When I was younger I loved building weird contraptions to do things. I guess a lot of kids did, but that continued as I got older. Before I even knew what MegaHAL was or why it was built, I created an mIRC script that would record and assemble sentence fragments in order to fool my friends in to thinking it was a real person. Not sure what my motive was for that, but it amused me, and even though it was obviously non-human, it would lead to comical results.
Out of that was born the idea of “DJ9000”. I ran a little-known internet radio station called “Blazefire Radio”, and between songs I would have a little robot voice come on and do bumpers for the station under the name DJ9000. It was nothing more than a very simple text-to-speech system, but it saved me having to talk in to the mic myself, and I sort of made it in to a character (file creation date on that is 2002, by the way). I had wanted to blow that out in to a whole piece of software that would automatically shuffle and talk about upcoming music, but the shoutcast server I was allowed to use ran in Linux and the software I made could only be run on Windows.
Every year for the last 3 or 4 years, I’ve done a “live” radio broadcast on Halloween night where I play music and spooky stories called The Graveyard Shift. Last year, I was without a shoutcast station to piggy-back, meaning I had to find alternative means - which lead me to something called Mixlr. In addition to running the live radio broadcast, I also have to answer the door for trick-or-treaters, meaning I could not sit there all night and monitor the station personally.
So I revived the idea of an automated music playing system, which is what you see above. If you click Read More, I’ll explain more behind the scenes magic of what the software actually does.
Rather than simply having, say, a Winamp playlist that plays the same music in the same order every time, my software has multiple playlists that it moves through at set intervals. There is basically an 8 step process:
Once step 8 is reached, it starts over at Step 1. Since this was primarily for Halloween, that means I broke them up like this:
Once an entry from a playlist has been played, it is sent back down to the bottom again. But this is what sets it apart from just a regular ol’ Winamp playlist: rather than being sent to the very bottom of the playlist, it’s instead sent to a random location near the bottom, creating a playlist that is constantly but slightly shuffling so that the songs never play in the same order twice. This really helps eliminate repetition insofar as it’ll be hours before you hear the same song twice - and when you do hear the same song twice, it will be in a clearly different place than it was last time you heard it.
However, this shuffling system does not apply to the “Rarely” playlist. Some of the spooky stories are long enough that I had to break them up in to two halves, so the playlist has to stay perfectly organized in a very specific order.
I’m actually really proud of it, and this year I gave the software a couple of slight upgrades - the most significant of which being that playlist data now auto-saves every time you exit the software and auto-loads when you boot it back up again. There were tons of weird little bugs when I first put this program in to action last year, and it would’ve saved me a bunch of time if I didn’t have to manually reload all four playlists every time I swapped out for a new version of the software. I also completely overhauled how it detects the end of a song and advances to the next one - you’d be surprised how difficult that is with VBR MP3s.
If there’s enough interest, maybe I’ll post it for download, though I can’t imagine anybody but me needing it for anything. I definitely want to keep improving it, though - one day I’ll add stuff like, “show” scheduling, so it’ll queue up a specific batch of playlists at a specific date and time (good for having separate “moods” of music for morning, noon and night). But that’ll have to wait until later - I’m already kind of running around like crazy with other Halloween plans.
So yeah. I’ll be posting more information about this year’s Graveyard Shift soon enough, so keep an eye peeled for that.