Gotch Ya

The May 2009 issue of Wired magazine had a write-up about spy gear. You can read it online. The item on their list that really attracted me was the pocket grappling hook (although the bulletproof dress shirt is pretty cool).

Batman hookThe collapsible aluminum and steel grappling hook is small enough to be called pocket sized, it can act as water proof container and only costs $30.

Holy crap, Batman! It's perfect. A must have.

This isn't a grappling hook for swinging from. It's designed for snagging trip wires and tearing down barbed wire. For something that I would actually consider climbing with check out Capewell's Retractable Grappling Hook. That's something I would actually expect Batman to use for scaling buildings.

Of course, we all know about Batman's secret superpower: his grappling hook. It's way too small to make any sense and to pull him at those speeds! Although, grappling guns that amazing don't actually exist, there are line launchers such as the one in the ResQmax kit. They don't seem to come much smaller than that and it just launches the line, either by compressed air or a small rocket. If you want to be mechanically pulled up you need a completely separate tool. If you thought the grappling hook launcher was big, you'll be very surprised by the size of existing motorized hoists, or ascenders. A company started by some MIT alumni, called Atlas Devices, builds these. They are simple (apparently the prototypes were built out of power drills) but big and probably pretty loud.

The really long, video about the pocket grappling hooks by Maratac:

The ascender by Atlas:

Oh and if you want to read some more facts about grappling hooks check out the eHow articles (don't forget the Related Articles on the side)


Picking Tumblers: Part II

BatmanOk, so you've had way too many days to think about how a pin tumbler lock works.

Lock pickingFirst and foremost know that picking a lock requires TWO (count 'em: two) tools and not just one as you may have been mislead into believing by Hollywood. You need both a pick and a torque wrench.

Picking locks depends on the imperfections in machining the locks. If a lock was made perfectly it could never be picked. But as it stands, the machinists' imperfections mean that the lock has a little give. Remember that the springs pushed the driverpins down and they in turn push the key pins down. When a torque is applied to the plug by a key (or something else, say maybe a torque wrench, perhaps?), the driverpins bind unless lifted to the exact same height as the shearline. BUT (here's the beauty of it all) the holes that are drilled can't be in a perfectly straight line (nothing's perfect - the impression can be as small as 0.0002in but even that is enough). Because of that imperfection, one pin must be first and only that pin is actually binding! The rest of the pins are still loose and free to be pushed up and down. The hull and the plug crimp only that one driverpin in place and stop the lock from rotating.

lock pickinglock pickinglock pickinglock pickingIf you apply a GENTLE torque to the plug with the torque wrench and then go in the keyway with a thin hooked tool (called a hook pick) and push up on the pin that is stuck, you can push until the drivingpin is lifted above the shearline. All, of a sudden the plug will rotate just a bit. If you stop pushing up, you will find that the bottom keypin is free to drop because the drivingpin is no longer pushing on it. When you pushed it up, it passed the shearline and was no longer in the way. Because you were applying a GENTLE torque, the plug turned until the next pin crimped. This created a tiny ledge for the first pin to rest on. You can now move onto the next pin.

If you do this for each and every pin, eventually nothing will be in the way. Once that last pin is set the plug is free to rotate all the way and you've keylessly unlocked it.

Note 1) Gentle was the key word. Gentle GENTLE. GENTLE!!! If you turn the torque wrench too hard you can cause more than one pin to bind. Even metal is somewhat malleable, the pins might give a bit and more than one may bind jamming the lock.

Note 2) When pushing the pins up with the pick, you have to be careful because you want the drivingpin to just barely get above the shearline. If you keep pushing up after that, the pins will rise further and the keypin will bind in the shearline and that's no good. You've got the keypin to bind instead of the driverpin, good job but you still can't turn the plug any further.

Note 3) After setting a top drivingpin make sure that the bottom keypin falls freely. If it stays up, you pushed too hard and you have to relieve some tension from the torque wrench. Don't be surprised if you have to start all over again if this happens.

Note 4) Of course, you can't see what's going on inside the keyway. You have to feel it. Be slow. Be gentle. You have to get a feel for how the pins respond when they are binding, when they are being pushed by a drivingpin and when they have freely fallen on to the ward. You will be able to feel (or maybe even hear) a small click when the top pin is set.

Note 5) Every imperfection in manufacturing is different so the order of setting will always be different for every lock.

