Friday, March 28, 2014

hospitals at night

Hospitals are one of those buildings that, like the patients inhabiting it, never really falls asleep. Around the clock there are blood samples taken, observations recorded, new patients admitted, emergency operations performed. Pneumatic tubes remain in constant use throughout the night, part of this nocturnal activity, moving matter around the place, part of the activity.

While life goes on in the hospital, something changes at night. I remember as a patient being terrified of the night-time, feeling so particularly lonely when the lights went out (but never all the way out). Sounds* play a part of this changed atmosphere. I have just finished reading Tom Rice's rich ethnographic account of sounds and listening in hospitals called Hearing and the Hospital, where he documents the nocturnal soundscape of this institution.

Rice describes how on the cardiothoracic wards at St Thomas' hospital, where he conducted his fieldwork, the lights were dimmed at around 9:30pm and there was a corresponding effort to lower sound levels. Nurses spoke in gentler tones to one another and to patients than they had during the day. Curtains were pulled in such a way that the hooks did not scrape too loudly along the rails. He also describes being a patient at night himself, hearing the distressing cries of an agitated patient nearby. The patient was given a sedative to help maintain calm, a form of what Rice describes as "auditory surveillance".

Pneumatic tube systems are also part of this night-time noise, as capsules rattle around into baskets on wards. Adjustments are constantly being made, in regards to new inventions and tinkering in the hospital, to make these systems quieter.

Night-time in hospitals not only sounds differently, but looks differently too. This week a photoessay that I worked on with Thomas Fuller about The Night-side of Hospitals was published in a wonderful journal called Places, in the Design Observer Group. The essay follows the traces of migrant doctors who are delegated to the margins of Australia's healthcare system, witnessing their movements photographically through a hospital at night. It was an absolute pleasure to work with the editors of the journal, Nancy Levinson and Josh Wallaert on this piece, and to see it published in their journal, which focuses on contemporary architecture, landscape and urbanism. The essay fits within their current interest on public-private spaces.

*On the topic of sounds I can't help but here also mention my collaborator on the photoessay Thomas Fuller's terrific recent series of blogposts on love your bicycle, about bicycle sounds, here, herehere and here.

Image by Thomas Fuller

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

stomach-churning trip through the shadows

Another addition to the pneumatic tube movie list, and perhaps the most stomach churning yet: The Shadow. In this 1994 film about a vigilante (Alec Baldwin) terrorising the underworld of New York City, it is only fitting that he uses an underground network in his quest.

In the film the pneumatic tube system is used by The Shadow's agents to deliver messages to a central source (pictured above). There is an amazing scene in the film, which you can watch on YouTube, which follows a message from its delivery in a mail slot in an unsuspecting looking door in an unsuspecting building, through its dizzying, leaf-rustling, almost invisible journey through the city.

Images stills from YouTube video mentioned above.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

youtube and the tubes

YouTube is a great place to find lots of material about another kind of tube; the pneumatic kind. This week an article I wrote with Susan Kelly and Sally Wyatt called "Autobiologies on YouTube: Narratives of direct-to-consumer genetic testing" was published online, in New Genetics & Society. You can find the article here, and if you don't have online library access to the journal, a post-print version on my page here.
For those with a good internet connection, the website is now a taken-for-granted way of uploading and watching videos posted by users of all different kinds for a range of reasons. YouTube is only beginning to interest social scientists, who are starting to explore the ways in which people engage with the media. I am starting to think about how this platform is used by those using, making, playing with pneumatic tubes. Initial searches for pneumatic tube systems on YouTube bring up many promotional videos, alongside cartoon segments, computer game tips, DIY systems and my favourite, tubecam videos. Here are a list of a few of my favourites so far (see also previous blogposts about pneumatic tube on YouTube here, here, here and here):

The Smithsonian Museum has uploaded some great historical footage of the Philadelphia Post Office.

Stanford Medicine video including spliced tubecam and footage of a canister being sent and received.

Molly Wright Steenson's Ignite presentation.

I'd love to hear if you have any other others to recommend.

Image from the Smithsonian YouTube. Thanks to Thomas for some of these links.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

political pipelines

Continuing with our current pneumatic tube movie theme, time for another spy agency, MI6, and the dashing James Bond. Its The Living Daylights, and Agent 007 has been assigned to help a defective KGB officer escape from a concert hall in Bratislava, in the then Czechoslovakia. What better way to do this than through a pipe.

Bond uses the Trans-Siberian Pipeline to smuggle his man, thanks to the help of a contact who works for the pipeline. To do so, 007 uses a cleaning capsule (otherwise known as a pipeline inspection gauge) specially designed by the Q Branch. The KGB officer is a bit hesitant about becoming a human specimen in the pipeline. He asks Bond how many times they've done this before - "Relax" Bond says, "you're the first".

OK, this isn't technically a pneumatic tube, but it looks so much like one! And it was too tempting to post this not only because of the current "gas war", but also because, well, it is James Bond and its not everyday that someone wears a tux when sending a capsule off through an international pipeline.

Images and information for this blogpost resourced from The Air Pump and James Bond Gadgets file in MyHavens.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

ghosts of pneumatic tubes past

It seems just that sort of week to continue on with the theme of movie posts, with Oscar antics not far behind us. For the last two weeks I have written about movies where pneumatic tube networks play cameo appearances hidden in the walls in office scenes. Time now to head underground, to one of the classic films of the late 1980s: Ghostbusters II.
In the sequel the busters are saving NYC (i.e. the world) yet again from those nasty ghosts. Their investigations lead them to bury beneath First Avenue. Suspended from a cable, Raymond is lowered underground through an air shaft. Soon he enters a tiled chamber, glowing pink. His flashlight zig-zagging around, he discovers that it is none other than a chamber of the abandoned pneumatic transit line. But that isn't the only surprise. Down below, bubbles the river of psychomagnotheric slime.

It is interesting to think about the different uses of these underground infrastructures over time, as often tunneling underground for one technology may be used for another in the future. In this case from pneumatic tubes to slime! Later on in the movie the Ghostbusters head further into the tunnels, following an old transit map. Read more about their adventures on the Ghostbusters Wiki, or click here for a Youtube of the section of GB2 where Raymond is lowered into the tiled pneumatic tube chamber.

Images from Ghostbusters.Wikia.