Adam Fields (weblog)

This blog is largely deprecated, but is being preserved here for historical interest. Check out my index page at for more up to date info. My main trade is technology strategy, process/project management, and performance optimization consulting, with a focus on enterprise and open source CMS and related technologies. More information. I write periodic long pieces here, shorter stuff goes on twitter or


Better presentation of search results

Filed under: — adam @ 12:40 pm

I just happened to notice that Clusty, which I’ve been using for searching for the past few months (their privacy policy is better than the others, although not perfect, and the results are mostly indistinguishable from Google’s or Yahoo’s), has some neat little buttons next to each result that are totally unobtrusive, to the point that I only even realized they were there today, but also extremely useful.

Two of them are kind of standard (open in a new window, and view the cluster for the search result), but the other one is so mindbogglingly obvious that I’m ashamed that they don’t all do this.

It’s preview. Click it and the link opens up in a small frame underneath the result without leaving the page. Even PDFs.


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The Shot Behind the Shot

Filed under: — adam @ 3:25 pm

A while back, I started a Flickr group called “The Shot Behind the Shot”. There aren’t many photos in it, but I like them all.

These are the rules for pictures in the group:

Every photograph tells a story. Some photographs capture a photographer trying to tell a story, and in doing so tell a completely different story.

This group is for those different stories.

Please be encouraged to add comments about why you felt compelled to capture the photographer capturing something else and what that means to you.

All shots must 1) have another photographer in the shot, 2) also include at least some of the subject of that photographer’s shot (no pictures of just photographers, and no pictures where you are the other photographer’s subject unless they otherwise meet the qualifications), and 3) tell a story different from the one that the photographer is telling. If the shot does not show what the other photographer is taking a picture of, this is the wrong group for it. Gratuitous pictures of public asses and/or nudity are acceptable, if they meet these qualifications. However, pictures may be arbitrarily deleted from the pool without comment at the discretion of the admins. Keep it tasteful and interesting. You have been warned.

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10,000 sheep drawn by the Amazon Mechanical Turk service

Filed under: — adam @ 10:04 am

Definitely click the “More…” link.

This is indicative of something, but I’m not sure what.

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Oh, the hairmanity.

Filed under: — adam @ 5:01 pm

Some sort of canonical list of bad 80s videos on YouTube.

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Pink something

Filed under: — adam @ 1:43 pm

I have no idea what this is about, but it is… pink.

(Via Doc)

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Not terribly impressed with the flickr redesign

Filed under: — adam @ 9:53 am

Flickr got a big redesign this week. Some of the visual tweaks are good, but overall, my feeling is “really? that’s it?”.

The thumbnails are bigger, and there are more per page by default. Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that?

I don’t understand why the sets moved from the left to the right, but there’s still a whole bunch of wasted white space on the page.

The new organizational structure doesn’t really seem to make navigating the site much easier, except that the archive page is easier to find. That’s good.

The new Organizr is AJAX instead of Flash, and it doesn’t work in Opera. Ditto for basically all of the other new dynamic elements on the page. Thanks for that, I guess. Everyone else seems to be able to make AJAX pages that work fine in Opera. Why can’t you?

Where’s the large version slideshow? Where’s the setting to view all pictures from your contacts? Where’s the ability to navigate your contacts’ pictures as if they were a set or a group?

Flickr’s still great, of course, but I’m thoroughly underwhelmed by the changes.

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It’s like a heatsink for your head – in praise of the Chillow

Filed under: — adam @ 7:59 am

It sounds stupid.

Okay, it sounds really stupid.

But it works.

I’m a big fan of the Chillow. It’s a sealed foam pad that you fill with 10 cups of water. The pad then acts as a heat sink to draw heat away from your body and release it to the air. I was given one a few summers ago by a friend who ordered one and got a free one as part of a promotion, and I was immediately hooked. When I’m hot, I don’t sleep well. With a chillow, I sleep a lot more soundly, and often I fall asleep almost immediately upon laying my head down on it.

