(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘spam

“Doing research on the Web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly”*…

But surely, argues Jonathan Zittrain, it shouldn’t be that way…

Sixty years ago the futurist Arthur C. Clarke observed that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The internet—how we both communicate with one another and together preserve the intellectual products of human civilization—fits Clarke’s observation well. In Steve Jobs’s words, “it just works,” as readily as clicking, tapping, or speaking. And every bit as much aligned with the vicissitudes of magic, when the internet doesn’t work, the reasons are typically so arcane that explanations for it are about as useful as trying to pick apart a failed spell.

Underpinning our vast and simple-seeming digital networks are technologies that, if they hadn’t already been invented, probably wouldn’t unfold the same way again. They are artifacts of a very particular circumstance, and it’s unlikely that in an alternate timeline they would have been designed the same way.

The internet’s distinct architecture arose from a distinct constraint and a distinct freedom: First, its academically minded designers didn’t have or expect to raise massive amounts of capital to build the network; and second, they didn’t want or expect to make money from their invention.

The internet’s framers thus had no money to simply roll out a uniform centralized network the way that, for example, FedEx metabolized a capital outlay of tens of millions of dollars to deploy liveried planes, trucks, people, and drop-off boxes, creating a single point-to-point delivery system. Instead, they settled on the equivalent of rules for how to bolt existing networks together.

Rather than a single centralized network modeled after the legacy telephone system, operated by a government or a few massive utilities, the internet was designed to allow any device anywhere to interoperate with any other device, allowing any provider able to bring whatever networking capacity it had to the growing party. And because the network’s creators did not mean to monetize, much less monopolize, any of it, the key was for desirable content to be provided naturally by the network’s users, some of whom would act as content producers or hosts, setting up watering holes for others to frequent.

Unlike the briefly ascendant proprietary networks such as CompuServe, AOL, and Prodigy, content and network would be separated. Indeed, the internet had and has no main menu, no CEO, no public stock offering, no formal organization at all. There are only engineers who meet every so often to refine its suggested communications protocols that hardware and software makers, and network builders, are then free to take up as they please.

So the internet was a recipe for mortar, with an invitation for anyone, and everyone, to bring their own bricks. Tim Berners-Lee took up the invite and invented the protocols for the World Wide Web, an application to run on the internet. If your computer spoke “web” by running a browser, then it could speak with servers that also spoke web, naturally enough known as websites. Pages on sites could contain links to all sorts of things that would, by definition, be but a click away, and might in practice be found at servers anywhere else in the world, hosted by people or organizations not only not affiliated with the linking webpage, but entirely unaware of its existence. And webpages themselves might be assembled from multiple sources before they displayed as a single unit, facilitating the rise of ad networks that could be called on by websites to insert surveillance beacons and ads on the fly, as pages were pulled together at the moment someone sought to view them.

And like the internet’s own designers, Berners-Lee gave away his protocols to the world for free—enabling a design that omitted any form of centralized management or control, since there was no usage to track by a World Wide Web, Inc., for the purposes of billing. The web, like the internet, is a collective hallucination, a set of independent efforts united by common technological protocols to appear as a seamless, magical whole.

This absence of central control, or even easy central monitoring, has long been celebrated as an instrument of grassroots democracy and freedom. It’s not trivial to censor a network as organic and decentralized as the internet. But more recently, these features have been understood to facilitate vectors for individual harassment and societal destabilization, with no easy gating points through which to remove or label malicious work not under the umbrellas of the major social-media platforms, or to quickly identify their sources. While both assessments have power to them, they each gloss over a key feature of the distributed web and internet: Their designs naturally create gaps of responsibility for maintaining valuable content that others rely on. Links work seamlessly until they don’t. And as tangible counterparts to online work fade, these gaps represent actual holes in humanity’s knowledge…

The glue that holds humanity’s knowledge together is coming undone: “The Internet Is Rotting.” @zittrain explains what we can do to heal it.

(Your correspondent seconds his call to support the critically-important work of The Internet Archive and the Harvard Library Innovation Lab, along with the other initiatives he outlines.)

* Roger Ebert

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As we protect our past for the future, we might recall that it was on this date in 1937 that Hormel introduced Spam. It was the company’s attempt to increase sales of pork shoulder, not at the time a very popular cut. While there are numerous speculations as to the “meaning of the name” (from a contraction of “spiced ham” to “Scientifically Processed Animal Matter”), its true genesis is known to only a small circle of former Hormel Foods executives.

As a result of the difficulty of delivering fresh meat to the front during World War II, Spam became a ubiquitous part of the U.S. soldier’s diet. It became variously referred to as “ham that didn’t pass its physical,” “meatloaf without basic training,” and “Special Army Meat.” Over 150 million pounds of Spam were purchased by the military before the war’s end. During the war and the occupations that followed, Spam was introduced into Guam, Hawaii, Okinawa, the Philippines, and other islands in the Pacific. Immediately absorbed into native diets, it has become a unique part of the history and effects of U.S. influence in the Pacific islands.

