Saturday, August 28, 2004

In praise of Netflix

No, this is not a paid endorsement for Netflix, the online DVD rental outfit. But we at Mellow Monk are hooked on the mellowness-enhancing convenience of Netflix and want to see this young company survive and thrive so that we can all continue to enjoy it.

If you’re not familiar with the Netflix system, here’s how it works: You sign up online and create a “queue” of movies you want to see. And Netflix has just about every movie released on DVD, including old movies, foreign films, and documentaries. Everything. As soon as your account is activated, Netflix sends you whatever movies are first in the queue. They come in the mail in a mailer that includes a postage-paid return mailer. When you’re done watching the DVD, you place it in the return mailer and drop it in the nearest mailbox. Once Netflix receives the DVD, it sends you the next movie in your queue.

The subscription fee is a flat monthly fee. There are different plans that vary in price depending on how many DVDs you want to have “checked out” at the same time. On the three-at-a-time plan, you can have up to three DVDs out at a time. If you have three out and return two, you get the next two in your queue sent to you. Return all three, and you get three more.

Netfix has definitely reduced the stress in a lot of people’s lives by eliminating the need to go to the video store to rent or return movies--and by eliminating outrage at the sometimes questionable late fees. If you check the corporate annual report of some of the big movie-rental chains, you’ll see that those late fees account for a significant portion of their revenues. At Netflix, the flat fee means that the more movies you watch, the more value you get for your money. We like that system and the philosophy behind it.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Amazing coincidence and a heartwarming story

While we're not trying to make the Mellow Monk blog into the Oprah show, we came across a heartwarming story that we just couldn't resist passing along.

During World War II, when the Army was segregated, a white soldier named Everett Hines was pulled from the burning wreckage of a B-17 bomber by Abe Watson, a black serviceman near the crash site. Hines would surely have burned to death had not his rescuer acted so quickly. Both men were burned but recovered. Hines thanked Watson for saving his life during a brief meeting they had while recovering, then they went their separate ways.

Both survived the war but didn't meet again until the early 1990s, when Hines was visiting a friend in the hospital and saw a man being wheeled by on a gurney -- it was Watson. He had suffered a heart attack and died the next day, but not before Watson asked his long-lost friend to look after his daughter, a single mother with three small children. Watson, who was living alone after having been widowed a few years earlier, immediately agreed. "How could I say no to this man?" he said. Watson's daughter and three children moved in with Hines, who for the past 14 years has been father and grandfather to the now-teenaged kids.

This story is positive on so many levels... the amazing coincidence of the two men's reunion, his agreeing to be an adoptive grandfather. Having the chance to return one favor with another so many years later.

The full story is available here.

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Thursday, August 19, 2004

Awaken the sleeping tiger

This sounds like a dangerous thing to do, but let us explain. In an interview, a successful businessman described an epiphany he had after years of ruthlessly advancing his own career by destroying the careers of others. He had been raised in a very competitive environment and was taught that the opportunities out there must be seized aggressively, or someone else will. In a sense that's true, but he took this philosophy to the extreme, ruining the careers of others not only to advance his own, but eventually because of the pleasure it gave him. But deep down he was not happy. He did not know why, but he was unhappy and angry, and he took out his anger on his wife and children and everyone else around him. Then one day a friend gave him a drawing of a tiger dozing lazily on the ground. He told him that most people are like sleeping tigers -- possessing so much raw strength and talent but not using it. The businessman pondered that thought and eventually realized that the key to success in business (and life) lies not in crushing others, but by awakening their talents, getting them to realize their full potential by drawing on their intelligence, drive, and creativity. These “sleeping tigers” are not just a CEO’s underlings; they are everyone around us -- our children, spouses, friends, colleagues, even parents. Everyone. Have you awakened any sleeping tigers lately?

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Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Our favorite tea strainer

For enjoying delicious loose-leaf green tea by the cup, our favorite strainer is a deep, over-the-cup type widely available on the 'Net (but, unfortunately, not at our website) under the name "celestial tea strainer." The name comes from the sun-and-moon cut-out design in the rim of the strainer, as you can see in the photos below.

