Philips Sonicare 4700 Toothbrush Fails

After using the previous generation of the Sonicare toothbrush for at least 10 years, I bought two new Sonicare 4700 brushes for myself and my wife less than a year ago. I bought them at my dentist, which probably made them more expensive than if I had gone to Costco. I paid about $100 each.

In the last few days, mine started failing. The brush shaft became loose and wobbly, and since the effectiveness of an electric toothbrush is based on vibration, it simply did not work anymore.

I was going to invoke my warranty, but the Philips website was not very helpful, and I had no idea where my receipt was. Who expects a toothbrush to fail and registers it after the purchase? Not me! I didn’t keep a file on my toothbrush like I would on a car or a computer, for instance.

Enter YouTube. The first video I found was from deependstudios. It described exactly how to open the toothbrush. Without it, I would never have figured it out.

I gave it a shot, what did I have to lose? 

Here is the toothbrush removed from the housing and the tools I needed. Yes, there is a hammer there, and to understand why, watch the above video. Unlike the deependstudios guy who ended up ruining the charger while trying to open it, I was able to avoid his mistake and fix my toothbrush like new – thanks to his video and instructions.

It all comes down to one screw, seen here in the center of the picture.

The Sonicare is made in China, who would guess, and it seems it’s all made out of Chinesium. This screw, which holds in the vibrating shaft, had come loose. Who would design a toothbrush where the most critical functional component that makes it work is attached by a tiny screw that comes loose with vibration?

I had to make a trip to Home Depot to get some thread lock, I put a tiny dab on the tip of the screw and fastened it tightly. I needed to use my computer grade tiny screw driver set to do that. My normal tools were too large.

All new! My toothbrush is back in business. I am sure this happens a lot to these units. I am amazed that Philips isn’t coming up with a better design.

All thanks to this video by deependstudios.

Most Hated Corporations

I just stumbled on this Reddit post:

Which company could go out of business tomorrow and it would be to the betterment of this world? : AskReddit

There are over 5,000 answers as we speak, and just scrolling through casually, here are the winners by a large margin:

  1. Nestle – this is by far the top of the list
  2. Ticketmaster
  3. News Corp (Murdoch, Fox News)
  4. BlackRock
  5. Meta (Facebook)
  6. Mega Churches
  7. Church of Scientology
  8. Monsanto

Of course, the list goes on for thousands, but as I scroll, there is a consensus:

Nestle. Ticketmaster. Fox News.

American Airlines Sucks

I hate to say this, but American Airlines sucks.

I have flown over 2.5 million miles on American over a period of about 30 years. I was in the top elite tier (Executive Platinum) for many years and the Covid travel crash bumped me off and now I am a “mere” lifetime Platinum member. So I still get some perks.

It’s always been bad and challenging to claim travel credits with American Airlines. Here is a post I made 11 years ago about how their travel vouchers are almost impossible to use. It hasn’t gotten any better – maybe worse.

A couple of months ago my wife and I were in Croatia on vacation. We flew on American, but the connector from London to Zagreb was on their partner, British Airways. We had a layover in London Heathrow. While I am at it, do not get me started on Heathrow. I HATE HEATHROW, everything about it. When going to Europe, I always try to avoid it as a stopover, but that’s another rant for another time….

While in Croatia, my wife tested positive for Covid a few hours before we needed to board our flight home out of Zagreb. She was not allowed to get on the plane. Since business and other matters required that one of us get home, we separated, she stayed marooned in a Croatian hotel for what turned out to be another 9 days, while I went home while I could – while I tested negative. The agent for British Airways told me that in order to get a flight credit, I’d better call my airline before I boarded, so I would not lose her part of the ticket. I called the elite desk for Executive Platinum at American Airlines, and after a two minute tape on how I should go online it told me that they were closed. It was a Saturday afternoon in Croatia, so it was very early AM in the U.S. Then I made another call to the general reservation line, only to get the same message after listening for a few minutes to their drivel.

Now mind you, American’s main reservation line is advertised to be open 24 hours a day, which is what I’d expect from a major airline. People don’t just need help on the phone with the largest airline in the world while it’s business hours in Dallas, Texas.

