Why You Should Build a Clock for Social Good this Week

We’ve seen a wide range of emotional responses regarding [Ahmed Mohamed]’s arrest this week for bringing a clock he built to school. No matter where you fall on the political scale, we can all agree that mistaking a hobby engineering project for a bomb is a problem for education. People just don’t understand that mere mortals can, and do, build electronics. We can change that, but we need your help.

Our friends at NYC Resistor came up with a great idea. Why don’t we all build a clock? I want you to take it one step further: find a non-hacker to partner with on the project. Grab a friend, relative, or acquaintance and ask them to join you in building a clock from stuff you have on hand in order to promote STEM education.

Clocks have long been one of my favorite projects, and like the one shown above, most of my builds didn’t look anything like traditional clocks. Once you start getting into how clocks are built, you’ll be amazed at how accurate dirt-cheap clocks are and how difficult it can be to replicate that accuracy. Pass this knowledge on to your teammates. Teach them how to solder, or how to draw a schematic, or just how to open the case on some electronics without fear.

Post your project on hackaday.io and we’ll add it to the Clocks for Social Good list (message me with the link). If you decide to document it elsewhere just leave a link in the comments below. We’ll post a roundup of all these builds next week. I plan to repurpose the soldering workshop board I populated last week as the display for my clock. I’ll be helping a friend of mine learn to solder as part of the build!

Happy hacking, and thanks for helping to dispel fear and teach others about awesome engineering.

Need some inspiration to get going? You can always chat with others about it in the Hacker Channel. If you have an Arduino and some LED strips you can do something like this. Here’s a binary clock built with just a few LEDs. Or if you have a laser cutter at your disposal you can make a unique display with just a pair of motors.

140 thoughts on “Why You Should Build a Clock for Social Good this Week

  1. Good idea! Also, if people would learn that a real (time) bomb probably would NOT have a nice 7 segment readout to count down to zero, and wires that are color-coded for easy diffusing, we could get rid of those many movies and TV shows that appear to do nothing but dumb us down, and this incident might not have happened either.

      1. You would show it around, tell everyone it’s a clock and then place it where it will make the most damage.
        That way if someone stumbles upon it they will think they know what it is and not consider it a threat. Hiding in plain sight works wonders.

        1. Don’t forget to set the trigger to go off at 5 seconds, preventing the hero from having a dramatic moment in which to sweat while deciding which wire to cut. That change alone would result in a great deal more evil plans ending successfully.

          1. Leela: Get ready to run. We’ve got 25 minutes. Uh, 15 minutes. 5 minutes. “6h” minutes?

            [Bender pulls the bomb out of the ground and flips it over.]

            Bender: There’s your problem. The Professor put the counter on upside-down.

            Leela: That idiot! It wasn’t set for 25 minutes, it was set for 52 seconds!

        2. But if that’s what you wanted to do, you wouldn’t use a special clock case. You’d re-assemble the original case of a commercial clock so it looks unmodified, or even a clock already present in the school if a teacher leaves one around. Otherwise, you could add some decoration to make it an art project, but then you could be hiding the whole thing in a paper mache sculpture.

          1. *or even like a clock already in the school
            I’ll presume the wall clocks are impractical to replace discreetly, but teachers can keep their own clocks for various reasons.

          1. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-34266389

            Later in the day the boy was pulled out of class, interviewed by senior teachers and four police officers, and put into juvenile detention.

            The school issued a statement saying it “always ask our students and staff to immediately report if they observe any suspicious items”.

            So what is the point of this policy… if you don’t evacuate the school?
            So they must have realized that it was not a bomb at all… so who claimed to see a bomb?
            If the child never claimed it was … then there was no threat at all.
            If there is no threat… why call the police?

            Things get problematic when people start to get arrested for neither threatening to nor breaking the law.

            Having shifty eyes will be a crime soon?

          2. In the US you have people that will stand for justice and people who will stand for law and order. This is great when justice and law and order have the same meaning. In the US today they have different meanings and different people are now standing for justice in opposition to those standing for law and order.

