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Is the iPod Shuffle Playing Favorites? 524

marksilverman writes "Steven Levy at Newsweek is reporting that his iPod Shuffle seems to favor certain songs. Is Apple receiving kickbacks to promote certain artists? Apple denies it, of course, and Levy had the good sense to ask a mathmatician and a cryptographer who explained that it's probably just humans finding patterns where there are none." Less neurotically, both CNet and PCWorld have discussions of the Shuffle's interior spaces.
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Is the iPod Shuffle Playing Favorites?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:38AM (#11785584)
    I have heard YMCA an inordinate amount of times on my ipod shuffle. I wonder what that means.
  • by jxyama ( 821091 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:40AM (#11785594)
    ...look for patterns, to at least internally provide an explanation. (whether it's true or accurate is irrelevant.) go to craps table - unless you are neurotic, everyone develops a pattern to how they roll the dice. no reasons, no explanations. we are just made to take emotional comfort in attributing some pattern, real or otherwise.
    • by fafalone ( 633739 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:54AM (#11785657)
      We actually talked about this in my statistics class today. The professor actually had a friend who could flip a coin and get it to land on whatever he wanted, virtually every time. Made alot of money hustling people with that. It is possible to develop patterns of manipulating 'random' events, through skill of hand (or programming skill), that to most people still look like they're obeying pure randomness, but are actually being subtly manipulated behind the scenes. There's no doubt in my mind it's a possibility that Apple is trying to walk that line.
      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @03:42AM (#11785806) Homepage
        Or it could be an accident. For example, picture this code:

        const int song_id=random()%num_songs;

        At a first glance, that might look reasonable; however, once you start to get a lot of songs (and you start to approach RAND_MAX), it will skew your result in favor of low-ID songs.

        Who knows if anything is going on here, though.
        • by wfberg ( 24378 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @05:34AM (#11786039)
          This absolutely right. Also, using this method, inevitably some songs will occur multiple times in the playlist, since you're not keeping track of dupes (much like slashdot).

          If you need to randomize an array, the easiest way to do it is to assign each item a random number, and then sort the array using the random numbers as a key. That way every item occurs only once in the randomized list.

          You still need a decent pseudo random number generator of course, if you're using a pseudo random number generator that only produces 5 discrete values and repeats them over and over it doesn't help much.

          On the other hand, for an application like a playlist shuffle, you don't need a cryptographically secure RNG, just a PRNG (such as a Mersenne Twister), that uses the current time in milliseconds as a seed would do nicely.
          • by Basehart ( 633304 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @06:24AM (#11786113)
            OK, that does it. I'm going to buy an iPod Shuffle tomorrow.
        • by inio ( 26835 )

          const int song_id=random()%num_songs;

          At a first glance, that might look reasonable; however, once you start to get a lot of songs (and you start to approach RAND_MAX), it will skew your result in favor of low-ID songs.

          Worse than that. Many implementations of rand() have extremely un-random low-order bits, so the above code will produce both predictable and unevenly weighted selection. It's much better to do

          const int song_id = (int)((random()*(long long)num_songs)/RAND_MAX);

          (long long cast required be

      • I perfected such a "coin match/ odd-even" back
        in junior high school. And I made a substantial
        amount of money (for that time), until my school
        mates got tired of losing their lunch money AND
        their video game money. The technique is quite
        simple, really, but I'll never reveal my secret.

        Any technique that Apple uses to generate a
        pseudo-random playlist hopefully employes a
        PRNG and a seed number generated by better
        entropy gathering than something like a master
        song list. Otherwise, distinct and repeatable
        pattern
      • We actually talked about this in my statistics class today. The professor actually had a friend who could flip a coin and get it to land on whatever he wanted, virtually every time. Made alot of money hustling people with that. It is possible to develop patterns of manipulating 'random' events, through skill of hand (or programming skill), that to most people still look like they're obeying pure randomness, but are actually being subtly manipulated behind the scenes. There's no doubt in my mind it's a possi
    • by yali ( 209015 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @04:03AM (#11785871)
      This page [skepdic.com] has more information about this phenomenon, called the clustering illusion. Another manifestation is streak scoring in sports, a.k.a. the hot hand [ttu.edu] in basketball. Players are often though to be "on a roll" when in fact their larger scoring pattern fits a random distribution around a mean.
      • by Motherfucking Shit ( 636021 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @08:37AM (#11786325) Journal
        This page [skepdic.com] has more information about this phenomenon, called the clustering illusion.
        Thanks for that link. It's a good explanation of something one of my college professors said, which has stuck with me ever since: "A random number generator isn't truly random unless it can potentially generate the same number many times in a row." The idea being that if an RNG was programmed to avoid producing the same number repeatedly, it wasn't really generating random output.

