Pneu. Ma. Tique.

Thus uttered Antoine Doinel in Truffaut’s film “Stolen Kisses” as a farewell letter to Madame Tabard is shussh-ered off through the Parisian pneumatic tube postal system..

Just enjoyed a coffee and reading Molly Steenson‘s article called Interfacing with the Subterranean on pneumatic tubes infrastructures in Issue 41 of the lovely, always diversely curious Cabinet Magazine. A nice little read on a system we’d now look on as antique, baroque and not just a little bit steampunk-y. That’s her up top sharing with me some of the very intriguing primary research she’s unearthed as she drops-gear and toe-and-heels the turn into the final lap of her dissertation Grand Prix race.

Aside from being still perplexed at how this proto-type internetwork of connected *tubes actually was able to route things hither-and-yon over cities and all such — I find it fascinating that versions of the hardware stack continue to exist in various ways. There are intranets within buildings still. The intriguing aspect of this is the material form that is rhymed (not perhaps on purpose or by design) by the networks electronic of today. Those guys standing around in the rooms receiving and continuing the little chariots of messages are little routers and TCP/IP compliant protocol handlers, one could think.

Why do I blog this? To capture a small historical scrapnote on the always constantly prototyping mechanics of communication that humans perform. This was likely perceived as wondrous, high-technology in its day. I’m surrounded this week by the hubris of high-technology prototyping, creation and thinking. Not all of it wondrous. Some of it down-right silly. Words like “engine” and context and gobble-dee-gook engineerig-y semantics make a hash of what the utterer may think of as perfectly reasonable sentence structure and syntax. I can’t tell verbs from nouns when I hear about context engines deciding that I’m in a meeting and little “agents” squirreled away on the chipset in my hand decide to book lunch but not before my chipmunk agent grabs an auctioneers gavel and let my local restaurants bid for he pleasure of my ordering a sandwich. I don’t believe this is an interesting future. There are others. More whimsical. More fun. More pneumatic.
Continue reading Pneu. Ma. Tique.


An intriguing juxtaposition between machine and this unusually emotional sticker, desolé drew me in. At first, looking at this scene in the Underground City of Montreal network — a hybrid space that occupies many square blocks underneath the city and consisting of mostly retail spaces interconnected with tunnels and escalators and subway train stops — I was drawn to the sprout of infrastructure awkwardly placed in the midst of an area where people approach a ticket booth to purchase tickets or make inquiries and so forth.

This box was just sprouting like a weed in the middle there, clearly the result of either a system upgrade which required some additional infrastructure, or perhaps it was always there of necessity and was built around. Either way, it’s undesigned because it takes into account only the functioning of the infrastructure and not people and the ways they participate in the network of underground flows. Sure, it’s absolutely instrumental and utilitarian, but there is where the design component leaves the solution. Without thinking about people, you have a bunch of boxes and wires that makes the engineers proud, but forces the machines, as in this instance, who participate as social objects always and never just as instrumentalities, to plead to the people who must walk around it — sorry. I’m really sorry that I have been introduced as a nasty, sharp edged box right in the midst of your path. I can only imagine the flows here during a busy morning or evening commute!

With this post, I introduce a new category — Undesign — to capture the observations I come across in which instrumentality and the lack of people-thinking is so clearly the guiding principle of the object or activity that I need to annotate and continue to work through my thinking about design and people and their relationships.

Continue reading Apologies