You don’t see it coming until it’s here. The day you realize that you’re not going to be arranging any more funerals. You’re the one who’s next. It may not — you hope and believe — be for years. Decades! But it’s coming. And it’s coming for you.

You see the fading memories of the ones who went before you differently in that light. When you realize you’re the only person left who remembers the things you experienced together. And when you’re gone, that’s it. Those events never happened. At least, not to anyone who is still alive to care about them.

And what did your time amount to, anyway? What impact have you left on the world, and is it a good one? Bad? Or, most likely, utterly inconsequential. You never existed.

Maybe it’s melodramatic. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true. So if all that matters is the moment, while you’re in it… how are you going to live it?

The curious case of my covid-induced loss of taste and smell

I’m writing this mainly for my own future reference, as I’m sure my memory of some of these details will vanish, much like my ability to smell onions has vanished this month.

I’m not sure how I (finally, after avoiding it successfully for 3 1/2 years) got covid. I know it’s more likely that I was exposed first, even though my wife tested positive several days before I did. It was probably the last weekend in June, when I subbed in a pit orchestra for a musical theater performance on Saturday, and then had a big band rehearsal on Sunday. I was in the presence of a lot of people over those two days, whereas my wife had not interacted with many people in the previous week.

On Monday I had an achy, fitful, mostly sleepless night, and was feeling run down for most of Tuesday morning, but by afternoon I was fine, and thought no more of it. Then on Thursday night, my wife got knocked out with a sudden fever and fatigue that we foolishly did not assume was covid, but the next morning she tested, and it was positive. She started isolating, but we both knew it was probably too late.

Although I felt totally fine, I started testing daily and was repeatedly negative. But that Sunday night I once again was achy and fitful, this time with chills added to the mix. I thought for sure I must have covid, but I still tested negative the next morning. On Tuesday I finally did test positive, even though — other than those two random nights, six nights apart — all I was feeling were the mildest imaginable cold symptoms. Those lingered for about a week, and that was pretty much it.


I believe it was that Thursday or Friday, a few days after I first tested positive, and was mostly already feeling fine again, that I noticed that most distinctive and curious of covid symptoms beginning to appear: I was rapidly losing my sense of taste and smell.

Mostly smell, honestly, but of course the two senses are linked. I noticed initially that I basically couldn’t smell anything, but I hadn’t completely lost my sense of taste. Sweet and sour were both maybe around 30% of their normal levels, and bitter (hurrah) was pretty much entirely unaffected. (Salty and umami were, for the moment, gone.)

It has now been over two weeks since I noticed the problem, and to some extent my senses have returned. I can now smell some things, and I can taste pretty much everything. But I am realizing that the loss has been very selective. In particular, I can smell many mild scents almost as normal, but strong odors, like raw onions, are almost completely undetectable.

Put it this way: I am the type of person whose eyes normally burn painfully and water copiously when cutting raw onions. But last week I cut an onion in half, put it right up to my nose, and inhaled as deeply as I could, and… well, there was an ever-so-slight suggestion of “onion.” But not only could I not smell it at all if it was more than a millimeter from my face, but I didn’t get any of the eye watering, either. My sensation of that particular volatile compound is just totally dead.

My sense of taste has fared better, as I can now pretty much taste everything — again, except onions — but I’ve noticed that certain things don’t taste like they’re “supposed” to, or that the tastes I perceive are only vague and indistinct. I can tell I’m tasting something, but I’m not sure what it is.

I think that comes back to the deadening of the “volatile compounds” sensation. It’s the complex flavors made from combinations of ingredients that are being affected. I’m only getting the broad strokes. Indian curries still taste good to me, but all the nuances of the layered spices are missing.

Which takes me back to about 10 days ago, when I first noticed there was one thing I could taste fully, just as it has always tasted to me.


I guess ketchup is essentially a fairly simple blend of sweet and acidic, without much nuance. (That’s probably why kids like it.) And since those senses never totally went away, it’s not surprising that would be something I could taste fully. For a few days, I put a lot of ketchup on most of the things I ate.

I haven’t spent a lot of time investigating other people’s stories of their covid experiences, but I’m wondering if most people who reported loss of taste and smell had this kind of “selective” loss the way I did. I assume that’s the case. And then, of course, I wonder why covid causes this loss of sensation of, most specifically, the kinds of odors that are more or less nature’s warning bells for things that are possibly dangerous to consume or be exposed to. It’s not like covid has a “plan,” but I wonder if this particular symptom has manifested because it gives covid some kind of environmental advantage that helps it spread, or if it’s just a random quirk, a side effect of the chaotic nature of viral mutation and evolution.

