How Time-Travel Led Me to Distributed Proofreaders

August 31, 2018

Samuel Pepys

Over the years I’ve travelled in time again and again.

Through the letters of Abigail and John Adams, I’ve lived through the start of the American Revolutionary War, 18th-century smallpox vaccinations, travel abroad, and the early days of a new republic. The originally unpublished diaries of Mary Boykin Chesnut took me to the start of the U.S. Civil War. I sat with her and her friends waiting breathlessly for news from the Battle of Fort Sumter where their husbands and brothers fought. The diary of John Evelyn took me to the Sun King’s court and to England in the time of Charles II. I cried with him over the early death of his two young sons. And my mother’s diary from the year she turned 17 took me to the early days of World War II in Western Canada — full of accounts of boy-friends, dances, factory work, and friends going off to war (I can still remember my mother’s “You read my diary?! — Give it back!!”).

The time travel that has enthralled me most was nine years in 17th-century England with a young man so full of life and so involved in the events of his time.

I had wanted to read the diaries of Samuel Pepys for many years, when I found an abridged version in a local bookstore. It didn’t take me long to realize that there was little of interest there — no more than a collection of “he was really there” names and events. Then I found the Project Gutenberg version of the full nine years of the diary (although, the edition on which it was based having been published in 1893, it had a few ellipses to hide the most racy bits, which I soon found out how to track down elsewhere).

Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1660 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1661 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1662 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1663 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1664 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1665 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1666 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1667 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1668 N.S
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1669 N.S.

The Project Gutenberg version opened up a whole new world to me — the world of a young man in his 20s celebrating Christmas openly after the puritanism of the Cromwell years, travelling with the court to return the rightful king to England, and obtaining a new and interesting job through the influence of highly-placed friends. It took me years to live through the diaries, reading slowly night by night and heading off to bed myself with his “And so to bed” which ended so many of his daily entries.

I lived through a young man’s excesses in his nightly drinking with his friends and his delight in learning about the “hair of the dog,” until his reluctant decision to lead a more sober life. I experienced his joy at playing musical instruments, and all the details of his many house-decorating forays. With him, I casually passed by the bonfires of Guy Fawkes Day celebrations and experienced the terror and excitement of “shooting the bridge” by riding out the torrent of Thames tidewater under London Bridge with the ferrymen. I lived through the plague as it decimated London, leaving the streets silent and empty as more and more deaths were recorded each day, and was terrified anew by the great fire of London and the drama of the king and his brother working tirelessly with the citizens to save the city. And there was the time when everybody feared imminent invasion by the Dutch and I went with Pepys to hide his valuables. He was upset that one bag of buried coins could not be found. And of course, there were his constant infidelities, described in detail despite the ever-present ellipses.

How did the adventures and infidelities of this young man lead me to Distributed Proofreaders? After a few years of downloading and reading the Pepys diaries that had been prepared for Project Gutenberg by David Widger, I felt guilty. I’d had such a lovely time in 17th-century England that it seemed wrong for me not to repay in some way. By joining Distributed Proofreaders, I discovered a way to help create e-books that other people could download and enjoy.

I hope that some of the books I have helped prepare have given readers as much joy as the Pepys diaries have given me, and that you’ll consider joining the time-travellers at Distributed Proofreaders on our journeys into the past.

This post was contributed by Linda Hamilton, General Manager of Distributed Proofreaders.


… this may be for you.

April 30, 2018

proofed textIf you are a perfectionist, a nit picker, a grammar “nut,” the punctuation police, know what the Oxford comma is, or can spot a typo or an anomaly a mile away, this may be for you.

If you would like a volunteer opportunity without a specific time or place commitment, this may be for you.

If you would like to volunteer from the comfort of your own home, your own PC, or your favorite library or coffee shop, this may be for you.

If you would like to be part of an online community with a shared purpose, mutually helpful and respectful, this may be for you.

If you enjoy passionate debate or if you choose to observe debate without participating, this may be for you.