            This situation is a direct result of that. An innocent boy is chastised (by extremes) for showing ingenuity.

    1. To be fair, we do use color-coded wires, I tend to use black (or green if I have no black) for ground and red for power.
      Now if you make a complex bomb you would make absolutely sure you did not mess up I imagine, so you’d take even more care to color-code to keep track of the wiring.
      Same for audio btw, you want to keep aware what wire is what speaker and what polarity so you don’t reverse polarity on a channel and get bad sound.

    1. I was looking for that one :)
      This might just turn into terrorists making bombs looks like clocks now :p

      “OK, now to hide the device, put a BIG 7-segment display on the front. You don’t have to worry about hiding the wires anymore; everyone will just think it’s a clock”

      It’s unfortunate, but ignorance is abundant.

  2. That looks to me like he took a regular alarm clock that plugs into a wall and put it into a pencil case. Which begs the question “how did it go off in his backpack without being plugged into the wall?”

    The 9v plug there would be for the clock to retain time during a power outage. I’ve never seen one that would also sound the alarm.

      1. Yeah, Hackaday (and every other media site) really messed this one up. I was taking apart clocks (and radios, microwaves, VCRs, etc.) when I was in elementary school, and somehow a high school kid is praised as an inventor/engineer for removing a bit of plastic? I agree the police went too far, but man what a joke to call this kid anything but a normal kid with an interest in tearing things apart.

      2. So only a bigger shit would call this frail looking young man a shit over something so trivial. Sure it’s a case mode but every builder/maker/hacker started out started out small and got the terminology wrong at first. Hell those who been at it for decades still get the terminology terminology wrong in the opinion of others, those who worry about terminology where it really doesn’t matter.

    1. Its not hard to move the 9V battery back up clip to the input of the regulator, at the rectifier diodes. It probably wont run for a as long there and will keep terrible time without the 60Hz reference, But I’ve done exactly that before, as a kid. Just like this kid. But I’m white and grew up well before 9/11 and the ease of getting on the internet…

  3. I like clock projects too. I made a printing clock many years ago using a Sinclair QL computer, an IBM daisywheel typewriter and some discrete logic. But shall we try not to overreact to this school-clock-not-bomb incident? For one thing, It looks like a possible social hack to me. How to hack the liberal conscience and manufacture an Islamophobia scandal using simple tools and components!

    1. The Daisy wheel printer was a frequent co-sell with the QL. Gonna refurbish mine soon now it’s older than many of my colleagues. Re the Scare tactics, yeah maybe .. use your weapons against you… in this case stupidity is the weapon

    2. looks all to real to me, as it has traceable reports. honestly there is such a large number of xenophobic idiots in this country that there is no reason for this to be a “social hack” as you want to paint it.

      1. The kids father is a politician, so the probability of social manipulation is far higher than you would normally expect. That said I think it is just as likely it is the result of one stupid female teacher reacting to something she did not understand in a typical hysterical female way. If the teacher had been male and STEM oriented the boy would have just got a pat on the back and some good advice as to how to improve his shitty design. There is no actual proof that the events were primarily xenophobic in nature. The simple stupidity of individuals explains most things well enough. As for the cops, including the black ones, well they are cops, they have an inflexible mindset once people they respect ask them to act on something.

        1. Yes, us females are typically hysterical. I’m sure that Jeri Elisworth, Limor Fried, Fran Drescher, or Lynn Conway would have gone running to the cops/security on seeing that device…

          1. Actually that is a typical hysterical and illogical comment right there from you, whatever you sex really is.

            Those people you listed, whom I do respect, may not be typically silly, but if asked to give a honest answer they should admit that other +100 million other females in the USA could do with an attitude adjustment. In fact I think you will find that the nastiest things said about those capable people, who are female, come from other females and that most men actually find the idea of tech savvy woman to be a very good thing that they welcome. It is just that we are disappointed how few there really are and given the chance we do encourage our daughters to feel comfortable pursuing a STEM path if they wish, without the usual expectations as to what things they should be interested in.

