Monday, December 23, 2013

cabaret capsules

In an extravagant dancehall in Berlin, amidst water features, dance floors and big bands, it was once possible to send notes and gifts (there was a menu of 135 gifts you could send) to fellow revellers by pneumatic post. Somewhat more romantic than the pneumatic delivery of burgers and chips that I wrote about last week, the Resi Rohrpost seems to have been the making of one or two liaisons, fuelled by German wines and jazz.

In response to a recent blogpost in Cabaret Berlin about The Resi, a series of war veterans comment about their fond memories of the dancehall and their pneumatic encounters. One Army Lieutenant exchanged messages in 1956 which he still had in his possession - notes from table 448 to table 482 for example, between the Lieutenant and Blue Color, whom he danced with that night. Another visitor to the dancehall met a "beautiful German lady" who had sent him a note by the tube asking him to rescue her from a blind date.

Coincidentally I happened to be reading Ian McEwan's book The Innocent when I read this blogpost, which has a passage where the protagonist visits a nightclub in Berlin with other British servicemen. There is a wonderful scene which takes place in what I now realise is The Resi. Leonard has descended with a few others via a small lift into the then dark bar, with its grand unlit chandeliers and gilt-framed mirrors. Over Russian champagne, the story's protagonist reads a pamphlet attached to the menu, written in "clumsy print that swayed and danced". The pamphlet welcomed visitors to the Ballhouse of technical wonders, with "Modern Table-Phone-System" and "Pneumatic-Table-Mail-Service", posting "every night thousands of letters or little presents from one visitor to another" (pp 33-34). Soon Leonard receives a message of his own (pp35 -36):
As the mermaid shimmered to the front of the band and the cheers rung out there was a harsh rattling at their table as a canister shot down the tube and smacked against the brass fixture and lodge there. They stared at it and no one moved. 
Then Glass picked it up and unscrewed the top. He took out a folded piece of paper and spread it out on the table. 'My God, ' he shouted, 'Leonard, it's for you.' 
For one confused moment he thought it might be from his mother. He was owed a letter from England. And it was late, he thought, he hadn't said where he was going to be. 
The three of them were leaning over the note. Their heads were blocking out the light. Russel read it aloud. 'An den jungen Mann mit der Blume in Haar.' To the young man with the flower in his hair. 'Mein Schoner, I have been watching you from my table. I would like it if you come and asked me to dance. But if you can't do this, I would be so happy if you would turn and smile in my direction. I am sorry to interfere, yours, table number 89'.
Romance blossoms between the woman at table 89, Maria, and Leonard - later on they return to The Resi and drink Sekt to toast their first meeting - Maria wants to sit apart and send messages through the pneumatic tube, but there are no vacant tables. They have a second bottle of Sekt.

Built in 1908, The Resi was in its heyday in the 1920s. The venue closed in 1939 but was recreated in 1951, rohrpoststation and all - it is this recreation that Leonard visited. Sadly the building was closed and demolished in 1978.

Image from Cabaret Berlin. See also a great postcard from The Resi on the Buispost site.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

that's what I call table service

A cafe in Christchurch soon promises to become very cool. Is it a new way of serving drip coffee? No. A new single origin blend? No. You guessed, it, it is all about pneumatic tubes. This cafe, C1 Espresso, not only already offers what Andy Warhol once dreamed of - sending customer orders to the kitchen by tube - but is promising much more: delivery of your order, directly to your table, by tube.

For now the cafe owners describe sending miniburgers by tube but one can imagine a whole host of different spherical food items that could be sent to customers' tables by the pneumatic system: pancakes, muffins, clams, poached eggs, bowls of ice-cream ... the list could be endless - and no problems with food getting too cold, or too warm, it is there in seconds! Just hope for a soft landing.

