Monday, March 06, 2006

Catching Up
I've been behind on things, what with being away in St. Louis for a week and a half, then my days off...then last week's disaster at work with GroupWise. I've finished a couple of books, been listening to some new music and have some thoughts on a couple other things...thought I'd group them together into one update post...

Things Read:

Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic, by Tom Holland
Amazon.com link
They don't make history much more exciting and readable than this. Holland's description of the last century or so of the Roman Republic...it's transition from the only republic in a world of despotisms and monarchies into just another empire with a hereditary ruler at it's head makes for exciting reading...one of those stories that you might think was fiction if you didn't know it all happened. I've always found Roman history interesting - far more so than the Greeks (something my father and I differ on - he's always been more interested in the ancient Greeks than the Romans). In some ways I feel that the Romans are an excellent mirror of our own selves; particularly now, as (like Rome in it's day) the only world superpower. The tale of corruption, egos, mob rule and politicians out of touch with "real people"...as well as the dangers of empire to the institutions of republicanism...all are lessons that are just as important to learn today. I've made no secret of my love of the HBO/BBC series that is loosely based on a number of these events and found myself curious as to how much in that series (and in other popular portrayals of the age) was entirely made up and how much was real. I was surprised at how much actually happened the way it was depicted. Oh, all sorts of minor things have been created to create the soap-opera quality that at times "Rome" became...but the major details are true. Brutus agonized over what he did to Ceasar...his mother Servilia was definitely the love of Ceasar's life. Octavian adored his sister, Octavia. Marc Antony comes across just as he's portrayed in the series - petty, beautiful, oversexed and hated by the Roman aristocracy. Spartacus really did have rather "communist" ideas in his slave revolt - as he was portrayed in the famous Kubrick movie. Even if he wasn't crucified (he died in combat) a large number of prisoners were crucified along the Appian Way. Fascinating reading...highly reccomended if you can't stand reading any of the "classic sources." (which, Holland notes, are more or less secondary sources themselves)

Hell to Pay, by George Pelecanos
Amazon.com link
The second in Pelecanos's series of "Derek Strange/Terry Quinn" noirish crime novels, where one of the principle characters (and a "bad guy" at that) is the city of Washington, DC itself. This one focuses on kids and the city - as both major events are tied to "kids gone wrong" (one a teenage prostitute from suburban MD...the other an innocent kid who ends up dead from a shooting targeted at his uncle). Both Strange and Quinn are fascinating characters - as are the many secondary characters in Pelecanos's work. Strange is the very model of a successful middle-class black man from Washington - one who's fighting against what parts of the city have become every day. Quinn is a white man with a lot of anger - I have a bad feeling about his ability to survive the next book. Pelecanos writes about the city I/we live in - not the political circus, which doesn't honestly impact the vast majority of us, but the real city filled with real people who go to work and live here. There is a certain "feel" in his books that is very familiar to any of us who live here. Excellent reading.

Also just read another book, but I'm going to talk about it in a seperate post.

Things I've been listening to:

Pandora
BC here at my office turned me on to this service (a couple of weeks before Rolling Stone published a little blurb about it and similar services). Basically...what you do is go to the site and tell it the name of an artist you like (it works best if you give the name of an artist you're in the mood for right then). It then plays a song by that artist...then develops a playlist using similar artists. Each track you can give a thumbs up/down and tweak it. Sort of your own personal genome like thing (I say that b/c the creators call it part of the music genome project...read more here). Anyway...it works pretty well. My first attempt was with Ben Folds and it played a bunch of music this weekend (streaming - translation...don't you dare use this service at work, especially if you work at my office...you don't want me coming down to play bad cop) and with some tweaking based on individual songs, caught my mood exactly. I've since played with it some at home using different artists. If you register, it'll even save your stations for you and allow you to play them elsewhere. It's pretty cool if you ask me...I've even found some artists I want to buy based on it. No idea if it works for classical/jazz/blues/etc....that's for later.

Onion Radio News (Daily)
Their podcast has become one of the highlights of every morning. Wherelse can I get material like "Hidden Valley Ranch Bombed by Basalmic Extremists" or my favorite..."Christian Porn Film Climaxes with Birth of Child." Priceless.


Stuff I've been looking at:


Office Pirates
A new humor site, dedicated to office stuff. I particularly liked the following image:


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