Annual Update

I think this blog is becoming an annual update thing for me.  Even blogger has changed its interface since I posted last.  I'm way behind.  So here's my conglomerate blog post for the last year.

Starting school again has taught me the value of time.  It's priceless.  If anyone's selling some good ol' fashion time, please let me know.  I'll buy it immediately because I've used all of mine.

Music has once again saved me from complete ruin.  I think the only thing that keeps me sane is an occasional good hour with my guitar.  This year yielded two or three ok songs, after a dearth of several years, so I'm happy.

All of my goals for 2009 are still on the shelf, but I have accomplished some things earlier than I thought I could (like get a paying website project).

God is still prompt as always to answer my prayers, and I'm still slow as always to ask.  But I'm learning, or trying to.

I teach youth sunday school again and I love it. 


Top 50 Common Vietnamese Surnames

I'm doing some research for a project at school and ran into this tidbit. Thought I'd share:

  1. Nguyễn

  2. Trần

  3. Phạm

  4. Huỳnh

  5. Phan

  6. Trương

  7. Hoàng

  8. Ngô

  9. Đặng

  10. Đỗ

  11. Bùi

  12. Dương

  13. Lương

  14. Đinh

  15. Trịnh

  16. Lưu

  17. Đoàn

  18. Đào

  19. Thái

  20. Mai

  21. Văn

  22. Cao

  23. Vương

  24. Phùng

  25. Quách

  26. Tạ

  27. Diệp

  28. Tôn

  29. La

  30. Thạch

  31. Thi

  32. Thanh

  33. Đàm

  34. Vong

  35. Triệu

  36. Bưu

  37. Phú

  38. Vĩnh

  39. Quang

  40. Tiều

  41. Hòa

  42. Trang

  43. Giang

  44. Lục

  45. Bành

  46. Nghiêm

Wikipedia has a nice post on Vietnamese surnames, but they're not all in order. I added the tones so they might be off. Let me know if I muffed your last name! I'll fix it.

This list is used by the US Department of Justice and is based on several sources:
Abrahamse A. F., Morrison, P. A. & Bolton, N. M. (1994). Population Research and Policy Review: 13 383-398.
Barringer, H. R., Gardner, R. W. & Levin, M.J. (1993). Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. The Population of the United States in the 1980s.
Buechley, R. W. (1976). Generally useful ethnic search system: GUESS. University of New Mexico, Cancer Research and Treatment Cetner (mimeo).
Choi, B. C. K., Hanley, A. J., Holowaty, E. J. & Dale, D. (1993). American Journal of Epidemiology 138: 723-734
Kuo, J. & Porter, K. (1998). Health status of Asian Americans: United States, 1992-1994.


15 days to the 2009 Shakeout!

15 Days to the 2009 ShakeOut!

Dear Participant,

At 10:15 a.m. on October 15, 2009, millions of Californians will “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” in The Great California ShakeOut, the largest earthquake drill ever!

September is
National Preparedness Month, and you'll be hearing from many organizations about how to update your disaster plans and restock your disaster supplies kits. It's also time to register for the 2009 ShakeOut! If you participated in the 2008 drill or not, this is your once-a-year chance to practice how to be safe during earthquakes: Drop, Cover, and Hold On.

Over 5.4 million southern Californians participated in the 2008 ShakeOut. As a statewide drill in 2009, this number could be doubled... but we can only include if you register at
www.ShakeOut.org/register. As of August 31, over 3.7 million participants are registered statewide!

There are many ways to participate in the ShakeOut in 2009. At the least, plan a "drop, cover, and hold on" drill involving everyone in your household. You can also discuss your overall disaster plan with your family or roommates, secure the contents of your home so they won't fall, and restock your supplies. The updated
ShakeOut.org website is the central source of information for how to participate, learn about your area's earthquake hazards, and find local events, news, and participant lists for all California counties.

Everyone can participate! Individuals, families, businesses, schools, government agencies and organizations are all invited to register. Talk to your employer, neighborhood association, faith-based organization, or others about registering as well. Your involvement in the ShakeOut insprires many others to register and hold their own drills!

Register today at ShakeOut.org


Batch IP Locator - New Home

Ok, just wanted to announce that my little project has a new home (because the other one is about to expire):

Batch IP Locator
Geocode or map multiple IP addresses - free


Batch IP Locator - Official Launch

A week or so ago, I launched the very-beta version of a new app I'm working on. Today is the "official" launch of a greatly-improved product. After a week of poring over code and markup, the back-end has been revamped, UI is more functional (and looks better, too!), and an API has been added (with documentation). Now I just need to add content. Ugh. Not what I want to do after a week of coding. If I can get homework done early I'll shoot for that at the end of this week.

Stop by and visit, and leave me your thoughts (feedback) on what needs improvement:

Batch IP Locator ~ Geocode and map multiple IP Addresses - free!

ps. I made a new twitter account for it, too. lol


Batch IP Locator - Beta!

I've been looking for a service to geocode a list of IP addresses for awhile now, but to no avail. Well, for free anyway.