Monday, November 25, 2013

virtual cabinet of medical materials

There is a new website which might interest those readers of this blog who are fascinated by medical materials: Commonplaces. The website is part of the blog Somatosphere, and describes itself as: "itemizing the technological present: A series of short entries from scholars on the classical and contemporary sites in medicine and science". Their aim? To produce a "collaborative cabinet - on that is less a coherent collection than a series of interruptions in the white noise of the technological present".

Promising entries include: the needle, the patent, the pill, the white coat, the chart and trash. New entries should appear on Mondays. A nice way to start the week!

Photo my own, from fieldwork in Melbourne (Brownless Library).

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

microscopic crafts

A Saturday shopping adventure in Melbourne with my friend Mimi brought us to a cabinet of medical curiosities, tucked away in the magical Nicholas Building. Anno Domni Home is filled with sculptures which celebrate the beauty in the macabre. My favourite, some petri dishes of micro-organisms, made from hospital blankets.

There are also embroideries, felted body parts and other stitched objects which will fascinate anyone with a medical or scientific interest. Considering that Mimi and I bonded in medical school over dissection classes, sewing and imagining microbiology lecture slides as fabric patterns, it is no wonder that our wanderings brought us to this crafty cave. Watch out for an exhibition next year by this clever artist.

Image from Anno Domini Home blog, used with kind permission of Andrew Delaney.

Friday, October 25, 2013

invisible tubes

It is amazing how well pneumatic tube systems can be camouflaged: they are the embossed wallpaper of hospital ceilings and walls, there only if you look for them. I have spent three and a half months now in a hospital in Melbourne doing fieldwork about listening and sounds in medicine (see more details here). It seems I have had my ears out more than my eyes! For it has only be recently that I've spotted evidence of the hospitals' pneumatic tube system, in the emergency department.

A few emails later and I am being taken on a tour of the system by Scott, Operations Manager in the Pathology department. Scott takes me into the central pathology lab first, the hub of the system, where specimens are delivered and processed. As we talk a few capsules come flying in from ED. That is one point-to-point track in the system, the other heading to ICU and the private hospital. Someone is there nearby to organise the capsules, empty their contents and send back the tubes to where they came from. This system is all about pathology - no medical records or pharmaceutical items are transported.

The tour continues and we visit the plant room, walk corridors with tubes overhead, and visit the outpatients' department and the haematology department. In the haematology department, blood products, requests, visitors and capsules whizz by. As a trauma hospital, this lab works 24/7, the capsules arriving day and night, needing urgent attention. The outpatients' pathology department is less frenetic but no less busy - as many as 150 - 200 blood samples can be taken here a day.

We walk back to Scott's office and talk over some plans for future pneumatic tube systems in the new pathology department in the hospital, and the challenges of integrating systems from different hospitals, some quite some distance away. The plans are at the concept phase, the system one of possibility at the moment. I leave the pathology department and follow the corridors back to the main entrance. This time the sounds I pay attention to are not the coughs and beeps, but rather the rumble of pneumatic tube capsules overhead.

Photos are my own.

Friday, October 18, 2013

fairy deliveries by pneumatic post

NPR reported recently on one very cool dad who made a pneumatic tube transportation system for sending teeth to the tooth fairy. See the video here. I love that a second-hand iphone is used for the sending station. So many fun possibilities from this!

Friday, October 11, 2013

pneumatic tube factour tour part three: testing room

Time to return to our tour of the German pneumatic tube factory. We have left the workshop and now enter the showroom and testing room. The showroom takes up one side of the room and the testing room the other. The rooms are completely interlaced with a web of pneumatic tube systems.

Along the walls are an array of different sending stations, with bottom loading, top loading and front loading mechanisms. Some have baskets below, with pillows in them. There is a desk with two very large computer screens, one showing the journeys of tubes, the other looks to me to be utterly indecipherable code. Tubes cover the ceiling and it is hard to see where one leads or another, like a mathematical puzzle in pale purple plastic. 

