Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

One story among many to reflect on this Memorial Day.
The smell of blood and the scent of cordite used in ammunition — really, the pungent odor of death — stays with you your entire life, said Lionel “Hap” Metivier.

“But it’s not something you’d sit down and say, ‘Son, let me tell you how it affected me,’” said Metivier, 86, a Vine Valley resident, decorated World War II veteran and survivor of the Battle of the Bulge. “We put it on the back burner, but we saw some pretty horrible things.”
Americans have been stepping up to protect our freedom since 1775. They all deserve our gratitude. Some need our help now.

I give online to the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund. They do good work and their low overhead means 95% of your gift goes to those who need it.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sergio Momo at MiN New York

Sergio Momo

Instead of firing up the Weber and enjoying some brats and brewsky at First Nerve Manor, I decided to take up Mindy Yang’s invitation to meet Italian niche perfumer Sergio Momo at MiN New York this afternoon. I’m glad I did.

The MiN New York atelier on Crosby Street in SoHo is a club-like shop cum lounge presided over by Mindy and her partner Chad. They select and showcase fragrances by niche perfumers, and their monthly events are quite the gathering spot for perfumistas and the bloggers who encourage them.

Today’s event featured Sergio Momo, from Turin, who introduced new additions to his Xerjoff brand. Brand is perhaps not the right word to describe his array of 31 fragrances, arranged into five collections. Momo himself thinks of each collection as an art project, and Xerjoff as a design portfolio. He supplies the creative concept and works with French essential oil houses, Italian craftsmen (his bottles include Murano blown glass, carved stones flacons, etc.) and perfumers from Spain, Italy and the Middle East, to bring the concepts to life. Here, for once, the title “creative director” is merited.

The aesthetics and finish level of the Xerjoff collections—Shooting Stars, Oud Stars, Casamorati, etc.—are refined and elegant in the best tradition of Italian design. And there’s some showmanship as well: each bottle of the Shooting Star series comes with a certified fragment of an actual meteorite.

Separated at birth?

The MiN New York event—complete with custom champagne-based cocktails inspired by one of the Sergio Momo fragrances—began on the dot when a crowd of perfumistas materialized in the club house. And what a crowd it was. I met Barbara Herman, a.k.a. Perfumaniac, who writes at Yesterday’s Perfume; she’s currently at work on a book with the awesome title of Scent and Subversion.

Making her way in from Brooklyn was Lucy Raubertas of Indieperfumes, who seems to have recovered from the trauma of having her blog content illegally appropriated. Her newly reconstituted site is beautifully designed and worth a visit.

Also on hand were fellow Garden Stater Gaia, the non-blonde of TheNonBlonde blog, who guided me through the Andy Tauer fragrances that were on display, and Ida Meister of Chayaruchama who also writes at Fragrantica.

Hats off to Mindy and Chad for creating a retail space and social venue that perfectly capture the niche perfume phenomenon.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

On Second Thought Who Needs Lassie?

Cal Tech’s Heather McCraig

Is it time to send your diabetes scent detection dog back to the animal shelter? In a blog post on MIT’s Technology Review, David Zax takes a look at the possibility of diagnostic e-noses embedded in smart phones.

Bottom line: a neat idea that needs a lot of work to reduce to practice.

Zax embeds what he oxymoronically calls a “cool video from the American Chemical Society.” The video is about chemical vapor sensors and features a Cal Tech nerdette named Heather McCraig—a graduate student in Nate Lewis’s lab—and some really silly 1950’s-style background music. [Don’t be so square. It’s ironic post-modern nerd music.—Ed.] [Okay, okay.]

One of Ms. Craig’s talking points needs work: the canary in the coal mine is a good analogy for chemical vapor sensors but a bad one for e-noses. (Canaries detect odorless methane gas.) Still in all, she’s good on camera and is working in probably the premier chemical sensor lab in the country. [And her safety glasses are way more fashionable than yours.—Ed.] [Bite me.]

Hat tip to Instapundit.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Now on Twitter

Never one for the bleeding edge of technology*, I finally decided the time was right to climb onto Twitter. (Hat tip to Nathan Branch for encouraging me to join the 21st Century.)

My handle is @scienceofscent. If you are already on Twitter you can follow me “live” on your preferred device. If not, you can go here and read them at your leisure. I will add a Twitter widget to FirstNerve soon so you can catch up at a glance.

*In my defense, I was an early adopter of email.

**I also jumped quickly onto the “portable” computer trend. I used to lug a 14 pound Toshiba clamshell to Europe on business trips.

***In fact, I’ve never owned a desk top. So nyah nyah to all you little Twittersnappers.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

ISDP: Spring Comes to Flyover Land

From the gloomy interior of FirstNerve Manor we can smell raw gasoline and hear the roar of leaf blowers at every compass point, so we know that Spring has sprung. According to the daily scratch marks we make on the plaster wall, it’s the thirteenth of the month. We’ve read the portents and they can mean only one thing: it is time to unleash another putrid edition of our most popular ongoing feature. Those of delicate sensibilities should click away to safer venues, because I Smell Dead People is not for the easily offended.

