Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Office dog

This shouldn't surprise fans of doggies, but a dog in the workplace can relieve stress. Except for those folks who are afraid of dogs. But then, they need to get over that fear, anyway, right?


—Mellow Monk


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Nita and Rob's photos

Nita Winter and Rob Badger are a husband-and-wife photographer team who take pictures of a wide range of subjects, from children (see below), weddings, and wildflowers to pets and nature scenes. Very nice stuff to look at.




—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Monday, August 28, 2006

Kickstart the ol' memory with "previously seen on..."

Last night, I watched the series finale of HBO's Deadwood, a truly well-done show. I like that show so much, if they made Deadwood action figures, I'd buy the Al Swearengen figure and maybe the Trixie figure, as long as manufacturer didn't botch the likeness too much.


Anyway, Deadwood, like most HBO series, has a very long "previously seen on" segment. When I was a kid, I always found the previous episode summary annoying. I was anxious for the show to start. "Who needs the summary, anyway?" I thought.


Well now, a few decades later, I can answer my own rhetorical question: I need the summary. Particularly with a show with plot twists and conspiracies as complex as Deadwood, I found the summary not just convenient but almost essential—especially if I wanted to avoid missing key lines of dialog while attempting to remember and rehash previous developments with the wife.


So, what once was an annoyance is now a necessity. Compared to when I was younger, my attitude toward green tea has undergone a similarly dramatic change. But then, with age comes wisdom, no?


I'm sure Al Swearengen would agree.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Mellow wallpaper

For your computer's desktop: high-resolution wallpaper images of mellow scenery. The site has a lot of top-quality images to choose from. The site is not letting me display any of the images in this posting, but take my word for it: These images are very cool.


—Mellow Monk


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How do you keep them on the farm when they've seen Tokyo?

The Economist seems to be saying that one solution to the slow depopulation of Japan's countryside can be found in towns like Ogama, on the Noto Peninsula. There, the small handful of remaining farmers decided to pull up stakes, move to the next town, and turn their valley into a giant landfill. It's a sad story, really.


(Back in March, the English-language edition of the Asahi newspaper ran a story about the same town.)


At any rate, we're all fortunate that Koji Nagata, our primary green tea supplier, decided to stay on his father's farm. Thanks to that fateful decision, the world has Mellow Monk green tea.



Hmm... Now why do you suppose it's so hard to keep young people on the farm nowadays?


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Tea plantation wallpaper

From the National Geographic website comes an awesome high-resolution photo of an old-school tea plantation. Click on the photo to get the full-sized version.


The Nagata's tea farm doesn't look quite like this. Not only is it more modern, but the owners, the Nagatas, actually do all the work themselves. In addition, the tea farm is their principal means of making a living.




—Mellow Monk


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The dangers of nonstick frying pans

Now here's a scary story about Teflon-coated frying pans:

In just two or three minutes of preheating, your pan will give off fumes that can make you sick. Each time you use medium to high heat on an empty pan, the surface on Teflon-coated and other nonstick cookware breaks apart and emits a toxic chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA.

If you have a pet bird, you should be especially careful about these frying pans. As suggested by the article's title ("Canaries in the Kitchen"), your feathered friend is much more susceptible to the toxic effects than us humans are.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, August 25, 2006

Outdoor movies at Kumamoto Castle

As art of the Kumamoto Castle Summer Festival—held this week—organizers showed movies on a large outdoor screen with the castle in the background.


This tradition dates back to the days of un-air-conditioned movie theaters, where it was too hot in the summer to sit through a film. (In contrast, last summer I was in a new movie theater in Kumamoto City, and it was just like a modern American theater with stadium seating. And the seating was assigned!)


The local newspaper reports more than a few moviegoers enjoying a beer bought at one of the outdoor stalls selling food and liquid refreshments. Ah, the good life.



The perfect venue for watching an old samurai movie.


—Mellow Monk


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Air guitar in Japan

Here's a story that will answer a question that's on a lot of people's minds: Do the Japanese have their own air guitar contest? They do indeed.


Happy Friday!



And to think that when she was young, her parents pressured her to play the air violin.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Health problems ground Japan's space tourist

Japanese entrepreneur Daisuke Enomoto, who was all set to hand over a bundle of money for a ride to the International Space Station, has been grounded after failing his health exam.


Many Japanese may be breathing a sign of relief at Enomoto's grounding, as he had been planning to dress as his favorie anime character while aboard the ISS. It's not known what his likely replacement, Iranian-born businesswoman Anousheh Ansari, plans to dress as.


