Monday, June 1, 2009

The Amazing Underappreciated Sense of Smell - Part 1

The sense of smell is the most underestimated of all of the senses, especially in humans. We rarely consider how major some of the impacts of a sense of smell are, oftentimes because we aren't even aware of their effects, or the cause. For example ...

Memory and Dreams
There is a certain smell - a sort of combination of laundry detergent and freshly cut grass and fresh spring air - that any time I inhale, immediately transports me back to a bedroom in a small yellow house in a town in Indiana, decades in the past. I'm a little girl lying on a half-made bed of freshly washed and line-dried sheets. My mom is making the bed and playfully lifting the sheet and letting it float down around me, trapping me in a cocoon of spring-clean.

This is just one example of how scents and memories (frequently from youth) are connected. Are there certain smells that bring up memories in you? More so than other triggers, smell memory is particularly adept at holding the various aspects of a moment remembered: sounds, sights, faces and thoughts.

But why?
  • Apparently the olfactory bulb encompasses the limbic system (an area very closely associated with memory and feelings), and also has intimate access to the amygdala (which processes emotion) and the hippocampus (which is responsible for associative learning).
  • Next, you must form a condition response by linking a new scent to a specific event, person, thing, or moment that you were experiencing at the time. Your brain forges a link between the smell and a memory so that when you encounter it again, the link is already there, ready to elicit a memory or a mood.
  • Finally, because we encounter most new odors in our youth, smells often call up childhood memories. Find out more from How Stuff Works.

And not just our memories, as "the sense that never sleeps", it seems as though smells can effect our dreams as well. Smelling something you find appealing before going to sleep has been show to promote pleasant dreams.

Attraction and Arousal
Passion, bottled.
I always giggle when I'm in the soap / body wash aisle and I see some of the names of toiletries marketed toward men. They have names (usually in big bold type), like GLACIAL SURGE ... ICE DIVE ... or TEAM FORCE. I mean seriously, I don't know what any of those things are supposed to even smell like, but then again, I'm not the one they're marketed to. But then, if I flip up a cap and take a whiff, I'm generally attracted to the smell - clean, spicy, musky ... It doesn't have the effect on me like some of the creepy pheromone sprays claim to, but it's something I've been conditioned to be attracted to. Alternately, whenever I'm at a department store, I always make a dash through the perfume section as quickly as possible so as not to be sneak-attack-spritzed by (what I think are) one of those pungent perfumes. But I wonder if men actually like when women smell like some of those sickeningly sweet or floral scents ...

According to Mental_Floss Magazine, millions of years ago, we could detect pheromones - the airborne chemicals helped people choose mates by enabling them to “smell” the genetic material of others. But after we evolved to have color vision, we were able to pick up on emotional changes, (like blushing). Our ability to perceive attraction via pheromones died out; there was simply no point in having two ways to do the same thing, but we do still have vestiges of such detectors in our DNA.

Some pheromone researchers suspect that mammalian olfactory systems evolved to detect chemical traces of genetic incompatibility in the odors of potential mates. Every person has unique markers on the surface of their cells that indicate immunities or susceptibilities to various diseases. Since in order to create the fittest offspring you need to mate with someone with strengths and weaknesses very different from your own, an enhanced pheromone detector could make that attraction stronger and more explicit—leading to healthier children. Research also supports this in suggesting that humans mate with people with different markers far more often than mere chance would dictate.

There are other studies (conducted by making poor volunteers sniff armpit odor) that show that women can sense whether a man is aroused and that men find the scent of a woman to be more attractive at times of the month when they are more fertile.

Your Sense of Smell Can Alert You of Danger
Of course we all know that smell can be very important as a first warning signal (i.e. alerting us to the smoke of a fire, a natural gas leak, spoiled food, rot, mold, toxic substances, etc.). Smell (along with taste) is part of the chemical sensing system group, known as chemosenses, which means that the sense is stimulated by specific chemicals. These chemicals trigger a nerve signal to the brain that then "reads" the signal.

