College of Lockpicking a success!

Last night, Ace Monster Toys had a two hour or so workshop by guests, Eric and Jamie, from the College of Lockpicking. This was a brief history of locks and lockpicking followed by a hands on practicum where we all got to work on learning to pick locks hands on with some help and supervision.

AMT has had a few locks and a member or three who knows something about lockpicking but we haven't gone out of our way to make lockpicking a core part of what we hack on. For those that don't know, within the hacking community there is a long tradition of lockpicking as a hacking thing, learning to work hands on with the intricacies of getting through locking mechanisms. As I recall, this goes back, in engineering circles, to Richard Oppenheimer hacking locks at Los Alamos for fun, among other places.

A few years ago, Toool, The Open Organization of Lockpickers, was founded and members of Toool have chapters all over and are an omnipresent part of hacking conferences, like DEFCON. There is actual a competition form of lockpicking called "Locksport," that has a number of competitions. The Fraternal Order of Lock Sport and Locksport International are good places for more information on that.

For the class, people either purchased lockpicks from the organizers or brought their own. We then sat down, after some theoretical discusion of how tumbler and pin locks actually work, to open locks. This involves a bit of a learning curve as you need to learn to manipulate the tools, how much tension to put onto the lock, and how to "feel" the pins in the lock as you poke at them. I was able to open a cheap chinese padlock, a simple 1 pin lock (used for training) and a 3 or 4 pin lock. I wasn't able to get the Masterlock on the table or any of the 5 pin locks open. (More practice is needed, it seems.) Some people doing this for the first time, or nearly so, were able to reliably get five pin or more locks opened without too much trouble. Future dentists, one supposes...

We also got to play with police style handcuffs and zipties. It turns out that getting out of handcuffs isn't too hard if you have a little metal shim and they aren't already cutting off the blood to your wrists (since you need to tighten them a little to shim them). Zipties can be cut through with a little vigorous footwork using good shoelaces or paracord (and time alone away from the cops). Given the last week of Occupy Oakland, this might be useful.

All in all, it was a good event and I'm glad that Eric and Jamie were going to make it out to teach it. This has encouraged those of us at AMT to potentially add a few more locks to our sets in the space and I've proposed some kind of reoccurring night for people to come hang out and be frustrated by locks together.

- Al

College of Lockpicking, Thursday 10/27 7-9pm

(click to enlarge)

BONUS: Members of Ace Monster Toys get $15 off the registration price!  The discount code is in your email if you are a member. If you did not get it, or are not currently an AMT member, please feel free to contact me at!

RSVP TODAY - space is limited!

Ace Monster Toys at East Bay Mini Maker Faire this weekend

Christian explains the magic of making

This weekend is the second annual East Bay Mini Maker Faire in Oakland, CA. As the EBMMF website says:

A Maker Faire is about celebrating learning and doing – not the finished and perfect end product. It’s a place to share what we’re learning with others, and celebrate the fun and freedom of being an amateur.

Featuring both established and emerging local “makers,” the East Bay Mini Maker Faire is a family-friendly celebration coming to Oakland for its second year on Sunday, October 16, 2011. It will feature rockets and robots, DIY science and technology, urban farming and sustainability, alternative energy, bicycles, unique hand-made crafts, music and local food, and educational workshops and installations.

Ace Monster Toys participated in the first of these last year just a few months after we were founded and in our workshop space. (You can see last year's photos.) This year, we're returning. (Hopefully it won't be raining the entire time this year!) This is a great event for kids, hosted by the Park Day School in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland, CA. AMT will have a table, be showing off a few of our projects from our laser cutter, and probably spending much of the day doing small prints on the 3D printers.

I encourage people to come to the event, have a good time, and stop by and talk to us. Bring your kids! We promise not to leave them alone with the soldering irons!

-- Al

PyWeek Kickoff

pygameDo you like video games? Do you like making video games? Do you like hanging out with other people while making video games?!  Well then, we're kicking of pyweek, a week-long video game competition starting this Saturday at 5pm.

What's that? You don't know how to make video games or write in Python? That's cool! Come down and learn. It's "Learn Python the Hardest Way". I'll do my best to teach and get you started with tools and how to produce crummy programmer art and basic pathfinding algorithms and everything you need to produce your own questionable game! Here's the details, hope to see you there!

Learn Google Sketchup!

Join us at Ace Monster Toys on Monday, August 22 at 7:00 PM for a free public class on 3d modelling using Google Sketchup.

Sketchup is a free (sort of) cross-platform 3d modelling program which is great for quickly turning your ideas into reality.

 What will be covered:

  • Installing and configuring Sketchup
  • Use of each standard tool
  • Creation and manipulation of various shapes and primitives
  • Maintaining model integrity
  • Exporting models for laser cutting / 3d printing

 What may be covered depending on time/interest:

  • Exporting scenes for 3rd party rendering
  • Creating blueprints of your model
  • Gears and Joints

 What you should bring:

  • Yourself!
  • A laptop with Sketchup so you can follow along

 Cost: FREE! If you learn something you find useful donations to AMT are always accepted! If I make you stupider, you get nothing. Sorry.

How to RSVP: Our meetup page, so we know how many people to expect

Ace Monster Toys on Meetup

East Bay Mini Maker Faire

We decided (well, David the treasurer did…) to start using Meetup to promote events at Ace Monster Toys very recently. Last night was the first public event using the new AMT page on Meetup.

Wow! We had something like 14 non-members RSVP for our Thursday night weekly meeting. I thought to myself, "Well, we'll probably get two or three, maybe four if we're lucky but cool!" Instead, we had, I would guess, about 12 people show up that had never been to the space before.

To give some context, AMT has about 25 dues paying members, average, month to month. We've been slowly growing by a member or two a month for the last nine months but we've also lost a few members due to attrition. Given that we're in a slightly industrial part of north Oakland near Berkeley and Emeryville, California, this isn't surprising. The other hackerspaces in the Bay Area, Noisebridge and Hacker Dojo, are either right in the middle of walking areas of the city (for NB) or right next to Silicon Valley and all of its tech companies (for HD).

We're ok with being small but we haven't done a lot of marketing and it would be nice if we were about double our current size, just for critical mass for events, workshops, and people hacking on things.

Given the amount of people who showed up and expressed interest, I really do think that Meetup is a good advertising vehicle for us. I expect that we'll keep using it and we've already listed a number of upcoming events on our page. Check it out and come by if you're in the Bay area.

Next week, we begin a series on learning PCB design run by David Rorex.

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Ace Monster Toys is a non-profit hackerspace based in Oakland, CA, dedicated towards education, hacking, and maker culture.

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