Postage stamp, France
Stamp image from Motor Filatelisten Nederlands.
Postage stamp, France
Stamp image from Motor Filatelisten Nederlands.
On December 15th, nearly two hundered construction workers building a new children's hospital in Portland, Oregon, gathered on the new rooftop garden to celebrate christmas with the sick kids. The background for this celebration was a spectacular christmas display created from materials of each construction worker's trade. The display included a sleigh made from steel frames, a snowman from plumbing fixtures, a reindeer from ductwork, christmas trees from electrical boxes and sprinkler fittings, and last but not least, a 16-foot high candy cane made from pneumatic tubes.
This sounds like a remarkable way in which to involve the children in the building of the new hospital. I wish I could find a picture of this event - I have looked without success, so if you do come across one, please send it my way. In lieu of these christmas graphics, here is a picture from a great WIRED article about the evolution of christmas lights, which tickled both my STS interests and love of christmas tree decorations.
"The 'postal' date stamp of 25 mm diameter incorporating a B was applied at the 1889 Exposition Universelle. Again these were usually struck in blue and sometimes in black, but in the first half of 1894 a number of of fives used a violet ink ... At the turn of the century new types of date stamp were introduced which, for the first time, showed the time of despatch of a pneu, so that it was no longer necessary to record this time in the daily register ... A pneu, during its journey from the sender to the addressee, might have to be transferred from one tube line to another and when this occurred the office of exchange applied its date stamp on the back. Using date stamps incorporating times, the times of each stage of a journey could be ascertained. At the big exchanges of Central and Bourse a stamp was mechanically applied. ... In the early days of the pneumatic post, pneus might be addressed, by accident or otherwise, beyond its boundaries; they were then endorsed in manuscript 'Hors limites' or 'Hors service' and transferred to the post. The sorters tired of writing and made up their own handstamps for these and other annotations. In this category of individual initiative handstamps is 'BOURSE B' (B for banlieue) applied to pneus arriving at Bourse for the suburbs after the last despatch and held there overnight"
Stamps such as these above are markers of the journey of 'the pneu', a tangible trace of the history of the post which says 'I have passed through this place on this date'. I love that the life of the post is recorded, however partially, and also the ways in which mail staff adapted the stamps to suit their own purposes, such as the handstamp to redirect wrongly addressed mail. I can't help but wonder what traces are left on contemporary 'packages' sent via pneumatic tube systems?
"I don't know about replacing deliveries to stores... trucks are awfully efficient for that! Make them electric, and they'd be hard to beat. On the other hand, pneumatic tubes could provide efficient delivery to individual homes, eliminating the need for people to go to the store. With modern barcode or RFID systems, the packages could be routed to the correct house easily enough. Some things might not do too well - I wouldn't want to cram a 20-pound watermelon into a 6-inch tube - but for most staples it would work quite well"It isn't the first time that pneumatic tube technology has been considered for home usage. Remember that great Heineken ad from a few months ago? There is also the home elevator, as well as centralised home vacuum cleaning units. My dad remembers one of these units being installed in his parents' new home in the 1980s. It seems that home-based pneumatic tube technology is either something from the past, or the projected Jetsonian future, but is it for us right now?
This video is about hospitals but there are more set in supermarkets and other places where the company installs pneumatic tube systems.
SIR,- The use of pneumatic-tube transmission systems in general and in hospitals in particular is by no means new. Some of the earlier hospital systems received very adverse criticism, and this undoubtedly delayed progress of this efficient and speedy service so far as hospitals were concerned.
