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Back Buzz - October 12, 2004

pumping heart Site Gallery Cafe, 1 Brown Street, Sheffield S1, South Yorkshire

Recently I was hired by Sheffield Hallam University to input data for a research project on the Sheffield Flood of 1864. I am doing this in the Sheffield Archives, a fascinating storeroom of rare books brimming with local history. Sadly the Archives is located in one of those disappointingly bland rectangular buildings which -- like the schools I attended as a child in suburban Southern California -- were considered so cutting-edge "modern" when they were slapped up in that disappointing architectural era between the 1950s and the 1970s. Fortunately the Archives is surrounded by interesting organisations housed in slightly more interesting buildings in this refreshingly creative part of Sheffield. Just down the road from the Showroom Cinema and sandwiched between Red Tape Recording Studios and BBC Radio, the Archives is a short climb up Grinders Hill to the studios of Brown Street, where I sit and eat my lunch in the shadow of the bizarrely bulbous blobs of the former Museum of Pop Music. And for my caffeine fix, directly across the street from the blobs is the Site Gallery Cafe.

It wasn't until I sat down in the small, hi-tech cafe with my macchiato that I noticed the hum. Between the noisy chatter of the business meeting at the table next to me and the animated conversation of the couple in the corner it slowly and subtly emerged: a loud tubular hum, as if the wind were blowing across an immense metal flute. And then I detected a man's voice speaking continuously at a low pitch under the hum, and as I looked around the cafe I realised nobody was speaking in this manner. Ah yes, I finally realised as the caffeine hit my brain: it must have been coming from the exhibit at the gallery next door. If only these cafe patrons would just shut up a minute...

My macchiato, made with LaVazza beans, was served in a proper white cup with demitasse spoon and, although rather mild, provided a pleasant lift. The cafe also serves light meals and snacks courtesy of Jules and Giovanna. The only complaint I have is that they have only large styro cups for take-away drinks, which just isn't suitable for a petite espresso or macchiato. But that's really not much to complain about, is it?

The Site Gallery Cafe is very close to the Midland Rail Station as well, so if you arrive in Sheffield on the train and need a pick-me-up it's very convenient.

Speaking of hums, chatter, and noise in general reminds me of an e-mail exchange with my Bay Area friend from several years ago:

A few minutes ago we began hearing the muffled sound of a car alarm with the poly-sonic (uniformly annoying) repertoire. Seconds later someone's pager within the office sounded. My co-worker Sam drew a connection and said it sounded as if the pager was trying to answer the car alarm. This sparked an idea in my head. Car alarms are already annoying and useless, because the owner is rarely among the large number of people who suffer the sounds. Why don't we drive things to extremes until the entire population is driven to revolt and put an end to this madness!!

I propose programming car alarms so that the sound of one alarm will prompt another to chime in. A block away from the original (probably false) detonation, other cars will pick up the signal and begin howling. I mean really howling. They should respond like dogs to a siren and begin whining and yelping like bassets at full bore! The message will be passed from block to block throughout the city, like the "twilight bark" that the dalmations in the Disney film used to broadcast the news about the lost puppies. The message might eventually reach the ears of the person whose car set off the cacophony. Like the aged bloodhound in the movie, they won't be able to decode the message precisely, but that doesn't matter. Everyone in the area who has a car alarm may be falsely alerted, but that doesn't matter either. In fact, that's even better: they'll all be driven out into the street to silence their cars, and eventually they will tire of it and stop activating their useless alarms.

Sam naturally proposed the idea of using state-of-the-art technology to pass the message silently and page only the person whose car is threatened. I would be willing to go with that idea if I could introduce one twist: a sort of graduated level of activation for the vehicle owner. At the instant that the car alarm sounds the owner would be beeped or tickled, as with a typical pager. As the minutes go by and victimized neighbors begin to show up on the street to vent their rage, the alarm would sense their irritation and step up the intensity of notification: a mild electric current applied to the skin, an intense vibration applied to pressure points on the skull, finally a firm, vise-like grip on the testicles. (After all, it's usually men's cars were talking about, isn't it?)

Do you think it would sell?

I like the idea of a car alarm signalling other car alarms in the area. Perhaps, as soon as at least three or four other cars nearby are howling along, hidden rocket launchers on the original car (packed like air bags) could become activated and shoot fireworks into the air, coordinated with extra flashing lights which would emerge from the sides and roof, and at this point an extra loud Doppler siren alarm would start up. This way there would be no question as to which was the original offending car -- it would be advertising itself like New Year's Eve.

The only problem with the pager idea is I think there would be a big black market for altered pagers. And men who have flashy cars and flashy car alarms can probably afford to pay to have their pager's punishing effects deactivated. However, I think these pagers could become very popular in the S&M community. Why not program all pagers of any kind to mete out increasingly painful punishments? And why must one always carry their vibrating pager in a pocket or a briefcase? Why not provide nipple clamps, clit clamps, and cock rings on pagers?

Yes, I think we're onto something here...