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.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The photoblog is back

In preparation for the shutdown of Blogger’s FTP service in a little over a month, I’ve started the long process of converting all my blogs to WordPress. This is a rather involved process, as it first requires doing several things that aren’t even related to the blogs.

For example, my web host, Media Temple, has been urging me to upgrade to their Grid-Service for over a year, and I’ve been putting it off. However, in order to take advantage of MT’s one-click WordPress installation capability, I had to do the migration first. So I did that over the weekend, and it went without too many hitches; I had to reset a bunch of passwords and some other paths and things, plus my two Pixelpost photoblogs (mine and Velma’s) broke. It took me a couple more nights (Monday and Tuesday) to fix mine, and I’ll get to Velma’s photoblog soonish.

To fix it, I had to reinstall the Pixelpost software and move it to a new directory, hook up the new installation to the old MySQL database containing all the old photos, thumbnails, and metadata, and then copy all the old images and thumbs over to the new directories.

I haven’t had time to check through it much, and my old template doesn’t work anymore so I’m just using a basic one that comes with the Pixelpost ZIP (it’s pretty good though). However, upgrading the Pixelpost software did fix my commenting system and the browse function, so you can look at my photos by category again. Like “green,” for example.



So, update your bookmarks — from now there’s a new URL for my photoblog, Fun With Light: http://www.enews.org/photo/daily/

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Updating the journal

Please note: Things will look a little weird here and there as I update the design of the journal pages over the next few days1

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Friday, January 08, 2010

What I use to create enews.org and related websites

A drive-by reader sent me an email today months ago after seeing Mark & Velma’s Hitchin’ Party picured on a roundup of “30 Green Websites” on TutorialBlog. I replied via email, but then thought I might as well post it here too.
Found your website by accident while searching for other things.

First off, I am overly impressed with all your efforts under enews.org! As a web services manager of many years gone by, I’ve been trying to spend more time for myself and my wife putting together little jewels like http://markandvelma.enews.org/. I’m not looking to start up any kind of consulting gig. I just want to have some weekend fun geeking out on some web goodies to kinda kinda combine a lil’ blogging and a lil’ photo collections of our trips to like Tuscany, Germany, San Fran, and the like.

I’ll admit to you that I’ve been looking at some of your source code under enews.org trying to determine what tool(s) you’ve used to put it all together. Besides movabletype and PixelPost, you’ve succeeded in keeping is all a secret. I did get a chuckle out of the witty repartee of ‘Powered by web geekery and strong coffee’ !

Would you be willing to share some of your secrets behind a project like http://markandvelma.enews.org/ & http://markandvelma.enews.org/party.html

My reply:

The original Hitchin’ site on http://markandvelma.enews.org/ was built with Photoshop and Dreamweaver, and uses Lightbox2 for the photo gallery. I was intending to power it with WordPress but I didn’t have enough time before the wedding to set it up, and I haven’t had the time or impetus since, although I still intend to convert the whole mini-site to WP some day, so Velma and I can use it as a singular place for posting family news and pictures and stuff.

The Holiday Gift mini-site we put up there in December 2008 was also created with Photoshop and Dreamweaver, and uses a customized version of a JQuery-powered unit called the Coda Slider.

As you saw, I use Pixelpost for my photoblog. I like Pixelpost a lot and I’ve been trying to find time to upgrade to a newer version so I can start putting photos up again. I created a custom template for my photoblog using, you guessed it, Photoshop and Dreamweaver. There are a couple worthwhile WordPress photoblog plugins which I may consider using instead, but I really like Pixelpost, so I’m not wholly interested in moving from it until a better alternative comes along.

The rest of enews.org was cobbled together a few years ago using Photoshop and Dreamweaver for the portfolio page and home page.

The blog is powered by Blogger and uses a slightly tweaked version of one of their standard templates, although I host on my own server, instead of on blogspot.com. I’ve always like Blogger but it’s not customizable enough and the Google team develops new features mostly for the blogspot.com customers and the self-hosted folks like me get left out. I installed Moveable Type a few years ago and fully intended to switch to it, but ran out of time. Later I decided WordPress was overtaking it in terms of development and add-on support, so I decided I’d use that in future. But I still haven’t finished converting it, so it’s still Blogger for now.

I’ve been working on a huge redesign of everything on enews.org, to make it all finally look the same, but I keep getting inturrpted by things like contract work. Since that pays the bills, my side projects go on the back burner for another month or two at a time. Oh well. Things could be worse, right?

