Sunday, 31 December 2017

AMA: Oscar to Tango.

Oscar: Possibly the easiest sign of them all! The hand looks a bit like it is adjusting a camera lens, which may help you remember the phonetic.

Papa: A first glance this looks like Golf with the palm downwards. Papa is a Pointing gesture. The thumb and second finger pinch together to further distinguish this sign. Mindhacker tells us “Papa snaps his fingers”.

Quebec: Quebec is in Canada and so are Canada geese. This sign uses a bent wrist to make a shape like a goose head.

Romeo: Romeo crosses his fingers hoping true love will prevail.

Sierra: A fully clenched fist. Compare to the signs for Alpha and Echo. The US military uses this hand signal to mean “Stop”, which is another “S” word. Mindhacker uses the concept of “coming to blows over the treasure of the Sierra Madre”. That helps getting the phonetic right.

Tango: Like Sierra but the Thumb is placed between the first and second fingers. Mindhacker has a phrase about a dance judge giving your Tango the evil eye, alluding to the fig sign being used to ward off evil.

Another lesson tomorrow.

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Saturday, 30 December 2017

AMA: Golf to November.

Part two of the lessons on American manual alphabet (AMA) and NATO phonetic alphabet. The good news is that today’s signs are very easy and that learning them takes you past the halfway point!

Golf: Mindhacker suggests “This way to the links” to remember this, reflecting that it resembles a pointing finger. Personally I just remember it as a single finger version of Hotel, the next letter. Remember the “palm towards the viewer” rule. Your finger should point outward.

Hotel: Like Golf, but with two fingers. Mindhacker observes this looks like a key being presented to a Hotel door. Many Hotels now use cards, but you can think of the two fingers holding a card if you want. Use what helps you remember.

India: “Raise your little finger like drinking a fine tea from India”. This sign actually helps me with remembering the phonetic rather than the reverse.

Juliet: “Juliet made Romeo pinky swear their love”. Make the sign for India and use your little finger to draw a “J” in the air. The hook of the J goes outwards.

Kilo: Mindhacker tells us “a Kilo is about two pounds” reminding the user that this sign uses two fingers. I find it more useful to think of it as the sign where the thumb goes between the Knuckles of two straight fingers.

Lima: A very easy one! The “loser” sign with the thumb inwards. “Losers leave Lima beans.”

Mike: A clenched fist sign, but with the palm downwards. The tip of the thumb is placed between the third and last finger. The three fingers together make a shape resembling an “m”.

November: The same as Mike, but with the thumb tip in the middle. The two pairs of fingers look like elevens, and November is the eleventh month.

Another lession tomorrow.

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Friday, 29 December 2017

AMA: Alpha to Foxtrot.

Recently I have started dipping into a book called “Mindhacker” by Ron and Marty Hale-Evans. The first section I read was a suggestion that the NATO phonetic alphabet and ASL fingerspelling be taught synchronously. As will be seen, learning the two together actually helps with memorizing some of the words or signs.

Learning these systems has obvious advantages if you find yourself in high noise or low noise situations. I cover some useful hand signals in my book Survival Weapons: Optimizing Your Arsenal. ASL fingerspelling, aka American manual alphabet (AMA) provides a useful compliment to these. Potentially one can create a sort of syllabary where one or two letters stand for longer commands. For example, the sign or command “Lima” or “Lima One” would instruct a unit to adopt a skirmish line formation.

You may already know the phonetic alphabet, or at least some of it. The basic AMA system is very easy to learn. The 26 basic letters are represented by 22 symbols. Learning four to six per day is no great feat. Probably you will pick it up at a much faster rate. The next few blogs will be about learning symbols, with some commentary from Mindhacker or from myself that I hope may help make learning them easier.

Fingerspelling is not sign language. It is a supplemental system useful for when a sign is not known or does not exist. There is a British fingerspelling system, incidentally, but this needs both hands to make many letters so the AMA system has the edge for our purposes.

The conventions when using AMA are:
  • Signs are made with the dominant hand at shoulder level.
  • Palm is directed towards the viewer.
  • Double letters are made by bouncing the hand, waving it sideways or remaking the sign.
Alpha/ Alfa: This is a clenched fist with the thumb at the side pointing upwards. There a number of signs based on the clenched fist and the position of the thumb is important. Mindhacker suggests this sign is remembered by thinking of an Alpha male rising their hand in triumph.

