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Going Hafsies on Pensions?

Over at CalPensions.com, Ed Mendel tracks , well, state pensions, and he has an interesting story today about the potential for Jerry Brown "half move" toward an individual 401K style plan rather than the pensions that have helped move millions of Californians into the middle class.

Gov. Brown is proposing that the state give CalPERS $1.5 million to identify and study alternatives for a "hybrid" retirement plan, a cost-cutting combination of pensions and 401(k)-style individual investment plans.

The item in the governor's revised state budget plan last week is a reminder that the "12-point pension reform plan" he proposed last March listed a "hybrid option" as one of five points still under development.

Brown issued the reform plan after a breakdown in talks with a handful of Republican legislators, who must provide at least four of the votes needed to extend an expiring tax increase.

The Republicans are said to be seeking pension reform along with a state spending limit and business-friendly regulatory changes. A news release in March said Brown intends to "introduce these pension reforms with or without Republican support."

Back in 1978, Jerry probably missed a bit of writing on the wall with Prop 13, and so perhaps he is tryinig to be a bit more proactive this time aroung.  In general that is a good thing, as this issue really resonates for some reason.  Perhaps it is because the retirement account nightmares of the last few years of millions of middle class families, and that we have completely failed to articulate the value of pensions and the long term security they offer.  Wall Street has done a really, really good job of telling people that private investments (you know, through them taking a big cut)p are far better.  Of course, the numbers don't really bear that out, but Wall Street has better marketing people than CalPERS does.

I cetainly understand the Governor's intetnion of pushing this "reform", but is certainly worrying when we are talking about dismantling, perhaps just a few bricks at a time, one of the strongest pension systems developed in the US or anywhere else.


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Where is everybody? [Starts With A Bang]

"If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens... Where Is Everybody?" -Stephen Webb
As egocentric as we are, we know that not only are we but one planet of many orbiting our Sun, but that when we look up in the heavens, every point of light we see is another chance -- another opportunity -- for planets, for life, and even for intelligence.

milkyway_cobe_big.jpeg

(Image credit: Ned Wright, COBE / DIRBE, and NASA.)

With hundreds of billions of stars (visible here in infrared wavelengths) in our galaxy alone, we have many, many chances for life to have evolved similarly to how it did here on Earth. With hundreds of billions of galaxies in the Universe, it seems unfathomable to us that we would be alone as the only self-aware, intelligent, sentient lifeforms in the Universe.

File:Hubble ultra deep field high rez edit1.jpeg

(Image credit: Hubble Ultra Deep Field team, NASA, and STScI.)

The question atop -- where is everybody -- is known today as Fermi's Paradox.

simpsons2_072202_001.jpeg

(Image credit: M. Groening et al.)

Is there really anything paradoxical about it at all? Let's take a look.

sts110-730-031.jpeg

(Image credit: Space Shuttle Atlantis mission 110.)

This is Earth, our home, and (so far) the only place we know of that harbors life in the Universe, much less intelligent, sentient, self-aware and (possibly) capable-of-communicating-with-alien life. We assume that if there are intelligent extra-terrestrials out there, they'll be made of the same chemical elements we are. Not because it's the only way to store information, or because we think any other methods are prohibitive, but because this is something we understand, and we know at least one way that it works.

And if it works this way here, for us, perhaps it works elsewhere, too, for someone else. Other than the right elements (which are all over the galaxy and Universe by this point), what we need is actually pretty simple.

gliese-581d-habitable-best.jpeg

(Image credit: ESO, Wikipedia (Henrykus).)

We need to be the right distance from the Sun in order to have liquid water. In other words, we need the temperature to be a particular value. If it were too cold, everything would freeze, and if too hot, everything would boil (and too many chemicals would denature).

Fortunately, we're not speculating about this like Frank Drake had to fifty years ago. We know of thousands of planets that orbit around other stars now!

(Video credit: D. Fabrycky and the Kepler team.)

