January 10, 2007
Stop Press — Momofuku Ando is dead
Who was Momofuku Ando (above)?
Only the inventor of instant ramen.
His obituary, as it appeared in yesterday's New York Times, follows.
- Momofuku Ando, 96, Dies; Invented Instant Ramen
Momofuku Ando, who — to the delight of dormitory students and other kitchen-resistant customers worldwide — invented those small packets of preflavored dried noodles that require just a three-minute boil, died Friday at a hospital in Osaka, Japan. Mr. Ando, the founder of the Nissin Food Products Company, was 96.
The cause was heart failure, said Larry Lampel, the company's senior resources manager at its American headquarters in Gardena, Calif.
Starting with the chicken-broth noodles in cellophane bags that Mr. Ando first concocted in a shack behind his house in Ikeda, Japan, 49 years ago, Nissin now produces 16 flavors of what it calls Top Ramen and Cup Noodles. Besides six varieties of chicken, they include beef, shrimp, vegetable and spicy chili.
The company sold 46.3 billion packs and cups around the world last year, earning $131 million in profits.
In 1958, Mr. Ando — virtually penniless after a credit association he served as chairman went bankrupt — began experimenting with ways to prepare flavored noodles by simply adding hot water.
The idea stemmed from an experience a decade earlier, when Japan was still ravaged by postwar poverty. In "The Story of the Invention of Instant Ramen," an autobiography published in 2002, Mr. Ando told of walking through the rubble-strewn streets of Osaka.
"I happened to pass this area and saw a line 20, 30 meters long in front of a dimly lit stall from which clouds of steam were steadily rising," he wrote. "People dressed in shabby clothes shivered in the cold while waiting for their turn. The person who was with me said they were lined up for a bowl of ramen."
"I realized that people were willing to wait patiently just for a bowl of ramen," he said.
Ordinary unflavored noodles were not the solution; Mr. Ando insisted that his noodles be tasty, inexpensive and easy to prepare. The problem was flavoring them without making them mushy. Using a secondhand noodle-making machine and a large wok, Mr. Ando sprinkled soup on the noodles with a watering can, then kneaded and loosened them by hand after letting them partly dry. "This allowed the noodles to soak up the soup on the outer layer," he wrote. "I then dried the noodles so they would keep longer and could be easily prepared with boiling water."
Born on March 5, 1910, in Taiwan while it was under Japanese occupation, Mr. Ando was a son of Japanese parents who had moved there from Osaka. When he was 23, he returned to Japan and, while a student at Ritsumeikan University, ran several clothing companies. In 1948, he started a company that produced salt; it changed its name to Nissin 10 years later. He is survived by his wife, Masako, two sons and a daughter.
Chicken was the prime ingredient in Nissin's global success. "By using chicken soup, instant ramen managed to circumvent religious taboos when it was introduced in different countries," Mr. Ando wrote. "Hindus may not eat beef and Muslims may not eat pork, but there is not a single culture, religion or country that forbids the eating of chicken."
Nissin opened its first overseas operation, in California, in 1970. Besides Japan, it has plants in Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Singapore, China, the Philippines, Thailand, Hungary and Germany as well as in Lancaster, Pa.
In July 2005, the company vacuum-packed portions of instant noodles so that a Japanese astronaut, Soichi Noguchi, could have them on the space shuttle Discovery. Mr. Ando said at the time, "I've realized my dream that noodles can go into space."
Not everyone gets a bylined obituary in the New York Times.
Even fewer individuals also get an Times editorial page appreciation published that same day; it follows.
- Mr. Noodle
The news last Friday of the death of the ramen noodle guy surprised those of us who had never suspected that there was such an individual. It was easy to assume that instant noodle soup was a team invention, one of those depersonalized corporate miracles, like the Honda Civic, the Sony Walkman and Hello Kitty, that sprang from that ingenious consumer-product collective known as postwar Japan.
But no. Momofuku Ando, who died in Ikeda, near Osaka, at 96, was looking for cheap, decent food for the working class when he invented ramen noodles all by himself in 1958. His product — fried, dried and sold in little plastic-wrapped bricks or foam cups — turned the company he founded, Nissin Foods, into a global giant. According to the company's Web site, instant ramen satisfies more than 100 million people a day. Aggregate servings of the company's signature brand, Cup Noodles, reached 25 billion worldwide in 2006.
