Mark Bult Design: San Francisco, CA, Established 1988

Web design and development for small and large business, e-commerce, b2b, b2c, SAAS, and community websites. User experience design and usability testing.


Friday, January 30, 2009

Sabbatical update, and what I've been doing, part 4

As my ten loyal readers will no doubt know, I have been “on sabbatical” for the last year. That’s really just a nice way of saying unemployed, of course, but in my case it was by choice.

It hardly seems a year has passed since I left CNET Networks. It’s been a few months longer than originally intended, but so far that isn’t really a problem. I had a couple freelance gigs from September through December, and they’ve helped pay the bills, and Velma and I are financially pretty stable. We’re pretty frugal too.

But the plan was to take nine months or so to do my side projects and take some time off, and to be looking for full-time work by December at the latest. Now it’s January and a whole bunch of delays (some good ones, some merely annoying) in the past six weeks meant I still haven’t finished my portfolio.

I’ve been working hard at it, at the same time trying to take care of all the other little things that life throws at you, like doing laundry and taking the cat to the vet. And yeah, being just too brain-dead some days to get very much accomplished.

But I’ve been making a lot of progress on it, and I hope to be out interviewing in the next month or so (some of that depends on how the job hunt itself goes; I hear it’s a little tough out there these days, y’know?).

Anyway, my ten, dear, wonderful loyal readers will also know that I’ve been keeping track of what I've been doing every day for the past year, and I’ve posted long lists here for Jenny to read (she’s the only one who reads them all the way through, I’m convinced). This one only covers December and January, so it’s not so bad.

If you missed the previous ones and you want to bore yourself to tears, here’s list #1, list #2, and list #3.

List #4, started December 7:
  • Billed clients.
  • Completed documentation for my September–December client project.
  • Made a list of things to do and prioritize in order to accomplish the enews.org site redesign.
  • Optimized images for the new portfolio pages.
  • Started taking notes on things like HTML/CSS, naming conventions, and stuff like that, so I can later write a case study about upgrading my entire site for the first time in years.
  • Ate pie.
  • Drank lots of tea to try to stay warm in our frigid flat.
  • Regularly downed several daily tablespoons of a vile liquid Velma made from garlic, vinegar, honey, and glycerine, which she says is supposed to keep me from getting sick. Of course, she already is sick, so I’m just trying to avoid getting what she’s got (again). Last time sucked donkey balls.
  • Registered three new domains relevant to a side project I’ve been working on for about a year.
  • Dealt with landlord yet again, this time over an electrical issue.
  • Posted plenty of distractions for my adoring public.
  • Went to REI to buy down-lined bootie-slipper things that Velma suggested would keep my feet warm in our frigid flat. They work!
  • Ordered a book online from 1913 that Velma told me she wanted. Turned out it was a set of three (she only told me about one of them), and she wanted the whole set |: /
  • Went downtown with Velma to the AT&T store to merge our mobile accounts and then upgrade to iPhones. Then over to the Apple store for protective silicone sleeves and matte touchscreen covers. Also bought a new keyboard. Then spent the evening downloading apps from the AppStore.
  • Spent many, many days coding pages of my new portfolio design.
  • Tried out some more jQuery stuff for interactions on the enews.org redesign.
  • Sent a quick email to my local District Supervisor urging him to support the Do Not Mail Resolution in San Francisco.
  • Added a lot of movies to my Netflix queue.
  • Installed Silverlight and watched my first streaming movie from Netflix.
  • Bought some Pixar DVDs and some books from Amazon that I’ve been wanting for a long time.
  • Generated six (slightly) different PDFs for a client who had lots of typos and changes.
  • Downloaded some free Photoshop brushes.
  • Updated some journal entries:
  • Downloaded more This American Life podcasts.
  • Installed a few new Firefox extensions.
  • Sent a second email to a clothing company asking them for washing instructions for a shirt I got with no tags. Still got no response. Bastards.
  • Registered our car’s new tires (useful in case of recall). Big O’s website actually has some really good basic information on tire maintenance, etc.
  • Burned DVDs of wedding photos for friends.
  • Went through a ridiculously convoluted uninstall/install process to get my Canon LiDE 50 scanner working again on Mac OS X Leopard, since Canon is terrible at keeping its older drivers up to date and their software totally sucks.
  • Made a page on Facebook for Ozark Handspun.
  • Uploaded some photos to Facebook.
  • Did a little brushing up on history, reading the Wikipedia pages about:
  • Decided, with Velma, which nonprofits we wanted to support with year-end contributions, wrote letters and checks. Also wrote a lengthy entry about them that took about two days to compile.
  • Designed and coded Mark & Velma’s 2008 Holiday Gift for Our Friends & Family mini-website.
  • Organized the files on my Desktop. Twice.
  • Went through some old hard drives preparing to donate them, making sure I wasn’t getting rid of old files I needed.
  • Watched Lemmy videos on YouTube. Jason’s fault.
  • Watched a bunch of movies using Netflix’s new streaming for Macs.
  • Added some books to my Amazon Seller’s Account.
  • Removed about 60,000 junk mail and spam messages from my old email account. Looked into some apps and scripts that will hopefully help me convert ten years of emails and address book entries in Eudora into shiny-new and useful mailboxes in Mail.app and the Mac’s Address Book. We’ll see. Haven’t had time to try them yet.
  • Went out in the cold on New Year’s Day eve, to talk with the cops and EMTs who showed up after a fight broke out in front of our flat, and somebody busted a neighbor’s window (and his hand).
  • Went to Stacey’s to get a couple books for my mom.
  • Went to The Container Store with Velma to get some things to protect opened bags of chips, crackers, and cereal from ants.
  • Went to the new(ish) Amber India restaurant in SF with Velma for New Year’s Eve.
  • Went to my mom’s to celebrate New Year’s Day (and xmas, I suppose, since she’s the only reason I even acknowledge that holiday).
  • Made the foolish mistake of trying to appeal to the logical side of a rude PG&E representative.
  • Checked up on three of my all-time favorite illustrators: Chris Bishop, Michael LaLonde, and Colleen Coover. Sadly, none of them has been incredibly prolific in the year or so since the last time I checked their respective websites.
  • Drew a new caricature of Velma.
  • Watched the MacWorld 2009 Keynote.
  • Went to MacWorld for one afternoon, looked at a lot of stuff, bought a couple small things.
  • Bought a La Cie rugged drive for off-site backup and backed up Velma’s computer.
  • Did some loads of laundry.
  • Made moodboards for photography style for my portfolio.
  • Wasted a lot of time trying to either A) get my old Mac IIci or 7100 running, or B) find some OS X software that will actually decompress the ancient Disk Doubler algorithm. I was so far unsuccessful. And this is the third time I’ve tried to solve this problem in the past two years. Trying one last option: Ordered a $15 USB floppy drive and I’m hoping I can get at old files that way.
  • Culled 15- to 20-year-old data from floppy disks.
  • Went to the AIGA studio tour at Factor Design.
  • Wrote a hand-written letter to go in a package sent to Olya in Australia.
  • Organized some Ozzy CDs.
  • Read some comics.
  • Underwent a lengthy analysis of all my blog archives since 2003 to better inform the design criteria for my new templates. In other words, I looked at all the types of posts (quotations, tiny snippets, off-site links, videos, photos, reviews, poems, Top 5s, how-to articles, miscellany, et al) in order to ensure that my new template design would be flexible enough and have typography and design styles for each of these kinds of posts.
  • Created a new design for the footer of my new site.
  • Hung out with Jason and Phu and Will for a little while on a sunny winter afternoon.
  • Met with a potential new client in the Marina.
  • Checked out Comix Experience on Divisadero that I’ve ben wanting to go to for a long time.
  • Cleaned a lot of cat hair off cloth-covered chair seats. Three times. Damn cat.
  • Played with the cat every day.
  • Transplanted plants after the cat broke a pot during an overzealous leap for the cat toy. Damn cat.
  • Wasted a couple full days trying to get two conflicting JavaScripts to work together.
  • Coded new pages for my site’s redesign.
  • Went to Cicero’s Pizza with Velma and mom.
  • Spent an afternoon with Velma walking around some of my old haunts in Saratoga, where I grew up. Drove by my dad’s house (remarkably, it’s still there, not replaced by a mcmansion yet), visited the creek I used to play in, walked around my elementary/grade school, and went to the library where I used to hang out after school.
  • Went to Jason and Phu’s games party.
  • Took a short hike at Picchetti Ranch in Cupertino with Velma.
  • Dispatched another book sold on my Amazon store.
  • Took Orson to the vet for his regular shots and check-up.
  • Went to a fancy dinner with Velma at Zuni Café, to use a gift certificate that was generously given to us by her boss last year, and to celebrate my one-year “sabbatical.”
  • Caught up on FreakAngels.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thursday Top 5



