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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Thursday, January 07, 2010

“Find my iPhone” function = mixed results

Having returned from a short getaway trip to Orr Hot Springs last week with the redhead, I panicked for a few minutes when I couldn’t find my phone in my backpack.

When we arrived there, I had turned it to Airplane Mode and put it in my backpack, since there was no cell reception. When we returned home a couple days later, it wasn’t there. Begin to panic.

Since Orr Hot Springs has no locks on lockers or rooms, I was definitely thinking there was an iPhone thief. I logged in to Mobile Me to use the “Find my iPhone” feature, and it didn’t work. Deepening panic.

A minute later I thought of one other place where the missing phone might be, and there it was! I’d forgotten that I’d slipped it into the bag of cables and chargers that accompany us on trips.

I went back to try “Find my iPhone” again, making sure Airplane Mode was off and even Googling the setup process to make sure finding was enabled. It still didn’t locate my phone, which was now sitting right next to the computer, about 4 feet from the wifi connection. Meh.

Sadly, I don’t know whether to blame AT&T or Apple.

Update: I tried it again a couple days later, and this time it worked. Hmmm. Leads me to blame AT&T, since my cell signal is notoriously flaky at home. Doesn’t explain why it didn’t work over my Wifi connection, though. Still meh.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Photo featured in LA Times

My photo of redwood seedlings has been featured on the Los Angeles Times’ website, alongside another holiday gift guide and mention of Save the Redwoods League.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Eoin Colfer at the Apple Store

I was surprised there were so few people at the Apple Store on Wednesday, October 28, to see Eoin Colfer, author of the much-anticipated sixth Hitchhiker’s novel, And Another Thing.... There were fewer than a dozen people seated in the theater portion of Apple’s flagship San Francisco location at One Stockton Street. Granted, it was 1 in the afternoon and most people would be at work, but surely there are plenty of Hitchhiker’s fans who work in downtown San Francisco and could’ve strolled over on their lunch hour.

The lackluster showing seemed to confirm my suspicions that U.S. marketing for and overall public awareness of the book has trailed behind awareness in the U.K.. Or perhaps it was just that it was such a strange venue for an author talk and book signing? It’s hard to say, since And Another Thing... has surfaced on the New York Times bestseller list at number 20,, which isn’t bad, although it currently isn’t even in the top 100 on (although it’s number 48 on

Colfer was funny and engaging throughout his talk, self-effacing about the turnout (a few more people trickled in throughout the hour), and went quickly to questions from the audience. Since the audience was so small, everyone who wanted to ask something had a chance. In fact, plenty of chance. I ended up asking several questions since most of the other people had run out of questions.

My questions were more or less as follows, but I won’t try to report his answers verbatim, since he went on quite a while for each one, often rambling into some funny aside or three. You’ll have to wait until Apple posts the podcast of the event on the iTunes Music Store (likely in a month), upon which maybe I’ll transcribe his actual answers here.

How many times so far in the U.S. have you had to explain to people how to pronounce your name? It’s pronounced just like “Owen,” and he said it’s just the old Irish spelling. I asked him this in part because I pronounced it “Ewan” for a couple months before I went to his website, where it helpfully says “It’s pronounced Owen!” right in the header : )

Tell us about Hitchcon. I asked this mostly so he’d tell everyone else about it, and to give him something to talk about. I’d already read a lot about it in the Guardian’s coverage. Hitchcon was earlier this last month in London, and it’s where the new book premiered, on the 30th anniversary of the original book’s release. It was also the first time Eoin was to face the skeptical Hitchhikers fans in person, and the first time he’d do a reading from the book. He was a bit nervous, to say the least. Among other cool things at the weekend event, a huge amount of the original cast members of the radio and TV series reenacted parts of the scripts live on stage. If it hadn’t been the same weekend on which I’d planned our anniversary getaway, I might’ve flown to London for a week.

What did you do before writing? He was a school teacher.

Have your books been translated into other languages? The reason I ask is because I heard recently that some uniquely British-type things in J.K. Rowling’s books have to be changed to make sense to other cultures, and I’m wondering how you’d feel about that. I’d heard a snippet on NPR about some of the people who do the translations, and was slightly appalled to learn they sometimes edit things completely out because they’re deemed too British, and changed to something more culturally understandable to a child in, say, Ethiopia or Malaysia. I felt this was ridiculous; how else would a child in Malaysia learn about the strange quirks of British private schools if it weren’t in books like the Harry Potter series? I didn’t go into that much depth with my question, mind you. Colfer said it wasn’t usually a big problem for his books, although he recalled the Russian translator had a tough time with the fairies in his Artemis Fowl series, as in Russian folklore there’s only one sort of fairy, and in Irish there are all sorts, from dwarves to elves to trolls, and so on.

After the talk and Q&A, a couple people milled around talking with Colfer and a gentleman who must’ve been with the publisher or PR firm or something, as he’d quite clearly been Douglas Adams’ representative in the Bay Area years ago as well. Together we recalled the last two times Adams was in the Bay Area on book tours for So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish and Mostly Harmless. The former was the tour on which I met Adams, which I’ve talked about before, and on the latter I only caught his appearance on the Jim Eason program on KGO AM.

I haven’t read the new book yet, as I’ve been meaning to reread the last few Hitchhiker’s books (I’ve read the first two or three many, many times, but it’s been a long time since I re-read either of the last two), plus I was in the middle of a couple other books. I’ll post a review when I’ve gotten to And Another Thing..., and I’ll also get around to posting my mini reviews of his Artemis Fowl series which I started reading early in 2009.

Photos from the event.

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

A spooky story for Halloween

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, October 26, 2009

The history of

History and Name

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early technology

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

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

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

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

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

10+ years

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

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

Version 1

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

Version 2

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

Version 3

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

Versions 4.0, 4.1, and 4.2

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

Version 5


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

Version 6

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

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Hitchin’ branding featured on Broke-Ass Bride

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

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Thursday, 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 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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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Heinlein collection = ~675

Some of my loyal readers no doubt know I collect stuff by science fiction’s Grand Master, Robert A. Heinlein (you could hardly miss the fact if you’ve been to our flat). Indeed, we have a great many books in our place, quite aside from my collection of Heinlein stuff.

