Lead, Kindly Light

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th'encircling gloom
This line alone is enough to warm my heart and comfort my weary soul. The full song often brings me to my knees.

Learn the history of the hymn (with renditions of the hymn playing in the background), and listen to a recent performance. Newman, the author of the hymn's profound words, experienced a life full of strife and "providential illnesses," with intermittent emotional and mental breakdowns. This man intimately knows the gloom which the hymn eventually dispels. He has lived through the passage from dark to light, and shares the revelation with us.

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th'encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus,
nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path;
but now lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me,
sure it still will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent,
till the night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile, which I
Have loved long since, and lost awhile!


The Great California Shake OUt

Here it comes again!


Is science the antithesis of faith?

I wrote this essay for a seminar I'm taking on the philosophy of Physical Science.

Is science the antithesis of faith? This question always brings my mind back to the 1997 movie Contact, in which a staunch scientist seeking for extra-terrestrial contact has an out-of-world experience that she can’t “prove” but nonetheless in which she believes completely. This role reversal signifies that science and faith can co-exist, and that the traditionally dichotomous relationship between the two should be re-evaluated by both schools. I’m not saying that Hollywood is the key to bridging the gap between science and faith, but there is some credence to the point the movie attempts to make.

Traditionally, science is conceived as objective, factual and “real.” Western scientific thought has always assumed an “external reality independent of human perceptions” (Brown, p. 369), which has led many scientists – and most of the lay people – to the conclusion that the path of science is one that will eventually reveal all “truth.” This positivistic concept, though methodologically replaced long ago with a more critical approach to the world, still persists in the mind of the masses. I feel that much of the exaggerated debate between science and faith actually pivots around this mentality, rather than methodologies or definitions of either scientific exploration or religious experience.

But what if science is not objective? Scientific philosophy alludes that nothing can ever be proven as true, since an external reality in which the “truth” exists can never be reached by human perceptions. A theory can only be tested against falsification, and if it is not disproved, the theory is upheld until the next round of falsification tests – it is never true, but only not not true. In addition to this “negative nature” of science, the methodologies used to test theories can never be objective because the very fact that a theory is being tested creates a framework and context for the experiment that will influence the results. Inkpen refers to this as “world making” and states that scientists often ignore their world making because it “implies subjectivity in their world view.” (Inkpen, p. 84). He later goes as far as saying that science is not the rigid, fact-finding exploration of reality that most of us accept, but that “scientific thought and its change is strongly influenced, if not determined, by the society within which it exists” (Inkpen, p. 137).

I turn now to faith. Faith can be defined as belief without proof, but this is an overly simplistic view that begs for scientific scrutiny. However, criticizing the notion that faith is a "blind belief" belies the fact that faith and science share a common element: the inability to prove truth. Both science and faith espouse the assumption of unquestioned principles and the acceptance of a certain level of uncertainty. Viewing science and faith as dichotomous only illustrates a misunderstanding of the relationship between the two. Science claims a basis in proof, and some claim that faith can prove nothing (Comrie, p. 37). However, proof cannot be limited to things that are readily observable, as human observation is framed in social context and personal experience. In this sense, science can prove nothing either. According to one definition of faith in the New Testament, it is the "substance [basis or assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1). Is not theory an assurance of the hoped-for result of the scientific method? Are not data the evidence of phenomena which exist in a reality that in its purest form cannot be seen? A close examination of science and faith, in an atmosphere free of traditional debate, shows common ground at a fundamental level. The most divergent elements between the two may possibly be merely the terminology and constituents.

In light of the above arguments, I claim that science is not the antithesis of faith. Both require an acceptance of things not seen; both result in a near-complete belief in a reality that cannot logically be proven. Science views empirical data from observations as paramount; faith places personal experience of confirmation above all. In a way, science and faith can work together to make the world a better place – or perhaps they already do.


