Friday, January 31, 2014

wikipedians working on the tubes

One of the most popular websites for pneumatic tubes must surely be Wikipedia - it certainly comes up as number one on my Google searches. While information on Wikipedia was once scorned as inaccurate, nowadays it is increasingly becoming the "go to" site for most people who want to find information on anything. Indeed research has shown that Wikipedia is not significantly any more inaccurate than the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Because of the work of many editors and bots, the information can be considered thoroughly reviewed, with errors supposedly picked up very quickly. So, who are these people "behind the scenes" of this ubiquitous internet site?

Early wikipedia adopters were mainly an elite group, however since 2006 the number of novice users increased steadily, gradually forming a Wikipedia community. Sociologists such as René König and Christian Pentzold have studied the practices of Wikipedians very closely, if you are interested in learning more about them. Their work led me to wonder who might be the pneumatic tube Wikipedians?

I have found one so far (and would love to know of any others out there!): Lyle Zapato, who writes about his additions to the pneumatic tube Wikipedia site, on a co-authored blog ZPi (see also his Inteli-Tube Pneumatic Tube proposal). On ZPi Lyle Zapato talks about clarifying ambiguous statements and adding pictures. He also moved a misplaced paragraph and created a separate section on pneumatic tubes in fiction. 

For those interested in the backstage of Wikipedia you can see the Pneumatic Tube page in process by comparing L.Z's original fiction paragraph to the one now on Wikipedia, which has been expanded by other pneumatic enthusiasts to include works by Umberto Eco and Douglas Adams, as well as references to Ghostbusters and videogames. For an even sneakier peak behind the scenes check out the "Talk page" (that other little clicked tab on any Wikipedia article) to see discussions about terminology, better references, and keeping the fiction section to wikistyle.

Monday, January 27, 2014

radio day

It is that time of the week for some pneumatic distraction. A good old fashioned radio show this time. Via soundcloud you can listen to Roman Mars interview Molly Steenson about pneumatic tubes on the San Francisco radio show dedicated to design, architecture and the built environment, 99% Invisible. It is a great radio documentary on the topic, with sound recordings of tubes, sitcoms and trash disposal.

In the show Molly Steenson ponders on why pneumatic tubes are so magical and suggests that they inspire wonder because they feel as if they are alive, extending breathing electrical tentacles through the city. They feel a lot bigger than we are she further suggests and most romantic of all, if you scent a handkerchief through the tubes, it would still smell like you.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

pneumatic poetic

Nostalgic memories of pneumatic tubes in department stores in Edinburgh have inspired a recent poem by information designer and artist Steve Smart. Called 'The Divvy' the poem appears on his website 'Subjects, Objects, Verbs'. I highly recommend reading this wonderful poem for a sensorily rich evocation of the "secret innards of Co-Op central", also known as the "limbic original intranet of things".

Saturday, January 11, 2014

pneumatic dispatches for 2013

2013 was another wonderful year of pneumatic discoveries, marking the fourth year of this blog. A highlight was certainly my tour of the Hortig pneumatic tube factory in Bayreuth Germany, documented in a series of posts about the beginnings of the adventure, the workshop, sounds of the factory and the testing room (with more posts from this tour possibly to come). I also had a fantastic tour of a Melbourne Hospital pneumatic tube system, and others also had tours of pneumatic tube systems guided by Atlas Obscura.

Another exciting moment in 2013 was being interviewed by Jacob Aron for an article in New Scientist about pneumatic tube systems. His article was published around the time that pneumatic tubes made general news, when Elon Musk announced his intentions to revolutionize transport with his Hyperloop system. Many reporters compared the Hyperlink to pneumatic tube systems (although it somewhat different, it is in a tube). Fans of pneumatic tube systems were aware of course that this is not such a new idea, with VacTrains and Atmospheric Railways previously capturing the imagination of engineers.

Last year saw a few art installations such as PNEUMAtic circUS, a networked postal art project curated by Vittore Baroni, and the basement oracle in Madison Central Library, as well as DIY projects such as one cool dad's home built pneumatic tube system for tooth fairy transportation. I also attempted the beginnings of a list of pneumatic tubes in fiction, which I updated as the year progressed, sometimes finding mention of the tube in surprising locations (Mr Ian McEwan). More detailed posts were written about Fahrenheit 451, The Atmospheric Railway and The Innocent.

There were also posts throughout the year about pneumatic tubes in newsrooms, dancehalls and cafes. And finally, who could forget the unfortunate Tesco's duty manager who got his arm caught in the supermarket's tube system, not the first it seems, with others also finding their limbs sucked into a pneumatic system.

Image my own from fieldwork in Melbourne, Australia.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

i love you tubes

It's back to work this week, so if you are like me you might be in the mood for a little light entertainment while at the computer (and you can learn about how capsules move in a pneumatic tube system at the same time!):

Video of David Cross loving the tubes, from Just Shoot Me!, from YouTube.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

hacking into the system

Standing out amidst the 3D printers and other technological gadgets, pneumatic tubes made a splash at the Chaos Communication Congress held recently in Hamburg. WIRED's article, How to send Estonian Vodka through the Pneumatic Internet reported on the Intertubular Pneumatic Packet Distribution System which was installed by hackers in the conference centre.

This system was inspired by the Octo project which I have reported on previously (above), which in turn was inspired by the Rohrposts of the past. "Occasionally emitting a buzz as something whizzed overhead", the Hamburg system had 15 switching points, creating a network of glowing capsules which no doubt kept hackers amused during more intense discussions of terrorist surveillance.

Image of Octo used with permission from the PNEUMAtic circUS Flikr page