The Times Machine
See the New York Times from any day between 1851 and 1922. Includes scans of all pages of the newspaper, and links to full-page PDFs.

The redhead on “marriage”
This is still one of my favorite posts on the subject of marriage.



Holiday Inn makes you smart?



1958 episode of the Bell Telephone Hour, “The Unchained Goddess”



Naive New Beaters “Live Good”
There are still some inventive music videos being made.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

How to recycle practically anything



I’m a master recycler, but aseptic packages (like juice boxes and soy milk boxes) and Tyvek envelopes have been two of my most frustrating challenges. Even in San Francisco, where our recycling program is exceptional in the amount and variety of stuff it accepts, we can’t get rid of these items by just tossing them in the blue or green bins.

Google to the rescue. Today I found a great article from E magazine, “How to recycle practically anything”, which gave me answers to both of these.

The article is great, I recommend you peruse it if you ever wondered how to recycle any of the following:
  • aerosol cans
  • aluminum foil
  • autos, jet skis, boats, RVs, etc.
  • books
  • car batteries, motor oil, oil filters, antifreeze
  • carpet and padding
  • clothing
  • eyeglasses
  • fruit rinds, veggie scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags
  • magazines, catalogs, phone books
  • crayons, art supplies, wine corks, fabric
  • ewspaper, aluminum cans, metal cans
  • paper, cardboard boxes
  • plastic bags
  • 1–7 plastic containers
  • packaging “peanuts”
  • pots and pans
  • Priority Mail (Tyvek) envelopes
  • records
  • styrofoam
  • videotapes, floppy disks, Zip disks, DVDs, CDs, jewel cases
  • wire hangers
Two they didn’t cover, which I wish they would: wax paper and waxed containers like milk cartons. If you live in San Francisco, you can now put them in your compost bin. In most other places, I think this one’s still a challenge.

For many, plastic bags are also a little challenging since most curbside programs don’t take them (including San Francisco), but you can recycle clean bags at Safeway stores (in bins usually located near the front, outisde), so it’s just a matter of having the discipline to save them up and deliver them. In our home, we separate them into ones we can reuse and ones that aren’t worth it. We stuff them in a bin until it’s full, then find the largest bag and fill it with all the others, and migrate it to the garage or the trunk of the car, where we’ll remember to take it out the next time we go to Safeway.