Another scam - Weekly Health USA: Tip of a Flat Belly

Last year, I made a somewhat lengthy analysis of an internet scam ("Google Money Masters"), so I won't go into those details here (plus, I'm at work).  But I thought this was too fun to pass up.  I was looking for a grunge font for work at urbanfonts.com and when I clicked on the category name, my browser opened another window to "Weekly Health News" showing an article on the "1 Tip of a Flat Belly: A Surprising New Way to Burn Fat Quickly."   I have to say, this is a pretty good looking scam.
The first thing that made me wonder is the picture of the supposed reporter lady person.  I've seen her all over the web, in suspicious-looking ads.  The second indicator was that the article supposedly originated in (guess where?) the city where I work, as well as the example of the woman losing 46 pounds.  Try it out - go to the article and I'm sure you'll find that the article magically originated in the city in which you are currently sitting, too!  My third source of suspicion came from the comments section.  They were all from the last two days.  Fantastic. Then last but not least, all of the links on the page lead to an advertisement for AcaiMax.  Scroll to the bottom and want to read about football? Too bad, it's AcaiMax.  How about Travel, or Racing (which is interestingly enough accompanied by an image of a mountain scape... I guess "mountain racing?")? Nope, AcaiMax again.  Then I pulled up the source code and had a good laugh.
The article purports to have been published on July 13, 2010, two days ago.  So I look at the code and find a little (messy!) bit of javascript that ends with this:

See the "-2" at the end?  Yeah, that says to set the date to two days before the current date and show it on the page.  This happens several times throughout the page, and is obviously dishonestly reporting the date to make it appear as though the article (and comment section) is recent.  Want to post a comment?  Too bad, because based on the source code and script, there's nothing actually submitting your comment anywhere!
There's more, but I'll stop.  I just find it incredibly entertaining to see how the "scam" continues to evolve.  This one looks pretty real, if you ask me.  But that's the idea - looks are deceiving, and now that we, the Web 2.0 generation, have such short attention spans, the marketers now that we look at the page for 5 seconds and then act.  Try to make it 10 and I think you'll see a lot more than they're showing you.
PS To the authors of this page, may I suggest a faster way to build an array, since it looks like you were in a hurry:
var month = [


Online Vietnamese language resources

With the popularity of a previous post on Vietnamese Input Methods and the recent demise of dict.vietfun.com, I feel compelled to post a list of online Vietnamese language resources.  This list is, of course, not exhaustive, so please add any other helpful links to the comments.  As we so painfully realize today with the launch of an "not-so-improved" replacement for dict.vietfun.com, web resources are terribly ephemeral and therefore may not exist tomorrow.  I compiled this list awhile ago (updated for now), and I'm leaving the now-defunct sites as an archive.

Vietnamese Dictionaries and Glossaries

  • Hồ Ngọc Đức's Dictionary: Original dictionary by Hồ Ngọc Đức.  The best interface for this dictionary was located historically at dict.vietfun.comwww.datviet.com:8000 and www.viet.net/~vietdict/ but are now defunct.  A non-operational archived copy can be found here.  Also available in downloadable form for use offline (with the optimal interface).  See also Hồ Ngọc Đức's Vietnamese input program, Unikey.
  • VDict:  Decent dictionary with translation.  Forums very informative.  Lots of ads.
  • vndic.org:  Another dictionary showing adjacent terms.  Ads.
  • Viet Dictionary:  Fast and simple.  Minimal ads, but a little buggy.
  • Webster's Online Dictionary - with Multilingual Thesaurus Translation:  Very useful resource that finds phrases which contain the keyword you're searching for, i.e. I searched for "hát" and got 50+ entries, including "rạp hát" (theatre), "đầy tiếng hát" (songful) and "không được ca ngợi" (unsung).  Takes awhile to figure out how to use it.
  • Multilingual Legal Glossary:  A handy tool, though not extensive, for searching legal terms and phrases.  It's a fairly recent project headed by Vancouver Community College, so I think it's probably still being updated.
  • Intel Term List - VN:  In my experience, when most people are talking about computers, parts and software are referred to by their English name or some transliteration.  However, Intel has a whole list of trademarks and brands that they've "officially" translated in Vietnamese, presumably to accomodate the growing hardware market in Vietnam.  Very useful website, especially for those of you, like myself, who have always wanted to know how to say "Pentium® 4 Processor with HT Technology brand" in Vietnamese.
  • Business Electronics Dictionary:  Another interesting glossary that gives extensive definition and explanation of English terms in Vietnamese.  Not a large amount of entries, but several useful internet terms.

