Memoirs of a Post-Processor

December 1, 2016

When I joined Distributed Proofreaders, I started with proofing and formatting as I assume most people do. I came across some fascinating snippets that I would never have read otherwise, but found I lacked the patient attention required to do a good job. This left smooth reading, at which I knew I would be hopeless, or post-processing, so post-processing it was. It probably helped that I had been a programmer in a previous existence, but I started, foolishly, with more difficult books but benefited from some very helpful and supportive post-processing verifiers.

With a hundred or so books and counting, why do I do it? Certainly to make the books available again. It produces a useful product: To ensure that the work of the many proofers, formatters and smooth readers is not in vain. But I do it mostly for the satisfaction of seeing a working ebook emerge from the collection of plain text and images I start with.

I do not specialise and the sheer range and variety of books available never fails to amaze. My reading of 18th and 19th Century books never got much beyond Sheridan le Fanu and Wilkie Collins, so I have come across a world of literature – biography, humour, philosophy, religion, science, poetry, history, fiction – which I did not realise even existed. Thank you, DP!

Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury Abbey, from The Gate of Remembrance

One highlight is The Gate of Remembrance, subtitled, “The Story of the Psychological Experiment which Resulted in the Discovery of the Edgar Chapel at Glastonbury,” by the noted British architect, archaeologist, and psychical researcher Frederick Bligh Bond. This is a detailed account of an experiment with automatic writing over a period of years, which, the author maintains, led to the discovery of the lost chapels at Glastonbury. The author shows total confidence in the method and tackles criticism head-on in the preface. Written in a more credulous (or perhaps less hidebound) age, it is hard to imagine any serious architect or archaeologist even contemplating this approach today. Publishing would now be instant professional suicide. I am very sceptical, yet, it seemed to work, and the sincerity of the protagonists seems beyond doubt.

A completist approach to science  writing was still feasible in the late 19th Century and surprisingly popular. Now no author could possibly undertake such a venture and no publisher would consider it. Popular Scientific Recreations, by French scientist Gaston Tissandier, probably published in the 1880s, at 770 pages and 900 illustrations covering every scientific discipline known from Astronomy to Zoology, via parlour games, is an example of the genre. While it is incomplete and sometimes incorrect, it is remarkably comprehensive and up to date. Given that the author developed and flew an electric dirigible (how far has electric manned flight developed in the last 130 years!) this should not be surprising.

Another example is Outlines of Creation, by Elisha Noyce, a more modest 1858 publication of 340 pages, limiting itself to astronomy, geology and life. While unequivocally creationist in outlook, it presents the scientific evidence comprehensively and  comprehensibly, and is beautifully illustrated. As the author explained in the Introduction,

The want of a general knowledge of those works of the Great Creator which are constantly spread out before us, in these days of easy acquirement, amounts almost to a sin, for it is by the study of Nature in all her varied forms and associations, that we learn to “look from Nature up to Nature’s God;” for who can look upon the works of God without a feeling of awe and admiration?

Staying positive and not dwelling on the horrors of war, vivisection, adulteration of food, primitive medicine, etc., I enjoyed the gentle humour and the depiction of genteel life in the books by American author John Habberton, Helen’s Babies and Budge and Toddie. Concerning  the generally disruptive adventures of the two toddlers and, perhaps, marred by the author’s excessive use of baby talk, they are very light, but enlivened by excellent illustrations.

A final curio, for those who might want definitions of futtocks, dead rising, spirketing, breast hooks and many more, is A Naval Expositor by Thomas Riley Blanckley, a dictionary of naval terms from 1750.

This post was contributed by throth, a DP volunteer.


Decorated by Walter Crane

November 28, 2016

33K banner

Distributed Proofreaders celebrates its 33,000th title posted to Project Gutenberg.

“. . . decorated by Walter Crane.” As soon as I saw those words I knew I was sunk. When a fellow Distributed Proofreaders volunteer wrote and told me she’d stumbled across this book and it just reminded her of me (okay, she said it jumped up and down and screamed my name, but I digress), I had to check it out. And there it was: “. . .decorated by Walter Crane.” Walter Crane is one of my favorite illustrators. Right up there with H. R. Millar, Randolph Caldecott, Kate Greenaway. . .

A Flower Wedding title page“Decorated by Walter Crane.” A Flower Wedding is Distributed Proofreaders’ 33,000th e-book production. This beautiful little book tells the tale of the wedding of two flowers, their guests and even the feast. It was reprinted in 2014 for the exhibition of Wedding Dresses 1775-2014 at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Young LAD’S LOVE had courted Miss Meadow·Sweet,
And the two soon agreed at the Altar to meet.

The flowers for the most part, scorn the names chosen by the botanists and claim the ones given them by the grandmothers, great-aunts, uncles and other loving gardeners who named them for their shape, beauty, colour and charm.

In Ladysmocks, Bridesmaids, Forget·me·not blue,
With their sashes all tied in Love·knot·true.

