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Back Buzz - March 26, 2002

[pumping heart] Refresh Cafe, 198 Whitham Road, Broomhill, Sheffield S6, South Yorkshire

It makes sense that an area like Broomhill, where many University students live, would have a few espresso cafes. With all those caffeine-crazed students milling about it also makes sense that there would be at least one Internet cafe. Refresh Cafe is both of these. Situated on a busy corner with six Internet terminals against the back wall it's a perfect place to have a coffee and snack while checking E-mail or surfing the Web. The rates are £1.50 per 15 minutes or £4.00 per hour.

But more importantly, Refresh is a proper espresso cafe, relatively calm and quiet with cafe tables, a couple of settees, and a wall of extremely sunny south-facing windows. I was drawn inside by the invitingly soft sunlight washing over the peace and quiet -- something I don't often find these days. (Peace and quiet, that is -- thanks to the fact that the sun isn't due to burn out for awhile there's still plenty of sunlight left.)

I ordered a single macchiato from a knowledgeable and worldly barista who reminded me of my Seattle friend Celia. She got right down to business, making me my macchiato. Instantly -- before I could blink -- I was sitting at a table with my drink. Is it the influence of the Internet terminals? Does this mean they probably have lightning-fast connections?

My macchiato was served in a shot glass with the tiniest sprinkle of chocolate on top. This worried me because chocolate sprinkles can ruin even the finest espresso. Fortunately it was so scant I was able to scoop the offending quarter-teaspoonful off and enjoy my drink. (I'll remember to ask for it sans-sprinkles next time.) The shot turned out to be quite nice, with an earthy Italian flavour, the beans roasted deeply but not burnt. The coffee is from Caffé Bei & Nannini, one of Italy's oldest coffee companies, which explains the Italian character. To top off the experience my macchiato was accompanied by an exquisite little dark chocolate button from the same Italian coffee company. Now, a small bit of quality chocolate, as dark and bitter as it comes, alongside a good espresso is a pleasant experience: if you don't want the chocolate to interfere with your coffee you can put the chocolate in your pocket and enjoy it later. But to have chocolate foisted upon your coffee, conjoining with your milk foam so no amount of surgery can restore the original intention, is a pure caffeinated sin. Listen up, baristas of Britain!

Refresh also serves speciality teas along with nice-looking sandwiches and pastries. And along with refreshments the cafe offers various IT and business services: training, classes, consultancy, system design. Since they're so Internet-oriented you can actually place your order with the cafe by e-mail. So how do they manage this? Do they deliver? If so, how far? And how cold will your double short cappuccino be by the time it arrives at your flat in Seattle?

Speaking of the Internet and reality, the following e-mail exchange between me and my Bay Area friend is from two years ago:

This site is a start in a good direction, but I think we could take it farther: The Last Page of the Internet:

How about a hyperlinked Internet treasure hunt, where each page has only the clues to help you build the URL for the next step (perhaps requiring you to use a certain search engine in a certain way to find the next stop). Is there any way to disable the "Back" button on a browser and prevent you from exiting or switching to another application, forcing the user to thread the maze to the end? Would this be the 21st Century's inevitable version of that early 1980s DOS-format computer game Adventure? Do you remember that game? We played it at work on TSO terminals; it was basically a text-driven treasure hunt.

A friend has suggested perhaps it's time for a global Internet game of Battleship, where the players gradually destroy each others' computer systems and software -- sort of a self-inflicted virus. So what would the winner gain?

And a year later we had this related exchange:

My bellows are a bit leaky.

At my company's new warehouse office, in preparation for the move the oddly sited men's and women's restrooms were swapped, because it made more sense that the drivers and warehouse people, predominantly men, use the one that opens into the warehouse and that the office workers, half of them women, use the one that opens into the office. Fixtures were added but none were removed. The result is two truly unisex bathrooms, with urinals in both and tampon dispensers in the men's room (where a sign that says PLEASE REPORT ALL ACCIDENTS TO YOUR SUPERVISOR immediately made me wonder if truck drivers are prone to bladder control problems). Have you heard about the new toilets that e-mail your doctor when they detect something suspicious in your urine or feces? (Yes, it's true!) Perhaps your company could install these for the truck drivers, immediately alerting their doctors when cystitis is suspected and faxing antibiotics directly into their cabs, perhaps through the cigarette lighters.

Are your bellows still leaky? Perhaps you should try defecating on your modem and see if anybody contacts you...