There are other versions of fast noodles. There is spaghetti in a can. It is sweetish and gloppy and a first cousin of dog food. Macaroni and cheese in a box is a convenience product requiring several inconvenient steps. You have to boil the macaroni, stir it to prevent sticking and determine through some previously obtained expertise when it is "done." You must separate water from noodles using a specialized tool, a colander, and to complete the dish — such an insult — you have to measure and add the fatty deliciousness yourself, in the form of butter and milk that Kraft assumes you already have on hand. All that effort, plus the cleanup, is hardly worth it.
Ramen noodles, by contrast, are a dish of effortless purity. Like the egg, or tea, they attain a state of grace through a marriage with nothing but hot water. After three minutes in a yellow bath, the noodles soften. The pebbly peas and carrot chips turn practically lifelike. A near-weightless assemblage of plastic and foam is transformed into something any college student will recognize as food, for as little as 20 cents a serving.
There are some imperfections. The fragile cellophane around the ramen brick tends to open in a rush, spilling broken noodle bits around. The silver seasoning packet does not always tear open evenly, and bits of sodium essence can be trapped in the foil hollows, leaving you always to wonder whether the broth, rich and salty as it is, is as rich and salty as it could have been. The aggressively kinked noodles form an aesthetically pleasing nest in cup or bowl, but when slurped, their sharp bends spray droplets of broth that settle uncomfortably about the lips and leave dots on your computer screen.
But those are minor quibbles. Ramen noodles have earned Mr. Ando an eternal place in the pantheon of human progress. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. Give him ramen noodles, and you don't have to teach him anything.
From the website:
- Recordable Bowtie Corkscrew
When you can't be there in person, record a special voice message into this cute Recordable Bowtie Corkscrew and clip it onto a nice bottle of wine (not included).
Friends and family hear your greeting every time they enjoy your thoughtful gift!
Simply pull the bow tie apart to hear the message and to use the hidden corkscrew and bottlecap opener!
Record a new message when you want to reuse it!
Includes 3 replaceable button batteries.
6" x 2.75".
I mean, I was okay with a bowtie camera but this is ridiculous.
A Man Called... Skipweasel?
There is such a man and I know where to find him.
He currently resides in a secure, undisclosed location in England where he somehow finds time and energy enough to occasionally festoon my comments section with well-aimed spears.
his handiwork circa 8 p.m. ET last evening.
Hey, give the guy a break: they're still celebrating Stonehenge over there, for crying out loud.
Elvis Guitar Bag
Be the coolest girl (or guy) on your block when you strut your stuff while carrying this waycool accessory.
Not sold at Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada or any of the other so-called fashionista emporia.
Because if everyone has something, you're no one if you do too.
From the website:
- Elvis Guitar Bag
Steal the show with this jaw-dropping Elvis® Guitar Bag.
Purse dripping with bling features:
• Crystal accents on front and around silvertone "Elvis" faceplate
• Gold "mock crock" leatherette front, bottom and sides
• Elvis' embroidered faux signature
Roomy bag expands to 3" to hold all your essentials!
Includes zippered top with one zippered and one pouch pocket inside.
17"-long leatherette strap is imprinted with "Elvis Presley" and includes a photo of The King on shoulder guard.
33" x 13" including shoulder strap.
$49.98 (your purse contents included).
Note — This item comes with the marshmallow-clad Bizarro World bookofjoe guarantee: If for any reason you are dissatisfied with your purchase, return it to me for a no-questions-asked refund.
'Neither Here Nor There' — by Orna Ben-Ami
The Israeli sculptor's vision of a bed (above) — full-size, made of matte-finish dark brown iron — is on view at Hillyer Art Space in Washington, D.C. through January 25, 2007, along with 13 other iron works by her.
Jessica Dawson, in her January 6, 2007 Washington Post review of the show, wrote that the sculptures "conjure Richard Serra's forbidding works in lead and steel from the 1970s and 1980s" and "evoke Robert Gober's neurotic objects from the 1990s.... These are domestic objects gone bad."
Here's the article.
- Worldview in Stillness
Iron Works Command Attention
Israeli artist Orna Ben-Ami's one-room exhibition at Hillyer Art Space appears so eager to walk us back in time that the pull is irresistible, and we go. Her iron sculptures rely so heavily on the past that you'd guess they were made in 1920. Or 1970. But nowhere near 2007.
