Preview: Maker Faire Africa

A pedal-powered wooden car is examined at the Berlin Maker Faire.
A pedal-powered wooden car is examined at the Berlin Maker Faire.
Sean Gallup, Getty Images

What happens when you put the drivers of ingenious concepts from Mali with those from Ghana and Kenya, and add resources to the mix? That's exactly the question that organizers of the first Maker Faire Africa intend to answer starting tomorrow, when inventors, venture capitalists, journalists, and curious members of the general public gather in Accra, Ghana, for a 3-day celebration of do-it-yourself innovation. The aim of the event, an offshoot of similar gatherings in the United States held over the past few years, is to identify, spur, and support local development by bringing Africa's brightest inventors and idea men and women together in a single forum.

A Maker What?

rubeThe original Maker Faire was held in April 2006 in San Mateo, California. Sponsored by MAKE Magazine and billed as the world's biggest celebration of science, engineering, and crafting, the event drew roughly 20,000 visitors. Maker Faire's popularity has grown in the years since, with MAKE sponsoring events in Austin, Texas, and Newcastle, United Kingdom, in addition to subsequent gatherings in San Mateo. "It's pinnacle geek culture that you can't find anywhere else in the world," one product designer told Wired last year. MAKE is busy preparing to host Maker Faire Rhode Island in September. One of the most popular exhibits to appear at several Maker Faires since the event's inception is the life-size, Rube Goldberg-esque mousetrap inspired by the classic board game of the same name. Another geeky favorite is the Diet Coke and Mentos-fueled Bellagio-style fountain.

Into Africa

While MAKE isn't an official sponsor of Maker Faire Africa, the editors of the magazine allowed the Maker Faire Africa organizers to use the MF name and they'll be covering the event. Maker Faire Africa was the idea of entrepreneur and TED Africa Director Emeka Okafor, who authors a blog, Timbuktu Chronicles, about innovation in Africa. "The aim is to identify, spur and support local innovation," Okafor originally wrote on Ned.com, where he launched his idea for Maker Faire Africa in 2008. "At the same time, Maker Faire Africa would seek to imbue creative types in science and technology with an appreciation of fabrication and by default manufacturing. The long-term interest here is to cultivate an endogenous manufacturing base that supplies innovative products in response to market needs."

Why Ghana? Why Now?

ghana Okafor and his fellow organizers, including AfriGadget.com founder Erik Hershman and Nii Simmonds of the blog, Nubian Cheetah, scheduled the first Maker Faire Africa to follow the International Development Design Summit, which was held in Kumasi, Ghana. Finished prototypes from the summit, which was organized by MIT and ran through Wednesday, will be presented at MFA. Okafor hopes this week's Maker Faire is the first of many in Africa.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

One of the featured presenters scheduled to speak at Maker Faire Africa is William Kamkwamba, a Malawian who, against all odds, built an electricity-generating windmill as a teenager out of primarily scrap materials. Kamkwamba was forced to drop out of school at the age of 14 because his family couldn't afford the nominal annual tuition. After reading a library book about wind energy, he constructed a windmill out of a broken bicycle, a tractor fan blade, and blue-gum trees, among other things. His prototype windmill powered four light bulbs, two radios, and mobile phones, and Kamkwamba soon built two more windmills to provide his family with electricity, a luxury only 2 percent of Malawians could afford. After news of his ingenuity spread, Kamkwamba was invited to speak at the TEDGlobal 2007 conference, where a group of investors agreed to finance his education. Kamkwamba has since authored a book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, which will be released in September, and is the subject of a documentary.

Other Presenters

Among the other inventors who will attend Maker Faire Africa are Dominic Wanjihia, who invented a device called the Evapocooler to cool camels' milk for transportation in Somalia, and a pair of Kenyan students who designed a pocket-sized and pedal-powered cell phone charger that can be attached to the back wheel of a bike. Hershman, who regularly profiles similar inventions on AfriGadget.com, is attending Maker Faire Africa with the goal of getting feedback on a collaborative design effort with the Portable Light project and messenger bag-maker Timbuk2. Hershman has brought several prototypes of the FLAP (Flexible Light And Power) bag "“ a messenger bag outfitted with a solar panel connected to an LED light "“ to Ghana to determine how useful the device would be to people in Africa. You can read more about the FLAP project here.

Maker Faire Video Vault

Here are several videos from previous Maker Faires, including a successful run of the life-size mousetrap.
2009 Bay Area
2008 Austin
Life-Size Mouse Trap

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Writing a Term Paper? This Font Is a Sneaky Way to Meet Your Page Count

iStock
iStock

Stretching the margins, widening line spaces, making your periods slightly larger than the rest of the text—these tricks should sound familiar to any past or current students who've ever struggled to meet the page requirements of a writing assignment. As more professors get wise to these shortcuts, students are forced to get even sneakier when stretching their essays—and the digital agency MSCHF is here to help them.

As Fast Company reports, MSCHF has released an updated version of Times New Roman, the only difference from the standard font being that theirs takes up more space per character. When developing Times Newer Roman, the designers manipulated one character at a time, stretching them just enough to make a difference in the final page count without making the changes look noticeable. The result is a typeface that covers about 5 to 10 percent more line space than Times New Roman text of the same size, saving writers nearly 1000 words in a 15-page, single-spaced paper in 12-point type.

Getting the look right wasn't the only challenge MSCHF faced when designing the font. Times New Roman is a licensed property, so Times Newer Roman is technically a twist on Nimbus Roman No.9 L (1)—an open-source font that's meant to look indistinguishable from Times New Roman.

If you'd like to test out the font for yourself (for curiosity's sake, of course; definitely not to use on your term paper), you can download Times Newer Roman for free.

[h/t Fast Company]

Frank Lloyd Wright's Spiral House in Phoenix Hits the Market for $12.9 Million

Frank Lloyd Wright designed nearly 60 houses in his lifetime (and even more if you count the ones that were never built). You’ll find these iconic structures scattered throughout the U.S. Some are private homes in far-flung places, while others have been turned into museums.

One of these structures is the spiral-shaped David and Gladys Wright House in the affluent Arcadia neighborhood of Phoenix, Arizona. And if you have $12,950,000 to spare, it could be yours to keep. As Curbed reports, the home is currently up for sale via Russ Lyon Sotheby's International Realty.

The home’s distinctive shape and spiral walk-up are early examples of Wright’s rounded style, which he honed and mastered while drawing up plans for the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The museum opened in 1959, just six months after his death.

Of course, even non-architecture aficionados would probably agree that this is a beautiful—and comfortable—home. It boasts three bedrooms, four baths, custom-designed furniture, and a roof deck overlooking Camelback Mountain. The home was constructed for and named after Wright’s son David and daughter-in-law Gladys in 1952. After their deaths, a developer bought the home and made plans to demolish it to make room for new houses in 2012.

However, another buyer—current owner Zach Rawling—stepped in and took it off the developer's hands for $2.3 million, saving it from certain death. Rawling’s plan was to donate it to the School of Architecture at Taliesin in order to preserve it, but that partnership fell through, so it’s back on the market once again.

Frank Lloyd Wright homes can be difficult to sell for a number of reasons. For one, the high asking price for these old-fashioned homes—some of which don’t have air conditioning and other modern comforts—can be hard to justify. But even if you can't cough up several million dollars for the David and Gladys Wright House, you can still scope it out via an online interactive floor plan.

[h/t Curbed]

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