Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Japan's earphone jewelry

This could be the next Big Thing among Japanese youth: earphone jewelry—that is, jewelry that attaches to iPod earphones in place of earrings, which can get tangled in the cords.


—Mellow Monk


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Attack of the Styrofoam-eating bacteria!

Researchers have found a strain of bacteria that eats Styrofoam, turning it into a recyclable, biodegradable form of plastic.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, February 27, 2006

Green-tea cooking oil

Recently announced green-tea cooking oil is actually oil "extracted from the seeds of the camellia oleifera plant—a cousin of the green tea camellia sinensis family."


OK, so calling it "green-tea cooking oil" is a bit of a stretch. Still, the manufacturer claims that "camellia tea oil is one of the richest sources of monounsaturated fats and is naturally cholesterol-free."


—Mellow Monk


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You don't say: Meetings decrease employee well-being

A study has found that meetings at the workplace decrease the well-being of employees.


Some hightlights:


[T]he average number of meetings at work more than doubled in the second half of the 20th Century. ...


[P]eople who are high in accomplishment striving are predictably and negatively impacted by meetings, particularly when they are frequent. Numerous short meetings have a greater impact on their well-being than a few long meetings taking the same amount of time.

However...

[P]articipants who scored low in accomplishment striving were positively impacted by meetings. They appeared to be welcome events rather than interruptions.

It's just as I've always suspected: The people who seem to thrive in meetings are the ones who are the least productive outside of meetings.


Here's an interesting find:


[M]ore people actually view meetings as a positive part of the workday than they will admit publicly.

—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Olympic doughnuts

A chain of pastry shops in Japan is making Winter Olympic medal-shaped doughnuts to capitalize on ... I mean, commemorate ... the nation's athletic superstar of the hour, Shizuka Arakawa, who won the gold medal in women's figure skating.


Here's an interesting excerpt:


[Arakawa] also hopes to find a boost in the popularity of her sport among the Japanese. Rinks have been closing, including the Konami Sports Ice Rink in Sendai where Arakawa trained. She is troubled by such a trend, which in part has forced her to train in Connecticut much of the time.




—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Firefox users on the rise

Users of Mozilla's Web browser Firefox now account for 18.6 percent of all visitors to the Mellow Monk website. I myself made the switch a couple of months ago and have been fairly happy with the experience. But of course the main reason for switching from Internet Explorer was the much-touted robustness of Firefox in resisting viruses and various other malware lurking out there on the Internet. Other nice features include an integrated pop-up blocker and tabbed browsing.


You can read about Firefox here and download it from the Mozilla website, here.


—Mellow Monk


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Shizuka Arakawa wins Olympic gold

All of Japan is ecstatic that one of their Olympic athletes finally won a medal—and a gold one, at that.


By the way, since when did Olympic medals start looking like CDs?




—Mellow Monk


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Friday, February 24, 2006

Write on Einstein's blackboard

It's Friday, so time for some distracting fun: Here's a site where you can write on Einstein's blackboard and print out or download the resulting image.



—Mellow Monk


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Carbon monoxide in plastic-wrapped beef

The meat industry is spiking meat packages with carbon monixide as a "pigment fixative" that keeps the meet pink longer.


—Mellow Monk


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Green tea may do wonders for the brain

A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that older folks who drink green tea regularly may have sharper minds than those who don't.


—Mellow Monk


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Saving energy old-school style

The Japanese don't play around when it comes to conserving energy:

To save on energy, local officials [in the town of Kamiita, Japan] shut off the heating system in the town hall, leaving themselves and 100 workers no respite from near-freezing temperatures. On a recent frosty morning, rows of desks were brimming with employees bundled in coats and wool blankets while nursing thermoses of hot tea.

—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Breakfast: Don't skip it!

In this hurried world of ours, it's easy to skip breakfast, but this study shows what a lot of us knew intuitively: that going without breakfast leaves you less equipped to overcome the day's challenges.