Sometimes people ask us how many books we own, and we have no idea really. I thought I’d just count the Heinlein stuff first, since it would only take 15 minutes or so : )

As of June 11, 2009
  • Hardcover books (fiction) by Heinlein: 171 (including 30 leather-bound editions and 19 foreign language editions)
  • Paperback books (fiction) by Heinlein: 191
  • Hardcover collections containing fiction by Heinlein: 33
  • Paperback collections containing fiction by Heinlein: 41
  • Pulp magazines containing fiction by Heinlein: 120
  • Nonfiction books, etc. by/containing Heinlein: ~50
  • Books, articles, etc. about Heinlein: ~47
  • Related books, games, comic books, etc.: ~82
  • Audiobooks and misc. CDs: ~20
  • DVDs: 7
  • Records: 1
Total books and magazines: ~675

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

What I’ve been doing (May 2009)

list #1
list #2
list #3
list #4
list #5
list #6
list #7

List #8, started May 1:
  • Had Jason and Phu over for dinner. After, we all went to Cafe Gratitude for dessert.
  • Did more laundry.
  • Updated a couple of my posts:
  • Scanned three book covers for the guy who makes high-quality reproductions of pre-1970 first edition jackets.
  • Went to Walgreens with Velma. I’ve decided that the one at 23rd and Mission is small, with a lousy selection, and is organized poorly. Meh.
  • Moved some stuff around in the kitchen and made a new place for a box to collect Tetra Pak containers for recycling.
  • Read the Wikipedia page on space elevators
  • Tried again to get a pound of kona coffee from the Park Bench Cafe. Closed again. At 3pm. With the Open sign on in the window again. WTF, damn place is always closed!
  • Had coffee and caught up with Mike from Whiskey Media.
  • Watched some videos on Flash Catalyst and Flex at Adobe Labs.
  • Talked with a recruiter from a talent agency that works exclusively with creatives,
  • Underwent an excessively long interview (4.5 hours) at a company. Had to do a lot of advance preparation too. More about that another time.
  • Went to the South Bay with Velma to take my mom out for brunch for Mothers’ Day (went to Flea St. Café, which is great), and run some errands. Also picked up a bunch of old SF pulps for a steal of a price, considering their excellent condition.
  • Watered the garden.
  • Washed lots of dishes.
  • Scanned a bunch of old prints and added as much meta data to them as I could, including asking a couple people if they knew the names of people in some of the pictures.
  • Read a bunch of articles on design, UX, technology, etc.
  • Cleaned mold out of the coffee maker since someone forgot to take the filter and used grounds out of it last time it was put away, several months ago (we normally use a single-cup funnel, generally only breaking out the bigger machine when we have party or the like).
  • Wrote a brief list of recommended improvements for CNET’s new email newsletter design (since they asked for feedback).
  • Made some more photo illustrations.
  • Went through, with Velma, our camping stuff, in preparation for a short trip.
  • Wrote out a first draft of categories, tags, and media types for one of my many side projects.
  • Researched a lot of companies for my job search.
  • Perused design patterns and trends at Elements of Design.
  • Updated my Apple ID and account and credit card settings.
  • Designed a new home page for Will probably start developing it in a month or so.
  • Updated my Technorati profile.
  • Read the online version of Getting Real, the product development book from 37 Signals.
  • Listened to Mayor Peter Drekmeier’s State of the City Address.
  • Collected more quotes for Ozark Handspun ads.
  • Went to see Ben Folds with Velma at the Fox Theater in Oakland. Damn good show.
  • Started a one-page design for another side project.
  • Did more laundry. And dishes.
  • Ate alpine strawberries from our garden.
  • Took some pictures of things we were giving away, recycling, or throwing away, which I wanted to kind of have a visual memory of.
  • Pre-ordered a bunch of new UK Hitchhiker’s editions and related books and audiobooks.
  • Organized some more files on my computer.
  • Watched Zia McCabe shaking her ass, and eat an apple, via live webcam feed while she was in the studio while DJing at W+K Radio.
  • Went on a five-day trip with Velma and Bob Merritt to Sequoia & Kings Canyon, with a 2.5-day backpacking/camping trip (a moderate one to test out whether I could carry a full backpack a year-plus after my broken clavicle).
  • Downloaded some podcasts of radio shows I’d missed.
  • Reviewed wireframes, did some industry research, and sketched some logo ideas for a potential new client project.
  • Put our DVDs back in order after someone mixed them all up.
  • Went to a meeting with a former co-worker who wanted some design help.
  • Had coffee with former co-worker Anne M.
  • Had lunch with Peter Drekmeier.
  • Went to a meeting with another former co-worker about a project.
  • Went to see Star Trek at an early show on a weekday.
  • Gave some quick design advice to a former co-worker on a postcard she designed for her business.
  • Took my mom, with Velma, out to dinner for her birthday, at the Beach Chalet in San Francisco.
  • Made another web design for a side project.
  • Kept this list, added links to it, and posted it.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

This is why I’m never going to work at Google

In the past year, a few people who knew I would be on the lookout for a new full-time position have asked me if I’d consider working at Google. These two articles provide some insights as to why Mark Bult + Google would probably never mix.

