Friday, December 30, 2011

chutes, stacks and tubes

Moving from the Netherlands to Australia to England during the last few months has not only meant that I haven't been blogging, but also that I haven't been able to maintain a nice library of books to curl up and read over winter. Luckily there are always libraries!

I am a big fan of public libraries in all shapes and forms, including the solemn and silent, the noisy little locals and the slickly designed big nationals. Libraries have all sorts of fun technologies to move books, request slips and other papers around like chutes, conveyer belts and yes, of course, pneumatic tubes.

The New York Humanities and Social Sciences library, and now the New York Science, Industry and Business library have pneumatic systems which allow request slips to be sent deep into the stacks, the books returned on a ferris wheel. In the Law Library in the Library of Congress, there are pneumatic tubes running from the closed stacks to the reading room. Sadly however, some libraries have recently lost their pneumatic systems in the midst of rennovations, such as the St Louis Central Library.

There are so many reasons to love libraries, the amuseument park of chutes, stacks and tubes only adding to the pleasure and importance of these public institutions.

Image of pneumatic tubes still in use at St Louis Public Library, from VanishingSTL's Flikr photostream.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

at the touch of a pneumatic button

Past futurists have often imagined pneumatic tubes as features of their technological horizon. The Smithsonian Magazine recently published a Boston Globe article, written by Thomas Anderson on December 24, 1900 that imagined what Boston would look like in the year 2000.

Of course there were pneumatic tubes, but these would be no simple letter carrying networks. Pneumatics would have the multi-functionality needed to ease many tasks of daily living:
"The pneumatic tube service, by the way, will have reached its perfection long before the first half of the new century has flown. It will have become a most important factor in the domestic life of the people which also will have undergone great changes. Through such tubes a householder will undoubtedly receive his letters, his readymade lunches, his laundry, his morning and evening paper, and even the things he may require from the department store, which will furnish at the touch of a button any essential solid or liquid that can be named. By means of his electro-pneumatic switchboard, with which all well regulated houses will be equipped, he may sit in his comfortable arm chair and
enjoy either the minister’s sermon or the latest opera in the new Symphony hall
of the vintage of 1960".

The postal system itself, was to be rather more complex than the turn of the century systems transporting letters between postboxes and postoffices:
"The system of pneumatic transmission of mail already introduced is undoubtedly
to have an extensive development, and I have little doubt that the time will
come when mail will be sent from the central or branch post office through such
tubes directly to the house or office of the citizen who cares to pay for the
cost of such service... I do not anticipate that the cheapening and extension of
the telegraph or telephone service is going to adversely affect the number of
letters written and mailed in the future. On the contrary, the cheapening and
improvement of the postal service may operate as a factor against the growth of
the other service"

Sadly it seems that the telephone service did much to "adversely affect" letter writing, at least in its material form. The internet affects not only how we communicate with each other, but also the way we read newspapers, do our shopping and all manner of other tasks, that in Thomas Anderson's eyes would, in our retro future, be easily undertaken at the touch of a pneumatic tube button.
Image from the Smithsonian Magazine.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Monday, October 3, 2011

as thuds and thwacks become mere whispers: more sounds of pneumatic technology

Pneumatic tube systems make wonderful sounds: whooshes, rumbles and clattering tumbles. James Drake describes some of the sounds of this "wheezing, gurgling metal" in his piece about the Prague postal system for BusinessWeek:
Back in the dispatch room, meantime, a blinking red light indicates another incoming missive. As the canister approaches, there's a faint bumblebee drone, then a louder, higher-pitched buzz, then a satisfying thwack as the package drops into its padded receptacle. From the bowels of the earth below comes a drawn-out gurgle, not unlike the flushing of a distant toilet.
It seems however that pneumatic systems can be a little too noisy. Ever since the 1980s, engineers have tried to find ways to stop containers arriving in pathology labs with a thud, by controlling airflow, and slowing down containers for a soft landing at its destination.

