Across America by Motor-Cycle

August 21, 2014

I proofed a lot of Across America by Motor-Cycle, by C.K. Shepherd, but from time to time other pesky proofreaders would grab some pages, so I was happy when it was posted to Project Gutenberg and I could at last read the entire book.  The author was an Englishman who decided just after World War I to ride “across America by motor-cycle,” going from New York to San Francisco. Not something that would raise too many eyebrows these days, but back then there were very few paved roads. “Ninety-five per cent. or more, however, of America’s highways are dirt roads, or what they are pleased to call ‘Natural Gravel.’ In many cases they comprise merely a much worn trail, and as often as not a pair of ruts worn in the prairie. Very often, instead of being a single pair of ruts, there are five or six or perhaps ten, where individual cars have manifested their own personality. When this multiplicity of ruts crosses and re-crosses in a desperate attempt to achieve the survival of the fittest, the resultant effect on the poor motor-cyclist is somewhat disconcerting.”

Things aren’t much better in the cities: “I have seen places in Broadway where the tram-lines wander six or seven inches above the surface of the road and where the pot-holes would accommodate comfortably quite a family of dead dogs within their depths.”

“There are two classes of roads and two only. They are good roads and bad roads. Any road, anywhere, in the whole of the United States of America (and, I presume, her Colonies as well) is a ‘good’ road if you can ‘get through.’ The remainder are bad.”

Lizzie

“Lizzie” in the Petrified Forest, Arizona

Of course these roads were a little rough on his motor-cycle (nicknamed “Lizzie”). He bought it new in New York: “The machine was entirely overhauled on four occasions between the Atlantic and the Pacific, and on three of these by the recognized agents of the manufacturers. The engine cut-out switch was the only part of the machine that did not break, come loose, or go wrong sooner or later. I was thrown off 142 times, and after that I stopped counting! Apart from that I had no trouble.”

Protective gear? “I dispensed entirely with the use of goggles from beginning to end, and except at stops in large towns on the way I wore no hat.” No, they hadn’t heard of helmets back then!

The book describes his journey across country, and makes very entertaining reading, although the author does state, “The journey was comparatively uneventful. I never had to shoot anybody and nobody shot me! In spite of the relative wildness and barrenness of the West, there were always food and petrol available in plenty. I spent most nights at the side of the road and experienced neither rheumatism nor rattlesnakes.”

This post was contributed by rpc, a DP volunteer.


Celebrating 28,000 Titles

August 16, 2014

Celebrating 28.000 titles posted to Project Gutenberg by Distributed Proofreaders.

Distributed Proofreaders has posted its 28,000th title to Project Gutenberg, The Mystery of Choice, an 1897 collection of short stories by Robert W. Chambers.

Thy Mystery of Choice - CoverChambers, who was born in Brooklyn, New York, began his career as an artist, and spent his early twenties in Paris, where his work was exhibited at the 1889 Salon. He came back to New York and found work as a magazine illustrator, but soon turned his hand to writing. He had his first and best success with The King in Yellow, a collection of supernatural tales that is said to have influenced H.P. Lovecraft and other noted writers of the horror genre.

The Mystery of Choice continues the horror theme with seven tales of murder and the macabre, some set in the atmospheric Brittany region of France. The collection also contains some of Chambers’s poetry, and concludes with a florid love-poem, “Envoi.”

Congratulations to the Distributed Proofreaders team who made this milestone possible!

 


Invaders from the Infinite

August 7, 2014

On May 14, 2014, my adventure into a renewed interest in science fiction began. A Distributed Proofreaders volunteer had started a forum thread that requested information about the title of a science fiction book about dog-like invaders of earth. He could not remember the title of the book. Now, I forget titles too, especially to old songs and books of ancient (well, 30 to 50 years ago) fame. I guess this happens to other people too, because there were several posts from people who tried to help. Finally another volunteer answered with a post saying to try Invaders from the Infinite, by John Campbell. The first volunteer answered that it wasn’t the right book, but that he was adding it to his reading list. That settled it: if the book was good enough for them, it was certainly good enough for me.

Invaders cover

The adventure began. I downloaded the book in Kindle form and put it on my Kindle on May 25, 2014. By May 27, I had read it; and in it I traveled from earth to the far end of the galaxy, and then beyond the present universe as we know it to a distant, far distant place of huge suns and planets.

The story begins innocently enough. An earth-guard space ship is approached by an alien ship whose occupants are telepathic creatures who have evolved from a canine race. They gather information from the pilot about earth and streak on to New York City. There they meet the trio of Arcot, Morey, and Wade, who happen to have a research ship that can also be made into a first-class fighting vessel. It turns out that the world of the telepathic people is being attacked by aliens who also have the location of earth and another world in its war plans. Can earth help? And instead of waiting for the politicians to OK an expedition, the Triumvirate decides to go themselves.

