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February 10, 2008

'Every house has its own smell after a while' — Dr. David Lewis on the new B.O. ('building odour')


Christopher McCooey's February 2, 2008 Financial Times article provided a very convincing argument for making certain your house smells as good as it looks before you put it up for sale.

The story follows.

    Scenting success

    Invisible forces can make a home repellant

    Doctor David Lewis is adamant: “Bad smells get up your nose — literally,” he says. “They have a negative effect on your brain. Pleasant smells have a positive effect and so it pays to have these in your house, especially if you are trying to sell it to a complete stranger.”

    When thinking about moving to a new home, odour is not usually right up there with the main criteria of location, price and condition. But it is one of the three subsidiary Ss: sight (how it looks), sound (background noise) and smell (both pleasant and not so). And the homeowner often unwittingly contributes to the latter. “We all have a unique personal odour that is a product of what we eat and drink and our lifestyle,” explains Lewis. “Household pets are also a factor — both dogs and cats, although goldfish are quite neutral. All of these scents are transferred to your home so that every house has its own smell after a while,” says Lewis, a neuro­psychologist and director of research for Mind Lab, an independent consultancy that carries out scientific studies on the brain and its responses to various stimulants. He is particularly interested in BO — building odour.

    “Quite often you cannot smell your own home because you are so used to it. It’s the same as if you live next to a railway line or under the flight path of an airport. You get used to the trains and planes and you don’t hear them. And when you move, your odour hangs around like a ghost for a while, particularly in odd corners, until the new owners become established.”

    While working on this article I have been forced to think a lot about how I smell and also the unique building odour of my home. It’s only when a daughter comes back from studying at law school that there is usually a pong inquisition. As soon as Emi comes through the front door I get: “Dad, this house stinks of wood smoke and of Megan and Tess.” I smile condescendingly and tell her: “Yes, but I like open fires and shooting with the labradors... and you don’t live here any more.” But I also know that if I wanted to sell the house then I’d have to do something about the BO.

    The impact of aroma has long been recognised among estate agents, whose “fresh-brewed coffee” and “baking bread” olfactory advice to sellers has become something of a cliché.

    Peter Young, managing director of estate agency John D Wood and Co, remembers an enthusiastic amateur property developer who embraced odour control as a part of a total package approach to preparing for viewings. “If I made an appointment to come round at 11am with a prospective buyer, she would have the place dressed up like a theatre set with flowers, spotless bathrooms and kitchen, everything neat and in place. She would be baking chocolate brownies so the delicious smell infused the whole house. She gave the impression of being serenely efficient and was always immaculately turned-out herself and with full make-up, but wearing an apron. She gave the appearance that everything was effortless. We never had any trouble selling her homes.

    “Conversely we had another client who drank a lot of claret. He had a very nice London home to sell but his halitosis could kill an elephant at 100 yards. Eventually I had to get him to go out when I took clients around.”

    But is a bad smell as off-putting as the anecdotal evidence suggests?

    Recently Lewis was commissioned to carry out a study for public relations advisers Hill & Knowlton acting for household products company Procter and Gamble who were bringing out a new air freshener. In his experiment, he compared the effects on people of breathing in fresh air, the new product and a series of pungent malodours. “The results demonstrated both what a powerful effect noxious odours have on how we think and feel but also the benefits of inhaling sweet-smelling air,” he says.

    In the experiment five men and five women were asked to sniff foul smells ranging from rotten fish and human BO to stale cabbage and sweaty old socks. As they did so, their brain activity was monitored via sensors attached to their scalps while straps around their chests recorded the depth and duration of their inhalations. Electrodes attached to their fingers monitored their levels of physical excitement.

    The volunteers were tested in a mobile laboratory in which the power of the odours could be carefully controlled. Having endured some of the foulest smells available, they then stepped outside to enjoy some of the freshest air in Britain — a gentle breeze blowing in across the English Channel to the top of Beachy Head in Sussex, UK – at about 600ft one of the country’s highest headlands.

    To prevent their responses being influenced by the spectacular panorama, they wore domes known as head isolation spheres (HIS) over their heads. The purpose of this headgear was to create a portable sensory deprivation chamber that would allow the subjects’ brains to focus entirely on the surrounding aromas. While in the HIS, the volunteers were exposed first to the pure fresh air and then to the air freshener.

    “The results were most interesting,” says the neuro-psychologist. “In summary, what we found was that a bad smell causes a sharp increase in physical arousal, together with a brain response indicating a strong desire to escape or avoid the odour and extremely negative feelings which tend to linger long after the bad smell has been removed but not replaced by a more agreeable aroma.

    “Both fresh air and the air freshener by contrast, produced a far briefer arousal, with brain activity associated with relaxed enjoyment.”

    But although Lewis’s research has supported what estate agents have long asserted, the owner of a home with a strong, distinctive ambience still has only two choices: to tackle it at source or to disguise it with an alternative scent such as an air freshener.