Vietnamese Language Resources

  • Learning Vietnamese Online:  Great starting point for learning Vietnamese online.  Hosted by Arizona State University.
  • EVietnam Group:  Defunct. This place is full of interesting Vietnamese language stuff, including free Vietnamese courses, a cool cultural dictionary and a Vietnamese Language exchange forum. This is a good start for those interested in learning Vietnamese or learning more about the growing network of Vietnamese language groups who are making themselves available via this thing we call the internet.
  • Vietnamese Online Grammar:  A detailed linguistic study of the Vietnamese language, but limited in completeness.  It seems like the project is still in process because many links are looped to a different page or not even linked.  Covers areas such as basic tones, lexicon and grammatical topcis (tense, aspect, negation).
  • Phrasebase Vietnamese Language:  Defunct.  An active forum with some useful threads for beginner Vietnamese terms, plus some cross references for other Vietnamese Language websites, if you're willing to dig that deep.  It seems that detailed questions get answered pretty quickly (many the same day) which makes this website useful for colloquial terms and phrases. 

Death of the BEST Viet dictionary

It's gone.  The Vietnamese dictionary that I've been using for years and years and years (well, at least since 2003), and has served as my homepage since the beginning, has finally gone the way of all the earth.  Returned to the dust.  Paid the final visit to grandma and grandpa.  Gone back to the happy hunting grounds.  :(  I'm sad.

The dictionary of which I speak is the English - French - Germany [sp] - Vietnamese Dictionary once available at dict.vietfun.com.  The genius Hồ Ngọc Đức created the dictionary software and the database of terms.  He is truly dedicated to extending the Vietnamese language to the world via the Internet, and leads the ongoing effort toward developing VietWordNet, a "large-scale online lexical-semantic Vietnamese language net" (like the English WordNet developed at Princeton).  His contribution to the Vietnamese language on the world wide web is perhaps the most influential, considering that apparently all current Vietnamese online dictionaries use large portions of his database, including the Vietnamese Wiktionary.

It thus saddens me to see the most intuitive and useful tool in accessing the above resource vanish from the Web.  Why was this the best dictionary?  Absolutely no ads.  Simultaneous language lookup (a drop-down box is a terrible way to choose language!).  After lookup, auto-focus to the input box and auto-selection of text (allowing user to enter the next term without having to navigate to the input and/or select the text).  Right-click on a word in the definition to lookup that word.  These features provided a seamless, speedy workflow that minimized the amount of lost time with keyboard-to-mouse-and-back hand movement.  I remember countless times looking up a list of mixed words (both English and Vietnamese) without touching the mouse once.  This functionality was in place before Web 2.0 and mobile interface concepts had emerged mainstream - truly a web app beyond its time.

All of the current online Vietnamese databases have some of these features, but most revert to a language drop-down, severely limited efficiency and doubling time when translating.  I find the drop-down an eyesore that may conserve screen real estate but lacks functionality (in this application).  In a subsequent post, I will list the dictionary resources that I will now have to use since my trusted site is gone under, grimacing each time I have to click for a language and see a gaudy ad.

I had noticed that the dictionary at dict.vietfun.com was quite fickle over the last several months, so I was relieved to see a message last week stating that major improvements were being implemented.  Alas, I access the site this morning only to find the hated drop-down language selection!  Mừng hụt!  And what's worse?  A gaping text box spanning half my screen, reserved for translation.  Yuck.  Lookup and translation should never be on the same page.  I frantically clicked the About tab to see if Hồ Ngọc Đức is somehow involved with this remake (hoping that he wasn't).  A 404 error - the page doesn't even exist.  The site is due for completion on June 25, but judging by its current state, it will never be half the site it used to be.  The beautiful simplicity has been compromised for Bleh and a Translation Box.  And a drop-down. 

This is a sad day.  I don't know if I can function without this dictionary.  Perhaps if someone were to re-create it... hmm, now that's an idea.


Organic Design and Internet GIS

 I've had a lot on my mind lately, so I'm going to distract myself for a moment by blogging about random stuff.

First, dad made a rock patio in his yard which intrigues me - I can stand at the door and stare at it forever.  At a glance, it appears that the stones were nicely planned out before being placed, perhaps drawn out on paper like a blueprint.  But it was actually placed stone-by-stone, starting with the big one in the middle and moving outward.  That might not seem like a big deal, but it's a microcosm of organic design and a beautiful example how well generative processes work.  More on organic design later (a lot more...)

Maps and geospatial data integrated into our daily life... it's been in the works for years and now it's evolving into the transparent appendage for which cybernetics gurus have been waiting.  ESRI recently released an online GIS that looks promising, despite some controversy.  That's on the map-making side.  Now that our phones have GPS (and can be tracked by cellphone towers if no GPS is present) and we're addicted to constantly tweeting and updating our status, we've become easy targets for... well, whoever has the data.  Fun.