It’s not without its problems – it’s very dense, so if you don’t like the feeling of a big weight under your head, it may not be comfortable for you. It doesn’t bother me. It also may tend to bunch up if the pillow under it isn’t supportive enough to keep it in one place. I’ve never had a problem with leakage. The previous ones I’ve had didn’t last forever – they each developed a stale smell after about 6 months and I tossed them. I’m not sure if that’s the water or the plastic casing, but the newest one I’ve just gotten seems to be made out of a slightly different material, so we’ll see. The instructions do not say to periodically change the water, so I may also try that. Even still, at around $20 per six months (at, the recurring cost is easily worth the benefits to my sleep patterns and comfort.

It’s a stupid-sounding product that I probably would never have even known I needed if the decision had been left to me, but I’m a total convert.

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Good articles on using RAID1 with linux

Filed under: — adam @ 7:29 am

I have my big data drives on a RAID5 array, but they can’t boot individually if the array fails. RAID1 addresses that problem.

These links are helpful for migrating an existing system to using a RAID1 boot/root disk setup.

That first is particularly good, as it details how to set up the array with a failed member initially so you can get it set up, copy your data to it on the new drive, then add your existing drive to it, without overwriting your existing contents. I haven’t tried it yet, but the instructions look right. The others are about using grub with RAID1 drives.

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Autonomous robot does heart surgery!

Filed under: — adam @ 9:28 am

Wow, the future is now!

The Italian expert has used the robot surgeon for at least 40 previous operations, some of which have been described in detail in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The novelty of this latest experience is that the robot was able to conduct the entire procedure by itself. In the past it needed specific orders from its operator along the way.

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Privacy without hiding

Filed under: — adam @ 8:57 am

Excellent article from Bruce Schneier on why privacy is important, even if “you have nothing to hide”.

‘We do nothing wrong when we make love or go to the bathroom. We are not deliberately hiding anything when we seek out private places for reflection or conversation. We keep private journals, sing in the privacy of the shower, and write letters to secret lovers and then burn them. Privacy is a basic human need.’,70886-0.html

Privacy is freedom. It is freedom from judgement, the freedom to stew in our own individual cognitive juices, the freedom to express and learn and argue.

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Musings on Consumer Content Experience (or sometimes, maybe you need a brand)

Filed under: — adam @ 3:00 pm

Doc Searls gave an interesting closing keynote talk on the Live Web at the Syndicate conference yesterday. He started with search engines and how they index the static web, but they’re also branching off into indexing the live web via blog search and rss (not sure I agree, but more on that later). From there, he drew further dichotomies between marketing and participation/demand, and publishing as a finished product and blogging as a provisional conversation. All of this centers around his assertion that the Live Web is (or will be) a dynamic expression of the demand side of the equation fulfilling its own needs. Instead of a value chain, you get a value constellation, where each star participates in the network, and in between is freedom. I like that metaphor, and it flowed right into his main point that the Live Web economy consists of two halves – the attention economy and the intention economy. In the Live Web, consumers not only command where they look (attention), but are also in control when they’re ready to buy (intention).

The intention economy hasn’t really arrived. As a customer (no longer “consumer”), when you’ve decided what you’re going to buy, you still have to go find someplace to buy it. In the intention economy, you should be able to announce your intention to buy, and companies who are selling will come looking for you. We’re getting closer to that – shopping comparison sites help, but they’re still static snapshots. What’s needed is a dynamic marketplace around these ideas. Incidentally, that’s why I don’t necessarily think that blog search is a marker of the Live Web – RSS feeds aren’t interactive. They’re push, to be sure, so you get more updated static information, but like the shopping comparison sites, they’re still just static snapshots. On the other hand, getting people used to having some automated process working in the background is a step in the right direction.