Eventually, I just had to board my flight home alone, wait for the weekend to pass, until I could get an agent on the phone during normal business hours in Dallas. It then took about an hour with that agent to get about $450 of credit back for her portion of the abandoned ticket. That credit is now in an account in the American Airlines’ system.

I have since tried to use that credit three times for three other bookings, but have not been successful. While the website says I should be able to use a credit when I pay for a ticket, it does not work.

As you can see in the screenshot above, there are two buttons at the beginning of the payment process, where you think you might be able to use your credit. When you click on either of them, it gives you this message:

Not very helpful, right? Why is the button there in the first place if you are not able to use it? When you click on “Contact Reservations”, you get to this screen:

The phone number shown at the yellow arrow is the main reservation line. At the red arrow, you see it’s open 24 hours a day. This is the number I have been calling. When you call this number, you first have to listen to about 2 minutes of bullshit stuff, like how much easier it is to go to their website, and then it finally tells you they are closed! On a Saturday afternoon at 3:00pm!

I just bought my third ticket at full face value without being able to use the flight credit I have on the books. My crime: I am not calling during normal business hours Dallas time. So in order to use my credit, I need to wait to book my next flight at just the right time, on a weekday (while I am working) and be prepared to be on the phone for an hour, first waiting to get an agent who can help me — they are all so busy all the time — and then fumble my way through applying the credit I have on file.

Maybe I need to take my travel business to another airline after 30 years of loyalty to American?


Smokers, Ashtrays and Butts

Today I came across this reddit post

Smokers, pick up your damn butts!

The planet is not an ashtray, and I have been thinking about that recently.

I just bought a brand-new truck, and it does not have an ashtray. It also does not have any place where I can put a little garbage container.

I am not a smoker, and I have actually never smoked in my life. A grand-total of perhaps a dozen cigarettes or joints have touched my lips in all my life, and all of those were more than 40 years ago. So, yes, I have not been tossing any butts.

What if I were a smoker, though? People smoke in their houses and in their cars. Those are pretty much the only places they can still smoke. Once you’re done with a cigarette in your car, what do you do with it? You can’t very well extinguish it on your dashboard, seat or door. You don’t have an ashtray. You don’t have a garbage can.

Why are car makers not putting ashtrays into cars anymore? It makes no sense to me.

Why are car makers not building garbage receptacles into cars so we can discard our sticky candy wrappers or slimy banana peels without getting our clothes or seats dirty? It makes no sense to me.

Trump’s Beautiful Border Wall – Only the Best

Picture Credit:

Here is a section of Trump’s $15 billion “beautiful” border wall after a monsoon flood. Damn those liberal floods!

It’s a good thing that Mexico paid for all this.

Of course, most of the $15 billion didn’t actually go into the wall itself but ended up in the pockets of a band of grifters.

This makes me really proud of my country.


The Case of Shipping Paintings and Socks via USPS

Now that the election is over in the United States, and the apparently sabotaged United States Postal Service is still operating, it’s time not to let up and continue to try to figure out what’s wrong with the postal service and what we can do to fix it.

I have been outspoken and critical of the postal service in this blog for a good ten years now. Just type USPS into the search box at the top of the screen and Search. You’ll find a number of relevant posts.

I believe we need a functioning postal service in this country, and I don’t think privatizing it will work for the people, but rather for the private companies.

During the last several months our company has noticed that checks to pay bills posted with the USPS would either get lost entirely, or, as in one recent case, take over 4 weeks to arrive. When one vendor payment of over $20,000 didn’t arrive, we had to cancel the check, put out a stop payment order, and then send a replacement via FedEx. A month later, the original check arrived at its destination. Where did it spend its time?

A few months ago I shipped painting rolled up in a tube to Australia. It cost $69.00 in postage. Here is the USPS tracking information:

Notice how the shipment lingered in San Diego, and Los Angeles, and finally in San Francisco for weeks before finally making it onto a plane to Australia. What was it doing for two weeks in Los Angeles? This is the age where you can place an Amazon order in the morning on a Sunday and get delivery by Sunday afternoon!

