Archive for May, 2011

Nothing Is Free!

May 31, 2011 Leave a comment

What’s so great about the “free market”? The phrase sounds great because it has the word “free” in it and everyone knows that’s good. Plus there’s “market” and we all know that markets are a natural and efficient way to get things done, don’t we? As I said, it sounds great in principal but there is one small matter to consider: is the free market real, and even if it is real is it the best solution?

The reason I have chosen this subject is because of a free trade deal our government is currently considering with the US and it looks as if one of the casualties of this miracle of modern economics might be New Zealand’s drug buying agency, Pharmac.

Pharmac was set up to coordinate the purchase of drugs for the country’s hospitals and other medical institutions, to find the best price for required drugs, and to decide which drugs should be subsidised by the state. It has saved the New Zealand taxpayer one billion dollars per year but the drug companies don’t like it of course, because it interferes with their corrupt and immoral profit taking at the expense of everyone else.

So they are dredging up the old nonsense of “free markets” saying that Pharmac interferes with this process. Maybe it does and in that case many free market zealots would say it should be removed to preserve the purity of the free process. But as I have said many times before: the free market doesn’t work now, it never will work, and anyone who bothers to look will see it hasn’t worked in the past either.

Sure, it sounds like a great idea in principle. After all, who doesn’t want “freedom”? The problem with the type of freedom pushed by libertarian fanatics is that it isn’t real. By transferring control to the market all we have done is hand control of our fate from politicians and bureaucrats to corporations and CEOs.

For example, in the case of Pharmac we have a bureaucratic organisation ultimately controlled by the government which decides how the country’s drug purchasing should be organised. That doesn’t sound that attractive but consider the alternative: pricing and availability being controlled by big foreign corporates and their CEOs.

I know which I would prefer. At least the local bureaucrats and politicians are under some sort of control by the voting public. Large, mostly American, corporations are totally beyond our control. And what is the prime motivation of these differing systems? The corporations are clearly after profit and very little else while Pharmac has no real profit motive and while it may be a bureaucracy at least it is one with the best interests of the country as it’s central reason for existing. When Australia stopped using their similar agency (after pressure from America) they paid billions per year extra in drug costs.

The libertarian dogmatists will answer this with the assertion that the free market will sort it all out. If a drug is deficient in some way (including price) when sourced from one company then people will just buy it from a competitor. Yes, in principle that might be true, but in practice it rarely is. Corporations are expert at using political pressure, collusion with their supposed competitors, and questionable marketing techniques to maximise their own profits and this bypasses the markets some people have so much faith in.

It’s no surprise that the libertarian movement is anti-science in many ways (for example libertarians often reject the reality of global warming) because their ridiculous beliefs would never hold up to examination by the scientific method. It’s easy to claim that markets always create efficient systems where the consumer wins but I don’t see a lot of empirical evidence supporting that idea.

I will agree that sometimes the market does work fairly well. In areas where there are many alternatives, no monopolistic control, and minimal influence from companies on politics the “free” markets can work adequately. But I would never trust them for something that really matters.

We can survive in the situation where consumer goods come from a market-driven system with all of it’s inefficiencies and problems but there are things which are too important to leave to the market and health would probably be at the top of the list. I would also include other important infrastructural items such as education, electricity, water, and communications. I would also prefer to see these controlled by a government bureaucracy rather than giving big corporations control.

We have a drug purchasing system in New Zealand which works quite well (unlike a lot of other aspects of our health system) and it would be unfortunate if this government threw that away purely for ideological reasons. Unfortunately, that is probably exactly what they are going to do.


More Useless Stuff

May 27, 2011 Leave a comment

A recent article in the New York Times and a discussion on Radio New Zealand both covered the same subject: which devices are now useless? Technology changes quickly and it’s interesting to note which previously useful gadgets have become unnecessary, or obsolete, or even useless. So what falls into this category today?

Maybe the first would be the desktop computer. Obviously this is a bit premature because there are still plenty of desktop computers being bought and in many cases a desktop machine is the only logical choice. But laptops are becoming so good now that the majority of people would be a lot better off with one instead of a desktop.

Desktops do have a lot of advantages still: they are usually cheaper, they are usually faster, they have bigger screens, and they tend to be more reliable (because making the components of a laptop – especially the hard disk – smaller and more energy efficient does have side effects) but the trend to portable computing cannot be denied, especially if netbooks and tablets (like the iPad) are included in this category.