It currently is just Photoshop, Dreamweaver, JQuery, and Coda Slider, but it’ll be converted to WordPress once I’m done formalizing all the templates, which are still in development and haven’t been optimized yet.

I heartily recommend leveraging the many, many, many services and technologies that keep emerging that allow hobbyists like us to do these sorts of fun personal sites faster and easier than ever before. There are so many of them, with varying offerings, it’s impossible to recommend just one. But since you mention you interest in putting up photo collections and blogging in a family context, there are a couple I’ve been impressed with: Vox and Kinzin (I saw another one recently I liked even more, but I can’t remember the name). The thing about these two that a lot of people like is the ability to manage persmission so only invited guests can view your vacation photos (for example). You can do this with WordPress plug ins too, btw, you just have to install an add-on or two.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

The history of enews.org

History and Name

I registered enews.org, 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. Enews.com was a company selling magazines online, and was later bought by Barnes & Noble (today enews.com redirects to www.barnesandnoble.com).

The name enews.org 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 enews.org 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 enews.org 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
1996–1998

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 enews.org. 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
1998–2000

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
2000–2002

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 www.Flux51.com. 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 enews.org for two long years, just this placeholder. I know, pretty lame huh? : |





Versions 4.0, 4.1, and 4.2
2002–2005

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

2005–2009

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
2009

This is the design I’ve been working on for several years, by far the most in-depth redesign of enews.org 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 MarkBult.com, since I own that domain too (and I still might do it). As you’ve probably noticed, the enews.org 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, July 23, 2009

What I’ve been up to (non-list edition)

I mentioned in April that I’d taken on some new contract work, and that was slowing the progress of redesigning enews.org. In May and June I started applying for full-time gigs again, despite the fact that the new portfolio was only about 80% done.

I had a couple interviews but none that were a spectacular fit, and then the job listings out there in my area seemed to dry up again (they seem to be going in spurts, every three or four months). Fortunately, at that exact same time a bunch of people started asking me to do contract jobs; so many requests that I had to turn several down, in fact.

I am presently working on two small projects and a larger one, all website designs for various companies. Progress is going well, I’m wrapping up the research and strategy phase for all three of them now and getting anxious to start putting pixels down. I’ve been sketching things on paper and assembling lots of moodboards and assets, and I have all kinds of ideas swirling around in my head. So I’m looking forward to hours and hours of Photoshop work in the coming weeks.

I’ll be engaged on these three client projects for the next couple months so unless you’re an existing client who simply needs a quick change to an existing design I’ve done for you in the past, please consider me too booked for new work right now.

I’m hoping to get back to working on my own site again in a couple months but I suspect it won’t be until after we return from Black Rock City in September.

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Friday, April 03, 2009

Portfolio and site redesign update

I teased you with a few designs last month from the upcoming all-new portfolio. Here are a few more.

The progress is going well, although I’m slowed down when I take contract work, which I did again in mid-March. The last image is from that new work, btw.

I’m starting to apply for jobs, so I’m having to send people to an unfinished version of the site online (no, you can’t see it yet). I feel a little lame showing a partly broken website to people I’m asking to hire me. But they’re all professionals, they’ll understand that’s how it goes in the webdev world sometimes.







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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Progress report on the portfolio and site redesign

Thought I’d give another sneak-peek at some of what I’ve been spending so much time on for the past couple months.

As my precious regular readers will know, I’m redesigning this site and also updating my portfolio for the first time in about three years. What I may not have mentioned before is how in-depth the update to the portfolio is going to be. I’m doing a more comprehensive update than I’ve ever done (by far), going back 20+ years to my very first professional projects. I’m not posting them all, of course, just going through my entire archive and picking out some things from back then that I’ve never had online before.

It’s quite a task, which is why it’s taking longer than I’d anticipated. Anyway, I thought I’d tease everyone with a few snaps of some of the stuff that’s done. You’ve probably not seen a couple of these before. One of the logos I just did last month.






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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

*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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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sneak peek of the upcoming redesign

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I had some time to do some personal work on three evenings, so I started coding the new template for my redesigned portfolio. I’ve been working on this design in Photoshop for years. Seriously! (Although only in fits and starts, with long gaps in between.) But I’ve been planning for the past four months to take off this December from all other work, to concentrate on finally redesigning the whole website.



Here’s a sneak peek of the new design. This is actually a screenshot of the HTML-rendered page. It’s coming out almost perfectly identical to the PSD, so I’m psyched about that. “Every pixel matters.”

So far so good — no major coding problems so far (had to ask my friend Aaron to help me debug one JavaScript I couldn’t get to do exactly what I wanted) and all my code is validating (although it’ll break as soon as I embed the first YouTube video on the new site — meh).

