Dog Poo and Chips

Dog Poo and Chips

Dog poo is a necessary evil for the dog-owner.  Something up with which we all just need to put.

Wait.

Bag it.

Bin it.

Simple enough.  Except that we all know that not every dog owner is imbued with an equal degree of civic responsibility.  For every Jimmy Reid there’s a David Chaytor.  Or a Jonathan Aitken.

Enlightened Public Authorities

So I was heartened recently to read of an excellent initiative by the splendidly named London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Council in its relentless pursuit of dog poo refuseniks, those execrable numskulls who think it’s acceptable to leave toxic piles of bacteria-ridden dog waste – that’s emanated from their damned dog – lying in wait for the next unsuspecting mock-Gucci loafer or paddling toddler.  It’s a bit of a tech solution and it’s to do with dogs so it immediately spiked my interest.

Barking’s tech solution is to construct a database of dog DNA, swab all the local hounds and then just sit back and wait.  Next time some old dear phones the call centre to report abandoned piles of poo, simply dispatch a forensic waste expert with bag and gloves, return the sample to the lab and let Hiram J Hackenbacker loose with the spectrometer.   The offending mutt and owner are soon identified and burly chaps let loose to dispense justice.

Before you go wondering about how any public sector body on our fine blue planet could find the intellectual let alone the financial wherewithal to develop such a novel solution, let me save you the bother.

It’s an American thing.

A managed service.

Obviously.

Councils only DO managed services these days.

Poo Tech

Anyway, there is a company called BioPet Vet Lab that specialises in animal genomics.  It developed technologies that were subsequently licensed or rebranded as Pooprints and before you could say ‘this is all sounding a bit iffy’ the service was launched to universal acclaim.  Well, universal acclaim amongst those with obsessive hygiene issues, money to burn and mobility problems.  Yup. Middle class white Americans living in gated communities.  Well, it’s now spread to encompass 45 US states and has even gained a presence in places such as Singapore and Israel so there’s obviously a need out there.

And not wishing to be left behind, the UK managed to unearth a willing entrepreneur and, with dog owners being an easy mark, the next thing we know is that Barking and Dagenham Council has gone all Big Brother with its dogs.  The Council is working with a company called Streetkleen to introduce the new service.  Eagle-eyed readers – or those with the memory of Mr Memory – may remember Streetkleen as the company of the anaerobic digester, a device that converts organic waste material into energy.   I never knew there was quite so much cash in dog poo.

Anyway, as I’ve hinted before, I spend a good deal of my time considering, postulating and cogitating over how you can prove unequivocally that someone is who he or she says he or she is when he or she comes along asking for something that needs such surety, so I’m always looking for ideas on how the process could be improved, automated or made slightly more foolproof.  OK, I’m not suggesting we take DNA samples of everyone in the area and get them to poop into a bag when they want to order a new recycling box or pay their Council Tax.  There are probably laws against that and there would certainly be associated privacy, not to mention public health, issues.  But it does throw up a simple question of animal rights.  Why do we leap on the earliest opportunity to use technology to track our pets yet tie ourselves in knots at the very inkling of a notion of a germ of an idea of issuing a human person with some kind of identity token like a card or a bar-code across the forehead?

Maybe we need to think that through and get with the new programme.

As an aside, you may be interested to know that some preliminary investigative work has already been carried out in the world of human biotech to look at this very subject.  Could we push some kind of body technology to make the process of authenticating ourselves a bit easier?  If you’re not interested then I suggest you skip the next 3 paragraphs.  I know how busy you are.

Good. I see you are still with me. So. The Swedish BioHacking Group has carried out practical research on NFC implants, developing a few use cases, as we IT people like to call them, and trying to raise awareness of the technology while breaking down some of the perhaps understandable belief barriers associated with having microchips injected under your skin.  The group makes the point that people are already using what it likes to call ‘near-body technology’ – i.e. earrings – and this is not all that different.  I guess with the advent of wearable tech, implantable tech is not that far behind.  You can read more about the project and perhaps even sign yourself up for an Implant Party here.

If the idea of having a microchip inserted into your buttocks or hippocampus (or wherever they insert these things) makes you quail then how about an ingestible option?  PayPal’s Global Head of Developer Advocacy, Jonathan Leblanc, has been sounding off about the death of the password for some time.

So the good folks at Motorola came up with the idea of vitamin authentication – simply swallow a pill that contains a small switch. Your stomach acid activates the switch which will then emit an 18-bit ECG light signal which can then be used to do cool things like open car doors, unlock safes or frighten small children at Halloween. What’s not to like about that?

One of the annoying things about trying to do research these days is that you can always find some kind of anecdote posing as evidence to prove or disprove a pet theory. Someone, somewhere will back you up and you will go on to claim that as incontrovertible proof.