The nice thing about this strainer is that, unlike most over-the-cup strainer, it's nice and deep, so the tea leaves have plenty of room to swirl around and release their infusion as they brew. And they're a little neater to clean up after than a tea ball. It's nice to have a small cup to set the strainer in between uses. With one of these, a cup, and a means for boiling water, it's easy to enjoy loose-leaf tea by the cup anytime. For brewing at the office, you can heat the water right in the cup in a microwave, or even use an electric kettle.

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Rewarding the good with the bad

If you’ve ever seen an aerobics show on TV, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that the fast-food companies advertise heavily during these shows. What advertisers seem to be targeting so mercilessly is our tendency to want to “reward” ourselves after doing something that's good for us. In other words, those advertisers are in effect saying, "Go ahead. Have a cheeseburger and a shake. You're exercising, so you deserve it!" This is the same psychology behind golf’s so-called 19th hole: An afternoon spent whacking and following around a small, white ball outside in the fresh air should be rewarded afterwards, the logic must go, with a few cocktails. We all need a little break now and then, but perhaps we should resist the temptation to reward ourselves after every single good thing. How about after every other good thing?

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Monday, August 16, 2004

The refreshing reality of the Olympics

After being bombarded for so long by so-called reality shows, shamelessly passed off as real despite their scripted stories and amateur actors pretending to be ordinary folks, the Olympics are refreshingly honest and real. The competition is real -- no one has scripted the outcome in consultation with a marketing department. And the athletes are all real people, doing their best, shouting sincerely for joy upon winning and shedding real tears upon losing. When interviewed before or after an event, they speak from the heart and off the cuff. But the Olympics are not just the ultimate reality show. The holding of the Games amidst today's war, violence, and atmosphere of general mistrust that exists among nations today reminds us why the first Olympic games over 2,000 years ago were such a significant landmark in humankind's history: it was the first time that so many nations came together not to kill each other or scheme against another nation, but rather to compete in friendship and celebrate their common hopes. That is the true significance of the Games.

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Friday, August 13, 2004

What Ichiro's name means

Ichiro Suzuki, the Japan-born Seattle Mariners powerhouse known among baseball fans simply as "Ichiro," is obviously his parents' eldest son. We know this without having to verify it. Not because of lines on his palm or some sort of aura around him, but because of his name, which literally means "first boy." When they named him, Ichiro's parents were following a very old custom that is still followed today, although was much more common, say, a hundred years ago. Then, the average couple had 4 to 6 children, and there were lots of Ichiro's, Jiro's (second son), and Saburo's (third son). Interestingly, a similar custom apparently exists in the Spanish-speaking world, where first-born sons sometimes receive the first or middle name of "Primero" (first), and sons born next are sometimes named "Segundo" (second). We wonder if similar customs exists in other cultures, as well.

As an astute reader recently pointed out, I was wrong about this one. (Hey, everyone is allowed one mistake per lifetime, right?) Actually, I had posted a correction, but I should have also posted a correction to this, the original post. What can I say. I was young and not well versed in the ways of the blogosphere then. —Monk, April 28, 2008.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Taking the time to do something good for yourself

How many things do you have on your long-term "to do" list? How long have they been there? How often do you think to yourself, "If I only had the time, I'd ..." Well, look: If you're stressing about work, or school, or family, then every once in a while you have to make the time for yourself and do that thing on your to-do list. Take the day off from work. Just one day! The company won't grind to a halt without you. Or play hookey from school, whether it's high school, college, or graduate school. Come on, you can make up for one missed day. Do whatever it is you've been putting off. Zone out in front of the TV and watch your two favorite movies (with time for a nap between) while everyone else is at work or school. Go for a long drive in the country, off the beaten path, and stop a few times to admire the view. Or spend the day window-shopping downtown. Spend a few hours at a coffee house (or a tea house!) -- just you, your iPod, and a couple of newspapers or that book you've been meaning to sink your teeth into.