—Mellow Monk


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In Japan, women day-trade their way to stardom

Day trading in Japan:

Yuka Yamaoto dutifully quit work to assume her expected role as suburban homemaker when she married six years ago. But she quickly grew bored at home, and when she saw a television program about online stock investing, she took $2,000 in savings and gave it a try.


Today, Ms. Yamamoto says she has turned her initial investment into more than $1 million as a day trader, scanning her home computer for price movements in stocks, futures and foreign currencies that could lead to quick profits.

The photo below, from the same article, is of Maiko Asaba, 28, a "financial researcher and part-time day trader who keeps a giant teddy bear next to her trading terminal in her cramped Tokyo apartment."



—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Deity of arms and legs

On February 15, the Kai Shrine, in Kashima, Kumamoto Prefecture, was thronged with old folks making offerings to a deity said to prevent and cure injury or illness to the arms and legs. On that day each year, people write their prayers for healthy extremities on small wooden planks, which they then hang in a specific spot on the grounds of the shrine.


The tradition dates back to the shrine's founder, Kai Soun (1510-1583), who was a retainer of the Aso clan and lord of nearby Mifune Castle. After Lord Kai was wounded in a peasant uprising, he was so happy with the attentive treatment he received in Kashima that he told the people there that after he died (see his grave here), he would return as a deity to heal their arms and legs, just as the townspeople had done for him.


Almost 500 years later, people are still taking him at his word.




—Mellow Monk


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Friday, February 17, 2006

Amazing origami

Origami artist extraordinaire Takashi Hojo has an online exhibition of his amazing origami work.




—Mellow Monk


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Overcoming insomnia with hypnosis instead of pills

Here's an interesting account of a chronic insomniac who turned to hypnosis to wean herself off the pills she had been using to get to sleep at night.

Over the course of the sessions, Anna worked on self-hypnosis techniques to bring down adrenalin levels, to improve her ability to relax, to reduce her anxious thoughts, and prepare her body for sleep.

—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Tea quaffing in Bulgaria

People in Bulgaria are drinking 130% more iced tea than they did the previous year.


Could Bulganians' increased tea consumption have anything to do with the huge success of one of their native sons as a sumo wrestler?


—Mellow Monk


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Godzilla's composer dies

Akira Ifukube, the Japanese composer who wrote the original "Godzilla" theme, died recently at the ripe old age of 91.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

In Japan: Obesity on the rise as diets modernize

Obesity is on the rise in Japan, especially among children. Diet is mostly—but not entirely—to blame:

Instead of the fish fish, rice and miso soup of their grandparents' generation, younger Japanese are increasingly wolfing down fast-food-like burgers, fried chicken and instant noodles.

Stress is also to blame: Sayaka, the overweight 10-year-old girl profiled in the above-linked article, was in the habit of eating sandwiches at nighttime cram classes—where she studies for junior high entrance exams [emphasis mine]—and then slurping down a bowl of noodles after getting home.


Speaking of snacking at school, at what point in this country did parents start thinking that their kids couldn't go without food for more than 2 hours at school? Or was it the teachers who introduced multiple snack breaks per day for all elementary grades?


—Mellow Monk


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Say it ain't so, Aibo

As part of a drastic restructuring of its operations, Sony is discontinuing production of its robot dog Aibo.



—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Miki Ando: Japan's best Olympic hope?

With Japan still medal-less in the Torino Olympics, some are saying that figure skater Miko Ando has the best chance of snagging one.



—Mellow Monk


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Happy Valentine's Day!

Since today is Valentine's Day, I'll rerun my V-Day posting from last year. Here's the text:

The Japanese celebrate Valentine's Day, but they have their own unique twist on this holiday: Women are expected to give chocolate to the men, not the other way around. These social expectations extend even to the workplace, where women feel obligated to give chocolate treats to their male bosses (but usually not coworkers). Of course, many women are, shall we say, less than enthusiastic about this. In fact, this resentment has spawned the term "giri choco," meaning "mandatory chocolate" ("choco" is a Japanese abbreviation of the English word "chocolate").


