One common feature of a clock is that it isn’t built into a briefcase or anything resembling one. So in building a clock, the one question that needs to be asked is why Ahmed Mohammed chose to do such a thing.
What is typically built into a briefcase with a circuit board and a digital display? Anyone who has watched movies — unless Disney and rom-coms are the extent of your cinema exposure (in which case, I pity you) — can readily presume such an item to be a time bomb, or at least the timer component to such a bomb if no explosive agent is readily visible.
Now true that the clock wasn’t built into a briefcase, but a small pencil box. It is still extremely atypical, though. And in building his clock — which actually appears to be merely a transplant of the internals of a digital alarm clock — he could’ve made a wiser choice as to how to contain it.
Let’s put some brain cells to this, shall we?
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was recently sentenced to death for killing several others with bombs made from pressure cookers. Our military personnel in the Middle East routinely have to be on guard for improvised explosive devices. Time bombs have seen a lot of action in real life, along with imparting drama into an action flick. And so when a teenager disassembles a digital clock and transfers it into a pencil case and takes that to school — an overly-paranoid, hyper-aware, zero-tolerance environment — how is the response he garnered unpredictable?
We can debate the appropriateness of it all we want, but whether it’s appropriate doesn’t set aside the question of whether it was avoidable.
Instead, all that Ahmed has received is nothing but praise in social media and the press. And he recently received several thousand dollars worth of merchandise from Microsoft — along with an invitation from the President to the White House. It seems his little $10 project has been quite profitable. I highly doubt that was his motive, as it’s an outcome that would’ve been impossible to anticipate.
But that doesn’t excuse the fact that he could’ve made a wiser choice in how to enclose his clock so as to avoid it being mistaken for the timer component of a bomb. With today’s zero-tolerance policies that have seen school kids suspended, expelled, or arrested for trivial crap, a simple box or one of the many craft boxes available at Wal-Mart and places like Michael’s would’ve been a much wiser choice.
While we should encourage Ahmed’s curiosities with electronics, and the same with all teenagers, we should also not overlook their unwise decisions or act like they’re not material to the discussion. Given how much people are erroneously informed about various things from movies, especially firearms and explosives, transferring the guts of a clock to something that resembles a briefcase should not have made the response he received all that unpredictable, regardless of how inappropriate it was.
Given this, I hope that Ahmed has at least learned to be a little more wise in how he designs the enclosures to his projects. Unfortunately I don’t think he’s really learned anything from this experience — and neither has anyone else, for that matter.