(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘reference

“May all beings have happy minds”*…

But then it’s important to be careful as to how we look for that happiness…

– Games where players either remove pieces from a pile or add pieces to it, with the loser being the one who causes the heap to shake (similar to the modern game pick-up sticks)

– Games of throwing dice

– Ball games

– Guessing a friend’s thoughts

Just a few of the entries in “List of games that Buddha would not play,” from the T. W. Rhys Davids‘ translation of the Brahmajāla Sutta (though the list is duplicated in a number of other early Buddhist texts, including the Vinaya Pitaka).

(TotH to Scott Alexander; image above: source)

* the Buddha


As we endeavor for enlightenment, we might recall that it was on this date in 2001 that Wikipedia was born. A free online encyclopedia that is collaboratively edited by volunteers, it has grown to be the world’s largest reference website, attracting 1.7 billion unique-device visitors monthly as of November 2021. As of January 9, 2022, it has more than fifty-eight million articles in more than 300 languages, including 6,436,030 articles in English (serving 42,848,899 active users of English Wikipedia), with 118,074 active contributors in the past month.


“You can’t just eat good food. You’ve got to talk about it too”*…




In the long timeline of human civilization, here’s roughly how things shook out: First, there was fire, water, ice, and salt. Then we started cooking up and chowing down on oysters, scallops, horsemeat, mushrooms, insects, and frogs, in that general chronological order. Fatty almonds and sweet cherries found their way into our diet before walnuts and apples did, but it would be a couple thousand years until we figured out how to make ice cream or a truly good apple pie. Challah (first century), hot dogs (15th century), Fig Newtons (1891), and Meyer lemons (1908) landed in our kitchens long before Red Bull (1984), but they all arrived late to the marshmallow party — we’d been eating one version or another of those fluffy guys since 2000 B.C.

This is, more or less, the history of human eating habits for 20,000 years, and right now, you can find it all cataloged on the Food Timeline, an archival trove of food history hiding in plain sight on a website so lo-fi you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a GeoCities fanpage. When you look past the Times Roman font and taupe background, the Food Timeline happens to be the single most comprehensive inventory of food knowledge on the internet, with thousands upon thousands of pages of primary sources, cross-checked research, and obsessively detailed food history presented in chronological order. Every entry on the Food Timeline, which begins with “water” in pre-17,000 B.C. and ends with “test tube burgers” in 2013, is sourced from “old cook books, newspapers, magazines, National Historic Parks, government agencies, universities, cultural organizations, culinary historians, and company/restaurant web sites.” There is history, context, and commentary on everything from Taylor pork roll to Scottish tablet to “cowboy cooking.”…

The Food Timeline, in all its comprehensive splendor, was the work of an obsessed person: a New Jersey reference librarian named Lynne Olver. Olver launched the site in 1999, two years before Wikipedia debuted, and maintained it, with little additional help, for more than 15 years. By 2014, it had reached 35 million readers and Olver had personally answered 25,000 questions from fans who were writing history papers or wondering about the origins of family recipes. Olver populated the pages with well-researched answers to these questions, making a resource so thorough that a full scroll to the bottom of the Food Timeline takes several labored seconds….

The entry for soup alone spans more than 70,000 words (The Great Gatsby doesn’t break 50,000), with excerpts from sources like Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat’s A History of Food, John Ayto’s An A-Z of Food and Drink, and D. Eleanor Scully and Terence Scully’s Early French Cookery….

For nearly two decades, Olver’s work was everyone else’s gain. In April of 2015, she passed away after a seven-month struggle with leukemia, a tragedy acknowledged briefly at the bottom of the site. “The Food Timeline was created and maintained solely by Lynne Olver (1958-2015, her obituary), reference librarian with a passion for food history.”

In the wake of Olver’s death, no one has come forward to take over her complex project, leaving a void in the internet that has yet to be filled — and worse, her noble contribution to a world lacking in accurate information and teeming with fake news is now in danger of being lost forever…

The internet’s most comprehensive archive of food history — a passion project of one dedicated librarian — predates Wikipedia. Now, it needs a new custodian: “Who Will Save the Food Timeline?

* Kurt Vonnegut, Jailbird


As we contemplate comestibles, we might recall that it was on this date in 1904 (as the Library of Congress notes) that the first ice cream cone was served.

On July 23, 1904, according to some accounts, Charles E. Menches conceived the idea of filling a pastry cone with two scoops of ice-cream and thereby invented the ice-cream cone. He is one of several claimants to that honor: Ernest Hamwi, Abe Doumar, Albert and Nick Kabbaz, Arnold Fornachou, and David Avayou all have been touted as the inventor(s) of the first edible cone. Interestingly, these individuals have in common the fact that they all made or sold confections at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, known as the St. Louis World’s Fair. It is from the time of the Fair that the edible “cornucopia,” a cone made from a rolled waffle, vaulted into popularity in the United States.

Another claimant, Italo Marchiony, actually received a patent in 1903 for a device to make edible cups with handles. However the patent drawings show the device as a molded container rather than the rolled waffle seen at the Fair. Although paper and metal cones were used by Europeans to hold ice cream and pita bread was used by Middle Easterners to hold sweets, the ice-cream cone seems to have come to America by way of “the Pike” (as the entertainment midway of the St. Louis World’s Fair was called).

Randolph Smith Lyon, Mildred Frances Lyon, Mrs. Montague Lyon (Frances Robnett Smith Lyon), Montague Lyon, Jr., eating ice cream cones at the 1904 World’s Fair. Snapshot photograph, 1904.  (Missouri History Museum)

The 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis: site of the national debuts of peanut butter, the hot dog, Dr Pepper, iced tea, cotton candy– and of course, ice cream cones. (source)



Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 23, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Google can bring you back 100,000 answers; a librarian can bring you back the right one”*


Recently some folks at the New York Public Library discovered a box containing old reference questions from the 1940s to the 1980s.  They’re posting the questions to their Instagram account each Monday, noting that “we were Google before Google existed.”  Some of the examples include answers; others are…  well, probably unanswerable– but all are a reminder of the extraordinary value of the Library and its reference librarians.

People still use an updated version of the service, Ask NYPL; the Library reports that they receive about 1,700 reference questions a month via chat, email, and phone.

Read more at “Before Google, Here’s What New Yorkers Asked The NYPL.”

* Neil Gaiman


As we keep it down, we might send bibliographic birthday greetings to Archibald MacLeish; he was born on this date in 1892.  A Pulitzer Prize-winning poet (Conquistador) and dramatist (JB), MacLeish became “America’s Reference Librarian”– the Librarian of Congress– in 1939.



Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 7, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Because the world is radically new, the ideal encyclopedia should be radical, too”*…

The current edition of The Encyclopaedia Britannica runs to 32 volumes of about 1,375,000 words per volume– 44 million words in all.  Wikipedia currently contains 2,537 million words across 4.3 million articles, the equivalent of over 1,900 volumes of Britannica.

 click here for larger (and constantly-updated) version

* Charles Van Doren (1962)


As we appreciate the prescience of Douglas Adams, we might send well-organized birthday greetings to Arnold Neustadter; he was born on this date in 1910.  A businessman with a flare for invention, Neustadter created the Autodex, a spring-operated phone directory that automatically opened to the selected letter, Swivodex, an inkwell that did not spill, Punchodex, a paper hole puncher, and Clipodex, a transcription aid that attached to a stenographer’s knee.  But his masterwork, created in 1956 with Hildaur Neilsen, was the rotary contact file, the Rolodex.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 25, 2013 at 1:01 am

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