As best as we can tell -- extrapolating what we've discovered to what we haven't yet looked at or been able to see -- there ought to be around a trillion planets in our galaxy, and somewhere around ten to a hundred billion of them are candidates for having liquid water and Earth-like temperatures on their surfaces!

So the worlds are there, around stars, in the right places!

What about the building blocks of life?

16546_8910312_1.jpeg

(Image credit: NASA, ESA, CXC, SSC and STScI.)

Believe it or not, these are unavoidable by this point in the Universe. Enough stars have lived and died that all the elements of the periodic table exist in fairly high abundances all throughout the galaxy.

But are they assembled correctly? Taking a look towards the heart of our own galaxy is molecular cloud Sagittarius B, shown above. In addition to water, sugars, benzene rings and other organic molecules that just "exist" in interstellar space, we find surprisingly complex ones.

European-Researchers-Discover-Complex-Molecules-in-Space-2.jpeg

Like ethyl formate, above, the compound responsible for the smell of raspberries, among others. So with tens of billions of chances in our galaxy alone, and the building blocks already in place, you might think -- as Fermi did -- that intelligent life is inevitable.

But there is a big difference between an organic molecule and an intelligent lifeform. On Earth alone -- the one place where we know it worked -- it took over four billion years and a slew of unlikely events to bring us about.

What was it that needed to happen, and what are the odds of it happening? Let's go through it, both liberally and conservatively, and see what we get.

molecule_in_2nd_life_for_genchemlibguide.jpg

First, we need to make life from non-life. This is no small feat, and is one of the greatest puzzles around for natural scientists in all disciplines: the problem of abiogenesis. At some point, this happened for us, whether it happened in space, in the oceans, or in the atmosphere, it happened, as evidenced by our very planet, and its distinctive diversity of life.

But thus far, we've been unable to create life from non-life in the lab. So it's not yet possible to say how likely it is. (Although we are taking some amazing steps.) It could be something that happens on as many as 10-25% of the possible worlds, which means up to 25 billion planets in our galaxy could have life on them. (Including -- past or present -- others in our own Solar System.)

rna.jpeg

But it could be far fewer as well. Was life on Earth likely? Or, if we performed the chemistry experiment of forming our Solar System over and over again, would it take hundreds, thousands, or even millions of chances to get life out once? Conservatively, let's say it's only one-in-a-million, which still means, given the conservative end of 10 billion planets with the right temperature, there are still at least 10,000 planets out there in our galaxy alone with life on them.

animalsEvolution.jpeg

(Image credit: Die evoluion der tiere.)

And we need that life to stick around for -- as best as we can tell -- at least for billions of years, in order to evolve into something interesting enough to be considered intelligent. Large, specialized, multicellular, tool-using creatures are what we're talking about. So while, by many measures, there are plenty of intelligent animals:

intelligent life.jpg

We are interested in a very particular type of intelligence. Specifically, a type of intelligence that can communicate with us, despite the vast distances of the stars!

So how common is that? From the first, self-replicating organic molecule to something as specialized and differentiated as a human being, we know we need billions of years of (roughly) constant temperatures, the right evolutionary steps, and a whole lot of luck. What are the odds that such a thing would have happened? One-in-a-hundred? Well, optimistically, maybe. That might be how many of these planets stay at constant temperatures, avoid 100% extinction catastrophes, evolve multicellularity, gender, and eventually learn to use tools.

But it could be far fewer. Even one-in-a-million seems like it might be optimistic; I could easily imagine that it would take a billion Earths (or more) to get something like human beings out just once. Because at the end of the day, here's what we need to see.

408_allsky_big.gif

(Image credit: C. Haslam et al., MPIfR, SkyView.)

We need to see the sky in radio wavelengths, and we need for other aliens to have broadcast signals in those wavelengths we're looking for. (Other methods may be possible, but this is one example we know would work.) In order to do that, we need for them to build transmitters of some variety,

Radio_transmitter_by_Angry_Vampire.jpeg

(Image credit: Angry-Vampire.)

and for us to have build detectors of some variety.

A Big Dish at the VLA Radio Observatory.jpeg

(Image credit: Victor Bobbett.)

