How we’re building a better earthquake warning system

The next big idea in earthquake preparedness may be crowdsourcing. There’s even an app for it.

Researchers at UC Berkeley recently released MyShake, an app that transforms smartphones into earthquake detectors. Upon sensing shaking, the app determines whether it’s an earthquake and, if so, relays information about its intensity, origin time, and location to the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, where researchers analyze the data. Someday, researchers hope, the information will also boomerang out again — in less than a second — sounding an early warning to those who are located outside the quake’s epicenter.

Alexis Boncy, The Week, March 2016

Credit Cards Encourage Extra Spending as the Cash Habit Fades Away

Incentives like frequent-flier miles or rewards points only amplify a temptation that banks and financial services companies have been profiting from for decades.

“When you vary the payment method, people are willing to pay more,” said Duncan Simester, a professor of marketing at M.I.T. who published a landmark paper on the subject in 2001. “You’re not forking over a dollar bill, so there is less sensation of loss.”

Nelson D. Schwartz, New York Times, March 25, 2016

An Ancient and Proven Way to Improve Memorization; Go Ahead and Try It

The “Rhetorica ad Herennium,” written in the 80s B.C. by an unknown author, is the first known text on the art of memorization. (It’s also the oldest surviving Latin book on rhetoric.) It teaches the “method of loci,” also known as the “memory palace.” As its names suggest, the approach involves associating the ideas or objects to be memorized with memorable scenes imagined to be at well-known locations (“loci”), like one’s house (“palace”) or along a familiar walking route.

Austin Frakt, New York Times, March 24, 2016

Schools Are Slow to Learn That Sleep Deprivation Hits Teenagers Hardest

Americans also sleep less than we used to. In 1942, almost 85 percent of us slept at least seven hours a night. Today, less than 60 percent of us do.

Not getting enough sleep is a big problem. Randomized controlled trials show that people who are sleep-deprived can see decreases in their empathy. More than one such study has shown that sleep deprivation can leave people more sensitive to pain. Sleep deprivation can hurt cognition, and it is associated with many, many car accidents.

Aaron E. Carroll, New York Times, March 28, 2016

Growing Up in a Bad Neighborhood Does More Harm Than We Thought

The neighborhood in which you grow up is a major determinant of your economic success as an adult. That’s been known for a while, but new research suggests that the effects may be much larger than social scientists previously understood.

These findings could fundamentally reshape national housing policy.

Justin Wolfers, New York Times, March 25, 2016

Do jobs run in families?

How much of our choice of profession depends on who our parents are? Parents pass on their genes, set an example, provide opportunities, and give advice to either aim for or steer clear of their own lines of work. In the end, do their children end up in the same type of job? Do siblings choose the same occupation? And is this more or less true for different professions?

Even though relatively speaking, a child may be much more likely to follow in his or her parents’ footsteps, the absolute percentage may still be quite low. A son who has a father in the military is 5 times more likely to enter the military, but just 1 in 4 sons of a military professional does so.

Ismail Onur Filiz, Lada Adamic, Research at Facebook, March 17, 2016

Probability of being involved in terrorist attack is low

Dr. Susan Haynes, an assistant professor at Lipscomb University, has spent years studying terrorism and is now teaching a class on it in Nashville.

“The fact is that terrorist strategy capitalizes on unpredictability and randomness. The message that they want to send is that you are not safe anywhere. But at the same time, you can take solace in the fact that in most places, you are safe, most places, most of the time. And the probability is incredibly low,” she said.

Heather Hourigan, KITV Island News (Hawaii), March 24, 2016