From a Slate report by Tom Vanderbilt about a convention of lockpickers, an annual meeting of the original “hackers,” who must gain entry not to steal but because they need to:
“In fairness, the conference, known as LockCon, hosted by TOOOL (The Open Organization of Lockpickers, which demurely describes itself as a ‘growing group of enthusiasts interested in locks, keys and ways of opening locks without keys’) was a far tamer affair than I had expected, given that my visit had been foregrounded with viewings of, for example, a YouTube video showing TOOOL co-founder and president Barry (‘the Key’) Wels—as with hackers, a nickname is often de rigueur for lock pickers—opening a standard hotel door, from the outside, using a bent metal bar.
TOOOL, perhaps not surprisingly given that it spends its time figuring out how to open the world’s locks, is sensitive about its portrayal, and LockCon itself is ‘invitation only.’ As Wels had told me, ‘we spend a lot of time trying to keep the bad guys—or guys with bad intentions—out.’ Those who had gathered were a diverse and almost disappointingly legitimate lot, ranging from German pilots to Spanish locksmiths to a British distributed systems architect working in Iceland, not to mention the crew I had traveled with from Amsterdam in a borrowed RV driven by Wels: Deviant Ollam, Datagram, Scorche (and his girlfriend), and Babak Javadi, all members of the American branch of TOOOL and all employed, in one way or another, in the security business. And while LockCon had a whiff of Stieg Larsson—the hacker speak (e.g., ‘epic fail’) and T-shirts (‘Masters of Penetration’), the Northern European location and demographic tilt—its sense of mischief was largely sealed within the confines of the hostel’s conference rooms where, during the day, attendees sat through intensely technical presentations, and by night, fueled by healthy glasses of the hostel’s all-inclusive lagers, engaged in competitive lock-picking trials.
There is an inevitable lure to picking a lock. ‘A lock is a psychological threshold,’ writes Gaston Bachelard. The physicist Richard Feynman, himself possessed of what he termed the ‘puzzle drive’ and a notorious lock picker, described it as: ‘One guy tries to make something to keep another guy out; there must be a way to beat it!’ I have a firm memory of clicking open the lock on the bathroom door in my childhood home with a bobby-pin; that the lock is what is called in the business a ‘privacy lock,’ designed not at all for security but merely to prevent unintentional intrusions, did not diminish my ardor in that moment.” (Thanks Browser.)