Sunday, April 10, 2016

If you look down, you'll see Barking

Reality TV is a genre that truly has no boundaries. Like the universe, it can only expand endlessly until eventually, one day, it collapses in on itself.

We've seen reality TV shows about animals. And we've seen plenty which challenge people to try things they've never done before. But a show which challenges canine contestants to fly a plane? It was thought to be outside the Hubble bubble. Until now.

This week, I watched the culmination of the Sky TV show Dogs Might Fly, which ended with a pitbull cross managing to execute a figure of eight in UK airspace. The mutts involved in the selection process - who were all rescue animals - went through an arduous training course involving makeshift simulators on the ground.

Lifted up in a harness to prevent them putting too much weight on their front paws, the dogs were taught through Pavlovian-style rewards to turn the steering wheel left and right. The would-be Luftwoofe pilots were then acclimatised to the turbulence of life in the air by going for speedboat ride on the Thames.

The results were impressive. With a trainer behind him and a human pilot beside him (presumably ready to seize control in the event of disaster), the winning pooch actually managed to navigate the skies.

Can you imagine the conversations the producers had with air traffic control? But now the precedent has been established, it can't be long before Ryanair presses these dogs into service as a cost-saving exercise.

Anyone for  southern Europe? Viva Espaniel!

Thursday, April 07, 2016

They would have gotten away with it, if it weren't for those meddling kids...

Two stories from different sides of the Atlantic recently highlighted how crime fighting and investigation really can be child's play.

In the UK, cops in Surrey were astonished when a group of kids formed a human arrow to point a police helicopter in the direction of two alleged criminals. As the suspects in a farm burglary case made their way across fields to escape the arm of the law, the enterprising youngsters laid themselves on the ground to act as a signal. All it took was a quick radio message from the chopper and the fleeing men were apprehended.

As a number of commentators have pointed out, it seems like something straight out of Enid Blyton's Famous Five or Secret Seven stories, to which I was addicted as a kid. 

It's true to say that choppers didn't feature much in Blyton. Her young sleuths were from a bygone era in which the village bobby would have been plodding by on his pushbike. And the arrow kids from Capel were on an Easter egg hunt in the company of their parents, so had some cordon of protection. I don't remember the parents in Blyton's books taking the slightest interest in where their kids were from one week to the next. Certainly not the boys, anyway.

Brave and ingenious though the British children were, they surely must doff their caps to an American counterpart - young Hilde Kate Lysiak of Pennsylvania. The nine-year-old daughter of a former New York Daily News hack, she has established her own local rag called the Orange Street News, reporting on the goings-on in the Snyder County town of Selinsgrove (Pop 5,383). 

Does Hilde restrict herself to yard sales and fashion trends at the local prom? 

No siree bob. 

When she got a tip-off about a possible homicide, she was down at the crime scene - notebook and camera in hand, breaking the story before other more established news outlets. It was a scoop which attracted opprobrium from local residents, who felt she would more appropriately occupied with dolls and crayons, but the youthful newshound has since hit back in an online video.

Before we know it, kids will be running the world. And given the track record of these youngsters, perhaps it would be no bad thing.