A Very Special 27,000th Title

March 29, 2014

27,000 titles

It’s time to celebrate another Distributed Proofreaders achievement—our 27,000th title posted to Project Gutenberg, Storia della decadenza e rovina dell’impero romano, an Italian translation of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by the famed English historian Edward Gibbon (1737-1794).

Decline and Fall is a monumental work, distinguished not only by Gibbon’s outstanding scholarship, but also by his witty, ironic commentary and iconoclastic views of the events he describes. His theory of Rome’s decline and fall was essentially that her citizens had become spoiled by success. The most controversial part of his argument was that Christianity contributed to Rome’s fall by shifting people’s focus from real-life practicalities to a spiritual afterlife.

The Italian translation, by the noted Italian author Davide Bertolotti, is a 13-volume tour-de-force, published in Milan between 1820 and 1824. He based his translation on a 1791 London edition, which Bertolotti described as “ottima e sicura edizione” (“an excellent and trustworthy edition”), mentioned by Gibbon himself in his Memoirs. Bertolotti promised that, unlike a previous Italian translation, “Non una idea, non una parola importante, venne ad essa tolta, mutata od aggiunta” (“Not a single idea, not a single important word, was deleted, changed or added”). That might be a motto for what DP does.

Congratulazioni e grazie to the dedicated DP volunteers who made this milestone possible!

Celebrating Women’s History Month

March 23, 2014

March is Women’s History Month and whilst most of the attention tends to be centred on 8 March, International Women’s Day, here at Distributed Proofreaders we like to spend the whole month inviting volunteers to focus their attention on books by women or about them and their achievements.

One of those books is one we posted in August last year, A Book of Bryn Mawr Stories by Harriet Jean Crawford et al. I wanted to talk about it because I feel that it fits well with this year’s theme—Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment—as well as with the theme for International Women’s Day—Equality for Women is Progress for All.

Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia was founded in 1885 and was one of the first higher education institutions to offer graduate degrees to women. 129 years later it is still going strong, and it still has a strong focus on promoting educational access, equality and opportunity for women. Initially affiliated with the Quakers, by the time this collection of stories was published in 1901 it had become non-denominational.Book cover - Bryn Mawr Stories

The book is a collection of stories written by students of the college.  In the opening story, Ellen, the central character, has been asked to give a speech on The Educational Value of College Life. Struggling to come up with inspiration, she visits fellow graduates of Bryn Mawr for ideas. When she parts from one of them, the other woman says, by way of advice:

“I should certainly deal with the practical value of college life, taking up some line of thought that will show its power to make women effective citizens in the broad sense of the word.”

And this is a recurrent theme in the book: how educating women, far from making them unfit for the place society has designated for them, actually makes them more fit.

I remember when they passed equal opportunities employment legislation here in the U.K. It seemed like the world opened up. I could do anything. It made you dizzy with the new possibilities. All right, I was fourteen and naive and unaware that legislation is one thing and changing the mindset of a whole country is another. It didn’t stop me visualising all sorts of possible futures that I would never have even considered before.

Those early women scholars must have felt a bit like that. At a time when it was still seriously believed by men of science that if a woman had to think about “man things” (like politics, economics, science, etc.) then her brain would literally overheat dangerously, the introduction of degree courses for women was revolutionary.

There were many critics of teaching women to this level. They said that it wasn’t necessary, after all a woman’s place was in the home as a wife and mother. They said it was dangerous, making women dissatisfied with their lot and leading them to disagree with men. It seems very strange, here in the U.K. slightly more than a century later, but it was the way things were back then.

Many of the characters in the stories sound slightly stilted and preachy to the modern ear. This is understandable when you remember that they were written in 1901, a time of great change, and at the height of the struggle for women’s suffrage and improved rights for women. They argue the point that educating women does not make them unwomanly, unfit for matrimony or other feminine pursuits. That it is good for women to be able to think and to be aware of the issues of the day. I am one of the many beneficiaries of the fight for women’s rights and I appreciate it every day. Although I live somewhere that has come a long way from where the students writing these stories were living, there are still places where women do not have the same rights as men, where they do not have the same access to education, property ownership, work and money. There are still societies where the fight fought by Bryn Mawr and other groundbreaking institutions like it is ongoing.

This book was inspirational and, more importantly, aspirational, and I, for one, hope that some day all women (and men) will be seen as equal, with the same rights and responsibilities, the same economic and political power.

Maybe, a century from now, we won’t need a special day or month to celebrate women and their contribution to the societies in which they live.

Here’s hoping.

Distributed Proofreaders is back!

March 8, 2014

Our OS Upgrade/Server Migration is now complete.

Because we have moved to new hardware and a newer version of the operating system, there may be some minor issues left to resolve. If you encounter anything unusual, please let us know in this thread.

If you’re having trouble reaching the site, please try clearing your cache, removing cookies for pgdp.net, and/or restarting your browser.

Thanks to all the squirrels for their assistance in making this major transition happen, and thanks again to our volunteers for waiting patiently while we accomplished this task.

(background music: One Week)

Please check on the DP forums over the next few days for a post with additional details and information once I’ve returned from being on-site.

David (donovan)

Friday Update on our DP Server Status

March 7, 2014

As of 7pm EST Thursday, the new server is in place at the hosting site and squirrels other than donovan have been able to access the system and begin the last stages of configuration, tweaking, validation, etc.

So far, the majority of the site is functioning as expected, with the exception of the wiki, possibly the mailing lists, and some mail functions. Our current focus is to ensure that all the back-end infrastructure is in place and correctly configured.

