Syrup Wars
by Marc Donner
[Originally written about 1990]
(Edited 2003 June by Marc Donner)
Long long ago,
In a living room far far away ...
I guess it all started many years ago when I discovered that the MAP
(Memorial Automatic Programming) Lab at IBM Research had an Olympia
Cremina espresso machine.  I had become attached to good espresso and
other forms of strong coffee some time before and the fact that mere
mortals (of the non-restaurateur persuasion) could actually *own* one
made a big impression on my brain.  It wasn't until some three or more
years later that I translated this impression into action, but
translate I did.  In mid-August of 1981 I left IBM Research (it turned
out to be temporary, but I didn't know that at the time) and went to
Pittsburgh to be a graduate student.  In July of 1982 I visited New
York to see some friends and on the Fifth, after fireworks the
previous evening, I resolved to treat myself to a present in honor of
having finished my qualifying exams at CMU.  This present, I had
determined, would be a Cremina espresso machine.  Someone, possibly
Mark Seiden or possibly Chris Stephenson, had remarked to me that the
Cremina was still available at Zabars in New York City for the same
price as it had sold for some seven or eight years previously when the
MAP machine was bought.  I think this was due to the unusual strength
of the dollar, but I'm not sure.
Anyway, I was staying with some friends who lived in the mid 80s on
the East side, so I walked across Central Park to Zabars, bought the
machine, and carried it back across Central Park.  If I had realized
quite how heavy the machine was or how deeply the handle would cut
into my fingers, I would have taken a taxi, but I was young and
foolish (and still am).  You remember those little handles made of a
bent piece of wire with little loops at each end that can be hooked to
the twine around a package?  You know, the ones with a small cardboard
tube rattling around the wire part to protect your hand?  Yeah, that's
the right kind.  Well, the box was so heavy that the wire cut through
the cardboard tube by the time I was halfway across the park, so I had
to carry the box in my arms the rest of the way.  Try that on a hot
day in July.
Well, I got the machine back to Pittsburgh and set it up in the dining
room of the apartment I shared with Larry Matthies and Tony Stentz.  I
bought a coffee grinder and began to buy espresso beans roasted in
Pittsburgh.  There is only one coffee roaster in Pittsburgh, and all
of the places that sell designer coffee beans get their stuff from
that one place.  The roast was good, but not great, and I was happy.
Always eager to share my pleasures, I began inviting, intermittently,
various of my friends to come by, usually on Sunday mornings, for
espresso and cappuccino.  I could never remember who I had invited or
what date I had invited them for, so by the time 1983 rolled around
and I was living alone it had degenerated into a standing invitation
to all my cronies to come by every Sunday morning for coffee and
newspaper and music and conversation.  The list of regulars included
James Gosling and Robin Wallace, Bob Sidebotham and Jenise Tamaki (now
Sidebotham), Dave Rosenthal, Peg Schafer, Ed Smith, Carl Ebeling and
Lynn Ault, Ed Frank and Sarah Ratchye, and various others, almost all
of whom lived within an easy walk or a very short drive from my
apartment.  Someone would usually bring some bagels and cream cheese
or else Dave Rosenthal would bring some completely illegal confection
from a bakery in Shadyside.
By the time I left Pittsburgh the regular Sunday coffee meetings had
caused the staff of the ITC to demand that an espresso machine be
provided as part of the ITC lounge facilities (it was) and the regular
social occasion was an important part of my life.
When I came back to New York I bought a townhouse in Croton-on-Hudson
and I vowed to continue the Cafe tradition.  Because the environment
in Northern Westchester is substantially suburban I was afraid that if
I held Cafe every weekend that attendance would never achieve critical
mass.  Also, if I made the invitation standing, I was afraid that my
travelling schedule would cause problems, since people had to drive
some distance to come to Cafe.  The compromise was to make Cafe a
regular item about once every other week, with invitations sent out by
computer mail to a large list of people, both at IBM and outside.
The new Cafe developed reasonably well, becoming more of a paper and
magazine reading occasion in New York, rather than the discussion and
debate occasion that it had been in Pittsburgh.  A regular group
developed and they spontaneously brought munchables.  When no one
brought food, we ate the supply of cookies that I always provided for
each Cafe.