But the men aren't off the hook completely: They get to reciprocate one month later, on "White Day," a holiday invented by the Japanese confectionary industry as a day for men to give chocolate treats to the women who gave them something on Valentine's Day.


—Mellow Monk


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Bottled water taxes the ecosystem

A study shows that bottled water, consumption of which has doubled in the last six years, is heavily taxing the world's ecosystem.


And that goes for bottled tea, too!


—Mellow Monk


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Bring change to your desktop

Variety is the spice of life, and we all need change once in a while. That applies to your desktop, too.


(This page loads slowly, but the images are worth the wait, as you can see below.)



—Mellow Monk


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Monday, February 13, 2006

Enter the rescue dragon

Robot builder Tmsuk make a 5-ton rescue robot capable of lifting an automobile. This winter, it was tested for use in rescuing avalanche victims.


The robot (which looks suspiciously like the lifting machine that Sigourney Weaver used to fight the queen beastie in Aliens) is named Enryu, which means "helping dragon."



—Mellow Monk


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The work of photographer Werner Bischof

Some of the haunting work of photographer Werner Bischof (who died in the early 1950s) can be viewed online at a site run by his estate.



—Mellow Monk


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Ben Franklin's Japanese great-great-great-great granddaughter

No, I'm not making this up. It's a fascinating story.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, February 10, 2006

Jungle gym therapy for seniors

Researchers in Finland found that people over 65 years of age who played on playground equipment over a 3-month period experienced "significant improvements in balance, speed, and co-ordination."


In fact, a Finnish company has begun selling the idea of "three-generational play"—playground equipment made not only for children but also for their parents and grandparents.


The researchers also make interesting cross-culture comparisons about parents' attitudes toward this type of play:


In tests on groups from different countries, the Germans were found to be fondest of having the generations play together. ... [French] parents frequently cleaned the dirt from the children's' hands and ensured they did not play with toys that had been brought in by other children. The British were the most laissez-faire. But overall, the Scandinavians seemed to be more relaxed about rough and tumble.

—Mellow Monk


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Saw palmetto, green tea, and the prostate

Claims that saw palmetto extract can be used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlargement of the prostate) are looking less and less credible.


On the other hand, some studies show that green tea can help prevent prostate cancer.


—Mellow Monk


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Good news for parents of 17-year-olds

According to this study, age 18 is when the brain starts to mature anatomically.


If you're a "the cup is half empty" type of person, you can look at it this way: 18 is when the brain only begins to mature:


When do we reach adulthood? It might be much later than we traditionally think.

On the other hand, let's not talk about when the brain starts to atrophy.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, February 09, 2006

100 best first lines

Here's a fun, relaxing diversion: a list of the 100 best first lines from novels.


The old cliched line "It was a dark and stormy night" shows up in the Number 22 spot.


—Mellow Monk


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Tokyo skyline drawn from memory

Stephen Wiltshire is a British savant famous for drawing highly detailed sketches of urban skylines from memory. A recent accomplishment of his is a massive drawing of the Tokyo skyline—again, from memory.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Low-cal spud

Scientists in England have bioengineered a low-calorie potato.


—Mellow Monk


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Bulgarian basher to take sumo home

The photo below, from the Nihon Keizai Shinbun, shows Bulganian-born sumo wrestler Kotooshu (real name Kaloyan Mahlyanov) meeting with Japan Foreign Minister Taro Aso. The 23-year-old ozeki (2nd highest rank in sumo) is receiving a list of gear and equipment—worth roughly $60,000—that the Japanese government is granting to build an authentic sumo ring and outfit a few wrestlers in Bulgaria.



—Mellow Monk


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Japan's most famous entrepreneur crashes and burns

For a while there, Japanese entrepreneur Takafumi Horie was the brightest rising star of Japanese industry—a true rags-to-riches youngster who parlayed his Yahoo-like portal, called livedoor (with a lowercase "l"), into a huge empire.