One of the engineers takes me to a sending station and sends off a tube. He puts in a capsule and it whizzes off – then there is a click – he is waiting for this, and the tube is returned – he says that the click tells you when to expect the tube back. My host Karin tells me that the showroom is used to show clients what they could expect from a model, what features they may want. The systems can be tailored to the client's request. 

There are many different systems in this room, which can be tailored in order to meet the material and social conditions of their new home. It is fascinating to see all the tubes and systems on show like this, and all the tinkering that takes place, by the engineers and others on the factory floor.

Next instalment of the tour: pneumatic tube maintenance.

Photographs my own.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

new article on newmatics in new scientist

The front cover of the latest New Scientist proclaims the end of infinity, and in smaller font, that "vintage postal pipes make a comeback". Turn to page 36, or sign in online, and you can read Jacob Aron's great feature about pneumatic tube systems.

Fittingly the article begins in a windowless room in a London basement. At first, we are not told where this basement is - it could be anywhere in the city. The tubes are hidden, and that is the point. Later we find out that the basement is in the University College Hospital, and are told that hospitals are the booming market for pneumatic tube systems.

There are some terrific stories in the article, such as the one about the secret pneumatic message system between composer Guiseppe Verdi and Arrigo Boito, where notes about the opera they were working on were shuttled under the streets of Milan. Academic Holly Kruse is interviewed about the social impact of the tubes, and I had the opportunity to speak to Jacob Aron too (read some of my comments at the end of the article) and talk about this "antique messaging technology" made new again.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

elon musk's non-pneumatic tube

You've probably heard by now about Elon Musk's 6 billion dollar plan to whizz Americans from one end of the country to another by tube transport (read my previous post about it here). Here is the "napkin sketch" of the system:

And if you have read any of the media coverage, you've probably read something about pneumatic tubes too.

It seems that journalists can't help but compare the Hyperloop to pneumatic tubes, despite the engineering principles being quite different, and Musk's insistence that it works very differently to pneumatic tube systems. The Telegraph describes the Hyperloop as a modern day pneuamatic travel system, while The L.A. Times calls is the "equivalent of a 450-mile pneumatic tube". WIRED write that the engineering is similar to "old-school" pneumatic tube systems, and the Globe and Mail said the Hyperloop system was "not unlike the pneumatic tubes that transport capsules stuffed with paperwork in older buildings. In this case, the cargo would be several people, reclining for the ride".

Why do the comparisons persist? Well besides the obvious tube-like appearance of the transportation system, I think that these comparisons tie into a romantic notion of transporting people around the world like parcels and letters, by pneumatics. As I wrote previously, it is a science-fiction fantasy imagined by many entrepreneurs in the past, so a comparison to pneumatic tubes links Elon Musk to this lineage of great imagination.

His ideas certainly seem to have sparked the imaginations of many tech-bloggers and micro-bloggers who are already lining up for the first $20 ticket. For others though it has led to daydreams of times gone by, such as Paul Whitefield from the LA Times:
"I remember when we had pneumatic tubes here at The Times. We used them to whoosh cylinders full of important documents from the newsroom on the third floor to the composing room on the second floor. Quite often, they got stuck. People got paid to fish the cylinders out. One time, a fellow newsman tried to do the job himself. He got his arm stuck in the tube. So the people who got paid to fish the cylinders out had to fish him out too. It's just one more great thing about journalism that the Internet has killed".
Image from Twitter.

Monday, August 12, 2013

pneumatic tube factory tour part two: the workshop

I arrive at the Hörtig pneumatic tube factory on a hot day in June. The factory is in the outskirts of the German city of Bayreuth, which I reach by meandering past the city's opera houses and gardens. After waiting for several trucks to pass in the factory driveway, laden with tubing, I enter the building. I then meet Martin, the owner of the company, and my warm host for the morning, Karin.

Karin works in quality assurance, a job she tells me about over a hot chocolate, in the staff kitchen and dining area. After I finish my drink, Karin takes me on a tour of the factory. We enter the factory floor first of all. There is a quiet, subdued sense of industrious work in the workshop, with the faint sound of a saw or drill coming from a nearby room. A smell of grease or oil gets stronger as we step further into the workshop.

