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, February 28, 2005

Time out for funny cats

Because you can never have enough funny pictures of cats.

Jesus was a democrat

Cool new T-shirt site IHeartBlue will donate 5% of purchases to progressive organizations keeping the pressure on the fellows in DC who think that family values only defined as going to Church on Sunday and owning as many assault rifles as possible.

Six Apart has redesigned their site(s)

Six Apart, the company that brings us Moveable Type, TypePad, and recently bought Livejournal (and the company that I really really wanted to work for back when I was beginning to look for a job), has redesigned their corporate site. It's good, very clean and lots of added new content.

They moved to SF in December and I'd been wondering where their new location was. The new address is on their website, and it turns out they're about six blocks away from CNET. Does that mean we're...dare I say it...six apart?

(Okay, it's more like five, but how could I resist?)

So anyway, I was out walking today, nowhere near the Six Apart offices, because, y'know, I'm not a stalker or anything, and I walked down this little side street, as I'm wont to do, and there were all these birds singing and some great jazz saxophone in the air.

This is decidedly not the normal soundtrack of downtown SF, nor even SOMA, so I had to intestigate. There was this guy out back of his business playing sax along to some music on the stereo, and it rung around the whole street.

The best thing was, he had this audience of dozens of birds that were all perched on his fence and lining all the wires and trees and fire escapes across the alley from his place. It was really cool, as if the music had attracted them, and it seriously seemed as if they were all kind of hanging out looking at him playing. Okay, so his birdbath and bird feeder may have had a little to do with it, but it still made me wonder how much of it was the music...

Friday, February 25, 2005

Things I don't like about working every weekday 9-6

I really, really like my (still semi-) new job.

But the switch to a regular five-day-a-week work week with regular hours has definitely been a change for me. I've never worked anyplace -- ever -- where they actually needed me to be there at 9am. In fact, at the only three jobs I've ever had that weren't working for myself, I told them when they hired me that I'd be in no earlier than 10am, and if they wanted me to come in any earlier than that they'd better be prepared to deal with the psychological issues caused by my having to sit in rush hour traffic.

So here is a short list* of things that aren't that great about having to work every day 9-6:

1. Waking up at 7:40am
2. Getting out of bed (at 8:28am)
3. I don't get to listen to NPR all day long anymore, like I did when I worked at home 2 or 3 days a week. I sometimes listen on the Internet at work, but the sound quality of KQED's stream is terrible, plus it's harder to concentrate on some aspects of my work when I have people talking in my head. As opposed to those other times when I have other people talking in my head.
4. Having to either prepare lunch beforehand or eat out at lunchtime (gets expensive). Or go hungry. Which I do sometimes.
5. Don't have all my iTunes with me (only �7,000 on my PowerBook, 10,500+ on my G4 at home). Although I'd like to try to put the rest on my laptop if I can figure out how to copy all the settings too. Don't want to lose all my ratings and playlists.
6. Actually have to get dressed before noon. They frown on me arriving at work in my underwear.

* I reserve the right to amend this list.

Coming soon: Things I do like about working every weekday 9-6. (Wheee! Lists are fun!)

Weekend plans

In no particular order.

1. Visit my dad and help him move stuff
2. Cicero's with dad and Velma
3. La Fondue with Olyapinenutcase
4. Take photos of yarns for the website I'm designing for Velma's dad
5. Take some hot naked photos of the cute redhead
6. Lots of butt grabbing and breast holding
7. Menlo Park farmer's market
8. Try to track Jason down and give him one of his gifts, and see if the other one ever arrived
9. Decide whether to buy The Art of Modern Rock before the price increases on Monday
10. Buy the Judi Bari book
11. See if I have enough time to get Dave his Queensr�che T-shirt
12. Get some backup hardware or at least DVDs at Fry's

Crap, that's a lot more I have to do this weekend than I thought.

Why I haven't been posting as regularly

Okay, I've lapsed a little on the posting in the past couple weeks. And I've especially lapsed on the Photo of the Day.

The latter is partly because, since the death of my beloved Sony F707, it's been a lot less enjoyable to take photos. I've been using a borrowed Olympus from Ynnej, and while I'm very appreciative that she's loaned it to me for so many months, it's a pretty old camera, with some pretty limited functionality even in manual mode. So taking the sort of photos I like to take is not really possible a lot of the time.

But I went out for a short walk today at work, and walked up Bryant from 1st, and took a few decent shots, so here's one (one that's actually in focus -- I wish this camera had a manual focus ring like my old one did).