Bravo: Bravo is the open palm. Remember is as though you are going to applaud while crying “bravo, bravo!” Folding the thumb across the palm makes it look more like a “b”.

Charlie: Charlie is the hand forming the letter “C” so no complex aide memoir are really necessary. Since the sign is directed towards the viewer the open side of the symbol is inwards.

Delta: Delta is the upraised index finger. Mindhacker suggests you imagine pointing up at a Delta-winged plane above.

Echo: Echo is best thought of as a semi-clenched fist, as though you are holding something. The thumb is under the fingers, which I suppose does somewhat resemble an “e”. This symbol may be easier if you place the tip of the thumb on the fingernail of the little finger.

Foxtrot: The hand form usually shown for Foxtrot seems to resemble the sign for the number “9”. Mindhacker seems to suggest the symbol resembles the “OK” gesture and that the phrase “The judge in the dance contest thought your Foxtrot was magnifique!” helps. South African (and Irish) fingerspelling seems to use a modified sign where the Forefinger is bent at 90 degrees to make an “f”-like shape. Personally I think that is a much better symbol and worth wider adoption.

More signs tomorrow!
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Thursday, 28 December 2017

Bogota the Abus!

The failure of the Mad Bob Bogotas to open my Abus padlock bothered me. Certainly they worked fine on all other locks I tried, but I had intended these picks for my emergency kits, so they were likely to be the only picks that I had available in certain situations. There was nothing actually wrong with them as picks. Used with the turning tool from my Serenity kit they popped the Abus open. It was as turning tools that they were lacking.

It is a common consensus among lock pickers that the form of turning tool is often more important than the pick used, and here was a fine example.

Constructing turning tools had proved more involved than expected. The usually suggested material is the steel strips found in windscreen wiper inserts. Unfortunately my area has very few locations where I could scrounge these. Yesterday I popped out to the shops and what should I come across lying on the pavement? A damaged wiper blade that yielded two steel strips each nearly a foot long! I would construct some turning tools to carry with my Mad Bob Bogotas and foil any locks that turned out to be as temperamental as the Abus!

It was the work of a few minutes to cut, bend and finish the material. I try one in the Abus, using my Dangerfield Bogota. The lock opens! But being a scientist, I have to refine my experiment. I try a Mad Bob and one of my new tools. Won’t open!

I compare my wiper steel turning tools with the one in the Serenity kit I had modelled them. The only difference is the thickness of the steel! The wiper steel is similar in thickness to that of the Bogotas, the kit tool much thicker. Not much I can do about that, or was there?

The thinner tools were rotating too much in the keyway and not transmitting sufficient torque. I hit upon the idea of slightly bending the long arm of the wiper turning tool. It sat better in the keyway, but prevented to tool fully inserting. I straightened it out a little and attempted to Bogota the Abus. It worked! Try again with the Mad Bob Bogota. Also worked!

Since the wiper turning tools were of similar thickness to the Mad Bob Bogotas, the next step was obvious. I bent the handles of the single-hump picks to approximate that of the turning tools. This did the trick. The paired tools now open the lock. Later, I will bend the handles of the rakes so they act as better turning tools for the single-humps.

Shown in the image. Wiper steel turning tools made today and Mad Bob Bogotas. Note bending of turning tools and some Bogota handles. 
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Saturday, 23 December 2017

Bogota Review

I suspect that the readers of my posts on lock-picking fall into two broad camps. The first are those interested in lock sport, and that, like me, are relatively new to the field. The second are those who are not particularly interested in lock sport as a hobby but wish to add a new capability to their repertoire of survival, self-reliance and preparedness skills.
To both groups I give the same initial advice: If you only ever buy or carry one set of lock picks, it should be the Bogotas!