We have both of those capabilities of course, but how many other worlds do? If we take the optimistic estimate, perhaps 250 million worlds are out there capable of communicating with us, in our galaxy alone. But if we take the conservative estimate, above, there's only a one-in-100,000 chance that our galaxy would have even one such civilization.

And we're not done yet.

end-of-the-world.jpeg

Because human haven't been around forever, and we won't be around forever. Neither will humanity's equivalent on another world. Whether it's nuclear war, natural disasters, or a slow poisoning of our own environment, at some point there will not be humans on Earth any longer. For what percent of our star's lifetime will humans be around? Or, of all the civilizations that may have existed over the history of the Universe, what are the chances that there are aliens out there now, capable of communicating with us?

over_art_03.jpeg

(Image credit: Nobelprize.org and Carl Sagan.)

Humanity has only been around for a little over a hundred thousand years, or about 0.001% of the history of the Universe. Optimistically, perhaps we will thrive for another million years before we either evolve into something completely different or destroy ourselves. But pessimistically, we may only be around -- in our able-to-communicate-phase -- for a few hundred years.

Taking the million-year estimate and our prior optimistic figure, that means there may be as many as 25,000 civilizations ready to communicate with us right now in the Universe. (Clarification: this is 25,000 civilizations in our galaxy, which are the only ones in the Universe we'll be able to communicate with on sub-million-year timescales.)

But taking the pessimistic number and applying our pessimistic estimate? There's only about a 10% chance of there being one Earth-like world, today, with a species like us on it, in the entire Universe.

optimism_2.jpeg

(Image credit: John Slaby.)

Regardless of whether the optimists or the pessimists are closer to being right, there is no paradox. If the pessimists are right, it's because there isn't anybody out there for us to talk to. And if the optimists are right, there's still almost nobody out there for us to talk to! 25,000 civilizations in our galaxy, right now, still means that the nearest one is probably hundreds of (if not closer to one or two thousand) light-years away.

But we have to look. There's too much to know, too much to gain, and too much to learn for us to not ask these questions. Some would have you fear the unknown, but any civilization that talks to us will likely have been around -- as you can tell from the estimates -- in a technologically advanced state for thousands or years, if not hundreds of thousands (or more). When you think of all the social and political problems that we've solved (and are solving now) just over the past few hundred years, and the hurdles we have coming up over the next few hundred (including population, pollution, energy, resource management, human rights, and more), any civilization that talks to us has likely already solved those problems.

So where is everybody? If they exist at all, they're very far away. But life, in some form or another, is sure to be close by, and we wouldn't be doing justice to the curious, investigative nature of humanity -- the very nature that's led us this far -- if we stopped looking now.

milky-way-2.jpeg

(Image credit: Tony Hallas/Science Fiction/Getty Images.)

After all, as Carl Sagan so beautifully said,

I guess I'd say if it is just us... seems like an awful waste of space.

Read the comments on this post...

Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Inside the Outbreaks on the ScienceBlogs Book Club


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Tristero: Gary Lucas at Joe’s Pub

Gary Lucas At Joe's Pub

By tristero

I've known the extraordinary guitarist and songwriter Gary Lucas before I knew him. It's somehow fitting.

Back in early 1971, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band was on tour after the release of their masterpiece Lick My Decals Off, Baby. They played 4 gigs in New York City at a long-closed and forgotten club called Ungano's. The gig is notorious among Beefheart fans because their equipment (Don's sax, I think) got stolen and they had to borrow stuff from Ornette Coleman in order to go on. It didn't matter: they sounded incredible. Because I had a radio show on WFMU then, I had managed to wrangle an interview with Don Van Vliet (Beefheart), Artie Tripp (Ed Marimba), and Mark Boston (Rockette Morton). Even better, I got a pass to all four shows. It changed my life.

