Posts Tagged ‘lock picking’

You know how I taught myself – sometimes the hard and painful way – to do just about everything Layla Daltry can do in The Compass Master?  (Okay, so I didn’t learn a few languages or how to deal with black marketeers.  Sue me).  One of those skills was lock picking. When I got down the basics, I was pretty proud of myself.

lock picking

But today I learned that a young relative of mine in Britain is not only an expert locksmith, he has the NUMBER 1 RATED LOCKSMITH BUSINESS IN THE COUNTRY! That’s #1 out of more than 1600 locksmiths. “All locks and security devices repaired, fitted or opened.” This includes, of course, being able to quickly pick open just about any lock.

Layla would want to consult him, since she tends to get into places illegally, and I myself am jealous and most impressed.  His business is in Cardiff, Wales, and it’s called Curley Locks, and yeah that’s a cutesy name but the fact is Curley is the family name on my Irish mother’s side.

In case you’re curious, here’s the link:

What you will definitely want to check out is this link to a video my sister sent me:  fifth graders and synchronized swimming on stage. Need I say more?  (What I should say is that you can fast forward through the first 30 seconds ’cause nothing happens until after that.)

Finally, within the next ten days or so I’ll be able to tell you about my night in an allegedly haunted inn.  If anything exciting happens (of the paranormal variety only, since unfortunately I’ll be alone), I’ll let you know.

Have a great week.

What I will not talk about in today’s post is what happened here in Colorado. I am too furious, too heartbroken, too sick of it.

So on a more cheerful note…

This last weekend I had a first – I got to meet an internet friend.

Have you ever done that? Through your blog or Facebook or whatever, you build up a casual, long-distance friendship with someone. You live in different states, and maybe there’s no reason for either of you to go out of your way to get together in the real world. But then an opportunity arises.

That’s what happened to me when my Internet pal Robert emailed that he and his wife and kids were coming to the mountain town of Breckenridge in Colorado for a family reunion. Was there a chance I could swing by to meet them?

Of course I could.  I met Robert through my blog, and eventually he volunteered to read and critique The Compass Master when I was getting it ready for publication.  That’s when we talked a couple times on the phone about details in my book, and he sent me two of his manuscripts (they were entertaining and so smart).  He also guested here once when he wrote about his passion for Olympic weightlifting.

Anyway, I drove up to Breckenridge, met Rob and his lovely family, and it seems we both made the momentary adjustment to how each of us looked and sounded and acted in real life.  Then in no time we were talking about Layla action hero stuff.  This meant sharing our painful physical experiences in parkour classes (that’s how I launched my Layla plan), and we did some fencing.  He’s done just a tiny bit of foil while I’ve had years of epee, but he wanted to have some bouts so we had several goes at it with my two epee blades.  Damn, that was fun!

At his request I also brought along my lock picking tools and some padlocks, and sure enough Rob quickly learned to pick open (four times!) one of the smaller locks.  We talked about archery, some climbing (he’s more serious while I’ve been a slacker), studying foreign languages, you name it.

Granted, some of the time the two of us were like a couple little kids getting together to play.  But I really enjoyed it.  And of course we also talked about writing – I’m still at it, but Rob has set his own writing aside to concentrate on inventing, which I think is really exciting.  I’ve mentioned his blog about inventing for the public good, which can show you how serious and good he is at engineering.


So that was my playdate on Saturday with my internet pal.  I hope all of you have had similar great experiences.

So this is what life is like when I sit down (always late at night) to write this blog.

I’m just getting started when my cat climbs up on my desk and gets in my face. Then she settles down on my lap and proceeds to fart a couple times.  I can’t hear her farts but I can sure as hell smell them, and much as I want to throw her out of the room I don’t because she’s purring and old and only has five teeth.  So I go easy on her.

