12 November 2005

Bringing Order to Chaos: My Music Collection

Posted by Jameson Penn
An iPod is a wonderful thing.

And while only a few short years ago, I would have made an effort to say mp3 player rather than iPod in my previous statement, that changed once I became equiped with my 4 gig iPod Mini. My enjoyment is derived from far more than the mere hardware, which is simplistic and ideal in its own right, but rather the complementing iTunes suite. Arguably, it is the most important software to affect the digital music revolution. Well-- that's stiffing Protools, Reason, and Mixmeister-- my beloved dj program of choice --but I assume you get the point.

I've been posting about online music (my apple customer service experience, thoughts on online music services, demographic podcasting fact, thoughts on the mp3j movement, dabblings in podcasting, etc.) but have failed to discuss my obsession of smart playlists, one of the greatest features of iTunes. Its true benefit is the way it brings the beauty and brilliance of database management to the common Joe who probably doesn't give two shits about efficient data management and warehousing. Ah, well. Leave it to the total geeks --like apparently me. I digress.

Smart Playlists provide an easy filtering medium that improves your music organization through a simple process to sort, manage, and update your music library. I've stolen some ideas posted on smartplaylists.com, which no doubt has great ideas, but as a whole, the website is a pain to navigate.

Consider this versatility: an iPod performs great as a physical locker for all your music. You can sort by songtitle, artist, album, genre, playlist, etc. That's great, but let's say your music library dwarfs the capacity of your iPod. You can pull songs on and off the iPod manually, but what fun is that?
Imagine a web of interweaving smart playlists that produce an array of mix playlists that will dynamically change. Generally, I have seven types of playlists that are synched to my iPod Mini. Below is a description for each type, some examples, and a quick how-to.

With the exception of the Manual Selection Lists, all smart playlists are modified so that they only include songs that have not been played in the last __ days. I tend to flop between 2 weeks and 3 weeks. I find I vary based on the genre because of the varying number of available songs for each category. Additionally, I only include songs that are unrated, or have four or five stars.

I determine a song's rating based on the following scale:
One Star: Delete. I don't need it either because it's a duplicate or the audio is distorted. Every one or two weeks I query my one-star songs and remove them from my computer.

Two Stars: Annoying and I don't want to hear it unless I have to. For example, I tend to lump interludes, skits, intros, outros, and live rants into this category. I don't delete them because maybe one day I'll want to hear Wyclef's The Carnival with all of those courtroom skits ("That's pure beeeesheeeeeet!").

Three Stars: Decent song that wouldn't make me change the radio station if it came on. This category includes OK songs on a good album, anything by the Dixie Chicks that I'm archiving for Christina, and much, much more.

Four Stars: Good songs that just aren't great. If I hear it five times in a row while waiting for the check, I would still think it's a decent song.

Five Stars: Best of the Best. Play it over and over and I'll still be happy to hum it a month from now. Alternatively, the CD it's on would have occupied my car disc changer for a full year back when that's I how I would gauge my music.
Now to the different smart playlists:

Genre-Specific Heavy Rotation Lists:
My first step to music organization was maniacally updating every song's information (artist, title, album, genre, year, etc.). For genres, I developed a naming convention that connected allowed a tiered community for songs
of each genre down to as narrow of a subgenre as you desire. The most obsessed I got was Blues Classic Mississippi Delta. As you can see the secret is all in the order of your names. Moving from most general to most specific:

Genre (blues, e.g.) --> subgenre (classic, e.g.)--> Regional Affiliation (Mississippi Delta, e.g.)
Other Examples of such naming: alt rock 80s, alt rock classic, alt rock pop, alt rock, Jazz Swing, Jazz Modern, Jazz French, Jazz Electronic, Jazz Dixieland, Jazz Cuban, Jazz Brazilian, Electronic dnb, Electronic House, Electronic House French, Electronic House Disco, Electronic Lounge, Electronic Trance, Electronic, Hiphop East, Hiphop Dertysouf, Hiphop West, Hiphop, Funksoulbrother, Reggae Dancehall, Reggae; I assume you get the idea.
Even more obsessed, you can make a distinction between those songs that are more Jazz than Electronic than it is Electronic more than Jazz. Or vice versa. I see the contrast in Jazzanova versus a remixed Blue Note collection by a modern house dj.
Example: Alt Rock Rotation (Genre|contains|Alt Rock; MyRating|Range|4-5; Limit to 25 songs; and Selected by Most Recently Played).
Most Often Played Song Lists
These playlists provide a quick reference for my favorite songs. Ratings alone don't help, particularly when half of your rated songs are five stars. Therefore, I measure favorites by how often I've actually listened to the songs. Further, I've broken the lists up into manageable pieces. These I have in mind are: Top 40, Top 41-120, Top 121-200, and Top 201-500.
Examples: Top 40 (Playcount|>|0; MyRating|not|1,2,3; Genre|notcontain|podcast, audiobook, unclassifiable; Limit|40; Selectedby|Most Often Played). Top 41-120 (Playcount|>|0; MyRating|not|1,2,3; Playlist|not|Top 40; Limit|80; Selectedby|Most Often Played). The latter list pulls the most often played songs that meet the criteria but must ignore the top 40 songs, leaving 41-120.
Theme-Based Lists
These started by simply employing the comment field in selected songs Info by right-clicking on the track. For all the songs that meet the criteria you're using, select them all, right-click, Get Info, and enter a descriptive keyword that will be used for this them. Use the comment field in a smart playlist filter.
Example: El Caribe (Comment|contains|El Caribe; Last Played|notlast|14 days; MyRating|not|1,2,3; Limit|60 songs) . El Caribe is for Caribbean, Reggae, Latin Jazz, etc.

***NOTE be sure to keep in mind whether you want to use the contains or is modifier when filtering the comment field. I have several songs that are included numerous themes cataloged by this method. This allows me to pull the songs into different theme lists.***
Maintenance Lists
These work behind the scenes because sometime you can't include all filters simulatenously. At the top of the Edit Smart Playlist window, you can either match all or any of the included criteria. For instance, a first playlist, will include any tracks that are in X, Y, or Z playlists. Unselecting the limit of songs allows this playlist to serve as a dumping ground for any that meet your criteria. A higher tiered list will manipulate that set of songs. (see below)
Example: =BPMDanceParty (Playlist|is|BPM116-120, BPM116-120, BPM121-123, BPM122-14, BPM123-125, BPM126-130; Unselect Limit)
Tiered-Maintenance Lists
Tiers arrive once all of the filters can't be run at the same time. A second playlist will include only tracks from the first playlist that haven't been played in __ days, have MyRating=__, etc. You can't include these filters in the first because you chose the include as any, not all. The resulting list would include some songs that haven't been played in __ days, some that have MyRating=__days, and so on.
Example: *BPMDanceParty (Playlist|is|=BPMDanceParty; MyRating|not|1,2,3; LastPlayed|not|last14days; Limit|60songs; Select Random).
Manual Selection Lists
Old School playlists, of the drag and drop school. I keep a few around because sometimes I don't want to leave it up to my system to choose my music for me. Really, there is only one I employ: Songs to Hear. I drag and I know I may want to hear on my drive somewhere. The idea of this is to have somewhere for songs that I may want to hear repeatedly within the Last __ days (Aside from the Top 40 lists).

Fresh Mix
This playlist was what started this obsession. Not amused by Apple's attempt at shuffle, I stole an idea from smartplaylists.com that first introduced me to using tiers. See this post on smartplaylists.com for an excellent description of what to do.

MonitoringTraffic by Cellphone Use

Posted by Jameson Penn
Some states including Maryland and Virginia are beginning to monitor traffic by tracking cell phone signals and mapping them against road grids. Very practical approach to take, which is refreshing in light of revenue-hungry localities such as DC who see correlations between driving and cell phone use and issue an outright ban to reign in the revenues.
State officials say the systems will monitor large clusters of phones, not individual phones, and the benefits could be substantial. By providing a constantly updated picture of traffic flow across thousands of miles of highways, they argue, cellphone tracking can help transportation agencies spot congestion and divert drivers by issuing alerts by radio or on electronic road signs.

Next month, Maryland, with the help of the University of Baltimore, plans to begin tests for a cellular tracking system in the Baltimore area. Virginia also plans to test a system around the Norfolk beltway. Similar technology is already in use outside the United States, including in London, Antwerp, Belgium, and Tel Aviv.

"The potential is incredible," said Phil Tarnoff, director of the Center for Advanced Transportation Technology at the University of Maryland. He said the monitoring technology could drivers by issuing alerts by radio or on electronic road signs.