On the Vulnerabilities of Combination Locks

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Back in December, just a few days after Kelly came home from the hospital, I went to the gym for a badly needed workout. I put my wallet and car keys in a small set of lockers located on the weight room floor. Those lockers (pictured above) have a built-in combo lock where you can set the combo yourself. Unfortunately something went wrong. When I went back to retrieve my belongings the combo I had set did not work. I asked a staff member to find the master key to open the locker. He informed me that the boss had it and that he wouldn’t be back until after the holidays. I panicked. How would I get by without my keys, credit card and driver’s license? Then I remembered an idle afternoon back in the summer when I attempted to learn how to crack combo locks.

The efforts of that afternoon paid off. After around five minutes of practice on the other lockers I figured out how to open the lock and I manged to retrieve my belongings.

Combo locks all work the same way. The internal mechanism has three or four wheels that must align to open the lock. More expensive combo locks have false gates to make them harder to crack. The cheap built-in locks at the gym had no false gates. Opening the lock was as easy as turning the numbers until I felt a subtle resistance. The process reminded me of playing a musical instrument. All it takes is a little finger dexterity and practice.

Should you find yourself in a similar situation, you’ve got a couple of options for opening a combo lock:

  • With a shim:

  • With some math:

Both the shim and the “math” methods take practice. I have not been able to open the lock I’ve been practicing on with either of these techniques. Of course, the easiest method is just to pry open a locker with a screwdriver or crowbar. And many locks can also be defeated by drilling them.

Lastly, let’s say you have an open combo lock but have forgotten the combo. You can figure it out by peering into the opening:

In addition to adding a James Bond villain skill to your mental toolkit, consider this post as a warning. Don’t leave valuables in a gym locker. I could have easily opened the other lockers, pulled out wallets, copied down credit card numbers and put the wallets back. My fellow gym goers would not have known anything was wrong until their credit card bills arrived.

My Marie Kondo Obsession

Update: Root Simple reader Ruben left a comment with a very funny New Yorker cartoon about Kondo.

It’s the time of year, after the excesses of the holidays, when folks, including ourselves, start thinking of paring down. And when it comes to decluttering, the current reigning champion of the subject is, of course, Marie Kondo. She is both loved and loathed. Her philosophy, no doubt, splits many partners sharing the same abode.

Personally, I’m a fan, though I have to admit stalling out in the middle of her sequence of decluttering actions (I promise to start up again this year!). What I think Kondo understands that other decluttering experts don’t get is that we imbue objects around with supernatural qualities that makes stuff hard to part with. This, at least in part, reflects the influence of Shintoism on Kondo’s work (she worked at a Shinto shrine in her youth).

If your Marie Kondo fandom is as obsessive as mine (I proposed to Kelly that we put up a portrait of Kondo in the house) you will enjoy the NHK video above that introduces you to Kondo’s mentor Nagisa Tatsumi, author of the Art of Discarding. Once you declutter you’ll need to clean. To that end, the video features a segment on Japanese cleaning expert Keiko Takahashi. Sadly there’s some audio problems in that bit and the interwebs don’t yield any other information on Takahashi (too common a name to Google). If Root Simple had the budget you can bet we’d be flying a crew over to Japan to shoot a web series with Takahashi. At least you get to see her DIY, foaming stove cleaner tip.

Last night, in our nightly YouTube hole viewing experience that’s part of Kelly’s recovery process (and mine too!), we watched Kondo take on an American family with kids:

As usual the kids and the man of the house seem to have disappeared while the decluttering was taking place. In fairness, Kondo addresses this issue. She suggests soldiering on in spite of reluctant housemates in the hopes that your new clean habits will be infectious. I suspect there will be some grumbling in the comments about this thoughtstyling.

Perhaps my Kondo obsession reflects an attachment to the idea of decluttering rather than to the practice itself. My office sure could use some work! While things aren’t too bad in the rest of the house, but there’s always work to do. This includes, of course, not accumulating stuff in the first place.

How are your cleaning plans or actions going?

Saturday Tweets: It’s 2017!

Kepler’s Snowflakes

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In honor of the 12th and final day of Christmas, I offer an illustration from Johannes Kepler’s ponderings on the origins of the snowflake. Too poor to buy a Christmas gift for a friend, Kepler penned an essay instead, “On the Six-Cornered Snowflake” (Strena Seu de Nive Sexangula). The short pamphlet, written in 1611, begins with Kepler crossing the Charles Bridge in Prague and noticing a snowflake land on his jacket. He goes on to ponder the geometry via a detour into Neoplatonism. Thus was born the first work of crystallography. If only we could replace the commercialism of the season with well crafted essays!

Hope you are all staying warm or cool (hello Australia!).

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096 Photographer Babs Perkins: The Land, People and Cheese of the Balkans

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Listen to “096 Photographer Babs Perkins: The Land, People and Cheese of the Balkans” on Spreaker.

First of all, a big thanks to Eric Rochow of Garden Fork. He wanted to do something for Kelly and me, so he set up an interview, guest hosted and edited this episode of the podcast. Please consider subscribing to Eric’s Garden Fork podcast and YouTube channel. Also take a moment to leave a review of the Garden Fork podcast in iTunes and share his podcast and YouTube channel in social media. And Eric has a great suggestion: if you want to do something for Kelly consider donating blood. Thank you Eric Rochow!

Eric’s interview is with photographer and writer Babs Perkins, who documents disappearing foods in the Balkans with a emphasis on cheese making. In the conversation Babs and Eric discuss the politics of cheese in the EU, the challenges of doing a documentary project in the Balkans and the cross cultural values of sharing food. As you listen to the podcast I’d suggest you take a look at Perkins’ stunning photos on her website:

Cheese Stories: Bosnia

Cheese Stories: Serbia

The incredible natural beauty of Bosnia

And those strange concrete monuments put up by former Yugoslavian president Josip Broz Tito.

@babsperkins on Instagram

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

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