E’s article also includes a few things you may not realize are hazardous materials, and shouldn’t be just thrown in the trash:
  • batteries
  • fluorescent lights
  • consumer electronics (iPods, cell phones, pagers, computers, etc.)
  • paint
  • smoke detectors
The last one I wish they’d covered was prescription medicine. While you can’t technically recycle it, it’s very hazardous to throw into the garbage, or worse yet, flush down the toilet. That stuff goes right into our water system and get gobbled up by fish, frogs, birds, and others, and it comes right back around to you and me in the form of rainwater and the fish we eat. Do you really want to eat salmon a la viagra?

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Thursday Top 5+1



Beatallica
I first wrote about this band in 2005 when Sony music was threatening them and shut down their website. Beatallica does live mashups of Beatles and Metallica songs, done in the style of Metallica. It’s pretty awesome. They have a bunch of videos on their site if you want more.



Where creativity comes from
Don’t drink it! It’ll blow your head off!



We Are All the Machine
I posted this a couple years ago. But it’s still awesome.



“Organic” vs. “Natural” Food
It pays to know the difference between “organic” and “Certified Organic.” Your “All-Natural” breakfast is probably not in the least bit sustainably-made. There is no government regulation on most of the healthy-sounding terms food distributors are allowed to put on their products. In other words, it could be totally legal for Hostess to claim Twinkies are a “natural food.”



Comics.com is now free
United Feature Syndicate is finally offering all its comics, including years of archives, for free at comics.com. This includes editorial cartoons, The Born Loser, Monty, Dilbert, and 50 years of Peanuts. They have reportedly also updated their RSS feeds to include the actual comics, instead of just links to them.



Daytum
Daytum.com facilitates the counting and communication of daily data, allowing you to track and display any metric, from bird-watching statistics to the concerts you’ve attended.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Watch the Obama inauguration on the web

CNET’s got a big list of sites that are streaming parts or all of the inauguration. There are so many different events, it seems that no one provider is covering them all.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thursday Top 5+1



The Making of Little Big Planet
Alex Evans, Co-Founder of developer Media Molecule, visited the Wired Store to talk about the creative process that led to the making of Little Big Planet, and the way the game has unleashed the creativity of players.



Christoph Niemann on coffee
Pretty funny; I had a similar late start at drinking coffee, although I’ve always been a caffeine fiend. You should spend some time perusing his excellent illustration portfolio, especially Gallery 6.



Chip Kidd
Chip Kidd is possibly the best modern designer of book covers. He’s prolific and I’m sure you’ll recognize at least a couple of the covers in this short profile video.



Smudge
A reality check. They’ve got a great website. This should be an interesting campaign to watch.



Please Don’t Divorce Us
Proposition 8 was a travesty that makes me ashamed to be a Californian. If you don’t know any families who are affected by this, it may be difficult to imagine what it feels like to have your human rights infringed on this way. The Courage Campaign’s community photo pool on Flickr attempts to put a human face on the controversy with moving portraits of those affected by Prop 8. Please consider a donation to the Courage Campaign.



Watch out Microsoft, here comes the iTable
It’s not a Mac and it doesn’t run OS X (it runs WindowsXP, meh) but it’s a lot less expensive than Microsoft’s Surface.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Job boards for designers and web developers

List updated May 12, 2009

I’ve been collecting this list for a while, in anticipation of having to use it one day. That day’s fast approaching here, so I thought I’d publish the list.

Here are all the job search sites I know of that cater primarily to the creative and design communities, plus the tech / online media sector. There are a few other job-related services thrown in too, toward the bottom of the list.

As an aside: I was rather disappointed that the hiring reps at a former employer (in the tech industry), were not aware of most of these. When I was looking to hire seasoned design talent and was getting utter shite filtered to me from HR, I had to give them most of these so I’d have some decent portfolios coming in.

Coroflot
http://www.coroflot.com/

37Signals Job Board
http://jobs.37signals.com/

Authentic Jobs
http://www.authenticjobs.com/

Crunchboard
http://www.crunchboard.com/

Krop
http://www.krop.com/

Fresh Web Jobs
http://www.freshwebjobs.com/

Just Creative Jobs
http://www.justcreativejobs.com/

Metafilter Job Board
http://jobs.metafilter.com/

Slashdot Job Board
http://jobs.slashdot.org/

AIGA Design Jobs
http://www.aigadesignjobs.org/public/default.asp
From the AIGA / American Institute of Graphic Arts.

Elance
http://www.elance.com/

AlleyInsider Job Board
http://jobs.alleyinsider.com/

ArtyPapers Jobpile
http://artypapers.com/jobpile/

Boxes And Arrows Job Board
http://jobs.boxesandarrows.com/jobs

CSS Beauty Job Board
http://cssbeauty.com/jobs/

Hire an Illustrator
http://hireanillustrator.com/v2/

Djobber
http://djobber.com/
[thanks to commenter mick]

Web Developer Jobs UK
http://www.webdeveloper-jobs.co.uk/
[thanks to commenter matthew]

Job Thread
Offers posting your job openings to multiple sites.
http://www.jobthread.com/

JobCoin
Publishers can get paid for hosting job boards.
http://www.jobcoin.com/

Emurse
Resume hosting service.
http://www.emurse.com/

Jobamatic
Job board implementation for online publishers.
http://www.jobamatic.com/a/jbb-static/home

JobBazaar
Hosting service.
http://www.jobazaar.com/

OpenSourceStaffing NEW
http://www.open-source-staffing.com/
Developers and programmers: Apache, Drupal, Joomla, LAMP, Linux, MySQL, Perl, PHP, Plone, Python, Ruby on Rails, Samba, and iPhone apps, among other technologies.