Note 6) Some locks have one way that the key must turn. Turn the torque wrench that way. It sucks to work for a long time and then realize that you've just been rotating the plug the wrong way. That happened to me in Pittsburgh.

Note 7) Locks are often outside or other places where the elements can degrade them. Grease and dirt often clog the lock cylinder. Cleaning the lock with gasoline or WD40 or something can really make your job easier.

BatmanIf you're interested in this you might want to check out "Unauthorized Entry and Physical Security Collection"(torrent), a torrent that can be found on many archives. Also, the online MIT guide is good. And never skip a wiki-type introduction. Personally I used the book "Visual Guide to Lock Picking" but having now successfully picked a couple of locks, I can whole heartedly agree with the author, Mark McCloud, who repeats again and again that what you need is practice and not being an author who makes anything from my writings, I can say what he probably really wanted to: "You don't need a book. Just a lock-pick set, an old lock (surprisingly door dead bolts are easier than pad locks) and maybe some helpful hints like I've tried to give on this blog or like you can find on YouTube."

Visual learners should definitely check out YouTube tutorials. The first ones to come up are like Simple Lock-Picking Guide, Whiteboard masterlock lockpicking tutorial basic how to pick or Lock picking tutorial.


Picking Tumblers: Part I

We are going to start with tumbler locks. They aren't the easiest lock to pick and their not the hardest - they are the most common. But in order to pick the lock, we have to understand how the lock works. It's like old school hacking: we are bypassing security by taking advantage of internal weaknesses in how the system works. Tumbler locks are made up of only a few parts: the key goes in the keyway (the keyhole) so that it can turn the cylinder which is called the plug (Right? The key turns. Got it.). The plug is housed in the main casing.

lock pickingNext part, the plug has a holes drilled in it and these continue up into the casing. Each of thise holes has a spring in it. The spring pushes two little pins down into the plug. The top pins (which are between the spring and bottom pin) are called drivingpins and they are all the same length. They push the lower pins (called the keypins) down. These keypins are all different lengths. They rest on a little ledge called a ward. Pull your keys out of your pocket and look at one. It has that little canal that runs all the way from the tip to the handle of the key. The ward slides in the canal. The point of the ward is to be a ledge that the keypins rest on when there is no key in the keyway.

So that's all the pieces of the lock. Now how does it work. I said that all the keypins were different lengths. Why? Well, what else are different heights? Answer: the teeth of the key.

Lock PickingSo here is how it works. The key goes into the keyway. The notches and teeth push the pins up to exactly the right height so that each and every one of the top drivingpins is lifted (by the keypins) to the same height (exactly to the same height as the separation between the casing and the plug). This is the most important part to understand. When the key is inserted the gap between each and every keypin and drivingpin lines up with the gap between the hull casing and the plug. This separation is called the shear line. Once they are all lined up the key can turn and unlock the door. Tada! The mechanism of a tumbler lock explained!
Lock Picking

Check out these wikis if you want to read about the mechanism of tumbler locks again. (Let's be honest. It's where I got the images)
BambooWeb Dictionary

Let this settle for a day or so and then I'll post a How-To tutorial for picking tumbler locks.


Learning From the Best

Batman LessonLast night I taught a group of 3 friends how to pick locks. By the end of the night, each and every one of them had picked every lock I owned. I was really impressed.

After that victory, I thought I'd try to teach my friend's very young brother this afternoon. Even though I didn't think he would be able to, he eventually got one of the padlocks. I was even more impressed. He then proceeded to break the pick on the next lock I gave him. opps. Oh well I suppose.

This all reminds me: I haven't given a How-To about lock picking on my blog yet. I'll create one for the next post.



Batman MimeLast night I had the chance to paint the face of a mime.

So? Batman does not paint faces, you say. That's true but he's got to be an expert actor to convince people of his Bruce Wayne charade. Plus, Bruce Wayne is one of the most recognizable faces in the DCU yet he wanders around Gotham city as Matches Malone without anyone being the wiser.Matches Malone

Batman's makeup skills are da'bomb.

And as you can see by these pictures, mine aren't so bad either. I may not be the next Barrett Kean but it's not so bad.

I'll try to do more stagemakeup in the future sometime. I'd love to learn impersonation but I don't know how to go about learning.

P.S. Sorry for the long delay in posting. I'll post what I've been doing this month over the next few days.
Batman Mime Artist