I wish I could say that the reason this blog has been so silent lately is that I’ve been busy.  I could say it and it would be true, but it would miss the whole point of this particular post.  I burned out again on learning Hocąk.  It was a perfect storm of plenty of other distractions and roadblocks, such as technology user group and family, combined with a busy schedule making it impossible to meet with our language mentor.  Sprinkle in another plateau where no perceived progress is being made in language learning and I had the perfect environment in my mind for dark thoughts to enter again about the whole endeavor.

Who really cares if I learn the language at all?  I’ve got no use for it in my career.  I don’t really have any Hocąk friends and there’s no immediate family left that speaks it as their native language.  I’m just some random middle-aged white guy who happened to marry a Hocąk.  Maybe it’s a nice little anecdote when my kids won’t say ’two’ but insist on saying ’nųųp’ and I have to explain it to some random person…but really, why bother?

Those are the thoughts of burnout.  Or, if you rather, that’s the resistance at work, as Steven Pressfield puts it.  And when I started feeding it, there’s no end to what I can describe as sucking.  Look at this blog for instance, which I say only half in jest.

So, I quit working on it.  And this time, I told myself, it was going to be for good.  Except, dammit, it wasn’t.  Life conspired against me to let that be the end of it.  My wife and I finally got smart phones a month and a half ago.  And then just last week my wife told me about an app, for Android and iPhone among other platforms, called Anki, which lets you create flashcards for memorization.  I started playing with it for Hocąk, putting in a list of English words with their Hocąk pronunciations and working on it that way.

But, the story doesn’t end there.  She also shared with me a blog called Tower of Babelfish that described a much more effective way of using Anki than just memorizing English words and their Hocąk equivalents.  I’ve yet to start implementing the picture functionality, because, well, pictures are hard (just look at the absence of them on my blog), but the author makes a strong case for dropping the English words and start using pictures so I can start to think in Hocąk.

And those dark thoughts?  Let me, in my own crude way, try to tackle them in the way my father-in-law would have tried to tell me something important; he’d tell me a story.  It was one of the nights of the multi-day feast/ceremony for my father-in-law’s passing, and I was really struggling with being an outsider and frustrated with not understanding what was going on and being afraid that I was botching it horribly and being an embarrassment to my father-in-law’s family and the Ho-Chunk around me.  My wife and I were talking to Jon Greendeer about our struggles with learning Hocąk and how we were outsiders and didn’t know what was going on.  Jon talked about how he was learning the language by spending time with elders (not something I have access to) and augmenting that knowledge with information from books (something I did have access to) and as part of that conversation and encouragement from Jon I had a flash of insight; something I didn’t even know despite having had Ho-Chunk as in-laws for 12 years at that point.  I took away from that conversation the idea that all Ho-Chunk are family, they are their language, and their language reflects that they are all a single family.  Set in that context, so many things seemed to make more sense, though my understanding is probably still only on par with that of a Ho-Chunk toddler.  As I thought about that conversation later I wondered how much more I might understand my in-laws if I put in more effort in learning the language.

I’ve added a new link in link section of my website for the ‘Documentation of Hocank’ project that is part of the Documentation of Endangered Languages project (DoBeS – Dokumentation Bedrohter Sprachen).  It has some very interesting information if you’re really into the linguistics side of things.

Our SQL Server user group, MADPASS, is hosting a free training event next year, SQL Saturday #118 Madison.  This would be a much easier thing to do in lots of ways if we were already incorporated.  So, though it may be a bit like closing the barn door after all of the horses are already gone for this particular event, I know it will be quite useful in the future.

So here I sit, struggling through the paperwork for incorporation in the State of Wisconsin.  When I read through the form the first time it didn’t seem so bad.  This second time through…scary.  I’m now starting to grasp all of the ramifications of some of the choices I’ll be making as I fill out the form.  The one that’s really paralyzing me right now is the registered agent.  We’re pretty small, and spending the money on one seems like overkill, not to mention a hurdle to come up with the funds.  On top of that, there’s finding a reputable company to serve as the registered agent.

The flip side is that I just put myself as a registered agent.  Will that fly?  I’m not sure.  I have an office at home, so I’m around to receive mail and the like, but I do want MADPASS to be as professional as possible.

