the new york times published an article on the conspiracies and theories that abound over the shuffling algorithm used by the iPod - it seems that some people say it's not random enough and others insist their iPods display preferences. before i go ahead and debunk this, I must admit that mine seems to have a disproportionate predilection towards calexico, lambchop and einstürzende neubauten. and that proves my point... the one i'm still getting to.
i might not know many people, but i don't know any that have consistent, genre-defined cd-collections. ok. let me not talk about other peoples' music collections, because the bits i don't have in mine yet suck :-). my collection has the odd bad buy, the embarrassing 80's stuff, the mood-related music, things to play when the family visit, the stuff i really like, albums completing collections, cd's ripped from someone else because it's free, freebies with magazines, nostalgia ("this was my first cd!"), bargain bin cd's (because they were cheap), gifts, compilations and of course the core nick cave and extended family collection. and i'm not even talking genres yet (partly because i think they are evil and find "experimental" the most evil genre of all... but that's another story. or at least let me say music is experimental by nature and leave it at that.)
go shuffle 3000+ songs acquired over 15 years. of course it will sound strange and be inadequate most of the time. you wait excitedly every time a new song comes up, but in the end you don't really want to hear norwegian wood after feurio!. and if it's truly random (which some people tell you is not possible on a computer, too lazy to look for a link now), then there is always the probable scenario that one day all your albums will play in alphabetical, chronological and song order when you hit the shuffle button. but until that day, any seaming patternlike behaviour will be as a result of the human brain, your attitude towards the song, where it fits and should fit, your awareness of what's playing at the time.
so, having said all that, let me tell you what my brain picks up in iPod's supposed randomness: i have a theory that it selects songs in chronological blocks. if the whole drive is divided into 10 hypothetical equal blocks, then iPod according to me jumps around a bit in one block before it migrates to another block. might this be because it's a mechanical hard drive... or am i talking crap?
while i was writing this my iTunes library played a remarkably thoughtful selection of songs, all related by less than three degrees: johhny cash, the bedridden, nick cave, pj harvey, goldfrapp but what does that tell me? that my iPod is sentient or that I buy cd's by these people?
if you want to win the lottery, buy a ticket.