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


Shifting the Debate

My company (Morningside Analytics) has just launched our Political Video Barometer, which tracks the movement of YouTube videos through conservative and liberal blogs:

The Barometer is updated 4 times a day and allows you to see which new videos are starting to break through within either the conservative or liberal blogs and which ones are breaking through to non-political audiences. We identify influential blogs through a unique cutting edge clustering approach – the underlying technology was also used earlier this year to produce this detailed report on Iran’s blogosphere for the Berkman Center at Harvard.

We are also running a blog at which will examine interesting findings from the barometer.

It’s always fun to launch a new product. We worked very hard on this, and I’m proud of it.



Why the Mac is better.

Filed under: — adam @ 10:16 pm

This is a list I put together for my father. I thought you’d enjoy it. Got anything to add?

I’ve been putting together a more detailed response for you. There’s a reason why nearly every computer professional I work with has switched to the Mac in the past few years.

This is the short list:

1. It actually is more stable. It is very very difficult to crash the OS entirely. The only time I’ve done it is when running Windows in a virtual machine, because of the trickery needed to accomplish that in the first place. When you kill programs that aren’t responding, they almost always die and can be restarted. This may not be a huge problem for you, since you only use about 5 applications. I use well over a hundred, and on Windows, this was a disaster – anything misbehaving could lock up the entire system. It simply doesn’t happen that way on the Mac.

2. It is >far< easier to maintain. This is actually a few thousand things of various severities, but some highlights:

- You know how when you get a new Windows machine, you have to reinstall everything and search around all over the disk for where your files and preferences might be? On the Mac, you don't have to do any of that. Everything specific to you goes in your home directory, and your Applications go in your /Applications folder. 99% of everything will work if you just copy those two folders. When you install software, there's usually no installer to run, you just copy the application to the Applications folder. This clean split between application preferences and user preferences also means that having multiple users on the same machine just works, every time. No weird "some other user accidentally modified the global settings".

- Moreover, you don't have to actually do that to be up and running quickly, because you can just make a copy of an existing drive and boot off of that. This won't screw up any hidden settings the way it will on Windows. (It may sort of work, but it'll never be "quite right".) You can keep a running backup of your boot drive that automatically updates. If anything happens to your boot drive, you pop it out, pop the backup in, buy a replacement backup, and it's as if you never left. Someday, you're going to have a hard drive fail, and when that happens, you're going to suddenly realize that there's a lot of stuff you had strewn around your drive that you never found to back up, and it'll be gone forever (or you can spend a few thousand dollars for a slim chance to recover bits and pieces of it in probably mostly unusable forms from a drive recovery service).

- You don't have to worry about viruses or spyware. Nothing runs with administrator privileges by default, the system is very well locked down, and there's no need to run anti-virus or anti-spyware software, because no software can install itself without your permission. Granted, it's not perfect and there are some security holes, but no system is 100% secure and it's orders of magnitude better than Windows in this respect.

3. Laptop sleep works. I've never had a Windows laptop that came back from sleep reliably. The last one sometimes took up to 30 minutes to restore. Unacceptable.

4. Creative programmers are drawn to the Mac. As such, there's a vibrant community of small-developer software that's incredibly useful, well-written, innovative, and for the most part, follows the same set of UI guidelines, so they all behave the same way, have similar keyboard shortcuts, etc... There are a few exceptions, but most of it is this way. There's an actual ecosystem, and when developers make something that's useful, often other developers will make their applications work with it if you have it installed. Almost all of it is available in downloadable form with 30-day trials. I've installed maybe three programs off of CDs, so that means no CDs to lose on the off chance you need to reinstall something.

5. Hardware support is just better. It's simpler and easier. Most things don't require drivers. When you switch ports around, things continue to work just fine. You can add and remove external monitors at will, and the system just compensates - no rebooting.

6. Apple cares about getting all of the little details right. You must watch this:

7. The OS itself has MANY MANY little enhancements that make life easier in lots of little ways (many of which may be difficult to appreciate without using them, but once you do, you'll miss them when they're gone):

- In the Finder, the Mac's version of Explorer (though Finder came first), you can highlight a file and press the spacebar to bring up QuickLook, which is a floating window with a navigable preview of the document. Press the spacebar again to close it. This makes flipping through files extremely easy. Many file formats are supported (word docs, excel sheets, pdf, most kinds of images, most kinds of videos, etc...). The built-in Mail program also supports this, so you don't have to save mail attachments to view them. You can also very easily toggle back and forth between full screen view.

- It includes Time Machine, which is an automatic hourly backup which saves as many past versions of a file (in a compact changes-only format) as your disk will support. Accidentally write over a word file you needed? Bring up Time Machine and restore it from earlier in the day. Time Machine also supports Quick Look, so you can easily check whether a particular version of a file is the one you're looking for.

- Expose is the window manager for navigating many open windows. I can't really explain this, so watch the video:

- The desktop includes the Dashboard. Press a hotkey and the screen is overlaid with useful widgets - weather, dictionary lookup, etc...

8. Screen sharing is built in. Need some help? I can log in to your machine remotely and securely, and check it out for you. No more waiting until I can come over to fix something.

9. Built-in calendar and address book that most applications share.

10. iPhoto is MUCH better for managing your photos than the Nikon software you have.

11. You can dual boot Windows if you really want, or run it in a virtual machine with VMWare.

No, it's not perfect. But it is a hell of an improvement. I'd say I have 1% of the number of issues I had with Windows machines, if not less.


On libertarian/capitalist intent

For some time, I was a staunch Libertarian. That lasted until I started to examine the boundary cases where Libertarianism didn’t seem to offer a good answer. I still hold a lot of those principles dear, but I’m no longer convinced that complete Libertarianism can work in the real world. What follows are some of my recent thoughts on the free market.

The proponents of the free market often propose that private ownership gives people an incentive to make the most of resources, and that people with ownership incentive are likely to make the best decisions about the use of resources.

I tend to agree in many cases – the market does often work and find the best solution, but I’ve been mulling over some exceptions to that rule.

Some traps that individual decisions in the market can fall into:

1) Divergent interests: the interests of the owning party may not be the same as the general public.

2) Irrationality: people don’t always act rationally or in their best interest.

2a) Obscured Information: even in the face of good information, which is often not present, the right decision isn’t evident.

3) Vested Interest: ownership of a thing is not the same as stewardship of a thing, and if you don’t have a personal vested interest in the thing, your best use of it may be to divest yourself of it (i.e.: use it up, parcel it, consume it) in exchange for lots of short term money you can use to buy something you actually want.

4) Value dilution: the more stuff you own, the less you care about any given individual thing. Ownership of lots of things probably means that each individual one is less valuable, because the value of a thing must be measured not just against the external market value, but also its proportion to your total assets, difficulty to replace, your incentive to replace it if you lose it, sentimental value, subsidiary values (prestige from ownership, etc…), and a whole host of other things.

5) Lack of patience and susceptibility to fear: People in control of a thing may require immediate access to it (liquidity), and will sometimes act to preserve that liquidity at the expense of the health of the overall economy, and therefore at the expense of some value of the underlying asset. This happens even though the people controlling an asset may be able to see the writing on the wall – everyone will be fine if everyone sits tight, but if you wait and someone else moves first, you lose. I think this usually manifests as “private enterprise tends to seek short-term gains”, but it’s tightly tied to #6:

6) The Tragedy of the Selfish: this is a concept I’ve been toying with on and off for a few years. It’s not the Tragedy of the Commons, and it’s not quite the Tragedy of the Anticommons, though there are aspects of both in there, as well as an arms race component, and some Prisoner’s Dilemma. This is the situation that exists when an individual makes what is logically the best decision to maximize their own position, but the sum effect of everybody making their best decisions is that everybody ends up worse off rather than better. Libertarian capitalism hinges on the assumption that making everybody individually better off is the best way to maximize the happiness of the group, and it’s simply the case that there are situations where that assumption does not hold. The example I often use for this is buying an SUV to be safer on the road. You buy an SUV, then other people do, because they want to be safer too. Except that if enough people make that same decision, you’ve overall raised the chances that if you’re hit by a car, it’ll be an SUV, which will do much more damage than a smaller car. Everyone is better off if everyone else backs off and drives smaller cars. It’s a simplification, of course, but I hope that makes the point.

That’s what I’ve come up with so far. I’m sure there are more. Of course these don’t always apply, but I think at least one of them does often enough to warrant a better justification that “the market will solve the problem”. They’re certainly things to watch out for when getting out of the way and letting the market work.

What do you think?

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