If it's not too late already, a Trekkie has got to get into space before we—I mean they—get too old.



At least he can tell his grandkids about the time he almost made it into space.


—Mellow Monk


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Tea, the healthy way to hydrate

A blog reader in San Antonio sends in this link about a paper just published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The paper dispels the myth that tea is dehydrating and extols the many health benefits of tea.



English tea and milk is as common as coffee and cream, but if you want to flavor your green tea, try a piece of orange peel, a drop of vanilla extract, honey, lemon juice ... the sky's the limit!


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Health secrets of the world's oldest man

Celebrating his 115th birthday in Isabela, Puerto Rico, the world's oldest man shared his health secrets: don't drink to excess, and if you smoke, be sure to quit by the time you're 90.



"Wait a second. Don't take the picture until I'm finished brushing my ... Hey!"


—Mellow Monk


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Whales getting struck in busy Japanese shipping lanes

Like deer getting hit by cars while trying to cross a busy highway, more whales are colliding with ships in the world's crowded shipping lanes. In Japan, such incidents are especially on the rise around the island of Kyushu:

Collisions between whales and ships have become a fact of life in areas around Japan's main southwest island of Kyushu as well as the sea that separates South Korea and Kyushu, with about a dozen incidents reported in the past two and a half years.


"You look like nice people, so I'll let you off with just a warning this time. But next time, I might not be in such a good mood."


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Remembering a dam trouble-maker

Tomoyuki Murohara died in 1970 after having spent the last 20 years of his life unsuccessfully fighting the Japanese government's plan to build a dam that eventually flooded the valley where he forebears had lived for generations.



The Shimouke Dam today.


His struggle—an act of defiance that would have been unthinkable to previous generations—began in 1958 and attracted national attention. He became positively famous in 1959 when he constructed "Beehive Castle" (Hachinosu-Jo), as someone dubbed the home-made observation post he built to protest and watch over the government's pre-construction prep work. The post was occupied 27/7 by Mr. Murohara and his followers.



"Beehive Castle," built in Oguni Town to protest the construction of the Shimouke Dam.


In 1965, however, his legal challenge against the government was thrown out and construction of the Shimouke Dam began, although Mr. Murohara, feisty guy that he was, kept fighting right up until the day he died.


(If you drive through the small towns near the dam, located on border betwee Kumamoto and Oita Prefectures, you can still see the occasional "Oppose the Dam" sign.)


This past Sunday, in Oguni Town (about half an hour from where Mellow Monk tea is grown in Aso City), relatives of Mr. Murohara, including his brother (83) and eldest son (65), unveiled a memorial to the local hero. The site is near the now-flooded valley Mr. Murohara struggled to preserve.



The Murohara memorial being unveiled on Sunday near the dam.


In attendance was the former dam project manager, Ken Soejima, who said he showed up partly to "atone for his sins."


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, August 21, 2006

A stress-free back to school

Here are the ABCs of a stress-free back to school—not just for kids, but for parents, too. For instance, here are hints A, B, and C:

  • Attend open house: It's an excellent time for kids to meet their teachers, see their classroom, try out their lockers and practice walking the hallways to their classes.
  • Brain teasers: These games are a great way to get the brain started and put kids in a learning mode.
  • Calendars: Make a family calendar before a month begins. Indicate where and when each person needs to be and who is responsible for transportation. Resolve conflicts ahead of time.

—Mellow Monk


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Thermogenic foods for losing weight

A guide to thermogenic foods—foods that speed up your metabolism, making it easier to lose weight.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, August 20, 2006

The killer frying pan

We all love our non-stick Teflon-coated frying pans, but recent studies by DuPont, the maker of Teflon, are showing that preheating these pans causes them to emit a toxic chemical called perfluorooctanoic (PFOA).


It's so bad that DuPont plans to phase out any PFOA-emitting products by 2015.


And if you've got a pet bird, you'd better be extra careful:


Avian veterinarians have know for decades that Teflon offgases are a leading cause of death among birds, and estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of birds are killed each year.

—Mellow Monk


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Baby steps for coping with stress

This article makes an important point: Although reducing stress in your life requires major changes in your thinking, you still have to start with baby steps, meaning setting a realistic goal (for instance, enrolling in a yoga class) and then taking small steps toward that goal, such as first calling around to see what's available, then visiting a couple of possible locations the next week.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, August 18, 2006

Sing!