One day Ron Cytron announced that he would bring his waffle iron and
some waffle batter to Cafe the following Sunday.  The waffles were a
big hit, though the syrup he brought was less than stellar, being a
cheap brand of imitation simulated surrogate pseudo-maple syrup.  When
he left that day he took with him his waffle iron and the bowl from
the batter, but he forgot the syrup.  A few weeks later I remembered
the syrup and asked him to take it away, but he said, "no, it's a
gift.  You keep it."  Well, I never cook pancakes or waffles, so I
have no need for a bottle of plastic syrup cluttering up my kitchen so
I insisted that he take it away.  Fearing the carcinigenic properties
of the chemical sweetener, he persisted in 'forgetting' to take it.
One Sunday, as Ron was preparing to leave and was chatting at the door
with someone, I remembered the syrup and took it to the door and put
it in his hands, insisting that he take it away.  This should be noted
by historians as the opening shot of the Syrup Wars, as significant as
the shelling of Fort Sumter or the assassination of the Archduke
Ferdinand; for the slimy dog, just before stepping out of the door,
surreptitiously bent down and set the syrup bottle on the floor near
the door.  I chased him down the path with the bottle in my hand, but
in vain ... he got away.
A few weeks later I determined to deposit the bottle in Ron's office.
I took it with me to work that morning and as I was walking across the
parking lot, Ron emerged from the Modules, where Ron then had an
office, with a colleague, Mary Mace.  I later learned that they were
going to pick up a car from a service station or something like that,
though that fact is immaterial to the progress of the Syrup Wars.  I
shouted "Halt!" at the top of my lungs and ran up to the startled pair
and thrust the bottle of syrup into Cytron's nerveless fingers and,
chortling with glee, ran off.
That was it, I thought, the end of the silly syrup bottle.  But I was
sadly mistaken.  Some weeks later, after the memory of the bottle of
syrup had faded from my mind, Ron stopped by to visit and chat at my
office one morning.  This was a very unusual event, but I was too
naive and too flattered by the attention to notice.  At one point, as
someone walked by my office, he popped out to say hello to them.  He
returned in a moment and I continued demonstrating what I had been
showing him.  Shortly after that he left.
Imagine my dismay when, five or ten minutes later, I turned around to
see the now infamous syrup bottle standing on top of a box of
equipment in my office.  At that point I didn't have a lab but I was
busily buying equipment to fit out the lab I hoped to get, so my
office was full of boxes of DC servo motors and oscilloscopes and such
stuff.  On top of a box containing an oscilloscope the bottle of syrup
sat, innocently pretending to have legitimate business there.  In a
rage I wrote a computer program to flood Cytron's computer terminal
with thousands of abusive messages, but when I was done the syrup was
still there.
After a week or two I took the syrup home again.  I decided that while
revenge might be the Lord's, He hadn't heard about syrup.
Now, before we go on, let's have a brief side excursion into the
technology and terminology of espresso and other strong coffees.  The
basic ingredient is espresso coffee.  This is coffee made by taking
coffee beans that have been roasted to a very black color, grinding
them very fine, and forcing superheated water under pressure through a
small stainless steel filter full of these grounds.  The resulting hot
black liquid is strong and bitter and, to some, heavenly.  This simple
version is espresso, and is usually served in demitasse cups,
optionally with a bit of lemon peel.  Cappuccino is made by putting
about a demitasse worth of espresso into a slightly larger cup and
then pouring steamed milk foam on top.  This is one of the most
wonderful drinks in creation.  A variation on this is to steam the
milk in the cup and then to squeeze the espresso coffee into the cup
on top.  I usually make this for my guests, calling it Cappuccino,
though I have been informed in no uncertain terms that it is not
correct to call this Cappuccino, but rather to call it Cafe Latte
(accent on the final e of both words).
Whichever way it is made, the key point is that Cappuccino as I knew
it then was essentially a dark fluid in a cup with a cap of white foam
on top.  Because the operation of the machine is a bit tricky and
because experience is required to make good Cappuccino, I have long
been in the habit of serving my Cafe guests Espresso and Cappuccino,
though a few of the more dedicated regulars have learned to operate
the machine themselves.
One fatal morning Kenny Zadeck arrived for Cafe.  Anne Rogers arrived
a while later.  After that Ron Cytron arrived.  I brought him his
Cappuccino and he put it down on the coffee table in the living room
and began to read the paper.  After a while he took a sip ... and made
the most AMAZING face.  I burst out laughing and after seeing me do
that Ron began to laugh loudly as well.  Through the tears in my eyes
I explained to Kenny and Anne that I had served Ron a cup of syrup
with milk foam on top.
