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English-language version of Luistxo Fernandez's blog

Translate Tagzania and become a local 2.0 celebrity

Luistxo Fernandez 2006/10/31 09:33
A recent reference about Tagzania in Wales. We read there:
Web-savvy Welsh speakers are volunteering translation skills and some digital hwyl to help stake out the new wave of Web 2.0 services for the mother tongue.

Key sections of Tagzania, which lets users create and share map mash-ups with custom markers organised by tags, were recently translated into Welsh; now the site is also being used to publish Welsh-language cartographies of domestic and world locations.

"I translated it myself in about an hour," said Rhys Wynne, business officer at the Menter Iaith Caerffili language initiative, who localised core navigation and other elements for the Basque Country-based site in his spare time.

"l was reluctant to commit myself to something too big, but Tagzania's Luisxto Fernandex convinced me there wasn't a lot of work involved and, once he sent me the files, I saw it was quite easy."

They don't spell my name quite correctly, but at least the name of our Welsh contributor and Tagzanian user Rhys is well. Being Basque myself, this article makes me proud, seeing that another minority language can have some service in their language...

Rhys puts the article in context in English and Welsh.

Anyone wants another language in Tagzania? It's easy, and it may give you celebrity status in your local 2.0 scene, as it has with Rhys ;-)

Basque-only results with Google Custom Search

Luistxo Fernandez 2006/10/26 06:21

Google's new big offering Google Custom Search will create thousands of specialized vertical search sites or aggregated search engines. More clicks in ads for webmasters and Google Inc.

Here's our first try: Sustatu, the Basque Slashdot (please understand scale) features now a basque-language content-only search tool. That's practical because Google doesn't allow searches restricted Basque-language results. Now we can search in Basque for generic terms or proper names like Ubuntu or Albert Einstein.

Reaching all Basque content in that customized search will be impossible. But Pareto's law may apply, cover 10% of sites, get 70% of most interesting content. At least of those sites that are monolingual (they tend to be more focused on delivering quality content that those based on translation), host most stuff, are renewed more consistently... 

Some Google visions in the Venice Architecture Biennale

Luistxo Fernandez 2006/10/24 09:47
Using Google Earth, Google Maps and Sketchup for the Venice Architecture Biennale this year, looked like an obvious option. We received a commision in Tagzania to develop such a project. Given that the motive for the event was Cities, Architecture and Design, it looked quite logical that these new ways of literally looking at cities and buildings, should be there.

But not much projects have tried that path, I guess. Exhibitions tend to be carefully designed for spectacular pavillions, it seems... Not much web based extensions of those works, which, with these Google tools, could be quite easily made. For Google Maps properly, I've been searching but I found nothing. For Google Earth, something called Real Time Rome looks exciting, but you have to go to Venice to see it, apparently. Then, there's the VEMA project of the Italian Pavillion: in this one, they thought better, and you can download a KMZ file. Finally, there's what Tagzania did for the Spanish pavillion: newest Spanish archiecture, buildings modeled on Sketchup and placed on Google Earth for a 16-screen video installation. Not only Google Earth, but Sketchup files there also: the screenshot below, it's for a sports pavillion in Santander.

Open maps in a commercial mashup

Luistxo Fernandez 2006/10/20 13:53
The London-based real-estate mapping start-up, Nestoria, which I mentioned some posts back, continues advancing steadily. They now cover the whole of the UK, have permalinks for given latitudes, longitudes and bounding boxes, offer the possibility to embed their maps elsewhere...

But one feature introduced today has just been announced at an event in the UK by Mikel Maron, geo-hacker behind Mapstraction, GeoRSS and other things: open maps in a commercial mashup!.

Look at this map here, encapsulated in an iframe with their code. It's in the Isle of Wight, in the southern coast of England, and although you may see the Googlemaps watermark, imagery is not Google's but from OSM (Open Street Map). They have mapped quite well that area, produced vectorial maps with the aggregated info, and those maps have been inserted like tiles into Nestoria. Looks as if a static and local bunch of map tiles is being called, instead of dynamic calls to some server, but, however, a nice achievement, which they explain in more detail in their blog. Great shot, Nestoria! (I am certainly sympathetic to them: one of the founders of the company behind is Javier Etxebeste, a Basque Internet entrepreneur, formerly director of Yahoo Europe).

Mikel Maron announces another achivement in his blog: a Mapstraction demo. One code, three mapping APIs. Fantastic.

Basque ergativity: murder is just transitive death

Luistxo Fernandez 2006/10/16 22:34
I'll try to explain ergative construction today. I owe this to Wheylona, american blogger in Donostia who's trying to learn Basque. Ergativity is a feature of Basque grammar that might be considered odd by speakers of surrounding European languages. However, it's a feature documented by other languages in the world (unrelated to Basque) like Georgian or Chechen, for instance.

OK. Well, ergativity is, as the Wikipedia puts it, this: an ergative language maintains an equivalence between the object of a transitive verb and the subject of an intransitive verb, while treating the agent of a transitive verb differently.

I have read strange examples of how this applies to everyday language. Steven Pinker, well known linguist with a brilliant Chomskyan book, The Language Instict, put it this way: as ergative languages mark the object of an transtitive action (I saw her) the same way as the subject of an intransitive action, therefore they say something like ran her, for she ran.

But both Wikipedia's definition and Pinker's example sound totally alien to me. Ergative construction must look really odd to everybody following that. So, I'll give an example of mine. Perhaps my own explanation will be as strange (and surely not as accurate) as those, but, I'll try anyway.

Wheylona happens to deal with dead bears in her Basque lessons... I'll use a dead parrot, instead. More geek and funny than dead bears, I guess.

It happens that, in Basque, to die and to kill are the same verb. Although there are synonims that do not coincide with both meaning, the most common form hil means both things. That's easy to explain if you speak an ergative language, because murder, at the end, is just transitive death. Or ergative death...

a) Loroa hil da - Parrot-the DIE has. The parrot's dead. More accurately, the parrot has died.

It's easy to transform the decease into a crime:

b) Loroa nik hil dut - Parrot-the I-erg.mark DIE I-have-it. I've killed the parrot.

c) Loroa John Cleesek hil du. Parrot-the John Cleese-erg.mark Die he-has-it. John Cleese has killed the parrot.

-k is the usual ergative marking case. It marks the agent ot the verb.

We may just reverse the actors of the drama:

d) Loroak John Cleese hil du - Parrot-the-erg.mark John Clese DIE he-has-it. The parrot has killed John Cleese.

In accusative language like the ones around us, they tell us, using their accusative logic, that in a) the parrot is the subject, and in c), it becomes the direct object. It is a dead parrot, but somehow, it raises like a zombie from its subject position to occupy a different grammatical niche.

In Basque there are no zombie parrots. The parrot is dead in a), and it's in the same inert and dead position in c), with no declension mark at all neither when it's the alleged subject (a) nor when the indoeuropean linguists declare it to be a direct object (c). What happens is that there's an agent of death now in c), John Cleese, who enters into the scene elegantly dressed in ergative. Why should the parrot have a different grammatical role now? Yet, that's how non-Basque europeans see this: the c)-parrot is not the same as the a)-parrot. Nonsense.

e) Nor hil da? Loroa. Who die has? Parrot-the. Who's dead? the parrot.

f) Nork hil du? John Cleesek. Who-erg.mark die has-it? John Cleese-erg.mark. Who killed him? John Cleese did!

So, what if the parrot committed suicide? Agent and object are the same then... That's easy and logic in Basque:

g) Loroak bere burua hil du. Parrot-the-erg.mark his head-the die he-has-it. The parrot killed his head, that is, the parrot killed himself.

Other Basque verbs also show this behaviour. Sartu: to enter, to put into.

h) Katua etxean sartu da. Cat-the house-the-in enter has. The cat entered into the house.

i) Katua etxean sartu du txakurrak. Cat-the house-the-in enter it-has-it dog-the-erg.mark: the dog has put the cat into the house.

The cat enters in both cases. You poor accusative-thinking indoeuropeans pretend to see a subject in one case, and an object in the other. We see an absolute cat in both cases; absolute being the name of the grammatical case... no mark at all, in contrast to ergative -k marking.

Is it all clear now?

Tim O'Reilly pays us a visit

Luistxo Fernandez 2006/10/06 08:49
Tim O'Reilly was here at the Basque Country yesterday, talking about web 2.0. The Basque Government paid him the visit. They are trying to push the development of IT industry, so four weeks ago Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired was here too.

I didn't attend but my coleagues Gari Araolaza and Nando Quintana did. They tell me it was very interesting. He talked much about user generated content, map mashups and many other concepts, much of them known by high profile geeks as we are ;-) but with new edges.

The fact is that he ended up showing a screenshot from Tagzania, and told that a local company is running it and showed an Alexaholic comparison chart showing Platial vs. Tagzania! Wow, O'Reilly is on the advisory board of Platial, so, I find that remarkable. And, curiously enough, I gave a presentation last week in Madrid (an event about Spanish Google map mash-ups) in which I used a similar Alexaholic chart, comparing those two sites plus Flagr.

Alexaholic comparison for Tagzania

Look, it was just yesterday that I posted that presentation in my spanish blog Mapamovil, using the new and nice Slideshare Flash embedable player. It's there, at slide number 8.


Luistxo works in CodeSyntax, tweets as @Luistxo and tries to manage the automated newssite Niagarank. This Cemetery is part of a distributed multilingual blog (?!). These are the Basque and Spanish versions:

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