From London, a story about singing as stress relief:

Professionally trained singer Karin Hochapfel runs stress-busting classes for City highfliers that use a mixture of yoga, Alexander Technique and breathing exercises to relieve tension -- all used by singers to warm up before they perform.


Singing—it's not just for the shower any more.


—Mellow Monk


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Disappearing America

Photographer David Plowden has published a book of photos entitled Disappearing America, featuring scenes of small-town Americana in the '60s and '70s.



This may look like a scene from Casablanca, but it's actually the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad in Scranton, PA, 1964.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Practice kitchen yoga to survive arsenic hour

Kitchen yoga is a technique for getting through the "arsenic hour," which is

that frazzled window of time after work and before dinner when the kids are cranky, the adults are exhausted, and everyone's bite-your-head-off ravenous.

The first step, upon getting home in the evening, is to

change into comfy clothes, kick off my shoes (or wear wool clogs if it's cold), drink a glass of water, and put on soothing music.

That sounds like good advice to follow every evening, whether you're going to be cooking or not. In other words, try to make it a habit to change into relaxing clothes as soon as you get home. Make relaxation priority number one.


—Mellow Monk


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Maple syrup: another fad diet

Would you believe me if I told you that you could detox and lose weight by drinking nothing but maple syrup for 10 days?


You wouldn't it? Well, I wouldn't, either. What's next, the hot fudge sundae diet?


Besides, you'd be better off drinking green tea to lose weight.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The brain-shrinking monster

Stress can shrink your brain:

Essentially, the researchers say, stress can addle your mind and make you older. But there's good news too: Exercise can make a huge difference. And, in the case of the brain at least, time might heal the wounds caused by stress.

Exercise is great, of course, but there's another way to beat stress: Take a tea break. Sounds good, doesn't it.


In fact, I think I'll have some tea right now.



This is your brain on stress. Any questions?


—Mellow Monk


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Fighting jet lag with science

The high-tech way to avoid jet lag:

[The method] involves resetting your body clock with small doses of the hormone melatonin for three days before flight time — combined with going to bed an hour earlier each day — and then taking in bright light, natural or artificial, after arriving [at your destination].

However, an "alertness consultant" (yes, that's an actual job title) has a low-tech solution: napping.

“When I was at NASA, we did a study involving 26-minute naps and we found they boosted performance by 34 percent and alertness by 54 percent. Naps of less than a half-hour work."

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Big-time stress in big-city Japan

This just in from Japan:

Statistics indicate that 60 per cent of workers suffer from “high anxiety” and that 65 per cent of companies report soaring levels of mental illness.

That's life in the big city, eh?


Also notice that the article's content does not live up to the sensationalistic headline.


The article also fails to point out that consumption of loose-leaf green tea in Japan is trending downward as more and more of those young, busy people opt for bottled, ready-to-drink green tea. A tea break used to mean a few quiet minutes spent preparing and enjoying a hot cup of relaxing, soothing tea. Now it means chugging a bottle of ready-to-drink tea on a crowded subway train while listening to an MP3 player and playing with a handheld video game. No wonder people are stressed.


—Mellow Monk


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Grumpy = smart?

Bah, humbug to the square root of pi: A study suggests that among folks over 60, grumpiness and intelligence may go hand-in-hand, whereas intelligent young people tend to be friendly and cheery.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, August 14, 2006

Air fresheners and lung damage

Want to give your room that fresh, clean smell? You might want to consider simply opening a window instead of using an air freshener containing 1,4-dichlorobenzene:

For years, scientists have suspected that a chemical in many household deodorizing products may cause short-term lung problems — and possibly worse. Now it appears that those concerns are probably valid. In a study published this month, scientists at the National Institutes of Health say they found that people with relatively high blood concentrations of the substance — 1,4-dichlorobenzene, an organic chemical — show signs of slightly reduced lung function. The chemical is also in mothballs, tobacco smoke and toilet deodorizers.

You can read the full study here.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, August 13, 2006

In praise of night bathing

Now, I'm not one of those guys who thinks anything that foreigners do differently than Americans has to be because their way is better. For instance, the Swedes eat a fermented herring—read "rotten fish"—called surstr√∂mming, which apparently has a foulness of odor resembling what you'd experience in a sewage line.


There are many other foreign customs I don't buy in to. I can't believe that, upon being offered the choice between the kings of American sports—baseball and football—many more foreign nations picked baseball over football. If their cultures weren't strange in some crucial way, they would have picked football, correct?


But to get back to the topic at hand, there is one Japanese custom you might like to test drive for a couple of months: bathing at night, instead of in the morning.


