Sweet Sixteen

October 1, 2016

coverIt’s time for another Distributed Proofreaders celebration: Our 16th Anniversary!

Last year, we commemorated our 15th Anniversary with a look back at our many accomplishments since DP’s founding on October 1, 2000. Here’s a retrospective on DP’s achievements over the last year.


31,000 titles. In December 2015, DP posted its 31,000th unique title to Project Gutenberg, Colour in the Flower Garden. You can read all about it in this celebratory post.

32,000 titles. Just five months later, in May 2016, DP posted its 32,000th title, Tik-Tok of Oz. See the blog post on this milestone for more on this and other books in the beloved Oz series that DP has contributed to PG.

Significant Projects

The Expositor’s Bible. In December 2015, DP posted the second volume of The Expositor’s Bible: The Book of the Twelve Prophets, a 19th-Century commentary on the Bible by leading British theologians of the day. With 564 pages, 38 chapters, Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic quotations, and 1,556 footnotes, this single volume was a massive project in itself. But its posting marked the completion of a 50-volume set, all produced by DP – an outstanding achievement.

Charles Sumner’s complete works. In January 2016, DP posted the last of 20 volumes of Charles Sumner: His Complete Works, all contributed by DP. Charles Sumner (1811-1874) was an important 19th-Century American senator, abolitionist, and civil rights activist.

Princess Napraxine. Also in January, DP posted the third and final volume of Princess Napraxine, one of the most ambitious novels of the British writer Ouida (pen name of Maria Louise Ramé, 1839-1908). It is the tragic tale of a beautiful, worldly woman, the wealthy man obsessed with her, and the penniless young girl he marries to forget her.

Revolutionary correspondence. In July, DP posted the second volume of The Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution. This completed a fascinating 12-volume set of letters involving nearly every significant figure in the American Revolution, edited by the noted 19th-Century historian Jared Sparks. DP contributed all 12 volumes.

15th Anniversary Projects

Over the last year, DP volunteers worked on a variety of projects that were selected especially for the 15th Anniversary celebration. Some have something to do with the number 15, others are of particular literary or historical significance. A quick look at these special projects shows the vast range of the books we work on at DP:

Over 2,000 Titles

DP posted a whopping 2,156 titles to PG over the last year.

Updating and Streamlining

As we’ve been churning out books, our volunteers have also been making significant updates to our site, including:

  • a full upgrade of our forum software
  • changes to the remote file manager
  • updates to WordCheck (DP’s spell checker)
  • improvements to the interface for viewing changes (“diffs”) made to the text of a project’s individual pages as it progresses through each round of proofreading or formatting
  • a new welcoming e-mail to new volunteers
  • updated (and much crisper) logos
  • a new Preview feature for formatters, and
  • the establishment of a DP Official Documentation wiki.

Happy Sweet Sixteen to all the DP volunteers who made these achievements possible!


Comments That Matter!

September 1, 2016

DP logo“Thank you for working on this project.”  There I was, a new member of Distributed Proofreaders, tentatively asking what I was sure was a stupid question. I was sure that the answer would be glaringly obvious in the proofreading guidelines, but that I’d totally missed it. How nice to get a gentle answer and “Thank you for working on this project.” Or “Thanks for asking.”  Wow!  These were comments that mattered. These comments encouraged me to come back!

So I came back. I found the forum. I posted there. Back came comments. Recognizing that I was new, people said, “Welcome to DP!”  I got validation that the “diff” (i.e., change) that someone made to my edited page did not mean I’d made a mistake. Sometimes changes are made because of ambiguity. Sometimes different people interpret the same wording differently. Sometimes I understood the guidelines and the person after me did not. “Welcome to DP!” “Your questions matter.”  “Thanks for asking.” These are comments that make a difference!

The managers of the projects (mostly books) that we work on create project comments. They tell us a little about the book or the author. They emphasize items in the Guidelines that we will see in the project and need to deal with. They point out things that are not in the guidelines that may cause questions and provide answers before we need to ask. They may ask us to do something a little different than the usual in this one project. From these comments we decide if this is the right project for us to work on.  These are comments that matter!

