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Thursday, 17 January 2008

Back Online

I've been mostly offline recently. My laptop had some issues when I tried to upgrade to OS X 10.5. The install DVD couldn't mount my hard drive. After some kung-fu, I got it to notice that my drive existed. It said things were bad. Bad indeed. (The more technical version (non-tech continues in the next paragraph): I booted single user mode off the DVD and ran fsck and the third try, it finally found my disk. It said I have a bad Master Boot Record. However, the installed operating system (10.4) still booted fine and it's version of fsck reported no problems. So I went on my merry way until my concert, when the damn thing really didn't want to boot. I briefly got a question mark on my splash screen. Gah)

But things still seemed fine with the previous system, so I resolved to ignore the issue until after my concert, which could have been a disastrous move, but wasn't. Anyway, it's almost certainly a software problem, fixable with disk warrior. So, a few days after the concert, when some audio software I was trying to use wouldn't go, I finally tried Disk Warrior. It gave me some cryptic error messages, which it's website revealed to mean that I should buy a new disk because the problems were physical. Ack!

Physical disk problems ALWAYS get worse! Or at least, you should assume that they will. Because one little free particle of disk that got rattled loose and is lurking there - that particle will eventually get hit by the read arm. Hard disks are a lot like records. The read/write arm is like the needle. And the bit of junk is like dust on the surface of the record. But instead of just making a popping noise, it's much worse, because the disk is spinning much faster. The read/write head doesn't just bounce over the debris in a friendly manner. When it bounces back down, that impact is at high speed, so it breaks lose another little bit of junk, which is then waiting to get in the way. So you start getting all these little bald spots around your disk where pieces have been knocked out and all of those pieces are waiting to get in the way and cause further damage. This process starts slowly, but once it gets going - yikes!

That was the second disk in that laptop! Grr. I speculate that it probably had it's initial damage when I ran it into a pole on my bike over the summer. It's generally bad for laptops to crash them into fixed objects.

Anyway, the laptop is 4 years old. I just replaced the power adaptor all of a month ago, but in addition to a new disk, it could really use a new battery and soon it will not want to run the latest and greatest software and it seemed like the most reasonable course of action was to replace it. So I waited until after the start of Macworld in case Apple wanted to announce price reductions. They didn't. In the mean time, I read the His Dark Materials trilogy, of which The Golden Compass is the first book. The last two books are even more heavy-handed than C.S. Lewis. And the charges of it's being anti-Catholic are true, alas. The first book is completely charming. But the other books seem more rushed and can't stand alone as the first one can. They rely much more on cliche. I just don't understand British atheists. They have a state religion, which they could be completely justified in railing against. But they never seem to pick the state religion. Instead they choose religions which their state is persecuting. They pick on Catholics, I guess because they support oppression in Northern Ireland. They pick Muslims, I guess because they support racism. Aside from them being colonialist asses, I can't imagine what their reasoning could be. It really doesn't seem like they take on very much risk by attacking the official church of their country. Is it misplaced patriotism? I don't get it.

Finally, I want to declare a moratorium on non-programmers trying to write fantasy that involves computers. "She typed and words appeared on the screen. How could this be! She had no text editor open and was bypassing most of the operating system. The keyboard wasn't even plugged in! the computer wasn't even turned on! It was a cardboard display computer from a furniture store! It must be the aliens feeding it data directly from the USB cable that they helpfully brought with them from the Jupiter branch of CompUSA. What a lucky coincidence that they use exactly the same completely arbitrary sequence of voltage pulses to indicate different letters of the alphabet!" It's also a lucky break that our alien heros brought with them a cardboard install disk with device drivers for their alien USB hardware - while bypassing most of the operating system. Maybe I'm too intolerant of extremely sloppy, ignorant writing, but really, if I'm going to read something, I don't want to feel like I'm wasting my time - time that the author didn't bother to spend doing an iota of research.

Um, anyway. I got a new mac. I'm kind of concerned about how much 3 months of dog kenneling is going to cost, and plane tickets and at least I didn't have to pay British prices for a new computer. I just sent email to the passport service again to ask what's up with the consulate and my visa. I have a theory that they've written to ask my university for more information and the British postal service has inexplicably routed the mail through Poland via Nepal.

Um, anyway, reports of what software doesn't want to work with 10.5 (Ardour, Gimp, etc) will be forthcoming.

2 comments:

Daniel Wolf said...

Les --

The religion described in the Pullman trilogy is not precisely the Roman Catholic Church, but an amalgam of Catholicism and Calvinism (the church HQ is in Geneva, after all, and can you imagine a woman having such a strong position as Mrs Colter in the RCC?) and with a presence in Oxford Colleges precisely like that traditionally given to the Anglican Church (which is itself closer to Catholicism in structure, doctrine, and ritual than the Calvinist or Lutheran churches).

It's also very far-fetched to bring Northern Ireland into this -- the conflict there is class and ethnic as well as sectarian. The former "state religion" (the Anglican Church of Ireland, which was disestablished in 1871) is a small player, which has a seemless presence across the island of Ireland and the Anglo-Irish community in the North is now well spread out among several protestant denominations. It's clear that the interests of London in Northern Ireland have considerably progressed since the 1960's and locating an imperial interest there today makes little sense, and with someone like Pullman, no sense at all.

The books do have problems in narrative structure, but these have nothing to do with ideology and everything to do with the trilogy structure.

Les said...

I'm fine with the fictional church in the first book. It's obviously some sort of sprawling horror that failed to experience the counter-reformation, which was something very vital for the Catholic church.

However, like so much in the next two books, the characterizations devolve into easy stereotypes. The Father Gomez character is completely over-the-top terrible. He's also clearly based on an stereotype of a Spanish, Catholic missionary. When I say the last two books are anti-catholic, I don't mean because of the fictional structure so carefully established in the first book. I mean because of obnoxious poorly-drawn caricatures like Gomez.

True fact: my cousin was both a nun and a research scientist. She was a biologist and discovered the existence of pheromones in ticks. The back story of the ex-nun in the book is not completely implausible. But it's not like the stories of any of the clergy that I know. I doubt very much Pullman actually spoke to any current or former clergy members and especially not anybody like my cousin, before he drew that character.

It's a strange contrast between the first book, which is very well constructed and the second books, which feel as if they were thrown together very quickly.

The ending of the last book . . . the whole universe depends on the heterosexuality of these young people! Oh no, they can never be together! Oh no, a sexual awakening has caused the girl to lose all her powers! (Now there's an original idea. Oh wait, no it's not.)