I just launched my version of a Batch IP Locator this morning, it will locate a list of IP address, returning the country, city and latitude/longitude coordinates. I'm hoping to fill a hole.

Years ago, I ran into "Map Multiple Locations" which opened my eyes to the power of data plotted on a map. As cheesy as it sounds, it was really a defining moment in my life (I am starting grad school on Monday, in Geography, after all). I hope to provide a similar service.

This beta is barebones for now. There is much in store (mapping integration, JSON output for ajax calls, etc), but for now I just have to settle with I've got.


Design inspirations

I've had some positive feedback regarding the redesign (many thanks to my wife who is full of patience and kind words even when she wishes her husband would spend time with her instead of the computer :) so here's my reply.

I don't do designs for hire, yet anyway. haha I'm just starting school again so time is limited, but I think it would be fun to do a little project once in awhile. Let me know what you've got in mind and maybe I can point out possible ways to achieve it.

For those of you thinking about web design but maybe "dragging your feet," here's some inspiration:

  • Best of CSS Design 2008: The websites we use everyday seldom invoke an emotional response deep within out heart. Here are 50 that did for me late last year. Especially true for Viget Inspire (just beautiful!), Carrot Creative (smooth use of jQuery navigation) and Nine Lion Design (dark texture, bold contrast and warm ambiance)
  • Nature Inspired Painted Background: This was the tutorial that got me "painting" again (see my attempt above) and generally interested in art once more, this time in the digital sphere.
  • 17 Techniques for Creating Designs Inspired by Nature: Interestingly enough, I started looking into my designer feeds (I subscribe to 15 rss feeds on design that provide constant inspiration) and found this article, posted one day after my redesign launch, that outlines many of the principles I used this time around. It's a great starting point for someone who's thinking about being interested in learning more about maybe playing around with design :), especially if you're into nature photography.
  • Web Style Guide 3: This book (yes, the entire text of the book in available for free online) is for those who already have design experience, but are looking into web standards and SEO and creating complex corporate websites. It takes a very conservative approach to web design, but is a good anchor and balance when your design needs to meet usability and interaction halfway.

A year ago, my wife started getting into food blogs, and I was blown away at how vastly enormous the food blog network is and how I had never seen a glimpse of it until then. Design blogs are the same - it's a whole new world out there and once you're in, you're in for good. Life just becomes one big design.


xanghe redesign! (yes, again)

It started out as a sketch. I was bored at the fair so I scribbled up a little scene I had in my mind. That night I scanned it and played around with it in Inkscape and then the GIMP. That was last Wednesday. The 6 following days have been pretty much wasted with me in front of the computer, but I have to say, this is my favorite design yet.

Enjoy. I promised my wife I this one would last at least a year.


Still Learning

The jasmine and bougainvillea I bonsai-ed are coming along beautifully. I think I prefer smaller trees. That has nothing to do with this post, though.

I'm still learning from my parents. I saw two characteristics over this past weekend that I guess I've always known, but for some reason hit me with more force this time.

My mom is an optimist. Not the blind kind, but the kind that takes lemons and makes lemonade. The active kind that pursues good out of the "bad." She's facing serious tests right now, mainly dealing with uncertainty and personal challenges, but she doesn't break. She calls them "opportunities" and "the perfect chance to prove what I've been believing."

This picture was taken 30 mins after getting out of the car, arriving home from a 3-day camping trip in the Uintahs. We had driven ("He" had driven, rather) for 4 hours to get home and everyone was very tired. It was 90ish degrees outside. I sat inside the air-conditioned house drinking water and eating cookies, thinking how it was so nice to be able to rest, when I looked out the window to see dad watering the garden (this is after he put away all the camping gear). Then I remembered that before our camping trip, he had been camping with the scouts for the week before that, and he had been the hiking advisor so did a total of 50+ miles hiking with little boys over the course of 4 days. Then I remembered that before that he went with a friend to climb Lone Peak - backpack in 7 miles, then climb the 700-foot vertical face of the peak. I recalled him saying that over the past 10 day period he had showered twice, even after all that physical exertion. He wasn't resting in his room or showering under cool water or even eating cookies before dinner... he was outside watering the garden, and teaching me something about priorities and work ethic.

Needless to say, my parents raised me well and are still teaching me by example the things that I should do. I guess no matter how old I am, I will always keep learning if I but keep my eyes open.


Google Money Master: The art of designing web scams

"Google Money Master" - sounds cool, huh? And $5000 a month from home (working only 10 hours a week!) doesn't sound bad either. Oh, and this author is from Orange County, too! Great, where do I sign up? Obviously these underlined, blue words are links, so I'll click on one of these. Uh oh, this new page looks like a scam... but Mike Richardson from Orange County said it's legit!

