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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This Amazing Travel Wallet Can Hold Your Passport and Keep You Organized on the Go

Amazon
Amazon

Traveling is the ultimate test of one’s organizational skills. There’s a lot to keep track of—including your passport, driver’s license, boarding passes, credit cards, and possibly several types of currency—and it helps to have a wallet that can handle it all.

That’s where the Zoppen travel passport wallet comes in. As Travel + Leisure points out, this $14 wallet on Amazon’s Most Wished For list has more than 1800 five-star reviews, making it one of the best travel wallets you can get on a budget. There’s a compartment for just about everything, including your phone, passport, pen, oversized travel documents, and those tiny SIM cards (for prepaid phone plans) that are so easy to lose.

Plus, it may provide some peace of mind if you own any contactless credit cards with RFID chips (the cards often have a radio wave symbol on them). The wallet contains RFID-blocking technology, which means your credit card information will be safe from “skimmers.” (Though most U.S. credit cards have EMV chips, those in other countries are more likely to have RFID chips, according to NPR.)

The wallet is made from artificial leather and comes in 33 different colors (though some colors have a slightly higher price). And if extra space for your plastic is important to you, you can shell out an extra dollar for the Version 5 wallet, which has four additional credit card slots.

Want more tips on how to get organized for your next big trip? Check out our guides to crafting the perfect itinerary and packing like a pro.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

11 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Holiday Window Display Designers

iStock.com/andykazie
iStock.com/andykazie

For decades, lavish holiday window displays at department stores have been one of the first signs of the season. But have you ever wondered how the designers behind the windows create those enchanting arrangements? Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at everything that goes into making the holiday windows so magical at this time of year—from the best way to arrange lights to the pre-season all-nighters.

1. Every holiday window has a purpose.

The holiday windows are supposed to make you feel something, says Jacques Rosas, New York-based artist, founder, and CEO of Jacques Rosas, which does holiday window installations in stores such as Godiva, Elizabeth Arden, and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Whenever Rosas is working on a window, he asks about the personality of the store, what they’re imagining, favorite decorations, traditions, and more—all starting with what they sell. “I try to pull settings that have nostalgia for them,” Rosas says. “I think the magical part is the nostalgia.” He loves the feel of an old-fashioned Christmas—last year, he decked out one store window with handmade stockings, old ornaments, and a real train.

2. You won’t see many Christmas trees in the store windows.

A Macy's 2007 holiday window display.
A Macy's 2007 holiday window display.
Wally Gobetz, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (cropped)

At least not any real Christmas trees, Rosas says. Usually, the windows are hot, dry places, so any live trees would dry out and die. They could also catch fire, so a lot of the newer buildings won’t use them even if they could create the right environmental conditions. “We tend to use a lot of fake stuff,” Rosas says.

3. You also won’t see any products.

While store windows throughout the year are supposed to sell products, this time of year is all about the entertainment, says David Spaeth, CEO of Spaeth Design, which does holiday windows for Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Tiffany & Co. and Bergdorf Goodman. Sure, you may see a product or two in some of the windows (it’s not a hard-and-fast rule), but this is the time to seduce customers with gorgeous snowflakes or pretty (fake) trees instead of fantastic outfits.

4. But you will see lights.

A Bloomingdale's 2008 holiday window
A Bloomingdale's 2008 holiday window
Wally Gobetz, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (cropped)

Lights are what draws customers to the windows, and they can really make the displays pop. But you’d be surprised at how few lights will make a big splash, Rosas says. “There’s not a lot of lights—that’s a big mistake,” he says. "If you do too many, the reflection will play tricks on the viewer, and you won’t actually be able to see anything but lights.” Instead, he uses a few perfectly placed lights that bounce off each other. Rosas also tends to use plenty of wood composite, fiberglass, bark, paper, and plastic to create his scenes. But don't be surprised to spot other wacky items in holiday store windows, like Lite-Brite (yes, the retro toy), coffee stirrers, and even taxidermy. Anything goes when it comes to creating the perfect holiday window.

5. They plan ahead.

When the holidays start dying down, these designers are just getting started on the following year, says Michael Bednark, owner of Bednark Studio, a Brooklyn-based fabrication studio that is responsible for some of the Macy’s holiday windows throughout the country. Design talks start in January, and by March, the ideas are set. It takes two more months to figure out rendering, and the summer months are for fabrication (building the physical elements). Installation starts even before Halloween—by about mid-October, Bednark says.

6. They have working habits comparable to vampires.

Ever wonder how holiday windows pop up like magic? That’s because the artists work through the night to put them up so that they’ll appear in the morning. Installation for the simpler windows usually takes six to eight hours, Rosas says. “We have to be like wizards,” he explains.

7. Some windows can take weeks to install.

A Bergdorf Goodman holiday window in 2014
A Bergdorf Goodman holiday window in 2014
iStock.com/LukeAbrahams

A regular window display is an overnight job, but the team working on the Macy’s windows pre-builds them inside the shop. There’s a fake window inside every single Macy’s store, filled with the entire holiday window display. “We pre-build inside the shop so we can make sure that everything fits,” Bednark says. The pre-build takes about four weeks. If it’s a go, it’s moved into the regular window, which takes three weeks.

8. To make it look perfect, the artists touch every light.

The reason store windows look amazing while your holiday display might look just passable is because these designers really pay attention to the details. “When you decorate a tree, or you’re doing your lights and everything, the secret to really nice displays is to touch and adjust each branch, each light, and position everything as if everything was its own individual thing,” Rosas says. “That’s the secret to styling.”

9. When the season is over, the displays are usually tossed.

Some stores will re-use the decorations in-house, but many will toss them because the décor is so unique. Basically, they don’t want to wear the same outfit two days in a row, Spaeth explains.

10. The holidays aren’t their only busy season.

People love holiday store windows, and they’re great for business. But these artists are busy year-round, Rosas says. In addition to doing store window displays for every season, they also decorate show rooms, do trade show displays, and even create sets for TV shows and product launches. In Rosas’s studio, they have two 7500-square-foot spaces, and they use these for creating fake store windows or for marketing experiences. For example, a yogurt company may hire Rosas to use that studio to build an entire yogurt set as a backdrop for a yogurt product launch. The yogurt company would then invite members of the media to the room, where they’d take pictures and do interviews. “We try to inspire people to write about [the company] there,” Rosas says.

11. If you want to replicate the look, get out your checkbook.

A Bergdorf Goodman 2014 holiday window
A Bergdorf Goodman 2014 holiday window
iStock.com/LukeAbrahams

To hire a professional display artist to do your holiday windows, expect to pay anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000 per window, depending on the number of details and amount of work it will take, Bednark says. In other words, making this kind of magic doesn't come cheap.

A version of this story first ran in 2016.

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