At one bench, a man sits painting parts of tubing with grey paint, using a small paintbrush. He works by himself, and has about ten parts in front of him. Behind him there is a large wall of little drawers of hardware; screws and other pieces needed to assemble the tubes, all neatly labelled and ordered.

Karin and I head further into the workshop, passing apprentices at various workstations, working with electrical parts, learning their craft. In a glassed-off room a large machine methodically cuts out pieces of grey plastic - perhaps this is the sound I heard earlier. The room is very neat, all the tools arranged carefully.

It is a privilege to be allowed access into the heart of this pneumatic tube factory, to be allowed into the workshop, and see the German craftsmen at work. There is a lot to take in, the sounds, smells and sights of the tubes being built, by machines and by men. There is a craft tradition here I am only vaguely aware of, and techniques and tools that I do not understand. Yet already this tour is telling more more about pneumatic tubes than I could have imagined. The next blogpost will take you further into the factory, this time to the testing room floor.

All images my own.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

pneumatic sounds

Some pneumatic tube sounds from my factory tour:

Sending ...

And receiving ...

For some other wonderful pneumatic tube sounds listen also to the Buispost blog.

Friday, July 26, 2013

pneumatic tube transportation, or the love of technology

The dream of tube transport is still alive. This time it is an American entrepreneur, Elon Musk, who has indicated plans to whizz travellers around in a tube. According to the WIRED/CNN article where I read this news, Musk's intention is to "revolutionize transportation" in the U.S. Called the "Hyperloop" the system is described as being "similar to the old-school pneumatic tube systems" but more complicated, more like "a cross between a concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table". The system will be combined with magnetic levitation, and be built either above ground or under water, both being a major infrastructural challenge.

This kind of idea isn't new of course. VacTrains have captured the imagination of engineers and science-fiction writers for over a century. In real life there has been the Atmospheric Railway which I blogged about recently and perhaps most famously Alfred Beach's NYC system, both of which failed to fully eventuate.

So why does the idea linger? What brings entrepreneurs to tube transportation decade after decade? Do we now have the technologies to support this idea, or are we destined for another Beach system, another ARAMIS? Either way, it is always about a love of technology ...

Read about Beach's pneumatic tube transportation dream here (NYC subway essay) and here (Joseph Brennan's wonderful online book).  

Image from, transportation of the future.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

officially secured

Several years ago I posted about a postmasters' apology, documented in a ready-made sticker designed for when any errors in pneumatic tube transport occured. Such stickers are still in circulation for when mail is damaged, as evidence from the this delightful piece of mail which arrived for me from Exeter the other day ...

Image my own.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

pneumatic circus

I have covered various artistic interpretations of pneumatic tubing systems before on this blog, as well as museum displays for children, but I have just been told about one of the most imaginative, interactive and creative pneumatic tube artistic installations yet: PNEUMAtic circUS.

PNEUMAtic circUS was a networked postal art project curated by Vittore Baroni, music critic, "explorer of countercultures", and avid activist for mail art, in collaboration with Tatiana Bazzichelli (sociologist of communication with interest in hactivism), Jonas Frankki (designer responsible for Berlin collective Telekommunisten) and Mauro Guazzotti (leader of experimental noise/industrial band). It was held as part of the transmediale festival for art and digital culture, from January to February 2013 in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin.

The project involved one hundred mail artists sending in pneumatic post capsules with instructions and scores to be used by the festival visitors for actions and performances.

Artists came from sixteen countries. That is twice as many countries as arms of an octopus, the mascot for the project, also fabulously called P7C-1 Intertubular Octosocial Pneumatical Postal Network, with its tentacles of tubing spreading across the installation space.

