Clutching at straws.

At VioDy in Oakland, Terry Trahan showed us one of his toys. I’m going to sound like a nincompoop trying to describe it, for the simple reason that I am, but basically it’s a straw made out of a carbon fibre. It’s very hard and very pointy. I imagine it would be pretty handy for emergency tracheostomies, but it’s also not entirely unlike a shiv. Terry’s is disguised as an everyday item; before he told us about it, he was wearing it openly for hours without anyone noticing it.

As soon as he showed it to us, some people immediately commented that suuuuurely it wasn’t a good enough disguise. The fact that they had completely failed to notice it did not seem to inform their conviction that it was too noticeable. In real life, people would be bound to notice it. I pointed out that, given that the damn thing was a straw, if I stuck it in a milkshake and proceeded to drink from it it would be unlikely that people would look at it twice. Some folk remained unconvinced.

Roll on the environmental observation day – the final day of VioDy, when you walk around a real place, surrounded  by real people, and practice playing observation games from different points of view. How does a sniper look at a physical location? How can you use the crowds and the architecture to your advantage to carry out a crime, or hide in plain view? So we’re all there, after six days of training, eyes on stalks, being hyper-aware of what’s going on. Think ninja meerkats.

During a break, I asked Terry where he got his toy from, and he let me have a prototype. (Did I mention Terry is now one of my favourite persons in the world? He is. Thank you, Terry.) I promptly proceeded to get me a drink, shove the straw in it, and walk around so full of glee and smugness that I thought I might burst. Lo and behold, nobody spotted it. This did not satisfy my need to s̶h̶o̶w̶ ̶o̶f̶f̶ share my happiness, so I took to shoving the drink, avec le straw, in people’s faces, going “loooookit!” …and people still failed to see what I was showing them, apparently more ready to assume that I could get seriously excited over a drink (poor kid; don’t they have ice cubes where she comes from?) than to consider that there may be something special about it. I literally had to remove the straw from the drink, stick it under people’s noses, explain to them what they were seeing, and wait for their brains to catch up.

There’s one or two lessons to be learnt here, I think, though I’m not entirely sure what they are as yet. It does come to something when we can be shown a potential problem, be told how that potential problem could be disguised, then be shown that very problem in that very disguise by the very person who said that’s how she’d disguise it… and still miss it. On a situational awareness day, of all things. Or was that part of the problem – that when we’re tuned up to looking for certain things it can blind us to all others? Can we truly increase the level of attention we pay in our everyday lives, or can we just redirect whatever our stock of attention is towards different goals?




5 thoughts on “Clutching at straws.

  1. For concealed weapons, I think it boils down to this: human ingenuity is enormous. I can’t possibly know what you’ve “weaponized” just by looking at it… especially given that you’ve spent a bunch of time working this exact problem. I have to know by how you treat your object, what you think you can do with it.


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