Haha, that's what went through my mind this morning when I hopped on the article from the "Los Angeles Tribune" about a way to make $5000 a month. After sheepishly collecting my wits upon realizing that I had been scammed (no I didn't sign up), I turned back to the page to find out how I was so easily deceived. I looks like scammers (yes, those people capitalizing on unemployed people) are listening in web design class. Here are some ridiculously true principals that I should have caught off the bat, but that seem to catch me (us?) every time:

  • Localization

    First and foremost, the scammers localize the content. The page was created in PHP, which means everytime it's served from the host, it can look at your whereabouts and figure out where you're located at the time of viewing. Mine says "Orange , CA" (notice the extra space after "Orange" - a sign of hasty coding) in two places. And the "Los Angeles Tribune" is not a real newspaper... I'm sure if you're in Houston it will say the "Houston Tribune." We are prone to believe something if it's happening in our back yard.

  • Content

    They employed typical hoax content, using a fictitious name, realistic circumstances and a reputable entity (usually a media outlet or law enforcer, this time it's Google). It gives us a creditable source, or at least uses words that seem creditable. It even gives his email: "Tom Chilton@www.Financial-Weekly.com" - It's the first time I've seen "www." in an email's domain. lol This scam even holds true to form in its grammar - poor.

  • Layout

    photo from Web Style Guide
    Here's my favorite part. We as web surfers behave very differently in many situations, but in some ways we act exactly the same. Like how we scan documents. As the images above illustrate, our eyes spend a lot of time at the top-left area of the page, and the scammers capitalize on that. The bold, alluring title, the photo of a young work-at-home millionaire... look at the little social networking icons! Looks just like the real thing.

  • Reader Feeback

    At the bottom of the page, as all news articles or blogs should, we see a bunch of user comments. Some are skeptical, some affirm our hope that Google will truly send us a check within 48 hours of signing up. What better way to include non-obtrusive peer pressure! Notice the date of the comments happen to be before the "Created At" date, and they all were posted at the same time. And "Created At?" Is that English?

  • Functionality

    No no, this is actually my favorite part. Click on the news tabs at the top. Go ahead and login, or post a comment. Or reply to a comment or favorite it, or hover over anything that we web surfers know so well to be links or functional buttons. No little pointy hand, no subtle animation. Not a single link on the entire page, except the handful they want you to click that lead to their trap homepage. Ha! This should have been the first warning that this was a fishy site, but just like a skilled magician, they distract you from what they're really doing by directing your attention to a little trick.

And so it goes. The hoaxes are still hoaxing people. Especially when we are in a financial rut. Hopefully we can take a look at this page and laugh, then take a deeper look at what other imitations are designed specifically to deceive us. When designed well enough, we may just scan our way into a trap without even knowing.

Google Money Master: a bona fide folk tale. Pass it on. ;)


Oregon road trip 2009

After plans to go to Vietnam, the Mediterranean or Belizé, we ended up going to Oregon. It was a very close second.

I finally got the pictures uploaded. Come take our road trip with us... from the comfort of your own chair!

Oregon Road Trip Pictures


4th of July Fun

070905_UtahFamily02, originally uploaded by xanghe.

Haha, I found this picture the other day. I don't know why we used eclairs but hey, it worked. That's Ty in the background.

Here's the zoomed in version - looks even better!


Life and Death - the Sudden Paradox

This week has thrown me into a fit of thoughts, all racing through my head at once. Life, death, and the time in between are so closely related, intertwined in one fluid motion that neither constantly moves nor abruptly halts, but always carries away the old in the ebb and always brings in the new with the flow.

I spent the first three days of this week with an 83-year-old man in a hospital bed. He has lived a long life and has fulfilled the temporary needs of his family to the best of his ability. His memories are sharp and on occasion come hurling out of his mouth from somewhere before the war, if he can remember them. Many of his peers have moved beyond this life, but he only flirts with the invitation. This time in the form of an inguinal hernia, but there will surely be others. I wonder how he holds himself together, all 8 decades of him in that frail frame that shuffles when it walks. To him death seems natural, something that we never bring up just like we never bring up the sunset, only when it's spectacular but not just because we feel it coming. Of course the sun will set; that's just natural.

The next day I found myself in the company of an old friend whom I had not seen for years. He's married now and has a child, a little boy who cooed for us but cries for his mom. To feel his little weight in my arms and look into his bright eyes, I felt the newness of life, a light that had just been lit. Not like turning on a flashlight with year-old batteries or switching the light on in the bathroom at midnight, but like a brand new star that was just formed in the black emptiness of space by a great explosion of light and heat and power. Yes, I felt a power in that child. To him life seems natural, it's embedded in his veins and nerves and in every reflex and instinct in his body. Of course his star will shine; that's just natural.

The weekend finds me sitting in the emergency room with a man whose life dangled from a thread. It was nothing but the hand of God that plucked him from the furnace and left him breathing gently on the bed, waiting for sleep and a rest from the terrible night. I watch him looking at the ceiling and I wonder how life and death can come so close in a man of his age. The setting sun that seems so natural to the old and the morning light that radiates from the young met in a paradoxical dance in this man and left me reeling in their burning wake.