Well, I think I feel better.  Now, bed.


Photo album complete

It's done.  The project that has pervaded my life for 3 weeks now is finished.  Well, I'm calling it "finished" or else I'll never be able to put it down.  I remember listening to an interview with Cameron Moll, who said that there exists a point in design that we must call "finished," even though it's not finished and we could continue working indefinitely on perfecting it.  That point is somewhere between satisfaction and the point of diminishing returns, and I think I'm there.
Now it's on to more important work, like my thesis proposal.
Come stop by, take a look, let me know what you think. Give me feedback on what can be improved. I'll add it to my list of fixes, reserved for an undetermined date in the future - Phase 2.
BMV Photos


The purging and the soul

Recently I've realized that I need to organize my online life.  I have so many accounts in so many online services that I don't even remember where I am.  So the purging has begun.  I started with mybloglog and snapfish.  There will be many more to come.

In the meantime I am streamlining my online life by arranging each service into a certain function: web development stuff here, personal stuff there, networking stuff way, way over in the corner.  This will hopefully stop the scatter-brained and inefficient approach to "staying connected" (I'm falling out of love with that phrase... I think I was "over-connected" for a time).

I just cleaned my back porch today, to follow along with my online endeavors (I should have been doing my homework but ohwellitcanwait).  This cleaning and organizing is all part of a spiritual purge, in hopes of a tighter vision and more focused energy on tackling life.  After the cleansing of the porch (despite my nasal passages full of dust), I feel the effects already.

Online life in a nutshell:

  • Batch IP Locator: my batch IP address geocoding test-site turned side-project that is garnering a respectible traffic, considering my marketing consists of a couple forum posts and a twitter account (112,755 geocodes as of this moment).  Some day I may opt to retool it to bring in some side cash, and it would then officially be my "business endeavor" (everyone's got to have one, right?).
  • SnippetLib: since becoming obsessed with web design early last year, I've learned, then subsequently lost, tons of little snippets of code to achieve those most menial and mundane tasks that turn into a full-day of searching forums and head-banging-into-the-wall syndrome.  So I built a wordpress blog (first one, and I love it so far) and threw them all in there.  It has since transformed into my outlet for web development, which had been flowing into this xanghe blog and causing great confusion (for me).
  • vietmap.info: bought this domain name 2 years ago with the intent of creating something great... still haven't started yet.  But eventually I'm thinking of a user-built database of Vietnamese stores and services.  I really don't like forgetting about the wonderful little bún shop at the corner of something and something street.  This would be my outlet for tinkering, if I ever get it off the ground.  (Note: google maps now has metropolis areas in Vietnam to the street level - I'm glad I waited, because all the good food in Vietnam are the mom-and-pop stalls!)
  • benhamatake.com: I've come to terms with my ego.  Currently this domain redirects to this blog, but there's much in store for this one.
  • Twitter: Random tweets.  That's about it.
  • Flickr: Used to be the treasure trove of all our photos, but now my pro account has expired and we're putting the money into benhamatake.com.  It's still there with our photos, but only 7 sets.  We were sad enough about that to develop our own picture management application (coming soon).
  • xanghe: The blog that started it all.  It really did, and has been the binding link between all of the above nonsense.  It's on the fourth re-design.  It started as a silly expression of Asian-American angst.  It has been the depository of all kinds of thoughts and news and superfluity, all coalescing into a barely-recognizable mess of me.  That's about to change.
Focus.  Energy.  Order.  That's my new call.  With all of the other online distractions I have going on, this will be the one that brings me back down to earth.  In this blog will I write the things of my soul.


