Sunsets and Open Threads


My plans today
involve not being on this computer very much — I know, what the hell is wrong with me — so here’s a picture of yesterday’s sunset, the last during daylights savings time — and also a declaration of an open thread. And to get you started, a topic: How sensitive is your sense of smell?

I ask because yesterday I was reading the LiveJournal of someone whose nose is extraordinarily sensitive and it made me wonder about it. Personally, I figure mine’s about average, but I seem to be very sensitive to personal smells, i.e., I don’t really have a hard time sorting people I know by how they generally smell.


43 Comments on “Sunsets and Open Threads”

  1. I’ve always thought that the sense of smell is underrated. I should have known, for example, that me ex-wife wasn’t for me because I didn’t particularly care for the way she smelled.

    I love how the tops of my kid’s heads smell. I like butter and garlic, freshly grated parmesan, the odor that clings to your hands after you cut onions, crushed grass, the seashore in summer, the seashore in winter, grated ginger, baking bread, the smell of an apple orchard at harvest time, the scent of my beloved’s hair, the odor of her skin when it’s hot from the summer sun, the upholstery in my convertible when you first lower the top on a warm day…

    Most of the world smells good. Some of it smells great.

  2. Mine’s up-and-down. Some days a stink that no one else notices will set me off. Other times my wife will comment on something, good (like a flower) or bad (like a sour hand towel), I just can’t detect.
    I’m not sure smell is underrated. It’s a known fact smell is wired directly to memory. I love it when I pass someone in a public place who is wearing a perfume or cologne that I remember from childhood — something a favorite teacher or somebody in church used to wear. Boom, I’m five again. If it’s heavy or cloying and unfamiliar, though, there’s little worse.
    And, yeah, there’s nothing like the smell of the top of a baby’s head. Bonfires in the fall. Fresh cut pine at Christmas. The smell of cooking grease and cigarettes at a carnival. Anything baking — my grandfather was a baker and we used to visit him when I was a kid (memory again).

  3. Mine varies on time of month. Sometimes it’s very acute, sometimes it’s non-existent. I had chalked it up to being female, but maybe it’s just more random than that, since Jeff seems to have the same thing happen.

  4. I am unfortunately sensitive to perfume-type smells: even a whiff of incense gives me a headache, I find myself cutting short conversations with people who wear a lot of perfume, and all the generic gifts that people give like scented candles and scented lotion go unopened.

    And yet unlike our host, I don’t sort people by smell at all. Odd.

  5. The RA on my hall was born with no sense of smell at all. Birth defect.

    When the whole hall smelled like hash a few weeks back– seriously reeked of the stuff– I had to knock on his door and let him know, because he couldn’t smell it.

    He’s a fan of very very spicy foods, and often picks his menu based on texture more than taste. There’s a general moratorium on sarcastic commentary about college food at our lunch table, because when we say something’s disgusting, he has no way of telling to what extent we’re engaging in hyperbole. What if whatever he’s eating really is that gross?

    I guess mine’s about average… But I thought that about my eyesight too before I got glasses, so I’ve really got no idea. It works well enough for me.

  6. Friendship smells like rotten apples and gunsmoke . . . Either brings to mind a fun afternoon with my college buddies target shooting in a box canyon/apple orchard. I can’t remember why the day was fun: what jokes were told, why 3 non-hunters were sighting in rifles, where the devil that canyon was, but the scent lingers on.

  7. Multiple nose-breaks = no smelly-smell for me.

    Since it’s open-thread Sunday, I have a question for you peeps:

    Against better judgement I started my blogging shenanigans on Blogger. And it’s a screaming trainwreck.

    My bro is an IT wonk and suggests I download WordPress and run it on my server. I like his blog, and it seems robust.

    My traffic is pretty light, so I’m not concerned with bandwidth.

    Thoughts/opinions on WP or other program?

  8. I get teased about my extraordinary sense of smell all the time. Since I’m vision/hearing impaired, people think I have SuperNosePowers. (That how thing about having a super sense when your others are impaired is a myth, but I do think you pay attention to your other senses more when most people ignore them.)

    My mother used to call on me to go check out her house when she thought there was a gas leak. And I have a way of being able to tell what my friends have done for the past 8 hours by the way they smell. I can say, “You went to the gas station, got your hair colored, drank some orange juice and mowed the lawn today, didn’t you?” And I’ll be right! It makes people very self-consious, so I only do it when I’m kidding around with friends. But it isn’t always pleasant, I can even tell what people have done in the bathroom after they’ve done it.

