Robots rebel, take over world and my music collection. News at eleven.

January 15, 2008

I have a digital music library that is far larger than any reasonable person could hope to manage by themselves. It is ridiculously large, I never expect to listen to it all, and contained in this collection is a not-so-insignificant portion made up of albums that I should be ashamed I acquired at all.

Picking good songs to play from this library quickly devolves into one of two exercises, both with depressingly predictable results: Option 1, The Safe Bet: cherrypick an album from the mental list that I keep that I know I own and like because I’ve already listened to them hundreds of times; and Option 2, Musical Russian Roulette: let the cruel gods of playlist shuffle decide my aural fate, finger located firmly near the skip button in anticipation of the much too prevalent duds.

At what point in my life did I let listening to music become a chore?

iTunes Library of Absurdity!

Determined not to be a slave to my own music collection I set out for something better, and when I say “something better”, I usually mean something automated. I’m a programmer, and by definition lazy, so I when I do things once I expect never to have to do them again, and picking good music to listen to is no exception.

I found my solution in iTunes Smart Playlists. Within iTunes, I could command my Smart Playlists, or, as I prefer to call them, my small army of music-selecting robots, to craft a special sub-collection of my library that has all of the strengths and none of the weaknesses of my two previous music selection methods. From then on, each morning when I plugged my iPod in for it’s daily sync I didn’t get the usual overplayed tracks or mish-mosh of unwanted crap. Instead, thanks to my carefully crafted and meticulously planned assault on music mundanity, my mornings became pleasant, serendipitous trips through the less played corners of my previously unwieldy album collection. And I was happy! For weeks!

And oh was I proud! Obviously my significant skills in automation were paying dividends into new areas of my life. Or so I thought

Robot invasion!
Robot invasion!

It turns out that the iPod Touch (and iPhone) have a “Smart Playlist bug” that had evaded my perception until just tonight. It’s one of those absurd kinds of bugs: the ones that don’t overtly break anything but instead twists the supposedly “smart” functionality into an at-first-imperceptible perversion of it’s former self.

You see, in my smart playlists I have several clauses that say things like “first select the 5000 songs that I’ve played the most” and “next select 3 gigabytes of my most recently added songs”. I then have other clauses that manipulate these lists in various ways to separate the wheat from the chafe. But! As I discovered just tonight, upon syncing, this sinister bug reprograms my smart playlists so that everywhere I told it most it changes it to least and everywhere I told it least it changes it to most!

The playlists that I had so carefully built; the army of automatons that I had enlisted (commanded!) to pick my songs for me according to the very precise measurements that I had layed out for them, were doing the exact opposite of what I had asked them to do! Unbeknownst to me! For weeks!

toothpaste for dinner

Most embarrassingly, though, is that I thought the great music that was being delivered to my iPod every morning was a result of my own clever machinations, when in fact, had the playlists been working as I had designed them, I would have had been subjected to the same crap and cruft that I was trying to avoid in the first place!

Hubris, exposed by my own machines. Touché.

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