I hadn't really done much gear research in those naïve days, so I hadn't realized that you can have a featherweight, failsafe stove for about $3 if you limit your cooking needs to "boil water"—i.e. no simmering, sauteing, etc. Very few long-distance hikers have the patience to do anything besides boil water anyway. So yesterday I made an alcohol stove, the variety that's called the Fancy Feast or the Super Cat stove because they're usually made from tins of cat food.
The concept is devastatingly simple, but I was still having trouble explaining it to my college buddy Jordan over the phone the other day. Jordan is a software engineer living in a Pacific Heights penthouse who is generally quick on the uptake, but even he had been so conditioned by the traditional idea of backpacking stoves (he was an Eagle Scout) that he couldn't understand what I was saying: "You pour denatured alcohol into an empty cat food tin, you light it on fire, you put your pot on top, you set up a windscreen, and 6-8 minutes later your water is boiling." Below is a brief photo record of my efforts in building this stove.