    Also, I have a friend who has for all practical purposes quit smoking, but seems to still have a cigarette like once a month. I’ll say, “You smoked recently!” And he’ll say, “yeah, like yesterday and I TOOK a SHOWER!” I’m awful.

    I can handle light perfumes, but I literally can’t be around a person who slathers heavy scents all over. GAG! Also, I hate spray deordorants. I can handle the unscented kind, but I can still smell ’em!

    Sorry you asked, huh?

  9. My wife and I have very different levels of sense of smell. Hers is over the top, mine’s either average or below average.

    One side effect of this is that I can still enjoy eating when I’ve got a full-on head cold. I think I might be one of those ‘super taster’ types they talk about that have more than their share of taste buds. It makes me a very picky eater. She, on the other hand, loses almost the entirety of her sense of taste if her sniffer is out of whack.

  10. After many years of working in nursing homes and medical wards my sense of smell has (quite thankfully) given up the ghost. I wish it had done it before I had to work on a ward with a clostridium outbreak.

  11. Mary: My sense of smell differs according to the time of month as well, although this is a phenomenon of recent years – so you’re not nuts :)

    I used to have an extraordinarily sensitive sense of smell (much like Lisa). It was awful – I couldn’t stand to be around smokers at all, or people wearing perfume. Then I had to have surgery for a deviated septum, and although the doctor “reassured” me that my sense of smell should not be affected, it blessedly was. Now I only have a hyper-sensitive sense of smell (vaguely tmi) right before my period starts, which is one of the ways I know to expect it.

    I like being a normal-level smeller, a lot.

  12. Scott M: WordPress is dead easy. They advertise a five minute install, and while mine wasn’t that short, I was finished in less than ten. Seriously.

    I tried to install MT before WordPress. WordPress is way, way easier. Oh, and if you want to kind of try it out first, there’s

  13. I think my smell is about average, with a few exceptions, when someone is ill or getting sick I usually notice. Their body odor smells plain wierd. I also don’t get along with too much perfume or deodorizer and air fresheners – plug in sort – give me a headache.

  14. I have a below-average sense of smell for most things (from what I can tell comparing with other people), but for some reason I can smell popcorn cooking better than anyone else I know. No idea why.

  15. My sense of smell is so-so, though I think it’s one of those things that’s fading in middle age.

    I saw a trailer for Perfume yesterday (while going to see The Presige, which was rather disappointing). Just seeing the trailer has convinced me to avoid the movie. It looks like a reasonably accurate portrayal of smells in the early Renniasance and why perfume became such a vital part of daily life!

  16. Regarding smell being directly wired to memory.

    Certain perfumes were worn by certain girlfriends. Smelling them brings on a certain rush, shall we say.

    Then again, my mom wears one of these perfumes, and that brings on a certain confusion, as well. Ugh.

  17. Above average, I think.

    I sometimes find myself bothered by smells that no one else notices, people with much perfume I have to keep a certain distance to, and I can often smell food having gone off before any visible signs show (also before anyone else can smell it) and I’ve learned by experience to take that smell serious as I’ll otherwise get ill.

    I’ve always been like that. I recall a game we played when I was a kid, which involved guessing which hand another kid held a piece of chalk in, after having handled it with both hands. I could smell which one it was each time while the others couldn’t.

  18. Like Lisa, my sense of smell is entirely too keen. I often joke that I should be a Master Sniffer (it is a real thing!)

    I am sensitive to smells but also have a knack for figuring out what a smell is exactly. It freaks people out. I know if my partner missed her morning vitamin. I can usually tell what people have eaten, what scent they are wearing and where they have been.

    When there is a mystery smell I am the one that people ask. Last night, a friend had a new lip gloss that was reminding her of something very specific, but she couldn’t figure it out…2 sniffs and I got it: vanilla and a new doll. She had the vanilla but I got that plasticy powdery new doll smell for her.

    I think this contributes to my being a foodie because my taste sensitivities are just as strong (and we all know that taste and smell are linked.)

  19. My sense of smell is usually pretty weak, but that’s because I’ve almost always got either a cold, a sinus infection, or allergies (and sometimes all three). It’s always very weird when I’m suddenly *not* congested — like putting on glasses for the first time, only with a different sense.