        The "clustering illusion" (I never knew there was a name for it) has some interesting applications in real life. Dice in a casino is probably the most obvious example, but things get more interesting as the field gets lower; like, say, 1 and 0. This example applies decently to MMORPGs, where things like whether or not you strike your foe, or whether or not you gain in a skill, are based on your skill times some sort of random number. I was a hardcore addict of Ultima Online for a few years, and one of the common complaints was "I have a skill level of X, but I failed to land a hit on my opponent Y times in a row, something is wrong!"

        I guess the next time my UO addiction recurs, I'll have a valid explanation for that phenomenon.

        (Would have posted this about 3 hours ago, but Slashdot went down, or something, and I lost my original comment. Had to rewrite from memory.)
    • by Zorilla ( 791636 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @06:13AM (#11786102)
      This is got to be a result of the random number generator. Winamp and XMMS are exactly the same in this regard. When my music collection got big enough, I usually just put the player into shuffle mode. It always seems to pick the same songs over and over. Of course, the results are slightly different in XMMS as compared to Winamp.

      Of course, I just opened Winamp to test this out and it knows I'm blabbing about it and it's playing music I have not heard in a while.
  • If... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Walker2323 ( 670050 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:40AM (#11785596)
    If i Hear Fiona APPLE one more time, I'll kill myself.
  • Well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:42AM (#11785599)
    Levy had the good sense to ask a mathmatician and a cryptographer who explained that it's probably just humans finding patterns where there are none.

    Didn't stop him from submitting it to Slashdot though. No facts? Great, put it on the front page!
    • Indeed, the most important factor to get to front page seems to involve making as big claims as possible, preferanbly with no backing. This one is actually a strange one, as they talk against themselves and still...
      • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by JPriest ( 547211 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:56AM (#11785664) Homepage
        I think the point of the story is not just to report "news" but open up the topic for discussion. I am sure making the front page will cause at least a few more people to investigate the claim, or at the least monitor the behavior more closely of their shuffle.
    • No facts? Great, put it on the front page!No facts? Great, put it on the front page!

      Well, it wasn't just that. He also had a dumb spelling mistake ("mathmatician"). That helps. I wonder if they'll use that in the dupe.

    • Re:Well... (Score:5, Funny)

      by AvantLegion ( 595806 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @04:02AM (#11785865) Journal
      Didn't stop him from submitting it to Slashdot though. No facts? Great, put it on the front page!

      Hey, shut up! It's a new post and it's NOT a dupe. Let's not push our luck, OK?

  • enough! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kajoob ( 62237 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:45AM (#11785618)
    From the article:


    I explained this phenomenon to Temple University prof John Allen Paulos, an expert in applying mathematical theory to everyday life. His conclusion: it's entirely possible that nothing at all is amiss with the shuffle function


    The slashdot article??


    Is the iPod Shuffle Playing Favorites?



    and



    Apple denies it, of course



    Enough with the inflammatory headlines!

    • Interestingly enough, when set on shuffle play I have found that iTunes and the iPod (well, my old 10gb 1st gen anyway) tend to play songs that are close together in the database. They seem to have a relatively limited 'reach' either side of the current song.

      I've never figured if this was just a programming mistake or limitation, or if it was actually intentional.