In the Forums we post about Distributed Proofreaders aspects we care about. There’s change we want, functionality we want, Guidelines we want changed, Guidelines we want clarified, Guidelines we have different opinions on, language support we want, where we believe we need to focus efforts, where we feel we’re bogging down, what we have resources for, what we don’t. Because we care, we’re passionate. What we comment matters. How we comment matters!

Comments that welcome us. Comments that guide us. Comments that appreciate our efforts. Comments that push us to grow. Comments that help us as we each strive to leave each page better than we found it. These are comments that matter! These are comments made by volunteers who matter!

This post was contributed by WebRover, a DP volunteer.

These are a few of my favourite things

August 1, 2016

A while ago I wrote about Smooth-Reading and the variety of things I’ve read while doing it. I thought that, today, I’d mention a handful of those books in more detail. These were ones that, for some reason or another, really stood out for me.

Picture of Poisonous Mushrooms

Poisonous Mushrooms of the Genus Amanita

One was a brilliant book called Mushrooms of America, Edible and Poisonous, with absolutely beautiful pictures, like the one to the left. It told you how to tell which ones are poisonous—and how to cook the ones that aren’t. It was the first one that I felt compelled to download, just so I could look at the pictures again. I also have a weakness for recipe books, so it fed another of my guilty pleasures at the same time. (By the way, don’t try eating these ones, they’re definitely not good for you.)

Another pick of the bunch was Jacko and Jumpo Kinkytail (The Funny Monkey Boys), a collection of 31 bedtime stories for young children by Howard R. Garis, with extremely surreal endings. This is one of a series of books by the same author, many of which are now available on Project Gutenberg. One chapter ending goes:

Now next I’m going to tell you about the Kinkytails and the doll’s house—that is, if the alarm clock will stop making figures all over my paper so I can write the story, and if the coffee pot doesn’t step on the rolling pin’s toes.

Well, things must have worked out OK because the next story was, indeed, as advertised. The stories themselves contained a distinctly surreal universe. I think the children to whom these stories were read probably grew up to be imaginative and inventive individuals, or possibly horribly disturbed. It’s a bit of a coin toss as to which.

Then there was the excellent and very entertaining Stanley in Africa. The Wonderful Discoveries and Thrilling Adventures of the Great African Explorer and Other Travelers, Pioneers and Missionaries. Stanley was the man who found Dr. Livingstone, who’d been lost in the African Interior for a while, and greeted him with the immortal words “Dr. Livingstone, I presume”. It is, of course, typical of its time (1889) and there are things in it, such as the casual racism, that we cringe at nowadays. It does, however, contain some useful information on what to do if attacked by an ostrich.

Ostrich farming is a large industry in these South African States. […] The birds are innocent and stupid looking, but can attack with great ferocity, and strike very powerfully with their feet. The only safe posture under attack by them is to lie down. They then can only trample on you.

OK. I’ll try and remember that if I encounter any.

An out-and-out winner was the final two volumes of The Paston Letters, a collection of letters, wills and other documents relating to an influential Norfolk family between 1422 and 1509. Most of the letters are either written in haste, or to be delivered in haste, and they tell you not just about the things you get in history books, but also domestic issues and family quarrels. One spat occurs when a daughter of the family, Margery, gets engaged to a man without her family’s knowledge or permission and her mother refuses to have her in the house or to speak to her again—categorising her as a loose woman. The marriage goes ahead, but I suspect they’d planned a more advantageous match for her than one of their employees. She is very noticeably omitted from her mother’s will, in which everyone and their grandmothers are left something. At one point they seem very short of money, their letters are full of requests to each other for cash, and replies saying “don’t ask me, I don’t have any money.” Their wills are extraordinarily detailed—individual bequests include mattresses and specific pieces of bedding. They lived at quite a turbulent period, kings come and go, including Richard III—to this day depicted as a hunched and limping villain who killed his nephews. They seem to have come round, financially, by the time we leave them in 1509, but I have no doubt they continued to have their ups and downs.