If you like to read generally older materials, be in the know, review books before they become generally available (again), this may be for you.

If you are looking to be able to make a contribution that needn’t be a financial contribution, this may be for you.

If you want flexibility in what kind of volunteer work you do and which projects you work on, this may be for you.

If you are not afraid of getting addicted to an activity that is legal, this may be for you.

If you seek nerdy fun, this may be for you.

What is “this”? It’s volunteering time and energy to Distributed Proofreaders. For any, some or all of these reasons, I hope you’ll give distributed proofreading a try. You may discover that it really is for you.

This post was contributed by WebRover, a DP volunteer.


Learning How to DP

February 1, 2018

mentorcover_croppedOne thing evident in the Distributed Proofreaders forums is that DPers love helping people, often tripping over each other in their enthusiasm to help others master the skills they need to work on various DP tasks. Looking at this another way, it’s easy to see how working at DP can be enormously satisfying for those who enjoy working in teaching/learning environments–the learning curve is steep, but the rewards well worth the effort.

In addition to answering questions in the forums, there is a structured proofreading mentoring system which involves proofreading beginner projects in the second proofreading round and providing feedback to the newcomers who proofread the pages in the first round. What skills and qualities do P2 mentors require? Enthusiasm, a really good knowledge of the proofreading guidelines, empathy, and a genuine desire to help people master what is required of them to become good proofreaders/transcribers.

Formatting mentoring is similar, and, while a little less structured, involves giving a guiding hand to those who have begun the steep learning curve to become good formatters. The skills and qualities are the same as for proofreading mentors, with a sound knowledge of the formatting guidelines added to the mix. Whereas proofreading is most often right or wrong, formatting can be less defined with several ways to format a page correctly, so both formatting and mentoring formatters can be more challenging.

Post-processing mentors are magicians. They help people learn about the software tools available for post-processing, and how to install and use them. Then they guide the new post-processor through the steps required to check the pages for any last remaining errors. But their job hasn’t finished there! Once the new post-processor has mastered the skills to get that far, the mentor takes them through the process of creating html, epub and mobi versions of the ebook. But wait! there’s more … they need to help the learner check all of those versions in the available tools to make sure nothing has been missed so that the best possible product will be uploaded to Project Gutenberg.

Post-processing verifiers need all the mentoring skills mentioned above because when checking a post-processor’s work they need to be able to advise on the tools and processes used, as well as to carry out all the checks the post-processor has already done. Their job is to advise the post-processor on layout issues, to catch any remaining errors, and to help reword transcriber’s notes if they are unclear or don’t reflect what has been done when transcribing the book. Post-processors have invested a lot of time and effort into producing their ebooks and the decisions they have taken along the way are important ones, so tact is required when providing feedback. Just as well post-processors are always keen to learn and apply that knowledge to their books.

And then at every stage we have mentors who mentor the mentors, as well as the as yet unmentioned developers who are learning and teaching in every development task they work on.

A big thanks to all DPers who have mentored and taught other volunteers how to produce high quality ebooks, and to those who have developed the site and tools required to do our jobs.

This post was contributed by a DP volunteer.


A Spell of Proofing

December 1, 2017

proofreader_cropped“I have some free time. I get to proof!” Proofing (as we call proofreading at Distributed Proofreaders) is relaxing. I get into a flow where time and place disappear and I am just in the page — in the zone.

“What shall I proof today? The project I have been chipping away at, a page at a time, has moved on. Oh, this project that I’ve been dipping into appears to be stuck in the round. What’s stopping it? Ah, it’s a page with a lot of Greek on it. I don’t think I can leave that page better than I found it. I’ll leave it for someone else.” Perhaps I’ll post about it in the Greek Team forum.

“Look, here’s a book someone proofed up to the Table of Contents (ToC).” I enjoy proofing ToCs because they often hold a few missed errors. “See — that page number is 33, not 38. It’s a bit obscure, but since the next entry is for page 35, it’s likely 33.” I’ll leave a note.

