Wednesday, October 27, 2010

zorba and duct tape

In Stoic philosophy, pneuma is the active and creative presence in matter and exists in inanimate objects - including duct tape?

Thanks for the great guest photo Andy, of yet another use of duct tape.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

one of the earliest pneumatic tube systems in a hospital?

I recently came across an article called Pneumatic Tube Systems, in a 1966 issue of the British Medical Journal (1st January 1966, p49 - 50). Could it be mentioning one of the earliest pneumatic tube system infrastructures in a hospital?

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,
Glasgow C.4.

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".

correspondances pneumatiques

Some pneumatic post arrived in the mail last week, from my sister's fiancé, Jarek ...

... filled with wonderful photos from the Museé de la Post in Paris:

I love post with personality!

Thanks Jarek (and Dad for scanning the images).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

call for papers 2

These recent calls for papers tie in art, medicine and ethnography ...

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.

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.

Monday, October 18, 2010

duct tape: it’s useful for things you haven’t even thought of yet

My husband and I once stayed in a hotel in London that was held together almost entirely with duct tape*. The shower was taped onto the bedroom floor, the leaks in the communal bath fixed with wads of grimey grey strips and even the front door was 'ducted' into place.

Duct tape is a remarkable thing. According to Wikipedia, duct tape has saved the lives of NASA astronauts, can help with iphone glitches and even treat warts (the controversial treatment is otherwise known as duct tape occlusion therapy). Of course MacGyver always had some in his back pocket and The Duct Tape Guys know of a million more wackier uses. But the reason I am writing about duct tape on this blog, is that during a recent visit to a hospital pneumatic tube system (much more about this great trip in later posts), I found many of traces of the stuff:

Duct tape seems to epitomise the tinkering practices of adjustment and improvisation that happen in hospitals everyday. Duct tape patches things together, holds things in place, to make sure the job gets done. Flexible and cheap, it is found taped around many parts of the pneumatic tube system in this hospital.
And so, to finish up this post, a short announcement from Garrison Keillor for the American Duct Tape Council: "Duct tape, its just about the only thing that really works sometimes".
Photos taken by me.
Title of this post also from Garrison Keillor.
*also known as gaffer tape, tank tape or duck tape

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

pneumatic tube map of the week

The Prague postal system

For some wonderful blogs on the wonderful world of maps see: Graphic Sociology, Strange Maps and Urban Tick.

Pražská potrubní pošta map from O2.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

maintaining the pressure/vaccum

Technology is designed, and then it is used. Once any technology is put into use, it needs some form of maintenance. Looking at the maintenance required of pneumatic tube systems reveals all forms of tinkering and improvising and adapting.  

For example WIRED did a wonderful piece on the maintenance of the pneumatic sanitation system on Roosevelt Island. They talked to the Swedish contractors who "crawl through the pipes, find holes and repair them”, and find "all manner of things down the chutes that clog up the system ... Christmas trees, exercise equipment, computers, shelving and vacuum cleaners in the pipe. An electric frying pan jam turned out to be particularly troublesome". The engineers at the facility maintain the system with inventive practices, including devising ways to "drill long metal rods through the jams and then pull them out".

And whilst job advertisements for pneumatic tube system on-site Field Service Engineers state that the engineer will "provide preventive and corrective maintenance, emergency and paid service, start-up of current systems, user training, and promotion of company products & services as required", the job will no doubt involve all sorts of inventive practices that can never be captured in a job description.

Hospital pneumatic tube systems need a lot of maintenance, with their heavy traffic flows. By looking at how these systems are maintained, we can learn a lot more about the colourful life of the technology and about the creative ways in which humans will tinker with its parts.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

pneumatic transportation: the stuff of dreams

For centuries, the concept of human transportation via pneumatic tube has captured the imagination of entrepreneurs, novelists, tinkerers and inventors.  I have already posted about the grandest dreamer of them all, Alfred Beach, whose pneumatic subway system was thwarted by politics and personal vendettas. 

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.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

gang à l’aspirateur 2

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

"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 the
bank is big enough to have multiple teller windows or the tubes are stored

Posted at 6:06 pm on Sep 24th, 2010 by

Sunday, October 3, 2010


When I was searching for images for a lecture I am giving tomorrow on surveillance medicine, I happened to come across this fantastic cartoon by Abner Dean.  It shows Orwell's Winston at his speakwrite (see previous post), with pneumatic capsules falling onto his desk.

Image from The Fugue's Flikr page.