Two Almost Physicists With Almost Something To Say

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Lockpickbot, Part 1

In a previous life, before there was Apple Maps, someone enthralled with their newfound ability to boundlessly string prose together made the poor decision of entitling an entry “Lockpickbot, Part 0.” This implies, somewhat forcefully, that there are subsequent parts to this saga. So here’s a serving of whatever.

The project is broken down into “lock,” “pick,” and “bot.” We acquired the “lock” aspect at a hardware store some time ago. There are two disembodied locks–one a deadbolt, one a typical doorknob–sitting on our coffee table. I have no qualms about having spent money on these. In the event that this project goes awry, they can actually be used to lock things, things like doors. I’m not sure which scenario one finds oneself in where one inherits a residence sans locks, unless one relocates to a shack in some marsh. Then you don’t really need locks, unless there are velociraptors. I’m not actually sure what sort of animals live in swamps, since I don’t watch reality TV shows on History. I have a vague idea from Donkey Kong Country: gators, long-legged birds, swordfish, rhinos, apes wearing neckties and hats. I will also mention that locks are cheap. At these prices, one can’t afford not to have deadbolts on one’s closets.

$50 not only buys you a universal key, but a lifetime’s worth of free dentistry.

GS already owned a set of lock picks. That’s fine, I imagine that he was a Dickensian street urchin at some point in his life, it’s not something to fixate on. Here’s what’s up with the picks: there are like a hundred different tools with exotic geometric shapes on the ends, and when you unroll the case it looks like the canonical movie torture scene. Two of these tools are actually useful. The rest are designed to confuse and bewilder, in case some n00b tries to use your shit, and the shafts will probably just snap right off and jam the lock up for all eternity. These are the “scorched earth” tools.

Lock mechanisms are totes cool. This is a hard point to sell, so, here, enjoy a fun animation that should give you the general idea. There is no sound. If you need sound you can combine it with this. The typical lock has an inner rotating cylinder and a stationary outer housing. Several two-part pins, with the relative lengths of the two halves somewhat randomized, sit in grooves that span between the inner and outer parts. The inner cylinder, which is directly coupled to the actual physical piece that keeps your door from being opened, is only free to rotate when the pins are positioned exactly such that the breaks between all of the pin halves are in line with the gap between the cylinder and the housing. Otherwise, the cylinder can’t turn, because there’s pin in the way. You can get into your house because you jam in a piece of metal with its shape “keyed” to the exact lengths of the inner pin parts. Johannes Deadbolt was a genius.

As for how to pick, here is another animation and musical accompaniment. The idea is to manually push each pin into its free position, and get the pin to stay there afterwards. How? With awkwardness. Each pin has finite fatness, and God makes no two pins the same. If the lock is under a bit of tension, and you depress each of the pins, you’ll notice that one of them is a bit sticky. This pin is the fattest and weakest of the herd, and you are a lion. Maintaining tension, push that pin in. At some point you’ll feel the lock give slightly, and you may even hear a small click. You just popped that pin into the open position, and that pin is now actually locked open because of the way the inner cylinder just shifted. Do not release tension. Never release tension, unless you’re feeling nostalgic for that time when all of the pins were popped out. Now test-depress the remaining pins. There will be another sticky pin. Repeat, and repeat again, until all of the pins have been popped. At this point you can open away.

Here’s how that plays out in reality, from my experience thus far with our practice locks:

  • Jam your dentistry widget into the lock and “rake the pins” to get the lay of the land. What did you just feel? A bunch of crap. How do you interpret that? No fucking clue. How many pins do you think are there? Somewhere between 1 and 30.
  • Stick a shim into the bottom of the lock and twist to apply tension. Enjoy your easy win. It’s probably the last one you’ll have for quite a while.
  • Start your search for this mythical “fattest pin.” Because you can’t interpret the sensations coming through your hands, test the same pin like four times in a row while skipping others entirely.
  • You’ve found something that’s hard to move. Push it to win.
  • Nope; turns out that it was just some fucking feature in the side of the cylinder. Where did the pins go?
  • GS just got his lock open. Mazel fucking tov.
  • Now it suddenly seems like this back pin is acting suspiciously like the fat pin of lore. Here goes nothing.
  • Jesus Christ the lock actually just shifted a little. If you could move you’d be doing the airplane up and down the block. Get your shit together. Try to find another stuck pin.
  • They are all stuck. Is this okay? Who knows, go for it.
  • That pin just went in 100% of the way. That’s probably a bad thing.
  • Do another pin. Feel a shift. You have no idea what’s happening. There’s a goddamned party going on in that lock, your shit-faced friend is there, and you’re on the phone with him trying to figure out where he’s at but he’s too far gone to be any fucking use. Is this progress? It’s something.
  • GS just picked his lock back closed. Is that even fucking possible? Now you can’t even remember how locks work when you have a key like a normal person.
  • Develop an itch on your nose. Don’t you dare let the tension off those fucking pins. You’ll be goddamned if you’re interrupting your mind meld with this doorknob. A cop could come along, you stand your ground. Do you remember what the pin ordering is? Didn’t think so. Mash your face against the door to scratch. Get back to your business.
  • The clicking of the pins coalesces into mocking laughter, resonating between your ears. They watch you struggle, bereft of compassion. You can feel the onset of thrombosis, but you will not succumb. Those pins would just fucking love it if you up and died right now. Do not give them the satisfaction.
  • Pretty sure you just went back to the first pin and shoved it further into its shaft. That seems like another step backward.
  • GS just picked his way into a bank and used the stolen funds to buy more practice locks, which he has also already opened.
  • Hail Mary: vent your rage by shoving all of the pins up as far as you can get them.
  • Lock just opened.
  • Lock just opened in the wrong direction. So that’s how GS re-locked his. File that one away under reasons to kill yourself. See you back at square one.


Luckily I’ve found that adhering to the standard playbook is wholly unnecessary; I can just put tension on and flail blindly around in there until it pops. Also my recipe for pleasing the ladies. In fact, that was the original premise for the design of the “bot”: grab onto a lock and do random unholy things to it until it opens. As it turns out, given that tumbler pin locks have been around since the 1800s, this solution already exists. And everyone is already aware of that, because everyone has seen a movie. We are now in the awkward position of trying to invent a more exotic way of lock opening so that we can be burdened with the construction of a robot to perform the task.

Meanwhile, if you get locked out of your place, ring me up. We’ve gotten really good at picking.



Two Seconds Hate: The Darién Gap

Mind the gap.

The Darién Gap is a section of impenetrable jungle and swamps in eastern Panama that makes overland crossing between North and South American nearly impossible. A ~30,000 mile route from northernmost Alaska to the southernmost tip of South America currently exists—with the exception of a 54 mile break around the Panama-Colombia border. What the FUCK, Panama? Supposedly, without an overwhelming political or economic demand, and the prohibitive cost of constructing roads through a dense swamp full of FARC rebels, there aren’t even plans to ameliorate this fact in the near future.

Oh, I’m sorry, did I fail to account for the historical, engineering and environmental impact of building a major highway through an otherwise pointless stretch of jungle? I guess I was too busy not making excuses.

Am I planning on driving to Buenos Aires? Of course not. But I reserve the right to drive to Buenos Aires. I also reserve the right to not use accents on words that come from other languages. There you go Darien Gap, how does that feel? Somehow…incomplete? Now you know how I feel.

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“Swap” by Kevin Chang (Part 5)

Also a terrifying and confusing journey

General Chang’s Zombie Chicken.

At this point, I really have to admit that I haven’t thought through the consequences of posting this online. As I said, Kevin Chang seems like it should be a common enough name that he is as unlikely to find it if he googles himself, as I am to find him. Still, it isn’t totally impossible. If this work starts getting the attention it deserves, who knows, maybe he’ll come across it. And I don’t really know the intellectual property status of things that you just find somewhere. I know that there have been magazines and radio shows that relied on found materials, and I’m obviously not profiting from this in any way, so who knows.

There is also the possibility that other, innocent, Kevin Changs will start finding these polluting their search results. To these Misters Chang, I am sorry. You don’t deserve this association. But if you’ve looked at any of these I think you’ll have to agree that the world is a better place for having this posted on it.

The final scene is amazing. So many things happen that are bewildering or unstageable. It really speaks for itself. Once more into the breach, dear Kevin Changs:


Scene 7  –  The Chaos

Scene: Back in the present. Old Man is sitting watching Jin-Mei, Ping, and Pong playing basketball. Jin-Mei is dressed in a basketball outfit. She owns both Ping and Pong by dodging both of their tackles.

Pong:   (taking his breath) Yo Ping… Wat’s goin’ on wit dis honey? We got owned!

