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.


Monday, March 29, 2010

AT&T fail

My friends at AT&T must have been partying in the phone “office“ down the street and tripped over my wire, because our Internet was shut off for nine days.

After much troubleshooting with our ISP, I had disconnected all the interior wiring, everything down to the wire coming through the wall from the outside and the power pole. This means the fault was with outside wiring, which is your local telco’s responsibility (AT&T) to fix.



Stupidly, my ISP’s contract with Covad (which does all the interior installations and wiring service calls) requires Covad to send out a guy to any and all service calls, regardless of the fact that my ISP (Speakeasy) told them we’d isolated the problem to the outside wiring and tried to bypass the requirement.

So I had to wait many days, then the Covad guy (a retired AT&T guy, btw) comes out and tells me exactly what I already knew: that it’s AT&T’s problem. So I wasted a full day (took off work) waiting for the Covad guy, and the AT&T guy still needs to come the following day (Velma waited for him instead).

Needless to say, nine days after we reported the outage, the AT&T guy shows up and fixes it right away by going down to the "central office" and hooking up the unplugged wire.

All parties get a fail:

Speakeasy fails for having a stupid contract with Covad that allows Covad to push them around in such cases just so Covad won’t lose any service call fees. (Too bad, because I’ve really liked Speakeasy for many many years. Their phone support is generally way better than most.)

Covad fails for having such a stupid contract requirement with Speakeasy.

AT&T fails for causing the problem in the first place, not to mention giving people a service call window of 8am to 10pm. That’s just plain unprofessional.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dear New Employee

Welcome on your first day. Here is some information that will help you be a productive member of your new team.

You will be issued a security badge at some point in the future, but for now you need to sign in as a guest. You’ll be given a temporary badge that doesn’t do anything at all, so if you need to walk outside any of the electronically-locking doors on your floor, you’re not getting back in. Fortunately you have access to the bathrooms and kitchen, but if you need to use the stairs or elevators to go to any other floor, or if you want to go out of the building at lunchtime, you’re going to need an escort to get you back in. Sometime in the afternoon we may issue you a proper security badge. Don’t hold your breath.

If you’re lucky you’ll be on one of the floors which feature putty-colored 1990s industrial design reject desks and partitions. These are a step up from those horrifying fuzzy-walled cubicles in most offices, but let’s not let our imaginations get away from us and assume you’ll find the sort of quality furniture you expect to see in high tech firms at their pinnacle.

Notice how the fluorescent lighting and the putty furniture conspire to cast a lovely grayellow shade on everything around you? That is, of course, unless you are one of the few who is allowed to sit near a window, in which case the company cannot be held responsible for any negative reaction you may have to natural light. If you would like a lamp on your desk, please imagine how little we care.

When you arrive at your new desk you will observe that the top of of it is filthy, like it hasn’t been cleaned in years. This is because it hasn’t. The cleaning crew vacuums the hallways once a week (but not the floor of your workstation area), empties the garbage cans and recycling bins at every desk, and that’s about it. If you want your “new” desk to be clean, you have to go hunt for something to clean it with (it’s not like anybody’s going to supply you with cleaning equipment, or tell you where you might find some).

The phone on your desk might be plugged in. Might not. Just consider yourself lucky to have one. You can plug it in yourself, of course, but it might insist on telling you that it’s eight and-a-half hours ago and display nothing but a big red light and “Extension in use” at you. This is helpful, since you don’t know what your extension is anyway. At least you won’t have to touch the phone’s keypad, which has so much filthy scum on it, the once-gray buttons are now brown. You should probably just avoid looking too closely at the receiver, as the microscopic colony of beings that has been growing there for several months may not like being disturbed.

There will be no computer on your desk. Tough it out.

When the tech rolls his cart up to your desk sometime on your second day, you might feel a surge of hope. This emotion will be dashed to pieces when he informs you that the Mac Pro he’s bringing you has 3 GB of RAM, almost one quarter of what you’re used to working with, and a bare minimum to run crucial work apps in any useable way. The stock 19-inch monitor he’ll bring you is the default given to any employee, and they are required to bring it to you regardless of whether your manager’s hardware request specified a 24-inch monitor. It will require intervention from a higher authority — your manager or perhaps a lesser demigod — to persuade the tech to fulfill the original monitor request. Meantime, he will dutifully hook up your computer to the 19-inch, boot up, and walk away with a vague promise to “look for” another monitor.