  • Bullshit. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mooniejohnson ( 319145 ) <mooniejohnson+slashdot@Nospam.gmail.com> on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:45AM (#11785619)
    What paranoid bullshit. That would mean that they'd be releasing firmware updates every couple of weeks to update the list of "preferred" artists, and then it would have to scan through your tags and make a neat little catalog so it knows who to play. Doesn't that seem rather pointless? Besides, if it plays the artists, haven't you already paid for them? Who would buy into kickbacks for more people to listen to their songs? Just tune in a radio station! They play repeats all the time! Honestly, some people.

    This post brought to you by Teenage Angst and Caffeine!

    • Re:Bullshit. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by smartsaga ( 804661 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:58AM (#11785672)
      I guess all you need is a little bit that indicates whether the song is "favored" or not to be played more than the others... So no need to update firmware every few weeks because the songs would already have a value that determines the level in which they should be favored in the "not-so-random" shuffle playback.

      I know I am being simplistic but that is the way I would do it.

      Your shuffle are belong to us... get it?

      Have a good one.
  • by ABeowulfCluster ( 854634 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:45AM (#11785622)
    I think slashdot favours certain articles and repeats them over and over again.
  • by bildungsroman_yorick ( 825714 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:46AM (#11785625)
    Clearly we need to lock an ipod in a room with the same scientists who discovered revolutionary psychic patterns in that little black box a couple of weeks back on slashdot.

    Perhaps Ipod will predict when Hewy Lewis and the news will make a mainstream comeback?
  • by MrPerfekt ( 414248 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:46AM (#11785627) Homepage Journal
    You're absolutely right!@ There's an array inside the iPod shuffle of about 150 artists that will take precedence over all other artists and will play songs by those artists 3 times more than all others because because Apple recieved $100,000 per to make it happen.

    Those of you that think that sounds completely plausable, please step to the left. Everyone else please step to the right.

    Everyone standing on the left, please drink the magic juice we're distributing because you've been selected to come with us to the great beyond where you will experience another plane of being.

    Everyone on the right, enjoy the rest of your life because you enjoy logic and reason.
    • by Ghostgate ( 800445 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @03:03AM (#11785693)
      Hmm. At first, I was headed over to the right. But your offer of magic juice on the left intrigues me.
    • by Orinthe ( 680210 )
      With a little bit of Logic [apple.com] and Reason [propellerheads.se], you could make your own music.

      Then, you can offer apple $100,000.00 and see if they'll add you to their magic artist array!

      Of course, you might have to pay out to the other artists on it, too, since you'd be decreasing their play frequency by 2/3 of a percent...
    • by prockcore ( 543967 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @03:33AM (#11785789)
      Those of you that think that sounds completely plausable, please step to the left.

      Look up the word "payola" if you think that record execs wouldn't do this.

      It doesn't need to be in the shuffle. It could be part of the AutoFill in iTunes.

      Do I think it's really happening? Not really. Do I think it's plausible? Yeah... experience with radio tells me that record companies would do this if Apple let them.. and who is Apple to turn down money?
    • by Gopal.V ( 532678 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @05:56AM (#11786080) Homepage Journal

      > You're absolutely right!@ There's an array inside the iPod shuffle of about 150 artists that will take precedence over all other artists.

      Back in late 2001, I wrote a simple program which learns which songs I press "Next(b)" before it completes. Finally after 8 weeks, I realized that I listen to
      • Eminem and other rap in the morning
      • Pop music later into the afternoon
      • Rock was for the 5-7 pm slots
      • After 10 , it was usually playing Enigma and instrumentals
      Was quite different on a weekend with no music on saturdays and often slow Elvis songs on sunday afternoons ... I would really love a portable player that understands this and plays accordingly (mpg321 + bash + grep works, but only when I start it properly).
      • I almost hate to mention it, but Windows Media Player has several "smart" playlists that can do just this. I think that one of them is "Songs I listen to at night" and another one is "Songs I like but haven't listened to lately".

        Do I have to hand in my geek membership card for admitting that I use WMP?

        -Montag
  • by MasterC ( 70492 ) <cmlburnett@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:47AM (#11785631) Homepage
    Computers can't generate true random numbers (ok, at least I don't know of any current methods) but only pseudo random numbers. There's a precise mathematical description that gets you from one number to the next.