At this point the magnitude of the Syrup Wars was beginning to become
evident.  The next two skirmishes were actions by Ron, though both
were quite pitiful by the previous standard.
One habit I have in my kitchen is that of putting empty eggshells back
in the paper carton that the eggs came in.  This prevents the dripping
of albumen on the kitchen floor when I'm cooking with eggs, since I'm
usually too lazy to move the wet garbage can over to where I'm
cooking.  This habit upset my ex-wife and I stopped it for quite a
while, but resumed it some years after my divorce.  One morning I was
preparing some eggs when I noticed that one of the empty shells looked
like the albumen inside had turned black.  I assumed, without looking
more deeply, that it had gone very bad.  I removed the remaining good
eggs from the carton and threw it out and discontinued the practice of
putting the shells back in the carton.
Some time later at a Cafe discussion turned to the syrup war and Ron
complained that I hadn't given him the satisfaction of admitting he
had 'gotten' me.  I, completely innocently, denied that any getting
had been done.  He confessed to having poured syrup into an eggshell
one day several weeks before and more recently into an empty
compartment in one of the ice cube trays in my freezer.  I immediately
realized that this was the source of the 'bad' egg and explained what
had happened.  I also cleaned out the ice cube tray.
Ron had bought a house in Yorktown and was renting several of the
rooms in it to various people at the lab.  On one occasion he went off
to Dallas, Texas on a visit and while he was away I persuaded one of
his housemates to help me with my plans for revenge.  The day after he
returned from Dallas I ran into him in the hall at Yorktown and he
immediately congratulated me on the effectiveness of what I had done,
though I was at that point still ignorant of it.  I played along and
he explained what had happened.  My agent had taped the top of the
syrup bottle shut to prevent leaks and deposited it under Ron's pillow
in his bedroom.  Ron arrived home from the airport quite late that
night and immediately undressed and went to bed, without even turning
on the light.  As he explained to me, the first thing that he does
upon going to bed is to lie on his back and put his hands under his
head under the pillow.  When doing this he encountered a strange
object, which he could not identify.  He took this out from under his
pillow but still could not identify it by feel.  He then turned on the
light and discovered the syrup!
After that the syrup war was quiescent for almost a year.
I was a graduate student in the Computer Science Department at
Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh.  David Notkin was a grad
student there at the same time; in fact, we sat side-by-side in a
large muddy tent to receive our diplomas and hoods.  David and I have
shared an interest in extendible systems for several years and shortly
before finishing at CMU we began some work together.  This work has
gone on for almost three years and has produced several interesting
results and even some papers.  In pursuit of this work David has
visited Yorktown to work with me and I have visited him at the
University of Washington, where he is an Assistant Professor in the
Computer Science Department.  Because of my contacts in Seattle I came
into contact with S. S. Soo, who was the recruiter responsible for the
CS department at Washington.  When S.S. decided to step down from
active recruiting, he nominated me to succeed him as the recruiter at
Washington.  I took on the job and have been visiting Seattle twice a
year ever since.  One benefit of being the recruiter is that I get to
meet some of the best graduate students.  One of these was Kevin
Jeffay, a student of Alan Shaw's working on real-time systems.  My
major research interest is real-time robotics, so I took unfair
advantage of my position to lure Kevin into a ten week visit to IBM
Research.  While he was at IBM I went to Seattle for one of my regular
recruiting visits.
A few weeks before I went to Seattle I got the impression from Ron
Cytron that he was contemplating another Syrup sortie.  I hardened my
defenses, stationing syrup-sniffing Dobermans at all the entrances to
my house, but nothing happened.  After a while I concluded that it had
been a hoax.  Boy, was I wrong.
The trip to Seattle started slowly, with my flight leaving late and
causing me to miss my connection in Chicago.  The airline transferred
me to another flight quite well, however, and I arrived in Seattle
only an hour later than planned.  The department set me up in a
visitor office and I started working with Notkin on our joint
research.  The next day I spent interviewing graduate students.
One of them, Carl Binding, pointed the syrup bottle out to me.
It was sitting next to the terminal.
After I got over the shock I asked around to find out who was the
collaborator.  It turned out to be Hank Levy, another faculty member
at UW.  A day or so later I cornered him and, under threat of imminent
physical destruction, persuaded him to explain what had happened.  It
seems that Ron Cytron had mailed the syrup to Hank at the suggestion
of Kevin Jeffay.  Kevin had sent electronic mail to Hank explaining
the entire situation and asking him to help.
