Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Check out the new SourceForge HTML5 internet speed test! No Flash necessary and runs on all devices. ×

One Man's Spam Is Another Man's Art 117

mytrip writes "Most people see Viagra ads and Nigerian scams as simply more e-mail to delete. Alex Dragulescu sees art. For the last several years, the Romanian-born computer artist has applied techniques in computational modeling and information visualization to invent a new form of artistic expression. One of his more notable projects involved creating what he calls Spam Plants. He wrote algorithms that analyzed various text and data points of junk e-mail to produce "organic" images of plantlike structures that spontaneously grew based on incoming spam. "
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

One Man's Spam Is Another Man's Art

Comments Filter:
  • Spam != Art (Score:3, Funny)

    by ArcherB ( 796902 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @12:21PM (#15784922) Journal
    The only way to make Spam art involves carving canned ham!
    • The only way to make Spam art involves carving canned ham!

      Didn't RTFA, eh? The expression is mostly in creating the algorithms and analysing the relationships between subjects, headers and other bits.

      TFA also mentions taking the contents of Blogs and doing similar things. I wonder what this fellow could do with first posts from /.

      the 'in soviet russia' and 1. [do something] 2. ??? 3. profit!!!! works are stunning, but the 'imagine a beowulf cluster' piece does nothing for me and that 'but does it ru

      • Didn't RTFA, eh?
        I perused it. Looked at the pictures mostly. I got the idea. My comment was based on TFA's title as well as the slashdot title which, I admit, rarely has anything to do with TFA.

        You want a more OT post?
        The idea is interesting, but the art based on words won't work when a spammer sends a GIF image of the message. It may make for more complex images if the "artist" used something more "wordy" than just spam, such as a novel or slashdot article. Personally, I would rather see art based on
    • Re:Spam != Art (Score:5, Informative)

      by tehwebguy ( 860335 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @12:37PM (#15785075) Homepage
      this guy admits that his drawings are not good, but i think it is funny stuff: http://www.spamusement.com/ [spamusement.com]
      • Actually, I think his characters are very expressive. For cartoons, that's more important than straight lines or perspective.

        Funny, funny stuff, too.
  • Sorry. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lottameez ( 816335 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @12:21PM (#15784932)
    Not worth viewing imo. I like viewing cool art. I don't know what this is. I would have expected the art to show some correlation between the spam messages and image.

    Just $.02
    • Re:Sorry. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by MrSquirrel ( 976630 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @12:29PM (#15785004)
      His program just analyzes the spam words and then makes pretty pictures from them. It's not like the spam message says "dog" so the program draws a dog... the word dog might make the program create a blue line for example, but nothing really dog-related. It's an interesting concept, especially how it "grows".

      Now if only it compiled the images as large bitmaps, distributed them globally through a shared system of thousands of computers, then bombarded the offending spammer's IP with lots of pretty pictures that he/she helped create.
      • Re:Sorry. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mrxak ( 727974 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @12:37PM (#15785069)
        It's an interesting concept, but not particularly related to spam. Sure, the spam is the input, but the input could be anything. If you ask me, the guy did the art part of the project long before spam got involved with it.
        • It makes me wonder if anyone has considered using spam to generate entropy for cryptography.
        • Re:Sorry. (Score:1, Flamebait)

          by gkhan1 ( 886823 )

          But therein lies the artistic point, doesn't it? I hate to be too art-schooly (actually, I don't, I quite enjoy it), but there is obviously something much more behind what you say. These pictures are beautiful, but they can be just as beautiful if generated by other input, say for instance love-letters, the collected works of Shakespeare, or the Bill of Rights. But also spam. We think of spam as somehow less valuble, less good than these other things, but one could argue (and that is what I think the artist

          • I'm not saying there's no artistic merit to this, quite the opposite. I'm just saying that the artistic part was in the programming, not the input. It doesn't matter in the slightest that he used spam for that input, just as it doesn't matter what brand of paint somebody uses when they paint a picture of a tree. It's the technique by which you use your materials that makes it art, not the materials.

            The point is, I disagree with the title of the story. It's not "One Man's Spam Is Another Man's Art". The spam
            • I wasn't actually referring to you (ie. the little note in the parenthesis), I was referring to the other people on this story that has made some rather bad comments. I apologise if you took offence, I meant none to you.

              Anyway, you have a point, the title is misleading. It should be "Making art out of spam" or something like it.

