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The (New) New Einsteins: Roland Fryer

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In the current issue of mental_floss magazine, Erik Vance profiled nine "New Einsteins"—visionaries who are discovering how to grow organs, peer into black holes, levitate food, cure plagues, and let blind men see. This week, Mr. Vance will be anointing five additional New Einsteins here on mentalfloss.com, one per day. Today, it's Roland Fryer's turn.


Who He Is: Roland Fryer, professor of economics at Harvard


What He Did: Fryer is one of a small group of academics playing around with something called conditional cash transfer, which tries to tie welfare funds to specific performance. Take education. Fryer initiated an experiment program that paid third graders' families $10 per good test score, and $20 for seventh graders. Critics say he is bribing academic performance (not a new concept to many parents). But supporters say he is creating incentives. And those supporters are on both sides of the political spectrum. Conservatives like that he is using the free market to promote achievement and liberals like that he is bringing money to the schools.


Today, Fryer is one of the key architects of Opportunity NYC, which pays parents for things like maintaining health insurance, keeping a job, and taking their kid to the dentist "“ in addition to good test scores and grades. He is also associate director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard (named after his personal hero) and the principle investigator for the American Inequity Lab.

Why You Should Start Idolizing Him Immediately:

Where do you start? Fryer's not some idealistic kid from the suburbs. As a child he didn't know his mother, his cousins sold crack, and at 13 he regularly carried a handgun. At 15 he had to bail his father (who would eventually get convicted of sexual assault) out of jail. In spite of this, he managed to go to the University of Texas on a sports scholarship and graduate magna cum laude after just two and a half years (while holding down a job to pay his dad's bail bondsman). Then he got a PhD four years later and by 27 he was a Harvard professor.

In his short academic career, Fryer has tackled some of society's most baffling questions. He has written on the effect of crack cocaine on urban communities, the stigmas around African American names and colleges in the workplace, and "acting white." He is also one of the few researchers who has looked at whether genetics might play a role in black underperformance in school. It's a dicey subject for anyone to broach (Fryer himself is African American), but it's one that he says needs to be considered along with all the other factors that might contribute to economic disparities. This is characteristic of Fryer's unapologetic style of data-focused economics. He told the New York Times that his goal is to figure out "where blacks went wrong" in an analytical way, looking for mechanisms for why things like test scores, pay rates, and life expectancy are so low in African American communities, in order to pull people away from the kind of emotional, anecdotal evidence that he feels frames the political debate on things like affirmative action.

Previous (New) New Einsteins: Marin Soljačić

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A Simple Way to Charge Your iPhone in 5 Minutes
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Spotting the “low battery” notification on your phone is usually followed by a frantic search for an outlet and further stress over the fact that you may not have time for a full charge. On iPhones, plugging your device into the wall for five minutes might result in only a modest increase of about three percent or so. But this tip from Business Insider Tech may allow you to squeeze out a little more juice.

The trick? Before charging, put your phone in Airplane Mode so that you reduce the number of energy-sucking tasks (signal searching, fielding incoming communications) your device will try and perform.

Next, take the cover off if you have one (the phone might be generating extra heat as a result). Finally, try to use an iPad adapter, which has demonstrated a faster rate of charging than the adapter that comes with your iPhone.

Do that and you’ll likely double your battery boost, from about three to six percent. It may not sound like much, but that little bit of extra juice might keep you connected until you’re able to plug it in for a full charge.

[h/t Business Insider Tech]

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Trying to Save Money? Avoid Shopping on a Smartphone
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Today, Americans do most of their shopping online—but as anyone who’s indulged in late-night retail therapy likely knows, this convenience often can come with an added cost. Trying to curb expenses, but don't want to swear off the convenience of ordering groceries in your PJs? New research shows that shopping on a desktop computer instead of a mobile phone may help you avoid making foolish purchases, according to Co. Design. Ying Zhu, a marketing professor at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan, recently led a study to measure how touchscreen technology affects consumer behavior. Published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, her research found that people are more likely to make more frivolous, impulsive purchases if they’re shopping on their phones than if they’re facing a computer monitor. Zhu, along with study co-author Jeffrey Meyer of Bowling Green State University, ran a series of lab experiments on student participants to observe how different electronic devices affected shoppers’ thinking styles and intentions. Their aim was to see if subjects' purchasing goals changed when it came to buying frivolous things, like chocolate or massages, or more practical things, like food or office supplies. In one experiment, participants were randomly assigned to use a desktop or a touchscreen. Then, they were presented with an offer to purchase either a frivolous item (a $50 restaurant certificate for $30) or a useful one (a $50 grocery certificate for $30). These subjects used a three-point scale to gauge how likely they were to purchase the offer, and they also evaluated how practical or frivolous each item was. (Participants rated the restaurant certificate to be more indulgent than the grocery certificate.) Sure enough, the researchers found that participants had "significantly higher" purchase intentions for hedonic (i.e. pleasurable) products when buying on touchscreens than on desktops, according to the study. On the flip side, participants had significantly higher purchase intentions for utilitarian (i.e. practical) products while using desktops instead of touchscreens. "The playful and fun nature of the touchscreen enhances consumers' favor of hedonic products; while the logical and functional nature of a desktop endorses the consumers' preference for utilitarian products," Zhu explains in a press release. The study also found that participants using touchscreen technology scored significantly higher on "experiential thinking" than subjects using desktop computers, whereas those with desktop computers demonstrated higher scores for rational thinking. “When you’re in an experiential thinking mode, [you crave] excitement, a different experience,” Zhu explained to Co. Design. “When you’re on the desktop, with all the work emails, that interface puts you into a rational thinking style. While you’re in a rational thinking style, when you assess a product, you’ll look for something with functionality and specific uses.” Zhu’s advice for consumers looking to conserve cash? Stow away the smartphone when you’re itching to splurge on a guilty pleasure. [h/t Fast Company]

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