Keeping Doors Secure

While this lecture is mostly about the types of doors you’ll find in institutional settings, there’s some important and actionable security information for our homes and apartments. In the talk, security consultant Brian Rea a.k.a. “Deviant Ollam,” shows far simpler ways to enter buildings without out either picking the lock or busting the door down.

For those of us who own our own houses Rea shows some simple steps you can take to secure hinges and prevent easy access to the latch bolt. Should you, for instance, live in a house where some idiot installed a door with the hinges on the outside, Rea suggests an easy fix: $4 jamb pins. Jamb pins prevent someone from the easy task of popping off the hinge pin.

Those of you in apartment with one of those telephone access boxes at the entrance are in for a shock. It turns out that just two keys will open the vast majority of telephony access boxes (a business dominated by two companies, Linear and Doorking). Once the box is open all you have to do is short the relay and the door will buzz open.

Screen shot from Rea’s lecture.

This idiotic “one key to open them all” laziness allows Rea to put together a nefarious “everyday” key ring that opens everything from filing cabinets to Crown Victoria police cruisers! Rea’s key ring consists of:

  • FEOK1 elevator key.
  • CH751  a small key for things like filing cabinets and RV doors.
  • C415A filing cabinets.
  • CH751 filing cabinets.
  • 1284x Ford fleet vehicles.
  • Jigglers–these are a kind of simple lock picking tool that will open many locks. I’ve played around with them and can attest to their effectiveness.
  • A wire loop for shorting telephony boxes.
  • 16120 Doorking telephony boxes.
  • 2223443 Linear box key.
  • Cuff key for what will happen when you use the rest of the keys on this chain.

Beyond that key ring Rea goes on to show how some institutional doors can be opened with a puff of vape smoke!

I’ve added Amazon links should you wish to put your own chain together. This means that Root Simple will benefit from Amazon referral fees while you are out stalling elevators, opening filing cabinets, breaking into apartment building lobbies and stealing police cruisers. Not that any of you would do such things.

In all seriousness, it’s good to periodically review security in the places in which we live and work. It always seems that the black hat folks are one step ahead of the clueless white cap wearers and the lazy companies that supply us with locks that don’t really work.

Thanks to the bloggers and readers of BoingBoing for the tip on this lecture and for supporting Root Simple over the past 10 years.

Ham Radio vs. GoTenna

According to the origin myths of the internet and mobile technology their decentralized qualities are supposed to function when we’re all hunkered down in our bunkers riding out a nuclear Armageddon. This fanciful narrative might just be a cover for a less appealing reality. In fact, our internet and mobile phones should probably be characterized as an attempt to build a dystopian and highly centralized surveillance network. Our “friends” at Facebook and Google have gone one step beyond the government by figuring out a way to make money off this surveillance.

As CEO of a new startup, Daniela Perdomo challenged this centralization with a provocative product, the goTenna. Johnny, over at Granola Shotgun, has purchased a goTenna and has a post up about it. Basically, the goTenna allows you to bypass the cellphone network and send text messages and your GPS location directly to other goTenna users, within around 1 to 5 miles, via an app on your cellphone that pairs with the goTenna device. GoTenna sells for $179 for a pack of two.

The more goTenna users there are in a particular area, the longer the communication range will be since the devices can hand off messages between each other by forming what’s called a mobile mesh network. A subscription service allows you to send goTenna messages over regular SMS networks so you can reach people who don’t own a goTenna.

The goTenna has been out for a few years and, as evidenced by user maps, if you live in a major metropolitan area I’d expect the coverage to be good. Due to communications regulations you’re only supposed to use a goTenna in the U.S. but the map shows a lot of goTenna users in Europe and a few in Canada.

GoTenna also has competition. Similar devices, some in production others just an Indiegogo dream, include the Gotoky, Beartooth, Sonnet and Radacat. A few of these competitors promise some form of voice communication. One big constraint on all these devices, including the goTenna, is the highly contested and corrupt realm of radio spectrum allocation. In order to develop expanded voice and data capabilities, governments would need to allocate more radio spectrum, unlikely if you don’t have deep pockets to pay for lobbyists and buy off politicians around the world.

Johnny asked me what I thought of the goTenna vs. amateur radio (a.k.a. ham radio) for emergency situations. Without testing a goTenna I can’t really answer that question. I will say that ham radio has a few pluses and minuses.  In order to use a ham radio you have to get a license which isn’t that hard especially since you no longer need to know Morse code. You are not supposed to use ham radio for commercial communication so if Johnny and I wanted to send messages over ham radio about our respective blogs that might be considered out of bounds. Of course, Johnny would also have to have a ham radio license in order for us to chat. And ham radio, in my experience, is not a “plug and play” type of technology. You have to devote a considerable amount of time to learning the technology as well as the communication etiquette and protocols.

On the plus side, with just an inexpensive 2 meter handheld ham radio (you can pick one up for as little as $24), you can communicate via voice in any emergency. Thanks to the Win System, I can use that same 2 meter radio to communicate around the world. And the goTenna is similar to the efforts of ham radio operators to create mesh networks with wifi routers. And ham radio, unlike the goTenna, is by definition open source.

Ham radio is really something you need to take up in a community of other ham radio enthusiasts. One could speculate, as has political scientist, Robert Putnam about the general disinclination in recent decades to do things in groups such as form ham radio clubs, bowling leagues, attend churches or synagogues etc. The goTenna is yet another technology for atomized individuals and for that reason, I think, it’s no coincidence that blockchain enthusiasts have taken to the goTenna. On the other hand, who wants to cede all of our communication abilities to a few centralized and greedy mobile carriers and creepy internet companies? Perhaps the answer is to form more ham radio clubs and encourage interesting and easy to use technologies like the goTenna.

