Cool Things in Dangerous Places

Today I encountered a description of this company – that is a business but with an engaging story of social innovation.


This is someone who uses the flipflops and lives to write about them.

It is a vetrepreneurial company formed by 2 Army Rangers and a designer with the intention of helping to build a no-bullshit sustainable economy in Afghanistan. CFF reckons that one way to contribute to stability on the ground there is with a robust economy and gainfully employed Afghans. That effort has gone sideways for a number of reasons but should hopefully begin again in the near future with the deployment of Expeditionary Production Facilities. Is it a quixotic mission? Probably, but that doesn’t make it any less worth supporting.  The entire CFF crew is as passionate about their “business not bullets” ethos as they are about helping veterans. To describe them as merely patriotic would be to damn them with faint praise.

I love my CFF AK47s and I wasn’t kidding when I said I was about to buy my 4th pair – I already have one pair for myself and I’ve purchased one each for Household-6 and my spawn. Are they pricey? Yes, certainly, especially when compared to cheap ass Walmart flip flops or other flimsy sandals. Personally I think they’re worth it, and certainly not just because the long term goal will contribute to a less Taliban- and drug-centric Afghanistan. Combat Flip Flops are a long lasting, well built lifestyle brand that happen to have a great underlying mission.

Even if they are bad for fighting and worse for running.

Read more:

This is the founder doing a TED Talk.

The language on their site is full of great phrases:

Business, not bullets!

The Peacemaker Bangle and Coinwrap are sent to us straight from artisans in Laos – and they’re made from bombs. Each bracelet sold clears 3 square meters of Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) from a region rocked by long-term war – saving lives and providing economic opportunity.

And then:


We do this because it’s our job to show others what’s possible, then encourage them to join us.

Take a look and pass the word on.

Design in the West Coast

I am currently doing a study of design in the US through a research field trip. My area of focus is entered around the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Seattle.

The East was simply breathtaking


This region has not occupied my interest in nearly 26 years – to be precise since 1991 when I worked in the design studios at Hitachi in Kokubunji in Tokyo, Japan. Its safe to say the years preceding and following my stint at Hitachi were filled with a deep passion for Japanese aesthetic production – from Literature, Cinema, Poetry, art and Design. I had encountered Penny Sparke’s Japanese Design in the 1980s, and I have had no reason to go back to that work in the past 3 decades. I was to changed quite significantly by my Japan exposure, and my deep immersion into the Japanese Design Ecosystem provided me with access to a practice that provided an alternative narrative to the functional-utilitarian discourse I was inculcated in at Design School in the early 1980s. I arrived in Japan with all my senses open and suspended – with an excessive passion for Kurosawa, Kawabata and Ozu. It was a territory I was owning for myself. It helped that I was surrounded by others equally passionate in the material culture of Japan. Japan however is not important in this post. What is significant is that the project to undertake an immersion and a scholarship of the material culture of a people changed both my approach to valuing design and to the ‘good looking’ in design. This immersion was a precursor to my engagement with design in Asia and to the diversity of contextual constructions of design.

That Old (Traditional) view of American Design

Before I had begun my preoccupation with the East I was fortunate to be exposed extensively to American designers and design projects. An exposure that lasted till the late 1980s. This exposure was the stuff of lore – Wright, Herman Miller, Saarinen, Eames and Propst. I even sat behind Paolo Soleri at a concert in Ahmedabad.

The bridge between matter and spirit is matter becoming spirit.

I knew people who had worked with Fuller and Kahn. I was of course of the generation of the 80s – The Whole Earth Catalog occupied us, I can recite verbatim from Fuller:

I have foreseen for one-third of a century, that the opportunity existed for a new professional architectural scientist to seize the initiative, independent of client prerogatives, in dealing anticipatory with the external organics of industrial man.

I have loved my well thumbed copy of Wholly Round by Rasa Gustaitis, and Cosmic Fishing by Applewhite. We were at this time taking the Stewart Brand Whole Earth Catalog to heart – and were focussed upon solving the worlds problems – in geodesic ways. I have built a few three frequency domes in my life, built solar cookers and have re-paired windmills. The repair opportunity arose as I was in conversation with Marjorie Sykes at Rasulia, the Quaker Farm I was volunteering at, and going on about VITA and the appropriate tech movement.

