Blog archive March 2006
wifi is radio waves. and radio waves propagate out into space.
was in my local organic food shop/cafe having a coffee and the owner said hi. so i asked him about wifi, and he said no although he'd looked into it, and we then had a fascinating conversation about why not:
1. commercial wifi costs a lot more than domestic
2. the cafe makes its money by catering to the lunchtime rush. if the tables are already occupied there is a problem.
3. the people who buy one cup of tea as a pretext and then stay for hours - in particular students of which there are many in ealing. they're not consuming enough to cover the costs, especially if customers who'd spend more go elsewhere because they can't get a seat. apparently this is already a problem for the cafe. free wifi would make it worse.
4. students [again] doing online gaming - in ealing they'd be the ones flocking to anywhere with free wifi rather than eworkers.
what it comes down to is property values. a cafe in london has to make a lot of money, ie have a high throughput of sufficiently paying customers. the thought had occurred to me in austin, while sitting in large cafes in the centre of town only ever half-full - they couldn't afford such low occupancy in london.
he didn't rule wifi out - he'd looked at it five months ago and had decided against it then, but things change. he'd need to be able to eject people for the all-important lunchtime period, maybe by turning it off between 12 and 2pm. we talked about the chicken-and-egg cultural aspects - he thought the situation could change very quickly in a kind of tipping point of work culture and domestic wifi becoming ubiquitous. once it's nothing special it's easier to offer without being rushed by the wrong kind of customer.
i mentioned that in shoreditch it seems to be bars/pubs offering free wifi. and we wondered whether in england they would be the places for this. they're established. they often have room. it's acceptable to spend hours in a pub drinking relatively little, because pubs have traditionally had a home-from-home function. and the smoking ban coming in from next year will literally change the atmosphere - until now you wouldn't have wanted to risk your lungs or electronics by a regular long stay. he reckoned that a lot of cafe owners should be worried about the new food and drink smoke-free pub if they start to offer good coffee as well.
so there you have it from the horse's mouth.
1. lots of customers required to pay the rent
2. the kind of people who can spend hours in the cafe are probably not people who will spend money - until the work culture changes.
i hope i haven't made him sound like a hard bastard, he's genuinely interested but the economics of being a small operator don't allow certain things. and he's had a hard time with some of his 'customers'.
forgot to take my goat card when i called at progreso today. instead of giving you a free coffee when your card is full, they put it towards goats for families in africa. 24 completed cards buy a whole goat. whenever an individual card is completed they put a chunk of goat on the magnetic goat picture in the cafe.
..y'know, this is where the churches in england could really clean up. just do the coffee/plugs/free wifi thing and see people spend hours in church.
and to log on you generally have to go via a browser page and click something. so make the browser page a tract. add checkboxes to a prayer of commitment and make people click through them to get online. accept salvation, get wifi.
maybe it could be set up to reject windows users...
oh, and there's that little button at the bottom of the page. 'submit' or 'save'. don't know how to do preview though. a challenge for web designers.
...but i notice continued growth in internet cafes. this looked like a dying genre a few years back. what i surmise from this is that:
1. a lot of people [still] don't have computers at home
2. a lot of people [still] don't have laptops at work or home
3. a lot of people in london are immigrants or transient foreigners keeping in touch with home [and also 1 and 2]
4. everybody uses the internet nowadays even if 1 - or even if they don't use computers at work either eg the guys digging up the road outside my office
trying to continue my american experience, i am searching for cafes with free wifi in shoreditch/spitalfields [apart from the big chill bar].
but when i google 'free wifi shoreditch cafe' i get myself complaining about absence of same, in some internet feedback loop. plus this from tim harding in 2004:
Austin spoiled me rotten for free wireless Internet. London provides nothing even resembling free WiFi at any venue I've attended...
