Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last day of 2008

We are at University of Virginia to pick up Thuỵ at the end of his summer camp
We are at University of Virginia to pick up Thuỵ at the end of his summer camp
Today is the last day for year 2008, and I spent few minutes browsing through all pictures that I've took in the year, trying to find one which I can sum it up for a year coming to end. This year must had been a year that we've been travel, going to places the most. Many of these are just short trips, places that we went and stayed for only one or two days. Sometimes, they are just a day trip. Most noticeable is that we spent with the whole family, which is a good thing. Family quality time, to me is always good, does not matter much where we visit, as long as time we can spent with the ones we love.

Nags Head Sand dunes, North Carolina, Thanksgiving 2008. - Now, who did that?
Nags Head Sand dunes, North Carolina, Thanksgiving 2008. - Now, who did that?
Browsing through the pictures, good memories are gushing back, a wonderful warm feeling for a cold blustering day like today. Here is another one, when we spent a short vacation in North Carolina during Thanksgiving holidays. We were on the sand dunes, enjoying the sun and cool sand under our feet. I can still recall the cool sensation of sand under our bare feet. Having a good laugh when we could not figure out who just broke-the-wind! We all suspected Huân, but in fact that was a stranger, out of frame, to the left of us. He apparently did not realize that we all heard the noise he made.

National Arboretum, Washington DC, May 2008
National Arboretum, Washington DC, May 2008
Here is another one, when I took my brother & sisters to visit the National Arboretum in Washington DC. We recognize plants which we were familiar when we were kids or when we growing up in Vietnam. Seeing the plants, also bought back memories, the place where we grew up, and time when we were living in Vietnam. Just a wonderful feeling to recognize the quality time we had in such a short moment inside that beautiful giant glass house.

Looking back at those time, I feel so fortunate that I had those time; for I know those are the treasures for me to keep forever. For 2009, I wish you all have a wonderful new year; more time to spend with your love ones, and enjoy every moment of it. For me, I just wish to have another year full of quality time with family and friends, just like the one I had in 2008 and more.

Family portrait

Family portrait on December 24th, 2008
Family portrait on December 24th, 2008
Every year now, we try to take family portraits; pictures which give us sense of time and family. Pictures bring us back in time as well as pull back the curtain to show the packed emotional, well hidden inside the subjects. I like those pictures. The emotional portraits, the ones which do not focus on the beauty, shape of the jaw bone, flattering lighting, skin tone, or long curve eye lash; but the ones which reveal the feelings. It's really fun to watch the viewer looking at an emotional photograph; you can see that sentiment leaps from the picture on to the viewer's face. If I can see that little smile, ever so slightly, when a viewer looking at my picture. That's when, I feel that I have successfully taking an emotional picture.

When I showed my wife this picture, I can see that little smile on her lips; even though when selecting a favorite one, she went with a different picture, the one which shows her in more dignify position, serious expression. Oh well, as long as I have other pictures for her to choose, I am happy. As for me, I keep the picture that she is laughing, both inside & out.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shooting Ice Hockey Games

Arlington's Cool Cats vs Montgomery's Cheetahs at Rockville Ice Rink
Arlington's Cool Cats vs Montgomery's Cheetahs at Rockville Ice Rink
Taking picture of ice hockey games is all about equipments and knowledge of the game. For the equipment, it's no mystery here. The lighting condition in the ice rink arena is just so dreadfully dim. Adding on top of that is the fast action pace sport. So, to freeze the action of a slap-shot or a wrist-shot, you need to set the shutter speed to 1/250th of a second or faster. I like to set it at 1/500th second on my D70. Which by the way is not the best camera for sports shooting, due to the level of noise at high ISO. Fast shutter speed demands fast lens, that means: do not bother with anything slower than 2.8f lens. On my first attempt, I went with 80-210mm, 4.5-5.6 Sigma lens, and got terrible result. That's when I discover the level of noise my D70 makes. Here is the forewarn: setting ISO level more than 800 is just not worth shooting. The noise is just too much, even with noise reduction software could not make the picture any better. (Please Nikon, can you just be nice to a brand-faithful photographers and do not sell something like this next time?). On the second shooting opportunity, I went out and rent a Nikkor 70-200mm, constant 2.8f, AF-S VR-ED at Penn Camera for $35 a weekend. What a beautiful lens. The lens is fast focus, and evenly sharpness at all range. Few things that learn from taking pictures of ice hockey game:
  • Get there early, get the permission from the arena's manager & stroll out to the player's box.
  • If you have a mono-pod, use it.
  • Shoot with 2.8f or better lens.
  • Shoot at 1/250 shutter speed or faster if light condition permits.
  • For D70 camera, set 800 ISO or lower if light condition permits.
  • If shooting individual player, fill the whole frame.
  • Shoot with the puck in the frame, to get the feel of game.
  • Shoot action pictures, much more interesting.
  • Wear something warm, because you are going to be there for whole duration of the game.
For the next game, I want to try with 105mm, 2.5 prime lens, which I have since the film day. Will see how my manual focusing skill vs. camera's auto focus mechanism pans out.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A green wedding?