Another favourite was a book on copyright law from 1902. I have spent much of my working life in places where copyright and intellectual property are hot topics. So the subject caught my eye and I picked it up to read. Written by a lawyer, for other lawyers, A Treatise upon the Law of Copyright in the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the Crown, and in the United States of America, by a barrister named E.J. MacGillivray, was fascinating reading, and surprisingly accessible to a lay person such as myself. It rounded up the development of the idea of copyright and all the laws that had sought to provide protection to writers and other creative artists, together with clarifications obtained during a huge number of court cases. The author’s aim was simple:

The foundations of this work were laid by my endeavours to understand what is perhaps the most complicated and obscure series of statutes in the statute book. In working from time to time at the Law of Copyright I found great want of a textbook which should be exhaustive of the case law, and at the same time contain a concise and clearly arranged epitome of the statutory provisions. This want I have tried to supply for myself in the present compilation, and it is now published in the hope that it may prove useful to others.

I think he succeeded admirably, and although the law will have changed in the ensuing century, it’s still an excellent summary of the development of copyright protection in the UK, the USA and various places that were part of the British empire.

I can’t recommend Smooth-Reading enough as a fun thing to do with your time. Right now there are dozens of books, ranging across novels for adults and children, history, drama, science, and others.

Ooohh, choices, choices. What shall I pick first?

Woman of Independence

July 4, 2016

Celebrations of American Independence generally focus on the men who made it happen. There were those who made it happen on paper, like John Adams, or Thomas Jefferson, or Benjamin Franklin. And there were those who made it happen on the battlefields, like George Washington, or Nathanael Greene, or Henry Knox. But there were no women in the Continental Congress, and no women in the Continental Army. As with many great historical events, women were, sadly, relegated to the sidelines.

Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams as a newlywed, 1766

But one woman had an important influence on the great event of American Independence, albeit from the sidelines. Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, was her husband’s “dearest friend,” the mother of his children, the sounding board for his ideas.

Abigail Adams and Her Times, by Laura E. Richards (1917), is an engaging account, full of fascinating details that bring Colonial times to life. (“Snail-water,” a home remedy of the time for infants, is definitely not to be tried at home, and definitely not on infants.)

But Richards also brings Abigail herself to life. The great frustration of Abigail’s biographers has always been that she never kept a diary. Her youth and the early days of her marriage are not all that well documented. Although John Adams kept a diary, he only occasionally mentioned his wife in it. We learn who she is primarily from the many letters she exchanged with him — but that correspondence didn’t begin in earnest until a decade after their marriage, when he was thoroughly embroiled in the fight for American Independence and was away from home for long periods of time.

Richards deftly mines the letters for clues to Abigail’s character and personality. Abigail frequently signed herself “Portia,” after Shakespeare’s artful heroine. Her support for John’s important work was wholehearted, but she also urged him to consider greater rights for women:

… in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.

Alas, Abigail’s hopes were not realized for nearly 150 years, but to John’s news that the Continental Congress had voted in favor of independence, she joyfully wrote:

By yesterday’s post I received two letters dated 3d and 4th of July, and though your letters never fail to give me pleasure, be the subject what it will, yet it was greatly heightened by the prospect of the future happiness and glory of our country. Nor am I a little gratified when I reflect that a person so nearly connected with me has had the honor of being a principal actor in laying a foundation for its future greatness.

May the foundation of our new Constitution be Justice, Truth, Righteousness! Like the wise man’s house, may it be founded upon these rocks, and then neither storm nor tempests will overthrow it!

Abigail remained John’s closest and most trusted adviser throughout the Revolution, during his Presidency, and afterward, while the titans who created the new nation struggled and quarreled over how it should be governed. Their joint epitaph is a fitting tribute to their partnership:

During an union of more than half a century they survived, in harmony of sentiment, principle, and affection, the tempests of civil commotion; meeting undaunted and surmounting the terrors and trials of that revolution, which secured the freedom of their country; improved the condition of their times; and brightened the prospects of futurity to the race of man upon earth.

