Posts Tagged ‘science’

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Describing Scent workshop at Les Senteurs. (review)

April 15, 2012

On a bright Saturday lunchtime in April, Toby and I headed to Marble Arch to attend Les Senteurs‘ “Describing Scent” workshop, hosted by my good friend Nick (who also happens to be the Store Manager of the Les Senteurs store on Seymour Place). We arrived and as the shop starting filling up with attendees, we made our way downstairs to be greeted by a large table, laid out with place settings which each had a slice of orange on a neon plate, a loop of string, a coin, a rubber band and a glass with ice. The dozen of us seated ourselves, introduced ourselves to the group (among us was a florist, a composer, a student of fashion journalism, a mathematician, a chemist, and the rest of us who were also fans of perfume via various avenues) and then Nick proceeded to explain the purpose of the workshop. Part of it would be smelling scents (starting with the objects on the table, and then followed by a range of perfumes passed around the room on blotters) and experiencing fragrances mostly stocked by Les Senteurs. But the real point, as hinted at in the name of the workshop, would be to describe the fragrance. Not only in terms of smell, but in terms of taste, colour, light, shadow, temperature, textures, shape, sound, the kind of place it evoked and so on. It’s extremely difficult to describe a scent effectively using only the limited vocabulary of adjectives normally ascribed to smell – scents are intangible, and so they evoke a range of images, sounds (interestingly, “notes” and “accords” are used in the language of perfumery), textures and emotions in each of us.

As we proceeded through the objects on the table, and then onto the eight fragrances, we discussed how each of them made us feel, and what they evoked in us. Nick guided us through each of the perfumes, which we firstly smelled ‘blind’ (i.e. not knowing anything about the fragrance – neither its name, nor the brand behind it) and then were tasked with describing as fully and accurately as possible. It was a comfortable environment for us to be honest and unguarded about what the perfume evoked, as we were all passionate about fragrance and we all understood that perfume is personal to each of us. Nick would eventually reveal the perfume’s name and brand, composition and concept. It was intriguing to see what notes each of us picked up (which frequently included ingredients not listed in the perfume’s composition), and how different our own thoughts were from others’. For example, Toby’s scientific knowledge was able to explain various smells and associations in a way that was completely beyond me, but at the same time I made other connections for different reasons. Moving through fragrances by Creed, Parfumerie Générale, Heeley and others, we exposed the different connections and our own varying preferences between a range of scents. But whatever we preferred, be it niche or “high street”; leathery or floral; warm and introverted or cool and expansive – this workshop worked because we were all passionate about fragrance, and because Nick facilitated the workshop in such a way that we all felt comfortable to express ourselves.

At the end of the session, we all filled out a feedback form which asked some intriguing questions – among which were:

  • “Is this kind of event something you would talk to your friends about” (evidently so!);
  • “What is most important to you in a perfume?” (for me, a fragrance has to smell beautiful, but also different to everything else in my collection, so that it complements one of my moods. I am far too fickle / moody to have a ‘signature’ fragrance that would suit me every day, day in and day out! I also think that it’s important that the fragrance has a well-chosen name and attractive bottle, as these are the things that will initially attract me towards trying it out.); and
  • “Are there any events you would like to see that haven’t been suggested already?” (I feel that I would love to attend workshops that would each focus on ‘classic perfumes’ – such as Joy, Chanel No. 5, Chanel Pour Monsieur, Poison and Opium).

I can’t recommend the Les Senteurs workshops highly enough for anyone even slightly curious about perfume beyond the Superdrug counter (for their list of events, please click here). Toby and I both had an excellent time, and it was both luxurious being able to spend an afternoon smelling such wonderful scents, and intellectually stimulating being challenged to describe them and contemplate how others react to fragrance. At the end of the day, there are few rights and wrongs in one’s experience of perfume, and this workshop served to underline how intangible and thus personal fragrance can be.

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my robot is better than your robot…?

August 16, 2011

Check out the new video from www.iamfirst.com, an American initiative to encourage more students to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects at school and beyond. It features various celebrities highlighting the importance of science, including Justin Timberlake, Steven Tyler, will.i.am, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and Jack Black.

While I think that trying to engage young people in STEM subjects (or any academic subjects at school) can only be a good thing, this video is all wrong for several reasons – which are outlined in my resulting questions from the video, listed below.

  • Why is will.i.am wearing a blood pressure cuff?
  • Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber don’t even go to school!
  • Reciting names of elements does not make one a scientist.
  • What is a Doctor of Thinkology, and what scientific careers value this qualification?
  • Phones and pianos are made of science! Ergo geeks are great and you should become one!
  • WHERE ARE THE ROBOTS? I certainly don’t have a robot. I didn’t see any of these celebrities’ robots!? So how can their robots be better than my robot?
  • I am quite confident that Einstein was not a rockstar.
  • How shiny is will.i.am’s chest? Surely that’s not natural. Perhaps HE is the robot?
  • So people should take jobs in science, engineering, maths and robotics because there are more jobs there than in basketball (which I thought was obvious)? Not because they might be any good at science, or want to study it further? Surely we should be encouraging young people to follow their dreams and make use of their talents and aptitudes, not just advise them to choose careers based on which sectors have more jobs?
  • Robotics and science is the future, because robots are all futuristic and shit… yeah.