He's fine now, just as the 83-year-old and the baby, but I am left ruminating. How am I to comprehend this breach of the quintessential dichotomy? It leads me to ponder the significance of the relationship between spiritual life and death, the proximity of our souls with our Maker. I think this will take some time to mull over and study before I can put the pieces back together. In the meantime, I'll try going to bed before midnight.


Inglewood Earthquake: A Reminder to ShakeOut!

Here's an email I received about the earthquake yesterday.  Let's all do as we've been reminded to do time after time and prepare for this kind of stuff.  Read the comparison of yesterday's quake and what a 6 or 7 magnitude quake would mean.  That's scary.  


The Journey IS the Destination

Masters in Urban and Regional Planning This is the program I will be applying for next year to take that first step (FINALLY!) towards pursuing a career. The last time I wrote about this subject, I mentioned that I was leaning towards Environmental Science and Public Policy. Well, I left it at that and didn't delve into the deep history behind that decision. It all started on a dark and stormy night...

I realized early last year that my aspirations to pursue public administration would not lead to a satisfying career for me. Two important follies became evident: 1) I based my decision of Public Admin on the fact that I didn't want to take the GRE and wanted to pursue a grad program that would accept me as-is with my meager background in the Humanities; and 2) even though I tried to avoid sitting at a computer all day by pursuing community outreach instead of computer graphics, I now had a job in community outreach but I spent the day sitting at a computer doing graphic design (among other things). It became clear that I had fallen into the rut of basing my decisions on what I didn't want instead of did want. I realized that the more I didn't want things, the more they seemed to gravitate to me. So, I quit that. My criteria for finding a career changed to what I think I want to do with the rest of my life instead of what I want to avoid. This was a big step for me; remaining in that state could have been disastrous.

So I turned to Civil Engineering. I could still work as a public servant (I like working for the government) but I would be able to build things (something I've liked since I was a child). After a few weeks in that direction, I concluded that I would have to re-graduate with a degree in math or science to even dare apply for grad school, so I turned again. This time it was towards Environmental Science (see previous post). A few weeks later, I turned again to Geography, which emphasized more of the spatial relationship between people and the surrounding landscape. This meant a strong emphasis on mapping technology and GIS, which had become a favorite of mine as I built custom mapping applications at my current job. I applied for this program (twice!) and even enrolled in some deficiency classes, but it all hit the fan when the May 19th election emerged because finals were on May 19th. Awesome. So I watched another semester pass by eyes. Now, I'm glad I did.

One morning a few weeks back, I woke up remembering a grad program I had happened upon two years ago at my alma mater called Urban and Regional Planning. I had looked into the program then, but turned away when I saw that they required a GRE score (I didn't want that, remember?) Now, I revisited the possibility of returning to my school to continue my education in the grad program there. It felt good. I wanted it. It's the first time in the last two years that I've felt a genuine desire and motivation to jump back into school. I took that as a sign and contacted the grad advisor there. I missed the deadline for 2009 (what?!) so the earliest I can start is Fall 2010. Ugh. A full year and a half away. As disappointed as I was, I still didn't feel deterred. So that's that. I've found my direction. MURP. What a great acronym to represent my new life.

Ok, that's the just history, here's the moral. A few days ago I all-of-a-sudden recalled a conversation I had with my mom right before I left for Southern California. I had just returned from my missionary service and was ready to take on the world. We were sitting on the lawn at night, I think it was the night before I left.

"So what do you want to do? What's your plan?"
"I don't know yet. I want to help people, not sit at a computer all day."
"So what are you going to do?"
"... I want to make a better environment for people, to make neighborhoods and communities for people who can't afford it now."
"You mean multi-use housing?"
"Sure, whatever that is."

I replayed the memory a few times for nostalgia's sake, then it hit me. What did I say to my mom? I want to make neighborhoods and communities? Like developing housing tracts? Like ... urban planning?? I remember not knowing exactly how to articulate my plans back then, but I knew what I wanted and as I tried to put it into words it felt good. It felt like that was the direction I needed to take. That night, it was as if God gave me a glimpse of my future, albeit that I didn't know how to interpret it. And the next morning (maybe because I woke up at 2:00am to commence my 700-mile trip in my 1991 Eclipse) I completely forgot the experience. Whatever foresight I had gained that night was now gone and it was as if I had never received it. Interesting.

Now, six years almost to the day since our conversation, I am pursuing Urban and Regional Planning and it feels good. Again. Six years that started as care-free, blissful schooling that taught me a lot about life (and my soon-to-be wife :) but nothing about practical work skills, and that ended with frustrating phone calls, discouraging stand-stills, and long nights full of unanswered questions. Six years later, and I'm back to the beginning. I've finally come around to what God intended for me to do. I don't regret the last six years and I don't mourn over the fact that I could be well on my way in my profession instead of a year away from even starting, but I do find it intriguing that I've journeyed for so long, and now that I'm here, I realize that I knew it all along. I thought I was looking for the destination, but I wasn't because I already knew where it was. I was made to journey (through the wilderness?) because I still had things to learn before "arriving." The real destination lies in the journey itself. It's the knowledge we gain along the way that concludes our journey. And my journey, at least this phase, has come to an end. I'm finally calm about this decision and I'm determined in this direction.