part of the problem, i think, is that london [britain] is a bar/pub culture not a cafe culture. and the ethos of bars and pubs isn't about working quietly during the day over food and drink. it's about getting noisy and social away from work. even so you'd think that the first place to offer good coffee/free wifi/long hours would clean up in a place like shoreditch, because people would leave their offices and work there. maybe it's a chicken and egg stasis, whether the venues or the work culture comes first. maybe the catering trade round here is in the hands of the wrong people - pub chains. commercial volume-oriented cafe chains. sandwich bars for the lunchtime trade. greasy spoons.
but having tasted a more civil way it's hard to go back to the evil mutually-creating twins of crap office and pissed pub.
was just investigating/amused by the blog of jonathan grubb who sat next to me on the sofa at fray cafe. we didn't say much to each other, it was too noisy and i had just been pissed off by one paul d smith who had bounced up to us shouting questions and declaring that he was drunk - not a good way to introduce yourself to an introvert in a room full of strangers.
really it would have been a good idea to have investigated all the people one was going to run into so that one had something to say and a better impression of them. rather like greenbelt, where you find out what you've missed by reading the programme afterwards. also like greenbelt, i suspect that if you go every year the problem goes away, or it ceases to be your problem.
home again, momentarily bewildered by the absence of wifi [although it's not really necessary when you're a metre from the router]
[and i hate the american use of the word 'momentarily' to mean 'in a moment' rather than as the adverbial form of 'momentary']
the ususal parade of bills. council tax up 4.7% for next year partly to pay for the 2012 olympics. nicer things in the post: howies catalogue, onboard magazine, sas membership card.
tomorrow afternoon i go to lee abbey in devon to do two seminars on alternative worship for a URC ministers' conference. have been working on it in austin. i'm struggling to find a complete narrative thread - there's too much stuff in too many directions to make a linear presentation. maybe that's part of the point.
or t-shirt slogans.
most poetry is just incomplete sentences
CHIPS ARE NOT FOOD!!
[that's US chips ie english crisps. they serve them with everything here as if they were food. but in england they are a party snack or for children. not food!]
y'know it's sad to be leaving town just as i know and am known. the barista at little city knew what i wanted this morning. the breakfast came with extra fruit. this is the kind of city where you can become a regular quite easily. it doesn't seem to happen in london, except for the wrong reasons like there's nowhere else to go. we don't have time to hang out. there are too many places to hang out in. there are too many people passing through. unless you meet deliberately you don't see your friends even though you all live in the same part of town.
of course it would help immensely if places in london had free wifi. because then you could actually do things. i notice that people use their phones a lot less here, but laptops a lot more - maybe one is compensating for the other. people are networking by whatever means - but the laptop & wifi allows you to do a wider range of things. and less obtrusively. i haven't heard a single loud mobile phone conversation here. people aren't walking down the street yap-yap-yap tap-tap-tap.
after hanging with dan hughes and his children in bookworld, chuys tex-mex restaurant:
then to 20x2 - twenty speakers, one question, two minutes. i'll tell you the dead whore joke later.
now we're in the spider house again. it's cold for the first time here. my battery is flatlining and daniel [at work, above] wants to go indoors. goodnight.
finally after several years of searching i've got 'moominpappa at sea'. see old blog entry for context. this is the holy grail of moomin books - the one i hated as a child because it was so alienated, and now i really want to read it. it seems to be out of print in england.
but i do find it vaguely creepy that my long-lost children's book has a review by the christian science monitor on the back cover.
cool blogger sticker for our laptops.
last night: fray cafe - open mic, tell a true personal story in 5 minutes. the live version of the long-running site. trouble is, site is better than live. something to do with editing. also the proceedings were rather dominated by a bunch of people who all knew each other/were famous to each other. bit like church events. but some of the stuff was good.
daniel wasn't going to speak. then when we'd seen the first three he put his name down. sadly the event ran out of time just when his was the next name on the list.
