Thursday, May 31, 2012

le bruit de choc

Paris in the 1890s, and a tubiste working in the Poste Pneumatique pulls a lever, cranks a steel door, exchanges cylinders and closes the door again. Sweat forms on his brow as he turns the wheel to create a vacuum and apply compressed air. He pauses to ring the bell so the next station knows of the coming delivery. A tubiste down the line rings his bell when he hears le bruit de choc as the tube arrives at his station.
This section of text, adapted from Molly Wright Steenson's Cabinet article, is filled with sound. The soundscapes of these brass-age pneumatic systems evoke the work involved in sending pneumatic missives underneath the city. These historic sonic delights are however considered pollution in many modern day hospitals, with an increasing call to 'turn the sound down' in clinical work spaces.
Swisslog have responded to this drive with their patent-pending Whisper Receiving System, which minimises noise associated with pneumatic transportation. Recently installed in the positively named Le Bonheur Hospital in America, the system is said to enable employees to concentrate better on the patient care requirements of the hospital. I wonder how the tubistes were ever able to get their work done with all of that cranking, clanging and bell ringing!

Image from Scott Kostolni's Flikrstream.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

winding sentences, text and tubes

Of a time when sentences where long, space mattered in newspapers, and pneumatic tubes ran under the city streets ...

From The New York Times, September 30, 1892.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

DIY pneumatic tube system

Last year I reported on some evidence of vacuumpunk, as video bloggers document their DIY pneumatic tube systems. Looks like its a movement!

This and other videos can be found here, on the Hallo Spencer Fanblog.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

embroidering anthropology

What is not to love about the gorgeous embroidered typography of this month's edition of the new online anthropology journal, Anthropology of This Century:

It is so nice when academia pays some attention to aesthetics.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

pneumatic tubes in literature 4

Two fantastic paragraphs from Slaughterhouse Five (p7) about the connections made between institutions, by the brass and velvet pneumatic tubes, sent to me by my brother-in-law Andy:
While I was studying to be an anthropologist, I was also working as a police reporter for the famous Chicago City News Bureau for twenty-eight dollars a well. One time they switched me from the night shift to the day shift, so I worked sixteen hours straight. We were supported by all the newspapers in town, and the AP and the UP and all that. And we would cover the courts and the police stations and the Fire Department and the Coast Guard out on Lake Michigan and all that. We were connected to the institutions that supported us by means of pneumatic tubes which ran under the streets of Chicago. 
Reporters would telephone in stories to writers wearing headphones, and the writers would stencil the stories on mimeograph sheets. The stories were mimeographed and stuffed into the brass and velvet cartridges which the pneumatic tubes ate. The very toughest reporters and writers were women who had taken over the jobs of men who had gone to war. 
For those interested in learning more about the Chicago Postal Pneumatic Tube Company, you may enjoy this thread on the Forgotten Chicago Forum, about the mysterious manhole covers in the city. 

Image of the Chicago Postal Pneumatic Tube Company from the University of Illinois Library.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

poetic medic stamps

The H-Net listserv recently posted the news of a William Carlos Williams commemorative stamp, and as both an important poet and doctor, I thought this deserved a mention here too. William Carlos Williams has been described by some anthropologists as a true ethnographer, in the way he observed about, reflected upon and wrote about his patients.

This commemorative stamp coincides with another stamp release in Australia, of well-known Australian doctors, sent to me by my mother.  

For those interested in medical philately, there is a specialist in the area called Fred Skvara, who writes articles in the newsletters of the Medical History Society of New Jersey, available online at Fred's next talk on medical philately will be at the Medical History Society of New Jersey's Spring Meeting, Wed. May 16, Nassau Club, Princeton NJ. For the full program,

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

pencils and post

In her essay, My Life in Pencils, Mary Norris describes her now obsolete job at The New Yorker, called collating, where she had to copy legibly all changes on a piece of writing (from editor, author, fact checker and proof reader) onto a clean proof page, which was then put into a cannister and sent, via pneumatic tube, to a higher floor where the changes were transmitted, by fax, to a printer in Chicago.

This leads her to ponder the pencil. It is a lovely little essay, in which the writer describes moving from a soft No. 1 pencil to a harder No. 2 pencil as feeling like she had a hangover. A party she attends is hosted by a sixth-generation pencil-maker, dressed "in shades of pencil lead". Not only does this piece refer to yet another use of the wonderful pneumatic tube, but it also lovingly celebrates another technology which is largely taken for granted.