth would be a prime candidate for this since so much of it is in subtitled American Sign Language anyway. News and sporting events could be shown with closed captioning too without much sacrifice on my part — after all, if you walk into a sports bar, most if not all of the TVs are on mute.

And then there’s this:

Use the tech you already have

Since we don’t have a 4K TV, and all of our extra money is going into our wedding fund right now, we can use the technology we already have to achieve a similar goal. Each of us has a laptop with Netflix access. So, rather than splitting up a big 4K TV screen, one of us could use our living room TV while the other one watches from the same sofa on a laptop screen with a headset or on mute with closed captioning. Tablets and even smart phones can work for this purpose as well, although you might find yourself squinting at the smaller screens.

Unless a show or movie is about to be dropped, Netflix is not particularly time-sensitive. I can watch my reruns of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit whenever I choose. But last fall, her Downton Abbey episodes conflicted with my Sunday Night Football games. Sporting events are meant to be watched live, and Downton Abbey was one of those shows that could be considered water-cooler television the next day, so we both wanted to watch our shows live, over the air. And this meant being in separate rooms.

Downton Abbey is now over, of course, and there’s nothing scheduled to be on the air on Sunday evenings this fall that has piqued her interest. In hindsight, I have a USB TV tuner that has been sitting in a drawer for a while…I could have plugged this into my laptop along with a little antenna to watch football on mute while she watched Downton Abbey. If such a situation resurfaces, I may have to try that.

Although I have precious little space remaining on my laptop’s SSD, I could even use a little of that space for a free download of MythTV to turn my laptop into a DVR and send the actual recordings to the larger hard drive attached to my Pogoplug.

We’ll have to do a little experimenting to make this work, but I think it can be done. I don’t want television to keep us apart, but I certainly don’t long for 1955, when the entire family had to gather around a single TV with three channels to choose from…and no reruns.

Just turn it off sometimes

Of course, I don’t want to overlook an even lower-tech solution to our problem: turning the TV off altogether and doing something else for real quality time. And we certainly do this sometimes as well…we might go for a walk in the park (weather permitting), play a game, or just go out on a date. Watching too much television — with or without your partner — is obviously not a good thing. But watching TV with your partner by your side is usually better than watching TV alone. And that’s where 4K televisions could make a real difference.









If the Gores can’t make it work, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Former Vice President Albert Gore Jr. and his wife Mary Elizabeth (you know her as Tipper) are separating after 40 years of marriage. This from the couple who exchanged one of the most public and memorable kisses in American history.

I haven’t really seen any information as to what prompted the couple to split up, but I can’t imagine that after 40 years they suddenly came to the realization that they didn’t realize what they had gotten into. This marriage survived a long political career and even a heartbreakingly narrow defeat for the presidency. That amount of pressure and pain would weigh heavily on even the best of marriages.

It had to be something else.

I doubt it was because the Gores were broke either – in 2007, Al’s net worth was valued in excess of $100 million. (He was “only” worth $2 million at best in 2000 so he has made most of the money since leaving Washington.) I mean if the Gores were just having a marital spat they could just flee on private jets to their separate mansions until things cooled off.

So that leaves us to speculate about other factors. Did they simply grow apart? Was there an extramarital affair a la John Edwards? (Side note: Many marriages survive affairs…just ask the Clintons.) Did one of them meet someone else to grow old with? Did one of them change so radically that the other couldn’t live with it anymore?

Marriages are not easy things to preserve. I recently experienced a divorce after six years of marriage. There were warning signs early on in my case, even before the wedding that I stubbornly ignored, so you can chalk that one up to hubris and holding on too long.

Yet I recently saw an old friend and met his second wife – since I had seen him last, he and his first wife of 31 years had been divorced. They were able to keep it together for decades, so you would imagine they learned how to resolve disputes at some point. I can’t imagine what the breaking point was, but it must have been really painful.

Maybe it’s the whole concept of marriage that isn’t working. I’m not saying it never works…my parents are still married after 31 years. But it fails often enough that we should question it. Is any of us really prepared to look into a crystal ball and make that kind of lifelong commitment (particularly when we are just starting out in life)? Are humans really built to be monogamous for life when our closest relatives in the animal kingdom are quite promiscuous?

P.S. Note to Tipper: your husband is not only fabulously wealthy and politically influential, but he has also won an Academy Award and the Nobel Peace Prize…all without a hint of scandal. He was a two-term Vice President and a few hundred Floridian votes away from being the President of the United States – he actually won the popular vote. Do you honestly think you can do better?

