Thursday, April 8, 2010

Banks ‘suck’

Oh I’m so sorry to engage in yellow journalism by drawing you in with a sensationalist headline. Ordinarily I would self-edit especially when utilizing such teenage vernacular, however today it just seemed to fit perfectly. I am not actually unhappy with my bank at all, as I was referring to those ancient but efficient pneumatic carrier tubes at your typical bank’s multi-lane drive-up teller bays.

As any kid with a straw knows, the physics here is not that earthshaking, yet I have always been fascinated with the function of those pneumatic tube systems. I guess it harkens back to my dreams and wonderment when Star Trek’s crew would dissolve upon transporter pads and instantaneously show up unharmed somewhere else. I watched this tube delivery process again recently while the bank prepared some documents for me. The cylinders holding checks and bank slips would fly into the tellers workstation, then just as quickly back out to the cars with cash or receipts. It is all so fast, magical, and seemingly flawless. Most people associate the process with a vacuum (ergo the “sucking”) but in fact, most tube systems function through a series of compressed air BLOWERS and diverters to get the job done.

I hailed down a bank manager and pointed to the tube system and asked “ Do they ever get stuck?” He said “they do” from time to time, but “never anything that a full load of heavy coins can’t shove out”. I commented that the basic principle of operation had not changed in forty years and he quipped that the bank’s technology ‘felt’ that old sometimes too.

When I returned home, I researched the history of pneumatic tube transport technology. I was surprised that the first ‘modern use’ pneumatic delivery system in the U.S. was documented in 1940. However, the idea of transporting humans in a subway of sorts went back to 1865. The genus of the modern ‘cash carrier’ using compressed air to move the tubes, was patented in 1875 by D. Brown, and later perfected by an inventor named Martin for widespread use in 1882.

Today pneumatic tube transport technology is alive and thriving in the computer age. Specialty firms such as PEVCO exist only to help large organizations design and maintain computerized blowers to move documents and material that weigh as much as 6 pounds and at a remarkably fast 17 miles per hour. So the next time you are banking, shopping at a warehouse club, or visiting a sick friend at a major hospital, look around. You may really love and appreciate all of those institutions but now you can declare with confidence -“they DON’T suck, but boy do they sure BLOW”!

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