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A Legacy of Gifts for June

Written by NYC Locksmith on . Posted in Locksmith Articles

Two of my favorite holidays come in June – Flag Day on June 14, and Father’s Day, this year on June 18. What I particularly love about Flag Day is that it gives us an opportunity to be patriotic without all the red-white-and-blue hoopla of the Fourth of July. You never see blonde bimbos draped over Ford trucks in Flag Day ads. Instead we should think about the flag and its history and what it represents to our nation, because it really is a symbol that tells a story. Conceptually, it echoes the British Union Jack, whose crossed bars represent the joining of England and Scotland into Great Britain. And unlike traditional banners, there’s no coat of arms suggesting a royal family or powerful aristocracy that run things.

Every flag represents its nation to some extent, but ours combines, in its 13 stripes, the origin of the American Revolution – the 13 original colonies that said “No” to King George – with the concept of a federalist system of equal states that make up a united group in the individual stars, clumped together in a pattern that has changed over the centuries but in which each is treated equally. There are many who believe that the red represents the blood of patriots and the white the purity of the American cause, and that the blue represents the heavenly sky under which the states united.

There are also lots of protocols in place about displaying the flag, most of which can easily be found by a quick Google search. Every citizen should learn them to show respect for the flag itself, what it represents – our liberty and our union – and the founding fathers and mothers who made those realities possible.

What I like about Father’s Day is that it reminds us to think about the men who raised us, who are so often ignored. Fathers have a big role to play in our lives, as children and after we’ve grow up. It’s unfortunate – it’s appalling – how many fathers are absent from their children’s lives, but that just points up how important they can and should be. They can be stern and strict, nurturing and loving, proud and overbearing, insensitive and embarrassing, and sometimes all the above, sometimes all at once. They often take undue pride in the family name – making them proud of their children when we live up to it, and mad as hell when we besmirch it through some idiotic decision. They usually want their sons to be just like them, and their daughters to marry someone just like them (and sometimes they have to settle for having a gay son fall in love with someone just like them!). But somehow, for me at least, a father, much like your local locksmith, is the guy who’s never in the limelight like a mother, but who gets all sorts of things done.

In my house, while my mom was “busy” with stuff – work, cleaning, cooking, disciplining, and all the other stuff that makes a home operate – my dad was slipping off down to the basement workshop building a doghouse for my brother’s Dachshund or painting a bedroom suite for my sister or making a little ring holder that my mom could use to put her wedding ring in for safekeeping while she washed dishes. Things that he made or fixed just magically appeared in the house, just as vacation trips magically got organized and family campouts got planned and executed.

I was lucky that way – my family was intact, both my parents loved all of us, and my dad was present (when he wasn’t traveling for business) but not too overbearing. A lot of people I know weren’t as fortunate, and it’s hard for them to make up for what they missed, whether their father was absent or abusive of just plain not good.

Every year, though, around mid-June, I want to thank my dad and every dad for being who they were. And I’m always determined NOT to buy him a tie or a sweater. What I look for instead is something mechanical, something that echoes the role he held in our household of keeping us safe.

This year it might be a new security camera for the house, one that he can program to his heart’s content so that every time he locks up the house is guarded and safe. One that gives him endless options for timers and choosing the other systems that will be connected to it – basically a big boy’s toy that has real practical applications. Or maybe just a new, high-quality deadbolt for the basement door that my mom always worries about. Whatever I get him, I’m going to wrap it in paper with a stars-and-stripes theme, to remind him (and me) that the flag represents both the freedom and the security that are our legacy from him and our forefathers.

A Word of Command

Written by NYC Locksmith on . Posted in Locksmith Articles

“Still, the gate is the weakest point.”

Aragorn, in The Two Towers

Fans of J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Trilogy of the Ring will remember the siege of Helms Deep, when the Saruman’s orcs attacked the fortress by blasting through its wooden gate. A few chapters later, the forces of Sauron did the same during the siege of Gondor, using the great battering ram, Grond, to break down the iron gates that had stood invincible for thousands of years. Even earlier, Gandalf had a heck of a time keeping shut the door from the Chamber of Records after his companions fled; he closed it using a closing spell, but the Balrog on the other side overcame him, and he had to use a word of Command. The effect of that was to shatter the door, the wall, and the roof of the chamber and bring it all crashing down, closing off the stairway behind him. Shades of Jericho!

Most of us don’t have Gandalf’s access to spells and words of Command, and the last thing we want is to bring down our own walls to protect ourselves from intruders. We have to think in more mundane terms about the options available to us.

Standard locks, deadbolts, electric locks, time-locks, and electronically operated locks are all viable options. Each has its benefits, and many factors enter into making the appropriate choice for a particular use. For private homes, key locks with or without deadbolts along with a security alarm system are usually sufficient. Apartment buildings frequently rely on electronically operated locks that can be opened by every apartment, and backup security is often provided by a doorman or security guard.

Security decisions by business owners reflect such considerations as cost, whether the public – clients, visitors, shoppers, etc. – uses the same entrance(s) as employees, whether the facility is located in a high-crime or generally safe area, and the value of the merchandise or information kept on the premises. Employee security is also a factor, and sometimes the deciding one.

The full range of security options is available at Mr. Locks, Inc. When making your decisions about the type of locks and other access control systems to install, it’s important to review all the options, balance them against your needs and budget, and talk with an expert.

There will be very few, if any, circumstances that the experts at Mr. Locks can’t solve for you. Because fortunately, few thieves have acquired a private army of orcs, oliphants and Grond to break through your door.

Who Has The Keys?

Written by NYC Locksmith on . Posted in Locksmith Articles

Access control is a major problem for businesses large and small. Companies with high-tech access control systems – key cards, fingerprint- or retina scanners, etc. – can easily reprogram access codes and delete former employees from the data base. But even smaller businesses that rely on the security provided by a good, traditional lock-and-key system need to update their access controls regularly. This is an issue whether you use padlocks, cylinder locks, or police locks.

The first step is to conduct a regular Key Audit to review the status and location of every key, making sure that no unauthorized person has one. In small businesses with few employees, this can be a fairly simple process and one that’s sufficient to ensure access control. If your company has more than a few employees, though, an audit might not be enough. A former employee – especially a resentful fired one – might still hold a key, inadvertently or deliberately. He might have “lost it,” or have made a duplicate before returning it.

Some businesses protect against unauthorized duplication by having every key stamped “Do not duplicate;” reputable locksmiths will refuse to make an unauthorized copy. Unfortunately, there are key cutters who will ignore that stamp, and others (especially at high-volume big-box stores) don’t have time to (or simply don’t) pay attention to such strictures.

Some keys are harder to copy than others. Medeco keys are impossible to duplicate except by licensed Medeco dealers, and then only with the permission of the registered owner. That protection eliminates the possibility of someone copying a key before returning it on request. But even Medeco locks are vulnerable to the former employee who “lost” his key and therefore can’t turn it in.

The safest way to ensure that only authorized people have keys is by repinning locks from time to time, so that old keys no longer work. After all, it’s not only disgruntled people who hold on to keys. At one point, I had keys to three small businesses where I’d once worked, and where I was still friendly with the owners. Keeping the keys was not for dishonest reasons, just rather dishonorable ones: it was convenient when I was in the neighborhood to be able to go in, even when they were closed, to use the bathroom or make a quick phone call (this was before cell phones). One of those keys still worked five years after I’d left!

If you haven’t conducted a Key Audit recently, do so. And if there’s any possibility that a former employee (or maybe a current employee’s disgruntled ex-) or even someone like me, has an unauthorized key, you need to call to have the locks changed. The cost of repinning and replacing a few keys – or even a large number of them – is far less than the loss you could face as a result of unauthorized access.

All the above holds true for residences, too. Think of all the people who have had already duplicated keys to your apartment over the years – the super (or a series of them), a maid or cleaning service, caterers, the landlord, a neighbor who’s moved away, dog walkers, careless teenagers who lent their key to their best friend . . . .

It’s probably time to make a change – before you wish you had.

Safe And Sound, Wherever You Are

Written by NYC Locksmith on . Posted in Locksmith Articles

Spring is here. Well, sort of. Daylight Savings Time has returned on schedule, as reliable as New Year’s Day and the Fourth of July. Your clocks have sprung forward, you changed the batteries in your smoke alarms, and not too many of you overslept on April 2. Now you get to clean the filters on your air conditioners and do whatever else you need to do to make sure you’re ready for the warm summer months. Maybe even do a little bit of spring cleaning.

This is also the time of year you get bombarded with ideas for travel – for spring break, summer vacations, and short weekend getaways to a mountain cottage or beach house or country inn. Sometimes it seems that half the city and a large part of the suburbs empty out every weekend once spring arrives.
And guess what? Late spring and summer are among the happiest times in the world for thieves! Why not, when there’s nobody around to notice that they’ve broken into your house, and you won’t be back until Monday at the earliest, maybe not for a week or more – by which time your prized possessions have been fenced, your car has been through the chop shop, and tracking the burglars gets harder with every day that passes. Here are some carefully collected locksmith related ideas for your personal safety.

So before you pack the SUV or call a cab to take you to the airport, take stock around your house or apartment. Here are a few things you should consider doing before you get away on your get-away.

· Tell someone – the police department, a neighbor, nearby family members – about your trip. Let them know when you’re leaving, where you’ll be staying, when you’ll be back, and how to contact you in an emergency. If you have a security system connected to the police and/or fire department, make sure they know that you’re not there.

· Stop delivery of mail and newspapers. Nothing shows your absence better than several days’ worth of newspapers in front of your door or a mailbox so full nothing else will fit.

· Ask someone you trust to keep an eye on the house while you’re away. Make sure they have a spare key. They can make sure that no deliveries slip through the cracks and keep your place looking occupied. A friend with a key can also be helpful in an locksmith emergency of any sort. Imagine you get sick while on vacation, and the insurance papers you need for treatment are locked in the house. Or if there is a break-in, they’ll be available to a) call the police and b) be there when the police come to investigate.

· Take valuables to your safe deposit box. Don’t leave jewelry, negotiable bond certificates, coin collections, and other easily portable items in a desk or bureau, even if it’s locked. If you don’t have a good safe to store them in, take them to a place that does.

· Set timers to turn lights and appliances on and off. Sophisticated systems will allow you to preset “random” times; simpler ones turn on the same appliances every day at the same time. But don’t leave the house looking empty.

· Check your security system. Make sure all access points are securely locked. Front door, back door, and garage doors are all vulnerable. So are windows. If you don’t have key-operated window locks, get them. Better yet – especially for city apartment dwellers below the third floor – get bars put on all accessible windows.

And don’t forget – when you get back home, thank the people who watched over your house – send a note to the police department, take your friend out to lunch or buy them flowers. Because the best security in the world comes not from locks and keys, but from being – and having – good neighbors.

Now, make your plans, and have a great vacation!

Magnetic Locks

Written by NYC Locksmith on . Posted in Locksmith Articles

Magnetic locks, like electric strikes, use electromagnetism to control the locking mechanism. They rely on electric power, whether from a building current or a battery, and as a result they’re as dependable as a refrigerator, TV, or bedside alarm clock (though like any other household appliance they can also be vulnerable to power failure). But because no key is needed to operate magnetic locks, mag-locks can’t be picked – and you’ll never be locked out because you’ve lost the key. It’s important to note that only a qualified locksmith may install this type of locks.

The core of a magnetic lock control system is an electromagnet made of advanced metal alloys. When electric power activates it, the bolt slides in or out, up or down, along its U-shaped channel to lock or unlock the door. Some mag-locks also incorporate timing mechanisms that allow them to operate only at certain times – during business hours, for example. Others have “transaction memory,” which can record every use or attempted use. This function can be especially valuable with locks that use number-pads rather than coded cards: if an unauthorized person tries to gain access using incorrect codes more than twice, for example, the lock can automatically set off an alarm.

Magnetic locks work only with DC current, usually 12 to 24 volts. Many systems utilize batteries to provide the power, but others are wired into the building’s AC current, which is converted to DC by an internal transformer. Because the locking mechanism relies on the electromagnetic charge, mag-locks fail if the power fails, and the lock will open: they are fail-safe, meaning that they stop working if the power goes off. (Locks using AC power, like electric strikes, remain locked when the power goes out: they are fail-secure.) The best mag-lock designs use batteries, with converted AC current as a backup, or the reverse: they use the building’s AC current (converted to DC) with batteries for backup.

Whatever their power source, while access from the outside requires electric power, most magnetic locks can be opened from the inside without electricity, making egress in an emergency safe and reliable. One typical exception is in high-security applications like prisons, where both ingress and egress are controlled.

Magnetic locks are designed to read a variety of different coding mechanisms such as smart cards, proximity readers, and keypads. That versatility makes them ideal for both institutional or business use and for home use. If an employee is dismissed, for example, his or her magnetic code can be immediately deactivated, so that that single smart card no longer works. If a lock uses a numbered keypad, the coding can be changed quickly and easily, with the new code given only to those authorized. For home use, each family member can be given a different access code, making it easy to track when a delinquent teenager finally got home! The code can also easily be changed or deactivated if needed – in the case, say, of an intransigent former boyfriend or girlfriend, or an unfriendly divorce.

Another benefit of electromagnetic locks is that they’re silent. When you are “buzzed in” to an apartment building, that buzzer signals that AC power is being used – it’s the sound of AC current passing through an electric strike. But if you hear only the soft click of the bolt being released, it’s the silence of DC power, most likely using a magnetic lock. Generally, though, the AC strike lasts only as long as you hear the buzzer; after that, the door relocks. For home use, the silent magnetic lock is generally preferred.

Bear in mind that, as an electric appliance, magnetic locks must be properly installed to ensure that they’re not susceptible to fire. Although Do-It-Yourself aficionados can install their own battery-operated mag-locks, it’s always best to use a professional installer, who will also know the local safety codes that must be followed.

Now, for those who worry about these things, the power consumption of a magnetic lock – even one using AC power and a transformer – is so minimal as to be unnoticed on your Con Ed bill. And there’s no reason to fear having a “residual electromagnetic aura” hanging around your front door: you won’t!