The Apple iPod Shuffle Shuffle from OpenTech 2005

Okay, not exactly one of my better ideas, but in the end nobody got hurt, and the iPod Shuffle with the PGP Private Key got back to it’s rightful owner. What am I talking about? My Physical Media Hacking experiment at OpenTech 2005.

iPod Shuffle Shuffle Warning

I’m still convinced the theory behind this is pretty sound (especially when you see the number of Apple fans defending the concept of the iPod Shuffleand the idea that listening to random music is the way forward). The experiment was planned to go something like this. Two pairs of volunteers would come forward from the OpenTech audience at the Media Stream session (hopefully with a pair of 512mb and a pair of 1gb iPod Shuffles). They would swap over their units with each other, and take away an iPod Shuffle with a different audio mix on it. Taking some media tool, doing something with it, and getting something different. That’s a hack.

It would also have the advantage of waking up an audience who had sat through the previous session, get them involved, and generally give the speakers a reactive audience that would enjoy the talks they were going to give. Well at least that part worked.

Right up to when I had one 512mb and one 1gb owner at the front it was working fine. I asked for another two people, and unfortunatly 4 people came forward, all with 512mb shuffles – remember I’ve not actually told the volunteers what’s going to happen yet. Now I could have done a bit more jiggery-pokery with the volunteers to get a comfortable pairing, but a mix of the Showman in me, and the evil voice of Crow in my head (sure, blame the bird – Crow) led me to throw caution to the wind. I saw a box on the floor and said to myself ‘if that box is empty, I’ll put all five iPod Shuffle’s in that box, mix them up, and hand back a random unit to each person.’ It was empty.

So the iPod Shuffles were dropped in the box by their respective owners. As I shook the box, I could see a mix of both laughter, horror and incredulity from the audience. I couldn’t see the volunteers or the penny dropping from them at that point – but the shock on some faces, and the smiles on others when I turned to face them meant that I felt it had gone really well. I waved them to the side so I could grab some names and details of them, and see if anyone wanted to swap back (away from the glare of the audience). Unfortunatly, the took the wave to mean “back to your seats,” and not “go up there and let’s sort it out.” Looking back I should have re-iterated that point, but on Saturday the audience was now in the right mood, and my job as chair switched from warming-up to getting the presentations going, so I didn’t.

To the volunteers on the day, I can only say sorry for not covering every angle. Thank you for being good sports, thank you for putting up with me while we sorted it out throughout the rest of the day, and I’m very glad one of you got back your PGP Private Key.

I’m still convinced this idea could work at a conference – maybe with more preparation, letting every attendee know that there will be an iPod Shuffle Shuffle stand at Registration, and spending a bit more time on contingency planning – which given I thought of the idea at 1am that morning I didn’t do enough of.

I also know a few other things. Every attendee at OpenTech has probably written their email address on their iPod Shuffle now, my two minute cabaret act is already starting to get attention around the web… and if I ask for volunteers next year it might be a little bit more difficult!

18 Responses to “The Apple iPod Shuffle Shuffle from OpenTech 2005”

  1. OpenTech 2005

    Spent yesterday at OpenTech 2005. A mixed day, some pretty good stuff, other stuff that was not so much fun. Things I found interesting: OpenStreetMap. Mapping the UK using Satellite photos and GPS points. To provide an open source map…

  2. [...] Ewan gave a terrific demonstration of mixing music: from the audience pull out five people with a 512MB iShuffle; get them to each put their iShuffle in a box; shake the box with disturbing vigour; get each participant to choose an iShuffle. Voila! Easy music mixing to much laughter and applause. (In retrospect it wasn’t such a great idea with the annoucement later that if you’re someone who had your iShuffle shuffled, and you want it unshuffled, then please go to the downstairs reception desk…). [...]

  3. chaff says:

    “Hacking iTunes” at Open Tech 2005

    I delivered a talk. It was a bit obvious. I think I’d rather have spent more time talking to people.

  4. davblog says:


    Just back from Opentech, so here are a few random notes. I’ll hopefully fill in more details later. I started…

  5. OpenTech

    On Saturday I went to OpenTech 2005, and not only did I get to meet some great people and listen …

  6. Pete says:

    As one of the volunteers, I can vouch for the combination of amusement and trepidation :)

    Once the shuffle shuffle was over, I inserted the one I’d been handed into my laptop..

