The Universe of Discourse

Thu, 08 Dec 2016

Ysolo has been canceled

An earlier article discussed how I discovered that a hoax item in a Wikipedia list had become the official name of a mountain, Ysolo Mons, on the planet Ceres.

I contacted the United States Geological Survey to point out the hoax, and on Wednesday I got the following news from their representative:

Thank you for your email alerting us to the possibility that the name Ysolo, as a festival name, may be fictitious.

After some research, we agreed with your assessment. The IAU and the Dawn Team discussed the matter and decided that the best solution was to replace the name Ysolo Mons with Yamor Mons, named for the corn/maize festival in Ecuador. The WGPSN voted to approve the change.

Thank you for bringing the matter to our attention.

(“WGPSN” is the IAU's Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature. Here's their official announcement of the change, the USGS record of the old name and the USGS record of the new name.)

This week we cleaned up a few relevant Wikipedia articles, including one on Italian Wikipedia, and Ysolo has been put to rest.

I am a little bit sad to see it go. It was fun while it lasted. But I am really pleased about the outcome. Noticing the hoax, following it up, and correcting the name of this mountain is not a large or an important thing, but it's a thing that very few people could have done at all, one that required my particular combination of unusual talents. Those opportunities are seldom.

[ Note: The USGS rep wishes me to mention that the email I quoted above is not an official IAU communication. ]

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Thu, 24 Nov 2016

Imaginary Albanian eggplant festivals… IN SPACE

Wikipedia has a list of harvest festivals which includes this intriguing entry:

Ysolo: festival marking the first day of harvest of eggplants in Tirana, Albania

(It now says “citation needed“; I added that yesterday.)

I am confident that this entry, inserted in July 2012 by an anonymous user, is a hoax. When I first read it, I muttered “Oh, what bullshit,” but then went looking for a reliable source, because you never know. I have occasionally been surprised in the past, but this time I found clear evidence of a hoax: There are only a couple of scattered mentions of Ysolo on a couple of blogs, all from after 2012, and nothing at all in Google Books about Albanian eggplant celebrations. Nor is there an article about it in Albanian Wikipedia.

But reality gave ground before I arrived on the scene. Last September NASA's Dawn spacecraft visited the dwarf planet Ceres. Ceres is named for the Roman goddess of the harvest, and so NASA proposed harvest-related names for Ceres’ newly-discovered physical features. It appears that someone at NASA ransacked the Wikipedia list of harvest festivals without checking whether they were real, because there is now a large mountain at Ceres’ north pole whose official name is Ysolo Mons, named for this spurious eggplant festival. (See also: NASA JPL press release; USGS Astrogeology Science Center announcement.)

To complete the magic circle of fiction, the Albanians might begin to celebrate the previously-fictitious eggplant festival. (And why not? Eggplants are lovely.) Let them do it for a couple of years, and then Wikipedia could document the real eggplant festival… Why not fall under the spell of Tlön and submit to the minute and vast evidence of an ordered planet?

Happy Ysolo, everyone.

[ Addendum 20161208: Ysolo has been canceled ]

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Fri, 11 Nov 2016

The worst literature reference ever

I think I may have found the single worst citation on Wikipedia. It's in the article on sausage casing. There is the following very interesting claim:

Reference to a cooked meat product stuffed in a goat stomach like a sausage was known in Babylon and described as a recipe in the world’s oldest cookbook 3,750 years ago.

That was exciting, and I wanted to know more. And there was a citation, so I could follow up!

The citation was:

(Yale Babylonian collection, New Haven Connecticut, USA)

I had my work cut out for me. All I had to do was drive up to New Haven and start translating their 45,000 cuneiform tablets until I found the cookbook.

(I tried to find a better reference, and turned up the book The Oldest Cuisine in the World: Cooking in Mesopotamia. The author, Jean Bottéro, was the discoverer of the cookbook, or rather he was the person who recognized that this tablet was a cookbook and not a pharmacopoeia or whatever. If the Babylonian haggis recipe is anywhere, it is probably there.)

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