TwitterJobSearch NEW
http://www.twitterjobsearch.com

Style Apple Job Board NEW
http://www.styleapple.com/public/jobboard.php

Ars Technica Jobs NEW
http://jobs.arstechnica.com/

Sitepoint’s “Looking To Hire” Marketplace NEW
http://marketplace.sitepoint.com/categories/looking-to-hire
Looks like mostly freelance and junior- to mid-level positions. No surprising, since that seems appropriate to Sitepoint’s target audience.

Read/WriteWeb Job Board NEW
http://jobs.readwriteweb.com/
Mostly developer/programmer listings.

Ajaxian Job Board NEW
http://jobs.ajaxian.com/

SearchWebJobs NEW
http://www.searchwebjobs.com/

Freelanceswitch NEW
http://jobs.freelanceswitch.com/
Mostly freelance jobs, obviously.

Smashing Magazine Job Board NEW
http://jobs.smashingmagazine.com/

CreativeHeads.net NEW
http://www.creativeheads.net/search.aspx

CreativePool UK NEW
http://www.creativepool.co.uk/employee/jobboard.php
For UK jobs.

devBistro Tech Jobs NEW
http://www.devbistro.com/jobs
Lots of IT and developer listings, sometimes a few design postings.

Evolt Job Board NEW
http://evolt.org/jobs
Not a very easy to use site.

indeed NEW
http://www.indeed.com/q-web-design-jobs.html
Aggregated search results for jobs from Monster, 37Signals, Dice, and many others.

Think Vitamin Job Board NEW
http://thinkvitamin.com/jobs/?job=69

jobs.wordpress.net NEW
http://jobs.wordpress.net/
Just WordPress-related jobs.

Web Designer Wall job board NEW
http://jobs.webdesignerwall.com/

DesignM.ag job board NEW
http://designm.ag/jobs/

Wired job board NEW
http://jobs.wired.com/

Mashable job board NEW
http://mashable.jobamatic.com/a/jbb/find-jobs

Programmer Meet Designer NEW
http://programmermeetdesigner.com/
Looks like mostly freelance gigs.

Behance Network job list NEW
http://www.behance.net/Job_List

Design:Related job board NEW
http://www.designrelated.com/jobs

Creative Hotlist NEW
http://www.creativehotlist.com/

FWA (Favorite Website Awards) job list NEW
http://www.thefwa.com/?app=aboutus&id=30
Unfortunately, since the site is all Flash-based, in-page keyword searching via your browser is impossible.

The Designers Network job board NEW
http://jobs.designers-network.com/
International jobs.

Web Freelancers NEW
http://www.webfreelancers.com.au/
For Australia and New Zealand.

Web Directions Jobs NEW
http://jobs.webdirections.org/
For Australia and New Zealand.



Agencies

Creative Circle
http://creativecircle.com
[thanks to Kim and Velma]

Accolo
http://www.accolo.com

24seven
http://24seveninc.com

Filter Talent
http://www.filtertalent.com

Creative Group
http://www.creativegroup.com

Aquent
http://www.aquent.com

Artisan Creative NEW
http://www.artisancreative.com
They work mainly with creatives.

Emerging Blue NEW
http://www.emergingblue.com

The Talent Factor NEW
http://www.thetalentfactor.net
Agency with a focus on technology companies.



Suggestions?
Know of any I missed? Leave a comment and I’ll update the list.

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Factor Design studio tour



Factor Design has consistently produced exceptional work over the years, and I’ve been a fan for a long time. They have offices in Germany and San Francisco, and last night they hosted a studio tour for AIGA members in SF.

I chatted with five or six members of Factor’s team, including owner Jeff Zwerner, trying not to sound too much like a fanboy as I told him how much I liked their work. They had an impressive slideshow of their stuff rotating on all the computers in the offices and projected large on one wall. Zwerner gave an interesting historical overview of how Factor came to be, and they also showed a fantastic video they’d just finished (he said it’ll be on their website soon; I’ll link it then).

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Thursday Top 5



The Website is Down
ROTFLMAO



MacBook Wheel
The new shiny from MacWorld 2009.



Shepard Fairey profile by Time magazine
Fairey created an iconic Obama poster and sticker early in the campaign, and another Fairey portrait was chosen to appear on Time’s Person of the Year cover.



The Blue School
The three original members of the Blue Man Group have started a preschool. More from Time magazine.



The Big Picture: The year 2008 in photographs
I’ve linked to The Boston Globe’s awesome large-format photoblog before. These three links contain their round-up of some of the most stunning news photos from 2008: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Terrible news: Stacey’s Bookstore in SF to close in March

SFGate reports that the 85-year-old store on Market near 2nd has taken a severe hit with the latest plunge in the economy, on top of a 50% drop in sales since 2001.

I’m very sad about this. I used to shop almost every week at the Stacey’s in Cupertino when I lived in the South Bay, and I was bummed when they had to close that location years ago. I shopped all the time at the SF location once I moved up here, in part because it was only a few blocks from where I worked, but also because they have a great selection of magazines and design books, the two things I buy most of.

I buy a lot of stuff from Amazon, so some might call me a hypocrite. But I buy a lot of books and a lot of my magazines at independent local bookstores. And anyone who’s been to my house knows I have a lot of books.

Here are my top local (San Francisco) fave bookstores, in no particular order:

Stacey’s Bookstore
581 Market Street, near 2nd
Great selection of magazines and design books, plus one of the best selections of computer/technical books. Stacey’s is large, clean, and well organized, and I will miss it a great deal.