Recently a two-way point-to-point tube system by Dialled Despatches Ltd., Gosport, was installed in this department for the specific purpose of conveying exposed but undeveloped x-ray films from an x-ray room at a return clinic area to a developing room fitted with an automatic processing unit some 100 ft (30 meters) away at the other end of a long and relatively narrow building. Dry developed films are returned to the clinic in an average time of nine minutes. I believe that this may be the first tube system to be so used, and it has been found to be very effective in practice. The exposed film is removed from its cassette in a dark cubicle some 3 ft. square (0.8 sq. metre), marked with the patient's name, date, etc., rolled in its original packing paper in order to avoid unnecessary handling and static marks, and placed in the cylindrical aluminium carrier, which is then put into the sending tube. Two or even three films, if necessary, can be put into a carrier at any one time. The carriers are long enough to take the largest x-ray films, and are, of course, light-tight. The receiving end of the return tube has been separated from the sending tube, and is situated outside the dark cubicle so that the developed films can be delivered to the clinic without interrupting the radiographer. The cost of installation of this system was not greater than the cost of constructing and equipping a small but conventional darkroom, for which, in any case, there was insufficient space available in the area, and the need for additional dark-room technical assistance was avoided.
Although this simple point-to-point system was installed for one particular purpose, trials using special inserts in the carriers have shown that laboratory specimens and blood samples can be safely transmitted without damage or lysis. These experiments suggest that larger installations, either fully or semi-automatic, and relying on the operation of recently developed and much more reliable proximity switches, should play a major role in future hospital design and equipment. - I am, etc.,
A.M.Murray, Casualty Department, Royal Infirmary,
The article certainly seems to be detailing the very early use of pneumatic networks for transporting films and pathology samples. This x-ray system is undoubtedly a precursor to modern day electronic platforms, such as PACS, designed for the efficient transmission of radiological images, "without interrupting the radiographer".
I love post with personality!
Thanks Jarek (and Dad for scanning the images).
AAH (The Association of Art Historians) Annual Conference 2011
31 March – 2 April, University of Warwick
Medical Media: The Aesthetic Language of Medical ‘Evidence’
Visual culture plays no small part in the field of medicine, historically and currently. In teaching and practice, the field has been and continues to be inundated with images: X-rays, before-and-after photographs, case records and illustrations, digital scans, recorded demonstrations, etc. At once document and representation, the image utilised for medical aims occupies a curious place, particularly when it is clear that the methods of its production have been mediated by the physician, the patient, and/or the artist-producer to emphasise its value as ‘evidence.’ The photograph is the most obvious, and yet far from sole, medium of medical imagery: three-dimensional models of varying media, posters, print media, and film have all played the role of ‘medical documentation.’ This session seeks to complicate the relationship between art and medicine as one in which images are passively illustrative of medical ideas or mechanisms, as visual simplifications of theories and practices. So too does it wish to investigate how medical ideas or devices affect perceptions and productions of art.The following questions are therefore posed: how has art – its grammar, forms, varying media – articulated or represented medical concepts, discoveries, inventions or models of perception?
How has medicine been understood through its visual culture? And how have medical explanations and new technologies informed aesthetic models and vocabularies? In other words, do Art and Medicine speak the same language? Diverse papers are welcomed from art and medical historians on any period and geographical location that explore new directions in the interconnected histories of these disciplines. Session Convenor:Tania Woloshyn, McGill University. email@example.com
Artful Encounters: on ethnography, art and conservation
Seminar November 18 & 19, 2010, Maastricht
Although highly critical of its colonialist connotations, many artists today employ methods that traditionally belong to the academic discipline of anthropology. They claim to use ethnography as an integral component of their artistic practice (Foster, 1999; Desai, 2002). Those studying the arts (academic disciplines such as art history, cultural studies, etc., as well as more “applied” disciplines such as conservation) may use these very same ethnographic methods to understand and deal with art worlds (Morphy & Perkins, 2006; Van Saaze, 2009). Understanding contemporary art today therefore increasingly asks for an approach that is sensitive to local and changeable meanings, to process and the ephemeral qualities of works-in-progress, and to the ways in which the public sphere can become an arena for artistic investigation. This combined seminar stages a series of encounters between ethnographic artists, ethnographers of art, and conservation ethnographers within this methodological hall of mirrors. Of special interest is the process of documentation within ethnographies. How do ethnographers hold what they find? Methodology-handbooks as well as reflections about fieldwork discuss exhaustively the art and pitfalls of note-taking, interpretation, categorization, narration, and writing. Yet, the variety of means of documentation is much greater and different styles of documentation allow for different effects.