More recently, the SwissLog's Whisper Receiving System reportedly "responds to market demands by significantly reducing the noise that occurs when a pneumatic tube carrier arrives at a PTS station". Their re-engineered product includes an energy absorbing landing ramp and cushion, allowing it to be installed in "noise sensitive" areas of hospitals.

As I wrote in an earlier post, pneumatic tube systems are considered by some as contributing to the noise pollution in hospitals. The whispering canister technology certainly ties into the increasing focus of hospital architecture on therapeutic environments which promote healing through quietness, pleasant colours on the walls and green spaces.

The messiness of hospital practice however can't always be reduced to a whisper. One wonders whether we really need to do away with the thuds and thwacks of pneumatic tubes or whether these noises might in fact serve a function?

Monday, September 5, 2011

the final days of our medical museums?

Following the surprising news earlier this year that the Boerhaave Museum is on the brink of closure, another medical museum, the Medizinhistoriche Museum in Berlin, threatens to close.

Image from the Medical History Museum, University of Melbourne.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

underground explorers

Rosalind Williams describes the underworld as a technological achievement. In Notes on the Underground she writes that the descent below the earth's surface was a quest for scientific truth and technological power. The subterranean world of modern industry began to be built in the late 1700s in the form of canals and railroads. The second stage came in the last half of the nineteenth century with the creation of networks to support this industrial metropolis: sewers, subways and lines of communication.

"As Mumford pointed out in early drafts for Technics, in the nineteenth century city planning began to involve not only the disposition of the surface but also an 'underground system of functions [that] form as it were the physiological apparatus of the new city ... the modern city plan involves a co-ordination of the super-surface city with the sub-surface city.' As some more recent historians of technology say, the modern metropolis is a 'networked city'" (p52)
As an example, Williams writes that Paris developed "a system of multipurpose underground galleries", large enough for other networks to be suspended from the roof of the sewers such as water lines, gas lines, and of course, pneumatic tubes (p72). Tourists came to see these spaces, 'les egouts de Paris' being recommended in Baedeker. Similarly, modern day urban explorers hunt around the pneumatic networks and underground infrastructures of cities, marvelling at the technological achievements of the past and present, tourists of subterranean wonder.

Image from manu_le_manu's Flikr album.

Friday, August 5, 2011

DIY pneumatic tube system

First there was steampunk, then there was biopunk, and now there is vacuumpunk:

For the less successful skittle experiment, click here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

experiments in bacterial communication

Another post not strictly about pneumatic transportation, but on a topic that is closely (or perhaps more tangentially) related if we think of the ways in which pathological samples are networked around a hospital as a form of communication.

This is a piece of embroidery by Anna Dumitriu. Anna is interested in the borderlines between art and science, such as this example of bacterial communication, tracing the movement of bacterial cells on pieces of linen and lace. She is the director of the Institute of Unnecessary Research and is an artist in residence on the Modernising Medical Microbiology Project at Oxford University. Her exhibition of these exquisite embroideries opened on Saturday at R-Space, in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. The exhibition also includes other microbiological crafts such as:
"A large-scale collaborative crochet based on the bacteria from the artist’s own bed, an indigo blue coloured patchwork stained with MRSA bacteria grown on chromogenic agar and patterned with clinical antibiotics and other tools in the research and treatment of this disease, [and] a Whitework embroidered lab coat patterned with images of bacteria and moulds found on it"
Despite my interest in science, medicine, art and craft, I have not always been a fan of bioart, finding many works disengaging. This exhibition caught my eye however, not only for its melding of embroidery and microbiology (see my fascination with this in a previous post here and here), but also because of the beauty of each piece, and the curiosity the artist invokes in the viewer.

If you miss the exhibition you can always settle for the catalogue, available from Blurb.

Friday, July 29, 2011

a postmaster's apology

Recently I sent a letter to a friend in Amsterdam, only for her to receive it with mysteriously charred edges. A previous letter had arrived with some of its contents missing. There is definitely something odd going on with this line of postal communication!

It seems almost impossible sometimes to work out where postal damage has occured, with so many stages of the journey from when a letter dives into the postbox to when it slides through a mailbox slot.