It's really a microcosm for life. I just got back from my aunt-in-law's funeral, and as I chanted along with the monk, I thought about how she was now with her husband who passed on three years ago. She had returned to the place from whence she had come, but now with knowledge and experience that only a lifetime on earth can provide. Before we are born, I'm sure we are debriefed on our earth life and what we need to do and where we need to end up. Then we're born as a baby and forget it all. We start anew. It's only was we inch our way through life that we start to see glimpses of our true potential and final destination. And as we pass through the veil between life and death, I'm sure we'll say to ourselves, much like I did upon remembering my conversation with my mom, "Duh, I knew this."  But we will finally be able to arrive at our destination, only because we had "arrived" gradually by accumulating truth and experience as we made the journey.


For All Who Care - Viet Speaking Mission Website is Down

Every now and then, I like to pay my respects to an old website dedicated to Vietnamese Speaking LDS Missions around the world. It dates back to the 1999's and is very much so a 1990's website, complete with an animated Kokopelli tooting away on his flute (why Kokopelli, I do not know). The site contains a curious mixture of former missionary contacts, messages, games, articles and "Java-enabled" VietChat. I actually used some of the articles on the site for a project I did back in school, but that was the last time I had visited... until tonight.

The website is located here: http://members.aol.com/nomhawj/viet/mission.html Go ahead, click on it. See the circular logo and the totally rad sidebar and Mr Kokopelli tooting away? Probably not. You probably see a nasty dark page with some smokey header informing you that blah blah blah we shut down this page forever we sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Thanks for the apology, but you shut down my page!

Well, it wasn't my page, per se. In fact, I don't know whose page it was, or is, or else I'd let them know that they've been shut down forever and request that they migrate the site to another host. Fortunately for all of us, there's a nifty web service called WaybackMachine, located at archive.org, which allows you to see webpages that aren't there anymore, like ones that have been "shut down forever" for example. Using this service, we still have a vestige of our wonderful Viet Speaking Mission site, a snapshot from 2006 which seems to be the last time the webmaster made a major update. Here it is (no nasty smokey header this time):

Viet Speaking Mission

Take a look through the Mailing List which provides a smattering of former missionaries' contact info reaching all the way to 1981. Or my personal favorite, the Missionary Corner, where you can find some Gospel-related Vietnamese-language materials, and make sure to follow the "Vietnam and the Church" link which leads to several articles about, you guessed it, Vietnam and the Church.

Now, we don't know when archive.org will decide to dẹp tiệm (which they probably won't but anyway), but in preparing for the worst, I would recommend taking a look through the archived site and extracting what info you want/need right now. Just in case.

Small print:I am toying with the idea of setting up a new site for former Vietnamese-speaking elders, but don't know when/where it will take place. Feedback?


Want to use a smiley outside of chat?

Try this:

Using that little mess of numbers (called an HTML character entity) in your online document will yield a cute little smiley:

This little smiley (and all the other character entities) will work if your online document or page is using a standard font (the fonts in this post should all work) and is being displayed in a modern browser (more on this below). Here are two extensive and detailed lists of character identities: Character Entity HTML Reference and HTML Character Entities. Here's a quick reference of the ones I think are coolest:

Looks likeCharacter EntityDescription
☺Smiley face
☻Inverted smiley face
☹Frowny face
  Non-breaking space - like hitting the spacebar (ever noticed your double-spaces after a period don't work online? Use  )
¼¼Fraction one-quarter
½½Fraction one-half
¾¾Fraction three-quarters
©©Copyright sign
®®Registered sign
™Trademark sign
♥Hearts suit (in cards)
☂Umbrella (rain)
☮Peace sign
☯Yin & Yang
♘White Knight (chess)
♪Eighth note

How it works: Browsers are designed to read HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language) documents (history of HTML here). Unlike plain-text or word-processing documents (static documents), HTML documents are built up with all kinds of tags and symbols and codes, telling the browser how to display the content. So you could be typing a sentence and mid-way decide to break into song "♪A whole ♩♬ new world!♫" Try it. Next time you update your facebook or twitter, throw a little ✄ or ☢ to really get your message across.

Sometimes the most common things are the hardest to do

Life presents us with so many choices sometimes it's hard to do the things that are most important to us. Whenever I have a day off at home, I plan to do so much housework- all those things that I can't do during the week. But at the end of the day, I look back and realize that I actually accomplished nothing. Except maybe updating my facebook. That's my dilemma - doing the things that I don't need to do in place of the things that I should be doing.