              • One thing I don't do is take offense on the internets. No point in getting worked up over tubes full of text. I just wanted to clear up some of my earlier statements.
      • Re:Sorry. (Score:5, Funny)

        by Mr. Essen ( 985883 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @01:07PM (#15785309) Homepage
        His program just analyzes the spam words and then makes pretty pictures from them. It's not like the spam message says "dog" so the program draws a dog... the word dog might make the program create a blue line for example, but nothing really dog-related.
        Well, I bet he didn't want to end up with too many penis plants.
    • Flamebait would have been saying something like "This crappy excuse for art could only have been done using some awful Mapplethorpe-esque combination of Al Gore, Linux, and CR-APple." (That was going to be in my next post).
    • Re:Sorry. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by shreevatsa ( 845645 ) <shreevatsa...slashdot@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @12:35PM (#15785055)
      There's much more correlation between the spam's (literal, not intended ;) text and the "art", at http://spamusement.com/ [spamusement.com]. "Poorly-drawn cartoons inspired by actual spam subject lines!"
    • I think this "artist" should do like other shammy artists and get a goddamned job. I'm usually one to see beauty in ugly-ass technological creations.. hell I'll even admire code if it shows a curious attention to detail, but this stuff.. bleh! It looks like "cat /dev/urandom | povray"

      Actually I've come up with more inspiring images just smacking my head against the keyboard.
  • by phorm ( 591458 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @12:22PM (#15784938) Journal
    I'm guessing that this [com.com] generated image was a result of enlargment/viagara ads.

    All-in-all, the plants look cooler than the other ads, but I think a video showing the plant 'growing' with spam would be more interesting than the stills
    • You didn't rtfa did ya?

      The size of the message might determine how bushy the plant is. Certain keywords, such as "Nigerian," might trigger more branches. But Dragulescu did not inject any irony. Messages about Viagra do not grow taller, for example.

      He didn't want to grow hairy palm trees
  • One mans garbage is another mans trash allright.
  • Viagra branch, Rolex Branch, stock tip branch, home loan branch, cheap meds branch, ad nausium
  • Can't wait (Score:3, Funny)

    by partenon ( 749418 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @12:23PM (#15784951) Homepage
    This is AWESOME. I just can't wait for cars that are moved by spam.
  • by pieterh ( 196118 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @12:24PM (#15784953) Homepage
    Art is, at the very least, the use of skill and imagination in the creation of objects.

    When one writes a program that produces pictures, the software may itself be art, but the pictures it produces are not.

    I'd go further and say that 'good art' also requires the input of emotion, and the stronger the emotion, and the more the viewer feels this emotion, the better the art in many cases. We engineers also produce objects with skill and imagination, but we are not artists.
    • by DRAGONWEEZEL ( 125809 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @12:27PM (#15784988) Homepage
      Many people consider Fractals to be art.

      Math is a program
      • Evolution is also a program, in a manner of speaking.
        Assuming life evolved and was not created as such, is a tree art, or is it just beautiful to us humans?
      • by lahvak ( 69490 )
        I like to compare fractals to photography. A photographer takes a machine (camera) and uses his skill with the machine to take pictures of the real world. The pictures can be purely documentary (imagine technical documentation) or artistic, or anything in between.

        A "fractalist" (for lack of any better term) uses a machine (computer) and his skill with the machine and his knowledge of math to take "pictures" of a purely mathematical world. Again, the pictures can range from purely documentary shots for a
    • I wish the article had gone into a little more detail about how it was created.

      For a thesis project in undergrad, I did some work with chaos and the mandelbrot and julia sets. These numbers really do produce some beautiful pictures. But the pictures that were produced was not the art, but the math and code that drove them.

      With nothing else to show, it looks like he got some computer generated building blocks and glued them together.

    • by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @12:42PM (#15785123) Homepage

      Art is, at the very least, the use of skill and imagination in the creation of objects. When one writes a program that produces pictures, the software may itself be art, but the pictures it produces are not.

      In his book Musiques formelles, the composer Iannis Xenakis defined music as the operation of group theory concepts on sound. This is the only definition wide enough to encompass all that has ever been called music. Xenakis himself derived most of his works from certain automated processes, whether probabilities in "Eonta" or the Fibonacci sequence in "Metastasis", for example. Xenakis was able to show a long historical lineage for his aesthetic, going all the way back to the Pythagoreans at the earliest. Though it stood in contrast to certain subsequently ascendent musical styles, it was hardly a modern concept. And it certainly still involved skill and imagination, since the composer still had to grapple with orchestration, had to assign mathematical values to a certain range of pitches, etc.

