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


Coming to a Rational First Sale Doctrine for Digital Works

In reference to this Gizmodo piece analyzing the rights granted by the Kindle and Sony e-reader:

I think the analysis in that article is flawed. It doesn’t make any sense to be able to resell the reader with the books on it, because the license for the books is assigned to you, not to the reader. For example, if your Kindle breaks, you can move your books to another one. I’ve never heard anything other than the opinion that you can’t resell the digital copy – the assumption has always been that these sorts of transactions break the first sale doctrine. The problem then becomes “what are you buying?”, if there’s nothing you can resell.

The first sale doctrine has to apply to the license, not the bits themselves, because under the scenario in which it applies to the bits, arguably Amazon retains no rights whatsoever. They had no direct hand in arranging the bits of your copy the way they are – they merely sent instructions to your computer about how to arrange them in a certain pattern. The article asserts that you can’t “transfer” the bits, but in the same way, in downloading a copy, Amazon hasn’t actually “transferred” anything to you, either.

There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to sell your Kindle, and the books don’t necessarily go with it, but if you want to sell the books separately, you can do that too. Legally, if you do that, you’d be obligated to destroy all of the copies you’ve made. Amazon’s inability to police that is as relevant as their inability to police the fact that you haven’t made a photocopy of the physical book you sold when you were done with it. There’s no weight to the argument that this will encourage rampant piracy, given that unencrypted cracked copies of all of these things are available to those who want them anyway, and always will be. People comply with reasonable laws willingly because they’re honest, it’s the “right thing to do”, and they feel that the laws are an acceptable tradeoff for living in a civilized society where sometimes you have to make compromises and not just do whatever you want. People do not comply with one-sided laws where they feel like they’re being ripped off for no reason. A law which turns your sale into a non-sellable license is of the latter kind. It turns normal users into petty criminals who don’t care when they break the law, because the law is stupid. Once they’ve ignored some of the terms, it’s a shorter step to ignore others, or ignore similar terms for other products. People like consistency, especially in legal treatments. I would argue that it’s in Amazon’s interest (and the others) to not niggle on this point, because a reasonable license with terms that look like a sale makes for happier customers who aren’t interested in trodding on the license terms, and that’s better for everyone.

(Yes, I’m arguing that restrictive license “sales” are anti-civilization.)

The Kindle ToS not only prohibits selling the Kindle with your books on it, it prohibits anyone else from even looking at it. If someone reads over your shoulder on the train, you’re in violation.

This is, of course, ridiculous.

The right legal response here seems to me to be to not dicker about with splitting hairs about whether you can sell your digital copies if they’re on a physical device and you can’t if they’re not, but to declare that anything sufficiently close to a “right to view, use, and display [...] an unlimited number of times” de facto consitutes a sale, and with it comes certain buyer’s rights regardless of what kinds of outrageous restrictions the licensor tries to bundle in the ToS. The fact that this also seems to be the right business response reinforces my belief that this is the correct path. This kind of a transaction is different from renting, which is by nature a temporary one.

It is the right thing for society to declare that if you’ve bought something that isn’t time or use limited, you’ve therefore also bought the right to resell it, whether it’s a physical object or a license.


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PS3s used for science

It’s just extraordinary to me what a boon the PS3 is to the scientific community.

“Overall, a single PS3 performs better than the highest-end desktops available and compares to as many as 25 nodes of an IBM Blue Gene supercomputer. And there is still tremendous scope left for extracting more performance through further optimization. More on that soon.”

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Why don’t we have degrees of terrorism?

We have different classifications for the crime of “killing a person”, and those classifications encompass whether it was an accident or not, whether it was premeditated, and how many people were killed – e.g.: How serious a crime has actually been committed. But when we talk about terrorism, it’s always just “terrorism”. This results in the really sinister megacriminals being lumped in with the group of morons that can’t get it to together to leave the house without forgetting to wear pants, let alone actually arrange to blow anything up.

Most “terrorists” are less dangerous than your average serial killer or bus accident, but we still lump them all together simply because they have an agenda.