Our first incident comes from television station WCBD in Charleston, South Carolina, which provides some unique local color.
Friday the Charleston County Coroner identified the body found April 18 as David Thompson, a 46-year-old male. The coroner says Thompson died of a gunshot wound. According to police, shortly after 5:00 pm April 18, a man looking for turtles found a body in the wooded area across from the West Ashley Wal Mart at 3951 West Ashley Circle.
WCBD includes this important reminder to the citizenry: if you smell something, say something!
Some people in the area said there was a foul odor in the area for about a week. Francis said anything suspicious should always be reported to police.
Darn tootin’!

This ISDP event in Texas comes our way via a news aggregation site in India:
A 28-year old Indian, identified as a native of Visakhapatnam, was found dead in his apartment in Dallas by police authorities, according to information with an Indian-American organisation. Nikhil Karanam was found dead in his apartment on April 21 in Trophy Club City [sic], a suburb of Dallas, according to Telugu Association of North America. Local police authorities say they believe Karanam had died almost 10 days ago but discovered his body only after neighbours informed the authorities of “foul smell” coming from the apartment.
An autopsy has ruled out both murder and suicide.

We recently recommended that people stay away from the miserable town of Collinsville, Illinois, if they want to avoid legally dubious police searches, fines, and property confiscation. Now Collinsville makes it way into ISDP via a story from KMOV News 4 in St. Louis:
The Major Case Squad is investigating a decomposed body discovered behind a trailer home in Collinsville on Monday. Police have identified the body as 55-year-old Russell Miller who lived in the 900 block of St. Clair Court. A neighbor told News 4’s Russell Kinsaul that she smelled a foul odor last weekend outside the trailer home where the man lived, but his roommate told her the smell came from some trash cans. It turns out the smell came from a decomposing body that may have been outside in the backyard for weeks.
If you smell something, say something!

Three days later the roommate and another guy were charged.
Police said Timothy Hillyer, 49, was charged Thursday with two counts of concealment of a homicidal death, a felony. Authorities said Hillyer’s roommate, 55-year-old Russell Miller, was found dead in the 900 block of St. Clair. Police said they determined after an investigation that Hillyer had tried to hide Miller’s death. Another man, 55-year-old Jeffery Sminchak, was arrested Friday in connection to Miller’s death. He was charged with two counts of obstructing justice, a felony.
Better late than never: this one failed to register on ISDP when it first happened. From Sun City, Arizona:
A judge has sentenced a 50-year-old man to 24 1/2 years in state prison for the murder of a man whose nude body was found in a trailer during a traffic stop in 2010.

David Roy Eidson was sentenced by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Susanna Pineda for the murder of David Wile and concealing his body in the trailer.

Just after noon Aug. 24, 2010, Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies were alerted by a woman claiming to be a nurse about a foul odor coming from the trailer being towed behind a Chevrolet Suburban near 107th and Grand avenues.

Deputies stopped the Suburban, which was driven by Eidson, who was asked if there was something dead in the trailer. Eidson responded that he didn’t know how to answer that question, deputies said.

Eidson eventually unlocked the trailer and deputies found the body of Wile wrapped in a shower curtain.
And also from Arizona comes another vivid reminder why you should think hard before deciding on a career in apartment complex maintenance:
A man found dead in an east-side apartment complex last week has been identified as 23-year-old Ray Tyson. Tyson was found by maintenance workers at the complex in the 7700 block of East Speedway Boulevard, near Pantano Road, on April 23 when the workers went to investigate a foul odor, said Sgt. Maria Hawke, a Tucson police spokeswoman in a news release.
Yes! We have another nominee for the 2012 Norman Bates Award™.

James O’Brien

CBS television station WVLT in Knoxville, Tennessee, provides the compelling headline: “Homeless Knoxville man found living with corpse.” [If he is homeless, where was he living with it?—Ed.]
A homeless man told authorities he lived with a dead body for nearly a week. The corpse was finally discovered after management received complaints of a foul smell coming from one of the apartments.

The body of Clarence Stephens, III, was found covered up by blankets and clothing on April 27th. The man staying in the apartment, James M. O’Brien, told police he started piling on the blankets and clothes and opened the windows after the body started decomposing and smelling.

O’Brien, 68, claims he hit Stephens in the throat six days earlier. He then claims Stephens laid on the bed and never regained consciousness.
Mr. O’Brien won’t be charged with murders; autopsy shows that Stephens had medical issues and died of natural causes.

And finally, from Richmond, Virginia:
Richmond Police are trying to identify a decomposing body they found Friday night. RPD Captain Paul Kiniry tells CBS 6 that the call came in shortly before 8 p.m. for a complaint of a foul odor in the 600 block of Overbrook Rd. Officers arrived and found a body in a nearby garage.
The body remains unidentified.