      With regards to the visual arts, couldn't we simply adapt Xenakis' definition to say that it is the operation of group theory on images? And even when he uses certain information as the basis of a work, the artist still has to decide many things about it on his own. Skill and imagination don't ever disappear completely.

    • I disagree.

      Britannica Online defines art as "the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others"

      That being the case, the skill of the artist's programming and selection of input for the program (by choosing spam instead of, say, joke forwards or urban legend forwards) has resulted in the creation of an aesthetic, though virtual, object.

    • Art is, at the very least, the use of skill and imagination in the creation of objects.[...]When one writes a program that produces pictures, the software may itself be art, but the pictures it produces are not.

      Why is that? Why can't both the program and its output be seen as the result of a use of skill and imagination?
    • Yeah, right. So all the images ever created with POV-Ray's scripting language are not art, however images rendered with POV-Ray but composed with a mesh modeler are?

      Or are you just saying anything generated by a computer regardless of what amount of human input went in to it is not art?

      Does that mean A Bugs Life is not art?

    • By that logic, if someone teaches me a neat way to make pots and then I make them exactly like he says, then I am art, but the pots I create are not. That seems a little off. I don't think that I agree with that at all (and make no mistake - this is a subjective thing because we're talking about the subjective, semantic question, "what is art?").

      I don't think that imagination is a prerequisite for art - just creation.

      I'm going to have to disagree about emotion being the necessary prereq for good art. Tec
    • When one writes a program that produces pictures, the software may itself be art, but the pictures it produces are not.

      So, Rembrandt's expertise and brushtrokes were art, but his paintings are not?

      'd go further and say that 'good art' also requires the input of emotion, and the stronger the emotion, and the more the viewer feels this emotion, the better the art in many cases.

      Not all art is intended to evoke emotion. Some is meant to provoke thought. Some is meant to just be aesthetically pleasing.

      I'll

    • Oh for fucks sake, shut the fuck up. I can't believe people are still bringing out this stupid fucking definition nowadays. You haven't a fucking clue what you're talking about.

      And yes, that's about the level of reasoning my argument should contain, because that's about the level of reasoning you're putting into it.

      It's art if someone says it is! Drop this absolutist crap already.
    • If I showed the world a really nice painting or music score, would it be less artistic if they found it was generated with an algorithm?
    • I'd go further and say that 'good art' also requires the input of emotion, and the stronger the emotion, and the more the viewer feels this emotion, the better the art in many cases. We engineers also produce objects with skill and imagination, but we are not artists.

      I've known way too many engineers (and developers) to buy your argument. Most good engineers apply as much emotion -- and intuition -- to their work as they do skill and imagination. The end results are often things that have an incredible am

    • When one writes a program that produces pictures, the software may itself be art, but the pictures it produces are not.

      This is little bit like saying "when one prepares pigments and canvas, cleans brushes and so on to produce a painting, the pigments and canvas and brushes are art, the painting isn't".
    • Wow. That's a bold claim. It's also flawed logic.

      "I'd go further and say that 'good art' also requires the input of emotion, and the stronger the emotion, and the more the viewer feels this emotion, the better the art in many cases."

      You imply that emotional input on the part of the artist is directly linked to emotional feeling on behalf of a viewer. I don't see the connection. If I show you an image that I drew by hand, designed to evoke a feeling of pathos, you would therefore claim that this is art. But
    • You, good sir, are completely wrong. First off, I refer you to an earlier post of mine [slashdot.org] where I explained in detail why this is not only art, but do a simple analysis of it. It is, most certainly, art.

      In general, your definition of art is very much to narrow. Let's take Duchamps Fountain for instance. This is one of the most famous works of art produced in the world, and it was infact voted the most influential work of art in the 20th century by 500 british art-experts. It's been discussed endlessly. You kn

    • By this definition;

      The Mona Lisa is not art. The skill and imagination employed in painting the picture may have been art, but the picture itself, the finished product, clearly is not.

      Unless you want to claim that the physical picture IS 'the use of skill and imagination in the creation of objects'

      Which is nonsense.

      Or perhaps you're claiming, if I hold a paintbrush and wiggle some muscles in such a way that a picture results, then it IS art. But if I hold a keyboard, and wiggle some muscles in such

  • by Goblez ( 928516 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @12:25PM (#15784965)
    So this is a form of autogenerating content, but instead of being based on something random it's based on spam. So then it really depends all upon the mapping he uses.