Doug Bowman, a highly experienced designer who I respect a lot, has left Google to join Twitter. Of his departure, he writes:
“...Without a person at (or near) the helm who thoroughly understands the principles and elements of Design, a company eventually runs out of reasons for design decisions. With every new design decision, critics cry foul. Without conviction, doubt creeps in. Instincts fail. ‘Is this the right move?’ When a company is filled with engineers, it turns to engineering to solve problems. Reduce each decision to a simple logic problem. Remove all subjectivity and just look at the data. Data in your favor? Ok, launch it. Data shows negative effects? Back to the drawing board. And that data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision, paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions.”
Read the rest...
This New York Times profile on Google’s VP for search products and user experience, Marissa Mayer, gives several examples of why I’d find the company a challenging environment (and I don’t mean “challenging” in the positive sense, I mean it as a diplomatic way of saying “constant pain-in-the-ass”). Not to mention the fact that I would never get so much as an interview at Google, since I didn’t even take the SAT:
“At a recent personnel meeting, she homes in on grade-point averages and SAT scores to narrow a list of candidates, many having graduated from Ivy League schools, whom she wanted to meet as part of a program to foster in-house talent. In essence, math is used to solve a human problem: How do you predict whether an employee has the potential for success?”
Read the rest...
Don’t get me wrong, I use Google products a ton. Gmail is open all the time on my computer and Google Search is a daily routine, I use Google Maps a lot and Blogger runs this very blog you’re reading (at least as of this date). I’m a big fan of the Goog. I just don’t think I could ever work there.

Over the past few weeks of interviews and further reflection on what I want my next job to look like, I’ve become more convinced that I should concentrate on applying at smaller companies with less bureaucracy and institutional cruft. More on that later.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Mayor Peter Drekmeier

I’m a bit late reporting this, so I assume most people who’d care will have already heard, but for any of my far-flung readers who hadn’t already heard: Peter Drekmeier was elected mayor of Palo Alto early this year. Palo Alto’s mayor is elected from the ranks of the city council by his/her peers. Peter was elected by the public to the City Council in 2006, and he served as vice mayor last year.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Peter for 15 years, since first redesigning the official international 1990 Earth Day logo for 1993’s Bay Area Earth Day. I did a lot of designs for Peter, Earth Day, and Bay Area Action (BAA) over the years, and he later asked me to join BAA’s council (their term for the board of directors). After BAA’s merger with the PCCF in 2000, Peter returned to the newly-renamed organization, Acterra, to be co-executive director, and he told me that one of his goals was to hire me full-time. It took a couple years, but it happened. I was grateful, since it was at the time the closest thing I’d ever had to what would have been my ideal job.

While I don’t get to work with him or see him all that much anymore (now that I live in San Francisco), we do get to work together occasionally still: I designed a logo for him a couple months ago, and did most of his campaign materials when he was first running for Palo Alto City Council in 2005. Of course, Peter was also our officiant at Mark & Velma’s Hitchin’.

If you still live in Palo Alto you may be interested in listening to Peter’s State of the City Address, given March 9, 2009, and available as streaming QuickTime audio from the Community Media Center. Not surprisingly, if you know Peter, he talks quite a bit about the environmental challenges facing Palo Alto, surrounding communities, and the nation.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

What I’ve been doing (Apr 2009)

list #1
list #2
list #3
list #4
list #5
list #6

List #7, started April 1:
  • Sorted and organized a bunch of my portfolio stuff to take photos of it, prioritized piles, and started taking more pictures. Doing studio photography with jury-rigged equipment on my kitchen table is not ideal, but it gets the job done. It also gives me a back ache (table’s too low!).
  • Added more projects to the new portfolio. Made a bunch of code changes.
  • Did more work on my latest contract job for Fitbit. They posted a couple of the screens on their blog. I didn’t devise their logo or the original design of the site, I’m just iterating off it and adding UI and functions.
  • Hung out with Jenny and Aaron for a while one afternoon talking art and stuff.
  • Drove Jenny back to the farm in Petaluma, just in time for dinner. Picked Velma up on my way home, after her meeting.
  • Completed some more case studies for the portfolio.
  • Encountered a problem with my old G4 tower that required me to open up the patient and reset its PMU switch.
  • Paid bills.
  • Wrote a letter (by hand) to Olya in Australia.
  • Applied for a few jobs.
  • Revised an ad for Ozark Handspun, sent it off to the publisher.
  • Cleaned the cat box.
  • Sliced and prepped Fitbit design assets for production before leaving town.
  • Updated my PowerBook’s OS X software and backed up my email.
  • Contacted an old HS friend who lives in Kansas City to see if she’d be anywhere near the middle of the state while Velma and I were in town.
  • Published post-dated Thursday Top 5s for the time I’d be out of town.
  • Packed for our trip.
  • Bought Ben Folds tickets.
  • Went to Missouri for a week. Did lots of stuff there. I’ll have to make a separate entry later for that list.
  • Lost my keys somewhere between SF and Missouri.
  • Fixed a few things around the house: Glued a broken coffee mug and watering wand, plied out Velma’s pepperspray holder that she’d jammed in the wrong way.
  • Did laundry.
  • Called and/or emailed about nine different agencies and locations in two cities/states (airport police, BART lost and found, TSA lost and found, airlines, et al) to see if anyone had turned in my keys.
  • Made a Google Profile.
  • Called my domain registrar to sort out an issue with four expired domains and get them back (with a hefty fee tacked on by the bastards at the .com über-registrar Verisign).
  • Cancelled our VOIP land line.
  • Did some weeding in the garden.
  • Researched databases again.
  • Applied for a few jobs, did a few phone interviews.
  • Put together some samples of my work (of things that aren’t in my portfolio yet) to send to potential employers.
  • Finally made some Moo cards.
  • Reorganized some of my books, records, and stuff.
  • Had dinner with and talked for a while with our friend Scott, who we put up for a couple nights while he was in town for a nonprofit technology conference.
  • Re-sent a notification to an advertiser who neglected to download the ad I sent before the download link expired.
  • Took some quick photos of a few books I have that may have been interesting to a guy who restores/produces first edition book jacket reproductions. Bought a few from him too.
  • Tried once again to get a pound of kona coffee from the one nearby cafe that carries it. They are closed more than half the times I go there, even in the middle of the day, often with the “Open” sign still on in the window. This time they were open, but out of kona again `,: /
  • Deposited checks at the credit union.
  • Kept this list, added links to it, and posted it.

