Bubbles are sweet

Via Tina Casey at CleanTechnica, a beautiful discovery. The inspiration:


A lot of effort is going into nanomaterials made out of hexagons of linked carbon atoms: buckyballs (spheres), graphene (flat sheets), nanotubes (sheets rolled into cylinders). The combination of great mechanical strength, very high conductivity, and dirt cheap raw material is enticing. The trouble with these nanomaterials is that they are, well, nano: tiny objects that are difficult to assemble into anything macroscopic. It’s hard for instance to connect a sheet of graphene one atom thick to a wire, even the tiny sort in integrated circuits. I reported some time ago on buckystring, superfine thread spun out of nanotube fibres, but SFIK it’s stayed in the lab. Carbon-fibre composites are widely used in aircraft, but the reinforcing fibres are not composed of nanotubes. Hence the search for more manageable 3D forms.

Enter the Japanese materials scientist Yoshio Bando and his Chinese colleague Xuebin Wang. Continue Reading…

ACA geography in blue and red

As you all know, December was an excellent month for the ACA exchanges, federal and state. The official HHS totals at 28 December were 2.15 million for market policies, 1.58 million for Medicaid/SCHIP. Charles Gaba’s running total for all new ACA coverage – including the mass Medicaid baptisms by transfers from state schemes, private policies contracted outside the exchanges, and under-26es added to their parents’ policies – stands at a round 10 million today.

The HHS report rightly ignores the puerile talking point that the private policies aren’t all paid up. So what? Why should anybody shop with great difficulty for medical insurance, choose a policy, and abandon it at the till at the last minute like an excess packet of cornflakes?

It does go in detail into the demographics, as a high takeup by healthier young people will be crucial to the actuarial viability of the plan. I’ve nothing to add on this issue to the full commentary of others. Matt Yglesias’ worries were answered, to my mind conclusively, by Kevin Drum, Sarah Kliff and Josh Marshall. Short take: the ranking expert at Kaiser says the takeup by under-35s is currently at the minimum for viability, with modest premium increases, and on past experience and by common sense the proportion will rise. Above all, the insurance industry is silent. If there were a real risk of a death spiral, they’d be screaming blue murder.

Instead, let’s take a look at the political and social geography. Here is Gaba’s table of the takeup of market policies by state as of 13 January, as a proportion of the uninsured. Continue Reading…

May all your Christmases be stereotypes

Santa Claus may be white or not, according to taste, prejudice or marketing strategy. But here’s bad news for Megyn Kelly. The exploited reindeer that have drawn Santa’s sleigh through the busy Christmas night are necessarily reinhind, that is if they have proper antlers.
From an unnamed correspondent of Victor Mair at Language Log:

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, while both male and female deer grow antlers in the summer each year, male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually late November to mid-December.

Female reindeer retain their antlers until after they give birth in the spring. Therefore, according to EVERY historical rendition depicting Santa’s reindeer, EVERY single one of them, from Rudolph to Blitzen, had to be a girl.

We should have known … ONLY women would be able to drag a fat man in a red velvet suit all around the world in one night and not get lost!

The first million: reality check

On November 28 I welcomed the first million enrolees under ACA, whether to marketplace policies or Medicaid/SCHIP. The post was based on the fragmentary data available at the time, brought together in Charles “brainwrap” Gaba’s invaluable running spreadsheet, with some extra tweaks and guesswork by me.

HHS has just released its ACA enrolment report to 30 November. It even has a chart! Heavens to Betsy! Here’s the rare bird (click for better resolution):

HHS Nov chart

How did I do?

  • My headline number: one million.
  • HHS:  “Number of Persons who have Selected a Marketplace Plan or had a Medicaid/CHIP Determination or Assessment: 1.2 million”.

My point. But on the more detailed predictions, I didn’t do nearly so well. Continue Reading…

Uruguay passes pot legalization law

I dare say Mark will want to comment on this, but I’ll beat him to the punch with the news. Uruguay’s Senate has passed the marijuana legalization law by a party-line vote. Text in Spanish of the version passed by the lower house of parliament. Infographic in English on the new policy. It’s not clear whether there were any amendments in the Senate, but I suppose the news reports would have covered anything major. The act still has to be signed by the President, Jose Mujica – a foregone conclusion as he was its prime mover. More important, according to TPM:

Uruguay’s drug control agency will have 120 days, until mid-April, to draft regulations imposing state control over the entire market for marijuana, from seed to smoke.

I haven’t seen anything on Uruguay’s next move under the UN Single Treaty – denunciation, reservation, or (most ambitiously) proposing a rewrite.

From Phlebas to IKEA

amphora label vindolandaThe photo (source) shows a painted inscription on the neck of an olive oil amphora found at Vindolanda, a small Roman garrison town on Hadrian’s Wall. The most visible part reads Aemiliorum et / Cassiorum, referring to the shippers of the olive oil, the firm or firms of the Aemilii and Cassii.

The only business firms at the time were family ones. Shipping posh olive oil from Provence (1600 km by cart and barge) or Andalusia (ca 2500 km by ship) to an officers’ mess at the cold northern edge of the Roman Empire was a risky business, absent banks, insurance, or bills of exchange. [Update 4/12: I badly underestimated Roman trade finance; see comments.] To spread the risk, it made sense for the Aemilii and Cassii to join forces.