    So the Importnat question is: what colors/styles do the porn map to? Because I'm betting you see a fair amount of 'art' generated directly from that.

  • Finally. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AltGrendel ( 175092 ) <(ag-slashdot) (at) (exit0.us)> on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @12:25PM (#15784969) Homepage
    Someone found something useful about spam.

    I admit that it wasn't much, but it's still art that found spam useful.

    • According to broken windows economic theory (I think) it is a great boon to the economy, as spam filter makers suddenly realized there was a reason for their existance, and could make money off of being spam filter makers. I sort of have to wonder what those poor guys did before spam.
      So spam is useful.
  • filtering? (Score:2, Funny)

    by yapplejax ( 931268 )
    The drawings take on certain characteristics based on the spam - I'd be curious if this could be used in future spam filtering. You could get your daily filtering reports in pretty pictures instead of bar graphs!
  • That's not the only thing you can make grow with Viagra now.
    I'll take three boxes... for my, uh, garden...
  • Image 2 [com.com] looks pretty cool, a cross between hens-and-chicks and ice plant or maybe an anemone

    Image 1 [com.com] looks like something those m3dz are supposed to do for the below average male.

    Image 6 [com.com] reminds me of something I pulled out of the liver of a lake perch (wonder how that thing lived, make sure you cook fish thoroughly!)

  • Images 1,2, and 6 were excellent. Spam never looked so good.
    #2 Reminded me of clownfish.

    Now if we could only make money off of deleting our spam, it would be a beautiful thing.
  • by zentinal ( 602572 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @12:30PM (#15785015) Homepage
    I'm a gardener. This makes perfect sense to me. After all, it takes goodly amounts of s*it to produce beautiful flowers and foliage.
  • Several of the images really just use the spam as a random number generator.

    Maybe I can use spam to randomize a game of online poker and make the front page of slashdot, too!

    • You'd have to make it randomize a game of poker, while getting rich and sueing the MPAA. Oh, and it would have to run Linux as well. Oh, and a few mislabeled facts about Vista thrown in for assurance.
  • looks more like fungus to me.
  • These images certaintly illustrate the random nature of most spam. I wonder what images generated from real email would look like. Now all alex has to do is give his algorithm to google so they can show a pretty picture on the sidebar when you are viewing yor spam box in gmail. Mmmm.... Beautiful Spam.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This almost moved me to tears from my laughing...

    --------
    From: Shera Kyle
    Date: May 26, 2006 4:22 PM
    Subject: Latest Softwares Such as Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2, Visual Studio 2005 Server Workgroup, Mathworks Matlab R2006a, from $15, Instant Download! idea
    To: *******************.com

    showed miserable thank longer god. convenient sandwich latter oh? goodbye parents central room twenty-one.
    welcome miss rich. trees however burst happen again.
    telling letter yours bridge? forty letter promised between.
  • by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @12:36PM (#15785064) Homepage Journal
    The spammers, always eager to make a buck, will sue him for royalties on the "derivative work."

    Don't laugh, I'm surprised it hasn't happened.
    • Here's a question: If you create a derivative work, but in such a way that no "useful" information about the original work(s) upon which it was based can be reconstructed, can it still be sued over? For instance, if I took The DaVinci Code book, and rearranged all of the letters in it to be in alphabetical order, and published it (with no references ot The DaVinci Code, except perhaps a small disclaimer in the aknowledgements section), would this be illegal without permission? I see this art as the same
  • by Digital Vomit ( 891734 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @12:38PM (#15785079) Homepage Journal
    I need to get more sleep. I read the article title as "One Man's Sperm Is Another Man's Art"
  • It sounds like he used the spam as a very complex RNG. He could probably use random() and get similar results...
    • It's possible that he also used the ASCII inputs as components of an L-System (a common graphics method for generating plantlife procedurally). While he doesn't have control over the input, and it is in that sense "random", he can select a sub-set of spam-related characters (e.g., '0' instead of 'o') as the basis for the system. These characters would be more likely to appear than others, and it would be possible to correlate them statistically with the semantic content of the spam messages to generate, e
  • I was expecting this story to link to http://www.spamusement.com/ [spamusement.com] ... "Poorly-drawn cartoons inspired by actual spam subject lines!"
  • Print Spam (Score:2, Funny)

    by badc0ffee ( 969714 )
    I print out all my spam, then use it for heating the house in winter, or global warming in the summer. So spam is useful if you print it out.
  • > "... He wrote algorithms that analyzed various text and data points of junk e-mail to produce "organic" images of plantlike structures that spontaneously grew based on incoming spam. "

    One time I did a spline interpolation of dots with coordinates I took from /dev/urandom. I still wonder why they looked like brownian motion...
  • It should obviously be done with code instead, *THAT* be a hell of a lot more interesting. Imaging pitting XNU vs BSD vs Linux in a *gasp* art contest where the art is representing the code. THAT be much more geeky and slashdot-worthy:)
  • by CFBMoo1 ( 157453 )
    I think the pictures look neat. They'd make some nice wall papers and even backdrops for different movies depending on the content.

