There has been an ongoing debate about whether dogs are smarter than cats or if other animals are as smart as people. I grew up in a household with dogs and then had cats later in life, so I have some thoughts on the subject.

But, to be fair here, I am not a behavioral specialist, animal psychiatrist, crazy cat person, or dog-centric pet aficionado. I like most animals (generally more than most people) and find them all pretty pleasant.

But is any given animal smarter than another? And how do animals, in general compare to humans? I suppose that depends on what you think indicates intelligence.

In my younger years, I had gerbils, hamsters, mice, fish, and even a chinchilla (yes, they really are that soft). In all cases, they exhibited behaviors that might, or might not, constitute various levels of intelligence.

But this raises a question. Is it fair to compare animal behavior to human behavior? For instance, have you ever watched a dog sniff at a vertical surface before peeing on it? According to experts, the dog is smelling and getting information from the dogs who also peed in that spot and then leaving his or her own message to add to the urinary bulletin board.

The thing is, we have no idea if your dog is leaving the next chapter of “War and Peace” or a snotty comment about the grooming habits of the beagle on the next block. But for a human to do the same thing would require pen and paper, a computer, smartphone, or a can of spray paint.

In other words, dogs can naturally communicate in ways that require us to use advanced technology. So, who is smarter?

As I sit here at the computer, peeing on a virtual signpost in cyberspace, one of our cats inevitably climbs into my lap and curls into a classic cat loaf. I oblige with a little ear or neck scratching, and purring generally commences.

So, without using any form of technology, the cat has attained a state of utter bliss and relaxation. Most humans spend money, energy, and time in a futile attempt to reach such a state. A purring cat has attained oneness with the universe without Ambien, weed, booze, meditation, yoga, travel to exotic lands, a hike in the woods, or a lengthy bike ride.

Dogs seem to be able to achieve the same state with a simple belly rub. So again, who appears more advanced intellectually?

So, which is smarter? A cat or a dog (drumroll please)?

Well, I’d say they’re about even on average (though science suggests dogs have the edge). If you look at the behavior of the average cat or dog, you find they have simple needs (eat, sleep, poop) and are generally in a pretty good state of mind.

They own nothing, owe nothing, desire very little past the aforementioned basics, and generally glide through their lives in a pretty effortless manner. They play, wander about, nap with great frequency, and wait for us to take care of their basic needs. Overall, they have us pretty well trained.

So, as you drive your over-engineered gas guzzler to your bland, unpleasant office through dangerous traffic, all in an effort to earn money that you hope will allow you to buy things that bring you happiness, think of your cat or dog napping in the sun.

While you answer the phone; sit through endless, pointless meetings; do work that, in many cases, is boring or downright unpleasant; and then return home tired, and frustrated, what suddenly makes you feel better? When someone crawls into your lap and purrs or jumps up happily to greet you at the door. Of course that could be a kid, pet, or spouse.

Maybe the real answer is that animals are way smarter than humans because, for all of our technology, we’re just watery meat sacks full of angst and insecurity while animals are more self-actualized and content on a bad day than we are on our best day.

I have no idea if dolphins have already come up with faster-than-light travel or if Chihuahuas nailed the unified field theory 1,000 years ago, but they all seem happier than we are, and they also do a lot less damage to the planet than we do.

So again, are animals smarter than people? I suppose, if we ever develop the technology to actually communicate with them, we might find out. But I doubt it.

I suspect most humans don’t really want to find out that the Basset hound next door cured cancer before lunch and left the formula sprayed on the stop sign at the corner of Main Street. It just wouldn’t make us feel very smart.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he believes that all animals are likely smarter than humans. Evidence? No animal has ever been observed watching Fox “News” voluntarily. Any questions?


I recently learned that there are techniques for driving a hybrid car that actually improve the gas mileage (as if 50 miles per gallon isn’t enough). They also tend to have the effect of improving the whole driving experience and many of the lessons transfer over to everyday life.

Now, please stay with me on this as I’m not, as you may suspect, under the influence of mind-altering substances.

To begin with, a hybrid car is basically a car that has a gas engine plus one or more electric drive motors and a big battery pack that gets recharged as you drive. The electric motors take over for the gas engine periodically, or totally depending on conditions, and thus, you get very good mileage compared to a car with just a gas engine.

This is all controlled by a bunch of computers and sensors so all you really do is just drive the car. But, as noted, there are ways to drive that make the car run even better.

One of the first things you learn to do is glide periodically. The car will actually run if you take your foot off the pedal once you have some momentum built up or are on a downhill. The battery will charge as you glide down a hill or step on the brakes as you approach a stop.

Gliding in a car seems odd but then so does gliding in life. Our society is always telling us to put the pedal to the metal and blast through at high speed. Gliding is quieter, slower, and more calming. It makes driving an act of kinetic mindfulness.

Another skill is coming up to speed slowly. In a hybrid, if you mash the pedal to the floor you invariably cause the engine to run, burn gas, and kill your mileage (but the car does actually accelerate). If you build momentum slowly, allowing the electric motor to help you and then use the gas sparingly to get up to speed, you save gas and find the trip more peaceful.

Granted, you have to deal with the realities of traffic; nobody suggests taking your time on the Northway getting up to speed. But on many roads and at many times, you can, and should, take your time. It’s like waking up or starting some new task. If you start slowly and work into things, it’s just a better experience all around.

When most of us learned to drive, we were taught how to use the brakes. The driving instructor would help you learn to apply the brakes steadily and soften at the end so you didn’t come to a jarring stop. The instructor told you not to jam on the brakes as you’d possibly skid or lose control plus you’d burn out the brakes prematurely.

In a hybrid, braking early and steadily recharges the battery, thanks to regenerative braking. In life, slowing down gently is always a good idea as coming to rest is important on a regular basis.

One of the oddest things about most hybrids is that, if you are running on gas and then come to a stop, the engine usually shuts down. This saves gas while you wait for the light to change or you’re at a stop sign. When you touch the pedal, the engine starts up again or the electric power kicks in, depending on conditions.

But shutting down when you come to rest is a good idea. We’re always so busy keeping in motion and worrying about where we have to be next. Many of us forget to shut down when we come to a halt at different times during the day. It’s good to shut down and save a little energy here and there and let the internal engine take a breather.

Overall, the real key to driving a hybrid is to take the whole experience in a more mindful way and with a slower approach. You plan your moves, your glides; you brake with intention and accelerate with care.

As in life, being in the moment, seeing what’s coming or just slowing down the process and going with the flow is generally a healthier way to approach things. We’re all here for a finite period and the key seems to be to make the most of it by paying attention. Too many of us jump in the car, hit the gas, engage cruise control, and zoom to the next destination — but miss the trip itself.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but there are many times when I step out of my car and feel relaxed even if I’ve just traveled through heavy traffic. Can you say that?

Now, I have to go see a client but I’m taking the motorcycle today. It gets even better mileage than the car and leaning through a turn is really going with the flow.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg has been driving hybrids for two years now. He’s hoping the next car will be a pure electric. Maybe it will fly too. Talk about gliding…



My wife and I recently went through the semi-traumatic process of replacing a car. We had the car for 13 years, so it was like saying goodbye to a mildly-liked pet that drinks really expensive food and gets sick periodically requiring very expensive trips to the vet.

Ever replaced a fuel pump on your cat? Serious money there.

As we went through the process of research, test driving, and fending off rabid sales pitches, I began to notice something about the new cars we were looking at. They all had varying levels of technology that I found variously to be silly, interesting, intimidating, frightening, and overwhelming.

There’s a lot of talk today about distracted driving and rightly so. But here’s the funny thing: We keep blaming cell phones, makeup, food, and other external factors. Has anyone looked at just how distracting a modern car is, by itself?

Take the “infotainment” systems in today’s cars. They offer everything including a wireless interface with your phone, satellite radio, AM/FM (for nostalgia buffs), CD players (for Luddites), backup cameras, front-facing cameras, navigation systems, and enough driving and environmental information to write a book.

If you ignore that, just the traditional dashboard is enough to make your brain ooze into overload. Our hybrid cars have screens that look more like video games that tell us how we’re doing mpg-wise, how charged the batteries are, what our range is, and whether or not we’re charging when we put on the brakes.

Most cars now tell you your speed and some still sport tachometers to give you a read on the engine RPMs. There are also lights for tire inflation; inside and outside temperature; time; date; time zone; your current blood pressure; stock-market reports; and. of course, a video system to keep the kiddies in the back seat entertained (unless they’re busy staring at their smart phones).

There are buttons everywhere. The driver’s side door on my car has more buttons than my first car had in total. My steering wheel looks more like the control yoke on a fighter jet what with remote buttons for the phone, the stereo, and the environmental controls.

The center console that controls most of the car looks like those desks NASA guys sit at to launch a rocket into orbit and there are sockets strewn around to plug in phones, iPods, iPads, computers, and probably hair dryers, for all I know.

New cars now have fobs, not keys. The fob has multiple buttons to lock, unlock, set off the alarm, start the air conditioner (seriously) 10 minutes before you get in on a hot day, open hatches, close doors, and there’s even a hidden key inside in case you get locked out.

To start the car, the fob simply needs to be with you and you just touch an on/off switch. Oh, and if you lose the fob, it only costs one or two mortgage payments to replace.

The sun shields now sport lighted makeup mirrors and a panel above the rearview mirror has lighting controls and storage for sunglasses as well as controls for sunroofs, moonroofs (not sure what the difference is), and just random buttons that you need an owner’s manual the size of “War and Peace” to figure out.

Our new car has a 600-page main manual plus four or five other smaller ones. It’s like it came with its own version of “Encyclopedia Britannica.”

Even the lowly windshield wiper stalk now has built-in controls for speed, fluid, rear wiper, front wiper, and piano metronome (to make better use of the beat). And let’s not forget seat controls, heated seats, cooled seats, and a joystick plus buttons to control the side-view mirrors.

We won’t even get into the new features such as self-parking, out-of-lane alarms, radar, sonar and an aiming screen for anti-ballistic missiles built into a heads-up display that shines data onto the windshield just like a fighter jet (really, well, maybe not missiles).

In an effort to make cars safer, they’ve now jammed so much technology into them you literally have to take lessons at the dealers in order to get the car home safely and not start a world war just trying to adjust your seat.

I like technology, possibly more than most people in that I make my living through and with technology. But there should be limits. I think maybe car-makers should back off until they’re ready to just give us a true self-driving car. Until then, cut back on all the gizmos and shiny lights and switches and leave all that to the fighter pilots.

If you’re older than 40, think about what your first car was like. Mine had no air, no power windows, no door locks, or anything else. It had a stereo that played the radio and cassette tapes. It got decent mileage and didn’t cost more than a house.

It lasted me 10 years till I sold it still running and, oh yeah, it had a stick shift. Nowadays, I’m told that less than 20 percent of the United States driving population can handle a vehicle with a stick shift. Pretty sad, as the popular saying goes. Of course, back in the day, we were too busy driving to tweet.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he has has been driving a computer since 1977, a motorcycle since 1979, and a car since 1981. His current motorcycle is 21 years old and has no technology. His current car is smarter than his first computer.


I’m not totally sure when it all started. What? The camera/phone fetish. The constant documenting of every single, bloody, sweaty, boring, intimate, private, public, silly, and otherwise superfluous aspect of our lives.

Once upon a time, you took a picture of your new baby peacefully sleeping when you first got home from the hospital. Nowadays people shoot 4K video of the actual birth and then immediately upload it to the web so everyone can share the joy (or nausea).

Now don’t get me wrong here. I appreciate a good photo as much as the next guy. So, I truly understand the urge to document or capture important moments in our lives. But therein lies the key to the insanity: Important moments.

People now have the ability to record still images or video 24/7 and so they do. And that’s become a problem. I mean, handing someone a scalpel doesn’t make them a surgeon, so having a camera does not make you Ansel Adams or Steven Spielberg.

