Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Environmental Regulations Preserve Unbearable Stench in San Diego

The San Diego Union-Tribune editorializes:
The buildup of feces isn’t some saintly natural process that must be allowed to run its course lest there be some terrible consequence down the line. It happened because of a combination of circumstance, climate and official decisions. It’s not part of Mother Nature’s grand scheme for La Jolla Cove or the planet.
The most pungent phrase: California’s excessive regulatory culture “effectively sanctifies animal waste.”

A Gloomy American Smellscape

They pass the bad place as quickly as they can. Uncountable twolegs gather here every afternoon during the summer to yell in unison in some strange ritual, but it is deserted. It is deserted almost every autumn. The smell is the same: hopelessness, emotional decay. Yet the stench is somehow stronger. Every year, for more than a hundred years, the scent of despair grows more pronounced. It seeps into the ivy, joining the abandoned dreams of those who came before. There is something awful and unnatural here. Something wrong. This is a dying place.
Desolate, yet easily accessible from the Red Line.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

One Step Closer to a John Lennon Fragrance?

Dead celebrity menswear? Yes, if you’re Yoko Ono.
Ono’s sketches from 1969 are childlike in their simplicity and humorous in their matter-of-fact approach to how men should dress. 
Ono’s eccentricity and penchant for quirks are evident in the playful collection, which includes suit pants adorned with a hand cutout sewn over the crotch and a jersey pullover with eyelets cut out over the nipple region. A separate “lightbulb bra,” which is embedded with battery-operated light bulbs, can be worn underneath the pullover.
Riiiiiiight. [C’mon, it’s Art!—Ed.]
“So, I made this whole series with love for his hot bod and gave it to him as a wedding present. You can imagine how he went wild and fell in love with me even more.”
I can? OK, let me try. . . . Nope, nothing yet. . . . Wait, still trying . . . Let me get back to you later.

Between this and her making an appearance at Lady Gaga’s Fame launch, it sounds to me like Ms. Ono is limbering up for a dead celebrity fragrance. I’ve been predicting Lennon by Ono. But there might be issues with ownership of his name and image. So FN commenter Nathan Branch might have the right idea: Ono by Yoko. Because, really, it’s all about her.

But then consider this tidbit, from her interview with Miya Masaoka in the San Francisco Bay Guardian:
MM: What did he [Lennon] smell like?

YO: Very clean. Always showers, baths — he didn’t have a very strong odor, how some men have to use very strong cologne. Sometimes both of us liked the idea of having a beautiful scent, so we would both wear rose oil or something. He liked to use witch hazel.
Hmm . . . maybe it’s going to be Two of Us by Yoko.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Olfactory White: Whale or Minnow?

A new paper out of Noam Sobel’s lab at the Weizmann Institute has been getting a lot of media play. The piece by Stephanie Pappas at LiveScience (“Olfactory White: Newly Discovered Odor Is Blend Of Smelly Compounds”) is lame, and misleadingly titled. The one from Sid Perkins at ScienceNow is better and includes this fairly restrained quote:
“Olfactory white is a neat idea, and it draws interesting parallels to white light and white noise,” says Jay Gottfried, an olfactory neuroscientist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois. The new study “definitely adds new information about how the brain interprets odors,” he notes.
Sobel’s team selected a bunch of smells that cover odor space (defined by sensory and physiochemical means) and diluted them to smell (roughly) equally intense. Then they randomly combined the odors into mixtures with varying numbers of components. By the time the mixtures reached around 30 components, they all began to smell about the same. To the extent this is remarkable it is because the 30-component mixtures had no components in common. (In contrast, a combo of 30 floral notes would be easily distinguishable from a combo of 30 resinous notes.)

Sobel et al. go to some lengths to experimentally demonstrate that these large mixtures, like large mixtures in tonal audition and color vision, converge on a perception that is, in technical psychophysical terms, “white.”


Well, the Weizmann Institute is trying to patent “a wide range of potential applications for olfactory white.” I have no doubt there are some clever applications, but my hunch is that each of them will prove to be quite narrowly focused.

Meanwhile, “olfactory white” may be rare or even nonexistent in the natural world, but I bet thousands of people smell it on a daily basis. Isn’t it the smell of any sizeable fragrance blending facility? I’ve been in a dozen of them and they all smell the same—it’s an unmistakable scent, yet not really of one thing or another. (Sure, some days a particular project will dominant the air. I’m talking about the ongoing background scent in the perfume labs and compounding rooms.)