No good answers yet, but I’ll probably make a decision by Friday.

Today’s unintentionally funny spam comment quote:  ”I will clutch your rss feed…”

I was getting ready to start blogging again on a more regular basis.  As I was writing a post using a bunch of words in Hoocąk, I noticed that the special characters, like ą, were being replaced with question marks.  I did some searches on how to fix the problem, and found lots of advice, with this post and this post just being a couple of examples of suggested fixes.  I even found a couple suggestions to change the wp-config.xml file, but that only created bigger headaches with all of my apostrophes (I do love using contractions, don’t I?) turning into ’square ?’ symbols.

The other two changes looked like things I was uncomfortable with implementing because of the massive scope of the changes.

Ultimately, what I ended up doing was creating a new copy of the wp_posts table, called wp_posts_utf, that used the utf8 collation.  Then, I used an ’INSERT INTO wp_posts_utf SELECT * FROM wp_posts’ to populate the utf8 collation table.  Then a couple table renames later, and I was ready to start posting Hoocąk words again.

Of course, I’m leaving out a bunch of the work I did, including downloading the table to a local MySQL install I had and verifying the solution locally before implementing it ’live’ on my blog, but we all use test systems to verify our results before doing live production changes, don’t we?

I’ve just finished reading Daniel H. Pink’s DRiVE.  On my first read, I would consider it a pretty influential book for me, but instead of writing an entire review of the book, I’d rather focus on very small portion of it.  That very small portion amounts to just 3 pages, 98-100, and is devoted to the time aspect of autonomy.  Pink writes about lawyers and billable hours, and how billing by the hour places the focus of work in the wrong place, racking up hours to bill the client.

These three pages pretty succinctly describe the biggest factor that sours me on the idea of being an employee for an IT consultant company.  In my view, billing a client by the hour puts the consultant in direct competition with the very people he or she is supposed to be helping, the client.  The consultant firm wants to bill as many hours as possible, and they want their consultants to bill as much as possible.  That’s how it makes money.  The client, of course, wants the job to get done in the minimum amount of time.  In the past for me it was an element that I felt was too distracting, and prevented me from harnessing my passion for the subject to aid a client.

A quick search of the internet shows that it’s a problem that plenty of people, particularly within the legal profession, are thinking about, but I don’t recall seeing it talked about in much of the technology news I read.  I’m genuinely curious, and i intend to spend more time thinking about it.  Does IT have to bill by the hour?  What are some valid alternatives?  No, estimating the time it will take and then using that to calculate a flat fee does not count.

It’s early January 2011, and that means it’s time for me to make my public declaration of goals for the coming year.  And, here they are:

Read 1 tech book per month – Back by popular demand, this goal seems to always end up on my goal list, but never quite seems to happen.  I’ve got a large queue of tech books just waiting to be read.  Is this the year that I succeed?

Blog Once Per Week – Same as last year, but I lost focus, and then ran out of gas.  It’s never too late to start again, right?  As a sub-goal to this, I intend to put some effort into making this blog look better.

MADPASS – Do whatever I can to help get a successful local SQL PASS chapter started in Madison, WI.

Certification – I’ve got a free test laying around here somewhere.  We’ll be installing SQL Server 2008 R2 at work, so it’s time to focus on getting another SQL Server certification or two.

Hocak – I plan on investing more time on memorizing words.  I’d like to speak Hocak more often, instead of it just being novelty words around the house.

It’s time for a review of my goals from last year.

Certification:  Pass exam 70-453 in order to earn my MCITP: Database Administrator 2008.  Bonus Goal:  Pick another certification and take at least one exam for it.  Server Admin?  BI Developer?  Database Developer??

Failed:  I took the test without studying, and barely failed it, mainly because I don’t have much experience with high availability options like mirroring, replication, and snapshots.

Blogging:  Make at least one blog post a week.  Move blog to a new site.

Partial Success:  I moved my blog to a new location, but failed to make a blog post once a week.

Reading:  One technology book a month.

Partial Success:  I read about 1 book every 2-3 months.

Technology:  Focus on learning Powershell, SSIS, and SSAS.

Partial Success:  I didn’t spend much time in Powershell or SSAS, but I did a lot more work with SSIS.

Scripting:  Write 1 script a week for my toolbox.

