Charles Moore's Mailbag

Thoughts on the Carless Generation, File Compression and CPU Speed, and Laptop Screen Transplants

Charles Moore - 2010.12.21 - Tip Jar

The High Cost of Car Ownership

From John in response to The Carless Generation:

That was an interesting article, Charles. I wonder, however, if the numbers for this same group go up when they get married and start a family.

Fiat 850 Spider

I suspect overall that the lower car ownership percentage is tied more to cost than to any other cause. I think back to the first car I bought in 1970 at the age of 21. It was a little Fiat 850 Spider, in a color Fiat called "Positano Yellow". I paid $2,420 for it, as I recall. I was still in college, so I paid for the car over three years, with a monthly payment of about $61. In 1972, when I entered the US Army for a two-year active duty tour, my salary added up with all the allowances to about $8K a year. That $2,420 was about about 30% of my take-home pay.

A new sports car today, however, is likely to cost at least $20,000 for a low-end Japanese model. A new college grad making say $30K can't afford that car, as the cost is over twice, as a percentage, of what I paid in the early '70s. I ran into the same thing as a husband and father. The cost of a new car was just too high, and for that reason I've bought used cars exclusively since 1972.

The same thing is true of home ownership. One of my daughters and her husband were able to buy a nice house in an established neighborhood, but their single friends, lacking two incomes, rue the fact that they're stuck in apartments.

Back on cars, most kids today don't have the mechanical know-how that is needed, especially when buying a used car. My 20-year-old engineering son, who's a sophomore at the University of Tennessee, where his two older sisters also matriculated, says he was shocked at how ignorant of tools and mechanical workings his engineering classmates are. He learned a lot of what he knows from his old dad, but many kids today either don't have a dad in the home or have one who's distracted and uninterested in these sort of things.

Young adults today are faced with lots of economic difficulties, and for the most part those difficulties are tougher than the ones we faced. Government, with its bloated bureaucracy and profligate spending, has made things worse.

As always, this is just my 2¢ worth on the subject.

Merry Christmas! Jesus is coming and will make all things right, in His good time!


Hi John,

I agree; it's a different world from when we were young. I'm a longtime Fiat fan and am tickled that Fiat, under Canadian-Italian CEO Sergio Marchionne, is now running Chrysler. I admired the Fiat 850 Spider back in the day (beautifully styled and turned out for an inexpensive car), but my sports cars were MGs.

According to a handy online inflation calculator, inflation since 1970 has been 478.84%, so your $2,420 Fiat 850 would be $14,007 today. Your $8K income then would be equivalent to $46,304 today - far more than all but a few twenty-somethings make, and I suspect that most car buyers with that level of income are driving cars costing more than $14K today, and cars in general are indeed more expensive to buy and maintain even adjusted for inflation. However, cars are also a lot more reliable and longer-lasting nowadays, so direct value comparisons are tricky.

Yes, kids these day for the most part seem to be pretty helpless when it comes to practical life skills. But there are exceptions. My eldest daughter is a skilled and accomplished hotrodder - can weld, rebuild engines and transmissions, and makes her living by times as a mechanic, but she is also a computer phenom who has worked in Windows tech support, although she's a consummate Mac fan, and can fix most anything. My other daughter, who is working on a doctorate in the History of Science and Technology at Harvard, is less technologically and mechanically oriented than her sister, but can do light carpentry, operate a chainsaw, swing a splitting maul efficiently, grow vegetables, and keeps her MacBook up and running.

Merry Christmas,

The Car as an Appliance

From Lloyd:

Greetings, Charles:

I enjoyed your musings on "The Carless Generation". It made me think about a few things. Here they are:

1967 AMC Ambassador

When I grew up in the late '60s and 70s, Dad did most of the driving. (My mother had a license, but I doubt if she drove 100 miles before I turned 18.) The cars Dad bought were not sports cars; they were family sedans. Nonetheless, they were big and powerful: think '67 Ambassador, '69 LeSabre, and '71 Catalina. They may not have been flashy, but they were masculine. Once, after picking me up after school, he told me that he'd just had the Catalina's 455 cubic inch motor tuned up, and to show me how much better it ran, he hit the gas. From a standing start, 0-50 in six seconds. That's not good enough to drag race on Woodward Ave. with, but pretty good. And Dad would have my older brother hand him tools when he would work on them in their back yard. These experiences were typical for kids growing up in and around the Detroit of my youth.

