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The Weekly Sift has moved to
You should adjust your bookmarks and RSS subscriptions accordingly.
In the meantime, I'll continue posting weekly summaries here that will link to the new blog.

This week's summary is on the new blog at:

BOY: Do not try to bend the spoon. That is impossible.
Instead, only try to realize the Truth.
NEO: What truth?
BOY: There is no spoon.

-- The Matrix

In this week's Sift:

  • Welcome to the new This week the Weekly Sift moves to Simultaneously, I've changed (and, I hope, improved) the design of the blog. But the content, philosophy, and purpose of the Weekly Sift is not changing.
  • The Sifted Bookshelf: The Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy.Warren Mosler's short, free, and very readable book explains why all the common-sense things you know about the economy are wrong. In particular, dollars (like Neo's spoon) are just patterns of data.
  • Meet ALEC.How did those new conservative governors all suddenly come up with the same detailed agenda after they took office? By using the model laws that the corporations who run the American Legislative Executive Council had already written behind closed doors. Now those model laws have all been leaked.
  • Short Notes.Will 3-D printers someday kill the last of the manufacturing jobs? Nobody but a reporter comes to Sarah's premier. Krugman, Mahr: If you just noticed how crazy the Republicans are acting, where have you been? Fox forgets 9-11. A song explains fracking. Stephen Colbert explains the Rupert Murdoch scandal. And more.
  • This Week's Challenge.The Wisconsin recall elections are mere weeks away, and the good guys are being outspent.

Another week of GW News, July 17, 2011 [A Few Things Ill Considered]

Logging the Onset of The Bottleneck Years

This weekly posting is brought to you courtesy of H. E. Taylor. Happy reading, I hope you enjoy this week's Global Warming news roundup

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Collegiate Grade Inflation: It’s All About Supply and Demand [Mike the Mad Biologist]

By way of Dr. Isis, we come across this post by Catherine Rampell about the rise of grade inflation in colleges:


Dr. Isis observes:

It's interesting that the real change in grading appears to have occurred in the period between 1962 and 1974, probably coinciding with the increase in conscription for the Vietnam War. After 1974 things appear to trend toward a return to baseline. Then in 1990, something new happens that drives grade inflation.

I think it's pretty obvious what happened: increased competition for graduate school slots put (and still puts) pressure on faculty to not give C's and to give more A's.

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Human-derived gelatin spares the livestock, confuses vegans

Vegans are going to be super-conflicted by this one. Researchers at Beijing University's College of Life Science and Technology are pioneering a four-legged creature friendly method for cranking out the 300,000 tons of gelatin produced each year. Their solution: people. Well, not in the Soylent Green sense. No, the process in question here takes "human gelatin genes [and inserts them] into a strain of yeast [producing] gelatin with controllable features." Sound appetizing? It might, if you want to avoid chowing down on "Mad Cow" tainted gummy worms at the cinema. Alright, so maybe these Chinese scientists are signaling the sensationalist red alert a bit prematurely -- it's just too bad Charlton Heston isn't around to witness this bit of life science imitating his art.

[Image credit via Film Critic]

Continue reading Human-derived gelatin spares the livestock, confuses vegans

Human-derived gelatin spares the livestock, confuses vegans originally appeared on Engadget on Mon, 18 Jul 2011 10:26:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

Permalink DVICE  |  sourceJournal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry  | Email this | Comments

Swedish Pyramidologist [Aardvarchaeology]


"Pyramidology", says Wikipedia, "is a term used, sometimes disparagingly, to refer to various pseudoscientific speculations regarding pyramids, most often the Giza Necropolis and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt." The encyclopedia goes on to explain that there are several kinds of pyramidology that do not necessarily correspond, one of which is the metrological kind, where the dimensions of these great edifices are studied. In the archaeological trade, we sometimes (uncharitably) refer to writings of this kind as "pyramidiocy".

In late March I got a call from Lars Lison Almkvist who has self-published a book titled Cheopspyramidens nyckel, "The Key to Khufu's Pyramid". Almkvist explained that he contacted me in my capacities as skeptic and archaeologist, and offered to send me a copy of the book. I emphasised that I know very little about Egypt, but accepted his kind offer. And now I have studied the book and come to some conclusions.

Before I say anything about the book I must underline that Lars Almkvist has been unfailingly courteous and friendly to me. He has also shown great courage and good scientific sense in sending his work to an avowed skeptic instead of preaching only to the choir. When I criticise his book, this is in no way intended as comments on him as a person. We may disagree on points of archaeological fact and interpretation, but we share an interest in the distant past and a will to find out about it.