Ping:   (taking his breath) Damn Straight. I mean… True dat.

Pong:   Wake up ya fool. We better start rackin’ up dat ball!

Both of them try stealing the ball from Jin-Mei, but she swiftly dribbles past them. Both ball to the ground.

Jin-Mei:   Come on Boys! Is that all you got? I want to play more!

Pong:   (catching his breath) Time of babe… I’m outaa gas.

Ping:   (catching his breath)  Damn…… Straight……

Jin-Mei:   Aw… fine. You party poopers!

Old Man:   Now, now my little girl, at least let them take a break.

Jin-Mei:   Yes, I know… I was just playing with the (giggles)

Panda enters the stage holding the mirror. It puts down the mirror facing toward the backstage.

Jin-Mei:   (gasps) Mr. Panda!

Old Man:   Panda? Why are you here? I told you to stay home!

Panda:   Making gestures.

Old Man:   I see…

Jin-Mei:   What happened?

Old Man:   The boy we left behind… even with that perfect disguise, the plot fails…

Jin-Mei:   Oh dear… is Lon alright?

Pong:   Yo wait a sec, did you just say… Lon?

Both Old Man and Jin-Mei turn silent.

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“Swap” by Kevin Chang (Part 4)

Also a terrifying and confusing journey

Play or restaurant, either way, your intestines have their work cut out for them.

Just as in our last installment, Jin-Mei, the girl from the old China, continues to not only not know about modern things, but to make assumptions about them that no one from any period of history would make. No matter how unfamiliar you were with a telephone, you’d never think it was plow, if you’ve ever been a farmer. And even if you never saw a basketball, you would never think it was a fruit if you could get close enough to touch it, and see that it has writing on it and stuff, even if you didn’t know the language.

Lon continues to live in the past, doing back-breaking labor and somehow not worrying about getting turned into a vampire, even though he should realize he can leave through the mirror, ostensibly in the hope of getting his terrible mix tape back. With no further ado, the penultimate installment of “Swap.”


Scene 5  –  Ping, Pong and the Girl

Scene: Back in the present. Under the dim light of the alley, Ping and Pong are chatting as they are playing around with their basketball. Jin-Mei, who is looking around in curiosity, and Old Man enter the stage.

Pong:   Ey Boss! Wat took ya so long? We’re all cool’ bout helpin’ ya out ya know dat?

Ping:   Yo Bro.

Pong:   Yea wat?

Ping:   When did dat fellow become our boss?

Pong:   Ya fool! He’s da G of da town! He owns dis town dawk! I told ya not to mess wit dat!

Old Man:   I’m sorry to interrupt your youth conversations… but may I get to business?

Pong:   Oh yea! Hit is straight on me poppa!

Old Man:   This is my precious granddaughter, Jin-Mei.

Jin-Mei:   Please to meet you.

Pong:   How ya livin’ honey G dawg!

Jin-Mei:   How do I live? Well it’s a long story, you know…

Old Man:   Anyway… the job I want to give you two is very simple.

Pong & Ping:  (simultaneously) Bring it up!

Old Man:   I want you two to teach my granddaughter what you guys normally do as a teenager. You see, she’s from a country-side and she never had a chance to see the real “civilized” world. I want you two to be her friend.

Pong:   Yo no prob Boss!

Ping:   Damn Straight!

Jin-Mei:   Oh oh! What is this orange round thing you are carrying? May I borrow it for a second?

Pong:   Yea, ya wanna know how to play this ya?

Jin-Mei:   It looks awfully like an orange… (bites on it) Ah! It’s hard!

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“Swap” by Kevin Chang (Part 3)

Also a terrifying and confusing journey

Both this and the play have panda on the menu

Last time, in “Swap” we traveled back in time to a non-specific time period of old China, where the Old Man, living in modern times, has a granddaughter, Jin-Mei, who is being forced to marry a Jiang-shi vampire. Interestingly, Jiang-shis are an actual element in East Asian folktales. Are mirrors that you can pass through as well? Probably, I can’t think of a way to look that up.

The Old Man went back to the present to find a way of getting Jin-Mei out of danger. Why didn’t he just bring her with him? No idea. We resume the action as Jin-Mei waits for something to happen.


Scene 3 – Jin-Mei, Lord Wang and the Old Man (continued)

Jin-Mei:   Well… since I have to wait for Mr. Panda to come back, I might as well play around with those inventions Grandpa brought back a few weeks ago.

Jin-Mei brings out a telephone from Old Man’ drawer.

Jin-Mei:   I wonder what this is for? I totally forgot what grandpa told me… (takes the receiver off the phone and starts swinging it) Maybe it’s for plowing the field.

She swings the receiver like a cowboy and then throws it to the ground. Soon she gets bored with it.

Jin-Mei:   Sigh… I wonder if there’s anything more… (goes to the drawer again and takes out a fashion magazine) Hmmm… this must be a record for the clothes in the future… (flips through the magazine in silence for a while) how odd… hmmm… she’s not even hiding her belly.. (starts feeling around her waist)

After a moment Panda appears from the mirror with a tape recorder. Jin-Mei doesn’t notice that he came back. Panda watches her having fun with the magazine for a while, then taps her on the shoulder.

Jin-Mei:   (screams and turn around) …Oh, it’s you…

Panda:   (stares at Jin-Mei for a moment) Sigh…

Jin-Mei:   Um… I was just killing my time haha… haha… ahem… (pauses) well Mr. Panda… Did Grandpa give you anything for me?

Panda hands her the tape recorder.

Jin-Mei:   Ooo… I wonder what this is? It’s hard like a stone… with a real interesting texture. What are these? (feels around the buttons) What a funny feeling… (starts swinging the earphones and pause) No, it can’t be… it’s too small to plow the field. Oh… Mr. Panda, do you know how this things works?

Panda:   Starts making movements and gestures of a hip-hop dance.

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“Swap” by Kevin Chang (Part 2)

Also a terrifying and confusing journey

Delicious prose.

Last time, in “Swap,” we were introduced to some of the main characters: Ping and Pong, who seem to have no character traits so far other than speaking like insultingly shallow imitations of rappers. Lon, who actually is a wannabe rapper, but whose mix tape was so boring that it put Ping to sleep in a matter if seconds. The Old Man, who seems to be shambling around town in the hunt for outdated technology, and his Panda, whose appearance was startling to no one, despite the fact that he is an actual Panda.

Lon had made the aforementioned Ambien of mix-tapes, but let it fall into the clutches of the Old Man and the Panda (who supposedly “love human junks”). Ping & Pong rushed out to a show, but returned after realizing that they missed it because Pong’s watch “has been busted for years.” (Is this subtle foreshadowing of the time-travel plot?) They inform Lon that the Old Man is “da major G and everyone treats him like he’s their popdukes” and not to mess with him—as if the giant bear following him around and obeying his commands wasn’t reason enough. Also, the phrase: “I beat fo tha yolk everyday” was used. It doesn’t make any more sense in context.

This installment is the short Scene 2 and the first half of Scene 3.


Scene 2 – Lon and the Girl in the Mirror

Scene: In an enormous space in a shelter, there is nothing. No single furniture or any photos that reflect the person that lives in there. Old Man and Panda enter.

Old Man:    Ah… our plan worked didn’t it?

Panda:    Nods.

Old Man:    I know I know! He looks all… jumbled up and spoiled. It’s perfect! …He can be the sacrifice for my granddaughter after all… Eeeheehee…

Panda:     Gestures an “X” with its arms.

Old Man:    What? You think I’m mean!? Aiyoooo… it’s the same as you my little panda. You eat meat and human looks delicious to you, yes? But don’t humans still think you’re cute and cuddly fur ball from China? We’re on the same boat my friend.

Panda:    Pointing at the mirror.

Old Man:    Yes… with this mirror… I’m going to use this mirror to save my granddaughter… Jin-Mei.

Panda:    Nods.

Old Man:    I promise you that she won’t feel lonely…… ever again.

Panda:    Nods Rapidly.

Old Man and Panda both enter and disappear into the mirror.

Black out.

Lights on.

There is a trail made by Panda’s paws. It leads to the mirror. Lon enters.

Lon:    Sigh… where did dat freakin’ beast go…(notices the footprints) Ya ain’t outsmarting me anymore…

Lon starts tracking the foorstep until it leads him to the mirror.

Lon:        Did I miss anythin’? Sumthin’s wrong hea… (he looks at the mirror) Huh? (stares at the mirror more closely)

The reflection Lon sees in the mirror appears not to be his reflection, but a girl of about his age, who is wearing an old-fashioned Chinese dress.

Lon:        Why… do I look like this… (turns around away from the mirror and poses) Damn, am I hot! Wait!  (turns back to the mirror) This ain’t me! What in da world is…

Lon tries several movements in front of the mirror. The girl on the other side of the mirror synchronizes with the same movements.