Compare that to what Generation Y grew up with. Their formative automotive experiences were with Mom's minivan, being taxied around by its underpowered 4-banger to after-school events. Unlike Dad's Ambassador SST, the Caravan wasn't always kept clean and waxed - a mark of pride of ownership. The minivans smell of French fries that found the floor instead of Junior's mouth, have dirty carpet, and need a wash. Mothers, especially single ones, may be too busy to primp a car, but the other explanation I offer is that, for them, a minivan is an appliance, nothing more.

So the contrast is a generation that grew up in a one-car household where cars were associated with masculinity to one where unsexy minivan appliances were associated with femininity. In the '70s, kids walked or biked to most destinations; a car meant freedom. In the '90s, kids expected to be chauffeured everywhere by helicopter parents.

The above may help to explain why today's youth don't look to cars as must-have items. They don't need them for freedom and associate them with feminine role models, something that won't motivate boys to dream big and save their money in the hope and expectation of having their own.

Thank you for sharing your "Miscellaneous Ramblings" with us once again. Merry Christmas,


Hi Lloyd,

Your dad and I share similar taste in cars. I love the big old American sedans. My current Mercury Grand Marquis LS is one of the most satisfying cars I've ever owned, and I've had well north of 60 vehicles over the past 45 years.

Partiality for big cars seems to have rubbed off on my eldest daughter, who currently drives a 2003 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor (her second of those) and a 1968 Imperial LeBaron convertible with a 440 cubic inch displacement V8. She's also owned a 1979 Chrysler Cordoba with a 360 CID V8 (handed down from me), a 1967 Imperial LeBaron four door hardtop, a 1964 Imperial LeBaron with a 413 CID V-8, a 1968 Chrysler New Yorker with a 383 CID V8, and an early 80s vintage downsized New Yorker with a 318. I expect she might take issue with you on the matter of feminine vehicle preferences!.

Of course, there were no minivans when I was growing up. I've only owned two vans; a very funky 1962 Bedford (British General Motors) with sliding doors that was the next best thing to a convertible on my summer days if you left the doors open, and a 1977 Dodge Royal sportsman with a 360 CID V8.

My late father drove Studebakers, and after his accidental death, my mother continued to drive a Stude for several years. That was replaced by a quite sporty 1961 Corvair Monza coupe - metallic red over white vinyl. A 1963 Mercury Comet Villager was a more practical replacement for the Corvair, followed by two Austin 1100s, an Austin 1800, a Sunbeam Alpine two door hardtop, a 1968 GMC pickup, a 1967 International Harvester Travelall, a 1964 Morris Oxford, a 1977 Chrysler Newport, a 1978 Dodge Diplomat coupe, a Dodge 400, a Chrysler Dynasty, and a 1990 Toyota Camry - her last automobile, which we still have. Her taste in cars was pretty eclectic, and more than half of those vehicles had manual transmissions.

I agree that minivans are not terribly inspiring, although they make a lot of sense for me practicality perspective. SUVs have a more macho vibe, although I'm not a particular fan and prefer either a large sedan, a station wagon, or a pickup truck.

Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas!


The Clueless Generation

From Stephen:


"Or as forum poster 'boilerman10' commented on the Daily Kos, the Gen. Ys have never heard the roar of a type 1 Hemi DeSoto or Chrysler pre-1958, never heard or saw a flathead Ford super-modified doing over 130 miles per hour on a half mile track and then backing down for the curve and reaccelerating. 'That sound is incredible....' Gen. Y 'never saw how Chevrolet revolutionized hot rodding with the 283 and 327 engines. I am so glad I lived during that time. Poor Gen. Y.'"

I can see a solution to this problem. Future cars will have digital soundtracks. Imagine your Nissan Leaf or other generic electric transportation pod with flathead Ford V-8 sounds synchronized to its throttle. If the Ford does not heat your blood, then perhaps a Cadillac V-16 or Ferrari V-12 will do.