Today I saw a Facebook post by a friend who ordered socks online, and here is her tracking information – which I recommend you read bottom up. As of this posting, she hasn’t receive the socks yet. She lives in Lakewood, NY, so you can see the socks got pretty close on Nov 12 at 8:48am, but then again departed via Randolph and back to Buffalo to make another detour:

November 13, 2020, 1:56 am
Arrived at USPS Regional Destination Facility
Your item arrived at our BUFFALO NY DISTRIBUTION CENTER destination facility on November 13, 2020 at 1:56 am.
The item is currently in transit to the destination.

November 12, 2020, 9:03 am
Arrived at USPS Facility

November 12, 2020, 8:48 am
Out for Delivery

November 12, 2020, 8:37 am
Arrived at Post Office

November 11, 2020, 10:54 pm
Departed USPS Regional Destination Facility

November 11, 2020, 9:39 pm
Accepted at USPS Regional Destination Facility

November 11, 2020
In Transit to Next Facility

November 10, 2020, 1:22 pm
Arrived at USPS Regional Facility

November 10, 2020, 9:36 am
Arrived at USPS Regional Facility

November 10, 2020, 9:16 am
Departed USPS Regional Facility

November 10, 2020, 8:31 am
Arrived at USPS Regional Facility

November 10, 2020, 2:47 am
Departed USPS Facility

November 9, 2020, 11:03 pm
USPS in possession of item

November 9, 2020, 7:57 pm
Departed Shipping Partner Facility, USPS Awaiting Item
YORK, PA 17402
Shipping Partner: OSM WORLDWIDE

November 9, 2020, 5:09 pm
Arrived Shipping Partner Facility, USPS Awaiting Item
YORK, PA 17402
Shipping Partner: OSM WORLDWIDE

November 7, 2020, 2:28 pm
Departed Shipping Partner Facility, USPS Awaiting Item
Shipping Partner: OSM WORLDWIDE

November 6, 2020, 9:15 pm
Arrived Shipping Partner Facility, USPS Awaiting Item
Shipping Partner: OSM WORLDWIDE

October 30, 2020, 9:06 am
Shipping Label Created, USPS Awaiting Item

Obviously, it’s no wonder that the USPS is not profitable, when it carries a package of socks seemingly all over the country before delivering it. I don’t know what shipping of a package of socks costs, but it can’t be much. Just the tracking of this shipment far outweighs the postage.

I don’t think postmaster DeJoy went about fixing the postal service the right way, but good grief, fixing is sorely needed.

The Mystery of Metal Credit Cards

I recently had my American Express card replaced. Rather than the customary plastic, I received a heavy card that felt like metal. Then, a few weeks later, I received my new Hilton Honors card, which definitely seems to be made out of metal. These cards feel heavy, so heavy, that I am not willing to put them into my wallet.

Here is a quick 5 second video that gives you a sense. I put the stickers on to obscure my card numbers, since this is a public post.

Did you hear the clanking, particularly of the Hilton card? Heavy metal all the way.

I brought out my postage scale and weighed a normal plastic credit card: it was between 0.10 and 0.15 ounces.

The American Express card was 0.50 ounces.

And the Hilton card — drumroll — was 0.60 ounces.

A few of those in my wallet would make the wallet noticeably heavier, which I don’t need. So I quickly decided to leave them at home in a drawer. I have hiker friends who do long-distance hikes. They cut off the handles of their plastic tooth brushes to save a few hundredth of an ounce of weight by not carrying the superfluous handles. They would be aghast if they saw these cards.

These cards, in a breast pocket, will stop a bullet. But I don’t expect to be in any gunfights, so I am leaving them at home. I am much happier carrying my old pastic Capital One card.

What’s in your wallet?



The Anatomy of an Impulse Purchase – Captainswagger

We have all been the victims of impulse purchases. Sometimes it was at the checkout stand in the grocery store where we bought a nifty flashlight on a keychain. Or it was at Costco at the entry doors, and we now have a full and shiny new set of BBQ tools complete in a plastic case, even though we already have a totally adequate set at home that we use perhaps once a year.

Along comes Facebook where impulse buying it raised to an entirely new and much higher level.

On November 15, 2019, I saw a “survival tool product” on Facebook. The link went to I thought it would be a neat Christmas gift for my outdoor enthusiastic son, so I ordered it. I spent $69.00. I received an immediate email that my product was shipped and expected to get the product in the mail within a few days.