Alexander Book Co.
50 2nd Street, near Market
It’s easy to miss this store if you don’t know it’s there, but they have a fantastic selection of graphic design books, maybe the best in the Bay Area, probably because they cater to students at the nearby Academy of Art University. Design books are pricey, typically being $35 to $55. I try not to go here too often ; )

Borderlands Books
866 Valencia Street, near 20th Street
This place only has sci-fi, fantasy, horror etc., with some graphic novels and a small selection of DVDs. I buy a lot of science fiction here and sometimes get really good recommendations from the staff. They carry some used but mostly new.

Modern Times
888 Valencia Street, near 20th Street
Full of leftist propaganda and I love it for that. Modern Times has a brilliant selection of progressive books on everything you can imagine, and it’s my go-to place to get the Slingshot organizer for Olya.

Dog Eared Books
900 Valencia Street, at 20th Street
I occasionally buy a used book here, but mostly I like Dog Eared’s selection of graphic novels and their terrific variety of outsider art books.

Aardvark Books
227 Church Street, near Market
I don’t get to this place very often but when I’m in the Castro I try to drop in here for a look through their big, round table in the front of the store featuring a ton of used graphic novels, comics, and art books. Most are in very good condition.

Adobe Books
3166 16th Street, near Valencia
I like this funky used bookstore but it’s really hard to find anything worthwhile in the mess of unorganized stacks of books. I usually take a quick look in the two or three sections I regularly peruse (art, photo, and sci-fi) when I’m waiting for my Pakwan takeout order to be ready. One of the coolest things I saw in 2004 was when a local artist was allowed to rearrange all the books by color for a couple months.

Please go support your local independent bookstore!

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*tap*tap* Hello? Is this thing on?

Just wondering if anyone’s out there.

Since Ynnej has moved to a farm and Olya is in the outback, I expected to hear less from my readers, but it’s been so quiet around here for so many months, I’m wondering if this here journal has any readers left at all.

I haven’t heard from readers like Brian, Kathy, Jen, Will, Yuliya, or even Mr. Crack, in eons.

Leave me a comment if you’re out there. It’s lonely in here.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

2008 charitable giving

In 2007, Velma and I supported worthy causes with a little over 2% of our annual income (here’s the list of charities we supported in 2007). We made a goal of trying to increase that over the next few years to 5%.

Although I took off most of 2008 from paid work, we decided we didn’t want to slacken our efforts to donate to charity. After all, we’re financially pretty stable, we don’t have any debt except for Velma’s student loans, and most importantly, the necessary work done by charitable organizations doesn’t stop just because our income lessened this year.

Since we haven’t done our taxes yet, I’m not sure how much we increased our giving this year, but considering we’re giving to 18 of the organizations we gave to last year, plus we’ve added 16 new ones, I think we’re probably a lot closer to our 5% goal.

An experiment: Our do-not-mail policy
Fed up with the amount of solicitations we were receiving every month, in 2007 we sent letters along with most of our donations, asking charities to stop sending us mail. We spelled out exactly what was allowable and what wasn’t, and we made it clear our continued financial support was riding on their compliance. We decided to keep all the mail we’d receive throughout the year, and see who followed our instruction and who didn’t.

We are happy to report that the majority or our chosen nonprofits sent us no mail whatsoever, or only sent us what we asked for (we made exceptions for a few newsletters we wished to receive).

In December, we tallied up the results and assigned grades to each charity, based on their compliance (note: these grades have nothing to do with performance relating to their organizational missions; we considered that separately).

2008 scorecard
These are the organizations we supported in 2007 and 2008. Most of them received a letter with our check, thanking them for following our request and explaining that our continued support is conditional on them sending us no mail in 2009. We made a few exceptions for some of the orgs whose newsletters we like to receive, and we tell them all they can send us one (but not numerous) renewal notice when our membership expires.

Here are the orgs and their 2008 grades:



American Civil Liberties Union
The ACLU fights to protect the freedoms guaranteed by our Bill of Rights, a document that's in more peril seemingly every year. They are campaigning to close Guantánamo, working against HIV/AIDS discrimination, to reform discriminatory drug laws, and more.

Grade: The ACLU got a C because they sent us more mail than we’d asked for in 2008. We considered dropping them from our ongoing support, but instead decided to give them another chance and sent them a donation with a new letter, again explicitly asking them to send us no mail. Update: On December 31, while I was compiling this list, an ACLU canvasser showed up at our door. Even after I told her three times we’d just sent them a nice, fat check, she kept pushing for a donation. After that, I had to fight the inclination to give them an even lower score. Sheesh.



Amnesty International USA
Most people know a little about Amnesty International, but did you know how broad their focus really is, and how many worthwhile campaigns they have? Human rights violations in China, protection of refugees, corporate accountability, prisoners of conscience, and the crisis in Darfur are among their many campaigns.

Grade: AI got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.



Committee for Green Foothills
CGF is one of our favorite environmental organizations, in part because Velma used to work there and because Mark designed their logo and website. But mostly it’s because they have a 40+ year history of successful grassroots citizen campaigning to keep the farmlands, open space, and hills of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties from being over-developed. If it hadn’t been for CGF’s work over the past four decades, the South Bay and Peninsula would look more like the LA basin today.

Grade: CGF didn’t get scored this year because we never sent them our do-not-mail letter in 2007. However, they got one this December, and we’ll be watching them to see how they fare.



Earth First! Journal
Mario Savio, on the steps of Sproul Hall, said, “There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can't even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, the people who own it, that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

When the law won’t fix the problem, Earth First!ers put their bodies on the line to stop the destruction. Some of the Earth First!ers I’ve met were the bravest, most noble people I’ve ever known.

Grade: The EF! Journal got a B+ this year for only sending us one plea for a donation when their funds had run dangerously low.