    Al Horrigan is the chief executive officer and principal broker of RSVP Associates, an estate agency in Lakewood Ranch, Florida, US. His company was asked to sell a property that was owned by a Russian-born couple, both of whom were heavy smokers. “They probably lost about 10 per cent on their sale price,” he says. “Perhaps more important, though, was the time it took to sell and the amount of money they had to spend trying to get rid of the smell of stale tobacco smoke. When they moved out the house was completely painted and all the carpets were replaced with new ones. This was not sufficient and they had three de-­fumigations; even the grout and kitchen cabinets were all cleaned. The house got a lot of showings right from the start, as it was always well priced, but it really wasn’t until the end that it smelt good.”

    Mark Tunstall, head of rentals at the Knightsbridge, London, office of estate agency Savills, adds. “We have one client who is never without her room spray in her pocket to give a cheeky spritz, as and when required. Undoubtedly, the best rents we have achieved over the past year have been for those clients who go the extra mile to ensure that their properties are presented to their fullest potential, with music, soft lighting and scented candles. In other words, it pays to spend some time and effort to get the ambient smell right, because then you are more likely to get a rent at the top end of the range. We let a ground and lower ground floor maisonette of 2,900 sq ft in South Kensington recently at £6,000 per week because it was presented exactly this way. This equates to an annual return of £107 per square foot, which is a huge figure.”

    “Empty properties tend to smell musty and can be damp,” warns Noel de Keyzer of Savills’ Sloan Street, London, office. “So make sure the heating is on, at least some of the time. We were selling a house for a Korean lady. It was empty but she had a very good idea for creating a good ambience. She had real lavender bushes growing in pots and she placed these in attractive wicker-work baskets in the empty rooms... Location can also be off-putting. For example, if you have a bus stop right outside your front door, then diesel fumes can be a problem.”

    But sometimes prospective property owners have to accept that they are unable to affect the source of a sour odour. Paul Jarvis, a chartered surveyor who worked in the Paris office of estate agency Knight Frank for five years, says: “The French sewerage system is rather different in that vents come straight up from the sewers. Under certain conditions basements could really honk. You cannot do anything about it. You just have to pre-warn a prospective client and tell them that the basement will have to be where they store stuff as they can’t be used as accommodation. Also, some of the older properties that we were selling in Spain had the smell of sewage about them as the toilets did not have S-bends. In those cases too, you just had to tell the client that that was the case and leave it up to them to disguise the smell with air fresheners or whatever.”

    It all brings new meaning to having a nose for a good property deal.

February 10, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Lucky Ruler


From the website:

    Lucky Ruler

    Thirteen — we do everything in our power to avoid this number.

    Yet on every ruler we come across it neatly sits there, snug between the innocent numbers twelve and fourteen.

    In turn, provocatively staring us in the face.

    Consequently, this ruler doesn't include that unlucky number.

    With this product by your side you simply can’t fail.


$20 CAD (click on "Desk and Stationary"," then scroll down).

February 10, 2008 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tokyo's Laptop Orchestra

Performing tomorrow night (Monday, February 11, 2008) at 7:30 p.m. at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in Washington, D.C.

"Interactive computer music meets Japanese traditional music when this Tokyo-based collaborative digitally experiments with the sound of a traditional Japanese instrument. At the concert, musician Ko Ishikawa sends sounds from his sho (mouth organ) through computers while the laptoppers — interacting onstage via an audio/video network — respond in real time, generating an infinite field of sound possibilities."

If clicking on the video up top doesn't work, watch it here.

800-444-1324 or 202-467-4600.

Tickets: $18.

February 10, 2008 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Recording Megaphone — Think of the possibilities


From the website:

    Recording Megaphone

    Save your breath and stop repeating yourself.

    Record up to a 10-second soundbite on this megaphone and hit the playback button — it'll do the dirty work for you.

    Features a built-in microphone, adjustable volume, music/siren option, foldable handle, wrist strap and LED light indicator.

    Rated 5W/Max 10W with a voice range of 200 meters.

    Uses four C batteries (not included).

    5.5" diameter.


February 10, 2008 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Strawberry Fields forever (nothing is real)

Alan Cane's essay in the January 30, 2008 Financial Times about the coming convergence of photorealistic imagery with "reality" was most interesting, especially the final sentence, which read: "But it may be necessary for governments at some stage, and using technologies as yet undiscovered, to limit the extent to which computer-generated images can be presented as reality on our many screens."

Here's the FT piece.

    Will we be able to tell reality from artificial imagery?

    There is one cast-iron certainty in what is becoming a hazy technological future: the image — and the screen on which it is displayed — will increasingly become king.

    On television screens, on personal computers, on digital organisers, on games consoles, telephones and music players, computer generated images of startling realism — animated and in three dimensions — will increasingly become the norm.

    By comparison, today's images — excellent though they can be - will appear as dated as the daguerreotypes of the 19th century.

