I’m Old, Part XVII: Burritos and Acrobat

When I worked in the printer department at Adobe, many people in our area liked to get lunch from La Costeña, a small Mexican grocery store in Mountain View that had a burrito “factory” in the back. The food was cheap, delicious, and filling. You would go through the grocery store to the back where there was a small room with a buffet. A worker would walk with you along the buffet as you pointed at the items you wanted in your burrito and they would scoop them onto the tortilla. At then end, they wrapped it up, put it into a small bag and marked on it what you got. You brought it to the front of the store, paid, and went on your way.


The problem with La Costeña was that many of the businesses in the area found out about it and the line to get a burrito was often long. Some people at Adobe suggested that the owner should put in a fax machine so they could fax in orders and pick them up at the counter and then the wait was minimal. The owner agreed and even made a form for people to use when they were ordering their food.

Around 1992, Adobe was doing experiments to add fax capabilities to PostScript printers. There were several printers in our department that could send and receive faxes and more importantly, could send faxes automatically.

Ross Thompson, one of the engineers in our department, decided that he wanted to make a program that could order his burrito for him. It was called, oddly enough, burrito. It ran from the command line and had one of the most florid argument syntaxes I have ever encountered. It included a macro language that let you specify burritos in terms of other burritos, and of course all of this could be embedded in a ‘.costenarc’ file so you could make burritos based on burritos defined in your .costenarc file. To top it off, Ross embedded PostScript code to generate La Costeña’s fax form, complete with faithfully recreated typos and write the order on top of it before faxing it.

Unless I use certain syntaxes every day, I forget them quickly. I’ve had this problem with regular expressions, awk, and burrito. It’s frustrating. Since I ate at La Costena every three weeks or so, I had to relearn the command-line syntax every single time.

Since I’m a programmer, I decided to do some work to make it easier to be lazy. I wrote a Motif-based X Windows program to run on the DECstation I used for development. The program presented a WYSIWYG version of La Costeña’s form, except with check boxes, pop-ups, and text fields that were all live. When you were done, the program would cobble together all the options then run burrito as a sub-process with the correct command line syntax to generate the form. Worked like a charm. I don’t think I ever ran burrito from the command line again. I called my program, unsurprisingly enough, xburrito.

Around that time, I got scouted for the Acrobat team, which was then code-named Carousel. One evening, I was invited to meet with Frank Bozeman, who was a friend of Joe Holt. I don’t remember as much from that evening as I’d like, but Frank said I’d been described as “hot shit on a silver platter” which is a compliment, I think.

Yeah, pretty sure.

After some discussions between my department and theirs, I got slated to move to the Acrobat group. I was supposed to be on the team dedicated to full-text indexing and search in Acrobat 2.0, but I was pre-appropriated to work on Acrobat 1.0 as part of the Macintosh team, since Acrobat 1.0 was still in the demo release phase and there was a lot that needed to be done.

I knew the transition was going to be challenging with a very steep learning curve.

As an aside, I would like to say that every software job I’ve ever had since I left college has involved a very steep learning curve.

In this case, the Acrobat was written in two distinct parts: the main engine, which was in portable-ish C, and the UI layer, which was written in a combination of C and hamstrung C++. The implementation of C++ was that which was supported by the Think C compiler, and was missing a bunch of the more esoteric parts of C++. In addition, the UI was built using an application framework shipped with the compiler called TCL or the Think Class Library. It was OK – it solved a lot of the problems of typical Macintosh application development, but it also created all kinds of new ones in the process. You can’t have everything (“Where would you put it?” – Steven Wright).

TCL was substantial in scope. There was a lot to learn. Before working on the main Acrobat code base, I set myself a small task to get used to TCL. I decided to port xburrito to the Macintosh. Because a page full of check boxes and such seemed very un-Macintosh like, the Mac version included a virtual tortilla and a panel of ingredients that you could drag and drop onto (or off) the tortilla.

When you were done, you clicked the ‘order’ button and it would cobble together an order and place it on top of the same PostScript program that Ross had created and send it to your favorite printer. If it had fax, it would send it to La Costeña. This program was called MacBurrito.