Weeks went by and nothing arrived. I contacted the company and got no response. After about a month, I gave up. I contacted PayPal and put in a claim for fraud. Over the next four weeks, the company sent emails to me and PayPal claiming first that the product was shipped with FedEx, but didn’t provide a tracking number. When that failed, a couple of weeks later, it provided a FedEx tracking number. When I checked on the status using that number, I learned that was bogus number that was never shipped and probably used for all claims. On the day the PayPal grace period expired in the middle of January 2020, I received a box via the United States Postal Service (note – not FedEx) with the product. It took them two months to get it to me, and during that time they send several emails with fraudulent claims of shipment that were obviously bogus.

Here are some reviews which echo my experience with I am not the only customer who went through this. Captainswagger is definitely a fraud. I am not sure if I would have ever received the product had I not put in a formal claim with PayPal.

So now I have this “product” that I paid $69 for that never became a Christmas present.

Captainswagger Multifunctional Shovel – banana for scale

It came in a partially crushed box, and it’s not even close to the product being shown in the video above. Many of the pieces are not there, the versatility is not the same, the size seems different, and the carrying case is not included. Instead, it has these thin plastic camouflaged covers. To top it off, the version I bought was the upgraded one for $69.00, not the one for $39.95 on the website.

The real product is much smaller and way chintzier than it looks in the video, and I have absolutely no use for it. In 50 years of hiking and driving I have never come into a situation where I needed this tool, and I certainly won’t be putting it into my backpack when I go on hikes. I suspect my son would not have done so either. So why did I buy something from a company I knew nothing about, which turned out to be borderline fraudulent? Why did I buy “stuff” that is now in my house that I will never use?

It was easy, and it seemed like a neat thing I wanted. It reminds me of the exercise program I bought many years ago for $300 with a pull bar and a bunch of video disks. I had the good sense to send it back unopened when it arrived and I got my money back. That was before PayPal and Facebook.

With this “tool” I stand no chance. It was pulling teeth to get it in the first place. There is no way to get my money back without spending a lot more time and money without a guarantee of success.

Lessons learned:

  1. Never buy impulse products no matter how well they are advertised. You don’t need them.
  2. Never respond to ads on social media, no matter how slick they look. If you really needed the product, you would have googled for it and you would not have been on Facebook to get it. Trust your needs.
  3. Never buy a product from on online vendor that you don’t know. I have vetted Amazon over years for its integrity and good service. If you return a product, their response is rock solid. I am sure there are other online retailers with that quality. However, this was just some website and I gave them my money. The money was gone.
  4. Never buy with PayPal. PayPal is good to send money to a friend in Chile or Australia, or to pay for a product from a company you do business with all the time. However, in this case, PayPal’s mitigation against a fraudulent or even questionable vendor was completely inadequate. If I had paid with a credit card, the company would have refunded the money and come after the vendor. This vendor didn’t accept credit cards – for obvious reasons. Don’t buy online from strangers with PayPal.
  5. Before making any impulse purchase, mark it and wait 24 hours. If the product still looks as good 24 hours later and you still want it, by all means, buy it. Chances are, you won’t bother, since you really didn’t need or want the product in the first place.

And with that advice I swagger away.


Book Review: On the Road – by Jack Kerouac

Sal Paradise is an Italian American youth who lives with his aunt in Paterson, New Jersey in the mid 1940ies, after World War II. This was the time before there were interstate highways in America, and road trips took place on two-lane highways between cities, towns and villages. Sal’s best friend is Dean Moriarty, a thief, criminal and con-artist. The two, along with a sizable cast of losers and grifters, travel back and forth across the country for no particular reason, hanging out in San Francisco (which they call Frisco), New York and Denver for the most part, and touching many other cities, including Mexico, along the way.

On the Road is referenced as a classic in almost every list of best books in the English language. Schools assign it as required reading. I read it because I wanted to check off a classic between more recent science fiction material.

I don’t know what it is with me and classics, but On the Road was one of the most painful books to read, ever. I stuck with it, because I forced myself. Every. Damn. Hour.