I personlly converted to showering and bathing at night, although I'm not one hundred percent faithful. Bathing at night helps me relax and wind down at the end of a hectic day, but sometimes I'm just too lazy in the evening to even consider dragging myself out of my chair. Or it's because showering at night would throw off my DVD-viewing plans for the evening.


But I think you'll find that bathing in the evening helps relax tense muscles, which will put you in better spirits and help you fall asleep quickly at bedtime. Doesn't it sound relaxing just reading about it? So give it a try—what are you waiting for (besides the sun to go down)?


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, August 11, 2006

Ghosts, demons, and spirits

Here is an article that tells everything you've always wanted to know about "Ghosts, Demons and Spirits in Japanese Lore."



A scene from the classic samurai-era ghost story "The Ghost with Foul-Smelling Breath." Just kidding. It's actually from "Bancho Sarayashiki" (a.k.a. House of Plates, which is not to be confused with the House of Pilates).


—Mellow Monk


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In Japan, a quadraplegic scales a mountain with robotic help

From the "future is here today" files:
A Japanese quadriplegic on Monday partly realized his dream of ascending one of Switzerland’s highest mountains, thanks to a friend who carried him up with the help of a high-tech robot suit.


You have to love the name of this robot: the Hybrid Assistive Limb, or "HAL."


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, August 10, 2006

China cracks down on karaoke

Seeing the link title "China cracks down on karaoke," I thought to myself, "Great! Someone is finally doing something about bad singing."


But it was not to be: It turns out that what the Chinese government is cracking down on are songs with politically objectionable lyrics.


After all, the karaoke industry is founded on bad singing.


—Mellow Monk


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The key to happiness

Who knew that the secret to happiness was so simple?


An Australian academic says the key to bliss on the earth is to work only 4 to 6 hours each day.


Note to staff: Don't even think about it.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Bento recipes

CookingCute.com has recipes for unconventional but very delicious-looking bentos.


The photo below shows tomato-basil shrimp with onions (top) and a small avocado half stuffed with hummus and grape tomato (bottom). I would gladly devour either one, or both, if asked.



Let the purists complain. Bentos like these will always be welcome at my table.


—Mellow Monk


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Migraines: the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns

Doctors are finding that a lot of what they thought they knew about migraine headaches is wrong.

[T]here is growing evidence that almost all so-called sinus headaches are really migraines. ... Though long believed to be primary vascular headaches, the result of constriction then expansion of blood vessels in the head, migraines are now recognized to stem from neural changes in the brain and the release of neuroinflammatory peptides that in turn constrict blood vessels. The headache often begins before these vessels dilate. The inflammatory peptides sensitize nerve fibers that then respond to innocuous stimuli, like blood vessel pulses, causing the pain of migraine.

—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Monday, August 07, 2006

New product releases up almost 120% in tea industry

The tea industry reports an increase of 119.1% in new product launches in March to May of this year.


Compared to the dead calm of the American tea industry of yore, this is unheard-of, blisteringly red-hot growth.


Message to staff: Put on another big pot of tea, people, because it's going to get crazy-busy here real soon!


(Staff to Monk: Yeah, right.)


—Mellow Monk


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Moonbase: Japan

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has announced plans to build a base on the moon by 2030.


I still think the first craft to land on the moon should have been called the U.S.S. Ralph Kramden.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Are you raising a wimp?

Ouch!


A Psychology Today editor takes American parents to the woodshed, claiming that with their rubber-cushioned play surfaces, sanitizing gels, and invented disabilities, they are raising a nation of wimps.


Behold the wholly sanitized childhood, without skinned knees or the occasional C in history. "Kids need to feel badly sometimes," says child psychologist David Elkind, professor at Tufts University. "We learn through experience and we learn through bad experiences. Through failure we learn how to cope."

This is a very long article but written in an engaging, easy-to-follow style.


—Mellow Monk


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Hiroshima debates a new ballpark

Most baseball fans in Hiroshima agree with the mayor that the local team, the Carp, need a new stadium.


But opinions diverge on how much public money should be spent on the new stadium—an issue Americans can relate to. But the debate over where to built it is even more highly charged. The mayor is eying a site on the other side of town, while many Hiroshima residents say the stadium should be rebuilt on its current site next to the Peace Park and the atomic bomb memorial.



Sure, it's quiet now, but you should have seen the crowd on Free Sake Night.


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Kenya ramps up instant-tea production

In June, newspapers in Kenya—the world's second-largest exporter of black tea—reported that tea plantation workers were pressuring the Kenyan government to stop foreign-owned tea plantations from introducing automatic tea-picking machines.


