Gorilla on Tour – LockCon 2018

Editors note:
We were recently reminded of the writeup from Michael Maynard (Aka Gorilla picking) on his experience at LockCon 2018. Michael gave us permission to share it with a larger crowd. We have shortened the report, slightly. Where the full report is on the UK locksport forum.

In 2018, LockCon was held in the old parts of the castle, while in 2019 we used exclusively the new building. The rooms are much nicer, and we have a lot more room for events. This year, 2022, we will have the new building once more.

Michael:
I was there as a guest of the OzSecCon – I won their picking comp and the prize was a trip to The Netherlands, for which I am eternally grateful. This trip changed my life, and I don’t think this is an exaggeration frankly – my horizons have been broadened immeasurably and my sense of what is possible both in the lockpicking world, and in life in general – have been given a serious shakeup. Living in a small town at the arse end of the world is all very well…but you do come to realise that you’re only seeing a very tiny fraction of the world and you get very limited by your environment.

I hate suitcases (don’t own one in fact) but it was clear that 15kg of locks and tools were never going to survive in the pack unprotected so I stuck all my tools and locks in a Peli case… and then that went into the bottom of the pack. The locks were in those two Tupperware containers and BOTH of those managed to get destroyed, even inside the peli case which in turn was inside the pack. Who knows how baggage handlers manage to do this.

Daypack had laptop plus a book to read and usual stuff you take on planes and was packed so that I could put it into the top of the big pack for ease of carrying. So allup load wandering point to point was 15kg lock stuff + 7kg normal stuff + 5kg daypack = 27kg / 59 lbs.

OK so, first stop is Amsterdam. I’ve been here once before on a flying visit about 30 years ago.

This time I have to say it was fantastic from the second I arrived at the station. I booked my accommodation online with no real clue what I was getting but it turned out to be awesome, a serviced apartment on a canal. This is the view from the window. Across the bridge (maybe two minutes walk) were a Kiwi-run breakfast place, a truly excellent pub which I spent a great deal of time in, an Indonesian place, a pizza place, and more people whizzing about on bikes than you could poke a stick at. Dutch girls on bikes are – er – memorable.

Yeah so the city is drop dead gorgeous, very photogenic with the canals and architecture and museums.
 

I could put a million touristy photos here but if you’ve been to Amsterdam you know what it looks like, and if you haven’t, the pics will not do it justice. So here, have a random canal.

So when we last met the gorilla, he was sitting having this beer (and a few more) at a small pancake house opposite the train station near Jan’s place, ie the middle of nowhere.

Jan turned up and we levered my pack into the back seat along with enough impressioning equipment to start a good sized locksmithing trade school, and had a happy 90 minute trip southeast along the motorways towards the Netherlands / German border. Well not so much happy I guess, as eye-wateringly terrifying. The Dutch and Germans are incomprehensibly bad motorway drivers and in particular will swerve across to change lanes for absolutely no apparent reason and no prior indication of intent, like a fighter pilot in a dogfight. The speed limit along certain sections is 130 and following distances are comfortably measured in thousandths of an inch. I have no photos of the drive because I was using both hands to hang onto the seat.

Eventually the countryside changed from built up industrial areas and agriculture to reasonably dense forest. The windmills died out altogether and from this I assumed that we were headed inland away from the coast, and that had I had a GPS with me it would have shown us to be 0.00000000001mm above sea level, a new personal record for me on my trip.

The castle really is a very, very splendid thing. Wikipedia tells me that there has been something – castle / manor house / fortification / whatever on this site since the 13th century, and that this particular building was built in 1838 atop the ruins of previous structures. Now for you northern hemisphere types, this probably isn’t too great a deal but for those of us in the colonies, it’s frankly a bit of a mind fuck. The Treaty of Waitangi – NZ’s founding document – was signed in 1840. So this building I’m staying in is older than my entire country.

I really wish these walls could talk. They’ve seen over a century of young blokes about to take holy orders as a monk trundling across the bridge with their only possessions clutched in hand – a Bible, a prayer book, and perhaps a filthy habit. What they would think about a hundred hairy arsed* lockpickers carting many kilos worth of housebreaking equipment into the hallowed cloisters, I can only imagine.

Thursday afternoon. You arrive in dribs and drabs, file in, find the attendance register, tick your name off, and collect your key. People who had attended this event before came armed with bespoke locks, and so within seconds of Jan collecting the bunkroom key he had whipped out a screwdriver and changed it for an Assa twin. Quite why anyone would want to break into your room while you’re away from it during the day I never quite fathomed; I mean what the hell are they going to do? Nick your picks? Nobble your best impressioning file?
 

I didn’t happen to have a spare 30mm high security Europrofile cylinder with me so my room was open to the ravages of anyone who cared to poke a pick in the keyway. In the event no-one saw fit to rummage through a week’s worth of curry-soiled underclothes and third-hand Lockwood cylinders so I think I might have got off lightly.
 

The accommodation was, of course, the monk’s cells and there were an absolute ton of them. It’s a big building. The rooms were all the same size, but depending on how much you spent you got more or less personal space.

The inside of the complex is exactly how you’d expect an old monastery to be. Or at least it’s how *I* expected it to be, but there again I’ve never been inside a real monastery so what the fuck do I know? Tiled floors in some parts, old stone flags in others. Themed murals on the walls, Nooks, crannies, staircases going nowhere and mysterious doors that open out onto nothing in particular. Absolutely magical, honestly.

And now, dear lockpicker, we come to the most important part of the whole trip, the conference itself.

Now there is one thing I have to cover right at the start: The organisation was kind of loose. People shambled about and came and went at all hours, the timetable was – er – fluid – to say the least, meals were infrequent and informal.

I’ve thought about this a lot and in the end I’ve come to the conclusion that the event has deliberately been kept relatively laissez faire, I think it’s a deliberate policy by the organisers. These are very clever, very efficient men who could happily organise a well oiled clockwork machine of a conference if they wanted. But you know what? The LockCon started as an unstructured gathering of like minded friends, and they’ve done their best to keep it that way. It’s limited to 100 attendees of which 85% are Toool members, with others like us by invitation. God knows they could sell three times the number of tickets at double the cost if they wanted to and have a massive event, but they’ve chosen to keep it the way it is and on reflection I think that’s great.

There was a great deal of sitting about both in the lecture hall and outside at the picnic tables. For me I think this was the highlight of the weekend. Where else can a shitload of locksmiths / hobbyists / industry insiders / hackers / red teamers / partners / children from any and all walks of life and parts of the globe all sit around and talk locks? Everyone had a story to tell. Everyone had a point of view. Everyone had a new thing to show or tell about or whatever. Mechanical guys talked to electronic hackers. Safe guys swapped ideas with pickers. Locksmiths shared tricks with hobbyists. I came away with a whole new perception of what’s new, what’s doable, and what’s interesting.

Now, the lectures. These sort of weren’t what I was expecting. I was expecting formal, high powered presentations but in fact it was more like a show and tell style thing. Again, I think this comes from the original intent of the conference which was an informal get together of geographically spaced out friends. The idea is that anyone can get up and share stuff they’ve been working on, at whatever level they choose.

There were industry guys. There were historical presentations. There was a fair bit of mechanical stuff. There was some very interesting discussion of photographic scanning and 3D printing of keys. The stars of the show were Moss and Boo, two Aussie kids whose big thing is getting into tamper-evident seals. They spoke in Melbourne as well and really are very good and were listened to with as much enthusiasm and respect as anyone else.

This is MH who was happy to have his pic in the public domain.

Finally, the competitions. Impressioning, pin picking, and lever picking. Goddamn, there are some VERY talented people out there and trust me when I tell you the Europeans have picking comps down to a fine art.

The rules were weird at first – you can hold and tension the lock any way you want – including holding it in your hand and tensioning from the cam. And you can attack the lock with pretty much anything short of a drill bit which meant that a lot of the good guys were doing a thing that was a cross between raking and zipping – just violently having at the lock for all they were worth with something sharp and pointy before trying to single pin pick it. This led to some sub five second opening times.

We say our goodbyes and Jan and I pile our shit in the car and hit the road. My pack weighs slightly less than it did on the way in but it’s still near the 23kg limit and I’m still weighed down with a huge stack of brass. The two heaviest things in my luggage are my old school laptop in my daypack, and the locks in my big pack.
 

Jan introduced me to the concept of savoury Dutch pancakes, which are basically a foot diameter pizza with the usual toppings (cheese, bacon, peppers, whatever) but with a pancake for the base. You then add syrup to this, or at least I did. Dutch food turns out to be remarkably delicious but stodgy, and if I lived here for any length of time I would be the size of a zeppelin despite any amount of bicycle riding. This is where I discovered that diabetes might just be an acceptable lifestyle choice.

36 hours of longhaul flights, airports, delays, and security theatre. I was jetlagged to hell when I got back – I always am – by the time I got to Napier I’d had three mornings in one and a half days and if that doesn’t bugger up your body clock, nothing will.

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