A recent news story got re-twitted by many ENCODE fans and alike, which got us suspicious about the veracity of the original account. For those not familiar with the story, here is the CNN version -
But what is the truth?
I have something in common with Ahmed Mohamed: as a youngster, I was also an electronics enthusiast. At his age and even earlier, I frequently took apart electronic devices anything from my own toys, to broken things around the house, and even that dirty garbage-picked black and white TV my parents dragged home that they knew Id have a blast playing with (I did.) Id try and troubleshoot, repair, or sometimes just disassemble things and salvage components for future projects. Id try and imagine how all those bits and pieces, lengths of wires, mazes of conductive circuit board traces all came together to produce an image, or a sound, or some other useful function. I wanted to know how it all worked.
Without dating myself fast forward a bunch of years, and Im the same way. Ive even picked up an engineering degree over the course of those years. I dont have to only imagine how things work anymore, I have a pretty good understanding now. When shopping for electronic devices, my first instinct is to see if theres a way to build one myself (and, I frequently do!) When something of mine breaks, I dont send it back, I take it as a personal challenge to get it working again. If I fail, I still salvage useful parts they might come in handy to fix something else later. This aspect of myself being both methodical, and curious hasnt changed a bit over the years.
So, this story about a 14 year old boy in Texas that was arrested on suspicion of creating a bomb hoax (who, apparently just wanted to show off his latest electronics project to his teachers) that has blown up (no pun intended) all over the news and social media, caught my attention immediately. Not because of his race, or his religion, the seeming absurdity of the situation, the emotionally charged photo of a young boy in a NASA t-shirt being led off in hand cuffs, the hash tags, the presidential response no, none of that. Im an electronics geek. I was interested in the clock! I wanted to figure out what he had come up with.
I found the highest resolution photograph of the clock I could. Instantly, I was disappointed. Somewhere in all of this there has indeed been a hoax. Ahmed Mohamed didnt invent his own alarm clock. He didnt even build a clock. Now, before I go on and get accused of attacking a 14 year old kid whos already been through enough, let me explain my purpose. I dont want to just dissect the clock. I want to dissect our reaction as a society to the situation. Part of that is the knee-jerk responses were all so quick to make without facts. So, before you scroll down and leave me angry comments, please continue to the end (or not prove my point, and miss the point, entirely!)
For starters, one glance at the printed circuit board in the photo, and I knew we were looking at mid-to-late 1970s vintage electronics. Surely youve seen a modern circuit board, with metallic traces leading all over to the various components like an electronic spiders web. Youll notice right away the highly accurate spacing, straightness of the lines, consistency of the patterns. Thats because…