Artful Encounters wants to examine the interesting overlaps between academic ethnography on the one hand and artistic practice in its broadest sense – both its process and its conservation – on the other hand. The seminar has three aims: (1) to improve ethnographic research by sharing research experiences; (2) to explore overlaps and differences in ethnographic methods between two different but fundamentally connected positions: the artist as ethnographer and the ethnographer as artist; and (3) to investigate what the ethnographic research tradition could contribute to the field of artistic research.Through open discussion, paper presentations, workshops and special assignments participants are invited to
contribute to the revitalization of an old tradition by setting a new agenda in artistic practice and arts research.
Speeding into the future, the world of Futurama is connected via a vast pneumatic tube network. Whilst Beach’s subway was never realised in its original form, and Futurama’s system is the stuff of science fiction, there are nonetheless a number of ways in which humans can be catapulted through the atmosphere via pneumatics. There are the nifty elevators for one, and now something which has recently captured my attention, the shweeb. OK, so the shweeb doesn’t really count as pneumatic transport (and is much more about pedal power), but it certainly resembles a pneumatic capsule. Google has recently backed the invention, with many asking: why? Should such inventions remain the stuff of dreams and TV shows?
Beach pneumatic plan from Wikimedia Commons.
Known in French as the "cambrioleurs aspirateur" or “gang à l’aspirateur", the vacuum burglars have led to a flurry of comments on forums around the internet. Here is a run of posts I liked in particular, on hackaday.com:
"It doesn’t make much sense — the only transport systems
I’ve seen like this indeed use negative pressure to get the vessels from one
side of the building to another, but when they land in the safe, they exit the
tube system after passing a venturi-like bypass…re-sucking wouldn’t return the
tubes to the pipe. something fishy is being reported.
Posted at 9:45 am on Sep 24th, 2010 by
@Frollard : I believe they are intercepting the money as
it’s going through the tube, not “sucking it back out”.
Posted at 1:18 pm on Sep 24th, 2010 by
they probably broke in at night, used the valve where the
tube connects to the safe, drilled through it because its definitely the weakest
point, and then put a vacuum into the safe to grab the
Posted at 3:28 pm on Sep 24th, 2010 by
a simple spring loaded check valve like flap placed over the
pipe in the safe should prevent that.
the bank’s vacuum is probably in the safe so it would suck
open the flap to let the money in but someone applying vacuum from the teller
window will suck the valve shut and not get the money.
if they are lucky they may get the money holder tank if thePosted at 6:06 pm on Sep 24th, 2010 by
bank is big enough to have multiple teller windows or the tubes are stored
Image from The Fugue's Flikr page.
There are arts-based projects in hospital contexts such as Hearing Voices, Seeing Things, the two-year program of residencies with staff and users at North East London Mental Health Trust led by artists Bob and Roberta Smith and Jessica Voorsanger, and Transplant, a collaborative piece of work from Tim Wainwright and John Wynne. Both of these projects explore themes central to many sociological studies of health and illness. Katerina Cizek's filmaker-in-residence project at St Michael's Hospital in Toronto was also incredibly sociological.
