The Death of Illusions

People are very invested in their stories of how things ought to be. Sometimes they become so wedded to those stories that they would rather see people suffer, than take an action that contradicts their personal worldview. I remember years ago, when I lived in New York, there was a pilot program in which welfare recipients were […]

Menstrual Man

This man is my hero. He’s like a mad-scientist crossed with MacGyver. I love this story. A choice excerpt: He created a “uterus” from a football bladder by punching a couple of holes in it, and filling it with goat’s blood. A former classmate, a butcher, would ring his bicycle bell outside the house whenever […]

Clear Trauma

Ever had something really traumatic happen? Ever lived through the death of a close relative? Your thoughts become jumbled and disoriented. Large swaths of your mental computer become unavailable for you to use, often for a very long time. For some people who have been through years of crisis and neglect, every day is full […]

Nigerian Doctor MacGyvers his Amazing Clinic

One of the most important tools in medicine is a centrifuge, a tool which spins samples at high speeds to separate out matter. But what do you do when you don’t have electricity, or you can’t afford a traditional centrifuge? Public Radio International has a story about a Nigerian doctor who hacks the tools of […]

The Death of Illusions

Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that the death of our illusions is one of the hardest kinds of death. And so, even when our stories do not work, we cling to them anyways. We may refuse to provide help to alleviate suffering, because the type of help does not fit neatly enough into our […]

A Simple Mental Health Protocol Whose Time is Long Overdue

“I see you checked depression on your intake form. Because depression can be a symptom of an underlying health problem, I’m going to check your blood levels for B12, B6, and vitamin D. I’m also going to test your thyroid and iron levels. And finally, even if your B-12 levels are normal, I recommend you […]

The Sari-Cloth Water Filter

The solution to controlling cholera will be high-tech analyses to produce extremely low-tech solutions. – Dr. Rita Colwell Cholera is a pathogen which, in humans, causes uncontrollable diarrhea so severe it can lead to death. While almost unknown in the first world, it is still an intractable problem in the third world, where many people […]

The Austin Women’s Clothing Swap

This case study is a great example of one of our basic rules of problem solving, Appeal to Self-Interest. The idea is that you “sell” a self-help idea to a community by immediately creating a short-term incentive. By getting a large group of people enthusiastic and on-board, you are able to create cascading positive changes […]

The Marvelous Pot-in-Pot

  (posted 2011) In parts of Nigeria, a quiet revolution has been happening in the lives of villagers. Suddenly, families previously without electricity are able to keep food fresh for weeks at a time. Young girls who previously had to stay at home are now able to attend school. Family income is on the rise. The […]