Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Extreme Loveliness Of Microsoft

I can't say quite how much I love Microsoft. Because I don't.

There isn't much new there. I'm not original in my level of devotion. But the world of Microsoft is eating my brain away and even though I have no mouth I still must scream. Yeah, right.

At the moment I'm in the middle of a battle with Qwest Communications, which no doubt I'll write about again some time. I'm not sure that Qwest realizes this. It's a lot like urinating into the ocean. The ocean doesn't know, care or suffer from it.

Resistance is futile.

Qwest and Microsoft. And AT&T. All lovely.

I think my current computer problem may be due to a ZoneAlarm installation, but it's Microsoft underneath.

ZoneAlarm apparently at some point came along with a subsystem that was incompatible with both itself and Windows. Removing ZoneAlarm and replacing it with Comodo helped but my underlying system seems to have been damaged to the point that I need to reinstall everything.

I've done a reinstall before, upgrading from XP Home to XP Pro, and even a reformat with a total reinstall of the operating system still wasn't good enough. Now on boot up I have a choice of two operating systems, both XP Pro, only one of which exists. It looks like nothing I can do will fix this.

I also have a small (4 gig) partition which came with the computer, ostensibly for restoring the system in case of problems. How clever is that? Provide a partition on the main and only hard drive in case the, oh, let's say, the hard drive gets corrupted? No, nothing at all wrong with this picture, folks. Please remain in your seats.

It looks like nothing a sane person can do will fix this. Time to nuke things.

Soon, very soon, I'll have to wipe everything clean and reinstall from the ground up. I'm not sure how any more, but I'll have to try.

Things keep failing. Sometimes the computer just shuts off and begins a reboot immediately. Happened this morning. Sometimes the computer works OK. Sometimes I get a warning that the registry had to be rebuilt from a copy. Sometimes strange things happen.

I tried a registry cleaner but if anything it made the problem worse. Some applications barely work at all now. Opera won't open some files, and sometimes hangs while trying to load web pages. OpenOffice can't start some of its own parts.

Now suddenly my anti-virus program won't work either. How strange is this?

A DLL file suddenly got corrupted yesterday. With no warning. Nothing I could do would fix it, so I uninstalled the program and reinstalled it. OK, fine. Today I got the same message. I kept getting it every five minutes or so. So I had to uninstall it again. Now I have no anti-virus software. I've been using AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic and it's been fine for a couple of years. Now the operating system is attacking, and has killed it.

What I'm going to do is switch to Linux as soon as I can. Windows Vista is evil, and anything Microsoft replaces it with is bound to be worse, even if it works better. (I.e., even if it works.) Staying with Windows would mean at least that I would have to replace all my hardware (two computers).

I'm running Kubuntu on a new machine I recently bought and will try Ubuntu Studio (a [K]Ubuntu variant) soon. Looks promising.

That will let me get to a modern operating system without passing into the realm of the pod people whose only mission in life is to adore the great Apple in the sky. I should be able to run the Windows software that I still need. But I don't have time to do it today. Not now. Please. I just want to finish some critical work but my system is falling down around me.

Microsoft has always been like this.

DOS was crap. No doubt.

When DOS was big I was working on mainframe systems. Mainframe systems were crap, and still are, but they worked. Can't quite afford several million dollars for my own system though. Or a support staff of hundreds.

Apple has always been a closed system, no matter how cool the advertising is. If Apple weren't insanely greedy they would have licensed hardware vendors to produce compatible systems. They could have taken over all of personal computing. They could own the world right now. But they were stupid and continue to sell jewels to the rich.

Microsoft had a free ride on the IBM bus. People bought PC computers and PC compatible computers and they came with DOS. People stayed with it because it was cheap and sort of worked, and because once they were familiar with it they were familiar with it.

Then Windows came along and then version two of Windows came along and then version three of Windows came along and it finally sort of worked, and people moved to that because it was the route of least resistance. And cheapest. It sort of worked and they could pretend they could do what the Apple People could do. And then we all kept upgrading.

It has been like staying in a bad job or a bad relationship just because of the work needed change. You don't change. Until things get to be intolerable. And continue to be intolerable, until one day...

Which is where I am now.

Looks like the way to go is to use Linux to reformat the whole disk, cleaning off the second partition and giving the disk an unfamiliar smell. Then I'll reinstall Windows, which will now think the disk is virgin. I'll add programs, get it working, and then install Linux in a second partition. I'll stay with this for a while, get comfortable, then do it over but install Linux only, and run any Windows applications under Wine.

I hope.

So much fun.

What I have to put up with day to day is getting to be a huge waste of time, with all the rebooting I have to do, and dancing around the parts of applications that no longer work. Waiting for the computer to just explode on me.

And that doesn't even handle my other Windows machine, which was fine (perfect) until Windows XP service pack three hit it. I have to fix that guy too. It is seriously hurting.

Love ya, Microsoft. Really do.

P.S. And now, in the middle of this, Opera has become inaccessible. The end is near.


AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic.
Comodo Firewall.
The Perfect Desktop - Ubuntu Studio 8.04.
Ubuntu Studio.
UbuntuStudio - Ubuntu Wiki.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Riding An Old Rail.

I keep fighting to get back to things. Whether it's the books I'm writing or walking to stay in shape, or backpacking (which is what I'd do all the time if no one was watching), learning Linux (now that it's in a place where I can handle it), or sprucing up the bicycle to stay in shape without walking. Or photography, building web sites, writing blogs, or continuing to learn Ruby on Rails, I keep fighting.

Time is wiggly and slips away.

Ruby on Rails 2.0 recently came out, and before I could turn around 2.0.1 and 2.0.2 came and went, and now I suddenly find that we're up to version 2.1 as of May 31, 2008.

I thought I had a good web host, until things started getting squirrely and I found that there was no support any more. In fact, "support" seemed to have changed into something more like a pack of rats who could sort of type but not think. But that's the past, and I've written about it and moved on.

If you're looking for a Rails host, try "Rails Hosting Info". My current host is OCS Solutions. My former one has a name that ends in the number "5". Someone, and I can't tell you who, did a review of them and gave them the lowest possible score because there were no lower options.

OK, I had some problems moving to OCS. Partly because their setup was different, and partly because I was also moving from Rails 1.2 to 2.0.1. I had thought I was there, but the Rails setup I had on my desktop wasn't quite where it should have been. I'm not sure if the gem updates I ran were not quite making it or if I muffed it somehow, but tests would not run.

Everything else seemed OK, but that worried me.

I eventually downloaded a new installation of Instant Rails and moved my files over. After that the only problems I had were due to my own ignorance and incompetence. Luckily I have lots of both.

Those problems are out of the way now, but that wasn't all. "A short time ago Curt Hibbs, the founder of the Instant Rails project on Rubyforge, decided he didn't have the time to continue the project to the level it deserved. He announced the project would not longer be updated and users should look to another Ruby stack on Windows, named BitNami RubyStack." So said Rob Bazinet (his blog is "Accidental Technologist").

We can only hope that Mr. Bazinet continues Instant Rails as promised. He could probably use help too. BitNami RubyStack, which he mentioned, looks like an alternate. I haven't tried it, but it's there, and being developed actively.

I'm currently looking into getting Ruby on Rails working on my new Linux Kubuntu box, and eventually (soon) moving off Windows altogether, and permanently, which would leave Instant Rails behind anyway.

One Windows computer has had odd problems, due I think to the ZoneAlarm firewall. It also developed the habit of suddenly rebooting without warning, plus a lot of other odd things. In between it's been stable, but I can see the clouds gathering. Some things no longer work right. I think the registry is hosed. Reinstalling applications does no good.

My other Windows box is fine, sort of. It gives me the same error message when shutting down, but that's it. Or has been it. Now since I've applied the third XP service pack I have lost the ability to change the desktop or remove programs or get to a command prompt all the time. Looks ugly there.

My main candidate for replacing Windows looks like Ubuntu Studio. I found some really good instructions on HowtoForge about download and setup, how to modify it with additional tools, and install a Windows instance using free versions of VMWare tools.

Ubuntu Studio is basically Ubuntu with extra emphasis on graphics, audio, and video. The last two aren't so interesting to me, but the author (Falko Timme) makes a point of getting the system set up with, Scribus, and Inkscape and some supporting tools like Opera. I use the first two, and would like to have them easily integrated with graphics tools. I'm also nuts about Opera and would like to retain access to some Windows applications for a while.

This is all a few weeks off. My Windows systems are still running and I'm not yet confident enough in what I'm doing to switch over to Linux and hope for the best. Still too many things to do every day. I can't stop for a month and try to figure it all out.

Which brings us back to the moving target that is Ruby on Rails.

I managed to get my two sites updated to Rails 2.0.1, and running, and uploaded to OCS, but I haven't frozen Rails on either one (yes, I'm a butthead). Too many things going on. Part of it is that I want to completely redo my personal site, to focus it around the books I'm writing. This will be a complete redesign although I'll still have all of what I have there now, but more. This is about the lamest excuse I could have but I still don't do it.

For my business site there is no excuse at all except that I really have only the site and no business. But if it gets mucked up I'll look even more like an idiot, so I guess I should get at it. Like maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow sounds good. Does tomorrow work for you too?

Anyway, Rails.

There are lots of resources available for me and anyone else wanting to move from Rails 1.0+ to 2+. For a while it looked like the second edition of "Agile Web Development with Rails" would be the end of the road, but Sam Ruby is replacing Dave Thomas as principal author and there will be a third edition of "Agile Web Development with Rails". I can't wait. The target publication date is October 15, 2008.

Until then, here is a list of resources that might help someone else as much as they've helped me.

Web sites:

Rails Inside
Ruby Inside

A PDF book (free): Ruby on Rails 2.1: What's new by Carlos Brando and Marcos Tapajos.


Rails 2.0: It's done!, by David H. Hansson
Talking Rails 2.0 with David Heinemeier Hansson, by Robert Bazinet
Check for deprecations before you upgrade, by Ben Smith
Deprecated Parts of Ruby on Rails
Moving to Rails 2.0, by Marc-Andre Cournoyer
Preparing for Rails 2.0, by Myles Eftos
Rails 2.0 - What's a Newbie to Do?, by Rick DeNatale
Rails 2.0 step by step., by Sean Lynch
Rails 2.0 cookies-updated, by Ruby on Rails Security Project
Rails 2: The Top Five Features List, By Jason Gilmore
Rolling with Rails 2.0 - The First Full Tutorial - Parts 1 and 2, by Fabio Akita
Rolling with Rails 2.1 - The First Full Tutorial - Parts 1 and 2, by Fabio Akita
Upgrading to Rails 2.0. A Recipe, by Myles Eftos
Migrating from Rails 1.2 to Rails 2.0 (Rails Forum)
Migrating to Rails 2.0 (RailsRocket)
r2check.rb by Mislav Marohnic (Checks pre-Rails 2.0 apps for compatibility)
Rails 2.0 Final Released! - Summary of Features, by Ryan Daigle
- Major Rails 2 Features and Changes:
  • ActionMailer::Base.server_settings Deprecated
  • 1.month.from_now.no_longer.effed
  • Source Code Annotations
  • A Better Way to Access Your Helpers
  • Stop Littering In Your Environment File
  • ActiveRecord Caching Provided in Actions
  • Cookie Based Sessions are the New Default
  • Expanded Caching Scope
  • .rhtml and .rxml to Die a Slow and Painful Death
  • Mime::Type Convenience Methods
  • ActiveRecord Explicit Caching
  • RESTful Routes Get a New Custom Delimiter
  • Object Transactions Are Out
  • ActiveResource Gets Custom Methods
  • render Now 70% More Betterer
  • A More Flexible to_xml
  • New Database Rake Tasks
  • validates_numericality_of Gets Pimped
  • ActiveResource Finder Update and Custom Headers
  • RESTful Routing Updates
  • Bringin' Sexy Back
  • No More (conventional) Pagination
  • Collection Fixtures
  • Use Rake to List Your Routes
  • Partials Get Layouts
  • Your DB Adapter May Have Left the Building
  • Logging Gets a Little Snappier
  • Better Cross-Site Request Forging Prevention
  • Better Exception Handling
  • Specify Plugin Load Ordering
  • Validations Now :allow_blank
  • Fixtures Just Got a Whole Lot Easier
  • Filters get Tweaked
  • Pre-Environment Load Hook


Accidental Technologist: Instant Rails Lives On
Agile Web Development with Rails, second edition, by Dave Thomas
Agile Web Development with Rails, third edition, by Sam Ruby
BitNami RubyStack
HowtoForge - Linux Howtos and Tutorials
Instant Rails
OCS Solutions home
OCS Solutions review at Rails Hosting Info
Rails Hosting Info
The Perfect Desktop - Ubuntu Studio 8.04
Ubuntu Studio
My book, Fire In Your Hand (at Amazon)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Dírkon Photography

Well that explains the name of the PDF file. Say what?

Read on.

We're talking pinhole photography today, something I've never tried. How interesting is this, eh? To hear me drone about things I haven't done? But that's really the nice part of life. Think about things you haven't done, about how you might finally take a whack at them. Hey, not bad. It's always nice to have one more thing to try.

Me, I've done a lot of things in photography since 1972 but have never shot through a pinhole. Yet.

I did reach other dreams. Several years back I finally had enough money to move into medium format and bought a Pentax 67, three lenses, some filters, a closeup lens, and a set of extension tubes. This was a joy, a real joy, something I'd been wanting for two decades.

For any 35mm photographer who never tried a larger format, this is worth it. Was worth it. Before digital. Before film imploded. Before medium format disappeared. Too bad.

The Pentax was big. Cameras are proportional to the cube of the lens. A 50mm lens is "normal" for a 35mm camera system, that's 90mm for a 6x7 system. The 90mm lens has a focal length that is 40mm longer, so the camera has to be deeper front to back, but the film is also larger (almost five times the area), and that accounts for the other two dimensions. Depth, height, width. Bigger, bigger, bigger.

You really have to hold one of these cameras to realize the difference. I've never held a Mamiya RB67, but it's the size of a small bread box. If you see one you'll want to touch it but you'll be a little wary too. These are strange machines.

The Pentax was a little smaller than the Mamiya RB67/RZ67, partly because of its design, like an oversized 35mm camera, but it was still huge. I think the body alone weighed around three pounds. The lenses were scaled up the same way. Huge in lovely elegant and perfect ways. Whenever I switched back to one of my 35mm cameras I could hardly believe their tiny size. Like toys from a cereal box.

OK, I've done that and it was fun, and I was lucky enough to sell off the equipment before the bottom fell out of medium format. The Pentax is gone now I think, at least in this country, though new lenses are still available.

One other dream I sort of fulfilled was view cameras. I bought a Calumet Cadet 4x5 when it came along (the $400 price was right). It wasn't small, it wasn't light, it wasn't elegant, and it wasn't too easy to work with but it was cheap and good enough. Later I bought a couple more lenses and a Toho Shimo to go with them. I used the Calumet a half dozen times and the Toho just once. But I did use them. I lived the dream. Not too bad.

Some day I may get back to the view camera thing. Maybe with a different camera. If I live long enough. The idea of 4x10 panoramics has always appealed. Ten by 20 would be even better, but I doubt that film is in my future. I have nostalgia for large sheets of film that I have never handled and am managing to control it. But. With a well exposed sheet of 4x5 film and proper scanning a person can do a fine panoramic from a 2x5 slice of it. For anyone who still wants to muck with film. And that should be big enough. Maybe I'll sell the Calumet and let the Toho hang around for a while yet.

You know me though. I've just been figured out.

I am the sort of person (a guy) who gets dazzled by technical details, by possibilities, and finds a way into a new wonderland and then eventually loses interest (also a typical guy this way). Guys like the big shiny scary stuff with lots of tail fins. Guys like to show that they can master things, make them jump and arf and roll over on cue. Then they put them into the closet until next weekend, and then it's five years later and the dream never comes back and that thing is still in the closet.

I've pretty well done that with all the cameras I've tried, and the main thing in the end has been to lose interest, with a few good memories left over.

Digital. What has been kind of surprising is not how handy digital cameras are but how much I've done with a pocket digital. That's really become my main camera. Because I can carry it anywhere, and it fits into either a day hike or a two week backpacking trip. Just dandy. No fuss. No film holders. No film.

Some cameras using bigger sensors, interchangeable lenses and carefully placed tripods make "better" images. If you go somewhere with something in mind and set up and fuss and fudge, and do everything right, meter six times, refocus a bunch, you'll get a great image, technically speaking.

If you can't do that, if you're only hiking along with one of those small simple and nearly weightless lumps in your pocket and manage to pull it out and do everything right you'll get an image, and quicker too, even if it is partly by accident. Sometimes you get a great image. Or an OK image. Or worse. But the image you get is always better than the one you don't get, and this is where the pocket digital camera gives me a real goosing. I hadn't quite expected that from digital, and it's been fun. I'm a guy in this respect too. I may worship all the dials and gages and tail fins but I normally take the easy way out at crunch time.

But that one final retro itch has not been scratched yet.

Retro may be the answer. Now that we have 800,000 TV channels to ignore, enough video games to wear every finger down to a nub, and every kind of glitter and flash in each direction twenty-four seven, with branding to and beyond the horizon, now than the terms "human being" and "citizen" have been replaced with "consumer", it's a fine old pleasure to sit down in someone's back yard with a mug of coffee and just talk for a spell. Things like that. Watch the garden grow. Nap.

In photography retro is reverting to the pinhole.

And this is the only major branch of photography that I haven't tried. My dírka never developed, but maybe I found it after all. A few months back. One of those web sites you trip over and file away for later reference.

This one is a choice little place called Pinhole.CZ. CZ as in Czech Republic, owned by David Balihar. He says that once he got into pinhole cameras (dírkové komory in Czech), he sold off his SLR and now dwells almost exclusively among the pinholes. See his gallery for why.

The gallery isn't too big as these things go but it shows the kind of images that pinhole cameras are known for, and Balihar does it well. He has a good eye. You'll see strong vignetting among soft images, some unfamiliar subjects, and familiar subjects made new.

The real treat of Pinhole.CZ is that it also is fulfilling the photographic dream of its owner. "I remembered my own experiments with the pinhole camera conducted in my youth and my unsuccessful attempt to construct the legendary Dirkon Czechoslovak pinhole camera." Ah, the legendary Dirkon Czechoslovak pinhole camera. (The name from dírka -- Czech for pinhole -- plus Nikon.)

But he came back to it. I don't know how he managed to find plans for a paper camera published in a Czechoslovak magazine in 1979, but he did, and has a PDF file available for download. And some sample images from it.

This camera (made of cut and folded paper) takes a standard 35mm cassette and even has a winder. It looks like a real 35mm camera. The images look good. They look clean somehow. Well proportioned. They aren't great even for a pinhole camera, but there is a reason for that. The problem with the images is the "lens" -- the plans call for a hole in the paper side of the camera.

Real pinhole cameras need a true pinhole precisely drilled through metal foil, but you get the idea. He wanted to remain true to the original plans. The camera works, and you can make your own, if you have a dream you haven't fulfilled yet.


David Balihar business site.
Dirkon camera plans (dirkon_en.pdf 414 kB).
Dirkon, the paper camera.
Pinhole.CZ gallery.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Start Here To Save The World

What this is about: Specific advice for everyone who wants to end poverty.

Who this is about: Paul Polak and IDE (International Development Enterprises).

Paul Polak and IDE use a market-based approach to attack poverty. This idea is based on Polak's belief that people are willing to better themselves and their families if they have the chance, and more importantly, that they are eager to do this.

IDE is focused mainly on agricultural issues, things like simple and cheap technologies. Like the treadle pump, drip irrigation, water storage, rice fertilizer, and donkey carts. These sound rudimentary and too simple and plain to do any good, but the truth is the opposite of that.

Paul Polak was born and raised in Canada. He earned an M.D. degree in 1958 and had a psychiatric practice in Colorado for 23 years, but for the past 25 years he has worked with farmers in countries like Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Nepal, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe. What he does is to help design and produce low cost income-generating products for the poor.

Polak's way of thinking changed while he worked with homeless veterans and mentally ill patients in Denver. Instead of sitting in his office and taking notes, seeing patients on an intermittent basis, he went out to experience their realities with them, in their own environments. Polak discovered that while many of these people had strange life styles, they were pretty smart in dealing with the realities of their lives. A lot smarter than people usually gave them credit for. And a lot of what they did made sense.

As the old joke goes "I may be crazy but I'm not stupid."

After a trip Polak made to Bangladesh he became intrigued by the possibility of working with the roughly one billion people living on a dollar a day, the poorest of the poor. As he had with his patients in Denver, he found that "walking with farmers through their one-acre farms and enjoying a cup of tea with their families, sitting on a stool in front of their thatched-roof mud and wattle homes" gave him an unusual insight, and a new perspective on poverty.

For example, while visiting one of his first contacts, a farmer, Polak asked what the man would need to get out of poverty. The man replied that he needed more money.


But that led to a discussion of some simple things. Not gigantic dams and hydroelectric projects, not massive amounts of road building, not new universities to train agronomists. The man needed a little water and a way to grow cash crops during the dry season -- crops that he could sell for three times what he could normally make.

Polak's innovations include the $25 treadle pump and small drip irrigation systems that may cost no more than three dollars. Things like this have helped IDE increase the income of poor farmers by $288 million every year. And since these are people starting out a dollar or two a day, a few hundred extra dollars every year makes a huge difference.

IDE, International Development Enterprises, is a non-profit organization that Polak founded and currently heads as president. IDE finds ways to make low cost water-resource technologies accessible to the world's poorest farmers. This enables them to get and control water, increase yields and diversify their crops, create wealth for and by themselves, and improve the quality of life for their families.

In 2003: Polak was named a recipient of Scientific American magazine's Top Fifty award for his leadership in agriculture policy.

In 2004: Polak received Ernst and Young's "Entrepreneur of the Year" award in the social responsibility category, and the Tech Museum award for the design of IDE's low-cost drip irrigation system.

In 2006: IDE received a $14 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

IDE's accomplishments:

  • Treadle pump. This is a small and cheap device which allows poor farmers to pump water from shallow wells. It can be foot powered or hooked up to a small engine if available. It can be manufactured locally with minimal skills, and so provide the base for a local manufacturing industry.
  • Drip irrigation. Even if water is available it often has to be carried by bucket to the fields. Even for a small field within a hundred feet of water this is strenuous work and can take all day. Besides this, most of the water can evaporate even before it gets to the crops. "Normal" drip irrigation systems cost tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. A cheap and simple system made from a barrel and plastic hose can adequately serve small farmers.
  • Water storage. Many places around the world have a wet season and a dry season. High-value, in-demand cash crops grown during the dry season can pull whole families out of poverty, but they need a way to store monsoon rains. Something as simple as a pit lined with plastic sheeting can do the job. Two hundred thousand liters of water can irrigate a quarter acre for over three months and may generate $500 in net income. This can more than double a family's annual income.
  • Rice fertilizer. "Green revolution" crops depend on proprietary varieties of seed, on insecticides, and on massive amounts of fertilizer. Even traditional crop varieties need fertilizer, but much of its nitrogen can escape into the air with no useful effect. IDE developed sustained release urea granules which only slowly give up their valuable nitrogen. These are hand placed near individual plants. Little nitrogen is lost. Even poorer families can begin collecting their own urine for fertilizing vegetables. Properly diluted with water, urine fed to crops through a drip irrigation system makes a great fertilizer. And it is free.
  • Donkey carts. In an area of Somalia bereft of passable roads, IDE trained local blacksmiths to make a simple and durable cart that rolled efficiently on automobile bearings and was capable of hauling half a ton of supplies. Carts like this could be pulled by an donkey or even a cow. They cost $450 but provided a net return of $200 per month and were nearly immune to mud, obstacles, potholes, washouts, or damage.

In process at IDE:

  • Microdiesel water pump. At a $100 cost, and putting out a quarter horsepower, a diesel powered pump is affordable to millions of farmers and would last nearly forever. It is the ideal size for a one acre farm. Current pumps, starting at two horsepower, are too large and expensive.
  • $15 scythe. Light, strong modern materials like fiberglass, combined with modern metallurgy could provide a cheap and effective tool to replace stoop harvesting with sickles, still used by many small-acreage farmers around the world.
  • Steam distillation units. At $1500 to $5000, these are more expensive, but steam distillation is a simple and effective way to extract essential oils from plants and flowers. One of these units could serve a whole village, and help shift farmers from growing opium poppies for the drug trade to growing roses for perfumeries.
  • Gassifier furnace. Much crop processing depends on heat. Gassifiers drive combustible substances from anything burnable and make them available for clean and efficient burning in the form of smoke. A $50 gassifier could provide heat for drying crops or for any of the other heat-based processes handy for a farmer or even a whole village.

So what can the rest of us do? According to Polak, start the way he did.

First, he recommends his book. This is normal. I got a copy from my local library, free.

He also recommends that no one pity the poor, but instead to learn about anyone who might be in need and find out what they actually need to better themselves, and to invest in local businesses serving the poor. He has a couple of good examples, one from the San Luis Valley in Colorado, and another from Navajo land, not far away.

In the San Luis area, "I learned that potatoes, one of the most economically important crops grown there, were trucked out of the San Luis Valley to Texas, where they were repackaged in five pound bags, trucked back to San Luis Valley grocery stores, and sold." Why not process them locally and cut out the shipping costs?

"In one region of the Navajo Nation where the borders of Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet, I met a remarkable Navajo entrepreneur who processes and packages steamed corn and other corn products" that he sells "to Navajo customers all over the United States." Why couldn't there be "hundreds of Navajos using low-cost drip irrigation and intensive horticulture to create and market a variety of branded culturally important high-value agricultural products?"

Good question.


Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail

Paul Polak's Out of Poverty website

IDE - Enabling Prosperity: To help the world's poorest citizens through formal and informal relationships with governments, private enterprises, NGOs, inventors and others. IDE recognizes that the best way to have sustainable, truly effective projects is by collaborating with like-minded organizations to leverage strengths.

D-Rev: Design for the Other 90%: To create a design revolution by enlisting the best designers in the world to develop products and ideas that will benefit the 90% of the people on Earth who are poor, in order to help them earn their way out of poverty.

Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center: Alleviates poverty and malnutrition in the developing world through the increased production and consumption of safe vegetables.

Consultive Group on International Agricultural Research: A strategic alliance of members, partners and international agricultural centers that uses science to benefit the poor.

Engineers Without Borders: A non-profit humanitarian organization established to partner with developing communities worldwide to improve their quality of life. This partnership involves implementing sustainable engineering projects while involving and training internationally responsible engineers and engineering students.

EnterpriseWorks/VITA (EWV): An international not-profit organization working to combat poverty through economic development programs based on sustainable, enterprise-oriented solutions. EWV has worked with local businesses and organizations for more than 40 years in 100 countries.

Helvetas: Oriented expressly not only towards material needs, such as procuring food, improving living conditions, increasing production and income and strengtheninginfrastructures. Equally important are immaterial needs -- that is, social, cultural, and spiritual ones. These include overcoming paralyzing dependence, reducing inequality, building self-confidence and strengthening responsibility towards other human beings and the environment.

International Food Policy Research Institute: Works to provide policy solutions that cut hunger and malnutrition. This mission flows from the CGIAR mission (see below): "To achieve sustainable food security and reduce poverty in developing countries through scientific research and research-related activities in the fields of agriculture, livestock, forestry, fisheries, policy and natural resources management."

International Water Management Institution: Works to improve the management of land and water resources for food, livelihoods and nature.

KickStart: A non-profit organization that develops and markets new technologies in Africa. These low-cost technologies are bought by local entrepreneurs and used to establish highly profitable new small businesses. They create new jobs and wealth, enabling the poor to climb out of poverty forever.

Lutheran World Service: Has a Department for Mission and Development (DMD) that works with member churches to create, maintain and develop ministries that integrate proclamation, service and advocacy for justice. Church leaders and workers, clergy and lay, are trained for witness and ministry through LWF sponsorship.

Mercy Corps: Exists to alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping people build secure, productive and just communities.

RDRS Bangladesh: A national humanitarian and development NGO that has operated since 1972 in association with LWF/DWS Geneva and its Related Agencies.

Winrock International: A non-profit organization that works with people in the United States and around the world to increase economic opportunity, sustain natural resources, and protect the environment.