Second, I try to follow up on one of my recent posts. Like last week when I talked about trying to figure out how to pick open a combination lock.  Trouble is I didn’t work at it as much as I should have, so all I can tell you is that Ace Hardware makes really good combination locks that are tough to pick.  You know how I mentioned the YouTube video of the kid who showed how to open one with a paper clip?  Turns out he had cheaper lock with a latch that fits into a somewhat loose hole on the body.  Master and Ace locks have way too tight a fit for any easy pickings.  So I’ll move on to alternative approaches.

Third, when I sit down to write I’ve already messed up my desk with notes and articles about subjects I want to write about. Tonight I was going to write about an eleven-year-old girl who’s freakishly good at bouldering and climbing. Then I read over the article again and felt like such a loser—at least as far as action heroes go—that I figured I’ll just summarize the facts.

As you know I’ve tried bouldering on climbing walls, but I haven’t really done it outside ’cause I’m just not that into kissing rocks.  Well, Ashima Shiraishi is such a phenom that at the age of 10 “she stunned the bouldering world by climbing… an exceedingly difficult route that requires climbers to contort their bodies and hang practically upside down by their fingers while navigating a rock…”

You’ve really got to see the article’s video to understand how unreal this little girl is.  I truly am in awe of her.  I mean, how much strength can a little kid have in her fingers?  Because that’s all she’s hanging by as she swings from one foothold to the next.   Here’s the link.

Anyway, while I was writing this my cat left the room.  But now she’s back and before she farts again I’m going to end this and go to bed.  I swear my cat holds it in all day and just waits till I’m sitting down to my computer.

Today I’m just catching y’all up on some Layla training and writing stuff, to whit…

MYOPATTERNING:  Also called floor barre pilates.  I had my third class on Saturday and I can already see the difference in my body.  I mean… dang!  This stuff really works in terms of shaping the body by exercising little muscles along with the big ones while simultaneously stretching them.  My various parts do seem a little leaner and curvier, and, all practical aspects of getting in better shape aside, looking good is important for us action heroes.  So far I’ve had the classes from two of the female instructors, who are both very slim yet freakishly strong.  Another thing – the class is 90 minutes long but both instructors like to run over the time period, which means an hour and forty-five minutes of working out on a straps-and-springs machine that could pass for a torture rack.  Whoopee.

LOCKPICKING:  I am so not happy to find out that my skills have slid backwards.   I figured that once I got the basics down they’d stay with me, but apparently not. It’s been only two or three months since I did some serious picking, and I’ve definitely lost some of the feel and speed.  Thus I gotta make it a habit to pick more often.  I’ve also got to send in for a couple more finer and stronger torques and look into learning about lock bumping.

POST-PUBLISHING EMOTIONAL STATE:   Oh lordy, I am so all over the place.   One minute I’m elated at the slightest hint of a compliment from anyone for The Compass Master, and the next I’m spiraling down into a pitch-black brooding depression.  One minute I’m glad and relieved and proud of myself for my self-publishing effort, the next I’m plagued with doubts and swear I should have slogged along the traditional route, never mind that at one point I had an agent and TCM came heart-breakingly close to being picked up by a publisher.

Which is why I enjoyed a recent piece in the New York Times by an author who gloomily summarized her literary efforts:

“The life of a printed book goes something like this: bookstores, Amazon bargains, used bookstores, free bookshelves, landfills. And then, someday, we all die.”

Ain’t that cheerful?  And she was published by one of the big houses.  So let this be a lesson to all us writers:  publishing is not for wusses.  Doesn’t matter if you go self-pub or traditional pub.  You must have heart and soul and tough-as-nails literary gonads to put your stuff out there.  And you might as well try to enjoy the process and dance and celebrate because in the end… in the end…

Oh, hell!  Now I’m depressed again.

Layla Was Here

on February 21, 2011 in Misc 10 Comments »

Yesterday I broke into someone’s locker.   It was so much fun.

Yes of course that sounds high schoolish.   And strictly speaking, I didn’t break anything.   I simply picked open the padlock on one of the four lockers in the women’s restroom in the basement of the building where I work.    No malice was involved.   There was no theft or damage.   They’re for women to use TEMPORARILY when they work out in the exercise room just down the hall.    I assume the neighboring men’s room has the same arrangement.

