dunniteowl's post-modern philosophical musings

The More Familiar I Become, the Stranger I Get


Bastrop, Texas, USA
October 11
Supreme Commander of the Universe
The Best Company in the World
Matriculated from: School of Hard Knocks and Diablo Valley College (AA in Communications Tech.) Done all kinds of things for work. Painted sidewalk curb address numbers, sold shoes, USAF Radio Electronics Tech, Semiconductor Tech for AMD, Intel & SEEQ Technologies, worked at Stanford Linear Accelerator upgrading motherboards for Beam Current Magnet Control, IBM building "Industrial Strength" Voice Activated Dialing networks, server systems and intranets, sold greeting cards, nuts, grapes, newspapers and found pets, janitored, worked in fast foods, pizza and data entry. I even clerked at a 7-11 and also ran a big searchlight for those events at night. Also worked at a zoo, where I pretty much did everything you can do at a zoo other than be eaten. Some of those critters do bite. I write and have been since 1972. I have written poetry, fantasy, science fiction and horror stories. I also have come to enjoy essays relating to human experience, the future and being good stewards of this planet. I believe I'm funny sometimes, so chuckle occasionally at my weird jokes and allusions. Very into science and technology, love logic and reason. For some reason, though, I am also a certified Shaman. I can cast horoscopes and read Tarot cards as well (from the expressions on people's faces and their responses, I am apparently quite accurate most of the time.) Love photography: You can find me here: http://s52.photobucket.com/albums/g31/dunniteowl/ and here: http://www.viewbug.com/my-account/photos (if those don't work properly, just go to the main pages and do a search for 'dunniteowl' I am the only one on the internet as far as I know.) I also love game design, starting with board wargames, card games and RPGs. Please comment if you feel like it. I don't care about being "tipped" and don't even really understand it as a function. I signed up on Open Salon so I could have a wider outlet for my writing and hope that you find it of interest at all. This bio is a reflection of things to come, so be prepared.


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JUNE 11, 2012 1:42AM

A Short History of Spam (non-academic, yet true)

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 A Short History of Spam 

     We all know Spam when we see it.  It floods our email boxes, it takes up spaces in forums, chat rooms, websites, it’s even begun to invade our smartphones, iPads and even MP3 players.  How did it get started?  Why is it here?  What reasonable purpose does it have?  Is there even a legitimate reason to use it by anyone?


     Spam.  We all know it.  We all hate it, really.  It’s, at its best, an annoyance.  In most normal senses of the word, Spam is a waste of time.  It invades our personal computers, our workstations and takes up our time having to delete it and get through the Spam dross in order for us to reach our valid emails.


     How did Spam get its name?  This is one of those historical connections that would make James Burke proud.  First, before we detail the history of Spam as something we see in the internet connected world, we should explore the very beginnings of Spam in order to see how it all connects.


     The original Spam was created by the Hormel Company in 1936 and first came to market in 1937.  This is the meat that started the whole thing going.  It appeared on American grocery store shelves in 1937, just as the Great Depression was nearing its end.


     Spam is a concatenation of the words, Spiced Ham.  It is made from chopped pork shoulder meat, with some ham meat added in, salt, water and potato starch to bind it all together.  The gooey gelatinous glaze that covers the entire concoction when you open the can is formed from the cooling of meat and is properly called aspic.


     You have to bear in mind that when Spam was first marketed, the amount of salt and the use of pork were considered viable ways to provide cheap meats to the population.  As it was primarily composed of pork shoulder, the meat being sold in the can was considered prior to this as basically unusable meat.  The shoulder of a pig is a large, dense bone and it is covered with a relatively thin, stringy layer of muscular meat that isn’t well suited to anything beyond stewing additives for pork flavor.


     In true capitalistic fashion, the idea of throwing that bit of meat away from each shoulder of a pig from the slaughterhouses was something that hit Hormel right in the bottom line.  So when they concocted Spam, they felt they had a real winner on their hands.  It was cheap to produce, cheap to sell compared to ham, bacon or even pork chops.  The poor could afford this meaty substance and they were grateful for the strong salty taste of meat.


     Spam was promoted by the Hormel Girls from 1946 as a patriotic meat until they were disbanded in 1953.  It was probably an economic decision.  In the aftermath of World War II, Spam was heavily promoted and provided in Hawaii, Guam, the Marianas Island chain.  To this day, those areas, even though Spam is sold in over forty-one countries, consume the most Spam per capita in the world.  Those places are the only places in the world where Spam is somewhere in the menu at the local McDonalds operating in those areas.