See you next time.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Gas Attack at Camden Yards


There are two ways to clear a dugout. One is for an opposing batter to charge your pitcher. The other is . . . well, let’s go to the videotape.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Boy and His Rat

It seems like every few months we’re treated to another heart-warming story about scent-detecting service dogs. Lately it’s been dogs for diabetics. You know the drill: Fido alerts one way when Johnnie’s blood sugar is too low, and another way when it’s too high.

The latest entry is Ben Ownby, a middle-schooler from San Antonio, Texas, and his Labradoodle Dakota. Before them it was another Texan, Katie Jane Brashier, and her Labrador Retriever mix named Shots.

This is the adorable public face of the scientific enthusiasm for training dogs to detect various human diseases by odor. I was skeptical of it in What the Nose Knows:
So, yes, dogs can smell odors associated with bladder-cancer. But this is a far cry from “What’s that Lassie? Timmy has bladder cancer?” To make use of this canine talent, your local hospital would have to maintain a half dozen dogs and their trainers, supply copious medically-certified human urine samples, and provide ongoing statistical support and chemical analysis. At which point 6 out of 10 bladder cancers would go undetected.
Recently published studies report more impressive success rates. A French group used a Belgian Malinois shepard to sniff urine sample from patients with prostate cancer. The dog correctly chose cancer samples in 30 of 33 cases, for a detection sensitivity of 91%. Detection specificity was also 91%. (In other words the dog correctly identified 91% of cancer samples, and correctly rejected 91% of non-cancer samples.)

This is a pretty impressive performance, but keep in mind that it came after 16 months of training, and that “training was a full-time job for the team, who worked with the dog 5 d/wk over the study period.” No wonder the authors caution that
the present work is a proof-of-principle study, and the use of these dogs is not supposed to be generalized. We tested a limited number of subjects in a costly, long study that makes it difficult to conceive of an extended use for this test in clinical practice.
Meanwhile, a German research group claims 71% sensitivity and 93% specificity for dogs trained to detect odors associated with lung cancer.

If you’re going to use animals for routine disease detection in the clinic, you need a species that is less expensive and less demanding that the dog. And now, thanks to a multi-national research team led by Georgies F. Mgode, we have a candidate—a rodent, less. Allow us to present Cricetomys gambianus, the African giant pouched rat. (It weighs in slightly more than one of Paris Hilton’s dogs.)

Mgode et al. have previously trained the giant rats to detect odor associated with tuberculosis. Now they use lab culture samples to ask whether the animals can discriminate TB samples from non-TB bacterial samples using artificial laboratory cultures. Which brings us to this classic line from their methods section:
Negative sputum samples from TB clinics in Dar es Salaam, Tanzanai, were used for spiking test microorganisms.
Mmmmmm . . . make mine a Rhodococcus!

Having obtained the necessary sputum, the next step was to train the animals.
during training sessions, rats were rewarded with food (mashed banana mixed with crushed commercial rat food) when they paused for 5 s at known TB-positive sputum samples. They did not receive food for pausing at known TB-negative samples. With extensive training the rats learnt to consistently pause at TB-positive samples but not at TB-negative samples.
Here’s a photo of co-author Maureen Jubitana, two trainers, and the study animals.

Mgode and colleagues tested the trained rats on sputum samples containing either TB culture or cultures of other, nontuberculosis mycobacteria. The rats responded only to the TB-spiked samples, indicating that there is an odor profile specific to TB, and not to other pulmonary bacterial infections. Interestingly, the detection rate for the TB-spiked sputum samples was lower than that for naturally occurring TB-positive sputum. And the spiked samples were more detectable when the spiking dose was taken from certain growth phases of the bacterial culture. Evidently, the exact character and intensity of the TB-associated scent depends on the biological context and growing condition of the bacteria.

Dogs, African giant pouched rats, whatever. What I want to know is, why don’t any of the labs just straight-out run a sniff test with human odor judges?

The articles discussed here are “Olfactory detection of prostate cancer by dogs sniffing urine: a step forward in early diagnosis,” by Jean-Nicolas Cornu, Géraldine Cancel-Tassin, Valérie Ondet, Caroline Girardet, and Olivier Cussenot, which appeared in European Urology 59:197-201, 2011, and “Ability of Cricetomys rats to detect Mycobacterium tuberculosis and discriminate it from other microorganisms,” by Georgies F. Mgode, Bart J. Weetjens, Christophe Cox, Maureen Jubitana, Robert S. Machang’u, Doris Lazar, January Weiner, Jean-Pierre Van Geertruyden, and Stefan H.E. Kaufmann, which appeared in Tuberculosis (Edinb), 92:182-186, 2012.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Natick’s Most Wanted

This alleged perfume shoplifter is pretty brazen. She strolls in, texting on her phone, and drops up to nine bottles into her purse. Yeah, the security alarm went off, but she had a getaway car idling outside.

The Natick, Massachusetts police department has posted the security video in hopes of identifying her. You can watch it here.

Any sharp-eyed readers recognize the store or the brands she swiped? Better yet, anyone recognize the schlubette herself?