In the days of pneumatic tube mail transportation, mishaps also occured, and love letters would go missing, postcards sent to the wrong address and blockages and leakages cause postal disorder. Traces of these accidents are evident in some pieces of mail, including this postcard:

However, hopefully the recipient was consoled by this wonderful, polite apology from a Boston postmaster:

Postcards from stampboards

Friday, July 15, 2011

love underground

Jennifer Ouellette has just added a new book to my reading list in her blogpost on pneumatic tubes for Scientific American. It's called The Downsiders by Neal Shusterman. Who can resist a tale of underground romance?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

pneumatic tubes in portland(ia)

Only in Portland(ia), at the Discovery Space, could toddlers "feed tennis balls into a pneumatic tube, play with Legos and get personal with live reptiles".

Friday, July 8, 2011

travelling post

A British travel company recently found that only 15% of travellers who completed their survey, sent postcards when on holidays. Eight years ago The Telegraph reported the death of the postcard when only 30% of surveyed travellers said that they didn't send postcards anymore! So for the pleasure of those who, when in faraway lands, love finding the perfect postcard, crafting a message, queuing with locals in postoffices, pouring over stamp possibilities and hunting down postboxes, here are some pneumatic-post-themed postcards, from times when travellers were never too far from their fountain pen:

Images from Postoffice Postcards, Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City and Active Social Plastic.

Friday, July 1, 2011

catching a blue

Today I received a knock on my door and a colleague, Joeri, kindly handed me some papers. It wasn't pneumatic post, but close to it: Molly Wright Steenson's article on the Poste Pneumatique in the latest issue of Cabinet Magazine.

Molly Wright Steenson, otherwise known as girlwonder, is a Architecture PhD candidate at Princeton University, and previously known for her Ignite video on pneumatic tubes. Her article, Interfacing with the Subterranean, provides a meandering journey through the historical sewers of pneumatic engineering in Paris and other cities in Europe (such as Marseilles, see above).

In the article she discusses various workers associated with delivering the
petit bleus, such as the petit facteur télégraphiste (telegraph delivery boy) and the tubiste (postal worker), as well as the sounds and obstructions in the system which I will explore further in future posts.

Towards the end of the article, Steenson puts forward her argument: the pneumatic tube system in Paris was both circulation and respiration for the city, and that as such was regarded as part of healthy progress. She writes (p86):
"The pneumatic tube network is a system that breathes, eats, circulates, fires synapses, and excretes; its structures are lungs that store air, pumps that move their charges, circuits that fire electrical impulses, devices that read them, mouths that swallow, and cloacae that expel"
I like this cyborgic corporeal-mechanical image, which resonates with my own way of thinking about pneumatic tube systems. I can't help but think of the wonderful images of Fritz Kahn, aesthetic master of the machine-body metaphor. I wish every knock on the door came with such inspiring post!

Image from Wikipedia.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

italian notes on the pneumatics

Post from Italy ...

Images from a wonderful webpage entitled "alcune note sulla 'posta pneumatica'" (which I only wish that I could understand without the the morphing mediation of google translate), and a recent holiday in Sicily...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

de la Poste

A must-see on a recent trip to Paris was the Musée de la Poste. Having been enticed by my brother-in-law-to-be's photos and having just missing out on seeing pneumatics at the Palais de Tokyo, I was waiting in anticipation for some time for this visit!

After having our tickets stamped at an vintage post office booth we wandered through the many levels of the intriguing museum. We threaded our way through postal technological history, and then saw what I had been waiting for - the tubes pneumatique:

Little scraps of leather and glass and metal from the system in a cabinet. While it was difficult to get a sense of the vast underground labyrinth from the display (although a map did help), the objects gave the network a materiality, imbued with a sense of the many connections made by pneumatic post.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pneumatic Tube at BASF 1916

BASF recently posted this picture on their Flikr account. Pneumatic tubes, whilst famous for their mail systems underneath cities, were often used, and still are, for internal communication within companies. Seems a rather quiet picture, although I am sure that this sunny morning was far from it!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

signs of tubes in berlin

As I mentioned in a previous post, I visited Berlin recently and was looking out for signs of the rorhpost. Here is a glimpse I found in the Museum für Kommunikation Berlin:

Like in the museum, the tubes are fairly hidden, and take a little bit of searching out, but there they are all along ...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

the last letter

I saw this letter, sent via rohrpost, at the Jewish Museum in Berlin last month.

