Charles Moore's Mailbag

Car vs. Cell Phone, Beautiful Cars, Good Tiger Browsers, 2010 MacBook Air, and More

Charles Moore - 2011.01.20 - Tip Jar

Choosing a Car over a Cell Phone

From Drew:

Hello Charles,

I read with intrigue the your article on the idea that the car has been supplanted by the cell phone for a generation of young people. After seeing so many other people respond, I thought I'd share my thoughts too.

I've always been a car nut, but that has nothing to do with it running in the family, so to speak. I played for hours with my Hot Wheels as a wee one, have had an affinity for racing/driving computer games video games, and was practically jumping with excitement when the magic age of 16 arrived and I could acquire my license. I like to think that the many hours I plugged into games like Midtown Madness gave me a leg up on my peers.

I understand why people my age have grown tired of the car. It's a lot of work - and a lot of expense - just to have four-wheeled freedom. And depending on your environment, you may not need one. I live in smaller city of about 70,000 that is quite spread out, and thus our bus service is pretty paltry, especially for those working a part time job as a student. Once I move to the "big city" this spring, as it were, I may find I need my car less often. For me, however, it's always been more about the social aspect of the car. No matter what the price of fuel, I've always been the first to offer rides to people, go on road trips, or just take some time to motor down a deserted two-lane. It's the act of driving itself that fascinates me; the interaction of man and machine to do something genuinely thrilling.

Now, I wouldn't suggest everyone go out and buy a new car, however, or even that they make use of the various "scrap-it" programs. In my eye, it's only more stimulus; it's not really environmentally motivated at all. When you consider the amount of energy required to destroy an old car and the amount of energy to create the new one, it will take years and years before what comes out of the tailpipe of your older car is ever offset by what comes out of your new one. And that's years and years driving the same car, which most people don't see fit to do. They'll buy a car, drive it a few years, and trade it. They're not in this for the long haul, and that's the problem. Not everyone works this way, of course, but you can see the problem inherent in encouraging people to dispose of perfectly good cars.

I've actually gone the opposite direction; the few cars I have owned, most of them were one foot in the ground, so to speak, when I bought them. I then fixed them up slowly and as time and money facilitated, drove them for awhile proud of what I had created, and then sold them to someone else who was equally appreciative of the value of the old beast. My newest vehicle, an '89 Volvo 240, is going through this process currently. It now runs and drives excellent, gets great mileage because it's a five-speed, and all of the quite important bits on it work as they're supposed to. I'm still sorting out little things like dashboard illumination and missing seat heaters, but in time I'll get there. I'm not so sure I'll be selling this one anytime soon though; this car has really enamored itself to me. I might have to drive it into the ground myself.

So that's my take on cars, as it were.

So where do cellphones fit into this? Well, actually for me, nowhere. I have an iPod touch (and I'd really like the new one with the cameras, it's slick), but no cell phone. Because of the oppressive nature of Canadian cell phone carriers, were I to want an iPhone, I would pay somewhere between $85 to $110 a month for the features I'd want on it. My car insurance is only $60, and I'd have to work hard to break $60 a month in fuel. So there it is. With the exception of repairs of course, I've chosen my car over a cell phone.

And I still have friends. Imagine that. :)


Hi Drew,

Thanks for the interesting comments. It's encouraging to know that some of the younger generations still can be fascinated by cars. My hotrodder daughter wishes there were more. Most (not all) of her car freak friends are middle aged.

Hot Wheels came on the scene after I had graduated to real cars, so for me it was the English Dinky, Corgi, and Matchbox miniatures. My kids had Hot Wheels, though.

I agree with you about the questionableness of incentive programs that resulted in a lot of really good cars being scrapped. I guess it did help resuscitate the domestic auto industry, but my philosophy, like yours, is to buy thoroughly depreciated iron and then run it until the law of diminishing returns makes spending on repairs nonsensical. I've always felt at least a bit environmentally virtuous about this and puzzled as to why the "use it up; wear it out" paradigm tends not to be extended to motor vehicles. However, I've observed over the years that people tend to be irrational about cars, whether they love, merely tolerate, or hate them.

I live in a part of the world (deep rural Nova Scotia) where running a car is a non-optional necessity. The nearest public transportation, car rentals, and even taxi service is 50 miles/80 km away. However, when I lived in a big(ish) city, I tended to leave my car parked for weeks and walk or use the bus system.

