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Plant Scan, and Spam Poems, or From Russia With Laundromat

Here's a cactus-like plant I picked on my bike ride today. Anyone know what it's called? I like the notion of just scanning something direct. Photography without a camera. I got the idea from my agent John Brockman's wife Katinka Matson, who's making a fine art career out of this trick.

Katinka's work is quite beautiful.


On another topic — ah,the torrent of spam that comes in daily.

I use the paid mode of Eudora 6, which has quite a good Bayesian junk filter; it diverts most of the spam into a “Junk” folder. A very few “good” emails end up in the Junk folder, so I scan through it every couple of days.

A Bayesian filter works by looking for various patterns that occur in other known spams, ranking the likelihood of a message being spam, and junking the high-scoring ones. If a spam mistakenly ends up in your good-mail In box, you press Ctrl+J on it, to tell the filter that this one WAS junk, and the filter adjusts its inner workings accordingly, and you can also educate the filter by “un-junking” a good message.

The filter has some reasonably good presets to begin with; as you use it you “teach” it more about which kinds of emails that you do and don't want to see.

So, in the eternal Darwinian struggle of the info web, some people are sending out spam that’s designed to look as much as possible like a real message. And most of them seem to be in Russia.

I think they’re using some fairly decent language-generation programs. Back in the old days, there was a program called Eliza that behaved a little bit like a therapist, and there was another, more poetic program called Racter that spewed forth fairly realistic text. I’m sure there’s any number of these programs out there by now, it’s a fairly simple programming project.

I kind of like some of the “spam poems” that I get, and here’s a couple of examples.


From: “Erin Bishop”

To: rucker@******

Subject: Microscope Pen – Rucker,

But they need to remember how greedily inside eggplant hibernates.

Sonia, the friend of Sonia and wakes up with carpet tack living with.

Sonia and I took around freight train (with sandwich for gypsy, beyond shadow.

And bounce the dark side of her senator.

And bounce the dark side of her graduated cylinder.

living with chestnut, deficit related to, and looking glass for are what made America great!


“And bounce the dark side of her graduated cylinder” is pure Max Ernst, pure Dada, pure vibrating plane.

One more, also from Russia.


From: “Helena Sprague”

To: (bogus mailing group)

Subject: The diploma you requested – boustrophedon psychoanalysis tawny

dissident inside boogie over bicep.inferiority complex around find lice on about waif.He called her Elton (or was it Elton?).

steam engine eat toothache beyond.Any shadow can bur living with vacuum cleaner, but it takes a real fundraiser to from bonbon.


What is the point of these spam poems? There's no link, no attachment, no address to respond to.

The very pointlessness suggests that the impulse behind them may be art.

The web wakes up.

Kicking into SF gear, I'm imagining a spam poem program winning the National Book Award. Or the MacArthur prize.


The spam poetry is kind of good because it's not predictable, not what Wolfram calls compuatation class two, as I discuss in The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul.

Just for kicks I'm grasping for a connection to the idea of scanning more or less arbitrary scraps of the world that you bring home to your nest. The world is of course the biggest class four computation of all, so you're reasonably likely to get something interesting.

Concept of the artist as an alien probe vehicle, like a Mars lander or a Titan wok.

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