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The Though Kitchen - Dedicated to Stirring the Pot

Archive for May, 2010

Community is the concrete

Posted by admin | May 28th, 2010 | Filed under Grant for Change

DoTank: chair-bombing Williamsburg neighborhoodI have been listening. From the hum of the Farmers Market to the studio brainstorm sesh, my ears are tuned into the buzz of community. Villages are moving mountains. The power is in the people. Hope is not just a political campaign. Whatever the catalyst, the community mentality is coming back into fashion, with brilliant ideas surfacing.

Some of these ideas, while not new, bring new perspective to the sharing table. The G4C is an amazing platform that helps articulate and circulate their stories. Take a deeper dive in. What does your community do?

Flash Volunteer starts with Seattle, but has plans to grow its hyperlocal volunteer support system into a national service challenge platform.

DoTank goes guerilla style, using local intellectual capital to spur interactive inventions, each project reflecting a community need.

Global, growing and generous, Changents.com connects social and environmental change agents with fiscal outliers. In their words they connect the people that help the world to the people that help them.

D-Build is tackling the building market with their focus on un-building first. By attaching cultural rich stories to de-constructed and salvaged material, the re-building process grows community legs. Acting first as an information center, their goal is to collect and exchange materials and knowledge, to literally help re-build community.

This is the tip of the ‘berg- Only 16 days left to nominate. We are listening. Bring the stories forward.

Visualizing The Earth’s Assets

Posted by Alex | May 26th, 2010 | Filed under Design, Environmental Change, Sustainability

In moving past traditional notions of business profitability to embrace the idea of a ‘triple bottom line’—accounting for one’s impact on people, planet and profit—one of the necessary paradigm shifts you have to make is to start looking at the Earth’s air, water, soil, minerals et al. (what we normally think of as its natural ‘resources’) as natural assets. Like other assets, they’re easy to spend, but harder to replace. Once you start thinking that way, you want to keep a careful budget of how much we have to spend.

But how can you begin to wrap your head around the volume of the world’s water? Its atmosphere? The numbers get so big, and become warped by our perceptions—the sea, after all, looks very deep, the sky very high—that placing a value on them can become academic. With quantities so large, it’s easy to become lulled by the idea that we’ll never run out.


Good design, however, offers a solution. Specifically, the graphic visualization of data that is the domain of folks like Edward Tufte, or our friends at GOOD. And recently, we got turned on to this great example of graphic visualization by Adam Nieman. The blue marble on the left represents, to scale, the volume of all of the Earth’s water. The pink marble on the right, all of its air. A simple and powerful depiction that puts the seemingly infinite into perspective.

Our Partners For Change at Ecotrust recently shared this clip of New York Time’s blogger Andrew Revkin talking about Nieman’s work, and the impact it might have if images like the one above were part of every fourth grade science book.

(via NYT’s Dot Earth blog)

Summer Travel Tip: Pack Lighter

Posted by Alex | May 25th, 2010 | Filed under Uncategorized


With Memorial Day just around the corner, here at Nau our thoughts start turning to checking out, splitting town, and heading out on a summer road trip. But nothing ruins good travel faster than lugging around a massive suitcase: you end up spending more time worrying about luggage than enjoying where you are. Packing light is the name of the game, so we were interested to find this recent New York Times slideshow and accompanying article on how to fit 10-days of clothing into a carry on.

Looking for lightweight, packable clothing that’s both stylish and comfortable on the road? Check out the brand new Men’s Travel and Women’s Travel categories, added today to nau.com. With their versatile design and compressible construction, you might just be able to fit 12-days of clothing into that carry-on.

Dinner for three

Posted by Alex | May 24th, 2010 | Filed under Uncategorized

4344301364_976e5696c3_oAs part of a recent survey, we asked subscribers to Off The Grid (our weekly email with Nau news, events, contests and special offers—sign up here) who they’d invite to dinner if they could choose any two people, living or dead. Really, you can only learn so much about someone by their age, sex and favorite magazines. So it seemed, you know, pertinent.

Covering everything from Jesus to John Stewart, Vladimir Nabokov to Amina, Queen of Zazzua, the over 1300 responses we got proved nothing more than that you OTG readers really are an eclectic bunch. So herewith, we present a (more or less random) selection of our favorites. Feel free to jump in with your own hypothetical threesome in the comments below.

If you could have dinner with any two people, living or dead, who would you choose?

  • Abraham Lincoln and Kurt Cobain (What would they talk about?)
  • Elvis and Pele (Two men with great moves.)
  • Sarah Silverman and a monkey (So long as you’ve got Sarah, really any monkey will do.)
  • Moses and William Shatner (Who do you imagine has the better voice?)
  • John Marshall, Eddy Merckx (You’d have to think that John Adam’s secretary of state would spend most of the time admiring Merckx’s bike)
  • CoCo Chanel and Frank Loyd Wright (They’d probably get along famously; as Chanel once said, “Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions.”)
  • Genghis Khan and Richard Dean Anderson (How long could MacGuyver hold off Khan with only a napkin ring and a salad fork?)
  • Buddha and Heidi Montag (…blissfully…awkward…silence…)
  • Mae West and Johnny Depp (It would be a very, um, charming evening.)
  • Will Farrell, LeBron James (Spiced lamb shank, LeBron?)