Her sculptural renditions of the stuff of everyday life — a metal-frame twin bed, a park bench with a shrouded figure lying on top, a baby's cradle — evoke Robert Gober's neurotic objects from the 1990s. Her materials — all her forms are made from matte-finish iron — conjure Richard Serra's forbidding works in lead and steel from the 1970s and 1980s. And her exhibition's tenor, its atmosphere of the uncanny and squelched hopes, harks back to surrealism as practiced by Magritte and Dali.
Such abundant connections aren't entirely a bad thing. When we look at these pieces we know what we're seeing. Collectively, the 14 works hanging on walls or free-standing in the exhibition room allude to the domestic treacheries of childhood. An apron hung on one wall has a window of prison bars cut out at the midriff. A child's cradle has bars on its sides — and over its top. A belt draped across a chair appears to wait patiently for the backside of an errant child.
Ben-Ami finishes every sculpture to a uniform, and uniformly dour, dark brown. It's the color of concentration camps or prisons — those of our nightmares, too. These are domestic objects gone bad. They cue the anxiety of childhood and nightmarish domestic dramas by way of Freud and the Brothers Grimm. All appear at a remove from contemporary society. The cradle isn't one you'd find in a contemporary nursery. The apron seems dated, too. One detects a whiff of nostalgia for the anxieties of the past, as if they might prove preferable to present-day worries.
Ben-Ami's remarkable facility with her material compels us to keep looking. She works and welds heavy metal into nearly delicate forms. The leather belt in one work looks supple, the stretched canvas of another piece appears legitimately pliable. You have to look very closely — almost touch these pieces with your eyes — to remind yourself they're not really made from leather or tarp.
Such an exceptional capacity to transform metal into something else proves an apt visual metaphor for Ben-Ami's project. In the artist's hands, iron shifts shape as easily as our hopes and dreams. Just as we use fantasy to escape the less tolerable clutches of reality, so Ben-Ami imbues her material with the power of transmutation.
Hillyer Art Space is at 9 Hillyer Court, NW; 202-338-0680; Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Squeegee technology moves to the next level.
From the website:
- Hydro Squeegee
Jets away dirt and leaves surfaces safe and dry
The 24” wide rubber squeegee blade removes excess moisture, but if you encounter stubborn dirt or other hardened matter, just flip it over and use the serrated edge to scrape the surface clean.
Simply twist the on/off valve to control the flow of water to the 6 high-pressure jets and blast away dirt and debris in seconds.
The Hydro Squeegee attaches to any standard garden hose with its handy quick-connector hose coupler.
Keep your concrete, asphalt, brick, tile or any smooth hard surface clean and dry.
You’ll appreciate the back-saving 65-1/2”-long handle with comfort-foam grip.
Perfect for cleaning garage floors, patios, driveways or tennis courts.
Jet-blast away and squeegee-dry all in one motion.
Ruggedly constructed of steel and hard plastic.
Tiffany gives a lesson
Every few months the venerable jeweler unveils a new ad in the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times.
They're always superb: simple, elegant, and perfectly timeless.
Witness this past Sunday's (above), which occupied the lower third of page three.
I continue to be amazed at the pure drivel and dreck that characterizes the end product of 99% of the billions of dollars spent on print, TV and Internet ads.
Don't they get it?
It's so simple.
So very elegant.
From the website:
- Soehnle Silver Scale
This sleek digital scale features an easy-to-read LCD display and reliably accurate measurements that show even the smallest changes — and this precision lasts for the long term.
• Moisture-resistant electronics so it resists humidity changes in a bathroom
• 4-sensor technology allows for compensation on uneven floor areas
• Requires 1 CR2430 (lithium) battery
• Maximum capacity: 330 pounds
• Easily converts lb/kg
• Increments: 0.2 lbs
• 0.75" off the floor
• 1.1" LCD display
Though it doesn't say one way or another on the website, I'll come out and say it: battery included.
If it isn't just let me know and I'll cheerfully send you one.
Because that's what makes this website different.
Go ahead — email Gizmodo or Engadget and ask them for a battery for your new electronic device and see what happens.
Just don't hold your breath waiting for a response.