Here is the tragic story of this piece of mail, transcribed from the museum text:
"Martha Liebermann, the aging widow of painter Max Liebermann, who died in 1935, wrote this letter to a family friend on March 4, 1943: "Dear esteemed Mr. Alenfeld, I am totally flustered! The bank did not even pay the small amount I requested. Were it not for a friendly visit, I would not have any money at all! Worse still, everyone is frightening me with their talk of deportation! I eagerly await your arrival ... Please, please answer me, gratefully yours, Martha L."

But Erich Alenfeld arrived too late. Just before Martha Liebermann was to be taken from her apartment the next morning, she took an overdose of the barbiturate Veronal"

Monday, May 2, 2011

rohrpost easter

Over Easter my husband and I went to Berlin, home of one of the largest pneumatic dispatch systems (rohrpost) in the world. We found evidence of this history in the Museum für Kommunikation Berlin, a rather quirky place, with a dark little basement crypt dedicated to their treasures, including the capsules below (with more photographs soon).

I looked everywhere for evidence of the old system on the streets or in buildings but could not find it. Does anyone know were to find reminants of the old postal pneumatic tube systems in Berlin, Paris or any other city? Perhaps we could have found some signs if we had taken a tour run by the Berliner Unterwelten E.V: Society for exploration and documentation of subterranean architecture ...

Friday, April 22, 2011

coffee and chocolate

Coffee and chocolate go so well together that I thought this fantastic pneumatic tube system rigged up at The Roasting Plant in New York City would be the perfect image for Easter.

According to a New York Magazine article on the store, the tubes, where "beans dance overheard" are meant to "minimize the time and distance between roasting, grinding, brewing, and drinking". When it comes to coffee, time certainly matters! This is the kind of technology which I can see would also find a perfect place in my old hometown Melbourne, where everything to do wtih coffee is now well and truly science.

Happy Easter!

Pneumatic tubes bring just roasted coffee beans into their respective tubes., originally uploaded by Curious Expeditions. See here for more pictures of The Roasting Plant:

Monday, April 18, 2011

breathing new life into history

I received this announcement in my inbox over the weekend, which is seems to be some kind of good news following the the bad news for medical historians last year:
"Dear MEDMED-L Colleagues,

Many of you may have heard last year that the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine in London—which was tied to University College, London—was shutting its doors. I've now learned that the Centre has been given a new lease on life, but with a much more circumscribed mandate. It will be tied not to the History faculty at UCL but to the the Biological Sciences Division of the Faculty of Life Sciences. Its focus will be solely on the history of the neurosciences "and related fields."

You can find the new director's announcement at this link:"
On another historical 'note' I have added a new book to my reading list after learning that Rosalind Williams will be receiving an honorary doctorate in the Netherlands soon:

I have never read any of Rosalind Williams' work but am looking forward to a book about "real and imaginary undergrounds" from a historian "who uses imaginative literature as a source of evidence and insight into the history of technology". I already like the choice of image on the front cover of her book - one of my favourite Andreas Gursky photographs.

Image from Rosalind Williams' website.

Friday, April 15, 2011

obscura tours 2011

Last week was the annual Obscura Day event. This is a chance to visit hidden and intriguing places, including, for the second year, a tour of Stanford Hospital's pneumatic tube system. Check out Piemouth's photos of the tour here. She writes:

"It was great! We got to see the control room where the engineers can monitor and track every capsule, and the machine rooms where the blowers that power the system are housed. Leander explained how the system works - and how it doesn't work when people do things like send a bundle of socks through the system"
Unfortunately Piemouth's images are copyright protected and I couldn't post them here, but have found this great (tangentially related) photo taken during an Obscura Day 2011 tour by Shawn Clover which puts a bit of steam into this post.