Olfactory white: a “neat idea”? Yes. A “new smell”? Not so much.

The study discussed here is “Perceptual convergence of multi-component mixtures in olfaction implies an olfactory white,” by Tali Weissa, Kobi Snitza, Adi Yablonkaa, Rehan M. Khana, Danyel Gafsoub, Elad Schneidmana, & Noam Sobel, published online November 19, 2012 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ka-Boom! Michael Jackson Perfume Project Self-Destructs

Just as I foretold, the posthumous Michael Jackson perfume project has self-destructed.

The long-running, on-again, off-again and ultimately zombified collaboration between Joe Jackson, the late star’s father, and Julian “Franck” Rouas, the colorful character from the Côte d’Azur, was detonated last Friday by Jackson.

Here’s the statement released on the website of “The Legendary Music Manager” and “Patriarch of the First Family of Music”:
Mr. Jackson confirmed today that after much due diligence and legal counsel he has effective today the 15th of November 2012 cancelled all collaboration with French designer Julian Rouas Paris, Inc as well as any affiliation with any of Mr Rouas’s companies.
To drive the point home, Mr. Jackson offered a pictographic version of his statement (shown above).

To reassure those MJ fans still yearning for an olfactive tribute to their musical hero, Mr. Jackson promised to press ahead with a perfume to be adorned with a 3D holographic portrait of his son.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Rihanna PR Fail: Parlux Drools, Lets It All Hang Out

NEW YORK, Nov. 16, 2012 — In the news release, Chart-Topping Songstress, Rihanna, Takes It All Off With New Scent, issued 16-Nov-2012 by Parlux Ltd. over PR Newswire, we are advised by the company that the first paragraph, first sentence, should read “...Nude by Rihanna, on Black Friday at Macy’s” rather than “...Nude by Rihanna, this November 2012” as originally issued inadvertently.
Good. Glad we cleared that up.

Meanwhile, “chart-topping songstress”? I understand her ditties are the bee’s knees, penned by Tin Pan Alley’s finest. But is this 2012 or 1922?

Let’s join Beavis and Butthead and read some more of the press release:
Nude by Rihanna is sensual and provocative. It is an uninhibited scent [Nude, uninhibited, get it? Get it?] that captures a stripped down essence. [Hey Butthead, drop trou and show me your “stripped down essence.”] The fragrance allows her fans, to experience something very personal, [“I’m experiencing something very personal right now, Beavis. In my pants.”] a true embodiment of the singer. [Heh. Em-BODY-ment! Heh-heh.] Nude by Rihanna joins Reb’l Fleur and Rebelle, two dark [Rihanna, dark! Heh. Heh-heh. Heh-heh-heh!] and rebellious scents created by Rihanna in years past, in her uninhibited fragrance lineup.
Wait. Did they mention that Nude is uninhibited? [Yes, twice in the same paragraph.—Ed.]

We hear FN readers saying, “Alright, Mr. Critical. But sex sells, so Nude by Rihanna is genius PR.”

Really? Try googling “rihanna nude.” You have to go to the fourth screen to find a link to the perfume (it’s the 38th search item). The rest of the search items are about Rihanna being, uh . . . nude. She seems to be famous for taking off her clothes. Or as Fred Purches, chairman and CEO of Parlux Ltd., puts it, she “perfectly balances strength and femininity.”


Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Stimulating Look at Olfactory Hallucinations

Olfactory hallucinations tend to be unpleasant. This is true of the phantom smells associated with migraine headaches as well as epileptic seizures. The unpleasant odors are often vague but sometimes as specific as burning rubber. In his classic studies of sensations evoked by electrical stimulation of the brain, Wilder Penfield found that some patients reported brief odor perceptions—usually unpleasant— when he stimulated the olfactory bulb.

Recently a team of pediatric neurologists and neurosurgeons at Wayne State’s Detroit Medical Center took a closer look at what happens when you stimulate the brain’s olfactory areas. They examined a series of young (5 to 17 years old) epilepsy patients who had subdural electrodes implanted in order to record the source of their seizures. The electrodes were placed in various sites on the ventral surface of the frontal lobes.

The researchers used these electrodes to deliver electrical stimulation to one location at a time. They started with a low current and gradually increased it until the patient reported a sensation. Of the 16 kids tested, 11 reported a smell. Nine patients experienced an unpleasant smell (smoke, garbage, etc.) and two reported pleasant ones (strawberry, good food). This ratio is consistent with Penfield results from the 1950s, and with the broader literature on olfactory hallucinations.