Or perhaps there's something longer-term you've been putting off, like going back to school, learning another language, or learning how to build and run your own website. These are all investments in your future. "I couldn't possible find the time now," you may think. But you would be surprised at how you can find the time ... how much free time you can find by stripping away the less important things. Such as watching TV shows that, once you stop watching, you realize you can soon forget. Or following an ongoing news story too intently. You don't have to catch every update!

In other words, instead of waiting for the time you need to appear, or trying to finish up a jumble of minor tasks before attempting to start a large one, make the time by doing what you want or what you know is good for you in the long run. Start it, and you will instinctively pare down the flurry around you to the bare essentials of what is most important in your life ... and most important for your well-being.

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Monday, August 09, 2004

English version of a popular Japanese manga

Recently in a local bookstore we came across the English version of "Shonen Jump," Japan's most popular comic book. "Shonen" means "young boy," but the readership of "Shonen Jump" spans both sexes and a wide age range, and it's common to see middle-aged businessmen reading it on subway trains to and from work.

"Shonen Jump" was the first Japanese comic translated into English for the American market and at the time
this article was written in Time Asia (the Asian version of Time), it was the number-one selling comic in the United States. Like most books in Japan, "Shonen Jump" retains its right-to-left format, i.e., it's binding is on the right-hand side, instead of the left. Why didn't publishers change it for the American market? Because market research showed that American kids think it's cool!

Here are a couple of photos from a recent issue, to give you a feel for the artwork, etc.

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Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Iced green tea for the summer (or any time)

A recent addition to the website is info on the easy way to make iced green tea from loose-leaf tea like our tamaryokucha green tea.

The hard way would be to brew a pot, set it aside to cool, then put it in the refrigerator. But the fast, easy way is simply to brew a pot (or cup) of tea and immediately pour it into a cup containing plenty of ice. (Be sure to use a mug or other cup made for hot beverages.)

If you've never made iced tea or iced coffee (which is popular Down South and in other hot places), you'd be surprised at how quickly the ice chills the piping-hot tea; it takes less than a minute after pouring before you have an ice-cold cup of green tea.

Tip: Brew the tea a little on the strong side, to allow for dilution by the melting ice. And be sure to use plenty of ice, as we show on our website. Intuitively, you may think more ice would cause the tea to be watered down more, but it's actually the other way around: If you use enough ice, then the hot tea will be cooled so quickly that less ice will melt in the beginning.

Iced green tea—a healthy way to "chill out" on a hot day!

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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Japan's top-of-the-line instant noodles

One of the joys that the Japanese have given the world are instant noodles. Most folks in a certain age range remember when Top Raman first came out and swept America, bringing the taste of Asian noodles to any kitchen or office in a convenient, affordable form. In the home market of Japan, the subsequent years saw intense competition unfold among the big food companies competing for the Japanese consumers' instant-noodle budget. Today, it has gotten to the point where some instant-noodle products are approaching restaurant quality (and restaurant price).

The photo below shows "Nisshin Rao," made by food giant Nisshin and bought here in the U.S. at a Japanese grocery store. (The name "Rao" means "Ramen King.") This baby is the Cadillac of instant noodles. Instead of freeze-dried noodles, these are sealed in a semi-moist state in an individual pouch. In fact, the two types of soup (one powder, one liquid), seasoning (including real green onion), soy sauce, and red ginger are all in their own separate packets.

Note the crescent-shaped foil that covers about 1/3 of the bowl. That's a strainer for draining out the hot water that you add in the beginning to loosen the noodles before pouring in "fresh" hot water and then adding the soup and seasoning mixes.

This is probably just a marketing gimmick -- no one here could taste the difference between strained and unstrained noodles, i.e., adding the soup mixes without changing the water. But it's a gimmick that is clever on at least two levels: it creates for the product an image of being of such high quality that the noodles must be strained, lest the delicate taste be affected. (On the other hand, is the straining necessary because some processing-related substance on the noodles needs to be washed away before eating?! Yikes!)

In addition, when you are going through this complicated process to prepare instant noodles, suddenly you don't feel like you're preparing instant noodles; you feel as if you are ... cooking!

Of course, we at Mellow Monk believe in, ahem, healthy eating, but every once in a while you have to indulge, no?

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