Problems with these senses have a big impact on our lives. Smell and taste contribute to our enjoyment of life by stimulating a desire to eat – which not only nourishes our bodies, but also enhances our social activities. When smell and taste become impaired, we eat poorly, socialize less, and feel worse.

Hyposmia (when the ability to detect odor is reduced), anosmia (when the sense of smell is gone), or the onset of distortions of smells (i.e. finding something that once smelled pleasant to smell foul), can also signal serious health problems. For example, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, malnutrition, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, or, at times, brain tumors, are all accompanied or signaled by chemosensory problems like smell disorders.

Doctors have also started to trial "electronic nose" sensors to detect odors specific to diseases.

Did you know .... Snot helps you smell!: Smells consist of a number of molecules, each of which has a specific size and shape. The human nose contains more than 100 million receptors which are able to dock with these molecules. A layer of mucus dissolves the arriving scents and separates out different odour molecules so that they arrive at the receptors at different speeds and times. The brain is able to interpret this pattern to distinguish a diverse range of smells. (Robot Nose Given Keen Sense of Smell)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Spy Gear, for the Ladies

Gents can appreciate a lot of this stuff too.

Store your secret stash:

Scale walls:


Surveillance and data capture / storage gadgets:

Sneaky weapons:

If you want to MacGyver your own weapons, you could (but probably shouldn't) make one of these 5 Deadly Sci-Fi Gadgets You Can Build At Home.

Bind / detain someone without lugging around hand-cuffs via these thumb cuffs that could probably easily be stashed down a bra.

For counter surveillance, this Auto Detective pen detects wireless and RF signals within a certain range and alerts you via a light that starts blinking - the faster the blinking the closer you are to the device you're detecting. It also supposedly has some sort of feature that helps detect counterfeit bills.

Finally, if captured by the enemy, be sure you know how to:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Choose Your Own Adventure

Remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books? I loved those books. I remember going to the library as a kid and checking out every one I could get my hands on. I never really thought about how bizarre some of the covers (and story lines in general) were. Something Awful apparently did though. In "Choose Your Own Adventure Books That Never Quite Made It", they take it upon themselves to photoshop in more appropriate titles for some of the crazier cover art.

Don't let anybody tell you that you can't still enjoy CYOA's just because you're an "adult". Wired magazine says there's complex science there and stuff! Quantum physics, bitches! "Between the lines of each Choose adventure lies some complex science." (Told you) "The choice-and-effect format reflects the treelike structure used in game theory to chart possible outcomes based on initial circumstances..."

Much like what is demonstrated by this "Choose Your Own Adventure Book as Directed Graph" by Sean Michael Ragan.

"... Every book contains different but simultaneous outcomes – something that quantum physics posits is the case in the real world, too. Chaos theory, string theory" – they all have something to do with what's being done in CYOA stories.

Here are a few CYOA's for grown folks to check out online:

CYOA (on Drugs) over at Cracked.

A Triangle Morning: Games: Which Way Adventure is a sweet little bizarre Flash take on CYOA.

There are lots of stories over at the Choose Your Own Misadventure Wiki, created by Discordians to "tell the Greatest Story Ever Told".

If you're interested in more options, see Edit This Info's CYOA wiki. It has the added bonus of letting you actually conbtribute your own content: "If you don't see an option that you would like to pursue, click the edit tab on the top of the page and add a new path to the page. Then you get to write in your own adventure for the hero. "

You can even take The Google Adventure where you start a low-level job at Google and navigate your way through to a " high-paying, fulfilling, challenging and creative" career at the Google. I heard a rumor that if you do so successfully, you'll actually get a job at Google. No, not really. I just made that up.

If you want to put as little effort as possible in your adventure, check out the
The Best Examples of Choose Your Own Adventure Interactive Video over at We Are Organized Chaos.