Odor perceptions were triggered only by electrodes located near the midline of the brain, i.e., near the olfactory bulbs or tracts. More lateral locations produced no smells, even those these areas are known to be secondary olfactory cortex, i.e., higher-level odor processing areas.

So why do stinks outnumber nice smells in hallucinations? One thought is that the olfactory system has a built-in negative bias: it’s tuned to reject biologically hazardous smells. So when the system goes haywire (epilepsy) or is artificially stimulated, it defaults to the unpleasant side. Another possibility is that both of these abnormal situations activate an unorganized pattern of neural discharge from the otherwise finely tuned olfactory bulbs. It’s the equivalent of banging on piano keys with your fists—you’ll get a sound but usually an unpleasant one.

The study discussed here is “Olfactory hallucinations elicited by electrical stimulation via subdural electrodes: effects of direct stimulation of olfactory bulb and tract,” by Gogi Kumar, Csaba Juhász, Sandeep Sood, & Eishi Asano, published in Epilepsy & Behavior 24:264-268, 2012.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

ISDP: In the Bag

According to the fly-specked calendar from that Chinese take-out place in San Jose that hangs in the attic, it is once again the thirteenth of the month. We can feel it in our bones. It’s dead quiet up here in the north belfry. The hundreds of gas-powered generators that roared post-Sandy have gone silent. The Jamaican guy selling $10 bootleg gas has left town. A cold breeze pours through a hole in the window—the same hole that gives us a clean shot at the neighbor’s unsecured WiFi signal. Life is good.

Aficionados understand that Winter Is Coming and the pickings grow slim. Nevertheless, we have scraped together enough in the way of morbid olfactory reporting to deliver our loyal fans yet another edition of I Smell Dead People.

We begin with a headline from Houston, Texas, that is the epitome of newsroom directness: “Deputies find corpse in bag.” [The New York Times would have gone with “To law enforcement, finality lies within the mundane.”]
A foul odor led deputies to find the body of a person inside a bag in north Harris County. Deputies arrived Tuesday morning to Walters Road near Old Walters Road in response to a report around 10 a.m. of a bag with a foul stench. A deputy with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the body was of a human.
Is it just us, or are malodorous remains being found more and more often in cars?
St. Louis police identify man found dead in Cadillac trunk Police are investigating the gruesome discovery of a man's body inside the trunk of a Cadillac in the 9000 block of Edna Street. Police said they received a call at 8:30 p.m. Saturday about a foul odor coming from the vehicle. When they opened the trunk, they found the decomposing body of Deadrick Sawyer Jr., 27, of the 6900 block of Raymond Avenue.
And from Hayward, California:
The body of a decomposed man was found in an abandoned building in Hayward on Tuesday morning, a police lieutenant said. A construction worker detected a foul odor and followed the scent into the building that was formerly Perry & Key Body & Paint Shop at 28953 Mission Blvd. at about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Lt. Roger Keener said.
A week later, the body was identified but police had little else to go on:
Leads are scarce in the investigation into the death of a young man whose decomposed body was found in an abandoned building in Hayward last week, police said Monday. 
The body of 19-year-old Luis Calleros was found at about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday . . . Calleros, who had been reported missing by his father on Oct. 23, was identified on Friday through dental records.
Finally, an update to an item from the September edition:
SAN ANTONIO — A newly released autopsy report shows a construction worker who was found dead inside a smokestack at the Pearl Brewery was neither drunk nor under the influence of drugs when he died.
Well, that takes care of the easy theories. Wonder what really happened?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Annals of BO: The Librarian’s Nightmare

Hey, campers! It’s the new fad. Build up some BO, get bounced from a public facility, and sue their asses off.

Beats working.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Cinnabon Effect Confirmed

In 1997, social psychologist Robert Baron published a modest field study about the behavioral effects of ambient odor. The experiment was simplicity itself. Baron stationed a person in a large shopping mall near Albany, New York, and had him ask the occasional passerby to make change for a dollar. A nearby confederate recorded whether or not the passerby helped out. The olfactory angle was manipulated by having the accomplice stand in front of a pleasantly scented shop—Cinnabon, or The Coffee Beanery, for example—or in front of a nonscented shop, such as Banana Republic or Nine West.