2009 - A lesson in expectations

I felt an anticipation for 2009 right as Tết rolled around last year.  My wife felt it, too - it was a tangible expectation, like the thick, humid air before a storm - and we both were convinced that great things would happen in the following months.
Then... nothing.
I started school, then had to drop out, then started again.  Mai Vi started working a little more so our income rose a little.  I got a new bike.  She improved in managing all those little roudy Primary kids on Sundays.  Very mundane events, or long-time plans finally starting to materialize, but nothing that fit that strong anticipation we felt last spring.  I was slightly disappointed as Tết came and went this year and I did not feel the same anxious expectation, nor did I have anything to show for last year's.  Expectations have a way of skewing our view of the present, but I was honestly trying to determine why my anticipation had been so far off.
One night after an especially-introspective bike ride home from work I was struck with a prompting, an idea formulating that felt important but evasively vague.  It all started with wondering what to do with this blog, since I don't blog much anymore, but my thoughts lead me into much deeper issues.  Like smoke from the camp fire, every time I grasped too hard - or even looked too directly to get a glimpse of the actual shape and form - it vanished and I was left wanting.  Mai Vi went to bed, I stayed up doing homework and coding a project for a friend, while the ideas in my head slowly settled and finally grew silent.  I brushed my teeth, turned out the lights and knelt at my bed to pray.  Before my knees hit the floor I was back on my feet, head racing.
Lights on, pen lid off, old printout from last semester as my canvas, I scratched out the ephemeral thoughts even as they flitted away, no longer grasping for meaning but scrambling to manage the overflow of mental data.  They were neatly processed now, folded and starched and ready for consumption after my evening activities allowed them room to self-organize.  The past year made sense now, in the dim glow of my desk lamp, but it soon would not so I urgently disregarded spelling and grammar and any sense of order just to let these thoughts make their way to the paper before disappearing into a million ethereal pieces.
See, I grew up last year, and I'm still getting used to the rest of my life.
Here's my thoughts, as they are on the back of an old school printout:

Year of maturing - the prevailing theme - I felt it would be a big year but didn't have much to show for it except school - but I see now it's more of an internal progression, a growing up - xanghe represents the care free, blissful days of perpetual honeymoons - that phase has passed and it's now on with adult life - on the way home from work, I realized I'm approaching 30, which is not old, but it's too old to claim ignorance or innonence as I have been doing - recently I told my younger brother to be a man, but was I projecting? - over the years, xanghe has transformed from a silly nickname to a symbol of my continual search for meaning, depicted by the ubiquitous bee - time has passed for me to claim xanghe as my alias, but it will remain a reminder of my search - it's time to be a man


The future of online mapping... is Here!

I stumbled on Blaise Aguera y Arcas' TED talk (which led to this talk) from Cameron Moll's twitter feed which opened up to me the world of Seadragon, Photosynth, and the new Bing maps.  I guess I've been neglecting Microsoft to my own detriment.
Let's look at Seadragon, which revolutionizes the concept of image browsing, allowing users to pan and zoom hi-res iamges as easily and smoothly as they do an online map.  I remember seeing an application that used the Google Maps interface to pan and zoom large photos, which I thought was really ingenious but it looked like it only garnered a niche following if that.  Now the concept has gone mainstream under Arcas' touch at MS and the result is stunning.  Here's an example of Yosemite.  You'll need Silverlight to view it, but it's worth it (and I never advocate downloading non-standard components, but this is an exception).
The future is here.  We as internet community contributors, sharing our thoughts and images and lives with a global community, are more and more able to recreate our experiences online to share with the world (and not through VR fluff which doesn't count because the idea is to escape reality in those games).  Some call it augmented reality.  I call it the reality, because that's the direction our world is heading.  



Bánh is one of those ubiquitous food terms in Vietnamese that seems to classify anything that is not soup. A look in the dictionary shows us that bánh can mean "cake" (for this discussion we'll skip the fact that bánh also means wheel), but this doesn't quite describe the sticky, translucent goo that is bánh bột lọc or the crisp, crepe-like heaven that is bánh xèo. Add a little suffix denoting an association with grain and you get bánh mì, the famous Vietnamese-French baguette that can be eaten stuffed with meat, cilantro and pickled carrots, dipped in sweetened condensed milk for a quick fix, or just enjoyed alone, as long as it's piping hot out of the oven.

I have yet to find a concrete description to encompass all forms of bánh, and maybe the Vietnamese language is not meant for that anyway. Context is the strongest factor in determining a word's meaning, whether "Anh nhớ lấy bánh nha!" means to remember the bread, remember the glutinous rice cake, or remember to pick up a wheel on my way home.

For a long list of possible bánh concoctions, take a look at the search results at vdict.com for "bánh" (caution, this site has been known to display scandalous ads, darn them!), and definitely pay a visit to the Banh Guide, a webpage I found today (hence this post) that gives a nice description in English of several types of bánh.

And now I'm hungry.

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)