Reading: Emily St. John Mandel — Station Eleven

There’s a scene early in Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven where one of the main characters is holded up in his brother’s apartment on the Toronto shoreline. An epidemic has just wiped out ninety percent of humanity; they’ve survived that through stocking up on essentials and making like mice for weeks on end. Now supplies are running out. His brother is disabled, so rather than be a burden as they travel the quiet post-apolyptic dystopia outside, does the honourable thing and offs himself.

Perhaps I’m needlessly grumpy today, but fuck the hell right off.

I read this a few weeks ago now, it was part of a small pile of necessary fiction to break up the very heavy non-fiction reading. I’m not sure where I heard about Station Eleven, but it seemed a lot of people were talking about it. Yeah, it was kinda disappointing and contrived. A great many ideas and narrative lines that went nowhere, an awful number of improbable relationships between characters spanning decades that didn’t add anything of significance. She could have written a whole book about the travelling theatre and orchestra group as decades passed and civilisation began to return, and that would have been well tasty. She didn’t. It’s not.

(I imagine an alternate reality where a different, better Emily St. John Mandel wrote Station Eleven. In this, the main character offs himself because he thinks he’ll have to do everything in order for his brother to survive. The brother, ex-military, pissed at his sibling’s typical selfishness goes off into the wilds of Ontario, joins the travelling theatre, falls in love with a hot bear, and lives ’til old age as head mechanist and general ‘fix anything with a length of number-8’ indispensable person.)

hate/love apple

Lucky I was in London for the long weekend, and so enjoying the longest break from my laptop and the internet I’ve had in years. All the better considering it was in a shop, where I hoped it was being repaired.

By the time my last laptop, a beautiful 15″ PowerBook, had reached the end of its life, it was a decorticated zombie, battery, hard drive, DVD drive all dead, and case bearing the crumbling patina along the front edge, held together with an external portable FireWire drive that when I accidentally knocked the cable would bring everything to a graceful and irreversible crash.

As with my new MacBook Pro, it suffered from some distinct hardware issues. First, the peeling of the light case border, then the death of hard drive and the problematic Matshita Combo Drive. All variously and uncomplainingly replaced by MyMac in Melbourne for free, thanks to the joy of AppleCare.

My new laptop, after several months of far less harrowing use than that PowerBook began to exhibit odd behaviour, the trackpad and keyboard freezing, which after some messing around I realised was caused by the battery. Or rather, the topcase somehow didn’t get on well with the battery. For much of the last – more than a – year, I’ve been using it sans battery, and poking with my finger at the underside of the trackpad to bring it back to life on the occasions I did include non-mains power.

Not much of a laptop then, and despite being all over the Apple discussion boards, this finger-poking fix wasn’t ideal. I took it into one shop in Kreuzberg, and they said it would be difficult to prove I hadn’t damaged the case myself, so for a long time endured an expensive, hobbled device. Finally, as also documented numerously on the Apple boards, even the finger didn’t work.

Gravis is rather shiny and large, in Ernst-Reuter Platz, and I acquired a beautiful 500gb 2.5″ FireWire 800 drive from there for the unthinkably low price of €120 not so long ago. I’m still awestruck by the capacity and cheapness of drives now compared to eight years ago when 20gb was just beginning to pass from acceptable for a laptop. With my now completely paralysed laptop, and me feeling as though I’d had a significant portion of my identity eviscerated, I ventured there shortly before going to London, thinking at worst I could buy an external mouse and keyboard and get another couple of years out of another zombie laptop.

Not so attractive as a friend pointed out, when I keep people’s Macs running as a job, and should really be able to speak highly of them, instead of turning up with a Frankenstein.

At Gravis, they listened to my explanations, notes on the Apple boards, took my baby away for a few minutes, then came back and said I could pick it up this week. Today I did.

On why I hate/love Apple…

Yes, there is the exceptional software and hardware design, but there always seems to be issues that affect a lot of users, and having had two laptops with serious issues it is very easy for me to feel deeply frustrated with the only computer and OS I’d consider using. Really, if I had to use a PC running Windows or more likely Linux, I’d dispense with the hassle altogether and find something else to do.

