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Hardware Projects (and Pranks) That Have Scared Observers 193

In the wake of the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed in Irving, Texas, for carrying to school an electronics project believed by a teacher to look like a bomb, Make Magazine has a timely reminder that Ahmed's project is one of many home-brew efforts that sparked (or could have sparked) extreme reactions. Make's list includes a few from tinkerers -- and pranksters -- that not only looked like bombs, but were fully intended to look that way. ("Back in 1967, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was arrested for building a metronome and storing it in a friend’s locker. He rigged a tin-foil contract sensor to the metronome in the locker, and set up the device to tick faster when his buddy opened the locker.") The article doesn't note the 2007 incident in Boston in which a guerilla advertising campaign for "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" raised fears of a terrorism and led to two arrests. Gawker has a slightly more pointed article about other students who have specifically brought home-assembled clocks to school, without being arrested.
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Hardware Projects (and Pranks) That Have Scared Observers

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  • by Shadow of Eternity ( 795165 ) on Sunday September 20, 2015 @09:32AM (#50560631)

    but nobody invited that kid to the whitehouse. Ahmed's race has gotten media outrage on his side, but what happened to him was not remotely unique. Everything from pointing at someone and going "pow" to chewing poptarts into the wrong shape has gotten kids anything from arrested to expelled. The only commonality is it seems to be universally boys treated this way, likely due to society's compulsive need to pathologize everything about them and ascribe nefarious motivations to their every action.

    • ahmed was trying to do something constructive, in the STEM area. the usa is trying to focus on STEM education. and here's a kid who goes out of his way to do something on his own initiative in the area, and he gets treated like a criminal because of his race/ religion. that's why it is so egregious

      the other overreactions by school for stupid things happens too, and are fucking stupid and the school admins should be punished. but they don't merit an invite to the white house because they are a different topic

      like this:

      http://kfor.com/2014/08/21/stu... [kfor.com]

      the kid wrote a short story about shooting a neighbor's pet dinosaur *as requested by his teacher*. and he gets treated like a criminal and suspended for a week

      that's obviously fucking stupid. the school admins should be punished, the kid should be apologized to

      but there's no anti-muslim hysteria angle, and there's no STEM angle. so it doesn't pique people's interests above the local area

      the usa is trying to encourage STEM education. and the usa has a problem with anti-muslim bigots. therefore ahmed's case rises to national attention

      ahmed's case is simply not the same as the other cases you mention

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Really? I initially thought the kid had a kit clock or something more innovative. When you find out he took the guts out of a commercial clock and put it in a box and to boot he is 14? I was tearing things apart at half his age. Tying this to stem is interesting even with reports that the stem issue is pretty bogus. Take the things he did to an airport and also claim you invented it -- they should rightly give you a heck of a hard time. Then look at his father. The whole thing wreaks of a publicity

      • Your own link disproves your claim of racism. Boys all over the country of all races are treated exactly the same by schools. What happened to Ahmed has nothing more to do with his race than poptart kid's race had to do with his situation.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          a white christian was treated badly

          therefore, racism and anti-muslim hysteria do not exist

          do you listen to yourself or is the grey matter in your skull really that thin?

          this is real:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

          i suppose the next step is to claim it's all a set up. the alex jones "false flag! false flag!" crowd will come to defend good old american bigotry being framed and misconstrued by the mass media

          • by poity ( 465672 )

            Racism in general can exist in the same reality where Ahmed Mohamed was not a victim of racism but of silly zero tolerance policies. Anti-Muslim sentiment can exist in the same reality where Ahmed Mohamed pulled a stunt that pranked even the President.

            You're right that individual cases don't by themselves disprove aggregate phenomena, but aggregate phenomena also doesn't mean all individual cases can be explained in the same way.

            • oh i'm sorry, you have inside knowledge that ahmed wasn't a victim of anti-muslim bigotry and racism, got it

              to assume a brown muslim kid with an electronic doodad getting arrested for a bomb hoax when he said it wasn't a bomb: this wasn't at all motivated by hysteria or fear based on race/ religion. obviously, of course

              • by poity ( 465672 )

                I can't prove a negative, and I won't presume the positive without some convincing evidence that rises above the mere fact that the kid is brown and Muslim. Being brown and Muslim doesn't make every bad thing that happens to you racially motivated.