The planet of the telepathic people is preparing for war with the only weapon they have. Arcot and his companions help to improve the weapon and duplicate it, so that they can leave the world to help other planets and search for more weapons with which to fight an almost invincible enemy who seems intent on eliminating all intelligent life other than their own. Their adventure takes them to the far corners of the galaxy and immerses them in a dirty war, which forces them to develop their own weapons to a point where they can build a new and more powerful ship that can harness the energy of the universe.

Invaders from the Infinite was released to Project Gutenberg on December 20, 2006, as e-book #20154. I would recommend the book to anyone with an interest in physics, cosmology, or just science fiction.

This post was contributed by Quentin Johnson, a DP volunteer.


What have you been reading lately?

July 25, 2014

I have a varied, some would say bizarre, reading list. Everything from popular fiction to science (in every branch) to fairy tales to dictionaries and encyclopaedias to old books of all kinds. Some very old books indeed.

Hello, my name’s CJ and I’m a Smooth-Reader.

I found Distributed Proofreaders just over five years ago, and fell in love. I’ve always spotted the misspellings and iffy punctuation in the books I read, and here was my chance to be as nitpicking as I wanted with nobody to tell me I was peculiar. In fact, everyone else was like me. So I couldn’t be that odd after all.

I started like everyone else, checking that the text we produce matches the original book as closely as possible. I graduated to putting formatting codes around text that needed it, and two months after signing up I did my first Smooth-Read. I’ve now read 146 books and I’m looking forward to reading many more.

It’s great to be part of a team effort like this, doing something as worthwhile as preserving all these old texts. I like it that we don’t just work on the classics of literature and the “big” scientific texts that everybody knows about. All those less known books deserve saving too—and can be more interesting because they’ve been forgotten. I love that I can talk about a shared interest to people from the USA to the Philippines, and Australia to Hawaii—as well as nearer to home in the UK. Whatever the time of day or night there’s always someone around. (Don’t tell anyone, but there’s fun stuff too—like word games and jokes.)

What was my first Smooth-Read? It was a set of three plays by Olive Dargan, The Mortal Gods and Other Plays, published in 1912. After reading them, I felt we ought to have let the playwright remain in obscurity. I didn’t like it at all, and this piece of dialogue should explain why. (Phania, allegedly an adult, is speaking to her father and, sadly, this is typical of her conversational style.)

Pha. Lose me? O, never, daddy, never! I’m
Your pipsey, wipsey, umpsey, ownty own!

It didn’t put me off Smooth-Reading, however, and eight days later I sent in comments on something much more enjoyable—The Eighteenth Century in English Caricature  by Selwyn Brinton. During the rest of the year, I read adventures and romances, fairy tales from China and Russia, science fiction, essays, archaeology, healthcare, history, science and cookery.

2010 brought a new list of books—more fiction of all sorts, biographies, political pamplets and books. I think my favourite of the whole year (and competition was fierce) was Jacko and Jumpo Kinkytail (The Funny Monkey Boys), a collection of bedtime stories for young children. Most of it was read while on a train home from work. My journey wasn’t normally that long, but something happened on the way home—something I felt compelled to share with the poor post-processor of the book.

I’m stuck on a train. Someone’s thrown a large tractor tyre on the tracks, we hit it at speed and everything rattled and shook and jumped, we did an emergency stop and then everything went off. The engine’s badly damaged (no fuel, water or oil, no electrics or anything) and we’re sat in a wooded cutting waiting for rescue. They’ve put detonators (yes, detonators!!) on the track ahead of us so that the relief train knows when it’s getting near. Oh—and it’s hot—very hot. I was going to the theatre tonight, having saved up for the ticket, but it starts in an hour, so even if the train arrives now, we can’t get to the town where I live in time for me to get home and back.

I also shared the progress of the rescue effort as I read on. At twenty past seven the rescue train arrived (three hours after we’d set off) and we were transferred to it. At eight o’clock the police declared it a crime scene and we weren’t allowed to leave. Finally, at ten past eight, we were on our way.

Hooray for Smooth-Reading—I would have been as bored as the rest of the passengers after three and a half hours on a stationary train in a heatwave. Instead, I walked into my house that night having done on the train what I would normally do in an evening at home, making the commute part of my leisure time instead of lost hours.

Among the books I read in 2011 were an account of explorers and missionaries in Africa and a compilation of Creole proverbs (two of which were far too indelicate for our sensitive compiler to translate into English). There were also fiction, natural history, political tirades, magazines, and a book on etiquette.

