Wednesday, December 29, 2010

pneumatic tube map of the week 6

Postage stamp, France

See here for another great postage stamp tube map. And for a post about this particular postage, on a good map blog, visit MapMarks.

Stamp image from Motor Filatelisten Nederlands.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

christmas post

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.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

anthropolgist at work

Shuan Tan captures it perfectly.

Image scanned from The Bird King and other sketches

Saturday, December 18, 2010

pneu postmarkings

I think that I love cancellation stamps as much as I love the variety that you lick and stick. My husband and I posted all of our wedding correspondence from a little postoffice on the other side of town because of their beautiful cancellation stamp (it used to be the official postoffice for the Zoo, so had a butterfly wrapping itself around the date). Postal markings such as these tell all kinds of stories, about place and time and other aspects of the mileu.

Postal markings for pneumatic mail are of course no exception, and reveal something about the sociohistorical times during which post was sent via tubes. In an essay The Pneumatic Post of Paris by J.D. Hayhurst O.B.E, he writes about the markings in Paris:
"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?

See my mother's blog for a post on a similar theme. Hand cancellation stamp images from Wikipedia and the beautiful first day cover from Motor Filatelisten Nederlands.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

homely tubes

Pneumatic tube systems are used in hospitals, supermarkets, banks and pharmacies. But what about our own homes?

A UK-based project called Foodtubes, which promises to revolutionalise food transportation via pneumatic/vacuum technology, has recently led to all sorts of incredulous outcries and postulations by techie and environmental bloggers embracing and ridiculing the idea. Someone who has commented on the grist blog post about this issue argues that it is a waste to use Foodtube technology at the organisational level, but rather it should be taken into our own homes:
"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?

Image courtesy of fabulousfairy.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

steampunky tubes

I have had another hiatus away from the blog, this time due to a relocation to Maastricht, to work on an exciting new research project at the Virtual Knowledge Studio. I'll write more about that another time, but this snowy Sunday afternoon, I thought I would write about something that has been on my mind for sometime: steampunk!

Older pneumatic tube systems have long been associated with steampunk culture - all those knobs and brass and gorgeous ornate, futuristic detailing:

I have always liked this aesthetic dimension to pneumatic tube systems, an aesthetic that was first introduced to me by my sister's partner Jarek. What has prompted me to write about it today are two publications: the most recent edition of Neo-Victorian Studies, completely devoted to the topic; and a series of blogposts by lord_k on Dieselpunks, here, here and here. The latter is a well-researched essay in three parts, filled with photos and the mention of a number of books and films where pneumatic tubes are actors (many added to my reading list).

Contemporary hospital pneumatic tube systems have retained little of the steampunk vibe, with all of their plastic and duct-tape-able parts. But the fact that these systems are now computerised does not necessarily prevent a few steampunk elements being introduced (see this steampunk workshop site for a fantastic post about how to build a steampunk computer).

For those interested in medical museums, Thomas
Söderqvist has written about steampunk medical objects on his blog Biomedicine on Display, and there is a current exhibition at the The Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation and past exhibition at the Museum of the History of Science worth checking out.

Images from wikimedia commons, flikr (falling_angel) and steampunk workshop.