Until mid-January, the public loved the 33-year-old college dropout, for he represented the dawn of a new economic era in the Japan. Not only was the recession finally over, but seemingly limitless opportunities were now available in a business environment that was more transparant and less clubbish, where the average Taro or Hanako could take an American-style startup from humble suburb to a prestigious Roppongi Hills address.


Horie even launched Japan's first-ever hostile takeover attempt. Although this attempt, like other subsequent and equally prominent attempted takeovers, ended in failure, it helped craft an image of him as a plucky, go-getting upstart.


How quickly a man's fortunes can change.


Today he sits in a jail in Tokyo somewhere, held incognito by authorities still trying to sort the whole mess out.


Horie's party came to an abrupt halt when audits revealed that his core portal business was a money-losing house of cards. Livedoor's stock price collapsed—and nearly took the entire Tokyo Stock Exchange with it. An article in the recent edition of the Economist sums up the story nicely.


Mr Horie is . . . the opposite of what his detractors claim: not an innovative American-style capitalist but rather a traditional Japanese book-cooker.

This excerpt from the same article puts the whole incident in context:

Mr Horie's sole true innovation lay in his use of publicity. Out of the failure of his bids for a baseball team and then a television company he built notoriety, a big rise in visits to his internet portal, and a general sense that although his underlying business remained a mystery he might be on to something so his shares were worth a punt. If that underlying business was a chimera—it still isn't clear—then his crime was to blend the ancient capitalist art of confidence-trickery, seen in pyramid schemes and South Sea Bubbles since the beginning of time, with the sadly traditional Japanese art of obscure accounting and market manipulation. Virtually every Tokyo financial scandal of the past 20 years has featured those arts.

—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Doctor writes about green tea's benefits

Florida surgeon Dr. Richard T. Bosshardt answers a reader's question about the health benefits of green tea, such as the ability of the green tea compound epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)—"one of the most potent antioxidants known"—to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower high blood pressure, promote a healthy immune system, prevent or fight cancer, aid digestion, and even preventing tooth decay.


—Mellow Monk


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But he'd need 2 Aleve for the Vulcan death grip

Alright, one more science fiction diversion, then it's back to reality.


My favorite Super Bowl commercial was, for sentimental reasons, the Aleve spot with Leonard Nimoy.


(As for funniest, I'd pick the Bud Light "On the Roof" ad.)


We now resume our regularly scheduled programming.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, February 06, 2006

Ultimate Star Wars home

Tour the home of Gus and Pam, Star Wars geeks extraordinaire.


—Mellow Monk


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Doting husbands of the world, unite!

A group in Japan calling itself the Doting Husbands Association [the site is still in Japanese only] has declared January 31 to be Beloved Wives Day.


The organization was founded by a group of Japanese men alarmed by how shabbily so many husbands were treating their wives. The group's philosophy is simple: Be nice to to the missus—before she leaves you. From the group's website, their Five Tenets are:


  1. Get home from work early [by 8 p.m.]
  2. Create a pleasant atmosphere
  3. Call her by her name [not "Hey, you!"]
  4. Look her in the eye when talking
  5. Watch her reactions

—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, February 04, 2006

Japanese manhole covers

Here's a page I would have never imagined existed: Japanese manhole covers.


I hate to be a nitpicker, but technically some of these aren't manhole covers. Some of them read "Air Valve" or "Water Valve" or "Fire Hydrant." But they are nice to look at nonetheless.


—Mellow Monk


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Japan's Oprah

You may remember her as one of the judges on the Japanese TV show Iron Chef. Kazuko Hosoki today is something of a Japanese Oprah, offering up advice on life, health, and whatnot on the airwaves (although she doesn't have her own show).


But she got her start writing fortune-telling books. In fact, she is listed in the Guiness World Records as the bestselling author of fortune-telling books. The numbers—81 books published and a total of 34 million copies sold.


