Friday, February 24, 2012

Special Issue: Drug detection using pigeons

In the second edition of the Special Issue our team travels to London, where a group of researchers is developing a new practical use of pigeons for detecting drug dealers. We arrive in Brixton where Liza and Andy are waiting for us. Liza is a biologist specialised in birding. Andy is a programmer.

 My first question is direct. Do you like pigeons? Both of them show a broad grin on their faces. Well, Liza says, I really love them, but my partner doesn't have the same opinion. Andy says very seriously: It is time that pigeons give back to society all that society has given to them. What? I exclaim. We feed them, and we allow them to live with us.... now it is time to take advantage of them. While I’m listening to him, I notice he is full of hatred for pigeons.

Ok. I say. So, what’s the idea? Liza explains us the whole plan: our project consists of two phases. Pigeons are well known for having an excellent smell sense. They even use it for navigation. In the first phase we breed a specific breed of black and white pigeons. During this phase pigeons are conditioned, and are fed only by people that smell of drugs. What kind of drugs? I ask. Currently we are only testing soft drugs. So, you create drug addict pigeons! I exclaim. No, no!, that’s not the idea. Pigeons only receive high quality bird food. They are healthy and clean. It is the feeder who has this specific smell, so the pigeons associate it with food. In the end, when they notice an individual that smells of drugs, they approach him expecting food. 

Ophiuchus 3 feels relaxed after his conditioning.
 Andrew, the pigeon feeder, did a demonstration. We went to a square full of pigeons and we distributed some food. Andrew stood motionless and we observed that only the trained pigeons (white and black specimens) stayed by him. We name the pigeons by the breed followed by a number. All the members of the same breed are brother and sisters. For instance, now we can see Regulus 1, 2, 4 and 5. They smell the drugs on Andrew and they stay close to him. Where is Regulus 3? I ask. It died in an accident a couple of days ago Liza sadly says.

Andrew stands up while Regulus 1, 2, 4 and 5 approach to him.

Survillance cameras in London
There is a moment of silence and Andy resumes the explanation. At this point the second phase starts. I have developed an application that is able to distinguish pigeons with black and white colors. We use an image segmentation algorithm for detecting the specific pigeon patterns of these animals. Then we are able to track multiple pigeons. This algorithm can process this information for each one in real-time. Once it detects a cluster of black and white pigeons, the algorithm issues a warning. It scans the area covered by the selected pigeons and automatically detects the individuals inside of it. These are the potential drug dealers and the local authorities can be automatically warned. Police can send an inspector to interrogate the suspect. London is completely covered by cameras so we can track the whole city with a minimum cost.

Liza shows us how the software detects the pigeons and the potential drug dealer.

Liza interrupts Andy. The general idea is to free these pigeons in parks and they will smell drug dealers. Then, they will approach them (expecting food) and then, the cameras will track these individuals. Yes! Both of them say at once. Clean and clever.

Is this plan currently operative? I ask. Not yet. We are currently finishing the experiments and we have plans to make a proposal to the police department. Then, they will decide to use it or not. We hope that they will accept and pigeons could eventually serve and protect us. The next pigeon should be named Chuck Norris, I suggest to them. A London Ranger, Liza replies laughing.

Cabaret: big screams and scary pigeons

Title: Cabaret
Year: 1972
Director: Bob Fosse
Running time: 123 min.
Country: United States

We are in Berlin in 1931, Miss Sally (Liza Minnelli) is trying to seduce Brian (Michael York), a British teacher. On their way back to Sally's apartment, she rushes under a railway bridge when a train is passing and screams very loudly. The relationship between the train and her behaviour is not clear, but she seems to be hysterical. Her scream is so loud that a flock of pigeons flies away very scared. Why do the pigeons flee? Was it because of the train? I don't think so.... it was the superhuman Sally's scream.This scene can be seen here.

Details of the pigeon starring 
  • Source: Cabaret. Starring moment: 0:21:26
  • Pigeon activity: A flock of pigeons flying away from a terrific scream.
  • Symbolism: It is well known that pigeons don't like to fly during night time. They have poor night vision and are very vulnerable to predators or night accidents. But in this case they fly way. Pigeons are used to symbolize that Sally's scream was so strong that even the pigeons were scared of it. Maybe it was the almost-sexual nature of the sound.
  • Relevance: Negligible. They are mere spectators of  Sally's crazy behaviour. 
  • Training level: Not clear. The scene was probably recorded in a studio. In this case, the train bridge is artificial and the pigeons are not wild. Alternatively, it was recorded under a real bridge and we are dealing with wild pigeons that were actually scared in their natural habitat. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pigeon Quest: spot the movie!!