Once a week, I put out some time catching up on my favorite's blogs. I do not have a big list of blogs, only about 5 blogs, so within an hour I can be up-to-date with all of them. In Anne Ruthmann's blog she described an idea of Green Wedding photo services, in which it reduces or eliminates possible wastes. For example, do not print a photo unless it's going to be framed. Do not send out photo products, but create photo slide show or put up high resolution photos online instead. It sounds unreasonable at first, but the more I think about it, it makes sense. However, this would not work for my mom. The computer mouse was not design to compensate for her trembling hands. So, how could I convince her to use the online album instead of stack and stack of photos bound by rubber bands?

My mother still favors prints of the grandson's wedding over the online slide show I made. She also has her own system of organizing those 4x6s, so she does not need standard photo albums. For past time, my mom performs her own artistic cropping of pictures. No need of the Photoshop's aid, just a pair of scissor will do. She can put together a 11x20 photos collage, with each picture carefully trimmed out by hand just to show the interested subject. Together one by one, she has photos of the whole family root to cover the wall.

Each time I visit my mom, I always want to check out her photo products. And each time, I notice a bit of new thing. Whether it's a face of a grandson or nephew, she cut it out of its own print and paste it on a larger print. So, I think, just for my mom, I continue to make prints and feed her the raw materials to keep our family photo root tree up-to-date.

A morning in Nags Head

We were in Nags Head, North Carolina for the 2008 Thanksgiving. It is getaway kind of vacation. None of us has ever been there during the cold winter months, so we just want to try it. For being a famous summer vacation spot, we knew that the town is going to be empty in November. Another reason is that we definitely want to relax, go with the flow, do whatever we feel like, and don't have to cook the bird if can help it. Isn't that what holidays supposed to be? It took us around 5 hours to get there, but as soon as we stepped in the rented condo, we realized that it's worth the trip. We got there around 8pm, the sun already went down for couple hours now. Opened the sliding door to the big balcony facing the ocean, I was looking for the ocean but it was too dark; though I can hear the wave crashing on the beach. Leaning against the balcony I was enjoying the ocean sound, the gentle breeze, the salt water smell and quickly realized ... "What stress? I long left it behind and did not even miss it."

Woke up early in the morning the next day, ran out to my favorite spot: the balcony, to see the ocean, the wave, the sand and the sun rise. It was just a beautiful sight. Went in and made coffee. Anh Linh was still sleeping on the couch in the living room. The kids were sleeping in their room. Hương was already up, but did not want to get out of that toasty, comfortable king bed. Chị Lan was still sleeping in her room. I don't blame her for her flight came in pretty late on Monday. The place was quiet except for the waves. Nothing beats early morning drinking coffee, looking out the ocean, watching sun rise, and see dolphins swim.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A quiet storm

Photojournalism is very attractive to me. Just the idea of being able to tell story through a single image makes my head spin. A powerful image can change the outcome of a war, and Vietname War is the case in point. However, it becomes less attractive nowadays when video and multimedia are dominating. Newspapers would survive only if it has a website to show additional video clips. People spend more time watching news on TV and on the net more than to read. Magazines and newspapers days are numbered. Still images, journalistic images are less and less as time passes.