The gifts the guests brought would fill a fanciful home with treasures . . . decorated by Walter Crane.

Buttercups gold, and a Pitcher-plant
Nay, everything that a house could want.

The bride and groom ride off in a Venus flytrap with the guests calling after:

“Speedwell, and be happy,” their friends gaily say;

and the party continues.

The Wild-thyme they had, and the fuss that was made
Kept the guests in a rout thro’ the Deadly night shade.

Lavishly decorated by Walter Crane. He was remarkably prolific, painting not only illustrations in many children’s books, but also murals, flyers and posters for the Socialist movement, wallpapers, tiles, pottery. He also taught, and two of his books based on his lecture series, The Bases of Design and Line and Form, can be found on Project Gutenberg as well. He was not above scandal for the time. Firstly, he supported Socialist causes and, speaking of support, whilst Vice President of the Healthy and Artistic Dress Union, he illustrated a pamphlet, “How to Dress Without a Corset.” He attended a meeting of Boston anarchists and declared that he thought the Haymarket Square Riot convictions were wrong. This cost him a great deal of public support in the United States, including financial support. But it eventually blew over, and his beautiful art continued on. Our lives may be a bit richer, our children’s imaginations a bit fuller, because they were decorated by Walter Crane.

A Flower Wedding final illustration

This post was contributed by a DP volunteer.


The Child of the Moat

November 1, 2016

What makes good children’s fiction? Is it about education – showing children how the world works and exploring how they might react when it’s their turn? Or is it more about entertainment and giving children something they want?

One of the joys of proofreading books at DP is coming across attitudes that have changed so much that motivations are almost unrecognisable. Especially when the change has been so slow that we only realise things have changed when we look back. The past can indeed be a foreign country.

Illustration from The Child of the MoatToday, children’s books have to compete with a huge range of different entertainment options, and they have first and foremost to appeal to the child. In a previous age they were bought by parents for their children, and it seems to me that a major requirement was to give the child a strong moral compass. If you’re thinking that’s the same today, I would encourage you to take a look at The Child of the Moat, by Ian B. Stoughton Holborn (or Holbourn).

Written exactly a hundred years ago during the First World War, the book describes the adventures of a twelve year old girl, set at the time of the Reformation. In spite of everything that fate throws at Aline, our young heroine always manages to act in precisely the way that a parent would want their children to act. I had to look twice to check that the subtitle wasn’t “A book to teach young girls proper decorum.” Aline is kind, forgiving, intelligent, well-educated, hard-working, selfless, uncomplaining, brave, perceptive, saintly.… At one point, she fights her way into a burning building to effect a rescue without, it seems, any thought of her own life.

Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Then I read this about the author on Wikipedia:

Holbourn was a second-class passenger on the RMS Lusitania on her last voyage in May 1915. During the voyage, Holbourn befriended 12-year-old Avis Dolphin, who was being escorted to school and family in England by two nurses, Hilda Ellis and Sarah Smith.

With his insights into the largely hushed-up events surrounding the wreck of the RMS Oceanic off Foula, Professor Holbourn was aware of the imminent dangers presented to ocean liners during the First World War, and as a passenger on Lusitania was prepared to face the worst. Holbourn attempted to insist that Captain William Thomas Turner should take the precautions of ordering lifeboat drills and instructing passengers on how to wear lifejackets. His efforts to stimulate safety awareness during a time of war were unwelcome, and he was asked to keep quiet. When the ship was torpedoed, Holbourn guided Avis Dolphin and her nurses to his cabin where he fitted them with life belts, even offering up his own; he then steered them through the tilting passageways to the decks above and into a lifeboat. This lifeboat capsized while being lowered into the water. Nevertheless, Avis was saved, though her nurses were not.

Holbourn himself dived into the ocean to find himself surrounded by a mass of bodies and wreckage. His hope of reaching the nearest boat was interrupted when he stopped to help a man who was floating helplessly nearby. By the time Holbourn found his way to a boat, the man he had pulled along with him was dead.

Holbourn was picked up by the fishing boat Wanderer of Peel and later transferred to the Stormcock. He was one of over 750 rescued from the Lusitania to arrive at Queenstown in Ireland that night.

Holbourn continued to write and remained lifelong friends with Avis Dolphin. One of his books, The Child of the Moat (1916), was written for Avis because she had complained that books for girls were uninteresting.

Not bad for a professor of archaeology.

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed proofreading this book, and am happy to see the finished product posted to Project Gutenberg.

And if you have any thoughts about mentioning any of the inaccuracies or anachronisms in the book, let me give the last word to the author:

When, therefore, your learned uncle tells you that the story is all wrong and that they did not fence with helmets and that the curtsey was not invented till much later and that the library is far too big and so on; you just tell him to write you a sixteenth century story and then you send it to me, and we will see how he gets along.

This post was contributed by wainwra, a DP volunteer. 


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.

Milestones

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.


%d bloggers like this: