A new blog, a new book

I'm writing a book. Actually, I've written a book, in manuscript form, and I'm in the process of publishing it. I'll be chronicling the process on my new blog. I'm just as intrigued in the process of book design as I am in the development of the story, so I'm doing everything. Everything. The manuscript has been sent to the editors, so I'm working on the cover and ordering the ISBNs. I'm not really interested in marketing the book at this time, but just to go through the process and feel the finished book in hand.

Stop on by my new blog to read the story behind the story. I've also posted the first chapter, for the curious. :) Read it below:

Swamp Monster—Chapter One


MapBuild - making maps is fun (and looks nice)

There are many ways to create an online map, too many to even start counting. If you are looking for the ability to copy and paste a bunch of addresses into a webpage and somehow end up with a map, however, the pickings are a little slim. Most of the websites in the past that offered this service don't give you options to style your map, but MapBuild.net does now.

Here's an example map I made to show some of the features. Yes, I'm using those beautiful watercolor map tiles again :) Go ahead and click on a marker, it gives some information as well as a picture of the item. Enjoy and happy mapping!

New Hampshire Places of Interest

Jump to full map >


Open web mapping … and my first map Cloudmade style!

I've been so busy lately I haven't been able to keep up with the open web mapping movement—it seems to have really advanced in the last year or two. We're on the upswing where growth is exponential, with social media fueling an even-faster incline. This is great.

I made my first map style tonight on CloudMade, testing the water for a base map that will eventually underlie my thesis maps. I'm using Leaflet to serve up the map. Here's a sneak peek of London (which always looks good on a map):

I really love what OpenStreetMap and the whole open web mapping community is doing. The "giants" may have the resources to send camera-equipped vehicles down every street in the country, but the open movement has tons of human power willing to strap GPS units to their backs and hike around their own neighborhoods, just for the sake of the common good.

And with that comes beauty. The example below is a breath-taking example of what people are doing for people. Watercolor maps tiles … I'm still catching my breath. It's Salt Lake City, Utah, in watercolor. Temple Square, complete with the temple, tabernacle and conference center across the street. Now, what if this piece of art was pan-able, zoom-able map, like Google Maps or MapQuest? Well, it is—go ahead and drag it around, or jump to the full-screen version.


Social media makes us less social??

The problem with “social media” is that it robs us of inter-personal interaction. Things that we would normally share in a group setting, such as kids' achievements and family news, is blurted out indiscriminately within moments of happening and digested by random people—who would not normally be part of your inner circle—within moments of being posted. There's no mutual laughter (LOL is a sorry attempt at the wonderful feeling of actually laughing with someone), no eye contact, no hugs, no touch, no feeling, and no memory of what just happened. Just a click on the “Like” button and then we move on to the next one. One ephemeral like after another, stealing away the time we should be spending with the real people around us.

Social media is killing the art of being social, which by definition means being engaged with other human beings. What do humans do when they sit together in a group setting now? They engage in using social media! What a paradox, that the real has become less engaging than the imitation.

This and other negative effects of social media have been drawing a lot of attention recently:

The bottom line is, do you catch yourself thinking “That would make a great status update/profile picture!” rather than “What can I do for mother/father/sister/brother/neighbor/friend/random-person-on-the-street today?”? If so, it might be time for a social media moratorium.


Minor cosmetics

The last few days have been somewhat taxing so instead of sleeping early this evening I indulged myself in a little cosmetic work on the site. After implementing Google web fonts on several sites already, I'm convinced that it is the best combination of convenience/reliability to use alternative fonts quickly on the Web. My preferred method is to use free fonts and convert them to web formats and manually embed them, but only when time permits. For tonight, Google wins.

I chose EB Garamond for text and Open Sans for display for one particular reason, though I think the fonts do relatively well on screen: they are the only two Google web fonts that support the Unicode Vietnamese character set. Apparently, Vietnamese presents a special challenge due to the stacked nature of accent marks, which may be the reason why Google offers Vietnamese as its own character set filter while searching for fonts. Either way, I chose these fonts for now and so far it looks comfortable. I'm still smiling at using 300 weight on the headings instead of bold, it looks so clean :)

Perhaps that the most obvious change is that I increased the font size from 10.5pt to a whopping 16! Based on a couple of articles on the value of using the browser default font size and re-creating the printer's "paragraph" on the screen, I am experimenting with 16px to see how it works. I think my body width is out of proportion now, but that's a structural change that will have to wait until another day. And finally, I'm taking advantage of Blogger's built-in mobile framework with a stock template, so when the time comes for more major changes, I'm sure I'll switch to the custom mobile template and tweak it to my liking.

There it is, blogging instead of sleeping. Now I may drift in and out of consciousness at work tomorrow, but a little design dabble before bed is quite relaxing for me, and I needed it. Plus there's the feeling of accomplishment and refreshment, even after such small changes as these. For all who are keeping track, this minor cosmetic revision is version 4.1, with no foreseeable major release in the near- and semi-near future. Someday I will, though, mark my word. The crumpled-bag side bar must go.


Infographics and data visualization - two blogs of note

Happened upon these two blogs the other day in my newsfeed: flowingdata.com is created and curated by a Ph.D candidate in statistics and is filled with lots of data visualization fun, and ericson.net is the home of the graphics director at the New York Times. Just thought I'd share.


Be like Jesus

Listening to this children's hymn the other day, I realized the import of the lilting words intended for children but applicable to all:

Love one another as Jesus loves you. Try to show kindness in all that you do. Be gentle and loving in deed and in thought, For these are the things Jesus taught.
How great the implications - and responsibility! - of such a simple message. I hope I can live up to these sweet words.


