Reading Room Upgrade & 84000’s New Tech Lead

Meet 84000’s new Tech Lead, Dominic Latham, and learn about the latest changes to the 84000 Reading Room.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? A little about your background and what brought you to become a tech specialist, etc.?

Dominic Latham: I grew up in the English countryside. I studied and worked in London before moving to Berlin 10 years ago. I have three kids, aged thirteen, eleven, and six. Originally, I studied art and critical theory. While I was studying for my Master of Arts degree, I somehow ended up with a job testing software algorithms for a computer scientist I had met. I found the code easy to understand and he soon allowed me to debug and then to program. A few years after that I went back to university to study digital media. 

For me, digital technology is just another medium for making things. I used to use pencils, paint, or print. For the last 21 years, I have been using code and the internet. Of course, it is also very different. Digital media is entirely made of protocols so it is very formal, controlling, and normalizing. But the other side of this is that the rules are constantly changing.

Are you a Buddhist? If so, what brought you to Buddhism?

I am. I regularly visit the Bodhicharya Center in Berlin and I’m a great admirer of Ringu Tulku Rinpoche. I’ve spent the last couple of years practicing with James Low.

There are, of course, way too many causes and conditions to name. My parents and my education gave me, I think, an open mind. There were a few European and American philosophers and artists that I liked who saw a connection between what they did to Buddhism.

How did you come to hear about 84000?

The Siddhartha’s Intent sangha in Berlin has many events so I heard about the project through them. Then one day I got a message from a friend who was at teachings with Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche in Bodh Gaya, where he was promoting the project. She sneaked a look at the website on her phone, saw the job advertised, and sent it to me there and then.

In layperson’s terms, what does a Tech Lead do for 84000?

84000 has three areas with technical needs. First is the publication of the texts. At the moment, this is mostly done through the Reading Room, although we will very soon be offering eBooks to download in addition to improving the PDFs. Then we’ll keep improving the accessibility of the texts and integrating them with technologies to help readers discover them. 

Secondly, there are the marketing and fundraising activities. Luckily these are mostly done by my very competent colleagues in the Communications Team. Nevertheless, I hope to help introduce some improvements on this side soon, too, with a better mobile experience on the main site and better integration with the Reading Room. 

Thirdly, we have the opportunity to help support the translators and editors. There is, of course, a large team of people working on the texts. They have very different needs from the readers who use the Reading Room. Behind the scenes, we are building some tools to help with the speed and quality of the translation process. We can query the texts to see how different people have translated different terms, which characters, places, and terms appear in different sūtras, and how are they described and used. The 84000 database will offer a whole new set of possibilities for exploring the universe of the Buddhist scriptures. We hope this will be invaluable to academics and translators of the future.

Can you tell us a bit about the latest changes to the Reading Room?

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the great job done by the team that built the old Reading Room. There is a lot of careful detail which I totally underestimated when I took over the project.

This Reading Room update is mostly intended to make the texts more accessible. The new platform will help us integrate better with search engines, mobile devices, browsers, social media, eReaders, and assistive technologies. None of these areas are perfect yet but it should give us a basis to keep improving them over the coming years. We look forward to feedback from the readers to help with that.

The new version also has some new features and changes to the design which we hope readers will also find helpful.

What are you looking forward to working on and seeing happen in the future?

I’m really enjoying working on the eBooks at the moment. I already have a library of prototypes of the 84000 Kangyur edition on my eReader. I suppose I’m the first person in the world to have that! I look forward to helping make it available to everyone soon.

After that, I really look forward to getting to know the translators and editors, seeing how they work, and trying to make a difference for them. 

At present, the translation of the canon is expected to take more than 100 years. I think that by listening closely to the needs of the people doing the work, giving them the information they need, and removing repetitive tasks, it’s possible to use technology to help them get the job done a few years faster. Despite not being a translator myself, in this way I hope I can make a big contribution to the task.

Posted: 2 Dec 2017