The Story of the xbiff Spam Bitmaps

empty plate plate of spam

In 1991, I was working for the Free Software Foundation. My workstation was running HP-UX 7.0 and I didn't like it very much. In fact, I named the machine nutrimat because I was reminded of the drink dispenser in Douglas Adam's book Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in that the system seemed almost, but not quite, entirely unlike unix. Since HP-UX was to BSD as Spam® was to edible food, at some point I bought a can of Spam to put on top of nutrimat's monitor.

I don't know why, but this was a frequent subject of humor around the office for a while, and somehow it occured to me to carry the idea further by finding (or making) various spam icons for my X window desktop. When I found out that you could replace the icons displayed by xbiff, I just had to do it. I got so much mail, the damned thing kept going off all the time. (I used to be fairly email interrupt driven until I started getting spammed senseless with unsolicited commercial email. I used to say that my top level was read-eval-reply.)

I couldn't find any GIFs or other kinds of bitmaps on the internet which seemed like they would be usable for xbiff, so I broke down and drew my own, pixel by pixel (I just happened to have a model on top of my monitor to work from). I probably wasted half a day on them, then never got around to making different icons for other programs.

Lately of course, the spam theme in a mail notification program is all too appropriate. I don't think I'd call it a happy accident, though I do find it faintly amusing.

Incidentally, if you convert the spam bitmap to ascii using the bmtoa program from the X11 distribution, the results look a great deal like an ASCII terminal being viewed through a keyhole.