Finally, a little more on game theory, really just because I want to tell you why you should link here.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Urban Gardening - Feed the Grid

As I've mentioned before, I think the "parallel world" of metropolitan rooftops is fascinating, especially when it comes to the range of creative uses of space. For example, rooftop gardening is one way city-dwellers reclaim their space and create their own urban oases (and maybe even relieve stress, save money, eat more healthily, and help the environment) by incorporating a little nature. If you're interested in doing some urban gardening of your own, here are some resources.


Urban Gardening Help - A pretty extensive site that aims to make urban gardening easy with simple instructions.

Container Gardening Tips
- a good overview of container gardening. It includes a list of plants well suited to container gardening, which includes varieties of herbs, vegetables, fruits, flowers, shrubs and trees, and "odds and ends" (i.e. aloe, dwarf pomegranate, black bamboo).

AZ: Master Garden Manual: Container Garden - Starts out with an overview and ends with a chart of information on growing a variety of vegetables which includes:
  • light requirements
  • minimum container size
  • inches required between plants in containers
  • number of days from planting seed to harvest
  • tips for a variety of vegetables

Herb Container Gardens (Utah State University Cooperative Extension) - A PDF specific to herbs that covers the following:
  • container-friendly types
  • container sizes
  • potting media
  • planting procedures
  • care and harvest methods
  • as well as a chart with information on herb: type (annual, perennial), height of growth, maintenance, and harvest / uses.

Home Fruit, Vegetable, and Nut Gardening (Aggie Horticulture, Texas A & M) has a series of Gardening Fact Sheets and Guides which cover:
  • varieties
  • soil preparation
  • fertilizing
  • planting
  • watering
  • care during the season
  • insects and diseases
  • harvesting
  • fertilizing
  • storing

Watch Your Garden Grow (University of Illinois Extension) has a directory of many popular fruits and vegetables that provides information on:
  • varieties
  • when to plant
  • spacing & depth
  • care
  • harvesting
  • common problems
  • growing
  • selection and storage
  • nutrition and health
  • preparing and serving
  • home preservation
  • recipes

A post on Raised Garden Beds from Twenty Square Feet: Life as a Container Gardener (A Crash Course on Gardening in a Ridiculously Small Space)


Homemade Potting Soil Recipes for Container Gardens (The Artistic Garden) - Potting soil recipes specific to type of plant (Basic, Acid-Loving, Bulbs, Cacti and Succulents, Alpines, Orchids and Bromeliads).


Companion Planting is the placement of various crops in close physical proximity to another so as to symbiotically compliment the progress of each other. Benefits can include flavor enhancement, hedged investment, level interaction, nitrogen fixation, pest suppression, positive hosting, protective shelter, and trap cropping.
  • Has a chart that covers "good neighbors", "bad neighbors", and miscellaneous notes for a wide variety of plants.

INSTRUCTABLES (Build it Yourself)

Urban Homestead Garden - an adaption on Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening practices (build up, don't dig down and organize in sq. ft.).

How to make high powered led grow lights

Instructions for building a Zero-Power Self-Watering Self-Regulating Container Garden

If you prefer to have a lot of the work done for you, purchasing an Earth Box is one way to go. You could also use this or this plan for building one yourself.

Don't have adequate space or not ready to take up gardening on your own? Visit "Just Food" to locate NYC farms nearest to you.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Webware 100: who's the best of 2009?

You are invited to vote for your favorites among CNET's 2009 Webware 100 finalists. Voting closes April 30th. These "cool Web 2.0 apps for everyone" are selected by CNET Webware readers and by the users of the products they cover.

There are 10 categories of finalists:
Audio and Music
Infrastructure and Storage
Location-based services
Photo & Video
Search & Reference
Social Networking & Publishing

Finalists range from the hangers-on, the old standbys, the currently trendy yet to prove their staying power, and a few up-and-comings. (These were last year's winners.)