So, it's quite rare to see an impact from a still image would contribute to the outcome of a historic election at these days in age. I still remember that day, it was the 19th of October, 2008. In a small hotel, of a remote town Lancaster of Pennsylvania. I was there for a wedding photo job the day before. Watching Colin Powell's endorsement of Obama interview. In the interview, Colin Powell cited to an image, a journalistic image, of a mother having her head rested on the tombstone of her son in Arlington Cemetery. It's very moving image, the whole story reveals. It's calm mood, low key picture, but to me it's quite an impact which the picture had made. It touches the viewers, Colin Powell, and vast number of people. It causes the people to take revolutionize action, to be very vocal, to make important decision. It's a quiet storm.

The picture is one in documentary series of pictures taken by Platon, published on The New Yorker.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I grew up in a family of words. In special occasions, like national holidays or ancestor memorial days, my father would talked and recited literature, poems, and cultures. My mother is also very verbal. If a short answer would be suffice, she will give 10 times more. When I was only 11, one of my three sisters threw me a thick book. "Read!", she said. That was to stop me from pestering her. And of course, we have a big book cases on the second floor, full of books. The book case is quite big, "how would I ever able to finish reading all of them?", at the young age I thought. In 1975, when we left VN, I've read most of the books in our book case.

Words sooth me. They have the capability of calm me down even in the most stressful situations. Fiction or non-fiction, it does not matter to me. Sure, I would like to read pieces which are of interested to me; but I do not hesitate to start reading whether it's a academic text book, an editorial, or a novel.

It has been drizzling since last night, and my mind was not into writing code or fixing bugs; I went on the net and read.

Friday, October 31, 2008


I like to photograph objects, small objects. Object which shows details. It can be an ordinary object that people may ignore or may not pay much attention. But to me, it's an object which someone had created with great care. Because someone had care enough to put that much of details into it, and I take on the mission to elevate it to my eyes' level. I would photograph it with natural light, just the way it appears to the world. To me, even if it's small in size, but it's deserved to be noticed, to be recognized just as much as other much bigger objects. Since the one who created them, they put just as much love & care into making that little thing; and the quality shows if we look closely. Click on the photo and I hope you will see what I mean.

This photographed object is a wedding favor, which belongs to Quang Huy & Thanh Tâm wedding, two weeks ago in Lancaster, PA.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Expense report form

Using the Google's document, I create this expense report form to track my expenses.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Voice activated light stand

6-year-old Melanie Wells helps putting out prop flames with Arnab Sinha, an EMT/Recruit Firefighter at McLean Volunteer Fire Department fire station.
6-year-old Melanie Wells helps putting out prop flames with Arnab Sinha, an EMT/Recruit Firefighter at McLean Volunteer Fire Department fire station.(Sun Gazette)
Again, Thuỵ helped me to light up the firefighter in this shot. It was at 11 in the morning, and the sun is almost directly above us. Under the big helmet, the EMT/recruit firefighter Arnab Sinha face was at almost 4 stops under. For this shot, I asked Thuỵ to hold the flash stick near the ground and point directly into Arnab face to give me a beautifully balanced exposure. When I have time, I will share with you more about my flash stick.

At the firehouses

David Cheng, 3, is trying out fire fighter bunker rubber boots for size at the Ballston Fire Station in Arlington
David Cheng, 3, is trying out fire fighter bunker rubber boots for size at the Ballston Fire Station in Arlington.(Sun Gazette)

I and Thuỵ, we were at the firehouses today to take pictures for the Sun Gazette. Thuỵ was my "voice activated light stand" and he did a wonderful job. Without him, I could not take these pictures, and the lighting came out great. In the picture above, David Chen, a 3-yrs, Arlington resident is trying out the firefighter boots for size. The light inside the fire house is just not enough to light up the subject and the quality is that dreadful green neon lights. So, I quickly set my camera to expose 1 under for the background and Thuỵ was at my four-o'clock position with the flash set at 1/4 power. I love the expression of David, pulling on the boot.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Been awhile

Vienna Chamber Celebrates First Oktoberfest
Vienna Chamber Celebrates First Oktoberfest (Sun Gazette)

Schools started about a month ago, and the hectic life are settling in. Thuỵ reminded me last night about the blog, which I did not put in an entry for two long months. My bad.

Huân started the Linda Mood Bell program, and so far, very small - un-noticeable - changes. But we have plenty more time to go to draw the conclusion. I certainly hope that the program brings positive results, and this is not because the tuition but because Huân definitely deserves it. It's a long overdue for him.

