From: Bob Rankin
Subject: TOURBUS - 27 Aug 02 - ASCII Art
Project Gutenberg began in 1971 when founder Michael Hart was given an unexpected gift. As a joke, the computer operators at the Materials Research Lab at the University of Illinois gave him a computer account with $100,000,000 of computer time in it. Read on to find out how Hart's "fortune" turned into one of the Net's greatest treasures.
After receiving this unexpected gift, Michael thought for an hour or so and decided that the greatest value created by computers would not be computing, but rather the storage and retrieval of the information that was stored in our libraries. And he also devised a clever plan to repay his hundred-million dollar "debt".
Hart proceeded to type in the "Declaration of Independence", and Project Gutenberg was born. Today there over three thousand public domain works available through Project Gutenberg. Due to copyright issues, you won't see the latest best-sellers or modern computer books in the PG library, but you will find:
* Classics from the start of this century and previous centuries from authors like Shakespeare, Poe, Dante
* Well-loved favorites like the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Tarzan books of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Alice in Wonderland
* The Bible and other religious documents, along with references such as Roget's Thesaurus, almanacs, a set of encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc.
Hart's philosophy was that anything entered into a computer can be reproduced indefinitely. And theoretically, anyone in the world can have a copy of a book that has been entered into a computer.
In an effort to make the Project Gutenberg "Etexts" as widely usable as possible, they are available in ASCII, or plain text format. Thus, people with most any type of computer - DOS, Apple, Atari, Mac, Windows, UNIX or mainframe can read the Etexts without any special software.
This is a great philosophy! I'm so sick of receiving documents that require me to download and install a software package just to read them. All too often, those bulky Acrobat, Word, RichText, PostScript, or PowerPoint documents have little added value over a simple text file. To make things worse, they're not searchable by standard utilities that don't understand all those proprietary formats. (And for all the same reasons, we publish TOURBUS in plain ASCII format.)
"The Project Gutenberg Philosophy is to make information, books and other materials available to the general public in forms a vast majority of the computers, programs and people can easily read, use, quote, and search. Alice in Wonderland, the Bible, Shakespeare, the Koran and many others will be with us as long as civilization... an operating system, a program, a markup system... will not."
Project Gutenberg's team of volunteers is close to producing their 3500th Etext, and they are working toward a goal of having 6300 Etexts online by August of 2004. Some of their efforts have been hampered though, by legislation that has extended copyrights in several countries from 50 to 70 years after the author's death. You can read more about copyright issues on the PG site.
Here's a sample of one book that caught my eye while browsing:
"That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day."
-- From Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
Project Gutenberg is a volunteer organization funded by private donations and a grant from Carnegie Mellon University. If you'd like to help in the work of preserving and distributing public domain literature (and doing something personal to make the Internet a richer resource) you can get involved in a variety of ways.
Volunteers are needed to locate and scan texts, do editing, proofreading and other jobs. And since the funds to continue this work are always scarce, monetary donations are always welcome. If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation, you can do so by check, money order, credit card or Paypal. For details, see:
Checks should be made out to "Project Gutenberg/CMU" and are tax deductible to the maximum allowable by law.
Do something nice for your brain - unplug the television tonight and pay a visit to Project Gutenberg, then search for your favorite classic by author or title and curl up with a nice electronic book.
Have a good read, I'll see you next time! Do feel free to pass along any issue of Tourbus, and tell your friends to visit the Tourbus website to see the archives, or play Warp the Busdriver (or his poor dog)! --Bob Rankin