Photo of the Day | February 25, 2005 | Bryant Street, San Francisco

The other reason I've lapsed a little on the posting is that I've simply been really busy at work on a huge project. Last month my boss put me in charge of redesigning the entire website. This is a large and weighty responsibility, not to mention a task that requires a lot of work and time. Luckily, she thought it important enough to give all my normal design tasks to our other designer, my compatriate Stellah, and let me have the month of February to concentrate on the redesign almost exclusively.

This has been fun. And it's much needed. DL hasn't had a major design overhaul in five years, which is about 80 in Internet years. And since we get a couple million visitors a day and we're one of the major revenue streams for CNET, a redesign is long overdue.

Anyway, by the end of the day when I get home, I'm usually too tired and, more importantly, too tired of looking at web pages, to do any posting. But things will pick up soon, and then you can all go back to regularly ignoring my long, boring posts. Like this one.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Darryl Cherney retires

Or does he?

If you're going to buy a new iPod'd better make sure you have a spare FireWire cable lying around.

I hope this more doesn't mean Apple's going to stop including FireWire ports on future computers. I think they're already putting 1 instead of 2 on some models. Lame.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

They wear ties? Really?

Ever wonder what happens to skinheads when they get old, get married, have kids, and move to the suburbs? The Infiltrator learns this and more during a meal at Applebee's. Makes me shudder.

Korn guitarist finds God, leaves band

Of course. Makes perfect sense.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Fascinating early Apple stories

I've never been that terribly interested in the many books that have come out over the years about Apple; I never bought a one.

But having grown up in the Silicon Valley, witnessing it all happening around me, and having been an early user of Apples and Macs when I was in grade school and high school, it's hard not to be somewhat interested. Of course, the Mac platform is an integral part of my life now, and has been for almost 20 years.

Today I use it for nearly every aspect of my life, from listening to music, managing my accounts, purchasing books and many other things, viewing and sorting and editing my photos, writing and editing, watching movies, listening to the radio, and communicating with my friends and family. Not to mention that my livelihood depends on Macs.

Considering the extent to which I use Macs in my life today, and for how long I've been using them (I remember using the little 128k with the 7-inch black and white monitor, and no internal hard drive, everything fitting on one tiny floppy), perhaps it's strange that I've never been that interested in the history that brought it all about.

This changed somewhat when I ran across the other day and spent about two hours reading stories about the early days of the Mac, written by the guys who were there.

I was particularly interested to read about Steve Jobs' yelling at Bill Gates about stealing the Mac's mouse and interface ideas for Windows, about when Andy Hertzfeld learned who was responsible for a particularly embarassing game on the PC, and Jobs' (in)famous Reality Distortion Field. lays it all bare. It's honest and forthright, at one moment showing an obvious pride in some of Apple's great accomplishments, at the next moment recalling the poorly-handled Stalin-esque mass firing of most of the Apple II team.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

A radio station website that doesn't suck

I finally found a radio station with a website that doesn't totally suck.

Of course, it has to be in Seattle. Because apparently stations in the San Francisco Bay Area are not allowed to have a decent website, even when they finally give it a much-needed redesign (which sucks just as bad as the old one). What, did they have the interns design it?

Interestingly, this is an instance of backwards-logic where the for-profit stations have really crappy websites, while the nonprofits like KQED and KEXP have really good ones. I wonder if radio is the only industry where this is true? After all, there aren't many other industries where for-profit companies and nonprofit orgs compete.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Interactive fiction

Back in the mid-'80s, a then-famous computer game company named Infocom put out a game version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Notice that I called it a "computer game" company, not a "video game" company. This was well before video games took off. Not before they existed, just before they exploded and turned into the huge industry they are now.

Infocom made what they termed "interactive fiction" games. Perhaps you remember (or at least have heard of) Zork. Or, if you're really cool, (or just really old and were a geek like I was when I was 12), you remember the game Adventure, which started on mainframes. Yes. Mainframes. This was pre-personal computers, people. Yes, I'm that old.

I was in high school when the Hitchhiker's game came out. Infocom was huge at the time, and it was huge that they were putting out a Hitchhiker's game. I remember pilfering a copy and playing it with my friend Jim Stickney on his Apple II. Yes, this was pre-Macintosh. Yes, I'm that old.

This was a role playing game. I know some of you have heard of that. You played the role of Arthur Dent, the hapless human whose house gets knocked down at the beginning of the book. And the radio series. And the record album. And the play. And the movie (but more about that later).

