“Thus Utilitarian Ethics was born. It is a familiar thought pattern for us, but for Machiavelli (and Europe at that point) it was a completely new idea, never thought before. What if this is good? This act that, by destroying a terrible, wicked, monster of a man, saved a hundred thousand lives? How can I call it evil? What if I want to judge the act, not by what it was (betrayal, murder), but by what it did, save Italy (and Florence!) and the world from the Borgia menace. And if Julius had done the “good” thing, and kept Cesare going, and let all that evil happen when he had the power to stop it with one dark command, could we really call that “good”? And what of virtue ethics? Why do I care whether Julius betrayed Cesare for selfish or selfless reasons–he still saved Italy, and so many, many lives. Doesn’t that matter? Doesn’t the consequence of an act, its utility, factor into the moral equation? I think, he says, it does.
This is the advice Machiavelli writes for the Medici when the forced retirement of exile gives him time to write a new Handbook of Princes for a new kind of prince: the princes of Florence, whose duty is to protect Florence–beautiful, unique, burgeoning, irreplaceable Florence–and her citizens–artists, philosophers, poets, statesmen, craftsmen–from the perils of conquest and extermination which constantly threaten her fragile walls.”

Machiavelli IV: Julius II, The Warrior Pope

If you’d like to read about the power dynamics in Italy 500 years ago and how popes were “elected” back then, this great Machiavelli series is for you.

Last fall, Marco Arment launched a general interest magazine. It’s called, aptly enough, The Magazine. Writers are paid $800 per article. There are no ads. Until recently, it was available only via iPhones and iPads. Astonishingly, it’s already turning a profit.

Arment walked me through the numbers. He has 25,000 subscribers who pay $1.99 a month. Apple takes a 30 percent cut, leaving Arment about $35,000 a month.

– How To Start A Magazine (And Make A Profit)

The future of journalism is a constant topic on the internet, just today people in my Twitter stream debated writers being compensated with “exposure”. In that context I find it notable that someone without a background in publishing was able to start a new publication that seems to be paying writers well and is already profitable. Of course it could be that The Magazine has only found a nice niche and this won’t scale, but it’s certainly too early to tell and I hope Marco keeps sharing some meaningful numbers in the future.

“The arguments over the value of Apple’s cash are symptomatic of a much bigger issue: the corporate world’s cash hoards. According to Factset, they recently hit $1.23 trillion for nonfinancial companies, more than double pre-crisis levels.
The argument this time is about how this cash stockpiling may be hurting the rest of us. Since the crisis, the left has liked to blame corporations for not using these growing cash piles to create jobs, under the assumption that big companies are sitting on this money like children refusing to share their toys.
It’s more complicated than that, and Paul Krugman and Tyler Cowen (and others) are in a bit of a spat over the matter.”

http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2013/02/13/counterparties-spending-1-trillion/

By reading these arguments you can learn a lot, but unfortunately – like so often in economics – you won’t get a definitive answer.

“As a consequence, Excel is everywhere you look in the business world—especially in areas where people are adding up numbers a lot, like marketing, business development, sales, and, yes, finance. For all the talk about end-to-end financial suites like SAP, Oracle, and Peoplesoft, at the end of the day people do financial analysis by extracting data from those back-end systems and shoving it around in Excel spreadsheets.”
“But while Excel the program is reasonably robust, the spreadsheets that people create with Excel are incredibly fragile. There is no way to trace where your data come from, there’s no audit trail (so you can overtype numbers and not know it), and there’s no easy way to test spreadsheets, for starters. The biggest problem is that anyone can create Excel spreadsheets—badly. Because it’s so easy to use, the creation of even important spreadsheets is not restricted to people who understand programming and do it in a methodical, well-documented way.”

What I’ve been reading lately – Robots, Wealth, Inequality, Risk

I’m reading a lot these days and if I find something insightful, interesting or that contains new-to-me ideas, I usually recommend it on Twitter. However I feel it’s too fleeting of a platform for this. Quote.fm, which was originally intended to solve this problem, unfortunately isn’t seeing much traction and development lately. So I’m going to use Tumblr instead; this blog was in need for some fresh content for way too long anyway.

A lot of what I read these days is in one way or another about how the future might look like. One big, popular theme lately (both in tech as well as economic publications) is the rise of the robots and how automation will impact our economy and social structures, often also discussed as “capital-biased technological change”.

Noah Smith in The Atlantic with a few ideas on how to deal with the shift from labor to capital:

The big question is: What do we do if and when our old mechanisms for coping with inequality break down? If the “endowment of human capital” with which people are born gets less and less valuable, we’ll get closer and closer to that Econ 101 example of a world in which the capital owners get everything. A society with cheap robot labor would be an incredibly prosperous one, but we will need to find some way for the vast majority of human beings to share in that prosperity, or we risk the kinds of dystopian outcomes that now exist only in science fiction.

How do we fairly distribute income and wealth in the age of the robots?

The End of Labor: How to Protect Workers From the Rise of Robots

Kevin Kelly in Wired, what jobs humans will do in the future:

“Today, the vast majority of us are doing jobs that no farmer from the 1800s could have imagined.”

