Posts filed under ‘Smells’

I’m Not the Only One

Evidently I’m not alone in loving library smell. CB I Hate Perfume has come out with a fragrance called “In the Library,” which the Web site describes as “Russian & Moroccan leather bindings, worn cloth and a hint of wood polish.”

In case you’re a fan of other unusual scents they also sell fragrances called “Burning Leaves,” “In the Summer Kitchen,” and “I Am a Dandelion.” I might just have to order “Memory of Kindness,” though, since it features one of my absolute favorite smells: tomato vine.

Via: Salon.com’s holiday gift guide.

26 November 2007 at 20:28 2 comments

Closing Time

I’ve never been at the big library on campus at closing time before tonight. When the bell rings, squinting scholars skitter out of the stacks like termites when you pick up a piece of rotting wood. Some of them even have the same pallor as termites. They look like they haven’t seen sunlight in weeks.

Does that sound like I have an aversion to libraries? Nothing could be further from the truth. I still remember the first time I walked into the campus library at the folkhögskola I attended in Sweden. What a relief it was to find that it smelled exactly the same as every other library in my life. All I need is to get a whiff of the drying glue and crumbling paper, and I know I’m home.

21 November 2007 at 17:30 2 comments

When the Wild Things Are

6:07 a.m.

That’s when I left my house this morning. (The precise details of why I was leaving before dawn are not important, but I will admit that I got up early to do work that I should have been doing last night when I was watching the latest episode of Bones with my housemate.)

Anyhow, I came downstairs, and the front hallway wreaked. For a few seconds, I thought the neurotic chihuahua (is that redundant?) upstairs had skunked himself, but I quickly realized that the smell was coming from outside. I walked up the hill looking all around so I wouldn’t end up accidentally tripping over one of the neighborhood skunks.

Then, as I was standing at the bus-stop, I noticed a raccoon sneaking out from between the laundromat and the neighboring house. It snuffled around the sidewalk for a few minutes. Every time a car went by it jumped on to the closest tree trunk and clung for dear life.

Finally it started waddling across the road with me stage whispering “hurry up, hurry up!” as truck headlights bore down on it. It made it to the other side unscathed and went straight up onto the front porch of a house, presumably to root through their recycling bins.

BTW, I don’t think I’ve mentioned here that my favoritemost word in Swedish is tvättbjörn, raccoon. It literally means “wash bear.” The Norwegian version, which has the same literal meaning, might be even better: vaskebjørn. Try saying it to yourself to see what I mean.

Vas’-kuh-byern. Vas’-kuh-byern. Vas’-kuh-byern.

3 October 2007 at 17:17 Leave a comment

Broadway, 17:07

If there’s any smell better than honeysuckle after a late afternoon thunderstorm, I can’t imagine what it might be right now.

28 July 2007 at 17:51 Leave a comment

Another Mystery Solved

I love research.

Well, I should probably be more specific. I love the process of tracking down pieces of information: the twists and turns, how a lucky glimpse of a bibliographic entry or the offhand mention of another researcher can lead you down a completely unexpected path to just the fact you were looking for. It doesn’t matter how trivial that fact is in the grand scheme. Merely finding it feels like a small miracle.

This year for Christmas, my sister Mars gave me a copy of The Secret of Scent, a book on the science of scent by biophysicist Luca Turin. He’s the eponymous Emperor of Scent in one of my favorite books.

I’ve spent most of today reading this book—time I should have spent working on any of a number of school assignments that are due shortly after I return home from vacation in January. I needed to read something entertaining, though. And after reading an entire book about Turin, I felt fairly confident that a book by him would be entertaining and enlightening. And so far, he hasn’t disappointed, even if I don’t always get the science he’s talking about. In my favorite passage thus far, he describes what he calls the “Law of Conservation of Worries”:

As genuine reasons for anxiety, like polio, TB and smoking; recede, [sic] they are replaced by phoney ones, so that the anxiety level is kept homeostatically constant. I can think of no process — save a major cataclysm such as a flu pandemic — that would reset this anxiety to a low level in the developed world. The phrase ‘studies have shown’ in a newspaper these days almost always prefaces a new worry to be added to the pile to make sure it does not shrink. (26)

Anyhow, at one point about midway through, Turin is talking about how crystallizing proteins lets scientists determine what the protein molecules look like, how they twist and turn and fold back on themselves in strange structures that confound my normal preference for symmetry. In a footnote, Turin provides the URL for the RCSB Protein Data Bank (An Information Portal to Biological Macromolecular Structures!), where you can see many of these molecules.

If, like me, you don’t have advanced training in organic chemistry, one of the best places to start is their Molecule of the Month page. Dr. David S. Goodsell of the Scripps Institute profiles provides a picture — often strangely beautiful — for each molecule along with a brief description of what it is and how it’s constructed. Featured molecules have ranged from the well-known (DNA) to the more obscure (nitrogenase —well, OK, obscure to me) and from the sinister (cholera toxin) to the sublime (luciferase). Goodsell’s descriptions have a matter-of-factness that’s both reassuring to non-scientists like me and oddly fitting since these molecules are, despite their exotic structures, the workhorses of the biochemical world. His entry on serum albumin opens, “Think about how convenient it is to be able to eat.”

Anyhow, the point of all this, was not to introduce you to a neat science site — although I’m certainly happy to do that. The point was that, thanks to RCSB and Dr. Goodsell, I’ve finally learned what ubiquitin is. Apparently, cells constantly build and discard proteins as they need them for various purposes. Once a cell is done with a protein, it tags the protein with ubiquitin so that it can be identified as obsolete and broken down.

This is not just cool insight into molecular and cell biology. Since ubiquitin signals that something is obsolete and should be discarded, it also lends some sort of metaphorical/semantic support to my idea that the biological term “de-ubiquitination” needs to be appropriated for general use (i.e., what needs to happen to over-hyped celebrities like, say Britney Spears).

26 December 2006 at 19:03 1 comment


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