My continuing pursuit of american production was to be in the field of alternative education. Ivan Illich (Deschooling Society), Rules for Radicals (Saul Alinsky), John Holt, Neil Postman (Teaching as a subversive activity) and John Seeley Brown (Learning in the Digital Age) guided me as I developed my teaching practice.

American Design meant something completely different then. I had potentially been distancing myself from the designer who suffered from hubris – external organics of industrial man – and has shifted to a contemplative, and collaborative mode. Being immersed in the context and listening deeply to the words – and keeping what I was hearing local, pertinent to the context of the speaker, is giving me new insights.

Soon after I wrote the above line I was to spend time with a university science and technology academic. I heard a position articulated – that science in a famous university would produce the solution for a sustainable planet – and had a momentary exposure to the hubristic voice.

Design in the West Coast

So it is only this year that I have begun a program to research contemporary Design in the US of A. In the first instance I am looking closely at Design in the West Coast.I have begun to read Barry Katz’s book Make it now and am now gaining an appreciation of design in the west coast. A lot of what I have been hearing in my interviews, Stanford is an amazing laboratory of innovation, is now making sense.

My interest in Design in the West Coast is in three parts. My Research looks at:

  1. Contemporary crafts and art production. I have a set of links to Pinterest Boards to Furniture Designer-Makers listed at the end of this post.
  2. The history and development of contemporary design in the bay area.
  3. Design Institutions and Educational ecosystems.
  4. Entrepreneurship ecosystems in Design

This is the first in a series on Design in the West Coast.

The research program will produce some artefacts that I will post here: a narrative, some drawings, enumerations and a glossary.

Further Readings

Pinterest Boards: Sam Malouf, George nakashima

Barry Katz, Make it New (Book), Link.

Richard Florida, America’s Leading Design Cities, Link.

Nathan Shedroff & Christopher Noessel, Make It So, Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction, Link.

Cosmic Fishing, by E.J. Applewhite, LinkThis is a wondefull book about E.J Applewhite’s collaboration with Buckminster Fuller on Bucky’s epic “Synergetics” Applewhite writes about the process of intimately working with Fuller….the quirks,calamities, frustrations and ecstacies. I have bought it for friends as it is a good, concise guide to Bucky’s principles and way of thinking. As in “Synergetics” Applewhite gets to the basics. As he would say, “He confronts Fuller with himself” Applewhite shows himself to be a elegant writer and dry wit. I can see why he complimented Bucky so well.

Wholly Round by Rasa Gustaitis

The text of the Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth is available, for those wishing to download the PDF, here.

John Seeley Brown’s text (PDF) Learning in the Digital Age here.

So I learnt Hebrew over the weekend

I am a recent listener to Tim Ferriss’ pod casts. In fact I heard my first Ferriss podcast last week. One of the things that Ferriss is famous for is “How to learn a language in an hour”. You can read about that in this article.

Coincidently a few things were happening in my life at about this time:

  1. I had updated my linkedIn profile and removed all references to the languages I spoke. ( I used to list 9 in that profile, but then I also listed my main occupation as Basket Ball Manager then.)
  2. I had recently spent some intensive-time (10 days, all day) with an Israeli academic-friend from a few decades ago. And had realised that I was collaborating with or was in the vicinity of 4 Hebrew speakers.

Somehow the two facts collided and I found myself setting a challenge to myself on Friday night that I would learn Hebrew by Sunday night. Its 8 PM on Sunday and I have learnt Hebrew! Here is what I have learnt:

  1. I know the Hebrew Alphabet, and can read simple words.
  2. I have a vocabulary of 200+words.
  3. I can pronounce ‘kh’ reasonably well.
  4. I am learning some of the words to 23 hebrew songs.

In short Tim Ferriss is right. The language deconstruction does take very little time, and the memorising of alphabets, words and phrases can be equally quickly accomplished.

Here is what I did.