Previous laboratory experiments suggested that pleasant odors improve mood and make a person more likely to volunteer for a boring task. Baron upped the ante by asking whether such an effect could be observed in real life. It turns out it could. People were much more likely to help, when prompted, in the presence of a pleasant background scent. Thus was born the Cinnabon Effect.

I’ve always been a fan of field studies. In my view, psychological effects squeezed out of undergraduates in the artificial conditions of a campus lab building generalize to other students in similar scenarios on other campuses—and no farther. Any behavioral finding worth its salt should be observable in the real world.

That’s why I reported favorably about a French field study on perfume wearing. It was conducted by another social psychologist, Nicolas Guéguen. He had young women walk a few yards ahead of a random person and “accidently on purpose” drop a glove or a packet of tissues. A confederate recorded whether the person intervened—by calling out to the young woman or by retrieving the object. The scent angle here was whether or not the woman wore perfume. Sure enough, people were more likely to offer unprompted assistance when Guéguen’s actress was wearing perfume.

Score another win for pleasant scent making people more helpful. Yet Professor Guéguen was not entirely satisfied. Men were more responsive to the scented lady than were women. Therefore a sexual interest could have been at play, above and beyond the simple pleasantness of the scent.

Guéguen has now repeated his study in an indoor shopping mall, using both male and female confederates. This time the glove was “accidently” dropped in front of either a scented establishment (bakery or pastry shop) or an unscented one (e.g., a clothing store). The effect was clear as a bell: help was offered about half the time in front of the clothing store, and about three-quarters of the time in front of the bakery. Men were more likely to help than women, but the confederate’s sex has no bearing on the outcome.

Guéguen has confirmed the Cinnabon Effect and extended it to spontaneous acts of kindness. But what about the underlying psychology? Baron thought yummy smells improved mood which led to helpfulness. Guéguen didn’t assess mood in his new study. I wonder whether another factor might be involved. Perhaps food aroma signals resource abundance—it implies that there is plenty to eat for everyone. That fact alone would incline people to be more generous.

This suggests another experiment, a twist on Guéguen’s original.This time the young lady doesn’t wear Coco by Chanel—instead, she carries a fragrant slice of pepperoni pizza.

UPDATE May 12, 2019 

Questions have been raised about a number of studies published by Nicolas Guéguen, including this one in particular. See my new post on the matter here.

The study discussed here is “The sweet smell of . . . implicit helping: effects of pleasant ambient fragrance on spontaneous help in shopping malls,” by Nicolas Guéguen, published in The Journal of Social Psychology 152:397-400, 2012.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Annals of BO: The Landlord’s Nightmare


Gendy Alimurung at LAWeekly has the long, sad story of William Nowell, a street person who sued the Los Angeles MTA for $200,000 and won. Then he moved into a deluxe apartment and somehow never got around to buying new clothes, or wearing shoes, or . . . bathing regularly. When neighbors complained that his overpowering BO was stinking up the building, the landlord successfully sued to have him evicted.

Amid the squalid physical descriptions in Alimurung’s piece is this gem:
Nowell eats only organic food and washes — when he washes — with artisanal, handmade soap from Soaptopia.
Then there’s this:
Diagnosed with a chronic illness that he declines to name, he wound up on the streets, where he remained for the next 20 years. He begged and borrowed. He sold T-shirts slamming George W. Bush, printed with a photo of flag-draped coffins and the sentence, “My kid went to Iraq and all I got was this lousy letter.” Somewhere in there, Nowell stopped bathing. He stopped wearing shoes. He stopped changing his clothes altogether.
Clearly, Nowell’s biggest mistake was renting in LA. He should head up the coast to Berkeley, where he’d fit right in.

Alternatively, he could head to Morristown, New Jersey, which paid off another stinky guy who made a career of suing places that kicked him out—in that case, from the public library.

The Tension Between Men and Women

In a brief interview with Krista Bennett DeMaio in the November issue of Women’s Health, sensory psychologist Margaret Spencer Avery Gilbert talks about women, sex, and manly notes in perfume.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Celebuscent Awesomeness

From the Dudley News:
FANS flocked to Dudley’s Tesco Extra on Saturday to meet reality TV star, Amy Childs. The former The Only Way is Essex star was at the Burnt Tree supermarket as part of a promotional tour of the UK to plug her debut perfume called ‘Amy Childs’.
OK, I take back all those mean things I said about Amy Childs. I too would flock to Dudley to experience the perfectly developed, fully rounded top notes.