—Mellow Monk


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Correction about Setsubun

In an entry I posted yesterday about the Japanese holiday Setsubun, I wrote that the holiday comes on February 3rd. That's not entirely correct. It falls on February 3rd this year, but because it's tied to the lunar calendar, Setsubun sometimes falls on different days.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, February 03, 2006

Get your beans ready: It's February 3rd

February 3rd in Japan is a holiday known as the spring Setsubun, which marks the end of winter and the coming of spring. (Setsubun is associated with the lunar calendar, which is why it doesn't correspond with the "official" beginning of spring, the vernal equinox.)


Setsubun is celebrated at home and at shrines by throwing roasted soybeans, a practice that originates in an ancient story in which a monk drove away an evil demon by throwing beans at it. The basic point to the holiday is to give thanks for surviving the winter and offer one's wishes for good luck in the spring.


(You'll notice that a lot of festivals in any given culture began as an occasion to either pray for good luck ahead or express gratitude for previous good fortune.)


The picture below shows a priest leading the Setsubun ceremony at the Aso Shrine, which is located in—you guessed it—Aso City, where Mellow Monk Tea is grown.



—Mellow Monk


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Recipe: honey-garlic green tea shrimp

Sounds yummy: a recipe for honey-garlic green tea shrimp.


You know a dish must be good when you like all of the ingredients in the name!


—Mellow Monk


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Yerba mate: Don't believe the hype

From the January 28th edition of the Wall Street Journal:

The main selling point of the South American herbal tea [yerba mate]: It is a healthy pick-me-up without the side effects of coffee's caffeine ... The only problem: Scientists now say the main stimulant in mate is not an alternative called mateine, as its champions claim, but plain old caffeine [emphasis mine]. And although mate (pronounced mah-tay) is widely marketed as a health drink, some health-care practitioners warn that is may worsen blood pressure and anxiety.

—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Electric kettle auto shutoff feature

Recently I mentioned a new stainless-steel electric kettle I bought. I think electric kettles are great—a wonderful convenience for green-tea drinkers at home or at the office.


But what I noticed about this kettle is that if I boiled water with the lid off, the kettle wouldn't automatically shut off after the water reached a boil. Instead, the water would continue its rolling boil until I tuned off the kettle manually.


Wondering why, I did a little research on the Web and found out that in some electric kettles (like my current one), the auto shutoff sensor is positioned at the top of the kettle so that it detects the heat that builds up under the lid when steam from the boiling water collects there. With the lid removed, the steam escapes and the temperature near the sensor doesn't get hot enough to trigger the auto shutoff feature.


This is something to keep in mind when using an electric kettle.




—Mellow Monk


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Angel doggie

Watercolor artist and Livermore resident Galen Hazelhofer paints "custom watercolor angel portraits of your dog, a.k.a., best friend." She also paints dog portraits and other subjects, as well. If you're interested, check out her website.



—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Chill. Don't attack the herd.

The other night I watched a documentary about dog trainers and their dogs. In a segment about border collies (which are very smart dogs), the trainer explained that a crucial part of training is teaching the dog not only how to herd but also how to relax—or, as the trainer put it, to know when to "kill" and when to "chill."


The reason is this: A border collie can get emotionally wound up while zipping back and forth to round up a herd of sheep. But once the sheep have been rounded up and are all grazing quietly, the dog has to shift almost immediately into "chill" mode. That means sitting down and watching the herd quietly and from a slight distance.


A dog who doesn't chill and continues to harass to herd will not only make the sheep nervous (and possibly scatter them) but may become too aggressive and end up attacking the sheep (which will not exactly help the dog at performance appraisal time).


Hmm, are there any parallels to this phenomenon—getting so wound up that we end up lashing out at the people we're supposed to watch over, protect, or work with? Do some of us stay in "kill" mode when we need to be in "chill" mode?


So remember: Don't attack the herd. Mellow out.


But learning to relax is a skill. It takes deliberate effort and practice. And Mellow Monk is here to help, with relaxing, mellowing green tea! (I had to get a pitch in there somewhere, right?)


Of course, green tea, even with its theanine, can't do the job alone. But it's a start, and a good, old-fashioned tea break is a good way to take a step back, relax, and recharge.


—Mellow Monk


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