                • keeping an open mind doesn't mean so open your brains fall out. if you can't see some anti-muslim prejudice at work here, you are being intellectually dishonest

                  the larger point being that it is so, so, so important to you for this not to be islamophobia. why is it so difficult for you to admit that islamophobia exists and is obviously at work here if you have half a fucking brain?

              • oh i'm sorry, you have inside knowledge that ahmed wasn't a victim of anti-muslim bigotry and racism, got it

                to assume a brown muslim kid with an electronic doodad getting arrested for a bomb hoax when he said it wasn't a bomb: this wasn't at all motivated by hysteria or fear based on race/ religion. obviously, of course

                This is a really easy game to play, isn't it? Any time any minority is treated unfairly, we can claim it's because of bigotry and racism! Win! Nobody can prove the opposite, no evidence to the contrary is adequate.

                Let's keep this going as much as possible. We don't want people mixing in with people outside their own group, now do we?

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            A brown muslim was treated badly in the exact same way as an enormous number of other non-brown non-muslim people in the exact same situation.

            Therefore, racism and anti-muslim hysteria is to blame.

            Do you listen to yourself?

            • your position is all these cases are exactly the same

              well sure, if you're purposefully a know nothing "it's all the same, the details don't matter" kind of social retard then indeed everything is ok and everything makes sense. but in which case why are you even arguing? enjoy your world where it's all the same and nothing matters. leave the arguments to those of us who can actually look to motivation and intent and are interested in the details

              • Your position is that all these cases are the same until it happens to the Designated Victim, then suddenly it's proof america is drowning in islamophobia and racism. You're not "looking to motivation and intent", you're fabricating it to fit your prejudices.

                • there is no islamophobia in the usa?

                  this is your honest position?

                  where do you blind retards come from?

                  • I never said that at all, what I said is Ahmed was treated the exact same as dozens to hundreds of other boys across the country. The only thing his race has gotten him is beneficial treatment like an invitation to the white house. What I will say is that islamophobia is a bullshit panic considering that there are 1.5 billion muslims in the world, over 30 officially muslim nations, and is so far from oppressed that the victims of shootings by islamic terrorists are blamed for provoking their own brutal murd

      • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

        ahmed was trying to do something constructive, in the STEM area.

        Unfortunately, it sounds like the whole thing may have been a hoax in a misguided attempt to draw attention to Islamophobia - or at the very least a cry for attention.

        Apparently the kid didn't build anything, he just took apart a 1980's Radio Shack digital clock and put it inside a very strangely "suspicious" looking metal briefcase with padded interior.

        http://blogs.artvoice.com/tech... [artvoice.com]

        So at the least, the kid lied about "building a clock" and

    • by taiwanjohn ( 103839 ) on Sunday September 20, 2015 @10:58AM (#50560951)

      Speaking of guns... when I was a HS sophomore (1978-79) we needed a "gunshot" sound effect for the school play. Finding it too difficult to synchronize a tape recording with the action on stage (not to mention, it just sounded like a recording, which was distracting), one of the sound crew guys brought a .410 shotgun from home, along with some wadding-load shells (ie: blanks). That way, he could stand in the hallway, looking in through the backstage door, and deliver the sound right on cue.

      This was all done with the school's full knowledge and approval. And Andy kept the gun and shells in his locker for the last few days of rehearsals and performances. Alas, those were different times.

      Funny thing though, on the night of dress rehearsal, he was paying such close attention to the onstage action that he didn't really notice where he was aiming. He ended up shooting the face off the clock on the opposite side of the wall. We still razz him about that to this day. ;-)

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        ah yes, another responsible gun owner, never having any accidents

        statistically speaking, owning a gun increases the danger to you and your loved ones, a notion your anecdote supports

        • by DaHat ( 247651 )

          statistically speaking, owning a gun increases the danger to you and your loved ones, a notion your anecdote supports

          Cherry picked & misrepresented statistics do say that yes.

          If someone is desiring to kill themselves or others, having a gun around does sometime lead to an uptick in deaths due to guns... if they don't have a gun around it causes an uptick in knife, auto, blunt object and other deaths... which never seem to matter for some reason.