A moment later, when the login screen appears, you’ll no doubt realize he didn’t actually give you a login or password yet, so there’s no way to actually use your computer. Should you wish to remedy this, please open a Help Desk ticket. What’s that? You can’t use your computer? Try calling IT. What? No phone? Send IT an email. What? No computer? Why did we hire you if you can’t do the most menial tasks?

By the morning of your third day you might get some software installed on your computer so you can actually do work. You’d better bring a laptop for a while, so you can actually get some things done.

Don’t expect to have access to any local servers or have an email account for a while. We’ll give you a company email address when we’re good and ready, pal. It might take two and a half days, but when it finally works, it’s glorious. You get to use Microsoft Entourage!

Once you are finally able to use your computer, you can do many fancy things with it (but not email yet). You can browse the internet. You can browse the employee intranets. You can look with awe and wonder at thousands of internal documents that are years out of date and totally and completely inaccurate.

When you look yourself up in the online employee directory, the workstation number listed for you will be at least one digit off, so no one will be able to locate you. This is handy should you be in the Witness Protection Program, but not very helpful if you are waiting for someone to, for example, come fix your phone. It would be easy enough if the workstations were laid out and numbered in a logical numeric order, because then one could assume that workstation #1163 would be next to workstation #1162, but if you squint very intently at the miniscule text on the floor map on the wall in the most darkened corridor, you’ll notice that the numbers were apportioned by a patient in a mental hospital.

Trying to see if you can fix the workstation number yourself, you’ll notice that the intranet lets you log in with your name and password, but then welcomes you with the message “Hello (none) (none),” and half the pages complain you must be logged in to view them, even if it indicates you are already logged in.

Opening a help desk ticket for this will be an interesting intelligence test, as the help desk tool appears to have no way to actually create a ticket. You’ll puzzle over this for several minutes, reading and re-reading everything on the screen, before giving up and asking your manager what you’re missing, and hoping it’s not your sanity. They’ll log in to the help desk on their own computer, wondering if they made a terrible mistake hiring you, and you’ll see a menu on the left side that you’re certain did not appear on your own screen. Back at your desk, you’ll confirm that the necessary menu isn’t there, and that your sanity is indeed intact. Several minutes later it will dawn on you that the problem is a simple one that should have occurred to you: The help desk tool doesn’t work properly in Firefox.

Getting your computer to recognize one of the nearby printers is a mysterious black art that has been lost to the mists of time. Should you need to print something on paper, you might want to weigh the efficiency of drawing it in full color by hand versus the time you will spend figuring out the Mac’s printing dialogs and walking back and forth to various printers on your floor to see if anything is happening. It’s best to look at it as good physical exercise. To connect your computer to a printer, you are expected to know the difference between Line Printer Daemon, IP printing, IPP printing, Windows, AppleTalk, Bluetooth and Bonjour printing, plus you’re expected to know how to find the IP address of the printer you want to connect to, as well as various other obscure settings. If you actually are able to print a document you will be branded a witch and may be burned at the stake.

On the afternoon of your fourth day a new phone will be delivered to you. Following the instructions that were emailed to you earlier will allow you to activate the phone. Good thing you can finally access your email account.

By the end of the week, if you’re particularly industrious, you may have:

• Scrounged a chair from an empty desk somewhere else in the building.
• Played with the phone long enough to realize it’s pointless (wasting an hour or so).
• Poked through cabinets in dark conference rooms until you found a stray network cable, so you could actually plug your laptop in and get a little work started.
• Figured out how to log in to your finally-delievered desktop computer.
• Liberated a decent mouse from another empty desk.
• Downloaded Firefox and customized it with proper settings and a bare minimum of add-ons to get some professional work started.
• Set up your Photoshop workspace, keyboard shortcuts, and preferences twice (doing it the first time surely caused the computer gods to notice that you were likely to get some actual work done soon, so they sent your computer into a kernal panic that promptly wiped out half your customizations).
• Scrounged a desk lamp from someone who wasn’t using theirs anymore and said you could have it.
Downloaded and installed enough applications to remedially customize your computer enough to actually be productive.
• Spent some time trying to comprehend some of the absurdities of corporate logic.
• Completed about five hours of actual work.

Upsides:

• The coffee’s better than it used to be.
• Biking to and from work is the best part of the day.
• It was nice to see a few people again who I really like here.
• Learned the nice Security lady’s name is Lucia.