The problem is, about a year ago some unknown female permanently claimed one locker by clamping a padlock on it.    A few ladies complained.   The building manager sent out a memo reminding people that the lockers are for TEMPORARY use.

The padlock remained.

So the other day I pulled out my lock picking kit and a few minutes later I made that pesky little padlock snap open.

Damn, but I love the sound of a picked lock opening.

There were only a few items of clothing in the locker.    I left them alone and neatly placed on top of them my calling card.   Then I closed the locker and slipped the padlock back into place and locked it.   My card says, in an elegant art deco font, “Layla Was Here.”    I got the idea from my savvy blog friend Robert.

I hope my card freaks out that locker-squatter.   I also wish that by now I’d used these cards in more dramatic and daring circumstances.    But hey, I’ve been busy and ya got to start somewhere.

Just for fun, I picked open a few locks at my job.   I couldn’t get past the server door  (yet), but it was easy pickings on the big “security” HON brand cabinet that stores our laptops, cameras and other tech stuff.    Ditto for a big “security” HON filing cabinet.   I opened both in under a minute.

Of course I also have keys to all these office locks.  But where’s the challenge with a key?

Master Unlock

on January 18, 2011 in Misc 4 Comments »

I’m finally mastering padlocks!  Mastering as in picking open, that is.

You know the type I mean — those chunky, heavy squares of metal people use to secure everything from lockers to storage doors to whatever.   When I first started teaching myself to pick locks, I tried opening a couple heavy old padlocks of mine but couldn’t get them to budge.  Worse, I bent out of shape one of my best torques just trying.

My problem was that I was trying to rake open the pins because force seemed the best way to make those chunky locks open.  Au contraire, I discovered.  Instead, using a more delicate basic rake for a pick instead of my sharp toothy one and quietly FEELING the subtle movement of each pin against that pick made all the difference.  Last night, after working away for an hour with only a couple successes, I began to pop open repeatedly an old lock with an average picking time of three to four minutes.

I feel like such hot stuff.

It’s silly, but  every time I learn a new action hero-type skill or expand on the few I have, I start to feel, like,  SO HOT.  And definitely more confident and a little proud.

And on the topic of cool action people and stories…

This last weekend I saw THE TOURIST and enjoyed it — it was a much lighter and even funnier thriller than I was expecting.  There were also a couple scenes in it that involved lock picking handcuffs, and I found myself thinking, Hey, I could probably do that.   Pick myself out of handcuffs and go save the day and get all that money, to say nothing of Johnny Depp.

In my dreams.

Okay, so last time I told you about the best and worst and  the most extreme experiences I had in the first year of action hero plan.

Now here’s quick review of pretty much the rest of the stuff I worked on.

LOCK PICKING — I’m proficient with the basics, but I’m still not so hot at opening most deadbolts.  So besides getting better at the tougher locks, I now want to take my picking skills to the next level by really feeling the pins in the lock moving above my pick.  When you can sense with your fingertips the most subtle movements within a lock, then you’re getting to be a master.

LANGUAGES –I made some progress in French and Arabic but not much because most days I just didn’t have time to study.  But this year, once The Compass Master is published, I’ll have some evenings and maybe days where I’ll try immersing myself.  Also, Ketutar (KetutarWriting) told me about a great language website,  I’ll be taking its advice too.

FENCING — I’m definitely better, but if I don’t learn to achieve a Zen-like calm during tournaments I’ll never get rated.  In 2010 I only went to tournaments but I medaled in both with a bronze.

AERIAL DANCING — I kn0w, I know, soaring on bungee cords ain’t exactly a super skill.  But Angelina Jolie does it in Tomb Raider and it REALLY looks like fun.  I was about to learn the ropes when I got injured in aikido.  Around April I’ll have the chance to go for it again  (the rig is outside and not used until warm weather).

