13 September 2011

In Memory of Michael Stern Hart, and a Sound File Experiment

Michael Stern Hart died on September 6, 2011. I never met the man, but was saddened by his passing. He contributed mightily to many causes that I believe in. He was also the first person to create and distribute an e-book on the Internet (in 1971, twenty-one years before the World Wide Web, two years after the introduction of Unix, six years before the first mass-market personal computer, the Apple II). After six downloads of that first document, the Declaration of Independence, he realized that such documents filled a need, and he dedicated himself to filling that need. Eventually, this led to the founding of Project Gutenberg and similar organizations in Canada, Australia, and other countries. Project Gutenberg alone has about 36,000 free texts, and adds dozens daily. Mr. Hart also campaigned against laws that extend copyright terms and thus, in his view, rob the public domain and the public itself. My own contact with Mr. Hart was limited to a few e-mails when I tried to submit to Project Gutenberg the typed-in text of an old poetry book. Unfortunately, we could not prove that it was out of copyright in the United States, so he had to refuse it. However, I did not give up on the idea of contributing something, and later submitted a work to Project Gutenberg Canada: Fletcher Pratt's The Battles that Changed History. So, my contact with him was typical in that it inspired me to contribute what I could to the public domain on the Internet. His influence did not die with him.

If you are looking for some relevance to Beowulf  in this post, go to Project Gutenberg and search for Beowulf. You will find an edition in Old English, translations, and sound recordings. More will come.

A Recording of Beowulf's "Prologue"

Speaking of sound files, I have experimented with making one. I took a microphone that came with my son's copy of the game "Rock Band II," plugged it into my computer, and recorded my translation of the Prologue to Beowulf. Play it here. If anyone has interest in hearing more such files, please let me know in the comments.

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