Tuesday, January 30, 2018


olfactophilia: sexual arousal by smells and odors emanating from the body

Is this in the DSMV??
(that’s DSM not BDSM btw)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

You Can't Smell in Your Dreams

Trouble sleeping lately, combined with very intense dreams. Without my mentioning it, some folks out there might know where this temporary condition comes from, see below.

Preface – my parents bought a new mattress. I ask my dad if they bought a Tempurpedic, hoping they did not. I think they’re a sham, at least as far as their cost (I also have this thing about mattresses; I think they’re all a sham). My parents did not fall for it; they bought a Bob-o-pedic. That’s basically a generic version. My parents are frugal. My real problem is when it comes to moving a Tempurpedic. I’ve moved a lot of people and a lot of mattresses, and moving a Tempurpedic is like moving a dead body. I tell my dad that; he’s never had the experience. Hopefully he never will.

Keeping that in mind, last night I have this dream that my whole family is moving this dead body, in a truck, to somewhere. Why? Not important, this is a dream. My dad and I are trying to stabilized this dead body in the back of the utility van/ambulance that we’re all taking on this family road trip to who-knows-where for who-knows-why, and it’s really hard, you know, like moving a dead body. Oh, but this was better, because it wasn’t just any dead body – it had no skin so it was extra slippery, making it extra hard to move. Like, harder to move than a Tempurpedic mattress.

Anyway, at some point, my dad is like Damn, this thing smells! And for dream reasons, my brain inputs the “smell” as formaldehyde, although nobody actually says that. Not “dead body” but “formaldehyde.”

We get the thing stabilized in the back of the truck. My hands are all slippery and sticky with dead body. I have the sense that I’m holding my breath, to avoid the smell, and yet I can’t seem to smell anything. Now, I’m really sensitive to smells, so you would think I notice it, and yet I don’t. And needless to say, nobody knows they’re dreaming when they’re dreaming, so that doesn’t compute for me. All I know is, I can’t smell this thing. And we’re driving, and this skinless dead body is bouncing in the back of our van, and my hands are still covered in death schmutz.

I can’t believe that I can’t smell it, and so I whisper to my mom, who’s driving, “Mom, what does it smell like in here?” And she says, “formaldehyde.” And I say, or think, or dream, “Damn, I’m anosmic to formaldehyde, and that’s weird, because you’re usually not anosmic to more than one thing.” (I am anosmic to putrescene, or semen, and for real, not in my dream, but I know this in the dream.)

When I wake up, the dream is still real, as it usually is within the first few seconds, and I am still anosmic to formaldehyde, and I am surprised and excited that I discovered this via a dream.

But then, alas, I realize – you can’t smell anything in your dreams!

And I lay there for a minute thinking if this is true or not. And I conclude, yes, it is true. We can only smell things in the presence of an initiating chemical. Sure, you can dream about your grandmother’s attic, or your preschool lunchbox, and have all the connected emotions, but you can’t do an anosmia test in your dreams. You’re anosmic to everything in your dreams.

And for now, I’m looking for some formaldehyde, just to check.

And for those of you who have been living in California or Colorado for the past few years, I suggest you take a step back, and watch the flood of bombastic, surreal extriculations that you’ve been missing all these nights.

[nope, not a word.]

Know Your Acids

Looking at the World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon, a universal language of coffee’s sensory qualities. There's a lot of good stuff in here, especially in the way they come up with 'reference smells' for their descriptors. For example, for "Fermented" they have two seemingly dissimilar things to give you the idea of what it is - 1. Guinness Extra Stout beer in a glass, and 2. grass left in a sealed jar for two weeks (to ferment).

The category for "Sour" seemed way simpler than I expected, with only four substances, all acids. There's plenty of good stuff in here, but I'll start with this brief category.

They begin by reminding you what Sour is: "The fundamental taste factor associated with a citric acid solution," and this is best represented by Citric Acid. They then go on to describe Sour Aromatics: "An aromatic associated with the impression of a sour product," and this is best represented by Bush's brand Pinto beans from a can (go figure, I'll have to remind myself what this smells like). Then we get into the acids themselves; there's only four.

A sour, astringent, slightly pungent aromatic associated with vinegar.

A sour, fermented-dairy aromatic associated with certain aged cheeses such as Parmesan.

A pungent, sour aromatic associated with sweaty, perspiration-generated foot odor and certain aged cheeses such as Romano.

A mild, clean, sour aromatic with slight citrus notes accompanied by astringency.

A sour, sharp, somewhat fruity aromatic accompanied by astringency.

Now for the good part. All of these, except for citric and malic acid (I think) are the core of body odor aromas. Can I call them aromas then?

The smell comes not from the body itself, but from the skin flora, the critters that live on your body, digesting your excreta and then themselves excreting the odorful products. They break down the fat in your sweat to get energy for themselves, and their waste product is a smelly acid. Different species of bacteria produce different acids, and these listed above are the big three. I guess they're in your coffee too. 

source document:
World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon, 2016
World Coffee Research
5728 John Kimbrough Blvd., Suite 201
College Station, TX 77843-2477

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Spirits in Space

Drunk Astronaut jk - image source: Jeremy Geddes

I tried to look for some info about why feeding astronauts is so hard; taste and smell just don’t act the same out there. It seems like we still aren’t sure why this problem exists, though the menu has made significant improvements since the days of liquid borscht balls floating in microgravity.

I did, however, come across this interesting mention about a time when astronauts requested an aperitif to celebrate their mission. Paul Masson Rare Cream Sherry was purchased for a Skylab mission, one for the spaceship, and one for testing prior. (Everything has to be tested.) Problem 1. NASA was afraid that people – the public – wouldn’t be cool with drinking in space. Problem 2. Smells move way faster in microgravity, and alcohol is very volatile meaning it evaporates into the air faster. Because of all this it was found to trigger the gag reflex. No drinking in space.

Shoot, let’s not forget, however, that there was this time a distillery sent their whiskey into orbit to see how it ferments differently.

Ross-Nazzal, Jennifer (7 April 2006). "Edited Oral History Transcript - Charles T. Bourland". NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project. link

Post Script
Speaking of smells and space:
Limbic Signal, 2017

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Beyond Literate Machines

Good thing I ran across this article today -
When A Machine Learning Algorithm Studied Fine Art Paintings, It Saw Things Art Historians Had Never Noticed
The Physics arXiv Blog via Medium, 2014.

Here's an article talking about a robot that can see similarities between artworks, and it's praised as finding something that no art historian has yet to discover. I wrote something about this on Network Address, because I like to write about more art-based things there. But there was a quote from the article that I thought was perfect for this blog in particular. They describe the process of training this algorithm to do its art-historian job. They feed it countless images, and with each one they have tagged with descriptions of its style, design, content, and (perhaps?) historical context. That way the algorithm 'knows' what it's looking at. And they conclude:

Comparing images is then a process of comparing the words that describe them, for which there are a number of well-established techniques.
Source document: Toward Automated Discovery of Artistic Influence, arXiv.org via Cornell, 2014

One of the main points of Hidden Scents is that the internet is and must be (for now) machine-readable - it must be made of words. Even the pictures must be reduced to words in order for this algorithm to 'see' them. Consequently, smell is word-averse. There is no language of smell, meaning there is no universal language to label the things we smell. Therefore, there cannot (for now) be such a thing as an internet for smells.

Image source: Sunmin Choi

Post Script
Causal diagrams by Edward Tuft