The existence of branding is tied very closely into this. In a certain sense, a brand exists primarily to help make products seem better than they are, by associating them with other things that are known to be good. If you already know what you want to buy, maybe you’re past this point, and it’s more honest to do without. As a counter example, consider these two products, which are made by the same company and basically identical. One’s a piece of foam sex furniture for adults, and one’s a piece of foam gaming furniture for kids. Esse vs. Zerk. Same product, two very different uses. Brands serve to make the distinction. Does the fact that the same product has two different names for two different audiences make a difference? I’ll have to think about that one some more. Incidentally, if you switch the marketing copy on those two pages, it’s really funny.

(Who wants to help me come up with a brand for my spool-fed bacon-wrapped CPU cooling scheme? You have to refresh the bacon every once in a while, but on the plus side, it’s tasty.)

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Au-16 is a golden buckyball-like cage

Filed under: — adam @ 10:46 am

Wow. That’s pretty.

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Towards the zero-energy home

Filed under: — adam @ 10:30 am

A developer in Oklahoma has built a zero-energy home prototype for $200k. It’s a combination of energy efficiency, and photovoltaic and geothermal power production, mostly built with readily available off-the-shelf components. That’s fantastic.

“Ideal Homes built the first zero energy home in the country priced under $200,000. The modest one-story, three-bedroom, two bathroom home produces as much energy as it consumes in a year, achieving net zero energy consumption.”

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Elections are not enough feedback

Filed under: — adam @ 9:59 am

Another idea that came out of the tired and somewhat inebriated tail end of last night’s gathering, that I didn’t want to forget.

Our system of representative democracy is predicated on the core idea that elected representatives are beholden to their constituents, because if they’re not, they’ll get elected out on the next cycle. But this is typically a four-year turnaround, and that’s plenty of time to do irreparable damage. I posit that this is not enough feedback, and we need to have a way to get citizen input taken more seriously, with direct consequences for representatives who fail to listen. This also probably goes along with increasing the number of representatives, and possibly giving up on the presumption that people who live near each other necessarily share the same views (or have views that are not directly contradictory and can be rationalized into a coherent position by one representative).

I have to think about this more.

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Dinner with Britt and Doc

I had the rare and interesting pleasure of having dinner with Britt Blaser and Doc Searls last night, since Doc is in town for Syndicate (which I’ve never attended, but which does seem to attract fascinating conversations to my doorstep every year).

Doc and Britt

Asked to pick a restaurant for our gathering, I suggested D’Or Ahn, a newish Korean fusion place in west Chelsea. I’d eaten there a few times, and the food has always been top-rate. Unfortunately, the sushi chef was out for the evening (for reasons I didn’t entirely catch, but which seemed to involve some sort of surgery), so their wonderful raw bar was closed. However, the rest of their selection more than makes up for it. The menu is somewhat confusing, separated into “raw”, “cold”, “hot”, and “main” (which are also hot) sections, but the best advice is simply to ignore that, order for the table, and share everything. Flavor is the overriding component here, and everything is full of it, with rich but not overpowering sauces.

Scallops are outstanding now, so we opted for those, prepared a few ways, from a simple pan sear to encased in a crispy sesame leaf (the latter was delightful). The slightly seared duck breast with droplets of foie gras was, as expected, delicious (and it’s hard to go wrong with those ingredients). I’m a huge fan of braised meats in general, and their short rib preparation is beautiful, with a celeriac puree that’s ethereal mixed with slightly crunchy green onion slivers. Their take on the classic Korean dish bibimbop rounded out our selection of “appetizers”. I would have liked to have the rice a bit crunchier, but the flavor of the mushrooms mixed with a lightly soft cooked egg mixed into the rice leaves nothing to complain about. For the “main”, we split the lobster, which is literally a split lobster served spiced and grilled with a melon confit and a lobster claw chunk porridge. Lobster and melon is a combination I first discovered a few years ago in Maine, and I was instantly hooked. The sweet fruit complements every one of the notes in the sweet meat.

We paired everything with one of my favorite sakes – Otokoyama – served cold in boxes.

For dessert, we did an apple (a cake with sorbet) and cheese course (a Fourme d’Ambert “grilled cheese”), which were the two choices we wanted to try. Much as they did not go together in the least, both were still excellent. Their desserts tend to range from enjoyable to outstanding, and I’ve never been disappointed. A few glasses of port rounded out the libations.