Approaching the book, I immediately reacted to the title, the subtitle and the first sentence of the preface. I translate:

The Key to Khufu's Pyramid
The solution of the geometrical riddle

As a lone interpreter of the ancient geometrical language, I must be strictly scientific.

I asked myself, "Why does Almkvist believe that the Great Pyramid hides a geometrical riddle that awaits its solution or a message that awaits decoding?"

As regular readers will know, I have helped my dad on and off to build an octagonal sauna. A considerable amount of 3D geometry went into its design. But I am quite sure that my dad and the architect have hidden no riddle in the sauna. Sadly, the Rundkvist lineage does not perpetuate any ancient tradition of sacred geometry. The sauna's design conceals no message. And sauna or pyramid, it's all architecture. So I entered into the book with this question foremost in my mind.

We learn in the preface and introduction that Almkvist's pyramid geometry is actually a recent outgrowth of his interest in an Early Iron Age cemetery at Gettlinge in the Swedish island province of Öland. This is a standing-stone cemetery of the same kind as the one in Ravlunda, Scania, that Bob G. Lind has been seeking alignments in. Almkvist applied his results from Gettlinge to Bronze Age rock art sites in nearby parts of the Swedish mainland, found correspondences with Babylonian mathematics, and only then took up pyramidology by way of the Fibonacci series. He finds the same mathematical relationships in all of these sites though separated by centuries or millennia and thousands of kilometres. In his reading, he has come across ideas that he has felt a need to accommodate about an Early Iron Age settlement hiatus on Öland. (This interpretation has long been abandoned by archaeology - we have found that the hiatus is one of furnished burial only, not of settlement.) To explain how the geometrical knowledge survived this purported abandonment, Almkvist suggests in a true Bob G. Lind fashion that the Gettlinge cemetery actually dates from the Bronze Age.

With these preliminaries out of the way, Almkvist launches into 40 pages of geometrical operations on the dimensions of the pyramid, explicated by over 50 schematic drawings. In his own words (p. 3, my transl.), "The very detailed scientific account is only comprehensible if one devotes a very long time to all of the drawings, c. 50 of them."

I have not devoted a very long time to all of the drawings. But I have looked them over in the light of my high-school geometry, and I have tried to find the answer to my first question. I have failed. Nowhere does Almkvist tell his readers why he assumes a riddle or hidden message in the Great Pyramid's geometry. And it is also unclear what the answer he has found to the riddle is. We are never told the hidden message. All Almkvist gives us is a series of geometrical relationships that he finds significant. His main argument can be summarised as "Coincidence? I DON'T THINK SO!".

To my mind, Almkvist's pyramidological studies are a classic case of geometrical pareidolia, apophenia or patternicity. They are akin to the Kabbalah, to the Bible Code, to the Rorschach Test, to the meanings people find in hallucinations. Our brains are not very willing to accept that anything is random or meaningless. We seek meaning in any noisy signal - and often we find it. Watch a cloud for long enough and it will start looking like Ramesses II.

So as a friendly challenge to Lars Almqvist, I have sent him the designs of my father's octagonal sauna, and a question. We know that the builders of the sauna are counting in base-10 and using a standard metre as their main unit of measurement. Is it impossible or very difficult to find geometrical relationships in the sauna of the same kind as those Almkvist operates with on the Great Pyramid? If it turns out that it is equally hard or easy, then this would to my mind suggest that the relationships Almkvist has found in the pyramid are quite fortuitous.

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Call to Action Buttons: A Survey of Best Practices

Call-to-Action buttons play a pivotal role in soliciting action from the user. To garner the requested action, buttons are placed on the website that allow the user to perform an action, such as buying something, or leading to another page for more information. Careful planning is necessary in the creation of your call to action, and in this article I will explain the best practices for creating effective call to action buttons. I will also present you with examples in action to give you a better understanding of what works.

In order for your Call-to-Actions to work successfully, you must first determine how they’ll fit into the overall scheme of your site. By laying the groundwork, or information architecture, you’ll begin to discover how the buttons work within the web interface. To survive in the market, you have to generate revenue. So, the successful website is that which leads the reader of web page to the desired end result (“Buy Now”…”Learn More”). Now the question arises, how can we make effective call to action buttons which work in the real world.

Factors to Consider


In web design, historically the larger the element, the more important it is. The size of your call-to-action in relation to its surrounding elements is essential in converting users to take action. After all, it’ll be hard to get the intended action from your user if your button is miniscule in size and blends in with the rest of the text.

