Saturday, February 27, 2021

Culling the Herd

I have far more books than shelf space. I could buy more bookshelves but then the living room would start to look like the library of an English country house and I’m just not in the mood for Victorian clocks and Wedgewood vases.

Unlike the previous FirstNerve Manor, the current house has no attic where I can stow boxes of books. And when it comes to limited basement storage space, wine takes priority.

So today I hauled out box B219: my collection of books by Stephen Jay Gould. Back in the last century I subscribed to Natural History magazine where Gould had a monthly column. These used to appeal to me as a graduate student and post-doc heavily into natural history and evolutionary theory—and the history of science concerning both. It was easier to buy the book (e.g., The Panda’s Thumb) than keep a stack of old magazines around for reference. With his enormous popularity—every collection of essays received a major review in the NYT—I figured the first editions would hold value.

Gould was something of an academic celebrity back then, despite (or perhaps because of) his thinly veiled Marxism and trendy political views. Even as I kept buying his books, I grew weary of his moralizing and his prose, especially the faux folksiness (his whole “just another nerdy baseball fan” persona really grated). I find it puzzling today that I bought so many of his books, especially as I disliked the leading role he and the odious Richard Lewontin played in the disgraceful attacks on Edward O. Wilson and sociobiology. What was I thinking? [Completionism is a frequent co-morbidity to bibliophilia—Ed.]

So this afternoon I cast a gimlet eye over a stack of 15 volumes by Gould. I’d already determined that there is no market for them (mint condition first edition or not). I decided to keep Ontogeny and Phylogeny (1977) because it is a serious treatment of a major topic in evolutionary theory (no baseball references). Ditto The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (2002), even though I’ve never cracked it open. [Has anyone?—Ed.] Finally, I held on to The Mismeasure of Man (1981) because that book got Gould hoist on his own petard.

All the rest? They’re in the trash can and headed for the Larimer County landfill on Tuesday afternoon.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

I'll Get Right on It

Step away from social media for a few weeks and your life becomes less cluttered.

But social media is relentless, like a leaky pipe slowly filling your basement with water.

At this point I don’t want to sign back into LinkedIn unless I’m wearing my hip waders because I’ll be ass deep in “Congratulate Cindy Sue on her work anniversary!” and “Bob Schmo has reposted inspirational thoughts on how to be a team leader” and other flotsam.


Maybe later.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Tao of Terpenes


When I moved to Colorado a few years ago I got interested in the aroma of marijuana. I founded a start-up called Headspace Sensory LLC and began a series of consumer research sniff studies. Three of these have been published so far, and they constitute the nucleus of the brand new field of cannabis psychophysics. You can find them here, here, and here

Along the way I’ve met many people and read a lot about the subject. My impression of the scientific and commercial “cannabis space” is that it is a mixed bag. There are some very talented, very focused people doing excellent work in areas like chemical analysis, plant genetics, and product development. On the other hand, there are lots of people whose hot air to solid content ratio tilts rather heavily toward HA. 

One thing that gets the alarm on the FirstNerve bogosity meter bleeping the loudest is the topic of terpenes. Terpenes are a chemical class of volatile molecules and they are responsible in large part for making weed smelly weedy. That much is true. But one doesn’t have to follow the online terpene trail very far to find perfumey punditry of the most egregious kind. [Take pity and refrain from naming names.—Ed.] [Okay, if you insist.]

So I was pleased when the editor of Terpenes and Testing magazine invited me to write a short article on the chemistry and perception of cannabis terpenes. It gave me the chance to describe some fundamental principles of odor perception and how they apply to the bouquet of terpenes found in cannabis flower. One important lesson: the sheer abundance of a given terpene doesn’t tell us much about its contribution to a flower’s overall aroma. 

In the article I also describe my dream of creating a cannabis aroma map on which individual cultivars are arranged according to smell similarity, and my belief that sensory evaluation—sniff testing—has a major role to play in segmenting the cannabis consumer market. 

If you would like to read it, you can download at this link.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Noted in Passing

FirstNerve’s wildly popular but now dormant “I Smell Dead People” feature began with an observation in my book. I noted that stories about the “Body in the Bed”—motel guests complaining of a foul odor in their room which the manager later discovers is due to a corpse hidden beneath the bed—were not urban legends but in fact quite common occurrences. 

