Category Archives: Business

A bad taste in your mouth.

Mint Sells to Intuit for $170 Million

Why is this such a great deal for Intuit? Fast Company explains:

“Mint’s apparently not begun to investigate the data-mining opportunities present in the recorded info on those 1.4 million users–a data set that’s got intrinsic value in its own right.”

Wow, that’s pretty bold-faced. To be fair, as a user of I appreciated the fact that they had not begun to investigate the data-mining opportunities present in their users’ accounts.

So, the way I see it is this. Intuit paid $170 million for Mint. A lot of the value of Mint comes from its 1.4 million registered users. If you’re like me and you have a “thing” for Mint but not so much for Intuit, you would want to see Mint get the better end of the bargain here. There’s probably no better way to make sure this happens than to delete your account on Mint.

That way, Intuit will have paid a heck of a lot more money for a dwindling user base, so it will be as though Mint got paid more for delivering less! It’s like selling your house, and then hiring someone to break all the windows before the new owner moves in. You got paid more for something that’s now worth less! You win!

Oh, and don’t be surprised if you’re presented with this confidence-inspiring response when you delete your account. Cabel got it, and I got it as well:


Happy deleting!

UPDATE: Here’s Peter Merholz’ take on the acquisition: User Experience = $5 Million per Employee

UPDATE 2: Don’t miss Jason Fried’s glowing take, affectionately titled The Next Generation Bends Over

The Ganache Guru

Today we kicked off UX Intensive with a rousing session of Design Strategy, hosted by none other than Brandon Schauer. It was a great time and we got to wield Sharpies and Post-It Notes and drafting dots with reckless abandon, all the while being fed like kings.

It’s gonna be like this all week, with heavy-duty learning during the day and working during the night, so my contributions to the Ether will be light.

Hired Goon


I guess there’s been some changes ’round these parts over the last couple weeks. I’ve been busy with those so I’ve kinda been neglecting some things, small things like this blog and personal hygiene and common decency.

When I got back from Walla Walla last Sunday someone had been kind enough to leave me a dead bird on the sidewalk to my house. The next morning the bird was gone, replaced by little feathered turds. That afternoon I came home to find a dismembered wing on my front step, and the turds were missing.

So there was that.

Also, I’ve been busy raising a beard again. It’s hard work and it takes a lot of time and effort, especially for the few of us who do not have Chuck Norris in our ancestry. There’s so few of us.

So very few.

But yes, a beard. By the looks of things this is the winter of the Sketchy Facial Hair, and I wanted to throw in my lot. I would also like to have a beard for SXSW, along with a mohawk, if I can muster the guts to do that again. Yeah, a beard and a mohawk, so I can appear to be consistent with my Flickr and Facebook and profile photos. We call this “branding.”

This “alcoholic energy drink meets malt beverage” tastes like an atrocity.

That’s branding, too.

Hey, Kate took me to the Walla Walla Wal-Wal-Mart when I was back over there, and it is vastly superior to the Hood River Wal-Mart, and we actually went there twice, once to buy a potted plant and frozen chilies and again to buy windshield wipers and twelve mason jars, and both times the same clerk helped us. The same clerk! At checkout lanes that were at complete opposite ends of the store! And there’s a tram that runs every seven minutes to take you from one opposite end of the store to the other!

He was a really cool clerk, too. We wondered why he was working at Wal-Mart, being as cool as that. I thought he was probably writing a book about his experience, or at least blogging it.

Twelve mason jars is a lot more mason jars than I thought I needed, so I’ve been spending my time finding things to fill them up with, things like basmati rice and cashews and yerba mate. Yerba mate has a very strong organic, earthy taste to it, which is a nice way of saying it tastes like dirt. It’s dirt jam-packed with caffeine, though, so I’m not about to criticize. My bombilla fell apart way before the Web 2.0 boom so I need to find a new one before I can drink my mate again. Taragui, it was. The mate, that is. You can buy it by the kilo, like other things you can buy.

There was something else.

Oh yeah.

Tomorrow I start my new job at my windsurfing and kiteboarding shop. Even though job titles are kinda ridiculous and we really have no use for them, I shall be working as the Director of Web Marketing for Big Winds, a position which is known internally as “Hey, we have our own computer geek!”

