Bloody Day

Đạo is diagnosed with a mild case of Vonwillebrands. As a result we spent a whole day drawing blood test. I promised him that I would get him a set of Lego if he was brave.

He had to go three blood tests in one day. They drew 15 tubes altogether. The first time he resisted, but the second went smoothly and he didn’t cry at all. The third time, he didn’t collaborate, but we managed to get through.

It was a tough day; therefore, he earned his toy. I am thinking of getting him a flu shot also, but don’t want to push him too far. Let’s wait to take Đán as well.

UI is Communication

A thorough and approachable guide to UX design. In addition to McKay’s clear writing, do-and-don’t examples make UI is Communication a required read for students and novice designers.

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Love Arguing With Đán

These days I am in charge of taking Đán to daycare in the morning and picking him up in the evening; therefore, we spend sometimes together in the car ride. Đán has this peculiar habit. Whenever he likes a song, he would ask me to repeat it over and over again when we were riding in the car. The latest one is Nguyên Khang’s rendition of “Sầu Đông.” As much as I love Nguyên Khang, I can’t hear that song for 25 minutes straight, twice a day, and everyday. So I have to find something to break Đán off his habit.

Đán loves to argue even with his limited vocabulary. For instance, the other day I picked a fight with him, rather than turning on his favorite song, to distract him from wanting to take his seatbelt off as I was driving. I pointed him to the squirrel and told him that if he doesn’t stop yelling “the squirrel gonna bite his butt.” He replied, “No daddy, the squirrel gonna bite your head.” I said, “No, he’s going to bite your butt.” Then he saw the tractors at a construction site and said, “I am going to use the mighty machine to crush the squirrel.” I was laughing my ass off.

Then we drove by houses with decoration of skeletons for Halloween and I told him, “The skeleton gonna eat you.” He replied, “But I am sitting in the car. The skeleton can’t get into the gate.” He referred to the window as gate. I said, “But the skeleton can jump into the gate and eat you.” Then he said, “The skeleton is not going to eat me because he’s my best friend.” I was like, “Huh?” He went one, “Do you understand?” I replied, “I guess so.” I thought to myself. He’s either going to be a lawyer or a politician.

Around 10:30 pm, I came home from class and he was still up. Grandma couldn’t get him to sleep. I came up and lay down next to him. I asked him, “Why don’t you sleep?” He replied, “I am waiting for you. I am so glad to see you.” I gave him a kiss, held him in my arms and he fell asleep 5 minutes later. Man, I love this kid.

Students’ Redesign Project

The second project for Web Design & Usability required students to redesign a web site of their own choosing. The goals were to improve usability, user interface and visual design of an existing site. They must present at least six areas where improvements were needed. This project focused on the desktop screen only. Minimum deliverables included a homepage design, secondary page design, a user-interaction design and another of their own choosing. They may hand in screenshots showing how the pages work or a functional HTML demo. Graduate students were required to design a mobile version of their redesign with the minimum deliverables of a homepage design and another design of your own choosing.

To help students narrow down their selection, I assigned the following questionnaire:

  1. What site will you redesign?
  2. Who visits your site?
  3. What do your visitors look for?
  4. Are they able to find it? If not, why?
  5. What does the current site do well?
  6. What does the current site do poorly?
  7. What are short-term or long-term goals that need to be considered in the redesign?
  8. How does the user interface need changing?
  9. What is the most important factor of the new site?
  10. What areas would you improve in the redesign?
  11. What features would you eliminate in the redesign?
  12. What features would you highlight in the redesign?

Areas of Improvement

The following list gives students an understanding of what I was looking for in their redesign:

  1. Navigational conventions
  2. Effective visual hierarchies
  3. Chunking (breaking pages up into clearly defined areas)
  4. Clear indications (make it obvious what’s clickable)
  5. Eliminate distractions
  6. Format contents to support scanning

To help students thinking about usability, I assigned the following readings from Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited (3rd Edition):

  • Chapter 3: “Billboard Design 101”
  • Chapter 7: “The Big Bang Theory of Web Design”

With this redesign project, students had the complete freedom to rearrangement contents, add new features or omit unnecessary items. They just need to provide me the reasons for doing so. After conducting content inventory, they worked on the wireframes and moved into a design tool of their choice to create the mockups.

For class critiques, I experimented with a different approach. In addition of having a full group or smaller groups, students were required to write down their feedback. Each computer station was set up with a project. Each student then had a chance to sit down, check out his classmate’s work and wrote down comments on a piece of paper. Some students found this approach helpful, especially the ones that don’t like speaking in front of a class.

For online critiques, students engaged more with Disqus on the course site than the previous project. Students that didn’t like speaking out in class did much better in writing. Graduate students continued to provide much more feedback in group discussions.

For the final results, most students stepped up their game from the previous project. We had some very strong designs and concepts. One student took on the challenge of reworking the VOA News. At first I was a bit skeptical, but she did an excellent job of restructuring the hierarchy of the site and added a function to allow users to customize their news homepage. Another student came up with an imaginative redesign of an entertainment site that let users watch Asian movies and TV series online.

One particular student wanted to take on a challenging redesign so I suggested that she reworked the VOA web site and she did an excellent job. One student completely reimagined a web site that let users watch Asian movies and TV series. For more intriguing redesigns, check out my Pinterest board.

Asia Icons – Mai Lệ Huyền

If you can get past the utterly reprehensible typographic and cover design, the live set dedicating to the iconic singer Mai Lệ Huyền is quite enjoyable. Mad kudos to Brian Morales for his brilliant work of reinterpreting her popular hits in the 60s to 70s and giving them a fresh, new makeover.

