#IStandWithAhmed and *that* clock

Certain parts of the internet has been buzzing today because someone called ProudGamer8 tweeted at Richard Dawkins about Ahmed Mohamed and Dawkins is resolutely standing his ground.

In case you’ve missed it all, Ahmed is a 14 year old kid who was arrested for possessing what looked like dodgy electronics. He took it to school, and people over-reacted and he was arrested for bringing a ‘bomb’ to school.

[Update: the other argument is that he was arrested for deliberately ‘faking’ a hoax. I.e. waste of police time etc which is an interesting point too, youtube link here thanks @soleeternaltat for the heads up]

Now, the internet, being what it is, as blown both sides of the argument right out of proportion. The people on the kid’s side are blaming institutional racism and a country gone mad with terror alerts, and you can see why.

As far as I can see, no one actually still thinks Ahmed is a terrorist.

Dawkins, is on the side of the people who claim he is a fraud. That there is something fishy going on with the whole story. They point out that it is weird that if the police truly believed the device was a bomb, then why did they put it in the car with him? Surely the bomb squad (or whatever they call it) would’ve been called first? Then there is the whole matter of what the device actually is: most engineers with any rudimentary electronics knowledge have noted that the “invention” is in fact a deconstructed electronic clock from somewhere like Kmart.

I’m not one to fall for conspiracy theories. There is probably something more to report, which they haven’t. In all likeliness, the police probably realised that it was nothing, but didn’t want to argue it over with the school, so it was probably easier to remove him from the scene and unmuddle it all later on, and of course, to report that now would be a PR disaster..

What I am going to comment on is Dawkin’s point about the child being a fraud.

He may or may not have any current electronics know-how (we don’t know) and the clock’s deconstruction was certainly a simple job, but what we can celebrate is the fact that a 14 year old child still has curiosity. I’ve been volunteering for OMGTech Rangers since its inception last October, and we are doing all we can to encourage that curiosity. In fact, we had to aim at younger kids, because by the time they hit 14, it is too late.

We are surrounded by smartphones and tablets. The world is fast becoming completely dependent on technology, and yet children these days can’t just take a screwdriver to it and see how it all works. I had learnt basic circuitry by the time I was 14, making those small Dick Smith’s kits with far too many LEDs and alarms. They don’t even exist anymore. (OK that’s a lie, I think you can still get them at Jaycar)

I still remember an exciting time in a movie once, when the personal alarm I built malfunctioned and wouldn’t stop screeching. Had that happened this year, would I have been arrested for having a bomb? probably, it kinda did look bomb like… come to think of it.

Whether or not Ahmed manufactured the whole event (and I really doubt that, I wouldn’t muck round with anti-terrorism laws, have you heard about CIA and torture?!) we should take the circumstance and celebrate the curiosity. We should show our kids the “clock” and perhaps teach them how to build a better one themselves (555 timer anyone?)

Let’s not just call him a fraud, laugh at his curiosity and shame him into stopping. Science and Tech needs more curiosity.