I have worked for Big Winds a couple of times in the past, once in 2003 and again in 2005, and I hearts them lots and lots. I love the people who work there, I love the store and the products, and I love their business ethos. Needless to say, I’m stoked as hell to work for these guys, to be surrounded by people again, to be active in the community, and to know that this summer I will kiteboard so much I won’t even be able to piss straight.

The upshot of all this is that I’m taking on Big Winds as a full-time job, and I’m going to have very little time to run Brainside Out. I’m still kinda stunned by the whole bit, shocked and nervous and excited and somewhat nauseous, but I think there’s a tremendous opportunity to do some kick-ass stuff here. I’ve told my clients about the change, and they have all been extremely supportive and enthusiastic. Like, bummed I won’t be able to rock stuff for them anymore, but amped for me nonetheless.

Still, I’m freaked out by the fact that I’ll actually need to wake up in the morning. I suppose it’s a small price to pay to be able to interact with real people, though.

Brainside Out will continue to exist, perchance as a shadow of its formal self, but dammit if it’s not going anywhere. I’ve been running that dealy-deal for 1 1/2 years, have gotten to build some great websites for some absolutely ripshitkickass clients, and I take a huge amount of satisfaction in knowing that I’m fully capable of running my own show. With the ridiculous degree of autonomy that I’ve been enjoying in running Brainside Out, the shop may have gotten more than they bargained for. I mean, I build good shit, but I’m used to doing it on my own terms.

That said, I did work for them in-house on two separate occasions, for half a year on both counts. In 2003 I shared an office with the head manager for a couple weeks, until he realized that I talked and cursed to myself so much that I needed to be quarantined to my own office. Big Winds was also the first client that Brainside Out ever had, and thus precipitated my move to indie status.

Nah, they know what they’re gettin’. And I’m stoked.

Geez, did I mention I’m stoked?


Sprint called over the weekend and confirmed that they were indeed experiencing network issues in my area, something about trunk-lines and T1 connections and such. The call came from a fellow who was based in Texas, at the apparent locus where Sprint receives and processes “trouble tickets.” He was genuinely kind and helpful and did not possess the obsequious nature of the last person I had spoken with, who left me feeling like I needed to take a shower after I hung up the phone. Of course, between this last person and I there no doubt exists a great geographical and cultural chasm, not to mention the simple fact that in relation to me he exists fourteen hours in the future. How awkward it must be to speak to the past, I can only imagine.

Yes, I must give props where props are due. He speaks my language, quite fluently I might add, where I couldn’t even say for certain the name of his native tongue. Also, if news stories are to be trusted, they make a convincing argument that these internationally outsourced call-center employees are utterly shit upon by many of my fellow citizens. Thus, I try to go out of my way to be patient and respectful when I’m pretty sure that I’m speaking with India, as these hard-working folk already have enough to deal with. It’s a fucking cell phone, for chrissakes, it doesn’t need to come to blows. Save the fighting for Kashmir.

That said, my only criticisms regard the quality of customer service I receive when working through issues with outsourced support. It wasn’t until my issue was escalated to a dizzying degree that I finally received real information from Sprint, in the form of a phone call from Texas. Until that point the problem was completely vague and ambiguous, and my written correspondence with Sprint, while humorous, was more ritualistic than anything else.

It didn’t matter what I told Sprint, nor did it matter what Sprint said in return. Rather, all that was important was that our exchange was happening, and I was continuing to make it happen, so it behooved them to eventually pass it to someone who could do something about it. Nothing I spoke was translated as real information on their end, nor was any of the apologetic boilerplate that they shot back actually useful. The entire conversation could just as well have been written in “lorem ipsum,” and the result would have been the same.

Sadly, much of this fell to the ear of the Texan. I assured him that in no way did I believe my frustration with the general uselessness of Sprint’s customer support was his fault, and I sympathized that he might not be in a position to manifest such change, but I needed to vent just a smidgen.

My suggestions were simple. First, don’t tell me to drive to Portland and die just have my phone tested, when all physical evidence points to a problem with the network. Second, when a trend is developing that suggests there is indeed a problem with the network, just tell me there’s a problem with the network. The Texan told me straight-up that theirs was a clearinghouse of trouble tickets. When they see tickets start to build up from a particular area, they get suspicious and start checking out the network for that region.

