Monday, June 30, 2014

the underwater tunnels

When travelling to Australia recently, Chris Gray from West Yorkshire, UK, was feeling homesick, and wanted to just "nip home". Inspired by Harry Beck's London map, he invented a global Underground network, which would enable travellers to move between countries, and traverse great bodies of water by zooming through tunnels.

This is not a new idea. Connecting countries, and indeed the world, by underwater tunnels has fascinated science fiction writers and engineers for centuries. Jules Verne wrote about underwater travel and underwater pneumatic tube systems can be found in the world of Futurama.

Less fictional, there is of course the Channel Tunnel, now star of a new TV seriesThe Tunnel. And more recently opened, is the much awaited and controversial Bosphorus Tunnel, connecting Asia and Europe. Crossing the Atlantic though has proved more difficult. In the Daily Mail report on Gray's fantastical global network, engineer Robert Benaim suggests that one solution to the perplexing puzzle of how to connect America and Europe, may be a floating pneumatic tube, similar to Elon Musk's Hyperloop. This sounds very similar to Futurama's underwater system, and those of Verne's novels. Once again, fiction and real-life blurs, in the wonderful world of pneumatic tubes.

Image 1 my own, under the Bosphorus one month after tunnel opens in Istanbul, December 2013 
Image 2 from Futurama

Monday, June 23, 2014

pneumatic pulled pork

From the reviews, C1 Espresso sounds like the kind of cafe which makes you want to live in Christchurch, New Zealand. Or at least to visit one day very soon. There seem to be so many fantastical details to this cafe it is hard to know where to start: bookshelf sliding doors; water out of a sewing machine; and from this year, burgers out of pneumatic tubes. I've written about this cafe before, but now I see that they have established a very special Pneumatic sliders menu.

How much more delicious could a pulled pork shoulder burger get, than when delivered to your table at 100 km/hr?

3 burgers and fries are $20. C1 Espresso is open 7 days a week, 7am - 10pm, Corner High and Tuam Streets in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Monday, June 16, 2014

pneumatic correspondence of note

The writers Franz Kafka and Max Brod were great friends. When Kafka died, it was Brod who ignored his request to burn Kafka's life's work, and had them published instead. The two communicated often, including by pneumatic post:

An instant message of its time, Franz was to meet Max with his interesting cousin that evening. A Paraguayan in Prague, and no doubt a lively evening ahead.

Note published in the book of Franz Kafka's correspondence entitled: Letters to Friends, Family and Editors (published 1977).

Friday, June 13, 2014

more tubes on display

Pneumatic tubes create not only wonderful museum exhibits, but also gallery installations too. The network of pipes have inspired artists such as: Yvonne lee Schultz, whose installation Thoughts was installed in the European Patent Office in 2004 (there are many fantastic pneumatic tube related patents in archives, in offices and online!); Serge Spitzer's Re/Search: Bread and Butter and the ever present Question of How to define the difference between a Baguette and a Croissant (II), which was shown at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, in 2010; and most recently, PNEUMAtic circUS's Octo, on display at the transmediale festival for art and digital culture, in Berlin in 2013.

Image of Serge Spitzer's installation at Palais de Tokyo.

Monday, June 9, 2014

pneu and old exhibitions

We can learn a lot about pneumatic tube systems from the material exhibited, and in the archives, of museums. Through such artifacts we learn about the materials used in these systems over time, about the ways in which they were mapped, drawn, and adapted by users. These materials also make great objects for display, offering lots of fun potential for inter-museum romances by post, and other correspondences.
Fantastic pneumatic tube content can be found in permanent installations in museums such as the Post and Tele Museum in Copenhagen, La Musee de La Poste in Paris, the Museum fur Kommunikation in Berlin, the Technisches Museum in Vienna and the Luftmuseum in Amberg. And in the Museum of London and York's National Railway Museum you can visit two original capsules from the London Pneumatic Dispatch Company.

There are many other science museums which also have small installations, some interactive, such as at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, where visitors can feed tennis balls into tubes and at the Museum of Science in Boston, where visitors can send magnetic "letters" by pneumatics. You can watch videos of visitors interacting with the system in Berlin here (including tube cam!) and another terrific one here.

Some museum workshops and exhibitions are more temporary. Several years ago I wrote about the Fast Trash exhibition in New York, which explored the fascinating story of Roosevelt Island's pneumatic garbage system.

A little further back, in 2006 the Smithsonian Museum had a Marvelous Ways to Move Mail exhibition, with the Missile Mail and Pneumatic Tubes activity, involving visitors building cardboard missiles (read more from the museum about pneumatic tubes here).

At the Australian Museum of Democracy, students learn about the Franklin River debate in Tasmania, through an interactive workshop which involves them sending a copy of a conservation act to the House of Representatives chamber through the museums' pneumatic tube system. The students love it!

For those interested in these kind of events, this summer in New Mexico, US, The Parachute Company will host hands-on workshops in libraries specifically about pneumatic tubes. Visitors will find a system of tubes, through which they can send their own messages in canisters. They will be encouraged to use a range of printing techniques to craft their messages, including cryptography. The workshop is designed to explore how networks work, through creative engagements with pneumatic technology. The Parachute Company organises these kinds of events for the public to explore and have fun with technology, art and culture. For more details of this and other workshops this summer, see the Hitchhiker website for New Mexico librarians.

Coming up soon: pneumatic tubes in art galleries
Images from Phanomenta Das Science-Centre, from Wikimedia and from pilot_micha's Flikr page.

Friday, June 6, 2014

tubes fit for a king

My favourite pneumatic tube spotter just sent me a preview for Kingsman: The Secret Service. Is that a luxurious pneumatic tube transporter hidden there?