    I do agree with what one poster said earlier that the software itself is art to a good extent, but if this were setup as a tool for people to play with you'd probebly see people putting in different types of input to produce different results. Wither it's a brush on a canvis or strings of ascii text to function call, it's all input of some form. Who knows, maybe the next big thi
  • by jhfry ( 829244 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @01:02PM (#15785279)
    I want a new email reader that creates an image of all incoming emails using this technique and displays a thumbnail image beside each message. Once I was used to it, I could probably figure out which messages were spam just by looking at the resulting flower. Function and beauty in one.

    It would work kinda like most baysian filters that give a percent likelyhood that a message is spam, except the prettier the flower, the more likely a message is spam.

    Sure it's a waste of CPU cycles, but it would make recieving spam much more pleasurable.
  • I dunno, if spam is smart enough to get through my filters, I usually take the time to read whatever quasi-poetic method it used to get through them. Some of them are surprisingly gripping.
  • Here is an idea: How about using spam as a seed for (almost) perfect random number generator?

    I guess I'd better patent this fast!

  • Now I can have legit art for my MySpace background :-/
  • One Man's Spam Is Another Man's Art

    I read spam as sperm, blech. I need more sleep.
  • Apophenia (Score:3, Interesting)

    by yuvi ( 943064 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @01:43PM (#15785534)
    Another take on webcomics from spam: http://www.apophenia-prime.com/ [apophenia-prime.com]. This one tries to tell a story without words, with each page depicting a line from a spam email. Readers are encouraged to send in their dialogue, and good interpretations are posted. Just an interesting contrast to Spamusement's take of getting a joke out of the absurd lines in spam.
  • In a word: Cool.

    But I do wonder if "Viagra" makes the plant grow taller and more erect.

  • Considering the spam I get becomes more and more nonsensical, how about using incoming spam as an entropy source for /dev/random?
  • The pictures shown contain various observable patterns (such as areas of darker color, that look like "nodes"). Considering that the data used in the display was based entirely on spam, it is expected that the aforementioned patterns correlate in meaningful ways. All you would need to know is the "key", or formula used to generate the image...

    Navigate your Inbox via spamtree: email from existing contacts collects in bright shiney flowers, while spam becomes part of ugly growing flowers that can be "cut" and
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @04:16PM (#15786615) Homepage
    The pictures are genuinely interesting, but I seriously wonder whether the spam input plays any important role in their appearance. I'll bet he could just as easily have used Wall Street Journal editorials, or transcriptions of chess games, or digitized music waveforms, or, quite possibly, random numbers.

    It's rather like the phony "participative" art... like the staircase they have, or used to have, at the Boston Museum of Science, where descending the steps interrupts light beams and creates wind-chime-like music. You sense a connection between your actions and the music, and for about fifteen seconds it's cool, but then you gradually realize that you aren't really controlling the music or pouring anything meaningful of your own into the artwork.

    For that matter, it's like a wind chime. The aural experience is shaped far more by the designer of the chime than by the wind.

    Or... for one more analogy... is this really different from the Andy O'Meara's G-Force visualization plugin for MP3 players... or the 1930's "color organs?"

    The annoying part is that the most novel aspect is the claimed connection with spam. Because of the novelty of using spam as the semi-random seeding function, I believe he's probably managed to get much more notice of his art than if he had used something less novel.
  • Just make it useful. Now the spammers will probably use some IP law to prevent this "unauthorized" use of their copyrighted material.
  • Some of these are really priceless. I got one about a Cuban guy who wanted to start a revolution once, just the other day I got a funny one that was a ton of semi-random words, but it was hilarious still.

    Maybe I am easily amused.
  • Did anyone else misread this as "one man's sperm is another man's art"!!?!?!?

Whenever people agree with me, I always think I must be wrong. - Oscar Wilde

Working...