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.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A spooky story for Halloween

I was young, maybe 11 or 12, and spending the day with my cousins and aunt. She was taking us for a drive around the lake, maybe to get ice cream or something, when one of my older cousins suggested she drive by “the witch’s house.” I had no idea whether he was serious, but when we approached the old rickety thing and slowed down, I definitely began to wonder at the sight of it.

Shutters falling off, paint long faded and chipped away to bare wood, dead and droopy trees all around, and dust and cobwebs everywhere. It looked every bit like a kid’s worst nightmare image of a real haunted house. It didn’t look inhabited, but it was hard to tell. Then one my cousins screamed “There she is! I saw her in the window!” and we all freaked out as my aunt drove off in a hurry.

But that wasn’t even the scary part. That just served to put my childhood heart in an appropriate spooky mood.

A short way down the road, right by the side of the lake, was a tiny cemetery overgrown completely with weeds and shrubs. It must’ve been at least a hundred years old. There certainly hadn’t been any recent activity in many, many years. We stopped to look around, and my cousins and I bravely trudged around, pushing aside grass that was taller than we were, when suddenly I fell! Left leg swallowed up by a grave! Panic swept over me in an instant and I’m certain I started screaming for help.

Visions of rotting hands grasping at my leg and arms emerging from the hole were swirling into my mind just as my cousins arrived at my side to help pull me to my feet again, all limbs safe above ground. When we looked down we saw we were standing on the flat stone top of some sort of below-ground mausoleum or a grave that simply had a massive lid, and the lid had been moved partially away, leaving a hole just big enough to swallow up a kid, or at least one of his legs.

We were too freaked out — me especially — to investigate any further, so we made a hasty retreat from that tiny, overgrown spooky graveyard, and I never went back.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thursday Top 5

Pixar Intro Parody

Stormtroopers’ 9/11
“You want another round.”

Dave Mustaine on the BBC’s “Never Mind the Buzzcocks”
Proof that the UK has way better TV game shows than we do.

As if Mustaine wasn’t enough, here’s Lemmy

“I know you’re not telling the truth...”
What do you get when you put three of the biggest names (and at least two of the biggest egos) in modern radio on the same show? A pretty fiery conversation ensued when none other than Howard Stern called in to confront FCC Chairman Michael Powell on KGO AM’s Ronn Owens show. This happened in 2004, but this week was the first time I’d ever heard a recording of it. [link goes direct to MP3]

The weekly Thursday Top 5 lists the five most notable, interesting, funny, outrageous, cool, or simply strange things of the week. It is intended for distractionary purposes only. Do not take orally. If ingested, seek a doctor’s advice. If you like it, share it with others, or check out the long list of previous entries.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

The history of

History and Name

I registered, my first domain, in 1997. It was not long after the dawn of the web, and domains were expensive. Back then it cost $100 to register a single domain for a two-year period, whereas it’s about $10 per year these days.

I tried to get the .com and .net versions, but they were already taken. was a company selling magazines online, and was later bought by Barnes & Noble (today redirects to

The name had several benefits. It was short, which was important back then. Browsers had no autocomplete function, so making people type long URLs was a no-no.

The name also had the advantage of being slightly ambiguous. Not always a good trait, but in my case ideal, as I wasn’t entirely sure what the site would evolve into, and I liked that it could mean either “electronic news” or “environmental news,” both of which were things I had an abiding interest in.

Lastly, the domain was actually available, which was practically as difficult back then as it is now. At the time, the web was really taking off, and savvy pioneers were buying up as many domains as they could afford. At $100 a pop back then, I certainly couldn’t afford many, but I did purchase a couple others back then that I still have (today I own 30 or 40 domains; I’ll write more about those some other time).

At the start I used as an online magazine of sorts, and a launchpad to other sites I liked. I had collected and written some articles and was putting them in a section on the site I called Freehold, sort of a melange of topics from music to censorship to art. I also hosted my friend Tony’s list of rock bands he’d photographed (I still host it, actually, and it hasn’t changed much since 1998). I was putting together a Dandy Warhols fan site but I later partnered with the band’s webmasters instead, and just sent them some of my photos. Sadly, I never had enough time to finish many of the articles I was working on &emdash; coding had to be done entirely by hand back then and it was a time-consuming chore. I also pointed visitors to some off-site links I had something to do with, like Bay Area Action, the Headwaters Forest site, the EcoCalendar (all of which I designed and maintained), and one or two others.

Later I began using to host a calendar for my design clients, so they could see my schedule and where their projects fit in, and could avoid hearing me say “I’m too busy on other people’s deadlines right now to do your [insert design project here].” I’d also upload JPG drafts of early designs, then I’d email clients a link where they could view the works-in-progress.

Early technology

In the early days I coded entirely by hand using the excellent program BBEdit. But it was a hard thing to do back then: there was no color-coding of tags and error-checking had to be done by hand, so if you left out a < or something, you had to search through line-by-line until you figured out why your page was completely broken.

Later Claris came out with a tool called HomePage, and Adobe developed PageMill. I tried both when they were still in beta, and they were an enormous step forward but still had lots of problems. After they shipped, I found HomePage to be the more consistent and functional tool, and I used that for several years, still finding BBEdit indispensable for a lot of stuff as well. At the time, I estimated that switching to HomePage had increased my web page creation productivity by 10x. FTP was done with Fetch and graphics were of course done in Photoshop.

A few years later came NetObjects Fusion and Macromedia Dreamweaver. I found Fusion to be promising but a little half-baked at first, plus it was just too expensive for me at the time. Dreamweaver seemed too error-prone and crash-prone so I decided to keep an eye on its development but to hold off. I eventually switched to DW and have been using it as my primary development tool until this writing (Feb 2009).

I’ve tried numerous FTP apps over the years and I like Transmit, but usually I just rely on Dreamweaver’s integrated FTP. Graphics and all the web design I do is created in Photoshop first, and images are sliced and optimized using PS as well. I use Illustrator for some graphics but if they’re going to the web, then they always get imported into Photoshop for placement, sizing, and optimized export.

I’ll write more about the tools and technologies I use today in a later post.

10+ years

In 2007 I realized it was my website’s 10th birthday and thought about putting up a special commemoration of some sort, but I just didn’t have the spare time in my life at that time. I guess I’ll have to wait until 15 or 20 : ) For now, the screenshots below will have to suffice.

Previous versions of this website
Click on screenshots for larger versions.

Version 1

This is the earliest design I could find. There might have been an earlier one, but if so it’s apparently been lost. This is a terrible design by today’s standards, but it was the cutting edge of sophisticated web design for 1997. Freehold and Rally Cry were both hosted on The other two sites I link to here were separate things I created for Bay Area Action and the Bay Area Earth Day Coalition.

Version 2

This is when I started using the site more for my design business. That’s my hand holding my business card. Digital cameras were still very new then and I didn’t own one (they were pretty expensive), but I had a decent HI-8 video camera and a very cool video input card on my Mac, so I could take video and digital still captures with that. I turned off the lights in my office at night and shined a desk lamp at just my hand; a few quick Photoshop edits later I had a pretty cool picture for the home page.

Version 3

In 2000 I shut down Western Front Graphics and joined with two partners in a design firm we called Flux51. Of course we had our own site at For that reason, and because all my free time went into volunteering with nonprofit Bay Area Action and Acterra, I had nothing at all on for two long years, just this placeholder. I know, pretty lame huh? : |

Versions 4.0, 4.1, and 4.2

I got motivated to redesign the site in 2001 or 2002 and I finally launched an all-new site with lots of cool new content, especially photo galleries. This version had good shelf-life, and I expanded it and tweaked it numerous times over the years. I later built out my portfolio on this design framework, and it also hosted some sites for friends, like Olya Milenkaya’s art portfolio, Diane Choplin’s photos, and Velma Gentzsch’s blog.

Version 5


In 2005 I finally had time for another overhaul, and I redesigned the home page, added an all-new portfolio page, and added a photoblog. My blog was still using a Blogger template and I meant to get around to matching it to the rest of the site, but sadly I got busy with work and never had enough time. Overall this design has served me well over the past three years. It’s gotten me a few new clients and has been featured on several web design and CSS galleries.

Version 6

This is the design I’ve been working on for several years, by far the most in-depth redesign of ever. I invested time and effort in deep research and numerous iterations before I found a design I could commit to (more about the process here later). I even considered switching all my stuff over to, since I own that domain too (and I still might do it). As you’ve probably noticed, the branding is nearly invisible on the new design. This was on purpose, but there were many pros and cons either way, and I’m still kind of waffling on those, so I kind of split the difference and kept the domain (since so many people know me by it), and rebranded the design. Much of this is actually launched and my new portfolio is about 75% done, but I haven’t had time to convert the blog to WordPress, back up and install the Pixelpost photoblog, and so, so many other things I need to do. I got really busy with freelance work this past year and had nearly zero time to work on the site, so it remains largely unseen for now.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thursday Top 5

Jetsons Theme Song Extended

Lost Parody #3: Harry Potter
I figured Jenny could appreciate this. [via Jason A]

Design a shoe; if the community likes your design, it might get produced. [via Jenny]

Sub woofers. Lol.
[via ihasahotdog]

An epitaph for the Web standard, XHTML 2
I just got used to coding strict XHTML and, wouldn’t ya know it, now I gotta switch again. Well, HTML 5 is pretty promising, so it should be a good thing.

The weekly Thursday Top 5 lists the five most notable, interesting, funny, outrageous, cool, or simply strange things of the week. It is intended for distractionary purposes only. Do not take orally. If ingested, seek a doctor’s advice. If you like it, share it with others, or check out the long list of previous entries.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Recent project: Poster for Tuolumne River Trust

Peter Drekmeier, Bay Area Program Director of Tuolumne River Trust, sent me the beautiful photo above and asked me a few months ago to design a poster. Peter, who is also Mayor of Palo Alto, is a longtime friend, and I’ve done many design projects for him over the past 15 years.

I did two designs and they liked this one best. I then tweaked photo a bit to bring out some detail in the shadows of the rocks. I had to crop it a bit so I had someplace to put the logo, with enough of the water emphasized in the frame. I wish that one barren treetop wasn’t spearing the typography, but I tried cropping it several other ways and it only worked like this.

The photo is by Ken Mendoza, who has a few gems over at

[View a larger version]

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thursday Top 5

Chip Kidd and James Ellroy: A Mutual Appreciation [via Zeldman]

Alternative Press Expo this weekend!
Sadly, their site kinda sucks, and doesn’t give even a glimmer of how cool this event is. Here is my description of the cool stuff I saw at the 2007 event. I went last year too, but I never had time to write it all up.

Lunch Bag Art
Each day this dad makes a new piece of art for his kids.

365 Days of Dudes
Each day artist Andy drew a different character.

Zack Kim
Super Mario Bros. theme on two guitars.

The weekly Thursday Top 5 lists the five most notable, interesting, funny, outrageous, cool, or simply strange things of the week. It is intended for distractionary purposes only. Do not take orally. If ingested, seek a doctor’s advice. If you like it, share it with others, or check out the long list of previous entries.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Thursday Top 5

Paperclip lamp
Just because it’s cool.

Minty Forest
Josh and Nina each took a photo every day in 2008, neither one knowing what the other was working on. Each morning, they posted their photos on Minty Forest side by side.

Creative dance/fight sequence (!) directed by Anthony Alba. This is the sort of creative film-making I really think sites such as YouTube are perfect for. Oh, and the pink kitty’s pretty nice too ; )

Eoin Colfer discusses writing And Another Thing...

The All-For-Nots
A funny (web-based?) show taking an all-too-real look at the life of your average band. And I mean average. Example: The self-important singer starts off their “Northeastern tour” (first gig is a club show which seems to have an attentive audience of about 4, judging by the applause) with “Thank you for letting us ROCK YOUR MONDAY!” Hah! Seems well-written. They’ve got the all the typical characters down: the frontman who thinks he’s the only creative force in the band just because he writes most of the songs; the attractive bassist who’s in it for the chicks; the jobless hanger-on who follows the band on the “big” tour; the attorney-rock-star-wannabe who’s leaving his job and fiancee behind to follow a dream; and the over-charismatic and under-competent manager who’s going to convince everyone The All-For-Nots are the next big thing, doing whatever it takes (such as turning the band into a reality show). The scripts are well-written: See if you pick up the “omnivorous presence” quip; slides by if you’re only half-listening. I used to see all these characters regularly when I was in the music industry, so I laughed heartily at several spots in this video. [Note: Player above is just an image because’s stupid embedable player auto-plays and I know people hate that.]

The weekly Thursday Top 5 lists the five most notable, interesting, funny, outrageous, cool, or simply strange things of the week. It is intended for distractionary purposes only. Do not take orally. If ingested, seek a doctor’s advice. If you like it, share it with others, or check out the long list of previous entries.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Hitchin’ branding featured on Broke-Ass Bride

Our Hitchin’ site has been mentioned lots of places, from design and CSS web dev galleries to blogs about planning that not-exactly-traditional wedding. Here’s a new one from a site with a name that made me grin: The Broke-Ass Bride mentions our M&V logo in the post “Princess Lasertron, on Branding your Wedding on the Cheap.”

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Thursday Top 5

Redwoods: The Tallest Trees
Photographer Nick Nichols spent a year planning the nearly impossible: a top-to-bottom photograph of a 300-foot-tall redwood tree, featured in a five-page fold-out in the October issue of National Geographic Magazine. It’s on newsstands now. Buy it!

Amazing new design technology
Whoah, I need this app!

Bert and Ernie tries Gangsta-Rap
Is dey West Coast or East Coast?

I Will Derive!
For the math dorks.

Western Spaghetti by PES
Quirky animations by PES. [via Fwegan]

The weekly Thursday Top 5 lists the five most notable, interesting, funny, outrageous, cool, or simply strange things of the week. It is intended for distractionary purposes only. Do not take orally. If ingested, seek a doctor’s advice. If you like it, share it with others, or check out the long list of previous entries.

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