There is no story worth telling. There is no plot. The ramblings of the losers on the road are repetitious and vapid. There is no central conflict, there is no suspense. After about a quarter into the book I realized it was not going to change. On the Road is the most mind-numbingly boring and uninteresting book I have ever touched. There is nothing to learn. There is no moral. There isn’t even an ending. Just a bunch of characters that I could not relate to and I can’t imagine anyone else can relate to.

Sal Paradise is Jack Kerouac, and Dean Moriarty is modeled after the beatnik Neal Cassady. I guess if you lived in the 1940s, perhaps this story was one you could relate to. But, alas, I was born ten years later.

There were some descriptions of the American West that elicited nostalgia in me. I have spent many a day in my twenties traveling the long, endless highways across Texas and the plains, up and down Arizona and California, and across Colorado, riding the road from coast to coast and back again. Those were beautiful days, weeks, months and years, and reading On the Road got me in the mood for a long road trip.

However, I am most certainly not going to read any more books by Kerouac.



Note about the Kindle Edition: This book of full of bad punctuation, spelling errors, fragmented sentences, I presume due to automated conversion from the printed page. I guess Amazon could not afford to make a single editor go through the pain it put us paying customers through and actually read the book and fix the multitude of errors. Shame on Amazon!

A Really Bad Painting: Two Figures by Milton Avery

A few years ago when I visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I saw Matisse’s Tea in the Garden, which I consider a really bad painting, and I called it such in my review.

On Wednesday at the Milwaukee Museum of Art, I had a similar experience.

Here is Milton Avery’s Two Figures (1963). There are a number of Avery paintings in that museum, but this one struck me as the worst. It’s a large painting and I consider it spectacularly bad.

Look at the drawing. The pencil outlines are clearly visible. They are crude and the artist made no attempt to make them realistic or abstract. They are just sloppy and sketchy. Then he quickly colored in the main fields. He used six colors, no mixing, and no effort to cover evenly even to make it at least look clean.

I swear, I could do this painting in 20 minutes and it would look more pleasing than this does.

I have a lot of paintings that are much better than this that are stacked in my garage, never to be seen – sometimes to be painted over to at least reuse the canvas. But Milton Avery’s Two Figures in prominently displayed in the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Somebody explain that to me!

Boeing Outsourced Software to HCL at $9/hour for 737 Max Control Software

A new headline today shows that Boeing, in an apparent effort to save money, outsourced software to HCL, an Indian company, at rates as low as $9 / hour. Other articles claim $12.80 / hour.

I happen to know HCL. About 10 years ago our company competed for a major state contract and HCL won. For price. The contract subsequently became a boondoggle, and was abandoned after a few years. HCL never delivered a working system.

I have been following the press on the Boeing software debacle. Apparently, the software that pushed the nose of the plane down was relying on a single sensor. No software in the world can be designed to make control decisions based on the output of a single sensor. That software eventually crashes the system. If the software is a flight control system for an airliner, that airliner will eventually crash.

And it did.


I would have predicted it if you had asked me in advance and given me a chance to review the design, the approach, and the software itself. You cannot ever base software decisions of a critical nature to a single sensor. Even two sensors are marginal. Two parallel systems, both voting, both based on multiple sensors of different input dimensions are required to make positive control system responses. The default response should not have been pushing the nose down, but it should have been disengagement of the autopilot and sending alarms to the pilots.

The HCL engineers and managers should have known that. The poor programmer who implemented the code should have yanked the alarm chains. He knew what he was doing, but he was probably overruled by his superiors. The program manager should have escalated the concern to Boeing, the customer.

This is not the last time an intelligent control system kills humans. It will happen again, as more and more systems are automated.

We are subjected to automatic control systems every day, and we have come to entrust our lives to them. Smart cars and self-driving cars are the newest examples. But every automatic train at every airport is a simple example. Software moves us around at high speeds.

It’s time for Boeing to fess up to the serious mistakes in judgment it made, take full responsibility, bring its software development back into the country and pay its engineers what it needs to pay them. Saving money by outsourcing to low bidders in India has cost them very dearly, and it’s not clear at all to me if Boeing will ever recover from this.

The Ever-Devolving Iron

Some products simply were good enough decades ago and don’t need improvement. Yet, some smart designers keep trying to make them better – and making them worse in the process.