Also there was a young guitarist who'd haj'd down to Manhattan from Syracuse expressly for the show: Gary Lucas. We didn't meet then. Six or seven years later, I was the only person in the CBS Records company box at Carnegie Hall for an awesome but sparsely attended performance of Pierre Boulez's music - the one and only time I was in there (dammit!). After the first piece, I heard some sound behind me and a thin intense fellow entered the box, followed by a stunning woman. Never seen either of them before but Gary introduced himself, said he worked in marketing (I was in classical A&R) and we quickly figured out that we had a lot in common, especially a love for Don's awesome music. We were in different, almost mutually exclusive, departments of the company, and we were both unspeakably busy, but we became friends. Gary played on one of my film scores - I shamefully underused him but he played beautifully. And somewhere along the line, Gary began to manage Don Van Vliet and even play in the Magic Band. I was thrilled for him - and not a little jealous. I was incredibly lucky one day, walked into Gary's office and Don was on the phone. We spoke briefly, he said he remembered me (I wasn't sure I believed him but he was Beefheart after all, so anything was possible). It was as thrilling to hear that bass boom of a voice again as it had been back in Ungano's.

Another time, Gary pulled me into his office, whipped out a cassette and said, "Listen to this, man!" It was Don playing the piano, the demo tape for Flavor Bud Living. It sounded impossible and probably was. Gary learned it anyway, perfectly, and when Doc At The Radar Station came out with Gary's amazing performance, every musician I knew in New York perked up their hairy jaded ears and took the measure of this new guy on the block. Lucas has been a member of the Real Ones ever since, one of the few musicians who - to allude to another aspect of Gary's work - truly matter.

Gary Lucas has a new album out, with his band, Gods and Monsters. It's called The Ordeal of Civility and it's one of his greatest (the title, which could easily refer only to how difficult it is to suffer all the fools in the music industry, is actually a reference to this book: as always, Lucas's got multiple fish a'frying). The songs are unforgettable and the band is amazing with guitar work from Gary so fiery it puts blisters on the blisters.

Gary Lucas with God And Monsters will be performing this Friday at Joe's Pub with special guests Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads (who produced The Ordeal of Civility) and other notables.

If you're in New York, go.
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Still on the table

Earlier today I wrote about how the GOP is moving Democrats to the left on Medicare and how hopeful that could turn out to be. Well, never let it be said that the wingnut Trojan horses in the Democratic Party would go along with playing any sort of hardball politics that might benefit the left wing:

At his weekly Capitol briefing with reporters Tuesday, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) confirmed what aides in both parties have been telling reporters: Cuts to Medicare will be on the table in deficit and debt limit negotiations, led by Vice President Joe Biden.

After arguing that Democrats made significant headway toward extending Medicare's solvency with the health care law, Hoyer said, "Do I believe that there are other things we can do related to Medicare? The answer is I do. I'm not going to get into articulating each one, but my expectation is they will be under discussion by the Biden group."
If a grand bargain on spending includes Medicare benefit cuts that both parties buy into, it will further expose the shambolic nature of the last two years' politics. But more to the point, it will blunt Democrats' ability to run against the House Republican vote to privatize, and, yes slash Medicare. And it will hurt Senate Democrats, many more of whom will be up for re-election in 2012 than will their Republicans colleagues. Their opponents won't have Paul Ryan's budget to answer for -- but they will have the Dems' vote for the deficit grand bargain, and the Medicare cuts therein.

And people wonder why liberals are cynical. Here you have the Democrats with a clear advantage in these Biden talks and Steny is out there publicly undermining them by saying "oh no, don't worry Republicans. We won't even bluff if that means we might win."

Let's suppose that the Dems truly believe they need to "do something" about medicare because they held a focus group once in which people said they were worried about it. (Yes, that's how Democrats do these things.) Is there even the slightest hope that this group of lunatic Republicans would agree to anything remotely sane? It's impossible.

Steny Hoyer may not care about winning on this issue --- his job, obviously, is not to serve the people but rather his donors. But some of the other Democrats may still have the illusion that winning re-election is important. I wonder if they'll be so willing to follow Steny over the cliff.

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How’s that austerity working out for you, mates?