But of course, the food was secondary to the conversation. With these two heavyweights across the table, the topics ranged across the board, from social networking, to how to handle spam and read email with mutt, to hacks for piloting a zero-g suspension flight (I’ve never had the honor), and of course to politics and the role of technology. Some portion of what was said can not or should not be replicated in a public forum, and so I won’t, but there was one great new idea (to me) mentioned in the course of a discussion about Doc’s new Santa Barbara community trying to get very high speed internet access and looking to bypass the traditional carriers who refuse to provide the kind of speeds they want. Britt mentioned Free Entry, a term which I’d never heard before. In a certain sense, this concept defines the growth of disruptive web services – if the current provider isn’t doing a good enough job, they should be replaced by someone who’s selling what people want to buy. This goes right to the heart of why lock-in legislation to protect antiquated business models is a bad bad bad idea. It doesn’t protect competition, it’s not an incentive to develop, it’s simply “protection” for companies to foist bad products on consumers who want something better. Disruptive business models work, because they’re good for the consumer.

It’s such a simple idea, yet so rarely practiced. If people don’t want to buy what you’re selling, sell something better. It’s almost the opposite of traditional advertising. It was a strong theme of the evening.

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(Larger photos)


MIT hacked out party dorm room

Filed under: — adam @ 9:21 am

“Since moving into my dorm this last fall, my roommate RJ Ryan and I have been working on creating the most elaborate automation system we could envision. Featuring everything from web control, voice activation, and a security system, to large continuously running information displays, electric blinds, and one-touch parties, the
custom designed MIDAS Automation System has brought ease to our lives (if one doesn’t count all the time it took to actually build and program the system).”

One doesn’t.


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Tamiflu goes open source

Filed under: — adam @ 8:49 pm

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New “security glitch” found in Diebold voting systems

Filed under: — adam @ 9:08 am

“Elections officials in several states are scrambling to understand and limit the risk from a “dangerous” security hole found in Diebold Election Systems Inc.’s ATM-like touch-screen voting machines.

The hole is considered more worrisome than most security problems discovered on modern voting machines, such as weak encryption, easily pickable locks and use of the same, weak password nationwide.”

Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that the Diebold systems themselves ARE the security glitch.

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Bosses generally suck

Filed under: — adam @ 4:19 pm

Hah, fooled you. This is a gaming post, not a business post. Wired article on the greatness of boss battles:,70832-0.html

I disagree. I often find the boss battles to be the most tedious parts of the game. Instead of another interesting level, you’re treated to a 10-30 minute repetetive motion fest until you can find the one pattern that works against the increasingly overpowered enemy.

Sometimes, this is well done, but often not. I’d feel better about them if the boss battles required a little strategy or intelligence beyond “Find the four switches/weak spots/colors, hit them in order, then the boss will reveal the little extra boss inside the other boss and you can kill that too. And once you figure out the trick, the next three are all exactly the same as the first one, and between doing these tasks, you have to run in circles to avoid the predictable fireballs/rocks/energy blasts.”

The Vizier in Prince of Persia 3? Nope, I don’t think so. That battle almost killed me with its tedium alone. I could almost hear Hank Azaria’s character narrating along between hits … “dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge!” And to add insult to injury, after a fantastic game about sand powers and time travel, you get to use almost none of those interesting powers, because there’s no refill sand during the battle. Bleh.

God of War was refreshing in this instance, by accident. They had to leave some of the bosses out due to time pressure, and I’ve never been so relieved as I was when progressing from one really interesting level to another really interesting level without another button masher in the middle.

The boss battles should be woven into the pace of the game, not grind it to a halt. Integrate the boss battles into everything else. Have other stuff going on at the same time. Punctuate it. Don’t make me start all over unless I do every single keypress right. If the way to kill the boss is to find the pattern and do something specific more than once, you’ve done something wrong. When done well, boss battles can be interesting. But they rarely are anything more than a placeholder for a lack of gameplay imagination.