Even though the school has started, Bảo continues to work at the Orchids For You store, one day a week. I can see a bit more mature, responsible, and confident in him. We went to the picnic about a week ago, and he was quite happy & energetic around his friends. His happiness permeates to me and other family members as well. We had a wonderful time.

Thuỵ is such a pleasure to be with. He helped me with the photo assignment shooting last week, and made the time 10 times more enjoyable. I really looking forward to have him at every photo shoot and I hope that he enjoys the time we're together as well.

I started to take pictures for the Sun Gazette. The photos of first assignment didn't come out as good as I want, even though the photo editor complimented them. Oh well, I'll try harder and apply new techniques on the next assignments. One thought keeps circle in my head: "telling the story, telling the story", it's tough to translate that into a two dimension 4x5 picture. I was looking for emotion, expression, dramatic moments; but along with that I have to worry about the lighting, the dreadful sun light at noon, the angle, the quality of light and in a crowded place. I need to train my eyes to be able to spot the moment, and work with all the difficult light conditions. Only practices and not afraid of try new things will help. This weekend, I need to produce images of kids & fire-trucks, at two different fire stations. I have been forming the images, describing the images over & over again in my head. I have been going through different light scenarios, and how the flash should be setup to overcome the difficult lighting condition. I hope those thought would help me this weekend.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

You have mail!

It's wonderful to receive Bảo email today. I did not expect that he has internet access in Kyoto, so it was a pleasant surprise this morning. In the email, he said that he visit Nijō Castle and I quickly went online to check it out. It's beautiful! Wish that we could be there. Someday we will, the whole family.

Looking at the picture of the Nijō Castle, it reminds me of the Japanese TV show that I watched with my Japanese friend a long time ago. Richard Takahashi, that's my colleague & friend name back when we were working for TRW in Torrance, California. We usually watch this show during dinner on an old dinky B&W TV, which has aluminum foil wrapped on the rabbit-ears antenna. This is the only show which was visible enough for us to watch. The TV show does not have subtitle. Richard is 2nd generation, borne & raised in California, so he does not speak Japanese well. However, he can recognize few words, so he's the translator. He translates few key conversation, and my mind would fill in the rest. It's a Japanese Shogun TV drama, about the Tokugawa shoguns. Now, looking at this Nijō Castle, I bet the TV show was filmed there. Well, difficult to tell, because Japanese architecture at that time is pretty much the same, hard to tell one from the other if you do not have the whole layout of the castle. Quite interesting though, that is the first time that I know about Japanese culture. After watching enough of the show & living with Richard, I went to Little Tokyo in LA & bought myself a futon set at $200, which was very expensive for me ~20 years ago. I still have the pillow, the comforter, and the pad. I could not figure out how to take the pillow cover off to wash, so it had not washed for 20 years. But it's still hold up very well, and I use it to prop up my head at night watching TV.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Pedal, Huân. Pedal

Last weekend, Thuỵ and I took Huân to the Jamestown Elementary parking lot to practice riding on his new bike. Huân's new bike does not have any training wheel, we use a long handle which connected on to the back of the seat to give him extra balancing & momentum.

We go up & down the length the parking lot. Thuỵ is riding in front, I am running behind Huân's bike constantly reminding him to look-up, pedal & chase after Thuỵ. I also show him to slow down and use the hand brake. On a level stretch, Huân can pretty much ride by himself, but for a slightest up hill, I need to hold on to the bar and guide his bike. Huân quickly learned how to use the hand brake, but he still does not want to pedal. This reminds me to adjust his seat higher to give him more strength to push on the pedals. May be that is all it takes to enable him to ride by himself. There were lot of times I have to run along the side, up & down the stretch, holding on to the bike, and I was exhausted. I am completely out of shape, and I need to teach Huân how to ride before I can no longer run beside him.

More than once, I let go of my hand and Huân can ride by himself, it was a good feeling seeing him ride the bike by himself.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Last week, I spent several hours with colleagues at work doing nothing but just hanging out, having fun. I work for a small company, and there are five of us developing a company product. Couple times a year we get together after work having fun, you can call it a camaraderie.