          2. Replying to myself, since I can’t reply to Dan

            My sex does not concern you, my gender is female.

            My apologies. I responded to your comment in anger, when I should have taken consideration in my reply.

            I have no problem with the comment about “typical hysterical reaction”, I have a problem with your assertion that women typically react in that way. My own experience has been that anyone ignorant of a situation and operating with the misinformation that is available from our North American media would react in the way that the school and local law enforcement in Texas did. Gender has little to do with it.

            You say you respect the four women I mention, but say they should agree with you.

            Considering the prejudice and hate that I understand one and suspect another has faced for the courage to be themselves, that they would not give the honest answer you expect, but I’ll let them answer instead of stating what they should say.

            As for nasty things said to women, I know the nastiest thing said to myself was a death threat by a man, but hey… that’s only anecdotal evidence.

          1. LOL that is a pretty lame trolling effort, I never said the woman was racist, and I pointed out elsewhere that not all of the cops were white either.

            You want to know the truth? The boy is probably an arrogant little shit who does look down on women because he does not have any strong tech-savvy female role models in his life, so he thought it would be funny to intimidate his teacher with a fake bomb and the only reason he got away with it is because his father is politically well connected. Bad luck if the NSA find proof in his web browsing record, when asked to look for it by the next Republican government (which is only a matter of time).

            i.e. The bomb has yet to go off.

      1. Yeah, the serious problem is the knee-jerk reaction on social media and Hackaday to this kid’s “hack.” Nobody investigated what really happened before POTS, Zuckerberg, MIT, Clinton and the rest of the buffoons jumped up and down to congratulate this kid. It’s so contrived it’s ridiculous.

  4. Guess I’ll document my VFD brown out detection clock now. There’s a bug I couldn’t get rid of that makes it, well, useless, but it mostly works.

    The DS1307 seems to be rewriting its registers randomly when reset, even if it’s only a MCU reset. So it’s probably some code problem.

  5. How about taking this one step farther? Let’s have as many people as we can send one clock to that school. It can be anything from a drug store wristwatch to a coo-coo clock or a grandfather clock. Then we need to be sure that the “media” will cover the delivery. It would be great to see a fleet of trucks show up at the front gate with the local tv news crews in tow.
    Sorry, I don’t have the address but someone on here may be able to find it.

  6. Can you imagine five thousand hackers a day? I said five thousand hackers a day wavin’ around their own clock projects in public?

    They may think it’s a movement, and that’s what it is.

  7. “Why don’t we all build a clock?”: BECAUSE I ALREADY HAVE TOO DAMN MANY CLOCKS!!!!

    My office isn’t quite as bad as Doc Brown’s lab, but the last thing I need is another clock.

      1. Sounds like you need to build another clock, one that doesn’t drift.

        Build a WWV clock. Then a GPS clock. Then a GPS-disciplined rubidium clock.

        And use that clock with a robot with a vision system and a hot/cold air gun that goes around to all your other clocks, reads them, and thermally adjusts their running rates to get them all synchronized.

        You don’t have too many clocks, you have too few.

    1. Yeah. I been trying to Id it. I think it’s a timex alarm clock. Not an invention but a poor case mode. From the pics it was still ac powered. So he had the brief case plugged in the wall. And the other pics from the news is just a USB powered hub. I think is just a troll but non the less this is great publicity for the hacking community

    1. No. It needed to be an old, round, mechanical clock with bells on top, taped to a bundle of red cardboard tubes with the word “dynamite” stenciled on them. Coiled wires jutting out for effect. Ya’ know? Because bad guys love making their bombs obvious with count-down timers on them like in the movies…

    1. The Officer: “We attempted to question the juvenile about what it was, and he would simply tell us that it was a clock. He didn’t offered any explanation, as to ‘what was it for?’, ‘why he created this device?’, ‘why did he brought it to school?’.

