Anatomy of a Hoax: Reverse Engineering Ahmed Mohamed’s Clock…and Ourselves

Ahmed Mohamad did not invent, nor build a clock. He took apart an existing clock, and transplanted the guts into a pencil box, and claimed it was his own creation.

Without dating myself – fast forward a bunch of years, and I’m the same way. I’ve even picked up an engineering degree over the course of those years. I don’t have to only imagine how things work anymore, I have a pretty good understanding now. High resolution police photo of Ahmed's clock. Click to enlarge.

[Read the full analysis here, at artvoice.blogs]

When shopping for electronic devices, my first instinct is to see if there’s a way to build one myself (and, I frequently do!) When something of mine breaks, I don’t send it back, I take it as a personal challenge to get it working again.

If I fail, I still salvage useful parts – they might come in handy to fix something else later. This aspect of myself – being both methodical, and curious – hasn’t changed a bit over the years.

So, this story about a 14 year old boy in Texas that was arrested on suspicion of creating a bomb hoax (who, apparently just wanted to show off his latest electronics project to his teachers) that has blown up (no pun intended) all over the news and social media, caught my attention immediately.

“The shape and design is a dead give away. The large screen. The buttons on the front laid out horizontally would have been on a separate board – a large snooze button, four control buttons, and two switches to turn the alarm on and off, and choose two brightness levels.”

Not because of his race, or his religion, the seeming absurdity of the situation, the emotionally charged photo of a young boy in a NASA t-shirt being led off in hand cuffs, the hash tags, the presidential response… no, none of that. I’m an electronics geek. I was interested in the clock! I wanted to figure out what he had come up with.

“He again claims it was his ‘invention’ and that he ‘made’ the device…Here it is on Amazon, where it’s clearly labeled as being 8.25 inches wide. Our eBay seller also conveniently took a photo of the clock next to a ruler to show it’s scale – about 8 inches wide. The dimensions all line up perfectly.”

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.

“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.”

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.

“Ahmed wasn’t accused of making a bomb – he was accused of making a look-alike, a hoax. And be honest with yourself, a big red digital display with a bunch of loose wires in a brief-case looking box is awful like a Hollywood-style representation of a bomb. Everyone jumped to play the race and religion cards and try and paint the teachers and police as idiots and bigots, but in my mind, they were probably acting responsibly and erring on the side of caution to protect the rest of their students, just in case.”

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
clock6now 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.

“Ahmed Mohamad did not invent, nor build a clock. He took apart an existing clock, and transplanted the guts into a pencil box, and claimed it was his own creation. It all seems really fishy to me.”

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 63 756.

The shape and design is a dead give away. The large screen. The buttons on the front laid out horizontally would have been on a separate board – a large snooze button, four control buttons, and two switches to turn the alarm on and off, and choose two brightness levels. A second board inside would have contained the actual “brains” of the unit. The clock features a 9v battery back-up, and a switch on the rear allows the owner to choose between 12 and 24 hour time. (Features like a battery back-up, and a 24 hour time selection seems awful superfluous for a hobby project, don’t you think?) Oh, and about that “M” logo on the circuit board mentioned above? Micronta.

[Read the full text here, at artvoice.blogs]

For one last bit of confirmation, I located the pencil box Ahmed used for his project. During this video interview he again claims it was his “invention” and that he “made” the device – but the important thing at the moment, at 1:13, we see him showing the pencil box on his computer screen. Here it is on Amazon, where it’s clearly labeled as being 8.25 inches wide. Our eBay seller also conveniently took a photo of the clock next to a ruler to show it’s scale – about 8 inches wide. The dimensions all line up perfectly. Read the rest of this entry »


New York’s Taxi Cartel Is Collapsing. Now They Want a Bailout. Tell Them to Stick It.

The free market: best anti-monopoly weapon ever developed.

“In New York, we are seeing a collapse as inexorable as the fall of the Soviet Union itself.”

Jeffery A. Tuckerjeff writes: An age-old rap against free markets is that they give rise to monopolies that use their power to exploit consumers, crush upstarts, and stifle innovation. It was this perception that led to “trust busting” a century ago, and continues to drive the monopoly-hunting policy at the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department.

No more standing in lines on corners or being forced to split fares. You can stay in the coffee shop until you are notified that your car is there.”

But if you look around at the real world, you find something different. The actually existing monopolies that do these bad things are created not by markets but by government policy. Think of sectors like education, mail, courts, money, or municipal taxis, and you find a reality that is the opposite of the caricature: public policy creates monopolies while markets bust them.

For generations, economists and some political figures have been trying to bring competition to these sectors, but with limited success. The case of taxis makes the point.

“Think of sectors like education, mail, courts, money, or municipal taxis, and you find a reality that is the opposite of the caricature: public policy creates monopolies while markets bust them.”

There is no way to justify the policies that keep these cartels protected. And yet they persist — or, at least, they have persisted until very recently.

Taxi-Driver-poster

“In less than one year, we’ve seen the astonishing effects. Not only has the price of taxi medallions fallen dramatically from a peak of $1 million, it’s not even clear that there is a market remaining at all for these permits.”