    I’m also sensitive to a lot of artificial perfumes and scents, but it’s allergy-related rather than smell.

    The one thing I’m weirdly good at smelling is petroleum products. If you ever want to confuse someone, try describing the smell of leaking hydraulic oil. (Oil and electricity and this weird metallic edge is the closest I’ve gotten. It’s instantly recognizable, though. I can now smell leaky elevators at twenty paces.)

  20. I’m one of those super-smellers, which may have been a blessing in the pre-industrial age, but in a world full of diesel, perfume, and clove cigarettes, it’s a burden.

    When I’m hiking (usually in northern Michigan), I can generally find fresh water by smelling it out. On the other hand, for me, being in a car with someone chewing cinnamon gum is like being in the WWI trenches during a mustard gas attack.

    I can smell when people two cars ahead of me on the freeway are smoking, and if the conditions are right, nose out a clove cigarette from a block away. Not that I ever say anything, but I can frequently tell when a woman is having her period.

  21. I think my sense of smell is fairly heightened, although I can’t distinguish between people smells unless I live with somebody.

    I can smell my coworker’s potato chips from two rows of cubicles away.

    Buck: Thanks for not outing us women on periods.

  22. Also….I’ve been trying to learn not to smell. My boyfriend lives in the SOMA neighbourhood of SF, and there are some pretty vile reeks down there. The block along Seventh between Mission and Market, for example, smells rather strongly of urine. I’ve learned to breathe out long slow exhaling breaths, while walking along this little stretch. (I even saw some guy just peeing right on the sidewalk one morning. Eeps.)

    It all reminds me of the exerpt from the Asimov book, Foundation’s Edge, where Golan Trevize tells Janov Pelorat that Terminus REALLY STINKS–only you’d never notice it unless you’ve gone off-planet.

  23. When I was in the first trimester with my daughter, my smell sensitivity shot right up. If I was sitting in the car when my dad washed the windscreen, the smell of the screenwash made me gag. And I always knew that my dad used a couple of tons more product (deodorant, smelly shower stuff etc) than I did, but while I was pregnant I could hardly bear to be on the landing for the half-hour after he’d finished getting ready to go out.

  24. Off topic question- Scalzi do you ever hear the Circle of Life playing when you set those gorgeous sunsets to film? It seems like it would fit in perfectly.

  25. I think my smeller is right, although my wife and I differ on things. Most colognes I can only smell the carrier, not the actual scent. Fortunately my wife dabbles in essential oils so our stuff (we make our soaps, sometimes) doesn’t gag me with carrier scent. Mostly I try and find unscented products. But I have allergies, and while they’re mostly under control, with my current job and the aging cat air hasn’t been what’s mostly flowing through my nose.

    If you’re really interested in this the National Geographic keeps doing scent surveys (just google National Geographic and smell and see how many hits you get) and publishing articles on the science of smells.

  26. Had a situation a couple of years ago, after some unidentified viral illness, where my sense of smell acted like it was wired up backwards. The dog smelt like roses, even when wet and I had to keep my head away from the fridge as some of the odours from perfectly good food left me gagging. Only lasted for a few days, I’m glad to say but it made me appreciate the sense of smell that I do have once it got straightened out.

  27. My sense of smell is about average, I think. I am annoyed by perfume though, and don’t wear any; I chose to bathe daily instead of spritzing stinky stuff all over my body.

    Dean–funny you should mention sniffing the tops of your kids’ heads! When each of my three kids were born, as soon as they were handed to me I instinctively sniffed their heads. I thought it was wierd but I had this desire to do so; years later I was watching some show on TV where the topic was discussed and apparently, it’s an instinctive thing women do. It’s how they identify their babies–they “mark” the baby in their brain by getting that initial whiff of the head.

  28. My hubby says I have a “super smeller”. LOL! Maybe my nose is compensating for my crappy eyesight. Hubby did the food shopping yesterday and as I came out of the bedroom and he was unloading the bags (opposite end of the house) I yelled, “I smell cinnamon!” I actually picked up the smell of the SEALED package of cinnamon raisin bagels he’s just bought from like 50 feet away. Plus, I can recreate the recipe of almost anything I eat just from the taste and smell.