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“The magic voice of Greece where the violet sunsets glow O’er heroic cities of kings sung by Homer long ago”*…

 

mycenae

A horse and chariot with two charioteers – detail from a 14th-century BCE ceramic vessel excavated in 1952 at Mycenae

 

In 1999, UNESCO deemed Mycenae, located in the Peloponnese of modern Greece, to be a World Heritage site, highlighting the impact the site had and continues to have on European art and literature for more than three millennia.

Mycenae was a place of considerable power and a key site of the Mycenaean civilisation in the Late Bronze Age (c. 1600-1100 BCE). The stories associated with this site and its remains would go on to play a vital role in classical Greek culture as a source of inspiration in art and literature. Mycenae was part of a complex Bronze Age society with impressive architecture, and complex arts and crafts. Thanks to its control of key trade routes by both sea and land, the city flourished…

Archives relating to the British excavations of one of the most celebrated and famous cities of the ancient world, Mycenae in Greece, have been digitized on the Cambridge Digital Library to celebrate the centenary of the British archaeological dig.  Explore the ancient Greek city of Mycenae in a newly released digital archive: “Digital Mycenae.”

* Alan Wace, Greece Untrodden

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As we travel through time, we might note that today begins National Canned Luncheon Meat Week, “celebrated” the first week of July each year… deviled ham, corned beef, scrapple, and of course, Spam.

The pandemic’s one-two punch of enforced eating at home and employment/income uncertainty has led to a surge in (shelf-stable, inexpensive) canned meat sales in the U.S. of more than 70% in the 15 weeks ended June 13.

But that doesn’t have to be grim.  Here, for example, is a recipe for “Spam ‘cookies’ on a stick, with hot holiday cheese dipping sauce.”

 

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 1, 2020 at 1:01 am

Up, Up, and Away!…

Japanese photographer Natsumi Hayashi uses her blog, Yowayowa Camera Woman, to post her wonderfully whimsical series of self-portraits… in each of which she is levitating.  (Explanation of the technique involved, here.)

[TotH to Kottke.org]

As we feel ourselves rising, we might spare a sweet thought for Aaron “Bunny” Lapin; he died on this date in 1999.  In 1948, Lapin invented Reddi-Wip, the pioneering whipped cream dessert topping dispensed from a spray can.   First sold by milkmen in St. Louis, the product rode the post-World War Two convenience craze to national success; in 1998, it was named by Time one of the century’s “100 great consumer items”– along with the pop-top can and Spam.  Lapin became known as the Whipped Cream King; but his legacy is broader:  in 1955, he patented a special valve to control the flow of Reddi-Wip from the can, and formed The Clayton Corporation to manufacture it.  Reddi-Wip is now a Con-Agra brand; but Clayton goes strong, now also making industrial valves, closures, caulk, adhesives and foamed plastic products (like insulation and cushioning materials).

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The Quest for Verisimilitude…

Brandalism:  Any advertisement in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It belongs to you. It’s yours to take, rearrange and re-use. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.”
— Banksy (Wall and Piece)

The good folks at Behance pondered the ways that familiar logos might be revised better to reflect their subject’s essence…

More at “Honest Logos.”

As we wonder if it can be printed on a tee shirt, we might recall that it was on this date in 1864 that the first instance of mass unsolicited electronic commercial communication occurred.  As The Economist recounts: “several British politicians were disturbed by a knock at the door and the delivery of a telegram—a most unusual occurrence at such a late hour.  Had war broken out?  Had the queen been taken ill?  They ripped open the envelopes and were surprised to find a message relating not to some national calamity, but to dentistry. Messrs Gabriel, of 27 Harley Street, advised that their dental practice would be open from 10am to 5pm until October. Infuriated, some of the recipients of this unsolicited message wrote to the Times. ‘I have never had any dealings with Messrs Gabriel,’ thundered one of them, ‘and beg to know by what right do they disturb me by a telegram which is simply the medium of advertisement?’  The Times helpfully reprinted the offending telegram, providing its senders with further free publicity.  This was, notes Matthew Sweet, a historian, the first example of what is known today as ‘spam’.”

Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 10, 2011 at 1:01 am

The Journal of Unintended Connotations, Canadian Edition…

To be perfectly blunt about it, The Beaver was an impediment on the Internet. People were literally writing us and saying, ‘We can’t get your e-newsletter because it’s being spam-filtered out, can you change the title of the heading?’ … There were some really unfortunate but practical reasons why The Beaver couldn’t be the universal brand. That’s the factor why it was a deterrent — particularly amongst women and people under the age of 45. Unfortunately, sometimes words take on an identity that wasn’t intended in 1920, when it was all about the fur trade.

Deborah Morrison, president of Canada’s National History Society, explains why The Beaver, Canada’s second-oldest history magazine has decided to change its name to the more straightforward Canada’s History.  (TotH to GMSV)

As we listen for naughty echoes, we might rejoice that it was on this date in 1605 that El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha ( or The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha— aka Don Quixote), the masterwork of Miguel de Cervantes (and of the Spanish Golden Age) was first published.

Original title page

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