February 4, 2010

How Oil-Filled Lenses are Bringing Sight to Those in Need

Another “hey – whatever happened to those?” post. The idea of liquid-filled lenses that could be adjusted with a simple screw-based mechanism caused a lot of excitement when it first came out, with the promise of cheap but precise glasses for the poor. Gizmodo has a great writeup on the current state of the project – short version, they’re in field testing now, with around 30000 pieces being dispensed around the world, and cost $20 apiece to produce, against an ultimate goal of $1.

The writer, Joel Johnson, sums up my feelings (and the spirit of this blog!) perfectly:

It’s the sort of mixture of charity and innovation that makes my heart leap, an opportunity to use the mass production and design capabilities of the developed world to provide a life-changing solution to those who need it—without making those who receive aid dependent on someone else for continued support.


it’s all food

December 16, 2009

Somewhere along the road from the wheelbarrow to the supermarket, society-as-a-whole has decided that what food shopping really needs to be is sanitised. And not just sanitised, but made uniform, hence the increasing prevalence of insanely overpackaged vegetables, and the deeply counterproductive public clamour for produce that looks, rather than tastes good.

An immediate consequence – nature caring nothing for our notion of good looks, after all – is that an astonishing quantity of painstakingly grown and perfectly good food is simply thrown away as being unfit for human sale. This is not only an environmental disaster – farming takes a lot of resources – but a slap in the face to anyone who has ever had to go hungry.

As with many endemic modern problems, the first step towards a solution is raising awareness. Author Tristram Stuart is organising an event in which six tonnes of “misshapen” fruit and vegetables is turned into meals and given away. A small step, to be sure, but a step in the right direction. I’ll be watching this effort with interest – if you know of similar initiatives, do post them in the comments.

and oh, the difference to me

December 11, 2009

Effectivism: How to be a lazy activist

Tip of the hat to Lauren – when she said she was starting Effectivism I realised that I’d been meaning to start this blog for ages without actually doing anything about it. I note with some satisfaction that I got there first (:

nor any drop to drink

December 8, 2009

Dr Una Ryan’s startup, Waltham Technologies, proposes the use of blue-green algae to provide “a way of cleaning water in which the only input is dirty water and a little bit of light, and what you get out is clean water, enzymes and stock for biofuels”.

Also of interest are the use of materials like the smart sponge and aerogels to soak up oil spills.

just another hole in the wall

December 8, 2009

TechCrunch reports on the fascinating followup to the Hole In The Wall project.

An interesting twist:

A pilot project with the World Bank followed, and 22 of these “Hole in the Wall” kiosks were set up around the country from 2001 to 2005. The organization studied the results closely. The most obvious take-away was that kids left on their own will learn computers. The project also helped develop team-building and social skills—with 200 kids sometimes huddled around one screen. Whether the computers lead to more general academic improvement was less clear, but in many cases it was up measurably, Gupta says.

But interestingly when that partnership was over, NIIT didn’t take the project down the non-profit route. It’s not because the company is adverse to such things—it’s also opening a new high-end university that is run as a non-profit. But there’s a unique attitude in India that believes the way to eradicate poverty is to turn India’s scrappiest, free-market entrepreneurs on the problem, not to increase handouts.

hello world

October 4, 2009

Welcome to “A Lever Long Enough”, a blog about effectively changing the world. Disclaimer up front: this “blog” will mostly consist of links to other parts of the web. I might write the occasional piece or adorn a link with commentary, but my primary purpose is to share interesting stuff I find elsewhere.

What do I find interesting? Lots, actually. Science and technology, education, healthcare, the environment, homelessness, unemployment, hunger, the rights of various underprivileged groups, the problems facing the third world, energy, transportation, town planning … the list goes on. Follow me and find out! I am mostly fascinated by the ways in which an innovative, precisely focused effort can effect unexpectedly large improvements in the state of the world.

I’ll maintain an updated copy of this post here if the focus of this blog ever expands or changes.

mechanical advantage

October 4, 2009

“Give me a lever long enough, and a place on which to stand, and I will move the earth”
— Archimedes

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
— Margaret Mead