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.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thursday Top 5

I’ve been too swamped to post the Thursday Top 5 on time for two weeks. Fortunately, no matter how busy I am, people still keep sending me funny and interesting stuff. A few of these below are recent finds, and a few are from the Top 5 archives. So here’s two weeks’ worth in one post, and I’ll try to be on time next week. Enjoy!

Please design a logo for me. With pie charts. For free.
As a follow-up to last week’s “How a Web Design Goes Straight To Hell,” James sent me this classic piece of humor.

How Twilight Works
In case you want to know what the whole Twilight hoopla is all about, The Oatmeal has explained it for us.

The FlatPak house
A cool prefab system. About / Photos.

Coca-Cola's Quest for the Perfect Bottle Starts with Plants
Coca-Cola has introduced the PlantBottle, a bottle made of PET plastic, 30% of which is sourced from Brazilian sugar cane and molasses. The company’s marketers will no doubt spin this as near to 100% “green” as they can safely get away with, and the vast majority of consumers will no doubt fail to note the difference between a bottle’s claim of “PlantBottle! 100% recyclable!” and the preferable goals of 100% renewable and 100% compostable. After all, the bottle is still 100% plastic, it's just that it’s partly plant-based plastic, instead of 100% petroleum byproduct. But, as GreenBiz columnist Marc Gunther notes, it’s a start. And a pretty good one.

The Muppets: Bohemian Rhapsody

Carl Kassell is retiring as the voice of “Morning Edition”
Thankfully, he’ll continue as judge and scorekeeper on “Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me!”. Carl is awesome. Enough said.

Rachel Maddow explains Washington D.C. gangs
Wait it out until until about 1:20. You will not be disappointed. PS: I loathe the poseur Joe Lieberman and hope he dies a horrible, burning death.

Beware the Death-Dealing Cockney Weasel
From the bizarre mind of illustrator Ryan Abegglen.

The Tetris God
I knew it. Bastard.

Breakdancing robot

The weekly Thursday Top 5 lists the five most notable, interesting, funny, outrageous, cool, or simply strange things of the week. It is intended for distractionary purposes only. Do not take orally. If ingested, seek a doctor’s advice. If you like it, share it with others, or check out the long list of previous entries.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

How to recycle practically anything

I’m a master recycler, but aseptic packages (like juice boxes and soy milk boxes) and Tyvek envelopes have been two of my most frustrating challenges. Even in San Francisco, where our recycling program is exceptional in the amount and variety of stuff it accepts, we can’t get rid of these items by just tossing them in the blue or green bins.

Google to the rescue. Today I found a great article from E magazine, “How to recycle practically anything”, which gave me answers to both of these.

The article is great, I recommend you peruse it if you ever wondered how to recycle any of the following:
  • aerosol cans
  • aluminum foil
  • autos, jet skis, boats, RVs, etc.
  • books
  • car batteries, motor oil, oil filters, antifreeze
  • carpet and padding
  • clothing
  • eyeglasses
  • fruit rinds, veggie scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags
  • magazines, catalogs, phone books
  • crayons, art supplies, wine corks, fabric
  • ewspaper, aluminum cans, metal cans
  • paper, cardboard boxes
  • plastic bags
  • 1–7 plastic containers
  • packaging “peanuts”
  • pots and pans
  • Priority Mail (Tyvek) envelopes
  • records
  • styrofoam
  • videotapes, floppy disks, Zip disks, DVDs, CDs, jewel cases
  • wire hangers
Two they didn’t cover, which I wish they would: wax paper and waxed containers like milk cartons. If you live in San Francisco, you can now put them in your compost bin. In most other places, I think this one’s still a challenge.

For many, plastic bags are also a little challenging since most curbside programs don’t take them (including San Francisco), but you can recycle clean bags at Safeway stores (in bins usually located near the front, outisde), so it’s just a matter of having the discipline to save them up and deliver them. In our home, we separate them into ones we can reuse and ones that aren’t worth it. We stuff them in a bin until it’s full, then find the largest bag and fill it with all the others, and migrate it to the garage or the trunk of the car, where we’ll remember to take it out the next time we go to Safeway.

