Joho the Blog » michael hart

September 8, 2011

Michael Hart remembered

First, an email from Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive about Michael S. Hart:

A dear friend and an inspiration unfortunately died yesterday.

He dedicated his life to getting books to everyone in the world. He did this with no compensation and lived a life of near poverty. But he always shined with good cheer, optimism, and high respect for others. I got to know him through Project Gutenberg twenty years ago. Visiting him in his house was a joy– it was stacked high with books all around, and a glowing green terminal in the basement where he first helped type in the classics and then lead thousands of volunteers to bring over 37,000 books online as beautifully edited ebooks. A forward thinker, in the same light as Richard Stallman and Ted Nelson, who saw how the world could benefit from our digital tools. Every reading device I have ever come across always started with the Gutenberg Project collection including our Internet Bookmobile.

On first meeting him, I remember dodging traffic with him as we walked calmly across Lakeside Blvd in Chicago (which is a highway and extremely dangerous). He said he did this in normal course when he was growing up. The cop let us get away with only a warning.

Another Michael flare is that he wrote email that was “right justified” by changing the words to end at the right place– I have never known another to do this. He said that he did this to avoid text editors reflowing his text and “destroying my phraseology”. For instance below are two letters from this summer, and I included Greg Newby’s obituary.

A special man, a guiding light, a good friend. I miss him.

-brewster

Here is the first of the two letters Brewster mentions:

On 7/16/11 4:38 AM, Michael S. Hart wrote:

A Graceful Exit

As most of my friends know, I have accomplished all of the goals I have set for myself throughout my life, and I think I can say, without fear of too much repercussive responses, that the career I have chosen in eBooks has been a success in terms of what I’ve been trying to accomplish for these last four decades.

At the same time, I do realize that other persons have had other ideas/ideals about eBooks, who have called me everything from an outright raging Communist, to sincere Socialist, to unqualified, in terms of membership. . .not ability. . .member of Capitalists Exploiting The World. . .no kidding. I do realize that is might be difficult for persons living on the other side of this world, given the information they have to work with, to view me, or any other American, as anything other than a Capitalist Imperialist, so I bear less in the way of ill feelings about this.

However, now the time has come to talk of other things.

Yes, I do have one more impossible goal I dream of, but I do not believe I can accomplish it in the same manner I accomplished an assortment of previous goals, with a combination of persistence, ability, and convincing others to give me unofficial assistance, as I face a combination of limited time, limited resources and I must admit, declining energy levels, though I still manage to do more work than I ever did before.

However, I do realize that without some serious changed in life, there is little possibility of accomplishing my last goal with a lifestyle continuing in the same vein.

Therefore, I now would like to remind you of my last goals:

1. A Billion eBook Library

2. Spending More Time In Hawaii

3. Working To Create A Graceful Exit

Here are the details:

A Billion eBook Library

Premise #1:

There are ~25 million books in the public domain.

If we do ~40% of these that will be ~10 million eBooks.

Premise #2:

There are ~250 languages with over a million speakers.

If we do ~40% of these that will be ~100 languages.

Conclusion:

10 million eBooks translated into 100 languages yields

ONE BILLION eBOOKS

Note: I realize how impossible this sounds, given the powerful lack of interest by thousands of translators, and other experts I have contacted, but given previous personal experiences shared by each of you and myself, I think we must realize it IS possible, even if we are going to have to do all to much of it ourselves.

Nevertheless, I plan to devote a serious amount of the time I have remaining to doing the setup required.

2. Spending More Time In Hawaii

As most of you know, Hawaii was just too laid back for me to stay there more than a month at a time when this opportunity first appeared.

However, you must also realize that from 1999 to 2011, I obviously have aged 12 years, and the difference for me between 52, when I could still pretend to be ~40’s, and today, when there is little pretending possible, I am now much more likely to spend at least half my time there, if not even more, given that I might expect the pressures to increase to abandon my Illinois residence for various and sundry reasons we should maybe discuss when we get together next.

However, I can tell you that pressures of Winter, here in Illinois, plus those of advancing age, make it more and more difficult to look forward to more of this.

I should add that even though Spring is my favorite of all the seasons, this spring was an effort, but with a lot of luck I once again managed to do all I planned.

However, I must also admit that this, too, will get to be more and more difficult as the years progress.

Therefore I am very glad to announce that I have a job with John in Hawaii that will, when needed, provide me with the ability to live in a neighboring apartment to John’s for as much of the year as I would like, and we will see how this works out starting this Winter.

3. A Graceful Exit

I would like to support all the efforts I have before, plus the final one I have listed above, without any of repercussions that could take place with I shuffle off this mortal coil.

In some ways I would like to simply work behind scenes as much as possible so I won’t be missed when I’m gone from those activities, but I also realize that my name just might be worth something in public relations so I leave some of that decision open for your advice.

As John and Greg can testify, I am still capable of an awful lot of Newsletter writing, though it does take a toll, particularly when I have lots more to do for the other portions of my life. Again, I leave this open a lot for your advice.

Please refer to the previous message I sent about work on setting up a new, and much different kind of setup, for The Billion eBook Project, I will resend it.

If I/we play our cards right, perhaps I can leave this scene without causing undue trouble, and perhaps I can even manage it in absentia as some kind of motivation, perhaps setting some goal, perhaps even some rewarding procedures for accomplishment.

I, personally, do not think the world at large really, sincerely wants to provide literacy and education from anyone to The Third World, in spite of all lip service to the contrary. . .so I warn you that the possibility exists that this project will not be supported from an outside set of sources that I still plan to approach– so you might find that you are more on your own that I would like to hope, and that you might have to expect, really, a future that is more like the past, in terms, sadly to say, of having to do a LOT of this work on an individual basis more than having the world’s support.

I hope you feel up to the task. . .you will be tempted more and more to rest from exhaustion as you get older and older. . .the all nighters will turn into just get up early when the air is clear, but you will also find that what you can accomplish in those fewer hours will be more than you ever did before, because experience’s power is greater than you might think today.

That is what I leave you with. . . .

Another goal that is nigh well on to impossible.

Little hope of finding any real world support.

And the hope that your experience will leverage future endeavors for you as much as it has for me.

I hope you can put enough into these efforts that I am able to depart as gracefully as is possible these days.

Hoping to thank you soon for your time & consideration,

Michael

Thank you for the gift, Michael. Rest in peace.

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