Similar to murder, I think we need some sort of classification system for these crimes:

  1. Intent to commit terrorism: you “plotted” with someone who may or may not have been an undercover cop, but didn’t actually acquire passports or learn how to make liquid explosives
  2. Manfrightening: you committed some other crime, and along the way someone got scared and called you a terrorist, but you have no stated agenda.
  3. Terrorism in the third degree: You actually blew up something, but no one was hurt.
  4. Terrorism in the second degree: You actually blew up something and killed some people, but failed to garner any sympathy from the public.
  5. Terrorism in the first degree: You actually blew up something, lots of people were killed, and the US declared war on some country you were unaffiliated with.

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Numbers is a nice idea with some usability disasters

Filed under: — adam @ 9:35 pm

I’ve put up a screen cast made with the very easy Screenflow.

This is me trying to reorganize a large number of tables with attached comments in Numbers, such that there is no overlap and no tables cross a page break.

As should be evident even without narration, this is pretty much a usability disaster. Numbers is a nice idea, but it does not live up to my expectations for what a spreadsheet with page layout capability should be able to do. I hope they fix this.

Some notes:

1) It is extremely difficult for me to figure out where to click to consistently for a bunch of different options – move a whole table, resize a table, grab a comment handle. This behavior doesn’t seem to be the same every time, and varies whether or not the white handles appear. For example, you can’t make a table smaller if there is content or a comment in a cell you’d remove. That makes sense, but there’s no visual indicator that that’s what’s preventing you from making the table smaller. Watch how often I can’t get the click right on the first try, all over the place.

2) Comment callouts do not move with their tables and are not selectable as a group! Also, they don’t scroll the page when dragged to the edge.

4) Distribute Vertically sort of works, if the tables have no comments, but with comments, all of the tables move and their comments don’t. There does not seem to be a standard way to add descriptions to tables without comment callouts.

5) When you shorten a table, everything below it moves up, and the space where the table you shortened took up IS NOW GONE. This screws up the layout for everything below it on the page, and there does not seem to be any easy way to reclaim that space.

6) When you insert a table in the middle, there does not seem to be a good way to reconfigure the layout of everything else to accommodate the space you need for that insertion. This is basically the same problem as #3.

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Fed up with food labeling

Filed under: — adam @ 10:59 am

Our food labeling standards are completely out of whack.

As an example, let’s take “100% fruit juice”. I’m pretty sure that at some point, “100% fruit juice” meant that what you got in the bottle was, prior to being put in the bottle, a piece of fruit that was crushed and maybe filtered. I’m 100% sure that that’s what most people still expect when they buy something that’s labeled “100% fruit juice”.

Except that’s not what you get anymore. Now, it’s reconstituted from concentrates, mixed from different kinds of fruit juice concentrates (which may have vastly different nutritional profiles), and blended into whatever they like, but it’s still the healthy choice kids, because it’s 100% fruit juice!

Right off the labels:

Kedem concord grape juice (which, incidentally, is among the sweetest of the grapes):

The label says “100% fruit juice”.

Ingredients: Grape Juice, Potassium Metabisulfite Added To Enhance Freshness.

It has 150 calories per 8oz.

Welch’s grape juice:

The label says “100% grape juice”.

Ingredients: Grape Juice From Concentrate (Water, Grape Juice Concentrate), Grape Juice, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), No Artificial Flavors Or Colors Added.

It has 170 calories per 8 oz.


They’re not using grapes that have 13% more sugar in them, they’re dickering with the proportions to make their juice sweeter.

This is just one particularly egregious example, but it’s all over the place – many “100% juices” are sweetened with cherry juice or other concentrates. It’s a complete sham. Even the Kedem is pushing it because it’s got preservatives, but at least the juice is actual juice. No way does that Welch’s bottle contain “100% juice”.

Our food labels don’t mean what they say anymore, they have very detailed technical specifications to go with them, and it’s impossible to know what they mean from common sense without understanding those specifications. This isn’t even about making dubious health claims – it’s about defining away the actual contents of the package.

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