Welcome to the First Edition of Pigeon Quest!!

Here, instead of finding the pigeon in the movie, you have to find the movie with the pigeon.

Just write in the comments section the movie name. The first one in succeeding will win this quest. Unfortunately, we are currently low on budget (we are spending almost all the money on travel for producing the Special Issues). Because of that,  the prize is a honorary certificate of being the winner in the First Edition of this quest. This certificate can be sent by post mail or email. 

This is the movie photogram:

What is the name of this movie?

The Award for the First Edition of Pigeon Quest can be seen here

Unconfirmed pigeon: Love Story

Title: Love Story
Year: 1970
Director: Arthur Hiller
Running time: 99 min.
Country: United States

In this section we summarize unconfirmed pigeon appearances in movies. Given that in these cases it is not clear whether or not the scene contains a pigeon -in this case we just see a dark blob- I will not provide a detailed summary of the appearances. I hope that recordings with more quality will allow me to clarify these cases. 

In Love Story we can see a possible pigeon on the top of a column in Harvard University. 

Details of the hypothetical pigeon starring 
  • Source: Love Story. Hypothetical starring moment: 0:47:58

Friday, February 17, 2012

Stardust memories: rats with wings!!

Title: Stardust memories
Year: 1980
Director: Woody Allen
Running time: 90 min.
Country: United States

I'm not sure if Woody Allen hates pigeons, but I'm pretty sure that his character, Mr. Sandy Bates, does. In this movie, during a romantic scene, Sandy is flattering his lover, Dorrie, about being a good actress. Suddenly, a pigeon enters in the apartment. Dorrie says, What was that thing? That's so pretty and Sandy replies It's not pretty at all. They're rats with wings. Then there is a funny moment of panic, rage and confusion. It's got a swastika under its wings, Bates says while he grabs a fire extinguisher and opens it aiming at the poor bird. The pigeon, very scared, tries to escape and eventually, leaves the apartment. We can see the expression of rage on Woody Allen's face. He is a good actor, indeed, but he probably isn't acting and this expression is real because he actually feels a great pigeon hate.

The expression Rat with wings is used in this movie. I don't want to position myself in favour or against  pigeons. I'm a mere reporter. But I think that these nice animals that have been living together with us since the early beginning of the history, that are the peace symbol, these beautiful-harmless animals don't deserve to be called rats with wings. Link to scene here.

The pigeon escapes from the kitchen.

Bates agressively scares away the pigeon with a fire extinguisher.

Finally, the pigeon leaves the apartment dreadfully scared.

Details of the pigeon starring 
  • Source: Stardust memories. Starring moment: 0:26:29
  • Pigeon activity: it innocently entered into the apartment where it received a hostile welcome. Mr. Bates can be a very gentle man when dealing with women, but in the case of pigeons, he is not gentle at all.
  • Symbolism: This pigeon represents the typical urban bird that accidently comes in the apartment.
  • Relevance: Medium. It created a moment of tension that was eventually solved with a kiss between the two characters (Bates and Dorrie). This is a very romantic situation that deserves a medium level in the relevance ranking.
  • Training level: High. This pigeon was deliberately placed in the apartment. It is a well trained specimen that does its duty well.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Tudors: decorative pigeons

Title: The Tudors
Year: 2007
Director: Michael Hirst, Ciaran Donnelly, Jeremy Podeswa, Dearbhla Walsh, Steve Shill, Brian Kirk, Alison Maclean, Charles McDougall, Jon Amiel, Colm McCarthy
Running time: 55 min.
Country: Ireland

This is the first example of the contribution of pigeons to Decorative Arts. In most films pigeons are living creatures that briefly appear during the recording. However, in The Tudors series, we can see a pigeon appearance in King Henry VIII's court. This pigeon is not a living specimen but a dead decorative object. In the scene, Henry is in the search of a new wife. He talks with the French ambassador and inquires about possible candidates. During the conversation, Henry’s assistants serve a sumptuous meal and we can see the decorative pigeon in this scene. More precisely, a wood pigeon. An interesting taste.

Here we can see the pigeon on the top of a tray full of culinary delights.
The pigeon can be see on the lower-right corner.