Breach of contract

When two (or more) parties enter into a contract, those parties are bound to the terms contained in the document. Presumably both parties signing the contract believe that they are benefiting in some way from the contract or else they would not do it.

Now of course this does not always work out. Sometimes one party will do something that violates the terms of the contract. Maybe there is some dispute as to what the contract really means or which party is living up to the contract and which one is not. There may even be some financial consequences or penalties imposed by one party on another for breaking the contract. Those things are justifiably handled through some form of arbitration (i.e., the civil court system). But ultimately such a dispute would be between the parties who entered into the contract and no one else.

There are certain contracts, however, that our society places special emphasis on. These contracts have ripple effects beyond the parties that enter into them. Marriage is the best example. The same two people in the exact same living situation with the exact same income would be taxed differently if they were married than they would be if they were unmarried. Insurers give married people lower rates than single people (presumably because some actuary determined that married people were less risky to insure than unmarried people). In short, staying single can be costly.

I recently received a questionnaire from my health insurance company (which, coincidentally, is also my employer) asking me if I was still married to the person who is covered under my policy as a spouse…which I am. Apparently my willingness to have money deducted from my paycheck to cover her is not enough to satisfy the health insurance company. I actually have to remain legally married to her in order to maintain the privilege of paying to cover her under my group plan.

In fact, many Americans are getting married for the tax breaks or for the health insurance coverage, and health insurance is also a contentious issue in many divorce cases.

The last time I checked, neither the IRS nor any health insurance company signed on to a marriage license. So they should not be factors in whether someone enters into or breaks a marriage contract. Instead, they make a separate agreement with the couple as opposed to each spouse separately (I guess that two become one really means something in the eyes of the law).

Some might argue that this is our society’s way of giving people incentives to keep their families together. But at that point a marriage can become a technicality or a loophole instead of a real commitment. After all, are taxes and health insurance really the right reasons to say “I do?”

Famous last words

Said you heard every word
But I watched you turn away
Your eyes grew colder than winter
“Love is so intrusive”
I thought I heard you say
And laugh so unconvincingly

Famous last words
‘I’m not ready yet’
‘I won’t be gone a minute…’

Narrow is the road
And too high a price to pay
Loneliness is such a sanctuary
Empty are the musings
And wasted are the days
You said you were only waiting…

Famous last words
‘I’m not ready yet’
‘I won’t be gone a minute,
But I won’t forget’
Famous last words
Tomorrow never comes
Will I ever know that I was in love?

Said you heard every word
But I watched you turn away
You said you were only waiting…

Famous last words
‘I’m not ready yet’
‘I won’t be gone a minute’

— Famous Last Words by Jars of Clay

If you’ve been following this blog at all, you may have noticed that I have become incredibly gunshy and risk-averse. I’m instinctively not a risk taker. I have literally told friends that I have made it a life goal to take as few risks as possible in order to prevent the negative consequences.

But you know what? As they wisely responded to me, a certain degree of risk is unavoidable in life. You take a risk getting in your car and driving to work every day or walking outside in a storm. Sure, you can keep the risks you take to an absolute minimum, but where does that get you in life?

Everyone who knows me even a little bit knows I love (and quote incessantly from) Seinfeld, but I also enjoy a number of other shows, including Family Guy. One of my favorite episodes involves baby Stewie Griffin — known for his plots to take over the world — traveling in time to meet his future self.

Baby Stewie is disappointed to find that his future self is not of the world domination variety. Instead he is a lonely virgin with a dead-end job who refuses to take a great opportunity (a very sweet and interested woman at work). When Baby Stewie cajoles him into it, he fails miserably at the sexual experience. The woman goes back to work and tells the manager about what happened on their disappointing date, and Adult Stewie loses his job as a result. He also forgets about the candles he had lit for this event and accidentally burns his apartment down…blaming Baby Stewie for everything. Literally by avoiding risks in life, Adult Stewie lost what little he had.

At the end of all this, Baby Stewie asks Adult Stewie how he turned out to be so pathetic. He pauses for a moment to recall and then remembers that he nearly drowned in a pool when he was a baby and that made him averse to risk for the rest of his life…and basically rendered him a loser. He never learned that just because one risk has a bad consequence that all risks have bad consequences. Instead, like me, he merely retreated because he was living his whole life in fear of what might go wrong.

A horrified Baby Stewie goes back in time to prevent the pool incident from occurring because he decides that it would be more important for him to alter the space-time continuum than to end up like Adult Stewie did.