  29. My ex-girlfriend has a nose like a bomb-sniffing German shepherd. I made a pot roast for dinner once, and I dumped in half a bottle of beer and promptly disposed of the remaining liquid in the only way I knew how: I drank it.

    Three hours later, she showed up for dinner and said, “You’ve been drinking, haven’t you?”

  30. I think my smeller is broken. Seriously, my sense of smell is very poor. I have an 8-month-old daughter, and my wife will often come into the room while I’m playing with the kid and say “can’t you smell her diaper?” I usually can’t, unless I pick her up and put my nose close to the offending area, take a deep whiff.

    So it’s a blessing and a curse :)

  31. One of my favorite jokes, which maybe someone hasn’t heard: Mom comes home from work. Dad hands off the baby. Mom sez, “Hooo-wa! Haven’t you changed her diaper?” Dad sez, “Not yet. The package says they’re good for up to 20 pounds.”
    ‘kay. Bye.

  32. I’d say my sense of smell is about average, but there are some things it’s sensitive to, particularly smokes. I try to avoid cigarette smoke, but there are some pipe smokes that remind me of my uncle so strongly it’s just kinda odd (he died when I was 10, so I haven’t smelled his pipe tobacco lately). I can also pick out different fires by their smell from some distance (a mile or so out in the country). House fires, car fires, brush fires… All smells differently. I also have quite a nose for a blown waterpump – antifreeze on an engine block is a pretty distinctive smell. If you don’t know it, consider yourself lucky.

    I love the smell of diesel fuel, but gasoline makes me gag. I love the smell of spent gunpowder, a new box of bluerock, WD-40, Fast Orange or any of those shop soaps like that, and leaded fuel, nitromethane, burnt differential oil and all those nice racing smells.

    The pits at the drag races smell great, until you come to the Brut car, and then you start to wonder how enough people actually buy that stuff that they can afford a drag car and afford to douse their car, trailer and surrounding area in Brut.

  33. I suppose my nose is a bit more sensitive, especially to some odors. I can have severe allergic reactions to some perfumey scents and I can “spot” a dead skunk WAY before my husband can. I also exhibit an almost asthmatic reaction to cigarette smoke, but find most cigar or pipe smoke quite pleasant.

    I find this really surprising because I had to have major sinus surgery in 1985 and figured it would kill off most of it. Turns out my sinus cavities had “filled in” and the doctor had to ream them out. Knew I was in for it when the second question in the recovery room was “Would you like a shot of morphine now?” YIKES!!

  34. I suspect my sense of smell has been fading, although sometimes it seems to be okay again.

    A couple weird points. First, if you have dogs smell their paws – the pads. I don’t want to give it away but I think there is a common smell for dog’s paws. It is not unpleasant, and it reminds me of how my athletic socks smelled back when I played sports and used the same pair of socks for a week.

    Second, last fall when doing Urinetown I developed a skill I wish I had years ago. There is a way to temporarily turn off your sense of smell completely. This comes in very hand when you are standing nose to nose with a guy who is singing angrily right in your face and you really really don’t want to know what he had for lunch. Near as I can describe you hold your breath but then also close something internal between your nose and the roof of your mouth. Believe me when you do this correctly the smells stop completely.

  35. Tripp,

    Every dog I ever had as a child had paws that smelled like Fritos. My current cats don’t really smell like anything.

  36. “Frito toes” – Holey cow! Someone else has noticed this?! I thought I was totally buggy for thinking this way. I feel better now. However, I noticed this phenomenon with both dogs and cats.

  37. Yes – Frito toes!

    Some people describe it as popcorn or buttered popcorn but it has always been Fritos to me.

    I wonder why the Frito Lay people don’t advertise this – “The chip with the dog foot odor!”

    Ann – we still might be totally buggy, but I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing.

  38. Ann,
    I noticed this phenomenon with both dogs and cats.

    I’ve heard reports that hamster toes have the same aroma but, you know, even I have lines that I will not cross. Smelling a hamster’s feet is just too weird.

  39. Not much sense of smell (had my adenoids out as a kid and ever since it’s been getting worse, now in my mid-thirties I definitely notice that I can’t smell some things that I could as a teen). My wife is a super-smeller, though, but she doesn’t seem very good at identifying odours — she’s always saying, “What is that smell?”, and no one can tell her because no one else can detect it.

    (And we know she’s not just hallucinating because she usually ends up finding whatever it is.)

%d bloggers like this: