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.


The last time I checked, we appeared to be in the middle of the yet another food-diet-nutrition-health craze. This one seems to be centered on the concept of everyone eating or consuming only items deemed to be organic.

This craze comes on the heels of the gluten-free craze (a new study shows it increases heart attack risk), the kale craze (a new study shows kale is icky), the low-fat craze, the no-fat craze, the sugar-free craze, the low-salt craze, the low-calorie craze (you inhale water vapor in lieu of food), the no trans-fats craze, the no-sugary-drinks craze, and that pesky eat-your-darn-vegetables craze.

Whew, I just lost my appetite.

On one level, I get the organic thing. If we eat only products that have been raised naturally, then we avoid ingesting large amount of insecticides, hormones, and other nasty chemicals. OK, good idea.

The problem is that what constitutes organic seems to be in question. For instance, can a food based on GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds but raised without pesticides be organic? Can a cow raised without growth hormones but still loaded with antibiotics be organic? Can lawn and leaf bags made from only recycled wood pulp be organic? And should we care about organic lawn and leaf bags?

I think what bothers me the most about the organic craze is that it looks more and more like just another scam. For instance, oranges are considered one of the best fruits to eat as their tough skin keeps the nasty chemicals they’re sprayed with from getting inside. So why should I pay 50- to 75-percent more for organic oranges that look like they just survived a Mongol invasion?

If you look at organic foods, they invariably cost a lot more than conventional products that look suspiciously similar except that, in the case of organic fruits and veggies, they invariably look awful (like radioactive-fallout awful). And the more outlandish the product, the higher the price.

I was recently in a store that caters to the healthy-eating crowd and it offered organic everything. And the more I wandered around, the goofier it got.

I saw canned organic cat food that cost (not kidding) almost 10 times what the food we feed our cats costs. I saw organic cleaning products that cost more per ounce than unleaded gas. I saw a bag of ice that was said to have been made strictly from spring water. Yup, organic ice.

Next we’ll be planting things in organic dirt. Oh wait, we do.

The organic toothpaste and toothbrushes (with lovely wooden handles) cost enough to cover a dental visit. The organic makeup and shampoo was beautifully packaged and came with a handy home-equity loan form to make paying for them easier.

The organic cheeses were so pricey I figured it would be cheaper to just buy a cow or goat and make my own (but pay no attention to the people who were sickened by unpasteurized cheese a few months ago). And yes, the organic meats were just amazing. The packages were so small and the prices so high that I noticed a bargain bin next to them full of gold ingots that were cheaper.

Now, I know the healthy eaters out there are already gearing up to yell at me and send me packets of kale. Save your energy and kale. Just take a deep breath, drink a cup of organic green tea and listen.

I totally respect your desire to eat healthily in a world dominated by agri-businesses that supplies us with less-than-healthy foods in order to maximize their profits. I get it. Really.

But, in your single-minded rush to avoid these tainted foods, you’re falling for a lie that sounds good. Just because a label says something, doesn’t mean it’s true. And, even if the label might be true, it doesn’t mean the benefits are provable.

The best example of this type of deceptive marketing is the vitamin-supplements industry. Not too long ago, a certain TV “doctor” was all sorts of nuts over Raspberry Ketones. This is a substance derived from raspberries that supposedly has vast health benefits. Except that there’s little to no scientific proof that any of it is true.

The same can be said for megadoses of vitamin C, doses of cinnamon, fish oil, and every other supplement that costs more per gram than platinum but can’t be proven to work. That’s pretty much where we’re at with organic foods.

Marketers and sales types are slapping the word “organic” on any and every product they can find, bumping prices by huge margins, and people are falling for it. “But the government regulates what they can call organic,” you say.

Well, there might be some guidelines, but who is enforcing them these days? The folks looking to gut the EPA? The same guys who want to drill for oil in national parks? Those guys? Yeah, I’m sure they’re very concerned about whether or not your organic baby food actually contains several parts per million of industrial-grade crud. Chances are better they helped manufacture the crud.

So, to put a fine point on it, don’t always believe what the package says. Don’t trust that the government is there to safeguard your health. It isn’t.