Anyway… I am thankful for the vaccines, which I am sure contributed to how mild my case of covid was, and probably prevented me from catching it at all before July 2023. And I’m thankful that other than a couple of bad sleeps, my symptoms were extremely tolerable. This smell/taste thing has been, more than anything, a curiosity to observe and study. But it is starting to get a bit old, so I’m hoping my senses fully return sooner rather than later.

I do realize of course that, although I think it’s unlikely, the loss may be permanent or semi-permanent. And so there, too, I am thankful that I have not completely lost these senses, because I can certainly live with things the way they are. I just might die early from eating something that’s gone rancid and I couldn’t tell. Ç’est la vie.

Update: Of course, after writing this, I did research the matter a bit, and it affirmed that I should never do that. I hadn’t considered, until now, that I am on a journey of recovery of these senses, and that possibly, months from now, I will enter a stage where I do regain my sense of smell, but everything will be distorted and unpleasant. Ugh. On a more helpful note, that Scientific American article does talk specifically about chemical sensing, which is different from sense of smell. This seems to be the essence of my loss; I could not sense the minty freshness of toothpaste at all for a few days. That is starting to come back, as well as my ability to sense hot peppers.

Victorinox Mini Champ Alox “Swiss Army” knife feature guide

I’m not really a “knife guy,” but for most of my adult life I have carried some variety of Victorinox “Swiss Army” knife around in my pocket almost everywhere I go. I just find that very often I need the blade to cut open a box, or the small scissors to cut hangnails, or the screwdriver, and having an unobtrusive object in my pocket that can handle these tasks is very convenient.

“Unobtrusive” is key. When I’m not using it, I want to forget it’s even there. It can’t be too heavy or too big, so I really like the smallest knives they make… usually a variety of the Classic SD. But when I (once again) misplaced the latest in a string of those tiny knives, and decided I needed to buy (yet another) replacement, I splurged on the Mini Champ Alox.

Most Victorinox knives have an outer shell made of plastic, but they also make slim profile variants with this “Alox” outer shell… embossed aluminum with anodic oxidation — hence the “Alox” name. Since these are thinner, they usually lose a couple of features — typically the removable toothpick and tweezers (and in some cases, the ballpoint pen or flashlight). I owned a Classic SD Alox that I really liked, but then I realized that with the thinner shell, the Mini Champ Alox was exactly the same size as the Classic SD, but instead of three tools, it had eight. Yes, it also costs 3 times as much, but it was too intriguing not to buy.

I really do love it and would feel lost without it. But I’ve come to realize that I pretty much actually only use the three tools on one side, and almost never touch the five on the other side. In fact, I have trouble even remembering the purpose of some of those tools. So for my own future reference, I’ve checked online sources, and documented their functions in the annotated image below:

So… yeah. Some of these, I really just don’t get. I don’t know how many people use a cuticle pusher; personally it is not something I have ever used or wanted to use (in fact, pushing my cuticles back is something I find so unpleasant that it’s nearly a phobia). And yet, one entire blade of this pocket knife is apparently devoted to that sole function.

Likewise, I don’t ever really need an orange peeler — the only oranges I eat semi-regularly are mandarins, which peel very easily without a tool. That particular blade has two functions; the tip is apparently a “scraper,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. My understanding was that some part of this was supposed to be a fish scaler but again… not something I need. (Update: the flat edge between the hook and the pointy tip is sharpened, so I suppose that edge, not the point, is the scraper.)

Then there’s the tool that is alternately referred to as a “letter opener” and an “emergency blade.” One of those functions sounds extremely banal and the other gives me visions of… well… this:

Dr. Hibbert makes use of his trusty pocket knife. Source:

I do actually use the nail file/cleaner and screwdriver/ruler from time to time. But for sure, it’s those three bottom tools that make this an essential daily “carry” for me. (Yes, I hate the “nouning” of verbs… almost as much as the “verbing” of nouns.) And the funny thing is, two of the three are also on the Classic SD.

That last tool does a lot of heavy lifting for the overall utility of this knife, with its 3-in-1 design. The bottle opener… works. The wire stripper… probably works. I actually do need to use a wire stripper from time to time, but not often enough to remember it’s on here. But the Phillips screwdriver… oh man, is that handy. Except…

Except, the way the flathead screwdriver is designed, it actually works on just about any Phillips screw you may come across. And it’s part of the regular Classic SD. There’s also one problem with the Phillips screwdriver on here. Last night I needed to use it, and I couldn’t open it. Today I investigated, and the issue seems to be that at some point I used it on a screw that must have been made of a harder alloy than the screwdriver itself, and it nicked/bent the tip slightly. That was getting it stuck in the closed position. I was able to pry it open (using, of all things, an iPhone SIM card remover tool), and then I filed down the edges of it using… the file on another, larger (knock-off no-name) Swiss Army knife. Now it works again.