E’s article also includes a few things you may not realize are hazardous materials, and shouldn’t be just thrown in the trash:
  • batteries
  • fluorescent lights
  • consumer electronics (iPods, cell phones, pagers, computers, etc.)
  • paint
  • smoke detectors
The last one I wish they’d covered was prescription medicine. While you can’t technically recycle it, it’s very hazardous to throw into the garbage, or worse yet, flush down the toilet. That stuff goes right into our water system and get gobbled up by fish, frogs, birds, and others, and it comes right back around to you and me in the form of rainwater and the fish we eat. Do you really want to eat salmon a la viagra?

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Thursday Top 5

Mac vs. PC: More than meets the eye
Great SFX short. See the large, HD version here.

Lemmy, the movie
Someone’s making a documentary about one of rock ’n’ roll’s baddest bad-ass. Need I warn that Lemmy is never safe for work?

Farewell Mr. President
See all the farewell videos on the YouTube channel. You have just 19 days to add your own. (Hooray!)

Herzog and the Monsters
Lesley Barnes uses an interesting animation technique, although it’s a bit hard to follow the story this way. The crappy YouTube video compression doesn’t help matters.

USPS offers free mail-in e-cycling
Got a new mobile phone for xmas? Get rid of those unwanted small electronics for free, using the USPS’s recycling program.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Who’s been naughty this year in the direct mail industry?

ForestEthics has released its annual Naughty/Nice List, their report on the direct mail industry and who’s been playing nice in the past year (phasing out their print catalogs, for example), and who’s been naughty (being secretive about the source of their paper, for example).

If you shop at or receive catalogs from any of these companies, you may want to download the 2-page PDF:
  • American Express
  • Bank of America
  • Bloomingdales
  • Capital One
  • Chase Bank
  • Citi
  • Crate & Barrel
  • Dell
  • Eddie Bauer
  • HSBC
  • JC Penney
  • L.L. Bean
  • Land’s End
  • Macy’s
  • Neiman Marcus
  • Patagonia
  • REI
  • Sears
  • Timberland
  • Victoria’s Secret
  • Williams-Sonoma

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Friday, November 07, 2008

“60 Minutes” follows illegal e-waste from U.S. to China

This Sunday’s “60 Minutes” episode takes us to Guiyu, China, one of the world’s most toxic cities, thanks to e-waste exported from countries like the United States. In Guiyu, pregnant women are six times more likely to result in miscarry, and seven out of ten children have overly high levels of toxic lead in their blood.

Importing e-waste is big business in developing countries, where it’s either landfilled (causing massive toxic waste dumps) or “recycled” by workers (often children) earning little to recover gold and other metals by burning the plastics off of electronic parts, exposing workers and the local environment to cancer-causing toxics.

The “60 Minutes” crew filming in China was accosted by thugs who didn’t want them filming at the e-waste site in Guiyu (see preview below, sorry about the commercials).

Some U.S. “recycling” companies are no better. The “60 Minutes” investigation learned the Colorado recycling company they caught on tape exporting CRTs illegally, and “42 other American firms just like it, were recently caught in a government sting. They all offered to break the law by selling such e-waste when solicited by a federal agent posing as a foreign importer.”

Watch the full “60 Minutes” investigation on Sunday, November 9, at 7 p.m. ET/PT, on CBS.

More about e-waste:
Coverage at CNET News
Basel Action Network
Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Notes from AIGA Compostmodern 2007 (part 2)

Last January I attended Compostmodern 2008, a green design conference presented by the AIGA SF.

I’ve already written about Boisset Family Estates and DeLoach Wines (“The environmental impact of the wine industry”), and CleanWell hand sanitizer and soap (“An alternative to normal antibacterial soaps”) (which I use and heartily endorse), but I hadn’t had time to write up some of my other notes and impressions.

My pocket journal (an ultra-thin Moleskine) is where I jot down such things while I’m out and about. My electronic journal (this here blog yer lookin’ at) is where I save those things for posterity, and share them with others. So here are a few ideas I heard speakers talking about, which made impressions on me:

Self-Indulgent Design
Designers practicing “self-indulgent design” is equal to driving a Hummer. Examples: Elaborate, unnecessarily long brochures, annual reports, and the like which often contain just three words per page and use fluorescent or metallic inks, plastic sleeves, and other wasteful and nearly impossible to recycle materials.