A great photo or video is great because it represents a singular moment or event. If you are always shooting everything you encounter, chances are many of those photos or videos will not qualify as great. Probably, many will qualify as trash. So, in essence, you’re cluttering up the world with trash. Think of it as digital littering.

The main reason for this, of course, is the ubiquity of the smart phone. In the old days, you had to carry a real camera, and then pay for film, developing, and printing. Unless you were very well off, or a professional photographer, most folks took photos only on special occasions. That’s one of the main reasons why looking at old printed photos is fun; they mostly represent truly special moments.

Another problem with the constant recording is that it’s an invasion of privacy for anyone who happens to be nearby or in the frame. If you’re having a quiet meal with your wife or friends and someone is six feet away taping a drunk friend who is stumbling towards your table, you likely want nothing to do with it.

If said video goes viral, do you want your face or those of your companions as the backdrop to some drunk person’s 15 microseconds of drooling fame? Probably not; especially if the video ends with the drunk falling on your table or vomiting in your lap.

A very creepy issue with the constant recording is that we’re creating generations of children who are way too comfortable in front of a camera. They calculate every move and word because they know there’s a good chance they’re being recorded by their crazed hover parents.

All kids start to look like those obnoxiously precocious kids you see on Disney TV shows. Why? Because once-normal kids see those TV kids and emulate them.

And what is done with these gigabytes of video and still images captured by said parental voyeurs? Not much. Most of this stuff gets uploaded to the cloud or downloaded to personal computers. That means your darling little ones are now out there on the wild and woolly interwebs along with lots of digital flotsam.

There’s also an actual cost, too. I have spent many hours cleaning up people’s overstuffed hard drives or installing extra hard drives. I’ve listened to sobs as I tell people their drives have died and they have no backup of the thousands of photos they’ve shot, including the touching birth video when mom was screaming bloody murder.

Then they really lose it when I tell them it’ll run $2,000-plus, to have a professional data recovery company attempt to salvage their precious photos — those same photos they’ve never really looked at. Guess how many people opt for that?

The final straw is that, for all this recording, people are less present than ever. Have you been to a concert; sporting event; or, goddess forbid, a school function, recently? Watch the people around you and see where their attention is riveted.

I once observed a teenage girl walk through a once-in-a-lifetime museum exhibit of Van Gogh and never look up once from her phone. People show up and spend the entire event glued to their phones, moving for a better shot, tweeting about the event, uploading to Facebook, Instagramming, or texting about the event. Do they ever actually just sit and watch or consciously attend?

If it’s your kid’s school play, do you recall their lines? Their big scene? Their actual part? Probably not. Although my guess is you have footage or stills buried somewhere that you’ll likely never look at again.

One other thing you might want to consider is how silly this is getting out here in the real world. On occasion, I’ve watched professional photographers try to shoot an event and one of the biggest challenges is to try and get the requested pictures while every shot is continuously blocked by people with cell phones. Seriously.

They’re standing there, holding several thousand dollars worth of cameras and lenses, trying to get a shot that will end up in the paper or online but they have to dodge a dozen crazed fans or hover parents deadset on getting the lead singer at the concert or little Ashley as she belts out some pop hit during the school talent show, or crosses the line at the track meet. And we won’t even mention the silliness that takes place at most weddings.

So, folks, feel free to grab a shot now and then, when it really matters. More power to you. But instead of trying to be the next Spielberg, try just being present. If you paid to go to the concert, dance, sing along, listen, applaud, cheer, and maybe take a quick picture but, most of all, just be there. If you’re at a school event, put the stupid phone away and just bask in your little one’s performance, no matter what. Take a picture before or after if you must, but mostly just watch.

Social media and over-sharing have turned many people into the most connected but isolated people in the history of mankind. Try being present more and I’ll bet the mental pictures you get will far exceed any digital picture you could possibly snap.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he has appreciated pictures all his life. But he really doesn’t like being in them.


Cats, by their very design, have many fascinating qualities and talents. We all know about their keen sense of smell, fast (catlike) reflexes, and that uncanny ability to land on their feet if dropped. But did you also know they tell time better than a Swiss watch? It’s true. I see it every day. Every $%#@! day.