Success:  I nailed this one, generating about 2-3 scripts per week on average.

Learning: Attend 6 of the monthly local SQL Server user group meetings this year.  Attend PASS Summit.

Partial Success:  I went to the PASS Summit again, but only attended about 2-3 WISSUG meetings.

Volunteer:  Donate some of my time to PASS, or to my local SQL Server User Group.  I’m already slated to volunteer at SQL Saturday 31 in Chicago.

Success:  I did indeed volunteer at SQL Saturday 31 in Chicago, and I’m currently on the steering committee to start a SQL Server user group in Madison, WI, called MADPASS.

As is always the case for me, I would have liked to accomplish more, but other goals popped up mid-year that changed my focus.  I’ll have another post in the early days of 2011 to list my goals for the coming year.  Have a happy and safe New Year’s!  See you on the flip side.  M??cek Gip?esge!

What’s an LRP, you might ask?  According to Greg Thomson, it’s a Language Resource Person.  My job has been kind enough to let me work from home on Tuesdays, in part because I have early morning calls with our staff in India.  Fortuitously this means that I’m at home and done with work early enough that we can meet with our LRP on a schedule that works for him, on Tuesdays at 4 pm.

He won the girls over immediately by bringing them presents; 2 coloring books and some watercolors for painting in them.  Hinų sat down and immediately started painting, and Wihą quickly followed suit.  We talked a little bit about how the girls would refer to him, and how though he’s old enough to be their grandpa, they technically could call him brother because of his relationship to their Gaga xete, and he could technically call my wife ’little mother’.  We settled on Coka, grandfather, though.

My wife and I had no idea how it was going to go.  We didn’t talk with our LRP about a plan.  Coka launched right into using Hoocąk in every interaction with the girls, and they really started to show off in front of him, but didn’t really repeat any words in Hoocąk.  We struggled to keep up, trying to write down everything that he said, but quickly started to see the folly of that method.  The point was to speak the language, not write it down for later reference, and so we gave up trying to write things down, except in those rare instances where we really wanted to be able to reference a phrase or a word later.  We were kicking ourselves for having misplaced our digital audio recorder and not being able to record our session.  That’s a mistake will correct for next time.

We talked briefly about colors, and our LRP told us the literal translation of components of the words, which not only gave us a great mnemonic device for remembering them, but also taught us some other root words that we could use in other context.  For instance, co, in a sense, means blue, and so you add to co to specify what color you really mean, mąąhįco, sky blue, xąąwįco, grass ’blue’, and haapsįcco, grape ’blue’.  Of course, you can see that calling co ’blue’ doesn’t really quite cover what it means.  My scientific mind says that co really means the higher wavelengths of visible light, and we just pair it up to a thing so we can describe the vicinity of that wavelength that we really mean.  Another way that I would think about it is that co can really just mean blue, but sometimes in needs some ’help’ to really zero in on what color you mean.  In the color theme, we also learned the etymology of pink, casakšokąwą, and learned about how yellow, orange, and tan follow a similar principal as co, but with zii, yellow, as the basis.

We learned about the power of jagu, what, and how you can build so many simple, quick phrases from it.  Jagu rooragu?  What do you want?  Complicated words like book,wagax hakiruxara, blew right past us.

I stepped into the minefield of how the position of an object affects a question which seems so simple in English, ’What is that?’.  I couldn’t keep up with the positional way of asking the question, so our LRP was kind enough to provide us with a relatively simpler way of asking the same question (please forgive my spelling) using a form of jagu wawigaire, which I think means roughly ’what do you call this thing?’  That isn’t even that simple, because there are different ways to put that phrase together, depending on your distance from the object; te’e if you’re touching it, že’e if it’s sorta close, and ga’a if it’s farther away.

Anyway, there was so much more that we were exposed to.  I’d like to say learned, but it’s going to take more repetition than one session to absorb it all.  I’d like to think down a wall in the back of my mind by saying ’hey, you can speak this way every day, and it isn’t weird.  You’re going to suck at it to start, but we’re just going to throw Hoocąk fast and furious around you like you’re a little kid, and your mind is eventually going to get it.’