July 4, 2016, is the 240th anniversary of American Independence.

The Border and the Buffalo

June 1, 2016


Proofreading at Distributed Proofreaders has exposed me to a whole genre of books I never knew existed and which I’ve learned I really enjoy: first-hand accounts of the exploration and development of America—especially the American West.

Recently I worked on proofing one of these, a 1907 autobiography, The Border and the Buffalo: An Untold Story of the Southwest Plains, by John R. Cook. Cook participated in the slaughter of what is now believed to have been about 4.5 million American buffalo in a few years during the 1870s. Alarmed by the prospect of the buffalo’s extinction, several states, including Colorado and Kansas, had outlawed wholesale slaughter of buffalo. But not everyone thought that was a good idea. When the Texas Legislature met regarding a bill drawn up for the protection of buffalo,

General Phil. Sheridan … went to Austin, and, appearing before the joint assembly of the House and Senate, told them that they were making a sentimental mistake by legislating in the interest of the buffalo…. He said: “These men have done in the last two years and will do more in the next year, to settle the vexed Indian question, than the entire regular army has done in the last thirty years. They are destroying the Indians’ commissary; and it is a well-known fact that an army losing its base of supplies is placed at a great disadvantage. Send them powder and lead, if you will; but, for the sake of a lasting peace, let them kill, skin, and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle, and the festive cowboy, who follows the hunter as a second forerunner of an advanced civilization.”

I was aware that the buffalo slaughter had occurred, but had no idea of the role Sheridan had in encouraging it, nor that it was an intentional strategy to control the Native American populations and to open up the prairies for cattle. I had thought it was just the shortsightedness of individuals seeing the opportunity for financial gain and not realizing, or perhaps not caring, about their impact on the long-term survival of the species. They reduced the population of buffalo from multiple millions to what is believed to be only 300 in 1900. Today, with conservation efforts, the American buffalo population has increased to about half a million.

The hunters were after the hides and sometimes the tongues, which they dried and shipped east. In what appears to be an exception, Cook tells us about the Moore brothers, who “dried tons and tons of meat for a St. Louis firm.” In most cases, after killing the buffalo for their hides, the hunters left the rest behind.

But all was not wasted. When the army of hunters had annihilated those massive, sturdy creatures, the hair and bone scavengers followed them up with four- and six-horse, mule, or ox teams. They gathered up and hauled to the nearest railroad station every vestige of buffalo hair and bones that could be found.

I saw in 1874, the year before the great buffalo slaughter began in earnest, a rick of buffalo bones, on the Santa Fe railroad right-of-way, and twenty miles ahead of the track from Granada, Colorado, piled twelve feet high, nearly that wide at the base, and one-half mile long. Seven, eight, nine, and ten dollars per ton was realized from them alone.

I was also interested in the fact that individuals who had fought on opposite sides of the American Civil War, just a few years later, were working together in the American West. One group is described thus:

There were several ex-Confederate soldiers and Union ex-soldiers who had joined issues in a common cause. There were three school-teachers. All the party were native-born Americans with the exception of the two Englishmen, whose camp had been destroyed.

In the following tale they seemed to have more in common in the fact that they had had military experience than in the fact they had fought on opposite sides.

This book is written in an entertaining style. Cook introduces the reader to many characters of the time and tells interesting stories about them: the man who doesn’t realize he can use a left rear wagon-wheel to replace a damaged right rear wheel by turning it around—later known as Wrong-Wheel Jones; a horse that plays lame and dead and allows his owner to use his head as a gun rest; and Cook’s meeting with Pat Garrett, the man who later became sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico, and who killed Billy the Kid.

Through Cook we meet Smoky Hill Thompson, Squirrel-eye, Limpy Jim Smith, Wild Skillet, Crazy Burns, Buffalo Jones, Dirty-Face Jones, Arkansaw Jack, and Powder-Face Hudson, and sometimes we learn the source of their nicknames.