Just so you know, Meg and I get up most weekday mornings before 5. Yeah, I know. But we do that so we can get in our morning workout, which is usually a three-mile walk or trip to the gym in inclement weather. I have a very trusty clock radio next to our bed set to wake us up precisely on time to the dulcet tones of whatever classic rock is playing at that ungodly hour. This morning I believe it was the soft warbling of Axl Rose with that lovely classic, “Welcome to the Jungle.”

But before I could even get to Axl’s stirring melodic range, I had been roused by the not so soft meow of Lemon, our 17-pound alarm cat. Lemon was letting us know, in no uncertain terms, that it was time for the humans to get up, get dressed and feed him! If, for some unfathomable reason we’d chosen not to stir, he’d have moved on to phase two, or Defcon Two, as he likes to call it. This consists of hauling his bulk (albeit rather gracefully) up onto the bed, strolling up along my left side, walking across my pillow, stepping on my hair, doing the same to Meg and then sitting down between us and meowing.

Still no response? He hops off the bed and begins to sharpen his claws on the side of the bed or on the floor. This creates sounds reminiscent of some horror film where a madman is tearing up some poor innocent item of clothing or furniture with a badly tuned chainsaw or dull butter knife. Somewhere in here, the alarm (the real one) goes off and we get up, so he just sits and watches till we get downstairs and feed him.

Weekends are the biggest challenge as we don’t set the alarm. Starting at about 4:30 a.m. he’ll wake up and come in to check on us. By 5 he’s getting pushy, so one of us will get up and make like we’re going downstairs towards the fridge. He’ll come dashing out, blow by us on the stairs fast enough to cause rug burn, and we’ll double back and close the bedroom door. After a couple minutes he’ll realize he was faked out, so he comes silently up the stairs, begins to sharpen his claws just outside the door and then reach up and start to try and turn the doorknob. Seriously. We have those antique glass doorknobs that go nicely with our 130-year-old house and he turns, struggles and rattles, but hasn’t managed yet. Darn his lack of opposable thumbs!

Finally, after this has gone on for awhile and the floor outside the door has a three-foot hole from his claws, one of us will get up and feed the beasts. Of course, it’s highly unlikely we can get back to sleep after this, but just in case one would want to try, you get about an hour before he’s back asking for the dry food. We give them wet first then an hour later, dry. So giving them wet is like hitting the snooze button. And if you think mornings can be an issue, just try taking a nap in the afternoon. As we feed them around 4 p.m., if you’re zonked out any time after 3 p.m., Lemon will let you know that the day is waning and you might want to think about getting up and moving. Goddess forbid that he goes hungry for an extra five seconds.

Whether morning or afternoon, his timing is just spot on. And he’s good year-round. Oh, setting the clocks ahead or back does throw him for a bit, but he’s soon back on schedule, just like clockwork (pun intended). But none of this behavior answers the basic question: How in the heck does a large orange and white cat tell time with such pinpoint accuracy? Is there a Rolex hidden under all that fur? Does his brain contain some sort of chronometer the way homing pigeon brains are said to have magnetic particles like little compasses? Is he in contact with some vast, unseen cat atomic clock service? I haven’t seen a bill as yet.

Perhaps we should try to get a grant to study this phenomenon. Imagine if we could harness the time keeping ability of cats. At the Olympics, you’d no longer need precision stopwatches. You’d just bring in a flock of cats. The starting gun goes off, the cats scatter and hide under the bleachers. By the time the race ends, they’ve crawled back out and congregated unerringly around the winner. Maybe in the future if you needed a new clock, you’d just go to the animal shelter and adopt a cat instead of going to the store and buying some mass-produced piece of plastic. The dashboard clock in the car? Nowhere near as interesting as having a small cat riding along with you. And wristwatches? Nope, a cat follows you around all day, letting you know when to do things like feed it, change the litter, get it fresh water, or brush it.

There you have our future. A world where cats let us know what to do and when to do it. Oh, wait. That’s my life every day.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he would have finished this column sooner, but one of the alarm cats kept going off.