Thursday, September 17, 2015

How retro-wire symbolics set us up the bomb?

I'm fascinated by the picture of Ahmed Mohamed's homemade clock which school thought was a bomb:



I'm fascinated because:

a) it does look like a bomb
b) it doesn't look like a bomb

Or, to be more precise, it looks like a homemade circuit, which basically looks like a bomb now that images of homemade circuits are only equated with homemade bombs in modern culture.

In other words, the homemade circuit has become, it seems, the symbol of bomb-making.
Through so many Hollywood films, tabloid descriptions, daft kids' programmes and feared imaginations, the only possible use left of basic electricity is for nefarious purposes. Displaced by high-powered, subatomic electrical circuits on the one hand, and simulated electronics such as Minecraft (and other forms of coding?) on the other, wires and the visible circuit are now an antiquity, a foreign concept.

It is not that a kid made something that resembles a simple weapon. It is that a kid would bother to do something that used the same basic principles as a simple weapon. Why would you make your own circuit, for God's sake?

The "rational consumer", devoid of physics, can only imagine 3 rationales:

1. Child has made a bomb.
2. Child is practising skills to make a bomb.
3. Child is messing randomly with electricity, which is dangerous anyway, and more importantly a bit weird.

In any case, there is something here worth investigating. And if anything needs investigating, it must be done in an ironically controlled fashion. The inspection of both the child (under detention and handcuffs) and the device (through seizure) has the same roots as debugging the electric circuit in question - keep elements in isolation, connect only what must be connected, preserve a sense of experimental caution.

For anyone of a hacker mindset, this reaction is neither new nor surprising. It is still deeply depressing - the notion that the world can be wonderful and beautiful, and yet others are so unable to see it.

There is still no mainstream option 4 - the child is capable of discovery and creation. This is left to hackers and presidents.

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