The rearranging of Khanh Băng’s medley is an exemplary example. On “Có Nhớ Đêm Nào,” Morales keeps the melody intact, but modernizes the tune with big band swing makeover. The hot-as-hell horn line weaves in and out of Hồ Hoàng Yến smoky voice creating a very energetic tempo. Hồ Hoàng Yến hasn’t sounded this passionate in years. Then Morales switches up the Latin flavor on “Hào Hoa” for Y Phương. The sax solo, followed Y Phương’s sexy singing, is mad intoxicating.

On Khanh Băng’s “Sầu Đông,” Morales keeps it straight rock-pop. What makes the tune stands out is his big staccato comping on the piano behind Nguyên Khang’s voice. The tune sounds so damn catchy that even my two-year-old son keeps requesting it on repeat again and again.

On another pop-rock “Con Tim và Nước Mắt” (Hoàng Thi Thơ), Diễm Liên has done an excellent job of mimicking’s Mai Lệ Huyền’s signature style. Diễm Liên’s big and soulful voice is a reminiscent of Mai Lệ Huyền’s youth. The iconic singer herself closes out the set with highly dynamic performances of “Ai” (Trường Hải), “Xây Nhà Bên Suối” & “Túp Lều Lý Tưởng” (Hoàng Thi Thơ), and “60 Năm Cuộc Đời” (Y Vân).

It’s such a wonderful treat when Asia steps out of its bubbles to bring its audiences something fresh. The new arrangements from Morales not only benefitted the established singers, but they also make newcomers like Lê Quốc Tuấn, Hoàng Anh Thư, Phạm Tuấn Ngọc, Hoàng Thục Linh and Cát Lynh sounded great.

For once Asia Entertainment takes us back to our past that was actually fun and not reminding us of the dreadful images of war.

Third Anniversary at Mason Law

If LinkedIn didn’t congratulated me on my third anniversary at George Mason Law, I would have forgotten. I had to track down this blog to remind me the exact date I started. It was October 17, 2011.

Wow three years already. In retrospect, what had I accomplished? Other than the day-to-day tasks, like adding new functions, features or designs, I relaunched the main site twice, brought more faculty, staff and students to use WordPress CMS, and maintained and secured the two dedicated servers.

In addition to my job, I also enjoy being around such a group of diverse and talented individuals. I couldn’t ask for greater colleagues.

Beside my main role as a web services developer, I also get the opportunity to pursue a graduate degree as part of the tuition benefit. I have three more courses to finish after this semester. Furthermore, I was given a chance to teach what I am passionate about and what I do everyday.

I am grateful for the position I am in at this point of my career. Couldn’t be more satisfied.

Twentieth-Century Type

A historical overview of typography in the twentieth century. Blackwell’s accessible writing, clear organization, each chapter covers a decade of the development of type, and rich visual illustrations make the complex revolution of type and typography approachable. While the new, revised edition is completely redesigned with updated information, the original version is much easier to read. The first edition is set in large Gill Sans with just one column. The revised version set in tiny Helvetica with two columns. If you can still find a copy of the original release, I highly recommend it.

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Relief Printing for Graphic Design History

The second workshop for my class on Graphic Design History focused on using traditional relief printing techniques. Our assignment was simply creating an illustration with a word included.

For the materials, I used a Speedball Lino Cutter, a Speedy-Carve block, and a Speedy-Cut block. Because the printing process took place in class and we only had two times to complete the project, we didn’t have the time to test out our prints. The first attempt, I did Bird, which is a reinterpretation of Charlie Parker with Strings album cover. The final result didn’t have enough details; therefore, I tried something different.

For the second round, I chose Miles Davis’s iconic pose and placed type behind him. For the background I added lines to give the design more details. Because I couldn’t test out the print so I went on create another piece just incase the Miles piece didn’t workout.

For the third time, I used an existing illustration of a lady in ao dai (Vietnamese traditional dress). To make it different from the original, I did a reverse printout. The unintentional effect is the ink leaving white dots on the canvas, which look like stars.

I ended up submitting Miles Davis as my final piece because the details turned out well as I had expected. It was a fun workshop.

Hồ Trung Dũng – Một Đời Yêu

In his latest double-album, Một Đời Yêu, Hồ Trung Dũng attempts to revive Trịnh Công Sơn’s and Phạm Duy’s classic ballads. Making old music sounds new is definitely encouraged, but tremendous skills and experiences are needed to succeed. Five years into his singing career, Hồ Trung Dũng is still lacking both to take on such big challenges. As a result, he exposes all of his weaknesses on both records.

In most tracks, he sings a bit higher than his range. Unlike Tuấn Ngọc who could achieve this technique with ease, Hồ Trung Dũng struggles to hit the high register. He loses control of his breath and his flow is stilted. In the swing flavor of “Tình Hờ,” he has no clue how to scat. He confuses wordless singing with vocal exercising. In “Hẹn Hò,” he suffers with Đặng Thế Luân’s shaking syndrome. He’s shivering in his phrasing rather than using vibrato.

While keeping the arrangement to the minimal—with just a simple picking electric guitar—is a the ideal approach to Trinh’s tunes, it also reveals the flaws in his vocals. In “Phôi Pha,” he can’t hide the fact that he tries real hard not to break a sweat. In “Đời Gọi Em Biết Bao Lần,” he comes off groaning and whining like an over-sentimental, campy singer.

For what it’s worth, here’s my advice for the youngster: It’s OK to be yourself and it’s absolutely fine to be in your comfort range. Before breaking the rules, you have to learn the rules.

Typography, Referenced

A typographic reference that focuses on breath rather than depth. It’s a comprehensive guide you can flip through to find quick answers, practices and inspirations on typography for your projects. Keeping it on your shelf is not a bad idea.

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