Monday, January 9, 2012

Confusing Amazon has turned out to be a rather valuable resource when I am doing my writing for  When I am reviewing a recording, it is one of the easiest places for me to find its release date;  and, since an image of the album cover is often one of the best candidates to fit the constraints allowed to me for any image I provide, the Amazon page usually gives me the best candidate to download and then crop as needed.  As a result I spend a lot of time on, almost none of which involves buying anything.

Today I shall probably be doing a piece on the first CD in Jonathan Biss’ project to record the complete piano sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven.  By way of “homework,” I decided to read Beethoven’s Shadow, which was released as a Kindle Single last month (in conjunction with Beethoven’s birthday).  I do not have a Kindle;  but Biss’ publicist provided me with a PDF review copy, which provided me with my most extended exercise in reading from the screen to date.  (Printing the file was password-protected, not that I would have wanted to print that many pages.)

After completing this exercise I decided to see what else had been released as a Kindle Single.  The Kindle Singles home page turned out to be a useful place to get an idea of both what was available and what was popular.  When I read to the bottom of this page, I discovered that there was still a recommendations window, captioned:

Continue Shopping:  Customers Who Bought Items in your Recent History Also Bought

This has never been anything other than a source of amusement;  but, now that I am trying to use the site as a reference resource (supplementing my regular use of Grove Online, not to mention Wikipedia), I realized that I am probably throwing an even bigger monkey wrench into their recommendation algorithm than I had done when I was buying off-the-wall titles (both books and recordings).

Today’s top recommendation offered a curious blend of irony and nostalgia.  It was John Cage’s Silence.  The irony is that, in many respects, my experiences in reading this book (and, as a result of reading Leta Miller’s accounts of the early years of an avant-garde movement that involved Cage, Henry Cowell, and Lou Harrison, among many others, continuing to read it) did a lot to shape much of that off-the-wall browsing I have done on  In other words this is a classical example of how recommendation algorithms cannot tell the difference between co-occurrence and causality.  The nostalgia has a somewhat ironic tinge as well, since I purchased my copy of Silence long before even existed!

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