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Photo by Lobsang WangyalLobsang Monlam begins a new era of electronic communication in Tibetan; Tibetan World’s Tenzin Nyima takes you through Lobsang’s arduous but successful journey (May 2007): Sending an Email or chatting with your loved ones in Tibetan was unheard of until now, but one person is all set to make that dream a reality — the person is none other than Lobsang Monlam, a monk from Sera Monastery in Bylakuppe.
The 31-year Amdo-born monk, who is already a familiar name to most Tibetan computer users, began his journey into the computer geek’s world in 2002, when he, out of sheer curiosity, bought his first computer. Lobsang, who is currently pursuing his Geshe Degree studies at Sera Monastic University, says the person who sold him the computer taught him how to turn the machine on and off, adding that he knew nothing else about the computer except that it was an amazing technology.
Describing his journey, Lobsang says, with an almost childlike excitement, “I had an extremely tough time since I understood neither the computer nor a word of English. Many a times, my computer would go blank and I would wonder, ‘Now what?’ But even though they were really difficult times, I still loved it since those were learning experiences, helping me to eventually master all the things I am working on right now.”
For many, speaking about a monk may conjure up images of monasteries or holy places with solemn monks religiously following monastic studies and chanting prayers, but Lobsang has gone beyond the stereotypical image. Never losing a moment, Lobsang, who escaped to India in 1993, relentlessly worked on improving his knowledge of the computer ever since he owned his first personal machine. But perhaps, what is extraordinary is that the monk has proved to be a genius in computer programming even with barely knowing how to read and write English.
In 2005, he invented Monlam Bod Yig Version 1, which although similar to the existing Tibetan fonts like TCRC Bod Yig, had the additional U-Mey script version. Many people from Tibet, especially those from his own hometown, Amdo Ngawa, used the font, giving him relevant feedback and suggestions to improve the font.
In 2006 Lobsang launched his latest invention, Monlam Bod Yig Version 2, a Unicode font, [and in 2009, improved it again in Version 3, now completely Unicode and with more fonts]. It is seen as a boon not only for computer professionals but also for ordinary people interested in just emailing and chatting online.
“Until today, we write Tibetan in a Word document and then attach the file with our email. Now people can chat and write emails in Tibetan language directly,” says an enthusiastic Lobsang.
Even with so much already on his platter, Lobsang reveals that he has a few more projects related to Monlam Fonts lined up. The new-age Tibetan computer genius, who believes in the importance of feedback from users, says he is awaiting the response from users to his new invention. Lobsang avers, “I received a lot of feedback from users for Version 1 of my font and those suggestions resulted in the creation of Version 2. So, I will wait and see.”
Lobsang hints that if people find his Version 2 font useful, he just might start working on a dictionary for the words as well as a spell check, similar to that found in Microsoft Word. [Aug 2010: The dictionary is close to release. See story at Tibet.net]
While one must wait and ascertain how many Tibetans around the world will join in this new era of electronic communication in Tibetan language, one cannot help but applaud the efforts of Lobsang Monlam for initiating the era.
It is indeed an exceptional thing to come across a monk who writes software programs especially in a society as conservative as ours where the roles of monks and laypersons are very well defined.
(Editing by Tephun Tenzin Shastri and Tenzin Pema Chashar)
More information about Lobsang Monlam
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The image of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen on the whistleblowing website. The Pentagon said Tuesday it had requested an investigation into a hack group’s reported threat against a military base that is being used to hold a US soldier suspected of giving documents to WikiLeaks.
The Pentagon said Tuesday it had requested an investigation into a hacker group’s reported cyber threat against a military base that is being used to hold a US soldier suspected of giving documents to WikiLeaks.
Pentagon spokesman Colonel David Lapan said the probe was requested after news that the hacker group called Anonymous was seeking to disrupt online activities at the Quantico, Virginia, base where Private Bradley Manning is incarcerated.
“The base at Quantico, including the brig, are aware of that and they have made law enforcement agencies aware of that as well,” Lapan said.
The Financial Times reported that hackers known as “Anonymous,” which had claimed credit for attacks supporting WikiLeaks in recent months, was seeking to disrupt communications at the US Marine base.
Manning, 23, has been held at the prison since July under a maximum security regimen because authorities say his escape would pose a risk to national security.
The army private faces numerous charges of stealing classified files and is suspected as the source of a trove of secret documents published on the WikiLeaks website in recent months, which have infuriated and embarrassed US officials.
US military authorities brought additional charges against Manning last week, accusing him of illegally downloading vast numbers of secret government files and “aiding the enemy.”
His defense lawyers have filed a legal complaint over the conditions of his detention at Quantico, which include a “prevention of injury” watch, which his lawyer said includes being forced to sleep naked.
His supporters say the regimen is inhumane and has been deemed unnecessary by psychiatric experts.
The WikiLeaks website has yet to disclose its source for the US military and diplomatic documents published in recent months, but suspicion has focused on Manning, who worked as a low-ranking army intelligence analyst in Iraq.
Manning was arrested in May and authorities have yet to say when he will be put on trial. If found guilty, Manning faces up to 52 years in prison.
In December, the loose-knit group of hackers known as Anonymous staged cyber attacks on the websites of Visa, Mastercard, PayPal and others accusing them of withdrawing services to WikiLeaks.