Wednesday, February 11, 2009


First of all, ugh. I log into blogger and now they list "followers," like twitter?? I feel so much pressure when I see stuff like that. And then I gotta remind myself, "They'll stop following when they see how little I post these days." Sigh, it's like that old saying, "A friend is just someone you haven't alienated yet." Hmmm, now that I think about it, I'm not sure whether that's an old saying or something Mark Baratelli said once. Well, I better give him credit just in case, or he'll go all Exorcist on me. So that phrase originated by the inimitable Mark Baratelli. He also originated this one: "Failure is God's way of telling you to step aside and let the good people succeed." Yes, folk, he's a comedian. But now that that's out of the way....

I have been seriously in neglection to this blog, since it's taken me so long to mention that I went to an event by the New York Academy of Sciences a few months ago about smell. I think that's who put it on--I'm too lazy to look up a link right now. Anyway, someone who did a lot of smell research spoke and the author of that book The Nose Knows. They were both really intelligent: she was pretty and he was engaging. I can't remember all that much about the presentations. There were a few bits that I didn't already know (and not a small bit of 'what I already know' had come from just perusing that Nose Knows book); but I honestly can't remember them right now. Well, I remember one, because what really stood out for me was smelling some of the raw materials they'd put out, which included:

Hexanal, vanillin, jasmine absolute, boar attractant spray and androstenone. I'd smelled all but the latter two (well, I'd never smelled plain old vanillin, but I'd smelled artificial vanilla extract, and that's just vanillin, alcohol, water and possibly a sweetener or preservative or something), and the latter two were essentially identical. In the talk they discussed androstenone and androstedienone--one or both accounts for a large part of the odor of male sweat. It was thought to be a human pheromone, but I think they said it doesn't have that function. It does, however, act very clearly as a pheromone for pigs, hence the boar spray. Two thirds of humans can detect the odor, and typically they describe it as unpleasant--sweaty, urinous or chemical. One-third of humans, who have a different genotype (I think it's one gene that codes for the ability to smell the molecule), either smell nothing or describe the odor as sweet, vanilla-like. So we all smelled it after the presentation to see which camp we fell into.

I could smell it. To me it smelled like a harsh synthetic woody chemical, so I guess you could put me in the "unpleasant," "chemical woody" camp (because there were actually a lot of different descriptors people used for it, from chemical to woody to urinous to sweaty to whatever; but urinous/sweaty seemed to be a dominant description for it), which sounds salacious to me ever since someone pointed out the double entendre of the word woody and insisted the word I wanted to use was "woodsy." No, woody is what I read everywhere. When I think of 'woodsy,' I think of the smell of a forest. Woody connotes the smell of the wood--it could mean sawdust, a particular raw material, a tree.... Woodsy connotes the smell of a wooded area-with the earthy notes and everything.

Anyway, after the speeches there was supposed to be a spread from Whole Foods, but it was so overcrowded in the reception area and the skrimps were so practically gone that I just went to a nearby Indian place, peeved at the crowdedness.

And that's the science beep for today.

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