Schuyler Towne was nominated and selected for the Locksport Person of the Month distinction for his outstanding contributions to the locksport community. Schuyler is well-known as a competitive lockpicker and Locksport hype man. I contacted Schuyler after he got first place in the Locksport Wizard competition during The Next HOPE conference in New York City on July 17th, 2010.
Q: To start off, I want to say that there are not many people in the community who have been so active for so long. I hope I am not the first to point out that this community is always in need of strong leaders like you. What do you consider to be your primary motivation to continue working towards making locksport a mainstream activity?
A: Well, thanks! Like a lot of us I've taken time here or there. It's funny, usually I'll get super involved in some small community, get really good at some esoteric passtime, then say "I've had my fun" and give it up. Well, I was about a year into Locksport, had competed and really enjoyed myself, made some good friends, but was feeling pretty done. My close friends in Boston knew my habits and happened to get access to my facebook one day when I forgot to log it out at work and posted "Well, I'm not a lockpicker any more" and some other, more ridiculous things. I found out about it because I started receiving emails and phone calls and facebook messages from other members of this community who were upset and trying to get me to keep picking. It was amazing. I had never come up against that when I tried to walk away from something before. It was amazing. It's that community, really, that makes me keep working. I was ready to walk away, but they dragged me back in and I've been paying back the favor ever since. Like I said, I take time, like anyone else, and I have plenty of unfinished projects, but I love this hobby and community.
Q: Could you describe some of the more recent media attention you have been receiving and how you expect the influx of exposure to help the community grow?
A: A little over a year ago I became connected with Dorkbot Boston, a group of people "Doing strange things with electricity." I actually first attended their meetings to impress a girl. Nothing happened on that front, but in July of last year I actually hosted a Dorkbot meeting at my work. In the brief bio the organizers wrote about me they mentioned the lockpicking. Ian Sands, a reporter for the Boston Phoenix, who happened to have just written an article about Dorkbot, noticed it and interviewed me just before I went to DefCon last year. Things moved very quickly, there was a photographer waiting for me at my office as soon as I got off the plane in Boston. The article ran a few days later and was a great, overwhelmingly positive look at our community. A day or two after that I was contacted by Andrea Shea of WBUR who wanted to put together a piece for NPR. In the end that was carried, in 3 slightly different edits, on a local public radio show, PRI's Here & Now and NPR's All Things Considered. That got the ball rolling even faster. 3 different documentary filmmakers got in touch and I began working with 2 of them. Those projects are ongoing. Then a profile in the Boston globe and a feature on a local TV News Magazine. One of the regulars at our local hackerspace locksport meetings happened to mention to some people in his office that I picked locks and suddenly I found myself consulting and appearing on an episode of a show on the History Channel. Somewhere in all of this Rodrique Ngowi called to say he worked for the AP and was considering an article. We talked a bit, but nothing came of it. Then, about a month ago, he got back in touch out of the blue and said we would need to move quick, but he wanted to push the article. We met to interview twice and went over details on the phone and via email and on and on, but once he submitted the story he had no idea when it would actually hit. I found out via twitter on a layover at JFK on my way to DefCon. I cannot believe the places that article went in the first 48 hours. Huffington Post, Fox News, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Dutch, Korean, South American, etc. news outlets. CBS, Yahoo, everyone seemed to pick it up. Hundreds of individual articles in all.
I don't actually know or really care how it will help the community grow. I'm not too focused on community building, but rather normalization. I want it to be acceptable, if not common, for people to get together and pick locks, to take an active interest in their own physical security and maybe even to compete. When I attended my first Dutch Open (now LockCon) it was filled with kids and dogs and husbands and wives and friends and everyone you would see at some big reunion party. Seeing kids leaning over their parent's shoulders cheering them on (and even having a visit from Sinterklaas one year!) really brought home for me how nice and non-controversial our love for this sport can be. I've been working in that direction ever since.
Q: Could you describe how you are affiliated with TOOOL.US and why you chose to venture away from the leadership team?
A: These days I don't know that I really am affiliated. I will always pick under the TOOOL banner for Barry & Han. They both have done so much for me over the years and really, without them & their constant support I would probably have enjoyed a nice vacation in Holland and never thought about locks again. I owe them a great deal. When I stepped down from the board of TOOOL US it was to pursue NDE Magazine. I noticed early on that locksport groups, by their nature, tried to claim cool people and cool projects to grow their membership and grow the community, but, like I said, I'm not in the community growing business, so I leave that to TOOOL & LI and anyone else. I wanted to create things for Locksport as a whole. That was the motivation for the motto "For Locksport!" Anyway, when I first discussed the idea of NDE I immediately had people from TOOOL expressing their excitement for a club magazine. I understood, then, that if I remained with the board that anything I created could be claimed for them. I didn't like that. I've continued to associate with TOOOL US over the years. Helping out with a project here or there, but I don't know that it's even right to consider myself a member of any group at this point. Only when I'm sitting down across from some LI, MIT, SSDEV, or FOOL member do I take on the banner and try to win for Barry & Han!
Q: You are pretty well known for your work on NDE Magazine. What can we expect for the future of the mag?
A: I think a comeback is inevitable at this point. John and Mike were the driving forces behind it's success in the past and my own personal life is what fouled up the works. We're writing again, which is a huge step. Even if it won't be around forever, I'd like to put out another 4 cohesive issues and not just let it fade away like it did before. I'm routinely amazed when people will write or find me at a Con to ask what's going on with NDE.
Q: I have noticed that you have several new projects in the work. What is The Open Locksport and how can community members get involved?
The subtext of the lockpicks is that I want to further normalize our community via marketing. I want the picks to look good, feel good and have a cohesive marketing strategy to expand the awareness of, and curiousity about, Locksport. In addition to the picks I'm getting a lot of help from Datagram right now as I build a small Lock Forensic lab at Sprout in Somerville. I'm trying to teach more and am working on a large paper about lock manufacturing in the 19th century. In particular I want to uncover some of the unknown players in the great lock debacle of 1851. Even members of our community have a very shallow understanding of who Hobbs was and what he was really doing in England, not to mention the myriad other engineers and pickers that led to that moment and changed history after it.
Q: One thing that has been discussed over the years is an amateur lock convention in the US, similar to that hosted by TOOOL.NL in The Netherlands. It is hard to say if there is enough support in the North American community for such an event; what are your thoughts?
A: We came close this year. Even managed to lock down some space thanks to wonderful people in Cambridge and Somerville, but again, my private life interfered. My company is moving locations and uprooting everyone and everything in it's path, so I had to put the New England Open on hold. We should be able to make it happen next year. Again, this is something Datagram & I have discussed extensively. Nothing set in stone yet, and I don't know how much its public knowledge, but though we are working together I think it's fair to say he will be beating me to the punch in 2011. Keep your ears to the ground for details. One thing both of us value is a separation from group ownership, like I said above. We want the Locksport Conference, however it ends up coming to exist, to be completely open and unaffiliated.
Q: As one visionary to another, how do you imagine the locksport community ten years from now?
A: Hah! No one will ever accuse us of humility, Doug. Ten years from now? I think the world will know a little more about what's on their doors. That's all. A very small, but measureable change in public knowledge. And I think that's a very good thing.
Q: Finally, are there any projects you want to take on but can't for lack of resources or time?
A: Always in the back of my head is the responsible disclosure situation. I've done a lot of thinking and writing and speaking about the idea, but we are still without a codified method of disclosure. I came to the conclusion that it will not be possible to fully implement until we've been able to nudge the lock manufacturers toward better communication with their distributors and end users. Until then, I have my version of due dilligence and I will always go to the fences for responsible disclosure, but the full scope of the problem is larger than I can try to take on right now.