Saturday night I had the hardest time deciding whether or not to go to church (it was stake conference, after all). I knew I wouldn't be thrust down to hell for not going, but there a dull nagging in the back of my head that I SHOULD go, that thing we call "conscience" or "duty" or whatever. I was so tired and had been out all day and hadn't done any of the home stuff I had planned and blah blah blah, I just didn't want to go. Finally, my wife convinced me to go (and came along for the ride!) and upon arriving I felt like I had actually done something right (or my wife, rather). The talks were good and I got pretty beat up by the spiritual 2x4, but the last speaker really drilled it home. He basically said "there are some of you here that didn't plan on being here, or didn't want to be here, but you showed up anyway and that's the important thing." Before I could give myself a pat on the back, he motioned behind him to the chorister and said "it wasn't easy for Sister Carlson to be here, but she made it." I later learned that her husband had passed away the day before.

There are so many things that we should be doing - that we must be doing - but somehow slip through the cracks. Sometimes we're too tired, sad, sick, or downtrodden to look beyond the bare necessities to those things that will help others or brighten their day. Of anyone in that congregation, Sister Carlson was the ONE who had a valid excuse not to be there, but despite the sorrow she came and did what she knew she must. Let's follow her example. Let's get up right now and do that thing which we know we should have done last week. Write that letter (email) to your loved one, apologize to your neighbor (or spouse), find the strength to forgive, pay that debt, clean that room, whatever it is that you've had on your mind for so long but haven't had the strength or the faith to do, go do it now. Really. Stop reading and go do it. Get out of here. Someone's waiting.


Vietnamese Input - A Few Methods of Typing Vietnamese

Here are three ways of using Vietnamese characters in your workflow:

  • Vietnamese input method software that you install on your machine

  • Online service that acts as input method software

  • Online Vietnamese manual keyboard

Input Method Software

I'm partial towards one piece of Vietnamese input software, and it is called Unikey. Great open-source software (that means it's free!) that is incredibly small, efficient and mobile. Other software includes VNI, VPSKeys, etc, which includes dictionaries, spell checkers and a lunar calendar for goodness sake, but if you only need the ability to type in Vietnamese, I would recommend Unikey above the rest. I've used it for 5 years now and love it.

  • First, download Unikey (zip) here

  • Unzip the file and save the contents in some folder you'll remember

  • Open the file named unikey.exe, make sure the little icon at the bottom is a "V" instead of "E", and start typing

That's it! You're done! No installation, no registry changes, no library files to clutter your system32, nothing! Because it is so small and lightweight and doesn't require an installation to run, you can actually copy the contents of your folder to a USB drive and then plug it in to any other computer to start typing Vietnamese. If you want to make sure that the your Vietnamese characters are readable to the vast majority of viewers (ie webpage, email, Word document) then make sure that the Character Set in the Control Panel is set to Unicode and that you use one of the following fonts:

  • Arial

  • Courier New

  • Myriad Pro (Adobe)

  • Palatino Linotype

  • Tahoma

  • Verdana

There are a few others, but these are the main Unicode fonts that contain all the characters in the Vietnamese alphabet. A standard installation of Windows will include all of these fonts (minus Myriad Pro, which comes bundled with Adobe CS products).

Online service

Although there is no service that I can find that is specifically intended for this purpose (I have one on the back burner but it's really beyond me right now), if I'm stuck at a computer with no Vietnamese input software and I left my USB drive at home, this is my next best option. We will basically be using a Vietnamese dictionary site that facilitates Vietnamese input then copying the text and pasting it where we need it.
  • Navigate to a dictionary site that provides online Vietnamese input (my personal favorite of all time: http://dict.vietfun.com/)

  • Make sure Output Format is UTF-8 and Input Mode is VNI or VIQR

  • Start typing your content in the search box

  • Copy the text and paste it where you need it

This method works well for single words or short phrases. It also can be used for mobile devices, except the iPhone which can't copy and paste (yet. OS 3.0 should).

Online Vietnamese Keyboard

My last option, if all else fails, is to use a manual keyboard (one that gives you all the Vietnamese characters and you click on the one you want). I found a nice one today for this article, here at Incks.com You can type the standard English letters, then click on the Vietnamese-specific letters as you come to them. Huge impediment in the typing process, but better than nothing. Also has the option to zoom in/out, save as a text file or view and print.

Hope this has been helpful. Let me know your thoughts, and if you use other methods of typing Vietnamese please add it to this post in the comments! It would be cool to see how everyone else does it.

One last thing: A huge player in the open-source world of Vietnamese input is Hồ Ngọc Đức. This man is the master-mind behind both Unikey and the dictionary I mentioned above. He is a professor at Universität zu Lübeck in Germany and has made substantial contributions to the Vietnamese input method community. Visit his homepage here. And, if you really need a lunar calender but don't want to pay for VNI, he has one of those, too.

Update: Just remembered, my friend developed a tool to convert between different Vietnamese character formats (Unicode, VNI, VPS, VIQR). This could also be used to type Vietnamese characters, if you're familiar with VIQR, which can be typed with any keyboard. Read up on VIQR and then type your content into the tool and hit Convert. Here is Nguyễn Trí Minh's Vietnamese Conversion tool.

