Aug. 2nd, 2010

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Weather : gray, particularly in the cold light of twenty past six when the alarm went off for the first time in a week. I think a hearty groan is called for, don't you?

Anyhoo, back into the office on roads as deserted as a very deserted place with no cars in it, and at my desk with a cup of coffee well before half past eight. Plenty of emails to trawl through, but nothing earth shattering and then into prep for an install that we are doing next week. Fortunately we should be able to do it all remotely, so there's no need for a drive to Birmingham unless everything goes horribly wrong. Watch this space.

I walked into town at lunchtime, with the gray overcast skies hiding a deceptive warmth that had me sweating by the time I was on my way back, and grateful for the air con and a cold can of cola from the vending machine. I bought a couple of acrylic stands from the Muji shop and had a mooch in Traveling Man, but that was about it.

I enjoyed last night's episode of Sherlock, even given the somewhat uneasy subtext of fiendish and/or inscrutable Orientals being the villains of the piece. This may have been the order of Conan Doyle's day but it seemed somewhat off kilter in this modern age. Also, locked room mysteries aren't really all that mysterious when there are plenty of windows to climb through. Still, if you don't try to pick too many nits then it is all good, clean, swashbuckling (and only mildly xenophobic) fun.

In games news, I have been playing the campaign mode of Highborn and it's really quite good, if you can skip past the somewhat silly sub-Pythonesque humour. It's a bit reminiscent of a fantasy version of Advance Wars with cities to be captured and the different units having a strength of ten that gets whittled down in little animated battles. The twist to the strategy here lies in the various spells that you can pick up and give you a considerable edge in combat if you use them at the right time. You also have a hero unit with a special power too, although if your hero dies it is game over man, which makes throwing them into the front line a bit of a gamble (unless you remember to save often). I haven't tried the multiplayer mode yet and I have a feeling that the battles could drag on somewhat if you have more than a handful of units on either side. It was free over the weekend but it's back up to 59p now, although still worth a punt at that price I reckon.
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LustrumLustrum by Robert Harris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A lustrum is simply a period of five years - an important division of time in the Rome of the old Republic where terms of political office and governorships were strictly measured out with military precision. Confusingly enough the book was renamed as 'Conspirata' for the US market, which does not have quite the same resonance.

This book follows on almost directly from 'Imperium' with Marcus Tullius Cicero taking up his role as Roman Consol. He faces the ill omen of a brutally murdered slave being discovered, which points to a conspiracy to subvert the established order. Cicero must confront the plotters and build a coalition to oppose them, but the compromises and deals that he brokers (including the cut price purchase of a ludicrously opulent house) and the decisions that he is forced to make will come back to haunt him many times over.

The Catiline orations, in which Cicero publicly exposed the conspiracy to the Senate, still stand as some of the most powerful and dramatic pieces of political rhetoric ever heard. Indeed, they are still quoted to this day. Robert Harris really brings this key moment in history to life by placing it in the correct context of a political body riven by intrigue and ambition, not least that of Gaius Julius Caesar - Cicero's most bitter rival. Harris's Cicero is a flawed individual - a brilliant lawyer, politician and orator but prone to bouts of self doubt and introspection, and after his term as Consol given to bouts of vainglorious self-aggrandizement.

Much of the legal and political wrangling will seem familiar to a modern audience - scandals involving sex and expenses, expedient coalitions between rivals and rabble rousing populism in opposition to the patrician order - but that is just a sign of the deep roots of our systems of government and the law, and the debt that we owe to the Roman politicians, lawyers and orators such as Cicero.

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September 2010


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