Friday, January 28, 2011

new hospital news

Due to open this year is Qatar's largest and most modern healthcare facility: Al Wakra Hospital. The hospital will have the latest, "state-of-the-art" technology, and will be the first hospital in Qatar to have a pneumatic tube system. The pneumatic tubes will be installed along with "specially designed ceilings with sceneries of a blue sky and palm trees to create a pleasant atmosphere and give a psychological boost to the patients".

Other hospitals around the world are receiving new pneumatic tube treatment. Along with computer panels installed at the foot of each new bed, an ICU unit in West Virginia has also installed pneumatic tube systems, because "sometimes a couple of minutes makes a difference". New systems are linking clinics in Beloit Memorial Hospital and Beloit Clinic, in Wisconsin, and older systems are being upgraded in Geisinger Medical Centre, in Danville, Virginia. One new hospitals' renovation including a pneumatic tube system, in Gardner, Massachusetts, made one nurse feel as if she was "on an other planet". A little sci-fi futuristic utopia appearing in our hospitals perhaps?

Image from MedGadget.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

pneumatic tube map of the week 9

Google Map

Pneumatic tube map of various pneumatic tube systems and other important pneumatic tube locations located in Europe and North America from The Full Wiki.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

watch out mice!

I have covered a few imaginative uses of pneumatic technology on this blog: home elevators, the shweeb and more recently food transportation. But this one is rather special - a mouse trap! Here is the image of a pneumatic tube trap from Sandra Donoso's Mouse Hunt Flikr set.

If I was a mouse I would be pretty fascinated if I saw this contraption - looks a little less scary than her shrink ray trap or the little robots wielding kitchen knives!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

economical tubes

A recent article in The Economist highlights our continuing need to transport physical goods as well as digital information. A new version of an old idea on how to move things around efficiently? Pneumatic tubes of course.

Fascinating that pneumatic tubes are now catching The Economist's attention. No doubt this technology excites those interested in sustainable and cost-effective transportation of materials. It is a pity however that they had to refer to pneumatic systems as
an “extinct technology”, neglecting the many uses of pneumatic tubes in organisations all over the world in the last two centuries.

My own image of pneumatic tubes still in use in a Melbourne hospital, Australia.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I am currently working on a project about the future. This new research study in Maastricht is a sociological examination of direct-to-consumer genetic testing. This is a fascinating and emerging field, where individuals can find out about their susceptability for a range of diseases in their future. This is just one aspect of the technology - people can also find out about their ancestory lineage, have matchmaking genetic tests which promise a better sex-life and 'healthy children', or even have their cats and dogs genetically tested.

People want to know about the future for a whole range of reasons, often to reduce the element of unwanted surprise and master the unknown. It may also be that we are curious, and genetic testing is a new technology to be played with. I am reading a great book on this topic at the moment, called Insatiable Curiosity: Innovation in a Fragile Future by Helga Nowotny (recommended by a colleague). Nowonty writes that the shape, the content, the fullness of the future, and the images we construct of it, have significance only in the present. Some of us have a utopian vision of the future, for others it is dystopian.

The retro-futuristic representation of pneumatic tube systems is certainly often cast in a utopian light, although the bureaucratic monotony of the technology also has a dystopian air in works such as 1984 and Brazil. For those who are optomistic, Nowotny writes that “the space of the future is filled with new technological visions and highly promising mini-utopias that hold the potential to make life easier, better, and more beautiful”. This seems a wonderful description of how pneumatic tubes are often considered in hospitals, banks and homes. Pneumatic tubes have made their way into a number of futuristic scenarios, most noteably Futurama's Tube Transport System (for Futurama's best healthcare moments, see this Comedy Central post) and the Jetsons, as well as 1984 and Brazil. Whilst pneumatic tubes are often projected as something of the future, they are not new. The new is unknown, whereas the future, or our vision of it, often says much more about the present and the past.

Retro-futuristic images of pneumatic tubes have many traces of another era of technological advance - the industrial revolution. We can learn about this history, and much more, by looking at how, as society, we consider, represent, use and play with 'technologies of the future'.

Image from Vintage Culture.

Monday, January 3, 2011

memories of collecting

I used to collect stickers when I was a child, kneeling on asphalt at lunchtimes to swap 'furry ones' for 'shiny ones', 'scratch-and-sniffs' for those of my favourite cartoon character. I still have some of these stickers in an old lunch box. Stickers were also used in pneumatic postal systems, such as these from Berlin:

They look a little like stamps with their perforated edges. I loved collecting stamps too when I was a little older. My Canadian grandfather would send me miniature envelopes made from a clear waxy paper, filled with stamps from wonderfully exotic destinations. Some I was to keep and others were labelled in his curly, warbly writing with: 'for swaps'. Just like the stickers above, there have also been pneumatic postage stamps, as shown in a recent post, and also issued most famously by the Italian postal system.

I don't collect postage stamps anymore but seem to have a growing collection of rubber stamps for my correspondence. Rubber stamping is yet another way of marking pneumatic mail, and it was only recently that I wrote about franking stamps on this blog.

It should be of no surprise then that pneumatic tube systems have fascinated collectors for decades. Some may be serious collectors with rare stamps and vintage brass cylinders that fetch high prices on ebay. Others may just love collecting images of these systems on the internet. Collections are the archives of the curious, housed in cupboards, stamp shops, blogs, museums, galleries, sheds and shoeboxes. There is a superb exhibition on this topic at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, which I visited on the weekend. The exhibition emphasises not only the politics of collecting, but also that we are all collectors in some way ...

All images from Wikipedia