Family firms are popular with the writers of soap operas, in Brazil as much as the USA. (The best British example, the mordant Steptoe and Son about anachronistic rag-and-bone men with a horse-drawn cart, was satire with no pretence at economic realism.) The familiar emotional conflicts within a family are heightened and given wider repercussions by the less familiar but comprehensible context of lots of money. It’s only recently that soaps have ventured into the technically much more difficult environment of the modern bureaucratic corporation (Mad Men, The Office).

Art draws loosely on life, but doesn’t reflect it statistically. It’s said that Victorian novels frequently used both adultery and quicksands as exciting plot devices. From independent evidence, we know that adultery is very common and quicksands are very rare; but you would not learn this from the novels.

In this case the soaps get it more right than the economics textbooks. The vast majority of the world’s capitalist firms are family ones, even leaving out family farms. In the US, 80% of all firms are family-controlled; and “in about 65% of firms with 1993 revenues of over $5 million, at least 50% of the ownership was concentrated in a single family”. And not just small ones: “about 35% of the Fortune 500 firms are largely controlled by family interests”. (Gomez-Meija et al, pdf page 3, paywall; h/t Nadia Tronchoni in El Pais; thanks to Mike O’Hare for forwarding me the paper.)

My daughter Sarah works in one of the many family businesses in the Lille area. The grandest of these are the Mulliez dynasty: the 550 descendants and inlaws of a fertile 1920s patriarch between them control a retail empire guesstimated to be worth €30 bn. It includes 3,051 Auchan supermarkets and hypermarkets (now in Russia and China), hundreds of Leroy-Merlin DIY superstores, and half of the Decathlon sportsgear shops.

You would suppose that family control makes a difference. You would be right. The CW is that family controlled businesses are risk-averse. The paper by Gomez et al has shown that this is only half true. Continue Reading…

The first million

the doctor is inThere’s one group of Americans who have a special reason to celebrate Thanksgiving: the million who now have medical insurance for the first time, thanks to Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act.

I’ll justify the number after the jump. For now: welcome to civilisation.

I know, I know: ACA doesn’t create a fully universal system, it’s complicated and kludgy compared to single payer, the federal website was launched as leaky as a sieve and is being repaired as it goes, it’s uncertain whether ACA will rein in healthcare costs, there are over 30 million more uninsured to go, yadda yadda. We’ll be talking about these problems many times. For now, Americans should celebrate a milestone.

How do we get to a million?

Continue Reading…

Healthgov.snfu? No.

The HHS has released its first detailed statistical report on ACA online applications processed in the first month (October 1 – November 2).
Their summary:ACA marketplace
The split of the 846,184 completed applications between states running their own marketplaces and those relying on healthgov.com is 326,623 (39%) to 519,561 (61%). Some of the other eligibility indicators have similar ratios. However, of the 106,185 individuals who have selected a marketplace plan, it’s 79,391 (75%) to 26,794 (25%). This no doubt reflects the much worse start of the federal site.

The tables exclude all those who have tried to make an application and failed to complete it because of software or administrative snafus. If you read the despairing comments on the hhs blog - a sounding board for the lost without any responses – some unfortunate citizens have been trying since October 1. The best advice seems to be to abandon a jammed application and try again: with paranoid care, a new email address and a virgin browser. On the other side, the report does not include the first fortnight in November, when by all accounts the federal website was working much better than in October.

Healthgov.com is still far from Amazon’s smoothness, as Zients’ team readily admits. The claim that it’s an irremediably broken system is b/s. Healthgov has determined 886,015 Americans as eligible for a marketplace insurance plan or Medicaid. A broken system, as opposed to an unacceptably buggy, unfriendly, maddening one, could not possibly have done this.

It still of course has a long way to go. The 106,185 who have selected an insurance plan represent 1.5% of the estimated total of the eligible – a slightly better rate, as the report cattily notes, to the early take up of Romneycare in Massachusetts in 2007.

Please look at the HHS report before commenting.
Update 18 November
A different thought. One of the surprises in the website enrollment is the large proportion found eligible for Medicaid or CHIP: 396,261. ACA did expand eligibility for Medicaid (outside the neo-Confederacy), so many of these were not eligible before. But I wonder: how many may have been, but did not apply out of ignorance or fear of stigma? The great thing with universal health care (which ACA isn’t quite, but near) is that it’s a right, so there’s no shame in claiming it.

Icarus in China

Not another solar blog post … Trust me, this isn’t really about solar but about imagery and power.

The photo:
Panels ChinaScreenshot_1
At first sight, the only surprising thing about this image from China is the standard of the middle-class houses.

Here’s the accompanying story, from the English website of Xinhua, published on 9 April:

Photo taken on April 8, 2013 shows solar panels of a homemade photovoltaic power station made by a local resident named Mo Zhikai in Wumeng Village of Ningbo City, east China’s Zhejiang Province.

The 27-year-old Mo, an enthusiastic fan of photovoltaic power generation, installed over 70 solar panels with the capacity of 7.5 kilowatt on the roof of his own house and garage in 2009. Yet these panel were left unused as they were not allowed to be incorporated into the State Grid. Things changed as the State Grid Corporation of China released a document on Feb. 27, 2013, encouraging distributed generation to be incorporated into the State Grid. Staff members of Ningbo Power Bureau came to Mo’s village for a survey of Mo’s homemade photovoltaic power generation equipments on Monday. Mo will have the first homemade photovoltaic power station in Ningbo if everything goes smooth in 35 workdays.

Just a cute human-interest story to fill the pages? Possibly; I don’t think so though. (Alert: data-thin armchair speculation below the jump)

Continue Reading…