Low Rate of Paper Recycling
Still only 50% of paper is collected for recycling, and whether all of that actually gets recycled or not is another story. Yet 35% of the waste going to landfills is still paper! C’mon people! I can hardly believe that it’s still so difficult for people to just have two separate containers near their desk, and to be mindful of which one gets garbage and which one gets paper. This is not rocket science. A child can do it. And often, children do it way better than adults.

Electronic Design is Wasteful Too
One big eye-opener for me was something I already knew, but that I hadn’t really processed completely (or maybe I just didn’t want to admit it to myself): Web designers aren’t really polluting and wasting less than print designers. We think of the web and electronic design as a more pure and less wasteful design process, bypassing the pesky problem of deforestation for the pulping of our paper and the nasty chemicals used in the printing process. But in fact, always-on web servers and storage for videos, PDFs, and other files is not free. Servers = energy consumption = oil drilling, coal burning, even *yikes* nuclear energy (and waste). And let’s not forget that servers and hard drives go bad within a few years, all those cellphones and other nifty electronic devices we’re designing iApps for become some Third World country’s e-waste problem (and those countries’ poverty, environmental, and health problems eventually become our problem).

And here are a few links to things I heard about or saw at the conference:
PG&E started a huge publicity campaign a year or so ago under the laudable banner of “Let’s Green This City.” A group of citizens has formed the Green Guerrillas Against Greenwash to unmask the $10 million publicity campaign as mere greenwashing, and offers San Franciscans an alternative in the form of Proposition H.
An independent (not owned or sponsored by any paper companies) database of information that designers and printers can use to specify paper stocks. It’s a paid service ($19.95/mo. or $158.40/yr.), and I haven’t paid for it, so I don’t know how good it is. They have some free paper, printing, and environmental information available too, but you can’t access the paper database without paying for membership.

Encyclopedia of Life is a new project that intends to harness crowdsourcing techniques to create a vast online resource of information about the Earth’s 1.8 million known species.

The Designers Accord
“A global coalition of designers, educators, researchers, engineers, and corporate leaders, working together to create positive environmental and social impact.” I joined earlier this year.

Core77 / BusinessWeek Design Directory
I’d seen a couple times before, but hadn’t bothered to list myself until this year. In participation with the Designers Accord, you can search the directory exclusively for firms/individuals who have certified that they’ve adopted the accord.

Freedom of the Press
In the gallery I observed a single display copy of Freedom of the Press, a newsprint publication by Brian Ponto and Lindsay Ballant. In excellent culture-jamming style, in 2004 they commandeered newspaper racks in New York and inserted their own newspaper with stark observations on American politics and how Americans get their news.
A satirical nod acknowledging how many people (including me) view carbon trading: “Cheatneutral offsets your cheating by funding someone else to be faithful and not cheat. This neutralises the pain and unhappy emotion and leaves you with a clear conscience.”

Compostmodern 2009
Saturday, February 21
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008


We went to Seattle last weekend to attend the wedding of our friends Patty and Rich, who met in Seattle but actually live in the Bay Area now. We stayed with our friends Chris and Jana, who used to live in the Bay Area but have since relocated to Seattle (Wedgwood, actually). Are you confused yet?

The wedding was an opportunity for Velma to see some old college friends she doesn’t get to see very often. Rich was one of Velma’s best friends in college, and they were part of the swing dancing scene in St. Louis, and later in the Bay Area.

Velma and I used to work in the same building as Jana, and Chris and Jana asked us to be the photographers for their wedding a few years back, in a park in the South Bay. They’ve since relocated to Seattle (Wedgwood), and were kind enough to put us up and show us around a bit too (I haven’t been to Seattle in over a decade). Not to mention picking us up and dropping us off at the airport! Friends can be awesome, can’t they?

