Compsci 004G, Fall 2005, iPod Shuffle

Group Assignment

These articles (Aug 26, 2004 NY Times, and July 28, 2004 Time Magazine) discuss the shuffle song option on the [in 2004 new generation] iPods.

Answer the following questions about these readings and your understanding of algorithms and user-interfaces.

  1. According to the NY Times article, Revere Greist believes:
    the Shuffle command favors the rapper 50 Cent -- and perhaps more important that it knows exactly the right time to play 50 Cent's biggest hit, "In Da Club." ...

    The iPod "knows somehow when I am reaching the end of my reserves, when my motivation is flagging," Mr. Greist insisted.

    Describe a reasonable explanation for Mr. Greist's observations and conclusions.


  2. In the Time article the Shuffle feature is described as run[ning] both hot and cold. In particular, the author questions the Shuffle algorithm. He writes:
    Also, the Shuffle algorithm is still less than satisfying: while shuffling through 1,643 songs, two of the first eight tracks it pulled were from the Beastie Boys.

    Addresss this argument, is it a reasonable critique of the Shuffle algorithm? Why?


  3. Stan Ng, Apple's iPod product manager, says this of the algorithm used to Shuffle:

    "The funny thing about it is that it really is random ... When you turn on Shuffle it creates a randomized list of all the music on your iPod without repeating a song."

    Explain what it really is random means in this context. Describe an alternative algorithm that could address the concerns of having two songs by the same artist occuring close to each other in the shuffled playlist.


  4. Write a question that brings forth issues about which you're curious after reading these articles.

Design and Implementation of an Experiment

Your group has both an iPod Shuffle and an iPod Nano. You must design an experiment that someone else or some other group will perform to deny/verify hypotheses you provide as part of the experiment. Alternatively, you can ask those performing the experiment to take measurements as part of a verification process. You should design an experiment that's simple enough for people to do in about an hour, e.g., while riding a bus on a trip somewhere.

The experiment you design should be developed to get people thinking about software, technology, mathematics, and how these are expressed in popular culture and society (specifically in a college population). You will provide a written description or protocol for what you want those participating in your experiment to do. Ideally your description will stand on its own and you won't be an active part of the process of performing the experiment. However, you are/will be available as a consultant.

Your grade will be based on several criteria, each equally weighted.

Owen L. Astrachan
Last modified: Fri Sep 16 14:46:43 EDT 2005