We have an iron at home that is such an example. If I gave it to you, you would not be able to turn it on without endless fiddling with it first. How could you make a simple household device so complicated that an “untrained” user cannot figure out how to turn it on?

I stay in hotels a lot, and therefore I get to try a lot of irons, different irons every time. I must say that more than half of the irons are poorly designed at best, and sometimes utterly annoying. Yesterday, I had to use this iron:

In the picture above you can see the dial under the handle that turns the iron on and sets the temperature. However, when the iron is in your right hand, it’s impossible to see what is marked on it,  and there is no reference mark. So you have to use your left hand to blindly turn the dial, turn it all the way to the stop, and hope you’re in the on position. To test that, you have to probe the surface with your hand, and if it is getting hot, you’re on. If it’s not, you’re off, and you have to turn the dial the other way.

The picture below shows my hand holding the iron. The space is so tight, even my fairly skinny engineer’s hand hardly fits in the opening.

The whole design is ludicrous.

Doesn’t somebody actually test these as prototypes before they mass-produce such utter junk? Ironing a single shirt with one of these points out numerous design flaws that frustrate millions of users in thousands of hotels every day.

And don’t even get me started about the spring-loaded power chord with the retract button that is supposed to pull the chord back into the unit – that never quite works properly after a few uses.

Irons should be locked down with simple, easily readable controls on top, clean, well-crafted handles, and a place to wrap the chord. Then we should stop trying to make them better. We’re not succeeding.

Boeing 737 Max – Software and Airplanes

I am a man who flies well over 100,000 miles a year in commercial airliners. I have taken many flights in 737 Max 8 planes. I am also a software engineer who spent a significant time of his early career working on servo motor controls and control systems. So I know a think or two about software controlling machinery, overrides, safety stops, redundant sensor input and the like.

I saw an article in the current Time Magazine titled Second-Hand Safety and chose to show you this excerpt:

Enter the 737 Max. Featuring new engines and aerodynamic changes, the grownup Baby Boeing promised carriers up to 20% better fuel efficiency and lower operating costs. There were challenges in the new design. The model’s new LEAP-1B engines, for instance, are 20 in. larger than the original engines. So Boeing redesigned the 737’s pylons, which hold the engines to the wing, and moved them farther forward. But the more powerful engines in a different location could pitch the jet’s nose upward, creating conditions for a midair stall.

To prevent the stall, Boeing created an automated-flight-control feature called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). When MCAS sensors detected the nose of the plane pitching up, the software controlling the tail’s horizontal stabilizer would automatically push the nose back down. It was a novel fix to a nagging design problem.

But Boeing took a number of steps that blunted the scrutiny the feature could draw from safety regulators at the FAA. In an early report to the FAA that certified the plane as safe to fly, Boeing understated how much the system could move the horizontal tail, according to the Seattle Times. “When the planes later entered service, MCAS was capable of moving the tail more than four times farther than was stated in the initial safety analysis document,” the Times reported. Also, Boeing failed to account for how “the system could reset itself each time a pilot responded, thereby missing the potential impact of the system repeatedly pushing the airplane’s nose downward.” And Boeing said MCAS should not be activated if it received data gathered from just one of two sensors – “and that’s how it was designed” the Times reported.

Just as it understated the extent to which MCAS might take automated control of the plane, Boeing, with the support of regulators, decided against extensive training for pilots on the 737 Max, including in how to disable the software.

— Time Magazine, April 1, 2019, page 44 – Second-Hand Safety

This is scary. When you work on machines that can kill people when they malfunction, it brings the tension and stress to a whole other level. I have a lot of respect for the engineers who are writing the software for the SpaceX Dragon system for manned space flight. I have respect for Elon Musk who will have to watch that first launch with two astronauts on board, whose lives will be at risk. Any one software mistake can result in catastrophic failure.

I do not know the details of the Boeing 737 Max 8 problems, other than what I have read in the popular literature, like all of us. It sounds like the engineers did their jobs. Software will forever control the lives of humans, and the MCAS system is just one of those systems. But not allowing pilots to be trained properly to accelerate sales was negligent. A pilot needs to know that the horizontal stabilizers can act against the flight controls and push the nose down, and pilots need to know how they can disable this if needed. Something went wrong with the software and the pilots apparently weren’t trained to see the failure and certainly they didn’t know how to override the system before catastrophe hit.