I switched to using a laptop many years ago and I have never regretted it. My laptop does have a quad core i7 processor though so it’s certainly at the top end of portable performance. Oh, and it wasn’t cheap!

Still I think it’s worth it. I am writing this blog entry at Starbucks and I often use my laptop for various tasks in odd locations when I have some spare time.

So what’s next? How about the compact camera? The cameras now included in phones are improving rapidly and many people find they are good enough for most uses. In fact the iPhone camera is OK as long as the light is fairly strong. It’s typical of phone cameras that they perform badly in low light but so do many compact cameras.

There’s an old adage amongst photographers: the best camera is the one you have with you. Sure I would prefer to use my Canon SLR but it’s too big to carry with me everywhere. The iPhone really does go everywhere with me (even more than the laptop!) so it’s always available.

So after owning 4 compact digital cameras I no longer have one. I use the iPhone camera for casual use and my SLR for serious photography. Sure a compact camera would give better results than the phone but, like the laptop, its the ubiquity of the phone which is useful. The number of photos and videos taken on phones being used on the news today is further evidence of this trend.

What about computer media? I rarely use CDs and DVDs any more. I still use flash drives but less than I did in the past because the internet is an ever present (well almost) source of anything I could need.

I think this trend is less well advanced but again it is apparent when the change in recent years is examined. Services like Dropbox are very popular and netbooks without optical drives are very common. The iPad has neither an optical drive nor a USB port for a flash drive and that is rarely an inconvenience.

What about music playing hardware? Clearly tape and disk players are almost unheard of now but even dedicated MP3 players are becoming less common. The iPod is the only Apple product which is declining because the iPhone is a better iPod than the iPod itself. I haven’t found another type of phone which is as good but other MP3 players are poor as well so the overall conclusion is still relevant.

Other devices which the phone has assimilated include the stand-alone GPS and the digital alarm clock. I have a GPS in one of our cars (because we bought it before I got the current iPhone) but the TomTom GPS app is so good I just use my iPhone in the other. And I do have an alarm clock but it includes an iPhone dock. The iPhone is just everywhere!

Last night I had to collect something from the bottom of our section and I suddenly realised it was quite dark down there. But the “iPhone catch phrase” immediately sprung to mind: “there’s an app for that!” And yes, there is an app which uses the iPhone’s flash to turn it into a surprisingly powerful torch.

Undoubtedly the iPhone is killing off many other devices. This is not a new phenomenon because phones have been trying to do this for many years. The difference is that other phones have created poorly implemented, compromised copies of the other device. The iPhone in most cases is actually better than the device it’s copying.

By the way, I blogged about useless stuff almost 2 years ago in blog entry number 1055, “Useless Stuff” on 2009-07-17. It’s interesting to see how things have changed!

Alternative Policies

May 24, 2011 Leave a comment

The New Zealand government’s budget is still in the news here and more recently the opposition have offered some alternative policies. So how do the two approaches compare?

Basically the National government has taken the path of cutting spending and selling assets. Whether this is a good idea or not is open to debate but one thing is clear: it’s exactly what you expect from a conservative government and no one should be surprised they have done it.

On the surface it seems reasonable that if you are borrowing to balance the budget then reducing spending is the obvious solution. But I would say let’s go back a step and see why all that borrowing is necessary. Is it because there is too much spending or is it because there is not enough income? Of course, it’s probably both.

A significant contributing factor to the current deficit must be the income lost through the tax cuts to the rich the government introduced shortly after coming into power. They said we would all be better off because reducing taxes leads to greater investment and productivity. Apparently not.

So what have we gained? The rich have even more than they did in the past and are making even less contribution to society than they ever did, while the low to middle income groups are increasingly compensating for those losses and are still being told they must be more frugal and more productive in the future.

Why? So that the rich can get even richer while contributing nothing? Seems fair.

The opposition have released some policy details and two ideas have got particular attention. The first is giving tax credits for research and development, and the second is increasing the minimum wage. Do these ideas have merit?

Of course they do. The government disputes the figures and predicts all sorts of dire consequences of course, but that means nothing. It’s their job to criticise any alternative policies and their credibility is low. So let’s look at these ideas without a prior political perspective (well maybe that’s unrealistic but let’s try anyway!).