A funny thing happened on the way to deficit reduction:

The UK saw its worst April public sector net borrowing on record last month as tax receipts fell, the Office for National Statistics said.

Public borrowing, excluding financial interventions such as bank bail-outs, hit £10bn, compared with £7.3bn the previous year.

The ONS said tax receipts in April last year were boosted by a one-off bank payroll tax which raised £3.5bn.

April's figure was higher than many analysts' expectations of about £6.5bn.

Economists said the figures were a surprising disappointment.

"The public finances have got off to a pretty bad start this year," said Hetal Mehta, at Daiwa Capital Markets. She warned that the position could worsen if economic growth was weaker than expected.

Samuel Tombs, at Capital Economics, said he believed the government would struggle to meet its borrowing forecasts this year.

However, he added: "Nonetheless, these are just one set of figures and the trend in borrowing should improve as more of the spending cuts kick in later this year."

A spokesman for the Treasury said: "One-off factors affected borrowing, but it is clear from the downward revision to last year's borrowing figures that the government's deficit reduction strategy is making headway in dealing with our unsustainable deficit."

David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, said it was clear that the government's plans to reduce the deficit by more than £20bn over the year was proving difficult.

But he said the government must press on with its plans. "The fragility of the economic recovery is creating a difficult backdrop, but the government must not deviate from its strategy to restore stability in the UK's public finances," he said.

"Businesses support the measures being taken to reduce the deficit, and the emphasis should be on spending cuts rather than tax increases," Mr Kern said.

Clearly, the problem is that they just haven't cut enough. It's probably time to think about another round.

As Krugman wrote yesterday in his column about the failure of austerity in Europe:

My guess is that it’s just not willing to face up to the failure of its fantasies. And if this sounds incredibly foolish, well, who ever said that wisdom rules the world?

Not me.

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One step to the left

Greg Sargent has a very interesting analysis today which I hope is being read by the Democrats. If Greg is right, the Republicans may end up pushing the Democrats to the left on "entitlements". I can't remember the last time that the actual center of gravity moved in my direction on this issue and I'm almost afraid to believe it.

Democrats would do themselves a favor if they paid close attention to this report from Ben Smith, which says that Republicans will respond to the Dem offensive on Medicare by going hard at Dems from the left:

Sen. Chuck Schumer vowed yesterday to make the Medicare changes in Paul Ryan’s budget a defining campaign issue for Senate Republicans in 2012 — but Republicans plan to respond by reviving criticism of cuts to the Medicare Advantage program that were built into the 2010 health care bill...

“He and every other Senate Democrat went on to vote for it.” one Republican staffer emails. “We’d agree with Schumer that in races such as this Medicare will be a key issue.”

Republicans ran hard on the issue of Medicare cuts during the 2010 campaign — and it was part of the reason that senior citizens swung so hard towards GOP candidates.

Of course, Republicans are already pursuing this strategy. In the special House election in New York’s 26th district, where the GOP candidate is in trouble over her support for Paul Ryan’s plan to end Medicare as we know it, Republicans are fighting back by accusing the Democrat of wanting Medicare cuts because she said Medicare should be on the table.

This strategy — attacking Dems from the left on Medicare, just as Dems are doing to Republicans — amounts to an admission that Dems are winning the argument over Ryancare. It’s an effort to muddy the waters by persuading the public that both parties agree on the need to cut Medicare and even change it in a fundamental way — and that the only argument is over the details.

They can try that. But the Democrats have 60 years of built up credibility on this -- and the elderly are the most aware of that of any demographic in the country. If the Dems don't lose their nerve and start frantically negotiating for no reason they are in the driver's seat. As Greg concludes:

Putting aside the argument over the merits of the GOP and Pelosi policy approaches, the political dynamic here could not be clearer. Dems, you have now been put on notice: If you agree to deep cuts in Medicare in the Biden-led talks, Republicans will see to it that you lose the political advantage you have built up by attacking Ryan’s plan. You may even lose the general advantage you have built up over the generations by positioning yourselves as defenders of signature Democratic policy achievements on entitlements. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

They have been warned. From the sound of Pelosi's rhetoric, she gets this: "we have a plan, it's called Medicare." This is how to do it. Seniors are old enough to remember which party signed it into law --- and which one has been fighting it for decades. It's a Democratic plan and they know it.

And what's the downside in terms of policy? The Republicans have been backed into a wall and are now in the process of negotiating with senior citizens about how they are the better protectors of Medicare. True, they are completely disingenuous --- they don't believe in any government safety net programs. But the more they have to pander to seniors for votes, the more they're finding out that seniors will not stand for any cuts to these programs. This is good news for the safety net. It is already pushing the Democrats away from the precipice (if they value their own hides at all) and could eventually lead to sane reforms such as raising the cap on social security and overall cost controls in health care generally.


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20 Reasons Why Your Website Design Sucks Part 1

We all have or have heard about those clients from hell, those that really love pink pages with red text. Even worse, what about those people who call themselves “web designers” with expensive prices and services listed on their really messy, horrible and amateur portfolios, just because they made their uncle’s business page and they liked it.

Unfortunately, many people believe that web design is all about personal style and smart IDE’s with pre-built buttons. Let me tell you something – they are wrong. I love to play football, but that doesn’t make me a professional player, and Dreamweaver does not make you a professional web developer. Web Design and development demands knowledge, practice, daily effort to learn and study, and passion, like professional football players.

(Design conventions: Necessary guidelines in order to improve a specific design.)

No matter how good or bad personal style is, the truth is that everyone has one. However, when design conventions are left out of a project, the result will be a bad or uninteresting design. That is exactly what happens with those terrible clients, when they try to implement their personal style without knowing anything about design conventions.

1) Balance

Balance is a basic principle in design. It is directly connected to every element, and helps you control the design flow of your page. There are two important concepts in balance – symmetrical and asymmetrical balance. With Symmetrical Balance, elements have equal weight on both sides, leading to a formal and traditional web site, however, with asymmetrical balance, elements have a different weight which leads to a different and unique layout.

I decided to include this topic because its importance is major in layout design. If incorrectly used, it can lead to the total ruin of your layout.

Above is a good example of asymmetrical balance. Did you notice the “DECO Windshield Repair” text on the right, and the background map image on the left? Although those elements do not have the same weight, it feels perfectly balanced. However, if you hide the text on the right, the page will lose its balance very quickly. Now take a look at the white bottom section, those three columns don’t have the same weight, but it’s perfectly balanced because the left text (“You can’t be everywhere…”) has equal weight as the top right text on the red background.

Balance

The result is a “cross balance”, meaning that the weaker and strong elements create a balance between them. I consider this to be of huge importance in asymmetric balance.

The website above fails in so many ways that I could use it as example in the remaining nine topics below, but let’s stay focused on this one. Do you feel the balance? Yes, you are correct, there is no balance. The left side has plenty of images plus a video of the person standing, which results in the left side having more weight than the image on the right.

2) Bevel and Emboss

I had to include this one. It’s really annoying to see the misuse of this layer style. For those who are starting, I understand that you think bevel and emboss is a nice effect and it should be everywhere on your page, but it’s not. Bevel effects should be used sparingly. There are plenty of tutorials on how to transform bevel and emboss into a powerful technique, but if you don’t know how to use it, don’t use it at all.

Bevel and Emboss

3) Distracting Backgrounds

Implementing a busy background distracts the user’s attention, hides important information, and disrespects visual hierarchy. If your background image has a higher visual impact than everything else, users won’t catch the message of your website and will leave quickly.

Background

John Kavanagh’s website makes good use of background images, respecting visual hierarchy and also content information. Reading is left to right, and in this case, the user’s attention follows the buildings on the left towards the Eiffel Tower and London Bridge on the right, consequently leading to navigation (which is not visible in the image). This is a perfect example of how background can be used as a “tool” for design flow.

Distracting background

Above is a perfect example of what not to do with your background.

