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By limbic_signal, Feb 27 2016 07:00AM

"Ancient Ruins Used as Public Baths" by Hubert Robert (1798)

Romanization could refer to lots of things – Romanization of the alphabet, for example. Public sanitation is another area of life transformed by the Romans. They availed sewer systems, aqueduct-delivered drinking water, public baths, and waste disposal systems. One of those, however, made this type of Romanization a questionable advance. If you're like me, you already know which one, because you wince at the mere mention of the word – public bath.

New archaeological research shows that intestinal parasites were pervasive in Roman society and actually increased during Roman times. Sure, ectoparasites – lice and fleas – were reduced due to regular bathing. But the internal critters, the ones that cause diarrhea, spread during this time. This is confusing, because clean drinking water and careful feces removal limit these problems. Those public baths though… .

First of all, they’re warm. Secondly, the water was infrequently refreshed, and yet frequently visited, which fermented a top layer of scum that bred parasites athletes at the Olympics (athletes breeding athletes, that is, not athletes breeding pathogens).

Another explanation was that the great system for removing feces added to the problem when the human solid waste was used as fertilizer in crops, without first being composted for months prior. This allows parasite eggs to die-out before being reborn in the plants people eat. Oops.

In the end, it seems that all these advances in public sanitation didn't have health-positive effects. “They would have smelled better,” one scientist remarks. But is that so? They’re bathing in the scum of a thousand dirty countrymen Their environment may have smelled better, with the shit no longer in the streets, but trading personal body odor for the concentrated conglomeration of the sebum of a whole population – Better? Or just different? Anyway, here’s the link:

Roman toilets gave no clear health benefit, and Romanization actually spread parasites

By limbic_signal, Feb 20 2016 07:00AM

^Bouba of Kiki Bouba

In linguistics news, biological and genetic statistical analysis of sound meaning structure reveals the details behind the arbitrariness vs systematicity debate in sound symbolism.

Do the sounds of certain letters produce words with similar meanings? Slime, sloppy, and sludge mean something similar. Stutter, stop, static, stuck, stiff, and stagnant do too. Kiki and Bouba – one is round and bumpy, and one is sharp. But why?

It really makes you wonder if language is arbitrary or not (aka systematicity). The tl;dr is that sound symbolism is necessary for language learners (children, etc), but they don't use words where the sounds are arbitrary. It makes it easier to guess the meaning of new word, like whether it’s a noun or verb. Study: Word sounds contain clues for language learners

Stench, stink, stuffy, and stale. It doesn't take a psycholinguistic olfactory anthropologist to imagine that words for the most common and socially important smells have more systematicity than others, and that in reverse, a lexicon of odor names could reveal the values and norms of a given culture.

By limbic_signal, Feb 13 2016 01:00PM

^second from the bottom, does it say fake or false?

I like to say that big data is leading us from the Information Age into the Approximation Age. More data doesn't always mean more precision, and although dirty data is a negative term today, I wonder if in some time to come, we may begin to see the value in uncertainty. In fact, regarding autonomous vehicles, this seems to be where we're already headed already.

Here's a little ditty on using imprecision in algorithm development:

Improving machine learning with an old approach

“A paper he wrote as a postdoc at Microsoft Research, Escaping From Saddle Points—Online Stochastic Gradient for Tensor Decomposition, describes how a programmer can use the imprecision of a common machine learning algorithm, known as stochastic gradient descent, to his advantage.

[related to unsupervised learning]

“Hopefully we will see more growth in this field, especially interesting results such as this which find that the weaknesses associated with a certain algorithm can actually be strengths under different circumstances.”

By limbic_signal, Feb 10 2016 01:00PM

THC doesn’t smell. It is the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. The smell of it, however, comes from the terpenes.

All plants have terpenes. They are a form of chemo-signaling that can repel attackers, foragers and fungus, and can attract pollinators. In humans, terpenes can influence effects of alertness or muscle-relaxation. Each strain of cannabis has its own unique terpene profile, and hence its own aroma and effect.

Here, we’ll take a look at some of the most (and least) popular terpenes, the ones found most often in the winning strains of the 2014 Cup. Each terpene is named and described, and has been entered into a table to produce the graph seen above.