If you’ve used a goTenna or any similar device please leave a comment with your thoughts. And, speaking here as KK6HUF, if you’d like to help me get back to learning how to use ham radio please also get in touch. I could use some help!

108 Artist/Maker Federico Tobon


Update: Federico wrote up a blog post showing some of the things we talked about.

Our guest this week on the Root Simple Podcast is artist Federico Tobon of WolfCat Workshop. We talk about a lot of things including Federico’s art, adventures in extreme “makerdom,” sharpening tools, knots and even how to train cats!  This is an episode that you’ll want to follow along in the show notes so you can see Federico’s amazing work. Here’s some of the things we talk about:

You can follow Federico’s work at WolfcatWorkshop and he’s @wolfcatworkshop on Instagram. Make sure to sign up for his newsletter.

If you want 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. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.



What’s Your Everyday Carry?

edc2017 copyOne of the more fetishistic subcultures in the urban homesteading activity playpen is an obsession with “everyday carry,” abbreviated by hip insiders as “EDC.” EDCers peacock their carefully curated sets of survival tools in photos called “pocket dumps.” The internet’s Mecca of pocket dumps is On that site you’ll see color and texture coordinated EDCs reminiscent of the leather and wood appointments of the luxury yachts of Russian oligarchs. I wouldn’t dare post my dingy EDC for fear of ridicule in the comments. That fear is why I’ll share my personal EDC on the much more friendly Root Simple website. Consider this blog post as an update of the pocket dump I posted in 2011. Since that time my EDC has changed, mostly via subtractions. Here’s my current EDC:

1. Leatherman Rebar
This is the central and, unquestionably, most useful cornerstone of my EDC. Not a day goes by when I don’t pull out the Rebar to fix something or slice off a piece of cheese with the dull (my fault) pocket knife. The Leatherman folks have tried to anticipate every possible lifestyle with a confusing array of Leatherman models. The model I own, the Rebar, was made for aging 90s hipsters who own 100 year old crumbling Los Angeles bungalows. It’s got wire cutters for questionable electrical repairs, a screwdriver, and a thin metal shaft that doubles as a tool for ejecting stuck Pearl Jam CDs and for drawing floral patterns in cappuccino foam. OK, I made that last bit up–it has a beer bottle opener–not, I’ll note, a corkscrew as does the Eurotrashy Swiss Army Knife. I like that the Rebar comes with a belt holster which allows me to carry the Rebar at all times, even on occasions when I’m in a suit and tie.

Women, who lack pockets and, often, belts might not be able to accommodate the bulky Rebar into their EDC. Leatherman sells a smaller multi-tool called the “Juice” (inadvertent OJ reference?) that Kelly used to carry. Kelly lost her Juice which confirms the advantage of the belt holster (and her rant about women’s pockets).

2. Keychain pill holder
In my pill holder I keep two Aleves for life’s aches and pains and a dose of Benadryl for bee stings (an inevitable hazard of the beekeeping hobbyist). Unfortunately, I’ve had trouble with the keychain pill holders coming unscrewed over time and spilling the contents. Somewhere in our great consumer horn of plenty there’s an ideal keychain pill holder that doesn’t come unscrewed. If you know of one please leave a comment.

3. iPhone
It’s hard to say if this thing helps or hinders. Its navigation and communication capabilities are miraculous, like something out of the fevered imagination Giordano Bruno. I expect a teleportation app soon. But the damn thing is as addictive as crack and it allows the NSA, TSA and FBI to tell when I’m eating too many tortilla chips. Note that really important Silicon Valley tech bros carry phones that only make and receive calls:


Stuff I stopped carrying
In the nearly seven years since I last documented my EDC, I’ve eliminated a few items:

Fire starting tools
I used to carry a second pill container with a small match and a ball of wax soaked cotton as well as a magnesium fire starting tool. Unfortunately, part of the magnesium tool came unscrewed in my pocket and got lost (perhaps the fluid dynamicists in our audience can explain this common pocket phenomenon). But also, how often do I need to start a fire in Los Angeles? While arson is the only honest form of architectural criticism in a city full of Geoff Palmer atrocities, it’s not like I need to start a fire to stave off the cold. Maybe I’ll live to regret this decision, but there’s only so much I can carry on my keychain without ruining the tailoring of my Prada.

Mini flashlight
Thanks to the perpetual glow of LA’s streetlights I found the mini-flashlight I used to carry an unnecessary pocket lump. It also came unscrewed multiple times and the batteries kept spilling out. Plus the iPhone comes with a light to enable post-50 year olds, such as myself, to read the tiny prices on small plates menus.

Stuff I’m not sure I should carry
Then there’s one new item that I’m ambivalent about carrying:

lockpicksetLock pick set disguised as a suspicious credit card
Due to a few recent bad experiences locking myself out, I’ve been teaching myself the art of lock picking (I’ll need to do a more detailed post on this hobby at a later date). But I’m worried the Chinese credit card will get me in trouble with the NSA, TSA and FBI folks who are monitoring my snacking habits. So, for the time being, I not sure if I should include the lock pick set in my EDC.

But enough self indulgence, what’s in your EDC?

On the Vulnerabilities of Combination Locks


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.