Blog archive March 2006

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30.03.06 / 01 / alpha centauri

wifi is radio waves. and radio waves propagate out into space.

the first worship tricks have already reached alpha centauri. grace should be expecting researchers from further away than new zealand sometime soon.

26.03.06 / 01 / free wifi - the reasons not

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'.


A coffee shop in Portland, Oregon i visit whenever in town turns their free wifi off during certain hours during the week and on the weekends so as to accommodate customers doing more than drinking one cuppa joe. I enjoy having access to free wifi and make sure i spend more than enough to justify my time spent.

Sidenote: Spoke with someone yesterday at Starbucks here in Virginia about free wifi not being provided by them. She said Starbucks was stuck in a contract with TMobile before wifi became all the rage here in the USA. She said they are in works to provide it for free eventually. We shall see!


For any kind of business this is a pretty straightforward equation - "will wi-fi (free or otherwise) enhance my business?" (i.e. in most cases, make me more money?) If free wi-fi doesn't attract customers who will buy other things then it's already a dead duck.

Even with paid wi-fi, the Starbucks around here (mothership Seattle) are already uninhabitable for casual coffee drinking because of the 8 million people trying to sell more suckers on the latest pyramid scheme.

Starbucks is all about making money, so I really don't see them going to free wi-fi - what would be the business case?

A mixed paid/free wi-fi system based on typical store traffic could work in theory, but would be awfully frustrating from both a user and operator standpoint.

dave paisley

i guess in the end there's no such thing as free wifi, it's an illusion created by diffusing the cost across all customers, in the same way as the heating or lighting bill. which makes sense when said costs are basic to the operation of the cafe, without which nobody will come. wifi isn't considered to be in that category yet here - so the few individuals who want it have to pay up front. which makes it expensive or seemingly so - a few people bearing the whole cost - several pounds on the bill instead of a few pence on everything you consume. and you think, i've already paid for this at home, why don't i just stay there? i dare say we'd feel it if the people at the back of the cafe had to pay for the light they used and the people by the window didn't.

there's a social commons issue - the invisible cost that everybody bears because enough of us use it and/or it's felt to be a good thing. in austin free wifi is definitely part of the social commons - it seemed outrageous that the hilton charged when even other hotels didn't - in london it's a luxury, you want it you can pay for it mate ;/



daniel miller

i work in a locally-owned coffee shop (we roast our own coffee beans, too). i asked my boss why we don't have wifi. her response was very similar to the one you reported here. the thrust of her reasoning, however, was that she desires her coffee shop to be known as a place where you establish community via conversation & relationship. having one person w/ a laptop sitting at a table for four persons limits the number of potential up-close-and-personal relational interations.

the financial issue is also on the radar. one cup of coffee (or whatever beverage is purchased) spread over 3 hours whilst sucking away at electricity and wifi is not a smart business move.

there's a rather large company here in the states that offers "free" wifi at all locations: panera bread company. of course, they serve breads, pastries, salads, soups, sandwiches, in addition to the whole line of tea/coffee/espresso drinks. perhaps that's how they can offer it for free...?

adam feldman

Adam, i hear what your boss is saying, but my experience in the states is that most local coffee shops and bars, go figure, offer free wifi. Panera Bread is one of the only BIG businesses i know of that offer free wifi. if they are doing it, then i think Starbucks should too. Where do you live? I am in Richmond, VA.


adele, there's a relatively "new" coffee shop chain that offers "free" wifi. they're called port city java.

there are several local businesses here in baltimore that offer free wifi (in addition to panera). i can think of a pub, a cigar shop and a tire store (wha--?) off the top of my head. plus, all baltimore city/county libraries offer wifi free-of-charge. the coffee shop where i work is in an older part of town where rooms are really small. to have 2 or 3 tables-for-four taken up over a 2-3 hour period by 1 laptop coffee drinker would quite literally kill the business.

adam feldman

Very interesting points here. It is not always as easy as we may think. I would love to see more coffeeshops with free wifi. They are definitely a reason for me to choose this shop over an other. But I do understand the reasons for not providing one.

johannes kleske

I think free WiFi is definitely the way to go - and not in the future, but now. You can go to a Starbucks and have the chess players using the big chairs. That's OK with me. I gave up on Starbucks for other reasons; the biggest one being Panera. More comfortable, more room and free WiFi. When you log on they have an interesting portal that says in essence that you are welcome to stay as long as you like and enjoy it, but please be mindful during busy times and use a smaller space. Win-win. I set up our cable internet at our church with WiFi, and orinted it towards the parking lot so people can duck in for a quick connection. Our parking lot is the last good mobile signal spot before it drops off close to the river. Why not offer more than what people expect? We already had it, so it seemed like a no-brainer to be kind and share it. WiFi is meant to be free.


Our new cafe offers free wifi anytime... and a great cup of coffee. Thanks for all your helpful thoughts on church and cafe over the past couple years. Great stuff.

Steve, too bad we're in Canada - otherwise, you could hang with us.

pernell goodyear

well we've certainly found out what issue turns the community on!


24.03.06 / 02 / goat card

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.

24.03.06 / 01 / accept salvation, get wifi

..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.


Since salvation and air is free, so wifi should be too! love your sense of humour!


It's called gift. And it's the future. ;-)

kester brewin

... so the question is, what can churches give away that people want? if this is about modelling the kingdom, and the kingdom is a gift economy...


21.03.06 / 02 / internet cafe

...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


my friend Rod has just finished his first solo album. cathy's designing the cover, i'm doing the website. i've bought the domain name, which makes him the first person i know to own an internet domain ( but no computer...

He goes to an internet cafe to log on to the webmail on his own server.

andrew lorien

21.03.06 / 01 / free wifi

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.


Very true. As an aside, do the free wifi cafes let you plug in to the electricity too? It seems even todays laptops aren't managing more than 2 hours, and mine is yesterday's laptop.

dave walker

Dave - most of the wireless cafes I spend time in allow you to plug in, or at least don't seem to have a problem if you try. Quite a few around here have added extra outlets/extensions since setting up their networks.

The lack of cafes with free wifi is one of the very few things that make me wonder how it'll be when we eventually move back to the UK. I spend pretty much every morning working in the coffee shop round the corner, and I'm not sure how I'll cope without it.

james stewart

18.03.06 / 01 / geekbelt

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.

15.03.06 / 01 / touchdown

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.

14.03.06 / 06 / aphorisms

or t-shirt slogans.

most poetry is just incomplete sentences

[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!]

14.03.06 / 05 / leaving town

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.

14.03.06 / 04 / this evening

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.

14.03.06 / 03 / moominpappa at sea

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.

14.03.06 / 02 / blogger sticker

cool blogger sticker for our laptops.

austin barcamp 04

14.03.06 / 01 / fray cafe

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.

12.03.06 / 02 / austin weirdness

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.

12.03.06 / 01 / happy bullets

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.

austin barcamp pass 01

11.03.06 / 03 / rape and pillage

one passer-by to another last night:

"...well my ancestors came over here to... fuck it! rape and pillage!"

11.03.06 / 02 / forbidden city

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.

11.03.06 / 01 / sxsw interactive [not]

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.

10.03.06 / 01 / cycle geeks

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.

09.03.06 / 01 / little city congress

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.

little city congress outside 01
little city congress dillo 01

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.

08.03.06 / 01 / spider house

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.


07.03.06 / 01 / austin

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.


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