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In which I go all Top Chef on Craftsteak

Filed under: — adam @ 8:44 am

We had the pleasure of eating at the newly formed Manhattan outpost of artisan meat yesterday evening, the newest jewel in the Colicchio empire – Craftsteak. There’s a constant assertion that one should avoid new restaurants, but I have really tremendously enjoyed every experience I’ve had with visiting restaurants in their first month. In many cases, these have even been preferable to subsequent excursions. Even as the staff may not have hit their stride yet, there’s something undeniably fresh about a new restaurant, and that adds a lot to the dining experience for me. Think Like a Chef is really the book that got me interested in pursuing serious fine cooking, so I feel a special connection to Chef Colicchio’s places.

The decor is fabulous, of course. The layout of the space has a good flow, with the main dining room separated from the bar and raw bar by a characteristic walk-in transparent wine cellar. The dining room is very open and has exquisitely high ceilings. Even at full capacity, the sound level was pleasant.

And, on to the food.

We started with three appetizers for the four of us – roasted veal sweetbreads, roasted foie gras, and wagyu beef tartare. I’m a big fan of sweetbreads, and these were among the best I’ve ever had, and a generous portion for an appetizer course. The foie gras was outstanding in flavor, although it was not completely cleaned of veins (despite, as Mayur noted, explicit instructions to do this in Think Like a Chef). The wagyu beef tartare was served with a quail egg and toast, and it was tasty, if not terribly impressive. We all felt that the presentation was too much like traditional beef tartare, and would have preferred a coarser cut usually reserved for fish tartare, to really highlight the exceptional texture of this fine meat.

And now, the steaks.

The selection is large and detailed, from a few varieties of corn-fed heresford beef, both wet and dry aged, through grass-fed Hawaiian beef, to the premium grade Wagyu beef (which tempted all of us, but which budgets demanded we resist). Surprisingly, the waiter was pushing everyone to get medium rare, but couldn’t really explain why beyond “that’s what the chef recommends”. Despite our mostly ignoring that advice and asking for more on the rare side, one of the steaks did arrive fully medium rare, and had to be sent back. We had a similar problem with the rabbit. It was actually a beautiful presentation, with the various pieces separated – leg, a mini rib rack, some “pulled” rabbit meat, and a tenderloin. This would have worked well, but the tenderloin was slightly underdone. However, once we got past those two problems, everything was great. I opted for the grass-fed filet mignon, and it was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had, and outstandingly prepared. It was uniformly and perfectly rare all the way through (about 2.5 inches thick), and impressively tender and flavorful. The other two steaks on the table – a 42-day dry aged strip and a grass-fed ribeye, were also superlative. As with the main Craft, sides are ordered and prepared separately. We opted for the more seasonal choices – roasted ramps, sugar snap peas, and baby carrots, and a pea and morel risotto. All of them were up to the usual standards.

We paired with a moderately priced Qupe syrah, which was intensely berry-oriented, and matched well with everything.

The desserts (pineapple upside down cake, a warm chocolate tart, and monkey bread – a cinnamon and nut encrusted brioche) were all acceptable, but the balance was off a bit on everything. A little too sweet, too salty, or just not quite right. The espresso was sub-par, disappointing and bitter. This wasn’t enough to really ruin the meal, but it wasn’t an impressive close, and it’s obvious that the most attention has been paid to the meat.

Overall, I had a thoroughly enjoyable and delicious meal that very much worked for me despite the nitpicking flaws above, and the very exceptional quality of the steak is really the standout here, the gem that puts the shine on the whole thing.

I see great potential.

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Original Star Wars coming to DVD in September

Filed under: — adam @ 9:40 am

I have two things to say about this.


The original films’ video quality will not match up to that of the restored versions. “It is state of the art, as of 1993, and that’s not as good as state of the art 2006,” Ward said.

You have no idea why we like Star Wars, do you?

Wait… what was that? 1993?

Two-disc special editions? Come ON. Everyone who’s going to buy this either already has the revised DVD edition, or doesn’t want it.

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