Pluralistic: 29 Oct 2021

Today's links

  • LaserWriter II: Tamara Shopsin's celebration of the heroic era of the Mac.
  • This day in history: 2001, 2006, 2011, 2016, 2020
  • Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current writing projects, current reading

The cover for Tamara Shopsin's 'LaserWriter II'.

LaserWriter II (permalink)

"LaserWriter II" is Tamara Shopsin's fictionalized history of Tekserve, NYC's legendary Apple computer repair store. It's a vivid, loving, heartfelt portrait of an heroic moment in the history of personal computing: a moment when computers transformed lives and captured the hearts of people in every field of endeavor.

Page 1 of the Shopsin's Menu, a glorious higgeldy-piggeldy of delicious sloppy cuisine.
Page 2 of the Shopsin's Menu, a glorious higgeldy-piggeldy of delicious sloppy cuisine.
Page 3 of the Shopsin's Menu, a glorious higgeldy-piggeldy of delicious sloppy cuisine.
Page 4 of the Shopsin's Menu, a glorious higgeldy-piggeldy of delicious sloppy cuisine.

Shopsin, of course, is one of the Shopsins, of Shopsin's Restaurant, the famously eccentric, floridly weird, and completely and utterly amazing NYC institution (also: quite possibly the best restaurant in the world). It's a restaurant with hundreds of menu items, where parties of five are prohibited. A restaurant whose chef, Kenny Shopsin, blocked all print reviews by the simple expedient of telling any newspaper fact-checkers who rang up that the joint was permanently closed.

Page 5 of the Shopsin's Menu, a glorious higgeldy-piggeldy of delicious sloppy cuisine.
Page 6 of the Shopsin's Menu, a glorious higgeldy-piggeldy of delicious sloppy cuisine.
Page 7 of the Shopsin's Menu, a glorious higgeldy-piggeldy of delicious sloppy cuisine.
Page 8 of the Shopsin's Menu, a glorious higgeldy-piggeldy of delicious sloppy cuisine.

A restaurant, in other words, that is run as much out of a commitment to how things should be as a how they are. Not a mere market-seeking entrepreneurial venture aimed at capturing value, where the customer is always right: rather, a work of passion, integrity and love.

The world was once full of such places: restaurants where the chef served the food they loved, not the food that was most profitable; publishers who published the books the world needed to read; clubs that booked the bands they needed to hear. Even the largest firms were not exempt from this: Walt Disney won public admiration for lavishing detail on his themepark far beyond anything justifiable under market conditions.

Today, those places have been mostly steamrollered by remorseless financialization, the vampiric process of extracting all slack and kindness, leaving behind a cruel mechanical husk.

The first Apple computers shipped with schematics, Woz's hacker-friendly diagrams that both showed off his brilliant engineering and invited follow-on tinkerers to try their hand at it. The Mac sealed up the Apple box, but its core apps – Filemaker, Hypercard, and more – invited everyday users to design and share their own tools.

From the Apple ][+ to the Mac, legions of people who didn't think of themselves as "computer users" discovered the life-altering power of creative automation. They fell in love – more, they became obsessed.

As we all know, computers aren't particularly reliable. Steve Jobs's insistence that the Mac ship without a fan created mountains of Macs with burned-out power-supplies. The creative love-affair with the Mac soured – the computer that seduced and enthralled its owner had betrayed it.

Into that gap sprang Tekserve – a computer repair company run and staffed by misfits, beloved by bike messengers for its $0.10 Coke machine. A place where the UPS guy was always welcome at the weekly catered lunch and where the laser-printer techs will spend an hour on the phone with you, troubleshooting your stuck rollers.

No charge.

LaserWriter II is the story of Claire, a 19 year old who stumbles into a job as a laser-printer tech at Tekserve. In some ways, it's a love story, as Claire falls head-over-heels for repair and troubleshooting. There's romance in understanding how devices work and how they fail. There's heroism in putting them to rights again, beating back entropy and returning them to the people who rely on them.

This is a hymn, then, to the #RightToRepair, to service, and to the frustrating and complicated relationship that humans have to machines, and how that complicates and enhances our relationship to one another.

Shopsin is a tremendous and dryly hilarious writer, whose work I've enjoyed since reading her previous book, Arbitrary Stupid Goal, a memoir of life at Shopsin's:

In LaserWriter II, Shopsin shows us how she can wield understatement and blunt metaphor together. The story arc is complexified by the creepy older man, a Tekserve alum, whom Claire is obliged to call upon for help in repairing the legendary LaserWriter 8500 – the biggest and most complex printer Apple ever made. The creepiness of his persistent advances is painted in muted colors, but no less creepy for it, and serve as reminder of the way that tech culture has pushed talented women to the margins. As counterpoint to this light-touch social commentary are passages in which Shopsin anthropomorphizes the components of the computers Claire is fixing, their existential dread of the looming repair and their joy at being put back into service.

Notwithstanding the fantasy dialog between printer subassemblies, LaserWriter II is a perfect addition to the techno-realist literature: tales whose drama and arc depend on the real-world capabilities and limitations of real computers in the real world. Its precision and rigor and matched by its sensitivity and humor.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Harpercollins closes to unsolicited manuscripts, citing anthrax risk

#15yrsago No blogging allowed at “consumer generated media” conference

#10yrsago Microsoft buys Skype, attacks reverse engineer with bogus takedown notices and florid language

#10yrsago SOPA in depth: the worst-ever copyright proposal in US legislative history?

#10yrsago Justin Bieber: senator who sponsored anti-streaming bill should be “locked up — put away in cuffs”

#5yrsago After North Carolina Republicans banned cities selling internet, a town decided to give it away instead

#1yrago RIAA's war on youtube-dl

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. Yesterday's progress: 288 words (25183 words total)

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. Yesterday's progress: 1035 words (7548 words total).

  • A Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. PLANNING

  • A nonfiction book about excessive buyer-power in the arts, co-written with Rebecca Giblin, "The Shakedown." FINAL EDITS

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Breaking In
Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest book:

Upcoming books:

  • The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press 2022

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