As I have mentioned elsewhere, the Bogotas are the invention of a lock sportsman called “Raimondo”. You may see similar picks under other names, which is often an indication that the maker is trying to avoid copyright and IP.
There are number of options when it comes to Bogotas. In addition to stainless steel they can also be found in non-magnetic titanium. Interestingly, some of my steel Bogatas are strongly magnetic, others much less so. More of that later. “Mini-Bogatas” have a shorter handle. The actual pick part is the same, don’t think these are better suited for smaller locks. Mini-Bogatas can be found in either stainless steel or titanium. Two-hump and four-hump versions of Bogotas can also be found. I have no personal experience of these, so this article will be about the more commonly found triple and single hump set.
Another option you will encounter is “standard” or “euro-twist”. This reflects that in the US cylinder locks are usually mounted with the pins uppermost, while in Europe they can be encountered with the pins down. A “euro-twist” Bogata has the humps pointing in the same direction as the handle curves. Even if you are in the USA, I suggest you buy “euro-twist” if you can get them. If you are using the other pick as a turning tool this lets them curve away from each other, giving you a bit more room. There are also flat “no-twist” Bogotas.
Most paired sets of Bogota picks have handles designed to act as a turning tool for the other. And they work very well for this too! I often reach for them before other tools when using other picks. It is possible these handles might serve as shims. Regrettably I do not have any handcuffs to experiment with.
The single hump version can serve as a half-diamond or probably as a hook too. This form is sometimes called a “knuckle” or “p-nuckle”. I’ve not made much use of the single-hump as a hook but have SPP picked locks using it as a half-diamond. The single hump is also good as a skeleton key for small warded locks and can be used to pick dimple locks. 
I have seldom actually needed to use the single hump for SPP since the triple hump rake is the most consistently performing pick I have used. With the right action some locks pop in seconds. I have some rakes that open certain locks faster than the Bogotas, but if these do not work the Bogotas usually do the job. I use my Bogota rake more than any other pick I have. My other rakes are mainly for locks that are too small for the Bogota or that I know open faster with another design.
The inventor of the Bogota recommends that the rake be used with a jittery action, “like you have had too much coffee”. The Bogota rake actually lends itself to a variety. I generally start with a see-saw rocking action that becomes a scrubbing action if the lock does not yield. I guess that might qualify as a jiggling or jittery action. You can also use the Bogota with a zipping action. I have even opened some locks with the rake inverted so that the bumps rather than the peaks contact the pins.
I now have a couple of variants of Bogotas. In addition to my original Dangerfield pair I have a more conventionally handled version from the Dangerfield Serenity set. I also have some pairs from Mad Bob. The Dangerfields have taken up residence in my lock sport kit, while the Mad Bobs I intend to place in an emergency kit.
The Dangerfield pair are not as flexible as some picks out there, which is a good thing since when you are starting out you may get some locks to open with a lateral jiggle. These Bogatas seem unlikely to bend or break with such applications, although as your finesse develops you tend to drop this technique.

The Bogota from the Serenity kit seems more flexible than the other Dangerfields. According to UK Bump Keys all three are 0.022" (0.558mm). Initially I found the Serenity Bogata easier to use in the narrow twisty keyway of an SKS lock. This has been cured with practice and I now have no trouble using the stiffer Dangerfields in this lock. I actually prefer these Bogotas over the others I currently have.

The Mad Bob Bogotas are offered in both “standard” and “euro-twist” configurations and in both 0.6mm and 0.8mm thicknesss. Mine are 0.6mm euro-twist. They seem a little more flexible than the paired Dangerfield. That is not a bad thing for narrow keyways once you have learnt to be gentle with your picks. Interestingly, the steel used on the Mad Bobs does not seem to be magnetic, while that on the Dangerfields is. I’d not try taking them through a metal detector, but this might be significant if you plan to magnetize your picks to make an emergency compass.

I have seen it said that Mad Bob picks need additional sanding. The picks I have have no detectable rough spots and the finish seems adequate.

The Mad Bobs are somewhat cheaper than the Dangefields, although this is somewhat offset by the shipping and handling charge the former has. Mad Bob also failed to notify me when the picks were back in stock.

I discovered something interesting while trying out my newly arrived Mad Bobs. My stubborn little Abus padlock refused to open. Usually it opens with a Bogota, although the Octo rake is quicker. The problem seemed to be with which turning tool I used. Using another Mad Bob Bogata pick as a turner seemed to leave insufficient room inside the small keyway for the rake to rock. When using the Dangerfield and Serenity Bogotas stored in my lock sport kit I must have used the “L” tool in the kit.

My attempted solution was to cut the handle down to about half an inch (12-13mm). I achieved this by cutting a grove with the cut-off disc of a Dremel then bending it until it sheared. Use something like the stone of a Dremel to re-shape the end then finish with a needle file and abrasive paper. This increases the pick’s capability as a turning tool but makes it more compact, intermediate between the unmodified pick and the often much more expensive 2” Mini-Bogota. Bending the handle to a right angle decreases the overall length further and may make them easier to carry in certain locations.

