Among the Ahmed Truthers
A geek reverse-engineers Ahmed’s clock, and concludes that he didn’t even build the thing, but rather took the guts out of a ’70s or ’80s era digital clock, put them in a pencil box, and tried to pass it off as his own. Excerpt:
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 didn’t invent his own alarm clock. He didn’t even build a clock. Now, before I go on and get accused of attacking a 14 year old kid who’s already been through enough, let me explain my purpose. I don’t 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 we’re 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 you’ve seen a modern circuit board, with metallic traces leading all over to the various components like an electronic spider’s web. You’ll notice right away the highly accurate spacing, straightness of the lines, consistency of the patterns. That’s because we design things on computers nowadays, and computers assist in routing these lines. Take a look at the board in Ahmed’s clock. It almost looks hand-drawn, right? That’s because it probably was. Computer aided design was in its infancy in the 70s. This is how simple, low cost items (like an alarm clock) were designed. Today, even a budding beginner is going to get some computer aided assistance – in fact they’ll probably start there, learning by simulating designs before building them. You can even simulate or lay out a board with free apps on your phone or tablet. A modern hobbyist usually wouldn’t be bothered with the outdated design techniques. There’s also silk screening on the board. An “M” logo, “C-94” (probably, a part number – C might even stand for “clock”), and what looks like an American flag. More about that in a minute. Point for now being, a hobbyist wouldn’t silk screen logos and part numbers on their home made creation. It’s pretty safe to say already we’re looking at ’70s tech, mass produced in a factory.
So I turned to eBay, searching for vintage alarm clocks. It only took a minute to locate Ahmed’s clock. See this eBay listing, up at the time of this writing. Amhed’s clock was invented, and built, by Micronta, a Radio Shack subsidary. Catalog number 63 765.
Here’s a video purporting to show how you can make a clock exactly like Ahmed’s in about 20 seconds:
Here’s a second video, this one by scientist Thomas Talbot, who cries foul on Ahmed:
Thomas Talbot, an electronics author and prominent medical virtual reality scientist, said the clock’s printed circuit boards and ribbon cables, along with the 9-volt battery backup, are signs of a commercial product.
In his video, Talbot displays a photo of Mohamed’s clock and on screen, flashes an arrow over a tangle of cords jutting from the case. “This was put in here to look like a device, with these cables and these… to look like a device that would be suspicious, and I think intentionally so,” he says of the design.
“This is simply taking a clock out of its case, and I think probably for provocative reasons, intentionally,” he said in his video. He did not elaborate further.
“When I saw this, I thought, ‘We’re getting duped here,’” Talbot told The Daily Beast, adding, “Anybody who knows electronics really well needs less than five seconds to know that was a clock taken out of the box.”
The researcher, who has run contests for young inventors Mohamed’s age, said he doesn’t intend to pick on Mohamed but rather the media’s failure to capture more of the story. Over the weekend, social media activists embarked on a campaign to downvote his YouTube video, which had more than 380,000 views Sunday night.
“Whether it fits your narrative or whatever you want to believe… this particular child down in Texas did not make anything,” Talbot said in the video, adding, “People should not recognize this as an invention and recognize this child as an inventor for this particular creation.”
More from the Beast:
For some electronics experts, Mohamed’s windfall is unfair to students that actually invent things. Bryan Bergeron, an author of electronics books and editor in chief of the magazine Nuts & Volts, said that Mohamed’s project “would be ‘cute’ for someone age 7. But even then, not ‘inventive.’”
“The problem with giving this 14-year-old—whom I have nothing against; I really know very little of him—kudos for being inventive, is that there are tens of thousands of 11-year-olds out there actually designing circuits, building them from scratch and ‘innovating,’” Bergeron told The Daily Beast.
One of those teenagers is my electronics geek son, who was initially furious over what happened to Ahmed, but now thinks Ahmed is a plagiarizing little punk. My son said to me last night, wearing his MIT t-shirt, “I’m actually inventing things, but this kid is getting all the intention for something he didn’t even invent. This is really disappointing.”
You know what’s interesting about the Talbot part of that story? That here’s a scientist offering an analysis that debunks what might be a tall tale, but the Social Justice Warriors want to shut him up because his analysis might disprove the initial narrative.
I jumped to conclusions about Ahmed’s clock the first time, so I’m not going to do it now. But what these geeks show us makes the entire episode look very fishy. The early Ahmed Truthers on this blog who suspected the kid was put up to this stunt by his attention-seeking gadfly of a father might have been on to something. Whatever the truth is, it seems at least likely that Ahmed did not “invent” anything. That may not justify the overreaction of school officials and the Irving police, but it’s worth seriously considering, if Ahmed did, in fact, plagiarize this device, whether or not he was trying to provoke exactly this kind of overreaction. Somebody needs to get to the bottom of this — or has the story become too useful for the White House and others who rushed to Ahmed’s defense to discredit?