Artists such as Barbara Hepworth, Christina Lammers, Bill Viola, Heather Spears and Christine Borland have had residencies in hospitals, akin to hospital ethnographies. Barbara Hepworth produced a wonderful series of fenestration drawings of her time in ENT theatres, whilst Bill Viola's installation Science of the Heart is from his time at Memorial Medical Centre in Long Beach, New York. Heather Spears spends her residencies in neonatal intensive care units whilst Christine Borland spent a week at the University of Alberta Hospital, producing a piece of work presented in the exhibition, Imagining Science, at the Art Gallery of Alberta. Borland worked with two patients having kidney biopsies, taking photographs at the start of the procedure, then accompanied the tissue through its journey through the many processes of the Pathology Laboratory. It is a work which I think has a lot of relevance to the role of pneumatic tube systems in hospitals for the artwork brought the patient into the laboratory and the experience of the laboratory to the patient:
“Throughout the week (of her residency) the artist tread a path between the lab and the wards, building an intense, personal relationship with the patients and staff at each end. For the patients the ‘end product’ was a 10 minute long, self-running PowerPoint presentation of the hundreds of images documenting their journey through the hospital and laboratory system. As the patients watched this for the first time, entirely absorbed while it was presented to them on the artist’s lap-top, they were filmed from a tiny camera embedded in the frame of the laptop screen which captured their reactions and expressions in the most non-mediated way possible”
Artistic representations explore research topics in more ambiguous and incomplete ways than academia often allows, this work evoking different stories on common subjects. There are many parallels between artist-in-residencies and ethnographic fieldwork which are interesting to think about. No doubt ethnographers can learn from artists and vice versa. Collaborative work between sociologists and artists raises a number of theoretical and methodological issues which are challenging and potentially rewarding to investigate. There is a lot of exciting work happening in this area, and pneumatic tubes is only one topic, amongst many, that could be explored.
The photo was taken by Thomas, as part of a photographic study of overseas doctors' practices in Australian hospitals, in collaboration with my ethnographic work at this site.
Despite firms claims of standardisation in engineering, many sociologists of science have shown that technology is used differently in local settings of practice. This is something I would like to examine a lot further, and I am interested in how pneumatic tube systems are adapted for different cultural contexts. When considering these questions, it is necessary to think about pneumatic tubes in new ways. Translating the term is a start, and here is a wonderful list on the great website buispost:
Czechish - Potrubní pošta
Dutch - Buispost / buizenpost
English - Pneumatic tube system / pneumatic tube / pneumatic tube air system / pneumatic mail / pneumatic post / pneumatic conveying system / tubemail
Finnish – Putkiposti
French - Transport pneumatique / tube pneumatique
German - Rohrpost / röhrenpost
Italian - Posta pneumatica / trasporto pneumatico / tubi pneumatici
Polish - Poczta pneumatyczna
Russian - Пневматическая почта
Spanish - Transporte neumático
Swedish – Rörpost
Are there any others to add to the list?
"A GANG of thieves armed with a powerful vacuum cleaner that sucks cash from supermarket safes has struck for the FIFTEENTH time in France. The burglars broke into their latest store near Paris and drilled a hole in the "pneumatic tube" that siphons money from the checkout to the strong-room. They then sucked rolls of cash totalling £60,000 from the safe without even having to break its lock. Police said the gang — dubbed the Vacuum Burglars — always raid Monoprix supermarkets and have hit 15 of the stores branches around Paris in the past four years. A spokesman added: "They spotted a weakness in the company's security system and have been exploiting it ever since. Since 2006 they have stolen more than 500,000 euros and caused damage to alarm systems and other property totalling thousands more. It is clearly time Monoprix addressed this loophole and changed the way it guards its money.""
Great use of the word loophole!
Could this spate of robberies spell the end for pneumatic tubes in supermarkets (see this video for a demonstration of how the system works in this setting)? What does it mean for banks, where telescreens and pneumatic tubes are being installed in 'remote teller stations' to increase efficiency and improve safety and security?
"With the deep, unconscious sigh which not even the nearness of the telescreen could prevent him from uttering when his day's work started, Winston pulled the speakwrite towards him, blew the dust from its mouthpiece and put on his spectacles. Then he unrolled and clipped together four small cylinders of paper which had already flopped out of the pneumatic tube on the right-hand side of his desk" (p40).