33[**38]

“Ooh look, it’s one of those old-fashioned detailed ToC entries that lists out subjects covered in the chapter separated by dashes. This line starts with a dash so the dash and the word following it need to move up to the prior line. The word is followed by a dash so that needs to move up too.” I change:

porches–rocking chairs–stoops
–steps–lazy conversation–sunset

to

porches–rocking chairs–stoops–steps–lazy
conversation–sunset

“The post-processor is going to have fun with that!”

I’m at the bottom of the page. Let me hit WordCheck (DP’s version of spellcheck). “Hunh. I didn’t notice ‘explain’ was mis-typeset ‘explarn’. I’d better exit and add a note.”

explarn[**explain]

I return to WordCheck. “Looks good.” Save and close.

“I’ve wrapped up the ToC and Illustrations pages. I’m not really interested in the content of this project. What else is available?”

“Oh, I see a novel, a Western. That should have different types of errors to seek out and find.”

I open a page. “Ugh — dialect. I’ll do just this page then find something else.” But dialect means dialogue. Dialogue often means quotation marks misplaced in the text — often mis-spaced ones or ones attached to the speaker instead of the conversation. “Yep, there’s one.”

he said,” Bring that thar hoss over hyar.”

I change that to:

he said, “Bring that thar hoss over hyar.”

Novels, juveniles, and Westerns often seem to have the worst typesetting: missing or misplaced quotation marks, missing periods at the ends of sentences, misspellings. They’re laced with dialect that at times makes reading and understanding the intended word difficult at best.

Speaking of reading: There’s proofing and there’s reading. It really helps to do both to find errors — but not at the same time. “Oh, this is really interesting.” “I didn’t know that.” “What happens next?” Sliding from proofing to reading can mean my eyes gloss over errors, unconsciously mentally fixing instances where a word is repeated, not noticing misplaced quotation marks, but still laser-focusing on typos, incorrect word usage and lack of continuity. Proofing to match letter and punctuation marks can mean I miss the typo because the letters match. These are all important errors to catch. Making separate reading passes and proofing passes as the page is open can help me find different kinds of errors. Muddling both into a single pass risks missing things.

“What? My free hour is up? How can that be? I just got started!”

This post was contributed by WebRover, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


A Bohemian’s Bohemian

November 1, 2017

This post is dedicated to the memory of Elizabeth Oscanyan, affectionately known as Mama Beth, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer who post-processed, among many other projects, Peter Altenberg’s Neues Altes and Semmering 1912“. The latter was her last project before she passed away last month.

Though she was not a native German speaker, in the true spirit of DP teamwork she worked with a German-speaking post-processing partner, woldemar, in order to make the project the best it could be. Another German-speaking DP volunteer, salmonofdoubt, was the post-processing verifier for the Altenberg projects and completed „Semmering 1912“ after Mama Beth died.

Mama Beth never shrank from a challenge, and the Altenberg books posed for her not only a language challenge but also a formatting challenge, due to Altenberg’s unique style, which often made it difficult to tell what was prose and what was poetry. Many thanks to woldemar and salmonofdoubt for helping her to make these projects as great as they are. Special thanks to salmonofdoubt for his kind assistance with the translations in this post.

Mama Beth was much loved by her many DP friends for her warmth and generosity. She will be much missed. Auf wiedersehen, Mama Beth.

 


 

Peter Altenberg

Bohemians — not the Czechs, but rather those unorthodox artistes who came into full flower in 19th-Century Europe — will forever be associated with coffeehouses. And it was in the Belle Époque Viennese coffeehouse culture that the Austrian writer Peter Altenberg (1859-1919) gave birth to his eccentric, modernist work.

Born Richard Engländer into a middle-class Jewish family, Altenberg struggled against his parents’ bourgeois expectations, dropping out of both law and medical school. In his 30s, he plunged into the “Jung-Wien” (Young Vienna) artistic movement, even though he was older than most of its proponents, adopted oddball modes of dress — baggy clothes and broad-brimmed hats and sandals — and wrote the short poems and sketches that are the hallmark of his art.