    Who knows, maybe Apple uses the meta data for a song to determine the random order (anyone hack it yet and finding the algo?) and some people just get "lucky" like prof John Allen Paulos explained in the article. You might happen to flip 6 heads in a row (despite being a 1 in 64 chance of it happening) and you might get 6 songs from an artist in a row.

    Sounds to me that it's a conspiracy theory at best.
    • by James_G ( 71902 ) <james@gBLUElobalmegacorp.org minus berry> on Saturday February 26, 2005 @03:16AM (#11785733)
      Computers can't generate true random numbers (ok, at least I don't know of any current methods) but only pseudo random numbers

      Intel has been including hardware RNGs in their chipsets for a while now. Apparently, this is a truly quantum random number generator, although that could be so much marketing material [intel.com]. A quick Google doesn't turn up any obvious pages disputing this, although I didn't look too hard. Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] has more info.

    • by Percy_Blakeney ( 542178 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @03:26AM (#11785764) Homepage
      I just can't resist adding one of my favorite computer science quotes from von Neumann:

      Anyone who considers arithmetical methods of producing random digits is, of course, in a state of sin.
    • by SpeedBump0619 ( 324581 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @03:27AM (#11785765)
      Computers can't generate true random numbers...

      Right, but wrong.

      A pure computational method for generating randomness has not been found...and I'd guess it can't be done.

      However, there are a vast number of randomly timed things that happen in a computer. Your mouse movements have some level of randomness, the time between key strokes on your keyboard, etc.

      There are ways to harness events which contain levels of randomness and use them to generate truly random numbers. I highly doubt that the ipod firmware really does this...since there are plenty of "random enough" algorithms for such a purpose.

      I'll just bet you really wanted to know that too.
      • A pure computational method for generating randomness has not been found...and I'd guess it can't be done.A pure computational method for generating randomness has not been found...and I'd guess it can't be done.

        On the contrary, I think there are lots of these. Digits in pi, for example. The problem with that is that it's easily reproducible, and so useless for encryption, but would work fine for shuffling tracks (use some seed based on time, say, to give an offset so that it won't do the same sequence ea

    • "Computers can't generate true random numbers (ok, at least I don't know of any current methods) but only pseudo random numbers. There's a precise mathematical description that gets you from one number to the next."

      No shit.

      But they can gather entropy from lots of sources. For example, the timing of user interactions.
  • anti-spoken word (Score:5, Informative)

    by Noksagt ( 69097 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:48AM (#11785635) Homepage
    If you have any audiobook or spoken word that have proper metadata, they will never be selected in shuffle mode. While this can be handy for not falling onto a 20 minute chapter of a book randomly, it also makes it a bit more difficult to create cut-ups, or experiment with random spoken words when you want to: you must retag the tracks.

    This is also useful to take long tracks out of random selection. A friend retagged Pink Floyd's 23 minute long 'Echos' as a book after getting pissed off that his Shuffle always seemed to select it.
    • Re:anti-spoken word (Score:5, Interesting)

      by igrp ( 732252 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @07:39AM (#11786218)
      Or, alternatively, he could do what I do: use iTunes' smart playlist feature.

      That way, you have a lot more control over what songs get selected and - to tell you the truth - it's a lot more flexible than the autofill feature (it's sort of like discovering perl for the first time -- yeah, it's a lot more clumsy than just whipping up a simple shell script but it's also so much more powerful).

      Basically, what I have a bunch of custom smart playlists. The first randomly selects songs that are :

      • longer than 1:20
      • not comedy, spoken word or audio books (I enjoy listening to George Carlin's rants as much as the next guy but I really don't need to listen to them when I'm out running)
      • not longer than 8:00 (this excludes all jam songs etc.)
      • hasn't been played in three days (to keep things fresh)
      • are not named intro, interlude or skit (for obvious reasons), plus some very custom stuff.
      Then I have a second smart playlist select some my favorite songs that I haven't listened to in a while (5 days).

      I use the 1st playlist to fill my Shuffle up to 75% capacity. The second playlist gets to use the remaining 25%.

      You know, I used to think of all these software jukeboxes as bloatware. And whilst iTunes is undoubtedly quite demanding ressource-wise, I really believe it's well worth it. It's powerful and fun to use at the same time.

  • by IKnwThePiecesFt ( 693955 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:49AM (#11785637) Homepage
    The summary suggest that Apple may be playing favorites, citing an article that concludes pretty definitely that they are not...
  • Please correct me if I'm wrong, but you don't get this on a normal iPod because (1) there's far more songs to choose from and (2) because the iPod builds a playlist randomly when you set it to shuffle (this is the part I'm not completely sure about, but I've let mine play out for the four days or so worth of music I have, and it eventually gets to the end and stops playing, just as it does when playing from a playlist).

    With the iPod Shuffle, there's fewer songs, and it's more likely that the user would wan
  • by MyDixieWrecked ( 548719 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:53AM (#11785656) Homepage Journal
    On macslash.org, there was an Ask MacSlash about iTunes somehow figuring out what songs sounded good together using some crazy sonic algorithm. The guy was asking if it was plausible that iTunes analyzed the songs in the playlist to spit out the best mix possible.

    The basic consensus in the discussion was either "dude, your entire playlist is songs you like, of course it's gonna be a good mix.," or, the option mentioned above about humans looking for patterns.

    Although, throughout my history of having large (over 1000 song) playlists, I've found that no matter what mp3 player I used (hardware, software, or otherwise), there always seemed to be certain bands or artists that would get play more often. I've had weeks at a time where I'd hear Snoop Dogg's Lodi Dodi, Iron Maiden's Quest for Fire or In Flames' Clayman nearly every time I picked up my iPod
    • On macslash.org, there was an Ask MacSlash about iTunes somehow figuring out what songs sounded good together using some crazy sonic algorithm. The guy was asking if it was plausible that iTunes analyzed the songs in the playlist to spit out the best mix possible.

      Well, there is ways of analysing the song to figure out what type of song it is -- There is actually a very intelligent professor [cs.uvic.ca] at my local University [www.uvic.ca] that has developed an algorithm/program that can tell with a pretty good idea what type of
  • by Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:55AM (#11785662) Homepage
    I think what people are seeing is an example of the "nonpareil effect", named after the tasty little candies. The candies were typically colored either red or green, mixed together, and then stored in glass jars.


    When looking at the candies through the side of the glass jar, the first thing you notice is that the distribution of red and green candies doesn't look evenly distributed at all. Instead, there are lots of areas where many red candies are adjacent, and lots of areas where many green candies are adjacent.


    For a long time, many people thought there must be some kind of static electrical effect present that was causing candies of the same color to tend to stick together. Eventually, however, some statisticians did the math and found that there was no such effect at play -- in a completely random system, such "blobs" of like colors are inevitable. Indeed, a jar of candy with no such blobs would be a bit suspect -- what are the chances of the red and green candies always pairing up so that no groupings occur?


    To put it another way: it's all in your heads, guys.

    • Eventually, however, some statisticians did the math and found that there was no such effect at play -- in a completely random system, such "blobs" of like colors are inevitable.

      Um.. considering there are only two colors, it doesn't take a statistician to tell you that there are going to be candies of the same color next to each other.

      Unless you mixed the candies into a checkerboard pattern... which isn't random at all, now is it?
  • anyone know if it's a standard USB mass storage device (i.e. can I mount it in Linux and XP sp1 computers w/o itunes)? And how long's that battery suppose to last (and does it cost more than the unit to get replaced)? TIA.
  • Slow news night? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bonch ( 38532 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:59AM (#11785677)
    Seriously. There have got to be better submissions in the queue than, "I think my iPod shuffle is preferring certain songs over others. It's a conspiracy!" Come on.
    • Holy Christ, this story is a MONTH OLD! Anyone who gave a shit read it four weeks ago, and anyone who didn't hear about it when it was ALL OVER THE INTERNET back then isn't going to read Slashdot anyway.

      I concur. There HAVE to be better submissions in the queue than month-old crap that wasn't even all that interesting the first time around.

