Friday, September 09, 2011

BPN 1580 Book closed for e-book pioneer

Michael Hart has died on Tuesday September 6, 2011. He was 64 years of age.

Michael Hart was a student at the university of Illinois (USA). When he had a job at the computer department of the university in 1971, he was awarded computer hours for his efforts; these he could spent for his ow projects. According to the myth, he went to his room, set up his thinking cap and thought about a project to spend the computer hours. He did not wear his cap for long before finding his destination: e-books.

In the time frame computer departments worked with main-frames, computers as large as a room. Linked keyboards were used to type computer commands, which were represented on dumb terminals. Content was recorded on punch cards or punched taped. In this way Michael Hart started to key his first book. One restriction he put on the selection of the books: they should be in the public domain or copyright free.

For an American the choice was not difficult. He selected the Gettysburg Address, a speech by president Abraham Lincoln, calling on the states to form a united nation instead of a nation fragmented by state interests. According to the computer conventions of that time the text of the document was typed in capitals. (Coincidence: in the same year telecom engineer Roy Tomlinson forwarded the first e-mail with the @-sign. The content of this e-mail also was the Gettysburg Address and it also was typed in capitals. It has never been checked whether Roy used the copy of Michael.).

In 1987 Michael had copied more than 300 books like a monk, word by word. But then the internationalisation of the project Gutenberg took over and e-books augmented in numbers, but also in languages.  By 2011 more than 360.000 e-books in the public domain or copyright free are available for free.

BPN 1580

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