          • If someone is desiring to kill themselves or others, having a gun around does sometime lead to an uptick in deaths due to guns

            actually it does. guns make killing easy. therefore it happens more often

            if you have a bunch of hammers lying around a kindergarten class, kids tend to get hit with hammers. if there were no hammers, people would still be getting hit, but the injuries would be hell of a lot less severe

            just look at australia or the uk. they actually have higher violence rate than the usa, and lower ho

        • Off topic: We're talking about "zero tolerance" policies in schools and the overlap with racism. (And I have never owned a gun.)

      • by sribe ( 304414 )

        Speaking of guns... when I was a HS sophomore (1978-79) we needed a "gunshot" sound effect for the school play.

        In the same approximate timeframe, we had the actual gun on stage, actually fired by one of the student actors ;-)

    • A friend of mine owns a large metal machine that powers itself by a series of small explosions. It can travel upwards of 100 MPH, and weighs over a ton. Similar machines have been responsible for well over a dozen of deaths already, yet he thinks nothing of riding it to work every day. The police have never questioned him about his giant metal death machine.

    • by ai4px ( 1244212 )
      In the schools boy are treated as defective girls. Girls' behavior is the standard.
  • by laird ( 2705 ) <lairdp@gmail.ERDOScom minus math_god> on Sunday September 20, 2015 @09:34AM (#50560641) Journal

    In the guerrilla advertising campaign for "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" there were blinkies spread around 12 cities, 11 of which managed to figure out that LEDs are not explosives. Only Boston cops freaked out, locking the city down (despite being told by MIT that there were no explosives) and wasting $millions. Of course Boston cops aren't big on apologizing after their screw-ups; they tend to double down despite reality. The silver lining is that 11 other cities' cops were rational and did the right thing, which is cause for some optimism.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The problem is Boston repeated the scare later, closing down their airport briefly when an MIT student brought an electronics project to the airport.

      And again, after the Marathon bombings, they illegally shut down the entire city in order to catch the bombers that turned out to no longer be in the city. Oops!

      Basically, Boston police don't know what the fuck they're doing and people should stay the fuck away from Boston if they value their freedom.

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Sunday September 20, 2015 @09:57AM (#50560713) Journal

    Young Mr Mohammed seems to have
    a) not "built" anything, merely taken the case off a clock, and put it in a box....
    b)...which looked astonishingly suspicious with lots of bare wires all kludged in there...
    c) which was then closed with a cord (why? Why not just latch the case closed with its latches?)
    http://blogs.artvoice.com/tech... [artvoice.com]

    Personally, I don't see this as a binary issue where one has to pick one "side" or the other.
    I believe that:
    - Young Mr Mohammed was either deliberately trolling his school authorities, or he was used to do so.
    AND
    - the authorities overreacted as did the cops who absurdly put a non-threatening willowy boy in cuffs why again? ...and the media ate that narrative shit right up.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Perhaps its something much simpler. Face.

      People behaved like asses, making fools of themselves. They now need to rationalize this foolishness. By cognitive dissonance. In other cultures we call it "saving face".

      Nothing special, a normal human trait, so now they say "well it was a clock, but we were MISLED into thinking it was a bomb by the cunning of Mr Mohammed who pranked us by repeatedly telling us it was a clock!".

      Cognitive dissonance doesn't get anymore extreme than this.

      Normally what happens at this p

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That could just as easily have been myself when I was his age. That would be a naive young kid wearing a NASA t-shirt who likes to take stuff apart and muck around with it.

      "Look what I invented mom!"

      Media/police get involved and everything is blown out of proportion for the young man.

      So, was Ahmed an inventor? No. He just repackaged a clock in about 20 minutes. That would make him a budding 'Maker' or 'hacker'. Ahmed probably wouldn't know the difference.

      Anyways, he's heading in the right direction, and I h

    • OK it wasn't that portable. But I stripped an NES and put it in a casset tape case with enough D cells to get it to run. Then I took one of those small Casio pocket TV's and connected it. I also put in a car adapter plug since it didn't run long on batteries. It was pretty cludged together but we could play NES games in the car during long road trips.

  • Actually... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kenh ( 9056 ) on Sunday September 20, 2015 @09:57AM (#50560715) Homepage Journal

    The teachers believed Ahmed wanted the teachers to believe it was a bomb. The school called the police about a possible bomb hoax, not a possible bomb, as evidenced by the police response that did not include sending the bomb squad to the school and the school's decision not to evacuate.