So check it out and vote for who you think should reign supreme, and while you're there, dig around a little bit to see if you can find something new to try out.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Open Art

Pop over to Artists Wanted to help them answer the question: "What shapes our world more, art or design?" You'll be presented with a series images, the work of an artist on the left, and that of a designer on the right, and asked to select the one you find more moving.

The real goal of the competition, and Artist Wanted at large, is to to make the process of breaking in to the professional art world "more welcoming, dynamic and open-ended" by helping to build "new lasting opportunities for emerging talent".

Here are some of the artists and designers I had the fortune of coming across thanks to the project:

1. Melissa Furness
"Throughout my life I have been very aware of myself in relation to environment ... how the places where I have resided have formed my identity, and how human presence forms a place as well. There is an internal sense of feeling either connected or disconnected to the places in which we reside that effects all of our interactions ... The concept of a hybrid reality can be seen throughout my work in painting through a complex layering of space."

24in x 24in

Outlying Positions
24in x 24in

For more of Melissa's work, visit:

2. Olga Nazarkina
"I searched the way to express the feeling of the infinite space being limited by the size of canvas" and to "create a sense of the abstract concept of endlessness."

The Tree of Wisdom
2007, Color Paper
"This is the first art piece in my series of applique' works in colored paper. The thin branches are interlaced with one another, resembling A neuron pattern in the brain. Being dark and light they are life stories that comprise the tree of wisdom."

Sangina/ Paper, 2006


Oil/Canvas, 2006

Color Paper, 2007
"The composition is created from thin strokes of colored paper. 3D quality helps to establish the mood of a poignant rain."

See more of Olga's work at:

3. Mays Mayhew
"In recent work, I am exploring two concepts; one the concept of memory and two the concept of love. Memory intrigues me because it is intangible and fleeting. Existentially recalling a memory is interesting because the more one actively concentrates on a past event, the more that is uncovered. In the brain, the memories look like tiny dendrites."

No Umbrella 1
Oil/Wax Gems/Nylon Thread, (2007)
14 x 11 x 1 in.

Free Fall 2
Oil, cheesecloth, (2009)
50 x 20 x 1.5 in.

Oil, gems, glitter, (2009)
18 x 28 x 3 in.

For more of Mayhew's work, visit:

4. Graham Slick
"I take pleasure in the physical process of image making, be it the discovery of a more precise way to apply wiggle eyes or a new way to drip ink. No matter how complex the construction of my images, my goal is to maintain a spirit of playfulness in my work that resonates with the viewer. "

"A new idea must not be judged by its immediate results." - Nikola Tesla
2009, mixed media on wood
12 x 12 inches

The Lonely Sasquatch

2008, mixed media on found book
12 x 8 inches

See more of Graham's work at:

5. Ania Baran
Young, polish, new to photography

Theatre of Dreams
Nikon D40

Nikon D40

The Morfeusz gifts
Nikon D40

For more of Ania's work, visit:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Teeny Stuff

Structures and sculptures that are tiny in scale are engaging: dioramas, miniatures, dollhouses, models, snow globes, terrariums ... I think it's because of the range of responses they can create in the observer: on one hand, they can draw you in to a new miniature parallel world ... on the other, they can make you feel like an outside entity: completely removed and all-perceiving.

Take the miniature dramatic art of Lori Nix,

Jonah Samson's (Dark and Dirty) Dioramas,

and the amazing works of Walter Martin & Paloma Muñoz. They include tiny islands:

... and snow globes:

When the sculptures / structures also have a tactile component, there is an added bonus of being able to engage both your senses of sight and touch. For example, it's hard to see a snow globe without wanting to pick it up and shake it, or look at this "Room Box" of a bake shop and candy store and not want to hold one of the tiny cakes:

A closer look:

In a lot of ways, the miniature arts are limited only by the imagination.