In my case, that’s what happened. A number of Sprint customers from in-and-around Hood River must have called in coverage issues, those issues got escalated to Texas, and Texas found a problem with the trunk-line.

Now, I don’t really care if there’s a problem with the trunk-line, or if an osprey built a nest in your cell tower, or if hooligans tore the whole thing down so they could sell the scrap metal and buy more cold medicine. I just want to know whether or not you’re doing anything about it. And while I really appreciate the follow-up call a week later, it would be nice if, during the process, I could receive some sort of message that takes the mystery out of the whole deal. An email, let’s say, like this:

Dear Ambiguously-Valued Sprint Burden,

Evidence from your area suggests that the troubles you are encountering may be resulting from an issue with the network. We’re looking into it, so sit tight.

Stewbuilder D.
Sprint together with Nextel
“Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet!”

Trade in your old hobo and get $25!
Visit for details!

Seriously Sprint, you wouldn’t lose any face in telling me straight-up that you’re having network problems. I know this shit ain’t perfect, and yours far from it. It’s when you try to maintain an impression of your infallibility, to the point where interacting with your first-tier customer support amounts to a conversation with ELIZA, that you begin to piss me off.

So in the end, my phone works again, it’s now lunchtime in New Delhi, and I love Texas more than ever.


I work from home. Sometimes in the middle of the day people swing by to hand me pamphlets decrying false religion and immoral sex and just about everything else in the world that could be considered fun. These pamphlets also predict the end of the world, in some vaguely backwards attempt to motivate me not to participate in false religion or immoral sex or Las Vegas, which isn’t a city so much as a glowing physical manifestation of the first two.

Think of Vegas as a crystalline form, a precipitate of sorts, that coalesced out of the sultry, boiling solution that is modern human life. Ayn Rand may have believed that Hollywood was mankind’s greatest invention, but I think the unabashed purity of Vegas definitely puts it in the running. Vegas exists for one thing, and one thing only. Well okay, maybe two things. But we’ve discussed those already.

So what does this have to do with work? Well, everything. Nothing. Sometimes people ask me how the business is going. It’s been a year, or over a year, or less than a year if you count my sabbatical in the wilderness, since I started Brainside Out.

All in all, things are going really well. I have clients who I really enjoy working with, I’ve designed and built some nice stuff that I’m proud of, and I’ve started collaborating with some people in the industry who do stuff better than I can.

That last one is the kicker for me. I did the one-man army thing for the first year of Brainside Out, which let me throw every lever, flip every switch, and pretty much get dirty in every aspect of building websites, from start to finish. In so doing I got a broad familiarity with my industry, from design to development, project management to information architecture, user experience to usability. That being said, I’ve since realized that I’m not the best person for every job in all matters web design.

In my most recent projects, then, I’ve been zeroing in on what I do exceptionally well, and collaborating with other designers to fill in for my weaknesses. And this, this feels right. If I can be confident of one thing, I’m confident that this shall be the direction of Brainside Out. There are so many opportunities out there for building kick-ass websites, and it would be a shame to keep all the fun to myself. As I’m looking at my workload over the next few months, I’m not sure I could handle all this work on my own, even if I wanted to. This is both frightening and delicious.

As far as everything else, though, I really have no idea. Honestly, I don’t even know what kind of work I’ll continue to do here at Brainside Out. I have a couple ongoing projects that will be, well, ongoing, but as far as what cog I will play in which infernal machine, I don’t know.

Given my strengths I’ve recently been leaning away from design (pixel-pushin’) and more towards development (code-slingin’). Currently my front-end development skills are rock-solid, and I can slice up designs and throw down the XHTML/CSS like nobody’s business. I’ve played with enough javascript that I can get down and dirty with the DOM, and I’ve been experimenting with frameworks in that regard. I know enough about scripting and databases to be dangerous, and in my lifetime I’ve managed to rebuild an e-commerce engine or two (or one).