    On the one hand, this is progress. A picture may be worth a thousand words - indeed it certainly is worth a thousand words when you are trying to work out how to insert a new ink cartridge into a printer.

    On the other hand, this level of photorealism will bring with it a slew of problems with which governments will be forced to deal.

    The rate of progress in rendering realistic three dimensional computer generated images over the past few years is remarkable.

    The technologies have found application both in feature films, such as the recent release, Bee Movie, and in advertising. "Naturally Juicy", a "strangely saucy" (their words, not mine) advert for Orangina involving a bear and a deer in a forest is the latest creation by The Mill, a London-based post production house which has been making a habit of picking up awards.

    For one minute and 45 seconds of screen time, The Mill's 30 animators took three months to bring a galaxy of characters including a flamingo pole-dancer, a bikini-clad rabbit and an octopus waitress to life.

    Tellingly, the greatest challenge the animators faced was rendering fur and feathers realistically. Ten years or so ago, it would not have been possible to create such life-like images

    The pace has been forced, however, by a couple of critical developments. First, graphics processing units (GPUs) have become incomparably more powerful.

    GPUs are processor chips which work in conjunction with the central processor but are designed wholly to carry out the complex mathematics required, for example, accurately to convey the texture of skin, hair or moving water. The market for GPUs is currently dominated by Nvidia, which fabricates the GeForce graphics chip family, and by AMD which makes the ATI Radeon chip line.

    A second innovation, pioneered by Nvidia but quickly followed by AMD, was programmable pixel shading, which made it possible to process each individual picture element. This enables the animator to treat each pixel separately and to come closer to mimicking reality. A moving, bumpy, reflective surface can be rendered by pixel shaders in ways which would have been impossible using earlier technology.

    There have been other, startling, developments. Henrik Wann Jensen of the University of California at San Diego is an expert in developing images in which light interacts with other materials - the patterns of light and shade created as sunlight filters through a glass of brandy, for example.

    Now, he has built a mathematical model based on the absorbtion and reflection of light which can create the image of a material when given its constituents. And it works in reverse: given an image, the software will work out what it is made of.

    There are, nevertheless, a number of constraints on the development of three dimensional computer generated imagery, not the least of which is the limited number of skilled craftspeople capable of working with these advanced tools.

    The Mill and its London competitors, the US post production world and the GPU manufacturers are all in competition for these individuals. They are often freelance, travelling the world and selling their services when an interesting project presents itself.

    The fact that it took about 2,000 hours to produce two minutes of final product for the Orangina advert is another hurdle. The new tools seem to have vastly increased the quality of the final image but have not significantly reduced the time taken to create it.

    The upside, therefore, is computer-generated movies indistinguishable from conventionally shot films and computer games where there seems to be no line between real life and fantasy.

    The downside is whether we are ready for this degree of photorealism on the screens that will increasingly dominate our lives. A computer game today, however violent, is still clearly a game. The advent of shoot-'em-ups indistinguishable from real life could keep researchers working on the effects of computer games on social behaviour busy for years.

    Second Life and other metaverses are again, today, obviously crude imitations of the real thing. What would be the consequences of a Second Life that seemed as real as real life — or at least as real as the television images that we take for granted as representing reality.

    One senior figure in the games industry suggested to me in all seriousness that at some date in the future, news events would no longer be filmed live — they would be created wholly in the computer.

    The consequences for society are difficult to predict. But it may be necessary for governments at some stage, and using technologies as yet undiscovered, to limit the extent to which computer-generated images can be presented as reality on our many screens.


At first I thought maybe I didn't get the joke about how governments would censor the photorealistic imagery indistinguishable from "reality."

Then I chuckled, knowing that computer-savvy people around the world were laughing out loud and falling off their chairs at the thought.

Not very likely, that apparently wishful thinking of Cane.

Far more likely is William Gibson's vision of the future, where computer-generated media interact seamlessly with the "real world," fusing to take us to the place we're all destined to inhabit in the coming decades.

February 10, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What is it?


Answer here this time tomorrow.

February 10, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

FameGame.com — 'People. Parties. Projects.'


From the website:

    Welcome to FameGame

    Connect with influential people, parties, and projects in New York City.

    To get started, enter a search term or check out some of the featured content.

    If you find yourself in the system, you can claim your profile to join the game.


Oh, well... if you're not in the system, you can always read the blog.

Just try not to leave your nose print (from trying to see inside) on the glass.

When Cintra Wilson sees this she's gonna blow a 50 amp fuse.

February 10, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Towel Anchor


From the website:

    Towel Anchor

    Unique towel anchor holds beach towels securely in place.

    Made of plush, washable, 100% velour terry cloth, it's elasticized to slip over any size chair or chaise.

    Has a pocket for money, cell phone, etc.

    Set of 2 includes 1 Blue and 1 Yellow.

    3.25" wide.


February 10, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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