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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Sunday, December 07, 2008

AnimeVice.com launches

The guys (and now, it seems, gal) at Whiskey Media have offered up another round, adding a just-launched anime/manga site to their growing list of entertainment-related wiki/encyclopedia/community sites.



AnimeVice.com joins the stable of niche sites that already include computer gaming, comics, and um, politics. AnimeVice, however, takes it up a notch with, *wink*nudge* an entire section for cosplay pictures.

Whiskey Media, if anyone’s not paying attention, is the startup founded and staffed by many ex-CNETers. Not surprisingly, they are taking a very CNET-influenced tack to their business strategy: Build individual, highly functional sites in smaller markets where you can compete aggressively.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Bombs away

GiantBomb relaunched Monday, blossoming from a simple video game blog into a full-featured wiki-style site with user-powered content already adding loads of content to the underlying relational database. Alongside the member content are videos, reviews, and podcasts from the small team of mostly ex-Gamespot and -CNETers (you may have heard about Jeff Gerstmann's unceremonious firing from Gamespot last year).

I spent a few hours perusing the site today, mostly watching the videos. They've come a long way since the March soft launch, and the new site boasts magnitudes more features; it's going to be exciting to watch how it progresses, and I'm not even a gamer.

To give you an idea of how powerful the platform is, and how well the user experience has been thought out, watch this how-to video from their Help section.








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Thursday, April 03, 2008

ZDNet and the Green Enterprise



My friends over at ZDNet have launched their redesigned website and it's looking great. I never used ZDNet that much before, but the new changes to the site make finding content and just browsing around a lot more pleasurable. I spent some time the other day watching some of the interesting videos in the "Green Enterprise" section.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Last day at CNET

Friday was my last day at CNET Networks.

When I woke my computer at work on Friday morning, Entourage had popped one of its helpful event reminders up on the screen for me (Entourage is Microsoft's Mac version of Outlook, for you PC people).



I thought the choice of wording was somewhat ironic. It had marked it "Overdue" since the event was scheduled in the calendar to begin at 9 am, and didn't arrive until later in the morning.

Anyway, it was a somewhat melancholy day. I was at the same time sad to be leaving and also excited that I'd soon be able to take advantage of the "time off" to work on my own projects.

I walked around the six floors of the building saying goodbye to various people I'd worked with over the past 3+ years. I had a last coffee with my coworker Anne, signed all the official severance paperwork, and then I handed in my badge to security and walked around the corner to the pub where I'd invited everybody for happy hour.

I learned a great deal and worked with some spectacularly smart and talented people there, and those things I will miss. Of course, no place is perfect and there were plenty of things I won't miss. But mostly I'll miss the great people I worked with and the great work we did.

Oh well, I suppose it's just time to do some of my own great work now.

But I'm-a takin' a couple weeks off first ; )

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Transition



Last week I returned to the office from a web design conference to learn that Webshots had been sold by CNET Networks to American Greetings Interactive.

I really didn't see this coming, so it was a slight shock to learn that my job was ending. I'll remain here through the end of January as part of a transition team that will ensure assets and knowledge get appropriately transferred to the new owners. But a few of my colleagues got two weeks notice, which was a bummer to say the least. There are severance packages and whatnot, but that only goes so far when you're suddenly out of job.

The Webshots purchase is probably a very good move for American Greetings Interactive, and maybe it's a good move for CNET Networks too. But it doesn't lessen my bad feelings that we won't be able to finish all of the projects we had planned.

That said, I'm proud of (most) of the work I've done at Webshots, I've learned a lot and worked with some great people.

So now I'm faced with the prospect of trying to figure out what to do next. There are a lot of options, among them (in no particular order):
  • Finish the transition here, then take some time off to consider my next career move
  • Go freelance again
  • Join a startup
  • Join a design firm that I respect
  • Start some other kind of company (I have a few ideas)
  • Dabble in side projects
  • Write a book or two
  • Stay at CNET Networks, at some other business unit
  • Join one of the other up-and-coming social sites, or *gasp* even a big company
  • Join some other sort of tech company
  • Go back to the nonprofit world *double-gasp*
...and others.

Now I just gotta figure out which one I really want to do. It's going to be an interesting winter.

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Friday, August 31, 2007

CNET finally shows some love for the Mac

CNET Networks has acquired the TechTracker Network, comprising the sites VersionTracker.com, MacFixIt.com, iPhoneAtlas.com, and a few ancillary domains.

This marks a significant shift for CNET's tech offerings, since the majority of TechTracker's visitors are Mac users.

While CNET has covered Apple a lot on News.com and CNET.com, their Reviews section has historically been so-so at best with regard to Mac hardware, and Download.com's Mac software offerings have always been pretty lackluster compared to the competition. This acquisition could mark a turning point.

The announcement of the acquisition has garnered a lot of negative comments regarding CNET on the VersionTracker Blog. It's a little sad to see how much general ill-will the commenters have for CNET. More sad, however, is that the majority of the commenters are critically misinformed. *sigh* Either way, it looks like CNET has a long way to go to fix a reputation in the Mac market.

"The Macintosh may only have 10% of the market, but it is clearly the top 10%."
– Douglas Adams

UPDATE: I just noticed that TechTracker also has a little site called GreenTracker.com, created "to institute and promote sustainable practices and reduce TechTracker’s overall energy imprint." I hope it will survive the changes the CNET purchase will bring.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ubuntu designers get "inspired" by Download.com button



I was browsing the Ubuntu* site today and I noticed a very familiar-looking green button. I opened up a separate browser window and went over to Download.com, and sure enough, whoever designed Ubuntu's website had used the button I created for Download.com.