You can find the gorgeous catalogue from the installation here (front cover below), with essays from the curators and many images too. The digital catalogue was unveiled recently in Viareggio, the launch marked by further pneumatic performances, with a workshop where attendees could create and transmit their own messages.

See also the website for more about the exhibition and a terrific "inside the OCTO" video.

Images used with permission from the PNEUMAtic circUS Flikr page.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

atmospheric stories

The Atmospheric Railway: New and Selected Stories, by Shena MacKay (2010, Vintage Books, London).

The Atmospheric Railway

The short story starts with Neville on a train. It is a Sunday night in January. Neville is a grandfather in a soft red jumper. He is remembering the weekend, and his adventures into researching the Atmospheric Railway. The adventures are started by the stories of his aunt, Florence. Neville and his sister Beryl only have faint memories of Florence. But they have found out, through her diaries, that there was a potential romance between her and Archie Erskine, who worked on the Atmospheric Railway. Here the train carriages connect, and we are told about Neville's fascination with Archie, and the Railway he worked on.

The reader learns about the various atmospheric or pneumatic railways of England, including Brunel's South Devon Railway, "which cynics referred to as his 'Atmospheric Caper'" (p14)"
"There were frequent break-downs, when third-class passengers had to disembark and push, but the chief problem again was the leather sealing valve, which deteriorated, and was eaten by rats. Constant replacement would have proved too costly. Neville realised that he was just a dilettante and that there existed a cyber community of troglodytes who were experts in the lost tunnels and rivers of England, subterranean trolls and elves inhabiting the ghostly pumping stations and engine houses of south London" (p14).
There is a reference to an excursion that Florence took on the Atmospheric Railway with her students:
"It cost sixpence a ride and she must have paid from her own pocket, Beryl said. Neville had not read it het but was looking forward to Beryl's photocopied version. The railway, propelled by a steam engine coupled to a fan 22 feet in diameter, ran through a tunnel 600 yards in length and 10 feet in diameter. The tunnel gradient was 1 in 15 inches, with a sharp curve ... There were thirty-five seats in the Atmospheric Railway's coach ... All the passengers must have shared the excitement, united in the democracy of novelty as they travelled into the scientific future" (p18).
Not everyone was travelling into the future though. In the story we read of male passengers who were left behind on the platform after they had got out to push flailing railcars. The story ends when the guard of Neville's train is also nearly left behind.

Image from Wikipedia.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

pneumatic tube factory tour part one: atmospheric beginnings

On the 13th June 2013 I was lucky enough to spend a whole day touring the Hörtig pneumatic tube factory in Bayreuth, Germany. I couldn't think of a better way to spend my holidays. I was like Charlie amongst the chocolate, eyes wide, glass elevators of plastic tubing all around me. This is how I got my golden ticket for the factory tour:

The first connection was made in a Thai restaurant in Exeter. The connection was between me, pneumatic tube enthusiast, and Christine, philosopher, sociologist and member of the Hörtig pneumatic tube family. While leaning over to dip my spring roll in sweet chilli sauce during a work dinner, I overheard my colleague Christine tell her neighbour about her family's business making and installing pneumatic tube systems. I almost dropped the spring roll. Many conversations ensued, and the seeds were planted for a factory visit ...

Exeter seems a perfect place for this story to begin, for it is the site of Brunel's pneumatic, or atmospheric railway. Inspired by Irish atmospheric railways, Brunel built a section of atmospheric rail between Exeter and Newton (Abbot) which lasted almost a year, from 1847 to 1848. Imagine buying one of the three shilling one dime tickets to board such a train!

Luckily there seem to have been windows, for this is one of the most beautiful sections of British rail, running along the coast between Starcross and Teignmouth. I travelled almost every day along this train line with my husband last year, as we commuted between Totnes and Exeter. Some days the sea would be roaring against the train windows, other days it was calm. It always changed colour. The water certainly caused havoc for maintaining seals in the vacuum in the atmospheric railway with the leather flaps eroded by salt.

