Revitalizing the Hawaiian language

The podcast story “Meet the last native speakers of Hawaiian” is a fascinating story about how to revitalize a language that almost (but not quite) went out of existence. The story of Hawaii and the Hawaiian language probably shares some elements in common with the story of many Native American languages and nations/cultures/tribes. The story of Hawaii is interesting because, despite the efforts to squelch the language from existence, there still remain pockets where the language is still spoken. Similar to the story of Myaamia, a concerted effort by community-based linguists and collective support from the community was crucial. The efforts are successful in that many kids grow up knowing how to speak Hawaiian because they go to Hawaiian-language primary schools. With the basic step solved, the next-step problems take its place.
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Reviving the Miami language from the dead

The podcast story “How the Miami Tribe got its language back” is really fascinating. The Myammia (“Miami”) tribe and language lost its last speaker decades ago. The story of how and why the language went out of usage is not pleasant, but worth knowing. Regardless, thanks to the work of early linguists during the time when the language was spoken, there were historical records of the language (vocab, pronunciation, and perhaps grammar). Thanks to the interest of a Myammia descendent, a linguist, and a seed amount of resources, a lot of work coalesced in reviving the language into something that is spoken by a few hundred people on some basis. For a language that had completely died decades ago, that’s remarkable. Hearing the full story is worth it, especially for certain tidbits that do not appear in the written article. For example, students came from distant, disparate regions to learn the Myammia language at Miami University (OH), but there was not as much speaking among the students outside of the class as they hoped. It remained mainly an academic exercise of second-language learning. The big spark happened when they introduced a new class to the curriculum that also taught the history and traditions of the Myammia. There was a huge upsurge in usage and attachment to the language as a sense of identity took root among the learners.

Google Design blog post on Indian language fonts

The new post from the Google Design blog entitled “The New Wave of Indian Type” is very interesting. The differences already noticeable in the examples of Tamil fonts in the blog post is already striking. And the blog post, of course, is showcasing fonts with open-source licenses and encouraging people to use them as starting points to create their own. I like these ideas very much.
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Tips for Writing SQL Queries

In my previous job, I had a basic grasp of writing a SQL query, but I was never quite comfortable with “advanced” queries. (By “advanced”, it’s more like intermediate at best — it’s the nuances of joins, group-bys, having vs. where.) I was told that whatever SQL I didn’t know would be “easy” to pick up and would happen naturally, although in practice that never quite happened. It wasn’t until I started to come up with a system for solving interview-style programming problems that I started to similarly come up with a system for writing any SQL query. The following is the result, which is less of a “tutorial” for “beginner SQL” and more of a systematic process for constructing a SQL query:
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Compiling a Leiningen Project from Maven

For those of you with experience with Maven, you might be wondering why anyone who is using Leiningen to build a project would then want to run that build tool from Maven, which is itself another build tool. There is a reason why I even ventured down this path. I would like to share what I have found so far, in case it benefits anyone else, but I would also like to get feedback from people who know of a better way of accomplishing the same goals.
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Using Prefix Trees for Thamil Language Processing

Thamil computing has made a lot of progress in the past 10-20 years. Much of the work that has reached the public has been in the areas of fonts/rendering and input methods. Thanks to the continuing efforts in these areas, most of those issues have been solved, Thamil text has standardized on a single character set (Unicode), and we have nice fonts and input methods for major operating systems and mobile devices. The new environment has enabled the widespread creation and consumption of digital content in Thamil.

Now, the next set of problems to solve are handling Thamil text that is written using the Unicode character set. Unicode is designed for all languages’ fonts to standardize, but the slight cost to Thamil language processing has been its complexity. But the challenges can be handled easily by representing the data in a suitable data structure, which in this case is a prefix tree (or “trie”).

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Speaking at Clojure/West 2015!

I’m excited to be selected as a speaker at the upcoming Clojure/West 2015 conference next month in Portland! I’ll be talking on how Clojure can be used to program in other human languages (other than English). There are interesting opportunities related to diversity and access. I will be drawing on my experiences with programming in/for Thamil in the clj-thamil library. And I’ll see what other interesting, related ideas I can slip in (turtles that draw?)… and put a bird on them.

Organizing a Hack Day

I have been pushing for 2 months to institute a monthly Hack Day in the company, and it has happened finally on Feb 13-14! Having a company culture that fosters creativity and engagement is important when you work with technology. Technology is all about the new, and the new is all about synthesizing new ideas to create and adapt. The environment in which you are can make a big difference. Whether you talk about the network effects of being in the city that speaks to your interests Cities and Ambitions, or you are talking about opportunities that come with family upbringing, or the general attitudes and behaviors of the workplace, it’s amazing how your surroundings can be so important and yet subtle and difficult to quantify. I’m proud of the efforts I’ve been making so far, including the monthly Hack Day, to make committed first steps in introducing tangible, bottom-up, creative spaces. Continue reading