That Could Have Been Me

Ahmed Mohamed
Ahmed Mohamed

Earlier this week, a 14-year-old high school student was arrested for bringing to school…

Ahmed's clock
Ahmed’s clock

…a homemade digital clock.

Like Ahmed Mohamed, I was into electronics when I was in high school.  I even built a digital clock from a kit when I was a little older than him.  It looked very similar to his clock, except that the display was smaller (it was the 1970s, after all) and I didn’t mount mine in a case.  I also didn’t think to bring it to school, not so much because I feared my teachers might consider it dangerous, but because I didn’t think it was that interesting.  It was, after all, just a clock, and it wouldn’t do anything unless plugged in.

But I did build my own baby computer, and I did bring that to school.  Computers weren’t quite ordinary consumer products in the late 1970s, and I couldn’t imagine asking my parents to buy me one.  So I set about building one for myself.

My little machine had a Z80 processor and 256 bytes of memory.  It had a panel with lights that flashed; I could hook up a speaker and make buzzing noises.  It fit comfortably in a shoe box, but it looked way creepier than Ahmed’s clock.  My physics teacher was interested, but didn’t say much.  None of the other teachers noticed.  Certainly, nobody thought it was anything nefarious.  (And my real reason for bringing to school was so that I could tinker with it at lunchtime and show my friends.)

Later, on graduation day, I won a $200 prize for experimental physics. It was a total surprise: my only clue was the day before, during the graduation rehearsal, when I was told to sit in the corner of the auditorium reserved for the prize winners.  I spent the money on more computer parts.

Ahmed, alas, wasn’t so lucky.  He was arrested on the suspicion that the clock was a ‘hoax bomb.’  OK, perhaps it is: if you were making a movie and looking for a bomb prop, Ahmed’s clock would be a plausible candidate.  And yes, it could probably configured to function as a timer for a real bomb.

But if it’s a timer you want, there are far cheaper and simpler alternatives out there.  And if the thought was that the clock was meant to perpetrate a disturbance, the simplest way to deal with that is to deny the disturbance: confiscate the clock until the end of the day, and return it with a stern warning.

And yes, Ahmed is a Moslem.  While I’m fully aware of the dangers of Islamic extremists, some judgement is still needed: sometimes a clock is just a clock.  I’ll take the school and police authorities at their word: if Ahmed had been some other color, the events would probably have unfolded the same way.  There are, after all, evil Tea Party types out there who believe in the (gasp!) Constitution.

Have we gotten so thoroughly stupid that we can’t recognize a smart kid who likes to build stuff?

5 thoughts on “That Could Have Been Me”

  1. I think there are two different things going on in this story. First him being Muslim. I do wonder if he would be treated the same if he was Christian and white. However what everyone is missing is the fact schools have gotten really goofy about things. Recently a girl got in trouble for bringing a Wonder Woman lunchbox claiming Superheroes are violent. There are many cases of kids expelled for bringing knifes to cut up lunch. I think society has just gotten stupid. No, I don’t think he should have gotten in trouble.

  2. Yes, I thought it was a dumb thing done by stupid people. That is because of the mistake that was made in this incident. And, I was right with regard to that! I had no idea the student was a Muslim, but I was 100% sure that the people who did this were stupid! ‘Nothing to see here folks’! It’s just your basic public school employee stupidity! Glad, and sad at the at the same time, that it was not racist but just your ‘garden-variety’ public school administration stupidity!

    1. Somebody on FB posted a comment about it — I couldn’t even figure out what she was talking about.

      All of this is silliness and chasing ambulances. And ha; we still haven’t quite mastered how to make our schools, or workplaces and our public gathering places safe and free of violence…. but its all this bullshit and conjecture over some kid who built something???

      Schools don’t want to stop the “HIB” — fancy lettering now for some asshole kid who pushes around another kid — but they want to stop a “Suspicious” student who made who knows what…

      Schools don’t care. Hasn’t anybody gotten that message yet? They think they’re making the place safer by nabbing somebody like the “bomb maker” in the photo.

      There is a middle school parent wo went to the board meeting and demanded to know why her son didn’t get the required counseling that he needed, because another student was targeting him for harassment…

      The board sat there dumbfounded and stumped.

      (that stupid middle school has been a breeding ground for decades for bullying and creepy kids who pick on others. Books stolen, faces slapped on a public bus, being called “a dumb Polack” — punched in a hallway and more. And the faculty turned their backs on all of this; I have seen it myself — and the same goes on up in the high school)

      1. I was severely bullied as a child and I think it’s part of the reason I have difficulties now. I’m talking being hit, having things stolen and the teachers (and yes even the administrators knowing)and doing nothing. In fact I had teachers who encouraged bullying, I’m not kidding. I had one teacher stand u in class and call me a honky (she was black)after I reported three black girls picking on me and pushed me down. This teacher left school (or was she fired?) By far though the biggest bullies were all white and I was called names because I was darker. I had a teacher (my fifth grade teacher)who severely bullied me. Talking changing my grades (I always got certificates for perfect grades in spelling and English, that year I didn’t). Kids were hitting me yet I was the one who got punished. I tried to kill myself because I felt worthless by swallowing a bottle of aspirin (I just got sick). Luckily the internet wasn’t around then, don’t know how I would have handled it. I was also bullied because I had coordination and speech problems. I took classes on both and overcame them (in fact by high school I was an athlete and had a career in radio) but when I was small it was horrible.

  3. Yes, I was bullied as a child… probably pretty much everyone was, at one point or another. But worse than the actual bullies (because there were only one or two in a class) were the larger number of classmates who just thought I was strange, probably because I wasn’t that interested in television or sports.

    Now that I’m older, I realize that bullying is part of the human condition, and something that one needs to learn to overcome on the way to adulthood. On the other hand, bullies now have power tools through social media that didn’t exist 20 years ago.

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