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!