Wednesday, November 18, 2015

mecca's tubes

With millions of worshippers visiting Mecca every year, the Saudi government needed to think of a way in which to deal with the crowds and the material consequences of that many people, namely their rubbish. Scattered around the Hajj mosque, visitors will find 400 little holes where they can deposit their trash and have it whisked away by vacuum, underneath the holy site. Read more in WIRED.

Thanks Jess for sending me this link to this fascinating use of tubes!
Image used under Creative Commons lisence, from Mohd Rasim's Flikr page.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

a building corresponds

According to the anthropologist Tim Ingold, to correspond is to be human (from Allegra TV, Tim Ingold on the Correspondence of Lives):
"Human lives are carried on alongside the lives of beings of manifold other kinds: we respond to them as they respond to us. Lives, in short, are bound in correspondence, and this is what makes them social"
I can't help but have these words in mind when I read this article about the inter-office correspondence of post through pneumatic tubes, our lives intertwined with the network of tubes:

INTER-OFFICE correspondence is shunted about from one. floor to another with lightning-like rapidity, thanks to the pneumatic-tube system of transferring messages, recently installed in the new skyscraper of a New York insurance company. The various tubes shown in the photo below lead to different offices in the building. If a message from the fifth floor must go to an office on the twelfth, it is shot to the dispatching room shown in the picture, where attendants insert it in the proper tube and it is pneumatically delivered to its destination.

My thanks again to Patryk for pointing me in the direction of this article and the world of the Modern Mechanix, from where this image comes!

Friday, November 6, 2015

coping with demand

Pneumatic tubes made news recently in Montreal, as the system at the McGill University Health Centre suffered from an extremely high workload. CBC News reported that the tubes broke down repeatedly over the summer but that the system had now been tuned to cope with the amount of traffic passing through. It is during moments of breakdown that these infrastructures are made more visible, not only to hospital staff, but the public too; those hidden little doors and pipes that many barely even notice.

My thanks to Robert DeDomenico for permission to use his photos of a hospital pneumatic tube system in Vineland, New Jersey, US. Robert is the inventor of the innovative transport network for small loads that has resemblance to pneumatic tubes, CargoFish Physical Internet.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

fast frozen foods

In a chilling account of the American "coldscape" in Cabinet Magazine, Nicola Twilley informs her readers that more than three-quarters of the food consumed in the U.S is processed, packaged, shipped, stored and sold under artificial refrigeration. In a beautifully written piece she traces this coldscape encompassing your home refrigerator, shipping containers, cheese caves, meat lockers, cellars and biobanks.

There could have been another actor in this network, pneumatic tubes. In Long-Haul Trucking and the Technopolitics of Industrial Agriculture, 1945 - 1975, Shane Hamilton describes this possible alternate future, through the coldscape imaginaries of the 1950s; a time when frozen food and refrigeration was seen to revolutionise food disribution and turn vegetable and animal matter into "pure abstractions capable of being transported, sold, and consumed at any time or place":
For example, one agricultural economist, in a fanciful aside in a technical article in 1951, dreamed of a tunnel distribution system whereby homeowners would hook up their freezers to a pneumatic tube that would deliver packages from the frozen food factory on demand (H.J. Humphrey, Temperatures for Frozen Foods, Ice and Refrigeration 121 (August 1951): 52 - 58)"
As my friend Patryk, who sent me this gem, points out "unfortunately long-haul trucks won the competition with pneumatic tubes".

Thanks Patryk for the always fabulous and quirky histories of technologies you send my way, and Alex for the lend of her Cabinet magazine!

Image my own, from the Paris' coldscape underground.