The pneumatic train line is now long gone, although you can see sections of the track in Didcot Pathway, or visit the Atmospheric Railway Pub in Starcross. Or you can just take the magnificent, atmospheric, journey between Exeter and Totnes, and imagine the railway as it was, for yourself.

Image of a section of the South Devon atmospheric railway from Wikipedia, and image of Teignmouth sea wall from Barry Lewis' Flikr photostream.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

tube cam

While it has been a few months since I have blogged about pneumatics, they certainly haven't strayed too far from my thoughts - how could they! I've enjoyed novels and short stories about them, heard about fantastic pneumatic art projects, spent a day in a pneumatic tube factory and kept up-to-date with all of the latest hospital installations. Which means many interesting pneumatic posts to come, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, a video to share, posted by Exploratorium, called Science in the City: Pneumatic Tubes. It is a little documentary about the famous Stanford Hospital system which has inspired many creative adventures by pneumatic tube lovers. This one is special for its camera footage, dubbed by a commenter as "tube cam". The visuals and sounds are wonderful in this footage, which feels like a mix between a waterslide ride and an endoscopic exploration.

Still video image of inside a hospital pneumatic tube from YouTube, Science in the City: Pneumatic Tubes.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

caught in the tube but no 'arm done

I noticed the other day, for the first time (although I am sure that someone has told me before), that my local supermarket has Lamson pneumatic tube systems at the cash registers. It may just be the extreme weariness that overcomes me at the Albert Heijn but it shows you have to keep your eyes out for this technology!

Eyes out, but arms in! A poor Tesco's duty manager made news in Manchester recently because of an unfortunate incident at his pneumatic cash system. The young man's arm got caught in the tube system, suspended vertically for 30 minutes. The reasons the limb found it into the vacuum are unclear - perhaps doing some "maintenance work" on the tube? Fire crews came to the rescue and dismantled the tube, using a (pneumatic) saw to release the man from the contraption. Unfortunately for the red-faced duty manager, as it was a 24 hour supermarket the store didn't close during the fireman's efforts so there were plenty of spectators to enjoy the event.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

jetsons again

Described as the most Jetsonian of technological wonders, pneumatic tubes were the topic of the Smithsonian blog recently. Matt Novak described how pneumatic tubes appeared in a particular episode amongst a dazzling array of other futuristic technologies such as videophones, 3D TV, cleaning robots and moving sidewalks. All of these technologies he suggests, are "masquerading as scenery while they're in fact the star of the show".

This episode is titled Miss Solar System, and was aired on February 10th, 1963. It featured a horizontal pneumatic tube system with multiple points of entry and exit, which differed from the vertical systems used in previous episodes.

Image from the Smithsonian blog.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

in the newsroom

Julie Starr posted this wonderful photo from the New Zealand Herald Manual of Journalism, 1967, on her blog The Evolving Newsroom. It appears that accepting copy from the editorial department and sending galley proofs via pneumatic tubes was once a busy job for printers - I can see at least seven shutes!

Friday, April 5, 2013

basement oracle

Late last year an empty library was transformed into a free art/music event for Madison residents. The one day festival Bookless (see more details on the Library as Incubator Project site), celebrated many loved features of the old Madison Central Library including card catalogues and pneumatic tubes. The pneumatic tubes, pictured here in their former life, were turned into a basement oracle, delivering fortunes to Bookless visitors.

As messages are delivered from pneumatic pipes, they often appear to come from nowhere - an oldfashioned mystery - capturing the imagination of the public. My sister Chelsea will be writing a guest post for pneumaticpost on other ways in which pneumatic tubes have been used in museums, as ways of fascinating and engaging visitors.

Image of the pneumatic tubes in the old Madison Central Library from Madison Guy's Flikr photostream. See Madison Public Library's Flikr photostream for an image from the Bookless exhibition.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

waiting and watching some tubes

Waiting for a baby to come - image by Andy from a radiology waiting room, Panti Rapih Hospital, Indonesia.