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Three fonts which must die: Comic Sans, Lithos, and Papyrus



Attention humans: Please avoid using the following awful, overused, poorly-designed fonts: Comic Sans, Lithos, and Papyrus.

Arial and Times are bad enough, but if you really are so severely limited in your font selection that you actually have to use them, be my guest. Just don’t try to “spice things up” with the other aforementioned craptastic three.

Oh, here (and here) are a few others to avoid, for similar reasons having to do with good taste.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

The trick to eating White Cheddar Cheez-Its

Open the bag from the bottom.

This is true of nearly any food that comes in a bag and has salt or cheese (or whatever) on it which easily flakes off and “settles” to the bottom of the bag.

This is an especially significant problem with pretzels, although opening the bag from the bottom doesn’t help in this case, since the salt granules are so large and there’s no Cheez-It-like sticking-agent on the pretzels to help the salt stick back on. Sadly, this causes nearly 100% of modern-day, health-conscious, too-much-salt-is-bad-for-you pretzels to be unsatisfactory, because there was hardly any salt on them when they were made in the first place, but then the packages have been joggled for days while being shipped across the country, thrown around by careless grocery stockboys, bounced around in your SUV on the way home, until eventually there’s no salt on them at all by the time you finally chainsaw open the ridiculously strong titanium-plastic alloys they now package your favorite once-salty foodstuffs in.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Ack! Attacked by angry mommies!

Sheesh people. Read the gorram date of the post before you tell me what a shitty designer I am.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Thursday top 5

"Happy"
A short animation from Vancouver Film School. This one's for Sage and Dakota. x D



The Russian Avante-Garde Book: 1910–1934
An online exhibit from the MoMA (New York). This one's for Olya and any people who appreciate historical art, design, and typography.
www.moma.org/exhibitions/2002/russian/

Carrier Pigeon
A well-done video podcast about all kinds of stuff, from designer Dave Werner.
minorstudios.com
Never heard of Dave Werner? He's a somewhat recent grad of the Porfolio Center. Check out his absolutely exceptional portfolio: okaydave.com

Barista Brat
The rants and raves of a Starbucks Barista. Fun and even informative. This link's for Jenny, who recently got a job at a small coffee place in San Francisco.
baristabrat.blogspot.com

Lots of rare Bill Watterson art
ignatz.brinkster.net/cbillart.html

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Why some people hate cops

Because some cops are worth hating.

Brett Darrow, 20, was questioned and repeatedly threatened with false charges by Sgt. James Kuehnlein in St. George, MO. It was all caught on video by Darrow's in-car camera, and he posted the video on the Internet.

I can hardly maintain my composure watching this video. This hysterical asshole is soooo out of line, he needs to seek new employment, a psychiatrist, and a vasectomy.

Video
Wikinews: 20-year-old captures abusive police officer on tape
St. Louis Today: Officer in trouble over motorist's video in South County

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

No, this is not OK: Oklahoma fights global terrorism with, um, license plates



This is just dumb for so many reasons. Plenty of others will, I am certain, point out how retarded this is. But since few of them will likely discuss how retarded the design is, let me just do it briefly.

1. Dessert camo? Really? In...Oklahoma? And need I point out how completely offensive it is to presume that all terrorists live in dessert regions?

2. Nice clip art, buddy. Who designed this, an admin? Just so you know, copying a clip art building to make two of them does not exactly make you a designer. And you might want to make it the right building, or at least close. The World Trade Center didn't have big horizontal stripes between floors, you twat.

3. Design 101: Black on red is not readable. Especially tiny black numbers on a tiny little red banner...from a distance.

Hey Oklahoma. This makes you look like a bunch of idiots. And I'm not even talking about the design. I really wouldn't expect much better from a state agency, nor a license plate. I'm talking about the whole idea of commemorating (celebrating?) the "global war on terrorism" with a license plate. That's so incredibly nationalistic it's hard for me to put it in words how offended I am.

Not to mention the mind-boggling idea that some official at the Oklahoma State Tax Commission actually had the thought, "Hey, we could make money by offering a terrorism plate."

Oh, and your "designer" sucks too.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

"Sorry, we're not a real Starbucks"

Today was the second time in a month, on two opposite coasts, I have been told by a person in a Starbucks store, wearing a Starbucks apron, that the Starbucks I was standing in was "not a real Starbucks."