    Can we talk about the really troubling thing about this story - that a 14 year-old high school student thinks removing the case from a store bought clock radio is a process of 'invention' as evidenced by his repeated claims he 'invented' this clock and that he was 'proud' of his project and wanted to show it off to his teachers?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Seriously - when this story first broke, I was on Ahmed's side, because - well, he was presented as a tinkerer, and who doesn't want to stand up for people who tinker?

      But it's become clear that he doesn't tinker. He didn't make anything. He took the pieces out of a clock and shoved them into a pencil case. I can break a clock and dump it into a pencil case. Anyone can. It reminds me of a story I read growing up about a 10 year old "building a computer." He didn't. He shoved parts into a case. I can do that.

      • Ahmed didn't build a clock. He built a PROP. And the police wanted to know what he was planning on doing with prop bomb at school, which Ahmed simply wouldn't answer. And that's why he was arrested.

        +1

      • Re:Actually... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Sunday September 20, 2015 @12:55PM (#50561555) Journal

        There's a war on law enforcement by the media these days, and this was being used as an example of "overreaching law enforcement" except that it turns out it WASN'T. Ahmed didn't build a clock. He built a PROP. And the police wanted to know what he was planning on doing with prop bomb at school, which Ahmed simply wouldn't answer. And that's why he was arrested.

        So, a kid repackages a clock to look like .... a clock. The kid tells anyone who asks that it's a clock. The police believe it is a clock. The whole "prop bomb" idea was invented whole cloth by the police.

        What you are accusing the kid of is pure thought crime.

        What they never did find out is why he felt the need to pull the parts out of a clock and shove them into a pencil case and bring it to school.

        Who cares? It was a clock. He did not display the clock in any manner that would suggest that it was a bomb.

        Perhaps the police and school were being trolled. But like the truism "you can't con an honest man", it's clear that the actions of the police were not motivated by rational thought. Instead, they were most likely motivated by racism. Racism that this device demonstrated most effectively.

        What this kid built (perhaps deliberately, perhaps inadvertantly) was a racism detector. Perhaps you would advocate a law against "racism detectors"?

      • "But it's become clear that he doesn't tinker. "

        Which is entirely irrelevant.

        " And the police wanted to know what he was planning on doing with prop bomb at school, which Ahmed simply wouldn't answer."

        At the time of his arrest for building a hoax bomb there was absolutely no evidence that he was attempting to perpetrate a hoax. He couldn't answer what he was planning to do with a "prop bomb" since he didn't have a prob bomb to plan to do anything with. They might as well have asked him when he stopped beati

    • Re:Actually... (Score:5, Informative)

      by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Sunday September 20, 2015 @10:22AM (#50560803) Journal
      Friend.. read the original news story: http://www.dallasnews.com/news... [dallasnews.com]

      The kid never claimed to have 'invented' anything, or that he'd even built the clock from scratch, he came right out and said that he'd thrown it together in 20 minutes out of junk parts, to take to school with him, to show his teachers what he was capable of; but of course once the media (not to mention the public) got hold of the whole thing, the story started getting distorted very quickly. What we have here is a 14-year-old boy who did something as ill-advised and devoid of forethought for possible consequences as any other 14-year-old boy might have done; he never considered that some dumb adults at his school would freak out because they have no understanding of what they were actually looking at. I'll bet that if he had told his folks he was going to take that to school with him, and showed it to them, they might have told him it wasn't a great idea simply because something like this would happen.
      • Re: Actually... (Score:3, Informative)

        by kenh ( 9056 )

        Watch this interview [msnbc.com]with Chris Hayes from MSNBC - within the first minute he claims to have bought a bunch of parts and put them together himself.

        • Watch this interviewwith Chris Hayes from MSNBC

          Do you have any sources that can be viewed without permitting every piece of shit spyware ad tracker fuckhead in the universe to run scripts on your computer?

          You know, if he bought defunct electronic devices, then he bought parts. And if he put them together himself, then he put them together himself. Are you sure you just aren't having problems with English? I'm not going to view your shit cite to find out.

      • Except that story defeats your point.

        "Ahmed Mohamed â" who makes his own radios and repairs his own go-kart â" hoped to impress his teachers when he brought a homemade clock to MacArthur High on Monday"
        and
        "...He said he threw it together in about 20 minutes before bedtime on Sunday: a circuit board and power supply wired to a digital display, all strapped inside a case with a tiger hologram on the front...."