This is not good for Boeing.

In this time when “regulations” are being rolled back everywhere, we need to remember that these regulations are there to protect us, from long-term effects of pollution, from longer-term effects of climate change, to very short-term effects of a robot failing and sending an airliner into a nosedive. It is the government’s responsibility to protect us from corporations that have a profit motive above all.

We’re now dealing with the fallout of this lack of enforcement.

I’ll be flying again soon.

Cars and Ashtrays

I am not a smoker. I have never smoked in my life.

But I miss the ashtrays that we used to have in cars.

I always used the ashtrays to keep coins for parking meters and for the occasional pan handler by the side of the road.

Now I have no place to store my coins.

Not being a smoker, I never had any use for the cigarette lighters, either. I routinely removed those from my cars and literally threw them in the garbage. I never needed them. I used the lighter sockets for my device chargers, of course, and I still do.

But the lack of the ashtrays brings up a larger point, particularly now that we have so many wildfires in California. Even though smoking rates are way down from what they used to be, there are still smokers in the world and they drive.

Where do they put their cigarette butts with no ashtrays in cars? They have to throw them out the window. While that may not be a big deal in Ohio, it can quickly be catastrophic in California. Not to mention all the littering. Just look out your car doors at busy intersections. Cigarette butts abound. And I even understand that. Where is a smoker going to put the butts?

What were car manufacturers thinking when they started removing ashtrays from cars?

The User-Unfriendliness of the VW Golf

Some cars are more user-friendly than others. I rent cars at least 30 times every year, and I have learned that when you sit down in some cars, everything is where it should be. Toyotas are like that. I don’t remember ever being in a Toyota and not being able to figure out how it works.

Not so with the VW Golf. It was dark at 11:00pm in the rental car garage. I stood behind the car and tried to open the hatch. I clicked the unlock button on the key fob, held it down, double clicked, to no avail. I tried to pull, push, nothing worked. I bent over and looked under the latch, no buttons. I was about to give up and throw my suitcase into the back seat when I accidentally touched the logo. It turned, and the hatch popped open.

Here is a picture I took the next day in the sunlight. Would you have guessed that you need to push in the logo to unlock the hatch?

Here is how it’s done:

The hairy blob is my left hand, holding the logo open – bad photograph.

Then I entered the car and got ready to start it. Here is what the key looks like. Doesn’t this look like you have to insert it somewhere?

I tried to find the key hole. It was dark in the car, but there was a plate on the steering column into which I tried to insert the key. But I couldn’t get it in. Eventually I turned on the flashlight on my phone to check. I found a non-functioning plate.

Notice all the scratch marks. This shows that I was not the first one to try to figure out how to start the car in the dark on a plastic cover plate.

Eventually, I found the starter button, nicely hidden and small next to the shift stick. Another thing impossible to find in the dark. Only with a flashlight was I able to find this. Whatever happened to lighting up critical controls?

This means that even though there is a key, the car actually does not need it. It must be just there to unlock the car from the outside.

And that brings me to the locks.

Later, at the hotel, at night, I tried to figure out how to lock the car. On the door there is a lock button. But when I pushed it, even though something clicked, the door didn’t lock. The only way I got it to lock was to dig the key fob out of my pocket and click the lock button. That did it. I am not sure what the button on the door does. Lock it did not.

And then there was the roadside assistance call that kept starting. It was dialing roadside assistance all the time, until I figured out how to turn off the screen – not a happy task while driving down the road. I still don’t know what made it think I wanted roadside assistance. I wonder how the operators like it when they get all these ghost calls from VW Golf rental cars with completely befuddled drivers. I almost had to pull over to stop my roadside assistance alarm call.

Perhaps, if I owned this car, I would get used to it. Maybe I would even like it. But I can assure you, the VW Golf it totally unsuitable for a rental car, where the user does not have the time to read the manual and get used to it. In a rental car, you have to be able to sit down and drive – and not have to fiddle with instructions and flashlights.

In the VW Golf, nothing works the way you expect it to work.