I agree with will.i.am that if every school has a basketball court, then they should also have a science programme. That is perhaps one of the few sensible suggestions to come out of this video. Also, he says that educating our youth and getting them equipped for tomorrow is important, and I wholeheartedly agree. My issue is that this video is not educational – they have basically thrown a bunch of celebrities at the screen, told them to say “Science is cool!” and hope that kids buy it. How does this equip them? What concrete knowledge does this video share? Our youth is surely not naive enough to buy into something without concrete reasoning of why science is important – saying that scientists made an iPhone is not enough! I would suggest that emphasising the importance of STEM subjects in order to go into a range of careers, increasing earning prospects, mentioning specific job fields where vacancies and progression are available would have been the way to go. Young people need and crave this kind of information when they’re making their subject choices, university and college applications, and so on. This video is a bit nothing-y, at the end of the day.

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paralysis.

July 12, 2010

This weekend was lovely for me.  I went to London to see Toby’s new place and also to spend some time with Nana, one of my closest friends from my time at Oxford.  I was due to be in London the following weekend (now this coming weekend) anyway as me and Toby are going to the Surrey University Grad Ball, but Nana texted me asking whether I was free and she needed to talk.  As it’s more than about time I went down to London (she’s come to visit me in Bristol a few times but between university, family and various other commitments I had never made it down), I decided to take a trip on the very cheap Megabus and spend a couple of days.  We had a really nice time eating, chilling, shopping (though I was restrained with spending money – my driving test is looming so it’s time to prioritise) and it was just great to catch up.  But anyway, that’s not what I’m writing about.

On the Friday night after we’d been for cocktails (Toby & Nana got on superbly, and they were able to talk about science while I smiled and vacated my brain and just looked pretty), Toby and I got the tube back to his.  We got off at Earls Court, and due to him not usually getting off at that station and it being vaguely confusing in the night-time, he ended up walking me slightly the wrong way.  We went down one road in particular, and in the entranceway to the first house on the road there was a man slumped, ostensibly asleep.  It was about 10:45 in the evening, he had a backpack still on his back, and he was strewn across the entrance to the house with one arm covering his face.  His clothes looked vaguely dirty (probably from the ground) but other than that I couldn’t tell much of his appearance, from my vantage point of being stood up.  In other words, it just looked like he’d had too much to drink and passed out.

Toby and I stopped, and Toby wondered if the guy was alright.  At this point, I urged Toby to just keep walking, as he was probably just drunk and would be fine. As the words came out of my mouth, I started to question myself: Why was I so eager to just carry on? What if something bad had happened to the guy? What if he needed someone to call the emergency services? And most of all, what was I so afraid of? I can’t deny that I felt a strong intuition to just keep walking and not get involved in something that was probably not a problem and certainly not my business. The media report and project so many stories about people who’ve wound up injured, hurt or worse by getting involved in other people’s tribulations when they were only trying to help.  But what if that man were me? What if I needed somebody to call for help on my behalf, and they just kept on walking?

The dilemma swirled in my mind even as I convinced Toby that we should just leave the guy and keep on walking. As luck would have it, Toby was using the GPS on his mobile and discovered we needed to walk back down the same road and take a different turning to get to his place, so we were due to end up passing the unconscious man again. To assuage my conscience, I said that if the guy looked like he was really in trouble, if we could see blood or signs of something dangerous (we had already noted that the guy didn’t appear to be bleeding, and seemed to be breathing ok), we would call the police. As we approached the entrance to the house again, we passed many other pedestrians on their way home / wherever, and none of them seemed to be the slightest bit concerned about the guy. At this point, I wondered whether I was just naïve: I’m from a decent-sized city but it’s not London, and things are different there. Perhaps it was even more commonplace than in Bristol, and perhaps they had judged it more dangerous to get involved than to keep walking.  Maybe they hadn’t even noticed. But the combination of other people’s lack of concern, the fact that a lot of the houses had lights on so it wasn’t as if the guy would be in danger nor did any of the occupants seem to be particularly bothered by his presence, and the fact that when we did pass him again, he didn’t seem to be in any distress or be injured (in other words, he did genuinely appear to be passed out asleep) meant that we didn’t call 999 but just went on our way.

I hope that he was alright in the end. I just can’t help but wonder if I did the right thing: obviously putting my own safety (and Toby’s) first is important. But at the same time, how much danger could a barely conscious man who was probably stinking drunk pose to us? Why did I feel an instinctual sense of alarm, and was I right to trust that instinct? I believe myself to be the kind of person who would help a person in need, but in this instance should I have done more? Or am I just being naïve and thinking about a commonplace incident far too much? Am I right in thinking that if nobody living on the road nor the other pedestrians walking past seemed to be alarmed, I didn’t need to be either? Is that just being realistic, or is it a dangerous blind eye to turn? I wonder what this says about me as a person, about us as an urban society, that we’re afraid of making a social blunder that could cost us our own personal safety, even when the situation probably is less dangerous than we fear and the person might need our help? Is the media to blame for hyping such incidents to the point that we are too afraid to help others for fear of the consequences that a misguided retaliation might mean for ourselves? I suppose the most telling thing is that if I could do it again, I would probably do exactly the same and play it safe for me and Toby. I just wonder if it was the right thing to do.