The pneumatic tube was one of three important 'orifices' in Winston's office space - the other two were for newspapers and the waste-disposal slit, or memory hole. It is from the pneumatic tubes where most of Winston's work arrives; the work of rewriting history. One day there is fragment of paper which blatently documents the lies behind this history work, rolled up with the other papers in the tube.
The pneumatic tube system is part of the invisible workings of the Ministry, part of the invisible work of totalitarian control:
"What happened in the unseen labyrinth to which the pneumatic tubes led, he did not know in detail, but he did know in general terms" (p42).
In many ways, pneumatic tubes are still part of the invisible work of organisations, retaining that historic/futuristic feel that Orwell captures incredibly well in 1984. It is this invisible work, the work that happens backstage, that makes pneumatic tubes such an interesting site of analysis and a technology which captures the imagination of writers and the public.
Japan. Home of raw fish, tatami mats, pachinko and parasols. Home of love hotels, where rooms are bought at the touch of a button and bills settled via pneumatic tubes (all in the interest of discretion of course)!
I was in Japan for a holiday and to attend the Society for Social Studies of Science's annual meeting. The conference was held at the University of Tokyo, tucked away off tiny streets near Shibuya and the wonderful Japan Folk Crafts Museum. Sessions were held in classrooms with wooden desks and blackboards, whilst crickets chittered in the humid air. I gave a paper about adjustment (here are my slides) and heard some fantastic talks about anatomical museums, biobanks, telemonitoring, online patient feedback systems and genetics. It was a small and friendly conference, and the attendees bonded by hanging out around the pond, guessing noodle dishes or waiting for drinks from the vending machine, paper fans flapping. I hope I'll keep in contact with many of the great people I met there.
On the last night of the conference my husband flew in from Melbourne and we continued to explore Tokyo together. The technology around us was often mesmerising. We watched all our fellow subway passengers silently connect to their mobile phones, passed shops with displays of the latest gadgets, saw an exhibition where our biometric data was recorded and we interacted digitally with our fellow gallery goers. And yet, amidst this new technology, alongside the retinal scanning and artificial intelligence, we saw signs of older technologies too. We hopped on a little tram, from one part of Tokyo to another - the last tram in the city - and caught a train with brass fittings and bankers' lights in the dining cart. One night a vintage car hurtled past, with two young hipsters snug and smug inside. There was a certain nostalgia for the technological past, that nestled within a thirst for the new. It is something I often think about in relation to pneumatic tubes, and the nostalgic associations that many people have with them. Something to further consider, and more posts from my time in Japan to come ...
Photos of nostalgic transportation are my own.
The deadline for submissions is November 30th 2010 and more information can be found here."Are buildings fixed objects? At what point is a work of architecture complete? Architects tend to consider a building as finished, fixed, upon the completion of building works. The unpopulated images of shiny new buildings in the architectural press are presented as a record of the building as a ‘pure’ art-object at its temporal zenith; the occupation of the building and its subsequent adaptation, alteration, personalization and appropriation by people is often perceived in terms of decline. ‘Fixed?’ aims to question this view of architecture.
An alternative perspective is that all buildings are incomplete and subject to change over time as the users constantly alter and adapt their surroundings in response to changing cultural and technological conditions. Architecture is appropriated both intentionally and instinctively. In this way, often beyond the control of the architect, through their lifecycle all architectures become responsive to people and place. In theoretical terms, a work of architecture can therefore be interpreted not only as an ambiguous physical form but also as a shifting, responsive cultural construct.
