I enjoyed your recent letter, and do apologize for
continuing to use terms that are unfamiliar to you. To
"Google" something means to use a search engine to find
information about a subject. Google is one of many search
engines, but the one I use the most.
Search engines are a relatively new concept. Instead of
looking up reference material in the encyclopedia, books,
magazine, or newspapers, a search engine allows you to enter
a term and have the search engine rapidly sift through all
of the references to that term that are available through
the web and present them to you in a list of sites that you
The original search engine was actually a manual process.
Two sisters - Elise and Mina Markossian - were retired New
York Public Library employees. They were two delightful old
maids that spent 46 years each working at the Reference Desk
at the 42nd Street library. Elise was short and plump, and
smelled of lavender talc. Mina was tall and spare, and
smelled of juniper berries. 
When the web was in its infancy of service to the general
public, Elise and Mina were hired and given a small,
Windowless [sic] office on the fourth floor of the 42nd
Street library. All they brought with them was their
combined 92 years of knowledge and their #2 Ticonderoga
pencils with the rubber date stamp on the eraser end. 
Web users would send in questions, and the sisters would
reply with the required references.
The system was not without snags. Requests for information
had to be grammatical, polite, and seeking of worthwhile
information. "Thank you" notes were expected in return. A
carelessly phrased request for, say, types of beetles found
in Paraguay might be ignored altogether if the question
contained lapses in grammar or punctuation. Instead, the
questioner might receive back a snappish note from Mina
about proper sentence construction. She was especially
sharp with those that constructed run-on sentences or
misused the apostrophe. Elise was more forgiving, and
always gave precedence to questions containing "Please...".
Certain subject matter was ignored and could get the
questioner placed in the sisters' "Dubious Persons File"
 Mina would, on occasion, field questions relating to
Margaret Mead's work, (if the question was specifically
related to anthropology in the strictest sense) but
questions about Kinsey, Freud, or moving picture people were
rejected out of hand.
Elise disliked all authors that came after Booth Tarkington,
and would often send back a list of suggested reading
material to people that inquired after more modern authors
like William Faulkner or Kurt Vonnegut . Mina, however,
allowed certain exceptions for modern writers. She was
especially fond of William Saroyan since the sisters were of
The term "404" originated with the Markossian sisters.
Their office was room #408, and the ladies' lavatory was two
doors down the hall. Neither sister was of the type to
utter inanities like "I'm going to powder my nose.", or to
verbalize the name of the necessary room in any form, so
they would euphemistically say they were checking out some
facts in #404. Late in the afternoon, after Mina's
numerous dosages of her heart fluttering medication, she
would often disappear into #404 for long periods of time.
Elise would have to leave her station and assist Mina, so
questions were 404'd until the sisters were again available.
Elise and Mina also gave us the "pop up". The current "pop
ups" are intrusive advertisements that annoy and never
inform. Elise and Mina, however, would send messages to
earlier seekers of information regarding their requests. A
user might have a nice note pop up on their screen from
Elise asking them how their dissertation was coming along,
or with an added bit of information on the Erect-Crested
penguin that she had just come across. Mina's pop ups were
often rather acerbic notes wondering if the questioner had
ever learned the difference between active and passive verbs
with sarcastic uses of the person's past errors.
Current search engines are very limited compared to Elise
and Mina. They would not only field questions on
particular subjects, but provide guidance and direction.
Sometimes, though, the guidance and direction was somewhat
prejudiced. Elise, for example, once told a doctoral
candidate at Barnard to abandon her studies about that
"dreadful" Russian  Pushkin and do her thesis on Sara
Teasdale instead. That candidate now has the Louise Torrey
 Poetry Chair at Mount Holyoke College.
But, all good things truly do end. Mina, who was supposed
to attend a national conference on "Emerging Resources in
Research: The Interconnectivity of the World Wide Web" in
Monterey, California was accidentally booked into Monterey,
Mexico by a travel agent. There, she was introduced to
Carlos the Cabana Boy and tequila shooters. She never came
back to New York.
Elise, distraught from being separated from her sister for
the first time in her life, decided on another first for
herself: she took a vacation. She flew to England to tour
the Bodleian Library in Oxford. She'd always wanted to see
Rhodes House Library, and had a few minor points of
correction regarding some of the information provided to her
by the staff there. Leaving the Old Parsonage hotel the
first afternoon, she looked left before stepping off the
kerb on Banbury Road and was struck and killed by the #2B
Kidlington bus. Ironically, it was the first time she'd
ever failed to do her research properly.
 Generally, she preferred arak, an Armenian vodka-like
drink, but it was not always handy. If not, she kept a
small, brown bottle of a juniper-based medicinal
distillation in her handbag in case of one of her frequent
attacks of "heart flutterations".
 Neither sister ever required the use of the eraser
itself. As Elise was wont to say, "Think before writing,
and they'll be no need for corrections."
 Probably the first use of a "killfile" known in
 Both Tarkington and Vonnegut were from our hometown:
Indianapolis. Both attended Shortridge High School, albeit
briefly in Tarkington's case.
 Armenians, generally, have hated the Russians ever since
the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. The Markossian's didn't
lose any relatives in the purges, but nurtured an enduring
enmity just the same. There's some indication that they
felt that it was an insult to the Markossian name that none
of them was Armenian enough to slaughter.
 Louis Torrey, a graduate of Mount Holyoke, was the
mother of William Howard Taft and once said of our 27th
President when he was a boy: "He is very large for his age
and grows fat every day."