Despite these efforts, the Abus won’t open unless certain turing tools are used on it. Specifically the Dangerfield Bogotas and Sohos or the Serenity L-tool. The Mad Bobs are either thinner or more flexible. They work fine on other locks I have tried, but the Abus remains a baffling exception.

This image shows some rakes that at first glance may appear to be Bogotas. These are from one of my Chinese pick kits, which seem to have been “inspired” by an American brand called “Majestic”. Note that some of them lack the undercutting of some peaks -a feature that strengthens the Bogotas. Also note that the “wavelength” of the peaks is less. They do work, I have opened locks with them, but they are not as good as Bogotas. Incidently, these have a number of burrs that could be sanded off, but this is likely to remove the nasty black finish that shows up the brass. I have not experience of genuine Majestic picks but expect they are better finished.

The mirror finish of other picks helps them move around inside a lock and does not show up brass marks like some other pick finishes. 

An honourable mention goes to this rake, which is effectively a Bogota without the innovation of the undercuts. The original Bogotas were made from the steel blades from a streetsweeper, illustrating that these are a relatively simple construction project for those with hand tools, material and patience.

A pair of Bogotas constitutes a compact but very capable lock-picking capability. In other posts I have shown how a pair can be carried using the spring from a cheap pen. The safety pin lets the pair be carried where they are concealed or most convenient. An alternate method uses a few inches of gutted paracord. A safety pin may be added with a needle and thread.

If you are new to lock-picking the Bogotas are great for building your confidence and teaching finesse.

Given their performance, quality and versatility a pair of Bogotas are great value for money and worth adding to you tool kit, survival kit etc. Newbie or veteran, you should give them a try!
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Thursday, 7 December 2017

Two Soaps, One Cup.

I will admit that I can be a bit frugal at times. In an age where we waste far too much and fail to appreciate what we have, I do not regard that as a bad thing.
This is not me!

The other day I had some soap reach the end of its useful life. Both bars had begun to produce less laver and broke into shards if you tried to use them. Annoyingly, there seemed to be quite a bit of soap left. Trying to squeeze the old pieces into the new bar of soap never seems to work. Even if they are the same type of soap they tend to break off and be lost.
Decades ago newspapers used to have adverts for soap moulds that supposedly let you compress multiple old bars of soap into a new bar. Surely such a thing must be available on the internet now? Turns out that you could buy such a thing but it is now unavailable. There are youtube videos on how to make such a thing out of wood. There are also many videos showing you how to melt soap in a saucepan and place it in silicone moulds.

Some further searching and applied logic resulted in something less involved and more practical. Here is what you do:
Find a microwavable plastic cup. I use one of the little Tupperware tubs that some takeaways give you sauce in. Place your shards of old soap in the cup, having removed any labels the soap may still have.

Take a metal teaspoon and carve a trough in one side of your new bar of soap. Put the soap you have carved out in the cup with the old soap.

It does not matter if the soap in the cup is wet, but be sparing if adding extra water. Spend a couple of seconds crumbling the soap so none hangs over the edge of the cup.

Place the cup of soap in a microwave and give it 30 seconds. Keep an eye on the soap and stop the microwave as necessary. I put a little too much water in with the soap and it frothed over the side of the cup. The turntable was due for a clean anyway.

If the soap is not sufficiently softened/ melted, give it additional bursts of about 10 seconds until it is how you want it.

 Take the teaspoon and use it to pack the soft soap into the trough on the new bar of soap. I ended up taking a foil wrapper and encircling the soap with it to pack it down. The wrapper was used food packaging so additional points for recycling and repurposing!

Let the soap cool before you attempt to remove the wrapper if you used one. Very little soap should adhere to the wrapper if you have waited long enough.

I was a little concerned I had used too much water so I put the bar in the freezer for a few hours in the hope that some of the excess would crystalize out.

I tried the bigger bar of soap today. Works perfectly. The little plastic tub now lives in the bathroom, ready to collect future shards of soap. Currently my bar of soap rests on top of it to dry. When it gets smaller I will place it on a repurposed shampoo bottle cap.

Discovering soap can be melted in a microwave offers some interesting potential. Soaps can be made with essential oils, fruit zest, oatmeal or various other additives. I seem to recall I once saw coffee soap advertised. There is always a little bit of coffee and grounds left in the pot. It is mince pie season so some of those foil cups may get repurposed as moulds.

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