      Ah well. At least it's not a dupe...

      p
  • ...but when I put my 20GB 4G iPod on Shuffle play mode... there are some songs it just seems to NEVER play.
    • I use my 20GB 4G iPod in shuffle mode quite a bit, and it does play certain songs more often than others. However, if Apple is getting a kickback on these songs, then they're getting some money from some pretty darn obscure artists and labels. It's just a quirk in the random selection process.
  • winamp has done the same thing to me... I have 230 some odd CD's on my pc and if I queue them up in winamp, the same songs will tend to play during the beginning of listening... eventually, I just scroll randomly to find something different. Seriously, there is something to this - maybe a faulty algorithm, but there is something. After all, 230*(~13songs) is too many to be coincidence.
  • Only one way to be sure - actually look at the data : list a playlist with a decent sample size and determine which tracks come up more often, then work out if it is statisticly significant. Anecdotal evidence has to be taken as seriously as the D&D player who states "this dice is cursed!" after the number 1 comes up a few times.

    People are really good at spotting patterns, even when there isn't one - which is why you have to step back and find out what is instead of setting out to prove something.

  • Dilbert (Score:5, Funny)

    by GyroGecko ( 527617 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @03:09AM (#11785713)
    Reminds me of a Dilbert comic:

    Accounting Troll: "Over here we have our random number generator"

    Number Generator Troll: "Nine Nine Nine Nine Nine Nine"

    Dilbert: "Are you sure that's random?"

    Accounting Troll: "That's the problem with randomness: you can never be sure"
  • ...now mostly in shuffle mode. The oddest thing I've noticed is that sometimes XMMS has a tendency to play two songs in a row by the same exact artist. What's more is that sometimes it will play a song by a particular band and the very next song will be a song from a solo project by a member of that band! But I don't think it has anything to do with XMMS.org setting up a "two play" feature or anything. I think it has more to do with how my music is filed and the algorithm that they use to randomize the
  • people need to understand that "even" distributions are not random. clusters exist when there is true randomness. learned this little snippet of knowledge from an episode of numb3rs when an algorithm was being devised to locate a serial rapist turned murderer based on his seemingly random series of attacks. so i guess people would prefer listening to a single song from a randomly selected artist from their collection, instead of a random song.
  • ...but doesn't shuffle favor your higher rated songs?



    ...I could be way off base here, I don't remember reading this anywhere in particular, I just thought that was the way it worked. Can anyone confirm/deny?
  • by trs9000 ( 73898 ) <trs9000.gmail@com> on Saturday February 26, 2005 @03:31AM (#11785781)
    So, I know its us the loyal readership that is supposed to do the editing essentially (which makes me think we should have a moderation-style system for voting on which stories in the queue should go live (editors, you reading this?!!) but hey!) but when our favorite web tool has spell-checking built in, and you can search up to 32 words at a time.... I mean you might as well just cut and paste [google.com].

    What's really interesting, that even though this is a geek site, we can't even get mathematician right. Even more silly is if you check the link above from google, you'll see that the first two results (of 3) are also from right here at the dot.

    All I'm saying is: if it's power to the nerd masses, let's do it. Many posts so far are already complaining about the story. Not to mention it's from MSNBC. Not to mention I've already read it, because it's from almost four weeks ago.

    I realize I am off-topic and complaining, but I wanted to see if we couldn't get a discussion going about a smarter, more democratic way to elect submissions to go live.
    • Forget it, the editors don't read the comments, hell the editors don't read SLASHDOT...

      Just look at the number of story dupes, the opinion pieces submitted as news stories, and the "worse than awful" (if I may quote Starbuck), sentence structure, grammar, spelling and general mangling of the English language that comes FROM the so-called "editors".

      You might as well ask a religious fanatic to have a logical and thoughtful discussion regarding the non-existence of God.

  • by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @03:34AM (#11785791)
    Instead of asking some random mathematician, the journalist should have asked and expert [stanford.edu] in shuffling. It's entirely possible that Apple's engineers believe they are producing random orderings without actually doing so. For example, Persi Diaconis showed that you need 7 riffle shuffles to randomize a pack of cards. Other possibilities include the fact that the simplest random number generators such as rand() are utter shit.