4) Lack of Detail

If your website sucks, it’s probably because you didn’t care about the minor things. When you think your design is complete, you need to start from the beginning and try to apply detail on every single element. As soon as you finish with detail, you need to start again and consider where it can be improved. A single stroke, light effect, or shadow makes the difference between a good and a great design.

Detail

Blackberry’s website is a good example of what you can achieve by spending time with details.

Detail

Detail, detail, detail.

Lack of detail

For a company with the size and impact of Microsoft, their website is far from great. It’s definitely a good example of lack of attention and detail.

5) White Space

White space refers to the space between elements, and it does have nothing to do with the color. If you don’t know what I am talking about, stop your design projects and read about this subject – How to Actually Use Negative Space As Design Element. White space defines the space/distance between your site elements, providing good readability, focus, and design flow. It also gives your website a clean and professional look. Clean layout is not the same as minimalist, think about clean as the opposite of cluttered where content is all over the place.

One other thing you should consider is to use the same height between elements, so if you have three divs vertically aligned, and the middle div is 50px from the top div, it should also be 50px from the bottom div. This is not mandatory, but helps you achieve a good balance between elements.

White-space

Uberspace’s website makes good use of white-space.

White-space

Just looking at the image above, gives me a headache. The quantity of information is overwhelming, but the way it is displayed is even worse. Cluttered information makes the user feel lost and unhappy. Avoid it!

6) Flash Intros

Once upon a time, having a flash intro in your website would make you a web design ninja. There are plenty of great intros out there, and plenty more of really bad attempts. Nowadays, most visitors want quick access to information and when you demand them to wait, they leave. If you want an intro in your website, make sure it has a point, it adds value and that it is well made.

Flash intros

7) Music

So I have my headphones on, I open several tabs, and suddenly I jump from the chair because irritating music starts playing. I then search for the correct tab and when I find it, I search for the mute button and guess what, there isn’t one. I don’t want to mute my speakers so I close the page and I won’t return to that loud place. Loud and boring music coming from your website is really annoying, but not having a way to shut it down, is an exit ticket from your website.

Music

8) Tables

This is a controversial topic, some people defend the use of tables and others not so much.  This topic is not meant to convince you not to use tables, but to use tables when and where you should. Personally, I do not remember the last time I’ve used tables, I simply don’t like it. However, for tabular data, tables are the best choice, since it increases readability and organization.

Tables

Shopify’s pricing page is a good example of how great the use of tables can be for tabular data.

Tables

Never use tables to style your layout!

9) Colors

The wrong choice of colors can ruin an entire website. Contrast, saturation, types of colors, target audience, style, etc. There are many factors you need to consider when choosing the right colors for your website. If you don’t know where to start, Tina wrote a great article about this subject – Colors in Web Design: Choosing a right combination for your Website. Using too many bright colors, or a similar contrast for your background and foreground elements, or even warm colors along with cool colors, you are basically forcing your visitors to leave.

Colors

Color needs to fit perfectly, according to your target audience, style and personality.

If you enter the website above, please be sure to use sunglasses.

10) Overflow

Unless you’re building a website with horizontal layout, showing a horizontal scroll bar is a mistake and looks bad. Make sure your layout is optimized for a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels, this way 98% of your visitors will be able to visit your website without problems. If you really want to use a bigger background image, be sure you hide the horizontal scroll bar, using the CSS property overflow-x: hidden.


Notes

I hope you have found this article useful. I’m preparing part two, so if you have any suggestions, feel free to make them.

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How to Drive Your Visitors Away with Annoying.js

Kilian Valkhof came across a website that had a whole slew of JavaScript that attempted to prevent you from selecting text, right clicking or dragging any content onto your desktop.

So he decided to copy the JavaScript and create a library with examples of JavaScript techniques you can use if you want to scare your visitors away, or want to piss them off. Annoying.js is the result.