As a fellow Canadian, I also concur with you about absurdly expensive cell service here in Canada. I'm about 35 miles from the fringe of Rogers wireless coverage, and iPhones don't even work as voice or text devices here, but even if they did, there is no way I would pay Rogers' ridiculous service costs.



I got all excited about cars and the like, and forgot to talk to you about Macs, as it were. Thought you might like to know that I'm writing you on an iBook Clamshell, a 466 MHz Graphite SE model. Coupled with a 160 GB hard drive that I bloodied my knuckles installing and a NewerTech 75 WHr battery, I use this rig for university five days a week. It runs Office 2008 well enough, gets about 7 hours on a charge, and can still connect to the school's 802.11x secured wireless, which to me was downright astounding given that all I have is a first generation AirPort B card.

Again, just thought you'd like to know. Take care.


Hi Drew,

The old clamshell iBook is definitely one of the best Mac laptops ever made. It's interesting and perhaps objectively significant that the clamshell is a contemporary of the Pismo PowerBook - two examples of which are still serving me well.

Congratulations on successfully replacing the hard drive in your iBook - not a job for the faint-hearted.

Seven hours of battery runtime, albeit with an extended life battery, is still competitive performance. Personally, I would much prefer an elderly PowerBook or iBook to a new PC netbook for the sort of stuff I use mine for.


Beautiful Cars

From Lloyd, following up on Old Iron:

Hello, Charles:

Starliner Coupe

You've made my day. Not only did you give me the pleasure of meeting another Avanti admirer (a rarity for me), but your article just gave me an "a-ha" moment. My late father, a Detroit native who worked at the fabled Dodge Main plant in the '50s, told me several times that his favorite car of all time was the Starliner Coupe. (He never identified the manufacturer when he mentioned the car, the most beautiful he'd ever seen; I grew up thinking it was a Packard.) With my all-time favorite being the Avanti, I now know that our most-loved cars came from the genius of the same designer.

Starliner Coupe

Your article (Steve Jobs May Be the Raymond Loewy of Computer Design, but That Doesn't Make Apple the Studebaker of PC Makers) was a pleasure to read. I think you're right, too, to say that a Jobs/Loewy comparison should be taken as a compliment. A Renaissance man, indeed. Would that we had more of his kind in Detroit. (I recall a book, If Aristotle Ran General Motors, which touched on similar themes. (After reading it, with its' emphasis on Truth, Beauty, etc., as guiding principles for action, I gave it to a friend in the Glass House.)

The Avanti

Finally, I also recall reading something about software design from a Talmudic perspective. The article (I must find it - I'm sure that I saved a copy) stressed that Talmudic principles, such as the idea that creation is beautiful and elegant and that the products of our minds and our hands should be, too, to please the Creator, would translate into applications that work, well, like Mac software generally does.

The narrowness of an education that lacks a splash of the liberal arts shows up in the blandness of much of our consumer culture. Would that we had more Steve Jobs-type leaders, who might take a calligraphy class and be inspired to create new fonts afterward, or Raymond Loewys to turn what might otherwise be an "appliance" (what Bob Lutz called the 2004-7 Chevy Malibu) into works of art on wheels.

Studebaker Sceptre


P.S. While he was no Loewy, Brooks Stevens had a flair for innovation, too. I saw a picture of his "Studebaker Sceptre" concept when I was in high school (1979) and have always thought that it could've been a hit.

Hi Lloyd,

I don't have a whit of industrial design talent myself, but I'm a longtime aficionado. I like the concept that design when done well can be a form of proper stewardship of God-given creative gifts.

Raymond Loewy and Brooks Stevens were sometime collaborators, and like Loewy, Stevens was a neo-Renaissance man who applied his considerable talents to designing many non-automotive products as well.

There was a Packard version of the Starliner coupe after Studebaker bought Packard in the mid-'50s and reduced the marque to badge-engineered Studebaker clones. The Packard iteration of the Loewy couple had a somewhat unsuccessful superficial restyling - along with a honking big Packard V8 shoehorned in that ruined the car's balance. Only about 650 Packard Starliners were built, making it extremely rare.

