What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Friday, January 26, 2018


There are so many frustrating features of life in the 21st century that I have a seemingly endless source of rant material. One of the innovations that drives me crazy is the proliferation of robotic voices and other algorithms that are sadly lacking in the capacity to deal with real people who have real issues. Ever since the advent of these Siri-clone robotic voices on the phone, pseudo-humans in “help” chat windows, some of whom are even given “human” names and faces, and algorithms popping up elsewhere, I’ve wondered if dealing with these robots is a big contributor to incivility in everyday human-to-human interactions – maybe the biggest contributor. I also wonder whether the level of frustration it creates contributes to violent behavior, suicide, depression, apathy, and other serious problems.

I wish I had kept the original maddening exchange that I had with a “chat person” on the FedEx website, but this morning it was easy to re-create something almost identical to it, albeit shorter and less redundant to spare you, the reader. Please note that I’m relatively polite in my responses, which is a departure from the original, real, “conversation” in which I unleashed a stream of curses on the robot, leaving it oblivious to my words and persevering in its useless responses. Here goes:

FedEx: Hello, I’m the FedEx Virtual Assistant. I’m here to help you with your questions regarding FedEx services.

Me: I’m having a problem with package delivery.

FedEx: I need more information. Would you please repeat your question in a different way?

Me: My package was not delivered because it required a signature. We were at home, but the delivery person just le … [that was all that the very limited window would accept!]

FedEx: If you missed your delivery, FedEx will make 2 more attempts to deliver your package (for a total of 3 attempts). [It then goes on with a lot of irrelevant copy-and-paste information from a web page about holding the package, door tags, etc.]

Me: I did not “miss my delivery”. The delivery person failed to knock on the door.

FedEx: I’m about to give you an answer that I have already given you. Would you like to see it again?

Me: No. [curses] Why does FedEx use robots to deal with customers?  

FedEx: You do not have to use FedEx branded packaging to ship with FedEx, but you can obtain FedEx packaging at FedEx Office locations …[It then goes on with a lot of irrelevant copy-and-paste information on packaging directly from a webpage.]

Me: [more curses] This response is completely irrelevant.

FedEx: I need more information. Would you please repeat your question in a different way?

So now we come full circle as the robot exhausts its astoundingly impoverished repertoire of answers.

My original exchange was longer, but contained all of the same “responses” repeated multiple times, plus one that told me that the sentence I typed was too long.

Given my phone exchanges with what I assume are real people (outsourced, of course) reading from a menu of 6 answers on a script card (“It’s your browser”, “It’s your browser”, “It’s your browser”, ”I cannot help you with this. Please go to the FAQ page on our website”, … etc), I have to wonder if real people’s behavior is being shaped by dealing with robots so that ultimately the entire population will end up unable to extricate themselves from the endless loop of time- and soul-sucking inanity. Has our humanity been outsourced? 

[In case you're skeptical, I did not make this up. It is verbatim, except that the copy-and-paste pseudo-"screenshots" have been expurgated to make the exchange readable. You could go on the FedEx chat window and recreate the same responses yourself, if you want to laugh at a scenario that would be tragic if it weren't so funny.]