As you can see, you can do some pretty bad things with Annoying.js that will certainly drive your visitors away. However, some functions is actually very useful if you’re writing complex “html5″ web applications. By disabling text-selection on interface elements you can make the application easier to use, and you can re-implement the right click menu using your own options.

annoyingjs

Requirements: Javascript Enabled Browser
Demo: http://kilianvalkhof.com/2011/javascript/annoying-js…
License: MIT License

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Supreme Court Calls BS on California

I suppose someone should write about today's 5-4 US Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Plata, where the court ruled that California must release 33,000 prisoners to relieve overcrowding in state prisons. So I'll take a shot at it.

The ruling is basically the Supreme Court calling bullshit on 30 years of "law and order" politics in California. Since George Deukmejian became governor in 1982 - and enabled, it should be noted, by stiffer sentences Jerry Brown approved the first time he was governor in the 1970s - California has gone on a prison-building binge. Nearly 25 new prisons were built in the last 30 years. In contrast, only 3 CSU campuses were opened (two of which, CSUCI and CSU Monterey Bay, were reuses of existing facilities) and only 1 new UC campus, Merced, was built. This is despite the fact that the cost of building prisons and colleges is about the same, the fact that prison guards make more money than most professors, and the fact that students at least pay for their room and board, whereas prisoners don't. Oh, and the fact that educating is preferable to jailing them.

California built all these prisons and kept passing tougher and tougher sentencing laws, most of which were absurd or unnecessarily harsh. But California didn't seem to realize you actually have to pay for the costs of operating all those prisons. And as prisoners age, their health care needs increase, and you have to pay for those things too.

But California legislators thought they could have it both ways - they could score points with a late 20th century electorate by filling the prisons, and score points with the same electorate by not paying to maintain those prisons or care for the prisoners. This was an untenable situation, and it has finally blown up in Sacramento's face.

Legislators may complain about mass release of prisoners, but they have had plenty of time to avoid doing so, and at every turn have chosen to ignore the underlying problems. The Supreme Court has finally, and rightly, said that this situation is nonsense and cannot continue.

Now a mass release doesn't have to happen. There are still alternatives. California could actually do some sensible things to deal with the issue. First off, they could stop adding to the overcrowding by finally passing some sentencing reform. They could start by legalizing marijuana - 47% of voters indicated their support for it by voting for Prop 19 last year. Eventually, and soon, legalization will become a majority position. The state could simply speed that up by a couple years and save money in the process.

California could also help end the cycle of recidivism by actually funding parole and rehabilitation programs. Once someone leaves prison, it would make sense for them to not have to return. Investing in programs to get ex-cons back into society and ensure they stay out of trouble is smart - and it frees resources to ensure that parole officers can do a better job tracking people likely to reoffend.

Jerry Brown appears to be learning his lesson. He used today's ruling to call for tax increase (and can I stop for a moment and point out how awesome it is that finally, Democrats are using moments of crisis to advance a progressive agenda?). That's a necessary part of the answer.

But it's incomplete unless Brown adopts some sort of sentencing reform. He needs to recognize his error, that the increased sentences and mandatory minimums of the 1970s were an unwise act of political expediency and need to be replaced with something more sensible. It would be good if the Legislature followed that path too.

The Supreme Court has given California the chance to do something sensible on prisons for the first time in many decades. Let's hope Sacramento follows through.


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The Real Deal

So I've been hearing that conservatives can't be racists because some of their best candidates are black. I wonder how this fits into that thesis. Here we have a major social conservative on the subject of Obama's trip to Ireland:

He can't talk enough about how white he is and how white his heritage is. And you compare that to, say, Herman Cain - you know, Herman Cain was just joking around about being the real Black man in the presidential race and President Obama kind of helping reinforce what Herman Cain has said in jest.

President Obama is half-white, and half-black; Herman Cain is all black; he's authentically black; he is the real black man in the race.

So we'll see how all of that plays out. I mean, President Obama celebrating his Irish heritage, I mean there is just something about that I just find, I just find that comical, frankly.

That's an interesting twist.

Here's the thing. Racist types always like the "good ones", the ones who "know how to behave" and do all the right things. They always have. Unfortunately "most of them" aren't "good ones." (You know how "they" are.) Nothing racist about that at all.


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