What’s wrong with taxing the rich a bit more, making farmers who pollute our environment pay their fair share, and offering tax incentives for any individual or company which invests in research and development? It seems fair to me. The idea of cutting tax to the rich is to improve our economy but why not do that more directly through tax breaks for R&D. If the rich are really making contributions to society in that area they can get their tax back through the refunds instead of just getting it as a right.

And what about the minimum wage? Some people say increasing it from $13 to $15 per hour will cause massive unemployment because employers won’t be able to afford the extra. Any employer who can’t afford the cost of a couple of cups of coffee per day probably won’t survive long anyway so what’s the problem? Thirteen dollars per hour equates to $27,000 per year. No one should be asked to survive on that in a modern, rich western nation like New Zealand.

And if companies are hiring people they are presumably doing it because they need them. Won’t they still need them after this very moderate increase? So why would they suddenly be unemployed? Also, the argument that more experienced people will be hired instead doesn’t make sense. Either way it’s one person employed. What exactly is the problem here?

The fact is the employers are just greedy. Economies benefit from a slave labour force which will work for next to nothing and many employers and many in this conservative government want exactly that, despite their propaganda to the contrary.

To be fair there probably would be a few situations where companies are just on the border of survival and might need to reduce their staff if the minimum wage was increased but I think the effect would be far less than what the government claims. And common human decency dictates we should provide everyone with an income that allows them to live with some dignity.

If lower minimum wages are so good why not reduce them even more? Would that not inspire the economic miracle of capitalism and the free market to make us all richer? What a joke. That little fairy tale should be well and truly discredited by now.

Finally there is the argument I heard this morning that people shouldn’t get higher wages unless they “increase productivity”. This seems to be a catch phrase parroted by employers and conservatives but none of them seem to be able to say exactly what it means. How can a teenager serving at McDonalds increase their productivity? How can someone caring for the elderly get more productive? It’s just another pathetic excuse offered by the greedies to excuse their lack of generosity to the people who actually do the work.

So the government’s budget wasn’t actually that bad. It totally lacked any positive ideas, it was a poor attempt at improving our economy, but it’s what we expect from a government with no worthwhile policies at all. But it could be a lot worse. Often the best thing a bad government can do is nothing, or nothing significant, and that’s what seems to have happened here.

Epic Fail

May 22, 2011 Leave a comment

There’s a phrase which has been common in popular culture for a while now. It’s “epic fail” which is used to describe a situation when someone does something so stupid, says something so pathetic, or gets things in general so badly wrong that it’s a joke. And what could be more worthy of this phrase than a failed prediction of the end of the world?

I can answer that. What could be more worthy is that prediction from someone who has already made the same prediction in the past and failed. Actually there’s an even better answer: the phrase “epic fail” really belongs to someone who predicts the end of the world when it doesn’t happen even though he has failed with the same prediction in the past and the same prediction by thousands of others has also failed and the prediction is based on superstitious nonsense from a silly old book.

Yes, that’s the ultimate “epic fail” and it belongs to a clown by the name of Harold Camping who told us the rapture would happen today. His prediction was based on the Bible too, so how could it possibly be wrong? Wow, this situation just brings out the most sarcastic and cutting comments from skeptics and atheists. And rightly so because fundamentalism is just a pathetic but dangerous joke, and this illustrates that fact very well.

As I said above, there have been thousands of predictions of the end of the world in the past and none (so far) have turned out to be true, although some of the people making the claims have made statements like: the world did end but we just didn’t notice (usually because it was a “spiritual” end or some similar unsubstantiated garbage).

So time after time the Bible fails as a source of prophecy. I have done some research on this because some of my religious friends think the alleged prophecies in the Bible make a strong case for the validity of Christianity. But it’s all rubbish. Not only is is rubbish but it’s obvious, pathetic, childish rubbish.

Here are a few of the tricks the Bible uses to make prophecies look real: the prophecies are written after the events they were meant to predict; the events prophesied are made up to fit the prophecy; or the prophecies are so vague that many future events could be warped to try to make them fit.

So yes, the Bible is a silly old book. It’s also a rather boring old book: it’s repetitive, badly written and generally lacks literary merit. And it’s extremely dishonest because it’s full of deliberate lies. Plus it’s dangerous because it encourages many people to do stupid things and it encourages some to do evil things.

