The Thoughts Count

What's going through my mind.

Archive for April 2011

The Importance of Numbers

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Following my initial post in which I questioned our need to justify what we do or think by quantifying who is paying attention, I ran across a New York Times article that essentially posits a similar thought — all of the constant data feedback available to us causes us to obsess over how connected we are to the rest of society and what that says about ourselves. It can initiate a competition to find more followers or friend more people. Before social media became as prevalent as it is now, we still used numbers to enhance our status; as the Times article notes, college rankings and standardized tests were the precursors. It can make us forget what things mean to each of us alone, without the complications of others’ judgments. I always have liked words better than numbers…

A few months back, The Times started a feature on its Web site called NYTimes Recommendations. It quantifies what you are reading in which sections and uses the past 30 days worth of reading to determine what other articles you might like on the site. It’s enlightening to compare the numbers to what my sense of what I find interesting on the site is and to see what topics I gravitate toward. I apparently read articles mostly in Opinions, Styles, and N.Y. Region. And my most read topics include restaurants, books and literature and theater. None of that is too surprising.

The Nieman Journalism Lab blog interviewed the Times’ CTO for digital operations and offered more insight into this feature. But it says:

<<On the web, it can be hard to find the things you like — not to mention the things you don’t know you’d like until you like them. The new Recommendation engine, Frons says, “allows us to expose content to our readers that they wouldn’t see any other way.”>>

I disagree. What this really seems to do is reinforce our consumption of what we already like. The recommendations I get fall mostly under the categories I already read. How likely then am I to come across something I didn’t already know that I liked? To me, what that quote describes is more fitting of the reading experience you get when you flip through a newspaper. Yes, you could restrict yourself to sections you know you already like. But even within those sections, you’re more likely to come across an article and perhaps be intrigued by a photograph or a headline about something you wouldn’t typically read than you are when reading online, where you have a more self-restricted environment.

I’d rather see the recommendations engine try to direct me to an article in Sports because it has a New York angle than have it show me articles from the sections I’m already reading. But it’s true that the Web has made news consumption so overwhelming that I barely even get to all the things I know I’d like to read about. So, maybe in the end we need numbers — some formula for proportioning those recommendations into things we like but probably missed and things that we might not otherwise even think about reading.

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Written by Kim

April 30, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Posted in essay, new york times, news

Currently Reading

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I’m currently reading Life, On the Line, the memoir by Grant Achatz, the chef of Alinea, and his business partner Nick Kokonas. It’s a fascinating read for anyone who is a fan of Achatz or interested in his type of food, which has been branded molecular gastronomy, for better or worse. The book, an easy read, feels very of the moment: Achatz’s new restaurant, Next, and cocktail bar, Aviary, recently opened (perhaps the book release was intentionally timed to coincide), and Achatz was also included in Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people. The blurb for Time was written by one of Achatz’s mentors, Thomas Keller, after whom he named one of his sons. In the memoir, Achatz mentions a young cook he worked with at Keller’s restaurant French Laundry named Richard Blais. Viewers of Top Chef will recognize the name — Blais won Top Chef All-Stars last month.

Achatz also writes about a trip he makes to El Bulli, the exalted Spanish restaurant of Ferran Adrìa, which is in its final months of service. Most of us will never know the experience that is El Bulli and will have to be content with reading about other people’s, but some find it to be just too much.

I’m halfway through the book, at which point Kokonas takes over the narrative (indicated by a change in typeface) in an odd transition. I admire Achatz’s early ambition and drive, which some might consider arrogance, but I find the book alluring and interesting.

Written by Kim

April 22, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Behind Creativity

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Storm King

The Atlantic features a really interesting collection of creative types sharing the processes they go through when they create something new. The story behind the story is something that always fascinates me. This did a nice job of getting a varied cross-section of professions, thinking beyond just writing and art and including architecture and food and music.

It’s funny how in order to create something new and to be good at doing that, sometimes you have to develop a routine and go through some of the same basic steps so that you can produce a fresh idea. When I design pages, I have my own creative process that on some days feels very intuitive and on others I do much more consciously:  I try to read my stories, I look at the photos available, I think about how the reader will interpret these things and what they will see first. I drop all the pieces on a page template and start putting them into place. I take a standard design and I begin to manipulate it, adhering to basic rules/guidelines that I think important, and find a layout that will be interesting, eye-catching, new to the reader who flips through these pages everyday and hopefully, serves to tell the story well.

Written by Kim

April 15, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Posted in essay, magazines

A Plan for Free Will?

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The other day I saw the movie The Adjustment Bureau. It’s a blockbustery action flick, easy on the eyes — starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt — and because it’s filmed in spots all around New York City, quite fun for New Yorkers to watch. But it goes beyond the traditional quick motion and loud noises style of action movies. The movie, based on a book by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, revolves around some intriguing ideas.

The movie puts forth the notion that we all have a life plan that’s been written out for us. And that everything happens or doesn’t happen in life because of that plan — created by some greater power, here, represented by the “chairman.” There are men (yes, all men) who go around making tweaks to our lives to help us stay on track or to change the course of our lives as proscribed by the chairman. When the protagonist of the movie discovers all of this, the knowledge becomes a burden. He has to make tough choices because of his insight. Chance also plays a role and it seems to keep getting in the way of some of the plans. Does it mean free will makes living harder than if we were all ignorant to our fates?

But I can see how there might be some solace in believing in the idea of a plan, especially when things are going wrong in our lives. Maybe it’s only helpful, though, when we can discern what the possible reasons are for those tragic things happening.

Not to spoil the movie (stop reading here if you prefer not to know more), but it seems to suggest that if we give it everything we have and try hard enough for something that we want, we can get it even if it wasn’t in the original plan (be it job-related, love-related etc.). If the plan can be rewritten to reward perseverance, that seems to defeat the idea of everything being predetermined and leaves us open to free will in the end. It’s enough to make your head hurt.

Written by Kim

April 15, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Posted in movies

Why the Thought Counts

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On the High Line

Several friends have suggested to me that I should write a general blog. I’ve always rejected the idea. Writing on my food blog was enough. I didn’t think people would be that interested in anything I had to say. While I’ve always tinkered with the idea, I came to the conclusion that the already cluttered online world didn’t need another blog expounding on who knows what.

But maybe social networking has warped our sense of what matters, what’s important. If no one is clicking, viewing, reading, listening or watching, then what’s the point? The point is the thought. It counts. Writing about any of the many things I come across each day, relating it to me and what I know, is exercising my thought muscle. It helps to connect me to where I’ve been, to who I am, where I’ve come from and to surmise about what the future holds. It doesn’t matter if anyone other than myself is privy to these thoughts. Of course, there are plenty of people who will be if I choose to publish it online — in fact it could become a much more permanent part of my persona than anything I do in life because once it gets out there, even if I change my views, myself, those previous thoughts remain as a testament to what I was thinking at that point in time. But, that can become a part of where I came from. So I’ve decided to share some of my thoughts. I have an interest in almost everything. I love to read, travel, play the guitar; I enjoy theater, baseball, food, music, movies, politics, art, news. I am interested in finding out about other places, people, theories. I’m genuine in my interest — but to varying degrees depending on the subject. It’s the curiosity that drove me to become a journalist and that has burgeoned the longer I’ve worked. Maybe others will be interested in feeding off of my curiosity. Or perhaps I’ll be the one shouting in the forest and no one will hear me. But no matter, I’ll be thinking and that’s what counts.

Written by Kim

April 15, 2011 at 3:10 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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