"Frankly, I feel sorry for the kids. I like computers and work on the Internet, but there's no way I would swap a youth spent immersed in the real world of car culture for the virtual world of texting, tweeting, and Facebook social networking."

I am scared for our future at the hands of these kids. In spite of their networking, they cannot communicate. I belong to several car forums (Saturn, Nissan Frontier, Corvette). The under-20 crowd cannot write a short paragraph that describes, in sufficiently clear detail, what they are asking. They have no clue as to punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure. I'm convinced that English as a second language is their communication skill.

If I am in an evil mood, I'll go to the fast food place and order a meal that totals out to $4.02. I'll let the server punch in the order, give the person a $5 bill, let the register display the change, and then "find" the remaining 2¢. The deer in the headlights look is priceless, but it's also scary. How are these kids going to understand real money when it comes to finance and government economics?

They will have no clue how to troubleshoot or fix anything. I used to joke that my college professors were confused as to which end of a screwdriver to hold. Nowadays the response to a nonfunctional piece of gear is to buy a new equipment (in their defense, most electronics nowadays are not designed for repair).


Hi Steve,

You make some interesting and incisive observations, and in general they square with what I hear from my teacher and college professor friends. Also from my younger daughter, who spent last year as a professor's aide at a Nova Scotia University. She ended up spending a lot of time marking papers, and read a few of them aloud to me. Seriously, I had better proficiency at essay-writing when I was six years old than many of these (in this instance, it was second-year engineering students, which is a scary thought in itself) university students evidently did. It was hilarious in a sobering sort of way.

She is more than likely going to end up being a university professor when she finishes her doctorate, but thanks to being homeschooled until the 10th grade (she finished the final three years of high school in public school in two calendar years, close to the top of her class throughout), she is highly literate and also possess many useful practical life skills - the kind of stuff that you really don't get a grasp of from surfing the Internet, although she's been computer literate pretty well all her life.

Incidentally, your suggestion about digital soundtracks for electric vehicles is not fanciful. Apparently some sort of audio sound broadcast outside electric vehicles is being contemplated by regulatory powers as a safety measure for pedestrians. If we're going to have a canned soundtrack with our e-cars, you might as well make them sound like a hot-rodded flatty or Hemi, or a Ferrari V12. That would be a tough choice for me. I love the musical rumble of a V8, but the V12 stirs the blood. V-10s and V-6s not so much.

Finally, as you observe, most stuff these days (not only electronics and household appliances, but also motor vehicle components) are not designed or intended to be repaired. With the cost of labor it makes no economic sense, although it still rubs traditionalist tinkerer and fixer me the wrong way.

Merry Christmas!


Automobiles Abandoned for Computers

From pidj:

I think I made my first car/computer analogy when justifying paying $6,000 for a new original IBM Personal Computer. My first new car was a 1974 Dodge Dart Swinger for about $5,000.

Took about ten years before I could "go places" with the computer - CompuServe, BIX - $20-30/hour for 300 bps service!

And now the "information highway" is the drive-in restaurant with so many things on the menu.

I think I've been reading your online columns for as long as you've been writing them; about time to put something in the tip jar I guess.

Thanks Charles. Have a happy holiday season and another good year of writing.

Hi pidj,

I never owned a Dodge Dart, but several friends did, and I used to drive them a lot. The nicest example I think was a metallic blue two-door hardtop of about 1968 vintage with a white vinyl roof and with a 318 CID V-8. I do recall resting an early '70s Swinger for a long road trip.

Thanks for your faithful readership and kind words.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours.


Car Ownership Is Costly

From Dean:


I read your article on the carless generation with interest. There are a few more things to consider. Years ago you could buy a fairly decent used car for a few hundred dollars; today decent used cars cost as much as new ones used to.

With new cars in the $25,000 to $45,000 range, they are beyond many people today. Also, back in the day 20 gallons of gas cost $5 and you could cruise all night. Add in the insane cost of insurance, and is it any wonder that car ownership is beyond young people today?

When you factor in the general state of the economy and the prevalence of minimum wage jobs today, it gets worse. Henry Ford had it right when he said that to sell cars, they had to be affordable, and when he paid his workers accordingly, they could buy them. Perhaps also more young people are aware today just how finite our natural resources are.