Ecotrust: Reliable Prosperity

Posted by Alex | May 20th, 2010 | Filed under Partnerships, Positive Change, Sustainability

In the wake of the Dow’s 1,000 point plunge and recent hundred point aftershocks, it’s worth reflecting once again on the legacy of the financial crisis and what—if anything—we’ve learned. Our Partners For Change at Ecotrust believe that the lesson of the financial crisis is the same one we must learn if we are to deal effectively with the environmental crisis: live within our means. Check it:

Water in a…box?

Posted by Alex | May 19th, 2010 | Filed under Compassionate Capitalism, Environmental Change


Back in March, we gave bottled water a pretty hard time—enough to even catch the ire of the International Bottled Water Association, who accused us of ‘mis-reporting’ their greenwashed pro-bottled water film. They said their piece, but the facts remain: billions of plastic bottles are thrown away each year while less than 30% are recycled; shipping water needlessly wastes energy and contributes to climate change; bottled water is no safer than tap water in the United States; tap water actually outperforms bottled water in taste tests; and—perhaps most galling of all, almost a quarter of bottled water is just tap water repackaged by Coke and Pepsi—it’s just thousands of times more expensive.

So I was interested when a link to a new product floated across my desk: boxed water, labeled simply enough “Boxed Water Is Better.” No plastic, easily recyclable, made from materials largely produced from a ‘renewable’ resource. They’ve even pledged to donate 20% of their profits to water and reforestation organizations. Sounds pretty good, right?

Screen shot 2010-05-19 at 12.45.02 AMWell, maybe. The question is: better than what, exactly? Despite their optimistic rhetoric, many of the fundamental flaws of bottled water really have less to do with the bottle, and more to do with the idea of packaging, shipping, and selling something we can get for free in our homes. While paperboard isn’t made from petroleum, it still takes energy (usually from coal and oil) to package, ship, and dispose of the box—thousands of times more than just turning on the tap. And only about 50% of states in the U.S. have access to carton recycling, meaning many (if not most) of those boxes will end up in landfills. Based on that, boxed water only looks better than one thing: bottled water. Which isn’t a high bar to clear.

While I admire their pluck and positive intentions—20% of profits is an admirable benchmark, even for a company not yet turning a profit—I have to wonder if this really is, as they claim, ‘a step in the right direction.’ Boxed Water Is Better describe themselves as an “ever growing and adapting project…committed to constantly exploring new technology to lessen the impact of the portable water market.” So maybe down the road they’ll invent a solution that’s better than just ‘less bad’. But as Nau’s Grant For Change gets underway, it’s interesting to ponder the limits of innovation and design in solving problems of manufactured demand. Perhaps sometimes, the best solution isn’t to change the package, but to change ourselves.

So what do you think about Boxed Water? Step in the right direction? Or, as the Seven Sins of Greenwashing would put it, just a ‘lesser evil?’

Design Eye: Peter on the Fluent Traveler

Posted by Alex | May 18th, 2010 | Filed under Design, Design Eye


[For this, the third installment of The Thought Kitchen's ongoing conversation about design, we sat down with Nau designer Peter Kallen to look deeper into the Fluent Traveler. For More of The Design Eye, check out the previous posts on the Succinct Trench and Lightbeam Jacket. —Ed]

The Thought Kitchen: So in designing Nau’s first line of bags, where did you look for inspiration?

Peter Kallen: Well, the Fluent Traveler was conceived to be the perfect long weekend getaway bag. It’s carry-on size, but we looked to those old doctors bags, the classic leather ones that have a great long zip and open up so you can get into their depths. I’m kind of a bag freak, and for whatever reason I think it’s important to have a series of bags that fit a variety of needs. This bag is perfect for the three- to four-day trip. It has ample room the main compartment, isolated pockets on each end, and a separate interior side pouch pocket that you can use to segregate stuff. As much as I don’t believe in segregation in most situations, I think it’s important in a bag to keep things organized when you travel. For the Fluent Traveler we built in those simple interior pockets, along with this great zip security pocket on the outside where you can put magazines, travel documents, snacks; the kinds of things you need to access in transit mode.

In terms of design, it’s all very integrated. We took the broad concept of a weekend bag, but stepped back from everything that was out there. We looked at some classic old luggage designs, dissected the doctors’ bag, then mixed up those ideas, sanded them down, and came out with this concept for our bag. Everything’s ‘grown-on’ to it: the handles come right off of the bag itself, kind of exoskeleton-like or frame-like; the snap-handle pads are like butterfly wings that are built into the handle. Even the zipper was considered: it’s a high quality YKK  Excella zip, so it has a really nice glide and finish to it for a metal zip.

fluent_traveler_1TTK: How does the Fluent reflect the application of Nau’s design aesthetic?