Earthjustice
Earthjustice began as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund and has provided legal assistance on environmental issues for almost 40 years, representing citizens groups, nonprofits, scientists, and others. “Environmental litigation has been key to preserving threatened natural resources and protecting people’s environmental rights. Lawsuits have protected millions of acres of wilderness and hundreds of endangered species. They have helped improve air and water quality and have forced polluting companies to clean up their discharges.” And I love their slogan: “Because the earth needs a good lawyer.”

Grade: Earthjustice got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.



Electronic Frontier Foundation
The EFF uses advocacy and lawsuits to preserve free speech rights in the context of today’s digital age. Among its many activities, EFF has participated in lawsuits in support of the college students who published information about the major security flaws in Diebold Election Systems, and against corporate and government infringement of the First Amendment rights of individuals, artists, journalists, bloggers, and others.

Grade: EFF got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.



Environmental Protection Information Center
The Environmental Protection Information Center has fought for the North Coast in the courts for years. Headwaters Grove probably wouldn't be standing today if it hadn't been for organizations like EPIC.

Grade: EPIC got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.



Good magazine
Good is a magazine, a website, and a collaboration of people, nonprofits, and businesses who give a damn. I enjoy its’ focus and coverage a lot, and I even love looking at it, as it’s very well designed.

Update: When you subscribe, Good lets you choose a nonprofit to support, and that nonprofit gets 100% of your subscription fee. Last year I chose 826 National, which is the umbrella for 826 Valencia (also known as the Pirate Store) in my neighborhood. Many people who have been to the Pirate Store don’t realize it’s actually a nonprofit that teaches students creative writing skills.

Grade: Good got an A+ in 2008. We received the magazine of course, but no solicitations other than the normal renewal statements.



A Permanent Mark (and Film Arts Foundation)
A Permanent Mark is a documentary film being made by our friend Holly Million about the effects of Agent Orange on Americans and Vietnamese who were exposed during and since the Vietnam War. The Film Arts Foundation is an independent media arts training facility and acts as Holly’s fiduciary agent for contributions to the documentary.

Grade: We didn’t assign a score here because we never sent Holly or Film Arts our do-not-mail letter.



KQED
We donated quite a bit to KQED in 2006, 2007, and 2008, so we were pretty disappointed that they didn’t follow our do-not-mail request. Especially since we listen to KQED FM every day, and we love the programming a lot.

We love KQED so much that we decided to give them a chance to redeem themselves. In December we sent a letter to KQED’s development director, explaining that our request was ignored and asking for a personal note assuring us that it would be followed in 2009, in return for which we would gladly send them a check. To bolster our point, we enclosed all the mail they sent us in 2008. It’s only been a few days since I sent the letter, but I’ll post an update here if we get a response.

Grade: KQED failed with a D. Of the three organizations that utterly failed to follow our do-not-mail policy, KQED was the second worst offender, sending us many renewal notices and multiple requests for upgrade donations.

Update Dec. 31: We received a very prompt, hand-addressed letter from KQED’s chief development officer, to whom we addressed our letter. She was very good about explaining what steps would be followed to complete our request: They would “code your account in our computer system to just send you one renewal request and the occasional invitation to an event” (which is exactly what we asked for), and “merge your two accounts...so the renewal request you receive in the future (next year) will be addressed to both of you” (since Velma and I apparently had separate accounts in KQED’s system). She also included a few facts about KQED’s efforts toward sustainability (she said they have been carbon-neutral for two years and recently installed solar panels on their building), and, of course, she apologized for the confusion. I was very satisfied with her response and we were happy to send their check in the next day’s mail. If all goes well in 2009, KQED should get high marks next December/January.



National Public Radio
Even though we support three local radio stations around the U.S., I love NPR’s programming enough to send them a separate donation. Shows like “All Things Considered,” “Car Talk,” “Fresh Air,” “Marketplace,” “Talk of the Nation,” and “Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!” keep Velma and I both stimulated and entertained.

I just wish they had a better T-shirt so I could get one for our donation : )

Grade: NPR got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.



Northcoast Environmental Center
I really love the NEC and try to visit when I go to Humboldt County. They do fantastic education and grassroots work on all sorts of environmental issues, from species, watershed, and forestry advocacy to organizing the local Coastal Clean-Up events. Plus they present a local radio show, the “Econews Report,” and publish one of my favorite monthly newspapers, the Econews.

Grade: The NEC got a B- for two reasons: They sent a bit more mail than I’d prefer, but more importantly, they messed up our names on all our mailing labels last year and it took them several reminders before they got it right.



Pachamama Alliance
Pachamama Alliance works with the Achuar, an indigenous group living in the Amazon basin of Ecuador, to develop a sustainability and economic plan that will protect and manage the two million acres of their tropical rainforest territory.

Grade: Pachamama Alliance got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.



Planned Parenthood
Planned Parenthood is a vital resource in a country that’s incredibly backward about sexuality and where most people are hopelessly uninformed and misinformed about health and reproductive issues. They provide health and sexuality info to teens, women, and men, contraception, HIV/STD tests, pregnancy tests, and much more.

Grade: Sadly, Planned Parenthood got an F for sending us too much unwanted mail in 2008. Velma decided they didn’t get a second chance. We sent their development director a letter explaining the reason why, and telling them we were switching our support to NOW for 2009. Let’s hope it makes an impression and starts some internal discussion about donor requests.



Save the Redwoods League
Velma may work there, but that doesn’t stop us from giving them money. Save the Redwoods League was founded 90 years ago to acquire and protect what’s left of the redwoods. You probably think there are a lot of redwoods left. If it hadn’t been for SRL’s work over the last 90 years, there wouldn’t be any. Most of the redwoods in state and federal parks were originally bought by SRL and transferred to public ownership.

