Economist 2/4/15

  1. According to Dr Hansoo Kim and his colleagues at the Pohang University of Science and Technology, the share by weight of steel in an average light vehicle fell from 68.1% in 1995 to 60.1% in 2011.The obvious way out of this is to alloy steel with a lighter metal. And the obvious one to choose is aluminium, which is, like iron (steel’s principal component), cheap and abundant. An alloy of iron, aluminium and carbon (steel’s other essential ingredient) is too brittle to be useful. Adding manganese helps a bit, but not enough. They found that a fifth ingredient, nickel, overcomes this problem.But metals do sometimes react to form real compounds, and one class of these, known as B2 intermetallic compounds (which have equal numbers of atoms of two different metals within them).B2 crystals are resistant to shearing, so when a force is applied to the new material they do not break.
  2. Geosansar, one of the so-called “business correspondents” that act as local agents for India’s big banks. The prime minister, Narendra Modi, launched the initiative at the end of August, setting a target of 75m new accounts by Republic Day, January 26th. The scheme’s initial goal has been surpassed: 120m accounts have been opened. But a previous financial-inclusion drive in 2010 petered out when many accounts were left dormant. Some experts fear a repeat unless banks are allowed to make a decent profit serving their new customers.Account-holders will get the promised fringe benefits, such as free accident insurance, only if they use their ATM cards at least every 45 days. The initial success of this banking drive owes a lot to the sway the government has over public-sector banks, which opened all but 4% of the new accounts. 
  3. The Outer Space Treaty, signed in 1967 by America, among others, says that the Moon “is not subject to national appropriation”. But, as any creative lawyer will tell you, the fees are in the loopholes. Presumably a Moon base would not, of itself, count as appropriation. Bigelow, creation of a businessman named Robert Bigelow, who made his fortune in hotels, has big plans to make money from space. It wants to launch inflatable orbiting modules for holidaymakers who are tired of slumming it on Earth.Both America and the Soviet Union had plans for one when they signed the treaty. But even if $12 billion is a realistic estimate of the cost, which many doubt, it is a lot of cash for a holiday camp.
  4. Winning often goes hand in hand with more revenue, which aligns the incentives of executives, fans and players. During the 2014 Champions League, for example, UEFA, the governing body for football in Europe, doled out €905m ($1 billion) to competing clubs. Real Madrid, the winners, received €57m, while Manchester City, who were felled at the first knockout round, received €35m. The FA Cup, football’s oldest knockout competition, is open to most teams that play in the top eight tiers of the English system, from star-studded Premier League sides to tiny clubs that compete in non-professional regional leagues.For the FA Cup conundrum, economists might suggest two ways to end the temptation not to win. The first would be to put all the money generated into a central pot, and hand it out to teams based solely on how far they reach in the competition. Alas, as with many economists’ suggestions, this has the drawback of being wonderful in theory but unworkable in the real world. Given that wealthy clubs earn more from gate and television receipts and hold most of the power in the game, they would be sure to veto such an egalitarian approach.
  5. Dr Poncela-Casanovas of Northwestern University and her colleagues studied records from 47,026 visitors to an unnamed weight-management website. Such sites, it seems, are much like gyms in the real world, in that 40% of these people—around 19,000—visited once and never came back. hree things turned out to predict how much weight someone who stayed the course would lose. These were her (for 88% of participants were women) initial body-mass index (BMI—a rough measure of how overweight she was); how many times she weighed herself; and how many friends she had within the network.The most powerful factor on the list, though, was the third: friendship. Doctors consider anything above a 5% loss of body weight to be clinically significant. The average weight reduction for those who lasted six months but had no friends in the network was 4.1%. For those with two or more, however, it was 8.3%. In this case, friends and weight loss—are correlated. It cannot show which causes which.

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