Transitioning to my real life, I realize that I could do better for myself if only I took a few measured risks. You’re never going to see me throwing down thousands of dollars in a casino or running one of those get-rich-quick schemes, but I must teach (force?) myself to stick my neck out a little bit once in a while if the risk is worthwhile.

I took a small risk recently, and thus far it has paid some very nice dividends. This was one day that was not wasted. Let’s just hope those are not famous last words.

Taking baby steps

I used to love riding my bicycle when I was younger. I rode almost every day. One time I rode too far away and down far too busy a street and then came home to find my mom standing angrily in the driveway…and my bike taken away from me for a while.

After she gave it back I still loved to ride. But after a while I started to notice a nagging pain in my left leg whenever I rode. I tried to just work through it but the pain became too much to bear, so I went to a doctor. The doctor put me through a series of tests and found that I had a benign cyst on my femur. The doctor offered to do surgery to remove it but thought that the surgery might be worse than just living with it since it wasn’t malignant.

The only trouble was that it kept me off my bicycle. The less I rode, the weaker my legs got and the less I was able to do other physical activities that I enjoyed. I couldn’t run or play basketball or (attempt to) dance without getting out of breath. It was partially because I was asthmatic, but the weakness in my legs made my heart and lungs work much harder to compensate for the lack of strength.

A few days ago I was walking through the garage looking for something and I can swear I heard a bicycle whispering at me.

“PSSSST! Where have you been? Isn’t it about time to get me out for a ride?” it seemed to say. “I’m tired of being all cooped up in here!”

So I got it out. I got a few feet down the street and discovered that the tires were messed up. Now this could have been the perfect excuse not to ride, but instead I went back and borrowed a bicycle from my mom.

I got on that bike and rode it through the neighborhood. But because of the pain I was in and my difficulty breathing when I saw home again after going in a circle through the subdivision it felt like the finish line at the Tour de France. I didn’t ride very far, but I was able to achieve a small victory. And maybe that small victory will enable me to push myself to go just a little farther next time. And a little farther the time after that.

Clearly I will never win the Tour de France, and it was never really a dream of mine anyway…I always thought of bicycling as a non-competitive hobby and maybe a means of transportation in certain areas. But I can savor a small victory.

Now I don’t know if I can put my finger on it but I think something about that very minor achievement gave me a tiny boost of confidence that I sorely needed, and it might just ripple through the other aspects of my life.

Addendum: After discussing my experience with my mom, she said, “Thank you! I thought I was the only one who couldn’t pedal that bike! I thought it was just because I was old!” Apparently there is a problem with this bicycle and it shouldn’t be this hard to ride, even for me.

Making things happen vs. forcing things to happen

There’s an important difference between making things happen and forcing things to happen.

When you make something happen, you might act as a sort of catalyst to something that would have happened anyway. Maybe you put the pieces together. Maybe you create the right environment. Maybe you formulate a plan. Good results tend to flow from this.

When you force something to happen that means you are presumably up against some opposing force. It’s like trying to fall upward or run into a gale-force wind. It’s really hard work, often fraught with peril and disappointment.

Now this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to overcome big problems by sheer force of will or beat long odds to achieve success. That sort of wherewithal is very necessary when the stakes are high and failure is not an option.

But some pursuits just aren’t worth the trouble. No matter how badly you want to eat the fruit from a Ginkgo biloba tree, you’re much better off knowing that the tree does not bear fruit.

That’s when it’s time to pick a new battle.

Gray area is just a nice way of saying minefield

The Berlin Wall was a pretty imposing and horrible structure. On the east side of the wall sat East Berlin: a place gripped by poverty, despair and totalitarian government. On the west side of the wall sat West Berlin: a modern, affluent, democratic society. People were maimed and killed trying to climb over from East Berlin to West Berlin.

Still, with that wall there people always knew which side they were on. There was no room for interpretation and ambiguity. There was no gray area, and that wall was more or less impenetrable.

But what if, instead of a wall, there was an unmarked Berlin Minefield? Would you try to cross it knowing that either you could run to freedom or die instantly depending on where you stepped?

In my life I have dealt much better with black and white issues than with gray areas. In a gray area you don’t know where you stand. You don’t know who may be offended by your actions. You’re left to feel things out and guess, and I am a terrible guesser.

So if you’re dealing with me, please do me a favor and be crystal clear about what you expect…because otherwise there may be some unfortunate accidents.