     Spam is not a highly nutritious food, but it isn’t the most horrible, either.  A 3 ounce serving of Spam (four in a 12oz can) contains: 1,300 calories, 13 grams of protein, 3 grams of carbohydrates and a total of 27 grams of fat, 10 of those being saturated (the “bad” kind) fat.  It’s very low cost, long shelf life and lack of refrigeration needed makes Spam a great choice for those with financial hardships.  For this reason, many folks equate Spam with being in tough times.


     In 2007, Hormel sold it’s 7,000,000,000th can of Spam.  Seven Billion cans of Spam.  That is a lot of chopped pork shoulder, baby.


     All that is great, you say, but what the hell does that have to do with spam as email or forum messages?  This is the part where the connections are made and it does, I think, get interesting, so please bear with me.  Spam, as a cultural euphemism for annoying emails and whatnot actually got its start in 1970 in the land of Merry Old England – Great Britain.


     Monty Python’s Flying Circus was a comedy troupe in Great Britain comprised of the performers, who were also the writers and animators, by the names of: Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Michael Palin.  All these blokes were highly educated members of well-known colleges or universities.  They started airing their show on the 5th of October 1969 and continued to broadcast their show until 1974.  The seminal date that helps to coin email and forum message marketing as spam occurred on December 15th, 1970.


     In 1970, the Flying Circus aired the skit, titled, simply enough, “Spam.”  In this skit a pair of diners are in a greasy spoon diner and are attempting to order from the menu, where everything has a component of Spam to it.  During the course of this three and a half minutes, the word spam was used at least one hundred and thirty-two times.  As the pair attempts to order and asks questions of the counter girl, they discuss the menu items and their spam content.


     As the word spam is used repeatedly, the other patrons, who are dressed as Vikings, begin to stand and sing, “Spam, spam, spam, wonderful spam,” getting louder as they do.  Each time they start, they are shushed by the irate counter girl.  As the skit goes on, however, the Vikings become more difficult to control, until at the end, the customers are raised up on wires as the Vikings sing gustily about spam.  Other events occur in the skit and are incidental to it, yet all help to raise the silliness factor of the Spam singing Vikings.


     In 1970, there was no Internet.  There was, however, Arpanet.  Arpanet began as a military advanced research project to prevent loss of communications in the event of a nuclear attack.  In 1962, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in conjunction with the U. S. Air Force (the central command force in control of detecting incoming nuclear missile attacks and a response to them) began work on a project to create a decentralized communications network that would survive one or more nuclear hits and still function with what remained.


     While the history of the creation and formation of the backbone that became the Internet is, in and of itself, quite fascinating, we’re going to skip it for this article.  The first functional test bed for Arpa-Net appeared in 1965.  The people putting all this together were not kids in some basement, they were highly respected and degreed scientists, engineers and technicians.  They were quite distinctly highbrow eggheads.  These were some of the first computer geeks the world has ever known.


     It is no small wonder, then, that when Monty Python’s Flying Circus began to be aired in 1969 (four years into the establishment of a working inter-network) on American PBS broadcasts that these cloistered, highly intelligent people found it a great release from the rigorous and stressful work they engaged in – in secret at this time.  It seems that highbrow and surrealistic humor is not only the geeks' province and purview, it is the crowning marriage of intelligence and humor designed with the intelligentsia of such a project in mind.


     The first email system appeared around 1971.  Can you now see the connection?  At this time, only large universities, military research institutions and large corporate think tanks had access to Arpa-Net.  At around this time, the government, realizing that the project’s reach was growing beyond the original parameters of a simple Command and Control system, handed the project to the Department of Defense and it was accordingly renamed Darpa-Net (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) putting the scope and mission from simple Nuclear Attack Command and Control to a working communications network that linked places such as Stanford University, MIT, the Rand Corporation, TRW, Air Force, Army, Navy and Defense Department installations and research agencies all over the United States and beyond.


     By 1973, close to 75% of all the communications going through Darpa-Net was private and personal email communications.  At this time, it was deemed prudent to dismantle many of the Defense Department connections (as such) and to turn the project over to the National Science Foundation.


     The National Science Foundation began immediately working to connect all the colleges and universities it could to the nascent Internet, now called NSF-net.  At this time, the NSF began to select private companies to administer and support sectors of the network and designated them Access Providers.  At this point in time, it was still an entirely private network and didn’t allow commercial enterprise.  However, as news of its use began to spread to more colleges and universities and private think tanks, the commercial sector began to hear more and more about it – and champed at the bit to get into it.