Of course it doesn’t matter how many times the Bible’s supporters fail, it will still be seen as the unerring word of God by many. Why? Because that’s what they have been told they have to believe. They haven’t thought about it. They haven’t tested this rather radical claim. They just accept it like the mindless sheep they are. And that isn’t an insult because they want to be mindless sheep. Why? Because the Bible tells them to!

So most of these fools deserve nothing but contempt and they are getting plenty. I have seen a lot of news items describing this latest failure of Biblical prophecy in condescending and amusing terms. Of course it is unfortunate that some people have wasted their time and money in supporting something which was obviously untrue from the very beginning. And those who have spent all of their savings because they didn’t think they would need them after today deserve a certain amount of sympathy as well as contempt.

But it’s hard to be too sympathetic because anyone who is prepared to use the brain they think their god gave them can easily see the truth. If they failed to use that (alleged) god given faculty then they can hardly expect too much commiseration from those who do.

I wonder what the believers thought when the apocalypse failed to materialise. Did they think they have been left behind because they are unworthy? Did they think they have been deliberately fooled by Camping? Or did they think there has been just a slight miscalculation and they should look forward to another date in the future instead?

Whatever their response it isn’t good. Although there is one possible positive result: that they realise the whole belief system they are involved with is fake to its very core and they should get out. But I suspect few, if any, will do that!

It Worked!

May 19, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m not going to comment on the pathetic excuse for a budget our (New Zealand) government had the temerity to release today. I’ll think about it for a while and then comment. Maybe after that time I will have seen some merit in it, or more likely it will seem even worse than it does now!

No, in this entry I want to comment on something far more positive: how well my server transition went yesterday. For a few years now my main web server has been an old Power Mac G4 and I wanted to upgrade to something slightly more modern: a Power Mac G5 (yes, I did say it was only slightly more modern).

The problem is that my server runs 8 web sites, although only one is very substantial, and has many databases running in the background. There are also some custom configurations it requires to run. Of course I wanted the web sites to be down for the minimum amount of time during the transition. Oh, and to make things slightly more complicated I had to do all this in my spare time between doing “real work”.

There was one factor on my side though: I was using Macs!

As you can probably tell from my triumphant tone (and the title of this blog) it worked really well! All of the web sites are running correctly. The databases (including this blogging system) are all running as expected, and the new system is significantly faster than the old one (although the upstream speed of my internet connection is still a bit slow for this purpose).

So I installed new hardware, a much more modern operating system, new versions of PHP, MySQL, and Apache, and the latest versions of all the web sites, plus I maintained the data (over a million records) from all of the databases with a total down time of about 2 minutes. And now, 24 hours later, I haven’t found any problems.

So that’s my happy computer story. On most days I encounter enough weird computer problems which I have to waste a lot of time to solve, so it’s nice to win for a change!

Arrogance Ignorance Stupidity

May 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Today I listened to several podcasts on the topic of global climate change. It was interesting to hear the reasoned views presented especially when compared to the indefensible nonsense argued by most climate change deniers. I would challenge anyone to listen to the interview with James Hansen and still think climate change deserves serious doubt. He handled all the usual objections with ease although I do have to concede that the interviewer was playing devil’s advocate more than acting as a serious adversary.

There are several types of people who don’t accept climate change: the ignorant who follow their preferred leaders who themselves are either ignorant or have a political objective; the dogmatic (such as libertarians) who simply cannot accept that control of business is necessary for the greater good; the politically motivated who see climate change as a view supported by the left and therefore cannot accept it whatever the facts; and those who have genuine doubts who, in most cases, aren’t as familiar with the facts as they should be to make those judgements.

So in general all of the people who are against global warming are in fact deniers rather than genuine skeptics. That’s why I generally refuse to refer to them as global warming skeptics. I am a skeptic on a number of subjects but skeptics do accept theories which have good supporting evidence and global warming clearly fits into this category. Therefore I am very offended at calling deniers “skeptics”. They don’t deserve that label.

One of the more interesting points I heard made concerned libertarians. When I use that term I mean people who want a free market, who trust the market (whatever that is) to sort out all problems, and who want the minimum (or zero) regulation. These people often refer to groups who want to protect the environment as being ideologically driven and of following a religion. I agree, some environmentalists do fit into that category, but the ironic thing is that the libertarians themselves are at least as bad. Their ridiculous idea that the free market is the answer to almost any problem is pure nonsense and should surely count as a religion accepted on faith more than a genuine political or economic theory supported by facts.