If you really want organic kale, plant a garden and make sure to avoid chemicals. If you want organic eggs, raise a chicken or go to someone you trust that does. But most of all, do that rarest of things and use some common sense. You’d be amazed at the results.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he attempts to eat in a healthy manner between trips to the Chinese buffet. Hey, no man lives on kale alone; he needs the occasional egg roll, says Seinberg.


If you want to become a submariner, you have to get through the Navy’s basic training. Then you have to apply to enter the submarine service, pass a lengthy series of psychological screening tests and aptitude tests, and then undergo specialized training. This makes sense. You’ll be, potentially, manning billions of dollars worth of sophisticated technology with the real potential to do enormous damage.

So, you’re wondering, what point am I making? It occurred to me that we put a great deal of time, energy, and money into screening and training a lot of people in our society. And yet, the people in charge are not screened, tested, vetted, checked, or in any way monitored to determine whether or not they should be in charge. Take Congress, as a prime example.

There are only three requirements to be a member of Congress: You must be 25 or older (30 for the Senate), be a United States citizen for at least seven years (nine for the Senate), and you must be an “inhabitant” (as opposed to inmate) of the state where you’re elected.

I’m sorry; I know several aging dogs and cats that could qualify (if you go by dog/cat years). I mean seriously, these folks make big salaries, get amazing benefits, and can even be convicted felons and still serve.

And where’s the after-hire evaluation? Who is holding these folks to their campaign promises? Who keeps track of how many new laws they got passed or how many good projects they got funded?

But getting back to my original point, I think it’s high time we began to screen potential elected officials. We’re all sick of corrupt politicians voting based on campaign contributions, lobbying efforts, or just straight-up bribes. They abuse every perk and on the rare occasions when they get caught, they either get away with it, or get convicted and still keep their pensions and jobs. Really?

A person working at McDonald’s who pulls a dollar out of the register and pockets it would be fired on the spot and likely charged with a crime. How does Mickey D’s have higher standards than Congress?

From now on, anyone who wants to run for office (any office) must pass through the following set of checks, tests, and screenings. First, if they’ve been convicted of a crime (felony or serious misdemeanor), they’re disqualified.

Next, a psychological screening is done by a qualified mental-health professional to see if the candidate is sociopathic or psychopathic (most chief executive officers, many lawyers, and more than a few surgeons are, it turns out). Also, they need to be mentally healthy, not raging narcissists or megalomaniacs (sorry, Mr. Trump).

Finally, several members of the clergy of different faiths should interview the person to determine their moral health. Please note, this isn’t to find out if they’re pious; they fake that all the time.

No, the idea here is to see if they actually understand the difference between right and wrong. Bribes are wrong, voting in a manner that represents your constituents is right. Sending genital pictures via cell-phone is wrong, treating women with dignity is right.

And finally, they have to answer a simple, but critical question: Why do you want the office?

The science-fiction author Robert Heinlein once wrote that anyone who sought the office of president should be immediately disqualified from holding it. Kurt Vonnegut said, “There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don't know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.”

If authors can figure this out, then we should all rethink whom we elect these days. Some folks say we get what we deserve, and, when you look at the sad state of voter turnout and registration, maybe that’s true. Some people have suggested that, if more people voted, we’d have better representation, as the folks in office now were rarely, if ever, elected by an actual majority of eligible adults.

Right now, many folks are appalled by the behavior of the current president and his crew, and for good reason. None of these people are qualified for their jobs. Actually, most of them aren’t qualified to be dogcatcher.  A retired brain surgeon who lies in his autobiography; a failed CEO; a climate-change denier in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency; and, of course, the ego in chief who has gone bankrupt how many times?

Politics has been disreputable, dishonorable, and dysfunctional for as long as anyone can remember. It’s ruled by crazy people, paid by greedy people, and has nothing to do with the democracy. So let’s start elevating the level of candidates and I’ll bet things improve.

So, Mr. Trump, Mr. Pruitt, Ms. DeVos, can any of you tell us what the term “ethics” refers to? No, Mr. Mnuchin, not whatever you can get away with. Sorry, Mr. Trump, your hair does not constitute a platform (though it could be a structural member). Uh, Mr. Bannon, put down that kitten and back slowly away and, no, you may not kick that puppy.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he has been watching politics and politicians for the last few decades and noted that things have gone downhill — a lot.