Inheritance

What will I leave my children when I die? Since I don’t have anything worthy or much money, I haven’t thought about it yet. Yesterday, Đán told me, “When you die, I will read your Visualgui.” I smiled at him and asked, “Will you and Đạo take care of it when I die?” He replied, “Sure, we will take care of it for you.”

I often wondered what will happen to my websites when I die. Will they just die with me? I have invested a tremendous amount of time and effort into them. This blog, in particular, has documented 18 years of my life. It has become my daily journal and I haven’t intended to stop writing. I will continue to maintain and redesign it for as long as I can.

Even though I make a living as a professional web designer, I find my passion and motivation to stay in the game from my personal websites. The web has not only allowed me to feed my family, it also allowed me to express myself. I can share anything to the world from just a few clicks away. When I wrote Vietnamese Typography, as my final thesis for my MA in graphic design, I knew that the only way to reach as many type designers and typographers all over the world was to publish it as a website. I also wanted to make it freely available for anyone to read. I did not expect it to become my little consulting business on the side.

I love the web and I love making websites that are meant to stay around for a long time. The tribute website I created for Ngọc Lan has been around for 18 years. Even though it is no longer as active as it was in the early days, I still am maintaining it for as long as I can.

A few years before Mr. Đình Cường passed away, his health was declining. His son hired me to put together a website as a special gift for him. Now the site has become an archive of his artworks. His legacy will live on as long as his son maintains the website. Thơ mưa, a book of poetry by Cao Nguyên, is another website that will stay on for as long as the author wants to keep it.

As for my own blog, I am not sure how long I will continue to keep it, but I am happy that Đán is willing to take care of it after I die. My sites might have no value to anyone else, but they are my pride and legacy. I designed them with pure HTML and CSS so that they will stay around for a long time. Fancy frameworks come and go, HTML and CSS stay around. I also host my webfonts along with my websites, instead of using a third party, to make sure that they will continue to work in the future.

Yesterday, Đạo mentioned that he had gone through 400 pages of my blog and read posts that were specifically about our family. He is now in 2009 and only has six more years of materials to read through. Only my own son has that much dedication to my writing and that means the whole world to me.

Working on COVID-Related Website

After checking out Mapping Corruption, an interactive exhibit I had developed for The American Prospect, an art director at Mural Arts Philadelphia had reached out to me last year to see if I would be interested in developing an artistic, informational project related to COVID-19. Of course, I jumped on board. The day we scheduled for a kick-off meeting, my mom went on the ventilator. I had to drop the project.

A few weeks ago, I sent them an email to give them the reason I had to drop the ball on them and hoped that they had found a developer to take on the project. They were in the process of interviewing several candidates, but decided to work with me. I was ecstatic that they would give me another shot. I hope I won’t let them down.

We kicked off the meeting last week and I loved their illustrations. The information will also be useful. I am glad that they will publish these materials as an interactive, informational website. I can’t wait to share it once we launch. Of course, I will make the announcement once it goes live. Anything related to COVID-19 is personal to me. I will dedicate this project to my beloved mother.

Chọi Chữ

Cuối tháng 12 năm ngoái, Nguyễn Đặng Việt Anh, một người bạn trẻ đa tài trong ngành UX (trải nghiệm người dùng), ngỏ ý tặng tôi bộ board game “Chọi Chữ” bạn đã sáng chế. Việt Anh muốn bày tỏ sự cảm ơn của bạn ấy với tôi về dự án Vietnamese Typography. Việt Anh chia sẻ:

Mình rất respect quyển sách Vietnamese Typography của bạn. Không những là vì nội dung rất hay mà còn vì quyết định của bạn chia sẻ miễn phí trên mạng, tạo ra impacts lớn đến những người muốn hỗ trợ tiếng Việt. Xin cám ơn bạn.

Tôi rất vui khi đọc những lời của bạn. Hãnh diện hơn là bạn đã lấy nguồn cảm hứng từ quyển sách của tôi tạo ra bộ game “Chọi Chữ” để phổ biến chữ Việt của chúng ta ra thế giới. Dĩ nhiên tôi nhận ngay món quà đặc biệt này của bạn.