Rejection of global warming exists at several levels. First, some people reject the idea that the climate is warming at all. Second, others accept that warming is happening but reject the theory that humans are the primary cause. Third, some say it is true and may or may not be human caused but is a good (or neutral) phenomenon anyway. And finally, some accept the truth and cause and concede it is bad but think there is nothing we can realistically do about it, either because the problem is too big from a practical or political perspective or that the economic cost of action is too great.

As time has passed and the evidence has grown I have become convinced that global warming is happening, that there is very strong evidence that it is primarily caused by human activity, and that the overall outcome will be negative. But until now I was less sure about whether there was anything that could be done about it. After listening to Hansen I think there actually is something that could be done but I still don’t think it will be done because governments of the world rarely do what is right: they are too involved with short term political cycles to make the big changes necessary.

Hansen thinks a carbon tax is the answer. The money which was taken would be redistributed evenly to all the citizens of the country where it was taken and any imports from countries who don’t run a similar scheme would be taxed at the border.

I’m no economist but superficially it seems like a great idea. There are two major objections to carbon taxes: first, the extra costs would be passed on to consumers (users of electricity from coal powered stations for example) and would therefore not count as a real disincentive at all; and second, countries with no carbon tax would have a huge advantage over those who do, again creating a totally counterproductive situation.

But if the tax takings are redistributed to everyone then the consumers have the ability to pay the extra charges, unless they source their power from a carbon neutral source in which case they will be better off. And any country who doesn’t tax carbon producing industries will have them taxed anyway when they export their products. The only difference is the country doing the importing will get the tax instead of the country of origin. That seems like a reasonable incentive to apply a tax, wouldn’t you say?

Maybe the only reason this sort of scheme hasn’t been applied is pure self-serving arrogance, ignorance, and stupidity. Higher tax policies are sabotaged by business interests. That’s arrogant (actually it’s just evil in a situation like this). Taxes designed to create a specific economic or social outcome are rejected because people don’t understand the big picture. That’s ignorant. And all taxes are unpopular even when the majority are better off as a result. That’s stupid.

Unfortunately I think there will be no real action on this for just the reasons I have mentioned above. Ironically China is taking the whole situation far more seriously and is investing in new technologies (although they are still building a lot of new coal burning power stations) so it could be a less “free” country which has the real advantage when action really does become necessary.

Of course, by then it will be too late. It possibly already is. Arrogance, ignorance, and stupidity. It’s a hard combination to beat!

Geek Jokes

May 12, 2011 5 comments

Some of my recent blog entries have been a bit intense, bitter, and angry. So it’s time for something a bit lighter! I was reading through my collection of geeky (science and programming related) jokes and thought I might share some of them here. I would also like to explain the jokes, just in case the reader doesn’t have a technical background.

I have a lot of geek jokes so I thought I would stick to the sub-genre of “a [insert anything here] walks into a bar” type jokes. Most of these involve rather corny puns (for which I apologise in advance) but some are also quite clever. So, here they are…

Joke: A neutron walks into a bar and orders a drink. Upon being asked the price, the bartender responded, “For you? No charge.”

Explanation: This one should be fairly obvious to anyone with even a basic knowledge of science. It’s a pun based on the fact that neutrons have no (electromagnetic) charge so the bartender doesn’t charge for the drink… Yeah, fairly lame, but some of the others are even worse!

Here’s a related joke which I’ll let you figure out: One atom says to another atom… “I think I’ve lost an electron..” The other says… “Are you sure?” He says… “I’m positive.”

Joke: So he leaves. The bartender says “We don’t serve your kind here.” A tachyon walks into a bar.

Explanation: This one is a lot more difficult. A tachyon is a theoretical particle which travels faster than light, therefore it travels backwards in time. So the whole joke is also backwards. Pretty cool huh? One of my favourites actually.

Here’s a related joke: To get to the same side. Why did the tachyon cross the Mobius strip? (it has two clever bits – I’ll let you figure out the second).

Joke: A superconductor walks into a bar, the bartender says, “Hey, get out, we don’t serve your kind here”. The superconductor leaves without any resistance.

