another iPod one

Well, I’m off to Houston early tomorrow morning – humid, hot, swampy Houston. It’ll be a short trip, with a good bit of the two days I’m gone being devoted to travel. I’m not looking forward to it, I just don’t want to go… there’s all sorts of reasons I’d rather stay here instead: mowing the lawn, playing with Keaton, sleeping in my own bed, and not having to present to customers. Alas, however, I’ll go. Bright and early to the skies and back late the next night. Enough lamentation though, eh?

Remember back a while ago I mentioned that I’d submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI in attempts to find out if there was any juicy information out there to be hand about my grandfather? I was inspired by the Get Grandpa’s FBI Files website, and half figured I’d never hear anything at all. The other day, though, I got confirmations from both the local field office and the DC headquarters that they had received my request and had assigned me a FIOA tracking number. Not that it means I’ll actually get some dirt on Grandpa, but was still a neat “next step” to get a couple letters from the FBI.

Gonna get nerdy now.

If you’re like me, you have a huge distribution of music on your iPod, spanning decades, genres, and focus. One of the classic problems I used to run into was maintaining a peaceful iPod coexistence between music that I really enjoy on some occasions, but don’t necessarily want to hear on shuffle. That may seem odd, but I submit that there are plenty of musical scenarios for which this sort of “selective shuffling” would be desirable.

Take for instance the case of holiday music, who doesn’t love a nice collection of time-honored Christmas classics to put on shuffle while the family sits around in pajamas sipping coffee and opening presents? You may only listen to it once a year, but it’s an important asset to your iPod’s overall portfolio. Problem is, you don’t exactly want Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” to get served up along with your “general purpose” library during, say, a Saturday afternoon wakeboarding or, worse still, a beer-drenched evening throwing darts in the garage with the boys.

Similarly, what about artists that you really like – but only when the mood strikes? For me, that’d be the Grateful Dead. I absolutely love a good, long, noodly Dead jam – and the more live shows I have on my iPod, the better chance I have at hearing something new and unique. So, my ‘Pod is disproportionally packed with the Dead, I have like all the Dick’s Picks series and more on there, gigs and gigs of live Dead. So much so, in fact, that statistically, a Dead track is more likely to be shuffled up than a non-Dead track – and I run the risk of overly-Dead “random” shuffles. This, again, can be a mood killer when you desire a truly random mix of your tunes. I face a similar issue with my large stacking of Beatles music, I’m sure I’m not alone.

My solution to these issues is to implement smart playlist based shuffling. Here’s how you do it, using Christmas music as an example: Highlight all your Christmas music in iTunes and right-click to “Get Info,” in the options screen that appears, tick the box titled “Skip when shuffling.” This means that all your Christmas music will no longer be considered when you choose “Shuffle Songs” from the main menu. However, it also means that, if you have the Main|Settings|Shuffle|Songs enabled in the Settings menu – the songs you just ticked will be ignored, and won’t be played. Seems like a quandary, right? You don’t want Christmas music shuffled in with your normal jams, but you most definitely want to put all those Christmas songs on shuffle while you open presents. What to do?

Never fear, Smart Playlists offer a perfect solution. First, make sure that all that Christmas music (or those live Dead jams) is set to “Skip When Shuffling.” Then, with your iPod highlighted in the lefthand iTunes pane, choose “New Smart Playlist.” Now, define your smart playlist so that it chooses those songs (for Christmas music, I suggest defining your playlist on the “genre” tag – assuming you’ve assigned the Christmas tunes to the Christmas genre; for the Dead, you can filter on “artist;” for others, get creative). Limit the playlist to however many songs you want (use a high number if you want them all), and set “select by” to “random.” Next, tick the “Live Updating” box and save the list. Voila! Non-shuffled songs in shuffle mode, ripe for that special occasion without having to worry about them popping up at the wrong time. For some more cool Smart Playlist ideas, check out this page (you can really do some cool stuff with these things).

Jeez, after typing that, it seems like such a waste of effort.


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