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.


The Typesetters, the Proofreaders, and the Scribes

February 1, 2017

scribeAt Distributed Proofreaders, we are all volunteers. We are under no time pressure to proof a certain number of pages, lines or characters. When we check out a page, we can take our careful time to complete it.

We can choose a character-dense page of mind-numbing lists of soldier’s names, ship’s crews, or index pages. We are free to select character-light pages of poetry, children’s tales or plays. Of course these come with their own challenges such as punctuation, dialogue with matching quotes or stage directions. We can pick technical manuals with footnotes, history with side notes, or  science with Latin biology names. We can switch back and forth to chip away at a tedious book interspersed with pages from a comedy or travelogue.

Every so often though, I stop and think about the original typesetters.

They didn’t get to pick their subject material, their deadline or their quota. They worked upside-down and backwards. They didn’t get to sit in their own home in their chosen desk set-up, with armchair, large screen, laptop or other comforts. Though we find errors in the texts that they set, many books contain very few of these errors. When I pause between tedious pages, I wonder how they did it.

Beyond the paycheck, what motivated them to set type on the nth day of the nnth page of a book that consisted mostly of lists, or indices? Even for text that would be more interesting to the typesetter, the thought of them having to complete a certain number of pages in a given day to meet a printing deadline is just impressive.

printing pressI know many have jobs today that require repetitive activities. But how many are so detail-oriented, with no automation, that leave a permanent record of how attentive you were vs. how much you were thinking about lunch? Maybe it was easier to review and go back and fix errors than I picture it to be. Maybe they got so they could set type automatically and be able to think of other things or converse.

When I’m proofing a challenging page, I sometimes think of that person who put those letters together for that page. I realize my task is so much easier. If I want I can stop after that page and hope some other proofer will do a page or two before I pick up that project again.  I can stop, eat dinner, and come back tomorrow to finish the page when I’m fresh.

I imagine a man standing at a workbench with his frames of letters and numbers and punctuation at one side, picking out the type one by one, hoping that the “I” box doesn’t contain a misplaced “l” or “1.” I see him possibly thinking about how much easier life is for him than it was for the medieval scribe. The scribe was working on a page for days, weeks, even months, one hand-drawn character at a time. I see the typesetter appreciating how much improved his own life is and how much more available his work makes books to his current readers. And I smile as I see him smile.

This post was contributed by WebRover, a DP volunteer.


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.


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?


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