I’m made of sterner stuff than that though. But rather than notching my empirical scepticism dials right up to eleven by trawling the interwebs, I thought I’d go straight to the horse’s – or dog’s – mouth.  Just ask the mutt.  I mean, she’s a dog so she’s probably got a view on canine rights and what it’s liked to be owned and how intrusive or irritating the controlling behaviour of humans is to her and her species.  She’s already been microchipped – a painful experience for her, me and the vet if I recall correctly – so I reckoned she would have valuable, first-hand experience on which I could draw.

Me: Did you see that thing in the paper about Barking?
Mutt: I can’t read
Me: Hhhh.  It was on TV as well
Mutt: Well obviously I didn’t see it on TV because I’m still waiting on you getting rid of that antediluvian piece of junk in my room that passes for a TV.  At the risk of sounding like Ed Moribund, we’ve had five years of this experiment and it has failed.
Me: Yeah, yeah.  Very good.  I’ll take that as a no
Mutt: Well what about it?  Was somebody complaining about Binky?
Me: What?
Mutt: You heard.  Binky.  Next door.  Barking.  You know.  Woof! Woof!  I don’t know what’s wrong with it.  Must be retarded
Me: No.  Barking is a place.  In London
Mutt:  London.  Is that where the wallabies live?
Me: Wannabes.
Mutt: Oh.  Right.  Wannabes.  Well, that puts a slightly different perspective on something I was working on.  But never mind.  So?  Barking?
Me: Barking. They’ve decided – in Barking – to take DNA samples from every dog in the area.  Then when some random dog does a poo and the owner doesn’t pick it up the Council can trace the owner by taking a sample from the poo and matching it against the information in their database.  Then they can hunt down the owner and beat him to a pulp
Mutt: Cool.  What’s an owner?
Me: What’s an owner?  You’re joking me right?  You trot out an adjective like antediluvian and you don’t know what the word ‘owner’ means?  It’s a noun.  It signifies a person who possesses or owns something.  Like I own you.  I’m your owner
Mutt: Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!
Me: ?
Mutt: Hehehehe.  You’re not my owner.  You’re my father
Me: What!?!?
Mutt: You know.  “Luke. I am your father”.  That kind of thing
Me: No, no, no, no, no.  I think you’ve got your wires crossed a bit here, little one.  I’m not your father.  You’re a different species.  It’s not actually biologically possible for me to be your father.  At least I don’t think it is.  And to be honest, I’m not particularly disposed towards finding out
Mutt: Well, other people think you’re my father
Me: No they don’t.  That’s just dumb
Mutt:
Me: OK.  Name one
Mutt: Cheryl from the Gulag
Me: Cheryl from Doggy Daycare does not think I’m your father!
Mutt: I think you’ll find she does.  Unless of course I have completely misconstrued the meaning of the epithet ‘Daddy’.  Whenever you deign to roll up and collect me after stuffing yourself with coffee and steak bakes all day, she always says ‘Pashie! Here’s your daddy come to collect you!’
Me: Hmm.  Good impression of Cheryl but no.  I’m not your father.  That’s just a figure of speech.  It’s a metaphor.  Anthropomorphism, actually.  You know the kind of thing.  Lending a human quality or emotion to a non-human subject to endear that subject to the audience and increasing the sense of relativity between the two
Mutt: So what makes you think you own me then?
Me: Well, I bought you
Mutt: What?!
Me: I bought you.  From a breeder in Staffordshire.  In England
Mutt: Whoa!  Hold it right there, pops.  Make my day worse, please.  I mean first you disown me and then you tell me I’m English!  Come on!
Me: I’m not disowning you.  I’m owning you
Mutt: Pwning me more like
Me: ?
Mutt: All your minibones are belong to us
Me: Quite.  What I wanted to ask you about was what it was like to be a dog.  And be owned by a human. A nd if you thought some of the things we do to control you are, well you know, ok
Mutt: Control me?  I’m not really following this.  Like what?
Me: Well, like micro-chipping for example
Mutt: Go on
Me: I got you micro-chipped when you were just a puppy
Mutt: Go on
Me: We went to the vet and he injected you with that big needle thing and stuck a small transponder under your skin and you bit him.  If you remember.  Now, if you get lost, someone can just scan you…
Mutt: Like a bag of quinoa in Waitrose
Me: …and return you to your loving home
Mutt: You do realise that that injection left me mentally scarred for life.  No wonder I have a fear of men in uniforms.  I jump like Dale Winton anytime a delivery boy comes to the door
Me: Hmm.  Have you been intimidating the postman again?
Mutt: Here’s something for you to ponder.  In all this ownership debate have you ever considered who is doing the pooing and who is doing the following behind and picking it all up?  Have you included that in your calculations?  Well?  Have you?
Me:
Mutt: I thought not

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