Analog Hacker Raises $20k to Make Handmade Lockpicking Tools

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You want a retro hobby with hacker cred? Try competitive lockpicking, which I'd bet is coming soon to a hipster bar near you.

Schuyler Towne is a graphic designer, maker, and lockpicker. That's him in the video up there showing off his tools. A week ago, he launched a project on Kickstarter, the micropatronage site, asking for $6,000 to begin manufacturing his own line of steel lockpicking tools. He's already gotten over $20,000 in contributions from more than 250 backers.

What explains the response? My guess is that people trained in (digital) security want to understand its physical manifestations, too. Add in the oft-expressed desire of the computer-chained to "work with my hands" and you've got a hot idea.

In a real sense, Towne is an analog hacker. He even got his start at the sixth annual HOPE (Hackers on Planet Earth) conference, where a competitive Dutch lockpicker had set up shop to teach people the basics of the dark art.

"I didn't know anything about locks. Didn't even know how they worked and didn't really care to know... [My friends] dragged me along to a talk that Barry Wels, the head of The Open Organisation Of Lockpickers, was giving. Barry is this very charming, very smart Dutchman who gave the most remarkable presentation. Watching him open locks on stage was like watching a very subtle, understated magic show," he told the Kickstarter blog. "His organization had set up a lockpicking "Village" at the conference and I went over there and picked the first lock I would ever open. By the end of the afternoon I was teaching the basics to other people who had gathered around. I was instantly hooked."

[Thanks to technology writer Quinn Norton for pointing out his success!]

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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