May 28, 2024

Freedom to Tinker on the Radio

Today on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s CBC Radio show, “The Current”, a 20-minute segment about the freedom to tinker:

“Arrested, for tinkering.  Young Ahmed Mohamed likes to take things apart, cross wires, experiment… and put things back together again. It’s the kind of hobby that once led to companies like…say, Apple and Microsoft. But is a security-centric culture interfering with the freedom to tinker?”

Radio host Piya Chattopadhyay interviews three panelists:

  • Lindy Wilkins, community technologist and the co-founder of Make Friends, a monthly meet-up of makers and community organizers in Toronto,
  • Alexandra Samuel, independent technology researcher in Vancouver who is working on a book about Tinkering and education for kids,
  • Andrew Appel, Professor of Computer Science at Princeton University and blogger at Freedom-to-Tinker.

When I was Ahmed’s age, back in 1973, I read this really cool article in Scientific American’s Amateur Scientist column, about how to use TTL integrated circuit components to make, for example, a clock.  So I went to Radio Shack to buy the parts, I learned how to use a soldering iron, and I built a clock.

Didn’t get arrested.  Was that because I was white, because I went to a school where the teachers had some sense, because it was before 9/11 and mass school shootings, or all of the above?


  1. To answer the question, all of the above, and more. I was a kid in the 70’s learning electronics, too, and it led to my career as an electrical engineer. The days of Radio shack and Heathkit are gone, and mass culture views hackers & tinkerers as obscure, potentially dangerous nutjobs. The phones, PC’s and pervasive technology of today are taken for granted, and work by magic.

  2. “Was that because I was white, because I went to a school where the teachers had some sense, because it was before 9/11 and mass school shootings, or all of the above?”

    Politically motivated questions for sure. But, here are my political observations of the day. Yes, in a sense all of the above.

    What I have seen over the years is a propensity for our culture to accept as gospel truth any and every “stereotype” that can be conceived of for any given demographic. So much so; that for the most part; people in such demographics literally play out the stereotype because it is what is culturally expected of them.

    In the case of Ahmed; the teachers/principal proclaim it was not based on race nor religion; that in they would have reacted the same for anyone. Whether they speak true for themselves I cannot say. I can say with 100% certainty that the CULTURE in America right now is to “presume guilt” for every demographic that constitutes a “minority” and the more such demographics the greater the guilt.

    Ahmed had two such minority demographics going against him in the cultural perspective. 1) of Arab race, 2) of Muslim religion. The “stereotype” of the American culture is that all Arab Muslims are terrorists seeking to integrate and destroy–presumption of guilt. And that clearly was at least one of the motivations with these teachers and principal and cops etc.

    There is another demographic; that of what is perceived as “mentally ill” which is also presumed guilty no matter what. And from that perception we have a rise of “mass school shootings” in which certainly would have added to the perceived guilt level. It is possible that these specific teachers/principal/cops would have reacted the same to a non-arab non-muslim if that person had also a demographic of “mentally ill” or simply “doesn’t fit in.”

    And, it would not surprise me one bit if Ahmed has in the past had troubles in that school “fitting in” for whatever reason in which being a “minority” (not fitting into the expected mold) and/or a history of “mental illness”; that also counted as strike(s) against him.

    The over reaction; whether it was motivated by race, religion, or any other minority demographic is still just as unjust. But unfortunately it is the entire culture to do just that; to remove people’s rights based on nothing more than a presumption of guilt because they are a minority in some demographic or other.

    Where I live the comments were about 60-65% in favor of the teachers, principal and even the cops coming in an effort to be “safe rather than sorry.” And yet it was a clear violation of his civil rights; and clear stupidity to just presume a clock is a bomb; and therefore this boy must be a terrorist. Oh so nice that they didn’t press charges; but of course that is only because they knew their actions to be completely and whole unjust. They will never back down, however, from their overreaction because of the CULTURE of the United Police States of America; where every minority demographic is presumed guilty without any recourse. Our nation no longer founded on “justice for all” but rather “injustice for all minorities.”