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Russian Heinlein book featured on io9

One of my rare Heinlein books has been featured on io9, Gawker’s sci-fi blog (“In Soviet Russia, Space Opera Really Was Operatic”).

io9 was doing an article Russian science fiction book cover artwork and must’ve seen the book cover I posted to my Flickr group Heinleinia.

The book in question (pictured here) has always been a bit of a mystery to me. It’s a Russian edition of Stranger in a Strange Land published in 2003, but because most of the text is in Russian, I can’t get much information from the title and copyright pages. I found the book for sale on eBay last year.

One of the commenters on io9’s post noted that the cover of the Heinlein book features a painting by Donato Giancola, which was a nice find. Giancola’s produced some great work in his portfolio. Though I’ve never been able to figure out why this particular piece was chosen for the Heinlein book, as it bears no resemblance to anything in the story.

io9’s post also linked to Russian science fiction fan club Solaris (text in English), which features a gallery of other Russian Heinlein editions.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Possible new logo



I'm thinking of using this new logo I came up with yesterday. I've been sketching logos and symbols for over a year, trying to come up with a logo that I could use for personal use as well as my design company.

I was playing around with the concept of a coat-of-arms sort of design, where the illustration is symbolic of my ideologies, similar to the way a family's coat of arms tells a story of their history.

It's a skull and crossbones made out of a coffee mug, a pencil, and a monkeywrench ; )

If you don't get it, that's alright. I don't mind. Just means you need to get to know me better.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New list of friends et al

I finally updated my sidebar with a list of friends, colleagues, et al (see "con-conspirators" below-right). If you're listed please check to make sure I linked to the site you'd prefer to be your public face. If you're not listed, either I couldn't find your link in my bookmarks, or you just haven't greased my palm lately. So pony up and maybe I'll show some love.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Updates to the blog

I added some links in the sidebar to some of my past posts that are popular (get a lot of in-links or referrers), or that are overlooked but potentially valuable. And a few that are just for fun. Gentle reader, please do let me know if your favorite was left out.

I also updated my Never-ending list of projects, and I predict Velma will be astonished at how many of them have seen action taken.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Posting new photos

I got behind in posting photos to the photoblog last fall when we were rapidly approaching the Hitchin' and I had to devote time to that. I wanted to post a photo every day, and I'd been able to do it for quite a while, but after I slipped behind, it was compounded by several other delays, like our honeymoon and then moving.

I'd tried to catch up by back-posting a few weeks' worth of photos at a time, but it seemed I'd never catch up, so I've decided to throw in the towel and just pick up from now and go forward. Maybe I'll be able to back-fill the hole sometime in the future, but I'm not going to worry about it anymore.

I've got over 10 GB of photos from 2007 alone that I want to show some of, so screw it! Onward!

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Number one on a Google search

A couple years ago I was considering whether to rename this blog. I'm still considering it, but how do you give up being number 7 on a Google search for "splain"?

For "espouse" I've dropped from 4 to number 16, but I guess that ain't half bad. I guess. If you're looking for an espouser.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of other ranters and whiners out there on the Internet (you've heard of LiveJournal, right), so searching for "rant" or "whine" doesn't include me even within the first few pages of results. Meh, with that kind of competition, why bother.

Of course, when you search for "rant whine" I'm number one, and you can't beat that.

So...yeah. That's marketable, right?

My dear reader, I'd be eager to see how many of you even realized this blog had a name. If you already knew it, did you remember what the name was when you started reading this? Leave a comment and let me know. And if you want to suggest a better name, let's hear it.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Hmm...that background looks familiar





Amsterdamn designed a WordPress theme called Royaline that looks an awful lot like my portfolio.

In fact, I'm pretty sure the background tile they used was swiped right off my site (compare theirs to mine).



The rest of the design isn't really a blatant ripoff or anything, so I'm not concerned. They basically just swiped my background pattern and my color palette, which I don't mind. Frankly, the WP theme is decent but not all that great.

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Thursday, May 01, 2003

Inaugural post using Blogger

I’ve just installed this weblog on my site and I’m experimenting with it. I’m using Blogger for the backend, which was relatively easy to install (a few glitches later, I’m up and running), which is cool because it allows me to post through a web browser from any computer.

I’m also going to experiment with some Mac OS X freeware and shareware apps I found at VersionTracker.com to see if I can automate the process even further, such as a handy AppleScript I found there that’ll allow me to Blog from any application. If it works...I’ll let ya know!

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