[this April Fool’s spoof came out on 1 April 1985 in the corporate magazine of British Leyland’s IT arm, ISTEL, in Redditch, Warwickshire]

In a move almost guaranteed to establish a major market share in the booming consumer defence market, ISTEL Limited today announced the first defence product of its newly-formed Military and Aerospace Division (MAD), formerly the Entertainment and Videodisc Action Group. The announcement has dealt a serious blow to several companies working under the umbrellas of both the American Strategic Defence Initiative (Star Wars) and the European Eureka programs.

ISTEL’s product fulfils several market needs, specifically:

  • Military combat training systems
  • Security alertness assurance systems
  • Rooftop security dissuasion systems
  • Simulated combat evaluation systems
  • Urban nocturnal mass-entertainment and crowd control systems
  • System systems

The product is a “high-tech”, cost-effective solution to a variety of problems, yet its modular construction allows customers to tailor the system to their needs. The product’s intended market is medium to large companies headquartered in urban centres and the most likely first purchaser is rumoured to be a large, unnamed art merchandising centre in Trafalgar Square. Beta testing of the product was performed in the aviary at Regent’s Park, a particularly target-rich environment [no captive birds were injured in the testing of this product]. ISTEL has received serious inquiries from several airline companies who wish to evaluate the system for hijack prevention.

Components of the “PIGEONHOLER” (Precise Infra-red Guided Eradication of Night, High, Or Low-Flying Evil Rodents) System are a target tracking system, command chair and console system, hacker-proof scoring system, night-vision enhancement system, remote sensing systems, and four roof-mounted high energy laser cannon systems (although particle beam devices may be substituted).

The systems require little training to operate by typical security guard staff because it was designed for familiarity and resembles a number of arcade games, yet is high on realism. Training and honing of staff skills is almost continuous, a definite military plus with the threat of electronic warfare looming ominously as a disgusting grey bird only inches above the ISTEL flag. In fact, staff have been known to fight in their eagerness to use the new equipment.

Operation is simple. A trained staff member occupies the command chair and initiates the remote sensors and target tracking system. Using the simple controls provided and following the action projected onto the visor of his Dead-Turkey helmet, the operator ‘homes’ in on his specially targeted pigeon while PIGEONHOLER supplies automated support facilities until termination. Scoring is automated and all kills are validated before reporting over the Infotrac network. The target recognition system distinguishes feral pigeons from show, game, and homing pigeons automatically disabling the weapons system when appropriate, as well as providing intermediate racing results via cellular radio.

PIGEONHOLER is a cost-effective solution to a problem which has flown out of proportion in urban centres. Great savings on both cleaning and poison are anticipated by several companies planning to use the system. A typical comment from executives has been “We can hardly wait to blast the s_____s”. Continued maintenance is guaranteed under ISTEL’s exclusive hole-in-one policy.

ISTEL’s R&D and artificial intelligence sections prototyped the knowledge-based expert system in virtual assembler cross-compiled into LISP simulated in C running through Infotrac under the central BBC 6502-processor system at CDC with an attached Motorola 260 processor emulating UNIX (a trademark of AT&T) supporting twin Winchester rifles and IBM mainframe peripherals giving real-time response in under a day.

Prototyping involved several ‘snail hunts’, as the staff humorously termed them, before being taken to the moors for a grousing debugging session where several turtles were eliminated. The finished product has been successful in a variety of situations and has been pronounced “F_____ god-d____ combat ready” by Dr M F Smith of the Research and Disarmament section.

Although PIGEONHOLER is necessary in today’s increasingly tense and dangerous modern world, ISTEL hopes to provide an uplifting experience to the public as its product scours the skies and covers concrete. The wavelengths of the lasers were deliberately chosen by the R&D section to enhance the aesthetic appearance of the skyline. The next generation can look up at the pigeon-free skies of our capital and city centres safe in the knowledge that the intricate criss-crossing patterns of light and colour prove that the security of the nation rests alert in the command chairs of the night guards.

As with too many of my spoofs, it became real –

And in August 2019 I had the privilege of seeing Nathan Myhrvold’s Intellectual Ventures team and their Photonic Fence, “This Bug-zapper Has Laser-guided Precision” in Seattle.