I get tons of junk e-mail every day - so much, in fact, that I've learned to tune it out to a great extent. You could call me an automatic deleter. If I don't recognize the sender's name, the subject is strange, or the text resembles unsolicited garbage, I eliminate it immediately from my inbox. I have absolutely no interest in spam whatsoever. However, this recent news story talks about a fellow who analyzes spam for artistic purposes: "One man's spam is another's art."
According to the story, "[Alex Dragulescu] 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."
Is spam just another art subject matter that Dragulescu hopes will catch on? It seems his aim is a bit more noble than that: "My efforts (have been) to expose the ubiquitous forms in which data and technology are both actively and passively shaping the ways we perceive and construct ourselves and others."
So, how exactly does it work? With my creative flare, I envision a bunch of dead leaves and vines with roots that infect all other surrounding plants... and that would explain why I'm not the artist here. "For the Spam Plants, [Dragulescuhe] parsed the data within junk e-mail—including subject lines, headers and footers—to detect relationships between that data. Then he visually represents those relationships... 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."
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Sonja Thompson started at TechRepublic in October 1999. She is a former Senior Editor at TechRepublic.