Steam Throttle, originally uploaded by Shawn Clover.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

of mauve ribbons, white wax and petit bleus

In a retelling of his romantic childhood fascination with Gilberte (daughter of the previously mentioned Monsieur Swann) Marcel Proust very beautifully unveils the hidden markings, the social relations, the meanings and the hope bound up in pneumatic correspondence:

"Another time, still preoccupied by the desire to hear La Berma in a classical play, I had asked her [Gilberte] if she happened to own a little book in which Bergotte talked about Racine, and which one could no longer find. She had asked me to remind her of its exact title and that evening I had addressed an express letter to her, writing on the envelope that name, Gilberte Swann, which I had so often copied out in my notebooks. The next day she brought me a packet tied up in mauve ribbons and sealed with white wax, containing the little book, a copy of which she had asked for someone to locate for her. 'You see? It really is the one you asked for,' she said, taking from her muff the letter I had sent her. But on the address of this pneumatique1 - which, only yesterday, was nothing, was merely a petit bleu which I had written, and which, now that a telegraph boy had delivered it to Gilberte's concierge and a servant had carried it to her room, had become this priceless thing, one of the petits bleus she had received that day - it was hard for me to recognize the insignificant, solitary lines of my handwriting under the printed circles apposed to it by the post office, under the inscriptions added in pencil by one of the telegraph messangers, signs of actual realization, stamps from the outside world, violet bands symbolizing life, which for the first time came to espuse, sustain, uplift, delight my dream" (The Way by Swann's, Penguin edition translated by Lydia Davis, p406).

1. pneumatique: express letter sent by pneumatic tube. This delivery system existed in Paris as late as the 1970s or 1980s; as the telephone system was very slow to develop, casual appointments were made and messages transmitted by pneumatique, also known as a petit bleu, literrally 'little blue'. (The Way by Swann's, Penguin edition translated by Lydia Davis, p446).

Image from active social plastic.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

pneumatic cloc post doc

Does this post-doc interest any pneumatic technology lovers?
"The Geography Department of Royal Holloway University of London, are seeking to appoint a Post-Doctoral Research Assistant to work on an AHRC-funded project, ‘Pumping time: geographies of temporal infrastructure in fin-de-siècle Paris’. This is a project about the histories, geographies, cultures and politics of pneumatic clocks as urban temporal infrastructure. The post is based at Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL). The successful candidate will have experience in archival research, and will be expected to undertake archival work in London and Glasgow libraries. Proficiency in French is also required. The appointment will be for a fixed period of 12 months starting from October 1st 2011. Salary is £32,106 per annum inclusive of London Allowance. Informal inquiries regarding the post can be made to Dr Mustafa Dikec at Further details and an application form are available to download at or by contacting the Recruitment Team by or tel: 01784 414241 Please quote the reference: X0311/6294 Closing date: 12 noon 3rd May 2011 The College is committed to equality and diversity, and encourages applications from all sections of the community."
I have to confess that I had to google the pneumatic clock. I found out from Watchismo Times that the thermo-pneumatic clock works as following:

"At the lower left, shielded by a translucent housing, is a carbon rod resistance that heats the colored alcohol in the glass vessel just above it. This causes some of the alcohol to vaporize, the pressure pushing the liquid up the connecting pipe to the vessel at top right. As the latter gets heavier the wheel bearing the four vessels experiences a torque that rewinds a remontoire spring driving a conventional gear train and escapement. This clock has a pendulum-controlled escapement, but models with balance wheel escapements also existed."

As for the larger clocks in cities, a Nature article from 1880 reported that:
"To distribute the time with accuracy and uniformity in a large city is a problem of great utility and extreme importance. This problem has been all but completely solved by the pneumatic clocks erected since March last in the principal streets of Paris and among a considerable number of subscribers, who, for a halfpenny a day, receive dials with pneumatic receivers established in the public streets and in private buildings."
How curious! I am definitely keen to learn more, and will have to follow the work of this post-doc project closely. Will the wonders of pneumatic technology ever cease to amaze?

