December 1st, 2014

Korval's Game, Lee and Miller, Liaden Universe, SPOILERS the Commander of Agents will GET YOU

Korval's Game contains two novels, _Plan B_ and _I Dare_.

These books just get way more complicated as the series goes along. Seriously, do not start with either of these.

AND I REALLY FUCKING MEANT IT ABOUT SPOILERS.

First, everyone arrives on Lytaxin. As a result of shenanigans instigated by the Commander of Agents, Lytaxin is recovering from a barely unsuccessful coup attempt. Clan Erob, long time allies of Korval who have a Tree of their very own, is winding down the merc operation when Miri and Val Con arrive in the ship they stole from the (deceased) Agent of Change sent to retrieve them from Vandar. There are some Gyrfalks on planet, altho the main group of mercs has left. Miri is Seen by Delm Erob and there is a big party that Miri and Val Con don't enjoy but at least they get to sleep in a bed with aphrodisiac flowers after (LIKE THOSE TWO NEED APHORODISIACS).

Alas, some ambitious Yxtrang sort of saw the coup and figured now would be a good time to take a planet away from Liad. They show up with a battleship and a bunch of other ships and Troops and so forth, including some disgraced Explorers (= Yxtrang Scouts), including, YEAH THEY WENT THERE the one captured so long ago by Val Con and then turned loose. That guy recognizes Val Con's ship and speaks out of turn (guess what, a big deal among these nut jobs) to say hey, that ship is super dangerous deal with it pronto, in the middle of Captain's Mast (they don't call it that, but that is what it is). He gets into several shades of additional disgrace and is dumped on planet to scout and, duh, be captured AGAIN by Liaden. Meanwhile, Val Con's ship fires back when attacked and does some damage to the battleship and a lot more to some other ships.

Meanwhile, Shan has worked out the meaning of the location that Val Con would like to meet, and arrives in system. Alas, on the way, they discover that one of the weaponified additions to Dutiful Passage has been sabotaged extensively. They figure out a way to get it separated from the ship in jump, but upon arrival, some damage occurs to Dutiful Passage which must be repaired. While Shan is working on that, they are attacked by still more Yxtrang ships ("fleas") and Shan separates and goes down to the planet to meet his brother.

So, to recap: on Lytaxin so far are Shan, Val Con, Miri, Beautiful (the aforementioned Explorer whom they turn and he becomes an armsman -- they don't call him that, but that is what he is), Jason (with the Gyrfalks). But that's not nearly enough for a party!

First, the Yxtrang must be dealt with, which involves clever things like Shan, Beautiful and Val Con stealing some airplanes from the Yxtrang and them doing a bunch of damage with them and retaking the airfield along the way. While this is all going on, one jump out from Lytaxin, people have figured out there is an attack in progress, triggering every merc in existence to go rescue the mercs stuck on planet. Nova, attempting to track down Val Con and Miri, finds Liz Lizardi, hires her, and they go to hire mercs and run into all this activity and hook up with Suzuki.

But that's not nearly enough for a party!

Ren Zel, up on Dutiful Passage, tho clanless, becomes First Mate when Priscilla becomes Captain because they are short handed as a result of Plan B. Ren Zel is having weird dreams involving Merlin (he doesn't realize it is Merlin -- HEY LOOK THE WITCH HAS A FAMILIAR!). Merlin gets Ren Zel and Anthora to hook up (BEST FAMILIAR EVER!), and Anthora registers Ren Zel as lifemate and thus he is no longer clanless. Guess how Nova feels about this when she realizes that Shan and Anthora have now both announced lifemates. Any hope of dealing with the complex politics on Liad itself have basically been completely torpedoed -- which at this point in the series you should start to be thinking was maybe authorial intention.

Do we have enough for a party?

The Yxtrang decide to leave, turtles arrive, also Jen Sar Kiladi aka Daav arrives with Clonak (NOT DEAD) and Shadia (ALSO NOT DEAD).