In the following year I had a bit of a break, while I did other things, but at the end of the year I picked up a some fascinating books from the 15th and 16th centuries that brought history to life. The first was a couple of volumes of The Paston Letters, a collection of letters, wills and other documents relating to an influential Norfolk family between 1422 and 1509. It gives an insight into not just the political events of the time, but also domestic concerns and family quarrels that sound very modern.

Image of Friction Clutch Mechanism

Aultman & Taylor Friction Clutch

The second was the first volume of Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland. This overview of Britain as it was in 1587, and the history of how it got there, is informative, entertaining, even chatty. The author wanders off the topic, and then comes back saying “now, where was I again?” You get anecdotes, recipes and gossip in with your history and the description of every aspect of life in Elizabethan England.

2013 brought a new crop, including books about apples, George Washington’s first military campaign, Vasco da Gama’s first voyage and handicrafts for boys. There were works by Erasmus and Galileo, a somewhat gruesome (but informative) book on amputation from 1764 and a variety of novels.

A standout was Farm Engines and How to Run Them: The Young Engineer’s Guide, containing the most amazing technical drawings, of which my favourite is the one to the right. I think it’s the combination of the hugely detailed part and the outline drawing of the surrounding engine that attracts me. It’s worth downloading this book for the pictures alone.

This is why I love Smooth-Reading. There are so many different things to read that, whatever you like, you’re bound to find something you’ll enjoy. So do give it a go. You never know what you’ll discover.

I’m looking forward to what the next year will bring me to read, but in the meantime, I’ll just return to that philosophy book and an adventure novel from 1921.


Novanglus and Massachusettensis

July 4, 2014

Many people have a vague idea that the battle for American independence from Great Britain began with the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. But the battle really began much earlier—almost a decade earlier, when American colonists first began protesting “taxation without representation” in the British Parliament. Unrest turned to violence in 1770, when a crowd of angry Boston colonists surrounded a group of British soldiers, who fired into the crowd and killed three people in what became known as the Boston Massacre. In 1773 came the Boston Tea Party, during which saboteurs dressed as Mohawks dumped over 300 chests of British tea into Boston Harbor. Punishment was swift: the British government closed Boston Harbor and passed the “Intolerable Acts,” which, among other things, stripped the Massachusetts Bay Colony of its right to self-government.

The battle wasn’t just waged in the streets or in the harbor. A bitter war of words erupted among the intellectual elite of the colonies, who were split in their opinions of Parliament’s actions. Among the combatants was a feisty Boston lawyer named John Adams (1735-1826), a future Founding Father and President of the United States. Adams, ironically, represented several of the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre, and his strong self-defense arguments resulted in acquittals. But Adams was no less of a patriot for that. He simply understood how important it was for the American cause to ensure that the soldiers had a fair trial.

Adams

John Adams

A few years later, as American-British relations deteriorated, Adams employed his brilliant legal skills to respond to a series of pro-British letters, by someone calling himself “Massachusettensis,” published in a Loyalist Boston newspaper beginning in December 1774. Writing as “Novanglus,” Adams set forth his argument that the colonies were not answerable to the British Parliament.  In 1819, these letters were collected in a volume entitled Novanglus, and Massachusettensis; or Political Essays, Published in the Years 1774 and 1775, on the Principal Points of Controversy, between Great Britain and Her Colonies. The edition that DP volunteers used to prepare the Project Gutenberg e-book was the presentation copy to John Adams from the printers.

In 1775—more than a year before the Declaration of Independence—Adams was not yet arguing for independence from Britain; he expressly disclaimed such a treasonous view. Instead, he stuck to the more subtle argument that the colonies might be subject to the will of the Crown, but they were not subject to Parliament, because they were self-governing. He argued extensively from British statutes and cases involving the similar status of Ireland and Wales.

Adams’s arguments were brilliant, but his opponent “Massachusettensis” was every bit a match for him, arguing his Loyalist views with equal vigor and skill.  Indeed, because “Massachusettensis” was the better writer, his arguments can seem more compelling than Adams’s “huge pile of learning,” as “Massachusettensis” sneeringly called Adams’s scholarly legal citations.

The exchange between “Novanglus” and “Massachusettensis” came to an abrupt halt in April, 1775, with the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The revolution had begun, and there was no going back.

The 1819 edition identifies “Massachusettensis” as Adams’s onetime friend Jonathan Sewall, the last King’s Attorney General for Massachusetts, and Adams himself long believed it was Sewall. But “Massachusettensis” was actually Taunton lawyer and Loyalist Daniel Leonard, another friend from whom Adams later became irrevocably estranged in the turmoil of the Revolution. Leonard was forced to flee America when the British evacuated Boston in 1776; he later became chief justice of Bermuda and then retired to London. When the letters were published in London in 1822, he revealed himself to be “Massachusettensis.”