Unlike the RPGs of today, there were no graphics in this game. That's right, none at all. It was all ugly green text on a black screen (you did click on the Apple II link, didn't you?), almost as enjoyable to look at as a DOS startup screen. But it didn't need to be good-looking, because it was written by Douglas Adams. And it was brilliant. It contained all of his wit, all of the absurdity of the now well-known novels, and step after step it kept you guessing and anguishing and making mistakes and ending up dead and pulling your hair out (explains a lot, doesn't it?).

You see, the plot of the game, while based on the characters and events in the books, didn't exactly follow the storyline of the books. That's right, as usual, Douglas threw his fans into a tizzy by changing things around again, as he tended to do in each and every iteration of the infamous Hitchhiker's series. So, while it helps a lot to be familiar with the books, it doesn't mean you'll actually win the game.

Jim and I played that game to death. I think we finally solved it, but we certainly had to use the Hint Book (sold separately).

I still have the game and its cool packaging, or most of it anyway (it came with a Don't Panic button, some pocket fluff, and Vogon-signed orders for the destruction of the Earth, among other things). I even have the 5-inch floppy disk it came on, although you'd have a hard time finding anyone who still has a computer that can play it.

But the great thing is, now I don't have to.

The BBC has brought back the game, put it online, and even added a graphical interface so it's actually interesting to look at as well as frustrating as hell and completely and utterly enjoyable to play.

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Sunday, February 13, 2005

From the archive

I was spending a lot of time on my portfolio when I was searching for a job, but I haven't had as much time to do that now that I actually have one. But one of the projects I worked on a few years ago was a logo and stationery system for a nonprofit that works on affordable housing issues, Housing America.

Most people who know me have never seen this design, and it's never been on any of my online portfolios, so I thought I'd dig it out of the archive for show and tell (okay, to brag).

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

A new feature I've been working on

This design took about 3 or 3.5 hours to do today. There's a second page to the manuscript, so I'll have to do a couple more hours in Photoshop. I might do the HTML/CSS, I'm not sure at this point.

It's a cool feature, and uncovers a lot of stuff many people probably don't know about iTunes. It's all stuff I knew, unfortunately, but that's alright. And it's written exclusively for Windows users at this point (although Mac users can figure out almost all of the tips by swapping the PC hotkeys for the equivalent Mac ones).

The plan is to revise the feature for Mac users later, since gets a lot less Mac traffic (there are much better dedicated Mac OS websites).

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Things everyone contemplating buying an SUV should know

And presented in a unique way on the Flash-based site [sound]


Flavorpill is a really well-designed arts and culture newsletter with editions for San Francisco, London, LA, NYC, and Chicago.

I subscribe to it because it's really cool to look at. Each week's header is designed by a different artist. It just so happend that I was informed last week that would be sponsoring Flavorpill and that I needed to come up with the DL-branded section headers. So this week's edition features one of my latest creations.

It's the sort of fast-turnaround brand-building advertising work I've done a number of in the past four months here. I'm happy with some of them (like the Motor Trend ad) and not so enthusiastic about others, but I quite like the copy and concept for this one. Works well for the intended audience, I think.

Now I'm trendy

I've eschewed Moleskine notebooks because they seemed so trendy. Not to mention expensive. But I've been looking for a proper pocket-sized notebook for a couple months, and have been completely unsatisfied with all the ones I've seen in book shops, stationery stores, drugstores, and even the MoMA gift shop, where I thought for sure I'd find something I liked.

I need something sturdy. It has to withstand being in my back pants pocket all the time, and that means it's going to get bent up.

I use a notebook constantly since I moved to The City. There's simply so much I want to jot down. I'll pass a poster or fliers in my neighborhood and I want to look up the band or store or artist or URL; there are stores I pass that I don't have time to go in, or they're closed, and I want to check them out online later or remember to return when they're open. There are the little day-to-day occurences and oddities that one only experiences in the urban jungle, and I need to note them down before I forget.

I've been using a small spiral-bound notebook, but the thing gets absolutely destroyed within about two weeks. And it's almost out of pages.

Last week I came across a packet of three small Moleskine notebooks, only a few dozen pages apiece, and pocket-size. These are perfect: They fit in my back pocket and they're slim enough to not be annoying to sit on, they're sturdy enough that they'll last a couple months or so, which is all I need, because I'll fill the first one up just in time for it to be unrecognizably mangled, then I can move on to the next one (they came in a set of three, remember?). Best of all, the set was just a tad over $7.

They don't seem to have the three-notebook set listed on their website, but I found mine at Stacey's Booksellers on Market.