The Classic Guide to Better Writing

Found this old treasure in the basement and could not stop reading it. Flesch and Lass had indeed penned a classic writing guide. I find their techniques on how to save words, find the right word, give it a punch, and get the most out of words to be useful. Not sure why I have not cracked this book open all these years.


Hà Anh Tuấn – Lava (Dung Nham)

After four years on hiatus, Hà Anh Tuấn returns with another production-driven album. He’s all about the beat—even in the first two minutes of an aimless intro. “Cuộc Chiến” features a hip-hop beat backing up passable lyrics about self struggles. “Vô Hình” continues with the polished R&B mid-tempo, but the topic has shifted to an invisible love. “Nhịp Si Mê” switches to a reggae groove. While the lyrics aren’t that bad, the “Oh oh” effect is irritating. “Cứ Thế” is the only slow track on the album and Xanh Mãi (Forever Young) features some elementary rap. The title track closes the album with futuristic rock production. Although the concept and the styles are all over the map, the beats keep the album somewhat coherent.

Uyên Linh – Ước Sao Ta Chưa Gặp Nhau

Uyên Linh’s sophomore release marks a bland collaboration with Dũng Đà Lạt. Let’s face it. Dũng Đà Lạt is a skilled guitarist, but not so much as a songwriter, according to this album. All seven tracks he has penned are dull in lyrics and flat in melody and harmony. The title opener is not so bad. The simply picking guitar gives Uyên Linh’s voice a sense of intimacy, but the rest of the tracks are so monotonous. Uyên Linh adds nothing but dreariness to the songs. Even Hoài Sa’s arrangements couldn’t bring the two tracks to life. If Dũng Đà Lạt and Uyên Linh are so in love with each other—the two are merged into one on the album cover like El Lissitzky’s “USSR. Die russische Ausstellung”—they should keep their songs to themselves.

Quang Dũng – Bài Thơ Không Đoạn Kết

Listening to Quang Dũng’s newest record makes me want to smack the sense out of him. What is the purpose? Sure, he wants to give over-sentimental standards (Nhạc Trữ Tình) a try. I get it, but he brings nothing fresh to these bolero ballads. His stiffed delivery, particular in “Tiếng Còi Trong Sương Đêm” (Lê Trực), combined with his lack of emotion and versatility make him sound incredibly stodgy. The trite productions are not helping him either. Released just a week before the holidays, Bài Thơ Không Đoạn Kết has managed to make the list of one of most pointless albums of 2014.

Responsive Design with WordPress

A good overview of implementing responsive design into WordPress templates. Joe Casabona has done an excellent job of balancing the concepts and the codes. He also managed to keep the book brief to help you get started. An essential read for designers who are new to WordPress.


Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees

Robert Irwin is the Los Angeles artist whose work has been stripped down to its pure essence: lines, dots, discs, and light. The concept of progressive reduction is fascinating, but I find the reading to be hard to grasp. For one, I don’t know anything about the artist and his art before reading the book. For two, the author, Lawrence Weschler, keeps the narration very conversational. Readers get to hear the story from Irwin’s own voice, but the flow isn’t so smooth.

As for the book design, Sandy Drooker has done an excellent job of combining Adobe Garamond text with Univers display. These two classic typefaces make the reading experience pleasurable. I’ll definitely revisit the book in the future when I learn a bit more about Irwin’s work.


Post Binding

For the final project in Experiential History of Graphic Design, we had to do a post binding with all the class workshops (calligraphy, relief printing, photogram, letterpress, paste-up, screen printing) we had done and our research paper.

Even though the professor had gone through the demo in class and we watched a very useful instructional video, I was extremely nervous. We only had one shot and I am still terrible with handcrafting design. I had to take three days off work before Thanksgiving to focus on this project. The entire process went better than what I had expected. The book was not as perfect as I wanted to be, but it met my satisfaction. I am proud of the final result.


The body text in this book is set in Sabon designed by Jan Tschichold. The headings are set in Clarendon designed by Robert Besley. The captions are set in Univers designed by Adrian Frutiger. The book is made by Donny Truong under the guidance of professor Don Starr. The publication is produced in the fall of 2014 as a final project for a course titled Experiential of Graphic Design at The George Mason University’s School of Art.

Favorite Vietnamese Albums of 2014

To keep with the tradition, I want to post the best of Vietnamese albums each year. This year, however, I didn’t get a chance to listen to many albums like I had in the previous years. With my limited selection, I can only list my 10 favorites of 2014.

  1. Đức Tuấn – Requiem: From concept to production, this album was crafted with high standard. Đức Tuấn gave his best performance in years.
  2. Danh Việt – Chẳng Có Tình Ca: With Danh Việt’s debut, composer-producer Quốc Bảo gives the Vietnamese pop scene the middle finger. It strands away from the current pop trends. All tunes are new and original.
  3. Nguyên Hà – Địa Đàng 2: Although Nguyên Hà has a limited vocal range and a few minor issues of enunciation, she is a compelling storyteller. Quốc Bảo recognizes her strength; therefore, he crafts minimal arrangements with generous space for her to tell his tales.
  4. Bạch Yến –Hát Tình Ca Lam Phương: The man who has contributed priceless treasures to Vietnamese music deserves an album like this.
  5. Phương Vy – Khi Ta 20: This is the album I listened to the most in 2014. It gives a grown-ass man like me nostalgia. Phương Vy and her tasteful, talented musicians reinvigorated the old pop collection by returning to the basics.
  6. Thanh Lam & Tùng Dương – Yêu: The best part of Thanh Lam and Tùng Dương’s collaboration is the spellbinding orchestral work. Lê Phi Phi’s elegant, captivating arrangements, which lift the vocalists to a higher level, stand out by themselves.
  7. Võ Thiện Thanh – Trung Nguyên Lounge Music: A double set to chill out with. Whether in shopping malls or coffee shops, these two albums will calm your nerves and melt your soul.
  8. Nguyên Khang – Tình Hờ: A beautiful ballad album that showcases Nguyên Khang’s mature vocal delivery.
  9. Asia Icons – Mai Lệ Huyền: 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.
  10. Bằng Kiều, Thiên Tôn & Đình Bảo – Đời Đá Vàng: Bằng Kiều with a soaring falsetto, Thiên Tôn with a charming tenor, and Đình Bảo with a delightful baritone. Using their various tones and individual strengths, they have found a way to harmonize themselves as a group.

I Love Ngoc Lan 2015

I am proud to launch the new version of I Love Ngoc Lan a few weeks before the holidays and her birthday (December 28). The new design returns to large, beautiful photography. One of the feedbacks from fans is that they alway liked to see their idol every time they pay her a visit. Her photos are now paired up with big, bold, sans-serif typefaces to strengthen the design.

Speaking of typeface, another major change is the body text, which was previously set in Open Sans designed by Steve Matteson. The new layout is set in Adobe Arno Pro designed by Robert Slimbach. The choice was chosen for readability, but also to complement the sans serif faces on the images.

I must admit. I have not spent as much as I should on the site. Doing a redesign once a year is the least I could do to keep Ngoc Lan’s legacy alive. Still miss her dearly after all these years.


Adjunct Faculty

I received an offering letter today from the College of Visual and Performing Arts for the position of adjunct faculty. According to the letter I will be teaching Advanced Web Design in the spring of 2015. I took the opportunity to not only updating my online resume, but also recoded the whole page. I scrapped the entire microformats for a much simpler, semantic markup. The whole focus is on typography and hierarchy. I also use Adobe Text Pro and Futura PT Condensed to be consistent with this site. Check it out.