I ALSO DIDN’T GET TO DO — Scuba diving ’cause I didn’t have the money to go far enough away from Colorado to get certified.  Like I’ve said, I had lessons years ago but only scuba dived once in Cambodia where they don’t check for certification.  This year I hope to make it real and go diving like a water-crazed mermaid.

MY GRADE:  Overall, I’d say my middling skills are fair, but this year they’ve got to become EXCELLENT.

On the plus side, I’m definitely in better and stronger physical shape now than I was when I was in my twenties or thirties or… oh, hell, even my forties.  And yes, people I’m past the big 50.  I’m a LOT older than I want to admit.  But hey, my body looks much younger.

And all it took was a hell of a lot of work.

I wish I could say that I’m writing about me in this entry, that I’ve finally turned into a dangerous and thus more interesting woman.  But nope, it’s Layla who has gone over to the dark side.

beck use

As you know I’m editing The Compass Master.  Mostly the task calls for weighing every word and sentence, checking for consistency in my (ridiculously) complicated thriller plot, and other good stuff.  As you also know, I decided a few months ago to share my nasty injury with Layla.  She too will know what it’s like to have a collapsed lung and fractured ribs:  once in her past and again after a fight scene.

It’s the first injury that happened to her right after college that makes her turn to the (semi-) dark side.  While the physical injuries heal, it’s the circumstances of how she was hurt and the subsequent legal wrangling that strips away any innocence she still had and makes her cynical and vengeful.  By the time we catch up with her in the present day, she is definitely a woman who knows how to take care of herself.

b&w knife

This may sound disturbing, but I loved writing Layla’s new dialogue in which she casually admits to stabbing thugs who have attacked her while she’s on a job.  She doesn’t kill them but instead only cuts them enough so that she can get safely away.  No big deal to her.  What if she ever has to kill someone in self-defense or for another extreme reason?  She has a premonition that this will come true someday, and it doesn’t bother her.

Because I toughened up Layla I could get rid of some original passages that were making me cringe.  Why did I write such formula descriptions in the first place?  Maybe I wrongly assumed that a couple of my female friends/readers would only relate to a softer, gentler female lead.  Well, I underestimated my friends’ tastes and my own abilities.  Layla has gone from bad to dangerous and I like her much more that way.


Here’s a quickie update on my lock picking efforts.

1)  It’s embarrassing that in my last entry I mentioned that I would attempt to pick the lock on my bathroom door.  What a joke.  Turns out all I had to do was put in the torque in preparation of picking it and the lock popped right out.  I could’ve opened that baby in two seconds with a bobby pin.

locked door

2)  I had trouble picking the lock on the doorknob of my front door and also the one on my outside kitchen door.  You’d think that those simple push-in-the-little-round-button locks would be a cinch.  Well, maybe they are but I haven’t yet learned the trick.  On the other hand…

3)  I picked open the deadbolt (that’s right folks, the DEADBOLT) lock on my kitchen door in 30 seconds flat.  Which means…

I’M FINALLY DOING SOME REAL LOCK PICKING!  And don’t that make me feel real hot.  On the other hand…


Granted, it’s only a single deadbolt and not a double, but suddenly I don’t feel very secure in my own home.  It’s my own fault.

Picky Picky

on August 27, 2010 in Misc 2 Comments »

Like I said in my last entry, I haven’t been practicing my lock picking skills.  (I should’ve said they’ve gotten rusty – har har.)  I didn’t even realize how slack I’ve been until Robert pointed out in his comment that he didn’t know about my lock picking because I haven’t written about it.  (THANK YOU for being such a loyal reader for so long, Robert!)

USE Door

Well, the truth is I did write about it, but that was way back last summer, when I was in the earliest stages of my Layla plan.

Yes I know, this whole Layla plan was supposed to last only one year before I kick it up to a higher level in the second year.  But ever since I had that bad injury at the end of March (cracked ribs, collapsed lung, torn ligaments), I’ve kinda let the exact timeline slide an extra month or two to compensate for the serious physical downtime.  Well, during that downtime I should’ve turned into a lock picking whiz.