In New York, we are seeing a collapse as inexorable as the fall of the Soviet Union itself. The app economy introduced competition in a41eQn3GP4ZL._SL250_ surreptitious way. It invited people to sign up to drive people here and there and get paid for it. No more standing in lines on corners or being forced to split fares. You can stay in the coffee shop until you are notified that your car is there.

[Order Jeffrey’s book “Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World” from Amazon.com]

In less than one year, we’ve seen the astonishing effects. Not only has the price of taxi medallions fallen dramatically from a peak of $1 million, it’s not even clear that there is a market remaining at all for these permits. Read the rest of this entry »


8 Most Expensive Pieces of Gadget History

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After last week’s auction of an Apple I motherboard for hundreds of thousands of dollars, we wondered: Just how much could you wind up paying for a technology relic?

For PopMech, Jared Newman writes: The Kenbak-1 doesn’t bear the mark of any industry heavyweights. You might not even have heard of it. But the machine, which debuted in 1971 for a reasonable $750, is widely considered to be the first “personal computer.”

To keep costs down, the Kenbak’s program-running capabilities were limited to a handful of standardized input switches and output lights. Nevertheless, it was a hard sell to non-professionals, and creator John Blankenbaker only produced 40 machines, mostly for schools, before folding his company a couple years later. Read the rest of this entry »


Action Comics #1: First Superman Comic Book Sells for $3.2 Million

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A pristine edition of “Action Comics No. 1,” which first introduced Superman, has sold for $3.2 million in an auction conducted on eBay.

[FLASHBACK: First Superman Comic Book Expected to Fetch Millions When it Goes Up for Auction on eBay – punditfromanotherplanet.com]

Bidding ended Sunday evening, with 48 bids received.

A copy of “Action Comics No. 1″ was put up for auction on eBay on Aug. 14, with parts of the final price going to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. Bidding began at $1 million…(read more) Variety

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First Superman Comic Book Expected to Fetch Millions When it Goes Up for Auction on eBay

A purportedly pristine copy of the first Superman comic book could fetch millions of dollars when it goes up, up and away in an auction at online marketplace eBay.

action_comicsA copy of Action Comics #1 in which the Kryptonian superhero made his debut in 1938 will be offered in an eBay auction that opens on August 14 and run for ten days.

“The book looks and feels like it just came off the newsstand.”

— CGC primary grader Paul Litch

“This is an extraordinary opportunity to acquire the most valuable comic book in existence and we look forward to sharing a piece of pop culture history with the global eBay community of 149 million buyers,” Gene Cook of eBay marketplaces said in a release.

The issue being put on the Internet auction block by collectibles dealer Darren Adams was touted as the “Holy Grail” of comic books and one of as few as 50 unrestored copies in existence. Read the rest of this entry »


Creator of Passwords Says They’ve Gotten Out of Hand. ‘It’s Become Kind of a Nightmare’


Police: Man Stole Brains from Museum, Sold Them on Ebay for Cash

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Bill McCleery  reports:  The details sound like the plot of a bad horror movie: Desperate for cash, a young man breaks into a warehouse to steal the brains of dead mental patients, and the body parts are later sold on eBay.

This story line, however, is real.

Authorities say David Charles, a 21-year-old Indianapolis resident, is accused of breaking into the Indiana Medical History Museum multiple times this year and stealing jars of human brain tissue and other preserved material. A tipster who paid hundreds of dollars on the online auction site helped bring the organ entrepreneurism to an end.

The museum, 3045 W. Vermont St., is the site of the former Central State Hospital, which served patients with psychiatric and mental disorders from 1848 to 1994. Indianapolis police had investigated several break-ins at the museum’s storage facility before a California phone call led police to Charles.

A San Diego man who had bought six jars of human brain tissue off eBay for $600, plus $70 shipping, called the museum after noticing labels on the containers and suspecting some kind of skulduggery, according to court documents.

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Ebay’s Disturbing Trade in Holocaust Souvenirs: Outrage Over Death Camp Relic Auctions

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Marc Nicol and Simon Murphy report: Online auction site eBay is  facing an international storm of outrage after it was revealed to be profiting from the repulsive trade in Holocaust memorabilia.

Items for sale include the clothes of concentration camp victims. Among dozens of sick souvenirs on offer last week was a striped uniform thought to have belonged to a Polish baker who died in Auschwitz, which was on sale for £11,200.

Holocaust items being sold on Ebay Jewish Holocaust WW2 Womens Uniform

Holocaust items being sold on Ebay

It was one of dozens of offensive items uncovered by a Mail on Sunday investigation. And within hours of being alerted to the item by this newspaper, eBay removed it from sale after conducting an ‘urgent investigation’.

The striped pyjama-style concentration camp uniform was worn by death camp inmates

Among dozens of sick souvenirs on offer last week was a striped uniform thought to have belonged to a Polish baker

The internet giant apologised and vowed to give £25,000 to a suitable charity, before removing more than 30 other death camp souvenirs which it said had evaded its strict vetting process.

eBay, the world’s largest online marketplace, admitted it had no idea how long it has been helping sell items linked to genocide, but one Nazi memorabilia dealer boasted of selling an Auschwitz victim’s uniform for thousands of pounds on the site last year.

The company receives a commission on items sold, as well as charging a listing fee.

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