Friday, September 18, 2009

Good Night and Good Luck

Take your olfactory news from NPR with a grain of salt.

A month after KNAU-FM reporter Daniel Kraker got confused about whether Ponderosa pine smells like vanilla—no, wait, wait, don’t tell me, it’s butterscotch, no, coconut! oh wait, that’s Jeffrey pine—along comes Laura Ziegler at NPR affiliate KCUR in Kansas City. 

Like Kraker, she’s been in radio for a while—she produced Weekend Edition with Scott Simon for many years—and has won not one, not two, but three Edward R. Murrow awards.

Here’s the opening of Ziegler’s report from Fairway, Kansas:
Don Sifers can recall everything about the first time he encountered a latrine. He says it was on a hot summer day at camp: “Camp Cobble outside Benedict, Kansas. In June. It was 95 degrees. It was the worst smell I ever smelled. It was awful.”

Standing in his garage, in a button-down, pin-stripe shirt and tie, Sifers goes over a small-scale model of what he’s calling The Mountain Air Processor.

It’s a propane-powered converter designed to burn off the odor from a latrine’s methane gasses. He won’t give many details. A patent is pending. He’s says he’s been told he has something unique.
Uh oh. Here at FirstNerve we can smell bullshit over the airwaves. But the aroma doesn’t register with Ms. Ziegler, a Vassar graduate with a degree in anthropology. (What, don’t look at us like that. Some of our best friends are Vassar graduates. Seriously.) 

Ziegler doesn’t seem to know that methane (CH4) is odorless. All things considered, Mr. Sifers sounds like a poor chemist too.

So why does gas from an unlit stove burner stink? Because a noxious mix of sulfur-containing molecules called mercaptans is added to it as a warning agent.

If NPR isn’t careful these olfactory faux pas could become the talk of the nation.

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