Altenberg spent the vast majority of his time in Viennese cafés, especially the famous Café Central, where he even received his mail. There he hobnobbed with the likes of Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Adolf Loos, Gustav Klimt, and other fellow iconoclasts who led the modernist movement in fin-de-siècle Vienna. They admired him; he admired them, drank with them, borrowed money from them. And he wrote — often for them — numerous snippets of prose and poetry that demonstrated his wit, his poetic sensibility, and his zest for humanity and nature.

Altenberg liked to scribble his striking pieces on the backs of picture-postcards and mail them to his friends. One such friend was the composer Alban Berg, who wrote Fünf Orchesterlieder nach Ansichtskarten-Texten von Peter Altenberg (Five Orchestral Songs on Picture-Postcard Texts of Peter Altenberg), more conveniently known as the Altenberg Lieder. Its 1913 premiere in Vienna literally caused a riot in the middle of the piece, with the audience calling for both Berg and Altenberg to be committed. Too late — Altenberg had already checked himself into a private asylum a few months before the concert.

Some of Altenberg’s Ansichtskarten-Texten — including the texts of all five Altenberg Lieder — can be found at Project Gutenberg in the collection Neues Altes (New Old), published in 1911. Here is a blank-verse ode to the Soul:

Seele, wie bist du schöner, tiefer, nach Schneestürmen — — —.
Auch du hast sie, gleich der Natur — — —.
Und über beiden liegt noch ein trüber Hauch, wenn das Gewölk sich schon verzog!

Soul, how much lovelier you are, deeper, after snowstorms — — —.
You have them, too, like Nature — — —.
And over both still lies an overcast tinge, though the clouds already dispersed.

And here, a prose poem that is a poet’s heart-cry:

Hier ist Friede — — —. Hier weine ich mich aus über alles. Hier löst sich mein unermeßliches unfaßbares Leid, das meine Seele verbrennt. Siehe, hier sind keine Menschen, keine Ansiedlungen. Hier tropft Schnee leise in Wasserlachen — — —.

Here is peace — — —. Here I weep my heart out over everything.  Here is released my immense, unfathomable pain, which burns my soul. See, here are no people, no settlements. Here snow trickles gently into puddles — — —.

The asylum Altenberg had entered in late 1912 was where he completed another collection of short works, „Semmering 1912“, first published in 1913 and reissued in 1919, the year he died. Before committing himself, he had been staying at Semmering, an Austrian mountain resort. In “Winter auf dem Semmering” (“Winter on the Semmering”) he writes of his uneasy love affair with snow:

Ich habe zu meinen zahlreichen unglücklichen Lieben noch eine neue hinzubekommen — — — den Schnee! Er erfüllt mich mit Enthusiasmus, mit Melancholie.

I have added to my numerous unhappy loves yet a new one — — — snow! It fills me with enthusiasm, with melancholy.

In spite of his bouts with mental illness, Altenberg lived his unconventional life with gusto, and his vital spirit is fully reflected in his work. His many friends never stopped supporting him, even when he irritated them, and he was even nominated for a Nobel Prize in 1914 (but no prize was given that year, due to the outbreak of World War I). It is unfortunate that few of his works have been translated into English, but it is fortunate to have at least these German editions freely available to all on Project Gutenberg, thanks to the dedicated volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders.


A Volunteer’s Thoughts on DP

August 1, 2017
majorca

From With a Camera in Majorca

Passing time at Distributed Proofreaders is not like working. It is for me a relaxing process that gives me many views of the world that I would have otherwise missed. I say missed because I have had neither the opportunity nor the money to travel, nor to read books as widely in my lifetime as I might have at one time wished to do. DP is a vicarious idea, where you can experience the world through books – one day a famous classic, the next maybe a few pages from a children’s book – a little adventure every day, the choices are wide. You can do as much or as little as you wish, and the tasks are variable and numerous. The wonderful world of books – maybe some are a little old-fashioned, but better late than never.