The biggest payoff, though, wasn’t in what my wife or I had learned from the generosity of our LRP coming to our house, but rather what Hinų learned.  Hours later after our LRP had left, Hinų scolded Wihą.  Pinaje, Wihą!  Ka, Wihą!  Nearly 3-year-old Hinų has generally been resistant to our use of Hoocąk, sometimes even scolding us with ’don’t talk like that!’.  But, here she was, only hours after Coka’s visit, scolding her sister in Hoocąk.  Beautiful.

On Labor Day weekend we went, as we usually did every Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend, to visit my father-in-law.  It was only the third time he got to see our youngest daughter.  He asked us about the drive up, how the traffic was, if the car was running ok.  We small talked.  He said things like ‘what beautiful singing!’ when our daughter would cry.  I showed off my latest ‘trick’.  ‘Hinu, jah goo yah, zhay xay day?’  ‘Chair!’  ‘Jah goo yah, zhay xay day?’ ‘Puppy!’  We talked about the Ho-chunk language; practiced some words.  I wasn’t persistent.  We had plenty of time, and there would be plenty more visits.

A little over a week ago, he was struck by a car while driving his ATV, and killed.  The loss is a terrible personal one for us, and, in ways I will probably never understand, a terrible loss for the Ho-Chunk tribe.  I’ve read and heard various estimates along these lines; of the 8,000 to 12,000 Ho-Chunk and Winnebago that remain, less than 200 are native speakers of the language, and all of those speakers are older than 60.  Linguists would characterize the language as being in the last stages of extinction.

Jah jee would often tell me that his elders had told him of the day when the language would die, and with it the Ho-Chunk’s world.  I thought there was a generation or two or three, easy, before that might happen.  I’ve been told that day is as close as 10 to 15 years.  I’ve been a fool.  Woe wunk would be a kind way to put it.

As we mourned Jah jee’s passing, I was included in the ceremonies in a way I had never been before, not in the 14 years I’ve known my wife and her family.  Stories that Jah jee had told me years ago, maybe even a decade earlier, started to make sense, and yet I still felt that I was just a little child when trying to understand what was happening around me.  I’ve had extreme difficulties explaining it to my white friends.  It’s a mindset, a wisdom, that is completely outside my experience, and one I will never completely understand.  There’s no set of instructions, no rulebook.  Why would you even think there should be one?

Jah jee loved the Ho-Chunk.  He loved the language.  The two are inseparable.  And he loved the land on which he was born, lived, and died.

Let good come from evil, the elders said at the ceremonies.  I balk to use the word ‘ceremonies’.  It’s a crude metaphor that stands arrogantly in the place where the real description of how Jah jee began his path home should be.  Regardless, let good come from evil.  But how?  I’m just a ‘my xka day’.

We’re going to try to be part of the good.  My wife and I have talked a great deal about it, and we’d like our house to be a Ho-Chunk speaking one.  We’re approaching this goal with renewed purpose, but also hopefully approaching it with a strategy for success.

A new friend pointed us in the direction of some resources to help us achieve our goal.  First, a website about learning languages, www.languageimpact.com.  My wife and I have been reading the articles by Greg Thomson and it’s been an eye opener.  It explains why we’ve had such meager success as a result of our previous efforts, helped us more accurately size up the challenge, and encouraged us that, despite the difficulty and complexity of our relative circumstances, it is possible to learn the language with an effective strategy.

We’re still wrapping our heads around what our complete strategy will be, but for now, while we iron out that strategy and try to put it into place, we have a mini-task of learning 5 new words every week day, with Saturday and Sunday being our review days for the words we learned over the week.  We have no illusions that this alone will make us Hocak speakers.  It’s just a measure to keep us going while we look at the other aspects of our strategy, such as time commitment, connecting to community, and so forth that Greg Thomson’s articles talked about.  We’re collecting the tools we’ll need.

Secondly, just this year a Hocak-English dictionary and some accompanying texts for analysis and translation have been published, and we purchased them both.  Not a moment too soon!

We’ve a bunch more resources to go through, and I’ll be sure to mention them as we go through them.

Some SQL Server professionals and I are working on starting a new SQL Server User Group, as a local PASS (Professional Association of SQL Server) Chapter.  If you interested in volunteering on the steering committee, or would like to volunteer in other ways, we’d love to hear from you.  Just drop me an email at my name (same as the URL for this blog, no spaces) at gmail dot com.