  • Use white space: A lot of what can be achieved from increasing the size of a button can also be accomplished by simply placing the button around plenty of white space. A button surrounded by white space will be much more prominent than one which is lost in a sea of text and graphics.
  • The more white space there is in between a call to action button and a surrounding element, the less connected they are. Therefore, if you have other elements that can help convince users to take action, reduce the white space in between those elements and the call to action.

You can see the effects of using a prominent color, sufficient white space, and size relative to surrounding elements to attract users’ attention. Straightforward language conveys a sense of easiness, claiming that you can “start” right away by taking action.


Mozilla Firefox
“Free Download” button of the Mozilla Firefox is a true revolution in terms of call-to-action graphics. Its large, unevenly shaped, vibrantly colored and detail oriented button has made its mark in the industry.


To ensure the user notices your button, it’s also important to consider its color. Although there are a few choice colors for a call-to-action button, it can be worthwhile to choose a contrasting color than the background. This essentially makes the button jump toward you, enticing you to click it.

  • It has sometimes been said that a red button (and red text links) performs the best
  • Perform some A/B testing to see what colors performs best for your website
  • The performance of any button may be attributed to the contrast on the page instead of its color visitors will have no problem finding the download call to action button. The use of contrasting color, plenty of white space, and placement on both the top and bottom of the page make this call to action noticeable and effective.


An effective button should be clearly visible on a page, and at least relatively prominent in relation to other elements.

  • On a landing page – and indeed for most pages, where this is feasible – a button should appear above the fold. The likelihood that a button will be clicked is greatly diminished if a visitor has to scroll to see it.
  • Increase the likelihood of a button being clicked by placing both at the top of the page (or above the fold) and at the bottom of a longer page. It’s likely a user may not scroll back up the page if they’ve passed it, or scroll down a page if they already see one.
  • Proximity to other page elements is important as well. Obviously for an e-commerce site an “add to cart” button that’s right next to a product should perform better than one that’s further removed.
  • In other situations, it is important to keep a call-to-action button close to such things as value propositions, testimonials and feature lists that are intended to stimulate conversions.

You can see these concepts in practice on the website for By putting the call to action “Post a Job!” in a very prominent area, it is more likely that the user will notice it or remember it later, after they have looked at the site’s content.

Mobile Web Design
This call to action button is placed in a prominent location; it has large size and a distinctive color with respect to surrounding elements.

Mobile Cubix
Mobile cubix uses a round outline surrounding the “Read More” button and then leading it to the application that not only attracts visitors’ attention but also informs them what they can expect.

Making Its Use Known

Of course none of these procedures matter if the button doesn’t actually look like a button! You need to make it clear to the visitors that this graphic is in fact a button that can be clicked on to result in a specific action and not simply another element on the page. Graphically speaking there are a number of ways to do this, including:

  • Embossing the button
  • Placing the call-to-action text in a discreet bordered area
  • Offsetting the button from other graphical elements
  • Making it behave like a button when the user’s mouse hovers over it
  • For buttons that are not hyperlinked (and so do not automatically generate a hand symbol in the mouse over state) this can readily be accomplished with CSS.
  • A change in the button’s appearance itself on mouse over, such as a change in color, is a further signal to the visitor that the button is clickable.

This call to action tells users exactly what to expect: by clicking on this call to action, they should anticipate shelling out $3.99. Using the word “only” hints that this is quite a good deal, which can help make the sale.


Postbox adds value through the download call to action by adding that its “FREE” 30-day trial and reduces consumer doubt with the purchase call to action by stating it’s a “No Risk Guarantee!” More often than not web sites calls to action simply ask the visitor to Buy Now! without reinforcing the value or ease of the action.


A button, in many cases, is directly linked to a page indexed by search engines. Adding an <img> alt attribute will provide the search engines with text they will associate with the target page:  if you are targeting keywords on that target place, you should employ them in your <img> alt.

To get the most out of your button, your image’s alt attribute (or, depending on the browser, an <a> title attribute) may be displayed to a visitor when they mouse over the button, providing yet another opportunity to reinforce or your call-to-action (“start your trial today!”).

Additional Resources

5 Tips for Creating An Effective Call To Action Button

How to Create a Slick and Clean Button in Photoshop

10 Techniques For An Effective ‘Call to Action’


Dangerous placebo medicine for asthma [Respectful Insolence]

Note: I just got back from TAM; so if you happened to see a different version of this post somewhere else, now you know why.