Did you think when you were a kid oil and gasoline might run out? Neither did I.

You're also right though; NASCAR has no one to blame but itself.


Hi Dean,

Yes, owning and maintaining a car these days is a pricey proposition, but pay is much higher (if you can find odd jobs). When I was 16, I had a casual job sanding cars in a body shop for 65¢ an hour. My buddy had a job with a housepainting contractor for $1.00 an hour, and we still managed to own and drive cars.

My wife's winter beater this year is a 1991 Toyota Corolla she picked up for $300, although as a fixer-upper it took a total of about $700 to get it ready for daily-driver duty. Still not bad. In August I picked up a very nice 2000 Mercury Grand Marquis (too nice to subject to winter salt) for $2,150.

The 17-year-old next door has a early '90s Pontiac Sunfire coupe - his second car. The first was an '80 Chrysler Cordoba. He's still in high school but earns money doing odd jobs. My eldest daughter is 27 and has already owned more than a dozen cars.

As for the younger generation's more focused consciousness about the finiteness of resources, not to mention pollution and climate change, they're right about the problem. I'm convinced anthropomorphic global warming is a rapidly escalating fact, but I'm highly skeptical that there's much we can realistically do stop it, given population demographics and as yet mostly-unrealized lifestyle aspirations of 80-odd percent of the world's people.

Global population more than quadrupled in 110 years from 1.5 billion in 1900 to about 6.7 billion in 2010, with 9 billion projected by 2050, when India and China's cumulative 3 billion alone will be greater than 1950's total global population - and their citizens aspire to Western-style consumer lifestyles. It's projected that by mid-century we'll need 50% more food production and 50% more energy, with oil consumption rising to 126 million barrels per day by 2030 from roughly 84 million in 2009. There will be 50% more aircraft flying and a commensurate increase in ships plying the seas. J.D. Power forecasts automobile sales in India to nearly triple from 1.7 million in 2008 to 3.2 million by 2015, with China's soaring from 9.8 million autos sold in 2008, having become the world's biggest auto market last year, and sales forecast to hit 16.3 million by 2014.

Three countries - the US (population estimated at 311 million), China (1.34 billion), and India (1.19 billion) - account for more than 60% of all carbon release through human activity, with the share represented by the two Asian economies growing exponentially. China, which is building on average one new coal-fired power plant every week, and plans to continue doing so for years, is estimated to have passed the US as the biggest carbon polluter in 2006. Between 1990 and 1994, China's greenhouse gas emissions increased 47%, and India's by 55%, with their rate of increase presumed to be substantially greater over the past four years.

In light of those metrics, I frankly am not optimistic. When you do the math, we're already in trouble at population 6.7 billion. What prospect is there, really, of arresting - let alone reducing - global carbon emissions or decreasing energy consumption overall with roughly 25% more people coming on board over the next 40 years.?

I'm just thankful I lived some of my lifetime in an era where oppressive anticipation of energy shortages and ecological entropy was not front and center. I'll continue enjoying my V8s. Anyway, my big Mercury gets pretty good gas mileage (EPA ratings: City 18/hwy 25, which I've found realistic) with its 4.6 liter V-8. :-)

Merry Christmas!


Hello again,

Interesting comments that have already crossed my mind. One more sobering thought: We may manage to make the planet unsustainable for the human species, but we really are not going to hurt it. Being about 4 billion years old, we can do nothing that vulcanism, tectonic plate movement, meteor strikes, magnetic field reversals, and ice ages have not already done. We may in the end make ourselves extinct through our own stupidity, but the planet will still be here and in a few hundred thousand years probably fix it self.

As for cars, a lot of young people today don't want to work, unfortunately.


Too Many Unsafe Drivers

From Michael:

The world is a much safer place and this trend should be encouraged, when you see how recklessly these younger people act when they do get behind the wheel. Now if we could figure out a way to get the old and infirm to tweet, use the Internet, and their smartphones instead of driving, we drivers would be safe on the road.

Hi Michael,

I agree that the level of driving skill possessed by most North American drivers is abysmally poor, but I think that cuts across all generations. Ideally, everyone would be sent to skid school before being granted a drivers license.

