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Computers can generate random numbers. News at 11. - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

Computers can generate random numbers. News at 11. [Jan. 12th, 2005|02:54 am]
Arvind Narayanan
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[Current Mood |pissed offpissed off]

I find the hype around the shuffle feature in mp3 players quite ridiculous. Randomizing a playlist is so revolutionary that Apple would name their new product iPod Shuffle? Pathetic. I've never owned an mp3 player, but I've used shuffle in software for as long as I can remember, basically for as long as I've used a computer. I can't believe that its a groundbreaking and droolworthy feature of mp3 players in fucking 2005.

I have about 5000 songs on my laptop, which isn't even particularly large, and random is the only order in which I can possibly listen to them. It is well known that humans suffer distress when forced to make a choice in which no one alternative is clearly more suitable than the rest; the distress is thought to increase logarithmically with the number of choices. So if I click on my music folder and look at the list of artist subfolders, I freak out. I can't make a choice. I just close the window and fire up my music player and set it to random. And I know my behavior is typical or close to typical.

So why the hell is shuffle suddenly the next big thing? Where has it been all along?

I dug up an article on Wired about shuffle which makes me want to gouge my eyes out.
Stuffy old listening habits -- like listening to albums from beginning to end -- are being thrown out in favor of allowing machines to choose songs at random, which often leads to unexpected, and magical, juxtapositions of music.
Magical juxtapositions? WTF.
"There is something thrilling about setting the player on Shuffle and letting it decide what to play next," Ross writes. "The little machine often goes crashing through barriers of style in ways that change how I listen."
Aaaargh. Stop it!
Bull said, "Some users feel that the machine intuitively understands them by giving them just the type of music they want to listen to when they want it."
My head is imploding.
Kellaris said random shuffle likely appeals to the MTV generation -- kids with short attention spans who are likely "brain damaged."

"Personally, and I believe I speak for many old farts here, I appreciate listening to music, be it an opera or a pop album, in the sequence in which the artist decided to present it," he said.

"Temporal order is an important element of how a work unfolds dynamically over time, an important factor underlying the aesthetic effect. Random shuffle pretty much flushes that down the toilet."
Unfolds dynamically over time? Aesthetic effect? What a pretentious load of BS. That sentence reminds me of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect trying to escape from the Vogon poetry in H2G2.

So, could someone please enlighten me, have mp3 players until now not had the ability to shuffle songs?? Or is it just that stupid jocks are encountering random numbers for the first time in their life and are spellbound by the phenomenon?

[User Picture]From: theswede
2005-01-12 06:37 am (UTC)
The iPod never had shuffle before. The cheap, good ones all did.

But the pretentious people only use iPods, y'know.
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[User Picture]From: amcmillan
2005-01-12 07:27 am (UTC)
Uhm... wrong.

iPods have always had shuffle.
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[User Picture]From: theswede
2005-01-12 08:06 am (UTC)
Okay, well, then the reporting made by certain PR outlets is wrong. Not that I care. And I don't have an iPod either.

Maybe it's the Steve Jobs reality distortion field at work again ... wait, did I say maybe in that sentence?
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[User Picture]From: amcmillan
2005-01-12 11:49 am (UTC)
Yeah, or maybe it's the chip's fault. You know, that great big one on your shoulder there.
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[User Picture]From: theswede
2005-01-12 05:04 pm (UTC)
Nice to chat with you too, stranger.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2005-01-12 09:23 am (UTC)
That comment was so delicious I want to pretend its not factually incorrect :)

So have you used one of these cheap good ones? Which one do you recommend? I'm looking for one with a hard drive, 5GB+. I've read a few reviews and the Creative Zen Micro and Dell DJ look good.
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[User Picture]From: theswede
2005-01-12 05:17 pm (UTC)
My roomie has an Archos he bought in Africa. It works very well even in desert conditions, he reports. It's taken quite a beating by now, but is very intuitive, if a bit slow to respond. It is a few years old, though, more modern Archos players are a lot snappier.

Another friend has an iriver, and yet another has a creative zen. All of these are the pretty big models, with 2.5" hard disks in various sizes, and they're all about as easy to use. The difference is mostly a matter of taste. I recommend you look at the ones you want to buy in a store before you decide, since intuitiveness in these gadgets is very subjective. Some people want scrolling views, some want nice subdirectory handling etc., and some of these things don't play well together meaning the gadgets have chosen one way as their way.

Myself, I'm thinking about the new iriver with the photo screen. Would be handy to have both as a backup device for work, mp3 playback, and emptying the digicam into when I've shot up a card. We'll see though, my priorities are on some other things for now, and my PDA with a gig card serves me rather well on the music front - for now.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2005-01-13 03:36 am (UTC)
Thanks a bunch.
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2008-05-14 05:01 pm (UTC)
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