Cook also shows some regret at the slaughter he was involved in. Whether it really occurred at the time as represented, or whether it came to him when he wrote his autobiography some thirty years later, he reflects:

I then thought: What fertile soil! And what profitable and beautiful homes this region would make if only moisture were assured! How seemingly ruthless this slaughter of the thousands of tons of meat, one of the most wholesome and nutritious diets, as a rule, in the world!… Then a slight feeling of remorse would come over me for the part I was taking in this greatest of all “hunts to the death.” Then I would justify myself with the recollection of what General Sheridan had said; and I pictured to myself a white school-house on that knoll yonder where a mild maid was teaching future generals and statesmen the necessity of becoming familiar with the three R’s. Back there on that plateau I could see the court-house of a thriving county seat. On ahead is a good site for a church of any Christian denomination.

In addition to stories about killing buffalo, Cook tells many tales of encounters with Indians, personal stories of other travelers, and accounts of experiences while traveling through the American West in its last days before development. He provides an entertaining and insightful view of a time and place experienced and documented by only a few travelers. He wraps up one of his stories: “And this is just simply another of the many remarkable incidents that happened on the Range during the passing of the buffalo.”

This post was contributed by WebRover, a DP volunteer.

Celebrating 32,000 Titles

May 28, 2016


Distributed Proofreaders is proud to celebrate its 32,000th title, Tik-Tok of Oz — many thanks to all the volunteers who worked on it!

The Wonderful Volumes of Oz – We’re off to see the Wizard!

Who among us has NOT seen the classic fairy tale The Wizard of Oz on television? Ah, but have you READ the original and the other volumes in the series?? Thanks to Distributed Proofreaders, there is no excuse!!

All of the volumes written by L. (Lyman) Frank Baum have been processed at DP. All are available on Project Gutenberg as text-only versions; but most, like our 32,000th title, have been redone with all of the original illustrations!

L. Frank Baum Oz Book List
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
The Marvelous Land of Oz
Ozma of Oz
Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz
The Road to Oz
The Emerald City of Oz
The Patchwork Girl of Oz
Tik-Tok of Oz
The Scarecrow of Oz
Rinkitink in Oz
The Lost Princess of Oz
The Tin Woodman of Oz
The Magic of Oz
Glinda of Oz
Little Wizard Stories of Oz

The volume Tik-Tok of Oz is the latest to complete the journey through DP. Many of the characters from previous volumes make a reappearance, including Glinda, the Cowardly Lion, Betsy Bobbin, the Shaggy Man, Hank (the mule), Ozga and Polychrome, Dorothy, and Toto (too!). Tik-Tok, Queen Ann Soforth, Nome King, and Tittiti-Hoochoo are some of the new characters introduced in this volume.

Queen Ann Soforth of Oogaboo sets out to raise an army to conquer the Nome King. Betsy, Tik-Tok (a mechanical man who is guaranteed to work perfectly for a thousand years), Shaggy Man (with his Love Magnet), and a number of other characters team up with Queen Ann’ s “noble army” and save Oz!

I’ll confess that I have so far read only a few of the Oz tales. So, most of the characters are new to me. This is one of the best reasons to participate in activities such as Distributed Proofreaders—you may discover new treasures which were beloved a hundred years ago and still resonate today.

Although one person takes on the responsibility to transform a text file into a readable text version and an HTML version with coding to produce mobile versions (epub and mobi), each project requires quite a few folks to produce images, and to check the spelling, punctuation, and formatting. Tik-Tok took more than 60 DP volunteers to reach the post-processing stage. See this article for more on the DP process.

Now that I have completed this volume (I’ve read and helped produce the next in the series, The Scarecrow of Oz), I am looking forward to “catching up” on the others! Oh, by the way, did you know ALL of the animals CAN talk in Oz? Read Tik-Tok to hear what Toto has to say!