We share jokes, concerns, ideas and whatever come to mind. We talked about health (yes, we're at that age). John showed us how he recently found a cure for his nerve pinching pain, which had been with him for several years. Standing with two hands on the back of a tall stool doing steps only with the front portion of the feet. "I try to do this when I go out for a smoke, or just stand thinking. I can do 200 to 400 reps. No more pain, baby!" he said. Gene told us about the several operations he had to eliminate the pain in his back. The last operation he had, the doctor removed the old titanium bolts and replaced with better bracket to separate the joins in his spine. We all laughed when we heard: "And I asked the doctor to give me the old bolts", Gene proudly said. Gene is a handy man, he built the pool bar, the outdoor grill, all cabinets in his kitchen, and load of furnitures in his house. I suspect most of big & small appliances he can fix them himself. But I have no clue on what he's going to use these titanium spine bracket bolts. John jokingly said: "So, you are the kind of guys who wants the used parts back when taking the car in for repair, huh?". "Hell, yes! Show me the proof that you have replaced the bad part.", Gene replied. Gene keeps those old titanium bolts in a glass jar, as mementos I think. The titanium bolts last pretty long, they are strong and rust proof. My guess is those bolts would last even longer than most of us.

Looking at my friends, they are all experts at what they are doing: programing. They have many, many years of experience. Coding becomes their second nature. Sure, we're old, but our skills are not rusting or slowing down. Like those old titanium bolts in the jar. They could be replaced by newer and better bolts, which perhaps can pivot & twist, but as for the functions of the old titanium bolts; they still perform well just like the first day they were installed.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mixed feelings

Only few more days Bảo will head off to Japan for two long weeks. It will be the first time for him to be away from home that long. And I am here having a mixed feelings, half excited and half worried. I am excited for he will see the world on his own. He will make decisions without any coaching. He will meet and make new friends, young and old, without parents interference. He will conducting himself in front of strangers without parents observation. But will he make the right decision at every turn? Will he feel content and confident with new friends? Will others accept and love him for who he is? Yes, I am worried.

For one week duration of each, there were few times that Bảo went to camp, attend seminar, worked as internship away from home; and every time I had similar feeling. This time, the feeling is much deeper, as if it grows proportionally to the distance and duration of where he will be. The mixed feeling comes up not only with Bảo, it happened to me when Thuỵ spent a week at University of Virginia last year as well. I keep asking myself: have I done enough of raising him, teaching him right and wrong, preparing him for the world, arming him with knowledges, experiences, and skills for anything throwing at him? There are so many things to teach, to prepare, to train before time runs out. His birthday reminds me of one year closer to that day. The day that I no longer able to teach him. When his mind no longer listens to my words. The feeling of that day is closing in makes me edgy. I want to pack lot of things into one long lecture, as if it's my final lecture. Yes, I realize that he does not like to sit & listen to my long lecture; but ... you see, time is running out; so I thought.

Writing these words reminds me of a saying: "If you do not trust your child, then when can your child become trustworthy? If you do not feel confident in your child, then how can your child ever be self-confident?" I guess it's time for me to step back. It's time for me to have confidence in Bảo, for he will make the right decisions on his own. It's time for me to put my trust on him, for he will conduct himself wisely in front of his friends and public. People will accept & love him for who he is, because he has been surrounded with love and care; for he has been raised with mixed feelings: excited & worried coming from me. Yes, I trust that he will feel excited to explore & learn new things. Moreover, I am confident that he will also be careful on every step that he makes.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Potstickers and dumplings

I usually mix up between the two names, so what is the difference between dumplings and potstickers? The difference is how they're cooked. Potstickers are pan fried then steamed. Dumplings are just steamed to perfection.

Here are few of my favorite dumpling recipes:
As you notice, I do not include Bobby Flay's recipe, just because it has duck instead of pork or shrimp! And to me, that's just ain't right. I am unfair, I know.

China, China, and China

Because the Olympic is going to be in Beijing, China the Travel Channel is showing lot of shows with the destination in China, yeah, for the whole week! Last night, the Samantha Brown's Passport to China was followed by Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations which is also in China. As usual, Anthony's is packed with wits and tongue-in-cheeks narrations. But bizarre enough, watching both show back to back, they remind me of Andrew's Bizarre Foods. In Passport to China, Samantha tried deep fried star fish from a back-alley-street-food stand, and then she tasted the duck tongues in a popular restaurant. Anthony had goat's stomach, goat intestines, goat balls, and boat load of other undignified dishes which you would not want to touch if he knows of their origins.