Web 2.0 Summit Map and Wooden Laptops

Here are two awesome things I found today. First, the Web 2.0 Summit Map, which is absolutely ingenious and engaging. Click the image to navigate through the data layers of today's internet leaders.

And the second thing was a wooden laptop/chalkboard. I'm so getting one for church.

Two very random and inspiring things today - it's nice to see creativity at work, on both the digital canvas and natural medium.


Please pass the focus

Whoa, blogger updated its interface. Definitely more simple. Definitely more Google.

It's fitting because I am focusing on focus now. As I speak type, I am printing "Focus: A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction". I'm going to read this and see where it takes me. I'm starting here because, well, because the book is free and I just discovered it in my newsfeed. I already know what I need to do, I just need to get the momentum to do it.


He died that we might live... today

Arise and sing to his great name,
Who died that we might live.
I’ve heard this phrase so many times that I don’t listen anymore, like hearing wind through the trees. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been astonished by the growth of my little boy and how “lively” he is becoming or because I read a sobering article today about a man’s last blog post before succumbing to cancer, but these words literally stopped my breath today while I listened to Rejoice! A Glorious Sound Is Heard in my drab little cubicle at work. It is not just referring to salvation from death and sin. It is talking about living, that thing that we’re doing everyday. Like right now. His death was part of a larger plan that certainly did not end at his death – but that was fulfilled because of his death. He died that we might live today, as well as in a future place beyond this mortal existence. He died that we be not dead to others, dead to ourselves, dead to the needs and wants of the neighborhood and community and world. That we might be infused with life through the Spirit, with vibrancy through the Light of the Son, with intellect and conscience and compassion instead of solely instinct and appetites and chemistry. That we might feel the sun on our skin and the taste the sweet fruit of the trees and see the rich colors of fall and hear the stream gurgling by. That we might love unconditionally and hate occasionally and experience the breadth and depth of emotions between. “That we might live” is not referring to the future but to this very moment, that we might experience the sensations of spirit and body in one coalescent being, from the bumps and grooves of the keys under our fingers to the enormity of thunderstorms and tsunamis and bad relationships. To live is to experience, defined as such in conversation and scripture, and this whole experience of living would never have been afforded to us without the willingness of One to plan it, create it, experience it, overcome it and eventually throw it all in the flames and raise it up again in a purified and perfect state. The beauty of the plan is that we don’t have to wait until that day of burning and rebirth to feel the power of life in our veins; He died that we might live today. That is the promise and blessing of the Gospel - that this life is the time to live and that heaven is already here. Being caught up in chariots of fire headed towards the sky will just be another day in the process of true living, if we but recognize and embrace the life in us today and the Source from whence it came.

travel log
  • 02.13.08 - to the temple with Luan and his mom, good to be back
  • 02.14.08 - Mẫu's alive! and staying for the weekend
  • 02.15.08 - floor hockey and Thái food makes for some strange dreams
  • 02.17.08 - frisbee and swamp monster at the park: fun but I'm pooped!
  • 02.19.08 - just read Triết's response to my last post - game on!
  • 02.20.08 - raining and expected to continue through Sunday - thank goodness!
  • 02.21.08 - 3-hour nap is a bad idea right before bed
  • 02.23.08 - to the beach to watch kites, a baptism @ 5pm, and homemade bulgogi - what a day!
  • 02.25.08 - just gave myself a haircut - woo, cold head!
  • 02.26.08 - 75° and spring cleaning - couldn't feel better
  • 02.27.08 - fed the elders bún đậu tonight - think it's their first time
  • 03.01.08 - working on new background...
  • 03.02.08 - finalized javascript to change background without muffing up my other scripts
  • 03.03.08 - fhe: "In his strength I can do all things" (Alma 26:12)
  • 03.07.08 - some decisions are harder than others, but some are downright excruciating
  • 03.08.08 - there is life after work... i almost forgot
  • 03.11.08 - the distance between good and bad is much shorter than between better and best
  • 03.12.08 - conversion is sometimes a gradual process, so much so that we don't even notice
  • 03.14.08 - for some reason everything was a little harder today, looking forward for bed!
  • 03.15.08 - last night after blog reading, I missed OnlyBlue, today I find she's back
  • 03.16.08 - best day of my life!
  • 03.19.08 - "Pray for the answer that they've been looking for"
release notes v1.0 - FINALLY DONE!
  • 12.07 - first thought of starting a new blog
  • 01.08 - busy with election stuff but blog design still on back burner
  • 01.13.08 - first idea to imitate jk rowling with the "desk" theme
  • 01.28.08 - start sketching current design, breaking down development into phases
  • 02.02.08 - election only days away but still drafting final plans
  • 02.04.08 - v0.6 LAUNCH
    • main components (blog body, sidebar, header, etc) designed and implemented
    • styling for font, links, drop caps, etc. finished
  • 02.07.08 - v0.8 LAUNCH
    • image style to imitate polariod
    • moveability - post-it notes and static clings can be repositioned by drag and drop
    • release notes styled and written
  • 02.16.08 - travel log (beta) added in hopes of catching the mundane
  • 02.22.08 - lightbox 2.03 reinstalled and working fine (hopefully - let me know otherwise)
  • 02.26.08 - v0.9 LAUNCH
    • travel log seems to be working, so I'll keep it
    • lightbox also seems to have passed the test, so it's a keeper
    • some credits/info added to bottom (will expand)
    • keeping old Viet terms in archive for future viewing
  • 03.18.08 - v1.0 LAUNCH
    • installation and testing of time-sensitive background completed (for now)