      The first question was funny, but deep: What is a clock for?
      :o)

      Still, the kid looks arrogant. He should had rather feel offended or scared, not glorious.
      I am not sure any more if what happened was just an unhappy incident, or a planned one.

      1. I tend to wonder about it being planned as well. Who wraps electric wire around a case to keep it closed when it has a latch already on it? It looks to me like he made a replica of a Hollywood style bomb and then was shocked that someone thought it looked like a bomb. Really?

  8. If I ever suffer an acquired brain injury and loose most of my intelligence then at least I could still work as a police officer in the US.

    I wonder if they are going to arrest people that wear shoe laces next? Shoe laces can be used for suicide and suicide is more like suicide bomber than this clock is like a bomb!

    Any cop that has enough intelligence to get his shoes on the right feet should be up in arms at how these dicks have made cops look like they don’t even have the intelligence of a young child.

  9. Back in the distant past (88-90) I carried a fire arm in my public high school almost every day. What’s more, that rifle was issued by a teacher from the school’s JROTC armory along with a couple of boxes of ammo. We’d carry our rifles, unaccompanied, through the school and across the sports field to the school’s rifle range, where we’d spend a couple of hours practicing our marksmanship. When we were done we’d take our weapons back to the armory, clean them and put them away.
    We’ve become a nation of cowards. Kids get suspended for drawing pictures of guns. They get arrested for bringing hacked alarm clocks to school. College level law classes need to be warned before the legal issues of sexual assault are discussed unless some special snowflake (and future lawyer!) can’t handle the subject matter. Distasteful jokes are now ‘micro-aggressions’. Kids don’t sit ‘Indian style’ anymore- it’s now ‘criss cross apple sauce’ so as not to offend someone’s tender sensibilities.
    This is NOT the America our grandfathers risked their lives for! Just stop. We need to, as a nation, reach down the front of our collective trousers, find our figurative balls and put them to use. Who knew that Demolition Man would become this generation’s 1984?

  10. The elephant in the room here is the harmfully low levels of male teachers and the negative impact that has on children’s technological skill development. Yeah I am being sexist, because it is the truth, and it is not just a question of education or intelligence, it is a question of most female teacher’s attitudes to science and technology. It is not just in schools but also at home. My wife is a very smart woman, with a doctorate level education, but the job of teaching our children everything technical was handed to me, because I enjoy STEM activities, even if I am not as highly educated as she is.

    Everyone has gone on about the race/religion/political issues in this case but at it’s core is the bad attitude many women have to the maker mindset.

    1. Not touching that!

      Or …

      I agree that there are far to few male teachers in education.

      However just to blame those teachers that are remaining (mostly women) is unproductive blame shifting (in my opinion).

      I suppose we can’t blame the male teachers that aren’t there either.

      Well some times we have to look for causes as the people that are to ‘blame’ just aren’t part of the environment we are looking at.

      There are a number of reasons that there are very few male teachers in education.

      I will leave one hint here –

      When I jury finds a teacher innocent of an allegation of child sexual abuse he can walk away free. However he does NOT get back the $120,000 to $180,000 it would have cost him in legal fees. Biases in the education system mean that many men are falsely prosecuted but very few woman.

      1. Meh, how hard is it to put a retire tech wizard into a class as a teaching aid with a young teacher so that everyone is safe, and well educated in STEM? Safe from the pedo-bear bogey man and save from bimboitis.

        1. Being with a younger teacher is not going to save you from false allegations!

          When I was younger and considering what to do with my life I wanted more than anything else to be a science and maths teacher. I am so so glad that I never made that mistake.

          I would enter a class room (education environment) even if you had cameras everywhere that can see every angle.

          1. Um no, I said teaching aid, not the same thing as a teacher. Sure they earn less, but they could also be given tax incentives to work part time in their retirement. It makes good sense to do this from a knowledge management perspective.

            All it takes is the political will to do it, rather than the usual politically correct grandstanding that we see in almost every first world nation.