First I set up the goal to learn the alphabet, a mistake in my Japanese language learning which I need to rectify. This is relatively easy – I used the online platform Memrise and found a Hebrew course on it. I have used Memrise in the past to learn Bahasa and its a brilliant way to just memorise a list of alphabets, words, or phrases.

I then looked at Youtube to find a bunch of video toturials. For this I went back to Innovative Language and their 101 series: Learn Hebrew with Hebrew Pod 101. They have a great set for vocabulary – which I used to get some words into my head. They also have an alphabet series – which I aim to get to when I feel the need to polish my alphabet learning.

Finally the most useful resource – which I completely plundered to get a lot of Hebrew learning happening was this site: (TMH). The things I did on this site:

  1. I looked at the Tim Ferriss-like breakdown of Hebrew. Brilliant. Take a look here. I read this out into my phone, ripped the recording to mp3 and put in into my iTunes to listen to.
  2. I listened to the AlefBet song repeatedly (till the house banned me from playing it aloud). Memorising the names of the alphabets was quite quick, and I lay in bed this morning reviewing it in my mind.
  3. I went into Memrise and memorised the alphabet forms. The started doing simple words.
  4. I began listening to the 23 songs in the TMH site. I spent 2 hours doing this. These sounds are embedded in my brain. I plan to go to the TMH site and scan the lyrics on screen as I listen to the songs – sometime in the future.
  5. I played the 100 words on TMH – so I am familiar with the sounds. Will go and put this into my memory later, in the future. Will do the same with Phrases, Verbs and other bits on this site.

Then I went looking for Apps – so I can have a learn+quiz format to keep learning.

  1. I found this brilliant app by RBBell – to learn the alphabet. You can all his other apps here. By 6 PM today I had a B+ in the hebrew alphabet. You learn the alphabet and then you test yourself and you can keep repeating this cycle till you get perfection.
  2. Another App I downloaded (iTunes) is Nemo Hebrew. This is for words. I am yet to play with this.

Last words from Ferriss:

In all cases, treat language as sport.

Learn the rules first, determine if it’s worth the investment of time (will you, at best, become mediocre?), then focus on the training. Picking your target is often more important than your method.


CoDesign: Some useful text for my project collaborators

Co-design is about engaging consumers and users of products and services in the design process, with the idea that this will ultimately lead to improvements and innovation. In Co-design those impacted by the proposed design are actively involved as partners in the design process. Co-design is being used in government, community and health sectors to extend traditional consultation methods and increase program reach and impact. Co-design approaches are also being used by corporates to engage internal stakeholders and customers, identify new service opportunities and improve existing ones.

  1. Co-design is person-centred, using ethnographic methods to understand the experience of a service from the clients point of view.
  2. Co-design asks service providers and service users to walk in the shoes of each other and to use these experiences as the basis of designing changes.
  3. Co-design starts with a desired end rather than with what is wrong with the present service. In the process we look for ways to build backwards from the outcomes we are seeking. This not only stops us from getting bogged down in what is wrong, it also potentially leads to realisations that the problems we thought we were facing were not the real problems!
  4. Co-design is focussed on developing practical, real-world solutions to issues facing individuals, families and communities. In co-design processes, prototyping is a method of testing whether ideas work in practice, and then refining ideas until solutions that work for service users and providers alike are developed.
  5. Co-design makes ideas, experiences and possibilities visible and tangible using a variety of media, graphic, kinesthetic and experiential methods. This helps to make solutions tangible and to make complex systems accessible across a range of people who may have different perspectives and knowledges about the system.
  6. Co-design processes are inclusive and draw on many perspectives, people, experts, disciplines and sectors. The idea is to find real, workable solutions to complex issues, so it is important to draw on many perspectives, to challenge orthodoxies, to question assumptions, and to draw in other possibilities.
  7. Co-design processes thrive when boundaries are flexible and silos are broken down, when real listening and dialogue can occur across unlikely alliances.

When ‘doing’ co-design, the role of the designer becomes one of facilitator: enabling participation, designing the right triggers, questions and scaffolds in which meaningful and effective participation can occur.

A typical co-design workshop has at least two different parts, one where the participant is instigated to speak about current experiences in order to start the conversation, and one where hands-on co-design exercises take place. The workshops generally involve a collection of materials, instructions for the co-design exercises, and considerable amounts of many people’s time. The data obtained from co-design sessions is generally visual and tangible. It can aid in presenting research findings in direct connection with users’ ideas and feelings in more engaging and understandable forms. The results of each session are debriefed with the team that was part of the process or that observed the sessions. The researcher captures everyone’s ideas on sticky notes and collects them on a board dedicated to each participant. Once the research cycle is finalized, the qualitative nature of the data allows the results of co-design processes to be analyzed with methods such as affinity diagramming or parallel clustering.

Links: See also these texts.

  1. UX Australia in 2013 – useful text here.
  2. Also see – Co-designing for social good Part I: The role of citizens in designing and delivering social service by Ingrid Burkett
  3. Also linking CoDesign to Participatory Design

Further Resources

  1. What is co-design?
  2. Codesign in Health at RMIT – site here.
  3. PROUD – a network of Codesigners.
  4. On Codesign and creating better public services
  5. On Codesign, CoProduction
  6. Service Design Network – about service design.
  7. Participle

Useful Resource People – people working in this field

  1. Jennie Winhall, Design Strategy and Service (LinkedIn)
  2. Sarah Drummond, SNOOK
  3. Lauren Currie, Twitter, SNOOK, Redjotter on wordpress.
  4. Brigit Mager, On SDN, On Adaptive Path.

Orange Sky Laundry

I heard about Orange Sky Laundry this morning on the Radio. It made my day!

This is the Site. The article in The Age.

This is a social innovation that provides a service – clean clothes – that is crucial to an individual’s self respect. What the founders of this enterprise speak about is – how their idea of the mobile laundry has changed their thinking – about how they had initially visualized the ‘need’. While the project had been about clean clothes, what they were hearing from the homeless was how the project was providing for conversation. “I have not spoken to a single person in three days” said one of the people they were talking to.

Thats a crucial difference for me between social and technical innovation. You make a thing – people and buy and use it. You make a social ‘thing’ – people are transformed by their own humanity.

For more on Social Innovation – Take a look at this RESOURCE PAGE in this site (circa 2008).

When you have done that – if you have an idea, of a social artefact that you would like to construct, I would love to hear from you.

And for some great music and a build – as you sip your coffee. Take a look at this.

Ah the Bern: Notes on unpacking the feeling

I have been feeling the Bern for some time now. It has fuelled an idealism that has been nourishing. There has been this rush every morning to reach out to my Flipboard tile labelled Bernie Sanders. To catch up on the latest news and analysis – then to reread articles for the second or third time invoking my Tamil past when I memorised lines and texts.


I also realise that I am not a great Bernie watcher. I was an Obama watcher – he was poetically articulate and it was treat to watch him. I cried during his Inauguration speech. But hey I was only shedding a tear that the ‘yes we can’ ring tone that I made – and posted to my blog – wasn’t exactly a mega success. Well I was its only known user. I made a youtube mashup of “yes we can” within a course pitch on World Changing. I was gushing silently and internally, not that anyone wanted to discuss Obama where I live. Bernie is different. I took his authenticity and then left him alone. The Bern I was feeling meant that I had to watch a lot of youtube discussions and analysis.

Then a few weeks ago after the New York results came in, which I was dreading, I deleted the Sanders tile in my Flipboard. From this point if I wanted to check up on Sanders I would have to type in his name. The Bern was becoming tinged with a sense of loss. A loss that the pragmatists, and the elite, had begun to triumph. It was not meant to be this way.

Looking back on this journey I began to understand my journey, my experience, of/through the Sanders phenomenon. I was getting a sense of what the feeling was – what an individual journey of “berning away” could be.

The berning drove me to hear-watch some of his speeches. He said a few things that resonated. But I was watching a lot of other people talking about him: Cenk Uygur, Sarah Silverman and Rosario Dawn are three that stayed and I would keep going back to. I was listening to NPR Politics podcasts (brilliant to sustain the bern) and keeping up to date with the latest news about the primaries. I found I was switching off the podcats when the other candidates were starting to be discussed. I realise now that I was indulging in my own long dormant political idealism of occupying a space on the left. The labelling of the system as ‘rigged’, the calling out of the elite as a closed-entitled-self-serving-minority (my words), and the labelling of business-as-usual-politicians as ‘establishment’ was sweet to hear. Uygur, Silverman and Dawn were great to listen to – they stoked the bern gorgeously – for they articulated the need for a new fresh and honest redefinition of the purpose of government. Something we could see in the sum total of the ecosystem of thoughts, words and ideas that Bernie was pointing at.

I have probably been feeling my way around the notion of a just society. I had posted a note about a particular territory – Projects as Campaigns – and that systems in society are broken (see the text here) so something needs to be done. I would use my teaching practice to address this territory of the ‘broken’. What Bernie did was provide a channel, a place to stop and read, a direction in which to feel free to imagine a future society. This particular berning sensation was tremendously uplifting. I could begin my mental conversations with – ‘imagine if …’.

Obama had begun something in 2007. But his reasonableness was too comfortable. It didn’t have the spirit of the ‘revolution’ – Bernie was serving better as the lightening rod for a great provocation. The Bern was the tension, the tautness of the far left and of the ‘establishment’ centrists being pulled leftwards. So enjoyable to see the squirming.

For more on: YoungTurks/ Cenk UygurSarah SilvermanRosario Dawn (amazing).

And VOX too fuels the Bern:

Whether the first Sanders-style nominee is Sanders himself or Elizabeth Warren or someone like a Tammy Baldwin or a Keith Ellison doesn’t matter. What’s clear is that there’s robust demand among Democrats — especially the next generation of Democrats — to remake the party along more ideological, more social democratic lines, and party leaders are going to have to answer that demand or get steamrolled.

To fuel the Bern I was reading. I would have Picketty, Warren and Comrade Corbyn “open in my kindle” (to use a metaphor of simultaneity) as I dipped in and out of these books. I did read Warren through. That was powerful stuff. Indeed the kernel of a pure rational and humane society is revealed by Warren. She is brutal and plaintive in the way she describes the two polar opposites she deals with in her bankruptcy reform campaign. At one end are the organised-gangs-of-robber-capitalists joining forces and at the other end are the isolated bankrupt individuals living in the homes of their parents – still being pursued by the gangs. An acutely tribal and very violent society. How did we let it get this way? she ask plaintively. We have lost out moral compass. And the bern is the feeling of anger at this state of affairs.
A fighting chance by Elizabeth Warren

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: You moved the goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory…. Now look, you built the factory and it turned into something terrific, or great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid that comes along. (from this review)

Capital by Thomas Piketty

Three-quarters of Australians tell survey researchers that “differences in income are too large”. About the same proportion believe that government has a role in redistributing income “towards ordinary working people”. (from this review)

Comrade Corbyn by Rosa Prince

Jeremy Corbyn’s emergence is a strange phenomenon. A man well into his sixties, his political appeal to the under-25s more than any other age group, who has taken on the worst job in politics after 32 years contentedly avoiding responsibility of any kind. In theory, he is due to go to the country a few days before his 71st birthday to ask them to choose him as their Prime Minister. (from this review)

Then last night I encountered a young university student around a campfire – wearing a Bernie TShirt. The fireside chat was where we felt a kinship for we were both feeling the bern. Where I promised to post some readings.

Of course tax cuts for corporations and high income earners, in the new Australian budget, is not okay. Here is what Warren has to say about that.


This is in the Atlantic – an article from 1985: “…and he grins. It’s the mischievous grin of a deliberate non-conformist, a kid who refuses to join cliques.”

How to make a music list for a Bollywood dance party

This is a Life Hack Post.

I was at a Bollywood dance party last night. The play list for the dance party had to have a diverse list of songs catering to the different people at the event: Older Aussie-Indians, more authentic Indians, Firangis (Kiwi-Aussies), young Aussie-Indians, young Indians. North Indians (mostly) with a few south Indians.

In a successful Bollywood party people have to sing out the songs and so have to know the songs. Which means as the DJ making the list I had to make a list of song categories to work to. These four categories – (a must) – are: Danceable Film Hits, Item Numbers, Remix of Old (older the better) Songs, & Indi Pop Songs.

  1. Popular Film Songs: Major Hits that can be danced to. Plus songs that are Antakhsari Favourites.
    1. Older Songs – Timeless songs.
    2. Newer Songs –
  2. Item numbers: this had to have a selection of contemporary items numbers, some from the past decades, then a few of the evergreen item numbers – with at least two of them featuring Helen Ji. I had Chaiya Chaiya in this list
  3. Remix list: I made a remix list with songs going back to the 40s ( mere priya Gaye Rangoon).
    1. Really old Songs – 40s to 60s: Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon is an all time favourite to make the party smile.
    2. Not so old – 60s and 70s:
  4. Indi Pop songs: then I had these non film songs – Daler, Sukhbir, Stereonation plus “ludicrous Gujarat Di”.

So this was my list – roughly 70 songs. I was working towards a 3 to 4 hour list. I imagined some of the songs would be played more than once.


  1. Piya Tu Ab To Aaja
  2. Chura liya hai
  3. Mehbooba Mehbooba
  4. Yeh Mera Dil
  5. Kajra Mohabat Wala
  6. Sharara Sharara
  7. Tanha Tanha
  8. Ek Pal Ka Jeena
  9. Radha Kaise Na Jale
  10. Chunari Chunari
  11. Raat Ko Aaoonga Mein
  12. Taal Se Taal Mila


  1. Mujhko Pehchaanlo Don 2
  2. Aaj Ki Raat Don 2
  3. Dhoom Machale Dhoom
  4. Barso Re
  5. Bhar Do Jholi Meri
  6. Lungi Dance
  7. Why This Kolaveri Di
  8. Selfie Le Le Re
  9. Khwaja Mere Khwaja
  10. Deewani Mastani

ITEM Numbers

  1. Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast
  2. Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai
  3. Crazy Kiya Re
  4. Nimbooda Nimbooda
  5. Chaiyya Chaiyya (Alt – Briptu Norman Kamaru)
  6. Kajra Re
  7. Munni Badnaam Hui
  8. Sheila Ki Jawani
  9. Chikni Chameli
  10. Pinga
  11. Radha

REMIX OLD Songs (40s to 60s)

  1. Mere piya gaye rangoon
  2. Leke pehela pehela pyar
  3. Saiyan Dil Mein Aana Re
  4. Hothon Pe Aisi Baat
  5. Mujhe buddha mila gaya
  6. Kabhi aar Kabhi paar
  7. Jadugar Saiyan
  8. Ek pardesi mera dil le geya
  9. Jhumka gira re
  10. Yeh hai reshmi

REMIX OLD Songs (60s to 70s)

  1. Aaj Kal Tere Mere Pyar Ke Charche
  2. Daiya re Daiya chad gayo papi Bichua
  3. Kaanta Laga
  4. Mere Naseeb Mein
  5. Aa Jaane Jaan
  6. Choti Si Umar
  7. Meri beri ke ber mat todo
  8. Hai Hai Yeh Majboori
  9. Dafliwale

Indi POP

  1. Ishq Tera Tadpave – Sukhbir
  2. Lift Karadey – Adnan Saami
  3. Tunak Tunak Tun – Daler Mehndi
  4. Kina Sona Tenu – Nusrat
  5. Made In India – Alisha Chinai
  6. Nashe Di ye Band Botle – Stereonation
  7. Oh Carol – Stereonation
  8. Nachange Saari Raat – Stereonation
  9. Dil le gayee kuri gujarat di – Jasbir Jassi
  10. Aafreen Aafreen – Nusrat
  11. Dama Dam Mast Kalandar – Mika Singh and Yo Yo Honey Singh

This list worked brilliantly. It excited people, made them laugh – made them jump and shake. Try it – pass it on. The categories work – the songs? Well you possibly have your favourites. And you may want to think of who will be at the party.

This below is Malhari – I have to add this to my next list. If you have suggestions to this list please post in the comments section.