[OT] What might this object be?

Subject: [OT] What might this object be?
From: "McLauchlan, Kevin" <Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 13 Dec 2007 16:23:09 -0500

Is it Friday yet? In Australia, maybe?

Perhaps some of you smart people can help satisfy my curiosity, which
has been burning with shoulda-woulda-coulda.

Anyway, the other day I was hiking home, in the snow, in the dark,
through an old suburban neighborhood (with minimal street lighting and
houses set back from the street).

I spied a glowing ember on the road ahead, thinking somebody must've
tossed a stogie.

But as I got near, I realized it was a metal object with a steady red
LED, dropped in the slush in the other lane of the road - in the middle
of the lane, such that tire-tracks straddled it and vehicles passed over

It was mostly the size and shape of an old-fashioned round combination
padlock such as you'd use on a locker, but somebody had cut the shackle,
leaving a stub on one side.

It definitely wasn't a lock (though it looked like the back of one).

The body appeared to be metal.

The "stub", at close inspection, was an antenna just like on my last

The LED was in an armored bump that would have been between the arms of
the U-shackle if the object had been a padlock.

No buttons or ports were visible.

Why didn't I just pick it up and examine it more closely? Well, I've
seen too many of the wrong kind of movies and didn't want to literally
lose face... or hands... or.... Also, from many previous trips through
that neighborhood, I know that at least two houses are home to foreign
embassy personnel (cars with diplomatic plates in garages).

The flat circular part on the back of the object (to my mind, there in
the dark and the slush) could easily have been the magnet meant to hold
it to the undercarriage of a vehicle.

Why would anybody...?

Um, GPS/radio locator?

Remotely detonated bomblet meant to punch a spall up through the driver
seat, or to set off the gas tank?

I left it alone.

Somebody later suggested that if my paranoid little theories didn't
apply, then it might have been a GPS unit, such as some athletes carry
to record their route and speeds for later download to their computer.
(Though it had no strap and no place to fasten a lanyard.)

I've seen a couple of those displayless GPSs. They've all been housed in
plastic. This beastie looked metal and industrial.

But if it were a bad thing or a sneaky thing meant for anything more
than a short trip, why would it have a constant-on LED to drain its
battery and to let it be discovered by anybody servicing the vehicle (or
looking at the underside with long-handled mirrors as it passed through
the embassy gate)? Perhaps for easy retrieval when the owner followed it
(and attached car) to some location? It fell off early because it used a
cheap, Chinese knock-off magnet, or because modern cars use too much
plastic where ferrous metal used to be? :-)

Y'all are a widely experienced gang of technical folk, exposed to any
number of products.

Fun fantasies aside, what is it more likely that I was looking at?

That road was plowed overnight, so I didn't get a chance to see the
thing in daylight.

The lovely rendering below might work in Courier/monospaced font.

Flat metallic puck, about 2.5 inches in diameter, maybe 5/8 inch thick.
Perimeter of the shell was flat-sided with small-radius formed edges,
probably stamped metal, press-fit. The Xs are the LED.

As I said, the shell looked a lot like a common dial-type combination
padlock (if it was lying face down in the slush), except for the
anomalous stuff (which would not be anomalous in its real application,
which you are about to tell me).

| |
ooooo | |
0XXX0 | |
0000000000000| |
000 ooooooooo 000|
000 ooooooooooo 000
000 ooooooooooo 000
000 ooooooooooo 000
000 oooooooooo 000
000 oooooooo 000
000 000

Kevin in Ottawa (Canada's capital and an embassy town)

PS: My brother says it's _obviously_ a left-over Terminator component...
but then my brother is into video games.

PPS: If I just got us all onto a watch-list.... er.... sorry. :-)

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