Luckily, they'd changed the icon inside the button, since that's a Download.com trademark (you'd be amazed at how many software sites use that trademark without authorization, though).



I don't mind this, I don't even consider it stealing. I'm sure every designer has once or twice taken a small element from someplace else and used it, changing the critical parts so there's no major similarity anymore. In this case, if they'd used the Download.com icon, it would have been a blatant ripoff (not to mention trademark infringement). If they'd just changed the color, again it'd be a serous ripoff. But when it's just the outer part of a button, a button ferchrissakes, I don't care at all. I mean, it's just a button shape, not a logo or an illustration that I'd spent hours or days on. It probably took me less than ten minutes.

This is similar to the incident I wrote about recently where someone made a WordPress theme that used some of my design elements, but in a way that the result didn't really look like my original design much at all.

* Ubuntu is a free, community-developed, Linux-based operating system that you can run on Macs, PCs, and other Unix-capable computers.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

UrbanBaby 1.5 redesign goes live

Update (May 10, 2008):
Imagine my surprise to see a flood of comments on a single post today. And such lovely comments they are. If only these commenters had paid attention to the date of the original fucking post.

Attention all you infuriated but obviously not very observant people: I am not the current art director for UrbanBaby and the new redesign launched in May 2008 has nothing to do with me.

This was my redesign (over a year ago, in 2007):


This is the new design (not by me):


So, if you hate the new design, not my problem. If you want to offer the folks at UrbanBaby some constructive feedback, I'm sure they'd like to hear it. Constructive.


Original post (February 20, 2007):
UrbanBaby is one of the three sites for which I'm the art director.

We've been working on a redesign for a while and it launched today, but at present it has only resurfaced three pagetypes: the homepage, the local landing pages, and the registration page. Contrast those with the old site design to get an idea of just how outdated this property looked before.

I'm pretty happy with it so far, although there are some significant problems with the CSS not matching the mockups I provided. At least, they're serious to me and anyone aesthetically astute enough to notice them.

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Weekly Standards spotlights Download.com redesign

The Weekly Standards is a website that features large corporate sites that have been redesigned using web standards. They approached us for an interview-via-email and luckily our new CSS wizard Greg Penhaligon took on the task of writing a full article [Update: The Weekly Standards went down for good, but you can still view this article on Archive.org] for them. A few of my initial responses to TWS's interview questions are also included as pullquotes (the last paragraph, which begins with "My advice for other designers..." is also a pullquote from me, but they style it incorrectly so it lacks an attribution. I've let them know and it might be fixed by the time you look).

There's been more feedback on the web about the redesign, and I've been collecting links to all the various places where people have commented. I'll post a list soonish.

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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Invasion of the little people

There were all these little people at work today.

Am I being politically correct? What's the correct term? Age-challenged individuals. Rugrats. Kids.

It was Bring Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day (their emphasis) at CNET, so a slew of kidlets were being ushered around my floor, where all the funtime activities were happening. Pizza lunch and a screening of The Incredibles (I would've gone, but I possibly would've felt slightly out of place).

Interestingly, most employees who brought their kids brought very small children. It seemed to be a lot of toddlers, a few tweens, and one girl who was maybe 11.

I remember when I was a kid and I used to go to my mom's work when there was a school holiday like Parent-Teacher Conference Day or whatever. Or spring and winter breaks.

I used to look forward to it so much. I'd help around the office, filing and stapling and doing lots and lots of copying. I always loved doing the copying, maybe because I got to use this big ol' machine, and whenever it jammed or refused to work, the adults seemed amazed that I could actually unjam it.

When I was a bit older I had an ulterior motive. By the 7th grade I had started my first publication, an Ozzy fanzine called "The Fellowship of the Blizzard." I hadn't even read The Fellowship of the Ring, but my friend Rocky Mullin suggested the name, and I thought it was awesome.

I was collecting scads of Ozzy ephemera. Clipping photos and stuff out of magazines like Circus and Hit Parader, and writing everything for the newsletter myself, and "typesetting" it (it would be years before I'd hear that term, though) on a typewriter at the public library after school, where you had to put quarters into a timer to rent the IBM Selectric.

I'd take the magazine pictures and the cut-into-columns articles and paste (well, sellotape*) all of them together on a sheet of letter-sized of paper. I had no clue what a halftone was, and no idea about any other production techniques (like not using tape, for example) until much later in my "career."

After a couple months, I'd have enough pages put together and I'd be anxiously awaiting my next school holiday, when I could go to work with mom. I'd spend half the day photocopying my little newsletters, collating, and stapling, and at the end of the day I'd head home with mom, my backpack bursting at the seams.

[image to come]

I did this from 7th grade through the middle of high school, and I think I made about 40 issues. I actually had a few subscribers, and I had a couple of stores that actually sold them. "Rock shops," as we used to call them. Not where you buy crystals. That craze came (and went, thankfully) later. A rock shop was where you got your Def Leppard T-shirts and your Whitesnake bumperstickers. Don't laugh. I was 14.

Anyway, The Fellowship of the Blizzard was the precursor to my eventual four-year career as an indie newspaper publisher of Western Front News. But more on that some other day.

All I can say is, I seriously doubt that my mom's places of employ ever knew how instrumental they were, being patrons to my burgeoning career as a self-styled newspaperman/boy. But they definitely foot the bill for a decent amount of paper and copier toner over four or so years. And for that, I thank them.

(* So disappointed that my xPad spellchecker doesn't recognize the word "sellotape". Not to mention "bumperstickers"!)

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