As usual, Anthony paints a beautiful China cuisine picture with words: "the mother of all cuisines". It was funny that when Anthony was presented with a dish, mushy gray substance; being hungry, and trying to be culturally polite as well as the host of the show he chowed it down quickly. With broad smile, he gave the regular thumb up: "It's good!" The gray substance is the left-over soy bean paste, after the tofu was made, these are the left over and many have thought of nothing you can make out of it. However, when the local guide explain in Chinese accent: "You can't find this dish outside of Beijing!", Anthony smiled happily. The guide then followed: "because, outside of Beijing, people give these to pigs." The camera switched back to Anthony's face, and you can see his smile suddenly disappeared. He quickly went for his local drink and I wonder whether to wash that still lingered after taste, or he wants to push the food back down.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Jot them down

When I have couple things to do, I can pretty much finish the tasks. But when I have many (5+) things to do, more likely I will forget couple of them. To battle this, I jot them down, and check each off as I finish the task. The problem is that pencil is never available when I need it, and when I have the pencil in my hand, the piece of paper which has all the listed tasks suddenly vanished.

So, this time, I am going to use the blog to keep track of things I have to do, and I will check & update the list every day

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


We started the exercise schedule last night. We do 10 push-ups, 10 sit-ups, 10 jumping-jacks and 10 squats together; and then start the cycle all over again until tired. I could only do total of 20 for each category. I figure, it was my first day and I should take it easy; will increase the repetition number each day. My goal is to reach 40 reps for each category. Hey, summer is here, we all can use a trim body in the swim suit. Will see the results after 1 month.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Media file server

I am thinking of building a new file server, which serves as a storage for all of our media files. A file server to keep our video, image and music files. It has to be reliable, so I am thinking of using RAID-5, and expandable storage space so we can add more as we need more space. It has to be fast enough to serve up to 5 concurrent sessions, which means ~500Mbps. So, here is a first cut requirements:
  • Motherboard which can handle ~2.4GHz CPU (~$75, or use an used motherboard)
  • Memory 2GB (~$60)
  • A case which can handle up to 12 SATA drives (will use the optical juke box case in the garage)
  • Software RAID-5, perhaps Linux Fedora/Ubuntu (free)
  • Two Ethernet interfaces (already have)
  • Starting out with 4 SATA drives, 500GB each, 2TB total. (~$300)
  • Running MediaTomb, Samba, and a Web server.
  • DVD burner, to burn archive DVD
I need to come up with a name for this server, probably hit Bảo & Thuỵ tonight, they seem to know ton of names. An appropriate name would be of a character which has vast knowledge, large memory, or infinite data.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Few of my favorite things

Goofing off, spending time with love ones, and taking pictures are few of my favorite things.

We are sitting at the Statue of Liberty island, taking a rest and waiting for our ferry ride back to the Liberty State Park. Bảo & Thuỵ are goofing off, making faces at each other.

We are in the ferry, heading to Statue of Liberty island. It's too hot outside so we take refuge in the lower deck. The window opens up and it's a great way to take pictures of the statue

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With a big round translucent white glass rim, and 6 clear incandescent bulbs in spokes & wheel configuration; these are the ceiling lights in Ellis Island Immigration museum. Rows and rows of these light up the main hall, today as well as almost hundred years ago. Silently they witness the immigrants, listen to their worries, and light up their hopes in the new country.

Each light glows in the amber hue, not as bright as in compare to today light bulb technology; but these kind of bulbs last quite long. Many of the light are replaced with newer style frosted bulbs. Some of them even changed to the swirl fluorescent energy-saver type. But for me the old bulb attracts me more with its clear glass, incandescent glow, and that little pointed tub on top.

It's true, that they are inefficient, and not bright enough but you just cannot duplicate that glow with newer bulbs. It glows with an unique amber color, not too bright which can blind your eyes, but just enough to see the face of the person standing next to you. Perhaps, that's the additional purpose of these old lights: to bring people together, standing a bit closer, to look up without being blinded by the light, but to reach up with a hope. A hope in the new land.
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One day trip

Yesterday, we spent the whole day visiting Liberty State Park, Ellis Island, and Statue of Liberty island. When we got to the Statue of Liberty island, the monument guard checked out tickets and let us access to inside of the statue. Yippee! We climbed up 156 steps, and the view is just magnificent.

We walked out to the balcony and thought that I can capture a close-up picture of Lady of Liberty's face. But because of the viewing angle, directly up at the statue, we only able to see her skirt. We climbed down to almost the bottom balcony level to be able to have a full length picture of her.

Statue of Liberty island is the third destination, and Huân was pretty tired by now. He was probably hungry and thirsty because during lunch, he did not eat much of his chicken tenders and fries.

At Ellis Island's cafeteria, we see that they are selling a soup called "Immigration Soup", which served with breads. But it was quite warm yesterday so none of us order that one, but it sounds very interesting. We was thinking of the right time to eat that soup would be when outside temperature is cooler, and the idea of coming back in Spring or Fall sounds very tempting.
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Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Looking through pile of pictures we took during the Summer vacation at Myrtle Beach, my eyes focus on this particular one. Huân's eyes contact is wonderful, and it was a long way to get here.

We are waiting for our turn to get on our horse at a horseback riding trip.
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Monday, July 14, 2008


Every day now, I am increasingly looking forward to Friday and less likely to Monday. Is it because of age, health, or lack of Serotonin? I'll try to eliminate one possibility at a time and will get to the root of this.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Yard works

It's a nice day today and we decided to clean up our front yard this morning, and we all did! Bảo mowed the lawn, Thuỵ rakes all the dead branches & leaves, and I trim all the bushes. We worked one hour straight, tired, but it was fun.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Six genes

In early development, synapses are created, formed, and strengthen all by experiences and regulated by a set of genes. Even when two toddlers experience the same event (ie. hear a sound of a train) but if the regulating genes do not help to create or form the synapses the development would come out differently; and this is what many researchers believe as the cause of autism. Yesterday, a group of researchers had identified 6 genes which may contribute to this disorder.

This is a good news! Many doctors as well as parents had the same hunch for more than 5 years ago. It is just a hunch, no proof, bunch of theories and conclusions drawn from observations & statistical numbers; but no hard evidents. Even without proof, they come up with seminars, talks, training, consultant certification programs, treatments and have been making lot of money of this hunch! Case in point: doctor Gutstein and his RDI. Sure, it works for some just as well as other treatments like ABA, VBA, and chelation; but it's still not 100% result. It's like using exercise to cure obesity. He does not have the hard evidences, nor does he has the understanding of what particular genes or parts which causes the missing pathway. However, I have to give him the credits of believing in creating more experiences to rebuild the pathway. Well, the pathway can be formed or not, may not necessary relying on the experiences alone. Like keep throwing the ball to a child, so that the child can eventually learn how to catch. But he failed to recognize that the treatment may work only if the child has two hands! If the kid does not have hands, he may develop the kid to catch the ball with two feet!

Oh well, back to the 6 genes which researchers had recently found, I believe this is the tip of the iceberg that there will be more new treatments based on this finding. Parents should be careful when picking & choosing treatments for their kids. We will be as well.

Here is another link to Dr. Walsh's finding
Podcast from the Science magazine

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Titanic analogy

I was once working on a project, actually a very old, huge software product. The politically correct name for it is "legacy product". We call it a beast for its enormous size, and ... very difficult to understand. It was so old that the design was not as flexible, or easy to extend. Whenever we want to add in a new feature, the logical place should be in bellies of the beast, but no one wants to touch the ugly code. At the end, the new feature was shifted into another part of the system or not implemented at all, due to risk of breaking the product. We're all know that its time is numbered, perhaps another year or two; and we were all hardly wait for that day. A day when we can just delete that branch of code out of CVS workplace, and don't have to see those ugly warnings, obsoleted standard library calls during compilations.

That day eventually came. The day the company sent out the news release, announcing no longer support that product, the product which has the beast in it. We were all happy, except a guy with his worried face. I asked and he slowly revealed:
- "You see, it's just like the Titanic, if we know that it's going to crash into the rocks. What are we going to do to save the people on board?". He turned and asked.

With his English accent, he continued:
- "We can either let them drown, because no emergency crew can get to the boat in time to save them, or we can build another fast ship, which can then catch up to the Titanic and just before the Titatic hits the rocks, we can transfer the people on to the new ship. Only then we can let the Titanic to sink."

Lit up another cigarette, he drew a long breath then said:
- "Unfortunately, two years ago we did not build the fast ship."