But we have big suspense because in the course of the climatic ending of one novel, Val Con was turned into neurotoxined hamburger, and the med techs are making a real hash of him with the autodoc because they have suppressed the cerebral manifestations of the lifemate bridge. (REALLY IT IS LIKE PEOPLE IN THIS UNIVERSE ARE IDIOTS.) Turtles to the rescue.

WE NOW HAVE ENOUGH FOR A PARTY!!! Big reunion scene. Awkward! Also, interrupted by the party of Agents of Change sent to retrieve Val Con and/or Miri. Agents dead. Ship has an oops and reunion continues.

MEANWHILE, the Department of the Interior commissions a fake ring (perfect emeralds. Ooops.) which they offer to Pat Rin saying his whole family is dead. They fail to mention the kids and obvs the ring is fake, but Pat Rin still decides they might be telling the truth so he offs them, hooks up with a Juntavas Sector Judge who is super hot and they all take off for Surebleak to build a base of operations suitable for using to effect Balance against the Department of the Interior. Pat Rin/Conrad sets up as a fatcat, becomes fatcat of fatcats, finally becomes a pilot, goes off to retrieve a bunch of mothballed Korval ships, and comes back to an attack by the Department of the Interior in Surebleak space. Bam bam bam, Pat Rin/Conrad is a Hero and they all head off to Liad.

BECAUSE PARTY TIME!

Everyone goes to Liad. I mean everyone. Turtles. Korval. Pat Rin. Mercs. You name them, they all leave Lytaxin or wherever they have been and go to Liad, where Anthora is having her own troubles with the Department and the Council of Clans and all the tools brought along get used, including those mining ships that were mothballed.

In the end, not too unexpectedly, Liad decides that Korval is a lot of trouble, terminates the contract and tells them to leave. Which they are ALL TOO HAPPY TO DO.

Lots of fun scenes. All the backstory is important (and I suspect I'm missing some backstory, because I haven't read the Kiladi books). Tons of narrative momentum. Again, don't start here, but arriving at the end of _I Dare_ is pretty amazing.

i3 review, Remote App for iOS

Well, there is not a ton to the app. And you have to have a BMW Assist contract to get access (this is not obvious! And I couldn't find paperwork for that contract, for that matter, tho I had it bundled in the price of the car). I finally thought to contact the sales guy and ask him what account credentials it was asking for and he looked them up. It took me a while to even figure out it was BMW Assist that was involved.

Anyway. Through the app it is extremely simple to program departure times (once/recurring) for preconditioning/charging, which is what I really wanted to be able to do. It also lets you monitor the progress of charging, find your car on a map, etc. It is pretty and it has a passcode. Not much more to say about it at this time; if I use the GPS stuff, I may blog about it, if it turns out I can do things like program my next destination while sitting in bed the night before. But I don't know for sure if that is possible . . .

ETA: Oh. My. God. I can honk the horn of my car from my phone. This _could_ be useful, if I were trying to find it in a particularly large parking lot? But mostly it is just stupidly silly. I find it particularly amusing that it has a little graphic to show you that the app is sending to the server (icon is a cylinder) and then the server sends to the car. And then the horn honks.

ETA Still more: Okay, turns out buying LoJack for this car would be approximately the stupidest thing you could ever waste your money on, because with the cell phone in it, it is pre-lojacked. Really, it is just like driving your cell phone or connected laptop. Anyway. Once you turn on geolocation (open question what the privacy implications of _that_ are), you can do all kinds of fun routing things: route on foot or public transport to or from your vehicle to a final destination. You can also access destinations you have previously programmed into the car. You can also send to the car as a destination any address in your contacts. There are surely additional things you can do that I haven't figured out yet (it'll also tell you if that destination is in range). I'd kinda like to figure out whether it can produce a range estimate on a multiple stop trip (home to point A to point B then back home, say -- go to work, pick up stuff at the store, come back home, type of thing).