  11. For accuracy you can’t beat a NodeMCU module running NTP client code, then speaking the time etc. with a cheap SPI MP3 SD card player module. The player could easily hold enough speech for weather reports too. Add an FM transmitter circuit on 100Mhz and anyone with a radio can tune in on your clock. Build it into an old calculator case for maximum stealth, to avoid traumatising bimbos, and for extra points replace the calculator functions with additional code running on the NodeMCU.

    https://github.com/annejan/nodemcu-lua-watch/blob/master/ntp.lua

    1. better than that; gps receiver on a controller connected to whatever rf sender you like (I use xbees). that’s the talker. the listener is the matching rf module in rx mode, getting ‘time messages’ over the serial rf pt-pt link. you can have many listeners all synced to that one talker. I have this working now, it seems like a good architecture. does not need ip connectivity, no wifi, no passwords, no tcp/ip nothing (ie, nothing to maintain or worry about, security wise). I have been meaning to write this up but just have not formally done it online yet.


      first box is the gps ‘talker’ and the board is a sample client that has an xbee connected (back of board, not shown) and displays time to the oled. the display can be led, nixie, oled, anything you want since the display is separated out from the rest of the system.

      1. Oh nice job, handy if you are off the grid. Looks pricey though, a NodeMCU(NTP)+MP3+FM solution is $10, not including the clients. Apples vs oranges though.

        I just found this, http://store.open-electronics.org/FISHINOUNO all you need to add is an LCD touch shield. I think the problem is that it has got so easy to do stuff these days. Where is the learning experience in plugging two modules together? I don’t mean your project I mean in general.

  12. Personally, I feel the moral here is about us *all* becoming more educated– be it in the arts, other cultures, *or* technology.

    I’m not sure any on the HaD crowd might say right away this was a ‘great design’– Or as others have mentioned playing with ‘mains’ like this in-of-itself is dangerous even to the student on his own– And it appears to be mostly a ‘transfer’ project, or the guts of a standard alarm clock in a new setting. Making a reliable clock *is* even still rather difficult as RTC is not standard on most ICs and then further must be calibrated.

    As to the question of some users as ‘how’ it ‘still beeped’ in class, my guess would be, at least with a 14 year old’s understanding, the 9-volt was still attached, and of course as soon as the cops caught sight of it, ditched.

    Seeing as we are still some time away from ‘Deep AI’, thankfully we are still in a time when it is not so difficult to examine a circuit merely ‘visually’ and tell whether it is ‘fundamentally dangerous’, and why I support HaD’s clock initiative– The novelists (as it was the English teacher I hear) should be more ‘nerd’ and the ‘nerds’ should read more real novels. Not perfect, but my interpretation.

  13. When in Texas, if you see someone not carrying a gun, a bible, or preferably both, be immediately suspicious and report them.

    Bibles GOOD.
    Guns GOOD.
    Bibles and Guns = SUPER GOOD

    Anything NOT a BIBLE or GUN is BAD.

  14. we shamed the south into giving up their ‘beloved’ confederate flag. it took a really long time, but we finally convinced them (on paper, at least) to join the rest of us.

    think we can do a similar thing for texas?

    there’s a whole lot that needs fixing down in texas. perhaps this is a time to air it all out and see if we can drag them even further into the modern age.

  15. I figured it out.

    The kids dad is a politician. The teacher is ignorant in the fields of electronics and engineering.

    The whole story is BOGUS!

    It is a “false flag” style setup in an effort to push public awareness of the STEM initiative… Clever.

    Kinda ballsy of the cops to play along given the hostile environment they are working in these days. Kudos to them.

    Also this..
    TEXAS! MY GOD SON THE ONLY THING TO EVER COME OUT OF TEXAS ARE STEERS AND QUEERS AND SPEEK ‘N SPELLS. I DONT SEE ANY HORNS OR SPEEKERS ON YA SO WHAT DOES THAT MAKE YOU!

    Fire the taco cannons!