That’s what Layla is.  From rusted ancient church door locks to top-of-the-line deadbolts and any kind of padlock, she can open them within minutes or even seconds, usually in the dark and under rushed conditions.


Me, I usually sit at a table or in my big comfy leather chair and play with the basic lock picking kit and locksmith’s practice bolt I bought last summer.  It came with the handy instruction booklet Easy Pickings, but a more thorough and respected text that I like is MIT Guide to Lock Picking, by Ted the Tool.  You can download it off the internet.

With the practice bolt, the frame around the lock has been removed so that there’s a visible pin tumbler lock cylinder.  This in turn has cut-away windows so that you can see the pins.  I bought a (cheaper) cylinder with only three pins, but you can buy them with up to six and many real locks have five.  What’s great about it is that I can see the pins moving up and down and know if my picking is working.  I’m also using pretty much only the tension wrench and the hook pick and haven’t experimented with the other nifty picks in my basic kit such as the rake, the double ball rake, or the diamond.


In other words, I’ve been a slacker.  I have not been tackling real locks where I can’t see squat and instead have to depend on a highly refined sense of touch in my fingertips.

And so last night I finally sat myself down and seriously practiced for an hour.  By the time I was done I was opening the lock so quickly I’m afraid I may have permanently jimmied it.  Then I briefly attempted to pick open my back kitchen door.  I say briefly because I didn’t get anywhere with it. 

My plan for this weekend is to pick away at real locks and finally begin to develop that very necessary fingertip sensitivity.  Once I can open basic locks (like my bathroom door), I’ll start working on Master Lock type products, including the dreaded deadbolt.

Layla expects no less.

Reality Sucks

on December 9, 2009 in Misc 1 Comment »

Damned Cars!

I totally resent reality.  It’s screwing up my plan.

Just a couple weeks ago I decided that I wasn’t going at my one year transformation-into-Layla aggressively enough.  I resolved to set aside a lot more time for French and Arabic.  I should practice much more at lock picking, too.  Going to the parkour gym on some Saturday afternoons was certainly called for, since I very much need to work on jumps, pull-ups, tic-tocs, you name it.  And of course I should head to REI to learn how to scale their indoor climbing wall.  And what would really be cool would be to plot out some kind of made-up mission where I could combine several of my new skills.  Both physically and mentally, I long for the challenge.  I need to know that I’m making measurable progress.

So what happens?

I’ll tell you what happens.  My car dies.  I gotta get a new used one I can barely afford and have no time to hunt for one.  The weather has turned frigid.  And some days my job can be so tiring I go home and slap-dunk myself flat out on the sofa.

Take the last twenty-four hours.  Yesterday we had a deadline at work, which meant I was busy from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. with nary a break.  (I went to the restroom twice.  That’s it.)  That doesn’t sound too bad, but the last couple hours were an adrenaline rush of top-speed production followed by a race to the local Fedex office.  I went home feeling like a zombie and did diddly-squat all evening.  This morning I woke up with a headache and eyes stinging from staring too much at a computer screen the day before.  The temperature was about 10 below zero, which made waiting at the bus stop loads of fun.  The good news is my toes and butt eventually warmed up.  (WHY my not-exactly-miniscule behind can get so cold, I’ve no idea.  I thought fat makes for natural insulation.)  Between the brutal cold and another (but easier) deadline, I’m not getting to my credit union today either to find out about getting a car loan.

Lara Croft never has these problems.  She’s a fabulously wealthy aristocrat who lives in a castle.  She has servants.  She bungee jumps before bed.

Yes, Layla is much more of a real-world woman.  Still, she could buy a new car cash down.  She goes home to a penthouse filled with expensive furniture and antiques, not stuff from Cost Plus marked down to half price.  And she doesn’t work in an office and she’s her own boss.

Oh, and I’ve decided that Layla has a cleaning woman come in once a week.  Because that’s I want.

Sadly, my track record for getting what I want ain’t so hot.