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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, April 01, 2009

What I've been doing (Mar 2009)

list #1
list #2
list #3
list #4
list #5

List #6, started March 1:
  • Updated some posts:
  • Organized some more of my fonts. It’s an ongoing thing. I have lots and lots of fonts.
  • Scanned some old photos and uploaded them to Facebook, tagged people.
  • Met with a former coworker about doing some design work for his new company.
  • Went downtown and had coffee with Jason, took some photos in Yerba Buena Park during a break in the rain.
  • Moved some stuff in the garage/basement up off the floor and onto styrofoam, since the floor got wet from heavy rains.
  • Re-set up our land line, to try it out for two months and see if we still want one.
  • Took photos and scanned more stuff for the new portfolio. Since I don’t have proper studio equipment for product photography, there’s a lot of color-correction necessary in Photoshop.
  • Added a dozen or so people to my list of co-conspirators (the friends list in the sidebar of every journal entry).
  • Listened to the audio on Denis Leary’s website while I researched symbols in a book.
  • Read some Wikipedia pages:
  • Edited a couple Wikipedia pages for quick corrections/additions.
  • Gathered a lot of research and assets for data visualization, for a client project I was starting.
  • Spent 61 minutes on the phone with a PG&E rep who was actually helpful and listened to me (instead of interrupting me or telling me to hurry up, like the assholes at PG&E’s Credit Dept.). At the end of the call, I asked to talk with her supervisor so I could tell him/her what a good job she did, and then my call got cut off during transfer. Do’h! I even called back, but of course got a totally different rep, who explained they have multiple call centers and there was no way to figure out who the other rep was, even by looking at my account for her notes. *sigh* I tried.
  • Sent another letter to my local supervisor, urging passage of the Do Not Mail Resolution in San Francisco.
  • Perused a recent copy of my high school’s student newspaper. Fascinating to see that the more things change, the more things stay the same. But it's definitely cool that they have a pretty good website and full PDF downloads of each print issue.
  • Sprayed some WD40 on a couple squeeky doors around the flat.
  • Did laundry.
  • Let the cat in and out. A lot.
  • Made some digital illustrations.
  • Made a desktop image with my new logo.
  • Did a lot of work on a new client project.
  • Went with Velma to Flora Grubb Gardens, the pricey but lovely nursery, bought some plants, and put them in the ground.
  • Updated system software, iLife 09, and practically everything in the Adobe CS4 suite.
  • Finally, finally, finally found an old copy (from 1999!) of DiskDoubler (OS 9) on an old backup CD-ROM that I could install on my old G4 (which thankfully I kept, because it still runs OS 9, whereas my Intel Mac Pro does not), so I can finally unarchive hundreds of old files I’ve been trying to open for several years. Posted an archive of it on my website for the other people out there who are in the same boat I was in (I’ve been searching, periodically, on obscure Mac forums for a solution to this for about three years, and I’ve seen other people looking for the same thing).
  • Moved 75% of my office furniture around one night.
  • Designed a quick banner for the Silicon Valley Water Conservation Awards, plus a black and white version of the logo for laser engraving on the plaques.
  • Reorganized a small bit of stuff each day in my office. I’m a big fan of the “Chip away at it” principle.
  • Washed a lot of dishes.
  • Set to work on the time-consuming task of cleaning up me and Velma’s iTunes library. Not done yet, but tasks include:
  • Move the library and all associated files to my Mac Pro, since trying to fix it on the Mac Mini would take a lifetime.
  • Trick iTunes on my MacPro into using the other library (easy to do with aliases).
  • Consolidate music files from several HDs.
  • Try out some de-duping apps, fix broken songs and ID tags, find missing album art, etc.
  • Split music into separate libraries over two drives (maybe).
  • Run CoverScout to find missing album artwork. Try some other similar apps or scripts.
  • Ripped some more CDs to my iTunes. Also imported about 10,000 songs I hadn’t added yet.
  • Stayed awake for 32 hours to try to reset my sleep clock. Then crashed for about 15 hours. Now I’m kinda back where I started : \ meh. My body thinks it lives on a planet with a 26-hour day, which really fucks me up.
  • Looked into some iPod/iPhone stereos since Velma wants something that’ll play CDs, radio, and MP3s in the kitchen.
  • Met with Diane for an hour so she could give me some newly prepped files for her website.
  • Made a quick page on a friend’s website so she could make an announcement using an embedded video.
  • Created Facebook friends groups so I could keep track of people easier, and filter my Home activity stream for easier reading.
  • Made a list of all my hobby projects. 38 and counting, yikes!
  • Reviewed Laura Stec’s book on Amazon.
  • Revised my résumé and LinkedIn profile.
  • Walked to Pancho Villa for a burrito, taking photos on the way, during the best time of day for photography.
  • Sent thank you emails to two SF supervisors for passing the country’s first resolution supporting a national Do Not Mail Registry.
  • Helped Velma by starting dinner a couple times before she got home, so she could rush off to some meeting or another right after dinner. I’m really not a very skilled cook, so she had to email me directions : )
  • Went with Velma to a new (to us) Thai place in our neighborhood: Dusit Thai. Very good soups, but the main dishes were less flavorful than I had hoped for.
  • Had a quick Chocolate Chip Cookie Meeting with Velma.
  • Ate cookies.
  • Kept this list, added links to it, and posted it.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What I’ve been doing (Feb 2009)

If you missed the previous ones and you want to bore yourself to tears, here’s list #1, list #2, list #3, and list #4.

List #5, started January 31:
  • Uploaded some more screenshots of cool web designs to Flickr.
  • Designed a logo for the SIlicon Valley Water Conservation Awards.
  • Gave Jenny and Chris a ride back to the farm they’re working at in Petaluma, and stayed for dinner.
  • Worked a ton more on my portfolio, including going through many years’ worth of designs done while at and
  • Spent a couple hours exploring
  • Collected quotes about Ozark Handspun from the web.
  • Designed two new Ozark Handspun print ads.
  • Gave some input to Scott L., who was looking for feedback on a logo design.
  • Made some tweaks to my logo for the Silicon Valley Water Conservation Awards.
  • Tried for a third time to find a solution to Blogger’s broken feeds on my blog. Finally fixed it.
  • Researched how/where to best recycle my old mobile phone, did a hard reset to make sure all the data was wiped, removed the SIM and memory cards, and printed a shipping label to send it to Environmental Media Association’s fundraising program which utilizes Electronic Recyclers International.
  • Downloaded and tried out a couple new Mac diagnostic, repair, and optimization apps: CheckUp and SpeedTools Utilities.
  • Ordered 8 GB of RAM to put in my four empty slots. I’ve been running this computer on far too little RAM (less than a third of its’ max!) for far too long, and the latest versions of Firefox and Photoshop have been incredibly sluggish, so it was time for a relatively inexpensive upgrade ($185 at Other World Computing is a lot cheaper than a whole new computer).
  • Also ordered and installed a 1 GB module for Velma’s iBook.
  • Spent a lot of time perusing the website of a company I’d really like to work for.
  • Deleted 125 stores from Ozark Handspun’s retail page, and added 10 new ones.
  • Spent a few hours playing with iPhoto’s new capabilities.
  • Tried numerous things to fix Velma’s iPhoto, which keeps crashing.
  • Cleaned the cat box.
  • Vacuumed a bit.
  • Coded a lot.
  • Thought a lot, and tried to remember to make notes on most of it.
  • Went briefly to a Chinese Hew Year party at a neighbors’ house. We didn’t really know anyone but the neighbors, who we don’t know that well either, but I really wanted to see the inside of their awesome house. It’s a brilliantly done modern remodel. Made me want to move again/more.
  • Bought Velma the three-in-one-volume version of an antique book she’d wanted (I got her the cookbook volume before, but because of a miscommunication I didn’t know she wanted all three).
  • Went to Markleyville for a long weekend, to play in the snow with Velma, Christine, and Anthony. And two dogs and a cat.
  • Made a cool template in Photoshop that allows me to make photo-realistic pictures of documents as if they were spread open on a tabletop. Using in the portfolio.
  • Went to Stacey’s Books before they closed, then went to see Coraline in RealD with Velma.
  • Made some digital illustrations.
  • Went to Compostmodern 09.
  • Organized all the hard-copy notes that I’ve made over the past 4.5 years, planning my website’s redesign. I cut them all into logical pieces, since there were often random bits on all sorts of scraps of paper, and taped them into a notebook in a more usable order, where I can continue making more notes.
  • Sent a list of software title ideas to my friend Jason who edits the Download Dispatch Mac newsletter for CNET.
  • Did some research online.
  • Voted in the AIGA board elections.
  • Did a quick edit of some sheep and goat photos Velma took, for someone who was writing an article about Ozark Handspun.

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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 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 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 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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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Terrible news: Stacey’s Bookstore in SF to close in March

SFGate reports that the 85-year-old store on Market near 2nd has taken a severe hit with the latest plunge in the economy, on top of a 50% drop in sales since 2001.

I’m very sad about this. I used to shop almost every week at the Stacey’s in Cupertino when I lived in the South Bay, and I was bummed when they had to close that location years ago. I shopped all the time at the SF location once I moved up here, in part because it was only a few blocks from where I worked, but also because they have a great selection of magazines and design books, the two things I buy most of.

I buy a lot of stuff from Amazon, so some might call me a hypocrite. But I buy a lot of books and a lot of my magazines at independent local bookstores. And anyone who’s been to my house knows I have a lot of books.

Here are my top local (San Francisco) fave bookstores, in no particular order:

Stacey’s Bookstore
581 Market Street, near 2nd
Great selection of magazines and design books, plus one of the best selections of computer/technical books. Stacey’s is large, clean, and well organized, and I will miss it a great deal.

Alexander Book Co.
50 2nd Street, near Market
It’s easy to miss this store if you don’t know it’s there, but they have a fantastic selection of graphic design books, maybe the best in the Bay Area, probably because they cater to students at the nearby Academy of Art University. Design books are pricey, typically being $35 to $55. I try not to go here too often ; )

Borderlands Books
866 Valencia Street, near 20th Street
This place only has sci-fi, fantasy, horror etc., with some graphic novels and a small selection of DVDs. I buy a lot of science fiction here and sometimes get really good recommendations from the staff. They carry some used but mostly new.

Modern Times
888 Valencia Street, near 20th Street
Full of leftist propaganda and I love it for that. Modern Times has a brilliant selection of progressive books on everything you can imagine, and it’s my go-to place to get the Slingshot organizer for Olya.

Dog Eared Books
900 Valencia Street, at 20th Street
I occasionally buy a used book here, but mostly I like Dog Eared’s selection of graphic novels and their terrific variety of outsider art books.

Aardvark Books
227 Church Street, near Market
I don’t get to this place very often but when I’m in the Castro I try to drop in here for a look through their big, round table in the front of the store featuring a ton of used graphic novels, comics, and art books. Most are in very good condition.

Adobe Books
3166 16th Street, near Valencia
I like this funky used bookstore but it’s really hard to find anything worthwhile in the mess of unorganized stacks of books. I usually take a quick look in the two or three sections I regularly peruse (art, photo, and sci-fi) when I’m waiting for my Pakwan takeout order to be ready. One of the coolest things I saw in 2004 was when a local artist was allowed to rearrange all the books by color for a couple months.

Please go support your local independent bookstore!

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*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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Saturday, January 03, 2009

2008 charitable giving

In 2007, Velma and I supported worthy causes with a little over 2% of our annual income (here’s the list of charities we supported in 2007). We made a goal of trying to increase that over the next few years to 5%.

Although I took off most of 2008 from paid work, we decided we didn’t want to slacken our efforts to donate to charity. After all, we’re financially pretty stable, we don’t have any debt except for Velma’s student loans, and most importantly, the necessary work done by charitable organizations doesn’t stop just because our income lessened this year.

Since we haven’t done our taxes yet, I’m not sure how much we increased our giving this year, but considering we’re giving to 18 of the organizations we gave to last year, plus we’ve added 16 new ones, I think we’re probably a lot closer to our 5% goal.

An experiment: Our do-not-mail policy
Fed up with the amount of solicitations we were receiving every month, in 2007 we sent letters along with most of our donations, asking charities to stop sending us mail. We spelled out exactly what was allowable and what wasn’t, and we made it clear our continued financial support was riding on their compliance. We decided to keep all the mail we’d receive throughout the year, and see who followed our instruction and who didn’t.

We are happy to report that the majority or our chosen nonprofits sent us no mail whatsoever, or only sent us what we asked for (we made exceptions for a few newsletters we wished to receive).

In December, we tallied up the results and assigned grades to each charity, based on their compliance (note: these grades have nothing to do with performance relating to their organizational missions; we considered that separately).

2008 scorecard
These are the organizations we supported in 2007 and 2008. Most of them received a letter with our check, thanking them for following our request and explaining that our continued support is conditional on them sending us no mail in 2009. We made a few exceptions for some of the orgs whose newsletters we like to receive, and we tell them all they can send us one (but not numerous) renewal notice when our membership expires.

Here are the orgs and their 2008 grades:

American Civil Liberties Union
The ACLU fights to protect the freedoms guaranteed by our Bill of Rights, a document that's in more peril seemingly every year. They are campaigning to close Guantánamo, working against HIV/AIDS discrimination, to reform discriminatory drug laws, and more.

Grade: The ACLU got a C because they sent us more mail than we’d asked for in 2008. We considered dropping them from our ongoing support, but instead decided to give them another chance and sent them a donation with a new letter, again explicitly asking them to send us no mail. Update: On December 31, while I was compiling this list, an ACLU canvasser showed up at our door. Even after I told her three times we’d just sent them a nice, fat check, she kept pushing for a donation. After that, I had to fight the inclination to give them an even lower score. Sheesh.

Amnesty International USA
Most people know a little about Amnesty International, but did you know how broad their focus really is, and how many worthwhile campaigns they have? Human rights violations in China, protection of refugees, corporate accountability, prisoners of conscience, and the crisis in Darfur are among their many campaigns.

Grade: AI got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.

Committee for Green Foothills
CGF is one of our favorite environmental organizations, in part because Velma used to work there and because Mark designed their logo and website. But mostly it’s because they have a 40+ year history of successful grassroots citizen campaigning to keep the farmlands, open space, and hills of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties from being over-developed. If it hadn’t been for CGF’s work over the past four decades, the South Bay and Peninsula would look more like the LA basin today.

Grade: CGF didn’t get scored this year because we never sent them our do-not-mail letter in 2007. However, they got one this December, and we’ll be watching them to see how they fare.

Earth First! Journal
Mario Savio, on the steps of Sproul Hall, said, “There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can't even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, the people who own it, that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

When the law won’t fix the problem, Earth First!ers put their bodies on the line to stop the destruction. Some of the Earth First!ers I’ve met were the bravest, most noble people I’ve ever known.

Grade: The EF! Journal got a B+ this year for only sending us one plea for a donation when their funds had run dangerously low.

Earthjustice began as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund and has provided legal assistance on environmental issues for almost 40 years, representing citizens groups, nonprofits, scientists, and others. “Environmental litigation has been key to preserving threatened natural resources and protecting people’s environmental rights. Lawsuits have protected millions of acres of wilderness and hundreds of endangered species. They have helped improve air and water quality and have forced polluting companies to clean up their discharges.” And I love their slogan: “Because the earth needs a good lawyer.”

Grade: Earthjustice got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.

Electronic Frontier Foundation
The EFF uses advocacy and lawsuits to preserve free speech rights in the context of today’s digital age. Among its many activities, EFF has participated in lawsuits in support of the college students who published information about the major security flaws in Diebold Election Systems, and against corporate and government infringement of the First Amendment rights of individuals, artists, journalists, bloggers, and others.

Grade: EFF got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.

Environmental Protection Information Center
The Environmental Protection Information Center has fought for the North Coast in the courts for years. Headwaters Grove probably wouldn't be standing today if it hadn't been for organizations like EPIC.

Grade: EPIC got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.

Good magazine
Good is a magazine, a website, and a collaboration of people, nonprofits, and businesses who give a damn. I enjoy its’ focus and coverage a lot, and I even love looking at it, as it’s very well designed.

Update: When you subscribe, Good lets you choose a nonprofit to support, and that nonprofit gets 100% of your subscription fee. Last year I chose 826 National, which is the umbrella for 826 Valencia (also known as the Pirate Store) in my neighborhood. Many people who have been to the Pirate Store don’t realize it’s actually a nonprofit that teaches students creative writing skills.

Grade: Good got an A+ in 2008. We received the magazine of course, but no solicitations other than the normal renewal statements.

A Permanent Mark (and Film Arts Foundation)
A Permanent Mark is a documentary film being made by our friend Holly Million about the effects of Agent Orange on Americans and Vietnamese who were exposed during and since the Vietnam War. The Film Arts Foundation is an independent media arts training facility and acts as Holly’s fiduciary agent for contributions to the documentary.

Grade: We didn’t assign a score here because we never sent Holly or Film Arts our do-not-mail letter.

We donated quite a bit to KQED in 2006, 2007, and 2008, so we were pretty disappointed that they didn’t follow our do-not-mail request. Especially since we listen to KQED FM every day, and we love the programming a lot.

We love KQED so much that we decided to give them a chance to redeem themselves. In December we sent a letter to KQED’s development director, explaining that our request was ignored and asking for a personal note assuring us that it would be followed in 2009, in return for which we would gladly send them a check. To bolster our point, we enclosed all the mail they sent us in 2008. It’s only been a few days since I sent the letter, but I’ll post an update here if we get a response.

Grade: KQED failed with a D. Of the three organizations that utterly failed to follow our do-not-mail policy, KQED was the second worst offender, sending us many renewal notices and multiple requests for upgrade donations.

Update Dec. 31: We received a very prompt, hand-addressed letter from KQED’s chief development officer, to whom we addressed our letter. She was very good about explaining what steps would be followed to complete our request: They would “code your account in our computer system to just send you one renewal request and the occasional invitation to an event” (which is exactly what we asked for), and “merge your two the renewal request you receive in the future (next year) will be addressed to both of you” (since Velma and I apparently had separate accounts in KQED’s system). She also included a few facts about KQED’s efforts toward sustainability (she said they have been carbon-neutral for two years and recently installed solar panels on their building), and, of course, she apologized for the confusion. I was very satisfied with her response and we were happy to send their check in the next day’s mail. If all goes well in 2009, KQED should get high marks next December/January.

National Public Radio
Even though we support three local radio stations around the U.S., I love NPR’s programming enough to send them a separate donation. Shows like “All Things Considered,” “Car Talk,” “Fresh Air,” “Marketplace,” “Talk of the Nation,” and “Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!” keep Velma and I both stimulated and entertained.

I just wish they had a better T-shirt so I could get one for our donation : )

Grade: NPR got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.

Northcoast Environmental Center
I really love the NEC and try to visit when I go to Humboldt County. They do fantastic education and grassroots work on all sorts of environmental issues, from species, watershed, and forestry advocacy to organizing the local Coastal Clean-Up events. Plus they present a local radio show, the “Econews Report,” and publish one of my favorite monthly newspapers, the Econews.

Grade: The NEC got a B- for two reasons: They sent a bit more mail than I’d prefer, but more importantly, they messed up our names on all our mailing labels last year and it took them several reminders before they got it right.

Pachamama Alliance
Pachamama Alliance works with the Achuar, an indigenous group living in the Amazon basin of Ecuador, to develop a sustainability and economic plan that will protect and manage the two million acres of their tropical rainforest territory.

Grade: Pachamama Alliance got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.

Planned Parenthood
Planned Parenthood is a vital resource in a country that’s incredibly backward about sexuality and where most people are hopelessly uninformed and misinformed about health and reproductive issues. They provide health and sexuality info to teens, women, and men, contraception, HIV/STD tests, pregnancy tests, and much more.

Grade: Sadly, Planned Parenthood got an F for sending us too much unwanted mail in 2008. Velma decided they didn’t get a second chance. We sent their development director a letter explaining the reason why, and telling them we were switching our support to NOW for 2009. Let’s hope it makes an impression and starts some internal discussion about donor requests.

Save the Redwoods League
Velma may work there, but that doesn’t stop us from giving them money. Save the Redwoods League was founded 90 years ago to acquire and protect what’s left of the redwoods. You probably think there are a lot of redwoods left. If it hadn’t been for SRL’s work over the last 90 years, there wouldn’t be any. Most of the redwoods in state and federal parks were originally bought by SRL and transferred to public ownership.

Grade: We didn’t assign SRL a score, since we never sent them our do-not-mail letter. They have an interesting policy, however, of not sending mail to any of their staff.

Trees Foundation
Trees is an umbrella support group for scores of small and medium regional groups in Mendocino and Humboldt Counties. They offer centralized support services for their member organizations, including GIS, marketing, fundraising, computer repair and tech support, web development, and graphic design. Our pal Scott Lamorte works there.

Grade: Trees got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.

WBEZ Chicago Public Radio and “This American Life”
This has been my absolute favorite radio program for years now, and I hate missing even one episode. While we listen to it on KQED, I feel strongly enough about the show to support it with a direct donation each year.

Grade: WBEZ and “This American Life” got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.

WNYC and “On The Media”
“On The Media” is my other favorite radio program, airing Sundays on KQED. Like NPR, WNYC creates a bunch of other great programming (“Radio Lab,” “Soundcheck,” and “Studio 360”) and I feel strongly enough about those shows and especially “On The Media” to send them a direct donation each year.

Grade: WNYC got a D grade as one of the worst offenders in 2008, sending us multiple donation requests and other such junk. Like KQED, they got a letter explaining that our prior do-not-mail request was ignored and asking for a personal note assuring us that it would be followed in 2009, in return for which we would gladly send them each a check. We also enclosed all the mail they sent us in 2008. We have yet to receive a response.

Wikimedia Foundation
Wikipedia is truly one of the world’s greatest resources, and truly one of the world’s greatest ideas. I use it almost every day, and even though the slogan is “free knowledge for everyone,” last year I decided we should pay for the privilege with a donation to the Wikimedia Foundation.

Grade: Wikimedia got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.

Our do-not-mail request may seem somewhat pretentious to some: How dare we expect nonprofits to cater to our whims? They’re not set up for special cases, their systems and databases just spit out automated lists and mailing labels.

True enough, too few nonprofits are set up to make exceptions for donors who ask for “special treatment.” However, I suggest that there are several strong reasons why more nonprofits should take the few small, easy steps to allow for such donor requests as our do-not-mail policy. And before the harrumphs start coming from the gallery, let me remind you that Velma and I speak from a position of significant experience in how nonprofit fundraising works. Velma was development director for a nonprofit for 2.5 years, and I was a board member for another nonprofit, including a year as chair of the development committee and several years as one of the the primary liaisons between the organization and its members.

Now, let us address some of the reasons why nonprofits should take seriously special requests such as ours...

It’s not rocket science, and we’re paying them to do it
Nonprofits aren’t stupid, they send out a lot of appeals because it works: It gets them donations. However, most nonprofits know that taking care of their donors also yields results too. Just like a for-profit corporation can build brand loyalty with consumers, a nonprofit that really listens to the requests of its members can count on that donor probably giving continually, and probably increasing their donations over time.

Velma and I communicate this to the nonprofits we support. Our year-end letters, sent with our checks, explicitly praised those organizations that followed our request of the previous year, explaining that was part of the reason we were sending another check. And in most cases, each of those nonprofits got more from us this year than last year. Those that didn’t follow our instructions got an explanation as well, with the hope that it would serve as impetus for a change in the organizations’ behavior, or at least would elicit some internal discussion.