Grade: We didn’t assign SRL a score, since we never sent them our do-not-mail letter. They have an interesting policy, however, of not sending mail to any of their staff.



Trees Foundation
Trees is an umbrella support group for scores of small and medium regional groups in Mendocino and Humboldt Counties. They offer centralized support services for their member organizations, including GIS, marketing, fundraising, computer repair and tech support, web development, and graphic design. Our pal Scott Lamorte works there.

Grade: Trees got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.



WBEZ Chicago Public Radio and “This American Life”
This has been my absolute favorite radio program for years now, and I hate missing even one episode. While we listen to it on KQED, I feel strongly enough about the show to support it with a direct donation each year.

Grade: WBEZ and “This American Life” got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.



WNYC and “On The Media”
“On The Media” is my other favorite radio program, airing Sundays on KQED. Like NPR, WNYC creates a bunch of other great programming (“Radio Lab,” “Soundcheck,” and “Studio 360”) and I feel strongly enough about those shows and especially “On The Media” to send them a direct donation each year.

Grade: WNYC got a D grade as one of the worst offenders in 2008, sending us multiple donation requests and other such junk. Like KQED, they got a letter explaining that our prior do-not-mail request was ignored and asking for a personal note assuring us that it would be followed in 2009, in return for which we would gladly send them each a check. We also enclosed all the mail they sent us in 2008. We have yet to receive a response.



Wikimedia Foundation
Wikipedia is truly one of the world’s greatest resources, and truly one of the world’s greatest ideas. I use it almost every day, and even though the slogan is “free knowledge for everyone,” last year I decided we should pay for the privilege with a donation to the Wikimedia Foundation.

Grade: Wikimedia got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.


Conclusions
Our do-not-mail request may seem somewhat pretentious to some: How dare we expect nonprofits to cater to our whims? They’re not set up for special cases, their systems and databases just spit out automated lists and mailing labels.

True enough, too few nonprofits are set up to make exceptions for donors who ask for “special treatment.” However, I suggest that there are several strong reasons why more nonprofits should take the few small, easy steps to allow for such donor requests as our do-not-mail policy. And before the harrumphs start coming from the gallery, let me remind you that Velma and I speak from a position of significant experience in how nonprofit fundraising works. Velma was development director for a nonprofit for 2.5 years, and I was a board member for another nonprofit, including a year as chair of the development committee and several years as one of the the primary liaisons between the organization and its members.

Now, let us address some of the reasons why nonprofits should take seriously special requests such as ours...

It’s not rocket science, and we’re paying them to do it
Nonprofits aren’t stupid, they send out a lot of appeals because it works: It gets them donations. However, most nonprofits know that taking care of their donors also yields results too. Just like a for-profit corporation can build brand loyalty with consumers, a nonprofit that really listens to the requests of its members can count on that donor probably giving continually, and probably increasing their donations over time.

Velma and I communicate this to the nonprofits we support. Our year-end letters, sent with our checks, explicitly praised those organizations that followed our request of the previous year, explaining that was part of the reason we were sending another check. And in most cases, each of those nonprofits got more from us this year than last year. Those that didn’t follow our instructions got an explanation as well, with the hope that it would serve as impetus for a change in the organizations’ behavior, or at least would elicit some internal discussion.

When I worked at Acterra and served on the board, we used a Filemaker Pro database for our donor/membership list. In it we had fields for all kinds of information about each individual or family, like which of our programs they liked to support, how long they’d been members, who their contacts were on the board and staff, and many more. We also had checkboxes for “No mail,” “No newsletter,” “No phone calls,” and “No email.” Hundreds of members preferred to get their news from us via email, so the only time we would mail those people would be once a year, to tell them their membership was expiring.

Let’s face it, any organization can add a new field to their database. And if they can’t or won’t, I’m not inclined to send money to the lazy or incompetent. And just to be clear, it’s not piddling change we’re sending these nonprofits. All of the orgs Velma and I support yearly get between $50 and $500 from us, with most of them above $100. If an organization thinks our $50 or $100 isn’t worth a half-hour of their time to make a minor change to their database, I’m of the opinion that organization’s staff is overpaid already, and they obviously no longer need our money.

It’s better for the environment, and it saves them money
Many of the worst offenders sending out tons of junk mail are environmental organizations. I have declined to support the Sierra Club for years because they send so much junk mail. And worse yet, their mailings always contain things that are difficult or downright impossible to recycle! How many of those static stickers can I use? I like a lot of things about the Sierra Club, but I detest the hypocrisy displayed by their membership department.

Let’s consider the cradle-to-cradle cost of a typical year’s worth of mailings: First, paper must be made, so that’s forests cut down. Even if it’s partly recycled content, it’s never 100% recycled, and therefore some virgin pulp must be manufactured (BAA and Acterra were the only organizations I’ve ever known to have a policy of always using 100% recycled or tree-free paper for their mailings; and guess who urged the boards to pass those policies?).

Then there’s the bleaching of the paper (highly toxic and highly polluting to air and water). Then it must be trucked from a mill halfway across the country to a city. Then it’s trucked from the paper distributor to the printing company (diesel fumes are highly toxic). Then there’s the printing of the letters, calendars, newsletters, envelopes, etc. (the printing industry uses many toxic solvents et al).

Then all those mailings get sent out in all directions, to probably tens of thousands of households all over the country. That’s a lot of planes, trains, and US Postal Service trucks trundling around (more fuel consumption, more air pollution) to deliver little individual pieces of junk mail to various mailboxes.

And what happens to it all? Over 95% goes in the recycling bin, or more likely the trash.