Lon:        (turns away from the mirror again) Wat da (beep)ing (beep) ia dis (beep)ing mirror messin’ with my freakin’… aii… eei… aight… aight… I’m dreamin’… I’m trippin’ for some reason… ya know wat? I will just… turn around with me (beep)ing eyes wide open and…

The arms of the girl emerge out from the mirror and pull Lon into the mirror as Lon screams out of fear.

Lights dim. Scene ends.

Scene 3 – Jin-Mei, Lord Wang and the Old Man

Scene: In an old-fashioned room, a girl, Jin-Mei, who is about the same age as Lon, is sitting on the floor dazed out. Panda is sitting next to her, playing with his beach ball. A buffed big man, Lord Wang, with shaved hair and long eyebrows enters the room.

Lord Wang:     Ahem.

Jin-Mei looks up.

Jin-Mei:    Sigh… there goes my day.

Lord Wang:     What is this tone of voice I sense?


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“Swap” by Kevin Chang (Part 1)

Also a terrifying and confusing journey

Also a dangerous and bewildering journey into the very heart of terror.

You’re welcome.

I know it sounds presumptuous to begin a series with the implication that the author already deserves to be thanked, but believe me, you will agree, and secondly, due to Swap, my understanding of the nature of space and time have been warped beyond recognition. I’ve spent a fair amount of time around general relativity, but nothing has challenged my notions of what constitutes causality, narrative, culturally acceptable word-choice, set design, and perception of the flow of time more than this play. What is this monolithic triumph of art, you ask? A script I found in the trash.

The year was 2010, the place was the backyard of my friend Jerry, who was holding a going-away party. A few people had recently moved out of the apartment building, and there was a pile of furniture and discarded apartment things that had been left behind. While waiting for our grilled meats we opened a box, and were suddenly transfixed by the light of a thousand suns, a fanfare of angels pouring forth from within, and this script. On first glance, several things were apparent— firstly, that most of it was written in an intensely, um, “urban” linguistic style—and always phonetically. Secondly, that one of the main characters was a Panda. Thirdly, that most of the stage directions made no sense or were totally impossible.

The story itself involves a group of Chinese-American teenagers, who talk like rappers, traveling back in time to ancient China, coming back, some kind of epic fight scene featuring events that are not possible to depict in real life, and a Panda, who behaves like a person but never speaks. To be honest, I’ve read it at least twice but I really have no idea what happens or who anyone is. Sort of like Inception, but with more pandas.

As a send-off to my friend, we actually performed the final scene from the play for him, to his bewilderment, and this past New Year’s we got to talking about it, and actually ended up table-reading the entire thing. It was an excellent way to ring in the new year.

I still have no idea who Kevin Chang is, and since that’s a really common name, I probably never will. It says “ACA Play 2006” and “1/30/2006” on the top, and ACA stands for “Asian Cultural Association” which is a student group at RISD. But since it features stuff like swearing getting bleeped out, a fight where “hit point counters appear” like a video game, and characters passing through a mirror…I honestly don’t know whether this was ever intended to be performed as a play.

With no further ado, Scene 1: Lon and the Old Man


by Kevin Chang
Old Man
Lord Wang
Extras (Jiang-shis)

Scene 1 – Lon and the old man
Scene: Under the dark blue sky, the alley is casted by dim post lights just like the other districts of the town. At the side of the alley sits a young Chinese teenager, Lon. His two gangsta buddies, Ping and Pong, are sitting on each of their own box chair and having fun chatting with each other. Lon’s distance between the two is somehow awkward.

Lon:        Damn! I’m out… Ey Ping.

Ping:    Yea.

Lon:        You got some stocks? Luck out. I’m out of shells.

Ping:    Naw.

Pong:    Sorry dawg, I’m out too.

Lon:        Miss me wit all dat. We’re in college, boys! Who else ain’t smokin’?!

Pong:    Lon. Straight up I ain’t got any deal with my peeps anymore. I beat fo tha yolk everyday. Why don’t you go look for a new dealer on your own?

Ping:    Yeah… go look for a new dealer on your own!

Lon:        Aight, aight. It’s all cool in tha hood. I got friends yo know that? Benjamins follow me everywhere I go. I’ll get a new bill collecta in no time, you see.

Ping:    Dat’s tight!

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