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Michael Stern Hart, 1947-2011

in computing & internet, digital rights, family & friends, project gutenberg

Dinner, ca. 2000 . Copyright CC BY-NC-SA Maitri Erwin

Founder of Project Gutenberg, Michael Hart, passed away unexpectedly at his home in Urbana, Illinois yesterday. The world has lost a true renaissance man, the one who first gave us the gift of electronic books (eBooks). I have lost my oldest friend and confidant in these United States.

Read Michael’s obituary, wonderfully written by Greg Newby, CEO of Project Gutenberg.

My heart is in a million pieces and my brain equally scattered, and with all the words I come up with for the most pedestrian of things, I’d like to be more together and present when writing about Michael. To say he was an iconoclast, inspired me and was a crucial ingredient in the brazen, outspoken human I am today doesn’t even begin to cover it. Michael showed me what the internet could do, but more importantly, he gave it back to you and millions and millions of others, its rightful owners.

This is one of the last things Michael reiterated to me recently, “We only rise above mediocrity when there’s something at stake, and I mean something more consequential than money or reputation.” So, if I am happy and proud today, it’s because Michael will live on forever through Project Gutenberg and every spark, idea and changed life that has come from it. If I am also devastated and horribly angry, that comes from the fact that there are simply not enough people in the world like him. You and I may be clever, but Michael was a doer who DID. He changed the world forever. What I love him for the most is he would kick my behind for this negativity. And so I say, we are all – each and every one of us – Project Gutenberg. We will continue to break down the bars of ignorance and illiteracy.

As Greg says in the obit,

Michael S. Hart left a major mark on the world. The invention of eBooks was not simply a technological innovation or precursor to the modern information environment. A more correct understanding is that eBooks are an efficient and effective way of unlimited free distribution of literature. Access to eBooks can thus provide opportunity for increased literacy. Literacy, the ideas contained in literature, creates opportunity.

Michael is remembered as a dear friend, who sacrificed personal luxury to fight for literacy, and for preservation of public domain rights and resources, towards the greater good.

Funerals are not for the dead but for the survivors. I don’t mourn Michael, for he would not want for us to do that, but I do mourn the loss of a Roman candle in a sea of tealights. Michael, my friend and teacher, never goodbye, only thank you and love. Lots of love. Lots and lots and lots of love.

3 comments… add one
  • Gary B

    Maitri, I was so sorry to read about Michael’s passing. I remember playing Atari Boxing in his basement, watching a recording of that last episode of Star Trek:TNG, and so on. It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago.

    I’m glad that you and he stayed close.

  • Jim Berger

    Dear Maitri,

    Michael Hart is in the air. I feel his spirit.

    Tomorrow Michael would be 69, if he had lived. That pending milestone has been in the back of my mind recently.

    But the precipitating event for me was learning that Ryan’s Buffet has closed their doors in Champaign, Illinois. Michael and I ate there with some frequency during the last five years of his life when I knew him.

    Disconsolate at the falling of yet another touchstone of our friendship, I searched the Web for a fitting memorial to help me convey the meaning of this additional loss to a friend. I like the tribute at http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Michael_S._Hart , but it has no pictures.

    Searching photos led me to http://vatul.net/blog/index.php/6100 . And yes, that truly lifted my spirits. For one thing, you have the best photograph. You have the best tribute. And I do not mean to alarm you, Maitri, but I heard your name intoned in loving reverence whenever I traveled with Michael to and from Allerton Park. Michael absolutely doted on you. I can testify to that. We would pass a farmhouse, and it would remind Michael of a cherished conversation that the two of you had had years previously.

    With all respect, I always wanted to meet you.

    I even had my chance at his memorial service, except that, beyond the sheer sadness of the occasion, my friends were all seated at the very back. I sat with them despite wishing to be closer to the front.

    Alas, poorly as I hear, I did not even get a chance to hear you well. Yet I heard you well enough to understand that I was missing something very important.

    It was bittersweet to take in the full range of Michael’s scope, as I did, at the dinner that followed. Michael’s friends were almost as amazing as the man himself.

    Finding your blog is like finding silver, if not gold. I still miss Michael. I would still like to engage him in discussion. I would like to field his thoughts about Donald Trump—even if they offended me.

    And your words crackle with the resonance of true genius. It is not hard to see why Michael loved you, as surely he did.

    I would welcome receiving anything you have about Michael in addition to what you posted at this Web page. As I say, I missed your remarks at the memorial service. And for better or worse, I was already thinking of you in a very special way before I even met you.

    If this seems too personal for a public comment, I certainly would respect any judgment on your part to take it down. Although I would hasten to remind you that, at present, I have no means of writing you privately, even if wanted to.

    At the same time, part of me would like to shout it from the rooftops. For one thing, I know that is what Michael would do. And you might carefully consider if there is not something special in the mix of it all that quite simply is to be openly embraced, without any reservation in the least.

    Whatever else either one of us may do tomorrow, let’s give some special thought and reflection upon that amazing presence that touched each one of us in a special way, on what would have been—and will always be—Michael Hart’s birthday.

    Respectfully yours,

    Jim Berger

    • Jim Berger

      Posted on Monday, March 7, 2016
      On closer examination, I find the information requested above located at sequential links at the “Next post” link at the bottom of this page.

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