     It just continued to grow and spread, but the internet wasn’t officially launched as such until Public Law 102-194 (which Al Gore co-authored) was passed in 1991.  While Al Gore didn’t invent the Internet, he was responsible for its access to the public and commercial sectors beyond.  Before this time, most of us web crawlers (I started using BBSs and Usenet groups in 1987) just called it the World Wide Web, in synch with the prefix for all Domain Name Addresses when name servers were introduced, circa 1984.


     By this time, Spam was already well established into what we now call the Internet.  It was called spam, because in the early entry of commercial enterprise, businesses would get onto a Usenet service (Bulletin Board Services or BBSs) and flood groups with repetitive marketing messages.  Forum and Usenet members would respond to these floods with the words, "Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam," etc. as a way of indicating that they wished it would stop.  It was silly and annoying, like those “Bloody Vikings,” from the skit by Monty Python.


     It’s also important to note that a lot of people before that time did not just see the TV broadcast skit.  Monty Python, when its shows were cancelled, took their act on the road and also made many recorded albums of their skits (I have: Live at City Center, which includes, Spam as one of its skits.)  So there are more than one version of spam.  There are different radio and recorded broadcasts, as well as the traveling show, that didn’t include the patrons being lifted away in the air and instead, ended with an operatic send up of the Vikings singing the spam song, with the counter girl ultimately saying in irritated stoicism, “Bloody Vikings.”


     From those early days, where legitimate businesses began to flood Usenet groups and BBSs with their repetitive marketing (the first forms of junk mail on the internet) to now, the word spam has come to include many non-legitimate services such as pornographic websites, multi-level marketing schemes, email scams, even repetitive posts by members with rants and raves; and other, less savory, activity.  While in 2007, Hormel may have sold its seven billionth can of Spam, it is estimated that in 2011 alone, seven trillion spam messages have been sent.


     Spam is ubiquitous now.  It is out there.  It is a productive and bandwidth drain that creates a necessity in many Internet Service Providers to purchase more servers and bandwidth than they would otherwise need to handle the drain on their services due to spam.  Spam is something we all would do well to avoid or at least have to deal with in small doses.  Anything that can slow down the spam in a forum, emails, messaging services, internet websites, is something that could become a commercialized cash cow.


     Now you know all you could ever really need to know about spam in all its forms.  I hope this little history lesson, in the vein of “Connections: by James Burke” was at least interesting and informative.

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Superb history for a former Sr. Large Systems mainframe operator prior to expatriation. Thanks for this Dunnite.

Awesome reporting of SPAM and spam... and I knew Al Gore had something to do with it!! :))
Highly interesting and informative it was Mr Dunnitowl. Thank you.
Thanks, all!

Kate, I didn't "forget" that factoid. It wasn't germane or even part of my research. All I was interested in was the initial creation and "history" or where Spam/spam comes from and how it came to be what it is. I will readily admit that I had no idea about the strike, but I wasn't doing a history of Hormel, just spam.

Bear in mind that Hormel produces a whole lot more than spam. I still like Hormel Chili, Tamales and a few other items. I just can't eat Spam anymore -- errk! Way too salty for this boy. The fat I can handle.

markinjapan, with the one first sentence, I know a whole lot more about you and your handle. Thanks for that.

Brazen, I always thought Al Gore was being "misquoted" as having invented the Internet, but in a sense, as a co-author of the bill that allowed public and commercial access to it (meaning now people could make their own web based presences as well as for those of companies) one could reliably argue that, while not inventing it, he certainly, in your vernacular, "had something to do with it."


j.h. robbins, thank you. I'm glad you found it of interest.

I often like to speak to the idea that I 'hate research' in the sense that having to do it in order to write something is such a time sink and I do most prefer to rely on my personal biological memory and my ability to absorb shitloads of data and retain it. That said, even as a child in school, I was always reading beyond my "requirements" in that I could be found out there, on the playground, reading books on Astronomy, the Civil War (war history and military history are two of my most 'studied' subjects until about age 25) and our Revolutionary Leaders (biographies are not nearly as boring as most might think.) I went through phases, but I was always reading *something* other than just my required school texts.