Of course, the alternative is a lot less wasteful of oil, energy, and natural resources: By checking a little box in their database entry for Mark & Velma, all those nonprofits can prevent a lot of waste and pollution, and they even save the cost of printing and postage!




New charities
Along with the above charities which we decided to continue supporting from 2007 through 2008, we decided to support a few new ones last year. Below are the new causes we supported in 2008. They also received a letter instructing them to not send us mail in 2009. I’ll be sure to write an update about how our continuing experiment goes at the end of 2009.



American Institute of Graphic Arts
The AIGA is America’s premier organization advocating for the rights of artists, participating in critical analysis, and advancing education and ethical practices. I decided this year to renew my long lapsed membership.

California Academy of Sciences
The old Cal Academy was one of the coolest places we’d go on field trips back in elementary school. Early in 2008 Velma acquired a family membership for us and we were among those members who got a sneak peek the week before the new facility opened in September. While I was disappointed that the two-headed snake has long since expired, nothing else disappointed. Quite the opposite.

Clean Water Action
Clean Water Action is a national organization that utilizes policy research, political advocacy, and grassroots organizing to enact environmental protections and hold elected officials accountable to the public.

Courage Campaign
The Courage Campaign is one of two nonprofits we chose to support because of our outrage over California’s unconscionable assault on marriage equality.

Democratic National Committee
When a canvasser came to the door early in the campaign season, I was reluctant to give anything to the DNC. I’m not a Democrat or a Republican, and frankly I think both parties screw up pretty bad often enough. Plus I was still pissed about how poorly the DNC handled the 2004 election. Velma, however, gave the canvasser some money. I told him I’d think about donating to the DNC after I’d done some research. Many months later, I surprised myself by being impressed enough to support the DNC.

Environment California
I was impressed enough with this canvasser to give them some money.

Equality California
Equality California is the other nonprofit we chose to support because of Prop 8.

Global Lives Project
This nonprofit was founded by former BAA Schools Group member David Evan Harris. It’s an interesting video and art project that will bring viewers in contact with a taste of the diversity of the globe.

MoveOn.org
Velma donated to get me a Barack Obama T-shirt as a gift. I approve of MoveOn, especially some of their video/commercial campaigns, but I’m a little sick of getting so many emails.

National Organization for Women
Velma Decided we should switch out support to NOW since Planned Parenthood sent us so much unwanted mail in 2008 and we still wanted to contribute to a charity that works on reproductive rights.

Obama campaign
What else can we say? Barack got a few more bucks for his campaign, Velma got a T-shirt.

PlayPumps International
Kids play, water pumps! If you saw our Holiday 2008 Gift for Friends & Family, you already know about this innovative organization working to bring clean water to over 4,000 villages in Africa.

San Francisco Women Against Rape
SFWAR provides resources, support, advocacy, and education to strengthen the work of all individuals and communities in San Francisco that are responding to, healing from, and struggling to end sexual violence.

Slow Food USA
Slow Food USA envisions a world in which all people can eat food that is good for them, good for the people who grow it, and good for the planet.

Tuolumne River Trust
The Tuolumne River Trust promotes the stewardship of the Tuolumne River and its tributaries. Most people don’t realize that much of our water in the Bay Area comes from the Tuolumne. Our pal Peter Drekmeier works at this org.

Women’s Temple
Women’s Temple is a place where women believe in the healing powers of coming together and sharing the wisdom of their embodied spirits with each other. Velma was one of the organizers who took Women’s Temple to Burning Man in 2004.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

What music do you write/code to?

My friend Jason can’t listen to music or anything when he’s coding. When I worked at Download.com, lots of editors and developers wore headphones and listened to music as they worked. I don’t know what they were listening to, but it was quite prevalent (and made for a very quiet workplace). Then again, when I moved to another group just 50 feet away on the same floor, almost nobody seemed to listen to music or wear headphones as they worked.

When I’m writing or coding, I like to listen to music. But I’ve found it very hard to concentrate on writing, editing, or reading words when the music has lyrics. It seems the language part of my mind has trouble concentrating on the words I’m trying to work with if it’s hearing other language in the background.

Velma just walked into the room and said something to me as I was typing that last sentence, which reminds me of another way language can totally derail my train of thought when I’m writing. But more about that another time : )

I find it a lot easier to write or code to instrumental music. When I want to be energized I often listen to up-tempo drum and bass or something, but when I really need to concentrate I usually switch to classical. This seems especially necessary when I’m trying to read and digest something difficult to understand, or I’m working on a particularly tough bit of code that just won’t work right.

Most of the time, though, rock music with lyrics playing in the background doesn’t seem to have much effect on my ability to concentrate on other tasks (it seems reading and writing are the ones affected most). I’ve worked this way for so many years (since 6th or 7th grade, at least), it seems I’ve become accustomed to it. And, fortunately, I’ve become aware of my limitations too, which is why I’m glad there is still a classical radio station in the Bay Area.

I’m curious whether other people have similar or different stories. Please comment!

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Thursday Top 5



Mac vs. PC: More than meets the eye
Great SFX short. See the large, HD version here.



Lemmy, the movie
Someone’s making a documentary about one of rock ’n’ roll’s baddest bad-ass. Need I warn that Lemmy is never safe for work?



Farewell Mr. President
See all the farewell videos on the YouTube channel. You have just 19 days to add your own. (Hooray!)



Herzog and the Monsters
Lesley Barnes uses an interesting animation technique, although it’s a bit hard to follow the story this way. The crappy YouTube video compression doesn’t help matters.

USPS offers free mail-in e-cycling
Got a new mobile phone for xmas? Get rid of those unwanted small electronics for free, using the USPS’s recycling program.

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