Make the world's smallest orange,

a terrarium in a mini Tabasco bottle,

a castle inside a lightbulb diorama,

... or decorate your ceiling with a parallel world, like artist Ji Lee: "People decorate their walls and floors, but most of them overlook their ceilings. It's such a waste of vast space. So I started to install miniature parallel worlds on the ceilings."

Layers of a City

“Most people experience their life in the city in a two-dimensional way ... You know, they go from Point A to Point B along streets and don’t realize there are these multiple layers to the city. By going 20 feet below or 20 feet above, you can go to a place that is practically unvisited, that maybe 100 people get to see a year.” (NYTimes: "Children of Darkness")

Upper Level
Any time I'm on a rooftop in the city, I'm struck by the feeling that I'm on another plain. There's a whole other world going on up there. There are "rooftop neighbors", not just next door, but across the street, and way down the block ... From my roof, I can see how people create their own little havens on their slice of metropolitan rooftop real estate. My neighbors are so comfortable that they frequently come out on their porch in their underwear. When I peer down to the street below, sometimes it almost seems wrong to be looking down over the pedestrians as they pass by, completely oblivious to my gaze or anything beyond their more immediate surroundings.

Truth is, most of us don't even consider some of the things that are actually going on up on those rooftops: there are
amazing views, secret gardens, yoga classes, parties, film screenings .... eh, beekeeping? But we just shuffle by, unaware, on the sidewalk many stories below.

Lower Level
But it's not just what's above our heads that we often fail to notice, it's what's under our feet as well.

"New Yorkers go about unaware of what is happening just beneath their feet: Power pulses, information flies, and steam flows. The city’s infrastructure starts just below street level, but it doesn’t stop there. " (National Geographic: NY Underground)

Go to the National Geographic "NY Underground" site where you can actually interact with the layers in the image above and get more information and (photo, text, and audio) tours.

Also check out NYC24's feature on Exploring NYC's Underground.

See stunning visuals captured by a "Guerrila Historian in Gotham" at Undercity.

Want to see some of this stuff in person?
In a post-9/11 world, much of what was once somewhat accessible is off-limits, so it can be challenging.

  • For a more legal route, join in on the annual openhousenewyork weekend: "America's largest architect and design event ... discover new neighborhoods, explore with friends and family, and experience NYC's architecture and design in all five boroughs through special talks, tours, performances and family-friendly workshops – all free of charge...". This next one will be October 10 & 11, 2009.

  • For the other route, check out what the LTVsquad us up to.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Webby Favorites

You have until April 30th to vote for "the best of the net" among the Webby People's Voice nominees. The Webby Awards are a series of awards presented by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences and cover the categories of Web and Mobile Sites, Interactive Advertising and Online Film & Video.

Even if you don't want to vote, be sure to check out the nominees and honorees in some of the categories of interest to you among the Web contenders (i.e. Services & Applications, Lifestyle, Events, Guides/Ratings/Reviews, Weird, Travel, etc. ). There are lots of them, so you've probably missed out on something new this year on the web that you'll find either useful or entertaining.

Here are some of my personal favorites in the Web categories:


Picnik - "edit photos the easy way, online in your browser"

The Very Short List - "Great discoveries + short, sweet e-mails + 5 days a week"


Marvel's Create your own Superhero

Crappy Cat (Join Crappy Cat in the Interactive Theater)

Puma Lift (have fun with advertising)

Dream Grove - "a database of dreams accessible in a webpage an an interactive garden ... Based on theories of memory and mental mapping, Dreamgrove merges the digital and the botanical, transforming text into public space."

20x200 - " Find Art for $20 - Really"

[adult swim] Games: Rock Paper Scissors Extreme Deathmatch

Indexed - (personal blog) described as "a little project that allows me to make fun of some things and sense of others without resorting to doing actual math.”

Coraline: Explore a Hand-Made World.


Thrillist "Do you like eating, drinking, doing things, or going places? Really? You do? Then you'll love Thrillist ... "