This information comes from the Good Scents Company, an online market for raw materials in the flavor and fragrance industry. For each chemical, there are many suppliers, and each one describes their particular product differently. For the 8 terpenes indexed, they yielded 81 descriptors. Some of these overlap and some don’t, and that’s what the chart shows, hope that’s helpful to folks trying to navigate this territory.

*note – in the terpene descriptions listed here in text-form, their physical effects and their varietal might be listed; couldn’t find enough to make it worth putting that into the graph.

Myrcene – hoppy, hops, musky, cloves, citrus and tropical fruits, found in mangos, lemongrass, thyme, and in White Widow, known for “couch lock” effects


anise, grape, fruity, herbaceous, peach, sweet, vanilla, wine-like, vegetable, woody, green, balsamic, spicy, sharp, terpenic, citrus, floreal, fresh, ethereal, rose, celery, carrot

D-Limonene – citrus, found in OG Kush


sweet, orange, citrus, terpenic, peely, fresh, citric, smooth, herbaceous, harsh, fruity, berry, tart, light, lively, tangerine, celery, lemon, tar-like

Alpha-Terpinene – pine, turpentine, camphoraceous, skunk smell, found in rosemary, known for alertness


woody, terpenic, lemon, herbal, medicinal, citrus, camphoraceous, thymol, spicy, juicy, pine, lime, minty, refreshing, green, vegetable, peppery

Beta-Ocimene – floral, citrus, tropical, green, woody, mango, pineapple


citrus, tropical, green, terpenic, woody, vegetable, floral, pine, warm, herbaceous, fruity, mango, pineapple, licorice, anise, lime, metallic, diffusive

(Less Popular)

Beta-Carophyllene – peppery, found in oregano, found in Hash Plant


sweet, woody, spicy, cloves, dry, terpenic, tenacious, bitter, oily, citrus, peppery, camphoraceous, dusty, bread

Carophyllene oxide, in which the olefin of caryophyllene has become an epoxide, is the component responsible for cannabis identification by drug-sniffing dogs and is also an approved food flavoring...goodscentsco

Linalool – floral, lavender, citrus


citrus, floral, sweet, bois de rose, woody, green, blueberry, orange, terpenic, rose, lemon, waxy, aldehydic, lavender, petitgrain, bergamot, cosmetic, floreal, frenzia/honeysuckle, rosewood

Humulene – (also called alpha-carophyllene) woody, oceanic


woody, bitter, oceanic, watery, surfactant, spicy, clove

Beta-Pinene – pine


herbal, dry, woody, resinous, pine, hay, green, cooling, turpentine-like, fresh, minty, eucalyptus, camphoraceous, spicy, peppery, nutmeg, powerful, coniferous, sharp, warm, refreshing

link to terpene descriptor network graph:

Google Fusion Table

By limbic_signal, Feb 8 2016 01:00PM

A couple weeks ago, New Jerseyans in my area were treated to a weather inversion. As an olfactory enthusiast, it's an exciting event where the myriad owners of mass human habitation become momentarily smellable.

A weather inversion is when air is trapped at the surface by a layer of warmer air that shuts off natural convection. Air typically rises from the surface to dissipate in the vast expanse above, but when a layer of warm air moves in to cover colder air already at the surface, it traps that surface air from rising. This stuck air concentrates and reveals the odors otherwise emitting from our cities and neighborhoods.

Smells associated with an inversion are rotten and sulfurous. The stench of garbage, whether wafting from distributed receptacles or massive waste treatment facilities, is magnified. Car exhaust sticks around longer to make us aware of just how much of it spews from our vehicles. Less common, more local odors can make an appearance during an inversion. How about the local pierogi joint that also makes sauerkraut? Rotten cabbage everywhere. Boy the train today smells especially like burnt rubber and electrical fires (robot farts, to be exact). How about this – the bacterial breeding zones of the water supply systems in the basement beneath the apartment complex around the corner? Regular farts. Sure the bakery, the cafe, and the laundromat add something pleasant, but the conglomeration of all these smells and at concentrations way above normal limits, makes them fight for attention – and only the strong survive. Odors featuring sulfur are on the top of the list, and sulfur does contribute to all the smells listed above.

The off-gassing of a large group of mobile and metabolizing humans pumps nonstop from our collective home. We should consider ourselves very lucky that it typically shoots straight up. At those rare times that it sticks around long enough for us to become aware of it, the cornucopia of scent baked-up by a weather inversion is an informative reminder of the scope and scale of the byproducts of human habitation.