A couple of days ago I came across a news item in The Guardian for a security feature intended to protect bikes – both pedal and motor – from potential thieves. Called the SkunkLock, it initially looks like a standard carbon steel lock, but it’s filled with a chemical, which – if anyone cuts about a third of the way through the metal outer casing – is released. The manufacturers claim that although this chemical is entirely legal, it will induce vomiting in 99% of people.
The idea came from San Francisco, where bicycle thefts are legion, and is being Crowdfunded as we speak. One of the inventors, Daniel Idzkowski, came up with the idea after a friend’s expensive electric bicycle was stolen while they were at lunch, despite having two $120 mechanical locks attached to it.
Of course, there are ways around the SkunkLock. The would-be thief could simply pick the lock, or wait until the gas supply is exhausted and then go back to finish the job. But as with most security measures, they’re intended for deterrent rather than outright prevention.
This ‘Room 101’-style “Don’t do it to me – do it to her!” attitude somewhat reminds me of the story of the two guys out hiking who encounter a bear. One puts on his running shoes, to be told by his companion, “You can’t hope to outrun the bear.” The first man replies, “Who said anything about the bear? I just have to outrun you.”
The SkunkLock is currently being tested and undergoing risk assessment with the company’s legal team. Because, of course, we mustn’t cause lasting damage to someone who’s breaking the law attempting to steal from us …
In similar vein, I recall an anti car-theft device from a few years ago called the Auto Taser. It resembles a standard steering-wheel club lock, with one notable exception. Normally, these clubs are simply used by wannabe thieves for leverage to break the steering lock before they’re picked. But, if you tried to grab the Auto Taser it hit you with a high volt/low amp electric shock, very similar to the usual Taser stun guns that have become regular issue for police forces in the UK.
Of course, if you’re a civilian, I think I’m correct in saying you’re not allowed to use a Taser over here. Employing the Auto Taser meant having clear warning signs on the exterior of your vehicle, at which point it came under the same legislation that covers electric fences for cattle.
Not hurting the perpetrator seems to be a priority. As someone who’s been the victim of theft, my instinct says that when someone chooses to break the law, all bets are off, I can see where this might ultimately lead. It’s our job as writers, after all, to push any idea to its logical, sometimes extreme conclusion, just to explore the effect that might have.
The opening line of William Gaddis’ 1994 novel A FROLIC OF HIS OWN reads: ‘Justice? You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.’
What’s your feeling on this? Should criminals ‘get what’s coming to them’ in real life as well as fiction? And have you come across any similar weird and wonderful devices you’d like to share?
I leave you with an advert run by Oregon-based company, The Suburban Auto Group, for Trunk Monkey – the ultimate anti-theft device:
And a thank you to Dea Parkin and the Chorley & District Writers’ Circle for their invite to me to speak at yesterday’s Write Now Festival.
Not only was it a fascinating event, with insight into the world of publishing from Katherine Armstrong of Bonnier Zaffre and myself, children’s books from Jake Hope, and the nuts and bolts of writing from AJ Wright, but the Vintage Tea Rooms nearby does a Fabulous hot chocolate that even has candy floss on it!
This week’s Word of the Week is thanatology, meaning the scientific study of death, including not only the forensic aspects, but also the wider psychological and social effects. It comes from the Greek Thanatos, death, and the suffic –ology, again from the Greek, -logia, speaking.