Change of Direction

I've been MIA for the last little while. Work is picking up, and after my last blog redesign I've kind of pulled away from the computer at home to make way for some other things (ie. planting blueberries!). Actually, I've turned more towards Facebook and Twitter and Flickr as vehicles to keep in touch with friends and stuff, because it's so quick and easy and I'm lazy. Anyway, I am going to start a new topic on this blog, namely Tips and Tricks for computer stuff. Just a series of short posts regarding things I've found to speed up my workflow. Today is the first article and it pertains to inputing Vietnamese characters.


Tết Pictures In!!

Better late than never. Here's my coverage of the festival this year. I was mostly caught up doing what I do best (running after my wife) but I was able to capture a few fun moments. My favorite was going behind the food vendors' booths and sneaking shots while my wife told them how they can sell their wares more successfully.

Click here for the slideshow

[images hosted by flickr]


Taking Notes Helps!

An article in Pistachio today informs presenters on presenting while people are Twittering. Quite an interesting phenomenon, and this article gives a nice perspective. The author lists the reasons why Twittering during a presentation is positive, and I'd like to point out the first of these reasons. I quote from reason number 1:

The more I’m allowed to interact and play with the content the more engaged and ultimately the more learning happens.
This concept has been pounded into my head since childhood, and I always find it perfectly true in every instance. Whether I'm sitting in a class or reading the Bible or trudging through a meeting that I really don't want to be in, taking notes always - yes, always - yields strong results in the end. Here's what happens:
  1. I have to listen to take notes, so I start off more engaged
  2. The more I take notes, the more questions I ask what I'm hearing
  3. The more questions I ask, the more I use that thing between my ears (brain?) to try and figure out the answer
  4. Inevitably, after a series of questions and answers, I subconsciously start to draw the content out of the abstract and into my own ballpark
  5. This is when one piece of that content takes on a life of it's own and starts to mold to fit my current situation and other, unrelated questions start to be answered by what I learned here
  6. Now the meeting/presentation is over and I can hardly believe it because I feel like I just started taking notes, even though I have ten full pages
Wonderful, huh? There's nothing as enlightening as having a good note-taking session. Except maybe choosing idleness instead of taking notes, which is what I usually opt to do. :)


A Wealth of Data Visualization Links

Thanks to a friend, I've been introduced to a truckload of data visualization links. I don't know if there's enough time in my whole life to thoroughly read through them all, but just a peek was enough. Hope you enjoy as much as I did (and will!):

Edward Tufte - the da vinci of Data

5 Best Data Visualization Projects of the Year

OSM 2008: A Year of Edits


Swivel Preview

The Best Tools for Visualization


Graphic Design - My 2009 Hobby

I've always loved art. I remember painting landscapes for my friends one year for Christmas. I remember listening to Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid and furiously drawing
characters from Final Fantasy or Metroid, or whatever Nintendo Power was highlighting at the time. I remember sitting for hours in my room carefully studying each page of my Michael Whelan or Alan Lee books, wondering how in the world did he get so much detail on that spaceship wall, or how did his stroke void of any detail at all still capture exactly the form of the dragon. I remember sitting in the basement at the computer for days on end, scrupulously writing and rewriting POV-Ray code and patiently watching as the the rays were traced one by one and my screen became a three-dimensional parallel universe. I loved it, but over the years other priorities have taken - well - priority, and I've lost a lot of the experience I built up as a child and a younger-than-I-am-now person.

I've lost so much ground in my technical drawing skills so I get easily frustrated when I'm trying to draw or paint freehand anymore. Luckily, over the last several months and because of my deepening passion for web development and design, I've been re-introduced into the world of art. Art infused with information and seamlessly presented on a canvas of HTML and CSS. Moll's clean vintage look with just enough texture to make you feel like you're reading a book; Spooner's mixture of bold vectors and calm browns; Inman's striking minimal mathematical approach; Nick La's explosion of motion and flow and contrast - it's all amazing and delightful to me, from the markup to the stylesheets to the javascript to the polished, shiny finished product it's all beautiful to me. So, I'm re-applying myself to art, this time in the form of graphic design which allows me to be creative without getting stuck on the fact that I still can't draw an anatomically-correct tree (so I borrow someone else's).

Want to see my new favorite site? This changes by the day, but at least for yesterday and today I'm submitting Viget Inspire as the most visually appealing blog in the whole world wide web (or "WWWW" for short). Isn't it nice? Well, it was this blog and a tutorial based on that blog that pushed me over the edge last night. After an hour of homework and a handful of Dove Blackberry Carmel Dark Chocolates, I plugged in my wacom and downloaded some watercolors and trees and GIMPed up a painting (the one at the top). It turned out ok, but more importantly, it's my start. From today until 11:59pm December 31st 2009, I am officially... ummm... doing more art stuff. I'll post it to my flickr so stop by occasionally and take a gander.

Thanks to mom and dad and Morgy and Jennie and Harmony for being my inspiration.