Incidentally, Brooks Stevens was responsible for styling the last and best, after Loewy's original 1953 original, version of the Starliner coupe - the early '60s Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk

Thanks for sending that Studebaker Sceptre pic. Hadn't seen that before. I wish you could see that 2006 number of the Avanti Magazine that reprinted my Loewy article. There is a feature on the 1967 Studes that were not to be, alas, some quite fetching.

Lutz was right about that '04-'07 Chev Malibu, a markedly uninspiring example of non-design that Canadian automotive journalist Jeremy Cato once describes as looking like it had been beaten with an ugly stick. I like the '08 and later Malibu.


Hello, Charles:

Thanks for the links - it's nice to close the loop on how I always associated the Starliner Coupe with Packard. The Packard Plant, BTW, was also a design masterpiece, as it was the product of Albert Kahn and was among the first factories to admit large amounts of air and light. Even in ruins, the 3,000,000 square foot complex is impressive, like some relic of another civilization.

If I may share one final thought on the Avanti with you, I have a story to relate. At a social gathering that featured a "quiz show" type how-well-do-you-know-your-spouse contest, one of the questions was, "What is your husband's favorite car?"

We weren't picked for that question, but my wife asked me afterward if she would have been right, had she been asked, if she'd responded, Buick LeSabre, as I was on my third at the time. When I told her that it had been, since I was a teenager in the '70s, a '62 Avanti, and back then I wanted it with a metallic flake pearl exterior and a leopard-skin interior, she stared at me and said, "That is so wrong."


Hi Lloyd,

Thanks for the interesting information on the erstwhile Packard plant. Packard has a reputation as a forward-looking company, but I guess they were undercapitalized after resuming production post WW II. I think I recall they they built Rolls Royce Merlin aero engines during the war.

Thanks also for bringing Albert Kahn to my attention. I wasn't heretofore familiar with his architectural legacy, but he certainly had tremendous impact on Michigan and even southern Ontario. His Wikipedia entry says a Packard Plant constructed in 1907 was the tenth factory he designed for Packard, but the first concrete one.

Hmmm. I wonder how my wife would answer that "What is your husband's favorite car?" question. I must ask her, although I have trouble singling out one choice myself. The Buick LeSabre of the '60s and early '70s was a nice enough ride. Some friends of mine had LeSabres of roughly 1972 - '76 vintage that I have pleasurable memories of driving. Nice big comfortable cars, but hardly a candidate for anyone's all-time fave, I imagine.

I'm with you on the metalfalke pearl paint (make it candy color as well for the full era-appropriate effect), but I'll pass on the leopard-skin interior motif. ;-) I think my pick for most desirable Avanti would be the 1964 Paxton supercharged R3, which are exceedingly rare - only nine of them ever ordered before Stude terminated Avanti production at South Bend and decamped to Hamilton, Ontario.


Several Good Browsers for Tiger

From Rob:

Hi Charles,

Read your latest column with interest, as I have to agree that the eventual lack of browser support for PPC Macs is what will be the end of the line for most. One ray of hope is the TenFourFox project which should provide us with an up-to-date browser with most of the features of Firefox 4. It certainly looks promising. Just for the record, I'm using OS X 10.5 on a 1 GHz 12" PowerBook and have found Opera 10.6.3 to be reliable and responsive with none of the beachball antics you describe. However, I usually use Safari 5, as it uses slightly less memory and is equally responsive.


Hi Rob,

Thanks for the comments.

The spinning beach ball (on text entry and certain commands from the Edit Menu) issue with Opera 10.6.3 is OS X 10.4 specific problem.

According to Opera Software's Desktop Product Tester Daniel Aleksandersen, since Opera 10.52, they've been using newer APIs that do not function on pre-Leopard versions of OS X. They've put some workarounds in place, but, as he puts it, "these are not optimal for performance, causing issues like the slow typing on these systems."

In a blog entry he elaborates that starting with Opera 11, they are discontinuing support for PowerPC architecture on Mac and Linux, noting that while this is unfortunate, with third party vendor support dwindling away, Opera can no longer keep developing the browser for this architecture, and after ending support for PowerPC, they will be able to focus more on making sure Opera meets the need of the modern web browser user.

I find the speed of Opera 10.6.3 on my old Pismo PowerBooks compelling enough to keep me using it, but in OS X 10.4 one has to remember to type slowly and carefully in text fields and navigate deliberately in order to avoid triggering the intervals of spinning beach ball inactivity I mentioned.