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sense of urgency

There is an article today about the chelation treatment, one of the treatments which we had tried several years ago on Huân. A treatment which I have to admit: not very pleasant. I still remember the times when Huân refused to take that awful smell medication, and as a parent I tried to make him drink it believing that it would cure him.

Like any parents of autistic children, we are willing to try everything, every treatment which promises to make our child better. We even try unproven treatments. There is a sense of urgency that if we do not try, we fail; as in the same vein with if we do not buy a lottery ticket, we will never win. Sure, there is another factor which contributes to that urgency: older autistic kids are less likely to recover, thus the term: early intervention! Would you believe that there are more than 300 "unproven" autism treatments? The government does not have a clue about this disorder, so very so-called "doctors", "therapists", "consultants" out there are doing their best to reap in the money. They come up with some "theories" and develop a treatment around those theories. Each treatment is not cheap. Thousands, tenth of thousands for different kinds of treatments. Every treatment claims itself to be the "right" one! Each has testimonies from parents to back its claims. However, none of them dare to claim even more than 75% successful rate. Sometimes I wonder, how could a third world country parents with an autistic kid can afford even the cheapest treatment?

In the mids of this vicious cycle, parents are more likely one on top then the autistic children in the list of victims. The parents are the one who have to come up with the money to pay for any of the treatments, then they also have to select which treatments to test on their own child. That is one of the decisions any parents would hate to make! You see, if you make a wrong one, then you have to live with it for the rest of your already miserable life. With that being said, I now admire the courage of those parents, who had made those difficult decisions while fully understand of the consequence. They made those decisions based on a single hope of making their children better.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


There are so many things to do. Everywhere I turn I see tasks, chores, projects and all seemed urgent. At work, I am falling behind, and the due dates do not move; they are just so rigid. At home, there are so many rooms that need cleaning, finish, and/or repair; even the backyard and front yard. The project, VBNVote, is once again slipped, the features for the project are just multiplying by days.

I'll take one thing at a time, just do one thing, and do it well. Tackle the most important first, and work my way through them. So here is my list:
  • Day time: do the tasks at work
  • Evening time: do the VBNVote features
  • Weekend: houseworks
I may need to break the list down a bit further to help focus on particular tasks; but let's see if the simple list would work out. I'll revisit this list in one week, and reassess. For now, that will be my list to focus.

Monday, July 7, 2008

How long will it last?

I was driving slightly under the posted speed limit this morning. Also, during the weekend, I consciously kept my driving speed in check. It was neither because I am a good driver, nor I am getting to the age of driving slow; but it's because I got a speeding ticket last week. For several years straight I did not get any ticket or being pulled over or involved in accident then suddently when I least expected, there it was: a speeding ticket doing 45 on a 30MPH street. That does it!

I started to drive more carefully now, and often glance at my speedometer as well as paying more attention to the posted speed limit on the side while driving. The funny thing was that I was doing all those without remember the ticket. I don't even remember the date that I need to appear in court to plead to the judge or to pay the fine; but my driving habit had changed since the time the officer handed me the ticket. I was so disappointed of having a speeding ticket after all these good driving years. The effort of trying to keep the insurance fee low now vanished. It's not the yellow color court summon which made me drive more carefully, it's the fact that my good driving record being shattered affects me more, and that thought of having to start the counting all over again. Counting the consecutive days driving without an accident, a ticket, or being pulled over; counting the number of days of perfect driving record. That's what I want to achieve more than anything. When the counting be disrupted by a lousy speeding ticket, a ticket which was very easy to avoid. The effort to avoid getting this ticket is nothing in compare to maintain a flawless driving record for just one year, 365 days driving. I should have pay more attention, and drive more defensive. I should have "mindful" while driving, a Buddhism teaching which one should be mindful on whatever one doing, down to the smallest unit of time. That bothers me more than the ticket. So, how long will this good driving habit last? Few days? Few months? Not quite sure, but I know if I get back to my Buddhism practices, being mindful on what I do, then I should not worry about how long my good driving habit would last; because it should last much longer time, until the day that I let my mind wanders again.

A thought in my mind about keeping a count on how many consecutive days driving without a ticket on my website, that would be a good reminder for me to drive defensively. Perhaps having a count like that on my website would remind me to be mindful on whatever I do. But then again, if I already mindful, then I should not need a reminder. Oh well, so much for watching my monkey thought jumping from one branch to another.