As a general observation, however, I have nothing against safety, but a completely safe world would be a terribly boring one.

I wonder how much the unreality of actual painful consequences in the virtual world of video games has to do with development of safety consciousness behind the wheel of an actual car. I just happened to be reading a review today of Sony's Grand Turismo 5 by a professed car fan who related that he doesn't have an actual driver's license or any driving experience outside of game consoles, but even he observed that virtual consequences of vehicle contact in GT 5 and other automobile oriented video games was a serious element of unreality in an otherwise quite remarkably realistic virtual experience.

Some of the stuff we did with cars when I was a teenager horrifies me in recollection - driving around with loads of kids in the back of open pickup trucks; using water for brake fluid, kids riding in the wayback of station wagons with the window down and no seats, let alone seatbelts. I was 16 when seatbelts became mandatory equipment on automobiles. I doubt that kids today are any more intrinsically reckless than we were, but I doubt that there having as much fun at it. Fun is important too, don't you think?

Merry Christmas!


It's a Whole Different World Today

From Timothy:


It's always tempting to remember the "good old days" as one ages. In our teenage years, perhaps we drove more cars as teens, but we didn't have Facebook, Twitter, podcasting, YouTube, Skype, mobile phones, or group-play video games. (I had email, but that was much more like Morse Code ham radio at the time, with a very small universe of participants.) Cars meant teens could be locally connected, but how can that compete with global social connectedness?

Even so, physical mobility is increasing, not decreasing, on the same global scale. My father is still bewildered by the fact that I hop around the globe as easily (and with just as little forethought) as when he hops in his car to drive 15 miles to work. I once had a colleague ask me if I could fly to Goa, India, for a 45 minute presentation, because I was 4 hours closer (in flying time). I brought my suitcase to a piano recital a couple weeks ago, because I had to catch a flight to Seoul immediately afterwards. This past year I decided to fly from Singapore to Sao Paulo on Sunday, left on a Monday, worked three days there, and returned on a Friday. And that wasn't particularly unusual. Two days ago my manager "asked" me if I could visit Beijing. Six hours later, I was on the plane, and 24 hours after that headed back home. Gearhead? I could tell you how many seats across an Emirates 777 has in economy class (10, the pity), near which gate my favorite ANA lounge is at Tokyo Narita Airport (gate 46), which baggage carousel Air China uses for early morning arrivals at Beijing Capital Airport (usually either 35 or 36, for me anyway), and whether discount carrier Jetstar takes American Express (yes, but only the Australian half of Jetstar, not Jetstar Asia). In contrast, when my father was a teenager, nobody in his family had ever flown anywhere.

Yet, despite all this flying (and riding taxis, buses, trains, and the occasional rickshaw), US teenagers are also not getting pilot licenses in the numbers they used to. That, too, was a rite of passage in many parts of late 20th century America. The general aviation community is concerned about that, of course.

In this context, I don't mourn the decline of teenage car culture. Let's remember that way too many teens got (and get) maimed and killed on the roads. My high school classmate's twin sister lost her life in a drunk driving accident, and I still remember the stories my father told about how a single car accident wiped out a substantial fraction of his older relatives. Yes, Facebook is different, but it isn't fatal.

Really, though, I don't think there's much decline in automobiles. Mostly there's just an increase in everything else that substitutes for teen driving. The real problem is that those substitutes don't seem to be walking and biking, two health-promoting alternatives which even predate 20th century teen car culture.


Hi Timothy,

I appreciate innovations like personal computers, Internet, email, search engines, and so forth profoundly, and I typically spend 10 hours a day or more interfacing with them. But I wouldn't trade my teenage years as a motorhead for the virtual world of bits and bytes.

You're right about travel. My kids have been globetrotters with more air miles under their belts by their mid-20s than most people in the 20th century would have experienced in a lifetime. I actually had my first airline trip at the age of about four, which would have been in 1955/56, although it was a relatively short domestic hop.

Frankly, I can't see airline travel surviving very far into the coming era of energy shortages, so those with a taste for it should enjoy it while it lasts.