PK: There have been a lot of design  considerations for this bag. You know, you think ‘it’s just a bag, and it holds so much stuff,’ but in designing the Fluent we wanted to make sure you could seamlessly interact with it.  The scale of a bag is so important—when you’re in motion, and the bag is swinging and you’re moving— the scale, shape and weight distribution all needs to work together. So the shape of the bag itself has an organic feel to it, almost like a water droplet falling off a leaf. The footprint of the bag is narrower than the waist or the girth of it, so you won’t overweight the bottom, but you can fill the volume up in the center, and then it narrows up toward the top. That allows for more of a comfortable carrying profile, too, so when you have it against your body it kind of fits naturally. If you’re carrying it by your side, it’s not so massive that it keeps knocking you off of your stride.

TTK: So what makes this bag different from all the other bags in the overhead bin?

PK: It’s different because it has a frame made from soft materials that creates a soft structure, which I like. There are seams,  and layers, and this exoskeletal detail that forms the handles, but it also adds this soft, structural element. It molds and melds with what’s inside of it. I think that this is a day and age when that style and sensibility is coming back to life.  This bag represents that. It doesn’t have so specific an intention and vibe as a rolling bag; it just feels like a soft, more approachable bag that’s more malleable in all sorts of ways: to your look, to how you’re wearing things, to what you need to carry. It can be very casual, it can be very sophisticated. It ebbs and flows to meet your attitude and intent for that moment.  It’s versatile, which ultimately creates more room for personal interpretation.

The Sartorialist Cycles

Posted by Alex | May 17th, 2010 | Filed under Bikes, Design Eye

It’s spring, and, according to The Sartorialist, the accessory of the moment is…the bicycle.

(via The Sartorialist)

Designing Change: Make your nominations!

Posted by Alex | May 14th, 2010 | Filed under Design, Grant for Change

How would you design change? The 2010 Grant for Change is accepting nominations at nau.com ’til June 11th. Spread the word!

Thinking outside the [raised bed] box

Posted by Tyson | May 13th, 2010 | Filed under Design Eye, Personal Reflection

This berm was built from river rocks, broken concrete and pieces of wood. It is planted with a mixture of ornamentals and edibles.

It’s planting season here in the PNW and on my travels through Portland I’ve been seeing raised beds popping up like dandelions. This trend makes me very happy—the fewer lawns and more tomatoes, the better.

this curved raised bed is constructed of “urbanite” (found broken concrete) and holds asparagus, onion, lettuce, chard and sugar snap peas which are grown up an old cyclone fence gate.

This curved raised bed is constructed of “urbanite” (found broken concrete) and holds asparagus, onion, lettuce, chard and sugar snap peas which are grown up an old cyclone fence gate.

Wooden raised beds are neat in appearance and function well, but the expense of a raised bed constructed of cedar or teak can be a roadblock for some people wishing to grow vegetables. But it need not be. The primary purpose of a raised bed is to increase drainage and to help heat the soil. If the aesthetic of a wooden bed isn’t necessary to your landscape design, mounding soil up about 6 inches (called an “open mound” or “unconstructed bed”) or using found materials—rocks, old broken concrete, large wooden branches etc.— to create a raised bed does the job just as well. (Treated, painted or stained wood should never be used due to the danger of chemicals like arsenic leaching into your soil). Freeing yourself of lumber also allows for more interesting and sometimes more efficient bed shapes, such as a keyhole bed.

A keyhole bed takes up less room in your yard than rectangular beds that require more space for the rows between the beds. I find keyhole beds and curved beds to be a nice fit in many gardens and their shapes flow and guide the garden visitor through your yard more naturally. People tend to plant rectangular raised beds in monoculture rows — all corn in one bed, all tomatoes in another and so on. Adding a curve to your bed and treating your vegetables as ornamentals or planting them with ornamentals is both beautiful and better for pollination and pest control since the pollinators and other beneficial insects will be drawn to you food crops because they are adjacent to a wider variety of flowers. You can find a good list of ornamental plants that benefit your vegetable garden here.

This is a keyhole style mounded bed. The branches used as a structure for the beans have been in the ground for 4 seasons and are still sound.

This is a keyhole style mounded bed. The branches used as a structure for the beans have been in the ground for 4 seasons and are still sound.

I have nothing against rectangular wooden raised beds. I have five of them myself and if tall enough they can make gardening more accessible for people with mobility limitations. To me, though, the blurred lines between food production and ornamental plantings are where my garden is the most interesting. After all, it’s not what you plant in that matters, it’s what you plant — and thay can be achieved in any kind of bed.