 Elise would have spelled it "kerb" if the construction
was encountered whilst in England. To her, all adjustments
in spelling and terminology would commence at the midway
point of the flight between New York and London.
Tony Cooper aka: tony_co...@yahoo.com
Provider of Jots and Tittles
> When the web was in its infancy of service to the general
> public, Elise and Mina were hired and given a small,
> Windowless [sic] office on the fourth floor of the 42nd
> Street library. All they brought with them was their
> combined 92 years of knowledge and their #2 Ticonderoga
> pencils with the rubber date stamp on the eraser end. 
> Web users would send in questions, and the sisters would
> reply with the required references.
> The system was not without snags.
OK, now you've confused me again. Why were there semi-submerged parts
of trees in on the fourth floor of the library?
just going through the motions
The address is valid today, but I will change it at to keep ahead of the
You might want to tell sis about Archie, Veronica, Jughead,
WAIS, and Gopher.
Or not... no great loss.
ObGoogle: "gopherspace" - 9,810
I could take a stab at that as well -- "SNAG" also refers
to "Sensitive New-Age Guy" (or, locally, "Slimy New-Age Guy").
A SNAG might try to target librarians, who are likely in turn
to be LUGs (Lesbians Until Graduation).
Hahaha -- I haven't heard "LUG" before. Good one.
Now, how about one for somebody like Anne Heche, a lesbian until she gets
within a few years of her biological alarm clock ringing?
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea. If this is tea, please bring me
- Abraham Lincoln
There were many attempts made to fill the void left by the
loss of the Markossian sisters. While the ones you mention
were well-known, my interest is in the lesser known facets
of history. Before those you mention, there were attempts
by Maggie and Jiggs, Hans und Fritz (known as the
Katzenjammer Kids Knowledge Machine), Little Lulu and
Sluggo, and the Smoky Stover Firehouse engine.
In fact, the Smoky Stover Firehouse engine was responsible
for the first known virus to attack the web. A fourteen
year old boy in Paramus, New Jersey randomly typed in
"notary sojak" and the Stover engine went into an endless
loop and crashed. That youngster is now a grown man and a
responsible citizen even though he is an engineer. He is
still active on the web and spends his leisure hours
entering the names of body parts plus pantyhose color shades
into Google hoping for a negative value whack.
>In fact, the Smoky Stover Firehouse engine was responsible
>for the first known virus to attack the web. A fourteen
>year old boy in Paramus, New Jersey randomly typed in
>"notary sojak" and the Stover engine went into an endless
>loop and crashed.
Tony! I'm sending this from my backup machine. As soon as I downloaded
your post, my system went into and endless loop and crashed.
> Elise, distraught from being separated from her sister for
> the first time in her life, decided on another first for
> herself: she took a vacation. She flew to England to tour
> the Bodleian Library in Oxford. She'd always wanted to see
> Rhodes House Library, and had a few minor points of
> correction regarding some of the information provided to her
> by the staff there. Leaving the Old Parsonage hotel the
> first afternoon, she looked left before stepping off the
> kerb on Banbury Road and was struck and killed by the #2B
> Kidlington bus. Ironically, it was the first time she'd
> ever failed to do her research properly.
The true irony of course is that a few feet to her right was a
pedestrian controlled traffic light where she could have crossed in
perfect safety. And the unsolved mystery remains: how could Elise afford
to stay at the Old Parsonage?
(emulate St. George for email)
God has his motives. He knows what is good and what is bad for us.
He's somewhat old fashioned though and may not have heard about backup
The two sisters had lived together frugally in a rent
controlled apartment on East 47th Street in the Turtle Bay
neighborhood during their years of employment at the NYPL.
They purchased dresses (mostly navy blue)  at knock-off
prices from a man that worked on Seventh Avenue that came
into the library daily to read "The Jewish Forward" on his
lunch hour. They were kind to him, and served him glasses
of hot tea in the employee lounge. Between them, the two
sisters only owned six pair of shoes, and never had to
Over the years, the man had given the sisters tips on rising
houses of fashion. The sisters made a killing on Donna
Karan and Liz Claiborne - among others - based on
associating stock prices with hem-line length. They also
did well with Durex (makers of Sheik, Ramses, and Titan
condoms) stock, but that was based on a tip from a lady that
worked Avenue of the Americas between 57th Street and
Central Park South and came in to read Barbara Cartland
novels on rainy afternoons.
In her will, Elise left $1.3 million to the St.Gregory the
Illuminator Armenian Church to establish an early reading
pre-school program. She also left $14,000 to a Home for
Wayward Cats established by their downstairs neighbor. Mina
died destitute, but Carlos the Cabana Boy later purchased a
small Central American country.
 The sisters owned 27 lace jabots in different designs
and accessorized their rather plain navy dresses with them
in such a way that garnered compliments many visitors.
>When the web was in its infancy of service to the general
>public, Elise and Mina were hired and given a small,
>Windowless [sic] office on the fourth floor of the 42nd
Lovely! Nowadays, who bothers with "[sic]"? Or "Window[s]less"
for that matter?
Computerese Irregular Verb Conjugation:
I have preferences.
You have biases.
He/She has prejudices.
Gene Wirchenko wrote:
> Tony Cooper <tony_co...@yahoo.com> wrote:
> >When the web was in its infancy of service to the general
> >public, Elise and Mina were hired and given a small,
> >Windowless [sic] office on the fourth floor of the 42nd
> Lovely! Nowadays, who bothers with "[sic]"? Or "Window[s]less"
> for that matter?
It always pleases me when the subtle references are caught.