Way back in 2009, ISDP covered the case of Anthony Sowell, a Cleveland man accused of killing as many as 11 women and stashing their bodies in the house where he lived. One reason he was able to get away with these crimes was that people who smelled the putrefaction often assumed the smell was coming from a sausage factory next door. You can find all the gory details here.

So why bring up Anthony Sowell now? Because the bastard has just died peacefully (unlike his victims) in an Ohio prison hospital. 

He will not be missed.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

#5 Combination Plate


There’s a entertaining piece by Chris Vanjonack in Westword about Denver’s legendary Casa Bonita restaurant. Yes, the place featured in the classic South Park episode is, in fact, an actual and much-loved kitsch-classic Mexican restaurant. It’s been around since 1974 and has outlived its sibling locations in Tulsa, Fort Worth, Little Rock, and Oklahoma City. Eric Cartman wasn’t the first kid to become delirious with joy at the prospect of attending a friend’s birthday party at Casa Bonita—it’s been a dining destination for generations of Colorado kids. The 2003 South Park episode brought a surge of renewed traffic to the place, but like so many other restaurants in the state, it may have fallen victim to government-inflicted economic destruction of COVID-19 lockdowns. 

While we’re on the subject of Mexican food [Awk segue—Ed.] there’s something that’s been bothering me—and I wonder whether I’m alone on this. The last can of refried beans I warmed up was . . . disappointing. Instead of melting into a nice, bubbling, spoonable consistency in the pan, they remained a semi-solid mass of spackle-like stiffness. Naturally I figured I’d bought the vegetarian version by mistake. But no—it was Rosarita brand Traditional Refried Beans. And I recalled a similar experience with the last couple of cans of my usual brand: Old El Paso Traditional Refried Beans. A little research shows I’m not the only one noticing a difference. 

Check out the current consumer ratings on the brand’s home page: 

Twenty-nine of thirty reviewers give Old El Paso’s TRB a one-star rating. And the comments are merciless. There appears to have been a recent change in the recipe. 

Hmmm. I wonder if Old El Paso decided to reduce the amount of lard? Lard is probably the ingredient that gives refried beans their melty quality, and produces the tasty puddle next to the rice on your restaurant combo platter. It’s out of fashion now among the high-minded nutrition nannies. Did the company cave? Inquiring minds want to know.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Platitudes R Us

When I was razzing IFF’s Mr. Big Andreas Fibig for his empty platitudes, I said they sounded like “the output of a Random Mission Statement Generator.” Well guess what I discovered today? An online service called Name My Think Tank that not only generates a name for your think tank, it creates a logo and a mission statement. Give it a try!

With a little tweaking to the code, someone ought to be able to come up with Rebrand My Flavor & Fragrance Company. It could save the industry a ton in consultant’s fees.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Starting the Transformative Journey


Take a moment to savor a heaping spoonful of non-nutritive verbiage served up yesterday by the Chairman and CEO of a major company: 

“Today we start a transformative journey together to become a center of innovation for our customers. Our leadership team believes passionately in the importance and benefit of being a purpose-driven enterprise. We will lead not simply by relying on an unmatched portfolio and flawless execution, but by quickly unlocking new innovations as we tap into our shared passion for pairing science and creativity to deliver for our customers. We are creating an agile, empowered and innovative business that provides exceptional service and delivers on our commitment to be an essential partner for our customers.”

Like that? There’s more. 

“Critical to our success is our ability to foster an execution culture and embed values that support our promises to our people, customers, consumers and our communities. To that end, we have updated our cultural principles to ensure we have the foundation in place to empower our people to deliver on our commitments.” 

Is this heap of platitudinous horseshit the output of a Random Mission Statement Generator? Nuh-uh. It was delivered by Andreas Fibig, the Chairman and CEO of International Flavors & Fragrances. That’s right—this guy runs one of the world’s largest players in the refined, romantic, glamorous world of perfumery and he makes his company sound . . . bland and colorless. Gavin Belson he’s not. 

Exit question: What is an “execution culture”? Is that like Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge? North Korea today? Or is it the new B-school buzz phrase for “we get the job done”?

UPDATE February 3, 2021


“BRAWNDO® – It’s got what plants crave!”