keeping austin weird... the people passing dressed for a toga party. nobody knows why. the guy that just came in the cafe with the silliest hair - zoot suit, spiv moustache and slicked-back hair tied up in two big girly bunches. i've seen much silly hair but this simple gesture somehow beats them all. the average looking guy with the bushy beard and the red minidress. nobody acts surprised. declaring a place weird acts as a licence/neutraliser, like a party or festival. just don't try weirdness outside those containers.
the happy bullets last night. enjoyed it, bought the cd. 60s-inspired indie pop. they make a great racket for five people.
am waiting for the video footage off my phone to show up in my mailbox. i find phone messages to email tend to get lost at random.
dan hughes joined us for the evening, a pleasure to see him again.
bar camp in the afternoon. couldn't think of enough tags to write on my pass at the door. emerging church and architecture, but i didn't want to be limited to those. i had to go and look at my 'about' page to remember what i'm interested in. my blog is external memory. a mcluhanite extension of self.
one passer-by to another last night:
"...well my ancestors came over here to... fuck it! rape and pillage!"
just bouncing off adam greenfield's 'nomads against our will' [hope to meet him here tomorrow]:
the city provides spaces where people are free to destroy themselves and others, as the price of genuine newness and becoming. in that sense it resembles eden.
if eden had been suburban... discuss.
so here i am, sitting on the floor of the conference centre foyer with daniel. there's no shame in impromptu blogging here [look! those guys just couldn't wait to blog! they couldn't even go find a seat!] our room in the hilton doesn't have free wifi, which in this town and at this time is a sin.
i'm not willing to pay the $300 for registration [and that just for sxsw interactive - add another few hundred for the film and music festivals] - everyone else is paid for by their business - so the foyer will be as far as i get.
at little city congress 9am to wake up after breakfast. same couriers are there. the geeks are talking mountain bikes too. there's a definite commonality - all that technical stuff, increments of performance to obsess over, obscure but cool brands. but it contradicts the stereotype of the overweight mouse potato. these are thin fit geeks.
i can't write this morning. can think. thinking's cloud. writing's linear.
in other news, daniel arrived last night for sxsw and is of course still asleep.
spent much of the last two days at little city on guadalupe st - see first march 7th photo below. today i am at the other one on congress avenue which is the central street of austin. just as guadalupe is the students' hangout [laptop city] congress is the downtown cycle couriers' hangout - they come and go, wave at passing friends, mend a tire, return a couple of hours later. it's interesting to be in one place long enough to observe its life, because a short visit would only show a few cyclists among the office workers.
above, a 'dillo' [short for armadillo] passes. these are free buses in streetcar style joining the tourist attractions. several middle-aged people came past on segways - there are segway tours of central austin - but i wasn't quick enough with the camera.
am in the spider house garden now, on the seats central distance in the picture, watching the lights come on at dusk, waiting to meet some people who run a church in austin. they saw that i had blogged about being here on the grace lent blog, and emailed grace to contact me! i am suffering from jetlag though - my body says it's past midnight.
am in austin texas again. yesterday was a long day - up at 7am to catch a flight from gatwick at noon, 10.5 hours to houston, just enough time to get through the post-9-11 US immigration controls and catch the connecting flight. they really are going to have to space flights farther apart now - if anybody gets searched they miss their connection. austin 1825 local time, but that's half past midnight by my body clock. by the time i check in, get a meal, go to bed it's 4am for me. this is where my capacity for staying up late and sleeping it off serves me well.
it's 25C here and humid. low at night is 18C. brought my summer clothes but should have dressed for the gym. possibility of a storm - heavy cloud, wind getting up. walked up through the state government complex and the university before the heat of the day. the texan symbol is, of course, the 'lone star' - but surrounded by a wreath, repeated small and large on rather fascist-looking state buildings, it looks like communist china! some kind of irony here...
so now i'm in a cafe on the main student drag alongside the university of texas campus. finding my places, this is one i like.