Discussion Forums are Frustrating

I've learned all of my measly scripting skills from one of two sources: documentation and discussion forums.  As riveting those documentation pdfs are, I have to say that discussion forums are even more frustrating because it starts out with the exact predicament you find yourself in, then halfway through they're talking about their own project or some other post they posted or their neighbor's dog. 

Today I found a discussion forum that yielded the one piece of information I have been lacking for the last two weeks.  I'm about to publish a test suite of a document management system and the core functions are still buggy, including uploading which is like number one priority.  Long story short, Yoda showed me the way and as I am not a member of that community and therefore cannot reply to skeeter1jd to express my heartfelt gratitude, I'm going to do it here.



Do you believe in coincidence?

Is it entirely due to chance that on my way home from work yesterday, while dodging cars and trucks on my bike, my mind was drawn back to an old, dead project I've had on the shelf for a year to host user-created maps of Vietnamese restaurants, shops, doctors, etc and build a social network around such a service?

Or that as I drove to Target to drop off my wife's subscription, a break-through concept - the "missing key" as I coined it - crashed into my brain about how to bring such a service out of the mass of mashups and into a unique niche that would truly prove useful to its users by adding new place/event notifications?

Or that when I got home I searched "social mapping" and found that Google's Latitude, an update to mobile maps that will track you via cellphone and broadcast your position to your private network, would be released tomorrow (that's today)?

Or that today I routinely opened my design feeds and inadvertently stepped into a screencast featuring Mozilla's Ubiquity, which is an experiment that in-part promises to bring mashups from site-centric status to user-centric?

Or that jQuery is just so frickin' awesome that even a dense-head like me might be able to pull it off?

Do you believe in coincidence?


Web Design Ledger - 10 Amazing Designers

Here are some of the big dogs in the web design world. And yes I have to put a picture of Moll here since he's my idol right now.

10 Amazing Designers that Influence the Community


Chúc Mừng Năm Mới! Happy Lunar New Year!

Happy New Year
To all our friends and family
Near and Far
We wish you the best for 2009
May you find happiness, success and good fortune
In the Year of the Ox!


Chúng cháu xin chúc các bác, cô chú, anh chị em
Một năm mới tràn đầy hạnh phúc và thành công.
Mong rằng năm Kỷ Sửu sẽ mang lại nhiều may mắn.

Hội Tết is this weekend so prepare for pictures!

Greepit Post - Long Exposure Pictures

Greepit is a design blog I've been frequenting lately. It mostly posts about web design but once in awhile drops some inpsiring photos. Thought I'd share this one.


I Heart Google Chrome

One of the things I love most about Chrome is that the dialogs and alerts are, well, almost funny. Like this:

My favorite is the secret agents part. I ran into a new one today:

I still love Firefox, though, for more reasons than I can name. I'm just glad to have two tools now for traversing and dissecting the web.

Cameron Moll (pronounced Mull or Mall but not Mole)

I first ran into Cameron's work several months ago when I was reading a snap2objects article on how to destroy the web 2.0 look. Little did I know who I had found! That was when I first started dabbling in actual solid web design instead of just screwing around with my blog, and since then I've seen his name pop up over and over. Today I hit the jackpot - an interview with Cameron on UIE.com. I haven't listened to it yet, but after break I plan to spend the next 29 minutes and 52 seconds listening to Spool pick Moll's brain while I calculate stats from the Nov election for work. Wonderful.

Oh, and he did a letterpress of the temple. He's so awesome.

Earlier today I found found his wife's blog, as well. Suzanne has a delightful sense of humor and made my day with her post about her boys. 4 boys. Phew.

Needless to say, I think I've found a new role model.

UPDATE 01/22/09: Lookie what I found today: Chatting with Cameron Moll on Nettuts.com


Nine Lion Design

This homepage has got to be one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. I still get chills looking at it.


Carrot Creative - jQuery at Work

The folks over at Carrot Creative have put jQuery to good use. Great use, actually. Smooth animation, no-refresh content changes, good sense of humor (they give you directions to their office by foot, car, train or dinosaur. How funny is that? lol) all combined to yield a rather pleasant experience.

Lately, I've seen so many sites like theirs, utilizing dom manipulation to create full-fledged applications instead of merely a website, all without moving from the homepage. The first I saw was a year or so ago (can't remember the link - doh!) by a Scandinavian company where you were a little plane flying all over the site. It had cool background sound effects like you were in a terminal, to complete the ambiance. Now this concept is being applied in very creative ways to more and more sites each day (favs: nofrks, youlove.us). I wonder if it will become so widespread that in 5 years from now we'll look at it like we look at the blink tag now haha. We'll see I guess.

I'm getting an itch to redesign again... argh, gotta kick it. Back to school. Clean your house. Serve your members. But don't redesign. Maybe next year.

But then all this cool stuff will be old. :(


The Best CSS Design of 2008

Wanna see some of the best CSS designs of 2008? This site has a terrific collection of websites that use rock-solid CSS markup to break the Web 2.0 look. I love these sites - someday I will design like these people.

The Best CSS Design of 2008

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)