    First thought: “Ah, this person uses gnupod too! what’re the chances!” (at Open Tech, probably fairly high) followed by “Hmm, this person has a strangely familiar collection of Bruckner and Radio 4 comedy..” – yep, got my own shuffle back. A 20% chance and something of a relief!

    A good jape all round though. Glad the guy got his PGP key back

  7. alfie says:

    simply a genius participation idea, pity you didnt have 4 512 shuffles but then again no-one can really be sore unless they’re cynical bastards :D Nice job mate.

  8. stroppycow says:

    Even if mine had been a shuffle rather than a mini, I wouldn’t have volunteered… way too many embarrasing tracks on it.

  9. Kryogenix says:

    Two Cool Things That Happened at OpenTech

    The second cool thing was some “physical media hacking”: Ewan Spence asked for people with iPod Shuffles to come down to the front. He had five volunteers; he took their Shuffles and put them in a box, and then, while saying “and now we hack this media!“, shook the box and then gave each of the five back a random Shuffle. Ha! Good things about this: as Ewan said, this is what media hacking is all about; you try a new thing, and if you don’t like it you go back to what you had before. And it was hilarious. The people who were shuffled didn’t think so, mind; one bloke had a face as black as thunder. He may have had some private information other than mp3s on it, mind; nonetheless, it was an excellent bit of crowd-pleasing by Ewan.

  10. O’Reilly Developer Weblogs

    Owners of iPod shuffles: beware. The next time you attend some geek conference and some dude stands up at the front asking you to raise your hands, think carefully about the possible consequences.

    “Some dude” in this instance might be a Scotsman called Ewan Spence who decided to demonstrate the ultimate music mix experiment while taking part in the Opentech geek get-together in London last Saturday.

  11. OpenTech… again

    Wow. There’s a blast from the past. I’m currently — that is, over on the other Mac right this…

  12. [...] The chances are that you will remember my presentation of “Physical Media Hacking” at this years Open Tech Extreme, and the agonisingly funny iPod Shuffle Shuffle experiment that I did. Something I recognised at this year’s EuroOSCon was that this is one of those stories that has gone round the net, leading to me being recognised in some instances as “the iPod Shuffle Shuffle Guy.” Even Gareth Jones’ (Gaz Top’s) partner has asked if it was me in hushed tones while they were at the Edinburgh Festival. [...]

  13. [...] Ewan Spence, he of the 2005 iPod Shuffle Shuffle incident, is moving home. Trouble is, his new home is smaller than his current place, which means he needs to get rid of some of his surplus stuff such as gadgets, videos, tapes and so on. [...]

  14. [...] I’ve been there. I’ve helped organised conference programs (NotCon2004 notably, but there are others). And I’ve made wrong decisions as well. Admittedly not in front of 1000 people, but making a super bad judgment call when chairing a panel at Open Tech. My split second decision resulted in a conference attendee loosing his iPod shuffle and the incredibly valuable data stored on it. How you deal with issues like this is vitally important. In my case it was an immediate apology at the conference to the person in question, followed by a full and frank blog post as soon as possible, along with dialog in private. This resulted in a happy conclusion. But I have always delivered what was promised to the audience, to the people paying good money in good faith, and I have always taken on board all their comments and critique. [...]

  15. [...] Ewan Spence, he of iPod Shuffle Shuffle fame (see here and here and here), has given me the chance to guest host an episode of TPN Rock, the weekly rock music show over on The Podcast Network that showcases the best unsigned, unknown and underappreciated rock music from around the world. [...]

  16. [...] The first is the latest in the TPN Rock Takeover shows, where I ask internet ‘names’ and podcasters to try their hand at doing the unsigned, unknown, and under-appreciated Rock music show. This week was Chris Green, now the editor of the IT Pro website (Dennis Publishing) in the UK, and the straight man in the infamous iPod Shuffle Shuffle demonstration. [...]

  17. [...] in 2005 just a few days after the attempted bomb attacks in London and was totally awesome. It saw Ewan’s iPod Shuffle Shuffle the forming of the ORG (I’d totally forgotten that this was where it happened until Suw reminded [...]

  18. [...] Welcome to The MP3 Shuffle In Uncategorized on February 20, 2009 at 10:04 am The MP3 Shffle is another of my mad ideas. Inspired by a mistake made long ago at Open Tech 2005, I want to do some sharing of music at the upcoming SXSW Interactive conference. But I want to try something a bit more physical, and polish the idea of the iPod Shuffle Shuffle from Open Tech 2005. [...]