Anyway… my day started off just trying to figure out why the Phillips screwdriver in my Mini Champ Alox was stuck, and now after writing this, I’ve come to realize that this entire tool is kind of a waste of money and a failure of design. In the future, if I lose this knife, I most definitely will not be getting another one. The extra tools are kind of useless and the extra expense is unjustifiable. Stick with the Classic SD, or maybe the Rambler. It’s basically the Classic SD with the 3-in-1 blade added.

Sports commentary quote of the year

“Tadej seems to — along with Eddy Merckx — have torn that script up and tossed it in the bin, and lit the bin on fire and threw the fire into the mouth of a volcano.”

—Bob Roll, during yesterday’s broadcast of La Flèche Wallonne, talking about how Tadej Pogacar seems to be defying all understanding of what’s possible for a rider during the course of a cycling season

WooCommerce code snippet: convert the Order Notes field into an EU VAT ID field

The scenario: My WooCommerce store has no need for the Order Notes field. In fact, up until now I had it hidden on the checkout page. But what my site does need is an EU VAT ID field. The portion of my business that takes place in Europe is, so far, well below the VAT reporting threshold, but I am increasingly being asked by customers to provide an invoice containing their VAT ID.

Well, my site does already produce PDF invoices. But there was no way for customers to include their VAT ID on the invoice. Until now.

A simple code snippet converts the existing WooCommerce Order Notes field into an EU VAT ID field, including changing it from a <textarea> to an <input type="text"> field. Put this in your theme’s functions.php file, or wherever else is appropriate in your setup:

add_filter('woocommerce_checkout_fields', function($fields) {
    $fields['order']['order_comments'] = array_merge(
            'class' => array('eu-only'),
            'label' => 'EU VAT ID',
            'type' => 'text',
    return $fields;
}, 10, 1);

That’s it. You can stop right here. But you may notice a line in there that seems unnecessary: 'class' => array('eu-only')

What’s that all about? Well, I’m using that with a bit of jQuery to enhance the functionality: only showing my new EU VAT ID field when the user’s selected Billing Country is an EU country.

Here’s a JavaScript function you can use to dynamically show/hide elements with an .eu-only CSS class, depending on a given passed-in value:

function showHideEUOnly(val) {
    var eu = ['AT', 'BE', 'BG', 'HR', 'CY', 'CZ', 'DK', 'EE', 'FI', 'FR', 'DE', 'GR', 'HU', 'IE', 'IT', 'LV', 'LT', 'LU', 'MT', 'NL', 'PL', 'PT', 'RO', 'SK', 'ES', 'SE', 'GB'];
    if (eu.indexOf(val) != -1) {
    else {

I obtained the list of EU VAT-applicable countries here, and I decided to include 'GB' (the United Kingdom) in the list, despite… y’know, uh… Brexit, because I have the vague impression that UK customers may still be impacted by VAT policies. (Being a dumb American, I don’t know much about it. I think maybe the UK has its own VAT now? Anyway, suffice to say, you may want to modify your list of 2-digit country codes in the eu array, as applicable to your situation.)

This function isn’t going to do anything unless it’s called though, so let’s do that. Here’s a bit of jQuery that will call it both on the initial page load and any time the Billing Country field changes:

jQuery(function() {
    if (jQuery('body').hasClass('woocommerce-checkout')) {
        jQuery('select[name="billing_country"]').on('change', function() {

Both of these JavaScript snippets can go in a script.js file in your theme, or wherever else is appropriate in your setup.

That’s the end of the story, but there’s more…

Incidentally, there’s more to my custom setup. I’ve significantly modified the layout of my checkout page. I’ve got WooCommerce configured for billing addresses only, with this setting in Shipping Options:

I then used CSS to hide everything else in the second column (including, up until now, the Order Notes field) and moved the product summary and payment information up into that space. Explaining all of that is outside the scope of this post, but one thing you may find useful is my CSS for hiding the “Additional Information” <h3> heading. This selector is a bit of overkill, but it works:

body.woocommerce-checkout .woocommerce > form.checkout .col2-set > .col-2 .woocommerce-additional-fields > h3:first-child { display: none; }

There’s context in my CSS file to justify all of that, but you should be able to accomplish the same with just this:

.woocommerce-additional-fields > h3 { display: none; }