More recently, I’ve spent a lot of time researching web application frameworks and learning their ins and outs. I’ve built stuff in CakePHP and Django and Ruby on Rails, and I think I’m finally wrapping my head around their shared MVC architectures. That said, I’ve had the most success in figuring out Ruby on Rails, and I think that’s the one I’m going to grab and run with.

I’m not a good programmer, but I have a weird intuition for discerning good code from bad code. Even though I know very little about it, I’m a huge fan of the discipline and organization involved in object-oriented programming. Ruby, which is natively object-oriented, is a surprisingly beautiful and clean language, one that I believe is worth my attention.

I’m all for lazy, no doubt, which is why I’m looking at MVC frameworks rather than trying to build web apps from scratch. However, I’m drawn to the aesthetic of working in a language that requires you to write in OOP (Ruby), versus one that only recently grafted some weak-ass OOP functionality onto itself (PHP). Putting myself in a position where I’m unable to cheat will be better for my education and productivity in the long run.

Anywho, that’s the state of things right now. Talk to me tomorrow and it will all be different. Jake and I have discussed starting a printing company, and recently I decided that I want to start a tiki lounge here in Hood River. Plus, Luke will probably need help starting his own brewery since Mark is busy turning algae into gasoline, and what with Kate’s goals of saving the world and all…

Yup. Full plates all around, here.


Update: Well that was a short-lived romance! The client has replaced our gorgeous whirlwind design with a completely different one, with which we had absolutely no involvement. Such is the life of ninjas for hire.

For the record, our website design looked like this. For the sake of inaccuracy and confusion (and a net increase of both) I have left the rest of the text of this post unaltered. Enjoy!

Cynthia Thielsen Screenshot

Oh. My. God.

Today we are proud to announce the launch of, a joint effort brought to you by Brainside Out and Jake Ingman.

As some of you may know, Jake and I went to SXSW last year. We knew each other through a mutual friend from years ago, and happened to reconnect last year on the 37Signals personal ads. One thing led to another and before we knew it, we were snuggling with each other in the same hotel bed, fighting off hangovers and cockroaches together.

Jake Ingman is an incredibly talented designer and a huge usability geek (not to mention an avid mountaineer), and ever since SXSW we’ve talked about working on a project together. Life being as inconvenient as it is, what with brilliant theses to defend in the spring and wilderness to trample in the summer, we’ve never really had an opportunity to smash our heads together. That is, until this little ditty came along.

And what a ditty it was, let me tell you. Cynthia Thielen is running for US senate in Hawaii, and they summoned the great talents of Jake to help them with their website design woes. Jake is a brilliant man when it comes to dishing up design and layout in Illustrator and Photoshop, but he is always saddened when his delicate hands suddenly turn into honeybaked hams when he codes XHTML and CSS. Fortunately, that’s where yours truly comes in. Hand-coding XHTML and CSS is my game, man, and when I’m in the zone I can own that stuff with a capital ‘P’.

Thus armed, Jake with his l33t Illustrator skillz and me with my CSS judo, we banged out this site at a pretty good pace. Jake would cook up some delicious pixelly goodness, fire a copy over to me, and I would hammer away at the code until it worked as a rock-solid, standards-based website. Honestly, I was floored by the rate at which Jake could come up with design hotness. It would take him ten minutes to whip up a layout, where I would have spent two hours honing in on a color palette.

Likewise, Jake was seriously out of his mind about how quickly I could take his revisions and push them to the development site as XHTML/CSS. Our workflow bounced back-and-forth at a dizzying rate, him designing, me coding, him revising, me telling him that his colors were way too vibrant, him revising and pounding out new sections in the process, and me coding. Through the entire process we never traded a single Illustrator or Photoshop file. Jake would just do a screenshot of whatever it was he was working on at the moment, send it over via IM, and I would build it. We were so into Getting Real it was ridiculous.

With us claiming that there were all these mad ninja skills flying back and forth, it’s only a fair question to ask how long it took us to build this website. Well, Jake called me this morning, wondering how my scheduled looked for the rest of the day. I said I felt pretty good about it, so he went ahead and got project confirmation from the client. We both took lunch, and started work on the design at about 1:00 in the afternoon. The site went live at 8:15 tonight, right as Thielen announced her candidacy for US Senate.

Our elapsed time was seven hours, fifteen minutes.