When 3D spam got old

The latest instalment of Sven Johnson’s Future Imperfect is part of the Superstruct project.

Future Imperfect - Sven Johnson

Within it, a future iteration of Sven takes a moment on a cruise-gone-wrong to reflect on the history of 3D spam – the flipside of the fabrication revolution.


So here it is: 2019, and I’m slow-cruising across the Atlantic in a ship which should have been scrapped instead of dragged out of mothballs, refitted with a value-priced propulsion system and pressed into low-cost passenger service.

Yeah, I’m cheap. And with airline ticket prices skyrocketing I don’t have a problem admitting it; I’m not here to impress anybody.

Besides, I figured I’d give the cruise experience a try, y’know. I spent four years in the Navy. How bad could this be?

Well, back in my day, pirates weren’t trying to spoof satellite positioning systems in hopes of luring your defenseless ass into a web of buzzing jetboats tended by some fuel-sucking mothership. And if that failed, they wouldn’t throw a tantrum and hijack the electromagnetic spectrum for the better part of two freakin’ days. Does anyone truly appreciate the psychological torture a bunch of net-disconnected gamer kids can inflict on a sane adult unfortunate enough to be stuck with them on some rust bucket waddling at ten knots across the ocean?

I don’t think so.

It was okay when the pirate stories originated off the Somali coast and involved arms shipments. It’s not so okay when it happens in the North Atlantic and involves moi.

So anyway, what comes to mind now as I sit here eating dinner in the ship’s galley is that it’s been ten solid years since I tried to leave a comment – a warning – on a Futurismic blog entry which raised the possibility of 3D spam.

I tried to alert people to the real dangers; to get the message out. But the PHP gods denied me.

And don’t think I didn’t make more than one effort. I did. Several, in fact. Especially after someone left a bonehead comment about how “there will never be 3D spam” because of the shipping costs involved. Hello? Did that dude never use a home fax machine? Never hear the term “fax spam” or “junk fax“?

Being too sure of yourself is a dangerous thing, folks. As are words like “never” … and “lifetime warranty”.

I can remember the first “fab spam” outbreak like it was yesterday.

Ever walk through a field and come out on the other end with burrs clinging to your clothes? Well, imagine something like those little burrs spilling out of your home fabber. Embedding themselves in the shag carpet. Attaching to an angry cat. Perforating your foot.

If you bothered to look closely, you might even have seen the maker’s mark … right beneath the words “Firewall Protection Software” or “Network Security Services”.

Used to be if someone got past the free firewall you opted to download and install, the damage was “virtual”. Now you have to worry about someone inserting your fabber’s cache with dimensionally enhanced body part files you wouldn’t feel comfortable explaining to another adult, let alone the kids or visiting in-laws.

So what brings this up now, ten years after the fact? Well, like I said, I’m on this ship crossing the Atlantic, and while the food hasn’t been great, up til now it’s been pretty decent. Unfortunately, one of our refrigeration units – the big one – had to go and blow a valve; a system critical thermostatic expansion valve, to be specific.

See, the problem is ships don’t carry very many spare parts these days. It’s not fuel efficient. They mostly carry a few fabbers preloaded with the necessary materials. There’s one or two for rubbery gaskets, another couple for plastic replacement items, and usually a big one for metal components … like the valve that blew on the refrigeration system and spoiled most of our food supply.

To make a long story a bit less long, the little bastards on that GPS-spoofing pirate ship accessed our fabbers during their EM spectrum hi-jinx. Needless to say, this ship won’t be making any spare parts for the remainder of this journey.

It also won’t need ball bearings. Ever.

Now I guess it’s a good thing the underway replenishment ship had MRE’s to spare, but it’s a shame they couldn’t fab the part we needed and send over some fresh supplies instead. Truth is, I can’t help but sit here staring at my half-eaten MRE and find that especially curious.

The Navy has been into direct digital manufacturing technology for a long, long time, and I would have thought they could generate a replacement without much effort. After all, it’s a pretty standard part and the 3D files are readily available.

Thinking about it, I have to wonder if they have 3D spam and fabjacking issues of their own.

Worse yet, maybe they do but don’t even know it. Chew on that thought.


Sven JohnsonSven Johnson is an unrooted freelance designer increasingly working at the intersection of tangible and virtual goods. His background is varied and includes a fair amount of travel, a pair of undergraduate degrees and a stint with the U.S. military. He’s a passionate wannabe filmmaker, a once-upon-a-time underground comix creator, and – when facilities are available – an enthusiastic ceramicist who is currently attempting to assemble a transmedia, transreality open-source narrative in what remains of his lifetime.

[Future Imperfect header based on an image by Kaunokainen.]

10 thoughts on “When 3D spam got old”

  1. 3D spam, who calls it 3D spam anymore? The official term is Spawn. Especially after the outbreak of those hellish little flying robots in April 2018.

    And if you would have gone with the cradle to cradle fab system, you would not be having that much of a problem. All you would have to have done is gather up the spawn and put them in the disassembler and you would have plenty of raw material to make your repairs. But nooooo, you had to go with a cheap fabber that produces soon to be junk that is every ware these days.

    But the one thing that never seems to change is that nobody listens to us dirty fracking hippies.

  2. Hey, it’s not my ship.

    And fwiw, I’m using the term from that old Futurismic entry which was still in use when the first newsworthy case occurred even though “3D spam” was *already* being used more appropriately for the emerging 3D internet.

  3. No. I never used a home fax machine. And anybody who accepts unauthenticated email to a fabber deserves some damn burrs in their carpet.

    Why is the ship not armed? Is the company embezzling the stipend from their letters of marque and reprisal? The UN never should have permitted that Royal Princess / Carnival merger in the first place.