Món quà đã được gửi đến hơn một tháng rồi mà tôi vẫn chưa có cơ hội để chơi thử. Hôm qua mở ra đọc hướng dẫn và chơi thử thấy cũng thú vị. Thiết kế đẹp và cứng cáp. Cách chơi cũng đơn giản nhưng hữu ích trong việc học tiếng Việt. Hôm nào lôi mấy con ra chơi thử. Hoặc khi nào rảnh dụ vợ ra chọi chữ. Ai thua thì lột.

Nếu ai hứng thú muốn mua bộ game này, hãy vào trang Na Board Game đặt hàng nhé.

Medical Doctor

My nephew Eric is a straight-A student and he has a passion for design. I used to believe that you have to follow your passion, but I would like him to go into the medical field. Being in a life-and-death situation, my design passion is utterly useless. The decision-making process has been extremely hard. I never had to face something like this until now and I don’t have the experience or the expertise to make these difficult choices.

No one dies if I picked a serif over a sans-serif typeface. No life is on the line if I picked a darker or lighter shade of blue. No one cares if the logo is too big. I am at the point where I am too tired to fight for design. If my superiors want orange, I’ll give them orange. I am not going to bother explaining to them why, from a design perspective, they should go with red instead. I would let them have it.

In a life-and-death crisis, one wrong decision could make me regret it for the rest of my life even if the outcome won’t change. To get the medical expert’s advise, I have to reach out to a friend I haven’t seen in twenty-something years, a wife of a friend I have never met, a sister-in-law of my niece I met once, a friend’s husband, or my wife’s cousin. I am very grateful for their generosities and kindness, but I also feel extremely bad. I wonder if they have to give medical advice to family members and friends all the time. I wish I could return a favor. If any of them need a website, I will do it for free. That’s my offer.

I told my wife that I hope at least one of our four kids will become a doctor. Fingers crossed!

Trang nhạc Phú Quang

Gần đây tôi hay nghe lại nhạc Phú Quang, nhất là với giọng hát của Quang Lý và Ngọc Anh. Nghe lời nhạc của ông đẹp và thơ mộng nên tôi muốn thiết kế một trang web nhạc gồm những sáng tác của ông.

Thứ nhất là để làm mẫu cho nghệ thuật chữ Việt (Vietnamese Typography). Gần đây tôi thu được bộ chữ Harriet, thiết kế của Jackson Showalter-Cavanaugh. Anh thiết kế những dấu Việt đẹp và rõ nên tôi muốn dùng để làm một dẫn chứng về chữ Việt.

Thứ hai là để làm thỏa mãn bản thân. Tôi có sở thích đọc lời nhạc như đọc thơ qua iPhone. Những lúc xếp hàng đợi mua ly cà phê hoặc đợi trả tiền ở Costco, tôi mở trang web nhạc ra đọc thay vì lướt qua Twitter hay Facebook. Tuy lời nhạc tìm rất dễ dàng qua Google nhưng những trang nhạc thường chỉ để từng bài chứ không hết những bài hát của một nhạc sĩ. Đa số những trang nhạc đó load rất chậm vì họ kèm theo quảng cáo và họ chỉ dùng phông chữ thường (generic). Tôi muốn dùng chữ khác hơn và dễ đọc hơn.

Mỗi khi đọc hết một bài trên những trang nhạc khác, tôi lại phải tìm đọc bài khác. Cho nên tôi dồn hết tất cả những tác phẩm của một nhạc sĩ vào một trang theo thứ tự của tựa đề. Đọc hết một bài thì scroll tiếp đến bài kế. Khi nào ngưng đọc vẫn để trang web như vậy không đóng lại và thế thì lần sau sẽ đọc tiếp.