Actuarially, there has been a decline in driving by young people. In the July 2010 issue of Car and Driver magazine, editor Eddie Alterman cites a recent Washington Post report that today's hard-texting, IT-obsessed youth are inclined to dismiss driving as seriously lame, with only about 30% of 16-year-olds having even bothered to acquire driving licenses according to 2008 research. Alterman has launched a Save The Manuals campaign to promote a revival of human driving skills, focusing on the disappearing ability among US drivers to operate vehicles with manually-shifted gearboxes and the diminishing proportion of cars sold equipped with manual transmissions.

Alterman maintains that if drivers learned to operate an entire car, not just the steering wheel and occasionally the brakes, they'd probably like driving better through mastering the sense of control imparted by that third pedal, learning the excitement that accompanies a perfectly timed heel-and-toe downshift. He declares that we need a "crusade" to "save the manuals" and advocates training youth in the ancient ways of the stick shift, a subsidiary advantage of which would be the fact that you can't text while driving a manual transmission vehicle.

Merry Christmas!


Old Cars and Old Computers

From Adam:

Your recent post, and Jason Walsh's article (Classic Cars and Classic Macs) that spawned it reminded me of my own musings on the subject from about a year ago, Old Stuff and the Future.

I just thought you might find it interesting.


File Compression, CPU Usage, and Bandwidth

From Tom in response to Is It Possible to Disable HFS+ File Compression in Snow Leopard?:

"For one, with today's inexpensive storage, there's no point to having an operating system wasting any amount of CPU power, no matter how efficient, on such compression/decompression."

Well, this isn't true in all cases. If you have a slow CPU and cheap storage, compression will slow things down.

On modern multicore systems, CPUs are underutilized with lot of unused CPU cycles. The big bottleneck is I/O speed. By putting those cycles to use, you can compress the I/O data and actually increase the data flowing through your I/O. Solaris puts this to use with its ZFS filesystem. With compression, you can actually speed things up with little impact on a dual-core or more CPU.

Best compressors for improving the bandwidth of various hardware

Linux Journal had an article, Compression Tools Compared, showing when compression was worth it when transferring files across the network. It was a 3D graph showing the effects of CPU speed, bandwidth, and amount of data (reduced to half original size above - ed). They showed several different algorithms that could be used. It also depends on the kind of data sent across the I/O. This applies to filesystems as well.

I'd imagine a USB 1.1 drive would benefit (in speed) more from compression then would a SATA II connection.

Hi Tom,

I don't disagree. What you say makes a lot of sense. Gregg is probably right in some cases, but generalizing a bit too extravagantly.

Merry Christmas.



Many of us are dealing with older hardware too.

When Sun had Solaris 8, TCP/IP was optimized for a Sparc 1 (Pentium 90 speed?) with 4 MB RAM and 100 MB hard drive and 10 Mb/s ethernet. Linux at the time was 30% faster with 1 GB RAM and a 400 MHz Pentium II.


14" iBook G4 Screen in a Pismo?

From Dan Bashur:

Greetings Charles:

I was wondering if it's possible to drop an LCD from a 14" iBook G4 (1.2 GHz) into a Pismo? They both have the same screen size and resolution (14.1", 1024 x 768), although I'm not sure if the video and AirPort connectors would work with the Pismo.

I happen to have a 1.2 GHz screen assembly that I was using to swap plastics out with a 1.42 GHz screen. After the swap, and after putting that horrific mess back together, I'll just have the 1.2 GHz LCD panel with connectors left. These connectors appear to look like those used in Pismos and TiBooks.

I figured it was worth a shot asking you before I gave it a go, since you had some experience with iBooks and know the Pismo like the back of your hand.


Hi Dan,

As you note, the Pismo and 14" iBook displays are the same size and resolution. However, while I can't say for sure, I would be extremely surprised if the screen and AirPort antenna connectors are similar enough to make this a simple swap.

I suppose it's possible, and if so it would be nice, since there are a lot of iBooks, and they don't last like the Pismo has. Since you will have the iBook panel in hand, you could size things up to some extent by opening up a Pismo for a closer looksee at how the cables are positioned and routed, and whether the cable connectors are the same.

Merry Christmas!


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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at and a columnist at If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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