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June 2009

Like a Rolling Stone

Four years ago, on the 40th anniversary of Dylan's release of Like a Rolling Stone, Ben MacIntyre of the London Times paid tribute:

“Come writers and critics who prophesy with your pen,” he invited. So, here goes: I predict that 40 years from now Like a Rolling Stone will still be voted the greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine; that we will still be arguing over whether Dylan wrote anything of comparable brilliance after 1966 to what had come before. I also prophesy that Professor Ricks will have written an Empsonian exegesis on Dylan with more footnotes than text; and that Dylan will have inspired more PhD theses than the rest of pop music put together. 


Irony of a particularly high quality

Quick: what country is "the second-most profitable market in the world for McDonald's"? Guess. Go ahead, guess.

More difficult question: why? Answer:

The wallet was no minor consideration. McDonald's appealed to budget-conscious students, of course, but with France's high unemployment and sluggish economy, it attracted people of all ages. Pensioners, for instance, were among the chain's most loyal clients. The food at McDonald's was cheap, and it was made cheaper still because its restaurants were officially designated as takeout joints. The value-added tax on meals at such establishments was just 5.5 percent, versus the 19.6 percent levied at "gastronomic" restaurants.    


How the collapse of DVD sales is affecting the movie business

Interesting. From the Los Angeles Times (5/18):

Even more alarming, especially for studios who've thrived on seducing moviegoers into seeing mediocre product, is the realization that audiences are becoming more quality conscious. In the past, if a forgettable action film hit pay dirt at the box office, it would perform correspondingly well in DVD, allowing studios in greenlight meetings to provide a conversion rate--i.e. that if a movie of a certain genre made $100 million in the theaters, that would equal X millions of units in DVD. But judging from recent DVD sales figures, films that had poor word-of-mouth--signaling significant audience dissatisfaction--were underperforming in DVD, even if they had enjoyed lofty box-office numbers. . . .

No one knows the answer, but in the movie business, executives are unsettled, unsure of what movies to greenlight if they can no longer be sure of which of their old economic models still apply. It's why studios are no longer making deals where talent gets first dollar gross--unless the talent is willing to wait until the studio breaks even first. In Hollywood, executives are a lot like great athletes--if they lose their confidence, they can't do their job well. It takes a lot of built-in swagger to roll the dice on a slate of $100 million-plus movies. But as the DVD numbers continue to slide, studio chiefs are finding it hard to take those big wads of cash out of their pockets. Right now, they're spending a lot of time looking for safe bets.  


"How Silicon Chips Are Made"

I tell my students that it's really, really close to magic.

The deserts of Arizona are home to Intel’s Fab 32, a $3billion factory that’s performing one of the most complicated electrical engineering feats of our time. It’s here that procesors with components measuring just 45 millionths of a millimetre across are manufactured, ready to be shipped out to motherboard manufacturers all over the world. Creating these complicated miniature systems is impressive enough, but it’s not the processors’ diminutive size that’s the most startling or impressive part of the process.