Well, the tea companies in question must have, ahem, smoothed things over with the government, because Kenya's leading tea grower and processor, James Finlay Company, recently announced its about to unveil Africa's "most modern integrated tea-processing complex"—which includes the tea-picking machines—in the Kericho region, which is the heart of Kenya's tea industry.


James Finlay says it is introducing the machines to keep up with growing demand for instant green tea in the U.S. and other countries.


The next time I drink a cup of authentic Japanese loose-leaf green tea, grown in the rich soil of the foothills of Mt. Aso by an honest-to-goodness farm family, I will reflect on how fortunate I am not to have to resort to instant green tea.


—Mellow Monk


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An apple a day keeps dementia away

An apple a day really could keep the doctor away—the neuropathologist, at least:

Animal research from the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML) indicates that apple juice consumption may actually increase the production in the brain of the essential neurotransmitter acetylcholine, resulting in improved memory. ... "We anticipate that the day may come when foods like apples, apple juice and other apple products are recommended along with the most popular Alzheimer's medications," says Thomas Shea, Ph.D., director of the UML Center for Cellular Neurobiology and Neurodegeneration Research.

—Mellow Monk


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Friday, August 04, 2006

Healthwise, we've got it pretty good

Let's take a moment and reflect on how much healthier we as a nation are compared to Americans a century-and-a-half ago. It was pretty grim back then.

People of [Civil War veteran] Valentin Keller’s era, like those before and after them, expected to develop chronic diseases by their 40’s or 50’s. Keller’s descendants had lung problems, they had heart problems, they had liver problems. They died in their 50’s or 60’s.


Looking at this strapping family today, you'd never guess that many of their great-great-grandparents lived lives cut short by painful illness and disease. As our elders are fond of reminding us, life back then was no picnic.


—Mellow Monk


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The catch-it-yourself sushi restaurant

Traditional sushi restaurants in Japan are under attack from low-price sushi chains offering hundred-yen-a-plate sushi—a very attractive proposition to parents and others looking for cheap eats.


In response, old-school sushi restaurants are getting creative. One restaurateur came up with an impressive gimmick: a sushi shop where customers catch their own fish, which is then taken to the kitchen, prepared, and brought to the table. Talk about fresh.


In the movie on the top right of the linked-to page, you can see that the dining area of the restaurant is shaped like a giant boat. Clever, no?



Sushi so fresh that when you eat it, the fish is still thinking "Hey! What the heck's going on here?!"


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Using video games to detect Alzheimer's

A group of researchers trying to detect subtle signs of early Alzheimer's disease found that "a Solitaire-like game called FreeCell, when adapted with cognitive performance assessment algorithms, may be able to distinguish between persons with memory problems and cognitively healthy seniors.


Too bad J. Howard Marshall II didn't take such a test before he rewrote his will.


—Mellow Monk


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Curry cures cancer?

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that curry may prevent colon cancer:

For an average of six months, the patients [in the study] received three daily oral doses of 20 milligrams of quercetin (an antioxidant found in onions) and 480 milligrams of curcumin (found in tumeric, one of the main ingredients of curry).


The average number of polyps in the patients declined by 60.4 percent, and the average size of the polyps decreased by 50.9 percent, the study said.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Pachinko gets an extreme makeover

The world of Japan's pachinko is changing. Pachinko parlours are introducing "pachislot" machines—less like pinball-like pachinko and more like slot machines.



"I know it looks like a slot machine and pays off like one, but this isn't gambling. It's ... it's entertainment!"


—Mellow Monk


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Impress your local sushi chef - eat with chopsticks

It can't get any simpler than this: Here a guide on how to eat with chopsticks.



Step 2: Cramp!


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Bringing out the big drum

On July 29 in the city of Uto in Kumamoto Japan (about a 90-minute drive from where Mellow Monk tea is grown), local stalwarts heaved a 900-pound taiko drum out of storage and down a steep, narrow flight of stone steps for a ceremony held once every three years at Tsubawara Hachimangu shrine.


The ceremony, which celebrates the end of rice planting and offers prayers for rain and a good harvest, dates back to the 1870s. It was discontinued after the war but revived in 1988—the 100th anniversary of the building of the drum used in the ceremony.


Here are more photos of the festival. As you can see, the stairway is fairly long, and it's a tight moving the drum through the arch.



If this endeavor doesn't justify the drinking of large quantities of sake at an afterparty, then I don't know what does.


—Mellow Monk


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