Saturday, December 19, 2015

On arresting kids for their electronics

Once they figure out it's battery charger, not a bomb, couldn't the arrest and two nights in juvie for a 12-year old kid of Indian descent be avoided? (Not the clock kid, another one, this time down the road in Arlington.)

We're in an era of DIY electronics, robotics, Arduinos, Raspberry Pis, the Internet of Things, etc., where lots things in a prototyping stage and even, apparently, some finished projects "look like bombs" based on pop culture, with all sorts of wires and components which seem inexplicable to the uninitiated but are entirely benign.

Circuitry to control 2 DC motors with an Arduino

Your correspondent has been teaching an after-school group one day a week at the granddaughter's elementary school where, this year, we took apart a broken printer to harvest the motor systems and will wire one of them up independently to make what we're dubbing a laser shooting robot. ("Robot" is strong - the kids will control it, it's not autonomous - but I find they're bored by "electronics" and love "robots," so it's a robot.)

Though I didn't blog about it, Grits must admit to watching the whole "clock boy" episode with great interest because our project poses similar risks of misinterpretation by the ignorant. When you use an Arduino, breadboard and H-bridge chip to control a simple DC motor, the resulting patch of wires would "look like a bomb" once it's jammed into a briefcase or backpack, even though it couldn't be more benign.

Partly for that reason, after the clock-boy incident I decided to hunt down a pre-fab part that would control a motor without them having to wire up a chip themselves. The last thing I want is some cretinous bully, whether cop or administrator, hassling my kids over a project that's supposed to be fun for them. So risk aversion lessens their learning experience. I don't like that, but it's the practical effect that story had on our little program.

This thing about arresting kids over their electronics gear will likely continue to happen - especially for youth whose families hail from south or west Asia - because electronics have become so much more accessible to kids at a younger and younger age and fear appears to have outstripped reason.

School cops and administrators need a better grasp of what hobbyist electronics look like before assuming every brown-skinned kid with a wired up project is a villain from an episode of Homeland.


Harry Homeless said...

You're taking all the fun out of adult hysteria.

Anonymous said...

"No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American Public."

H L Menken

Anonymous said...

So we'll ban sale, possession and use of electrical/electronic/elector-mechanical components to all but those in possession of a federal electrical engineer/designer/fabricator permit. All sales of covered articles will require production of your permit, all components purchased will be required to be labeled with an permanent serial number and all purchases will be entered to the national database run by batfu. Grits, we have gone thru the looking glass, this ain't Kansas, and this mundane is more and more angered by the day. Merry Christmas

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
"No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American Public."
H L Menken

Nor of American cops.

Charlie O said...

Is it any surprise that this seems to be happening only in Texas? The same hole that has twits stomping around outside a place of worship wearing camos and assault weapons. At least Texas still has Oklahoma to the north, where stupid still reigns supreme. "Texas, we're number 2"

Bad Wolf said...

The families need to sue and bankrupt the police and school districts who do this. Once this gets around that there are consequences, then perhaps there will be change. Until then and unless there are suits, why would the school/police stop? Authority NEVER stops abusing its power of its own volition.

Anonymous said...

Concerning the Clock Boy: My 7 y.o. grandchild recognized the device from a quick glance at the photo released by the local authorities. So the question now comes are our public authorities smarter than a 7 y.o.?

Someone posted a question about licensing the position of electronics. Such license exist and has for decades. It's called an Amateur Radio Operators licenses.

Interesting aside that license trumps state laws that prohibit the possession of radar (speed) detectors.