Friday, March 29, 2013

sounding underground: a mutimedia experiment

The Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab has a very interesting online journal called Sensate: A Journal for Experiments in Critical Media Practice.

The website for the journal is beautifully designed, and breaks many conventions in regards to publishing (e.g. chronology of articles).

One of the journal's articles is about a topic that has often been discussed in this blog quite frequently - the underground, or more specifically in this case Sounding Underground.

The article by Ximena Alarcon examines underground life in the subways of London, Paris and Mexico City, using a collage of photographs, text and sound recordings, displayed in non-linear format using Zeega. Some of the screens work better than others (the screens with websites in motion are somewhat nauseating), but those that do work well (soundscapes and photographs in particular) give a colourful, cacophonous sense of underground life that would be difficult to achieve with text alone.

Image of Alfred Beach's pneumatic underground idea from InkBlueSky.

Monday, March 25, 2013

hospital design by doctor-architects: an exhibition

Readers of this blog may be interested in a new exhibition at the Osler Library in Montreal, Canada, about the contributions of doctors to hospital design. The exhibition is curated by Professor Annmarie Adams and showcases material from the library's architectural history collection. Alongside other themes, it examines the role of hospitals as tourist destinations, with objects such as hospital postcards and boardgames. Interestingly hospitals have now become a tourist destination for the retronaut, visiting pneumatic tube systems (see previous blog posts here, here and here).

The exhibitions runs through August 2013.
Architectural illustration by John Harris.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

pneumatic tubes in literature: the beginnings of a list

After writing numerous posts now about appearances of pneumatic tube systems in fiction, I thought it would be worthwhile to start a list of these books. Most books I have come across rather randomly, so if you can think of any others to add to the list please add them in the comments!

Paul Auster: Invisible
Edward Bellamy (1888): Looking Backward
Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451
Shena Mackay: The Atmospheric Railway: New and Selected Stories
Ian McEwan: The Innocent
Anne Michaels: The Winter Vault
George Orwell: 1984
Marcel Proust: The Way by Swann
Neal Shusterman: The Downsiders
Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse Five

Sunday, March 17, 2013

the sieve and the sand

It's Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and Montag is in the vacuum-underground with the Bible in his hands. He is in "a loud car with blaring advertisements for Dentrifice, a train radio which vomits a ton-load of music made of tin, copper, silver, chromium, and brass" (p103). The people around him are pounded into submission; "there was no place to run". The "great air-train" that they travel in, falling down its shaft into the earth, resembles their fall into a bookless-hell, where all thoughts are governed by those in power. As Montag rushes "through the dead cellars of town, jolting him, he remembered the terrible logic of that sieve ... there were people in the suction train but he held the book in his hands and the silly thought came to him, if you read fast and read all, maybe some of the sand will stay in the sieve" (pp102 - 103). He does read and he remembers.

Later Montag catches the air-train again. An old man talks to him and talks to him "as the train was sucked from one end of the night city to the other on one long sickening gasp of motion" (p133). The pneumatic tube is a nauseating, suffocating place in Fahrenheit 451, where those who ride it are merely being taken for a ride, unquestioning cogs in the system.

Image from American Buddha.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

another tour of the lost technology

For the second time, the public was granted an insider's peak into Stanford Hospital's pneumatic tube system recently, opened again for Atlas Obscura.

Retronaut Annetta Black reported on the tour of the system (and Gever Tulley kindly uploaded photos from the tour onto his Flikr site for sharing). Black describes Standford's tubes as quiet and efficient (although ear plugs needed!), and surprisingly common place. The report appears amongst a series of essays and photographs about pneumatic tubes on the beautifully designed Atlas Obscura website. Not surprising considering that the pneumatic tube system at the New York Public Library made it to the site's top ten most popular places for 2012, and as Black states: "for many retro-tech enthusiasts, pneumatic dispatch is the holy grail of awesome lost technologies".

Image from Gever Tulley's photostream.