Last week while I was at TAM, a study appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). It is another beautiful example of how proponents of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are able to spin even hugely negative results into something that supports CAM. Because I was at TAM, I didn't actually notice the article at first, but notice it I did eventually. Upon seeing it, my first question was: What on earth are the editors of NEJM smoking. Oddly enough, that reaction wasn't provoked because I thought the study itself was horrible. Nor was air sickness due to turbulence the reason I felt as though I had to ask the flight attendant on my flight home to get me a barf bag. Rather, it was an acute sense of nausea brought on by the spin applied to this particular study to try to persuade the reader that it is evidence of powerful placebo effects in The study under question was performed at Harvard, with Michael E. Wechsler as its first author and Ted Kaptchuk as its senior author. It actually wasn't all that long ago that I blogged about another Kaptchuk study, in particular claiming in a truly Humpty Dumpty moment that it is possible to have placebo effects without deceiving the patient.

If only placebos could produce potent anti-emetic responses in me. Alas, they can't.

The current study is entitled, Active Albuterol or Placebo, Sham Acupuncture, or No Intervention in Asthma. Personally, I like this title. It's a fine title, as it tells the reader in essence what the trial design is in only a few words. And it's actually a reasonably good study, a solid randomized clinical trial. Of course, it's not so much the trial design that goes disastrously awry. Rather, it's the interpretation of the results of the RCT that devolves into propaganda for quackademic medicine in which subjective improvement is used to argue that placebo medicine is good, even when no objective improvement is observed in a disease, even when we have good drugs that produce objective improvements as well as subjective improvements.

This study basically compared four different interventions:

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Time Vulture

In a way, all vultures are Time Vultures; some just have more patience than others.

Russia’s RadioAstron telescope finally set to launch, blanket space with its radio eye

Considering all the space nostalgia we've been swimming in recently, it's somewhat appropriate that a Cold War-era telescope is gearing up to make its maiden voyage, after more than three decades of development (and delays). The Russian mission, known as RadioAstron, will finally become a reality on Monday, when a radio telescope launches from Kazakhstan's Baikonur cosmodrome before soaring into orbit some 350,000 kilometers away from the Earth. At just ten meters in width, the craft's antenna is small in comparison to other radio 'scopes, but its reach can be dramatically expanded when combined with signals from those on the ground. This technique, called interferometry, will effectively create the largest telescope ever built, covering an area nearly 30 times the Earth's diameter and allowing RadioAstron to capture interstellar images in 10,000 times the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope. There remains, however, one major hurdle -- because the spacecraft collects data at about 144 megabits per second, it must constantly transfer information to antennas on the ground. Problem is, there's only one antenna capable of receiving RadioAstron's signals and, unless others are constructed soon, a healthy chunk of its observations could be lost. How do you say "buzz-kill" in Russian?

Russia's RadioAstron telescope finally set to launch, blanket space with its radio eye originally appeared on Engadget on Sun, 17 Jul 2011 20:14:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

Permalink   |  sourceNew Scientist  | Email this | Comments

Fighting the wrong war

We seem to be making a fetish of it.

Here's a very interesting piece by Barry Ritholz in today's Washington Post called "Wall Street analysts and economists have this recession recovery wrong." What makes it unusual us that it makes the case why investors should be concerned when the whole system breaks down the way this one has --- the central bank is running out of gas and the political players are dysfunctional or are solving problems that don't exist while ignoring those that do.

In the not too distant past, the market might have been inclined to rally following a horrific data point such as June’s NFP report. The assumption was that the Fed, or perhaps Congress, would respond to economic distress with its usual largess. But the immediate market reaction — selling off on the “surprisingly” bad number, and then having difficulty all last week — suggests that traders are no longer expecting a cavalry charge to save the day.

Indeed, the Federal Reserve is in no position to do much more without great distress. Markets briefly rallied Wednesday when Fed chief Ben Bernanke suggested that a QE3 was possible. But soon after he finished his congressional testimony, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President (and FOMC voting member) Richard Fisher said the Fed had “exhausted our ammunition.” And Thursday, Bernanke scared markets further, saying the central bank wasn’t yet ready to take additional steps to boost the economy.

Markets gave up most of their rally on the recognition that the cavalry might not come this time.

Even with the Fed out of the picture, investors should not expect any relief from Congress: The legislative body in charge of taxing and spending seems incapable of accomplishing much these days. We are more likely to see counterproductive austerity measures than anything else.

Investors, it looks like you are on your own this time.

On the other hand, these are the same guys who finance lunatics and lackeys to run these institutions and they are so short sighted they didn't care if their greed killed off the golden goose. It was only a matter of time before it caught up with them.


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