Image from Watchismo Times via Boing Boing.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

dusty digital archives

Some of you may have been reading texts from the Internet Archive for some time (my brother-in-law sent me a wonderful link to a Kite book several years ago), but I have recently rediscovered this amazing resource after receiving this email in my inbox:
I work with the Medical Heritage Library and I was hoping to be able to bring our resources to the attention of your discussion list by having the MHL included in your list of Web resources. The MHL is a collaboration of major research libraries in the United States, including the Francis A.Countway Library of Medicine, the National Library of Medicine, the Columbia Library of Health Sciences, and the College of Physicians in Philadelphia. We digitize and make available through the Internet Archive ( a wide range of materials pertaining to the history of medicine, including texts on military medicine, general surgery and surgical history, spiritualism, sanitation, hygiene, tropical medicine, medical jurisprudence, psychology, gynecology, phrenology, crimes, criminology, electrotherapeutics, climatology, and homeopathy. (For a fuller list of topics, go here:!) -Hanna
Although searching through these archives did not have the same feel as winding up the stacks or dusting off marbled covers, with a few strikes of my keyboard and a couple of clicks I found a treasure of publications about pneumatic tubes.

These time-worn digital books included the facts and general information relating to pneumatic despatch tubes of the Batcheller Pneumatic Tube Co., a report of the Postmaster-general to Congress relative to an inviestigation of pneumatic tubes systems for delivering mail and a brailed, stamped copy of the concise treatment of the principles, methods and applications of pneumatic conveyance.

The Internet Archive is certainly a site to linger and travel back to. In fact you can travel back, way back, in time using the marvellous
WayBack Machine, which I have been using for my research. Beware, this is a site to get lost in for hours!

Images from The Pneumatic Despatch Tube System.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

tubes for drella

This week I went to see a great dance performance by Scapino Ballet called Songs for Drella, which was a tribute to Andy Warhol. The reason I mention this is because of the presumedly little known fact that Warhol was a fan of pneumatic tube systems.

A lover of "good plain American" food, who believed that "progress is very important and exciting in everything except food", Andy Warhol once helped design a restaurant which served homely comfort food (i.e. re-heated frozen dinners). Called the "Andy-Mat", the restaurant (which never eventuated), was going to include a system where customers' orders would be sent to the kitchen via pneumatic tube.

This seems a rather progressive way of ordering un-progressive food! The un-realised system sounds like a precursor to the digital hand-held ordering machines now used regularly by waitresses.

Photo and quotes from "Restaurant-ing through history" blog of Warhol and his partners, [standing L to R] architect Araldo Cossutta, developer Geoffrey Leeds, and financier C. Cheever Hardwick III.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

smart houses

Last week I read about smart houses designed in the 1980s. The houses studied by Anne-Jorunn Berg were prototypes designed by international electronic corporations as innovative homes of the future. These houses had motion-activated light control systems, washing machines that signaled on the television screen when the washing was ready to be moved to the dryer and a vacuum cleaner programmed to stop when the doorbell rang.

Berg argues that these houses were designed with no notion of housework in mind, that women’s housework skills were entirely neglected as a design source. However she also points out that technology’s impacts are not entirely determined by designer’s intentions, but is rather open to "interpretive flexibility".

I couldn't help but think when readign of this of the interpretive flexibility taking place in the 'smart house' in Jeffrey Eugenides' novel Middlesex, where the protagonist's brother has a lot of fun with a pneumatic door system.

The family moved into a house designed in 1909 in Middlesex, filled with glass walls and intercoms. The author writes: "Middlesex! Did anybody ever live in a house as strange? As sci-fi? As futuristic and outdated at the same time? A house that was more like communism, better in theory than reality?"

By the time the family moved into the house in the 1960s "you might speak into the kitchen intercom only to have your voice come out in the master bedroom. The speakers distorted our voices, so that we had to listen very closely to understand what was being said, like deciphering a child's first, garbled speech". The architect, Hudson Clark, didn't believe in doors and instead the house was installed with "long, accordian-like barriers, made from sisal, that worked by a pneumatic pump located down in the basement". Pretty soon the brother tapped into the pneumatic system in the basement and spent hours sending a Ping-Pong ball around the house through the network of vacuum cleaner hoses.

I think that there is a lot of interpretive flexibility taking place with pneumatic tube systems wherever they are found. Lunches are sent between hospital departments, secret notes tucked in capsules to plan rendez-vous, and many other interpretations of the technology taking place everyday. A great example of this creativity can also be found in the Heineken commercial ... see this post for video.

Image is from this Heineken commercial. See also this great image of smart doors too in the MOMA collection.

Berg, A-J. (1999). A gendered socio-technical construction: the smart house. In D. MacKenzie and J. Wajcman (eds), the Social Shaping of Technology, pp 301 - 313. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

long live lovely long sentences

Short is sweet. Tweet is short. Contemporary communication is all about brevity, as Jenny Cool writes in her recent Savage Minds post. But what about the wondrous, locaquious, seemingly endless enjoyment of a lovely long sentence?

In celebration of the long sentence, here is one I came across in the book I am reading at the moment, The Way by Swann's by master of the long sentence, Marcel Proust, so please stay with me, there are pneumatic tubes mentioned at the end (and also for your reference, the sentence follows a brief passage concerning Monsieur Swann's tortured struggle between playing hard to get and his desperation to see the the vixen Odette).

"And yet at this point a slight irritation or physical discomfort - by inciting him to consider the present moment as an exceptional moment, outside the rules, one in which even common wisdom would agree that he could accept the appeasement afforded by a pleasure and allow his will, until it might be useful to resume the effort, to rest - would suspend the action of the latter, which would cease to exert its compression; or, less than that, the memory of something he had forgotten to ask Odette, whether she had decided which colour she wanted to have her carriage repainted, or, with regard to a certain investment, whether it was ordinary or preferred shares that she wanted to buy (it was all very well to show her that he could live without seeing her, but if, after that, the painting had to be done all over again or the shares paid no dividends, a lot of good it would have done him), and like a stretched rubber band that is let go or the air in a pneumatic machine that is opened, the idea of seeing her again would spring back from the far distance where it had been kept into the field of the present as an immediate possibility" (p 309, Penguin edition translated by Lydia Davis).

Friday, March 11, 2011

wiki who?

For a long time Wikipedia has been treated by academics with some scorn, lecturers crossing out students' Wikipedia references in essays with enthusiastic relish. It seems as if it is becoming increasingly difficult however for even these tireless teachers to deny the ubiquitous nature of Wikipedia in our lives. Nonetheless, academics, scientists and other 'experts' still contribute very little to this project ... and Wikimedia wants to find out why, in this anonymous survey (with more background here).

In my field, Science and Technology Studies, there has been much dismantling of the boundaries of expertise, and questioning of the kinds of categories that Wikimedia is using to distinguish between contributors. Even so, their survey raises the interesting subject of who contributes to Wikipedia, from where, why, and so forth. This is a topic which the
Digital Methods Initiative in Amsterdam is studying with vigor (for example see this project about Wikipedia as a place of controversy), and the topic of an upcoming paper I am looking forward to by René König at the Participatory Knowledge Production 2.0 workshop at Maastricht University.

So I wonder, who contributes to the Wikipedia entry about Pneumatic Tube systems? What are their motivations, their connections, their interests? What sources are they drawing from? Why are some images included and not others? Why is the popular culture section much longer than the historical section? Have you contributed to this page? If so why, and if not, why not?

Stereoscopic image by Prof.Dr. Nemo Klein.Gelegenheitsbenutzer at de.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

pneumatic tube classic of the week 4

Pneumatic tube classic and love letter classic from the romantic adventures of Antoine Doinel ... (see my previous post about the pneumatic tube scene).

Image of Baisers Volés from LYW's Flikr photostream.