Details of the pigeon starring

  • Source: The Tudors Episode 3x06. Starring moment: 0:05:20
  • Pigeon activity: None. It is a mere decorative object.
  • Symbolism: This pigeon was used as a simple decorative artefact. Was it considered to be an exotic/luxury animal in the 16th century?
  • Relevance: None. It is a short appearance.
  • Training level: None. It is a stuffed pigeon.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The walking dead: pigeons don't care about zombies

Title: The walking dead
Year: 2010
Director: Frank Darabont, Michelle MacLaren, Gwyneth Horder-Payton, Johan Renck, Ernest R. Dickerson, Guy Ferland, Phil Abraham, Bill Gierhart
Running time: 45 min.
Country: United States

Deputy Rick Grimes is desperately looking for his family. National authorities recommend finding refuge in Atlanta where a quarantined safe-zone is established. When Rick arrives in the city, riding a horse, he realises that the safe-zone is no longer safe and the city is completely infected by zombies. However, everything is not death and devastation: we can notice a peaceful/harmless pigeon walking (not dead) on the street. Its search for some herbivorous food was suddenly interrupted by Rick and his horse and it decided to fly away to a more quiet area.

Details of the pigeon starring 

  • Source: The walking dead. Episode 1x01. Starring moment: 0:58:29
  • Pigeon activity: The pigeon was walking around a city that was totally infected by zombies. This is a clear example of how pigeons can survive in hostile environments. Then, the bird was suddenly scared by a guy on a horse and flies away. From the pigeon's point of view: a horseback rider never provides any food so it is better to elude him.
  • Symbolism: It represents typical pigeons that we can find in any city. Once more, pigeons appear in the most intense moment of the episode. In this case, it is used for showing us that this devastated city still keeps some remains of its old life.
  • Relevance: Very low. The pigeon has some protagonism in the scene (it is actually situated in front of the main character) but the whole scene lasts just few seconds. Additionally, the pigeon relevance for the rest of the episode is negligible.
  • Training level: High. This pigeon isn't actually a casual wild animal but it was left there by a professional team. It is a well trained pigeon.

    Howl's Moving Castle: a regular pigeon day

    Title: Howl's Moving Castle
    Year: 2004
    Director: Hayao Miyazaki
    Running time: 119 min.
    Country: Japan

    Sophie Hatter, a young girl, is transformed into an old woman when she is cursed. She helps Wizard Howl to remove the curse and return to her original appearance. Howl asks her to attend to an appointment with the new Royal Wizard. He promises her that he is going to be with her disguised but he doesn’t reveal which kind of disguise he plans to use. During her way to the palace Sophie asks herself about Howl's disguise. She looks at a flock of pigeons on a statue and wonders if Howl is one of these animals... no way!!

    Details of the pigeon starring 

    • Source:  Howl's Moving Castle. Starring moment: 0:50:34
    • Pigeon activity: Staying on the top of a big statue... typical activity for urban pigeons. It is a very realistic representation. You can even notice the pigeon droppings on the statue.
    • Symbolism: They represent the typical urban pigeons.
    • Relevance: Very low. They are used for presenting a city full of life and activities but they don't have any relevance in the rest of the movie.
    • Training level: Not applicable.

    Thursday, February 2, 2012

    Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind: requiem for a pigeon

    Title: Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
    Year: 2004
    Director: Michel Gondry
    Running time: 108 min.
    Country: United States

    All Joel's memories related to his romance with Clementine are being erased. Joel tried to preserve his last memories of Clementine by placing her presence into his traumatic childhood memories. It is something like associate your credit-card pin number with amount of your first car park fine.

    In one of his traumatic memories he was induced to hit a dead pigeon with a hammer. A short feathered appearance.

    Details of the pigeon starring

    • Source: Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. Starring moment: 1:12:15
    • Pigeon activity: None. It seems to be a dead pigeon lying on a trolley.
    • Symbolism: I think that the pigoen is used to symbolize cruelty during childhood. It was probably  killed by Joel's little friends or maybe it was found dead. In both cases it is used to emphasize that this memory was a trauma that deserves to be kept in Joel's mind for his entire life. 
    • Relevance: Low. Thanks to this dead pigeon Joel tried to preserve Clementine memories. Relevance is low because he finally failed.  
    • Training level: None. It looks dead but probably it is sedated. When Joel hits the pigeon with the hammer  the animal is not seen. This is not a gore movie.