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February, 1997: The Java AWT and its Event Model

At the February 13th meeting of the Front Range UNIX Users Group Geoff Thompson gave an overview of the Java AWT (Abstract Window Toolkit) and the Event Model for release 1.1. Starting with a video clip of a very early Graphical User Interface, Geoff put GUI programming in perspective.

Since most graphical user interface programming in Java, whether in applets or stand-alone applications, uses the AWT, it is one of Java's most important class libraries. The Java language is quite stable, however, the AWT has evolved significantly from its creation to its current state in Java 1.0.2. Some of the most important changes are coming in 1.1. (And even more changes will follow.) At the center of this evolution is event processing. Geoff's talk focused on the AWT and the details of event processing.

The multi-media presentation also included live demonstrations of AWT programs. In the end, a copy of Graphic Java, Mastering the AWT, by David Geary and Alan McClellan, from SunSoft Press and Prentice Hall, was given away, though we never did find out what is in the suitcase in Pulp Fiction.

Some of Geoff's examples are available at

Due to popular demand, Jeff has supplied us with the details on exactly what was inside the briefcase.... When Geoff gave his talk on the Java AWT Event Model, he sprinkled great little diversions into his talk, such as a discussion of the first mouse-based GUI done at Evans and Sutherland. Geoff also made some promises that he didn't follow through with, namely revealing exactly what's inside the suitcase in the movie Pulp Fiction. We've been flooded with e-mail from curious FRUUG members demanding the details from Geoff and, due to the popular demand, here they are (The story does end up having something to do with Java):

What's in the briefcase in "Pulp Fiction?" -- The Long Explanation.

The contents of the briefcase are never revealed. It's not explained in the screenplay either. What we know is that people are willing to go to extremes to get it and keep it, and that when the case is opened it gives all a visible glow. (In both cases when it is opened, it is facing away from the camera.) Also, people are very impressed by what they see when they see it.

Did Quentin Tarantino, the director, screw up? Did he accidentally cut out some line of dialog that explains it? No, the omission was intentional.

The contents of the briefcase is a "MacGuffin," a narrative device that serves to move a story forward. In other movies it is the secret plans, the microfilm, the computer disk, or magic formula. It really doesn't matter what it is, only that characters in the story want it.

The MacGuffin is used by many film makers, but it was popularized by Alfred Hitchcock who used it very effectively. In his interviews with Francois Truffaut he describes how in his earlier movies he would have an explanation of what exactly was the secret plan or vital formula and why it was important. This explanation would come at the end of a movie, after some exciting climatic action. Hitchcock found these scenes were tedious and anti-climatic and later would make them as short as possible. In "Pulp Fiction" Tarantino simply takes the MacGuffin to a logical extreme, he eliminates the explanation all together. By adding the glow it makes all the simple conjectures implausible (drugs, money, guns). It is intentionally ambiguous and unexplained, leaving it to the imagination of the viewers. It's more fun, it tweaks the viewer, it's more effective.

In interviews Tarantino never explained the contents. When John Travolta was asked, he said it was two lights and a battery.

Now, what did all this have to do with Java. Tarantino was operating at a higher level of abstraction. Providing a literal explanation would trivialize it and make it less effective. Likewise, Java operates on a virtual machine, a higher level of abstraction of a computing machine, which is often more effective than the traditional machine dependent, machine language approach.

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February 15, 2009

February 2008: FRUUG Enters Quiescent Phase
After 27 years running, we're suspending operations.

Future Meetings:
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