We spent most of our time in the Fremont District and Queen Anne, and Jana and Velma spent a solid chunk of time in World Spice downtown, behind Pike Place.

Here are a few of the places/things I enjoyed in/around Seattle:

Eat Local
A cool organic café and grocery on Queen Anne Avenue N. They use local ingredients and make small batches that are perfect for couples or individuals to pick up on their way home. They also brew Stumptown Coffee.

Nikki McClure
Nikki McClure makes extraordinarily beautiful papercut illustrations in a woodcut-like style. You may have seen her calendars or notecards, or recognize her work from books or magazines. We came across a whole bunch of her work (including a few framed originals, which are fascinating to look at up close) in the above-mentioned Eat Local shop, since she illustrated all their product labels.

Update: Nikki has a show, “Vote for Survival,” coming to Needles and Pens on October 10. Needles and Pens is a really cool zine and DIY shop on 16th Street near Delores.

Smart Monkey Recycled Yarn & Knitwear
Leah Andersson recycles/reuses old thrift store sweaters into rehabbed yarn and new knitted items. I saw her booth at the Fremont Sunday Market.

Destee Nation Shirt Company
Chris took us to his favorite T-shirt shop. I really liked several of the designs, but since my travel bags were pretty stuffed and I didn’t want to spend much money on this trip, I decided I’d wait and maybe purchase from their website later.

Revival Ink
I saw this artist’s tees and hoodies at a boutique in Queen Anne and at the Fremont Sunday Market too. I liked two or three of the prints a lot, and would’ve bought one of the hoodies, but while they’re a more earth-friendly 70% bamboo and 30% organic cotton, they have those terribly cheap zippers that seem to jam within a month of use.

Another of Chris’s faves, this shop features some exquisite artisan chocolates from around the world, and has free samples out all day.

Hollywood Schoolhouse
This is where the wedding was held, a lovely but slightly quirky historical building. The 1912 brick structure hosts lots of weddings and banquets, and has some interesting decorations.

Gas Works Park
This 19-acre park is on the site of a former coal-powered gas and oil plant, acquired by the city in the ’60s and opened to the public in 1975. Right on Lake Union, in the middle of Seattle, the park features stunning vistas of downtown and the lakeside portions of the city (Velma, Jana, and Chris pictured above, enjoying the view).

Since we were only a block away, we simply had to stop and see the 16-foot bronze statue of Lenin in the Fremont. Olya had told me about this (appropriately enough) a couple years ago; I hadn’t seen it when I visited Seattle my first time. If you have a spare quarter-million bucks, you can buy Comrade Lenin for your yard. He’s for sale.

The Fremont Troll
The other thing I hadn’t seen last time was the famous Troll. Somehow Holly and I entirely missed the Fremont neighborhood, although we squeezed in practically everything else in our three-day vacation about a decade ago.

World Spice Merchants
This popular spot behind Pike Place Market occupied Velma and Jana so long I had to walk around outside because the strong smells were becoming too much for my allergies. Most interesting to me was the Mongolian tea brick, actual bricks of tea which in the past were broken up to use as currency.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Junk mailers pay less for postage than you do – a lot less

While individuals now pay 42¢ to mail a regular letter, direct mail marketers have once again been granted a much lower rate by the government bureaucrats who make up the rules. It costs just as little as 14¢ to mail one of those credit card offers you got twelve of yesterday. believes junk mailers shouldn't be rewarded for invading our privacy and destroying the environment. Less than 10% of Canada’s Boreal Forest is protected. It is being logged at a rate of 2 acres a minute, 24 hours a day, to make things like catalogs and junk mail.

The Do Not Mail campaign has collected over 40,000 signatures since March. If you haven't made your voice heard yet, do it now.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Tell politicians we need a Do Not Mail Registry

Unless you're a big fan of junk mail (I suppose there's someone out there like that) you may want to sign ForestEthics' petition to create a Do No Mail Registry that would work like the existing Do Not Call Registry.

An astonishing 100 billion pieces of junk mail are delivered in the U.S. each year, accounting for one-third of all the mail delivered in the world (!).

And guess whose forests are being cut down to make all that crap you just throw away?

Learn more...

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

The environmental impact of the wine industry

Updated January 2009: Added link Jean-Charles Boisset’s talk at Compostmodern 08, and link to journal entry on recycling Tetra Paks.

A few weekends back I attended a conference called Compostmodern, which consisted mostly of panels and presentations about sustainability as it applies to the graphic design industry. A couple of the presentations diverged slightly from the main focus, but they were interesting nevertheless.

One such was given by Jean-Charles Boisset, president of De Loach Vineyards and Boisset Family Estates, which make a wide variety of wine and spirits under various labels, in California and France. The charismatic Boisset’s presentation was interesting on many fronts, but I was struck by some of the things I learned about the wine industry as a whole, and about his companies’ efforts in particular.

Update: Listen to Boisset’s entire talk: Download the MP3.


The global wine industry has a tremendous impact on the environment, from production and manufacturing through transportation and marketing, and ultimately with the consumer who must deal with the resulting packaging materials. Plenty of people don’t bother to recycle (or can’t) their wine bottles, and how many of us actually know what to do with corks, other than throw them in the trash?

Wine production itself accounts for a large amount of synthetic fungicides, herbicides, and fertilizers that end up in our earth and water. Not to mention the massive amounts of water used in grape production. “Likewise, untreated waste water from winery use — hosing down barrels, tanks and buildings — can harm the ecosystems in and around rivers, lakes and ponds.” [source]

A 2006 study showed that a pound of waste is created for every bottle of wine made, including the release of 16g of sulphur dioxide into the air. According to Boisset, packaging alone accounts for a whopping 49% of the cost of every bottle of wine manufactured (including design and production of said packaging, presumably).


A growing number of wineries are embracing sustainable techniques, and some — like De Loach — are making use of “biodynamics.” I had heard the term before but I didn’t really know much about it until Boisset’s presentation about how his family vineyards in France are managed. Later I browsed the De Loach website and was enthralled by the unusually detailed description of what the vineyard is doing over several years to convert the estate entirely to biodynamic production.

From the De Loach website: “Converting 22 acres of vineyards to biodynamic farming methods requires time and patience. Before planting the new vineyard at DeLoach, we are enriching the soil by letting the land lay fallow through two cover crop successions and applying specific biodynamic compost and preparations.”

“We will apply horn manure and barrel compost in the fall in order to introduce more beneficial microorganisms into the soil. Horn manure is the most widely-recognized symbol of biodynamics; [Rudolph] Steiner named it prep 500 in his original lecture. To make it, we bury a cow horn filled with cow manure into the vineyards and let it remain over winter. The horn provides nutrients to microorganisms in the soil that turn the manure into compost. The finished compost is essentially a ‘bug in a jug’, or soil inoculum, that contains microorganisms naturally adapted to the farm’s soil since that is where the compost is made. The barrel compost we will use was started in March 2005, and is a mixture of organic barley straw and clean cow manure, containing no hormones or other chemicals....”

Alternative wine packaging

I’ve long been aware of several companies’ efforts to green the wine-making process, ever since 1996 or so when I learned of Fetzer Vineyards’ use of recycled glass in their bottles and other sustainability efforts. I visited Fetzer on a trip north one year with my friend Laura Stec, a chef and environmental educator.

Another vineyard I’ve been impressed by is Bonny Doon, located in our very own Santa Cruz Mountains. They’ve pushed the industry to adopt the decidedly unsexy screw cap as a superior alternative to corks, for both environmental and freshness reasons.

Boisset, for its part, is packaging some of its wines in the even less sexy Tetra Pak, an aseptic package that you might be more familiar with from soy milk cartons. Boisset’s French Rabbit label is sold in this alternative packaging.

As others have noted, the Tetra Pak is problematic. While it is theoretically recyclable, in the U.S. there are practically no communities that accept aseptic packaging among their recyclables (update: How to recycle practically anything). According to Boisset this packaging is more recyclable in Europe, but the fact remains that the U.S. recycling economy isn’t up to speed on this packaging yet, and it may be another decade before we see its wide-spread recyclability (let’s not forget that much of the middle of the U.S. still has no municipal recycling at all).

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