Saturday, February 28, 2009

Yesterday, I finished Compelling Evidence by Steve Martini.

Going through jury duty last week inspired me to check out a few legal thrillers. The first of these is Compelling Evidence, the first legal thriller by Steve Martini, and introducing his character, defense attorney Paul Madriani.

It's an OK thriller but nothing too special. The plot is pretty standard mystery stuff, with some legal procedural background added.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Last night, we saw Mike Marshall at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley.

The show had Mike playing with two bands - his Choro band Choro Famoso and his new band on new acoustic music hotshots, Big Trio.

The highlights of the night all belonged to the Choro music. Joining Choro Famoso on stage was Brazilian Choro hot shot Bandolim player Danilo Brito, an amazing player whose energy and enthusiasm seemed infectious.

The one complaint about the show I have is the sound mixing. I've never been a huge fan of the sound at the Freight but last night was particularly bad. In particular, the tamborine player in Choro Famoso was mixed much, much to loud. Admittedly, he was probably the best tamborine player I've seen, but the mix almost totally obscured the sound of the guitar player, and even overwhelmed the sound of Mike Marshall's mandolin playing at times.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I spent the last 4 days on jury duty. Before I was a citizen, I could blow off jury duty since I wasn't eligible to serve. Since I've become a citizen, I've only received one other jury duty notice, and I didn't have to go down and actually report.

This time, I did have to report. After all the prospective jurors gathered, we were split into seperate groups and sent off to court rooms. I was part of a group of 76 that was told we were prospective jurors for a criminal case involving a burglary of a house under construction. 12 people were selected to be the first set of jurors, and then the questioning started.

During the initial questioning, a few jurors were released "with cause", mainly for not having good enough English skills. This took most of the first afternoon. The second morning, we continued with the questioning and had a number of people released with "hardship" excuses. Then we moved onto the "peremptory" challenges, where the DA and defense can release jurors for any reason. By the end of the process, all but four of the original 12 jurors had been released, and the waiting prospective jurors were reduced by more than half. I was the last person selected for the actual jury.

As all the jurors figured out from the pre-trial questions, the trial mainly centered around the testimony of one witness, who claimed to see two people inside the house he was working on. His testimony turned out to be very detailed and convincing. One of the other witnesses was an accomplice who had already pled guilty to being one of the two perpetrators, and his testimony was much less compelling as he seemed to contradict himself a number of times. The rest of the witnesses were police officers whose testimony was used to establish various people's identities and various timelines of events. Ultimately, we came back with a verdict of "guilty" based on the evidence we saw.

Overall, it was a very interesting experience. The jury questioning was interesting for the first 15-20 people questioned. After that, it just felt repetitive and tiring for everyone involved. The trial itself, and the legal rules that were part of it, was very engaging. It was nice to see how the system works and I now have a better understanding of the various roles people play in a trial, and a better feel for some of the strengths and weaknesses of the American legal system.
This morning I finished The Adventures of Langdon St. Ives by James Blaylock, a collection of stories and two novels.

I've been a big fan of Blaylock since I read The Last Coin, which is still my favourite modern fantasy novel. Most of his books are in the modern fantasy vein, but the stories in The Adventures are actually very early steampunk.

The first of the two novels included Homunculus, has always been very hard to find and been out of print for many years, which is a shame since it's the best of the stories. I had read the second novel, Lord Kelvin's Machine, before and hadn't liked it very much. It's not a direct sequel, but it does help to be familiar with the main characters before reading it. In addition to the scientist St. Ives, there is his butler Hasbro, the toymaker Keeble, their friend Jack Owlesby and their nemesis Ignacio Narbondo.

Overall, these are some of the best steampunk books I've read. Blaylock has a very active imagination and a deft turn with descriptions and semi-surreal action. He's also not afraid of having serious consequences to his characters of their actions.