Tôi đã tạo ra tập nhạc của Trịnh Công Sơn, lời rap của Rhymastic, và tập thơ của Hồ Xuân Hương. Những trang này xem như những sưu tầm riêng của tôi. Nếu như sau này những trang nhạc không còn nữa, tôi vẫn còn lưu lại cho mình. Tuy hơi tốn công một chút nhưng thiết kế cũng vui vui. Sẵn tiện học luôn chữ Việt. Dự án kế tiếp tôi sẽ làm khi thời gian cho phép sẽ là những tác phẩm của nhạc sĩ Diệu Hương. Nhưng bây giờ mời các bạn vào đọc những lời nhạc của nhạc sĩ Phú Quang.

The MODX Disaster

After watching the final U.S. presidential debate on Thursday, I checked my RSS reader instead of going straight to bed. I saw a notification from MODX releasing 2.8.1. I was a bit surprised because I just upgraded to 2.8.0 only a few weeks ago. MODX usually takes at least 6 months to put out a minor release. It must be some security issue that they needed to patch.

MODX is the content management system that powered the Scalia Law website. Since it was midnight so no one would be logging into the CMS to make any updates; therefore, it was a good time to do the upgrade. It would only take me about 15 minutes to complete. I followed the procedure like I had always done in the past. Something didn’t go right when the files which were supposed to be merged had prompted me to replace. When I allowed the files to be replaced, the website went down. The files that used to take 15 minutes to merge were now estimated about 55 minutes.

I started to panic, stopped the upload, and tried to figure out what went wrong. I went into our daily backups and re-uploaded the directories I had made the upgrade. The process alone took about half an hour. The website was still down. At this point, I re-upload the entire site as well as the database from two days before. This process took a couple of hours. It was already three in the morning and nothing worked. I called GoDaddy, our hosting provider, to see if there’s anything they could do. The first time I called, the technician recommended that I try to re-upload the site from a week old. If that would also fail, I could request a disaster recovery.

I went on Twitter and tweeted for help from the MODX community. I received no response. Its community is way too small. Around six in the morning I started to get messages from colleagues telling me that the site had been down. I explained the situation to my supervisor and her supervisor. They completely understood. Since I could not get any help the last resort was to ask GoDaddy to perform a disaster recovery. The site remained down until around 4:45 pm on Friday. The site went down for 16 hours and I feel horrible. It was all my responsibility alone to bear. I did not sleep that night and kept checking my phone for a miracle to happen.

Although the website is now backed up working, we are set back 3 weeks. GoDaddy only keeps a snapshot every two to three weeks. Now I have to restore what was missing and it is a pain. I am also causing other people to redo some of their work as well.

After this incident, I now determine that we will need to get off MODX. This CMS is dying. It could never get beyond a couple of thousand enthusiasts. I should have called the shot a long time ago, but I held on the hope for it. Now it has become cleared that I need to make an exit strategy. It’s time to migrate to WordPress.

Loving The Details Element

I only recently discovered the HTML Details element and I am loving it. I immediately applied it on the footer of this blog to hide and show additional information such as about, contact, feeds, privacy, and so on.

In the previous version of my blog, I had everything listed on the footer, which got tedious to scroll, especially on mobile devices. Then I moved everything to an info page. That worked out OK, but I was not too crazy about the extra click. In addition, I don’t want to make an extra page for this blog. I wanted to keep only posts and no pages. Because I redesign this blog so often, I wanted to keep it as simple as possible so I can quickly go and give it a redesign without having to worry about a page format.

As a result, I brought all the additional information back to the footer, but put everything into a disclosure widget using the details and summary elements. To my amazement, they worked as expected without using any CSS or JavaScript. Take a look.

Chữ Việt cho người Việt

Nhờ quyển sách Vietnamese Typography (Nghệ thuật chữ Việt) mà tôi được cơ hội làm việc với những nhà thiết kế chữ từ Á Châu đến Âu Châu từ Nam Mỹ đến Bắc Mỹ. Tôi được họ tin tưởng trong việc nhật xét và góp ý để chữ của họ được rõ ràng và dễ dàng cho người Việt đọc. Được đóng góp một phần nho nhỏ trong công việc đưa nghệ thuật chữ Việt được dồi dào hơn là một sự vui sướng cho những con tim yêu thương chữ Việt như tôi.