A few remarks about clearing systems

This is for my sister.

Once upon a time, nobody trusted anybody, contracts were not well enforced and there weren't any banks. Small transactions occurred using small coins (or the exchange of items, with the difference calculated and reconciled in small coins). Large transactions involved gold and silver coins.

Afghanistan and similar places today illustrate well the problem with this approach: gold can be stolen and big floods and mudslides can make it so you cannot get at your coins stored in your house or elsewhere. So in this faraway time and place, it became popular among a certain set in London to leave some gold coins with the goldsmiths, who had guards and strong boxes to store it in, thus reducing the risk of theft while in the city. From there, it was not a large innovation to write a letter to one's goldsmith, to be carried by hand to him, instructing the goldsmith to pay a certain amount of that gold to the person you owed it to.

The next step was not such a large innovation, either. Now, Mr. Darcy could send a letter to his goldsmith telling him to pay a certain amount of money to Mr. Bingley's account with a different goldsmith, and here is where checking is conceived.

It was So Much Easier to write these letters, rather than carrying around gold to pay people when you lost to them at poker or wanted to buy a horse from them or whatever, that it got to be the case that the goldsmiths, oh, let's just call them banks, now, shall we? wound up spending a lot of time at the end of each working day in a room together moving gold back and forth among them, as the letters directed. Of course, they must have quickly noticed that the 50 pounds that transferred from Mr. Darcy's account with Goldsmith Sam to Mr. Bingley's account with Goldsmith Ben was then transferred right back when Frodo Baggins account with Goldsmith Ben paid 45 pounds to Gandalf's account with Goldsmith Sam -- they really didn't need 50 pounds in gold, just 5, to cover the difference, and that was paid by Sam to Ben and the rest were just notations in their respective books. In fact, you could do all this without Sam or Ben actually having 50 pounds in gold anywhere, but we'll get to that on another occasion.

Clearing systems are always about the transfers between financial institutions. You don't see this stuff on the retail side at all, altho you used to, if you turned over the paper checks that you got back from your bank and looked at the stamps. Up the checks went to the Federal Reserve Bank that your bank had an account with, and back it came down. Less visibly, the money moved from one account in the Reserve Banking System to another, where it then wended its way down to the person who deposited the check.

Faster Payments Service in the UK is a relatively new, quite striking innovation in clearing systems. It is not batch oriented -- none of this Ben and Sam get together at the end of the day and figure it all out. It is real time. Unlike a lot of clearing systems devised in the centuries since Ben and Sam met up at the end of the business day, Faster Payments Service is irrevocable. There is no undoing a transaction, which is sort of weird.

If you write a check on your account, and someone else deposits that check, there are a bunch of complicated rules about precisely when the money leaves your account and when it arrives in the other account. Worse, the representation of your account balance obeys a slightly different set of rules than that (that is, if you deposit money, it often shows as being in your account before it has "cleared", which means if something goes wrong and the check doesn't clear, it will "vanish" from your account). This is all non-intuitive and can cause a lot of distress, and a lot of shady characters will engage in nonsense involving the float. Faster Payments is an effort to make it so that the money only leaves your account as it enters the other account -- and it only enters the other account as it leaves yours. If one side can't happen at that moment in time, then the whole transaction waits until it can go all the way through. It is not clearing, really; it is true transactions across financial institution boundaries, accomplished, presumably, by some pretty complex computer linkages which in turn benefit by the comparatively small number of participants (lots of retail participants; few full member institutions, and other institutions operate as third parties through the full members).

It's hard to know when or if we could institute something similar here in the United States. Virtually all of our mobile app innovations are built precariously atop a banking system still mired in multi-day clearing timelines. And Faster Payments is still incredibly new; it's not clear how it will perform over time. It can take a decade or more for the really problematic holes in any given system to be found and exploited ruthlessly by people who we haven't yet written the laws to identify clearly as criminals. But it sure looks like something we're all interested in having. Someday.