Ebooks and Project Gutenberg

ebook readerJohannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, which is generally considered a Good Thing—unless you are one of those heathens who proudly proclaim that, “I never even read my Matric set work!” followed by a sort of guttural grunting sound.

Another Good Thing is the public domain. People who know me know that I’m not even slightly impressed with this Intellectual Imaginery Property concept. One cannot own ideas. One cannot steal ideas. If concepts were not allowed to flow freely from one individual to another, we’d still be living in caves and still not too sure about how to cook food, let alone hunt it or cultivate it. Corporate copyright and patent jackasses—get over yourselves! The media wants to be free,  ideas want to free, and you guys have got a little tube of silicon gel trying to plug a massive crack in the wall of the world’s largest dam. Good luck with that.

Project Gutenberg is yet another of those Good Things. That’s three now, and if you’ve been paying attention you might realise that I haven’t just been sprouting off random facts and opinions. I actually have a point.

Project Gutenberg ensures that books and other written works that have entered the public domain remain there, and are easily accessible. Getting a copy of some obscure, 100-year-old, out of print book was a challenge before Project Gutenberg. Now you just search and download the ebook, available in a bunch of formats, suitable for your PC, dedicated ebook reader, or cell phone. There are also audio versions of some books, if you’d prefer (but I haven’t checked any of those out).

So I’ve started reading books on my phone. There are a lot of public domain books out there, and I’ve got some catching up to do on the Classics. Never been that interested in them before, but now that I’ve managed to intertwine them into new technology, they seem suddenly fresh and inspiring to me.

I started with Flatland: a romance of many dimensions and War of the Worlds. I’ve also sought out ebooks that aren’t encumbered by that silly DRM nonsense, but aren’t necessarily free. Places to look for that sort of thing are Smashwords and Book View Cafe.

I admit I haven’t paid anyone for an ebook yet—but I probably will in the not too distant future. Even though I haven’t forked out any legal tender for ebooks, I felt bad about being a total freeloader on the system. Project Gutenberg is a project, right? I correctly guess that that meant one could volunteer to do something towards the project.

I’ve started proof-reading a couple of pages a day over at Project Gutenberg’s Distributed Proof-readers site. Essentially, I check scanned pages for Optical Character Recognition (OCR) errors, and make corrections to the text that the computer guessed the scanned pages contained. I like to think of it as noble work, but honestly it’s rather dull. Perhaps I should join a club?

Image credit: Edans “Sony eBook Reader – II”

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