The 1819 edition of Novanglus, and Massachusettensis also features letters that Adams wrote to various friends and colleagues later in life, recounting the events leading up to the American Revolution. John Adams died on July 4, 1826, at the age of 90. His last words were said to be, “Thomas Jefferson survives”—but the author of the Declaration of Independence had also passed away that very day.

Today, July 4, 2014, is the 238th anniversary of American independence.


Ten Years of Music at DP

June 17, 2014

Today Distributed Proofreaders celebrates the 10th anniversary of its Music Team, which has been helping to make beautiful music for Project Gutenberg e-books since June 17, 2004.

music

Medieval French music notation

Founded by DP volunteer David Newman, a classical singer and voice teacher who provided dozens of music-related projects to DP, the Music Team was designed to bring together DPers who wanted to preserve more music books. Thus began a vibrant community of music-lovers, musicians and non-musicians alike, who share thoughts on finding, creating, managing, proofing, formatting, post-processing, and transcribing music-related projects.

Team discussions have wrestled with big issues, like whether and how to incorporate music transcription (i.e., creating sound files from printed music) into the DP formatting rounds, what music notation software should be the DP standard, and how to handle projects consisting solely of music notation with little or no text. DPers have conducted experiments in different methods, and the creative efforts to improve the overall transcription process continue to this day.

But these aren’t the Music Team’s only accomplishments. The team has long been a clearinghouse and sounding board for Content Providers in search of feedback and volunteers to work on important music projects. Post-Processors come to the team to find volunteer transcribers who can create sound files for a vast variety of DP projects, including children’s books and even novels. Some projects might contain some simple melodies; some might have dozens of pages of orchestral music. For projects with lots of music, team members have created “distributed transcription” systems in which any DPer with any music software can participate. One example is the delightful Traditional Games of England, Scotland, and Ireland, a two-volume set with dozens of children’s game songs, on which several Music Team members collaborated.

Music Team members also lend their expertise to answer a wide array of music questions from DPers. A project might have some arcane bit of music notation, often found in the older texts being worked on at DP. Or there might be a question whether some odd-looking notation is, in fact, a printer error. Music transcribers often ask the team to proofread (or even “proof-listen”) to the music they’ve transcribed, for accuracy or for aesthetics.

One thing is certain: being able to hear the music in an e-book enhances the reader’s experience immeasurably. Happy Anniversary, Music Team, and thanks for the melodies!

 


Thomas Jefferson’s Writings

May 26, 2014

I recently did a partial smooth-read of a book with a weighty title: The Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Being His Autobiography, Correspondence, Reports, Messages, Addresses, and Other Writings, Official and Private. Volume 1.

Jefferson

I have long been interested in Thomas Jefferson’s writings. Of course, we all know him as the author of the American Declaration of Independence. (Well, most of us know that; I’m not sure this is still taught in public schools in the United States.) So, to have the opportunity to smooth-read Volume One of this work was something I considered a privilege.

Several years ago, I smooth-read some of the diplomatic correspondence that was written during the Revolutionary War. Thomas Jefferson’s perspective on the problems American diplomats faced during the Revolution gave me new insight into this time in the history of the U.S. Of course, European countries had grave doubts about supporting the upstart Colonies. The struggles that American representatives endured while trying to convince European countries to support the Colonies’ need to separate from Great Britain are fascinating to read about.

I learned a great deal about the early movement toward the Revolution, and about how the Declaration of Independence arrived in its final form. Most people today think that Thomas Jefferson was in favor of slavery. He was not, and fully intended to free his own slaves. He included a scathing denunciation of slavery in the original draft of the Declaration of Independence, including pointing out how Great Britain was heavily engaged in the slave trade. But other statesmen would not allow this denunciation to remain in the final edition of the Declaration.

In this book, some of the correspondence is from the days before T.J. was famous. He was just a young man studying law, and engaged in romances with several different young women. Much of the early correspondence included in this volume has to do with his pursuit of one or two special young women. He teased his fellow students about their romantic problems, and I thoroughly enjoyed the glimpse into the younger T.J.’s life. He must have been an interesting companion!

Jefferson's signature

I wish that I had been able to read the entire volume. I look forward to the time that Volume 2 enters the Smooth-reading Pool, and I fully intend to read it.

My husband owns a 6-volume biography of Thomas Jefferson, written by Dumas Malone. Dr. Malone had access to the original documents that are in the Library of Congress, when he wrote his biography. I’m thrilled that I’m getting to read the same documentation, although in digital form, as was used to write the definitive biography of Thomas Jefferson.


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