As with my previous laptop, I bought AppleCare for three years, and as with that previous laptop, it paid for itself the first time I had to use it. My revitalised – and working with battery – baby has an entire new topcase, the price of which, including labour is greater than the cost of this insurance. The simplicity with which my problem was dealt with, fast, no arguing, pleasant, and most importantly, free are the reasons that even though there are problems with hardware and software (and had this one not been dealt with in such a good way, I would be far more pessimistic), I remain in love with Apple.

(Yes, there is a moral to this story, or rather a couple: Buy AppleCare, use the Apple discussion boards to diagnose your problems, and backup early and often.)

(I’ll stop now and caress my beautiful laptop for a while.)

absence

Not much blogging the last months and I feel shame. Though I have excuses.

Firstly, the intermittent trackpad/keyboard freezing problem that has gone on with my MacBook Pro since around 9 months after I bought it became irreversible. The normal fix of not triggering it by putting my battery in, and poking with my finger at the underside of the trackpad to unfreeze it after I had – all endlessly discussed and documented on Apple’s own user forums – finally failed altogether.

So my Mac, data safely backed up thanks to an emergency intervention,is in a shop hopefully getting fixed under AppleCare. I on the other hand, am writing this on a venerable 13″ PowerBook G4, running 10.5, with my home folder on my external drive. Of course this does cause myriad problems and is buggy and crashy as all fuck. Somehow it is (marginally) workable, but I feel I’ve lost half my brain and bodily functions to a stroke.

In the meantime, I’ve just got back from London Festival of the Art of Japanese Bondage, which I shall write about soon.

Time of Disasters

Sick of watching Hollywood beat the crap out of New York in every disaster movie from ,Towering Inferno to The Day After Tomorrow and Tokyo getting flattened by Godzilla and Evangellion, while perfectly good cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai go unnoticed, China’s film industry has decided to jump on the money train with their own disaster classic with a catchy title, Time of Disasters.

Spitting in the face of $200 million blockbusters, the 2.7 million kuai (about $325 000 US) film is in fact a documentary, which follows the natural disasters which have plagued the country from SARS back to when the Communists whipped the KMT to Taiwan in 1949. It’s the ‘natural disasters’ bit that gives it away. Only a dictatorship which makes polemic ‘films’ called Deng Xiaoping and His Son, then bans foreign films for the month of July so their own nationalistic circle-jerking can stand a chance at the Shanghai Film Festival would have the audacity to pass of their Great Leap Forward induced famine which killed over 30 million people as a ‘natural disaster’. Or for that matter pretty much every calamity since 1949 including SARS and HIV/AIDS.

“How humankind faces disasters is a common topic for the world.The aim of the film is to show the world how the Chinese people, as human beings, acted and how their mental state was when faced with various disasters,” said Wang [Meibiao, the film’s editor and director].

“In the past, we did not dare to have a film like this to show to people, for fear that such miserable scenes will have a negative effect around the country,” said Fan Houqin.

[…]

As for the change of China’s film industry from avoiding covering the theme of disasters to exhibiting disasters truly and objectively with documentary films, Zhang [Weixu, producer] said, “It originated from the change of the general view of the whole society from the top officials to the common people to disasters since SARS,” said Zhang.

“The greatest lesson of the SARS epidemic for the Chinese is when a disaster comes, the right way is to face it and to fight with a scientific attitude, not to hide it and avoid talking aboutit,” said Zhang.

“While the Chinese government is engaged in designing measures to prevent and control various disasters and accidents, the showing of the film will give warnings and illumination to the whole society,” said Shan Chunchang, counselor of the State Council who is also deputy director of the emergency response planning team of the General Office of the State Council.

Obviously the recent house arrest of AIDS activists, the transparency of the handling of this year’s SARS and avarian flu outbreaks are representative of this new-found scientific attitude.Zhang also said the film is going to be released on the international market, possibly as a comedy feature.