  4. “No. I never used a home fax machine”

    And apparently hadn’t heard about junk fax either, yet felt you were sufficiently informed to make an absolute statement about a related technology. Got it.

    “And anybody who accepts unauthenticated email to a fabber deserves some damn burrs in their carpet.”

    Unauthenticated email? What makes you assume those intrusions were email-based (as if anyone even uses email anymore)? Are you actually assuming all compromised networks are the result of opening an unauthenticated email? Seriously?

    “Why is the ship not armed”?

    a) What makes you think it’s *completely* unarmed?
    b) Why wasn’t the Lusitania, after being fitted with mounts in 1913, armed with deck guns? and would it even have mattered?
    c) Why are U.S. Navy transports carrying marines and SEALs essentially unarmed? The ship I was on had WWII vintage 3″ guns that did little more than get a laugh out of the foreign sailors who toured her.

    Weapons add cost and weight. Weapons also come with people to maintain them. That adds more cost. It also takes away room for passengers. That reduces operating income. With fuel prices so high, they’re already doing everything they can to turn a profit. And North Atlantic shipping lanes have been mostly pretty safe. More safe than when the Lusitania was cruising about.

  5. Heh. Yeah, csven, I know a little about spam. (Despammed.com, not that you’ve ever heard of it.) It’s been interesting to be on the other end of blazing arrogance for once, but … you’re really into yourself.

  6. Urgh, I have a deadline, but I really need to respond in more detail, just for my own peace of mind.

    I never had a home fax machine because I realized that allowing people to print things on my paper with my ink was a losing proposition. I had eFax roughly three seconds after eFax existed, and never needed to worry about junk fax, except for realizing that it wasn’t as fun to track as email spam. So on point #1 of your rebuttal, you’re full of shit. You’re even accusing me of making assumptions in absence of data. A classic.

    As to point #2, I had trusted that your powers of generalization were sufficient to realize that “email” as a protocol was not the point, and that unauthenticated reproduction of non-virtual content was. My assumption was unfounded. I do apologize; next time, in the unlikely event there is a next time, I’ll remember you prefer your logic spoon-fed.

    And as to your series of points about armedness versus unarmedness — that’s where you ceased to be amusing. Do enjoy your fun. And please — feel free to continue calling people numbskulls in public to your heart’s content. God knows we all enjoy it.

    I guess my actual point is this: spam relies on faulty security. Your original post was not specifically about spam — it was, in fact, about remote 3D fabrication services, with a geek squee at the end that There! Might! Even! Be! 3D! Spam! That post remains unconvincing. You may find spam exciting, and for all I know, you thought junk faxes were really cool — but my original point remains. Allowing security breaches through something that actually fabricates a solid object with potential to harm is not a security hole that people will fail to notice. The only reason security holes persist in email is that most people don’t understand why their PC should be botnet-protected, or their server shouldn’t be an open relay. You can’t tell me people won’t understand that their fabber should not be directly connected to the Internet.

    A case could be made that existing unsecured PCs may have fabbers as a peripheral. This would be a real can of worms — but again, for the very reasons you mention, I can’t see people leaving them that way. Can you? Honestly? Voting records notwithstanding, most people really aren’t the idiots you seem to expect.

    There will undoubtedly be security breaches in conjunction with fabbers. But that’s not spam. One part of the definition of spam (disputed, so if you want to continue to pose, go ahead) is its bulk nature. I remain unconvinced that bulk unauthorized 3D fabbing will be a problem.

    If you intended to argue that it was, and if you care about actually arguing the point, and if anybody is misguided enough to be reading this at this late date, feel free to argue the point. But if your intent was to prove your superiority, then, I guess I cede that point. You win. Enjoy your prize.

  7. a) You apparently think I owned a home fax machine since you seem to be making a point of using non-ownership as an excuse for being unaware of fax spam. It isn’t necessary to actually have owned one to understand the potential issue. Nor is it necessary to know anything about the issue to understand that declarations such as “never” are dangerous and can be interpreted as a form of “blazing arrogance” to which others might react.

    b) My “powers of generalization” start from the material provided. If I didn’t manage to make the amazing leap from what you provided to what you’re now claiming you meant, then do please spoon feed me – all of us – in the future. Thank you.

    c) Regarding “Your original post”, you’ve lost me. I didn’t write a post “about remote 3D fabrication services” punctuated by a “geek squee”. You seem to be confusing me with someone else here.

    d) “You can’t tell me people won’t understand that their fabber should not be directly connected to the Internet. … I can’t see people leaving them that way. Can you? Honestly?”

    Understanding it should not be and actually keeping it from being connected are two different things. I know one corporation that didn’t keep its machines isolated from the Net and I’d venture plenty more don’t. So the answer is “Yes”, just as surely as computers on the ISS were reportedly infected by a “gaming virus” and government officials lose laptops, people will connect them to the Intarwebs even if it’s not the smartest thing to do.

    e) “One part of the definition of spam (disputed, so if you want to continue to pose, go ahead) is its bulk nature.” > “spilling out of your home fabber”; “It also won’t need ball bearings. Ever.”

    Weren’t you just offering to spoon feed me after making some smart ass comment about “powers of generalization”? Rhetorical question. I’m only asking myself why you believe you’re qualified when you seem to miss so much.

    f) “is misguided enough to be reading this at this late date”. You mean 2019, when I’m a less-than-pleasant elderly ass stuck on a rust bucket ship? But you got that right?

    No. Perhaps you didn’t. You’re probably stuck in the past and unable to get over someone giving an unidentified, overly absolutist “Michael” some deserved grief on the net. Chill out. Unless there’s only one person on the whole internet signing his comments “Michael”, no one knows you got pwn’d by an old man.


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