When I worked at Acterra and served on the board, we used a Filemaker Pro database for our donor/membership list. In it we had fields for all kinds of information about each individual or family, like which of our programs they liked to support, how long they’d been members, who their contacts were on the board and staff, and many more. We also had checkboxes for “No mail,” “No newsletter,” “No phone calls,” and “No email.” Hundreds of members preferred to get their news from us via email, so the only time we would mail those people would be once a year, to tell them their membership was expiring.

Let’s face it, any organization can add a new field to their database. And if they can’t or won’t, I’m not inclined to send money to the lazy or incompetent. And just to be clear, it’s not piddling change we’re sending these nonprofits. All of the orgs Velma and I support yearly get between $50 and $500 from us, with most of them above $100. If an organization thinks our $50 or $100 isn’t worth a half-hour of their time to make a minor change to their database, I’m of the opinion that organization’s staff is overpaid already, and they obviously no longer need our money.

It’s better for the environment, and it saves them money
Many of the worst offenders sending out tons of junk mail are environmental organizations. I have declined to support the Sierra Club for years because they send so much junk mail. And worse yet, their mailings always contain things that are difficult or downright impossible to recycle! How many of those static stickers can I use? I like a lot of things about the Sierra Club, but I detest the hypocrisy displayed by their membership department.

Let’s consider the cradle-to-cradle cost of a typical year’s worth of mailings: First, paper must be made, so that’s forests cut down. Even if it’s partly recycled content, it’s never 100% recycled, and therefore some virgin pulp must be manufactured (BAA and Acterra were the only organizations I’ve ever known to have a policy of always using 100% recycled or tree-free paper for their mailings; and guess who urged the boards to pass those policies?).

Then there’s the bleaching of the paper (highly toxic and highly polluting to air and water). Then it must be trucked from a mill halfway across the country to a city. Then it’s trucked from the paper distributor to the printing company (diesel fumes are highly toxic). Then there’s the printing of the letters, calendars, newsletters, envelopes, etc. (the printing industry uses many toxic solvents et al).

Then all those mailings get sent out in all directions, to probably tens of thousands of households all over the country. That’s a lot of planes, trains, and US Postal Service trucks trundling around (more fuel consumption, more air pollution) to deliver little individual pieces of junk mail to various mailboxes.

And what happens to it all? Over 95% goes in the recycling bin, or more likely the trash.

Of course, the alternative is a lot less wasteful of oil, energy, and natural resources: By checking a little box in their database entry for Mark & Velma, all those nonprofits can prevent a lot of waste and pollution, and they even save the cost of printing and postage!

New charities
Along with the above charities which we decided to continue supporting from 2007 through 2008, we decided to support a few new ones last year. Below are the new causes we supported in 2008. They also received a letter instructing them to not send us mail in 2009. I’ll be sure to write an update about how our continuing experiment goes at the end of 2009.

American Institute of Graphic Arts
The AIGA is America’s premier organization advocating for the rights of artists, participating in critical analysis, and advancing education and ethical practices. I decided this year to renew my long lapsed membership.

California Academy of Sciences
The old Cal Academy was one of the coolest places we’d go on field trips back in elementary school. Early in 2008 Velma acquired a family membership for us and we were among those members who got a sneak peek the week before the new facility opened in September. While I was disappointed that the two-headed snake has long since expired, nothing else disappointed. Quite the opposite.

Clean Water Action
Clean Water Action is a national organization that utilizes policy research, political advocacy, and grassroots organizing to enact environmental protections and hold elected officials accountable to the public.

Courage Campaign
The Courage Campaign is one of two nonprofits we chose to support because of our outrage over California’s unconscionable assault on marriage equality.

Democratic National Committee
When a canvasser came to the door early in the campaign season, I was reluctant to give anything to the DNC. I’m not a Democrat or a Republican, and frankly I think both parties screw up pretty bad often enough. Plus I was still pissed about how poorly the DNC handled the 2004 election. Velma, however, gave the canvasser some money. I told him I’d think about donating to the DNC after I’d done some research. Many months later, I surprised myself by being impressed enough to support the DNC.

Environment California
I was impressed enough with this canvasser to give them some money.

Equality California
Equality California is the other nonprofit we chose to support because of Prop 8.

Global Lives Project
This nonprofit was founded by former BAA Schools Group member David Evan Harris. It’s an interesting video and art project that will bring viewers in contact with a taste of the diversity of the globe.
Velma donated to get me a Barack Obama T-shirt as a gift. I approve of MoveOn, especially some of their video/commercial campaigns, but I’m a little sick of getting so many emails.

National Organization for Women
Velma Decided we should switch out support to NOW since Planned Parenthood sent us so much unwanted mail in 2008 and we still wanted to contribute to a charity that works on reproductive rights.

Obama campaign
What else can we say? Barack got a few more bucks for his campaign, Velma got a T-shirt.

PlayPumps International
Kids play, water pumps! If you saw our Holiday 2008 Gift for Friends & Family, you already know about this innovative organization working to bring clean water to over 4,000 villages in Africa.

San Francisco Women Against Rape
SFWAR provides resources, support, advocacy, and education to strengthen the work of all individuals and communities in San Francisco that are responding to, healing from, and struggling to end sexual violence.

Slow Food USA
Slow Food USA envisions a world in which all people can eat food that is good for them, good for the people who grow it, and good for the planet.

Tuolumne River Trust
The Tuolumne River Trust promotes the stewardship of the Tuolumne River and its tributaries. Most people don’t realize that much of our water in the Bay Area comes from the Tuolumne. Our pal Peter Drekmeier works at this org.

Women’s Temple
Women’s Temple is a place where women believe in the healing powers of coming together and sharing the wisdom of their embodied spirits with each other. Velma was one of the organizers who took Women’s Temple to Burning Man in 2004.

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