Gần đây nhất, tôi được làm việc với Stephen Nixon qua bộ chữ mới Name Sans của anh được thiết kế dựa theo những bảng tên mặc khảm của NYC Subway. Name Sans đã được văn phòng Thống Kê Dân Số của tiểu bang New York chọn làm phông chữ nên họ yêu cầu anh Stephen làm bộ chữ với tiếng Việt và anh Stephen đã tìm đến tôi.

Tuy Name Sans vẫn chưa hoàn tất nhưng tôi tin chắc sẽ là một bộ phông rất hữu dụng, đặc biệt là Name Sans có tiếng nói Việt cho người Việt.

One Variable Font Rules Everything

Back in April, David Jonathan Ross sent me a demo version of Roslindale variable font upon my request. I hadn’t a chance to try it out until a couple of days ago when I had the idea of redesigning Trịnh Công Sơn’s lyrics sample page, which I had created to show off Vietnamese typography. In the previous version, I set each quote using various fonts from Font of the Month Club, which I am still a member. It was playful but distracting reading experience. Furthermore, the performance was terrible because of the amount of fonts. In this redesign, I wanted to take the opposite approach.

Although this version of Roslindale is still a work-in-progress, it demonstrates the power of the variable font technology. With just one file, I can use Roslindale for large display, body text, and everything in between. The level of control the designer placed in the typographer’s hand for setting text with variable fonts is unprecedented. As you can see on the page, the author’s name is set in ultra weight. Each song’s title is set in bold display. Each song’s lyric is set in text. Each song has highlighted quotes setting in thin italic display.

I am not sure who reads this page, but I read it all the time. Trịnh Công Sơn’s lyrics are filled with poetic prose. I love to read them when I have nothing else to read or if I need to kill time. It’s a great way to learn Vietnamese and to figure out Trịnh Công Sơn’s spellbinding lyrics. I have been using this page more than I had originally thought.

Many thanks to David for letting me experimenting with demo. I can’t wait to see the final release of Roslinsdale. I know it will be amazing.

More Thoughts on Selling Ads On My Blog

My experimentation with advertisement on this blog is so far so good. Even though I haven’t had any clients coming to me to book a spot, I have ads in the lineup in the next couple of weeks. These ads are the result of cold emails. It felt kind of awkward reaching out to potential advertisers who I have known asking to advertise on my site.

The first email I sent out, I felt immediate regret. Would the potential advertiser think I am being greedy? Would the potential advertiser think selling ads on my blog is silly? I kept checking my email to see if the advertiser had responded. To my surprise, the advertiser gave a positive response and was willing to schedule for two to three weeks. That reply gave me confidence to reach out to another one, and another one, and one more. So far, they have been supportive of my advertisement plan.

Why am I selling ads anyway? Obviously, it is not about the money because the price is quite low. I like ads when they are done well, especially high-quality ads in print magazines. The web has a bad rep for advertisement from the start and it is just getting worse. Advertisement on the web has been intrusive, annoying, and just creepy. Ads on the web interrupt the reading experience, slow down the website performance to a crawl, and invade users’ privacy. I don’t want any of that and I want to change all of that. I do not use any tracking. I have no Google Analytics. The only analytic I can see is through CloudFlare’s web traffic. I want to bring high-quality ads to the web. I am glad someone gets it. Sophia Lucero tweeted about this week’s ad:

as one who has a site with a sorta similar split layout / image sidebar, this is a refreshing & honest take on promoting

Before I decided to sell my own ads directly, I wanted to join Carbon Ads. Based on my monthly pageviews, I seemed to qualify. Unfortunately, I have not heard back from them about my application. It could be that my blog is not specific to design or development. I blog about anything under the sun. My experiment with sell ads directly is inspired by John Gruber’s Daring Fireball’s weekly sponsorships. He’s pulling $7,500 a week and he has consistently done week after week for many years. I am obviously not shooting for the moon here. If I can make a third of what he is making, I would quit my full-time job in a heartbeat. I don’t think I can make more than 50 bucks a week, but that’s good enough for me to cover the hosting and domain renewal expenses. That’s all I am aiming for.