    So before dismissing thousands of people, I'd entertain the idea that Apple's engineers simply stuffed up. It wouldn't be the first bug that slips through QA testing.

  • umm yeahhhhhh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by seven5 ( 596044 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @03:54AM (#11785836)
    Sure, apple is spending R&D costs on creating a way to get their audio player to promote songs that users have already bought. Thats makes a ton of sense.
    • Re:umm yeahhhhhh (Score:3, Insightful)

      by b17bmbr ( 608864 )
      damn, i posted to early. i stil have mod points left. that is a a helluva business plan apple has. convincing people that they made the right purchase AFTER they bought it.

      1) reassure customer purchase was right one
      2) ???????
      3) profit
  • by mc6809e ( 214243 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @04:05AM (#11785876)
    This reminds me of the birthday paradox: [slashdot.org]

    "The birthday paradox states that if there are 23 people in a room then there is a slightly more than 50:50 chance that at least two of them will have the same birthday. For 60 or more people, the probability is greater than 99%. This is not a paradox in the sense of it leading to a logical contradiction; it is a paradox in the sense that it is a mathematical truth that contradicts common intuition. Most people estimate that the chance is much lower than 50:50."

    Applied here, suppose you have 365 songs. How many random selections must be played before you have about a 50:50 chance of hearing a repeat? Just 23 songs.

    What most people want is not random selection, but random order.

  • by very ( 241808 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @04:29AM (#11785932) Homepage Journal
    I noticed that too.
    I have a 1GB iPod shuffle, currently it contains roughly 100 songs.

    My iPod shuffle "prefers" playing BAD RELIGION and SLAYER.
    I don't know how or why.

    Maybe you guys can help me figure this out.

    here's the breakdown:

    100 tracks (roughly)
    40 BAD RELIGION's song
    40 SLAYER's song
    20 of other bands

    THIS IS REALLY FRUSTRATING that the iPod shuffle prefers playing SLAYER and BAD RELIGION.

    HELP!!!!!!!

    (***casm mode ends)
  • by prurientknave ( 820507 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @04:32AM (#11785936)
    Maybe the editors have a *go with me on this*

    Slashdot Shuffle (TM) system for the articles they post.

    It would explain the dupes and the lack of quality control with one theory. :-D

    I keed, I keed

  • by shadowmatter ( 734276 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @04:51AM (#11785973)
    First, there is the possibility that Apple screwed up the shuffling algorithm -- although not entirely likely. If you ask an introductory programmer to write some code to shuffle an array, you'll most likely get something like this:

    for i in range(array_length):
    j = random() % array_length
    temp = array[i]
    array[i] = array[j]
    array[j] = temp

    This code does NOT produce all permutations with equal probability! Instead, you must use the following code:

    for i in range(array_length):
    j = i + (random() % (array_length - i))
    temp = array[i]
    array[i] = array[j]
    array[j] = temp
    }

    This was cribbed from c2 -- see the full article text here [c2.com] for a more informative discussion.

    Second, I see a lot of people saying "I have a 20GB iPod -- and I swear sometimes it just NEVER plays this one song." Okay, let's assume that a 20GB iPod holds 5000 mp3 files. What's the probability that you play 5000 songs in shuffle mode, and never hear a particular song?

    It's the probability that 5000 times in a row, you hear some other song -- that is, one of the 4999 other songs. Calculating, we get:

    (4999/5000)^5000 = 0.3678.

    So we have a 36% probability of this happening -- which is not a negligible amount! This will further be compounded by two things: First, you have no way of recalling exactly it has been since you heard a particular song -- if your favorite song was played 1000 songs earlier, it probably feels like 2000. If it feels like 2000, it's probably 4000. Because it's a favorite song, your mind will exaggerate the amount. It's like if you crave nicotine, it can feel like days since you've had a cigarette when it's only been hours. Second, you probably have a lot of songs you would call a "favorite" -- with each having a 36% chance of not being played over the course of 5000 plays, your mind will probably register that at least one of them is "feeling neglected."