Safari 5 also doesn't support OS X 10.4. On my Intel Mac, I use Opera 11, the latest Mac build of Chrome 9, and either Firefox 4, Safari 5, or lately OmniWeb 5.10, which has grown on me on both the OS X 10.4 and Intel machines.


Using Firefox 3.6 on My Pismo

From Charles:

Hi Charles,

Just read your article on your Pismo's bad RAM.

Anyway, I have just downloaded Firefox on both my Power Mac G4 and my Pismo G4, and it is faster and more responsive than I would have thought (and better than I previously experienced). I also run AdBlock Plus.

The only negative is that when I went to the LA Times website, a news video started playing - I always liked OmniWeb because it kept that from happening. But with AdBlock, the NY Times website is much less cluttered.

I know, Firefox won't release a version 4 for PPC, but hey, nothing lasts forever (except these Pismos, it seems!).


- Charles

Hi Charles,

"Fast" and "responsive" are not qualities I've associated with Firefox 3.x on my Pismo, so I'm guessing your Power Mac has a substantially faster processor than my 550 MHz Motorola 7110s and more than the 1 GB of RAM the Pismo is limited to.

Glad FireFox is working well for you, and you should be able to even use version 4 on your Power Mac thanks to the TenFourFox project.


2010 MacBook Air

From Andrew:


Sorry to hear about your Pismo troubles. I believe you are correct about the Mac App Store changing everything. I was looking around on the App Store and noticed that Apple has priced its own applications far lower online than they do at normal retail, such as Aperture for $80 compared to $200, and the right to install on five different Macs with the App Store version. iPhoto 11 was $15, I believe, which is much cheaper than buying an iLife DVD, especially since I don't use GarageBand or iMovie.

If looking for a replacement and knowing your preference for silent computing, I can heartily recommend the cheapest new Apple laptop, the 11" MacBook Air. Mine has been an absolute delight, and the fan has yet to kick-in. Something about the slow 1.4 GHz processor combined with integrated graphics and all flash memory results in a very cool-running laptop. The bottom of the case barely gets warm, even when really pushing it with HD video. It also appears better built than my 15" MacBook Pro or any of the 13" unibodies in my office. I think you will find it a new favorite.


Hi Andrew,

Yes indeed, there are distinct advantages to a Mac App Store world, although I remain unenchanted with the "walled garden" paradigm.

Thanks for the encouraging report on the new MacBook Air, which squares with what I've deduced from reading many reviews and reports. I anticipate that I'll eventually end up with an Air, perhaps with my next system upgrade - penciled in for early 2012 or possibly late this year. I think the late 2010 Airs are destined to be one of the exceptionally great Mac laptops.

OTOH, I may go one more cycle with a 13" MacBook Pro due partly to its continued FireWire support, but largely because 128 GB is not enough for my needs, and the 256 GB configuration on the 13" Air being seriously expensive. However, the silence and cool-running of the Air are strong enticement.


Girl Playing iPad Guitar at Auditions

Girl with iPad Guitar Rocks Auditions from Alex Shpil on Vimeo.

From Kas:

Hi Charles,

Have you seen this vid?

Girl is trying to impress the judges playing on an iPad guitar!

Hope you'll like it


Hi Kas,

Yes, thanks, I checked out that video when it was first posted several months ago. Actually, it's iPad-synthesized sitar she's playing - an Indian instrument introduced to the West by the late Beatle George Harrison (among others) back in the '60s, but not heard a whole lot in recent decades.


Go to Charles Moore's Mailbag index.

Join us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or Google+, or subscribe to our RSS news feed

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.

Links for the Day

Recent Content

About LEM Support Usage Privacy Contact

Follow Low End Mac on Twitter
Join Low End Mac on Facebook

Favorite Sites

Cult of Mac
Shrine of Apple
The Mac Observer
Accelerate Your Mac
The Vintage Mac Museum
Deal Brothers
Mac Driver Museum
JAG's House
System 6 Heaven
System 7 Today
the pickle's Low-End Mac FAQ

The iTunes Store
PC Connection Express
Macgo Blu-ray Player
Parallels Desktop for Mac

Low End Mac's store


Open Link