We’ll continue to provide updates on our progress and expect DP to be back in business fairly soon.

Thanks again for your patience! We’re definitely getting closer!


Brief Update on our Progress

March 5, 2014

We’re making progress!

Prod6 has stopped sulking and is once again communicating with us. As a precautionary measure, we’ve taken full backups of it, and we’re now copying the production data over to the new machine which will become our new production server.

We’ll continue to update you on our progress.

Thanks for your patience and good will!


Something to Do in the Meantime

March 5, 2014

While the Distributed Proofreaders website is down, you might like to check out some of the other books we’ve already posted to Project Gutenberg. One you may enjoy is a book I read recently, Poison Romance and Poison Mysteries by CJS Thompson.
Picture of book cover
This thoroughly enjoyable book, published in 1904, begins with an advertisement for the health-giving properties of Eno’s Fruit Salt and ends with an advert from a tea and coffee purveyor. I’m not sure they’d have been too happy at the association with poisons. It’s partly a history of poisons and poisoning and partly a titillating true-crime book, with a foray into criticism of the use of poison in fiction.

  • Enjoy the reviews (all recommended it, except for the Daily Mail, which was a bit sniffy about it)
  • Wonder at the story of poisons throughout human history
  • Thrill as you read the details of actual cases of poisoning
  • Gasp with astonishment at how easy it will be for you to poison someone after reading this book 1
  • Smile at the critique of the unrealistic use of poisons in fiction—even Shakespeare doesn’t escape censure
  • Ponder whether the advertisers knew their products were being advertised in a book about poison
1  Although I don’t think he realised he was writing a poisoner’s manual, and I don’t recommend experimenting. ;-)

Interestingly, tobacco is included in the list of poisons, it seems that even in 1904, tobacco was considered harmful by some.

The habitual inhalation of tobacco smoke is undoubtedly harmful, but unless the smoke be intentionally inhaled, very little makes its way into the lungs.

Employed to excess, it enfeebles digestion, produces emaciation and general debility, and is often the beginning of serious nervous disorders.

But on the other hand

Be this as it may, the moderate smoking of tobacco has, in most cases, even beneficial results, and there appears little doubt that it acts as a solace and comfort to the poor as well as the rich. It soothes the restless, calms mental and corporeal inquietude, and produces a condition of repose without a corresponding reaction or after-effect. In adults, especially those liable to mental worry, and all brain workers, its action is often a boon, the only danger being in overstepping the boundary of moderation to excess.

Indeed, at the beginning of the 1600s, King James I is reported as describing smoking as

a custom loathsome to the eye, hatefull to the nose, harmfull to the brain, dangerous to the lungs; and in the black, stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoake of the pit that is bottomlesse

When criticising the fictional depiction of poison, the author’s worst strictures are reserved for

the lady novelist is the greatest sinner in this respect, and stranger poisons are evolved from her fertile brain than were ever known to man.

Real life poisoning cases are described and analysed, including various ladies who were accused of murdering their husbands and lovers, a doctor who murdered his brother in law, another who killed his wife and mother in law, the infamous Neill Cream who killed a number of young women, and a celebrated recent American murder case.

In recommending this book, I really can’t put it better than the reviewers did at the time.

The Saturday Review:—”A great deal of curious information concerning the history of poisons and poisonings.”

Illustrated London News:—”The story portions will attract most attention, and the poisoned gloves and rings of old romance supply satisfaction to that sensational instinct which is absent in hardly one of us.”

The Queen:—”Will fascinate most people. Is very readably written. Its only fault is that it is too short.”

Liverpool Courier:—”It is a readable book as well as an able one. The author is an eminent toxicologist and writes pleasantly on the lore connected with the science.”

The Scotsman:—”It is successful and interesting. Full of odd and startling information.”

Aberdeen Free Press:—”Fascinates the majority of his readers. One could wish that Mr. Thompson had written much more.”

Glasgow Citizen:—”A book of the week.”

Glasgow Herald:—”Light and eminently readable.”

My own review? A fascinating, entertaining book that should be on everybody’s ‘must read’ list.

Distributed Proofreaders Outage Update: Monday, March 3, 2014

March 3, 2014

Unfortunately we have not been able to bring the server (prod6) back online remotely. After evaluation, we have decided to prepare a new server and migrate DP to that machine earlier than originally planned.

As noted previously, this is one of two identical machines graciously donated by Tom Kowal.

Prod6 has (literally) served DP well since 2006 and was slated for replacement in summer 2014 but, given the current situation, making that transition now should minimize the total disruption of service.

The new machine (prod7) has been in preparation since early this morning, already has the OS upgrade on it, and is being prepared/configured with the necessary software. In addition to being more recent hardware, prod7 also gives us two additional drive bays, a battery-backup unit on the drive controller, twice the RAM, and twice as many cpu cores as we currently have with prod6. Those factors combined with a move to the ext4 filesystem should make the server a bit more responsive during heavy load.

Brief stats: 2x Xeon @2.00GHz, 4 cores each. 8G RAM. 8x 300G drives (2 as RAID mirror for the OS, 4 as RAID-5 for the data, and 2 hot spares).

Once the build-out is complete, the new hardware will be transported on-site and we will begin transferring the databases, project files, etc. over. This may take an extended time, as we do not yet know exactly what conditions we will be working under.

Transport and on-site work is tentatively scheduled to take place tomorrow (Tuesday, March 4).

Once again, thanks for your patience. We’re working hard to bring you an improved experience.

David (donovan)


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