Here is the article that ended up in rec.humor.funny about Ross’ burrito program:

Following is the documentation for a computer program which lives at
Adobe (PostScript/fonts/Acrobat/Photoshop/Illustrator) in Mountain
View, California. I got permission from the author to re-post it for

Some background: La Costena is a Mexican restaurant local to Adobe.
Everything is made to order, and the cooks follow you down a sort of
burrito assembly line in order to customize your meal.  Not
surprisingly, the place is very popular, and there are often long
lines. Mr. Thompson has thus enlisted the aid of technology to avoid
wasting too much time in queue.


From thompson@mv.us.adobe.com Wed Aug 18 07:05:38 1993
Message-Id: <9308181404.AA10840@rhythmic.mv.us.adobe.com>
To: gurgle@netcom.com (Pete Gontier)
Subject: Re: Burritos 
Date: Wed, 18 Aug 93 07:04:48 MDT

Here you go.  You may want to add some editorial notes for those
unfortunate to live outside the Bay area.  By the way, this is a real

- Ross


Tired of standing in line at La Costena?  This file documents an
automatic facility for sending a fax to La Costena that orders 1 or
more burritos, quesadillas, tacos, and whatever.  The command will
compose the fax, and send it to your favorite PostScript fax printer,
for direct transmission to La Costena, and no paper at this end will
be generated.  Then, when you get there, your food will be waiting.
No worries.

To use this, you will want to add the following lines to your .cshrc

setenv BURRITOPRINTER = <printer>
alias burrito /user/thompson/public/burrito<mach>

where <mach> is dec, sun, or sparc, as appropriate.  Requests to
support other machine types will be greeted with enthusiasm if the
following conditions are met:
 1) I can get the code to compile with a minimum of effort.
	(I expect no difficulties, but you never know).
 2) I am provided with the name of a machine on which to do the build.

<printer> should be the name of a PostScript level 2 printer that
supports fax and is connected to an external phone line. I use
radiant, which is located in building E.

You will also probably want to create a .costenarc file, to define
your burrito macros in.  The one in /user/thompson/.costenarc is
designed to stand as an example that you can use.  Feel free to copy,
modify, whatever.  I think the syntax should be pretty
straightforward, if you understand how to describe a burrito.

In keeping with long standing Unix tradition, the syntax for
specifying burritos is somewhat obscure. Here is an attempt at
explanation, with some examples at the end.  For a better
understanding, the energetic reader will attempt to thoroughly
comprehend the contents of my .costenarc file.

burrito [-n "name"] [-t <time>] [-p phone#] [-9] [-d] [-x] [FoodSpec [...]]

    -n  specify the name at the top of the order blank.
	   This should be the name of the person who will pick
	   up the order.  Default is current user, as defined in
    -t  specify the time at which you will pick up the order.
    	   time may be absolute 24 hour time or +delta. Default is +1:00.
    	   Note that La Costena specifies a 20 minute on small orders
	   and 60 minute on large orders minimum notification time.
    -p  specify callback number in case La Costena has questions.
	   default is as found in /usr/local/adobe/phones/adobe.phones.
	   If your phone number is not specified, and burrito can't
	   figure it out by looking in adobe.phones, an error will result,
	   and the order will not be transmitted.
	   syntaxes for phone numbers:
		    entry		interpretation
		(408)123-4567		(408)123-4567
		123-4567		(415)123-4567
		x4567			(415)962-4567
	    If you are entering the phone number on the command line
	    (instead of using a macro) please note that the ()'s need
	    to be escaped: \\(408\\)....
    -9	dial "9" before dialing the La Costena number.
  The following two options are installed primarily to help me debug
  the code.  There is probably no reason for general use of these options,
  unless you have some perverse desire to see the guts of this thing
  in operation.
    -d  debug: print the file locally rather than faxing it.
    -x  xmit off: don't run the shell script at all.  PostScript file
	will be left in ~/.faxorder.ps

Up to six FoodSpecs can be specified:

<type> ::= [b|t|m|q|T]
    (burrito, taco, mexico city, quesadilla, Taqitaco)
    +g  gucamole
    +c  cheddar
    +cc cotija
    +cl cilantro
    +cm monterey
    +i"note" special instructions (e.g. black beans, no rice, etc.)
	NOTE: the "s need to be escaped if the shell sees them:
    +j  whole jalepenos
    +jf fresh jalapenos
    +js sliced jalapenos
    +n:<i> <i> copies of this food item. (default = 1)
    +o  olives
    +s  medium salsa
    +sc sour cream
    +sf fire salsa
    +sh hot salsa
    +sm mild salsa
    +sv salsa verde
    +t  tomato
    +v:ca carne azada
    +v:cc chile colorado
    +v:cv chile verde
    +v:f  fiesta
    +v:l  lengua  (beef tongue)
    +v:m  mole    (chicken)
    +v:p  pastor
    +v:pb pollo borracho
    +v:rb rice and beans (default)
    +v:v  vegetarian
    +z:l  large
    +z:r  regular (default)
    +z:c  chico (small)

    -[option] cancels option.  Not valid for ":" options or +i.  
       This is useful for modifying burrito macros specified in
        .costenarc file.


burrito -time +:30 b+g+cc+jf+jf+sf+sc-sc+i"Black Beans"+n:2/Ross \
   b+v:cc+g+cm+sc+i"no rice"/Kathie

logged in user will pick up an order in 30 minutes.
  Ross wants two rice and bean (default) burritos with
    fresh jalepenos (double)
    fire salsa
    no sour cream (cancelled)
    Black beans (comment)
  Kathie wants a Chile Colorado burrito with
    montery cheese
    sour cream
    no rice (comment)

You should keep your +i comments short, because there isn't much space on
the form for them, and the space is not used particularly well by my
PostScript program.  "Black beans, no rice" is about as long a
message as it can handle.



   There's all kinds of ways to break this thing.  The lines in your
\.costenarc file should be less than 1000 characters, or the stack will
get trashed.  The PostScript program does not make particularly good
use of the "Comments" section of the form (controlled by the "+i"
switch), and doesn't detect when it is writing things off the side of
the page.  I have no idea what will happen if the disk is full when
burrito tries to write the .faxorder.ps file, or if it can't open it
because the directory is protected, or whatever.  But if you are
reasonable in your expectations of the program, and don't try to break
it, I think you'll find that it's adequate.  For bug reports, see my
comments below about future enhancements.

   This is the kind of thing that everybody will have suggestions on
how to improve.  I will duly record every feature enhancement request,
but I can't promise that I'll do any more than that.  I have no
intention whatsoever, for example, of writing a Graphical User
Interface for this thing, even though so many people think that it's a
natural.  (However, see below.)  As I have said (many times) before
about this: "When I'm done with the program, you are more than welcome
to add any features that you wish."  Well, I'm (essentially) done.
Anyone who wants the source, it's in /user/thompson/public/burrito.c.
Gombata Kodesai.

    Steve Hawley has written two programs that make use of burrito
technology.  I don't know anything about them except that they exist,
but I thought I would mention them for what it's worth.  As far as I
know, they were both done as intellectual exercises, and are not
necessarily supported.
    - xburrito is a GUI overlay to the burrito program, which makes
	use of the motif library to animate the La Costena order form.
	This has been successfully run on DecStations, Sparcs, and
	perhaps other platforms.
    - macburrito is a gooey which runs on Macs.  It has the look and
	feel of a real burrito: The user interface involves throwing
	toppings onto a tortilla.

3 thoughts on “I’m Old, Part XVII: Burritos and Acrobat”

  1. A couple more burrito anecdotes:

    1) Ross told me that he was able to duplicate the original typography and formatting of the La Costeña fax form. He didn’t correct any of the mis-spelled words because he thought the results would be “too confusing” to the recipient.

    2) La Costeña’s fame spread wide in the Mountain View techie crowd. I was once debugging a problem with GDB with John Gilmore at Adobe (he was supporting GDB as part of our license with Cygnus). We decided, around noon, to break for lunch, and we went our separate ways. Sure enough, I had a hankering for a burrito, and when I drove to La Costeña, there was John in line. Another burrito fan.

    3) La Costeña moved from the original location to a new spot in Mountain View, just a mile or so from the old rundown corner of Old Middlefield and Rengstorff. The old facility was torn down, and a shiny condo/apartment house is now there — helping to cope with the housing demands of the latest generation of tech companies in the area.

  2. We also did a La Costeña burrito in Acrobat using the forms technology. I found it in my archives: if you want a copy I’ll send it to you! It isn’t really working any more (compatibility issue?) but it was a thing of beauty.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.