Proposals for both theoretical discussion and case-study based papers are invited that engage with or challenge the theme of incompleteness and change across architecture, design and the built environment. Possible strands include: - changing, transient and adaptive everyday architectures and modern vernaculars - the afterlife, use, occupation, adaptation and appropriation of ‘fixed’ designed buildings, spaces and places - architects responses to the challenge of incompleteness and life-cycle design"
"Part infrastructure portrait, part urban history ... [drawing on] archival materials, original maps, photographs, drawings, diagrams and video interviews to bring an invisible system to the surface, and asks what a community built around progressive policies and technologies can teach us about how we choose our infrastructure"The exhibition received a lot of attention from bloggers (green bloggers, urbanite bloggers, architectural bloggers, art bloggers, NYC bloggers) and others online, demonstrating a public fascination with this technology. I particularly like this image of those working with the system, depicted in a New York Times review:
"The staff of eight full-time engineers perform regular repairs and maintenance on the system, monitoring the vacuum seals and gauges, which are often on the fritz. They have halted the engines for residents who panicked about missing false teeth, wedding rings and pocket books that have been sucked under the city’s streets. And even let them sift through a 12-ton pile of refuse"For those interested, the exhibition website has a documentary, another site an interview with curator/architect Juliette Spertus, and here and here are some images from the exhibition. I would love to have seen the exhibition. With its video interviews with engineers, maps and other artefacts, it seems like an incredibly ethnographic portrait of pneumatic tubes; one that has captured the public's imagination.
"Technologies have been changing the world for a long time, at an increasing pace, with ever expanding scope and unprecedented impact. They profoundly affect human life and are radically modifying not only how we interact with, shape, and make sense of our world, but also how we look at ourselves and understand our position and responsibilities in the universe"I'm not sure how considerably pneumatic tube systems are changing our position within the universe, but it is certainly interesting to think about how a 19th century, industrial era technology is changing hospital practices.
At the beginning of his popular presentation for TED, Barry Schwartz outlines the job requirements of a hospital janitor. He points out that none of these requirements mention anything that involves other human beings, yet when janitors were interviewed by psychologists, much of their work involved human interactions and a degree of improvisation and 'practical wisdom'.
I was interested in the job requirements of hospital technicians who may be dealing with pneumatic tubes, and came across these job advertisements for a lab tech at Ochsner Health System and a diagnostic scheduling technician at St Luke’s Health System:
Lab Tech: Gross Room, Ochsner Health System
Duties: Accessions surgical cases, biopsies and autopsy specimens from various departments, and clients via Central Specimen Receiving (CSR), the train, pneumatic tube or courier. Verifies patient’s demographics, accessions patient information and test requested in Laboratory Computer. Accurately labels specimen containers tissue cassettes with assigned number. Assist Pathologist and residents in the gross dissection room. Maintains record of Gross Room workload and data entry. Records all specimen errors or discrepancies. Performs staining, autopsy specimen procurement under direct supervision by a Pathologist, Pathologist Assistant or Histopathology Supervisor. Demonstrates actions consistent with Ochsner Expectations as duties are performed on a daily basis.
Diagnostic Scheduling Technician, St. Luke's Health System
Duties: 7. Operates medical center equipment such as computers and software, phone systems, paging systems, intercoms, fax machines, copy machines, pneumatic tube system, and printers in order to perform the duties of the job. Accept change in a positive and professional manner while willingly learning unfamiliar tasks.
Whilst the job descriptions do mention work with other people (I have only included a section of the second job description), they do not explicitly describe the work that I am interested in: the adjustments, the ‘repair work’, the tinkering that technicians perform to get their work done. There are hints of this buried in words such as ‘record discrepancies’, ‘accept change’, ‘learn unfamiliar tasks’, however so much is left out. Although when does a job description ever really describe a job?
“120 feet long and ablaze with gaslit chandeliers, spread out before them ...
... Fine paintings hung upon the walls, lavish tables of champagne and hors d’oeuvres had been laid out, a fountain glittered with its stock of goldfish, and sumptuously upholstered couches awaited the visitors; in one corner a piano was playing, its notes echoing through the subterranean lair … beyond the edge of this cavernous room, brilliantly lit up, lay something that no New Yorker above or below had seen before: a subway car” (From Banvard's Folly, p156).