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April 23, 2008

The Dinner Program: Ambidextrous Mag (2007)

I contributed an article to the food issue of Ambidextrous, the design magazine of Stanford University. The assignment was to write an article about the intersection of food and design. I've always thought about throwing dinner parties as a design task, so I explained planning a dinner party in terms of the way you plan the design of a product.

Over the years, I’ve learned the following heuristics about my typical user base. With 14 dinner guests, only 11 will require chicken-of-doom. In Northern California, one person ends up vegan, and two vegetarian. Two are Jewish (no shellfish or pork), and one, despite mild alcoholism, is nominally Muslim and doesn’t eat pork either, so that rules out the bacon wrapping on the steaks. Once in a while, I have a guest who is severely allergic to eggs, gluten, and/or nuts, just to keep life interesting. Killing your guests is the opposite of entertaining, unless you happen to be Hannibal Lecter, so when in doubt about allergens, stick to tofu. Oh wait! people can be allergic to soy, too...

The Dinner Program: Throwing a dinner party with one knife, 11 militant chickens, and your design degree [PDF]. Ambidextrous, Summer 2007.

April 5, 2008

Applescript: Converting metadata of symphonic tracks in iTunes


I listen to a fair amount of symphonic music.

I think of symphonic music first in terms of the composer (e.g. Bartok, Beethoven), then the work (5th Piano Concerto in E Flat Major), and then, in the cases where I have multiple performances of the same work, the conductor & performing orchestra (Julius Katchen & London Symphony Orchestra; Hélène Grimaud, Staatskapelle Dresden & Wladimir Jurowski).

However, music metadata format lists the conductor and symphony in the "artist" field on CDDB / iTunes. This is moderately annoying to deal with in the iTunes interface (I have to display and then sort by the correct columns of metadata) but absolutely intolerable on my iPod. Trying to listen to Smetana's Ma Vlast means that I have to remember the name of the composer and orchestra? Oh come on.

So I wrote an Applescript to fix the metadata on my symphonic catalog. It searches my library for all tracks whose genre is "symphonic" and swaps around some of the field values. I still retain the performance info, but as "album artist" instead of "artist".

(It similarly annoys me when other albums list both performers of a one-off song (e.g. Madonna and Justin Timberlake), which breaks that one song apart from the rest of the album when I sort by artist. In these cases I manually reset the "artist" field.)

* What people generally call "classical," but I refer to it as "symphonic" because of a snobby old habit of mine: "classical" refers to a specific period / style of symphonic music in the Western canon, e.g. Haydn and Mozart, so I use the more general "symphonic". I guess "orchestral" might be more appropriate... anyway, the organizing genre in my iTunes library is "symphonic".