IN this light, I have a lot of data up in the Craniac. Most of my research today is light to heavy "skimming" of external data for fact checking and the odd bits I don't already know. This particular article was brought to you by my immersion into computing in general since 1980 or so (when I was 19 going on 20) and my more literal immersion since 1987 when I got my first home computer, hooked into Usenet, CompuServe and the WWW, which aided my data absorbtion of technical data several fold, and continues to grow from there.

The little factoids about Spam were verified and amplified by Wikipedia, Hormel.com and a few other less known sites that don't bear mention worthy of this little article. Monty Python's Flying Circus was one of the few programs my stepdad would watch with me. Anyone that has ever met me is "wowed" by my ability to spit out lines from movies and shows with great accuracy.

I am constantly asked, "How many times did you watch that?"

I love the looks on their faces when I say, "Just the one time."

And now for something completely different: A man with three buttocks. (cue music)
So Spam is bits and scraps of waste...which clogs arteries of all kinds.
nice history....though i figure most of us over 60 knew a lot of it....but one line grabs me.....with all the political,social,racial,etc,doom and gloom spread today....remember when we WERE under threat of nuclear strike? now there's some DOOM for ya.....gonna re-read now....didnt know much of the internet history part....nice work...
Thanks for the reminder.

Poor John Cleese, to think that this would be a part of his legacy... ooch!
Ande: that's such a revealing comment. I never thought about the implications of that juxtaposition:
Spam (the product) is high in salt and saturated fats, both known to increase the chances of plaque buildup in the arteries, contributing to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and deteriorated physical function.

Spam (the internet plague) also clogs the arteries and systems of it's home, reducing functionality, causes debilitation, stress and increased pressure on the system to perform as it would without out. And it's costs associated with it also increase in the same way health care costs increase associated with unhealthy diets.

Steel Breeze. Yah. I used to have dreams where I actually would be in some place and get to 'see' a nuclear strike on a city, watching in horrid, fascinating (and excruciatingly fear inducing) immobility as the flash would burn away entire areas of that city, with the shock wave preceeding the actual blast, levelling wide swaths and vaporizing most in its path. I cannot tell you how fast my heart was hammering when I awoke from *those.*

I would have those dreams pretty regularly from about 1967 (six going on seven) up to the early 1980s (while I was in the US Air Force) before I somehow managed to not be so damn worried about it that it invaded my sleep. Not good.

Inverted: I don't know, I think John Cleese (one of the two out of the Flying Circus who achieved something beyond its demise along with American Terry Gilliam) would actually be proud that their silly little skit has attained the level of fame, even if it is associated with a pernicious thing like internet spam, because the whole point of the skit was about how silly spam is when it's part of everything else on the menu.

After all, we're talking about the head of the Ministry for Silly Walks here.

Thanks one and all for reading and commenting!
Top notch work. This would make a great magazine article!

Why not send it to Business Insider and Huffington Post?

Thanks, Skypixie0! I consider that high praise indeed. I will seriously consider your recommendation. I might want to take my first draft and "polish" it a tad before doing so. Still, I am quite gratified by your comment.
Fascinating reading about the origin of the Internet. Kind of like the "bug" that got into one of the first computers - only that one was a real bug.
This is a great history of spam, real and virtual. Hawaiians still eat large quantities of Spam. At first I couldn't fathom why and then I remembered eating poi. I found some great spam recipes on line. My favorite is Spam kabobs with spam, pineapple, bell pepper, plantains and cocktail onions basted with Teriyaki sauce. Fortunately, my wife held me back from throwing some of those babies on the grill. R
Thanks, Jeanne. Yeah, the first bug was actually -- a bug, a true to life insect. Then again, it was about that same time that one of the VPs of Research and Development at IBM predicted:
One day, perhaps within the next two decades, a computer will weigh less than a ton. (circa 1967) I find computing to be one of the most fascinating fields, because it's advances spur greater advances in other areas as software and hardware changes allow greater data collection and analysis of experiments or makes things possible that once were thought to be taking hundreds of years (Human Genome, anyone?) to complete.

Yes, escrito, the article actually mentions that Hawaii, Guam and the Marianas Islands are still the largest consumers per capita of Spam. I once saw at a luau, a completely made of Spam "roast" pig, including the pineapple, palm leaves, passion fruit, breadfruit and the ubiquitous poi. I have to be honest though, I'd eat the Spam pig before I ever dip my fingers into another poi bowl. That stuff ain't for me. Eww, tastes like rancid school paste to me.

'Ere, mate, thrao another Spam kibab on the barbie.

Thanks again all for reading and commenting!