Thursday, August 21, 2014

Cool Info For Hot Writers

OK, here’s the thing. Thriller Guy is not going to dump ice water over his own head. TG sends out plenty of checks to various Good Causes and he doesn’t need a video gimmick to encourage him. But the rest of you, feel free to dump away, just stop cluttering up TG’s Facebook page with the videos.

TG’s vacation was good, a few days at the beach, a few days having fun with Mrs. Thriller Guy. Then TG came back to a house with a flooded basement and other problems, but because TG has a cheerful heart he just shrugs off these challenges and climbs back into harness. Today’s blog focuses on some more cutting edge technological advances that savvy thriller writers can use to arm their heroes and advance their plots. Gone are the bad old days when a conscientious writer had to painfully work his way through fifty separate steps to locate a bad guy just to get the action moving. So is the new technology a boon or boondoggle for mystery/spy/thriller writers? Here, in the Guardian, Charles Cumming (an excellent spy novelist, TG says read his books) gives us his opinion, which is, essentially, that LeCarre could have never written The Spy Who Came in From the Cold with today’s available gadgetry. Hmmm, probably, but he would have written something else just as good, which he continues to do to this day. Read the piece and send TG your comments. 
Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.

The age of fingerprinting was seminal in the history of criminality and in the plotting of mystery novels. The advances in this technology, in particular biometric devices that electronically read fingerprints, has seemingly made some locks pick-proof. But have they? Here are a couple of sites that teach you and your spy/agent/detective/hero how to overcome these sophisticated locks. The following website article will teach you how to defeat these devices with the use of the decidedly low tech Gummy Bear. And if you’re unable to find a bag of these tasty Swedish candies, here’s a site that will show you how to do it with Play-do, Silly Putty,  Elmer's Reusable Adhesive Tac 'N Stik, Rose Art Modeling Clay, or Crayola Model Magic Soft, Spongy Modeling Material.
Every writer knows by now the dangers inherent in allowing one’s hero to run around carrying a powered-up cell phone, or any cell phone, even if it’s turned off. And, conversely, how that same cell phone is an incredibly valuable tool in the hands of even the lowest tech investigator. In the same Guardian article, Cumming points out that if you want to know where someone has been recently, simply snatch his or her iPhone and try the following: press "Settings", "Privacy", "Location services", "System services" then "Frequent locations." Try it on your own iPhone and see how it works.

In an article TG was reading about the hacker, Edward Snowden, Snowden suggests that to keep from allowing your or anyone else’s cell phone from broadcasting one’s location, you can simply put it in a refrigerator or even in a metal cocktail shaker. Make sure to remove the phone before making your next martini.

If you’re including a team of Navy SEALS in your next plot (and who isn’t?) you can have
them ride beneath the waves in style with some new, really cool underwater submersibles. 

And if you want your hero to find out what is being said inside a room where you haven’t implanted a listening device, scientists have figured out a way to film an object in the room -- in this case an empty potato chip bag -- and reconstruct sounds that have occurred in the room, even audible speech. Check out this amazing article and video about these experiments.

Then there’s this article whereby scientists where able to figure out something, TG is not exactly sure what, which could be key to a novel-twisting plot point. Maybe you can figure it out and explain it to Thriller Guy. 
TG is reading and enjoying the latest Tom Clancy novel, Support and Defend, written by
Mark Greaney, Clancy having been dead for some years now. This is a continuation of The Campus series. TG was always a Clancy fan, although sometimes very reluctantly. He wasn’t the greatest writer, but then who is? and who needs to be a great writer to pen a perfectly good thriller anyway. What Clancy had, was access. Every branch of the military loved the guy and would sit patiently with him for days and weeks divulging tech info on all their cool weapons systems, even the secret ones, which he would then slot into his novels. So readers were always pretty much guarenteed tidbits and factoids that would astound and amaze. Greaney continues this procedure, and here are a few items that TG is passing along from Support and Defend. TG gives high marks to this book and the series.

In one scene he has his hero, Dominic Caruso, inside a house that is protected by a motion detector: “Dom walked slowly now, his entire body moved less than three inches a second, meaning each step through the house took ten times longer than normal. Off the shelf, motion detectors were typically set to notice movement that tracked faster than three inches a second, so Dom and his teammates at The Campus had spent many silly yet laborious hours of training to defeat motion sensors by walking through the hallways like wind-up toys whose springs had sprung, giving them little energy for movement.”

And more cellphone stuff: “He then carefully opened the back of the phone with a small screwdriver and photographed the number on the SIM card. Dom knew, with the right equipment, the subscriber identity module number could be used to track the phone or trace its usage.” Thriller Guy isn’t actually sure how to go about this tracking, but he is sure there’s a site somewhere on the Internet that gives instructions on how to do so.

And one last low-tech tool solving a high-tech problem. When you shoot someone, it’s always smart to clean up your brass before making your getaway: "Behind them, Isfahan climbed out of the sedan with a long device in his hands that looked something like a metal Broom. It was a NailHawg magnetic nail sweeper, used by roofers for collecting loose roofing nails in grass. Quickly and calmly he rolled the device back and forth in the alley where his two colleagues had been standing, and he picked up eleven spent shell casings from their weapons.”

So there you go, thriller writers, say thank you.

You’re welcome.


  1. Thank ya kindly. That potato chip bag thing works from one important thing - there had to have been video or film recording of that object during the time when the sound was made. So, you know how surveillance cameras might have recorded video but no sound? Well, this tech *might* be able to reconstruct the sound, if there was no chaotic ambient sound around to compete with it. Now as to gear - what hero would be worth his salt without an Atlas Devices Power Ascender. Essentially, the hero and up to 600 lbs of gear can descend or ascend the sides of buildings or cliff faces at the touch of a button.

    and then...FLIR one makes a nifty gadget that lets your smartphone be a thermagraphic image device - so now your hero can see through walls. How many perps are on the other side of that door / wall holding the hostage? Well, now he can take the guess work out. No more cumbersome fiber optic hole drilling...

    and then...what about body armor? Bruce Wayne would be envious - this little company D30 Lab makes a high tech product that changes properties on impact. Ha! Laugh at the Joker when he smacks your hero with the baseball bat...

    And how cool is it to have a submarine as your base of operations for your bad guy (or a particularly eccentric hero) Here is a nifty Whiskey Class sub for sale for less than a Greenwhich Bungalow -

  2. Great post TG. But whatever happened to heroes who could McGuyver their way out of any situation with a paper clip? My favourite part of the A-Team was when the bad guys locked BA in a garage with an acetylene torch and some old junk...