This post was contributed by Tom Cosmas, a DP volunteer who post-processed this project.

Popular Science, May 1900

May 1, 2016

Smooth-reading at Distributed Proofreaders can sometimes be a mixed bag, from the fascinating to the dull, even in the same project. When I smooth-read the May 1900 issue of The Popular Science Monthly, I found some of the articles quite interesting. Others were really rather boring, at least to me. For instance, I skim-read the article about blind fish. I really couldn’t make myself interested in how their skin and eyes work. Probably, to someone, this would be information of the utmost importance, but sadly, that article tended to put me to sleep. I found myself dozing off several times while attempting to read it, and eventually I decided to skip the rest of the article. There was another article that didn’t interest me, which was about International Law.

But there were also several articles in this magazine that I found enthralling. The first was about the total eclipse of the sun, May 28, 1900. It was interesting to see the meteorological charts that were drawn up. One chart could be used for predicting cloud cover over the path of the eclipse, and another chart showed what fraction of the surface of the sun would be covered during the time of the eclipse.

cloud cover chart

Chart II.—Probable State of the Sky along the Eclipse Track. Average percentage of cloudiness in May and June.

This article had particular appeal for me because in 1979, my husband and I traveled to Winnipeg, Canada, to witness the total solar eclipse that occurred on February 26. It was an amazing sight, and one I will never forget. In the summer of 2017 there will be another total solar eclipse which crosses the US. It will pass very close to Cairo, Illinois, and we intend to be there to see it.

So, reading about the 1900 eclipse brought back wonderful memories to me. I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s dissertation on the best way to take photos (which has not changed much, except that we now have digital cameras), speculation as to what the solar corona is, and general information about the eclipse.

This issue of Popular Science also includes an article titled “A Hundred Years of Chemistry.” What an interesting article! It speaks of new inventions such as the discovery of how to melt platinum, and how advances in electrical furnaces will change the future. There are many other interesting tidbits in this article, many of which have affected our lives today. For instance, the author wrote:

As we near the end of the century we find one more discovery to note, from a most unexpected quarter—the discovery of new gases in the atmosphere. In 1893 Lord Rayleigh was at work upon new determinations of density, with regard to the more important gases. In the case of nitrogen an anomaly appeared: nitrogen obtained from the atmosphere was found to be very slightly heavier than that prepared from chemical sources, but the difference was so slight that it might almost have been ignored. To Rayleigh, however, such a procedure was inadmissible, and he sought for an explanation of his results. Joining forces with Ramsay, the observed discrepancies were hunted down, and in 1894 the discovery of argon was announced. Ramsay soon found in certain rare minerals another new gas—helium—whose spectral lines had previously been noted in the spectrum of the sun; and still later, working with liquid air, he discovered four more of these strange elements—krypton, xenon, neon, and metargon. By extreme accuracy of measurement this chain of discovery was started, and, as some one has aptly said, it represents the triumph of the third decimal. A noble dissatisfaction with merely approximate data was the motive which initiated the work.

To the chemist these new gases are sorely puzzling. They come from a field which was thought to be exhausted, and cause us to wonder why they were not found before. The reason for the oversight is plain: the gases are devoid of chemical properties, at least none have yet been certainly observed. They are colorless, tasteless, odorless, inert; so far they have been found to be incapable of union with other elements; apart from some doubtful experiments of Berthelot, they form no chemical compounds. Under the periodic law they are difficult to classify; they seem to belong nowhere; they simply exist, unsocial, alone. Only by their density, their spectra, and some physical properties can these intractable new forms of matter be identified.

Finally, there is a short article about winking! Someone did a study trying to figure out how long a typical “wink” lasts. We would call the phenomenon being studied a blink, but still, to think that someone was able to actually time the duration of a blink of an eye (several eyes, actually) in 1900, is quite amazing to me.

Popular Science magazine has been around for a long time, and I encourage you all to check out some of the old editions being made available through Project Gutenberg. They’re fun! Well … mostly.

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