Tuesday, February 24, 2009

More Randomness

Today. Boston's Peace of Mind followed by The Eagles' Peaceful Easy Feeling.

A few minutes later, Rock Around the Clock followed by Rock & Roll Hootchie Coo.

I'm just saying.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Apple Engineers are Screwing with Us

I don't think my iPod, when set on "random" is truly random. In fact, I think it's screwing with me.

Google "ipod," "playlist" and "random" sometime and you'll find thousands of postings from people who say something like "my iPod always plays Pink Floyd," or "it always plays the same song." We don't know who these people are - they could have no idea about the rules of statistics, like people who play the lottery or people who thought John McCain ever had a chance to win the 2008 Presidential election at ANY time after he locked up the nomination.

One must bring evidence into the discussion. Saying that your iPod always plays Pink Floyd when you have a hundred Pink Floyd songs and only 500 total gives us a "duh" moment. Likewise, if you notice the same song "all the time," we have to ask how many songs do you have in total, how many do you play each time when it repeats and how many times have you repeated the scenario? This argument usually shrinks away upon analysis.

However, when I first started using my iPod at work, I had about 4000 songs on it. I would hit random play and hear about 80 songs a day, or about 2% of the library. During the first weeks, I thought I heard several songs more often than others. Knowing a little about probability, I didn't think it significant. After all, playing 400 songs a week and restarting the play no less than five times means that the odds of repeating several songs each week would be pretty high.

It became an annoyance one week when I heard the same Bangles song three days in a row. Love the Bangles; can't listen to "Bell Jar" every day. So I created a smart playlist. Essentially, I took my entire library and used one rule: exclude songs played in the last three months. Simple. No hearing the same same song on successive days. I vary the exclusion by whim - generally from as low as 11 weeks to as high as five months. These days, I also filter out christmas songs when it's not christmastime, etc, but it's a low effort playlist. Every day, it adds about the same number of songs I listened to the day before.

Since my main playlist doesn't allow immediate repetition, here's where I get to say my iPod isn't truly random. Let's say, on average, I have 2000 songs in the playlist. I have, at most, 20 songs by any artist in the list. If any repeat during the day, the chance is 2 of 2000 in a subset of 80. Not impossible. But on recent days, I heard a song by Paul McCartney followed by a song by The Beatles (McCartney singing) followed by a song by Wings. Not statistically relevant but come on. The next day, I heard a song by Led Zeppelin (lead singer: Robert Plant) followed by a song by Robert Plant followed by a song by The Honeydripers (lead singer: Robert Plant). I can't prove it but deep down, you gotta believe the Apple engineers are screwing with us.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Playlist Blues

While I was preparing supper tonight, and listening to my iPod run a random playlist that excludes songs played in the past four months, out popped Shannon Curfman's "I Don't Make Promises I Can't Break." This is one of my favorite songs. How is it that I haven't heard this song in at least four months (since October 5, 2008, to be exact) when it's one of my all-time favorites?

The short answer is that, hey, life happens. You can't always remember that you haven't heard a certain song when the machine pumps out 80-100 tunes every day with no effort. I wish I had time to sit around and pick which favorite songs I want to hear. Nope, my music is pretty much has to be on autopilot.

I don't have to listen to the random playlist. I can play albums or non-random playlists. It's just that autopilot is so much less effort. And I'm all about less effort.

This isn't the first time I've been surprised to hear one of my favorite songs jump out at me, either. Last Tuesday, Debbie Gibson's "Only in My Dreams" and "Foolish Beat" both played within 89 minutes of eash other. I can't believe I'd go more than a week or two without seeking out one or both of those songs. Having Ambrosia's "Angola" pop up while I was visiting my sister a few years ago prompted a whole new project for me. She had never heard "Angola," or "I Don't Make Promises I Can't Break," for that matter, so I made her some CDs, "The Best Songs You've Never Heard," volumes I and II. Volume III is ready and waiting for her, but she hasn't asked for it. I guess she has less enthusiasm for listening to my favorite obscure songs than I do. Some people.

Still, I'm trying to figure out how to get my iPod to play my favorite 50% of songs twice as often as the lesser 50%*. Or maybe the top 33% three times more often than the lower 66%, and do it with no effort. As it stands now, I hear every song - over 9000 of them - about three times a year. Yes, that means I listen to hyper-favorite "I Don't Make Promises I Can't Break" just as often as the theme to "Sesame Street." Seriously. It's playing now. Everybody sing along! "Sunny day, sweeping the clouds away."

I'll figure out that playlist thing sooner or later. I've only been trying for 4.5 years.

*Right now, with every song given equal weight, it's like listening to radio station WBGN, not far up I-94 from here, serving Lake Wobegon. All the songs they play are above average.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nicki Clyne

Today is the 26th birthday of scrumptious actress Nicki Clyne, known for playing Cally on Battlestar Galactica. Very cute, very sweet. Doesn't work as much as I'd like. If you are a casting director, you know what to do.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

MPR, Here I Come

I am addicted to public radio. There, I said it. The straightforward news, the features, the lack of commercials and the variety of topics around the clock all work for me. I listen as much as practical. My local National Public Radio affiliate is KNOW 91.1, the flagship of Minnesota Public Radio. I became a member in 2000.

In 1999, I started listening to a program called "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me." Despite the funny name, it is a hilarious quiz show based on current events. Yes, there is a double-level oxymoron in that description. Nonetheless, "Wait, Wait" became my favorite program and my most anticipated hour of the week.

That hour was 10:00 AM Sunday. That hour became a routine. That's when I would do stuff around the house, read the paper, etc, all within earshot of the radio.

Around 2003, MPR moved "Wait, Wait" to Sunday at 2:00 PM. It was like a stab in the back. Like being told FU by your favorite teacher or best friend. 2PM??? Might as well have killed it. 2PM is the shank of the day, with plenty of other things to do, places to go, people to see. It was almost impossible to catch the program.

Don't think I didn't go to great lengths to defeat the almost impossible. For the first couple of years, I used a cassette deck with a timer. Later, I found a program called Cybercorder that records audio inputs into digital WAV files on the computer. I think of it as a VCR for radio. Until NPR-issued podcasts appeared, it was thanks to Cybercorder that I was able to time-shift "Wait, Wait" and all of my other favorite NPR programs. Loading them onto my iPod made them portable. Life became good again.

Except for my umbrage for MPR. They made many a program change over the years, but they left "Wait, Wait" buried at 2PM Sunday. When my $15 a month membership expired in 2004, I didn't renew. I vowed I would not contribute another dime to MPR until they gave "Wait, Wait" a time slot worthy of the fastest hour on radio.

Of course, I never told MPR how I felt, so maybe they didn't realize how affronted I was. Still, I considered them to be royal bastards.

Fast forward to yesterday, Febuary 7, 2009. MPR shuffled their schedule and moved "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" to Saturday at noon. Saturday at noon. You can't get much better than that. Saturday instead of Sunday, noon instead of 2:00. Right after "Car Talk." I consider the insult to be lifted.

So, it looks like I will be reversing my vow and begin sending MPR $15 a month again. They have a membership drive this month. That's as good a time as any to join. I might even get a coffee mug out of the deal. If only I drank coffee.