SPIE Microlithography Conference, Day 3 (Wednesday night)

I have retired from the bathtub party business. For those of you who don’t like to hear that, get over it. Times change. I’ve changed. We all move on.
For those of you that don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll briefly try to explain. It began at the SPIE Microlithography Symposium in 1990. I had just started my company, FINLE Technologies, a few weeks before. My product was in development – PROLITH, a lithography simulator. I had a computer in my room (not a common thing in that pre-laptop age) and was hoping to demo my software to some potential customers. And of course I had no money to pay for a hospitality suite. So I bought some chips and a few sixpacks of beer, emptied the ice machines from several floors of the hotel, filled my hotel room bathtub with the ice and beer, and then went downstairs to the poster session to troll for future simulation addicts. I think I demoed PROLITH to about five people that night, and all of them appreciated the nerd-inspired awkwardness of a bathtub full of beer.
Five years later my company was doing great and PROLITH was well known in the industry. I could afford a hospitality suite at the conference. But instead, I decided to wax sentimental and held a “bathtub party”, filling the tub with ice and beer again and inviting everyone I knew. To my surprise, it was a great hit. And so the annual bathtub party became an SPIE Microlithography conference Wednesday night tradition – and legend. Its reputation grew, as did the crowds. A hundred sweaty lithographers in a small hotel room is not a pretty sight, and yet people seemed to love it. Except, that is, hotel security. It became an ever-increasing challenge to keep the party going without getting thrown out of the hotel, and finally two years ago it happened. Charming as I can be, I couldn’t sweet-talk this security guard out of it – we were busted. So we filled some suitcases with beer and moved the party down to the hotel lobby bar. The hotel certainly didn’t like that, but by this time I think they were afraid of us. A mass of riled-up and rowdy lithographers is not something to be taken lightly. Last year was a different hotel but a repeat performance – we were out on the street in record time. Ah well.
For me, the bathtub party was always the highlight of the week. As soon as the conference began people would ask me what my hotel room number was. A poker game became a party staple as small fortunes were won and lost through the years. By 1am on Thursday morning I was often the ungracious host, throwing everyone out with the unpleasant knowledge that I was about to spend an uncomfortable night sleeping through the smell of stale beer. Good times.
But now it is just good memories. I have retired from the bathtub party business. I wouldn’t trade a moment of the last 16 years for anything, but it is time to move on. I’ve left PROLITH and the lithography simulation business to more capable hands. And I have a 7 month old baby sleeping in my room with me this year. So Wednesday night of conference-week came. I drank a couple of beers with a smile on my face, and went to bed early.

3 thoughts on “SPIE Microlithography Conference, Day 3 (Wednesday night)”

  1. An excellent elegy to a passing tradition.

    I’m proud to say I was at the first bathtub party. I actually bought 2 copies of Prolith based on that demo, one at the company I worked for at that time and another when I changed jobs a few weeks later. And I was there both times when the party got busted in recent years. I guess I lived though the entire cycle.

    It was a great run; thanks for the beer, the hospitality, and the memory of a great litho tradition.

  2. "This too shall pass…"
    works for good things as well as bad.

    It was a good run – now it gives you room for the next big thing (I mean little ‘thing’ – now crawling?)

  3. It was always the best party. The other company’s hospitality suites were swank and Disney. The bathtub party was old-school Vegas and Times Sq. For young american engineers, it was the networking party. I’m thankful for all the opportunities I had to be a contributing organizer to making the party a success.

    As the Spanker’s say, "We love beer!"

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