I have always lived in small villages near the sea, or on small boats, so computers were not a big thing with me. I only came to the connected world four years ago, rather late in my life, when I retired, and the village where I live had a rural wi-fi scheme installed. If I had only realized that there were sites like DP, it might have given me much greater incentive to become involved much sooner. I have always felt involved since my first day at DP. Like many other DPers, I found the site through downloading books from Project Gutenberg.

Proofing at DP is a relatively easy task, and working on so many different projects is like looking through a new window with every page that you do. Although formatting is a little more technical, the basics can be quickly learnt, and progress is made because everyone works as part of a large team. We contribute mutually, and one’s individual weaknesses are well covered by others’ combined strengths. The interaction between volunteers during this process makes it hard not to make friends, and so DP is a very friendly place to become attached to.

The bolder and more adventurous volunteers eventually progress to Post Processing, putting the projects into their final form before they are posted to PG. I quickly entered into this area and now have more than 50 books at PG from children’s books to larger and more difficult projects. I learned on the way to become quite proficient in image manipulation, especially old photographs and coloured book-plates.

Recently, I started to learn Content Providing and Project Managing. This has required further skills in OCR, and preparing and guiding the projects through the rounds. This has brought me into even closer contact with other volunteers, producing their requests and answering the inevitable questions as the books progress through the rounds. One of my recent efforts in this area is With a Camera in Majorca.

There are also important administrative jobs at DP held by Project Facilitators and “Squirrels” (the technical team who maintain the site and coding at DP, among other chores.) These tasks require experience that I have not yet acquired in my short time at DP.

Experienced volunteers who enjoy guiding new members can become Mentors and Post-Processing Verifiers. And for those who enjoy just reading, there is Smooth Reading, which, as its name implies, involves making sure that the book reads correctly in its final form and that there are no startling errors before it goes to PG.

I am very glad that I found DP. As a virtually housebound person it makes me feel useful, and the idea and the opportunity of making these books freely available at PG is a wonderful and altruistic pastime.

Please feel free to join us. I assure you that you will be made most welcome.

This post was contributed by readbueno, a DP volunteer.

 


Emmy’s Legacy

May 1, 2017

emmy_legacy_flower_wedding_finis

Distributed Proofreaders is a tight-knit community, and when beloved members pass away, we all grieve together. In February 2017, we lost Emmy. But her legacy lives on in the memory of her beautiful nature and in the many lovely e-books she left us.

Emmy was much loved for her warmth, her keen sense of humor, and her unfailing kindness. She never missed an opportunity to be friendly and helpful to anyone who needed a hand or a boost or a smile, and as a result she had many close friends among the DP volunteers.

And Emmy was a powerhouse. She joined DP in 2004 and performed many roles — proofer, formatter, Project Manager, Post-Processor, Post-Processor Verifier, and Mentor. She even contributed several pieces to this blog, though she preferred to do so anonymously. As Project Manager, she was responsible for 321 books posted to Project Gutenberg, all of which she also post-processed herself, including the lovely A Flower Wedding, which was DP’s 33,000th Unique Title. On top of that, she post-processed over 700 books for other Project Managers — making her responsible for contributing over 1,000 e-books to Project Gutenberg.

Although Emmy had a special love for children’s literature, her projects ranged from agriculture to Westerns and just about everything in between. To celebrate Emmy’s amazing legacy, DP’s General Manager, Linda Hamilton, put together a Project Gutenberg Bookshelf, Emmy’s Picks. It’s a library of extraordinary range and beauty.

And today, May 1, 2017, begins Children’s Book Week, a celebration of books for young readers, and a time that was always dear to Emmy’s heart. DP volunteers are making an extra effort for the celebration to produce children’s books in Emmy’s honor.

Browse, read, enjoy, remember.


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