In Boston, the location was not able to honor my Starbucks gift card. In San Francisco, the location was not even able to accept a simple gift certificate for a measly half-pound of Starbucks coffee.

Not a "real" Starbucks?
Let me be clear: There is absolutely no outward difference between these Starbucks locations and any other "real" Starbucks location. They look exactly the same. They have tables, they have the same decor, the have Starbucks logos everywhere. It doesn't say "Joe's Coffee Shop, proudly serving Starbucks Coffee" on the sign. It's just another Starbucks to everyone walking by.

The logo is the brand, stupid
These two Starbucks locations I was in were probably some sort of lesser tier in Starbucks' franchise system. But the customer doesn't know this, or care, and should never even have to care that this is some lesser franchise that doesn't hook into the Starbucks gift card system or whatever ridiculous excuse they have for claiming to not be a "real" Starbucks.

If that customer can't get the normal level of service they've come to expect from any other Starbucks, that experience is lessened. That brand image is tainted, damaged.

Let me be blunt. Starbucks will fail as a company if they do not fix this problem.

Not because I won't be able to use my gift card for my mocha. That's not even the real issue. It's because their own employees don't even consider themselves to be part of Starbucks the brand.

(And because people like me will go back to their computers and write long rants about the raw, bleeding sore this is on Starbucks' brand strategy, instead of just walking the three blocks to another location to redeem their coupon.)

Your employees are your brand ambassadors
And don't give me "But they're not real Starbucks employees." They are in the eyes of every single customer who walks into that franchise.

If you have a Starbucks logo on your hat or apron, you serve Starbucks coffee, and the store looks identical to every other Starbucks, then you are a real fucking Starbucks.

However, if Starbucks doesn't consider those people wearing their logo to be the company's brand ambassadors (I don't care if their paychecks come from Seattle or from Joe's Coffee Shop), then Starbucks is going to fail. Because they're going to lose the battle for brand loyalty.

People selling Starbucks coffee need to feel they are Starbucks employees, no matter who their boss is who happens to own the franchise. And Starbucks needs to consider those people their employees and, more importantly, their brand ambassadors.

Starbucks is one of Fortune magazine's 100 Best Places to Work. How can that be if a large portion people who wear your brand every day don't even associate themselves with your brand? They alienate your customers because they emit an attitude of "Meh, whatever. We're not a real Starbucks and I have nothing invested in trying to satisfy you as a customer, so I'm not even going to try."

Here's what Starbucks.com says: "Our success depends on your success. Our ability to accomplish what we set out to do is based primarily on the people we hire - we call each other 'partners.' We are always focused on our people. We provide opportunities to develop your skills, further your career, and achieve your goals. At Starbucks, you’ll find a commitment to excellence among our partners; an emphasis on respect in how we treat our customers and each other; and a dedication to social responsibility..."

What bullshit. Starbucks, you need to fix this, or you will rot from the ankles up.

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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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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Has the DMV gotten more efficient?

I had to go to the DMV this morning.

Yeah, I was absolutely thrilled about getting up at 7 am to bike halfway across San Francisco, anticipating several hours of standing in lines and being shuffled from one window to another by petty bureaucrats who would foist their clumsy communication skills and primitive people skills on me while they told me that what I wanted just wasn't possible, or that I had to go to Window 37 3/4 first, or that I didn't appear to be in their database so I mustn't exist even though I am standing right there.

But I had a different experience this morning.

Let's forget that on the way up the hill on my bike I got a flat tire. Let's forget that, once the doors opened, several people cut in front of me in line and I had to cut back in front of them with a loud "Excuse me!" Let's ignore the fact that halfway through my stay at the DMV the printer jammed while printing my registration and I thought I'd be there for 25 minutes just watching round women with puzzled looks shaking their heads and endlessly opening and closing the paper tray as if that would eventually fix everything.

None of those things could affect the fact that I was actually well served by the DMV this morning.

What?!
I know, I can hear the collective gasp of my readers as you wonder how this can be. Let alone how am I going to rant about something in my customary way if I have to admit that the DMV actually did well by me today? Well, I'll get to the ranting bit further down, have no fear.

First, let me tell you about the good experience.

I went early, before they opened, which is important if you don't want to spend three hours at the DMV. I stood in line outside, and aside from the aforementioned cutting incident all went well and I was one of the first 25 or so people served.

I had five different things I needed to do at the DMV, so I had every right to expect this to be a tedious endeavor. I had to:
  • Change my address in the DMV's records
  • Pick up registration tags
  • Get a change-of-address form for Velma
  • Add Velma to my car's title
  • Get a new California ID card
The woman who helped me was not overly friendly but not nearly as officious as people in this line of work usually are. Usually I get the Professional Petty Bureaucrat, Grade A. You can guess what the A stands for.

She knew just what to do, even though I needed several things. She was able to do three and a half out of five of them right there without redirecting me to another window yet. That was a good sign. The paper jam didn't take as long as it could have to resolve, and within a relatively short time I had my registration updated, my car title updated, a change-of-address form for Velma, a change-of-address card to stick on my drivers license, a receipt to pick up my tags at Window 17, and a receipt for my new ID and to take to Window B for a picture.

Now, admittedly this took less time because I was prepared. Due to Velma's foresight, I had info pre-filled-in on the the car title, and I had paid my registration online months ago; I just needed to physically pick up the tags since they could not longer mail them to me (since we moved, and the US Postal Service will not forward mail from the DMV to a new address, it just goes back to Sacramento. Tip: You should always make the DMV one of your first change-of-address notifications when you move).

So off I went to Window 17, which only had one person in line (amazing!), and then off I went to Window B to get my picture taken (also had only one person in front of me, I know it's hard to believe).

All in all, I was in at 9:01 am and out at 9:29 am, and that must be some sort of record.

Now, I haven't been to a DMV office in a few years but this all struck me as an inordinately efficient visit. I don't know if this is normal at the San Francisco DMV office or not. I also wonder if people have had this sort of experience elsewhere in California. Has the DMV gotten more efficient? (Leave a comment with your experience.)

Is it just the offices?
Perhaps I should rephrase the question: Have DMV offices become more efficient? Because their website sucks.

The California DMV's website has enabled some important functions over the past few years, but the online offerings are still severely limited. If this was a business, they'd have been overcome by the competition years ago.



1. Online renewal is limited
Some people (not everyone) can renew their license or vehicle registrations online. To do this, you have to have a "Renewal Identification Number (RIN)" on your renewal notice when it comes in the mail. Not everyone gets one. Why not? Why can't everyone use this? The DMV's FAQ does not explain.

2. The things you can do online are limited
The DMV's service offerings are pretty paltry online. If I was the Governator I would have made a campaign promise out of this; it would've gotten tons of votes and would've been a PR line with serious legs: "Everyone hates going to the DMV. In this Internet age where you can do almost anything online, why should we have to go stand in a line just to get a piece of paper? If you re-elect me, the DMV we'll make will be the envy of every other state."

3. The things you can do online are tedious and cumbersome
Almost all the pages are weighted down in cumbersome, unnecessary bureaucracy. They're poorly written and organized. The web's leading technologies (and I don't mean cutting edge) are nowhere to be seen, instead the site uses poorly thought-out forms and many actions require you to download PDFs when they could just as easily be done without it. Case in point: The "New Online Refund Program" is touted with the link "Simple Refunds." But the process begins with "You need Adobe Acrobat Reader 4.0 or above to view/print the instructions. Click the button below 'Get Acrobat Reader' to download this free software." What?! If I have to download something and open a separate PDF, then it's neither "simple" nor "online" at all!

4. The site is built for hopelessly outdated browsers
I quote from one of the FAQ pages: "For Internet Explorer or Netscape Communicator/Navigator, you must have version 4.0 or higher." They even have the old "Netscape now!" button on the page. It's like a trip back to 1997. And I just love that the DMV's logo right next to this has the slogan "Driving change..." plastered across it. *guffaw*

...the list goes on, but I should really be charging them for this usability analysis.

Outsource the DMV website
It doesn't happen often that I'm a proponent for privatization, but I wonder if California's DMV website would be a good case. At the very least, it's evident that the site needs to be outsourced to a competent company. The current offering is embarrassingly inadequate considering this state is home to Silicon Valley.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I had to scrub my hands for 3 minutes

Got a flat tire on my bike on the way to work yesterday : (

Changed it today in the bike storage room at work, and had to scrub fo' evah to get all the black road-crud off my hands. Hmm. And I breath all that exhaust and crap in every day? Blech : P

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