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The Trojan Room Coffee Pot At Cambridge University
A (non-technical) biography
by Quentin Stafford-Fraser

Several people have asked about the origins of the Trojan Room coffee pot. It started back in the dark days of 1991, when the World Wide Web was little more than a glint in CERN's eye. I was working on ATM networks in a part of the Computer Lab known as the Trojan Room, (a name which, no doubt, causes some amusement to American readers). There were about fifteen of us involved in related research and, being poor, impoverished academics, we only had one coffee filter machine between us, which lived in the corridor just outside the Trojan Room. However, being highly dedicated and hard-working academics, we got through a lot of coffee, and when a fresh pot was brewed, it often didn't last long.

Some members of the 'coffee club' lived in other parts of the building and had to navigate several flights of stairs to get to the coffee pot; a trip which often proved fruitless if the all-night hackers of the Trojan Room had got there first. This disruption to the progress of Computer Science research obviously caused us some distress, and so XCoffee was born.


In the Trojan Room there were several racks of simple computers used in the testing of our networks. One of these had a video frame-grabber attached and was not being used at the time. We fixed a camera to a retort stand, pointed it at the coffee machine in the corridor, and ran the wires under the floor to the frame-grabber in the Trojan Room. Paul Jardetzky (now working for Sun in California) then wrote a 'server' program, which ran on that machine and captured images of the pot every few seconds at various resolutions, and I wrote a 'client' program which everybody could run, which connected to the server and displayed an icon-sized image of the pot in the corner of the screen. The image was only updated about three times a minute, but that was fine because the pot filled rather slowly, and it was only greyscale, which was also fine, because so was the coffee.

This system only took us a day or so to construct but was rather more useful than anything else I wrote while working on networks. It also made a better topic of conversation at dinner parties than ATM protocols. The first published record of XCoffee came when Bob Metcalfe wrote about it in Comm Week on 27th January 1992 after visiting the lab, and inspired by this success, there was talk of other monitoring applications using low-frame-rate video. Systems such as XSandwichVan and XPrinterOutputTray were mooted, but the elderly frame grabber eventually gave up the ghost, Paul and I moved on to other things, and the Trojan Room coffee pot would have sunk into obscurity had not Daniel Gordon and Martyn Johnson resurrected the system, treated it to a new frame grabber, and made the images available on the World Wide Web. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have looked at the coffee pot, making it undoubtedly the most famous in the world.

I don't think the coffee's any better, though.

Quentin Stafford-Fraser

On 11th November 1994, we were visited by a reporter from our local radio station, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, to make a report on this service. Naturally we connected a radio to one of our workstations and relayed the broadcast over our local network. The transmission was also recorded digitally, and now you can hear it too (1.5Mb, 3'20").

We are grateful to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire for giving permission to put this audio file on the Web.

Quentin Stafford-Fraser is a Research Scientist at AT&T Laboratories Cambridge, the new lab which was formerly ORL, in Cambridge, UK.

Mr. Stafford-Fraser did a Ph.D. in the Rainbow group at the University of Cambridge Computer Lab, sponsored by Rank Xerox EuroPARC.

He's written a couple of odd bits of software which other people seem to like. Newslist is very old but is still in use in various places. PyGarmin is a set of Python classes for talking to Garmin GPS receivers. He also wrote part of the VNC system.

The Trojan Room Coffee machine was finally switched off at 0954 UTC on Wednesday 22nd August 2001.

This is the final image, which shows the server being switched off.


Farewell, Seminal Coffee Cam

6:00 a.m. March 7, 2001 PST
LONDON -- One of the world's first and most unlikely Internet stars is being retired after eight years online, British scientists said on Tuesday.

An inexpensive coffee pot sitting in the corner of Cambridge University's computer laboratory gained cult status as what is believed to be the first live image shown on the fledgling World Wide Web in 1993.

Now the site, which shows nothing more than the pot slowly filling up, will be shut down and consigned to the history books as the computer lab moves to new premises.

"Only five years ago it was a novelty, now it is of historical interest. Only on the Web could something make that transition so quickly," said Quentin Stafford-Fraser, one of the scientists behind the Trojan Room coffee pot project.

Stafford-Fraser said he originally hooked up a camera because he was sick of traipsing down several flights of stairs for coffee only to find the pot was often empty.

"The image was only updated about three times a minute, but that was fine because the pot filled rather slowly, and it was only greyscale, which was also fine because so was the coffee," Stafford-Fraser said.

Scientist Dan Gordon acknowledged the site was only marginally more exciting than watching paint dry but said it had attracted 2.4 million visitors since 1993.

"Once, some American tourists called into the tourist information center here and asked where (the coffee pot) was so they could visit it," Gordon said.

"They took lots of photos. It's not really very impressive though, it's just a coffee pot."

Gordon also revealed a behind-the-scenes secret: The coffee pot currently starring on the site is not the original. That broke down some time ago and has since been replaced by a series of lookalikes.

The Trojan Room Coffee Machine
The University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory
This service was created as the first application to use a new RPC mechanism designed in the Computer Laboratory - MSRPC2. It runs over MSNL (Multi-Service Network Layer) - a network layer protocol designed for ATM networks.

A video capture board in an Acorn Archimedes grabs one frame every second and the WWW server requests a frame from it using MSRPC2 (indirectly). Each frame is JPEG encoded by the Archimedes.

Michael's World Web Cam List
Web Cams are pretty cool. The listing below is some of the best that I've seen. Now, sometimes, you won't see very much; however, most, if not all, update automatically - changing the entire scene. By the way, there is no logical order to the way this listing is done. Kind of thrown together. I will be add to this list and eventually organize it. (The cams listed above the red line are recent additions)

Parker Information Resources
Houston, Texas
E-mail: bparker@parkerinfo.com

The HTML Writers Guild
Notepad only