    1. Why do you keep posting this dumb conspiracy theory everywhere under different names?

      The kid’s dad wanted to run for president of Sudan, sure, but that doesn’t make him a politician. There are many far easier methods to succeed in life than some preposterous plan that would probably get you in jail.

      1. I’m only posting as MD.
        As a justification for making fun of this story i tossed out the, reasonable, idea that it could be a publicity stunt to promote STEM. I didn’t really want to use a conspiracy theroy term but couldn’t think of a better way to describe it.
        I really just wanted to make the obscure Texas Instruments reference before everyone started bashing Texas.

  16. When I was a kid (70s) I built a little box that was wrapped in foil that was divided into four sections by black electrical tape. On top was a pretty bow. Inside was a simple DC-DC converter that converted 9v to about 90v that was wired to alternate sections of the foil.
    I took it to school and had a good time handing it to other kids while touching only one polarity of foil. About lunch I was called into the principals office. He asked me to show it to him and I did. I could tell he was amused and really didn’t want to stunt my creative mind. He told me to put tit in my locker and take it home and never bring it back. Now days I guess i would be arrested, the school would be locked down and I would be suspended and sent to counseling, and my parents would be fined a billion dollars. (Disgusted Sigh)

    And that doesn’t even cover the time I took Calcium Carbide to school. Lots of fun stuff you can do with Calcium Carbide.

  17. btw When my chem major roommate was in high school they used to make nitrogen triiodide and scatter it all over the lab and halls cause it was so funny when people stepped on a grain and it went off like a firecracker. He’s currently a chemist for a govt agency and is used as a chemical expert for the state police.

    1. Calcium carbide and nitrogen triiodide… two compounds that bring back very fond memories of school for me :) So glad I went to a school that found out about one students home-made flamethrower and (after checking safety) asked him to bring it to school, where they integrated it into the next concert and publicly congratulated him. Since when did rewarding ingenuity go out of fashion? Looking back I think pretty much all of my projects that I took to school would get me in so much trouble in more ‘civilized’ countries…

  18. I have started ahmedsclock.org, a site dedicated to encouraging electronics and Maker education in young and old.

    I need help, if anyone would like to contribute content.

    The purpose of this site will be to provide a place for like minded Makers, geeks, teachers, learners, professionals, hobbyists and hams to gather, share info and inspiration, AND to encourage young people to take an interest in the guts of technology of all sorts.

    The concept is unformed at this time, so any input is appreciated. Also, if you, or anyone you know, would like to help on the website, please leave a message. Looking for people to contribute content, projects, or be mentors, etc.

    And be patient while we build out the site.

    Send inquires to ahmedsclockorg@gmail.com

  19. My contribution to this effort is ahmedsclock.org.

    I need help, content and ideas.

    The purpose of this site will be to provide a place for like minded Makers, geeks, teachers, learners, professionals, hobbyists and hams to gather, share info and inspiration, AND to encourage young people to take an interest in the guts of technology of all sorts.

    The concept is unformed at this time, so any input is appreciated. Also, if you, or anyone you know, would like to help on the website, please leave a message. Looking for people to contribute content, projects, or be mentors, etc.

    And be patient while we build out the site.

    Send inquires to ahmedsclockorg@gmail.com

  20. Oh look, sweet little Ahmed was ‘radicalized’ by a teacher (into a prankster, not a terrorist), and has a rich history of problems at school, including him having a history of making ‘inventions’ to disrupt classes (like his invention to turn off the projector in class)…

    http://www.dallasnews.com/news/community-news/northwest-dallas-county/headlines/20150926-before-ahmeds-fame-fantastic-inventions-and-a-fight-with-authority.ece

  21. don’t think anyone is really talking about the issue, a majority or plurality of citizens have been terrorized. their fear is so predictable and easy to manipulate that we have outcomes about exposed clock wiring, police involvement, provocation, absurdly consequential rule making (zero tolerance), a really positive outcome, all things considered, yet some self-reinforcing hysteria.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s