In order to appreciate what happened next, it is necessary to
understand a little history.  Before he joined the faculty at
University of Washington Hank Levy was a fairly senior person at
Digital Equipment Corporation, so his contacts at IBM Research are
understandably not the strongest.  It turns out that a problem with
one of the gateways in the electronic mail system caused the
explanatory message from Kevin Jeffay to be delayed so long that it
arrived *after* the syrup package did.  Thus, Hank was a bit surprised
to receive a largish package from someone at IBM Research in New York.
Someone of whom he had never heard.
He almost threw the bottle of syrup away.  After that he almost mailed
Kevin, whom he suspected, a package of frozen waffles.
Anyway, the mail arrived after a while and explained the syrup and
asked his assistance.  The faculty at UW is outstanding in technical
things, but it is characterized by a large affection for juvenile
practical jokes ... unlike other more sedate scholars --- like Ron
Cytron, for instance.  So Hank gleefully agreed to participate in the
prank.  That is how the bottle of syrup found its way to the side of
the terminal in the visitor's office in Seattle.
I swore Hank to secrecy and returned to New York.  One of the first
things that I did after arriving was to read my accumulated electronic
mail.  One piece, sent just about the time I arrived home, was from
Ron Cytron.  It said:
   "How was the trip to Seattle?   Hee hee hee."
and proceeded with some other, legitimate, business.
Shortly after I read the mail Ron called on the phone and said hello
and asked how I was.  I responded warmly and reported the Seattle trip
to have been quite pleasant.  He then seemed to run out of things to
say, but recovered well and suggested that, since he'd be over at our
building that day, that we go to lunch.  I agreed.  When he arrived I
asked, innocently, what the meaning of the "hee hee hee" in his note
was.  He insisted that surely I must know and that he wouldn't explain
it to me.
We duelled over the "hee hee hee" all during lunch, with Ron insisting
that I had to know, while I insisted that he had to tell me.  I
suggested that it must have something to do with syrup but that I
didn't know what it was, but he didn't rise to the bait.  I asked
Kevin, who was with us, about it but he denied all knowledge.  Lunch
was a draw.
A few days later we again had lunch together.  This time Kevin and I
met Ron down at Cho-Cho-San, a Japanese restaurant specializing in
Sushi, near Ron's lab.  I persisted in denying any knowledge of the
prank and finally Ron accepted the story and revealed his plot to send
the Syrup to Seattle.  After he had done this I relented and told him
what had happened.  He was quite astonished that a friend would lie to
him so cold-bloodedly.
All's fair in pranks and syrup.
Late in 1986 I attended the Real-Time Systems Symposium in New
Orleans.  Kevin Jeffay, who had just returned to Seattle after his
vist to Yorktown, was attending and we agreed that I would reserve a
double room at the hotel, letting him share it and only paying the
difference between the single and double rates (about $10 per night)
thus letting IBM subsidize a starving graduate student at no net cost
to IBM.  The first morning of the conference I decided to wash my
hair, so I opened the bottle of shampoo provided by the hotel.  It
smelled a little odd so I looked more closely at it and discovered
that it was syrup.
I had made a strategic error in not taking the syrup back to New York
with me after the Seattle encounter, since it fell into the hands of
Kevin Jeffay, who was collaborating with Cytron in the syrup wars.  I
had compounded the error by making the tactical error of sharing my
room with Kevin, thus giving him easy access to me.
When I returned to Yorktown after the trip Cytron asked me about the
syrup, which he claimed that Jeffay had hidden in my luggage.
Fortunately or unfortunately, the airline had chosen that occasion to
lose my bag, thus consigning the syrup to the great toxic waste dump
in the sky.
I subsequently bought two new bottles of syrup.  The first I hid in a
drawer in Cytron's office and the second I entrusted to Mike Schwartz,
another grad student at Washington who visited at an opportune time.
Mike spirited the bottle into Kevin's office, where its discovery gave
Jeffay quite a shock one morning.
/* ---------- */
Date: 11 August 1987, 14:01:56 EDT
Tee hee.  Well, the syrup was found.  Actually, I think it's too
dignified to be passed off as *the* syrup:  it was made in Canada and
packed in Vermont.  I think the old bottle came from Hoboken somewhere
near the oil refineries.
   Yours in Mets and Syrup,