“Each successful bit of automation generates new occupations—occupations we would not have fantasized about without the prompting of the automation.”

“The one thing humans can do that robots can’t […] is to decide what it is that humans want to do.”

Better Than Human: Why Robots Will — And Must — Take Our Jobs

Izabella Kaminska has a great list of articles about the automation and the impact on our economic structures – The Tech Debate Blasts Off (A Linkfest) 

Steve Randy Waldman writes about Trade-offs between inequality, productivity, and employment, which is full of thought provoking ideas.

Izabella Kaminska also has series on FT Alphaville called “Beyond Scarcity" that is about scarcity and increasing abundance (accelerated by robots) shaping our economy.

No longer robot related, but still fitting in the theme of (technological) change, wealth/inequality and how the future might look like: Steve Randy Waldman again, on Jonathan Levy’s “Freaks of Fortune” and the history of risk:

There’s a running refrain on Battlestar Galactica: “All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.” One of the delights of Freaks of Fortune is to learn just how true that has been of finance:

Private mortgage-backed securities, with their slicing-dicing reassignment of loans to unidentifiable groups of investors, are often described as novelties. In fact, Levy points out, “mortgage debentures” that bundled, tranched, and resold mortgage cash flows were a staple of the 1880s. They were justified on the same theories of diversification that would be dolled up with math and trotted out again a century later. Mortgage lenders of the Gilded Age bore no resemblance at all to the George Bailey–style local banker. New York financial firms held western mortgages acquired through brokers. To borrowers, a mortgage was a faceless master.

So, all this has happened before, and it will happen again. Must it always? Is there no way out? Levy describes four countermovements to financialized risk: the slave South, “fraternalism,” welfare corporatism, and the welfare state.

— The Risk Ownership Society

To close things off, a long interview with VC Marc Andreessen on future enterprise companies, current consumerized enterprise startups and some general remarks about tech and public market cycles – Marc Andreessen On The Future Of Enterprise

Putting this little post together was more work than I had expected, I think I’ll try single quote+link posts in the future.

Finder toolbar icons and buttons for Mountain Lion

I’ve written before about custom buttons in my Finder’s toolbar. I currently have two icons there, one to create an empty text file in the current folder and another one to open a Terminal window for the current folder.

For Snow Leopard I had created two icons that looked almost exactly like the native Finder toolbar buttons. However once I upgraded to Mountain Lion recently both of them looked extremely ugly and out of place.

image

So I set out to create new icons which turned out to be a bit harder than I had expected. Through some try-and-error I figured out that icons get scaled down vertically in the ML Finder toolbar, which means that you can’t simply create a pixel-perfect icon and display it.

The workaround I arrived at is to make a graphic that is essentially a copy of a native Finder button, scale it up to 30px with one row of transparent pixels at the top and bottom, export it as an icon and then have the Finder toolbar scale it down again to 23px. With all that scaling going on it would be almost impossible to create a pixel-perfect button, but I managed to create something that looks good enough:

image

As you can see I also updated the symbols in the buttons since I couldn’t figure out how to make buttons that are more than 23px wide (and those simple graphics work better when being scaled down).

You can download an empty png icon here or the empty button app (with the Terminal icon) here

As explained in my previous post you can’t simply drag&drop the png file into an icns file and use it for you application. Unfortunately IconDroplet doesn’t seem to work on Mountain Lion anymore, but you can use the empty button app, find the applet.icns file in its Resources folder and edit it with Icon Composer. Then close and reopen the Finder window and the icon of the app should refresh just fine.

I had googled for this stuff previous to making my own icon but couldn’t find anything, so I hope this post saves someone else the time I spent making that little button.

Apple iPhoto maps use OpenStreetMap and public domain data

Apple released iPhoto for iOS today and included a new map. The new map tiles carry no attribution.

The map tiles can be viewed here, site made by Dair Grant.

Based on various Twitter conversations and my own comparisons it seems like Apple is using OpenStreetMap data to render the map tiles outside the US. The map tiles for the US seem to be based on different, probably public domain data sets.

In the example below you see a forest with lots of small ways. I’ve mapped those ways myself, some are so small I’m not sure they are even official ways and a very unlikely to be found in other map data sets. Apple’s map and the OpenStreetMap map align perfectly. Other areas I’ve checked include semi-public parks mapped in very high detail which is typical for OpenStreetMap data but not to be found in other map data sets.

You can compare Apple’s map and the standard OpenStreetMap.org map using this site by Iván Sánchez Ortega.

It looks like the OpenStreetMap data used by Apple is as old as 2010, which means changes made to OpenStreetMap after that date are not included.

Update: Here’s a thread on OSM-talk (public OpenStreetMap mailing list) with more comparisons and confirmations. The data that Apple is using seems to be from April 2010. The Next Web also has updates to their story.

Update II: iPhoto 11 for OS X has been using Apple maps in the slideshow features since 2010, @holgr confirms. This could explain why Apple is using OSM data from 2010.