Happy 30th Birthday SPAM – Damn You Gary Thuerk!

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The next time the Nigerian bankers send that once in a lifetime opportunity to help them get $20 million dollars out of their country and you salivate over the $4 million into your pocket for helping, you can thank Digital Equipment Corporation’s Gary Thuerk for sending the first SPAM 30 years ago this month. Much to the chagrin of the people at Hormel corporation, their pork staple in a can is now linked with billions of messages sent all over the world for which not one person asked.

I’ve been browsing Brad Templeton’s excellently technical and wonkish blogsite complete with an etymological page on the origins of SPAM as a term. It seems Gary was an overly aggressive marketer on the Internet’s predecessor, the Arpanet. This was the place where government computer scientists, physicists and key agency staff communicated.

The offending message was the brief unsolicited e-mail below (note, shouting in ALL CAPS was probably not a big Nettiquette issue then):

DIGITAL WILL BE GIVING A PRODUCT PRESENTATION OF THE NEWEST MEMBERS OF THE DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY; THE DECSYSTEM-2020, 2020T, 2060, AND 2060T.  THE DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY OF COMPUTERS HAS EVOLVED FROM THE TENEX OPERATING SYSTEM AND THE DECSYSTEM-10 <PDP-10> COMPUTER ARCHITECTURE.  BOTH THE DECSYSTEM-2060T AND 2020T OFFER FULL ARPANET SUPPORT UNDER THE TOPS-20 OPERATING SYSTEM.

THE DECSYSTEM-2060 IS AN UPWARD EXTENSION OF THE CURRENT DECSYSTEM 2040 AND 2050 FAMILY. THE DECSYSTEM-2020 IS A NEW LOW END MEMBER OF THE DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY AND FULLY SOFTWARE COMPATIBLE WITH ALL OF THE OTHER DECSYSTEM-20 MODELS.

WE INVITE YOU TO COME SEE THE 2020 AND HEAR ABOUT THE DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY AT THE TWO PRODUCT PRESENTATIONS WE WILL BE GIVING IN CALIFORNIA THIS MONTH.  THE LOCATIONS WILL BE:

TUESDAY, MAY 9, 1978 – 2 PM
HYATT HOUSE (NEAR THE L.A. AIRPORT)
LOS ANGELES, CA

THURSDAY, MAY 11, 1978 – 2 PM
DUNFEY’S ROYAL COACH
SAN MATEO, CA
(4 MILES SOUTH OF S.F. AIRPORT AT BAYSHORE, RT 101 AND RT 92)

A 2020 WILL BE THERE FOR YOU TO VIEW. ALSO TERMINALS ON-LINE TO OTHER DECSYSTEM-20 SYSTEMS THROUGH THE ARPANET. IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO ATTEND, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO CONTACT THE NEAREST DEC OFFICE FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE EXCITING DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY.

Gary explained his message Brad… which was properly flamed on the discussion link. (A English translation is available.)

“DEC was mostly an east coast company, and he had lots of contacts on the east coast to push the new Dec-20 to customers there. But with less presence on the west coast, he wanted to hold some open houses and reach all the people there. In those days, there was a printed directory of all people on the Arpanet. Gary spoke to his technical associate, and arranged to have all the addresses in the directory on the west coast typed in, and then added some customer contacts in other locations, including people at ARPA headquarters who did not, according to Thuerk, complain.

The engineer, Carl Gartley, was an early employee at DEC who had been called in to help with promoting the new Decsystem-20. They worked on the message for a few days, going through a few rewrites. Finally, on May 3, Gartley logged on to Gary’s account to send the mail.

The mail program would only accept 320 addresses. The rest overflowed into the body of the message. When they found some recipients had not gotten it, they re-sent the message to the rest of the recipients. According to Thuerk, they were unaware of the “address file” function in the mail program that would have enabled a mailing list.

Thuerk thought, and maintains to this day that he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong — even though he gets a moderate amount of spam on his current E-mail account. He felt the Dec-20 was really relevant news to the Arpanet community, the first major system with Arpanet software built into it. Indeed, some of those who commented on the message felt it was definitely more of interest than other small mass mailings they had seen, with baby announcements and personal trivia.”

Aaah tech boys will be tech boys won’t they? In fairness he probably did not realise the genie he was releasing from the bottle. Alas as we have seen in the current Administration’s zeal to ensure proper accountability and accept full blame for every mis-step and mistake, the buck, sir, stops on your desk.

So raise a glass, throw a tomato, toilet paper his house, set a flaming bag of poo alight on his porch or otherwise send a giant raspberry to Gary Theurk, who, in the words of Countdown’s Keith Olbermann, would be today’s, “worst person in the world.”

Anyone know this guys e-mail address? I’d love to put him on permanent forward for the Viagra and penis implant adverts I receive by the dozen.

Denis G Campbell View more

Denis G Campbell
Denis G. Campbell is founder and editor of UK Progressive magazine and co-host of The Three Muckrakers podcast. He is the author of 7 books and provides Americas, EU and Middle Eastern commentary to the BBC, itv, Al Jazeera English, CNN, CRI, MSNBC and others. He is CEO of Monknash Media and a principal with B2E Consulting in London. You can follow him on Twitter @UKProgressive and on Facebook.

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