        There's almost nothing homemade about it; read my link: he took the COVER off a clock, and

        • Since you're not quoting anything I'm not exactly sure if you're responding to me or to some other commenter in this thread, but I'll say this: It isn't exactly unheard-of for a 14-year-old boy to exaggerate, any more than it is for them to not think things through thoroughly before acting. Also, you sound like you're being a bit pedantic about this; please stop that.
      • "a 14-year-old boy who did something as ill-advised and devoid of forethought for possible consequences as any other 14-year-old boy might have done; he never considered that some dumb adults at his school would freak out because they have no understanding of what they were actually looking at."

        No rational person could anticipate that level of irrational response.

        • No rational person could anticipate that level of irrational response

          Sure; but you have to admit, 14-year-old boys aren't exactly noted for thinking things through thoroughly.

        • by Boronx ( 228853 )

          Unfortunately having dealt with school administrators recently, I could have. It really is "watch what you say or you're out" these days in public schools.

      • by Boronx ( 228853 )

        I'm guessing he's got a bit of the Aspergers. Such kids really have no clue what is going to freak out adults. Yes, if he'd asked somebody, he might have found out in advance, but Asperger kids don't do that, either.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      why does the fact you're not impressed by his tinkering more important than a kid getting railroaded by moronic police and school admins?

      your priorities are... stupid. sorry, but that's really the best word for what you think is the important issue here

      • by poity ( 465672 )

        He doesn't seem to have been "railroaded" though. If this account of what happened [youtube.com] is correct, he took it to school, showed it to a bunch of teachers, most of whom ignored it until in a later class period an English teacher asked him to put it away, at which time he refused, and was sent to the principal. When the principal didn't get an adequate answer as to why he brought it to school, the cops were called in based on the thinking that it was an attempt to scare the teachers with a hoax. He was handcuffed

        • by poity ( 465672 )

          /. removed the time, I think, or maybe I didn't copy/paste right. Mark Cuban's second hand account starts at ~1:40 in that video

        • is your point to say it's not a big deal to handcuff a kid, deny him his parents, and coerce him to sign a "confession", just for showing an interest in building things?

          • by poity ( 465672 )

            The wrongfulness of his being handcuffed should not be reason for us to lionize him or create myths about him. We can condemn what we factually know (arrest, handcuffs) without jumping to conclusions about the rest (teachers were racist, he's a genius kid, etc)

            The evidence right now actually points to a prank meant get a rise out of teachers, which didn't work (since most ignored it until it started to make noise in class), but which did result in him being referred to the principal for being uncooperative

            • The evidence right now actually points to a prank meant get a rise out of teachers

              you are a lying scumbag

              to see the facts of this case, and write those works, makes you nothing less than that

              i pity anyone who has to interact with you in the real world, that instead of accepting real life evidence that goes against your ill-informed ignorant bigotry, you have to invent alternate reality delusions. someone in real life, a friend, a relative, a significant other,a coworker, is going to pay a heavy price for be

  • He rigged a tin-foil contract sensor to the metronome in the locker

    A contract sensor? The guy had to sign a NDA before being pranked?

    • No. No. The friend was Steve Jobs*. Even in school the easiest way to detect his presence was to detect the presence of a contract!

      * I actually have no idea if it was Jobs, and doubt it was since that fact would likely have been mentioned.
  • From the pictures it looked like the 120V from the power cord was not protected in any way. If you plugged it in and touched the wrong place you could have had a nasty shock.

    • Danger is what makes electrical projects fun! I learned how much energy capacitors store when i discharged a 220uF one charged to about 300V through my chest. Knocked me down and I went into mild shock, taught me plenty as a youngster.

      Same with the energy stored in flywheels, i wondered why the metal cylinder i was spinning was deforming so badly then calculated it was because the g-force of acceleration exceeded 2 thousand gravities. Luckily no one was killed in the second one. It sure gave me som
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonsai_Kitten

    I remember animal rights groups getting up in arms about this a decade and a half ago.

  • just make having some hero worship and nothing else, much like every other self masturbatory article on that pretentious site

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
    I mean, he was just a curious youth and his project was mostly harmless, right?
    ;-)

He's dead, Jim.

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