Explanation: Superconductors are perfect conductors of electricity so their electrical resistance is zero, so they have no resistance. Another double meaning.

Joke: A noble gas walks into a bar. The bartender says “we don’t serve your type here”. The noble gas does not react.

Explanation: This one requires a little bit of knowledge of chemistry. Noble gases are elements which rarely react with other elements to form molecules, therefore we have the old double meaning again with the word “react”.

Joke: An infrared photon walks into a bar and says “is it hot in here or is it just me”.

Explanation: Ah yes, is this funny? The original joke said “proton” but I thought “photon” made more sense. Infrared photons are generated by heat sources, so… Yeah, you must be getting the general theme by now!

Joke: A logic gate walks into a bar. Not.

Explanation: A logic gate is a computer science construct (or a real electronic component) which performs a logical operation on true/false values. So an “and” gate is true if A and B are both true, an “or” gate is true if either A or B (or both) are true, and a “not” gate is true if A is false. Yes, you need to be a real geek to like that one.

Joke: A byte walks into a bar and asks for a beer. The barman asks him “hey, what’s wrong?” The byte replies with a sad face “parity error”. Yeah, the barman says, you look a bit off.

Explanation: another “inside” computer geek joke. Parity is a way to check the validity of data by adding an extra bit (0 or 1 value) onto the end of the real data. Typically a character might be represented by the first 7 bits of a byte and the last bit (bytes are always 8 bits) is used as a check of whether the character is valid. If the bit gives a bad result it’s called a parity error.

Of course, parity is the source for a lot of jokes. Here’s another: What’s got feathers and goes “Pieces of seven, pieces of seven” A parroty error.

Here’s another computer geek joke which I’ll leave the reader to figure out: There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who

If you got that one you should also get this one: Why do programmers always get Christmas and Halloween mixed up? Because Dec 25 == Oct 31.

Joke: Two neutrinos walk through a bar…

Explanation: Neutrinos are almost massless and don’t interact much with anything. They can easily pass through the whole Earth so they wouldn’t be stopped by just a bar, would they?

Joke: A statistician walks into your average bar. The bartender says “we don’t serve your type here”. The statistician says “you’re just mean”.

Explanation: The word “mean” has multiple meanings. The bartender is using it in the context of “unkind” but a statistician would use it as a more correct term for the word “average”.

Joke: A font walks into a bar and the bartender yells “We don’t want your type in here!”.

Explanation: The word “type” has about 8 meanings. One is the letters that are formed by a font. I guess different fonts produce different type…

Joke: Schrodinger’s cat walked into a bar… and didn’t.

Explanation: This cat is part of a famous thought experiment created by Erwin Schrodinger, one of the people involved in early quantum theory. The cat was described as being in two states (both dead and alive) while in a box containing poison which might be released by a quantum event (I must emphasise that this was a thought experiment and no actual cats were harmed!) so the joke makes sense when you know that. Doesn’t it?

Joke: Three strings walk into a bar. The first one says “I’ll have a beer.” The second says “I’ll also have a beer.’ The third one says ‘I’ll have a shot of vodkadjfjd lskbtj dkl#fla%dkfyej rwejfojp#akjfdi fl[ajeig/iojd@jfa!ljfkldj.” The bartender looks at the first two strings and asks “what’s up with him”. They reply “Oh don’t worry about him, he’s not null terminated.”

Explanation: When I read the first part of this I thought it was about the strings from string theory but it soon became obvious it was about strings (sequences of characters) used in programming. In the C programming language the end of the string (because they can be any length) is marked with a null character (character number zero). So if a string is missing this terminator the program will display whatever junk happens to exist at the end of the real string. The technical aspect of this is clear, why it is a joke less so!

Joke: A molecular biologist walks into a bar, and the bartender asks, “AGCAAAAGCGGAATAAU?” The biologist replies, “I’m going to need a translation.”

Explanation: The letters refer to a sequence of bases, the “language” of molecular biology. Translation is both a process of converting from one language into another and a biological process for converting sequences in DNA (or the mRNA which is produced from them) into proteins, so it’s a joke, isn’t it?

So that’s my collection of jokes. I hope you enjoyed them. By the way, I did all the explanations from my own knowledge of science and technology without any access to extra reference material so I hope I got them right. Any alternative explanations would be very welcome in the comments.