Inventive kid Builds Electronic clock. Takes To School to Share. Administrators Panic. BOMB! Kid Handcuffed by Cops. Rage Breaks Out In Twitter (Facebook frets over button).

Our collective cycle of social ignorance/stupidity/racism/ goes sadly through another Lather Rinse (Do Not Learn from Mistakes) cycle. I’m not going to summarize the story of Ahmed, it’s easy to find.

Yet I see again how even lower than I thought is the least difficulty setting is that I play life on (if you have not read John Scalzi’s treatise, stop wasting time on my blog, and read his post. Thank you).

I have traveled around the US and even internationally with an electronic device quite likely as suspicious as Ahmed’s clock. It’s a digital media experiment device I call The Storybox

It’s a wireless router, a power supply, with some home-made wiring done by my friend Ken to include a switch and a light, and I have it all stuffed in an old Brownie Camera body.

My first version of this device fit inside a metal lunchbox:

Just looking at that I cannot comprehend how it was not seen as suspicious by at least 20 different TSA stations I carried it through. I think it looks suspicious.

I have traveled with this in my carry on backpack all around the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. It is based on a concept known as the PirateBox.

The one time I was asked about it was by a TSA agent at the Buffalo airport. I started to explain its components and started to say that it was “based on this device known as a PirateBox”. Before the last word was even fully out of my mouth, 4 more agents rushed over. The advice I got, from the agent, who did not put me in handcuffs, did not put me in a locked room, he only smiled and suggested I refrain from using the “P” word in a TSA area.

How low a difficulty setting can I get? This game is easy as me.

I cannot get Ahmed’s expression out of my mind, this skinny kid in glasses and his NASA t-shirt IN HANDCUFFS.


I bet Ahmed’s resilient, and this will not deter his curiosity. But he’s been forever changed by being treated as a criminal by ignorant adults, the people he is supposed to look up to for wisdom and understanding. He will bear this as a soul shroud, and may look around now with doubt at the people adults ???? who are supposed to encourage his curiosity, not stomp on it with metal boots.

With darker skin and a Middle Eastern name, Ahmed’s life difficulty setting is much higher than mine. Fairness set to well below zero.

This moment will peak in rage in social media, and then ebb back down. Because there will be another. And another. And another. And another.

I know that no one will arrest, suspect, hassle me for carrying a suspicious looking boxes of wires.

And I cannot seem to do more than tweet an image, write this blog post, and try to wonder about a world of understanding I knew as a kid that recedes father and farther down a vanishing hole of brutal reality.

Yes, #ITinkerLikeAhmed and #IStandWithAhmed but #IWontGetArrestedLikeAhmed

Top / Featured Image Credit: My own portrait taken with an iPad showing my own non-bomb but suspicious looking electrical maker project.

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. I’m not going to say that this is how we create angry people but it is how to teach non-trusting people who begin to realize they don’t belong. And maybe it’s to learn this early so you have more time to adapt to it. As an old white guy I’m not often pulled aside so it just makes for an interesting antidote that traveling home from a funeral I chose not to trust something to baggage in case it was misdirected or lost. As my carry-on pack was scanned the line suddenly stopped and there was someone nervously tearing the label off, opening the lid and poking through the contents. Well, Mr Johnson, what do we have HERE? I was asked in an officious voice. “My Mother’s ashes, like it says on the label”.
    Some of us are outsiders because it saves us from expecting an apology.

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