    Probability is a strange and beautiful thing. Don't expect your average audiophile to understand it. (And I'm not claiming to understand it either, beyond a very cursory level.)

    - shadowmatter
    • by shadowmatter ( 734276 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @05:04AM (#11786001)

      It's the probability that 5000 times in a row, you hear some other song -- that is, one of the 4999 other songs. Calculating, we get:

      (4999/5000)^5000 = 0.3678.


      Almost forgot -- I thought this number looked familiar. Note that as your number of songs approaches infinity, this number approaches 1/e (approx 0.3678, as seen above). Furthermore, this bound is being approached from below:

      (1/2)^2 = 0.25
      (2/3)^3 = 0.296
      (3/4)^4 = 0.316 ...

      So even if you keep ripping or downloading more songs, you're not going to decrease the chance of this phenomenon. Note how likely it is to occur regardless of how many songs you have -- which explains why everyone has probably "experienced" it.

      See, probability really is beautiful ;)

      - shadowmatter
  • Unscientific (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Temporal ( 96070 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @05:45AM (#11786061) Journal
    This is not a problem of a bad shuffle algorithm. The problem here is thousands of years old. It is human nature. People see patterns where there are none. People generate theories based on these non-existent patterns. This is how people concluded that the sun orbits the Earth: "Oh, look, the sun looks like it is orbiting the Earth! Therefore it must be!"

    The problem is, if you just put together a playlist with a bunch of artists and play it, it is entirely likely that someone will be played three times in the first hour. And in this guy's case, that someone was Steely Dan. So what does that prove?

    About 500 years ago, we invented something called the "scientific method". Although it is taught to most people in both science and history classes, few seem to understand it.

    The scientific method says that you cannot use past observations to make a conclusion. You must develop a specific test to prove or disprove your hypothesis. You must show before you perform the test that the outcome of the test is relevant to your hypothesis. You can then perform the test and use the results to back your conclusion.

    The scientific method could very easily be applied here. What this guy needs to do is start with the prediction that Steely Dan or whoever will be played three times in the first hour. He must use statistics to compute the probability of this happenning in a purely random shuffle, and should show that the chances are less than 1% (this is a pretty straight-forward use of standard statistical methods). Then he should run the experiment and see what happens.

    My guess? Steely Dan will not play three times in the first hour.

    Without a proper scientific experiment proving this guy's theory, there is no story here.
  • While I agree with all the posts saying that it's probably down to the human propensity for finding patterns even when there's no underlying cause, and that it's unlikely in the extreme that Apple is doing anything underhand, I think there's another point that people are missing.

    People don't want true randomness. If the machine picked each song to play randomly and independently, then it might play the same song twice in a row; and it might never play a song.

    Instead, what people seem to want is to hear all of their music, in an unpredictable order. And that's a random shuffle. (Hence the name!) Each individual track selection depends on the previous ones.

    That's also fairly easy to do too, of course. But most of the simple algorithms will assume that the set of songs is fixed... It's much harder to keep an even shuffle when adding or removing songs from the set. Maybe this is one cause of the 'problem'?

  • Nice. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Gannoc ( 210256 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @09:54AM (#11786529)
    Is Apple receiving kickbacks to promote certain artists? Apple denies it, of course.

    Did marksilverman, a slashdot poster, kill a puppy to get an erection? marksilverman denies it, OF COURSE.

  • by CaptainCheese ( 724779 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @10:34AM (#11786676) Journal
    The iPod Shuffle does not randomly play songs. It shuffles the playlist...then plays the songs in the new order.

    whereas a random play function could lead to a single track being played twice as often as another, shuffle precludes that.

    hence the name, rather than "iPod Random".
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:10PM (#11788024) Homepage Journal
    of the time I was trying to explain probability to my second grade daughter. I took a coin out and flipped it five times in a row and it came up heads every time.

    "Excuse, me," I said, "I'm going out to buy a lottery ticket."

Never let someone who says it cannot be done interrupt the person who is doing it.

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